Magic Mirror (cont'd)

Magic Mirror (continued)

King Horace had been the ruler of South, but alas he had passed away these seven years now and had left his wife, Queen Talese, to rule and raise their two daughters. The youngest, Princess Gissella, was a plain girl and loved the earth itself spending long hours in the garden tending her roses and the creatures who lived there. The other Princess was the beautiful Princess Rowena. Queen Talese could not abide anything plain or common and was an admirer of everything beautiful. Naturally, she found her daughter, the tall, blond, shapely Princess Rowena, the most beautiful young woman in all the land, was by far her favorite. The Princess was so fair of face and graceful in movement that her legend was known over the mountains and across the seas to the farthest corners of the world.

Many Princes showed interest in the fair Rowena, but it had been understood for a long time that the best thing for all concerned would be that she and Prince Valentin should wed, even though they had never met. He and his parents had heard the stories of her beauty and grace and she and her mother had heard of the uncommonly handsome and true hearted Prince. An alliance between the two families could only strengthen both countries and guarantee continued peace and prosperity for all the citizens.

Of course, it was expected that Prince Valentin would observe the customs of the land and travel to South to woo Princess Rowena. That he should fall in love with the jewel of all South was a foregone conclusion since she was by far the most beautiful woman in all the land. Naturally, she would accept his offer of marriage and a suitable period of courtship would be followed by a lavish wedding that would be remembered for generations.

A week before the Prince was scheduled to arrive, Queen Talese received a strange communique from Queen Constance, well at least the last part of the message was strange. The first part was straightforward enough. Queen Constance wrote that King Basil was very ill and would not be able to make the trip, therefore, Prince Valentin, along with his entourage, would arrive as scheduled, but Queen Constance would have to remain in her own castle to look after her ailing husband.

It was a little troubling, but certainly understandable. It appeared the Prince would have to make up his own mind about the Princess without his wise mother to offer counsel. But considering the beauty of the Princess, that certainly shouldn't be a problem.

Then, at the end of the message, was the strange bit. Queen Constance wrote, Valentin will bring Magic Mirror to reveal the most beautiful Princess and he will propose to her immediately. Please let me know at your earliest convenience if you agree to these terms.

"Magic mirror, indeed," Queen Talese said and chuckled to herself. "One look at my Rowena and his goose will be cooked, his heart captured forever. He won't need magic to fall in love with her. What nonsense, but I suppose I should humor her." Queen Talese sent a messenger with her reply and approval of Queen Constance's silly request.

On the day that the Prince was to leave he stood at his father's bedside and received his blessing and then went to speak in private to his mother. She was seated on the throne and received him warmly as always. "I suppose you'll be taking along a whole pack of hounds to chase every living thing between here and South," his mother said and smiled.

"You know I will miss you and Father very much, Mother. That will be enough for me to bear. I just couldn't possibly make the trip without my good friends to keep me company," he said.

"I expected as much and that's why I've bought you a present, my Son," she said and clapped her hands.

A page entered the room with a beautiful snow white greyhound on a lead.

"Mother, he's beautiful!" the Prince said. He knelt and wrapped his arms around the hound who instantly sensed the kindness in the young man and snuggled closer.

"I thought you two would become fast friends," the Queen said and laughed. "And now, my Son, I have a little advice for you and will ask just one promise in return. I want you to promise me that you will immediately propose to the most beautiful princess that you see."

"That is exactly what I intend to do, Mother, so don't trouble yourself," he answered.

"Ah, but I am troubled, Valentin, because you are young and not wise to the ways of the world. Let me give you some advice about beauty and then you'll have my blessing."

Valentin was stroking the greyhounds head and said, "Perhaps you could also help me to name my new friend as well, Mother."

The Queen smiled and said, "I've already named him for you, but before we get to that, let me tell you the truth about beauty..."

A week later, in South, the castle was in an uproar. It seemed that Queen Talese was everywhere at once supervising cleaning and decorating to make ready for the arrival of the Prince. She'd ordered a whole new wardrobe for Rowena and the choice of fabrics and style had been a nightmare. Princess Rowena, known for her sharp temper and perennial foul moods, was in an even worse state than usual. The castle staff skittered to and fro on their rounds, trying to please her and steer clear of the occasional slipper or plate that she sent sailing their way when she thought their service a little slow.

Princess Gissella missed most of her wrath because, as usual, she spent her time outdoors in the gardens and fields, nurturing her beloved flowers and animal friends. However, she'd had orders from Mother to show up in the throne room when the Prince arrived to greet him along with the rest of the family.

