Read part 1.
Several days went by and not a moment was lost in starting on Poppy’s lessons on decorum and ruling and all other such things a princess might need to know. Poppy was a fast learner, and all of her teachers praised her for her natural skills and sense of etiquette and finery. “What a princess she will make!” stated each of them as she left their classrooms. But Poppy was not happy.
Her only source of joy came from the jester, who could make her laugh and clap her hands excitedly. He would dance around her, tripping over his own feet and sprawling on the floor, or juggle a bunch of fruit plus the bowl they came from, or hide confetti for her to find, and he would always bring his staff and let her play with the little harlequin dolls.
“Poppy, Poppy,” he would say to her in a sing song voice, while drawing rainbows in the air, “I can’t help it if I’m sloppy, or that my hat has gone all floppy; I’m really just a softie, my dear sweet little Poppy.” And she would laugh and watch in awe as he pulled flowers from his sleeves and moved the little dolls without touching them at all.
The prince would watch all this from afar, preferring to view his bride-to-be from a distance. He enjoyed watching the way she moved, so graceful and smooth; he liked to see her face, as bright as any angel’s would be. Yes, the prince took great pleasure in his viewings of his small girl, but he felt no desire to ever go and talk to her. She would make the perfect bride, pretty thing that she was, and that was all he cared about.
So Poppy talked to the jester instead, or to Elly whenever she was dressing Poppy or doing her hair. Poppy’s hair was so long that it took three hours every day for Elly to do it up, and they would have long conversations while doing so. One such conversation went something like this:
“How are you liking the castle?” from Elly.
“Oh, it’s very lovely. I especially love being in the gardens.”
“They are nice, aren’t they? It’s a good time of year for them. How are your lessons going?”
“I’m having a bit of trouble with remembering all the names in the Stavian family, but I adore my Decisions for Tomorrow class. It’s quite an eye-opener.”
“You know, I’ve heard of a man who’s trying to invent a portable device that’s like a book, an encyclopedia, and even an office space all rolled into one! Isn’t that ridiculous? Imagine, trying to fit all that into one little thing that can sit on your lap. Harrumph!”
“I think that sounds wonderful,” Poppy gushed, smiling. “Perhaps he can even find a way to make communicating with people far away much faster! I do so miss my friends and family,” she sniffed, “and the prince doesn’t let me write any letters.” She batted her eyes tragically. Elly harrumphed again.
“Tomorrow we’ll have to start measuring you for your wedding gown.”
Here Poppy grew silent.
“Why, child, you’re crying!” Elly exclaimed, spinning Poppy around so she could see her properly.
“Yes, I’m afraid I am.” Poppy gave a great sniff and wiped at her eyes, which were indeed filling and gushing over with tears.
“Whatever is the matter?” Elly drew out a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at the weeping princess’ eyes.
For a moment Poppy could not speak, but only cried more profusely. Finally, she managed to get out a strangled string of words. “Oh, woe is me, I do not want to marry the prince! I do not want to marry him at all! He is cruel and he is nasty and he doesn’t seem interested in me one bit! I shall be forever miserable if I am forced to marry him Elly!” And with this, the sobbing girl threw her arms around her kind friend’s shoulders and sobbed some more. Big fat tears rolled down her cheeks that not even the handkerchief could stanch.
“There, there,” Elly patted Poppy on the back, “hush now, dear thing, that’s right.” She soothed Poppy until there was only a trickle of tears left on her bright red cheeks. Once Poppy had calmed down enough, Elly looked her straight in the eye. “Now, do you really not want to marry the prince?”
“Oh, no!” Poppy was about to start weeping again but Elly held up her hand to silence her.
“And you will be truly miserable if you do?”
“Oh, yes! Truly and truly!”
“Then we’ll just have to do something to stop this marriage, won’t we?”
Poppy looked at her with her big blue eyes. “And you’ll help me?”
“Of course. You’re a sweet little dear, and I wouldn’t want to force you into anything you didn’t like, especially not marriage with that little toad!” Poppy giggled and wiped her eyes.
“Cheer up girl,” continued Elly, “we’ll have you out of this mess in no time! I think I know just the person to talk to.” Elly held out her hand and Poppy, putting on a brave face, took it and followed her out the door. Poppy’s hair was only half done, and the loose ends danced around her ankles, as if they too anticipated something miraculous was about to happen.
They turned a corner and started up a set of steps Poppy had never seen before. The stairs spiralled up and up and up; around and around and around the two figures went, one leading with a confident stride, the other trailing slightly and huffing at the sheer steepness of their ascent. Poppy felt quite winded by the time they finally reached the top. They must be in one of the castle’s towers, she mused to herself, following Elly through a little wooden door that stood to one side and seemed as if it were angled a bit to the right. Elly ducked her head upon entering, and Poppy discovered that she had to too, as the ceiling on the other side of the door was significantly lower than the ceiling on the outside of the door and it continued to get lower and lower until eventually they were both crawling through a tiny passage that smelt oddly like freshly cut grass and chocolate pudding.
Just when Poppy thought she wouldn’t be able to squeeze herself any further along, the passage opened up into a large bright, almost blinding, room. Elly straightened herself out quickly and shook off the remains of her cramped joints; she never enjoyed crawling through the tunnel to visit him, although she did so almost every other day.
“What is this place?” Poppy gasped, looking around in awe. The room was filled with trunks and boxes and other doodads and thingermajiggers, lying this way, stacked up that way, about to topple over everywhere. Elly held a finger to her lips and started to walk slowly around the room, tapping every so often on the objects she passed.
