"...And they all lived happily ever after." The old man grinned devilishly. "Or at least that's what they say."
The grizzled man looked about the noisy tavern. He took a swig of the putrid smelling liquid. His face dark, blotchy, scared and wrinkled. One could tell he'd been through many adventures. His clothes were slightly better than a peasant's when one first glances at them, they are torn and dusty, but at least they covered all his parts. Yet upon closer inspection, one would see something in the quality of the weave and that the faded color had once been bright and noble. This man had once been royalty, or at the very least stole the clothes from royalty, it was so hard to tell these days. There were no royalty left. Only the old Magistrate watching upon them from the ruins of the old castle upon the hill.
The younger man who'd bought the old man a drink watched him with interest. "Yes, we've all heard that story." The young man, handsome with flowing locks and a well muscled chest had clean clothes that his parents made. He held a parchment and quill ready to write down something interesting the old man might say.
He wanted the history of this village, what brought them to this point in their downfall, and the only way to get that was through the mouth's of those who've lived it. In all the village everyone pointed him to this senile old coot. But all the old man spouted were stories of love and romance. How the royalty came to be and how special they were. It was all so made up. A tale he made fantastical for the children and over the years began to believe it himself. Everyone knew there were no such things as fairies, goblins, wizards and the like. To believe this old guy was a prince and married a nymph was too unbelievable. The guy probably just went crazy when he raided the castle for those loose fitting clothes and believed he actually lived there for a time.
The old man's name was Lefty, at least it is now, because he lost his right hand long ago. Who knows what his name was before. He'd tried asking about how he lost his hand but only received some mumbled words about the Magistrate's dragon, which was ridiculous. The magistrate had many machines so it must have been while using one of those that he lost it. Still, the scaring did look a little like teeth marks.
The old man turned his mug upside down draining the last drops out of the flask. "You might want to take it easy there." The young man warned.
"Issa donnt cares. I've nothhhink left." The man slurred and his head began bobbing like he was about to pass out.
The young man knew he had precious little time left, he had to get the story out of this man. One last try, one last question to get the truth out of the man. "Which do you regret more: the things you did or the things you didn't do?"
"Oh, now see, you ask an interesting question for once. History's not about battles, or who married who. It's about regrets." Suddenly he seemed sober, and if his eyes weren't deceiving him about 10 years younger. "Let me tell you a story..." The old man started...
After their marriage our prince and princess, did not live happily ever after as most stories tell. The handsome young prince, not too different from yourself, was a strapping lad of 20 with flowing brown locks and blue eyes. His chest puffed out with pride whenever someone told him how well he looked with his beautiful young bride. Oh she was far older than most suspected and hid her outstanding features well. She looked like a girl hardly touching her age of becoming, yet the most beautiful, slim and shapely any had ever seen. I've already told you how they met but at the time no one in the village knew what she was. It's not like today where they wouldn't believe, back then they were simply afraid of anything magical. Now they've transferred that fear into something more sinister and it's all because of the prince and his nymph.
Not so long after their wedding night the village still celebrated the new couple. Parties were thrown, presents were given, and all manor of strange people from other lands came to see the couple after hearing of the bride's beauty. Among these were a traveling, performance troupe.
Many strange performers and fearsome looking creatures were in this show. People who could do magic and read minds. They claimed there was a dragon among their creatures though they kept him well hidden. It must have been a small dragon too for there was no tent large enough to house a full grown one.
This group was ignored by most people of the village and openly ridiculed. The village did not accept that man and beast could live together in harmony. They knew the magicians and such were inhuman and let them know they were unwelcome. The prince however knew it was his duty to welcome all newcomers to his village so today he would visit the creature camp.
There in the camp he found many strange and exotic creatures big and small. Sprites whizzed by his head and Centaurs stomped by him. He was in awe. But his wife hated it, she knew something was wrong. They followed the path to where they might find the director. Along the way an old, filthy man in rags (which the prince had discarded as a pile of laundry) unfolded from his sleeping position next to a small fire. One particularly thick rag covered both his eyes. He was no doubt blind. "Tell your fortune, sire?"
"Um... Not now thanks." The prince searched the area for the director. "Could you please tell me where I might find the leader of your camp?"
"Are you sure, sire?" The old man's eyes blazed. "Just one small, shiny coin and you can know how your life will unfold."
"Yes, well, maybe a little later, right now I must speak to the man in charge. I am the prince and must speak with him."
