At The Very Boggy Edge of The Forest.
Not half as long ago as you might imagine
there lived a girl of such angelic looks
that everyone called her Little Angel Face:
Her lips were like coy curtains of fire
endlessly teasing the eye with peeks at her frosty white teeth,
and with those smiling eyes of hers looking straight at you
every moment, so agreeably did her bright looks play
in her face that to gaze upon her was like
catching a glimpse of an eternal match with Heaven itself.
Her hair was also pretty... wild, in fact,
for it was as rough-looking as a long-neglected garden
of muddy cattails. It would hardly have done her any good
to have spent hours washing and combing it out, however:
her family was the poorest in the land, and Little Angel Face
was forced to spend practically every minute of her time
in the sticky, muddy tangle of twitching and scratching branches
that covered every inch of the marshy woods
at the very boggy edge of the forest.
Deep in the swamps at the very boggy edge of the forest
all Little Angel Face had ever learned of science
(and about Heaven and Earth, in fact) was
of the bubbling Angel of God blowing stars forever
over the eternal Darkness (although this certainly did not keep her
from having a pretty good idea of what the meaning of life is):
"God puts us in this world to comfort others,"
she would tell all who would listen: "Or,
God places about us those whom He would have us comfort.
And if we cannot comfort them, then God places about us
others whom we will find easier to comfort--"
(Which was also all that she knew of Paradise
as well as of Hell too.)
To keep her family from going hungry
Little Angel Face collected wild fruits, nuts, mushrooms,
berries and practically anything else she could find eatable
deep in those swamps. And yet
no matter how hard she and her family worked,
there was usually so little for them to eat
that even a thin hare
would have passed for a feast among them!
Little Angel Face was always forced to wear
the same tattered and overly patched set of
seventeenth-hand-me-downs (because her parents
could not afford un-handed-down clothes, naturally).
But wearing those rags, and with all her messy hair
on top of it, on first impression the poor girl often
looked like a little bush which walking around
over a couple of sticky legs
had been scared-stiff at some point
... and then was never again soothed
even by a wailing rain with enough feelings in it
to ease down one hair on her head with a discarded tear,
nor ever combed by so much as a single cold-hearted breeze
among all those that whistled their disapproval at her
as they passed her by (always
for the first time and for the last as well)...
But no matter, because, ironically,
even as she was forced to dress so evilly
angels from Heaven played in her looks.
And the startling contrast between her angelic face
and the way she dressed
made her beautiful features seem even lovelier still.
So even if never immediately, eventually
everybody who caught even the slightest glimpse
of the hard working girl's Heaven-kissed face
always came to think of her as, "The rarest
heavenly flower that ever bloomed!"
Certainly in those swamps.
It was the most natural thing on earth then
for everybody to call her by the nickname of Little Angel Face
(even if her real name was Muderella).
Then there was that 'other' little matter:
The fact that on the day she was born
a swamp witch put one heck of a hex on her:
You see, the power of a witch is mostly all in her name
only; and being somewhat hard-of-hearing,
Murderella the Swamp Witch somehow got the mistaken impression
that her name was being stolen from her and given to the baby!
(A ghastly first impression to get of anybody so recently born.)
But there you have it: Murderella the Swamp Witch
put one of the most terrible curses anybody can put
on a baby girl (outside of making her feet three times bigger
than normal): That to the end of her days
she should always make the most terrible first impression
it was humanly possible for a human being to make.
(And even if she was free of the hex once the sun went down,
being asleep by then, naturally, this tiny exception to the hex
never really helped her that much.)
Worse, Murderella the Swamp Witch
had already been dead a long time
when Little Angel Face was born and caught her hex
(for her hexes were about the only thing that still survived
of the old witch): But the drawback here was that,
being dead, one could hardly expect the old witch
to publish a list of the people she cursed.
And so no one, least of all Muderella herself,
no one ever knew just how cursed the poor girl was
(however strongly those who caught a glimpse of
how long and hard she had to work out in the swamps
at the very boggy edge of the forest
might have suspected it).
* * *
Unnerving as they may be, however
(at times even actually annoying),
curses never really do any real harm
unless one lets them.
And Little Angel Face never let much get to her:
She didn't even mind one bit being called
whatever people got it into their heads to call her.
(And she even preferred Little Angel Face,
as there were certainly a lot worse things
people could have gotten it into their heads to call her
--Her real name for one.)
Besides, for some reason never quite understood
by any of the denizens of the swamps
at the very boggy edge of the forest (including her),
and which no dead witch could ever possibly explain
to living people... every time Muderella's real name
was even so much as whispered
everybody for miles around swore they could hear
a thin horrid little screech like an old swamp witch
hollering in pain far, far away. (And this
quickly got everybody out of the habit of having
anything to do with Little Angel Face's real name, that's for sure.)
* * *
Curses aside, though, from the tip of the longest hair
standing on end atop her head
down to the very mud-webbed toes
on her almost always shoeless feet,
such charm and kindness, good manners
and every other decent and good quality
came alive in Little Angel Face
that she was nothing if not a kind of living
and breathing loveliness herself.
And once people got over that dreadful first impression
she always made, the last impression she left
with anybody was of being cursed:
For to everyone who really knew her
not only did she seem blessed, but also a blessing as well.
Her beauty always remained hidden from the world, though;
as under her poverty, rarely was she seen by anyone
from the outside, or even all that much by the handful
of bogged-down mole-like neighbors
who also had the very tough luck to be stuck deep
in those swampy woods at the very boggy edge of the forest
(where no one ever had much time to do anything outside of
everything they could just to keep from starving).
And yet even in such neglect and poverty,
overlooked by the whole world without
... once in a while, especially when some truly exquisite sunset
closed over a distant hill with a brilliance and nobility
that made even the hardest working denizen of the bog
put aside the struggle for survival
long enough to escape the drudgery of life in those bogs
by staring at its eternal beauty
the way you and I might look at a miracle...
... for a few precious moments
Little Angel Face also was able to escape those terrible swamps
... by daydreaming about Princes and Palaces, and
Kings and Queens, and about festive royal parties
forever brimming with wonderful ladies and lords dancing
through them like noble flowers come to life
while flowing sweetly over many a boundless stream of music
... nobles as highborn as that very same exalted sunset
that she was staring at in those distant skies:
"How glorious," she would marvel then,
gazing upon such quickly fading splendors
while busily imagining what it would be like
to be presented before a brilliant audience that high-born
(really 'the best lords and ladies on earth,'
as she thought of them--never having actually met
any 'noble' lady or lord),
"All wrapped in their resplendent majesty!"
A majesty she was absolutely convinced matched
and maybe even surpassed the one
which such distant sunsets far above her
yet seemed to be letting the most drab corner of the world
know existed... somewhere! (No matter how far
from where she and her swamped neighbors were stuck.)
Then... back to work!
But her dreams and hopes didn't die away
with the passing of those sunsets: Long after
such magical moments had faded from the earth
Little Angel Face still found herself daydreaming
of one day bringing within her grasp
dreams as out of reach to her as those.
And Little Angel Face was the sort never to give up
on anything she went after... not fruits, nuts, berries,
and not anything else (no matter how impossibly out of reach
it might have seemed, or been):
With all of the faith of one who is convinced,
"You never catch what you never go after--"
she made up her mind to chase down her secret wish
(to be presented at the Royal Court like a princess),
and from that moment on she never let pass
a single opportunity to bring it to the attention of everyone
(or even everything) that crossed her path:
Even every mud-rooted tree and shaky-set but still upstanding bush
was 'told' all about her secret wish, every muck-stuck pebble
and least stick of wood (branch or twig), and especially
every wild forest creature, ant to antelope
--including practically all else she came across from then on.
That was about the only thing (certainly within her power)
that Little Angel Face could have done
to try to make her secret wish a reality. And so,
as long as there was the least flicker of light left in the day
and a single breath in her with which to speak out,
she'd spent her every waking moment reciting her secret wish
to all who would sit still for it (even if they wouldn't).
* * *
Now, this continued for quite a while, too.
Even if it didn't take even half as long as all that
for every mud-rooted tree and shaky-set but still upstanding bush,
every muck-stuck pebble and least stick of wood,
and most especially of all every ant and antelope
and wild forest creature (and swamp-lost soul)
left with ears burning wherever she passed
... to admit that the girl was very probably quite sincere
about wanting to make that darn secret wish of hers come true
--Which was in itself something of a victory.
Only Little Angel Face wasn't about to be satisfied
with half victories: It would be all
... or she'd continue her marathon of confessions without a stop
until it was indeed ALL. (Which right there
said practically all there was to be said about her character.)
So it continued, and continued...
Until one morning when, while she was tripping about
the swampy woods at high tide as was her habit,
come what may, gathering fruits, nuts, berries, and the like
for the family table (and burning the ears of all those trees,
bushes, boulders, wild forest ants, antelopes, sticks, pebbles,
and all else that couldn't get out of her way
before she got to it with that 'secret' wish of hers)
... her long string of 'secret' confessions was at last
brought to an unexpected end
by her coming face to face with
(of all things to bump into in a swamp such as that one)
her fairy godfather!
He had been listening to that 'secret' wishing of hers
for such a long time now
that he would have granted her any wish
--already. He certainly considered himself the world's expert
on what Little Angel Face really and truly wanted out of life.
And, being her personal fairy godfather,
he simply granted it to her! Every bit of it,
right on the spot. (And not just because it was his job
to do exactly that, either.) And without even bothering to ask her,
or introducing himself first (so
transparent did she seem to him on first impression):
He simply granted her the entire package
she had been wishing for all this time
--Including, by the way, including the other two
additional wishes everyone gets
(so those among them who are after everything worth having
might ask for the Health, Means and Wisdom
with which to go for it).
In his experience, though, few wishers ever
proved themselves that ambitious. And,
from what he'd seen so far of Little Angel Face,
this 'simple' girl didn't appear to him to be any better
than most: "Heavens!" All she seemed interested in
was to be presented at the Royal Court
like some sort of princess--and by a Prince yet:
"How superficial!" (Was his most considered opinion
of her.) Although he granted her her 'secret wish' with his eyes closed
--and with just her first wish alone.
So let this be a lesson to all of you: If ever
you have a secret wish--NEVER give up on it!
On the contrary, whisper it, tell it, scream it out, spill it,
pass it along to everybody you know (and hand it out
to all you so much as brush against)
... Sometimes it takes quite a lot to flush out
some of those fairy godfathers out there.
"Stop!" Little Angel Face's fairy godfather called to her
at once: "Stop and be quiet for a minute:
I need you to sit here and listen to me for a while!"
"Great!" (You might think.) Even: "Magnifinickel!"
(Which is five times more magnificent still.)
"What a great ending to all her swamped efforts!"
And it would have been, too,
if at that particular moment in time
her fairy godfather had not been a rather exceedingly
chameleon-like ugly little spotted tree somewhat-of-a salamander
hanging for dear life on the tiniest of twigs
of a muck-stuck bramble bush with, as if by magic,
not one single thorn growing anywhere on it!
Frankly... this was because, of late,
he had been changing into every imaginable sort of
different little forest beastie (for a week or more, at least),
to see if Little Angel Face could pass by at least one
of them without confessing to it that darn 'secret' wish of hers.
And getting so many bad first impressions of her
in the process (with every new creature he turned into)
that it had completely skipped his mind to change to
a more typical form of talking animal (like a human being):
"I am fairy godfather to a flake,"
was the complaint he most often made (to himself)
about her. Or, "This girl is nothing but
a simple-minded gold-digger!" (And such.)
And it had driven him practically into distraction.
However, no matter how poorly a hundred or so
first impressions she might have made on him,
now that she had passed the Fairy Godfather Test
(she had never once given up believing
she would eventually make her hopes and dreams a reality
--and not even in the face of reality), now
her ugly little spotted tree fairy godfather chameleon
salamander (on a bush)
was duty-bound to call out to her:
"Stop, Little Angel Face, and stay with me
for a minute or two!" He spoke
the instant she opened her mouth to tell (apparently
one more forest critter) her, in his opinion,
so terribly self-centered secret wish
--exactly as she had been doing
with every living and non-living thing she had run across
coming from or returning to her chores...
But, "Heavens!" What a shock it was for her
to discover that she was telling her 'secret wish'
to what to-every-appearance-in-the-world
certainly looked like an honest-to-goodness, genuine enough,
creepy, crawly, slimy, ugly little tree salamander-like chameleon,
frankly--And one that could also tell her
something as well! (Or better.)
And so tremendous a shock was it, in fact,
that she was never able to recover from it:
"Oh!" She screeched right in the icky beastie's face
(he was almost on top of her nose, you know).
What an ugly little spotted tree chameleon-like salamander
he was, too, holding on with all fours
to the sappy tangle of toy branches and spider webs
all around him... all those half-bitten and browned
(and yellowed) leaves, mossy sticks
and starkly charred twigs he was standing on:
And a critter which could not only appreciate
what she was saying
but who could itself also say something right back at her,
even if with such a thin, small voice
that she had to stop fidgeting her feet on the soggy sod
or the mere sloshing of her shoeless footsteps
would have been enough to drown out
what he was trying to tell her... while clinging there
practically in the middle of her face, staring her in the eye
from that trembling bramble bush (that looked
unnervingly so much as if it might have sprouted in front of her
just for the sole purpose of blocking her way):
"It will only be for a little while, you know!"
The little beastie promised the stunned girl.
But, frankly, the longer she stared at him
the more repulsive he seemed to her
--And she was sure it wasn't some wakeful dream
she might have been having, either: "Cambuchia!"
That's for sure: She was as close to him
as a book to its reader!
And there wasn't a thought in her brain that wasn't
about running away as fast as she could
... before he had a chance to jump on her!
"Better safe than sorry!" (Was her life's philosophy
at the moment.) And no matter how curious
she might have been about why the tiny talking beastie
(whom she never in a million years would have guessed
was really her very own personal fairy godfather),
why he was so desperate to visit with her:
Who knows what such an ugly little spotted tree salamander-
chameleon might want with her!
"I'm really pressed for time," she tried to put him off
(making every effort possible to make out if he had teeth).
And taking a step back to put a safer distance between them,
she insisted: "I really should be going, you know!"
Impatient as all get out--to do just that.
"As interesting as it is to be talking with a little... lizard
like you!" (Although he was really an amphibian just then.)
It was the only excuse she could think of
on such short notice
to get herself out of range (and sight) of
the colorful little slimy-seeming dragon!
Which she was awfully desperate to do just then.
But, "Ah, c'mon!" He insisted. After all,
making personal appearances like this one
was no small matter even for
such a nonstandard fairy godfather.
She did make a half-hearted attempt to find out
what was troubling him (that she might comfort him,
as was in her nature to do): "Has something frightened you,
that you need somebody to keep you company?"
"No, girl," her beastly little fairy godfather replied,
ho-hum: He had been a fairy godfather to an awful lot
of humans by now (quite an awful lot),
so it was hard for him to get
all that worked up about these matters.
But it wasn't hard at all for her to get worked up
about creepy little talking crawly like him:
His icky skin seemed to be growing ickier
the longer she stared at it (shifting from
one iridescent hue to another): "I have to go!"
But, "Really!" Her fairy godfather insisted again,
quite out of sort by now: "I mean,
is it really going to hurt you that much
to stay a little while longer? Please! Please! Please!!!"
He hardly knew what to say to somebody
so obviously put off by a fairy godfather.
Other than: "If not for yourself, then
as a great big personal favor to me--How's that!"
He was certainly becoming more and more impatient with her
now: And, frankly, for some reason, not only
did she never once make anything but the worst possible
on him (in all the many different forms he'd taken),
this time, as an ugly little spotted tree salamander-chameleon
fairy godfather, she was even topping all
the previous terrible impressions.
"My word!" He couldn't remember ever coming across
a girl so eager to put off her own fairy godfather!
And it was really starting to bug him.
While she herself hardly knew what to do:
She was already extremely late that morning
(like every morning). And yet the strange ugly little creature
was so insistent she stay
that the kind-hearted girl simply couldn't bring herself
to just turn her back on... even so low
a lower form of life that seemed so in need of comforting:
"Are you waiting for anything in particular?"
She tried to engage 'it' in some pleasant conversation.
(Even as upset as she was, she still had enough consideration
to mull over his odd request.) Besides,
giving the matter a little thought,
it really wasn't such an unreasonable invitation
--even from a tiny talking creature as ugly as that one:
"You could say that," he was mumbling, impatiently,
but satisfied for the time being: She was staying put.
And stay she did (at least a little while longer),
hoping every moment she was there
that it wouldn't take the icky little critter too long
to calm down from whatever had upset him
--so she could then take off!
Meanwhile he was doing everything he could
to try to accept her for what she was:
And he was determined to discharge his duties
as her fairy godfather
no matter how distasteful the job now was to him, personally
(frankly he just didn't think very highly of her at all).
"However," she was even now still cautioning him:
"I can only stay for a little while longer!"
Just to be on the safe side. (Which naturally
didn't improve his opinion of her one bit.)
"That'll be enough, deary." ("Gads!"
in his fiery little chameleon-like eyes.) And,
"Thank you VERY MUCH!" He assured her
with cold-blooded sarcasm, smacking his lips
in almost complete circles of oozing irritation
... as eerily as a couple of rubber can covers
rounding each other's rims in slow motion:
"I really and truly appreciate it
--believe me! Just you wait."
Saying which he suddenly started humming a little,
and playfully wagging his tongue about (a lot)
to pass the time, apparently, while he coolly waited
for whatever it was he was waiting
--without giving the least thought to the horrific effect
the entire skin-crawling spectacle was having
on the poor wide-eyed girl gawking at him!
Playing with its tongue was one of the few things
a chameleon like him could do to pass the time.
But, oh, that ghastly playful tongue of his
seemed to her a million times ghastlier than a snake's
(and as harrowing for her to look at
... certainly for any longer than the second or two
it took her to see that it was a tongue indeed):
"Cambuchia!" It curled and twisted itself all over the place
keeping time while he hummed his little song
there almost on top of her nose (as sinisterly
as if he might have been getting ready to take a lick at her
with the terribly sticky and all-chewed-up-looking fat wad of gum
he seemed to have stuck to its tip
for exactly that sort of purpose): "Heavens!"
The sight of it filled her whole being
with as desperate a longing to flee him
as if she'd been a fly with... him after her, in fact.
So when the ugly little tongue-wagging beastie
finally remembered that her impatient attitude
had made him forget to tell her who he was
(and what his business was with her),
so distracted and distraught was she,
so anxious and upset, and just plain vexed
... that she couldn't even hear his words
(let alone understand them):
"I hereby grant you--" he proudly recited at these occasions.
Except that on this particular occasion
the only thought at all clear to Little Angel Face was
... of getting away from him: "Cambuchia!"
Suddenly she was even worrying that her parents were
going to think she had gotten into some trouble
if she stayed there much longer
(as still one more good excuse right there
to leave on the spot).
"Because you never know what you have
until you have it," he began: "I hereby grant you--"
And, "How much is 'enough?'" She immediately interrupted
his standard fairy godfather little speech,
completely convinced that she had already been waiting there
(staring at that grotesquely playful tongue of his
wagging its sticky wad of gum at her)
for a tad longer 'little while'
than she had expected it would take:
"I really must go!" She then blurted out
nervously (not even waiting for a reply
before taking still one more step away from him);
and looking every bit
like she would break into a run at any moment--
The reaction of her already quite edgy and short-tempered
little fairy godfather to being interrupted that rudely,
predictably, was... not good: Suddenly he too
was finding it harder and harder to be patient with her:
His mind was white hot with anger
(and actually going blank). His whole body burned
with a dozen different colors as he hung there
in front of her eyes... boiling away a million different shades
of indignation right through his iridescent skin
(every different shade of which was still one more thing about him
not helping to make him any less of a sight in her eyes):
"Who ever heard of anyone showing so little respect
to one's fairy godfather!" (He fumed.)
And it would have certainly pleasured him tremendously
to have very bluntly warned her about all the trouble
one can bring on oneself by crossing one's fairy godfather
the way she was doing:
"You shouldn't be so darn impatient with--"
But he pulled back at the last moment
(so it was probably a good thing he had all that cold-blooded
blood in him just then... as long as he was a salamander,
or chameleon): A teeny tiny little detail, by the way,
which in his simmering impatience (with her impatience)
he seemed to have somehow quite cold-bloodedly overlooked
--until it came to him just now.
Thank goodness it did--when it did--though:
Because it made him think twice
before he said something
he was very definitely going to regret having said
almost immediately upon saying it:
As upset as he was, he yet managed
to take into consideration how awful
the already pretty-bad-off girl would have felt
had she found out that her personal fairy godfather
was just some ugly little spotted tree salamander;
even if it was only for the time being. (And even if
it was mostly her fault--what with all the different critters
he'd had to turn himself into to test her.)
That was all water under the shifty sod now, though:
Now the flustered but still fine-hearted little ugly fairy godfather
squatted down tighter and tighter (and tighter still)
on his thin little bramble twig... and counted all
those missing thorns (to try to cool down):
And if he'd've had lips
he would have certainly bitten down on them!
Eventually he managed to come to the cool-headed decision
NOT to reveal to her whom it was she was 'dealing' with
there (after so many crossed words and bruised feelings
between them). And not even
if now he would not be able to tell her whom he really was
--in case finding out how badly she had treated her fairy godfather
was too much for her and it killed her.
(At least, in his opinion, it certainly should have.)
Then again, it's not a fairy godfather's job
to punish bad manners: And what if all this was just some
unfortunate misunderstanding? Even, hopefully:
Maybe she'd even been cursed by a witch or something!
Not Out Of The Woods Yet!
Meanwhile, "I know, I know," Little Angel Face was still
trying to explain why she was in such a hurry,
"believe me," quite unaware of the awful impression
she was making (never having been told
of any hexes hanging over her
or heard of any swamp witches whose names were
too close to hers for comfort): "I truly wish
I could be taught a little patience, BUT--!"
"HEAVENS!" You can NOT imagine how much it pained
her ugly little fairy godfather to hear her say that!
No end I assure you:
He twitched so terribly he almost flipped straight up,
and then he began yelling out so
... that he would have even been heard over
a horde of pigeons sloshing afoot over the marshy sod:
"I wish you would PLEASE stop wishing
before you know... you're wishing!"
(Which, naturally, made no sense to her.)
"Don't you mean," she asked (innocently enough),
"before I know what I'm wishing for?"
It only made her sound like every impatient person sounds
when he or she is trying to hurry others.
Never mind that she wasn't an impatient person at all,
really. That didn't help any now:
"There she goes again!" He was now talking to himself.
And looking like he would have pulled out his hair
(had he had any).
There was no way to explain to her now
that she had just used up her second wish
before he could even tell her she only had three of them
in all coming to her:
It was like starting the story from its ending...
And, "Agh, agh, agh--Phooey," was all the story
he could give her in his present state of mind
(and in a quite beastly manner too):
"That's that!" Was all he said
when he managed to put a couple of words together
that made any sense, even as he tried to control his temper
(with about as much success
as a mile long train trying to stop within an inch of
where it first applied the brakes).
He writhed back and forth in anguish
on his thornless little twig. And, "Cambuchia!"
So upset was he that the whole thornless little bush he was on
trembled as terribly as if it had been caught
by a clawing storm!
He did ask himself: "Now what am I to do?"
Following it up by suddenly addressing the poor girl
directly: "I ask you!"
"Ah! Well--" Since the only thing that made any sense to her
then was that... he couldn't possibly have been asking her:
"I mean--" She could make neither heads nor tails
of any of it: One moment he sounded almost lonely
for company. And now it was as if he couldn't even stand
the sight of her!
And if all that wasn't enough: "Would you mind,"
the little talking critter's tone of voice suddenly
took yet another unexpected turn: He now sounded
almost solicitous as he asked her, "My deary,"
he said, "would you mind standing a little more to the right?"
As coolly as if not a cross word had ever passed between them;
although it was painfully obvious how hard he was trying
--through those likely teeth of his--
to sound 'sweetly' (even if it wasn't coming out at all
the way he would have liked it to).
Oh, what a situation for the poor girl to find herself in
(so early in the morning): First he wanted her to stay,
now he wanted her to... move!
In any case, "Where?" she asked him,
almost like a zombie, really; for by now she was
too stunned to bother about the why of things.
"There!" He pointed to the spot
--with that stunningly chewy and gooey wad of gum
stuck to the tip of his tongue.
Just the sight of it made her mind up for her:
She would do everything the crazy little critter asked of her
(provided it wasn't too crazy): Maybe that
would hurry things along and they could get the matter over
and done with so she would be left free to leave
without bruising the bush-shaking hopping mad little
beastie's feelings any worse than she obviously seemed
to have already bruised them.
"No! No! No! To your right!"
The agitated little salamander was soon shouting at her
again (even more viciously, if such a thing is possible),
even as she was trying her best to do what he had asked her
to: "That's right, deary: Your right!"
"Oh!" She could but sigh: "Cambuchia!"
Letting herself be pushed all about now,
and being made to feel so stupid
by his so very impatient flood of directions
that soon she didn't know whether she was
coming or going any more!
"You could use a little lesson in patience, you know!"
She protested (somewhat), even as she continued
to follow his every instruction, as that
appeared to be the only thing that really brought him any comfort.
"Whatever you say." He replied, coldly (apparently
having had enough of knocking heads with her
all over the place). But he did need to warn her
against even thinking of making another wish
(since fairy godfathers, no less than fairy godmothers,
can only grant any one mortal three of them
--and she had already used up two).
"Just don't--" he began to do exactly this, when,
with all her impatient little heart, Little Angel Face
again cut him off (exactly as before: smack in the middle of
his very warning) with a great big heart-felt wish
... that he too should also pick up a smattering of patience
himself--along with her!
* * *
Now, as a rule, amphibians aren't all that famous for
being able to write their emotions on their faces.
However... no one who looked upon that pitifully talking little
tree chameleon-like salamander's ugly little face now
would have had any trouble reading there
the devastating effect Little Angel Face's
having used up her third wish had on him:
"Oh!" He cried out, trying with his whole being
to catch his heart as it dropped in front of his eyes
like a lead ball down into a bottomlessness
at the bottom of which it seemed as if it had bounced
painfully off his toes a couple of times:
"It's too much!"
So much, in fact, that he was left muttering and moaning
to himself: "Now she's done it! Now she's really done it!"
(And seriously thinking of giving her
a good tongue-lashing, too.)
