After the seven of you have settled down in your chairs (with some difficulties finding people willing to sit next to each other), Bob comes out and speaks.
"The king is senile, or dying, or both. And so it has fallen to you to lead the kingdom."
Bob squints at his papers.
"I'm sorry, I managed to get one of the pamphlets stuck over my notes. One moment."
Some papers are shuffled around.
"Right. So, the seven of you are going to jointly rule the kingdom. You have access to portions of the treasure and guard, and any events that you need more money or manpower you'll have to clear through me. As I'm sure you're all going to go out questing for princesses so you don't have to bother will all this red tape in the future, I will be contacting you periodically to make sure you don't let the kingdom go to pieces.
"Some magical items that were meant to be parts of each of your inheritences have been delivered to your rooms. Your manservent has been preparing equipment deemed useful for your quests and great deeds. I'm sure you're aware that no coercion of the princesses shall be allowed, and you must convince the princess of her own free will to return to this spot and marry you for the coronation to be legal.
Now, as I'm sure you're all interested, I have a short list of possible Princess targets. I've done my research and a bit of magic and have located the five princesses that are deemed most likely to find. I have included a map and compass in each of your equipment lists, with the general areas of each princess marked. But to summarize,
Princess Violet has been enslaved by a dragon, and is being forced to work against her will in the dragon's keep on the southern coastline. You may want to pack some fire resistant pajamas.
Princess Rose has been captured by an evil ogre and is being held somewhere in the mountains to the northeast. We're actually due for an orc invasion from that area in the next few weeks, so I'd appreciate if somebody could take care of that while they're up there.
Princess Daisy is being kept in a tower in the middle of the wasteland to the northwest. The trek across the wastes will be grueling and punishing, and only the brave and true of heart can make the devastating trip. Be sure to pack plenty of water.
Princess Lily has been enchanted by a witch, kept in the top floor of a tower in the Enchanted Forest, to the southwest. Legend has it that she can only be awakened by the kiss of her true love. Make sure to use chapstick.
and last but not least, Princess Hyacinth is actually somewhere in the southwest section of town. I'm not quite sure why none of you have noticed her before.
Checking your equipment, you seem to have a large supply of standard adventurer's equipment, several horses to carry them with, a cloak of impressive entrance (guaranteed to be the fanciest entrance at a party! Favorite of dashing latecomers everywhere), and a magic sword. Not a bad start, actually.
Wearing the Cloak of Impressive Entrance (you decide it would probably be pretty safe for the bars you're investigating, being mostly fairly respectable ones, and it would certainly get the attention you'd want to try to find somebody who has heard of this "princess"), you make your way around the southwest side of town.
Your entrances are indeed impressive. The light gives a halo effect around you as you enter, your cape swirls majestically, and you feel yourself posing in just the right way to have maximum dramatic impact. You feel quite satisfied.
In one of the bars, suddenly Thato barges in (his entrance has _no_ style. Pitiful.) right after you, with a troop of eight guards, and shouts out, "In the Name of Prince Thato, I Hereby Order the arrest of Princess Hyacinth for not Properly being a Damsel in Distress." You can actually _hear_ the capitals as he's talking. Thato's always been really strict for what's proper and right, and looks like he's found a new cause to work for.
You sigh at having to calm him down again, but you put on a good face for your greeting.
(this paragraph taken completely from your email) "My dear brother, you can't imagine how glad I am to see you! But I am afraid that, as you can see, the most lovely Princess Hyacinth is not here. I myself came here looking for her, or for rumors of her whereabouts; it struck me immediately as strange that a young lady of such undeniable virtue should be wandering around unattended, and I feared she must have come to some harm. It seems my worst fears have been confirmed; and I'm terribly afraid that you may be mistaken, and the Princess Hyacinth may be in the greatest distress of all. After all, we know where the other princesses are, and they are, if lacking liberty, at least secure. But it would seem that Princess Hyacinth is actually lost! Why, even now she could be wandering in the Enchanted Forest with no idea where she is! Who knows what terrible danger she could be in!"
Just as you finish, a peasant woman has just managed to push her way through the crowd and points an accusing finger at Thato. Her glare could peel paint. "Damsel in distress, huh? I'll give you distress!"
Taken aback, you look at her over further as she continues.
"Distress is being born into a position you didn't want, didn't choose. Distress is being chased by all of you moronic idiots that call yourselves princes. Distress is the insinuation that you are inferior or immoral or somehow wrong in that you don't do a good enough job of being completely useless, something which you princes seem to have down. Distress is being required to act helpless because it's what I'm *supposed* to do."
You realize, looking at her bearing, her features and her command of speech, that this actually _is_ a princess! Amazing!
"Well, I'll let you in on a little secret. I'm not helpless. Never have been, never will be. Not only am I completly competent on my own, which is something most definitely can't say for you, I refuse to act incompetent just to make you guys feel better about yourselves because you don't quite feel masculine enough. I won't play. I refuse. You can keep your little inferiority complexes to yourselves, but don't expect me to respect it. So if you want to lock me up in some little prison cell and leave me there so someone can "rescue" me, then go right ahead. Just remember that the more you treat me like an object of property, the more I will hate you and resent your very existence. Damsel in distress that, Mr. Macho."
