If you like fairy tales, Waiting for a Kiss: A Princess Fairy Tale Anthology has just been released. The collection contains retellings of my many classic fairy tales, including one by yours truly. To give you the flavor of the anthology, I’m including my story below. If you like mine, you should check out the entire collection, which can be found on Amazon by following the link:
The Princess and the Glass Hill
Princess Bethla sat in her wheeled chair before her father’s throne. He was scowling at her, which was his typical expression when faced with his only remaining heir. Bethla knew he was thinking of her brother, Eric, and wishing that Bethla had died in Eric’s place. Her mother had died when she was a small child, and her father had always done his best to pretend that she didn’t exist, hiding her away from every public gathering so that few people knew of the princess’s problem. They thought she was touched in the head or, perhaps, downright insane. All that had changed this summer when her brother had been killed in battle. Now her father had no choice but to deal with her because what is a king without an heir? Even if that heir was sixteen, a woman, and crippled.
Bethla wanted to rub her aching legs, but that would call her father’s attention to her twisted legs, and the king didn’t like to be reminded of her defect. Bethla’s legs had been twisted at birth, and despite many painful procedures, the doctors had been unable to straighten them.
Bethla had always tried to stay out of her father’s way because it hurt too much to be reminded that her only remaining parent found her unacceptable, but today, when she learned what her father was doing, she had to come forward. Surely, it was only an insane rumor, but if it was only a rumor, just what were they building on the plains outside the city gates?
“Your Majesty,” Bethla began. The king didn’t like it when she called him “Father.” “You can’t really mean to do it.”
“Do what, child?” the king asked, but not as if he really wanted an answer.
“Hold this contest. Seeing who can ride a horse up a glass hill is surely no way to choose a husband for me.”
The king’s already ebony skin darkened further. “You are mine, and I will dispose of you as I see fit.”
Bethla dug her fingernails into the arms of her chair. “I’m your daughter, not a thing to be disposed of.”
The king narrowed his eyes. “You are a cripple, and I will have an heir who’s physically fit. This contest will assure that. Your husband will be king after me, need I remind you? Now, go to your room. I won’t be questioned.”
The king seemed to swell on his throne. “Take her away!” he commanded her attendant, Evelyn, and before Bethla could say more, she was wheeled out of the king’s presence.
As Evelyn wheeled her through the palace corridors, she said, “I told you he wouldn’t listen.”
“But he has to!” Bethla cried. “I refuse to sit up there and throw gold apples to some thug who can force a horse up the slick hill’s side. I can’t be foisted off like that.” Bethla didn’t want to admit it, but the idea terrified her. How would such a man treat her? Would he try to deny that she existed like her father did? Or something much, much worse?
“How will you stop it?” Evelyn asked. “He’ll have you carried up there whether you will it or not.”
“I’ll think of a way,” Bethla insisted. “Maybe I’ll run away.”
Evelyn looked down at her. It was an empty threat, the same empty threat Bethla had been making since her mother died. She could see the pity in the other woman’s eyes and felt tears welling at the corners of her own. Although Evelyn had always been kind to her, Bethla did not want to be pitied. She cursed her twisted legs. If she’d been whole, her father would never have consider such a ridiculous contest. Her only hope was that no one could ride up the slippery hill. Then she wouldn’t have to throw the gold apples to anyone, and her father would have to chose her husband another way, but would any way her father used be better?
Bethla wished she could have the love that filled all the bards’ tales. She wished for a husband who would see her for her, not simply label her a cripple to be dismissed. But Bethla held out little hope for the future. Her father would get her a husband to his liking one way or another, and Bethla was certain any man that was to her father’s liking would not be to hers.
Despite Bethla’s vehement protests, two weeks later she found herself being carried up the staircase that wound its way inside the hill made of glass. She was followed by an attendant who carried her wheeled chair and Evelyn, who had three gold apples resting on a silk pillow. Her father had ordered her to throw an apple a day for three days to whichever knight made the most progress on climbing the glass hill. She clenched her teeth. She refused to participate in this farce. She vowed she would not throw the apples no matter what happened. She’d take her father’s anger, instead.
