Copyright 2015 Susan Skylark
Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.
Table of Contents:
“No, no, no!” rang the irate fairy’s strident voice as she perused the text before her, “this will never do, not in the least! That’s not how it happened at all!”
“What’s wrong with it?” gasped her journalistic companion in surprise, “I thought you were a Reformed Evil Fairy or some such?”
Her glare froze him in his seat as she replied icily, “that does not mean I will swoon and sigh over this pathetic drivel you have the audacity to call literature. Not even my goody-goody sister is that insipid.”
“But what is wrong with it?” said the flummoxed, and rather nervous, writer in growing despair.
“The better question,” said the fairy wryly, “is what is right with it. Nothing! Absolutely nothing!” She frowned slightly and added, “that and it is utterly dull.”
“Dull?!” said he, his ire suddenly replacing his fear and surprise, “it is the consummate fairy tale!”
“That’s the problem,” said she with a heavy sigh, “I’ve had to give up the genre entirely in these latter years; it probably isn’t your fault, the world isn’t what it used to be. I suppose you don’t even believe in dragons?”
“Of course not,” said the man with a sneer, “why should I? Nor unicorns either, for that matter.”
“So you can put a rider on your home insurance policy, of course” said the fairy with a laughing smirk, “what happens if a dragon should happen to fly over your house and sneeze?” He paled at this, wondering if his disbelief were so wise and trendy after all. She continued, “as for unicorns, there’s not really any practical reason to believe in them, but it’s to your own loss if you don’t.” He frowned at her, not catching her meaning but she was not about to enlighten him further.
Said he after a long and awkward silence, “very well, madam, I suppose since I importuned you for this very reason. You had best tell me how to improve my manuscript.”
“Much better,” said the Reformed Fairy of Blackfen, with something almost resembling a genuine smile. She took up the paper again and scanned the text, muttering under her breath as she read, “big party…angry fairy…the girl will die…irritating cousin mitigates the curse…pricks her finger on a spindle…long nap…smooch from a handsome prince…happily ever after.” She looked up at him and said solemnly, “if you must know, it is very tedious indeed.” His mouth fell open in astonishment but she charged on before he could utter anything he might afterwards regret, as he was in the presence of a magical person who did not suffer fools lightly, said she, “your characters have no personality, your plot has no depth, there isn’t even a sprinkling of humor in it, the danger and suspense is nonexistent as we all know the prince will come eventually. That and it’s historically inaccurate.”
“Fine,” grumped the journalist, sitting back in his chair, arms crossed, and the look of a sulking toddler on his face, “enlighten me.”
“Oh, that I will,” said the fairy in true delight as she tossed the paper aside, laughed she, “and it doesn’t even begin with ‘Once upon a time:’
“I need a baby,” said the noble lady to her husband as he entered their extensive and fashionable house. He stared at her blankly for a moment, as if wondering why she just did not go out and procure one like she did her dresses and shoes, rather than bothering him with such trifling little details, but before he could fathom the full import of her words, she plunged ahead, “I was just over at the Jones’s and they have the cutest little boy! Oh, darling! I want one; I must have one! Wouldn’t a little girl be just the thing to liven up this rather dreary old house? Think of the adorable little clothes and accessories I could buy! The congratulations and adulation that would flow in!”
He was about to protest that babies were theoretically expensive, and from what he had heard, they were quite noisy and dreadfully messy, not to mention rather inconvenient, but then that is what one had staff for, was it not? And as money was no object in that particular household, why not? “Very well darling,” said he, “if it makes you happy, nothing could please me more.”
But it seems infants are slightly harder to procure than shoes of a particular size and shade, which is hard enough, most especially when you are impatient for the fulfillment thereof. So it was that little Midas Jones was walking and beginning to babble almost recognizable verbiage, which his mother insisted were words, whilst our esteemed lady’s frustrations mounted over her inability to produce such an adorable creature of her own, but more importantly she was unable to reap the social excitement and congratulations that would undoubtedly flow unceasingly from such a fount. She consulted every known sorcerer, apothecary, physician, and herbalist she could find who specialized in such matters, but all to no avail.
But just as the baby craze seemed to be fading in that particular neighborhood, though exotic poultry were becoming quite fashionable, our lady found herself the mother of a beautiful little girl, in celebration of which, they threw a fantastic party, inviting everyone who was anyone in the entire Kingdom and beyond. The happy couple stood at the door greeting their guests as carriage after carriage rolled up and disgorged one fabulously clad celebrant after another, all obviously bored silly and there out of duty rather than any fondness for children in general or this couple in particular. The proud parents had just turned to follow the last invited guest into the house, when a rather irritated throat cleared behind them, drawing their attention. “Yes?” said the perplexed lady of the house to the rather curiously dressed individual loitering upon her expensive and stately steps.
“I fear my invitation must have been mislaid or lost by the carrier, for I never received it,” said the interesting personage.
“Invitation?!” said the lady, quite aghast that this odd person could even think that she would ever extend an invitation to such a peculiar and shabbily clad being.
“It is the only explanation,” said the creature, quite indifferent to the hostess’ shock, “for who would dare not invite me?”
“Who or what are you, madam?” said the astounded lady.
“What?” said the disturbing vision, with a certain dangerous edge in her voice that even the flabbergasted lady could not miss, “I am not a what but a who, madam! I am the Fairy of Blackfen.”
“Ah!” said the relieved host, coming to his lady’s rescue, “that explains it then. For you see, we don’t happen to believe in fairies, it is quite unfashionable and therefore unthinkable, and since we do not believe in your existence, well, you can’t expect an invitation when you don’t exist now, can you? No hard feelings I hope. Ta ta!” He stared at her expectantly for a moment, as if he expected her to immediately tip over dead, and then seemed rather crestfallen when she failed to do anything half so obliging.
The fairy frowned at him, “why are you standing there gaping?”
“I would think you of all people would have read that particular story?” said he in wonder, “when I said, ‘we don’t believe in fairies,’ aren’t you supposed to drop dead or something?”
The fairy said with a longsuffering sigh, but could not entirely hide her wry smirk, “I am afraid that particular story is not this particular story, thus the rules are quite different. So sorry to disoblige you, now what about my invitation?”
“I am afraid not,” said the lady of the house with a firm shake of her head, “it would never do! Your attire alone is five hundred years out of fashion, not to mention what my neighbors would think if I actually let a fairy in the house! It would be utterly ridiculous and I could never again show my face in fashionable society. Now if you were a leprechaun or some other well-to-do and currently in-vogue pixie-type person, I might make an exception, but it is completely unthinkable in this instance! I bid you good day, madam; I have a party to host!”
The fairy laughed darkly and said in her most sinister voice, which was impressively creepy, “what if I threatened to curse your child else?”
“Oh, would you!” said the lady in sudden delight. At the astonished and confused looks she received not only from the fairy but also from her husband, she added by way of explanation, “little Midas Jones was hexed after calling the new teacher at his Montessori, ‘an ugly old hag,’ when she pinched him and said he looked good enough to eat. It was only the truth after all, but still she sued the Montessori and won enough money to pay cash for that homely old gingerbread mansion down the street. Who builds with carbs nowadays? Anyway, then she went and cursed him besides. Now everything he touches turns to gold! I had thought about asking if we could babysit now and again, but this would be even better.” Her husband still looked rather perplexed, though the fairy now seemed to understand far more about this particular couple than they knew about themselves. The lady rolled her eyes and sighed, “what is it dear? What was unclear about what I just said?”
The man shook his head, “what’s a Montessori? Some sort of fancy sandwich shop?”
With another sigh, his wife expounded, “it is an elite and expensive school for very young children, I had one picked out even before our daughter was born; you can’t start too early, you know.” She eyed the fairy eagerly, “what do you think?”
Said the fairy dryly, “I don’t think there’s a worse curse I could lay on you people than the existence you already lead.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” snapped the lady in vexation, “the Jones’s have a child with a curse, how am I to be content without one too?”
The fairy wore a mocking smile, “you continue to prove my point, madam. But I won’t be cursing your wretched whelp with anything half so interesting as the golden touch. I suppose I could destine her to prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a wakeless sleep, or even to die; it’s trite, but effective.” She frowned, “but then there’s always the matter of some pesky prince showing up and ruining everything; I can’t abide a ‘happily ever after.’ No, I’ll leave things as they are, I’ll let you stew in your insipidness and go vainly about your pathetic lives, but I will not forget this and one day, I will have my revenge on the entire neighborhood. It used to be an actually respectable part of the Kingdom, except maybe for that troll under the bridge, but I’d take him over any of your ilk, drat those goats! At least he kept the riffraff out.”
