Once Upon A Time....

"Once upon a time..." was as far as Sophie got. Arabella was tugging at her sleeve and saying,

"Sophie! Sophie!" Sophie sighed in vexation.

"Yes, Bella?"

"I want an enchanted castle!"

"You're already getting a fairy godmother and father, a king and queen, prince and princess, and adventure. And you still want an enchanted castle? Don't you think that's overdoing it a little?"

"No, No! I want all of it. It will be better that way." Sophie had some fairly strong ideas about simplicity and balance in her stories. This one was going to look like a hideous dress Sophie had seen once- all ruffles and bows and flounces and embroidery and beading, and contriving to make the girl on whose not-so-slender form it graced look like a round ball of lace and bows. But then, Sophie remembered how she had been at age five; and although she hadn't wanted quite as many story elements as Arabella, she could sympathize. And besides-this story was for Arabella's amusement. Sophie sighed, and started again.

"Once upon a time..."

"Sophie?" Sophie sighed inwardly.

"Yes?"

"I want the prince and the princess to live happily ever after." Arabella was bouncing up and down with excitement and anticipation.

"All right. Once upon a time...

"And hurry up. I have to go to bed soon." Sophie clapped a hand over Arabella's mouth and began for the fourth time.

"Once upon a time there was a prince. He was a very good prince, as far as princes go. And as traditionally that is never quite far enough, I guess you could say he was pretty bad. This is not quite so serious as it is in many princes, because my prince is twelve years old. He is the son of the King and Queen who rule an ordinary land full of ordinary people, and they surround the prince. The prince and his family are not ordinary, but they are unusual in an ordinary way. The prince and his father and his little brother all have fairy godfathers. These fairy godfathers are just like the fairy godmothers his mother and sisters have; they help out their godsons in their darkest hour. Fairy godmothers are traditionally more famous because they are better at it. This is because most of the time, a girl's darkest hour is when she is in love with Prince Charming and doesn't know how to let him know. The fairy godmother then saves the day, and her job is done. However, fairy godfathers have a rougher time of it, as their charges never have the same wishes. Recently, Jasper's darkest hours have all been when he's in bed and wakes up at two o'clock in the morning because he's ravenous. He's a growing boy, you know, and needs all he can get. So this is how his fairy godfather has been helping him out. Now personally, I don't think it's fair that princes are allowed more darkest hours than princesses. Just because when princes are hungry they can't think straight doesn't mean that they should get all the breaks.

Just before the wedding of his eldest sister, Jasper was cornered by his harried and much tried mother. She informed him that they were considering a betrothal between him and Princess Aurora, daughter of the King of Darmenia. The King and his wife and daughters would be guests at the wedding.

"And behave! I want you to make a good impression," she told him. Now, telling a twelve-year-old boy, no matter how much of a prince he is, that he is to make a good impression on a girl with whom he is being threatened, is really not the way to go. Because, like all boys, he will torment the life out of her as long as he is sure that no one is going to catch him. Jasper came up with some very clever plans for getting rid of Princess Aurora. But when she arrived, he changed his mind.

The arrival of The King of Darmenia's party was a momentous occasion. They brought their horses, and dogs, and the princesses each had a kitten. The chaos was monumental and Jasper enjoyed it very much. When the King and his family stepped out of their coach, Jasper's mouth was hanging open. He was completely and totally amazed. Not with the Princess Aurora's beauty, but with her clothes. She was wearing a shirt and breeches, and as soon as she stepped down, the dogs all fawned on her. She called them all by name, and they jumped over each other, vying for her attention. When her father and mother and other sisters stepped down, the dogs growled. It appeared to Jasper that the dogs only had one love and one master. And that was Aurora. She came up to them, and shook hands. His parents' eyes looked a little glazed, but they smiled their best royal smiles and welcomed the King and his family.

That night, when everyone congregated in the Great Hall for dinner, Jasper noticed that Aurora wore a dress. Her night black hair was braided and wound around her head, absolutely plain. Her dress was also simple, made of crimson velvet. She had on gold slippers, and Jasper noticed that she was a little uneasy in her surroundings and garments. He resolved to seek her out after dinner and talk to her. As it turned out, though, he was unable to do this.

