Last Sunday we met Jeremy the donkey who had to flee the herd of cows because of an angry bull and found sanctuary in the magic garden.
Spring: Chapter Eight – The Royal Banquet
The court was buzzing, and not just because the bees in the hives above the palace were working overtime. The amber nectar, so revered by the fairies, was now stored in vats with tiny taps made from hollow reeds, and corked with willow bark. Honey was being placed in empty walnut shells; sealed with beeswax to keep it fresh. They would be opened on the night of the banquet and the sweet contents poured over the ground-almond pancakes served with baby strawberries.
The Storyteller had donated an excellent wine; imported from his French vineyards, and it had been resting down in the cellar of his cottage for many years. It did not take much amber nectar or wine to make a fairy tiddly, and one magnum of the rich red wine would suffice for the evening. There was also the juice made from a mixture of last year’s blackberries and fallen apples, as well as clear spring water from the well that did double duty as a ‘Make a Wish’ terminal.
Queen Filigree, her social secretary Sir Justin and the royal chef Marcelle had pored over the fresh ingredients available in their new home, creating a menu for a banquet fit for a King and Queen. The Storyteller had also suggested that Summer, whose children had rescued the royal pigeons the previous winter, should be brought in to make the desserts. Part fairy, she not only was a superb baker, but also knew the magic ingredients that increased the delight of those sampling her dishes.
Her chocolate brownies, renowned throughout the county for their medicinal properties, were served with whipped caramelised cream. They had been known to send those consuming them into ecstatic trances and artistic dances. Since dancing plays an enormous part in any fairy feast, her skills would indeed be treasured.
On the day of the banquet wild mushrooms were gathered and cleaned of their grit, ready to be fried in butter with some fresh garlic and cream from the farm on the far edge of the forest. They would be served on little fried squares of bread made by Summer from spelt flour and walnuts. Baby beetroots had been roasted and peeled, served with horseradish sauce and pomegranate seeds.
The main course was poached quail’s eggs and stuffed courgette flowers, filled with minced nuts, mushrooms and goats cheese and fried in crispy batter. This was served with chips and Chef Marcelle’s renowned curry sauce, a favourite after a night of drinking amber nectar.
As well as the delicious brownies made by Summer, there would be a selection of desserts made by this talented master chef, who it must be noted had three Wizard Stars for his cuisine. The elderberry jelly, with shortcake and frozen sheep’s yoghurt, had won awards across the fairy world. There were also some almond sweetmeats to accompany the coffee made from chicory plants in the garden.
For those who did not have a sweet tooth (not likely, but some of the courtiers from the visiting kingdom might be so inclined) there was a special treat.
Esme the goat had provided her rich creamy milk to make delicious tangy cheese, served with mini-pats of butter made from the Michael’s prize winning herd, and some Irish Soda bread rolls courtesy of Summer.
Finally the morning of the arrival of King Patrick, Queen Seren and their son Prince Ronan dawned, and the court was up and about early. In the royal chamber, Filigree bathed in scented warm water and contemplated her new ball gown that was hung on the front of her wardrobe. Made from finely woven silk that had been dyed to a beautiful turquoise, it had a fitted bodice ruched and trimmed with lace and a full skirt with hundreds of minute pleats that showed of her slender hips. Beneath the dress rested a pair of matching shoes with gold roses attached to the fronts and a little heel that would not impede her dancing the night away.
Satisfied that all had been made ready, with the guest chambers being finished with bowls of berries and chilled bottles of the amber nectar, she closed her eyes and imagined her impact on that irritating man Prince Ronan when he saw her in all her finery.
This scene was mirrored throughout the court as Narcissus and Persephone attended to their wardrobe for the evening’s banquet… They were delighted by the rose pink and emerald dresses designed by Dapperman and his team, but were slightly miffed that they would pale in significance when they stood side by side by their mother. However, they were young and loved the queen, and they knew that where there was one Prince Ronan, there was probably another, and their future looked very rosy indeed.
The Queen’s guard, consisting of twenty highly trained and athletic young fairies, were sent off in full ceremonial uniform to await the advance troops of the visiting royal party at the invisible gate at the far end of the magic garden. For strangers passing by from the human realm, it would appear as though a thick overgrown bramble hedge surrounded a broken down cottage. Little did they know that with a few incantations, a gap would appear in the greenery comprising a golden gate strewn with garlands of daisies.
Beneath the gates a path would appear that led directly to the magnolia tree by the Storyteller’s cottage, and on this auspicious occasion, it was strewn with red and pink rose petals. The Queen’s guard stood to attention as they heard the sound of calls and shouts on the wind as the advance party alerted them to their imminent arrival. With a flash of sunlight the royal party materialised at the entry to the gate and the two senior officers advanced towards each other.
With a nod to the Colonel in charge of the Queen’s guard, the visiting troops led the way through the golden gate followed by two ornate gilded carriages and several travelling coaches, packed with courtiers and belongings. As the heavy horse-drawn vehicles crossed the rose petals, a heady scent rose into the air and a rosy aura enveloped the length of the parade. As the soldiers reached the end of the path, they split to form a guard of honour, and footmen moved forward to open the doors of the lead carriages. At the end of a red carpet, Queen Filigree and her daughters waited in a fusion of turquoise, rose and emerald, waiting to greet their esteemed visitors.
