It was but a moment that they had paused before plunging down the road. The road was nearly devoid of any wayfarers for–excepting the few browned workmen traveling in groups from one field to another–the people were all out in the fields at work upon their assigned tasks. The town too was surprisingly quiet as they passed through its narrow brick streets. No people lingered at the corners, but all were hurrying to and fro, too much in haste to pass the time of day with a neighbor, though even in their haste some did stare with interest at this new prisoner of the Counselor.
* * *
When the palace soldiers had leaped out to apprehend Tiana, the gnome had, with great presence of mind, jumped into a hollow stump nearby and listening carefully had heard from whence they came and what their plans were with her.
He was about to rise from his hiding place when he felt a sharp tweak on his ear. With a shriek–and looking up–he saw the snow fairy perched upon the edge of the stump.
“Ah, I thought it was you. Who else would be sitting in stumps while allowing his lady to be kidnapped?”
Popping out his brows, bristling with indignation, he glared at the fairy who sat calmly upon the stump, two tiny white hands around her knee. “I decided to retire until I found a more opportune time to be of assistance to our lady.”
“Very correctly put, Tomas,” she said. “You have clearly been communing with those in high places and now, since you are the one that has gotten Lady Tiana into this spot, you will have to get her out.”
“Yes–you–my gruff little friend, you and your minstrel friend. Who–you must see now–was the Prince Andre himself.”
“Well, that is too bad. He was such a nice fellow,” he said, sniffing. “And I must say–little from you…! What shall I do?”
“Must I do all the thinking? But, my dear fellow, I am coming with you. You must carry me, for this heat makes me dreadfully tired.”
And so the dainty little fairy, wrapped in her lacy cloak, and the craggy gnome, with beard and boots, started after the party going toward the palace.
* * *
Reaching the foot of the hill of the palace, the party of men-at-arms began the assent of the brick bordered road that snaked back and forth up the hillside. Bushy green trees lined the road at regular intervals, their prickly green branches seeming to warn off those who journeyed up the road.
The palace walls loomed up cool and shadowy on this eastern side of the palace and heated as Tiana was by the strenuous climb, she still felt almost cold in the shade of it. Upon the hail of the captain the heavy and ornately carved gates were opened by those within and the party without passed through. The company halted while the captain briskly mounted the steps and vanished within the doors of the palace.
Tiana had a breath to observe her surroundings. Her expression was one of curiosity as she looked about this place which was once where she was to have lived. She found that she was in a wide oblong courtyard bordered upon one side by the enormous many windowed stone building whose wide walnut doors directly faced the gates. Lifting her eyes she could see the sharp eaves and peaks amongst which she could see some birds whisking about the roof haloed by the sun, far above her. A wide lane which she guessed must lead to the stables, gardens, and servants quarters disappeared to the right around the corner of the building.
The captain appearing once more from within, he beckoned to the guards and, leaving the rest of the soldiers in the courtyard Tiana, escorted by a soldier on either side of her, mounted the wide flight of stairs. Inside she walked through an immense vaulted hall still with the soldiers on either side, the sound of their boots upon the stone floor sending the echoes crashing from wall to wall.
A large heavily carved door rose at the end of the hall by which stood two men in armor. At the approach of the soldiers and their prisoner the guards swung open the ponderous doors. At the same time, a flood of light falling into the hall, the party paused in the doorway. Leaning her head so that she might see about the captain who stood before her, Tiana’s eyes were dazzled as she gazed into the room. The immense wall to the left of the doors was totally made of windows, showing a breathtaking view of the valley below. Directly opposite the doors was a stately dais on which stood two heavy golden thrones– both empty–and placed before the dais was a table hung with a richly embroidered cloth. Upon it in a heavy golden stand was a clear globe in which swirled millions of twinkly needle points of light.
Before the table their backs to the door, stood two men. Upon their entrance, the elder and shorter slowly turned. He was clothed in a long plum colored robe over which his curly red beard fell downwards. His eyes were the shifting yellow of sand as they fell upon the prisoner. In his hands was a staff, which clearly marked him the famed and feared Counselor.
But Tiana's eyes had flashed from him to his companion. She knew him. His jerkin and shirt were of a simple cut and fabric, but the silver adorned hilt of a sword gleamed by his side and he held his shoulders and head, with its clustering curly black hair, with easy confidence.
“Prince Andre, do you wish to see your prisoner?” the Counselor’s voice was silky and slid as smoothly through the air as did the hem of his robe over the marble floor as he approached Tiana.
The prince turned and Tiana’s teeth snapped down on her lower lip so that a bead of blood appeared.
“What is her charge?” the Prince asked.
“Seeking to overthrow my–your kingdom, Your Majesty.”
“By what means? Surely you do not expect me to think a simple maid is powerful enough to kill me?” Prince Andre said, his voice was almost gentle, but there was a hint of mockery in the low tone and the Counselor looked sharply at him.
“Not only the profitability, but the very survival of this our–your kingdom–is bound by a single secret, which if found and broken would snap the very effects of nature.”
Tiana's voice was silvery and distinct as she said, “You are mistaken, my Lord Counselor. That has been done already.”
