Prince Thomas was the sole heir to the king and queen of Danin. He was raised like any other prince; he was brought up by a nanny, taught by the finest scholars in the kingdom, and betrothed to a princess from another kingdom before he even reached the age of one. But Tom always felt quite different than other princes he had met.
Ever since he could remember, rulers from other kingdoms would come to Danin for diplomatic visits. While the various kings, dukes, or lords discussed the different states of their respective territories, their children were left to play under the close supervisions of their nannies. Tom was astonished how mature they acted. Though only a few of them were truly spoiled, they all had no trouble accepting that they would someday rule a land.
"But doesn't it scare you?" Tom once asked a prince who was two years older than he was.
"Why would it?" the prince shrugged. "There will be advisors to help me decide how to run things."
Tom frowned. "Shouldn't a king be able to run things without advisors telling us what to do?"
"Why?" asked another, more snobbish prince. "That's what they're there for. If they weren't supposed to help us, then they wouldn't have jobs."
"Besides, it's what we were born to do," a prince no older than six chimed in. "When we grow up and become kings, we'll get to do anything we want!"
"Nanny says it's not about doing what you want," Tom said quietly. "It's about doing what's best for other people."
The other children stared at him. "You listen to servants?" asked a princess in a horrified whisper.
"You aren't supposed to talk to them like they're friends," the snobby prince sneered. "They're only there to do chores."
Tom couldn't see what was wrong with talking to his nanny. She had been with him all his life, and he had never known a more kind and loving person. He saw her more than he saw his own parents, whom he barely saw--let alone talked to--aside from the royal meals. And even during that time, he had very little to say to them because he felt as though he didn't know them well enough.
"Well, what about this stuff about arranged marriages?" he asked, making one last attempt to find something they all agreed on. "Does it feel strange that we're supposed to marry someone we don't know very well?"
The other children shrugged. "Not really," yawned a princess, playing with her doll. "That's how my mommy and daddy got married, and they get along all right."
"I'm engaged to a Nagarian princess," said the snobby prince in a bored voice. "I've only seen her once. She's a crybaby if I ever saw one, but at least she'll get prettier when she grows up."
At this point, Tom gave up. It was obvious that he had nothing in common with these children. They were all more or less prepared for their future duties as monarchs. Tom, on the other hand, wasn't sure he wanted to be King of Danin. It seemed like such a large responsibility, and he didn't think he would be able to handle it well.
He was silent for the rest of the day, until all the royals had finally left the castle. By this time, night had fallen. His nanny led him up to his room to get him ready for bed. She was just tucking him into bed when he finally spoke. "Nanny, do I have to be a prince?"
Nanny looked surprised. "Of course you do!" she said sharply. "You were born a prince, and you always will be a prince whether you want to or not!"
"Oh..." Tom muttered, shifting uncomfortably in his bed. "I'm sorry...I just wondered..."
But Nanny wasn't the type of person who let things drop so easily. "What would make you ask such a silly question?" she demanded.
"Well...I don't know, Nanny," he said slowly. "It's just that all those other princes I saw today all seemed so ready to grow up and be kings, and I--I'm not."
Nanny's plump face softened. "Of course you're not ready," she said gently. "You're only six years old; when the time comes for you to rule the kingdom, you'll be ready."
"I hate being a prince!" he burst out, unable to stop himself. "I hardly ever see Mother and Father, I can't play with normal kids, and I have to marry a princess from some other kingdom I've never met!"
"I know it's not easy, love," she said sympathetically, stroking his dark hair. "But it's the way things are. Don't worry, you'll get used to it someday."
Though her assurances were comforting, Tom didn't think he would ever get used it.
"And as for that princess, you'll get to meet her when you're a little older," Nanny went on. "She won't be a complete stranger by the time you marry her."
"Will I love her?" Tom wondered, staring at the ceiling.
"In time, perhaps you will," she said rather thoughtfully.
This answer worried him. "What if I don't?" He wasn't nearly old enough to even consider romance. He didn't really like girls; all the ones he'd ever met seemed so strange and silly. Still, one of the main things Nanny had taught him was that a marriage was no marriage without love.
She gazed at him, seeing his discomfort. "Would you like me to read you a bedtime story?" she asked, apparently deciding to change the subject.
He nodded, not knowing what else to say.
Nanny walked to the bookshelf and pulled out a thick book with an old, tattered cover. "These are stories of royals in the past," she told him, brushing dust off the cover. "Princes and princesses who managed to lead exciting lives, even though they were afraid of their destinies. They've been told so many times over the years that no one knows if they are the truth or merely myths."
"Which are they?" Tom whispered.
Nanny shrugged, yet had a cryptic smile on her face. "Who knows? You'll have to find out for yourself someday..."
And so every night after that, Nanny would read him a story from the book. Tom would sit in his bed, listening intently to tales of valiant princes, beautiful princesses, enchanted kingdoms, vicious dragons, and other kinds of exciting adventures. Even when Nanny had finished the entire book (which took quite some time), Tom made her read them over and over again. While the stories, true or not, didn't exactly make him any less nervous about someday ascending the throne, he couldn't get enough of the stories. If he could be as fortunate as the princes were at the end of each story, maybe being a prince wouldn't be so bad after all.