He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us.

- Aeschylus1

A/N: Apologies for the poorly-rendered footnotes. That's what those random numbers are. They make sooo much more sense in the word document - trust me. The dungeon – contrary to my expectations – was relatively clean, as far as dungeons go. They don't go far, but they do go, apparently, to some degree, and the dungeon went. As a prince I, of course, had little enough first-hand experience of dungeons, but people will talk about anything given a fifth of a chance. Unfortunately, that thing I mentioned earlier was a thing that I was not, as a guest of the Empress, allowed to do – go, that is. It may have been a relatively clean dungeon as far as dungeons go, and the chains may have been relatively clean as far as chains go (I reiterate, little enough first-hand experience) but irregardless they were still clamped around my ankles and wrists, which served to augment my general disliking. The little goon who "showed me to my room," such as it were, had also clamped a metal collar about my neck, but being, as I mentioned, a goon, forgot to attach it to anything, and I found this infuriating beyond all rationality. Nobody ever bothered to attach it to anything in all of the however-much-time-it's-been-since and this, to me, was more shaming and degrading even then being peed on, which I was, with rather alarming frequency. The very idea that I, a captive prince, was not deemed a likely enough fellow to chance escape, was both ludicrous and damaging to my pride, and I will admit my pride to be (to have been, at any rate, for the peeings have had something of a deflating effect upon it) substantial, and that in one of my humbler moods.

I wondered, on again and off again. To what fate had my noble steed, the barrel-chested white Perseus, been consigned? Not to be peed upon. He would not have stood for it. The first goon to even look sidewise, in that way you do at a spot on the ground you plan to (ahem) grace with a stream of living water (ahem-hem), would have received a kick to the groin, and interest. I wondered too if they ever fed him oats. I wondered too if there would be a way for me to get any.

The point of it all, really, was stupid, and this was something I was usually not – stupid, that is. I've had the very best of educations, or, at least, the very best of educations that can be foisted upon one unwillingly. At the time I considered it a kind of intellectual rape. What need had I, after all, to learn French? Everyone claimed that it would show itself in usefulness during my eventual reign. I direct a scoff at this, in retrospect – isn't it ironic2, for here I am, in a dungeon, being peed upon by a goon – what need had I to learn French if this was to be my fate? The goon was not French, did he respond to French? He didn't respond to English, just drooled at me in a belittling sort of manner, tucking away his snail-like part. And what I wouldn't have given for a change of clothes. Strange expression. What wouldn't I have given, for a change of clothes. So I am lying here, chained by the ankles but not by the neck, curses, curses, to the wall, steeping in goon-urine, running over plus-que-parfait in an attempt to keep my wits together, the pair that I've managed to save.

Why was I there? Here? In the clean-as-far-as-dungeons-go dungeon? Who kept it clean? No, I've got to keep things straight. Il n'avait pas manger avant de being chained to the wall3. And the past tense, some kind of it or other – they have about six. Hier, j'ai été fait pisser dessus par a goon while chained to the wall4. I hate the wall. Yes, I was a prince, and this is probably some kind of medieval fairy-tale setting, and there is the aforementioned Empress (antagonist?) and, I believe, a princess (?) somewhere in all of this but I'm not there yet, patience is required. I was not chained to the wall by the Empress because I was a prince – that does not follow – nor was I a prince because of being chained to the wall – that does not follow, it follows less than the other which did not follow either, which means that opposed to just not following this thought has taken a wrong turn and is heading down the path to the dark forest where the wolf lies in waiting; The Wolf is the Wolf of Confusion, and I Must Not Go There. That is a Bad Place, if the Fact that It is Called the Dark Forest Wasn't a Sufficient Indicator, Which It Should Have Been.

Désolé5. Apologies. Now I will attempt linearity, for organization's sake, and, in an attempt to do this, I will retreat back into that gossamer realm of memory and I will start at the beginning because that is where things have a habit of starting6.

