dandelionburrow

Fairy Tales for the Modern Age


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BOXES: Latest Version 1/19/16

Once upon a time there lived a man who spent most of his days and nights in a cozy den, surrounded by fine furniture, and a full library. His desk was covered in papers, drawings, facts and figures hastily scribbled on scraps of parchment. His room, during the morning hours, had windows that let in an abundance of natural light. And through those windows, albeit a bit dustily, you could see an ancient forest of oak and a deep gray lake. What was less discernible, however, was just beyond the trees, and that was an incredibly high wall the man had built around his estate, to keep everyone else at a distance. The man desired a quiet and peaceful life, and he found that, in general, other people kept him from his work…the honorable pursuit of thinking GREAT thoughts.

Thinking GREAT thoughts had been the man’s job for years now. He had notebooks full of them, pages upon pages of deep, wonderful thoughts about all sorts of things. But no one else had ever seen them. He kept them, like so many other things, in boxes, scattered about his home.

At this particular moment in time, the woman was yet again wandering through the forest. And she was so very tired. The world had promised her so very much and her heart had been so very full of joy and anticipation at the adventures she would one day have. Her heart had been so very full of love for every being in the world. Now… she felt empty, and more alone than she ever had. And perhaps a bit pathetic. It was really a very good thing that the woman had the ability to laugh at herself.

But onward she walked. There was nothing else to do but walk. Well, that is, until she encountered the wall.

“That’s a mighty big wall.” She thought.

Well, what would you think? I mean, really. Did you expect something more poetic? It was a big wall. It wasn’t an interesting wall. It wasn’t brightly colored or built of marble or crystal. It was fairly ordinary to look at, it was just really big.

The woman paced back and forth at the bottom of the wall, looking for a door… or a window… or even a crack big enough to wedge herself through. It seemed to go on for miles and she just wasn’t in the mood to keep walking until she found a corner. You never know what’s behind a corner. Your life could change in an instant the moment you round a corner. Corners are not things that you can trust.

But solid walls, those were trustworthy. They always stayed the same. No changes. Solid. The woman needed a bit of solid. She decided that she was fond of the wall.

But still, she felt compelled to see what was behind it. Curiosity has never actually killed at cat.

There was only one thing to do, and that was to scale the wall. First, she attempted to grab hold of the edges of the stone blocks. But, they were too small, and her fingers felt too big to grab hold.

Then, she tried running and jumping up the side of the wall… to no avail. Admittedly, it wasn’t actually the brightest thing she’d ever done. And she laughed at her own foolishness.

After many such attempts, the woman leaned up against the wall, and slowly slid to the ground, feeling rather defeated. A few tears were shed. She may have bemoaned her existence a little. Then she told herself to knock it off, get up, and try again.

This time, she looked around her and suddenly noticed that not all hope was lost.

There was a tree; a tall, beautiful old oak tree with long graceful branches, and the uppermost branch hung close to the top of the wall. After spending so much time learning to be an acrobat (to impress a rather ungrateful and alcoholic bard in a tale already told) she knew that she was more than capable of scaling the tree. The leap from the uppermost branch to the top of that wall, however… now that was intimidating.

Once the woman got an idea into her head, she could never let it go. Once she had found a new happy thought, a bit of hope, she wasn’t about to toss it away.

So she climbed. She climbed. She climbed, scraping a knee in the process and tearing a hole in her skirt, but still she climbed and soon she was on the uppermost branch of that old oak tree. Trembling, she edged her way across the limb. One false move and she would fall to a rather messy and certainly uncomfortable death. She paused at the end of the branch, wondering if this was her final moment.

Faith. That is what she needed. Faith. Only faith and a bit of optimism would do, and well, actually, a really big leap, in the literal sense. She took a deep breath and jumped.

That was a close one. She barely grabbed a hold of the top of the wall with her hands and scrabbled her way up over the parapet. For a second, she was convinced that all was for naught and that she would definitely buy the farm right then and there. But by some miracle, she made it.

Happy Thought 1: She climbed the tree.

Happy Thought 2: She made it to the end of the uppermost branch.

Happy Thought 3: She leaped to the top of the wall, perhaps not as gracefully as she hoped, but she did it.

 

Filled with three new happy thoughts, she raised her arms to the sky and yelled a nice, strong, full, joyous yell. She knew at that moment, that she could accomplish anything, absolutely anything! The world was her playground! She surveyed the beautiful land on the other side of the wall, the lush grass, the trees bearing fruit, the flowers and sparkling fountains, the remainder of the old oak forest and a deep, peaceful, gray lake. “I could get to like it here,” she thought.

Handily enough, on this side of THE WALL, there was a staircase, which was more convenient, if less pretty, than the old oak tree. She descended from the top of the wall into the beautiful landscape below. She finally felt like a princess, no, I dare say, a queen of an enchanted land.

This did not last long, sadly, as suddenly there was a terrifying rumble, and god-like voice echoed throughout the sky.

“ATTENTION! THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY! LEAVE IMMEDIATELY.”

Where did the sound come from? There was no giant trapesing through the countryside these days. She looked up to the sky and saw nothing, not even a beanstalk!

“Um, hello?” She replied.

“ATTENTION! ONCE AGAIN, THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY. AWAY WITH YOU! BEGONE!”

The woman was able to trace the source of the sound to a very long pipe which traveled up the side of the wall and ended in the curve of a trumpet. The other end of the pipe seemed to go on for quite a while, through the grass, around trees and fountains, and finally crawling up the side of a stately manor house that she had not noticed until that very moment.

“Well that’s not a very kind welcome.” She replied, rather cheekily. “I would hope that your mother had raised you to have better manners than to treat a guest so poorly. Why don’t you show yourself? I won’t leave until you do.” She sat down on the edge of the wall, pulled an apple from her bag, and took a noisy bite.

A jumble of rather inappropriate words blasted through the trumpet. And she could hear a long, whining squeak as a closed, rusty shutter was wrenched open.

“I told you to go away! This is private property!” Bellowed a shadowy form from inside the manor house.

The woman peered more closely…she could see that it was a man, that he was tall and broad, and had an abundance of curling dark hair. In fact, as she strained her eyes a bit more, he even appeared to be kind of handsome.

“I will happily go away if you would at least be a gentleman and invite me in for a cup of tea!” the woman shouted. “It’s been ages since I had a cup of tea.” That was quite true, in fact she’d had been rather phobic of tea pots ever since that encounter with the boy wizard. She wasn’t sure why she was ready for a cup of tea now, but it seemed to do the trick. A big sigh echoed from the window in the manor house and as she walked closer to the building, she could hear rather loud footsteps stomping down stairs.

The front door opened noisily. And he appeared.

And although she had promised herself never, ever, ever to fall in love at first sight again, she fell. And it was messy. And it was uncomfortable. And for a second she wondered if falling out of the tree would have hurt less.

Most likely.

“Hello.” She said. It wasn’t the most interesting opening line she’d ever delivered, but it was a start.

His brow was furrowed. His eyes almost crossed as he squinted at her.

Then suddenly his eyebrows raised. His mouth dropped open. Overall, it was a look of confusion, more than anything else.

She must have been quite a sight. Her curling auburn hair had long since given up on ever looking respectable. She’d always have burrs and leaves sticking out of wayward tangles. Her clothes had been patched so many times that no one would know what color they’d been to start with. And her teeth were a little crooked, a fact she hid by never smiling with her mouth open.

“Hell…o?” He stammered.

“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” she asked.

“Oh goodness! Certainly, certainly! He replied, bobbing his head up and down politely. My apologies for earlier, I never have visitors.”

“I’m not at all surprised you don’t have visitors! What do you mean by building such a BIG WALL around your house? What if your neighbors needed to borrow a cup of sugar…or some tea… or a bit of milk?”

“I have neighbors?” He asked, still rather confusedly.

“Nevermind.” She said, and she brushed past him, and into the manor house.

The first thing she noticed were the books. She liked a man with books. She always imagined that she’d live in a castle made entirely of books someday.

Then she noticed the boxes. There were boxes on almost every open surface, tables, chairs, mantles, shelves, the floor, stairs… boxes of almost every imaginable style and color.

“What’s with all the boxes?” She asked. She wasn’t very good at beating around the bush.