Which he would have, had not the wish
the poor girl (standing before him without a clue in the world
what--if anything-- she might have done to upset him so)
left him so disheartened that it was all he could do now
just to keep from fainting:
"I knew she'd do it! Didn't I tell you she'd do it,"
he kept babbling, faced with such innocent ignorance
("Oh!") he could but ask the universe around him:
Writhing so pitifully that it hurt to watch him doing it:
Now the poor creature just aimed his eyes at the sky
in a melancholy gesture of surrender
(mixed with every imaginable shade of anguish),
and stared at her for a long time--first with one eye,
then with the other one--utterly, completely
disgusted with... her, with himself, with life in general, and
in particular with the entire world
(including everything else too) while he turned
and turned purple and blue! And, need I tell you
that purple and blue were NOT Little Angel Face's
favorite creature colors? (They were not.)
He could see (one eye after the other one
on his ugly little head confirming this)
that she would never sit still for any explanations
he might now try to give her. So all he said was:
"Patience?!" And she shrugged
at whatever he might have meant by it.
She did offer him an innocent little smile, though:
To comfort him in his hour of wrath.
"Gads!" Nice. But his only comfort now was
the absolute conviction that being her fairy godfather
was probably the worst experience anybody had ever
put up with (or was ever likely to again).
"What's the use!" He might as well get on with it.
Even if he did have to admit that no one had ever
used a wish on him before. It's just that, "Oh!"
He sighed (like the end of the world was beginning)
every time he thought about what that third wish of hers
of 'patience' for him might do to him:
"Really! I mean--!" If somebody was going to use a wish
on him, he certainly knew a billion things
he would have rather spent it on than, "Patience!?!"
"Typical, typical, typical!" He chided the air around him.
And with no more explanation than
that to a Little Angel Face who now would have no wishes
in reserve to fix all the troubles that getting things by wishing
(instead of by good-old-fashioned hard work)
always brought with it:
"You mortals always grab the first thing that attracts your eye
without waiting to see what you need, don't you!"
He was just about to tell her--but didn't:
Being the well-intentioned fairy godfather he was,
it was hard for him to overlook her good intentions:
"At least she used her second wish
on something she really needs!" (Patience being
something which in his opinion she very definitely could use.)
But, "My word!" He winced:
"Did she really have to wish that I learn 'patience'
along with her!" Tormented by the knowledge
that no fairy godfather can take back any wishes
he has already granted.
He would have to put all that aside now:
He hadn't even seen to that darn 'secret wish' of hers yet!
As abruptly (as it was baffling to Little Angel Face)
he once again took up the matter of directing her
head-on into what she had coming to her--
"Just a little more to the right!" He was soon yelling at her
again with improved resentment: "To the right, girl!
To the right!" Pushing her as hard as he could into it:
"More! More! More!!" He started after her
(with an enthusiasm usually reserved for hammering nails):
"Oh! That's too much now!"
And no matter how willingly she cooperated with him.
Sometimes he even yelled at 'somebody' else entirely:
"She's not listening!" Although
he always got back on her case almost immediately:
"Hello, Little Angel Face! Can you hear me, girl?"
On and on the jumpy little salamander-chameleon godfather
instructed her (mercilessly): "That's too much now, deary!
Too much!" Continuing and continuing like that:
"Do you know what 'too much' means?"
Or, "A little more to the left! (If you don't mind.)
Yes: Now! That is right: To the left! Sometime in this century
would also be nice. Indeed: At this moment in time!"
While all Little Angel Face could think about was
how hard it was to comfort such a hot-tempered little beastie
... even as he howled and whooped horribly: "More!
More! More!" Like a general trying to position his entire army
in a single swoop! (Although she certainly tried her best.)
"Please! More to the left--Your left! Yes! Wait!
Would you like me to write it down for you?
(Let me get a piece of paper.)" Until, finally:
"There!" he unexpectedly screamed,
as excitedly as if he'd laid an egg (and not all that
far from having put as much effort into it either):
"There! There! There!
... THAT'S THE SPOT EXACTLY!"
At which point Little Angel Face's totally worn out
(from screaming) spotted little ugly talking tree fairy godfather
(chameleon or salamander) sighed like a century
and coolly pointed out (in and with that lively
gum-wad-tipped tongue of his)
a wildly colorful and immensely scrumptious-looking
that was growing almost right at the girl's feet (not on them)
at the exact spot he had taken such trouble to 'guide' her to.
And, "Cambuchia!" As soon as Little Angel Face herself spotted it
she knew the wonderful mushroom would be
the highlight of her family's dinner later that evening:
"Oh!" The utterly enchanted girl squealed with delight,
imagining she finally understood why the impatient little beastie
had been trying so horribly, horribly hard
(especially on her) to guide her there.
Quickly bending down to collect the gorgeous mushroom,
now she couldn't have been more grateful
to that maybe hot-tempered
but definitely generous little talking salamander!
Only, before she could offer him her heart-felt thanks,
right in the middle of straightening back up (mushroom in hand)
suddenly a great big beautiful black horse
as big as a thundercloud
appeared out of nowhere and came charging straight towards her
at a full gallop... as if determined to run her over!
"Wow!" And, "Good Grief--!"
Luckily, just as it was about to plow head-on into her,
the huge beast apparently caught a glimpse of her under him
and made a desperate last second attempt to leap over her!
Which he just managed to do, too, missing her head
with his gigantic hooves by but a shaved eyelash!
This was more than could be said for a number of the hairs
no longer standing on end atop her head, though,
since a great many of them came out of
the harrowing experience truly flattened!
The luckiest part of all, however, turned out to be
that, mushroom in hand, Little Angel Face was straightening up
when the beautiful black horse began his monumental leap over her
because so fiercely did she frightened him
(especially after she started screaming at the huge blackness
that seemed to be dropping on her out of the blue)
that on first impression
she must have seemed to the beautiful black horse
like some ghastly screeching monster rising under him
out of the ooze and going for his belly
with all her screaming teeth and claws
ready to rip him to shreds--
And in his last minute attempt to save his belly
from the monster of muck he thought was lunging at him
... he became so completely beside himself
that he reared up on his hind legs
as tall and sheer as a shuddering waterfall of blackness...
This turned out to be extremely fortunate
for Little Angel Face
because as soon as he reared up like that
the Prince who happened to be riding the beautiful black horse
was tossed to the soggy ground right at her shoeless feet!
* * *
"Are you all right?" The startled Prince asked
the just as startled young and muddy lady
at whose feet Fate (the name of his beautiful black horse,
as if you couldn't have guessed), at whose feet
Fate had just dumped him so unceremoniously.
Even as he was doing his best to speak with as much dignity
as he could muster down there on the very soiled spot
he'd ended up at flat on his
... behind that beautiful black horse of his.
"You must excuse Fate," he apologized,
trying to get back to his feet (although mostly just
slipping and sliding all over the place):
"If you're human!" He huffed and puffed,
especially anxious once he caught a glimpse of
who --or what-- was standing over him:
Frankly, his first impression of her
revolved almost exclusively around those very icky
mucky mud-webbed toes of hers. And, you know
those ghastly first impressions she always made on everyone?
Well, she made an even more ghastly impression
from that particular angle:
With all those hideously mud-sculptured toes of hers
squishing muck claws almost right in his face
it was even difficult for the young man to tell
she was even human at all:
She could very easily have been one of those
unbelievable monsters people were always claiming they had
caught a glimpse of sloshing about those dark evil swamps
(since apparently whole barrelfuls of the mythological critters
were constantly being dumped everywhere out there).
Meanwhile he was also becoming as worried as water with
a hot foot that the 'foul apparition' standing over him
might be one of those foul spirits that are conjured up
by swamp witches out of the ooze now and again
(especially in swamps as nasty as those)
to hook clean-cut young princes like himself
who might happen by and drag them down with them
--by the frightfully unwashed look of the disgustingly rank
and claws-empowered creature he was now face-to-toes with there.
Amid the huffs and puffs of his slippery position
not only did he completely lose his cool
and had the very bad taste
to insinuate that it was no use for 'the gruesome
swamp monster' (he had no doubts she was)
to attempt to deceive him--since he very well knew,
thank you, exactly what sort of swamp monster she was
... he also began boasting of how eager he was to
indeed bravely fight it out with her! (You know,
swamp monster to man.) "Even unto the death!"
Quick as he recovered his footing--and sword!
He really needn't have threaten her with his sword at all,
though, for he had already cut her to the heart
just by so vividly telling her the spectacularly monstrous
first impression she had made on him.
And it was so much more ghastly a first impression
than even all the terrible first impressions she had made
earlier on her fairy godfather that now
even that cold-blooded ugly little beastie was bothered by it!
However, even as young as she was,
so many bad things had she already seen (enough
to make anybody angry for a lifetime),
that she could easily have filled with anger
all the days of her life--had she chosen to--with them.
Only, with as many bad things as her life was already
quite perfectly topped-off, thank you,
that would certainly have been a silly thing
for her to have done to herself (now, wouldn't it).
"Oh, well," she sighed (and offered him a comforting hand up),
even though this didn't mean she couldn't act a bit miffed
now and again--especially after being hit over the head
like that with the simply unpardonable comments
this particular Prince (still struggling down there at her feet)
had just made about her:
"You needn't be afraid of me," she assured him,
so firmly that it almost came out angry and hurt:
"I am not the mud monster you take me for!"
"You're not?" He marvelled (not yet willing to
just take some gruesome swamp monster's word for
such a thing). But once he regained his footing
(with her help) and had taken a closer look at that beautiful face
of hers, then it was quite a different story:
Then, as if by magic, the young Prince
'instantly' changed his mind about her
not being 'human' after all
--And after that he couldn't agree with her more:
"My but--" he stammered, 'dusting' the mud off
his trousers, and so dazzled by her beautiful looks now
that he would have been only too happy
to concede that first impressions sometimes are rather misleading,
and always were where Little Angel Face was concerned
(unknown to everyone):
"My, but, but," he could hardly help himself telling her:
"You... are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen in my life!"
First Love's Swamps.
This unexpected confession by the Prince
certainly went a long ways towards making up
for the gruesome gaffe he made before
about her being a 'monster." Enough in fact
to make her glad she hadn't gone ahead and kicked him
when he'd been down after
his having called her such awful things!
And once she noticed that he wasn't all that bad looking,
well, then she didn't even mind that much
that he'd tried to run her over with his horse either.
After all, the beautiful animal only brushed down
a few of the hairs standing on end atop her head
--a favor no one had ever done her before, really:
Working in those dark swamps the way she did,
one was liable to get hit over the head with
all manner of falling odds and ends dropping out of nowhere:
dead leaves, rotted tree branches, clumsy squirrels
and lots worse stuff than just merely a beautiful black horse.
But then, without a word of warning,
Little Angel Face suddenly decided to just take off
(offering no explanations to the Prince, either):
She simply took off as abruptly as if
she had made up her mind on the spot
that he no longer even existed!
Maybe she felt she couldn't really
expect all her hopes and dreams to be realized that easily.
Or maybe she simply wanted to chastise him a little
(for having thought her such an awful monster).
Although it could also have been that she didn't want to
seem as eager as all that (perhaps
even, probably): You know, as if
he had been the one who had knocked her off her feet
instead of the other way around.
In any case, as if having princes dropped at her feet
were nothing all that out of the ordinary with her,
suddenly Little Angel Face rushed off
as if she were being driven away by some unseen power
and resumed her gathering of fruits, nuts, berries, and the like.
(Leaving the poor young man to puzzle whether
he might have said something out of place again.)
It was also possible her parents might have warned her against
gossiping with passing princes and their beautiful black horses;
but they had apparently said nothing to her about
ugly little talking salamanders
like the one she'd been having words with
before Fate dropped that handsome young man at her feet
(and whom by now she had put completely out of her mind
--so at least she was in the clear about that one).
But the befuddled Prince?
He stood there for a second or two,
trying to figure out his next move. Then,
as if forced by magic to wake up out of some far-flung dream,
suddenly he too somehow seem to get it into his head
that he couldn't possibly simply ride off on his Fate now
... at least not without first securing a full and complete
acceptance of his princely apology to
this very pretty (if somewhat depressingly tacky) citizen
of his father's Kingdom for having run her over
with his beautiful black horse the way he thought he had,
or was sure he had--or whatever. The point was
that acceptance of a princely apology was exactly the sort of thing
a Prince had to get from a person personally!
So, even if he too had very little time to waste gossiping
with marsh girls and such, especially in dangerous bogs
like that one (for he had been on his way to
attend The Grand Reception Ball for Everybody Who Is
the Least Anybody At All in the Kingdom,
held at the Royal Palace every year
--and already taking place even then),
now he too took off... after her!
He just seemed to forget all about where he'd been going
in such a hurry (that he was running people over
with his horse), and, much to the delight of a certain
little spotted fairy godfather for whom all of this was
a wish come true,
he now took off after Little Angel Face
and into those same dangerous swamps she was headed for
... at a full but well-considered pace, gathering berries, fruits,
nuts, mushrooms, and all such other things
(with him chasing after her, doing his clumsiest best
to make her understand that Fate hadn't actually, specifically,
tried to personally run her over--on purpose):
"You see," he explained on the run:
"My beautiful black horse probably thought you were
just another rotting bit of tree-trunk down there,
And, not for the first time or the last time (in this run,
certainly), he again found himself stammering
in the middle of apologizing, "Because, because..."
Because... just thinking about the loyalty
she was showing her family by never quitting the chores
she had gone into those dangerous woods to do for them
--and not even after having been run over
by a beautiful black horse (as well as from everything else
like that about her) all the virtuous qualities she brought to life
just by living them
seemed to glow right through to the world around her
from the depths of her soul!
Then, in one magical moment (as she turned
to dismiss his clumsy attempts to follow her
with a really not all that hard a look),
gazing deeply upon her wonderful inner beauty
made him realize just how powerfully he had been struck
--even by that soft look right there, ironically.
And it was as if he had always felt the touch of her glowing soul
reaching all the way to the depths of his own!
It made her almost too wonderful to behold:
the mere sight of her was now to him like a radiance
pouring forth to the world
the pure nature of her true inner beauty
(no matter how messy her 'outside' may have seemed
to people who never see anything of a person
except the wrappings):
He knew then that he had never loved anyone else
the way he loved this one girl. "And so,
so," he stammered, worse than ever:
"Never expecting a rotting tree-trunk like you,"
he heard his mouth tripping all over the place,
"to suddenly come up under him while he was leaping
like that over you--" even as his brain was trying to figure out
how he could have so easily lost his wits...
"I'm sorry," he had to apologize anew:
"I didn't mean that you were a rotting tree-trunk!"
Although all he was really communicating to her
with any clarity at all was the very real possibility
that he might be... sick or something.
Well, listen to him! His stammering
even put an end to her headlong flight,
for it made her worry that his state of mind might not be
all that it should be. After all,
the poor Prince might not have bled royally after his fall,
but he did manage to get quite a nasty
bump on his... crown.
She needn't have worried, though, for he was
not stammering because his brain was falling asleep on him:
He was just trying too hard to figure out Love
--And since Love is a magic
which no mere brain will ever figure out,
especially on the slide like that, no wonder
he had fallen into the confusion he now found himself in!
It was a hard fall, too:
Right away he tripped into the mud again.
And at least four more times in a row.
(Every one of them right on the heels of the previous one.)
Although the way Little Angel Face always rushed to his side
to help him up whenever he slipped
might also have had a little something to do with
how eager he seemed to keep falling--at her feet.
But it was not all a one-way-only slide:
So helpless (and obviously in need of 'somebody' maybe
even exactly like her) did he make himself appear,
tripping all over himself for her sake like that,
and slipping and sliding about like a fool,
that after only having been in each other's company for
the shortest amount of time (two or three additional slips
really, if at that) she too found herself falling
quite muck-webbed toes over muddy-heels in love with him!
It was all inevitable, of course
(as any fairy godfather with a dozen or so toe-holds on
even the most thornless of bramble bushes
could have told you) that the young couple would
eventually find themselves on that boggy ground
next to each other. And
on many additional mutually half-agreed to falls
as well; laughing and discovering that in each others' company
Time seemed to pass more delightfully
than it had ever passed before they met. And,
well, soon even glancing away from each other
seemed like a totally unacceptable waste of Time,
and of life itself!
Therefore it should come as no surprise
that before Little Angel Face could help 'her' Prince
to his feet for the umpteenth time (or
the other way around) he had already asked her to marry him
--many, many times. And she had accepted (once
being enough): Provided it was with their parents' blessing.
And then they were spending all their time after that
making plans together about exactly what sort of
modest little palace of their own they were going to move into
after their (fairy tale) wedding (of course); because
the one thing they settled on at once
was that their wedding would take place almost, practically
straightaway. And, not wanting any secrets between them,
the Prince had somehow managed 'to pry' out of her
just how much she had always wanted to be presented at Court
like a princess--amazingly, by a prince not unlike him.
"Let's go, then!" He commanded her at once:
"For I myself will present you at the Palace this very morning
as my future princess and wife!"
"Ah!" There are times when one feels so happy to be alive
that it would be unimaginable that one could suffer
enough pain, troubles, or woes to be convinced
that it's not all well worth it
--And this was such a moment for Little Angel Face.
Although even as eager as she was to finally fulfill
her secret wish, there's always that 'reality check'
which hits couples just before their wedding.
And, this being as good a time as any for it,
right out of the blue Little Angel Face again 'realized'
that the young Prince hadn't exactly been behaving
like he was altogether 'there'
(you know how young people in love behave):
And, well, now she was having her second thoughts:
Suddenly she couldn't be one hundred and one percent sure
he was acting as woozy as he was
strictly because he had fallen that hard for her
--Maybe he was simply acting funny
because of all his falling about!
So she proposed to him
... that they allow themselves enough time to make sure
their love was of the true variety by, first,
rushing off to get her parents' blessing
(she lived only a couple of old tree stumps away, really).
Then they would have a heart to heart talk
with the King and Queen at the Royal Palace.
All of which he immediately agree to as well,
because he was so much in love with her by now
that he would have probably agreed to
anything she might have proposed, really.
* * *
Well, Little Angel Face's parents being far too generous
and unselfish to stand in the way of their happiness,
they put up practically almost no serious objections at all
(whatsoever) to their daughter marrying the son of the King.
But that was the easy part.
Next it was off to the Palace to seek the Noble Blessing
of the good King Duddol and his (not all that good
but still very much) Queen Phlofie
... who ruled the Kingdom
at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest.
And eager indeed they were to get their journey underway,
too, for they were convinced the trip itself would take
just long enough to give them all the time they needed
to fully think things through (even if the Royal Palace
was only a couple of meadows and brooks away):
But if their love was still true (and lasted as far
as their little trip to the Palace) then he would be free
to present her to the Court as his Princess,
exactly as it had always been her secret wish
to be presented: With regal majesty, pomp,
and great noble dignity.
"Then," she reminded him (before they had
even taken the first step of their journey):
all of her hopes and dreams of being presented at Court
by 'her' Prince would be realized!
"They will be," he assured her: "The moment we get there!"
And, "They will be," a certain ugly little
spotted tree salamander-like chameleon echoed him
while he watched them going: After all,
that had been the first wish he had granted her
(without even asking her permission). Although,
"First there's that certain little matter of patience,
He had remained unseen all this time.
But now, as the happy couple hopped away for the Palace,
he stuck his tongue out
--as if at his own quirky fate. And, "She really
shouldn't have wasted her third and final wish
like that!" He chided the sour memory of it.
But there was really nothing he could do about it now.
So, twisting and slithering his body back and forth
like a sick sea wave trying to beach itself
... he slowly made his way off the tiny bramble bush.
Once he landed all fours upon the boggy ground
his whole appearance began to change into an almost human one
--Almost, because part of the price one pays for
changing between species by magic instead of evolution
is that the changeling then is forced to design every last little detail
of his whole new being himself. And, really, only God
has the presence of mind to see to every last little detail.
He would follow them to the Palace,
in any case--no matter what it took. (Maybe there
he would even pick up a bit of the patience
the girl had wished on him
--as per that most regrettable third wish of hers.)
"Cambuchia!" (Or whatever she said there.)
"Oh well!" Terrible or worse, for good or ill,
off to the Palace all three of them would have to go now.
And, "Who couldn't use a little more patience?"
He slowly started after them, like the newly-minted ugly
little human being he now was,
for what would almost certainly be for him
a lot longer and harder journey (looking like he might be
trying to imitate a chameleon's balancing act
while he learned to walk on his brand new and almost-human legs).
It might even take him twice as long to get there
as it would take them. So he let his thin,
small voice run after them instead:
"There is not a fairy godfather can save you
from your own wishes, you know!" (A warning which
should have been the first thing he ought to have given her.)
And which he would have
--had not her awful impatience distracted him
as effectively as if it had been a curse or something!
The Royal Palace.
And what happened when Little Angel Face
and the Prince got to the Palace? Well,
their love managed to survive their little trip there,
then, once they finished racing through all the corridors
(one simply had to race through)
they burst right into the Royal Throne Room
(the big one with everybody in it at the same time)
completely and totally unannounced--
But so wrapped in their love for each other were they
that neither of them realized they were crashing
the year's grandest, fanciest reception party
for Everybody Who Was the Least Anybody At All
in the Kingdom... until it was too late to do anything about it
(had they then gone on to realize
that something should have been done about it).
And, oh, something indeed should have been done about it,
because the first impression Little Angel Face made
that day on Everybody Who Was the Least Anybody
At All there was: "Goodness Gracious!"
It was something else!
For what an awful and pathetic-looking a sight she was
there in the middle of all those sparkling aristocrats
(their jaws rolling all over the floor
as soon as they spotted the bedraggled
head-to-toes spectacle that had just walked in).
Well, let's face it: Little Angel Face looked
(and not a mite but quite mightily)
like a mucky bog critter walking around wrapped up in rags
--Even if a mucky bog critter with the most beautiful face
Everybody Who Was the Least Anybody there
had ever seen on any wrapped up mucky bog critter:
"Oh!" (Was immediately in every aristocratic eye
staring at her.) And she looked to them like the Devil himself
had just waltzed in in his underpants:
Inside that brilliantly lit room
it was impossible to miss the least part of her...
Hideous clumps and globs of mud suddenly came to light
clinging to her from every possible side and angle
(along with a huge number of sundry flecks, pits, and kernels
of just plain vanilla-flavored gunk)
all the way from the tip of her petrified hairdo
topsy-turvy down to the smallest of her scum-webbed toes
(because she had even forgotten to put on the 'shoes'
she wove out of old leaves and dry straw on Sundays
so she wouldn't have to show up barefooted at Church).
They had rushed to the Palace directly from the swamps
at very boggy edge of the forest (where they had been
rolling around 'in it' all morning long, after all), and
without having given the least thought to her appearance!
Of course, that's how it is with people as blind-in-love as they.
It's just that, goodness, was she gunky and threadbare:
Splotched brown twigs and all kinds of colorful 'stuff'
(quite 'passed it' by the horrible look of some of them)
competed for space all over her with ages-old dried muck,
yellowed bits of leaves, and every other shamelessly sordid clump
and arrogant blob--Some of it, luckily,
already in the process of dying; but most others
looking like they might still have
quite a lot of life left in them, unfortunately.
And there was no end to the misery, either:
Little Angel Face seemed to be just crawling
with handfuls of trailers and danglers and
nameless other rotting heaven-knows-what-elses
stuck to or sticking out of every inch of that living and dying
and drying and so very soaked apparel she was wearing
(or which was wearing her): "Good Lord!"
And every last bit of it under the quite spectacularly
brilliant lights of that unforgivingly brightly lit room too!
So that the Contrast between her and everybody there was...
(To say the least.) And quite rapidly becoming worse
the deeper into the room the two of them pushed
past the splendidly spotlessly glittering and perfumed
ladies and lords at the Royal Court that day,
where everywhere she went Little Angel Face forever trailed
all possible (and positively wrong) sort of perfumes
that could have reminded a person of the darkest and dampest
and most ghastly part of a swamp
... all of it rising from her like ghosts!
"Startling!" (Followed their every step.)
Along with other like comments. Including:
"Good Grief!" (Of course.)
Endless and endless: "Heavens!"
One rotten, "Egeggs!" A ton of, "The Saints Deliver us!"
And one not-so-divinely inspired:
"The End of The World is at hand--Run for it!"
Yet not a single, "Cambuchia!" was heard in that august room.
And not even from Little Angel Face herself
(who was too overwhelmed by all that was glittering around her
to make the slightest sound herself--luckily for her).
But practically everybody else there was cracking up pretty good,
though. And directing their worst cracks at her
--few of which we'll go into, but every one of which
seemed to grow harsher and harsher
the deeper they both pressed into that room
... until very nearly even, "Cambuchia!" itself
was almost on the brink of buzzing out of
one of the aristocratic mouths there.
Even from the mouth of the very up-to-date Marquis Mee:
And he usually buzzed only about his own fabulously fashionable
and provocative T-shirts, every one of which he decorated
with the 'latest' motto (which that particular morning
happened to be, "It's the stupid, stupid!") spelled out
in sparkling rubies, sapphires, diamonds and every other
precious stone imaginable. So no doubt about it:
the Marquis Mee was the one nobleman among them
likeliest to let it all hang out:
And yet even the Marquis Mee cringed
right into the glittering pendants hanging from his neck
like a hermit crab being chased into his rented shell
by his ghostly landlord
as soon as he spotted Little Angel Face!
You could hardly expect Little Angel Face to understand
what a ghastly first impression she was making,
though: She had probably never set eyes on even a single
little king or queen running around her poverty-stricken
neck of the bogs, let alone all these petty duchesses,
bickering barons, constantly complaining countesses
and counts, and every shade of lady (and lord)
she was now plowing through
as they followed the Royal Throne Room's
Royal Red Carpet down the center aisle.
But, oh, what a glorious Royal Red Carpet this was too!
So rich and brilliant that it moved Little Angel Face to
do all she could to keep from tracking mud
all over its spotlessly unspotted length
(especially the kind of muck she was packing
just between her mucky bare toes)
... as every highbrow eyebrow there arched and arched after them
worse than spine-tickled cats, gawking at her like owls
(eyeing the frightful sight of the mousy girl
hopscotching her way alongside the Prince
while trying every which way she could to avoid setting a muddy toe
upon it--even as he himself strode boldly
down the middle of its lavishly plush redness,
But if one couldn't have really expected
Little Angel Face to know what a terribly ticklish situation
she was letting herself get dragged into,
at least the Prince should have known better
and dropped her off somewhere before even thinking
of presenting her to the Court looking like that:
He should have given her a good scrubbing down
and polishing up, and then wrapped her up in
every splendid and rich garment
a Prince like him could have so easily afforded
to pile on her--Topping off the whole mess
with a good stiff dunking in a great big beaker
of perfumes of every persuasion and price.
