This story is copyrighted by Rosemary Lake. All Rights Reserved.
The Once Upon a Time When the Princess(tm) series

 

The Prince in the Ivy Tower

Once upon a time there lived a Princess who was beloved by the whole kingdom, and by her father the King most of all. He could deny her nothing, and even listened to her ideas when judging disputes among his subjects. But then plague struck the kingdom and the king and queen died untimely, and the Princess' wicked Uncle took over the land.

While pretending to honor Princess Joane as heir to the throne, in fact her Uncle, who now called himself King, would not listen to her at all, and made many harsh new laws, which grieved her very much; and he even resumed hunting animals for sport, which the Princess' father had outlawed long ago.

One day some foreign nobles came to visit and the false King demanded a hunt be given for their entertainment. The Gamekeeper had to oblige, though he sent men ahead into the forest to tell all the animals to stay out of danger. So the animals hid, and all morning the hunting party rode up hill and down dale and sent their hawks flying empty circles in the sky, without result. The nobles began to laugh at the King, and his temper rose and rose.

Just then there ran across their path a little hairy Wildman, no bigger than a Gnome. "What's the matter, false King?" he laughed. "Can you find no game to chase?"

"I think we have found it," said the King. "Chase that Wildman! Talleyho!"

The hunters all gave chase. The Wildman ran like a fox, through briars and brambles, but was finally caught and bound, and brought back to the palace. The King had him put in a cage in the palace garden, where all the nobles and courtiers could gather round to look, and said, "Now, what shall we do with him?"

"Have him fitted for a suit of clothes at once," said the Fool.

The Gnomes, Dwarves, and other small peoples of the kingdom were very upset. "Free him!" ... "You have no right to cage him just because he is different!" ... "You would not keep one of us in a cage, would you?" Others agreed, and they all began shouting at the King.

The King became very angry. He tied the door of the cage with special royal cord, and placed his personal seal on it with sealing wax, and right then and there made a new law against anyone interfering with hunting or caging of animals. "There are no exceptions," he proclaimed, "and the penalty is death!"

The little Wildman just sat there saying nothing.

Now all this day Princess Joane was out by herself n the woods, cutting rushes with her silver knife to make a set of pipes. She came back very late after moonset and went straight to her room to sleep, for no one dared tell her about her Uncle's cruel deed.

Next morning an odd singing woke Joane, before dawn. In fact it was from the Wildman, but hiscage was hidden from the Princess' porch by a high hedge of magnolias. She went out to the steps and sat waiting for sunrise, tossing a golden apple from hand to hand. But after a few minutes she missed her toss, and the apple rolled down the alabaster steps, out of the Princess' sight under the dark leaves of the magnolias, and finally came to rest in the Wildman's cage.

The Wildman tossed the golden apple over the hedge, back to the Princess.

"This is a fine game," the Princess smiled to herself. "At any moment a voice will say, it is the east, and Joane is the sun." So she tossed the apple back over the hedge, waiting for some charming young noble to reveal himself.

But, again, only the apple flew back; back and forth three times they tossed it, but each time the Wildman held it a few moments longer before tossing it back.

Finally Joane became curious and pushed her way through the hedge. There she saw the cage and in it the Wildman, holding the apple in his hairy hand.

"Oooof!" she said. "Not quite the prince of my dreams. But who are you, what are you in jail for?"

"For the King's sport," said the Wildman, who had spoken to none there before her, and told her the story.

Quick as thought the Princess took out her silver knife and cut through the royal seal as though it were nothing but ordinary wax, and through the royal scarlet cord as though it were ordinary string, and flung wide the door. "Shall I order a coach to carry you back to your home?" she asked the Wildman as he crept out.

"No, Princess," he said, "for all forests are my home. But perhaps you should come with me for your safety." And he told her about the King's new law.

The Princess' eyes flashed. "One day I shall be honored to accept your kind invitation. But today I must stay and have a word with the King!"

Just then the palace gardeners and topiary trimmers arrived and the Wildman scuttled away into the woods. "Oh, dear, Princess, what have you done?" said the Head Topiarist, waving his hatchet in alarm.

"Thank you," she said, taking the hatchet, and swinging it at the cage.

"But the King said--" Smash! "But you broke the King's law!--" Smash! "Why are you doing that?"

The Princess swung the hatchet again. "I want it to stay broken."

