Marigold and Prince Baer
Sometimes life gives you a few moments that are so sweet you do not notice the sugar trap until it’s too late to escape.
The banquet table was set to perfection in the finest dining room of the castle. All seventy guests were seated, engaged in expected, pleasant chatter, the crystal sparkled, ice tinkled in the glasses, impatient to be filled. For the more diminutive guests, the revered, and yes also feared, clans of fairies, a clever table arrangement was always placed onto the larger table. A great oval arrangement of their grand table, scattered them among the guests and also elevated them to a polite conversational level. Attention to every detail was paid to their table settings, too.
A thousand gardenias, jasmine, roses, honeysuckle, frangipani, the most delicious flowers in their kingdom, spilled from the pots and vases filling the room with their delicate scents. The long table was draped in the finest linens, a snowy white so they did not detract from the ladies’ fine dresses. Every place setting glimmered. There was no room for elbows to be set on the table. The silverware was so shiny the blades of the bread knives were being used as mirrors for some of the guests to check their teeth. Five hundred candles glowed in the dozens of golden candelabras placed down the center of the long table. Chandeliers shimmered over their heads. In the loft, a choir sang in low, soft syllables. The servers were preparing to pour the first glass of periwinkle nectar, the pride and joy of the Thunderhill Clan of Fairies. The nectar was supposed to extend life one year for each sip of the intoxicating brew.
Everyone in the kingdom and far beyond, excitedly anticipated this important, opening banquet and ball. This annual ritual was very important for keeping good relationships with the powerful fairies that kept their own kingdoms in the adjacent woods and forests. A representative of all seventeen of the fairy clans, the highest-ranking families in the kingdom, all of the King’s daughters, and all of the blood relatives sat together for the first time at this prestigious table. The elegant queen, who for that first evening, had dressed in a rather demure, pale silver velvet gown. The color and her lovely golden hair, set off her delicate crown of pink tourmalines. The grand lady eyed every detail, nothing could escape her notice and while she smiled and chatted she also sent private signals to the waiters. The slyly watchful Queen was alert to the table again, her finger occasionally stirring the air to fix a fork, settle a napkin, put a limit on a wine glass of an overly boisterous guest.
This night was the opening to the annual spring fling that would last for days and include daily hunting to provide meat for the festivities, two more royal balls, a picnic, three days of games, and three festivals in the village for everyone in the kingdom to attend. Each day, of course, each of the elaborate meals were cooked fresh from the daily hunt.
Marigold, the youngest princess, was almost too young to be included, but someone dropped out and that left a chair open. Taking it as a portent, her mother had announced that she would be seated in it. Once this was decided, a tornado of maids whirled her into clothes, her long golden hair got piled and pinned to the top of her head. After all that she was powered and pinched and given a crash course on walking in her heeled, satin slippers without allowing them to clatter on the smooth floors. When her chair was pulled out she slid in, feeling dazed. Breathing half breaths and waiting for her mother to signal when she could take a sip from her own glass, Marigold wished she could relax and enjoy everything, but she knew she could not. These events were never meant to be fun for any of them. They were about maintaining peace.
Marigold—Goldi to everyone who knew her– watched her father from her place at the middle of the long table, a kingly blur. The King was not pleased. His squinty right eye narrowed and glittered. Both his bushy brows met in the middle making his forehead a map of creases. The Queen’s fine hands began to flit like small anxious birds, fluttering at her throat and then down around her plate where they could not land. The King drummed his fingers on the table causing the silver to quake. Those who knew him shifted in their seats, sat up straighter and held their breaths. Even the fairies knew better than to take offense. And the first course had yet to be served.
And then his piercing right eye fell on the beautiful Queen who met his gaze; her eyes were flashes of blue light. Goldi’s eyes quickly flickered back to her father in time to see his great chin drop, he nodded and immediately straightened up, his mood quickly shifted and he began telling an old hunting joke. Whatever spell her mother cast over her father, it always worked. Once the King was settled, the Queen surveyed the table again, and with a deft wave of her finger she pulled a napkin under aged Sir Davvid’s chin catching a drip from his beard before it landed on his elegant shirt.
The Queen saw to the unruffled pleasure of their guests, but the King saw into them. For this important ability, he had been gifted at his birth with that narrower right eye. The piercing one. The eye that saw through even the best constructed façade. Everything in this banquet was as tightly controlled as the children’s quarters.
