mistersmith_tm: (smith rose worth living for)
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The children sat on the floor in thrall to the storyteller in their midst, lulled by his gentle, expressive voice. Ranging from ages four to seven, they ringed him in an arc of wide eyes and rapt attention.

Mister Smith told his tale without book or paper, but rather from fragmented memory and his own imagination.

"'He's gone at last,' said the Princess when night had fallen and there was no knock upon her door. But no sooner had she said it than . . .'" Mister Smith paused dramatically, then asked, "What do you think happened?"

"There was a knock on the door!" exclaimed Aaron, a ginger-haired six year old.

"And then she heard a voice!" agreed his younger brother Josh.

"So she did," agreed Mister Smith. "And what do you think that voice said?"

In perfect unison, as if reciting an important lesson, the children chorused, "Open the door, my princess dear, Open the door to thy true love here! And mind the words that thou and I said, By the fountain cool, in the greenwood shade!"

Listening in, the only other adult to share the room was a woman in a simple blue shift. A scarf covered her short graying hair like a cowl and gently framed her kindly round face in dark wool. Standing quietly to the side, her hands clasped neatly before her, she watched the faces of her young charges with a beatific smile as they joyfully participated in the tale.

"Exactly right," said Mister Smith proudly. "The Princess wasn't too happy about it, but a promise is a promise. So she opened the door and let the Frog in. Hop! Hop! And the next thing she knew, he was on her bed and sitting right in the middle of her very own pillow.'

"'What more do you need?' demanded the Princess, because she'd done everything the Frog had asked of her.

"'Just one more thing will I ask of you,' said the Frog. 'And your promise to me will be fulfilled. Pray, kiss me.'

There were several gasps among the audience, most noticeably the young ladies in attendance.

"Kiss a frog?" demanded five year old Evelyn. "She'll get warts all over her mouth!"

"Will not," said Aaron. "Frogs don't give warts."

"Toads do!" agreed another boy who, like his companions, seemed to be enjoying the discomfort of the girls.

"I'm not afraid of warts," said a pretty little blonde with warm brown eyes and a heart-shaped face. She looked up at the Storyteller with open adoration and a special smile, just for him. "I'm not afraid of kissing an old frog."

Mister Smith returned her smile the asked his audience, "What do you think the Princess did?"

Twelve opinions came all at once in a din of childish excitement.

"Let's have a show of hands," said Mister Smith. "How many think the Princess kissed the Frog?" Most of the girls raised their hands. "Who thinks she didn't?" Most of the boys weighed in.

Alex, a wiry seven year old, turned to the woman in the corner. "What do you think, Sister Hannah?" she asked earnestly.

"I think a promise is a promise," said the Sister with a gentle smile.

"So did the Princess," revealed Mister Smith. "Her father the King had taught her that very thing and she took it very seriously. Even if it meant kissing a slimy old frog."

"Frogs aren't slimy!" protested Josh.

"What happened next?" asked Suzie, bouncing so excitedly her braids nearly lashed the children on either side.

"The Princess bent down to the Frog on her pillow. She closed her eyes so she really wouldn't have to see what she was doing. And . . ." He leaned forward, "She kissed the Frog! And just as soon as she did . . . " He suddenly flung his arms wide and exclaimed, "POOF!!"

The children gasped and jumped, then giggled at their own skittishness.

"Then what do you think happened?"

"The frog popped!" exclaimed Aaron.

"I'd pop if a girl kissed me," agreed Josh.

"Did not, silly!" said Alex, glaring at the brothers. "It's a fairytale. Everyone knows Frogs don't pop in fairytales. They POOF!"

"That's right," smiled Mister Smith. "The Frog poofed – right into a tall, dark, handsome prince!"

"Aaaaahhhh!" exclaimed the little girls in satisfaction.

"He had been enchanted by an evil witch, who changed him into a Frog because he wouldn't kiss her. She cursed to be stay a Frog forever, unless he could find a Princess to kiss him in return.

"'You have broken the spell!' said the Frog Prince. 'I love you, Princess. Will you marry me and come to my Kingdom to live happily ever after?' And, of course, she did."

"Because it's a fairytale!" said Alex happily.

"And everyone in fairytales live happily ever after," confirmed Mister Smith.

Sister Hannah stepped forward and said, "That was a lovely story, wasn't it, children?" They agreed with loud applause and lots of cheerful voices. "And now," she continued apologetically, "It's time for bed."

Although there were several groans, there were no protests or pleadings to remain just a little while longer. The children stood in orderly unison, just as they'd been taught. Sister Hannah opened the door, revealing the corridor beyond and another Sister patiently waiting.

Mister Smith's young audience filed out of the room. All except one.

Last in line, the pretty little blonde girl with the warm brown eyes suddenly turned and launched herself at Mister Smith, nearly bowling him off of the hardwood chair. She threw her small arms around his neck and kissed him resoundingly on the cheek. He caught her to his chest and hugged her tight, as if she were a precious treasure.

"I miss you, Daddy."

"I miss you too, Rose," he said, his voice thick with emotion. "Each and every minute of every single day."

"Me too." She rested her head on his shoulder, snuggling close. "I liked your story."

"Thank you." He kissed the top of her head, fine blonde hair tickling his nose. She smelled sweetly of strawberries and cream and baby powder. Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply, memorizing every smell to carry with him.

"Daddy?" she murmured against his neck. "Will we ever live happily ever after?"

Her question, so innocent, pierced his heart with a sharp dagger of remorse. Hot tears pressed against his eyelids but he determined not to let them fall. Not to let her see his regret and doubt. "Some day, Princess," he said softly into her ear.

"Some day," she repeated, as if it were a solemn promise. "When all the bad men go away. Then we can be together all the time."

The pain in his heart cut deeper at her simple belief in their future and his own abilities to change it for the better.

"I'm going to try, Rose. I'm going to try with all my heart. Some day we'll be together."

"For always?"

"Forever and always." He gently tilted her face up so that he could look into her trusting eyes. "I want to be with you, honey. More than anything in the world. But right now . . . it's still too dangerous." The world outside the School was an ugly, dangerous place. Even more so now, with Daniel's forces on the move, determined to forge a new world Order with blood and pain. If the wolves of Daniel ever discovered this sanctuary and the precious treasure within . . .

"I love you, Rose." Mister Smith cupped his daughter's small face between his hands. "I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you." It would tear him apart, heart and soul.

"It's okay, Daddy," said Rose, her eyes shining with adoration. "I know you can stop the bad men." Her small hand reached up to touch his face, brushing away a tear. "You just have to believe, Daddy. Magic doesn't work if you don't believe. That's what all the fairytales say."

He gave a little laugh that sounded more like a sob, charmed and heartbroken by such innocence in a world gone mad. Out of the mouths of babes.

"I do believe," he whispered as he hugged her close once more. "I believe in you."
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