There was a princess, though I am sure you foresaw this development, relative, of course, to my own royal heritage. She had a quaint, strange sort of name, and though I'm having difficulty quite recalling it, any quaint, strange sort of name will suffice. There was nothing remarkable about her in any substantive sense. I was in love with her, of course, but you will agree that this is beside the point. In any case, because of jealousy (?), the Empress cast some kind of spell, cackling was involved, and now everybody in the (where?) lies in the gossamer realm of dreams and I will st – they're asleep. Brevity, brevity. And as princes do, I made an attempt at rescue. It was very valiant (if I do say so myself) (which I do) and the point that I've been trying to make about why I was chained so disagreeably in the first place was because of that, or, rather, not because of my valiance but because of that which I attempted to do valiantly, that is, the rescuing.

We must have met at some point. Not you and me, fool, me and the princess whose place in my heart is beside the point. She was not what one might call a beautiful creature – she had a scar the size of a fingernail at one temple from (why?) and red hair. I didn't much like the red hair. Troll women have red hair – troglodytes do. The princess wasn't a troglodyte. I didn't say that to confuse you. She was agreeable, generally, very quiet. Her eyes were small, but nice enough, in their way, bluish. I say bluish because they were not, strictly speaking, blue, that is, a vivid blue, the kind of blue you can tell without hard looking. They were like water. Pressed to give a colour I would say they were blue, but no one is pressing me, now, and so I will say what I like about them – they were like water.

I didn't much like her.

She was probably fifteen or sixteen, with nothing to speak of by way of personality. So am I, for I am a prince, after all. It is my duty to be relatively lacking in discernible personality traits. I enjoyed hunting and equestrianism and not French and she enjoyed French and embroidery. Perhaps she didn't enjoy them, she merely tolerated them, and with better grace than I. Tolerance wasn't her name, but it might as well have been, because she tolerated a lot of general boorishness and didn't say a word when (who?) nearly broke her toes stepping on them dancing and she petted the hunting dogs even though the nurse and everyone told her not to, and she was so very average as to deserve little comment. Only this comment: that she was mine, and belonged to me. She had hair like a fire and eyes like a sea and I loved her.

And now, she is asleep, which is a terrible shame.

The Empress was jealous of her fire-hair and sea-eyes and, possibly, also of my love for her and so she cursed everyone in the general vicinity to eternal slumber until the princess' true love – that is to say, me, at least assumedlyawakened her with a kiss7 and then, to ensure my failure, she laid a trap for me and caught me up in her gossamer web of deception and I will st – well, at least, I think so. I can't be sure, because I never managed to clear my theory with the Empress. She used to sweep down in her finest robe to look in on me and laugh. I could never see what about the situation was so amusing, but her sight is farther, I suppose, on these matters. And what with all of the laughing and the gloating we never got to have a proper conversation. I tried to begin a number of times – my opener usually being an anguished cry of "WHY? DEAR GOD, WHY?" – but she never let me get any farther than that. I believe anyone would be silenced by a stream of urine (goon urine, of course – her attitudes were more superior than what you might expect, and it is my belief that, to her view, urinating upon me would have been an act of undue condescension).

I meandered directly into the trap and now, here I am, some time later, which takes us here, and here it is wet and disagreeable, steeped in the tart, acrid sting of urine. Time crumbles things, it grinds things, time is like a pestle and here I am a nib of corn and soon I will be powdered bones. We learn to tell time with clocks and I think this is a mistake. There is no clock inside of me – it is a clean dungeon, the urine is mopped away, but lacking in the way of facilities, such as clocks, which would be useful to me. If there was a clock I would look at it – I would stare at the clock that does not exist.

Would that drive me mad or keep me sane? I am mad. Not mad enough to deny this, not all of the time. But it saddens me to think that I know French and Aristotle, and now I am mad and so many people are sane and do not know these things, not that it would help them, most of them being peasants to whom Aristotle is of no substantive value8.

The Great Crumbler of Things Crumbled the Castle and The Prince in the Dungeon Walked Away. I cannot convey to you the general unpleasantness of scene that accompanies a collapsed castle.

