Tuesday, March 19, 2013

His Princess

His footsteps echo in the hall. I curl into a corner of my cell, pressing against the rough-hewn granite walls. I wish for a hiding place, but the bare stone room I am kept in provides no such luxury. I have my chains, the chains I have worn as long as I can remember, even before I was put in this place, and that is all.
            The cell door creaks open. I hide my face as the Prince enters. I have never looked him in the face. I dare not. I have found cruelty and rejection in the eyes of far too many, even those who claimed to offer kindness, to risk it again.
            The Prince kneels beside me. “My princess-”
            “I’m not a princess,” I whisper.
            “You are.”
            I do not respond. We have made the same exchange many times. I do not understand why he calls me a princess, much less his princess. I am a commoner, a servant, a prisoner.
            People say that the Prince can look at a man and know exactly who he really is, in addition to who that man thinks he is. So why is he so blind when I try to make him see that I truly am nothing?
            The Prince speaks again. “Let me free you, my princess. Let me remove your chains.” His soft voice wraps around me like a cloak, offering peace and comfort, even in this dark cell.
            I refuse to let my sorrow be taken from me, however, holding onto it like a small girl clutches a treasured, though tattered, doll. “You cannot,” I whisper. “No one can. My master put the chains on me; not even he can take them away.”
            “I am greater than your master.”
            I shake my head. “You cannot remove them.”
            “I can, if you will let me.”
            I shake my head again. Like the title the Prince gives me, I have heard this offer and refused it many times. I cannot fathom why he persists in making it each time he visits. Why does he even care? I am one of hundreds of prisoners, among thousands, or even millions, of slaves and servants. Surely someone else would be worthier of his attentions.
            All is silent for a time. Then the Prince speaks again. “I journeyed to my kingdom yesterday. It is spring there now. The flowers are blooming everywhere. Their colors nearly overtake the green of the new grass in the meadows, and in the forests, it is impossible to find a tree that does not have a cluster of daisies or violets or some other blossoms around its base. The birds are singing their finest songs for joy of winter’s death. At night, you can lie on your back and see hundreds of stars, like silver dust and gems on a backdrop of black velvet. It is not a dull black like what you are used to in this realm. It is a rich, shining black, and when the sun rises each morning, it rolls back to reveal first a blue so deep it nearly blends with the night, then brilliant pinks and golds to bath the new day in soft light. And when those fade away, you are left with the clearest blue you could wish to find.”
            I make no reply. I have never seen any of these things the Prince speaks of, but he has described them to me so well and so many times that I can almost picture the scenes in my mind’s eye. I wish I could see them for myself, but I am trapped in my master’s realm, and we never see the sun down here.
            “I would like to show you the wonders of my kingdom.” The Prince is sitting beside me now. I can feel his eyes upon me, watching me. “Will you not let me take you?”
            I shake my head. “I cannot. There is no exit from my master’s realm except for death, and death leads to nothingness and more torment, not to your kingdom.”
            “If you trust me and let me remove your chains, I can give you eternal life and take you from this dark realm.”
            I shake my head, squeezing my eyes shut to hold back the tears. “It is impossible. No one can live forever.”
            “Nothing is impossible for me, my princess. I have given my life for you; all you have to do is accept my gift.”
            I say nothing. This, too, the Prince has offered many times, but I cannot believe that even if my chains could be removed, that death could be defeated as well. And even if it could, death is all I deserve.
            We sit in silence for a while longer. Finally, the Prince rises to his feet. “I will be waiting for you, my princess. When you need me, call. I will come.”
            I cannot think what to say. How can he possibly come whenever I call? He has spoken of going to his kingdom often, but if he is there, how could he return here as soon as I need him? How could he even hear me?”
            The door creaks shut. The Prince’s footsteps recede down the hall. And I am alone.
            Three more days pass. The Prince visits me at least once a day. Our conversation runs much the same each time: I tell him I am not a princess and refuse his offer to let him remove my chains. He tells me of his kingdom and asks if I will let him take me there, and I refuse again. He sits with me for a time and tells me before he leaves that if I call for him, he will be there.
