Long ago there lived a King whose daughter was as bright and beautiful as the sun but as cold and distant as the moon, as princesses often are in this sort of tale. One year, the time came for a husband to be found for the princess, and the King ordered that the suitors present themselves to his daughter that she might choose her bride, the future king. From across the kingdom they came, and many from beyond. Knights of sterling repute and noble heirs of great riches came to her one by one, but she scoffed at them all and sent them away.
At last a strange man knelt at the foot of the throne. He was a sorcerer clad in dark robes and shaven of head, with a sickly frame and a face as ugly as midnight. "I know that I am no handsome prince, my lady, but I am gifted in the secret arts," he said humbly. "By my craft I shall bless every day of our union with happiness and contentment." So saying he looked up with earnest hope.
But the princess was not impressed. "I have rejected all who have come before me, famed knights and prosperous heirlings all," she laughed in his face. "Did you really think that I would choose an ill-favored brewer of potions?" So saying she signaled the guards to escort this man away.
At this a terrible, humiliated anger fell upon the sorcerer, and as he was removed from the chamber he cursed the princess with the powers of his dark craft. "You dare spurn me so, you heartless creature? Then may you be cursed with a form as harsh and loathsome as your demeanor. May you be hated and feared by all, even those closest to you, and may you be loved by none." The terrible wishes spilled from his mouth like boiling water from an overfull pot. "May you live in darkness and hunger, and may your torment only end when you are the object of such mirthless laughter as you have thrown upon me. By the devils of the fiery pit and the demons of the icy abyss, by the long-fanged creatures of the mist and the long-legged stalkers of the night, thus do I curse you!"
Hearing these foul words, the King rose to his feet in a rage and made to smite the sorcerer, but in an instant the man became a shadow by the powers of his dark magic and in this form fled the castle. Soon, the princess fell into a deep faint, and the King and courtesans despaired, for she could not be revived. All the castle was gripped with consternation and woe. There was little that could be done, and so the princess was laid in a soft bed and kept under the watch of the royal physician, while the King moaned in grief and tore out handfuls of his hair.
That night terrible sounds were heard from the chamber where the princess lay. The King and the royal guards came rushing, and lo! they beheld a terrible sight. The princess had vanished; in her place was a terrifying creature, a monster of tooth and fang. She-- it-- had already swallowed the physician in one gulp, and now it turned to regard the King and his men with eyes like burning coals. Desperately the doors to the chamber were thrown shut and barred to keep the ravenous beast from devouring every man, woman and child in the castle, for there could be no resistance against such wild savagery.
From that night forward, the monster of the castle struck terror into the heart of the kingdom. During the daytime it would rest, dreaming dreams of malice and gore; after the setting of the sun it would break free and hunt, devouring one poor soul every night before retiring once again. The castle was immediately abandoned, and shortly the entire kingdom fell into decline. Under the bleeding evil of the beast of the castle, crops failed and livestock fell ill. The King faded to a hollow echo of his former self, and in the midst of his wavering speech oft would he hang his head in despair, broken by the loss of his darling daughter.
In the early days the King issued a proclamation: whosoever could break the curse upon the princess would earn her hand in marriage and the throne of the kingdom. The challenge was readily accepted, for many were drawn to prove their worth and gain such a mighty reward. Many a valiant knight confronted the creature, but before its terrible visage none found themselves inclined to laugh in the slightest, and without exception they were devoured. Priests and wise men came, too, but neither abjuration nor incantation could break the enchantment, and the flash of teeth would drive home their failure.
At length it was generally agreed that the task was impossible. The brave attempts trickled to a stop, and a palisade of sharpened stakes was thrown up to encircle the castle. However, it was feared that the creature would grow desperate with hunger and leap the palisade to wreak havoc unbounded upon the countryside, and so a terrible plan was hatched. On the night of each full moon, a young man or young woman of some peasant family was to be given to the beast, so that its hunger might be sated and it might remain within the boundary of stakes. Thus it was grimly agreed, and thus passed the years, and many people forgot that the dread beast of the castle had once been their princess.
On the evening of one such night eleven years hence, as an unlucky shepherd boy was bidding his last farewells to his family, a stranger stepped forth from the solemn crowd. He struck a mysterious figure, wreathed in a cloak that concealed his form and a hood that shadowed his face, and the dust of the road still clung to him. "The boy shall not go alone into the castle," declared he. "I shall accompany him, and by dawn your princess shall be restored to you and this shepherd boy shall be your king." So saying the stranger beckoned the boy to follow him, and they crossed inside the palisade while the news of his bold promise spread quickly amongst the people.
Once inside the castle, the stranger turned to the shepherd boy and said, "Heed me well, boy, if you wish to last the night. We have some time before the beast awakens and we must use it well." Quickly he produced a net of silken rope and a canister of oil, and directed the boy to assist him in the laying of the trap. The man and the boy were to be the bait, and the castle kitchen was chosen as their bait-cage; in the hall they made the stones slick with oil and readied the net to fall from overhead. When these preparations were complete, the stranger gave the shepherd boy bread and wine and bid him to be at ease. Then they waited.
Come midnight the breath of evil could be heard throughout the castle. The growls of the dreaded beast drew nearer, and its claws scratched on stone; the shepherd boy grew pale, and cast about for some weapon, but the stranger bid him calm and assured the boy that they had nothing to fear, for their preparations were sound.
Soon the terrible form of the monster itself appeared at the end of the hall. With a savage snarl it sprung forward, but immediately it slipped and sprawled on the oil surface, and the silken net fell to entangle the creature. The beast tried to get back to its feet, but despite its fury it could not stand; it slipped and slid back and forth and from side to side. Its clumsy dance suddenly reminded the shepherd boy of the struggles of a dear, newborn lamb, and despite the terrible visage of the creature, he found himself laughing, and just like that the curse was broken.
The stranger, the shepherd boy, and the princess herself emerged triumphant from the castle the next morning, and when the people saw that their princess had been restored to them, there was a celebration the likes of which the kingdom had never seen. With many tears the old King embraced his daughter, and likewise the shepherd boy was welcomed back with open arms and much adulation, but if anyone had looked around for the stranger who had restored joy and prosperity to their kingdom, they would not have seen him, for he had already departed.
True to the King's promise, the princess and the shepherd boy were happily married as King and Queen. Under their rule the country prospered, for the people looked up to their rulers with joy and admiration, and every art and industry flowered in that golden age. Despite the sorcerer's scornful curse the King and Queen were a perfect match in every way, and they lived happily together until the end of their days, though it must be said that the Queen always did prefer her meat served raw.