“Oh! The boxes! Well, that is how I organize all of my very GREAT thoughts! Each idea that I have, each experience I encounter, every person I meet gets put into a box, filed numerically, of course.”

“In…a box?” the woman asked.

“Yes, of course, in a box! That is how I make sense of the world. Everything in order. It’s very simple really. Take you for example, you’re a visitor, so you can go straight into the visitor box. But then again, you’re a ginger, so perhaps you belong in the ginger box? And you’re female…I assume…so maybe in that box? Do you like potatoes? I could put you in the potato-liking box. Oh wait! How old are you? I’m not sure which age box to assign you to.”

“WHOAH! Hold the … (She paused, not entirely sure what one would hold)…trumpet? You can’t assign people to boxes. Boxes are for things and not people! I am an awful lot of things and frankly, I don’t think I will fit into any of your boxes.”

“Nonsense! I’m sure that I can find a box that will fit you. You’re curvy…and fairly attractive, maybe the curvy attractive person box?”

“No! Though thanks for the compliment? (She snapped her fingers and pointed at him.) You’re not half bad yourself except for the whole box thing. Is that really what you want to do with me? Put me into a box? Forget all of the other bits of me and just concentrate on ONE ASPECT? My hair? My body? My age? One box can’t hold all of me and you’ll be missing out on an awful lot of really amazing things if you just look at one thing and ignore everything else! You might find that you enjoy not having me in one box. You might find one day that putting me into one box was the worst mistake you’d ever made! You may regret it until the end of your strangely attractive life!” As she spoke, she backed up slowly, until she found her back to the wall.

The man blinked and stared at the woman.

“You know, you might be right. I think you may absolutely be right. I don’t have just one box for you. You’ll just have to go into them all!”

“In… all the boxes?”

“Yes. In all. Now how to get you parceled up into little bits and pieces? Hmmm…” He turned from her, looking around at the surfaces not covered by boxes and books and GREAT ideas.

The woman then had a pretty GREAT idea of her own… it was time to skedaddle.

“You know, I don’t think I’m in the mood for that tea now. But it was simply lovely to meet you. Maybe we’ll run into one another again some time!”

And the woman edged herself around the wall to the door, sprinted down the stairs, and ran away, never looking back.

Or maybe… that’s not how it ended. Maybe when she pointed out the foolishness of trying to stuff people into boxes based on how they look, or what they like, or their age… maybe he saw that the world was more complicated, and dare I say, more beautiful than that? Maybe he let all of the people out of the boxes, fell head over heels for the woman, and asked her to share his manor?

Or maybe he’s still stacking boxes. That’s my bet, anyway.

The End.  (For now)


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Boxes: 12/12/15

Once upon a time there lived a man who spent most of his days and nights in a cozy den, surrounded by fine furniture, and a full library. His desk was covered in papers, drawings, facts and figures. His room, during the morning hours, had windows that let in an abundance of natural light. And through those windows, albeit a bit dustily, you could see an ancient forest of oak and a deep gray lake. What was less discernible, however, was just beyond the trees, and that was an incredibly high wall the man had built around his estate, to keep everyone else at a distance. The man desired a quiet and peaceful life, and he found that, in general, other people kept him from his work… thinking great thoughts.

Thinking great thoughts had been the man’s job for years now. He had notebooks full of them. Pages upon pages of deep, wonderful thoughts about all sorts of things. But no one else had ever seen them. He kept them, like so many other things, in boxes, scattered about his home.
At this particular moment in time, the woman was yet again wandering through the forest. And she was so very tired. The world had promised her so very much and her heart had been so very full of joy and anticipation at the adventures she would one day have. Her heart had been so very full of love for every being in the world. Now… she felt empty, and more alone than she ever had.

But onward she walked. There was nothing else to do but walk. Well, that is, until she encountered the wall.

“That’s a mighty big wall.” She thought.

Well, what would you think? I mean really. Did you expect something more poetic? It was a big wall. It wasn’t an interesting wall. It wasn’t brightly colored or built of marble or crystal. It was fairly ordinary to look at, it was just really big.

The woman paced back and forth at the bottom of the wall, looking for a door… or a window… or even a crack big enough to wedge herself through. It seemed to go on for miles and she just wasn’t in the mood to keep walking until she found a corner. You never know what’s behind a corner. Your life could change in an instant the moment you round a corner. Corners are not things that you can trust.

But solid walls, those were trustworthy. They always stayed the same. No changes. Solid. The woman needed a bit of solid. She decided that she was fond of the wall.

But still, she felt compelled to see what was behind it.

There was only one thing to do, and that was to scale the wall. First, she attempted to grab hold of the edges of the stone blocks. But, they were too small, and her fingers felt too big to grab hold.

Then, she tried running and jumping up the side of the wall… to no avail. Admittedly, it wasn’t actually the brightest thing she’d ever done.

After many attempts, the woman leaned up against the wall, and slowly slid to the ground, feeling rather defeated. A few tears were shed. She may have bemoaned her existence. Then she told herself to knock it off, get up, and try again.

This time, she looked around her and suddenly noticed that not all hope was lost.

There was a tree; a big, beautiful old oak tree with long graceful branches, and the uppermost branch hung close to the top of the wall. After spending so much time learning to be an acrobat (to impress a rather ungrateful and alcoholic bard,) she knew that she was more than capable of scaling the tree. The leap from the uppermost branch to the top of that wall, however… now that was intimidating.

Once the woman got an idea into her head, she could never let it go. Once she had found a new happy thought, a bit of hope, she wasn’t about to toss it away.

So she climbed. She climbed. She climbed, scraping a knee in the process and tearing a hole in her skirt, but still she climbed and soon she was on the uppermost branch of that old oak tree. Trembling, she edged her way across the limb. One false move and she would fall to a rather messy and certainly uncomfortable death. She paused at the end of the branch, wondering if this was her final moment.

Faith. That is what she needed. Faith. Only faith and a bit of optimism would do, and well, actually, a really big leap. She took a deep breath and jumped.

That was a close one. She barely grabbed a hold of the top of the wall with her hands and scrabbled her way up over the parapet. For a second, she was convinced that all was for naught and that she would definitely buy the farm right then and there. But by some miracle, she made it.

Happy Thought 1: She climbed the tree.
Happy Thought 2: She made it to the end of the uppermost branch.
Happy Thought 3: She leaped to the top of the wall, perhaps not as gracefully as she hoped, but she made it.

Filled with happy thoughts, she raised her arms to the sky and yelled a nice, strong, full, joyous yell. She knew at that moment, that she could accomplish anything, absolutely anything! The world was her playground! She surveyed the beautiful land on the other side of the wall, the lush grass, the trees bearing fruit, the flowers and sparkling fountains, the remainder of the old oak forest and a deep, peaceful, gray lake. “I could get to like it here, she thought.”
Handily enough, on this side of THE WALL, there was a staircase, which was more convenient, if less pretty, than the old oak tree. She descended from the top of the wall into the beautiful landscape below. She finally felt like a princess, no, I dare say, a queen of an enchanted land.

This did not last long, sadly, as suddenly there was a terrifying rumble, and god-like voice echoed throughout the sky.

“ATTENTION! THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY! LEAVE IMMEDIATELY.”

Where did the sound come from? There was no giant trapesing through the countryside these days. She looked up to the sky and saw nothing, not even a beanstalk!

“Um, hello?” She replied.

“ATTENTION! ONCE AGAIN, THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY. AWAY WITH YOU! BEGONE!”

The woman was able to trace the source of the sound to a very long pipe which traveled up the side of the wall and ended in the curve of a trumpet. The other end of the pipe seemed to go on for quite a while, through the grass, around trees and fountains, and finally crawling up the side of a stately manor house that she had not noticed until that very moment.

“Well that’s not a very kind welcome.” She replied, rather cheekily. “I would hope that your mother had raised you to have better manners than to treat a guest so poorly. Why don’t you show yourself? I won’t leave until you do.” She sat down on the edge of the wall, pulled an apple from her bag, and took a noisy bite.

A jumble of rather inappropriate words blasted through the trumpet. And she could hear a long, whining squeak as a closed, rusty shutter was wrenched open.

“I told you to go away! This is private property!” Bellowed a shadowy form from inside the manor house.

The woman peered more closely…she could see that it was a man, that he was tall and broad, and had an abundance of curling hark hair. In fact, as she strained her eyes a bit more, he even appeared to be handsome.

