Agrabah, 934 AD
The palace of Agrabah was grand. Sweeping. The stuff legends were made of.
And, to Prince Malik, it would be the only home he would ever know.
Prince Aladdin, standing in the archway to the room that housed his newborn son, smiled at the thought as he watched the new prince sleep.
His son would never know hunger. His son would never know what it is like to run from the law, to scrape together a meal, to never know exactly where his next meal would come from.
…was shaping up to have a pretty dull life, Aladdin reflected to himself.
"You know, he won't disappear if you go away."
Princess Jasmine sauntered into the room and raised her arm up on Aladdin's shoulder. Aladdin laughed softly. "Have I really been here that long?"
"A good fifteen minutes at least." Jasmine looked at the sleeping baby and gave a thoughtful sigh. "Usually he doesn't sleep this long uninterrupted. He is breathing, isn't he?"
"See his chest rising and falling? He's breathing, alright."
"I'm just not used to the quiet," Jasmine admitted. She turned back to Aladdin and smiled at him. "We ought to take advantage of this opportunity before it slips away."
Aladdin, however, still kept his eyes on Malik. "Do you think we'll do alright?" he asked in a quiet voice.
"Raising him. I mean, I don't know how to raise a child at all, let alone raise a child sheltered behind palace walls—"
Jasmine snorted in disbelief at what she was hearing her husband say. "Do you really think I'm going to raise him like that, after what living that kind of life did to me? Besides, even if I wanted to, I don't think I could keep him cooped up in the palace anyway." She leaned closer to Aladdin and smiled playfully. "He's got too much street rat in him."
"Prince Street Rat," Aladdin corrected.
"Prince Street Rat." She wrapped her arms around his shoulders. "He'll be fine. You'll do fine. Being royalty doesn't mean you're doomed to live your life barred up in a palace."
"That's always the impression I got."
"Well." Jasmine continued to smile as she gently walked her fingers up Aladdin's neck. "Not this royal family."
Germany, 1284 AD
The palace walls were massive. In all the land there was no dwelling larger or grander. But even the palace could not contain the grief and despair within that day.
Princess Snow White was beautiful. Princess Snow White was gentle and angelic. Princess Snow White was sweet and kind.
Princess Snow White was fourteen years old.
Princess Snow White was in labor.
And Princess Snow White was dying.
"It's a girl," the midwife murmured, barely heard over the sharp cries of the newborn baby. But the cries were loud and strong, and the fading Snow White managed a weak, shaky smile.
"Analiese," she whispered, in her voice that tinkled and sounded like a song even when she wasn't singing, but today's song was weak. And after today there would be no more songs, and Snow White's soft, accepting eyes showed that she already realized that.
But Prince Bertram smiled at his young wife, a smile that was encouraging, optimistic, and yet he still couldn't hide the fact that he was beginning to realize, too. "Yes, darling. Analiese. Our little Princess Analiese. You are going to be a wonderful mother."
Snow White turned her head to the left, then to the right. "No," she murmured.
The doctor simply stood by her and watched. He, like Snow White, had already accepted that there was nothing to be done to save the little princess.
There was one other soul in the room, a soul who was neither accepting nor optimistic. Grumpy by name and grumpy by nature, today the term "grumpy" didn't even begin to describe how the dwarf was feeling.
Grumpy was furious.
When the dwarfs had come to the palace to visit Snow White, as they often had for Snow White invited them many times, there was a strange change in their princess, one that only Grumpy seemed to notice—or at least vocalize. The other dwarfs said he was just being, well, grumpy. Wasn't she happy? Wasn't this just what she'd dreamt of, just what she'd sung to them that day in their cottage, a day that seemed so long ago? She was with her prince. Her prince that she had sang and spoken of so sweetly, her prince whom she had regarded so joyously upon his waking kiss (a kiss that took him six months to get around to, Grumpy angrily reminded the dwarfs, if the prince really cared about her that much wouldn't he have found her sooner, it wasn't as if she was on the go—the other dwarfs just hushed him, it didn't matter when he did it, what mattered was that he did it and brought their Snow White back to them—and then just as quickly snatched her away from them), her prince who now… Grumpy saw it in her eyes. How could his brothers not have seen it? She smiled every time she saw her prince, but it was an uneasy one, a somewhat confused one, a somewhat hesitant one. Dreaming of her prince and living with her prince were two different things. "She's happy," the other dwarfs insisted. "She's miserable!" Grumpy countered. The truth was that she was neither; she was simply lost.
For one brief moment it had seemed to dawn on all of the dwarfs, not just Grumpy, the truth of Snow White's conflicting and jumbled feelings. On one of their visits to her she had seemed more worriedly preoccupied than usual, and it was Doc, not Grumpy, who asked her about it, somehow managing to get the question out without stumbling over the words. "I have… wonderful news," Snow White had said, and she made herself smile with her words, but her eyes were still distracted and fearful. "I'm going to…" She brought her hands to her stomach. "…have a baby…" And she smiled again, and tears sprung to her eyes, and her smile vanished, only for a few seconds, but it was enough.
Grumpy's blood had boiled then. And it boiled now as he glared at Prince Bertram.
The prince was not old. Twenty-five or twenty-six, probably somewhere around there. But he was still far older than his child bride. Child. Snow White was only a child. A child carrying his child. A delicate and fragile child that should not yet know of the secrets of the bedroom, let alone swell in a family way. A way her small frame was not yet ready to handle.
