The Seven Princesses of Jarryn
"Your Highness - a traveler has arrived, seeking audience." The page coughed nervously, desperately wishing someone else had been sent with this message.
King Darrian looked up impatiently from the sea of scrolls on the table before him. "I gave strict orders that I was not to be disturbed," he snapped. "This had better be worth my time." He grabbed one of the parchments, waving it under the boyís nose. "Somewhere in here is the key to freeing my daughters! What else is of importance compared with that?"
"The traveler claims he can free your daughters," the page stammered.
King Darrian snorted. "I have seen a steady stream of seers and teachers who claim to know how to break the spell that traps my daughters," he said. "But they have all failed. What makes this one so sure he can succeed?"
"He says he was sent by King Arnon."
At this, King Darrian leaned back in his chair. "King Arnon?" he asked, eyeing the page sternly. "What difference does that make?"
"It is said that King Arnon has great power over evil," the page answered, his voice shaking.
Again King Darrian snorted. "I have heard those stories, but they are only that Ė stories." He waved his hand, dismissing the page. "I am busy. Tell this traveler to go on his way."
The page turned, relieved to be heading for the door. But, as he touched the door handle, something within his spirit checked him. For several moments a battle raged between his fear of King Darrian and the urgent prompting in his spirit. He thought of the small circle of people who had spent many hours calling out to King Arnon on behalf of the enchanted princesses. Could this traveler be the answer they sought?
At last, with a sigh of resignation, the page turned back. "Your Majesty," he began.
"What now?" King Darrian growled, a scowl on his face.
"Perhaps it would be wise to see this man. What would it cost to hear him?"
King Darrianís eyes flashed in anger. He stood so suddenly that his chair flew backward with a crash. "All right!" he bellowed. "I will see this traveler. But know this Ė I am tired to death of all these tricksters trying to gain my favor with vain promises. From now on, any man claiming to have the ability to free my daughters will have three nights to prove he speaks the truth. If he succeeds, Amelia and my kingdom will be his prize. But, if he fails Ė " here King Darrianís face grew dark, "I will have his head." He thumped the table with his fist, sending scrolls flying. "Tell this traveler of the reward and the penalty I have set before him. If he still desires an audience, send him to me in one hourís time."
"Yes, Your Majesty," the page gulped. He threw a hasty bow in the kingís direction, then grabbed at the door handle and yanked the door open. As he scurried down the hall, he wondered what trouble he had gotten himself and the traveler into by following his inner prompting.
"Help this man, King Arnon," he breathed as he hurried along. "Donít let him lose his head on my account."
Rand paced nervously in the hallway, awaiting the pageís return. "What do I do if the king refuses to see me?" he asked his companions.
"I donít know," Doreen began, but Jemi interrupted.
"Here he comes!" she said. "He looks rather worried."
"That isnít a good sign," Doreen added.
"Not good at all," Rand agreed.
The page bowed before Rand, cleared his throat and opened his mouth to deliver King Darrianís message. Just then, he caught sight of the two Ursa fairies fluttering about Randís head. Eyes wide, the boy took a careful step forward. "Ursa fairies?" he asked in an awed whisper.
"Greetings!" Doreen announced. She and Jemi bowed as they fluttered in the air. "I am Doreen."
"And I am Jemi," her companion said. "King Arnon sent us with Rand to help free the princesses."
A slow smile spread across the pageís face. "I have heard stories of the Ursa fairies, but you are the first I have ever met. Perhaps, with your help, the spell can indeed be broken. You must have powerful magic."
"We will not break this spell by any magic we know," Jemi said. "It will be broken by King Arnonís power working through us."
"You are sure of this?" the page asked.
Both fairies nodded. "We are sure."
"And you?" the page asked Rand. "You are sure King Arnon is powerful enough to break this spell?"
"I trust King Arnon," Rand answered.
The page nodded slightly, then cleared his throat. He shifted nervously. "You must know that King Darrian is angry. He has seen many come here, claiming they can free his daughters. All have failed. He now says that any man promising to free his daughters has only three nights to prove himself."
"Three nights?" Rand asked.
"There is more," the page continued. "Those who failed before were banished from Kiara. But King Darrian has now decided that those who fail will be executed."
"Executed?" Rand gulped as fear rose within him. Then he remembered King Arnonís hand on his forehead and the tingling power. "King Arnon has the power to do this. He sent me here and told me what to do. I will not fail because his power is great."
"In that case, King Darrian will see you in one hour," the page stated. "Wait here; Iíll return to take you to the throne room at the proper time. And now, I will alert those who follow King Arnonís teachings so that they can join their hearts on your behalf. You will need their strength for your quest."
As he watched the page scurry down the hall, Rand settled himself on a stone bench. He closed his eyes, quieting his spirit and opening it to King Arnonís touch. Once again, the tingling spread through his body. "Help me, King Arnon," he whispered. "Give me wisdom."
