The Flighty Prince
The coronation of King Talus and Queen Navi was a joyous occasion. Their love for one another was true, and the love they had for their people was pure. From every reach of their kingdom, in every corner and with every kind, this love was felt and eagerly reciprocated. During his many years as a prince, having served his people as a leader in his father’s old age, Talus garnered his people’s respect and admiration. No one, however, admired Talus as much as his younger brother did.
Since the day he was born, Brevis recalled the way people spoke highly of Talus. Talus was brilliant and wonderful, doing all that their father was no longer able to, and much more. Brevis remembered how Talus toiled away in his office, making sure that their people had all that they needed. Talus always set out to do what he believed was best for their people. Needed structures were constructed under his leadership, and Brevis never saw resources go to waste.
As a boy, Brevis watched the way Talus and Navi were together. Unlike their parents, Talus and Navi remained in an everlasting state of young love. Brevis wanted to be like them when he found love. He saw the way their love emanated, and to have a love like theirs became his greatest desire. He spent the majority of his teen years hoping to meet the woman who was his other half. He met maidens from the cities and towns, he met ladies from foreign lands, he met ladies at balls, but he never met a woman who looked at him the way Navi looked at Talus. Brevis was waiting to meet a woman he would give everything for, the way he knew Talus would for Navi.
This desire Brevis had was not lost to Talus and Navi. For many years, they thought that Brevis would one day have the opportunity to fall in love just as they had, but on the day they were crowned, Brevis’ upcoming marriage came to light. Talus and Navi were in shock. Their sorrows overtook the festivities. Thus, while Brevis celebrated with Tarsus, they wept for the brother they dearly treasured. Even as King and Queen, they did not know how they could void the contract. With another kingdom involved, the arrangement was not as simple an affair of the state.
Talus and Navi read the contract carefully, desperate to find a way out. The contract stated clearly that when the prince turned eighteen, he was to marry the princess. Only deep within the pages and pages of terms, in the smallest print they had ever seen, did they see a way out. In the case that Talus and Navi produced an heir, the arrangement would be terminated.
They wanted to have a child, and always had. Before, they wanted a child as an example of their love. Now they needed a child for the sake of their brother’s happiness.
Talus sent word through the kingdom to find a healer who could help. They told no one of why they suddenly became desperate for a child, but Tarsus wanted to see their King and Queen happy. Thus, every Tarsusian was ready and willing to help. From the gnomes to the trolls, healers from every corner of their kingdom came, all wanting to give what their gracious King and Queen pleaded for.
Some came with magical stones for the King and the Queen to wear, claiming that the stones would provide energies that increased fruitfulness. Others mixed odd medicines from ground herbs. Some brewed soups comprised of the oddest parts of the strangest animals. Acupuncturists, priests, and regular doctors, all offered their services. Once they had a witch, but she was not very skilled with good magic. The years went by and still they had not become with child.
Brevis watched Talus and Navi in agony. Wanting the couple to have happiness, he was ready to mount his horse and ride across the continent, scouring every nook and cranny for a person who could help. Unfortunately, he was not of age; consequently, remaining home bound in Tarsus. Even with the constraint, Brevis was unable to sit and watch the ordeal unfold. He took the time he had when he was free from his princely duties to travel across Tarsus, to even its most remote locations, hoping to find someone. They were such diverse people he knew there had to be answers.
Brevis continued as such, leaving and going, until a week before his eighteenth birthday. His brother called him home. Brevis was excited and had no qualms about returning. For many years, he had looked forward to turning eighteen, and the celebration and privileges that came with it. Since he was a young boy, listening to Mister Cankle’s lessons about faraway places, he had wanted to travel. He would finally be able to cross the borders on his own to look for help and see the wondrous lands.
When Brevis came home, Talus took him aside and told him of what was to occur, explaining that their father arranged the marriage without their knowledge. He reminded Brevis of the Kmeri princesses who visited in the spring. The news did not rest well with Brevis. He begged his brother to end the arrangement. ‘Please Talus,’ he cried repeatedly. ‘Allow me to find love just as you had. Let me have a wife of my choosing. Do not sentence me to a life with a woman I do not love.’
Without another option, Talus was unwavering and commanded Brevis to wed the princess. He watched his brother grow quiet and still, eyes becoming dull as he accepted his fate. In that moment, Talus almost released Brevis from his duty, but to break a cross kingdom arrangement without just reason was unacceptable, especially for a king.