Goldi felt quite disappointed, but she was careful not to show it. No one poured any fairy nectar into her empty glass. She sipped ice water, tried to keep her eyes lowered, watching the world from under her lashes, in the way her mother would approve. She wished with all her heart that something mighty would happen, something to make this night the talk for the rest of her life.
Marigold perked up when Vulparia, the shimmering purple-haired, long lashed Queen of the most important fairies, the Thunderhill Clan sent some kind of signal to the queen, too. The queen tipped her head toward the diminutive queen and they exchanged something.
“Your majesty the King and Queen, Lords and Ladies, Honored Fairies and All Other Gentle Guests, the first course is served!” The announcement broke off Marigold’s thoughts and she looked toward the servers’ doors at the same time everyone at the table did.
Two straight lines of servers streamed out of the doors bearing the traditional salad of seven colors, one rare vegetable coming from each of the seven points, or factions as her parents called them in private.
“Are we rabbits tonight?!” A man’s voice boomed very near her boomed.
Hiding her smile, Marigold turned toward the voice, finding it came from one of the visiting princes, the largest, loudest, most elaborate in dress and voice, probably the richest, but clothes did not always mean anything, sitting to the right of her older sister, the Princess Lily. Shy, gentle Lily seemed like a shadow in her seat, a glimmer of pale moonlight, exhausted, yet straight backed, her eyes too bright to mean she was excited. Last spring, at their other sister’s wedding, her father had pronounced Lily next in line to be wed. Goldi did not envy her. She did not have to look at her father to know where his piercing right eye was focused.
“And where are you from Sir?” A very beautiful lady to his right quickly asked, laying a hand on his arm so he could not deflect her, but he seemed quite eager to tell all about himself.
The boisterous Prince Baer had arrived from three or four kingdoms North, where, according to him the fairies were nimble in their upkeep of the forest, but powerless against his monarchy, a state he seemed quite satisfied with. This caused another stir, but someone quickly filled in.
“I have been there. It quite spectacular,” a man’s voice said. Marigold did not recognize it and she did not look up from her salad, which she had to be absolutely certain to eat a bite from each color. People were always watching.
“Such frivolous weeds!” The prince chuckled. This time Marigold looked up in time to watch him place a long sprig of a perky dandelion into his mouth and began quickly chewing the stem until the flower disappears inside, just like a rabbit would. He repelled her and yet she could not help but stare at him, too. The prince was handsome.
“Little flutter-wing-thing, bring me my drink,” Prince Baer commanded, waving the delicate glass that looked like a thimble inside his meaty hand.
Those seated around him laughed nervously, flickering their eyes at the very powerful guest fairies he seemed to want to deliberately insult. The delicious food became hard to swallow even for the gluttons. Goldi kept her eyes on him, waiting to see how all of this would unfold. The servers both large and miniature busied themselves with other guests at once.
“Little flutter-wing-orange-thing, bring me my drink,” he waved his empty glass at the closet winged fairies who were there to serve out tradition and love for gentle Princess Lily and the Queen. It would not have mattered what he said, he meant it as an insult so they had rightly taken it as one. Icedrop fairies fluttered their wings, Nyx fairies went silent, Princes, Dignitaries, even the Ladies of Strong Will seemed to hold their breath. All eyes bore into him and so did Goldi’s, but hers were softer, curious.
“They will be serving the sacred periwinkle nectar now,” Lily told Prince Baer, trying to hold off the inevitable, Goldi thought, pitying her kind sister for all her refined qualities.
One of the fairy servers buzzed in ready to serve him the rare nectar.
“And what is this?” he asked. Using a far too wide gesture, his hand knocked into the server’s tray, spilling a small glass of the sacred fairy periwinkle nectar, a gift made especially for these princes, that precious elixir vitae, “It stinks of perfume, too! Bahhhhh, I do prefer a good dark ale,” he cried, slamming a big paw onto the table, and when Lily said, “Sir!” as a gentle reminder to watch his manners, and to also smooth hurt fairy feelings, he gave her a playful elbow, which was not taken that way. The prince was unlike the rest, rude, callous, and far too handsome, Goldi thought, looking over the other contenders who politely watched the events unfold.
