Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Let's Write a Fairy Tale!


Hello! I'm popping in with a fun game.

I'll start, course, and you guys can keep it going. One point per comment, and you can comment as much as you like, but you have to wait until someone else comments before you can comment again. You can make your comments as long as you'd like, but longer comments do not give you extra points, unfortunately.

I'll pop in from time to time to keep things going, and this will stay open for the length of the entire party.

Now let's get started.

Once upon a time, there lived a merchant who had three daughters...

74 comments:

  1. Each was fairer than the last in face and form. But their hearts did not match their exteriors, except for the youngest daughter. Fair in grace both exterior and interior, she was despised and harassed by her sisters.

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  2. His first daughter was named Ana-Aria. She had blond hair and blue eyes, and sang like an angel. People came far and wide to hear her sing and invitations even came from the palace requesting to listen to her. Her mother spent a great amount of time managing her daughters many requests and dressing her for the events.

    The second daughter was named Ada Maria. She had chestnut hair and honey colored eyes. She could play the piano with such feeling that her audience was always left in tears or raptures. She was greatly in demand on her own right, and was often requested in combination with her older sister. You can see the mother stayed quite busy.

    But the third daughter was named Ara-Bella. She had curly red hair and bright green eyes. She neither sang, nor played, nor danced .. but much of her free time was spent tending the gardens and cooking meals for her family. With Momma and the older girls off entertaining, she often found herself home with Daddy, reading to him and listening to tales from his yearly travels as a merchant.

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  3. Now the merchant possessed a curious lantern made of brass and copper, with borders of iron, which the merchant kept lit by day and extinguished at night. And he had forbidden his wife and daughters either to snuff out the light of the lantern while the sun shone, or to light it after sundown. The mother and her two eldest daughters, caring but little for such an ugly, battered old lantern, were content not to touch it, and generally ignored it in favor of practicing their glorious music and dreaming up new gowns to wear to their various concerts.

    But Ara-Bella, being at home so much, often wondered to herself about the lantern, and why her father gave such queer instructions concerning it. At length, her curiosity grew too strong to contain, so she fixed her father his favorite meal, and when he was in good spirits, Ara-Bella asked him sweetly and with greatest respect:

    "Daddy dearest, pray solve a riddle for me, if you please."

    "What sort of riddle, my child?"

    "Why must we be obliged to keep yon lantern lighted in the daytime, yet dare not light it after dark? It makes no sense, and seems right wasteful of the candle within. Might I know the secret?"

    At her words, the merchant turned pale as salt, as though he had seen some great horror.

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  4. "My dear, why does thy want to know that?" His face had regained but a small bit of color.

    "Daddy, please," Ara-Bella begged. She gave her father her sweetest face that she could muster.

    "Al-alright."

    Before her father could tell her, the candle light flickered out.

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  5. (C.B., I did see your comment, but since you posted after Alyssa, and it didn't quite fit with hers, I couldn't post it. You still get a point, though.)

    As the candle flickered out, so did the sun itself.

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  6. For a few seconds, there was complete silence, and then as the darkness enveloped the world with the tenacity of a viper consuming an egg, the sound of a million shrieks of despondency rent the atmosphere.

    Into this cacophony of malignant strains, came the steady pounding of a knock upon the entrance to their abode. The door flew open and standing there was a terrible sight to behold.

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  7. A dark tall woman, gripping a huge curved sword in one hand and a set of iron manacles in the other stepped in.
    "Which of you shall I take to rekindle the light?"

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  8. For a moment, neither Ara-Bella nor her father could move or speak for terror. Then the merchant fell to his knees, clasping his hands before him and shaking from head to foot.

    "I pray you, Mistress," he whimpered, "be merciful! You promised you would not return for twenty years, yet it has been only eighteen."

    "Nineteen," the woman shot back, her tone like granite.

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  9. Ara-Bella had turned pale when she saw the woman enter. She turned to her father, "Papa, what is she talking about?"

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  10. But her father was unresponsive, he lay prone on the floor, begging for mercy as if he expected none to arrive forthwith. With a sinking heart full of love, Ara-Bella concluded that her thoughtless and presistant questioning had brought this calamity to fruition.

    With firm resolution, she turned and declared, "Spare my father. I will go."

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  11. The woman looked her up and down. "Very well." She turned on her heel and marched out. "Follow me."

    "Ara-Bella, no!" Ara-Bella's father croaked.

    "Father, I must."

    Ara-Bella followed the woman outside.

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  12. In the grassy space before the cottage stood a grand carriage made of iron, with brass lanterns and copper wheels, and pulled by enormous birds resembling ravens. Ara-Bella trembled a little at the sight, but squared her shoulders and prayed to God to give her courage.

    "Into the carriage, girl!" the woman ordered.

    But just as Ara-Bella was about to enter its black-velvet interior, her father burst out of the cottage and fell to his knees once again before the dark stranger.

    "Please, Mistress," he wailed, "I beg of you--spare my daughter! She is my youngest child, and has her entire life before her. I am old, and it is I with whom you have a quarrel, not her."

    "Please, Father," said Ara-Bella, with a pleading look, "you will only make things worse. I am young, but I am strong, and God will protect me. Have courage, dear Father! God be with you!" And she kissed him good-bye, and entered the carriage.

    Then the woman mounted the seat and shook the reigns, and the giant ravens took to the sky, carrying Ara-Bella far away from her home.

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  13. As the ravens carried the carriage through the frosty clouds, the cawing of the enormous birds drowned her sobs of despair. It seemed to her, as each bird thrust his wings downward, they croaked in rhythm, "Nevermore, Forevermore, Anymore, Nothing More." As the chill seeped into her bones, she regretted not taking her thick ermine cloak from the door peg before venturing outdoors. Her heart and head pounded along to the beat of the wings, and she found herself mumbling along with great creatures constant refrain.

    After many hours of freezing darkness, when she felt that the very fiber of her being would leave her if it continued. The great birds began to dip and dive, finally landing the carriage with a rough jolt. The door opened and a solemn dark face peered inside, and then reached out a boney hand toward her.

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  14. Refusing to touch the hand, Ara-Bella stepped out of the carriage. It was drawn up to an iron gate and looking beyond, she saw a broad hedge lined path. As she stepped through the gate, she saw that, though the hedges looked like bushes covered in snow, they were actually made of snow.

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  15. "What is this place?" Ara-Bella whispered.

    "It is the End of Light," said a voice behind her. The boney hand that had reached out to her at the carriage belonged to an old man, wrinkled beyond his years. His face was solemn, but terribly gaunt, yet his eyes flickered like the fires of the forge. Ara-Bella shivered and turned away from his eyes.

    The dark woman came up behind her, and for one frightening moment Ara-Bella thought she might put her horrible hands on her shoulders. But she did nothing, merely looking upon Ara-Bella with a gloating menace.

    "Welcome home," she said at last.

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  16. At that moment, Ara-Bella fainted. (fainting is a great tactic when you don't know how to get the action moving to the next point!)

    When she awoke, she found herself in a tiny room, and a comfortable bed. A fire crackled on the hearth, and a large blue rug covered most of the floor. She sat up and slid her bare feet into it's thick fibers.

    The door swung open and a small withered old woman came inside with a tray containing a large bowl and mug with steam rising from them. She set the tray on a tiny table before the fire.

    The woman gave Ara-Bella a big smile and said, "Well, well, well, good, good, good. You are awake, awake, awake. Now we can go, go, go, on your quest, quest, quest."

    "A quest? We?"

    "Yes, Yes, Yes! We, We, We! Now eat, eat, eat, and I'll get you dressed, dressed, dressed! Then we must choose, choose, choose, what to take, take, take!"

    Numbly, Ara-Bella dipped her spoon into the thick broth and began to eat.


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  17. As soon as Ara-Bella finished eating, the old woman returned. She dressed her in leather leggings and a tunic, green, and well suited for travel, as well as sturdy leather boots.

    Then she led Ara-Bella deep into the castle and opened an ancient wooden door. At the entrance was a thin, wirey man frantically writing notes in a notebook. He looked up as the women approached and stretched himself upwards to a full 8 ft of height. But his voice was soft when he spoke.

    "This the volunteer then?"
    "Yes, Yes, Yes, I'm just thrilled, thrilled, thrilled!"
    The man hid a grin and continued, "So this is how it's going to work. I'm the Fairy Tales and Legends Magic Object Keeper. It's a long fancy title, most people just call me MOK. My goodness, I wish you were a magic object, I would love to have that red hair in my room! ... Oh, never mind. Where was I? Oh yes, inside this room is EVERY single magic object from every single fairy tale or legend ever encountered by mankind. I have magic table clothes, eyeglasses, ten league boots, tinderboxes, flying carpets, wooden horses, ... just to name a few. You get to enter and choose from among them to take on your quest."
    The old woman interjected, "Yes, but only three, three, three!"
    "Yes," nodded the thin man, "Only three items can be removed."

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  18. Ara-Bella had been thinking hard all the time since she had come to herself in the strange room, but could not now conceive what magical objects she might need, as no one had told her what sort of quest she was to go on. The strange dark woman with the stony voice had said something about rekindling the light, but no other information had been given.

    "Please, sir," said Ara-Bella to the tall man, "Master MOK--would you be so kind as to tell me--if you indeed know--what my quest is to be? Then I can choose which objects to take with me amore wisely."

    "Oh la-la-la!" the withered old woman chuckled, sounding like a mother hen. "To be sure, sure, sure, our Mistress has indeed kept you in the dark, dark, dark." Then she beamed all over herself. "There, there, there, Master MOK, was that not a clever pun, pun, pun?"

    "If you're quite finished congratulating yourself, Mother Cackle," Master MOK replied, "I'll tell our volunteer what her task is to be. My dear, you must journey far to the East, to the Kingdom of the Sun, and rekindle the great Lantern of the Sun, which has been snuffed out. It's a long and tedious journey, and I fear it'll be even more so, since our mistress has decreed that this tiresome old hag must be your companion. Just between us, I volunteered to accompany you the moment I saw your beautiful hair, but our mistress didn't like that."

    "Master MOK, you talk to much, much, much," Mother Cackle interrupted. "Do stick to the facts, facts, facts."

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  19. (Kinda cheating here, but since no one else has picked up the proverbial baton....)

    "Eh? Oh, yes--the facts. You'll be obliged to travel over mountains, cross rivers, encounter ferocious wild beasts--the usual rubbish. That's really all I can tell you."

    Ara-Bella thanked him and entered the great room, a little better informed but in no wise easy about this quest.

    The room seemed to stretch on forever, with a high, vaulted ceiling and walls covered in shelves groaning under the weight of all the wonderful objects stored upon them. With some assistance from Mother Cackle, she located the things she deemed she would need, and in one case had to call upon the MOK to fetch the item required down from a high shelf. That done, she borrowed a pair of scissors from Mother Cackle and snipped off one of her fiery curls--taking care to make the cut where it would not be noticed--and gave the lock of hair to the MOK, because he seemed so fond of it.

    Then Mother Cackle led her away out of the castle with her three magical objects. She chose for herself a pair of Ten-league Boots--which fitted her exactly--a Magic Cloak which rendered its wearer invisible, and....

