i busted this out in less than 24 hours and it shows
once upon a time, there once was a knight. a powerful knight, admired and beloved by all in the kingdom. the knight was besieged by many a suitor, but he only had eyes for one — the king's youngest daughter, with curls of gold and eyes of sea foam. she only had eyes for him, as well.
every few weeks, when the knight returned from battle, there was an unspoken agreement to meet in a hidden glade the princess had outfitted and claimed as her own. the time they spent there were often tranquil and relaxing, away from the duties and expectations of the world. fresh off his latest mission, the knight finds his way to the glade, like always.
"my princess!" the knight calls, approaching the gazebo in the glade.
"my knight!" the princess answers, leaping from the gazebo and into the knight's arms. he hugs her tight and twirls them around, laughing. he gives her one last squeeze and puts her down.
"my beloved," he says, slightly out of breath. "i must apologize, but i must cut my visit short this time."
the princess pouts and clings and whines as her heart sinks. "oh, but why?"
"there is trouble in our lands. i may be called upon to investigate."
"oh, phooey! can't you simply refuse to go?"
he sighs. "ah, i wish i could, my dear. alas, this kingdom will call for its protector one day. i must be ready." he kisses his beautiful beloved on her brow. "i must train. until next we meet, my dear."
she huffs but takes the kiss. "until next we meet."
the knight, indeed, is called to investigate what trouble could be brewing. a simple excursion turns into a weeks-long battle as enemy soldiers are found and rooted out by force. the knight fights valiantly, but suffers a grave enough injury he is sent home to recover. despite his pain, he makes the trek to the gazebo in the glade.
the princess jumps up from her perch and rushes over to help her beloved. "my dear knight, you shouldn't have made the trek!"
the knight tries to laugh, but pulls something in the attempt and groans in pain. "any and all pain is worth it to see you, my love."
the princess eases both of them down to sit down on the gazebo's steps. here they rest for a moment, shoulder to shoulder, basking in the knowledge that they are both alright. the silence soon becomes too much for the princess to bear, however, and she speaks.
"i have heard many a story about what you faced while you were gone. none of them were pleasant." her lip trembles as she looks up at him. "is it true you have to leave as soon as you're healed?"
the knight sighs. "it is, unfortunately, but i will go gladly. my comrades would not survive without me."
and neither would i, the princess doesn't say, a could fear gripping her heart. "couldn't you ask for more leave, at least?"
"even if i could, i would not. this kingdom needs its protector, now more than ever." the knight kisses the princess's brow before leaning more heavily on her. "but do not fret, my beautiful beloved. all that counts is that i am here now."
you will be here for as long as i want you to be, the princess doesn't say.
fueled by furious worry, the princess writes letter after letter to whoever she can think of — the knight's mentor, the general, even her father —all carrying the same implicit plea: please, please, please, don't take my love away from me.
responses filter in, week by week. the letters vary wildly, in condition, in language, in tone, but they all carry the same message as well:
"this is his duty, and his choice. you must learn to let him go."
unsatissfied and distraught, the princess fled to the forest, wailing the entire way. they can't take her knight away from her, they can't! there has to be something she can still —
the princess whips her head up. there's a woman sitting cross-legged on a gnarled tree stump, with too-white hair and too-white clothes and too-white teeth. she sips a cup of tea, glaring at the princess.
"you're ruining my tea time, kid."
there's a strange humming in the back in the princess's throat and she straightens up. "my apologies. i didn't know anyone else was out here."
the woman shrugs and sips her tea. there's an awkward pause.
"forgive my for my rudeness," the princess speaks up, "but are you a witch?"
the woman's eyes cut to her. "maaaaaaybe." another sip.
a gulp and a deep breath. "my love is determined to leave for the battlefield. he is capable at what he does, but i fear if he departs, i will never see him again. nothing i can do can keep him with me. i need something to help me change his mind."
the woman puts down her tea. studies the princess. hums a tuneless sound, thinking.
"i can't make him change his mind," the woman says eventually. "the magic needed to fuck with someone's will is old as balls, and it's too much effort to make it work right."
the princess's face falls.
"....buuuuuut," the woman smiles, "i can help you force his hand."
the woman goes into her pack and pulls out a small flask and a piece of dried root, and plucks a rose from a nearby bush. she squeezes the bloom, pouring its nectar into the flask. she crumbles the root between her palms and this, too, goes in the flask. the woman seals the flask with a cork, swirls its contents around, and hands it to the princess.
"this is a sleeping potion," the woman says. "if your little lovebug insists on leaving, dab a little of this on your lips and kiss him. dude will fall asleep right then and there, and he'll only wake up when you kiss him again."
the princess thanks the woman profusely and turns to put the flask in her own pack. when she looks back up the witch is gone, a steaming cup of tea on the stump the only sign anyone else was there.
another week passes. the knight, now healed of his injury, prepares to return to the battlefield. he and the princess once again meet under the gazebo in the glade. once again, the princess insists —
"my love, i ask of you, do not leave. stay here with me, safe and sound."
— and once again, the knight refuses.
"i cannot, dear princess. this kingdom needs its protector."
the princess turns away to cry, secretly slipping out the flask. she catches a drop of the potion on her finger and smears it on her lips.
"then," — she sniffs, turning to face her lover, with tears in her eyes and guilt drowning her heart — "may i ask for one last kiss? a true one, this time."
the knight smiles: soft, sorrowful, unaware. "of course." he gathers his scheming sweetheart into his arms. closes his eyes. leans down.
and seals his fate.
a wave of weakness washes over him and he pushes the princess away. he's struggling to stand, stumbling over and slurring his words. "wh.. wha... did you..."
"shh..." the princess coaxes him to one of the benches, lays him down, kneels next to him. strokes his hair. begins singing.
- lullaby and goodnight, with roses bedight
- with lilies o'er spread is my dear knight's bed
- lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed
- lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed...
the prince's expression falls from panic, to exhausted, to nothing. his eyes close, his head lolls, his breathing evens. the princess leaves a parting press of lips on his brow.
"until next we meet, my love..."
a few months later, war breaks. without the strength of their best knight, the kingdom's army has no chance. the enemy sweeps over the lands, leaving no knight alive. they soon storm the castle gates, surge over the walls, swarm over the grounds.
the king and his daughters are quick to escape, but the enemy is quicker. the royal carriage is barely past the walls before enemy soldiers set upon it with a vengeance. the princess attempts to flee the carnage that overtakes her family, but receives the kiss of an arrow between her eyes instead.
the princess dies. the kingdom falls.
and the knight sleeps.