The advisor to the Baer Prince, his right-hand man, cleared his throat and quickly said from across the table, “What Prince Baer means to say is that he apologizes for sounding so gruff. It is the polite way to speak in our country, it is a rough place, carved from the mantle of a stone mountain. We speak loud and plainly to everyone, and to the fairies, too. Please take no offense. We will work on our manners to make them more suitable for this fine kingdom forthwith.”
“A true prince apologizes rarely and never to a fairy.” Prince Baer announced. The chatter at the table rose up suddenly, the choir in the balcony increased their volume, drowning the rude prince out.
Goldi felt deflated in her disappointment that no fairy had landed a spell on him. She fiddled with her napkin and tried to remember how many courses would be served, this being her only way to measure the slowly passing time. The noise came back down. In that brief interlude Prince Baer managed to declare something more, which she unfortunately did not catch, but it brought a long pause of silence to the cavernous room. Someone clinked a fork on a plate, the voices rushed back in, filling the room again.
A look was exchanged between the Prince Baer and his right-hand-man and although the prince’s expression did not change, he did not add another word to the room.
Relieved, everyone busied themselves once again with talk of the weather, rifles, the perfectly spiced periwinkle nectar they all had the privilege to drink that night. When she risked looking toward him again, Prince Baer sent Marigold a bold flirtatious glance, a cocked brow, a slow wink. This brought an unexpected flush to her cheeks. She busied herself with the dish set before her. A golden spoon inside a marbled pudding, cooked to perfection, but somehow tasted like paste. The next time she looked up he blew her a kiss.
A laugh escaped her. It had seemed so preposterous.
Goldi flickered her eyes from the Queen to the King and around to see who had noticed. Luckily, they were all too busy politely ignoring the conceited prince. Goldi, did not think she liked him either, but she could hardly pry her eyes off of him. With great determination, she managed to set her eyes onto her plate.
The queen must have seen everything for when the dinner was finally concluded; two maids arrived to accompany Goldi to her room. No games and no dancing for her, but she had never been invited to the banquet, let alone the after-dinner entertainment. At fifteen she was not old enough. Goldi went quietly to her room, surprised to see a small bouquet of flowers in a silver vase by her bed and hidden in the petals, the words, let’s go for a morning walk tomorrow at ten o’clock. —HRH Prince Baer. The hunters would already be well out at that late hour and Goldi, frightened and intrigued could barely sleep wondering what that walk might bring about.
The next morning, Marigold dressed in one of her liquid dresses, slipped quietly out of the palace pulling the braids out of her hair so her golden locks fell around her shoulders, tumbling down her back. Bending slightly at the waist, as she had seen her older sisters do, she placed her hands on the air to take a few practiced, dainty steps-toe first, like a dancer, into the garden before she went into the woods to meet the intriguing Prince Baer for an innocent walk in the woods.
This walk skirted on the absolutely forbidden, making it all the more spine tingling for Goldi, there in her first real flirtation. She hurried down the path toward the safety of the garden.
“Rrrrrr, Rrrrrr,” growled the bushes, making Goldi laugh.
“I see you in there,” she sang. This flirtation, Goldi thought, was only a diversion, a practice love, an infatuation with infatuation. This was nothing like love, even she knew that, Marigold did not know a lot about love, but it did feel necessary all the same.
Besides, the night before her maid told her that she had heard from the fairy-berry-vine whispers that he was always a spectacle and a flirt, and was never going to marry anyone. The news had only thrilled Marigold more. This flash of flirtation would come without Baer expecting any kind of commitment from her.
“Grrrr rowllllll,” he roared leaping out of the bush. She stepped aside quickly letting him fall to the ground with a loud oompf! Baer did not know these enchanted woods as well as Marigold, who was not a fairy, but still an Indigene, with some power coming from her own birthright, like her mother’s, and from her father, maybe something more, too. As in all things, time would tell.
“You did not even try catch me!” he cried, rolling to his back, trying to grab the hem of her dress. A liquid dress was made deliberately slippery so nothing would cling to it during a walk in the woods. It was easy to slip out of his grasp, never allowing him to actually catch her.
“Why will you not catch me?” He laughed trying to line himself up to fall into her arms again.
