Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock.
Sitting on my throne, I waited while listening to the obnoxious clock tick away. Around me, sat my senate and lines of servants in their green velvet robes with oak leaves- my kingdom's insignia- in the center. I dropped my right elbow onto the armrest and placed my tired head in the cup my hand formed. I glared down at the gilded double doors on the other side of the chamber, as if willing it to open and bring me the long awaited news. Whether good or bad, it has ceased to matter. This anticipation and this apprehension, creates a mixture of contradictions that threatens to explode from within me.
Ever since nine months ago, when my beloved wife, Catherina, had announced the news, my days have been a mixture of joy and gloom. I tried to rejoice with the rest of the kingdom and had placed a forced smile on my face, but deep inside, worry crawled and twisted, spreading its tendrils of bad omen over my heart. Could it be possible? Is tonight going to be the one I have always longed and prayed for? Finally, will the Lord grace us with a child?
Squeezing my eyes shut, I pinched my temple in frustration.
BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
The doors to the chamber swung open with a boom and a messenger burst through. He was breathing heavily and his face was red from running outside against the brittle winter. Falling to knee, he gasped, "My- my king- the queen- she- the baby-"
"STOP YOUR STUTTERING, YOU FOOL. SPEAK NOW." I roared down in impatience.
He blinked up at me in surprise. Suddenly a smile spread across his face and he spoke out into the silent chamber with a loud and clear voice, "Your Majesty, a child has been born. A healthy and beautiful princess."
I flew off my throne and rushed out the chamber, leaving behind my bewildered council. As I rushed down the palace hallways, I heard trumpets sounding in the distance and servants burst out into songs.
"REJOICE. REJOICE. A PRINCESS HAS BEEN BORN."
A silly grin spread across my face--an expression unfit for a king--but it did not matter. Finally, after so many years of hoping and dreading, I now have a child. A beloved princess.
My tired body collapsed back into the softness of the bed. Every part of it was aching. Yet despite all my discomforts, for once, my heart felt light. Around me, maids were rushing back and forth, bringing pans of warm water and towels. I didn't pay much attention to them. All that mattered was the little bundle of warmth that lay on my side. I propped one elbow onto the mattress and inched my body back to get a better view. Falling back down onto a pile of pillows, I peered down at the white bundle.
There she was. My beloved baby. The maids had already cleansed her body and now she now she lay there, inches away, sleeping without a care in the world. Short strands of dark hair clung to her scalp, still too early to determine their color. Her eyes were closed and hidden under two spreads of thick lashes. Everything about her was tiny. There’s a tiny nose, a tiny mouth, two tiny ears, and two tiny hands with tiny stubs of fingers. What a fascinating creature. Her breathe came out in even sighs, music to my ears.
"Hello," I murmured quietly, "do you know who I am?" A smile stole its way across my face.
BAM. The door burst open and Aaron stormed in. His brown curls were windblown and his chest was heaving with exertion. A glimmer of hope sparkled in his emerald eyes as he rushed forward to my bedside. I sat silently and watched him, the smug smile still plastered on my face. Leaning over, he peered down into the white bundle and gasped. She was awake and her eyes, were pools of brilliant green--the color of newborn grass.
"Princess- Princess Ellie, you must not run about like that!"
Humph, how annoying. With a burst of energy, I ran out into the garden and swung my head back and forth, looking for a place to hide from my teacher and guardian, Emma. It wasn't that she was strict or anything, but just too overprotective sometimes. For all ten years of my life, she has constantly ingrained into my brain: You must not run and play with the other children. You must not walk down the stairs alone without an adult. You must not leave your chamber at night or in the morning until I come for you. You must not talk to the strangers or accept anything from them. You must not eat any meals until a maid has tested it. You must not skip about or do anything dangerous--LIKE CLIMBING A TREE. Well, too late for that. I scurried up the tree. An oak tree, well that’s not surprising. Its branches were low and easy for me to swing my agile body onto. After I had positioned myself on the lowest branch, I grabbed onto the next one and continued to pull myself up.
"Princess! Where are you?" Emma called off from a distance.
