|"The Masque of the Four Seasons, by Walter Crane, artmagick.com|
This story evokes classic fairy tales, even if the heroine is a bit more detailed and lovable than most of her older sisters in fairy tales. There are foolish, indulgent parents, a nasty witch, a benign fairy, and a seeming happily ever after. Yet, as with the classic tales, one is left wondering: Would our heroine have had an even happier ever after without her "reward"? That's what made this story so intriguing to me. It leaves room for interpretation.
A rather long time ago there was a Kingdom called Evighet, far across the sea from us, which had a King named Kaldric and a Queen, Agnetha. Their rule was entirely benevolent and gentle, and their subjects were happier than those in any other Kingdom.
There were so many holidays that the only way any work was accomplished was because the people were so pleased about the vacations, they endeavored mightily, then, to do exemplary jobs when there was no holiday. In Evighet they celebrated the birthdays of the King and Queen, the planting of crops, their harvest, the beginnings of each of the seasons, Independence Day (no one could remember when Evighet had not been independent), Veterans’ Day (no one could remember a war, either), Thanksgiving Days (twice annually, for there was much for which to be thankful), Christmas, New Year’s Day, Farmers’ Day, Tradesmen’s Day, and Labor Day. Royal Holidays were proclaimed practically extemporaneously, and one of them honored Bodrum Sebastovich, though no one could recall just who Bodrom Sebastovich had been.
The primary reason for the general gaiety of the King and Queen was that they loved to dance – solos, pas de deux with one another, and in groups of their subjects. All their many holidays featured morning columns of children dancing to the music of marching bands, afternoon entertainment
given by the very best dancers of the kingdom, and evening ballroom dances where everyone was welcome. For those no one paid any attention whatsoever to attire, and even Cinderella after midnight would have raised no alarm.
There was one thing lacking, however, that gave the King and Queen great sadness, which they showed only when they were alone and out of the public view; they had no child and were approaching the ages when people, even Kings and Queens, no longer had them. Accordingly, they prayed assiduously that they might be blessed with a son or daughter to become the next monarch and lead Evighet through another reign of joy and good fortune.
When it became known that their prayers had been answered, the production of next year’s calendars was halted, so that the birthday of the new Prince or Princess could be marked as another holiday. Expectedly, there were frequent celebrations, always with dancing, to herald the coming event, and the subjects rejoiced over Kaldric and Agnetha’s – not to mention their own – good fortune.
Princess Argentia, the Queen-in-Waiting and Heir Certainly, was born on the 21st of March, the first day of Spring that year, and the entire kingdom saw this as an auspicious omen of a new Spring for their beloved country. King Kaldric was excited that the family would have a brilliant little dancer. He was eager to teach her, but Queen Agnetha reminded him gently that first the little girl must be able to walk, so Kaldric contented himself with cradling his baby in his arms and dancing her
around one or another of the Royal Ballrooms.
He was absolutely certain that a Royal Princess would be walking by five months, but Queen Agnetha assured him that was fantastically early, even for a Royal Princess. The King said that he imagined he could wait another month, but again the Queen deterred him, though she could not dissuade him from declaring little Argentia’s half-birthday another national holiday and thus causing the calendars to be reprinted again; that is, re-reprinted. She would not, however, agree to a three-quarter birthday holiday, which is what the King wanted to declare when his hopes for the Princess’ first
steps were again frustrated at nine months. Gentle, wise Queen Agnetha explained to him that children do things at different ages and that he must not worry. Their daughter, for example, was speaking much earlier than most children.
On her first birthday, to her parents’ considerable delight, little Argentia took one, two unsteady steps and then fell plump! on her bottom but gave her parents a toothy grin and a happy giggle when she said, “Argentia walk, see?”
“That’s it,” pronounced the King with Royal Authority, but even Kings can err, and that was not it. For the next two months the Princess’ walking got no father advanced than a step or two concluded by a precipitant fall on her backside. The ebullient child was never unhappy or discouraged, though her father agonized and even her mother lost her Queenly composure and was showing signs of worry.
