Lydinvale was a small country by all accounts. Landlocked by three dominating kingdoms, its only asset were the King and Queen’s breathtakingly beautiful, triplet daughters. When they were born, King Seddon made a treaty with his neighbors. Their daughters were to be betrothed to each of the other three Kings’ eldest sons. When the girls turned sixteen, they would marry the princes from each of the respective kingdoms and be sent away from Lydinvale from that day forth. This, and only this, was the governing decree that spared the little country from being consumed in a mighty battle between its three neighbors.
Even though the princesses were very much alike in appearance, it was decided that the first born child, Odessa, would marry Prince Boris of Birchhaven, the largest of the neighbouring kingdoms. The second born, Omelia, would marry Prince Winston of Willowmead, which happened to be the wealthiest of the other three kingdoms. And the third born daughter of King Seddon, Olivia, was to marry Prince Horace of Hawthorn.
Sadly of the three kingdoms, there was nothing anyone could truly say with any warm regard about the kingdom Hawthorn. Horace’s father, King Fredrick, was a tyrant. He would have happily started a war with their neighboring countries, if the alliance had not been created when the daughters of Lydinvale were born. You see, there was no royal female blood within the families of the other three other Kings. So Lydinvale, even though it was the smallest of the countries, it held a great power over them all, and the three daughters were dubbed the Princesses of Peace!
As the girls grow up, they enjoyed all the privileges that went with the title of a royal princess. They never felt any emotions such as anger, or fear, because there was nothing within their kingdom to unleash such feelings of anguish. They all knew what was expected of them when they turned sixteen. Never once did the sisters complain about their arranged marriages, that was, until their 10th birthday. The King and Queen had decided that Lydinvale should celebrate the day with much extravagance and the princes of the neighboring three kingdoms were invited to attend the princesses’ party.
It was a hot sunny day, and the palace gardens made a pleasant landscape for such games as, hide and seek, pin the tail on the jackass and musical thrones. Everyone was having a merry time, and the princes’ showed exemplary behavior towards the Lydinvale trio. At least, that was until Prince Horace became suddenly, and unexpectedly vexed with Olivia. It appeared by all accounts, that he felt he was not getting enough attention from her, at least, not as much as she was giving to the other two princes’. In some ways there was a truth to his quarrel. Olivia found that she much preferred the company of Boris and Winston, who were only a year older than her sisters and herself. Horace, was almost fifteen and he found the party games childish and boring. He soon tired of the other guests and moaned most ardently about each new form of the entertainment the afternoon had to offer. He then left the palace abruptly, without even saying thank you, or goodbye to the King and Queen. This was something that Olivia could not understand, because the girls had all been brought up to have impeccable manners, no matter with whom they were speaking to.
After that day, Olivia became increasing concerned about her future life with such a tiresome, rude fellow, which Horace appeared to be! Odessa and Omelia were also worried for their sister, but there was nothing that they could say, nor do, that would change their father’s mind. The treaty was signed, and King Seddon must adhere to the promise he made to the neighboring kingdoms.
On the night before the princesses’ sixteenth birthday, the King came to speak to each of his daughters in turn. He wanted them to realize how important it was for each of them to be a dutiful wife to the young princes they were to marry. When each prince was to inherit their kingdom upon the death of their fathers, King Seddon was hoping that eternal peace would remain between his neighbours. Having not had a son of his own, he hoped his three daughters would ensure Lydinvale would always remain safe from strife and war.
“You must make the best of your position at the King’s left hand, when your husband takes the throne. The alliance between our countries must be kept at all costs! I have decided, since I have no son to replace me upon the throne of Lydinvale on my death, whichever of you is the first daughter to give birth to a son, he shall become the heir to Lydinvale and take my place!” One by one, the king told his daughters this information very sternly! He wanted to make sure they understood the importance of their future duty to their kingdom.