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  20. a purse, which no matter how much you put inside, there was room for more. Anything put inside would never spoil or be ruined, and the weight would never increase.

    She gave MOK a look, he was mezmerized by her lock of hair. "Good-bye" she said softly.

    They were nearly to the outer door, when MOK came running up with a tiny drawstring bag. "Here," he said, "This is mine, not from in here, you see, and I want you to have it. .... It's a money pouch, not worth much ... but there are some coins inside. It might prove useful, and you can return it to me when you return the other things."

    With that, he turned with a muffled sob and shuffled his way back to his desk.

    "Well, well, well, that was not expected, expected, expected."

    Ara-Bella was let to an outer courtyard and into the kitchen.

    "Now, now, now, here is the cook, cook, cook. She will help, help, help, you choose, choose, choose, your food, food, food!"

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  21. So Ara-Bella spoke to the cook, who provided her with a loaf of fresh bread, a round of well-aged cheese, and a leather bottle of water. The good woman also slipped in some cold meat and several apples.

    "Pray tell me something, Mother Cackle," said Ara-Bella to the old woman. "Why do you repeat so many of your words thrice?"

    "Ah, ah, ah," Mother Cackle replied solemnly; "that is a great secret, secret, secret, which I cannot tell you until you have completed, completed, completed your quest, quest, quest."

    Ara-Bella nodded, thanking the cook for her assistance and shouldering the magic purse. "Very well. I shall ask no more questions on that head." She sighed, thinking of her poor father. "I have learned the hard way that overmuch curiosity can lead to harm."

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  22. Thus armed and ready for her quest, Mother Cackle led Ara-Bella outside. In the dim courtyard, the tall, dark woman was waiting for her.

    Ara-Bella took a deep breath and stepped forward. The dark woman made her nervous, but being nervous seemed the wrong way to start her journey. "I am ready."

    The woman's eyebrows lifted. "Are you? This quest is not just some little trek through the woods."

    Ara-Bella nodded. "So I have been told."

    "But if you truly think you are ready," was the reply after a long, dark moment of silence, "I can offer you only a small bit of advice."

    Ara-Bella swallowed hard, but she nodded. She was ready. At least, she hoped she was.

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  23. She drew herself up to her full height and glared down at Ara-Bella. "You have 30 days to complete your quest, or everything will be left in darkness forever. And my advice to you, not everything is what it seems to be, the simplest person or thing can be your most valuable asset, and what you consider your most valuable may prove worthless. Now, you may go to my stable and choose any steed you wish to accompany you on your travels. Choose well, child. The world depends on you."

    Mother Cackle led Ara-Bella to the stables, there she motioned to the various stalls, "Choose, Choose, Choose!" Ara-Bella looked around and then back to Mother Cackle.

    "Which would you choose?"

    "I always always always, take Red, Red, Red," she replied, and she pointed to stall a few feet away where the head of a giant rooster eyed them. "Go, go, go, look, look, look!"

    Ara-Bella began to walk through the stables. Every animal, bird, and reptile was represented, both magical and non-magical, from a great unicorn with wings, to a growling crocodile. Which would be the best to take?

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  24. Presently, she came to a stall that was rather larger--and taller--than the rest, and inside she espied a great spotted giraffe, casually nibbling at some hay in its feeder.

    "I choose you, my tall fellow," she said to the animal. "For I daresay if I had need of reaching something high up, I might stand upon your head."

    As she unlatched the gate across the stall and coaxed the giraffe to come to her, Ara-Bella felt something climbing up her tunic. She glanced down and beheld a small grey field-mouse just slipping into the purse Master MOK had given her, which now hung from her belt. "What, little mouse? would you be my companion as well?" she laughed, in spite of the grim situation. Then, remembering the dark woman's words, "You may be of use to me by and bye," she mused.

    A stable-boy saddled Red the rooster for Mother Cackle, and also the giraffe for Ara-Bella, and the two galloped off on their queer steeds to the East....

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  25. As night fell, Ara-Bella realized that they had not brought bedding or maps, and she was not sure where they would sleep for the night.

    "Do you have any coins, coins, coins?" asked Mother Cackle.

    She pulled out the little coin bag that MOK had given her and looked inside. "We have a gold coin, 2 silver coins, a dozen or so copper coins and pences. And what appears to be a wooden nickel. Not much to get us through a long voyage. I don't think we prepared very well before leaving."

    "We are in luck, luck, luck! Red likes likes likes wooden nickels, nickels nickles.!" She reached in and pulled out the coin, then offered it to Red. He gobbled it up in a trice. Ara-Bella was stunned.

    Suddenly, Red sat down and started cackling. Pretty soon, he stood up and crowed, and there sat a giant egg. Mother Cackle walked up to the egg and tapped it 3 times with the gold ring she was wearing, and suddenly a door swung open. Inside, was a little room. Ara-Bella followed Mother Cackle into the egg and found a table and chairs and two beds, all wooden. "Our own inn, inn, inn!"

    They sat down at the table, and Ara-Bella prepared to pull their bread from her sack. Mother Cackle shook her finger and pointed to the table center where there was a small indention. "Put a coin, coin, coin, right here, here, here!"

    Ara-Bella reached into the bag and pulled out two copper coins, at the rate she was going through supplies, this quest had better not take more than a week! She looked back inside the purse to count her coins again, and was surprised that she had missed seeing a second wooden nickel! Well, at least they could have shelter again another night.

    She placed the two copper pennies in the indention and suddenly bread and a thick soup and two cups of milk appeared before each chair. It was delicious.

    Soon they were sound asleep.

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  26. Next morning, Ara-Bella placed two more copper coins in the indentations on the table, and a fine breakfast of sausages, hot-cakes, fresh fruit, and hot cocoa and coffee appeared for her and Mother Cackle. Once they had finished, they quitted the queer "inn", and the great egg disappeared with a puff of smoke.

    Presently, they heard a sound behind them like running footsteps, and upon turning about, beheld the tall, lanky figure of the MOK sprinting up towards them with a rucksack* bouncing on his thin back, holding a roll of paper in one hand. Once he had caught up to them and regained his breath, he handed the paper to Ara-Bella. "My dear, you left this behind yesterday. That was very poor planning--but then, you're young, and I daresay this is the first time you've ever had to do this sort of thing." (*rucksack = backpack)

    The paper proved to be a map of the area, with a dotted line headed East drawn hastily in red ink.

    "Thank you, sir!" Ara-Bella replied gratefully. "I did not even think of maps until it was too late to turn back."

    "No trouble, no trouble," MOK drawled. "My conscience simply wouldn't let me rest, knowing you'd be out here without any guidance, and only this foolish old hag for company. So I took the bull by the horns, fetched the map from my mistress' library, and followed you. And since I knew the mistress would be terribly angry with me when I got back to the castle, I decided to save myself the embarrassment and come with you. You don't mind, do you?"

    "Of course not, good fellow," Ara-Bella answered.

    "Are you certain, certain, certain there was not another reason, reason, reason?" Mother Cackle teased.

    "Now who's talking too much?" Was all MOK would say in reply.

    "Let us not quarrel, my friends," said Ara-Bella, pretending to cough in order to hide an amused smile. "Let us rather be off at once, for the sooner we are on the road, the sooner we shall reach the Kingdom of the Sun."

    So Mother Cackle mounted old Red, and MOK lifted Ara-Bella onto the giraffe, and he ran alongside the two steeds as they rode in the direction indicated on the map.

    They rode steadily onward all the morning, making good headway, when suddenly....

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  27. they came to a fork in the road. MOK handed Ara-Bella the map, and peered over her shoulder as she studied it. She finally looked up and seemed to weigh her choices before stating .. it really doesn't matter which way we go, as the roads join again in a day or two. One path follows the river and then the ocean to the port city of Shangri. The other goes over the hills and through farms until it also ends in Shangri. Shangri is a city I have heard many times from my father's tales, and we may be able to find one of my father's ships there.

    "How long, long, long?"

    "At our speed? Maybe 5 days to reach Shangri if we take the lower road, and a bit more if we take the high road."

    They began to discuss the benefits of each path, and the dangers, when a young boy burst from the woods and upon seeing them, ran toward them crying for help, and behind him was a great snake. Without a pause, Red bent down and plucked up the snake and it slithered down his throat.

    "Well, where did you come from?" Ara-Bella asked the crying child.

    The child pointed back toward the woods. "I was apikin' flurs fer mum. She weally sick. We ar so ungre."

    "Well, well, well. What a cute, cute, cute, little boy, boy, boy."

    "We will take him home and tend to his mother," stated Ara-Bella firmly.

    After following the child home, they arrived at a very run down house that seemed to be falling apart. The animals stood around loose, nibbling at trees and grass.

    "The first thing we need to do is get them some shelter! She reached in the purse and pulled out her wooden nickel. Can you feed Red again?"

    "Oh, no, not that coin!" exclaimed MOK. "Feed him the silver one!"

    She gave MOK a questioning look, but reached in and took out the silver coin before handing it to Mother Cackle. As before, Red squalked and cackled, but the egg laid was twice as big and grand, and when they went inside, there were several rooms, the beds were layered with thick quilts, the fire was larger, as was the table that could seat more than half a dozen. And to Ara-Bella's delight, there was a bathing room. She turned to see MOK disappearing into one of the bedrooms with the frail lady.

    She reached back into the purse for some copper coins, then paused, there were still 2 silver coins. She pulled the gold coin from the pouch and placed into the center of the table.

    Suddenly the table was filled with all manner of the best foods. And around the room appeared several servants.

    MOK came out and pointed to one girl, "Please, take care of your mistress in there." He pointed to a teen boy, "You, please care for the animals." He continued to give each person a job before sitting down to the table to eat.

    "So dear one," he said gazing at Ara-Bella. "Have you found the secret to my purse?"

    Ara-Bella pulled open the purse, and pulled out a gold coin. "I think I have."

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  28. A day later, the trio once again stood at the fork in the road.

    Back at the farm, Ara-Bella had pulled coins from the purse and left a large supply in the hands of the mother, who was much improved from her sickness. The servants continued to care for the farm and the woman and her boy, extra food was carefully packed away into a newly dug cellar. And the mother understood that if ever both her and her son stepped out of the egg house, it and all the servants would disappear. Ara-Bella had discovered though, that anything taken out of the egg house would remain, as she had taken some blankets and dishes and all of the left overs from breakfast and placed them into her magic bag before they had left the wooden egg, and they were still in her bag.

    After much discussion the group decided on the road to Shangri, ....

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  29. taking the lower road, as they deemed it the shorter route.

    Three days passed uneventfully, with old Red providing both shelter and victuals in exchange for wooden nickels. Upon the fourth day, however, they came to a place where the road fell away into a shallow ditch full of thick mud that bubbled like a witch's cauldron. The bubbles burst like balloons, emitting a puff of greenish steam that reeked of rotten eggs. While not particularly wide, the ditch looked farther than even the MOK could jump safely, and none of our friends wished to fall in.

    "Phew, phew, phew!" Mother Cackle choked. "What a nasty place, place, place!"