Grumpy's body was always fine-tuned to alert him to all sorts of maladies. His bunion flaring up was a sure sign of a thunderstorm. A swelling kneecap was a harbinger of hot, muggy weather. An ache in his corns tended to cover all sorts of vague non-weather calamities that befell the group of dwarfs—such as a little princess breaking in and cleaning their house. But an ache in his heart had been what struck him that day in the mines, an ache that he had never felt before and thus at first didn't know what it meant, but it was far too strong to ignore—and suddenly he realized. He threw down his pickaxe and raced out of the mine, leaping on the deer-drawn cart, paying no heed to his brothers' cries of alarm and confusion. Maybe they had followed him. Maybe they hadn't. Grumpy didn't have the time to look behind him to see. All he could do was look in front of him, where Snow White was suffering.
Snow White was dying.
"I'm so glad you're here, Grumpy," she murmured, her eyes fluttering. "I'm sorry… I'm sorry I couldn't see your brothers again… one last time…"
Grumpy still wasn't about to accept the finality of Snow White's ebbing strength. "Don't yeh be sayin' that," he demanded gruffly. "We'll all be comin' down to see yeh tomorrow, after yeh've got yer strength up. Don't be sayin' those things!" he pleaded with her.
Snow White turned her eyes to her husband. "Bertram…" Her voice was barely audible; the last of her strength was leaving her. "Please… never remarry… promise me… never remarry…"
Bertram opened his mouth, but no sound came out, as he took Snow White's hand in his trembling ones.
Snow White looked at Grumpy. Her face was at the same level as his, as he stood by her prostrate in her bed, and his eyes were filling with tears just as they had when he had encountered her dead the first time. It was happening all over again, except this time he had to watch it unfold before his very eyes.
"I love you, Grumpy…"
She closed her eyes with one final exhale.
Analiese's cries grew louder in the midwife's arms.
"Yeh killed her!" Grumpy abruptly shouted harshly at Bertram. "Yeh brought her back to life only to kill her! How could you…" And blinded by tears, he ran out of the room without another word.
Bertram continued to grasp Snow White's hand, looking at her small, weakened body, the wife he hardly knew, hearing the cries of their daughter piercing through lonely, uncertain years yet to come, and with his other hand he wiped the tears from his own eyes.
Was the little dwarf right? Was this all his fault?
Or did it matter?
Snow White was dead.
And no kiss was going to wake her up this time.
Terraland, 1302 AD
There was no denying it now. The time had come for Princess Analiese to find a husband. Prince Bertram could put it off no longer.
He had honored his dying wife's request. He had never remarried. He had raised his daughter alone—well, with the help of his brother and sister-in-law, the king and queen. Analiese was not heir to the throne. But she was a princess.
Analiese looked nothing like her mother—and, Bertram reflected, very little like her father, too, although he recognized some of her features from his maternal aunts. Beauty, like Snow White, Analiese definitely had, but it was in a far different form. Snow White had been small, dark haired, with a round face; whereas Analiese was tall and willowy, with blonde hair and fine, pointed features. Physically, she was no Snow White. But she had her mother's gentle nature, coupled with a soft regality, which made her seem far older than her eighteen years.
Eighteen years was already far too old to be unmarried, anyway. Bertram had resisted for as long as he could, but the time had come. No sense in denying it. He had to let Analiese go.
Finding a husband for his only child was a delicate task.
"King Stefan has a fine kingdom here," Bertram said to his daughter as they both dismounted their horses in front of the grand stone castle. "Perhaps he is the one."
"Or perhaps he will fall short of your expectations as all the other potential husbands have," Analiese replied.
"Analiese. I only wish to find you a husband worthy of you. It is no easy task."
"Father, if you keep this up, I'll never be married." Analiese stated this, not with a laugh nor a sigh, but merely stated it as fact.
King Stefan was already waiting for them at the door. He was also tall, with sharp, bony features and tussled black hair, but his eyes were soft and kind. He and Bertram greeted each other warmly.
"Greetings, King Stefan. How fares your kingdom?"
"Fair, fair, as always, Prince Bertram. How fares your brother's?"
"Splendidly. I hear you are looking for a bride."
"And I hear you are looking for a son-in-law."
"I would like you to meet my daughter, Princess Analiese." Bertram stood aside and motioned to his daughter, who took a step forward and bowed to Stefan.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Your Majesty."
Stefan took her hand in his and kissed it. "The pleasure is mine, Princess."
Analiese smiled politely, a smile that she found she didn't have to completely force. True, Stefan was not entirely attractive, but his kind eyes had spoken to her in a way that none of her previous suitors had. In fact, most of her previous suitors had done little speaking to her at all, merely expounding the merits of their kingdoms to Bertram.
"What think you of Terraland, fair princess?" Stefan asked.
Surprised, Analiese looked to her side for an answer, and then quickly turned her attention back to Stefan. "It is too soon for me to have formed an impression yet, Your Majesty. But so far my experience here has been favorable."
"That is better than she has ever found the kingdoms before," Bertram remarked to Stefan.
Stefan smiled. "Choosiness is a virtue, not an impediment."
"You will find that I am choosy, too," said Bertram sternly. "Analiese is my only child, the only reminder I have of her mother. I will only accept the absolute best for my daughter, and every previous eligible prince and king has not measured up. So tell me, Stefan, what can you promise for her?"
"Very little, I'm afraid," said Stefan. Both Bertram and Analiese raised their eyebrows in surprise. "We are a small kingdom. Our neighbor England is a constant shadow in times of peace, and a threat in worse times. Our good magic is good, but our bad is far worse. I wish I could fully promise happiness and safety, but I do not want to go back on my word. All I can promise is that I will do everything I can to ensure it. I cannot even promise to love her."