At 15 months the King summoned the Royal Physicians, who examined the Princess in every way known to their art and science at the time and finally submitted their report fearfully; there was something wrong with little Argentia’s leg bones. They had not grown strong enough or straight
enough to support her weight. Without metal braces, crutches, or both they predicted she would never walk! They prescribed exercises and special foods to strengthen her legs, and though the King and Queen followed their instructions to the letter, nothing availed.
Kaldric and Agnetha were devastated, of course, to learn that their beautiful little daughter was crippled and refused to accept the opinions of the Royal Physicians. Frantically, the King summoned ordinary physicians from his Kingdom, as well as Royal Physicians and ordinary physicians from other Kingdoms. While he paid much money for their ideas and treatments, the Princess could not walk.
By the time she reached 15 years, happiness had deserted the King and Queen, and, because of that, their subjects also suffered. No one celebrated the holidays, and the entire Kingdom, following the pattern of the Royal Couple, had stopped dancing so as not to disappoint the young Princess, who could not hope to follow their capers on her crutches. The Royal Ballrooms grew dusty from disuse, and cobwebs filled the corners there and wreathed the once-blazing chandeliers.
Happiness was not all that had forsaken Kaldric and Agnetha, for the years of medical expenses had seriously depleted the Royal Treasury. In fact, it then contained just two bags of gold, the Royal Household had taken to wearing patched finery, and the Royal Jewels had long since been sold to
Princess Argentia, nevertheless, had grown, except for her crooked legs, into a beautiful girl, and what was remarkable was that she had not lost her good cheer, effervescent laugh, and desire to do good. It was not uncommon, in fact, to see her struggling about on her crutches to help a sick or injured person among her father and mother’s subjects. Sight of brave Argentia always brought smiles to the faces and hearts of the people, though these were supplanted by tears when they watched the girl stump away on the wooden supports.
* * *
On a dark, high mountain that no mortal in Evighet had ever scaled lived a malignant witch named Bromalda, and she calculated that her time finally had arrived. Disguising herself as a well-dressed, kindly woman she paid the King and Queen a visit one day.
“I understand the Princess has been crippled from birth,” she said with solicitous unction, “and is unable to walk.”
“Alas, this is true,” confirmed her Royal Parents sadly.
“Well, I am here to help,” said Bromalda confidently.
“Everyone has tried,” they said, “and no one can help.”
“I have just returned from the far distant lands across the great sea to the East,” the witch lied, “and I have brought this!” with which pronouncement she produced from the depths of her cloak a flask of bright green liquid.
“What is that?” they naturally asked.
“What is that? Hmmpf, Your Highnesses. That is the most potent medicine ever distilled in the lands across the sea to the East. I have seen this magical elixir cause the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and cure victims of leprosy -- and worse.”
“What is worse than leprosy?” inquired the interested King.
“Far away in the East,” said Bromalda quickly, “many diseases are worse than leprosy, which is why the magicians and scientists there have developed this potion. Why, when I was visiting there, I was buried beneath an avalanche. Three days I was buried, and when I was dug out, I was declared dead.”
“No!” they exclaimed in concert.
“Yes, indeed, but this potion restored me to life. I spent all that I had to purchase these precious drops, but I gladly offer it to Your Highnesses – for no more than the price I paid.”
“How much was that?” Agnetha asked.
“A bag of gold.”
“Thank goodness,” breathed the Queen. “We have only two bags of gold remaining in the Royal Treasury.”
“Did I say one bag?” asked the devious Bromalda. “I meant two; after I reached home I had to send another bag for the second payment.”
“Oh, dear!” lamented the King. “All our money. And what if this, like all the other medicines, doesn’t --”
“We must do it, My Lord,” said the anguished Queen. It is our only chance to make Argentia walk!”
“I guarantee it; one hundred percent - certified,” vowed Bromalda falsely.
“Walk, yes, and then dance,” added the King with the old dream gleaming in his eyes. "Of course, we must try it.”
Accordingly, they promised the last of the kingdom’s resources to the evil Bromalda, who, as a bad witch, had less use for gold than desire to foment hurt and suffering. She proceeded to instruct them in the use of the magic potion, which was no more than vinegar, gooseberry juice, and a green dye
she had compounded in her cauldron.
