Luke was an orphan and up until the age of 10 had spent a miserable existence in a great grim orphanage. There he had been unceremoniously dumped by his Mother at 2 days old so she could go away with her newest lover and he was not happy to take on another man's child.
At 10 however the child's luck took an upturn. He was found a position as a stable lad at the royal palace. Here he discovered an abiding love for and affinity with horses.
His interaction with them was like a miracle to see. The wildest stallion and most mettlesome colt could be calmed and tamed by his soft gentle voice. And the touch of his long fingered hands,
almost laughably elegant on one of such lowly stock combined with the warmth of his hypnotically piercing blue eyes had the power to soothe and placate even when all else failed.
At the age of 14 he helped with a very difficult birth from which it was though neither mare nor foal would survive.
The poor young mother to be thrashed in panic and agony so that all the grooms were afraid to go near.
Then Luke approached.
He was already becoming quite a sight to see with his long legs, wavy dark hair, soft gently smiling mouth and those eyes that had already unwittingly charmed the hearts of several of the kitchen maids.
He approached the writhing moaning animal and spoke gently to her crooning softly and moving his hands over her.
And the assembled watchers gasped in amazement as she visibly calmed and let the boy help her until her foal slid whole and well into the world.
The whole of the servants quarters buzzed with the gossip. Girls flocked to to get to know more about this mysterious beautiful boy. But he so clearly preferred the company of the horses that they just dismissed him as weird.
All except Aline, the 14 year old daughter of the head cook who had begun to work in the kitchens with her Mother at the same time as Luke had arrived.
She didn't try to flirt with him as the others did, didn't pester him for conversation.
She would simply wait until their paths crossed in the stable yard as they often did and simply greet him.
Gradually he plucked up courage to speak to her and eventually she became the closest he had to a human friend.
Though like a wild animal he always kept even her at arms length. The ever patient Aline celebrated each brief tentative exchange and quietly bided her time.
The years passed and their friendship made it's way in tiny steps. By 18 Luke was able to confide in Aline that he was hopelessly in love with the King's daughter Princess Filida.
Aline shook her head to herself as she pondered this whilst washing up . In her opinion ( one she wisely kept to herself) that spoiled little Madam was entirely unworthy of this adoration.
She saw the Princess going for her morning ride, or off with one of her admirers. Luke took personal care of her chestnut mare Persephone (Seffie for short) and he made the most of these chances to gaze silently at her.
And in return ? Not so much as a thank you. He was an orphan and a servant, barely promoted in all the time he'd been here so just part of the furniture, an object, a royal possession.
Hardly a person and certainly not any man for a Princess to take note of. Though she was heard to remark loudly that Seffie's Groom was lush and that she'd love to have him rub her down one day.
12 more years melted away. Princess Filida was now Queen and as yet unmarried.
She had lovers coming out of her delicate shell like ears but couldn't be persuaded by the council to choose one of them.
And as for her being a Queen. It was almost as if she had never been crowned at all. She let her wise councillors do the work.
She would charm visitors, sign documents and do the dutiful tours of the Kingdom to 'Meet the Riff Raff' as she put it, but she still regarded life as one long party. It couldn't go on..............
“ Your Majesty I implore you !” Her chief councillor begged. “ Tiresome as it may be for you I really do think it time you chose one of your Suitors to marry.
Please.......For your Kingdom. “
Filida looked bored. “ Oh very well. We'll let Fate decide. Which ever man can come and tell me what I do at nights. I will marry”.
And so the gauntlet was down. And there was no shortage of takers for the challenge.
But so far no one had come even close. To Filida's colossal amusement.
First royalty, then aristocracy, then the new middle class businessmen tried and roared in failure. ( What could it be that she did ?)
Then, for a laugh, Filida agreed to let peasants have a turn. Confident that if a Prince couldn't do it then there was no hope for a shepherd.
“ Ooooh don't I just hope some 'Son of the Soil' does find her out”. Aline spat as she waited for Luke and the other stable hands to finish lunch.
“ In fact”. Her eyes twinkled. “ Why not try it yourself Luke lovie ?” She thought of all the cruel comments the Queen had made about Luke over the years. Whilst he still slavishly worshipped her.
He still cared for her horse personally. Now she was riding Persephone's daughter jokingly named Demeter *.
The mare adored Luke as her Mother had. And the Queen looked through him as much as ever.
Aline would have been delighted to see the look on that beautiful face if she suddenly found herself having to marry a man she had ignored under her nose for years.
Well worth the disappointment for herself. For she had been in love with Luke for as long as she could remember.
Luke couldn't sleep. He was thinking about Aline's idea. Could he ? Should he try ?
Unable to rest. He thought he might as well. Passing through the stables. He heard a gentle wicker.
Demeter nudged him in the back as he passed. “ Can't you sleep either. darling? He asked, kissing her nose. “Tell you what. Let's see if we can find out your mistresses's secret together.