Goldi laughed, “and be crushed by you? You are a bear and I am a bird. Catch me if you can.” Goldi leapt to the fallen tree trunk and went deeper into the forest never realizing that when her bear of a prince lifted that seemingly dead tree trunk and tossed it aside, he infuriated a very tiny, but extremely powerful village of Fire Moss ferries. The powerful queen, already on alert from his rude behavior the night before, got the full report immediately. The fairy hives were buzzing. The enchanted forest hummed with it, and Goldi could feel it too. She was just too naïve to think it had anything to do with her. Luckily for her, the fairies allowed for this. For him, no condonation would be given.
During another fallen tree trunk crossing, he tottered and fell off into the shallow ditch below.
“My foot is trapped!”
She stood above him. His face no longer looked playful. Tears rested in the corner of his eyes. He mopped his nose with his cuff. Tugged and tugged at his foot, even putting both hands on his thigh and tugging up.
“I think it is broken in there, Goldi,” he whispered, sounding like a frightened little boy. She leaned over to look.
“Just give me your shoulder to place a hand on for balance and I think I can work myself free.” All pretense had left his face when he turned it up to her, fear dropped into the pit of her belly setting her heart to fluttering. Using what power she dared, she grabbed hold of the back of his collar and pulled. The force of him pushed her off the log, to the other side. They landed on top of a thicket of ivy leaves.
Prince Baer went limp on top of her making himself a cave, a quivering mass until once again his spirit solidified. He became strong again and now she was trapped. Goldi struggled against his ever-tightening bear hug and felt a tug on both of her ankles. With this little bit of help she was able to slip down to the bottom of his arms where she managed to unfold and escape. Goldi ran blindly.
The fairies, at least seven clans were on him. She whispered to herself, ‘Goldi, do not to turn around,’ and then she did, just in time to see the buzz of Fire Fairies the queen jabbing his nose with her wand, the flash, and then when the smoke cleared there stood a great, brown bear, the fur the exact color of his hair. The giant furry thing wore his hat and doublet.
And then there was Lily standing at the edge of the woods, holding her arms out as if to stop the fairies. “He is our guest. Please put him back. He does not know what he is doing!”
Goldi’s knees folded and her mind went black. When she awoke, she was in her own bed where her maid told her the terrible news that not just the rude Prince Baer was changed into a bear, but also gentle, graceful Lily had also been turned into a bear.
The fairy empress sent a note to the King and Queen that stated in rather plain language that Lily had also been made into a bear to punish her father for not defending their honor by at the very least, sending Prince Baer packing immediately after the banquet.
On the King’s order, a hasty Baer wedding was held in the oldest chapel, near the garden. Candles cast a dim, but golden glow inside the quaint chapel. Before anyone could stop them, the sisters all began to sing for their sister as her bear face appeared in the doorway ready to make her way bravely down the aisle. Even with the thick build of a bear, Lily moved gracefully to the altar, her lace veil barely rippling. The priest spoke no more that fifteen words and offered no wine. There were seventeen men holding shotguns, ready to try and break the curse with Baer’s quick death even though they had been told on good authority that would never do.
After the tense ceremony, Lily regally followed her husband into the woods, side-by-side without ever once looking back. The King could only mop the sweat from his brow, even knocking his crown off once. The Queen would not be consoled. Seven ladies-in-waiting held baskets of all the handkerchiefs required to catch her tears.
Goldi went directly to the Empress Fairy to beg to take Lily’s place. The Empress still glowed in the way all fairies did, but her wings no longer beat with her breathing, they were tattered, instead of hovering over the flower she sat in it. Her old face was a web of wrinkles, her lips a slash of pink under that disappearing button nose. Her clothes were not the elaborate costume of leaves, mosses, and flower petals held together with fairy glue. Now she had fairy cloth wrapped over her lower body, giving her the look of a slowly developing cocoon, which she just may have been. Goldi trembled in her presence afraid this request would be successful and afraid it would not be.
“You were spared so that you alone could find the way to free your dear sister,” the Empress explained, not unkindly.
“How do I do that?” Goldi asked.
“Oh my dear, stupid little girl, that bear and your sister can only be released from the curse through your own doing. You have read all the tales. Now go, I am old and tired and it is a new day, maybe one of my last,” she wheezed. “The time will come. Stay vigilant for the opening. You will know it when you see it.”