“On the first night, give her one of the flask and have her sleep facing the South. On the second night administer another third and have her sleep facing North. Finally,” she said with dramatic effect in the spellbinding way witches have, “on the third night have her drink the last of the potion and sleep facing East. When she awakes she will be able to run and frisk like a new lamb!”
“And dance,” said the King, excitedly.
“Yes, but take care to follow the directions exactly. Each night, precisely one third the potion, no more, no less, and be certain she sleeps in those directions in the order I specified.”
“South, North, and East,” repeated Queen Agnetha, who, to be certain there was no failure, wrote down the invented information – much to Bromalda’s amusement.
“And,” she added with a flourish, “the child must not know what you are doing. Part of the magic requires that the patient be unaware that this liquid will cure her every disorder.”
The Lord of the Exchequer wondered mightily at handing over the last of the Treasury to a woman he had never seen, but when one works for a King and a Queen, he follows orders.
Bromalda was so pleased with herself that when she had the gold and no one else was about, she did a wild, witch dance to celebrate her success.
* * *
Without revealing what was afoot the excited Kaldric and Agnetha followed despicable Bromalda’s factitious instructions precisely. Princess Argentia protested strongly over the noxious taste of the green stuff, which she believed to be a new vitamin, and was baffled that her Lady-in-Waiting
spun her bed around like a top from one night to the next. “It is merely to capture all the healthy breezes, Your Highness,” explained her maid, who simply relayed what the Queen had told her.
On the morning after the third night her exuberant parents burst into Argentia’s room like two children on Christmas morning. “Come, Argentia; come walk to us,” they invited, and when she reached for her crutches, they qualified, “Without those, darling. You won’t ever need them again.”
Obeying the Royal Request, the brave Princess stood hesitantly, but when she let go the bed post and sought to walk to her parents, crumpled, fell, and cut her pretty cheek. The scene became one of a chaos of tragedy, sorrow, and regret when the King and Queen realized they had been duped
and, much worse than that, that their daughter would never, ever walk unassisted, let alone whirl in a spirited dance.
Argentia consoled them. “But Mother and Father, see! I am no worse than before.” She could not appreciate the Royal Poverty into which she was about to be plunged, but even if she had, the stalwart girl would not have repined. Governments in that place and time had yet to conceive the
strategies of creating new money – for mortals impossible in the case of gold – and borrowing from other lands; they continued to believe in paying for what they would get. In the case of that Kingdom, we see, there was no longer any means of payment.
Now, it must not be believed that Evighet was subject only to dark, poisonous influences like Bromalda. As in every place, there is saving good if one knows how to find it, or if it knows how to find oneself.
In a cave in a far-off forest of Evighet, Jetour, the Queen of the Fairies, held her Court amidst her attendants. At about this point in our tale Jetour’s Fairy Scouts, who had observed all the woe befalling Kaldric, Agnetha, and Argentia returned to report their news. Neither should it be supposed that they had demurred in returning or, in any way, depreciated the severity of the Royal Circumstances and poor Princess Argentia’s plight. No, as we know, Fairies live forever, so that 15 years is not a blink of an enchanted eyelash, and, moreover, they had a very large territory to monitor.
Like bees informing the hive as to their discoveries of blossoms, the Fairies did an intricate dance to convey their findings, and Jetour was at once enraged and heartbroken. She replied with a splendid, sublime dance that expressed all her sentiments and then convened her Court to confide to them her extensive, whispered plans.
Soon after, as the Princess was hobbling about the once-colorful garden in her tattered dress, a stooped, elderly woman with a cane approached and asked if she might have a drink of water. As was her habit, the excellent Argentia bade her sit, drew a cup of water from the well, and ministered
to her as if the visitor, not she, were the Princess. Such was the grace and love with which she treated each and every one of God’s creatures.
“Whatever has happened to your legs, Girl?” inquired the weary stranger between draughts of water. Old and crippled as I am, I can walk better than you. Have you fallen off a horse or down a hill?”
