Once upon a time, in a kingdom that's probably really really far away from where you live (really), there was a king and a queen who were having some troubles.
Now, here's the part where the kids start asking the awkward questions, and mothers are forced to give inane, quaint little explanations while quietly contemplating which rail to run your narrator out of town upon. I wouldn't think to speak for you, but personally I would rather avoid all that possibly-unnecessary ugliness, and shall instead lightly skip over the subject as tastefully and briskly as possible:
They couldn't seem to have a baby.
No matter how many times they tried, no matter how many letters of complaint they sent to the Stork's corporate office, no matter how many karma points they racked up through assiduous public works donations, they simply couldn't get it done.
It is now safe to let the children see the book again.
Meaning no offense to the good king and queen, the years passed them by without so much as a "how d'you do?" or a backwards glance, and they were approaching that magical time in fairytales that, without fail, requires the intervention of a miracle, lest the story turn boring right at the outset.
As the cleverer members of the readership have no doubt guessed by now, a baby all but dropped on their doorstep.
To say that there was a celebration would be similar to saying that Krakatoa was only a tremor, or that Atlantis had a minor plumbing issue.
There was madness and revelry; there was debauchery and song; there was music and swaying, and record-playing, and dancing in the streets. And this was only the initial stage.
The baby shower was to be held in the grand dining hall of the palace, at a long broad oaken table inlaid with gold and silver and mother of pearl, in a hall of windows and mirrors so that light and happiness were literally all it could contain.
Messengers scattered in all directions, proclaiming to the far corners of the world that the King ad Queen had finally gotten their act together and produced an heir.
Kings and Queens and Lords and Ladies and Dukes and Duchesses and Viscomtes and Marchionesses and Baronettes and Emirs and Boyars and all manner of sundry nobility were given invitations (while a small army of scribes flooded the hospital with cases of carpal tunnel). And, because no fairy tale would be complete without them, they went and invited the fairies.
New messengers traveled misty woods and high mountains and deep lakes to find every single last one of the fairies living in the kingdom, and deliver personal invitations to each of them. This was a planned, tactical move on the part of the king, who naturally wanted his heir to grow up as powerful and successful as possible. The conversation with the queen went something like this:
"Darling dearest," he said, in that insipid way peculiar to men who want something that they know will sound silly when expressed out loud, "I've been going over your guest list..."
"Yes dear?" asked the queen, touching up her makeup in the manner peculiar to women who know their husband is about to mess with a guest list they've been planning for months.
"Well, I was wondering," he said, encouraging the narrator to stop breaking up the dialogue with witty and incisive banter, "I was wondering if we perhaps could...add a few names?"
The queen who, as should be readily apparent to even the slower readers who might still be looking for pictures here, clearly wore the pants in the dynasty, allowed a single frown to wrinkle her otherwise-flawless forehead. "And whom would we add, darling-my-king?"
"Oh, you know," he said, in a sheepish, most un-king-like manner, "...the fairies?"
With a single, crisp motion that brooked not even the slightest hint of the thought of considering the prospect of argument, the queen set down her eyebrow pencil, and took a deep breath through a nose so regal and queenlike, Cleopatra would have hacked the thing off in a manner similar to the treatment given the sphinx, and demanded that the organ be placed on her own face.
"...the fairies?" she asked, slotting each word into place with the cold precision required of someone putting together a jigsaw puzzle made of broken glass. "Why on earth would you want to invite them?"
"Well because dear," he said, exactly the way he had practiced in front of the mirror in his chambers, "think about it: if we invite them, show them a pleasant time, ensure that they are happy, won't they repay us in kind?"
"...think of our child," he added quickly, seeing the look on her face, "instead of treasures or giftcards, we could ask the fairies to give their blessings to the child."
He closed in on her as he also closed in on his trump card. "Imagine, apple-of-my-eye, our daughter, blessed by all the fairies of the land, growing up to be as lovely, as clever, as beloved as her mother..."
He leaned in close, the way that trashy romance novelists and hack movie writers always assume makes women go weak, and whispered "and it would take all the magic in the world to make someone as lovely as you are..."