Jasper's father, after much elbowing from his wife, heaved himself to his feet and raised his hands for silence.

"We wish to welcome you all to our country on this happy occasion. But I have another few announcements of the same kind. My second daughter, Princess Amelia, is to be married to the King of Marekell next year. And," raising his hand for silence, "My son and the heir to the throne is betrothed to Princess Aurora, the daughter of the King of Darmenia."

Jasper was a little shocked at the speed of this announcement, and glanced voluntarily towards Aurora. She was staring at his father in something akin to horror. As soon as everyone stopped looking from one of them to the other, Jasper saw Aurora slip out of the Hall. As soon as he could, he followed her. He looked in her room, in the library, in the garden, and then the stables. Usually, you find what you're looking for in the last place you look. Aurora was in the stables, curled up with her dogs. The dogs started to growl when he came near, but he raised his hand and they were silent. He bent down so they could smell him, and stroked their ears. Soon, their tails were wagging. Jasper had basically forgotten Aurora, so when she spoke, he was startled.

"You are the only person they've ever totally accepted besides me. How did you do that?" she asked curiously.
"Well," Jasper thought, "I wasn't afraid of them, and I let them see that. I also let them see that I'm not about to take any nonsense, but that I am willing to be friends." He stopped, a little embarrassed at her admiring expression.

"Why did you come here?" She asked.

"I came to find you. I saw you leave the hall, and I wanted to talk to you even before that." She looked at him warily, and said,

"Why?"

"Because I want to be friends."

"Oh." She leaned over and held out her hand for him to shake. "It's a deal. Friends."

"Friends." He replied with a grin.

Over the next few days, Jasper showed Aurora everything. Their parents looked on this with pleasure; as it is very uncomfortable to be married to someone you don't like. However, they were not pleased when they were brought tales about their children terrorizing guests. They went to talk to Jasper and Aurora, and managed, by fair means or foul, to extract their promises to leave the guests alone. Jasper and Aurora were never sure about how the two kings and queens did it; they were left in something of a daze after this encounter.

One day, the castle and all it's occupants awoke to see the ground white with snow. This would not be unusual, except that it was the middle of July. Many of the guests from warmer climates had never seen snow before, and were scared of it at first. Jasper and Aurora were among the first out, enjoying a snowball fight. As their parents didn't seem concerned about the effects of snow on their children's health, the cautious guests cautiously stepped out onto the snow. Princess Araminta, Aurora and Jasper's archenemy, was particularly comical to watch. She emerged from the castle dressed in a thin silk dress, and gorgeous kid slippers. She had never seen snow before, and she stepped onto it; slipped, and fell flat on her back, her slippers ruined, and snow down her back. Jasper and Aurora roared with laughter, but they scampered away when she screamed help and her father came out.

"Araminta! My darling! What has happened to you?" Her father cried. Of course, Princess Araminta tried to blame it all on Jasper and Aurora, but there had been other spectators, and the accusation was viewed as a grand opportunity to laugh for most of the other guests who had witnessed the scene. Araminta went away, a scowl marring her lovely countenance, rubbing her royal bottom.

The snow, much to everyone's surprise, didn't go away. It stayed and stayed and stayed and stayed.... And it snowed more and more every night. When it became difficult to get out of the doors, the King and Queen, along with all their guests, became a little worried. What was going on?

One day, a slightly ragged old woman appeared at the door. She offered a daisy in exchange for shelter from the coming storm. The servants were about to turn her away when Jasper and Aurora came in from an interlude in the stables. Seeing their master, the servants tried to push the old lady out the door. Jasper, seeing the scuffle, came up, and asked in his best princely voice,

"What's going on?" The servants immediately desisted, looking at the butler for guidance.

"Well, sir..." the butler stammered. Jasper then saw the old lady.

