On the tenth day of Christmas the King announced that he wished to find a fitting suitor for his daughter. He set three impossible tasks. Whomsoever could swim the vast moat that kept the castle as a far-off island, whomsoever could scale the castle walls that stood as tall as mountains, whomsoever could leap over the giant fire that would await them in the courtyard, that man, that man would marry the Princess.
‘Easy enough’ thought hundreds upon hundreds of dukes and lords, princes and peasants. They could swim, they could climb, they could jump. They were the perfect candidates. And so they came, from all four corners of the kingdom, they came, trudging over frozen fields and plains until at last they arrived at the edge of the moat.
It was as deep as it was wide, as dark as it was dangerous. It was coiled around the castle, a blue-black serpent waiting for its prey. Teeth chattering, the many men surveyed the freezing-cold passage that stretched before them. At the King’s behest and the sound of canons nobles and knaves alike fearlessly, foolishly, launched into the water.
Less than half reached the other side. Struggling for breath and blue at the lips, fewer still could cling to the castle walls – each and every stone was covered with frost and moss and though they willed their frozen fingers to work, down and down again slid the men. There was, however, a lucky number who used brutish strength and spider-like skill, fight-climbing their way to the top. By nightfall, ten Lords had landed in the courtyard. They stumbled towards the blazing bonfire that roared victoriously, towering above them with flames like fists pounding at the dark night sky. The Lords thawed themselves. On the other side of the fire was the Princess.
‘Over the fire you leap, good men! Your bride awaits you!’ said the King, his rabbit-skin gloves softly coming together in a clap, clap, clap.
And so it began. The first lord staggered forward, shaking, exhausted. Gripping his own arms he tried to compose himself. Another stood by his side. Soon all ten stood together. Solemn silence, stolen moment of reflection. One lord thought only of the Princess’s striking beauty. Another revelled in her youth. Ten men and many eyes wide with anticipation, mad for the power they would gain in just one leap. Only one lord wished to make the Princess proud, to see her heart ablaze with a love to match his own.
One by one they leapt into the flames, one by one a shrieking, a crackling, a pop and a hiss as black smoke billowed up from the bonfire. One by one they tried to jump over it. One by one they failed until only the last lord remained.
He faced the flames, strong in the knowledge that in his death he would die a happy man for trying. He softened, thinking of the Princess and all he would do for her. And, with each loving thought a snowflake fell, one after another until a flurry filled the air and the entire courtyard was covered in a thick white blanket of snow and the bonfire was nowhere to be seen. The lord leapt over the spot where it had been and into the arms of his Princess. And with the fire of their hearts to keep them warm, they lived happily ever after.