Thursday, February 28, 2008


A Princess Fable

“Tell me of
your wondrous stories”
she begged.

“You could always make
my heart aflutter,
as on a precipice.”

“Smiling, holding out
your hand,
tempting me to
the escarpment.”

Once upon a time there was a Princess so lovely, so beautiful, that her very presence disturbed the tranquility of her father’s kingdom. Even as a child she mesmerized the royal court; her father the King had to raise his voice to break the spell she held over his lords and ladies. Very little work was being accomplished in his daily audiences and the King had to find other diversions for his daughter. The choices were few as her guards, though heartfully devoted to her welfare, proved unable to perform their service when in her presence.

The Princess seemed to awaken a feeling of tranquility wherever she appeared; the food vendors and farmers in the marketplace would fall mute and become statue-like as she strolled by. She soon learned not to smile in public, the faintest glimmering of happiness on her face brought such joy to the common folk that they swooned and collapsed at the elation that filled their hearts.

As the Princess grew to be a young woman, the King could no longer allow her freedom of movement in his kingdom. As much as he loved his daughter he was responsible for the wealth and security of his kingdom and the Princess` very presence produced only happiness and stupor in his subjects.

The King thought to himself, “Oh, if only the Queen hadn’t died giving birth to our daughter. She would know what to do.” The Princess was an only child which intensified the King’s worries. What would happen when he died? Princess Elaina`s beauty engendered slavish devotion throughout the land, from the highest lord to the lowliest peasant, yet their love for her seemed to drain their life’s energy.

And so it came to pass that the King had a beautiful castle built on the highest mountain in the country. He surrounded it by a large moat and defended it with a cadre of his personal Royal Guard who were forbidden to enter the castle. Within were the Princess Elaina and her personal servants, who through close personal contact over many years were able to serve her while remaining upright if not overly alert.

On the Princess` birthday, in July of each year, the King issued a proclamation to all of the neighboring royalty. If any young man of royal blood was able to remain sensible and alert while in his daughter’s presence for one hour he would be granted the Princess` hand in marriage. Within two years every eligible bachelor from all of the neighboring kingdoms had presented themselves to her.

One young Prince, from the kingdom of Neder, seemed to have not succumbed to her beauty and the King’s hopes were raised for a marriage. The Prince had taken a magic potion given to him by his court sorcerer which clouded his vision. He was able to approach the princess and sit closely by her and, as an hour in her presence was nearing, he boldly spoke to her.

“My dear Princess Elaina. Your father has promised your hand to anyone of royal blood who is able to withstand the temptation of your beauty for an hour. It has now been fifty five minutes and I remain alert and by your side. May I have your consent to this marriage?”

Elaina spoke the one word “Yes” and the Neder prince fell to the floor in a deep swoon. In his high anxiety, he had never considered the love and happiness that one simple word from her would release. After the Neder prince’s failure there seemed to be no one left who had the temerity to be in her presence.

Until Siegfried!

Siegfried’s reputation preceeded him wherever he traveled. A renowned poet, there were many myths that surrounded his heritage. It was said that he was the grandson of Wotan, the great warrior King who ruled all of the mighty kingdoms across the ocean.

With Nothung, the magical sword he was able to forge in order to slay the evil dragon Fafner, Siegfried roamed the world in search of his destiny. His grandfather had granted Siegfried many virtues including an inability to know fear and it was this fearlessness that led to his confrontation with Wotan.

The great King was aware of his grandson’s destiny and confronted him when Siegfried was about to embark on his journey across the ocean. Siegfried did not recognize his grandfather and insolently broke Wotan`s spear with one blow from Nothung. Wotan withdrew, leaving the fate of the world in Siegfried’s hands.

In the new world Siegfried disguised himself as a poet and traveled throughout the lands, always on the alert for circumstances that would allow his destiny to be fulfilled. His reputation as a poet spread far and wide and he was granted audiences in the Royal Courts of every country. And so it came to pass that Siegfried learned of the plight of the beautiful Princess Elaina; he traveled to her land and was granted an audience with her father the King.

