By E. Marie Fera
Long ago in the far away land of Ladenia, there lived a young prince named Gregory. He was fair and handsome, with skin as white as snow and cheeks as red as blood. All the young girls fancied him. He lived in the castle with his father and step-mother. His mother had passed when he was just a young boy. His mother always love singing to the birds in the garden, and he loved spending time with her there. He sang the bird’s song to her as she took her last breath.
Gregory’s father remarried to his step-mother, who always despised that she had to share her time and money with the King’s son. She was determined to marry him off and get him out of her hair. She started pestering Gregory to find a princess. Gregory knew from a young age that he did not wish to find a princess, but rather he wanted a prince instead. He never spoke of this, because it was unheard of.
The step-mother invited young women from across the land for Gregory to meet and fall in love. Each one was beautiful and smart and the Prince knew that they were chosen to be perfect for him. However, he was not interested in any of the women.
His step-mother was angry. She had gone through a lot of trouble to select the perfect mate for Gregory and he had not liked any the suitors.
“What is wrong with you, boy!? Have you no eyes?! Those girls are beautiful! You can’t be so picky! Tell me, what could make them better?” She said, approaching him with fire in her eyes.
Gregory was afraid, but tired of hiding his true nature, “They could be men.”
The Queen was disgusted. With vigor, she spat in his face. “That will never be! I will pick a wife for you and you will be happy and there will be no argument!”
Around the corner, the groundskeeper had heard the conversation between Gregory and his step-mother and took pity on the Prince. He told him the legend of a magical ring. One that if worn, would make it so that Gregory could take a prince instead of a princess, and no one would think anything of it. It was said to possess the power to grant the wearer precisely what they needed and punish those who threatened the wearer’s happiness. The legend warned that the journey was a dangerous one. The groundskeeper said he had heard of many who tried to retrieve the ring, but none that succeeded. The ring was hidden deep within the forest, past where the trees were the thickest, in a dark cave.
Gregory set out to find the magic ring at once, leaving a message for his father in case he worried. It was his step-mother who found the letter, though, who understood what he was chasing after and why. It made her furious, and she set to work on a plan to thwart his efforts.
Gregory had taken his horse with him on the trip, but had no way to defend himself from any evils as he made his way into the forest. The animals skittered around the forest floor and through the trees as he passed them. He had been traveling for almost a full day when he reached a clearing leading to a bridge. At the base of the bridge sat an ugly, old troll.
“Aye!” The troll spoke as Gregory approached, “Who goes there?”
“It is I, Prince Gregory of Ladenia! I am on a quest to find a magical ring and I wish to pass.”
“You shall only pass if you answer my riddle correctly!” The troll snorted.
Gregory nodded, “What is your riddle, sir?”
The troll grunted at him, “What always runs but never walks, often murmurs, never talks, has a bed but never sleeps, has a mouth but never eats?”
Gregory thought about it for a minute, but couldn’t think of an answer. He needed so badly to cross this bridge. He was worried he wouldn’t be able to answer the riddle, but just as he was thinking of giving up, a little bird flew onto his shoulder, singing the tune that his mother always used to sing.
“It’s a river!” The bird whispered into Gregory’s ear.
He thanked the bird, who then flew off before turning to the troll, “The answer is a river!”
The troll groaned in frustration, but kept his word, letting Gregory pass over the bridge. Once he made it over, there was another thicket of trees ahead of him, closer together than they were on the other side of the bridge.
He continued on his quest for another full day. On that second day, Gregory felt a looming darkness and looked up to see a dark cloud hovering over him. The cloud let out a crack of thunder, and a bolt of lightning shot into the ground next to him.
He knew it was the work of his step-mother, the evil Queen. She was known to use dark magic to get her way, and this time was no different. Gregory kicked his heel to speed his horse away from the cloud, but it was futile. The cloud was tethered to him, and only narrowing missing him with each and every bolt of lightning. It was then that the same bird from earlier appeared on his shoulder once again.
The bird sang once again in his ear and suddenly he realized he know held a shield and broadsword. “This shield will shelter you from all dark magic. Be careful, young Prince.”
Gregory thanked the bird again before it flew away.
It took him one more full day to find the cave buried deep in the woods. Equipped with the sword and shield, he ventured into the dark cave to retrieve his prize.
The Queen was getting desperate at this point, knowing that if she didn’t do something drastic, Gregory would find the ring and her fate would be sealed. She conjured a beast – a wolf – to guard the ring in the cave.
“I smell royal blood!” Cried the wolf who was asleep in front of a pedestal that held the magical ring.
“It is I, Prince Gregory! I am here for that treasure behind you.”
The wolf snarled and lunged at Gregory in response. The Prince blocked the attack with his shield and threw the wolf away from him. In doing so, the pedestal was knocked over, and the ring flying into the air. Prince Gregory watched the golden item as it found its way onto the wolf’s finger.
Instantly, the wolf was transformed into a man. Prince Gregory looked on in astonishment. He was the handsomest man the Prince had ever seen.
“You’re beautiful.” Gregory said, bowing.
“As are you, your majesty.” The man returned.
“Please, be my Prince.” Gregory proposed. The man accepted and they rode off back to the castle at once. The bird singing that same tune on Gregory’s shoulder the whole way.
All of the Kingdom rejoiced at the news of their engagement, for the ring had enlightened them all. The only exception being the wicked Queen, who’s scowl was met with a sudden, spontaneous eruption of fire that swallowed her whole and turned her to dust; the threat to the ring wearer’s happiness extinguished. No one missed her in their celebration of the wedding of the two Princes.