BY ELIZABETH RUSSELL
Remember how Jack killed the Giant and saved the whole country from starvation? Remember how after that, he married the princess that he loved very much?
Well, this is what happened after…
Once upon a time, Jack’s kingdom flourished. In fact, it thrived. It was so happy that even the little junebugs sitting on the September flowers and dying from frost were happy. Life was that good. And Queen Miranda, Jack’s beloved wife, had just given birth to a beautiful baby daughter whom they called Rose.
But all good things turn with fortune. The wheel of time spins, and disaster falls. And so it was that one mild mid-November morning, when the sun shone upon the prosperous kingdom of Jack and Miranda, and citizens went about their day in perfect contentment, there came a great shaking of the ground and the sound of an earthquake.
With a rush of tramping feet, a host of savage bears roared into the kingdom, bowling down the gates of the city wall and upsetting all the stalls and carts in the street. People ran to and fro; some were mauled to death, and others trampled by their neighbors. Baby Rose and Queen Miranda were out in the open air that morning, and the bears careened toward them. The Queen was frightened, but she snatched up her baby and ran as fast as she could. One of the bears swiped his mighty paw at her and she fell to the ground, pale as death. The bears grabbed the princess out of her stroller, but did not harm her. Just as King Jack ran into the square with his sword drawn and his heart full of anger, the beasts disappeared into thin air, taking the baby princess with them.
Jack bent to the ground and gathered his wife into his arms, and found to his relief that there was still breath in her. He carried her to the palace and when she awoke in her bed, she found him sitting beside her, his face set in anger.
“What has become of our child?” she asked him.
“The bears took her, my love. But I do not think they were bears, for they disappeared from our eyes as if they were creatures of magic. They were witches, or fairies, or giants, I am certain.” He called all his bravest knights to the throne room, and said that they must find all the magic creatures of his kingdom to see who had taken Baby Rose. All of his knights loved King Jack very much, and they swore at once not to return home until they had found her. The queen wept terribly, but Jack assured her that all would be well and he would return Rose to her safe.
“I know you will,” she said. “But take care and don’t be rash. So often you follow your heart, but try to use your head.”
Jack promised to be careful, and with that, he and his knights set out into the wide world.
They set off in pairs in four different directions. Sirs George and Richard went South to the Sea, Sirs Corncob and Terence went North to the Frigid Ice Caps, Sirs Roho and Verde went West to the Great Desert, and King Jack took his closest friend and bravest knight, Sir Serence, with him to the Eastern Mountains.
But the wide world is full of dangers, both to the body and soul, and each knight would be tested ere he returned.
King Jack and Serence traveled night and day until they reached a gigantic cave as big as the castle wherein Jack once encountered a princess-stealing Giant. But this was a magic cave, and could play tricks on the fearful mind. When Jack saw it, he thought it was the house of a giant instead of an empty cavern.
“Of course!” he cried. “The bears were giants. I should have known this would happen to her. She has been taken just like Miranda. Rose!” he cried, running throughout the castle with his sword drawn. “Rose!” But after he had run from the bottom of the castle to the top, and back again to the bottom, he had seen no Giants or any sign of Rose.
“Your majesty,” said Serence, “I do not believe she is here.”
“She must be!” he cried angrily. “They’ve just hidden her!”
“Who, your majesty?” The cave played no tricks on Serence, for he had no fear, and he saw it for what it was.
“The giant!” he cried impatiently. “Who else would live in such a great castle?”
“Your Highness,” said Serence in confusion, “I see only an empty cave.”
Now Jack was a fair and humble king, and he knew Serence would never lie. So he stood in mystification a moment, then gradually, the illusion fell away, and he saw the cave as well.
His shoulders sagged. “I have wasted precious time. I have been rash and fearful. Let us go on.”
And so they set out southwest to the sea to find if any of their companions had had more luck than they.
