The zombie princess sat on her gilded throne and surveyed her soldiers. They held between them four princes of good standing and noble birth. Granted, any one of the four men in fine armor and crowns could have taken out the half-men in rags and tattered skin if they held them with only their partial limbs. But each zombie guard wore an amulet of power and held a sword as sharp as a razor to each royal boy’s throat.
“What have you brought me today? Hmm?” The zombie princess hissed through a torn lip. Her face held clues of a once beautiful countenance; aquiline nose, high cheekbones, warm brown eyes. But now her cheek bones were exposed, her flesh torn, part of her nose was missing and the warm brown of her eyes was now surrounded by bursted blood vessels pooling red.
“A prince from each point of the compass, my lady,” a guard with a large gash in his throat gargled back.
“Let me see them one by one.” She stood from her throne and hobbled down the three steps to the courtyard floor and walked up to the first prince. The guard stepped to the side but kept the blade close to his captive’s neck.
“You look like the kind of prince who enjoys a long hot bath while someone else scrubs your back. Is that true?” She asked, the half of her lip still intact pursed.
The prince from the north sputtered. “No… I mean… yes?” He was shaking, clearly terrified.
“I bet your mumsy never held you when you were a baby and she only dragged you out for parties with her horrible friends? Hmm?” She limped as close to him as possible and sniffed at his coat as she rounded him, staring at every exposed inch of his perfect skin.
The prince only coughed. He looked like he was about to cry.
“What do you think, Nelson? Would he make a fine dinner companion? Doesn’t have much to say,” she asked the guard.
“Doesn’t matter what they say, m’lady, as long as they’re tender,” he laughed at his own joke.
A dark wet spot began to spread across the northern prince’s breeches. The princess noticed and waved a mangled hand.
“Take him away. Give him the usual treatment.”
The guard shoved the prince and motioned to the door they had entered.
The princess limped to the next prince and took a deep breath of his chain mail. “This one is brave. I can smell it. Not a drop of fear in his blood.” She grinned a terrible, mouth-exposing grin.
The prince shuddered.
“You want to chop my head off, don’t you? You are a warrior. You fight your way through every minute of every day. But what do you do when there is no fight left? Tell me that.”
“There is always a fight. I can still fight. I will even fight you.” He lunged at her and would have taken her head off with his bare hands if it hadn’t been for his guard. The zombie moved like lightning, his amulet glowing and his small sword slicing through the chest of the brash prince of the south.
“Such a pity,” the princess declared. “The world is short on men with no fear.”
She stepped over his body and hobbled to the prince of the east. Smelling deeply and closing her tattered eyelids.
“Ahh, now, you I can talk to. You are different.”
She began to laugh a deeply disturbing chortle in her throat. The prince of the west, a smallish young man, much younger than the others, whimpered. She looked at him, he was shaking. His guard squeezed his arm with a bony hand and poked him with the knife a bit.
“Quiet, sssssnot your turn,” he slurred at the boy.
Suddenly the Princess lurched at the prince of the west and cried, “Boo!” He squeaked and fell over onto his guard, passed out cold.
The princess let out another disgusting laugh. The prince of the east looked disturbed.
“This is not an easy life, prince. I have to find my sunshine wherever I can.”
She waved an arm and her sleeve fell back, exposing a stump where her hand should be. “Take them both away. Standard treatment.”
All but one guard and the prince of the east left the throne room. She came back to him and sighed a deep, rattling breath out.
“So, I will explain my story to you. And you will give me an answer,” she said.
The prince stared straight ahead and did not answer.
“I am trapped. My people are trapped. And as usual, we cannot free ourselves. Because this is a trite and ridiculous world, we need a prince to save us.” She snorts and takes a step back.
“Are you up for the job?”
The prince of the east looked at her. He was not shaking, he was not afraid. He was not angry. He simply said, “I have heard your tale, I did not believe it was true.”
The princess laughed a croak. “Oh, yes. It is very true. It’s been true for decades, and I’d rather not make it centuries.”
“And is the rumor also true, that it only takes one kiss, given freely, to break the spell?”
The princess suddenly looked bored, if half of a ravaged face can look bored.
“Yes. It is true. But it has to be from someone with a pure heart and under no duress, bla bla bla.” She waved her stump and her hand.
The prince looked at her skeptically.
