FLASH FICTION: The Prince and the Maiden

Hush, dearheart, and I will tell you why we have met here tonight.  This brook was made by God himself for people such as we.  It is Lovers’ Brook, after all.  Do you know how it got the name?  No?  Then I must tell you the story.  I see by the moon we yet have time.

Once, a hundred years ago or more, there was a prince — I forget his name.  He lived in the castle not two hundred yards hence, which was then the seat of power for this county, and eight more around.  His parents were mightily disappointed with him.  (As it is with my parents.)  Or at least, the king was, and the queen dared not speak against her husband.  (As it is with yours.)

For the prince was thirty-four, you see, and had not as yet taken a bride.  He was their only issue, as is often true in tales like these, and the queen was past the age of conception.  The throne depended upon his producing an heir. 

Balls they threw for him.  Balls, and masquerades, and celebrations.  And they invited all the eligible ladies from across the land, and foreigners beside.  The prince attended dutifully.  He was polite and elegant.  He danced with each lady and neglected none.  But he never favored a one of them with more attention than was required, and he never returned their letters or sent tokens of his esteem.  Eventually, a rumor spread that the prince had his eye, not on the ladies, but on the lords.

The prince was not sly, though.  Neither was he foolish — he knew he was the target of affections from many beautiful women, and he hated dashing their hopes.  But the simple fact was that his heart was already given away.  For a heart can be truly given but once, as you know, and that forever.

Every day he stole away from his duties when he could to come here — yes, here, to this brook.  And waiting for him every day, radiant in the sunlight, was a young maiden.  Some say she was a duchess, dressed in her finery.  Others say she was a poor peasant girl.  It matters not which, I suppose, for either way she was still a ghost.

Well, of course no one knows the ghost of whom!  But she had been seen by this brook often for as long as the oldest storytellers can remember, so she was an ancient creature indeed.  She had captured the prince’s heart as a youth, and it remained her prisoner.

She was not flesh, so they could not touch.  She had no breath, so they could not speak.  Yet still they loved each other.  He would bring books and read to her.  She would show him plants she had found in the forest.  And they would gaze longingly at each other, in desire that was ever to be unfulfilled.  For their love was chaste of necessity, and all the truer for it.

One day the prince returned from a visit to his love, and upon entering the castle was immediately taken prisoner.  The king had finally decided to force the issue, so to speak.  The prince was taken to his quarters, and presented with the portraits of several ladies his father deemed suitable.  He was informed that he would have no liberty until he had selected a bride.

At first the prince resisted.  He would gaze out his window toward the brook.  The king ordered it covered.  He would read to pass the time.  The king ordered his library confiscated.  He would compose poetry at his desk.  The king ordered his quill and parchment removed.  He would refuse to eat.  The king ordered him fed, and when none of the servants at court proved equal to the task, performed it himself.  Withal the prince became more stubborn, even as his choices dwindled.

‘Twas not the king, though, but the queen that broke him.  She paid a visit to her son, and begged him to choose.  The king’s temper made her life miserable, she said.  She missed her son.  She knew not why he refused a bride, but he had a duty to the kingdom, and hadn’t she taught him the paramount importance of duty?  Did he wish her to think herself an unfit mother?  Then she wept.

And the prince yielded, of course.  For one may be at odds with a single parent, but not both, not for long.  And where a father commands and a mother pleads, as we both know from experience, there eventually seems but one path to freedom — obedience.

The prince called his father into the room, and pointed at the portrait of the ugliest hag in the lot.  To remain true to his love, it was the only choice he could make.  He knew also that the decision would please his father, as the woman’s family was quite wealthy.  Indeed, the king was delighted at the wisdom his son displayed.

The wedding date was set two days hence — just time enough to fetch the bride, who had eagerly awaited news.  Apologies were sent to all the lords and ladies further away, and extreme regrets to the neighboring kingdoms.  Such rudeness was almost unforgivable, and would lose the king an ally or two, but better an ally lost than the throne.

In the meantime, the prince stole down to the brook again, but his maiden was not there.  Perhaps she knew what had happened, and hid to spare him the agony of saying goodbye.  Perhaps she had counted his decision a terrible betrayal.  In any case, the prince trudged away, convinced he would never see her again in this life.  As, indeed, he did not.

The wedding was a disastrous affair.  The prince’s mood could not be overcome, you see, and it cast a pall over the ceremony.  Nevertheless, the deed was done, and bride and bridegroom retired to their chambers.  Shortly thereafter, the prince went missing.  The frantic king ordered a search of the entire castle.  But it did not need to be completed, for the queen knew where he had gone.  She found him at the brook, dead by his own hand.  And she swore to the end of her days that as she looked up through her tears, she saw the shade of her son slip up the hill on the opposite bank and into the forest, a comely maiden at his side.

Why do you smile?  This is just an old wives’ tale, you say?  Then I suggest you look.

That’s right.  There they are, wandering through the forest.  They walk this way every night, or at least every night I know of.  Now do you believe?

I have watched them here many times; they have never noticed me.  But tonight they shall.  We are like them, you see.  We may not be kept apart the same way they were, but we are apart.  We love each other, but our parents will ensure that love can never be fulfilled.  In this life.

Come, dearheart, here is the dagger.  Tonight, let us company them.

********************

Let me know what you think of the story.  If you like it, please feel free to forward the link to your friends!  If it wasn’t to your taste, better luck tomorrow — a new piece of short fiction goes up every day.

Published in: on April 7, 2011 at 8:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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