John and the Beanstalks
Jane was playing in the living room with her brother Owen when she saw and heard a big black car come up the driveway. Then the doorbell rang and Jane heard her mother answer it. Then Jane heard her mother say, “Jane, will you come here please?” Jane went to the kitchen and saw a familiar-looking man. Jane's mother said, “Mr. President, this is my daughter Jane. Jane, this is the President of the United States.” Now Jane remembered why the man looked familiar. She'd seen his picture many times on the TV and in the newspaper. The President made a little bow and said, “Do I have the honor of addressing Her Royal Highness, Princess Jane of the Cloudtop Kingdom?” Now Jane was surprised because she never told anyone about her adventure.
“Yes, Mr. President,” replied Jane.
“Your Highness,” said the President, “I come asking for your assistance on a problem of National Security. This morning giant beanstalks started growing all over the country and now no airplanes can fly because as soon as they take off they run into a giant beanstalk! The country's commerce and national defense are paralyzed! I sent a Marine to climb one of the beanstalks and he reported finding a giant at the top. The giant said that the Marine could go no further and that the only person who could solve the problem is the Kingdom's Princess Jane, currently attending school in Katy, Texas.”
The President continued, “Your Royal Highness, the country is defenseless against this attack. Is there anything you can do?”
Jane looked at her mother and almost giggled. Jane's mother was so surprised that her mouth was open. Jane said, “Mother, may I have permission to go investigate? I promise it won't take very long.” During her first adventure Jane learned that time spent on Cloudtop doesn't count on the Ground Below. Jane's mother looked at Jane and said, “Oh very well, but be careful!”
“Yes, mother,” replied Jane.
Jane then went to the back yard, looked up, and said loudly, “Mr. Giant!” A giant beanstalk appeared from a cloud and thudded into the ground.
“I'll be back soon!” Jane said to her mother and the President, and then Jane started to climb the beanstalk.
Like the first time Jane climbed the beanstalk, the higher she got the lighter she felt and the easier it became to climb even higher. Then as she reached the bottom of the cloud it got dark and damp but Jane knew that would stop when she broke through at the top where it was always clear and sunny. But Jane was wrong. Now there was a black cloud above the Cloudtop Kingdom. The Giant was there too.
“Quickly, Your Highness,” said the Giant. “The Kingdom is under attack. You must go to the City immediately. I will carry you.”
The Giant lowered his hand to the ground and Princess Jane stepped upon it. The Giant lifted Princess Jane to his shoulder and said, “Stand here.” The Giant started walking to the City much faster than Princess Jane could run. Soon they were at the City's gate which was closed. The Giant announced, “I bear Her Royal Highness, Princess Jane.” and the gate opened. The Giant was too big to fit through the gate so he lowered Princess Jane to the ground and said, “I'm glad you're here, your Highness.”
Princess Jane hadn't gone to the City in her first adventure. The gate lead to a courtyard with a statue of Princess Jane in the center. Princess Jane recognized the Regency Council and the Dragon who all bowed down. They were accompanied by a boy who was dressed up in some kind of uniform. The boy came forward, bowed, and said, “Your Highness, I am Jack. Do you remember me?”
“Of course, “said Princess Jane, who actually hadn't recognized Jack cleaned up with his hair cut and well dressed. Jack said, “Per your instructions I am attending school. I'm learning to read, write, and do arithmetic. I am a junior member of the City Guards and I'm learning to fight. I have this job as a page to the Regency Council and by your leave I will escort you to the Situation Room where we will meet with the commanders of the City Guard and the Regent for War.”
“Very well,” replied Princess Jane.
Jack led Princess Jane to the castle and into a room on the second floor with a big table in the middle and some men standing around it. “Her Royal Highness Princess Jane,” announced Jack as they entered. All the men bowed low.
“Your Highness, may I present the Captain of the City Guard and his Lieutenants,” said Jack. Three men bowed again.