Shaking their heads, the servants all tiptoed away.

When the cage was all smashed to smithereens, the Princess took a swim in the marble fishpond to cool her temper, then went back to her rooms, put on her best dress, put her mother's starry tiara on her head, and had a good breakfast of hot oatmeal and raisins and butter.

When her Uncle the King woke up and found the cage smashed and the Wildman gone, he flew into a rage and assembled a great Court of Judgment immediately. Half the kingdom filed into the judgment chamber, and the Princess sat down in the front row. "Who has Done this thing?" the King thundered. "Who has broken My new Law? Whoever has done it, his head shall immediatelly be cut off--"

The Princess stood up and said loud and clear: "I did it. With the topiary hatchett."

The false King gaped at her. "--You? ... Well, er, in that case...." Because of course he dare not harm the true King's heir. "In that case, I will grant a special pardon, and--"

"That would be very unfair," said the Princess. "If you wish to abolish your bad new law and this abhominable practice of hunting altogether, fine. But if not--"

She was interrupted by cheering, espeically from the Gnomes.

"Order! Order!" shouted the King. "I will not be told what to do! I have Spoken, and I will never break my own law."

"If you will not break this law," the Princess said bravely, "then let it break me."

"Very well!" shouted the King, losing his own head in anger. "Guards, take her deep into the woods, slay her, and bring me back her head!"

The crowd fell silent. They were all afraid to speak. The Princess turned pale. But she would not take back her words. The guards marched her away.

As soon as they were in the woods, the guards began arguing among themselves. No one wanted to kill the Princess, but they feared for their lives if they did not.

Joane did not say anything, she just folded her tiara-crown into her pocket and watched for her chance.

Soon they came to a raging river, where an old ferry-man waited to row them across. He bowed to the Princess and offered her his hand to help her into the boat. The guards stood back, ashamed to let it be known that she was their prisoner.

The Princess stepped daintily into the boat -- then quickly grabbed the oars and pushed off into the current, leaving the ferry-man and guards on the bank, all jumping up and down and shouting.

For miles and miles and hours and hours, the river swept the boat downstream. Finally Joane fell asleep. When she woke next morning, she found the boat had come aground safely on a sandbar in a beautiful, though rather strange, country. In the distance was a tall pink castle on a hill, glittering in the sun.

Joane set out for the castle, breakfasting on wild nuts and berries along the way.

The further Joane travelled, the more she marvelled at this new strange fair country. The geese in the fields were whiter and cleaner than her father's finest horses. The cottages and vegetable gardens were neater and prettier than the flower gardens at her father's palace. And every few minutes she heard a note of faint sweet music, which made her long more than anything to hear the whole song it came from.

'Till I am of age,' she said to herself, 'there seems little point in trying to fight my Uncle. I will disguise and hide myself here, in sound of this music, till I grow stronger and wiser.' So, seeing a poor goosegirl in the field, she exchanged dresses with her; and a few miles further, bought a flock of geese for her own, and settled down in a neat little hut on a green hill to mind them.

***

Now it is time to turn our story to the castle of this strange fair country. Here lived a King and his son the Prince, who was of part elfin blood, as the legacy of his dead mother. Now the Prince's magic was, that the people loved him and followed his wishes, keeping their land so well, without him taking any trouble at all about it, so long as they could hear the sweet elfin songs he played on his silver flute. So the Prince had moved into a tall white marble tower, which was overgrown with fragrant white-flowered jasmine-ivy, wherein he stayed night and day, practicising his flute and refusing to be bothered about any business of state.

This policy annoyed his father the King greatly, particularly since it worked so well, and soon made theirs the most peaceful and prettiest of any known kingdom. "At least," said the King, "you must marry, for by the law of your mother's people, only a female can sit on the throne and rule this land."

"Perhaps someday," said the Prince, whose name was Anthony, and called his closest friends and Gnomish tutors into the tower with him, and locked the door.

This annoyed the King even more. He called his guards and laid seige to the Ivy Tower. But the Prince and his counselors knew a few magic spells, and were able to produce all the food and drink and other things they needed. So for a long time the Prince had lived happily in the tower playing his flute, and the land had been growing more and more pleasant, and the King more and more angry.

