The Lost Fairy Tales No. 2: The Beggar Prince

by Adrienne Foster Potter

Copyright@  May 2001 All rights reserved

May be printed for classroom use

Words that may be new for grades 3 to 6: unsurpassed, inconceivable, apothecary, penetrate, hordes, vulnerable, sequestered, permeated, profusely, melee, minutest

Many years ago, before the Grimm Brothers were famous for their fairy tales, a cruel duke seized their home for non-payment of rent.  With it he seized some of the original fairy tales they collected that had been rejected by publishers.  He stored them away in a vault and they were lost for two centuries.  This is the second fairy tale to come to light, through means that no one can explain...

Once upon a magical time there was a lovely queen married to a kind and handsome king who were very happy in a beautiful, but small kingdom.  Well, it sounds like the story should end right here, with this couple living happily ever after.  Sadly, that is not what happened.  They lived very happily with their son, Prince Brian of Lockendale, until he was thirteen, whereupon their counselors convinced them it would be wise to send him abroad to finish his schooling.  So he was sent to a distant kingdom which excelled in mathematics and the sciences, in foreign languages, and in music.  There Prince Brian learned all they had to teach him, but he also learned to play the lute and to sing, and his talent was unsurpassed in the kingdom. 

His parents missed him tremendously and always held huge celebrations when he returned for vacations and holidays.  He played his lute and sang for them, and the entire castle was charmed by his music and saddened when he returned to his studies abroad.  When Prince Brian was seventeen an inconceivable tragedy came to pass in the form of a terrible plague which struck his parents' kingdom, spreading through all the villages and finally reaching the castle.  His parents did all they could to fight it, consulting every wizard, apothecary, scientist, and doctor in the land, but it was to no avail.   

Sadly, Prince Brian's parents died, as did most of the kingdom.  Months passed before news reached the Prince since all the messengers had also died, but when he finally learned the devastating news he hurried home to manage the affairs of the shrunken kingdom.  The disease itself had by now died out, and only healthy folk and animals remained, but the smallness of their numbers left them vulnerable to attacks from fierce pirate hordes who began to penetrate ever deeper into the little kingdom.

One dark day they reached the castle and began to kill everyone who had not yet escaped.  Prince Brian fled with his lute, several servants and a few guards, wearing only the clothes on their backs.  Down a dark, hidden, staircase they ran, through a secret tunnel created long ago for emergencies, and into the dark woods.  They ran deeper into the forest and climbed a tall mountain where they could look down upon the burning castle and villages.  Prince Brian wept as he took one last look at everything he loved and bid it farewell, then the group fled deeper into the woods to ensure their escape from the pirate villains.  

They stayed in the woods for almost a year, in fear that the pirates would find them.  They hunted, fished, picked berries, and slept under the stars at night in good weather, or in crude shelters in stormy weather.  Prince Brian and the rest of the group, having been raised in luxury and comfort, had a hard time adjusting to the terrible changes in their lives.  They shivered in the cold and awoke with stiff bones in the mornings.  They went hungry when game was scarce and berries and fruit were few and far between.  Two of the women became ill and died, including Brian's nanny whom he loved dearly.  His sorrow was unbearable.

He took up his lute and strummed tunes so sad that all of nature stopped and listened.  He had lost everything--his parents, his home, his land, and now his nanny.  What more could life take away from him?  His heart would have broken in two were it not for his music.  When the sadness would have overwhelmed him he strummed his lute even while they were walking, playing melodies that would have brought tears to even an ogre's heart.  And this they did. 

One day as he played an ogre heard the group approaching and listened to the terribly sad music.  It touched something in him and he welcomed the group into his cave.  It smelled and was dirty but it had a warm fire and piles of meat, grain, and fruit stored away.  They all lived there through the winter listening to Brian's singing and playing to while away the hours.  It was a crude and ugly dwelling, but after the cold and dampness of the outdoors in the rain it seemed like heaven.  The little group was quite contented when they forgot the ordeals of the past and the ogre was delighted with his new-found friends and treated them well.

But alas, their happiness was not to endure.  A village in a valley below hated the ogre, for he took their cattle and sheep for food when he could find nothing in the woods.  Their king sent out 50 soldiers to ferret him out and kill him.  One dark and misty morning they appeared outside the entrance of the cave and shouted for the ogre to come out.  Naively he did so, and was instantly killed where he stood.  The others ran to see what the commotion was except for Prince Brian, who was asleep in the ogre's hammock.  As the Prince's friends ran out of the cave the soldiers killed them all, thinking they were also ogres because they looked and smelled as if they were, then went home to collect their awards and glory.