To the continuing disappointment feminists and realists everywhere, this tactic actually worked.
"...I suppose we might consider it," she said, clearly meaning yes. "But we are not inviting that abominable...."
Several leagues away from the foregoing slice of regal domesticity, three small, kindly old women with wings were sitting in the beauty salon under the hairdryers, comparing notes.
"...So then I told her, 'you want to go to the ball?' and then she was all 'yes, yes I would,'"
"No. Way." said her companion, with the infinite grace and poise of the fairy people, "Shutup no way!"
The first fairy nodded with sage-like wisdom. "Totally way"
The second fairy was about to launch into a story of her own concerning the help she had given a minor Hollywood starlet on her way to going supernova all over the strip, when she was unceremoniously interrupted by an unceremonious intruder collapsing unceremoniously on the front rug of the beauty salon.
All of the fairies in the salon turned their various ancient and beautiful eyes on him. Manicures froze in mid-snip, hair cutters spilled more shampoo than was probably necessary without paying attention, even the clock on the wall stopped ticking in order to join the surprised group-glare the messenger was receiving.
Awkwardly, he scooped himself back up, and nervously he held out a sheaf of spectacularly-official-looking envelopes.
"I-i-invitations," he swallowed hard, not quite sure why he was so nervous in a room full of what looked like winged grandmothers. "Invitations to the b-b-baby shower."
There was a dramatic pause, allowing the narrator time to gird his loins before the entire room erupted into an explosion of "GIMME!"s and "I GOT ONE!"s and "NO, THAT'S MINE YOU HAG"s, during which the messenger managed to escape with only mild trampling-related injuries.
The invitations were properly sorted out in roughly the same amount of time it would take an eight year old to tire of listening to Der Meistersinger von Nurnberg
....which is to say, in no time flat.
They were cattily comparing the relative quality of the handwriting on theirs, or the value differential between the gold leaf on one fairy's invitation and her neighbor's, when the door opened again.
"Well look who it is" said one of them, staring snidely down her adorable, matronly button nose at the new face.
"No more invitations" said another, in a voice that recalled the popular cheerleader archetype in any good eighties movie, "looks like you don't get to go."
The newcomer, by now used to this sort of treatment, turned and left, ears ringing with the cruel, cruel sound of fairy-godmothers laughing.
The day of the baby shower came in the midst of trumpets, pipes, streamers flying, fireworks bursting, and commemorative t-shirts being shot from commemorative t-shirt cannons.
The entire population of the kingdom came to pay respects to the King, the Queen, and the beautiful little girl they had finally, finally brought into the world.
Gifts of gold and spices and treasures and pearls and flowers and animals of every shape, description, context, and design were laid down before the new princess as she blinked enormous, iris-blue eyes at all of them, trying to figure out just who the hell all these people were, and why they insisted on interrupting her nap.
When all the nobility and all of the peasants had paid their respects and donated to the princess' future tuition funds, there was a grand silence of the music and revelry.
Lights danced in the skies and in the earth as one-by-one, the fairies came.
Some flew, some danced, some crawled, some simply walked. No two were the same, and even individuals didn't seem able to decide what specifics they were after as far as an aesthetic. Each carried a small lantern, dangling from a wand in their hand, that cast a pleasing, happy glow on all their light touched, and each wore a beatific smile.
One-by-one they approached the girl, twelve in all, and one-by one they gave her their gifts.
A laugh as sweet and pure as the bells that hang between the stars
A life filled with light and love
A fifteen dollar gift card to the local burrito bar
And when all of them had finished, they stood in a ring around the girl's cradle, and took a deep breath in preparation to sing for her.
It was at this point, because it is a fairy tale and because the narrator is bored stiff, that the grand gates of the castle slammed open with a bang.
There, framed dramatically in the light from the doorway, sitting astride a mighty motorcycle that growled and roared like a dragon with GI troubles and belched forth more heavy black smoke than a witch-burning, was the thirteenth fairy--the one who decidedly had not been invited.
"So" he said, revving the engine, "not going to invite me, huh? Just gonna laugh, right?"
