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(c) 2002 by Rosemary Lake, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, in Once Upon a Time When the Princess Rescued the Prince (13 Fairy Tales) available in paperback and ebook from http://www.rosemarylake.com

Free sample excerpt from

The Bear Princess

    Long ago there lived a king and queen who had no children. They ruled a splendid kingdom and the queen was famous for her beauty and her long shining golden hair which reached to her feet; but nevertheless she spent all her time wishing for a child just like herself. Then finally after many years the queen’s wish was granted: a child was born, a lovely little girl with shining golden hair just like her mother's.

    The whole kingdom celebrated, but at the christening the visiting fairies became troubled. It was the custom in those days for the fairies to tell the fortune of the new baby, but this time the fairies just whispered and shook their heads.

    “Go on,” the king urged them. “Do you see some misfortune for our baby? Have we forgotten to invite someone?”

    “Do we need to get rid of all the spindles?” said the queen. “Good riddance, I'd say.”

    “No,” sighed the eldest fairy, “it is not spindles this time. We are not sure what strange fate is in store for Princess Preziosa. Only, in spite of all the riches of your palace, it seems that she will find her happiness alone in the woods.”

    “Wearing nothing but a fur coat,” added the youngest fairy; but everyone immediately shushed her, saying it was not nice to wear fur. “Unless you're a bear, or something,” said the youngest fairy.

    “Oh, hush!”

    Since there were no prohibitions to be broken, everyone soon forgot the fairies’ prophecy – except for one old nurse, a little gray lady who took care of the princess while she was a baby. And as Preziosa grew up, the old woman continued to visit and bring her lotions and perfumes and dress her golden hair.

    When Princess Preziosa was almost grown, a tragedy struck the kingdom. The queen fell ill, and the best doctors of the world could not save her life. As she lay dying, the queen’s mind wandered, and she said to the king, “Promise me that no other woman will sit on my throne, unless she has golden hair just as long as mine.”

    In his grief, the king made the promise; and the queen died content.

    Soon the state ministers said to the king: “By our laws, only a son or grandson of the king can inherit the kingdom. It is your duty to marry again so that you can have a son to be your heir.”

    Sadly the king agreed. “I will choose a new queen. But I will not break the vow I gave my dear wife. The new queen must have golden hair just as long as hers.”

    With this the ministers had to be content.

    So the king searched high and low for a new queen. He held a contest of beauty, calling all the women of the kingdom to parade before him. But none had such long golden hair, so finally the king began to despair of keeping his vow.

    Then one day the king caught a glimpse of a young woman in the shadows, letting down long golden hair that fell to her feet. “It is my dead wife come alive again,” he shouted, running to her. “Guards! Light all the candles! Mademoiselle, come to the throne room at once!”

    “Of course, Father,” said Princess Preziosa, for she was the golden-haired young woman. “Is something wrong?”

    At this, the poor king lost his wits and went quite insane. “Preziosa, only you have golden hair like your mother's. You must sit on the queen's throne. You must marry my old servant and immediately have a son to be my heir. I will continue in charge, and you will All Do Exactly as I Tell You.”

    Preziosa got mad. “Change the law, and I will be your heir myself. But I will not be your puppet! And I will not marry anyone just to produce a grandson for you!”

    “Yes, you will!” shouted the king. “You are My daughter, and you will follow My commands.”

    “No, I won't!” shouted Preziosa. And she ran and locked herself in her room and cut off all her hair!

    Soon the old nurse knocked at her door. Preziosa let her in.

    “Whatever have you done?” the nurse said, seeing the long golden tresses all over the floor.

    “My father wants a blonde puppet for the throne! He can take this hair and stuff it!” And the princess told her old friend everything.

    The nurse hugged her and comforted her. “You are right, this is terrible!”

    “I feel like running away,” said Preziosa. “But where could I go? The whole kingdom knows me.”

    The old nurse mused, “Maybe this is the time to follow the prophecy.”

    “What prophecy?” said Preziosa.

    So the nurse told her what the fairies had prophesied.

    “Find my happiness in the woods, alone…?” Preziosa mused. “That would be a nice change! But how would I survive?”

    “As an animal, no one would recognize you, and you could eat berries and such…. Is there an animal you would like to be?”

    Preziosa grinned. “A big black bear! Twice as big as my father!”

    The old nurse took a small wooden hair clip out of her pocket. “Put this in your hair. You can change back and forth from bear to woman as often as you like.”

    “Are you serious?” Preziosa sat down on the bed and fastened the clip in what was left of her hair.

    Immediately she saw her hands and feet turn into black bear paws. Then the bed collapsed under her weight. She scrambled up and looked in the mirror and almost screamed at the sight of a great black bear in the middle of her pink and white room. Then she clawed the clip off and stared at the mirror till she had changed all the way back to normal.

    “Well?” said the nurse.

    “This is great!” Preziosa hugged the old nurse, then sighed, looking around at the luxurious chamber she would have to leave: the lacy curtains, the thick rugs, the satin bedspread. Then she looked at the broken bed and laughed. “I suppose a bear will be quite comfortable in the woods without any bed at all.”

    “That is my brave girl! But I hear the king coming.” The old woman slipped away just in time.

    The king pounded on the door. “Come downstairs! I have set your wedding in one hour!”

    Preziosa put out all but one candle. “Stuff it.”

    The king burst into the room. “Come Now! That is a Royal Command!”

    In the shadows, Preziosa put the clip in her hair, and watched her hands turn to bear paws.

    “Come at once and be married!” shouted the king.

    “Grrr,” said the princess.

    “Don't be silly,” said the king, who was somewhat nearsighted. “Take off that fur coat and put on a white dress.”

    “Grrrrrrrrrr,” said the princess.

    “I must have a grandson before the year is out!”

    “GGGRRRRRRRRRRR!!!” said the princess, and stepped into the light.

    The king was so scared he immediately hid under the broken bed.

    Preziosa the Bear stalked out of the room and down the hall, her claws scratching the polished marble floors, and out of the palace toward the forest.