    "This is not on the map," Ara-Bella frowned, with a questioning look at MOK.

    "I don't remember seeing this mud-pit the last time I came this way," he replied, scratching his head with one long hand, "and that was only last year."

    "How are we to cross?" Ara-Bella wondered aloud.

    "I believe now is the time, time, time for Stretch to lend us his aid, aid, aid," Mother Cackle replied. "Do feed, feed, feed him a bit of your cheese, cheese, cheese, my dear."

    Having learned not to question any directive given by her two companions, no matter how fantastic, Ara-Bella broke off a hunk of the cheese and fed it to the giraffe.
    Upon swallowing the morsel, he suddenly lowered his head, opened his mouth, and put out his great long tongue towards the mud-pit. The tongue stretched longer and longer, until it reached the opposite side of the ditch, and it widened considerably in the middle, so that our friends were able to walk upon it easily. Once everyone was safely on the other side, Stretch retracted his tongue and gave a mighty leap, landing just barely upon the edge of the ditch. Then MOK helped Ara-Bella to mount the wonderful animal again, and they continued on their way to Shangri.

    Upon the fifth day of traveling, they crested a hill by the seaside, and Ara-Bella drank in deep breaths of the crisp ocean air. Far below them lay the great city, and to the left of the city lay the shipyard, where she hoped to find one of her father's fine vessels. For according to the red line on the map, the travelers must needs continue their journey by sea if they hoped to reach the Kingdom of the Sun within the thirty days the dark lady had given them.

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  30. As they headed toward the docks where Ara-Bella knew that her father had a shipping company, she became excited, as she knew many of the captains and other partners that worked with her father, she was sure of a grand welcome.

    But when she entered the building with her father's shipping company name above the door, things were not as they seemed, in fact, many of the partners were frowning ....

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  31. and one old sailor, in particular, looked as though he had eaten a barrel of lemons upon catching sight of Ara-Bella.

    "An' there's the cause of our troubles, mates," he declared in a gravelly voice, pointing a gnarled old finger at her. "There's the red-headed brat as brought us bad luck these nineteen years!"

    Ara-Bella stopped short upon hearing this. "Why, Captain Billy!" she exclaimed. "What is it I am supposed to have done?"

    "'Twas for your sake our master brought home that accursed lantern," Captain Billy growled, "an' ever since that day, we've had nowt but bad luck every second Tuesday."

    "Some say he even sold his soul to the devil," one young sailor murmured.

    "Enough!" Ara-Bella commanded, standing tall. "My father did no such thing. He made some sort of contract with a frightful woman, and the lantern has something to do with it, but I am here to make it right. Which of you will fit a vessel for myself and my companions here, and take us by sea to the Kingdom of the Sun?"

    The sailors and her father's partners looked uneasy for several seconds. Some of the partners tried to persuade Ara-Bella to turn back, describing the horrible dangers she would encounter on such a voyage. But Ara-Bella stood firm and declared she must reach the Kingdom of the Sun within the next twenty-five days, or the world would remain dark forever.

    Meanwhile, Captain Billy and a few of the older sailors had been whispering together in a corner of the office, and now the captain stepped forward with an oily smile on his weather-beaten face.

    "Seein' as you're so fixed on this voyage, Missy," he drawled, "my shipmates an' me, we'll be happy to take you wherever you need to go. If that's savvy with our good masters, that is," he added, bowing to the partners.

    They agreed reluctantly, and within the hour the company's swiftest ship was loaded and ready to set sail. But the MOK, while seeing that Red and Stretch were properly provided for in the ship's hold, happened to overhear Captain Billy talking to one of the sailors:

    "Once we're out o' sight o' the port," he hissed, "you an' Bob toss that wench overboard. Then p'r'aps our bad luck will end for good. Don't do nothin' to that big rooster nor the giraffe, though; we can mebbe sell 'em to the circus for a goodly sum."

    "An' what about that cacklin' old hag an' the beanpole of a giant?" the sailor asked.

    "Do what you like to the old mother," Captain Billy sneered. "As for that other fellow--why, p'r'aps we can put him in the circus, as well." Then he and the sailor guffawed loudly and went about their work.

    The MOK decided not to worry Ara-Bella with this intelligence, for she had enough on her mind already. Nor did he wish to take Mother Cackle into his confidence, for he feared she would only make things worse. Instead, he resolved to keep a sharp eye on the men, and look for an opportunity to foil their dastardly plan.

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  32. Mother Cackle and Ara-Bella were making their own plans, not liking the looks that the senior crew and captain were giving them, Ara-Bella knew that power lay in the under crew, and she set about gaining their loyalty.

    First, she and Mother Cackle visited the nearby markets searching for jewelry and baubles and fruits and other items that they could give as gifts, each purchase carefully placed into her endless bag. Then they visited the bakers and bought every roll in the shop, and two others, fresh bread was better than gold after several days at sea. Next they found 2 ally cats that looked as if they would have kittens any day, and using fish for bait, managed to bag them to chase mice and rats onboard. Next, they purchased a dozen large cheese wheels, and enough fine knives for every sailor to have one or two. Ara-Bella was thankful for her magic bag, as the number of their purchases would have filled even the captains cabin had they been allowed to use it, and very little would be fit to eat in a few days if it were not for the bags ability to keep everything in the exact state it was when it went into the bag.

    They returned on board, just in time, for within another half hour, the ship had set sail.

    By the time the activity of setting sail had ceased, Mother Cackle and taken the cats to the bottom of the deepest hold and set them loose, and they had each caught a mouse before she had left them to their own fates.

    Then, the three set off on a stroll around the deck, Ara-Bella asked the name of each sailor and details of their family, then gave each one a bright apple as a thank-you for helping her on the voyage, a few she also gave simple knives so they could cut up the apples - as they had few teeth.

    The next morning, she made a point of greeting each sailor and giving them each a sweet roll. In this manner, the sailors, old and young, soon looked at her with admiration and loyalty.

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  33. After three days, Captain Billy and his sour-faced first mate alone of the crew still cast angry looks behind her back. MOK noticed this, and feared they would attempt to harm her yet. Still unwilling to alarm her, he instead asked if he might borrow the Cloak of Invisibility.

    "Certainly," Ara-Bella answered, handing it to him, "only I doubt it shall fit you, my tall friend!"

    He winked. "No?" He then threw it over his shoulders, and behold! the cloak fitted him exactly as if it had been made for him. "Things aren't always what they seem, my dear," he warned her. Then he cast the hood over his head and disappeared from sight, with the intention of observing Captain Billy and the first mate more closely without their being aware of it.

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  34. A few minutes later, the steward entered the Captains Cabin, where he and the first mate were drinking and discussing their "captives". Of course, MOK was right behind him.

    MOK was able to hear the full extent of their plans, which was simple really, put sleeping powders into the ale and serve it all around to the men, and once they were asleep, to throw the girl over the side, and tie up the others in the brig.

    It was easy for MOK to slip back out of the room, and soon he stepped close to a small group of sailors, MOK was greatful that the topic seemed to be Ara-Bella and how kind she was, and how she shared her food and gave them baubles for a bit of a song and dance. One man showed off a gold ring, "for me girl, gonna marry her now!" Another pulled out a gold chair, "for me wife", and so it went, little gifts that she had given them for their loved ones back home.
    MOK leaned in and whispered, "Be a shame if the Captain did her in, he's got an evil eye on her." The men agreed, each thinking that one of the others had made the comment.

    One finally said, "What ye thinking the Cap'll do to er?"

    MOK leaned in again, "Prob drug our drink and then do away wid her."

    The men nodded and discussed this as MOK eased away to join another group. An hour later, he had visited 4 groups of sailors. If the Captain followed his plan, more than one of the men would refuse the drink.

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  35. Sure enough, that very evening, in came the captain to the galley, full of seeming good spirits. He and the first mate made quite merry among the men, clapping this one or that one on the shoulder, and offering everyone a drink. Some of the sailors politely refused, while others played along and accepted the drinks from the first mate's hand, but MOK saw that these only pretended to drink, and dumped the ale out the porthole when the captain and first mate were not looking. Seeing the captain looking angrily at the ones who had refused, MOK sidled up to them and whispered that perhaps they, too, had best imitate their wiser shipmates.

    After a while, the men who had feigned drinking the drugged ale began to act sleepy and stupid, and soon they lay with their heads on the table, snoring like a thousand cannons.

    Then Captain Billy and the first mate laughed heartily at their crew, and straightaway made for Ara-Bella's cabin to carry out their wicked scheme.
    They burst through her door, and the first mate pounced upon Mother Cackle and hog-tied her, while Captain Billy grabbed Ara-Bella and threw her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and climbed back on deck.
    Ara-Bella screamed and scolded, kicking and pummeling Captain Billy with all her might (and having grown up doing chores all her life, she was quite strong for a maiden).

    "'Ere, now!" he hollered. "Belay there, Missy! Hoy! Gil! Come tie up this here she-cat afore she pokes holes in me hide!"

    The first mate came and began to tie Ara-Bella's ankles together, when suddenly, the sailors swarmed up on deck and laid hands on both him and Captain Billy. MOK, having freed Mother Cackle and removed the magic cloak, took Ara-Bella to a safe place, away from the scuffling sailors.

    At length, the crew had bound Captain Billy and the first mate, and with great difficulty, Ara-Bella and her friends convinced them to lock the miscreants in the brig, rather than keelhauling them. An investigation of Captain Billy's desk revealed that he and the first mate--and indeed, a few of Ara-Bella's father's partners--had been cheating the shipping company most shamefully.

    "They must have thought your father had sent you to confront them, my dear," said MOK, shaking his head as he read over the incriminating papers. "The old sinners thought you had found them out, so they decided to get rid of you before you could report on them to the company."

    "But thankfully," Ara-Bella replied, "the rest of the crew was honest."

    They met with another merchant ship traveling back to the port of Shangri, so the captain and first mate were handed over to be taken back for trial. Then Ara-Bella and her friends sailed Eastward until they came to the shore of a beautiful country, which, according to the map, must be the Kingdom of the Sun.

    Upon disembarking, Ara-Bella and her companions bade farewell to the good sailors, who were quite loth to see her go. So she gave them all one last merry smile and delivered a little speech to cheer them:

    "When I return--please God--I shall speak to my father of your honesty, loyalty, and bravery, and shall ask him to reward you. God be with you all, my jolly tars!"

    Then the MOK lifted her up onto Stretch's back, and Mother Cackle mounted old Red, and they set off in the direction indicated on the map, hoping to reach the Lantern of the Sun within the week.

    But little did they know....

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  36. Up ahead was the Endless Desert ....

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  37. spreading out before them in a flat, dun-colored plain as far as the eye could see, left, right, and before. A few pathetic dunes and the occasional skeleton tree or shrub broke the monotonous landscape, but did nothing whatever to improve it. None of our friends relished the thought of entering the place, and yet, according to the directions on the map, through the Desert they must go, if they were to reach the Kingdom of the Sun in time.

    "How are we to cross this wasteland?" Ara-Bella mused, looking despondently over the map.

    "The Old Ones say no man can cross it," MOK mused.

