Breathe, Elyra. It’s just like ripping off a band aid. Best to get it over with quickly.
The girl went to the palace first once in a while, about once a week. As she did, she began to notice little things. She had told the Prince that she loved a certain flower, and that week, when she came to tell him stories, the table was covered with them. When she told him about a moss and a fern she loved to look at, moss and ferns were on his night table. When she told him about a food she particularly liked, it was there for them to eat while she told stories.
The Prince, with little gifts and kindnesses, like dresses for her sisters, a shawl for her mother, tried to make her at home in the room which she soon learned was his sick room.
As the weeks passed and became months, she was at the Palace two or three times a week, and she was not always telling stories. She began to talk to the Prince, pulling the chair closer, or abandoning the chair for a cushion on the floor, facing the Loathsome Prince.
The Loathsome Prince became her confidant, and all of her fears and worries as well as her victories were poured out. Then one day, he asked her to come closer, and as she set her cushion by the bed, he reached out to touch her hair. She did not flinch, though she still feared him a little. He stroked her hair gently, and gave her advice. No matter what her problem was, it seemed as though the pale, loathsome Prince could solve it.
So, she told him all her secrets, for it was nice to have a stranger who knew nothing about her, who would keep her secrets for there was no one to tell them to.
The Loathsome Prince in turn began to return her confidence, and she began to know which stories would make him laugh, and which would make him cry, and she told the happy, funny stories often, for she loved to hear him laugh.
In fact, though the Prince was loathsome, she loved the sound of his voice, the gentleness of it.
She learned, in time, that the Prince loved music, and often played it himself. He would stop playing when he heard footfalls outside, but after a while, he learned the sound of hers, and did not cease playing. So she stood outside and let him finish his playing, and then entered after he finished. And he blinked at her as she entered, and she found that there were tears on her face, for the music was so lovely.
The girl fell to the floor, and began crying without knowing why. The Loathsome Prince set down his violin, and closed the door, and hugged the girl, hesitantly, unsure if it was the right thing to do. The girl buried her face in the Loathsome Prince’s shoulder.
The Loathsome Prince rubbed her back gently, his long, clever fingers making small circles in her back. And she cried there, in the arms of her friend, for a long time.
The girl told him another story that day, but neither of them could seem to stop crying, so she sat on his bed and held him and whispered the story, which had never seemed so sad before.
He played for her often, after that, she pausing outside the door until he finished, and then entering, tears on her cheeks, to tell him his stories. And she began to come every day without knowing how it happened, and her parents, though concerned, did not stop her, for they saw a brightness in her eyes they had never seen before, and a cleanness and kindness in her spirit which seemed to grow with every story-telling visit.
One day, the Loathsome Prince did not play, and she went inside, to find him looking at her deliberately over his violin, and when she closed the door, he began to play. She crouched on her cushion and listened as the Prince made music which was as beautiful as her stories, and she knew it was for her that he played. She cried again, but this time the tears were neither bitter nor sad, but like rain, cleansing and helping and lovely. She cried.
She told him that day that she loved to sing, but feared singing for others lest they mock her music. Her stories were easy to tell, for they were not strictly hers; they were for everyone, but her voice was her own. The Prince smiled and thanked her for telling him, and told her he would love to hear her sing, but only if she wanted to. She smiled at him in return and asked him when his birthday was.
One cold November day, in the chill sunshine, they went out for a carriage ride to the beach and the cove which the Loathsome Prince loved. There, with the birds calling far away, the girl sang for the Loathsome Prince, and he cried as he listened, just as she cried when he played, for it was so lovely and it was meant for the Loathsome Prince alone.
But the next day when she came, he was too sick to play or to talk. She held his hand for hours while the doctors came and went. She met the parents of the Prince for the first time that day. They thanked her again for all the stories she had told the Prince.
She went home and cried for fear that her Loathsome Prince was going to die.
The next day, when she went to tell him stories, the pale Prince was sitting up in bed and staring at her gently. “I have to tell you something,” The Loathsome Prince said, and took her warm, healthy hand in both his cool, thin hands. “I’ve been ill all my life, dear one. The Doctors have always said I have but little time to live, and so I tried to enjoy what little time I had, tried to spend outside with friends, but it only tired me and left me wishing to be alone. So they gave me this chamber, and used to open the windows of it all the time, and said I could have whatever I wished here.”
The girl set her other hand over both of the Loathsome Prince’s hands. “So I would read here, until I could not read with headache, and talk here, until the few friends that remained tired of me and left me. No, dear, don’t tell me it was unjust. It was simply their way, the way of many young people, to leave what is mangled by illness and no longer fair. I was miserable then, and ill for a very long time. I heard of a girl who told stories, and I wanted to hear them, to be, for an hour at a time, a real, human person just hearing a story. So I asked them to invite you, though I was too wise, now, to expect you to want to tell me stories. But you came, and you asked what I wanted, and what I wanted then above all else was to be happy, so I asked you to tell me of happy endings. It made me miserable, but it made me better, too, that you came and would tell me stories and now and then tell me about your family and what you wanted.
“I wanted to know you, then, and when you began to talk about yourself, I was happier than I had been in a long time. But I wanted you, really, all to myself all the time, to talk and talk and talk until I could not bear to hear any more, even from you. But I knew better than that, and decided I would help you if I could, with all I had learned of the world. You seemed so pleased with my advice, and I felt useful for the first time in my life. I wanted to do things for you, and so I did, not because of your kindness, really, but simply because of you yourself. Then I let you hear my music—the only thing that is mine, really, in a palace full of courtiers and royalty and gifts and riches—because I wanted to share it with you. You sang for me, and you’ve come every day now for a long time, and I cannot thank you enough for what you have done.”
