Happily Ever After

Mar 10 2014

Once there lived a princess surrounded by forces beyond her control. So she escaped by throwing herself down a deep dark well, falling down, down, down, for so long, even time stopped. Velvet black embraced her, the thick plush weight of complete darkness.

Soon, however, the princess missed the light and the velvet grew suffocating. She wanted to leave her haven, until she realized she’d no idea how.

"Throw down a rope," she called in the direction she deemed "up". The princess waited. No coil of rope fell across her shoulders. Perhaps her voice was too quiet, or their hearing too weak. Or maybe, they simply didn’t care. Perhaps they’d forgotten her, given up on her lost so long within the well. She sunk to the ground, wrapping her arms around her knees, curling into herself.

A voice called out her name, soft and gentle and warm. She lifted her head. Through the thin sheen of tears, she could just make out the glowing ball hovering beside her. Within, she could see the face of her first knight. "Oh," she breathed, "You’ve come to save me."

"No," he said, "You’re down too deep, far out of our reach. We don’t have anything that’ll reach so far down. In fact, until you’d called out, we’d been unable to locate you with our instruments.” Her knight stopped, gulping in breath before composing his features once more, “If you want to get out, truly, you have to save yourself. You must find the courage, the strength to climb out of this dark place."

"I can’t," she said, "I’m too scared. It’ll hurt. What if I can’t handle the pain? I can barely see. What if I go in the wrong direction? What if I fall? What if I fail?"

His brows furrowed, "Then stay here, alone, if that’s your choice." The ball of light began to grow faint.

The princess glanced around, black-soaked air clinging tight to her limbs. It was safe here. If she stayed, she’d never have to face her enemies again, never have to fight again. To fight. She’d forgotten what it’d felt like to fight anymore.

In fact, she could hardly remember what the outer world looked like, what the sun felt like burning across her shoulders and burnishing her cheeks.

She raised her arm, flexed her fingers in front of her face, but her eyes couldn’t make them out in the unrelenting darkness. What did she even look like anymore? She didn’t remember, not the color of her eyes, the curve of her smile, the life-lines printed into her palms. How long before she lost herself?


"No," she cried, "I don’t want to stay here alone anymore. I don’t want to disappear forever."

The glowing ball appeared again, her knight within, his kind eye-crinkling flash of teeth so abruptly familiar, "Are you sure?”

She nodded, “Yes, I’ll try at least. It can’t hurt to try, right? I’m j-just…not sure which way to head.” She spread out her arms on either side, then in front of herself, walking until the rough wall jarred against her hands. “It’s such a large well. What if all I do is climb in circles? Then I’ll never get out. Not before I die of old age, anyways.”

“I know where your goal lies,” her knight said. “I’ll stay beside you for however long it takes, make sure you reach out in the right direction. I promise."

“Pinky promise? Oh, well, I suppose you can’t stick a hand through, can you? Otherwise, you’d be a lot more helpful.” She hefted herself up the wall, toes digging into the cracks of the wall, fingertips curled into the nook they’d located, “Virtual pinky promise then?”

“Virtual pinky promise. I won’t leave. Not until you don’t need me anymore.”

And stay he did.

Sometimes, she was grateful for his company as she grappled for the smallest handholds, more bare impressions pressed into the wall than anything solid.

“Oh God,” she laughed, “You’ve botched the delivery of another joke. If I get out, we’ll have to work on that comic timing of yours.”

“When,” he said.

“When what?”

“When, not if. By the way, have you heard the one about the dog who comes limping into the bar?”

“Yes, I have,” she said, “Don’t tell me it. You always botch that one up also.”

Other times, she cursed at him, "Go away, useless bastard. What’s the point of you hanging about if you can’t even help me?"

“I’m not going to leave,” he said, “I don’t break pinky promises. Not even virtual ones.”

She held her blood-soaked fingertips out to him, "Do you think a kiss will take this pain away from me? Hateful man. Leave me alone. If I dared let go of this wall, I’d throw something at you, you glowing ball of stupid."

“Go ahead,” he taunted her, “Throw something. It’s not like I’m physically here. It won’t hurt a bit.”

“I hate you,” she yelled.

“No, you don’t. You only hate that I’m right. Again.”

And then there were the times she slipped, her hands desperately scrabbling at the walls, stone ripping through the skin of her palms, scarring new life-lines into her worn-out hands. When she finally caught herself, clinging panting to the side, she’d wept, face pressed to the uneven pockmarked surface, snot dribbling down her chin, shoulders shaking so hard she almost shook free from her hard-won handholds.

So much wasted effort. So much lost time.

Her knight said nothing. Just let her sobs subside, the tear tracks to dry sticky against her cheeks. She’d want to tell him she was giving up, that it was over. Better to lose herself than this constant unrelenting exertion with no guarantee she’d even make it out.

But as she’d turn her head to look him full in the face, she would be struck all over again by his unremitting belief in her. So she pushed on.

She would not be the one to break that belief. Not yet.

"Aren’t I supposed to get a happily ever after?" the princess had demanded once, after a particularly trying time of climbing. "Isn’t that supposed to be a birthright of princesses? How long am I supposed to wait?"

"You’re in charge of your own ending, princess, of your own happily ever after,” he said. “Besides, wouldn’t that make it more worthwhile? Making your own ending, rather than getting stuck with one you might never have wanted in the first place?"

The princess harrumphed before pulling herself higher, "Useless idiot," she muttered, then turned her head away to hide her smile.

She didn’t know how long she’d been climbing, trusting only in her knight’s encouragements that she was heading in the right direction. Men and their sense of direction. Even if they were lost, he’d never admit it. Perhaps she’d spent this whole time going the wrong way and he just hadn’t the heart to tell her.

But just as she prepared to call it quits, really call it quits this time, something caught her eye. She squinted, not daring to believe. "Is that?" Her voice filtered out strangled, and she had to clear her throat, "Is that what I think it is? That’s…that’s a speck of light! I can see the opening of the well. It’s still so far away, but I can see it. I can see it."

Her knight grinned, handsome face framed in that ever-present little glowing ball, dark hair tumbling messy into his eyes, "I knew you could do it. I’m so proud of you."

She cheered, "You were right, so right. Damn it, I do hate when you’re right, but this time, I don’t care." She reached out one hand towards the speck of brightness, imagined particles of light falling across her roughened knuckles.

The smile melted from her knight care-worn features as he watched her revel, his words taking on a submerged unnamable note, "I guess you don’t need me to guide you anymore. Now that you can see where you’re going."

The princess shook her head, "Stay. You have to stay. I want you right beside me when I reach my happily ever after."

She took a deep breath, feeling the air fill her lungs, lighter, tinged with the palest whiff of sunshine, infusing every limb with new vigor, and reached for the next handhold above her head.

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