None of which he did, of course. And yet
he too might be forgiven, for so in love was he with her
that she was the only thing he really had eyes for.
But you can imagine what all those snooty titled Everybodies
down to the Least Anybodies there, including
even the usual Titleless Mob of Nobodies one runs across
at all such parties trying to pass themselves off
as Even Better Bodies Than Everybody Else There
(none of whom was even remotely in love with Little Angel Face)
... you can imagine what they saw
being paraded right under their finely tweaked noses
the minute they got a load of what their Prince had dragged in:
A hush as deadly as if the Tree of Life itself were falling
(in the un-peopled Forest de-peopled by its fall)
suddenly gripped the entire Royal Hall
length-by-breadth and ceiling-to-floor.
Then you never heard laughter like the one they all dropped
on every ticky-tacky very sticky step
that Little Angel Face took there
--as she and the Prince continued to make their way
from the main entrance to where the King and Queen were
sitting on their magnificently raised purple thrones laughing
their noble heads off along with even the stiffest stuck-ups there,
every one of them laughing like some very unrefined baboon
at the horridly shoddy bog girl being paraded before them
in the 'full soiled splendor' of her overly patched
set of tacky and mucky seventeenth-hand-me-downs!
Well, at the very least, "Heavens!" (Was
certainly in every eye there.) And, "Oh!"
That mud-caked monstrous dab of
(what could only be described as) 'hair'
on top of everything? It was too much:
On first impression
her head looked like a globule of petrified muck
had been sculptured into the shape of a gooey bush
and then left up there scared-stiff!
And although many people there were of the opinion
that her muddy head hid the most muddled brain on earth
(frozen at the very instant it had started blowing itself to bits),
most of them simply laughed at her (so hard
that their heads rattled as if none of them had yet lost
any of their marbles), and wiped away so many merry tears
that they could have used ladles and buckets
and pans and jars (and not overdone the bit a bit).
"I'll wager it's some kind of a trick tree stump
the Prince has rigged up over a couple of sticks
to walk behind him like that," guessed Drizzel
(who was not only the Prince's dainty Royal Uncle
but the Royal Chamberlain, and the Official Royal
Brother-To-The-Queen to boot--for he often got it).
Now he too plucked tear after tear of laughter
off his dainty cheeks with one of the many dainty handkerchiefs
for which he was quite infamous (while
very generously complimenting his princely nephew
on the absolutely very best practical joke ever played at Court).
Indeed, "Very clever, Your Highness," was soon heard
everywhere as everybody cheered him like seals going at lunch
every step of the way he led Little Angel Face
down the Royal Red Carpet in the direction of the King and Queen:
"Bravo! Bravo!" And applause, applause rained down
on the young couple from every corner
in a truly all-drowning thunderstorm (of catcalls)
... while Little Angel Face's reaction to it all
was to simply smile back at all of the aristocratic hecklers
as sweetly as if their foul hissing and hooting
had been the purest compliments she had ever heard!
One can hardly imagine that the awful spectacle
they were making of her could have been anything
like the presentation she had always imagined being 'nobly'
performed in her honor at Court would be like.
(So maybe ignorance is bliss after all, because
if at any point in her ordeal she was in any way upset
or bothered by the rude and vulgar manner
in which those mean aristocrats were greeting her
... she certainly never showed it!)
To them, however, the girl's feeling were of no importance
whatever. They were simply having the grandest, merriest time
they had ever had--at anybody's expense:
"Oh, look! Look," bubbled Lady Fynn-Ghers
(when the Prince dragged Little Angel Face past her):
"It has moss growing all over it!" (And actually picking
at it.) "Oooooh!!!" Immediately upon which the good lady
was forced to scramble (to cover her overinflated nose
with part of her wonderfully frilly dress)
the instant she caught the swampy scent
of the mud-topped girl: "Oooooh!!!"
"How clever! (I think.)" Said the Duke d'Dude
before he ran out of breath and shut his nostrils
with marvelous determination (not to let in another breath
until the Prince had pulled the swampy-scented girl
out of range of his delicate open holes).
Nevertheless, "Nonsense," insisted the Count d'Krud,
who couldn't have used his nose to pick anything
(out-of-place) had he smelled away at it a week
or better, trying to sound very clever now:
"Har! Har! Har!" Although he was so top-heavy with 'spirit'
that it was a challenge for him just to comment:
"Who ever heard of a stump with such sticky legs?"
(Above all his coughing, hiccupping, and wheezing.)
"Maybe it's a new species from another planet!"
Madame Fourthwindow tried to point out to Sir Err,
who was standing by her, half knocked to the floor
with boredom (knowing Sir Err was interested in
nothing unless it was clearly out of this world).
But, "The little creature does have a remarkably beautiful face!"
They all agreed on that. (And were all subsequently
quite at a loss to explain the odd phenomenon.)
Most puzzling still, "Why, thank you!"
the girl always made sure she answered every remark
she overheard them making about her
(no matter how horrific a remark it was,
or even if it was even worse than that):
"Thank you! Thank you!" She told every horrible noble
the Prince dragged her in front of.
And with such heart-felt sincerity
that it would have been impossible to imagine
that she didn't mean it (even if the exact meaning
of her so 'unnatural' behavior went pretty much
right over the bejewelled heads of everyone there
for whom the 'fun' was going so swimmingly
that the entire room overflowed with the bubbling riot of it
and kept them from hearing her).
Unknown to them, however,
Little Angel Face had been very properly brought up
to always give thanks for even the slightest attention
shown to her, however a slight (one),
as well as to always overlook all slights, howsoever unkind.
And now, even under all the hard and harsh things
they were throwing at her,
she was simply proving herself true to her upbringing.
Meanwhile, the Prince continued to forge straight ahead
through that twisted crowd of seething and howling ladies
and lords without paying the least attention to
the merry rioters (as he was brought up to do):
His one clear goal at all times was to
be able to get close enough to his sitting parents
to tell the good King Duddol
and the slightly less-than good Queen Phlofie:
"Momsie, Popsie!" He immediately announced
once he was close enough to them... where they sat
above (over their purple thrones) still howling with laughter
and carrying on something terrible
over the gunky little bog girl's horrid looks,
like everybody else--right up to the instant
their son told them:
"This is the girl I am going to marry!"
Momsie's and Popsie's Blessing.
Gasp!!!" (Was suddenly in every eye there.)
And then the deadliest hush of all
fell over the Royal Throne Room
(with such blood-curdling effect
that even the falling dust specks stopped in midair
and hung there in front of everyone's eyes)
as if all the blood had drained out of the veins of Time!
For one split second (just a single one)
following this awesome hush
everybody burst out laughing like they would bust a gut
(completely refusing to believe it could be anything other than
one more practical joke the Prince was pulling on them).
But almost as instantly it dawned on them
that in all the years they had known him--all his life,
really--NEVER before had he exhibited even the slightest
sense of humor at all (whatsoever):
And so, "Uh-oh!" (Suddenly dropped
into every eye there like needles and pins.)
Then the lot of them again turned as quiet
as if some evil magician had turned them into
nothing but wide-eyed red eyes (only)
every one of them painfully suspended from ice-cold tenterhooks
(as if to match all those tiny little frozen dust specks
already frozen in front of them). Except that now
they were all trying desperately not
to look at the King, and the Queen--especially.
Without success, naturally: In a wink
a wild wave of stares swept over the huge hall
toward the two awesome purple thrones
mounted at the very depths of it:
An ever towering wave of anxious looks building
its unstoppable momentum higher and higher
as it rolled straight towards them!
And even as high as the two monarchs sat,
so seemingly above it all,
the negative wave of glazed-over stares still splashed
mercilessly over a King Duddol and a Queen Phlofie
who had by now already been left as sucked dry
(by their son's shocking announcement)
as a couple of prunes, pink-and-purple:
"Oh my!" (Was suddenly in all those hose-like eyes.)
Every stare there crushing them with their nail-like looks
and the weight of a whole melting ice age
(on top of the frosty gallons and gallons
their son had already dumped on them).
For a long time the two stunned monarchs just sat there
soaked-to-the-skin with icy embarrassment
(like a couple of frozen purple drips)
staring in disbelief at their son
--and then at the 'thing' he was holding hands with.
Then back and forth, and forth and back again
(because they simply refused to believe
what they were looking at).
They weren't the only ones, either:
Everybody was staring at the Prince
... and at the little bog girl next to him (calmly picking flakes
of dry, or very nearly dry, 'stuff' off herself
and flicking them aside--although, naturally,
she was always careful to see to it that
they didn't land on anyone): "Oh my!"
Then they stared in greater disbelief at the Prince.
And then back and forth, and back and forth again
until it almost seemed as if it might continue like that forever--
Except the Queen unexpectedly screamed
(although not all that unexpectedly really):
"Eeek!" She screamed
as desperately as if she'd been pinched by a bear
and then she began turning as green as if she were
going to become an emerald lightbulb.
Immediately after which she also began working
(as hard as anybody with that much blue blood in her
could find it in herself to work) to faint.
If nothing else, it gave everybody something
even more colorful to stare at than Little Angel Face,
if such a thing is possible:
Gagging up there on her purple throne, Queen Phlofie
pointed in anguish at the tacky little bog girl below her
quietly keeping to herself and smiling innocently at everyone
(especially at those not smiling at her,
exactly as she had been 'properly' brought up to do)
while the desperate Queen did her unsuccessfully darnest
to faint over her.
But the Queen wasn't the only one feeling ill,
for the King's whole head began to glow a dreadful
shade of violet pink (covered as it was with the violent
embarrassment of his son's poor judgment
in... picking princesses,
yes). Then he too turned ear-to-ear green with heartache
(or perhaps he just didn't want the Queen to
feel that she had to go at it alone).
"Oh dear, oh dear," Lady Cuss-Cuss commented
on the colorful situation (trying not
to let the Queen catch sight of the wicked little smile
holding up one of the corners of her mouth)
as she pretended to be trying to ease the tension
by spitefully teasing the mud-covered girl:
"She's certainly going to make a piggy little princess, isn't she!"
"A pig?" The twice hyphenated great General
Rhee-Hearsal-Onlea shouted next: "A pig!
Oh, I wouldn't go that far! I mean, pigs have wings,
don't they?" (As if he'd never even seen one.)
"Hap-ah, hap-ah, hap-ah..." was all that came out of
the King's mouth the first time he tried to say something
to his son. For no matter how hard he tried,
he just couldn't picture a prince of the royal blood marrying
such a muck-and-mud 'princess' as that one
--No matter how gritty she was.
After all, back in fairy-tales times
kings enlarged their kingdoms by marrying their children off
to wives and husbands rich enough to bring something more
than just their empty bellies into the bargain...
But looking at the little bog girl before them,
the one thing they could all be sure of
in this whole messy affair
was that she could be counted on to own nothing
this side of property but the seventeenth-hand-me-downs
on her gunky little skin and bones
(and they looked like they were being held together
by caked sludge --her clothes, I mean--
instead of the usual stitches and buttons).
And that's if she was even wearing 'human' clothes at all!
Some of the ogling 'ladies and lords' tried to lay down bets
that the next bath she took would be a first ever experience
in her life (only no one would bet against it).
"Oh, no! No! No, I say!" The Queen finally managed
to spit out: "I'm sorry about this, Princie,"
as that was his nickname at Court (although his real name
was Cecil--and maybe even because of it): "I'm sorry, but
we can NOT permit you to marry this grimy goop of a girl
--And not even if there's a girl under all those rags!"
Stretching only her every third syllable to try to sound
even more superior than usual (for even as snooty as she was,
by law only the Emperor's wife was permitted to stretch every
other syllable when trying to sound more superior).
"My word, Princie," the King also chided his son:
"You'd be better off marrying a cleaning lady
--At least she'll be a lady (and make no bones about
cleaning... herself especially)."
"I declare, Your Highness," Drizzel the Royal Brother-in-law,
Royal Uncle (as well as Royal Chamberlain) was just as quick to add
since he didn't want to miss the opportunity
to put in his two gold ingots' worth:
"Have you taken a good look at... her!?"
"Yes, Uncle," the heartbroken Prince told him
(as well as everyone else): "Yes I have!"
Unable to understand why it should be so difficult for them
to see, and at once, the beautiful qualities in her
which were so obvious to him: "Have you?"
"Yes!" Everybody answered him with one voice:
"Yes we have!"
And even though the Prince was utterly crushed
by their attitude, incredibly, the only effect all this had
on Little Angel Face herself was that it didn't disappoint her
to discover that the 'better' people of the world were
as well rehearsed a group as that!
"What could a muck person like 'that'
possibly have in common with anyone here?"
The Queen wanted to know (to many a 'Here! Here!'
from the lords and ladies there).
Although even a great put-down like that one
only seem to say to Little Angel Face that the Queen
thought there was nothing 'common' about her!
"Least of all with a prince of the royal blood!"
Drizzel told the girl, point-blank.
(Which she took to mean that he thought her unique
even among the most unique of persons.)
And, "She's absolutely nothing like anybody!"
The Royal Head Waiter felt duty-bound (to
his servant class) to add (as he served
his whatever little knickknacks, whatnots, entrées
and pâtés all over the place): Just in case anybody there
was so much as thinking of
comparing her to any of the servants.
* * *
"Maybe I can help your parents,"
Little Angel Face suddenly announced right out of the blue
--and loud enough to be overheard by practically everyone--
for it was just plain obvious to her
how badly in need of being comforted everybody there was.
Her words, however, shocked the aristocrats there so much
(to discover that a 'mud critter' like her was able to speak
as if she might actually have a brain of her own
somewhere under all that mud-topped top) that
right away a raging murmur of, "She can talk,
she can talk," fell upon them like a shower of fleas!
The stir didn't stop Little Angel Face from following through
with her intention to comfort them (if only because
nothing really seemed to be able to stop her
or to even slow her down, apparently):
Boldly as you please, the young immigrant from the bog
waltzed right up to the King and Queen
of the entire Kingdom even as they themselves
(just as boldly) pinched their noses shut
--quick as their swampy little guest got close enough
for them to pick up her 'scent.'
And, "Your Majesties," she addressed the pinched monarchs
(while they pinched tighter and tighter
the closer and closer to them she got):
"I know I am not a princess," she announced
(and, oh, how they howled at that), "but,
if you just hold your... judgment until after
we are married, then I shall be a princess!"
(Bright eyes and pinched noses all around.)
"And then your son will have married a princess,"
she explained admirably, "so everything will be
as you would have it," turning from the King and Queen
to the crowd and back and forth again
like a little mouse dancing without a care in the world
in front of all the owl eyes there staring at her (big as hunger):
"That Princess will still be me," she summed up her solution,
"so everything will also be as we would have it,"
(revealing how little she really understood about
social arithmetic): "And so, so-plus-so (being so),
we'll all live happily ever after--every last one of us!"
"Well!" (In every discomforted eye there.)
After a brief moment of introspective indignation:
Again their vulgar laughter (at anybody's expense).
As far as the Queen was concerned, however,
there was precious little funny at all about any of it:
"That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever
had to sit still for (while pinching my nose
and breathing through my mouth) in my life!"
She said, breathing right through her seething teeth.
And, "My dear," the Royal Sage then took the opportunity
to ask Little Angel Face (like the dotting old grandfather
he looked like), to ask her a great personal favor
he had been meaning to ask her for some time now
(since he was a person who always knew exactly
what needed to be said and when the best moment was
to say it). So, "My dear," he now said to her
as soon as he saw that the moment had indeed come for him
to say it: "My dear, would you mind
standing back a little so we can all breathe?"
Of Royal Blood.
Thankfully, because of the beastly racket the crowd
was making just then Little Angel Face never heard
the Royal Sage's even beastlier remark.
However, the King wanted the Queen to know
that there WAS an itty bitty bit of truth in
what the mucky girl had just told them. Which,
in his opinion, showed that her brain, at least,
was in as proper a working order
as the rest of her was NOT properly in any order at all.
But no matter what kind of, "Hogwash!"
(The Queen rated the King's opinion,
as fiercely as a charging garbage disposal,
mincing no words about the matter.) The consensus remained
that the girl's solution to the problem of her not being a princess
of the royal blood... would not wash (either):
"Who ever heard of a princess not being a princess
born naturally?" The Royal Chamberlain muttered,
especially angered because, as the Queen's brother,
he just couldn't bear the thought of a bog girl
like Little Angel Face marrying her way into a Royal Family
he himself had worked so long and so hard to
stick his own sister into: "No sir!"
"But, Your Majesty," Little Angel Face explained:
"The fact that I am not of the royal blood
is probably about the only way the two of us aren't
almost identically and exactly alike!"
"'Identically and exactly alike!?!'" They all screamed at her:
"You identically and exactly like our Royal Prince!?!"
And, well, even though to look at the Prince just then,
he did have a lot (of mud, mostly) in common with her,
since like her he too had been slipping and tripping
all over the very boggy edge of the forest:
He still remained, first and foremostly, a prince
of the royal blood (and not some tacky little bog boy):
"How dare you suggest ANYBODY is in any way, shape,
manner, or form ANYTHING--even remotely--like my son!"
The Queen protested in a hurt voice that trembled with
just how much she herself would have liked to hurt 'somebody'
Suddenly the Queen jumped off her elevated purple throne
like a hard-pressed tidily-wink
and scurried down to her son's side to try to wipe
some of the swamp off him (like every good mother ought to)
... with the dainty handkerchief she all but ripped out of
Drizzel's hands while pushing past him:
"Not in any shape, manner, or, or,
or...!" She told everyone, wiping and trembling. And:
"Least of all a swamp creature like that one!"
Until, satisfied that she had done enough,
she tossed back (to a quite rattled Drizzel) the now utterly
smutty and ruined remains of the poor dainty handkerchief
she had 'burrowed' from him,
and headed back to her throne.
"Thank you!" The Royal Chamberlain graciously
accepted the return of his dainty hanky
(just having finished a thorough accounting of his fingers
--to make sure he wasn't missing any).
With marvelous grace and great professional expertise
(since, before he'd had the good fortune to marry off his sister
to the King he had been in the profession of daintily
folding hankies into their shipping boxes),
he then folded the now quite dead piece of cloth
very, very forlornly indeed and disposed of it
in a nearby Royal Trash bin. (After which
he immediately whisked out a brand new handkerchief.)
Meanwhile, "Oh! Oh!! Oh!!!" The Queen was moaning
all the way back to her throne: "I shall faint!
I shall faint!!" (To no one in particular really.)
"Catch me, somebody! Catch me! Catch me!
Catch me!" Trying every possible way she could
to faint once she had flung herself
into that grand glittering purple couch (-like)
throne of hers. Although again without much success.
* * *
"But it's true, Your Majesty!"
Their little visitor from the swamps
at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest
still insisted on contradicting the conscientiously fainting Queen
right in the middle of her performance: "In this world,"
she explained, "everything is the same as everything else
except for the very few particulars
that make all the difference!"
(An ancient, practically eternal belief
which was probably the very reasonable explanation
why the girl was so convinced
she and the Prince had so many things 'in common.')
"Oh?!" Said the Royal Sage, who even at his age
was always willing to learn something old.
"Lies! Lies!! Lies!!!" the Queen's highly-pitched screams
quickly brought to an end all reasonable explanations.
It also silenced everybody
as instantly as if the Queen's screaming 'lies'
had shot them down where they stood.
All eyes then fell on Little Angel Face (like rotten tomatoes)
for, after the Queen declared that there was no such a thing
as two persons identically and exactly alike in the world,
everybody was sure that Little Angel Face would say
something outrageous enough to earn herself
a long stretch in prison.
Or so they hoped. At least the optimists among them:
The pessimists were convinced this would mark
the end of their 'fun.' Since surely now
the boggy girl would slink back to her 'proper place'
(whatever swamp she had plopped out of)
in total and complete embarrassment.
However, "That is not so,"
the young girl bravely told the Queen (quite sincerely,
too): "There is no end to the ways everyone in the world
is exactly like everyone else," in fact, "and
whether one comes from the worst swamps, like me,
or even the best palace (and is
a prince of the royal blood)."
Naturally Little Angel Face expected to be laughed at
again (everybody had been laughing at her
from the moment she set a muddy toe in there),
and she was quite prepared for that. Only,
so offended were all the ladies and lords this time
that, instead of laughing, they all
very soundly booed her!
Some of the lords even reached for their swords!
"Nonsense!" The King quickly intervened
(trying to settle down an ugly situation
which looked as if it might be on the brink of becoming
even more unsettled): "Why,
prove such a thing to me and I'll, I'll, I'll..."
"Give our marriage your blessing?" Little Angel Face jumped
at the chance to finish the King's thought.
It wasn't exactly what he'd had in mind to finish with.
(Eating his hat and such things was more along the line
of what he'd been after.)
But, "Sure! Why not?!" he now told her,
carried away with how convinced he was
that such a thing could never be proven:
"Prove to me that a mucky bog girl like you
has that much 'in common' with my son, and I will
indeed grant you my blessing to marry him."
Saying which he laughed like it had all been a great big joke:
"On that you have my word!"
It was no joke to Little Angel Face, though.
Nor apparently to anybody else there, for they were all
as shocked by the truly crazy-sounding promise
their King had just made to the little bog girl
as if lightning had landed in their midst
--And the Queen worst of all:
Why, just the mere possibility
that one day they might wake up to find
some mud-crowned creature like 'her' their queen
was enough to frighten and even anger every lord and lady there.
And they were not a bit shy about voicing their displeasure
(with as much fury as a threatening beach with
a bad storm stuck in its throat).
Those among them sporting swords
again threatened to draw them, forcing the Prince
to also threaten to draw his--in case he had to save
his gunky beloved from a sudden wave of hotheads.
"It's, it's," the very nervous King insisted:
"It's just that there's no way this girl could prove
such an obvious impossibility!"
And he certainly wanted it perfectly understood
that he had not gone stark raving mad:
"If all of you would only take a second or two to think about it
yourselves, it would become as obvious to you too!"
"Ah!" The crowd sighed the minute they indeed thought about it
for the recommended couple of seconds. Then
everybody broke into a rousing chorus of, "The King is right!
The King is right!" With such fervor that walls shook
all across the Palace as if Mother Nature had been trying to
knock a cat off her roof:
"The King is always right!" Everybody chanted happily.
And, "Why, the very idea," of anyone wearing
ragged seventeenth-hand-me-downs like hers
(stitched together with but strings of gunk and buttons of mud)
being identically and exactly like a prince of the royal blood
was not only preposterous, it was postposterous too!
So, "The King is right!" They all laughed, very relieved indeed:
All the ladies chortling like children on shortening cake
and the lords giggling worse than Rusty Hinges
(the very worst giggler who ever giggled)
while they put their drawn swords back down their pants.
"Not in a thousand years!" The King joined in
(trying to assure the uneasy Queen).
Although soon even she was feeling confident enough
with the impossibility of the little bog girl ever being able
to prove she was all that exactly and identically like the Prince
to even behave a tiny little bit less ill at ease with her:
"You would never be able to prove it in a million years!"
She 'counselled' the girl: "Why don't you go back
to wherever you came from!"
And without even hollering at her that much.
"Yes!" Snapped the Royal Sage: "Let that be the end of it
there!" Although no one ever found out exactly what about him
had snapped, for he was an extremely bent-every-whichway
old man and all sorts of things were always snapping about him
(whether he wanted them to snap or not).
"Yes!" Said the Queen (now not even half as worried
or two thirds as angry): "You have given us all a good laugh
--for which we'll reward you handsomely, I'm sure.
But now be off with you! Off! Off! Off!!!"
But, "The Path of Righteousness is straight,"
Little Angel Face told the Queen, "horizon to horizon,
and any shortcut one takes is always a waste of time."
Which meant that she wasn't going anywhere but
where she'd been headed all along.
"Indeed!" The Royal Chamberlain could hardly contain
himself: "Some people
just don't know when they're not wanted!"
"It's true, girl," even the King 'advised' her,
trying to sound as concerned about her
as if he'd been her father: "Why, you are no more
a person like a prince of the royal blood than,"
(and here he began twisting the gold ring he wore on his pinky
as he usually did whenever he was trying to help his memory
kick in), "than... this gold ring on my little finger
is like the thousands of mules in the Royal Stable!"
Cheers of approval rolled above the mob of ladies and lords
at the King's mulish humor. Then they all roundly quieted down,
as soon as Little Angel Face seemed about to answer the King
(for they were certain that whatever she said
would prove as unfortunate to herself
as it would undoubtedly be amusing to them):
"You are dead wrong, Your Majesty!"
She told the King (quite in earnest).
"Ah!" The mob was not to be disappointed:
Living or dead, few persons outside the emperor
(or a certain Queen) ever told the King to his face
that he was as wrong as all that.
But, "Just as Your Majesty can easily wrap that gold ring
around your little finger," the naive girl continued
(above the people's itching to break out laughing right in her face
and the Queen's trying to rein in her outrage), "so too
can Your Majesty wrap every one of your thousand mules
around your little finger," speaking as casually as if she'd
been talking the weather over with a passerby,
And concluding: "Naturally, had you a mind to do so,"
nervously, facing down all her opposition:
"In that respect your gold ring and your thousand mules
are all identically and exactly alike."
And quite justified in being nervous, because
this last bit prompted Drizzel to instantly spring up at her:
"What insolence! What infamy!" He pleaded
before the very sympathetic jury of his peers:
"How dare she suggest our King has no mind!?!"
Trying to take advantage of the girl's unfortunate choice of words
to try to put her in a worse light: "What calumny!"
"I didn't suggest that!" The poor girl protested,
truly embarrassed (for the first time
since she'd set foot at the Royal Court)
that anybody should think she could be so disrespectful
to anyone--least of all to the King:
"That's not what I meant at all!"
For a while it was touch and go whether the mob of lords
might draw their swords again. But then the King
(who was finally beginning to get over the horrible first impression
Little Angel Face had made on him),
the King decided that she seemed like too nice a person
to go around pointing out to everybody his not having a mind,
and he very discreetly signalled (through his Palace Guards)
for all parties to put away their outrages--and other favors.
A signal which the Palace Guards immediately picked up on
and made very nearly impossible to miss
--there at the point of their sharp lances... in everybody's faces.
"Please, my dear," he then told his embarrassed young guest
(rather patiently too): "Do go on!"
