Once upon a time, a king’s daughter loved dogs as her dearest friends. She had all manner of species about her all the time, and whenever she went for a walk, she always brought at least two with her. She trained the dogs herself along with her brother, who loved them almost as much as she did, and they spent all their free-time with them.
One afternoon, the princess decided to train one of the newest puppies, so she set off on a walk with Klitus and Grimus, two old, wise dogs, and OrangeYellowBlack, OYB for short, the frisky puppy.
“Shall I come with you?” asked her brother eagerly. He wanted to get out of a long meeting with his tutor. “OYB might be troublesome.”
She laughed at him. “I’m sure I can handle him,” she said, and made the prince watch her run away with the dogs while he had to go to his lesson.
The woods beside the palace were a golden green, full of playful shadows, butterflies, and trilling birds. She knew to stay only in this wood, since further on, against the very edge of her father’s kingdom, there was a deep, dark forest, ruled by a sorcerer.
Klitus and OYB ran ahead, and then back again, and then on ahead. The princess practiced calling OYB’s name and making him learn to obey. Grimus plodded on patiently beside her – her loyal, faithful watchdog.
Out of the trees beside the path hobbled an old, ugly, hunchbacked man. He was pulling himself along with a gnarled staff, and grunting as he came. He did not seem to see the princess until he nearly ran into her, and she had to hop out of his way.
“Watch it! Ah, princess, I didn’t see you. Have a few coins for a poor old traveler?”
The princess was frightened by his awful appearance and brisk manner, but she was too polite to show it, and fumbled in her purse for some coins.
He stomped over to receive them and, as if by accident, hammered his staff into Grimus’s paw. With a squeal, Grimus jumped back and growled lightly in his throat. He did not like or trust this old man, and his paw pounded so painfully he could not walk on it, and had to limp on three legs.
“Oh, Grimus, my darling, are you alright?” The princess bent over her friend and the two other dogs danced excitedly nearby, unnerved by the event.
“Oh, terrible accident that,” mumbled the beggar. “Whoops. Didn’t see him!” He whirled about as if to help, sending his stick going in every direction and nearly whacking the princess’s head off. Though it missed her, it hit OYB in the rear, and with a cry of panic, the puppy took off running into the forest.
“Ho, there! All this fuss is putting me out!” cried the old man, but the princess ignored him and called and called for OYB to come back.
“Oh, where is he? OYB!” She was so upset that she ran after her lost puppy without a second thought, closely followed by Klitus. Grimus whined on the path, torn because he wanted to go too, but knowing he would be no help hobbling on three paws. So finally, he turned back toward home, leaving the beggar grumbling to himself on the path.
When he reached the palace, he barked like a mad pigeon, and everyone yelled and told him to be quiet, but he only got louder and louder, until the prince, who was studying geography and finding it exceedingly dull, heard the noise and ran downstairs.
“What is it boy?” he asked, and Grimus started limping back toward the forest. “Something’s wrong,” said the prince to himself, and followed after.
Grimus led the prince to the place where they had met the beggar, but there was no sign of him. So he began to sniff the ground, and then took off after his beloved princess’s scent.
To both their horror, the scent led them right up to the dark forest, and there, against the outermost tree, lay Klitus, dead.
Grimus whined and wept over his fallen companion, and the prince knelt beside him. “You must go home,” he whispered. “This is no place for an injured creature.” Grimus looked at him with large, worried eyes. “I’ll be alright, you know,” the prince assured him. “The sorcerer never harms young men.”
So with his tail between his legs and his ears hanging past his mouth, Grimus trudged back to the palace, and the prince disappeared into the black shadows of the dark forest.
Immediately beneath those trees, day turned to night, and he could see no further than the stretch of his arm. As he searched for his sister, he began to despair. There was no sign of her. Instead, there was a big black toad the size of his fist sitting on a mushroom.
“Have you seen my sister?” he asked the toad.
“No,” he croaked. “All I see all day are the black flies that fly around my head.”
A little further into the forest, he found a lion. “Have you seen my sister?”
“No,” he growled. “All I see all day are the scuffling hogs I eat.”
Even further, a snake was coiled around a tree limb. “Have you seen my sister?”
“I have sssseen only the miccce that I sswallow whole.”
The prince searched for two more days until his strength relinquished itself to the weight of his desperation, and he fell to the ground and slept.
In his sleep, a dream came to him. He saw OYB run into the forest in fright, and his sister chase after him. He saw a mighty black crow fly across the gray sky and land in a tall, dark tower in the very middle of the forest. The crow changed into the evil sorcerer, the dark master of the land, and with a wave of his staff, he transformed the princess into a beautiful dove.
When the prince awoke, he no longer searched for a princess, but called out in a loud coo for a dove. Finally, a coo came back to him.
From the very tops of the trees flew down a bird on a single beam of light and alighted on his shoulder. He kissed its beak, and the dove nuzzled its head into his cheek.
“Oh, my dearest sister, how shall I save you from this fate?” he asked her. She cooed softly in response and a tear fell from her eye.
“I will save you!” he declared, and headed off for the black tower with his sister still on his shoulder. When they reached the mighty fortress, the prince banged on the door.