This caused Analiese's eyes to bulge. No suitor had even come close to saying that. Most of them, on the contrary, had promised to love her until the end of time.
"Love is a tricky business," Stefan continued, apologetically, seeing the look in Analiese's eyes. "It cannot be commanded or conjured. It is by nature unexpected and unplanned. That is why I cannot promise to love you. I cannot claim to have charge over such a powerful emotion such as love. All I can promise is that I will respect you, I will treat you tenderly, and I will be open to loving you. Anything else is above my jurisdiction as a mere man."
There was silence for a few moments.
"Father," Analiese finally said, "if it please you, I wish to marry him."
"His promises lack magnitude," Bertram said to her, although not with any note in his voice that he was trying to change his mind.
"He's honest, and he has a good soul," said Analiese, gazing into Stefan's soft eyes. "And that is what I want from a husband."
Bertram finally smiled. "It is what I want, too." He placed Analiese's hands in Stefan's. "It is done, then."
"I cannot promise to love you, either," Analiese admitted to Stefan. "But I can promise to try."
Stefan smiled at her and grasped her hands gently. "Analiese… I am not sure if making promises is even necessary."
Terraland, 1325 AD
It had taken years for Analiese's womb to quicken, but conversely, her daughter's had taken no time at all. Princess Aurora had scarcely been married to Prince Phillip a month when it was discovered she was expecting.
"Keep your body in fine form," Analiese had said to her daughter. "Childbirth is excruciating. It took the life from my mother. You must not strain yourself."
That was an easy task, Aurora thought with a sigh, sitting near the window and looking out at the bright summer day. The whiplash of living in a small cottage in the woods, where there was always work to be done, to living as a pregnant princess in a grand castle, left her with suddenly very empty days of sitting by windows and looking outside. Oh sure, there were plenty of books in the library, and she enjoyed reading, but still… she could only sit and stare at a book for so long.
"Hello, Aurora." Prince Phillip stood in the doorway and smiled at his wife. Aurora turned from the window and smiled softly at him before looking back outside.
"What's the matter?" Phillip asked.
"Nothing," Aurora murmured automatically. She looked back at him in confusion. "I thought you were going out riding on Samson today."
"I was," shrugged Phillip, sitting down next to her and looking out at the gardens below them. "But I have just now altered my plans."
"To what?" Aurora asked.
Phillip smiled. "Well, you answer that. What would you like to do?"
"What would—what would I like to do?"
"I wouldn't feel right going out on this lovely day and having fun while you sit here and just stare out the window. Because you do look frightfully bored. Perhaps you could go riding with me."
Aurora placed her hands on her belly. "I can't, Phillip. I don't want to harm the baby."
"I could get a gentle steed for you. Riding Brutus is like floating on air. Don't let his name fool you," Phillip added with a wink. Seeing that Aurora was still clutching the small bump on her torso in worry, though, he changed his tune. "Alright, if you'd rather, we could go to the gardens and pick flowers. This room could use a little brightening."
"You'd do that? Pick flowers with me?" Aurora asked.
"Of course I would. I can't think of anything I'd rather do then spend time with you. I'll enjoy picking flowers with you." He stroked her hair. "And finding a rose for my Briar Rose."
Aurora smiled warmly. While it might not have been her "real" name, Briar Rose was the only name she'd ever answered to her entire life, and hearing her husband use it lifted her spirits more than anything ever had.
"I'd like that very much, my dear."
Gaulerraute, 1680 AD
"We have so much to plan! Guest lists, decorations, meals—"
"Father? Don't you think you're getting a little ahead of yourself?"
"Ahead of myself?" King Frederick harrumphed loudly at that. "How can I be getting ahead of myself when I've been waiting for this day since before you were even born? Now—"
"That is getting far too ahead of yourself," Prince Oscar said with a sigh. "Listen, Father, she isn't—she isn't even here yet. The Grand Duke can't find her, obviously because he barely knows what she looks like—Father, this is ridiculous, let me go out and find her, I don't need the shoe to know—"
"Let you out and about when there's planning to be done? Nonsense! He'll find the girl who fits the slipper, bring her here, you'll be wed, and—"
"Father," Oscar interrupted yet again, rolling his eyes, "that shoe could fit any number of women!"
"Ah-ah-ah! You said that you'd marry whoever the shoe fits, and I'll hold you to it!"
"I didn't mean it like that—Father, would you please—"
"I can see my grandchildren already!"
"If grandchildren's all you want," Oscar muttered harshly, "then you would have forced me to marry that Princess Helene against my wishes."
"You see!" Frederick cried, although his natural harshness that came from being king only softened a bit. "For as much as I want grandchildren, I also want you to be happy! The kind of happiness that only comes—"
"From true love," Oscar finished with a sigh. He'd heard it a billion times before. As harsh as King Frederick could be at times, he was also a hopeless romantic of the grandest sort. He had completely worshiped the ground that Queen Pearl, Oscar's mother, had walked on. She had died when Oscar was thirteen and Frederick had been absolutely desolate for… well, for years, Oscar reflected. The only thing that seemed to lift him from his gloom was the prospect of finding a similar love for his only child.
Oscar, however, was a pragmatist.
Frederick had always delighted in reading his son fairytales. Especially the story of little Briar Rose, the "Sleeping Beauty". But Frederick did more than just read the story. He liked to excitedly point out to his son that, many generations back in their royal family tree, there was a King Phillip of Terraland, married to one Queen Aurora… who, some sources indicate, was also known as "Briar Rose". A story of the triumph of true love right in their family history!
