Monday, December 27, 2010
Grimmer Fairy Tales-- Part the Seventh
The soft leather spines of the innumerable books in the library gleamed in the candlelight. Catalena's guilty conscience plagued her since Lady Heleni's parents collected their daughter, her mangled foot beyond repair. Lady Vivian remained in seclusion in her bedroom, leaving Catalena to wander silent corridors alone. She barely settled into the massive wing chair with a familiar tome when a rustling behind her disturbed her flight into the safer realm of the literature on her lap. A stooped woman emerged from the gloom, rag in hand as she lovingly cared for one of the few rooms in the castle she was allowed to maintain. Catalena couldn't help but notice while the wrinkles in the old woman's face indicated a lifetime's worth of happiness and troubles, there remained an irrepressible twinkle in her hazel eyes. "My apologies. I had no desire to disturb you," Catalena spoke, sitting up straighter in her chair. "It is I who should be apologizing, my dear. It has been so long since we had guests. I go about my routine as if there is no one here but the ghosts. What troubles you so, my child?" "Why do you assume I am troubled?" Catalena responded. "I am getting on in years, and my eyes are not as sharp as they once were, but I know a sad spirit when I encounter it." Catalena did not answer, not knowing what to say. "You are mourning the lady's accident, are you not?" "It was my fault. My curiosity placed us all in danger." The old woman tucked the polishing cloth into her belt for safe keeping as she approached with a comforting click of her tongue. "Nonsense. He loosed the wolf in the dungeon on purpose. You are merely a pawn in an elaborate game the prince is playing. Do you see that chess board there?" the old woman asked, directing Catalena's attention to the well loved ivory and ebony standing at attention on a small round table. "I remember when the young prince would sit on his mother's lap as she and his father taught him to play. I remember his tiny fingers barely dexterous enough to move the pieces across the board. The set has not been touched since the king and queen died. Instead, his heart has grown cold, his spirit callous, and the games more dangerous." "Why would he do this? We have done nothing to him," Catalena responded, grasping for understanding. "By royal decree, each prince must attempt to find a suitable princess by their twenty-fifth birthday. He has a month to do that which he does not want to do. These games are to prove you all unsuitable so the law will be fulfilled and he will be left alone." Catalena crossed her arms over her chest in stoic irritation. She knew quite a bit about the games of boys. "It is not right. The game is only fair if the opponents are allowed to face each other." The old woman smiled, pointing a gnarled finger behind her towards the tapestry depicting a knight slaying a dragon. "It has been some time since our prince had a worthy opponent, my dear. Perhaps he has forgotten how to play." The old woman exited while Catalena immediately investigated the tapestry. She silently opened the door hidden behind, stone steps spiraling upwards towards the tower room where a shaft of golden light snuck under the door at the top, alerting her she indeed found the prince's secret retreat. She scribbled a note on a spare scrap of parchment and carefully gathered the chess set before mounting the stairs. Catalena ensured every last rook and knight was in its proper place before leaving her note and the game. Prince Dragos heard the scuffling and waited for the door at the bottom of the stairs to close before he disturbed his melancholic refuge. The candles illuminated the landing where the chess board sat, one piece out of place as Catalena moved an ivory pawn two spaces forward towards his ebony line. For the first time in longer than he could remember, he grinned as he caught sight of her feminine scrawl on the paper lying in the middle of the board. Your move. -Catalena.