OF HEARTS AND TREASURES

A SANTHARIAN FAIRY TALE

 
Master Tribell's Miraculous Narrations   
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Introduction. A deadly contest is set up to decide upon who will be the lucky one to receive the hand of the king's daughter. Despite the dire prospects of surviving the ordeal, a youth is determined to defy the odds and return victorious. But there's a lesson to be learned - a lesson about hearts and treasures.

 

here was once on a time a king who had a daughter he desired to see wed. His stepson should be no less than a hero, he said to himself, someone who can beat the odds with his physical prowess, his wit, his endurance; and to test all these qualities the emperor ran a contest his kingdom had never seen before: Each candidate was required to first defeat a selection of wild beasts – no less than a wolf, a bear and a lion –, thereafter he should find his way through a dismal, labyrinthine forest, dotted with treacherous moors, after that swim a couple of strals through the rapids of a river, moreover climb a tower with pure hands only and finally traverse a dangerous ridge on top of one of the province's highest mountain ranges. All that in one single day. This is quite a list of tasks, and while each one of them might have seemed possible to get through in itself, put together in succession and in such a short time span they meant the sure death of every combatant who tried his luck.

Indeed, the challenge yielded gruesome results! It reaped the most valiant knights and heroes of the kingdom who thought they had to prove something already at the first few days. Then there were several dozens of desperate and lovesick ones who failed likewise, and also the dreamers of course, who thought they could somehow outwit the hazards of this torturous journey, but reality taught them one final lesson. Once a youth committed to enter the contest, it was as if he had signed his death sentence. Only a handful were wise enough to give up once they had started as they eventually understood the hopelessness of their endeavor; most of the candidates however continued to trudge on in blind confidence of their abilities, only to eventually stumble to their deaths in various embarrassing ways.

Among the many who tried their luck there was a youth, who truly loved the princess from the bottom of his heart. Needless to say, he was foolish enough to enter the challenge. Before he began though, the young man put on a mask and a hood, so that he couldn't be recognized by the spectators. For in case that he should meet an untimely death he would be spared the humiliation that went with it. Were he mauled by a beast or were he to drown in the swamps, nobody would know who the unfortunate one really was, and he would at least take this secret with him to his grave.

However, to everyone's surprise the masked challenger remained victorious against wolf, bear and lion in the first stage of the contest. He fought boldly with the verve of an outsider and slew one beast after another. Indeed, his stance was fierce and determined as if he had nothing to lose; and, truth be told, he hadn't, for he had made up his mind beforehand to go all the way and now followed through with almost suicidal passion. Full of pride for the outcome of his superhuman effort, which he hadn't even anticipated himself, the youth received the token for his triumph: It was a gem placed at a stone altar close by and made up the first piece of a medallion. Upon completion of all stages of the contest the candidate was meant to hand it over to the princess in exchange for her hand in marriage. Bloody from the monsters he had slain, with torrents of sweat dripping from his brow, the youth went on: The next challenge already awaited.

So the masked contestant entered the dark, haunted forest. It harbored all kinds of vile monsters and spooks, or so it was said, ranging from misguiding will'o'wisps over phantoms and wraiths to gobbleswaps, magical creatures that destroy you by gobbling you up and take on your appearance... Nobody usually dared to go in these woods. In midst of them moors hampered any quick progress, and in parts the trees grew so close that they forced any adventurer to turn around and seek other paths to move forward. Whatever the young man encountered in that forsaken forest, he wouldn't tell afterwards. But what's for sure is that he didn't allow himself to be lured to his death, and thus came out on the other side safe and sound to pick up the next desired piece of the medallion that brought him one step closer to his beloved. He hadn't turned into a gobbleswap either, for gobbleswaps rarely leave their territory, so it was the masked youth alright who had made it through, and he was still alive and well.

