searchsoleil: (Morgana = Beautiful and terrible!)
search soleil ([personal profile] searchsoleil) wrote2009-05-10 11:53 pm

Desperate call for a quick beta.

I decided to do the creative story option for my Enchanted Imagination (a.k.a. my Fantasy Is Rad seminar) final, and it is in desperate need of a look-over before I hand it in tomorrow at 11:30AM EDT. If anybody runs across this post between now and 11 tomorrow morning and has time to offer some quick and dirty constructive criticism, I'd appreciate it immensely. Of course, regular constructive criticism/comments are appreciated well into the indefinite future. *wry grin*

Also, I don't have a title? Crap.

Once there lived a king and a queen who lived very comfortably together for many years. Their kingdom had its share of problems, and the king often fretted and the practical queen often had to soothe her sensitive spouse. Still, they were a simple kingdom of easy joys, and for many years, they recovered from their setbacks without much prolonged hardship or grief.

On the day the king and queen were finally blessed with a child, the king called together all the nobles of the kingdom and its neighbors for a great festival to celebrate the birth of their daughter. Droves of visitors came to the castle and smiled upon the child, and the sight of the huge crowds filled the king with pride. So pleased was he that he bade the festival to continue for two more nights.

Sadly, as the festival wore on many of the guests forgot the innocent basis for their cheer in favor of the fine wine and hearty meal. The good-hearted merriment slowly but surely slipped into general carousal. Husbands leered at the serving girls, while young men leered at the serving girls and the prettier wives. A young woman, not much older than a girl, cried that her grandmother’s ring had been stolen when she left it at her dining table and a servant smirked as the guards removed the precious heirloom from his pocket. The king looked to his daughter's cradle, set up in the hall to take in the festivities, and the anger in his heart took on an edge of fear. He was not much different from those callous youths in his younger days, he thought, chilled, and he wondered if he would be able to stop one of these scoundrels from snatching his dear child in the course of their degenerate revelry.

“All men are beasts,” the king resolved, and he dismissed the guests in a rage. His daughter and his wife he sent away to the tallest tower as he drafted a royal edict. The king proclaimed to all the land that his daughter would be sequestered in the palace, protected from the world, and particularly from the men in it. Until the day that he could find a true prince among the beasts, the king was determined to keep her safe from harm.

And so the princess grew to be a very sheltered miss, with little more than her ladies’ maids and books for company, and meanwhile, the king grew more and more concerned as she grew to be a beautiful young woman. The kingdom fell on hard times again, but the king was not so easily soothed by the queen, for his protective instinct toward his daughter had fed his natural tendency toward suspicion, and he had lost many friends and alliances over the ensuing years.

When the princess finally came of age, there was not such a lovely kingdom to be bequeathed to her, and it was realized that she would need to marry very well if they had any hope of defending themselves through the hostilities of the coming winters and the neighboring realms. But the princess, having grown up only with maids and books, had turned out very romantic. Moreover, she had inherited all of her father’s stubbornness and little of her mother’s practicality. She balked at the idea of an arranged marriage, and before any such deal could be struck, she confronted her father.

The princess proposed that she embark on a good will tour the neighboring kingdoms. She did not say it in so many words, but she hoped that during her travels she might promote an image of geniality that would counteract the unfriendly impression of the kingdom that had developed due to the king’s behavior. Additionally, her travels would put her in the path of many princes of the realms, and perhaps she might make a splendid marriage to one of them, a true love match.

Her father balked at the idea of his precious daughter roaming the countryside, and scoffed at her belief in true love. “Men are bea—,” he began, but before he could finish, the princess asked him if he could really bear for her to face betrothal to the beastly kind of man who would accept her mercenary dowry—for all she had to offer was the monarchy in return for her suitor’s power or wealth. She burned to prove to her overbearing father that true princes existed and that understanding and good will were the only ways to lead a prosperous kingdom.

The king saw the point in her words, but he could not conscience her journeying with only a meager traveling party, which would be all the kingdom could outfit for her. The princess grew fearful that she would truly be forced to marry and lost her temper. She threatened to run away if he did not let her experience the world before she was bound forever to whatever sham marriage he deemed acceptable. This threat angered the king, who did not like to be challenged, and it looked like father and daughter would be locked in a battle of wills indefinitely, until the queen kindly stepped in.

“My dear, we could give her your whistle,” said the practical queen. “Then she would want for nothing.”

This suggestion stopped the argument in its tracks, for the princess had heard rumors of her family’s enchanted whistle her whole life and gasped to imagine that it could be hers. It was said that the instrument summoned a terrible magical beast, untamable except that it was bound to do as the whistle-owner bid. Her father had collected the prize off a witch after besting her in a battle of wits, and had used it to win her mother and the kingdom many years ago. Certainly if anything were to assure her success on this quest, it would be the use of that whistle.

