First 2 Chapters from
And Don’t Forget to Rescue the Other Princess


As I mentioned in the Introduction, my name is Al Breen. I’m thirty-one years old, I live in a tiny studio apartment in New York City and I’m an actor. No, you haven’t heard of me. I’ve only been in a few commercials (mostly local), some bit parts in soap operas usually playing extras in crowd scenes, a smattering of Off-Off-Off-Broadway shows in small parts in small theaters with even smaller audiences, and more dead end temp jobs than anyone I’ve ever met. You name it, I’ve done it—telemarketer, waiter, file clerk (I only lasted an hour on that one—not the best work for a mild dyslexic). The list goes on, but you get the idea.

Just so you know, I did manage to get a couple of acting assignments this year. I was in a children’s play about nutrition. I played a donut. I wore a big white paper-mache costume, tights and gloves. The director wasn’t easy to work with. He’d tell me things like “Can you walk more like a donut?” or “Try saying your lines like you’re filled with jelly.” The other acting job I had was on a commercial. I played a gladiator fighting a lion who has bad breath. Few people realize how much this sort of thing contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. Luckily for me, the lion was computer-generated in post-production. There was one other acting job I had this year. I volunteered to entertain at a retirement home. I sang and told old jokes. The average age of the audience was 104 (some of my jokes were only a few months younger). The crowd loved me. I’m one of the only actors I know with 90-year-old groupies.

My temp jobs this year were much less spectacular. I worked at a catering company making six foot-long sandwiches for parties. Maybe it’s me, but I’ve never trusted food that’s taller than I am. And riding that wave of success, I landed another choice employment opportunity at a discount carpet cleaning service where they immediately recognized my superior talents and put me in charge of watering down the shampoo.

And my social life wasn’t exactly sizzling either. Last year my girlfriend left me for another guy. This year I didn’t have a girlfriend, but I did, however, go out on one date. It was with a woman I met in an acting class. During dinner, she asked me about my personal finances. When I told her, she laughed hysterically. When she realized that I wasn’t kidding, she got kind of quiet. Then, during dessert, she claimed that she’d developed a mysterious stomachache and had to leave immediately. I thought her queasy performance lacked real conviction, but not all actors are good at improvising. Most work better with a script.

When summer came I happily accepted an acting job at a small dinner theater in Connecticut. The show was a bedroom farce, called Sorry, I Thought You Were My Wife, in which I was playing two parts. The first was a room service waiter, who says “May I suggest the soup of the day.” The second part was that of a hospital orderly. (I was to wear a clip-on beard so audiences wouldn’t mistake the two characters). The orderly’s line was “Hey, don’t ask me, I just work here.” Clearly, my years of acting school studying Beckett, Albee and Strindberg were bearing fruit. Perhaps entire orchards. What I was going to be paid would not quite cover the rental on the tiny cottage near the theater, but I thought it was worth it not only to have the job but to also get out of New York for a couple of months.

So, there I was in early July, in a miniscule town in Connecticut (I’ve been in bowling alleys that were bigger) on the afternoon before the opening night performance. I’d just gotten home from a perfect dress rehearsal (if you don’t count four missed lighting cues, six forgotten lines by three actors and one piece of falling scenery) and was intent on resting up for the 7:30 curtain. Well, the theater didn’t actually have a curtain (another budget consideration) but let’s not split hairs.

I was in my rented cottage on the couch, taking a power nap (which I always thought sounded a little oxymoronic, like phone sex) when something woke me. I looked up at the screened window, and there, sitting on the sill was a long-haired Persian cat with gold hair, calling my name. “Is that you, Merv, the wizard?” I said.

“You know other people who can turn themselves into animals?” he said.

“Well, no. But you look different than you did last time.”

“I picked another color for the cat. I like to vary things every so often.”

“What brings you here?” I asked.

“Magic,” said the cat.

“No, I mean, why are you here?”

“We need you again, Al, to go on another quest,” said the cat, licking his paw.