When Prince Brian woke from his sleep he went outside to see where his friends had gone.   Finding them all dead he collapsed in unbearable grief, sobbing to the heavens for hours. Exhausted, he finally fell asleep.  He dreamed of fighting and bloodshed, and when he could stand it no more he awoke again and saw that it was not a dream.  At this, he exploded in agony.  He screamed his anguish to the sky, to the treetops, to the birds, to the sun overhead, and to the wind, which carried it far, far, up the mountains, to a peak where no man had ever been.  

On this peak there lived four fairies who were responsible for most of the good that was found in the world.  They thought their work had ended and had sequestered themselves on this peak where they could retire and enjoy peace, solitude, and each other's company.   On this day they heard the agonizing cries that the wind brought them and were pierced by the pain of it.  They whisked themselves down to the origin of the screams, floating on the same breeze that carried the cries of agony, and saw Prince Brian on his knees sobbing.  They saw the dead bodies around him and immediately put him into a deep sleep to end his present sorrow. 

As he slept they asked him questions and learned his past.  They too wept, for never had a man been treated so badly by fate.  They cast a spell on him to make him forget all his trials and then they put an enchantment on the entire land.  Whoever treated this poor prince well would be rewarded but whoever treated him poorly would suffer as he had, taking his burdens upon themselves and relieving him of them.  In doing this, the fairies would determine once and for all who and what was truly good in the entire country. 

They left the poor prince and when he awoke he had no memory of their visit and no memory of his trials.  He wandered in the woods for days dressed in skins and rags and singing and playing his lute.  The only thing that would tell anyone of his royal station was a gold medallion with the royal seal which hung around his neck hidden by the furs, and a birthmark on his shoulder blade.  

At last he came to the village that had hated the ogre.  This village also hated music for they were rough, uneducated, and had no culture.  As he passed through they laughed at him, scorned him, and threw stones. "Go away, you filthy beggar!" they taunted.  He stopped at the last tavern for food and drink, for the fairies had left him with a purse full of gold that never emptied.  There the tavern master gave him what he asked but charged him ten times the usual price.  After Prince Brian left a plague rolled down from the mountains and permeated the air, claiming the life of everyone who had persecuted the beggar prince.  Suddenly the prince remembered the plague, yet he felt no pain from it, as if a terrible burden had lifted.

The next day he came to a farmhouse by the road and stopped to ask for lodging.  The farmer smelled him but had a kind heart and let him sleep in the barn.  The next morning the farmer's wife sent her small son out to him with breakfast and food for his journey.  To repay them he sang a beautiful song from their gate before he started on his way.  They smiled and waved and the next morning two of their cows and three of their sheep gave birth to healthy triplets!  The farm gave double the produce the farmer planted, and his wife was cured of headaches that had plagued her for years!  What good fortune this man had brought them!  From then on they sheltered and fed every wanderer who came their way and the fairies continued to bless them.

At the next town he encountered he was again ridiculed and scorned.  In this village one man, who had secretly murdered his wife when her soup didn't please him, pushed the beggar prince out of the way, and another kicked him.  "Take a bath!" ordered yet another, who had once stolen his brother's property.  "Show me where," Brian asked, but they laughed and told him no bath of theirs could make him clean.  He said, "Please, let me earn your kindness with my music," and he began to play for them.  They told him, "We'll have no such noise!" and one grabbed his lute away and was about to hit him on the head with it when suddenly he was struck with a heart attack and fell to the ground, gravely ill.  The lute fell, but the prince quickly caught it before it could hit the ground.  

He left, feeling no welcome there, and after he did the parents of all those who were rude to him passed away in their sleep and were found lifeless in their beds the next morning.  Such a weeping and wailing as there was then!  Prince Brian remembered the passing of his parents, but it was as if it had happened in another life, and the grief was dull and distant.

Lighthearted and gay, the Prince was passed on the road by a group of merchants in their wagons.  They shouted at him to get out of the way and one struck out at him with a whip but missed, because the fairies would let no more harm come to him.  The merchants taunted the prince and laughed at his clothing, casting stones at him before going on their way.  That night a terrible storm hit them, lightening struck a wagon and burned all their possessions, and they were left shivering in the cold with nothing but the wet clothes on their backs.  Suddenly the prince remembered the months spent in the cold forest, but the pain of it was gone.