With a summary blast of foul-smelling smoke, he drove his bike straight through the crowd of his antagonists, and parked right in front of the baby.
Now, those of the readership who are themselves villains will understand what happened next. To those that aren't, I would like to take a moment to point out that in all of this grand, wide world, few things can spoil a decent bad mood faster or more effectively than the smile of a baby.
He paused for a moment as the baby did just that, and felt his resolve waver. Maybe this was a bad idea...you know...taking out his frustration on a baby...maybe.
Someone in the crowd behind him gave a cough that sounded suspiciously like loser, and he found his mind made back up.
He scooped up the baby, and held her at eye level, dark eyes meeting blue with a sneer.
"Well aren't you the lucky one, eh?" he asked, quietly. "You're going to be pretty and clever and rich, and never have to work a day in your life. And people will love you."
He indicated the crowd behind him with a jerk of his head. "They'll all tell you you're special, but all that means is that you're different."
A crooked smile, "like me. Who ever heard of a male fairy, eh? Your fairy god-brother."
He laughed roughly, smoke from his bike rolling through the crowd and bringing them to coughing along with him.
He put the baby back down and winked at the queen. "Don't worry love, you won't hear from me again." A smirk at the king, who was desperately wishing he could cap the gatecrasher, if only weapons were allowed in children's stories.
The uninvited fairy turned to face the crowd and said "oh, sorry. Almost forgot. My gift to the princess:"
A sneer back at the baby "dying in the full blush of her youth. At sixteen she will prick her finger and die before the world has a chance to hurt her the way it hurts all of us."
He leapt back astride his bike in the ensuing silence, and with one final "cheers," he roared back out of the castle.
Fast-forwarding the great VHS tape of life some fifteen years, eleven months, and two weeks, we will now find the princess in what could possibly, from a certain perspective be considered the full blush of her youth.
Radiantly golden-blonde of hair, deeply lilac-blue of eye, cheerily-rosy of cheek, and roguishly-defiant of the rules, she tore through the palace gardens on horseback, clearly winning the race she had struck up against the scullery maids.
She gave a surprisingly dignified shout of triumph as she crossed the finish line (here meaning taking down the laundress' drying lines as she plowed through), and waited for them to catch up.
They all stood, giggling with their horses as gardeners, porters, bee-keepers, launderers, and everyone else whose work they had disturbed began to shout and grumble. At one smile from the princess, however, they fell silent, and began to chat amiably among themselves. Nobody could stay angry with that smile, and she totally knew it.
With a giggle as sweet and pure as starlight above, she led her little band indoors to continue their fun.
High above them, watching from the windows of his tower, the king stood with hands clasped behind his back. He knew what his daughter did not; what he had ordered to be kept from her at all costs.
And time was running short.
"Dear," said the queen, pinning her hair back at her vanity, "if you aren't going to jump, come away from the window."
"How can you be so calm?" he asked, a tinge of nervousness to his voice. "It's two weeks to the day--"
"Dear," she said, fixing on her tiara. "I am calm because there is literally nothing that can happen to her at this point."
She slipped on her jewelry and primped a few last times in the mirror. "Every year since the day itself you've made sure that anything even remotely pointy in the kingdom has been destroyed...scissors, knives, we've had nothing but spoons to eat with for fifteen years for heaven's sake. Zip me up here, please."
As he did so, she finished "the only thing even remotely pointy anywhere for leagues is that old spinning wheel in the attic, and you've seen to it that all the doors have been locked for years."
She turned and started fidgeting with his clothes now, adjusting his tie and his cape to her satisfaction. "Now, enough of this silliness, and let's go to lunch."
Roughly at that moment, the young princess was engaged in a life-or-death game of truth-or-dare with the other girls. Let it be known that your humble author does not in anyway mean to suggest, by including the game here, that it is safe enough for his young audience to attempt it at home. The trick, you will find, is to attempt it at a friend's house instead.
Perhaps if the princess had read her own story, she could have avoided hearing the phrase "I dare you to go up to attic and bring down proof you were there!"
The princess, for all of her cleverness, wisdom, and cunning, still could not escape the fact that she was the protagonist of a fairy tale, and therefore contractually obligated to make poor decisions when confronted with a challenge.