“And the Regent for War.” The fourth man bowed. The was a whooshing noise outside and the Dragon's head appeared in a window.
“I believe you've already met the Dragon,” said Jack.
Jack led Princess Jane to a large comfortable armchair and she sat down. The Regent for War cleared his throat and spoke. “Your Highness, yesterday a walking skeleton came up to the City gate, gave the guards this note, and walked away. Shortly after that a black cloud appeared and grew to cover all of Cloudtop.”
Princess Jane replied, “May I see the note please?” The Regent for War handed it to her. She read:
I have taken action to see that Princess Jane returns to Cloudtop. I demand that she be delivered to me so that she and I can be married and I become King of the Cloudtop Kingdom. Failure to deliver the Princess will result in war, in preparation of which I have created the black cloud. Obey me and Cloudtop will remain peaceful. Disobey and chaos will reign and I will get want I want anyway.
John, Lord Sorcerer of Cloudtop.
“Who is this 'John'?” asked Princess Jane. Jack came to attention. “John is my twin brother,” said Jack. “He was very angry at me when I came to live in the City and he swore he would get back at me. I don't know about him being a sorcerer however.”
“Where is John now?” asked Princess Jane.
The Captain of the City Guard gestured to the table on which was a map. “This is a map of Cloudtop. The City is here. Your beanstalk is here. The gate guards say that the walking skeleton came from and returned to the south. The Dragon flew in that direction and reports a gathering of entities on a small hill next to this field here. We believe this is John's location.”
“What resources does the City have?” asked Princess Jane.
The Regent for War replied, “The Guard consists of 100 trained men and 20 additional junior members like Jack here. The auxiliary consists of 400 farmers and citymen who practice with the Guard a few times a year. The Kingdom employs the Giant who is a trained warrior and enjoys the services of the Dragon. We also have on our side Princess Jane, the most formidable warrior of all.”
Everyone in the room bowed to Princess Jane again.
“What resources does John have?” asked Princess Jane.
The Captain replied, “We don't now Your Highness. John claims responsibility for the black cloud but we don't know its purpose. John apparently has a walking skeleton as a servant. We don't know if he has more. The Dragon reports a small gathering on the hill.”
“What can we conclude of John's claim to sorcerer's powers?” asked Princess Jane.
Jack stood to attention again. “I've heard it takes much time, dedication, and study to learn magic,” Jack said. “John never had much patience at all. If his anger brought him some determination, it hasn’t been all that long. He may have learned some simple spells but I think his claim to the title of “Lord Sorcerer” is just a boast. It's very John-like.”
The Regent for War added, “Giants and dragons are largely immune to magic, being partially magic creatures themselves. I doubt that a young sorcerer like John could do anything to hurt them.”
“Gentlemen and Dragon,” said Princess Jane, “I can see four courses of action. First is to do nothing and see if this John boy is bluffing. I do not like this option. It seems to me that the Kingdom is strong and that we have the power and will to act. Second is to seek a meeting under truce and learn more of John's intentions. I do not like the option either for the same reason. Third is to send the Giant and the Dragon to fetch John. Fourth is an all out attack with the Giant, Dragon, and half the guard and auxiliaries leaving the other half in reserve. I would value your opinions.”
The Dragon spoke, “My Liege, send me! I will snatch up this boy John as I once snatched up my Liege. I bring him here for your justice!”
Jack spoke, “I do not know what my brother intends, but I know he's not the type to bluff. He wouldn’t do this unless he had some sort of power and thought he could succeed.”
The Captain of the Guard spoke, “Our superiority in numbers is overwhelming. With the Giant and the Dragon to deal with whatever magic John commands, a victory is assured.”
The Regent for War spoke, “I believe that either the Giant or the Dragon alone are capable of dealing with John, but there is also the reputation of the Kingdom to consider. John has demanded that we give him our Princess. This is an intolerable request. Honor demands that we not only defeat John, but we defeat him so decisively that no one will ever even consider making a similar demand.”
