A Patchwork Fairy Tale: the one with the tired queen, the yearning prince, and the remarkable artist.
Before he will agree to take the throne, a young prince begs to be shown three actual miracles, because he isn’t ready to rule and feels like he knows nothing of the world.
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[Gentle theme music]
Laura: Hi, you can call me Laura, I’m here to tell you a story if you like. You found one of my Patchwork Fairy Tales. This is the one with the tired queen, the yearning prince, and the remarkable artist. This story contains dealing with grief, nothing too dark, but please take care of yourself.
The Three Miracles
There once was a royal couple that was grand as grand could be. Grand were their royal ways and grand was their royal happiness when they were blessed with a son. He wasn’t their first child, he was their third, but no less welcome because of it. Their first had also been a son, but their second a daughter, and the royal couple was secretly pleased at the sheer symmetry of having two boys and a girl in the middle. They had always wished to have three children and now, with their last wish fulfilled, their happiness could finally be said to equal their grandness and kindness. They really were very happy indeed and as their children grew, the royal family’s happiness grew with them.
Sadly, even perfect happiness cannot always protect against sickness and one day the king got so ill that everyone knew he would never recover. The king died and the whole country mourned his loss. The queen wept for her husband and the two eldest children cried over their beloved father, but the youngest prince felt such unbearable sadness he could not even cry out loud.
With the passing of the years the sadness over the loss of the king subsided and life in the kingdom and the royal palace began to know joy and everyday pleasures again. However, with the sting of mourning slowly fading, the dull ache of worry began to plague the queen. She was worried about the future of the kingdom. She had grown weary of her duties and did no longer feel like a good monarch. It occurred to her that it was a long time ago that she had sat silently and looked earnestly at the state of affairs.
So the queen sat down on her throne and had an earnest look. What she saw was a kingdom in need of guidance and a queen in need of a successor to her throne.
That successor, she concluded, must be the youngest prince. Her eldest son had gone out into the world and had married the heir to a foreign throne and although the queen was greatly in favour of strengthening ties between nations, she was not so much in favour of actually uniting kingdoms. The princess meanwhile, had sailed across the sea to see foreign shores and learn foreign languages and while she wrote home very regularly, it did not sound like she would soon be coming back. So there was only the youngest prince, his mother’s only stay-at-home and principle comfort, who could take the throne.
The queen was proud of her son and thought very highly of his character and abilities. She was sure he would make an excellent king. Still, she knew that what she was offering him was a very heavy burden, and sure enough, the prince was very distressed at the sudden news.
“Why must I take the throne?” he protested. “Me being the youngest of our family!”
His mother explained her reasons. Stating not just his siblings absence, but also reasoning how their various dispositions really would make him the better ruler, but her son was not flattered into compliance.
“But must I take the throne now?” he pleaded. “My father’s throne? Oh mother I can’t, I don’t want to.”
His mother embraced him. “It need not be now,” she said softly. “But I beg of you to make it soon. I am tired, my dear.”
The prince understood her and he felt guilty for his unwillingness. He did not want his mother to wear herself out under sceptre and crown, but neither did he want to wear that burden himself. Not yet. Unlike his siblings, he had hardly seen anything of the world and he felt wholly unprepared to become be king for the rest of his days.
“I must find a way to gain some time,” he told himself.
So after a sleepless night in his royal chamber he went to his mother and told her sternly:
“Mother, I know I must take the throne, and I will. But I have hardly seen anything of the real world. Not while riding, or visiting, or even when speaking to our subjects.”
“There is as much to wonder at at home as there is in any other place,” his mother told him. “You had better stay at home and prepare to be king.”
“And I will,” the prince promised. “But all the same, I don’t want to become king before I have seen a miracle. Only when I have seen all the colours of the world can I become king.”
The queen had not quite expected this. She tried to reason with her son, but thought he heard her patiently, he would not change his mind. So the queen sighed deeply and thought about what could be done. Finally she thought that perhaps, someone in her great and prospering kingdom would know how to show the prince all the colours of the world. So while the prince roamed around the castle, littering the hallways with books on statesmanship, messengers were sent to all corners of the kingdom, asking for someone who knew away to capture all the colours of the world and could bring them before the prince. Of course a great sum was offered by way of a reward, but the queen suspected that someone capable of such a feat, could never be in need of money.
“If one of my subjects succeeds,” thought the queen. “My son will be satisfied and no doubt it will give him pride to become king of a nation that houses such talent.”
Meanwhile the prince had taken to roaming around the garden, and hid in one of his favourite trees to read his father’s diary’s. The more he read the less sure she felt of every being a good king. He missed his father sorely and wished he could ask him for advice.