The lady looked rather baffled after this expostulation and asked for clarification upon the most important point, at least to her thinking, “what exactly is a spindle?”
The fairy sighed heavily, and replied, “I suppose you’ve never actually had to do any sort of actual handicrafts? Making your own dresses, spinning, sewing, that sort of thing?”
“Making dresses?” said the flummoxed lady, “I have never heard of anything so ridiculous! Why, I just send a page down to a certain seamstress with precise instructions as to what I want and need, and her lad brings it over in a trice. No fuss, no mess, just magic! Or does she grow them? Sewing indeed! What nonsense!”
The fairy’s head was in her hands, though whether trying to hide her amusement or frustration this tale does not tell, sighed she at long last, “never mind madam, it matters not.” And then she vanished. The baffled couple exchanged a perplexed look and then went in to their guests with quite the story to tell.”
“That is utterly ridiculous!” gasped the journalist, as the fairy paused in her telling of the tale.
“I know,” sighed the fairy, thinking she had made her point at last, “such was the state of the world even then, and it has only grown worse since.”
“No!” said the offended man, “they could have been my parents! What happened to the King and Queen? The castle? Who wants to hear a fairy tale set in the suburbs?”
“Apparently not you,” said the fairy darkly, but softening her tone, she said more graciously, “but then you can’t really help your upbringing I suppose and it explains much about your own lackluster tale.” She glanced derisively at the cast off manuscript, “I suppose you can’t help that! Now do you want to hear the rest of the tale or shall I call in a psychologist so you can work through your traumatic childhood first?”
“By all means, please continue,” said the man, who was now white as a ghost, though whether at the thought of displeasing this magically dangerous personage or at the very idea that he might need counseling, she did not know. She smiled in a very pleased fashion, for either would suffice, and then continued:
“After the congratulations and socially enforced awe that attend the advent of a new baby in the family had subsided to a mere trickle, and as the lady’s trendy chicken fetish consumed more and more of her time, the child was relegated to the care of a person known only as ‘nurse.’ And as Nurse was a rather old and perpetually exhausted person, she required a great deal of sleep, which only increased as the child grew, thus the dear lady spent most of her waking hours dozing in a chair in the garden whilst her charge ran amuck amongst the ferns and hedgerows. While her mother truly had picked out a Montessori, a husband, the names of her grandchildren, etc. before the girl was even born, the all-consuming pressure of trends and fashion soon turned her mind to other, more pressing concerns and her daughter’s brilliant future was quite soon forgotten therewith.
The disgruntled fairy had not forgotten her promise and watched the family with interest as the child grew, wondering if she could come up with a curse worse than the girl’s current reality. However, the girl was not without allies, for this particular fairy had a sister, one with whom she was not on very good terms, for in the elder’s usually blunt way of expressing things, she summed up her younger sister as a quote, ‘goody two-shoes!’ The younger saw what the elder was plotting and felt the need to intervene on behalf of the child, though whether she was protecting the girl from her parents or her vengeful sister, or both, was yet to be seen.”
“This is actually becoming a little bit interesting,” said the man, whose complexion had returned to a somewhat more natural color, “do you not find it odd to speak of yourself in the third person?”
The fairy glared at him and he was suddenly pallid as milk once more, said she, “if you would please not interrupt, you will soon discover that the story becomes quite interesting indeed. And a good storyteller has no difficulty in speaking in the third, fourth, or even fifth person!”
The man frowned, “the fifth person?”
“Only slightly more difficult to master than the fourth-and-a-half person,” said she with dancing eyes, causing his cheeks to redden in fury as he realized she was making fun of him rather than imparting the literary secrets of Faerie. Ignoring his interest in the grammatical rules peculiar to immortals, she continued:
“The great horse whinnied nervously; the knight looked around in dread, wondering what could cause the usually unflappable animal such unease. Such was its training that it did not flinch, even before dragons. The friendly light of eventide suddenly became the black of a storm-wracked night and all the whispered noises of a sylvan twilight were now as a tomb. A scornful female voice scoffed in the menacing gloom, “well hero? What will come of you? Will you live or die? Will you ride upon my whims or shall the earth swallow you whole?”
The man shuddered, but knew to his very soul that he could never serve such a vile mistress, said he as boldly as terror allowed, “do your worst, fell lady, but I shall never serve such as thee.” The only answer was her mocking laughter as the ground upon which the horse stood suddenly became treacherous as that of mire or fen. The horse screamed his terror but was soon silenced as they sank from the sight and knowledge of mortal men.”
“Certainly far more dramatic than my rendition,” said the man in approval, “but I still don’t see where a spindle fits into all of this?”
“You are utterly ruining my tale!” said she with another irritated glare, “and unless you want to finish the story as an amphibian, I would highly advise against further outbursts!” He swallowed audibly, eliciting a menacing smile from the lady as she continued:
“There had never been such a cheerful, skipping child as Kylee, who seemed more lark or sunbeam than daughter of men. Her joy it was to sing and dance through the wooded vales in mist and shadow, to whisper with the flowers of the garden when they were aglow with the morning sun, and to share secrets with the little birds that trilled in the hedges. Nor was she surprised to meet one day a creature as whimsical and joyous as herself, save this was a daughter of the fairies, rather than of the mortal race, but so alike were they in interest and temper that it mattered not. So it was they traversed field and fen together, laughing with the brook and dancing in the mists of dawn, learning the language of violet and swallow. Her parents would have been aghast to learn that she kept company with any fey creature, no matter how sweet of temper, but they took very little interest in her or her tales, and her nurse, when conscious, just assumed them to be the invention of a young and fanciful mind with too little interest in her own kind, but she could not contain this seemingly half-dryad creature without crushing her utterly or ruining a perfectly good nap, so Nurse allowed her to gad about as she would, thinking she would one day outgrow such nonsense. But outgrow it she never would.
The years passed and this whimsical bud blossomed into a fanciful maiden who still kept her secret trysts with her sister of fairykind, but had learned the wisdom of keeping silent upon the matter with less discerning mortals. Upon a misty morn of rose and gold, Kylee met the fairy lass amidst the dew soaked lilies, but the creature seemed apprehensive, a mood in which the girl had never before seen the irrepressibly blithe creature, said the fairy with trembling voice, “I bear dread tidings, my friend, but worse would it be if no one knew and nothing was done to prevent so great a tragedy.” Kylee was at her side in a moment, urging her to speak what she would, for it must be grim indeed to so upset a creature that might have been mirth incarnate. Continued she, “my sister, whose nature is quite contrary to my own, has used her magic to coerce and entrap any number of men, warriors all, that they may do naught but her will, this to spare their lives. She intends to loose these vile slaves upon all the folk hereabouts, to rid the countryside of mortal men and to restore order and dignity to the neighborhood, at least as she defines it.”
Kylee gasped, “can nothing be done?”
The fairy said grimly, “there is a chance but the cost is great.”
Kylee’s fear turned suddenly to a grim resolve, “speak dear friend, I will pay what price I must, if I can avail my folk.”
The fairy swallowed a sob, but continued, “my sister has captured a number of knights, unwilling to do her will, in the process of acquiring those of a more vile or fickle nature that she has enslaved, these objectors may perhaps oppose her fell minions if they can be wakened from the sleep that lies heavy upon them. But to break the enchantment, one must be found who is willing to endure endless sleep that these others might waken.”
Kylee nodded sadly, “I will try, what must I do?” The fairy flung herself into her friend’s arms and wept as if her heart would break, but after she had cried herself into relative acceptance, she told the girl all that must be done.”
“Truly pathetic!” said the man, unable to resist, even with the threat of a rather soggy future hanging over his head.
“I know,” sighed the fairy, who did not seem at that moment intent on carrying out her promise, “but what do you expect from two such sappy heroines? But even so,” she smirked at him in anticipation before continuing, “no matter how saccharine or cavity inducing they might be, they are worlds better than your one dimensional characters!”
Said the now miffed man, not thrown off in the least by this venture into the realm of mathematics so soon after their grammatical discursion, “you say my characters have no more personality or interest than a dot, a single point in the space-time continuum?”
“Precisely,” said she in quiet triumph, “now on with my tale:
It was rather a dreadful trick, though quite ingenious, or so thought the Fairy of Blackfen, and at last she would have her revenge, one way or another, on those who had insulted her so long ago. If the girl were as insipid as her parents, she would be destroyed along with all her folk, but if she somehow managed to remain untainted by their futility and vanity, she would soon find herself napping until Time itself failed utterly. She drew back into the shadows and watched in eager anticipation of what was to come. The most delicious part of the whole scheme was that her pansy of a sister thought she could use the girl to subvert her plans, when either outcome was just as satisfactory to the Fairy of Blackfen, though on second thought, the idea of the girl thinking to sacrifice herself on behalf of those who could not even comprehend such a scheme and wouldn’t care about it if they could, was rather delightful.”