During the days leading up to the wedding, Brevis secluded himself in his chambers. He turned away Talus and Navi each time they came to his door. Then, when she arrived in the palace, he continued refusing guests and to leave his room. Truth be told, he feared his bride to be. He was unable to recall her face or her name. He only learned it as the day of the wedding approached because a husband should know the name of his wife. Elmerrillia, the name whispered through his mind, haunting him.
He thought back to each Kmeri princess, questioning which one she was. He knew she was one of the younger princesses. The possibility of a princess who would agree to marry the brute he was in his younger years seemed impossible. He was still was less than princely, although he was a gentleman. He was not made for a princess. The only princess he was able to recall, and think fondly of, was the one he had thought was a boy, but he knew his bride was not her. Despite knowing that the princess who had been his friend was not his other half, if he had known what his father was planning, he might have insisted his father to marry him to her. She was a friend; at least she was not a stranger. This woman, his bride, she was a stranger.
On the day before the wedding, Mister Cankle came to visit the young prince. Brevis did not refuse him. Brevis needed someone speak his fears to, someone he trusted—who understood him—and good old Mister Cankle had always been that man. Preparing for what was to come, Mister Cankle sat comfortably on the well-cushioned sofa.
Brevis knelt on the floor by Mister Cankle, as he had when he was a small boy, and rested against the leg of his dear mentor. ‘She will clip my wings. I will be home bound and forced to be a husband to a woman I do not want. She will make me act proper and attend those treacherous social functions,’ Brevis cried, panicked at the thought. ‘I will be trapped in this stuffy palace and used as a breeding tool. I will never see where the continent ends or experience true love.’
The old elf patted the devastated young man’s head. ‘There, there,’ said Mister Cankle. ‘Just because she will be your lawfully wedded wife does not mean she is your wife.’
‘What do you mean, sir?’ questioned Brevis, endearingly looking up to the old elf.
‘Humans are finicky creatures,’ said Mister Cankle. ‘I do not know any other race that signs contracts rather than simply mate. Elves, for example, bond and stay together. Simple, yes? Of course, most of us do go along with your silly contracts for legal benefits. However, those silly contracts, rules and systems you have, happen to be the only reason why we let humans lead us. We do enjoy the odd inventions humans make and the implementation of some order. Otherwise, the roads might never be paved, and we would take our magic for granted.’
Brevis pondered about what Mister Cankle said. He had never thought much about the traditions of each individual race. He assumed they did as humans did, that the only differences were their outer appearances and abilities. Seeking licensing on this and that was common for all Tarsusians, and Brevis knew to trust Mister Cankle’s word. He was a wise old elf who had wrinkles. Everyone knew elves had to be well over a thousand years old to have wrinkles. In fact, Mister Cankle was so old that he had taught every ancestor Brevis knew he had. Brevis had never been one to follow the rules either. ‘What do you suggest I do?’ asked Brevis.
‘Do not bond with her,’ said Mister Cankle, his honey eyes twinkling. ‘Run away. Hollow out a tree, start a family, play with your animal friends, and live happily ever after. That is what elves do; but I suppose, in your case, you would be running off to do whatever it is your human heart needs to do.’ He let out a small chuckle, thinking of the strange wants humans had. ‘My sister did that recently, by elf standards. She ran off with a very un-elfish fellow—a General actually. He came into her land to conquer her forest, but she conquered his heart. Elves thought she was strange for being with him, but they went about their relationship the elven way. What sort of elf does not run away with their mate at one point or another? I visit her occasionally. She seems very happy, and they have a child together now. You should meet her if you pass by her forest.’
The concept made sense to Brevis. All the elves he knew were merry creatures and among the friendliest people. He decided that while he would honour his late father’s wishes to give his bride to be his name, and all that came with it, he would not surrender his heart to her. His heart was reserved for his love, whoever she was.
The day of the wedding was a day of celebration for Tarsus.
The wedding was conducted in a traditional Tarsusian manner for a person of noble descent. They did no more, but no less. No questions were asked by the bride or the groom. They went where they were told, acting as instructed. No questions were asked by the priest. The prince and the princess were proclaimed as husband and wife. No questions were asked by the people, even when the groom hesitated, barely brushing his lips against the cheek of his bride at the end of the ceremony. They assumed Brevis was as happy as Talus and Navi had been on the day of their wedding. They thought the bold prince had showed them a softer side. Tarsus cheered while Brevis felt unease.