After a brief, tension-filled audience with King Darrian, Rand was dismissed until dinner time. The page led him to a quiet chamber, where he bathed and refreshed himself, putting on the rich clothing he found laid out. At the pageís insistence he had hidden the Ursa fairies in his pocket. "They may be in danger if King Darrian sees them," the page said. "He is not fond of anything outside Jarryn, especially creatures who serve King Arnon."
Now, Rand found himself seated at one end of a long banqueting table. As the banquet moved from course to course, Jemi peeped over the edge of Randís pocket. She could see King Darrian at the head of the table directly opposite them. Princess Amelia sat to her fatherís right, then each of the sisters around the table arranged by age, ending with Sophie, who sat her fatherís left. An elderly basset hound named Duke lay on the floor between Sophie and Breanna. Jemi wondered how many table scraps the basset had enjoyed from his comfortable position.
"The princesses move as if they were puppets," Jemi commented.
Beside her, Doreen shifted position until she, too, could see. "It looks as if they are sleeping with their eyes open," she said.
"Even their father is silent," Jemi said. "He seems so sad."
"He must miss his daughters," Doreen commented. "It is almost as if they are not here. Their bodies are sitting at this table, but their spirits are far away."
"Kazab wants to capture their spirits and keep them as his prisoners," Rand added quietly.
At this, King Darrian looked up sharply. "Did you say something?" he demanded.
"No, Your Majesty," Rand answered quickly. "At least, I was only talking to myself."
"Well, hold your talk and finish eating. Then report to my daughtersí bedchamber. There is a couch there where you will spend the next three nights. If you do not break the spell by the end of that time, you shall die."
"I understand, Your Majesty," Rand answered. "I will not fail."
That evening, Rand waited in the hallway as the princesses readied themselves for bed. When all were settled beneath their coverlets, Rand was led into the corner of the bedchamber to a couch piled high with cushions. He gratefully accepted a glass of milk from Princess Amelia before tucking himself under the soft covers. He laid his head on the cushions, keeping his eyes open to watch the princesses. But, long before moonlight touched their windowsill, Rand dropped off into a deep sleep.
It was nearly noon when Rand awoke. His mouth felt dry and tasted sour. A dull headache pounded behind his eyes. "What happened?" he groaned as he sat up and looked around the empty bedchamber.
"The princesses woke up and dressed hours ago," Doreen said.
"But what happened last night?" Rand asked.
"After she gave you the glass of milk, Princess Amelia took a heart-shaped box from under her bed and placed it on the window ledge," Jemi began. "At midnight, the box began to glow. Amelia got up, opened the box and took out seven necklaces."
"She looked as if she was sleepwalking," Doreen added.
Jemi nodded. "She also looked as if she wanted to resist something that was commanding her to obey. She tried to stay in bed, but couldnít. She tried to keep her hands from picking up the box, but the spell was too strong for her to resist. There were tears in her eyes as she gave a necklace to each of her sisters and then took one for herself. Then a blackness seemed to come from the box. The princesses held hands and the blackness swallowed them up."
"They vanished?" Rand asked, amazed.
"Yes," Jemi answered.
"And they returned just before dawn," Doreen said. "Princess Amelia took the necklaces, put them back in the box and then hid the box under her mattress."
"Is it there now?" Rand asked.
"I believe so," Doreen said.
"Then letís take a look."
Cautiously, Rand moved to the purple bed. He pulled back the coverlet, then the sheets. Slowly he felt under the mattress until his fingers touched something solid. "I think Iíve got it!" he cried.
Just then, he jerked his hand back with a cry of pain. "What happened?" Jemi asked anxiously.
"My hand Ė it felt as if something bit me!" Rand answered.
"Obviously Kazab is protecting the box with one of his spells," Doreen said.
"We wonít be able to do anything to it, at least not right now," Rand said, rubbing a red burn-like mark on the side of his hand.
"Weíll just have to wait until tonight and try to follow the princesses," Jemi said.
"But, what if I fall asleep again?" Rand asked uncomfortably.
"I thought I saw Princess Amelia put something in the milk just before she gave it to you," Doreen said.
"Like a sleeping potion?" Rand asked. A slow grin touched his lips and he chuckled. "I wonít be fooled again. No milk tonight."
"But youíll have to make it look as if you drank it," Jemi said. She looked around thoughtfully, then gave an excited cry. "Here!" she said, pointing to a thick towel and wash basin that had been placed beside the couch for Randís use. "Pour the milk into the towel, then set it in the basin. Put the empty goblet on the table so it looks as if you drank the milk. Then climb under the covers and wait."
"Good idea," Rand said. "And now, I want to see what I can learn from the princesses themselves. Maybe they can tell me something that will help break their spell." He straightened his clothes, dashed cold water from the basin onto his face and then headed into the hallway.