    "Well, I am no man," Ara-Bella quipped, trying to lighten the mood.

    "And it is you, you, you, who must go, go, go, my dear," said Mother Cackle. "You must put on, on, on the Seven-league Boots, Boots, Boots, and cross the Desert alone, alone, alone."

    "What!" Ara-Bella scoffed. "And leave you, my faithful friends, behind? Never!"
    She fell silent for a moment, thinking. then, "How would it be," she asked, "if I fed Stretch more cheese, and we walked along his tongue over the sands?"

    "A clever, clever, clever idea," Mother Cackle answered, "but his tongue, tongue, tongue does not reach that far, far, far."

    Ara-Bella thought some more. "Master MOK," she inquired, "how would it be if you wore the Seven-league Boots, and carried us all on your back?"

    "You're on the right track, my dear," he answered, "but while I'm quite tall and long-shanked, I'm actually not very strong."

    "Then...can only objects be put into this magic pouch, or can living things go inside as well?"

    "Oh, anything can go in the purse," he replied, smiling. "I think I see what you're getting at, and it's simply brilliant."

    "Then supposing all of you--Mother Cackle and Red, Stretch and MOK--climb into the purse? Then I shall don the Boots, and carry you all safe over the Desert."

    Her companions agreed this was the most sensible plan, and MOK helped Mother Cackle into the purse, where she disappeared from sight. Then he coaxed Red and Stretch to follow her, and they likewise vanished into the depths of the magic purse. Then, with one last encouraging smile for Ara-Bella, MOK himself stepped into the purse and was gone.

    Ara-Bella donned the Seven-League Boots and made certain she had a firm grip on the coin-purse and the one containing her friends. Then she took a deep breath and prepared to traverse the Endless Desert.

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  38. Several days later, the three friends gazed out across the Endless Desert...
    "Is it really endless, or does it just feel that way?" asked Ara-Bella.
    "It ends at infinity miles or kilometers, whichever measurement that you prefer." replied MOK.
    She pulled out the map and gazed at it. "Not much detail, I wish I could make it bigger."
    "That we can fix, fix, fix!" exclaimed Mother Kackle.
    With that, she reached over and with her thumb and pointer, placed them on the location they were on the map and spread out her fingers. Instantly, the map zoomed in to their location and now she could see many more details. She placed her own fingers on the map and to her surprise, it once more zoomed in to their location.
    "Look, there is a small village and an oasis there at the edge of the desert. Can we get there before night?"
    Suddenly Ara-Bella looked around puzzled, "So, how are we having day and night, but the sun is dark?"
    "It's a mystery, mystery, mystery!"
    "It's fairy tale quest magic. You will have enough light for your day/night quest counting, but no more."
    "How much longer have we got?"
    "Only ten,ten, ten, short days, days, days!"
    She puzzled a bit more. "And why did you not tell me about the map sooner?"
    "You did not ask, ask, ask."
    They made their way toward the village, and as she gazed down on it from the top of the last hill, she asked MOK, "If you were to wear the Ten League Boots ... could you make it across the desert in maybe 3 days?"
    "Err ...", he glanced down at his feet.
    "How about less than 3 days, maybe in one day?" asked Ara-Bella.
    "Yes, maybe."
    "Hmmm... would I be correct in assuming that we would die if Mother Cackle and I climbed in the endless bag because our bodies would need air?"
    "Maybe, maybe, maybe."
    "Could we fit an egg or two into the bag - one of Red's eggs?"
    "Yes, yes, yes."

    Some time later, as they prepared for the trip across the desert, Ara-Bella laid out the plans.

    "So, first we have Red lay a huge Barn Egg, we take Stretch inside. Then we fill the barn with as much hay as we can manage to buy. Then we buy food and water for MOK and put that into the bag. Next, we have Red lay a large house full of amusements, because I don't know how time will go in that egg. I will go inside while Mother Cackle puts Red inside the Barn. Then, the two of you can put the barn inside the bag. After that, Mother Cackle can come inside the house with me, and ... can you put the house into the bag alone MOK?"
    "Yes, I think I can manage that." agreed MOK.

    "Then MOK puts on the Ten League Boots, picks up the bag, and walks across the desert."
    MOK nodded, "Yes, I think it is a workable plan."
    "Maybe we should buy you a tent or something in case you get hung up?"
    "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps."
    And with that, the 3 carried out their preparations as the light began to fade, plunging them into night."

    The next morning ...

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  39. Well, Tom ... seems we both dreamed up and posted at practically the same time, yours was not there when I posted, and I'll bet mine wasn't there when you posted .... both are quite similar .... do you want the next turn and follow my story... or would you prefer I go again and follow yours? (Kendra refuses to choose and says we have to do it. She's just walked by giggling at our "predicament".)

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  40. *Chuckle* I had a feeling that would happen.
    Interesting how we both had Ara-Bella think of putting all but one person in the endless bag, and the remaining person wear the Boots. Great minds think alike, wot?

    I'll go next and follow your story-line, as I like it better. It has more practical planning and what-not, explains somewhat why they can see even though the sun is dark, and moves the story along. It's also more in keeping with the characters you've created.

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  41. (Annnnnnd...I completely spaced out. Sorry about that. Here we go, then....)

    [The next morning], our friends carried out the plans they had made. Stretch and Red made no trouble about being put into their new quarters, and MOK and Mother Cackle found the Barn Egg much lighter than expected. It disappeared into the Endless Bag as though it had been a mere trinket. Then Mother Cackle and Ara-Bella entered the House Egg, and judging by the slight swaying that occurred a moment later, they guessed MOK had lifted it into the Bag also. Ara-Bella wondered if they would feel anything when the House Egg went into the Bag, but aside from a slight flash of silvery light, there was nothing extraordinary about the experience.

    Ara-Bella found several games of one sort or another laid out on tables, and a few that required printed mats on the floor. There were puzzles and handicrafts, there were art supplies and books to read, and in one room of the house, Ara-Bella discovered several musical instruments. At sight of the beautifully-carved piano-forte, Ara-Bella's eyes misted over, as it put her in mind of her sisters.

    "If Ada Maria were here," she remarked, "she could play us a sonata or a symphony. And if Ana-Aria were here, she would sing us an air or something lively to keep up our spirits. And Ada Maria would accompany her."

    "Do you play, play, play, my dear?"

    "I? No, indeed. I spend most of my life keeping the home fires burning--quite literally--and tending to Daddy's supper." A tear slid down her cheek. "He must be so worried about me."

    "He shall see, see, see you soon, soon, soon, God willing," Mother Cackle soothed. "Let us not fret, fret, fret, for we can do nothing, nothing, nothing, but wait, wait, wait until Master MOK crosses the Desert, Desert, Desert."

    "And there is no use spending all our waiting time being gloomy," Ara-Bella agreed. "Come, Mother Cackle; let me teach you a game of dominoes which I believe you will like. It is called Chicken Foot."

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  42. Tom - I've got an idea, but might be Thurs or Fri before I have time to put it on. Take care, Hugs!

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  43. The egg rocked and soon MOK opened the door and looked in at Ara-bella and Mother Cackle ...
    "Are we on the other side already?" exclaimed an excited Ara-Bella.
    "No, quite the opposite. We are back at the beginning," stated MOK with a sigh.
    "How, How, How?"
    "I did not realize that every time I stopped to rest or eat, that I was slowly moving back the way I had come, but determined to to reach the other side as quickly as possible, I pushed and walked day and night for two days. Last night, I sat down and ate a nice supper and leaned back against a tree. When I woke up, I heard noises and looking over the rock, there was our little town down below," replied a tired looking MOK.
    "I guess we should take turns then," said Ara-Bella. "I will walk first, and when I get tired, I will take out the egg and let Mother Cackle walk. By the time she is ready to rest, MOK should be able to take over?"
    MOK nodded, too tired to even smile.
    "So if we keep taking turns and share the walk, maybe we shall be successful this time."
    Ara-Bella walked out of the door, and soon she had managed to shove the egg into the sack and started walking again. It would not matter if she had enough to eat, as she could get more food when she stopped and let Mother Cackle take over. However, she had been careful to put several casks of water into the bag and carried a water sling over her shoulder.
    She walked for many hours, until she began to feel faint from the sun, her large sunbonnet just wasn't as effective as she needed in the desert. Finally, she could go no farther and stopped to pull the egg out and switch with Mother Cackle.
    Then it was Mother Cackle's turn. She did take time to show Ara-Bella how to cut off pieces of a long armed cactus plant and rub it on her face and arms before grabbing what looked like a tent on a stick, stuffing her feet into the ten-league boots, and racing out of the door.
    And then a smiling MOK once again waved to the girls and took his turn again.
    Twice more Ara-Bella and Mother Cackle took turns walking. They could not go as far or as fast, but MOK was positive that they were making progress across the desert.
    Finally, MOK opened the door, collapsed at the table and declared, "We are here. But I don't think we really want to be ... Here that is." And fell asleep.
    Ara-Bella stepped through the door to see the tallest trees she had ever seen, and not a path in sight.

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  44. Just as she began to wonder how they were to pass through this gigantic forest, she heard a faint squeaking noise coming from her purse, and she remembered the mouse.

    "What, little squeaker?" she laughed, taking it up in her palm. "Do you believe you can help us out of this difficulty?"

    "Do but give me a morsel of cheese," quoth the mouse, "and a single seed from one of yonder large trees, and you shall see."

    Deeming there was nothing to lose, Ara-Bella followed the mouse's instructions, giving it a sizeable chunk of the cheese to nibble while she plucked a cone from the trees--like a redwood-cone, about the size of a walnut, with tiny pointed seeds between the flat layers. She pried one such seed out of the cone, fed it to the mouse, and waited.

    The mouse gave itself three shakes, and by the third shake, its shape had changed into that of a great winged Dragon, brownish-grey in color, with twinkling black eyes.

    "Mercy!" Ara-Bella exclaimed, clasping her hands. "Will wonders never cease? I suppose you can carry us all upon your back?"

    "I can, but only once," the mouse-Dragon replied. "The next time you cross this forest, you will use a different means of transportation."

    Once MOK had awakened (Ara-Bella had not the heart to disturb him, poor fellow) our friends once again put Red and Stretch into the barn egg, and the egg into the Endless Bag, and climbed up on the Dragon's back. A few mighty flaps of its wings, and it rose gracefully into the air and flew swiftly over the enormous trees.
    The forest seemed to spread as endlessly as had the Desert they had just crossed, the deep-green foliage shimmering and waving the the breeze.
    Suddenly, MOK, who sat in the back behind Ara-Bella, touched her shoulder and said, "Look ahead, my dear, at the horizon."

    Ara-Bella stretched herself up a little to see over Mother Cackle's head, and beheld a bright golden light just peering over the tree tops.

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  45. We had a dragon mouse? ::::: frantically reading the back story::::
    When did we get a dragon mouse?