I was thankful for having been chained in the dungeon because it meant that, while everyone above was killed in the act of the crumbling, I was not. I only realized that everyone had been killed when one of my goons did not appear with the accustomed morning cup of tepid water and crust of bread9. I awoke dry, and it was very pleasant. And then I looked up above me and above me was a hole and through the hole was the sky. I pried off the chains clamped around my wrists and ankles -

Not the one around my neck curses curses because it would not come off it wouldn't it wouldn't it wouldn't come off curses -

This was a thing I might have done much earlier, as the chains had rusted through and were not of the best quality, goon craftsmanship being what it is, that is to say, shoddy, but to what end? There was nowhere to go to. There was still nowhere to go to but there was no one to pursue me and no one at all.

I walk out. It's not a comfortable endeavor, I assure you, and my joints sing four-part harmony when I move them. Considering the duration and quality of my visit I feel surprisingly little relief as the rubble disappears behind me. No – I do feel something, I feel light and watery, as though stretched. Like a soap bubble I drift across a courtyard strewn with rubble, like diamonds I can not be scratched. My head is like a soap bubble. My head is a soap bubble. I feel the edges waver.

I have no precise idea of what, exactly, to do, and where to begin, so I do something I know for certain that I am good at, I sit down, and I put my back up against a great shard of rubble that cuts up from the earth like a tooth. There are miles to cover before I reach (where?), the place where the princess is waiting in the gossamer net of illusion and I will st – for me to come and save her.

This train of thought is a good one. It Follows. The notion comforts me. I think of the future in terms of a map – I Am Here, in the courtyard, sitting beside the crumbled fortress, and the princess is there (where?), awaiting me. Certainly, steps must be taken to get from here to there, but I know where here is and I know where there is, which is half the battle, really, if you think about it. I will saddle Perseus, my noble steed, and together we shall whip through the black forests of thorns and the dangers unnumbered that stretch before us like so many stone walls to fling our hooves over. We will get there, eventually. There might be some bleeding, but I've bled before, a little.

As I stand, slowly because my body is stiff and cold – I've been sitting longer than I'd thought – I consider how best to hack the arm off of a giant. There are sure to be giants in the black forests of thorns – well, not sure, but more likely than not. I must prepare for all eventualities. It is only practical.

Then I come upon a thing, and when I come upon it, I scream, longer and louder than any other scream I've ever heard before, and it doesn't stop coming, because there is Perseus on the ground, and he is dead.

I wept until I felt my insides bleeding, that way you weep whenever you weep sincerely, and I wept not because Perseus was dead but because nobody had thought to bury him, his bones lay there, curving up from the soil, cutting, a cage of them. How easily I might have been the horse, and he the rider, and I lying there unburied and gleaming and him weeping over me for these reasons. He has a name I should have, because it has a legacy, and my name has only the legacy of my fathers and none of them were anything greater or more extraordinary than kings – which is not good enough. They were not even good kings. Some of them were good, but not all of them, and none of them were great and this is not good enough.

And then I have a think – sometimes you need to do that, not just think, but have a think, take a think, pry one forcefully open. And I think it is pointless. To be entirely honest, and this may sound nihilistic, I then realize: it is less than pointless. There is a point but the point is inverted and it doesn't go the right way anymore, no indeed, it doesn't go upwards but down, It Is An Inverted Point. And here I am swirling down this black-mawed Charybdis. And Scylla is coming too, that tentacled despair, and soon it will be night. But there will be no stars, not for me. What futile beings we are we men and horses with our soap bubble heads10.

But night does come, and I scream myself out, and there are stars after all. I ought to sleep, I know I ought. Nanny always used to say I ought, but in a more indecorous sort of way, as was expected, because unlike mine her education had been limited to linen-hemming and cleaning up after princes. Or so I expect. She's dead too, more's the pity. There was nobody to tidy that awful mess behind me and I entertain the notion of doing a preliminary sweep for survivors. I do not. If I was once valiant, that valiance has been squeezed out of me like pus from a wound and I am scabby now, but clean of it.