Oscar never believed it. Magic didn't really exist. He wasn't even sure if something like true love did, either.
Frederick's efforts to find his son a wife—a "true love", not just any old girl—were met by the prince with boredom and disdain. The king had his head in the clouds, Oscar always thought to himself. Hopefully, he prayed, soon his father would finally grow tired of his relentless search and give up. Oscar wasn't too keen on the idea of marriage just yet, anyway. Maybe when he was forty or fifty and absolutely needed an heir.
How had that one girl at the ball so completely changed his resolve?
It was… ridiculous. Oscar's pragmatic side was still rolling his eyes—at him. But there was… there was just no explaining it. He was in love. He was in love with that gentle, beautiful girl who had appeared so mysteriously and left even more so. If not for the appearance of the glass slipper she left behind Oscar might have deduced that he had only imagined her.
Frederick opened his mouth, no doubt to expound to his son, once again, the glories of true love, when the familiar voice of the Grand Duke cut him off, far-off but excitedly shouting down the far corridor.
"Sire! I have found her!"
Both Frederick and Oscar perked up. Oscar decidedly more so than his father.
"You found the girl who fits the slipper?" Frederick demanded.
"Even better! She has the other one!"
Beaming with happiness, Oscar rushed out the room.
Thank goodness this was no dream.
Gaulerraute, 1711 AD
Queen Cinderella had not handled the ten year anniversary of her death very well.
And, of course, when the ten year anniversary of his death followed right behind, she was even more remorse.
No parent should have to lose a child. Much less two. Much less having them both die when they were in a different country.
Cinderella pressed her palms against her face.
Their eldest son, Prince Bradford, had just turned twenty years old, and King Oscar had insisted that he accompany his parents to Austria for diplomacy talks. Neither Oscar nor Cinderella was close to shuffling off this mortal coil just yet, but if Bradford was to be king when that happened, Oscar reasoned (he always reasoned everything), he might as well start learning now.
But what of their two other children, seventeen-year-old Princess Lisette and eleven-year-old Prince Henri?
It had been Cinderella's idea, she knew, a fact that would haunt her mercilessly throughout those ten years that followed—though how could she have known? It had been a wonderful idea at the time. They would go to the family ancestral castle in France and have their lessons there. It would be good for them to get away; Cinderella feared that her children were becoming far too coddled and spoiled.
If she had known that would be the last she'd ever see of them…
Word reached them while they were in Austria of the terrible outbreak of typhoid fever that ravaged their French palace. It had taken the lives of many of the servants, and… and that of Princess Lisette. Cinderella had felt that the messenger had stuck a dagger through her with the news.
She, Oscar, and Bradford had raced to France to retrieve Henri, Cinderella still in shock.
But her shock at Lisette's death was nothing compared to what was awaiting them.
The castle was demolished. In ruin. And that was just the outside; they could only imagine the inside. Only imagine, because they couldn't get in.
A terrible, ferocious monster prowled the castle, its roars piercing the air for miles around.
Always by the doors whenever Oscar and Bradford tried to get in.
"It's useless, Cinderella," Oscar had finally said. "There's no getting in. And even if there was, with that beast in the castle… there's no way Henri is still alive. I'm sorry, my love."
Cinderella was too numb to cry then. But during the next ten years, she felt she did nothing but cry.
The last time she had cried like this, her tears had summoned her fairy godmother. But she never came. It had only been that one night, that night that seemed so long ago, that she had ever appeared… if it weren't for the fact that Cinderella still had the surviving shoe, she would have thought she had imagined the whole thing. Not that she thought her fairy godmother would have been able to do anything about it anyway. Was her magic powerful enough to bring back the dead?
Ten years. Ten years of loneliness. She grew distant from Oscar. Bradford married and had two small children of his own, but even her grandchildren could not bring Cinderella back to her old self.
Henri would have turned twenty-one last week.
All these anniversaries haunted her mind, haunted her more and more with each passing year…
Footsteps shook her out of her thoughts. Two sets of them, from the sound of it. Cinderella turned her head upwards, blinking away her tears, expecting it to be Bradford and his wife Marguerite…
But it wasn't.
It was a man and a woman, the man with hair and eyes the same shade as hers, the woman wearing what Cinderella remembered to be one of Lisette's favorite ball gowns, the golden one…
No. Her tears were blinding her, making her see things that weren't true.
"Mother?" the man said, softly.
"Mother, it's me… it's Henri," the man said, slowly smiling.
"It… it can't be you," Cinderella stammered, only just barely finding her voice. "The beast… surely the beast killed you…"
"Mother, I was the beast," said Henri. "I was cursed shortly after Lisette died. And the beast nearly did kill me. I nearly destroyed myself. But…" He grasped the hands of the young woman standing at his side and smiled adoringly at her. "But Belle saved me."
Cinderella started bawling again. But this time it was for joy.
"Henri! Henri, my son, my dear, dear, precious son!" She flung her arms around him and sobbed with happiness, Henri similarly clutching her in return. "I thought I'd lost you forever!" She released her grip on her son and turned to the young woman, Belle, who had taken a step back, and was now smiling a bit apologetically at Cinderella.
There was no need for apologies, however. In an instant Cinderella had thrown her arms around Belle as well. "Thank you for bringing my son back to me," she whispered.
Belle smiled more fully and hugged Cinderella back.