"Well, Sire," she explained: "It's just that
it's so easy for a King to wrap anything (he might wish to)
around his little finger that, in that respect at least,
Your Majesty's gold ring IS quite identically and exactly
like any one of your mules!"
The King did his best to 'see' the thing
(himself wrapping a thousand sweaty mules around his little finger)
all at once. He even stopped pinching his nose shut
every time the strangely attractive (if unfortunately dressed)
young woman came nearer to him than a tacky little bog girl
so far removed from a Royal bath ought to come to a sitting King
(in order to think more clearly).
But, "Bunk!" The Royal Chamberlain spat out
at Little Angel Face like a snake:
"I've never heard such incredible bunk!"
The King, however, was suddenly of a different opinion
about exactly how credible her bunk was. After all
(he was thinking, for the first time in a while):
being King, there were any number of things, thousands
of mules among them, one gold ring, and even people too
(with the possible exception of a certain Queen),
all of whom, and all of which, he could
have wrapped around his little finger:
"Quite easily, too!" He unexpectedly spoke up
(startling everyone quite used to his always
keeping his mouth shut): "And had I a mind to! To be sure!"
Because about the only thing keeping him from wrapping everything
around his little finger indeed was
the fact that he lacked the mind to!
"You must admit, dear, he told the Queen,
beginning to discover that the longer the strangely appealing girl
remained in his presence the less and less
that really unfortunate first impression she'd made on him
seem to hold true--and the more charming she seemed to him,
in fact: "She did turn up one way my gold ring is identically
and exactly like all those sweating mules
she's talking about there."
The Queen, however, was NOT even the least bit
charmed by Little Angel Face. In fact she was just plain
downright growing more and more vulgarly
infuriated to death with her:
"Oh yeah?" She snapped at the King (there
in front of the entire Court): "That was just a fluke!
And a very fishy fluke at that!"
For as impressed as the Prince (and now even the King)
might be with her, no matter how dreadful she looked
to everyone else: that much more dreadful did
Little Angel Face appear to the Queen:
"A million-in-one coincidence!" She assured everyone:
"Just dumb luck! Am I not right about this, Drizzel?"
She asked her Royal Brother. And with such violence
that it flipped the Royal Chamberlain's powdered wig
right off his head.
"Oh, absolutely!" Drizzel assured his Royal Sister:
"Your Majesty is always right about everything!"
Then he scampered away dancing all over the place
after his runaway wig. Caught it. And stuck it back atop
his head very nearly the same way it had been sitting up there before
--except that now it didn't have as much powder on it: "Always!"
Without a breath's worth of apology
the Queen was already calling for the Royal Sage to step forward
and explain the fact to her satisfaction.
Something the Royal Sage did like a rabbit with a lively buckshot
of foxes after him (in spite of his advanced age),
for he was exceedingly wise about everything (and especially
about the fact... the Queen was demanding):
"Sire," the Royal Sage told the King: "I will grant you
that your gold ring does have something in common with
as many mules as it please Your Majesty. However,"
he then quickly spun around and said to the Queen:
"Exactly in accordance with Her Majesty's Opinion:
I'll wager that's probably the one and ONLY singular
weird coincidence like it in the whole universe;
and that everything everywhere else (in said universe)
is set in its right and proper (and unique enough) place
--in a class all by itself--and is not anything other than
what it (and it alone) is. Which certainly excludes
its being everything else (as the little bog person claims):
For that is the natural state of things, especially of things
in this peculiar state... of being, as you all know."
"So there!" All the ladies and lords at Court barked
at Little Angel Face (as if all their voices had been a single one).
"Night and day," the Queen seethed
with as much satisfaction as an open sore
(on somebody else): "The head of a pin is one thing,
and the planet Pluto something else altogether."
"A cored apple is a cored apple, and the Queen..."
Drizzel was very happy to soothe his ruffled powdered wig
by getting in on this: "Well,
everybody knows what the Queen is--"
"That is why," the King himself now merrily joined in,
just as Little Angel Face was about to number for everyone
the simply numberless ways in which, with very few exceptions,
the head of a pin, the planet Pluto, a cored apple
AND practically everyone and everything else
one might care to lump together (including the Queen)
were, all of them, exactly and identically alike.
Luckily for her, though: "That is why,"
the King kept merrily interrupting her
every time she opened her mouth to explain all this:
"That is why IF a little bog girl like her can prove she is
in any way, shape, manner, or form anything like my son
--let alone exactly and identically," (winking):
"They may marry at once!
And you all have my word on it!"
Most amusing. But what a serious stroke of luck
for Little Angel Face, who realized now how lucky it'd been
for her that the King had used his royal prerogative
to keep interrupting her: This was exactly
the opening she had been after all along,
as here they were actually proposing to grant her everything
she had been after--and all she would have to do in return
was... to prove the obvious!
"Chew on that!" Drizzel was mocking her then
(as blind to the obvious as everybody else there),
and even taking off one of his dainty gloves to snap
a couple of dainty fingers in front of her face.
The Queen also seemed willing now to blindly second him;
and, with a wink of her own, she too promised Little Angel Face
her blessing, "IF ever she managed
to prove such an 'impossible' thing."
"Very well, Your Majesty," Little Angel Face
wasted no time taking up their challenge: "I accept!"
It was certainly NOT what they were expecting.
And for quite some time they all stared at each other,
confused, and trying to figure out whether she was
just that dumb (or she knew something they didn't).
Except the Royal Sage: "What?" He asked everyone
around him: "What did she say?" (Although
everyone was too stunned to reply.)
In the end, the only good the girl's quick acceptance
really did her was that it instantly sent all the lords and ladies
who had been drowning in laughter
straight into choking on their watered-down laughs
... as they watched her overflow with joy now
over how easy she imagined it would be
to win their blessing to marry her Prince!
And, carefully reflecting on it for a couple of seconds now
(which most of them actually dutifully took
the couple of seconds to do, although a number of them
just took the opportunity to take out their little
personal compact mirrors to check their makeup):
"Didn't the muck-topped girl already prove
that the King's gold ring was a sweating mule or something?"
Lord Gary O'Larry questioned the nearest questionable
lady (and received no reply, truth or lie).
That questionable lady and the rest of them
just stared ahead with blank expressions on their faces
as Little Angel Face went hopping about everywhere,
merrily telling everyone: "I accept! I accept!"
And, "Not to worry!" She went from shock-frozen lord
to shock-frozen lady, warmly assuring every last one of them
how 'easy' it would be for her to prove that she was indeed
(in every possible way) exactly and identically like their Prince:
"Gosh!" She gushed confidently: "Anybody can prove
everybody in the world is identically and exactly like
everybody else!" (Like, Duh!) "And that's just
those people who are so out of sort with themselves
that they can hardly even stand others!"
So, "Imagine how much more alike those few of us must be
who have so much in common
that we actually fall in love with one another!"
People like... her and the Prince maybe?
Well, actually: No doubts there!
As she herself immediately reminded them:
"We love each other more than we love even ourselves!"
"Oh!" Drizzel feebly tried to stem the tide:
"I hate the way she keeps insinuating the Prince has
all that much in common
--Our Prince couldn't possibly have ANYTHING
But it was too late: Just the mere possibility
that Little Angel Face 'might' indeed succeed
had already cast such a deadly shadow over
every lord and lady there
that they were now absolutely in the dark
whether or not (one not so very distant day)
they might or might not wake up to find their
once neat and spotlessly clean Kingdom (at the Very Boggy Edge
of the Forest) being ruled by THE SWAMP PEOPLE!
Certainly Little Angel Face herself wasn't doing anything
to wash away that monstrously muddy
vision of their dark future:
"I love him," she was telling everyone.
And even going on to violate every civilized code of etiquette
right under their already very painfully tweaked noses
by actually pointing at the Prince--with her index finger!
"Gads!" (Suddenly stuck an index in every noble eye there.)
"So you can imagine," Little Angel Face continued
(dancing everywhere merrily among them
like a spinning top straight out of Hell--in their eyes),
"how much more alike the two of us must be!"
Unfortunately for her, as it was now hard to imagine
that there could possibly be anyone there
who could NOT imagine the thing:
"Certainly lots and lots more
than just about anybody and anybody else
in this whole wide world (or even
anything and anything else)."
"Good Grief!" And, "Hello there," (to)
"our very own Little Mud Princess!" Perfectly spelled out
in the sparkling sour tears stuck to every chiselled
cheeky cheek there--With the exception of the Prince's cheek,
he simply pointed back at his endearingly overly-confident
beloved (although not with an index finger, thank Heavens),
and told his parents: "You see why I love her!"
As oblivious to how terrible his words were to them
as if he had just landed at the Court from another planet.
"You see, Your Majesty," Little Angel Face told
the glairy-eyed Queen: "We love each other so much
that there's no way we could not
be identically and exactly alike!"
The worried King consulted his confused Royal Sage
(in vain, because even as petrified as he was,
the wily old man was still too quick on his feet
to be that easily caught holding any opinions
outside those King Duddol or Queen Phlofie themselves
hadn't expressed to him first):
Like the very successful Sage he was,
the old man shrugged (wisely), kept his mouth shut,
and waited to be handed Their Royal Majesties's
Official Opinions (as they always eventually did).
Only, at the moment they too were dumbstruck
--in the face of such likeable a love.
"Not good enough!" Drizzel had to be the one
to try to snap the rest of them out of the spell
cast by the young couple's love for each other:
"Not good enough... for me!"
"Good enough for me," the Prince countered,
making his way back to reality.
But, "Not good for me either!" The Queen jumped in
(without even moving a muscle),
convinced now that if she didn't do something
the little pipsqueak of a bog girl might yet prove
to have enough common sense in her to come up with
more than just the one or two ways
(in addition to the way she and the Prince loved each other)
they were, "Heaven forbid!"
... Identically and exactly alike:
"So what if they're identically and exactly alike
in whatever number of ways," said the Queen:
"That certainly doesn't mean they're in every way
identically and exactly alike!"
"I suppose not," Little Angel Face acknowledged.
"It's just that if we were to start naming each and every way
we ARE identically and exactly alike we'd very quickly be
forced to agree that it was a waste of time to have even thought
there might be a limit to the number of them!"
"Is that so!" The Queen snapped: "'Very quickly?!'"
"Might it be so?" The King asked his shaky Royal Sage.
"In some ways," the Royal Sage was forced to speculate:
"I suppose everything IS like everything else.
Just don't ask her to explain how or why."
A speculation everybody ignored:
"What idiocy!" The Queen bragged:
"Who cares in how many ways they're identically and exactly
alike (ten, twenty, or a hundred): It still doesn't make them
in every way identically and exactly alike
(as she's claiming): That's the point!"
"Momsie," the Prince pleaded: "Please!"
In vain: "Absolutely not!" The Queen told him,
for she was dead-set against their marriage
no matter what: "Nobody's going to make me believe
a tacky bog girl like this one is in any way, shape, manner,
or form, identically and exactly
like a prince of the royal blood!"
"And," Drizzel figured: "Not even if they're both
identically and exactly alike in every way
from here to the moon!" And every lady and lord there
would have no doubt added their own figures,
had not Little Angel Face herself suddenly said something
which immediately put an end to their figuring:
"Your Majesty," she told the Queen
as calmly as if she'd been stitching
still one more patch to her seventeenth-hand-me-downs:
"Your Majesty has but to set a number of likenesses
between us, and that exact number of likenesses
will I deliver to you before you need grant us your blessing!"
"What!?!" (Suddenly in every eye there.)
The Queen herself wasn't sure she had heard correctly.
Nor, for that matter, the Prince, or the King, or Drizzel, or
the Royal Sage, Lord Gary O'Larry, or the Duke d'Dude
and his (second) Duchess Dudessa, the Marquis Mee,
Lady Fynn-Ghers or Lady Cuss-Cuss, the merry Archduke
Desi de Quba, Sir Err, or the great General
Rhee-Hearsal-Onlea, Madame Fourthwindow, or even
the Royal Valet Mukos (who was forever afflicted with
extremely stiff joints, especially whenever anybody mentioned
his name), a couple of high-priced lawyers
who gave themselves away immediately and were escorted,
Dooley and Propeley (their names)... out,
or any of the rest of them:
But, "Good heavens!" They all realized at once:
The Queen finally had Little Angel Face
exactly where she wanted her;
for by her own impatience had the girl
from the very boggy edge of the forest delivered herself
into the meanly manicured hands of her great enemy
... her would-be mother-in-law.
Then they all grew silent.
A great many of them, I dare say, even
holding their breaths as they waited with a wicked
anticipation for the apparently victorious Queen
to now come up with such a high number of likenesses
that it would forever keep the poor girl from marrying
her Prince (while the Queen herself was trying to figure out
if there might be a trick in it somewhere):
Yet here it was, staring her right in the face
--Victory hers for the taking!
It was almost too good to be true.
And for a few brief golden moments she almost held back
(just to savor every last possible moment of her triumph).
After all, one single solitary weird coincidence in the universe
(that a gold ring should have also turned out to be
something of a mule), or ten, or twenty, even a hundred
such coincidences--that was one thing.
Quite a different matter altogether would be, say, oh, say...
"One... thousand!" She mumbled
(although distinctly enough to test the effect the huge figure had
on the hopelessly hopeful girl).
And just to make sure Little Angel Face had understood her,
the Queen then 'mumbled' her extraordinarily huge figure again
(his time mumbling it even more distinctly):
"How might one thousand..."
She needn't have bothered: "Yes, Your Majesty,"
Little Angel Face eagerly and (unfortunately for her)
instantly interrupted the Queen's all too distinct and
deliberately out-loud mumbling to outright accept:
"Yes!" She told the vexed Queen:
"I can easily see even a thousand ways in which--"
An observation which was rather unfortunate
for Little Angel Face
because the Queen (almost as instantly)
interrupted the girl's premature acceptance to shriek out:
"Easily?!" (After all, making it 'easy' for the would-be princess
to jump the hurdles to her marriage with the Prince
was NOT what the Queen was after--)
Only, now, instead of the usual yelling
and jumping all over the place everybody was expecting
(and some even hoping) to see from the Queen,
suddenly they were treated instead to a surprisingly cool,
calm, and collected monarch:
The Queen simply settled into her great purple throne
and smiled 'deliciously' at them
--including even at Little Angel Face
(as if she had been wearing all the self-confidence in the world
for a crown): Because she perfectly well knew
that no one figure in particular had yet been agreed to by anybody
--And this gave her the roguish right to raise the pole
a notch or two on the all-wet lowly bog girl.
And so no matter how 'easy' it might have been
for the would-be mud-topped princess
to have come up with even a thousand ways
she and 'her' Prince were exactly and identically alike,
now (as if to make up for holding back before), now:
"How about..." the Queen crept closer and closer to
Little Angel Face until she was nearly on top of her:
"How about..." she then jumped down the girl's throat shrieking:
"How about... one hundred thousand likenesses then!"
And so pleased was she to be able to drop such a huge figure
on Little Angel Face (to see what impression it made on her),
that it took the Queen all of but a single bound
to leap the incredible distance from where she had been standing
(almost right on top of her)
all the way back to her purple throne!
No one really knew what to expect next,
but, while waiting for it, they were 'treated' to the spectacle
of the Kingdom's sitting Queen bursting out
into as merry a bout of laughs
as they had ever seen her so busted!
Some of the onlookers yet found it in themselves to cry out:
"That's more like it!" While many others could only
scrounge up: "Let's see her agree to that!"
But certainly no one waited for the girl's answer
before enjoying their perceived victory.
And, "Would she agree?" (Eventually fell
into every eye there.) Although, truth be told,
most of them just wanted to see the Queen
try that jump again.
The Prince tried to keep his hopeful but naive would-be princess
from raising the number of likenesses she would have to hurdle
any higher. But her enthusiasm was even quicker than
his rush to save her from herself:
"Yes, Your Majesty!" She squealed excitedly,
again jumping (the gun) even over the Queen's great figure:
"So much do we love each other," she insisted
with a self-confidence that only served to
make their fear )that she just might be able to
come up with as many likenesses as it took)
appear that much more credible:
"So much do we love each other
that I don't see any way for us not to be exactly and identically
alike in even a hundred thousand ways--at least!"
"Well!" Said the absolutely floored (but
always resilient enough to bounce back) Queen:
"In that case, no sense taking any chances!"
Upon which she stood over the dreadful hush
which had gripped the Royal Throne Room
after Little Angel Face's latest acceptance, and then
she announced the exact number of likenesses
the girl would have to come up with
before she could marry the Prince:
"One zillion likenesses!" The Queen shrieked
like a perfectly wicked flourish of trumpets:
"Exactly one zillion likenesses must she come up with
before she marries my son!" Leaving 'on' and 'on'
and 'on' echoing over everybody's heads
like the aftermath of a bomb!
Then the roof fell in--So great a celebration broke out
among the ladies and lords of the Kingdom
at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest
now that they could finally bury any fears they might have had
about their future queens being plucked for them
out of... swamps.
* * *
"Oh dear," the King complained to the Queen,
struggling to be heard above the cheering approval
that echoed after the Queen's killer blast:
"Do we really have to go that far?"
"Yes!" The Queen quieted the revelers
with just that one word: "And I hereby promise
one and all," she then (solemnly) swore,
"that I too will grant her my blessing
the instant she comes up with fully and exactly one zillion ways
in which she and the Prince are identically and exactly alike!"
"By the way," the stiff-jointed Royal Valet Mukos asked
their young guest: "Do you have a name, girl?"
Snickering at her along with all the rest of the ladies and lords:
"We can't keep calling her
'that mucky little bog girl,' you know!"
"Yes sir," she told the Royal Valet,
quickly stamping out all their snickers:
"Little Angel Face am I called."
Although she knew perfectly well that her real name
was plain ole Muderella.
But no sense having people hear dead witches screeching
at the mere mention of her real name. "So,"
she was quite relieved to be able to tell them:
"Little Angel Face is my name!"
Nevertheless, "My," the Duke d'Dude commented
to his second wife Dudessa II d'Dude:
"What a silly name!"
"Remember now," Queen Phlofie reminded the girl
with the only silly name there: "An even zillion of them!"
"You needn't come up with a single one above a zillion,
either." Drizzel immediately seconded the Queen: "BUT
you must not fail to come up with even one under a zillion
either!" Laughing at her behind her back
(along with everybody there laughing to her face):
Then they all let loose a grand collective, properly
aristocratically boring victory, "Hurrah!" The instant
she nodded her agreement to their terms.
"There's an end to it there!"
Drizzel quickly closed the bargain, as it was obvious
that the girl did not have any objections to doing so.
But even those lords and ladies there who were just awful
at arithmetic knew enough of it to realize that Little Angel Face
having agreed to come up with a zillion likenesses
added up to nothing less than having agreed to
spend the rest of her life providing likenesses to the Queen
--because not even if Little Angel Face lived forever
(and spent every waking moment of that time coming up
with likenesses), never would she be able to come up with
a zillion of them!
(Although no one there realized this better than
Little Angel Face herself.)
Nevertheless, "But, dear," the King tried to object
to such a transparently nasty fraud being perpetrated
on the poor girl: "Surely you can understand
that not even the whole world working together
could produce a zillion anything
--no matter how long they worked at it!"
"I do!" the Queen shamelessly confessed,
rather merrily too: "That's the point!" Reminding him
how he hadn't expected her to prove that his gold ring was
a thousand sweating mules either--Yet she very nearly had!
"Oh, yes," the King was forced to admit:
"I forgot about that! Very well, dear.
You know best! I suppose."
Of course, by now Drizzel had already taken center stage
and was announcing to everyone:
"The little bog girl who calls herself 'Little Angel Face'
has made her bed! Now she will have to unmake it
all by herself!" Which amused everybody no end
--or bored them (which was
practically the same to the aristocrats there):
Except the King, possibly; the Prince, most definitely.
And then, also a certain newly arrived lower form of
aristocrat: "Lord Newt!" (By name.)
At least that's what he barked at the Head
of The Royal Guards when the poor fellow
was bold enough to ask for his title:
"Lord Newt!" (He was announced.) And Everybody
Who Was Anybody At All immediately turned their heads
around (and down) to get a look at him,
for he was certainly an odd-looking little fellow
(to look at him) down there.
So much so that half the aristocrats there
were of the opinion that he was as homely
as if a human being had changed his mind midway
into becoming the ugliest salamander in the world
(while the other half had the very definite opinion that
it had to be the ugliest chameleon on earth who had changed
its mind in the middle of heading out to become a human).
For his part, once he found himself in the middle of
the Royal Court's Little Angel Face affair,
Lord Newt very quickly began to find all this nastiness
at the poor girl's expense
very hard to swallow indeed, even for him.
Unfortunately, his small thin voice, even added to
by the King's and his son's voices were all still no match
for the rest of the voices there that were all lumped together
against Little Angel Face:
None of the gleeful ladies and lords at Court that day
doubted she would soon be admitting defeat and packing off
her muddy little self back to the swamps at the very boggy
edge of the forest (or wherever she had 'emerged' from).
So you can imagine how extremely surprised (and annoyed)
they were to hear her still eagerly accepting their challenge.
But she was so certain there was no end
to the ways, "people are a lot more like themselves"
(people) "than they are like most anything else" (other than people)
that she would have probably jumped at twice any number
anybody would have placed in front of her
(no matter how high), without giving its heights
even a second thought.
"But, my dear," the King made one final effort
to point out the 'practical' impossibility of numbering
the innumerable (which was what she was agreeing to do):
"Are you sure you fully understand exactly
how many likenesses is a zillion of them?"
And, "Your Majesty," she confessed: "It is true
that my parents were too poor to send me to school.
But," she told everyone with that nothing-can-stop-me-now
cheery attitude they were all beginning to find so irritating:
"However many of them a zillion turn out to be,"
which led some there to suspect that she really did know
what she was getting into: "I have complete faith
that you will let me know the minute
I have provided you with enough of them
to add up to a full zillion!"
"Tis, tis, tis!" The Royal Sage tissed wearily:
"Won't anything discourage these immigrants?!"
"After that Your Majesty may grant us your blessing
to wed," Little Angel Face continued,
"whenever you please!"
And even though they were all quite properly shocked
by the little bog girl's boldness,
most of them still laughed (at her) anyway.
"As soon as it pleases me?" The Queen mocked her,
a wicked smirk on her face: "Oh yes, deary,
I'll be sure to do that!"
While some of them (although certainly not as many
as ought to), some of them 'fingered' a slight pang of remorse
somewhere deep down in their bottomed-out hearts
over the nasty way they were enjoying the dirty trick being played
on the maybe mud-headed but still innocent young woman.
However, before their pangs could get out of hand,
Drizzel began shouting: "You heard the tacky girl!
She has promised to produce exactly one zillion likenesses
between herself and the Prince!"
(He himself being one of those not in the least 'touched'
by any such fine feelings of remorse.)
"Indeed!" Mukos quickly followed Drizzel in this,
in spite of all his stiff-claimed joints.
After which he made a big show of having overexerted himself
and sat down on the spot
before anybody could catch up with him.
"And you have given your word,"
Little Angel Face reminded them, "to let me know
the minute I reach an even zillion of them."
Telling the Queen: "Isn't that true, Your Majesty?"
"Oh, absolutely!" The Queen was only too happy to reply,
to seal their one-sided bargain (and finding it
hard to keep from bursting out laughing right in her face
like a vampire after a really good bite): "I most definitely
and absolutely give you my word on it, child!"
Formally placing her hand over her cheating heart
--hoping to spit and everything.
Although she caught herself at the last minute
(after all, she was still a queen).
But festive peals of very vulgar laughter
indeed filled the Royal Palace then top to bottom.
As few doubts remained in the minds of anyone there
(who had them) about just how hopelessly naive the poor girl was!
"Why," said the merry Archduke Desi de Quba
about the 'dim' girl: "She has no idea how many likenesses
she'll have to burn to match a zillion of them!"
But just to make sure that she didn't have the time to find out,
the slippery Royal Chamberlain immediately went out
among the ladies and lords to see if he could talk one of them
into serving as the Royal Score Keeper
of their one-sided contest with Little Angel Face.
Naturally it would have to be an aristocrat.
And one willing to dog the girl's every step from then on
(jotting down every likeness she might be able to come up with),
"Until such time as she reaches the mythical sum of
... a zillion of them!" Even if it took forever and a day
(or even a couple of more days than that).
Drizzel, however, soon discovered that every high-heeled lady
and footloose lord he approached for the job
turned him down flat on the spot
--and so coldly that the mere experience
of having been asked left them visibly shivering
with the insult of having to consider, even for an instant,
taking on some work (frankly the job
just smacked too much of a job).
And so went Drizzel's quest for a Royal Score Keeper
until, that is, until he happened upon a certain (apparently
down-on-his-luck, newly arrived lower form of aristocrat),
the little fellow who was as spotted
as if he'd just come from putting on a coat (of paint)
on a ceiling--and as short as an outrageously overgrown lawn ornament
(although nowhere near as life-like as all that).
But, as if by magic, this ugly little Lord Newt
appeared to be his 'man.' (Being the only aristocrat there
short of a servant, among others, even remotely willing
to consider taking on the 'job.') And let's
make no bones about this, it would be work all right.
"He's a homely one, isn't he!" The King said
the instant his eyes fell on the odd little lord
... down there where the one and only applicant
for the 'position' of Royal Score Keeper stood (just).
Still, his quick acceptance surprised a lot of people,
since the 'job' really paid very little
outside of the few obligatory (and never even offered) thanks.
And yet, with seemingly unbounded gratitude--even,
the ugly little spotted aristocrat immediately accepted the work!
Even merrily: "What can I say--I gotta be crazy!"
Telling them how happy beyond telling he was
to be finally getting 'some really serious job security'
(knowing no one there really expected Little Angel Face to
ever be able to make an end to any recitation of likenesses
she might be crazy enough to embark upon).
The Court's newly appointed ugly little
Official Royal Score Keeper
was then quickly sworn in by the Royal Chamberlain:
"You're it," he told Lord Newt:
"You may use as many notebooks as it takes!
I myself will immediately inform the Royal Woodsmen
to start chopping down and chewing up into pulp
(for paper), as many trees as you require," (since
not only was Drizzel the Kingdom's biggest investor
in the timber industry, sadly, he was also up to his ears in teeth
--every last one of them artificial). Besides,
no sense taking any chances the ugly little fellow
might change his mind, given a chance to think it over.
