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Once upon a time, there was a king who lived in a peaceful and prosperous land quite far away from here. Now this king, like most kings of his era, was very rich and powerful, and he had eight beautiful daughters besides. The king was very proud of his daughters, as well he should be. For each daughter, in addition to being heart-stoppingly beautiful, had been taught a unique skill by a wise and learned fairy tutor, the better to marry her off to some rich and powerful prince.

The first daughter could spin any kind of material you liked, be it flax or silk or cotton or wool. She could even spin straw into gold, though she didn't like to do it often for fear of showing off. Whatever she spun, she could spin it so fine it would pass through a needle a hundred times, which is really showing off, if you ask me. The next daughter could sing so beautifully, she could captivate the opposite sex with her music alone. Even male animals would swoon at the sound of her voice, and don't get me started about human men. The third daughter knew how to cook. She could make any kind of food you could think of, from filet mignon to jelly beans and everything in between. The fourth daughter was well-versed in languages. She knew forty-seven different unique languages, including-hay ig-Pay atin-Lay. The fifth daughter had learned to dance. She could dance every kind of dance there ever was, and when she danced her feet fell so lightly that they didn't even touch the floor. As you can imagine, this was especially useful when the floor in the palace ballroom had just been waxed. The sixth daughter had had etiquette training, and knew the nuances of how to behave in all manner of formal occasions from coronations to glass slipper fittings. She knew how to set a table for twenty people with twelve forks each, and even what to say to an emperor on his birthday. The seventh daughter, not to be outdone, had a fairy tutor who taught her to run. She would hitch up her skirts and run until she reached the end of the world (because in those days the world was flat) and then come back before you could say "Rumpelstiltskin," and still not be out of breath. As you've probably guessed by now, the lords and ladies of the court got pretty tired of saying "Rumpelstiltskin" all the time when the seventh daughter would go on her hundred-league jaunts. But they did it anyway, because she was the youngest – at least for a while.

Which brings me to the eighth daughter, who had been born well after her sisters and somewhat neglected in the fairy tutor department. Since everyone knows that seven is a lucky number, there were only seven fairy tutors living in the kingdom at the time. Any more would have been improper; and anyway they would have been put out of business because at the time, it was fashionable for kings to have seven daughters. Even so, the king wanted the very best for all of his daughters, so he had gone out of his way to find a fairy tutor for his eighth daughter. However, the only available fairy anywhere in the realm was a dark-haired fairy whom everyone always assumed was evil, so they conveniently "forgot" to invite her to birthday blessings and the like.

"It's not so much that I'm evil," the dark fairy explained to the king as they discussed the education of his eighth daughter. "It's just that I don't really know much magic, so the blessings I give people aren't that great."

"Just as long as they're not curses," said the king.

"Oh, they're only curses if you compare them to the other fairies' powers," said the dark fairy. "And that's easy to do. You'll find, I think, that the gift I will give your daughter may lead to her being greatly misunderstood, although I guarantee you it will serve her well in the end."

"So what is it, exactly, that you're offering my daughter?" the king inquired, shifting the large bag of coins he'd brought from one hand to the other.

The dark fairy whispered something in the king's ear. He nodded reluctantly, saying, "I guess it'll have to do." For what the fairy had offered the king on behalf of his eighth daughter was a stupendous power, but something about which no soul could ever be told. The king had decided this, and when the king decided something, so it was done. (That was one of the really great things about being king.) The king left the fairy's cave with his daughter and her nursemaid, and after that day no one in the kingdom saw the fairy again. Large amounts of money can do that to people; rumor has it the dark fairy is hanging out in Aruba these days.

Anyway, several years passed, and the king's eight daughters grew up as girls tend to do. Each had been blessed with bewitching good looks and, of course, unique talents that no other women in the realm could match, and it wasn't long before all the influential lords and princes in the kingdom were clamoring to marry the king's daughters. Each was quickly married to her choice of suitor, as their father was a particularly gracious and cutting-edge ruler, and didn't go for any of the "you-have-to-solve-this-puzzle-or-kill-this-rampant-ogre-or-go-on-some-other-wild-goose-chase-of-a-quest-for-me-before-you-get-to-marry-my-daughter" kind of stuff. His seventh daughter, the runner, had even married a poor farmer's son who had made his fortune through wits and cunning, and owned a pair of seven-league boots to boot. As you can probably imagine, it was a match made on the other side of the world.

The eighth daughter was the only one who hadn't gotten married. She didn't particularly seem to care, and in any case most of the suitors were only interested in whether she had a special talent like her sisters. That was the first question each of them asked the eighth daughter, who of course could not tell a soul about the blessing the dark fairy had given her. Instead, she would answer, "I have a name that no one can guess." But this was obviously a feeble falsehood, as it was well-known that the eighth daughter's name was Alisande. And since no man likes being lied to, each suitor who visited the king's youngest daugher left empty-handed.