“I will happily go away if you would at least be a gentleman and invite me in for a cup of tea!” the woman shouted. “It’s been ages since I had a cup of tea.” That was quite true, in fact she’d had been rather phobic of tea pots ever since that encounter with the boy wizard. She wasn’t sure why she was ready for a cup of tea now, but it seemed to do the trick. A big sigh echoed from the window in the manor house and as she walked closer to the building, she could hear rather loud footsteps stomping down stairs.

The front door opened noisily. And he appeared.

And although she had promised herself never, ever, ever to fall in love at first sight again. She fell. And it was messy. And it was uncomfortable. And for a second she wondered if falling out of the tree would have hurt less.

Most likely.

“Hello.” She said. It wasn’t the most interesting opening line she’d ever delivered, but it was a start.

His brow was furrowed. His eyes almost crossed as he squinted at her.
Then suddenly his eyebrows raised. His mouth dropped open. Overall, it was a look of confusion, more than anything else.

She must have been quite a sight. Her curling auburn hair had long since given up on ever looking respectable. She’d always have burrs and leaves sticking out of wayward tangles. Her clothes had been patched so many times that no one would know what color they’d been to start with. And her teeth were a little crooked, a fact she hid by never smiling with her mouth open.

“Hell…o?” He stammered.

“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” she asked.

“Oh goodness! Certainly, certainly! He replied, bobbing his head up and down politely. My apologies for earlier, I never have visitors.”
“I’m not at all surprised you don’t have visitors! What do you mean by building such a BIG WALL around your house? What if your neighbors needed to borrow a cup of sugar…or some tea… or a bit of milk?”

“I have neighbors?” He asked, still rather confusedly.

“Nevermind.” She said, and she brushed past him, and into the manor house.

The first thing she noticed were the books. She liked a man with books. She always imagined that she’d live in a castle made entirely of books someday.

Then she noticed the boxes. There were boxes on almost every open surface, tables, chairs, mantles, shelves, the floor, stairs… boxes of almost every imaginable style and color.

“What’s with all the boxes?” She asked. She wasn’t very good at beating around the bush.

“Oh! The boxes! Well, that is how I organize all of my very great thoughts! Each idea that I have, each experience I encounter, every person I meet gets put into a box, filed numerically, of course.”
“In…a box?” the woman asked.

“Yes, of course, in a box! That is how I make sense of the world. Everything in order. It’s very simple really. Take you for example, you’re a visitor, so you can go straight into the visitor box. But then again, you’re a ginger, so perhaps you belong in the ginger box? And you’re female…I assume…so maybe in that box? Do you like potatoes? I could put you in the potato-liking box. Oh wait! How old are you? I’m not sure which age box to assign you to.”

“WHOAH! Hold the …(She paused, not entirely sure what one would hold)…trumpet? You can’t assign people to boxes. Boxes are for things and not people! I am an awful lot of things and frankly, I don’t think I will fit into any of your boxes.”

“Nonsense! I’m sure that I can find a box that will fit you. You’re curvy…and fairly attractive, maybe the curvy attractive person box?”
“No! Though thanks for the compliment? You’re not half bad yourself except for the whole box thing. Is that really what you want to do with me? Put me into a box? Forget all of the other bits of me and just concentrate on ONE ASPECT? My hair? My body? My age? One box can’t hold all of me and you’ll be missing out on an awful lot of really amazing things if you just look at one thing and ignore everything else! You might find that you enjoy not having me in one box. You might find one day that putting me into one box was the worst mistake you’d ever made! You may regret it until the end of your strangely attractive life!”

The man blinked and stared at the woman.

“You know, you might be right. I think you may absolutely be right. I don’t have just one box for you. You’ll just have to go into them all!”

“In… all the boxes?”

“Yes. In all. Now how to get you parceled up into little bits and pieces?…hmm…” He turned from her, looking around at the surfaces not covered by boxes and great ideas.

The woman then had a pretty great idea of her own… it was time to skedaddle.

“You know, I don’t think I’m in the mood for that tea now. But it was simply lovely to meet you. Maybe we’ll run into one another again some time!”

And the woman ran away, never looking back.

Or maybe… that’s not how it ended. Maybe when she pointed out the foolishness of trying to stuff people into boxes based on how they look, or what they like, or their age… maybe he saw that the world was more complicated, and dare I say, more beautiful than that? Maybe he let all of the people out of the boxes, fell head over heels for the woman, and asked her to share his manor?

Or maybe he’s still stacking boxes.

The end.


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The egotistical knight: A work in progress

Once Upon A Time, after many adventures, a girl, now a woman, wondered into a dense forest alone.  On her journeys she had met a strange and assorted cast of characters along the way. Once upon a time, she had been trapped in a tower by an ogre, once upon a time she had been trapped in a teapot by a boy wizard, once upon a time she followed a dashing and somewhat confused troubador, and frankly now she was feeling a bit world weary and sick of ONCE UPON A TIMES.

It was time for a rest and a little “me time.”

After the first few days of skipping down the forest path, weaving pretty autumn leaves into her (now quite tangled) hair, and singing at the top of her lungs when she was quite sure that there was not a soul around for miles, she grew rather bored. She came to the conclusion that she was terribly lonely and had reached the limit of her tolerance for this “me time” nonsense. She decided to find her way out of the forest and run screaming to the next small village or town she could find.

On the third day of searching for a way out, she was about to abandon hope when suddenly, she heard a grievous sound, a sob so heart-wrenching that she felt compelled to follow. Quietly, she stepped over dry branches and hid behind tree trunks until she noticed that the sounds grew louder.  The sobs were accompanied by sniffles and loud nose blowing, much resembling a flock of migrating geese.

Hiding behind a substantial bush, she peered into a small clearing. There she saw a knight, in dusty and dented armor, crying, his tears rusting the iron of his chain maile. “Woe is me!” He cried. “Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo.”

The girl, now a woman, darted forward. “Dear knight! What ails thee?”

After so many weeks alone, she was perhaps a bit overeager to speak to someone with a brain larger than that of a chipmunk.

“My lady!” The knight plunged to one knee, wincing slightly as he did so, with a clank and a squeak.

She could see that his armor was ill fitting, barely containing his rounded paunch. His face was ruddy, his eyes swollen, and his chin stubbled.

“Beautiful lady! I have wandered the world to find you once more! Since I took my leave of you and departed, I have completed each and every task you gave to me in order to win your love and affection!” He crawled forward awkwardly and grabbed a hold of her skirt, burying his snotty face into the folds.

“Sir! I assure you We have NOT met.”

“My lady! How could you treat me so cruelly? I have reclaimed the golden lute of Albion! I have composed 10,000 verses in your name! I have studied with the ancient scholars of Mytharia and I have fought the giants of the Western Shore! Each of these things was a task you bid me complete before I could claim your hand in marriage!”

“No. I am really quite sorry, but that was not me. You have mistaken me for someone else. I have no idea of what you speak. Please unhand my skirt. Let go!” The woman attempted to pull herself from his grasp, but to no avail.

“I must prove it to you then!” The old knight bobbed up at once, and grabbed a musical instrument that appeared to have no resemblance to any kind of lute the woman had seen before. He placed it upon his knee and began to sing and play, (if one could call it that).

The woman winced.

When the song was finished (I will not subject you to the lyrics) the woman politely smiled and said, “That was very nice, kind sir, but I must be going…”

“Was that not the most beauteous song ever composed? Did it not please you? I assure you that my talents have been acclaimed far and wide. I have sung to thousands and been rewarded with gold and fine pearls!”

“That is all well and good, sir, but really, I must beg my leave…” The girl took a step back towards the forest.

The knight bounded forth, blocking the path. “And now, fine lady, I shall recite to you the poetic edda I have composed, detailing many of my courageous deeds. It was well received at the University of Mytharia and I was rewarded an honorary degree in Literature…”

The knight jumped up on a log and began to recite a very long and droning verse, the words of which, I will not relate to you. I could not spare the woman’s ears from it, but I can indeed spare your eyes.

After ten minutes, the woman yawned loudly.

After twenty, she edged further and further back into the forest.

At approximately twenty three minutes and forty seconds, the knight finally took a breath.

The woman made a dash into the wood.

