How to Woo the Prince: a Primer by his Aide
Artus had always known the Villainess of Reuchateau was rude, but he'd expected her to be elegant. After all, a villainess's only vice was cruelty, otherwise they were called a witch.
Today, the moment Rita saw him come in, she let out an unladylike sigh that no doubt she'd been saving up just for him.
"Don't worry," he said with slight amusement. "We're not doing physical training today." They had a lot of other items to cover before the public engagement party.
Rita plopped onto a sofa. "Oh thank goodness! I'm still sore all over, and I've been having nightmares about walking in straight lines, and dropping cups, and putting down cups too loudly."
"You should still practice on your own time, of course," Artus added as he laid his bag on the table. "But surely you've done all of that since you were little? I can't imagine Marquis Beaudennes failing to hire a tutor for his only beloved daughter."
Rita looked like a mouse caught eating. "Yes, but, um, I wasn't very good at it. As you can see."
Artus often forgot his manners around Rita, but he managed not to agree out loud this time. "The foundation must be there, since you've made so much progress." She basically knew nothing when they'd started. "I'm certain you'll be very graceful by the engagement party, provided you keep practicing."
"I promise I will practice!"
"Then practice tonight after we're done here."
As Artus laid his bag on the table, he noticed a familiar book already there. "That's the book the child destroyed. Did they actually fix it?"
"They did!" She opened it and showed him the horribly glued page. Artus bit back a wince. "Their mom did it, of course, and she apologized so much. I felt a little guilty because I wasn't expecting anything at all."
"You just wanted them to keep the book?"
"Well, to read it, and not feel bad about destroying it."
"I'm impressed that you've kept this bookstore in business," Artus said, trying not to emphasize the word impressed too much.
"Oh, I get a big allowance."
Allowance? "So you're not making any money?"
"I wouldn't put it like that..." Rita didn't meet his eyes. "Ahem, anyway, what are we going over today?"
Artus supposed it would've been miraculous if the store did make money. He graciously opened his bag and removed the books inside. "Today we'll cover conversational basics."
Rita lit up. "Ooh! I have a few ideas!"
"You're a very eager student and somehow you've made that a bad thing."
"Hey, give me a chance!" She cleared her throat and settled into her seat, and already Artus could tell she was trying too hard. "You're very handsome, Prince Frederic."
"Thank you," Artus said, cautiously optimistic.
“And your outfit is so stylish! Who’s your tailor?”
“The royal tailor.”
"And wow, those boots look so sharp!"
"While you won't upset the prince, I wonder how far you think this line of conversation is going to take you."
Rita pouted. “It’s because a conversation takes two, and you’re not giving me anything to work with.”
“Prince Frederic doesn’t pay much attention to his clothes, and wears whatever the royal clothier puts him in.”
“Does he pay attention to his physical appearance at all?”
“I suppose he does work hard to stay in good physical shape,” said Artus, now certain she'd forgotten that she once called Frederic a musclehead.
"Then, ahem, wow, Prince Frederic, you're so strong! What big arms you have..."
Artus was a little offended on his prince's behalf and would have liked to say Frederic would see right through her, but unfortunately his prince was a very innocent soul. "It's a possibility. What other ideas do you have?"
Clearly emboldened, Rita waggled her eyebrows. "If being handsome was a crime, you'd be guilty as charged."
"Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?"
"Are you just fooling with me?"
"Are you an electrician, because you just lit up my day!" Rita covered her mouth. "Oop..."
Artus lifted an eyebrow. "So my lady also gets embarrassed sometimes? In any case, it's doubtful the prince has read that series."
"The one you just referenced, with the electricians. The Japan Chronicles."
Rita jumped a little in her seat. "Y-you read them?"
"Of course," Artus said, more keenly than he'd intended. "It's one of the most exciting works in speculative fiction of our times. I've been following it when it was still one poorly printed novel."
"What do you mean poorly printed..."
"I also own all the books that have been published so far. I understand why you're self-conscious about it, after all the prose is amateurish and what plot is in it cries for an editor—"
"—but nevertheless, the series is excellent."
Rita peered at him. "...It sounds like you're a big fan of them."
"Oh, certainly. You too, right?"
"I know them really well." She leaned forward, propping her chin on her palms. "So what do you like about them?"
"The world, of course. I don't believe there's another story out there with such a richly immersive and wildly creative setting. The distinctive way they talk, their island culture nothing like ours, and of course the technology, with lightbulbs and cash machines and refrigerators that keep food from spoiling for weeks. Phones, of course, and calendar alerts, and the author has thought it through so well. Can you imagine having a device that always and loudly reminds you what you must be doing, and still being late to appointments? Truly an insight into the flaws of humanity." Artus listed a few more things, but eventually it occurred to him that Rita hadn't said a word. "Pardon me, I'm rambling. You're the first person I've known to have read them as well."
"Is everything you like about it just that it's set in Japan?"
"See, it's so rich that you say 'set in Japan' like it actually exists," Artus pointed out. "It's certainly the most masterful part of it, but the story is full of heart as well. The main character is sympathetic, and her friends and family are described with a lot of affection despite their flaws. It's obvious the author is a compassionate person."
Rita's gaze fixed on her fingertips. "That's so nice of you to say."
"It's just my observations. What about you?"
Artus tried not to make his question sound too eager. "What do you like most about it?"
"Um, hm, the world is fun, like you said," Rita began. "And, I suppose I liked the characters, too. The main character's very relatable."
Artus found it hard to imagine that the spoiled daughter of Beaudennes could relate to any aspect of the young, beleaguered office worker of The Japan Chronicles, but perhaps she had to learn many things while running the bookstore. "I agree. Her struggles with entering a world that was different from what she was promised, with working tirelessly for an institution that she knows is ungrateful yet she cannot help but hope she is wrong, it is as much a trouble of our modern times as the fantasy world she lives in." He blinked at her. "What are you smiling about?"
Rita was still grinning as she replied. "I was worried she was a little too whiny or incompetent."
"I don't think so at all. Riko Shimada is one of the best protagonists in the genre. Take for example..." Artus frowned. "I must be boring you. We have other work to do."
"No, not at all. You're so animated when you talk about your hobbies."
He coughed. "Don't try to distract me from your studies. This is to help you be a proper princess, after all."
"I wasn't trying to!"