By Laura Jackson

Once upon a time, far, far away there was a handsome King and a beautiful Queen. The King was very happy, for he thought his life was fine. He had a very good job for which he was well paid, he had a fine castle with easy payments and a new chariot that was very fast. His Queen was pretty and sweet tempered and did not mind if he stayed out sometimes with the other Kings. Despite all of these wonderful things, the Queen was very sad. She wanted to have a child but the King always said he was not ready. One night, while the King was out with the other Kings, the Queen decided to call on a wise woman who she saw on TV. She called the magic number and asked the wise woman what she should do about the King who did not want a child. The wise woman, who was not as wise as she advertised herself to be, told the Queen to stop taking the magic pills the King made her take and instead to throw them into the forest behind the castle. Then, she said, the Queen would have a child and the King would simply have to accept it. The Queen did as the wise woman had said and soon enough she was indeed blessed with child. The King was very angry and he called the Queen names, he said that the castle was too small and that he would have to get a larger chariot. The Queen agreed that was true but promised the King that it would be worth the changes to have a Prince in their family.

In the darkest part of winter the Queen had not one, but two children, and to the King's dismay they were both girls. The Queen named the oldest child Amanda Gudrun Ketill and the youngest was called Nadia Alise Ketill, for her mother and grandmother who both were dead. This made the Queen very, very happy but it only made the King even more angry. He spent more time out with the other Kings and sometimes did not go to his job. It was not long before the King lost his good job and could not make the payments on the larger castle he had been forced to get. When he could not make the payments on his castle and chariot, the bank took away his chariot and forced the King and Queen to move to a very small apartment. The King became very angry all the time. He could not keep a good job and had to ride a bus with all the other peasants. When he would come home at night he would yell at the Queen to keep the Princesses quiet and he would drink can after can of ale until he would fall asleep on the couch.

Now the Princesses were both as fair as the sunrise and as good as good could be. Amanda had hair of copper and eyes as green as the leaf in summer. Her skin was dusted with freckles and she had a wide, mischievous grin. She was clever and wise and played all manner of games with the other children in the apartment building. Nadia had curls of the purest gold and eyes bluer than the robin's egg. She was sweet and quiet and played at home all day with the dolls that the King's mother had given her. Both of the Princesses were treasures to the Queen, but to the King they were millstones about his neck. It happened one day that the King was struck by an idea. If he were to be rid of the Princesses, his life would return to normal. He would get back his fine job, his castle and chariot and the Queen would only pay attention to him. He did not question the idea, for it seemed to him a fine plan. The King did not know that sometimes there are voices in the dark that only wait to do evil things. One of the evil voices had attached itself to the King on the day his daughters had been born and he had carried it for three years. The evil voice had decided to be rid of the Queen and the Princesses, for they were light and goodness and made the evil voice weak. Indeed, if the King had ever stopped blaming the Princesses for his being so angry, he could have been rid of the evil voice long ago, but that is the nature of weak men and evil voices.

The King went to his house late that night, well after the Queen and Princesses were asleep. First he checked to make sure the Queen was in her bed and then he went into the Princesses' bedchamber. For a moment the King doubted his idea, but the evil voice in his head went into his heart and turned it into ice. The King wrapped his hands around the neck of his youngest daughter first and quickly wrung the life out of her but when he turned to the bed of Amanda she was sitting up in her little bed and watching him. The King reached for her but she screamed then, shrill and piercing like a rabbit in a snare. "Quickly," the evil voice warned the King, "you must kill her quickly", but she was running from the room. The Queen jumped from her bed and ran into the hall just in time to the see the King striking the child from behind. The Princess fell as though she were dead. The Queen leapt onto her husband's back and he threw her from him, then he turned and struck her square on the temple. The Queen fell dead to the floor, much to the King's fear. "Run," said the evil voice, "Run far from here or the police should catch you." So the King ran from the apartment and into the night, leaving his wife and youngest daughter dead, but with Amanda still alive.

The police did come and they took Amanda to live with the King's mother and father, who both loved their granddaughter very much and were sick to the heart about what their son had done. The old couple lived in a small house not much bigger than the castle the Princess had lived in, but it had a tiny yard that she would play in all day. Her grandmother taught her how to cross-stitch and knit and how to make a pie and her grandfather would let her sit in his lap and watch old shows on TV. Her favorite show was about a bunch of children that Amanda very much wished she could play with. The children were always getting into mischief and trouble with each other. The children never seemed to have much money, but they had fun with what they did have. The Princess loved her grandparents very much, but she did wish for other children to play with.