"Excuse me, ma'am. What can we do for you?" He asked politely. Jasper's mother had taught him to always be courteous to everyone, especially women. Jasper had learned well. The old woman pulled out her daisy, which miraculously still looked as though it had been picked not a moment ago, in spite of the shoving. She faced him, and said clearly,

"Sir, I ask for shelter from the storm. All I can offer is this daisy." Jasper bowed to her, and said,

"Ma'am, that is too much. Of course you must stay. But we wouldn't take the daisy. I know how rare they are nowadays." The woman tilted her head in acknowledgment, but insisted.

"Sir, you say it is too much. But I know it is not. It is a thing of beauty, but it fades like all beauty. I will not accept your hospitality unless you accept the flower. Jasper bowed again, taking the flower. He kissed her hand.

"We are indeed honored." He instructed the butler to prepare a guest chamber, and escorted her up to the audience chamber.

"Mama, Papa, we have another guest." Seeing his parents' astonishment, he turned to the old woman. She wasn't old anymore. She had changed from a ragged woman who might, unkindly, be called a hag, into the most beautiful woman anyone had ever seen. Everyone stared at her in awe. Finally, Jasper bowed to her, and turned again to his parents. "Mama, Papa, this is our guest. She gives us this." He brought up the hand that held the daisy. Now, everyone stared at what had been the daisy. Jasper held in his hand a miniature garden, complete with hedges, gravel paths, and every flower imaginable. It smelled so fragrant. He touched one of the flowers gently. It was real. He turned to look at the lady. "Ma'am? May I ask..." he trailed off, looking a little embarrassed. The Lady laughed, a delightful, throaty laugh that filled everyone with joy just to hear it. It rang like a bell through the silent audience chamber.

"I know, Jasper. You want to ask who I am. That is to be expected. My name is Lilias. I am an enchantress. I have come because you need my help. Am I correct?" She looked enquiringly at the King and Queen. They nodded, still incapable of speech. Jasper turned to her again.

"How did you know my name?" He asked, wonderingly. The Lady laughed again.

"It is my job as well as my talent to know things," She replied. "I had heard that in this castle, there lived a kind King and Queen. I heard that the countryside had been devastated by constant snowfall. I heard that the King and Queen were somewhat at a loss. So I set out to discover if all this was true. I arrived at this castle half and hour ago, in my ugliest form. If they take me in like this, I thought, they would truly be good to place so little importance on appearance. However," here her voice grew slightly stern, "When I knocked, the servants attempted to get me to leave. I would have had to if not for this boy." She held out an arm and pulled Jasper to her. She hugged him, and said earnestly, "He treated me like the lady I so obviously wasn't, showed no pride, no disdain, in fact, he showed an interest in my well being and my pride that is admirable in a grown adult, much less in a boy of twelve. In exchange for my lodging, I offered a single daisy. As you see, it has changed to a garden. When placed on any space of ground large enough, it will take root. It will bloom all year, and never need tending. However, the flowers will get lonely, so someone must go out everyday and talk to them for about ten minutes. That is all. If they do not get spoken to, they will eventually shrivel up and die. The longest they can last without human companionship is two days. They will know if there is a good reason why no one can talk to them, and then they can last indefinitely with just a good morning and a good night. But if they are neglected," She grew stern again, "They will die. And I will come to take them away. This is a great gift I give you, do not misuse it." Her voice grew gentle again, and the room breathed. "Your country is in trouble. The snow will not go away; it will not melt, and it will not be removed. The reason for this is simple, if the answer is not." As she began the tale, her eyes took on a far away look as though she was seeing what she was describing, and her voice came as though through a tunnel. "There is a man who fancies himself a wizard. He is not evil, just vain and stupid. But in his own way, he is more dangerous the way he is. Someone must face him; someone who is not afraid." She turned to Jasper. "I choose you." The room gasped. Jasper, despite the funny way the room was spinning and the people standing on the ceiling, thought it was funny. He giggled in a drunken sort of way. He closed his eyes as the people were making him dizzy.

Suddenly, he felt a warm breeze, and opened his eyes in astonishment. He was standing in a meadow he had never seen at the edge of a cliff. He could see huge, blue mountains across the gorge; mountains that were too big to be allowed; mountains that were never in Zargonia. He turned to where he instinctively knew the Lady would be, and asked breathlessly, "Where are we?" The Lady smiled reassuringly at him, and held out her hand. She led him to another part of the cliff, and pointed. Jasper could just make out in the distance a very grand house indeed. The Lady put her arm around his shoulders and kissed his head.

