Once upon a time, long ago in a kingdom very far away, there lived the most beautiful princess in the world. Her name was Elizabeth and she had long blond hair and beautiful blue eyes.
Although Princess Elizabeth was as smart as she was beautiful, she preferred riding horses and working in her rose garden to the normal royal pursuits of reading and embroidery. She also liked to talk to the gardner’s boy who’s name was Fessel.
The King and Queen of this kingdom would have been perfectly happy with Princess Elizabeth and her occasionally un-princess-like ways except for one thing. It was the law of the kingdom that a princess or prince could not rule the country alone. The rulers must be a married couple to provide a balance of judgment and viewpoint. Because of Princess Elizabeth’s strong mindedness, most of the local princes liked her very well for a friend but preferred to marry a more traditional princess.
This caused the King several sleepless nights. The Queen stayed up with him, fussing over him with lap robes and sweetened cups of hot milk.
The only time Princess Elizabeth ever worried about it were the mornings her parents had huge dark circles under their eyes. Not that she really wanted to marry, as she explained to Fessel, but her parents shouldn’t worry so much.
“Well, if the princes are such a wash-out, what about a hero?” Fessel was busily weeding the rose bed when Princess Elizabeth sat down on a bench to talk.
“Heros seem to be awful scarce around here. I wish…” She trailed off, thinking hard.
Fessel changed the subject but Princess Elizabeth’s unfinished thought had brought back a fairy tale that his grandmother used to tell. It was about a wonderful tree that would grant wishes to anyone who plucked a leaf from it. The only way this tree could be identified was to see it by starlight alone. If any other light struck it, it seemed just another tree. When seen by starlight, however, all the leaves glowed silver.
Fessel’s grandmother had always told him that the Silver Tree was no made up fantasy but very real. Since she hadn’t ever told him anything else untrue (without letting him know it was just a story) Fessel believed her.
The next morning, Fessel started out on his quest. He was going to find the Silver Tree for Princess Elizabeth and bring her back a hero. He loved her himself but he knew that a simple gardener’s boy would have no chance with a princess.
Fessel walked all day and most of the night before he heard a horse galloping up behind him. It was the Princess Elizabeth! She had noticed his absence and guessed what he must be thinking.
Fessel was not as pleased to see her as she was to see him. “What are you doing here, Princess? It isn’t safe for you to be roaming around the kingdom.”
“I’m going to go with you. If it isn’t safe for me, it isn’t safe for you either. Besides, I miss our talks when you’re gone.”
“But your parents will be dreadfully worried.”
“Then we’ll just have to hurry. I left them a note so they would know where I’d gone.” Princess
Elizabeth knew she was winning the argument. She always did.
They traveled for several days, camping by the side of the road when there wasn’t an inn. The weather held good until the end of the week. By that time they were deep into the huge forest that surrounded the kingdom and there were no houses or inns in which to find shelter.
The rain started about nightfall and kept up until midnight. Then it stopped but the wind turned unseasonably cold. Fessel had been desperately trying to light a campfire to keep the princess warm but with little success.
As she came back from another fruitless search for dry wood, Princess Elizabeth stopped short.
“What was that?” She said.
Fessel looked up from his task and listened. There is was again, a small whining noise over in the bushes to the left. Princess Elizabeth went toward the noise and when she reached the bushes, parted them very carefully. Blinking up at her was a very young bear cub!
Taking a piece of bread and honey from their supplies, the Princess coaxed the cub into the clearing and tried to get it to let her pet it. Fessel stopped what he was doing to watch her.
“I’m not sure you should be doing that Princess.” He said
. “Why not? It’s as cold and hungry as we are. Maybe it’s lost or orphaned.”
Fessel snorted. “And maybe it isn’t.”
Almost as soon as he had spoken there was a crashing through the bushes where the cub had been and the mother bear charged into the clearing, roaring ferociously. She thought that Princess Elizabeth and Fessel were trying to kidnap her cub!
Princess Elizabeth was frozen for a second until Fessel caught her hand and pulled her up and backwards shouting “Run!”
They ran away from the bear for a minute until it became obvious that the bear could run faster than they could.
“Quick! Up a tree, Princess!” Fessel panted, and boosted her up the nearest low hanging branch.