Now finally the King lost his temper. "Enough of your disobedience!" he said, and called in his own advisors and artificiers. They built a great sloping bridge up to the top window of the tower, and announced that in three days' time, all the young women of the kingdom were to walk up the bridge and kiss the prince in turn, and he must choose among them for his bride.

"What shall we do about this?" the Prince asked his tutors. "This is not an honorable way to make a marriage."

The oldest Gnome said: "We have not spells enough to vanish this Bridge altogether. But we can turn it to the most slippery glass, which no one will be able to climb. Thus we will be left in peace again."

So that is what they did. On the day when the young women of the kingdom assembled (all except Joane, who would not join such a crowd, and stayed home with her geese), they found that as fast as they tried to walk up the bridge, they slid back down again, till they were all tangled togther in a pile of petticoats and satin slippers at the bottom.

Again the King called his advisors into conference. "In the matter of Glass Bridges, Crystal Mountains, and suchlike Obstacles to Marriage," they told him, "one should announce a great contest and allow only the noblest suitors and most richly caprisoned horses to attempt the Difficult Task."

So this the King proclaimed. Rich merchants and foreign nobles brought their daughters, in fine gowns and riding horses with embroidered saddles and adamantine horseshoes attached by diamond nails, as was the custom.

Joane watched the preparations from her lonely hill. Then she began to long for the past, when she too had worn silk and satin and ridden a splendid horse. 'If I were still who I used to be,' she thought, 'I would surely rescue this prince. I would out-ride the others, win his hand, but then release him from this law and this forced marriage.' And she began to weep.

Just then the little Wildman appeared. "What is the matter?" he asked her.

Joane sobbed: "My parents are dead, my kingdom is lost, I am become a goose-girl in rags, and now I shall lose even the Prince's music, for when he is married he will play no more from the tower."

"Is that all?" said the Wildman. "Now will you come to visit my home?"

So Joane went with him. He led her deep into the forest, then deep down into a cave, under fallen leaves and through black rich soil and between limestone pillars. There she found a chamber filled with silk and satin dresses and boots, all more splendid than any in her old kingdom, and each one finer than the last. "Choose for yourself," he said. All the dresses fitted Joane perfectly, and all seemed equally beautiful, so she chose the one with the fewest petticoats (which was gold silk trimmed in gold satin with silver embroidery on the pockets), and soft riding boots without spurs.

Then the Wildman took her into a large chamber where stood a line of one hundred noble horses, all beautifully saddled and caparisoned with the finest saddlery. "Please choose any one you like," he said.

Joane walked along the line of horses until she saw a beautiful roan mare wearing a saddle emblazoned with gooseflowers, climbed on, and rode up and out of the cave and back to the glass bridge. She arrived just as the sun was about to set and the other fine ladies were all giving up, for none of them had been able to ride even a few feet up the bridge.

The bay mare galloped onto the bridge, but about one third of the way up her feet began to slip. Afraid that the mare would fall and be hurt, Joane turned her around and they galloped back down and into the woods, and back to the Wildman's cave.

Next day the Wildman took Joane into the large chamber full of horses again. She walked until she saw a beautiful bay mare wearing a saddle emblazoned with primroses, climbed on, and rode up and out of the cave and back to the glass bridge. She arrived just as the sun was about to set and the other fine ladies were all giving up, for none of them had been able to ride even a few feet up the bridge.

The bay mare galloped onto the bridge, but about two thirds of the way up her feet began to slip. Afraid that the mare would fall and be hurt, Joane turned her around and they galloped back down and into the woods, and back to the Wildman's cave.

Next day the Wildman took Joane into the large chamber full of horses again. She walked and walked, but did not see any horses that looked better than the roan and the bay. Even the lightest and most delicate of the mares looked too heavy for the task. She walked past all the horses, and finally came to a tiny grotto lined with crystal stone. Here stood a white Unicorn with no saddle or bridle at all. "May I carry you?" he said.

"I would be honored," said Joane.

So the Unicorn knelt and she climbed on his back, and rode up and out of the cave and back to the glass bridge. She arrived just as the sun was about to set and the other fine ladies were all giving up, for none of them had been able to ride even a few feet up the bridge

The Unicorn galloped onto the bridge, and all the way up to the top, with never a slip! The Prince was leaning out of his window staring in astonishment.

Joane waved her pipes at him. "This is no way to arrange a marriage," she laughed, "but would you like to play a duet?"