“Sorcerer!” he yelled. “How can I save my sister?”
The sorcerer stuck his head out of the tower. “Go away!” he shouted, and disappeared back inside.
He pounded even harder. “Sorcerer, how can I save my sister?”
This time, there was no response. For ten minutes, the prince yelled and pounded. Finally, the sorcerer returned to the window.
“I said, go away! Or I’ll turn you into a dove!”
The prince pounded so hard on the door that the wood splintered in two, and then he ran up the spiral staircase.
When he arrived, the Sorcerer was very angry. “Go away, I tell you! Why do you test my patience? I’ll enchant you!”
“Everyone knows you do not enchant men. I’m not leaving here until you tell me how to lift her curse.”
The sorcerer groaned with annoyance, but he saw he could not get rid of this boy. “Very well,” he snarled. “You must leave her in this forest for three years. You cannot return home – instead, you will wander the world as a nameless beggar collecting one whole seashell from each ocean and stringing them into a necklace. After three years, if you put that necklace around her neck, she will turn back into a girl. Now go away and leave me in peace!”
The brother and sister said a tearful goodbye at the edge of the forest. Just as the prince turned to leave, however, he heard a tiny bark and from out of the foliage leapt OYB. With a coo of joy, the dove lighted on the animal’s head, and the prince left them together, relieved that his sister would have a friend in her exile.
At the first cottage he came across, the prince traded his rich royal clothes for the costume of the resident peasant, and then departed into the world to find the shells.
At the first ocean, he encountered a polar bear and wrestled with him on an iceberg until, finally, he overcame the beast and collected the shell. Just before reaching the second ocean, he faced a giant, evil koala bear who tried to kill him with a rifle. But the prince defeated the evil Koala, took the rifle for himself, and found his shell. At the third ocean, he strangled a sea serpent. At the fourth, he slew a gigantic spider. And finally, in the final year, when he had traveled, and suffered, and grown into a man, he came to the fifth ocean.
There, he picked up the final shell and threaded it onto the string he had worn around his neck for three years, then he sold the shark to local fisherman who could make use of its parts, and with the money from the sale, headed back to his own country.re, just as he bent to pick up the final shell, a giant shark flew out of the water and came right for his throat. He leapt back, pulled out the rifle, and with one single shot, killed it in the head.
He went straight to the forest, and there, right where he had departed from her all those years ago, he saw his sister waiting. He ran up, placed the necklace over her head, and she transformed instantly back into a princess. The sorcerer knew when his magic had ceased, and he flew instantly to where the prince and princess were embracing.
“I have completed your tasks!” proclaimed the prince.
The sorcerer had never expected to see the prince again, and he was very angry. But a promise was a promise, so he had to let them go. But before they did, he said to them, “You have escaped my power for now, but someday beware…I will come after your descendants.”
The brother and sister headed back to the kingdom with their now grown dog OYB, and their father the King, who thought both his children had perished years ago, received them with tears of joy.
Keep a look out for future stories about the Sorcerer! Why doesn’t he enchant men? What will happen when he goes after the prince and princess’s descendants? Why is he always so cranky?
Images were made by myself and my four-year-old brother
The silver light dances across the white tiles of the empty hall. I am brooding, my hand clenched around a statue of dried clay, my gaze fixated unseeing upon the unfinished mural before me.
I have not set foot in this room for seven years, and apparently, neither has anyone else. The dust lies heavy upon the floor mixed with dirt and stone and dust, and cobwebs of lonely spiders straggle the corners of the mighty pillars.
I ran from my heart last night; I retreated from the starlit fantasy of a man I might be, and my mind will not leave me alone. All morning, in unending parade, memories of the woman have marched across my vision, refusing to cease their haunting. Not the pretty girl in the drawing room, nor the woman she loves more than me, but my own neglected mother.
My shadow. How she clings to my true self, and how I yearn to break free! At last I have fled to this place, the one place she cannot pursue me, because I have, in the end, come to her.
And now I find myself here, leaning against a makeshift scaffold, free of the ghosts and brooding like a haunt myself.
The mural is large and beautiful, of a meadow that my mother and I both loved. It was in this meadow that she met my father, and it was to this meadow that she would bring me and my small friend when we were young and unaffected. How we three loved to play and run and love each other there, and how she joyed to be mother for both of us. We decided to create our own paradise in the giant hall of my mother’s castle, a castle that was old, crumbling, and forgotten; a hall that reminded us of decay and loss, and we decided to transform it to a spring of hope and renewal. I was a sculptor, my mother a painter, and my friend a gardener, and between us we began the transformation, watching the magic unfold.
But in the midst of our building, of claiming a paradise on earth, of claiming a future of perfection for ourselves, she left me.
In the prime of her life she fled. In the midst of creating her greatest masterpiece, she quite. In the very process of raising a son into manhood, she died.
God took her in his infinite providence. And two weeks later, in his unending mercy, God inspired my best friend’s father to send my one companion abroad for an education.