Every few days, whenever she could get away from the castle, Goldi left the Baers food and quilts and other things for their survival. Goldi discovered a flat rock that jutted out of a ledge where she could settle in and watch, but they could not see her. Or else they never let on that they knew she was there.
At first she cared for her sister out of guilt, but that soon turned to a deeper kind of caring, something she had never felt toward another and could not describe even to herself. Again and again she begged the Fairy Empress to let her trade places with Lily and this time she meant it. Looking back, she knew it had been mean spirited and deliberate to make him chase her into the uncertain territory but she could not figure out why she had done it. She pitied Baer’s naïve childish actions, pitied that he never got the chance to become the fine prince he was probably destined to become. The Queen blamed the King, and he accepted that blame. She blamed herself, but no one wanted her, too.
The first winter, the distraught Queen ordered a house be built for Lily in the Neutral Woods and so that was done with great dispatch for the Kingdom mourned the loss of Lily. From her almost daily vigil atop her stone shelf, as far as Goldi could tell, the Baers did go inside the house, but they rarely used it.
One morning, Goldi went to see what they might need. The knot of guilt had become a sharp stone in her heart even while the Baers went about making their life a comfortable, natural life. The couple had made a bed of soft ivy and sweet grass under an overhang of a thick berry bush. Nearby was a small, delicately scented pond where Lily took her early morning bath. Inside the cold water, Lily Baer settled in and ate long, silvery fish whole and still made the eating look delicate and bloodless. Once washed, Lily Baer would roll in tufts of lemon grass, sticking her head into the blooming flower bushes to come out with flowers ringing her furry head.
One morning, still holding the basket of food that Goldi brought for them, she froze mid step. Ahead in the small meadow, the two bears were dancing together on their hind legs, front paws to front paws nuzzling noses. And Goldi thought, this is true love, is it not? Lily has done what she has always been taught, to cleave to her husband and make the best of things, to come to love through whatever means she had.
After setting down the basket, Goldi left quickly, feeling more inadequate than she had ever felt. Making the best of things would never be something she could do.
Winter came again, blanketing the world with snow. In the spring, Goldi forced herself to continue to watch over her sister, waiting for her chance to save them. To her surprise, she spied Lily with a baby bear that she was teaching to eat grubs and berries right from the thorny brambles that grew over their newly made spring bed. Again, Goldi envied her sister in this pure love, something she felt certain she would never have.
From a hedge not far away from Goldi, Prince Baer stayed low to the ground, moving through the darkest part of the forest watching her move about in the shadows of the trees, her golden hair still that flash of sun light he had so badly wanted to capture. He hated fairies and took a special delight in bothering all that he could now that he had absolutely nothing to lose. He had learned Goldi’s pattern for coming to check on her sister, saw her tearing her own lustrous hair out, witnessed her tears of desperation. That was true love he thought, and hated the world for delivering a condition that he could never believe in, never give in to. Loving was unnatural.
Spring awakened slowly. This brought him the growling pleasure of watching Goldi come with her basket of goodies almost every day now. And as the sun grew stronger, she dressed in fewer layers, finally arriving in her usual peasant’s disguise of old shoes, the worn skirt, the peasant’s blouse, her apron. That morning as he watched her sit on her slab of rock, he decided the time was right to try to break the curse. There was nothing weaker in this world, he had come to realize, than a young human. He could have eaten her. He often wanted to. Just a swipe of his inhuman paw— he had to stop his thickening mind from turning on this thought. Stay to the plan, he told himself. Stay to the plan.
Prince Baer lumbered to the waterfall, took a careful bath, splashing the small clan of the Tigerstream fairies that lived at the water’s edge. Oh, they whined and beat their stupid wings so he pushed the surface of the water with his great paws sending a tidal wave over their silly village. Satisfied, he sat back. Birds fluttered away, something in the deep brush cackled. Snakes were easy to detect they had such a strong odor. A loud, persistent clicking sound gave him the shivers. From somewhere across the sky that familiar sound cracked the air. One, two three times. He stopped to listen.
The hunters were out already, he knew the sound. Good, he plotted to himself, that King was on the other side of the hill with his big, loud gun. First man to be taken down once he was returned to his original self.