“Oh, no, M’am,” answered the Princess politely. “I was born this way. I have never been able to walk.”
“I see,” said the old woman thoughtfully. “Then you must have grown very bitter about your handicap. Looking all around you, you can see people, every one of whom moves better than you. Limping around with this cane, I feel bitter myself at times – most times. Yes, I would guess you are very bitter, indeed.”
“Oh, no, M’am, not bitter,” answered Argentia with incredulity that anyone would think so. "I do get around, you see; on these two, wooden legs. I think perhaps that I have been very lucky. Yes, lucky,” she said contemplatively.
“Lucky?” said the old woman with a snort. “How can you say that when you can’t run and climb and skip like other children your age?”
“I am lucky, M’am, because it has made me a better person.”
“Why, how better, when you can’t climb a mountain path or swim in a warm lake?”
“Ma’m, it is because I can’t do those things that I give such thanks for what I can do. If I were running up a trail or across the garden, I might miss the calls of the birds, which I prize and dearly love. If I swam in the lake, I would frighten away the poor fish, whereas now, I can sit and watch them swim and play. If I had better use of my legs, I might not take such happiness from the sight of a beautiful sunset or the sound of a wonderful melody. The smell of juniper berries is like medicine to me, and when my cat licks my fingers – my sense of touch has grown so much stronger. Yes, walking is only one capability in a world exploding with beautiful things. I believe I have been lucky.”
“And it is more than just compensation with one gift for the loss of another. Doing without something, something important to others, and suffering pain in my twisted legs has been good for me. Yes, good. It makes things like eating only bread and porridge for dinner and wearing worn-out, patched dresses a pleasure by comparison. If I could walk and run, those things would be difficult to bear. Yes, but as it is …”
“I do have one regret.”
“Aha!” sprang the old woman on her admission. “I knew it.”
In this condition a hurt I cause two other people, and, indirectly, the whole Kingdom.”
“A whole Kingdom? Whatever can your legs have to do with an entire Kingdom? Surely you exaggerate, Girl” the old lady proclaimed skeptically.
“It is just that my father and mother so want me to dance. They adore dancing, and because I cannot even walk, they suffer terribly. They suffer so much they have bankrupted themselves so that I might walk and someday be able to dance with them. And here I sit or wobble on these sticks. It is not bad for me, only them.”
“You are exceedingly odd, young lady. How can it be that your inability to dance and your parents’ regrets ruin the whole Kingdom of Evighet? Surely you jest with me. What is your exalted station in life?”
“Not exalted, good Madame. I am simply a poor Princess in a poor kingdom. Because my parents are so aggrieved, the whole kingdom is melancholy and poor.”
“Kingdom? Princess? You are a Princess? Your parents are King Kaldric and Queen Agnetha?”
“Yes,” answered Argentia shyly.
As if to affirm her reply, just then the King and Queen entered the garden. “And who might you be?” the King inquired of the stranger.
“Just a poor traveler, My Liege,” said the old woman with bows to both of them.
“You have been talking to the Princess?” asked the Queen, always swift to protect her daughter.
“Indeed I have, Your Highness, and may I say that this young person is wise and kind beyond her years. She has suffered much, I know, and yet she thinks not of herself but only of others and considers her lot in life a lucky one. She will make a fine and noble Queen one day.”
“Yes, we are proud of her goodness and love her very much,” said Kaldric.
“Still,” reflected the old woman, “it is a bitter shame, I find, that her legs do not allow her to walk and to run and to … dance … possibly?”
“Yes,” said the King somberly. “And we have given much to restore her to health.”
“We have given everything,” corrected Agnetha with sincerity.
“Then it is high time you were all rewarded for your patience and sacrifice,” said the old woman with regal judgment herself. Saying thusly, she drew herself up, threw off the black cloak and cap, dropped the cane, and revealed herself to be Jetour, the Fairy Queen, attired in a tutu of purest silver and wielding her wand!
“Oh, my!” exclaimed the Princess.
“By heaven!” proclaimed the King.
“The Fairy Queen!” breathlessly spoke Queen Agnetha, who would have recognized her immediately even without her resplendent wand and dancing costume.
