by Karem Barratt
Princess Rebecca found herself utterly alone in the great palace hall. The wind swelled the curtains and made them look like fat red ghosts. Rebecca breathed rapidly, her knees trembling. For a moment the princess thought she would fall to the floor and start crying. She wanted her Mum to hug her; her Dad to tell her that everything would be fine; her friends to huddle over her and say it was all a mistake. The girl felt hot tears building in her eyes and hastily brushed them way. No, Rebecca decided, she would not cry, not now, and gathering her skirt, she ran out of the great hall, to the royal garden. There is one place where you are sure to find a frog, Princess Rebecca said to herself: in a cool, shady lily pond.
The lily pond had always been a forbidden area for Rebecca. Her parents had been very clear that she was not even to get close to the pond, as they feared she may fall into its deep waters. Hence, for much of her life, the place had been a shadowy spot in a corner, separated from the sunny garden by a tall wrought iron gate. Although Princess Rebecca had dutifully obeyed her parent’s command, she had been curious enough to notice where the gardener hung the key to the gate – right behind the flowing willow tree.
The gate groaned as she pushed, the bottom grazing the greenish dirt. The air was chilly and moist around the pond, the reeds standing like guards around it. Princess Rebecca searched, over fallen logs, behind red mushrooms, over lily pads, but she couldn’t see any frogs.
‘Hello?’ said the princess out loud. If this frog was a master of something and was to give her information, clearly it was some kind of magical, talking animal, reasoned Rebecca.
‘Er...hello? I’m Princess Rebecca... I’m looking for Grand Master #39...the Wicked Witch said I should talk to you ...’
‘She said you could give me some clues,’ continued Rebecca, ‘something to help me find the four charms...’
Rebecca felt a big lump on her throat.
‘Please sir, I truly need your help...I only have until sun set... please?
Princess Rebecca dropped on the grass. It was hopeless! The Witch was obviously playing with her! There was no Grand Master #39 or 40 or 102, just her and the pond and the funny looking tadpole that was wiggling like crazy on the top of the water. Then she heard it: a tiny voice coming from somewhere near the border of the pond. Rebecca pushed the reeds aside. Then she noticed the tadpole again, jumping in the air.
‘What’s that?’ the girl asked
The tadpole said something, but she could not understand. Rebecca lowered herself until her face was almost touching the water.
‘I’m Grand Master #39,’ said the tadpole. ‘How can I serve you, my child?’
Princess Rebecca winced.
‘You are Grand Master #39? You are meant to be a frog!’
‘I am a frog.’
‘No, you are a tadpole.’
‘I am a frog in the inside and soon I will be a frog on the outside.’
‘True, but, right now you are just a teeny little tadpole.’
‘I am little only on the outside. Inside, I am as a big as the universe.’
‘Nothing is impossible, if you know how.’
‘How to what?’
‘How to do it, how to see it, how to change it and how to use it to your advantage.’
‘Very well Mr. Smarty pants...’
‘Grand Master #39, if you please.’
‘Fine, Grand Master # 39, how do I find the four charms?’
‘You find the key to the door that opens from the inside.’
‘And how do I find the key?’
‘You convince the Lucky Clover to help you.’
‘And how do I find the Lucky Clover?’
‘You walk down the Dangerous Path, which starts at the other side of the pond.’
‘Alright then, I better get going. Thank you for your help.’
‘Aren’t you going to ask me anything else?’
‘What else can I ask?’
‘Let’s see: to find the charms, I find the key, the clover, the path...’
‘The Dangerous Path.’
‘So, do I need weapons?’
‘You are a champion in a quest; you need the gear that is best for you.’
‘I’m not a champion. I’m only a kid.’
‘And I’m only a tadpole, and yet, I am a Grand Master and you are a Champion on the...’
‘I know, I know: on the inside.’
The tadpole smiled.
‘Where do I find this gear?
‘Look about you.’
Princess Rebecca explored around the pond. At first all she could see were trees, bushes and reeds. Then she noticed a sword; and a knight’s armour. There were also shields, lances, arrows and bows hidden amid the vegetation. And, oddly enough, there was also a pair of silver ballerina slippers, glittering like diamonds on the top of a rock.
‘I’ll take the armour and the sword and the lance and maybe the bow and arrows too,’ Rebecca said excitedly.
‘Are you a warrior?’ asked Grand Master #39.
‘A swordswoman, a lancer, an archer?’
‘No, no and no - but you did say I was on a quest and that nothing was impossible if you knew how.’
‘Do you know how to use any of these things?’
‘No. Maybe you can teach me?’
‘Before sun set? You think?’
‘Oh, please! Are you truly going to tell me to use the slippers as my champion’s gear? They are just shoes! Is it because I’m a girl?’
‘No. It is because you are a dancer.’
Rebecca’s eyes widened.
‘How do you know that?’
‘What kind of Grand Master would I be if I didn’t find out things about the people around me?’
‘But, how can they help me find the charms?’
