The Prince’s Tale
by Jussi Melartin
I will tell you a Royal secret: I am King, it is true, and carry a King’s mantle, yet a King is but a Prince who has Become, perhaps forgetting his Becoming yet yearning for that part of him that always remains Prince.
I recall my coronation, when the full weight of the realm was placed on me, far outweighing that golden crown others see and covet, thinking only of a King’s wealth and power and trinkets. Still in my youth, I gladly Became King, and for years after the weight was easy, though oft troublesome, and I remained Becoming while already Become for many a year.
But through the years there were fewer things that seemed new, the routines of ruling became set, the Royal tasks in all spheres had been set in motion. The Queen had been married, the Heir produced, the wars waged, taxes collected, statecraft and court affairs seen to, judgments rendered. Without realizing it I became a Sleeping King, an animated mannequin, the navel of my kingdom, around which all revolved — yet I was motionless. I felt the wound vaguely, somehow hobbled, and found some of my subjects, and especially my Queen, possessed of a strange melancholy that made them exceedingly demanding and dissatisfied. Yet I bore these burdens with the rest of my realm; for that is what a King does.
The times I felt alive were the balls, the Royal Conjunctions, where we recreated celestial events down below, in the castle, in the meadow, on the icy river. The Astronomer Royal forecast a very special Triple Conjunction for the coming season; three times the royal planet would consort with another, all in auspicious signs. Like onto Hermes triple blessed, verily like the Trigon of Saturn and Jupiter that in ages past would announce the Changing of the Ages, the Celestial Omens predicted a blessed time for this Kingdom, a time of plenty and of peace.
Accordingly three great balls were planned around my Royal personage, to which all subjects were invited. Yes, we were to celebrate together the fortunes that were due, each according to station, for the good of the entire body of my realm, with me as the unmoving navel freed for each night, to whirl about, carefree for the allotted time.
* * *
The day of the first Ball came, and all of the usual splendor was in evidence. The Royal Treasurer was instructed to pass out pieces of copper and silver to all gathered, according to station, and to great effect indeed, the people forgetting for the day the taxes they paid. Food and drink were plentiful, artful plays and other performance took place, yet I was taken by melancholy and a sense of searching for something, what I did not know.
Then she entered the ballroom, shining with such beauty that all the gold and jewels in the room became dull by comparison. I immediately went to her and we danced. Our talk was unusual, for while she remembered the Your Majesties and Royal Highnesses, she also seemed to see me, the Prince in me, and addressed him directly. I was amused by this presumption, yet felt an elation, as though something was loosened in me, as though for the moment at least the burdens so familiar were lifted from my shoulders and we two soared across time and space, two birds in flight, singing our joy together, dancing our courtship. Then and there I decided to make this woman my Consort.
Absorbed in these thoughts, and the enjoyment of the moment, I forgot the time, forgetting the rulership that awaited me in the morrow. I wished the night would go on forever, yet as the clock started to strike midnight, my Kingship came to mind, and distracted a moment, I let her slip away from me, and she ran, ran right out of the ballroom, out of the castle, and disappeared into the night.
The following days were agony for me, as I had inquiries made; yet no one seemed to know who this mysterious woman of the ball was. I replayed our conversations, our smiles, our dance steps, to find evidence of her treachery, or — I was surprised — things I may have said to drive her off, all to no avail. Yes, at the time I imagined all sorts of things, that she already had someone, that she had found another man, that she was a witch, that she was gone forever from me. It did not truly occur to me that perhaps she also felt as I, that her time out of her own burdens was limited, and that she also longed for me.
Yet I noted some changes in me, the unmoving navel of my kingdom. I became impatient and bored with many of my tasks, I resented the troubles given me by my subjects, and I spent hours writing poetry of love to my mysterious woman. Yes, the Prince was beginning to awaken.
* * *
The time came for the next Ball, one I dreaded yet yearned for with all my being, dreading that she would not appear, yet yearning for her as much as I yearn for life itself. Distracted thus, I allowed myself to be carried from event to event, always scanning the crowd for a glimpse of her. At the ball, as I turned my gaze towards the entry, my heart beat drowned out all sound, and the room darkened in my eyes, as she walked in. Her smiling eyes found mine, and suddenly the world was whole again, even though she said something flippant like, “Oh it’s been ages, Your Majesty,” when we both knew the words we needed were far sharper and deeper, nearly unutterable, and the way forward was simply the feeling that surrounded whatever meager words we said.