Meanwhile, Richard and George headed South toward the sea. When they arrived it was night and the entire shore was lit with glistening starlight. Moored on the beach before them, the two knights saw a beautiful ship with sails of moonlight and oars of stardust. On the ship were beautiful maidens singing and beckoning the knights on board.
“Come with us,” they sang, “and we will take you to your lost little princess.”
Both knights went toward the ship but George paused. “Wait,” he said, “It is night, and night can play tricks on a man. I think we should wait until morning and see if this ship and its passengers still look as fair in the light of the sun.”
This seemed like good advice to Richard, so they set up camp on the sandy shore and fell asleep to the calls and songs of the fair maidens.
When the sun rose the next day, George awakened with the dawn and looked out at sea. There was no sign of the beautiful ship; only, in its place, a little rowboat with two oars, and filled with a handful of dolls.
“My, my, my,” said Richard when he awoke.
“Yes,” said George, “it is good that we waited, or we would have lost ourselves to a dream. These are enchanted dolls that become sirens in the moonlight, and beguile men to their deaths.”
They threw the dolls into the sea, then they climbed into the rowboat and pushed off, heading along the coast to search for the baby princess.
Heading North toward the frozen tundra were the knights Terence and Corncob. Terence was a large knight who had a high opinion of himself, and Corncob was a stupid knight, who had an accurate opinion of himself. They had reached the frozen ice caps when suddenly they came across a tiny castle. The castle was made completely from ice and glistened in the sunlight.
“Terence,” said Corncob, “I believe this castle is where the bears took the Princess Rose. I have a feeling about it.”
Terence laughed. He laughed and he laughed, and then he laughed still harder. Even Corncob was chuckling in the end.
“Oh, oh! You are too much, my friend,” protested Terence. “Not even an infant would fit in that palace.”
“Well,” said Corncob humbly, “yet I still have a feeling about it. I am going to stay the night and see what happens.”
Terence shrugged. It was already getting dark and here was as good a place as any to sleep. They made themselves an enclosure out of snow and lay down for the night.
A few hours later, Corncob woke and went out under the stars where the Northern Lights lit up the sky above him. But right at his feet was another rainbow of colors: the little palace had come alive and rainbow lights poured out of every window. Corncob bent down and peered in to see all sorts of fairies partying, singing, and dancing. They were mischievous fairies, and Corncob soon saw the little princess in the arms of the fairy queen.
“Terence,” Corncob awoke his friend, “The bears were really fairies who kidnapped our princess and made her small so they could keep her in their palace.”
Terence, of course, did not believe this for even that split-second of time when you are still half-asleep and everything sounds believable. He chuckled and shrugged the knight off, but Corncob was persistent, and eventually Terence looked into the palace just to silence his friend.
“Why!” he cried out in alarm. “They’ve got our princess. We’ll save you princess!” But at his yelling all the fairies saw the two knights and immediately worked their magic so that the men disappeared into thin air, only to find themselves on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere.
In the West, Sirs Roho and Verde came upon a town on the outskirt of a great desert. From a local merchant they bought food and water, skins, and a map. The merchant warned them, “Follow the main route on the map and do not rest. Do not veer off into the wild desert or you will be dead men.”
So the two knights started across the hot, scorching desert to search for the princess. They made good time the first day; but on the second, they started to notice that all the creatures they passed, big and small, were very lazy.
“The lion lays out in the sun all day,” said Roho.
“And the snakes slither as slow as mud on a bank,” agreed Verde.
“If they can take their time,” said Roho.
“Then why can’t we?” finished Verde.
These two knights, you see, were very lazy. They were brave and loyal, but they were lazy. So they started to take many rests along their way, and each time, the stops grew longer and longer, and they ate up more and more of their food.
At last, they had only one more skin of water and one more loaf of bread, and when they checked the map, they were only half-way across the desert.
“We shall perish!” wailed Verde in fright.
“This is all your fault!” said Roho.
“Look!” cried Verde.
Roho looked and they saw great cliffs before them. The map took them around the cliffs, but they could clearly see that there was a way through them.