One night there was a great commotion in the little house. Amanda woke up in her little bed in the back room and saw blue and red flashing lights outside her window. She became very scared, because she remembered those lights from the night that the police came and took away her mother and sister. Although she was a very brave little girl, she hid under her covers for fear that the police were coming to take her away too. Suddenly Amanda thought of something that made her even more afraid. What if the police had come to take away her Grandparents?

She jumped out of bed and ran out into the living room and saw her fear was true. Death had come in the night and had stolen away her Grandmother, this had so upset her Grandfather that he had collapsed after calling the police and they were taking him to the hospital.

With tears running down her little cheeks the Princess asked where she was to go. The police looked high and low, but they could not find any other family for the little Princess, so she was sent to a foster home.

The first foster home the Princess went to was very noisy. There were a lot of other children there, but none of them wanted to play with Amanda. They were all much older and did not want a little girl who was only six to follow them around. The Princess tried very hard to prove to the older children that she could keep up, but they only pushed her away and called her names. This made the Princess very mad and she began to hit the other children. One of the bigger boys pushed her down and began to hit her back and this made Amanda so mad that she bit him on the hand. The boy screamed and ran away with the blood running down his arm. Amanda grinned very, very wide at the other children and told them, "See, I can too keep up with you." The foster parents were angry with the Princess and sent her away to live with a different family.

The second foster home the Princess was sent to was too quiet. The foster parents worked very hard to take care of the other children and did not allow disruptive or unruly behavior. At first the Princess liked it, after all the noise from the other home, but soon she became quite bored. The parents would never let her run around outside and play, insisting instead that she have Structured Study times and quiet Time-Outs. The other children were as boring as oatmeal and did not like to play with the fun-loving Princess. It was not long before the Princess felt that she would end up just as washed out and gray as the other children. One day Amanda felt like playing outside but when she asked the foster parent as nicely as she could if she could just go out to the park, the woman snapped at the Princess. "No." She said, "I don't understand why you keep asking. The Park is too dangerous for a child to play at all by herself." The Princess was sad, but tried again, asking as sweetly as she could. "Would you come with me?" But the woman turned her back and left the room. Now, this was too much for the Princess, who had tried and tried to be good, but was very tired of being ignored and shushed. She got very mad and began to scream and yell and throw things around the room. The foster family was very shocked and decided that the princess should go to a different family, one for special children.

The third foster home was the worst. At first it had not seemed too bad to the Princess, but after a while she grew very tired of the other children. They couldn't run or play or do much of anything that she liked to do, and the foster parents never had any time to talk to her or take her to the park. As the years went by, the Princess grew to hate the foster home. All day long, the foster parents expected her to wash and clean and take care of the other children. From sun up to sun set Amanda would be responsible for everything the children needed, and if one of them made a mess or had a fit it was her job to clean it up.

One night the Princess sat by herself in the little corner that she had and looked in the mirror. She was surprised and sad at how pale she looked. Her once shining, curling red hair now hung lank and tired like a worn out mop, her leaf-green eyes seemed watery and muddy and her glorious freckles were washed out and faded. Amanda was fourteen and looked and felt forty. If only I had someplace to go, thought the Princess, I would fly far from here. Her eyes fell on the cover of a magazine about the wonderful land of Hollywood, and she realized that she did have someplace to go, for there was a place of magic and wonder where a young woman could go to find her dreams. That night the Princess slipped out the back door and down the street. On her back she carried a pack filled with some clothing, a bit of food and a bus schedule. In her pocket was the money she had saved from her tiny allowance. "I wish that I had more," the Princess worried, "but I am glad to have this much." She bought her ticket and boarded the big, gray bus, bound for Hollywood to find her dream.

Now, as all good children know, it is a very small step from dreams to nightmares. Although the city of Hollywood was wonderful at first, the Princess found out the bit of money and food that she had did not last her very long. She tried to get a job but was too young, she could not find a place to live for she had no ID and she did not wish to return to the foster home. One day, as Amanda walked her weary and footsore path she was hailed by a group of people who seemed much like her. "We have a place you can stay," the young woman said, "and there is magic for all and wondrous delights to rival anything you have ever seen." The Princess agreed that that would be a fine thing and followed them to their lair.

Oh woe for the Princess, for she had fallen in to a den of wickedness. Thieves and worse, the bandits first took from the Princess her pack with spare clothing and all that remained of her food and money. They made her cook and clean the little apartment they all stayed in. When the Princess wanted to leave, the biggest of the evil men told her she would have to stay, but he promised her all kinds of delights. He gave the Princess a magic rock and showed her how to turn it into smoke and wonders. One horrible night he made her trade her innocence for more of the magic rocks. The Princess grieved over her loss, but wanted more of the awful magic rocks just the same. Soon she was willing to do anything at all just to have more of the magic rocks.

