The music box played without stop, never needing winding or attention, and her father seemed to always be whispering into her ear, encouraging her wants.
“Are you not hungry my dearest daughter?”
She turned immediately to the table. The aromas of all of her favorite foods seemed to wrap themselves around her. She sat at the table and looked down at a plate piled high with delicacies, smiling distantly before reaching for her fork. Her elbow struck the side of the table sharply and the cover of the music box shut with a snap.
The world began to change immediately. The bright and cheerful colors began to smear and fade away, like an ink drawing left in the rain. Even the sunlight left, replaced by a dim and eerie glow that was coming from filthy lamps set around the clearing.
Crystal could feel slimy things coiling around her feet and the stench of rotting and decaying things was almost overwhelming. The food on her plate was rotten and crawling with maggots and other foul things.
I ate that… She thought with obvious revulsion and stumbled away from the table. Her feet struck objects hidden by a low fog, but as she moved it shifted and swirled, revealing the blank eyes of corpses littering the ground.
“Is the world not what you thought it was?”
She screamed at the low, gurgling whisper and tripped over the body of a young man that she’d been dancing with only hours ago.
An ancient, rotting corpse moved towards her, dripping foul liquids as it moved. It reached out one hand and touched her cheek. She retched at the way the creature’s skin felt, liquid and cold. She would never forget that touch. “Soon you’ll join us… always with us…” It smiled, a grotesque expression without joy, and turned towards the table.
Crystal couldn’t move, if she moved she would faint, she was certain of it. But then she realized that the creature was heading back towards the music box. If it plays I’ll never escape.
She jumped to her feet and ran from the clearing, but a large hedge had grown up around it. Panicked, she began ripping at the hedge, trying to force her way through. But the music had started playing again and her panic was slipping away.
“No… I have to break the curse…”
“Stay with us Crystal… stay here and be happy and safe…”
Hands were pulling at her now, pulling her away from the hedge, back into the warm, bright sunlight that so magically flooded the clearing. “No… I have to…” She pulled weakly, but the music was filling her mind again and she couldn’t remember what she needed to get away for. “No…”
A face burst through the hole in the hedge that she’d made. “Girly!”
“Nog!” She twisted free of the hands holding her and threw herself through the hedge. It sealed itself as soon as she was through and the music faded from her mind. “How long? Oh how long? Are they all dead?”
Nog looked at her sadly. “Two days Girly was gone. Nog looked and looked but you were hidden.”
Crystal covered her face with her hands before straightening up. “We don’t have any time to lose. We have to hurry. Look, I can see Twylyth’s path ahead.”
The pair set off again, finding Twylyth’s magical gifts sitting on the path, waiting for their return. The path led them further and further on, until rather suddenly it ended at the entrance of a cave.
“This is the entrance to the Faerie Realm?” She asked, frowning slightly.
Nog caught her hand. “Girly… don’t go in there. Riddle dragon will munch you up.”
She stared into the darkness for a few moments before pulling away from him. “I have to go Nog. And I think I have to go alone.” She handed him the magic bag and bowl. “Take these. And this…” She bent and kissed his cheek gently. “Thank you Nog.”
Before her bravery could fail her, she turned and walked into the darkness, biting her lip when she heard Nog burst into frightened tears. The sound soon faded away until the only thing she could hear was her own steps echoing around the cave.
A blast of warm air hit her and she heard something huge moving in the pitch black. “Who has come to be my supper? Smells like maiden, oh it has been so long since I’ve had maiden.”
“I’m afraid you won’t be having any tonight either.” She said quietly. A sudden light blinded her and she threw an arm across her eyes, expecting the worst. Instead she heard a low chuckle and she lowered her arm, blinking to adjust her eyes.
A huge dragon filled the cave in front of her and she was struck by the terrible beauty of the creature. His scales were a thousand shades of green and gold mixed together and his teeth gleamed in the dim light of the torches he’d lit with his awesome breath. His eyes, which were gold with vertical slits, had an intelligence in them, a wisdom that had been lost to man for ages. Behind him, glowing like a beacon, was a set of silver doors. The entrance to the Faerie Realm.