“If we take this route,” they said, “we shall surely not die.”
They were all set to go through the cliffs when Verde felt something tugging at him. He looked all around, but could see no cause for it. Yet, as he went closer to the rocks, the tugging grew more insistent. Finally, he stopped and cried out, “What is tugging at me?”
“Not I,” said Roho.
Verde slapped his friend’s forehead, and then his own. “What blockheads we are!” he said. “It’s my conscience. I’d forgotten. The map-seller told us to follow the map or we would die for certain.”
“We shall die for certain anyway,” said Roho.
“Perhaps. What a quandary we are in! We should pray for guidance.”
Well, it is one thing to take lots of breaks because you are lazy, but quite another to take a break for prayer. Verde and Roho were both out of practice, but they concentrated and asked the heavens for guidance.
When Verde looked up, there was an angel before him. “If you go through the cliffs,” the angel said, “you will certainly perish. In the same way, if you go around, you will start to feel yourselves die, and this is because you were lazy and drank all your water. But if you persevere, I promise that you will arrive at the other side no matter how famished you are.”
With this guidance, both men took themselves bravely in hand and set off around the cliffs. Soon they were dying of thirst. They dragged one foot ahead of the other under the hot sun and felt their tongues swell like hot balloons. But they pressed on and remembered that it was all their fault for stopping so often before. Just when they saw the gates of heaven opening before them and heard choruses of angel choirs, they stumbled onto an oasis. They rejoiced and plunged in the water, drinking and splashing and coming all the way back to life.
When they were sufficiently revived, Verde found a lamp beside the spring, and upon rubbing it, a genie streamed forth.
“What do you wish to know?” the genie cried in a deep voice that reverberated from tree to tree.
Verde cried up to the genie. “We wish to know, oh great one, what has happened to our fair princess and how we may bring her home.”
“You have asked wisely,” said the Genie. “The princess has been taken by fairies to their palace in the North. To outwit the fairies and rescue the princess, you will need three things: The Blanket of Sleep from the Witch, The Purple Berries of Paradise, and Mud from the Amazon. The blanket makes any one sleep, the berries remove the effects of magic, and the mud prevents transformation.”
“Blanket, Berries, Mud,” repeated Roho to himself, over and over again.
“Thank you, oh great genie. That is all we wished to know,” said Verde.
Then they packed up the lamp to give to their king, filled their skins with water and their food bags with grapes, and headed southeast to the sea.
George and Richard were still rowing on the sea along the coast, and as they rounded a corner, they saw two figures in the distance on an island, and as they came closer, the men began to call and wave to them. It was Terence and Corncob. Of course the two sailors took them in, and the boat was so full that the water came right up to the edge and they had to bail desperately with their hands until they reached the mainland, or they would have drowned. Even so, when they landed, all four men were soaked through. Terence was not very happy at all, but Corncob liked the sound of his squishy boots, and George and Richard just drippingly wished that the life of a knight could be more romantic.
When they got back to the place where George and Richard had first found the boat, whom should they see but King Jack and Serence waiting for them. And there, in the distance, were Roho and Verde plodding toward them also. They were all met, and George, Richard, Jack, and Serence reported that they had found nothing. But Corncob and Terence cried out that they knew where the princess was.
“So do we!” said Verde. “And what’s more, we know how to rescue her.”
Roho and Verde told of the three items: the Blanket, the Berries, and the Mud and immediately all the knights were afire to find these items and save their princess from the fairies.
They went to the house of the witch and came upon her just as she was about to poison an unsuspecting traveler.
“Stop, Witch!” they cried, and she threw her hands in the air in anger.
“AHH!!” she screamed. “I know all about your little daughter’s capture, and I cackle at the thought. Serves your family right, you goody two shoes! I know what you seek, and you will never find your precious blanket, because I’ll never tell!”
Then she lifted the poison to her own lips to drink. But the King was too quick and knocked it away with his sword before grabbing her arms and holding her tight.
