Chapter One: In which we meet our valiant knight and our fair princess, and they meet each other.

Princess Helena had long golden-red hair like a wheat field before harvest, and eyes as blue as the depths of the ocean. She was beautiful, graceful and elegant, and she danced like an angel.

Helena couldn't help it; it ran in the family. She had seven older sisters, each more beautiful than the last, and each, with the sole exception of Princess Helena, more empty-headed than the next. She also had one brother, almost ten years older than her, who had fully recovered by now from his stint as a frog. If he still looked a bit green around the edges, no one except Helena noticed it.

Life, she knew, was perfect…it was just that…well…sometimes she wondered if it wasn't a trifle…boring.

She knew she was lucky; King Harold and queen Penelope were not the type to shut their daughters in high towers or imprison them on glass hills. They were far too sensible. But sometimes she got tired of it all. After all, no on needed or wanted another princess.

When it came down to it, she was absolutely, positively sick of perfection. She didn't want to be lucky; didn't want to be always grateful for being her mother's daughter. She didn't want to be waited on and fussed over, bathed and dressed. She felt like a doll. Couldn't they leave her alone for one day?

And so, utterly fed up with everything from servants to suitors, she stormed out into the courtyard with her hair flying around her shoulders to greet knights and invite them to the banquet that night.

His name was Rong—Sir Rong in fact, because he was a knight. Sir Rong was not a champion. He wasn't, as you'd say, a St. George type. Both he and St. George had horses and armor, but that was where the similarities ended. Sir Rong's horse was an ancient nag whose previous owner had suspected it had donkey blood. His armor was almost completely rusted through and his sword was second hand. He was, without a doubt, a pathetic knight.

His hair was chestnut, his eyes a muddy brown behind his thick spectacles, and he was only five feet tall. Well…as he was a truthful knight, that wasn't really the case. On his good days, he was four foot eight.

Sir Rong had never had a day's luck. Everything went badly for him. He was either in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the right place at the wrong time. That was the reason for the rusted armor , the stubborn nag, and the bent spectacles. It was difficult to find a good job for a bad knight, especially in the age of chivalry.

Finally, however, things were looking up. Rong had an idea.

He'd finished looking through the employment section of 'Round the Table News', and had folded up the paper in despair when a headline caught his attention.

Magnus the Magician Arrives in Court

He was intrigued, and opened to page 10 as the newspaper advised.

The story ended like this.

While some viewers were skeptical about his identity, the king enthusiastically embraced his old tutor, welcoming him into the palace for a permanent position. In celebration of the reunion, Magnus has agreed to perform miracles for a period of seven days, for any knight in the kingdom. The week of magic will be occurring from October 21 until the 28th of that month.

As a token of his goodwill, Magnus has also bestowed upon the king, a magical trinket. Very little is yet known about the practical uses of this gift, but it is rumored that it is some kind of Black Magic detector.

Although this may not be the real Magnus, most people agree on one thing; gee, that's swell!

Something nagged at the back of Sir Rong's mind while he read, but he was a bit slow with plans. It wasn't until he woke up at midnight, sitting up in his too-short bed, that the idea was fully formed in his brain.

He was looking straight at the poster of Sir Percival, the greatest knight in the realm, (whose likeness hung above Rong's bed, table and living room chair, so he could look at it constantly). Under the poster was the caption, which Rong recited from memory at least three times a day: 'Every day, in every way, I will strive harder and reach higher, to be more like him.'

"That's it!" he cried, "I'll ask Magnus to make me like him…as perfect—as brave—as great as Sir Percival!"

And then, exhausted by this cranial activity, Sir Rong fell asleep again.

She was sitting in the courtyard when she saw him, and her first thought was that this was not a knight.

His armour could not be described as 'shining', so much as 'kind of gray with rusted brown patches'. His horse (she hesitated to call it that) was more like a donkey than a charger, and under the ill-fitting armour, Princess Helena could see a pair of twisted spectacles.

In his fist, the small, bedraggled figure carried a lance that was either far too long, or far too heavy, or both. The knight held it somewhere in the middle, the back end dragging in the mud as he leaned over, threatening to fall off into a puddle.

On his belt was something that Helena assumed must be his sword, but she couldn't tell through the layers of dirt, rust and charcoal. In addition, the blade could only have been two feet long.

Princess Helena almost felt sorry for the knight; he looked so scruffy and disheveled. He must be here to ask a favor of Magnus, she decided. Well, if anyone needs a miracle, it's him. He doesn't look as if he'll make it to the palace.

And then, because it was her duty to greet new come knights to the palace, but mostly because she was bored, Helena walked towards the knight to invite him, as she had invited all the others, to the banquet that night.

Sir Rong was terrified. He hated banquets. He'd never been to a banquet in his life, but he knew that he absolutely, without a doubt, hated them.

He felt queasy from the moment he stepped in the door, and the feeling only got worse when he saw that everyone (including the servants) was better dressed than him.

And it got worse when he saw his hero, Sir Percival the Valiant, dancing with the most beautiful woman in the world…Princess Helena.

It didn't matter that he idolized Percival. It didn't matter that Rong had little to no chance of winning the princess's hand. From that moment on, he absolutely, without a doubt, inexplicably, hated Sir Percival the Valiant.

Princess Helena was disgusted by the entire affair. She hated banquets, she hated dancing, and she, too, hated Sir Percival. He was perfect, like everything else in her life.

She saw out of the corner of her eye, the bedraggled knight. He'd cleaned up, but he still stood out among the champions of the realm. He wasn't dancing, just watching, and their eyes met for a moment. He was on the outskirts of the ball area, and the twirling pattern brought her towards him. He was leaning far too close to the dancers. She was about to shout a warning, but they were side by side now, and she leaned against Percival to avoid the bowl of soup in the knight's hand.

Not far enough! Something wet seeped into her clothes. She and Percival were soaked in meat juice. Why didn't the silly fool move, she thought angrily, it's not like he couldn't have seen it coming! I did!

The entire dance ground to a halt. Servants flooded the floor, offering assistance to the princess and knight. Sir Rong wanted to die.

Percival was glaring at him, and the champion was visibly furious. Percival's hand was on the hilt of his sword, and he shouted loudly, pointing at Rong, "YOU CLUMSY IDIOT! Can't you see where you're going? Oaf!"

The sword was out now, and Rong decided, for the millionth time in his life, that it was better to be cowardly and alive than brave and dead, and fled from the dining hall.

Her gown was ruined. This was too much. There had been no need for it; if the foolish knight had kept his eyes open, she'd be dancing and enjoying herself right now.

Not that she had, in fact, been enjoying the banquet. Perhaps she should thank him for helping her escape from Sir Percival.

She felt, now that she'd thought about it, that she really should apologize for Percival's treatment. Now she had a reasonable excuse for deciding to leave the banquet.

Thirty three seconds after Princess Helena left the banquet hall, there was a scream from inside. Helena, sitting on the steps outside the hall, heard it, and tried to open the doors to peek inside. The doors, usually so light that even the smallest serving girl could easily pull them open, were stuck tight.

There was another yell, deeper, and Helena recognized it as Magnus's. And then…pandemonium.

Helena might not have been the best princess, but she had an inborn sense of duty. There was something wrong—very wrong, judging by the screaming—and she could not help!

But pry as she might at the doors, they would not open.

Finally, despairing, she flung herself down on the stone floor, peering in through the crack. It was pitch black, and tendrils of gray smoke crept out from the room, making Helena cough. She could see nothing. The yells and curses rose in volume, until she wanted to take her head away from the crack, to clear her ears.

And then silence.

And when Helena looked under the crack again, she did not believe what she saw.