The story you'll read below went with the blue and green gift basket for my friend's niece, Hannah. Hannah is an avid reader - loves the colors of blue and green, books, Rapunzel, ducks and is very close to her little sister. I was also told that she enjoys playing and reading by herself.
So, as you read, you'll see that Princess Helena is a bit similar . . . . and a few of the items mentioned (ex. the gold key necklace, the diamond ring) that were included in her gift basket were included in the story.
The Story of Princess Helena
Once upon a time, in the middle of a vast misty forest, there stood a tall tower of blue marble, studded with sparkling gems. The tower rose so high into the sky it often looked like it could touch the moon. During the day it gleamed bright in the sunlight and in the evenings, it glowed in the light of the moon and stars.
This late afternoon, Helena sat in one of the tower windows, her dark, curling hair falling softly around her face. She had an apple in one hand and a soft leather bound book in the other. Her light blue silk slippers lay discarded beneath her on the thick rug. She poured over the pages of her book intently, savoring each word. After she finished the chapter, she sighed heavily, closed the book. Helena began to daydream of mermaids and ships and of dragons and fairy folk as she watched the summer sun set.
Once the first silvery moon danced within the starlit sky, Helena knew it was time.
She gathered her blue-green gown in one hand and her slippers in the other and made her way slowly down the spiral staircase. She stopped briefly at each floor to stare at the floor-to-ceiling shelves which filled each room with her personal library. She smiled, running her fingers lightly over a few of her favorite books as she passed them.
When she reached the first floor of the tower, Helena walked over to the open door to enjoy the night air for a few moments. She stepped out into the garden, the dew covered grass felt cool on her bare feet. Humming softly to herself, she bent down to pick the starflowers blooming in the moonlight. As she pinned them in her curls, the young woman, began to circle the tower, stopping for a few moments to turn to the north, south, east and west while whispering softly the enchantments that kept her sanctuary safely hidden in the mists. The silvery fog began to billow around Helena’s ankles, its tendrils growing and climbing up the marble walls like ivy. As she stepped back inside, the mist had completely covered the tower, magically hiding it from outsiders.
Helena turned to take a look at a very large golden hourglass sitting on a table. It was nearly empty - the small pearls which filled the timepiece had almost run out. She quickly took a last look around the room, and straightened up a fallen book here, a cushion there.
Clink. Clink. Clink. The last few pearls fell to the bottom of the hourglass.
The young woman sighed. It was time to go. She pulled a small golden key from a chain around her neck. Helena walked to the corner of the room where a heavy tapestry hung on the wall. Woven into the tapestry was a life size ornate door, upon which she knocked three times. She then placed the key in a small opening in the cloth where the door’s keyhole was pictured. After turning the key thrice in the lock, Helena placed the key back around her neck and whispered the words: “Aperi Ianuam”
The edges of the door glowed with a bright greenish-blue light. The light quickly faded, revealing a large carved wooden door built into the tapestry. Helena gave the door a push and stepped through the open portal into another room.
Now Helena found herself in a richly decorated bedchamber. Deep blue and green silk hung from the dark grey stone walls. A dressing table of carved mahogany sat in the corner with jewels and ribbons spilling from its drawers. Against the wall stood a canopy bed which was piled high with embroidered pillows as well as satin sheets and silk coverlets. The far wall held an enormous wardrobe, the open door of which revealed a multitude of gowns made of lace, velvet, brocade, silk and satin in colors to rival the gauzy, rainbow tinted wings of the fairest pixie.
“I see you have been enjoying your gift.” a warm voice from a corner of the room asked.
Helena looked up to see a beautiful fairy standing before her. She rushed across her bedroom to embrace her Faerie Godmother. The young woman kissed her on both cheeks and sat down at the faerie’s feet.
“It is wonderful, Godmamma,” Helena whispered gratefully. “How can I ever thank you enough for it. Were Mama and Papa very cross with you when you told them?”
