Once upon a time there was a quiet, unassuming country where the people tried to be pleasant to each other, with the usual exceptions of awkward relatives and overbearing neighbors, and where a stranger was just as likely to encounter a friendly smile as elsewhere in the world.
Once upon a time there was a river that flowed through that country, making its way down from the mountains, where it was shallow and small enough for a goatherd to leap across with his dog close behind; growing stronger and larger, and deeper still, as it passed through farmland and exerted itself against waterwheels to grind wheat for the millers; providing a bounty of fish and frogs for the enterprising and the hungry; and finally spending itself out like any attention-seeking creature would do, in a rush of noise and furious activity, over the shore and into the sea in the middle of a sandy coastline.
Once upon a time there was a city on the banks of that river, the capitol city of the land in which it was located; the largest and grandest city in that country, as was only fitting. In that city, parents raised their children and tried to teach them to be useful and productive, except for the ones who didn’t; and those who exist in every country, from the wealthy to the poor, from the well to the sick, from the young to the old, still existed and laughed and cried and played and worked and lived and died just the same in this country as in every other.
Once upon a time there was a palace in the heart of that city, built with sweeping arches and slender towers that reached to the sky, surrounded by gardens where butterflies danced and fountains splashed and twinkled in the sunlight; a palace filled with works of art and amazing curiosities from around the world, and where even the most ordinary tools used daily were beautiful; a palace with a queen who worked to keep her land as happy as possible, and who was never seen in public without one of her many golden and bejeweled masks on.
In the palace, there were long hallways and tall ceilings, and ornately carved doorways leading to all manner of rooms: the large, the small, the simple and the ornate; rooms for dining, working, sleeping, reading, and living. One room in particular, where evening dances and gatherings customarily took place, was especially favored by the littlest princess, who would find herself drawn there again and again whenever her chores and studies were finished and she was able to seize a few moments alone.
Carelessly kicking her shoes to one side, she trotted, happily barefoot, into the middle of the floor; she stretched her arms out and began to twirl. With the afternoon sun shining through the enormous windows that lined the outer wall, the entire room was filled in a warm yellow light that caught dust motes as they floated by and made them glow in the air.