|Ellis could not hear
a thing with his helmet on.
Illustration by Elliott, M.
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Ellis. He "was always lonely. He lived with his older brothers, Ralph and Burt, on a farm that was across the moat from Biddle Castle." As big brothers often are, these were unkind to Ellis. They would never play with him, finding in each other the perfect playmate for every game. Ellis spent his childhood alone, experimenting with this and that. A the age of six, he "invented flying powder". Taking a bit of this and sprinkling it over his little tin cup, he experimented further. Soon he could control its direction, and with a bit of fine tuning his recipe, the speed. Thrilled that at last his brothers would have to take notice of the amazing thing he'd done, he waited anxiously for them to come home. But when he crowed, "I made my cup fly!" his brother "Ralph didn't even turn his head. 'Rain tomorrow." And then Burt said, "Barley needs it." That's when he noticed that Ellis, who had spent the day flying his cup up and down the chimney, while crouching in the fireplace, was covered in cinders. "You're covered with cinders, Ellis." said Ralph. Then he guffawed, "That's what we should call him— Cinderellis!" From then on, the nickname stuck. The first year that the crops mysteriously vanished from the fields at midnight, Ellis was 9 years old. Everyone felt the house rumble something fierce, but nobody went to see what caused it. In the morning, surveying the empty field, Ralph said, "Goblins did it." But Ellis had carefully inspected the field and he found something that proved otherwise: a golden hair, and hoof prints. "It was a horse with a golden mane. Not goblins." he declared, but Ralph and Burt ignored him. One year later, on the first day of fall, Ralph and Burt prepared for the goblins to come again and mow down the field. Ellis had been planning ahead for this day. He had "invented goblin stay-away powder. It was made of dried vinegar and the claw of a dead eagle, the two things goblins fear most." But his brothers wouldn't even let him tag along to the field, saying it was Ralph's turn to keep watch, so Ellis taught him a goblin-stay away spell instead. In the morning, he asked what had happened. Ralph said, "Ground shook. Said the spell. Went to sleep. Hay was gone.' 'Did you see the horse?' Ellis asked. 'What horse?' 'Didn't you look outside the barn?" His brothers howled with laughter. Later that day, Ellis inspected the field, and found "a silver horse's hair". The year after that, Burt stayed in the barn overnight to keep watch, and just as before, the hay vanished overnight. He claimed he hadn't heard anything. "My turn next.' Cinderellis said, picking up a golden hair from the bare field." Meanwhile, over at Biddle Castle, across the way, King Humphrey lll lived with his daughter, Marigold. And a whole crowd of servants, of course. Marigold was also a lonely child, for, despite her luxurious surroundings, she had no friends. All of the other children who lived at the palace were servant's kids, or those of the lower courtiers, Their parents wouldn't let them anywhere near the princess, who was surely above such things as simple children's games. The thing is, she would have given anything for a rousing game of tag. Her father, though he loved her dearly, was hardly around. He was always off questing for magical objects, only he never seemed to come home with the thing he'd set out for. For example, once he brought back a turkey that laid tin eggs. Not quite the goose who laid golden ones that he's sought. Then there was the time he'd heard of a pair of seven-league boots. "What he had found were shoes that walked backward, very slowly. They went straight to the Royal Museum of Quest Souvenirs." The year that it was Ellis' turn to keep watch over the hay, he had spent perfecting a recipe for horse treats. When he sat in the barn that night, he had a pocketful of tried and tested, guaranteed irresistible horse treats. So when he the sound of hoofbeats a distant way off, he sat up a little straighter. When he heard the hoofbeats thunder past, he rose and held onto the door while "the rafters hummed along" and his teeth rattled like popping corn. When it was quiet, he went out and found,"a copper colored mare", that was the most magnificent he had ever seen. There appeared to be a knight in copper armor sitting on its back. When the mare saw this boy, and smelled the treats in his hand, she thought to herself that here was someone who "could rescue her from the evil magician who had put a spell on her." She held her breath while she waited for him to touch the bridle, breaking the spell for good. Ellis took slow steps toward the copper mare, holding a treat out in his hand. Then — he grabbed the bridle! The spell was broken, and the mare whinnied with joy. She would do anything for this lad, so grateful was she never to return to the wizard. Ellis had prepared a secret stall for the horse he knew he would find that night, and now he led the mare to it. He had decided to name her Chasam; this was short for "Copper horse arrives shortly after midnight." Then he discovered that the armor was