The latest John Moore book, A FATE WORSE THAN DRAGONS, is out. And it's terrific. No surprise there. My favorite book of his is still THE UNHANDSOME PRINCE, but lemme tell you: if you are not reading his books, then you are missing out. Moore writes about wonderfully fractured fairy-tale kingdoms, mainly comic adventure romps with a little adult humor to give them spice. Think the "good parts" version of THE PRINCESS BRIDE, only with a couple of things you'd skip over when reading them to the kids because, well, they're too young.
Below the cut, an excerpt from A FATE WORSE THAN DRAGONS.
In these enlightened times, the giving of a woman's hand in marriage as a reward for valiant or chivalrous feats might seem a bit insensitive, if not downright uncivilized. Gloria herself had been heard to criticize the practice as an obsolete relic of a barbarous past. But it was a tradition that was entwined in the very roots of history, at least in the Twenty Kingdoms.
One of the earliest stories concerning the matter was recorded in the country of Alacia, when a young man in highly polished armor took up a post on the bridge over the Obitron River, and declared that any man who wished to pass over it must first defeat him in combat. It so happened that the ruler of Alacia, Queen Betty IV, was attending a garden party in the nearby town of Demesne. She sent her minister to inquire of the young man, in words that have come down through the centuries, "What the hell are you doing, you idiot?"
The young man dismounted, knelt before the minister, and gave him this story to take back to the queen. His name was Gaston DuNeasy. He had fallen in love with a very beautiful lady, to whom he had pledged his free will. She demanded that he wear an iron collar around his neck and apparently serve her in other ways that historians found too indelicate to record. After two years his ardor cooled, or perhaps he suffered an attack of good sense, and begged that the lady release him from his oath. Smirking, she said that she would release him if he could break thirty lances in thirty days. He proposed to turn aside every man or woman who attempted to cross until they could find a champion to defeat him.
The minister carried this message to the queen, who was not amused. The road was important to Alacian trade. She called together her cadre of knights and explained the situation. They agreed, once they had stopped snickering at Gaston's predicament, that they could remove him from the bridge with no problem.
At this point most histories go into long and flowery descriptions of shining steel, charging stallions, and flashing lances. Here, let it suffice to say that Gaston performed the remarkable feat of breaking seventeen lances in twelve days, an act of chivalry unsurpassed in the Twenty Kingdoms. By that time he was also battered and broken to the point where he could not continue. The town elders were concerned -- they said it would be bad for business if such a gallent young man died on their turf. Queen Betty took stock of the situation and declared that seventeen was equal to thirty, by royal decree, for this day only, and she had a nice solid dungeon ready for any mathematician who had a problem with the idea. No one objected. With great ceremony the collar was removed. Gaston, under the queen's stern eye, was sent hobbling down the road. Seventeen knights returned to their wives and girlfriends, each to explain that he could have beaten Gaston anytime, really, but just felt sorry for the kid.
And here the story should have reached its rightful end, were it not for the fact that two years later Gaston DuNeasy returned, this time sporting leather underwear, pierced nipples, and a tale about a kinky babe named Lisa to whom he had pledged his troth. Queen Betty, never long on patience to begin with, did not send her knights to combat Gaston. She sent one knight, and an inexperienced one at that. When he was defeated she sent for the lady in question, handed her a wedding veil, a bouquet of flowers, and a fondue set, and had her married on the spot to Gaston, after which she ordered the couple to forever stay out of her sight and shut up about their damn sex life.
Okay, so it's not a great story, and certainly not romantic, but Queen Betty helped establish a precedent that a lady's hand in marriage could indeed be awarded to a knight for an act of courage. Her actions have been cited in hundreds of court cases throughout the Twenty Kingdoms. Gloria wasn't just indulging a fantasy when she put together her plan. She knew it would work.