Today is the day! Today is the day! Young Nevil heard the excited shouts ring throughout the village. The prince was on his way to select his bride! At last the royal prophecy would be fulfilled. The Book of Wisdom had said so
And a fair maiden from the village shall the royal choose, should he not choose wisely, he will lose. If he chooses well, then peace will be
from the hill unto the sea.
What a splendid day, but what chaos! Nevil had never seen such confusion. The villagers scurried everywhere. Would they be ready in time? Every maiden wanted to marry the prince. Every boy wanted his sister to make him a viscount. And every mother and father wanted their daughter to become the next queen. Nevil had no sister wanting to marry the prince. Why, he had no family at all, really. But still he was excitedthey would see a real live prince and the King, too! How the maidens chattered as they awaited the long overdue royal arrival.
Wheres my dress?
Wheres my hat?
Ouch, my teeth!
Oh dear, whats that?
Soon Nevil heard the King and the prince arrive at the village gates. Who could miss them? Trumpets blared and drums rolled and people shouted and a parrot squawked. That would be Nevils parrot, Oliver, his only kin in the world.
Awk, been to the garden. Gotta go, gotta go, squawked Oliver. But Nevil shushed him. It wouldnt do for a parrot to squawk at a king or a prince. Or even the guards. Why, they might have his head!
Suddenly the village gate flew open and in came the guards, banners flying high. Their stallions strutted down the cobblestone street. On the second tallest stallion sat a young man who held his nose high. He was the prince, and quite a handsome prince at that. The village men took off their hats as he passed. The village ladies curtsied. The village boys stared in awe. And the village maidens flirted terribly.
Giggle, giggle, flutter, flutter. Nevil rolled his eyes.
Many of them dropped their handkerchiefs, hoping the prince would stop and pick one up. But he sat high atop his mighty stallion, looking down on everyone while they admired him. Except the maidens, of course, who were too busy batting their eyes and couldnt admire a thing. The princes stallion headed toward Nevil, who didnt know what to do, so he bowed. The prince ignored the small boy in tattered clothes standing before him, moved his horse around him, and rode on.
Ding, dong, ding, dong! squawked Oliver. And the prince turned and glared.
What did you call me, urchin? he seethed at Nevil. Nevil tried to think fast, but he was scared. Oliver answered for him.
Two oclock, gotta get to the garden, gotta get a bride, squaaaawwk, its two oclock! And Oliver was, indeed, correct. The clock had struck 2. It was time for the prince to choose his bride. The prince frowned at Nevil and turned toward the crowd.
Line em up, he yelled, waving his arm with a flourish. And the King rolled his eyes. What a mannerless boy! thought the King. But the villagers did as he said without waiting a second. He was, after all, the prince, no matter how few manners he had.
The prince walked up to the first lovely maiden. At the sight of him, she fainted. He sighed and waved to his guards to remove her and her parents, who were desperately trying to prop her up. The prince stepped right over her. The King shook his head. Mannerless, mannerless boy! he thought. Three more maidens fainted, and each time, the prince waved his hand and the guards dragged each one away, right past Nevil.
To the next maiden who managed not to faint, he asked,
Why should I choose you?
My family is very important, she said, I am quite beautiful. I will love you forever. And I did not faint. The prince sneered and again signaled to his guards. She would not be his choice today. He moved on.
And what about you? he asked the next maiden.
I am already rich. I will bear you many fine children. And I can cook great feasts, she said, and smiled her biggest smile. Again, the prince sneered and waved to his guards. As they carried her away, still smiling, the prince moved on. And so it went, until finally the prince at last reached the prettiest girl in the village, Deirdre. He shrugged.
You are very, very beautiful. You will make me look wonderful when I take you to my grand parties. So, youll do, I guess, he said. Deidre jumped up and down and clapped her hands. Her mother and father fainted, and her little brother, Ivan, picked his nose. Nevil was relieved. Now maybe the ghastly prince would leave.
Wont she look good on my arm? the prince asked the King. Then he pulled out a mirror and looked at Deidre, who leaned on his arm and grinned, showing all her perfectly white teeth. Ignorant, ignorant boy! thought the King. But who was he to argue with the prophecy? So, the King rolled his eyes and gritted his teeth. He took a deep breath, then announced,
From all of the village maidens, the prince has made his choice. Her name is
Awwwwk, not her, gotta go to the garden, awwwwk, pretty outside, not inside, awwwwk! squawked Oliver. Nevil froze on the spot. What had Oliver done? The King rode up to Nevil and looked at his thin clothes and skinny frame. Oliver flew to the Kings shoulder and perched. The King laughed a hearty laugh and reached up to pet Oliver.
Thats a smart bird you have here. What is your name? he said, rubbing Olivers bright feathers. Nevil relaxed.