His reveries were disturbed by a servant that stood calling at the foot of the tree.
“Excuse me, Your Highness,” the servant yelled. “Your mother requests your presence.”
The prince climbed down and went to the throne room, where he found his mother sitting smilingly on her throne.
“See here, my son,” she said, rejoicing, and she handed him a heavy woven mantle.
The mantle had been woven out of every colour that had ever been used to paint the world. It was magnificent, it was marvellous, it was flawless. The prince gazed at it with wide eyes and the endless array of colours was reflected in them.
“And, dear son of mine,” said the queen. “Is this enough of a miracle to become king with?”
The prince looked up. His head was filled with splendid colours and his heart was swollen with the love for beauty, but his mother’s words instantly brought back his uncertainty. He just wanted a little more time to himself.
“No mother,” he said. “I still know far too little of the world to make a good king. I cannot take the throne until…until I have smelled every fragrance that the wind ever swept up.”
“You are too demanding, my child,” the queen said gravely. The prince looked back at her and said nothing. The queen sighed and nodded, because deep down she understood. Once again she sent word that whoever could capture every smell in the world and bring them before the prince, would be richly rewarded.
Meanwhile the prince shut himself in his father’s old study, looking at books and playing with trinkets he had not seen for years. Some made him sad and some made him smile, but he was clad in his brilliant new mantle the whole time and whenever it moved in a flash of colour at the edge of his vision, he let his mind wander. Never in his life had the prince possessed such a remarkable thing, and as it billowed off his shoulders he wondered where it had come from and what team of craftsmen could possibly have made it.
Time passed, a lot of time, but all that time led to one single evening when one of the messengers returned and brought the queen a small box containing a little crystal flask.
“I have come to deliver this perfume, to serve the queen and to gratify the prince,” the messenger spoke with a deep bow.
The queen had her son summoned and the prince came to see the gift. Neither prince nor queen could believe that someone would actually dare to claim that all the smells of the world were captured in that little flask.
Carefully the prince took the crystal flask and lifted its cap. A whirlwind of smells escaped. In one breath the prince smelt every single fragrance that the wind had ever swept up. It was confusing, it was overwhelming, it was breath-taking. It was like smelling life itself. The prince swallowed around the lump in his throat and laughed and the queen smiled at him.
“Now, my darling son,” she said. “Is this enough of a miracle to become king with?”
The prince’s face fell. Suddenly only the sharp and dark smells seemed to linger in his mind and he shook his head.
“I cannot,” he said. “I must ask one more thing.”
The queen sighed very deeply, but then a whiff of the perfume reached her and a very little consoled she asked: “Then what is it this time, my son?”
“If I have a mantle of all colours and a perfume of all smells, I must now have an instrument that can play me every sound in existence,” said the prince. And this time he did not ask it with the intention of asking for something impossible. Because he had been brought two miracles already, why should there not be a third? “If I can have that last wish fulfilled I would have seen three true miracles,” he said softly. “Then I will become king.”
With that speech he left the room, but whether he wanted most that this wish should be granted or not, he could not tell himself.
The queen thought that surely this was an impossible request, but she considered it for a moment and then a bright idea came to her. She called for the messenger who brought her the perfume and had someone find the messenger who had brought the mantle.
“Tell me, faithful servants,” she said. “Where did you find the answers to the prince’s requests?”
As the queen had half suspected the messengers talked of the same place and the same person. Both the mantle and the perfume had been given to them by an innkeeper in a small town and everyone there said she was an excellent woman, with just a bit of witchcraft in her bones.
“Go to this woman and if she is not the artist behind these miracles make her tell you who is and bring that person here,” the queen commanded.
So the messengers made great haste and reached the inn in the small town the very next day. The innkeeper bowed and smiled and offered them food and drink. Neither messenger thought it proper to refuse, so they sat down and ate heartily, praising the innkeeper’s cooking in between bites.
When they could not hold even one more bite or one more sip, they told the innkeeper they had come on very important royal business. They asked her if she knew who had made the mantle and the perfume and the innkeeper smiled and answered:
“My late sister’s son made the mantel and the perfume. He lives in the attic of my inn and hardly ever comes out, for he is a strange kind of young man and he dislikes the world. But he can make almost anything one asks him too, if he can be persuaded to listen to the request.”
The messengers were very pleased. “Go get your nephew, good woman,” they said. “The queen wants to see him immediately.”
“But why?” the innkeeper objected. “I would not like to see him go, nor do I think he would want to go. He had much better stay here.”
“He cannot!” said the messengers. “The prince has wished for an instrument that can play every sound in existence and the queen has ordered us to bring her the artist behind the two other miracles.”