“You can’t gloat in the third person,” sulked the man.
“I can do whatever I want,” said she, “I am the omniscient narrator! That includes turning you into a frog, by the way!”
He shuddered involuntarily, “I thought you were a Reformed Evil Fairy.”
“Only a Mostly Reformed Evil Fairy,” said she, savoring his discomfiture, “it is a process after all:
On the far side of the woods lay a wild land of moor and fen, amidst those forgotten hills was a cavern in which the knights slept as men in their tombs. Kylee set out immediately for that lonely heathland and the fairy vanished to distract her sister, that she might not know of this threat to her plan until it was too late, little knowing her sister’s true intentions. The journey was uneventfully made and as night was falling, Kylee found herself upon a stony hillside beneath a sky of lowering grey clouds. An archway of stone stood black and ominous before her, like the mouth of death. She took a deep breath and marched into the doorway. There was a slight glow in the otherwise gloomy cavern, for some sort of luminous fungus thrived therein. Upon each side lay a row of stone biers and upon each lay an unmoving knight, sword upon his breast, as one interred. She hastened to the far end of the seeming tomb where lay an empty stone bier, around which had coiled a thorny vine that bore spines, long and sharp as needles, and black roses, which stank of death and decay. As she crawled atop the bier, she pricked her finger upon one of the thorns, a single drop of blood fell atop the stony bed as the girl immediately fell into darkness.
A light glimmered in the doorway as the fairy entered to see what had come of her friend. The girl lay unmoving, pale as marble and cold as stone, upon her bier while all about the cavern, the sound of waking men and clinking armor filled the air. The fairy’s light and courage blazed forth as she called the groggy knights to arms and told them of all that had come to pass and what was yet to come. As one, they gazed upon the sleeping form of the maiden with pity and wonder, vowing to waken her in turn once the grim fairy’s minions were routed. They emerged from the cave and found their horses inexplicably waiting and eager upon the hillside. Once they were mounted, the fairy’s light engulfed them all, and they vanished, leaving the hillside to its lonely vigil, save that the great thorny rose encircling the girl’s bier grew to such vastness that it quickly covered the entire hill and filled the cavern in which she lay. Any who dared approach the sleeping figure would soon find themselves likewise enchanted by the merest scratch from those countless, terrible thorns.
The vile fairy unleashed her minions at full dark and intended none of her neighbors to see the morning, but her sister knew of her plans and sent her own knights to counter the plot. The fighting was fierce but the wakened knights were victorious and the grim fairy overthrown. The triumphant knights and their pixie captain surrounded the fell creature, who wore a look of haughty triumph even in defeat, scoffed she, “well met sister! A victory indeed, I did not think you had it in you, but what has it cost your dear little friend? She will never waken as long as the hills endure! You have salvaged the lives of those hereabouts but at what cost?” Her scornful laughter seemed to mock the rising dawn itself before she vanished into the whelming mist.
“What will come of her?” asked one of the Knights of the remaining fairy.
She shook her head and said, “she will likely get up to more mischief one day, but for now these folk might dwell in relative peace and safety.”
Asked another Knight, “what of the sleeping maid? Did the fell lady speak truly of her fate?”
The fairy said sadly, “she paid the price willingly and without hesitation. But great is the price to free her from the enchantment; I do not know if any would be willing to endure the cost, so she will likely sleep on until the world itself has passed into legend.”
“What then is the price?” asked the first Knight.
Said she, “one must journey to the far, distant hills that rim the very edge of the world. There grows a flower that is said to cure even death itself, but the price to pick them is great. The hand that plucks them must then cross the hills and leave the world forever behind. What lies beyond, none knows, but that is the price.”
There was much murmuring amongst the Knights, for they had not reckoned on such a cost. They had thought to fight monsters or fell men, to make a great journey and bold vows, but in the end to return triumphant. But this? To make the effort and never see the result; to strive and never return more? The cost was too great, the price too dear. One by one, they turned away with many fine words and much regret; the fairy wretchedly watched them go, but knew it better that they never attempt the journey than to have their hearts and courage fail at the last. All the men of renown and valor abandoned her that day, but the least of them all, a mere page, remained behind. She eyed the boy with grim hope, “and would you risk this thing when all your elders will not?”
The boy shrugged, “if none else will, that leaves only me. I will go.” He frowned, “how then are these flowers to reach the imperiled lady if I am not to return?”
Laughed she for very joy, “I will accompany you and bear them back to she that sleeps.”
The boy nodded grimly, “then we had best be on our way.” She laughed in relief and joy as the boy mounted his horse and they set forth into the dawning. As they traveled, asked he, “could you not pluck these flowers to save your friend?”
She looked sadly upon the boy and shook her head gravely, “nay, for my kind is not allowed beyond the confines of this world, only mortal man has that doom and that joy.” The boy nodded, but seemed perplexed by her words, but there was naught she could say to enlighten him, for it was just the way matters stood and was perhaps beyond mortal comprehension.
She could not harvest the flowers herself, but she could certainly help the boy in other ways and much did she ease the tedium and difficulty of travel with her magical talents and pleasant company, until at last, after a rather uneventful and relatively agreeable journey, they arrived upon the hills that bordered the verge of the world. It was an enchanting land of rolling hills, wide meadows, laughing brooks, and bright woodlands, but to the East there was no horizon of boundless blue sky, but rather a perpetual mist that seemed ever radiant with the new risen sun. Said she, “thence must you go once you have plucked the flowers.”
He studied the mist and some part deep within yearned above all else to discover its secrets. He smiled at her tremulously, “and where grow these wondrous plants?”
She smiled and pointed to the mist, “in the very vapor of the mist do they abide.” They walked slowly towards the verge and a wondrous scent filled the air.
He sighed with great eagerness, “they smell sweeter than life itself!”
“Aye,” said she, “and so will they drive away even the shadows of death. But come, the time is at hand. Does your courage fail you, even now?”
Laughed he for very joy, “nay lady, I long to plunge in and see what waits Beyond, if this is the mere border, what must lie at the heart?”
A bittersweet smile touched her lips, “I envy you son of man, for such I shall not know while this world lasts.”
They drew to the very edge and he reached into the mist, taking up a humble clump of what looked to be no more exotic a flower than what is commonly called lily-of-the-valley. He smiled and tried to draw his arm back from the mist, but could not withdraw it; he looked to the fairy in concern, said she, “you must fully enter the mist and then hand me the flowers from within its confines. Do not go too far in or you and the flowers will be utterly lost to the mortal world!” He nodded and a look of joyous determination filled his eyes as he took that first fateful step. His heart gave a strange quiver as the mist enshrouded him but he knew he could now hand off the flowers. She smiled with a strange mix of joy and sadness and took the proffered bouquet. He smiled wondrously before vanishing deeper into the brume and beyond all knowledge of men. The fairy looked wistfully after the vanished boy, but then remembering her errand, returned to the ensorcelled Kylee.
She suddenly appeared outside that grim cave, flowers in hand, but she was appalled to see it so overgrown with that deadly vine. “Ah! Just the thing,” came a relieved and unexpected voice, “if one is to waken an enchanted Princess, one must do it properly. How much for your pretty flowers, lass?”
Pretty flowers? Princess? Unsure exactly what was going on, the fairy gave the dashing Prince a baffled look as he handed her a few coins and relieved her of her flowers. With that, he strode boldly towards the overgrown tomb; the scent of the flowers sent the shadow of death flying from its confines as the black roses burst into jubilant curtains of bloom in every shade of red, pink, and yellow, drawing gaily aside to admit the young hero. He knelt beside the bier, struck breathless by the maid’s beauty, and then she inexplicably woke up, without a proper kiss or anything! Kylee sat up as one long abed upon a joyous morning and smiled wonderingly at this handsome stranger. He shrugged at the seeming impropriety of the situation and offered the lady his hand. Thus did they emerge joyfully from what once had been a tomb into the glorious day, as from death into life. Kylee immediately saw her friend and rushed to greet her, wondering what had happened whilst she slept.
The fairy then imparted the tale, causing Kylee’s countenance to fall, especially at what it had cost the valiant youth on her behalf. She glanced questioningly at the Prince, “you had nothing at all to do with this rescue?”
He shrugged, “I paid the girl fairly for those flowers. What more could I do?”
