Sorry for the delay. Computers really do run our lives!
The proclamation was read in kingdoms throughout the land and many sought out king. Dukes, earls, viscounts, and other noble personages came to the castle looking for a bride, but were instead handed a mystery. Try as they might, none could prove or disprove the sorcerer’s story. And after three days each suitor was sent to the nether realms, never to be heard from again. Soon nobles were few and far between and the mystery had yet to be solved.
One day a humble soldier was making his way to the kingdom. He had recently retired from years of service and sought his fortune in the capitol. Along the way, he was stopped by an old woman sitting at the side of the road.
“Kind sir, will you share your meal with me? I am but an old woman who is tired and hungry,” she said.
“I don’t have much, but I will share what I have with you,” he replied and reached into his sack for the bread and cheese he had there. They sat in a companionable silence until the food was gone. The old woman smiled and pointed at his leg.
“What has happened to you?”
“I was a soldier and was wounded in battle. I’m retired now and am heading to the capitol to earn a living. Perhaps I’ll find some luck as my duke did wedding the king’s eldest daughter,” he said with a laugh.
“The Princess Mariana is not married,” she replied with a wink.
“But that is impossible. He left 6 months ago to marry her and never returned. What a puzzle!”
“It’s true sir and there is a puzzle to solve. Perhaps you might find it well worth your trouble to solve it. If you do, listen to an old woman’s advice. Drink nothing that the princesses give you and take this cloak so none can see you when you follow them,” she said and with that she thanked him and walked away belying her years. The soldier found this all most peculiar, but had no other plans.
He presented himself at the castle and despite some misgivings from the king and Uriel was allowed to stay and try his hand at the riddle. When he went to his chamber, which looked over the princesses, he saw the old woman carrying a bundle of fabric. A passing servant confirmed that she was Mistress Bronwen, a fixture of the castle for years out of memory.
That night the eldest princess herself brought the soldier a glass of wine before retiring. Remembering the words of the old woman, he pretended to drink the beverage and then feigned exhaustion. The princess was sorry to trick such a nice man, but she could not have him interfering in her plans. Making her way back to the princesses’ room, she never looked behind her sure that her potion had done its work.
Following only steps behind her was the soldier cloaked in invisibility. Not wanting to be detected he nearly missed his chance to slip in the door behind Mariana. The cloak snagged and a sliver of boot was visible. It would have gone unnoticed, but the youngest, Amara screamed and pointed at the spot. The soldier was able to move quickly and cover his mistake before the other sisters investigated.
“You’re just excitable because it’s time to go. Get your shoes on so we can depart,” said Mariana slipping on her dancing slippers.
Tapping the floor three times a portal opened in the middle of their bedroom. A spiral staircase descended into the dark hole with twinkling lights at the base. The soldier could see only the first stair while the other princesses crowded around the entrance awaiting their turn to descend. After the youngest started to make her way down, the soldier followed and saw the pinks and purples of dusk surrounding them. He was so overwhelmed by the stars and the exotic smells that he accidentally tread on the hem of the youngest princess. Again she yelped.
“Amara, what is it this time?” asked her elder sister, Anora.
“I have a strange feeling. Like someone is following us. Maybe we should head back,” replied Amara looking over her shoulder again and again. The soldier cursed himself for his clumsiness and waited until the princesses were three steps ahead before continuing.
“You’re just being silly. I’ve done this countless times before you and our sisters have been doing it before we were born without a problem. That soldier is fast asleep like the rest of them,” Anora reassured her. But Amara still stole glances behind her back to be sure.
Soon they arrived at a glowing lake with swans the size of horses gliding to the edge. On each sat a man or boy that looked to be about the same ages as the princesses. Each rider took the hand of a princess and helped her onto the back of a swan. Lucky for the soldier, Princess Amara was small as was her companion. He eased himself behind her and fit nicely on the saddle. Lifting his cape to avoid the water, his toe stuck out again for only a moment. The princess blinked and then her companion gave the command for the swan to move.
The soldier was amazed by the sights in from of him. Trees shimmered in silver and gold. Where there should have been fruit growing, only gemstones hung in abundance. When they docked, the pathway was strewn with glittering sand which shone like diamonds. Up ahead stood a grand palace from which music wafted out of windows.
Once inside, the princesses danced with richly clad gentlemen who looked oddly similar to the royal highnesses. The way they danced looked friendly, but not amorous—the way one might dance with a family member. Standing in the middle of the dance floor and swaying along to the music, the soldier listened to the conversations being had. Some were of little consequence, commenting on the weather or the merits of the song being played. The youngest princesses told her companion of her fear that they had been followed. The eldest, however was in rapt conversation with the man turning her about the floor.
“Now that we have a full complement, I think it time to strike,” she said with a serious face completely at odds with her graceful and carefree movements.