I’ve been writing for a fair number of years now, and one thing I’ve never been able to work up the nerve to do is ask someone if I could write something inspired by something they created. There have been plenty of times I’ve really considered it, but never quite had the nerve or motivation to ask.
One day, relatively recently, a four-line story crossed my Dashboard (let’s just gloss over the fact I was on Tumblr, please). I did what I typically would do: liked it, reblogged it, and moved along. And then it stuck with me. Those four lines rattled around in my brain, a frequent distraction.
So, after a bit of debating on the matter, I messaged caliginosity (who originally posted “the stories fairytales don’t tell”) and asked if I could write a short story based around, and inspired by, their post. Here’s the source material, which can be viewed in its original state here:
The prince fought valiantly.
He slayed the dragon.
The princess cried for days.
She loved that dragon.— The stories fairytales don’t tell
Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, as all kingdoms in such stories are, there was a sorcerer named Xerxes. He was truly hated and feared by all those who lived in the good kingdom. Try as he might, Xerxes could only bring about suffering and despair. His best intentions often caused the worst of troubles for anyone who was foolish enough to enlist his aid.
This is not Xerxes’ story.
In this beautiful, good kingdom, there lived a prince and a princess. The prince dreamed of one day being a mighty king, both respected and feared by the neighboring kingdoms, while the princess dreamt of something other than the structured, proper life forced upon her by her royal lineage. More and more often, she would spend her days away from the palace, dressed as any of the other common subjects of the kingdom, while her brother studied the proper ways and behavior of rulers. While the prince knew nothing but the value of being above everyone else, the princess felt an overwhelming loneliness. What use, she wondered, was there being on top if there wasn’t good company with which she could enjoy the view?
The princess always found herself atop the same hill, hiding among the highest branches of a particularly beautiful cherry blossom tree, watching the people go about their daily business. On this particular day, she had the fortune to witness an angry mob chasing Xerxes from the kingdom for what very well could have been the hundredth time that week. She knew of the old sorcerer, but couldn’t help but feel bad for him. He must be just as lonely as me, the princess thought. As the sorcerer made his way to the top of the hill, the mob tailing behind him, the princess crept into the lower branches and called out to him.
“Old conjurer, you’ll surely go unnoticed high among the colorful branches of this tree,” the princess said.
“Do I look capable of climbing?” Xerxes said, furrowing his brow. He couldn’t get a good look at who was speaking to him, though it made little difference as far as he was concerned.
“I suggest you consider your options,” the princess said. “The difficult climb, or the fury of the mob.” Xerxes glanced over his shoulder, and stifled a gasp as he saw his pursuers were very close to capturing him. The sunlight glistened off the pitchforks. Xerxes turned, leaping against the tree, and the princess grabbed hold of his arms. Bracing herself against the tree’s mighty trunk, she pulled with all her strength. The old sorcerer proved easier to lift than the princess had expected, and she carefully made sure he had his balance on a branch before letting go of his arms. Despite the shade of the tree and her common garb, Xerxes recognized the princess’ face immediately, and nearly fell from his safe perch as he bowed.
“Highness, I am in your debt,” Xerxes said.
“Hardly,” the princess said. “I’ve heard much about you, and cannot help but feel pity. You must know such loneliness.” Xerxes cocked his head, curious.
“You speak as though loneliness is familiar company,” Xerxes said. “Forgive my asking, should I be out of line, but what troubles you, princess?” The princess let herself slide to a sitting position, sighing quietly.
“Of all the things in the world I could have, what I want most is a friend,” the princess said. “Someone who sees me as their confidant, not a crown looming over them.” Xerxes scratched his chin, considering this. He could help her, yes, but no good could come from it; he just knew it.
Deep in the heart of the kingdom, the prince worried about his sister. He worried how she never seemed to show interest in any of the knights he introduced her to, no matter how valiant they were.
“Father, what must I do to help sister dearest understand her place is by a knight’s side?” the prince said, pacing the throne room. The king frowned.
“My son, your sister is a free spirit,” the king said. “To tame her would be worse than death.”
“Nonsense, father! I simply haven’t presented the right suitor,” the prince said. “I will have to continue my search. You’ll see, father.”
Deep in the dark forest, some distance from the kingdom, Xerxes showed the princess into his cave.