She frowned at him, “you do not find it a little odd that death and darkness fled so easily before you?”
He smiled ruefully, “I’m a Prince, and those things just happen in such tales as this. Why should I find it strange in the least?” He frowned, “though I did wonder why you wakened without a proper kiss. That at least was rather uncanny.”
Said she, “you do know that I’m not a true Princess?”
“That could complicate things,” said he, “I had hoped to rescue a Princess, I’m not sure what my parents would think if I brought home a lady without a royal title and a handsome dowry.”
The fairy burst out laughing, “so you sir, are not the true hero of this tale and yet have the temerity to find yourself disappointed that this lady is not of royal blood?”
He smiled ironically and said with a laugh, “it is a bit strange at that. I guess I just stumbled into the wrong tale, that’s all.” He shrugged, “it was a lovely story while it lasted.” He offered the lady his hand, she shook it merrily, and they parted on the best of terms. Said he as he mounted his horse, “farewell ladies, I hear tell there is a dragon most foul that needs slaying over yonder and he holds a real princess captive.” He thrust the flowers into the girl’s hands before urging his white charger off into the westering sun, soon vanishing from view.
The girl sighed heavily as she turned to her friend, “what of that poor boy who gave up everything for my sake?”
Said the fairy wistfully, “you need not mourn over much for him I think, he rejoiced in his fate ere he vanished from my sight.”
Kylee smiled sadly and then asked curiously, “what then lies beyond all this? Perhaps I should venture thither and see for myself!”
The fairy smiled knowingly, “nay child, for though all men must take that path one day, none should seek it ere their time. It was a needful thing that sent him thus, but you must bide here awhile and see what life yet holds for you. Your tale is not yet done.” Her smile became wry indeed, “perhaps it will yet avail you a Prince.”
Laughed the girl, “I cannot abide a half told tale, you are right my friend, that journey will come soon enough, but I must finish one tale before I begin another. Though if all Princes are as stuffy as that fellow, I think I can learn to live without them.””
“Ha!” burst out the journalist, once more tempting an amphibious doom, “your prince is just as insipid as mine!”
“No,” said the fairy with that ever annoying smirk of triumph, “he is vastly more insipid, which makes him far more interesting. Yours simply puts people to sleep; I wonder how he ever thought he could wake that princess of yours from an enchanted doze?”
“There’s still no spindle,” grumped the man, “and it hardly resembles the tale I have heard told.”
“That’s your fault, not mine,” said the fairy derisively, “you should have gone straight to the source from the start instead of listening to hearsay. Now be quiet, for this is where it gets good:
Suddenly the fairy’s elder sister was there beside them, desirous of her own part in the conversation, said she with a grim laugh, “that was a tale indeed! I never thought to see the Prince ride off into the sunset all by his lonesome, that was quite satisfying!” She skewered the girl with a glare, “now why did you have to go be all sensible and virtuous and the like, especially for the sake of all your deplorable kinfolk?”
Kylee laughed aloud, “it would not have been much of a story else.”
“I suppose not,” said the elder fairy, who then glared at her sister, “and how did you manage to find a lad that could love a lady, a stranger at that, more than life itself?”
“It is the true nature of love, I suppose,” said the younger thoughtfully, “the world thinks it all romance and excitement and fuzzy feelings, while all that is very nice and natural, it has very little to do with the actual concept and practice of love, which in its basest and simplest form is merely one will sacrificing its own good for that of another.”
Kylee sighed heavily, “and the only man in true possession of such a virtue now dwells beyond the confines of this world! Whatever happened to happily ever after, anyway?”
Seethed the elder fairy, “I despise happily ever after! There is no such thing in my experience.”
Kylee smiled knowingly, “at least not this side of those strange mists at the end of the world.”
“It isn’t mere happiness Beyond, either,” said the younger fairy, “it’s Joy, pure and simple, if the rumors be true.”
“Yckk!” grunted the elder fairy, as if she had been poked with a stick, “that’s even worse, you make me nauseous with such goings on!”
Kylee arched an eyebrow, “what have you against such things, madam?”
The Fairy of Blackfen smirked, “I find them dreadfully dull, what is life without the spice and zest of mischief and mayhem? My sister mentioned the word ‘nice’ just now and that is a word I detest above all others. I want nothing to do with any of it!” She eyed her sister with mild irritation as she fell to giggling uncontrollably, “and what pray tell, is so funny?”
“You,” guffawed the other, “nice indeed! I quite agree, it is a deplorable word and should be stricken from our vocabulary, but what you think you abhor and what really scares you are two very different things.”
“Oh,” said the elder, “enlighten me, do.”
“You think all this prattle about joy and love and hope is dreadfully boring because to you, such concepts are as dull and tedious as ever was the word ‘nice,’ but really, you are terrified to discover that they are quite different from what you first thought them to be and that you have been wrong all these years. And you are, dear sister, more wrong than you can begin to imagine, for they are not dull and quaint and boring, but there is nothing more exciting, fierce, or dangerous in all the world or beyond it. And that scares you, and it should, because without just that, your life is nothing and never will be. Your idea of love is about as deep as that held by our dear, departed Prince, which is to say, nothing at all.”
“Perhaps,” said the elder fairy with a quizzical frown, “I will consider it, but I absolutely refuse to be nice.”
“Nor would I ever ask such a horrid thing of you,” said her smiling sister, “but I will certainly wish you a true ‘happily ever after.’”
“Yes,” said Kylee, “but what now am I to do? I cannot go home, even your dread sister cannot wish such a fate upon me.”
The elder smiled wryly, “I didn’t wish it on you when you were born, lass, and now that I’m supposed to be a reformed fairy of sorts, I guess I can’t go cursing fools and boors left and right as once was my fancy. Have your parents even figured out you are missing?”
Giggled the younger fairy, “certainly not, that intrepid but lazy Nurse of yours told them that her charge was off on an extended retreat for Royal and Noble youths then hied herself off to be Naptime Supervisor at the Montessori.”
Kylee laughed, “at least she’ll doze happily ever after.” Her face fell, “but what is to come of me?”
Her friend smiled hopefully, “I know the cutest little cottage, with wisteria growing all over it and a garden full of violets.”
“Before you become a cottager,” said the Reformed Fairy, “you’ll need to invest in a proper spinning wheel. It would be scandalous else, but it will be my treat, a just and poetic recompense for all I’ve put you through.”
Kylee nodded, “what then are we waiting for?” But the other fairy gave her sister a thoughtful frown, wondering what the elder was up to. The theoretically reformed lady only smiled mysteriously and led the way back to town, whereupon they paid a visit to Crazy Bob’s Spinning Wheel Emporium.
The eager salesman approached at a run, babbling on like a brook in flood about his various wares, sales, and guarantees. Kylee wandered off with him to look at the latest model, upon which she pricked her finger and fainted dead away. “Not again!” bewailed the distraught salesman, “at this rate I’ll never sell a single spinning wheel, and I work on commission!”
Said the Reformed Fairy of Blackfen in commiseration, “why not start a side business of renting out rooms for those so afflicted, it will be a steady income.”
He nodded thoughtfully, “that’s a brilliant idea! I’ll even give you a discount on your friend there, since it was your idea.”
The fairy shook her head, “thanks but no, she has a destiny all her own.”
“It was just a thought,” said the man with a shrug, but another customer drew his attention and he hastened away.
Frowned the younger at the elder as the latter took up the prone form, “what are you up to? I thought you had turned over a new leaf?”
“Oh, I have,” said the other with a fervent grin and a twinkle in her eye, “trust me on this.”
Her sister shook her head, “I will for now, but you had best do some explaining, and sooner rather than later.”
They suddenly vanished and reappeared beside the rose covered hill wherein Kylee had had her last good nap. Once the girl was again settled on her bier, those magnificent flowers still clutched in her hands, the fairies went outside to confer on the girl’s fate and future. Said the reformed lady, “now sister, can you do something with the aesthetics of this place? I am no good with all that decorating stuff, make this hill a castle and all these wastes a garden. Then we’ll assemble a staff and treasury, and when our girl wakens, she’ll be a princess indeed.”
The younger fairy smiled, “I love it, and she’ll only wake up when the right man comes along? None of these shallow, so-called charming fellows for her?”
“Precisely,” said her sister with a triumphant smirk, “now let’s get down to business.””
“What was that!?” said the writer in outrage, “moralizing, philosophical maunderings, a cheap shot at consumerism? This isn’t a fairy tale, it is verging on a fable. And you can’t just invent a princess, you know?”
