The View through the Mirror
Once in a land of legend if not fact, there existed a Kingdom with its demesne. The king was as fair and just as those sorts could be and his subjects were as happy as they could be within the view of their lives.
The king had a daughter and her name was Altheonis. Her hair was as fair as the finest flax and her eyes were as blue as an icy lake. For some inexplicable reason, whether it was lineage or simply how she was, she was as haughty and intolerant as she was beautiful. Woe to any of her playmates of the village or of the gentry that either got on her wrong side or objected to her by attempting to assert themselves! Her words of reproach were as venomous as the vitriol of the alchemists and her stare was like the sharpest dagger.
One of her constant playmates from the village was a girl named Ceridys. Her hair was the brown of the darkest loam and she had expressive eyes to match. Somewhat plump, she would never have the physical beauty of the princess, but her demeanor was as shockingly the opposite and essentially beyond reproach. Words of reproach from her were seldom, and constructive, not destructive.
The princess had playmates only because most feared her wrath, but Ceridys had them because how she treated others. As quick as she would assert herself as needed, so would she readily admit wrong. Even on her worst days, she still would have a kind word for all. Ceridys' parents were proud of their daughter; rarely did they ever find her morose, but often times they saw her sigh as she looked at Altheonis. 'Such beauty shall never be mine,' she sighed, but most of the time she was happy.
In the castle, the king sighed…'perhaps maybe some wisdom shall lighten my daughters heart and lessen the woe she visits on others.'
*The years went by, and as time progresses, girls eventually turn into young women. Altheonis blossomed into a beauty that rendered many a sane man mindless; lines of courtiers and suitors followed her everywhere. Despite having such physical beauty, her demeanor became even more repugnant. Gibes that between little girls were only mean and spiteful became searing and hurtful. Many a man felt her sharp tongue, and many a young woman humbled by the same, for what is the first judgment passed on woman by woman? Ceridys, on the other hand, was plump and very plain, no raving beauty to the eye. Many times she would weep alone and quietly when the barbs from the princess and others cut too deep. Many times she would say to herself,"Why am I not flaxen haired and beautiful like the princess!? A candle to her I could never hold!" Still, as friend she was to many in her youth, so was she now. She had been taught well by her mother. Her cooking, baking, and farming skills were well known throughout the land. As things would have it, this alone was bound to attract a man's eye, and with her demeanor, hold it. That lucky man was Doestrin. Tall and muscular, he would have been handsome if not for a bad accident in his youth. A ragged scar ran across his forehead, making his initial appearance a shock to the eyes of many. His grievous injury had taught him patience well beyond the average man, and with such at his command, he managed to win the heart of Ceridys. As happy as Ceridys seemed to be, she harbored a deep anguish regarding herself, loathing in part the way she looked, for was not the princess so beautiful, and she so homely? Despite this fact, the wedding bells rang for them in good order. Doestrin was steady and stable, and loved her with all his heart. With Altheonis, though, things of this nature took a completely different tack. Where as villagers and even gentry may marry whom they wish and how they wish, princesses may not. The good of the land and kingdom would always be first; love could eventually grow, but it was not a condition of royal marriage. As it went, Altheonis was married off to a well off lord of the land, Lothmar. Lothmar was tall and handsome, a dream in many women's eyes. He earned the jealousy of many, for wasn't he now the husband of the fairest lady in the land? Appearances can be deceiving though. Lothmar may have been the near epitome of male physical perfection, but as with Altheonis, it was a only a mask to hide his real mien. Altheonis may have been scathing with her tongue, but Lothmar more then equaled that with his penchant for physical violence against anyone that earned his disfavor for even the pettiest of reasons. For all outward appearances though, they made the most beautiful couple in the land. How could men and women not be jealous? Even Ceridys felt a twinge. The king had grown old though as well as sad, for he realized that the years had not made any improvement regarding his daughter. There was nothing that he could do at all though..
The years passed. Altheonis and Lothmar became parents of a boy and a girl. The years had not paled their beauty, as they still could turn an eye, and their children were the same. Alas, to the chagrin of the ailing king, his grandchildren had the same demeanors of their parents, the girl verbally scathing and the boy physically abusive of his peers.
