This is the story of the brave but careless Donnie Drake. Donnie is a common man living in a rich and prosperous kingdom, the Kingdom of Grape. He was born and raised in Grape but didn’t know his parents for long. At the age of two, Donnie tragically lost his parents during a time of war. After their passing, Donnie was left to be raised by the town’s caretakers.
Grape is a kingdom divided in wealth and in stature. There are those who have and those who pick. Donnie’s parents were grape pickers and worked hard every day so Donnie could one day have a better life. Grape pickers are treated poorly and looked down upon by the upper class. Because of this, there was a great civil war. The common people banded together to revolt against the upper class. The fight was led by Donnie’s father, Grenache Drake. Though they fought honorably, they were no match for the army of the kingdom. Commanded by General Malbec Red, the army used deceitful tactics to win the war, which were unbeknown to the king.
Donnie was rescued and brought to the Riesling Orphanage to be raised by the angels that worked there. The orphanage was a beautiful place. It was a small but well-built hut which divided the Chardonnay and Merlot Grape fields. Led by Lady Rose, the caregivers had no prejudice and treated the children as if they were their own. There, Donnie would learn to love and care for others, and to respect the lands that surround them.
As Donnie grew, the ladies began to see that Donnie was no ordinary child. Every time King Earl Grape visited, Lady Rose would mention they had a child of great promise.
Sixteen years later, at the age of eighteen, with the recommendation of Lady Rose, Donnie was approved by the king to become the kingdom’s messenger. He cherishes that moment as one of the best days in his life.
Donnie moved to a place of his own not too far from the orphanage. He lives a simple life, with just a guitar to strum and dreams of one day having a family of his own. The sounds of his music echo throughout the kingdom at starlight.
Every morning Donnie collects the letters left at his doorstep and delivers them throughout the town on horseback. Pinot is more than just a horse, he is also Donnie’s most trusted companion. Pinot is smaller than most horses, pure white, and sports an impressive golden mane.
Donnie and Pinot love their job. It allows them to see all the town’s beauty: its soft green hills, the cobblestone roads, and the endless grapevines connecting the very soul of the kingdom. Donnie is content and accepts his common place in the kingdom. But, little did he know, that is all about to change.
Donnie’s route always begins with a visit to Lady Gates. One of the most respected and imperial residents of Grape, Lady Gates has a very important responsibility. She is the keeper of the most precious treasure of all, the ancient seeds of Grape. These seeds date back hundreds of years cultivated by the original ancestors of Grape. However, Donnie has a different view of the lady. Her arrogance is a constant reminder of the division in Grape.
“Hello, here are your messages sent with luck, Lady Gates,” Donnie says politely.
“Give them here, boy, and clean yourself up. Those who present like an animal are destined to become one,” she says loudly, so her aristocratic peers can hear. As usual, Donnie lowers his head and continues his route.
In contrast, the finest moment in Donnie’s day is when his deliveries take him to Castle Grape, home of the great King Earl Grape. The castle is a marvel, with giant stone walls soaring to the sky, and endless towers cloaked with the flags and crests of the kingdom. Grapevines grow like ivy, covering the front gates. The bricks are colored with the maroon pigment of the ancient grapes. But, it’s not just the king that Donnie is eager to see; it’s the princess that makes his heart sing, Princess Jane Grape.
Whenever he lays eyes on her, warmth and adoration overcome him. No one else has ever made him feel this way. Donnie adores how she treats the people of Grape. On her daily rides, Jane meets with everyone, no matter their stature, and offers an ear and heart to anyone in need. Even though they have never met, Donnie knows she is his one true love.
Donnie approaches the castle, but before he can even speak the guard shouts,
“Leave your messages and go, boy!"
“Oh, pardon, please deliver these letters to the king, with luck."
Donnie stretches his neck, trying desperately to catch a glimpse of the princess. If only he could find the courage to express his love for her. He loves everything about her, her wavy brown hair, her light green eyes, and her irresistible beauty. Yet, Donnie knows she could never love a common man like him, for she is set to marry a feared and frightening man named Duke the Red.
A chill comes over Donnie as he turns to leave the castle gates. He feels the earth rumble beneath him as a monster of a man approaches on a giant black horse. It’s Duke the Red. The duke seems eight feet tall and made of solid stone. He is dressed in heavy metal armor, covered with badges of honor. Some say he carries a sword so sharp it can slice a tree trunk with one swift strike.
The duke’s father, General Malbec Red, led the army to victory during the historic civil battle. Once the war was over, General Malbec and King Earl formed a strong bond and made an oath that their children would marry one day. Thus, King Earl has arranged for Jane to marry Duke the Red. But there is one problem, the princess does not love him; in fact, she despises him.