With supreme princessy dignity (yes, it's totally a word. Probably), she rose, and began ascending the stairs against a background of titillated giggles.
In order to reach the attic, she had to reach the top floor of the tallest tower in the castle, a feat that would be marginally impossible without the keys to the doors. Unfortunately for those of you breathing a sigh of relief at her thwarting, she found a guard, and talked him into giving her the key.
Climbing ever higher, ever more, on ever steeper stairs, she slowly made her way to the dark, gloomy attic of the castle, ducking cobwebs and rucking up her skirt out of the dust that lay inches-thick on the steps.
When they finally leveled out, the stairs deposited her on the broad, round floor of the castle attic, looking at all the old, dusty things that her parents no longer used.
She passed shelves of old books and containers of old toys and golf-clubs, chests of pictures, window glass, a dusty old pianoforte, a few metaphorical skeletons setting down to a card game against a few literal ones, and then she paused.
It stood at the other end of the room from her, further in than anyone else ever went, casting a truly bizarre shadow against the rest of the room from the window behind it.
The wheel prat of it creaked curiously as she took a hesitant step forward. She had literally never seen anything like it before in her life, and had no real idea what she was looking at.
She approached it curiously, looking it over to see if there was a part of it she could take back down with her. A little spindly bit protruded perfectly, and she reached out to break it off and take it with her.
There was a faint pinching sensation on her finger, and when she looked at it, she was bleeding from where a tiny piece of wood had stuck her.
She had all of a moment to register how curious it felt to be bleeding before a great yawning blackness swallowed her whole.
When she failed to show up for lunch, her parents knew immediately that something was wrong. The king ordered a search of the castle while the queen stayed behind to extract answers from her friends.
Upon hearing that she had gone to the attic, the king's heart sank. he ran up all of the many stairs to the chamber three at a time, praying against all faith that she would be safe, that she had just wandered somewhere else--anywhere else.
When he flung the door open, he gave a roar of grief and pain and surprise. There was his daughter, lying limp and dead on the ground, and there was the uninvited fairy rolling her off of her face, into a more comfortable position.
"Oh," he said, looking up "hey there."
"YOU!" he shouted, pointing furiously, "Why have you done this? We had two more weeks!"
The fairy raised an eyebrow. "And you're what? shocked? I'm the villain here, love. Wouldn't be doing my job if I weren't keeping you on your toes, eh?"
The king, in spite of his white-hot boiling anger, had to admit he had a point.
"Right," said the fairy, snapping his fingers. Color exploded into being, washing and rolling over the walls and removing dust from every surface, leaving behind a bright-burnished shine. Then came fabric and cloth, weaving from thin air as the room shifted from a dirty, dusty attic to a newly-furnished bedroom, as a broad, soft, draped bed bloomed under the princess, easing her back. "well, I'm out"
The king, to his credit, was having none of this. He grabbed the fairy by his sleeve, and jerked him back from the window. "You will go nowhere until you give me my daughter back!"
The fairy looked at the king as if he had just grown another head. "Tell you what," he said, voice filled with power that even the king's couldn't match. "You all can join her."
At that sentence, the king fell backward onto the plush carpet, dead asleep. Like dominoes, if dominoes were people-shaped and fleshy, everyone in the castle began collapsing to sleep. First went the queen, falling on top of the girl she was interrogating with a sleepy sort of groan, then came the nobles, the workers, the staff, all people and animals in descending order of station succumbed to sleep, the great equalizer, and soon enough, only the fairy was left awake.
He set to work putting the castle back together, and when he left took the time to lock up, planting an impenetrable forrest of briar-thorns as thick around as a human body that grew up overnight, sealing the castle to the outside world.
that's it, that's all you get
exactly one hundred years later, because round numbers are always better, a dashing prince astride a magnificent stallion, swathed in armor that shone in ways that only writers' contrivances can, approached the briar wood.
No others had ever made it through, but he found himself protected by a mile-thick layer of narrative stupidity, and knew no fear.