I smiled to myself. She would never find me. Sitting down on a branch, I leaned back against the tree trunk and watched Emma rush by underneath. Her auburn hair was coming loose from her tight bun as she ran about, looking in every direction- but up.
From the palace, the afternoon bell rang. Lunch! I jumped from the branch I was balancing on, onto the one below and jumped down, landing in front of Emma. Emma's dark eyes widened in shock and she stuttered, "Pri-Prin- Princess! You nearly gave me a heart attack!"
I smiled and said, "Oh Emma, you're far too young for that". I grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the castle. Behind me, she murmured darkly, "Oh really? I feel like my life span has been cut down by 10 years ever since I was assigned to look after you."
Ignoring what she just said, I asked, "Emma, what do you suppose the Chef made for lunch? I'm famished!"
Without turning around, I could already see her rolling her eyes up to the sky as she said in resignation, "I wouldn't know. I spend too much time chasing after you. I haven't even eaten breakfast yet." She sniffed in mock annoyance.
Laughing, I turned around and wrapped my arms around her waist in affection. "Don't worry! I will make sure the Chef gives you an extra large helping today!"
"Is there really no other way to undo the spell?" I shouted in frustration.
Unabashed, the fairy queen stared back at me stoically and drawled, "Do not raise your voice at me human. My people have already blessed your beloved princess with many gifts. You must remember that a spell cannot be removed, once cast, by any one other the caster herself. There is nothing more to do."
I slammed my fist onto the table, causing all the silverware to rattle and shake. I cried, "There--"
Catherina placed a cool hand on top of my curled up fist and stared back at the fairy queen with a calm and serene face. She said in a quiet yet strong voice, "Do not take us for fools. We may not match your people in wisdom or intelligence, but we are still adept in your ways. The fey cannot tell lies, but this does not mean you will not attempt to hide the truth from us. This curse--that witch," she uttered in hatred, "has cast onto our daughter--cannot be undone, but once it takes effect, it can be reversed right?"
I glanced at my queen, whose burning eyes glared down at the arrogant fairies sitting on the other end of the dining table. She held her head high, unafraid and proud. I smiled in pride and turned back to the fairy queen, waiting for her answer.
She raised a delicately curved eyebrow and smirked. "You humans aren't that ignorant after all, but then again, it did take ten years for you to figure that out." She threw her head back and laughed in contempt. "Fools, what has been done is done. Nothing you do will change the girl's fate. It is her decision and therefore her destiny. Just allow time to flow its course." With one last smirk and a flourish of her pale cloak, she rose from the chair and glided out the chamber.
Those humans, even after a thousand years, never seem to change. They have only become greedier and greedier with every passing century. Only concerned about their own needs and desires, they are always too blinded to see what actually really matters. They need to be taught a lesson. Humph, they will never find out that it was I who had cast the curse on their beloved princess. No matter how many scores of knights they send out, they will never find her. That witch they saw was nothing but an illusion created by me.
I hurried down the hallway, trying to escape the reek of human that has already started to cling to my skin. I turned the corner and suddenly a small form slammed into me. Looking down in annoyance, I saw two large eyes staring up at me. They were a color of brilliant green with flecks of gold hidden under a generous spread of pale lashes. Golden curls hung loosely down her back and framed her heart shaped face. I felt a smirk creep onto my face, and said in a mild and uninterested voice, "It's a pleasure to meet your acquaintance Princess Elizabeth." Her doe like eyes widen as she gasped and scrambled out of my arms.
"Princess! I told you not to run!" cried a voice in the distance. Humph, another annoying human, most likely her caretaker.
The girl glanced over her shoulder and back to me, her eyes filled with curiosity. Unafraid, she stuck her face in front of me and grinned. "Are you a fairy?" she asked.
"Are there really such things as trolls?"
"Yes, there are."
"Yes, those nasty little..."
"Yes, quite mysterious creatures--"
"Rare, but yes."
"Well, most have been in deep slumber for..."
"Do you believe in fairy tales?" she asked. She's probably setting some new record for interrupting me, I thought with a mixture of annoyance and utter bewilderment. What a strange and impertinent creature she is.
