The Tail of Princess Laura
This story happened when the world was young and beautiful, when the mountains were full of giants, the forests full of unicorns, the skies full of dragons, the seas full of monsters that could swallow an entire ship, and when wizards and witches, both good and bad, lurked at the edges of the cities.
First of all, there was a princess. This particular princess was just a young girl. She had four brothers, who were princes, of course, and they were all older than her. She wore beautiful royal dresses, she played in the royal garden, and she went to fancy royal dinners. She also had a tail.
Her name was Laura.
When Princess Laura had been a tiny baby, her parents, the king and queen, had a party, and invited all the most important people in the kingdom. They had also invited a beautiful sorceress, because they hoped that the sorceress would enjoy herself at the party and bless the young baby with beauty, or wisdom, or a long and happy life. This sort of thing happened all the time in those days.
Laura had cooed and gurgled and sobbed through the party, as babies usually do when there are a lot of people around, and the guests had cooed back at the little princess, as adults usually do when there is a baby around.
The sorceress her parents invited was a beautiful woman, with long black hair and pale skin, and she was very proud of her good looks. The sorceress liked to be the centre of attention, and at this party, she was not. Finally, in exasperation, she exclaimed loudly, “What a fuss you’re making over such a tiny baby! Of course, she is a princess, so you would gush about how adorable she is even if she had a tail!” The room fell silent as the sorceress disappeared in a puff of black smoke.
When most people say things like that, nothing comes of it, but when a sorceress says it, it becomes a curse, and by the end of the week, tiny baby Laura had grown a long fine tail covered in brown fur.
Laura was much older now, and she didn’t like her tail. Her brothers teased her and pulled it, the royal cats thought it was a toy and attacked it, and she always had to be careful that it didn’t get stepped on. And worst of all, it didn’t fit under her beautiful royal dresses very well, so she had to have special holes cut in the back of all her clothes.
One day, when Laura was feeling particularly peeved, she went to see the royal wizard, because in those days, all kings and queens had royal wizards. This particular wizard was very tall, and very thin, and quite bald. He didn’t even have any eyebrows. The reason he had no eyebrows is because he was always experimenting, and he quite often blew things up, and the explosions burnt off all the hair on his face. The wizard was never able to grow a long beard, which made him the object of ridicule to his brother wizards.
“I’m so tired of my tail,” Laura complained to the wizard. She liked visiting the wizard because the only cat allowed in his tower was his own cat, which was very old and fat and didn’t care about playing with the end of her tail. Besides, he always gave her cookies.
“It’s a very nice tail,” the wizard said. “I don’t see why you wouldn’t like it.”
“But I’m a princess! Princesses are not supposed to have tails. If I have a tail, then how will I ever grow up and marry a handsome prince like I’m supposed to?”
“I’m sure you’ll find a way,” the wizard said, and he gave her a cookie.
Laura nibbled on the treat. “Can’t you make it go away?” she asked.
“No,” said the wizard. “That’s not allowed.”
“Not allowed?” Laura wailed.
“The only person who can remove your tail is the sorceress who put it there.”
“Oh,” Laura said, and ate her cookie.
“But,” the wizard said, with a twinkle in his eye, “if you were to go to her and ask nicely, and maybe give her some cookies to show you’re not angry with her, she might take it away.”
Laura sat up straight. “Really? You think she would?”
“It’s entirely possible, my dear girl.”
“But where does she live?”
“I’ll tell you how to get there. If you leave the palace and set out from where the cattails are thickest in the moat, you will find a pebbly path. If you follow the pebbly path, it will take you first through the Enchanted Forest. Then, you must cross the Wide White River. Past the Wide White River is a Green Pond in a Yellow Field. At last, you must climb the Spiky Mountain. The sorceress lives at the very top of the mountain.”
“That’s a long way to go,” Laura said.
“It is,” agreed the wizard. “And it will be difficult, and maybe even dangerous.”
“But I want to get rid of my tail,” Laura said. “I’ve decided. I’m going.”