I am Nevil, your highness. Please forgive my bird, Oliver, but he is right. There is one more. One more maiden, I mean. JeanJon tends the village garden down the hill. Thats where we stay. Shes an orphan like me, but she takes care of usOliver and me. She would make a nice queen, Nevil explained.
And at that everyone laughed. Deirdra snorted. Her parents, who had just woken up, fainted again, and Ivan continued to pick his nose.
Ha! JeanJon is nobody. She has no family who wishes her to be queen. She lives with the fish and the butterflies and the spiders and the frogs and the blue jays and the peacocks. Why, she is a silly peacock! said Deidre. And the villagers laughed again.
The Kings patience was gone. He became very angry. Very angry, indeed. Oliver flew back to Nevil and hid his feathered face behind the young boys ear.
The Book of Wisdom says we must choose from all the maidens in the village, SO WE WILL CHOOSE FROM ALL THE MAIDENS IN THE VILLAGE! Take us to the garden! he bellowed. And Oliver lifted his head out of Nevils ear long enough to agree.
Awk, gotta go to the garden, he squawked.
So, off they went. Royals and villagers and guards together hurried down the hill to the village garden tended by the orphan JeanJon.
At the garden gate, they rang a bell. A skinny monkey ushered them in. His wise eyes watched them trudge through the gate, and he followed them past it. Everyone walked by flowers as tall as trees, down a winding path. Animals gathered all around themdeer, peacock, parrots, frogs and so many others. And a waterfall splashed into a sea green pond that led to a river that led
somewhere. Suddenly the crowd heard something.
Welcome to the village garden, spoke a voice as fresh as springtime. A young lady stepped out of the tree-tall flowers and stood before them. The prince gasped. The King gasped. The wise monkey nodded, and Oliver squawked. In front of them stood a lovely young maiden in a dress made of butterflies and fine threads of spider-spun silk. A frog sat on her head for a hat, a bow made of peacock feathers graced her waist, and a shiny lizard clung to her neck like a pendant. Her bright eyes glittered as she smiled at the villagers.
I am JeanJon, and this is the village garden, she said. Her arm made a sweeping gesture toward the flowers and trees and animals behind her. Her voice was like a sweet melody. Everyone was captivated. Well, almost everyone.
How dare you! the prince shouted, I am a prince and you insult me with that ridiculous getup, pretending this is garden is some kind of castle and you are its queen! I should have your head! JeanJon lowered her eyes.
This is all I have, she said, I have no fine clothes, nor do I come from a rich family. I knew I would not be your choice, but the wise monkey said you might come. And my friends here have never seen a prince before. How could I let them down?
And with that the many butterflies swirled around the princejust to say hellobut he shooed them away. The frog hopped over to the princejust to take a closer lookbut he swatted at it. And the lizard scurried toward the princejust to bow and show respectbut the prince tried to kick it. Then the wise monkey swung over the young prince and looked him straight in the eye. The prince grabbed his nose and cried, Phew, you smell like a monkey! And the villagers laughed. Nevil fumed.
Mannerless, mannerless boy! cried JeanJon, my friends only wished to see a prince and show you respect! They meant you no harm! Her beautiful smile turned to a frown. You, prince, are more of a beast than any creature who lives here with me. The prince was furious. His face was beat red, and he was ready to wave his hand again. Nevil ran to JeanJon and threw himself in front of her. The guards leaned forward expectantly.
Suddenly, the King interrupted. His voice boomed throughout the garden with great authority. Everyone stood very still. Even the butterflies froze in mid-flight. Oliver opened his beak to say something, but thought better of it.
Make your choice, prince, the King commanded. The prince didnt hesitate. He turned his nose up at JeanJon and grabbed Deidres hand. She squealed with joy. The villagers clapped. And the King smiled.
Now it is my turn, he said. And he turned to JeanJon.
You are right, JeanJon, my younger brother is a mannerless, mannerless boy. I was going to give him my crown because I did not fancy any of the village maidens, and I could not fulfill the prophecy. But now I have found a maiden that I quite fancy. I think your dress was lovely. Your friends are loyal and kind. You have raised Nevil to be a brave lad, and finer than any in the village. If you are a peacock, you are a delightful peacock, not a silly one like my brother. May I stay here in the garden with you forever?
JeanJons smile returned, and Nevil grinned from ear to ear. Now he and Oliver would have a family. The Book of Wisdom didnt say anything about that! But the wise monkey noddedit was to be so. The animals danced about. The crowd gasped. The prince stomped his feet, and Deidre wailed. Her parents fainted again and her little brother finally stopped picking his nose. But none of that mattered, because the prophecy was fulfilled. And forever after that, there was peace from the hill to sea
not to mention in the village garden.
A language and science teacher for many years, Sharene Martin has been writing educational materials for children since 1989. Her first trade picture book, THIS MOMMA, THAT MOMMA will be available in 2005.