Ceridys, however, bore the marks of the years. Hard work most everyday along with five children had rendered her stout of appearance, though muscular. Her loam colored hair bore streaks of grey and her rounded face would never catch a man's eye. But Doestrin loved her dearly as did their children, and never was harsh with her. She had many friends in the village. The outward appearances of woolens vs. royal finery were obvious, but inside, Ceridys' children were so different than the princesses. They were kind and respectful towards all as their parents had taught them to be. Her children were average looking but were good of heart. As for Ceridys, the anguish over her looks had largely disappeared, thanks to a combination of hard work and steady love from her husband and her friends.
One day early in spring, the old king passed away. Days and days of mourning there were, then days of celebration as Altheonis claimed her birthright. Though it seemed to many that nothing had changed, to others it seemed as if what friendliness had been at the castle had disappeared. Tales and stories abounded of some changes at the castle, but most paid them no mind.
As it happened one day, a pitiful beggar entered the demesne, begging alms for his own sake. It was his misfortune that he wound up at the gates of the palace. His pleas were so plaintive that the king and queen were quick to take notice.
"How DARE he sully the view of our gates with his ugly self! As if WE are to blame for his laziness?" screeched the queen.
"I have a mind to teach that scurrilous pest a lesson that he and his kind shall never forget!" stormed the king.
They instructed the gatekeeper to send the beggar around by the kitchen entrance. When the beggar arrived there, instead of alms or food, he was accosted by 6 of the palace guard. While 4 of them beat the beggar into unconsciousness, the two others rifled his meager belongings.
"Bah!" sneered one of the looters, "This beggar has naught of consequence; we shall tell the king as much!" Laughing amongst them selves, they threw the beggar into a pigsty with his meager goods. The beggar came to, gathered his now reeking self and belongings, and appeared again at the royal kitchen begging alms. When news of this reached the King and Queen, they both sneered
"This one yet DARES to come back? Lay into this ugly wastrel dreg, throw him into the gutters outside the gates, and tell him he is never to show his face here again, or face the Donjon! "
The King and Queen laughed at their commands. "He should be lucky that we spared his miserable life!" sneered the Queen, "stench laden ilk as his that are a sore on the eye should hide themselves from their betters!"
The guards did as they were ordered. The beggar woke up in the ditch by the travel road. Reeking, filthy, bruised and bleeding, he gathered possessions he had left and waited for dusk. He went back into the demesne as stealthily as he could, carefully avoiding the palace. A final ray of sunlight limned his eyes; for a moment, they didn't look like the eyes a simple beggar would have. He made his way through the demesne, pitifully asking for alms. No one dared approach him, foul and dirty as he was. They also were quick to obey an missives that came from the throne.
It so happened by chance that he wandered over by Ceridys' cottage. He begged for alms softly at the gate. Doestrin was sitting on the porch and was the first to see and hear the beggar. Immediately, he rose from his seat and said to the beggar, "Here, sit whilst I tell Ceridys my wife we have another for sup!"
"I am so foul smelling that I would dirty you chair!"
"Pay that no mind. If I were to turn away one as needy as you, my wife would scold me to no end! Sit and rest yourself!"
Doestrin went inside and then returned with Ceridys by his side. "Faugh!! I will not have one so filthy sitting at my table! And those clothes look as if they have never been washed!"
The beggar made to get up and leave, but then she said, "I will tell the children to draw a bath and we should have some salve and liniment."
After the beggar had bathed, in place of his rags, there was a set of woolens of Doestrin's, old but wearable. The salves eased his bruises and aches. He was seated at their table once he looked presentable.. When the beggar saw the meager fare they had with which to feed the eight present he said softly, "If I am to eat of your meager provender, won't your children have to do without? I have never received treatment as a guest!"
