Once long ago, in a better time than now, there lived a great king who had a beautiful daughter named Seraphine. He had also, a step-son, who was sick, and who lived in distant lands beyond the kingdom. Because she was kind, and loved her brother very much, Seraphine went to visit him upon every week’s end. The journey took three days by carriage there and back, but the princess was always pleased to go.
On one such occasion, after traveling for not quite a day, the carriage came to the Boiling River which marked the outskirts of the kingdom. To the surprise of the princess and her company, the bridge had been completely collapsed, allowing for no way to cross the raging water.
“Oh, what horrid luck!” Seraphine exclaimed. “What ever can we do?” As if in answer to this question, a young, poor-looking man stepped out from the brush.
“Excuse me, my lady,” said the man, “but perhaps I could be of some assistance. I am but a beggar, but if you allow me, I can show you a secret passage that runs beneath this river.”
The coachman, mistrustful of the stranger, asked “Where is this passage? In the name of the king, I demand you reveal it!”
“It can only be reached by foot,” explained the beggar. “If you like, I will escort the princess.”
Before the coachman could reply, Seraphine said “Of course, but Sir Andrew and Sir Malfoy must come as well.” The two knights who had been riding alongside the carriage nodded, and stepped down from their horses. Then, escorting Seraphine from the carriage, they followed the beggar into the dark woods that bordered the king’s land.
“What is your name?” asked the princess to their guide as they walked deeper into the forest.
“It is Thomas”, he replied, and said nothing else for quite some time. As they traveled, the trees seemed to grow closer together, and footing became more treacherous. At last, they reached a deep pit with a rope ladder extending down one side into perfect darkness. “Follow me,” said Thomas, and entered the hole. Sir Andrew went second, pursued closely by Seraphine, and Sir Malfoy.
At the bottom, Thomas lit a small lantern, and led the company into a narrow and winding series of tunnels. Before long, they arrived at a large gateway. The passage was, through misfortune, guarded by a lecherous Goblin who stank of garlic and raw fish. He glowered at the arrivals, and to them said:
“If thou know the secret word,
Then thou may pass the river gate;
But if thou fail, or come with force,
Then suffer most unpleasant fate!”
At this, Thomas leaned close to Sir Malfoy, and whispered in his ear. Upon hearing the message, Sir Malfoy approached the goblin, and clearly stated: “Ribbonstone!” The goblin seemed at first surprised by this, and then, with deadly swiftness, tore Sir Malfoy’s head clear from his shoulders. The Princess gasped in horror, and Sir Andrew drew his sword.
“Heavens help!” cried Thomas. “I must have been mistaken. Perhaps the word is… Gibsonberry!” The Goblin grimaced, and reluctantly stepped aside. Thomas led the way though the arch, and soon the three found themselves above ground, and on the other side of the river.
“Alas, good Sir Malfoy is dead,” the princess grieved.
“I am very sorry for the loss of your friend,” consoled Thomas. “However, as you are now traveling by foot, I recommend you make haste if you mean to reach your destination by nightfall.”
“Yes,” said Seraphine. “I thank you for your assistance. Sir Andrew and I can continue the journey alone. You need not stay with us.”
“Do you plan to take the common road over the mountain pass?” asked Thomas.
“Yes, it is the safest and easiest route,” replied the princess.
“But also the longest,” said Thomas, “and you no longer have a carriage and horses. If you allow me, I can show you through the mountain by a shortcut. I will save you half of a day’s journey.” The princess considered this, and then agreed.
So, trudging slowly through the woods, Thomas led the princess and the knight towards the Rainy Mountains in the east. Before long, it was nightfall, and the three travelers were forced to lessen their speed for fear of tripping in the dark, and of attracting wicked creatures. The chill night air nipped at the bare flesh of the princess, who in response, drew her shawl tighter to her face. Whispering through the present silence, Thomas said “It seems to me, that we should settle for the night.”
“These woods are dark in luminance and intent,” replied Sir Andrew. “It is never wise to pause too long in their vicinity.”
“Look yonder,” said Thomas, motioning in the dark to a far-off glow, bleeding light from out behind some distant trees. “From a home, no doubt, perhaps with room and board. Let us find it out.”
So the company of three approached the light, and saw that it was indeed a home: A modest shack; small and weather beaten, with a thatched roof and kindling stacked about its side. From its grimy windows, came clouds of moving light, and from its chimney stack, a wealth of smoke.
Thomas looked upon it, and said, “One of us should ask the occupants if they will keep us for the night.”
“I will,” said Seraphine, but Thomas held her arm.
“It may be dangerous,” he warned.