Drawing his sword and adjusting the plume on his helmet, he rode straight into the thorns, hacking away at all sides, narrowly avoiding being impaled in a manner most inappropriate for children to read about. An hour went by with nothing but thorns and darkness and the fearful whinnying of his horse. Another. Yet another, and then suddenly the thorns stopped, and the castle swam into view.
Here there were no thorns, only roses, and the scent was intoxicating. He found himself slowing to catch the smell on the air, a smell of sweetness and pleasance, of cares lifted and cares removed, of rest and peace.
Suddenly he realized that he had no idea how much time had passed since entering the garden, but that it was already night. What night? How many had he spent here? What visions had he seen?
He spurred his horse on, and rode into the castle.
The air was eerily still, the sort of stillness one finds in a mortuary or a bingo parlor: the kind that only seems to last a few moments of profundity before something unpleasant jumps up and screams.
He left his horse and wandered through chambers and halls set in domestic tableaux; the water boys asleep at the well, the coachmen asleep in the stables, the king and queen asleep on their thrones as sleeping nobles sat around them.
He found stairs and climbed, passing butlers and maids and fullers all asleep between rooms.
Upward and upward through uncomfortable stillness, fully aware of the amount of noise a full suit of armor makes in a cramped stone stairway in a dead-silent castle.
When he finally reached the top floor, it was to find a door that was actually shut to him. He reached for the doorknob that swung open with the faintest brush of his fingers, and revealed the sumptuous slumber-chamber of the sleeping princess.
Ages had not touched her. Time had not had her yet. Her cheeks were as full and as rosy as they had been when she had fallen to sleep in the first. Her hair a delicate golden cascade blooming on the surface of her pillow, her elegant hands clasped just at her abdomen, looking for all the world like a sleeping Galatea, except prettier by far.
Seated in a chair opposite her bed, and trying to figure out exactly how one works a spinning wheel without using magic, was the uninvited fairy, who looked up just as the prince entered the room.
"Oh," he said "hey." Then suddenly "whoa...deja-vu."
The prince drew his sword and leveled it at the fairy's throat. "Release this castle from your villainous enchantment, foul creature!"
The fairy didn't exactly take kindly to the term "foul creature," but he let it slide. "Look, it's fine. She's just asleep, all you have to do is wake her up. Simple as that."
He shouldered a backpack, and said "Hate to spoil and run, but I've got other princesses to terrorize"
He clapped the prince on his armored back, and said "see ya round, kid" before leaving.
The prince, much confused, sheathed his sword, and approached the bed.
Bending at the waist, with posture that would make a dance teacher cry, he studied the sleeping girl, brushing a single strand of fine golden hair from her eyes, before placing a single, light, gentle kiss on her perfect lips.
Slowly, sleepily, her eyes fluttered open.
Then snapped open all the way as she realized what was happening, and she slapped the prince across the face.
"What the hell is going on here?!" she demanded, sitting up, finding herself in a strange room with some random guy kissing her.
At the end of her sentence, the spell on the rest of the castle was broken, and everyone else woke up vaguely, slowly.
The princess had backed away from the prince, who was trying profusely to apologize and explain that she had misread the situation, even as she pelted him with antiques.
Guards, attracted by the noise and the shouting, barged into the room to find their princess, miraculously restored and being menaced by some unknown knight. Grabbing him bodily, they dragged him down the many stairs of the castle, down through the ground floor to the caverns underneath, and sentenced him to twenty years' incarceration for the sexual assault of a member of the royal family.
The princess, reunited with her family thanks to what seemed at the time to be a miracle, grew to a ripe old age, acceding the throne after her parents, and ruling with a fair hand, a quick wit, and an irrational fear of splinters.
Her friends, who had lead almost directly to the princess' unusual fate, were banished from the kingdom, and went on to pursue a career in music as the hit metal group the Skullery Maidz, who went on to have a thoroughly forgettable career marred by infighting and poisoned apples.
The spinning wheel went on to publish its memoirs and hit the top of the international bestsellers list, before embarking on a three-year book tour through most of continental Europe.
More to the point, the entire cast of extras and hangers-on involved in the story lived happily ever after.
(for real this time)