Zeborah Loray 2000

Pietre, Sheralindra's pet mer-rat
The Princess
and the Water Rat

A Fable

by Zeborah Loray

      Princess Sheralindra sat quietly in the garden arbor of the inner courtyard. It was her refuge. Her mother had it built of fragrant sandalwood especially for her.

      She was so lonely. The summer palace was beautiful, but isolated. Queen Elise and King Tomas enjoyed their summers here, but for Sheralindra it was ever so tedious. There was no one to play games with, no one to talk to.

       She looked down at her embroidery. The golden threads in the unicorn horn and hoofs glinted in the morning sun. She sighed as she expertly wove her needle in and out of the fine fabric. Her needlework was her only consolation. She loved creating beautiful things.

      Sounds of carriage wheels and voices from beyond the garden wall caught her attention. Carefully placing her embroidery into her workbasket, Sheralindra went to investigate.

      It was her favorite uncle, Count Kadin of Trelance. "Ah Sheralindra, how good to see you my dear. I have brought you a gift. Something to keep you company here at the summer palace."

      Count Kadin set before her a lidded picnic basket.

      "Thank you, Uncle". Sheralindra smiled.

      She undid the latch and opened the lid. The basket was lined with dampened moss and leaves. Nestled in its moist bed was the most beautiful water rat Sheralindra had ever seen. Its sleek coat of blue fur was soft and shining. The fins on its' tail and ears and paws were marked with a lovely rainbow of colors.

      "Oh! It is so very pretty, Uncle. Thank you. Wherever did you find such an exquisite creature?"

      "A strange story that. As I was traveling here to see your father, I stopped in a clearing to lunch. There was a family of water rats frolicking at streamside and I tossed them a few crumbs. Then I noticed this fellow. He came right up to me and set at my table as politely as any courtier. I realized from his pretty coloring and fine manners, that he must have been someone's pet that had become lost. He hopped quite readily into my picnic basket, so I brought him to you. He will make a fine companion for you here at the summer palace."

      "My thanks, Uncle dear. I promise I will cherish him and keep him safe. I shall name him . . . Pietre."

      And so saying, Sheralindra brought Pietre to her room and set about to make him comfortable. First, she had a beautiful large ceramic bowl, planted with water lilies brought in, so Pietre would have a place to swim.

      "Where shall I put this, Your Highness?" asked the servant.

      "I want Pietre near me so he won't be lonely. Take away my painting easel to make room." And so they did.

      Next she sent for a large planter with ferns and flowers so Pietre would have a comfortable place to make his nest.

      "Where shall we put this, Your Highness?" asked the servant.

      "Ah-Pietre will need that near his swimming bowl, so I suppose you will need to remove my little writing desk," said Sheralindra sadly. She would miss her writing desk. She often wrote poetry when she was feeling sad and lonely. It seemed to cheer her up. But now that she had Pietre she wouldn't be lonely anymore.

      Every day Sheralindra took Pietre to the garden with her. She would watch him swim in the garden pool as she sat in her arbor. Then she held him in her lap and talked to him. She had never been happier at the summer palace. She could talk to Pietre about all that was in her heart and he would listen patiently while she petted him and fed him the finest tidbits she had set aside from her meals.

      "You are most sensitive and intelligent for a water rat. I do truly love you." When she said this, Pietre scampered up to her shoulder and chattered softly in her ear.

      "What are you trying to tell me?" asked Sheralindra.

      She held Pietre and gazed into his bright shining eyes. "There is something very special about you", she said. "I must take you to Lord Garlan and ask his advice."

      Lord Garlan was Queen Elise's advisor. He was a powerful mage, but he was growing very old. He was considered to be the wisest man in the kingdom.

      Sheralindra brought Pietre to Lord Garlan's chambers.

      "Lord Garlan, I seek your council on a most important matter."

      Lord Garlan looked up from his tome of Magic. "What have you there?" he asked, peering at the water rat.

      "This is Pietre," said Sheralindra. "He is my closest friend and companion. I know he appears to be a water rat, but I am sure is something more. Could he be an enchanted Prince?"

      "Well," said Lord Garlan, "there have been cases of that sort in the past. I suppose it is possible."

      "How can I break this terrible curse on my beloved?" asked Sheralindra.

      "Let me see now," said Lord Garlan. "I know I have a book on just that subject here in my library." He rummaged through a stack of dusty books, and drew one out for Sheralindra. "I wish you the best of luck. Let me know how it goes." He handed the book to her and went back to his studies.

      Sheralindra went back to her room and excitedly opened the book. "Oh Pietre," she exclaimed, "What a joy it shall be to see you in your true form." She studied late into the night and finally decided on a course of action.