Olivia nodded in answer to her father’s request. She now felt even worse about her future position, as the Queen of Hawthorn, because she was sure that once Horace knew of her father’s decision, he’d do everything in his power to be the father of the heir to Lydinvale. Deep inside, she was dreading the moment she would set foot on Hawthorn soil and a life of misery.
There was one saving grace to Olivia’s plight. She had heard tales of the incredible creatures who lived in the woodlands of Hawthorn. It appeared by all accounts, that there was a small herd of unicorns who lived deep within the forest there. She had overheard Horace telling the other princes at the birthday party about how his father, King Fredrick, would take hunting parties into the woods to try and capture the magical creatures. Although they could hear the unicorns galloping amongst the trees, they had never actually seen one, let alone caught one. And yet, several of the peasant folk who lived near the forest, had seen the wondrous beasts frolicking through the woodland clearings, so the Hawthorn folk knew that the unicorns did indeed exist!
The follow day, each of the princesses were dressed by their maids into white gowns. There was pearl beading upon the bodices and gold thread embroidery with the coat of arms of each respective kingdom the princess who soon reside. Olivia looked down at the embroidery upon her dress…two unicorns with their horns forming a cross, were beautifully stitched in the silk fabric of her gown. She sighed deeply, as her lady’s maid straightened out the long flowing train, making the final adjustments to her gown so that she could follow her sisters to the cathedral. Each princess had their hair adorned with rose buds and golden lace. If it had not been the fact that she was feeling so miserable, Olivia would have rejoiced in wearing such finery. The castle was abuzz with servants rushing back and forth, almost falling over themselves to make sure the finishing touches were achieved before the princes and their families were to arrive.
Then, upon the stroke of ten on the tower clock in the square, each princess in turn, from Odessa to Olivia, strolled gracefully down the aisle of the cathedral to stand next to their betrothed. Prince Boris and Winston looked down at their brides with a warmth in their eyes, however, Prince Horace looked at Olivia with an odd expression. It scared her to see the look of lust and coldness in his dark brown eyes. Olivia knew that she had to marry this man, and yet, if she could have turned and fled from the cathedral, she would have done so in a heartbeat!
The church bells rang out across the land once each couple had exchanged their vows and signed the declaration of their marriage. Folk could be heard cheering loudly, as the couples were escorted to the large second story balcony at the front of the palace. It seemed that most of the residence of Lydinvale had come to wish their princesses well, upon their departure from the kingdom. They waved and cheered, as the group stood there waving back to them. Then, once this formality was over, the couples were taken to the banquet hall for a huge feast with much entertainment. King Seddon stood up to make a final speech, before the departing hour that the princesses were to leave the palace to start their new lives.
“I would like to take this opportunity to extend my most hearty warm wishes to each and every one of our neighboring royalty. You take with you today, the most prized possessions of Lydinvale! The palace will not be the same without our wonderful daughters. However, the Queen and I are hoping that one day there will be a son and heir to our small kingdom. That being said, whichever of our three daughter’s is the first to bare a boy child, their son will inherit the kingdom of Lydinvale upon my death!”
There was a lot of murmuring within the courtiers and guests upon hear King Seddon’s declaration. Prince Horace looked down at Olivia with sudden interest, after having practically ignored her for the duration of the feast. There was a wry smile upon his face, as one side of his lip turned up cruelly and his dark eyes surveyed her with renewed interest. This look only made Olivia feel more uneasy about her imminent departure from her beloved home and family.
Two hours later, Olivia sat in a coach with King Fredrick, Queen Zinnia and Prince Horace. No one spoke for the duration of the journey back to Hawthorn. The only sound that could be heard was the occasional belch from the King, who seemed happy with himself for making such rude sounds regardless that there were ladies present. Olivia had noticed earlier that evening, the King making quite a pig of himself at the feast and it was obvious that his stomach was now complaining about his over indulgence. His lack of manners only sealed the dislike Olivia was already feeling towards her new family.
When they reached the castle, Horace seemed most eager to show Olivia to his private quarters. He had no intention of showing her about the main palace drawing rooms, or explaining to her who the portraits were of, which adorned the walls of the staircase, as he took her by the hand and hurried her past them.
