When you say the words “Once upon a time,” anything can happen.
Once upon a time in the land of Anywhere, in a world long since forgotten, there lived, in the fine and prosperous city of Anyplace, a charming young couple. The couple were not yet Married or even Living in Sin (for this was as common in the land of Anywhere as it is in your own time and place), rather they were Courting with a view to Getting Married.
It was agreed by the people of the neighbourhood that the young couple were indeed a very handsome pair who seemed very happy together, Much In Love and, oh, what Beautiful Children they would have.
So, all was well with this charming young couple. Until.
Until Position And Wealth and Money raised their Ugly Heads.
You see, there was a considerable difference in the Social Standing of each half of this particular Lovely Young Couple.
The Boy, who you will come to know as Frederick, was of humble origins, for his parents were Lowly Farmers. He, himself, had come to the city of Anyplace at the age of eighteen to pursue his Love Of Painting, which it was generally agreed he was really rather good at. One day, maybe, he would be a Rich And Famous Painter. But maybe not, for few of those Equally Blessed And Cursed with an Artistic Temperament learn to Monetise It’s Value.
At least that’s the way the parents of The Girl, who you will come to know as Isobel, thought.
Isobel’s mother and father were Concerned Parents who considered themselves to have their Daughter’s Best Interests At Heart. They did not approve of Isobel’s relationship with Frederick for the boy’s Chosen Occupation and Humble Background simply were not good enough, he was an Unsuitable Suitor. Isobel’s parents were Wealthy And Successful Merchants who had made a Fortune trading and selling insurance against Troll attacks, Troll Depredation Insurance as it was known in the land of Anywhere. They considered it entirely realistic that within a decade or so, given more hard work on their part and a Good Marriage on Isobel’s, their family could join the ranks of the Truly And Extraordinarily Wealthy One Percent and live in one of the Fine And Opulent Mansions in the hills outside Anyplace.
For this reason, they came to the Firm Conclusion that Isobel’s romance with Frederick had to come to an end. The parents had believed that Isobel would grow out of Her Infatuation with the boy, but over a year had passed now since the two had met and still that had not happened. The girl obviously needed a Talking To, she had to be made to see The Error Of Her Ways.
And so the Concerned Parents sat Isobel down and told her the dispiriting tale of The Way Of The World. They explained to her that her boyfriend, though very handsome and talented in an artistic way was, given his chosen career path, unlikely ever to have Real Money. Who then would buy her all the Gorgeous Dresses And Shoes, from the chicest shops in Anyplace, that she was so fond of? And the Jewellery? And the Hats? And the Exotic Perfumes? And where would she live? Did she really want to live her life in Frederick’s poky little rented flat in a Poor Area of the city? And imagine, if they should have children, there would be no money for a Nanny and she would have to raise them herself! Oh, the indignity of it all. How people would laugh at her! Why, she would be Ostracised From Polite Society for abiding in such Poverty-stricken Misery!
Isobel sat there and listened to her parents. And at this point I know you want me to say that Isobel weighed her Love for Frederick against all the Shallow And Pointless Concerns that her parents had raised and came down firmly on the side of Love. I’m afraid not. For Isobel was truly her parents’ daughter. The shameful truth is that she was Shallow, and she was Obsessed With Money And Position. True to her Nature, she concluded her parents were right. Frederick had to go, he really was an Unsuitable Suitor. She had to make a Good Marriage. That way she would get all the Good Things From Life that she deserved so.
The very next day she sent one of her father’s servants to the shabby area of town where Frederick lived to deliver him a letter. In the letter, she told Fredrick that she did not love him and never had, he had been but a Diversion that had Run It’s Course and she no longer wanted to See Him or even Know Him.
Poor Frederick was heart-broken. He knew he and Isobel had, indeed, loved each other. Why had this happened? He did not understand.
Lovelorn and lost, Frederick took to waiting outside the house where Isobel lived. He would stand around, dazed and lost, until she left the property and then follow her, like an anxious puppy, around the city. He did not do this to stress or distress, for Frederick was a Truly Good Man with nothing but Love In His Soul, rather he did it because he still loved her intensely, despite her Brutal Rejection. Even to see her from afar filled his heart with joy.
Unfortunately, Frederick’s Sad And Lost Behaviour did not go unnoticed. In fact, his following of Isobel’s every footstep became the Subject Of Gossip. When this Gossip reached the ears of Isobel’s father he was Deeply Disturbed And Apocalyptically Angry. Fearing that such Gossip may damage his daughter’s chances of making a Good Marriage, he decided that Decisive Steps had to be taken.
Now, Isobel’s father had, like all wealthy people, a dark little secret. You see, the market in Troll Depredation Insurance in the land of Anywhere is fuelled by the on-going and continuous nature of Troll Attacks and General Troll-related Mischief. Unknown to the public, though, the majority of said Troll attacks were instigated and paid for by Isobel’s father to keep demand for his insurance services buoyant. This was a vital constituent of his business’s Marketing Strategy.
