Long ago and far away, in a kingdom by the sea, there lived a beautiful, young queen, named Cassandra.
She ruled the land with justice and wisdom, and was honored and respected by all her subjects.
But she was lonely. There was no one with whom she could share her life, no special friend, no bosom companion.
Queen Cassandra was skilled in the magical arts. She rarely used her craft, and the full extant of her power was untested. But one day she cast a powerful spell of summoning, calling to her a kindred spirit from across the sea.
Time passed, and no one came to the Queen’s court. She began to doubt that she even had magic powers, much less the ability to call a friend to her side. But then one day, from far across the sea, there arrived at court a beautiful, young princess named Elspeth. Queen Cassandra knew at once that Elspeth was the kindred spirit that she had summoned!
She welcomed her warmly, and bade her stay with her. Elspeth was delighted with her reception, and graciously accepted the invitation. Each knew that they would become fast friends.
Queen Cassandra formally welcomed Princess Elspeth to her court in a grand ceremony before all her courtiers, and declared that Elspeth and she would be royal sisters.
Thus began a deep and true friendship between the Queen and the Princess. They drank to each other’s health, and swore to be ever true to one another.
That first evening together, the Queen led Elspeth to the rocky coast, and atop a high cliff, showed her the land over which she ruled.
“Together, you and I shall make this kingdom by the sea the most pleasant kingdom that ever there was!” said Cassandra.
“Together,” said Elspeth, “you and I shall forge a special bond between us, and our happiness will become your peoples’ happiness!”
So began the friendship between the Queen and the Princess. They spent all their time together. They feasted at sumptuous banquets . . .
. . . enjoyed quiet moments together.
The more time they spent in each others company, the closer and closer they grew to one another.
They were never apart, by day or night.
Never had there been a deeper and truer friendship than that which grew between Queen Cassandra and Princess Elspeth.
THE SEED IS PLANTED
One day, a young girl was brought before the Queen, accused of stealing from a baker. The poor girl hung her head in fear and shame.
“I only stole one small loaf, Your Majesty,” she pleaded. “And only because I was starving. I hadn’t eaten for two days. I am a homeless orphan, and I beg you to forgive me.”
“The law is the law,” declared the Queen, “There were other choices you could have made. You could have offered to work for the bread, you could have even held out your hand and begged for charity! Were you too proud to beg, but not too proud to steal? So therefore, I sentence you to . . .”
“Your Majesty!” cried Princess Elspeth, stepping forward.
“Please, my sister, before you pass sentence, let justice be tempered with mercy. May I speak with the poor girl?”
“Of course, dear Princess,” said the queen, “How could I deny you anything?”
“Will you let me decide this girl’s fate?”
“She is in your hands, Princess.”
Elspeth left the dais and went down to the girl, who stood trembling and confused.
“What is you name, my child?”
“Judith, an it please Your Highness.”
“You have neither parents nor home? You poor thing! You might have died in the streets! But you shall want for nothing from now on. You may come and live in the castle with Her Majesty and me, and you shall be one of my ladies in waiting!”
A gasp of astonishment went through the court, then murmmers of approval, and then applause. Some of the ladies of the court went forward to Elspeth and complimented her on her sense of mercy and her overwhelming generosity.
“Never,” said Lady Anor, “have I witnessed such royal largesse!”
Queen Cassandra looked on, and saw that her friend was the center of praise and admiration, while she stood at a distance, ignored.
Queen Cassandra made her way back to her chamber, alone. She sat and brooded over what had just happened. Her judgment as queen had been challenged, and by her own royal sister, her bosom friend! Not only that, but the ladies of the court had lavished praise on Elspeth such as they had never lavished on her! The Queen thought to herself that perhaps Princess Elspeth meant to replace her in the hearts of her subjects. When Princess Elspeth joined her, she found the Queen silent and unresponsive. Confused, and uncertain what to do, Elspeth left her by herself.
As the days passed, the Queen did not open up to Elspeth, but kept to herself. Often, when Elspeth met her in the hallways, the Queen passed on as if she hadn’t even seen the princess. Elspeth knew something had happened, something had changed. She looked within herself to see if she could discover why her friend was now so cold to her, and found only confusion.