“I have a surprise for you,” he said eagerly, as he flung open the oak carved doors to his large bedroom.
Olivia would have restored the faith in her new husband, had the room be filled with garlands of flowers, or boxes of chocolates and strawberries, but alas, there, pouring hot water into a large claw foot bath, were two attractive young servant girls, while another two lay upon Horace’s four poster bed. All were in a stage of undress.
“These fair creatures are my concubines. They are here for my pleasure, should you not please me in the bed chamber. But I’m also willing to share them with you, if you should care to entertain me!” He said with ease, as if he had just asked Olivia if she would like to share a glass of wine with him, and not the additional women to their marital bed! Horace walked forward and placed a hand upon the bare breast of one of the women, as she gently tipped hot water into the bathtub.
“I have asked the ladies to wash you, before I take you upon my bed. I will revel in watching them bathe you with love, as you are made ready for me.”
When Horace said this, fear gripped Olivia. She did not want to be a form of entertainment for this horrid fiend. She had hoped that her new husband would be kind to her and teach her the ways of men in a gentle manner. Not parade her in front of his concubines, so that they could snigger and taunt her while he took her virtue.
“I shan’t stay here and be made a spectacle of, for your entertainment, sir! I shall take my leave now!” Olivia stated in a forthright manner. She had never spoken thusly in her life before, and she even surprised herself as to her outspoken manner.
“Leave? I don’t think so! The night is still young and I am not going to lose the only opportunity for my son to be the heir of Lydinvale. Your sisters will consummate their marriages tonight, therefore as you are my wife, I shan’t be denied what is mine to lawfully take when I please!” He cautioned her, with an evil glint in his eyes.
Olivia turned around and made quickly for the oak carved doors.
“You may leave now, but the palace is a fortress from whist you shall not escape. I had the foresight to realize that you would run like a scared fawn, the moment you thought you could not do as you pleased. At Hawthorn we manage our affairs very differently to the fairy-tale ways of Lydinvale. The palace guards have already been informed that should you make to leave the castle, they are to block your exit. However, you may try to leave if it pleases you. It will be an entertaining game for me to find you. I remember well your love for playing hide and seek!” He said this in a cold heartless tone, while laughing loudly, as she ran from the room.
Olivia fled down the staircase and headed for the entrance doors in the large foyer on the ground floor. As she neared them, the two guards who stood on either side of the main doors, placed their spears to form a cross over the doorway. She turned and ran down the passageway behind the staircase. There standing in front of another door, another guard moved forward to block her exit.
“Stand aside for the Royal Princess of Hawthorn!’ she demanded loudly. But the guard did not move, nor did he even look at her.
Olivia turned again and tried walking down the opposite passageway, on the other side of the foyer. It was as she turned the corner out of sight from the guards, that she heard someone make a ‘psst’ sound. She looked around, but no-one was in view. As she carried on walking, she heard it again. It was coming from behind a large tapestry wall-hanging. Then, as she drew closer to it, an elderly woman poked her head out from the other side of the wall-hanging.
“This way dearie!” she whispered in an urgent tone.
Olivia was unsure if she should follow the woman or not, as it seemed most odd that this stranger would want her to follow them. However, given that all her paths of escape thus far had been blocked, she really didn’t have many options left open to her. So, against her better judgement, she walked towards the woman who held back the tapestry so that she could enter the open gap behind it.
“The guards do not know about this secret passageway, Your Highness. You are quite safe with me,” she said, smiling up at Olivia with a toothless grin.
“Who are you?” the princess couldn’t help asking.
“Let us move further down this passage, so that no-one can hear us and I will tell you all that you need to know,” the old woman said, as she lifted her shaky hand and pointed down the secret exit. When they had traveled for a few minutes, she stopped and turned to face Olivia.
