The Contest of the Fairies
Illustrated By: Sarah Frank
Many years ago in Fairyland, it became time to elect a new Head of Fairyland. After much discussion, it appeared that the choice lay between two fairies.
Their claims to the throne were so equal that it was impossible to prefer one to the other. One of these fairies was Fairy Flight and the other, Fairy Constance.
Under the circumstances it was unanimously decided that whichever of the two fairies could show to the world the greatest wonder, that fairy should become Head of Fairyland. But it was to be a special kind of wonder - no moving of mountains or any other common fairy trick would do.
Fairy Flight decided that she would bring up a Prince who would charm one woman after another but would stay true to no woman. Fairy Constance decided to bring up a princess who was so enchanting that no man could meet her without falling in love. If Fairy Flight's changeable prince could withstand the charms of Fairy Constance's princess, then Fairy Flight would win and become Head of Fairyland.
Yet if Fairy Constance's princess could win the heart of the prince and so gain his proposal of marriage, then Fairy Constance would become Head of Fairyland.
Each contender was allowed to take as much time as she wished. Contests like these could take a very long time! Meanwhile the four oldest fairies were to attend to the affairs of Fairyland.
Now Fairy Constance, who was the one who had decided to raise the princess, had for a long time been very friendly with a certain King and Queen, whose royal court was a model of what a court ought to be.
They had one little daughter, whom they had named "Rosanella" because she had a little pink rose printed upon her white throat. From earliest infancy she had shown the most astonishing intelligence, and the courtiers knew her smart sayings by heart, and repeated them on all occasions.
One dark night, soon after the assembly of the fairies, the Queen woke up with a shriek. Her maids of honor ran to see what was the matter, and found the Queen had had a frightful dream.
"I dreamt," said she, "that my little daughter had changed into a bouquet of roses, and that as I held the bouquet in my hand a bird swooped down suddenly and snatched it from me and carried it away."
"Oh, my!" cried a nurse. "Let someone run at once and see that all is well with the Princess."
So they ran. But what was their dismay when they found the cradle empty!
They sought high and low throughout the kingdom for the princess Ronsanella, but not a trace of the baby could be found. The Queen nor the King could be comforted, and who could blame them?
One summer evening, as the Queen sat in sorrow in her palace garden, she noticed a number of peasant girls approaching, each one of which followed the twelve tree-lined paths that led to the center of the garden. As each peasant girl drew near, she laid a basket at the Queen's feet, saying,
"Charming Queen, may this be some slight comfort to you in your unhappiness."
The Queen hastily opened the baskets, and found inside each one a lovely baby girl, about the same age as the little Princess whom she missed so deeply. At first the sight of the babies only reminded her of her grief, but soon their charms so gained on her that, though she could never forget her own dear Rosanella, her attentions became quite occupied with providing the babies with nursery-maids, cradle-rockers, and ladies-in-waiting, and in sending hither and thither for swings and dolls and tops, and bushels of the finest sweetmeats.
Oddly enough, every baby had upon its throat a tiny pink rose also. The Queen found it difficult to decide on names for all twelve of them, so until she could settle the matter she chose a special color for each one, and dressed them accordingly, so that when they were all together they looked like a bouquet of bright flowers. As they grew older it became evident that though they were all remarkably intelligent, and learned a great deal from the education they received, yet they differed one from another in personality.
So much so that gradually they were no longer known as "Pearl," or "Primrose," or "Jade" or whatever might have been their color-name. Instead the Queen would say, "Where is my Sweet?" or "my Dancer," or "my Wise."
Of course, with all these charms, by the time the girls grew to young maidenhood they attracted admirers by the dozen. Not only in their own court, but princes from miles away were constantly arriving, attracted by the reports of their beauty and charms which were spread abroad. But the lovely girls were as careful as they were beautiful, and favored no one.
Let us return for a moment to Fairy Flight.
She, you may recall, was the fairy who had determined to bring up the faithless prince. She had her sights fixed on a certain Prince Miliflor. As it turns out, Prince Miliflor's father was a friend of the king whose wife had discovered the twelve baby princesses. When Prince Miliflor was born, Fairy Flight had bestowed on him all the graces of mind and body that a prince could possibly wish. But now she doubled her efforts and spared no pains in adding every imaginable charm and fascination. So that whether he happened to be cross or cheerful, dressed in the most luxurious royal fineries or simplest robes, whether he was serious or light-hearted, he was always perfectly irresistible! In truth, he was an utterly charming young fellow, since Fairy Flight had given him the best heart in the world as well as the best head, and had left nothing to be desired except the ability to stay faithful to one love. For it cannot be denied that Prince Miliflor was a desperate flirt, and as fickle as the wind. So much so, that by the time he arrived at his eighteenth birthday he had conquered and left behind every heart in the kingdom. Things were in this state when he was invited to visit the court of his father's friend, the king and queen who had raised the twelve baby princesses.