    Hours passed, but the golden light did not grow, and the dragon's wings began to flap slower and slower.
    "Are you getting tired carrying all of us?" Ara-Bella asked.
    "It's much farther than I thought," admitted the dragon.
    "If you will land, land, land, we will ride in the barn, barn, barn," said Mother Kackle.
    "If my feet touch the dirt, dirt, dirt, I will once again be a mouse, mouse, mouse," snapped the dragon.
    MOK opened the bottomless bag and looked down into it. "The barn is just right here at the top, if I hold my breath, I think I can get into the door ok. Pull me out fast if I stop moving."
    He dove head first into the bag and soon even his feet had disappeared.
    "He's in, in, in."
    "Good, good, good," snapped the tired dragon, but it didn't help much, much, much."
    Mother Kackle glanced at herself and Ara-Bella and quickly dove into the bag as well.
    Ara-Bella glanced inside just in time to see MOK's long arm pull her inside the barn door and slam it shut. She also saw a stack of bright purple apples ... "MOK said those would give him extra energy crossing the desert!" and she grabbed 2.
    "Can you eat and fly at the same time?"
    "I suppose..," turning her snout over her shoulder, she caught the two purple globes neatly on her tongue.
    "Have you got more?" she asked a few minutes later?
    "About 20 more, maybe," replied Ara-Bella.
    She fed the dragon 10 more fruits, and they both decided to save the rest for later. Still the great dragon flew on, finally eating the last dozen fruit, and flew still more. Finally as the dragon could barely pull it's wings down another stroke, he felt land beneath the clouds and fell down exhausted, immediately turning into a tiny
    mouse again.
    Ara-Bella carefully removed the barn egg, and marched inside holding the little mouse. Going to an empty stall, she pulled together a pile of straw and set a bucket of sweet feed into the nest she made, and a large bowl of water beside it, then pulling a pillow from the bag, she set the sleeping mouse onto it. "Best I can do for you little one."
    The three companions walked outside and looked around, high in the clouds was an enormous castle ... but how were they going to get up there?
    "How long have we got?" asked Ara-Bella eyeing the distant mountains.
    "Two days," said MOK.
    "If only we had a rope that reached to the sky..." sighed Ara-Bella.
    "How about beans, beans, beans?" Mother Kackle opened her hand and there lay 3 bean seeds.

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  46. (August 2 entry--when Ara-Bella chooses what animals to ride. A mouse crawls into her purse.)

    Ara-Bella chuckled. "So now we get to play at being Jack," she smirked. "I only hope there are no hungry giants in yon castle."

    Mother Cackle gave a bean to her as she spoke, and another to MOK, keeping the third for herself. "Now do, do, do, exactly as I, I, I do," she instructed them. Then she raised her fist high above her head and flung the bean at the ground. MOK and Ara-Bella did the same at nearly the exact moment, and the beans exploded with a noise like a gunshot and a puff of glittering purple smoke.
    Three green stalks stretched upward from where the beans had landed, writing like snakes, growing larger and longer every second, reaching up towards the castle in the clouds.
    The stalks had grown a little above Mother Cackle's head when, on a whim, Ara-Bella suddenly grabbed the top of the one nearest and straddled it like a horse--much to the alarm of her friends. "Grab a hold!" she called gleefully as she rose upwards.

    MOK quickly hoisted Mother Cackle onto one stalk, leaping to catch the top of the third before it rose above his head. "A brilliant idea, my dear," he panted, "but you nearly gave me--er, us--a heart-attack with your spontaneity."

    Mother Cackle laughed at that, but before anyone could say more on the subject, the bean-stalks reached the foundation of the castle and ceased their rapid growth. Our friends stepped gingerly off the stalks and onto the clouds, which they found much more solid than they had supposed...although they found if they lingered too long in one spot, they began to sink slowly downwards.

    They walked quickly round the castle's massive base until they came to a gate of shining gold, set with diamonds that quite dazzled the eyes to look at. The gate stood open, and our friends walked into the cobble-stoned courtyard, which proved to be firmer footing than the clouds outside. Three archways--also of gold--stood before our friends, bordering long tunnels, each lit by golden torches and disappearing under the castle farther than they could see.

    "Which are we to take?" Ara-Bella wondered aloud. "All the tunnels look exactly alike."

    MOK began to answer, but paused at the sound of loud barking and roaring, and heavy footfalls, coming from the tunnels. In the archway of the first tunnel appeared a great black dog with three heads, each head growling and snarling and baring three sets of ferocious-looking teeth. In the second archway stood a black lion, roaring like a thousand cannons. In the third archway stood a black monster so ugly it could only be a troll, and it swung a gnarled wooden club threateningly at our friends.

    "Well, now," said MOK, standing protectively in front of Ara-Bella and Mother Cackle, "this complicates matters."

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  47. MOK began to back up, keeping the two behind him. To Ara-Bella's surprise, the 3 monsters became less and less agitated and by the time they had reached the gates, the three were all sitting or lying quietly in their doorways.

    "Let's build a fire and roast something," Ara-Bella suggested. The other two weren't so sure about doing something so insane, but if Ara-Bella thought it was wise to sit and cook and eat in front of their enemies, so be it.
    MOK started a fire, and then Mother Cackle had Red lay an egg, and they requested meats from the table. Mother Cackle stayed inside the house, while MOK did his best to protect Ara-Bella in her folly.
    As the meats started cooking, one of the dog heads lifted and started licking his chops. She tossed the dog a nice steak and started another one. A second dog head had taken notice of the steak being chewed inches from him, and began to whine, Ara-Bella tossed him a steak as well, and then a third to the third dog head.
    Once every dog head had scarfed down a second steak, the heads layed down on the paws and drifted off to sleep.
    A rumble began, the dragon's stomach. Ara-Bella and MOK had not failed to notice that when she tossed the last 4 steaks, the dragon's head had watched with growing interest. Soon Ara-Bella was lobbing half raw steaks in the dragon's direction.
    Meanwhile, the troll had turned his back on the whole proceedings shortly after Ara-Bella had tossed the first steak. But by the twentieth toss, MOK had pointed out a large protrence under the trolls arm .. it was the trolls nose, carefully sniffing the air and trying to not by obvious about it. She tossed a steak, and a second, and a third, and kept tossing until there were 10 untouched pieces of meat within arm reach of the troll.
    "Well, you can't win them all," sighed Ara-Bella.
    "Don't be so hasty, hasty, hasty," whispered Mother Cackle pointing.
    Glancing over her shoulder carefully, she saw a large hairy hand reach behind the troll and snag 2 steaks.

    The next morning, after the 3 had spent a perfectly safe night inside their egg cottage. Mother Cackle carefully stayed inside the door of the cottage and handed out sausage, eggs, bacon, more steaks, and fluffy pancakes. MOK helped cook, and soon breakfast was sailing out to the three antagonists, which even the troll, carefully pretending to have his back to them, grabbed as fast as items fell within reach.
    Finally, the dog laid down to sleep again, and the troll moved farther into his tunnel, with snore emitting from both tunnels. But the dragon stepped out of his tunnel, right up to their fire and blew smoke at them.
    Ara-Bella laughed. "Oh dear, you have syrup and butter all over your nose, you can't look properly fierce like that." And she stepped forward and to everyone's surprise, carefully cleaned the dragon's broad nose.

    Suddenly the dragon growled and roared, "My goodness girl, what will it take to scare you off?"
    "Well, I have to get that light relit you see, for my father, and family, and all of my friends, and all of the world which will be plunged into darkness if I don't pay for my curiosity.
    "Curiosity can be a very good thing, my opinion of course, my sister doesn't agree."
    He pondered a few minutes and then directed her two companions to get into and STAY inside their egg until he returned. They hastily complied when Ara-Bella gave them their instructions.
    "Now get on my back. We are going to be curious, break some rules, and light that lamp. It will be fun and glorious. I've always wanted to have a fair maiden ride my back and show her how great being a dragon can be."
    She climbed on his back, and he began to race down his tunnel with lightening speed.

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  48. I was just showing Kendra how the story was progressing, and to my horror, just realized that I had one of my "dyslexic moments". Somehow "black lion" turned into "dragon". Guess you can pick either animal to continue. But I was thinking "Beauty and the Beast" as I wrote that. Hmmm...

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  49. Shocked to realize ... this story is 3 months and still running. I think?

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  50. Brilliant! I was actually thinking of omitting the bit with the monsters, as it seemed the only way to get past them was to fight. Your solution is much cleverer...and more family-friendly. :-D

    And I'm thinking a Dragon will be of more use than a lion, so we'll go with that. I'll post my bit later this week if I can.

    I have another idea, Mama Eagle...but it's a surprise. E-mail me at tomwildrose@gmail.com (subject line "Top Secret"), and I'll tell you.... *Evil grin*

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  51. Haven't given up or forgotten--still dealing with a shoulder/arm injury that makes typing difficult.

    Here we go, then....

    * * *
    The tunnel stretched before them as far as Ara-Bella could see, lit by flickering torches along the walls. Then it took several sharp turns, around which the Dragon slithered gracefully as a serpent in water. At last they saw an archway identical to the one they had come through, and the dark tunnel gave way to a beautiful garden with flagstone paths, flower beds formed in whimsical shapes, and an enormous fountain in the exact center. But she had little time to admire the scenery, for the Dragon suddenly spread his wings and took to the air, darting toward a thin tower that stood higher than any other in the castle.
    "Yonder stands the Lantern," the Dragon informed her.
    "Then take us to it with all possible speed," Ara-Bella urged. "Time is running out, and I want to see my family again. I miss them terribly."
    "No doubt," the Dragon chuckled, adding slyly, "I suppose you also have a sweetheart awaiting you back home?"
    "Not that it is any of your affair, sirrah," she smirked, "but I have no sweetheart. I--I might have an admirer, however," she added with warming cheeks.
    "Ah, so? A local farm-boy, I'll be bound, or perhaps the son of the local burgomaster."
    Ara-Bella gave him a playful swat between the ears. "That would be telling, Master Impertinence."

    The Dragon flew on in sulky silence for a while after that, until they were nearly at the tower, which Ara-Bella now saw resembled an enormous lamp-post. The whole top of the tower consisted of a lantern of brass, copper, and iron, identical to the one her father had brought back from his travels, and which had given him so much grief. Ara-Bella was just about to ask how they were to relight it, when the Dragon spoke again:
    "Supposing you had another admirer, fair maid--one much richer and more powerful than the one you refuse to tell me about. Would you throw over the first and consent to marry the second?"
    Ara-Bella frowned. "Really, Dragon, you ask the oddest questions. What can that possibly have to do with anything? Pray focus on the task at hand--how to relight the Lantern of the Sun and save the world from eternal darkness. We can discuss my love-life afterwards."
    The Dragon nodded, chuckling, and said no more.

    They landed on a narrow ledge that ran all round the Lantern, and at length Ara-Bella found a door in the glass leading inside. Just as she touched the door-handle, however, she heard a noise like the flapping of many wings, and ominous cries of, "Nevermore, Forevermore, Anymore, Nothing More."
    Startled, she turned to see what made the sounds, and to her horror beheld the Raven-drawn carriage, with its owner sitting erect on the driver's seat. With each croak of her Ravens, the dark lady flicked a whip over their heads, and the expression on her face was terrible to see.

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  52. Oh dear...have I killed the story? :-(

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  53. No, just a long week and a very, very full plate. I'm mulling my next move.

