“Once upon a time,” Stephanie’s great-grandfather began to read as her mind began to wander. “There lived a beautiful princess, named, Penelope.”
Deep within her thoughts, Stephanie pictured herself as the beautiful Princess Penelope in the mythical realm of Kaspirian. Her father, King Walter, ruled the kingdom with a kind heart. She was ever so proud to be his daughter.
King Walter promised the young princess that she would one day take his place on the throne, so it was especially important that she always treat others with kindness if she wanted to earn their trust.
Penelope would occasionally sneak out of the castle dressed in the clothes of a commoner, and she would wander the streets of the village, trying to blend in and see how they lived.
Every new person she met, Penelope would say hello to. She was always a happy girl, though it saddened her when she saw families living on the street in poverty. Penelope would find out their names, and when she returned to the castle, she would make arrangements for those families to suddenly receive food or money to help them get back on their feet.
None of these people were told where these charitable gifts had come from, only that it was donated by someone who cared. The Kaspirian people spent much of their days preparing their goods for market. They did not have a lot, but they were happy with what they had. Material possessions were unimportant to most of the villagers.
There was one, however, who had always felt the desire to possess more, not for himself, but for his son. His name was Lonnie Flatbottom, a local fisherman. Lonnie’s son, Ronnie, was being molded into being a fisherman like his father, though in his heart, Ronnie wanted to explore the world.
Lonnie suspected his son’s desires at an early age when he would sit for hours and listen to the stories of any travelers who would pass through town. Being a fisherman was not very prosperous at the best of times, so Lonnie began to seek other opportunities that would assist him in making his son’s dreams come true.
One day, while Princess Penelope was secretly wandering through the village, she came across Lonnie and Ronnie trying to peddle some fish. Penelope and Ronnie were close to the same age and found an attraction to one another at first glance.
Penelope handed Lonnie a few coins and was handed two fish. As she walked away, she looked back over her shoulder and caught Ronnie’s gaze. His face began to redden as she gave him a smile before turning away.
Knowing that she could not explain the fish when she returned to the castle, Penelope handed them to a homeless family she met along the way.
The following week when the market reopened, Penelope again snuck out of the castle and made her way into the village. She by-passed her regular stops on this day and headed directly toward the fish peddler and his son.
This time, however, she introduced herself to Lonnie as, “Penny.” Lonnie then introduced himself and his son, Ronnie. When “Penny” reached out her hand to shake Ronnie’s, he froze until his father nudged him.
Lonnie, seeing the budding attraction between the two teens, suggested that Ronnie keep Penny company while she does her shopping. Ronnie shyly asked Penny if she would mind the company. She gladly accepted with another smile that started Ronnie’s heart racing. He had never seen such a beautiful girl before.
They strolled down the dirt-covered roads in search of nothing in particular. They were just enjoying one-another’s company. Penny removed a book of poetry from her satchel that her father had given her. It was by a poet named John Milton, titled, “Paradise Lost,” a story about Adam and Eve, and the temptations they had the power to resist, but chose not to.
Penny offered to let Ronnie read it, but with a disheartened look, he refused. He was ashamed to admit to Penny that he could not read. Penny was disappointed that he did not accept her offer but chose to give him an alternative. She asked if he would allow her to read a little of the poem each time they met, and Ronnie was happy to accept.
They found a quiet corner on the edge of town and sat upon the back of a hay wagon. Penny opened the book and began to read. It began with the story of the poet, so Penny skipped over to the poem itself to save time.
“Descend from Heaven, Urainia, by that name if thou art called, whose voice divine…”
The next time she returned, she would continue where they left off.
Before long, Ronnie found himself deep within the poem. He had pictured himself as Adam, and Penny as Eve. Surrounded by beauty in the Garden of Eden, the two playfully romping through the trees and bushes, unashamed of their naked bodies, and unaware of the desires that stirred just below the surface.
Around them, Adam, and Eve (Ronnie and Penny), could see the universe evolving and were in awe of God’s creations. They were told to eat freely the fruit of any tree, except from the Tree of Life. That fruit was forbidden.
Fooled by the forked tongue of a serpent, Eve ate from the Tree of Life, and from that point on, felt shame. Sin had engulfed her, and soon consumed that of Adam.
Ronnie suddenly lusted for Penny. He tried to force his lips upon hers, and although she wanted to resist, she could no longer. They kissed passionately until a firm hand separated the two.
When she looked up, her father’s guards stood above her and Ronnie, shadowing the midday sun. The head guard spoke, saying, “Your father requests your presence, Princess.”
Ronnie looked at her in amazement, re-stating, “Princess?”
Before she could respond, the guardsmen hurried her away. As they did, her book fell to the ground at Ronnie’s feet. He picked it up and held it to his chest, once again saying, “Princess.”
It had been days since Penny was whisked away to the castle. Ronnie had yet to tell his father of Penny’s true identity, regardless of Lonnie’s constant questions of the girl who stole his son’s heart.
Meanwhile, back at the castle, Princess Penelope gazed out a window that overlooked the village. She wondered if Ronnie was thinking about her. Their brief time together seemed more meaningful than her entire life within the castle. She desired to be with Ronnie and would stop at nothing to see him again.