Sir Andrew nodded, and spoke: “Hide here in the bushes. I will see if it is safe.” Then, walking to the heavy door, he knocked twice and waited. All was quiet but for a mellow shuffle of slippered feet, and then, opening the wooden door, an old woman appeared. She was ugly in all ways ugliness can form, with a furrowed brow, a crooked back, and a dusty beard that sprouted in bursts from her hollowed neck. Her deep set eyes were as black as the backs of beetles, and her fingers as gnarled as brittle thorns.
“My good lady, we are sorry to trouble you,” Sir Andrew began, but did not finish, for the woman, being a witch, and an evil one at that, thrust upon the knight a terrible curse as he stood upon her doorstep. “Oh!” he cried in great surprise and fright, as each of his bones at once was turned to mud.
The princess quite nearly let loose a panicked shriek, but stopped herself for fear of being found. Casting a final look of fury upon the broken knight, the wicked woman turned and slunk back inside the mouldy cabin.
“Quickly,” whispered Thomas to the princess, “we must leave this place at once.” Shedding a tear, and finding no alternative, Seraphine followed Thomas once again. As the darkness of the night grew more complete, the princess and the beggar guide drew closer to the Rainy Mountains. Finally, as both began to wane in eyesight and endurance, they broke from the trees, and started up the mountain’s rocky slope.
“This way,” gestured Thomas, indicating with his forefinger a twisted path, weaving round a tangle of stones, slick from recent downpour. Once or twice, the princess slipped, bruising her fair ankles on the sharpened rocks. If she fell, Thomas would extend a hand and help her to her feet.
In time, they came to stand before a partly hidden fissure cracked along a towering face of rock. “Stay close and come,” the beggar said. “This cave will take us through the mountain’s heart.”
Again, the guide lit his pocket lantern, and once inside the cavern, none visible save for its modest glow. “We should spend the night in here,” said the voice of Thomas, “and continue in the morning.” The princess, who was much too tired to debate, found a small nook in the dark, and curling up, fell quickly into a deep and dreamless sleep.
When Seraphine awoke, she was shocked to find that her hands were tightly bound behind her back with a strong rope. In fright she tried to free herself, but ceased when she heard Thomas say: “My princess, you are awake. Now you must listen carefully. Your knights are dead, no one knows that you are here, and no one can cross the bridge, which I destroyed. I have, for you, a small proposal. Come away with me, and be my wife. You will be assumed dead, and we will live happily ever after in a country far away.”
“And if I refuse?” asked Seraphine.
“Then,” said Thomas “I will feed you to the ogre that lives inside this mountain.”
The princess was quiet, and then, looking the beggar in his eyes said to him, “You lie. No ogre resides within this mountain.”
Thomas smiled in a fashion most grotesque, and grabbing the princess, hurled her to her feet. “Have you not heard the tales?” he mocked, roughly dragging her deeper into the confounds of the cave. “The ogre of this mountain leaves at night to steal women and children from their beds. He takes them to his lair, cuts them into pieces and boils their bodies in a soup.”
“Those are only stories;” said Seraphine as they journeyed ever deeper, “fables told to frighten children of the village.”
And to this her captor replied:
“If then, you are sure princess,
Do give to luck your life.
And if you like, I’ll leave you here,
To feel the ogre’s knife!”
“I cannot feel that which does not exist,” said the princess simply. “Take me back to my father, and I promise you will be named a hero.”
Thomas laughed, and pushed her before him into a wider cavern. She fell amongst a sea of bones that cracked and splintered beneath her form. Just then, a belching roar echoed harshly through the caves.
“You see?” the beggar cried. “He has heard us. If you like, you still can live. Say that you will be my wife, and I will lead you from this place this very moment.”
“You will never have your wish,” the princess said in bold defiance. And then, exploding through the brittle bones with a mighty roar, the ogre came. Huge and hideous, the monster stepped before the princess, picked her up, and set her on her feet.
“My brother!” cried Seraphine embracing the beast at once. And her brother he was. Long ago when he was still a man, an evil wizard cast a spell upon him, transforming his body to horrid form. Terrified, he fled into the mountains to live and to be alone. Upon every week’s end however, Seraphine would visit him.
Disbelieving, Thomas turned to flee, but seeing this, the princess cried: “That man has cost the lives of two brave men, and meant me harm as well!” Grunting, the giant ogre stepped between the beggar and his retreat; then, ignoring his protesting screams, lifted him into the air, and ripped his body messily in two.
That very night, the king had the river bridge repaired, and the royal carriage sent to retrieve his daughter. Happily, she ventured back to her father’s castle, but on the next week’s end, and all those following, she returned to caves in the Rainy Mountains that would forever be her brother’s home.