A STEALTHY DEPARTURE
Late one night, Queen Cassandra, unusually wakeful, wandered the halls of the castle. As she rounded a corner, ahead of her she saw Elspeth, going as quietly as she could, wrapped in a traveling cloak. What was going on?
“Elspeth!” cried the queen, “What is the matter? Where are you going?”
Elspeth didn’t say a word for a long time, then said quietly, “I . . . I can’t tell you.”
The princess turned and strode down the passage without another word. She stepped through the gate into the night.
“Wait!” cried the queen, “Come back! Please tell me what is the matter!”
But Elspeth disappeared into the darkness.
At first light, the queen threw on her cloak and passed through the gate to go after the princess.
“I must find her! I must bring her back! I must know what is happening!”
By mid-day, the queen had caught up with Elspeth on the forest road.
“Wait! Please stop! I must talk with you!”
“Whatever has happened, at least we can talk about it. What have I done that you need to run away from me? Whatever it is, I am truly sorry, and will seek remedy.”
Elspeth stopped, and turned to her friend. “You have done nothing. You have been as a sister to me, and I love you for it. It isn’t you . . . it’s me. There is something I need to do, to find, but I can’t say exactly what it is.”
The Queen reached out to the Princess. “I care about you, Elspeth, and I want to do whatever I can to help you. But please come home, I need you.”
Elspeth saw the hurt in her friend’s eyes, and couldn’t bear to hurt her even more.
“All right,” she said, “I’ll come back with you.”
That night, the queen ordered a sumptuous banquet prepared, with all of Elspeth’s favorite dishes. She placed a golden headdress on the Princess, and led her into the great hall.
“Come, my friend,” said Cassandra, “let us be as close as ever we were before. Let us never be parted again!” Elspeth smiled, and thanked the Queen warmly. But within her she felt a twinge of sadness.
The Queen paid more attention to Elspeth after that, and, on the surface, she was as warm and loving to the Princess as ever she had been before. Elspeth, feeling that all was well between them again, and still not knowing what the trouble had been, began spending more time with Little Judith and the other ladies of the court, and soon grew to be friends with Lady Anor.
But the more time Elspeth spent with her new friends, the less time she spent with the Queen, who began to feel completely left out of her friend’s life.
She would watch them from a distance, jealousy growing within her, gnawing at her heart.
“Why did I ever invite that girl to live with me? I have given her so much, jewels, clothes, a place at my right-hand, and this is how she repays me? She goes merrily on her way, laughing and carefree, with those others, and she has forgotten me! Perhaps there is more than her merely wanting to replace me in the hearts of my subjects, perhaps she wants to replace me on my throne as well!”
THE FOREST GLADE
One day, the Queen went into the forest, hunting with her bow.
At the same time, Elspeth was walking through a forest glade, gathering daisies, and enjoying the lovely day.
The Queen spied Elspeth from a distance. A horrible thought thrilled through her mind!
“One arrow, and my jealousy is finished! All I need do is say that I saw something move in the thicket, and I thought it was a deer!”
The Queen nocked an arrow to the string and raised the bow, then lowered it again. Elspeth passed on, unaware of the Queen’s presence.
“Even I cannot shoot her in the back . . . yet!”
The Queen sat in her chamber, and pored over documents, long into the night, searching for a legal excuse to banish Princess Elspeth from the realm. At last, satisfied with what she had discovered, she drew up a Writ of Banishment, signed it, and put her own seal on it.
The Queen called the young Princess to her. She was soft-spoken, gracious and smiling. She offered Elspeth a cup of wine. Then her mood changed abruptly.
“Princess Elspeth, you have undermined your Queen’s royal authority! You have caused her once-loyal subjects to become disaffected with her rule! And we have reason to believe that you have plotted to replace her on the throne!”
Elspeth was stunned, and couldn’t speak. The Queen handed her the Writ of Banishment.
“From this moment on, you are banished from this kingdom! All that I have given you I now take back! You have till dawn to leave my castle.”
