[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here once was a Kingdom ruled by a wise and benevolent King. The king had two sons, and one tiny pearl of a daughter who was so delicate her father worried that the slightest breeze might crush her.
Because she was so very delicate and so very precious, he built her a golden box to live within. The box was as high as she was and had four windows on each of its sides; every inch of it that was not gold filagree was encrusted with jewels and it flashed brightly in the firelight. Four servants would come into the princess’s chambers every day to polish the box to a rich luster, serve the princess’s needs and move the box where ever the princess wished to be on the palace grounds.
One night assassins crept into the castle, they killed the Queen and her youngest son in complete silence, but when they came upon the elder son he woke and fought back. The sound of battle roused the King from sleep and he lept to protect his son. In the fight that ensued, the oldest son was slain and the King gravely wounded.
The Princess, in her box, went unnoticed and untouched.
When the Queen and the Princes were buried, and the King recovered enough to have an audience, the Princess’s Box was brought to his audience chamber. Inside her velvet lined box, the Princess was terrified at the sudden pallor and age of her father.
“My Princess. The future of the kingdom rests upon you.” The King’s voice shook with the effort of speaking. “You must select a new King or our Kingdom will fall into chaos. I have called for suitors and three Princes have answered my call.”
The first Prince, handsomely arrayed in the finest brocaded silk, boasted of the wealth of the empire he had built from trade and dockside speculation. The second Prince, imposing in his plate armor and surcoat embroidered with dragons, spoke of the strength of his personal army and how it had crushed every one who opposed it.
The Princess listened politely to each suitor and then waited for the third to speak.
He did not. Instead, with her father’s permission, he lifted her and her box and carried her, without a word, to a grotto in the palace garden. There he set her down and told her about the things he had seen in the world. He described them with wonder and warmth and kindness and in a way that made her feel like she had always been there at his side. After hours of quiet conversation he ended his tale with, ‘I wish you had been with me.’
That night they were wed and the king died. On his death bed, the king made the newly crowned Prince promise that he would do everything that his daughter asked.
The Prince agreed.
After the King had been buried, they mourned for a year and during that time the Prince and the Princess established a ritual. Each night, after the affairs of state were settled and every duty he had dealt with, the Prince would carry the Princess to the garden and talk with her about everything he had seen and done that day. And he would end his stories with ‘I wish you had been with me.’
One night, the Princess was inspired. “My Prince. I can be with you if you open my box!”
The Prince, remembering his promise to the King, smiled and said, “Of course I will.” He unsheathed his sword and struck the hinges from the box lid and shoved it off.
The Princess clapped her hands and laughed, then, timidly, peaked over the edge of the box. After a moment she stood up boldly and twirled around inside her box. “The world is so beautiful, and wide, and vast, and nothing holds me from it!’
The Prince waited with anticipation for the Princess to climb from her box and join him in the adventures he had imagined for them both, adventures that could now be made real.
Glowing with triumph, the Princess turned to the Prince.
“My Prince. I wish to sit in the shade of the willow tree and contemplate all the wonders I will see outside of my box. Carry my box to the other side of the garden.”
The Princess believed that now she was no longer constrained to her box she should be able to do all the things she saw others doing around her. And so she demanded that the Prince lift and push and carry her and her box in such a way as to emulate the feeling of running, doing cartwheels, leaping over brooks.
These constant demands exhausted the Prince, who began to hate the sound of the Princess’s voice and would now linger a few moments, a few seconds before answering her call. The Princess noticed he no longer ran to her side with a smile and was gripped by dread.
Her demands became more frequent, more querulous, and more elaborate. And the Prince’s exhaustion grew, his body breaking from his attempts to fulfill her wishes, his face hardened, losing all the warmth and kindness the Princess had once loved so dearly.
At some point she started to hate him. Hate him because no matter how hard he tried he could not give her what she wanted and hate him because despite his failure, her fear of losing him was so great. Where would she be without him to lift her?
One day the Prince and the Princess sat by a riverside. The Prince, so tired and broken every breath was agony, had set the Princess’s box down on a tussock overlooking the fast flowing river. While he rested, the Princess watched several strong youths swimming in the water upstream. After a moment she pointed them out to the Prince.
“My Prince. I wish to swim as they do.”
For a moment the Prince stared at her, uncomprehending. Then he found his voice. “My Princess, the current is very swift and I am not very strong right now. Even unencumbered it would be a difficult swim for me.”
The Princess was dumbfounded at his refusal. She watched him, stricken, till she found her voice and said what she had felt for many, many weeks. “You never wished me to be with you. That was a lie.”
Torn by her words, the Prince said nothing. He simply sat, defeated.
Was it love or hate that inspired the Prince to eventually pick the Princess up in her box, set her into the river and wade into the water with her? He fought the current as best he could while holding onto her bobbing, dragging box but did not make it half way before his exhaustion overwhelmed him.
The Prince drowned and the Princess was swept down stream. No one ever saw her again.