Siegfried explained to the King how he had learned of his destiny. When he had slain the dragon Fafner, on drawing his sword from the corpse, his hands were burned by the dragon’s blood. He instinctively put his hands to his mouth and upon tasting the blood was immediately able to understand the song of a woodbird that had perched patiently while Fafner was slain.

The bird explained that Siegfried would one day meet the most beautiful of princesses, one who was so lovely that she lived her life as if surrounded by fire. Through his words he would capture her love and they would fulfill their destinies. The King was very excited by the tale told to him and he asked Siegfried to reveal their future to him. The young Prince could only reply that the woodbird had left him with the omen that their union would bring “light-bringing love, and laughing death”.

The King was puzzled. “Do you understand the meaning of this omen?”

“No, my Lord. I only know that my destiny and that of the Princess Elaina are intertwined.” Siegfried bowed to the King, asking “Sire, do I have your permission to present myself to your daughter?”

The King placed his hand upon Siegfried’s shoulder. “My son, it will be my greatest pleasure if you were to win my daughter’s heart. Go to her now, and Godspeed!” The King hurriedly wrote a short note and gave it to the Prince. “This note will grant you access to Elaina`s castle. Present it to the guardian of the moat and the drawbridge will be lowered.”

Siegfried withdrew from the King’s presence, rushing to mount his horse for the ride to the Princess` castle. By the time Siegfried reached the castle the sun had descended behind the mountain on which it was standing. As Siegfried paused, pondering the significance of his meeting with the Princess Elaina, a small woodbird called to him from a rosebush directly in front of him.

“Coo, coo”, it said. “Have you come to face your destiny, Siegfried?”

“I have, dear bird. Yet I must ask you for assistance. Can you explain these words to me, ‘light bringing love, and laughing death’?”

“Coo, coo”, the woodbird responded. “I see you remember me, oh Prince. I will offer you half the puzzle. You must sleep here tonight and approach the castle just before dawning. At first light you must be at the Princess` side. If you awaken her with a kiss, Elaina`s powers of beauty may be muted. In her languor, you may use the potency in your poetry to win her heart.”

“Oh, thank you, kind bird. And what do you see of my chances?”

The woodbird replied, “Coo, coo” and flew away into the night sky.

The next morning, just before dawn, Siegfried presented the King’s note to the guard of the moat. The drawbridge was quickly lowered and Siegfried entered the castle and was given instructions to the Princess` chamber. He dismissed the guard at her chamber door and softly, silently opened the door to the Royal rooms.

It was very dim inside, the only light coming from the dawning just now blanching the night sky. Siegfried crept to the bed sitting directly under the open windows, smelling the perfume of jasmine that was growing ivy like on the small veranda.

Looking down on the bed, Siegfried was able to distinguish the form of a young woman lying on her side facing the night sky. Her blonde hair seemed to shimmer on the pillows as it reflected the sun’s first awakenings. Eyes closed, the Princess breathed softly, just the hint of a smile on her lips.

Siegfried bent closely to her and gently kissed that smile. He could feel the Princess stirring at his touch and he spoke the words that he begged would win her heart. “Please don’t be afraid, my Princess. Your father the King has granted me permission to try to win your heart. Before opening your eyes, I beg you hear my words.”

Elaina lay still, only a quivering on her lips confirming her wakefulness.

“Last evening while approaching your castle, I was met by a woodbird who sang to me from a rosebush. It spoke of your beauty and told me to awaken you with a kiss. The bird also said that I should try to win your love with the voice of my heart. And so, hear is my appeal."

"My name is Siegfried; I am a poet and a warrior. I have never felt fear before this day. It is such a strange feeling! And what is it that brings me to my knees in supplication? Only a brushing of your lips, the merest tasting. I fear for my happiness if I was forever denied that pleasure. And yet I am more fearful for you. I hope you can understand, it is our destiny to love each other. There is no one else on this earth that will be more faithful, more passionate to you. My heart vibrates at the thought of us. Can you feel it? A murmuring within you, like a woodbird`s call, ‘Coo coo---coo coo’. I come to you at dawn’s light to protect my soul from bursting.”