“Hey, I told you last time I’m just an actor. It was sheer luck that I was successful before.”

“It doesn’t matter how you did it. The point is, you did it and we want you to do it again.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I’m not available. You see, I’m in a play. I’m actually being paid.”

“Why don’t I come inside and I’ll tell you all about it,” said the cat.

I held up my hands. “You’re wasting your time, but I suppose it can’t hurt to listen.”

I got up, opened the screen door and the cat walked into the house. As soon as he did he took off and ran down the hall.

“Hey,” I said, “where’re you going?”

“That’s for me to know and you to find out,” he said, disappearing behind a corner.

“Listen,” I said, calling out after him, “it’s a rented house; don’t scratch anything with your claws.”

“Now, would I do that?” said the cat.

I followed his voice and realized that it was coming from the bathroom. I went inside and saw no sign of him. Then I pulled the shower curtain back and suddenly the room began spinning, and I saw bright colors and everything went black.

* * * * *

I woke up in a cavernous stone grey room filled with shelves of scrolls, dusty parchments, glass beakers, and ancient looking books. The room was lit by braziers in the corners. It was Merv the wizard’s chambers, and it looked unchanged from when I’d first seen it last summer.

The cat strolled into the room. Before I could say anything, there was an explosion of light, sparkles and smoke. I coughed, as standing before me in his full regalia, was Merv, the master wizard.

“Good evening, warrior Al,” he said, stroking his long white beard. The point of his hat looked like it’d been stuck in a pencil sharpener since I’d seen it last time.

“Look,” I said,” as I was trying to tell you back at the cottage, this isn’t like last year. Tonight is our opening night. There’ll be critics there, and a real audience.” He seemed unimpressed. I continued. “This is my big break, people are depending on me. You can’t let them put on my understudy, the guy’s a complete doofus. I have two lines and during the understudy rehearsal he had to write them on his hand in ball point pen, and he still couldn’t remember them.

Merv looked very serious as he said “Come, the King awaits.”

“If I’m not at that theater tonight I may never work again,” I said.

Just then, the door burst open and armed guards stomped in.

“Seize him,” said Merv.

“But you don’t understand,” I said, as the guards grabbed me, “my name is in the program. People will be disappointed. All right, nobody knows who I am, but it’s great exposure.”

We began walking though the stone hallway, passing lit torches on the walls.

“Al,” said Merv, as we walked together with the guards, “you were exactly this way last summer before you set off on your quest to rescue the beautiful princess Megan.”

“Well, not exactly,” I said. “Last summer I was unemployed. I was writing a play.”

“How is your play?” asked Merv.

“Actually,” I said, “it’s got some first act problems. But that’s not important now; what’s important is getting me back home.”

“I cannot do that.”

“You know,” I said, “a lot of actors get discovered in small shows. People think nobody important goes to them and then a Broadway producer shows up at your dressing room; well, it’s really a bathroom in this case. They can’t afford a real dressing room. But the point is, how do I know that some big shot isn’t going to discover me tonight? I could be going out there as an unknown but back a star.”

Merv said nothing as we walked up a long flight of winding stone steps and started down another corridor. I was starting to get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t know what else to say to try to change his mind. I wondered if I should try groveling, since begging and pleading hadn’t worked.

We continued down the hallway till we came to two enormous doors. They were opened by the guards, and once again, as I had done the previous year, found myself in the royal throne room. It hadn’t changed at all. Huge tapestries hung from the tall walls, and marble columns lined the room. Long red carpets stretched out on the floor. The throne sat on a small platform, with a few steps leading up to it. Guards with spears stood on both sides of the throne and near the doorways as well. Then, a few men came out and blew into trumpets and a guard who I had the lousy luck to meet last time, and who was still the size of a Guernsey, came over and pushed me to my knees. And then the King walked in and sat down on the throne. After he was seated everyone stood up again. The King looked at me and smiled.

“Ah,” he said, “warrior Al is here.”

I glanced at Merv who gave me a serious look.

“Approach the throne, warrior,” said the King.

