A Fairy Tale

"The Princess of the Green Valley"
     Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there was a small kingdom nestled in a green valley. It was a prosperous, peaceful kingdom which was ruled with loving care by its young King and Queen. These kind rulers were adored by their loyal subjects who wished them every possible happiness. And indeed the King and Queen had almost everything they could desire, for they loved their kingdom almost as much as they loved one another. Only one inestimable thing was missing from their lives: a child and royal heir to the throne. And as time passed, the years slowly giving way to decades, the chance that there ever would be one seemed to fade away.
     Then one dark stormy night, a small cry broke through the silence that had long ago descended on the royal castle. Steadied by the years, their noble visages faintly lined and their hair touched with grey, the King and Queen were finally blessed with a daughter. The delicate little princess was as pale as her curls were dark, and her eyes were the mild gold of honey. Her tiny presence was everything the King and Queen had ever dared hope for. To them she was perfect, the most beautiful thing they'd ever seen. And they named her Adrienne.
     To commemorate the birth of their new daughter, the monarchs held a grand ball in her honor. One to which every nobleman and woman of the kingdom was invited. To this extensive guest list, two more special persons – unable to lay claim to any of the numerous titles of nobility - were included: the Witches Meridan.
     Two sisters, Parthenia and Penelope Meridan, were among the most feared and respected persons of the green valley. They had resided in their small cottage, tucked into a corner of the kingdom, for many many years. So long that there was not a single individual in the kingdom who could recall a time or age when their presence in the valley had been missed. The witches lived modestly, inconspicuously, living so as not to draw attention to themselves; a futile act as the valley’s residents could not help but watch them in fascination. A fascination which had led to the surprising and slightly uncomfortable discovery that throughout their many years of living within the valley, the sisters had not aged but even one day. To look upon the Witches Meridan was to look upon eternal youth, the only visible sign of their incredible magic.
     It was this magic that the King and Queen called upon during Adrienne’s ball. They had invited the Witches Meridan to the ball foremost out of respect and a desire to avoid insulting them, but in the midst of the festivities the Queen peered down at her daughter with loving eyes and could not help but wish there was a means of guaranteeing her happiness in this hard world. It was at that moment that she came upon a wonderful idea which could only find fruition with the aid of the Witches Meridan.
     The Queen asked the two witches if they would be so kind as to grant her a favor in regards to Princess Adrienne. Being really most obliging individuals, Penelope and Parthenia promised almost immediately to carry out the Queen’s request without question, whatever it may be, so long as it was within their power.
     The Queen was quite pleased by their alacrity and she said, looking all the while at the tiny princess, “I would like her to have happiness in the future.” Though she spoke softly, her words managed to carry to every corner of the hall. “Happiness such as that which I have been so fortunate to have found.” She and the King smiled at once another before she turned her full attention to the witches. “I want to guarantee she find love in the future,” she concluded warmly.
     Parthenia and Penelope exchanged a troubled glance which went unnoticed by every other individual in the large hall. Bound by their unwise promise to not question the Queen’s request, Parthenia said hesitantly, in a clear sweet voice which was as young as she herself appeared, “Your highnesses are requesting that we guarantee that Princess Adrienne find love in this lifetime?”
     “True love,” the Queen clarified. She smiled trustingly at the witches. “Happiness.”
     Penelope spoke then, her lovely voice carefully calm. “Guarantee she find true love?” When the King and Queen nodded once again, she could only say sadly, “So be it.”
     Penelope turned to Parthenia and the two witches locked mournful eyes, sharing their thoughts with one another, searching for a means to do as both the Queen wished and appease their own consciences. Alas, the witches could only think of one almost negligible way to do so. Though unhappy with what they must do, the witches began to speak in unison and bright lights enveloped the little princess.

             “Darling Adrienne, maiden of royalty born,
             By desire of loving parents
             Who in this world found such happiness,
             We, the Witches Meridan, do promise
             That you will experience the joy of True Love’s first kiss.
             In the moment that lover’s lips do touch thine own
             Your happiness will know no mortal bounds.
             One breath of pure bliss we gift to you princess,

             For when thy lips do part royal maiden,
             Cold ethereal Death will descend on thee.
             For life holds but one dark guarantee.
             And to bind you to happiness in this hard world,
             Love and death must as one be unfurled."