“You have a pure enough heart. I can tell those kinds of things, you know. That first guy was a doozy. Heart speckled black as pitch on a woodcutter. The second, not much better. The little sleeper had a pure heart but he was under so much duress I doubt he’ll make it through the night. So, you’re it.” She poked him playfully in the chest with a bony finger, the nail missing, but luckily the skin was still intact.
“And I am not under duress?” he motioned to the sword at his throat.
She signaled for the blade to be removed. The guard dropped it to his side hesitatingly, but kept it at the ready.
“So, are we going to make a deal tonight?”
“Possibly. What’s in it for me?”
The princess choked on her own laughter this time. “Maybe your heart isn’t as pure as I thought.”
“Oh no, it’s pure. But there must be a reason for me to do this thing.”
She grew suddenly angry and impatient. “If you need more than the knowledge that you’d be releasing a kingdom from disease and immortal imprisonment, or the fact that you’d be saving your own people from slowly being picked off one by one so that their brains can be our meals at feasts, then you are not pure of heart, sir.” She was standing against him now, finger back in his chest, but not in a flirtatious way. She was anxious, angry, tired and jaded. She would not be mocked.
The prince leaned in toward her good ear and whispered, “I’ll kiss you, your highness, but only if you will do me a favor once you are healed.”
Her eyes grew wide. Suspicion danced across the red and the brown. She could not get her hopes up. If this fool was toying with her, her people, their future, she would eat him for dinner raw. Immediately. She was already starting to salivate just thinking about it.
“What favor?” she hissed back.
“I will tell you when your spell is broken.” He stood firm. She inhaled deeply, no ill intentions lingered on his scent. He was sincere. There was no guile to be tasted in his words.
“I agree.” The words fell from her lips like soft rain. It had been years since she felt this much hope, since she’d been this close to the solution, since she’d let a man have control of the situation.
She closed her eyes. He leaned in. His warm full lips touched hers softly, then pressed down on her ripped, dry and ravaged mouth. Her sharp teeth punctured his skin as he put a hand on her shoulder and pulled her closer, kissing her more earnestly.
The warmth that spread through her ice cold limbs was like nectar from the gods. The transformation began immediately. First she was warm, then she felt tingling and slight points of pain as her skin was healed, organs reformed, muscle grew back, and her face repaired itself.
Likewise, across the entire kingdom, her people found themselves returning to their human states. The guards in her throne room stood tall and strong, the perfect picture of any worthy soldier. No longer needed, their amulets dissolved into fairy dust and blew away on a warm breeze.
The curse was broken.
She pulled back from the stranger’s embrace and looked into his face. Her heart was no longer leather and monstrous, but the tender beating organ of a young girl in a high position of government.
Tears came to her eyes, now clear and bright.
“How can I ever thank you?” she wept. “How can I repay you?”
He smiled at her, taking in her beautiful face, running a hand through her thick, brown hair.
“Just one more kiss, my dear.”
She smiled and nodded, flattered and feeling more joy than she thought possible.
He leaned in, she closed her eyes this time. He brushed her now full rosy lips with his own, but then continued down her cheek to her neck and kissed her there.
She was overcome with emotions she clung desperately to him. So much relief, so much gratitude, a whole world of possibilities for herself and her people. And this man— there was a definite connection with him. He must have known, he must have seen her true self. It could even be true love.
But she dared not hope for that. She let her body relax into his embrace. She tipped her head to the side as he rubbed her neck with his lips and just tried to enjoy the celebration of the moment.
She took a deep breath. Something foul stung her nostrils. Her monster sense was no longer at her disposal, but now that she was human again, different scents returned. She couldn’t determine what it was she was breathing in, but as she tensed with the mystery, he kissed her fully on the neck, then bit down hard.
Pain ripped through her veins and she instantly felt her muscles give out. He held her up and drank deeply from her neck.
“M’lady!” the guard finally realized what was happening and rushed to her side, sword drawn.
The prince of the east merely held out a hand and an unseen force threw the guard to a stone wall.
When he was finished, the prince moaned with pleasure and finally released the princess. She wilted into his arms, dismay on her lovely face.
He scooped up her small frame and carried her back up the three steps to the throne. She sat there like a rag doll, limp and powerless. He wiped the blood from his mouth and she watched as his canine teeth sank back down into a normal size.
“But your heart…” she managed to whisper.
“Is pure, my love.” He smiled. “Just not pure good.”