Early one morning, just before dawn broke over the Palace Beautiful and the islanders began to stir; a green elf came out from the woodland, bringing in his arms a small baby for the king and queen. The elf carefully laid his tiny bundle inside the golden crib that the queen had prepared for the child’s arrival – both she and the giant king were very excited. The new baby had a round face that seemed to smile all the time. His entire body seemed to give off a warm glow, so that it was a real pleasure to stand near him. King Oscar lifted him gently from his crib, marvelling at the magic of it all.
“This baby shall be called Cyril… the Sunshine Boy,” he said, giving a long sigh of contentment and pride, raising his eyes to meet Queen Constance’s beautiful dark brown ones. He smiled, holding out his hand towards her. “Now I truly do have everything I want. Nothing can alter this perfection; I am quite sure of it.”
Queen Constance simply smiled sadly. Without taking any notice, the king glanced all around Prince Cyril’s bedroom.
“This room is much too small for our prince… a new Tower shall be built; the Nursery Tower… it should be filled with bright colours and toys; a rocking horse, naturally, toy soldiers and a castle. It can go just over there…” he pointed just out of the window. “And it’ll be surrounded by a moat, so that nobody can disturb or harm my children, for I do not doubt the elves will bring us more. But now…” he went on, laying the baby back inside his crib and gathering his magicians robe around him. He straightened himself as much as the small room would allow him to do. “I must go down to the beach to tell the children their stories. They’re waiting there for me. Now that my life is full, the stories spill from me like water. Indeed I’m overflowing with words.”
The Queen still said nothing as the King left the room, his massive shoulders bending down so that his crown didn’t become dislodged by the doorway.
At once work was begun on the building of the Nursery Tower, which was to be painted with scarlet and gold. King Oscar supervised all the work himself, giving orders to the artists and designers. Among them, James strutted all around the tower with his peacock tail displayed and paintbrush held aloft while the wooden William busily carved an ornate doorframe for the tower, and then began work on a drawbridge, which would be necessary to cross the moat. Soon the moat itself was dug and filled with water, and gold and scarlet fish as well. King Oscar helped with the painting of the tower, inside and out, when he was not telling stories to the children beside the sea and also writing them down in books. He also spent much time playing games with baby Cyril, making puppets and other toys, and a new crib for the forthcoming arrival of the new baby. During these few years, King Oscar was very happy and content and so was Queen Constance. Sure enough, another green elf came to the queen one night, and handed her another tiny baby, before slinking away back into the forest. The queen took the baby without a word, trying to feel happy – but her heart was heavy. This baby was quite different from the first, he had a thin pointed face, and his skin glowed only dully, like the luminous glow of the moon. When King Oscar saw this baby, he looked at it only briefly before returning it to its crib.
“Well… this baby shall be called Prince Vyvyan, the Cloud Boy,” said the King, trying to put an arm around the queen’s shoulders. “We should love him equally… even though I feel that things are changing.” He sighed, removing his crown of sunflowers and throwing it down on a chair. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me… I feel so restless, surrounded by all this beauty and privilege. I want something more than all this, Constance… something more.”
The Queen made no reply, only turned away, gazing sadly out of the window at the work going on below. Her fingers clutched at the edge of the window sill as the artists moved busily around the nursery tower, shouting instructions to one another. Their activity seemed to encourage Queen Constance. She took King Oscar’s hand gently in her own and squeezed it.
“It looks like the nursery tower should be ready soon for our babies… shall we take them over to their new room now? You should stop thinking these thoughts – the princes both need your magic stories, and the other children do as well.” She brushed his face lightly with her finger tips. “So… please, Oscar, think of the Children.”
Oscar readjusted his magician’s robes so they hung properly from his massive shoulders.
“You’re right, of course… I shall go down to the beach at once.” So saying, he left the room and went down the staircase, with the intention of going to the sea and perhaps stopping at the nursery tower to check on the decoration. But as soon as he stepped outside into the sunlight, he was met by his friend Robbie the elf.
“Ah, Robbie… I was going to see how the prince’s room was coming on. We’re almost ready to bring the princes over.”
“The walls are just about covered in colour now – a jungle mural has been painted. The most fantastic mural you can imagine! The princes will be very happy there.” He stopped, glancing at the friendly giant quickly. Being an elf, Robbie had a special magical communication with Oscar, especially as they had been friends for quite some time. Carefully, Robbie rubbed one of his pointed ears as he cleared his throat. “But what’s wrong, your majesty? What’s darkening your thoughts?”
“Oh, I don’t know Robbie… I can’t explain. I have everything, I should be happy… but I’m not. I don’t know why. “ King Oscar sighed once again, turning away from Ross so that the elf couldn’t see the tear glistening like a rain drop in the king’s eye, as the rays of afternoon sunlight slanted through the great palace doors. Robbie clutched at King Oscar’s sleeve, lowering his voice. “You should come down with me to the Secret Glade. I’ll meet you there when it gets dark.”