"That is where you must go," she said softly. "That is where he is." As she said this, Jasper felt a wave of fear wash over him. He was afraid. The Lady, as though sensing this, said,

"I did not chose you because you were not afraid; indeed, it is only a fool who is not. Those who are considered courageous are only brave for five minutes, an hour, a day longer- as long as it takes. Those who are afraid take no risks; those who take no risks live longer." She placed her hands on Jasper's shoulders and looked him straight in the eye. "Take no risks, Jasper. Be afraid. But do not give in to it." With that, she turned him around to face the cliff and told him to step off. Jasper looked at her as though she was crazy. She was completely serious; but when she saw his face, she laughed. "No, I'm not sending you to your death; it's much quicker this way. You won't fall. Trust me, Jasper." And he trusted her. So he stepped; his eyes shut tight to the rapidly approaching ground.

He opened them a few minutes later because he hadn't felt an impact. He was sure he should have hit the bottom by now. What he saw when he did so completely blew his mind.

"Whoa! What am I doing?" He was flying. Or, more correctly, he was floating on his back much as one does on calm water. He was going considerably faster than one does when floating in a lake or pond, but the sensation was the same. He twisted his head around trying to find the Lady, but she was gone, and he needed to get his courage together for the ordeal ahead. To his surprise, he was set down gently inside the mansion- not outside as he had supposed. When he looked around, he was in a dark corridor that seemed to lead off in all directions. However, when he looked closer, it only went off in two, but the walls were made of mirrors that made the corridor look immense. He had to keep his hand on the mirrors so he wouldn't walk into them by accident. The mirrors unnerved him more than anything else so far; he felt like they were watching him; listening to his every breath. Finally, he came to a place where there was another corridor leading in another direction. He was caught at a crossroads- or cross-corridor, I suppose; and he didn't have a clue. Then it occurred to him that the mirrors might tell him something- so he hushed his pounding heart, and took some deep breaths. Then he breathed to the mirrors,

"Which way?" The mirrors whispered to each other before sending him a message so faint he could hardly hear it.

"Thissss wayyy..." it came from the right. Taking another deep breath, he headed off in that direction.

The mirrors had told the truth: Jasper soon found himself in a corridor lined with ordinary tapestries. He looked around, surprised that there weren't more mirrors. Ah, there it was. He walked cautiously toward the large mirror in a gilt frame.

"Excuse me, can you tell me where He is?" Jasper whispered to the mirror in a respectful voice. There was silence; then his reflection in the mirror disappeared and the surface began to swirl. Jasper reached out in awe to touch the surface, and found that it was gone. His hand went right through the mirror; he snatched it back in shock. Looking more closely, he saw that the mirror showed an image of a room that looked like a library; it was lined with floor to ceiling- wall-to-wall books. There was a fire crackling in a huge stone fireplace, and there were several dark red leather armchairs with high backs. It was a rather dimly lit room; the heavy crimson curtains shut out most of the light. All in all, it looked like the library at home. But there was one important difference. In one corner, near a window that was not covered, stood a table with a huge, ancient book on it. It was surrounded with strange things- vials and jars, a skull, and, to Jasper's surprise, a bowl of fruit. Facing the table was a wall of mirrors. They each showed a different location all over the castle. To Jasper's surprise, he was not pictured.

"Why can't he see me?" He wondered out loud. To his surprise, the mirror answered him.

"Weee aren'tt showwwingg youuu toooo hiimmmm. Youuu arreee thheee onnee ttoooo ssaavveee usss frroomm bbonndaggge..." Jasper looked at the mirror in shock.

"I'm the one? But how? I don't know how to do anything! Can you help me? What do I need to do?" In his panic, Jasper became more and more hysterical. Suddenly, the mirror's image changed to show The Lady- Lilias. She was speaking-

"Jasper. JASPER! Calm down! Think about it. Search your heart. You know what to do." Her face began to fade, and he called after her desperately-

"WAIT! I don't know what I'm supposed to do! Help me!? Please." The Lady sighed, and her face reappeared.

