After all my travels, I shouldn't be surprised by how many stories I've amassed in my head. I've had a tale or two to tell, now that I'm back in the cozy warmth of my den. With a roaring fireplace at my side, a pen firmly in my wrinkled hands, I will start to write one particular tale. The story that I heard from the lips of an aged, hobbling dwarf, is one of my favorites. Listen closely as I write out my tale with the dancing tip of my ink-dripping pen.
In the kingdom of Casadia there lived an old wretched king. For years the tyrant had ruled Casadia with an iron fist, collecting taxes and amassing his wealth. He dispatched his armies to conquest the neighboring lands, conquering hostile nations.
Despite the prosperity that flourished in the kingdom, the king was still without a son. His wife, a God-fearing and beautiful lady, was unable to bear a child. For years she tried, without success, to give the king a heir.
One day the king called in his wife. "Woman," he said with a glare and scowl, while his wife finished bowing. "I have seen fit that my kingdom become the greatest in all the lands. Is it not the highest in all the world?"
"Yes, my Lord." She bowed slightly, trembling in the presence of the king. With one word, her husband could have her burnt at the stake or put to death at the guillotine. Keeping her eyes to the floor, she dared not look up at the man, lest she offend him.
"And yet, you see fit to tear down my kingdom! Withholding a child from me? I would have you disposed, if I had the patience to find another wife." Slouching in his jewel-encrusted throne, he eyed his wife, frowning miserably at her. "You will bear for me a child-an heir! Boy or girl, I care not. If you are not with child in a year, I will have you executed, forcing me to find another wife. Now be gone!" He waved his specter at her, his glare replaced by a bored, haggard expression.
Now this was horrible news to the barren queen. For nights she wept endlessly at her bedside, praying to God for the gift of a child. Her servants worried about her, especially since she refused to eat or drink. When her tears ran dry, a fairy appeared in her room, shining brilliantly.
"Be at rest my child, take heed of my words! In the year to come, I will give you a daughter. Name her Andrea, yet keep that name secret. Raise her in the ways of integrity and you will come to know of her gift. Three wishes that she can make, the fourth will take her life, if she chooses to craft it. What she will wish for, must be of what is already created; of physicality not intangibility!" Then, as if the fairy hadn't been there at all, she was gone.
A year later, a beautiful, healthy baby girl was born to the queen. The kingdom of Casadia, usually in the pangs of poverty, burst forth in strong celebration. Peasants and noblemen alike feasted with all they had, blessing the princess and hoping their good tidings would come back to grant them a strong, kind and noble leader.
Into her childhood, the young princess, who was never named, grew to be a beloved icon. The people lifted up prayers to her, praised her growing beauty and in doing so, aroused the jealousy of the old, wretched king. Her father, angry at this turn-around, had the queen executed for birthing-what he called-a rival to the throne. Still, he could not find in himself the malice to kill his child, instead he neglected her. The royal administration was left to take care of the princess.
One day, as the young princess was walking on the streets with her nurse, a young boy approached her. With the nimbleness of an expert thief, the boy swiped from her arms a bundle of bread, which was to be her lunch, and took off running. Surprised at the boys' audacity, she gave chase. Through the mucky, wet roads she ran after the boy, keeping pace as he ran through the streets with the footwork of an expert dancer.
You see, the boy was named Jeremehas. In the kingdom of Casadia, thieves ran rampant, desperate for food and drink, which money could afford them. These thieves could be young boys resorting to thievery, or skilled grown men who thieved as an occupation. Jeremehas, who'd been given up by his starving father, had come under the guardianship of the Master Thief. He was one of the few who were especially trained to steal. So when a young princess, from the royal household of Casadia, could keep on him so tightly, he was both struck by admiration and frustration.
When he made a rookie mistake, one the Master Thief would call humiliating, Jeremehas found himself at a dead end. The young princess strode up towards him, a timid smile on her beautiful, innocent face. Intrigued, he threw her the bread, hoping that she would leave him alone. She threw the bread back. Jeremehas let it fall on the ground, startled by this turn of events. "Can I go?" He ventured hesitantly, wondering if this was a cruel trick, like the cat teasing the mouse.