King Oscar looked at the elf curiously.
“All right… what happens at the Secret Glade? I’ve never heard of such a place before,” he said.
Robbie simply smiled, before slipping away, back into the courtroom of the palace. King Oscar stared after him, still seeing his tiny figure, long after it had vacated the spot.
It had only just begun to get dark that evening when King Oscar was joined by Robbie and another of the courtiers, Charles. As the three of them descended the palace steps outside, only a few stars were visible, because the sky was so cloudy and Charles’s flaming hair and beard came in very useful to light up the way. Robbie took hold of King Oscar’s sleeve and whispered, standing on tiptoe to reach the giant’s ear.
“Don’t worry, Charles knows all about the Secret Glade, I’ve already been there with him quite a few times.”
King Oscar nodded assuredly.
Outside the palace gates, they turned away from the usual route that would lead them down to the beach, and instead headed inland, towards the large area of woodland. King Oscar found himself slightly nervous for he had never entered the woodland before, but he knew that elves and other strange creatures came from within the trees.
As they finally drew near, the trees around them grew thicker and the branches met overhead, blocking out the stars so that Charles’s flaming locks were even more vital. He led the way through the trees; Robbie and King Oscar following, getting caught in the branches.
“Is it much further?” King Oscar called out to Charles, trying to avoid the branches scratching his face. Charles made no reply, but Robbie called back.
“We’re nearly there! I can see the Glade!”
As the trees had begun to grow thicker, they stopped abruptly, so that a large area ahead was completely clear – small figures flitted across the glade; strange coloured figures that disappeared back into the dark trees. King Oscar stared in wonder as a tiny red imp approached them, rubbing his hands together and laughing manically all the time, so that King Oscar wasn’t entirely sure whether to trust him or not.
“Greetings, Robbie,” laughed the imp, glancing upwards. “But who’s your friend?”
“This is King Oscar,” Robbie replied, pulling on the giant’s sleeve so that his massive form was completely visible to the imp.
The red imp pointed up at the giant’s head, still laughing.
“You’ll have to take off your crown, I’m afraid. There’s no place for royalty in the Secret Glade.”
With shaking hands, Oscar reached up and removed his crown of sunflowers. He hung it on the branch of a nearby tree, and turned back to the imp and the elf quickly. Ahead of him he could catch little glimpses of coloured light which he thought might be fairies. His excitement was growing within him.
“I want to see inside the Secret Glade… so lead the way, please,” he told the imp. “I don’t mind leaving my crown behind for once.”Oscar, Charles and Robbie drew together instinctively as they followed the red imp across the glade, which seemed to become even darker and more mysterious, even though there were no trees in the Glade, and no rocks on the ground; nothing in fact, only space, a vacant black space which seemed to be filled with coloured lights and slim green shapes – several friendly elves came and clung on to their arms. One small purple one came and attached himself to Charles, ignoring the flames from his beard which licked the elf’s purple face. All the time the coloured lights of the fairies flickered in and out of existence and the red imp seemed to be changed into a yellow one, or perhaps another imp had taken his place. King Oscar moved through the shadows of the trees, enchanted.
“I’ve never been in such a place as this… What’s inside the Secret Glade, Robbie?” asked Oscar breathlessly.
Robbie didn’t answer at first – his attention was distracted by a tiny blue elf tugging desperately at his arm, demanding his attention.
“You must find out for yourself, Oscar,” Robbie called out to the king over the blue elf’s head. “I can’t say what’s inside the Secret Glade – only you can find out for yourself.”
Feeling tiny hands tugging at his sleeve, Oscar turned round to see a very slight opaque figure that might have been an elf, or something more ephemeral, more fleeting, for the next moment it was gone. But still Oscar lumbered after it, feeling sure he had to. This was it, this was the Secret Glade… As he moved forward through the darkness, bright lights continued to flit about above his head, and as he stared intently into the blackness immediately before him, he thought he caught sight of a piece of glass, turning slowly, catching the light. Oscar’s throat was as dry as sand paper; he was sweating and he rubbed his moist palms together franticly. Just ahead of him, the glass figure of a boy seemed to be there, though only when it caught the light from the fairies flying overhead, then different facets of the Crystal Boy exploded into light, and mingled with a strange shimmering golden haze around the boy’s head. As the Crystal Boy moved very slowly, he seemed to be absolutely aware of his own beauty; his own fascination… Oscar stared so hard he thought his eyes must surely come loose from his face. In the fairies’ light he could just make out something within the body of the Crystal Boy, but he couldn’t see what it was… He took a few careful steps towards him, holding his hand outstretched. Although his eyes began to ache with the strain of looking, he recognised the shape inside as a flower; a perfect white narcissus. The flower’s head seemed to droop with the weight of its own perfection… And the crystal surrounding the flower glinted all the colours of the rainbow, each lasting for only few seconds before changing, sparkling, fleeting. The Crystal Boy stood still where he was as Oscar moved towards him. Oscar ran his tongue over his dry lips, hardly recognising his own voice as it was forced out from deep within his chest.
