Place: Medieval Rome, Italy.
Nobody knew that Ass the donkey had once been a young man from royalty. A prince who had gone missing 11 years earlier without a trace. His little chipped and cracking hooves had once been strong, lean, and tan feet of a healthy child, and his short little mane a long, wild, but beautiful length of golden locks the shade of shredded wheat mixed with goldenrods. His once strong, muscular belly and chest was reduced to skin and bones. His belly rumbled, his stomach curled into itself until he feared it would disappear.
Ass had once been named and Christened as James Phillip Wesley Johnson, III. Prince of Rome and next in command of the house when his father, King Richard Marcus Johnson, wasn't home or traveling to different kingdoms.
Little Prince James was the typical wealthy child-mean, arrogant, bossy, demanding, and rude. His power and authority got the better of him-or more like the worse. If the servants or less fortunate folks that crossed his path didn't quickly bow with trembling or cower in the filthy corners of there gutters he would have them taken back to his castle, taken prisoner in the dungeon, and tortured by his fathers guards.
He was only 6 years old at the time he went missing. Playing in the garden and amusing himself by ripping up the flower beds the servant girls had been planting for months and months. They had just began to bloom into dazzling petals of red's, pink's, white, and yellow. He was bored and having a fit like most spoiled, well cared for children who were born and grown up to have anything and everything. He stomped off in his high riding boots his father had bought him that year for his birthday. He was at a advantage to other children his own age, for he was a very bright child, and his tiny head withheld more intelligence and knowledge than a boy of twice his age. He was frequently taught as he grew up to play little and think often. He had little toys, and he was made to do hours of lessons fit for a pupil of 5th or 6th grade compared to his normal education level of 1st grade.
No other prince's he knew in many kingdoms from far and wide ever were made to participate in schooling. But he must, unfairly as it seemed, he must. One of his few and only playmates, his cousin Prince William I, always teased him and laughed harshly up to the ceiling while throwing around a ridiculously expensive wooden airplane or battering around the poor, abused family puppy who despite being cruelly tossed and kicked around, followed and returned faithfully and loyally every time to his master's side.
"Nonsense!"William said."When I'm king, I'll just have someone write my name for me. Or read out the messages from other king's of foreign lands at my will."
"Your a complete simpleton. A big incompetent imbecile, William,"Prince James would say, trying to sound like a grown up and more intelligent, as he truly was.
" A what?" Prince William said halfwittedly while Prince James rolled his eyes in annoyance.
" I said you are a dunce! A schmuck! A twerp! A numbskull! A jackass!" Prince James shouted irritatedly and angrily.
" Oh?" William muttered half listening and not really caring what any of those words meant.
Little did little James know that he was about to eat his own words.
It was the day after Thanksgiving, and Prince James decided to wonder away from the servants cleaning up leftover meals and lingering guests who slept lazily all day long in peace. He put on his horse riding boots and (for once) calmly and softly walked out. Heading out to explore and have himself a little adventure in the unusual warm November evening.
He came across a little stream decorated brightly with a old stone bridge and a lead lamppost hitched with a large but dimly lit lantern. He squinted at the path and spied for anything unusual. Unlike his father and his father before him, and like a smart young man, little Prince James didn't fear stories and tales of ghosts and goblins and...what did his grandfather call them? Oh, thats right, banshees. He feared more of living things, beings like thieves, slave catchers who would steal little boys and girls to make profits out of anything they could get there hands on, and cutthroats that could fumble through the darkness and jump out and slit his jugular.
Slightly off the path, Prince James stumbled upon a dark and cold cave that lead to a narrow entryway of a run down cottage made out of rotten wood and musty hay for the roof. The day was getting darker, and Prince James realized it was too late to head back home, and the moon was setting in fast, and he was getting a tiny bit frightened. Not because of the werwolves of course.
Prince James could feel the heat radiating off the rickety old door. He made a attempt to open it, but the hinges were too thick and rusty. He tried to squint through the keyhole but could see nothing but darkness...
He nearly ruined his undergarments when he felt the door violently shake off its hinges before being jerked forward like a charging bull was behind it trying to get out. His imagination was getting carried away, and for once James was terrified and prayed that a banshee's groaning, shrieking screams would not travel to his ears and make his little heart give out.
But he heard no scream, and no sound at all to indicate someone was behind the rotten boards. The banging suddenly stopped, and James shaky breathing quickened and his heart skipped a beat.
When he pulled himself together and realized how childish and wimpy he was acting, he cleared his throat like his father would do to make himself feel proud and important when he spoke, and drifted his voice through the keyhole.
"Hello," he said boldly. "Hello? Hey, you in there! Show yourself. Open this door!"
The door swung forward in response which nearly cause James to fall flat on his face if he wouldn't have caught himself by gripping the crumbling doorframe. A bright light appeared, and James realized the fireplace inside suddenly flickered and then ablaze alight.
The inside of the hut was just as bad as the outside, maybe more. There was nothing inside but a ricked wooden stool that was missing one of its legs, and a few pots and pans hanging on hooks above the (now) roaring fireplace. Below was a large cauldron balancing on top of the stacks of wood that kept the fire alive. In the corner was a crude, dirty mattress sewn together carelessly with what appeared to be some kind of animal hair, perhaps from the tail of a horse. James could see strands of the animal hair stretching and chunks of more gray, musty hay seeping through the open stitching. He swore he heard muffled squeaks and the rustling of something nestling inside it.
Eh. But it didn't surprise him. From the looks of the place, the entire hut looked like it could be the vacation spot for a entire family of sewer rats and barn mice.
As he came closer, he saw he wasn't the only one in the room.