     Where the first verse of the spell elicited ecstatic cries of approval from the witch’s audience, the second left them speechless. A silent horror descended upon the hall. The King and Queen stared at the witches, aghast. And defeat seemed to have wrapped itself about the Witches Meridan as well.
     It was not long before the King and Queen’s shock turned to righteous anger. They demanded the reversal of what they deemed the witches’ curse, but alas it could not be done. Such a spell would hold the test of time, the witches said, just as it had been designed. The witches wished to more fully explain what they had been forced to do, but further speech was not tolerated by the monarchs. Their royal highness’ response to Penelope and Parthenia’s refusal to lift the spell was to order the witches seized and imprisoned. But the guard’s attempts to do so were piteously in vain. The Witches Meridan disappeared silently into thin air, never again to be seen in the kingdom.
     And so it was only weeks after she entered the world that the Princess Adrienne was barred from it. She was immediately confined to a single wing of the castle which was restricted from all but a few select individuals, for the King and Queen were taking no risks with their daughter’s life. They had decided that as the spell upon her could not be lifted, she must, at all costs, be kept from falling in love. And so they locked her away from the world and all of its once-thrilling prospects.

     The years passed and Adrienne grew in beauty as she did in age. At eighteen she was a tall, slender figure of a girl with dark brown locks curling about a delicate pale face that never saw enough of sunlight. Adrienne was as blissfully unconcerned with her future as all princesses of her age were bound to be, for the King and Queen had decided that she was not to know a thing about the witches’ spell. That she was never allowed outside her one wing of the castle and was politely restricted to her rooms when visitors of any type arrived was not initially perceived as odd by the princess. As a child she had of course never known another life. And when her daily existence did finally striker her as unusual in adolescence, she came to the conclusion that her parents were simply over protective as she was their only child, a conclusion not too far from the absolute truth. Besides, she would think to herself, how was she to know if this was not as all princesses of her time lived – the princesses of storybooks were of course from another age.
     It was really only after years of eyeing the beauty ever present outside the castle windows and reading about grand adventures that always took place outside of thick stone walls that Adrienne really felt the restrictions upon her person. Her lack of friends, let alone acquaintances, rankled strongly with her. To be certain, she was incredibly fond of her mother and father, and very much liked the few female servants who would bustle about her castle wing. However, none of these persons could truly be called a friend and Adrienne did not know and never had known anyone else. In eighteen years, not a single person other than the aforementioned had ever set eyes on the princess. And she, in turn, had never seen anyone else. It was the eighteenth anniversary of that long ago and fateful ball that this situation was finally and fatally altered.
     That particular day, young Prince Damian of a kingdom far far away, arrived at the castle. He was on a journey to a kingdom by the sea and had been advised to seek shelter in the green valley before continuing onward to his destination. Though it was quite late into the night that he came upon the castle, he was taken in graciously by the King and Queen, as was only proper royal etiquette. And as in the midst of his arrival the princess was of course sleeping, it was decided that she would be instructed not to leave her quarters the next morning instead of being unduly woken with such directions. This one decision would be fate’s means of bringing the Prince and Princess together.
     Despite his late arrival to the castle, the Prince breakfasted with the King and Queen early the next morning. Their royal highnesses had of course the usual affairs to tend to following the meal and as rain was falling steadily outdoors, the Prince informed them that he had decided not to continue his journey until the weather finally cleared. While inwardly a bit nervous about having the Prince around the castle, the King and Queen said nothing untoward to him. They simply, as courtesy demanded, hoped he would be comfortable during his stay and also politely, if forcefully, requested that he please refrain from setting foot in the castle’s east wing. The rest of the castle he should feel free to explore, and there was indeed a splendid library in a room about the north wing, but visitors were generally restricted from the east wing. The Prince was ready enough to abide by their request, expecting only to head back to his rooms and wait out the weather before leaving the castle. So the King and Queen left the table – and the Prince – not especially worried about Adrienne. Princes had come and gone from the castle for years now with no incident and there was no reason to suppose that Prince Damian should be an exception. That Princess Adrienne was not currently safely restricted to her quarters and that the Prince was to get confoundedly lost on his sojourn back to his own rooms was not known to the monarchs.
