More Than All The Stars In The Sky

Many, many years ago, there were no stars. The sky was - well, blank. Oh, the moon was there, lonely in her solitary glory, and the other planets of course; but there were no twinkling pieces of fiery ice for us to wonder at, for poetry to be written about, for songs to be sung to, for stories to be scribbled down in wonder... and for couples to stand under, hand in hand - with stars in their eyes.

This is how stars came to be.

They were born, as one would expect, from a fairytale.

Once upon a time, in a land whose borders have long since moved beyond memory, there lived a young princess called Asta. She was in fact rather more than just princess; she was the Crown Princess, and when her father died (which with great good luck, would not be for many years yet), the country would be hers to rule. This pleased the people greatly, as she was generous, and kind, and known for her wit and humour. Was she a great beauty? Not really; but she had an indefinable something which made her more attractive to the young princes in those parts than all the classic sharp-cheekboned goddesses soulfully mooning around the court.

She was certainly in no hurry to take on the role of Queen. Since her mother's death, she and her father had been very close, and the thought of his not being around, a pack of large slobbery dogs at his shabby heels, was almost too much to bear.

We all know however, that life isn't kind, or fair, and that sometimes great pain has to come before great happiness. And this, sadly, was closer than anyone could have anticipated.

The entire country had been humming with excitement for weeks, because it was both the 30th anniversary of the King's ascension to the throne, and Asta's 21st birthday. Preparations for an enormous ball had been occupying the court, with neighbouring nations sending emissaries and envoys - not to mention hopeful royal suitors. Unfortunately, not all of those who had to be invited were friends... some, as the King had taught Asta carefully, were strategic guests.

One of them was Queen Ondska.

She was incredibly beautiful, it was true. She was also incredibly ambitious, and had made no secret of her desire to marry the widowed King. It was whispered that she had magic in her blood, but only the brave (or perhaps the foolhardy) dared to voice their suspicions aloud, for those who did had a nasty habit of disappearing.

Ondska arrived with her usual pomp and ceremony, a large retinue, and an even larger mirror, which glittered strangely and made the servants uncomfortable. Asta disliked her intensely, but was too well mannered to let it show - and of course she would never let her father down by being less than courteous to any guest.

The night of the ball arrived. Asta had noticed that her father had looked quite pale all day, but he assured her he was well, just preoccupied with making sure all of their guests were taken care of. And she was, admittedly, a little too excited to notice the extent of his pallor and shaking hands.

As she and the King descended the stairs into the palace ballroom, the assembled crowd bowed low. Even Ondska, although it was with gritted teeth. As they straightened up, Asta noticed a young man she had never before seen looking straight at her. He had a look of wildness, and fearlessness, and adventure, and life.

Then he grinned, and Asta's hitherto untouched heart was lost. Her worries over her father, her nagging concern over Ondska and her magic - all were gone. All she saw was a tall figure with laughing eyes making his way towards her, hand held out, asking her to dance.

His name was Prince Fin, and he had been at sea, heading his father's navy. He had been sent to the celebrations because his brother the Crown Prince and his wife were about to have their first child, and could not leave home. He explained this to Asta as they danced, saying with a grin that 'as the spare, I am used to being the last minute substitute for diplomatic missions. I must say in this case, it is no hardship at all.'

'In fact, I am not sure I am likely to ever return to sea - unless I were to have a new executive officer, who just happened to be a princess.'

Asta blushed. And grinned back. And Fin felt his heart turn over.

Suddenly there was a commotion near the throne dais. Asta looked up, and her world collapsed. The King was lying on the ground. He was horribly, terribly still; and she saw the Lord Chamberlain shake his head, search the crowd, and through the whirling white noise in her head, as Fin held her up, heard the words she had thought would be years away:

The King is dead... Long live the Queen!

She hid her face for a moment against Fin's chest, then straightened up and walked towards her people.