Thoughts of her objective recalled the princess to the scene at hand, and she saw that her father’s brow had furrowed thoughtfully, and hope blossomed in her.

“That whistle could indeed help our daughter on this journey she wishes to make, for if she asks, it will see to her desires. However, the creature that it summons is a fickle being, and if it is angered, it has ways of making requests go awry. I call it sparingly because I fear it is not loyal to me, thought it does my bidding. The outcomes of my wishes have not always been favorable. Daughter, I would let you take this journey, but you must set my mind at rest and show me that you have a hope of taming this creature.”

The king took himself away to retrieve the whistle from its hiding place, and the queen turned to her daughter. “Your father will not tell you the details of this item, for he hopes you will be too scared by what you summon to confront it. However, sounding different notes will summon different incarnations of the creature. High notes denote danger, and the highest notes will summon things most dangerous, while low notes denote only need, and whatever the creature comes as will be as harmless as this being ever is. Play a low note, and speak to the creature as you would another person, for it has a human’s intelligence. Those are the keys to passing your father’s test.”

The king returned before the princess could ask her mother any questions. Her father held out the instrument for her and she saw that it was only a plain silver whistle, no longer than the width of her hand. She took it and raised it to her lips, half disbelieving her parents’ words, but she played a long, low note nonetheless, thinking of her dearest wish, which was nothing more than a chance at success in her endeavors.

From a tall window hopped a small, bright animal, which came to an efficient stop a few feet from the princess. She saw that it was a fox, its coat a glossy burnt orange, its green eyes alert and luminous. She was about to state her wish when she was beaten to speech by the creature itself, for it turned to her father and spoke freely.

“I see the torch has been passed, soldier-king,” said the fox, in a low, clear voice. “I assume this is the young miss, full grown?”

The king swallowed and returned, “Yes, this is my daughter. She is to be your mistress, creature, if you two find the scheme mutually agreeable.”

The animal’s eyes narrowed at the word creature, and turned back to the princess, who tried valiantly to control her heartbeat and appear authoritative. “And what is it you wish, my lady?” asked the fox, a hint of sarcasm lurking in its tone.

The princess took a deep breath, considering her mother’s words, and said carefully, “I wish to go traveling to the near kingdoms. The success of my journey is vital to the security of my father’s realm, and to my own personal happiness. I will need a guide and a protector. Will you fill these responsibilities and grant me your loyalty, Sir Fox?”

The fox’s eyes narrowed further as she spoke, but as she finished her speech it let out a low, clear laugh. Before it replied, it lowered its forelegs in a mock-bow. “You flatter me, my lady, but your words ring sincere. I will do as you bid.”

“Very well,” said the king, shakily. “I will prepare a retinue for the princess.”

* * *

The first kingdom that the princess and her entourage visited was prosperous and gay, and the royal family accepted her very graciously, establishing her in a guest wing for as long as she chose to stay. The princess quickly learned that the prince was considered very charming and extremely eligible. In fact, within days of her arrival, the royal family announced a ball to which all unmarried girls in the kingdom were invited, for the prince wished to finally choose a bride. The princess considered this very fortuitous, as she was positively desperate to choose a groom.

On the afternoon before the ball, the princess went to a secluded part of the castle gardens, took the whistle from around her neck where it hung on a thin silver chain, and sounded out the lowest note. Her poor kingdom could not have provided her with clothes splendid enough for a court function, but she trusted her guardian to supply something appropriate.

“You failed to tell me that your oh-so-vital purpose was to seek romance, princess,” quipped a familiar voice directly behind her. The princess pursed her lips in displeasure, but the retort that was forming on her lips died as she turned and found she was gazing at a magnificent tree, no animal in sight.

“I did not know you could appear as flora as well as fauna, Sir Oak,” ventured the princess, eyes still searching the ground for a more suitable source for the voice.

“If you would direct your gaze upward, you will see I am a bird in the oak and not the tree itself. Who ever heard of a tree granting wishes, my lady?”

“Sir Sparrow, I see you now,” said the princess, rolling her eyes. “I find I am in need of a ball gown and its effects. Would you be so very kind as to honor me with something appropriate for wooing a charming prince?”

“My lady, I’m sure whatever you wore would be suitable to that objective, but I think I understand the aim of your request.” The sparrow took flight, and the princess was left to wait until the sun began to set before the bird returned with a truly remarkable dress, its bodice replete with peridots and emeralds. “To bring out the color of your eyes, your highness,” he explained.