Ceridys was quick to reply. "You have less than us, and you look starved. We will make do with what we have, but it bodes only ill to those who would not share. Our repast is meager, but we will always share with those in need. I at least was taught that much"
When time came for sleep, the beggar said, "I have slept many a barn in on my travels; if I may have some hay for warmth, I will be fine"
It was Doestrin that now spoke. "Nay, for you are by far the wearier. Tonight you shall sleep where we sleep, and my wife and I will use the loft. We will accept no other way of things."
In the morning, before the beggar was about to leave, he turned to both Ceridys and Doestrin, "In all my travels, I have never received such treatment. You havb e been not only nice, but kind hearted; a finely handsome couple you make."
At that they both chuckled. "I love Ceridys with all my heart, and she loves me, even though my visage frightens many. But handsome? Hah! I think not! For that, you would wish to eye the king and queen of this land; they are truly so."
The beggar fixed the couple with a penetrating stare "Then perhaps the king and queen need to view a mirror…yes a mirror.." Chuckling to himself, he bid Doestrin and Ceridys farewell and walked towards the walls of the gate.
Doestrin and Ceridys both stared at each other. "What did he mean you suppose by a mirror?" said Ceridys, "I look at them everyday, and though I know that I shall never be as beautiful as the queen, I am happy with the lot I have."
"As am I my love…hah! To think I am as handsome as the king! It's as he took what it is our duty to do as some great thing! I am as happy with my lot as well my love. Let's start our day with a chuckle, shall we?" They laughed and shortly thereafter, the beggar's strange words left their thoughts.
Ceridys and Doestrin thought no more of the beggar as they went about their work. This changed a few days later as a page and two of the palace guard rode up to their residence.
"Hail the house!"
Both Ceridys and Doestrin appeared. "How may we be of assistance?"
The page nailed a summons to their gatepost. "You are commanded to appear before the king and queen to answer for giving provender to a beggar they had banished some days ago! Be there at the Morn or we will come for you!" They rode away in a flurry of dust.
Fearfully Doestrin said, "What are we to do Ceridys!? We did not know! Maybe we will be punished…" Doestrin faltered for a moment when he saw Ceridys' gaze, "Ceridys, please do nothing rash! You are all I have!"
But Ceridys had a baleful gleam in her eye." With all the wealth they have, they treat a poor unfortunate as such? We will go to this summons with no fear in our heart because we did the right thing!" In her heart, though, Ceridys had some fear, not for herself, but for her children and for her husband.
In the morning, they put on their best woolens. After leaving their children in the care of others, they walked to the castle. Though on the outside nothing seemed changed, there was a different feeling inside the castle. Shortly after presenting their summons, they were ushered down many hallways; on the way they picked up an escort of no less then twelve grim faced palace guards. Finally they reached the throne room where the King and Queen were. They both deeply bowed and then were silent as the King spoke first.
"Ceridys and Doestrin, you gave sustenance to a beggar who was ordered NOT to return to this demesne. WHY!!!!" thundered the King.
Doestrin was speechless with fear, but Ceridys stepped forward. "Because he needed food and shelter, not the treatment he was given"
Altheonis was next to speak "Ah, Ceridys, I remember how we would play as children. You are but too gullible and generous. Why waste what meager provender you have on such a scurrilous beggar as that? Why encourage their vagabond ways when such as that beggar should hide themselves from decent people?"
Despite her fear, Ceridys was furious at the queen." And with the vast stores of provender you have, you could spare nothing? What little we have we will share with those less fortunate, because the welfare of man is not against the law, IT IS THE LAW!!" Oblivious to Doestrins' protestations, she glared directly at the queen.
Altheonis grew livid at this affront, but before she could speak, two guards entered, dragging the beggar in chains. The woolens he had worn were replaced with rags even more wretched than before. They did nothing to keep him warm, so the beggar shivered in their misery.
"We found this ugly beggar attempting to leave undetected a few days ago. How else could we have known that you disobeyed our law?" The queen smirked. "However, if you denounce this ugly, worthless wretch, we shall in our mercy not lay any punishment upon you. It's understandable that you would wish to help one as repugnant as your slovenly selves." The queen had not lost any vitriol at all over the years. At her remarks, some of the courtiers laughed or snickered rather hollowly. The throne room fell silent as they waited for Ceridys' reply.
