The Princess in the Bottle

Once upon a time there was a young man who had no home and no family. His life was a life lived on the road, traveling from place to place, finding work whenever he needed it and adventure even when he didn’t. His only companion was an old gray horse, who through some long ago mistake had been named Black. The young man’s name was Peter, which means Rock and was a much more fitting name.

A traveling life makes for many stories, but the greatest tale of young Peter’s life started with a small creek and a fishing line. Peter had always been an excellent fisherman, so whenever he had nothing else to eat, he would look for a long stick, tie on his string and hook, and catch himself a fine supper. On this particular evening, the fish were biting well, and Peter had just caught enough for a feast when his eye fell on something glittering among the rocks on the bottom of the creek. Without a second thought, he reached down and pulled up a sparkling glass bottle with a red cork in it. The sight of this bottle was so amazing that Peter immediately dropped his line of fish. It wasn’t the lovely shape of the glass or even the brilliant color of the cork that caused such astonishment; it was what was inside the bottle. This bottle didn’t hold wine or vinegar or water. It didn’t even hold a perfect model of a ship. It held a princess.

Peter could not believe his eyes. Inside the bottle was a princess so tiny and so beautiful that he thought he must be dreaming. As you can imagine, he lost no time pulling the cork out of the bottle. As soon as he did, he heard a tiny, beautiful, but very angry voice saying, “Why did you drop the fish?! I’m starving!”

That was the last thing that Peter expected to hear. But the thought of a tiny, beautiful, starving princess was more than he could bear, so he quickly caught a few more fish and roasted them over his fire. When they were cooked all through, he broke off a small piece and dropped it into the top of the bottle. The princess ate it, quick as a wink, and asked for more. Peter passed her bits of fish through the opening of the bottle until finally she was full. She was much less angry now. She even thanked him for the food in a very polite voice.

As for Peter, he was not at all interested in eating. He just wanted to hear how a princess came to be in a bottle. He could see very well that she wouldn’t fit through the opening. The princess told him that her name was Selina and that her father was the king of a neighboring kingdom. It seemed that her father had done something to anger his chief magician who had punished his king by shrinking his only daughter and trapping her in a bottle. Once she was trapped, the magician had carried her secretly out of the castle and thrown her into a nearby river. The river carried her far away, out of her father’s kingdom and down to this point where it dwindled to a tiny creek, and she had finally come to rest among the rocks. The king did not know what had happened to his daughter, only that she had disappeared.

“So I knew that no one would be looking for me,” finished Selina, “and I was quite sure that I was going to die of starvation in this horrid bottle. Until you came along, that is, and I saw your fish. Nothing ever looked or tasted so good.”

“Isn’t there anything I can do to help you get out of that bottle?” asked Peter.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Selina sadly. “My father’s chief magician is very powerful. I doubt that anyone could undo one of his spells, and I’m sure he wouldn’t want to do it himself.”

But Peter had not spent his life traveling for nothing. Once, several years before, Peter had met an old woman who was said to have magical powers. Peter thought he would visit her and see if she knew any way to reverse the spell.

It was a journey of several weeks to reach the old woman. Peter carried Selina in her bottle in front of him as he rode Black, and positioned her near the fire at night to keep her warm. Every morning, he baked a little cake of flour and passed pieces through the opening of the bottle for Selina’s breakfast, and every night he fed her fish or nuts or berries that he had found through out the day. They passed the evening talking and telling stories and sometimes Selina would sing one of the many songs she had learned from her mother. Those were happy weeks, though Selina was very tired of being in her bottle, and at last they arrived at the old woman’s cottage.

When Peter showed the old woman the bottle and told her Selina’s tale, the old woman sighed a very big sigh. She picked up the bottle and studied it closely. “Yes, yes,” she said. “I’m afraid there really is no other way.”

“No other way?” asked Peter. “Then there is one way at least!”

“Yes, there is a way. There is always a way. I’m sorry to say it young man, but it seems you are going to have to drink it.”

Peter was confused. “Drink it? Drink what?”

“Drink what’s in the bottle.”

Peter was even more confused. “But Selina is in the bottle. Only Selina.”

“No, not only Selina. Selina and something else.”

Peter studied the bottle closely. He couldn’t see anything in there but Selina.

“Pour it out,” said the old woman, handing Peter a cup.

Selina braced her arms and legs on the glass and nodded at Peter. Peter shrugged and tipped the bottle over the cup. A stream of dark red liquid poured into the cup, filling it to the brim.

Peter was astonished. There hadn’t been any red liquid in the bottle before. At least, none that he could see. But there it was in the cup before him. It didn’t look very tasty, but if it would free Selina, he was willing to try it. He picked it up.

“No! Wait!” shouted Selina. “You don’t know what it is. What will it do to him?” she asked the old woman.

“I don’t know,” said the old woman. “But it won’t be good. There’s no doubt that it’s some sort of poison.”

Selina was horrified. “You can’t drink it! It could kill you!”

Peter just looked at her, and his eyes were as calm and steady as a rock. He had just realized something. He had just realized that even if this poison killed him, Selina would be worth it. Still keeping his eyes only on his princess in the bottle, he picked up the cup and drank down all the poison.

The effect was instantaneous. Peter’s eyes closed, he gritted his teeth to keep from yelling from the pain. Then the pain slowly, slowly grew less and less, and the world faded from his sight. Peter was dead.