“My name is Letta, Your Highness. I am a native Lyndinvallen. However, when I was young and foolish, I fell in love with Hawthorn solider and I ran away from home to marry him. My husband was very cruel to me and I was only saved from his torment, when he was killed in battle. I’ve worked at the palace, as a servant ever since. I could never return to Lydinvale, because of the shame I had bought upon my family.”
There was a sadness in the old lady’s eyes, as she told Olivia her tale, which touched the young princess’s heart.
“But that is enough of my story, Your Highness. You need to be aware of what is to become your fate, as the Princess of Hawthorn. When I learnt of the decree that you were to marry Prince Horace, I’ve feared for your life ever since. I know that his father wants to overthrow Lydinvale. He is only biding his time to take our country for his own. I have overheard him telling Prince Horace to make your life difficult, so that you will try to run away. At which time, he will wage a war with Lydinvale for breaking the contract with Hawthorn. The nations of Birchhaven and Willowmead will not intervene, because you have broken the treaty. It is the most treacherous of plans and one which has been years in the making!”
“I don’t understand. If that is true, why has Prince Horace tried to prevent me from leaving the castle?”
“I overheard one of the prince’s concubines saying that you were going to produce an heir to rule Lydinvale. As much as King Fredrick is a menace, his son is just as much a tyrant. The thought that Prince Horace’s son would take power of Lydinvale, pleases him greatly. However, there is no kind deed in his plans….Horace will have your son sign the country over to him, when the lad is old enough to read but not understand the meaning behind such a treacherous plan! That way his army can grow powerful, so he has the numbers to overthrow the Birchhaven and Willowmead at the same time. The only way to stop him, is for you to flee the castle and hide in the forest with the unicorns! You are a pure maiden, so the magical creatures will not harm you. But you must make haste before daylight, or you will be seen!”
At the end of the passageway, which was more like a long tunnel by the time they reached the end of it, there lay a locked door. The elderly woman took a rusty old key from her pocket and placing it into the lock. She turned the key slowly clockwise until there was a soft click. Then, she took hold of metal knob and the door quietly opened. There, on the other side, the entrance way was hidden under the cover of vines. She carefully tugged away at them until there was room enough for Olivia to squeeze through.
“This doorway leads to a side of the castle, which is never kept by the gardeners. A curse was put on the garden by an old witch, who had a quarrel with King Fredrick over some unpaid business. If anyone tries to tend this part of the palace gardens, the foliage grows back within minutes and is twice as thick as before. Even the guards do not come here. They fear the trees have been bewitched and will strangle them should they enter the garden. But you will be quite safe, I assure you. If you move straight ahead through the undergrowth, you will come to a clearing with fields in front of you. Keep moving in a direct path and you will soon come upon the enchanted forest. It is there you will find the unicorns and fairy folk, which should be a safe haven,” Letta advised the princess. She then embraced the young woman warmly, before holding back the vines, so that Olivia could make her escape.
The undergrowth was very thick and Olivia had a difficult time trying to navigate her way through it. She was still wearing her wedding gown and the train kept catching on the branches that encircled her like a wreath. She tugged at her dress to free herself on numerous occasions and by the time she reached the far side of the garden, her beautiful gown was in tatters. Olivia didn’t care, as she made haste across the open fields heading for the dark forest ahead of her. Once she reached the protection of the trees, she fell to the ground and wept. The whole ghastly ordeal of that day had broken this once happy princess and she wondered if she would ever be happy again?
Olivia was so caught up in her anguish, that at first, she didn’t notice that she was now no longer alone. It was not until she felt a hot breathe on the back of her neck, that she realised there was someone, or rather, something, standing over her! She froze in fear, not wanting to turn around and face whatever the creature may be! Then, when she made no effort to move, the beast nudged her with its velvet soft muzzle and spoke.
“Get up Your Highness. We need to move further into the woods. You are not safe here!”
The princess turned her head around slowly and her eyes locked upon the face of a beautiful radiant white horse. But this was no ordinary horse, because in the middle of its forehead was a long silvery spiraled horn. The unicorn’s large brown eyes looked down at her with mild interest.
