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The Princess and the Seven Magi
The unrightful Queen of the Kingdom of Paladin marched to her private quarters after a day of making the lives of her subjects miserable. Of the dresses made of the finest silks, the rug imported from the halls of a far-off country's great monarch, the paintings created by the most renowned of painters, none was more valuable than the large mirror that reflected the whole room.
Its appearance was that of any ordinary body-size mirror. Simple in frame, shape and shine, if one was ignorant of its magical properties, the value would be greatly miscalculated. But the Queen did not make such a miscalculation when she found it. The kingdom would have been better off if she had.
With a hand to her hip, her chin lifted proudly up, the arrogant, vain queen said to the mirror: "Mirror, mirror, tell me, am I the most fairest of them all."
"No, Your Majesty," answered the mirror in a voice that could come from anywhere and everywhere. The spirit residing in the mirror thought that the answer was obvious. Not just because the Queen was ugly, for even the most beautiful of faces can turn ugly with scorn, greed, and excess vanity. Being fairest is not always about looks.
The Queen glared at the mirror. "WHO?" she demanded. "Who is the fairest in the land?"
"Who else, but the princess who you have stolen the throne from?" the mirror replied. "Veronica Griselda Waldenburg Paladin."
The mirror's glass surface rippled like distorted water. When it cleared, the image of the princess surrounded by flowers appeared. She was a small child, made pale in the face given the recent losses of her parents, the former king and queen. The deep sadness had yet to leave her green eyes. And the kindness is still ever immortal. Her straight red hair poured like a waterfall out from beneath her black veil, stopping where the neck met shoulder.
As evil-hearted as the devil, the Queen looked at the image in disgust. Always, she had searched for a reason to dispose of the princess. There was a reason, but the child was helpless to stop her from taking her inheritance. Now, it seems, fate as decreed it was her time at last.
But how to rid the world of her? The Queen thought to herself as she strolled to the window, rubbing her chin. She racked her brain for ideas when her eyes came upon young man exiting the forest, wielding an ax, a bow slung around his shoulder, and a bundle of arrows at his back. By his clothes and appearance, he was clearly foreign to the kingdom and continent. Fixed to the man's face was a pair of dark lens spectacles.
"You there!" the Queen called out. "Huntsman!"
With sharp ears the "huntsman" looked up. It took a great deal of searching before he finally found the Queen calling from near the top of her tower.
"I didn't do it!" he said, raising his hands up. The sharp edge of the ax pointed to the sky.
The Queen could see that he must be as dumb as the useless kitchen dog. Just the perfect grunt to carry out her dirty work. With a quick spell, she was suddenly in front of the huntsman in all her splendor. Her crown glinted wickedly against the sun's rays.
"I have a job for you," the Queen said.
"For me?" the huntsman said with a puzzled look. And then finally realizing the Queen for royalty, he quickly added: "Your Majesty."
Any other day, the Queen would have executed a slow dimwit like the one before her. But she had need of the dimwit's services. So she smiled a crooked, blatantly fake smile and said: "Yes. In a field of flowers beyond the forest, there is a wicked witch who likes to disguise herself as a young child. She has been a terror to my kingdom. While I am versed with magic, myself, as you have seen, I am not strong enough to stop her alone. Right now, she leaves us alone only because I prevent her power's use. But my own is waning fast. Please, help me protect this kingdom. Help me slay the witch so that she may never torment the people again!"
"Of course," the fool said without a hint of hesitation. "It would be my honor, Your Majesty."
"Oh, and make sure you bring back her head and heart so I know for sure that the deed is done," the Queen added.
The fool nodded in understanding. And he set off at once to carry out the deed. First, however, he went over to the huntsman's house to return the gear he accidentally left behind. Once the weapons were returned, he apologized to the old woman and her granddaughter again for his wolf-man puppet running amok and swallowing them whole.
After freeing himself of those other responsibilities, he made for the flower fields where the Queen said the "witch" spent the hours of the sun.
Princess Veronica was tending to the flowers like she had for the past couple of months since the passing of her parents. She had grown distant from others and spent much of her time in solitude. However, she was not ignorant, and was well aware when her aunt managed to seize the throne. But as much as she would like to do something for her people, the princess was powerless. Her magic was great, but it was bent flower against the typhoon that was the magic of her aunt's ill-gotten collection.