Siegfried withdrew from the bed, standing at the open windows. “Elaina, oh such a word! A name to inspire the poorest soul, yet here I stand, babbling on, saying nothing. I must try one last time.” Closing his eyes, sensing only the sweet smell of jasmine, Siegfried continued:

I kiss your lips,
So soft
I’m afraid of bruising.

Your hair,
Blonde as wheat,
My fingers
long to glean.

Eyes smiling
my heart.

As he stood in the gathering light, Siegfried felt a tingling in his right hand, then realized Elaina had risen from her bed and was standing beside him. She had placed her hand in his and had moved closer to him. He could feel a gentle pressure where she had encircled her arm with his, then felt, with all his senses, the rapture of her head resting on his shoulder.

He turned his head to her, just inches, and the smell of jasmine was replaced by her fragrance. The redolence drew him to the Princess` hair and he breathed deeply of her. His sigh seemed to release the moment she looked upwards at him and Siegfried gathered her in his arms. Their first kiss was gentle, just a touch, then their eyes met. Siegfried kissed the moisture escaping from her eyes, then held her closely, his left hand gently immersed in her hair.

“Oh Elaina, how I’ve longed for this moment. Could you love me?”

“I do love you, Siegfried. With all my heart and soul.”

“Then, we will be married, my love?”

“Yes, my darling, but first, the words.”

“I love you, my Princess, and I will do everything in my power to make you proud of me. With you by my side, our destinies will be fulfilled.”

As he spoke these words, a black butterfly flew through the widow and alighted on Siegfried’s arm. Elaina drew back with a gasp and cried, “Oh no! Please don’t visit us now!”
Siegfried brushed the butterfly off his shoulder and said “Don`t be alarmed, my love. It’s only a butterfly and can’t harm you.”

“Oh, but Siegfried, it spoke to me. Didn’t you hear it?”

“No my beloved. And its words?”

“Just these, ‘light bringing love and laughing death’. Do you know its meaning?”

Siegfried drew Elaina close to him. “It’s nothing to concern you, Elaina. Just an omen I’ve heard twice before. Words that might have had power at one time. But no longer. Our love renders these foolish words meaningless!”

Although the Princess remained alarmed at the spoken words of the black butterfly, Siegfried drew her attention to a treasure he took from his pocket. Opening the drawstrings of a small leather purse, he withdrew the most captivating golden ring. The ring seemed to draw the dawn’s rays directly into itself, its glimmering making it seem almost alive.

Siegfried took Elaina`s left hand and slipped the ring on her finger. “This ring, along with my magical helmet, are the only spoils I allowed myself after slaying the dragon Fafner. As long as you wear it, our souls will never be apart.”

As the couple embraced there was a knocking on the door, followed by the laughing voice of Elaina`s father. “Come, come, you lovebirds. The sun is risen and you have been together since the cock`s crow. May I announce to the Kingdom that we have a marriage?”

Elaina ran to the door, opening it and falling into the King’s arms. “Oh father, please tell the world of our love and allow our union as soon as possible.”

The King beckoned Siegfried to his side and led them both to the gates of the castle. Three horses awaited, including Elaina`s beloved Sebastien, and surrounded by guards the royal party rode to the King’s castle. At the morning audience of his Royal Court the King announced his daughter’s marriage to the foreign Prince, to be celebrated in two month’s time.

Amid the jubilation there was one man who seemed more subdued. The Prince of Neder felt foolish and envious. “That should be me by the Princess` side”, he thought. “This man hardly knows her and is a foreigner to our lands. I swear to God that this marriage will not take place, in sixty days or ever. Two months time will allow me to travel across the waters and learn all that is needed to know to defeat this Prince. Siegfried is but a man and every man has a weakness. His secret will lead to his death and my marriage to the Princess. This I pledge to all that is Sacred.”

The next two months found the entire Kingdom in a whirl of preparation for the long anticipated day. The King issued a Royal proclamation officially announcing the marriage and inviting the Royal Houses of all the known Kingdoms to join them in the celebration. Princess Elaina was very busy planning the festivities with her entourage and Siegfried filled his days with hunting in the forests of the kingdom.

