By Lori Lopez
ONCE UPON A TIME (trite as that may sound but true), there lived the fairest of maidens, a young lady of exceptional birth. A beauty inside and out, she was destined to be adored by the entire world from corner to corner and end to end. We shall call her Diana, for this is in fact a fairytale tribute to a real Diana who was and remains equally beloved around the globe. A princess those of us fortunate to have shared the earth with can never forget, and those who come aft her radiant age will regard indefinitely as a gentle spirit, a shining presence. And thus her light will never dim.
For she was The Queen Of Hearts.
Lady Di, the regal heroine of our story, dwelled near a forest fringe where plentiful woodland creatures romped and prowled.
Each manner of beast, great or small, fierce or benign, was smitten by the kindness and glowing reverence that emanated from this sweet woman's soul. A myriad of "fanimals" " crawling, creeping, slinking, scurrying, lumbering, lunging, bunching, burrowing, sliding, springing, waddling, whittling, fluttering, flapping " broadly flocked about her whenever she strolled. They made a riotous annoying clamor, so loud she could scarcely hear herself contemplate.
The serene girl was therefore motivated to frequent spaces where she might sit and ponder without the ruckus and commotion of her adulating followers. It was in a quiet secluded grove that she would encounter the dashing prince of her dreams.
Well, perhaps not dashing by traditional standards. He was not that young or flawless, not that bold or pure. He was imperfect as people are. Except, of course, for she. Diana's glory would be proclaimed on every lens to glance her way; on the surface of every glass or unrippled pond her visage graced.
My portrait is an idyllic idealist study, not a fault-sifting exposition. And yet, by Reality's harshest terms, Lady Di was and is an extraordinary symbol of humanity.
This fine glistening morn, she had snuck from the abbey she tended with her father and siblings (her favorite chore teaching at the orphanage) to perch on a log amidst a clearing. Mayhap she spared a brief sentiment, a waning recollection for the matriarch who deserted them eons ago. Perchance her intellect roamed to wistful yearnings of a life less impoverished. No one ought to be abandoned or poor in Diana's opinion. Whatever the mood, she was deeply concentrated when the prince of the land meandered into view. Actually, he bounded.
The prince, it happens, was bewitched by a local enchantress. The fellow had been reduced to the physical stature of a mere toad. A disgusting bumpy despicable toad, so vile and repulsive no available female (even the homeliest, the most shriveled prune) could possibly fall for him.
The spell's primary purpose " while causing a wretched inconvenience for the victim " was to prevent that staid target of the occultrist's affections from being snared by a more suitable match. The conniving sorceress herself, humbly born but highly ambitious, did not qualify to wed the kingdom's crown prince. Though the blue-blooded sap felt as strongly as she, thoroughly enamored by her wiles, theirs was a forbidden union and would always be prohibited.
A man of his thirties, the imperial son had recently been commanded to choose an acceptable bride who could bear an appropriate heir to the throne.
Envious and obsessed, the conjurer brewed a potion to shield her paramour from being considered the land's most eligible bachelor. To all else he appeared a loathsome toad, yet beneath her gaze he retained his normal aspect. They continued to rendezvous and exchange vows of devotion.
The queen was afraid her son would never induce a nobleman's daughter to marry a hideous amphibious creature. The guy was no Prince Charming before the spell was cast. His personality lacked charisma. His eye lacked sparkle. And now he was a lowly lumpen leaping thing " how terribly appalling!
The monarchy was in an uproar. A circus of physicians summoned from every continent prescribed every sundry cure imaginable. The prince was tested, poked and prodded, jabbed and stabbed, hypnotized, X-rayed, gamma-rayed, acupunctured, leeched, transfused, injected, bandaged, rattled and chanted over, mud-packed, microscoped, stethoscoped, telescoped, even gyroscoped. Nothing helped his unsavory size, appeal, or skin condition.
The castle advisors, at their wits' end, paced frantically chattering about dwindling options. The queen was in a dither, an absolute frenzy, piping orders, screeching, desperate for answers.
"A kiss!" cited the sovereign abruptly.
Activity ceased. Chaos subdued. Ears strained, praying for a repetition. Nobody cared to divulge having not apprehended the royal utterance.
"A kiss should reverse the curse!" the queen declared. And fired a few advisors for failing to suggest it first.
Alas, no promise of betrothal or riches could entice a damsel of breeding to perform the task. Ostensibly the prince would be stuck a toad the rest of his days.
Hopping a forest trail, gallivanting toward the witch's shack, he came upon our innocent maid enjoying a rare and tranquil interval.
She jolted at his clumsy approach, the snap of twigs, the stir of brush. An unassuming figure hove into sight, bounced to the middle of her glade and spoiled the moment. "Oh!" she cried, a delicate hand to her throat. "Are you alone, or with an unruly mob of calmness crashers?"
"It is only Myself," the truncated heir replied, haughtily drawing himself to full height (which wasn't a lot). "Is that not sufficient?" He was touchy on the subject of his unprincely guise.