I stepped in front of the throne. The King looked me over and said “It has been a year and you seem as fit as ever.”

“Actually,” I said, “I’ve had a recurring rash on my leg. My dermatologist thinks I might be allergic to my discount jeans.”

“Sir Al,” said the King, smiling, “it is splendid to see that you still retain your good humor.”

I couldn’t help thinking how last year he’d threatened to cut off my head for less, but decided not to mention that.

“I commanded Master Wizard Merv bring you here once again,” said the King, “because of the unprecedented success that you and Sir Nigel achieved in rescuing my daughter, the lovely Princess Megan, from the sorcerer known as Mornnnnnnn, and destroying his evil empire.”

“We got lucky,” I said.

“I choose to believe it was skill,” said the King. “Under ordinary circumstances, Sir Al, the return of a hero such as yourself would be cause for celebration in the great hall, engendering a feast and reverie and the free flow of wine. But these are not ordinary circumstances.”

“Has Princess Megan been kidnapped again?” I asked.

“Silence!” said the King. “You will speak when spoken to!”

I swallowed.

“Now then,” said the King, “after your departure last summer, back to your world, my daughter, the lovely Princess Megan, and Nigel the Nervous were joined in wedded bliss…”

I was going to tell him that my invitation must have been lost in the mail, but didn’t think he’d appreciate the comment. I snuck a look at my watch. It read 5:00, which, if it were still on North American time, meant I had two and a half hours to make it to the theater in time for the opening.

“My daughter’s wedding was a gala of a magnitude previously unknown in the Kingdom of Flemp. The festivities went on for days. No expense was spared and it was attended by thousands, including the Fair Princess Deidre.”

I knew a woman once named Deidre. She worked at an all night supermarket and had a very big butt. I decided it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to mention this.

“My daughter Deidre,” said the King. “I see your expression of surprise. Yes, I have another daughter. Many years ago she left the Castle Furley to pursue her studies. But when she heard of her sister’s impending nuptials, she used the occasion to return to the fold and my joy was doubled. My younger daughter was married, and my older daughter, the rightful heir to my throne, had returned.”

I dared not say anything for fear of reprisals, but I thought the story was getting a bit involved.

“After the wedding, my daughter, the Fair Princess Deidre assumed her rightful place at my side, and my heart filled with great happiness. That is, till one fateful day, Princess Deidre went out on a butterfly hunt and was abducted by blackguards. All attempts to rescue her thus far have failed.”

The King paused, stroked his beard and pointed at me. “You, Sir Al, will find the Princess and return her to me. What say you?”

“Well,” I said, “I can see your predicament, your highness, however…”

I looked at Merv who was shaking his head.

“While I appreciate you having such confidence in me…”

“Yes, go on,” said the King.

“Uh,” I said, “you see, there’s this show—”

Merv interrupted. “He knows not of what he speaks, your highness.”

“He seems to be quite aware of his words,” said the King. “Please continue, Sir Al.”

“As you may remember, your Highness, in my world I’m an actor, and tonight is the opening night of my show.”

“And what does this have to do with my daughter, the fair Princess Deidre?” said the King.

“Well,” I said, “uh, I have to get back to my world. My whole professional life is on the line.”

“I see,” said the King, “you are refusing to go on a royal quest. Guards, take this man to the dungeon and inform the executioner to prepare his sharpest blade for tomorrow.”

The guards began moving toward me as I felt the unmistakable feeling of déjà vu. Only this time there was a good chance that I wouldn’t escape death. Me and my big mouth, I thought. Hadn’t I learned anything from the first time I’d been here? These people were very serious about their quests. And they wouldn’t take no for an answer. I wondered if it would be a public execution. Maybe they’d let me say a few words to the audience before the ax fell. One way or another, I was going to get some stage time.


“Wait,” said a female voice.

I turned to see Princess Megan run into the center of the room. She was wearing a purple dress and pointed hat. Did everyone own a pointed hat or a crown but me, I wondered?

“I beseech thee, father,” she said, “spare this man who saved me from the evil one known as Mornnnnn.”