The first few days he found it impossible to be alone as wherever he rode he could feel eyes upon him, the savior of the Royal line of the kingdom. In order to gain anonymity and some time to himself, Siegfried began wearing Tarnhelm, the magic helmet he had taken from the dragon Fafner`s plunder. While wearing Tarnhelm he could assume the identity of any man and he found the freedom it allowed him invigorating.

About a month before the wedding he was spending the morning trailing the spoor of a wild boar in the deep forest when he was forced to give up the hunt by a thick bramble of blackthorn bush. Siegfried bowed to the ending of the trail, acknowledging the boar’s cunning and he sat beneath a giant oak tree to have his lunch. After eating he leaned against the oak tree and closed his eyes, thinking of his love, her visage now his constant companion.

He was awakened from his reverie by the chirping of a woodbird. “Coo coo” it said and came to rest on the blackthorn. Siegfried smiled as he recognized the bird that he had met twice before. “Good morning, little one. How did you know it was me?”

The little bird seemed to smile. “Hail, oh Prince, you must remember. I was with you when you slew Fafner the dragon and first put on Tarnhelm. Its mysteries cannot disguise you from me. And I must congratulate you on your engagement. Princess Elaina wears the magical ring proudly!”

Siegfried smiled at the little woodbird. “The ring of the Niebelung holds no magic for me, gentle one. Only my Grandfather Wotan can unleash its powers. Its only enchantment to me is the happiness it brings to my love’s eyes.” Siegfried sat upright, staring at the woodbird intently. “Gentle one, will you now tell me of the meaning of the second part of the omen, the words ‘and laughing death’?”

“This much I can tell you, oh Prince. On the day of your wedding someone will die. The last thing this person will hear before expiring is the killer’s laughter.”

It took all of Siegfried’s control to remain sitting as he asked the little bird “Is there some threat to the Princess? Will someone try to harm her?”

The woodbird replied “Coo coo” and flew over the blackthorn, disappearing down the boar’s trail.

A week before the wedding, the Neder Prince returned from his trip to the lands across the waters. In his wanderings he had stopped in many towns, offering reward for any information about Siegfried.

Although his fame as a mighty warrior was known far and wide, very little was known of Siegfried`s personal life or heritage. However his informants generally agreed on one fact; the Prince must travel further east until he reached the banks of a mighty river. It was in this land where the tales of Siegfried`s heroic exploits had first originated.

The Neder Prince traveled another four days before reaching the banks of a majestic river. It was early evening and exhausted, the Prince fell asleep next to the water. Some time in the darkest night he was awakened by the sweetest song. At first he thought he must be dreaming as the roaring of the river would drown any human voices. However, as his eyes adjusted to the dark, the Neder Prince saw a glowing in the river. Within the light were the figures of three women staring at him and softly singing.

“We are the Rhinemaidens, owners of the magic ring. That which has been taken from us. Have you been sent to help us reclaim our future?”

The Prince was enchanted by the beauty of their voices and confessed “I may have knowledge of such a ring. Could it be in the possession of the hero Siegfried?”

The Rhinemaidens sang in reply, “We have heard the tale of Siegfried`s slaying of the dragon Fafner and of his taking ownership of the ring and of the magic helmet Tarnhelm. Oh Prince, do you know where Siegfried can be found? Can you help us regain our ring?”

“I will do all I can to see that you once again possess the ring but first, tell me more of the magic helmet.”

“Tarnhelm has the power to permit the wearer to assume the figure of any human, the better to hide from his enemies.”

The Neder Prince smiled and asked, “And are there tales of Siegfried`s strengths and weaknesses?”

The Rhinemaidens seemed to confer, though no words were spoken. “You will help us? You will return the ring?”

“I give you my word as Johann, Prince of Neder. With your assistance I will defeat Siegfried and gain the hand of the Princess who is wearing your ring. The ring will then be returned to you.”