He smiled at her, and it was the most beautiful smile she had ever seen. “But you ought to know that I’m dying. I’m dying and I’ll be dead in just a few months.”
The girl could not make herself be silent any longer, and she burst out. “No. No! You can’t die! I won’t let you.” She caught the Loathsome Prince’s face in her hands, and kissed him. “I love you,” She whispered, the tears coming down her cheeks.
Wonder showed on his face. “I love you,” She said, and kissed him again. “You can’t die.”
And she did love him; for all that he was Loathsome to look upon. She loved him for the beauty of his voice and the beauty of his music and the kindness he had showed her, and most of all for the beauty of his soul underneath it all.
He took both her hands again, and pulled them from his face. “Hush,” He whispered.
“No.” She said, crying hard. “No!”
He took her face in his hands, and gently made her look at him. “Listen.” He breathed. Then, rather than telling her she was foolish and a child, he said, “I love you too.”
She stilled. The Loathsome Prince, so beautiful for all his flaws, smiled sadly at her. “That is the only reason I am sad. I have been miserable all my life, and death does not frighten me, but believe me when I tell you that I love you. If I could, I would spend my life with you. I would marry you, whatever other people thought, if you were happy.”
“Yes,” she protested. “I would be.”
“Hush,” He said again. “Hush, dear. I will not live long enough to wed you, my darling. I would give the world to have the time. I am quite selfish to feel this way, but I do. I would play my music for you forever. I would spend my life with you. But I’m dying. If we were in a fairy tale, or one of your stories, we could live happily ever after, but we aren’t in a fairy tale. I can feel myself dying. If I could, I would ask you to marry me, and we would marry, but I can’t. Don’t you see, darling?” He said, and rubbed away her tears with his clever, beautiful hands.
She buried her face in her hands, and sobbed for a long time, and he held her, and kissed her hair. Then she stopped crying, and decided she was no longer a child. This was how children acted, not how grown people acted. She was being a child, and unfair to the Prince. She wiped her tears away, and stood before him, older and stronger in only a moment. “No, we can’t be married here.” She said, quietly. “But you can ask me to wait for you. I don’t know if they have Weddings in Heaven, but I’ll wait for you anyway.”
The Loathsome Prince stared at her, once again in wonder. “But I can’t ask you to spend your life waiting for me. I can’t be so cruel. I want you to live, dear.”
The girl took both his hands. “I would, whether you asked me to or not. I might love someone else, but I could never love someone the way I love you. I could even love someone enough to marry them—I don’t doubt that. But this love is too precious for me to give it up.” She said, quietly.
The Loathsome Prince began to cry, silently. She knelt and kissed him again. “If your music means so much to you,” She whispered, “Then do give it to me. Teach me to play, like you do, and I’ll play for you forever, and make everyone see your music. But,” She blinked back tears, and, just above a whisper, said in his ear, “I’ll sing only for you.”
Though both children were unaware of it, the parents of the Loathsome Prince stood outside the door, crying silently for the two children who loved each other so very dearly.
The Prince taught her to play, as she had asked, and she spent nearly every waking moment with the Prince. He gave her a ring, as she asked, and she wore it always. She told him beautiful stories when he could not sleep at night, and when he was in pain from the cruel fever, she held his hand. She sang lullabies to him softly when he was delirious. Her lessons grew apace.
Yet, as the lessons grew ever shorter, the Prince tiring quicker and quicker, the girl learned to play for her beautiful Prince, not as he played, but as she herself played. It was haunting, to hear the violin, even in the dark of the night, or to see the girl, lying asleep and exhausted at the Prince’s side, for after a time, she never left him at all.
The Prince was eternally patient, even in the horror of his illness, and was always smiling and joking, though he was too tired to laugh. Others wondered how the girl could stand to be so long in the presence of someone so ugly, but the girl did not remember any longer that her Prince was loathsome at all.
Instead, she saw underneath the scarred skin, to a beautiful, lovely Prince, who was more inhumanly exquisite than any living thing. The days grew darker and darker, and then lighter again, and lighter, and warmer, till the windows were open.
The grass smelled sweet, the birds sang all day and all night, and the flowers bloomed. One morning saw the sickroom, windows all open, a pale boy with hands folded on his chest, who was loathsome no longer. His smile and his beauty, which had been there under his sickness all along, suddenly emerged with his soul leaving. The girl went outside for the first time in literal months.
She ran for miles, breaking down finally, sobbing, for she was weaker and frailer than she had ever been before. It was as though she had been ill herself, for the months of care and sorrow had worn her greatly.
But as it rained, they found her there, sleeping quietly, and smiling as though the Prince was the one holding her.
The funeral was on a warm, bright day, and the girl played the Loathsome Prince’s violin, which had been given to her. She told his story, and all who heard her speak and play cried, for they were made to see an immortal beauty they had vainly overlooked.
In the coming years, the girl became famous for both stories and music, which were sad, but never bitter, much like the girl’s life, for she found great joy and lost happiness. She never resented the coming and the going of her many friends, who all loved her very dearly.
But once a year, in the cold November sunshine, she went back to the cove on his Birthday, and there, alone, only once a year, she sang.
It was a warm spring day when she died. She died young, of a terrible injury gotten when saving a child’s life in a fire.
There was no fear of death in her eyes, and her illness, though short, was painful. She was as patient as a boy with beautiful eyes and a loathsome face had been. Her many friends were around her when she breathed her last, and the ring was still on her finger.
She was buried in the sunshine.
This–this finishes the story I began. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. You can tell me I’m a terrible person now.