“My fair Princess Megan,” said the King, “this is no affair of yours.”

“If it involves the return of my long absent sister, now absent again, then it is indeed my affair, father, and I must intercede.”

“Your insolence will not be tolerated, my daughter,” said the King.

“Shall we stand on ceremony now, father, in my sister’s hour of need? I have seen Sir Al’s bravery. If there is any chance that he can succeed where all others have failed…”

“I suppose we have no choice,” said the King, shrugging, “and if he dies in the attempt we are no worse for the trying.”

I groaned. I rescue one princess and suddenly I get repeat business. The odds against my success on the first quest had been astronomical; the odds against my doing the same on the second were incalculable.

The King stood up, pointed at me, and said to the guards “Bring him to my private chambers.”

“Allow me to speak with him first, your highness,” said the wizard.

“Very well,” said the King, “but time grows scarce.” With that, the King walked away, with Princess Megan following behind him. The guards let go of me and then Merv grabbed my arm and took me behind a marble column.

“Are you mad?” said the wizard in a stage whisper. “Did we not go through your defiance of the King’s orders the last time you were here? Refusal of a royal order means death. It was only the intercession of her Royal Highness—”

“Wait a second,” I said. “I’m a free man. You can’t just zap me here any time you want, and expect me to—”

“Yes we can,” he said. “And the reward will be your safe passage back to your own world, just as it was before.”

“But what if I die on this quest?”

“Try not to.”

“You’re a big help.”

“Now, then,” said Merv, “compose yourself and we shall join the King in his chambers.”

“All right,” I said, as I thought about dying, which of course led me to think about the play I would not be in. Merv began walking and I followed him.

“And whatever the King asks you to do, agree to it,” said Merv.

“Sure,” I said, “what do you care? You don’t go on quests. You stay here in the castle and stare at your crystal ball.”

“Actually, it’s been a bit cloudy lately.”

“Can you take it back to your dealer?”

“You speak strangely.”

“Yeah, right, I’m the weird one.”

The wizard stopped in front of a wooden door and opened it. The King’s chamber looked exactly as I remembered it. Tapestries lined the walls. Off to one side was a long wooden table and chairs. A minute later the King arrived with his guards.

“Sir Al,” said the King, “would you like an apple?” he asked, gesturing to a bowl on the table.

“Sure,” I said, keeping the wizard’s advice in mind. I picked up an apple, wiped it on a nearby napkin and took a bite. It had a worm in it, which I took as a bad omen.

We all sat down at the table. The King said, “It is our belief that my daughter, the fair Princess Deidre was taken by minions of the sorceress known as Sorchaaaaaaaa.”

“Sorchaaaaaaaa?” I said.

“No,” said the King, “Sorchaaaaaaaa,” said the King, “the most evil sorceress in the world. Men shudder at her very name.”

“I had a girlfriend like that once,” I said.

“Will this man never be silenced?” said the King to Merv the wizard.

“Heed his Highness,” said Merv to me, then to the King: “His ways are not our ways.”

The King sneered, then said, “According to our spies, the sorceress, Sorchaaaaaaaa, is, even as we speak, amassing an army to invade nearby lands and cast her evil shadow across others as well. Can ours be far behind? But forewarned is forearmed. So, you must not only rescue Princess Deidre but you must also destroy the sorceress as well.”

“It’s not enough I have to save the princess, now. I also have to get rid of the dictator. What do I look like, Evil Dictator Removers-“R”-Us?”

The King stood up and went to one of the tapestries. He gestured at a dot on the bottom left of the “map” and said “We are here.” Then he picked up a long stick and pointed to the very top of the map and said “The sorceress dwells here, in a mighty citadel; it is said that it is always cold and dreary there.”

Now she really sounded like my old girlfriend, I thought.

“Your previous quest took you east,” said the King. “Now you shall venture north through the forest, cross the great plain, and continue to the mountains.”

I looked up at the huge map/tapestry, which was about the size of a highway billboard, and said, “Do you have any idea how long this quest will take?”