As he left the bedchamber, the two guards on either side of the doorway watched him carefully. "May I be of service?" one of them asked gruffly.
"Actually, I could use some breakfast," Rand said timidly.
The guard snapped his fingers. "You, there!" he called. Immediately the page Rand had met the day before appeared. "Take this man to the kitchen for some breakfast," he ordered.
"This way," the page said. Rand followed, glancing nervously over his shoulder at the two guards.
"King Darrian takes his daughtersí safety very seriously, doesnít he?" Rand commented once they had turned a corner and the guards could no longer hear him.
"His daughters are his greatest treasure," the boy said. He glanced at Rand. "So, did you learn anything last night to help you break the spell?"
"Apparently, Princess Amelia drugged me," Rand answered with a grimace. "I slept soundly and never heard or saw a thing. But Iíll be more careful tonight. She wonít fool me again."
"I wish you well," the page answered. "I do not want you to loose your head."
"Neither do I," Rand answered, with a dry chuckle.
"Those who follow King Arnonís ways are joining spirits, asking for His power and wisdom for you," the page said as they continued down the hall.
"Thanks. I can use every bit of help I can get," Rand said. "By the way, whatís your name?"
"Clarence," the boy answered.
"Well, Clarence, if you hear anything you think might help me, Iíd appreciate knowing about it," Rand said.
"Iíll do whatever I can."
Minutes later, they arrived at the kitchen where Clarence found bread and cheese for Randís late breakfast. Rand sat at a small table in the corner, watching the bustling activity as the noon meal was prepared. Doreen and Jemi perched on the table, munching small pieces of bread and cheese. Each seemed lost in their own thoughts as they ate.
After breakfast, Rand and the Ursa fairies moved outside. There they found all seven princesses in the sunshine-filled courtyard. But there were no sounds of conversation or laughter. All seven princesses either sat still or walked slowly, eyes fixed and staring. No one made a sound. Even the youngest princess sat quietly on the grass instead of playing.
"Whatís wrong with them?" Doreen whispered. She and Jemi had once again hidden themselves in Randís pocket.
"The spell seems to be draining all their energy," Rand commented. He spoke quietly, making it look as if he was talking to himself rather than his hidden companions.
"I wonder what we would see if we used anakrino on our eyes," Jemi said.
"Good idea," Rand agreed. He pulled the bottle of golden liquid from his pocket. He poured several drops of anakrino on his fingers, then touched his eyes. Doreen and Jemi also put some anakrino on their eyes. All three blinked, then gasped.
"What are those things?" Doreen asked.
"They look like serpents," Jemi said, shivering.
"They seem to be made of smoke or mist," Rand added.
A grey mist wound its way around the torso of each princess. Around their necks, the mist thickened into the coils and head of a snake. Rand and the Ursa fairies watched in silent horror as the serpents flicked their black tongues in and out. Occasionally it seemed that the serpents were whispering in the girlsí ears.
"Kazab must be using those serpent-things to control the princesses," Rand said softly.
"How terrible!" Jemi whispered.
Princess Amelia walked slowly on a path that led through the gardens. Rand patted his pocket and the Ursa fairies ducked out of sight. Then, taking a deep breath, he began to move forward.
"Good day, Princess Amelia," he said, trying to sound cheerful. The princess acted as if she had not heard him. He walked beside her, but her eyes were fixed on nothingness straight ahead. At last, Rand moved in front of her, still trying to smile. "Good morning, Princess," he repeated.
Princess Amelia blinked several times, then her eyes focused. "Good morning," she said slowly. The serpent coiled around her neck hissed menacingly.
Rand swallowed, trying to look at Ameliaís eyes rather than the mist serpent. "I want to help you and your sisters," he began in a low voice.
"Help us?" she asked, as if she did not understand.
"Iíd like to help you break the spell," Rand said.
"Spell?" Amelia repeated.
"This is getting us nowhere," Rand muttered with a sigh. He turned away, hoping to get more information from one of the other princesses, when he felt a hand on his arm. Turning, he saw a pleading look in Ameliaís eyes.
"Please," she whispered.
"What can I do to help you?" Rand asked softly. "How can the spell be broken?"
Amelia glanced from side to side, as if afraid of being watched. She leaned forward, gripping Randís arm. She opened her mouth, then took a breath. But, before she could speak, a flicker of light shot from the serpent-creatureís tongue, striking Ameliaís earlobe. She gave a sharp cry of pain, clapping her hand over her ear.
"Are you all right?" Rand asked.
Amelia blinked twice, then stared off beyond him. She raised a hand to wave slowly at one of her sisters. "I must go," she said softly. Then she moved past Rand without a second glance.
Doreen and Jemi popped their heads out of Randís pocket, watching the princess walk away. "That was strange," Jemi said.
