When we last left the world of “Blood, Sweat, and Tears”, there were grumblings of inter-kingdom war over the presumed kidnapping of Princess Terren the Fair. At first she wasn’t technically kidnapped, then she briefly was, but Prince Jaron saved her before continuing to force her against her will on a quest to seek the aid of an Enchantress. Let’s see what comes of all that, why don’t we…
The sun was scarcely up before the King and Queen of Liaralay sent emissaries over to King Jakob of Nikos, officially declaring their intent to wage war on his kingdom for his son’s abduction of their fair princess. Surprisingly – or perhaps not, depending on who you are and how easily you allow yourself to be surprised – the king did not give the emissaries an audience. Nor did he send a reply via crier or in any other manner.
People from all the kingdoms in the district were perplexed as to the eccentric behavior of King Jakob. Why, they wondered, did he do nothing about the threat to his domain? Why did he hide in that dark, forbidding castle of his? Indeed, when was the last time he had made an appearance? The general reckoning was ten years; maybe twelve, but at the very least ten.
There were any number of theories about his hiatus from the public eye. Some said he was simply shy. Others said he was simply mad. Still others said he was madly shy, though they couldn’t decide if the shyness was caused by madness or vice versa. Many grew suspicious over the years, doubting whether there was any king at all.
Some murmured that they would not put it past Prince Jaron to have orchestrated an assassination against his own father. But surely ten (possibly twelve) years ago was too soon for the prince to have done such a thing? Even were it only ten, Jaron would have been a lad of just six years; a mere babe in arms, really. Whoever heard of a child committing such a heinous act? And so the speculation continued.
Meanwhile, oblivious to the commotion back at home, Jaron and Terren came to the edge of a thickly wooded area.
“I do not know this place,” said Terren. “Where are we?”
“This, Terren,” said Jaron, “is the Enchanted Forest.”
“I do not.”
“You would go into the Enchanted Forest? And you would drag me in with you?!”
“Uh, where else would one find an Enchantress if not in the Enchanted Forest? Wake thee up, stupid.”
“Have you not heard the tales of the Enchanted Forest?” Terren said tensely. “’Tis a place fraught with danger and rife with peril. Few go in who come out alive. And even those who live are often changed, and for the worse.”
“Yes, yes, I’ve heard the stories same as you,” Jaron said, losing patience. “I am fully aware of what hazards may await us if we take but a few more steps. Even so, we will press on. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You need not fear for your safety, princess – you have with you a prince both daring and bold. Not to mention incredibly smart, good-looking, and witty, and I enjoy long walks by the shore and romantic candle-lit dinners.”
“All dinners are by the light of candles, you simpleton. It’s not like anyone’s invented the light bulb yet.”
Having no reply to that, Jaron urged his horse forward, under the trees. Terren, however reluctantly, followed after.
Not three steps into the Forest, things became very dark. The sun, you see, had no power there, except at select times. It would have been impossible to see a thing were it not for the countless fairy lights that twinkled on almost every flower. The air was thick with the breath of a million trees. If it had been invented yet, the Forest floor could have been likened to a treadmill, for it ever so slowly shifted backwards, so that any who stood still would eventually find himself right back where he started from. This was done to encourage people not to stand about all day, if they could help it.
Since minutes seem like hours in the Enchanted Forest– and hours like seconds, and seconds like years, and years like a day – Jaron and Terren had no idea how long their trek had been when they came to a colossal waterfall. Three things were strange about this particular waterfall. The first was that, although waterfalls tend to be rather noisy affairs, this one was perfectly silent. The second was that, even though in general a waterfall is part of a river, there was no river to be found, just the falls. And thirdly, while most waterfalls you encounter will be flowing down, down, down (hence the name “waterfall”), this particular waterfall flowed up.
Jaron pointed to the top of the waterfall. “That is our destination.”
“Way up there?” said Terren skeptically. “What, are we to climb?”
“Of course not, ding-a-ling damsel. The falls go upward, and so to go upward, it would make sense, would it not, for us to ride the falls?”
“No, it would not! We would get all wet!”
“A little water has never a man killed.”
Terren arched an eyebrow. “Unfamiliar with the concept of drowning, are we?”