For this reason, he had Extensive Contacts within the Troll Community and decided to use these to “warn off” Frederick.
One night, a particularly large and vicious Troll (with a hefty payment from Isobel’s father in his pocket) snuck into the city of Anyplace under Cover Of Darkness. Stealthily, the Troll made his way to Frederick’s small flat. Skilfully and quietly he broke in, found his way into Frederick’s bedroom and bundled the hapless fellow into a Large Sack he had bought with him for just such a purpose.
Throwing the sack, kicking and screaming Frederick and all, over one burly shoulder the Troll made his way back out of Frederick’s flat and ran through the streets of Anyplace at that incredible speed that can be attained by a Troll In A Hurry, that being slightly faster than the animal that you know in your world as a cheetah.
Soon, the Troll and Frederick were outside the City Limits, the Troll still running. A few minutes later and Frederick and his kidnapper were deep within an isolated patch of forest.
The Troll stopped. He dropped the sack from his shoulder and shook it until Unfortunate Fredrick fell out. Then taking a hammer and a sharp knife, before the Dazed And Confused Frederik had time to react, he sliced deep cuts up and down the poor man’s face with the knife and used the hammer to break every finger on both of his hands.
Bewildered, shocked and in deep pain Frederick lay there in the dirt of the forest floor still unsure as to what had just happened. Then all came clear. As Frederick laying crying and bleeding, the Troll crouched down next to him and told him to stay away from Isobel: if he did not then he and Frederick would meet again and that meeting would make this one seem like a cosy chat between friends.
Standing up, the Troll threw his head back and gave a long, loud and evil laugh (more for effect than anything else as Troll’s are very much given to the Dramatic Gesture) before sprinting away.
Frederick was left there, in the dirt, mud and leaves, sliding in and out of consciousness, slowly bleeding to death from the wounds on his face for the Troll, in his enthusiastic violence, had cut far too deeply, turning what should have been a warning into a Potentially Fatal Occurrence.
And bled to death he would have done if, at that exact point had not Fate, the Blind Old Spinstress Who Weaves Together The Threads Of Our Lives, decided to intervene.
For along came a Fairy.
Now, in the land of Anywhere, Fairies are pretty much universally feared. This is for two reasons. The first is that they can see deep into the Human Soul and define a person’s nature in seconds. You can hide nothing from a Fairy. The second reason is the Duality Of Their Nature. Fairies are capable of using their Not Inconsiderable Powers Of Magic for either Great Evil (their tendency to steal human children for nobody knows what purpose, for example) or Great Good. Unfortunately, Fairies have a naturally mischievous nature so they tend to come down on the evil side. Needless to say, then, people in the land of Anywhere try to avoid Fairies at all costs.
So how would this Duplicitous And Untrustworthy by nature Fairy choose to react to poor, injured Frederick?
Fortunately for Frederick, this particular Fairy had a Story. What you would not know in your world, is that Fairies live for precisely 897 years and 13 days. And then, they simply de-materialise and cease to exist. Now on that particular day, our particular Fairy had reached the 897th year and 3rd day of her existence. During her life she had been a particularly Mischievous Fairy and, to not mince words, she had never used her powers for good, not even once. Staring down at Frederick, now completely unconscious, she examined his Soul and saw that there was nothing bad there, he was a Truly Good Man who was full of only Love and Beauty, a man who was a Painter and a True Artist, and she was moved: she could help this Good Man, and finally do a Good Thing in her life. In doing so she could not only Redeem herself but also pay tribute to the Beloved Memory of her Fairy Life-partner who had reached her 897th year and 13th day just the year before and who had been, as much as it’s possible, a Good Fairy.
Seeking Her Redemption, the fairy hovered above Frederick, closed her eyes, spread her arms and opened her mouth, from which came a low humming noise followed by a cloud of glittering, golden dust which gathered around the Fairy’s head before streaming off in two directions, half of the sparkling dust cloud coating Frederick’s bleeding face, the other half his broken fingers. The wounds glittered and shone, the Fairy closed her mouth and opened her eyes, the dust disappeared, Frederick’s wounds were…healed: his face was scarred and still mutilated but no longer bleeding; his fingers were knobbly, twisted, deformed…but no longer broken.
Frederick would not now die of his injuries, but the Fairy was aware that there were limits to her restorative powers. Frederick would no longer be a handsome man, indeed his face would be something that, on dark nights, would Scare Small Children. And his hands. His battered hands. He would never paint again. So the Fairy decided to give this Good Man one more gift. From this day on, as long as Frederick held a paint brush in his hands, Fairy Magic would do the rest and he would be able to commit to canvas the beauty that was in his Soul. As a final caveat, and just because she didn’t want to besmirch the reputation of Fairies by seeming too nice, Frederick would only be able to paint the Beauty of His Soul for as long as he remained a Truly Good Man.