Several things have been leeched out of me – leached, leeched – my sanity leaches out into the black earth and until the sun spins back around I lie by the horse bones and count the stars, not all of them. The same few, again, and then again, because stars are generally known to be cheeky fellows and I don't want any of them slipping away on me.

The sun does come around again. As with the stars, I feel a pang of fear that it might not, but it proves its reliability to a satisfactory degree – it is not a particularly sunny day, but rather a nice one, and I pick up the bits of me that dropped off in the night and patch them back together as best I can. As best I can turns out to be quite good, in point of fact, which is as it should be – I am a prince, after all.

It is not as hard as I thought it to be, reaching the (where?). There is only one road and I take it. I step in the middle of the cobbles. They are like little islands, but they swim beneath me which makes it difficult to land evenly and a couple of times I have a close call and just stand there breathing and breathing breathing.

The road is a straight line and it stretches out straight before me, arrow-straight, compass-like, treeless and straight, and there is no forest of black thorns. I laugh – what a foolish notion, a forest of black thorns, where did it come from? Who lied to me about the forest of black thorns? I must have heard it said. I must have, I could not have so vividly imagined the dense tangle of limb-like limbs twisted around each other and around me like the embrace of a double-jointed octopus, the musky claustrophobia, the fear, the black so thick you could slice it with a knife and spread it out onto a slice of white bread like death-jelly and eat it, if you were desperate enough to do so, and the fear, the fear of not knowing up from down and you from not-you and all of that from shadows and ghosts and phantasms and lingering threads of nightmare. How can I be so familiar with a place if I have never seen it? Heard of it? The forest must exist somewhere, somewhere.

But not here. Yes. This is the point, not the inverted one, the real one that goes the way that points should go, that is, upwards. And I walk a time. It is a pleasant day, pleasant enough. A day. I have not seen a day in days and days and days. The sky is white, cool swirled white like a bowl of water into which a drop of milk has spilt11. Oh beautiful day. There are cows too, like puffs of that sky12 which is what the goons must eat. Not the sky. They couldn't eat the sky – how could you reach it? You couldn't, of course, idiot. I meant the cows. They must eat the cows.

Must have eaten.

They are blood-pulp now, crow-feast I would imagine, though the crows might have a time getting at them underneath all of the rubble. They may not know this, but the secret is not brute force, it is leverage. If you have the correct leverage you can lift anything. Archiamedes thought you might be able to lift the world13, from the right place, and with the right leverage14.

I get to the castle. I go in. I go up. I will not linger on this as it was generally quite uninteresting. I've decided not to tell you about taking a tumble down the stairs – no dignity in that – no, so you shall never know that I tumbled down the stairs. I'll never tell you.

I reach a room on the third floor. Thankfully it wasn't the highest room of the tallest tower, because the cobwebs and general disarray of the place were making respiration something of a challenge not to mention that I could barely think. I stepped over the pastry chef and suddenly there she was lying there in a musty little halo of light from the broken stained glass, under a musty little green brocade sheet, her musty little face as slight and delicate and unremarkable and musty and little and beloved as ever I remembered it.

There is a pane of glass on the floor. This is strange to me so I stare at it for some time. Green brown fingers grope over the window-sill and the window is empty. I wonder, very quietly, why there is a window in the floor – the window-glass in the floor and not the window. There, in the glass – is the glass glass? Or is it a portrait? Because there in the glass unmoving is a gnarled root with a shriveled face and a body like a bent knuckle, held together by shreds of fabric and dreams and his eyes are a madman's eyes.

I wonder vaguely who let him in. He isn't the sort of fellow who ought to be allowed to wander about in a place like this.

And it is very fortunate that he is just a portrait. Poor trait.

But I am mad, after all is said and done, and the fact will – maybe it can – not be denied, in any case. Of course the glass has fallen out of the window! And it is on the floor, where it fell15! And those aren't dreams at all, they're spidering cracks in the glass that show green, not dreams at all.

I walk over to her, less walk than pick-my-way-around-spilled-dropped-forgotten-things and people, yes, people, there are sleeping bodies littering the floor like flesh cobbles on some strange road. There is a thin film of dust on her face. There must be dust in her nose, too, so I laugh because I don't think she would like that I can imagine the sneeze she will give, it will require a hundred thousand gesundheits.

