Author: TheLibertasLeague PM
Disgusted with suitors interested in her money and position, a princess ventures far to find a sleeping prince. She finds the fabled prince, but he is faceless! Nevertheless, she awakens him and they become betrothed, but her plain attributes and lack of faith in men makes her doubt his love.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Tragedy - Words: 3,807 - Published: 01-26-13 - Status: Complete - id: 3095762
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
By Christina Roberts
Copyright © 2011 – 2013 to Christina Roberts.
All rights reserved.
This work is the intellectual property of Christina Roberts. No piece of it in any amount may be distributed or reproduced in any medium or format without proper permission. Only small excerpts and brief quotations may be embodied in critical articles, for reviews, or for direct academic essay.
She stopped when the dust rose about her feet. She'd disrupted its slumber, just as she'd disrupted the cold silence in this place, settled for over two hundred years, peaceful and even tranquil. She'd come into the castle without hesitation or concern, as the toils of her journey had been great, breeding in her veins a great impatience to be done with the whole affair.
In this room, this brown and puke green room, a mere slit of forest sunlight thrust its way between a crack peaking in between a warped, mossy board. There was a dreadful cold mostly blocked, leaking slightly in through the fragments of wood and rock protecting her from the weather outside.
For weeks, she'd followed an ancient map of ridiculed fable to this place. Her dedication hadn't been deterred, and now, at least, she felt pride in the knowledge that she'd been right all this time in the existence of this grand, eroding castle.
This room wasn't at the top of a spiral staircase leading into a tower as fables proclaimed. Neither was there a dragon or serpent woven about the stone skin of the place, eager to destroy her to keep the prize she was now a few steps away from.
In the dark and damp room, chilled almost to the bone, she coughed, wrapped her coat tighter around her. At every step, the floor creaked. Dust danced throughout the air from the one old, crinkled slit of sun warming the room.
Nothing graced the room but a broken, moldy desk, the door whence she'd come, gimpy on its hinges, and a broad mirror crusted over by dust, sadly broken by a fall ages ago.
She was halfway into the space, and saw at the end a stone pedestal, quite low, not even rising past her ankles, and upon it, a wooden casket oddly set with a firm newness about it. The casket was long enough for a person to lay within, and the top, closed for centuries, had been burned with an insignia of a family she didn't recognize.
Dropping to her knees on the pedestal, she slid her fingers over the insignia to swipe away the half inch of accumulated dust. Now she could see it better: twelve vines extending outward from a coat of arms, blue and white and green.
But the lid, when she tried to pull it off, was heavy and refused to budge. She felt along the edges of the casket for the reason but found no bolt or lock of any sort. Feeling along the top, she returned, pressing her fingers carefully against the wood, then over the man and shield of the insignia stamped in the center. Nothing. No form of bump or indentation out of the ordinary hinted towards any weakened section of the wood.
She was bringing her arm back to her side when she pricked her finger on something. Pausing, sliding her hand over, she pricked it again. One of the vines hugging the casket clung also to a single metal thorn, adorned now with the icing of her blood.
Licking her lips, she once again took hold of the sides of the casket's lid, and this time, was able to pull the top up, arms swinging through the air violently as she conjured all the strength she had to do so. Leaning over the casket, she gasped at what secret it contained.
Purple silk and satin lined the entirety of the inside of the casket. Right before her face lay a long shield with the same insignia on it as on the lid. Bringing her face up over the center of the object, she took in the elaborate, ancient garb of a figure lying within. Black leather boots, a long tunic of brown cotton adorned with arabesques and golden threads, chain mail cast around a pair of shoulders covered with rich red sleeves and hands beneath the shield decreed a person of nobility, albeit one from two centuries ago at least. Two long swords were sheathed around the waist of the person who had been slumbering peacefully for so long.
What distressed her was that this person, clearly male, the one she'd come for, had a layer of skin over his whole face. A ghastly, phantom image this created, she sitting rigidly straight, recoiling her arms to her lap to protect herself from such a specter. Realizing how foolish her worry was, she relaxed and stared down at the faceless figure.
Unsure what to do or how to proceed, for this was a stumbling block the fables hadn't revealed, she slowly reached out with her index finger and pressed it to the place on the hidden face where a mouth would be. There was an indentation of such beneath the skin. Perhaps it was a mask. With a little bit of recovered wits, she reached forth and attempted to find a flap or an edge where such a mask's edge could be.