“That is impossible to estimate,” said the King, “as none who have attempted this journey have ever returned to tell the tale.”

That’s not exactly the answer I wanted to hear, I thought. “Is there anything you can tell me about the possible dangers?” I said.

“The terrain is extremely rugged and largely unexplored,” said the King, “though I have heard tell of a great monster who guards the citadel; but whether this is truth or legend is not known.”

A monster, I thought. It just gets better and better all the time. Why not just kill me now and cut out the middle man?

“Oh,” said the King, “and when you are in the sorceress’ presence you must proceed with extreme caution. It is said she possesses great magic.”

The idea that I would make it within ten miles of the castle was far-fetched; but to imagine actually getting near the sorceress herself seemed totally impossible. I just couldn’t contain myself and blurted out, “This is ridiculous, there’s no chance that I could even—”

“Your highness,” said Merv, “I saw with my own eyes not two days ago in my crystal this warrior fighting a ferocious lion.”

“A lion?” I said. “Wait a second, that’s my commercial for Gladiator Mouthwash.”

“See,” said the wizard, wagging his finger at me, “he admits it.”

“That lion was computer-generated…” I said.
“…animated. I was working in front of a blue screen.” They stared at me. I tried to figure out how to explain special effects to people who believed that bathing more than once a year was high tech.

Just then the door burst open and Nigel the Nervous, followed by Princess Megan, walked into the room.

“What is the meaning of this intrusion?” said the King.

Nigel, looking as uncomfortable as he did last summer, glanced at Princess Megan, his wife, who said “Go on Nigel, you know what to say.”

Nigel faced the King and said “Uh, your highness, I would like to . . . that is, I would ask that—”

“Out with it!” said the King.

“He wishes to accompany Sir Al on his quest to rescue the fair Princess Deidre,” said Megan.

“Is that right, Nigel?” said the King.

Nigel nodded his head up and down, but didn’t look at all convinced or convincing.

“Go on, Nigel,” said Megan.

“Uh,” said Nigel, “it would be my honor to . . .” Nigel looked at the King, then at me, and started walking toward the door, but Megan blocked it.

“You must go with Sir Al,” said Megan.

“But I already went with him on one quest to rescue you,” said Nigel.

“Enough!” said the King. “I am filled with disgust.” He stood up and said “Ready these knights and prepare for their long journey.”

The King exited along with the guards, leaving Merv, Nigel and Megan. I turned to Nigel.

“So, how’ve you been, Nigel?” I asked.

“All right, I suppose,” said Nigel, “though lately I’ve developed a bit of a sniffle. And you?”

“Not bad,” I said, “till today.”

“I need a handkerchief,” said Nigel.

“I could use a nap myself,” I said. “All this magical traveling between worlds is very tiring.”

“Brave warriors,” said Megan, with a snort.

Two guards walked into the room, and grabbed me.

“Now we go to my chambers,” said Merv the wizard.

The guards, the wizard and I started off into the hallway, leaving Nigel and Megan in the King’s chambers. As we walked, I thought about the suicide mission that lay ahead. I wondered why they couldn’t have found some real soldier or mercenary; why did they have to pick me again? Me, who had his bed consistently short-sheeted in sleep-away camp; me, who doesn’t like to return merchandise to a store even if it’s defective because I might get yelled at by a surly sales clerk.

When we got to Merv’s chambers the guards left us and went back to wherever it is that guards go. I stood near a table that was covered with ancient-looking volumes and scrolls. Merv looked at me and said, “This is the time, when we last met, that you tried to bribe me to send you back to your world with your time piece.”

“My watch still works,” I said, holding up my arm. “Twenty-seven dollars. It takes a mighty mean licking, but it keeps on ticking.”

“I’m still not interested,” said Merv.

“Okay, well, what about—”

“Nor am I interested in your offers to bring me together with women from your world.”

“Don’t knock it till you try it,” I said.