The knight tried to follow, but tripped over his lute and fell to the ground.

“Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo! My lady! My heart’s desire! I cannot bear to be parted from you again!”

“I cannot bear to hear one more word out of you! I cannot bear to listen to your singing! I don’t care one bit about your honorary degree! And I am not the lady you seek!’ She picked up a rock and tossed it at the knight, soundly clunking him off his helmet.

She turned and ran, never looking back. It was better to be wandering off into the forest once more than listen to be trapped with an egotistical sobbing blowhard.


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Inside Out

“I have a beautiful princess,” he said, his eyes somewhat glazed over and that little secret smile beginning to crease his cheeks.

“You are so very young,” she thought. But she continued to dust his desk around him. “Oh? “ She asked. She wanted more information, and knew that he would keep talking if she expressed interest. She kept her eyes on her work, not wanting to see his expression.

“Yes. My father the king has arranged it. I’ve been sent a parcel with a sketch of her included.”

She was not particularly impressed, she knew that he has several such sketches in his bottom drawer, all possible future wives, all rejected for one miniscule flaw or another.

“Well, then” she replied.

“Would you like to see?” He asked.

She knew that he very much wanted to show her, and truth be told, she very much wanted to see. The last princess had been called, “too skinny!” The one before that, “too blonde!” The one before that, well, she did have a large hairy mole upon her shoulder in the shape of a toadstool, which only had been revealed during a very unfortunate game of croquet.

He unfurled the parchment and held it out for Vivie to see. She was careful not to come too closely, for chamber maids should keep a wise and respectful distance from princes (Really, mostly wise. We all know what happened to Bertha the serving wench from Castledon. The story was passed through the servant’s hall for generations as a warning to all new female staff).

He was right of course. She was lovely. She had waves of soft looking honey brown hair cascading from a high, cultured brow.  Her mouth was set in a mysterious smile which held promises of long evenings under stars. Her eyes were what bards compared those stars to, bright and shining and framed by long lashes, demurely cast down, as befit a hoping-to-be-wed princess.

“Hmmph.” Vivie said. “You’ve got an ink spot on your nose.” She turned and walked away.

“Wait!” Prince Thomas III of West Stonehaven commanded. She paused and turned around.

A chambermaid had no choice. She struggled to keep her face even. Inside she could feel her heart twist.

“Do you not find her most pleasing?” Prince Thomas asked, somewhat anxiously, she thought.

“Yes, your majesty. Her outward appearance is most lovely.” She took a step backwards.

“She will be arriving in a fortnight. I am quite overwhelmed with excitement.”

She could see that he was. His cheeks were flushed a light pink underneath his freckles, giving him the appearance of a watermelon.

Her heart leapt. Involuntary reaction. She needed an escape.

“I will give your chamber an extra dusting that week, your highness.” He nodded. She turned and left the room, closing the door and leaning upon it to take a breath.

This is not an ordinary story of a worthy serving girl meeting a dashing prince.

For example, he was anything but dashing. He was clumsy and awkward. He was slightly bookish and his glasses made him look a bit like an owl. He had freckles from years of running amuck in the gardens. His left ear was bigger than his right. Also, his feet smelled.

Vivie could overlook that.

Since she was about 11 years old and new to the castle, (her aunt was the cook, you see, and secured her a position), she had dusted his chambers. He was eight at the time. She picked up his wooden knights. She took his dirty stockings down to the laundress. She listened to him babble on about whatever new idea had captured his attention. It was a very long week for her when he discovered the books kept by the castle staff about the pedigree of royal horses in the stable.

Once he had stumbled upon her singing as she worked. Embarrassed, she apologized to him, (was he 12 at the time?) and he commanded her to come and sing to him every night before he readied for bed. The Queen herself had done so up until she died and no one else could hold a tune. She knew how much he missed her, and so she sang him faithfully to sleep every night for ten years.

When he had a nightmare and woke up yelling, it was Vivie herself who rushed in before the nursemaids to hold his hand.

There had never been anyone other than Prince Thomas for her, and she could not imagine anyone else taking his place.

For the past couple years, Vivie had watched a parade of princesses come through the castle gates, each to be turned away. Prince Thomas was getting a reputation for being picky and his father was becoming more and more agitated with each rosy-cheeked princess that was turned away. Soon there would be no royal daughters left of age and they may need to wait another decade. The king himself was growing older and the thought that his son was left unmarried and without an heir began to weigh upon him. He decided to seek expert help.

The King put out a proclamation inviting all of the wise men in the kingdom to the castle. Magicians, doctors, learned men all, were invited for a weekend of feasting and brainstorming.

Learned men all.

The King, being rather old fashioned, didn’t stop to think that perhaps, certainly in matters of the heart, and very often in everything else, women are just as learned and quite capable of discovering a solution. Perhaps if the Queen were still living, the problem would have been sorted already, but alas, it was not to be.

His proclamation offended the guild of female magic workers (GFMW, for short) and they held an emergency meeting to elect a representative to go to court. They brainstormed and feasted for a weekend themselves, the week before the king’s event, and they chose one of the long-standing members, Melina the Just, to present their opinion and solution to the court.

To ensure that Melina would be able to enter through the palace gate, a message containing the plan was passed through one of the GFMW members who happened to work in the kitchens at the castle, (kitchen witchery being a common tract for GFMW members) and to all of the female staff.

Melina would disguise herself as a man, enter the courtyard, spend some time mingling  and feasting with the “learned men” and wait for an opportune moment to throw off of her disguise and provide a solution. The GFMW certainly endorsed a small bit of drama now and then to keep things interesting, and sometimes learned men need something big to get through their thick learned skulls.

The day arrived; Melina’s hair was tightly braided and tucked under a short wig. Her face was enchanted so that a week’s worth of stubble was upon her chin. Her eyebrows were darkened, teeth slightly yellowed, chest bound, and she was sprayed with eau de old cheese so that no one would want to come too near to her. Normally, a lovely woman in her early 60’s, the GFMW did such a thorough job of disguising Melina that some wondered if she had not been a man all along!

Melina wore a tall black wizard’s hat with a small purple flower, the symbol for all of the female staff to recognize her for who she truly was. Their job would be to usher Melina swiftly through the gate and provide distractions when necessary should Melina’s disguise be questioned.

All went according to plan. Melina made it through with all of the other learned men, and because of her cheesy odor, everyone seemed to keep at least a foot away from her on all sides. When one particularly astute guard appeared to look too closely at her, one of the pretty female serving wenches happened to drop an armload of wood upon his foot, and he was too distracted by his view as she bent down to pick up each log, apologizing the whole while, to pay any more attention to Melina. I hear that particular guard and that serving wench were married about a year later and that the injury to his foot, and her ministrations to it, was what prompted the proposal.

But that is a story for another day.

Back to Melina…she was now sitting at one of the long tables in the great hall, eating, and watching presentation after presentation about princesses all over the world that could be invited to court. West Stonehaven was a very wealthy and peaceful country and royal fathers greedily cast their eyes toward it like a delicious mincemeat pie just waiting for a big royal bite.

It was difficult to keep from yawning. Many of the presentations pointed out “scientifically” the merits of each princess and how each of these were sure to attract Prince Thomas’s attention. Measurements were charted. Which princess had the smallest waist to bust ratio? Which princess had hips that looked capable of breeding? As the day went on into the night, Melina became more and more offended.

And Vivie was busy singing the subject of all of this nonsense to sleep. He was having a particularly stressful day, for obvious reasons, and so she respectfully and dispassionately rubbed his temples as he tried to sleep.

“I simply don’t know what I would do without you, Vivian,” yawned the prince, as he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. She pushed one of his auburn locks off of his forehead and stood up.

Vivie thought to herself, “I don’t know what you’d do without me, either.” And turned and left the room. She had plenty of work before her that evening, preparing all of the guest rooms for a hoard of learned men and no one ever sang her to sleep and rubbed her temples either. Though it wasn’t her temples that ached, if she was honest with herself, it was her heart.

She stopped at a gilded mirror and gazed at her own reflection. Round face and soft body greeted her. She could see shadows under her eyes and she spent so much time indoors working that even her own freckles were faded. Teeth slightly crooked. Hair in a messy bun. Her eyes were kind. But she knew she’d never hold her own against a princess, even if her own pedigree was a good and documented as well as the royal horses in the stables.

