Monday, February 7, 2011

Grimmer Fairy Tales-- Part the Thirteenth

A hush hung over the great hall, tension so thick it was difficult to breathe. The guards and the blacksmith waited with baited breath attempting to divine the result of the macabre competition. The old serving woman slipped unnoticed through a side door, standing in the looming shadows, praying for the outcome which would save their kingdom. Prince Dragos maintained his smirky self confidence as Catalena agonized every move. Never before had she doubted her own abilities, but all she could see flashing in the periphery of her consciousness was her father's death. She could not let that happen. She must win. Sublime insight came in a brilliant flash. In her mind's eye she saw the next few moves, understood what she must do. Concealing her excitement, she carefully maneuvered each piece across the board, countering the prince's until at last he had nowhere to go, his king cornered like a hunted animal.
Catalena did not have the opportunity to finish uttering that victorious word as the prince hopped out of his chair and violently batted the game away. The board flew from the table, pieces skittering across the stone floor in an effort to escape the prince's wrath.
"Impossible! I never lose!"
Catalena calmly rose to her feet, unafraid of the darkness hovering over the young prince's features.
"Then it is high time someone bested you. Remain locked in your palace and vent your rage to the ghosts. You can no longer keep me here."
Catalena turned to leave, but Prince Dragos grabbed her wrist in an iron grip preventing her from moving away. After everything which had befallen her, Catalena could control her fury no longer, pivoting sharply and smacking the prince across the face. He released his hold on her as if she was hot to the touch, shocked beyond words. For the first time in his life, someone dared to physically reprimand him for his actions.
"Do not touch me again. You may be prince in title, but you are nothing more than a selfish bully."
Catalena glared defiantly, daring Prince Dragos to lay a hand on her again, before she made her way swiftly to her father's waiting arms. Neither could prevent tears as father and daughter hugged each other, both so happy to see each other they barely knew how to respond. In the midst of their joy, her father kept trying to tell her something, but Catalena halted him each time. Whatever it was could wait until they were safely away from the immediate reach of the prince.
"I did not believe there was a worthy queen to be found. I was wrong," Prince Dragos' baritone rumbled. "The first day when you dared to look up, to challenge me, I knew you were the one. I did not want to accept it so I made you prove yourself."
"No more games, Prince Dragos," Catalena responded, wiping the last of the tears from her eyes.
"No games, Catalena. Ask your father."
"It is true, my darling daughter. I have been attempting to tell you. The prince did not send fifteen gold pieces to me the day after you left for the palace. H send five thousand. It is to be your dowry. He asked for your hand in marriage."
Catalena stood dumbstruck as she moved her gaze from her father to the prince. The same smug poise, the same dark veneer, how could he expect after everything he put her through that she would agree to marry him?
"I will never marry you."
"Very well. If that is your decision, so be it. You are free to leave," Prince Dragos responded coolly, concealing his conflicted emotions. A part of him was happy to hear he'd be left to his solitude, yet there was an overwhelming sadness as he had grown quite attached to her presence in the time she'd been here.
"Wait! Catalena, you must accept the prince's offer," the servant woman implored, rushing forward from the gloom and earnestly grasping the young woman's hands. "Always two must rule. If the prince is left without a suitable bride, the kingdom will fall into chaos."
"Let him choose another."
"There is no other, he has chosen you. All you see is anger and spite, but I promise there is more to the prince. Hidden under the surface is a good man. I helped raise him, I know this to be true. Please, Catalena, for all our sakes. Give this marriage a chance."
Catalena raised her eyes from the beseeching, wrinkled face of the servant to the haughty prince. As was customary, he betrayed little, but his visage softened for a moment as he dared to hope for the first time she he lost those most precious to him.
"No. I will not do this even if it means the kingdom falls to ruin. I will never be queen."

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