Holiday Storytelling Contest

In December of 2003, we hosted a Upon a Time Holiday Storytelling Contest. Participants had to tell a story using a number of the following cards. The story they told had to reach one of the two endings available. We received quite a few marvelous entries, but in the end the prize was awarded to Nathan Gribble (take a bow, Nathan!). Here, then, is Nathan's story, with the cards in bold.

Thanks again to everyone who participated. We had such fun with this that we're sure we'll do it again ... maybe for Halloween?

Once upon a time in a land far away, where every hill had a castle and every castle had high white towers with green copper cone roofs and every tower had a princess weaving her hair into a rope so her lover could climb up to her or a handsome prince who had been transformed into a hideous beast or perhaps a wicked stepmother spinning golden thread on a spinning wheel, there was a kingdom in a small valley of plenty.

The king lived in a palace of such grandeur that it was a castle and a monument all rolled into one; it was practically a city. All about him was such splendour that were you to dream just a fraction of its beauty you would wake up with tears of wonder and those tears would flow on because in waking you had lost your grasp on it. Yet though he was a just and fair king he was not happy, for he lacked pride. Nothing came hard to his hand as he need only ask and it appeared. Not only that but he had also had the best and most patient teachers that had ever stood before pupils, so he all knowledge had come easy to him. He had never known the strife for achievement that makes life worth living. Thus he languished in boredom and dissatisfaction.

One day while he sat in the highest of the palace's high white towers, from his vantage point he happened to spot a small bird set upon by a falcon. It was but a sparrow and its tiny wings were no match for the swift and deadly flight of its foe, yet each time those razor-sharp claws seemed certain to strike their target, with a feint this way or a sudden desperate burst of speed the sparrow avoided its doom. Even so it could not make good its escape and each time missed death by a smaller margin. Moved by this valiant effort and humbled that he had never had to strive for anything, let alone his life, the king took off his shoe and flung it at the falcon which swerved to avoid it and gave its prey the chance it needed to dart for the widow-sill and the safety of the king's high chamber.

The king smiled at the small bird, which sat at his feet recovering its strength."Go now, brave bird and make the most of your extended stay in the world of breath and laughter. If you should sire offspring with half your bravery then the skies will be richer for their flight in it."

But as he spoke these words it was as if a spell had been cast, for he felt the bird spoke back to him saying, "O generous king, I see your heart is heavy even as you speak to me these kind words. As you have saved me so I will rescue your heart from its torpor. Seek out some skill that you have not learnt but would benefit from and as you learn you will ease your unhappiness."

Now the king was not only kind and just, as I have said already, but he was not unwise in his way and took these words to his sour heart to challenge his languor. The very next day he set out on his search.

In every way he was thwarted by his own well-taught ability. When he hunted he knew the names of each and every plant and animal in the forest and his skill in the tracking and capture had been shown to him by Hern himself, known to you all as the world's greatest hunter. When he searched the great library for a hint, even though the books were written in more than twenty different languages and some of the topics, like poetry, mathematics and history, were complex and diverting, he had studied with men who had studied under Plato, Aristotle, Newton and other great thinkers so nothing was new to him.

As winter came he took to walking alone through the hills of his kingdom seeking by random chance to come on this unknown skill. One day when new-fallen snow lay like a pure white blanket and the sky was azure and glass-clear, he came upon a single track of booted feet, set all about with cloven hoof-prints. Curious, he followed them for many hours until finally he came to a cottage upon a mountainside and all about it were sheep of pure white and great brown cows with brass bells hanging from their necks. As he approached he smelt the lovely odour of fresh baking on the air. He walked up to the door and knocked politely and after the shortest of waits the door was opened by a comely shepherdess. All a-fluster to see the king so unexpectedly on her doorstep she fell into a deep curtsy.

"What can I do for you, your highness?" she asked nervously.

"I would know what you are cooking and if I might have a small portion thereof," said the king, adding, "if you have enough, that is."

"Most surely you may have some as it is a cake made from a secret recipe which my mother told only to me and her mother only to her and so on back to a time before any can remember."

Suddenly the king became excited. "I must learn how to make this cake for until now I had no knowledge of it and it is therefore the object of my quest."

Taken aback by his ardour the young woman was reluctant to give up her secret, yet she said, as she must, "If you wish I will tell you of its making and the quantities from which it is best put together." She was even more surprised, however, as the king's happy look changed to one of shocked horror.

"No, please, I am not here as a thief to steal your secret. Rather it is my highest desire to discover its contents with no teaching or help of any kind." So it was that the king took the shepherdess to his palace so that she could judge the success of his enterprise and he set about the learning of a cook's craft, for he had had no previous experience — he had never even boiled an egg. This was a long process, as he would take no counsel, but all the time the shepherdess worked at his side on her own craft and never interfered with his labours. Many times he tried to copy her cake and though the results were often sumptuous they both agreed that it was not quite the same.

After more than a year the king had become an accomplished chef and he was content for the first time in his life. He and the young woman had grown fond of each other so he asked that she marry him. On the day of the wedding he finally created a perfect match for the shepherdess’s cake just as she was a perfect match for him.

They ate it at the feast and it was delicious.

The Strict Stuff

This contest was not open to any employees of Atlas Games, be they staffers or freelancers. Our immediate friends and family were also not eligible to win. The creators of Once Upon a Time were likewise excluded. This contest was void where prohibited. All entries were to be received before Thursday, December 18th, 2003. We, the judges, are on Central Standard Time, remember. We sent acopy of the card game Once Upon a Time to the winner. We reserved the right to select shipping options ourselves. All entries are the property of Trident, Inc. d/b/a Atlas Games.