I stared back at her mesmerizing eyes for a fraction of a second, temporarily caught of guard. "Pardon?" I asked in confusion--something extremely rare I assure you.
Her grin widened, "Well, since there are such things as fairies, then there should also be fairy tales right? You know, Cinderella and her fairy godmother, Snow white and her wicked step mother, and so on. All those stories where the prince will always come in, rescue the princess, and then live happily ever after".
For some reason, I didn't answer her even when she stared up at me expectantly. There was no fear or greed in her eyes. Her expression was open and eager- completely innocent. Just from looking at her glowing with happiness, ignorant to all the darkness that exist in this world, I could see how beloved she was by everyone and not just her parents. A treasured child.
Close by, I heard footsteps heading towards us and looked up. Around the corner, appeared a women with hair pinned back neatly in a bun, narrowed eyes that glared down at us, and thin lips pressed together in annoyance. Looking back down at the child in front of me, I smirked and said, "Princess, not all fairy tales have happy endings." I stepped aside and walked by without glancing back to see her reaction.
"Princess! Princess Ellie!" I yelled while running about looking for the princess- again. I am seriously getting too old for this. That girl never learns, it's her eighteen birthday party and all the guests are waiting in the ballroom, yet she still decides to wander off on her own. Humph, Queen Catherina and King Aaron spoil her far too much.
Rounding another corner, I nearly collided with one of the maids. Reaching an arm out, I stopped her and asked in a breathless voice, "Have you seen the princess?"
"Oh, yes, I just saw her in the room yonder, talking to an old woman who was sitting by a spinning wheel."
"An old woman? Did you recognize her?"
"No, I did not. It was strange, that woman had a crooked nose, warty skin, a hunched back, and was covered in filthy rags. She looked closer to some hag from the streets. Only the princess would befriend people like her," she sniffed in contempt before rushing off to finish her chores.
Fear gripped my heart as I rushed forward. No it cannot be. After eighteen years, the princess has lived happily and that curse casted on her on that faithful night has already been forgotten by many. I have cared for her for so many years... oh, our beloved princess. She is still only a child in my eyes and does not deserve such a fate. This cannot be. That curse, that she would die at eighteen, will only cause the king, the queen, and the whole kingdom grief. This cannot be.
In my anxiety the words from that fateful night began to creep forward: Princess Elizabeth Catharina Reynolds, upon your life I shall place this spell. Soon, in the near future, you will make a mistake and drag this own kingdom to its doom. You will never be happy, it is not written in your destiny.
I rushed into the room that the maid had indicated and saw the princess holding the spindle.
"NO PRINCESS!" I screamed, but it was already too late.
The princess looked up in surprise and accidentally pricked her finger. She looked down at the small drop of blood forming on her finger. "Oh," she whispered, and fell to the floor. The world turned black and I sank into oblivion as well.
Standing by the princess's unconscious form, I felt my exterior melt away as I shifted back from my old witch facade to my real self. I stooped down, gathered the princess in my arms, and walked out the chamber. She slept peacefully in my arms, as I walked down the palace hallways. After several long strides, I looked down at her. She has grown even more beautiful since I've last seen her, eight years ago. She is now a beauty even I would envy. Entering the garden behind the castle, I found a bed of lilies and placed her down gently. Willing my magic to flow to my fingers, I made the flowers blossom and frame her delicate body. I also willed the surrounding oak trees to bend forward, creating an intertwined blanket of branches that blocked out the sun.
Looking down at her sleeping face, I whispered, "Little girl, I give you one last chance to live. If your heart is truly pure, then someday a prince will hear your calling and come to you. May you find your own happy ending someday."
I called forth more magic to my finger tips and willed more oak trees to grow. Bursting upward from the earth, their branches crawled like eager snakes on the stone walls of the castle until everything was hidden under a canopy of brown and green.
A hidden kingdom.
A Hundred Years Later, The Prince:
"C'mon Vincent, are you trying to kill the horses? We have been riding through these cursed woods for a whole week already. You have driven the horses to exhaustion and we are low on supplies. Can't we just turn around and held back to the castle?" Calvin whined.