     Princess Adrienne had risen from bed earlier than usual that particular morning and had immediately left her bedroom to watch the sun rise from her favorite set of windows. This meant that the servants had been unable, though not for lack of trying, to find her and relay their royal highness’s instructions. The east wing was rather extensive in size, a large part of the reason it had been chosen as Adrienne’s own, and it was impossible for the servants to know precisely where the Princess had gone. This did not trouble them particularly, for though they would prefer her to be safely behind closed doors, Adrienne had never defied her parents request to stay within the bounds of the east wing. And visitors, especially princes, were most certainly not permitted there.
     As Princess Adrienne gazed dreamily out of windows Prince Damian became almost hopelessly lost as he attempted to find his own rooms, an almost impossible feat considering the dining hall’s close proximity to them. However, for some mystical reason, as the Prince attempted to find the corridor that led to his room, he was presented with nothing but one long winding passage that he could have sworn had not existed just hours before. He tried to find another more familiar passage way but somehow there was no other way out of the dining hall. Even the corridor the King and Queen had just used to exit the dining hall had disappeared. With no other option the Prince walked down the long passage hoping it would eventually lead to a part of the castle he recognized.
     And so it was that Prince Damian came slowly closer and closer to the one part of the castle he was forbidden just as Princess Adrienne tore herself away from the windows. She was wandering the halls of the east wing, deep in imagination, spinning her own lovely castles in the air when the Prince came to a hall which had not in long years seen Prince nor young man of any kind. He was peering down the hall in some frustration when Adrienne turned a corner and the two saw one another.
     Adrienne was most certainly the more startled of the two youths. She had only in books or from a far distance, peering at visitors from her windows, seen anyone resembling the Prince and she was quite certain that the King and Queen would disapprove, to put their feelings lightly, of their having ever met. However, she found that though she was startled at the sight of him, she was not at all afraid of him. No impulse within her told her to turn away and walk back to the safety of her rooms and indeed she found that she could not do more than stare back at the tall, handsome individual in front of her. For the Prince was tall and dashing and handsome as all princes should be. And he was also, as is only to be expected in such a circumstance, from first glance completely enchanted by Adrienne.
     He had met many princesses before. He had been meeting them for many a year now, for his parents had been from the eve of his twenty-first birthday hoping in vain that he would soon marry. He had been unable to find one to suit him however, though every one of those many princesses had been beautiful and charming in their own right. Something about Adrienne, or perhaps simply their belonging to one another, instantly told him that here was finally the princess that he would marry. He had no doubt that she was a princess, though he had never before heard of any princesses living in the kingdom of the green valley. Just as he had no doubt that he was love with her.
     He slowly walked up to the silent and still princess, fully intending to introduce himself and pondering if it was too soon to propose marriage. However, when he finally found himself in front of the lovely slip of a girl he could not speak. Instead, all that came to his lips was an involuntary smile.
     The moment his kind smile fell upon Adrienne she knew why she could not move. She had never done more than read about love before, but in that instance she found herself already in love with the Prince, not knowing a thing about him, let alone his name or that he was actually a prince. Unlike Prince Damian, she could not immediately recognize royal heritage. She only recognized that she was in love with him. And she smiled up at him sweetly that it was as though she said the words aloud. Smiling softly at one another, and entirely unaware that their happiness was to be so fleeting, the Prince and Princess drew together into that most fatal kiss.
     Unspeakably happy the Prince drew away Princess Adrienne only to find that the soft smile was now eternally frozen to her lips. Anguish quickly replaced his happiness and in his misery a heart-wrenching cry escaped from his lips to summon servants and guards from all over the castle. A cry so terrible it even summoned the King and Queen from their own secluded corner of the castle.
     The sad sight they found was that of the heartbroken Prince kneeling over the dead Princess, tears streaming down his face. The King and Queen’s grief was as complete as his own, and for long moments they could do nothing but stare at this image of broken happiness. Anger found no place in their hearts and they did not, as a number of the servants feared they might, demand the Prince seized and imprisoned for what he had done. They only, upon seeing the Prince’s haunted confusion at this terrible turn of events, explained to him in broken words why fate had seen to be so unkind.
     Refusing to relinquish hold of his would-be bride, the Prince listened to their sad story while still sunken to the floor. And it was only at its completion that he began to say over and over again in obvious growing torment, “‘True Love’s first kiss.’” At the confusion that met this phrase he finally explained in a hollow voice, “It was the kiss.” He swallowed a painful sob. “Not love.” And so it was in this terrible way that the King and Queen, and in time all their subjects, finally learned of the careful compromise the Witches Meridan had made eighteen long years ago.

                                                     The End.

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