Princess Jane said, “Dragon, I believe that you alone are more than equal to this John who claims such power, but I also agree with the Regent for War. The reputation of the Kingdom is at stake. Therefore my judgment is this: I, the Dragon, the Giant, and half the Guards and Auxiliaries will march out to fight John. The other half will be held in reserve, should they be necessary. Captain, how soon can we get started?”
The Captain of the Guard replied, “Your Highness, the Guards are now at our highest state of readiness. We have plans for forward and reserve ratios of any proportion. The members of the Auxiliary are only slightly less organized. Once your order is proclaimed we can attack within two hours.”
Princess Jane replied, “Make it so.”
Princess Jane was lead by Jack to the armory to be garbed for battle. Princess Jane was amused at the swords, shields, knives, and armor she was offered.
She said, “I want fine leather gloves, thick cotton shorts, and a loose short sleeve shirt. If you have tie-on pads for my shoulders, elbows, and knees then I will try them.”
“But Your Highness,” said the armorer, “You will go into battle in little more than your underwear?”
Princess Jane replied, “My mother's training is of speed, accuracy, and power; not blades, strength, and armor.” Princess Jane looked directly at the armorer. “It sufficed for my first visit here.”
“Your Highness!” replied the armorer, “I beg your forgiveness. How will Her Highness be shod?”
Princess Jane was already thinking about this When she practiced Karate she went barefoot but it didn't seem like a good idea to fight a battle that way.
“Bring me two pieces of supple leather, a leather punch, and some leather string. I will create my own footwear.”
Princess Jane was tying on her new homemade boots – both tight and flexible, when Jack came up to her.
“Your Highness!” exclaimed Jack, “The Commander of the Guard wishes to place me in the reserve! I don't think the reserves will be called up! I want to fight!”
An adult member of the Guard followed Jack. “Your Highness, it is the opinion of the Commander of the Guard that Jack here is both too young and too promising to risk in a battle, the outcome of which seems assured. Part of the Guards' training is the discipline of obedience to one's superiors. Jack should follow his orders.”
Princess Jane thought about this for a moment and said, “If Jack were any other boy then the Captain of the Guard would be correct. But Jack is John's twin brother. In this particular case I am going to overrule the Captain. Jack may be able to provide valuable advice concerning his brother on the field. Please see that he is outfitted.”
“Thank you, Your Highness!” exclaimed Jack.
In two hours Princess Jane was riding a white horse at the head of an army. The Giant was at the rear and the Dragon was flying in circles overhead. The army entered the field in front of John's hill. “My Liege” “Your Highness” said the Dragon and the Giant simultaneously, “John's forces are greater than reported.”
Because they are so big, the eyes of dragons and giants can see farther and stronger than those of human beings, like telescopes. But Princess Jane could also see that the hill was now covered with something, Princess Jane couldn't quite figure out what.
Finally Princess Jane's army was arranged before John's hill. It was covered with walking skeletons which were milling around aimlessly although none of them left the hill.
Princess Jane gestured and a Herald came to the front. The Herald said loudly (Being able to speak loudly is the first qualification of being a Herald.) “Her Royal Highness Princess Jane of Cloudtop acknowledges the communication of John who styles himself Lord Sorcerer. Her Royal Highness Princess Jane rejects John's demands and return demands that John surrender himself to Her Royal Highness or suffer defeat at Her Royal Highness's army and capture.”
There was a pause and then Princess Jane could hear laughter in the distance. It reminded Princess Jane of Jack's laughter when he was close to waking up her family, but nastier. Then the walking skeletons moved aside to reveal a boy at the top of the hill. The boy said, “Surrender? To you? Do you think your little army and your giant and your dragon are a match for me? I reject your offer and counter with an offer of my own. Surrender to me and the people of Cloudtop will be safe under my rule. Reject my offer and suffer the damages of a war that I will win anyway! Ha ha ha ha ha!”