The next day, messages were sent to kingdoms across the land to have each and every princess, even the formerly rejected ones to come participate in a “Princess Trial.” The winner of the event would marry Prince Thomas, whether he liked it or not, really.

Melina bided her time. The idea was ridiculous. She practically ground her teeth down as she sat and listened to the list of events being scheduled. Longest hair competition. Find the Glass Shoe, which seemed a bit like capture the flag but with a little more danger seeing as glass shoes shatter. One of the silliest ones involved a pea and the number of mattresses through which a princess could detect it.

Melina nearly yelled, “You have got to be kidding me!” in the middle of the planning session, but clapped a firm hand over her mouth and stubbly chin before blowing her cover.

This was getting out of control. The plan of the GFMW would still stand, but needed a slight adaptation now that there were going to be so many princesses. Melina sent a message, through that particularly buxom and pretty serving wench mentioned earlier, to the guild, asking for more volunteers to dress up as men and attend the Princess Trials. She would need a bit more assistance executing the spell work required to stop all of this nonsense once and for all. Melina almost felt bad for the poor prince, who was rumored to be a bit shy and bookish and not at all interested in being wed. But, he was still a prince, as spoiled and babied as all other princes were and had been since the dawn of time.

Grabbing a few cookies, she went up the stairs to her royal rooms to bed. She sat in bed, looking at her cookies when she realized that she needed to have a glass of milk to properly enjoy them. She looked at the long cord that held near the bed, attached to a bell. “When in Rome,” she thought, and pulled it. The bell rang and she could hear someone running up the stairs. There was a knock at her door, and a young girl entered. She had mousey brown hair put up into a messy bun and freckles.

“You rang, mistress?”

Melina looked at her in shock. Had her disguise faded? She panicked. “You must be mistaken, girl.” She said, in a gruffer than normal voice.

The girl looked at her and smiled, “you’ve a purple flower on your hat and my aunt is head of the kitchens here. I know all about what is happening. You are Melina the Just and you have come to help.”

“Ahh… you must be Vivian!” Being in such close contact with the Prince, Vivian would play a key role in helping the spell work happen. What luck! She could garner information about young Prince Thomas through her. “I was hoping to have a glass of milk with my cookies, if you are not too busy, would you mind fetching me one? And then perhaps you could sit and have a cookie with me before I go to sleep?”

Vivian thought about this for a moment, there were plenty of other servants working that night; she may not be missed for a minute or two. However, lingering too long in the room of a “learned man” might cause suspicion. She told Melina that she could only stay for a little while, and ran off to fetch a glass of milk.

Meanwhile, Prince Thomas was starting to stir in his sleep. He moaned. He tossed and turned. He was dreaming once again about his mother. He couldn’t find her. He knew she was there, but it was dark and cold. He was five years old again and he kept crying out for her.

Melina was just about to ask Vivian another question about the Prince when suddenly Vivian snapped to attention, shoved the rest of her cookie into her mouth, cocked her head to the side and said, “I am sorry. It’s the Prince. I’m needed.” And ran out of the room.

“Well this certainly complicates matters,” thought Melinda, who suddenly had an inkling of what was really going on. She hadn’t heard a bell, or the Prince. But strangely, Vivian had known that she was needed.

Melina got out of bed quickly, threw her wizard’s hat back on, and quietly followed Vivian down the hall, up the stairs, and behind a set of velvet curtains into the chamber of the Prince. There, Vivian was holding his hand, patting him on the head, and singing to him.

“Well, no wonder the Prince finds fault with all the princesses he meets.” Melinda thought. Vivian’s voice was sweet, and her touch was so caring, that there was no doubt that Vivian clearly loved the Prince. Melina thought perhaps the Prince loved Vivian in return, but just hadn’t realized it yet. “Who am I to stand in the way of true love?” Melinda asked herself. She quietly crept back to her rooms, and re-evaluated the GFMW plan.

The Princess Trials were to begin a week from Sunday to give the kingdoms enough time to outfit their princesses and send them off on the road. All princesses must arrive by noon; any late-comers would immediately lose their slot.

A sense of dread followed Vivie wherever she went during that week. Now twice the number of rooms in the castle were to be occupied, with lesser kingdoms being houses in inns throughout the town. Vivie scrubbed things until her hands were red and chapped that week. The bags under her eyes were more prominent. It felt as if her world were about to end.

She hadn’t slept well. Prince Thomas was up more frequently with nightmares, and she herself could barely get any rest between the work she had to do and her poor little heart.

Sunday morning came. Princesses began to arrive with their retinues. Each and every princess was lovely. Some were garbed in swaths of pink and gold, some wore dresses that dazzled like the sun, some were dark and mysterious and alluring. They were a cacophony of styles and looks, each more beautiful than the next.

Vivian stopped brushing her hair. What was the point? She was too busy anyway. Each princess came with her own set of demands for her accommodation and between fetching hot water, special herbs, exotic fruits, cupcakes, and brushing hair the length of the banister, Vivie was too tired to bother with herself. For although they were lovely, each Princess was demanding, passive-aggressive, gossipy, spoiled, and air-headed in her own way.

The trials began. Attired in their finest clothing, Princesses took the field to be measured, to pour tea into dainty china cups which they then balanced upon their heads. Find the Glass Shoe was a smashing success all around, with only a few unlucky princesses requiring medical attention. Some Princesses demonstrated special skills, playing the harp, dancing folk-dances of their respective kingdoms, singing, origami, and then there was one princess from the south who donned a suit of armor and knocked several of West Stonehaven’s knights off of their horses. Melina rather liked her, but questions were immediately raised about her being a proper lady so she was rushed off the field to be examined more closely by doctors.

By the end of the afternoon, a group of ten princesses were chosen for the final viewing by Prince Thomas himself.

The prince looked rather green as he entered the great hall. He was not fond of having so much attention paid to him. Everyone was gathered there, from the heads of kingdoms, to the lowest of boot boys. It was packed. He was suddenly confronted by ten dazzling smiles from ten of the most gorgeous women he had ever set his eyes on.

Each woman was accompanied by a bard who sang of her merits and the deeds she had accomplished that day. Each then had to show off some talent of theirs that had been displayed earlier during the trials. Melina was sad to see the Southern Princess was not in the final top ten and made a mental note to track her down and offer her a trial membership in the GFMW.

Some sang, some danced, some displayed fine embroidery that they had whipped up in seconds flat, and Prince Thomas was particularly interested in the Princess who could tie things in a knot with her tongue but was escorted swiftly away by one of the king’s advisors.

Finally, it came time for Prince Thomas to make a choice. He was just about to ask about Princess Knot Tie when suddenly there was a disturbance in the hall. Men were flinging off their clothing left and right. Beams of light emanated from wands revealing that these learned men were not men at all, but beautiful self-assured ladies of varying ages.

Melina stepped forward, tapped her head with her wand, and shed her disguise. She seemingly grew a few feet and her skin shone with power.

Everyone was too shocked to speak. The guards stood still. The King himself stood up from his throne, mouth agape. This may have had a little to do with the fact that he and Melina had courted once upon a time, long, long ago before he married the Queen and he had not seen her since, but again, that is a story for another day.

Melina spoke. All listened. “I have watched this day an event which has struck fear into my heart. Fear for the future of our people. Are we to be led by a future king who cares nothing for the heart and soul of his Queen? A King who cares nothing for the hearts and souls of his people, choosing to only judge those from the outside and not see the beauty and power within? Are we to be led by a Queen who is vain? Who is stupid? Who is cruel? However beautiful she may be, and endowed with meaningless accomplishments, what use is it to balance a tea cup upon a head, I ask you?

I want to be led by a King who knows his own mind and heart and values a Queen who is wise, intelligent, brave and caring. Prince Thomas, you are not such a king yet, nor will you be if you allow this all to occur!”

With that, she aimed her wand at Princess number one and shot.

A beam of light struck the Princess, suddenly transforming her. Her creamy white skin turned green, and she was covered in warts.

“See! See what is on the inside of this vain Princess!”

Another member of the GFMW stepped forward and hit Princess Number 2, who sprouted hair and grew sharp teeth. She was particularly talented at brushing her long hair, and back biting comments, it seemed.

One by one, members of the GFMW struck princesses, who suddenly were turned inside out, their inner beauty replacing their outer. Each was more hideous than the next.