No such thing. Pressing her fingers over the face, the mask blended directly into the neck and forehead with no telling edge lines.
Releasing a perplexed sigh, she again removed her frame from leaning over the person, to sit by the casket and think. The fables had stated a man of old, young but great in stature, tender and handsome, had been provoked by his subjects, who had been terrorized by a witch. They had sold him to the witch who lived at the foot of the grand hill near the sea. The witch was madly jealous and in love with him. He did not succumb to her charms and so she cursed him to sleep in this fragment of his old kingdom until he should be disturbed. None of the fables stated how to break the spell.
She'd set forth at the young age of sixteen to seek this person with all her might. She'd been absent from her home country for almost a half year now. Surely she was missed. Surely the citizens thought ill of her for rushing, forth ripe in heart and hopeless, without body guard or soldier. She'd taken two horses, money to last her three years, clothing, and only other such provisions required to survive.
At every step of her journey, she'd hired mercenaries and vagrants to accompany her. All had most willingly kept her safe, including the valiant knights she'd been fortunate to encounter occasionally. So she'd entered this forest in the perils of its darkness alone, come to this rotting, forgotten castle, ascended throughout it, and found this small chamber at the back. At one time, it may have served to house servants.
Dominantly, fables slanted towards the damsel being in distress. Expectantly, the damsel was always beautiful, slender, innocent, and awakened by the kiss of love by a handsome, rich man, if not by a prince.
But this was not such a circumstance. She was a princess indeed, but a quiet, plain, foolish one. She was short and thin, with long, red hair and many cursed freckles beneath her green eyes. Many a man desired her hand because of what her station was, not for who she was.
The courting of various dukes and noblemen had lasted a furious six months until she found the fable of this faceless man laying before her, chest rising and falling slowly, always the same, always silent and content with his lot. Maybe she could discover some bit of love from one who had no knowledge of who she was.
It was her last attempt at the true, unselfish romance she desired of being loved for her nature, not her status.
She felt truly foolish.
Yet, still determined.
What an awful figure was this man without a face! But determined not to return to the empty, greedy men of her home country, she leaned in, further, until her face was two inches from the faceless man's lips. Her hair, braided down her back, slipped around her neck to rest on the man's upper chest. Her hands were on the sides of him, clutching at the royal purple satin interior of his false coffin.
Slowly, softly, she planted a soft virgin kiss where his lips should have been and then she retracted not back to her knees, but to her feet, afraid. There was no change in the man's slumbering. After two seconds of watching him, she half-ran to the end of the room where a small side apartment was separated from the main apartment by a dilapidated, slimy wall of boards. She placed herself behind these, but peaked out to watch what might happen.
It was hard to make out anything from her position, since the room was continually gloomy. Although she recoiled back a bit more, one eye peering out around the wood, white fingers clutching the edge tight, at a sudden sharp inhale from the man.
Something—he—started shuffling a good deal, then groaned. What was dark, she couldn't see; but the pale tone of the man's skin aided her to observe that he was sitting up, breathing as if in a trance.
A most astonishing thing happened then: the layer of skin across his face seemed to melt away to reveal beneath it, all the features a face ought to naturally possess. But if his facial contours were handsome in any manner, she couldn't see from the lack of light.
He appeared quite distracted at this whole development, unable to attain how or why he'd awoken. Logically, he stood, stepped out from the casket, gazing down upon it with an odd curiosity almost as if it were an object of humor for him.
The next thing he did was to stretch, to feel over his body and clothes to ensure all was still in its place. This was finished promptly enough. He was wearing, she saw now, quite magnanimous boots with heels, a long cloak attached by a thick golden chain over the chain mail. Ancient in design but just as regal, she felt even more intimidated that this figure no doubt had to be the fabled prince indeed.
Who was she to have awoken such a man? He no doubt contained knowledge far superior to her own. He wouldn't want to be seen with a skinny, red-headed snippet of a princess as she. Self-doubt rose and the trickles of self-esteem she'd gathered by expressing independence to traverse this distance mostly unguarded faded. She just stood peeking, quiet as a mouse, almost without any thought to occupy her heightening self-loathing.
The man turned towards the broken mirror laying sideways on the floor. He approached it and peered down at it, his hand rising to his face. He leaned in, touched his cheeks and his nose and his forehead, very much astonished. There was much to do of clattering chain mail and clacking of his boots and ruffling of his garments. He turned on his heels right in her direction, and froze.