So she spent much of her waking time tending to equally helpless flowers while brooding in sorrow and self-pity. Being surrounded by nature has helped to ease her burdens and pain. But she knew that it was only a fragile barrier against the gravity of her situation. Sure enough the day came when someone came to her at the Queen's bidding to end her life.
There was a sudden strong breeze and loose flower petals flew up and then rained down as Veronica watched the stranger, foreign by his dress, approach. He looked unarmed but could easily be concealing a dagger within those long, loose sleeves of his that drooped well below his waist. His smile was more mischievous than malevolent.
"Hello there," he said.
Veronica kept still on her knees, her fingers still gently pinching some flowers, and looked up at the man with her sunken eyes.
"Were you sent by the Queen?" she finally asked in a voice hoarse from lack of use.
"Yes I was," the man answered. "She wanted me to kill you and bring back your head and heart as proof." His smile shifted into a puzzled frown and he said: "Are you not going to run away?"
Veronica shook her head. "You will not kill me," she said.
"Oh?" the man went with an arched eyebrow. "What makes you say that? I'm sure you noticed, but I have qualities that make others rightfully label me as a monster."
"Even monsters are not necessarily evil," was the princess' answer.
The man smirked. It's been a while since he last met someone knew with such great wisdom. And then he frowned again, seeing the sadness clearly glazing the princess' eyes.
Men roared and charged into the field of flowers, stamping their feet against the delicate gold with swords and axes raised. They were other, more savage men who would do anything for quick gold. Their greed was clearly reflected in their bestial eyes.
Against this murderous stampede, the man turned at his heels, back to the princess, and advanced to meet the would-be child killers. He was not armed, but his limbs were like a hurricane. No one was able to land a blow on him, but the man was able to land several in swift, brutal, graceful succession. Just about all of them had fists and feet distort their entire forms. They all dropped like flies, crooked and broken in many places.
Veronica watched in horrified awe at the brutal and a bit bloody scene. She was audience to the man's use of his country's fighting arts. It was as if he was dancing and not giving these murderous thugs the thrashing they deserved.
The final grunt pulled a knife out, but the man swerved from the swipe, caught the thug's arm and then threw him over his shoulder. Veronica's savior finished by driving his heel into the final fallen's stomach.
"Things are just going to get more messy the longer we linger," he said, clapping his hands clean. "I'm Wu, by the way. If you don't have anywhere else to go, you can come live with me and my comrades. We could use someone to look after our children."
Wu smiled and held a hand out to the princess, bowing like a gentleman. The princess looked at the weathered hand and then at the hand's owner. With a smile of her own, the first true smile in a while, Veronica gently took her savior's hand, was helped up. And together, they went deeper into the forest. Of course, not until after Wu used his sorcery, for he was a wizard as the princess always knew, to create a duplicate of the princess, severing the lifeless doll's head from its body clean with an elegant oriental sword, and then leaving both for the fallen thugs to wake up to.
There was a cottage bigger, way bigger, on the inside. The one to answer the door was Wu's wife, a strong and tall woman about her husband's height, carrying in her arms the couple's energetic daughter who greeted her father with great enthusiasm. Another couple was at the fireplace with their twin boys, almost looking like they came from the same country as Wu, but with a definite difference in clothing style. A large man with coffee-colored skin, treated like the leader of the motley group of sorcerers was in an even larger armchair with his own daughter on his knees. Hovering over a simmering large cauldron was a white-haired woman looking lovingly at the dark-haired little boy reading a large book, though he could not be older than Wu's own child. Brooding with jealousy of the others' domestic bliss was another woman dressed for adventure.
Veronica was nervous, but these six strangers, seven counting her savior, and their children warmly welcomed her into their home, and she settled right in. For the next couple of days, she would look after their children while they were off with their respective duties. Now and then, Veronica would learn from them about magic, how to wield it, and how to grow in power. Before long, she would smile more frequently, a glow returning to her face.
Back at the castle, after days of celebrating finally ridding herself of a big threat, the Queen, at last, returned to her mirror sitting ever eternally patient for the next question.
"Mirror, mirror, tell me who is the fairest?" the Queen asked.
"The princess," the mirror answered.
The Queen laughed. "Sorry, I should have worded that more correctly. Who is the fairest, alive?"
Again, the mirror answered: "The princess."
"WHAT?" the Queen screamed. "She can't be alive. My men have delivered me her head and heart! Explain!"
