Part 3 of 3
When next she opened her eyes,
they were surround by huge trees. Thick silver chains hung down from their trunks, stretching like a glittering web across a small clearing. In its center was the most exquisite minute castle built entirely out of the palest alabaster. It sat just about head height above the ground; rocking gently in its silver cradle as a sweet-smelling wind whispered soothing lullabies through the evergreen needles above.
The princess and the phooka walked full round it ducking under the silver chains as they went. There were no windows to be seen, and only a single door without a knocker or a knob.
There was, however, a bell pull beside the door, though there was no bell attached to it. Try as she might, the princess could see no way to reach it. In the end, it was the phooka who climbed long the silver chains on his nimble cat feet with the bell between his teeth. He placed the bell on the hook meant for it.
Once it was in place, Fairer-than-a-fairy pulled the bell chain, and the clapper, now free of its cotton wrapping, rang a pleasant chime. The knobless door opened, and with the phooka’s help, she climbed in through the door. As soon as they crossed the threshold, it closed quietly behind them.
The room they entered was pitch black, save for the light coming from the lantern in the princess’s hand. The single room they stood in seemed to fill the whole of the castle. Gold and jeweled stars set in the ceiling above them, twinkled in the lantern’s light. There was no furniture to be seen, except an elegant couch around which rainbow-hued curtains hung; opaline specters swaying softly as the castle gently rocked like a boat on a calm sea.
A man lay reclining on the couch. When the princess approached him she found that his eyes were open but seemed blind to all around him. She had no way of knowing if this was indeed her Rainbow Prince, but she thought him very handsome all the same. Of course, if he truly was the prince with whom she had spoken to all these years, it would not have mattered how he had looked; she would have thought him handsome. For the heart sees the world differently, and through it, all things can become beautiful.
The phooka, a sleek black tomcat once more, jumped up onto the man’s pillow and patted his cheek with a paw, but the young man did not stir. However there was no time for the princess to wonder at this as there were more pressing things for to attend to. She was quite sure that as soon as they had opened the door, the fairy Lagree would have known someone was at the castle. She was also sure that they would be a reckoning as soon as the old fairy caught up with them. Fortunately, a plan had been growing in her mind since they crossed the Lake of Mirrors.
She left the couch where the man lay, and setting the lantern in the middle of the room so that she might better see what she was about, crossed over to the door through which they had entered. There she took out the hand mirror which she had been carrying in her bodice, and propped it on the wall beside the door, angling it just so. To her surprise, it began to grow larger. It grew and grew until it stood taller than she, and twice as wide, on great golden feet.
She went next to the wall across from it and took out the jug which held the water from the Lake of Mirrors. Using the skirt which had once held the bell, she washed the wall until it too shone silver, careful to look only over her shoulder at the mirror she had propped up on the wall next to the door. When she was done she left the jug and cloth in a corner; taking up the lantern once more, she went back to where the man lay. The cat still sat on the pillow beside his head, but now small red dots now marred the prince’s smooth cheek.
“Tsk, be careful you mean thing!” she scolded. “Why would you do such a thing!”
“Because he hasn’t said a thing,” the phooka, human once again, groused from where he still sat on the pillow, poking the prince’s cheek with his finger. “Can he not see you!”
“Is it such a wonder that he can’t see me, trapped in a dark place such as he is?” she asked. Carefully she unwrapped the glass rose, holding it up so that the radiant flame burning within the lantern could cast its light through it. A brilliant rainbow sprang from its petals and fell across the prince’s eyes. His blind gaze cleared, and he turned to look at the princess who stood beside him. And although Fairer-than-a-Fairy, having never seen him in the flesh, had not been sure that he was indeed her Rainbow Prince, he certainly knew her. A smile as bright summer sun lit his face at the sight of her.
It was at that very moment that Lagree arrived. Flinging open the castle door, the wicked fairy saw the two young lovers surrounded by the lantern’s light, an island amid a sea of darkness. With a howl of rage, she raced in straight away, reaching out with her cruel hands to grab them. This time, she would just throttle the life out of them and be done with it. But her hands closed on empty air, as though they were ghosts. There was no flesh beneath her bony fingers. She turned to go back the way she had come, but she found she couldn’t.
And that, of course, was because it was not the two lovers themselves that she had seen, but their reflections, cast from the mirror that Fairer-than-a-Fairy had placed near to the door, onto the wall which she had painted with the waters from the lake. It was towards that very same mirrored wall that Lagree had rushed, intent on catching the two young lovers, only to be caught herself.
So there was nothing she could do as she watched Fairer-than-a-Fairy and her Rainbow Prince run, hand in hand, out through the door. Nor was there anything she could do when the reflection of the cat who was with them, winked one pumpkin-orange eye back at her as they left.
Once the three of them, the princess, the prince and the phooka were free from the castle, they laughed and hugged each other happily. The castle door closed behind them and they took the little brass bell from where it hung. As soon as they had, the whole castle seemed to melt. Much to prince and princess’s surprise, it became a tiny pond, shining mirror bright in the darkness of the deep wood. It was of course the very same pond in which the phooka had tossed the princess all those years ago.
“If you jump as far as you can out into the middle, you will come out the other side, back into your very own wood,” said the phooka.
Fairer-than-a-Fairy hugged her friend fiercely.
“Will you come with us? I am not sure what awaits me when I return home, but no matter what it is, it will better if you were with me,” the princess said sincerely for she held no ill will towards the phooka for having been the one to steal her away.
“Yes, please come with us,” the prince added. “We would have been lost long ago had you not been a friend to Fairer-than-a-Fairy.”
The phooka agreed, thinking it a fine idea to go, and live in the mortal realm. Truth be told, he really did like sleeping on the princess’s feet and purring in her ear. And he figured the beds at the castle would be much softer than the one they slept on at the old fairy’s house. Having decided, he turned himself back into a fine black horse. The princess and prince climbed on his back and together they leapt into the mirror bright pond.
In the end, it turned out even better than anyone could have hoped, for it seems that time moves differently in faerie than it does in the mortal realm. So, it had been only fourteen months, not fourteen years since the princess had gone missing.
And though the king and queen were surprised to see their daughter now grown, with a suitor in tow no less, they were both so overjoyed to have her returned that they did not let such a thing bother them for very long. The king, who had been the saddest of all, could not have been happier, welcoming them all with open arms. Even the pumpkin-eyed cat who seemed to delight in shedding black hairs all over the castle’s white pillows.
In time, the prince was reunited with his family who it turned out lived just beyond the eastern sea; and they all gathered together to celebrate the joining of the two young lovers. They lived happily with their friends and family around them. Even as the years passed into decades, and they themselves became the rulers of their lands, time diminished neither the virtues, beauty, nor the mutual affection of King Rainbow and his Queen, Fairer-than-a-Fairy.