Pulling himself out of the pond in such a way as not to get mud on his clean coat, he next rolled in a thick bed of jasmine, and then walked through the newly bloomed flower patch, perfuming his clean fur, and sprinkling it with flowers, just as Lily did every morning. Goldi would not be able to resist a flower sprinkled bear prince.
Walking slowly and carefully so that not a twig snapped or a branch stirred, he eased slowly toward Goldi sitting on her rock. Their eyes met at once.
“Oh!” she whispered, wiping her eyes with the back of her hands. Good, he thought, she had been crying.
“Don’t run away,” he whispered, thinking of the day his best mare had died so the tears came up slowly. “Please I beg you. Help me—us.”
“What is the baby’s name?” Goldi asked, sniffling.
For a moment, he was puzzled, and then he remembered that abomination that Lily-bear now gave all of her attention to.
“Baby Bear,” he told her because that was what the mother called it.
Goldi said nothing for a few minutes. She seemed to be studying him, and if he knew anything about females she saw the pity in her eyes. Good. He pawed the air, like a loyal dog might. And she did lay a hand on the top of his head, just as he had hoped.
“I have to break this curse for the sake of my son,” he whispered.
“The fairies told me that I could break the curse and I would know they time when it came,” she whispered.
“How? How?” he cried, but Goldi shrugged, said, “I don’t know. That is all they will tell me.”
A red bird flew over a low hanging branch and landed on his brow, its tail feathers flickering across one eye like long lashes he could not control. Shaking his big head as hard as he could, he could not make it fly off. He realized there were many woodland creatures now watching, so that meant the fairies were there, too, he thought. The brush stirred, the wind blew clean and scented, all portents of a better future, he was certain.
“I think the kiss you denied me is probably the solution,” Baer said quickly. Goldi’s wide eyes flew open even larger. This idea repulsed her that was easy to see, so he had to speak quickly, pull her back inside that lovely, smothering cloak of guilt.
“Just one kiss. The true love kiss. I know that is what we had,” he said.
He did not like the expression her eyes took, the disbelief, so he stood up on his hind legs, hoping to look manlier.
“Yes,” she whispered at last, sliding off the rock, she stepped toward him, and grasped his thick arms with her hands and standing on tiptoe she tipped her chin up to him. Without a word of warning, she lightly set her lips, right on his lips, their noses touched. He did his best to pucker.
Lightning flashed. The slam of thunder sounded, his heart quickened and pain slammed into him. At first, he thought, the transformation is happening. Wild animals scattered, the birds took to higher branches. And Goldi screamed. Bringing up an arm he realized that it was still a paw. He merely lay dying, still a bear, in a growing pool of his own warm blood. The golden sunlight flickered and blinked off.
“Father!” Goldi cried. “You shot him!”
There stood the king, his powerful rifle under his arm, surrounded by his men. Everything in the forest seemed to freeze.
“How could you?” she cried, breaking the silence.
“I’ll make you a rug of his fur,” he said spitting on the ground. On those few words alone, more men filled in and dragged the carcass off leaving on the ground a pond of blood.
“What chance will Lily have now?!” Goldi cried.
“She has a better chance without him. He was a rogue and a slaughterer of sheep. I had not made up my mind until I saw you and him—-“
“I wanted to try the true love kiss. To save Lily! What about Lily! She has a child.”
The woodlands came alive with rustling wind, the shriek and cry of wild animals. And then silence.
“I am here. I am here!” It was Lily’s voice.
And then a pale hand parted the great fern leaves. In a dazzling moment, she stepped into the clearing, her nakedness wrapped loosely in fairy cloth carrying the small boy in her arms.
“The curse is gone for me and our son. He was a great man to sacrifice himself for us,” Lily called, coming closer on wobbling legs. The child buried his frightened face into his mother’s breast.
A cheer filled the air. Dogs barked, squirrels ran about. Prayers were whispered. Goldi’s knees buckled from under her. Someone caught her before she went down. And like Lily, she was quickly born off to the castle, and once again put to bed with a strong draught of bitter herb tea.
True to her father’s word, when she awakened, there on the floor of her room lay the great hide and head of that bear, Prince Baer. Marigold threw herself on top of it to try and claw his sad, lost soul from the lifeless hide, to send it home, away from there.