She did not see the look of malevolence and triumph on Ondska's face.

In the Queen's rooms meanwhile, a maidservant ran in fear as the mirror spoke. Unfortunately, she tripped and broke her neck, which of course everyone dismissed as clumsiness, so she was never able to say whose voice she had heard.

Or, of course, what it had said.

In the days that followed, everyone said with what dignity the young Queen comported herself. Or, it should be said, the Queen to be, for she was yet to be crowned. Asta insisted on the correct mourning period being observed for her father before any kind of celebration be held, and that included her own coronation. This only added to how dearly her people loved her, for it showed her grief and respect.

Fin did not leave her side. Asta found herself reaching for him without thinking, and it was only his steadiness which saved her from retreating to her room and staying there. But this she couldn't do, for she had seen the way Ondska was watching.

Watching... and waiting.

The Queen claimed to be staying 'for Asta's solace'. And her standing was too great, her own country too powerful for Asta to say 'please leave'. But the servants were growing ever more nervous, to the point where after dark they would not go to her quarters, claiming there were voices coming from the mirror.

Finally, the day of the coronation approached. Asta realised that for the sake of her people, she had to see it as a happy occasion. If she was brutally honest with herself, in some ways she was happy, for she knew she would rule well and wisely - and of course there was Fin.


He was nervous. Petrified in fact, because today was the day he was going to ask Asta to marry him - and he had to do it before she was crowned, so that she understood it was for her that he asked, not her country. He took a deep breath, and got ready to see her. Just as he was about to set off to her rooms, Queen Ondska called out to him.

'Prince Fin. If I may? I would very much appreciate your counsel.'

Fin turned. He had no desire whatsoever to be anywhere near the Queen, but as he looked at her, she snapped her fingers in front of his face, and he felt his will being drained. She smiled.

It was not a nice smile.

'If you will, Prince Fin... just stand in front of the mirror. Just for a moment.'

With the last of his strength, he tried to avert his gaze. But the mirror pulled at him, and with mounting horror he looked into its depths.

And saw the King, and hundreds of others behind him, sorrow in their eyes.

And he felt his own death upon him.

Asta had expected Fin to escort her to the throne room, and when he didn't appear, decided to find him. She had felt an uneasy tickling in the back of her mind for a while, and it seemed to be growing the closer she got - why, it was the closer she got to Queen Ondska's rooms! She knocked at the door. There was no answer, but she heard a low cry - and she pushed on the latch. It opened, and she ran inside.

She saw Fin lying still and white on the floor in front of the mirror, and the Queen looking as though she had just finished a wonderful meal.

'What... what has happened here?' she whispered.

Ondska looked at her, her eyes glazed with power and evil.

'Oh my dear. I am afraid there has been a tragic accident. Your dear Prince has died. There was nothing to be done. I am so very sorry for you!'

'Fin - no! It can't - '

'But yes. As you can see, he is clearly not coming back. I think it is best you immediately call off the coronation and go into mourning. Perhaps you should consider appointing a regent? Someone older, more capable. Trustworthy.'

Ondska's voice had taken on a hypnotic hissing quality. For a moment, Asta was mesmerised.

And then she looked in the mirror.

And saw Fin and her father looking back, shaking their heads.

The clouds in her mind dissolved.

Asta screamed. It came from deep - so deep - inside her, and sounded like the agonised cry of a seabird. It was a scream of agony, and loss, and love, and a breaking heart.

The mirror shattered, the pieces flying, whirling outwards in a glittering, lethal diamond cloud - towards Ondska. There was a sudden blur, a snarling roar of defeat, a babble of triumphant voices - and then, like a shining tornado, the source of the Queen's power and her death headed for the skies.

And all that was left of Ondska was a pool of puddled velvet... and a rapidly blackening crown.

There was a low whisper.


She whirled around, the colour coming back to her face.

It was Fin. He was back... and beside him, her father.

The joy in the castle was overwhelming.

