Listen to Your Heart
We were all gathered for supper in the castle dining room. It is a huge palace with plenty of room for a dragon or even two. ::reclines on belly with crossed paws settling into storytelling pose::
Queen Larkin sat at the head of the table dressed in her favorite shade of crimson. Captain Haben sat to her right, head bent, deep in conversation with her majesty. Of late, he had gained a stone or two, but I saw him only the other day and his armor still fit. ::grins as he remembers the knight jousting on the field below the castle::
Sarah sat to the Queen’s left with Adrian beside her. Sarah had taken special care with her dress. Her auburn hair had a net accented with pearls and her green and gold gown was also adorned with the precious beads. I noticed the bard had a new tunic in a light shade of tan suede which complimented his black hair and doe brown eyes – eyes Sarah didn’t seem to be able to avoid. Just looking at them you could tell love was blooming in their garden.
The cook’s daughter, Harriet, finished refilling everyone’s goblets, placed another bucket of mead on the table before me and scooted off back to the kitchen to bring the dessert.
“Farloft?” Queen Larkin called down the length of the table to me. “Could you entertain us with a story?”
This is normally the Bard’s duty, but who am I to refuse the Queen
“Indeed I could.” I stood with chest thrust out in pride at being asked to spread wisdom to the gathering.
I inclined my head and bowed politely to my audience. “I heard this tale from a castle guard in a land far, far away, many, many years ago.”
Harriet hesitated in the doorway with her tray of early berries and cream.
“Come in, Harriet,” I motioned with a wing. “Put down your load and have a seat for I intend to tell you all a most heart wrenching tale of love, innocence, fear, and betrayal.”
I had not had an audience of this size in years. When the cook stuck her head through the door in response to my ‘storytelling voice’ I motioned her in too with a nod of my wedge shaped head in her direction.
“Come, come. This is a tale that should be heard by all and passed on to any that would listen.”
Harriet, the cook and the butcher, two handmaids, and a footman, who seemed to materialize out of the woodwork, settled on the steps from the hall into the sunken dining room. They were all lurking a bit at the edge of the festivities in hopes that the Queen would ask me to tell a tale. My reputation as a storyteller is known far and wide.
I sat down on my haunches and leaned back against the pillar behind me. I gazed out the window at the spring blue afternoon sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. The story unfolded before my eyes.
“There once was a kingdom known for its magic. In this wondrous realm anything was possible. Horses had wings and could fly like dragons. Fish could walk upright on their fins from pond to pond in order to find the best bottom grazing. Trees could not only talk, but carry on lengthy conversations about all they had seen through the ages.”
“Mountains could lift their surrounding skirts of rolling hills and shift their bulk to catch the sunrise upon their face each morning, and then turn their faces to the other side in the afternoon to watch the sunset.”
I stood and ruffled my wings to lie smoothly at my sides.
“In this land of wonders, there lived a lovely, young maiden, Princess Lucresha. She was so full of magic she literally bubbled over with it. Where she walked flowers sprung up in her footsteps. Where she spoke birds mimicked her voice in song. Where she gazed the leaves sparkled and water danced. Her mere presence sent a ripple of power through the air.
“Lucresha’s father and mother, King Alfred and Queen Katrinia, loved their daughter intensely. They encouraged her to develop her magic to its full potential. As she approached maturity there seemed to be no limits to her abilities. Whatever she thought, she could do. Each wondrous achievement seemed to be a mere step toward yet another more spectacular ability. She could fly by the time she was ten. But, by her twelfth birthday she need merely think about being somewhere and she was there – instantly.
“She could understand the speech of any animal at five years of age, but by the time she was seven she could talk to the flowers as well as the trees that everyone else could hear.”
I padded down the length of the table making eye contact with the members of my audience. My tail creating a rustling sound in the rushes spread across the floor.
“One beautiful spring morning, much like today, the young princess who had just reached her sixteenth birthday was sitting in the garden when one of the castle cats she so adored brought her a present. It was an injured bird. The young girl scolded the cat and shooed it away. She took the bird in her hand and cradled it gently. The poor thing had a broken wing and was in a great deal of pain. The young princess stroked the bird’s wing gently with her finger tips and the wing straightened and healed. The tiny bird chirped its thanks and flew off.
“This episode was witnessed by the King from his place in one of the window seats of the castle. He could not believe his eyes. Was there no limit to his daughter’s powers?