Her father saw no reason to press the issue, since his other daughters were all living happily ever after; and, being the cutting-edge king that he was, he understood that some people never marry in this life - even princesses. But he was beginning to get pretty concerned, as his youngest, dark-haired like the fairy who'd blessed her, was spending her days moping listlessly about the palace.

"It's just what teenagers do," the queen told her husband. "It'll pass." But the king was still worried. Weeks had gone by without his youngest daughter really doing much of anything except for vegging out on the chaise lounge in front of the wall tapestries and teasing the castle cats. The king decided it was time for a father-to-daughter talk.

"It's time we had a father-to-daughter talk," he said to Alisande, whom he'd found slouching around the kitchen, sneaking bites from the roast pheasant when the cooks weren't looking.

"Aw, Dad," she groaned. "This isn't about that stupid marriage thing, is it?"

"No. Well, yes. Well, sort of."

"What are you talking about? I don't get it." The princess, still jaw-droppingly beautiful even under the sulky demeanor, peered up through her eyelashes and frowned at her father.

"Well, there's this prince – "

"Just stop right there, Dad. I'm not getting married, and that's final."

The king sighed. "You don't have to marry him, my darling. Just rescue him. It'll give you something to do, because you don't look altogether happy these days, and anyway, the servants are starting to complain." The princess looked guiltily at the kitchen staff, who were all glaring at her.

The king sighed again and told his daughter about the ruler of the kingdom west of the sea, who had a son who was handsome and skilled with the sword and a brilliant horseman and all the rest, and would have been everything a father could want except for the fact that he was cursed with a curse that would last him the rest of his days. This young man turned everything he touched into gold. That might sound like a marvelous gift, but it had become a real burden to the young prince and his family, particularly when it came to going to the bathroom.

The king of the land across the sea, being a wise and sage king, had a solution to the problem. He decided to imprison his son in a tall, remote tower in which everything was already made of gold. This worked out perfectly for everyone except the prince, who was pretty much stuck in his tower because his "gift" could only be reversed by the kiss of a princess, and the king had insisted that no one come near his son for fear their fate be that of the king's favorite hunting dog, which the prince had petted in a moment of weakness.

The king of the realm beyond the sea had offered a great reward to any princess who dared rescue the prince from the tower and his curse: his hand in marriage, half the kingdom, and seven sacks of gold as well (with a golden dog thrown in for good measure).

Unfortunately, princesses of that era didn't really do much beyond sing and dance and spin and wait for handsome suitors to sweep them off their feet. As a result, no one had come in seven years to rescue the prince from his tower.

"A good princess is hard to find," the king told his eighth daughter. "And I think you'll be just the princess for the job." He paused. "You might even get your sisters to help."

The princess looked up at her father. "So I don't have to marry the prince?" she asked. "And I don't need half the kingdom either," she added before her father could answer. "I'm inheriting a good part of yours. I could do without the gold, too. Especially the dog. I mean, who the heck wants a golden dog?"

Her father assured her that marrying the prince was optional; all he needed was a kiss to free him from the curse and the tower.

"I think you'll be just the girl for the job," he said.

"Hmph," said Alisande.

The next day the youngest princess set off to recruit her seven sisters to enlist their help, as she could tell that this task her father had set upon her would be a whole lot harder than anyone realized. Luckily none of them lived too far away, including the seventh daughter, who had decided to live close by just so she could run to the other side of the world with her husband in his seven-league boots. After she'd collected them all, Alisande explained to them what their father had told her.

"That's IT?!" exclaimed the third sister, Arona, the cook. "You mean to tell me all we have to do is go rescue some prince with a Midas touch? Big honkin' DEAL, Ali. Let's get on this thing!"

The sixth sister, Arden, who had impeccable manners, said, "Hey, take a chillaxative and CHILLAX, would you? Ali here is trying to tell us what we need to do."

"Straight up," said Alisande. "Basically, we go rescue some prince with a Midas touch."

"All RIGHT!" all the sisters said at once. After an enthusiastic round of high-fives, they got started.

The eighth daughter and her seven sisters set off before sunrise, in the chill of the morning. She stood at the helm of a massive ship, commissioned by her father, the king. They headed west across the sea, toward the kingdom ruled by the king whose son turned everything he touched to gold. When they arrived there, the fifth daughter, Aliya, who knew how to dance, said, "We're gonna need to get past these guys."

Because, unfortunately, the king had placed his son in a tower a thousand feet high, guarded by a monstrous dragon, seventy guards from the land of Morgy (which as everyone knows breeds the gruffest, most argumentative people anywhere) and an enormous phoenix with plumage of flame.

"Leave it to me," said Arista, the first sister, who could spin. She gathered armfuls of straw from the fields around the tower. She used a small spindle she pulled from the folds of her gown, and set to work. In no time she had come up with yards and yards of golden thread. When she showed it to the dragon, the guards and the phoenix, they all oohed and ahhhed. Immediately they began fighting over the golden thread, and paid no attention whatsoever to the eighth daughter and her sisters.