Denmark, 1737 AD
The jostling royal carriage turned a corner, the seaside castle of Denmark now fully in sight. Prince Alphonse eagerly peered out of the carriage to better grasp it, and his mother, Princess Belle, seated across from him, also took in the new castle with interest… before seeing her husband, Prince Henri's, less than pleased expression. Then she just laughed.
"Come now, Henri, at least pretend to be excited."
Henri sighed, reached over, and grabbed Alphonse's elbow, getting his son's attention. "You're absolutely certain of this?"
"More than anything, Papa." Alphonse looked a little annoyed at having to affirm this over and over again. "Why do you keep on doubting me?"
"Oh, I don't know, let's think about this—your mother and I send you to Denmark for a month despite nothing but protests from you, and yet when you return you tell us that you're heading right back to get married?"
"You'll understand when you meet her." Alphonse sighed dreamily. "Don't you believe in love at first sight?"
Henri snorted impatiently. "Absolutely not, that's the biggest sack of nonsense in this entire world, and—"
Belle placed her hand on her husband's shoulder. "Calm down, Henri. You're getting worked up over nothing again."
"This isn't nothing! It is never 'nothing'!"
Alphonse was saved any further grumbling from his father when the carriage came to a halt. "We're here!" he cried excitedly, jumping out and dashing up the stairs. Belle smiled and followed him, but Henri merely stepped out of the carriage and stood at the steps to the grand front entrance, watching his only child take the steps two at a time… as did the young woman bounding down the stairs. In no time at all they were in each others arms.
Belle had stopped only two steps up, smiling at the happy reunion. Henri moved to join her, and she turned and directed her smile at him, Henri doing his best to keep his own smile down.
"Mama, Papa, I want to you meet Melody!" Alphonse rushed back down the stairs, pulling Melody along by the wrist—although he hardly needed to. Melody, a girl with black hair and large blue eyes, seemed to have just as much energy as Alphonse.
"It's very nice to meet you, Melody," said Belle.
"It's nice to meet you, too!" said Melody. "Alphonse has told me a lot about you. Mother, Father!" she hollered back up the stairs. "Alphonse's parents are here!"
The doors at the top of the stairs opened again. Belle and Henri looked up—and Belle had to blink a few times to get used to the flash of red. While she had never met King Eric and Queen Ariel of Denmark before now, she had of course heard of them, and consequently heard tales of how striking Ariel's hair was. Seeing it in person, now, she had to admit that the tales grossly underplayed it.
"Back already, Alphonse?" Ariel asked with a smile.
"It's good to see you again," Eric said to Alphonse. He quickly made his way down the stairs to Henri and Belle. "And it is indeed a pleasure to welcome Your Highnesses to Denmark. How's Gaulerraute holding up?"
Henri smirked. "King Bradford has his hands full, like always."
"I heard of that land dispute with France…"
"What a nightmare! Let me tell you something…"
Belle's shocked blinking only continued as Eric and Henri strode back up the stairs, chatting away like old friends. Talk about a complete attitude flip.
Ariel laughed at the spectacle. "Well, they're getting along famously already. It's probably a good thing to get them out of our way for awhile. It's wonderful to meet you, Princess Belle, I've heard so many wonderful things about you. I'm Queen Ariel."
Belle laughed. "I know. It's wonderful to meet you too."
The two women turned and looked at their children, holding hands and chattering away with each other, each with a million things to say, each unable to take their eyes off the other.
"That's how they were all last month," said Ariel. "And it happened boom, just like that. I'm not even sure I fell for Eric that quickly. How about you?" She smirked at Belle. "Did your romance with Prince Henri take quite so long as a month?"
Belle laughed again at that. "Oh no, Your Majesty, believe me, it took me far longer than a month to even begin to warm up to him. But…" She looked back at her son, seeing the love shine in his eyes as he spoke to Melody. "I know love comes in many different ways. They certainly are happy together."
"So you give your approval, then?" Ariel asked. "Eric and I gave it as early as day one. Well, day two," she amended thoughtfully. "You have to be careful when your only child decides that they want to spend the rest of their life with someone."
"Oh lord, don't remind me. Alphonse is our only child, too." Belle smiled thoughtfully. "But yes, I do approve of their union. As for Henri, well, he might need a few days to be persuaded…"
Ariel raised an eyebrow quizzically.
"But don't worry. He'll be won over. It's just a matter of time. You can't rush things with Henri."
Ariel laughed at that. "Melody and Alphonse may not be able to wait, though!"
Agrabah, 1872 AD
"…although the youngest princess of Italy, Princess Telma was her father's favorite child, and as a wedding present upon her marriage to Prince Hans of Denmark, the youngest son of King Alphonse and Queen Melody, he gave the couple an entire island territory of Italy as their own kingdom to rule, and this is how Maldonia was formed—Lamya, are you even listening to me?"
Princess Lamya blinked out of her boredom, as her lifelong tutor and instructor, Hassan, gave her his usual disapproving look. "Brilliant but lazy," he'd always say of his charge. "I don't know why I should listen to you, Hassan," Lamya said, "as you've already told me this a hundred times before."
"As future princess and queen of Maldonia, it is your duty to know your nation's history! And Prince Nestor will be arriving any minute!"
Lamya sighed, not bothering to hide her annoyance from Hassan. Yes. Prince Nestor, her convenient betrothed. Their engagement had been hastily facilitated by boiling hostilities between his European nation and her Arabic one, hostilities only barely stopped from turning into all-out war when the king of Maldonia offered his oldest son and heir to the throne to the youngest princess of Agrabah.