Prince Thomas stood there horrified.

Vivie, who had been hiding in the back, had quickly made her way forward during the kerfuffle. She was now directly to the side of Prince Thomas. She had tears in her eyes and was angry. She knew that the things said about the prince were not true. She knew him better than anyone. She thought of all the times he had been kind to her. All of the times she had sat with this lonely little boy and played soldiers. She thought about the man he was in the process of becoming and all of the potential he had within him.

Melina aimed her wand at the Prince. This was rather daring, as it was basically treason, and she could be killed immediately for endangering him. But something drastic must be done for the future of the kingdom itself. Its values were warped. It could not survive in such a way.

She slowly and dramatically took aim, making a big sweep of her arm, people rushed away from the prince, afraid to be struck. He stood there, looking her straight in the eye. “Do what you must. I only ask that I am the last to experience your revenge.”

Melina laughed, “Oh, you will be.”

She fired.

Vivie cried, “No!” And shoved the prince to the floor, taking the full effect of the spell.

She collapsed on the ground. A gasp could be heard from the ground. The prince, cried out, “Vivian!” And rushed to her.

All was still. The Prince gathered her into his arms and began to weep. “No, no, no! Not you Vivian! Not you. You’re all I have. You are everything. Please do not leave me. “

Vivian began to glow.

Her eyes opened. Nothing changed. She was still pale, with messy mousy brown hair, hair which had now fallen out of her bun and draped over the prince’s lap. She was still soft-bodied.  But her eyes, they were now filled with someone unfathomable. They were still kind, but powerful, wise, but still slightly amused. She got up without the assistance of anyone, and stood there for all to see, filled with the grace of a Queen.

She smiled and held her hand out to Prince Thomas, who took it.

“You are a King, Thomas. You will be the greatest king that has ever ruled this Kingdom.” She stated, loud enough for all to hear.

“And you will be my Queen, Vivie. I will have no other.” The prince stated, just as loudly.

The Princesses, assembled into a hideous and horrible menagerie, all began to turn back into their respective selves, perhaps a bit humbled, (well, all except Princess Knot-Tie who immediately began to make eyes at a handsome young guard).

And so, it came to be.

No one questioned the pedigree of Vivian. She was undoubtedly meant to be the queen. And besides, Prince Thomas was so loved by the people, that they could not imagine him being made unhappy, which he would be, without Vivian by his side. It had some precedent; a commoner had once become a queen hundreds of years past, a queen with a very unusual name, something about cinders.

Prince Thomas not only gained a wife, but he also ended up gaining a step-mother. His father the King had been so very lonely himself that he had focused on providing happiness for his son in a rather misguided way. He and Melina reunited by the events of the day, courted once more, and at long last were married. Out of respect for the late Queen, who had been a rather unusually kind and intelligent woman herself, Melina had a statue created in her honor, and brought flowers to her grave site. She also did her best to be a mother to Prince Thomas, because it was time that Vivian gave up that role and became his companion. Though, truth be told, Vivie still sang Thomas to sleep each evening for the rest of their lives. But in turn, he rubbed her feet, which seemed the least that he could do.

Prince Thomas and Queen Vivian were kind and just rulers, well loved by their people, which is all anyone could ask for. Once Melina retired, Vivian took over as the head of the GFMW. Their children grew to be just as kind and just, and were allowed to marry for love. So I suppose it was a happy ending all around.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Girl That Charmed The Troubadour

The Girl Who Charmed the Troubadour

 

Once Upon A Time, there was a poor peasant girl that lived in a small house in the middle of an enchanted glen.

What made it enchanted?

Well, there was a cloutie tree sitting in the middle of the front garden; that should be a clue. Cloutie trees grow near sacred wells where faeries grant wishes.

The poor peasant girl would sit on the front stoop and watch as the nearby villagers would come, toss a coin in the well, and tie a scrap of cloth or ribbon to the tree in exchange for a wish. Some wished for health, some for wealth, and some for love. Those were usually waif-like young maidens with big eyes and a haunted, desperate look to them.

No one could ever call the girl waif-like. She was sturdy, strong, and capable of doing the work of any man on a farm. She had a snub nose, a freckled face, and a rather undignified twinkle in her eye. She had no aspirations of love, just maybe finding a farm-hand husband that didn’t think that serenading her with the sound of his flatulence was the pinnacle of romance.

One day, the girl decided to make a wish of her own. Being poor, she had nothing but the ragged dress she wore, and the threadbare, ancient quilt she slept under on a palette by the fire. At night, tossing and turning to avoid sparks, she would dream of ways that she could ease the financial strains upon her family. She knew that she must ask the faeries for a gift that would enable her to support them.

The next morning, before anyone else was awake, she looked out of the door to her cottage, making sure that no one else was about. Making a special wish takes a certain kind of privacy and nosy neighbors always ruin magic. Besides, she had so often been the target of jokes. She didn’t need anyone laughing about the chubby milk maid wishing for a prince.  In all honesty, she would have been quite satisfied with a job of her own so that she could earn the money she needed. She thought men were more trouble than they were worth.

She walked over to the tree rather reverently. The tree was obviously quite old, with knotty branches. All sorts of things hung from strings, yarn, cloth, and ribbons. She took a moment to admire the wishes that had been made throughout the years.

Taking a deep breath, she reached down to the hem of her dress and tore off a scrap of fabric, long enough to be wrapped around a branch. Being a practical sort, she wound it about two or three times in order to ensure that it would be there for a lifetime. She tied the ends in a neat little bow, closed her eyes, and made a wish, which I will not repeat here, as I said, making a special wish takes a certain kind of privacy.

No lights appeared. Nothing sparkled. When she looked into the well, she still looked exactly the same. Thinking what a crock the entire thing was, she went back into the house, cut herself a healthy slice of bread and cheese and sat down to eat a sandwich for breakfast.

The sun rose higher into the sky and the local villagers began to drift in. Some limped. Some came with their eyes cast down and their hearts upon their sleeve. The girl felt a bit sorry for them, putting their bets on a gnarly old half dead tree.

But as she watched their faces, she noticed a difference. It was small, sometimes as little as their chin jutting out at another angle, or their eyes looking forward instead of down.

It was hope.

Hope makes all the difference, you see. No matter how tragic your circumstance may feel, having a small bit of hope that things may one day be different, is like magic.

The girl, inspired, walked out of her door and stood on the stoop, as the normal crowd began to form. As people of all sorts waited in line for a turn at the well and tree, she saw a man in brightly colored mis-matched clothing approach. He held a lute in his hand.  His eyes were bright and his hair was like fire.

He did not get into line. He stood apart. Soon he began to strum his instrument and sing. His voice was the laughter of a thousand children. It was the sound the wind makes before a storm. It was birds, as brightly colored as his clothing, becoming one in a chorus, high above in the tree tops. It was…home.

The girl knew at that moment her life could never be the same again.

Nervous, she smoothed her ragged dress, re-plaited her hair, pinched her freckled cheeks and crept closer to him.

He noticed her movement, and he smiled at her.

She nearly turned and ran.

With a bow, he had lain a battered cap on the ground by his feet, and as people walked by, they tossed in small coins.

After his first song, he began to juggle. He threw balls high into the air, catching them behind his back, in his mouth, balancing them on the crown of his head.

He told jokes. He told stories. And steadily the pile of coins in his hat grew.

If only I could be like him, thought the girl. If only, he would notice me, and ask me to go with him. I could make enough money to help support my family.

The man winked at her.

Her heart leapt in her chest.

He picked up his hat, with a bow and flourish, and sauntered off into the woods.

One day passed. Then two. Then three. The girl wondered if she’d ever see him again. In the meantime, she began to teach herself how to balance on her head in the barn, where there was a nice lump of hay to fall in, and no one could see her.

Six days. Seven days. She fully mastered a headstand.

Ten days. She decided to bend backwards from a standing position.

Day eleven. Ow. Ow. Ow.

Day fourteen. She succeeded.

Day fifteen she learned to flip over.

Having mastered some tricks, she decided to teach herself how to sing. She walked into the forest (in between driving the cows out into the pasture and boiling the laundry). There she sat and listened to the birds.

She hummed along.