He saddled the mare and out they walked into the moon light yard. The chestnut mare with a tall dark handsome man sitting beautifully in the saddle were a fine sight had anyone been around to see them.
With barely a sound they walked from the yard and onto the softer garden paths.
In the still night air the merest sound could be heard so Luke had no problem hearing the rustle of fabric as some one approached and he quickly dismounted and hid. Though how to hide Demeter !?.....................
On swift light. merry feet the Queen passed by. Not in her night gown as expected, but dressed as for a party.
Her beauty easily outshone the moon and Luke was almost to caught up in admiration to follow her.
But Demeter nudged him and he got up. “ That was a miracle. She never saw you Angel “ . He whispered as he took the mare's reins and led her forwards.
He saw the Queen reach the Garden wall and was amazed to see a door as shiningly red as a ruby appear through the ivy.
She murmured some words he couldn't catch, it opened and through it she went.
The door not closing behind her. It vanished.
The next morning. She came to the stable and took Demeter for her ride completely unaware that Luke had seen her.
For 2 more nights he followed again and tried to see how she got through the door. With no more success.
On the third night as he as was on the point of giving up. He saw Demeter approach him.
She put her lovely head on his shoulder and............Spoke softly into his ear.
“ The door your Queen enters nightly leads to the Other world, the Faery Realm.
There she dances and sings for she is under a spell. This will only be broken if someone from her world finds out where she goes.
And if it is not broken by the next full Moon. Tomorrow night then she will be forced to marry the youngest son of King Oberon.
Follow me and I will help you to both to enter there and leave unmolested. For we will both be invisible.”
In silent wonder Luke let the horse lead him to the door which had appeared again only minutes after the Queen and used it.
Demeter uttered some words in her horse language and the door opened.
“ Hold my reins Luke and you will not be seen.” She whispered.
Luke had never seen such a beautiful shining world inhabited by such exquisite beings. And Queen Filida seemed to fit right in as she joined their revels.
Yet it felt all wrong. Terribly wrong and he was glad to have Demeter whisper. “ Time to be off. Pluck a branch from this apple tree to serve as your proof “.
So Luke did. And they made their way back to the door and into the Palace gardens again.
At breakfast next morning Aline saw a twinkle in Luke's sapphire eyes that had not been there before and somehow she knew.
“ Oh Luke I'm so happy for you “ . And as she hugged him he realised that she was truly glad. And a warmth spread over him at her nearness.
“ Come to the audience chamber and hear what I have to say.” He told her with a grin.
The whole court was amazed when the handsome yet odd stable hand came forwards announcing in a clear voice that he knew the Queens secret.
Kneeling to her he took out the branch covered in glowing apple blossom and told all he knew about the Faery Realm.
The Queen clasped a hand over her mouth with a gasp. “ He's correct”. She admitted. “ I cannot deny it. And the spell has been broken. Nowt the door will no longer open for me and we will not now have a Faery King.
In response to her words, the apple branch melted away into mist. And somehow some of the Queen's unearthly beauty also had faded.
“ It seems I must eat my words “. She said uncomfortably. “ I vowed before the court to wed whoever found me out. So it seems I must make My Horse's Groom into a King. “
She clearly expected this to have been source of delight to Luke. And he had always thought that this would have been a dream come true.
But his own spell seemed to have broken too. His infatuation with the Queen had finally faded.
Another face was now imprinted on his pounding heart and his eyes searched the crowd hoping to find her.
As he did his face split into a breathtaking smile. “ Thank you Your Majesty”.
He bowed, “ but no thank you. I would be a terrible King. All I know about is horses. I want nothing more than the stay working in your stables.
Though I hope that I may have need of some married quarters........”
And he waked towards Aline. The young woman looking both amazed and enchanted by the warmth in his eyes directed at her.
He took her hand and kissed it. “ I've been dreaming of the wrong woman all this time fool that I am”.
He spoke softly so only she could hear and it was as though no one else existed in the world but them selves.
“ I love you Aline.” He said softly. “ And I suppose I always have but I've been blind to it......Now I'm seeing clearly at last will you marry me ?”
He heard her emotion choked “ Oh Luke darling........Yes please”. And felt her arms surround him in love as their lips met with joy.
Neither of them noticed the cheers as the Queen chose of of her royal suitors to be her King.
The royal wedding took place with much pomp and ceremony a week later.
Luke and Aline did n't join in the party in the servants hall that evening.
They had become man and wife themselves that very morning in a simple ceremony at the little church in a nearby village.
Demeter pulled a little cart to take them there and back. And she even stood guard whilst the soft straw of her stable became their first ecstatic marriage bed.
She never spoke again. Though Aline believed her husband when he told her about the horse showing him the secrets of the red door.
But for the rest of her days she gently watched over her best human friend and his beloved wife.
Dying at a great age in the happy knowledge that her daughter was continuing her good work.
* Sorry this is me trying to be clever. Demeter the goddess of the harvest was the mother of Persephone.