      The next morning she found Pietre swimming in his bowl, took him out, and dried him off. "You shall come to breakfast with me this morn. If I treat you as a prince, I'm sure it will break the evil spell."

      Sheralindra came to breakfast with Pietre riding on her shoulder. She ordered the servants to place cushions on a chair so Pietre could reach the table. When her mother and father arrived, they looked aghast at their table guest.

      "Sheralindra," said King Tomas, "You cannot have your pet sit at the table."

      "Please father, I beg of you. He is my best friend. Won't you allow it just this once?"

      "Well perhaps--" said Queen Elise. Just then Pietre jumped from his cushions onto his plate.

      "Now that is unacceptable," said King Tomas. "Take that creature away immediately."

      At that moment, Pietre jumped from his plate and landed in the milk pitcher. The pitcher fell, spilling the milk and Pietre out onto the table. Pietre grabbed a bit of pastry and scurried off amidst the screams of the serving girls.

      Sheralindra sobbed and cried. "You have spoiled everything, Father. How could you insult my dear Pietre so? You have hurt his feelings." She ran from the dining hall and up to her room.

      When she arrived in her room she found a soggy Pietre sitting on her bed, morosely nibbling his pastry. "I am so sorry Pietre. I'm sure it would have worked if Father hadn't been so cruel. I will find another way. Have faith in me."

      She spent the entire day studying the book of magic. She refused to go to the dining hall for meals and didn't touch the trays the serving girls brought her.

      Finally she announced, "I have a new plan, Pietre. I'm sure this will work. I will get started first thing in the morning."

      Morning came and she set to work. "I shall make you a fine set of clothes, fit for a prince." But when she opened her sewing basket, she discovered that Pietre had chewed her lovely embroidery to shreds to make himself a nest.

      "It's all right, Pietre. I forgive you. How could I have been so thoughtless? A prince cannot be expected to be content with a nest of leaves and grasses amidst the potted ferns. It is all my fault."

      She ordered her servants to have made a gilded bed hung with the finest linens for Pietre.

      None of the material at the summer palace was fine enough for sewing Pietre's new clothes. So Sheralindra cut pieces from her best brocade gown to make his new coat. She used pearls from her necklace for the buttons. Her best lace edged hanky became his shirt and collar and she used her hair ribbons to sew his new pants. She even sacrificed her favorite gloves to make him a pair of soft leather boots.

      When at last she was done, she dressed Pietre in his new finery and said the magic words from the book. Nothing happened. Pietre dove into his swimming bowl, ruining his new clothes, and refused to come out.

      "I have failed," cried Sheralindra. "If only I had been capable of making you a fine courtier's hat, I'm sure it would have worked. Please forgive me, my dearest Pietre. I will try something else."

      Sheralindra went back to her book and studied diligently. Pietre tore off his wet clothes and crawled miserably into his new bed. He sulked there until morning, when Sheralindra woke him to tell him of her new plan.

      "I shall have a palace built for you. A true Prince deserves to have his own castle. It shall be built in the garden near the pool. I shall have to give up my arbor, but it is the least I can do. I swear I shall restore you to your true form."

      Sheralindra ordered her servants to build a place in the courtyard for Pietre. She even worked on it herself, using the sandalwood from her beloved arbor.

      When it was finally completed, she brought Pietre to his new home. After inspecting it, he entered the delicately carved doors and disappeared inside. Sheralindra had the servants deliver trays of food each morning.

      Every day, Sheralindra sat on the ground in the courtyard watching Pietre go in and out of his castle. He swam in the pool and ate the food the servant brought. He looked very happy and content, but he was still a water rat. He spent less and less time with Sheralindra.

      "Oh Pietre," said Sheralindra, "I have failed you again. You are still trapped in the form of a water rat. How can you ever forgive me?"

      Pietre came to Sheralindra to nibble on the apple she was eating. "There is one more way I have heard to break the spell. I must try."

      And so Sheralindra held Pietre up to her mouth and, though it repulsed her, she kissed him.

      Pietre looked at her with panic and bit Sheralindra on the lip.

      "Ouch!" Sheralindra dropped him and he scurried off into the shrubbery. She held a napkin to her bleeding lip and cried bitter tears.

      "How you must hate me, Pietre. I have failed you again and again. How tragic is our love. Nothing I do seems to break the evil spell upon you."

      Lord Garlan, walking in the garden, overheard her words. He stopped and watched as Pietre dove into the pool for a swim.

      "Or perhaps, Sheralindra- just perhaps," said Lord Garlan, "Pietre is simply a water rat."

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