She was confused at his sudden halt. Her eyes darted about a little and then heat rose incredibly fast up her neck and into her face. He was, surely, without doubt, staring straight at some piece of noticeable skirt of hers he could make out in the dark.
Afraid, she turned to retreat, yet was detained by him catching her by the wrist.
"Who are you?" he spoke calmly enough with a voice a bit raspy from not being used.
"Let me go, I beg you!" she gasped out.
He did not. Instead, he pulled her to him, against his chest with his arms about her, his hands pressed to her back. "What is your name? How did you come to this place?"
"I—I came alone," she couldn't stop looking at that face. He was handsome indeed, boasting broad shoulders, dark brown hair cast down to his blue eyes, his firm cheeks and soft lips set so seriously above a smooth, slightly rounded chin.
"That was not my question."
Trying to pull away, she looked away crying, "I can't! Let me go! It was a mistake!"
"What was?" He gripped her harder of course as she struggled, "oh, were you—you were the one to wake me?"
She was deathly quiet now, feeling weak.
"You were," he pressed warmly, "and I thank you. Please."
"What are you going to do? Please let me go. You are yourself now so you may go wherever you wish; just please don't press me!"
"Why do you act so fearfully? Please tell me your name so I can properly thank you. I mean you no harm."
She was giving in to that soft, deep voice of supplication. And she whispered, "I am Princess Margaret. I came to seek you from children's fables. It has been two hundred and fifty years since the fall of your kingdom."
Instead of pausing to consider this, to be shocked, to be fallen in tears, he softly responded, "It was meant to be. Nothing happens by chance. Indeed, I am Prince Henry of a kingdom soiled by greed and evil magic. It was best for it to fall."
"I am truly sorry," Margaret whimpered.
She looked up and he was looking down right into her face. More heat blossomed into the terrible blushing she had always been embarrassed about. It made her red hair redder and her plain features stick out in a repulsive manner. Blushing was for the lovely ladies, not childish young ones as she. Margaret felt she had no right to indulge in such a reaction by the solid, absorbing attentions of a tall, sturdy, handsome prince.
Henry started to lean down, his hands lowering on her waist. She caught her breath.
Absorbed as she was in the terror and the hope, she almost missed the initial feeling of his lips to hers, first soft, checking how she'd react, just a brushing over her mouth. When she didn't recoil or speak, the prince renewed the kiss deeper. Margaret allowed it, in fact was overcome by how pure it felt, that she returned it as much as she knew how.
In the minute of the kiss, she was not a princess with red hair, but a female embracing the soul of a lover. There were no titles, no circumstances, no scruples to this deep feeling of love.
And then she was full of doubt again, broke it and swallowed, "You do not want my money, my kingdom?"
"I had all of that before. What was it to be kept so close to the heart? What did it devise but the downfall of thousands?"
"A—and you will not shower me with unnecessary compliments?"
"You are against such words?"
"So far, completely. All I have received are bogus. How could one think so truly of me in such pompous regards?"
Henry grinned, "Because of your physical attributes?"
"Well I am not a—a–" She looked to the side and was ashamed to have even brought it up. Surely she was unattractive, yet over a dozen men had showered her with such lies as to exclaim how beautiful she was. Through sonnet and song, kisses of the hands and dying vows of forever loving her, it had disgusted her so thoroughly she remained in her chambers after a week of such flattery.
"You are as beautiful as the other ladies, princess."
Excessive heat spread for a third time over her face. With a hand to her cheek, Margaret looked at him, then looked towards the door. She whispered, "We should go now. I have been away from my country long enough."
"I will escort you."
"Then do what?" She stepped over the broken door, with him closely behind, to ensure she retained her step.
It was a hint the prince read through well, "Then I will continue to escort you wherever you go for the rest of your life.
She turned suddenly with a hand to his chest, "No! Surely not as a servant?"
"Certainly not. But I will stay with you as long as you allow it. What other woman ever did what you have for me? You gave me back my consciousness and my face," he was clutching her hands, with eyes sparkling desperately. "Knowledge of life and your love is all I need."