When her attendant placed her in the wheeled chair atop the glass hill, Bethla looked down in amazement. Hundreds upon hundreds of knights were milling around the bottom of the mountain. Bethla didn’t know there were that many knights in her father’s entire kingdom. For a brief moment she was caught up in the spectacle of that many men competing to be her husband, but a comment from Evelyn recalled her to reality.
“Want to be king, don’t they?” Evelyn said, and Bethla remembered that none of these men actually wanted her; they merely wanted the crown that would come with such a marriage. She wanted to cry, but wouldn’t humiliate herself by doing so publicly. Instead, she straightened in her chair and put an expression of royal dignity on her face.
Her father and other married dignitaries of the court sat in stands off to the side to watch the spectacle. All the single men were, of course, waiting to try their hand at the hill. From high up above, Bethla saw her father nod, and the man beside him blew a trumpet: the signal to begin. The men who’d drawn the first try at the hill gave a huge shout and rushed the mountain in a confused melee. Some tried backing up a great distance and approaching at a full gallop. Some had contraptions attached to their horses’ feet. Some had men or horses pushing them from behind. But no matter what they tried, no one could make any progress climbing the slippery smoothness of the glass.
“Ouch!” Evelyn grimaced, as they watched one rider go down beneath the hooves of the horde.
The first group struggled for about ten minutes with no success. Then a second horn sounded, and they retired to make way for the next group. Group after group came forward in the futile attempt to climb the unclimbable. Bethla smiled in satisfaction. Her father’s plan was foiled, and if she could get out of this attempt to choose her husband, perhaps she could get out of future attempts.
Then, as the late afternoon sun began to sink in the sky, a strange sight caught Bethla’s eye. Across the plains flashed something bronze, and as it drew closer, Bethla gaped. It was a knight wearing bronze armor and riding a bronze horse that looked like it was forged out of metal rather than flesh. The crowd parted to allow the apparition through, and the knight galloped one-third of the way up the hill before beginning to slide back down again. This knight had surely met the conditions of the contest.
“Who could he be?” Bethla whispered.
Evelyn shook her head. “Throw the apple, Your Highness,” she said, as the knight slid all the way to the bottom again.
Bethla looked to the side and saw her father standing and roaring in approval. She hesitated. Anything that made her father so happy could hardly be for her benefit, but she, too, was captivated by the magnificent sight of the bronze horse and rider. She took one of the apples from the pillow Evelyn still carried and lobbed it down the hillside. The bronze knight stuck out his hand and caught it.
The king signaled for the knight to approach the royal box, but he turned and rode back across the plains as abruptly as he had appeared.
In the banquet hall that night, talk was rife of the bronze knight and his impossibly colored horse. Rumors about his identity swirled through the hall, and no less than five of her father’s retainers claimed to be the knight themselves, but, of course, when asked, none of them could produce the gold apple. Bethla couldn’t eat a bite of the magnificent feast. Her stomach was in knots as she thought of the man who might shortly become her husband. Could it be possible that he was a good man? Or would he see her with contempt as the king did? Or look on her with only pity as Evelyn did? Why did she have to be born with twisted legs? What god had cursed her so?
Her father was in a riotously good mood. He seemed to think the appearance of the bronze knight justified him in creating the contest. He drank heavily and called for the bards to sing one ballad after another of knights doing spectacular feats.
“My son-in-law shall be a man worthy to be my heir.” He looked in contempt over at Bethla, who looked down at her plate and pretended not to notice his gaze. Anything that made her father so happy could not be good for her.
When Evelyn helped Bethla prepare for bed, she too seemed to be swept up in the excitement. “Oh, Your Highness, who could he be? I never expected anything so glorious.”
Bethla merely murmured that she was tired. She was scared to think about the man that lay under that armor and what he might mean for her future.