So the innkeeper reluctantly showed the royal messengers the way to the attic rooms where her nephew, the mysterious artist, lived and worked. No one answered the door however, and when they burst in the rooms were empty and the young man’s clothes were gone.
“There you go!” the innkeeper scolded. “Now he’s run off on us! Serves you two right for coming in here with all your demands. He must have heard you coming.”
Perhaps the innkeeper was not as surprised as she might have been. After all she had kept the messengers at her table for a long time and their horses with the royal crest had been outside the inn all the while.
So the messengers returned home with their heads hung and told the queen what had happened. The queen was in great distress for she did not dare hope there was a second artist is the kingdom who could make such wonders. Therefore she called the prince and explained the situation.
“I am sorry you cannot have your last wish,” she said. “But you are my son and the prince. You must be king.”
The prince thought of the amazing craftsman scared off by his mother’s men, forced to leave his home and workplace.
“I will, mother,” he answered. “Soon.”
But the next day when his maid came to wake him, he was gone. His bed was empty and he was nowhere to be found. The queen understood immediately that he had gone to find the artist and she blamed her own foolishness. She scolded herself for driving him away and cried thinking of her son roaming empty roads in search for a man he did not know.
There was no need for such worries however, the prince had not set out unprepared. He was by that time well on his way to the first town he meant to visit and he had dressed himself and his horse as befitting a rich but not too highborn noble. A nobleman able to travel alone. He carried with him, apart from more than enough money to pay his way, his mantle, his perfume and a broken pocket watch that had once belonged to his dear father. The prince had found it again in the old king’s study and had not been able to part with it since. It had been made in a faraway land and instead of dials that told the time, a flat little model of the sun and the planets had revolved around on its plate.
With this remarkable object he went from town to town, asking after someone who might be able to repair it. He visited all kinds of craftsmen in all kinds of places, but no one dared touch the delicate little clockwork.
Finally he reached a town where he was referred to a clockmaker who looked at the pocket watch and said:
“I myself am far too old to touch such a small and foreign made mechanism, but my new apprentice might know what to do with it.”
“You have hired him lately?” the disguised prince enquired.
“Very lately,” said the clockmaker. “He is an odd young man, but very talented.”
The prince’s heart beat a little faster and he gave the clockmaker permission to give the pocket watch to his apprentice.
“I shall return tomorrow,” he said and hastily left the shop.
The next day the prince returned and the clockmaker greeted him with a proud smile.
“Here you are, Sir,” he said and he held out the pocket watch, opened it and held it up to the light.
Seven little planets spun around the golden sun, just as they had done when the prince had been a little boy, not allowed to touch this thing of wonder, but gazing at it as lay open on his father’s palm. Almost without breathing the prince took the watch, and looked at it in silence for a very long time before finally clicking it shut.
“May I thank the young man that managed to repair it?” he asked, his throat almost swollen shut.
“Of course, Sir,” the clockmaker smiled. “But as I told you, he is an odd sort of man.”
The prince went through the door that was pointed out to him and found himself in the back room of the shop, where a young man sat at a work table, tinkering with what seemed to be a large music box.
For a moment the prince held his breath. “Good morning,” he then said quietly.
“Good morning,” the young man answered without looking up.
“I thank you for mending my pocket watch,” the prince said.
“You are welcome, Sir,” the young man answered, still working on.
“Do you only make clocks?” the prince asked, sitting down on a large crate.
“No,” the young man said and after that he was silent again.
“Is that a music box?” the prince tried again.
“Yes,” the young man said, and then once again silence.
“For whom do you make the music box?” asked the prince, even though he knew very well from whom.
“For the prince,” the young man replied.
“Why for the prince?” the prince asked and that was a question he truly wished to have answered.
“Because he asked for it,” the young man said.
“Why should you make something, just because the prince asked for it?”
“Because the prince asks for interesting things,” the young man answered.
The prince smiled. “If I could make such beautiful things, I could never give them away,” he said.
The young man hesitated, but still did not look up. His hands rested on the work bench for a moment. Then he shook his head. “The making is interesting,” he said. “The having is not.”
“Why not?” the prince said. “Did you not enjoy that marvellous mantle or that amazing perfume yourself?”
“I made them,” said the young man. “When they are done they are done,”
The prince was silent. This man could make miracles and somehow he did not care for them.
Suddenly the young man sat up straight at the table and carefully closed the lid of the music box. He reached out and turned the handle once. A note escaped from the box that tugged on the prince’s heart and pulled him closer to the table. He was wild to hear more, his whole mind alive with the sound of it, but the young man merely nodded contently and pushed his chair away from the table.
“Oh won’t you go on?” the prince begged.
