It is a fact that ought to be known to all that while fairies are people of amazing magic and longevity, they do not remain forever. They may dwell for millions of years if they please in either our mortal realm or their own enchanted courts, but inevitably there comes a time when every fairy tires of this existence and moves on. We mortals may view it as no different than death, but it is whispered by those who learned from the fairies (at what cost, I cannot say) that to them, it is closer to ascending to a world that is greater and grander than either of ours, one that only the sufficiently wise and accomplished may find their way to.
I say this is true of every fairy and so it is for every one from the tiniest flower-fairy to the most powerful and renowned of them. And so it was of no surprise when the Council of the Fairies gathered one day at their palace of bone and pearl to learn that their beloved queen had passed on in this way.
They stood in her throne room and felt the absence of her divine majesty, as if the very air were stolen from the room. Several wept at their loss and all mourned, for the queen had been a just ruler who was beloved by all. But there was little time to spend grieving, for there was the whole of the fairydom to tell of this sorrow. And when the news had been spread far and wide and the subjects were being informed of their loss, the Council hid themselves away in their meeting room to discuss a matter of great urgency: the deciding of their new queen.
Now the choosing of a new fairy queen is never a frivolous matter, but since the previous queen had set such great precedent, there was all the more determination to choose a new queen who lived up to the standards of the last.
As the Council was composed of the strongest, wisest, most capable of all the fairies, it stood to reason that one of them was the most qualified. And after much debate and voting and consideration, the choice came down to two members.
The first was a fairy by the name of Tanaquill. She was of great power, having managed the ocean waters on the shores of the kingdom prior to joining the Council, and had such strength in spirit that she was often looked to as a figure of authority and stability. Such was her presence that a vocal portion of the Council was willing to crown her queen on the spot.
But then there was the other candidate, who was supported by an equally large number of Council members. Her name was Una, and she was a fairy who was renowned for her wisdom. She was as prestigious as Tanaquill if not moreso, having served the four winds themselves before she had been accepted on the Council. She had been privy to all the secrets the winds gathered as they raced across the world and her supporters argued that surely it was to all of their benefits to have such a learned fairy as their queen.
The debate went on for quite some time. Everyone's patience began to wear thin as they awaited word of who their new monarch was to be, and it reached a point where some began to despair of ever having a new queen crowned at all. Finally, when it looked as if no decision would ever be reached, the Council agreed upon a satisfactory method of choosing the worthier candidate: a duel.
The duel would not be between Tanaquill and Una directly. Such things had been forbidden in all of fairydom, ever since the first (and only) few fairy duels fought directly between the participants caused great damage to both the fairy and mortal worlds before passing into mortal lore as terrible divine retribution. No, now when fairies saw fit to duel, it was done through indirect methods chosen upon by a third party. The methods were always decided based on how well they tested the fairies in their magic, their wisdom, their strength, and their ingenuity.
After some deliberation, the Council settled on the best way to hold the duel. Each fairy would be called upon to perform a feat of magic and whichever outdid the other would be crowned the queen of the fairies.
The rules and boundaries were explained to Una and Tanaquill. Both listened. Both agreed. And both set forth in preparation...
Once upon a time, in a shining palace, a young prince lived with neither a mother nor a father. Although the servants provided him with anything he desired, the prince was listless and lonesome.
It was not always so. The prince had known a happy childhood with wise and loving parents who taught him all a good prince should know of his land and his people. But then, one fateful day, war was declared by a neighboring land. Being a good and noble king, the prince's father took up arms and left to lead his soldiers to battle.
For some time, it was the prince and his mother who lived in the shining palace. While the queen loved her son dearly, he saw less and less of his mother. The war drained their kingdom of money and able-bodied men and every day, there were countless widows and sisters and mothers and children begging the queen for food or relief or for some word from the king on when the war would end.
Though the prince was left with only his servants and tutors for company, he never spoke a cross word on the matter. He admired his mother for her strength of will and great intelligence as she deftly managed each case brought before her, as well as her great kindness as she comforted those she could do nothing for.
And then came the day when a messenger, ragged and sorrowful, knelt before the queen and delivered news that all had feared since the day the king left.
The prince was stricken when he learned of his father's death and wished her were a child once more, able to weep openly for loss. But he was a prince and had no choice but to remain strong. His mother had worn black and mourned her husband and, when the proper time had passed, announced her intent to travel to the neighboring land to take up her husband's sword and lead their soldiers to victory. With his mother gone, the prince knew, he would need to stand tall and be the pillar of authority his mother and father had once been, the wise and beloved figure who had his peoples' trust.
Despite his aspirations though, the prince was told by his mother that he would not be reigning in her absence. He had a good heart, but he still had much to learn of the world. She would leave a council of the wisest in their court to oversee the affairs of the kingdom until her return or her death.