To Lamya's view, Agrabah wasn't gaining anything by the deal… but neither was it losing anything. Lamya was a bit of a thorn in her parents' side, a bright, sharp child with an equally sharp tongue. Handing her off to a foreign nation got her out of their hair.
"Well, my fiancé is welcome to take his time in arriving here," she spat out to Hassan. She knew she was a woman, a princess, the youngest royal child, and thus could never hope to be much more than a pawn in her parents' political games, but she still felt outraged that she was so quickly handed off to some foreign prince she'd never met and expected to calmly and dutifully leave her homeland behind, especially considering the whole deal had only happened a mere week ago.
She had voiced her displeasure that entire week. Even during her hasty lessons in Maldonian history, culture, and language—lessons that were still woefully incomplete. Even as she gathered up her belongings and trinkets, losing battles with her older sisters in what she could, and more often couldn't, take with her. The oil lamp being the most lengthy battle; the shouting between Lamya and her sister Keziah had been heard throughout the entire palace. The oil lamp was centuries old, faded and plain, but it had been the most prized possession of their ancestor, the great King Malik, generations and generations earlier. No one knew why, but it was still passed down through his descendents—and now Keziah had claim over it, insisting that it shouldn't leave Agrabah—and her parents had agreed. Lamya was left only with a few woodcarvings of birds that she had treasured as a child.
Hassan opened his mouth, no doubt to chastise Lamya on her rudeness, but a clatter of horses' hooves and the excited murmur of a crowd outside changed his tune. "He's here!" he exclaimed.
Lamya pushed herself up from her fringed couch and strolled out of the room and down the hallway, not acknowledging Hassan's shocked, and then angry, protests at her forwardness. In fact, she laughed a bit as his insistence for decorum faded from her ears as she moved further and further away from him. Why did it matter how she presented herself to Nestor? The marriage would happen regardless. She might as well get right to the point and bypass the needless formalities.
She opened the palace doors and continued to make her way outside, right past the confused Maldonian guards and straight up to the royal carriage, where Prince Nestor was just stepping off.
Lamya finally stopped, losing her composure for a brief second. She hadn't been prepared for how utterly handsome Nestor was. His features looked as if they had been hand-picked by God to make all women, even Lamya, freeze in their tracks, even as he regarded with befuddlement the small, dark-skinned, dark-haired, determined princess march right up to him.
Lamya quickly regained her footing on the situation.
"You are Prince Nestor, my betrothed, I presume?" she asked him in French. The language of diplomacy. How ironic. But since she had only just begun to learn Maldonian, and she wasn't sure if Nestor spoke Arabic…
Nestor cracked a pearly-white smile.
"And you," he answered in French, "must be Princess Lamya, my feisty fiancée."
Maldonia, 1903 AD
"They say he'll have to decide any day now," Princess Savita said, stretching out on the couch.
Her royal attendant—and cousin—Lady Avani stood stiffly by the door, frowning a bit. "Of course. They've been saying that for a week now. He has to decide, but he hasn't. That's the problem."
"He can't put it off any longer," said Savita with a shrug. "I'm sure he'll decide today."
Avani raised an eyebrow. "You don't seem too worried about it," she said.
Savita laughed lightly. "My dear cousin, you must realize—"
"Do not be so confident, Savita."
"He has spent a disproportionate amount of time with us in comparison to the other princesses!" Savita argued. "Don't worry, Avani, I'm not saying it's a certainty. I know nothing is. I'm just saying…" She lazily propped up a leg on the arm of the couch. "I'm just saying my chances are good. I have nothing to worry about."
Avani sighed. "If it's taken King Shakir this long to decide…"
King Shakir of Maldonia had been, until very recently, only Crown Prince Shakir of Maldonia. But his father, King Nestor, had very quickly fallen ill and died, leaving a rather overwhelmed and under-prepared Shakir as the new king. Oh, to be certain, Shakir was well-educated, friendly, well-liked, intelligent… but even at the age of twenty-nine, he had been carefree, pleasure-seeking, not giving a thought to his future as king.
Of course, in his defense, no one thought it would come this soon. Up until his death, King Nestor had been the picture of health.
But now he was dead. And Shakir was king. And he needed a queen.
And Shakir was being very, very choosy about the process.
Eligible princesses from scores of kingdoms were invited to Maldonia for the chance of becoming queen. From the largest kingdoms to the smallest.
And they didn't get much smaller than the kingdom of Mardesh.
Mardesh was a tiny nation in the Himalayas, tucked between India and Nepal. Most people were unaware of its existence. Then again, most people were unaware of Maldonia's existence as well. But they were clearly aware of each other, hence Princess Savita's arrival as a prospective wife. Her father, King Ekram, has sent his seventeen-year-old daughter with great hope.
Lady Avani, Ekram's niece, had come along for the ride, as usual. She and Savita had an odd relationship—more than servant/mistress, less than friends. Avani, at twenty-four, was several years older than her cousin, and far more grounded and practical. As usual, she bit her lip to hide her disdain at Savita's haughtiness and laziness, only rolling her eyes upward a little bit.
There was a knock on the door.
Savita didn't rise from the couch, but she did perk up. "You see? I knew it!"
"We know nothing yet," reminded Avani quietly, opening the door.
A messenger stood in the doorway. "Lady Avani, King Shakir wishes to see you."
Avani paused a moment in confusion.
"What about me?" Savita inquired, sitting up.
"He asked only for Lady Avani."
