If you are just joining us, part one is here 🙂
The Princess of the Howling Waste.
by JR Manawa.
Now the King was of course in control of everything within his kingdom. Everything except for his own heart. As much as the King wanted to go out and rescue the princess from the pain of her horrific existence, he could not. As much as he wanted to keep her safe and protect her from the terrible things that could happen to her in the desert, he could not.
You see, his heart was bound to his kingdom with magic in such a way that he could not even venture a breath beyond the walls, for if he did he would surely die.
So he resigned himself to watching the princess from afar, always a little heart-broken that he would never have the chance to hold her in his arms. He watched every day of her life – he saw every smile that ever touched her lips, and every tear she ever cried, but the princess lived in oblivion to all of this.
The King sent her flowers, but she did not know what they were.
He sent her love letters, but she did not know how to read.
Meanwhile the years passed, and nothing changed in the life of the princess. Nothing but her age. However, the King – with the enchantment on his heart – never grew old and never aged, and in time he began to realise that the princess wasaging. She was dying.
She aged slowly, no different to you or me, but no matter what way you choose to look at it each day brought her closer to her death and each day brought the King closer to the realisation that one day she would not be there. One day she would grow old and die, and her life would be over. Like a candle finally burning out, her bright flame would cease to exist, and the King would have to go on about his life without her.
Eternity. Without her. For the man who had watched every day of the princess’ life, this was an unbearable thought. But nothing had worked; because she did not understand beauty nor love, every message and gift the King had sent her failed to get her attention and failed to make her understand.
But the story does not end here.
One day the princess, who I can say was just as beautiful as ever, was sitting on a rock enjoying the heat of the morning sun and devouring a collection of brightly coloured beetles for breakfast – she had found them under the rock – when far off in the distance, the gates of the walled kingdom opened.
To be honest the princess didn’t even notice the gates had opened, she’d never taken an interest in the walls before and today was no different.
But she noticed for sure when the King had made his way across the barren land and come into the region of the desert she knew well. She heard him coming, his footsteps falling softly in the sand.
She dumped her beetles, and wiped the juice from her mouth before she slid off the rock and hid in the shadow of it. Her chest rose and fell with the smallest of breaths as she pressed herself into the stone and the shadow and hoped the unknown creature coming her way would pass her by.
The footsteps grew nearer and nearer, and then stopped altogether. The princess waited.
There was a long and awkward silence before the King who stood on the other side of the rock decided to look and see what was going on. “Hi there,” he said softly when he saw her hiding in the shadows.
The princess jumped violently with fright, and then growled at him. She stepped out from the rock and backed away.
He smiled and took a bold step toward her. He’d had an idea that she might react a bit strangely.
“Who are you?” she asked, crouching low like a hyena ready to strike or defend herself.
The King put his hands up in surrender, “It’s ok, calm down,”
“Why? How can I trust you?” she demanded.
The king shrugged and then smiled as he said, “I came out to find you, I left my kingdom and its safety to come to you,”
“Why?” she asked again.
It came upon him then quite suddenly; a pain stabbing into his heart followed by the tightening of his chest. “Because I wanted to rescue you, I want to protect you,” he said, though as he spoke it became harder to breathe. He reached out his hand and touched her cheek softly.
“Why? Why would you do that?” she asked, not yet pulling away.
“I love you,” he said with emotion, desperate to get his point across, as his breaths came faster and his heart began to stutter within his chest.
The princess frowned at him, “What is love?” she asked, as he took her hand in his.
And then he died. His body slumped to the dry earth as the last drop of air escaped his lungs and his heart ground to a halt.
The princess let go of his hand in fright and it dropped to the ground. A small cloud of dust billowed away from where it fell, still outstretched toward her.
She sat and stared for a long while, waiting for the king to move again. But he did not. She understood death well enough but none of this seemed to add up in her mind. She could not understand why he had died, or even more to the point, did he know he was going to die? And if he did then why had he come to find her? Why did he want to rescue her and protect her?
And … why did he love her?
For the finale, click here