"She already has one likeness to her name,"
the Royal Sage sought to keep the excitement going,
rather unwisely distracted by the odd looks
of the knee-high minor Lord Newt into forgetting
to ask for the Queen's opinion before giving his:
Drawing attention to how identically and exactly
(in any respect) the 'little bog girl' and the Prince were
was probably the last thing the Queen wanted anyone to do,
and she let the Royal Sage know how mightily
displeased she was with him (mightily quickly)
with but a single chilling stare
that just about froze every drop of blood still creeping
about inside the old man's dusty old skin and bones.
"Does Your Majesty wish to challenge this likeness?"
Lord Newt asked the chillingly displeased Queen
as merrily as if he enjoyed the sound of his words
chipping away at her like an ice pick (to break the ice).
"No!" She heatedly answered (with so tight a 'no'
that not a ghost of a maybe could have been wedged into it).
But then, "Sure," she quite suddenly and surprisingly
graciously agreed after all: "Why not?" She told
Lord Newt: "Tally-Ho! Write up that one likeness down
in your little book as the first likeness
between my son and the swamp girl that We admit."
"I thank Your Kind Majesty," replied Lord Newt,
not altogether sure how to interpret the Queen's unexpected
graciousness, but immediately proceeding to write down
that First Ever Likeness
in the pulpy new Royal Official Score-Keeping Book
Drizzel had just then handed... down to him.
The fact was that with fully a zillion likenesses
(minus just that single one) still to go
towards an even zillion of them, it was easy to see
how the Queen could afford to be as big
as the next fellow, really:
"Now, if you don't mind,"
the Queen turned to Little Angel Face quite impatiently
(even this early), and: "Let's have the rest of
the zillion likenesses--naturally, minus that 'one.'"
Tossing in a rather nasty cough of a giggle
into her demand (like a rock), apparently
for good measure: "Now you young people only have
one zillion likenesses (minus that single one) to go
to win our blessing!" She added
--with poisonous sweetness.
"O, minus two, Your Majesty,"
Little Angel Face stepped forward immediately
to very sweetly 'correct' the Queen
(as respectfully as one might correct a Queen
like that one): "For you yourself have just now reminded me
of something else the Prince and I share very much identically
and exactly alike: Youth! Your Majesty."
"Only one zillion likenesses (minus two) to go now,"
Lord Newt was happy to formally call
the young couple's 'youth'
(with such an official-sounding tone of voice
that it made the Queen jealous to hear it).
"No help from anyone!" She hollered
at the pipsqueak nobleman (all out of proportions),
and then she quickly dumped a heavy load
of dirty looks on everyone else.
"Go ahead, my dear," the King told Little Angel Face,
anyway (for he was quite used by now to being dumped on
by the Queen): "In what other ways, shapes, manners,
forms (and such) are you identically and exactly like my son?"
"Oh, in class, Your Majesty,"
Little Angel Face very seriously answered the King,
without the slightest hint of false modesty:
"We both have a lot of class!"
But one can hardly expect that particular audience
to hear her say such a thing without it immediately shredding
itself down into its very stitches
from one end to the other of that hall:
"Class?!?" Laughed Mukos, giggling
like a runaway fiddle: "You have class?!"
Even the Queen found it hard to keep a straight face,
or to believe that the girl would actually go that far
(and by now she was willing to believe there was no limit
to how far Little Angel Face would go).
"How in the world could anybody as tacky as you
possibly expect to prove you have any class, girl?!"
Drizzel asked Little Angel Face, so genuinely puzzled
that he wasn't even trying to insult her with the question.
But, "Oh," she answered (not even a bit insulted):
"Only with Their Most Gracious and Kind Majesties' permission,
of course!" Pointing to the King and Queen.
"My word," the King mused
before he even realized what he was saying:
"The girl does have class!"
A slip of the tongue
which Lord Newt immediately pounced upon
to write up Little Angel Face's 'officially recognized' class
in his Royal Official Score-Keeping Book
as the, "One zillion (minus three) likenesses to go now!"
Knowing that not even the Queen would dare to disallow
the King's word (in so public a forum, anyway).
But, oh heavens, did the Queen gnash her teeth
at that third likeness! (So harshly
that in the middle of the stunned silence
that gripped the Royal Throne Room then
those listing to it might have been led to believe that
they weren't even hers
--the way she was mistreating them!)
Nevertheless, eventually even the Queen was forced
to acknowledge that, however unimaginably,
even 'class' was indeed one more way
in which her son and the little bog girl were very nearly
exactly and identically alike (especially
since the Prince himself had also shown a lot of class
by falling in love with someone with as much class
as Little Angel Face). But it mattered little, though,
because the Queen was going to place her faith
in the power of the greater and greater numbers
a zillion of them called for:
"Let's have the rest of them,"
she told Little Angel Face (as casually as if
she'd been asking her to pass her some potato chips).
And, as casually as all that, Little Angel Face herself
then proceeded to pass on to them so many more likenesses
(between herself and the Prince) that in no time at all
it almost seemed as if she was indeed
handing them out like potato chips!
Something which continued and continued that way
throughout the rest of that increasingly restless afternoon,
likenesses after likenesses after likenesses
pouring out of Little Angel Face's white hot
and seemingly bottomless imagination
without the slightest hint that there would ever be an end to them.
And continued and continued as well (or as terribly
--many a lord and lady listening to it swore quite freely)
throughout the State Dinner which took place
a little later that same day...
Pets, Chickens, and Dinosaurs.
Now, this was one meal
which the never-say-die Queen ("Watch," she kept telling
everyone with a quite deliciously wicked glee:
"This'll kill her!"), this meal was a formal State Dinner
the Queen arranged to be served right there
in the Royal Throne Room
because she was so convinced that Little Angel Face
would be running out of likenesses so quickly
that she figured the tiny trek from there to the official
formal Royal Dinning Room would be enough to put off
the 'pleasure' of running the girl out of the Palace
that much longer.
So, "Pets! Your Majesty,"
Little Angel Face was still coming up with likenesses
at the Royal Throne Room long after it had been turned into
a quite splendid informal dinning room, and
all the ladies and lords in it were going at it
as if the last one to finish would have to pay the check...
The Royal Head Waiter had brought out a special (separate,
and afterwards to be immediately re-classified a recyclable)
table... for the exclusive use of the Court's 'very special' guest
Little Angel Face, where she would be able to eat
all by herself
(even though she didn't at all eat the way
those upper crusted people there were certain
somebody straight off the swamps would eat:
all hunched over her plate like a chicken hawk
with its wings protecting its 'kill').
Not only did Little Angel Face use a knife and a fork
(and the spoon) instead of her fingers,
she never even once made any of the unfortunate noises
they were all anticipating they would hear
out of her (with mixed emotions).
Not only did Everybody Who Was At Least 'some kind of'
Somebody there (and interested in keeping his or her
'something of a status' spotless) absolutely refuse to sit
at the same table with someone right off the swamp like her,
a number of them even managed to push the Prince himself
right out of the Palace
... as the first order of business (before the Queen would allow
anybody there to sit down to eat) had been
to convince the Prince that it was the duty of every prince
to undertake some hastily arranged 'quest' for
a wild gooseberry jam before he could legally wed.
And now, while everybody else was enjoying their dinner
(including even Little Angel Face--in her environmentally friendly
table), the Prince was away still thickly stuck in it.
The whole mess carefully staged, of course,
so that no 'body' there would have to sit still
for a nobleman sitting down to eat at the same table
with so recent an immigrant from the swamp
(least of all a prince).
And that's the way they were all going at it
(as if the mounds and mounds of food before them
were the last miserable scraps ever to be had on earth)
when Little Angel Face said: "Pets!" to the Queen.
"Pets?!" The Queen marvelled, nervously nibbling her corn:
"Now, I know Princie owns a horde of horses
and cart-loads of cows, vats and vats of birds
and hounds without bounds, and
also gallons and gallons of goldfishes, naturally..."
"By the barrelful--!" Drizzel jumped in
to add (over his mash potatoes): "Along with
an entire firmament of foxes and falcons and ferrets
(and a few giraffes), two bullfrogs, some gophers,
a flock of finches and a herd of buffalos, two deaf cats,
five fine elephants, a flying squirrel, one pod of puff adders,
a pocketful of codfishes, and one mouflon--"
"Exactly," the Queen stept on Drizzel's loose tongue
after nibbling down the whole neck of a chicken
(quite fried by then): "But what possible pets
could a muck-rich-only tacky bog girl without a penny on earth
like you possibly own? Heavens, I mean," pointing out
every tiny morsel the girl so much as brushed her lips against
with the very plump leg of a well-turned out turkey
--to everyone around her dodging turkey 'snow flakes'
while going at it themselves like carnivorous dinosaurs
that hadn't had a decent meal in 65 million years:
"Obviously her family can't even feed her properly!"
Still, "Look! Your Majesty," Little Angel Face answered
the Queen, happily producing... a tiny little ladybug
(possibly) out of one of her pockets!
"Oh, for--" cried the Queen straightaway, so annoyed
at this (hopefully only) very lady... bug
that she was soon sputtering all the turkey she was gnawing
twice as profoundly as ever.
"In any case," she managed to tell Little Angel Face
over a great big mouthful of annoyance:
"You said pets (plural), not just one tiny insignificant
and meaningless little pet... bug like that one!"
"Well..." replied Little Angel Face (thoughtfully
reaching into other parts of herself): "I do suppose
I could..." as everybody held their breaths
(and held off eating as well).
But, "Never mind! Never mind, girl!"
The Queen quickly instructed her (in some distress):
"I'll concede as many pets... as you might otherwise produce
--Egads!" Not a bit reluctant this once to admit defeat.
And so thankful were all the ladies and lords
trying to eat there (for the Queen's prompt concession
of defeat) that they all instantly sighed: "Thank God!"
Grateful beyond measure that they could again continue
speechlessly (even if not exactly silently)
trying to fill their bellies before the food ran out.
"Only one zillion (minus 750) likenesses to go now,"
Lord Newt immediately announced, mumbling
the numbers between licks at a generous mountain of mutton
in front of him with that gum-wad-tipped tongue of his.
(Which was as great a fright for everybody there to have to look at
as the swamp girl herself.) And, as if by magic,
without even once spilling one single drop or dropping a speck
--so skilled was he with it.
"I thank Your Majesty!" Drizzel told the Queen
on behalf of all the close-mouthed eaters (obviously
for not challenging that particular likeness).
* * *
But still it continued, no matter what, on and on that way
for the balance of that cockeyed meal,
with everybody eating to beat the band
(which was playing for their supper),
and the mucky little would-be princess
coming up with likenesses after likenesses
(she seemed to share exactly and identically with the Prince)
even while she ate all by herself
--since by now her Prince was far, far away
working his way through his own hastily cooked up
official wild gooseberry quest elsewhere,
much too far away from there
for him to be of any help to her whatsoever.
And, strange as was Little Angel Face's knack
for knocking off likenesses after likenesses
without the slightest effort, strangest still was
how no matter how many likenesses she kept coming up with
(as easily as if by magic),
never once did any of the ladies and lords witnessing
that never-ceasing wonder (of there being so many
different things similar between two
--one would expect-- such unlike human beings),
never did any of them waver in their belief
that every last likeness Little Angel Face came up with
would absolutely and positively be the very last likeness
she would ever be able to produce
--least of all the Queen. And no matter how many of them
Little Angel Face kept coming up and coming up with
as easily as if she were breathing them out and in
like puffs of air! Which of course meant
that it would all continue continuing this way
for quite a while yet...
* * *
"Another way," Little Angel Face was long, long afterwards
still (merrily) telling the ladies and lords still standing by
after dinner, every last one of them just barely hanging on
but still intent on witnessing her imagination running out on her
("Any minute now! Any minute!"),
much, much, much later that evening,
having eaten their fill and polished off their desserts
(and nightcaps as well), and some of them even
having poured them over their heads
or splashed them on their faces too: "Another way is
that we both have parents who love us
and who only wish the best for us!"
"How many likenesses is that, now?"
The Royal Sage asked (so tuckered out by this time
that he had momentarily forgotten that the precise number
of likenesses hardly mattered).
In any case, "One zillion (minus 7,887) likenesses to go
now," Lord Newt formally replied,
knowing no one would be likely to challenge
that particular likeness. (Although he did score it
a lot less formally than
... that many thousands of likenesses before it.)
By this time Drizzel and the Queen
(the only ones who had been challenging any
of Little Angel Face's likenesses)
had ceased taking up any challenges
outside the great challenge it was for anybody there
to keep their eyes open as late into the evening as it was.
And yet, "Another way is that we both love, honor
and respect our parents," Little Angel Face was still going at it
as strong and lively as ever
(because every likeness she came up with
seemed to nourish her enthusiasm for the next one)
even at a time of night when about the only other person still
with his full wits about him was the Royal Juggler
--who was juggling a few jugs for his own amusement
now that no one outside of the Royal Score Keeper was
... keeping score:
"The first thing I did when the Prince asked me to marry him,"
she said, without the least hint that her enthusiasm
would EVER flag, "was to ask my parents for their blessing."
"And the first thing I did," the Prince echoed her
(only just then returning from the sticky situation
into which he'd been jammed). If too late for supper,
at least never too late to stand by his future Princess:
"The first thing I did after I asked her to marry me,
was to come here for my parents' blessings!"
The Queen didn't feel much like arguing just then.
She just told Drizzel: "He'll get over it."
And dreamt about when it would be so.
So, "One zillion (minus 9,888) likenesses!"
Lord Newt scored the young couple's love for their parents.
Then, without much opposition, he scored their honor for them
as the, "One zillion (minus 9,889) likenesses to go!"
And he scored their respect for them as the, "One zillion
(minus 9,890) likenesses now only (left to go)." Drowsily
but still quite craftily writing down the young couple's love,
honor, and respect (for their parents)
in his Royal Official Score-Keeping Book
individually. ("Yawn!") And, so it went...
And so it was still going... so much later still that evening
that even the darkness itself seemed to be falling asleep
and fell over them as heavily as it could feel.
Yet on and on it continued, without the least sign
that Little Angel Face's spring of likenesses would ever dry up
... or that anybody there (especially the Queen)
might be willing to consider giving up
their stubborn opposition to her, either.
Even Later That Evening.
"Underwear!" Little Angel Face told the crowd next,
and she was quite willing to prove she and the Prince both
wore them (even as late into that night as it now was).
Although the Queen would have none of it.
Even so, "You wear underwear?!"
Mukos roused himself to marvel at the girl's
tattered set of seventeenth-hand-me-downs
with great disdain, even greater disbelief
(and the one eye on him whose turn it was to keep the watch
at that particularly ghastly hour of the night).
"Yes I do!" Little Angel Face defended herself,
perky as ever: "And I can prove it too."
But, "Never mind!" The show's opening
was immediately closed down by the King,
who also took the trouble to rouse himself (to inform everyone
they would have to take the girl's word for it).
After which everybody yawned so great a yawn
that even the lawn weeds outside the Royal Throne Room
shivered with them.
And then they all went on a little nap together.
But the telling of the likenesses continued (and continued)
a long time after Lord Newt had scored
Little Angel Face's underwear as, "One zillion
(minus 11,211) likenesses still to go!" Ever as always:
"We both have shapes;
we both have mass; sides;
eyes; color; and weight.
"We both have ups; and downs;
and ends; and starts; and
neverending heart rates too.
"Too: prides; hopes; dreams; and frowns;
and smarts; AND we both have
made many amends; and friends--"
... she went on, and went on!
"Oooooh," yawned Lord Newt
(judging by his writer's cramp): "She's good!"
As he struggled to keep up with her
while writing down every likenesses
Little Angel Face was sprouting left and right
as easily as if she were picking stars off the sky
until many there weren't all that sure she mightn't have been
able to do that as well (and as easily
as she was plucking all those likenesses as if out of thin air):
But on and on did Lord Newt continue writing down
every likeness in his Royal Official Score-Keeping Book
(already his third one) into the questionable conclusion
of that eternal and not so very restful night.
And earning himself nearly as many nasty looks from the Queen
as she could keep one or the other one of her eyes open
to cast his way...
And on and on... until practically everybody listening
to Little Angel Face was doing so in their sleep,
including even the Queen, and the Royal Chamberlain,
the Royal Sage, the Prince, the King and Mukos,
Lord Gary O'Larry, both the Duke d'Dude and his (second) Duchess
Dudessa, the good Lady Fynn-Ghers, Lady Cuss-Cuss,
the Marquis Mee, Sir Err, and the merry Archduke Desi de Quba,
the great General Rhee-Hearsal-Onlea, Madame Fourthwindow,
the Royal Head Waiter and his entire staff, the Royal Guards
and even a couple of clowns
(going by the names of Charles Chapitas and Mister Gargles)
who had crashed the party but were quickly spotted
for what they really were in spite of all the other guests' fine
costumes and then were awfully put out
... and the rest of all the ladies and lords sleeping there
on their feet (as there were so many of them
that when they fell asleep en masse they never leaned an inch
either way) all of them sleeping as sound(ly) as
a forest being sawed while Little Angel Face continued reciting
her tally of likenesses without a break
(even above the racket all the snoring ladies and lords
of the Kingdom at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest
were making... on their toes even as they slept
because, frankly, sleeping or awake,
the Queen was somewhere in that room too), you know:
"We both speak loudly when we yell.
We both run with haste."
* * *
"We both have taste;
and touch; and smell..."
"What!?!" asked the King (as soon as he thought he'd heard
what he'd heard), waking from one of his numberless little naps
(all of them seamlessly strung together into one long, long,
long one practically going on all the time now):
"What was that she said?"
"She claims," said Drizzel (feeling even nastier than ever now
for being forced to put off his beauty sleep this long
just to keep trying to make the gunky girl... look worse):
"She claims the Prince smells, Your Majesty,"
stretching his claim over one ding-dong
of a dainty long yawn, "as badly as does she, no doubt--"
However, "With my nose!" The Prince was quick to correct him
(in slow motion), after a princely yawn or two of his own
(or possibly a higher number of less princely ones
all running over each other) wearily awakened at
--apparently nothing at all. So he immediately dropped back to sleep
the instant he had finished standing up for Little Angel Face
(without actually going as far as to awaken his feet).
"Oh?" the King mumbled, and then he dropped off
(to try to pick up his snoring exactly where he'd dropped it
before all this 'smelly' business),
dreaming of answering: "That's all right then!"
"A likely story!" The Queen muttered
(awfully) between a snore and the clacks of her dentures.
Although not before she gave her Royal Brother a swift kick
(for waking her... raising her hopes like that
without a good reason).
And still did Little Angel Face's neverending
(and perhaps never-to-end) tally of likenesses
"We both have heads on our shoulders!"
She was claiming at some point later
(and much too late that night
for anybody to bother scaring up a clock).
"Only one zillion (minus 237,944) likenesses to go now,"
the two heads the young couple were shouldering were
officially written up by the almost sleep-talking ugly
little Lord Newt (between a couple of short barking snores
like those fairies make
when sleeping on leaves too close to a pond
they sip a droplet between dreams).
This he followed with a long mellow meow of a yawn.
And then a stretch of his gum-wad-tipped tongue
that was a nightmare to behold just by itself.
(And seeing which finally convinced the Royal Juggler
it was time to quit juggling and crawl his way to bed
--as soon as he found where
the mean person who had hidden his way had put it.)
Yet, even as late as it was, that unforgivably
unforgiving Queen was still waking herself up
with her own snorting snores after every few vicious catnaps
to scratch out at Little Angel Face her never-quitting demands
for even more and more likenesses:
"Do go on!" (Zzz!) "Do go on! Go on!"
She snorted, "Now," and, (Zzz!) snoring,
"you only have," (Zzz!) "one zillion
minus whatever to go!" (Zzz!)
After every waking snore of which she would knock herself out
(back to sleep) with one of her typically violent yawns.
Then, "Zzz!" she would rouse herself again
to scratch out even more demands for likenesses,
instantly drop to sleep, and almost as quickly rouse herself up
a moment later to start the whole process again:
"Do go on! Go on! Go on!" And, "Zzz!"
But even as unnerving as it was just to watch her
carrying on like that (even when she was half asleep),
it never once fazed Little Angel Face (who was on a roll now),
and no matter how late the hour
she actually seemed to be growing stronger
the longer she kept at it! (Yawn.)
"Warts! Your Majesty!"
"What!?! Warts!?!" The Queen barked herself awake
(and startled a few of the lords and ladies
who had been pretending to be awake near her too),
feeling so insulted this time that she actually opened both eyes
--at the same time!
"How dare you suggest," she yawned,
"that my son has even one single solitary wart!?"
"Oh, not a one, Your Majesty!"
Little Angel Face corrected her mother-in-law (to-be),
and for the first time that evening... yawned,
because so violently had the Queen roused herself
that she had completely distracted the poor girl.
"That's better!" The Queen yawned (in response),
already one eye on her having beaten the other one
back down to sleep.
Little Angel Face thought about directing the Queen's
remaining eye to the exact location of each and every one
of the warts in question... and thought, and thought,
and soon she couldn't remember exactly what it was
she'd been thinking about:
"Darn it!" It's just that it was so late now
that even she was having trouble remembering
whether one was supposed to speak with one's mouth
--Or was it one's nose, maybe?
She was 'almost' positive
that people didn't speak through their ears
--although she clearly remembered having been told they did!
(No doubt the terrible side-effect of having turned all her higher
--and central, and lower-- brain functions
over to unearthing likenesses between herself and the Prince.)
It seem to catch up with her all at once.
And so, instead of wasting time trying to mouth
(or perhaps nose) an answer to the one-eyed Queen,
Little Angel Face simply tugged at the shirt of the sleeping Prince
(hoping she was doing it with her hands),
and pointed out for the Queen's quickly-drooping eye
a spot on his shoulder (using the time the Queen required to focus
that one eye of hers to yawn so great a yawn
that it stopped Time
--so it's impossible to tell now exactly how long it took
but it was a good long one).
Sure enough, there on the Prince's noble shoulder
was (at least) one pretty little strawberry wart indeed!
"Very well, very well," the Queen snored
outrageously, even though her outrage very quickly turned into
a mind-melting marshmallow dream of everything warm
and comfy. And then her only problem was
getting back to sleep instantly enough
after having to swallow her son's warts
--or one of them, at any rate (naturally with some discomfort).
"I'll take your own wart for your word,"
the Queen dreamt she had told Little Angel Face,
snoring as busily as a run-away train (she herself was driving
full throttle down the throat of 'somebody'
who was very neatly tied up to the track ahead).
But not without first making a mental note
to ferret out first thing next morning
how the driven little bog girl (she had just stepped on
wearing a great big squashing train for a dress)
could possibly know about the noble warts the Prince was shouldering
as ("Zzz!") he slept safe and comfy
... back there in her caboose.
* * *
Meanwhile, with her last ounce of will power,
Little Angel Face roused Lord Newt
from his very, very cold-blooded slumber
long enough to have him officially record her zillionth
(minus 283,700) likeness in his good intentions
if not his Royal Official Score-Keeping Book
(because by now it was too late even for him
to locate the nose under which said book
was undoubtedly hiding from him).
"Yawn!" The knee-high Lord Newt then dropped back to sleep
as swiftly as a spotted little tree salamander can be swatted
off a thin bramble bush by... nothing much really,
even the tiniest of passing whiffs, or a butterfly's cough
(so feeble was his toehold on things at that late hour).
And since now there really was no one else awake
throughout the entire length and breadth of the Royal Throne Room
to hear her zillionth (minus 283,701) likeness,
Little Angel Face herself decided to also settle down now
for whatever was left of the rest of that night
... next to 'her' sleeping Prince.
All Next Day Too.
But that was only the beginning
of her awfully unlikely ordeal, of course:
First thing next day the Queen popped up in her bed
like charred toast (and as burnt up): "Oh!!!"
But, "Good as new!" She shouted at the world
(no differently than she shouted first thing every morning
no matter how pooped she might have been
put to bed the night before).
Except that on this particular morning she swept herself up
to her raging ways faster than a dust-devil:
"Where is she!? Where is she!? Where is she!?"
Her shrill shouts echoed across the Royal Palace
from the tip of its tallest tower to the chicken coop
outside (where it sent the roosters scurrying out
for the second time that morning to announce the dawn
thinking they had overslept), and not even bothering about
how she'd ended up in her bed
after having gone to sleep in the Royal Throne Room
the night before:
"Coming, Your Majesty! Coming!"
The Royal Maids and Man-Servants (who had put to bed
everybody they had found asleep in the Royal Throne Room
the night before) streamed in screaming
... that they had put up the little bog girl
they had discovered sleeping in the Royal Throne Room
(unacceptably close to the slumbering Prince)
in a room at the Palace--all expenses paid.
"You mean she's still here!?" The infuriated Queen cried,
so violently that she blew away a number of the Royal Maids
(and even a couple of the Royal Man-Servants)
with her... morning breath, as they were trying to calm her down
by boasting how they had furnished the tiny room
in which they had 'stored' the girl
with but one rotting old mattress
--which they would burn after their 'guest' checked out
... the minute the Queen gave the word (without giving it
--the mattress-- a second thought).
"Then it wasn't just some horrible nightmare
I was having!" The Queen mumbled bitterly,
beginning to recall the whole horrible episode now.
Well, horrible except for the part where Little Angel Face
was tied to the tracks in front of her
--Only, that was the only part that had been a dream:
Then the Queen couldn't think straight any more
--at least not before her coffee: "How, how,
how," she bemoaned, "am I going to rid myself
of this dirty little--?" And then she noticed that
all the Royal Maids and most of Man-Servants were
... looking at her:
"What are you staring at?" She asked them
--so unexpectedly that in their surprise
every last man and woman of them jumped in the air
right where each of them stood
like a mass hiccup
and then fell back to the floor with their backs already facing the Queen
(so she could bemoan the little bog girl in privacy).
But no matter how hard the Queen thought the matter through,
she just couldn't find any way to rid herself of Little Angel Face
except by continuing to squeeze and to squeeze out
every last likenesses she had in her... until she was finally
all squeezed out altogether out of the Royal Palace:
"Where is she?! Where is she?! Where is she?!"
She demanded: "Where is this... Little Angel Face?!"
And, "Well, wake her up! Wake her up! Wake her up!"
She hollered when the Royal Maids and Man-Servants actually
managed to get through to her what they'd done with her.
"I 'recommend,'" she said, "that all you lazy
good-for-nothings," (the Royal Maids and Man-Servants
frozen in place in front of her), "immediately wake her up
so she can get on with her tally of likenesses
--the sooner to rid ourselves of her.
And scrounge up that ugly little Royal Score Keeper too,
by the way," she added: "Wherever he's holed up!"
