Fandom: Once Upon a Time
Summary: Stories go in circles, and sometimes time doesn't work quite like you expect it to. Especially in Fairy Tales.
Apologies: So basically, I've been having an eww, television is gross and boring couple of weeks. (This is actually not an abnormal state for me). But I finally got around to watching the latest OUaT episode (I may have missed a bunch), and I noted that I totally wouldn't be able to sit through this show if it wasn't full to the brim of delicious ladies. I had been reading so many awesome fics lately, (thank you Yuletide!) and I just felt like finally writing up this idea that had been hanging around for a while. So I did. Here it is. Just... go with it. It contains footnotes.
No ponies were harmed in the writing of this fic.
Stories go in circles. Everyone knows that. One girl grown is another girl’s fairy godmother. One girl’s evil queen is another girl’s princess. And stories have rules: Magic has a price. Keep your promises. Be the change you want to see in the world. Every ending has a beginning.
This is the beginning of this story. But perhaps it is the ending of another. Endings and beginnings aren’t really that different after all.
Once upon a time there was a king. He was a grand king, a proud king. He had been the prince of his own story once, a prince who had fallen in love with a painting of a woman, and had gone on a quest, desperate to seek this woman, to find her and marry her. He traveled to the east of the sun and the west of the moon, beneath the highest mountains and high above the lowest plains. He tamed the winds and rode them to the very ends of the earth, and he peeked over, just to make sure she wasn’t there. But he did not find her. After years of searching, he despaired, and returned home to his kingdom.
In a haze of melancholy he wandered his castle, and careless of his path, he bumped into a kitchen maid, knocking the basket of apples out of her hands. Apologizing and assisting her in picking them up, he saw her face.
“It’s you,” he said. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
The kitchen maid was nonplussed, and perhaps she was not exactly pleased by the prince professing his love, but kitchen maids are very rarely asked their opinions on things, and in a scant month, and with great fanfare, they were married.
The prince adored his wife and gave her everything she even made a faint hint towards not disliking utterly. And when not quite nine months later, she gave birth to a daughter, the whole kingdom was filled with rejoicing.
Unfortunately, when the little girl was barely five, a fever spread through the kingdom, carrying off the king and queen as well as the kitchen maid cum princess, and ten percent of the villager population. The prince, now crowned king, was taken in mourning, and retired to his rooms, with only his pet Shetland pony for comfort.
The princess, though sad at the loss of her mother and the disappearance of her father, was resilient, and generally positive about things. Her favorite place to play was the orchards. There, her best friend, Henry the gardener, would tell her about the different types of apples, and let her climb up the ladders to pick them.
The king did emerge from mourning enough to rule, but he would not see his daughter. Instead he spent the evenings petting his pony and gazing at the oil painting of his lost wife.
The princess grew up rather wild on account of this, and often snuck out of the castle to splash in the rivers with the village children, and learned magic tricks from wandering mages. If ever she was missed, Henry the gardener would come and find her and coax her back to the palace.
When the princess was thirteen the king’s councilors encouraged the king to find her a governess. The king was upset at being reminded of his daughter and thereby his lost wife, but agreed that it was necessary, and a young woman with excellent references was hired.
This young woman was a witch.
The princess, of course, assumed this was the case immediately, when the young woman scolded her for running about barefoot and getting mud all over her skirts.
“Deportment!” she said. “Deportment! Deportment! Deportment!”
The princess was not about to bend down to such infuriating demands, but when she found herself standing up straight and curtseying beautifully without having any control over her own body, she realized exactly what she was up against.
The princess, however, was very rarely at a loss for what to do, and instead of resisting, she set her excellent mind to learning all the things the young woman had to offer. She knew how to curtsey, how to smile and flirt and dip her eyes in a modest way. And when she had mastered them, she went to the young woman, and smiled and flirted and dipped her eyes in a modest way, and trailed her fingers down her throat, and peeked up through her eyelashes to watch the young woman’s eyes fix on her fingers and the tip of her tongue dart out to moisten her lips.
And the princess tipped her head up and let herself be kissed.
After that the young woman didn’t just teach deportment. That the princess had mastered. It was magic that made up their lessons, especially the sort of magic that could be cast into delicious treats.
Cakes and pies were easy, but apples now, apples were whole, perfect and complete. Casting a spell into an apple, now that was a challenge worth overcoming.
The princess had a talent with apples, and finally she was able to do it, enchanting the apple with the perfect spell.
Unfortunately, the young witch had a wandering eye, and the princess had a jealous streak. If the young witch’s eyes would wander, she didn’t deserve any eyes at all. But a witch is never helpless, and even blind, the young witch made off with the princess’s master spell.