With the strength of a hurricane, the duke rides right past Donnie and into the castle to visit his bride-to-be.
“Be gone, messenger boy!” the guard yells, and without another word, Donnie rides off in a panic.
Inside the castle, the princess has her own troubles. The future of the kingdom rests on her shoulders. Her father is sick with old age, her mother has died of influenza, and her younger brother, Prince Peter, has been denied the throne due to his immoral ways. Jane is next in line to be queen and her future husband will be the next king, as is the tradition in Grape.
Jane yearns for the gift of true love. Every night she sits on her balcony and dreams of him, while listening to her favorite music coming faintly from the kingdom below. She dreams of a man fighting for her, battling Duke the Red and sweeping her off her feet. But every time, just as he is about to show himself, she awakens. Although she has yet to see this man, her dreams do reveal one important thing: his name.
The duke sneaks onto Jane’s balcony and whispers,
“Soon we will marry, my love.”
“Oh! You’ve startled me, you evil man! How did you get in here!”
“I have my ways. Don’t be afraid, my love. Soon you will be my wife.”
“Should we marry even though our love isn’t true?”
“Love can grow with time, darling.”
“It would take a million years for me to love a repulsive man like you,” Jane replies angrily. The duke grasps Jane’s arm firmly and responds,
“A queen should not speak to her king in such a manner.”
Just then, Prince Peter hears the screams and enters Jane’s room hurriedly.
“Is everything alright, Jane?”
“Everything is fine, Peter,” says the duke, answering for Jane. “The princess was just surprised to see me. She wasn’t expecting me. Isn’t that right, my love?”
“I’m alright, Peter. I was caught off guard, that’s all.”
“My apologies, Sir Red, I didn’t know you were here. I heard a shout, so I came to see what the matter was.”
“No worries, my friend. Come, walk with me. I meant to thank you for taking care of that problem for me. Your potion worked miracles.”
“Let’s just say, when it comes to magic, my skills are always at your disposal,” Peter says with a grin.
Prince Peter is the first-born son of the great King Earl Grape. During the time of the queen’s illness, Peter wanted to help save his mother and took an interest in medicine. Peter became an apprentice to the doctor of kings, Dr. Winston White. Peter was devastated when the doctor’s medicines failed to save her. Once his mother passed, Peter turned his back on his mentor and his craft.
Peter then took what he learned of potions and pills and used them for mischief. Dr. White had no choice but to refuse him further teachings, but before he did, Peter made copies of all the doctor’s formulas and stole key materials, which Peter keeps safe in his dungeon.
Peter is so immoral that the king has sworn never to turn the kingdom over to his rule. Peter is tall and thin in stature and pale in complexion. The only shred of decency he has in him is toward his sister, who he loves dearly. He knows she’s the only one that understands the struggles Peter has with his father. Peter has always dreamt of following in his father’s footsteps and tries hard to convince the king that he should be the next king. But no matter how hard he tries, Peter can’t seem to live up to the king’s expectations.
The duke and Peter’s friendship is a fickle one. Peter is intimidated by the duke. He is envious of the duke’s brawn and grandeur, but most of all, he is resentful of the relationship the duke has with the king. The duke uses this to his advantage and manipulates Peter however he sees fit. Peter is under the duke’s control and the two of them make a dangerous team. Dr. White believes that Peter is under a spell cast by Duke the Red’s sorcerers, but his worries always seem to fall on deaf ears.
Chuckling, the duke and the prince walk away with their arms around each other’s shoulders. Jane overhears them whispering but can’t quite make out what is said. She loves her brother, but she knows he’s up to no good. She imagines they must be devising some evil plot, which she wants no part of, so she leaves to visit with her aging father.
The princess slowly approaches the king’s bedside to ask for his help with her problem.
“Father,” she says softly, “are you awake?”
“Jane? Is that you?” the king struggles to reply.
“Yes, Father, it’s me. The duke is here, and I still can’t stand the sight of him. Please, Father, I can’t marry this man; he’s not right for the kingdom and I do not love him.”
“Jane, you know I must do what’s right for the people of Grape. Peter has lost my trust, and he cannot rule this land. I care too much for my people. General Malbec Red saved us during the civil war. I gave my word to his father; I must honor it.”
“What about me, Father? Am I not of any importance to you? Do you not care about what’s right for your daughter?”
“Please, Jane, you know I love you. I do not have much longer before life leaves me. Not even the magic of the great Dr. Winston White can save me now. I’ve done my best to find someone right for you and the kingdom. If you love me, you will marry him. It is my dying wish.” Her father’s words hurt, but she feels she must obey him.
“Yes, Father,” the princess agrees. “I will do this, but only because my love for you is stronger than the hate I have for the duke. Just know this: the people of Grape do not respect Duke the Red - they fear him.”