"Ahhh... The Prince! For you I can tell you more than your future. For you I can show you the effects your decisions will have, and what will become of your children." The prince scrunched his brow at this and his jaw dropped when the man next spoke and pulled out a glistening, silver object, "I even have something special for your Nymph wife."
"How do you know-"
"We must go!" The nymph pulled at the prince's arm.
Yet it was too late. The metal glowed and the prince felt his nymph being dragged away from him. "Close your eyes!" She whispered to her husband. Even with them closed the bright light she emitted was so bright he felt lost. He also felt her slipping from his grasp. When he opened his eyes and could see again, she was gone.
He searched the camp but found it empty.
The entire village was in despair yet no one would talk of the new princess' disappearance. It was not long before the Prince and the King were seated discussing how to find the princess when the room began to sparkle green. A little green man with a green top hat and suit pranced about the table before them.
"If you're brave and if you're smart, you may have the desire of your heart. Sword nor fire will bring back your tart. The only way is with this kingdom you must part. Take care and let my simple words impart do not fight or she will die and then tonight we dine on nymph pie!" He laughed and in a blink disappeared.
The King was furious and he rounded up his army and took them out ordering the prince to remain. However, the King never returned and once again as the Prince and his mother sat pondering what to do. Suddenly a dozen playful fairies flew in through the window. One landed on his shoulder while the others circled the Queen. The one on his shoulder whispered in his ear. "Your wife and father are not dead but captured and we're taking your mother. Go to the camp and surrender by sunset tomorrow or he will kill them all." She fluttered away and the other fairies picked up his mother who screamed all the way out. He tried to pull her down but the fairies were too strong.
Heart broken and angry he knew he could do nothing himself against these magical creatures. He knew his father would not wish him to surrender and he knew his father's army must have failed. He would have to go in alone and try to free his bride. She would then be able to ward off the magical creatures while he helps his father and mother.
He set out with just his sword and a strong desire to see his wife and parents again. He did not enter the camp through the normal way but circled around back. There was no sign of his father's army. He snuck through the camp and avoided all creatures big and small. He then came upon a tent that was guarded by two Cyclops. He knew this must be where his family was held. Strangely they were guarding only the front of the tent, so he stuck under the flap in the back. The large tent was empty, but he knew it couldn't be entirely. He began searching for anything that might be his family when he lifted one of the rugs and found a deep hole.
He took a torch and climbed down the hole. Within minutes he found a long corridor. He wandered it until he saw a green glow ahead of him. He hurried silently towards it.
There before him was a large green crystal and someone floated inside it. He stepped closer and through the refractions could tell it was his wife. She was not moving. Her eyes were open and frozen in a pose of fear and amazement. He placed his ear against the crystal near her heart and swore he heard her heart beat. He gave a sigh and kissed the crystal above her lips.
He didn't know how to free her but knew he had to try. He drew his sword and with as much force as he could slammed it into the crystal. The resulting sound resounded through the halls like a million bells. It shook him to his core but looking at the crystal he saw he didn't even scratch it.
Now with the fading of the bells he heard another sound. Feet, hooves and claws, many more than he could imagine. He thought maybe a few guards would come but this sounded like the entire army. He searched the area but saw no where to hide. He did find his parents on the other side locked in cages.
"Go kill him Son!" The King yelled. "That mad gypsy is that way!" He pointed down the opposite hall. The prince ran but could hear the footsteps getting closer behind him.
He saw an open door before him and burst through he was about to close it behind him when a crackling voice called to him. "Ah, are you here to surrender?"
"No. I'm here to kill you." The price drew his sword and lifted it with the intention of dropping it on the gypsy's head. When it came down, it hit only hard crystal with the bells louder than ever. The prince dropped his sword and covered his ears. By the time he recovered the army of creatures were upon him. He grabbed his sword but he was too late. He felt the cold steel of the centaurs blade enter his heart.
Ah, but all is not lost. Even as the prince floated in his dreams he heard a voice speak to him and saw a strange pair of purple flaming eyes before him. "I am a genie, I have been captured by an evil man but the chimes of his crystals have awaken me. He has been granted protection but I do not serve him. I have seen your plight and will help, but I can not intervene. I can only send you back to try again."
"Please, I need to save them."
"Then do what you must." The genie said and the world popped back into existence.