In that same moment, the glass of Selina’s bottle disappeared, and she was standing there fully grown. With a sob, she threw herself down on Peter’s chest. She cried and cried until she couldn’t cry any more, and as she cried she felt something strange. The old woman was holding the cup up to Selina’s cheek, capturing all her tears. When Selina finally calmed, the cup was full. Quick as a wink, the old woman tipped the cup and poured Selina’s tears into Peter’s mouth.

He coughed. He sputtered. Then he sat up. Selina was so happy to see him alive, and Peter was so happy to see her free of her bottle and back to her normal size that neither of them could say anything. They just sat and looked at each other happily for a long, long time.

And then they thanked the old woman, got onto Black, rode to Selina’s home, and lived happily ever after.

Bluebell and Buttercup

Not so far away, but very, very long ago, there lived two fairy sisters named Bluebell and Buttercup. In their day fairies looked the same as other people, only much more beautiful and with powers that could be felt though they couldn’t be seen. Bluebell and Buttercup, the only daughters of the fairy queen, were the most beautiful of all the fairies and the most powerful, too. But they were spoiled and selfish and didn’t realize that their power was given for the good of everyone. They thought their power was theirs to play with, and that is exactly what they did.

The sisters were always causing trouble. When they were just two years old, Bluebell caught three mice, turned them purple, and kept them as pets. Buttercup was jealous of those mice, so she grew them all three feet tall to scare her sister. They ate all the cats in the county before the fairy queen finally caught them and shrunk them down again.

When they were five, Bluebell discovered that she loved chocolate, so she turned all the fence posts in the neighborhood into chocolate bars. The sun came out and melted all those chocolate fences before she could eat them. The cows and sheep and horses and chickens all got free from their fields and ran loose everywhere. In the middle of the chaos, Buttercup decided to make the best of the melted chocolate situation and turned all the grass into vanilla ice cream to make some sundaes. The mess was unbelievable. It took all the fairies several days to pick up all the sticky chicken feathers and wash the chocolate clumps out of the sheep’s wool.

When the girls were seven, they needed more time to play outside with their new bouncy ball, so they stopped the sun in the sky. It burned and burned until some of the dry grass caught fire, and there was a big blaze, and everyone was so tired from being awake for so long that they couldn’t even lift the buckets of water to fight the fire. If the fairy queen hadn’t come just in time and made it rain all over the fire, who knows what would have happened?

On their tenth birthday, Buttercup turned all the trees purple because that was Bluebell’s favorite color, and Bluebell made hundreds of mushrooms grow everywhere because they were Buttercup’s favorite food. All of that was fine until their two spells collided and giant purple mushrooms the size of trees began to sprout up everywhere. One popped up right under the Buttercup’s feet and she was stuck on the top of a twelve foot tall mushroom until her mother came along and fixed things again.

But the worst catastrophe of all happened when Bluebell and Buttercup were thirteen. Bluebell had gotten a new dress. It was purple, of course, and sparkly and swishy. She was so proud of her dress that she couldn’t stop talking about how pretty she looked it in. Buttercup was annoyed. When she couldn’t take anymore of Bluebell’s bragging, she said, “Like a toad all green and spotty, make that purple dress turn dotty!”

Bluebell’s sparkly purple dress was suddenly covered with ugly green polka dots. She was so mad that she instantly said, “In any dress I’m prettier than you, especially when your skin is blue!”

Buttercup instantly turned bright blue. She was furious. She ran at Bluebell yelling, “Think you’re pretty when you’re tall? Let’s see what you look like small!”

Bluebell shrank down until she was only the size of a leaf. The flowers in their mother’s garden towered over her. She couldn’t see her sister. She couldn’t see anything but the stems of the flowers and a little patch of blue sky peeking through the roof of yellow tulips above her. She was so scared that she spoke without thinking, “I’m a fairy, I won’t cry, I just need some wings to fly.” Instantly, delicate wings sprouted from her back, and she fluttered up above the flowers. Elated, she looked around for her sister.

At first she didn’t see her. It wasn’t until she heard a voice calling her name that she turned and saw Buttercup, two inches tall, flying toward her on tiny fragile wings. Each sister stared at the other’s blue face. Every spell that they had spoken had worked on both of them, and they hadn’t even realized it. They began to feel a little afraid. Buttercup whispered, “Spell go back without a trace. Give me back my normal face.” Nothing happened.

Bluebell sniffled a little and said, “Even if my sister wins, magic make me big again.” Nothing happened. They couldn’t undo their own magic. More scared than ever, the sisters flew off to find their mother.

They looked in the queen’s palace, but they didn’t see anyone. They looked in the gardens and in the forest, and still they didn’t see anyone. Now they were absolutely terrified. Finally, they went to the queen’s fairy pool. There they saw all the fairies gathered around the water, looking at their reflections. Every single one of them was tiny and blue, and every single one of them had wings. Bluebell and Buttercup were horrified. Their mother flew over to them.

“Girls, I assume we have you to thank for our new appearance?”

The girls nodded miserably and waited for their mother to make everything right. She did nothing. “I’m sorry, girls, I already tried. There is nothing I can do either. Together your magic proved too strong to be undone.”

Buttercup and Bluebell felt so sorry for what they had done that they worked very hard from that day on. They helped everyone make new tiny houses to live in out of twigs and flower petals and hollowed out pumpkins. They learned how to make a tiny little oven for baking tiny loaves of bread. And they made friends with all the animals of the forest, so that none of them would eat the fairies as they went about their work. Eventually the fairies learned to enjoy their new wings and make the best of their new life. But Bluebell and Buttercup never used their magic again.

And so it is that to this day, all the fairies are very , very small, and they all fly on delicate wings.