Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Princess and the Tower

For Pamela

Once upon a time there was a young princess who was locked in a tall stone tower.

Each day she would spend hours gazing out the windows. From her high perch she could see for miles around. She could see the tops of forests on green hills and tiny people leading tiny horses on roads that were a thin ribbon of brown. She imagined running down the green hills and playing with the horses and people on the road. She wanted very badly to visit the land outside her tower.

She didn’t remember how she had gotten there, or why she had been locked up. The truth is that a person of royal blood is a dangerous thing, even if they are small. So people seeking power sometimes lock them in towers.

Her room was large and mostly round, taking up almost the entire top floor of the tower. On one side there was a flat wall with a tall wooden door. It was thick and she knew from trying that it could not be opened from the inside. Next to the door was a wooden slot above a stone shelf. Each morning, she would find a bowl of food and one of water on the shelf. Sometimes she tried to stay up and see who put the bowl through the slot, but it never came until she fell asleep.

Time passed and the princess grew older. A bird couple built a nest outside her window. In the springtime their eggs hatched and three baby birds were born. The mother and father took turns watching the nest while the other went to find food for the baby birds.

She gave them all names. She named the daddy and mommy Walter and Sarah, with kids Nathaniel, Jean, and Mary. In the morning she would sing to them and at night she would tell them a bedtime story.

There was a bookshelf on one side of the room. She learned how to read bigger and bigger books as time went on. She ripped out the pages of the ones she didn’t like and drew on them with pieces of charcoal. Some days she spent hours looking at the clouds in the skies and drawing their shapes. Up high, the shape of the clouds in the sky are strange and beautiful because there is nothing to block your view for miles and miles. She could see them make shadows on the ground as they moved across the land.

Other days she folded pages of books into fantastic costumes. She made herself into a sailor, a bird, or a dragon and staged elaborate plays for the family of birds.

Gradually she lost her desire to go down to the ground. She got used to her life of making beautiful drawings, talking to birds, and watching the clouds come and go. If someone were watching her, they would say that she was happy and without a care.

One day she was in middle of drawing a portrait of her bird friends when there was a loud bang on the door. Some of the wood splintered and cracked. A deep voice yelled “Princess, don’t worry, I have come to save you!”. She backed away to the other side of the room, cowering at the noises. There was another bang, loud as thunder, and another. Finally a thick steel battle-axe came through the door, followed by a sweaty man in dented and dirty armor. He had tired eyes and a face full of brown stubble. He kneeled down and offered his hand, saying “Princess, come here, we are to leave”.

“I don’t want to go. Who are you?”, she said.

“Princess, I am sorry for scaring you. I am to take you to your brother, the King.” he said.

The word “brother” caught her interest. She didn’t know she had a brother. She would like to meet him. Anyways, she knew she didn’t have a choice. She couldn’t well say “no” to a big man with a sword and battle armor.

“Ok, I will go with you”, she said taking his hand.

“It’s easier if I carry you, it’s a long way down”, he replied.

She nodded her assent and he whisked her onto his big shoulders, piggy-back style. His shoulders were thickly muscled like a horse. She gave one final look back at the nest outside her window. It was empty, the birds were scared off by the noise. She felt a pang of regret that she would not see them one more time.

As they walked through the doorway she gasped and looked back again. She saw her room from the other side for the first time. She kept her eyes on it as they began to climb down a long spiral staircase, and the last sliver of her room disappeared from sight. The princess fell asleep on top of the big soldier.

In the next few days she learned the story of the life she had been living for the past ten years. When her father, the king, had died, her uncle had kidnapped her. His plan was to kill her brother and marry her when she was of age, so the kingdom would pass to his own family. However, one of her uncle’s men were still loyal to her brother, and he had helped hide the young boy and smuggle him out of the country. Her uncle ruled as regent for 10 years while her brother in exile grew into a mighty king. He came back with an army to defeat their uncle and take back the throne.

Life was strange in her brother’s castle. She got a new room with big windows and a fancy bed. She liked it. But everybody thought her very quiet and odd. She thought them noisy and busy. She spent a lot of time drawing in her room.

She enjoyed the beautiful clothes she got to wear. They reminded her of her bird family. She wished she could show them how colorful she was now.

It was a strange experience to meet her brother. She was allowed to eat dinner at his table one day with his advisers. He seemed to care about her well-being and she liked that. But he spent most of the time talking about the affairs of the kingdom with his advisers. He seemed to be a very busy man. After that, she did not see him often. She guessed she admired him, but she did not like him.

He encouraged her to marry and that made her nervous. But one day she met a quiet young Duke who preferred writing poetry to fighting and they became fast friends.

They married and had children. She was a good mother and a wise princess.

Eventually her brother died in a war and her husband became King and she became Queen. The people were happy to have such kindly monarchs. Their wisdom and gentleness was celebrated throughout the land.

She had a good life. But when she had a spare moment from the tasks of running a kingdom and raising a family, she would think back wistfully to her time in the tower. The paintings on the walls of the castle were pretty, but they were never quite as beautiful as the clouds she remembered. And the professional court musicians were very good, but she missed the honest song of the birds.