During the reception, Brevis made an effort to avoid his wife. He saw why the people adored her. She reminded him of other ladies with her outwardly gentle and kind demeanour. He assumed she was like them in the heart as well, gossiping and conniving when others were not looking. Brevis understood why Talus married a woman who was not of noble descent. Careful he did not overstep any boundaries that may cause her to think he thought of her as his wife, Brevis made his rounds without her, socializing with all who came. People did not think much of his actions. They assumed the foreign woman was passive in comparison to her outgoing husband.
His avoidance of his new wife extended onto the night, the next day, and every day after. Not once did he eat with her; not once did he share a bed with her; not once did he touch her; trying his best to hardly speak to her. If he had his way, they would both be free to marry a person of their own choice. In another life, he might be able to learn to love her, but as it was, he was unable to force affection for a woman who had been forced upon him. The single task of a husband Brevis completed were the material necessities, only caring for her out of duty.
No more than a week after their wedding, Brevis left his wife. Without a word, Brevis took his horse and disappeared from the palace. No one knew where he had gone, except for Mister Cankle, but Mister Cankle let not one word escape his mouth about Brevis’ whereabouts.
Brevis headed for the borders. Dressed reasonably, like any common man, with the only gold on his body being his wedding band and a ring for the kingdom he loved; no one knew he was the missing prince. He travelled along the borders, stopping at the odd inn here and there, deciding which way he would go first. The direction he took was to be an educated decision. Time was not to be wasted.
One day, on the northern reach of the Eastern Mountains, Brevis came across the story of the Good Witch, who lived East of East in a little cottage by the ocean, where the sky fell to meet the water, past the forests, mountains, flatlands, and deserts. They described her to be an angel sent from the heavens. Some thought she came from the sky, and others thought she was the goodness of the world embodied in the form of a woman. She was a blessing from the Sun and the Earth, a gift from the gods. She was their Moon in the night, and they claimed each person of Loti was a star who shone because of her. She was their gracious guardian who came once every decade to insure the health of the people of Loti, a task she had taken upon herself for so long that they barely remembered a time without her. She was also reclusive. During the periods in which she rested, she was unreachable, hiding on her fabled beach.
Her elusive appearances and reclusive behaviour discouraged Brevis, but before he gave up hope, a weary giant approached him. The giant had been a fearless warrior, who had met many brave men during his time in service. He told Brevis that although the Good Witch only came when she sensed Loti needed her, in the past there had been people who journeyed to find her. The giant warned Brevis that he had neither heard nor seen from his comrades who ventured to seek her again.
Without second thought, Brevis headed East of East. Witches were rare, and witches who practiced good magic was nearly unheard of in Tarsus. Of course, there were witches who dabbled in good magic, but it was only dabbling. Even Mister Cankle, who had lived in many nations during his life, barely spoke a word about good witches to him, but the elf had informed him that east was where knowledge was.
Existing far longer than Tarsus, the Land of Loti was known for their extensive history and their health; diseases and epidemics were always quickly, and rather mysteriously, swept away. Brevis assumed it was because of the legendary Good Witch. His only concern was how vast and unfamiliar the land was. He knew their land extended so far that it was with their variety of terrain that they were never conquered. Brevis knew that taking the risk, entering deep into Loti, would reveal to him knowledge in medicine and good magic, even if he did not find the Good Witch.
The first leg of the journey was easy. The terrain and climate was similar to Tarsus. With densely populated cities—which were far greater than the capital of Tarsus—that were situated closely, he ate comfortably and rested plenty at the many inns; as he ventured deeper into Loti, however, his meals grew further apart, his days grew longer, and his nights shorter. Civilization became sparser, with small villages and the odd town scattered along the way. What could be hunted and scavenged grew further apart as well. He required longer breaks, and he felt his body wear from travel.
Each time a person asked him where he was going, they incrementally thought he was crazier than the person who asked prior. They called him a mad man, told him the journey was one to his death, that the final leg had no villages or towns for rest. Brevis found out that they were right. The last village, the one closest to East of East was still east. Located in a cold and dry climate, the village had an unusually small population. In that village, he rested longer than he had before, making sure his horse was well nourished and that he had all he needed to reach the waters.