Elspeth knew that there was nothing she could say or do on her own behalf.
“Now leave my sight!”
Writ in hand, Elspeth turned and departed.
The next morning, at dawn, Elspeth stepped through the gate, and it was shut behind her. With only the clothes on her back, she walked away from the greatest happiness she had ever known.
And so it was that Princess Elspeth found herself alone in the forest, dressed only in a plain, homespun gown. Her pretty clothes and jewels taken from her, what friends she thought she had too afraid of the queen’s wrath to speak up for her. Where could she go? What could she do?
Tired and hungry, she made her way into the mountains.
The trail led her higher and higher, and farther and farther away from all that she had loved and held dear. Weariness overcame her, and she felt she could not go another step. Suddenly, she came upon a cave below a steep cliff.
It was clean and dry, and sheltered from the weather. Here she would make her home in exile, and eke out what living she could, gathering the wholesome foods that grew wild in this place. But what a change from the splendid castle that she had only recently called home!
THE STRANGER IN THE WILDERNESS
Queen Cassandra could not rest, could not find peace, knowing that Elspeth was still out there, somewhere, and still on the hearts and minds of her subjects. The jealousy in her heart was like poison! Banishment was not enough, she had to find Elspeth and destroy her utterly. Casting off her royal robes, she donned a hooded cloak and went into the mountains to search for the princess. At last, she found her, and secretly followed her back to her cave.
Elspeth had just returned from foraging for her supper, when she looked up in surprise. A hooded figure appeared on the rocks above her.
Silently, the mysterious stranger made its way down to Elspeth, standing at the mouth of her cave.
“Who are you?” she asked.
There was no reply, but the figure reached out a hand towards her.
The hand reached up and threw back the hood. Elspeth threw up her hands in surprise and alarm.
“You!” she cried, “What are you doing here? What do you want with me?”
“Do not be afraid, Princess Elspeth,” said the Queen, “I do not come with malice towards you. I have come only to talk with you. I have thought long and hard about what has passed between us. Perhaps we can be reconciled. Meet me tomorrow at high noon at the sacred stone circle that lies two leagues hence.”
Elspeth, wanting only to be allowed to return to her life as it had been, agreed. The Queen departed.
HIGH MAGIC IN THE STONE CIRCLE
The next day, Elspeth made her way through the forest to the stone circle. On the way, she gathered a bunch of wild flowers to give to the Queen. When she arrived, Queen Cassandra was waiting for her, on a stone at the very center of the circle, dressed in a plain white robe, and holding a wooden staff. In all their time together, Elspeth had never seen her like this.
“Welcome, Princess!” The Queen’s voice was hard and cold. “I am glad that you came. Now, let us talk!”
Before Elspeth could say anything, the Queen raised her staff and shouted, “Prepare to be destroyed!” She brandished her magic wand, and began to utter a strange charm. Elspeth was frozen with fear.
Suddenly, the flowers in Elspeth’s hand turned into a magic wand of her own! She didn’t stop to think about what had happened, or even think about anything. All she knew was that she felt a powerful surge of magic welling up within her, and it seemed to issue forth from her wand!
Elspeth’s magic struck the Queen. She dropped her wand and swayed on her feet.
The Queen collapsed, stunned. Elspeth turned and ran for her life!
Elspeth fled back to her cave, clutching her magic wand.
“I . . . I have magic powers?” Elspeth wondered aloud. “I never knew. I never had any idea that this power lay within me! I must learn more! But how?”
The next morning, at first light, she cautiously made her way back to the stone circle, holding her wand tightly. She stood on the stone in the very center, raised her wand, and faced the rising sun.
“Oh, Powers of Magic! Oh, Powers Unseen! You have given me powers I never knew I had! Show me what I should do! Teach me how to use these powers for good!”
All at once, Elspeth found herself transported to strange and unreal landscape.
It seemed to be on the seashore, but it was unlike any seashore she had ever seen. She found she had a wreath of flowers on her head, and a bunch of them in her hand.
She made her way forward, not knowing where she was going, but feeling as though she was being led.