Getting over her mild surprise, Avani shrugged and turned to smile at Savita. "I'll be back soon to tell you what he says," she said as she followed the messenger out. True, it was a little odd that he was singling Avani out… but perhaps he was making the decision to marry Savita, and wanted the final details from her lady-in-waiting. Either that or he had decided upon someone else and didn't want to deliver the news to her himself.
The messenger led Avani through the many corridors of the Maldonian royal palace in Cruce Sagraldi, although Avani hardly needed to be led anymore. It was true; she and Savita had been spending a large amount of time with the friendly, handsome, powerfully-built King Shakir. And Avani almost knew the path from their guest room to his office by heart by now.
Upon reaching the office, the messenger gave the royal raps, admitted Avani, and departed.
Avani bowed low. "You wished to see me, Your Majesty?" she said in only slightly faltering English. She did not know Maldonian, he did not know Urdu, and as rusty as her English was, her French was worse.
"Yes, yes," Shakir said with a smile, gesturing his hands as a means of releasing her from her bow and royal protocol. Avani smiled too, although her smile was guarded.
Shakir moved over to the window and looked outside. Avani was taken by how both young and handsome, and yet aged and weary, he looked.
"Do you know why I'm doing this?" he asked her.
Avani hesitated. "You wish to have me deliver some news to Savita?"
Shakir looked at her in surprise. "No, not that this," he said, chuckling at her misunderstanding. "I mean why I'm going to all this trouble just to find a wife."
"Oh. Well…" Avani felt the corners of her mouth tug upwards. "Deciding who you'll be spending the rest of your life with isn't a decision to be made lightly."
Shakir grinned. "Precisely! You are the first to get it so quickly!" He looked back out the window. "I don't suppose you know that much about my parents, do you? Their relationship with each other, I mean."
"Well… no, Your Majesty," Avani admitted.
"They were an arranged marriage. It was politically convenient. And don't misunderstand me, they were never cruel to each other. But they were never happy together either. Madrina—my mother—especially. As terrible as it is to say this, but since my father died, I've never seen my mother more free. More… content."
"I don't necessarily think that's terrible to say," Avani said carefully. "I believe that many people—women especially—are pushed into being something they'd rather not be, while having their true selves squandered. Whether that true self desires marriage, or a career, or even being a warrior."
Shakir looked back at Avani questioningly. "A warrior?"
Avani laughed a bit. "Oh, nothing. It's the tale of Fa Mulan. You've heard it?"
Shakir shook his head.
Avani blinked. "I'm surprised. It's a wonderful tale, about a woman who protected her aging father by disguising herself as a man and joining the army in his place, and in the process discovered who she really was. It was always my favorite story as a child. They say that her son was also a great knight and married one of the princesses of China, and Savita and I are descended from Chinese royalty, so I'd like to think it's true, that I'm a descendent of her…" Realizing the tangent she was going off on, Avani cut herself off with another laugh. "Forgive me, I don't mean to ramble. What was it you wished to tell me?"
Shakir smiled. "I wish to inform you that I have selected a wife, if she is willing."
That smile of his could only mean that his news was good for Avani and Savita, not bad, and Avani felt herself smiling too. Although she had chastised Savita for being overconfident and hopeful, the truth was that Avani had been hoping Shakir would select Savita as well. Avani would certainly remain with her cousin, as she had been her companion her entire life, and thus she would get to move to Maldonia as well. And she enjoyed Shakir's company immensely. "Savita will be glad to hear it."
Shakir gave Avani an odd look, and an even odder laugh. "Will she?"
Surprised, Avani said nothing. Shakir abruptly moved away from the window and towards Avani, gingerly taking her hand in his.
"If you are willing…"
It was a good five seconds before Avani could get a word out.
"Believe me, I do not want to be too hasty in this. And I know Savita probably assumes that my interest was in her, from the amount of time I spent with her. And I apologize to her for the deception. But I soon came to realize that I didn't want to spend time with her because of her. It was because you were always with her. I treasure our conversations immensely, Avani. And I admire your wisdom, your practicality, qualities that I know I lack, and that I know I will need as king. And while I have met dozens of princesses this past month… you are the only queen among them."
"I… I'm not… technically… a princess," Avani stammered.
"But you are royalty," said Shakir with a smile. "Will you marry me?"
"I…" Avani suddenly felt color rush to her cheeks, to which she laughed, to which Shakir chuckled as well, and as his hand gripped hers tighter, she instinctively gripped him back. "I will, Your Majesty."
Shakir smiled gently. "Call me Shakir."
Louisiana, 1934 AD
"I don't believe you."
Five-year-old Renee—Princess Renee—folded her arms defiantly upon the conclusion of her father's tale. And her father was so taken aback by her disbelief that it took him a good few seconds to come up with a response—a trouble that His Royal Highness Prince Naveen of Maldonia rarely dealt with.
"Mio bamchila," he finally said to his daughter affectionately, "believing me or not is not the point of fairytales. They are fairytales, they are not meant to be believed, they are meant to be enjoyed!"
"But you believe them," Renee countered.
"I—" Again, Naveen faltered for words. "I will tell you that it is a good idea to being open to believing them. And—and that you are far too young to be this cynical already!"
"Everyone knows magic and stuff doesn't exist," Renee said stubbornly. "Your stories are silly and impossible!"
Naveen sighed. "You are just like your mother." He tucked the covers around her, and Renee squirmed deeper into her bed happily. "And thus I know getting you to believe something you don't want to is even more impossible than my stories." He kissed her forehead. "Good night, my darling."
"Night, Daddy!" said Renee.
Naveen fondly and affectionately stroked her hair once more before standing up from the side of her bed, turning off the light, and moving downstairs to the kitchen, leaving Renee's bedroom door open just a crack.