Obediently, the mirror answered. "Your men were duped, Queen of Villainy. The huntsman you had called to is not a huntsman, but an able sorcerer from a distant land whose deception it was to create a nonliving duplicate of the princess and replace that as your trophies. One of Seven pledged to goodwill. The princess lives with them now, under their protection."
The Queen shrieked in outrage.
"Fine!" she cried out. "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself!"
Among her treasures, the Queen selected an enchanted cloak that shifted her form into that of an elderly woman with long silver hair and a slightly weathered face. Among the vials of her personal cupboard, she pulled out one. A needle drank the contents and then spit it out into apples in equal doses. With evil in heart and mind, she set off to find the princess and at last be rid of her.
One day, all seven of the sorcerers were out, each with a task that required their full attention. That just left the princess alone with the children. It was nap time now, and Veronica was reading a book.
"Help!" a weak voice cried out from the distance. "Help me, please!"
Veronica perked up and peered out the window, but she could see nothing. However, the voice persisted. Curious and worried for the voice, Veronica left the house, locking the door behind her as she went. The children were still huddled together asleep.
She hurried out of the front yard gate and rushed toward the source of the voice. She weaved around trees, her boots crushing grass and fallen leaves. After a long way of running and pausing briefly to catch her breath, she finally caught sight of a prone figure in black.
"Oh my!" the princess cried out. She quickly got to the fallen woman's side and helped her to her feet. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, thank you," the elderly woman managed to gasp. After a few minutes of heavy breathing, the old woman calmed down and then smiled benevolently to the princess. "I ow you my life!"
The princess smiled back. "Think nothing of it."
"Oh, but I can't," said the sweet old woman. "Please, at least accept one of my apples."
She gestured toward the basket full of the polished red fruit.Veronica hesitated, but it would be impolite to refuse. So, with a smile, Veronica accepted the old woman's offer.
"Thank you," she said.
"Are you not going to take a bite?" the woman asked.
Again, Veronica hesitated, but the look on the woman's face prompted her to take a bite. And she took a huge one. The fruit was delicious, more so than anything Veronica had eaten when she still lived in the castle. And when she swallowed the pulp and the juices, a warm feeling passed over her that was very pleasant.
And then her throat burned. With a cry, Veronica fell back desperately massaging her burning throat. Sharp pain jabbed her side, and Veronica rolled, her hands clapped over the side that hurt. Then, it felt like her heart was literally going to burst out of her chest. Finally, came the fever that sapped her of her strength and she went limp.
The Queen leered down at the crooked form of the princess. She would have lingered longer to take in her triumph, but the air buzzed with magic of another and she had to take a hasty leave, or face the wrath of a wizard when she was without the protection of her castle's considerable magic.
Sage, the leader, arrived first, out of a wall of fire that didn't so much as leave a scorch mark on the trees. He sensed that something was amiss and came to investigate. By the continued strong buzzing, the others must have noticed as well and would soon be here. He saw the princess, a single tear streaming down the side of her face and rushed to her side. When the others arrived, the seven, together, carried the princess back to their house, and hurried to give what help they could.
Wu's wife Mei, the albino witch Josephine, and Rose combined their knowledge of traditional medicines and alchemy, concocting elixirs left and right, while Wu, Sato, and his wife Megumi took a more direct approach, casting what healing spells they knew. Sage stayed at the helm directing the others as a leader should while finding new methods for the others to try.
The poison was a ghastly one, made from the darkest of magic. But because the princess was around powerful magic all the time while living with the Seven Magi, she had grown strong enough to survive, but just barely. However, no matter how much was done, she would not open her eyes. The poison was purged completely, and its effects subsided. Not a trace remained, not even the harm left behind. Hours turned to days, and days to weeks. Still, she remained in the deepest of slumber.
Impatience gnawed on the magicians like a dog to a bone, but none more so than Wu, whose righteous anger was very well known to his enemies. There were only a few chains keeping him still, but the day would come when he would exact vengeance on the witch whose tainted apple the princess bit.
One day, the sound of charging horses disturbed the usual music of the forest. The three daring intruders and their steeds broke through the boundary with ease. Only friends of the house could do that.
The seven magicians all piled out to find the Three Princes looking down from atop their horses. On the chestnut horse was Prince Maxwell of Dwayne. On the black stallion was Prince Ezekiel of Ghoul. And on the white was Sarah, Prince of Adventure, though she was a girl who earned the title by some twist of fate.