“My eyes are blue, Sir Sparrow. I should rather say that it would bring out the color of your eyes,” replied the princess, for the sparrow’s eyes had retained the startlingly green quality of his fox incarnation.

“Ah, but now your eyes will appear to be somewhere between the two colors, and the mystery will encourage the prince to look into them more often.”

The princess smiled at the sparrow’s cleverness, thanked him generously, and rushed off to prepare for the prince’s ball.

The gala was indeed a splendid affair, and the princess outshone most of the room. When it came time for her to dance with the prince, they found that they shared an easy conversation on many topics related to monarchy and good leadership. The princess was having a wonderful time, and she found the prince often looking into her eyes, which made her smile and silently thank the sparrow’s good judgment.

However, as their dance was drawing to a close, the prince’s eyes drew away from the princess and seem to be suddenly arrested by something on the other side of the grand room. The princess turned to look, and saw a positively exquisite girl, resplendent in gold and silver, shyly looking about the room like she did not quite know what to do with herself. The princess turned back to look at the prince’s face and knew immediately that she had lost her chance with him.

Their dance ended and she looked to her partner, her smile warming from wry to sincere as she saw him try valiantly to return his attention to her for a proper leave-taking. Before he could trip over his formal goodbyes, she freed him by saying, “Go to her before she is snatched up by a man who is not as charming or agreeable as you.”

The prince looked shocked at her forthright manner, but when he had gained control of himself, he returned her smile in grateful relief and rushed to ask the beauty for her hand in the next dance, and for every dance after.

The princess decided to leave the ball, for she would find no fulfillment of her purpose in this kingdom and would need to prepare to leave as soon as possible. As she turned to exit, she saw her sparrow sitting in the rafters. He took flight as she reached the doors and fluttered around her as she walked the halls to her quarters.

“That was very good of you, my lady,” said the sparrow quietly when they had entered her room.

“I believe in true love, Sir Sparrow, and I believe that is what I saw tonight,” said the princess, equally serious. “I’ll be leaving tomorrow, but perhaps you might stay behind and look after them for me?” She took out her whistle and played the same low note from earlier that day.

“It would be my pleasure, my lady,” said the sparrow. The clock began to strike midnight, and the bird flew out the window and turned into a dove, following the mysterious gold and silver girl into the night.

* * *

The next kingdom that the princess visited proved even less lucky, for its castle and monarchy had been overrun by a terrible beast. Worse still, a young woman in the country, a beauty nonpareil whose sweet manner was loved by all who knew her, had recently sacrificed herself to the monster as a ransom for her father’s life.

The princess, hearing of this story with horror and outrage, ran into the woods and played out a high note on her whistle, her mind bent on rescue. Next thing she knew, a wolf was seated regally in front of her, its vivid green eyes standing out in stark relief to its light grey coat. The princess was startled to see such a dangerous animal so close to her person, but knowing it was her guardian, she fought down her natural fear.

“Sir Wolf, the castle of this kingdom is controlled by a beast that is holding a girl there under threat to her father’s life. I wish for you to go to that castle and see what can be done.”

The wolf let out a brief snarl as she spoke, but when she had quieted only gave her a long look before turning and running off into the forest.

The princess waited the whole long day for the wolf’s return, and when he did not come she returned to her lodgings and spent the whole long night tossing and turning.

She awoke in the early hours of daylight to find the wolf sitting in the middle of the floor of her quarters. In her surprise, she let out a shriek that she quickly stifled in shame.

“Sir Wolf, you scared me! A warning next time, perhaps?” the princess whispered as she tried to will her heart’s pulse to slow.

The wolf’s ears bent down as he replied sadly, “I fear it would have been worse if I had intentionally awoken you when I returned.” The princess pondered what her reaction might have been if the first thing she saw as she slipped back into consciousness was the wolf’s face, leaning perilously close to her. She shuddered and agreed he’d made the right choice by hanging back. Recalling herself to her purpose, she asked after the girl and the beast.

The wolf huffed out a chuckle that looked ghastly with his gleaming teeth. “On that account you need not trouble yourself, my lady. They seemed to be on an agreeable path. That beast is not what he appears, and that Beauty sees the good man that his features conceal. Their story will turn out just fine without our interference.”

The princess was confused and angered by this statement from the wolf, for she did not understand how a beast could be a good man when her father had equated the word with all manner of evil throughout her life. She feared that her guardian’s loyalties had shifted, that this was the start of his tricks, and her heart was heavy.

