Once upon a time there was a kingdom. This kingdom stretched out far and wide, from the tulip meadows of Tressor all the way to the purple oceans of Peppernick. This was the kingdom of Lythulia, and it was as grand a kingdom as you could imagine, and pretty too. The people of Lythulia were simple folk and led simple lives, but even simple folk deserve happiness, and unfortunately for the Lythulians, happiness could not come so easily to them.
Lythulia was ruled by a wicked prince, who took no pity on his people and cared only for himself. The prince, who had been orphaned at the age of six and so raised in the castle as the only child and heir, was spoiled and short-tempered, unforgiving and greedy. The Lythulians were forced to hand over two thirds of their earnings each year, leaving them with barely enough money to care for their families. Everyone lived in great fear of the prince, never daring to say a word against him or his policies.
Every year, when the month came that turned the skies into a canvas of bright colours and brought out all the flowers and animals, the prince would hold his birthday celebrations. This was a month of feasting and dancing and more feasting for the upper class, but a month of hard work for the rest of the Lythulians, who were left to cleanup and provide for each and every celebratory banquet and ball held over the course of those thirty long days.
This particular year, the prince would be celebrating his twenty-first birthday. As per custom in Lythulia, all men must be married by the time they are twenty-one, the prince included. The prince believed that he of course deserved to have the most beautiful, the most perfect of all brides, so he sent his men out in search of a fair lady to match his desires.
The search went on for weeks. Ladies of all nature gathered in every town center to show off and flaunt in front of the officers charged with finding the prince’s future wife, for these ladies assumed, as sure as anyone else would, that to become the prince’s wife would make their lives far better. A few were selected to be taken back to the castle and shown to the prince, but from each one he turned away, a great frown upon his face, and declared them not good enough. With every unsuccessful return, the prince grew more and more angry and the lives of the Lythulians grew worse and worse.
It was now only two weeks before his twenty-first birthday, and still the prince had not chosen a bride. This worried his advisors very much, and made him sulkier than ever. He threw everyone out of his room, and even had a servant beheaded for suggesting that he just pick the next girl who walked through the door. The officers, panicked and in fear of losing their own lives, searched more wildly than ever, going to every house in every village, examining every girl they came across, trying desperately to find one who fit the prince’s exacting standards.
It seemed as though all hope would be lost, until the officers finally came across a little thatch-roofed cottage out in the woods. It was by mere chance that the officers found the cottage at all, for it lies well within the woods and is quite a long journey from the castle, but find it they did. After several knocks, a pretty young girl with flowers in her hair came to answer the door. She smiled ever so sweetly at the officers, and offered them food and beverage after hearing how far they had come. The officers whispered amongst themselves, nodding to each other that this was the one for sure.
Upon hearing their offer, the girl jumped with a start. “Go and marry the prince!” she cried, “Oh that will never do!” She begged the officers not to take her; she begged her parents not to let her go, but no one listened, and off she was hustled, into the awaiting carriage, which swept her away to the distant castle without even so much as a chance to say goodbye to her friends or family. The poor girl sobbed all the way there.
When she arrived at the castle, the girl was whisked away once more. She trembled at the thought of meeting the prince, but the room she was led into contained not the prince but a large tub. Several ladies’ maids awaited her, and scrubbed her down; they pinched and prodded her face, pulled at her hair, and shoved her this way and that until she was all cleaned off and made up in a pretty new dress. One of the maids, seeing her frightened eyes, patted her gently on the hand and told her not to fret. She had a big smile, and the girl felt much calmer.
She was shown into the throne room, where the prince sat huffing on his large throne. As soon as he saw her though, he sat up straight and leaned forward eagerly, licking his lips. The girl, pushed gently from behind, stepped forward and gave a little curtsey. She noted that he had an unusually long tongue. “Your highness,” she said, averting her eyes in what the prince assumed to be shyness but what she knew to be queasiness.
The prince clasped his hands together. “Let me see you!”
“Pardon?” she asked, blushing.
“Twirl!” the prince commanded, indicating with his finger the direction he wished her to spin. “Slower!” he called as she began to turn. He observed her carefully. She was a petite thing, with pale skin and big, bright blue eyes. Her hair was golden, and her cheeks rosy, as they should be for any young girl who lived out in a thatch-roofed cottage in the woods. Her lips curved into a circular little pout which made the prince give an inward shiver of delight. She looked the perfect bride.
“And what is it they call you?” the prince asked now. The servants all prodded and eyed one another; the prince had never cared for anyone’s name before.
“Poppy,” was her simple reply, and she once again averted her eyes. The prince was satisfied.
