Princess Beautiful slouched in a high-back chair gazing out the nearby window at the pink and gold meadows of Prettyland stretching out towards an endless horizon, glowing radiantly in the midday sun. Her posture wasn’t exactly appropriate for a lady of her regal stature, but today she didn’t care. Today was the day she had been dreading for weeks. Today was the day she put her own desires aside for the good of Prettyland.
A footman entered the salon through the large pastel blue door and waited for Princess Beautiful’s acknowledgement before speaking.
“Lord Grizzlegrump of the Fluffygruff Kingdom, my lady,” announced the footman.
“Show him in,” said the princess with a sigh.
She stood as the footman departed and straightened the myriad folds and ruffles of her bright pink dress. Beautiful barely had time to straighten her diamond tiara and brush her hand through the cascades of golden hair trailing down her back before the door opened once more to admit a mahogany-furred bear in a rich black and green suit. He wore a top hat and monocle, the former of which he removed as soon as he came within Beautiful’s presence. The bear made a stiff bow.
“Your highness,” said Lord Grizzlegrump in a rumbling baritone. “You look stunning, as always.”
“Thank you, my lord,” replied the princess. “And may I say that you look quite handsome as well. It is my pleasure to receive you in Prettycastle.
Beautiful gestured to an empty seat at a round table topped with pink glass. I’ll rely on formality today, she thought. The more I can hide my true feelings from this bear, the better.
Grizzlegrump replaced his hat and made his way over to the table. His face was a mask of aristocratic hauteur, but there was a slight twist of discomfort as he folded his considerable size into a chair designed for much smaller folk. Beautiful took a bit of wicked pleasure in watching the bear squirm. She took the seat opposite him at the table and clapped her hands twice. A footman appeared with a silver tray holding an intricately designed silver teapot and two fine porcelain cups. He poured a steaming cup of tea for both of them, and they each took a sip before speaking, as was customary for such events. It was delicious with a subtle and refreshing flavor, typical of Prettyland tea leaves, but Beautiful expected the nuances were lost on a bear from the Fluffygruff Kingdom. They insisted on ruining their tea with dollop after dollop of sickly sweet honey. Beautiful had ordered that no honey be brought out with today’s tea service, another minor victory over the bear.
“Let me get straight to the point,” said Grizzlegrump, clearing his throat. “We both know why I’m here today. Our two kingdoms have labored under cold and unfriendly relations for too long. It is time we bound ourselves together for our mutual prosperity. I am referring, of course, to the prospect of a marriage between two highly-placed members of our respective nobility. And I think we both know that the most likely candidates for such a union are our own two selves.”
Beautiful couldn’t fight a dolorous sigh.
“Your words ring true, my lord,” she answered. “We must both do what is best for our kingdoms.”
Sensing her unease, the bear’s rigidly serious expression softened somewhat, to Beautiful’s surprise.
“Your highness, I know I am not your first choice for a mate. And if I may be honest, neither are you mine. But if you join your hand with my paw, I know that we can build a lasting peace which–”
He broke off speaking as a low rumble shuddered through the castle. There was a distant scream, and then a crash of glass followed by a clatter of falling stone. The chandelier above them jingled to and fro, and the hot liquid in their cups rippled with the pounding of enormous footfalls.
“Merciful Poohbear!” exclaimed Grizzlegrump. “What is that racket?”
Before Beautiful could respond, an explosion rocked the salon. One wall burst inward, and the force of the impact sent both of them tumbling from their chairs. Smoke and dust clouded Beautiful’s vision as she groped for something to steady herself. She felt one of Grizzlegrump’s paws take firm hold of her hand and help her to her feet. The princess coughed, still disoriented, and looked around, trying to make sense of the sudden chaos.
The dust had begun to settle when Beautiful beheld a sight that nearly stopped her heart in her chest. An enormous Tyrannosaurus rex was clambering over the pile of rubble that had once been a wall of her salon. Strapped to its sides were two massive rocket launcher tubes, locked and loaded. Its face was half obscured by cyborg enhancements, and a red tracking laser emanated from one mechanical eye, searching the dust clouds for targets.
Grizzlegrump released her hand, straightened his top hat, and stepped forward.
“Run, my lady,” he instructed softly, his furred head half-turned back towards her over his shoulder. “We can’t let him have us both.”
“But what about you?” she asked.
Grizzlegrump had no response. He walked proudly upright through the ruined chamber till he stood before the dinosaur, whose laser sight had now focused squarely on the bear.
“I say, lizard!” shouted Grizzlegrump. “Do you know how terribly rude you’re being? Did your cold-blooded mother teach you no manners at all? Why, I’ve half a mind to slap some sense into you myself, though I’d hate to dirty my paws on your slimy reptilian skin!”
Beautiful watched transfixed as the dinosaur gave a tremendous roar, the heat of its breath forcing Grizzlegrump back a step. Then in an impossibly quick movement the lizard’s head bent down and caught the bear between its vice-like jaws. It reared back and shook its head violently. There was a muffled shriek, a horrible tearing sound, and the sight of stuffing floating gently through the air like snow.
“Moooooom!” shouted Sarah through her sobs. “Brian’s ruining my tea party again!”
Sarah’s toys lay strewn about her room. Her miniature tea service had been overturned, and her pint-sized chairs had been knocked over as well. Her brother, one year younger, was making dinosaur noises with his mouth as his cyborg T. rex toy assaulted her hapless teddy bear. Her favorite doll lay nearby, powerless to stop the carnage. Brian clicked a button on his plastic dinosaur and another tiny, spring-operated rocket shot out of a tube on its side, bouncing off the table.
“Pew!” said Brian. “Crrrsh, brrrooooom!”
Sarah ran from the room sobbing, leaving the irrevocably ruined tea party behind.