Furious and betrayed the princess ran to Henry the gardener who petted her hair and told her that everything would be fine. “Witches are nothing but trouble, darling. Soon you’ll find your knight who will take good care of you.”
But what happened next was only worse.
The princess turned sixteen, finally of marriageable age, and she was presented to the kingdom. Joyful and excited about meeting so many new people, the princess was exalted. But her father, having not seen her for eleven years, caught one glimpse of his daughter and was transfixed.
“It’s her!” he said. “The very image of the beauty in my painting. Why it’s her who I was looking for all along! I must marry her!”
The councilors were all horrified by this pronouncement, but he was king and there was little they could do. They informed the princess of what had occurred.
The princess fled to Henry. “I can’t marry him! He’s my father, and he’s… he’s old!” and not particularly attractive at all, she considered adding. She had a taste for snub noses and long blonde hair, and large dark eyes, and the king failed on all counts.
Henry was rather horrified as well. The king was clearly mad, and something had to be done about this. He just needed a little time to sort out exactly what.
“This is what you must do,” he told the princess. “Agree to marry him, but only if he meets every demand in your dowry. First you must ask him for a dress decorated with the very stars in the sky.”
The princess trusted Henry, so she did what he said.
The king agreed readily, and sent his knights out to collect the stars to place on her dress. Most failed, but one young knight, new to the castle, rode his steed up the Mountain of the Moon to the Palace of the Sun and asked the Sun’s wife, Lady Night for a handful of the stars that she wore on her dress to adorn the dress of a lady of gorgeous countenance. Lady Night examined this knight and saw that he was honest and noble and gave him the stars to carry down to the earth. When he returned with them, the princess was watching from the window. She saw him dismount and remove his helmet, letting out a cascade of blond curls, and she wondered why such a knight would do his utmost to force her to marry her own father.
“Well?” the princess asked Henry. “I’ve got the dress with the stars on it.” It was gorgeous, honestly, but looking at it only made her stomach twist in disgust.
Henry hadn’t figured out what to do yet. Well, he’d done one thing, but he hadn’t heard any response. “Just buy more time. Ask him, ask him for a dress made from the silk of the golden silkworm, guarded by the great dragon of Moranth.”
A little frustrated, the princess repeated Henry’s suggestion, and as before the king sent off his knights to acquire this material. Many died facing the dragon, and each time the princess was upset. If the king weren’t mad they wouldn’t have lost their lives. If only she could figure out a way to get out of this faster, she wouldn’t be responsible for their deaths. But more fool them, being loyal to a mad king, she thought in the end, growing annoyed. It wasn’t her fault that she looked a lot like her mother.
Finally, one knight snuck in while the dragon was sleeping and stole the silk from the golden silkworm and brought it back to the castle. It was the blond knight, and this time when he dismounted in the courtyard and removed his helmet, he looked up towards the tower where the princess sat, and she saw that he had large dark eyes.
This was more irritating than anything else. Handsome knights with blond curls and dark eyes shouldn’t be so stupid as to be loyal to a mad king who wanted to marry his own daughter!
“Well what do I do now?” the princess cried, showing Henry her lovely new dress, made with the silk of the golden silkworm.
“Ask him… ask him…” Henry stared at his apple trees for inspiration, and spotted a deer trying to eat one. “Hey! Shoo!”
“Ask him ‘hey shoo’?”
“No,” Henry said, suddenly having a realization. “Ask him for a robe made from the skin of his beloved Shetland pony.”
“No, no. It’s the only way. He loves the pony. He’ll only agree to it if he’s truly gone mad. It might save him!”
“And if he’s truly gone mad?”
Henry looked down. He didn’t have any other ideas.
Sick to her stomach, the princess made the request.
The king did not balk for an instant. He set his most loyal knight to slaughter the pony.
The princess went to the courtyard where the knight was tying the pony to the block and sharpening his sword for the slaughter. It was the blond knight, obviously, with his large dark eyes, and now, up close she could see, his snub nose, and high cheekbones, and thin pink lips.
“Why are you doing this?” the princess asked. “Why are you so loyal to a king who's so obviously mad?”
“I swore an oath, my lady,” the knight said, one corner of his lips quirking up into a pensive smile. “And I must do as I am told. But if you do not wish this pony to die, my lady, why did you demand it?”
“I don’t want to marry the king,” the princess said.
“Why don’t you tell him that then?”
The princess considered this. “You,” she said. “Don’t you dare move a muscle. And you had better not have killed that poor pony when I get back.”
“As you wish.”
The princess stormed into the throne room. A few courtiers tried to stop her, but those witch lessons had been rather good, and she wasn’t about to let pompous old fools get in her way any longer.
“King!” she said. “I won’t marry you. I may have said I would, but honestly, it was a lie. I would rather slit my own wrists than marry a mad old fool like you!”