Each day the Princess would rise well after the Sun had burned the dew from the leaves and would try to tidy the den of the evil thieves. She would clean herself in the rust stained basin and brush out her hair before tying it up and tucking it up under a red cap that she had found in a second hand store. Then, she would sit on the gloomy metal staircase outside the window in the shadow of the building until she could not wait any longer and had to use another magic rock to make herself dream. All through the night the bandits would make her and the other wicked Princesses consort with knaves and rogues under the hard streetlights until sunup. Dark circles lined her jaded eyes and the sound of crows was in her voice.

One day, the Princess awoke early, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Perched on the windowsill was a beautiful golden bird with bright blue eyes. The little bird tipped her head from side to side then opened its beak and began to sing.

"Ah, sister, in danger you sleep,
How sad is my poor heart!
Bitter hot tears you shall weep,
When your life and your magic shall part."

When Amanda heard these words a great terror filled her heart and she leapt up from her blanket. Quickly she dressed and put up her hair but as she reached the door one of the villainous thieves rose up and asked her where she was off to.

"I am going to fetch some food, for there is none in the cupboard." She told the man.

"When shall you return?" He demanded.

"Soon, soon and soon enough." She answered and he let her leave.

Trip, trap, trip she went down the stairs, two at a time. Lightly she lifted the latch and quietly she snuck out the door and into the street. Down from the sky flew the golden bird and, hopping from sign to curb to railing, led the Princess down the sidewalk and away from the den of thieves. Gaily the bird sang and bobbed her tail.

Amanda followed the bird through the streets and down an alley that ended in a wooden gate twined all about with leaves. She pushed open the gate and her eyes widened with amazement at the sight before her. A lovely garden, thick with flowers and vines covering the walls, lay hidden in the midst of the city. Rich, lush, neatly trimmed grass carpeted the soil and a stone fountain with a lion's head spouted crystal clear water into a deep pond. Most beautiful of all though was the apple tree that grew in the center of the garden. Hanging from the tree were three perfect apples, the first of ruby, the second of silver and the third of gold. The Princess plucked the ruby apple, enchanted by the sweet perfume of the fruit and the softness of its skin. She bit into the fruit and as the juices ran down her chin she felt a sudden rush of joy, far greater than any she had ever received from the magic rocks. Her eyes brightened as green as the leaves of the apple tree, her skin glowed from within and her hair spilled out from under her cap in a glorious cascade of ruby silk.

Delighted, the Princess reached for the silver apple. Its perfume was of mysteries and dreams and as she bit into it Amanda felt as though all the days she had lived before were but pale shadows of what her life truly meant. With a start, she realized that life was both shadows and light, and as she consumed the apple to the bitter seeds she became aware of the comfort she felt in the shadow. Her skin turned a pale silvery gray dusted the same color as the apple had been. Lastly, Amanda reached for the golden apple, for it bobbed on the stem and glowed as bright as the sun, but as she touched the fruit the golden bird landed before her on the stem. The bird's bright blue eyes shone as it sang a warning to the Princess.

"Sister, dear sister, one warning I sing.
This I must say, then from here shall I wing.
Ruby is life and all of its yearnings,
Silver is knowledge and all of its learnings.
Gold is eternal, safe and sedate,
But ne'er shall you leave, if that fruit you will taste."

With her warning delivered, the golden bird hopped from the branch and circled the tree, sweet song pouring from her throat.

"Oh, Please, little bird," called the Princess, "what shall I do then?" The bird flashed her blue eyes at the Princess and landed near the edge of the pond. She hopped first to one stepping stone and then the next. Amanda followed the bird and leapt gracefully from one stone to the next until she stood at the center of the pond. The Princess looked within the depths of the water and was astonished to see what looked like a sword handle just within reach. Amanda looked back once at the tree, with the beautiful golden apple hanging on the bough then plunged her hand into the cold water of the pond to grasp the sword. The shock of the chill water made her gasp but she laughed with delight at the strength and beauty she saw in the blade.

Quickly the Princess returned to the den where she had been held captive for the last two years. With one mighty kick she burst the door from its hinges and strode within. The thieves and villains were still laying about in their drug induced dreams and hardly noticed when she lopped off their heads with her silver blade. The Princess ground their magic stones into powder beneath her heel and joyfully laughed as she left the building, a little richer, a little wiser, and a lot stronger.