To Princess Jane this was just like dealing with a bully on the school playground. The secret was not to seem afraid (which was easy because Princess Jane wasn't afraid). Princess Jane got off her horse, turned it around, and slapped it on the bottom to make it run to the back of her lines. Princess Jane then stood as tall as she could and said to John, “Surrender or be taken prisoner!” John said, “Likewise!” Then John raised his hands above his head and yelled, “Noix! Stratquos! Devolveurous!”
The black cloud that covered the Cloudtop kingdom's sky lowered until it was only a few feet above Princess Jane's head.
“Ha ha ha ha ha!” said John. “What use is a dragon or a giant if they can't see anything?”
The Giant said from behind, “Your Highness, everything is black and I cannot move lest I step on members of your guard.”
The Dragon said from above, “My Liege, I'm blind up here in the low cloud. I will try to land away from your army and then I will creep up and blast this John with fire!”
All Princess Jane could see was the bottom of the hill and the legs and feet of some walking skeletons. Then lots of walking skeletons appeared as they advanced down the hill.
“Attack!” yelled Princess Jane and she and her army surged forward.
Now walking skeletons aren't the fiercest of adversaries. They don't have any brains so they can't think. They don't have any eyes so they can't see. They don't have any muscles so they aren't very strong. And they're all dry bone so they're brittle and easy to break. Princess Jane looked around and saw her guards smashing walking skeletons with their swords and the Auxiliary smashing walking skeletons with axes, scythes, machetes, or whatever they were accustomed to using. No one was smashing as many walking skeletons as Princess Jane however because of her skills at unarmed combat. Walking skeletons dropped by the hundreds as she punched, swirled, and kicked.
But Princess Jane was also noticing things. First she noticed that despite herself and her army smashing thousands of walking skeletons, the army still seemed to be surrounded by them. Then she noticed that people were being hurt. Despite their disadvantages walking skeletons can still scratch and bite. Princess Jane began to move towards John's hill and saw him grabbing what looked like corn kernels from a big basket. He threw the kernels to the ground and said something that Princess Jane couldn't hear. Out of the ground sprouted a bunch more walking skeletons who started to fight.
Princess Jane realized that John had an inexhaustible supply of solders and that her army, as strong and as determined as it may be, could only be defeated in this battle. There was only one decision to make.
“Retreat!” cried Princess Jane. “This is an order! Retreat to the City! Dragon! Giant! We are retreating to the City! Make your own way back!”
No one in the army liked this order but Princess Jane knew she was right. “Retreat!” she cried again. “We cannot win this battle! Retreat!”
Eventually, too slow for Princess Jane, the army staged an orderly retreat. The walking skeletons didn't follow them. “Ha ha ha ha ha!” said John. “You have my leave to consider your position. You've learned I can defeat you. You have only one option. Surrender to me the Princess!”
black cloud lifted, but didn't disappear, as the army returned to the
City. At the gate Princess Jane said, “Jack! Where is Jack?” A
voice right behind her said, “Right here Your Highness.” Jack was
tired and scratched but undaunted. He grinned at Princess Jane.
“I need to meet with the Captain of the Guard, the Regent for War, and the Royal Treasurer at once in Situation Room,” said Princess Jane. “Your attendance is also required. Please see to it.”
“At once Your Highness!” replied Jack.
Princess Jane then asked a nearby solder to escort her to the City hospital where (Princess Jane presumed) injured solders were being taken. Fortunately the injuries were minor. There were lots of scratches, a few broken bones, and a walking skeleton poked a skeleton finger right into one solder's eye.
Princess Jane knew that the damage to her army was nothing compared to a real battle, but however slight the hurt, she was responsible for it. Princess Jane owed her army an explanation and encouragement.