The smells of baking were not yet coming from the kitchen, but Naveen still smiled in anticipation. It was eight-thirty in the evening—an odd time to be baking—but Tiana seemed to be cooking and baking all the time.
"Your daughter," he said to his wife upon entering the kitchen, "is the most impossible, disbelieving, frumpy, grumpy sourpuss I have ever met!"
Tiana laughed. "My daughter. But when she's charming and witty and completely irresponsible, she's your daughter." She suddenly stopped rolling out the dough for the piecrusts she was making and looked at Naveen sharply. "You already put her to bed? Without me?"
"You were busy," shrugged Naveen.
"I'm never too busy for my own daughter, how many times to I have to tell you that?" Tiana sighed. "But now I can't let this sit here, I've gotta get these pie crusts finished and in the oven…"
Naveen slinked behind Tiana and wrapped his arms around her waist, playfully kissing her ear. "I'll tell you what, my love—I will finish these piecrusts while you tell Renee goodnight."
Tiana laughed. "Oh no, I don't think so, remember what happened last time I left you alone in the kitchen?"
Naveen blushed. "It didn't take that long to clean up," he muttered in a low voice.
"There's still bits of blueberry jam stuck on the other side of the ceiling lamp that I can see but can't reach. Get your hands off me, lover-boy." She laughed again as she shook her hips to get him off, and at his smirk at her hip movement as he reluctantly let go of her. "I won't be too much longer with these piecrusts."
"But she will still probably be out like a light," Naveen teased. "She is just like her papeto. Her head hits the pillow and—" He quickly lay his head to the side on his hands, closed his eyes, and pretended to snore.
"See? Now she's just like you." Tiana turned back to rolling out the dough. "What did you tell her that turned her into such a sourpuss, anyway?"
"Well, of course she didn't believe you."
"Are you forgetting that you are married to the frog prince?"
Tiana chuckled. "It's hard to forget. Sometimes you're very toad-like."
"I will ignore that…" Naveen tried to glare at Tiana, but she just barked out a laugh at him, and he couldn't help but smile too. "But it is not just that. I told her about Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, all those… and she didn't believe those, either!"
"Again, of course not. They're not real."
"Not real?" Naveen grinned. "I have heard that I am descended from them! All of them! Even more! In fact, just about every fairytale you could ever think of, I am—"
"Oh, come on, Naveen," chastised Tiana, rolling her eyes.
Naveen didn't stop smiling. "You're just jealous that you're not the one with the amazing family history."
"Now look here!" Tiana set down her rolling pin firmly. "I'll have you know that my family history's just as interesting as yours, and my ancestors actually existed, and I can… well, mostly prove it."
"Mostly?" Naveen laughed.
Tiana sighed. "Never mind."
"Oh no. I want to hear this."
"Well, I guess I backed myself into this…" Tiana gave another small sigh. "It's hard to say for sure. But my grandmother, Elsie, my mother's mother… she was born a slave, on a plantation owned by a Mr. Alexander Rolfe. Now, my great-grandma's husband had died I think about a year before this…"
"Then who was—"
"And Grandma Elsie—I did know her, she died when I was ten, but I did know her—always had kinda lighter skin than my daddy, and…" Tiana shrugged. "And that kinda thing happened on those plantations. It wasn't right, and it's terrible, but there were a lot of slaves who were their masters' own children. So I can't say for sure that Alexander Rolfe was my great-granddaddy, but it seems real likely."
Naveen, again, was speechless. He looked down at the ground, running a hand through his hair, awkwardly shifting his weight from one leg to the other. "I… Tiana, that's…"
"Awful, I know," Tiana finished abruptly. "But what's more awful is that I've always kinda hoped it was true. Because Alexander Rolfe was a descendent of Pocahontas, and if he's my great-granddaddy, that means I am too."
Naveen looked up at Tiana, blinking in confusion. "Poca-who?"
"Pocahontas? You ain't never heard of Pocahontas?"
"No, I ain't never."
"Well. She was an Indian, the daughter of the chief, and when English settlers first came to Virginia she helped bridge the gap between them and her people… or so they say." Tiana smirked triumphantly at Naveen. "But she did for sure exist, at least, and marry an Englishman! And I'm probably related to her! So there!"
Naveen sniffed his nose in the air, feigning arrogance. "Your story of Pocahontas is not a fairytale. So there. I win."
"You wish, froggy." Tiana had finished rolling out the dough and was now filling them in pie pans. One was cranberry, and the other was blueberry. "It's not a fairytale because it's true. I win."
"Who says fairytales can't be true?" asked Naveen. "I thought I was living in one!"
"That frog thing—" Tiana grabbed her oven mits from a drawer next to the oven and picked up the cranberry pie— "was a fluke."
"I don't mean that." Naveen smiled at her. "I mean living happily ever after with you."
Tiana finally blushed. "Oh. Well…"
As she put the pie into the oven, she was surprised to see Naveen (thankfully remembering his oven mits this time) sliding in the other pie next to hers. "So there," he said again, smirking at her. "I win."
"No, I win," said Tiana, closing the oven door and kissing Naveen.
Smiling, they wrapped their arms around each other and moved up the stairs together, heading for Renee's room…
…and not even noticing the big blue genie hovering in the corner, watching them.
Of course, not that they would have. If a genie doesn't want to be seen, then he won't be seen. He still waited until they were completely upstairs before chuckling, though.
"Guess it's time to head back to Agrabah and let Al know that his descendents are gonna do juuuuuust fine."