I raised my spines about my neck to emphasis my point, then settled them back in place and laid my ears back as I continued in a lower more intimate tone.
“The vast powers of Lucresha made the King think – and think hard. He began to fear his daughter. He was King, but she was so much more powerful than he. King Alfred thought, and worried and spoke his concerns to Queen Katrinia.”
I spread my wings as much as I could and spoke in a Kingly fashion. “‘Had I a son he would have brought his powers to the throne,’ he said, ‘but my daughter will marry another and perhaps that other will look toward his wife’s former home and want that kingdom for his own. Perhaps my daughter who has so much power will turn on me and seize my kingdom for her husband – for her own.’
I folded my wings and shifted me voice to a higher range. “‘Do not fear,’ Queen Katrinia soothed. ‘You worry for naught. Listen to your heart.’ She placed her hand on his chest. ‘Our daughter is faithful, innocent and true. She would never turn against her father.’
I sat again on my haunches and gestured with a large green paw. “But, these words did not comfort King Alfred.
“As Lucresha approached the age of marriage the King began to wonder who he might choose that would not challenge the rule of his kingdom yet still be good enough, strong enough and understanding enough to deserve his daughter’s hand in marriage. For deep down in his heart, he truly loved his daughter almost as much as his mind feared her.
“He decided to seek the guidance of the Seer of his fair kingdom so his choice for Lucresha’s suitor would be the correct one.”
“A wise choice,” Haben commented.
“Ah… but the Seer proclaimed more than the King had bargained for,” I said as I waved a wing at Haben. “The Seer sat quietly gazing into her pool after the King asked what the future held for his daughter. When she spoke it shocked the King to his very soul.”
I let smoke curl up out of one nostril and hunched my shoulders, bringing my wings forward like a cape. The smoke created a mysterious shroud about my head. I spoke in the imitation of a croaking old woman’s voice. “’Your daughter shall never marry. She shall be the death of you. She will take your throne before five years have passed.’
“’This cannot be true!’ shouted the King. ‘Look again!’ He pushed the Seer’s face down toward the surface of the pool for another look.
“‘You must have seen wrongly.’ He repeated his wife’s words. ‘My daughter is faithful, innocent and true.’ For that was what he truly felt in the deepest wells of his heart.
“‘I have not,’ the Seer replied in anger. ‘She shall be the death of you.’
“The King would have killed the Seer, but his mind was twisted away from his daughter by fear. In his troubled head he believed the Seer’s prophesy.
“He rushed back to his castle.
“When she heard the prophesy Queen Katrinia begged and pleaded for the King to show mercy toward his daughter. Surely he did not believe that Lucresha - innocent, true, faithful, Lucresha would kill her own beloved father?
“King Alfred came with his guards to escort his daughter to the highest tower of the castle. The young princess fervently denied ever having any thoughts, or intentions, of killing her father. She protested her love to him.
“She swore to her father that she would never use her power again if that was what he wished. She would never change the course of nature.
“Lucresha was still swearing her love and repeating her promise never to use her power again when the King, her own dear father, shut the door in her face imprisoning her in the highest tower, under lock and key, guarded day and night, for the rest of her life.
“Lucresha cried and cried.
I wiped an imaginary tear from my muzzle with my paw.
“She could have used some of her incredible power to free herself. She wouldn’t have needed more than a thimble full of that power to release the locks and bolts on the door. Another sprinkling of her power and the guards would have let her pass without protest. But, she had promised her father she would not use her powers and she intended to keep that promise. She would prove her love to him - her innocence - and he would see the wrong he had done and release her.
“But, day followed night, and months followed weeks, and finally the princess’ confinement in the tower stretched into years. She kept track of time in her journal – one of many that her mother sent to her in secret over the years in order to pass the doldrums of imprisonment. If she could have used her magic she would have had a pleasant, if lonely, life in the tower, but she held fast to her promise to her father. She would not change the natural order of things. She did not conjure flowers to lighten her space. She did not call birds to her windows to sing. She did not even conjure treats to supplement her boring daily allotment of meat and potatoes. She merely sat and read or wrote.
“When she could sit no longer she paced like a caged animal. When she could not stand the silence any longer she indulged in humming to herself.
“It was late in the fourth year of her confinement when her humming happened to attract a mouse to her room. The mouse had never heard such a tuneful hum before and he told the princess so.
