There was once upon a time a King, who fell desperately in love with a Princess of his Court. As soon as he loved her he told her so. Kings are more privileged than common lovers. The Princess was not offended at a love which might place her on the throne, and the King found her as virtuous as she was charming. He married her: the wedding was incredibly magnificent; and what was even more remarkable, he became a husband without ceasing to be a lover.
The felicity of this love-match was only disturbed by the fact of their having no children to succeed to their happiness and to their kingdom. The King, in order to obtain at least the comfort of hope on this point, resolved to consult a fairy, whom he believed to be particularly friendly. She was called Formidable, although she had not always been so to the King. It is said even that in the old collections of the time in that country are to be found ballads which tell a great deal about them. So bold have poets been in all ages! For the Fairy was very much respected, and appeared so stern that it was almost impossible to imagine she could ever have felt the power of love; but where are the hearts that escape?
The King, who had always been very gallant, and who had a great deal of discernment, was well aware that appearances are often very deceptive. He had first met with Formidable in a wood where he had been hunting; she appeared to his eyes under a form so graceful, and with so charming an air, that the King did not doubt for a moment her desire to please: it is seldom such charms are displayed without that intention.
The King fell in love with her; the Fairy felt more pleasure in being loved than in always inspiring terror. This affection lasted several years; but one day when she reckoned on the heart of her lover as on a property it was impossible for her to lose, she let the King see her in her real form: she was no longer young or handsome. She repented immediately when she perceived by the altered expression of the King’s face that she had been too confident of her power, and discovered that, however tender hearts may be, they cannot excite or retain love if they are not united with an agreeable person.
The King was ashamed at finding he had been in love with only an imaginary beauty; he ceased to love the Fairy, and thenceforth only treated her with attention and respect. Formidable, with a pride that was natural to her, assumed so well the appearance of being contented with the esteem of the King, that she persuaded him she was one of his best friends. She even went to his wedding, in company with all the other fairies of the country, who were invited, in order not to give any one reason to fancy from her refusal that she had any dislike to the marriage.
The King, therefore, counting on the friendship of his old mistress, went to visit her in her residence, which was a palace of flame-coloured marble in the midst of a vast forest. The approach to it was by an avenue of immense length, bordered on both sides by a hundred flame-coloured lions. Formidable liked only this colour, and she had therefore by her magic art caused all the animals born in the forest to be of the same hue. At the end of the avenue was a large square, wherein a troop of Moors, clothed in flame-colour and gold, magnificently armed, kept perpetual guard.
The King traversed the forest alone; he knew the way perfectly well; he even passed through the avenue of lions without danger, for he threw them, as he entered, some ranunculuses, which the Fairy had formerly given him to use when passing those terrible beasts. As soon as the King had thrown them those beautiful flowers, they became gentle and quiet. He at length reached the Moorish guard, who at first bent their bows at him, but the King threw them some pomegranate blossoms, which he had received from the Fairy with the ranunculuses, and the Moors shot their arrows into the air, and drew themselves up in line to allow him to pass.
He entered the palace of Formidable: she was in a saloon, seated on a throne of rubies, in the midst of twelve Moorish women, clothed in flame-coloured gauze and gold. The Fairy’s dress was of the same fashion and colour, but so covered with precious stones that it shone like the sun; yet it did not make her appear any the more beautiful. The King looked and listened for a few minutes before he entered the saloon. Near the Fairy was a quantity of books on a table of red marble: he saw that she took one and began to instruct the slaves in those secrets which render fairies so powerful; but Formidable taught them none but such as would be inimical to the happiness and comfort of mankind; she took good care to prevent their learning anything that would contribute to human felicity.