Although, "Only," the Queen was very emphatic about this:
"Only AFTER the scummy swamp girl is first
taken out and plunged (preferably head-first)
into the most colossal bath anyBODY has EVER
been plunged into the entire history of baths!"
And if they had any doubts about where
the little bog girl's colossal bath stood
among the colossal baths of history
they were to look up the record in the Royal Library
(because the Queen was determined that Little Angel Face's bath
set the most colossal record of all).
After which, at the Royal Maids' and Man-Servants' discretion,
they could follow the thing up with the usual complimentary
colossal change of clothes
(into something... cooler, of course).
"You understand?" She asked the Royal Maids and Man-Servants.
And in a flash they all let her know they DID indeed understand
by rushing off to carry out her 'recommendations'
as if the devil was after them with red hot pokers
(for straw) all bundled up in bunches like brooms
... and dusting their behinds.
And this was precisely the frame of mind still driving them
when they burst into Little Angel Face's itty bitty closet
of a room (with just the one rotting old mattress in it
--if you didn't count Little Angel Face herself on it)
just as she was waking up amid wonderful fresh clouds
of blue blankets--which quickly dissolved
into a ripped-up old curtain
somebody had tossed over her for pity's sake.
And without bothering to knock or anything:
They simply smashed right through the door,
shattering it at once with every steel pick and emergency axe
they were able to pick up along the way
while racing on their way there
--For so eager were they to follow the Queen's 'recommendations'
that apparently they didn't even wish to run the risk
they might not be able to instantly find the key to her room
if they were to search for it.
They simply pushed their way into the tiny room
and scooped up the still quite sleepy would-be princess
right off that rotting old mattress
(as effectively if she had been a pancake lying there
and they a troop of spatulas come to life--and after her):
Up, up, up, and then down, down they, the Royal Maids,
plunged her then (head-first) into the hot bath
which the Royal Man-Servants had (just an instant before)
finished preparing for her before leaving
the rest of the Royal record-setting attempt
to the Royal Maids alone, exactly
as per the Queen's instructions.
And whether it was because she was still so sleepy
or simply because it was her nature not to whine about things,
Little Angel Face hardly complained about was happening
around her and to her--And not even when
the Royal Maids were already half into doing everything in their power
so her bath was the dang'nest bath anybody had ever had
in the entire history of baths:
Up and down and in and out and 'round
and around every whichway imaginable and even theoretical
the Royal Maids scrubbed her--all over the place:
She had never been in so much hot water!
Then, after the Royal Maids were satisfied
that they had scrubbed the dickens out of her
(and had thoroughly rinsed her as well
--heads up and heads down), and scrubbed
and rinsed her again for good measure:
then, as instantly as they were getting everything else done
that morning, the Royal Maids ushered her, still piping hot
(at the top of her voice, for the experience
was quite a skin-tingling shock to the poor girl)
.... back into her tiny broom closet of a room.
In there, before she even had a chance
to begin to try to understand what was happening to her,
they then combed her (with quite unimaginable energy),
made her up (in reality), dressed her backwards and frontwards,
and sideways as well (or better) in quite stunning new clothes
... inside which they then propped her up
in front of the first full-length mirror she had ever faced in her life
(which the Man-Servants had just finished rolling in for the occasion).
"Did we do it?"
All the worn out Royal Maids in charge of the soaps
asked the nervous Royal Man-Servants in charge of the clocks,
while everybody held their breaths, the dust settled,
and their time was checked against the oldest records
in the dustiest and most ancient books
they had found in the Royal Library...
"Yes!" Said the Royal Man-Servants
in charge of the ancient books
the instant they finished running all their dusty fingers
through the Royal Library's extensive chronicles
of historically colossal baths.
"Thank Goodness!" They all sighed.
And some of them, Royal Man-Servants
no less than Royal Maids, some of them even fainted dead away
when told how nip and tuck it had all come in
and they had to be carried off
the same way they themselves had carried on
with Little Angel Face.
Meanwhile, screaming wide-awake now for the first time
that morning (and as scared-clean as a whistle to boot),
Little Angel Face was peering wide-eyed into the full-length mirror
which had been wedged into that tiny room, somehow,
and thought she saw in it
... what very much looked like
herself staring back out at her!
"Oh my!" Only, the version of herself in the mirror
was completely dressed in clothes so unused
that they had never even been touched by human hands!
(Something which amazes people to this day
--how they might have been sewn together.)
And she wasn't the only one staring
at that brand new version of herself either:
None of the Royal Maids or Man-Servants (who had
so recently treated her no better than a dish-washer treats
a dirty dish), none who now so much as glanced at her
could keep from bursting out with:
"But, good grief! She's gorgeous!"
Because it turns out that all along
the rest of Little Angel Face had been as angelic
as was her face. And what a shock this was
to all who had only known the load of mud
she'd been hiding under till then
... and now got a look at the rest of her
down to the very skin of her:
"My goodness!" Now she was a vision
right out of Paradise in every eye staring at her
(as every one of them immediately acknowledged):
"Boy, are first impressions deceiving!"
Now every nose that skirted anywhere near
the freshly laundered young lady in front of that full-length mirror
moved its owner to instantly testify:
"She smells like Heaven itself!"
(And without being subpoenaed.)
For the Royal Maids had spared no pains
--especially to her-- sprucing her up
and then had run off with her and dunked her
in some of the Palace's biggest and most expensive vats
of perfume before sticking her back into her tiny room.
And this gawking was something so many of the Royal Maids
(and especially the Royal Man-Servants) were up to
while swirling about her like drops in a whirlpool
... that after a while the Head Royal Maid
and the Head Royal Man-Servant were forced to get together
and forbid the rest of them from exercising their noses
anywhere near her (after which they also had to
make them stop staring at her), and finally
it was all they could do just to shoo everybody out of the way
in order to get the girl down to breakfast!
* * *
Certainly the change in Little Angel Face could not have been greater.
And yet, in spite of how well the once gunky girl had scrubbed up
(into quite a spectacularly lovely and graceful-looking young lady
in fact--not only cleaned up as she was, but
as gracefully dressed as Happiness itself
and as sweet-scented as the greatest of pleasures)
... believe it or not, that grouchy old Queen still
stubbornly refused to see or to even so much as chance a whiff
of the now so joyfully pure young lady!
Exactly as if Little Angel Face were still bundled up
in her swampy old muck and mud
(and wearing her same old tattered set
Queen Phlofie continued to pinch her nose shut
and to breathe through her mouth like a drowning fish
whenever the now head-to-toes neat, clean,
and so very perfumed girl wandered too close to her
--Not knowing what she was now missing.
"Please," she would even complain
in a thin nasal voice: "We're eating here!"
But she was the only one there doing so,
because, as if by magic, the most sought-after dish
at the Royal Breakfast Table that morning
was nothing less than Little Angel Face herself:
Everyone (obviously, with the exception of the Queen),
everyone now was doing everything they could
to get as close as possible to the newly minted young woman,
as, those not rushing in for the sweet pleasure of her
new perfumed self were busily flocking to her side
just for the sheer rare privilege of being able to sit that close
to someone who was able to bring such beauty to life
--especially to their lives-- something which
indeed comforted a great many of them a great deal.
No one who set eyes on Little Angel Face that morning
could bear to tear them away again (and
don't try it at home either): Not for a moment!
So glorious a job had the Royal Maids done
(and without the Royal Man-Servants)
of scrubbing out of her hide
everything she'd been concealing.
No one, that is, except the Queen...
"Do go on! Go on! Go on!"
The uncompromising monarch kept demanding
of the now so very preciously pure young lady
on whose good side the entire Court seemed now to be
scrambling to get (and finding it easy to do so because,
frankly, there just didn't seem to be a bad side to the girl).
The Queen, however, absolutely refused to see
past the smelly mucky image she was still carrying
inside her own muddled head
(of a 'once' so tacky little bog girl),
and no matter how bowled over everybody else was
by her clean new looks and bright-eyed and perfumed personality:
In fact all the attention the girl was now getting
only made the Queen even angrier with her.
But now the King was probably the most impressed
person there. Closely followed by his otherwise always slow to follow
Royal Valet Mukos, as well as every one of the Royal Waiters
and Waitresses on duty that morning, and all
of the Royal Maids (and especially the Man-Servants),
the Royal Guards, and even Drizzel--whom the Queen
had expected to prove himself more loyal to her
--and then the Royal Sage, both the Duke d'Dude
and his (second) Duchess Dudessa, the good Lady Fynn-Ghers
and the merry Archduke Desi de Quba, Lady Cuss-Cuss,
Lord Gary O'Larry, the Marquis Mee, Sir Err,
and the great General Rhee-Hearsal-Onlea, Madame Fourthwindow,
and the rest of them in every sort of assorted order--
Even the Royal Sage (who was so ancient
that it was said of him that he had gotten ahead of everybody else
in the heads department
because way back when he'd been born
people hadn't even grown heads yet),
even the Royal Sage wiped his spectacles that morning
in order to get a clearer look at Little Angel Face.
All the Royal Dish-Washers kept waltzing in and out
of the Royal Kitchen that morning too
(more than they had ever done before)
just to peek at the young beauty
in spite of every effort to keep them in the Royal Kitchen.
While all the pastry chefs could talk about was
the many ways they were proposing to
model their cookie cutters after her.
And it didn't stop there, for her magic
also seemed to be having its effect on every rank
(of) aristocrat at the breakfast table that morning,
as well as a great many more Royal Guests
who kept dropping by the Royal Breakfast Room
with every imaginable sort of rash... and flimsy excuse
(to get a good whiff of the suddenly so spiffy young woman).
And, naturally, the Prince was way ahead of the rest of them.
But at the Royal Breakfast Table itself:
"We haven't got all day, you know!"
The Queen reminded the now face-to-toes squeaky clean
and heavenly perfumed girl: "What are you waiting for?!"
Just her tone of voice was enough to let everyone know
how determined she was to force the would-be princess
to continue delivering up her likenesses
exactly where she'd left off.
So, "Very well, Your Majesty,"
the Queen was very sweetly answered
by the still somewhat dazed (and very whittled-down
to her most dazzling) young girl
just now fully waking up to the heavenly reality
of all those wonderful new clothes like clouds
floating around her body as if they too
now loved her even above the skies!
"Cambuchia!" So 'unused' was the wonderfully misty dress
the Royal Maids had poured her into
that no matter how hard she tried she couldn't find
even the tiniest patch anywhere on them
--or so much as even the smallest smudge!
But, "We are waiting," said the Queen.
So, "Tarts!" Little Angel Face recovered
enough of her wits to reply to the peevish Queen:
"Tarts!" Picking up the tally of her likenesses
off the cuff exactly where she had trailed off
to sleep the night before.
"Ha!" The Queen cried out excitedly
when she heard that. Boasting triumphantly:
"There I've got you!" Chewing her food so furiously
in her mindless glee ("I've got you there for sure!")
that her rattling dentures soon had the Royal Waiters under the table
trying to find the leg that was shorter than the others!
"What are you people doing down there, may I ask?"
The Queen was just as quick to get excited over them:
"Get out! Get out! Get out!! Get out!!!"
Which they did so instantly
that one could have even questioned whether they had
ever been down there at all. (In any case,
everybody's legs seemed to be about the same length all around.)
"Princie may be a lot of things," Drizzel was
assuring everybody, "but he certainly is no tart!"
"I meant for breakfast, Your Majesty,"
the now spotlessly polished little bog girl told the Queen:
"Don't you see?" Giggling so deliciously
as she pointed out to her how, "We're both polishing off
tarts for breakfast!" (It even enhanced the appetite
of everyone who heard her being so happy.)
Except... "Oh, for Heavn--!"
The Queen stuffed her mouth with her great big displeasure
at the sight of everyone else there
eating right out of the young girl's hand.
(After all, it was the Queen's table.)
"I've never seen such common manners!"
And so, "Rats!" The Queen muttered bitterly,
pounding her fist (which by every right in the world
everybody should have been eating out of
on 'her' table) at the biting turn of events
with much force that she really made the table cockeyed now.
Nevertheless, "Rats for the Queen's breakfast!"
All of the Royal Waiters and Waitresses
immediately sallied forth screaming yelling (along with
some of the Little-Angel-Face-gawking cooks
and even a number of startled guests as well).
In fact a whole minor mob jumped up at once
like a finely drilled troop of circus fools
(scared out of their wits), and scrambled off
like scurrying cats rolling eggs
after exactly how the Queen took her rats for breakfast
--Only the order was practically straightaway changed.
"Only one zillion (minus 283,701) likenesses to go now!"
Lord Newt wrote down all these matched tarts and racing rats
and mishmash in his official scoring capacity
(after a long rubberband stretch of his every last little limb).
A stretch he then followed up with a bottomless yawn
... at the tail end of which he shook off a half a hundred or so
of the shivers he'd stored up on every inch of his
still quite cold-blooded body (during his stay
in the hole he'd ended up holed up in
... until the Royal Maids and Man-Servants dug him up out of it):
"Pardon, Your Majesty!" He apologized
and passed the Royal Jelly to the King,
who quickly began sticking it all over his own
already quite thickly jammed tarts
--Until even the most self-indulging sweet-toothed lord and lady
watching him going at it rattled to the root
as terribly as if the King had been grinding them down
with sugar-coated drills!
What a sight! Everybody watched it entranced
--except the Prince, who, sitting in front of Little Angel Face
like a goldfish blowing bubbles in his bowl,
was still stunned by how wonderfully his once gunky beloved
had been steam-pressed out of her chrysalis-like mud shell
And all he could do now was to devour every last detail of her
with his tongue (hanging out of his mouth).
Until, "Let's watch those tongues!"
The Queen cried out, with such fervor it even knocked over
the castle of jelly the King had been busily building up
(with his own tongue hanging out of his mouth).
"We both have excellent finger-licking manners as well,"
the now almost too sweet-to-bear princess-to-be snickered,
making little angel faces at the owl-eyed Prince
(and he at her) over all the King's jellied ruins
bespattered across half the table.
"Now only one zillion (minus 283,702) likenesses to go,"
Lord Newt scored this round of finger-licking manners
(rather matter-of-fact by now, as a matter of fact).
"Thumbs!" Little Angel Face decided to point out to everybody
next, making them look up at the ceiling anyway.
And, "One zillion (minus 283,703) likenesses now,"
Lord Newt announced, scoring all four of their
exactly and identically matching thumbs
at once (rather routinely).
"Pinkies!" she then said, proudly linking hers
across the table with the Prince's.
"Now only one zillion (minus 283,704) likenesses,"
Lord Newt scored their pinkies.
And soon it was all going again so quickly (both her likenesses
and their eating) that it looked like a ping-pong race
with everybody turning their heads in the direction of Lord Newt
immediately after Little Angel Face finished off one of her likenesses,
and then back to her, then back to him, and back and forth again
and again until everybody's necks snapped, crackled
and popped with a dozen cramps!
"Are we going to have to go through every one
of their fingers?" The Royal Sage protested
(to earn his place at the Queen's table).
Hearing which: "Hair!" Said Little Angel Face
(bowing to the political pressure).
And, "Fib!" Cried the Royal Soups Server at this,
quite unexpectedly. But realizing he wasn't there in his official
cook capacity (although almost on the brink of bursting into tears)
he quickly collected himself (over a pitcher of creme),
apologized, and left the room, head held high--After all,
this being but breakfast, it was almost certainly none of his.
"Oh, not every hair," Drizzel pleaded, "I beg you!"
Sniffling into one of his dainty handkerchiefs (as was his habit
even while eating): "Not every last single little hair on them!"
"Don't worry, sir," Little Angel Face assured
the sorry-looking Royal Brother-to-the-Queen:
"Only the big, big long ones. You know
... those few hairs which are identically and exactly the same
on our two heads."
"Humph!" Mukos groaned: "I see this may take some time!"
Which indeed it did (take time), as on and on
throughout what was left of the Court's Royal Breakfast
Little Angel Face continued breaking her fast (and everybody's appetite
--at least for likenesses):
"We both wear buttons;
and we both wear clothes.
"We both have two holes
(each) up the nose!"
While all the time she was at it
the Royal Score Keeper Lord Newt kept after
each and every one of her likenesses
with his always official and cold-blooded: "One zillion,"
(minus such-and-such), "likenesses!"
And, "One zillion (minus 285,384) likenesses only!"
Followed by, "Only one zillion (minus 285,385) likenesses
still to go now," and et cetera they both continued
with their racing rising tally of them.
* * *
And continued, and continued without a break
to the very sour conclusion of the Royal Court's Royal Breakfast
... not a person there showing any sign that she (or they)
might have been thinking of giving in any time soon:
Every last one of them seemingly absolutely (almost
brutally and viciously) committed to seeing this
whole unlikely matter through to the bitter end
--no matter how long it took
(or how much sugar they might have to put on it).
* * *
So it continued even into the very solemn ritual
of the Royal Court's noontime daily Dip in the Royal Pool
after their overly sugared breakfast had come to its inconclusive
but definitely sour end, everybody's plates and sugar dispensers
had been taken away from them, and enough time was allowed
for the lumpy mess to settle in (and most of them
had come out of their sugar comas too):
"Toes!" Little Angel Face squealed from the diving board,
twiddling all hers at everyone.
After which, naturally, the Prince also felt that he too
had to twiddle all his identically and exactly alike toes as well.
"NOW," boomed Lord Newt: "ONLY ONE ZILLION
(MINUS 449,226) LIKENESSES STILL TO GO!"
Booming it immediately after all this twiddling
(through a very blaring Royal Loud Speaker he had hired
to boom the current score while he himself was busy
taking a breather, and a dip, with all the super/and/sub royals,
in the pool--since he certainly didn't want to risk
any undue shocks to his system).
He was, at any rate, down at the shallow end of the Royal Pool
(which was abnormally set aside for 'The Shallow People'
... those not of the royal blood, by the way,
not those who like Lord Newt couldn't touch bottom
with their toes), while constantly having to fight
the mistaken impression that he was a pool toy:
"Kneecaps!" Little Angel Face called out next,
pointing out hers for everybody.
A display of kneecaps which was instantly followed by
the Royal Score Keeper's very blaring Royal Loud Speaker
echoing after her with a great big booming:
"ONLY ONE ZILLION (MINUS
449,227) LIKENESSES TO GO NOW!"
Of which the ugly little bobbing-about Lord Newt
so heartedly approved that he immediately ordered up
a very hearty soda for his big-mouth employee
Nevertheless, "If I have to hear another part of the body,"
the King whispered to the Royal Sage: "I shall cringe!"
While the two of them were bobbing up and down next to each other
on inflated mats (because while those at the Royal Pool
not of the royal blood were allowed inflatable mats,
only those with truly blue blue blood there
were permitted to bob about on the inflated ones)...
"Nightcaps!" Little Angel Face pointed out next to every
body bobbing about all over the Royal Pool.
"Thank heavens for that," gurgled Drizzel,
very much relieved as he blotted his brow
with still one more of his apparently numberless dainty
handkerchiefs (this one a dry one) and went bobbing about
over his own inflated mat:
"I was almost ready to cringe myself!"
Then the very blaring Royal Loud Speaker boomed:
"NOW ONLY ONE ZILLION (MINUS
449,228) LIKENESSES TO GO!"
And Lord Newt astonished all the Royal Pool Attendants
with his talent for slurping sodas without benefit of a straw
... even picking up his grub with it
from a considerably scary distance away as well.
"Ah!" The Queen laughed wickedly at all this
while she herself went about bobbing all over the Royal Pool
in the middle of the water chaos over her own Queen-sized
and overly-inflated mat (although she always made certain
she kept herself down at the deeper truly, truly blue
... blood end of the Royal Pool,
and well away from 'The Shallow People'):
"Now she only has one zillion (minus 449,228) likenesses
to go!" Laughing very, very wickedly indeed
(and making a great big splash down at the deep end):
"Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha...!!!"
The BIG Cringe.
And yet, in spite of all the flashy splashing about,
only the Queen (and possibly maybe the Royal Score Keeper,
because it seemed to his fellow aristocrats that he
acted a little bit too much as if he might be enjoying
his small gig as a 'sub' sub-lord)
... only he and the Queen seemed able to take
the girl's interminable tally of likenesses
without shrinking from it
as instantly as snowflakes from a flame.
Everyone else there... the King, the Royal Sage,
all of the Royal Maids and Man-Servants, the Royal Pool Attendants,
the Royal Guards and the Royal Lifeguards,
all the Royal Inflation Experts, Mukos and Drizzel,
Lord Gary O'Larry, both the Duke d'Dude and his (second) Duchess
Dudessa, the good Lady Fynn-Ghers, Lady Cuss-Cuss,
the Marquis Mee, Sir Err, and the great General Rhee-Hearsal-Onlea,
the merry Archduke Desi de Quba, Madame Fourthwindow,
the Count d'Krud, and even the Royal Score Keeper's
Royal Loud Speaker (himself an even lower form of lord
than the ugly little boss he worked under), and a couple of local lads,
Goby Seal and Karp MacEel by name, who
having no business whatever bobbing about the Royal Pool,
were very quickly fished out of it and shipped on their way
(as well as all of the rest of the ladies and lords there)
had actually started to physically (visibly) cringe
with each and every likeness they heard coming
out of the mouth of Little Angel Face:
[Cringe!] Just like that!
In fact, by now even a deaf man would have been able to predict
when the next likeness was about to be dropped on their heads
just from the way the whole crowd would start hunkering down
in hopes of surviving the next incoming likeness
Little Angel Face was about to lob at them--
But still it continued... on and on like that
all through the whole compulsory round of Royal Croquet
(which was normally played after the Royal Court's optional
Royal Dip in the pool come what may),
with Little Angel Face continuing to sprout likenesses
as easily as if she'd been growing crabgrass
all over the playing lawn... and with every indication
("Egads!") that even if she sprouted millions and millions of them
for every last hair on every last head there
she's still not reach the end of her supply of them:
"Handicaps!" [Cringe!] Because everybody has some.
(Didn't you know!) Almost immediately followed by,
"Regular caps!" [Cringe!] The ones on top of all the bald heads
who might be better off with them on
(as it was becoming unnervingly apparent to everybody
that there might never be an end to them,
and large numbers of folks had already started losing their hair
over it--as if in sympathy with that very scary thought).
And it was no comfort at all to her listeners
that Little Angel Face never once came up with
a solitary, "Madcap!" Or a, "Hubcap" (even). Or a lousy,
"Recap!" (whatever, either). Or even one solid, "Retread!"
Because unfortunately for everybody there to hear her,
or there for some other reason,
she still turned up a mouthful of, "Tooth caps!" [Cringe!]
Along with a long, long laundry list of other likenesses like that
(and absolutely, totally unlike that as well).
Ever as always with, "One zillion (minus 700,003) likenesses,"
after each one of them. And, "One zillion (minus
700,004) likenesses!" And any number more of them
that Lord Newt kept scoring officially
in his Royal Official Score-Keeping Book:
"Only one zillion (minus 700,005) likenesses to go now--"
(Et cetera.) As if by magic always managing to keep
just a step behind Little Angel Face. An achievement
he was so proud of that he annoyed everybody there with it
no end--Not a single hot-headed aristocrat of whom
ever had liked him to begin with, and every one of whom now
out-and-out hated him with a passion, I dare say.
But so it continued, anyway, on and on like that
throughout the Royal Court's Royal Lunch
(after the Royal Dip in the Royal Pool
and even throughout the pick-up Royal Croquet Match afterwards):
"Bread and butter!" [Cringe!]
And even so all through the Royal Court's afternoon Royal Game
of Canasta: "We've all told little white lies
--now, haven't we!" [Cringe!]
And throughout the Royal Dinner
(on the evening of the second day) too.
Only, this meal was served in the Official formal
Royal Dinning Room (proper), because by now
not even the Queen believed any longer that it would all be over
and done with inside the next few likenesses or so
the little bog girl with an apparently infinite supply of likenesses
in her belly was serving up to them:
"We both chew our food, don't we!" [Cringe!]
And on and on... until it was everybody's Royal Bedtime again,
even as Little Angel Face was still busily reciting
her likenesses (ever as always), and (always as ever)
followed by those [Cringe! Cringe!] cringes,
as everyone stood in front of her quite beside themselves:
"Pajamas!" and "Pajamas!" and "Pajamas!" And,
[Cringe! Cringe! Cringe!] As the crowd took their eyes off her
only long enough to stare at their ugly little Royal Score Keeper
in disbelief while he kept echoing her:
"One zillion (minus 852,852) likenesses!"
Then, "Only one zillion (minus 952,953) likenesses!"
And, "Now just one little zillion (minus 1,222,222) likenesses
still to go--only," (not all that long after that),
as everybody just stared at him, then at her, at him. And...
[Cringe! Cringe! Cringe! Cringe!]
Until a number of them were ready to swear
that Little Angel Face was chirping her likenesses
like a flushed canary (and Lord Newt was barking after them
like a dog)... throughout all that whole next day,
and the day after the next one, and--
[Cringe! Cringe!] Cringe!]
The terrible business of the likenesses continued for days and days,
always exactly and identically the same as always:
Then for the rest of the days after all of the rest of the days
after every last day from then on
without even a day of rest (whatsoever),
as if it would always continue this way
forever and forever afterwards!
Including, as well, throughout every single night
they stayed up for it as well
--Every blessed one of which they all spent
not very well at all:
* * *
And all, all, all (of it)
nearly exactly and identically
as if their torture-by-likenesses,
which everybody now blamed entirely on the Queen
alone (convinced, every last one of them,
that her bargain with Little Angel Face
was what was condemning them to this for all eternity,
probably, every last one of them convinced
that it would never ever come to an end).
Any end whatsoever. And not even
when the end finally came--if ever one did!
But it continued, mercilessly: "One zillion
(minus 2,300,003) likenesses!" And, "One zillion (minus
2,300,004) likenesses!" And, "Now it's--" (Gasp!)
"Only one zillion (minus)," at this particular junction in time,
"(some 2,300,005) likenesses to go--Only!"
And, "to go," and, "to go," (it kept going),
only now almost exclusively driven onward
by the sheer stubbornness of a certain Queen
who (with each and every additional likeness they had to put up with
because of her) was slowly becoming
the most resented and detested person in the entire Kingdom
at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest. What with...
"We (both of us) brush our teeth.
And we (both of us) cut our nails."
[Cringe!] and [Cringe!] and
"We love the sweetest of the sweetest honey;
and the most golden of the fairy-tales!"