"Itís clear she wants to help us," Doreen added.
"But it seems she is controlled by that serpent-guard," Rand said. "Weíll try talking to the others. Perhaps we can learn more from one of them."
Rand approached each of the princesses in turn, trying to draw them into conversation. He saw frightened, sorrowful expressions in each pair of eyes. The princesses clearly wanted help. Yet, if Rand mentioned the spell, the conversation ended with a cry of pain as the serpent-guards silenced their charges.
"Weíll just have to stay awake tonight and follow them," Rand said grimly. "This spell must be broken."
That night, at dinner, Rand watched each princess intently. The effect of the anakrino had worn off, so he could no longer see the mist serpents. But he could feel their evil presence. He even thought he could hear them hiss as the princesses ate in silence.
Near the end of the solemn meal, King Darrian looked down the long table at his guest. "So, young man, have you had any success in finding a way to free my daughters?"
Seven princesses froze, listening in desperate hope. But Rand let his eyes fall to the plate before him. "Not yet, Your Majesty," he answered.
"You have two more nights," King Darrian said sternly.
"King Arnon will help me," Rand said, his voice shaking a little. "I will not fail."
"See that you donít," was the reply as he left the table. His silent daughters followed him from the room.
Sitting alone in the now deserted dining hall, Rand closed his eyes. "Please help me, King Arnon," he breathed.
For the second time since his arrival at the palace, Rand waited in the hallway while the princesses prepared for bed. This time, however, Doreen and Jemi had slipped inside the bedchamber so they could watch the princesses. Doreen saw Princess Amelia pour several drops from a small silver flask into the goblet of milk intended for Rand. "I hope our plan works this time," she whispered to Jemi.
"Me, too," Jemi whispered back.
When the princesses were settled into bed, Rand was allowed to come in. He took the goblet from Princess Amelia, noting the sorrowful look in her eyes. "She does not wish me to fail," he thought. As Amelia turned away, Rand quickly poured the drugged milk into the fresh towel that had been set out for him. He slipped the now soggy towel into the wash basin and then placed the empty goblet beside it on the table. He stretched, yawning loudly, before climbing into bed. He closed his eyes, but kept alert, waiting for his chance to follow the princesses.
But, despite his best efforts, Rand once again was pulled into a deep sleep. When Amelia gave her sisters their necklaces, Jemi and Doreen tried to wake Rand. Nothing they did disturbed his slumber.
"Should we try to follow the princesses ourselves?" Doreen asked.
"No," Jemi said. "King Arnon sent Rand to do this. We can help him, but we canít do this for him. Weíll have to try again tomorrow night."
"But, if he fails again Ė "Doreen began.
"We canít let that happen," Jemi said. "King Arnon will help us somehow."
Settling themselves onto a cushion, the two Ursa fairies kept a silent vigil until they, too, joined Rand in silent dreams.
When Rand awoke to an empty bedchamber, he bolted from the couch and groaned in frustration. "How could this have happened?" he cried. "I didnít drink the drugged milk! I poured it into the towel."
Flopping back onto the couch, Rand held his head in his hands. "What am I going to do now?" He looked up at the two Ursa fairies. "I have only one more night. If I fail Ė " He stopped, unable to finish the thought.
"Perhaps it would be best if I slipped out of the palace today," Rand said, getting to his feet. "That way Iíll keep my head. I can hide somewhere where King Darrian will never find me."
"But what about the princess?" Doreen asked.
"King Arnon sent you to rescue them," Jemi added.
"A lot of good Iíve been!" Rand cried. "King Arnon sent me here and what have I done? Failed two nights in a row! Maybe he was wrong to send me here. Maybe someone else can break the spell."
"But King Arnon always knows what heís doing," Jemi insisted.
"Are you sure?" Rand demanded. "Maybe he made a mistake."
"King Arnon never makes mistakes," Doreen said.
"If King Arnon sent me here and he never makes mistakes, why is everything going wrong?" Rand cried. "Shouldnít things be easier for me than this? King Arnon, where are you?" Rand sank to his knees on the floor.
Jemi and Doreen hovered in the air, silently watching over Rand. Neither knew what to say. A despairing silence filled the room.
Finally, Rand lifted his head. "It seems I have a choice to make," he said slowly. "Either I stay, trusting King Arnon to help me break this spell, or I trust myself and run for my life." He looked up at his Ursa fairies companions. "Iím afraid," he whispered. "Help me," he said, lifting a hand to each fairy. Doreen touched one of his hands, Jemi the other. All three closed their eyes, waiting in the silence. The clock in the corner ticked off the minutes as its pendulum swung back and forth.
At last, Rand spoke. "King Arnon, you sent me here to break a spell. But I have failed twice. I have only one chance left. Every instinct tells me to run while I still can. Please, give me the courage to stay. Please guide me. I need your help, your strength, your wisdom."