The following day the Beggar Prince encountered a poor, lonely, widow in a cabin near the road.  She was kind and invited him in, not minding his odor.  She lead him to a shed and gave him water and rags to clean himself.  She gave him clothing that had belonged to her late husband and packed his furs in a bag for him.  That night she let him sleep in her bed and she slept in the straw.  The next morning he ate the food that she prepared and then chopped wood for her, enough to last the whole winter.  Then he set out on his way, rested and fed, with food in his pack.

The widow dug in her garden that morning, and as she pulled the weeds she found a bag of gold coins!  She went to town and bought herself a new dress. That day she met a prosperous widower who admired her, courted her, and in two weeks married her.  She was welcomed into his family and was never lonely again.

The beggar prince looked somewhat better now, but he still wore the clothes of a peasant and had long hair and a beard.  At the next town he visited the barbershop for a haircut and shave, but the barber was mean and rough, yanking his hair as he cut it and doing a very untidy job of it.  The young prince looked in the mirror, shook his head in sorrow, paid the man and left.  He went to a restaurant and ordered food but the waiter looked him over from head to toe and sat him in the corner at a broken table with a rickety chair.  He served him last of all and gave him cold soup and stale bread.  The prince ate it without complaint and then resumed his journey.  The next day the barber's best friends were attacked by thieves and he was stooped with sorrow.  The waiter's step-mother, who had served as his nanny, suddenly took ill and died, leaving him also grief-stricken. They both repented of their mean-spiritedness.

The prince remembered the slaughter of his friends and the death of his nanny, and though saddened for a moment he felt that those tragedies were long ago and far away, and he was able to enjoy the present.  He felt happier than ever as he traveled to the next town.  He felt the warm sun on his face and the fresh breeze blowing through his roughly shorn hair.  He heard the birds chirping overhead, saw butterflies fluttering, and daisies in the meadows near the road.

Here he stopped at a small shop run by a pretty girl of that town, who smiled at him and asked who had cut his hair.  She laughed when he answered, saying, "You're not the first one who came here with a head looking like that.  Come, sit down, and I'll fix it."  And with that she sat him in a chair, snipped, trimmed, combed and shaved him, then stood back to see what she had done.  "You're the finest-looking man that has ever passed this way!"  she exclaimed.  "Come, let me take you to my father the tailor, and he will sew you some fine clothes to match your bearing."  She lead him to her father's house, where he was measured up and down and all around.

Soon he was wearing a set of clothes so perfect you'd have thought he was a prince, if you didn't already know he was one.  "You should go and visit the King in that palace on the hill, who has three lovely young daughters," they told him.  "Maybe one of them will suit you."  He paid them well, thanked them profusely, and set on his way.   The tailor had suffered from rheumatism for many years, but from that day forward he never felt the pain of it again.  He felt so well he sewed twice as much and became the finest tailor in the land.  His daughter, who had worked at home and at the store from sunup to sundown since her childhood,  married a handsome young nobleman who had a small castle not too far away, and prospered and had many healthy children.

As Prince Brian journeyed towards the castle on the hill he entered a little wood when suddenly he was set upon by evil robbers and beaten, stripped of his fine new clothes, and robbed of his bag of gold.  He was left at the roadside, unconscious and bleeding, with nothing but the medallion which he had clutched in his hand during the melee.  Strangely, he felt no pain as he drifted in and out of consciousness.  The robbers rode away laughing but later in the day, when one of them modeled the new clothes he had stolen for his comrades they laughed him to scorn.  Looking down, he saw that the clothing had disappeared and he had nothing on!  When they looked inside their bag of gold they saw that it was empty!  When they returned to the castle they claimed as home, from which they had evicted the rightful owners, they saw it burned to the ground!  Next, a swarm of insects began to chase them through the trees, biting and stinging.  They all ran straight out of the kingdom and were never seen again.

It happened that on this particular day the King's Steward was passing by in one of the royal carriages.  His coachman saw the unconscious prince and stopped the coach.  The steward was told of the problem and he immediately exited the carriage.  He ordered that the man be covered with a fine blanket and placed in the carriage, where he gave him water and cradled his head as they continued their journey, which ended of all places, at the royal palace.  The steward called for assistance and the beggar prince was carried to a large guest room, bathed, and put to bed in a silk robe.  The royal physician tended him, and it was he who noticed the medallion on the stand next to the bed, where the servants had placed it.  His face turned pale.  When the prince regained consciousness he asked him where he had gotten it.

"It's mine," the prince told him.  "My father gave it to me."  Quickly the physician pulled back the silk robe and looked at his shoulder.  Seeing the birthmark he fell to his knees and wept.  "I was your father's physician before he died! I fled the palace the day the pirates came.  I thought you were dead!"  At this, Prince Brian recognized his father's old physician and embraced him as though he were someone come back from the dead.  He had thought all his father's servants long-dead.  