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    1. Oh, good! *Whew!* Hope things are more settled now.

      Onward, then! :-D

      Delete
  54. Ara-Bella stood staring at the Lady, "Are you here to stop me?"

    "Of course not," purred the lady in a soothing voice, "I am here to ensure that you succeed. If you fail, then the world will be dark forever, and you would not want that, would you?"

    Ara-Bella slowly turned the knob, the door swung open easily. The Lady followed her inside, careful to not touch any part of the metal frame of the door. Ara-Bella found this strange, but made no comment. The room inside was much larger than it had appeared from the outside, so Ara-Bella was not surprised to see the great dragon follow them both inside.

    She was however, surprised to see both MOK and Mother Cackle held in chains by the Troll that they had left behind that morning, and even more surprised to see the largest of the raven's from the carriage hop inside and stand beside his mistress.

    Her long manicured finger pointed to the far wall, and Ara-Bella sighed as she strode toward it. Glancing around the room, there were 24 tables at regular intervals, each table contained a large coin, a bowl, and a pitcher of liquid. Half of the liquid shone golden like the sun, and the other half shone white like the moon. As she stepped up to the first table, she saw a tiny slip of paper and read, "Place the coin in the exact center of the bowl, take a hair of your head and place on top of the coin, and chant, One o'clock as you pour the sunshine over the coin. That sounded easy enough, and so she did. At the second table, the instructions were repeated, with the exception of her mantra, now it was "two o'clock". And thusly it continued throughout the first twelve bowls - all blue like the sky.

    At the thirteenth bowl, the table was now a dark wood, and a black bowl. The instructions changed somewhat, now she was required to place a single tear on the coin, and start again at one o'clock, as she poured the shimmering milky liquid over the coin. Odd, but she managed this side with as little trouble as the first side. As she finished the last bowl, she looked back to see each bowl was shining up toward mirrors on the ceiling. But the rays of all but one were going off at odd angles.

    One mirror shown directly onto the rounded surface of the unlit lamp. She looked thoughtfully at the mirrors and the lamp. Then moved toward the first table, adjusted the mirror to strike the lamp, an went on to the next table.

    As she finished each table. She was surprised to see Mother Cackle and MOK hanging their heads with tears in their eyes. The raven had turned his back and stared out the door. He also seemed sad. And the dragon shifted from leg to leg, swinging his tail and head as his eyes never left the Lady's face.

    She worked her way steadily around the room, which grew brighter and hotter with each mirror, until after the 23rd bowl, even the Lady had lowered her head, and then lifted a bare, milk white arm, and shaded her eyes.

    With a great roar, the dragon leapt at the lantern and threw his bulk into the side, crashing through the delicate glass and metal designs and landing squarely onto the burning surface of the lamp. The dragon leapt clear of the shattered lantern and swung his great tail at the tables on the far side of the room.

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  55. (wouldn't all fit...)
    Ara-Bella was horrified. Almost she had succeeded. Now the world would be thrust into darkness forever. She fell to the floor sobbing as she heard the great Lady shrieking in despair. The sounds of splintering wood and shattering glass continued. The liquid from the bowls rain across the floor, and covered the great dragon's bulk.

    But as the two liquids mixed together, a remarkable thing was happening, for there stood not a great dragon, but a mighty man, dressed in golden armor, who shone like the sun, and beside him was a dark man in dark armor, with hair and eyes that shone like the moon. The images of each the exact duplicate of the other but like a negative, one dark where the other was light. In amazement, as she watched, a fair girl, only slightly older than a child, ran between them, bowed her head and sobbed, "Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me!" To the side, the troll still held MOK in chains. And the Lady's face predicted a storm would soon reign on the rivers of light still mixing on the floor.

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  56. "You fool!" the Lady shrieked at the Golden Man. "You dare defy me? You dare interfere--"

    "I do!" the Golden Man retorted--and his voice sounded like the Dragon's. "You interfered with our lives--you and this foolish girl"--pointing to the maiden and scowling at her--"I'm simply returning the favor. You can kill me if you've the stomach to, but I'd do it again!"

    Ara-Bella stilled her sobs during this exchange, listening attentively. She began to see which way the wind blew, and while the Golden Man and the Dark Lady shouted at each other some more, Ara-Bella rose and picked up one of the bowls the Dragon had scattered in his rampage.

    The Dark Lady spotted her and cried out, "Stop!"

    The Golden Man and his reverse-image brother leapt forward and restrained the Lady.

    Ara-Bella scooped up a bowlful of the white-golden liquid, which shone almost too brightly to look at, and dashed it over MOK. Some of the liquid landed on the Troll.

    The Dark Lady howled like a Banshee and struggled against her captors, but they held her fast.

    Ara-Bella then gathered another bowlful of liquid and frowned at the Dark Lady. "I've had about all I can take of you, madam," she snorted. "You brought my poor father sorrow and misery; you have plagued these good people here; you have threatened the whole world with eternal darkness. The world is better rid of you, and I've a feeling I know how to bring that about"--glancing down at the glowing liquid.

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  57. Ara-Bella didn't hesitate, she tossed the liquid into the lady's face, and stepped backwards, unsure what to do next.

    Nearly instantly, the lady began to change, aging and shrinking, until she was a tiny old woman no larger than a small child. Still the two men held her as if she were dangerous. The young girl ran up with the chains that had held Mother Kackle and MOK, and wrapped them around the lady and locked them tight. Then the men carried her to the troll ... who was now a very stunned looking guard ... and instructed him to take the lady to the dungeons.

    As the door opened, the lady's grand sleigh was gone, and in it's place stood a tiny goat cart and two small goats.

    Ara-Bella turned into the room. Their still stood MOK, maybe a bit shorter, but it was MOK. She ran to him, begging, "Please explain, I do not know if I hurt the world forever or fixed a great wrong."

    MOK looked down at her with his slow, easy smile, and took her hand, "You have freed us from a great enchantment. The lady you just defeated, tricked the young girl you see there, not once, but three times!" He hesitated and then continued, "You know her as Mother Kackle, but she is the younger sister of these two men. Solar rules the day, and Lunar ruled the night. I am simply MOK, keeper of all fairy tale items that are no longer needed."

    The golden man came up to her then and took her by the hand. "You have freed us from our enchantment, and now I will marry you, for you have shown great cunning and courage."

    Ara-Bella looked stunned. "But, I wanted to go home and see my family."

    "No matter," said the man, "My brother will bring them here!" With that the silver man grinned, and took off running through the door. As he lept from the tower, several great white owls flew by pulling a large sleigh behind them that shone like the moon.

    Solar pulled Ara-Bella by the hand out into the tiny courtyard. MOK and Mother Kackle followed them down the long winding stairs and into a large sitting room.

    "But what of the girl, Mother Kackle? Will you take her back? And what of MOK, will he go home? And what if I do not wish to marry you?"

    Solar seemed stunned. "Well of course you want to marry me, I chose you, did I not? You will sing for me, and play for me, and dance for me, and we will live here in this castle forever."

    Ara-Bella looked over her shoulder at MOK with sad eyes. He stood resolutely, refusing to let her catch his eye.

    "As for my sister," Solar sighed, "I do not know what to do with her right now. We can discuss it after the wedding."

    Just then, Lunar returned with Ara-Bella's family. She ran to her father and hugged him as if she would never let him go.

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  58. (Blogger ATE my bit last week, and I kept forgetting to re-write it.)

    "My darling child!" the old merchant cried. "God be praised you still live. I feared I would never see you again in life."
    "I've missed you, too, Daddy," Ara-Bella whispered, tears forming in her eyes.

    Momma and Ara-Bella's two sisters, however, were quite put out about being all but kidnapped by Prince Lunar and whisked off to a strange castle without so much as a by-your-leave--and that right in the middle of rehearsing for the countess' ball the next week. They blamed Ara-Bella for the mischief demanded and an explanation.

    Now a plan had been forming in Ara-Bella's mind ever since the enchantment had been broken, and Prince Solar had declared his intention to marry her, and she decided now was the best time to set that plan in motion. She smiled sweetly at her family and stood next to Prince Solar. "Well, dear ones," she replied, allowing the Sun Prince to take hold of her hand, "it was to fetch you for my wedding."

    Stunned silence filled the sitting room, followed by exclamations of surprise and disbelief from her family.

    Ara-Bella then asked Prince Solar if they might send a servant to fetch a clergyman to perform the marriage rites, and if they might also hold a banquet and ball afterwards, to celebrate their engagement, while they awaited the priest's arrival.

    "I can refuse you nothing, my darling," the Sun Prince replied staunchly, "since you have risked so much to save me from my vile enchantment. It shall be done as you say."

    To her sisters, Ara-Bella said, "Dear Ana-Aria and Ada-Maria, will you sing and play for the party tonight? It seems an age and a half since I last heard your sweet music, and I daresay it would be received favorably here."

    The sisters, along with their mother, eagerly agreed to the chance to perform.

    Prince Solar then ordered the servants to prepare rooms for their guests, and sent his captain of the guard (who had been the Troll) to fetch the priest. Ara-Bella noticed Prince Lunar offering to escort Ada-Maria himself, and she smiled about that.

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  59. (Continued....)

    Then Prince Solar took Ara-Bella by the arm and led her out into the royal gardens (even though she would have preferred to remain in the sitting room and speak with her father). As they walked, Ara-Bella again brought up the subject of his sister, whom she had known as Mother Cackle.
    "Won't you and your brother please forgive her?"

    A cloud passed over the Sun Prince's face. "She deserves no consideration," he growled. Then his face brightened a little, and he patted her hand as though comforting a child. "But you must not worry your pretty head about things that don't concern you. As I said before, we can discuss her further after we are married."

    "Would you at least let her attend the party?" Ara-Bella persisted, swallowing the biting retort that sprang to her tongue. "You did say you'd refuse me nothing, and it sits ill with me to think of my friend and traveling companion being excluded. This is supposed to be a happy occasion, after all."

    "As you wish, my dear," Prince Solar agreed reluctantly, "but I must speak to my brother first. He may not be as eager to oblige you as I am. Can you bear to do without me for a little while?"
    Ara-Bella pretended to be disappointed. "Oh, well, I suppose I can manage," she sighed.

    The Sun Prince then left her in search of his brother, and when he was out of sight, Ara-Bella dashed off to find her father, and perhaps MOK, as well. She found them both still in the sitting room, seated comfortably and talking amiably together. At sight of her, they both rose and came toward her, but MOK halted after a few steps and stood sadly by his chair.

    "How fortunate I've found you both," Ara-Bella said after hugging her father again. "Now that Prince Solar has gone for a spell, we can talk freely."

    "Daughter," said her father, his tone serious, "is it true that you are to marry the Sun Prince?"

    His question took her aback, but she covered her confusion with a playful smirk. "Oh, yes, Daddy. He chose me, you know."

    "But what do you know of this man? And how long have you known him?"

    "Well, I know he's the ruler of the Daylight hours. And I've known him since yesterday--although he was a Dragon then."

    "Is this truly what you want?"

    Ara-Bella tried to catch MOK's eye...and failed. "It's what the Sun Prince wants," she answered, less cheerfully as she intended. "He chose me."