[Cringe!] and [Cringe!] and
"Now only one zillion (minus 3,400,004) likenesses to go,"
wrote the ever untiring ugly little Lord Newt
in his Royal Official Score-Keeping Book (his 850th book so far
... since by now he had a whole department of very, very
lowly-paid Royal Official Score-Keeping Bookkeepers
working under him): And Lord Newt never failed to write down
a single likeness Little Angel Face came up with
no matter how many books and bookkeepers he had to go through
to take down as many of them as it took:
"One zillion (minus 3,500,005) likenesses!"
And, almost right on the heels of that: "One zillion (minus 3,600,006)
likenesses," (ever and always like that) without end:
And so: "The two of us have tongues.
And the two of us have lungs.
(So we've both run over a ton of songs.)"
It went on, and went on (night in, night out,
day out, day in), from 'all the past's twinkles'
to 'all future wrinkles' (blinking in and out
of everyone's by now utterly, utterly bonked-out brains).
To 'crinkles with pink circles in them' and 'sugar and milk'
(which they both always had every morning
for breakfast--one hopes);
although he ate his with a spoon of gold
and all she had to dig into them with
was one made by a knobby oak.
But it continued so, in any case, down to 'the letters'
they'll both ever write or have (both) ever written
(with paper and ink). Or just 'using a sink'
(whether it was a sink wrought into a flawless masterpiece
by the great artist who was forced to work part-time
as the Royal Plummer or one beaten to a low rusty tin
by Time alone--having been lost until it was again unearthed
in that part of the bog on which people junked
their worn-out old things
and was then put to use again by Little Angel Face
and her eternally recycling kin).
As well as but 'checking the weather' (which they'd done
quite apart from each other but now did together). And
'using a feather' to tickle themselves (among many others) with.
And, oh! [Cringe!] [Cringe!] [Cringe!] [Cringe!]
Ever and always after anything and everything
which as if by magic seemed to be exactly
and identically the same about the two of them
... including the blowing of bubbles (of soap)
and the sucking on pickles:
[ B I G C r i n g e ! ]
The Waiting Game.
"Oh dear," moaned the Royal Sage
after he had listened to so many likenesses
that he was beginning to notice likenesses himself
between so many different things
that he was sure he would end up cracking under the pressure
almost identically and exactly like any other nut.
And, "Oh dear," moaned the King too,
holding on to his head with both hands (next to him),
certain the top of his head was going to pop off
(like the cork it had eerily started to resemble of late
exactly and identically)
at the very next likeness he heard.
After a while even cringing didn't help much:
"I can see this is REALLY going to take quite a long time!"
Drizzel wept into innumerable strips and shreds
of his once so very dainty (and now so very bitterly
parts of which were sticking half out of his ears
from his desperately having tried to block out:
"We both dot our i's.
And we both cross our t's.
"Yes, we both shell our nuts.
And we both tie our knots.
"And we both shut our eyes
(when we both sneeze... stuff)."
For so it continued to continue mercilessly
for friend and foe alike (with ears to hear this).
After each one of which, as always:
"Only one zillion (minus 4,873,481) likenesses
to go now!" Lord Newt could always be counted on
to keep the count of likenesses coming along:
So, "Now but one zillion (minus 5,457,992) likenesses!"
And (it seems) almost immediately thereafter:
"Just one little zillion (minus 6,700,020) likenesses now in all
to go..." (Only.) "Oh!" And so:
"The same hard breathing
takes us uphill.
"And the same cold snow
gives us both quite a chill.
"The same hushed interval
holds us as still!
"And every matching moment
fires us like a magic wheel!
In any case, "One zillion (minus 7,443,447) likenesses,"
Lord Newt quickly followed up
with his just as interminable tallying up of them
... walking everywhere after Little Angel Face
like a guardian angel come to earth to record
every likeness that poured forth out of her
like Heaven's victories (in case there should be any question
among 'the mortals'
about exactly how many of them she had produced):
And so, "One zillion (minus 8,571,775) likenesses,"
he announced, always making sure to write it up
in his Royal Official Score-Keeping Book.
And, before anybody knew it, it was already:
"One zillion (minus 9,900,011) likenesses."
And not long after: "Only one zillion (minus 10,300,023)
likenesses still to go!" Always and always:
"None of our teeth are that easily extractable.
All of our garbage is as equally compactible."
"One zillion (minus 15,443,447) likenesses!"
And, "One zillion (minus 16,571,775) likenesses!"
And no matter how unimaginable it was
that Little Angel Face had already come up with so many
likenesses... so many likenesses had they already
heard her come up with
that no one even gave a second thought
to the quite unimaginable miracle it was
for her to be able to come up with so many of them.
They just stood around her staring straight ahead in a stupor
as if completely out of touch with everything about them,
including Time itself...
"Our tempers are not always retractable.
Our colds are all readily contractible."
Immediately on top of every one of which
Lord Newt was (always) only too glad to report to all:
"One zillion (minus 17,900,011) likenesses!"
And, "One zillion (minus 18,900,012) likenesses!"
And, "Now only one zillion (minus
19,300,023) likenesses to go!" (Et cetera.)
"Each one of us is but just only one." (Very obviously.)
"Yet we've both done all each one of us's done!"
(Wonder of wonders!) It went on like this
as if it might have been going on this way
since the very beginnings of the world:
"Sometimes both of us have lost.
Sometimes both of us have won..."
And so on and so on!
"At times we have been quite glum.
And yet look at how glad we've become!
And so on and so on...
[Cringe! Cringe! Cringe!]
Second by second, minute by minute,
hour by hour, and day by day, night, day
(and then night and day again
--because soon it made no difference at all any longer
to anyone)... on and on without a break
or even a hope that anybody then living
would ever live long enough to see the end of it--!
"We have both been spooked;
and we've both been rebuked."
Finally poor King Duddol just couldn't take
one single more likeness (nor could practically anybody else
with the possible exception of the Queen,
who seemed to be able to take anything
as long as she could give a little of it back to Little Angel Face):
"We have both put in our mouths
things so spoiled that we've Puk--"
Only, unlike the rest of them, the King
could legally do something about it!
Which he did:
One day, which later historians
would never be able to nail down
(exactly which particular day it'd been
because, caught in the eternal spell of likenesses,
apparently all the inhabitants of the Kingdom
at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest
--down to the dog and the cat--
had lost track of Time itself,
so centuries might have passed)...
"Oh! No more, please!" King Duddol finally broke down
and wept precipitously on the shoulder of Mukos
his startled (but now very coolly rushing to get a
bit mushy himself) Royal Valet,
because he just couldn't take any more likenesses
any more--And no matter what (Queen or no Queen):
"Please!" The King fell on his Royal Knees
before Little Angel Face
(and in front of the entire Royal Court too),
pleading: "Oh! No more likenesses!
Please! No more!! No More!!!"
Then, "Yes!" Suddenly
even that supercilious Royal Chamberlain Drizzel
followed his King's lead and dropped to his own dainty knees
in front of Little Angel Face weeping as well
(or nearly), while also begging her to cease:
"I don't like likenesses! No, sir!" He wept
(even as he was stacking a couple of handful of
his dainty handkerchiefs, one neat little pile of them
under each one of his knees, to cushion
his fallen pride): "Uncle! Uncle! Uncle!"
Not caring one whit any longer
whether she married his nephew the Prince.
Immediately upon which (not all that astonishingly)
the ladies and lords who had been standing behind
the King and his Royal Chamberlain also began weeping
along with them and falling to their knees too
(although there weren't enough cushions
for every dropping aristocratic knee)...
Right away many additional lords and ladies followed
after the lords and ladies who were tearfully dropping
to their knees in front of them; and then more of them
followed after those ladies and lords,
and more followed them, and more, more, until
practically every lady and lord there
was on his or her knees and weeping like whips of rain.
Except the Queen, naturally.
Only none of the ladies or lords of the Kingdom
at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest
very much cared now what the Queen said or did:
A number of the more desperate weepers
(backed up by an even greater number of
the most eager of the pre-weepers)
even went as far as to sweep the Queen completely out
of their way in their rush to go weep on their knees
(with a loud and salty swell which sent the Queen
all the way to the back of the crowd
as it pushed forward with everybody in it trying to kneel
as close in front of Little Angel Face as possible).
Of course, by now even the deaf Royal cats
along with all of the Royal Rats, Royal
Cockroaches, Royal Guests (and every other kind and class
of Royal Vermin in residence at the Palace)
had already run out of the place in tearful packs
of packed everybodies. Leaving so suddenly
they wouldn't even stay long enough to pack
their clothes' sacks:
Most of them just 'took' some of the dainty handkerchiefs
Drizzel had squirreled away throughout the Royal Palace
(the tell-tell 'remainder' of his pilfering days
of working at... daintily folding them),
and left with all their whatever trinkets
wrapped up leakily in those:
Every last one of them trailing strips, ribbons
and rags of cloth of every shape and description
stuffed in their ears as they went
... looking like festive streamers fingering the breeze behind them
while they were running off
more pressed than a parade without a legal permit.
Naturally the sight of that mass escape
left all those who could not leave with them
(everybody now on their knees there weeping)
feeling even worse.
And once their dams (of tears) burst over their awful fate,
they all wept with such a passion ("Oh! Please!
Please! Please!") that it seemed as if they could have
matched tear for tear on a one-to-one basis
against every likeness Little Angel Face had
already furnished them--or was likely to furnish to them
in the future, even if she kept up her furniture
for all time to be! (Well, you know what I mean.)
Even gummy-eyed Mukos was watered-logged
with tears now just like Everybody (else) Who Was
The Least Anybody there, including every other
Royal Whatnot Whatever, every one of whom
had been trying to protect themselves from the storm
of likenesses by sticking their fingers in their ears;
and not just a few of whom swore
they had even caught a glimpse of a tear-shaped dust ball
struggling to moisten the Royal Sage's 100-years-old eyes!
"Forgive us! O forgive us!" They all wept
in unison (except for the stone-eyed Queen,
who, left high and dry
by everybody else's rising tide of surrender,
was forced to cool her wrath at the back
of the beaten crowd of supplicants).
Well, she and the cold-blooded ugly little knee-high Lord Newt,
of course: He too just stood there dried-eyed,
but unlike the Queen, he was warming his diminutive delight
--not so much on the defeeting of the entire upper crust
of the Kingdom at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest
... as on his goddaughter's own seemingly
so absolute and total victory.
* * *
Still, "Your Majesty," Little Angel Face was then telling
King Duddol and the rest of the pitiful sobbing mob
of Royal Everybodies (and all the Lesser Royal Anyones)
whose hopes were now crushed by her,
"We are only just getting started!"
Frankly, distrusting the fickle nature of human promises,
Lord Newt was quite understandably worried
that if he allowed Little Angel Face to accept their surrender
too quickly the crowd might start thinking about taking it back.
So he at least was all for holding out a bit longer
(and maybe even for something more than just all-out victory).
And though he said nothing (because he really didn't have to,
you know), as far as he was concerned
everybody's torture by likenesses could continue
for as long as they liked:
"When we take to our kites
both our hearts join their flights."
And, "We both love to swim
on a night lake's moonbeam..."
"Please! No more," the King begged,
swearing it was no longer necessary for Little Angel Face
to continue letting loose with her excruciatingly endless
likenesses (every one of which felt by now to them
like lightning bolts flaying their skin):
"We give up! (Really we do!)"
Naturally, kind-hearted Little Angel Face tried
as hard as she could to quit. (Really! She did!
For that seemed the thing which would have most
comforted them.) But, much to her own surprise,
for some mysterious reason
likenesses after likenesses kept popping out of her mouth
no matter how hard she herself tried to hold them in!
"Maybe," she thought, right in the middle of
coming up with still another mouthful of likenesses:
"Maybe I've been going at it for such a long time
that now coming up with likenesses has
become as second nature to me as breathing!"
In any case, although the awful effect
her likenesses were having on everyone
was really very obvious to her,
there just didn't seem to be anything she could do about it:
"We have both been as slim;
and we've also been dim--"
It was truly a marvel to behold
(and a torture to have to listen to),
not just for those who by now realized that she was
indeed trying as hard as she could to stop
(without success, quite obviously);
it was also quite a marvel to the girl herself,
for whom it was one terrific mystery indeed
that she should still be sprouting likenesses this long after
even she herself wanted nothing as much as to stop doing it:
"If we both jump in a lake,
we both... get wet and ache!"
"Oh my!" The Royal Sage groaned,
as he waited atop his painfully arthritic knees
to take his turn weeping on the next shoulder
that became available:
"I wish they'd both jump in a lake and don't swim!"
Drizzel dribbled tearfully into one of the many dainty
handkerchiefs he still had left even after so many others
had left with so many of them (and feeling
a lot like jumping in a lake himself)
all the time Little Angel Face kept struggling to stop
herself from reciting likenesses like:
"We can both jump.
And we've both been quite plump.
And we've both been enlightened by a lump!"
With Lord Newt racing to keep up with her: "One zillion
(minus 44,663,660) likenesses. One zillion (minus
44,663,661) likenesses now. One zillion (minus 44,663,662)
likenesses --And," (etc.)
Until at last the King took his fingers out of his ears
(so he could be heard more clearly)
and finally commanded her to:
"Stop! Oh, stop! Stop!"
Something he did with such authority
that not even the so very skeptical (and ugly) little Lord Newt
could doubt any longer that he really meant it
and was surrendering.
Then and only then did the Royal Score Keeper
finally close his Royal Official Score-Keeping Book
(his latest) and set it aside.
Then, all at once, as if by magic
Little Angel Face finally got hold of herself
--and at last snapped her interminable string of likenesses!
Well, she did have to really hold back for a second or two:
And once or twice she was almost forced to gave in
and spit out a couple of them which were
almost on the tip of her tongue.
But it passed!
And, miracle of miracles (in every eye there):
"O, how marvelous!" (Was suddenly in every tongue there
too.) Along with numberless
and numberless, "Thank Heavens!"
And even a brief, "Cambuchia!" which sneaked in
from the kneeling aristocrats out of nowhere
(although the guilty aristocrat was never found out)
... because at last the little bog girl had shut her trap!
* * *
If there was anyone still standing after the terrible
trial-by-likenesses had concluded, now they too knelt
and gave thanks for their quiet deliverance
(for there was not a single soul there for whom
Little Angel Face's finally shutting up
was not as if the Sun having bravely broken through
after a monstrous storm of darkness which seemed to have
lasted for a thousand years or more).
Now in that precious silence
(like those eerie calms that always follow deafening blasts),
many a lord and lady were seen bawling
their tearful thanks to Heaven like newborns:
"Ah!!" They poured forth such a loud deluge of appreciation
for the marvelous peace and quiet
that birds fainted in the middle of their flights
thinking they had flown high enough to hear The Lord
being greeted in Heaven by the Angels!
Below: their deliverance was to everybody on their knees now
no less marvelous and momentous a historical event
than had they all been born a second time
--right there on the spot.
But, every one?
Where was the Queen while all this was going on?
Well, to begin with, in the infinite chaos of the moment
no one had bothered to look for her,
although she was very much right there in the thick of it
all this time. But then again, with just her two simple hands,
could she really have hoped to turn back the emotional tide
going against her singlehandedly?
In the end, so overwhelmed was the Queen
by everything that was taking place around her
that all she could do in the middle of the upheaval
sweeping the scummy little bog girl to the top
was to promise herself (with every ounce of stubbornness
she could yet forge in her flames-bubbling heart)
that not even were a thousand years to pass
would she ever consent to forgive Little Angel Face
the great victory she had scored against her that day!
But for now, though, without waiting a split second longer,
her own brother Drizzel rushed to take advantage
of the Kingdom's dry deliverance from the flood of likenesses
(which had practically wiped them out)
to run out, draw up, and then run back in again
(as quickly as one breathes in and out)
with a Royal Proclamation in hand
announcing the almost instantly-to-take-place Royal Marriage
between their Prince and Little Angel Face
... with the King's absolute, full and complete blessing.
PROVIDED, that is: Provided that they never again
had to listen to any more likenesses
between anything and anything else in this whole entire world
(for as long as anybody in said world
yet had fully-functioning ears on their heads):
Desperately and hurriedly, tremblingly:
Signed, His Most Royal Majesty...
And, oh, what a delightful wedding followed
Little Angel Face's great victory
(in spite of the haste with which it was all
slapped together--following the long, long wait
everyone had had to endure to finally get to it)...
At Last A Marriage To The Last.
Suddenly... red, gold, silver, blue and green reels
and innumerable runs and runs
of the Kingdom's most brilliant ribbons and finest bows
were whisked out and whipped up everywhere
as if out of nowhere, or spun up
and around and across every column and every wall
of the Palace as it was all joyfully garnished
with the sparkle of everyone's happiness
from its tallest towers and spires
and throughout every garden and hall
down to each open or enclosed spot in it and about it:
As instantly as if it had been so from the world's earliest
beginnings (and the Royal Palace had always existed
mid-stream many such unimaginably varied splendors),
the whole place quickly burst into a rainbowed gladness
spreading over everything and everyone
from the most popular porticos at its highest levels
down to the least travelled galleries below,
each one of which was gilt with a shimmering brightness now
that was like a fruity tangle of living vines
eternally overtaking them... until all were, every last one of them,
as pleasant a thousand ways to go about it
as if they had been all the ways there are to Heaven!
From the lofts to the commons
every square inch of space was soon overflowing
with snowstorms of petal and leaf in every living mood
and color: And, as suddenly as a word,
every least spot was weathered over warmly
with hundreds of different looks (at least)
... of the Summer's loveliest, here, or, of the purest Spring
ever, there, or ahead, of so beautiful and ripe an Autumn
as no real or imagined forest could ever have hoped to match.
Every bit of it for the pure enjoyment of everyone
who might walk through it all
taking his or her pick of its best.
From the highest arches and most daringly sweeping porticos
scooped out of the very air they floated over,
never were richer or more delicious beverages
sipped or served at a party:
Practically everywhere one looked
they all poured in multihued waterfalls
to douse the earth with their sweet golden nectars
and delicious pear-pearled streams
threaded around watermelon-red juices trickling through them
all as colorfully as individual liquid strings and streaks of light
... moistening the air with their tickling tinkling
until the entire atmosphere of the Palace felt
as sharp as a tearfully happy mist of mints.
Above flowed the world's sweetest scents
... each one of them become a bridge of fragrances
between every point and every other point
the wedding guests were invited to wander over
all through the full length and breadth of those
everywhere man-made gardens but by their inviting nature,
while cool mounds of mouth-melting treats
were laid out for everyone in so many unexpected places
that a blindfold was all a guest might need
to find his or her way to the feasts!
* * *
When the young couple came down to the Royal Throne Room
to take their vows in front of the assembled Court
... with splendor, pomp, and dignity this time
(exactly as Little Angel Face had always imagined it),
it seemed as if life itself were overflowing with
every attractive and delightful thing of size, shape, scent,
taste, color, elegance, fragrance, pageantry, distinction,
and variety that it was possible to stuff into
such a hastily arranged a wedding
that not a single morsel of the wedding cake
was ever given a chance to cool
before being set upon by any number of guests
(as soon as it was taken out of the oven).
And because people always feel better about acting goofy
when there's some music playing,
on Little Angel Face's Wedding Day
every last corner and nook of the Palace was lit up
with the most uplifting music ever to warm a human heart
--all of it, naturally, in a bright double time.
"Oh!" It simply drove the senses wild
to be even the smallest part of such a joyous celebration!
As for one golden moment in the Kingdom
at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest
all her citizens joined together to weave (out
of their very happiness) a living means
for Little Angel Face's secret wish to come true at last
on her wedding day
--as seamlessly as if it had been done by magic.
* * *
And what of the lords and ladies
who had behaved so rudely towards their new Princess
before she married their future King?
Not all that surprisingly, now every last one of them
went quite out of his or her way to honor their future queen
on her wedding day. (Surprise!) And no one spared any effort
to atone for the hard way they had been treating her:
To this end did every lady and lord of the Kingdom
at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest make himself or herself
every bit as splendid a pick that day
as if, flower after flower, an entire bouquet of them
were coming to life: All of the Kingdom's ladies turned up
like very becoming rosebuds
and all the Kingdom's lords like properly tuxedoed tulips:
All together they looked like living flowers
who had stepped out of some human flower-bed
in order to waltz at the wedding
of their Royal Prince and Princess!
Everyone was there, too:
That ever ugly little Lord Newt (who surprised everybody
by dancing more fabulously than even the noblest flower
there). And Mukos, who turned out to be
quite a smooth mamboler. While Drizzel the Royal Chamberlain
did a very quick one-two (here and there),
and then went straight to bed.
Even the Royal Head Waiter put in his one or two steps.
And so too did practically every other Royal servant
(sneak in a couple of steps), I'm sure.
The bride's parents were immediately sent for as well.
And not only were they very highly honored as guests
at their daughter's wedding--they also improved their humble lot
(at the very boggy edge of the forest)
into quite a bigger lot actually.
Even the Royal Sage himself moved
(when no one was looking, unfortunately, so no one
was able to tell exactly what it was he'd moved).
But Everyone Who Was Anyone
was in attendance at the wedding of the Princess Little Angel Face,
including even a couple of insurance salesmen
(who became annoyed with each other when they tried to tackle
the same wedding guest among the hundreds of guests there
--the Chevalier d'Shovelshere by name, himself
also in the funeral business
--and were both immediately booted out).
And the Queen:
Although she spent most of the time by herself
in an out-of-the-way corner quite bitterly muttering
under her breath--and being overheard by all
who were unlucky enough to have to dance
a couple of soured steps too close to where she was
spinning her muttering web (over every little this and that,
really, and most especially of all over
how painfully her dentures kept biting her lips).
But all in all, it was still a wedding like none ever seen before!
No matter how instantly it had all been cooked up, either,
for one never saw people so eager to marry off a young couple
and get them--out--on their way to a life of their own
in all the history of weddings: I mean, heavens,
one might have thought there was somebody in 'trouble'
somewhere in it! Which was not the case here at all.
And because instead of always arguing
about every last little everything they might have differed on
(like most couples) you just know
the new Princess and her Prince would always find
every possible way they were like-minded
... even this early in their story it's quite safe to state
that they spent the rest of their lives together happier
than most couples of any age ever manage to (frankly).
Best of all, because from then on
everyone in the Kingdom at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest
was always more than delighted to admit to everybody
else (who might bother them to ask about this)
that indeed people are a lot more like people
than they are like... just about anything else (other than people),
they were all greatly comforted from that day on
by the belief that no one in that ever-after happy Kingdom
would ever be forced to sit through any more of those
mind-boggling (and mind-numbing) likenesses
--Or so they thought, for people were a lot more
innocent back then.
Nevertheless, oh, how delighted were the gullible citizens
of the Kingdom at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest
on that one shinning evening
at the splendid wedding of their handsome young Prince
to the now forever officially Royal and loveliest princess
ever to wed... the Royal Princess Little Angel Face!
Well, everyone was delighted... with the obvious exception
of the Queen, for whom it had always been
a bit more complicated a matter
than just simply that so unfortunate first impression
the girl from the boggy edge of the forest
had made on everyone.
But why should she be that upset
that her only son had finally settled down
and married like every good little Prince should?
Well, for one, she had been powerless
to keep her son from marrying 'that awful bog girl'
because their marriage had been ordered by Royal Proclamation,
after all (apparently all those likenesses
had made everyone so desperate to get the wedding over
and done with that no one even bothered to ask the Queen
whether she too finally gave her blessing).
And for another thing, the Queen had by now
managed to convince herself that it was her right,
even her duty, to punish 'that uppity mud-headed greedy
little bog girl' for having 'dared' to marry her son
in spite of knowing how strongly his mother disapproved of it
--And no matter how gritty she was too.
Certainly the fact that all through the entire wedding
the Queen was giving every indications
that she was only fit to be tied
(and not to be asked whether she at last consented or not
to the marriage) might have contributed somewhat
to her not being asked. For if anybody had asked,
by thunder, whomever that person would have been
he or she would have very quickly learned that, indeed,
the Queen did not consent, thank you
(and not even one little bit):
And there was no question in the Queen's mind
that the new Princess perfectly well knew
exactly how she felt about the entire matter, either
--Or what other possible explanation
could (the scrubbed up for the occasion) girl
attach to the fact that every time she looked in the Queen's direction
the Queen always stuck her tongue out at her!?!
After all, "She may be very stubborn,"
the Queen fumed: "But she's not all that stupid
--I'll give her that much!" (Especially
after she had come up with all those likenesses.)
So, long after everyone else in the Kingdom
at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest had given their blessing
to the marriage (as well as accepted on principle
the fact that for all practical purposes there really is
no end to the ways everybody is just like everybody else)
that sour-toothed Queen was yet determined
to make the (ever-as-always to her) 'little bog girl'
stand by the very hard bargain
which had been forced upon her (especially by her):
And, "Oh!" (Popped into the poor girl's eyes
the instant the Queen informed her of this.)
For in her innocence the explanation she had attached
to the Queen's constantly having her tongue stuck out
of her mouth like that every time she looked at her
was that she thought the Queen was probably just very,
very delighted at how delicious
was all the food being served.
Her pitiful look of disappointment made no impression
on the Queen's stony heart, however, because
her jealousy had convinced her beyond convincing
that she was the one who had been wronged, in fact
--Worse, she believed she was 'only' after: "Justice!
That's all. Nothing more and nothing less."
So no matter what anybody might have said,
begged, pleaded, or even ordered by a Royal Proclamation
... this is how the Queen went about cementing into place
the slimy plan of vengeance
she had deluded herself into believing was Justice to the last:
With spine-tingling calculation the slippery old Queen
waited in a dark corner of the Royal Throne Room
with as long-suffering a stretch of patience
as a spider knitting her deadly web: "Ooooh!"
And gloating: "Too bad revenge is bad,"
(over her intricate plans), "because it's so good!"
There she waited, "And it's so simple too!"
Until she finally caught Little Angel Face all alone
(since she might have deceived herself
about only wanting 'justice' and all that rubbish,
but she perfectly well knew how rotten
her petty stubbornness would look to everyone else
--and how quickly they would have all rushed
to put an end to her vengeful scheme too).
But there in that dark and secure out-of-the-way corner
of the Royal Throne Room (a place
where she could be sure that only the Princess
would hear what she had to say)
the crafty old Queen at last cornered the Princess
and, coolly as you please, 'reminded'
her brand new daughter-in-law
of the solemn promise she had made
--Right in the middle of the poor girl's own wedding too!
Telling her: "You know our bargain."
Making sure every moment of their 'secluded' meeting
that the whole nasty business
was kept strictly between the two of them.