The wizard smiled. He gave her a basketful of cookies to give to the sorceress, a hat to keep the sun out of her face, and a bottle of water in case she got thirsty.
“Stay on the path,” he told her, “don’t eat up all the cookies, and don’t forget to smile and be polite.”
Princess Laura got into one of her prettiest dresses and her most comfortable shoes. She put the hat on her head, and the basket on her arm, and the bottle of water in the basket, and when no one was looking, she slipped out the back door.
Laura had to first find the pebbly path. She went around the palace three times before she found the place where the cattails grew thickest in the moat. Laura set out from there, and it didn’t take her long to find the pebbly path. All the pebbles were lovely, shiny stones of white and blue, and it was easy to walk on.
It was a beautiful, sunny day at the very end of spring, and the birds were singing. When Laura got close to the Enchanted Forest, though, there were very few birds, and it seemed darker.
The Enchanted Forest was full of weird, twisty trees with purplish leaves. When Laura was inside it, she couldn’t see the sun at all. The path seemed to shine brightly, though, and Laura had no trouble following it.
It was very quiet. It seemed that there was no sound but that of Laura’s feet on the path. A low sound began. First, it was the howl of a wolf, and all the hair on the back of Laura’s neck stood on end. Second, there was the screech of an owl, and all the hair on her tail stood on end. Third, there was a weird cackling noise, and Laura began to shake. The woods, which a moment before had been so silent, were now alive with noises, most of which Laura couldn’t name.
“Look out!” said a voice in the treetops. “The unicorn is coming!”
“The unicorn!” Laura exclaimed. “I’ve always wanted to see a unicorn.”
“Silly,” scolded the voice. “It’s not a nice unicorn.” A pair of hands grabbed her by the arms, pulled her up into the tree branches, and set her on a thick branch as gently as anything. Laura found herself facing a very hairy monkey, about as large as herself, with lovely soft green fur.
“You have to be much more careful in the Enchanted Forest,” the monkey told her.
“Oh!” cried Laura. “The wizard told me I wasn’t to leave the pebbly path.”
“Don’t worry,” said the monkey. “It’s right below us. You won’t lose it. Right now, you’re much safer up in the trees than on the ground.”
“Why is that?” the princess asked.
“Because of the unicorn. What is a little girl like you doing in the Enchanted Forest all by herself?”
Laura told him. “I’m going to see the sorceress who lives on top of Spiky Mountain to ask if she can take my tail away.”
The green monkey looked at her tail and scratched his head. “Why would you want to get rid of it? It’s such a lovely tail. I have a tail, but it’s so useful for me, living in the trees. I can hold onto the branches with it so I won’t fall when I’m eating.”
“I don’t live in the trees,” Laura said. “I live in a palace.”
“Perhaps if I lived in a palace, I wouldn’t want a tail, either,” he said, “but never having lived in a palace, I wouldn’t know.”
“I’m sure your tail is very useful,” Laura said graciously, “but all the same, I would like to be rid of mine.”
“Hush!” said the green monkey. “Here comes the unicorn.”
The unicorn was a red one. It wasn’t a reddish brown like some horses are, but a real red, a blood red. Its horn and hooves and mane and tail were all shining gold, and its eyes were black and angry.
“I smell a little girl,” said the unicorn sweetly. “Won’t the little girl come out to play with me?”
“Don’t go,” the monkey whispered. “It’s a trick.”
“You have nothing to fear from me,” the unicorn said. It stamped a foot, and the shining pebbles scattered. “I love little girls.” It tossed its head. “I see you,” the unicorn said joyfully to Laura. “Come down and play with me!”
Laura almost jumped down from the branches, but the green monkey was pulling on her sleeve urgently. “I don’t think I’m supposed to,” Laura told the unicorn. “I’m going on a long trip and I can’t stop to play with you.”
“Come down at once,” the unicorn commanded. It walked up to the trunk of the tree, and butted the tree hard. The tree shook. Laura shrieked as the branches trembled around her. The tree shuddered again, and Laura lost her balance. As she began to fall to the ground, she remembered what the green monkey had said. She grabbed at the branch with her tail and held on tight. Laura dangled from the branches by her tail, while the unicorn bumped the tree a few more times. Her hold on the tree was too tight, and try as it might, the unicorn couldn’t shake her free.