She got in bed and dismissed Evelyn, but she had a hard time getting to sleep. When she did, she had nightmare after nightmare of the knight taking off his helm and revealing some horrible creature. She determined that no matter what happened the next day she would throw no more of the apples.
On the second day of the contest, Bethla was again carried to the top of the glass hill with Evelyn following, carrying the pillow that now held just two gold apples. When Bethla had been placed in her chair, Evelyn chattered happily. “Do you think he’ll wait for afternoon to appear again? Or will he come earlier today?”
“Perhaps, he won’t come at all,” Bethla said.
Evelyn smiled pityingly. “Oh, I think there is little chance of that.”
And Bethla, too, held little hope.
The contest proceeded as it had the previous day with the gathered knights trying and failing to climb the mountain. It got so late in the day that Bethla’s hopes began to bud that the bronze knight would not show up, but just as the sun began to set, something silver streaked across the plains. Bethla gasped, as a knight in silver armor riding a silver horse road hard toward the hill. If the bronze knight had been magnificent, the silver knight was stunning.
The crowd again parted as he galloped closer, and without slowing, he galloped a full two-thirds of the way up the mountain.
Evelyn jumped up and down in excitement. “Throw the apple, Your Highness! Throw it!” she said shoving the pillow in the princess’s face.
Remembering her vow, Bethla again hesitated as the knight began to slide back down the hillside, but the beauty of the silver knight and the silver horse brought tears to her eyes. Surely, something so fantastic couldn’t harm her. So she took hold of the second apple and lobbed it toward the silver knight. He caught it and then rode off into the distance.
Evelyn leaned down and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Your Highness, you are so lucky to have two such magnificent knights competing for your hand.”
But Bethla didn’t feel lucky. Neither was she sure the knights had been two different men. Such magical horses could hardly have more than one owner.
The talk in the banquet hall that night centered on just this question. Were there one or two knights? If the silver knight was indeed a different man, why had the bronze knight not shown himself today? And which knight would appear tomorrow for the third and final day of the contest? Bets were taken, and wild rumors flew.
The king again was merry, crowing over the prowess of his future son-in-law. Neither the bronze nor the silver knight was crippled.
Bethla was hungry, so she tried to eat, but it all became knotted up in her belly and she feared she’d disgrace herself by vomiting. Oh, by all the gods, who was this mysterious man? And what would marriage to him be like?
On the third day of the contest, Bethla was again carried up the staircase to the top of the glass hill. She stifled a yawn. She had not slept well again, her sleep troubled by nightmares. Evelyn trailed behind with only a single gold apple left on her pillow. Bethla looked back at the apple and tried to decide if she would throw it and what her father would do if she did not.
Today, a few knights made half-hearted attempts to climb the hillside, but most merely milled around and stared off in the distance, looking for the bronze or silver knight. Finally, in the weak light of the late afternoon, they were rewarded with the sight of something bright approaching over the plains, but it was neither the bronze nor silver knight. Instead, a horse forged of pure gold appeared, carrying a knight in gold armor. The bronze and silver knights had been wondrous to behold, but the gold knight took Bethla’s breath away.
As he approached, the crowd again parted, and the gold knight surged up the hillside. Bethla drew back in alarm as he crested the hill and joined her on top. “Sir Knight,” she asked, “how is it that your horse and armor shine as brightly as the sun?”
“They are only a reflection of your beauty, Your Highness,” the knight said, with a bow from the top of his horse.
Bethla looked away. “How can you say that when my legs are twisted and malformed?”
The knight dismounted and knelt at the princess’s feet. “Your Highness, I could not consider your twisted legs a defect. They merely add to the beauty of your spirit. I fell in love with you as a child when I saw that radiant smile, but I never dreamed I’d have the chance to take you to wife. I will gladly lay claim to the final apple if you will have me.” He removed his helm.
To Bethla’s great surprise a lad of no more than sixteen with rich chocolate skin and curly dark hair appeared. His eyes were shining with the love that she’d only heard about in bards’ tales. He held out his hand.