Soon a dozen other ladies and gentlemen of the former court who had also escaped the pirates, including ladies-in-waiting, servants, and the cooks, were gathered in the room, crying and kneeling before their Prince, who had no kingdom now but them.  "Praises to God!  Praise the great heavens!" they all exclaimed.  "It's a miracle!"  When the ruler of the new country, King Conner, heard of this remarkable tale he came himself to visit the young prince in his guest quarters.  "You are welcome here for as long as you like," he told the young man, quietly thinking to himself what a good match he would make for one of his daughters.  

When Prince Brian healed of his wounds, without ever having felt any pain, he was wined and dined by the King and his court.  He met the three young princesses and went riding and hunting with them, and danced with them at the royal balls.  They loved good music and were enthralled when he played his lute and sang for them.  Every evening he entertained the court with his music.  As time passed the old wounds of his heart were almost healed, with only occasional, faint remembrances which caused him to cringe rather than cause the minutest pain to anyone around him.  

He was so kind and charming that all three of the princesses fell in love with him, but one of them, Princess Reanna, was the perfect age and size for him, and he favored her because she laughed at all his jokes, looked at him in a way that made him feel she saw into his heart, and was kind to even the lowest kitchen maid when she thought no one was looking.

She had suffered from polio that struck her when she was a child, and had a limp for most of her life, but after Prince Brian came the limp all but disappeared.  The King's coffers increased as the people in his kingdom prospered, and the King himself, who had suffered from an old battle injury for many years, woke up one morning without a hint of pain!  What a jolly time he had then, dancing with everyone he passed.

Prince Brian and Princess Reanna were married in a royal ceremony, with the Prince given away by the Royal Physician.  He was awarded a castle and a small kingdom over which to preside, and all his former servants went with him to his new home.  I would like to tell you that they all lived very happily ever after, but I'm sorry to say that is not what happened.  It is true that they were very happy, but one day news came to King Conner that pirates had invaded the villages near the seashore.  The same pirates who destroyed Prince Brian's boyhood kingdom had plagued this kingdom too for many years, though not with as much success,  for this was a larger country.

When he heard the news Brian immediately sent word that he would help King Conner defend his kingdom, no matter what the cost.  Years of trials and hardships had given Prince Brian a strength that few men would ever have.   Though he was sensitive and kind, deep inside there was a stubbornness and a steadfast refusal to give in.  He had been unable to fight the pirates in his former kingdom due to the fact that most of the King's soldiers had died in the plague.  Now he would have soldiers aplenty and weapons galore. 

The King sent out the call to arms and from every village came strong young men, ready to defend their country from brigands and thieves.  The King's spies told him where the pirates would strike next, and this time 5,000 warriors were waiting for them, with Prince Brian in command.  They hid in the houses and shops, in wagons, on the turrets of the roofs, in the barn rafters, in the outhouses, stables, and sheds, and even in the well.  When the pirates began to swarm out of their ships and over the streets, like flies to sugar, Brian's men met them with great force.  The pirates were big and muscular, but so were the farmers, the blacksmiths, the millers, and their sons, and this was their country and their home.  They fought like tigers, and Brian fought alongside them.  All the helplessness of the past was gone.  The fury he had forgotten over the destruction of his kingdom was now brought to the surface and he fought like an angel-demon.

Of course it helped that the pirates were outnumbered five to one, and that the women and children had helped booby-trap the whole town the night before with hidden strings for tripping,  doors that sprang open and smacked your scruffy pirate face, and hidden things that fell down and bonked your bad pirate head (although one young lad had gone to extremes in the testing of these devices and was unfit for the battle).

At last the pirates were surrounded and saw that all was lost.  They had no choice but to surrender.  Prince Brian, rather than killing them all as he was tempted, instead put them in chains and had them taken before King Conner, who sentenced them to rebuild every town, village and castle they had burned and plundered.  They worked in chain gangs under the watchful eyes of the King's guards, and within a few years the kingdom was rebuilt, as well as Brian's old kingdom and castle.  

New generations of his father's kingdom returned from the surrounding countryside  to the homes of their late fathers, and Brian returned in glory, a triumphant hero, with Princess Reanna at his side, revered by his followers and honored by neighboring Kings for the rest of his life, which they finally lived very happily indeed.

The End

Addendum: Crumpled note from publisher found with manuscript: "We're so sorry, but we cannot accept your manuscript, as we have recently come under new management, and being that they are pirates we are currently looking for stories which do not malign them."

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