The faerie chuckled and shook her head. Her eyes danced as she smiled down at her lovely godchild. “No, my dear.” she told Helena. “Your Mama was a Keeper of a Golden Key also. As was your Great-Grandmamma.”
Helena nodded. “But, the library tapestry. . .” she began to ask.
Her godmother stroked Helena’s hair softly. “They will not begrudge you your library, child.” She pulled the young woman to her feet. “But, you must understand, as the eldest daughter of the Royal Family you have a responsibility to . . .”
“ . . .find a good husband and continue the royal lineage.” Helena sighed. “I can’t help it, Godmamma. I don’t think I want to be married to a stuffy old prince and stitching needlepoint pillows all day.” The princess kicked off her slippers and fell backwards her bed. “Ugh. How boring that would be.” she complained, wiggling her bare toes in the air. “I’d rather be reading. Or doing anything else but meeting silly princes all day.”
The faerie godmother smiled again but before she could respond, Helena’s bedroom door flew open.
A flurry of silk, lace and dark, unruly curls bounded into the room and flopped onto the bed next to Helena. Princess Serissa was the youngest member (the last of eight girls) of the Royal Family and she adored her eldest sister.
“I am so glad you are back.” she said as she tackled Helena, the little princess’ silver circlet falling off her head as she did so. “There have been princes arriving EVERY day to meet with you.” Serissa told her. “Mama and Papa were getting a little worried that you might not come back.”
“Your sister knows her what is expected of her.” the faerie godmother said as she walked over to the wardrobe to select a gown for Helena to wear.
Serissa quickly scrambled off the bed, straightened her gown and attempted to smooth her wild head of curly hair. She dropped into a very stiff and formal deep curtsey.
“I beg your pardon, Godmamma,” the small princess said as she curtsied. “I did not see you standing there.”
Princess Helena and the faerie both smiled at each other as they watched the little girl. “That’s quite good, Serissa.” her sister complimented. “And you haven’t fallen over, like you usually do.”
“I know!” Serissa laughed. “Mama has been making me practice in order to be prepared to meet all of the princes that have come to the castle to see you!”
* * * * * * * *
And so day after day upon her return, Princess Helena was dressed in her most formal gowns - the ones with the stiff lace collars and itchy, jewel encrusted sleeves - and she was paraded in front of one eligible prince after the other. Many balls were held and many very proper dinners were made in the Great Hall for Helena to meet these handsome young men. The princess danced gracefully with each partner. She made polite conversation at every dinner. But not one of the princes seemed to be the right match.
On the twenty-first day, the entire Royal Family sat exhausted in the throne room. The King groaned at the thought of yet another ball and another state banquet that would most likely end in another royal rejection.
“Daughter,” he began. “I understand that you did not like the first twenty princes that have come to ask for your hand in marriage. But at some point, you must choose one. If you cannot, I will have to choose a husband for you.”
Helena nodded as she fanned herself. Her formal gown this day was not only itchy and uncomfortable but very hot. “ I know, Papa.” she agreed. “I just want to find someone who is not so . . .”
But before the princess could finish her thought, a bright flash of light and the sound of a thousand glass goblets breaking filled the air. Suddenly, the family saw that an old crone stood in front of them dressed in filthy rags and leaning on a gnarled walking stick. The witch had with her a very large and smelly troll that glared at the King and Queen. It also drooled hungrily as it stared at the assembled princesses. It put down the covered silver cage it was carrying and lurched towards the girls who screamed in horror. The old woman thumped her walking stick down on the floor twice and the troll returned to her side obediently.
“I have come to take your eldest daughter with me for son.” said the old woman as she pointed to the troll. “With so many pretty young girls, I am sure you will not miss this one.” she cackled and she pointed a withered finger at Helena. “I will give you this for her in exchange. And you will give the princess to me now.” The crone pointed to the silver cage. As she lifted its cover, the Royal Family saw that its contents revealed a single white duck sitting on a red velvet cushion.