empty. He polished it, and hid that too. But in the morning, all his brothers had to say was, "Goblin spell worked after all.'" And no matter what Ellis said, they would not believe otherwise. However, they did let him keep watch the next year. That's when he got Shasam. The name stood for "Silver horse arrives shortly after midnight." The following year, the earth rattled and the barn shuddered and a horse with a golden mane came to the field. It too accepted a treat; it too was overjoyed to have this nice young man break the spell it was under, by grasping its bridle. The golden mare, the silver mare, and the copper mare were sisters, and thrilled to be reunited. They all agreed that they would do anything for Ellis. It happened one day that King Humphrey lll noticed that his daughter, Marigold, was suddenly grown. He decided to go on a quest to find her a husband, and laid great plans for the journey. But he angered an imp one day, and was hexed by it. "No quest for five years!" So he changed plans, and decided to host an event and invite knights from far and wide. To give the contest some pizzaz, he ordered the Royal Glassmakers to construct a hill, entirely out of glass. He would have Marigold sit at the top of it, with a basket of golden apples in her lap. Whichever knight reached the top first and grabbed the apples would be "perfect for her and perfect for Biddle." After all, the kingdom was most important. But Marigold felt otherwise. A knight who forced his poor horse to ride up a glass hill, then snatched the golden apples from her "would be cruel and evil. No kind person would make a horse" do that. Worst of all, Marigold would have to marry the guy, whether she liked him or not. When the Royal Trumpeter came around, announcing the contest, Ralph and Burt said, "Good day to watch a glass hill." Ellis said nothing. He went to his secret horse stall, and saddled Chasam up. He had such a struggle getting the copper armor on that the contest was almost over by the time he got there. But he knew he had good chance of winning: he had invented sticky-hood powder, and had tested it out on all kinds of glass. When he came riding up to the contest, people shouted and cheered, but he couldn't hear a word they said. The copper helmet covered his ears. He whispered encouragement to Chasam though, and up they went. They made it about a third of the way up before Marigold, who was something of an inventor herself, used her secret anti-husband device. This was a flask of olive oil, which she now drizzled down the side of the mountain. Chasam and Ellis slid all the way down to the bottom. The crowd, which had been cheering, now groaned, and the King, who had been cheering loudest of all, declared that tomorrow there would be a second contest. Of course Ellis spent the day struggling into his silver armor, and when he rode up on Shasam, the crowd went wild. He had dipped her feet in sticky powder, and now he coaxed her gently up the hill When he was two thirds of the way up, Marigold threw a golden apple at him, and poured down another stream of oil. Of course, the King declared a third day of the contest, and this time, Ellis brought the gold. Not only was he riding Gasam, he had perfected his sticky powder, and now it repelled oil. When Marigold saw this knight pass the halfway mark of her golden hill, she threw an apple at him. He caught it, and kept on climbing. When he was nearly to the top, she threw the last apple, which Gasam caught neatly between her teeth. And when Ellis reached the top, and found it covered in oil, he didn't give it a moment's worry. He was just going to take off his helmet when he noticed that the princess's face was red, and her mouth was open and moving fast. She must be screaming at someone, he thought. He couldn't hear a thing through the helmet. That's when he realized she was screaming at him. If he could have heard her, he would have known that she was yelling, "Stay away from us! I won't marry you!" All he saw was a girl holding a cat and waving her arms. He tried to say, don't worry, I love cats, but through his helmet, Marigold couldn't hear a thing. She told him to take off the helmet, and a long and confusing game of charades ensued. When they had finally sorted things out, and Ellis had given her back her golden apples, and petter her cat, and introduced him to her horse. they discovered that they had become friends. And three days later, a glorious wedding was held. Ellis and his three mares moved into the palace with Marigold and her cat, And they all lived happily ever after. And neither Ellis nor Marigold was ever lonely again.
From The Princess Tales: Cinderellis and the Glass Hill. (2000) by Gail Carson Levine. New York: HarperCollins
Note: This is based on the fairy tale collected by Andrew Lang, The Princess and the Glass Hill. (See Cinderella #150). The book is 104 pages long, and a perfect, easy read for kids ages 7+. It is fun to have a boy hero, and good to get such a spunky princess! See:12 Books in 1: Andrew Lang's Complete "Fairy Book" Series. The Blue, Red, Green, Yellow, Pink, Grey, Violet, Crimson, Brown, Orange, Olive, and Lilac ... and Fairy Stories From Around The World.