“No,” said the young man. “It works, it is finished.”
The prince stared at the young man that would not look at him and that would not enjoy his work now he had completed the challenge of creating it.
The prince looked from the music box to the young man and back again and he could stand it no longer.
With a whirl of coattails and a thumping of boots he rushed to the work table and grabbed the handle of the music box. His coat slipped off and revealed the brilliant mantle underneath. The crystal flask rolled out of his coat pocket, wobbling dangerously and nearly tipping over onto the table. In an impulse the young artist reached out, saving the bottle from falling, but as he caught the perfume, the prince caught the handle of the music box.
The stopper of the flask fell to the side with a tinkle of crystal, just at the prince made the music box sing.
Every sound of life and living filled the workshop. The young artist looked up and saw the prince for the first time. He was clad in all the colours of the world, from the fallen flask all the smells in existence flowed and with graceful movements he made the music box sing life itself.
The prince glowed, the prince revelled, the prince marvelled and he was marvellous.
The colours, smells and sounds filled the air until the little workshop seemed to contain the whole world and all of existence.
The prince stopped turning the handle, hastily drawing back, but not the least bit sorry. His cheeks were glowing and all of him felt alive. He turned and met the eyes of the artist. Wide wondrous eyes.
“You are the prince,” the young man said and the prince nodded, not yet able to speak because of the thumping of his heart.
The artist smiled at him with unrestrained admiration. “You have the most wonderful ideas.”
The prince let out a laughing breath, because in all his life of being complimented he had never felt more like he should be the one doing the complimenting. “And you make the most beautiful things,” he replied.
The young man carefully picked up the fallen stopper and sealed the flask of perfume off again. He put the bottle safely aside and only then did he look up to answer, his eyes fixed on the prince’s face with a shy smile.
“Beautiful,” he agreed. He got to his feet, his skilled hands clasped uncertainly behind his back. “I always wanted to meet you. Ever since the cloak…”
“You did?” the prince said in surprise. “But then why did you run when my mother’s men came to fetch you?”
“Oh I had no idea who it was that had come for me,” the young man muttered. “Not until my aunt wrote to me here. I didn’t feel like being disturbed, is all.” He smiled, crookedly, like some men do, and shook his head. “Maybe I should have stayed, then I could have seen the palace.”
And the prince smiled, because the very first thing one is taught in lessons of diplomacy is how to recognise a backwards invitation.
Once you have found everything you were looking for, there is nothing to do but return home triumphantly. And triumphant was the return of the prince in every respect. He greeted his mother, standing taller and looking more content than ever, holding his father’s old watch out to her and leading the remarkable artist by the hand.
There were apologies to be made, on the side of the mother as well as the son, but the queen was so glad to have him back safely that she did not question his return, nor his rather distracted companion.
She was even more glad when her son announced that he was finally ready to become king. He had no need for any more miracles now, and becoming king no longer seemed so daunting, now he no longer felt alone.
So the prince was crowned king, wearing his marvellous mantle, with the unbelievable perfume scenting the air, and he invited the young artist to play his own music box at the height of the ceremony.
Because the young artist stayed in the palace. His dear aunt the innkeeper was invited to the coronation, as an apology for having her nephew stolen away, and the young king built him a marvellous workshop where no one else was allowed unless expressly invited, not even the king.
The young king was frequently invited, however, very frequently. So frequently that some people began to mutter about it a bit, because there were some objections to the young artist becoming a royal. Most of these objections came from the young man himself, and they started with his intense hatred of having to appear in public.
Still, there was no question the young king was a very good king indeed and the artist seemed to make him a very happy king. And as it was equally evident that the artist had grown to love the king a great deal too much to be away from him, the kingdom and the royal family eventually decided to settle for a king-consort that nobody was allowed to see and a kingdom and a palace that slowly filled with marvellous wonders of ingenuity.
Exactly how many of these wonders were made to baffle and bewilder the young couple’s wedding guests, I will leave unsaid. For people who wish to hear of weddings going on for seven days and seven nights and of shoes danced quite to nothing, can find ample examples in at least a thousand other tales.
Laura: And with that last word stitching up the very last sentence, this story has its proper end.
Thank you so much for listening, lovely of you to stop by. If you want to listen to more of these, or find out about my other projects, check out patchworkfairytales.wordpress.com. You can also find me at laurasimonsdaughter.tumblr.com which is full of folklore and urban fantasy. And you should be able to find this podcast in all the usual apps.
There’s another tale to tell some other Wednesday but until then…
Run in the moonlight, be kind to fawns, and be safe~
Copyright Laura Simons, please do not copy my stories without my permission, lest you insult the fae.