Monday, 2 May 2011

The White Fox and the Flower Maiden - Part Two

Palais de Luxembourg - Paris, by the Griffin

Now the two princesses Lily and Daisy grew up quite quickly and many people began to wonder if the queen was a witch. The king at first did not hear these rumours, for his two beautiful daughters must be educated as their wise mother directed. So they learned languages, ethics, politics and all that a princess must learn if she is to be a wise queen herself one day. But the two daughters were not dull and immersed only in their books.

They learned how to use swords, bows and staves too, for if there was a need to defend the realm, a good leader must lead by example. Only in this way can they too know the risks their troops take and so direct defences well. They learned also the arts of diplomacy, for it is better to negotiate truces than it is to begin wars, even if it is a good deal harder to negotiate than to fight.

It happened that through a distant king who wanted to expand his territories, that our king must lead his troops to war, for the distant king refused to negotiate and insisted that our king must either leave his kingdom and surrender, or the kingdom would be taken by force. The king did not like to have to fight, nor did he like to risk the lives of his army. But the wise queen told him to gather up the fresh grass cuttings from the royal lawns and to scatter the battlefield with them the night before the battle.

The king went to his gardener and the gardener gathered all the fresh grass cuttings that he could and gave them to the king. The night before the battle, the king took the grass cuttings and strewed them over the battlefield. In the distance he could see the campfires of the enemy and they were almost as numerous as stars in the sky. The king wept as he strewed the grass cuttings to think that tomorrow he and his armies would be food for the crows and that his poor wife would be the plaything of the enemy king. His tears fell freely as he strewed the grass cuttings.

But the following morning when he led his army to the field before the borders of his kingdom, the whole area was covered with warriors clad in green enamelled armour and bearing his pennants and devices upon them. There was green as far as the eye could see and they waited, these warriors for their king to command them. The enemy, seeing the whole battlefield and the surrounding area covered in warriors murmured that they had been brought to this place to die and their commanders too began to complain amongst each other. The enemy king who had thought this kingdom his for the taking now sent an envoy to negotiate. Our king received the envoy and told him,

"Tell your king that he is to take all of his troops home. That he is never to come within sight of our lands again and that should he attack any other neighbouring country merely for his own ambitions, we shall join in sending him home. We would have no war, for no good ever came from it, but if we must, we shall defend ourselves and our nation even to the sovereign's death."

The envoy took the message back to the enemy king and he brooded on it. In the meantime, a soldier came to tell our king,

"There is a white stag playing with Princess Lily in the garden, but how it came there we know not. Yet, so majestic is it's presence and of such power that none dare approach it. As it does not seem to wish the princess harm, we are unsure what to do."

"Sir, return home and ask the queen," the king told him.

"Majesty, the queen appears to be in a deep sleep and none can wake her," the soldier replied.

Now the king became afraid, for his wife and daughters were the greatest treasure of his heart. He bid the soldier go back to the palace and guard the princess and to guard Princess Daisy also, for he must await the answer of the enemy king. The guard bowed in his saddle and returned to the palace.

Later that evening, our king still awaited an answer and as he paced before his horse impatiently another guard came from his palace to tell him,

"Majesty there is a white bear playing with the Princess Daisy and we know not how it came there. So big and strong is it and with such terrible presence that we dare not attack it. As it appears to do the Princess no harm we are unsure what to do. Her Majesty the Queen seems even deeper in sleep almost as if she were - as if she were dead."

The king grew pale with horror at this news and sent a messenger to the enemy king to demand an answer. The enemy king sent back the news that he would fight the king and all his forces the following morning. The king bowed his head in sorrow and sent his troops to build their campfires and keep watch. Then he returned to the palace for everything seemed terrible and strange to him.  Sure enough the queen was in a deep, deep sleep and the king held her in his arms and kissed her. Though she slept he told her of the impending battle to come and how sad he felt at the thought of losing his daughter and his love. Yet she did not wake to counsel him and after a while he lay down to rest.

But he could not sleep and arose in the night and went down to the garden to think. As he sat there sadly, a white glimmer of movement caught his eye and looking up he saw the white fox. He knelt and begged for her help.