Until either of those things came to be, the prince was to be tutored by a wise woman who had arrived at the castle gate not long before the queen's departure. How she found her way there no one could say (the woman seemed adverse to straight answers), but she was more than qualified and the queen accepted her for the position.
The tutor tended to the prince's education with the utmost care and by the time he neared adulthood, he was as learned a prince as any could hope for. In prowess in combat he was lacking, despite the tutor's best efforts (it would seem that the ongoing war dulled his appetite for any form of fighting). Still, he readily took in all he was taught of the sciences, math, philosophy, and the arts.
On the eve of the prince's seventeenth birthday, his tutor congratulated him on lessons well-learned. There was nothing left to teach him. Now, there was simply the matter of applying it. Did he have enough confidence in himself that he could best this challenge? If called on to give three displays of cunning to defeat his opponent, would he be able to?
In short, would he undergo the one final test she could leave him?
The prince, with his restless loneliness and desire be the best ruler he could, considered.
“Yes,” he said.
Once upon a time, in a vibrant city, there lived a wealthy merchant and his family. His friends and neighbors spoke of his unbelievable fortune in his trade, which left him one of the wealthiest men in the city. Despite this, the merchant considered himself truly blessed not with his gold and silver but with his wife and children. They were a family of eight, with three lovely girls and three fine boys, and they were regarded by all to be generous and kind.
But no good fortune remains intact forever and there came a day when the merchant's beloved wife fell ill. The merchant hired the best physicians money could buy, but it did no good. His beloved wife's health worsened and she passed on.
She had been as good a mother as she was a wife and the merchant and all of his children fell into the deepest grief imaginable. The children, the oldest of which was not yet even ten years of age, did not believe it possible to go on without their mother. The merchant did his best to comfort them all, but deep in his heart he felt very much the same. Still, time heals all wounds and as the months passed, the merchant and his children consoled one another until they could all smile once more.
All, sadly, except for Beauty.
Beauty was the youngest of the children and even in a group of such pretty children, she stood out as exceptionally lovely. She had once been just as well-known for her happiness and lively ways, but after her mother's death the poor child could not even bring herself to smile. Her family did all they could to help and she loved them for their efforts, but nothing eased the pain left in her mother's absence.
One sunny day in spring, Beauty sat on the front steps of her home, watching the people walk up and down the street. She did not pay much mind to any one person in particular until she noticed the beggar woman standing on the street corner.
The poor were not unknown to Beauty. She remembered her mother speaking of those less fortunate than themselves and she knew her father was careful to set aside a portion of his earnings to help those people be happier. She had never seen a beggar with her own eyes however, and found herself curiously approaching her.
When the beggar saw Beauty, she waved her tin cup and called for alms. The woman's loud cries and wide eyes frightened Beauty, but she did not run. Beauty did not completely understand matters of poverty, but she knew it came down to money. Specifically, a lack of it was the cause of many plights.
There were a few gold coins in Beauty's pocket. Gifts from her dear papa, so that she might buy herself sweets. Instead, they were dropped in the alms cup, clink-clink-clink.
The beggar smiled (it reminded Beauty of her mother, oh God) and said what a kind girl she was, how her papa and mama must be so proud of her. Little Beauty, overwhelmed by new experiences and stricken by the word “mama”, burst into tears and told the beggar that her mother was in Heaven and Beauty would never see her again.
The beggar woman knelt and held the child until she calmed. “Do not weep, do not weep,” she said, “for your mother is not gone. She has ascended to a realm greater than this, and one day you two shall meet again.”
She pressed into Beauty's hand a ring, offering it in return for the girl's generosity. It was a plain little gold band, but as far as Beauty could see, it was finer than any jewel worn by the grandest queen.
In a thrice, Beauty slipped the ring on her finger, where it fit warmly and snugly. For the first time in ages, she smiled.
Weeks turned to months, and Beauty's broken heart mended. Once more she smiled and played with her siblings.
Months turned to years. There was a great and terrible storm that swept down the coast and to the ocean. There was a letter to her papa regarding the ships bringing him goods for trade and those that were not destroyed were lost at sea. There was a dreadful day when Beauty and her family were forced to sell all of their fine things and leave for a new life on a little farm
The years passed. The family grew accustomed to life in the country. Each day made their loss a little easier to endure, until it was as if they'd been in their little house all of their lives. Beauty in particular held up under all of the new difficulties she faced, helping with whatever chores and tasks she could to ease the pains of her family.
Whenever she felt sorrowful, she stroked her little gold ring with her thumb. Despite all the hardships her family had been through, the ring was the one possession she could not part with.
