I. (Tony Lewis/Christine (aka, Evil Queen))
Once upon a time, in a place far, far away, there was a young man of low birth who had, against all expectations (especially the expectations of his future mother-in-law), succeeded in winning the hand of the fairest maiden in the land.
Tony (for such was the man's name) and Christine lived happily together for many years, but their happiness was not complete, for the dearest dream of their hearts - that they might have a child to love - went unanswered.
If only there existed such things as genies who grant wishes to those who free them from their lamps . . . ah, but of course those things only exist in fairy tale realms, not in New York City.
So Tony and Christine put aside their dream of having a child . . . and yet, somehow, they lived happily ever after.
II. (Christine (aka, Evil Queen)/Virginia Lewis)
"I'm your daughter!"
The Queen frowned.
Of course this girl, eyes red from weeping, was no daughter of hers. The whole idea was ludicrous. She'd never borne a child (that was not something one could forget, surely), but even if she had, it wouldn't have been to such an oafish lump as this . . . Tony Lewis.
However, the girl - Virginia - certainly seemed to believe that she was her mother, and perhaps this belief, preposterous though it was, could be turned to her advantage.
The loyalty of a child could be quite a powerful force. Even that fool of a troll, King Relish, had somehow won the fierce devotion of his three idiot offspring, little though that had helped him in the end.
And it was true that the girl had other qualities to recommend her. She had earned the support and affection of many people during her travels in this realm, not least of whom was the Prince. And if he could somehow be made to believe that Virginia had truly been reunited with her long-lost mother, surely his sympathies for the girl would . . . yes, this was looking more delicious at every turn.
The Queen searched the girl's face for a moment. She had a rather . . . fey quality about her. Charming, in its own way. And her features - when not blotchy from crying, of course - might not be considered altogether unattractive.
It was very like the face she saw so often in her dreams, in fact.
She wet her suddenly dry lips with her tongue. It had been a long time - such a very long time - since the Queen had felt so strong an attraction to anyone. Of course, there was no indication that the girl would welcome . . . ah, but how easily might a loving bond between mother and child be turned to something rather less familial with the right kind of encouragement?
After all, there was no earthly reason why Virginia couldn't be killed after the Queen had sampled all the sweetness the girl had to offer.
She could feel the eyes of her Huntsman on the back of her head. Yes, well might he be interested: he who had, by his example, taught her the sacrifices one must be willing to make to gain and hold power. Did he see the ghost of his son - dead by his own hand - when he looked at this girl? Did he find cause to regret the decision he had made?
If he did, he was a fool.
The Queen fixed a small smile on her face, then took her first step toward Virginia.
"My . . . child?"
III. (Virginia Lewis/Wolf)
It had been a long and trying day for Dr. Sheila Horowitz. Three regular patients (including one young woman whose obsession with primal screaming was growing a bit wearing); one experimental group therapy session (she made a mental note never to combine the 'women who love men who hate women' group with the 'men who love women who hate men' group again); and a business lunch with the publicity agent for her latest book: When Saying 'Buzz Off' Isn't Enough.
As the clock ticked inexorably on, Dr. Horowitz couldn't help but wish she'd turned down that last-minute appointment; if she had, she'd already be heading home for some much needed rest and relaxation. However, in her experience, wishes very rarely came true, and in any case, that poor man had sounded so very distraught when he called on the phone that she couldn't refuse his plea for an emergency session.
Dr. Horowitz had just settled in behind her desk to look at the latest issue of Syndicated Radio Show Quarterly, when the door to her office flew open and in walked a man with wild amber eyes and a long, bushy . . . no, that couldn't be right.
"Mr . . . ?"
Ah, yes . . . she remembered this one! What big eyes he had! What big . . .
"A pleasure to see you again, Mr . . . Wolf. Why don't you take a seat, and we'll have a nice little chat."
The man leapt into the chair, then bent his head to his chest and began to whimper.
Dr. Horowitz put the journal aside and moved to the chair beside her patient.
"I see you've been working on getting in touch with your feelings," she said, patting his arm. "Very good indeed. Now perhaps you'd like to try verbalizing some of these very strong emotions. Let's begin where we left off at our last session. I believe you said you'd met a girl?"
Mr. Wolf scratched twice at the side of his head before looking up. Perhaps they could work on finding the cause of this nervous tic of his during a future session.
"I did. I said I'd met this terrific girl - Virginia - and I really, really, really liked her . . . but I wasn't sure whether I wanted to love her or eat her."
Dr. Horowitz nodded. "And how have things progressed with this young woman?"
"Well . . . you know how it goes when . . .." Mr. Wolf trailed off.
For a moment, he sat quietly, hunched over a little in his chair and licking his lips. Then he threw back his head and let out a howl of despair.
Dr. Horowitz sighed. She might have known he'd turn out to be just another patient with an eating disorder.