She let him go, watching as he took the bread and ran past her. Days later she went back out into the city and met with the boy again; once more she pursued him. This time she asked if he wanted to go for a ride in the country-he did. They did. Those were jovial times in her childhood, as the princess pursued the foolish, but exciting, impulsive young man. Unaware of who he was, she kept up their friendship, meeting with him often.
"You do know this friendship could lead to quite an opportunity." The Master Thief remarked when he was talking with Jeremehas one day. "Perhaps when trust is gained, you can take her treasure and we will truly live. I'm tired of stealing from feeble lords and noblemen. The castle-that is where I wish to take my wealth from! Are you up to that?" Jeremehas had answered, 'yes', but had no real intention of stealing from the princess.
Day after day, year after year, the thief and the princess became best of friends. As they approached the age of marriage, he realized that he was falling in love with her. It wasn't just her magnificent beauty that attracted him-no, it was her heart. Her love for people, the care she exhibited to the lowliest and respect for the highest.
Indeed, the princess was falling in love with the young man as well. At night she dreamed of him, while in the day she would go out to the countryside with him, usually alone. They would talk for many hours, imaging life outside the dreary kingdom her father had established. However, it was all fantasy. She was destined to take the throne, while Jeremehas would never afford the dowry for her hand in marriage; nor would the king allow her to wed a poor, unimportant peasant.
Or a thief, as she later learned her friend was. On a dark night, she came into her room, where she found a man in her room, clutching a fistful of her jewelry. At first, she could not see it was Jeremehas. "Thief! There's a thief!" She cried out in fear, backing out of her room, lest the thief take not her goods, but her life as well. "Thief! Help me!" A pounding of footsteps sounded down the hall, towards her room, as the castle guard came to her rescue.
"Princess!" The thief turned suddenly, his handsome, drawn face a mask of fear. "Why are you here? You were supposed to be gone!" He cursed loudly, then set the jewels down. A tremble took over his hand as he heard the guard's voices from outside.
"Jeremehas!" Despite the betrayal she felt tearing at her heart, she didn't want him captured. It was too late. The door flew open, three armed guards came to the princess' aide, while two others grabbed Jeremehas, pummeling him with their fists. One of them struck him in the face with the butt of his sword. He fell to the floor.
The princess could do nothing, as they took her friend to the dungeons. Surrounded by her guardsmen, the princess was brought before the king, where they told her what the thief had tried to do. Enraged, not that his daughter was in harm, but that someone would steal from him, the king had a sweep of the city for whoever was in league with Jeremehas. Five days later, the Master Thief was brought in chains to the throne room, where Jeremehas, also in chains, awaited judgment.
He spoke up, when he saw his chance. "Please hear me out my lord. This young man Jeremehas was blessed by the dwarves that inhabit that ancient city of Drulin. No, let me speak you oaf! Get off me, take your hands off me now! Listen to me, my king; my royal, exalted lord! He was blessed! With one word, he can make the treasures of Infinite seem like mere pebbles! Using but magic and divine ability, Jeremehas can give you treasures that will excite your imagination! No, get off me! Give the boy a chance! Let the boy live or you will live to regret it!" Then the Master Thief was finally silenced, a sword cutting right through his neck. Blood gushed from the wound, while the head toppled to the floor, eliciting screams from the women of the court. The king grimaced.
The princess, who was called into the throne room to watch the trial, buried her face in her lap. Tears sprung to her eyes, not for the thief's death, but for the grief that flogged Jeremehas' face. He simply stood before the king, speechless as his mentor was left to bleed on the immaculate, clean floor of the courtroom.
"I will see that you have one night to prove your salt," the king said flippantly, regarding Jeremehas with an amused smirk. "If you fail to produce my gold and treasures, I will see your fate is much worse then that of your friend's. To the dungeons. Do not let him out until gold is spilling out of the cell." Laughing mirthlessly, the king waved off the guards and Jeremehas.
That night, when all were asleep and vigilance had been traded in for rest, the princess slipped from her bedroom. Down into the dungeon she ventured, running past cells filled with groaning, suffering peasants. She came to the final cell, where her lover sat in the darkness, lit only by a single torch. The guards were all asleep, knowing that no one had ever tried to escape the king's dungeons.