“And now, we must see to those legs,” decided Jetour with authority.
“Perhaps they have only been resting to gain strength these many years.” With a flourish she tapped each of Argentia’s knees with her wand, and the girl immediately cast away her crutches and took one, two, three, four, five careful, strong steps to her parents, who were beside themselves with
joy and embraced her tearfully. With the merest wave of her wondrous wand in either direction, Jetour summoned her Fairy Escort. “Now, good Fairies, do you suppose you might assist Princess Argentia to show us what she has always known how to do but for which only recently got the opportunity?”
The company of Fairies immediately surrounded the Princess, so that she was quite invisible for a moment, and when they stepped back, Argentia stood the most lovely of all Princesses in a glistening, alabaster tutu.
“Now, Dear Princess, give us all a lesson in dance,” encourage Jetour, and Argentia, with her suddenly beautiful and powerful legs, proceeded to fill the space with the most remarkable turns and leaps and spins and balances anyone present had ever seen. Jetour and her Court joined in the dance,
which was most spectacular.
When Argentia paused, the King and Queen each took one of their daughter’s hands, and all three offered Jetour their most profound, eternal, not to mention weeping, gratitude.
“Wait!” spoke Jetour peremptorily, as befits a Queen. “There is a matter still undone,” and she pointed a commanding finger into the distance. Her companion Fairies immediately flew from sight and almost instantly reappeared with evil Bromalda and the two sacks of gold in tow. “So, Bromalda,” said Jetour menacingly, “up to your old tricks again?”
The witch fell at Jetour’s feet and pled, “Forgive me, Fairy Queen. It was only a little mistake.”
“Little! Look at the noble Queen and King – nearly in rags. Look at the poor dress the Princess was forced to wear, and worst of all, bad witch, was to elevate the hopes of loving parents only to dash them to wretched shards.”
“Oh, please! Mercy, Queen Jetour! Mercy!”
“Bromalda, I have been thinking that perhaps you would like to spend a thousand or so years as an octopus, far beneath the seas where you can do no harm. Yes, that sounds about right, doesn’t it?” to which question her Fairy Court gave nodding and enthusiastic assent.
“No, please, Queen Jetour!” begged Argentia, interposing herself between the vengeful Fairy and the wretched Bromalda. Be merciful to her! Not such a terrible punishment! Please!”
“So, you even have the love to beg for the one that hurt you so deeply. What remarkable virtue, my dearest child. Very well, Bromalda,” she said angrily with blazing eyes and threatening wand. “The one you cheated and mistreated so wantonly has saved you. Look around you! Your cruelty and
theft have helped macerate this poor garden into a desert. Your punishment shall be to work here from morning to night every day for a hundred years. If it does not become the loveliest garden in all the world, and if you are ever guilty of a second’s mischief, then you had best prepare for
eight wet arms and a very long vacation among the rocks at the bottom of the ocean. Is that understood?”
“Yes,” wept Bromalda pitifully.
“Yes, my Queen Fairy.”
“And do you imagine you should be thankful to the one that has saved you from my just punishment?”
Bromalda crawled to Argentia’s feet and kissed each of her dainty, satin dancing shoes. “Oh, thank you, Princess! Thank you!”
“Well, then,” resumed Jetour, “you had best go fetch the tools and the seeds and wheelbarrows and get to work, hadn’t you?”
“Yes, Fairy Queen.”
“Yes, indeed. You’ve had nearly a half-day off today. You might say your sentence has been commuted for the good behavior you will doubtless exhibit from this day forward.”
“Yes, my Fairy Queen.”
Jetour had only to point a finger imperiously, and Bromalda scrambled to her feet and ran to find the garden implements. “And, Bromalda?” added Jetour, whose words stopped the witch in her tracks.
“Yes, Fairy Queen?”
“I will be watching you,” after which ominous promise Bromalda scampered off to begin her century of work.
Then one Fairy danced up to whisper in Jetour’s left ear and another, into her right. Looking surprised, Queen Jetour said humbly, “Yes, I am growing forgetful. There are still matters unresolved. Am I becoming too old for my job?” The Fairies only shook their heads in answer, for when one works for a Queen, one learns how to respond.