She began to sing. It wasn’t exactly the most beautiful sound in the world, at first, but after a couple of weeks she sounded rather pleasant.  One night, she snuck out of the house, leaving the door unlatched, she ran down to the tavern in the middle of the village. She stood just outside a window, listening to the people inside bellow out the words to songs.  For a few nights, she listened and soon, she began to know them by heart. A few had some words she didn’t quite catch the meaning of, but people laughed at them, so she thought they were probably good words to know.

About six months had gone by since she’d seen the musician with the flaming red hair, and six months had gone by of her practicing something new every day. She took great pride in the tricks she was learning, and continued to hone them, still secretly wishing she could hear his voice again.

After a year and a day, he returned. (Listen, this is a fairy tale. It may not have been exactly a year and a day, but you get the point.)

He stood apart from those waiting in line to make a wish. He bowed and and with a flourish, set his cap on the ground. He strummed his lute and began to sing.

The girl rushed outside. She stood upon her stoop. She watched him for a bit, and then she stood on her head.

There was a gasp from the crowd.

Smiling, the girl then bent over backwards down the front stairs and flipped. Everyone laughed and cheered.

The singer stopped singing. He looked at her. He didn’t smile.

The girl didn’t notice. She then took one foot and pulled it up by her ear.

The crowd began to laugh and threw coins at her feet. The girl looked over, her heart filled with joy. Surely she had impressed him! She watched in horror as he bent over, picked up his cap, narrowed his eyes at her, and stormed off.

She stood in shock. But everyone was staring at her, so she started to sing, tears welling her eyes. After the final note, she gathered up the coins, shoved them in her pocket, and ran off after the man.

It took some time to figure out which way he’d gone in the enchanted wood, but she knew if she followed her heart, he would be there.

“Wait! Wait up!” She cried.

The man looked back, “No.” He said simply, and kept walking.

“No! Please, wait! I want to talk with you.” She cried.

“No.” The man said, turning his back and walking further from her.

She ran as fast as she could, out lapping him, and jogged backwards in front of him, panting.  “Listen, I’m sorry.” She said, willing him to hear her.

“No, I get it. That’s your spot. You can have it, for what little it’s worth.” He replied, bitterly.

She stopped in place, his tone stung.

She watched him take a few more steps, his shoulders hunched. His jaw set in anger.

“I only did it to impress you.” She said quietly.

He spun around angrily. “To impress me? You think that those stunts would impress me?  I’ve been all over the country. I have been to and performed in the courts of kings. What about you could impress me? Leave off.”

“Then why are you performing for coins in my front garden?” She asked simply.

The man stopped. Her stared at her. He sat down upon a rock. “Why does it matter?” He asked. He rubbed a hand over his forehead. His face was flushed. He looked weary.

“It matters to me. I think you’re amazing.” Said the girl.

“I’m not really. I could have been. I had everything going for me. I was loved.  But I made a mistake. I took it for granted. I spent my nights distracted by beautiful women, and wine, and parties. I forgot my place. I became a joke.”

She could see the pain in his heart.

“I left. Really, I was asked to leave. And ever since, I’ve wandered the country, performing for small coins, my once beautiful clothing in rags. I am nothing.”

The girl thought her heart would burst in her chest.

“I don’t think you are nothing.” She said. “Where is your hope?”

“My hope?” he laughed bitterly. “I left that behind.”

She continued. “When I first saw you, I felt like nothing. My family was close to starving. I felt as if I was no use to anyone at all. I had no path before me. Nothing behind me. But then, I saw you. I saw the way you made people feel with your songs and stories. I saw the light in their eyes. I felt that light in my heart. I decided right then and there that I wanted to be something. Just like you. I practiced every day, hoping that you would be back, that you would see me as I saw you. I think you are beautiful.”

The man looked up. He raked a hand through his reddish mane. He squinted his eyes and the left corner of his mouth turned up into a half smile. And he saw her.

From that day forward, they began a cautious friendship. He would stop by her cottage, on the way to far off places. He would sing new songs to her. He would teach her stories. She would smile and commit them to memory, entertaining the villagers who came to the cloutie tree after the man had gone again.

She did well. Soon she was satisfied that her family was taken care of. The cottage was in good order. The barn’s roof was fixed.  The livestock was healthy. Plenty of food was stored in the root cellar.

She did not know how the man felt about her. But she knew how she felt about him. She was willing to stand by his side, always. Even if only as a friend.

One morning, she took a ribbon from her hair, went out to the cloutie tree, and made a wish.

The man came.

She told him that she wanted to be his apprentice. She wanted to travel the kingdom with him. She was willing to learn from him. She too wanted to bring joy and light and hope into the hearts of the people.

The man smiled. This time, both corners turned upwards.

They set off the next day.

I can tell you that they were successful. I can tell you of the joy and light and hope that they spread across the countryside. I can tell you of the songs they sang together, the stories that were told. I can tell you how they were invited back into the courts of kings and that the man no longer was distracted by beautiful women, wine, and, parties. Or, at least the beautiful women. Sometimes the girl, now a woman herself, had to drag him out of parties by the ear and give him a good scolding. Nobody is perfect, after all.

But she was happy.


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The Princess And The Toad

“How could a Princess ever love a Toad?”*

 

Once upon a time there was a princess that lived in the top room of a rather run down castle, guarded by an ogre. No matter how many times she tried to escape, she could never quite free herself from the ogre’s grasp.

 

Sometimes she would sit by her window and dream. She tried to imagine anything to make herself happy. But every happy thought she had would sooner or later disappear into the star-filled night sky that she wished so hard upon.

 

One day, looking down into the castle’s grounds, she saw a toad sitting by the empty, cracked fountain that had long ago been quite beautiful. The toad, I’m sure, thought himself rather insignificant – he was just a little toad. Nothing out of the ordinary, really…small, brownish green, with two very big brown eyes. But every day the princess would sit and watch him happily hopping around the remains of the garden, splashing into puddles and participating in other toad like activities.

 

Although the toad didn’t realize it, he became the princess’ one happy thought. She would watch him – so very happy with his life… and he looked like such a kind and intelligent toad. She wanted to make his acquaintance.

 

So she snuck down into the back garden, hidden from the ogre by a tall stone wall. And day after day she would watch the toad and bring him small things to try and make him happy – in his case; it was fresh grass, clean water from the well and small shiny pebbles. Now if he had been a human, she probably would have left him little notes and cookies – but as he was a toad, he was not as appreciative of words and chocolate.

 

Sometimes the princess felt guilty. She never wanted to pressure the toad, or make him think that he had to be her friend only because she was so sad. She hoped that the toad liked her, in his own toadish way, for who she was. But it’s hard to ask a toad to be your friend and to express to him how very much he means to you when you only speak human.

 

Now the toad, from his perspective, admired the princess just as much. He appreciated her gifts to him. He felt proud of himself when he could make her smile. He wasn’t an expert when it came to human beauty – but thought she was nice enough to look at. He began to look forward to seeing her just as much as she looked forward to seeing him.

 

The two became the best of friends. Everyday they would sit together in the garden, her talking to him about everything that she wished for, him speaking back in toad… they never could quite understand one another, but somehow it just made sense anyway.

 

The toad managed to give the princess hope, and when the princess was ready, she began to plan her escape from the evil ogre’s castle.

 

When all preparations were well in order and she had managed to hide all the supplies she needed, she snuck down to the garden in the middle of the night, determined to rescue her toad friend and take him away to somewhere beautiful, where there would always be fresh grass, clean water and small shiny pebbles for him to amuse himself with all day long. She didn’t mind that he would probably meet other toads, or even beautiful princesses, just as long as he was always her friend.

 

She tried to explain this all to the toad. But he just blinked his rather beautiful brown eyes at her. When she tried to scoop him up and put him into her pocket, he would wiggle free from her grasp and hide in the cracks of the fountain. The princess tried to plead with him – as odd as it seems, for a princess to kneel before a toad and beg for his friendship. But it seemed that the toad was still unsure and rather wary of the human princess. The princess didn’t quite know how to express how much he meant to her, so she merely said…”I love you.”

 

You see, the toad is what managed to give her hope… more so than the sun rising in the morning and the moon at night, the far off green hills and trees. Just the plain, ordinary seeming toad… that really wasn’t ordinary at all. He was the most extraordinary toad that ever existed, because despite his lack of ability to turn into a handsome prince, he managed to convince a princess to love him.