That night, a strange phenomenon was observed in the sky. Glittering points of light had started to shine - faintly, it was true, but they shone nevertheless. Over the course of the next few decades, they grew stronger and stronger, until people could not remember a time when there were not shimmering ribbons of unreality above.

And what did they call them?

In the common tongue, they called them 'stars'... but those who knew and loved her best remembered who they were named after.


Shine on.

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

Once there was a princess. Her name was Amelia.

She lived in a not so far off land with her father and mother, the King and Queen, who were generally beloved by the populace - mainly because they were fairly ordinary, and did things like take budget flights instead of the Royal Jet to make sure they didn't squeeze the economy. People tend to appreciate value for money I have found, and these two were right on top of budgeting.

Her three older sisters on the other hand...

Let's just say that if you combined Elizabeth Taylor's love of very large rocks with Imelda Marcos' shoe habit - you wouldn't even touch the sides. As far as they were concerned, Princess equalled PRINCESS in bold and with flashing lights in case someone missed the point. They were not interested in anything much besides shopping, more shopping and waiting for a prince with a black AmEx to whisk them away to a larger castle with better closet space.

Amelia though - well, Amelia was a little bit...


She didn't look peculiar. She didn't sound peculiar. Everyone thought she was a lovely girl - certainly much nicer than the Shopaholics - uh, I mean her siblings. She just didn't seem to quite fit in, and nobody could really put their finger on it - even her parents, much as they loved her, found it easier to deal with large credit card bills, and getting the royal carpenters in to put up new shoe racks, rather than address what was going on with Princess Number 4.

Amelia herself though - she knew exactly what the issue was. And she was finding it harder and harder to hide her 'totally bizarre weirdness' as her delightful eldest sister Prunella called it.

Princess A had very vivid dreams. This wasn't the totally bizarre weird part however - many people have startlingly 'real' dreams and are none the worse for it, other than a tendency to grin stupidly during the day if it was a particularly enjoyable one. No - the TBW was this;

Amelia's dreams were starting to come true.


It began when she turned twenty-one. The night before her birthday, she dreamt that the next day, Morcilla (she got off lightly with Amelia, didn't she?), sister number two, was going to throw an enormous tanty when she saw Amelia's birthday present and insist that it be given to her. As it was a vintage Mercedes convertible, Amelia wasn't too keen on this idea (hey, she may not have been a shopping addict, but the girl was only human) and told Morcilla if she touched a finger to the paintwork, her hand would be permanently stuck to it until she promised to never, ever go near it again.

And this is exactly what happened. Morcilla went berkers, Amelia said her piece - and suddenly an errant finger was attached to the bonnet. Shrieks, tears and a grudging promise later - the finger was removed and Amelia was sitting in a corner glugging champagne out of terror (and quiet enjoyment) at what had just happened.

A few more similar incidents occurred, mostly involving her sisters and their love of shiny objects. Amelia would dream a scenario, and within a few days - hey presto, it happened. Whilst this had a certain good side effect of making her sisters leave her (and her possessions) alone, Amelia was petrified that one night, she would dream something which ended up hurting someone badly - and so she stopped sleeping.


No person, let alone a princess who spent most of her time in surrounding kingdoms on diplomatic duties, can go without sleep. Things go wrong when there's tiredness involved, such as promising the next door country the profits from the year's beet crop (big bucks - they loved their beets in that part of the world). And eventually, as she was strap-hanging on the Fly Cheap, Fly Standing! flight home after the Beet Incident of '03... her eyes closed.

And she started to dream.

This one wasn't about shoes, or cars, or grabby sisters. This one - well, this one was a nightmare. The land was on fire. Her parents were held by very large men with very large weapons - her father had been hit and was bleeding. Her sisters were also in the same situation, but even nightmares have some moments of levity. And there was a man with a cruel, hard face, in a very ostentatious uniform, who said to Amelia 'this is all your doing - after all, you dreamt it, didn't you?'

