Charming did not look charming at all as he stood by the bed of the princess. His shoulder bled, a side of his face and much of his hair had been burnt off, and his clothes smelt of three days hard riding and dragon blood. ‘No,’ he thought, ‘charming would be the last word they’d use to describe me right now.’
He turned his attention from himself to the girl lying peacefully in front of him. How old was she? 16? If the stories were true, she’d be 116. He winced. The pain that curiosity had numbed for a while came surging back. Well, the forest of thorns had been pretty spot on… as had the dragon, he winced again. Thus, he figured that according to the theory of probability, it meant the story of her being 88 years older than he must also true. Charming thought of the old man who had recounted the tale to him. Funny, he had seemed at least 150 years old himself. He wouldn’t be surprised to find out the relic had been alive at the time of the great enchantments.
“There was a time, many years ago, when there were people who could make wondrous things happen,” he had told Charming. They could make water emerge from within rocks…they could make the wind change direction and could grant you the deepest wishes in your soul before you knew of them yourself. But they were kind folks; honest and principled.”
The prince sniffed disdainfully. Kind and honest. That had been the least believable part of the legend. He recalled the fate of his poor horse, Bartleby. His previous owner had sold him to Charming as a prize Stallion that, he claimed, could leap over 8 foot fences with ease; but what the man had assured the prince, he hadn’t bothered informing the horse about. So when the royal had urged Bartleby to dodge the dragon’s spurt of flame by jumping over a 5 foot thorn patch, the horse made a valiant attempt but couldn’t muster more than a four foot parabola into the middle of the hedge. It was to his credit though that he managed to throw his rider off in the nick of time. He had saved his master’s life but lost his own. Charming mourned his brave and loyal companion, and held his previous master responsible for his death. Yes, that crook would suffer when he returned. All of those damned crooks would; the inn keeper who had stolen his purse the night he stayed at the tavern, the other who had mixed water in his champagne, and especially that dastardly cretin who had given him faulty directions just for the heck of it. Sharper than the sting of a dragon-bit shoulder was the pain of realizing the animals of his kingdom were more to be trusted than the men
He stood uncertainly in the brightly sunlit chamber. Should he wake her up now? How did the legend go- oh right, with a kiss. After all, this was what he had ridden so far for, fought and killed a dragon for, lost his horse and looks for. This. For some reason all of this seemed an anticlimax to all of that.
He looked out the window- the carcass of the dragon still lay there. Guilt ran rampant through his soul. The dragon had only done what it had been created to do, as he had only followed what supposedly his destiny was. Had he truly thought about it, there might have been another, better way to enter this wreak of a palace; some trapdoor, some hidden vault. After all, if the dragon had succeeded in chewing off his torso like it wanted to, who would have woken up this sleeping child? It was a pretty big risk for destiny to take. In fact, he felt that fate or destiny had acted in an extremely irresponsible manner.
“Why am I taking so much time? Kiss her and get it over with. By God, I smell.”
He had expected the room to be smaller and darker, dank in fact, with no windows- like the dungeons that he had so often read about. He had also imagined this princess to be older, for some reason. What he had not expected was a little girl, sleeping like a bear in hibernation, draped in a pink and blue quilt in a room that made his own Great Hall look like the one-room house of a shepherd, his wife and 12 children.
“Those were wonderful, magical times” the old man’s voice echoed through his head again.”When there was a balance between good and evil. Kindness was always rewarded and wickedness always punished. People believed in happy endings, for they were the only endings possible.”
If that was true as well, then what had happened these hundred years? How had the world changed so? These were questions the old man had no answers for. He had just said that time kills off things it has no use for. People did not want enchantments, they did not need them. They had begun to fear and distrust those with special abilities. A sentiment the old man couldn’t blame them for, since after all, nothing is more terrifying than diversity. Slowly fear, prejudice and hatred took over everything. Children born with abilities were ordered to smother their power til it died inside. The most well known of the enchanters were tried with charges of ‘defiance against the laws of nature’. But nobody could ask the inquisitors that if Nature had made someone special, how was it defiance to act so? The enchanters were few, the similars legion and growing more daily. Soon only a handful survived and they too left, believing that there was a better, more accepting world on the other side of the ocean.
Outside the window, the prince could see his kingdom as it was now. In his mind he pictured the hundreds of faces he looked at everyday. That had surrounded him all his life. Dark haired, dark eyed, fair skinned, all of them. He had made speeches standing from the parapet, talking of better days, brighter days and had not seen a single face that could catch his eye. All of them; the rich, the poor, the scholars and the slaves were brothers and sisters in a spiritually incestuous way and their children were the sad products of such relationships; crippled, emotionally, mentally and physically. In their extreme desire to stay equal, they had become replicas of each other’s mediocrity. They did not try to be better, for better would make them different. This was the world he was going to awaken this very unusual child into.
Maybe, he thought, breaking her enchantment was not my destiny. Could it not be possible that my destiny was just to find her, and to realize that before waking her, I had to create a world worth waking her into? A world where she would not be afraid to be different; where she would be proud to stand out like a tulip among dandelions. He had dreamt of such a world himself when he was young.
Charming took a step away from the window and looked down at the sleeping figure. He was leaving her unprotected, but he knew that none of his people would have the temerity or the curiosity to enter the palace on their own. And he would seal the door to her chamber, for caution’s sake, and hide the key- maybe, he hoped, for his son or grandson to find.