He clapped his hands suddenly, making the fair maiden jump. All the others in the room sprang into action at the prince’s clap, but the poor girl, not knowing what was expected of her, could do nothing but stand there. That same calming lady’s maid from before came to her rescue, and led her gently by her arm to the smaller throne which had been rapidly set up beside the prince’s.
“He’s chosen already?” gasped Poppy to this lady’s maid, blanching at the thought.
“He’s chosen you!” replied the lady’s maid excitedly. “After seeing so many girls, he has chosen you! You should feel so blessed.” The lady’s maid gave another big smile.
Poppy did not feel blessed at all. She felt confused and upset, but she had no time to reflect upon her feelings just yet, as entertainment for the prince and his new fiancée were already underway in the throne room, and she had been planted firmly onto her seat, with very little chance of slipping away as every eye in the room was on her at one time or another, each person wanting to get a view of the chosen girl.
A jester appeared before them. He wore a red and yellow harlequin jumpsuit with white frills at the neck and sleeves; upon his head sat a floppy hat with bells on each of its four points, and there were bells on the tips of his shoes too. He carried with him a staff that had on the upper end of it a doll which looked like a miniature version of him, and which carried an even smaller doll in its hand, also a copy of him.
“Mesdames and messieurs,” the jester made little hops as he spoke, “to be here tonight is just my pleasure, confronted with such a treasure.” He pointed his staff at Poppy, who blushed and wiggled in her seat. The jester tinkled all his bells at once. “To you, I take off my cap, although it makes me quite the sap.” He tipped his cap to the royal couple. “But before I can begin my act, won’t you please take off his hat?”
The jester bowed so low, his nose brushed against the ground, and he dipped his staff forward, placing before Poppy the doll, whose head lolled forward towards her as well. She looked uncertainly around her. The jester shook his staff, causing the bells on the doll’s hat to jingle temptingly. She slowly reached her hand out, sneaking a peak at the kind lady’s maid beside her, who nodded discreetly at Poppy that her inclination was correct. With more confidence, Poppy stretched her hand out the rest of the way and pulled off the little jester hat from the little jester doll. A cloud of glittering confetti burst from beneath the hat, shocking Poppy back into her seat and making her squeak. The prince started laughing, and so followed everyone else in the room, laughing and clapping. The jester winked at Poppy, and bowed to the crowd, hopping and jingling his bells. Poppy too began to laugh, and she relaxed into her throne, a little smile dancing across her face.
The jester carried on around the room, parading with his staff, juggling balls, pulling coins from ladies’ hair, shooting sparks out of his sleeves, and poking fun at everyone. The prince thoroughly enjoyed himself, and Poppy even managed to forget the unfortunate position she had found herself in.
As his fun came to its end, the jester bounced back to the royal couple and once again gave a deep bow. He leapt back up with a devilish grin and said, “I do hope you enjoy your dinner, although it won’t make you any thinner.” The jester then trotted off, laughing merrily and jingling his bells, leaving a trail of confetti behind him.
They moved to the banquet hall, where an extravagant dinner was served. There were pork chops and chicken and suckling pig and pheasant. There were peas and corn and bean sprouts and asparagus. here were raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and gooseberries; huckleberries, strawberries, cranberries, and crowberries. There were ice creams and cakes, tarts and cookies; all the pies and puddings, sauces and cheeses. There was so much food that Poppy thought they would be there for days.
But for days there they were not and Poppy soon found herself in an unfamiliar bedroom surrounded by unfamiliar people being dressed in an unfamiliar nightgown. She once more had people poking and prodding at her as they brushed out her hair and unlaced her corset.
“Am I here to stay then?” Poppy asked, once she had been settled into bed and it was only her and that same kind lady’s maid from before.
“Oh yes,” the lady’s maid gushed, as she tucked the small girl all snug in the bed. “I haven’t seen the prince looking so content in weeks! You’ll do just fine for him, and perhaps things will actually calm down around here.” She sighed deeply.
Poppy bit her lip. “What’s your name?” she asked, very much wanting a friend right that moment.
“Why, I suppose you may call me Elly.” The lady’s maid gave another big winning smile. Poppy had trouble smiling back this time though. She did not like the idea of staying here forever, and she did not like that prince.
“But what if I’m not ready to be married?” Poppy whispered, peering as she did with her large, heartbroken eyes at the stoic woman standing at her bedside.
Elly paused, looking uncertain for the first time since Poppy had met her. She patted the small girl’s hand and said, “Don’t fret, my dear; don’t mind His Majesty, and he shan’t mind you.” She forced another smile, gave one last tug at the covers, and turned and left the room, blowing out the candle as she did.
Poppy, all alone in the darkness, began to cry.
Read part 2.