Imagine the surprise of Prince Miliflor when he arrived and was presented to twelve of the most charming creatures he had ever seen.
It soon became clear that they all liked him as much as he liked each one of them, and before long he was never happy a single instant without all twelve of them. For could he not whisper soft speeches to Sweet, while laughing with Joy, and at the same time admiring the rhymes of Poet? And in his more serious moments what could be more pleasant than to talk to Wise upon some shady lawn, while he held the hand of Loving in his own, with all the others lingering nearby? For the first time in his life he really loved, though the object of his devotion was not one person, but twelve, to whom he was equally attached. Fairy Flight could not be more pleased. Imagine, rather than breaking the heart of just one girl at a time, he was going to break the hearts of twelve princesses at once!
Prince Miliflor's father wrote to him again and again, commanding him to return home, and proposing for him one better match than the next, yet all in vain.
Nothing in the world could tear the prince from the twelve objects of his affections.
One day the court of the twelve princesses gave a large royal garden-party. Just as the guests were all assembled, and Prince Miliflor, as usual, was dividing his attentions between the twelve beauties, a distant humming of bees was heard. As the humming became louder, the ladies of the court, fearing their stings, uttered little shrieks and fled. Immediately, to the horror of all who were looking on, the bees suddenly grew to enormous size, then each one chased a princess, finally pounding on her and carrying her off into the air! In an instant all twelve princesses had disappeared into the sky.
This amazing occurrence plunged the whole court into the most terrible grief. It was bad enough that the baby Rosenella had vanished so mysteriously years before from her royal cradle, but now this! That all twelve princess would be carried off by giant bees! Prince Miliflor cast about in a violent rage, then gradually fell into such a deep state of depression it was feared that if nothing could rouse him that he would surely die. His protector, Fairy Flight, rushed to his side, but he rejected with scorn all the portraits of lovely princesses which she offered him to replace his lost beauties.
In short, it was evident that he was in a bad way, and Fairy Flight was at her wits' end.
One day, as the prince wandered about absorbed in his sorrow, he heard sudden shouts. Through the air a chariot of crystal, glittering in the sunshine, was slowly approaching. Six lovely maidens with shining wings drew it by rose-colored ribbons, while a whole flight of others, equally beautiful, were holding long garlands of roses crossed above it, so as to form a complete canopy.
Inside the chariot sat the Fairy Constance.
By her side a Princess whose radiance positively dazzled all who saw her. As the chariot landed, they proceeded to the Queen's apartments. Exclamations of wonder rose on all sides at the loveliness of the strange Princess and the marvel of its arrival, and the crowd so thickened that it was quite difficult to make a way through.
"Great Queen," said Fairy Constance, "permit me to restore to you your daughter Rosanella, whom I stole years ago from her cradle.
Words cannot express how surprised and delighted the Queen was to be reunited with her long lost baby.
But after a while the Queen said to Fairy Constance, "But my twelve lovely ones, do you know if they are lost to me forever? Shall I never see them again?"
Fairy Constance only said, "Very soon you will no longer miss them!" in a tone that evidently meant, "Don't ask me any more questions." Mounting again into her chariot she swiftly disappeared into the sky.
The news of the return of the long-lost Princess Rosanella was soon carried to the Prince, but he had hardly the heart to go and see her, he so missed his twelve lost loves. However, it became absolutely necessary that he should at least pay his respects. He had scarcely been five minutes in the presence of Rosanella before it seemed to the prince that she combined in her own charming person all the gifts and graces which had so attracted him in the twelve Rose-Maidens whose loss he had so truly mourned. And after all, it is really easier to be with one person at a time.
Almost before he knew it himself, he was begging the lovely Rosanella to marry him.
The moment the words left his lips, Fairy Constance re-appeared, this time smiling and triumphant, in the chariot of the Head of Fairyland. The heart of the faithless Prince Miliflor had been conquered, and he wanted nothing less than to stay by Rosanella's side for the rest of his life. So fairy Constance had earned the title of Head of Fairyland.
Now Fairy Constance gave a full account of how she had stolen Rosanella from her cradle, and had divided her character into twelve equal parts, that each part of her might charm Prince Milifor, and when once united, she might cure him of his faithlessness once and for ever.
Even the defeated Fairy Flight sent the enchanting Rosanella a wedding gift, and was present at the ceremony. Prince Miliflor stayed true to his wife for the rest of his life.
And indeed, who would not have done so in his place? As for Rosanella, she loved him as much as all the twelve beauties put together. And so the two of them reigned in peace and happiness to the end of their long lives.
- Why was the Prince content to love Rosanella at the end of the story? What did he see in Rosanella that he had never seen before in any other woman?
- Tell what it's like to get to know all the different parts of a person.
Adapted from "Rosanella," from The Green Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang (Longmans, Green & Company), 1892.
Adaptations by Elaine Lindy. ©1997-1999. All right reserved.