“Omniscient narrator!” crowed the fairy in triumph, but added thoughtfully, “so why can’t I be omnipotent as well, at least in my own tale? You can’t tell me that all these writers of so-called fairy tales don’t just make up a kingdom and royalty to go with it whenever they happen to need it. Besides, you mortals invent royalty all the time. You need a King, or think you do, so someone declares himself thus,” continued she with a grimace of distaste, “of course it usually involves a civil war and treason and that sort of thing, so you see, this is certainly far less messy, besides, haven’t you ever heard of poetic license?”
“Yes,” said the man, quietly thoughtful, “I worked for the Department of Poetry and Prose for a summer during college.” His frown deepened as he met her eye, “did you actually apply for such a license?”
“Certainly,” said the fairy, now on the defensive, “after the fact, but I did acquire one.”
“They are not retroactive!” said the man, aghast.
“Well, I was an Evil Fairy at the time,” grouched she.
“I suppose,” said the man with a sigh, “but you make an interesting case with your Theory on the Invention of Royalty and Kingdoms at Need. Perhaps you should write a thesis on it?”
She nodded eagerly, “then I could be Doctor Reformed Fairy of Blackfen. I’ll certainly have to consider it, but first, let me finish my tale:
They invited Midas Jones to come over for a consultation on the treasury, a matter which he promptly set in good order, but upon trying to settle the bill, he said to the Reformed Fairy of Blackfen, “madam, no amount of money could satisfy me, for obvious reasons I am quite content financially, but rather let me marry the sleeping maiden and I’ll consider your account settled…!” He trailed off with an awkward squawk that sounded more a croak at the end as the younger fairy turned him into a rather mopey bullfrog.
She grinned at her sister and said, “I can see why you like this sort of thing.” She addressed the amphibian, “now listen closely, frog-boy. You can live in the moat rent free, eat all the flies you can catch, and therein hopefully await the day when a princess will deign to kiss such as you, otherwise I am sure my sister would happily fricassee your legs for lunch. Are we agreed?” With a terrified croak, the boorish ranid hopped off and immersed himself in said moat.
“Very good sister,” laughed the elder, “I could not have done it better myself!”
They then betook themselves to the task of hiring a competent staff to run the castle once the Princess Kylee awakened from her slumber. As each resume was reviewed and the interviews were conducted, the selected individuals were asked to join their future mistress in a lengthy repose, one fellow asked rather impertinently if he would be compensated for his time spent napping, whereupon he joined poor Midas in the moat, which brought a questioning frown from the younger fairy to bear upon the elder, who shrugged and said, “I can’t be totally reformed all at once now can I, a relapse is not unexpected.”
The younger smiled, “nay sister, you misunderstand me, I thought I was in charge of the Human Resources Department.”
The elder laughed, “but you can’t have all the fun.”
They continued in this manner until the castle was fully staffed, but the younger fairy felt inclined to look at one final resume and immediately hire the owner thereof. The elder glanced over her sister’s shoulder in confusion and asked, “what did you hire him for?”
The younger smiled mischievously and answered, “he is one of those forward thinking fellows that believes the world is round!”
“Ah!” said the elder, further studying the resume, “and he is eager to prove it at that. A wise decision, it will not stop the progression of things, but perhaps it will buy us some time. Sleep well, Master Columbus and may it be many a year before your ships set sail and unmake the world as we once knew it.”
Sighed the younger, “it will not be long, sister, ere we are but legend and must then dwell in secret, forgotten except by children and poets.”
“So it must be, my dear, but we have a few years yet before History becomes more important than Legend,” said the Reformed Fairy of Blackfen, “and as you say, there will always be those who still believe in things unseen.””
“That’s a rather sad ending,” said the man in actual dismay.
“I haven’t finished yet,” said the fairy, only slightly vexed, “but yes, it is rather a sad commentary on the state of the world in general.”
“Did you really delay Master Columbus?” said he in wonder.
“Of a certainty,” said she with a proud grin, “but only for a century or two, but it was fun while it lasted. Now are you ready for the true happily ever after?” He nodded eagerly and she began:
“So it was that the Princess Kylee slept on for many a year, until at last a worthy suitor presented himself at the rose draped castle, barely visible beneath the twining vines, heavy with flowers. He passed easily through the corridors, past the sleeping minions awaiting their first day of employment, he did not notice the two morose frogs bemoaning their fate in the moat or see the two magical ladies watching in eagerness from the shadows, but had eyes only for she who slept upon the stone bier, the ever blooming flowers still clutched in her hands. He drank in her radiance for a long moment and then kissed her fully and deeply, her eyes fluttered open and she gazed up joyously into his own. Whispered the elder fairy to the younger, “perhaps there is such a thing as happily ever after, after all!” Her sister’s glorious smile and dancing eyes were answer enough.”
“You are getting soft,” said the journalist with a heartfelt sigh, and then he frowned, and said in horror at a sudden realization, “and so am I!”
“I know,” said the fairy resignedly, “what do you think happens when you get Reformed, even just mostly?”
“I don’t want to be a Reformed Journalist,” said he in near panic.
“No need to worry about that,” said the fairy dryly, “there is no such thing. Unicorns might be real, but there is certainly no such thing as a Reformed Journalist.”
“At least there are still a few myths in the world,” said he in relief, “what would we write fairy tales about if everything in them were true?”
“But it is!” said she in surprise, “that is the whole point.” She added with a thoughtful frown, “but then you are a journalist.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” asked he in consternation.
She shrugged, “it is just that some people can’t believe in the truth, even when it is right before their eyes.”
“But if I am not skeptical of everything,” said he, “I might believe anything and then where would my reporting be?”
“But what if you are too skeptical?” asked she.
“It is a risk I am willing to take,” said he with a huff.
“That is exactly my point,” said she with a nod. He gave her a mystified look but she quickly changed the subject that they might not converse in circles till the stars fell, “so what did you think of my tale?”
“I don’t believe it,” said he, adding quickly as he caught her dark look, “but then it is a fairy tale and no one needs to believe it. But it is not Sleeping Beauty. No one is going to make a big budget animated movie out of it, that’s for sure.”
She looked at him, quite aghast, “you think I want the tale ruined by singing mice? Can you imagine what your descendants would reinterpret my character to be? I’d have a green face and horns or something equally ridiculous! It would be a disgrace, not to mention embarrassing, and then they wouldn’t even give me a cut of the profits and I’d have to turn them all into frogs, which would be an unmitigated environmental disaster.” She picked up his discarded draft and handed it back to him, saying sadly, “here, take your story. Perhaps the world cannot stomach anything else.”
He stood and tipped his hat to the lady, saying almost apologetically, “it is a good story, but you are right, the world is different nowadays and really can’t handle such a tale. Good day, madam.”
He left and the fairy smiled wryly after him, vastly proud of herself for not having turned him into a frog after all, no matter how much he deserved it. But his insipid legend would no doubt go down in history, and be a musical sensation besides, while the true tale would be forgotten, like everything else in life that was even remotely important. Maybe she should pursue that doctorate and take a teaching position at a major university and try changing that particularly disturbing trend of the modern world. She laughed heartily at her own musings, that would be a miracle indeed and truly worthy of a fairy tale in its own right. This Reformed thing was getting very much out of hand. Now where had she left that Midas Frog, perhaps he’d be willing to finance her education if she lifted his amphibious curse. She laughed again, wryly this time; she was becoming a veritable fairy-godmother! If her sister ever found out about this, she’d never live it down. Where was that wretched frog?
Jace stood upon the battlements, staring, though unseeing, out upon the bleak grey landscape of the failing year ere snow covered and softened the weary land for its winter repose. Leaden clouds lowered ominously on the horizon while a mournful wind moaned pitiably in the half completed towers of the grotesque fortress; the river passed sullenly by without comment, preoccupied with its looming icy imprisonment. Though only partially complete, the grim fortress was already falling to ruin, as were the souls who lingered therein. The place was hardly cheerful, even upon a bright morning of spring, and was at its most dismal ere the first snows of winter, but it was not the weather that brought the boy out to pace the battlements upon such a dreary day, rather he had much to contemplate and none of it good. His patched cloak flapped wildly in the wind but he little noticed, for his thoughts were just as unruly. His grandfather, a nobleman displaced by war, had laid the foundations of this ruin and his father had further built up the fortress after its founder’s untimely death, but the family fortune had run out long before the project was finished, so it moldered in half-completed splendor while its occupants dwelt ever in the shadow of poverty and isolation, and now it seemed, madness as well.