"Quick!" said Alisande. She and her seven sisters darted past the dragon, guards and phoenix and ran into the tower.

When they got inside, who should be waiting for them but the king himself.

"Well, well, well," he said. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"We're here to rescue your son," said Alisande.

"With all due respect, yeah right," said the king. "Nobody has shown up here in seven years to save Aiden. And even if they did, they'd be turned to gold the second they got near him. I'm sorry, but I'm afraid you'll have to leave."

"No way," said Arista, the second sister, who knew how to sing. She launched into an elaborate ballad about a princess who was carried off by a dragon and then rescued by a brave knight, all of whom lived happily ever after, which was popular among minstrels at the time. By the time she'd finished, tears were in the king's eyes, and he had fallen against the wall, sobbing. Alisande lead the way and she and her sisters ran past the king.

Before they knew it, an enormous dog stood in their way. Arona, the third sister who could cook, grabbed some ingredients out of nowhere and cooked an elaborate seven-course meal, starting with filet mignon and ending with jelly beans for dessert. She laid it all out in front of the dog, who drooled happily and began devouring the food. Alisande and her seven sisters hurried up the hall of the tower. Several guards stood guarding a spiral staircase that spiraled up into the vast height of the tower. They all started yelling incomprehensibly.

"Oh, hey, that's Morgyan," said Adella, the fourth sister, who knew languages. "I know how to speak that one." She muttered something that sounded like total gibberish to the guards. "They say the fifth stair on the staircase is broken," Adella said to her sisters. "Don't walk on it or we'll fall right through."

"Hey, thanks," said Alisande. Adella obligingly translated for the guards. They nodded and let the sisters through.

Alisande and her seven sisters walked up the spiral staircase, carefully avoiding the fifth stair. When they got to the top of the stairs, they came to a massive ballroom whose floor had just been waxed. At the other end stood the prince, who was brooding in a golden throne.

"Aliya, you're the only one of us who can get across that floor," said Alisande to her fifth sister, who could dance. "You're gonna have to go talk to him."

"But I've never met a prince before!" said Aliya. "I wouldn't know what to say!"

"Tell him, 'I am honored to make your acquaintance, may I have this dance?'" said Arden, the sixth sister, who had been trained in etiquette. "Then curtsey. That will get him back across that floor with you. I assume, as a prince, he knows how to dance."

"And DON'T," said Alisande, "let him touch you, no matter what you do!"

So Aliya danced her way across the just-waxed ballroom floor, not even touching it, and said what her sister Arden had told her to say. Then she curtseyed. Prince Aiden bowed and put out his hand for Aliya to take. Aliya backed away. "If you don't mind," said Aliya, "I'll just stay over here, okay?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, I totally forgot," said the prince, turning crimson. "No problem..."

And the two danced across the floor to where Alisande and the rest of her sisters were waiting.

"We're here to rescue you," said Alisande.

"Um... you are? There's no way you can get me out of here," said the prince. "Everything I touch turns to gold, and that includes everything I step on. I'm stuck here."

"Wait a minute," said Annis, the seventh daughter, who could run. "What you need are my husband's seven-league boots. With those on you can run so fast you won't touch the ground," she said. "Wait just a minute, and I'll run home and grab them, okay?" and with that, she was off. In less than a minute she was back with the boots. "Here, put these on," Annis said.

Prince Aiden obliged. Even standing still, he was moving so fast you couldn't see his feet. And nothing he walked on turned to gold. The prince breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks." The prince looked at Alisande and her seven sisters. "But how are you going to get me past my dad and the guards and the dragon and the phoenix and everything?"

Alisande took a deep breath. "I'm going to have to use my talent," she said. Her seven sisters were very interested, because not even they knew what Alisande had learned from her fairy tutor. "The dark fairy taught me how to steal."

And with that, Alisande got her seven sisters and the prince out of the tower, past the guards at the staircase, past the dog in the hall, past the king himself, past the dragon, phoenix, and seventy guards outside, and into the ship.

In no time, they had sailed back across the sea and returned home with the prince. Their father, the king, was astonished. "Wow," he said. "I knew you'd manage. Alisande, since you're the only one of your sisters who's not married, it's up to you to decide whether you want to marry Prince Aiden and claim the reward."

Alisande grinned. "Yeah, I will," she said, giving Aiden a kiss. With that, his curse was lifted.

Their wedding was the biggest one anyone in the kingdom had ever seen, and everyone was invited, including the dark fairy, who flew all the way from Aruba to attend. Rumor has it she brought a very expensive wedding gift, but neither Alisande nor Aiden ever told anyone what it was.

And, needless to say, everyone lived happily ever after.
A fairy tale in the style of the seven brothers stories popular in many cultures (for example: The Seven Chinese Brothers by Margaret Mahy [link] , Seven Simeons by Boris Artzybasheff [link] , and The Sobbin' Women by Stephen Vincent Benét [link] )
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