An Old King
Once upon a time in a world unlike ours, an old king ruled over a kingdom that was home to what we would consider the familiar and what we would consider the mythical. This kingdom, which they called Tarsus, was bordered by mountains to the East and flat lands to the West. Green and temperate, the country had not one recorded drought or snowstorm, only seeing snow once or twice each year, which never fell thick enough to hinder travel; with rivers and streams flowing through, making the soil fertile, Tarsus had attracted many races.
Each race, from the elves to the giants, brought plants from their own cultures, providing Tarsus with nearly all the continent’s variety. One might expect hostility in the kingdom because of the very different folk, but there was none. Tarsus was small in comparison to the other countries on the continent, with few cities and a humble countryside. As a result, while each Tarsusian was different from his neighbour, they learned to live and work together symbiotically. For generations they lived in peace together without war brewing amongst themselves or with others.
While the old king was a good king during his reign, he constantly worried about his kingdom’s future. He did not seek to expand Tarsus’ borders or prove their might; such was not the way of their people. He, their king, was only a human. Rather than being led by warrior giants, ogres, or witches, Tarsus was content with their human monarchy, but the survival of their human monarchy was why the old king worried. He was not leaving the kingdom without an heir, as he had two sons, but what one had, the other lacked. The old king did not know who would take the throne generations to come.
Talus, the elder, was the most suitable to be king, and was to inherit his father’s title. Born early in the old king’s life, he had followed his father’s example, always wanting to learn what his father did, and how it was to be done. He was studious, knowing all that needed to be known about the history of Tarsus and its functions. Unfortunately, Talus had little choice in the matter. Born with poor health that carried into adulthood, he was unable to leave the palace grounds. For this reason, Talus busied himself with his studies, gaining knowledge, rather than engaging in riskier activities, hoping that he would not worry his parents. Despite his efforts, the old king and his wife continued to spend their time and efforts on the well-being of their son, and little with one another.
Consequently, the younger, Brevis was born much later in the old king’s life. The birth of Brevis was unexpected by all. By the time he was born, Talus had already been married for many years. The kingdom had expected that the next prince would make the old king a grandfather, and not a father, yet again.
Already having a capable son, and wanting to be a grandfather, the old king played with his new son and spoiled him, letting him do as he pleased. Brevis proved to be a boisterous healthy child, and neither parent had qualms about letting their younger son out to see the world. Accordingly, Brevis spent little time with his studies, preferring to find new games to play, always meeting new people, and crawling atop the rare talking trees in the nearby forest. He loved what the world had to offer.
This behaviour caused the beginning of the old king’s worries. The old king loved Brevis, but it was no way for a prince to behave. He knew the fault was his and blamed no one but himself.
Brevis only became more rebellious as he grew. When he began his studies, he refused to wear his crown, claiming that a ring around his head would prevent his brain from expanding and soaking in the knowledge. Then when he reached his father’s abdomen in height, he stopped responding to his title. No one corrected him, and his parents were so aged that they no longer had the energy to discipline their child.
His parents turned to others for help, such as his tutor, Mister Cankle, a wise old elf who Brevis could listen to for hours on end. When Mister Cankle tried to correct Brevis’ behaviour, Brevis said to him, ‘Mister Cankle, there is no way I could allow you to address me as Prince. You are my teacher, my superior. If I were Prince, how could you tell me what to do? How could I respect you enough to learn from you?’ Likewise, when another tried, he gave a similar answer, altered appropriately for whatever the role the person had in his life. The old king could not even ask for his elder son for help. Talus was charmed by his younger brother’s antics and freethinking.
The old king’s worries were further complicated when Talus started to become grey and wrinkled.
Talus had married at a young age to a woman named Navi, who came from a poor family and was once a palace maid. She began working at the palace as a young girl, but before then, she held many other jobs. Close to Talus in age, she noticed that she was one of few children in the palace. And, she saw that the prince was lonely. Thus, whenever she completed her duties, she snuck into his quarters, wanting to keep him company. The two grew up together and fell in love, marrying the moment they became of age. The old king eagerly welcomed Navi into the family, as she was kind and loved by all. Sadly, the jobs she held as a child had taken a toll on her health. With the added strains on Talus’ frail body, the couple was unable to conceive a child.
