Monday, February 21, 2011

Grimmer Fairy Tales-- Part the Fifthteenth

In place of the desolation Catalena previously experienced within the castle's confines, now it bustled with activity, servants eager to finish tasks which had become foreign to them as empty years unfolded. No one stopped her as she made her way through the corridors. Not a single guard gave her a second glance. An unknown force compelled her return to the palace whose stones were haunted by more than vengeful spirits. It was the library to which she was drawn, knowing where the angry prince was wont to hide. No fire lit the cold room, rays of the dying sun illuminating the books and tapestries turning the atmosphere a rosy hue. The prince's back was to her as she silently entered, making no more noise than the smallest mouse tip-toeing up behind him. He was rehearsing their game, learning where he had gone wrong, his sharp mind having memorized every move. Catalena reached forward to select the ebony knight. Prince Dragos caught her wrist in mid-air, the piece in her hand, glancing up at her from his seated position.
"My guards are careless letting common peasants wander into the castle."
"They were never meant to stop me, were they?"
"You are far too bold for a blacksmith's daughter. One day it will land you in trouble."
"I have tasted the hospitality of your dungeon, Prince Dragos. What more could you possibly have to offer?" For a fraction of a second, his face lightened, a smile he could no longer repress melting those onyx orbs.
"Why have you returned, Catalena?"
"To answer the question plaguing you." The prince released her wrist and she placed the knight back on the board. "This maneuver left your king vulnerable. This is how I won."
"The king remains vulnerable long after the game's end. Do you know what the servants are preparing for?"
"A celebration of your twenty-fifth birthday, I imagine."
"Tonight I accept my father's vacant throne. Tonight I accept the kingdom."
"The kingdom also awaits your announcement of their queen."
Prince Dragos quickly rose and Catalena was forced to take a step back, feeling unexpectedly small and insignificant so near his imposing frame. "I ask you once more, Catalena, and this time I demand truth. Why have you returned?"
Catalena understood this was her final moment, the final chance to accept trial and tribulation for the good of the kingdom, or escape to the safety of her father's shop where she could live out the rest of her days in peace.
"I reconsidered my decision. I accept your offer of marriage."
"Was it fortune, politics, or fealty of country which changed your mind since it clearly could never be love?"
"I have never been one to listen to the idle tongues of politicians and there is not enough gold in all the land to force me to remain by your side. It is fidelity to the kingdom which brought me back. You ensure it is impossible for anyone to love you, but one day that may change. One day there may be love. Regardless of whether that day comes, you will have your queen."
For the first time in years, the angry prince discovered he no longer desired to be angry, but he could not recall how to be anything else. So he did the one thing he knew to do, raising her hand to his lips and placing a gentle kiss on her knuckles.
"Then come with me and take your place in the great hall."
Catalena blushed and cast her eyes down, acutely aware of her plain dress and appearance in a way she had never been before.
"I cannot attend a royal gathering. I am not dressed in a manner worthy of such an event."
Prince Dragos lifted her face so her eyes met his again, familiar with her determination and strength yet unaccustomed to witnessing shyness and distress.
"My parents taught me one recognizes royalty not by appearance, but by the quality of their character. A queen remains a queen whether she is dressed in pauper's rags or jeweled silk. It is actions, not title, which determine our fitness to rule. Perhaps your future subjects will be able to see more clearly what I witnessed if they are not distracted by sparkling gems. In so many ways, you beat me at my own game. Come with me, Catalena, and take your deserved place at my side. Come and accept your throne."

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