"Sarah?" went Wu, astonished to find his younger sister here of all places. Sarah was just as surprised. "Why are you dressed like a pirate?"
The Princes, although frequent travelers, had come to befriend the princess in their youth. Such close friends they were that a special connection was forged between them with a magic spell so they would know if any one of them was in trouble. It was through this connection that the Princes learned of the princess' fate and rushed over as soon as they could.
With Ezekiel and Sarah taking equal lead, and Maxwell following close behind, they were led into the cottage to where the princess lay in a bed surrounded by herbs, flowers, and special scented candles and incense. They were all overcome with sorrow, seeing the princess in that state. They all knelt around the princess. Sarah pecked the princess in the right cheek. Marcus kissed the princess in the left cheek. Ezekiel kissed her forehead.
Their feelings so strong, seeped into the princess and pulled her out of her coma. It was a few minutes of mourning when the princess finally opened her eyes. And then the whole cottage was overcome with joy.
But all was not over yet, as the Seven Magi knew. There was still the Queen. Finally, time came to act.
With a triumphant cackle, the Queen once again came in front of her mirror. Again, she asked: "Tell me, mirror, who is the fairest alive?"
The mirror could not lie. "The princess."
"WHAT!?" she screamed, even louder and more shrill than last. "HOW CAN THIS BE? I THOUGHT I DISPOSED OF HER!"
"The princess lived under and within powerful magic," the mirror explained. "This magic is what ultimately saved her life. But were it not for the love of her friends, she may never have awakened."
"Curses!" spate the Queen. "Is she Lady Luck reborn? What must I do to finally be rid of her once and for all?"
"There is no such way," the mirror answered, completely honest and serious. "She is protected by magic beyond yours, vile Queen. And you will never more receive another chance to end the princess' life."
"What? What do you mean?" the Queen demanded.
"You have offended powerful sorcerers," the mirror replied. "Heed me now and run. For seven powerful sorcerers have come to bring swift justice. They, the Seven Magi will bring the end of your reign, and you will be punished for bringing harm to she who was under them."
Suddenly, the mirror melted. The puddle shifted, stretched, folded and then gathered around until it formed a man. This man, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, overcoat and wielding an elegant cane looked to the astonished Queen with old eyes filled with pity.
"Old man, who are you?" the Queen demanded to know.
"You know me well," said the old man, through his bushy, colorless mustache. "I was the mirror, but danger prompts me to become a man. I will leave you, Queen, for self-preservation trumps loyal servitude. This castle has served me well, but time has come at last for me to move on. Good bye, Queen. May your punishment be mercifully swift."
And he was gone before the Queen could do or say anything. So stunned by the mirror's exit, she did not heed his final warning to her. And anyway, there was nowhere that she could possibly hide from the Seven Magi that come to end her reign.
And earthquake shook the castle, causing paintings, antiquities, and statues to fall, break and scatter in disarray. The servants fled with fear as vines grew and spread throughout the castle. A turbulent wind, so strong that it cut, blew its way into the halls and scratched and sliced the walls, doors, and everything else, including the Queen's once untainted face. With silver moonlight, although it was day, came a loud hum so high that all the glass in the castle broke. The Queen tried to shield her face. Her hands, the hands that poisoned the apples that poisoned the princess in turn, had their flesh pierced by colored shards. Fire consumed the cloth of the castle, leaving scorch marks all over, and blistering the Queen's skin. Water flooded the halls and rooms, no exceptions. What paintings remained distorted and darkened into shadows that laughed and leered, polluting the Queen's mind with their madness and driving her to run screaming against a wall. Finally, the six elements of Fire, Water, Air, Nature, Light, and Dark gathered into one, balling into a large swan-shaped pink that flew and then balled around the Queen, screaming hysterically at no one in particular for mercy. She was quickly consumed.
When released, in place of the Queen was an ugly pig that squealed in fear and fled the castle just as it crumbled and fell the pieces. Forever more, that pig would live in filth as all pigs do. It would be made to wander the wild, always scavenging, always hiding, always in fear for its life. The Seven Magi's revenge was complete.
The princess resumed her rightful place on the throne, aided by three princes of royalty and adventure. Seven Magi wander the world, seeking to maintain its peace and ensuring justice for all. Sometimes, they would come to visit their once tenant and governess of their children and see if all is well.
And they lived happily ever after.