As the couple yearned to have a child, it was natural that Talus and Navi take on the duty of raising the young prince when the old king and his wife grew too old for Brevis’ shenanigans. They were inexperienced, but they made sure he knew from right and wrong. They treasured his spirit and nurtured it, giving in to every one of his whimsical desires, providing him the life Talus never had.
This led to the old king’s predicament. While his younger son was an appropriate age to take the throne after Talus, he was far from suitable to be king. Furthermore, upon asking Brevis whether he wanted to succeed his brother, the child had said no without a second thought. The young prince was unable to see the sense in staying indoors when they were blessed with a diverse kingdom. Mister Cankle had also told the old king that Brevis was better suited to be an artist and dreamed of being an explorer. To make matters worse, after many years, Talus and Navi were still unable to produce an heir. The old king reasoned with himself. He told himself that his over thinking was due to his inactivity. Talus and Navi did so much for him that he was considered retired. Yet, as much as he attempted to convince himself that all would be well, he worried himself silly.
The old king decided to take matters into his own hands. He was sure that if he found a healthy, and thus suitable, bride for Brevis, an heir for Talus would be born. He could then guarantee that no one made the same mistakes he had with Brevis, and groom the child into the perfect monarch. The old king thought and thought. He considered marrying his son to a troll. They always produced multiples, but the old king quickly realized that the match might be unpleasant for his son. So instead, he thought of suitable brides near the young prince’s age, who were also of the same species. When searching for human families known for their fruitfulness, he thought of the kingdom to the west: Kmeria.
The old king visited Kmeria in his youth and remembered they were known for that particular trait. Each generation, the King and the Queen bore no less than seven children, which was the exact number of princesses born to the current king and queen. The monarchy was also human, and luckily, Tarsus was currently in good terms with Kmeria. The Kmeri were an admirable people too.
The old king came to a decision. Arranging a marriage between Brevis and a Kmeri princess would unquestionably ensure the future of Tarsus.
After sending a letter to the king from the west, explaining his idea of marrying his son to one of the princesses, the two kings began a dialogue. The king from the west thought a marriage between the kingdoms would be a splendid idea, but there was the matter of which princess Brevis was to marry.
Traditionally, the princesses were to be married from eldest to youngest, but that was only in Kmeria. The two kings had to take in to consideration the age of their children as well. From the eldest princess to the youngest princess, there was a large range in age; and because the king to the west had no sons, the eldest princess was not a suitable candidate for she was the heir to Kmeria, meaning that there were six eligible princesses. The king from the west wanted the eldest of his eligible daughters to marry the young prince, but the old king objected, claiming that she would be too old to be a mother when Brevis was ready to be a father. The old king wanted his son to have a young wife who had many years ahead of her to bear children.
Sorting out their quarrel, the two kings came to an agreement. While the old king wanted a grandchild, he still cared for his son, and wanted him to have a wife he might grow to love. Despite the strong character he liked to put forth, the old king was a romantic at heart. To be a romantic was in his blood! Not once in the history of Tarsus was a human forced to marry a person they did not like. The two kings decided to send the six princesses, one at a time, to Tarsus. Starting with the eldest eligible princess, each year, a princess was to visit in the spring, as that was Brevis’ favourite season. (The old king also happened think spring was a very romantic season because the flowers were full in bloom.) Each princess was to become familiar with the kingdom and the young prince. The one who fell in love with the young prince was the one that who would marry him. In the agreement, there was one term the old king stressed to have in place: none of their children were to be informed of the arrangement.
The king from the west thought the arrangement was silly, but the old king thought it was for the best. Therefore, the king from the west told the old king that if he had a change of heart, he would marry one of his daughters to the young prince for the sake of strengthening their ties. Nevertheless, the old king told him that like the ones who came before, the match would be for love.