Snow lay deep and crisp and clean across the rolling hills that surrounded the palace. Stars twinkled brightly in the clear night sky. The sound of music filled the air. It was the perfect night for a Ball.
It was always the perfect night for a Ball in the Fourth Kingdom.
For the past two hours, richly appointed carriages had drawn up in front of the palace, bringing guests from all corners of the kingdom to attend King Wendell's Engagement Ball. Or . . . the Ball that would be Wendell's Engagement Ball, if only the King would settle on a woman to share his throne. This was the eighteenth such Ball in as many months, and talk around the kingdom said that Wendell was no closer to finding a Queen than he had been at his Coronation.
It mattered little, though. As far as Wendell's subjects were concerned, as long as there was excellent food to eat, fine wine to drink, and dancing until dawn, these Balls were welcome affairs, whether they resulted in a bride for the King or not. To be honest, very few of his subjects could even say whether King Wendell was continuing to attend his own functions, and fewer still cared.
Wolf was one of the few exceptions.
This was the first Ball he had attended since returning, dejected and alone, through the magic mirror. He'd missed the last one, choosing instead to hide out deep within the Disenchanted Forest all night and lick his wounds in private. He couldn't show his face; everybody would be at the Ball, and he knew what they'd all be whispering: that he was a disgrace to wolf-kind. No, it would be worse. They'd say that he was a disgrace to all who inhabited the fairy tale realm.
It was bad enough that he and Virginia weren't destined to live happily ever after (the memory of how he'd felt when he discovered she'd left him still made him want to howl), and so far, he hadn't even been able to get himself killed by a horrible curse, which as everyone knew was the only honorable alternative.
Worse yet, though, was the fact that when Virginia left, she'd taken Wolf Jr. with her, and it was this that sent him to seek out the Fourth Kingdom's King. After all, where King Wendell was, Tony was sure to be, and where Tony was, well . . . surely Virginia's father would have some idea where Wolf could start to look for his son.
Except, as it happened, tracking down the King was proving to be exceedingly difficult. Wolf had been at the palace for hours now, but nobody seemed to have seen King Wendell all night. Granted, the level of sobriety of the average guest was now low enough to preclude any form of communication less rudimentary than vapid grins and the occasional belch, but even early in the evening, nobody - including Queen Cinderella - had a clue where King Wendell could be found.
After suffering through three full sets from the Bremen Town Musicians (and inhaling an extra large helping of very rare roast beef), Wolf was almost ready to give up and go home, tail between his legs, when he caught sight of one of the palace poodles sniffing under the tables in search of scraps.
Was he or was he not a wolf? He was!
And was he or was he not in possession of one of the best noses in the kingdom? Again, he was!
But where could he pick up King Wendell's scent?
Yes! The throne. It was the perfect starting point, and it had been right under his nose all the time - or at least it would be under his nose in a matter of moments.
Whistling the opening notes to "Stayin' Alive," Wolf strolled casually across the ballroom, then knelt down in front of the throne and took a deep breath.
Mmm. Spicy! He'd recognize that delectable aroma anywhere!
When Wolf was certain he wasn't being observed, he slipped out one of the side doors and began to make his way down the long corridor, his bushy tail swishing behind him.
More than once, he had to duck into an empty room to avoid being seen by one of the palace guards who were patrolling the halls. Wendell may have granted a royal pardon to all the wolves of the kingdom, but that pardon wouldn't help if he were discovered skulking around in the private wing of the palace.
Twice the trail ran cold, and Wolf had to re-trace his steps, but both times he was able to pick up the delicious scent quickly.
Come out, come out, wherever you are!
Down one flight of steps, and up two. Slipping through the chambers that connected the kitchens to the state banquet room. For a moment, Wolf couldn't decide where to go next . . . should he try the stables, but no . . . that narrow, winding stairway beside the tapestry smelled the most promising, so up he went, higher and higher until he finally reached a rough-hewn oak door at the very top of the stairs.
The door was ajar.
Wolf peered in. The windowless room was quite dark, lit only by a small fire burning steadily in a small stone fireplace at the far end of the room.
There, curled up on top of a rug in front of the fire, lay Wendell, his hands cupped beneath his chin.
Wolf stood silently in the doorway for a moment, unsure of what to do next. He'd found the King, but . . . how lonely he looked! Suddenly the thought of invading the man's privacy seemed all wrong. Maybe he should just return in the morning and ask for an audience.
He turned to leave, but before he took his second step, he heard Wendell shift position.
"It was nicer before, you know."
"Being a dog. It was nicer before, when I was a dog."
Wolf turned around. Wendell was still lying on the rug, but now his back was to the fire.
"How's my Ball going?" the King asked finally.
"Not bad," Wolf answered. "Rumor has it the Dish ran away with the Spoon."
Even with his superior eyesight, Wolf couldn't see Wendell's face clearly, but he thought the King might have smiled.
"So," Wendell said. "You're back."