As before, we danced and talked, taking flight and running through forests and glades, teasing and tasting each other, falling in greater love again and again, each time thinking it cannot become more, yet it became more. And as before, we started to glance at the clock, she was unwilling to remain at the castle with me, and I could not leave my King’s duties to be with her, wherever she lived. I tried to entice her, to ask her to remain, but she only said, “But you are King, and I am but a stranger.” Once more, as the clock began its loathsome twelve bells, this woman turned and ran, out of the ballroom, out of the castle, out of my life, and vanished.
Once more, deep in melancholy, I brooded over myself, and over her. I began to plot how I could be with this woman, this muse, this goddess, beyond the time snatched at the ball. If she ever returned, that is, and if she still felt for me as I felt for her. For I knew, I know not how, that she on her side had met a man, a Lover, with whom she was even now. I despaired, me, the King! For a King is a Man also, and subject to the same laws of Man as his most abject subject. I did not appreciate at the time that she also was searching, and finding a match, an echo, a reply, that she was simply following her own path, experiencing Love for the moment, giving herself up to her life.
I found the courtiers annoying and superficial, my duties uninteresting and taxing, and the Queen, well, the less said about her the better, save that I determined to send her to the provinces, far from the Royal Court, as she was causing so much consternation to one and all. I found solace with Astrology, with the Tarot, with poetry and the philosophers, and my teachers became my closest companions. I cared not for all the rumors and stories being told about me, they were like the buzzing of flies to me, and I arranged for men I trusted to handle all affairs of state. I felt younger than in years, with a zest for life I thought well past me, and I was a Prince again, full of becoming and learning, of new things and excitement.
* * *
Oh how I yearned for the third and final Ball. Yet I feared it greatly, in agony thinking what if she did not come, or if she were indifferent to me now, if she had forgotten me, as I could never forget her, and whether we would find that same magic again this night. Yet she did appear, luminous as ever, striking everything around us with a numinous glow, and us two on a cloud ascending to great blue heavens, endlessly soaring, endlessly entwined, our lives together in eternity, our hearts beating in unison, our breath mingled in the great sighs of the oceans, and our eyes only seeing and encouraging each other. I tried to tell her how I was ready to leave my office, that I had a Regent who I would appoint in the morrow, to be with her, to run with her, to follow her wherever she led, if only she would have me, have my love, and love me in return.
Yet again she murmured, “Oh but you are the King, and I could not satisfy you for long, for I am but a common charwoman, of lowly station. And though we have this night in common, though we speak in the same language and feeling, even though we see each other naked, as Adam and Eve, I cannot ask this of you. I cannot remain, for the spell shall be broken, in the cold light of the morn, and you shall cast me aside.”
I protested, I pleaded, I cried out my love of her, my need, my wish, my
intent, but to no avail. As before, as that cursed clock began its toll, she stole away from me, only to disappear this time forever, I fear. I was left with the sound of her voice in my ear, the touch of her breath on my skin, the feel of her hand in mine — and a shoe, a crystal pump, which fell from her foot as she hurried down the stairs to disappear into the night.
In the morning, with great disappointment, yet determined to find her and join us two as one, I made my plans official. I was going to leave my Kingship, for a while at least, in the hands of my trusted uncle as Regent, and as my last act of Ruling, I decreed that all the clocks in the realm stop tolling midnight.
I gathered my things, and the crystal slipper, and stole out of the castle, out of the shape of the King, a Prince once more, on a Quest for his Lady. I do not know if I shall find my mysterious woman from the ball, I do not know that when I find her that she will want me, or even recognize me, or will she rage at me, or love me, or will she have another man who will drive me off. I shall walk through the kingdom searching for her whose shoe this is. I shall learn again to live for the day, to appreciate the sunrise, the simple apple in the tree, and the joy of drinking from a well. I shall cherish being alive on each of God’s days. I fear I shall never find this charwoman, my love.
And the thought occurs to me, should this shoe fit another Lady, without my finding my true love, I wonder just what will happen, how will I feel. Only one way to find out, so I bid you adieu, till the morrow, when perhaps my search shall bear fruit, the Apple of mine Eye.
Copyright © 2005 by Bewildering Stories on behalf of the author