Her job done and feeling Very Righteous, the Fairy went on her way. Now she had done something good she could spend her final days being especially bad: she was off to torment some Trolls and maybe steal a human child or two. What fun she was going to have!
Eventually Frederick awoke and found his way out of the forest. Back at his humble home he sat down and cried. What had happened to him? He remembered the Troll’s warning and the savage attack. But after that? How had his wounds healed so quickly? Somebody must have helped, but who? And why had they bothered? He had lost so much. He knew he could never see Isobel again, not just because the Troll would kill him but also because what woman would be interested in a man with such a Hideously Scarred face? Just as bad, Frederick realised, looking at his twisted fingers, that he’d never paint again. What was the point in living?
For some days Frederick lay in his bed trying very hard to die but Frustratingly Unable To Do So.
Suddenly, like an alarm clock or a small bomb going off, he was filled with an Over-powering and Irresistible urge to paint. But that was ridiculous. What could he do with his crippled fingers?
Nevertheless, the urge to create a picture was so strong within a few short minutes Frederick found himself in front of a blank canvas and a selection of paints. Awkwardly, he clasped a paint brush and gasped in amazement as his hand and arm took on a life of their own, painting a picture unbidden and unaided. He passed into a calm and warm trance, awaking only when the picture was finished. And what a picture it turned out to be! It was completely abstract in nature, shot through with beautiful colour that glowed and pulsed with the bloom of life; shapes that pleased and enticed the eye, soothed the mind and raised the spirits. Frederick saw he had just done something no artist had done before. He had created a picture of the Beauty In His Soul. He had caught the Infinite Power Of The Universe in a picture.
From that day, Frederick would carry on painting and after a number of years was immensely rich and well-regarded, his paintings being seen as amazing items of True Beauty, Much in Demand And Highly Valuable. And despite his physical short-comings and loss of his Beloved Isobel, Frederick became happy with his life, he would eventually move into a fine house in the Best Part Of Town and become a Noted Society Figure.
Meanwhile, things had gone badly for Isobel. Her family’s business had collapsed when a member of one of the families of the One Percent had decided there was unfulfilled potential in Troll Depredation Insurance and had started up a Highly Geared Business that priced Isobel’s family out of the market with Predatory Pricing.
The family’s wealth vanished like Fairy Mist on a summer’s morning and Isobel’s parents had to throw themselves upon the Mercy Of The Government and move into Social Housing. Upon finding out that Isobel was no longer wealthy all her Fine Friends deserted her. Her husband (who had turned out to not be such a good catch after all) threw his now Poor And Undesirable wife of No Social Standing and their two children out into the street, barring the doors of his Fine Home against them.
Seeking Shelter for her and the children, the Devastated Isobel went to her parents’ dilapidated Government tenement down a dark and dirty ginnel. They decided they had more than enough of their own problems; they told her and her mewling, snot-nosed brats to seek shelter elsewhere.
Desperate, Isobel could think of only one other place to go. To the home of a man who was now a Rich And Famous Artist: a man she had once loved, a man who, in her heart of hearts and if she allowed her Soul to be True To Itself rather than True To Her Nature, she still loved. A man who perhaps still loved her.
And so Isobel appeared on Frederick’s doorstep.
Upon opening his door and seeing Isobel there, Frederick found himself lost for words as all his old feelings of love for her came flooding back. She explained her circumstances to him, begged his forgiveness for the way she had treated him and appealed for help, if not for her at least for The Children.
At that point Frederick nearly, nearly, took Isobel back into his life. But suddenly his Heart Hardened. He thought of the pain and physical damage she had caused him. Of the betrayal of his love. He could not forgive her. He just could not do it. Quietly he closed the door in her face and she and her Children slunk away to be lost in the Fog Of Forgotten Stories that make up so much of history.
For a few moments, Frederick stood in the Grand Hallway of his Grand Home and thought maybe, just maybe, he should have forgiven Isobel and taken her in? Perhaps, even at this late stage, they could have built a life together?
No, she had been too inexplicably and devastatingly cruel to him, he had done The Right Thing.
Later that night, Frederick decided to try and improve what had been a bad day by painting one of his Much Desired Artworks. Frederick sat in front of a blank canvas. As usual his hands and arms began their work and he lapsed into his familiar trance-like state. And then he awoke. And what was before him was a disaster. The canvas was black, just black, an expanse of flat, dead, emotionless, meaningless black paint. It was a nothingness, bereft of Beauty And Soul. In a fit of panic, Frederick grabbed another blank canvas and tried again. The result was another dead mass of black. He tried again and again, working through the night but nothing changed and by the morning he had accumulated a collection of eight worthless, pointless, lifeless black canvases.
Frederick collapsed to the floor and sobs racked his body. He knew that he had made a bad decision, done the Wrong Thing and that something inside him had died, a thing of Great Beauty had left his life for ever, a Precious Gift had been taken away and would never be returned.