Later that afternoon, a hooded peddler arrived at the gates of the castle. He stated that he had a gift for the king. The boy lifted the cover on his cart to reveal a large number of fresh fish. He insisted that it was a gift that could not wait for very long.
The guardsman told the peddler to wait there and he would see if the king was willing to accept an audience. A few minutes had passed before the guard returned. He opened the gate and told one of the other guards to escort the peddler to the throne room where the king would receive him.
As they entered the throne room, the peddler neared the throne util he was told to stop. With his covered head still faced down toward the floor, the peddler slowly glanced up. Before him sat King Walter dressed in a magnificent purple velvet robe lined with mink fur. A golden crown sat upon his head.
This was the peddler’s first time being in the presence of his king, but it wasn’t the king who astounded him, for standing at the king’s side, was a young, blonde girl with beautiful features. The peddler’s eyes were focused upon her when her removed his hood. His eyes met with Penelope’s, and he spoke.
“Your majesty, I come to you as a faithful servant with a gift of fish that my father and I spent a full day collecting. You have been a kind and fair king to us for many years, and this gift is but a token of our thanks.”
The king began to speak, though, to his surprise, the peddler interrupted.
“Sire, this is not my only reason for requesting your audience today, for I have more to give and ask only one thing in return.”
“Continue then, fine sir,” King Walter stated.
“Thank you, sire. I have another gift; one that was recently given to me accidentally, and I would like to return it to its rightful owner, your daughter, the princess.”
Ronnie held out his hand with the “Paradise Lost” book outstretched toward Princess Penelope. She began to approach Ronnie, but the king stopped her and motioned for the guardsman to retrieve the book instead.
“As for what you wish for in return for these gifts, what do you desire?” asked King Walter.
“I wish to spend time with your daughter sir,” Ronnie stated boldly.
The king stood from his throne, saying, “You dare come to me and ask to spend time with Princess Penelope, my daughter? Why should I accept such a request?”
Clearing his throat, Ronnie replied, “My king, in the short amount of time I have known the princess, I did not know her as the heiress to the kingdom, but as a girl in the village who treated me like I meant something. She showed me more kindness in a couple of weeks than I had experienced in my lifetime.”
The king pondered the boy’s statement for a moment. He was proud of his daughter for doing as he had taught her, but upset that she had been sneaking out of the castle without an escort. If he refused to allow this happen, he suspected that his daughter would find a way to be with this peddler eventually.
“Young man,” the king began to ask. “What are your intentions with my daughter?”
“King Walter, I assure you, my intentions are honorable. I would be happy if you considered a period each day so that we could meet, in the company of an escort of your choosing, and Penny…Princess Penelope, could continue to read me some of these wonderful books you have provided.”
“Every day may be asking too much, though I would agree to a few times each week. Would that suffice?”
Ronnie and Penelope looked at one another and smiled. Ronnie agreed to the king’s terms and was escorted to one of the castle’s libraries where, under guard, the couple sat down with a story titled, “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare.
It was the story of a murdered king who returns as a ghost convincing his son, Hamlet to avenge his death by murdering the new reigning king, Hamlet’s uncle. During the process, Hamlet is drawn into madness while plotting his uncle’s death.
Ronnie was fascinated by Hamlet’s character. He said that he had an uncle who had betrayed Ronnie’s father, Lonnie and had run off with his mother. It nearly drove his father mad. They hadn’t seen or heard from his mother or his uncle since they were run out of town when Ronnie was still a young boy.
Ronnie spotted an unusual book sitting at an angle on the bookshelf. It seemed to glow. Ronnie removed the book and sat beside Penelope again. As he opened the book, a bright light filled the room, and they were temporarily blinded. Penelope found herself transported into a strange world. Photographs of people she had never seen before hung from the walls. A light on the ceiling shone brightly without the need of a flame.
Hearing voices nearby, Penelope followed them to the source. She walked through a doorway into a room filled with bright colors and a small bed. Upon the bed sat a young girl around four or five-years-old. She looked up at Penelope and shouted out, “Great-Grandma!”
An elderly man sitting on a chair beside the bed turned around and said, “I was wondering when you were going to get here. I was just reading our granddaughter your favorite story. Would you care to join us?”
Penelope gazed into the man’s eyes and saw a familiarity that she could not explain. As she approached the bed, Penelope passed a mirror on the girl’s wall. As she gazed into it, she saw an elderly woman that she did not recognize.
The man, sensing her disbelief, lightly touched her hand and said, “It’s okay, I will explain later.”
They tucked young Stephanie into bed and said goodnight, then the elderly couple walked out to the living room. The room was filled with people Penelope did not recognize. One-by-one, they approached her and introduced themselves.
Penelope was surrounded by people who claimed to be her family, but she was too confused to comprehend. Ronnie took her by the hand and sat her down on the couch. He explained to her that she suffered with Dementia and had trouble remembering things sometimes.
Penelope argued that the last thing she remembered, was sitting in the castle library with Ronnie. They explained to her, that she was remembering a story that she read often as a child about a princess in a castle who falls in love with a commoner.
Feeling extremely confused, Penelope chose to go lay down. Soon after her eyes closed, she was back in Kaspirian with a young Ronnie by her side. A smile formed on her face as Ronnie watched his lifelong love fade away into her fantasies for the last time.