"Do I have to hang around all day?" Princess Gissella asked the Queen.

"Certainly not," Queen Talese replied, "but it is a matter of respect and courtesy for all members of the family to greet a royal visitor, no matter how plain that family member may be. As soon as I've presented you, you may go back to your garden. I am sure once the Prince sees your sister, he won't have any interest in you."

Princess Rowena was in the throne room on the day when Prince Valentin was to arrive. She wore a pure white satin gown and her golden hair was tied up high on her head, set off by a tiara that was covered with diamonds. She held a heavy bejeweled scepter. Her full lips were as red as Gissella's roses and her blue eyes sparkled with anticipation. But when Princess Gissella walked into the room the anticipation turned to anger and she said, "For heavens sake, Gissella! You're wearing a plain frock and you have a smudge on your nose!"

"I'm sorry, Sister, but I've been working in the garden. See, I've brought you a bouquet of my best roses," the even tempered Princess Gissella said.

"Very well. Just put them in a vase and stay out of the way," Princess Rowena snapped.

Suddenly, a trumpet sounded from the parapets, the warning that Prince Valentin's party had been spotted.

Queen Talese started when she heard the blast. She was in the castle tower attending to a last minute detail. She looked out the window, and sure enough, she saw a large group coming down the road from North. It looked as much like a traveling circus as a royal procession, with the Prince on a tall black steed with a silver saddle, surrounded by a pack of free running hounds that barked and raced to and fro. She raced to the stairs in order to get to the throne room as quickly as possible, but it would be close because the stairs were steep and required a slow descent and he was almost at the very gate.

Princess Rowena smiled and prepared to meet her suitor. She stood in front of the throne a vision of beauty and grace watching the open door that the Prince would march through at any moment. Instead of a Prince, however, the first one through the door was a white blur that raced through the door and immediately jumped up on her with both front paws. She screeched in anger and tried to wipe the muddy paw prints from her white dress. The white greyhound, oblivious to her oaths and threats, wagged his tail and stood before her. Without thinking she struck him with the scepter.

"I'll kill you, mutt!" she shrieked and raised the scepter to strike another blow.

The dog cried out and Princess Gissella jumped between the dog and her sister before Princess Rowena could deliver the next blow. "Don't you dare!" Princess Gissella said.

"Get that beast out of here, Ugly!" Princes Rowena screamed.

Princess Gissella helped the injured dog to the side of the throne and held him in her arms, cooing to him and rubbing the sore spot. She sat on the floor and kissed him on the head and hugged him tightly.

Meanwhile, Princess Rowena tried to regain her composure and fussed at her gown trying to rub the muddy prints off. She was so busy working on the spots, she didn't see the Prince enter. The Prince however, saw her and realized she was as beautiful as she had been described. He also saw the mud on her dress and Princess Gissella with his dog, in fact, he saw it all.

Princess Rowena looked up and saw him, their eyes met, she smiled radiantly, the smile she'd practiced in front of the mirror for days in anticipation of this moment when she would meet the most charming and handsome prince in all the land. He walked toward her and then went right by her.

Queen Talese had entered the room from a side door just as the Prince had entered. She saw his eyes lock onto Princess Rowena and smiled in satisfaction. What a handsome and beautiful couple they would make.

Princess Gissella looked up in time to see the Prince standing before her and then he knelt. "Fair Princess, will you be my wife?" he asked and took her hand in his.

The room swam before her and Queen Talese clutched at a nearby tapestry as she swooned. Princess Rowena shrieked and stamped her foot. Princess Gissella looked into his kind eyes and saw her future husband.

When she'd recovered, Princess Rowena stood over them and said, "I demand an explanation!"

"And you shall have it," the Prince answered.

"Yes," Queen Talese agreed. "The agreement was that you would propose to the most beautiful Princess, not her," she said and sniffed at Princess Gissella.

"Ah, but I am afraid you're mistaken, Queen Talese. You see, my mother taught me that there are two kinds of beauty, the beauty on the outside of a person, that is the beauty that eventually fades and then there is the inner beauty that blossoms with the passing of time."

"What about your Magic Mirror that reveals true beauty?" demanded Princess Rowena. "I demand the test."

Prince Valentin paused then in thought, he winked at Princess Gissella, patted his dog on the head, and said, "My dear Lady, the test is over. Magic Mirror was the first one to enter the room, in fact, he left his paw prints on your dress."