“And then came your attempts to entice me with small change from your world…”

“Check it out,” I said, taking out my wallet. “Strictly dollar bills, no change.”

“Enough,” said the wizard, stepping over to a large trunk. He opened it and took out a garment. “Do you remember this?”

“The dress I wore last time,” I said.

“It is chain mail,” he said dryly. “And here is your cape, belt, hood, boots, tights and tunic.”

“You still don’t have a gun in there, do you?” I asked.

“Your words are strange,” said Merv.

“That’s not all that’s strange about him,” said a voice in the trunk.

The wizard took out a sword.

“Remember your blade,” said Merv, “the mighty humming sword of Hamm?”

“Well,” I said, “it’s not that easy to forget a sword that talks.”

“Hiya, bud,” said the sword, “I missed you, too.”

“Pardon me for intruding upon this heartfelt reunion,” said Merv. “However, I have other things to aid you on your journey.”

“Like what,” I said, “a magic jockstrap?”

“No, this,” said the wizard, handing me a small pocket mirror.

“What’s that for,” I said, “in case I have to comb my hair during a battle?”

“It will help you at the right time. Keep it with you always.”

“How about a couple of furry dice that I can hang from my horse?”

He shook his head and handed me a gnarled wooden walking stick.

“A cane?” I said.

“As the King mentioned you will be headed for most rugged terrain indeed.”

“What about the monster he mentioned?” I asked. “What am I supposed to do if I encounter it?”

“Try not to get killed by it,” replied Merv.

“You’re a wealth of useful information,” I said. “Could I take a nap before I go?”

“You leave at dawn, a few scant moments from now.” Merv handed me a parchment. “Here’s your map.” He pointed north. “Try to stay in this direction. Oh, and here are some coins that may prove useful,” he said, giving me some change.

“Great,” I said. “Now I have an allowance, too. It’s about as much as I used to get from my father when I was eight.”

I put the map and coins in my belt pouch and sighed, as Merv opened the door and we walked into the hallway. When we got to the courtyard, Nigel was there with Princess Megan. There were also two horses.

“Promise me that you will be careful,” said Megan to Nigel, who looked as uncomfortable as someone could be without actually weeping.

“I promise,” said Nigel. “At least I’ll try to be careful. I could be even more careful if I didn’t go at all.”

“You’ll be rescuing my sister,” said Megan, sternly.

“Yes, my dearest,” said Nigel. Megan turned to me and said “Al, watch out for him.”

“Sure,” I said, “but who’s going to watch out for me?”

“Don’t look at me,” said Nigel.

“Can’t you two act like men?” said Megan.

“Well,” I said, “it might be a bit of a stretch.”

“It was a rhetorical question,” said Megan, frowning and turning away.

Just then a door opened and guards walked out, followed by the King. He came over to us and said “I am here to wish you a safe and swift journey; and may the eternal spirit be with you.”

Then the King and the guards turned around and exited from the courtyard. No sooner had they left than the drawbridge was lowered and I climbed onto my horse. And Nigel got on to his.

“Here we go again,” I said.

“Don’t remind me,” said Nigel.

When the drawbridge was completely down, our horses walked slowly across it. As soon as we were on solid land, the bridge was quickly raised again. In the distance the dawn was breaking. There were trees and bushes on either side of us. I glanced at Nigel; he looked back with an expression that seemed to indicate extreme pain, but could have just been heartburn. From here on in, I thought, anything could happen. We were outside the safe confines of the castle. Although I question how safe a place can be when the guy who runs it is constantly threatening to lop off your head.

Nigel and I were going in a different direction than we had taken during our previous quest, so I had no idea what to expect. Previous quest—there were two words I thought I’d never use in a sentence. Meanwhile, my understudy was going on and making a complete fool of himself. And I was once again riding off with a man who had exactly as much experience going on dangerous quests as I did, which is to say not very much.

I was no knight, I was simply a frightened guy a long way from home. I think if Nigel wasn’t watching me, I would have begun crying profusely right then and there. But I didn’t want to take the chance on tarnishing my he-man, macho reputation.