            On the third day, after the Prince leaves, a new pair of footsteps, heavy and foreboding, makes the trip to my cell. I peek up as the person shoves open the door with a clang. One of my master’s higher servants stands there, and he carries a whip. Without a word, the man walks over and grabs hold of my chains. He pulls me up, hooking the manacles on my arms to a hook on the wall so I am hanging there, my face to the wall and my back exposed. I do my best to struggle against him, but my feeble strength is not enough to bother him more than a fly buzzing by his ear would.
            The first whip stroke hits my back. I scream. I have been whipped many times, and each whipping is more terrible than the one before.  With every stroke comes a hiss, a whisper, that wraps itself around my heart and bites down with venom-filled fangs.
            You are alone.
            No one cares about you.
            You are worthless.
            You are dying.
            You deserve to die.
            You will die soon.
            No one will notice when you die. No one will care.
            You will die alone, unwanted, forgotten.
            Give up.
            What do you have to live for? Why do you cling to your miserable existence when you are nothing?
            The whipping goes on and on until I do barely have the strength even to whimper. My master’s servant throws me to the floor, and I lay there like a dirty rag. My back bleeds in a thousand places from the strokes of the whip. I cannot move; cannot do anything at all except lay on the ground and sob.
            It is late, perhaps midnight, when I realize I cannot take another day of this. I cannot go on living in this cell. I wonder if the voices are right. Should I simply give up? Die, as they say, alone, unwanted, forgotten?
            “My princess.”
            “Let me free you, my princess. Let me remove your chains.
            “If you trust me and let me remove your chains, I can give you eternal life and take you from this dark realm.”
            The memory of the Prince’s voice warms me, lessens the pain. Perhaps he could help. Perhaps I should’ve accepted his offer. But it is impossible for him to give what he says he can, is it not?
              “Nothing is impossible for me, my princess.”
            He has said nothing is impossible for him. He has offered me freedom. All he has asked of me in return is that I trust him. Never has he harmed me. Never has he shown me anything but love and respect. He is my only hope. But he is not here.
            “When you need me, call. I will come.”
            “Please,” I whisper. “Please, my Prince. Please come. Take away my chains. Set me free. You’re the only one who can.”
            There are no footsteps in the hall, no creak of the door as he enters. He is simply there, kneeling beside me. I somehow find the strength to look in his face for the first time, and I see love in his eyes. “Please,” I whisper. “Remove my chains. Take me to your kingdom.”
            He smiles. “Gladly, my princess.”
            Just as they always do, his words offer to cover me in a blanket of comfort. I do not refuse this time, and I feel my pain and fear fade to be replaced by peace.
            The Prince reaches towards my chains. For the first time, I see the marks of nails in his hands, the marks of one who my master has had killed in the worst possible way. I look up in confusion, but he simply smiles at me.
            “I have given my life for you; all you have to do is accept my gift.”
            As I remember his words, I feel my chains fall away. I gasp, finding myself to be free for the first time.
            The Prince gathers me into his arms, lifting me as easily as if I were a feather. “Are you ready to travel to my kingdom, my princess?”
            I nod, resting my head against his shoulder. “I am ready.” He carries me from my cell and through passage after passage. I close my eyes, resting in his secure embrace. I can feel his love all around me, as well as the promise that he will protect me, and I wonder why I protested for so long.
            After a time, I feel a breeze on my face rather than the stale air of my former master’s realm. I open my eyes to see that we are standing in a meadow before a great castle. It is night, but it is not dark. Not like I have known dark. The Prince smiles down at me. “Welcome to my kingdom, my princess.
            I smile back and whisper “Thank you for freeing me.” My gaze travels up, and I see the stars, glimmering silver dust and gems on shining black velvet, just as he described him. For the first time, I realize why the Prince called me his princess: he loves me, loves me enough to give his life for me, and so I am indeed his princess.


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