Jaron gave her a dark look. “JUST JUMP ON YON STINKING WATERFALL, OKAY?!”
Terren obeyed, but not before expressing exactly how she felt about riding up waterfalls in enchanted forests.
If theme parks had been invented then, you can be sure that Jaron would have pulled for the addition of an Upward-flowing Waterfall Ride. Forsooth, the trip to the top of the falls was a blast-and-a-half.
“Well,” said Terren, once they’d arrived at the top, “we’ve arrived at the top. So where, pray, is the Enchantress?”
“Not here, if that is what you wish to know.”
Terren’s face grew crimson with anger. “Thou said this is our destination!”
“Aye, but not our final destination. But be calm, Terren, she is close by.”
“A stone’s-throw; no more.”
“So throw a stone and let’s get this show on the road!”
Jaron sighed and shook his head in a longsuffering manner. “You know naught about dealing with magic.”
“Oh, and I suppose you consider yourself an expert on all things magical?”
“Even if I did not, I would never admit it to you. Now, I am unsure precisely how much time we must spend in wait…”
“In wait?” interrupted Terren. “Why is there in waiting? Why can we not simply go see the Enchantress?”
“The Enchantress can be visited only at the mystical hour of Midnight. Or, y’know, during a Blue Moon. But methinks Midnight comes sooner than does a Blue Moon.”
“And how many hours until Midnight?”
Jaron shrugged. “Who can tell? In the Enchanted Forest, minutes seem like hours, and hours like seconds, and seconds like years, and years like a day. Get comfy, princess; we could be here for what seems like the rest of our lives.”
Terren heaved a deep sigh of resignation and obediently got comfy. She needn’t have bothered, however. In what seemed like only a moment, Midnight was upon them. Of course, this was before the invention of wristwatches, so the momentous occasion would have gone by completely unnoticed by Jaron and Terren, had not the sun suddenly burst forth in all its sunny glory. Midnight, you see, was one of those select times when the sun was permitted to shine in the Enchanted Forest.
After their eyes adjusted to the sudden light, Jaron and Terren beheld a beautiful multicolored prism created by the light of the sun refracted in myriad water droplets that made up the mist generated by the waterfall. In other words, a rainbow.
“There!” cried Jaron. “That is our final destination: Through the rainbow!”
Jaron and Terren urged their horses forward, and with mighty leaps on the parts of the animals, beasts and riders sailed through the rainbow and landed on the other side, in a cave that dazzled their eyes with its colorful light.
In the midst of the light stood the Enchantress. It is a difficult thing to describe her, for she looked both young and old, beautiful and ugly, light and dark. And if you think that makes one difficult to describe, it makes one even more difficult to look at.
“Welcome,” said the Enchantress, her voice seeming to echo from very far away. “Welcome, Princess Terren the Fair of Liaralay. Welcome, Prince Jaron of Nikos. And welcome to you, Your Majesty, King Jakob of Nikos.”
Terren looked sharply at Jaron. “King Jakob of Nikos? Your father?”
Jaron smiled slightly and nodded once. “That,” he said dryly, “would be my horse.”
Ignoring his lady companion’s look of shock, Jaron addressed the Enchantress. “Mistress of magic,” said he, “I would ask three boons of you.”
“Would you?” replied the Enchantress. “Three boons given requires three payments received.”
“Name your price.”
The Enchantress looked hard at the prince. “I do not believe in sloth,” she intoned. “I value hard work. Anything worth having is worth earning by blood, sweat, and tears. That is my price: Blood from a stone; sweat from a pig; and the tears of a crocodile. Bring these to me and I shall grant your three requests. And,” she added, “to ensure your diligence as you perform your tasks, the Princess Terren will remain with me until your return.”
Terren, to be frank, was not overly pleased with this arrangement. She mouthed the word “no” to the prince several times, but he paid her no heed.
To the Enchantress he said, “Very well. Is there like a time limit, or what?”
“Take as long as you need,” said the Enchantress. “I’m in no hurry. The Princess might be, but that’s okay, ‘tis not all about her.”
“True doth be dat,” Jaron nodded. “Well, I am off. Later, Terren, baby.”
“Thy mother, Jaron of Nikos!” Terren muttered after him.
<<< End of Part 5 >>>