Story Behind the Story: A Legal Affair

To all Kings, Princes, and Lords,

Whereas I have no children, save only one daughter, I find it expedient to lock said daughter in a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. Whosoever rescues the princess shall marry her and become my heir.

King John VII of Phantacia

* * * * *

To Sir Sedgway, Lord Chief Justice of Phantacia,

I pray you enquire into the cause of my imprisonment, if it be legal or no.

Your devoted servant,

Princess Melissande

image of a tree on a hill with a castle tower in the background

The question everyone always seems to ask authors is: where do you get your ideas? Well, the Princess Melissande sprang from my head fully-formed and Athena-like, in an incident that went something like this…

I was sitting in Panera, reading a book on legal history. Everything was fine and dandy until I reached the section on the use of habeas corpus in custody disputes and domestic violence cases.

Like a lightbulb going off in my head, it occurred to me that your average princess (having been raised in Court and therefore possessing at least a modicum of political sensibility), upon being locked in a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon (you know, the cliche), would attempt to secure her release by writ of habeas corpus (assuming she didn’t agree to be locked up in the first place.)

Great idea! And I’ve always wanted to write a princess-in-a-tower story. So I jotted it down on my mental to-do list and tried to go back to the book.

“Wait, aren’t you going to write it down for real?” Princess Melissande demanded.

“Um, I don’t have any paper on me, except my receipt,” I replied to the figment of my imagination, hoping no one thought I was crazy for talking to thin air.

“What kind of writer doesn’t have any paper on her?” The princess turned to her lawyer. “Is there some legal precedent for this?”

The lawyer frowned. “Maybe if she goes home right away and writes it down?”

“But-” I protested.

Princess Melissande nodded. “Very well. Shoo.”



In the face of her royal displeasure (and the fact that she wouldn’t shut up so I could go back to my book), there was nothing to do but race on home (she’s a horrible backseat, in case anyone cares). I spent the next several hours feverishly writing out her story, until I reached The End.

“Is that it?” Princess Melissande asked, staring at my computer screen doubtfully.

“It’s not done until she puts it into standard manuscript form,” her lawyer declared.

“Fine, fine,” I said, before they could start in on me again. I hastily reformatted it, calculated the word count, and put that in the upper right hand corner of my first page.

1200 words.

“Hmm. You know, there’d probably be a better market for this if I could get it down to flash fiction size,” I said.

“A better market? What do you have to do for that?” Princess Melissande asked, excitedly.

“Oh, just cut out two hundred words-“

Her screech of outrage stopped me cold. “Two hundred words!”

“Well, if it increases the chance of publication…,” her lawyer began, then cut himself off abruptly as she turned her ire on him and began using words no princess ought to know.

Very quietly, I slipped away while they were both distracted and went back to my book.

This story can be found in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress XXVI, available through all the Usual Bookstore Suspects

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