 

Why was the toad so afraid? Apparently years of being told that he was nothing but a toad, and would never amount to anything other than being a toad had quite affected his toadish self image. Although the word “love” in human sounds nothing like the word for love in toad (which, by the way, sounds a bit like “umph”) he began to realize that he “umphed” her just as much as she loved him.  However, “how could a princess ever love a toad?” The thought just made him feel confused and somewhat scared.

 

He was right. That is a good question. It seems silly, really.  A princess, from the outside, seems to have an awful lot going for her: pretty, talented, smart… (At least the toad thought so, in any case). How could she ever fall in love with a toad?

 

What the toad didn’t see… was that he truly was special and different. He was quite possibly the most caring and compassionate toad ever to have hopped upon god’s green earth. The princess had never met anyone that worked so hard gathering grass and collecting pebbles. She had never met anyone that would care so much about her that he would wait for her everyday to sit and listen to her. When she would hold him in her hand, she never felt more complete. It was all the small and simple toad-like things about him that she loved.

 

And so, when he would not come with her, and when she had to leave him behind to finally escape the evil ogre’s grasp, she had to come to the realization that sometimes, loving someone means letting go. It doesn’t make the love go away. Sometimes, it makes it stronger. She knew that every day for the rest of her life, she would wonder how the toad was doing. She’d probably wish on quite a number of stars that he was happy.

 

Somehow, in her heart, she knew that the toad would be wishing too… often wondering to himself if he’d made the right decision.

 

And secretly, she knew that if he ever needed her… or wanted her… she would gladly risk angering the ogre to spend just one more day with him in the back garden.

 

 

 

 


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The Wizard

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who grew up to be a wizard. He lived in a tower surrounded by books and guarded by a horde of grotesque creatures that had been locked away for various evil and nefarious deeds. He treated them as pets, but kept them at a distance.

The little boy (for being alone in a tower with nothing but books and grotesque creatures for company does not actually teach someone to be a man) spent his days researching various subjects such as science and philosophy. He filled his head with facts and figures, which became a whirlwind in his brain. He practiced sword play, challenging the shadows on the walls to combat.

One day, as he pretended to battle a legion of imps, he wiped the sweat from his brow and turned to catch a breeze from the window. He spotted a bit of red, out of place in the green and gray gloom of the dark forest.  Curious, he bounded down seven flights of stairs and through seven padlocked doors. He recited the spell that opened the door to the outside world and boldly stepped outside.

Making her way through the overgrown garden of snake like weeds and pricker bushes, was a girl. Her hair was a mess of red curls, from which dangled bits of leaf, burrs, and a few small twigs. Her dress was torn in places, and he could see tear tracks in the dust upon her cheeks. (And were those freckles?) But still, she smiled at the sun and let her fingers trace over the gnarled low hanging branches she ducked under.

She stopped to sit by the old well. Using the winch, she lowered the small wooden bucket into the depths, pulling it back up filled with water.  He stepped backwards, afraid that she’d notice him, but as he did so, a twig snapped beneath his foot. Startled, she looked up. Her eyes twinkled brightly and a smile danced upon her face. “You look as weary as I am,” she said. “Would you like a drink?”

For some reason that he did not quite understand, he mutely stepped forward, holding out his hand. It had been so long since he had seen another human and her face was so inviting. He wrapped his hands around the ladle, accidentally brushing her fingertips with his own. At that moment, a charge of electricity surged up his arm and straight to his heart. It was an exciting but horribly uncomfortable feeling.

But still, he held on. He found himself inviting her to tea back in his tower. He excused himself for a moment, running back through the spell-locked door, and up through the seven floors to hastily wipe away cobwebs and usher hideous creatures back into their cages. He set the table for tea, (was that tea pot too chipped? Were the roses too crooked?) and looked back out the window to make sure that she was still in the back garden and hadn’t run off just yet. He could hear her singing to herself… and the sound made his heart swell in his chest. (Maybe he was having a heart attack? He should look that up in his medical book.)

Back down the stairs he ran, back through the seven padlocked doors and once again reciting the spell to open the door to the world beyond. He took a deep breath to center himself, brushed a wayward cobweb off of his sleeve, and stepped into the light.

Laughing, the girl approached him, reached out, and dusted a bit of soot off of his nose.  He found the corners of his own mouth turning upwards. It was another alien and rather uncomfortable feeling. But he couldn’t stop himself from answering her smile with one of his own.

And so the two went through the spell-locked door together, up the seven flights of stairs and through the seven padlocked doors. He was careful to avoid the rooms where the nefarious creatures howled in the cages. Hopefully, she wouldn’t notice.

Over tea they talked endlessly. They discussed science, and religion, and philosophy. They spoke about music, and art. She told them of her family, and how she had gotten lost (after an unfortunate encounter with a dishonorable knight in the forest.) He told her of the family he once remembered having. He found himself telling her of his hopes and dreams and fears… things he never spoke aloud before.

And suddenly, he became very afraid.

This was not normal. This was not natural. He liked being alone. He liked only having hideous creatures for company. He liked burying himself in his books. Who the hell did this girl think she was, barging into HIS backgarden, HIS tower.  Was she trying to take over his life?

He slammed down his tea cup and spoke THE words. The words that he had learned long ago in a place he barely remembered. “I DON’T WANT YOU HERE!” He cried.

And slowly, the girl began to fade, her light became dim. She seemed to shrink, smaller, and smaller, becoming a little whisp that wound itself down into the rose covered teapot.  (to be continued)

The teapot suddenly glowed brightly. Unsure of what to do, the boy picked it up and stashed it back up upon its shelf. He ran into another room of the tower, picked up a book and escaped.

Days went by. Each day he avoided looking at the tea pot. He wanted no memory of what had happened, especially not the warm glow of her smile or the touch of her hand on his. He convinced himself that it didn’t matter, and what was most important was his work. This week he was determined to learn all about the workings of the universe. He stayed up through the nights reading and doing calculations. When he felt himself getting tired, he threw himself on the floor and did pushups.

But still, the tea pot glowed.

He took to lighting candles around the place so that he couldn’t see the light shining from it.

A month passed. Then two.

And still the tea pot glowed.

One day, he looked around and realized that he’d read every book in his library. He’d drawn on every scrap of parchment. His walls were covered with barely decipherable writing and gosh darn it, he needed a cup of tea to stifle all the yawns that were distracting him.

He reached up and grabbed the tea pot without a second thought. For a minute he felt dizzy. His hand was warm. The feeling began running up the length of his arm, through the cold channels in which his blood flowed. It crept up through his shoulder, the side of his neck, and into his face. He didn’t like the feeling one bit! He felt hot, beads of sweat gathered on his forehead. He panicked.

He slammed the teapot down on the table before him.

It cracked. And slowly the light began to fill the room. It was white, turning gold, then becoming rose colored… it filled him with the same frightening warmth. Suddenly he felt that he was no longer alone.

Standing before him on the table was the girl.

She raised her left hand and pointed a finger at him. “Every day I have waited for you. I have watched you from the prison where you kept me. And instead of weeping for myself, I wept for you. I wept for you while you read your books. I wept for you while I watched you scribble on your walls. I may have been by myself in a tea pot, but you were the one who was truly alone. You have pushed everyone away. What kind of magic is that? Magic is in the air. It is in the light of living. It is within the eyes of the people who adore you. Why have you been so afraid? Don’t you see your own potential? “

With that, the girl kicked the remnants of the tea pot at him.

“While you have struggled to understand the workings of the universe, to control the things over which you have no control, I have learned my own kind of magic. And, I curse you. I curse you with the knowledge of your own beauty. I curse you with the knowledge of your own greatness. I curse you with unconditional love. And finally, I tell you that none of these things are curses, though you view them to be.  I have blessed you with my heart. And when you are no longer afraid, you may come and find me.”

She jumped off of the table and smoothed the ragged remains of her skirt. She picked up a load of bread from the table and took a bite. She whirled around and stomped through the first padlocked door. She skipped down the first flight of stairs. As she traveled down through the tower, the hideous creatures and beasts bowed to her and howled at her departure. She finally came to the spell-locked door to the outside world…and kicked it in. “I make my own magic. And I create my own reality.”

And off she went, leaving the boy wizard to ponder what she had said.