    "This is not like you at all, Daughter. I thought I had taught you better principles than that."

    "Don't be too hard on her, sir," MOK spoke up gently. "Prince Solar is used to getting what he wants, and often forgets that other people have opinions, too. And feelings," he added under his breath. He mumbled something about letting Ara-Bella speak privately, but Ara-Bella asked him to stay. He offered no objection.

    "I thought perhaps you both could enlighten me," she stated, sitting on the velvet settee opposite their arm-chairs. "MOK, would you be so kind as to explain exactly why the Sun Prince and Moon Prince are so angry with Mother Cackle--I mean their sister? What has she done that was so very terrible? And how can we convince them to forgive her?
    "Daddy," she continued, "now that the Dark Lady--or whoever that terrible witch was--is defeated, perhaps now you can tell me the whole truth behind the lantern that caused all this trouble."

    (Your turn, Mama Eagle! :-D)

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    1. Meant to say...letting Ara-Bella and her father speak privately....

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  60. "Perhaps, I should answer first ...," said MOK, "as I'm sure my story predates your own and influenced it. And in the telling of mine, yours will make more sense."

    MOK stared at the ornate ceiling for many long minutes before sighing and beginning.

    "Many years ago Solar and Lunar were born twins. Their father taught them diligently how to rule the day and the night, taking over as lads for their parents. The household was a happy one. And then a princess was born, they named her Starshine, and everyone who met her loved her. As a young girl, she asked for a playmate, and her parents began to search for a suitable match. One day, a young girl drove up in a little goat cart, and asked to meet the princess. The two became fast friends and were soon inseperable.

    It was not long though, before things started going wrong, though no one quite knew what to make of the events. It was small things, the owls molting in the wrong season, the unicorns getting the sniffles, the pond loosing it's glitter. But things began to be more serious, and soon people below began to panic as creatures came up from the deep seas and seasons became less predictable."

    "The great Sky King and his bride, the Mother Earth, parents to the three children, went in search of the problem and the solution, the only word that returned was ... Traitor."

    "About the same time, the princes began to notice that the princess' companion seemed to have a strange control over their sister, and that they were often cruel and subversive in their actions to others. Fearing the worst, the boys sent the girls to my father and myself for safekeeping."

    "It was perhaps not a well thought out plan, as the girls soon had the key to the great treasure rooms. From them they took two pair of matching shackles, a great lantern to change time and space and reality, and a small bag of silencing and truth powder. The powder they began tossing into the eyes of all at my castle ... enchanting both me and my father. It was the hand of Princess Starshine herself that did it."

    "Later, I learned that the Princesses companion was actually the Great Hag of Desruption, and she walked freely with the princess around my castle in her true form. They were making plans to overthrow Solar and Lunar, but due to the nature of the silencing powder, I could answer no man on any subject that they had discussed with me or in front of me, nor could any person in my castle.

    Next, the twosome returned with me to lend them credence to their own castle, where with the help of the magic shackles, which had the power to transform any being into an enchanted monster. Which was the fate of the twin Princes of Sky.

    And finally, they had to find a man willing to keep the great lantern lit so they could change reality into their own wishes. I think that was you sir.

    But all was not well in Princess Starshine's world. As soon as the Great Hag had everything as she wished, she denied the Princess her right to rule the sky, and turned her into Mother Kackle, cursed to repeat all three times to remind her that she had betrayed her three greatest supporters, Solar, Lunar, and myself - with absolute greed and jealousy, and then she sprinkled the small remaining portion of the silencing powder over her head. I took the girl back to my castle, what else could I do?"

    MOK sighed and looked forlorn.

    Ara-Bella looked at her father, "Interesting... and Father, what of you?"

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  61. Arabella's father stood and stretched, then walked over to a window nearby and stared out for many long minutes. Arabella and MOK stood patiently and waited. Finally he turned and began to speak.

    When your mother and I married, I had a find fishing boat and a small house. I was had inherited my father's business, and my uncle's house. Things looked fine for our future. Then our first child was born, with the voice of an angle, and shortly after a second who could play chords on the piano before she was a year old. People would peer into our windows to watch the little girls. This pleased your mother greatly.

    It was not long before she was purchasing cloth to make them pretty dresses and asking for more money to decorate the little sitting room. And of course the girls needed lessons. Awed by their talent, I could see my wife was right. But in my heart, I knew I would fail them all, for my little fishing business could not support their talent.

    I began venturing farther out to sea, it was dangerous and a gamble, but if I could bring home harder to find fish, then I could sell them at a much higher price. And then one day I was trapped at sea in a storm, and when I saw land the next day, it was not our own. I made for the harbor, wanting to learn where on earth we had washed up and hoping to sell our fish and find provisions for the trip home.

    As it turned out, the fish in our hold were not common in that city, and soon a diplomat from the castle had come to purchase a large quantity, and the Queen wanted us to bring it to her ourselves.

    She was enchanting, and offered us baths, and fresh clothing, and then she treated us to fine meal and splendid entertainment. Out of turn, I boasted of the talent of my young daughters. She was intrigued and asked me how I planned to provide for their talents. At that I was embarrassed, how could I admit my failure to provide for them.

    She was a wonderful host, and we enjoyed ourselves very much. She showed us many wonders of her land, and we did not notice the passage of time. One night though, as I was gazing at the moon, I realized that we had been in this place for many weeks, for the moon was nearly the phase it had been when we arrived. The next morning I pleaded with her to assist us in a hasty departure. She agreed, and then asked me to come to her treasure room.

    There she showed me a lamp. She told me that she was cursed, and the spell could only be broken if she were to assist a man to greatness and in return he was able to keep this lamp lit for 25 years. I readily agreed, and she gave me a goodly supply of jewels and gold, and gave me a great new ship and made me its captain, then she filled the hold with many wonderful things to sell that would not perish. Finally, she gave me a magic map that would always show me the best routes and the best locations to sell my goods.

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  62. It took us over a week to make our way back home. I now had two crews and two boats. My little fishing boat was filled to the brim with all manor of goods, just like my new ship, and it was a great welcome when I finally arrived home. At first, my good wife was unhappy to see me. I discovered that we had not been gone for a mere month, but nearly a full year. She was seeing a fine gentleman at parties, and had been wondering if she could get him to make her a fine lady.

    One thing had held her back from her goal, for after a grand scolding, which ended with my placing a pocketbook of gold coins into her hand, she fled to another room and returned to place a new baby in my arms, my daughter had been born while I was away. She looked up and smiled, the first time she had ever smiled, and I was smitten. My wife was well pleased with the gold, the promise of a grander home, our new status, and a bright future for her older daughters. And I was much pleased with my youngest daughter, who was gentle and beautiful and kind. While her sisters flitted about with lessons, performances, and fittings and shopping. This daughter would spend hours at my feet playing or on my knee listening to the adventures trading. She often came to the offices with me, and even came with me on my trips. She learned to take care of the lantern, and when the time came for her to stay home, she kept it to remember me by.

    He sat in silence, then looked up at her. "Why child, why are you marrying the prince when it is this MOK that you love?"

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  63. Ara-Bella mulled over the histories her father and MOK had related, finally comprehending things that had puzzled her during her travels. The queen who gave her father the lantern—that must have been the Hag of Destruction, disguised somehow. But it really didn’t matter now. The Hag was defeated and locked in the dungeon where she would never again trouble the world. Her enchantments were broken, her victims restored to their proper forms.
    The news of her mother’s…folly, to put it delicately…saddened her. How could a wife forget her husband after only a year? But thankfully, Father had returned, and preventing Mother from making a horrible mistake…even if it would have “made her a fine lady.” Now Ara-Bella understood her mother’s and sisters’ discontentment with their home, and why they had treated herself with contempt. Well, that was the past; if her plan succeeded, it would show them she bore them no ill-will now.
    And while Ara-Bella had grown to like old Mother Cackle—Princess Starshine, rather—that in no way erased the fact that she had been rather wicked. No wonder her brothers were loth to forgive her now! And yet, it was obvious the poor girl had repented and was truly sorry for her foolishness. Ara-Bella determined to find a way to help restore peace in the Royal Family…somehow….
    “Why, child,” her father asked, dispelling her reverie, “why are you marrying the prince when it is this MOK that you love?”
    His question took her off guard, and she remained silent for a moment, pondering how to answer her father. Once again, she tried to catch MOK’s eye. Once again, she failed. She faced her father. “I actually don’t intend to,” she replied, smiling to herself when MOK did a double-take. “He declared he would marry me, without so much as a by-your-leave,” she explained. “But I really don’t believe he’d be happy with me, especially when he discovers I can’t exactly sing like an angel.”
    “You have an idea,” MOK deduced.
    She smiled. “Indeed I do. I shall tell you both—but you must promise to keep it absolutely secret—”
    At that moment, Prince Solar entered the room.
    “Trust me,” Ara-Bella whispered, looking her father and MOK steadily in the eye.
    Prince Solar strode up to her, taking her arm with his usual confidence, and Ara-Bella pasted on an adoring smile. “My darling,” said the Prince, “my brother and I have decided to allow our sister to attend the banquet tonight—for your sake. More than that, we cannot promise.”
    “Well, that’s a beginning,” Ara-Bella conceded. “Thank you so much, dear Prince. The celebration of the coming marriage will seem more complete now, with all my friends and family present.”
    Then the Sun Prince excused himself and Ara-Bella and took her back into the royal gardens.
    Ara-Bella threw a wink over her shoulder to her father and MOK as they left.

    To be continued….

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  64. Ara-Bella strolled through the garden with her hand on the Prince's arm as protocol demanded. She sighed, unless she could convince the Prince to look elsewhere, she was in for a long dull life.

    "Why is it again that you wish to marry me?" she asked.

    "Are you not beautiful? Are you not clever? Are you not kind? these are important in the land of fairy tales. We will marry as the rules apply to a man, or a maid, who has overcome all to free a land from wickedness. And we will live happily ever after. The End."

    "But what will we do after "The End"? she asked him.

    "You will sing, and spin gold, and have beautiful children," he paused, obviously puzzled. "Is there more?"

    "There is that singing part. Sir, I don't sing. My sister's are talented, it is true, but not I." she scrubbed the toe of her slipped across the stone beneath her feet, now nervous that she had confessed her shortcoming. He looked confused.

    "I have an idea though," she offered to him with hope. "Let us have a grand party. I will sing or play for you, or both. Then my sister's will fill the evening with entertainment as is their enjoyment in life. It will sooth them for the abrupt departure to bring them here, as they are missing a party with the Duke of Yore tonight."

    The Prince grasped at her idea, "Yes, an engagement banquet. At the end I will present you as my bride. But I will hear you sing, and your sister's as well. Perhaps one will please my brother well and you will have family here with you to fill your days!"

    With a smile, the Prince returned Ara-Bella to her father before striding off to set in motion grand plans for a banquet to outdo all banquets, and all would be ready by nightfall.