* * *

The next kingdom over gladdened the princess’ spirits, for while there was no prince yet born to the monarchy, there was a gentleman so powerful and prosperous as to be the perfect candidate for the lady’s purposes. The man’s appearance was strange enough to be frightful to some, and there were rumors that there was more about him that was worthy of fear. However, the gentleman welcomed the princess and her retinue with open arms, and the princess, fresh from her brush with the wolf, did not heed a prejudice that was rooted in a strange-colored beard. Besides, the gentleman had many other amiable qualities that made up for his odd hair color, and he was so good to her that she could hardly help fancying herself in love with the man. They agreed to marry and the gentleman went off to settle his affairs, leaving the princess mistress of the household in his absence. He gave her all the keys to the mansion, proposing that she go through the rooms and catalogue what they might need to bring back with them to her kingdom. However, he specified a small key as belonging to his personal study, and asked her very sternly not to venture inside that room. She agreed to his scheme and to honor his privacy, and he was soon off. When he had gone, the princess took herself into the nearby woods and used her whistle to call her guardian.

Before the low note had finished sounding, a black stallion was before her, so dark and fine as to arrest all thought. At a glimpse of the stallion’s deep green eyes, the princess recalled her purpose and stated her wish.

“Sir Horse, I have found the man I am going to marry, and I need you to take a message back to my father and mother.” As the princess spoke, the horse’s ears began to twitch nervously, but the princess continued, “The instant Bluebeard returns from the business he leaves on today, we will begin our journey back to my kingdom to arrange a proper ceremony.”

“My lady,” began the being fretfully, hooves pawing the ground in agitated deference, “I don’t desire to speak out of turn, but I must warn you that what I have heard of Bluebeard convinces me that he is not a man in which you should naively place your full trust. I would rather bear you away from this place this very minute than carry that message, yet I must do as you ask and hold my peace if you bid it.”

The princess, angered and saddened once again to see her guardian disinclined to fulfill her wish, said cuttingly, “Yes, I do bid you to hold your peace. You are speaking of the future king of my realm, a monarchy to which you have sworn your loyalty by pledging yourself to me. Take this message and be gone with you. When I need you next, I expect you will meet a happily married woman.”

The horse said nothing more, but his eyes gazed balefully into hers as he approached to let the message be tied around his neck. When the action was done, he turned swiftly and cantered off into the forest, leaving the princess alone with her troubled thoughts.

She returned to the house and began her task, hoping to complete it thoroughly and skillfully enough so as to be praised by her fiancé when he returned. The days passed quickly as she completed her chore and thought cheerfully of how her fiancé’s wealth and power would bring prosperity to her distressed kingdom. Before she knew it, she was in front of the door to Bluebeard’s private study. The words of her guardian came back to her with force, and she hit upon an idea.

“If I go into his study and investigate his papers, I will know exactly what sort of man I am marrying and then I can prove the whistle spirit perfectly wrong when I see him again.” Without leaving herself a chance to feel misgiving, she put the small key in the lock and opened the door.

On the other side, the princess was horrified to discover the bodies of several women in varying states of decay. She dropped the key and turned her eyes down as nausea overtook her, but she saw that the floor was already completely covered in dried blood. As soon as she could regain control of her body, she grabbed the key from the foul floor, locked the door and ran to inform her traveling party that they would be leaving the premises in all haste.

Unfortunately, as the princess ran into the foyer on her way to her quarters, she saw the hateful man himself shedding his traveling cloak. He looked up at the sound of her hurried footsteps, and she could tell that he had read the distress on his face. He looked down to her hands, which she recalled in despair were filthy with dried blood from picking up the key. The princess saw his eyes narrow with deadly intent, and he advanced on her quickly, but the princess had the steadiness of mind to fumble for the whistle which was still hung around her neck. Thinking frantically of the immense danger she was in, she sounded the highest note she had ever played before.

From the entrance to the house came a furious growl, and the opposed fiancés both turned to see an immense white bear with burning green eyes standing in the doorway, the princess’ undelivered message still tied loosely around its bulging neck. The princess barely had to scream her plea for help before the enormous animal charged on Bluebeard, who turned and ran from its ferocity. The animal made to give chase, but before it sprang, the princess heard it yell to her, “Get yourself away from this place, I do not want you anywhere near this monster.”

The princess, whose mind was half lost to fear, blindly obeyed her protector and ran out the front door and into the woods, intent on hiding there forever if it meant never having to venture inside that house of carnage again. Once she was a fair distance in, she allowed herself to stop running and collapsed into a heap of grief and terror, wishing fiercely that she had trusted her guardian’s judgment and never questioned his loyalty. Yet hardly had she been weeping for a full minute when a voice called to her from a short distance away.