The first to alight from the lead carriage was Prince Ronan who was looking very dashing in a black velvet jacket and red and green tartan trousers. He stood tall and handsome and with a smile and bow to Queen Filigree, he turned and helped his mother Queen Seren as she stepped down onto the carpet. King Patrick joined his wife and son and together they advanced to stand before their hostess. After much bowing and kissing of hands, the royal party entered the palace and adjourned to the throne room to partake of some amber nectar and honey cakes.
Courtiers gathered in groups and exchanged information and palace gossip until, with a clap of her hands, Queen Filigree bade her chamberlain escort their guests to their luxurious apartments. As they were ushered away to bathe and change for the banquet, Prince Ronan turned and headed back towards the queen and her daughters. It was clear that the two younger women were both hoping that he would approach them personally, but it was quite evident that he only had eyes for one of the regal beauties.
Disappointed, the two princesses moved away to complete their preparations for the evening’s entertainment, casting glances at the courtiers and military attaches that were still enjoying their refreshments. There was no doubt that those who served in the court of King Patrick and his queen, were all very handsome, and they looked at each other in delight at the possible opportunities that this might offer them.
Their mother was oblivious to their machinations, and was instead attempting to keep her regal dignity, whilst standing so close to this tall and spectacular looking young prince.
‘Your majesty’, a fragrance of warm sandalwood almost made her swoon. ‘I wondered if I might be so bold as to request the first dance with you tonight and the last.’
It was as if she was mesmerised by the deep and velvet voice in her ear. Before she could call upon her indignation as his effrontery, she found herself nodding her head and whispering back. ‘I would be very honoured Prince Ronan’. With a wink, the object of her fascination turned away and walked towards the door. Feeling very faint and much to the concern of her ladies in waiting, Queen Filigree sat on her throne with a thump and called for a glass of warm mead.
Two hours later, the great hall came alive, as hundreds gathered for the banquet prepared by Chef Marcelle and Summer in the kitchens, deep in the roots of the magnolia palace. Queen Filigree sat between King Patrick and Queen Seren, discovering long lost family connections and catching up on gossip from the fairy kingdoms. She was amazed to discover that Prince Ronan knew her son Prince Zachary, and had foraged quail eggs together.
Without trying to look too conspicuous, she peaked around King Patrick to where her daughters sat either side of the man in question. No wonder he seemed to know so much about her when they had first met, and she wondered how much Zachary had told him of her previous marriages and her current loveless situation. She blushed to think that he had been party to some of her most personal secrets, but at the same time, found herself imagining what it would be like to be swept up into his arms for the first dance after the banquet.
The feast went on for two hours, and as the amber nectar and wine was consumed, the noise level in the chamber rose to a crescendo of glass shattering proportions. A little bit lightheaded, from a touch too much of the Storyteller’s red wine, Queen Filigree rose and tapped her glass for attention from the revellers. Slowly the voices quietened and the two courts gave the queen their undivided attention.
‘It gives me great pleasure to welcome King Patrick, Queen Seren and Prince Ronan to our court.’ She paused and ignored the desire to turn and look at her handsome guest just three seats away.
‘It is with great pleasure that I invite you to retire to the anteroom for rosehip tea and almond pastries whilst the banquet tables are moved to allow for the dancing to commence.’
This was greeted by a roar of approval and much pounding on the tables before the guests rose and made their way through the large ornate doors. The royal party descended from their dais and followed the courtiers, with Prince Ronan taking the hand of Queen Filigree and escorting her across the floor. A glance and smile between King Patrick and his queen showed their approval of this development, and they graciously drew the two princesses to their side, to walk with them in warm companionship.
The Storyteller had insisted that his own musicians, the O’Reilly brothers would provide the music for the dancing, and the queen was considerably heartened to see that they had been attired by the Dapperman for the occasion. They were clearly fortified by some amber nectar, and exuded a rosy glow which she hoped would not impinge upon their ability to play. She noticed that they were also joined by two fairies from her court who were delightful fiddle players, and somewhat reassured, she signalled to the Storyteller that they might begin to play.
It was protocol that she should begin the dancing with a senior member of the court but as her chamberlain stepped forward with a bow and an outstretched hand, she motioned him away. The light from the candles was suddenly diminished as the tall form of Prince Ronan approached down the centre of the dance floor. The Queen could barely contain the trembling of her knees as he bowed low to the floor with one leg elegantly stretched out before him. His hand rose to gently enfold hers and with a deep sigh she surrendered.
The queen and prince did not leave the floor until daybreak, enjoying the first and last dance and every one in between. As the first rays of the sun filtered into the palace they bade each other goodnight and retired to their chambers in the knowledge that their story had only just begun.
©Sally Cronin 2018
I hope you have enjoyed and will join me tomorrow for more adventures in the magic garden.
My latest short story collection is Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet.
One of the recent reviews for the collection
Cleverly penned from the title on the front cover to the final word on the last page with a unique voice, addressing life’s dilemmas and challenges, Sally weaves heart-warming storytelling about ordinary people in real life situations that in some cases can be life changing.
For some of us on-line shopping is straightforward, others find it frustrating. While in short story, The Weekly Shopping, Sally takes the experience one step further in addressing this and brought a smile to my face as I turned the pages, intrigued.
Kind people with big hearts, courageous and generous, offering a glimmer of hope. Long lost relatives, offering a sense of belonging. A reminder romance is not only for the young and we are never too old to find love. Entwined in these engaging tales are peppering’s of beautiful prose. Highly recommend this book
You can find out about my other books and their most recent reviews: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2021