The Uncertain Princes

Twice upon a time, there were three Princes who did not know their respective ages. This was terrible.

I should specify that these princes were brothers, born to the same royal parents. In other words, the firstborn would inherit the kingdom, and they didn’t know which of them it was. Also, as I may have remarked in other places, the birth-order of princess is quite important. The two elder children are often brusque and unkind when they set out questing, and they fail and/or are eaten. It’s only the youngest child who (having never expected to inherit a kingdom, and having been overlooked by the court, and such) does relatively great things.

This was a fairly proper kingdom, and they wanted to get it right. It’s not like they all wanted to be the capable, fortunate third brother; indeed, as they went from very small children to somewhat smaller children, they began to have increasingly cogent discussions about the whole deal. (This is not entirely shocking. They did have excellent tutors, but also, they had a certain overwhelming factor which really affected their development: they had clear destinies to fulfill, only they were never sure who had which destiny.)

The three brothers were (if you hadn’t guessed) triplets, which already raises some awkward questions about destiny. Firstborn is firstborn; the firstborn will rule the Kingdom, by the rules of the Monarchy, and will fail at life, by the rules of the Fairytale. It was most irregular for the Queen and King to keep this information from their progeny. No-one else was in the room—oh, perhaps there was a guard or two, but such fellows are either insanely loyal, or highly expendable, depending on the Kingdom. At any rate, nobody was going to tell the boys who was born when.

The boys were old enough to be hopeful about starting to shave when a Wizard came knocking on the Castle’s door. This was particularly impressive, because the “door” in question was the drawbridge, and the drawbridge was up; the Wizard was hovering above the moat, much to the annoyance of the moat-monsters, who were unable to even snap at his heels.

He finally gained admittance (after a rather adroit slip to one side, to avoid getting a drawbridge to the forehead) and presented himself to the King and Queen.

“I have come for your firstborn, for that child is the Chosen One, here to defeat the Dark Lord.”

The Wizard’s eyes crackled with arcane electrics as he met those of the Queen. “We have no firstborn son,” she told him.

The Wizard’s staff hummed quietly, letting him know she spoke to truth.

“Oh. Ah, daughter, then?”

“We have no daughters.”


The Wizard muttered some apologies and wandered off, looking confused. He was certain he’d scried at least one moppet within the Royal Halls. Perhaps this job was getting to him. Maybe he should settle down, buy a monolithic tower somewhere while the interest rates were still low…

It was a few years later that a Fairy Godmother visited the Kingdom. “I have come,” she announced, “to bestow many gifts upon your firstborn.”

“We’ve got three kids,” pointed out the King.

“Well, sure,” the Godmother said, “but if you just indicate the eldest, I’ll give him a quick zap, and I’m sure the others won’t mind…”

“Why don’t you ask them yourself?” said the Queen. She called her sons into the Throne Room. The Fairy Godmother looked at them with a certain confusion. “Which if you is the oldest?” she asked.

The young men looked at each other, then looked back at her and shrugged.

“Answer me!” said the Fairy Godmother.

“No idea,” said one boy.

“Sorry,” said the next.

“I was rather hoping you might tell us,” said the third.

Now, frankly, it’s quite possible that Faerie magic might have been able to pick out that particular fact. And then again, perhaps not; magic is notoriously fickle, and will play tricks on you at any opportunity. Besides, the Fairy Godmother was, by this time, an ugly shade of purple.  She lifted her wand to zap out some sort of curse, but it kind-of just fizzled. The Royal Alchemist had never heard of a Faraday Cage, but when it became clear that the Family Royal had no intention of receiving any magical gifts or enchantments on purpose, he lined the room’s walls with bits of iron filing. This was some years back, and some of the filings had slid hither and yon inside the walls; but the Fairy Godmother had no way to know this. All she knew was that the situation was incredibly frustrating. She waved her wand in the air so that she could vanish, but that didn’t work either. Without a word, she turned on her heel and left.

Finally, a few years later, a Dragon (just the one, single Dragon; do you know why you seldom hear of more than one Dragon in a tale? First, they’re incredibly rare, and second, a large enough group of Dragons would overwhelm pretty much any story told by, for, and/or about mere apes)—a Dragon took up residence in the Caves of Fire, and began menacing the Kingdom. The boys were now nearly full-grown men, reasonably trained in the arts of war, the sciences, and (because really, everyone ought to know the basics) housecleaning, horse-tending, and poker) and they thought it was time to act.

“Brothers,” said one of them, “we cannot know who was thirdborn, and thus destined to fight the Dragon. What if we fight it together?”

“Why would we do that?” asked the second one. “We have a perfectly good army of Knights.”

“But one of us could marry the captured Princess!” said the third.

“No, wait, he’s got a point,” said the first brother. (It should be noted that when I say “first”, “second”, and “third”, I’m just talking about the order in which they spoke. I don’t know who was oldest, either.) “The Knights are terribly enthusiastic about this sort of thing. And there are quite a lot of them, and really, I think a hundred armored warriors on horseback do make more sense than the three of us. I suppose that, if they feared the Dragon and needed us to lead by example, hiding might not be the best idea, but as it is, it seems a foolish risk to take. I feel like it would be no consolation at all to find out who’s youngest by seeing which two die first.”

The three brothers nodded, and went off to find some ale. The Knights slew the Dragon, and the Kingdom behaved in an unreasonably sensible manner. Later storybooks would tell this tale quite differently; ah, but they lie. The three brothers later on spent some time researching governance by triumvirate, a system which, like most forms of rulership, has its ups and downs, but mostly, they were happy. They never did figure out who was oldest and who was youngest, and it turned out to be fairly unimportant. It turns out that having a grand Destiny is exciting, but nowhere near as satisfying, in the long run, as controlling your own destiny, and not being ruled by Fate, or accidents of birth.


~Jeff Mach


See? I told you we’d come back to The Three Brothers. In a slightly different iteration.

My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.

I write books. You should read them!

I put on a convention for Villains every February.

I created a Figmental Circus. It’s happening this June. You should go!

Jeff Mach Written by:

Jeff Mach is an author, playwright, event creator, and certified Villain. You can always pick up his bestselling first novel, "There and NEVER, EVER BACK AGAIN"—or, indeed, his increasingly large selection of other peculiar books. If you'd like to talk more to Jeff, or if you're simply a Monstrous Creature yourself, stop by @darklordjournal on Twitter, or The Dark Lord Journal on Facebook.