At first the king looked shocked, and then hurt, and then enraged. “Guards! Seize her! She shall be my wife whether she wills it or not!”
“Oh shit.” Why was it always the worst-case scenario that happened to her?
The princess bolted, back into the courtyard, where the knight was waiting, feeding the pony an apple.
“Okay!” she said. “I told him! And he won’t take no for an answer. What are you going to do about it now?”
The knight looked honestly surprised, and the princess groaned. Why did everyone seem to think that the king was going to be sensible about this? The king was mad!
“Now he’s going to throw me in prison until the wedding and probably keep me there afterwards. This is your fault! Fix it!”
The knight laughed. “All right,” and he grabbed the princess’ hand and dragged her out towards the stables. His horse was all kitted up and ready to go. “I figured you were going to have another crazy quest for us,” he explained, and threw her up on the back of the horse.
“What about your loyalty to the king?” the princess asked, grabbing his waist as he swung up in front of her.
“He’s mad,” the knight said.
“I told you!”
The knight laughed again and spurred his horse. The princess glanced back, noting the guards chasing them, and cast a quick misdirection. Soon the horse was tromping deep in the forest, and they found a secluded glade by a crystal-watered lake. The knight handed the princess down off the horse and swung down after her. He shook out his blond curls, and asked the princess to help him unbuckle his cuirass.
“Oh,” she said, when it came off, finding that the knight, with his long blonde curls, large dark eyes, and snub nose, had a rather shapely bosom too. The knight grinned. The princess didn’t bother with the smiling and flirting and dipping her eyes in a modest way. She threaded her fingers through the knight’s hair and kissed her.
“I can’t stay,” the knight said, her large dark eyes looking pensive and sad.
“What?” the princess stared at her. “What? You’re serious? I went through all of that and you’re going to leave?”
“You were in trouble,” the knight said. “I like looking out for people in trouble. I can bring you back to your father, and you’ll be fine.”
“My father? Are you joking?”
“Oh,” the knight flushed. “I didn’t mean the king. Um, he, well, he actually probably isn’t your father.”
“Then who is?”
“Henry? The gardener?” The princess considered this. “That… makes sense.”
“He’s the one who asked the fairies to get help. I was the help.”
“And that’s all?” The princess looked at her, lower lip tightening in distress. “That’s why you’re here? I was hoping…”
The knight cupped her cheek and kissed her. “I’m sorry. I made a vow. I must follow trouble. The vow is a bit more binding than my oath to your mad king.”
“I suppose you do a lot of rescuing.”
“My fair share, though none,” a quick glance, a quirk of the lips,” none quite like you.”
It wasn’t enough. “But you’ll just leave me behind?”
The princess rode behind the knight back to the castle. Apparently the old king had had a stroke, and no one quite knew what was going on. Henry was waiting outside the gates, ready to welcome her back.
“You should probably leave the kingdom,” the knight said. “I don’t think there will be much of a headhunt, but there is still a warrant out for your arrest.”
The princess nodded. She was shifting slightly where she stood on the ground, then moved up to the horse. Her fingers slipped under the saddle.
“I could go with you,” she said. “I could help.”
The knight shook her head. “I follow my trouble alone. Goodbye, princess.” She encouraged the horse forward, heading out along the road. She reached down, extracting the handkerchief from beneath the saddle. She waved it at the princess and her father and pressed it to her lips in a kiss that spilt all the magic right out of it.
“Damn you!” the princess swore. “How dare you leave after all of this!” The horse picked up speed moving briskly away from them. “Run faster, why don’t you? Run after your trouble! You had better keep running! Someday you’ll be running right back,” she shouted,” because I’m going to be more trouble than even you can deal with!”
But the horse and its rider just shimmered in the light and disappeared, and the princess fell into her father’s arms and cried.
And no one, really, lived happily ever after.
 Haven’t you ever read Kissing the Witch?
 I’m starting with the Man in the Mirror…
 When you think about it, ‘once upon a time’ is a very mysterious temporal phrase. ‘once’ make sense, it indicates a past time, in a world connected to our own. But it is not ‘once,’ there is another time involved, another place, where we balance, up in the air, looking down, before our feet land in that new place, and its time sweeps us away.
 She hadn’t even wanted to sit for that wandering artist’s portrait anyway.
 Though no one cared about them.
 and possibly shapely bosoms, though she wasn’t about to admit this to anyone.
 particularly the bosom one.
 or, well, whatever she was now. Gardener’s daughter perhaps, or maybe still a princess. She was the daughter of a queen, no matter how reluctant a queen the kitchen maid had been.
 Except for the Shetland Pony, who was adopted by an evil fairy, and given a very pleasant life for many years afterwards.