Jace’s father was but a boy when war forced the family to flee with what they could salvage of their wealth. The patriarch was determined to start anew in a strange land, much to the dismay of the locals, but they were a rather peaceful folk and he began his project without asking their permission, and as they were notorious for their willingness to forgive, the project continued despite their misgivings. But tragedy struck the third winter the family spent in their new home, for both of Jace’s grandparents died of pneumonia within a fortnight of one another, leaving their son, still very much a boy, alone in the grim fortress with only a few faithful servants and guards that had accompanied the family in its flight, for they trusted no one in this strange land, least of all those of common descent. But the boy was not crushed by his loss, but rather was as determined, perhaps more so, than his father to finish the project and become a veritable lord in this strange land, the protests of the original inhabitants aside.
Construction continued slowly as the boy grew to manhood and the family fortune dwindled, but surely the son of a nobleman might make a proper match and thereby reinvigorate his fortune as well as perpetuate his line. So it was that Jace’s father went a-courting and soon came home with his beautiful and captivating bride, the very picture of a wealthy lady, but only a picture, for though of noble blood, her family was as destitute as that of her new husband, though neither had thought to broach the subject before their marriage, assuming the other was indeed as rich as they portrayed themselves to be. The truth came out very soon after Jace was born; the ensuing fight was the stuff of legend, at least if you believe the tales told in after years by the aging servants, but in the end, the lady fled, leaving her infant son and husband to fend for themselves. The man looked coldly upon the boy, who was so like his mother in form and feature that he could not help but despise him. He turned his back on the child, stared stonily at the open door out which his wife had fled, and then withdrew to his own chambers. Had one of the few remaining servants not taken pity upon the poor creature, he likely would not have survived infancy.
The man seemed indifferent to the fate of his son, pretending that he did not even exist and focusing all his time, thought, and energy on his project instead, but there was no money to pay workmen or buy stone and timber, so the man had to do everything himself. Only two servants remained of the few that had fled with the family, lingering on out of faithfulness and because they had nowhere else to go, for their lord had long since ceased to pay them. The old housekeeper did the cooking, looked after the domestic side of things, and was the only mother the boy ever knew. The other was an aging guardsman who had taken on the duties of butler, valet, and jack-of-all-trades; it was he that taught the boy what little he knew of reading and more importantly, to his mind at least, the sword. The rest of the lad’s education was left to what he could glean from the few books that lay forgotten around the fortress and what the housekeeper could impart in the form of old stories as she wandered about the keep seeing to her myriad duties.
As the boy neared manhood, at last his father took a modicum of interest in him, but whether it was due to some newly realized desire for kith and kin in his fading years or because his rheumatism forced him to abandon his fortress building activities, none knew. But one day the master of the ruin summoned the lad into his chambers, where he sat in relative splendor in a fraying robe with a moth-eaten velvet chair for a throne. Upon the lad’s entrance, the man studied him as he might a horse he had a mind to buy. After several minutes of dreadful silence, the man said at last, “what do they call you boy?”
The lad blinked in surprise that his father did not even know his name, but his servile foster parents had taught him courtesy, if little else, said he with a proper bow, “I am called Jace, sir.”
The man nodded as if it were of no matter and continued, “very well boy, they say you are my son, a claim I cannot verify yet neither can I fully deny it. In either case, it is high time you started to earn your keep around here. My father had a vision that this castle would one day tower over the surrounding countryside and herein would his descendants be safe from war, plague, and the like, nevermore to be driven like refugees from that which was rightfully our own. This is all my purpose and destiny and it shall be yours, whether you like it or not. You will take up where I have left off: cutting timber, collecting stone, using it to finish what my father began, well?”
The boy gaped, was this to be all his future? A slave to another man’s futile dream?
The man shook his head sadly, “I see you are not a man of vision, like unto mine, a pity, for I think it proves that you are not my son after all. I will give you the afternoon to ponder your future, either submit yourself to my father’s dream and fulfill your true purpose in this life or get you gone from here, never to return.” The boy gave a perfect bow and vanished from the room, fleeing to the battlements to mull over his future, whatever it might be.
Night was falling and still he had found no sensible reply for the grim man waiting impatiently in his chambers below, prematurely aged by labor, sorrow, and unrestrained ambition. Jace glanced uneasily out upon the darkening world, could he truly find a life out there in the world that had forsaken his family, from whose stock had sprung his faithless mother? Yet he knew he could not remain forever a slave to his grandfather’s dream as his father had ever been. What was he to do? Where was he to go? The outside world terrified him, but could he live on for countless years in futile toil? He wanted to scream or weep and came very close to doing both, but his reeling thoughts were interrupted by a stooping ghost that loomed out of the darkness before him.
Came the gruff but concerned voice of the guardsman, “what troubles thee lad? The master sent me to find ye, he is impatient for yer answer.”
The boy glanced silently out into the darkness and the man nodded in grave understanding, “aye, it is a hard choice, but no choice at all I think. This cursed place has consumed two generations of yer family lad, don’t be a fool and make it three. Whatever horrors lay without, they can be nothing to what lurks herein.”
The boy nodded his silent thanks and then went to find his father, knowing the man had spoken truly. He knocked timidly upon the door and entered upon the gruff command to do so. He found his father standing before the hearth, staring into the flames, his hands clasped at his back; he did not turn around or even look at the boy, said he, “a harlot’s son, through and through, cannot even stay on to succor an aging wreck of a man in his failing years, the selfish, selfish wretch.” Suddenly the man turned, his anger giving him strength and speed that years of hard labor had stolen, he took up an iron poker that lay to hand and his eyes seemed to blaze with the light of the fire at his back, snarled he, hefting the poker aloft, “Out! Out! Get out, you insolent oaf!”
The boy knew the man was in earnest and half out of his mind besides, lingering not a moment longer, he turned and fled the chamber and hied himself that moment from the crumbling keep. The housekeeper and guardsman watched him flee with sad eyes, shook their heads in dismay, but had known for many a year that there could be no other end to the tale, but at least this wretched fortress would not utterly consume the boy as it had his forbears, what the outside world might do to him was another matter entirely.
Jace fled with only the clothes on his back, packing was of little matter as he was currently wearing everything he possessed. His only thought was to escape the broken dreams and empty years that lay behind with no concern for what the morrow might hold, for he knew nothing of purpose, joy, peace, hope, or comfort. His world was as cold and lonely as the fortress he had just fled. A miserable drizzle began to fall not long after his flight, forcing him to seek what shelter he could beneath a clump of spruce trees that seemed to huddle together for comfort amid the cold, wet dark. Every fiber of Jace’s being cried out to do the same, but one cannot comfortably cuddle with a conifer so there was nothing left to be done but cry himself to sleep.
A wan shaft of sunlight filtered down through the clouds and pierced the fastness of the boy’s retreat, bringing him blinkingly awake. He sighed heavily as he gained his feet, seeing no reason to go on save that he was too anxious and grieved of heart to sit still. So off he went into the dawning, grateful that the rain had stopped and that he could now see whither he fled. Which got him to wondering where exactly he was to go. He knew nothing of the outside world, save for forays with the guardsman into the surrounding forest to collect wood or to hunt. He had never even seen a farmer’s cot, let alone a village. He had heard the housekeeper mention a city once, a concept he could not quite comprehend, but he was not sure he wanted to venture thither, for she had spoken of it in hushed tones one night with the guardsman as they sat before the kitchen fire, certain the lad was abed and not hiding in the doorway, listening in horrified fascination as she described the demon-worshippers that dwelt therein and the horrid practices with which they maintained their uncanny powers.
He smiled grimly to himself, pondering what was best to be done, as his feet followed a game trail seemingly of their own accord, so little did he notice or care whither his path led. He could wander out into the wilderness and undoubtedly die of exposure or starvation during the coming winter or he could find this city and see if the housekeeper’s awful tales were even half true. It might be death either way, but at least he could discover what a city was ere the end. With this grim acceptance, did he suddenly step out of the surrounding woods and look upon a great swath of cultivated land, dotted with farmhouses and well-tended copses, and in the distance loomed the infamous city. He had inherited a little of his father’s ambition, so with a grim smile pasted on his face did he set out in quest of what could only be his doom.
His smile became incongruous as his journey progressed in a rather anticlimactic fashion, for though he had prepared himself for sights grim and terrible, the countryside was rather picturesque and the few folk he observed in passing seemed as sensible and down-to-earth as either the guardsman or the housekeeper. He consoled himself with the thought that of course the commonfolk would be of similar disposition to the menials with which he was acquainted, it was only their fell masters that would be workers of such foul magicks. He hastened his steps to discover this inevitability for himself but was again sorely disappointed. He soon found himself in a veritable flood of humanity headed for the city to conduct the day’s business. People at first trickled in from the outlying farms and villages but soon converged upon the main road leading into the city.