"Yes, I quite guess it is," remarked Lady Di, "for I value my peace and am hardly fond of a crowd, especially a noisy herd of doting fawners. I respect them as individuals, but together they can fray my nerves. Is there such a thing as too much love? I'm beginning to think so. A slight bit of company might be nice."
"Pity, I can't stay. I have another engagement," the toad contended, miffed that no gaggles of gawpers chased him.
"Do you? I am sorry to be presumptuous!" exclaimed the divine miss.
"Very well, you are excused," the toad decreed. "And who would you be if you were being less impudent? It seems We are unacquainted."
"I am The Lady Diana, progeny of an earl. My kindred lost our wealth and must survive on The Edge."
"I see. 'Tis no surprise We haven't met, since you are practically as common as the rabble you avoid."
"And just who are you to sneer?" the girl rebuked.
"I am obviously a prince!" the toad retorted.
He ventured away in pompous wrath, and as vexedly regressed. "How's about a smooch?" he queried. "It would keep Mother off my back. She's tried everything to break this spell, and in the process almost broke Me!"
"Funny you mention it. I'm familiar with the fable. Yet there is also a relevant prediction. I grew up being told that to find my prince and live happily ever after, it was necessary to kiss a frog," admitted Lady Di.
The prince became alarmed. And frightened. He didn't wish to get entangled by a storybook romance. He particularly didn't want his girlfriend to get mad. He simply wanted to be tall again, and for his personal life to be his own.
Lady Diana faithfully heeded omens and soothsayers. Throughout childhood she had discerned in the murmur of the breeze, from birds and bees, "Kiss the frog!" Close enough, she assured herself. And however revolting the toad, she wasn't the type to judge a tale by its title (or something to that effect). The maiden squeezed shut luminous blue peepers and puckered a dainty mouth for the prophetic kiss.
Instead Sir Toad resumed his trek, leaving the lass to her solitude.
During a vocal spat with his mother, weary of increasing pressure to announce a choice for a bride, the prince would reveal at tea the next afternoon " squatting on the table, sipping from an elegant china cup " having met an aristocrat's daughter. He hoped to divert the council of advocates from selecting for him. He had no intention of proposing to a lady other than the bewitcher who stole his heart.
Regrettably, the queen had contrary plans. She dispatched scouts to seek the girl's name then escort her to the palace. Agents snooped and sniffed kingdom-wide, interrogating many a dignitary's daughter.
"Meet any polite toads of late?"
"Spot any bad-complected peewees?"
There were numerous giggles but nary an affirmative response, the mysterious "she" as elusive as Cinderella.
"You made her up!" the queen accused. "She doesn't exist!"
The prince was forced to add a scrap of information. Her family had lost their prosperity. This clarified the matter, narrowing the list to a few dozen underprivileged upper-class pedigrees.
After an exhaustive search the delegates arrived at Diana's door, a meager cottage on the abbey grounds. A trio of baffled girls were lined up. The queen's official spokesman read a scroll. "Her Majesty demands your immediate attention on an urgent question imperative to The Kingdom!" He spooled the document and harrumphed. "Did you converse with a very short prince resembling a toad?"
The eldest daughters laughed. The third maid blushed crimson and confessed to the act.
"And you are?"
She ducked her head in meek dismay, lifting fearful eyes.
"The Lady Diana!" shrilled a hooting sister.
"You will accompany us post-haste," she was instructed.
"But where are we going?" she quizzed as the emissaries ushered her to an enclosed conveyance drawn by horsepower.
"Never mind, never mind," the lead agent brusquely edified. "We will be there soon."
Lady Di settled back on a plush bench across from the envoys. A team of stallions charged. Swift indeed they traveled along dirt and cobbled lane to the palace gates, where stiff uniformed guards wordlessly permitted their entry.
Diana was shown into a huge vaulted chamber. The queen peered at her, frowning from a purple and gold dais. An emissary bowed, climbed padded steps to whisper in Her Majesty's ear. The delegate departed with measured stride.
"So, you are here to wed My Son," a grave voice intoned.
"Is that why they fetched me?" gasped Diana.
"Then you deny it?"
"Begging your pardon, Highness, but I haven't been asked," the girl modestly protested.
"Foolish child, that has nothing to do with this inquiry."
Embarrassed, Diana curtseyed. "I am sorry, Madam. They didn't tell me anything."
"If you wish to marry a prince, you must gain approval," stated the queen. "Upon the fulfillment of stringent requirements."
Diana swallowed. "Requirements?"
"Tests," the queen insisted. "Rigorous exams."
"Oh." Diana's brain was rife with confusion. Events were transpiring too quickly and she couldn't blurt out that she didn't belong, that it was an apparent case of mistaken identity. None of it made a pinch of sense, like a dream, a dreadfully magnificent dream, and suddenly there she stood addressing the queen.
Who silently clapped gloved fingers.
Diana was paraded from the hall, delivered to a colorful wardrobe wing. A staff of matrons jostled to anoint the guest in resplendent attire. The precious girl floated down a carpeted aisle, adorned by a lavish gown, and occupied a single seat more elaborate than a chair, less grand than a throne. She sat primly and waited, fidgeting after an hour of tedium. She chewed the nail of a forefinger.