The King was furious. “Begone, foul woman! How dare you make such demands! My daughter and our kingdom will never align ourselves with the likes of you! Take yourself and this filthy creature out of my sight.” The Royal Guard rushed in to escort them out but was blinded by another flash of light and smoke as the witch whispered another spell.
“If this one you will not give to me, “ they heard the witch say. “Then another I will take in her place. My son will be quite happy eating her for his dinner instead.” Her evil laugh echoed throughout the throne room.
When the light and smoke cleared, the Queen burst into tears. Princess Serissa’s silver crown was lying on the marble floor next to a ripped piece of her gown. The King immediately ordered a search of the countryside for the kidnapped princess. He roared out for his advisors and for the Lord Chancellor as he made his way to his War Room. The ladies-in-waiting and maids quickly ushered the Queen and her daughters to their bedchambers while they were all in various states of weeping, screaming and fainting.
Everyone rushed off in the commotion, in a mixture of lace handkerchiefs and flashing armor, of shouts and hysterics, no one seemed to notice Princess Helena quietly kneel beside the silver cage on the marble floor. She gently took her little sister’s circlet in her hands. Once she saw she was alone, Helena quietly shed a few tears for Serissa, as she feared she would never see the little girl ever again.
“Do not weep, Princess.”
Helena wiped her eyes with her lace cuff. She looked around the room to see who was speaking to her, but there was no one there except . . .
“If I help you, Princess,” quacked the white duck. “What will you give me in return?”
Helena peered into the silver cage. “Oh, dear creature. I will give you anything, if you can help me save Serissa.” she promised.
The duck nodded. “I will help you. But be warned, I will remind you of your promise to me in the future.”
* * * * * * * *
Helena took the duck to her bedchamber and following its instructions, she changed out of her heavy formal gown to a simple gown of silk. Her Golden Key hung around her neck. With the silver cage in hand, the princess walked through the halls of the castle until she reached the Hall of Doors. Princess Helena had heard stories of this wing of the castle. But she was always forbidden to explore it.
“Walk to the very end of this hall,” the duck said. “You will find at it’s end is a very old, worn wooden door with a brass lock on it.”
The princess walked to the end of this very dark hall and, after brushing many cobwebs aside, she did in fact find the door the duck described.
“Peer through the lock,” the duck told her. “What do you see?”
Helena bent down to look through the keyhole. She saw the inside of a filthy cottage. The witch sat in a chair by the hearth, snoring. The troll was no where to be seen. Neither was Princess Serissa. Helena quickly told the duck all she saw.
The duck nodded. “The witch will sleep soundly until the full moon rises. When she wakes, she will then give the small princess to her son for his dinner. Open the door, and listen to all I tell you.”
Helena nodded. She took a deep breath and pulled her Golden Key from around her neck. After knocking on the door softly three times, she placed the key in the lock and turned it thrice.
“Aperi Ianuam” she whispered, so as not to wake the sleeping witch.
The door creaked loudly as Helena pushed it open. She held her breath, hoping the old crone would not stir from her slumber. The duck whispered to the princess that they must quietly take the old woman’s magic staff with them. Helena crept up to the snoring witch and carefully slipped the gnarled wooden walking staff from her wrinkled hands.
“Tap the staff on the floor four times.” instructed Helena’s feathered friend.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
Suddenly the whole cottage began to rumble as one of the stone walls fell away to reveal a secret room. Princess Helena saw her sister curled in a ball on a bed, her face tear-stained and her hair in disarray. The princesses embraced each other and silently crept out of the cottage.
“We can not go back the way we came, the duck told them. “Follow the path before you, it will lead you home.”
Helena grabbed Serissa’s hand with one of hers and the silver cage hand in the other Both princesses began running down the path as quickly as they could. The moon was starting to rise, and soon the witch would wake from her deep sleep.
“We must move quickly.” the duck warned Helena. “Throw the magic staff unto the ground.”