“You’re a naughty little girl,” the unicorn said. It walked underneath her, its sharp golden horn gleaming like a sword. The unicorn jumped up and opened its mouth to bite her; it had big, sharp white teeth, like a shark. Laura screamed and the green monkey pulled her up again, just in the nick of time.
The unicorn circled around the tree a few times, but it could neither get Laura to fall again nor come down of her own will, and it had to give up and leave at last.
The monkey helped Laura down out of the tree and back onto the pebbly path. “I didn’t know unicorns ate people,” Laura said.
“That one does,” said the green monkey. “Its favourite meal is little girls.”
“Oh,” she said. “Do you think it will come back?”
“I don’t think so,” said the monkey, “but just in case, I’ll come with you to the end of the Enchanted Forest.”
Laura and the green monkey walked arm in arm along the pebbly path until at last they came to the edge of the forest. She straightened her sunhat and thanked the monkey for helping her.
“No trouble,” said the monkey. “If you follow the path, it will take you right to the Wide White River. I hope the sorceress grants your wish.”
“I have to give you something to say thank you,” Laura said, and she gave him one of the cookies out of her basket. He was very glad to have it, and he jumped up into the trees chattering noisily. He was soon out of sight.
The Wide White River was very wide, and very white. It was white because there were so many rocks in it, and the water was so fast, that the river churned up into a bubbly white roar of water. The river was at the bottom of a deep chasm, so even if Laura had been able to swim the river, she would never be able to climb down the cliffs to the water itself. The path went right to the edge of the river, and she could see it on the other side, but there was no bridge.
Laura searched high and low, but she couldn’t find any way to get across the river, and she sat down and began to think.
“What’s wrong?” said a voice at her elbow. Laura looked up to see a goat. It was a big goat, with big curling horns and soft grey hair all over it.
“Oh,” Laura cried, “I have to get across the river so I can see the sorceress on top of Spiky Mountain and ask her to take away my tail, but I can’t find any way across! I suppose I’ll have to go home.”
“Why would you want to get rid of your tail? It’s such a nice tail,” said the goat. “But I know a way across.”
Laura followed the goat upstream along the chasm, and he led her to a place where a very large tree had fallen across the river. It made a sort of a bridge, but it looked very dangerous to her.
“This is the only way across the river,” the goat baaed. “Come on!” He jumped up onto the log and skittered across with no trouble at all. Goats have very good balance.
Laura climbed up onto the log. “I’m not so good as you,” she said. “I only have two legs.” She walked very slowly across the river, her tail standing straight out behind her like an arrow. She almost lost her balance once or twice, but she made it to the other side at last.
“Good job!” said the goat. “It’s a good thing you have that tail to help you balance.”
“Really?” said Laura. “I didn’t know it could do that. All the same, I would like to be rid of it.”
“Look out!” baaed the goat.
Coming up behind them was the red unicorn, and it looked hungry. It stepped up onto the log and began to make its way across, much more slowly than the goat, but much faster than Laura.
“Run!” urged the goat.
“We’ll never be able to outrun it!” Laura said. She watched the hungry unicorn wobble a little. She took from her basket the bottle of water the wizard had given her, and she poured all the water over the log so that it was slippery. Then she took a cookie out, and threw it at the unicorn. It hit the unicorn on the nose.
The unicorn was stunned. It stumbled on the log, slipped on the wet part, and toppled down into the Wide White River, where it was swept away by the rapids all the way to the sea.
The goat cheered. “Hooray! I’ll never have to worry about that horrible hungry unicorn trying to eat me again! Thank you so much, little girl!”
Laura was very glad, too. “Thank you for showing me the way across,” she said. “Please have a cookie.”
The goat took the cookie and munched it hungrily. Baaing contentedly, it skipped away out of sight. Laura went to go find the pebbly path, and when she did, she started back on it towards the Yellow Field.
Story copyright Jessica L. Holland, 2003.