She came to a particularly large purple trunk that was hanging from the ceiling and she tapped on its bottom, grinning mischievously as if she had just discovered a big secret. A moment later, there was the sound of a tapping reply. Elly tapped again, and once more, several taps were heard in return. She took a step back and gave a loud cough. A few seconds later, the bottom of the trunk sprung off and a red and yellow figure unfurled from the hole along with a shower of glittering confetti.
“Coocoo!” The jester hung from the bottom of the trunk, upside down and swinging jauntily. He grinned from ear to ear and wriggled his eyebrows.
“Jester!” Poppy cried, delighted.
“Coocoo! You brought a friend! What a happy way for the day to end!”
“Why are you upside down?” asked Poppy.
“No, why are you right side up?” The jester giggled hysterically. He gave a mighty swing and a spin and then landed firmly on the ground. “There, now we’re all backwards!” He reruffled his ruffles then reached up his hand and smacked the trunk on its side. Down fell the staff and doll, which the jester caught expertly in his outstretched palm.
“We need some help,” Elly said.
“Then perhaps you’d like some kelp?”
“No, better than that.”
“A cat? A rat? I’ve got a real nice bat!”
“No, we need an enchantment.”
“Ahhh.” The jester nodded his head and looked at Poppy wisely. “Well why didn’t you say so before? Reach into that drawer.” He pointed Poppy over to an odd shaped trunk that sat in a corner. It was empty except for three hats, which she pulled out. Each one was exactly the same as the one before but getting smaller and smaller in size. She handed them to the jester. He removed his bell hat and placed the biggest hat upon his own head, then did the same to the two little him-dolls.
“A match is a match is match,” he said, placing each pointy black hat firmly on its proper head. When he had finished, he rubbed his hands together and trotted over to yet another trunk, this one black with great silver spots on it.
He opened it and began digging around in its contents. There was a loud clanging and banging coming from his shifting about in the trunk. Objects were thrown in the air as he examined and discarded them. A long striped sock. A plastic ball. A spool of thread. A bright orange cone. The other long striped sock. With each rejected item, the jester dug himself deeper and deeper into the trunk. He was soon face first into it, with only his flapping legs sticking out. Poppy peeked in to see where the trunk ended, and she could see no bottom, only a sea of knickknacks and paddiwacks. She looked uncertainly at Elly, but Elly only smiled and nodded.
Finally, they heard a muffled “A-ha!” and the jester’s head popped up out of the trunk. He readjusted his hat and held out a clear perfume bottle with a dark green stopper. The liquid too seemed to have a bit of a green hue to it. He did a little jig, seeming quite content with himself. He leaned in very close to Poppy, until their foreheads were touching. Suddenly, he sprayed her with the perfume right in her face! Poppy sprang back, sputtering and gagging. She wiped her eyes.
“Oh my!” was all she could say.
“Now go kiss your prince!”
“What!” Poppy cried, still sputtering, but the jester only grinned and Elly was beginning to pull her back towards the door. “Wait! Wait!”
But they did not wait, and Poppy soon found herself crawling back through the little tunnel, descending the spiralling staircase, and sitting down at her vanity desk, where Elly continued to do her hair as if nothing had happened. Whenever Poppy opened her mouth to ask what they were going to do about the wedding, Elly would only shake her head and tap herself on her nose knowingly.
Over the next few days wedding preparations were in full swing. Servants were hustling around, cleaning and polishing, hemming and measuring. Poppy was fitted for her wedding gown, rehearsals were rehearsed, the menu was planned, and with each passing hour that all this continued, Poppy grew more and more anxious. It looked as though she would have to marry the prince after all!
The wedding day had arrived. Poppy was in her gown, and although she looked stunning, she had never felt so miserable. It was all she could do not to weep.
The music started up, and Poppy, pushed from behind, began to make her way down the aisle. She caught sight of the prince, standing up at the altar, and she felt sick to her stomach. He was doing that lip licking thing again. She shuddered.
They stood facing one another. Vows were made; her voice shaky but still sweet, his a nasal sneer. Rings were exchanged. Poppy trembled at his slimy touch. Then the fatal words were spoken: “You may now kiss the bride.”
The prince leaned in eagerly, his bulbous eyes popping out even more than normal. Poppy shut hers tight. His lips touched hers, and poof! Poppy was suddenly coughing in a cloud of green smoke that had billowed up from nowhere. She stumbled backwards, gagging. Elly and the jester, standing to the side, grasped each other’s hands and leaned forward anxiously. The smoke cleared. Everyone gasped.
The prince had disappeared, and in his place sat a – toad! A toad dressed in royal attire and wearing a most stately crown to be exact.
“The prince’s been turned into a toad!” cried someone from the audience. Dead silence followed. Poppy’s hands were at her mouth in shock, and her frightened eyes grew to an enormous size. Then somebody started to laugh. Then someone else. And then another and another took it up, until the entire room was laughing.
“He’s a toad!” someone wheezed, and the laughter grew louder still.
“Three cheers for Poppy – Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!” People stood and ran to her. They hugged her and shook her hand heartily; some were even so bold as to kiss her on the cheek. Poppy’s face broke out into a huge smile. She was saved! And so was the kingdom, for the prince could rule no more!
News of what had happened spread fast across Lythulia. People everywhere were cheering about the demise of their spiteful ruler and celebrating the reign of their new fair and just ruler Poppy. No one contradicted the idea of making Poppy their queen, for everybody loved her. And she was a wise and loving ruler indeed. Poppy’s friends and family were invited to reunite with her at the castle; Elly became her second-in-command; the jester went on doing what he loved for Poppy and everyone else’s delight; and the toad-prince was never paid attention to again.
And they all lived happily ever after.