When they were both sitting on the highest branch they could find, Fessel looked down. The mother bear was still prowling around the foot of their tree and growling, waiting for them to come down. She was still mad!
“Maybe she’ll go away soon.” Princess Elizabeth whispered.
“I don’t think so.” Fessel whispered back. “She seems to be pretty upset.”
Indeed, the bear seemed to have decided to stay right where she was for as long as it took to get them out of the tree. Her cub’s whining from lack of attention only served to spur her on.
“We might as well get comfortable.” Fessel said. “We’ll probably be here all night. Try and get some sleep and I’ll keep watch in case she goes away.”
Princess Elizabeth saw the sense in this and curled up as comfortably as she could. Even Fessel dozed a little, waking up with a start at every movement. The night got later and darker but the moon and stars were out so it wasn’t to bad. Near to morning, Fessel woke up with a jump. The moon had set and the whole tree they were sitting in was glowing brightly silver!
“Princess! Wake up!” Fessel shouted.
Princess Elizabeth woke up, stretched and opened her eyes. Then she was wide awake.
“We found it!” She squealed excitedly.
Fessel looked down. The mother bear had finally taken her cub home to bed and the coast was clear. He helped Princess Elizabeth climb down since she was so excited that she almost fell out of the tree. Once they were on the ground, Fessel reached up and picked a silver leaf from the tree.
“What should I wish for?” He asked the Princess.
“I don’t know, it’s your wish.” She said.
Fessel thought about it. He could wish for a hero, but the Princess might not like the one they got. He could wish himself into a hero, but then he wouldn’t be himself. Besides it would all be a sham. Fessel thought some more. He had heard that all the leaves on the Silver Tree were heros who had found it but made a selfish wish and that gave him an idea.
“I wish that all the leaves on this tree would return to their original forms.” He said quietly. This would give the Princess all the heros she could want from which to chose. It meant that he had no chance with her but then, he never had one anyway. The Princess would be happy and the kingdom would be well ruled. That was what was important.
Instantly, they were surrounded with heros of every shape and size, all of them bewildered at their sudden transformation. Princess Elizabeth stepped in and explained their situation as well as the state of affairs in her kingdom. She cordially invited them to escort her (and Fessel) back to her kingdom where her father could interview each of them and decide who would be the next king.
A few of the heros decided to return to their own homes but most of them went with Princess Elizabeth to her father’s kingdom. All along the return journey, they courted her and discussed how they would win the king’s approval. Fessel kept to the edge of things and avoided most of the heros who only noticed him to order him around.
When they got back to the kingdom, Fessel returned to his garden and the long process of interviewing all the heros began. Fessel didn’t get to see very much of the Princess since most of her days were taken up by the interviews.
After they were all over, the king called Princess Elizabeth into his private chambers for a talk.
“Well, what do you think Miss? After all, one of them will be your husband.” The king said.
Princess Elizabeth looked thoughtful. “I didn’t really like any of them, Daddy.” She said.
“I know, but you have to marry sometime and you went to a great deal of trouble to find all these heros, pick the least objectionable one. Maybe he’ll grow on you.”
“They only think of themselves, not me or the good of the kingdom. Not one of them is as nice as Fessel and he went to as much trouble as I did.”
“He’s a sterling young man. But he’s still a gardener’s boy and you have to marry a Prince or a hero.” The king said.
At this Princes Elizabeth flared up. “He’s as much of a hero as any of them are! Why, he found the Silver Tree! And saved my life. I think saving the life of a Princess qualifies him as a hero, don’t you?”
The king laughed. “Yes, I do. I was beginning to wonder when you were going to think of that. And he has already proved to me that he has the kingdom’s best interests at heart. I’ll make the announcement tonight at dinner.”
“Then I’m going to run down to the garden and tell Fessel now. I want to see his face!” She ran off laughing.
That night at a formal dinner, Fessel was promoted from gardener’s boy to hero, amidst thunderous cheers. The wedding plans took six weeks, but only because Princess Elizabeth wanted to have the wedding as soon as possible and badgered everyone concerned.
When the king and queen retired to the country. King Fessel and Queen Elizabeth ruled the kingdom for many years and were both wise and very happy. As for the heros, most of them made pretty good farmers once they got over their feelings of self importance, and even they were happy.
So I suppose you could say,
They lived happily ever after.
Word Count: 1846