A long, long time ago – so long ago that if one tries to think ever so far back, it is farther than that again – King Mago reigned in the Country Under the Sunset.
He was an old king, and his white beard had grown so long that it almost touched the ground; and all his reign had been passed in trying to make his people happy.
He had one son, of whom he was very fond. This son, Prince Zaphir, was well worthy of all his father’s fondness, for he was as good as can be.
He was still only a boy, and he had never seen his beautiful sweet-faced mother, who had died when he was only a baby. It often made him very sad that he had no mother, when he thought other boys had tender mothers, at whose knees they learned to pray, and who came and kissed them in their beds at night. He felt that it was strange that many of the poor people in his father’s dominions had mothers, whilst he, the prince, had none. When he thought thus it made him very humble; for he knew that neither power, nor riches, nor youth, nor beauty will save any one from the doom of all mortals, and that the only beautiful thing in the world whose beauty lasts for ever is a pure, fair soul. He always remembered, however, that if he had no mother he had a father who loved him very dearly, and so was comforted and content.
He used to muse much on many things; and often even in the bright rest-time, when all the people slept, he would go out into the wood, close to the palace, and think and think on all that was beautiful and true, whilst his faithful dog Gomus would crouch at his feet and sometimes wag his tail, as much as to say –
“Here I am, prince; I am not asleep either.”
Prince Zaphir was so good and so kind that he never hurt any living thing. If he saw a worm crawling over the road before him he would step over it carefully lest it should be injured. If he saw a fly fallen in the water he would lift it tenderly out and send it forth again, free of wing, into the glorious bright air: so kind was he that all the animals that had once seen him knew him again, and when he went to his favourite seat in the wood there would arise a glad hum from all the living things. Those bright insects, whose colours change hour by hour, would put on their brightest colours, and bask about in the gleams of sunlight that came slanting down between the benches of the trees. The noisy insects put on their mufflers so that they would not disturb him; and the little birds resting on the trees would open their round bright eyes, and come out and blink and wink in the light, and pipe little joyous songs of welcome with all their sweetest notes.
So is it ever with tender, loving people; the living things that have voices as sweet as man’s or woman’s, and who have languages of their own, although we cannot understand them, all talk to them in joyous notes and bid them welcome in their own pretty ways.
King Mago was proud of his brave, good, handsome boy, and liked him to dress beautifully; and all the people loved to see his bright face and his gay clothing. The King made the great merchants search far and near till they got the largest and finest feather that had ever been seen. This feather he had put in the front of a beautiful cap, the colour of a ruby, and fastened with a brooch made of a great diamond. He gave this cap to Zaphir on his birthday.
As Prince Zaphir walked through the streets, the people saw the great white plume nodding from far away. All were glad when they saw it, and ran to their windows and doors and stood bowing and smiling and waving their hands as their beautiful prince went by. Zaphir always bowed and smiled in return; and he loved his people and gloried in the love that they had for him.
In the Court of King Mago was a companion for Zaphir whom he loved very much. This was the Princess Bluebell. She was the daughter of another king who had been wrongfully deprived of his dominion by a cruel and treacherous enemy, and who had come to King Mago to ask for help and had died in his Court after living there for many, many years. But King Mago had taken his little orphan daughter and had her brought up as his own child.
A great vengeance had come upon the wicked usurper. The Giants had come upon his dominions and had slain him and all his family, and had killed all the people in the land, and had even destroyed all the animals, except those wild ones that were like the Giants themselves. Then the houses began to tumble down from age and decay, and the beautiful gardens to become wild and neglected; and so when after many long years the Giants grew tired and went back to their home in the wilderness, the country that Princess Bluebell owned was such a vast desolation that no one going into it would know that people had ever dwelt there.
Princess Bluebell was very young and very, very beautiful. She, like Prince Zaphir, had never known a mother’s love, for her mother, too, had died whilst she was young. She loved King Mago very much, but she loved Prince Zaphir more than all the rest of the world. They had always been companions, and there was not a thought of his heart that she did not know almost before it came there. Prince Zaphir loved her too, more dearly than words can tell, and for her sake he would have done anything, no matter how full of danger. He hoped when he was a man and she a woman that she would marry him, and that they would help King Mago to rule his kingdom justly and wisely, and that there would be no pain or want in the whole country, if they could help it.
To read the rest of this story visit:
“The Rose Prince” at bramstoker.org