In spite of his preparations, when he attempted to leave the town, his horse neighed in fear, refusing to carry him past the boundaries of the village. Having come so far, Brevis did not want to turn back. He did not blame his horse for not wanting to walk into what they called the Dead Lands. Looking past the village, he saw not one shrub for his horse to graze. Truly, it was dead. Brevis left his horse behind with a family he befriended during his stay, and he continued to travel on foot to East of East.
For days, he walked in the Dead Lands, rough winds blowing and chapping his skin. With a climate so brutal and changing, it surpassed all expectations. The debris blurred his vision, his feet were sore and bleeding, and the heat of the rock beneath him charred the soles of his shoes. His lips were blue from the cold, and his fingers were frozen; he sweated and thought he had melted. Through the inferno, calm entered his blood. The sun no longer scorched, and he saw whiskers of grass peaking through the dirt. Uncertain, he continued moving. He saw the odd sprouting tree. While the land remained empty without any fauna, it became greener and denser until it was so thick that no light passed.
He found that the plants were the life in the forest. The talking plants he had met before were scarce and scattered, but in this forest, they all spoke and sang. He knew that magic was at play. ‘He must be going to see Mother,’ the trees said to one another. ‘Oh, what a joy! We have another human.’ The shrubs were friendly and encouraging, saying to him, ‘Just a little more this way. Follow the flowers.’ The flowers helped too, saying, ‘This way! This way! My sisters and I will take you to Mother.’ When he came to the end of the forest, the trees swayed to their sides, letting him into the other side.
Bright splendid colours blinded his vision. He was certain he had died and went to the world past the stars. He took off his worn shoes and went to the golden beach, curling his toes into the warm soft sand, gazing forward to the indigo ocean covered with flowers that seemed to never end. He was where he needed to be. Mind dizzying from exhaustion, unable to endure any further, he collapsed on the beach, hitting his head on a stone as golden as his surroundings.
Before the sea rose to swallow his body, a young woman found him. Like most days, the fair maiden walked barefoot on the shore collecting seashells, but on that day, she heard shouts from her children. ‘Mother! Mother!’ the forest cried. ‘The human! Oh, take him before the sea does!’ She looked to where their branches pointed, and her heart dropped. She feared his time had already passed. Never did she expect to see another person on her beach, let alone did she expect to find a raggedy, thin, and malnourished man. What a poor young man, she thought. He was a fool to come this way, but even if the man was a fool, she could not allow herself to abandon him. She took him into her home, intent on nursing him back to health.
He woke to the feeling of gentle hands running through his hair. He opened his eyes to see the face of the person who cradled his head in her lap. She was beautiful. With eyes the same shade as the ocean and hair as gold as the beach, she had bewitched him. Who she was, he did not know. Where he was, was lost to him, and his identity too, was unknown. What he wanted to know was not clear either. He opened his mouth to ask her the most pressing questions in his clouded mind, but she quieted him promptly. ‘Young man, you hurt your head,’ she said, smiling down to him. ‘My name is Lily, and I will tend to you. Unfortunately, injuries to the mind take the longest to heal. The lower appendages tend to be easiest. Nonetheless, I will do my best for you. As long as you behave I will give you your memories.’
He did behave himself. Like a lost puppy he followed her and did all that she asked. He did not know how, but he felt brighter and lighter. While much was still unclear to him, he knew exactly where he wanted to be. He knew instinctively that there was no place with more freedom than where he was—that there was no other place in the world with such beauty. Other places with talking plants existed, but the ones here were innately good-natured, and although Lily was not the only good woman in the world, he knew there was no other with a heart as pure as hers. She was kind and honest, wearing her heart on her sleeve. He thought no person so perfect could exist, that the beach she lived on was the result of a falling star. He believed it was from that star which she came. He saw no other way for a heaven to exist in their realm. He wanted to remain in paradise forever, even if it meant he would never remember.
But true to her word, his memories slowly returned.
During their time together, he fell in love with her way of life, far away from the prying eyes of society. His life as a prince grew fainter, while his mind became clearer. He cared not for the complexities he recalled. He did not want to go back to where they wanted to make him to act a certain way, be a person he was not. He did not want the expectations they had. He remembered the way he had escaped to the forests as a child, avoiding his duties as a prince, but this was not an escape. He was living his dreams, and she was his dream. From her playful laugh to how she turned her cheek at him whenever he told her that she was all he lived for, that he would give everything to be with her, that she was all he needed to survive. He wanted to share this happiness with his family, and when he looked at his ring—the one with the crest he was too familiar with—he yearned for their company. Next to that ring was a gold band he did not understand. With history still unclear to him, the band nagged him.
