by Hector of the Black Height
Not so long ago, when the land was as old as old and the wisdom of the North whispered in the wind, the Prince of Ealdormere sought for himself a bride. It was known far and wide that there was no Princess in the Northlands and the beauties of the known world travelled far to be seen in the Great Hall, close by the Inland Sea.
Never before had such a variety of beauty graced the shores of the Inland Seas. Veiled damsels of the far Outlands flirted with hard Northern guardsmen. Swan-necked beauties of Calontir sat the benches beside the wise and sweet maids of the far West, bronzed by their travels across the grassy plains of An Tir. These ladies and many more, speaking the varied tongues of Drachenwald and with the soft voices of Ansteorra, did tell sweet tales to Northern lads more accustomed to oar and plough than the pretty perfumes of a lady's lips. Many were the pleasant hours spent in the shade of the great maple and, if truth be told, there would be fewer lasses travelling home than came to the Northlands, and many new homesteads that season. Yet still there was no Princess in the Northlands.
The Prince had played countless games of chess. He had danced every dance that had held fashion in every Royal court in the known world. He had walked the length of the great maple's shadow from the days of new buds to the season of fiery leaves, each time with a different lady. Still the Prince had not found his Princess. To be sure he had gazed long in eyes green as the seas at dawn and watched the Northern wind send cascades of raven tresses flying. He had laughed and sighed and dreamed, yet the Prince was a prudent youth who never forgot his duties in the pleasures of the moment.
Finally the Prince approached the elders of the land, seated around the high table at the north of the great hall. "I have danced and dallied and talked of every subject under the sun," he declared, "and yet I cannot decide among these ladies." The elders shook their heads and muttered among themselves, for the season was slipping fast. Soon the winter would come, and the flock of ladies would seek their nests far away. It was clear the Prince must choose.
The Prince thought long and hard and said there were three ladies who he believed would suit him as Princess. This was an improvement, agreed the elders of the land, but there was still the question to be decided. At this the Sage of the North bade the Prince join him. The Prince and the sage entered the chamber to the North of the hall. There, on a long trestle table, the sage placed three looking glasses. He opened the chests laid around the walls, and then led the Prince into the shadows.
The three ladies entered the room, not knowing why or by whom they had been summoned. As the minutes passed they grew bored, as ladies are wont to do, and they began to explore. Was it some artifice of the Sage that kept the Prince from their eyes? It is of no matter, for the ladies saw him not, nor the Sage. Instead they saw the chests, full of treasures. One lady, from the far West, pulled from a chest the purple robes of a Princess and swirled them around her as she picked up a looking glass from the table. A second, from the farthest eastern lands, reached into a chest and rested a silver circlet on her golden locks. She, too, was soon lost in a looking glass.
The third lady, of the North, looked on with some amusement, but did not seek adornment. Finally she picked up the third glass from the table, out of boredom, and was startled to see in it the Prince crouching in the shadows. The Sage of the North stepped up to the trestle and bade the first two ladies put down their glasses and their trappings. "Dear Ladies", the Sage said, "these glasses told truth, for in them you saw your hearts' desires. It is a pity only one can have hers to hold for ever," and the Sage smiled a soft, sad smile, "but the North has only so much treasure to offer". And the Prince took by the hand the lady who sought no shallow trappings, and led her forth to meet her people. And before the beauties of the Known World departed from the Northlands, they stood in the Great Hall as the Prince took a bride.
This story first was published in By Royal Command: A Book of Songs,
Poetry and Stories from Ealdormere.
Copyright A. McLean 1994, 1998. All rights reserved.
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