-Stories have no real beginning, nor end. They circle on, and branch out

like the deep roots of old trees. And so, remember, no matter where you

end up, or where the first steps are taken, when the telling is over, it is

not the end, but the start of a new beginning-

Long ago there lived a prince born to a Kingdom high in the mountains when the castle still shone white stone in the sunlight. Though, unlike his father, a sound and dependable King the boy grew up cold and empty for, he was born with eyes black as the abandoned mines. On that night his mother the Queen hung herself from the western tower.Despite the chatter of maids and knights and councilors alike, the King, a man of love for his family, refused to believe that his only son was the cursed child they claimed him to be.

So he grew, from infant to boy and from boy to young man and, on the day of first snow, a loyal guard approached both the prince and King, a day from the young Prince's crowning, and told them both that a wise woman from the far Kingdoms came to read his son.

She was a trusted soothsayer, who the mountain priests looked kindly and favorably upon, and so he beckoned the old woman in hopes that such foolishness could be set aside among his people and his dear beloved finally let to rest in peace.

It was the first time the prince laid his cold, black eyes on the woman's pale face, sagging in wrinkles of cool, leathery skin. She walked with a limp and a hunch in her back, cane tapping on stone floors while her rags, like many sheets wrapped around her thin bones, dragged behind her and swept the dust from the floors.

Both the prince and his father stood to face the woman, who stopped just within the double doors. The prince sneered but, while he turned away, his father placed a hand on his shoulder. A stone dangled from her neck, black, but when it touched the torch light the inside glimmered blood red. Only one eye scanned the room, blue as the mountain peaks. The other was still, a white marble lodged in her socket.

Both rested on him.

"You." she smiled, a row of age yellowed teeth and the prince jumped, though refused to flee the gaze upon him.

She extended to him her hand, spotted with patches of leathery skin that wrinkled and sagged. He flinched as the cold and clammy fingers took hold of his own.

"How disgusting," he blurted, the only surprise was on his dear father's face, but the prince couldn't stop the words that spilled from his heart like vomit.

"You don't deserve to lay your hands on me!" he said, a baffled look on his face as he tore his hand free. She laughed then. More of a cackling choke for air and her head tilted until her gray straggles of hair fell lose from its bun.

"The darkness in your heart is hate and guilt," she said, voice shaking and meek.

"I have seen many colors in all, but with you, my child, all I see is darkness."

Both eyes were on him and yet the only gaze he could feel was from the white marble in her skull.

"I am but a blind old woman and it has been ages since I have seen one who walked a path with more tears than my own, poor dear."

"You spit lies!"

"I do not lie." Her shaking grip firmed like stone. The air thickened.

"And so help me, if you cannot mend the hate in your heart you will lead a cursed, no, a sinful life at the behest of your foolishness!"

The guards guided her back from the cowering prince.

"And, when you choose to lock love in dark chambers you will suffer a heart that breaks and your son, born into that darkness, shall live a fate more cursed than your own."

They lead her towards the open maws of the double doors.

"Heed me." She said her voice as a phantom on the walls as the sound of rattling chains and creaking wood worked the drawbridge, and the beams of light from the torches of her escorts gleamed inward upon the anxious face of the prince.

It is said, on that night the King went to his rooms, and not would he leave them for days upon nights. While the King never said it, the prince knew, up until his father died on his sick bed, that, just as his mother, and his father, those he loved, would leave him in the end. This, he believed, was his curse. So grew the Prince from boy to man, from Prince to King with a broken heart, a son, and a cursed fate.

Long ago, there lived a princeā€¦