She found comfort in his company, taking much pleasure in the way he had remained so youthful and carefree. She had witnessed many become jaded in their lives, even before reaching adulthood. In spite of the challenges she knew he had faced, he always smiled. Unlike the world she knew, he never showed a cruel side. He was a self-giving man she could admire. She loved his heart—she loved laying her head on his chest to listen to the beat that reminded her of the one within herself.
For seasons, they lived together in harmony, truly enjoying life. He walked the beaches with her, collecting seashells; he picked the fruit in the forest, which they ate; he swam with her in the cool waters of the indigo ocean and bathed together in the sun. He did all that she asked of him, and listened to every word she had to say. He helped her brew as she practiced her magic, and he learned the basics of sorcery. He saw no harm, for everything she made, she showed him the effects, and what it did was good.
During the nights, they sat on the beach, and she combed his hair. The routine was one she insisted to have. He had not cut his locks in what seemed to be months and had no desire to do so as long as she cared for it. He allowed his hair to grow long past his shoulders, allowing it to cascade down his back. He looked out to the vast water covered by aquatic flowers while they sat, admiring them, for the only time he could do so was when she was out of sight.
On one of these nights, his mind fully cleared. He remembered the wife he had and the dilemma his brother and Navi faced. He understood why he, a prince, had abandoned his kingdom for end of the continent. He raised a hand to hers, stilling her strokes, and turned to face her. ‘Lily,’ he breathed, sorrowful for the first time since she had known him.
Her body slumped. Their time together was ending. Brevis’ goals had returned, and he explained Talus and Navi’s dilemma. He told her of their love, and he told her of how they were unable to produce an heir for decades. They were growing old, and he feared it would soon be too late. Brevis wanted his brother and Navi to have the happiness they deserved.
‘They will have a child,’ she said, giving him an assuring smile, not wanting to disappoint. ‘Come with me. We will go to them tonight.’ She took his hand in hers and walked with him to the ocean, leading him into a shallow path that allowed them to wade through to the bed of flowers.
The flowers giggled. ‘How romantic,’ they whispered, ‘an ocean of flowers under the moonlight. Do you think they will finally kiss?’
Brevis grinned and blushed. He often thought of true love’s first kiss and all that it could do—all that it meant. In the bed of teasing flowers, Lily instructed him, ‘Collect the white flowers with the pink tips. Be sure to take just the head so that they may bloom again.’ A little flower, as Lily described, twisted her body until the blossom popped off. Brevis looked down to see a small smiling face where the petals once sat. ‘Not all flowers are strong enough to do this on their own. You will need to help them, and of course, ask them if they are ready to shed their bloom first.’
The flowers were eager. They chirped, ‘Here! Here! Take my blossom.’ Some popped their bloom off themselves and floated it over to be collected. Others needed a helping hand. The ones that did not have the needed colours also wanted to help. They swam around the ones who were unable to pop off their petals on their own, creating miniature whirlpools in the water, and effectively swishing the little blossoms off their stems, leaving dizzied but happy faces.
When they collected all that was needed, Lily waved her hand and summoned their way of travel. Brevis watched in awe as the sea rain upwards, forming a small nimbus. The motion of the upward rain swept the water flora safely away. The flowers squealed and giggled in the movement. A gust came and lifted the couple up onto the cloud.
Lily and Brevis flew through the Dead Lands, where the petals dried, then past the eastern countryside to the end of Loti. Below, Brevis saw the civilization again. First, he saw small towns and villages, and then he saw the cities that glowed in the night. As they flew past the peaks of the Eastern Mountains, crossing onto Tarsusian land, Lily took a ball of snow in her hand and turned it into a glass jar for the dried blossoms. ‘You will make a tea with these flowers,’ she instructed. ‘For seven days, you will serve the tea to your brother and his wife, but you must never tell them of this magic. They must believe the child to be born purely out of their love, for that is where the child will truly come from. Insure her happiness, and as long as love flourishes, the child will grow to be healthy and strong. With this tea, I assure you, not only will they have a child, but they will live long enough to see their grandchildren born and reared.’
By the morning’s sun, they arrived in Tarsus, landing in a secluded area in the palace garden. Brevis stepped off the cloud ready to be with his family. ‘Do not forget,’ she stressed.
‘Never,’ he said. When he turned his back, she left him without another word, disappearing from his life.