Once upon a time there was a young prince named Leo who lived with his family in a giant castle. Life as a prince is pretty great, but it’s also more work than you might think. True, Prince Leo got to eat off of golden plates at every meal and take a bath in a bathtub the size of a swimming pool every night, but he also had to dress up in stiff clothes for horribly boring formal dinners and copy lines over and over to make his handwriting as fancy as possible. Even his favorite parts of being a prince were hard work. Every morning he had to practice horseback riding and sword work and archery. And every afternoon he studied ways to break through evil enchantments.
Prince Leo had an older sister named Princess Elena. Princess Elena was about to be 15 years old, and everyone was planning a huge birthday party for her. Her father, the king, had ordered his cooks to make the biggest feast anyone had ever eaten in the castle. Her mother, the queen, had ordered the most beautiful dress of shimmering purple made for her to wear. Prince Leo worked hard in all of his free time to make a wonderful present for his sister. Using only his own little knife, he was carving a huge wooden horse for Elena that looked just like her favorite real horse, Fettle. Prince Leo tried hard to keep his present a secret. He only worked when he knew Princess Elena was at her dancing lessons, and he kept the horse in one of the lowest dungeons where she would never go. But Prince Leo knew his sister. He knew that she couldn’t stand secrets. She never said anything, but he was pretty sure that she had spied out what he was working on. He hoped she would still like it, even though it probably wouldn’t surprise her.
Unfortunately, before he could find out if she liked it or not, everyone in the castle got a much worse surprise. On the night before her party, Princess Elena went missing. She had been trying on her party dress one last time when the seamstress was called out of the room. When the woman came back, Princess Elena was gone. They searched the entire castle, but she could not be found. No one had any idea what had happened until one of the servants found a black feather on Princess Elena’s pillow. A black feather: the calling card of the wicked sorcerer Malvent.
Once the king found out that Malvent had taken Princess Elena, he called for all his advisers to meet him in his throne room. The talked long and hard about what should be done. The generals suggested sending out knights to hunt for her, but the king knew that swords and shields would be of no use against a sorcerer like Malvent. Instead, he asked his chief minister which of his men was the most skilled at battling sorcerers spells.
“There can be no doubt,” said the chief minister. “The best man for such a job is Prince Leo.”
The king was surprised and also proud. Prince Leo was still very young. But he was a prince, and he begged his father to let him go and bring back his sister. The king agreed. He knew that Prince Leo had the best chance of success.
That night, Prince Leo studied all the maps and memorized the way to Malvent’s fortress. Then, early in the morning, he set out to rescue his sister. The sorcerer Malvent lived on a jagged mountaintop. The road to his fortress was narrow and steep. Half way up, Prince Leo had to leave behind his horse because the path was just too tight for a horse to pass through. Climbing on foot was cold and tiring work. And it wasn’t just the steep climb and the frigid wind that made it difficult. Soon, a weird mist began to creep up around Prince Leo’s ankles, then his knees, then his waist. Soon he was surrounded by the mist and couldn’t see where he was going. Fortunately, Prince Leo had studied enchanted mists, so he knew just what to do. He reached into the bag at his side and pulled out a special candle that his mother had made. Once he had the candle lit, the love his mother had put into it cleared the mist just enough for him to see where his feet needed to go. Step by careful step, Prince Leo reached the doors to the fortress.
The fortress doors were also enchanted. They would only open with certain words. Fortunately, Prince Leo had studied enchanted doors, and so he knew just what to do. He closed his eyes and remembered all the enchanted passwords he had memorized, trying them out one by one. On his fifth try, he found the right words, and the door opened. Prince Leo walked boldly into the main hall of the fortress. He knew that sorcerers always keep their prisoners high up in the tallest tower, and so Prince Leo began to climb the stairs.
Naturally, Malvent’s stairs weren’t ordinary stairs. When Prince Leo was halfway up, the stairs suddenly began to jump around and almost pitched him straight over the side. Fortunately, Prince Leo had studied enchanted stairs, and so he knew just what to do. Reaching into his bag again, he pulled out a pair of his father’s boots, which he slipped onto his own feet. All of his father’s wisdom which was in the boots helped Prince Leo find just the right places to step as he climbed and climbed those jumping stairs. Finally, he reached the very top, and opened the door in front of him.
Behind the door was a round room containing seven cells. In the cell that was straight in front of him, Prince Leo could see his sister, Princes Elena, sitting on a stool and knitting something large and blue. He cried out with joy, and rushed forward. He was just about to open the door to her cell when he heard her voice from behind him.
He turned and saw his sister in the cell behind him. Then slowly he turned and saw that each of the seven cells had a girl in it. They all looked exactly like Princess Elena. All at once they all began to talk.
“I’m the real, Elena!”
“No, Leo, you know me. I’m your sister.”
“Don’t let any of the other ones out. They’ll turn into monsters as soon as the door is open.”
Unfortunately, Prince Leo had never studied enchanted monsters that look like your sister, and he didn’t know what to do. For several minutes he just stayed right where he was, turning on the spot and staring at all those copies of Princess Elena. Then he had the perfect idea and stopped where he was, looking straight at the first Elena.
“What did I make you for your birthday?” he asked.
“I don’t know! You kept it a secret,” said the first one.
“That’s a trick question,” said the second one. “You bought me some jewelry.”
“No, you wrote me a song,” said the third one.
“You know that it was a surprise,” said the fourth. “I really don’t know.”
The fifth Elena blushed. “You carved me a wooden horse,” she whispered.
And quick as a flash, Prince Leo opened her door and grabbed her hand. She smiled at him, while the other Elenas all turned back into monsters and began gnashing their teeth at him from behind their bars. Leo and Elena ran for the stairs.
They were down all the stairs and almost to the front door when Malvent himself appeared right in front of them. He raised his hands and began to say the words of a spell. Fortunately, Princess Elena had also studied enchantments by evil sorcerers, and she knew just what to do. She grabbed the edge of the blue cloak that she had been knitting in her cell and threw it over the sorcerer. His spell rebounded off the cloak and hit himself. Where once there had been a terrifying sorcerer, there now stood a large gray hippopotamus. The prince and princess ran out the door and down the path. When they reached the point where Prince Leo had left his horse, they found several men standing. The king had sent his men to escort his children home.
Princess Elena had a beautiful birthday party. Among other exciting games and prizes, it featured a ride on a real hippo. And they all lived happily every after.