On he went, hurling himself down a waterfall into a wildly foaming river. The waters were rushing through a rocky vale as if driven by a voracious demonic force, grabbing, clutching, pushing under anyone who dared to enter the torrential ride with icy fingers. The masked youth, already exhausted from his previous ordeals, came very close to his demise this time, for he was tossed around by the aggressive force of nature like a leaf carried by the current; there was little resistance he was capable of putting up against the overwhelming power of the element of water. However, like a leaf that never really goes under, his lightness and spryness kept the young man afloat, and more by sheer luck than by intent he escaped each single whirlpool that he got sucked into without ending up smashed against the nearby rocks. Bruised and barely alive he arrived at last in more peaceful and calm waters, where he was washed ashore. He staggered towards another piece of the medallion, pocketed it and was off again. There was little time to rejoice.

The notorious tower was next. It was a spire made all of glass, and the hopefuls had to climb it to the very top. This meant to cover a distance of more than a hundred peds upright. No ropes were to assist the competitors getting up, rather there was merely the odd brick here and there protruding from this unique structure, permitting to get a grip or a foothold. The tower's surface was also smooth and slick and the sun's dazzling beams turned them into blinding, burning mirrors that the few who had reached this stage of the challenge had perished altogether in the attempt. His beloved in mind, the youth nonetheless didn't falter and after resting for a short while to regain his strength he fearlessly went ahead. He looked up for a bit, decided which route to climb and then quickly scaled the building without reconsidering a single footstep. Well, he did it as effortlessly as a capou-capou monkey from the Nybelmarian jungles. He knew that should he tarry too long at one spot the heat of the glass would become unbearable, and so he grit his teeth and went about it as if it were a game. To everyone's surprise he was up on top in no time to claim his well deserved reward.

The last stage involved the ascent of one of the province's steepest mountains and the crossing of a ridge on top of it to get to its majestic peak. The ridge was exposed to the untamed forces of the wind and the one possible path was full with rubble; it was icy and narrow and offered only very few opportunities to hide from the windy blades in an occasional natural alcove. Indeed, a gale was howling when the masked youth at last reached the ridge, the final part of his journey, and so cold was it that he almost froze to death on the spot. But a fire was burning in his heart that drove him on, and on, and on, and while he even had to get to his knees to crawl the final part of the distance, nothing could stop him now anymore, not the piercing, shrieking wind, not the bone-chilling cold, nor his painful agonizing exhaustion. And so the youth defied all adversities and made it to the peak. He took the final part of the medallion from a rock to which it was fastened steadfastly, and was careful enough not to haste his decent, lest he gave away his victory.

Well, he arrived in one piece again back at the foot of the mountain before the day was over, and enthused he put together the parts of the piece of jewelry, his key to a new life. Soon, very soon now, his dream would be fulfilled and he'd hold the princess in his arms.

Thereupon a coach arrived as the victorious challenger was at his way back to the castle to prove everyone what he had accomplished. When the carriage door opened, his heart began pounding rapidly and his soul was filled with instant joy as he saw that it was the princess herself who emerged from carriage.

"You indeed are a true hero," she said to him as he bent down to gracefully kiss her hand. With a broad smile she took the medallion in her delicate hands, caressed it fondly, as the token of love that it was. "Oh, what incredible, inconceivable deeds you have done," she praised him. "You slew beasts, found your way through the enchanted forest, beat the rapids, climbed the glass tower and crossed that dreadful windswept ridge – all to my honor. Oh, I still cannot understand how a single man could possibly do all these things... for me!" The princess hugged the courageous masked survivor fervently.

The youth could hardly stand on his own feet, but he felt as if heavenly bliss had now descended on him and he savored every moment of the princess's presence. Soon she will be on my side forever, he thought.

As the fresh hero finally wanted to remove his mask and kiss her, the princess however stopped him: "Wait, valiant stranger, there is something I have to tell you," she said, her tone suddenly changing.

"What is it, princess?" he asked. "You probably know by now that I'd do anything for you," he added jokingly. "So go ahead, if you have one more wish, just ask."

