After defeating the Red Rogue of Dawna, through the rest of that winter and into spring, Prince Marvel remained at the castle of the Baron Neggar in the Kingdom of Heg. Nerle, who less than a year earlier had been desperate to encounter hardship, now seemed quite content in the luxurious surroundings of his home. The Lady Seseley and her playmates Berna and Helda were happy in the household of Nerle's mother. Each day was filled with pleasure, and it seemed as if this comfortable existence would go on forever.
One summer evening, when the hour came to bid his esquire good-night, Prince Marvel held fast to Nerle's hand, detaining him at the door of his chamber. "Stay a moment," he said. "I have something to discuss with you."
Unquestioning as ever of the prince's natural authority, Nerle entered the chamber and closed the door behind them. "What is it?" he asked.
Prince Marvel seemed uncertain how to begin. Without answering, he walked over to the window, and, pushing aside the heavy curtains, gazed out into the night with the quiet, brooding look that had become more and more frequent with him these past few weeks.
Nerle watched him very curiously, for he had never known the prince to be short of words.
"Please give my regards to your father," said Prince Marvel at last, seemingly apropos of nothing. "You have been wonderful hosts, but I must be gone from this place tomorrow morning."
"I understand," said Nerle. "I have seen you getting bored of this peaceful life; you still hunger for adventure. Very well! I will have them make ready our horses, and tomorrow, if you like, we will go and seek more triumphs, to your heart's content."
"You do not understand," said Marvel, turning to face Nerle with one of his sad smiles. "I must go."
It took a moment for this declaration to sink in, but when it did, tears pricked at Nerle's eyes. "Oh, Prince Marvel, this is too cruel! I am cured of my desire for suffering; and, even if I were not, I do not think I would ever have wished for this pain. Still," he added more calmly, "if you must go, I will not stop you. At least say you will come and see me, whenever you pass this way again?"
Prince Marvel was sorry to cause distress in one he loved so well, but he was obliged to answer honestly. "It is not likely. After tomorrow, Prince Marvel will never be seen again on the Enchanted Island."
Now Nerle looked at him with great concern. "This is not the first time I have heard you say something like that. What is this fatal appointment? Are you in some kind of danger--a wicked curse or the like? My father's men are powerful, and we are entirely at your service. Please let me help--I will do everything I can."
Prince Marvel was touched by this devotion, and spoke at once to dispel his friend's worries. "No, nothing of the sort. Do you remember the day we first met? You told me the story of how you left home; and I promised that before we parted, I would tell you my story. Well, here it is. Like you, I have spent my days in the greatest comfort, and like you I grew bored of it and decided to strike out in search of something different. But my departure preparations were somewhat more elaborate than yours, for in addition to new clothing and a new horse, I needed an entirely new shape! I became Prince Marvel for the purpose of my journey, but in reality I am no prince at all. I am a fairy who has been transformed for the space of one year--and I am sorry to say that that year ends tomorrow afternoon."
Prince Marvel watched the young man's face for some expression of the great surprise this revelation must produce; but it was he who was the more surprised, for Nerle only laughed.
"I should have known," said he simply. "Like our friend King Terribus, I had assumed you were a great magician--but they say magicians are men who have learned from the fairies, and you are far more like a master than a student, in spite of your looks."
"Well! It serves me right for thinking you had been fooled," laughed Marvel. "But, by the way, it is funny you should mention my looks! For though it is true that by human standards I seem much younger than I am, this is far from my true aspect."
Something in the way he said it made Nerle understand; and now Marvel got the reaction he had sought. "Why, do you mean you're a.... a girl fairy?"
Nerle blushed, and abruptly could not meet his friend's eyes.
"What, is there a problem with my being a girl fairy?" asked the prince. "Surely in the course of all our travels, you can find no occasion on which I can be faulted for it?"
"No, indeed!" said Nerle, recovering himself. "Boy or girl, you have been strong and valiant; I suspect you are remarkable even among fairies. There is nothing to reproach you with--only I wonder if I should have conducted myself differently, if I had known I was in the presence of a lady."
Prince Marvel smiled again. "I would not have had you act any differently than you did. You were a delightfully amusing traveling companion at first, if you will pardon my saying so--and what is more important, you have become a dear friend. I hope all mortals have such a friend to brighten their short lives."
Nerle seized the prince's hand affectionately. "I do not know if other mortals are as lucky as I. In only one year, you have certainly changed my life for the better. Are you sure you cannot stay?"
Marvel returned the pressure, but answered, "Yes. The spell will end tomorrow, and though it saddens me to leave my friends, we all must live our own lives. My adventures have contented me for the time being: henceforth I shall try to be happy with my lot. And as weary as I thought I was of our carefree dancing, I must confess that I feel I will not be truly content until I am again in my own fairy bower."
"Of course," said Nerle, and laughed again. "Far be it from me to ask you to give up the life of a fairy! This is amazing; you are a marvel, truly. I am bursting with curiosity--you must tell me all about yourself. How did you come to be a prince, anyhow?"
"There can no harm in discussing that secret, since it is almost ended. My three pretty advisors informed me that the life of a mortal boy was full of excitement--and so it has been! But you should ask the Lady Seseley to tell you the whole story, for it was she who transformed me. I am sure she will be happy to oblige; she is quite fond of you, you know."
"Is she?" Nerle asked--and, as it turned out, there was far more to discuss before either of them retired that night.