“Prince Charming?” I asked.
Several heads turned. “Right, there are several Prince Charmings, aren't there?”
One dressed in blue stepped forward to resolve my confusion. He was vaguely familiar, but I couldn't quite place him.
“Well, really, it's Princes Charming, properly speaking. Charming is ...” He fumbled for a moment, at a loss for the word he needed. “It's like an extra part of the title. An adjective, not really a name. We've had real proper names from time to time,” he said. Then he paused again.
“Sorry. Had trouble remembering what my name is right now. I've been called Florian, Frederick, David, and James. It's not like our names matter; it's the what we are that matters, not the who. We're all pretty interchangeable on the personal level – one prince is as good as another.”
Interchangeable. Another word for disposable. I wondered if even their wives could tell them apart if they swapped clothes and traded places for the day. Neither Florian nor any of his other names sounded familiar, and I honestly couldn't recognize him from his looks, so I had to ask: “Er. Which one are you, again?”
“I'm Snow White's,” he said.
“How did you court her?” I asked.
“Well, first I started singing with her when she thought she was alone and singing to herself,” he said. He looked at me hopefully.
“Did she like that?” I asked. I couldn't remember that part of the movie.
“No, actually, she found it terrifying and creepy, and she ran away from me.” He sighed. “She didn't return my affections until after I woke her up from that enchanted sleep. I was lucky the witch did that, I don't think I would have gotten her to hold still long enough otherwise.”
“It was the same for both of us,” chipped in a prince wearing red. “Kissing her awake from an enchanted sleep. Plant one on her while she's asleep and she knows she's yours when she wakes up.”
Sleeping Beauty's prince. In the old French fairy tale, the prince visited the sleeping maiden, and she woke up nine months later. With twins. I wanted sound advice, not a prescription for magical roofies. “Ah. Well, uh, nice meeting you.” I turned to another prince, wearing what looked like an old-fashioned military uniform, yellow with gold trim.
“How about you, Prince?”
The next prince paused. “I don't say I really did anything. The ladies came to me, and I picked out the one with the smallest feet. Had the devil of a time finding her, but that's what servants are for. You just need to be yourself - rich, powerful, tall, and handsome, that is - and the ladies will come to you. You'll have your pick of the litter.”
A fourth prince nodded in agreement. “I thought I'd go with a good singer, but then I changed my mind to go with a mute girl who was much cuter and really eager to do anything for me. And I mean, like, anything,” he said with a smile. “Turns out she was also a good singer, just had really bad laryngitis, so that was totally the right choice. Just stand around, be rich, powerful, tall, and handsome, and then pick one out, man. Nothing to it.”
I looked around the room, and indeed, they almost all were tall and handsome, and wore their rich clothes with the assurance of old money. But there was one - a small and slightly darker-complexioned fellow - who was scratching at his sleeves with the discomfort of the newly rich.
“Aladdin?” I said. He'd gotten some real face time in his Disney feature, so it was easy enough to tell who it was. “What if you aren't rich, handsome, tall, and powerful?”
“Then cheat,” he said. “Lie, cheat, and steal your way to the top.” He paused. “Hey, I may be shorter than the rest of those clowns, but I looked tall to her in comparison to her dad. So I got the tall. And I'm handsome.”
He puffed himself up to his full height. “So. If you ain't rich and powerful, claw your way up and you can make her yours. Show your rivals no mercy, show her a good time, and all the lies won't matter so long as you pull through.”
Having a genie at your disposal probably helped, too, but I didn't have any magic lamps at my disposal. I'm not the sort of fellow inclined to skirt moral, legal, and physical laws, either; this was going in the same file with the prescription for magical roofies.
The next fellow looked totally unfamiliar. “Who are you?” I said. Sorting through faceless vaguely princes was hard, but I really couldn't remember this one. Not at all.
“Well, you might know me better wearing my old face. They called me Beast.” His eyes gleamed. “I'm the smart one of this lot, here.”
Beast I could remember. He'd been nearly as prominent in his movie as Aladdin had been in his. “Tall, but not handsome. Rich, but outcast. You had a tough time of it, didn't you?” I said.“Tell me, how on Earth did you hook Belle? How did you get her to fall in love with you?”
Beast paused, considering for a moment. “Stockholm syndrome,” he said.
“Ah.” That made a certain amount of sense. I decided not to ask him about his feelings for Belle, reflecting instead on the lengthy prison sentences associated with kidnapping cases.
Half a dozen princes, and what had I learned?
Well, I should simply be a namelessly bland tall, handsome, wealthy, and influential fellow, and pick one of the easily-impressed girls flinging themselves at me. If the girls weren't flinging themselves at me quickly enough, I should get someone to apply magical roofies to one of them, and have my way with her in her sleep - then she'd be mine when she woke up.
If I wasn't rich and famous enough for that, I should lie, cheat, and steal; kidnapping my chosen bride by force if necessary. Then I should play head games with her until she ended up loving me in spite of – or because of – the way I'd abused and deceived her.
What princely advice that was.