"You never told me your were a thief." The princess whispered after she'd gotten Jeremehas' attention. He only stayed quiet, staring at her with bright, impossibly blue eyes. Her heart beating, she wished to have kissed the foolish, but handsome, amazing young man before all this had happened. To have said that she loved him.
Thankfully she had a plan that might just work.
"I know not if you will speak to me again, but I hope you do listen. When I was born, three wishes were bestowed upon me by a kind fairy. I wished once for a horse, when I was much younger; then I wished a second time for a beautiful, brilliant gown. All frivolous I now see, yet I was only allowed to wish for what is tangible and already in creation. The fairy would not have me wishing for power."
"It must be nice to wish for things, Princess. I have been given nothing my entire life." Except for a prophesy, which he didn't feel like sharing with her now. "What of the third wish?"
"While I certainly cannot grant you freedom, I can wish you the gold my father desires. If he holds up his end of the bargain, you will be set free." The princess answered.
He was surprised by this, but did not offer a rebuttal or refusal. He wanted to live, even if that meant taking the princess' last wish. What did it matter anyways? She had everything she could ever want. "Please." When he said the words, gold coins began to spill from the roof, filling the cell and pouring out of it.
The princess slipped away, while the guards awoke to the gold filling the cell. Word reached the king that the young thief could indeed create gold, seemingly, out of thin air. He was brought before the king for a second time. This time, the king regarded him with joy and enthusiasm. "You are quite the treasure, my boy! I will rule kingdoms with the wealth you will gather for me. Come! Make more gold for me now, I want to see it!" The king sat like a giddy child on his throne, his hands rubbing together.
Jeremehas simply stood there, knowing that he would now die. There was no way he could even conjure up one sliver of gold. The king shouted at the young thief, then had him locked up again when he wouldn't comply. Word spread throughout the castle that the young thief would be publicly executed so all would see-he'd be made an example of.
Hearing this, the princess went to her room and wept. The fairy heard her tears fall to the floor, came to her, and said. "If the young thief may guess your name, Andrea, he shall be set free from his dungeon." The fairy left, while the princess knew that he would never guess her name. At night, she went down to Jeremehas' cell, told him what the fairy had spoken and listened as he guessed wrongly. She could give no hints, and Jeremehas could not come close to guessing her name.
She thought of her final wish, the one that would take her life. Now she supposed would be the time to use it. Her love for Jeremehas was far beyond her own-she would have no reason to live if he was executed. So, making her last wish, she fell to her knees and died.
Jeremehas watched her crumble to the ground, then saw a scroll fall from the roof, landing at his feet. "Princess!" He cried out, picking up the scroll. Unrolling it, he saw there were directions to eat the scroll, which he did reluctantly. Down it went, sweet tasting, like honey, and in his mind a strange word was whispered: Andrea.
Speaking it aloud, he wondered if this was the princess' name. Saying it again, "Andrea." He was rewarded with the metal door to his cell opening. Taking the princess in his arms, he ran through the castle. No guards stopped him, nor took notice of the fleeing, young prisoner and the princess in his arms. As the fairy had said, he would be free if he could guess her name.
Once he was outside the castle walls, out in the open countryside where they once played as children, he laid her on the ground. Kneeling beside her, he stared sorrowfully at her beautiful, golden face, now cool to the touch. Lifeless.
His prophesy whispered through his mind, a blessing his father gave to him before he gave him up to the Master Thief: Your true love will never perish, not even death can destroys its cherish, as its hold can be broken by a kiss so true. And so by kissing her soft, red lips, he breathed warmth back into her. Life flowed into her heart.
"I love you." Jeremehas whispered as he took her hand, gripping it firmly. Together, their hands intertwined, the thief and the princess left the kingdom of Casadia.
And of course, they lived happily ever after.
Some have pointed out that the boy didn't properly guess her name-that it was given to him by the princess. Still, others say that such a tale cannot be true, that it was created by my own imagination. I will leave you, my reader, to guess if the story is true. Besides, it matters not to me if it's valid or not, I simply enjoyed the tale. Why, in a world as dark as this one gets, I prefer a happy ending.
I think, if we were all to be honest, we all prefer a happy ending.
Just most of us never end up seeing it.
But at least, with pages before us, written on with ink, we can pretend, if for a moment, that happy endings do happen.