But the princess's voice turned serious. "Listen, there is something I cannot and will not hide from you, and as it is impossible to say it in any other way than straightforward, well, here it is..." She swallowed hard. "All these years – oh my dear hero, it must hurt you so much – all these years I've loved someone else. Yes, it is true, don't despise me for being honest. I won't conceal this from you. You, more than anyone else, has a right to know, for you won that abominable contest my father had set up and which cost so many promising young men their lives."

The masked youth looked bedazzled. He didn't understand.

"He is the one I've been secretly in love with for years and years," the princess went on and pointed to the coachman, who now climbed down from the carriage and bowed as well to the victorious challenger.

"I congratulate you, stranger," he said. "This is a day the kingdom will remember forever."
The youth just nodded, unsure what to think or to say.

"Oh, you mighty hero," the princess spoke to him. "Forgive me for asking, but I have to, even though I tread it so much: Could you bear to betroth someone who is in love with another?" Her eyes filled with tears. "Believe me, it was not I who devised the plan of having a contest like this! It was all my father's, and he is domineering, stubborn and hideous. He wouldn't have backed off, not even if half of the kingdom had been eliminated in this foolish challenge of his. I didn't want any of this. I've chosen the one for me a long time ago, but he is not the one my father would ever approve of. I myself forbade him to enter this travesty, lest he be destroyed in it. Ah, it was hopeless, and still is. But, stranger, if there is a way in your heart to make the impossible possible, maybe you can play along?"

Crestfallen the masked youth heard the words of the princess. His face turned white as she spoke and he looked at her listlessly, as if she had just dealt the lethal blow he had been spared from during his numerous challenges.

"You know," the princess then offered with a shivering voice. "Everyone has only seen you with your mask, so nobody knows who you really are, oh dear stranger. I would give you all the gold and gems I have and trade them in for your mask and your medallion, so that the one I love can present it to the king and receive my hand in return. Pray, stranger, at least think about it, for the sake of true love!"

The youth was quiet for a long, long time, for he couldn't utter a single word. This was not what he had expected, not the answer he had come to hear, the outcome he had fought for so desperately; this was not why he had escaped all these trials and tribulations by a hairbreadth with his bare life. And yet he stood there, triumphant and defeated at the same time, and at a loss for words.

"My dear princess," he finally spoke. "I've not come to earn a fortune, I’ve come for the one I love. Know this: I love you with all my heart, and that's the only reason why I undertook this perilous journey, for I cannot imagine anything that would please me more than being on your side for the rest of your life. It's all I ever wanted. Love, I have been told, makes one capable of moving whole mountains, and this I did here and now, for you're the treasure my heart has longed for a very long time, long before the king hatched this vile challenge, albeit all that was unbeknownst to you. Alas," he sighed, "the Gods have predestined that you should love another."

The princess looked at him full of worry, but the masked youth swiftly appeased her anxiety.

"Fear not, my princess! Rest assured, I will not take a prize offered to me by a mortal when I see that it is not in accordance with the eternals' grand design." His trembling hand wiped a tear from the princess's cheek. "You know, they say: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Well, now with my treasure gone, my heart feels empty. But because of you I've learned a good deal about my own heart, that it is great enough to undergo mighty hazards to gain the treasure it seeks. And I trust in the Gods that this is what they wanted me to know when they let me put my life on the line. I trust that there will be other treasures they will bestow upon me, treasures, that are going to fill this heart once more with delight – even though I cannot fathom it at this very hour. Without you, dear princess, I wouldn't have had the chance to prove my heart and understand what it is capable of. For that I have to thank you!"

Thus spoke the youth, tossed back his hood and took off his mask, showing his true face. Thereafter the victorious challenger kissed the princess’s hand again, this time to bid her farewell.

"Here," he finally said to the quiet man next to her, the one his beloved had chosen over him. "Take this mask from me and pretend that you were the one, and thus end this gruesome competition in your favor. My part here is done, but remember that your journey has only just begun: Prove now that where your treasure is your heart is also."
 


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Fairy tale written by by Artimidor Federkiel View Profile