She woke up on the floor of the plane, with her bodyguards trying frantically to work out why she was screaming.

And so it was back to insomnia. Until two weeks later.

When the kingdom was attacked.

They came from nowhere - moving swiftly and silently. The cities were surrounded by tanks and insanely complicated weaponry. Amelia's family were dragged from the palace in the middle of the night, and it was all just as she had dreamed it would be. She struggled, and fought (and took quite a few men out - just saying) - but eventually she was face to face with General Despicable from her dream. He slapped her, which was totally unnecessary but showed the kind of ratbrain he was.

'Tell your parents to send out a notice of surrender, or I will kill your entire family - and it will be your fault, Princess Amelia' he said, with a faint smile.

'What did you do to me?' she asked very bravely.

'Oh, the standard evil fairy thing - when you were born, got her to put a curse on you, yada yada yada' he replied, yawning and examining his seriously long nails (yuck).  'She guaranteed that eventually you would dream something which would allow me to take over - and I am delighted to say, she didn't lie. I killed her anyway, but I do like value for money'.

'And by the way', he added 'apparently the curse is unbreakable - you will always dream the truth. Bad luck there.'

Amelia looked around at her parents, her sobbing sisters, and listened to the gunfire and terror surrounding them. And she realised there was only one thing to do.

She put all of her love for her family and her country into her thoughts - and fell asleep. She vaguely heard and felt the General screaming at her to wake up and shaking her, but she was determined to sleep, perchance to dream.

And dream she did. She dreamt of her parents. She dreamt of the beet crops (I told you she was weird). She even dreamt of her sisters, who for once hugged and kissed her instead of stealing her shoes. She dreamt of every good thing she could... and finally, she dreamt a dead General and a defeated army.

And she opened her eyes and smiled, because she had dreamed her own truth.

The army was gone. The General was a cloud of dust at her feet. And the kingdom and her family were safe.  It may have been a curse, but who exactly had the curse been on? Those evil fairies sometimes aren't quite as evil as they look, you know.  

The country rejoiced. Her parents were back in fiduciary charge. Amelia went back to dreaming of - well, just normal dreams - there may have been a prince somewhere in there, but that's her business. And her sisters...

Let's just say they developed a healthy respect for not touching other princesses' property.

Dream a little dream.

Time After Time

Behaving like a princess is work. It’s not just about looking beautiful or wearing a crown. It’s more about how you are inside.
— Julie Andrews

Once upon a time there was a princess.

It would be wonderful to say that she was a particularly beautiful princess, or that she was amazingly charming, or had some special skill such as being able to play the piano with her feet or speak eleven languages including something very obscure - but no. As far as she and everybody else around her was aware, she was extremely ordinary indeed.

In fact, if it wasn't for the fact that she was of royal birth, probably nobody would have paid much attention to her at all.

This isn't to say that she wasn't a nice girl - she was a very nice girl. She was kind, and considerate, and thoughtful. She was intelligent and well-read and good to her servants. She was always doing lovely things for other people. But she was just - average. Which in fairy tale parlance is unusual. Normally princesses have a defining characteristic. They are either especially beautiful, tragically kept in a tower, under some kind of curse - well, you know the drill.

But not young Persephone (that was our sort of heroine's name). She just toodled along, being herself - which was quite frankly, as un-princessy as possible, because she didn't much like fuss, and hoping desperately that her father, the King lived forever, not just because she loved him very much... but also because she never, ever wanted to be Queen.

She knew she would suck at it. Who wants an ordinary Queen?

People either want a benevolent, bluebirds singing on the shoulder kind of ruler; or in a pinch (because at least it's interesting) a cruel, stone cold fox with the whole blood red lips and jet black hair thing going on.

Magic mirror optional.