“Yes, King Kaldric and Queen Agnetha, while we have salvaged most of the gold Bromalda extorted from you, you are still very, very, very far below the wealth Evighet once owned. Your whole kingdom is in dissolution because of the financial crisis over the Princess’ illness. Oh! How I wish
I had come sooner, and I promise to watch more carefully in future. Certainly,” she laughed heartily and aside, “I must keep tabs on the new Royal Gardener, mustn’t I? You have emptied the Royal Treasury in order to cure your beloved daughter, so I must see to it that a deposit is made to
“No, Queen Jetour,” said the King and Queen in supplication. “You have done all for which we prayed. We shall build up our resources, and the kingdom will thrive again. Please! You are already too generous. What can compare in value to the health of our daughter? You have done too much
“Well,” said Jetour thoughtfully, “perhaps Fairies and mortals do reason differently.” Here Kaldric and Agnetha smiled briefly at winning their point. “But Fairies are never wrong,” decided the graceful Fairy Queen, and she spun round several times in a great blur before tapping her wand
on the two bags of gold, which suddenly burgeoned into a pile of bags. There was so much gold the Lord of the Exchequer would experience a sore back after transporting the load to the Royal Treasury. Whereas it is harmful for mortal governments to manufacture money they cannot back, a Fairy Queen can make gold and bestow it without ill consequences upon genuinely kind and charitable Kings and Queens.
“Also,” she said incisively, “My jewels are drops of dew, snowflakes, and the gleam of sunbeams and moonlight. Mortal Kings and Queens, too, must look the part. They must have their diamonds and emeralds and so forth, and you have sacrificed those, too, for your beautiful Princess. She is worth more than any treasure on earth, but,” and another tap of the wand replenished the lost gems three-fold in a glittering, disorderly heap upon the ground.
The Queen and King were yet marveling at their immeasurable blessings when Queen Jetour innocently asked him, “Your Highness, is there not something you still require?”
“Your Highness,” he correctly addressed her, “what else could I possibly require? I could not have dreamed of such splendid fortune and gifts. No, there is nothing else I need; I have my wife, my daughter, my kingdom, and I hope soon to win again the confidence of my subjects. What else do I
“Isn’t there something you’ve longed to do for fifteen years?” Jetour asked with a sly cock of her head and perhaps even a wink.
As the glimmer of recollection flashed over the good King’s face, Queen Jetour took Princess Argentia’s hand, joined it to her father’s, and the entire assembly, Fairies and one mortal Queen, watched the King encircle her waist and waltz his radiant, beloved daughter all around the garden.
Desolate and overgrown as it was, it could not have appeared more gorgeous to the grateful King, and all the remainder of the assembly formed a circle and joined in the festivity.
* * *
True to her word, as Fairies always are, Queen Jetour was a frequent visitor to Evighet’s Royal Castle. She observed Princess Argentia become the great and munificent Queen Argentia everyone predicted and to care with exceptional kindness for her Royal Parents.
Eventually, though none of her subjects thought it possible, Queen Argentia found a King Consort almost as wise and loving as she was and nearly as capable a dancer. Their son, Prince Valorus, was born with strong bones throughout and, with the tutelage of his Royal Grandfather walked at five months. Naturally, following the beneficent paths of the Royal Grandparents, Queen Argentia declared her son’s birthday a Public Holiday, and there was great rejoicing throughout the Kingdom.
Queen Argentia encouraged and patronized every sort of decorous dance done to beautiful, mellifluous music, and the Royal Ballrooms never ceased glowing with light and polished floors and chandeliers.
It was also the case that visitors from as far away as the Eastern Lands across the sea marveled at the perfection of the impeccable, Royal Garden.
The Happy End
Bio: Presently living on a small ranch northeast of Roundup, Montana, Larry Stanfel has a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, belonged to several university faculties, and worked as a consultant to private business and government agencies. Twice the recipient of competitive, post-doctoral fellowships for research abroad, he was selected for Who’s Who in America and has given presentations and invited lectures in many