Cornets blared. A cadre of disciplined red-coated soldiers in high fuzzy helmets marched halfway and halted. They rigidly stared above and beyond her.
At some point she turned to check what fascinated the guards, what maintained their interest, and observed a blank wall.
From their core emerged a dwarf carrying a tasseled velvet cushion, atop which was situated a mahogany box. Inside the coffer, opened by the grinning courier, twinkled an enormous diamond mounted on a platinum band.
The dwarf leaned forward. "Try it on, Milady," bade he.
Deeming the rock excessively garish, the girl obediently grasped the ring and slipped it onto her left hand.
She squinted at a multitude of reflections.
"Kiss the frog!" the diamond raucously chimed.
Startled, blinking, the girl stretched her arm and inspected the gem from a safer distance.
"Ahhh," the soldiers murmured, violating their code of strict conduct.
"Ahhh," sighed the dwarf. He extended a palm. "Now give it back!"
Diana promptly surrendered the stone. She appreciated pretty objects, craved a glamorous life, but this was ridiculous. "Glad to. It's a wasteful display of status," she reproached.
"You pass!" The ring-bearer gleefully cartwheeled. He skipped from the room, toting jewelry box and pillow.
A subsequent gent sallied from the clique with twice the prominence of the dwarf. He was still a runt. The fellow bore a cushion containing a tiara. "Try it on," he tempted.
Diana carefully balanced the ornament above her brow, over stylish blond tresses.
The guards ooohed. The crown-bearer aaahed, then impatiently entreated her to relinquish the glitter.
Feeling sheepish, Diana returned the tiara. "I rather liked it," she allowed, "pretending to be a princess."
"You're a natural!" the second shrimp crooned. He spun on his heel to scamper off.
"What a silly day," rued the lady. "Is there more?"
The soldiers didn't so much as blink.
"I know you see me. And hear me. I know you can speak," the girl petulantly pestered.
The guards ignored her.
From their ranks popped a lanky-limbed rotund sort, double the length of his predecessor. Spindly fingers supported velvet cushions that held a green frog and a brown toad.
The giant sauntered forth and invited, "Kiss the prince."
"Oh dear," fretted Diana. Should she kiss the frog like the fable and her birth prophecy dictated, or the toad who spoke to her in the forest and everyone said was a prince?
It was a quandary. How could she decide?
The courier ahemmed, a rumble in his gullet.
The soldiers were mum.
Diana walked solemnly to the cushions. She gazed into the frog's bulgent orbs. Was he a prince as well? Some other exciting catch? Or just a frog? She scrutinized the toad's dull expression. "I know you're a prince," the lady determined and, eyes closed, bent to plant her mouth against a pouting pair of lips.
She straightened, expecting a transformation. Nothing occurred. The toad's tongue flicked to taste a gnat.
The girl winced.
"Why'd you do that?" the toad squawked, his reaction a trifle delayed.
"Wasn't I supposed to?" stammered a bewildered Diana.
"You were supposed to kiss the frog!" the toad disdained. "As you've been reminded your entire life! And you got it wrong! Now you'll have to marry Me! It's the law."
"But Sir, I do not know you," the lady dissented.
Her fianc yawned. "What's to know? I'm a prince." He rolled his eyes, then dutifully deigned to convince her of his virtues.
Whether blessing or blunder, such was Diana's fate.
The royal matrimony was staged, a huge formal occasion. A bevy of animals and people thronged the streets side by side to greet the couple.
The prince stayed a toad, and his heart remained true to the sorceress. But a wondrous transformation did take place.
As if by the sweep of a magic wand, Diana became a dazzling princess. She did her best to adapt, embrace the role, serve as a positive influence. Despite private anguish she became a renowned public icon, championing the invalid, the disadvantaged. She became the mother of two cherished sons, and grew to love the toad warts and all. Sadly, the prince never felt the same and filed a royal divorce.
Then she was gone . . . this genuine princess, this compassionate lady, the inspiration to citizens of every land.
A runaway carriage. A tragic collision with a tree proved how fragile was life. Even for someone larger-than-life as she.
Accident or wicked plot? Speculations would thrive.
One thing is certain. The world was changed by her exquisite aura, and in her absence they (meaning we) lived happily never after.
Because Princess Diana was nevermore.
But it can't end this way. She would want us to be cheerful, to dry our tears. And for her we must " when remembering Diana, smile.
(Author's Note: I do not wish to offend any actual person. My yarn is a reverent caricature, the fairytale salute to a fairytale princess. Elements surrounding Diana's life have been modified for the sake of the story. Nonetheless, in both verse and prose I describe "The Prince" by a humorous label " a word I chose to signify any man who deceives and courts a woman based on lies; for example, while in love with or committed to another. As far as I am aware, that specific definition has not been previously applied. And I believe in calling a "toad" a toad.)
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Copyright 2007 Lori Lopez, All Rights Reserved.