And apparently not a very happy one.
Thato slowly looks the princess up and down, and then focuses on her face. He bows to her gallantly, his hand over his sword. As he straightens, he says, "My apologies, Princess Hyacinth. I did not know that you were in distress. It is obvious to me now, thanks to that diatribe of yours, that you truly are a damsel in distress. You are a damsel in emotional distress! My Apologies."
"I will be leaving now!" he exclaims as his soldiers gather around the three of you (you, the princess, and Thato, for those keeping track). He bows again, kissing her hand. Turning towards the door, he takes a moment to talk to you. "Well, Thereo, you appear to have been correct. She is, in fact, the Princess in the greatest distress of all. Emotional distress is more damaging than a thousand dragons and a thousand evil witches, because it's effects are permanent and life-scarring. A few years of an evil sleeping enchantment or a stint as a dragon's bait is easily forgotten after a true loves frees the stricken princess. Though, in concession to you, Princess Hyacinth, often it is not the true love that rescues them, and the relationship with the evil witch, who is only defined as evil by us Princes who are forced into our societal role as damsel-savers and strong men by the strong emotional and societal conditioning that we undergo as small prince-lings and, through this conditioning, we are led to believe that any ugly woman with a few skin blemishes, a bad temper (caused by our own externally imprinted predjudices, which leads to only a few viable jobs that a honest women can work at, one of which is evil-witching), and a healthy knowledge of herbs who works in close proximity of a beautiful woman born into an outdated hierarchal system consisting of pre-conditioned males and similarly conditioned females that perpetuate the system through their offspring and the conditioning of local populations into believing that these "noble" people have something other than ancestral wealth that allows them..."
Princess Hyacinth appears to be giggling softly. Prince Thato has not seemed to notice.
"...to rule with an iron, dictadorial hand over people who are, in general, more healthy and intelligent than the "nobles" due to the fact that the "nobles", in their conditioned beliefs of superiority, breed in a sort of small, closed loop that acts as a slower form of incest (as cousins marry cousins rather than sister marry brother), causes us to label the woman an evil-witch and persecute her just because she can provide a sleeping draught, as we are conditioned to distrust anything that has not been done for many generations, for the reason that if we allowed society to advance slightly and deviate from the traditions and statutes that have been practised over hundreds of years then the populace we rely on for most of our laber would be deconditioned and realize that they are more entitled to what we have than we are and take our belongings from us justly, then the relasionship with the evil witch may be no more than an honest attempt by the princess to learn more about the world and escape the close confines of the pre-conditioned life and actually make a life for herself which I, as a Prince and conditioned upholder of this system, must prevent because it both prolongs the system, ensuring my long-term survival and comfort..."
Princess Hyacinth does a few mocking gestures when Thato turns his head to address you or the crowd instead of her. You manage to keep a straight face. Knowing Thato, this speech could take a while. You settle back comfortably and wait it out.
"...and goes against the traditions that propogate the system which, through time, have become the laws of the lands controlled by my ancestors and I in which we are recognized as the "nobility" and therefore precedent and trend-setters as well as rulers, and because, as a Prince and therefore someone whom the peoples look to for moral and legal guidance, I must obey the laws thus set forth in order to ensure that they are followed in the kingdom, I must insist that all Princesses in this kingdom must be either in Distress, courted in a castle or mansion by a Prince who is always witty, charming, and brave, though completely superficial and therefore unable to protect the Princess adequately or engage in a truly intelligent conversation because he is only superficially intelligent, or about to be turned into a queen, therfore, I hereby certify you as currently having the status of "In Emotional Distress" and will provide, by law and free of charge, a royal councilor to provide counciling (who you are required by law to go to), under the condition that when you are cured of you emotional distress you must, within a fortnight, either be In Distress, being courted inside a officially sanctioned castle or mansion, or Queen."
You blink for a moment, not realizing that he's actually done, when he takes a few breaths and starts up again. Sighing softly, you settle back down.
Thato goes on without stopping, "Thus, Thereo, as Emotional distress is very hard to cure, I would ask that you assist the Princess in the cure along with the royal councilor. Have a good evening. Princess." at which point he half-bows in the princess's direction and walks out with his guards.
Turning to the princess, you raise your eyebrow in amusement. "Well, I appear to have my orders, O most admirable Princess Hyacinth. I must immediately assist in curing you of having sat through one of my good brother Thato's dissertations. What course of action would best drive that unwelcome experience from your mind?" With a bow, you continue, "I am at your service, if my company be not unwelcome."
Hyacinth responds, "Well, at least you understand that you guys all seem to be stupid. Buy me a drink and then we can go to his stupid counseling thing. I'll humor him for a little while. This is all just completely ridiculous."
You buy Hyacinth a drink, and you talk for a little while, chatting about this and that, and comparing how boring each of you thought Thato's speech was. She then excuses herself to use the ladies' room.
After half an hour or so you start getting suspicious that she's not coming back.