Replying, the Rhinemaidens sang, “The hero`s greatest strength and weakness are like hand in glove. He is able to wield the great sword Nothung because he knows no fear, a gift granted to him by his grandfather, the God Wotan. To balance this endowment Wotan left him with but one weakness; since a man who knows no fear will never retreat, the only way he can be harmed is by direct injury to his back.”

“Thank you, ladies of the Rhine. I will return with the magical ring.” Feeling energized and refreshed, Johann bowed to the Rhinemaidens and turned to mount his steed. As he was preparing to begin his journey home he heard their final song.

“Heed this, oh Prince. If you are approached by a Wanderer with a broken spear or a dwarf named Alberich, continue on your way. In either of their hands, the golden ring could cause the end of the world.”

The Neder Prince returned home without incident, arriving one week before the Princess` wedding. He had just enough time to complete the preparations for his revenge.

On the day of the celebration, Johann arrived at the Cathedral with his father the Neder King. The Nederland was of such importance that their entourage was given the prized first pew to view the wedding. Moreover, as an attempt to assuage any ill feelings over Johann`s rejection as the Princess` suitor, the Neder Prince had been selected by the Princess` father to be best man.

After seeing his father seated, Johann joined the wedding party in the waiting rooms at the entrance to the Cathedral. Siegfried and his ushers were gathered in the smaller room to the right and Johann approached the groom.

“Good morning Siegfried. What a perfect day for your wedding. I just want you to know that I have no hard feelings towards this wedding. You have won the Princess` heart fairly and it is my great pleasure to serve as your best man.”

“Thank you, Johann” replied Siegfried. “Your father is the King`s most trusted friend and I`m proud to have you bear witness to our wedding.” Siegfried extended his hand in greeting and Johann shook it as the Princess` father entered the room.

Taking advantage of the opportunity, Johann spoke, “Since the Princess is already wearing the golden ring, my opportunity to serve you as best man is limited. Please, Siegfried. At least let me carry your helmet Tarnhelm to the altar. I pledge to guard it with my life.”

Siegfried seemed undecided but under the mounting marital pressures he gave Tarnhelm to the Neder Prince before turning to greet the King. Johann smiled within himself, “With Tarnhelm, my plan is complete and only awaits the moment!”

As the King left the room the Cathedral`s bells began pealing, announcing the wedding procession. The ushers lined up and began their walk down the aisle, Siegfried being preceded by Johann carrying the magical helmet Tarnhelm.

As they waited at the altar the bells silenced and an orchestra in the balcony began playing a wedding march. The Princess` attendants strolled down the aisle, strewing jasmine flowers in memory of Elaina`s first meeting with Siegfried.

The Princess arrived at the altar on the arm of her father who placed her hand in Siegfried`s. Dressed in a pure white gown, simple in its sophistication, Elaina wore only three adornments; her Princess crown, her mother`s pearl necklace and earrings, and the golden ring. She carried a small bouquet of jasmine, which she gave to her maid of honor who was standing at her side. Elaina and Siegfried bowed to each other and turned to face the Cardinal standing in front of the altar, the maid of honor and best man at their sides.

Before the pledge of vows, the Cardinal first consecrated the marriage with the celebration of the Holy Mass. When it became time for the wedding party to receive Holy Communion, the Sacrament that allows the communicants to receive the Body of Christ, the Prince of Neder knelt next to Siegfried.

As the Cardinal approached him with the Sacrament, Johann seemed to reel and he fell backwards, breathing heavily. Two groomsmen and his father`s physician rushed to his side but he recovered quickly and again took his place beside Siegfried. The Cardinal approached him again with the Holy Eucharist but Johann bowed his head, refusing the Sacrament. He spoke “I`m sorry. I think it`s best that I don`t receive the Body of Christ. My stomach remains queasy.” Siegfried faced his best man with a quizzical look, then turned back to the Cardinal.

The rest of the ceremony was uneventful and as the Cardinal pronounced Elaina and Siegfried man and wife, the entire church erupted with cheers of joy and happiness. The fainting incident seemed forgotten as the audience awaited the wedding party`s passing so that the celebration might begin.

As the newly married couple finished the procession and arrived at the entrance to the Cathedral, Johann approached Siegfried, “Before you greet your guests with your lovely wife, may I have one minute of your time? It`s very urgent!”

