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, the 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.
But all good things must turn with fortune, and so it was that one mild mid-november morning, when the sun shone blithely upon the prosperous kingdom of Jack and Miranda, there came a great shaking in the ground and the sound of an earthquake. The sound came from a herd of savage bears that roared into the marketplace and upset all the stalls and peasants. Miranda had recently given birth to a little daughter named Rose. Her nurse had chosen that morning to take Rose out in her stroller and now the bears descended upon them. They frightened the poor nurse so much by their baying and growling that she fell down in a faint, and then they grabbed the princess and left the kingdom.
Of course Jack was not about to sit around and do nothing, so he called all his bravest knights to the throne room. He asked them to come with him into the wide world to save his daughter. All of his knights loved King Jack very much, and they swore at once not to return home until they had found the baby princess. The queen wept terribly but Jack assured her that all would be well and Rose returned safe.
“And what of you, Jack?” she wept. “Take care and do not be rash, or you will never save our daughter.”
Jack promised to be careful, and with that, they set out into the wide world.
When the road separated into four different directions, Jack sent them off in pairs. 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 that went on this adventure would be tested ere he returned.
King Jack and Serence travelled night and day until they reached a gigantic house as big as the castle wherein Jack once encountered a princess-stealing Giant.
“Of course!” he cried when he saw it. “The bears worked for a giant. I should have known this would happen to her. Rose!” he cried, running throughout the castle with his sword drawn and his speed terrible. “Rose!” But after he had run from the bottom of the castle to the top, and back again to the bottom, with Serence following only a few steps behind, they had seen no Giants or any sign of Rose.
“Your majesty,” said Serence, “I do not believe she is here.”
“No, you are right,” agreed Jack. “They have taken her somewhere else. We must find this giant!”
He ran outside, mounted his horse, and began immediately to scour the mountainside.
While the two companions roamed the mountains, Richard and George headed 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 little lost princess.”
Both knights went toward the ship but George paused. “Wait,” he said, “It is night, and it is now things may appear to be different from what they are. While I desperately wish to board this ship, I think we should wait until morning and see if it, 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 a handful of dolls. “My, my,” said Richard when he awoke.
“Yes,” agreed George, “it is good that we waited, or we would have lost ourselves to a dream.”
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 reached the frozen ice caps and continued on their way 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’re 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 to it.”
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 awakened and went out under the stars where the Northern Lights lit up the vast expanse above him. But right at his feet was another rainbow of colors: the little palace had come alive and different-hued 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 Sirs Corncob and Terence and immediately worked their magic so that the two men disappeared into thin air, only to find themselves on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere.
In the west we find Sirs Roho and Verde who have just reached a town on the outskirt of the great desert. From a local merchant, they bought food and water, skins, and a map: “Follow the main route on the map and do not rest,” warned the man who sold it to them. “Do not veer off or you will be dead men.”
So the two knights started across the hot, scorching desert. 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, it turns out, were very lazy. They might be 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 intense. All of a sudden, he realized that it was his conscience.
“Drat!” he cried. “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.
“We should pray for guidance.”
Well, it is one thing to take lots of breaks because you are lazy, but as anyone knows who has tried it, prayer is in no way the task of a lazy man. Verde and Roho were both out of practice, but they concentrated and fervently asked 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.
Roho looked at Verde and 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 a Witch, The Purple Berries of Paradise, and Mud from the Amazon.”
“Blanket, Berries, Mud,” repeated Roho to himself, over and over again.
“Thank you, oh great genie. That is all we wished to know.” Then they left the lamp on the oasis, packed their skins with water and their food bags with grapes, and headed southeast to the sea.
Serence followed his king all through the mountains as a faithful friend and obedient subject, but he was confused. After another day, he said to Jack, “Your majesty, what makes you think it was a giant that lived in that place? And why would he steal your daughter?”
Now, it turns out that that place they had been was magical. It preyed upon your worst fears. So Jack had thought it was a castle, but Serence had seen it for what it truly was: a large, uninhabited cave. Jack was very afraid that a giant would keep his daughter locked up for the rest of her life, just like his wife had been kept, and he would never find her. Now he let those fears control what he saw, and he wasted precious time grappling with a useless demon.
“Of course it was a giant!” he cried impatiently at Serence. “Who else would live in such a great castle?”
“Your Highness,” said Serence in confusion, not wishing to contradict his king but also too truthful to live a lie, “I saw no castle, but just a cave.”
Now, Jack was a fair and humble king, and he knew Serence would never lie. So he stood in mystification a moment, and finally determined that they would go back and investigate this contradiction.
When they arrived, he found that it was indeed just a hole in the mountain. He fell to his knees in penitence. “I have led us farther away from my daughter and wasted precious time. I have been rash and fearful. Can you forgive me?”
Of course, Serence protested that there was nothing to forgive, and so they set out southwest to the sea to find if any of their companions had had more luck than they.
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 who immediately began to call and wave to them. It was Terence and Corncob. Of course the two sailors took in their oddly found companions, 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. 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 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. 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.
“As 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 to save the babe from the clutches of the vicious 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 surprise and venomous anger.
“AHH!!” she screamed. “So you have found me at last! But you shall not take me alive as your father-in-law once did! Oh no, I know all about your little daughter’s capture, and I cackle at the thought. Serves your family right. Now you will never know the location of your precious blanket.”
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 tightly.
“So long as I am king you shall not have the satisfaction of taking your own life. 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, 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 remaining knights ransacked the house. But they really did not have to look far, for the blanket lay in glory and full sight upon 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 in true humility. “But I would not let the witch take her own life, and who am I to decide my own fate? No, I will pray and ask for guidance from above.”
Then he removed a little from the others, knelt down, and stayed there all night.
In the morning, Verde awakened to see before him the same angel who had guided them through the desert. It 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 presented him with the bowl. There were tears in all the valiant knights’ eyes, and the king’s as well, for they loved him dearly and were very grateful that he would remain with them, and the king was relieved that he would see his wife and daughter again.
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 slipped into the river, and there were little springs that bubbled up from the ground, offering cool, refreshing relief. Corncob followed his instinct (which is what he always did, and it always had a fifty-fifty chance of being either idiotic or dumbfoundingly 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, although the King retained his dignity and climbed down to the spring, where he filled all the water-skins, and drank from one himself. Then he filled a bowl with mud from the ground. Finished, 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 go rescue my daughter.”
So they set out. But as they were halfway to the frigid ice caps, they encountered an evil werewolf! His vicious eyes gleamed at them so maliciously that they all stopped still.
“ARRG!” he growled. “I have hated the royal family many years, and my only consolation was the witch that I could visit and we would both air our grievances daily. But now you have taken even her away from me, and I will punish you! HA!” At that last word, he reached out and swiped the bowl of mud from the king and drank it all down. Then he ran far away, but the mud was such that it made him a wolf forever, and he would never again become a man.
The king was cast down in sadness and knew not what to do: knowing that he must waste more time by returning to the forest but dreading any more delay.
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 and they went on in joy until they reached the tiny castle in the frigid north. There was the little glass house, and all within were quiet and asleep, for it was daytime and fairies sleep during the day.
Then the king spread the Blanket of Sleep over the castle. He reached in and drew forth his miniscule infant daughter 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 they removed the blanket, and the princess and the fairies all woke up. The princess was her normal smallish size again, and the fairies were fairies forever. They screamed in anger but could do nothing worse than buzz around the King, Knights, and Princess.
They returned home in triumph, and the Queen was overjoyed 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.