Jace gazed about him in wonder, never having imagined there could be so many people upon the face of the earth, let alone upon one certain stretch of road. The houses and shops that began to line the way were also strange to his eyes and he goggled like the yokel he was; some of the more world-weary passersby about him smiled in welcome amusement at the lad’s befuddlement, for a moment remembering their own forgotten youth. A veritable city had grown up around the walls of the original settlement and many of Jace’s fellow travelers vanished into the labyrinthine streets and alleys upon their own errands, but most continued on through the gates, few even glancing at the guards who stood silent watch at the gates and upon the walls, but the boy froze in fascinated terror. His sudden halt brought a few complaints and jostles from those nearest him, but they shoved around him and continued on their way, some giving him a meaningful glare but most shaking their heads in vast amusement.
So too did those fell warriors eye the boy with smiles that never broke the stony facade of their faces. But as more and more people pushed by the lad and entered the gates unscathed, he drew a deep breath and pressed ever onwards into the heart of a city inhabited by sorcerers and worse, though strangely, none of the folk about him seemed overly concerned about their impending doom. He was drawn inexorably to the center of the city where a great castle towered over everything. For a long time he stood as one transfixed, staring up and up and up at the edifice that soared above him. A rueful smile split his lips, for even had he and his descendants ten generations hence worked ceaselessly, never could they hope to make anything like this of that horrid fortress. And thence lay his doom. At last, he gathered his courage and set forth upon the last leg of his final journey, thinking it quite a heroic effort on his part and not a little disappointed that there was not a bard or poet at hand to record the tale. Most of his erstwhile companions had vanished long ago into the city proper and left the bumpkin to stare as he would. So it was that he came to the castle gates and found himself very much alone with a whole host of those grim faced guards just waiting to make a gory end of him. Where was a poet when you needed one?
He stood awkwardly out of the way, studying those who guarded the gates and those who came and went upon their own errands, not finding anything too sinister in any of it. Again rather disappointed, the lad at last made his own approach, knowing his courage was hanging by a thread. His first attempt at speaking failed dismally with the guard looking at him in perplexity and what might, to Jace’s horrified mind, be pity!
But the guard saved him from further embarrassment and possible flight by asking, “what can I do for you lad?” He actually smiled, “you need not be so terrified, you are quite safe within the confines of Astoria.”
The boy blinked in utter astonishment, could this fearsome warrior truly be speaking to him, and with kindness? Demon-worshippers indeed! Said he at last, a quaver in his voice, “I am in desperate straits, sir, but well know that there is little hope for one such as I in this cold, indifferent world.”
The guard nodded in understanding and said gently, “aye lad, many come hither with just such a tale, but take heart, for we shall do all we can to remedy your plight, whatever it be.” Jace looked near to fainting with hunger and astonishment, as the man motioned for a servant standing within the courtyard to take charge of the flummoxed lad and see to his comfort. The servant smiled in amusement, having done the same a thousand times before, and easily guided the gaping boy into the castle proper, leaving the guard to speak with the next person awaiting his attention.
At last Jace collected his wits enough to comprehend what the servant was saying, “the morning meal has just finished, but I can bring you something once you are settled.” He studied the lad’s ragged attire that was more patches than original cloth and smiled wryly, “and I’ll see to your wardrobe as well. Have you come to study then?”
Jace froze and studied the man as if he had asked if his father were a toad, said he in astonishment, “study? You must know I could little afford such a luxury!”
The servant grinned, “I suppose it is priceless at that, but come lad, anyone is free to study in Astoria and all the Lady asks is that you abide by her rules whilst you reside in the city.”
The boy gaped anew, but a smile danced in his eyes, said he with an incredulous grin, “then I will certainly take you up on that offer, sir.” The servant nodded as if it were simple sense and they continued on their way.
He stopped before a door at the end of a long corridor and said, “you can sleep here for now, this room is currently unoccupied but if you stay very long, you will undoubtedly find yourself with roommates rather soon. I’ll see about finding you something to eat and some appropriate attire.” He smiled broadly as he turned to go, “welcome to Astoria!”
The boy stared wistfully after the retreating form for a moment and then curiously opened the door and entered the room. Glancing about at the small but comfortable chamber, he laughed aloud and said, “demon worshippers indeed!”
“How dreadful!” came a startled and unfamiliar voice.
Jace turned around in surprise to find a girl about his own age, or at least so he assumed, not having much experience in such matters, peeping round the door, a broom forgotten in one hand. She squeaked in dismay, “forgive me, I was just sweeping the hall when I heard your outburst and just had to investigate.” She blushed crimson at her own unseemly outburst and though she colored further, pressed on, “can you tell me more about these demon worshippers?”
Jace was not sure whether he was more startled, annoyed, or amused by this perplexing creature, but said as calmly as he could, “I haven’t much to tell, for I was only laughing at the incongruity of this place with a description I once heard of it. The old woman was convinced this place was naught but a den of such villains, but I have yet to find them, should they exist.”
Briane laughed excitedly, clasping her hands like a little girl, “oh, you will have to look long and hard to find such in Astoria. I have been here all my life and have never heard of such goings on.”
Jace smiled wryly at his previous eagerness, “so there isn’t anyone in Astoria possessed of uncanny abilities as my unenlightened source assumed?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” came the voice of the returning servant. He gave the girl a patient look, “have you not things to be about?” She squeaked again, dropped a curtsy, and disappeared round the corner with a death grip on her broom. The servant shook his head and smiled ruefully, “the silly girl spends more time eavesdropping than attending to her chores; more curiosity than a cat, has that one.”
Jace was gaping again, but the servant ignored him and thrust a pile of clothes and a tray of food into his hands, saying as he did so, “as promised, here is your breakfast and a change of clothes. If you hurry, you can just make it to the next class session. You’ll have an official schedule soon, but until then you had best tag alone with some of the other Students.” He smiled impishly, “and as to your unasked question, you’ll soon discover the answers for yourself if you pay attention in class.” He nodded at the boy and vanished about his interrupted errands.
Jace shook himself, frowned in consternation at the servant’s retreating back, and then hastily changed his clothes and wolfed down the food, both from hunger and eager to begin his education. Only then did he realize he was alone in an unfamiliar castle with no idea where to find said classes. He shrugged, smiled as his audacity reared its head once more, and dashed down the hall in search of a class or an adventure, whichever came first.
He nearly collided with a pair of slightly older boys as he came careening around the corner, determined not to be late. Suddenly ill at ease, Jace muttered his apologies and stared at his feet. One of the older lads must have heard, ‘new here,’ amongst Jace’s mumbling for he cheerily replied, “don’t worry about it! Come with us and we’ll help you get settled.”
The boy stared up in astonishment, gaping yet again, stuttered he, “how can this be? How can you be bothered with helping me? I don’t understand?”
The older pair exchanged a grin, then Adan, the lad who had spoken, clapped the younger boy on the back and smiled, “it seems you have much to learn about life in Astoria. Wherever you came from, it must have been a rough life. But come, else we’ll be late.” Jace smiled at his reassuring words and then blanched in near panic at the thought of being the cause of their tardiness. The older pair shook their heads in amusement but all three hastened off to class.
Jace remembered little of that first lesson, so overwhelmed was he with all that had happened in the last day and all the novel sights and experiences he had taken in. His erstwhile guides were assigned chores in the stable the following hour, which allowed the overwrought Jace some much needed time to sit and think while his companions shoveled muck. The midday meal offered another course of novelty and wonder to Jace’s abused sensibilities, never in his life had he been amidst so many people, and most astonishingly of all, though complete strangers, they actually seemed to care about him. Another round of classes was set for the afternoon, but Jace felt he needed some time alone to sort everything out, and perhaps even a nap after his difficult night. He goggled, less than a full day had passed since his father had cast him out, alone in the night. Adan nodded his understanding and showed him back to the corridor that housed his room, and though he valiantly intended to contemplate upon all that had happened, he fell promptly and soundly asleep.
The crown prince could not sleep. He tossed and turned for nearly two hours that night, unable to settle his uneasy mind or still the unexplained terror coursing through his being. Unnamed fears in the dark had not kept him awake at night since he was a very little boy. Yet here he was, nearly a grown man on the very eve of the long awaited celebration that would mark his coming of age, fretting and restless because of a vague uneasiness about what lurked in the shadows of his own chamber. Ridiculous as it was, this realization did nothing to ease him into a blissful slumber, but then the reason for his uncanny feeling of wrongness presented itself and he wished with all his might that it was only fancy that plagued him. There were deeper shadows among the lesser shades of his room, and these began to whisper and hiss excitedly in an unknown tongue as they drew closer to the bed. The boy crouched deeper beneath the covers and shuddered, knowing there was no weapon that would avail him against such foes, at least until he heard a familiar scornful laugh.