The King felt he hated the Fairy; and entering the apartment, interrupted the fatal lesson, and surprised Formidable by his appearance; but recovering herself immediately, she dismissed her Moors, and regarding the King with an air of pride and anger, — “What seek you here, inconstant Prince?” she exclaimed. “Wherefore do you come to disturb by your odious presence the repose I endeavour to obtain in this seclusion?” The King was quite surprised by so unexpected a mode of address; and the Fairy, opening one of the books, continued: “I see clearly what you want. Yes, you shall have a daughter by this Princess whom you have so unjustly preferred to me, but do not hope to be happy: it is time for me to be avenged. The daughter that shall be born to you ere long shall be as much hated by all the world as I formerly loved you!”
The King did everything in his power to soften the anger of the Fairy; but it was useless; hatred had succeeded to love, and nothing but love could soften the Fairy’s heart; for pity and generosity were sentiments quite unknown to her. She haughtily commanded the King to leave the palace, and opening a cage, a flame-coloured parrot flew out. “Follow this bird,” said she to the King, “and bless my clemency for not delivering you to the fury of my lions and guards.”
The bird flew off, and the King followed, and was conducted by a road hitherto unknown to him, and much shorter than the one he had come by, into his own kingdom. The Queen, who on his return remarked his extreme sadness, begged to know the reason so importunately, that the King at length told her of the cruel prediction of the Fairy, but without informing her of all that had occurred between them in former times, in order not to add to the troubles of his beautiful wife. This young Princess knew that one fairy could not positively prevent anything predicted by another of her own class, but that she might mitigate the punishment which that other had inflicted.
“I shall go,” said the Queen, “in search of Lumineuse, Sovereign of the Happy Empire; she is a celebrated fairy who delights in protecting the unfortunate. She is a relation of mine; she has ever favoured me, and she even predicted the good fortune to which love would lead me.” The King quite approved of the expedition of the Queen, and hoped much from it. Her equipage being ready, she set off to seek Lumineuse. The Fairy bore this name because her beauty was so dazzling that it was hardly possible to endure the brilliancy of it, and the grandeur of her soul quite equalled her extreme loveliness.
The Queen arrived in a vast plain, and perceived, at a great distance, a large tower; but although it was in sight, it was very long before she could approach it, owing to the many windings in the road. It was built of white marble, and had no doors, but arched windows of crystal; a beautiful river, of which the waves appeared of liquid silver, bathed the foot of the tower, and wound nine times around it. The Queen, with all her Court, arrived on the bank of the river, at the point where it began its first circle round the dwelling of the Fairy. The Queen crossed it on a bridge of white poppies, which the power of Lumineuse had rendered as safe and as durable as if it had been built of brass. But although it was only made of flowers, it was nevertheless to be feared, for it had the power of putting people to sleep for seven years who attempted to pass it contrary to the wish of the Fairy.
The Queen perceived on the other side of the bridge, six young men, magnificently attired, sleeping on beds of moss, under tents of foliage. These were princes enamoured of the Fairy: and as she never would hear love spoken of, she had not allowed them to pass any farther. The Queen, after having crossed the bridge, found herself in the first spot which the river left free; it was occupied by a charming labyrinth of laurestinus and jasmine; there were none but white, for that was the colour Lumineuse preferred.
After having admired this lovely maze, and easily threaded its paths, which were only difficult for those the Fairy did not wish should enter her agreeable dwelling, the Queen again crossed the river by a bridge of white anemones; it took at this place its second turn, and the space which it left before it made its third circle was occupied by a forest of acacias always in full bloom; the roads through it were charming, and so overshadowed that the rays of the sun never penetrated; a number of white doves whose plumage might have put the snow to shame were seen in all directions, and the trees were covered with countless white canary-birds, that made a delicious concert.
Lumineuse, with a touch of her wand, had taught them the most beautiful and charming songs in the world. They left this lovely forest by a bridge of tube-roses, and they then entered a fair plain, wooded with trees laden with such fine and delicious fruit, that the least of them would have put to shame the famous gardens of the Hesperides. Every evening the Queen found the most beautiful tents in the world prepared for her, and a magnificent repast was served as soon as she arrived, without her seeing any of the skilful and active officers who prepared it. The Fairy, who had learnt by her books of the arrival of the Queen, took care that her journey should not be in the least degree fatiguing to her.