Her lips are dusty too, and would taste like dust to kiss them.

I don't kiss them.

Because I am old.

This I know with sudden, lucid certainty – as I know with sudden, lucid certainty the extent of my madness, the black infected thorny forest of the mind. Oh, the dream man in the window, the patch-man, the root-man, the black dirt-crawling mad creature in the glass, oh his familiar nose, the straight arrow of it, the eyes like turned earth, earth turned mad.

Who Let Him In Here? Who? Who? What Is He Doing Here?

Oh oh God oh godohgod godogod.

Old, I am old, bent and blackened, and I see my hands before me now, the tremor that makes them shiver as though they were strung on lines held by a cold puppeteer. Rope and oatmeal, weak, spotted like sausage, twisted with age and with pulling at things that won't come – pushing at things that won't leave.

Oh I can't chain you to this, fire-eyes and sea-hair spent on a curled stain of ripe-rotted insanity. Can't have you wake to a touch from these foul lips16.

And so I lie down beside her, on the floor, the green brocade that spills towards me like a sea beyond my hand. Who was the old man? Why was there a window in the floor? Water dribbles down from my soap bubble eyes and the collar chafes at my neck, it chafes at my dignity such as my dignity is, now, at the end of all things.

Then there is a man, and the man says, "Good evening."

And, because I was raised to decorum, I say, "Good evening," though there is nothing particularly good about the evening at all.

And the man says, "I have come to take you somewhere."

And I say, "Where, exactly?"

The man answers.

I say, "I am afraid you are mistaken, good sir – for I am a prince."

And the man says, "Indeed, I care not if you are prince or pauper – " The man speaks well, he has a fine voice. Mellifluous, you might say, if that weren't such an ungainly word – the man is not ungainly. The word has always put me in mind of cauliflower, an ungainly vegetable. " – nor if you are rich or poor. Nor even if you love or have loved."

The pale white hand of the girl has fallen away from her breast. I feel a sting in my heart because I cannot reach to take it, place the beetle-black infected finger of my spider-root hand against its fleshy, lily-petal softness.

I don't ask him who he is. I don't because though I may be mad, I believe I know the answer. But he says it in any case.

"I am Brother Sleep," he says, "And now you will close your old eyes."

And I do, and I do, and I do. Sleep, the word sleep, how its menacing hiss dies gently away like a soft white thing. And I feel the film of my soap bubble head pierced as if by a needle, a rupture in the sac of fluid, I mount the white barrel-chested Perseus and we ride together for all of that eternal second until we are nothing, powdered bones.

1 Every good story deserves a pretentious epigraph.

2 Is this irony? They never managed to force irony upon me as they did French. Not that literary devices would be of more aid to me than foreign languages in this dank, detestable, goony place.

3 In case your education was not the very best, I translate: "He had not eaten before… the wall."

4 Again: "Yesterday, I was urinated upon by… the wall."

5 Apologies.

6 Sometimes, I think, I use rather too many commas.

7 Why did she leave this loophole? You would think, with all of her power, she would have managed not to leave so obvious a loophole.

8 Is Aristotle of substantive value to anybody.

9 Of course, in saying bread, what I really mean to convey is mold.

10 Retrospect would have it that this is melodrama – what state was I in, then, to know existential angst for melodrama? No one who has ever experienced existential angst believes it, at the time of its occurrence, to be melodrama. Some never realize. I count myself fortunate not to have missed an opportunity to mock myself.

11 We must not cry for that milk. Stiff upper lip, my friend.

12 They weren't cows. Cows don't look like puffs of sky. They were pigs, of course.

13 Stupid. To do this you would have to step out of the universe. Impossible even for him, with all of his academic prestige and magic circles. They killed him in the end, you know.

14 Archiamedes – exponentially more useless to the peasantry even than Aristotle.

15 I think you will agree that I deserve some commendation for having solved this mystery, and on my own, too.

16 I like to think it was not melodrama this time though I suppose I shall never know.