“I am no knight, simply a farmer’s son, but will happily have such a beautiful bride if you have no objections. If you’d rather not have a lowly peasant such as myself, I’ll return the two apples that lay hidden in my saddle bags.”
Bethla blinked in wonderment. “How is this possible? How could a farmer’s son possess such glorious horses and armor?”
The lad laughed, and it was a laugh finer than any music Bethla had ever heard. “That, Your Highness, is a long story, which I will tell you later if you will have me. If you will not have me, how does not matter.”
Bethla looked into the sparkling eyes of the peasant who looked at her with neither pity nor contempt, and she didn’t hesitate. She took his hand in hers and pulled him toward her. Their lips met, and a tingle of pleasure passed from Bethla’s lips to the bottom of her feet. Ah, could it be possible that her father’s plan was a good one? The princess broke the kiss and handed the peasant-knight the apple.
“Tomorrow, you will present the apples to my father, and we will soon celebrate our wedding day.”
“As Your Highness wills.” The knight rose, donned his helm, and remounted the horse. He galloped down the side of the glass mountain.
The next morning Princess Bethla and her father were ensconced on the stairs in front of the palace doors, waiting for the knight who won the apples to present himself. The square below them thronged with people. Bethla sat in her wheeled chair, and her father stood beside her with his hand on her shoulder, as if afraid she would flee. But Bethla had never felt less like fleeing from her father’s presence. She had dreamed all night of the peasant-knight’s chocolatey brown skin and sparkling eyes. She smiled inwardly, not daring to be too happy in case the peasant-knight was not as he seemed to be.
A little after noon, a cry arose from the edge of the crowd, and Bethla looked in that direction. Three magnificent horses approached, appearing as if made of bronze, silver, and gold, and in the middle on the gold horse rode a knight in gold armor, carrying three gold apples.
“So there is only one,” her father murmured in approval. “It is as I expected.”
Bethla could tell that he was proud of the success of his plan.
The crowd parted to allow the peasant-knight through, and he rode to the base of the stairs. There, he dismounted. He climbed the palace stairs and, kneeling, lay the apples at the king’s feet. Bethla smiled down at him, and the crowd roared with approval.
“Today, Your Majesty,” the knight said, “I present the apples I have won and claim your daughter’s hand.”
“I see, Sir Knight,” the king pitched his voice to carry over the crowd. “I admire your prowess and your bravery in conquering the glass hill. As you know, my daughter is nothing but a cripple.”
Bethla’s face heated at being dismissed as nothing but her disability.
“But to you I give her, along with my crown when I am gone. Reveal yourself, so that all may know the face of their future king.”
The peasant-knight’s hands trembled ever so slightly as he raised his helm. The crowd gasped as the dark curly hair and youthful features revealed themselves.
The king’s face hardened. “You are a mere boy. Who are you? What is your lineage?”
“My name is Chiemeka, and I am descended from a long line of proud farmers.”
“Farmers?” the king scoffed. “How is it that you came by such fantastic beasts?” He gestured to the horses below.
“I know not,” said Chiemeka. “Except to say the gods must have sent them. I found them with their armor, each in turn, destroying my father’s crops. They obey only me and will allow none other near them. I have made their power my own.”
The king pursed his lips, and Bethla feared he’d go back on his word and send the peasant-knight away.
“You obviously have powerful magic and will make a fine king, but I can’t have a mere farmer marry my daughter,” he said, and Bethla’s heart sank. The king drew his sword, and a gasp went up from the crowd. “Therefore, I dub thee, Sir Chiemeka, knight of the realm.” He touched the peasant-knight on both shoulders. “Arise, Sir Knight, and take my daughter’s hand.”
The knight did as ordered, and Bethla felt a thrill pass through her at the touch of his hand. He smiled down at her, as if she were the most beautiful woman in all of creation, and Bethla dared hope for a happy future.