He was back at the very moment right before he swung his sword at the crystal. He looked into the face of his beloved and while she looked blank, he couldn't help feel love come from her. "I can't live without you." He whispered to her. "And if I die, I can't guarantee you'll live. I have to do what's best for us."
He heard footsteps approaching. "Son! He's coming. Prepare yourself!" The King called from across the room. The prince looked up and saw the gypsy enter the room.
"Ah, are you here to surrender."
The prince gripped his sword. "Kill him!" His father yelled. He drew his sword and he remembered what happened before.
"Fine, I surrender." He dropped his sword.
"You do?" The old gypsy said in shock.
"Son, what do you think you're doing? You can't just hand over the Kingdom. Fight him!"
The prince shook his head. "It's no use. I tried that once. No army can take him on. The only creature that can help is the last nymph in the country and she's in an impenetrable crystal."
"That's right boy. You have been bested. "Give up your land and title and I'll let them live."
The prince sighed heavily. It was the only way. He placed a hand on the crystal housing his beloved. Her frozen face showed no warmth. It didn't matter if he would never be king, so long as he could hold her again. "I love you." He whispered. Then he gathered his strength and proclaimed; "I, Prince Louis, son of King Beumont and heir to the lands of Garlandale do relinquish all rights and ownership to title and land of this Kingdom to this gypsy man."
With those words the gypsy danced and sang, "Very good, very good, I now rule the land!" He clapped his hands and two large centaurs grabbed hold of the former prince and began dragging him off.
"Wait! You said you'd free my wife and parents!"
"No boy, I never said I would free them I said I would let them live. But as ruler of this land I have the right to change my mind, and I do now." He played with his little silver box and the cages housing his parents glowed brightly. They began screaming. A light engulfed the cages completely and when it faded they were gone only a small pile of ash remained at the bottom of each cage. He noticed the light inside his wife's crystal had faded. She looked older. What had this old man done?
"You evil man!" The prince fought hard against the centaurs but was not strong enough to loosen their grip.
"Now now, be nice to your new magistrate or I will kill your wife." The ex-prince relaxed and shook his head. Tears began falling. "That's better. Now take him out of here and let the village know of their new Magistrate."
The prince was thrown in the mud and left to wander the streets. None would speak to him once they learnt of his surrender. He tried to go back both to save his wife and his reputation. Though the guards were gone a tower was built over the tunnel entrance. He even managed to gain entry there, but deep in that dungeon a dragon guarded his nymph. The one time he managed to get close as the dragon slept, he barely grazed the crystal with his finger, the dragon woke and bit off his arm! After that, he had no choice but to give up.
He watched over the next year as the Magistrate began exercising his power. With his new incredible machines he turned on his own magical creatures capturing and killing them. Only his wife remained alive. He knew this because he could feel her in his heart still. He learnt that the Magistrate needed her alive and would keep her alive always encased in the crystal. He'd captured many nymphs before this trying to perfect his machines, and only with her was able to power them. He could not argue that the machines had helped to advance his people. But at what cost? And was it really better for them? He couldn't answer.
"So I learned that it doesn't matter what you do or don't do it's the experience and what it does to the man. I have lived as a pauper and apart from my beloved. I sometimes regret wishing for the second try. I would be happier dead."
The old man finished telling his story and the young man found he really did believe he was once the prince. He took a deep breath and decided to impart his secret upon the prince.
"Would you be happier dead? I wonder." He placed a warm hand on the prince's. "If you had a third chance... and... something extra to help free your nymph, what would you do?"
The old man smiled. He saw that glint of purple flames in the other's eye suddenly and knew. "I'd do it right." With a blink of the young man's eyes the man was a young prince again at the moment of the decision. With wonder, he found a lode stone at his feet. He picked it up and knew (because of years watching the machines) it would break the gypsy's machine that held his wife. With her free, she could blind the magical creatures while he killed the gypsy and freed his parents.
He stood tall, puffed out his chest and walked forward.
Many years later his grandchild sat on his lap next to the large, warm fire. "So what happened next, Grandpa!" His nymph wife didn't look a day older but she didn't mind his aging. She kissed the child's cheek while squeezing her husband's hand.
King Louis laughed and ruffled the child's hair. "Let me tell you what really happened the day the gypsy tried to rule the kingdom. Once upon a time...."
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please send me any comments you might have, good or bad. Copyrighted 2008 by Christine Schnell. Go ahead and share it with others just keep my name with it.