“A homunculus won’t do, as they often grow to resent the life they mirror,” Xerxes said. “And I am far too old to make a proper golem. Are you truly certain you wish my help in this?” The princess nodded, her expression serious. Xerxes stroked his chin, lost in thought. He snapped his old, gnarled fingers, finally arriving at a good solution.
“The Eternal Springs of Hope,” Xerxes said. “It is said when someone of pure heart and good intent stares into them, they will offer up what that person needs most. More fortunate yet, they are not of my design.”
“And how do I find such a place?” the princess said. “How will I know where to go, and that this isn’t just some means to shoo me away?”
“I saw a sadness just like mine when I gazed into your eyes, princess,” Xerxes said. “Follow the cleared path just outside my cave, keeping the sun to your back. When you reach a fork in the road, follow the path your heart guides you along. You’ll get there sooner than you think.” The princess bowed, smiling.
“Thank you, kind wizard,” the princess said. “When the time comes, I will see to it that you have your place in my court.” The princess made her way along the path, careful to keep the sun to her back. With each step she took, the trees around her seemed to shift a little. The path remained the same, and yet everything ahead seemed a little less familiar the further the princess traveled. Finally, after much walking, she found herself faced with a split in the road. She stood still, silent, contemplating Xerxes’ words.
There was a tug from within her chest, and the princess took a step towards the path to her left. She stopped, standing straight up with her arms at her sides. A gentle breeze tickled her face, and she felt the pull again. It was stronger this time, and she found herself taking slow, deliberate steps down the path to the left. The further she walked, the closer the trees around her grew; their branches intertwined above the princess’ head, creating a natural tunnel that blocked out much of the sun’s light.
In a small clearing in the distance, glowing a faint blue in the low light of the dense forest, was The Eternal Springs of Hope. The princess ran toward the springs, her heart racing as she reached the water’s edge. The Eternal Springs of Hope reflected the image of the princess, indeed, but dressed in the finest garments gold could provide. The princes shut her eyes tightly, not willing to give up. When she opened them again, she found herself staring at her same reflection, but it was holding a beautiful, black orb. Thin ruby filigree traced around the object, and the princess’ reflection seemed to hold it up as though she wanted the true princess to take it. Carefully kneeling down, the princess reached into The Eternal Springs of Hope. Her fingers met with the orb’s surface, and she found it to be pleasantly warm to the touch. Gently cradling it in both hands, the princess lifted the strange object from the waters. Her reflection wavered, smiled, and disappeared.
The dragon hatched from the orb suddenly, without ceremony. There was no slow cracking, or dramatic rumbles. It burst forth, gasping and covered in slick, acrid slime. It screeched and snarled, and when its little red eyes fixed on the princess it cooed, pressing its face against her body. It was scaly and black, with glowing red markings here and there, and entirely beautiful as far as the princess was concerned. She smiled at the little dragon, wondering just how she could keep such a creature hidden in the castle.
Hiding the dragon, who the princess had come to call Hearth, proved easy enough at first. She would take her dinner in her room as often as possible, dismissing her brother’s demands she enjoy the company of whatever knight he’d paraded in from far away in favor of better company. The meals almost always proved to be enough for her to share.
As Hearth grew, the princess had to become more cunning with the means by which she concealed him. She could no longer effectively keep the dragon in the castle, for he’d grown too large to go unnoticed. The king called on her one day, after a few of the horses went missing under mysterious circumstances.
“My daughter, I wonder if you would know where some of my finest horses have gone,” the king said, a sly smile on his face.
“Goodness, father,” the princess said. “I haven’t the faintest idea. I only visited the stables yesterday, and the horses were all there. Perhaps bandits are to blame for the missing stallions?”
“Bandits indeed,” the king said. “So long as those bandits are never seen, I suspect they’ll remain safe.” The king nodded to the princess, dismissing her. As she walked back to her personal chambers, the prince stopped the princess.
“What must I do to convince you I have your best interests at heart, sister?” the prince said, his eyes narrowed at his sister.
“First, dear brother, you would have to know what my interests are,” the princess said, “before can convince me you are eager to serve them.” The princess turned to walk away, and the prince grabbed her arm.
“All I’ve ever cared about is you securing a throne of your own, sister,” the prince said. “I know not what you occupy your time with, but I assure you I will find out. I’m certain it is too trivial for someone of your status.”