As he finished saying this, Rand felt a warm tingling in his spirit. Courage and determination welled up inside his heart. He slowly opened his eyes.
"We will split up today," Rand said firmly. "I will try talking to the princess again. You two must explore every inch of this castle, looking for anything that can help us. We will meet in the courtyard before dinner to discuss anything we have learned. May King Arnon be our guide."
It was late afternoon when Rand and Doreen met in a quiet corner of the courtyard. "Have you seen Jemi?" Rand asked anxiously.
"No, but sheíll be here," Doreen answered. "Sometimes it just takes her a little longer, because her wings are not as strong." She glanced around, but could not see her friend. Turning back to Rand, she asked, "Were you able to learn anything from the princesses?"
Rand shook his head. "Not really," he said with a shrug. "It is clear they want someone to break the spell, but they are losing hope that it will happen. Princess Amelia tried to warn me but all she could say was, ĎBewareí or ĎBe carefulí before that serpent-thing silenced her." Randís jaw tightened as he added in a hoarse whisper, "We must break this horrible spell."
"Iím afraid I didnít learn anything that could help us," Doreen said. "No magic books or keys or anything like that. I really donít know what to Ė "
"Doreen! Rand! Good news!" The pair turned to see Jemi flying as fast as her delicate wings would carry her. She seemed out of breath, yet her face held great excitement.
"What is it?" Rand asked, rushing forward to catch her in his hand.
Jemi sat on his palm, catching her breath, while Rand and Doreen waited in anxious silence. "I found out why you fell asleep last night," she began at last. "On my way to meet you, I saw Princess Amelia in the hallway near the kitchen. She was carrying the silver bottle she used to drug your milk last night. I followed her into the dining hall. She waited until the servants had finished setting the table. Then she put several drops from the bottle on the plate and silverware at your place, Rand. She even put a few drops in the goblet. I saw the drops sparkle for a moment or two and then they became invisible."
"So anything I ate or drank last night was drugged," Rand said thoughtfully.
"What are we going to do?" Doreen asked. "If you donít eat or drink at dinner tonight, the princesses and their serpent-guards will become suspicious."
Rand and the Ursa fairies were silent for several moments as they considered this. Then a slow smile crossed Randís face. "I know!" he cried. "Iíll take the food and drop it off my fork into my lap as I pretend to eat. You two can wait under the table and take the food away bite by bite."
"Great idea!" Jemi said. "But what will we do with it?"
"King Darrianís basset hound likes to sit on the floor near Sophieís chair," Doreen said. "We could feed your dinner to him."
"It wonít hurt him, will it?" Jemi asked.
"Iím sure heíll be fine," Rand said. "Heíll just have some interesting dreams tonight."
"And what about the goblet?" Doreen asked. "We canít empty that without being seen."
"Iíll just pretend to drink," Rand said. "No one will be the wiser."
Just then, a series of chimes rang out. "Dinnertime," Doreen said.
Rand nodded grimly. "You all know what to do," he said. "Iíll be ready for their tricks this time."
As dinner began, King Darrian fixed his gaze on Rand. His eyes flashed angrily. "What progress have you made toward breaking the spell that holds my daughters prisoner?" he demanded.
Rand hung his head, trying to hide the hope and determination in his eyes. "I have not found a way to break the spell," he said as he stared at his plate.
"You have one final night," King Darrian warned. "If you fail, I will have your head tomorrow at dawn. Is that clear?"
Rand kept his head down, letting a forkful of his dinner slide into his lap. Doreen picked it up and flew under the table to feed the basset hound, Duke. Rand cleared his throat, then said, "Yes, Your Majesty," allowing his voice tremble as if he was afraid. He dropped more food into his lap Ė this time Jemi took it to where Duke was enjoying his special dinner.
King Darrian snorted in disgust, then pushed himself away from the table. He nodded to his daughters who also stood. Rand lifted his head slightly to watch the silent procession. Just before reaching the doorway, Princess Amelia paused and looked back over her shoulder. Rand caught the sorrow in her eyes, then ducked his head. He did not look up again until the princesses were gone.
"Do you think anyone noticed you werenít really eating?" Jemi asked.
"I donít believe they suspected our trick," Rand said. He took his half-empty plate, whistled and then set it on the floor. Duke waddled over to the plate, sniffed eagerly and then began to finish the meal. Rand reached down and patted the dogís head. "Sweet dreams, my friend," he said.
Several hours later, Rand entered the princessesí bedchamber. Princess Amelia handed him a goblet of drugged milk, just as she had twice before. As he took it from her, Rand saw such hopeless sorrow in her eyes that it took all his strength not to try to comfort her. Instead, he turned his back, carefully emptying the milk into his towel. He gave a sigh of feigned contentment, licked his lips and set the empty goblet on the table beside the couch. Then he settled himself under the covers and closed his eyes, pretending to sleep. But he remained alert and wary as he waited for midnight.