“Do not be alarmed that I know who you are Princess Olivia of Hawthorn. My name is Windwhisper. We have long awaited your arrival to our forest. Your presence to be amongst us was foretold the day you were born. I understand that you would have already met Letta the seer. She told us she would help you escape from the palace. However, I am somewhat surprised that it is so soon after your arrival to Hawthorn that she has achieved her aim.”
“Letta is a seer?” Olivia couldn’t help repeating in a shocked tone. She was still trying to take in the first part of the information the unicorn was relaying to her.
“Ah, I see that she left that part of her story untold,” the unicorn replied, with a soft whinny. “Yes, she is the one who informed us of your coming, when you were born. Letta is our eyes and ears within the palace. She has been eagerly awaiting your arrival. Now you are here, we can be freed!”
“I can’t see that I would have any power over the likes of King Fredrick and Prince Horace, to help you?” Olivia answered honestly.
“You see that is where you are very wrong Your Highness. You hold the greatest power there is over all of us. Because, this day, that you have entered our forest, is the day we can move ahead to be liberated from our tormentors. But I will tell you more about the prophecy, once we are all gathered together in a safe clearing. Now please, hop upon my back and I will take you to that place.”
Olivia only ever dreamt of one day meeting a unicorn, but to be asked to ride upon one’s back, surpassed anything she could ever hope for! Windwhisper walked quietly through the forest to a heavily wooded area and there, ahead of them in the moonlight, lay a large grassy hollow. It seemed to be a very magical place. Wild flowers of every colour shining with a soft glow, by the rays the full moon had cast upon them. Their perfume filled the night air with a wonderful fresh fragrance which was almost intoxicating. The princess carefully slid from Windwhisper’s back and stood taking in everything around her.
Then, the unicorn lifted his magnificent head to the sky and started a gentle whinnying deep from within his throat. It was not the usual sound a horse would make, it was as if Windwhisper was singing. A light breeze suddenly started to blow around him and made his long flowing mane ripple along his neck, like that of gentle waves lapping upon a sandy shore. Then, within minutes, the clear was full of unicorns, fairies, pixies and every other imaginable magical creature. Olivia had only ever heard about these fairy folk in the books that Nanny would read to the princesses at bedtime. To be standing in a clearing full of them now, seemed dreamlike and Olivia had to pinch herself to be sure that what she was seeing was indeed real.
Once everyone had arrived and greeted each other, they stood in silence waiting for Windwhisper to speak.
“Good magical folk of Hawthorn forest, today has been long awaited and we all know what is expected of us! Princess Olivia of Hawthorn has come to return us to our rightful home! We shall not hide in fear a moment longer, for today we are to be unfettered!”
There was a soft murmur from the crowd, as they all looked directly at the princess.
“You see your Highness, we do not belong in this forest, nor this kingdom. Lydinvale is our rightful home.”
Olivia looked up at Windwhisper in shock. She could not understand what he was trying to say.
“Three generations of your family has passed, since we were abolished from your kingdom. Prince Horace’s great grandfather wanted magical powers, which he knew he could only obtain by capturing one of us. He made a pact with an old witch, to trick the fairy folk into leaving Lydinvale and coming to Hawthorn. He then had her cast a spell over us, so that we would be trapped within this forest. Our only solace has been that the wicked King had no intention of paying the witch for her services. He tricked her into thinking that she was being taken to a buried pot of gold within the palace grounds, however, as she bent down to reach into the hole and retrieve the payment, the king drew his dagger and stabbed her from behind, piecing straight through her heart. As she lay dying, the witch cast one last spell…She told the King he would never be able to catch any of the magical creatures in the forest and that they would be freed upon the pardon by a Royal member of the palace. Then, as the witch hit the ground stone dead, the foliage of the garden suddenly started to grow rapidly around her. The King and his soldiers had to run from the garden, for fear that the branches and vines would strangle them. So you see Your Highness…..now that you are a rightful member of the Royal family of Hawthorn, you have the power to release us from the spell that was cast upon us all those years ago!”