Then, in front of her, she saw a great stone throne. She drew nearer . . .
On the throne was her magic wand, supporting a golden crown.
She went closer . . .
She reached out her hand to touch them . . .
Instantly, she found herself seated on the throne, the wand in her hand and the crown on her head!
Before her was a stone doorway. Through it, she beheld the Kingdom by the Sea. She tried to pass through, but could not; some force prevented her.
The next thing she knew, she was sitting in the center of the stone circle, her wand in her hand, but no crown on her head.
“This is surely some sign,” she said. “Am I destined to rule? Will my magic powers help me to do so?”
She made her way back to her cave, pondering all she had experienced.
One night, Elspeth had a dream, in which she saw Queen Cassandra telling her to meet her on a vast, stony plain.
The next morning, her wand in her hand, she traveled there. Sure enough, the Queen was there. Elspeth approached warily.
“I know you are possessed of magic powers,” said the Queen. “Surely this gives us common ground to talk.”
Elspeth was on her guard.
No sooner had the queen spoken than her wand was raised to cast a spell on Elspeth, who defended herself at once!
Elspeth lunged forward, her wand blocking the Queen’s spell. The force of the magic took the Queen completely by surprise.
In a flash, Queen Cassandra was down, dazed and shaken.
In an instant she was up again, and hurled a blast of magic at Elspeth with her bare hands. Elspeth toppled backwards, unconscious.
But Elspeth’s magic had severely weakened the Queen, and she fell face-forward on the stony ground. They lay there together, as if dead.
They lay there a long time. Then they both stirred, and sat up cautiously. They looked at each other.
“We are evenly matched,” said the Queen. “Your power is equal to mine. Such duels as this will gain us nothing.”
“I agree,” said Elspeth. “Let us part now, and go our ways in peace.”
“In peace for today,” said the Queen. “But there will be other days.”
They took up their wands, turned their backs on each other, and departed from that place, knowing they would meet again.
STRANGE RITES IN THE SACRED GROTTO
Queen Cassandra knew she had to increase her magic power if she was going to destroy Princess Elspeth. She journeyed to the Sacred Grotto of the Great Winged One, there to perform an occult ritual that she hoped would strengthen her powers. The sacred talismans laid out, the Queen chanted mystic spells to summon the forces of darkness!
The chants completed, the sinister spirits called upon, the rites reached their climax in the blood sacrifice of a helpless bunny!
“By Beak! By Talon! And by Blood! Oh, Great Winged One, devour your prey!”
Princess Elspeth, making her way along a trail, heard the Queen’s chants echoing among the rocks. She stealthily crept close to the Sacred Grotto, and saw the ghastly deed the Queen was committing.
She was appalled by the horrific rites, but dared not move. She watched in stunned silence until it had all been concluded.
The Queen departed, blood on her hands. Had she increased her power? She had certainly made herself more evil. Elspeth entered the Sacred Grotto. A dark and malevolent aura filled the space. She cast off her cloak and cap, lifted her wand, and performed a powerful spell of her own, one of Cleansing and Healing, reconsecrating the Grotto to Goodness and Virtue.
CATCH AS CATCH CAN
Elspeth decided the best thing to do to protect herself from Queen Cassandra’s evil machinations was to flee farther into the mountains, to get as far away from the Queen as possible.
On a high ledge she discovered an abandoned hut which had been the dwelling of a holy hermit many years past.
It had not been occupied for a long time, and Elspeth decided that she would make this her new home.
She cast off her cloak, brandished her wand, and summoned her deepest magic. Then she cast a spell over the hut, making it invisible to Queen Cassandra, no matter what spells she might use to discover her.
The Queen used her arts to try and discover Elspeth’s whereabouts, without success; a dark void was all she could see when she tried to locate the Princess. Then she thought of a plan to force her to reveal herself. She ascended the highest tower of her castle and cast a powerful charm towards the mountains where Elspeth was hiding.
That very day, Elspeth was foraging for what food she could find, when, as she clambered up on a rock ledge, she saw a strange sight, entirely out of place in that stony vastness.