The Counselor shot toward her and lifting his staff menacingly above her head, “You lie. I have but improved nature.”
Spinning about he was suave and submissive to the Prince as before, “But Your Majesty, if this secret of which I spoke were to be smashed, we–the very rulers of this kingdom–would be overthrown.”
“It would not be the first time that those of royal blood have been banished from their just places,” the Prince said, “or simply had their power usurped. The spell of power has not been broken yet and I, at least, am as yet Prince. So I demand that you release this maid.”
“You cannot know who she is, my lord,” the Counselor said quickly, his eyes wary, flicking from Andre to Tiana as he spoke. “She is a wicked outlaw. If once you allow her freedom of this kingdom, your rule will never be sure.”
Prince Andre had been standing, hands clasped behind him gazing outward over the vast spread of the valley below, but his eyes were gleaming and to the Counselor, a dangerous light sparkled in his eyes. “But what if I wish for a revolution? I have been taught, my Lord Counselor, by other persons besides yourself and–though their speech was perhaps less polished than thine–their words were of the truth. This kingdom has burned too long under this eternal summer sun. I think it is time that the people and the seasons are free once more. And I believe that the Lady Tiana,” his eyes twinkling as he said it, “will not hinder that which is my purpose.” His eyes flicking to Tiana's guards he said “Release the lady.”
The guards obeying his orders Tiana stepped forward, her eyes sparkling. A smile flitted across her face, but the Counselor seemed to verily shimmer with hatred as he listened to the Prince’s words and though his voice was still smooth, a shiver of menace pulsed through it as he spoke, “You are a fool, Andre. I bore the rule of your father, but do you think I will allow my plans to be thwarted now? Never! My strongest enchantments hold this land and do you think you can break them? Despise my laws if you dare, but you would never dare to break something you do not fully understand–and you do not truly understand this.”
The Prince’s steady gaze wavered before the piercing glimmer of the Counselor, but Tiana stepped forward, “Andre, I know the secret. Take courage, it is within your power to–”
The Counselor sprang forward and with a shriek raised his staff to strike her, but the Prince–his sword flashing in the crystal light of the globe–sprang before Tiana. “In some ways you did my father great service and I am loath to kill you,” he said his words hard and biting between his clinched teeth. “But you have done much cruel injustice against my people, binding them to endless work in my name and I am finished with you.”
The Counselor shrieked to the guards to seize him, but they, standing openmouthed simply stared at him, so extending his staff, point forward at Andre and Tiana–who stood slightly behind him–he said, “I, too, am loath to do this to one who has served me well, but you serve me no longer and–” He was cut off as the Prince sprang forward, his sword dashing the staff to the ground.
Staggering sideways with the Prince gripping the collar of his robe, the Counselor clutched at the drapery upon the table. The enormous globe tottered then slid off the table and with a sharp crash smashed upon the floor. The humid air was suddenly purified by a sweep of cold breeze and the sparkles that had been within the globe swirled upward–increasing and multiplying till the whole room was a blizzard of swirling white. The windows springing open the white poured outward over the courtyard: filling the air and sky, covering trees and fields and cottages.
* * *
Tomas and Sophia were still plodding toward the palace, the fairy drooping lower upon the gnome’s shoulder. He too was hot and perspiring.
“I not only feel sorry for those peasants now,” muttered the gnome, “I positively agonize with them. We must halt for a minute. You may be a very small fairy, but you are not a feather.” Even as the words left his mouth a hushed wind swept over them.
Looking upward toward the castle they could see a cloud of white that sparkled round the palace, growing every moment until the white was swirling over the valley–a beauteous mist over the land.
“The spell is broken, Tomas,” Sophia cried, suddenly flitting from his shoulder.
Abruptly the road was full of rejoicing people surging round them. Tomas, capering with delight–all weariness banished from his mind–caught hands with two children and joined in a wild dance.
* * *
The Prince staggered to his feet, the blood from where he had cut his hand upon the glass dripping unheeded.
Tiana flew toward him. “Andre, Andre! His rule is truly finished. You and this whole land are freed.” Her face was full of sparkling light.
He took her hand and together they laughed with pure joy. Swarms of cheering villagers and townspeople could be glimpsed mounting the road leading to the castle between the disagreeable needle-pointed trees, now rapidly turning into things of rounded beauty.
“Let us go out to meet them,” Andre said. “But wait,” he turned back, “the Counselor.”
“No, Andre, look,” Tiana said, pointing to the place where lay the shards of the crystal globe. “When the globe–in which all his power was bound up–fell and shivered to pieces, he melted. See there is nothing left of him but his broken staff.”
They stood looking down at the broken staff.
“Both he and his spells have vanished forever,” Andre said. Turning he suddenly swept her up, spinning her about in the flakes that swirled about them. “And now is the time to rejoice and be merry, my lady Tiana. Let us go out to meet those who will soon be your people, too.”
He set her down his face merry and teasing, and once more joining hands they ran out through the great doors into the pure, drifting white of the courtyard.
Story Copyright © 2013 by Éowyn Peterson