“Warriors!” Princess Jane announced to the injured solders. “We have all learned something today! John's forces are all in numbers! Other things like tactics, strategy, or even common sense don't exist! By this battle, your battle, we've learned John's measure!”
The solders started cheering.
“I now know what to do,” said Princess Jane. “The walking skeletons will be easily defeated when their leader is captured. You have time to rest and heal. I will call upon you, my faithful solders, again when victory is assured!”
The injured solders were now cheering so loud that Princess Jane had to motion them to quiet down, lest they hurt themselves further.
Jack was waiting for Princess Jane at the entrance to the hospital. “Your Highness,” said Jack. “The meeting you ordered is awaiting your presence.”
Jack led Princess Jane to the Situation Room.
“Your Highness, this is the Royal Treasurer,” said Jack, introducing Princess Jane to the only person she hadn't seen before.
“Gentlemen,” said Princess Jane. “It is now clear that the might of the Cloudtop Kingdom cannot defeat John based on numbers alone. With the black cloud John can neutralize the Dragon and the Giant at will. Therefore our only option is a one-on-one fight between John and myself.”
“Your Highness!” said all the men in the room.
“Do not worry,” said Princess Jane. “I have a plan. Royal Treasurer, you are now going to give Jack and me a tour of the treasury. I hope to find something there.”
Some time later Princess Jane, Jack, and the Herald, rode out alone towards John's hill. The Herald announced, “Princess Jane seeks parley with John who styles himself Lord Sorcerer.”
The crowd of walking skeletons moved aside to reveal John. He seemed excited.
“Just my silly brother and a flunky? This can only mean one thing! You're here to surrender! Wise choice! But really your only choice. Come here Jane and I will cast spell on you to make you love me forever! You will never regret anything!”
“I do not come here to surrender,” said Princess Jane. “I come here to challenge you to single combat. My two companions are proof of my sincerity. Your army can defeat mine, but can you defeat me? I don't think so!”
“You don't think so?” replied John. “You were wrong when your army attacked mine and you're wrong now! Defeating you alone will be even easier!”
“Then do we have an agreement?” asked Princess Jane. “My forces (this being only Jack and the Herald) will withdraw, your forces (this being hundreds of walking skeletons) will likewise withdraw, and we will finish this ourselves?”
“Yes!” said John.
“Very well,” said Princess Jane.
Princess Jane directed the Herald and Jack to set up a folding camp table and two chairs at the base of the hill. She then ordered them to go back to the edge of the field. John said something in a language that Princess Jane didn't understand and the walking skeletons all moved to the top of the hill. Princess Jane and John were now alone.
“What do you have in mind? A deadly game of cards?” asked John.
“John the Sorcerer,” said Princess Jane. “I challenge you to a battle of wits.” Princess Jane took something out of a bag. “This is a soothstone from my Royal Treasury. It glows blue when someone tells the truth and red when someone says a lie. You're welcome to test it.”
John looked at the soothstone with a greedy expression on his face. Soothstones are very rare and valuable. He said, “After I have defeated you I intend that my first Royal proclamation will be to announce our marriage!” The soothstone glowed blue.
John continued, “When I am King I intend to treat my brother Jack very well.” The soothstone glowed red.
“It's working perfectly!” said John.
“Very well,” said Princess Jane. “Sit down and listen.” Princess Jane took two apples from her bag. “I put a sleeping potion in one of these apples.” Princess Jane placed one apple in front of John and one in front of herself. “And the battle of wits begins. Which apple did I give you? I know and you must choose. When you have chosen we will then each take a bite of our apple. The loser will fall asleep.”
The soothstone glowed blue as Princess Jane announced her challenge.
“Easy!” said John. “Only a fool would give me the sleeping apple. You are not a fool so you must have given the sleeping apple to yourself!”
“But I am also not a fool! You must know this! Therefore you would give me the sleeping apple thinking I wouldn't switch them!”