One day, when Beauty's father and brothers were working in the field and her sisters were doing the washing, a peasant woman came to the door asking for a bit of bread to help her on her long journey. There was no food to spare, but Beauty had the woman rest in the kitchen and drew her a cup of cold water to help ease her weariness.
The peasant woman wished Beauty a thousand blessings for her kindness and drank the water greedily. When she had finished, she regarded Beauty as one might an unknown and colorful bird. She asked the girl if she thought of herself as having a heart that was true.
Beauty was surprised by this question, but said she did try to do what was right and good when she was able. The peasant woman said that right and good were not always one and the same. If it came down to it, she asked, did Beauty believe she could grant three acts of kindness when they mattered the most?
Beauty, sweet, kindhearted Beauty, found this question perplexing. But she had been raised to be honest, and gave the matter due consideration.
“I would do as best as I possibly could,” said Beauty.
At once, upon this time, it was done. Tanaquill and Una returned to the Council and announced that their preparations were completed.
The parts were cast and costumed. The stage needed setting, and the show could begin. It was a simple enough matter for the Council, who divided the tasks equally.
One fairy to guide one of the merchant's lost ships safely back to the harbor.
One to ensure the letter that came of it, telling the merchant of his new fortune and calling for his presence, found its way swiftly and safely.
One to hear sweet Beauty's request and hurry to a shining palace. The roses must be prominent and the master must be warned.
One to stir up a storm fierce enough to halt the merchant's return journey.
And one to light the way through the forest, so that he may stumble upon the palace.
Their work done, the Council convened to see how the events unfolded. Tanaquill and Una watched, knowing it would be time soon enough for their cues.
No sooner had the merchant picked the rose than a fierce roar arose from behind him. He turned and nearly fainted at the sight of a terrible Beast!
“I have given you shelter from the storm and yet you steal from me,” cried the Beast. “Who are you, Thief, and why do you take my roses?”
The merchant fell to his knees before the monster and begged for forgiveness. The rose was not for himself, he said but for his youngest child. He told of his family's misfortune, of how he'd been given hope when he'd heard that one of his ships had been found safely, and how, anticipating a windfall from it, he had asked his children what gifts they wished him to bring in return. In their excitement, his children had all requested expensive presents: watches and jewels, fine dresses and waistcoats, fans and pistols. For dear Beauty though, all she had wanted was a single rose and promise of his safe return.
The ship had not brought nearly the turnabout in fortunate that the merchant had expected and after paying the sailors and settling various debts, he was left with little more than he set out with. He could not bring five of his children what they wanted, but when he saw the Beast's magnificent rose bush, he had hoped he might be able to grant Beauty's wish, at least.
The Beast softened as he heard this tale and, by the end, had calmed considerably. “You are a good man,” he said, “but that does not mean that what you did was right. You have wronged me and something must be done of it. You will return home and have three days with your children. After that, you must send your daughter, Beauty, to me.”
The merchant wept and pleaded for the Beast to ask something else of him, but the Beast remained firm. “No harm will come to your daughter. I am intrigued by her and wish to have her as a companion. But if you do not do as I say, I will choose a different punishment and it will be far less to your liking.”
This did little to persuade the merchant, who could think of few things worse than the loss of one of his children. But he could see that the Beast would not be moved and so he did not argue. He climbed into the fine carriage the Beast offered and within hours, found himself spirited back to his home.
His children gathered outside before he had even set foot out of the carriage. They clamored for stories of the city and his journey. His sons found several enormous trunks packed away (had those been there all along?) and found them filled to the brim with everything they had requested and more! His daughters cried with joy and embraced their astonished father, thanking him again and again before hurrying to examine their presents.
Only Beauty remained behind. She cared not for the fine contents of the trunk, but instead worried for her father. “Papa, was the journey difficult?” she asked. “Did you come across some sort of danger? You look so pale!”
The merchant held his daughter and could not bring himself to say what troubled him, but Beauty asked so gently and sweetly that he could not keep his secret any longer. He called for all of his children and he told them of what transpired on his return home.
The Council watched the events unfold with great anxiety. Their chamber was filled with the chatter of countless voices as the fairies fretted and whispered to one another.
“She will not go.”
“Her father will go. He will offer himself up to the Beast's mercy. I hear it in his heart.”
“She will let her father come to no harm.”
“Will she go?”
“Perhaps one of her sisters will go?”
“Her brothers wish to kill the Beast. What if they do?”
“Then it will be a very short competition.”
“But will it fulfill the conditions?”
In the midst of this, Tanaquill and Una were silent. They glanced at one another, exchanging looks of confidence – confidence in Beauty, in the Beast, in their plans. And that is why, when Beauty kissed her father and siblings and climbed into the Beast's carriage to be taken to his palace, they were the only two who did not give sighs of relief.
Instead, both bid the other a cordial “good evening” and left for their private quarters. Their duel was only just beginning.