“Well, well, well, what have we here? A juicy, pretty maid’s much tastier than deer,” said the voice, and the panicked princess looked up to see the ugliest, most gruesome face she’s ever laid eyes on, for she had stumbled upon a hunting ogre. The monster lumbered toward her, a grin splitting its face and showing off its serrated teeth, and she stumbled along the ground trying to regain her footing and escape.

The ogre’s grin only widened. “No use running, poor princess-maid. There’s no one around to come to your aid.”

Thankfully, the whistle was still in her hand, and she took it to her lips, thinking of her loyal protector who had already proved once this day that he was willing to fight for her life. She sounded out the highest note on the instrument, a note was so high that it hurt the princess’ ears. The pain the note caused seemed to incapacitate the ogre for the long seconds it sounded, but the instant the note ceased, the creature came back to itself, and it appeared that she would surely perish before any help could arrive.

However, just at that moment when her situation seemed most dire, a gentleman came charging onto the scene, his sword drawn skillfully before him. Before the ogre could turn to face this new arrival, the man had removed the monster’s head and the threat had been dispatched. The princess saw that the gentleman was dressed very well, his hunting garb befitting that of a nobleman, or even a prince. He paused, shoulders heaving, and a bewildering notion took root in the princess’ mind. Then he turned to face her, and the wide green eyes that shone alert on the man’s handsome face redoubled her suspicion.

“Good Sir,” breathed the princess, hardly daring to speak. “Am I right in assuming you are the magical being belonging to the whistle I possess?”

The man started at her words, and then his whole face blossomed in a smile so full of relief and gratitude that it took the princess’ breath away. He answered her, his familiar voice deep and clear and glad, “Until a few moments ago, I was that being. I am now no longer anything but the prince I once was, for you have broken the enchantment that a witch placed upon me many years ago. She had wanted to marry me so that she could have all the wealth of my kingdom for herself, but when I refused her, she cast the spell on that whistle to force me to provide her with my family’s riches and power whenever she called for it.”

The princess struggled to absorb this information and asked, “But how did I break the spell? I only called for you on the whistle as I have done many times before.”

The prince’s ironic smile was also achingly familiar to the princess, though she had never seen it on his human face before. “Ah, but you sounded the highest note and called for the most dangerous animal of all—a handsome prince. The witch was careful never to play that note, and your father was too afraid of my power to summon what could have been a most ferocious beast. Only someone who truly trusted in my allegiance would have had the courage to play that note.” At this, the prince came toward her and held out a hand for the princess who was still collapsed on the ground. “That is why I must thank you sincerely, my lady. It was your belief in me that broke the spell, and I am overjoyed to know my devotion to you was not misplaced.”

The princess dazedly allowed the prince to help her back to her feet. When they were both standing, he took both her hands in his and continued, “The wealth and influence of my kingdom has been depleted in my years of servitude, but I feel that if we combined our resources, we might be able to help both our lands. If we were married, I believe that my cleverness, your good heart, and our combined courage would set our realms to rights in no time at all. The only thing left to say is that I love you dearly, and would do anything to help you, even if you did not accept my hand in marriage.”

The princess was taken aback by the depth of feeling in the prince’s speech, but she recalled what a lovely companion her guardian had been to her throughout her travels—-his wit, kind words, and sound advice echoing sweetly in her ears. She realized that this prince was the key to her kingdom’s prosperity and her own happiness, for she truly loved him. She gladly agreed to marry him, and the couple walked blissfully back to Bluebeard’s mansion, where they recovered the princess’ attendants before setting out on the journey home.

It was discovered as they traveled that the prince and princess had made many allies in the lands they had traveled through. The local nobility were so grateful that the prince had chased Bluebeard out of their kingdom that they awarded him much of the scoundrel’s confiscated wealth. Somehow, Beauty had heard of the princess’ righteous concern for her, and when the couple’s convoy passed through that realm again, she convinced her own restored prince to forge an alliance with their kingdoms. Similarly, the charming prince from the ball remembered the princess’s graciousness in allowing him to approach his future wife, while his wife remembered the dove’s helpfulness in uniting her with her husband. The two couples pledged their friendship and promised to aid each other in any time of need.

So it was that events came to pass in much the way that the prince predicted. The couple returned to the princess’ realm where they were bound forever in a marriage of true love. When they ascended as king and queen, the monarchs ruled their territories with ingenuity and compassion, so that before long their alliances bore the fruit of understanding and their lands began to blossom in prosperity. The queen kept the whistle, now rendered harmless, and learned to play it beautifully. The king would watch her performances with such devotion in his eyes that it was never in doubt to any observer that the couple had lived

happily ever after.

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