"If I must die then so be it, but I beg you do not make the partners of my soldiers widows and widowers," he said softly.

The fox stood up on its hind legs and shook itself. The fox skin fell to the ground to reveal the beautiful maiden.

"Tomorrow o king, leave your human armies at home. Lead your green troops into battle. When your daughters join you, do not send them away. But do this - when you go into battle fling white jasmine flowers at your enemies. There will most likely come to the battle two mysterious kings. One bears a black banner with a white bear upon it. The other bears a dark green banner with a white stag upon it. Throw jasmine flowers at them and bid your wife awake and laugh. Do this in the battle and all will go well with you," she said smiling.

The king promised to obey and thanked her. The fox-maiden picked up her white fox skin and put it on and the white fox ran out of the garden into the night.

The following morning the king send for his commanders and ordered the entire army to stay at home and guard the castle and the people. The battle would be lead by him and the green warriors. The soldiers loved their king and protested that some of them at least must join with him, but he thanked them and said that if he were to die, his wife would rule in his stead. But he would not leave their partners without husbands and wives. Then he went back to the gardener and asked him for lots of jasmine flowers. It was the middle of springtime and there were a great many so the gardener gathered up the flowers and gave them to the king.

So the king went out to the battlefield and led the green warriors to the fray. At the head of the enemy came the enemy king and our king trembled to see the force that followed his enemy. But then he paused and glancing over his shoulder he saw the green warriors that followed him and his heart brightened for he knew that he would return this day, safe and well to his wife and queen.

The king remembered all the fox-maiden had told him flinging jasmine flowers at his enemies. The flowers blazed brightly in the sunlight and the horses of his enemies panicked and turned away. They fled back to the palace of the enemy king and the enemy king himself was thrown to the ground. He drew his sword and cried a wild battle cry.

Suddenly into the battle came two great armies. One was lead by a great bear of a king, his beard was white as his hair and he bore a large axe over his shoulder. The other was lead by a proud king with the elegance of a stag and long strong legs. He bore a trident over his shoulder. Both armies bore the banners of their kings - a white bear on a black ground and a white stag on a dark green ground.

But from his own palace came the Princesses Lily and Daisy and both of them lead half of the king's army each. The king feared for them, yet was also proud and bowed to them in his saddle. His daughters bowed in return for they loved their father and would not let him die. Now the king charged, throwing jasmine flowers at the new kings and bidding his wife awake and laugh in a voice clear and terrible, he flung himself at the enemy king. They battled hard, so that the earth resounded with the sound of it and the air was loud with the clangour of their weapons and their armour.

When the king threw the jasmine flowers at the bear-king and the stag-king both became flung back towards the great woods as if by a great whirlwind. The two princesses pursued them and captured their forces. The king was left on the field with only his enemy before him while the green warriors pursued the enemy soldiers to capture them all. The enemy king fought him but his blade was broken and as he reached for his short sword, vines of ivy sprang up from the field and entwined themselves about him so that he could not move. Our king could have killed then, but he had been advised many times by his wise queen and instead he threw down his own weapons and took the enemy king's swords from him.

"Go home king," he said, "Go home and learn what it is to treasure all living things. Learn how to govern well instead of merely gratifying your own selfish ambitions at the expense of your own soldiers and those you would make enemies of. Be a wise king and a good one, not a greedy and a foolish one."

That said he turned away, picked up his weapons and mounted up to his saddle. He called back his green warriors and they came like grass cuttings blown in a breeze. He blew his clarion to call back his daughters and they came with the army to ride home.

The king was overjoyed to find his wise queen wide awake and smiling as if she had awoken from a beautiful dream. Princess Lily married the Stag-king and Princess Daisy the Bear-king. That brought a great peace upon the land.

But what of the fox-maiden. Without the Bear-king and the Stag-king to bother her kingdom, she ruled the great forest in her rightful place as queen. All that she had done, she did to regain her queen's realm. But our king was most grateful to her for giving him the gift of a wise and beautiful wife. Wise as a fox and beautiful as a flower.

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