"And . . .how long do you think you'll be staying?"
Wolf scratched at his temple. "Just long enough to see if there's any information about . . . "
"Your son?" Wolf's jaw dropped, but Wendell shook his head. "I am the King, you know; it's my responsibility to know what's going on in my realm. One of my ministers received word that the boy was spotted in the Sixth Kingdom last week; I've sent men out looking for him."
"Thank you, your Majesty."
"No thanks are necessary. But . . . I suppose you'll want to join in the search?"
"Oh, yes!" said Wolf.
Wendell sighed. "I'll see that you're outfitted properly and given directions in the morning." He rolled back over toward the fire. "If there's nothing else you want from me, I'll bid you a good night."
Wolf walked into the room and sat down beside the King.
"What is it, Wolf?"
"I don't suppose . . . "
"I don't suppose you'd like to join me on the search," he said a bit hesitantly. "If you don't have more pressing business to attend to, of course."
For a moment, Wendell didn't answer, but then he laughed. "No, the only thing on my schedule is arranging the next Ball, and somehow I suspect it would be better for all concerned it if I weren't underfoot while plans are made."
"So you'll come?" Wolf asked.
"I'd like that . . . very much."
"So would I."
"And Wolf? What I said before, about how much nicer it was to be a dog."
"Oh, you can trust me, your Majesty. I'll forget I ever heard you say it. In fact, consider it already . . . ."
Wendell reached up and covered Wolf's mouth with his fingertips.
"Actually," he said so quietly that Wolf could barely hear the words, "I was going to say how very nice it would be to be petted."
V. (Prince Wendell/Tony Lewis)
" . . . and now," said Prince Wendell, " for the greatest bravery imaginable. For courage in the face of relentless and terrible danger, I award my dear friends the highest medals in my Kingdom. Firstly, my temporary manservant, Antony. My people, look upon my friend. No longer is he spineless and wallowing in self pity."
"Thanks," Tony muttered.
"No longer is he a balding useless coward who would rather run than fight.
"I think they get the point."
"No longer is he selfishly driven by envy and greed."
"Just give me the medal," Tony said through clenched teeth
"No. He is heroically transformed. What braver man could exist? Antony the Valiant."
Oh. Okay, that was better. Antony the Valiant. He liked the sound of that. The prince still hadn't got his name quite right yet, but they could work on that, and . . . .
. . . was Prince Wendell winking at him? It certainly looked like a wink. Or maybe it was a leer. So many years had passed since he'd been the recipient of either a leer or a wink, it was a little hard to tell the difference.
He must have been mistaken, but . . . no! There it was again! It was definitely a leer. Or a wink.
Then the medal was handed to him, and the hall erupted with applause and cries of "Long Live Antony the Valiant!" and Tony pushed all thoughts of leers and winks off to a shadowy corner of his brain, to be dealt with later.
He closed his eyes for a moment, savoring the sound. All that cheering and banging on table tops, and it was all for him!.
The banging grew louder, then louder still, but when Tony finally opened his eyes, he was alone. In fact, he was no longer in the ballroom at Wendell's palace, but . . . back in his old apartment in New York.
What the hell was going on here?
For a moment, there was nothing but silence, then the banging started up again.
"If you don't open the door this instant, Lewis, you're going to regret it. I told you about that drip in our kitchen faucet yesterday, and you still haven't done anything about it. I'm warning you, in another thirty seconds, I'm going to call the manager and see that you're out on the street before you . . . "
Tony sighed. He should have known his time in the Fourth Kingdom was nothing but a silly dream. Him, a hero? Only a fool would believe it.
He leaned his head against the door and closed his eyes.
"Lewis! Anthony Lewis!"
Maybe if he kept his eyes closed, Mr. Murray would go away.
"Antony. Wake up this instant! As your King, I command you!"
His King? Either Mr. Murray had lost his mind, or . . .
Tony opened his eyes and found King Wendell sitting on the edge of his bed. He was back in the palace.
"Finally!" Wendell said. "You were making the most disturbing sounds."
"Sorry if I woke you, your Majesty. I was having a very strange dream."
Wendell lay his hand tentatively on Tony's shoulder. "I don't suppose you want to talk about it, do you?"
"No. Not really. Unless . . . you want me to?"
"Oh, go on, then."
Tony took a deep breath. "It was the day before your coronation and you were . . . well, I think you were flirting with me! But we've never . . . or, I don't think we've ever . . . have we? Anyway, then Mr. Murray wanted me to fix a drip in his faucet, and . . . "
"Oh for heaven's sake, Antony," Wendell said. "I warned you about eating pepperoni pizza so late at night."
"So we're not . . ."
"An . . . item."
Wendell snorted. "Most certainly not."
"Whew. That's good. I mean, it's not as if you're unattractive . . . for a man. I wouldn't want to suggest anything like that. But . . . "
"Yes, your Majesty?"
"Go back to sleep."