February 13, 2002|By Gilbert Oscar Twyman III

* Editor's note: A young girl softens the hardest heart in the land and inspires the creation of a beloved holiday.

Once upon a time long ago, but not so long that you can't remember it, there lived a king named Stoneheart. He ruled a land called Whineytown.

King Stoneheart was not a happy person. And because everyone in Whineytown believed the king to be the best example of how to behave, they imitated him. They were not happy either.

"I am bound and determined to be unhappy and nobody can make me happy. No one in the whole world," he would holler at the top of his lungs.

Banners showing Stoneheart's scowling face were hung in all the streets. And every day, all the people would stare back at the banners and glare at each other.

Instead of jousting tournaments, all of Stoneheart's knights were ordered to hold pouting contests. They would stand out in a field sucking lemons and practice puckering and grimacing at each other. One proved himself to be such a standout pouter, he became Stoneheart's head knight . The king dubbed him Sir Grouchalot.

Because he was the king and could order his magicians to do whatever he wanted, Stoneheart decreed that everything around Whineytown must be dreary and sad.

As you can see, these were terrr-ible times in Whineytown and life was just as dark as dark could be.

Only one thing puzzled the people of Whineytown, and not even the king could explain it. Far, far away, where the eye almost could not see, right where the earth meets the sky, there appeared a strange rosy glow. It grew rosier and redder every day. It seemed to draw closer and the people became more afraid. They had never known another way of life and believed theirs was good. So they were afraid the big red glow would upset their world.

And then just when the red glow seemed to be unbearable and the people could hardly make themselves peek outside, a 2-year-old child looked out of a window. He had not fully learned to be afraid of colors or warm red glows.

The child took one look and said two words, "Little girl?"

At that, all the townspeople cracked their doors and peeped one eye out. Sure enough, there in the center of town stood a beautiful little girl in a pretty pink dress with a red ribbon in her hair. And in her hand she held a box. And from the box came the brightest, reddest, rosiest glow you could ever imagine.

"Who are you?" Stoneheart demanded, drawing himself up to his full height and twisting his face (he hoped) into his scariest look. "And why have you come here?"

"My name is Emily," said the little girl, with a wonderful smile, "and I have come to give you a present."

No sooner did he open it, than out popped an enormous red heart. It was puffy like a pillow and covered in red satin and trimmed in white lace. It was stitched with pink thread and all over it were stuck delicious tiny candies too numerous to mention.

And written across the very center of the heart, in Emily's lovely handwriting, were the words: "Dear Stoneheart. Won't you be my valentine?"

"What is a valentine?" the king whispered.

"It means," said Emily, "I love you."

"But you don't even know me," said the king. "Why give me a valentine and why l-l-love me?"

"Well," said Emily sweetly, "No one in the whole wide world should go without a valentine. No one! And my mom and dad always taught me to love everybody. You don't need a reason. You can love someone just because."

Emily started handing out valentines to everyone. They discovered that the box where valentines were kept had its own magic. The supply never ran out.

And so the streets of Whineytown rocked with laughing, dancing and joy.

Did I say Whineytown? You won't find it on any map, just in case you were looking.

They don't call it that anymore.

"I hereby decree that, from this time forward, our town shall be known as Winnertown, because you are all such winners," said the king.

Things got so great, the townspeople drew up a petition to change the king's name. One day, they came down to the castle and shouted out the king's new name.

"Long live King Strongheart!"

You see, they'd looked it up in the dictionary and found out "valentine" comes from an ancient word that means "strong." Oh yes, the kids looked things up. In Winnertown, they always did their homework.

In fact, King Strongheart liked that link between his new name and the true deep magic that had happened in the town -- the day they discovered loving valentines -- that he also commanded that there be a national holiday.

"My fellow winners, we will celebrate this special day on February 14 because it took 14 days for Emily to bring the rosy glow from the edge of the earth to our kingdom," cried the king. "We will call the hew holiday Valentine's Day."

And that is what we have called it ever since.

The end.

Excerpted from STONEHEART (THE REAL VALENTINE'S STORY). Text copyright c 1997 by Gilbert O. Twyman III. Illustrations copyright c 1997 by Meg Michele Cundiff. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Addax Publishing Group. All rights reserved.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.