Once Windwhisper had finished speaking, he put his front hoof forward and lowered his head to the ground, as he bowed before the royal princess.
Olivia looked around at the group, as all the magical creatures followed suit until they were all bowing before her. She could not believe how she was going to break the powerful spell that had been cast over them so long ago! She had no magical powers that she was aware of, but if she could do so, she would certainly try!
“I, Princess Olivia of Hawthorn grant each……”
However, the princess’s declaration was suddenly broken short, but the sound of horses hooves crashing through the forest. The magical folk started to scatter in all directions to take shelter from the oncoming soldiers. Windwhisper darted behind a large tree and beckoned Princess Olivia to follow him, however, as she stepped towards the tree, an arrow whizzed through the air and struck her on the back of her shoulder, which then pinning her to the tree trunk. She felt an immense burning pain, which the arrow had inflicted upon piercing her delicate flesh, and there was no way of escape.
“I’ve always enjoyed archery!” Prince Horace said gleefully, as he sway down from his horse and started to walk towards her.
“I tire of your little games, Princess Olivia. The servant Letta was most forthcoming with information when I took it upon myself to relieve her of her hands. I have some unfinished business with you, Your Highness. As you well know, I have no objection to an audience! Whether it be the fine young ladies of the court, or my loyal soldiers, it makes no difference to me! I shall take of you what is mine to rightfully take! Even better that there is a full moon, for I shall enjoy watching the look on your pretty face!”
Olivia tried to struggle free from the arrow, but the pain was so intense, that she could not bear to rip herself away from its grasp. She was pinned like a scared rabbit to the tree trunk.
Prince Horace was standing right behind her now, as he tugged upon the stays of her torn wedding gown with his strong hands.
Then……out of nowhere, there was a flash of silvery white, as Windwhisper reared up at the side of the prince and the unicorn’s hard hooves knocked him to the ground. Horace reached to his side to pull his sword from its sheath, however, he never managed to achieve his goal, because the unicorn put his head forward forcefully and run his horn straight through the prince’s heart. Olivia could not see what was happening behind her, but she could hear the prince groaning low in his throat and then, there was total silence! When the soldiers saw what had happened to the prince, and the other unicorns started to reappear in the clearing…they turned their horses about and galloped away through the forest.
Windwhisper then spoke to the princess in an urgent tone.
“We need to make haste before word reaches the king of his son’s death! You need to pardon us, Your Highness. However, there is the little matter of your wound to attend to first. Where is Belladonna?” He called out, in a loud whinny.
Olivia spied a small fairy, as she flew quickly towards the princess’s injured side. The dainty imp took a glass stopper from the top of a small vial, and let a few drops of the green liquid contained within, fall upon the wound. In an instant, Olivia could feel no pain. It was then that Windwhisper grasped the arrow between his teeth and gently pulled it free. As the arrow came cleanly away from Olivia’s shoulder, the wounds it had made, sealed immediately, as if they had never been there in the first place.
Windwhisper then lifted his head once more and called back all the magical creatures. Once there was silence in the hollow….the unicorn nodded to the princess.
“I, Princess Olivia of Hawthorn, grant each and every creature within this forest the right to roam wherever they may please and in whichever Kingdom they wish to reside!”
Once Olivia had spoken, there was a loud cracking sound, which started from the North and resounded in a large circle right around the circumference of their woodland. The magical chain, which had imprisoned the creatures, was no more. There was a loud cheer from the crowd standing about the clearing, as they realized that the spell was finally broken!
“Thank you, your Highness!” Windwhisper said, bowing to the princess. He then turned to face the crowd. “Now everyone, we must make haste to Lydinvale, so that the armies of the three kingdoms can make ready to battle King Fredrick’s army. Victory shall be ours, for his evil plot can now be exposed!”
Once again, the unicorn asked the princess to take her place upon his back. The pixies and creatures who could not fly, took their places upon the backs of the other unicorns and then everyone galloped or flew through the forest, fields and over the mountain to their true home of Lydinvale and freedom!