Ceridys was now filled with the fear she had suppressed for the moment. Tears began to well up in her eyes as wounds that were scars reopened. She remembered the insults about how plump she was, and Doestrins scarred visage.
Then she remembered once when another beggar was treated the same by her father as she had treated this one.
"Why do we give him our food and shelter, father?"
"Because the law of man is above that even of kings, and to disobey that law puts you below even the lawless."
"Why do they shun him so, father? Is it because he is as ugly as I am?"
"Never speak that of yourself and others, my daughter. They who reproach like that are truly ugly. The only way to treat men is by the law of men. Provided that you do that, all shall be well with yourself."
Altheonis snapped "What shall it be, Ceridys?"
"Maybe she can rise above her ugly self this one time dear…or maybe not while her husband is ugly himself! Hah! Who would have her anyways," chortled the king.
Ceridys glared at the king and queen. "The law of man is above that even of kings. Doestrin, give me your cloak. There is someone here that is of need." Shocked, he complied.
With purpose Ceridys wrapped the cloak around the beggar's shoulders. "There, now you will be warm."
A collective gasp erupted through the room as the king and queen jumped to their feet, livid with fury.
"CAST Them into the Dungeons!! If they wish to waste their provender on such as that, then they are as ugly and verminous as the beggar!"
As the guards grabbed Ceridys and Doestrin, the beggar chuckled. "That will not be so, your majesties." The beggar's chains fell to the floor as he disappeared in a puff of smoke. When the smoke cleared, the beggar was gone. Clad in the black robes of his trade was an old man, but not wizened in stature as legend would have the reader believe. A gesture toward the guards holding Ceridys and her husband and they fell away to the floor.
"I am a wizard of the land your majesties. Why was I treated so ill by such as you?"
Now it was the king and queens turn to be fearful. Not even a king dared cross a wizard. "Your humble forgiveness, wizard. We knew naught—"they stammered in unison.
"YES, you knew NAUGHT! You with the wealth that you harbor beat me senseless and banish me while they with nearly nothing share what they have!"
Smiling, with a gentle look in his eyes, the wizard turned toward Ceridys and Doestrin. "Even with threat of punishment, you still treated me kindly. I know the anguish that rests in your heart. Shall that anguish be quelled? What shall you have or need to do so? Perhaps some servants to do your work? "
Ceridys was shocked at the turn of events, but still she thought for a moment. She realized that yes, some of her anguish remained, for how would have Altheonis' words brought the thought of tears? 'Why should the anguish remain? I am happy with what I have, and what I did for that beggar I would do for any in need. It is nothing special so as to merit any reward! It is my duty." She turned to look at Doestrin, but he said, "What you decide shall be good enough for me as well, since you were brave enough to defy the Queen." She then looked at the wizard.
"Why should others have to bear the price of my toil? And what would I do with my time?"
"Hah! Then wealth beyond your dreams. No more peasant fare again?"
"Peasant fare it may be, but as you see, I have not suffered for it. Best to give that to those who need it"
The wizard was perplexed. He had seen many people in his life, and most all of them had at least one weakness he could find, but there seemed none here. "Then flawless beauty like that for what you have always wished?"
Ceridys sighed, "My husband married me because he thought I was beautiful to him. My children also think the same as a child would their mother. If I am beautiful in his eyes, then beauty I must already have. That is enough for me."
"There would be many a land who would need rulers with your sensibilities," stated the wizard. "Does that not interest you?"
"What would I know of those things? Better things of that sort are left to those who are comfortable with that sort of life. If I may request anything at all, it is to be allowed to return home and live in peace." And with that answer, Ceridys knew that the anguish she had felt all these years was truly gone.
"You are modest beyond reproach my lady," and to the shock of everybody the wizard bowed before Ceridys.
His gaze once more baleful, he stared at the king and queen. "Far be it for me to not grace their majesties with as fitting a gift as can be found for this occasion." A gesture and another puff of smoke and a full-length mirror appeared on the wall opposite the thrones. "This is a special mirror, O king and queen. In its view you and anyone who dares stare into its depths will see themselves in all their radiant beauty." The murmurs amongst the courtiers flowed like waves up and down the hall.