It was a banquet table spread with rich delicacies, set before an ornate tapestry.
Elspeth was famished, and the sight and scent of the rich dishes made her mouth water and her stomach growl. She was certain that it was some trick of the Queen’s, but she approached the table anyway.
The aura of magic hung heavy about the site. Elspeth knew that it was a trap, knew that the Queen had laid this as a snare for her. She knew that running away would be the safest thing to do, but she was determined to meet the Queen’s challenge. She stood behind the table and reached for the cup.
Instantly, the sumptuous feast became a gross and twisted mass of foulness, the table had become a heap of stones, and the tapestry turned into gnarled tree roots! Elspeth was not surprised and was ready for anything.
At once, the Queen appeared out of thin air, brandishing her wand!
“The Queen can transport herself where she will in the blink of an eye!” thought Elspeth, “If she has that power, than maybe I do, too!” She formed a magic thought and . . .
. . . instantly was gone! The Queen lunged forward, but too late to catch the Princess.
Elspeth reappeared as suddenly as she had vanished. The magic energy required had been phenomenal, and she staggered backwards, barely able to stand. Where was she? She quickly looked around. She was at one end of a steep, rocky ravine that opened onto the sea.
As suddenly as before, the Queen appeared on the other side of the ravine.
“She followed me!” Elspeth thought, “But how?”
The Queen raised her arms and started to speak.
Then she reeled and stumbled against the rock wall, holding herself up with effort.
“She’s as exhausted as I am!” Elspeth thought, “Whatever magic she has, disappearing and reappearing is just as hard for her as it is for me!”
The Queen recovered quickly, and faced the Princess. Elspeth leaned forward on her wand, trying not to let the Queen see how weak she felt.
“There is no escape for you this time!” cried the Queen, “Your back is to the sea, and I know you don’t have the strength or skill to disappear again!”
The Queen raised her wand to blast Elspeth with her most powerful destroying spell. The Princess’s mind raced, trying to find the right spell to save herself. She summoned her last bit of strength!
The Queen’s spell blasted a smoking crater into the spot where Elspeth stood. But there was no trace of her; in the split second before the spell struck, she had disappeared and transported herself back to the safety of her hut!
THE FLIGHT ACROSS THE SEA
Elspeth brooded over all that had passed between herself and the Queen. Her every step was dogged, her every action anticipated, perhaps even her very thoughts were read by the wicked Queen. There was no rest for her, no time she could ever let down her guard. Elspeth knew what she must do; she saw no other choice than to quit the kingdom and seek shelter far, far away, somewhere that the Queen would never think to search for her.
So, with a heavy heart, she donned her traveling clothes and made her way to the seashore. There she took ship and sailed away from the Kingdom by the Sea, bound for a distant kingdom beyond the knowledge of Queen Cassandra.
“Perhaps in this distant land I can find the peace and serenity I have so long lacked.”
“In this stillness I will explore the depths of my powers and perfect my magical arts.”
NEITHER JUSTICE NOR MERCY
Elspeth’s friends at court had been sorrowful at the banishment of their friend, and often talked with each other about her, wondering where she was and how she fared. Fear of the Queen prevented them from speaking about it in her presence, but privately, they expressed anger and resentment towards Queen Cassandra for treating Elspeth in so cruel and unjust a fashion.
At such a moment, Queen Cassandra happened to come upon Lady Anor and Little Judith quite unexpectedly.
“The Queen had no right,” Lady Anor exclaimed, “to banish dear Princess Elspeth! Why should the Queen behave so cruelly when the poor girl had never done anything against the Queen! There must be some way to remedy this injustice!”
“So!” cried the Queen, taking hold of Lady Anor’s arm, “You are speaking treason against us? How dare you break your oath of fealty and plot against our Majesty’s Person! You are hereby arrested and will be brought to trial for this deed!”
Lady Anor knew that to protest would do no good, and she was led away silently.
Lady Anor was brought before the Queen to face charges of high treason.
“Your Majesty, mercy!” pleaded Lady Anor, “I never I intended your overthrow, I only hoped that you might show mercy to Princess Elspeth and undo her banishment.”