Crystal had backed away from the sight without realizing it, she was pressed up against one wall. “Please, I need to pass. I need to get to the Faerie Realm.”
The dragon laughed again, sending another blast of hot air past her. “It is never as simple as saying please my dear. There are ways these things have been done for centuries and my way… I do so like my way.” One massive claw caught her suddenly, holding her tight around the middle. “You will be asked three riddles. And you must answer them correctly before you are eaten.”
She stared at his mouth, it seemed horribly close, before nodding. “Ask your riddles.”
“Think of words ending in -GRY. Angry and hungry are two of them. There are only three words in the English language. What is the third word? The word is something that everyone uses every day. If you have listened carefully, I have already told you what it is.” He recited the poem before slowly starting to pull her towards him.
Ignoring the panic trying to rise up inside of her, Crystal thought hard. “Angry… hungry… only three words in… Language!” She burst out suddenly and he stopped pulling her closer.
The claw around her middle tightened only slightly. “Very impressive. Perhaps I should choose harder ones.” He was silent for a long while, staring at her hard.
“From the beginning of eternity
To the end of time and space
To the beginning of every end
And the end of every place.
What am I?”
Crystal bit her lip, thinking hard as, once again, the dragon started dragging her towards his mouth. “Um… oh… uh… eh… oh no…. I…” She shut her eyes and thought hard. “Eh… eh… E! The letter E!”
He growled and paused his hand. “Very well… one last riddle to decide it all.”
“This thing all things devours
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers
Gnaws iron, bites steel,
Grinds hard stones to meal,
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down!”
She pressed her lips together and thought hard. It was impossible to ignore the hot breath hitting her face as she got closer. She could have reached out and touched his face if she’d wanted to. Soon her time would be up and she would be the thing getting devoured. “Wait… wait…” She begged throwing her hands out as he opened his mouth wide. “Time! Give me more time!” And then it hit her all at once. “Time! Time is the answer! I answered your riddles you have to let me go!”
Snarling, he released her and glared for a few moments before shifting out of her way. “You may proceed.”
Crystal almost laughed, but didn’t want to anger the dragon, as she ran past and towards the glowing doorway. But as she pushed them opened she remembered the last thing Twylyth had said to her. The sacrifice that had to be made.
She walked into a huge glittering room that stretched on forever in all directions. It was completely empty, she was the only living thing inside, she was certain of it. And yet, the silence seemed to be waiting for her to speak. “I’ve come to beg that the curse be taken off of my country.” She called out loudly. “Please… the people will starve if things are not restored.”
“You do not want such treasures?”
The voice came from everywhere at once and had a hundred different voice. She stared all around, trying to see who it belonged to. “No…. I don’t care about treasure. I don’t want the people to die for my mother’s crimes. Please…”
“What do you offer as payment for such magic?”
She bowed her head for a moment. “My eyes. They’re diamonds.”
“Mere trinkets. They do not interest us.”
“My life.” She whispered softly.
A long, spiraling silence surrounded her before it was shattered. “Agreed. The princess shall die.”
A sudden blast of wind hit her and she stifled a scream as she was knocked off of her feet. She had not yet hit the ground when the world went black.
Once upon a time, in a far off land, there lived a Queen who was good and just and kind. The stories told of her said that she had eyes so beautiful that they had once been stolen away and replaced with diamonds. That she had faced dragons and death itself to bring prosperity to her kingdom. That she alone of mortals had seen the entrance to the Faerie Realm. That her closest and dearest friend was a funny little man named Nog.
How much of these whispers are true, I cannot say. But during her rule a tree grew in the palace courtyard. And each year, this tree grew heavy with a fruit of amazing qualities. The cherries that hung heavy on the branches were pure rubies, each one a treasure in itself. Each year the Queen herself would carefully gather each precious gem and secret them away.
And when drought or famine struck the kingdom, or when the winters ran long and the food became scarce, the Queen would use the gems without hesitation, to buy food and supplies for her people.
Such was the goodness of the Queen.