Laughing, I turned around and yelled, "Oh c'mon. You know you don't want to go back there. We hardly ever get a chance to come out and ride on our own!"
"Ya, well, I wouldn't have mind coming out if we went anywhere BUT here."
"Pssh. Stop acting like a scared old grandma, there is nothing wrong with these woods."
"Humph. This is what you get for sleeping through history class. Haven't you've heard? These are cursed woods! Many people have wandered in here and never made it back out. Some even say a whole kingdom had disappeared once!"
"Haha. Do you really believe in those children stories? Mothers only tell them to scare the little kids from wandering in here alone. There are no such things as magic, fairies, and anything related to them!"
"Humph. Don't believe me if you wish. But you have been warned!"
I rolled my eyes in annoyance. Seriously, what is there to be afraid of? These woods are just like any of the others we have been to. Calvin is probably just worrying too much. I glanced about and suddenly noticed with a start, all of the trees--they're all oak. Pulling on my horse's reins, we came to a stop and I reached out to touch a nearby oak. Turning around, I faced Calvin and asked, "Hey, that kingdom you said disappear, which one was it?"
He narrowed his gray eyes in concentration and scratched his closely trimmed hair absentmindedly before saying, "I'm not sure but I think it was the Oakleaf Kingdom. I forgot who ruled it but I heard they had a princess whose beauty cannot be matched in all of the kingdoms within a thousand miles!"
I raised my eyebrow in skepticism and asked, "A thousand miles eh?"
"Well maybe I exaggerated a bit, but still, it would be something worth seeing."
"Indeed," I murmured as I swung off my horse and walked deeper into the woods.
"Hey! Vince, where are you heading off to?" Calvin yelled from behind. I ignored him and just continued walking, slicing my sword to through the branches that blocked my path. After a short while, I suddenly came into an opening with the overhanging branches of trees spread thickly above, blocking out all the afternoon sunlight. In the center of the opening was a bed of colorful lilies and in the center laid a young girl. Thick golden curls spread out on top of the lilies and framed a small face. Her eyes were closed under two layers of pale lashes. Her hands were clasped together on top of her stomach and she wore a simple gown of white.
I was still marveling at her beauty when suddenly I heard a crash from behind and felt a push on my back. I stumbled forward and fell on top of the young maiden. Our lips touched briefly and I pulled back in surprise. Her eyes fluttered awake and emerald eyes glared up at me. With a jerk of her head, she slammed her forehead against mine. So much for the sweet and gentle princesses I have always heard about.
The Princess Sees:
"Ouch!" he exclaimed as he jumped back and dropped his sword. The hilt slammed down onto his foot and he hoped about, shouting a string of profanity. I couldn't help it. I burst out in a violent fit of giggles as I watched him prance about on one foot. His wild black hair was unkempt and far too long. It curled around his face and brushed his wide shoulders. He narrowed his blue eyes at me as he said in a sarcastic voice, "Oh, how lady-like of you." I burst out into another fit of laughter as he tripped over his sword and landed in a pile of leaves.
I swung my legs off the bed of lilies and walked over to where he laid with an arm flung across his face. Grabbing a branch off the ground, I poked him with it and asked with glee, "Are you okay sir?"
He huffed in frustration and murmured darkly, "Not really. What have I've done in life to deserve this?" With a sigh, he sat up and looked up at me. A lopsided smile formed on his handsome face and he asked,
"So, sleeping beauty, what's your name?"
I smiled and answered, "Princess Elizabeth, Ellie for short."
"Well, Ellie, I'm Vincent."
"Prince Vincent of the Maple Leaf kingdom actually!" chirped a voice from behind him- probably his friend.
Ignoring the voice, I continued to stare down at him. "Hey Vincent, do you believe in fairy tales?" I asked bluntly.
He raised an eyebrow and said without hesitation, "Nope."
Reaching a hand out, I helped him up, grinned, and said, "Good, then we can create our own happy ending."
Image by Honor C. Appleton.