I cleared my throat and in a high squeaky voice said, “‘your hum is quite delightful. ‘Tis a shame it is not heard by other than this poor mouse.’ He cocked his little head on one side and peered up at Lucresha. ‘I have heard you many days up here alone. Why is it that you never go down in the lower part of the castle to visit and partake in the festivities of the Kingdom?’
“Lucresha bent down from her chair and put her hand out to the tiny mouse.
“He knew instinctively he had no reason to fear her because even though she did not use it, he could feel her power radiate from her. He climbed into her palm and she lifted him to her shoulder where he sat beneath her hair as she told him the reason for her captivity.
“The mouse was most affronted by her tale. How could a father be so cruel? Couldn’t he see that the princess changed things for the better?
“The mouse tried to talk Lucresha into using her powers to escape. When that failed he offered to gnaw through the wooden hinges which held the door on her cell closed.” I picked up a bone from the table’s leftovers and gnawed it. Harriet and the handmaids giggled.
“When she declined him that action he said he could run up the guards pant leg and give them such a fright it would send them falling down the long staircase that led to the tower so she could make her escape.”
I wiggled in place as though I had a mouse in my drawers. The idea of a dragon with pants, much less a mouse in them had my entire audience laughing and chuckling. I settled back down into my place on the slate floor.
“But with each offer of assistance the princess denied him. She had made her father a promise and she would not break it under any circumstances.
“But, there was something the mouse could do for her if he would.
“’Anything,’” I spoke in the high mouse’s squeaky voice.
“’My father never comes to see me,’ Lucresha explained. ‘He does not know I have kept my promise all these years. He does not know I have not used my powers in any way. I would have you take him a message.’ Lucresha stopped to wipe a tear from her eye and calm her voice so that she might speak clearly, for it was a trial to put into words how much she loved her father, yet felt betrayed by him. ‘I would beg you to tell him that I am a true, faithful and innocent child and would plead for him to reconsider my imprisonment. I would continue to withhold my powers if he requested it, or if he deemed it useful, I would use my powers for whatever he might wish.’
“’I will do as you ask,’ the mouse said. ‘I will go forthwith.’ The mouse smiled - if mice can smile - and set off running as fast as his tiny legs could carry him.
“It took him most of the day to travel from the highest tower to the King’s dining room, which is where he found the King and Queen that very night of the morning he spoke with the princess Lucresha.
“He made himself very small, for even in this land of wonders, it was not deemed healthy to have mice around your food. He squeezed his way under the door and ran lickity split across the floor and straight under the King’s chair. He sat at the King’s feet and gave himself a good cleaning.”
I imitated a mouse cleaning its whiskers and rubbing its furry coat until it was smooth by rubbing my paws across my muzzle.
“He wanted to make a good impression for the princess, so he wanted his whiskers all neat and tidy before he met the King. After he had sufficiently groomed the mouse scurried up the table leg and headed for the King’s place.
“The King balked at the sight of a mouse on his table. He grabbed the serving knife from the platter and hacked at the mouse. The tiny mouse scurried randomly back and forth trying to avoid the King’s lethal whacks. The King stabbed once, twice, thrice, missing each time as his temper rose higher and higher. The tiny mouse squeaked his dismay. He wasn’t able to voice a single word before the King being overcome in frustration stopped suddenly and clutched his chest. He fell back in his chair.
“I can’t breathe!” he hissed under his breath through paling lips.
“He was having a heart attack,” Adrian said.
“Did they fetch the Princess to heal him?” Sarah asked.
“Indeed, they did,” I confirmed. “But they were too late. She was so far away in the tower that it took too long to run the many stairs to his rescue. By the time she arrived he was dead.”
I went back to my spot leaning on the pillar. My iridescent green wings curled around me like a cape were lit by the sun streaming in the upper window.
“So, with the arrival of the mouse what the Seer foretold years before came true. The princess sent the mouse, the mouse startled the King and the King’s weak heart ceased to beat. And, Lucresha being freed, and very powerful, did rule the Kingdom as the Seer had prophesied.
I tilted my wedge shaped head toward my audience and pinned them with my golden gaze. “But, would our story have come to the same conclusion if the King had listened to his heart and not his fearful mind?” I asked. “We will never know, but it is to be wondered.”