Princess Helena did as she was told. Once the staff hit the ground, it transformed into a brown steed with trappings of gold and silver. The horse whinnied and pawed the ground, eager to run. The princesses climbed unto the back of this magnificent steed just as the moon reached the highest point in the night sky.
A great wail was heard as the witch awoke and realized that the young princess had escaped. Serissa and Helena clung tightly onto each other as they let the horse take the lead. Soon they were flying down the path so fast that the countryside was nothing more than a blur.
But they knew the witch was not far behind. They could hear her wailing and screeching as she followed them. “You are mine, my lovelies. And soon you will both be fed to my son!” she cackled.
The princesses were afraid they would not be able to escape. Breathless, Helena asked the duck what to do.
“Take the cover for my cage,” the duck said. “Throw it over the both of you.”
Helena grabbed the silken cover and threw it up in the air over herself and Serissa. The piece of silk grew larger and larger until it covered not only them, but the horse and the silver cage with the duck as well. Under the silk they became invisible to anyone who looked at them on the path. The princesses started to feel safe, as they raced along.
But the witch was not fooled. “You cannot hide from me. I can still hear the galloping of your horse.” the old crone screeched. You will never get away from me!”
The princesses continued down the path, until they reached a vast lake of dark water. Serissa whimpered as she tightened her arms around her sister’s waist. “What are we to do now?” she asked. “The horse cannot swim this large lake with us on its back. How will we get across?”
“Good friend, duck.” Helena said. “How shall we cross this lake?
The duck looked at the water and said: “Take my velvet cushion out of my cage and throw it upon the water.”
Helena did just this. She and Serissa watched in amazement as the cushion turned into a boat with large red velvet sails. With the wind at their back, the sails filled and ferried the princesses quickly across the lake. Once on the other side, the horse leapt from the boat’s deck onto the continuation of the path.
The princesses still were not yet safe. They heard the witch again loudly in their ears, as if she was standing quite close to them. “I need no boat to cross this lake. I can ride the wind as you did with your boat. You shall not escape!” she cried shrieked.
Helena was determined to get her sister to the safety of the castle. She gathered the reins tightly in her hands and spurred the horse into a speedy gallop. It seemed like they were running for an eternity, but always they heard the witch’s evil laugh in their ears. They knew she was always not far behind them.
Breathless, Helena asked the duck once more for assistance.
“Kind, good duck friend,” she said.” We are almost to the castle. I can see our father’s pennants waving from its highest tower. What can we do to prevent the witch from stopping us?”
The duck pondered for a moment. “When you reach next highest hill, climb off of the horse and then take me out of my cage.” he said to them.
The princesses galloped until the horse was in a lather. At the top of the next highest hill they reached, Helena and Serissa jumped off of the horse. The steed quickly turned back into the magical wooden staff. As instructed by the duck, they released him from his cage.
“As the witch gets closer, throw my cage down at her feet.” said the duck.
The old crone suddenly appeared. She was flying down the path without touching the ground. Her eyes looked as if they would spit fire. She sped quickly towards them, wailing and screeching in joy. “You are mine now and forever!” she screamed.
Serissa quickly threw the silver cage at the witch’s feet. The cage broke apart and transformed into a silver thorn bush. The branches of the bush began to grow upwards, grabbing the witch and wrapping itself around her.
The witch laughed. “A thorn bush cannot stop me!”
“Take the staff.” the duck quickly told Helena. “Tap the ground three times with it.”
Helena ran to the wooden staff and did as she was told.
The silvery thorn bush grew bigger and bigger. The branches soon engulfed the witch entirely. She shrieked in anger as she tried to fight in vain against them.
The silvery branches transformed into a cage once again. The princesses watched as the witch began to beat against the bars of her gilded prison.
“Noooooooo!” cried the old woman as she saw Helena raise her hand to strike the ground once more with the magic staff.