Such nobility! Her heart was pounding, her breathing quickened. Voice feathery, she responded, "You are such a noble knight, sir. I accept—no I demand you to stay with me for as long as you breathe. As unsure as I am of what has transpired, it is too fantastic to step about lightly. Sir, you became the obsession of my mind from the first time I read of your story. Tragic and impossible is what I was told, but I was desperate to breathe air of independence, to seek such an emotion as you have awakened within me. Forgive such a lengthy speech. I know it is tiresome, but it is the truth, and I won't savor it with any such embellish of contemptuous lies. What I say is exactly what I feel. We are both equals in class, but I am with a kingdom and you are not, so—so, though I am afraid to ask it, I feel I must be the one to do so. Will you take my han–"
As she spoke, he claimed her hands very firmly and cut into her shaky words, "Allow yourself some time before you decide so firmly. Do not take this as a sign I am against you. Indeed, I am not. Merely, I beg you not to indulge in the foolishness of hasty decisions. I will return with you to your kingdom and we will see what my fate will be then. "
Now they were exiting the forgotten castle where the vines were grown high around them. Despite the natural ceiling, a good amount of sunlight was reaching down, pooling the tall grass about them, allowing them to see each other clearly for the first time.
Princess Margaret's fine horses stood nearby grazing. To these, she approached, handing the prince the reins of the black one, and taking the reins of the white one for herself.
His words, declared so solidly, cast doubt in her mind, as now he could see fully her plain attribute. They sat on the horses. She turned hers to the trail through the forest she had followed in her journey in. They both remained quiet for an hour or two as the forest gave way to a wild prairie.
"Margaret," Henry said when the forest was a speck behind them, applying her name without ceremony.
She instantly turned to him.
"Are you doubtful of my words?"
"When you come to my father's kingdom, you will see what beautiful duchesses are available to wed," she said instead of directly answering his question.
It was an offensive thing to say which cut into him without mercy. Shocked at her doubt, he maneuvered before her horse with slight anger in his controlled voice, "The beauties of steel? I have been there! Far before you were born, but what is there to change in their nature?"
Humbled by his words, they rode on in silence. Though it took Princess Margaret months to find the castle, it took her a mere few weeks to venture back to her home, as she now knew the paths she had trod.
So small was her faith on the male sex from the feathered courtiers and their obvious greed, she doubted her near-fiancée just the same. Shame soiled her positive outlook on their soon betrothal.
Upon arriving at the kingdom, the king and queen threw a large welcoming ball for her. The dining and gossiping and dancing started early and was in full progress as the clock struck twelve.
Prince Henry was more of a celebrity than the princess for the mystery of his background. His tale was disbelieved by most, though they put up with the story to hear of the wondrous, odd things he rolled from his tongue. He did not flatter artificially or mingle his syllables to form large conjugations; Henry's simple, polite manner of speaking further delighted the rich, noble women who flapped their fans, blushing, gawking near rudely at his handsome features.
It was ill timing that Margaret descended the stairs to see Henry kissing the hand of a delightfully maroon beauty, who was smiling at him. The lady leaned in, not satisfied with such a peck to her fingers, and claimed a kiss on his mouth.
Margaret gasped and took herself back upstairs. Her rich gown weighed her down. More than once did she near trip and fall from the layers sliding over the carpeting.
It would not end! Should she wed such a man, his charms and beauty would raise his ranks and lower hers. He would not mean it, but so would the case be! She cried thinking about such a fate. Someday she would be queen but the people would only know her husband.
She had suitors by the scores because of her position and riches! Then she found true love, but was now invisible! It wasn't that she was greedy for affections; no indeed! It was horrendously clear to her that she would be jealous all her life of her husband, who would be showered by the amours of silly women!
He claimed to love her now, but why should he not? She had done him a magnanimous favor in waking him. But what of later?
She and the forgotten prince rode in friendly acquaintance though as they approached her kingdom, Margaret's nerves wore on her to the bone.
At that demand, her hands clenched the reigns tight, unsure and shocked. Somewhat flattered too but again intimidated.
Across her room to her balcony did Margaret run. The cobblestones were so far down. Disoriented momentarily, she swallowed, steps over the balcony railing, then paused. Someone was calling to her!
She turned to address Prince Henry, but her dress tangled her legs and with a shriek, she slipped from sight down through the air.
Henry stood just inside her room. It was pitch dark within, but behind him large candles lit the hall so that light poured in around him, casting his shape as a silhouette.
Stunned, sobbing, he choked out, "Love is from one soul to another! It comes in such places we never imagine and it is forever! If only you could have trusted my faithfulness!"