“You only want that girl back so that you can put her on the throne in my place!”
“No, Your Majesty! It’s not true! Have mercy on me, Your Majesty!”
“I am deaf to your entreaties!”
Without further ado, the Queen draped the black hood over her crown, and held aloft the sword of justice.
“Lady Anor! You have been found guilty of high treason, and I sentence you to the only punishment for such a crime: you shall be put to death!”
Again Lady Anor said nothing as she was led away.
Lady Anor was imprisoned in the Great Tower, while a gibbet was erected below it. On the appointed day, she was led beneath it, clad only in her shift, a paper crown naming her crime upon her head. The Queen watched, tensely.
“Your Majesty,” said Lady Anor, firmly, “I die innocent of the charges against me. There is no one loves Your Majesty more than I, unless it be Princess Elspeth, whom you have so unjustly . . .”
“Silence!” cried the Queen, “Executioner! Do your duty!”
“Thus be it ever with traitors!” shouted the Queen, “No one will dare challenge my authority now!”
Far across the sea, Elspeth felt a tremor in her soul. She cast out her thoughts over the sea and knew that a great evil had been done by Queen Cassandra.
“She has become more evil than ever, and is beyond redemption. She must be stopped! I never should have run away. I cannot hide anymore; I shall go back and do what must be done!”
Donning raiment befitting the royal princess she was, Elspeth took ship again, and boldly sailed back to the Kingdom by the Sea.
She landed on a deserted stretch of coast.
“I have returned, oh, Queen,” she declared, “and I shall not run again. Justice will be done at last!”
She made her way back to the Queen’s castle . . .
. . . and using her magic powers, cast a Spell of Innocuousness over herself. The guards could still see her, but paid her not the slightest attention. Thus protected, she passed through the gate.
THE END OF IT
Elspeth entered the castle. No one she passed noticed her in the least. She made her way along the dark passages to the throne room.
She entered the throne room. Queen Cassandra was waiting for her.
“Did you think you could return to this land and enter my castle without my knowing it? You are a fool to have returned!”
Elspeth replied boldly, “Maybe it is you who are the fool for having banished me in the first place. But I have returned, and now I shall see that justice is done at last!”
“Have at me, then!” cried the Queen, brandishing her wand.
Elspeth sprang upon the dais, facing the Queen. Cassandra spoke a powerful spell, and a magic blade appeared in her hand.
“We were evenly matched once,” declared the Queen, “But I am the stronger now!”
Elspeth merely blinked, and a similar blade was in her grasp. The Queen quailed within, suddenly realizing that her boast was empty, but she dared not show her fear.
Spell and counter-spell flew between them, but neither budged. Their magic filled the chamber, making the very air seem thick and impenetrable.
“I shall defeat you!” screamed the Queen. “My dark power will wear you down! None can stand against it!”
“You are wrong,” Elspeth’s voice was calm, almost serene. “You have Evil at your command, but I have Truth and Virtue! They are greater by far! You fight with hate for me in your heart. But I have never stopped loving you. If there were any other way to stop you than this battle to the finish, I would welcome it. But you have left me no choice!”
“Love me?” the Queen shrieked, “You are here to kill me!”
“If you die, you have brought it on yourself!” was the Princess’ quiet reply.
Their wands were locked together, the magic power surging back and forth between them. Queen Cassandra screamed in hatred and terror!
At that, the queen was hurled into the air!
She fell headlong to the ground. Her crown rolled from her head, her wand flew from her hand, the blade fell beside her. She uttered not a single sound, not a groan or a cry. Queen Cassandra was dead. The victory was Elspeth’s.
The news of the evil Queen’s demise spread quickly through the castle. The courtiers gathered somberly. Little Judith stepped forward, a new crown in her hands.
“All hail Elspeth!” the courtiers cried with one voice, “Queen of the Kingdom by the Sea!”
Elspeth was crowned with all due pomp and ceremony, and all knew that this would be the beginning of a new golden age.
Long ago and far away, in a kingdom by the sea, there lived a beautiful, young queen, named Elspeth.