The silver cage began to shrink smaller and smaller and smaller. Soon the cage and the witch were small enough to fit in the palm of Helena’s hand. But before she could bend down to pick the tiny cage up, the wooden staff flew out of her hand and floated up into the air. The staff turned into a large golden sword covered in gems. All by itself, the sword came down upon the silver cage, destroying it in a loud crack of thunder and a bright, blinding flash of light.
It was over. The witch was dead and the princesses were finally safe.
Once they returned to the castle, Helena and Serissa recounted their tale to the entire Royal Family.
“Kind and gentle bird, “ said the Queen. “How may we repay you for keeping both of our daughters safe from harm?”
The duck turned to Princess Helena. “Do you remember your promise to me?” he asked.
Helena knelt down to the duck. “Yes,” she said. “Anything you wish for shall be yours.”
“I require only three things.” the duck said as he preened his feathers. “First, I wish to have the golden sword.”
“Of course,” said the King who motioned for the Royal Guard to place it upon the ground before the bird. The duck inspected the sword closely, walking its entire length, before deciding to sit on it’s hilt.
“Second,” the duck asked. “I wish to have a small portrait of the Princess Helena.”
“Immediately,” the Queen said. She called her maid over and instructed her to fetch something from the dressing table in her bedchamber. The maid came back with a small portrait of Helena encased in a large diamond. The Queen took this and placed it at the duck’s feet.
“I thank your Royal Highnesses.” the duck said graciously. “ And lastly, I wish to have a kiss from the fair Princess Helena.”
“It is a small price to pay for such a great service you have done for my family.” said Helena. “Thank you for your courage and wisdom.”
“Thank you for your kindness, dear Princess.” said the duck.
Helena smiled and gave the duck a gentle kiss on its beak. The duck bent its head in thanks to her. Then it tapped the golden sword three times with its beak.
And in a flash of light, the sword, the portrait of Helena and the duck disappeared.
* * * * * * * *
A fortnight later, Helena returned to her library tower. It was good to be away from the court and away from the never-ending line of princes that came to ask for her hand in marriage. She knew her papa was getting frustrated again with all of her rejections. The princess knew that very soon, she would have to marry whomever her father chose for her.
Helena sighed. How she wished she could stay her with her books and her garden and her tower hidden in the mists. But she knew it was not meant to be.
This morning she decided to read in the garden. Barefooted and with her gown skirts billowing around her, she walked amongst her rose bushes, reading and humming softly to herself. She was so focused on the book in her hands that she failed to hear the sound of horse’s hooves coming up the path to her tower. Helena turned yet another page, completely absorbed in the story of a pirate prince who sailed the Deepest Ocean finding adventure everywhere.
“Excuse me, your highness,” a deep voice said. “I thought this should be returned to you.”
The princess yelped in a very un-princess like show of surprise. She looked up from her book to find herself face to face with a very handsome young man. His curling fair hair ruffled in the wind. His blue eyes seemed mischievous and filled with laughter. He wore a small gold crown upon his brow and a cloak of white feathers around his shoulders. A very familiar golden sword was strapped to his waist and in his palm he presented to her a portrait of herself encased in a large diamond.
Helena smiled as she recognized her once feathered friend. “It really belongs to my Mama. You should return this to her.” she told the young prince.
“Ah, yes,” the prince said. “Of course. But perhaps first you would like to hear another tale.”
Prince Altair went on to tell Helena of how he had been cursed by the witch and how her bravery and kindness helped free him from the evil spell. She sat and listened intently as he recounted how he had to gather his magical possessions from all corners of the land in order to return to his original form.
They talked and laughed well into the evening and as the moon began to rise, Altair gently kissed Helena’s hand. The princess blushed in the starlight and she knew then, that perhaps her father would not have to choose a husband for her after all.
After their courtship was over, Altair knelt down among the starflowers in Helena’s garden and presented her with a small box of woven starlight. Inside was a beautiful diamond ring which she wore always. They wed soon after and lived to the end of their days as happy as can be.