The Awakened princes ~ Novel 1
Prince of Beasts
By Hannah Borababy
The old troubadour sat in his chair by the great hearth, an ancient coyote snoring softly by his side. He was content, watching his two youngest grandchildren, a boy and a girl, play by the warmth of the fire. His granddaughter had woven a cradle for her doll, made of dried wild flowers prepared, no doubt, with the utmost care. She sat on her knees, wrapping the doll in a colorful cloth as if it were a real baby. When she'd finished, she cradled it gently in her arms, humming a soft lullaby. Nearby, her younger brother was occupying himself with his slingshot, taking pieces of bark from the woodpile and catapulting them into the flames. It was not long before he seemed to grow tired of his game, looking around for something else to entertain him. The bard watched as the boy’s eyes zeroed in on his sister, who had finished her song and was lifting the doll to her lips for a kiss. Just as she lowered it into the comfort of its floral bed, an arm reached out and grabbed hold of the blanket, giving it a sharp pull. The doll and its expert swaddling were yanked from their fragrant resting place, which got swept up in the motion and landed directly on the fire. The delicate wreath caught flame and was immediately reduced to ash.
The girl sat blinking in surprise. Then her face crumbled tragically, and she let out a wail of soul-deep despair that reverberated from the walls of the Great Room. Her grief was soon replaced by a look of pure rage, which her brother seemed to recognize. He turned on his heel and raced into the kitchen where their mother was busy cleaning up after the evening meal. The girl was quick as she jumped to her feet, chasing after her brother with murder in her eyes. There was a crash and the sounds of harsh scolding, then the two children came shuffling from the kitchen. It appeared the doll had been confiscated, as it was nowhere in sight and the young girl was once again in tears. Quick as a snake, she reached out to deliver her brother a vicious pinch on the arm. He yelped and turned on her, pulling his arm back to deliver a punishing blow.
“Boy!” the old man called out, and his grandson arrested the motion in mid-swing, tucking his arm behind his back as if to hide the evidence of his intention. He looked down at the ground.
“Come here.” His grandfather commanded, and the boy walked over to him, still refusing to make eye contact. It was clear he knew he had done something wrong and been caught in the act. The old man considered his grandson for a moment, then said, “Go and get me my lyre. I wish to tell you children a story before bedtime.”
The young boy’s face lit up, but his sister rushed over to glare at her grandfather. She stamped her foot. “You mean you aren’t going to punish him?” She demanded.
The old man looked at her and had to fight a smile. The expression on her face was irate, and her hands on her hips reminded him of her mother. He did not reply but looked back at his grandson. “Go on,” he said, and the boy ran off. He returned his gaze to his granddaughter and said, “Now, tell me why you are angry.”
“Little brother snatched my doll away and destroyed the bed I made for her, and then he made me chase him into the kitchen so mother got angry and took my doll away. It’s all his fault!” And she began to weep pitifully.
The old man felt his heart break, and he reached out to draw her small body into his arms. He settled her onto his lap, and his grandchild tucked her face into his shoulder as her small form was wracked with genuine sobs. He stroked her hair until her crying quieted to mere sniffles. Then he drew her back and looked down into her watery eyes.
“I understand that you are angry with your brother, because he destroyed something beautiful you made and ran away with your doll. That is very upsetting indeed, and I see why you are crying." He took a breath before continuing. "However, you chose to chase him into the kitchen instead of asking for help, and what is more, I saw you pinch him! I suppose you wanted to hurt him because his actions made you feel hurt, but you are older and must take responsibility for the choices you make. You must show your brother the correct ways to act.” He paused again, as if to consider something very important. “Why do you think your brother snatched your doll away?” He asked.
“Because he’s mean,” the girl in his lap said with fierce conviction.
The old man smiled but shook his head. “I don’t think that’s the reason. I think it’s because he wanted to play with you but didn’t know how to ask if he could.”
“He should’ve just asked nicely,” she said with admirable sense.
“Would you have said yes if he had?”
“Yes,” she replied, but she lowered her head and would not meet his gaze.
“Is that the truth?” He prompted, putting his finger beneath her chin and lifting her eyes to his.
“No.” She admitted.
“Because when I let him play with me, he always breaks my toys and ruins the game.”
“Ahh,” the old man breathed, leaning back in his chair. “Granddaughter, this is a very real problem. How can we teach your brother to be more caring with your things, and to use his words to ask nicely for what he wants?”
The little girl considered this question with a serious expression, then her face brightened and she turned to him with excitement. “Perhaps one of your stories could help! You always say stories teach us lessons about real life. Do you know any stories about learning to care and use our words?”
At this, the coyote, who had continued to snooze despite the excitement going on around them, lifted his head and looked directly at the troubadour. Expectation shone in his dark eyes. The old man saw the look the animal gave him, and he nodded in agreement. “It is time,” he said and turned to his granddaughter. “What an excellent idea! You are very wise, child. It just so happens I know the perfect story. I have been saving it for you and your brother until you were old enough to understand. I believe the time has come, and look! Here he comes now with my lyre.”
The boy ran up to them and handed the instrument to the old man with triumph, “Here you go, Grandfather!”
The girl slipped down from her grandfather’s knee, and went to fetch a soft blanket, which she lay on the floor at his feet. She sat, and the coyote shifted so his head was resting on her knee. She stroked his fur with gentle fingers and watched her grandfather tune his lyre. The boy stood at his elbow, shifting his weight from foot to foot with excitement. “Which story are you going to tell?” He prompted.
“It is the most important story I have yet to share.” His grandfather replied.
“What is it about?” Asked the boy.
“Oh, many things. It’s about princes and fairies, witches and dragons, mermaids and pirates, great kingdoms and battles, grand adventures and mystical enchantments. But most importantly, it is about a brave soldier and the beautiful gypsy, whom he loved.”
“Where did you hear this story?” Questioned his granddaughter.
“Well,” he replied, “I’ve met many of these characters along my journeys, and some have shared their tales with me. Most of it, however, I learned from the lips of the gypsy herself.”
“You knew her?” The boy asked.
“I did indeed.”
His granddaughter crooked a brow in a look far too mature for her young features. “Did you love her?” She asked with such shrewdness he was momentarily taken aback. Sometimes this girl’s perceptiveness was enough to surprise even he, who had seen so much throughout his many travels over the years. The troubadour relaxed with a chuckle.
“I have loved her in many forms,” he replied.
The girl seemed ready to continue her line of questioning, but her brother interrupted.
"What about the soldier?” The boy gushed. “Did you know him? Was he big and strong?"
The old man nodded, "You could say I know him as I know myself."
Both children opened their mouths to speak at once, but he raised his hand to stop them. “Enough,” he said. “Do you want to hear the story or not?”
The children visibly swallowed their questions back and nodded their heads. The boy sank down onto the blanket beside his sister. The old man felt his heart warm as the girl wrapped her arm around her brother, their dispute apparently forgotten. He strummed a chord, and the boy relaxed into the comfort of his sister’s arms.
As his gnarled old fingers found a gentle rhythm on the lyre, the troubadour’s voice began to croon. “This story begins, not with a journey as so many others do, but with an arrival. For, once upon a time in a land not so far away as one might think, there was a prince just beginning to awaken after being asleep for a very long time…”