Siegfried frowned, then nodded, and the Neder Prince directed him to the private room they had used before the ceremony. Siegfried kissed his bride and told her he would be back in a moment, then entered the room. Johann followed, closing the door behind them.

The moment the door closed, Johann fell to his knees. “Siegfried, I have a confession to make. My jealousy of Elaina`s love for you had overwhelmed my reason. It was only when I was to receive the Holy Eucharist at your wedding that my eyes truly opened to my calumny. In my state of envy and dishonesty, I was unable to accept the presence of God.”

Siegfried helped Johann to his feet and bade him to continue. “Oh Prince, I`ve traveled to your homeland in order to learn of your weaknesses, to know the means of defeating you. At the great river in your country I was awakened from sleep by the music of the Rhinemaidens. From them I learned of your defeat of the dragon Fafner and your capture of the golden ring and the magic helmet from his lair. I am aware of Tarnhelm`s power and I was going to use it against you. You see, the Rhinemaidens told me of your one weakness; that your Grandfather Wotan left your back vulnerable to death since he granted you the power of fearlessness. I was going to embrace you and use my knife to slay you, then use Tarnhelm to take your place. As Siegfried, I would tell my Father that I had left Neder for adventure since I had failed to win Elaina`s love. In that way, I would truly take your place at the side of the Princess forever. Your body would be hidden here until late this evening when I would dispose of it.”

Siegfried was shaken by this news, but asked, “It is at least possible that you could have slain me, but surely you didn`t think that the Princess wouldn`t recognize the differences in our character?”

“I didn`t think that far, Siegfried. My jealousy consumed me.” On the verge of tears, the Neder Prince continued. “It was only when I was to receive the Body of Christ in commemmoration of your wedding that I was able to see the ugliness of my soul.”

Siegfried moved closer to Johann, placing his hand on the Prince`s shoulder. “Come, Johann and join the festivities. The courage you have shown in this confession has earned my forgiveness.”

Johann bowed to Siegfried and replied, “Thank you for your forgiveness, oh Prince, but I have much more to tell of the Rhinemaidens. The lives of you and your bride may be in mortal danger! The golden ring holds the answer!”

Siegfried put his arm around Johann, leading him to the door. “I believe you, but the celebration and my wedding night await. We will speak more of this on the `morrow.”

As Siegfried put his hand on the doorknob, he sensed a quick movement behind him. Johann pounced quickly and Siegfried felt the dagger penetrate his back, his place of vulnerability. The last perception he had as darkness overcame him was of a laughter, joyous yet malevolent. After moving Siegfried`s body to a closet that was practically invisible at the far recess of the room, Johann donned the magic helmet Tarnhelm and exited the room to meet his bride.

Elaina was standing in a reception line between her father and the King of Neder. Johann, now indistinguishable from his nemesis Siegfried, kissed Elaina on the cheek and approached his father, the Neder King. Johann bowed to the King and spoke, “Your Majesty, Johann has asked me to speak to you. To spare any embarassment, he has decided to leave us before the reception. I did my best to dissuade him, but he felt that his earlier rejection by Elaina may mar the day`s happiness. He said not to worry; he was going on a solitary hunt and would be home in a matter of weeks.”

The Neder King replied “Thank you, Siegfried. That sounds very much like my son, always thinking of others. I accept his decision and I say let us make haste with the reception. I know that you must want to complete the formal ceremonies so that you and the Princess may be alone.” Smiling, the King continued, “After all, even an old man like myself remembers his wedding night.”

His son, disguised as Siegfried, bowed to the King and took his place in the reception line next to the Princess Elaina. He smiled and took her hand, feeling the power emanating from the golden ring on her wedding finger.

As soon as possible, the newly married couple stole away from the reception and withdrew to the Princess` quarters in her father`s castle. Her bedroom was festooned with the scent of jasmine, an odor that Johann was not fond of. He opened the doors to the patio to let in fresh air, then approached the Princess.