The Prince grinned and said something to his tutors. A cloud of magic came out of the window and formed itself into a glass bubble around them, closing out the rabble and nobles below. While the Unicorn stood beside them eating white ivy-flowers, Joane and the Prince sat on his balcony and played tunes as privately as if they were all alone in the moonlit woods.

After a while the Prince asked to try her reed pipes, and she tried his silver flute. This made music so pretty and funny that they both started laughing too hard to play.

PINGGGGGG! The glass bubble broke. The Unicorn started to slide downhill. Joane scrambled onto his back just in time. With a neigh of triumph, the Unicorn reared, pivoted; and they galloped triumphantly down the bridge, with Joane waving the silver flute, and on into the forest.

Everyone cheered! The whole crowd shouted and whistled, horns and trumpets blew, and the King had it proclaimed aloud that the strange maiden had won the prize. Then the King and crowd settled down to wait for her to return. They waited and waited....

Joane rode deep into the forest, to a peaceful pool, to water her Unicorn, and had a drink herself, then lay down to take a rest on a mossy bank, wrapping her old cloak around her. But unknown to her, this was a magic pool of sleeping draught, so she fell asleep for a long time.

At the castle, the crowd waited and waited, wondering what had become of the strange maiden. For three days the Prince searched the woods, both on foot and with men and horses, but could find no sign of her. The King became impatient, and the fathers of the other girls began to complain. On the third evening, when the Prince returned from the woods with no success, the King's soldiers seized him, and the King decreed a great assemblage to be held in the city square, at which every girl in the kingdom, high or low, should be present; and the Prince would have to choose among them.

On the day of that assemblage, the Wildman came to Princess Joane where she lay by the pool, and woke her and told her the news. The Unicorn (who was immune to sleeping draught) had long since wandered off in the woods, so Joane ran to town just as she was, with her old cloak hiding her beautiful golden dress.

She arrived just as the Prince had finished searching through the crowd, without finding her, and was standing there in dejection wondering what he should do next. Try as she might, she could not push her way through the mass of people or make her voice heard above their noise. So, standing at the very edge of the crowd, concealing the silver flute with the hood of her old cloak, Joane began to play the song of their duet.

The Prince heard the melody across the crowded square. He smiled and said to the King, "One moment, Sire." Following the sound , he walked stright to Joane, the crowd making way for him, and fell on one knee before her, saying, "May I offer you back your reed-pipe ... and this my hand that holds it ... and the throne of this my kingdom as well?"

Joane waved the flute for all to see. "I accept," she said loudly for the crowd. "However, I wish my Coronation to take place before the wedding." While the crowd cheered for her, she whispered for Prince Anthony's ear only: "Then you'll be free. You won't have to marry me."

"What?" said the Prince.

"I'll take the throne," she said, "and then we can change all the laws we like."

The people cheered and started telling her all the laws they would like changed.

"Order! Order!" yelled the King. "Quiet! She Cannot have the throne first. Only a royal lady can take the throne, and she will not be that till she marries the Prince."

Joane threw off her old cloak and stood there in her golden dress, wearing her own mother's starry tiara, and let her own royal beauty shine forth.

The people took off their hats and bowed in silence.

The King had nothing more to say. A splendid Coronation was announced at once, and took place the very next day, and the old King retired and gave Joane the castle, and the whole kingdom celebrated for a month. Then Prince Anthony went back to playing his flute in the tower, and from then on, every evening he and Joane stole away into the woods to play their duets in private.

Joane sent for her Uncle, and when he saw that she was now Queen of such a fair land, and exercising such great power, for she enjoyed handling all the affairs of state and ordering the soldiers about, he hastily gave her back her own country, as well, to the great joy of her own citizens.

Everyone in both countries searched for the Wildman and announced that he might have a great reward if he would claim it, but he never did. So Joane and the Prince assumed that he must be quite happy as he was; for he was never heard from again.

So both countries prospered; and the love of Joane and Prince Anthony stayed ever fresh, and every day they loved each other more than the day before, and all lived happily ever after.

The End

Plot motifs from an old Scandinavian story, but events mostly mine. --RL

 

This story is copyrighted by Rosemary Lake. All Rights Reserved.
The Once Upon a Time When the Princess(tm) series
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Rescued the Prince,
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Beat the Dragon
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Cast the Spell
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Got the Treasure

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