“But you would have thought of that too! So I will take the apple in front of me, and you will take yours. But before we take our bites let me tell you a few things.”
“Jack was a lot of fun before he met you, moved to the City, and became all goody-two-shoes. I decided I would get revenge on you for taking him away from me. I went to the Witch and studied magic and I'm good at it! I cast a spell on a bushel of beans, turned them into magic beans, and then scattered them over the edge of Cloudtop. I knew that that would bring you here! Then I cast a spell on a bushel of corn to make seeds for my army of walking skeletons, an inexhaustible force that I knew you couldn't defeat!”
“And let me tell you something else, Princess. While you were explaining your silly challenge I cast a spell on the apple you placed in front of me, the apple I'm holding now, and I know it's full of sleeping potion! If you thought for a moment that you had fooled me then think again! We will now exchange apples and take our bites!”
John grabbed the apple Princess Jane was holding and thrust his into her hands. Princess Jane looked scared. She said, “John, when we are married, will you be kind?”
“Of course!” said John.
The soothstone glowed red.
Princess Jane took a bite out of her apple.
“Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!” cried John! “I win! And I thank you for the snack!”
John took a bite out of his apple.
“Aaaaah!” cried John as the sleeping potion started to take effect. “You told me that you put sleeping potion in only one apple! The soothstone stayed blue!”
Princess Jane was just about to fall asleep but managed to say, “Jack put the sleeping potion in the other apple. When I wake up I'll be in a bed in the castle. When you wake up you'll be in an iron cage that will neutralize your magic powers, and from which you'll never leave!”
Her plan complete, Princess Jane fell asleep.
Princess Jane awoke in a big bed in the Royal Apartments of the castle. A maid showed her to the bathroom where a big hot bath had already been drawn. Princess Jane's Ground Below clothes had been cleaned and dried while she was asleep. She put them on.
Princess Jane's first order of business was to make sure that the valuable soothstone was returned to the Royal Treasury. Then she supervised the Giant as he tore up all the giant beanstalks that John had planted. The pile of giant beanstalks was very big. When they dried out they would be cut up and burned, cooking the food and heating the homes of Cloudtop for many years.
Princess Jane didn't visit John in his iron cage. She ordered the cage welded shut and never to be opened. She also made a mental note to find out what she could about the Witch that trained John, and what could be done about her.
Finally Princess Jane rode the Dragon to her giant beanstalk. The Giant was there, and the Regency Council, and Jack, and quite a few other people. They all yelled “Hip! Hip! Hurray!” as Princess Jane and the Dragon landed.
The Regency Council formally thanked Princess Jane for saving the Cloudtop Kingdom from John. There wasn't anything more they could do to honor her because Princess Jane already had a statue in the City courtyard.
Princess Jane started climbing down the giant beanstalk. Back on the Ground Below Jane hugged hugged the giant beanstalk, tugged down, and let go. The Giant then pulled the giant beanstalk back up to Cloudtop.
No time had passed on the Ground Below while Jane was on Cloudtop. To Jane's mother and the President it seemed like that Jane had started climbing up, got into the cloud, changed her mind, and came back down again.
“What's wrong Jane?” asked Jane's mother.
“Nothing mother. I took care of the problem. All the giant beanstalks are gone.” replied Jane.
“That's impossible!” said the President but then a man came over and whispered something into the President's ear.
“I owe your Royal Highness an apology,” said the President to Jane. “I have just been informed that all the giant beanstalks are now gone.”
“Thank you, your Royal Highness, the United States owes you a debt of gratitude.” the President continued.
The President and the other men then got back in the big black car and drove off.
“Jane,” said Jane's mother. “Before we were married your father told me he was heir to some kind of magical Kingdom that he could never find. It was a very old family legend. We were going to tell you about it when you were older but it seems like you've already discovered it. Will you please tell me how?”
“Well,” replied Jane, “Once upon a time...”
(Continued at Chapter 1.)