Rand heard the soft shuffling of Princess Ameliaís slippers as she crossed the room to set the moonstone box on the window ledge. He thought he heard her give a sad sigh before returning to her bed. Rand listened to the quiet breathing of the enchanted princesses. "Help me free them, King Arnon," his spirit whispered.
As the minutes crawled by, Rand tried to lie quietly, keeping his mind alert. His muscles cramped, but he dared not move for fear that one of the serpents guarding the princesses might discover he was not really asleep. Doreen and Jemi huddled under the covers, peering out into the darkened room.
At the stroke of midnight, the seven princesses sat up in their beds. The moonstone box began to glow, filling the room with an eerie light. Fingers of light reached out from the box to touch each princess on her forehead. Rand thought he could hear a hiss from the serpent guards.
As Princess Amelia left her bed and began to walk to the window ledge, Rand opened the pouch King Arnon had given him. First, he opened the bottle of anakrino, using it on his own eyes and then sharing it with the Ursa fairies. He patted his pocket and his companions slipped inside. Then he slipped the gold chain with the haima stone over his head. It began to glow, filling him with courage and a sense of power not his own. Slowly he shifted position so he could watch the princesses.
Amelia was now handing a glowing necklace to each of her sisters. Rand slipped off the couch without a sound, crouching in the shadows. As his hands touched the floor, he had quite a surprise Ė he was now invisible!
Rand straightened, then made his way across the floor as quietly as possible. Voices filled the room, calling to the enchanted princesses. But, while the voices seemed musical and soothing to the princessesí ears, they sounded evil and hoarse to Rand.
Swirling lights rose from the moonstone box. Rand could see a tunnel of darkness at the center. Princess Amelia led the way through the arch of lights into the dark opening. Rand took his invisible place behind Sophie, being careful not to step on her nightgown as it trailed behind her.
The journey through the dark tunnel seemed to last for hours. Seven pairs of slippers shuffled along the dark floor while seven serpent guards hissed from their positions around the girlsí necks. The serpents seemed to grow more solid as the journey through the tunnel continued.
Finally, the tunnel opened out into a large cavern. Torches glowed red along the walls, yet their light did not reach the ceiling far above. At the far end of the room a throne had been cut out of solid rock, with stone steps leading up to it. On this throne sat a man wrapped in a dark cloak. "Kazab," Doreen hissed from her place in Randís pocket. The wizardís eyes gleamed in the red light as he watched the princesses take their place before him.
"Welcome, my dears," he said smoothly. "It is nice to see you here once again. Come, let the celebration begin!"
As Kazab clapped his hands, a curious transformation took place. The shadow serpents uncoiled themselves from around their charges, then formed a line in front of them. Randís eyes widened as the shadows took the form of men. Yet their faces were more snake-like than human. Each snake-man bowed, each princess curtsied. Then the couples began to dance to music only they could hear. Kazab chuckled to himself as he watched the strange celebration.
"We must put anakrino on their eyes," Jemi whispered.
"And on their necklaces," Doreen added.
Rand nodded, keeping an eye on the dancers. They were performing the steps of a dance he knew, forming various patterns as they moved across the floor.
"Very soon they will all be in a line," Rand hissed. "The princesses will be in front with their partners behind them. That will be our best chance." He gripped the bottle of anakrino in his hand and crept forward.
As the couples formed two lines, Rand uncorked the bottle. He dashed anakrino in Ameliaís eyes and placed a drop on her moonstone necklace. The anakrino began to shimmer. Amelia stumbled, then stopped. Her dancing partner looked around, searching the room but seeing nothing.
A shriek of rage came from the wizard. "Stop!" he cried, his eyes searching for an intruder in vain, for the haima stoneís power prevented him from seeing Rand or the Ursa fairies with him.
Realizing that his eyes could not help him, Kazab raised his hands above his head. "I may not be able to see you, but you will feel my wrath," he hissed. He threw his arms forward, sending bolts of light crackling through the air. Rand jumped as one of the deadly bolts nearly caught his leg.
"Hurry!" Doreen cried. "We must help the others."
Clutching the bottle of anakrino, Rand moved to where Daniella still swayed with her serpent partner. He dashed anakrino into her eyes, then splashed several drops onto her necklace.
Lightning again crackled from Kazabís hands, this time striking his invisible opponent on the arm. Randís cry of pain made the wizard cackle with delight. He took a step forward, crying, "You cannot defeat me, fool! My power is too great for you!"
"Move between Daniella and Anya," Jemi suggested. "Kazab wonít risk hitting them. He still needs them alive." Rand nodded, then slipped between the two girls. He reached around to Anyaís face, putting anakrino on her eyes. As she blinked and stopped moving, Rand dripped anakrino on the moonstone.