Yet, as much as it shocked Little Angel Face
to discover that the mother of her beloved Prince
was that stubborn and unforgiving,
already having been blessed with so much
(quite practically everything she had ever wished for
--secretly or not so secretly--
just by having had the strength and courage
to outlast everything standing in her way),
now she again surprised the Queen
... by casually shrugging off the so nasty
way the happiest day in her life had ended up:
Frankly, for quite a long time now
Little Angel Face had known that it's always better
to take everything a step at a time
(or likeness by likeness in her case).
And there could be no doubt now
that this Queen needed to be comforted
in the worst way too:
Seeing how badly the Queen's pride had been bruised
by the way she'd been cut out of the decision
to proceed with the wedding without her blessing,
the new Princess now understood
how so many people who think they've been hurt by others
sometimes rush out blindly at anyone,
thinking that whatever first glimpse of 'justice' they 'spot'
is the timeliest justice
(instead of having the patience
to wait for the best possible justice of all).
Besides... who doesn't know
that one can't always pick one's in-laws?
"Don't you worry, though,"
the inconsolable Queen kept telling
her very understanding daughter-in-law
(as 'sweetly' as if she were trying to comfort her):
"I'll be sure to let you know the instant
you've reached a zillion likenesses
(just as I always promised you I would)."
Managing to sound almost proud of herself. And,
well, what's to be done with people like this!?!
Well, for one, so upset with the Queen
had almost the entire adult population of the Kingdom
at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest become
(placing the blame for their torture by likenesses
squarely on the Queen's stubbornness)
that she was ordered to move into the tallest tower
in the Palace almost immediately after the wedding
--And they all quite stubbornly refused to change their mind
about this even when the whole Royal Family,
including even the new Princess,
pleaded that she be forgiven!
"No!" They all soundly voted on it:
The Queen had to be shut away
in the tallest tower of the Palace
as punishment for having put everybody through
so much bother. That is what all the citizens
of the Kingdom at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest
voted for (except for the Prince and Princess,
the King, Drizzel, the Royal Sage), and,
although they waited a long time
to see if anybody else was going to join them:
No. (That was it.)
And that was what all the citizens of the Kingdom
at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest did
about the Queen: They packed her up to the tallest tower
of the Palace (with all due deference
... after all, she was still their Queen
--about which there was little they could do).
And they then placed a couple of absolutely
steadfast guards below at the entrance to the tower,
to make sure that she remained up there
while they made up their minds
whether to move her up there permanently.
On the other hand, this is what
the Princess Little Angel Face did instead:
After she wed her Prince and they had moved to
a modest little palace of their own
(practically next-door to the King's and Queen's great
big one), the Princess simply continued dutifully coming up
with still more and more likenesses exactly as before
--The only difference being that now
the Queen was the only person willing to have anything
whatsoever to do with her likenesses in the entire Kingdom.
( After all, Little Angel Face had given her word. )
So, long after she was already married to 'her' Prince,
and without the knowledge of the King, the Royal Sage,
Drizzel, Lord Gary O'Larry, both the Duke d'Dude
or his (second) Duchess, the good Lady Fynn-Ghers,
the merry Archduke Desi de Quba, Lady Cuss-Cuss,
the Marquis Mee, Sir Err, and the great General Rhee-Hearsal-Onlea,
Madame Fourthwindow, the Count d'Krud, the Royal Maids
and Man-Servants, Royal Guards or Royal Pool Attendants
(or of Little Angel Face's own parents, naturally)
... any of the ladies and lords, or even Mukos the Royal Valet
with all those molasses in his veins
--And most especially of all
without the knowledge of her new husband the Prince,
who might have exploded or something (what with
all that blue blood running around in his veins)...
Indeed, without the knowledge of anyone
in the Kingdom at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest
except a certain always-available and ugly little fellow
whom the Queen secretly re-hired to one more stint
of tallying up Little Angel Face's likenesses
(an even higher position than the one he had held before,
now that the Queen wasn't allowed the freedom of the grounds
below)... it all started again for the Princess.
Except that now she was the Royal Princess
of the whole Kingdom at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest
--And never in all her life had she been
kept more deeply under wrap:
You never saw such hush-hush goings-on in your life:
Because of the Queen's imprisonment,
the Princess was forced to sneak out of the tiny palace
she shared with her new husband
and then sneak into the great big one next door
--on what quickly became very regular 'visits' indeed.
Visits which the sneaky old Queen always arranged
in such a way that no one ever had a chance to be
in any position to run into the girl
while she was coming or going:
The Queen certainly didn't want to risk anybody asking
the girl whom she was and what she was up to
(sneaking about at all hours as secretly as she was soon doing).
So the Queen disguised the Princess as a ragged old
garlic peddler (because, quite obviously, that way
no one would be able to smell a rat
--no matter how nosy they might be).
* * *
And maybe it was to show the Queen
that she hadn't been lying when she had promised
to deliver as many likenesses to her as it might take
to win her blessing--Or maybe
she really didn't know any better
and was as willing to take the worst from everyone
(as those who only know how to make their way
in life by sweeping others aside believed).
But, whatever her reason, the end result was that
... on and on it continued for the now Royal Princess
and the Queen (that never-to-end recitation of likenesses)
as if Little Angel Face had never wed the Prince at all!
Faced with her mother-in-law's so unforgiving nature
that is still what the noble young Princess did,
and continued to do
--without ever showing bitterness or resentment,
or even a single complaint ever crossing her lips:
So even if it was now confined to the Queen's
new private apartments high atop the Palace's tallest tower
... again the echo of Lord Newt's thin, small voice
came through tallying up every likeness
the Princess came up with up there:
And, "One zillion (minus 44,663,663) likenesses!"
Then, not all that long after that as you might think:
"One zillion (minus 48,007,014) likenesses!"
And, not as long after that as one might imagine:
"Only one zillion (minus 52,876,873) likenesses
still to go now!" Ever and always,
as if the three of them were forever destined
to continue like that forever and forever.
Every last likeness was again properly officially written down
and accounted for by the Princess's seemingly eternal companion
... the notoriously shadowy Lord Newt,
almost instantly re-hired by the Queen to help her settle
her long-running score of likenesses
on Little Angel Face once and for all.
And for a considerable... consideration, because
his new elevated position with the Queen
made him the only other 'person' alive
(other than the Princess) who was aware
of this very confidential revenge the unforgiving Queen
was discreetly taking on her daughter-in-law.
Apparently it really made no difference to him:
"One zillion (minus 54,663,663) likenesses!"
Lord Newt was more than happy to continue
tallying it all up for the Queen,
secure in his neverending and perhaps never-to-end job.
Then, "One zillion (minus 58,007,014) likenesses!"
And, almost before anybody'd realized it:
"Only one zillion (minus 58,876,873) likenesses
still to go," it continued until
... it was painfully obvious that if the matter remained
entirely up to the Queen, the poor Princess would be
condemned to continue reciting likenesses forever
(or until she dropped dead up there
atop the Queen's high tower): Every likeness
again properly officially accounted for by that odd little
demon with the numbers the very ugly Lord Newt.
* * *
Perhaps the Queen was paying
her (now so very) private ugly little Royal Score Keeper
too handsomely for him to snitch on her.
Or maybe he simply thought it bad form
for 'outsiders' to butt into private family disputes
(which all this had now become, obviously).
But, whatever the reason, it must have been
a very good one indeed (to make such a terrific
Queen's toady out of him),
because he never did tell.
Then again, neither did the new Royal Princess herself
mention it to anyone: She didn't even let the Queen know
that it bothered her in the least
that her mother-in-law had proven to be as unforgiving as that:
The Princess never displayed the least impatience
with the demanding old woman,
and, on the contrary, always arrived on time for her visits,
always made sure she stayed for as long
as she was 'welcomed' to stay,
and never missed a single one of them
no matter how terrifically tiring they were:
Just climbing the great spiralling stairs
in the Queen's steeply high tower
all the way to the top
was enough sometimes to knock people right down
to the floor (and without any help from the very pushy person
who was living up there either).
And why was she so patient with the Queen?
"Because," as she told the now privately engaged
but still ugly as ever Lord Newt,
the one time he seemed willing to risk his
very elevated cushy new job to ask her
about this (because, although he too could now show
almost 'superhuman' patience,
apparently the Queen herself never lost her knack
for pushing anybody's patience beyond its limits
--short of Little Angel Face's patience, that is):
"Because with some people
it just takes a bit longer, that's all!"
"Longer for what?" He wondered,
although by now he was well aware of how important it was
for the Princess to be able to find some
way to comfort the old woman.
"Besides," she told the ever faithful echo
of all of her likenesses: "That same unyielding spirit
that won't allow her to enjoy our love,
is also the same spirit that keeps the saints from
giving up on us, and every hero from giving in!"
Well, "Just stubbornness by any other name,"
was Lord Newt's own personal opinion.
But he kept it to himself: It really wasn't
a guardian angel's place to get too involved
in the lives of those he or she looks after
(outside just standing by them
to make sure they never give up on themselves),
lest they keep them from living their own lives themselves.
Only, so heroic did Little Angel Face's patience with the Queen
strike her fairy godfather at that moment that
he couldn't help mentioning to her
how proud he was of her now!
What a contrast, this, to all of the terrible first impressions
she had made on him back at the swamp
when he had thought that the only thing she was
really interested in was 'getting something for nothing'
(like all the other shallow people he had come across
sloshing about back there).
Yet here she was now, not only refusing to give up
on herself, but not even willing to give up on that
mother-in-law of hers! Because, indeed,
Little Angel Face never once ceased doing everything she could
to wear down the old Queen's bad feelings towards her:
And not so much with her neverending tally of likenesses
(which she continued to feed to the Queen
with her same inexhaustible enthusiasm
--until the wonder of it was that the old woman didn't
just explode from so many of them),
but also with her own unquenchable spirit,
refusing as she was doing
to give up... no matter how hopeless it seemed:
Ever without fail, ever without complaint
(as if she knew exactly the full length of the road
she would have to travel to get there)
the young Princess continued to regale the old Queen
with as many likenesses as it might take... to take (apparently),
convinced at every turn of her ever ongoing journey
that she would eventually get there.
And even taking the opportunity
her visits with the old girl opened up to her
to actually try to get to know the mother of her beloved
husband a little better... while giving the Queen herself
the opportunity to get to know her too:
"So that one day I may be able to break down some
of the barriers keeping us from becoming a real family,"
she told the admiring Lord Newt. "Besides,
she only thinks she hates me so much
--because that's just how much she loves her son."
"Yes," her fairy godfather had to admit:
"I have noticed that love does make mortals do
some really awful things sometimes!"
The odd thing about it all was that it wasn't too long before
the two women were actually exchanging rather
conventional pleasantries--right in the middle of
that interminable tally of likenesses too:
"Stop a minute," the Queen might request of the Princess,
with as much 'sweetness' as could be expected
(of such an old sourpuss):
"Tell me how you and my son are getting along
in that tiny crackerjack of a palace--Gracious!"
Or, then again, "Did you finally bake that pie
you were telling me about (the other day)?"
(In the underground double-agent ugly little Private
Royal Score Keeper to the Queen's... eye.)
At moments like those: "I don't know I might not
like her more when she's being out-and-out rotten!"
However, there are days in the life of
even the most patient person in the universe
when things just seem to be taking a tad longer
than they ought to. And now and again
even the patient Princess herself would ask the Queen
whether she wouldn't mind letting her know
exactly how far away she thought they might be
from that 'mythical zillion'
(and in so hopeful a tone of voice
that it almost broke the heart of that
cold-blooded bookkeeper, Lord Newt).
At such moments the old Queen would smile
(as was her nasty little habit to do
whenever she felt she had the upper hand).
And, "My dear," she would tell the Princess:
"Just leave everything to me! All you need do
is trust me!" Her words dripping so hot a gooey marmalade
it's a wonder her lips didn't melt right off her mouth
while she was speaking them: "I'll be sure to let you know
the instant you're anywhere close to it."
And then even the now also amazingly patient Lord Newt
would gnash his teeth (yes, he had quite a mouthful of them)
so horribly that it sounded as if he were putting himself
in jeopardy of biting off his 'flipping' long
But there was nothing much he or anyone else could do
about it, so he had to suffer such moments in silence
(getting that huge tongue of his out of the way
so he could bite his lip).
And yet, in spite of all such momentary shows of temper,
Lord Newt never again seem to get as hopping mad
as he used to get before Little Angel Face made that wish
that whatever patience she herself picked up
should also rub off on him. And, in fact,
of late even when he did temporarily 'misplace' his temper
he was always able to surprise himself by how
quickly he now seemed to get hold of it again.
"If we have no humility," the Princess would comfort
the Royal Score Keeper whenever he became
somewhat uncomfortably human enough to need comforting.
"If we have no humility then there is precious little to
keep us from doing a lot of very bad things in this world."
"Humility!" He'd yet complain: "Humph!"
But he'd never go as far as to reveal that
as a quite gifted supernatural being,
he himself really had very little use for humility
--However much he appreciated her comforting thought.
Sometimes, though, especially when he became
a bit more irked than it was normal to become irked
with the Queen's impatience at just how 'effortlessly'
the young Princess continued to keep all those likenesses coming,
sometimes the Princess's guardian angel half wished
he had been an avenging angel (instead
of but only a guarding one). Yet even so,
now all such moments of impatience seemed to escape him
as easily as if they were doing so by magic.
But meanwhile on and on it went on.
On and on like that for quite a long time
after the Princess's fairy tale wedding to her Prince.
The Zillionth Likeness.
And on and on did it continue
for days afterwards. And then for weeks as well
(as if the Queen would never get her fill of likenesses);
and not even after the by now practically jillions
and jillions of them Little Angel Face had brought
and kept bringing to her whenever she climbed that
spiralling flight of stairs all the way to the top
of the Queen's tower for their appointments.
And on and on like that it continued
as if it would never end. Until, that is,
until one day, when, following a long break
in her up to then spotlessly perfect record of
not having missed even a single visit
(or ever having been late)
Little Angel Face finally failed to show up for one of them.
And then she missed the next one as well.
And the next one after that one too!
"I'm sure she must have a good reason,"
Lord Newt told the troubled Queen
--He even offered to go find out what the trouble was.
But, "No!" The Queen immediately told him.
And not even after the Princess kept missing more
and more of her appointments
(without a single word of explanation)
would the Queen allow the Royal Score Keeper
to raise a big stink over it,
for she was determined above everything not to risk
letting it come out how poorly she had
been treating her daughter-in-law:
"We can certainly wait until she returns on her own,"
she 'most graciously' told the little fellow
(through her teeth): "And then let us see what shabby
excuses she comes dragging behind her!"
In spite of the Queen's sentiments, however,
the Princess really did have a good excuse for staying away,
because, you see, she had been in bed (recuperating).
But the instant she was able to get back on her feet,
Little Angel Face immediately made her way to the Palace
again to take up her hush-hush sessions with the Queen
exactly where she'd left off.
Only on this particular visit
the Princess planned to make a very special 'presentation'
to the old Queen, for she was now absolutely convinced
that she would finally be able to deliver to
the Queen... the Zillionth Likeness!
* * *
"There you are!" The Queen was all over the girl
the minute she heard her footsteps outside the door
to her private chambers, up there atop the 'big' Palace's tall
tower where she was forced to live--
The Queen was always able to tell when
the Princess was about to enter her rooms
out of the twisting flight of stairs that came to an end
just outside her front door (always bringing with her
not just more and more likenesses but also that warm
smile of hers)... by listening
to the sounds of the girl's footsteps.
(A smile, by the way, which the Queen never
in a million years would have admitted
she had missed terribly--although she very sorely had.)
Only now the old woman would have to put aside all
such feelings about warm smiles
and concentrate on being even more stern than usual
with her daughter-in-law (for having stayed away
as long as she had--without even letting her know why
and arranging for her permission ahead of time).
And the Princess had stayed away a lot longer than
even she herself thought she should have:
But it really couldn't be helped.
"You see--" she tried to explain
as she entered the Queen's apartment
(quite prepared to face the music).
But the minute the Queen could tell
from her footsteps
that the Princess was entering the room
... she immediately turned her back on the door
with a furious twist of her body
(to show Little Angel Face just how displeased she was
for staying away):
"You haven't been by for such a long time
I had almost come to believe you had
finally decided to break the promise you made to me,"
the Queen cut short the Princess's explanation:
"Exactly as I knew a person from your 'background'
was bound to do... sooner or later."
A rough greeting indeed for somebody who
could not help having stayed away.
Yet even after this harsh greeting
the Princess's one concern remained
to do everything in her power to prove to
her mother-in-law that she had not gone back on her word:
So, with that same warm smile which she always had
for everyone (including even for the Queen),
the young woman immediately proceeded to present to
the old woman what she was so convinced
would finally prove to be the Zillionth (minus
approximately 999,999,999,999) Likeness
between herself and the Prince--
A presentation which so shocked the old woman
that she almost fainted straight out,
when, planning on staring down her daughter-in-law
with a stony look of displeasure,
she turned around to find that instead of
the humiliated and frightened little former bog girl
she expected to see cowering before the Queen
of the Kingdom, in her place stood
a proud and self-confident young mother
... offering her nothing less than, of all things,
about the most loveable-looking baby
the old girl had set eyes on in her life (or at least
since she first set eyes on her own baby boy,
the Prince, on the day he was born):
"Oh my goodness gracious!"
The delighted Queen squealed at the adorable
little bundle of sheer delight. And, "Coo-chi,
coo-chi," she yodeled affectionately at her precious
first ever grandchild
the minute the Princess placed the little one in
her suddenly so warm and loving arms:
Then she just took off like a ballroom fool,
cuddling and dancing the baby all over the place
as tenderly as you please:
"Huggy, huggy, huggy," went that (just moments before)
so very stuffy and stern old Queen,
completely forgetting her dignified position
as Second-Head Behind-the-Head-of-State
(which was really quite a serious and important position
indeed)... all pumped up, thrown for a loop,
and hit straight over the head with
about the most powerful attack of grandmothers' glee affliction
ever anyone had come down with.
(Although she never once dropped the baby,
so don't worry.)
Then, almost as quickly, she stopped in her tracks
and just stood there staring at the little baby.
"My dear," she was finally able to tell the Princess,
overwhelmed as she was by how much the child looked
exactly and identically like its lovely mother
(at the same time he was also identically and exactly like
her own handsome son):
"This precious child is a zillion likenesses
between you and my son--just by himself alone."
Unable to deny any longer that the little baby was indeed
the Zillionth Likeness
the Princess had promised to her all along,
and without Little Angel Face having to propose this to her.
So it came to pass that the now utterly exhausted Royal Granny
finally granted her blessing to the Princess with all her heart
--if not her words, for she was terribly embarrassed now
as she sheepishly recovered from
that really bad case of first-grandchild-attack,
as it dawned on her how much she had wronged
her first ever grandchild's mother.
And so quick was the change in the Queen... because
there really had been so little keeping her from changing
in the first place: Not much more than her thin
and stubborn pride, really; and
when pitiful sicknesses like stubborn prides finally give way
the change in those who had suffer them
always seems startling and instant
(when the truly extraordinary thing is
that it had taken them so long to change).
The Likeliest Conclusion Of All.
There was no end to Little Angel Face's happiness
once she had completely fulfilled her promise
and had delivered to the Queen the zillion likenesses
she had asked of her. It's just that... just now
the sad look on the old woman's face
kept her from showing how happy she was:
The Queen herself was too embarrassed to bring up
the matter of her finally granting the Princess her blessing,
there in the presence of that precious baby,
where, in comparison, that promised blessing now
really seemed the most paltry thing in the world.
But not only did the Princess still prize the Queen's blessing
as much as she ever had,
now, noticing that sad expression on the old woman's face,
she too was a little hesitant about how to offer to forgive her
(not wanting to embarrass her even worse).
And it was obvious how much the matter pained the old Queen
as she stood there, imagining perhaps that no one
(and not even the ever hopeful and patient young Princess)
could possibly ever forgive her for having taken such a long time
to acknowledge a likeness which had all along been so obvious
right in front of everybody's eyes
(and was now sleeping like a little angel so near her heart).
"The price one pays in life," the cold-blooded
ugly little Lord Newt might have chastised her,
"for always being so darn sure
you're more right than everyone else!"
(And he might have, too, had he not felt a tiny little
'distasteful' twang of pity for the old woman himself.)
The Queen slowly bowed her head in shame
and didn't even dare to look at the Princess.
But then suddenly a tear gleamed in the old woman's cheek;
a tear which like magic was instantly mirrored
like a glowing gleam on the cold-blooded cheek
of the tiny master bookkeeper (where
not only did it not instantly turn into ice, but, quite unexpectedly
started to glow and glow as fiercely as if it had caught on fire):
In a flash, its golden glow jumped back to the Queen's cheek
and there it brought forth such a warmth of courage in her
that it was more than enough for the new grandmother
to find it in herself to tell her daughter-in-law:
"Can you possibly find it in your heart to forgive
such a foolish old woman?"
With a voice humbled even more
by her having to swallow that tremendously stubborn pride of hers
(in order to be able to admit
how tremendously in the wrong she'd been).
That voice, on the other hand... so clear and warm,
so sincere and comforting
... could only belong to one person there:
"Of course!" the Princess said a second time,
without the slightest hesitation: "This instant!"
Even so it was still so incredible to the old woman
that she raised her eyes to the young Princess
just to be sure she was hearing her correctly.
But, "With every new moment that comes into being
a whole new world is born," the Princess told her
repentant mother-in-law: "And every one of us is born anew
along with it: Of course I forgive you!"
(And without making her ask a zillion times either.)
And that was all there was to the end of the long trial
all had lived through in the Kingdom
at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest.
The two women hugged each other so warmly that
just from that embrace alone the Queen could feel
with her whole being exactly how genuine
was the Princess's forgiveness for her.
* * *
"You did make an unfortunate first impression,
you know," the Queen reminded Little Angel Face,
"that first time, when you made your 'appearance'
at the Royal Throne Room!"
"Yes," the Princess was not at all shy about admitting it:
"I seem to have that effect on a lot of people
... for some reason."
"But I've behaved so terribly towards you all this time,"
the Queen insisted, "that I wouldn't blame you
if you felt like getting even with me for all I've done to you."
"Absolutely not," the Princess was quick to protest.
"Not even a tiny bit!?" The Queen marvelled
--Although she didn't go as far as to actually
suggest to the Princess that it would make her feel better
if she did (knowing how exasperatingly obliging
Little Angel Face could be).
"Well," the girl put it this way: "Could I really punish
the person who has given me the two things I treasure above
all else in this world--my husband and my child?"
"No, I don't suppose," the Queen was extremely relieved
and overjoyed to acknowledge: "Not even a tiny bit!"
And true mother and daughter-in-law at last,
the two women would have no doubt hugged
... even the Queen's ugly little Private Royal Score Keeper
in their newfound happiness (whom they were so sure was
even then standing at the back of the room that
they had even heard his rather distinctly snorkeled breathing
back there any number of times)...
But turning now toward the spot where they expected him to be,
all they saw there was... that the faithful little guy
seemed to have vanished as if into thin air!
(An impossibility they were just as absolutely certain
they had also caught a glimpse of
out of the corner of their eyes!)
Oh, they rushed to the door and called after him
down the narrow shaft with the spiralling stairs twisting through it
all the way down to the bottom of the Queen's lofty tower.
But the guards below had very strict orders to let no one pass
without the Queen's permission (and not even the Queen herself
without the permission of everyone else).
And they immediately hollered back that no one had--!
When they heard this the two women raced
to the only window which was open in that entire room
--Yet peering out from it they could see no sign (on the ground)
that anyone had jumped from that great a height.
There was really no sight of their Lord Newt at all out there
or anywhere else: The only thing that was moving in the sky at all
was a bird--perhaps, for it was flying fairly high (above them):
It was certainly no eagle. Nor a hawk, or even a sparrow...
No, this particular peculiar bird was more along the lines of
some kind of (really quite run-of-the-mill) ugly little
smaller-than-your-normal average-sized turkey buzzard
clumsily winging its way up there
--Maybe even heading back toward the swamps
at very boggy edge of the forest
where it'd probably come from
(and taking its sweet time going there, too).
Probably the least impatient ugly little turkey buzzard
that ever winged its way over the world.
And, at the moment, apparently acting as if it might just now
be learning to use its wings (by using them, in fact).
In any case, no one ever again saw or heard from
the oddly faithful and even more oddly ugly pint-sized stranger
who had stood (just) by the Princess all through her ordeal
by likenesses--And maybe because,
quite unsuspected by the two women,
he at least now knew that his work in the Kingdom
at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest
had at last come to the happiest of conclusions.
Although it wouldn't be surprising if one day
in some not too distant future
an ugly little moth (or something along those lines)
were spotted fluttering in out of nowhere
if somebody really and truly needed a somebody like... him.
But that was never again to be the case in the Kingdom
at the Very Boggy Edge of the Forest:
There the Princess and her Prince lived happily ever after
indeed. Just like every good little Prince and Princess
ought to, after all.
* * *
Now I suppose you'd like to find out whether
Princess Little Angel Face ever got over making all those
simply horrible first impressions on everyone
--Well, of course not!
That charming frailty of hers
was such a tremendous part of her charm
that it would have only diminished her
had she gotten over it somehow!
Well, everyone has a right to her or his own kind of happiness:
And everybody always felt so embarrassed to
have misjudged Little Angel Face
that they always tried that much harder to make it up to her
afterwards. (So even if she might have been able to change things
she still very probably wouldn't have had it any other way
than always being presented with so many
ready-made opportunities to comfort others.)
And the Princess had meant everything she had told the Queen
earlier: Taking her mother-in-law by the hand now
she then lovingly led her down the spiralling stairs
to rejoin the rest of their family.
And after 999,999,999,999 or so likenesses (approximately)
could anybody doubt that Little Angel Face would fail to
get everybody to pardon the Queen?
Well, it did take a bit of doing.
But eventually she did succeed
in persuading everyone to forgive the Queen.
And never were there better friends from then on
(certainly between daughters and mothers-in-law),
no matter how spiteful and petty the Princess's
mother-in-law had once behaved towards her
in that now forever (and quite rightfully so)
vanished world of... a zillion likenesses ago.
And why not?
All of us have to learn to live with people like that.
And, Little Angel Face was the one person on this earth who
better than anyone else... absolutely and positively knew
that a lot of people are just like that.
And, as a matter of fact...
IDENTICALLY and EXACTLY like that!
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