And so naturally, after that, I shut up the hall and transformed my home from a sanctuary into a place of revelry, just to defy God. But I kept it respectable on the outside, just to defy society – let them think they know me; let them invite a son of the devil into their homes, to their tables, beside their daughters. I was a carefree, untamed, debonair scoundrel, just to defy my pain.
But the pain is there, it was buried deep, but I have not forgotten. And love is there, but that I had forgotten.
I stand and pace the long hall, running my hands along the unfinished painting, brushing my knees against dead plants that crinkle and turn to dust as I pass, and my fists are clenched and my knees shake from anger.
When I saw her last night, my heart tightened into a knot. And the moment she saw me, I knew she still loved me. But I have learned to shut out the world. I have learned to mask myself, and I lied to her all night.
All night, until the moonlight. And then I couldn’t.
And I do love her! I stand back to look at the mural, full of untamed flowers, birds, and wind. I look at the dead potted plants – one of the roses has dried on it’s stem. I look at the half-formed clay statue of a mother with two children, and then words from last night swim to my consciousness: “She must be my love, you know. For now.”
My mother had always been our love, our guide, but now my friend’s father has given my friend a new mother to love, but I only have the old, the dead, the forgotten. Rough as it is, my stone sculpture reveals my mother’s features – she had such hope for us – for me.
I approach with reverence and take the stone hand that she stretches out to me. I look into her eyes that plead for me. I look at her arm that encircles both children in an overflow of love, and she has reached me.
“I will make you proud,” I whisper to her. “I will learn to love again.”
Then I leap to my feet and without a glance at the halls of revelry and debaseness, I flee my home and my village forever. I descend to the seaport docks, hire myself out as a sailor, and depart on a schooner to the wide world.
The soft light of candles flickered across her shadowed neck. The forgiving darkness of night enclosed the swirls of her skirt. The filmy swirls of hair adorned her bowed head.
She was too innocent to be sensual and too sensual to be innocent. Just old enough to know the ways of the world, and just young enough to not have experienced them.
I watched the way her dew-drop earring dangled against her flushed cheek, the way her painted nail ran along the paper on the desk, the way her mouth pouted prettily as she read the printed words.
I came up beside her. “What are you reading?”
She glanced quickly over her shoulder at the parents sitting near the fire. I was a good four years her senior and she felt the difference. I was old enough to have experienced the ways of the world, but not old enough to regret them.
“It’s an old bible of Mr. Derry’s,” she explained. It was his house we were at. His living room in which we stood. His book we were reading. But it was her hand that glanced across the pages.
“It’s the story of Ruth and Naomi.”
“Oh? Not the story of Ruth and Boaz?”
She looked up at me where I towered close, half a head above. Her face, at this angle, did not catch the lamplight. I was standing closer than she thought was proper, but though she wrapped herself in caution, she did not pull away.
“Ruth loved Naomi first, above herself,” she explained, “and that was how Boaz learned to love her so much. Above himself, above anything. It is first a story about Ruth’s love for Naomi.”
She was firm, and I was surprised by the layers of her speech. Though she was young, she was not naive. She knew what I wanted, and I knew she would not give it to me. But still I did not move.
In my turn, I glanced back at the adults. The same fair hair that piled richly on the head of the girl beside me gleamed brightly on the head of her mother, who laughed lively among the others.
“She must be my love, you know,” she whispered while I looked. “For now. It will keep me modest, and teach a man how to love me.”
“Tied to her, are you?” I jabbed.
Now she stepped away, more in contempt than discomfort. She walked into the hallway and meekly, I followed; the long panels of oak gleamed darkly out here away from the lamps, reflecting only the moonlight streaming through the wall length windows. She turned suddenly back to me.
“Haven’t you ever loved anyone?” she pleaded, her voice deeply trembling. “Haven’t you ever loved me – for who I am?”
She wanted the truth, not pleasant niceties. Had she wanted me to lie, she would have remained in the civilized parlor; but no, she had led me to the natural light of the honest moon, and I could not lie here in this shrine. I did not respect man, I did not know God, but I loved natural beauty, and she knew I could not lie here – not when she pleaded with me.
So I simply sighed and looked at the floor. I was fourteen again. Confused, honest, yearning. “You know I haven’t,” I whispered. “You know I’ve only ever loved myself. You’ve known that for forever.”
“I know. But I thought you were only immature. I thought, when you grew up, I thought you would change. I came back with that hope – I came back to meet you again for the first time, but you were only a dandified version of who you’d always been.”
“Well that’s your fault you know. I never pretended to be anything else.”
“Oh, I know! I know! That’s what’s so pitiful about it. Did I fail you?” she asked after a painful pause.
“You could never!” Without noticing, I had darted forward and grasped her hands. I was closer now than before, yet she was not uncomfortable. But I was. I suddenly backed away, looking anywhere but at her, mumbling an apology.
“Why? Why make excuses? Why pull away?” Her voice shone with hope for me. Hope I could not answer or fulfill. “Don’t you realize – oh, don’t you know that this is your real self? The self you hide so well, no one but me has ever seen it. This is the man you were born to be!”
Without another word, I turned about, took my coat from the rack by the door, and let myself out into the dark night.