Several more bolts of light left Kazabís hands, but it was clear they had not found their mark. "Guards!" he cried. "Protect!"
Seven serpents hissed, their eyes glowing red. Rand had pushed his way between Clarisse and Jocelyn. As he reached his hand up to Clarisseís eyes, her serpent partner opened its mouth. Flashes of light shot from its tongue. It turned its head in all directions, shooting sparks at random. Beside him, the serpent guarding Jocelyn began to do the same.
A particularly bright spark caught Randís wrist. He clenched his teeth, keeping a grip on the anakrino bottle. His hand shook slightly as he put drops on Clarisseís eyes.
A pair of sparks, one from each serpent flanking him, caught Rand along the side of his hand. He kept his lips closed, but the shock jolted his arm, sending the little bottle flying.
"Iíll get it!" Doreen called. She leapt from his pocket, diving downward. Her paws closed on the bottle just before it hit the cavern floor.
Kazabís sharp eyes caught the movement. "Attack!" he cried again.
Rand swung around, neatly scooping Doreen and the bottle into his arms. He slid past Clarisse, dodging sparks as he splashed anakrino on her necklace.
"Look out, Rand!" Jemi hissed in his ear. "Here comes Kazab!"
"Iíll distract him," Doreen said. She flew up into the air, high above Kazabís head. "You canít catch me!" she cried, darting in circles.
With Jemi acting as lookout, Rand continued down the line of princesses. Doreenís antics kept the guardsí attention, as she easily dodged their attacks. Moments later, Rand dripped the last of the anakrino on Sophieís eyes and her moonstone necklace.
A loud crackling sound filled the cavern. Kazab and his guards stopped their attack. The anakrino began to shimmer, causing the moonstone necklaces to grow dark and cold. Black scales fell from the princessesí eyes. Cries of terror filled the cavern as the princesses saw the shadowy figures standing behind them.
Rand moved forward and caught Ameliaís startled gaze. He opened the second pouch King Arnon had given him. "Hurry," he whispered. "Take off your moonstone necklace and take this gift from King Arnon. Have each of your sisters do the same. I will take care of Kazab."
The wizard had left his throne and was moving forward. "I may not be able to see you, but your voice betrays you," he cackled, trying to trap his invisible foe. He raised his hand, aiming toward the place he had last heard Randís voice. "I will find you yet," he hissed.
Rand pulled the haima stone from around his neck. The stone blazed with power, filling the cavern with light. "I come against you in the name of King Arnon!" Rand cried as he placed the glowing stone on the ground before the wizard.
Kazab covered his face and began to back away. A bolt of light shot from the haima stone, engulfing the shadow serpents and the terrified wizard. The cavern floor began to shake. The light from the haima stone continued to grow until Rand had to shield his eyes. Doreen and Jemi hid in his pocket, paws over their faces.
A wild shriek was followed by a loud blast. The blinding light faded. Rand lowered his arms and stared in wonder at the sight before him.
King Arnon stood before a golden fountain. "Well done, Rand of Lumere," he said. "Well done, Doreen and Jemi. Kazabís spell has been broken."
He turned to face the princesses. Each now wore a haima stone on a gold chain. "Come, my daughters, wash in my fountain. It will wipe away all the evil memories left from Kazabís spell. Let the fountainís water seal you as mine."
Shyly, Princess Amelia moved forward. She took King Arnonís hand and stepped into the fountain. As the water touched her, it shimmered with sparkles of light, transforming her nightgown and tattered slippers into a royal robe of stunning beauty.
One by one, each of the princesses stepped into the healing waters of the fountain. As their nightclothes were transformed, their spirits were freed from the evil memories of their year-long enchantment. The haima stones around their necks glowed brightly as they stood before King Arnon.
"You are now free from Kazabís spell," King Arnon said as his eyes held each princess in turn. "Guard your hearts and spirits so you will not be enslaved by evil again. The haima stones you wear are powerful and will both protect and guide you."
King Arnon moved to stand before Princess Amelia. "There are a small number within your palace who follow my ways. Learn from them and teach others in your kingdom to know me. Will you do this?"
"Yes, King Arnon," Princess Amelia answered, meeting his warm gaze. "You freed us from Kazabís spell. Now I will serve you."
"You will face many challenges along your way, but I will walk beside you," King Arnon said. "Now, I have another task for you. It will be difficult, but with my power you can do what I ask."
Amelia watched curiously as King Arnon reached into his cloak. She stared at the crystal sphere he held in his hand. Suddenly, she gasped. "Thereís someone inside!" she cried.
"It is the old woman who delivered the moonstone box to you," King Arnon said. "Her name is Edwina. Kazab imprisoned her here after she had completed her task."
Amelia tossed her head. "Serves her right, working with a wizard. She got what she deserved."