‘Nothing is impossible if you know how to use things in your favour, remember? Now, take them and go –your quest awaits.’
Princess Rebecca took the slippers and then stood still, looking at the tadpole.
‘What is it, my child?’ asked Grand Master #39.
‘What if I can’t do this? What if I can’t finish the Dangerous Path? What if I can’t complete my quest and my parents and friends stay as stones forever?’
‘Those are a lot of “ifs”. Ask yourself this: what if you can do it? What if you do finish the path and do save your friends and family? You don’t know what you can or cannot do until you do it. A wise man once said: the journey of 10,000 miles starts with a few steps. Put your shoes on, my child, and take those first steps. Now, go’
Rebecca smiled and put the slippers on her feet. She moved towards the other side of the pond and then stopped.
‘What happened to Grand Master #38?’ she asked.
‘She became a grown-up frog and sort of lost interest in the wisdom business,’ Grand Master #39 answered. ‘I hear she’s doing quite well, though, teaching yoga to a few fat toads.’
Princess Rebecca smiled and walked away. The tadpole lingered a bit on the surface of the pond and then, with a short but graceful jump, dived back in, leaving a few watery rings behind. On the other side of the pond, dark clouds dangled on the sky. A second gate creaked as the princess pushed it with all her might and started her journey down the Dangerous Path.
The Dangerous Path didn’t look very dangerous – at least not in the beginning. It was a twisting, narrow, cobbled road, surrounded by prickly bushes and bare trees. Rebecca shivered. It had become quite cold and gray. The small spikes in the soles of her dancing shoes made a metallic, tinkering sound, like ants in boots marching to battle. The princess had never seen slippers with spikes before. They did not seem very ballerina-like, but she hoped Grand Master #39 knew what he was doing when he suggested wearing them. A sudden rush of air puffed-up her skirt. A clap of thunder roared over the princess’ head, as a lightning bolt hit one of the trees nearby and split it in two.
Rebecca hurried, trying to get away from the sharp rain drops falling over her like icy needles, but there was no place to escape to. The bushes along the road had become thick vines with jagged thorns gleaming like daggers. Another bolt struck the ground next to her, making her fall to her knees. The path had broken now into irregular slabs, floating here and there over thick, bubbling mud. The rain was blinding the princess with a curtain of water. Fresh lightning made another tree splinter into hundreds of pieces; the wind scattered chunks around, some of them striking Princess Rebecca’s back, arms and legs. Rebecca’s hands sank in the mud, as she crawled away from the punishing wind.
Something stuck to her hand, something slimy and formless, tugging her down to a bottomless pit, and Princess Rebecca realized that the mud was actually quicksand. Rebecca sat back and used all her strength to unchain her arm. The princess dug her heels into the cobbled road and held on to a prickly vine, pulling, pulling, in spite of the pain and the blood, until she freed herself from the quicksand’s grasp. Rebecca braced herself, her head between her arms. There were drops running down her cheeks and she was unsure if she was crying or if it was just the rain pouring over her face.
Then she heard it. A booming, rolling growl, the sound a hungry beast would make as it was about to pounce on its prey. Princess Rebecca looked back slowly, very slowly, not really wanting to see what was there. Her mouth went dry; her heart skipped a beat. A huge, giant, colossal tornado was hovering at the gate, bending it in half, as it stabbed the land and made fountains out of the mud. For an instant, Rebecca did nothing. Then she felt the hot tingling of her wounded hand and scrambled to her feet. She had had enough of this, Rebecca decided – and then ran towards the tornado.
About eight meters into her race, Rebecca stopped and turned around. If she was going to this, she needed a run-up of sorts. The tornado seemed to grow by the minute, as it got nearer and nearer. Princess Rebecca breathed in deeply and closed her eyes, as she hummed to herself the melody she had been practising to with Mrs. Marshall, her dance teacher. She saw the dance studio in her mind: the smooth wooden floor, the tall mirrors. The music in her grew louder and louder as she sprinted back to the edge of the broken path. Her legs seemed to grow longer, her feet hardly touching the cobbles, her ears deaf to the howl of the tornado after her. She could do this. She may be just eleven; her body may not be strong enough or nimble enough, but she was a dancer, the best dancer in the whole wide world, here, in the inside, and she, Rebecca Louise Constanza, Princess of Tandara, would do this and she would do it now!
Rebecca jumped from the edge of the path to the first slate on the right, then the next one on the left, and then the following one, virtually flying over the treacherous quicksand. Her legs stretched out into a beautiful arch; her pointy toes guided her lithe body; her arms floated in the air, as the wispy wings of a butterfly, the spikes of her silvery slippers hanging on to every little nook and cranny over the slates. If there were monster tornadoes or piercing storms behind her, she no longer knew nor cared. All she could see were the slates, glowing with pearly light, showing her the way out. When her dancing shoes finally touched the soft grass and she heard the third gate close behind her, Rebecca knew that, for now, she was safe.