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  65. That evening, the Sky Castle shone like the full moon and all the stars combined, and the inner rooms glowed like the noonday sun. The servants prepared a sumptuous banquet of the rarest and tastiest fare, the most refreshing drinks, and the daintiest desserts. The new ballgowns Prince Solar had ordered for Ara-Bella and her mother and sisters sparkled and shimmered in the candlelight. Even her father and MOK sported fine evening garb, and Ara-Bella found herself thinking how handsome MOK looked in his. She also smiled to herself at Prince Lunar’s attentions to Ada-Maria and was consequently too excited and nervous to eat much of anything.
    After dinner, Prince Solar bade Ara-Bella sing one of his favorite arias, to which she agreed with a smile…and a sinking feeling when she saw how difficult it was. Nevertheless, she set the music on the piano-forte for Ada-Maria to play, and attempted to sing. While she could stay on key and had some sense of rhythm, Ara-Bella still made rather a rough go of it in a couple places, until halfway through the song Ana-Aria cried out, “Stop! Enough! Stupid child, you are butchering that lovely song, and I sha’n’t stand for it.”
    “I daresay this piece is beyond my poor skill, Sister,” Ara-Bella agreed pleasantly. “Would you care to sing it yourself, and show us how it ought to be sung?”
    “And how!” Ana-Aria flounced up to the piano-forte, snatched the music from Ara-Bella’s hands, and nodded to Ada-Maria to begin again. What a difference! Ana-Aria’s voice soared among the clouds, trembled with emotion, and touched all the right chords in every listener.
    Ara-Bella grinned all over herself when she caught sight of Prince Solar’s awestruck face as he listened, enraptured, to her sister.
    After Ana-Maria finished the song, deep silence followed, for no one wished to break the spell her voice had cast. At length, however, Prince Solar applauded loudly, and the rest of the guests joined him. The Prince begged her to sing more, to which request she gladly consented. And Prince Lunar gallantly offered to turn the pages for Ada-Maria as she accompanied her.
    “Well, now,” MOK whispered in Ara-Bella’s ear, “that’s interesting. Is this the plan you tried to tell your father and me about earlier?”
    Ara-Bella gave him an impish smile. “What do you think?”
    “I think you’re a clever girl, my dear, but I wonder if the Sun Prince is clever enough to realize his True Love isn’t a flaming ginger after all.”
    “We shall see in a moment,” she replied, seeing the Prince approaching; “here he comes now.”

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  66. Prince Solar bade MOK allow him a moment alone with Ara-Bella, and when MOK was out of earshot, took Ara-Bella by the hands and looked rather tragical. “My darling, I have news for you that may be unpleasant,” he declared, “yet it must be said, for it would be unfair for us to go on as we are, with this secret burning in my soul.”
    “Well, we can’t have anyone’s souls burning, can we?” Ara-Bella quipped. “Pray tell me at once, dear Prince, and have it out. I shall endure it bravely.”
    “I have no doubt of that, for I saw how unconcerned you were when you fed me steaks—in my enchanted form—rather than fleeing in terror. Ah! I do believe I fell in love with you at that moment.”
    “…however…?”
    “However…well, my dear, you were indeed correct when you declared you cannot sing. Oh, your voice is pleasant enough—for church choirs and village theatricals and such—but…well, really, the wife of the Sun Prince must necessarily have the voice of an angel.”
    “And have you found such a one, my lord?”
    Prince Solar’s face fairly glowed. “Ah! Indeed I have, and I marvel that I have never heard of the lady ere now. What style, what grace, what sensitivity to the mood of the music! Such a maiden would make a more than adequate Queen for me.” He sighed rapturously, and it was all Ara-Bella could do not to giggle. “So you see, dear maiden, I fear I cannot possibly marry you after all, although I shall ever admire your spirit and courage. Can you forgive me, sweet Ara-Bella, and accept me as a brother, instead of a husband? For you must know, it is your adorable sister Ana-Aria—how fitting a name for such a bird-like singer!—it is Ana-Aria whom I truly love.”
    Ara-Bella primed up her mouth into a somber expression, sighing deeply, as though resigning herself to some hard fate. “Well, I might have expected it, dear Prince. From the moment you mentioned singing, I knew my case was lost, and that my dear sister would charm your Highness with her angelic voice.” She put on a brave smile. “As for the rest, there’s nothing to forgive, and if my father and mother are agreeable to the match, I would be honored to be your sister-in-law.”
    “You are as gracious as you are beautiful and brave! But are you certain this breaking of our engagement will not break your heart?”
    Ara-Bella let out another sigh. “If it does, then it will soon heal again. And in any case, it wouldn’t be fair—or right—for you to marry me, when you love my sister.”
    “We must find you a husband,” the Prince declared, “to ease the pain of losing myself in that role.”
    Ara-Bella was about to protest, when the Prince called MOK—who was speaking with Ara-Bella’s father nearby—to come over. In a confidential tone Prince Solar informed MOK of the situation, concluding with, “My friend, you have been faithful to myself and my royal brother—who I see still sitting at the piano-forte—and have assisted this gallant lady in her dangerous quest. Therefore, I deem you worthy of her hand, for she was my chosen bride until this evening, and therefore I could not entrust her to just anyone.” Then he placed Ara-Bella’s hand in MOK’s, wished them joy, and then dashed off to ask Ana-Aria to open the ball with him.
    Ara-Bella and MOK looked at each other rather foolishly for a moment.
    “Was this part of your plan, my dear?” MOK asked.
    “That would be telling,” she smirked. “But I have a feeling it was part of yours.”
    MOK nodded. “Worked it out with your father while you and Prince Solar were in the garden. An amiable fellow, your father. I’m quite fond of him.”
    “That makes two of us.”
    The musicians began the opening strains of the first dance, and the guests began pairing up. MOK, still holding Ara-Bella’s hand, bowed and asked, “May I have this dance?”
    Ara-Bella was about to consent, when she spotted Princess Starshine standing alone in a corner of the room, her face the picture of sadness. With an apologetic smile to MOK, she answered, “Perhaps the next one. There’s a matter I must attend to first.”

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  67. Ara-Bella edged her way over to the corner where the Princess stood half hidden behind an elaborate draperies of lavender and rose of the finest silks. She slid behind the neighboring drape and let her shoulder rest against Starshine's, it was quite a cozy corner. "Your brother told me his side of the story. So has my father and MOK. But I have yet to hear your story."
    Starshine startled, as if surprised. "Nobody has yet asked. I no longer believed anyone wanted to know."
    "I do," Ara-Bella whispered. From the corner of her eye, she saw MOK slide behind the drapes on the other side of the Princess. She hoped that meant he was also interested in her story, as things are rarely what they seem on the surface.
    Starshine sighed deeply and began her story.
    I was born late to my parents. My brothers were already full grown, my parents doted on their only daughter, and my nearly my every wish was granted. But baby wishes are innocent, and do not cause harm to others. I had several nurses, and my days were filled with golden balls, shiny rattles, colorful rainbows, and much laughter. It was a wonderful babyhood.
    But in time, I was still young, maybe 7 or 8, I began to notice that I was the only small person in my whole world. I asked my father if other small people existed, and he took me out to look at earth, where I could see other girls like me, skipping, playing with dolls, and giggling together. I watched them every day for more than a year, I learned to skip, my father had beautiful dolls brought to me from every land on earth, and I was happy. I was given books, a teacher, dresses, and music to fill my days. But one day, I wanted a playmate, someone to giggle with and share my dolls and dresses.
    I asked my father and mother. I thought perhaps some of the little girls who seemed to have no home and no dresses or dolls, I wanted one of them, or more than one, to come play with me in my gardens and play rooms. But after a few days, my father said he would find me a suitable playmate and to "run along."
    Time passed, I did not know if they were going to bring me a playmate or not, it seemed to be a long time and I feared my request had been pushed aside.
    But one day, a pretty girl came into my garden. She had gold hair, blue eyes, and was riding in a tiny goat cart covered with flowers. I was sure my father had sent her, and we played together all of the time. She had a bed in my room. We shared everything.
    She had some of the funniest ideas. One day we switched the salt and the sugar. Breakfast was very funny. We put powder in my brother's britches, and they could not sit still for the state dinner with MOK and his father. Often I wondered if our tricks were good, but she was ever my friend and would whisper to me until I agreed with her.

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  68. More and more I felt, not quite myself. I felt as if I was living almost inside a dream. I fear that what I saw as truth, was perhaps much worse. My mother and father left, and soon the two of us girls happily enjoyed our visit with MOK, for he was even better to tease than my brothers. One day she found a key, and we found the door and a room full of the largest number of toys. My friend ... do you know, I never had a name for her? Why did I never have a name for her? But she found a beautiful necklace for me and begged me to wear it, then she found a belt of shiny black belt and fit it about my waist.

    MOK gasped. "I did not know that!"

    Princess Starshine gave him a puzzled look. I have long ago realized that the room she brought me to was not a room of toys, but of the magic your father had collected from earth. Please tell me, what did she put on me?

    MOK sighed. "The necklace was of adoration. As long as you wore it, you would only see everything she did as good and right, you would never see her as wrong. And the belt was of altered reality. Whatever she told you that she was doing, that is what you would see."

    "She gave me baskets of flowers to throw at everyone. I only saw flowers. We had a great party and then my father came and got us to take us home. I was very happy, until an old hag came and took my belt and my necklace and turned me into an ugly old woman. What girl of 14 wants to look like an old woman. But even so, as I you brought me back, I realized that what I saw of my playmate was perhaps not true, but I could never ask you or anyone. And my parents were gone."

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  69. They stood there silently for a few minutes.

    Mok finally broke the silence. "Do you even want to stay in the sun palace? You were lonely for so long." He paused, he brow furloughed in thought. "You seemed so happy helping the people of earth, the ones who needed help. I wonder, if I were to give you a guard and the rooster and the purse of money, would you be happy on Earth?"

    She shuffled her toe under her skirt, the dangling ribbons movement giving her away. "I suppose, I think I should like that." she whispered.

    "But?" asked Ara-Bella.

    "Um, well, when I was at your castle Mok. There was a man there who was very kind. But I don't think you would let him come as my guard."

    Mok looked puzzled. "One of the guards? One of the servants? Who?"

    "I never actually considered why he was there. His name was Jack."

    MOK looked stunned. "I have no Jack working for me. I have no idea who it would .... be?"
    He looked thoughtful. "Describe him."

    "His hair was so blonde as to be almost white. And his eyes so blue as a cold day in winter. He was thin, and laughed often. We talked endlessly of the children on earth. After a while, he would bring me things to paint, dolls, trucks, blocks. I loved helping him, and in return he played checkers and chess and even poker with me."

    MOK began to chuckle. I have no guard or servant that answers to Jack. But I do know a Jack, and once in a while, he has been known to drop by. He's a cousin of mine. I cannot have him be your guard. His name is Jack Frostian Clausenhammer. And I can let him know what has become of you." Mok reached into his pocket and pulled out a crystal, which he rubbed 3 times before placing it in the Princess's small hand.

    "What is this?"

    "One of Jack's calling cards. He will find you." With that he extended his hand to Ara-Bella and led her out onto the floor to dance. When Ara-Bella looked over MOK's shoulder to see the Princess, she was happily chatting with a man in a dark green suit.

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