"You and your sisters were imprisoned for over a year," King Arnon said in a low, gentle voice. Yet, Amelia could hear a measure of sternness as well. "You each experienced the pain and fear of being under an evil enchantment. Would you wish that fate on another?"
Amelia studied the woman inside the sphere. She seemed to be crying out, but no one could hear her. Her hands pounded the walls of her prison, yet she could not escape.
"Look into my eyes, Amelia," King Arnon answered. Amelia obeyed, then gasped. She could see tears there as King Arnon grieved both for the woman trapped in the sphere and then for the hardness of Ameliaís own heart.
Amelia let her gaze fall. "I donít think I can forgive her for what she did," she said at last. "Her actions brought so much pain. How can I ever forgive her for that?"
"She, too, has known great pain. She has suffered greatly for her deed and would undo it if she could. You must forgive her or your heart will never truly be free."
Amelia looked up again, first at the sphere and then at King Arnon. She wanted to obey, yet feelings of anger and betrayal swirled through her heart. Looking at King Arnon, she finally whispered, "Please help me."
At that moment, the haima stone around her neck began to glow. Amelia felt King Arnonís powerful love flowing through her own spirit. She knew she was loved and accepted by One who had given everything to purchase her freedom. And she realized that she would not be honoring the gift she had been given if she refused to extend that same love to another in pain.
Ameliaís hand closed over the glowing haima stone. "In your Name, King Arnon, and with the power of your love, I choose to forgive Edwina for what she did," she said softly.
King Arnon turned to each princess in turn. "Will you also forgive?" he asked, holding up the sphere. Each princess spoke aloud her choice to extend forgiveness through the power of King Arnonís love.
When Sophie had spoken her forgiveness, King Arnon tossed the sphere in the air. There was a brilliant flash and Edwina appeared. She gave a cry of delight, falling on her face before King Arnon. He reached down and wrapped his arms around her while she wept for joy.
"And now, our business here is finished," King Arnon announced. He waved his hand and the cavern faded. Suddenly, Rand, the Ursa fairies and all seven princesses found themselves in the palace courtyard. The sun was just beginning to rise in glorious shades of gold and pink. Of King Arnon and Edwina there was no sign.
When King Darrian discovered his daughters had been set free from Kazabís spell, he was overjoyed. "Rand of Lumere," he said, "you have earned your reward. I give you my eldest daughter, Amelia, to be your bride."
Amelia opened her mouth to protest. Although she was grateful to Rand for freeing her, the law of Jarryn was clear Ė only she could choose her husband. She was not sure she wished to marry a stranger, however brave and noble he might be.
But, before she could speak, Rand stepped forward. "Your Majesty is very generous," he began, bowing. "But I do not wish to marry your daughter unless she truly loves me in return." He turned to look at Amelia, then added," I ask for one year, during which your daughter and I will spend time together. If, at the end of the year, Amelia wishes to become my wife, then we will marry. If not, then I will honor her choice and leave her to find a husband elsewhere."
King Darrian nodded, his eyes on his daughter and the young man beside her. "Wisely spoken," he said at last. His eyes caught Ameliaís. "Well, my daughter. What do you say? Will you accept this manís offer?"
Amelia turned to look at Rand. A soft smile crossed her lips. "Yes," she answered quietly. "I accept."
That evening a great celebration was held. The palace was once again opened to visitors. There was a wonderful feast, followed by dancing and a variety of entertainments. Doreen and Jemi celebrated along with the newly freed princesses. Teryl and her husband were among those who attended the celebration, much to Ameliaís delight.
Life for the princesses began to change. No longer did they spend all their time within the palace walls. They rode out into Kiara, renewing old relationships and making new friends. When Teryl and Thomas had their first child, Amelia was one of the first to visit the new baby.
Doreen and Jemi remained at the palace for many months as honored guests. King Arnon came to visit often, eventually forming an alliance with King Darrian and the royal house of Jarryn.
As for Edwina, after she was freed from the crystal sphere, King Arnon returned her to her cottage on the outskirts of Kiara. He helped her destroy all the potions and magic books in her cottage. Then he gave her a special book containing many stories of his love and wisdom. Although the book never grew in size, there seemed to be no end to the wonderful adventures it contained. From that time on, Edwina dedicated the rest of her days to telling others about King Arnonís great love and mercy. She became a favorite among the local children, who loved to sit and listen to her read from the book King Arnon had given her.
One year after the spell had been broken, Princess Amelia married Rand of Lumere. All of Kiara celebrated the joyous occasion. Doreen and Jemi were guests at the wedding, as were Teryl, Thomas and their infant daughter.
And so, the Ursa fairies learned that King Arnonís love is powerful Ė blinding evil eyes, setting captives free and even transforming kingdoms. But his love displays its greatest power when it is offered to another as the gift of forgiveness.