I greatly dislike waiting. It was a completely useless pastime. Yet there we were, all twelve of us, standing on the banks of the black tarn. We were waiting for our princesses, the twelve beautiful sisters from the world of the living. Every night they would descend into the world beyond--our world--and dance.
Their partners were a shade less glorious. All of us were dead.
Even though I was impatient for our ladies' arrival, Dieter was quite a deal more impatient than I was. He stepped nervously from foot to foot, pulling at his cuffs, which were threadbare. He repeated it night to night, even though he met the same ladies, the same routine. Dieter was always nervous; nothing could stop that.
The remaining ten of us were also in various degrees of patience, degrees that almost nearly coincided with how much had decayed. Brian, the oldest of us all, stood like stone, the skin melting off his face, revealing the cool, eerie whiteness of his skull. Uwe, the youngest of us all, watched the pathway that led into the Diamond Wood, excitement gleaming in his eyes, jittery, jumpy, nervous. Besides his tattered evening clothes, the only other sign of his dead existence lied in his fingers; the skin was scorched clean, the bones charred black. He was snapping his fingers together, making a hollow clicking that filled the air alongside the rustling and tinkling of the diamond leaves.
Besides the clicking and the rustling, the bank was an appropriate deathly silent. After a spiel of anxious waiting, we heard tingling in the distance. Those who were standing pulled themselves into an organized line. Adam, who had been sitting in one of the boats, accidentally dropped something in the water, most likely his foot, which I knew only clung to his leg by chance. The resulting plop echoed through the clearing, making several of us jump.
And then they came, down the path, leaves shaking in their lively presence. Antje, the youngest, was having an animated conversation with Katharine, the eldest. As they neared I finally noticed a trace of anxiety in the conversation, but, as I did not know them well enough, I wasn't certain. Antje looked worried, and Katharine, in a typical older sister fashion, was dismissing her concerns as mere fantasy. I noticed my lovely companion, Paula, and I smiled, holding out a hand in her direction. The other princes did the same, helping their partners into their boat for the ride across the tarn. Paula quickly informed me that Antje was imagining a tracker that followed them through the woods, making the leaves rustle. She was dutifully ignored by her sisters.
I balanced carefully on the boat, pushing it forward through the dark waters like a Venetian gondolier.
I've always wondered what drew these twelve beautiful princesses to this depreciated castle under the ground. The only thing that I could imagine that could attract such ladies would be the metallic forests, brimming with gold and silver, and glistening with diamonds. The prince they adored so much were little more than rotting corpses, the castle of white marble that they envisioned was of grey crumbling stone and crippling vines, weaving in and out of the mortar to tear the structure apart. Paula leaned against my leg and wrapped an arm around my knee. Careful not to overturn the boat, I placed a hand on her head, stroking her hair. I realized that I was lucky to have her as she talked amicably about what she could remember about her day in the living world. We reached the far shore and I helped Paula out of the boat. She floated down into my arms, unaware of the muddy tar beneath her feet. Twelve couples, arm in arm, then entered the castle
I am always ashamed to allow Paula to see this place, but such an enchantment was placed over her eyes that she never noticed the creeping vines, the cracks in the stone, and the rifts in the floor. We princes have always tried to prevent our ladies from tripping on the poor floor, but we aren't always successful, I noticed as Katherine fell over one of the indistinct holes in the stone, collapsing to her knees. Her sisters chattered over her well-being; my companions and I exchanged glances. Our greatest fear was that they would see the truth and never return.
As we danced, I felt a thrill at holding Paula close to me. I was never given the chance of having a wife of my own when I was alive. It's almost ironic that it wasn't until I was dead could I finally dance with one whom I could call my one and only.
We danced on, her skirt twirling out from behind her, her feet flying, adorned with a different pair of shoes from the night before. We drifted off from the center of the waltzing and strayed near the wall, my arms around her small form, her leaning against my chest. We swayed gently.
Uwe came over with Bella, his partner, and traded for a song or two. Bella was a very upbeat and vibrant dancer, but she didn't measure up to my dear Paula. Paula and I rendezvoused after a few dances and I let her take a seat while I searched out a late meal for her. I returned with veal and a goblet of wine, and Paula enjoyed her food while I watched her, somewhat envious. I was jealous that she could eat the meals that I could only see and touch. I had long since lost the ability to taste food, and I longed for it more than anything, to taste the savory meat and all its spices, for sweet, burning wine. Paula finished what she could and handed her plate to me so I could place it on the table behind us. We rested for a while, watching the almost perfect dozen of pairs. We soon found the desire to dance again, and Paula asked for her drink before we took to the floor. I turned to retrieve the goblet and paused. It was notably absent. I relayed this to Paula, and she forewent her drink and rose to her feet. She took my hand and lead me out onto the floor.
We continued dancing for the rest of the evening, until Paula's shoes wore through the sole. With a little bit of curious glee, she showed me her bare feet as she relaxed on a lounge. Most had quit dancing by then, the ladies tired. I rubbed Paula's feet with my hands, feeling the hardened skin on the bottoms, her toes, her ankles. Soon the twelve sisters had to depart. We bid them farewell as we stood on the bank of the black tarn. They vanished slowly into the woods, weary, tired, yet happy.
And we would have to wait another day to set eyes upon them again.
The next day we stood on the banks of the tarn and waited, the rustling. The clicking, the slap of the water on the boats. We waited, we waited all night, with no sign of the princesses, the lovely, enchanting damsels. The next day was the same. And the next. Soon, one by one, we realized that we would never see them again.