“You shall not kill yourself so long as I am king. Now where is that blanket?”
But she would say nothing more. Jack handed the witch over to Richard and told him to take her back to the palace. The witch would be locked safely in a cell and visited by a priest daily until she died of old age in the hopes of saving her shriveled soul. (And though this was no doubt the best and holiest decree Jack could ordain for her, I personally feel very sorry for the priest.)
When Richard was gone and the almost-poisoned traveler received clear water, the King and his knights ransacked the house. But they really did not have to look far, for the blanket lay in glory on the witch’s bed. And really, where else would you expect to find a blanket?
Next, they traveled to the end of the earth to find paradise. And when they got there, they found a golden ladder that stretched far above them into the pink and golden clouds, for here it was always sunset and dawn: the end of this life and the beginning of the next.
“I once climbed a beanstalk,” observed the King, as they all stared up at the veil between two worlds, “believing it to be a way to heaven. I would gladly make the real climb to save my daughter.” But then he looked down. “But I would not let the witch take her own life, and who am I to dare to ascend the heavens? No, I will pray and ask for guidance.”
Then he removed a little from the others, knelt down, and stayed there all night.
The knights, of course, stayed up all night as well, arguing about who would climb the ladder. None of them was going to let the king sacrifice his own life. In the morning, Verde suddenly saw before him the same angel who had guided him and Roho through the desert. The angel was holding out a bowl filled with purple berries.
“Take this to your king,” it said, “it is not his time yet.”
When Jack rose and came back to his knights, Verde stepped forward and solemnly gave him the bowl. There were tears in all the knights’ eyes, and the king’s as well, for they loved him dearly.
They continued on their way to the last place: the Amazon. When they arrived, they were very tired, hot, and thirsty. They found slippery mud slides all around that led into the river. Corncob followed his instinct (which is what he always did, and it always had a fifty-fifty chance of being either idiotic or wise) and plunged onto the slippery slides, covering himself in cool mud, and lapping clear water from the springs. All the other knights followed suit, while the King filled a bowl with mud from the ground. He watched the knights frolic for a moment, and then called them to order, and they stood at attention.
“We have collected every item,” he told them. “It is time to rescue my daughter.”
So they set out. But as they were halfway to the frigid ice caps, they were stopped in their tracks by a growling werewolf. His vicious eyes gleamed at them, and he licked his lips.
“ARRG!” he growled in his throat. “I have hated you, King Jack, for many years. A little nobody who rose to claim the kingdom! What makes you better than anyone else, hmm? My only consolation was the witch that I could visit and we would both complain about you every day. But now you have taken her away from me! Now you’ll never get your daughter back!” And he reached out and took the bowl of mud from the king and drank it all down. Then he ran far away before the knights could capture or slay him, but the mud was such that it made him a wolf forever, and he would never again transform into a man.
The king was cast down in sadness and knew not what to do, but then George cried out merrily, “Well, friends! Our filthy hides will have to save the day today! Sire, we are all covered in this mud: take it from us and we can continue on our way.”
Then the king smiled for joy and they went on until they reached the tiny castle in the snow. There was the little glass house, and all within were quiet and asleep, for it was daytime and fairies sleep during the day.
The king spread the Blanket of Sleep over the castle. He reached in and drew forth his miniscule infant daughter, held her in his palm, and mixed some berry juice with her milk in her teeny-tiny fairy bottle. While he did this, the knights were taking each impish, sleeping fairy out of the castle one-by-one, and spreading the Amazon Mud on them so that they would always remain fairies and could not transform into vicious bears. Then the king gave his daughter the berry juice to drink, they removed the blanket, and the princess and the fairies all woke up. The princess was her normal size again, and the fairies were fairies forever. They screamed in anger but could do nothing worse than buzz around the king, knights, and baby-sized princess.
They returned home in triumph, and the Queen rejoiced to see her husband and daughter again. There was a celebration that lasted twenty days, but all the knights went right to their rooms to take a bath.