“Finally alone, my dear. And I have something for you.” Johann as Siegfried withdrew a small box from his vest pocket and presented it to Elaina. She opened the box to reveal a beautiful diamond engagement and wedding ring set. “My Princess should be wearing rings befitting her status, not that little ring of gold I gave you for our engagement.” He took her left hand in his and started to remove the ring from her finger.

The princess looked at him questioningly, “But Siegfried, this little ring of gold signifies our love. I have no want of other rings. Our ring of love is all that I wish to wear.”

Johann put his arms around her and drew her close to him. “As you wish, Elaina. Let`s say no more of it.” He bent down and kissed her passionately.

After more than a few seconds, Elaina withdrew from the kiss and stared into Johann`s eyes. “Is everything all right with you Siegfried? You don`t seem yourself.”

“I`m fine, my dear. I think it may be this infernal smell. This room is infested with jasmine blossoms, their odor is overpowering.” Johann sat on the bed after further opening the patio doors. “Come sit by me, Elaina. It`s time for bed.”

As she sat next to him Johann pulled her roughly to a supine position next to him, then moved his body over hers. As he brought his face to hers, Elaina put her hands in his hair and pulled the helmet Tarnhelm from his head. Instantaneously, Johann appeared as himself.

“What have you done with Siegfried?” Elaina asked as she stood up from the bed.

Johann approached her, stating “I`m sorry, Princess. You are too late to help Siegfried and if you know what`s good for you, you will hand over the ring.”

As the Neder Prince brought his dagger to her throat, he spoke. “It will be difficult to explain your death, my dear, but as the grieving newlywed and widower, Siegfried will bathe in the tears of his nation. It matters little to me; which do you value, the ring or your life?” Elaina sobbed and took the golden ring from her finger and threw it onto the patio, where it lay among the jasmine.

As Johann rushed to retrieve the talisman, a small woodbird alit, took the ring in its beak and flew to the edge of the patio. It hovered perhaps a foot from the patio`s railing, behaving more like a hummingbird than a typical woodbird. As the bird seemed to tease him forward, Johann approached the patio railing and reached forward to where the woodbird was arcing. It hovered just out of harm`s reach and Johann slowly turned his body to face left, thereby freeing his right hand holding the dagger to reach further over the railing. The woodbird seemed to sense the change and began to widen the arc of its flight away from the patio. Fearing the loss of all his dreams, Johann tensed and as the woodbird`s arc narrowed his distance to the railing, the Neder Prince extended his daggered hand in one fell swoop towards the woodbird. The bird stopped his progress in mid-flight and Johann was carried forward by his momentum over the patio railing, landing three flights below on a ground of tiled paving.

The woodbird flew to Elaina`s side and dropped the golden ring next to her hand. The bird perched on Elaina`s shoulder and whispered in her ear “Coo-coo”, then flew out the patio doors. The Princess sat, unable to move, but when the bird repeated this ritual three times she roused herself and followed the bird to the patio. The bird flew directly to the side door of the chapel and perched above the door, staring at the Princess. “Coo-coo”, he said, “Coo-coo”.

Princess Elaina opened the door and followed the bird inside. The bird flew directly to a darkened area of the chapel and seemed to hover above a closet door. Lighting her way with the golden ring, Elaina sped to the closet and said a prayer as she opened it. Lying on the closet floor was Siegfried`s body; inert, unmoving.

The Princess sobbed as she fell to the ground, cradling Siegfried`s head to her breast. “Oh, dear Lord, please help me. I must save him!” As she kissed his lips, the ring touched his face: Siegfried`s eyes flickered as he suddenly gasped for air. Elaina felt him struggling, trying to rise, then falling backwards in a faint. She quickly took his hand and placed the ring on his wedding finger. In seconds she could see the color returning to his face.

Siegfried opened his eyes and smiled when he saw Elaina holding him, her lips close to him, her tears watering his cheek. The Princess kissed him and spoke “My love, what did he do to you? Are you feeling well enough to speak?” Siegfried seemed to gain energy as he remembered the plunging of the knife in his back by the Neder Prince. He felt his back, moist with blood, yet could feel no pain.

c2007 Deabler, V.T.