“This is the secret of the glade! I must touch the Crystal Boy… I must hold him; capture this light!”
A hideous screech rang out through the glade, which could have belonged to an animal or bird or some other magical creature…The sound froze Oscar just as his fingers touched the hard crystal. The fairies lights continued to catch different facets of the boy, and Oscar wondered if the Crystal Boy had ever really existed, or if he had simply consisted of light. Oscar looked around him desperately, searching for the owner of the screech. He half expected to see feathers, but he saw instead, scarlet… and he heard the thumping sound of a creature jumping. As Oscar stared helplessly at the ape, he felt his hairy arms whiz past his body – There was no doubt in his head that the Scarlet Marquis fully intended to strike him and stop him in his tracks. Oscar drew back, not a little alarmed by his ferocity.
“Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare touch my Crystal Boy!” Once again came the grating, squawking scream that echoed round and round the Secret Glade, bouncing against each tree trunk, so the sound became increased in intensity as it was enclosed within the glade itself. The heavy scarlet ape jumped up and down, swinging his long arms all around. “You should keep away – who do you think you are? You have no right to touch my Crystal Boy. Just keep away!”
Oscar simply stared in confusion, shaking his head at the scarlet monkey.
“I don’t think you should talk to me like that… Don’t you know who I am? I’m King Oscar!” the giant said, rubbing where the Marquis had struck him. The scarlet ape simply laughed.
“You’re not a king – you’re just a common, clumsy giant! Stay away from my Crystal Boy! You may look, but don’t you dare touch.”
Oscar covered his ears with his great hands, turning away from the monkey so his vision could be filled once again with the beautiful, striking image of the Crystal Boy. Every face ignited a different shade beneath the fairies’ changing lights. Within the crystal figure the narcissus bent and adored its own beauty, echoing round and round its drooping head. Just as the flower was full of life, the Crystal Boy himself lived and Oscar knew that he must touch the Crystal Boy; he must hold him.
Even though the fairies’ lights seemed to have grown faint, Oscar could feel the intensity of his own desire welling up inside him.
“I must capture the Crystal Boy, I must catch the light,” he said to himself, as the dancing lights dissolved away into the shadows of the trees.
Hearing a scuffling noise beside him, Oscar turned to see Robbie and the blue elf clinging to his arm. From the dazed expression on Robbie’s face, Oscar could tell that he too had seen the Crystal Boy, and witnessed Oscar’s confrontation with the Scarlet Marquis. The knowledge that they had both shared the experience of catching the light for a moment drew them both together even closer. After a while, Robbie cleared his throat very quietly and spoke in a low voice.
“Oscar, we should go back now to the palace. Look, the sky is beginning to become pink around the edges… and I see Charles approaching on the back of a unicorn. Do you remember where you left your crown?” He added as Oscar began to move slowly towards him.
“Yes, I think I remember.” With a great sigh, Oscar shook his head, still trying to clear it of the crystal image, but the image remained fixed at the back of his mind, refusing to die away. Moving through the trees with giant strides, Oscar found his crown of sunflowers eventually, and placed it back on his head, but it didn’t seem to belong there at all anymore. He felt as though he was playing a part on stage, not a real giant any longer. He was filled with an intense desire to go back home.
“Well then Robbie, we’ll go back to the Palace Beautiful, but please…” He stooped so that he could whisper in Robbie’s pointed ear as the elf drew alongside him. “We must return to the Secret Glade soon… I can’t possibly just go back and forget all about that Crystal Boy. So when can we come back?”
Robbie looked up at King Oscar, shaking his head and smiling sadly.
“You know that I’ll come back with you whenever you want, but you also know exactly the same thing will happen all over again… The scarlet marquis won’t let you touch the light of his boy, I’m sorry, that’s the way it is – he won’t let you recapture the light.”
As the trees on either side of the two companions began to grow thinner, the faint pink dawn became more visible through the branches overhead, so that the flaming beard and hair of Charles was not so necessary as it had been. King Oscar shouldered his way roughly through the trees, breaking off several of the huge branches in his frustration.“But I must try at least. I must come back to the glade again, Robbie!” The king shouted and he heard the echoes of his voice bouncing off the tree trunks around him. Ahead of them the final small green wood elf disappeared back into the wood, perhaps returning to the Secret Glade.