"All I can tell you is that his weakness is your strength- find the weakness and you will know what to do." This time she vanished before her dumbstruck pupil could find the words to call her back again. The mirror showed the 'sorcerer's' library again. Jasper thought a minute.

"Lilias said that he fancied himself a wizard, and did spells, but was too proud to admit when he makes a mistake; he won't do anything to fix it." Jasper turned to the mirror. "Is that his weakness? Pride? But I am proud, too. It is not my biggest weakness, but humility is not my greatest strength. What is?" He mused, pacing back and forth in front of the patient mirror. "Can you help me?" he asked, coming to a stop right in front of the mirror. The mirror was silent for a moment, and then replied.

"Hheeee waassss aa gooodddd mannnn bbuuttt heeee grewwww prouddd offf thhinngggsss hheee hhaddd noooo haannnddd innn. Heeee wasss proudddd offf hiss daughterrrr, anndddd shhheeee dieddddd. Heee wasss prouddd offf hissss horsesss annddd theyyyy arreee nottt foalllingggg..." The mirror paused, and Jasper understood vaguely that it was trying to give him a hint.

"What, you mean I need to face him with his pride and counter it with my love?" The mirror was silent again.

"Welllll, yessss andddd noooo. Facceeee hissss hatteee anndddd resentmenttt withhh yourrrr lovvveee andddd faithhh..." Jasper took a deep breath.

"How do I get to him?" He asked, swallowing hard.

"Walkkkk throughhhh meeee..." The mirror replied. Jasper swallowed again, and walked through the mirror."

"What happens next?" Arabella asked impatiently.

"Well," Sophie began, "I'm not sure. We'll have to wait until tomorrow night to find out, because it is much too late for you to be up." She bent over the little girl and kissed her forehead. "Good night darling. Sleep well."

"G'night, Sophie. Love you."

"Love you too, Bella. See you in the morning."

"See you in....a'morn'g...." Arabella trailed off as she fell asleep.

The next night, Arabella was ready.

"Sophie, Sophie! I'm ready for my story now." Sophie laughed.

"OK, we can start now." Arabella was transfixed; her eyes grew as big as saucers as she listened as Sophie continued.

"Now, Jasper has just gone through the mirror, right?"

"Right."

"OK."

"Jasper found himself in the very room he had seen from the mirror. He looked around carefully, looking for the man he knew was there. He had just decided that it was empty except for him when a movement of the curtains caught his eye. Jasper coughed, and the curtains jumped.

"Who's there? I have called for nothing." When he did not receive an answer, the man came out into the room. He was rather handsome in a rugged sort of way, but years of self-indulgence had caused his once fine physique to decay. His stomach was like Jasper's pet potbelly pig, Lucy, and his cheeks sagged a little. But the most obvious sign of his life of profligacy were the heavy frown lines between his black brows and the parallel lines that cut into his cheeks were not from smiles. All said and done, Armand Glendenning was a powerful and frightening man.
Jasper gulped. He felt his stomach roll half over, and he swallowed quickly. Standing up straight, and, if he knew it, looking every inch the prince, he inclined his head.

"Sir. I am Jasper Delagardie- my father is the King of Zargonia. I have come to beg your indulgence on a small matter which I believe is in your power." Armand looked at him closely.

"You are the crown prince?"

"I am."

"My home is honored with your presence. What is the small matter?"

"My Lord, as you no doubt are aware, my homeland is covered in snow. It has been thus for several months, and it will not be shoveled or melted. Due to your well known skill as a wizard, we have heard that you might know how to solve the problem." Jasper felt like an insect beneath a magnifying glass, so closely did Armand scrutinize him. He fought to keep his face impartial, to hide any knowledge of Armand's 'experiment'. Finally, Armand was satisfied. He replied,

"You are wrong on one point, and I have been remiss. I did not know about Zargonia. However, I believe I can find out who is responsible, and also how to lift the curse. You are welcome to stay as my guest for as long as you like."  

 

2001 Copyright held by the author.

 

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