Persephone knew that neither of these were an option because she couldn't sing for quids and freckles and straight brown hair don't really lend themselves to Chanel Rouge Allure; also she wasn't very good at the whole mirthless 'mwah ha ha' cackle. So she was really very pleased that her dear Papa seemed in very good health and didn't look like popping off the twig any time soon. She also wasn't overly enamoured with the whole having to find a handsome prince as her consort notion, mainly because no handsome princes were really showing a hell of a lot of interest in a very average princess without a tragic storyline or Miss America looks to fall back on.

And then one day, things changed very rapidly for dear Persephone.

First of all, her parents decided that she really did have to get married. Not because they were mean or nasty, but because that's the way things were done in those days. So they organised a great tournament and all of the knights and lords and princes from the lands around were going to attend - because whilst Persephone was not a huge drawcard, getting half of a kingdom if you were an impoverished young noble wasn't such a bad dealio.

And then - ugh - her cousin came to stay. And she most definitely was of the 'have an apple - it might be poisoned, but you won't really care, because I am just so damn hot' variety of princess. Think Angelina Jolie with a basket full of Granny Smiths and you wouldn't be far off. And with her - probably coincidentally, let's be charitable here - came a strange blight on the land. The crops started dying; animals sickened. And worst of all...

Worst of all, the King became very ill.

Persephone and her mother, the Queen, were besides themselves with worry. Her cousin, Princess Whatsherface, seemed less concerned. And the King insisted that the tourney go ahead, as did Angie. 'It will be good for morale' she declared. 'It will make the people see that everything is as it should be.'

It possibly would have been less sinister if she hadn't been stroking a black evil looking cat as she said this, but never mind.

So the tournament day dawned, and Persephone - in her ordinary way - sat front and centre representing her father, with the witch queen in training beside her looking radiantly lovely (and smug) as the competitors came forth to win her hand. The jousts began. They seemed to be more than usually violent, and cousin Angie was staring very hard at certain sinister looking knights who seemed to do remarkably well. Persephone began to feel very uneasy, for she was not as we have said, a stupid girl, and wondered what her cousin was actually capable of.

She soon found out when a knight in jet black armour veered away from the lists and charged straight at her, lance aimed directly at her heart.

Vaguely she heard the crowd screaming (despite her ordinariness - or perhaps because of it - she was actually very much loved) and the only thing she could think to do was to say 'please...


She heard a strange roaring and then - silence.

And realised something quite miraculous.

Everything had stopped.

The lance was but a few centimetres from her body. Her cousin was frozen with a look of malicious pleasure on her face, which was revealed to be not beautiful but dark and twisted and evil. Persephone carefully moved from her throne and went to the knight and removed his helmet. His face was - well, it was very handsome (so sue her, she was human) and twisted in agony. He was obviously trying to fight the command that her cousin had put on him.

Princess P didn't know how or why she, the most ordinary girl in the world, had been blessed with this very unusual ability. But she knew what she had to do. She carefully moved the lance a few inches to the right. She put the knight's helmet back on. And then she sat back on her throne, took a deep breath...

And said...


And the lance went straight through the very black heart of her velvet clad cousin, who didn't even have time to look surprised before disappearing in a cloud of fairly greasy black smoke, leaving behind scorch marks and strangely, a tube of expensive lipstick.

The rest of the story is fairly predictable. The King and the land recovered, the young knight fell wildly in love with Persephone - and she with him (he was pretty damn hot, people, and yes, yes, intelligent and kind and good) and they lived a long and happy life together. She was handily able to freeze time whenever she felt like it after that first occurrence, so if he had something like the last piece of chocolate and wouldn't give it up - well, you can see where I am going.

Persephone never could understand why she, the most average of princesses, would be given this extraordinary gift of being able to stop time. But perhaps I can answer that for her.

One doesn't necessarily have to look extraordinary on the outside to be extraordinary on the inside.

Bear that in mind next time you see someone who may look like a frog - or even just an everyday girl.

They could be a princess in disguise.