She appeared out of nowhere. Like a ghost. Perhaps she was a ghost. More like a witch. A evil witch disguised as a sweet old lady dressed in rags.
A haggard elderly woman sat teetering on the edge of another broken stool in the left corner, all by herself, or so James thought. A fat black cat lay curled up purring on her lap. James tried to keep his distance from the filthy hag, but he was getting more impatient and was drawn to come closer to get her attention.
"Old women..." James addressed her. "I acquire assistance back home. Do you know of anyone who can show me the way back to King Richard's castle?"
"And who might you be?" the old woman's voice cracked. She asked more out of curiosity that a direct demand. Her voice was soft yet dry like she had been eating shards of glass and gravel.
To Prince James, it was a insult. How did she not recognize him?
"Woman, I know that your a good 60 years old, but I don't believe you are that old! Can you not see my clothes of fine velvet and wool and cotton drawers? Are you blind?!"
"No. I can see you quite well child," she whispered as she hesitantly got up off the chair and gently shoved her black cat off her lap.
"Don't come near me!" James ordered. "Stay were you are!"
The old woman continued to come closer. James could now see the wrinkles more clearly in her cheeks, and the dull black hair that had already half faded away into gray. As strange as it sounded, James could tell she had once been a very beautiful woman. Besides her face, she still had her womanly shape. A tiny waist and still somewhat prominent breasts. She still had the body of a woman at least 20 years younger then herself. And to James, she reminded him a lot of his paternal grandmother before she had passed away in December of last winter.
"I said stay back! Don't come closer to me you old hag!"
She stopped, but she continued to stare at him.
"Did you not hear what I said? I need a escort back to the castle. I am the Prince James Johnson III," he spoke in perfect, accurate English. Compared to the primitive, strange drawl this old woman spoke that to James, was quite annoying. His father had spent years sense James had been a toddler which he first learned to speak by correcting his every pronunciation and emphasizing every vowel that James had not said properly.
James continued to taunt and insult her, but nothing phased her. He saw no tears in her eyes, no trembling of the lower lip, or tenseness of her back from the situation.
"I know who you are, James."
"Well, of course you do! I just told you! I'm Prince James Johnson III!"
"I know how you really are. Your cruel. Heartless. Selfish."
"Did you ever think about the words you said to your cousin a while back? Did you ever think about what he was feeling after you called him a, a, a dunce? A numbskull? A, a, a JACKASS?!"
"He doesn't really care, I say it all the time!"
"Oh, really? Well, did you ever know this?" she asked while waving her hand over the steaming cauldron above the fireplace. She dipped her index finger into the mixture, and James expect her to scream and recoil in agony, but she didn't. She didn't even flinch or make a intake of breath. Maybe she really was a witch.
James hesitantly came closer to see what was inside the bubbling cauldron. He jumped back, not believing his own eyes.
He was seeming a picture from a different time. He saw those many months back when he had called William a idiot, and there was flashbacks into different days afterwords. He saw William taking his anger out on the abused puppy. He was choking it, trying to drown it in a basin, beating it with the pouch of his waistband where he carried his dagger, and throwing it against the wall before roughly muckeling a-hold of the poor little creature and shoving it in a metal cage. The puppy was in horrendous pain, and it yelped and whimpered hysterically as it tried to roll over into a more comfortable position. It's back legs were hanging limp in a awkward, twisted angle.
"He broke its legs," the old woman said. "When you put William down so many times and called him all those names, he felt helpless and wanted to feel more powerful, so he took his hate out on the helpless puppy. He almost killed it. It would have died from the next beating if a little girl wouldn't have come and adopted the abused little thing."
James didn't speak, just rolled his eyes un remorseful. He didn't look away though. Maybe he wanted to show her the images he was seeing didn't disturb him and he didn't have a soft enough heart to look away in shame.
The cauldron boiled faster and churned in circles. Another image showed up.
It was William. Dark, ugly slashes covered his wrists, neck, and the underside of his arms. He was holding his dagger in diagonal angles and thrusting deep, nasty gashes over his soft, white skin.
"What you didn't know is William took your words more seriously than you thought. Your uncle calls him 'stupid' and 'worthless' every night because he gets drunk. Your uncle tells him he wished he had never been born and he is a worthless son. He even told William he was going to give him up for adoption when he was a baby and have another son with your aunt but he changed his mind because he thought William would be different when he got older. But to him, he's not. And last night, William tried to end his life. For christ sakes, he's only 6 years old!" she swore for the first time. "Your words brought him that much pain! His mother found him reclined back in his bathtub one night. He was almost dead."
James hardly raised a eyebrow. But when he looked up at the old woman, he nearly jumped out of his skin.
The old woman was not old anymore. She was a beautiful young woman. Only about 18 years old. Her hair was black, long, and wavy that hanged to the center of her back, and her dress was made out of the wings of dead butterflies. Monarch's, purple and eastern tiger swallowtail's, peacock butterflies, ext. Her eyes glowed like hot coals deep back in her eye sockets the color of olivine green. Rose buds and petals were entangled in her hair.
"Your actions show me that you can not love...at least not yet."
" I thought you were too 'good' to kill any creature!" Prince James mocked.
" I didn't kill these butterflies. They died peacefully at there own time."
The Witch Girl stepped forward in her gown of wings and buds and calmly pinched Prince James chin. Her index finger rested under this chin, and her thumb rested on the corner of his mouth.
James struggled and screamed in anger trying to pry her fingers from his face, but she was too strong for him. She hardly moved a muscle as he squirmed. She was muttering something under her breath in a strange, chanting like whispering.
"A ass you called your victims so a ass you shall be."