“Come big brother,” chastised his younger brother Garot, “why do you cower beneath your covers like a terrified child? At least be man enough to face your doom with equanimity!”
Anger flared in Bayard’s heart, anger enough to overcome his terror, at least for a moment. He threw aside the blankets, not that they would be any protection against these mysterious fiends anyway, and glared into the darkness in the direction from which the taunts had come. Said he with a voice as smooth and chill as a winter pond, “what have you to do with this brother?”
The younger scoffed, “why everything of course! It was all my idea after all. Now you will kindly accompany these, um, gentlemen and I will assume your place as heir to the throne. After the proper mourning rituals are observed of course. It is a good thing I look well in black.”
“Of course,” said the elder, his anger fading and his fear flooding back with twice the vim. The shadows were suddenly upon him, his terror intensified to the point no mortal heart can bear and happily did he fall into unknowing blackness.
“Don’t forget the servant,” snarled Garot, “we need no witnesses.” The servant that stood beside the young prince, having let him into his sleeping brother’s chamber on the pretext of some dire situation that could not wait until morning, squeaked in terror and tried to flee, but one of the shadows engulfed him and all suddenly vanished, leaving Garot alone in the empty room. He smiled unseen into the darkness, a look of sheer triumph on his face, and then exited the way he had come. A passing guardsman eyed him oddly as he left his brother’s chambers at this strange hour, causing the Prince to sigh, for he knew the man would have to be dealt with as well which would mean more time wasted before he could get his own much needed rest.
The blissful darkness receded and the utter terror returned, along with a good dose of despair, shame, and horror just to keep things interesting. Bayard found himself standing in the midst of a crumbling ruin in the heart of a dark and dripping wood in the grim, flat light of predawn; his eyes strayed to the wide-eyed servant and he rejoiced to know he was not alone in this horrid nightmare, but the shifting wall of wraiths that completely hemmed them in quickly stifled even this minor comfort. A great and terrible roar shook the very foundations of the ruin and sent both mortals and shadows cringing to the overgrown paving stones as a hideous bird, resembling a vulture but large as a draft horse, landed in the middle of the gathering. It leered at them in silence for some time, savoring their terror as a gourmet might a fine morsel, and then it screeched in a harsh tongue which sent the wraiths rushing upon the prisoners. Once each was completely immobilized by half a dozen of the insubstantial beings, the vulturine monstrosity said in the tongue of men, “the choice is before you, pitiable wretches that you are. Become one of my pets or food for them instead. Well?”
The servant quivered in terror but managed to squeak defiantly, “never will I serve you! My Master is faithful even in death!”
The monster chortled in amusement, “so faithful that he allows you to fall into such a predicament with no hope of escape? Very well, you shall have your heart’s desire. Watch well Prince, what comes of those who refuse my offer of mercy. We shall see how faithful his master truly is!” He laughed in such a dreadful way that Bayard wished he had never heard of the concept.
The servant’s voice suddenly spoke with a confidence that belied his precarious circumstances, “do not forget who wrought you my Prince! Take comfort in the One who traded His glory for our sorrows…” The voice faded away even as the boy himself did. Bayard watched in horrified fascination as the lad began to grow misty and then vanished altogether, apparently absorbed by the shadows that held him, which now seemed far more substantial and looked almost solid with actual features in their once blank faces. He shuddered and looked with dread upon the creatures still holding him. How could he meet such an end? Yet how could he willingly become a creature such as this? The servant had seemed quite bold at the last, yet how could old fairy tales give him such courage? He glanced around at the fell gathering and suddenly began to believe that perhaps all the old myths and legends might not be as improbable as once he had thought them. If such creatures as these could walk the earth, why could not the other stories be true?
He was suddenly a small boy again, enraptured upon his mother’s knee as she told him the strangest tale of all. Of a great and glorious King who dwelt far from the sorrows and sins of men, who abandoned it all to walk among that wretched folk. Of his own inglorious end at the hands of those he had come to succor and how he paid the price that man himself could never pay, thus ending forever the terror of death and sin for those who loved him. It was a grand tale and once he had hoped it true, but it was only a story taught to children out of custom and habit in hopes of inculcating morality in their young hearts. His family was strong and need admit no weakness or failing. In general they were good and honorable folk and needed not the mercy of some benevolent being. So he had laid it aside with the other accouterments of childhood and focused on things more befitting a young prince nearing manhood. But his sword would avail him nothing at such a moment, neither would all his lessons in history and arithmetic. The servant was no fool and had faced his end with courage, could he do any less? All this passed through his mind in the few moments during which the servant vanished and then the vile bird turned his burning gaze upon the remaining prisoner.
“Well?” squawked the awful buzzard.
Bayard shuddered, but felt a strange boldness and an inexplicable hope welling up inside his chest in the midst of overwhelming despair. Said he as calmly as if he were taking tea with his mother in the garden, “I will have nothing to do with you or yours sir, do your worst. I am resigned rather to die than become such as these. Fool that I have been, I did not see until this very moment the Truth until death was looking me in the eye, at least I need not die as I have lived. I commend my soul to Him who wrought it and may He have mercy upon me!” The vulture shrugged and Bayard felt cold fingers digging deep into his being and pulling it in six different directions. There was no pain, only a growing sense of thinness about his person, a whelming dark, and then an all consuming light more terrible even than the shadow creatures. The moment before he lost all sense of anything, he thought he heard the sound of galloping hooves that stopped suddenly as a horse screamed and then he knew or perhaps was, nothing but light.
The breathless guard was flung from his horse as it spooked at the dreadful creatures gathered in the courtyard. He caught a brief glimpse of the nearly translucent prince before his vision exploded into stars as he bashed his head on the paving stones. The prince’s brother had sent him thither with all haste to see what had come of the crown prince and if there was any hope of rescue, but as he lay stunned on the moist pavement, his sluggish thoughts chastised him for so foolishly walking into an obvious trap. The shadows soon overwhelmed him too and afterwards, some of them almost appeared human. Of these, three returned to the palace to make sure the surviving prince held to his part of the bargain.
The Royal family had gathered as usual for their communal breakfast, it was the one time of day that all of them could be prevailed upon to make an appearance before the demands of the day soon drew them apart. Garot nearly dropped his teacup as his tardy brother entered the room, as if nothing untoward had happened the previous night. He greeted his parents and sister cheerily and stared in horror at his brother who was pale as death. Neither the King and Queen nor their daughter noticed the interaction, save to reply with an automatic greeting of their own, caught up as they were in their own toast and conversation. Bayard took his accustomed place across from his brother and continued to stare in concern, wondering what was wrong with the boy. His brother’s unexpected appearance was shock enough to Garot, Bayard’s look of worry over his treacherous brother’s reaction was even more perplexing. How had he survived? Why was he not declaring him the worst sort of traitor but instead stared at him in grave concern?
Bayard said quietly to his brother, “what ever is the matter Garot? You look as if you have seen a ghost!”
Garot found his tongue and answered in a feeble voice, “I am just stricken dumb at seeing you so full of cheer this morning. I had thought last night might have been rather difficult for you.”
Bayard smiled warmly, misunderstanding completely that his brother was not concerned about his health but rather with his own mental stability. Said he, “how did you know I had such a strange nightmare? But it was only a dream and though it began in the most horrible manner imaginable, the end was truly glorious and well worth the initial terror.”
Garot eyed him in disbelief. A nightmare?! The boy should be dead or worse! And here he was eating toast as if it were the most natural thing in the world, completely oblivious to his own brother’s treachery. He gulped down his tea, mumbled something about a busy day, and hastened from the room. Four sets of perplexed eyes watched him go but soon enough returned to their own thoughts. Garot bolted from the room with as much decorum as possible and then hastened back to his own chamber to think, but there he found three gentlemen or rather creatures resembling gentlemen awaiting him. They looked quite different from the shadowy beings he had barely glimpsed the previous night but the feeling of icy terror that squeezed his heart was certainly the same. Perhaps they could solve this desperate riddle.
Not content to merely toy with Princesses and Heroes, now a classic fairy tale has been corrupted for reasons we cannot begin to fathom. Take a look at 'Sleeping Beauty' as you've never seen the tale before. In another lighthearted and amusing romp through the world of Foible, poking fun at modern culture and fairy tale requisites alike, this little story is sure not to leave you snoozing like the unfortunate heroine.