“Perhaps you should remain among the knights you wish to throw at me instead,” the princess said, pulling her arm from her brother’s grasp. She stormed off to her room, slamming the large wooden door behind her. Each night, only once she was certain the prince was asleep, the princess would sneak off to the dragon’s current roost. Some nights it would dwell in a deep cave, far to the east of the castle. Other nights, it lurked in the highest reaches of the princess’ favorite cherry blossom tree. No matter where Hearth stayed, it always answered her call.
And so the princess remained happy. She loved her friend, the dragon, with all of her heart.
One unlucky night, just after sundown, a shepherd caught a glimpse of the dragon in the distance. He was a particularly troubled man, always quick to stir up fear among the kingdom’s subjects at the earliest signs there might be danger. Word of a monstrous, fire-breathing dragon quickly spread, and where the kingdom’s subject saw cause for great fear, the prince saw a new pillar to support his efforts in finding the right knight for his sister. He summoned forth the bravest, strongest, and most clever knights from all around the kingdom. Against his father’s wishes, the prince promised his sister’s hand to whosoever could return with the dragon’s head.
When word of the prince’s plan was brought to the princess’ attention, she left immediately to stay by Hearth’s side. The dragon had never harmed anyone in its short life, but the trouble with dragons, the princess had quickly learned, was they go from being small and precious to large and rather menacing in a short span of time. She had to find a way to get Hearth to safety.
She arrived at her beloved cherry blossom tree only to find it besieged by three knights. The princess recognized them as three of the nobles her brother wished her to consider as potential suitors. She quickly ducked into some bushes before they could notice her, and crept closer to the tree. Hearth hid high in its branches, trying with little success to conceal himself from the knights. He stared down at them, his large red eyes full of fear. The knights goaded each other on, boasting how the others lacked the mettle to be the first to make a move on the foul beast.
The princess leapt from the bushes and demanded the knights leave at once.
“The creature you torment is harmless,” the princess said, choosing her words with care. Spending time in the company of creatures such as dragons drew suspicion of witchcraft, and the princess could not risk this.
“Stand back, young damsel,” said one of the knights, pushing the princess aside. What followed happened in a flash of fire and screams, and ended in a heap of molten armor where the knight stood seconds before.
“Hearth, no!” the princess said, her hands up. The other two knights unsheathed their swords as Hearth landed on the hillside, his crimson wings outstretched. The two knights charged at the dragon, only to meet with the same fate their fallen cohort had moments before. The princess fell to her knees and wept for the dragon’s stolen innocence. Hearth rested its head atop the princess’, cooing as he did when he was only a whelp.
“You must hide deeper in the tree,” the princess said. “Promise me you will only show yourself to me.” Hearth bowed to the princess, retreating back into the colossal maze of cherry blossom branches. No sign of the dragon was visible from outside the tree, and the princess smiled.
She returned to the castle only to be greeted by her brother, furious from the news of the knights being felled by the dragon.
“You must tell me where that beast is hiding, sister,” the prince said. “Its death is the only hope we have of you leading a good and prosperous life.”
“I will do no such thing, brother,” the princess said. Without another word, she cloistered herself in her chambers, leaving only for meals and at the request of her father. Every third night, when she was certain everyone else in the castle was asleep, the princess sneaked out to the cherry blossom tree to visit Hearth. The dragon never left its branches, waiting until the princess made her way to him.
Unbeknownst to the princess, her brother followed on one such night. He observed the tree for days to follow, noting how no signs of the dragon were present until his sister arrived for her occasional nightly visit.
The prince devised a cunning plan. He waited until a night he knew the princess would remain within the castle. He sneaked into her chambers and stole away the cloak she’d worn earlier that day, so as to fool the dragon. Carefully, quietly, the prince approached the cherry blossom tree, and when he was certain he’d been spotted, he collapsed to the ground so only the cloak was visible. Great gusts of wind flattened the grass around the prince as Hearth descended from the tree, landing only inches away. As the dragon lowered its head to inspect the cloak, the prince leapt up, drawing his sword, and struck down the dragon with one mighty swing.
The next morning, the prince paraded the dragon’s head through the kingdom. His subjects lined the streets, all awe-struck by the prince’s valiant feats. Deep in the castle keep, locked away from any to see, the princess wept inconsolably, for she had loved her dragon with all of her heart.