"Hah!" The king sneered. "This shall be fitting then. Guards! Stand Ceridys and Doestrin in front of the mirror, so they can see how ugly they really are!"
"Yes! Yes!" shrieked the queen. Before they knew it, the peasant couple was thrust in front of it.
Ceridys hid her gaze from the mirror as Doestrin did. They both had their own reasons for not liking mirrors; Ceridys for her plainness, Doestrin for his ugly scar. Then she remembered the beggar/wizards peculiar words…view a mirror?
"Doestrin, do you love me as much as I do you?"
"Always and forever, my love."
"Then let us gaze into this mirror, it can not show us anything we do not already know."
"As you wish, my love."
Holding hands, Ceridys and Doestrin looked into the mirror…. and reacted with shock and awe. Ceridys was not the plain, plump Ceridys, but her reflection was that of one of the faerie folk, prettier in appearance by far than any of humankind. Doestrin no longer was scarred, but the male equivalent of Ceridys. It seemed for ages that the couple was transfixed by the image, and it took a long while before they could completely turn their gaze.
"It must be some wizard trick," she murmured to her husband. "We do not look that way at all."
"I know, my love, but are we going to accuse a wizard of trickery?"
"It is best we do not do so Doestrin."
The king and queen looked at Ceridys and Doestrin "So tell us what you saw? HA!! A scarred wretch of a man and an ugly woman? Tell the court so we can all hear!!" The queen reveled in her verbal meanness.
"We…looked…beautiful..!?" was all Ceridys could say.
"That is preposterous!" laughed the king. "If that mirror showed you to be beautiful, either you are lying or the mirror needs to see true beauty! Cast them aside from the wizard's gift! We shall view ourselves!" Ceridys and Doestrin were roughly shoved aside as the king and queen stepped in front of the mirror. The king's smirk and the queen's sneer were replaced by shrieks that hurt the ears of all present. All could see what was reflected in the mirror, unlike with Ceridys and her husband. The queen was a shriveled, back-bent hag from a child's worse nightmare. The drool spilling from her lips was as vitriolic as her verbal daggers. The king was a monstrous, brutish Ogre, with no trace of conscience in its hideous visage.
"SEIZE THEM!" screamed the queen, pointing at Ceridys and Doestrin and the wizard. "They will pay for this foul joke with their lives!"
The wizard's hands sparked into blue fire. "Your guards will keep their lives only if they refrain from harming any of us."
"Destroy that mirror now!" screamed the king.
The guards rushed to do their kings bidding, but even their hardest blows could not break the mirror. The wizard chuckled mirthlessly. "That mirror is made of human nature. It was created when man first walked this earth, and it will not be destroyed until man is no more. This mirror is not trickery; it is incapable of lying. Any who shall gaze into it will see TRUE beauty!" The king and queen stood weeping into each other's arms.
"These two will be escorted back to their home and you will leave them in peace. If they are ever harassed for their kindness, the next gift I shall bring is true anger, which you will not want to see!" With a last bow to Ceridys and Doestrin, the wizard disappeared in a blast of wind.
No verifiable conclusion could be found regarding the events on and after that day. Ceridys and Doestrin refused to speak of it to anyone. The king and queen were never seen in public again. This much is known though. When Altheonis and Lothmar passed away, not many were present at the funeral except those forced to be there. A sigh of relief went through the castle, as rumors of weeping fits followed by insane shrieks ran rampant during their reign. On their graves nothing would grow that was not twisted or warped or stunted. When Ceridys and Doestrin passed away, multitudes of people came to pay their respects because they wanted to. On Ceridys' and her husband's grave grew two flowering Dogwood trees as no one had ever seen. People came from miles around in the spring to sit in awe of the beautiful trees with their fragrant flowers and cooling shade.
Beauty is often on surface only eyed
And those failing that view are often decried
But the eyes in the mirror show up this sin
For only with mirrors can be seen the beauty withinThe End