At the ripe age of eighteen, the first princess was very attractive. She wore bright and vibrant colours that somehow how managed not to clash with her fiery red hair. From her homeland to Tarsus, every man she passed stopped to look at her. Even the old king, who was reluctant for his son to marry an older woman, was swayed by her looks. During her visit, the old king hoped to have his young son standing by him to greet the princess and make a good impression. However, as Brevis was still just coming out of childhood, the meeting did not go as planned.
True to his nature, the old king was unable to find Brevis in time for the princess’ arrival. Instead, when the princess finally met the prince, he was dirtied from a recent romp in the woods, with twigs and leaves sticking out of his hair. The young prince gave her an almost full toothy grin. ‘My last milk tooth came out today!’ he enthusiastically told his father. Utterly repelled, the pretty princess spent the rest of her visit with her nose turned up and away from the young prince, preferring to flock with the court ladies, who were closer to her in age, and flirting with grown men. The old king did not let himself feel defeated. She was only the first and oldest princess.
The second princess was seventeen the year she came. Brevis was thirteen. Unlike her older sister, who came the year before, the second princess was far from glamorous. She was known to be intelligent, never without a book on hand. With spectacles perched on her nose, she dressed in a manner suitable for a scholar, rather than a princess. She was also much quieter, reserved, and not the kind who liked noise or uncivilized behavior.
To avoid a repeat of the previous year, and seeing the benefits of having a knowledgeable daughter in-law, the old king woke Brevis earlier than usual and made sure the boy was well groomed. Consequently, Brevis had too much energy from inactivity. He twitched and wiggled in his seat when forced to sit down, and he attempted to crawl out the window of the room in which he was locked.
When the princess finally arrived, Brevis was beyond excited to have a companion. He bombarded her with questions about her journey and origins; frightened, the studious princess was more silent than before. Her behaviour concerned the old king, and he started to question what sort of princesses came from Kmeria.
The following year, a drab princess, sixteen years of age, arrived at the palace. She wore only grey and murky colours. She dyed her natural red hair brown, and slicked it into a simple tight bun. If not for the fine fabrics of her boring clothes, no one would have known of her royal blood. This year the old king spoke to the young prince weeks prior to the arrival of the princess, telling Brevis of his expectations in being a good host. So on that day, while Brevis still hiked through the woods, he bathed before meeting the princess. He then exchanged brief, but polite, greetings with her and went on his merry way.
One day, Brevis noticed that the princess spent all her time inside. He decided to invite her out for a horse ride or a walk in the gardens, wanting to be the good host his father said he should be. When he asked her, she was appalled by the idea of exposing herself to the sun, claiming that a lady needed to remain as pale—and ghostly, in Brevis’ opinion—as possible. The drab princess spent her days in Tarsus hidden from all. Due to her behaviour, old king was unsure if she was even in the palace. That year, the old king thought the cause was hopeless.
When Brevis was fifteen, a princess who was his age visited. The old queen had passed during the year, but before Death claimed her, she asked her younger son to behave more like the prince he was. He did as requested and took up many of his duties. Although he still refused to wear his crown and use his title, Brevis was much more responsible. He was still active, as he did not like to remain in one spot for long, but he arrived to greet the princess without instruction and showed her the palace. The old king thought he smelled love in the air.
The princess was plump with rosy cheeks. Her hair was bouncy and a lovely warm strawberry blonde. She had a matronly feel, and the old king found her more endearing than he thought possible. Hope returned that Brevis would fall in love, but it did not take long for the old king’s opinion to change. On the third day of the princess’ visit, the old king found the young prince practicing his fencing with the princess nowhere in sight. He asked his son where she was, not understanding why they were separated when they had been together constantly for the last couple of days.
‘Father, I have shown her the palace, and the nearby places, like any good host, but she constantly complains about being hungry. I figured to leave her in the kitchen. She seemed content there last I checked,’ explained Brevis. As Brevis said, the old king found the plump princess in the kitchen, demanding for more food, cheerfully eating away, draining the food stock. The old king thought it might have been a better idea to let his son out into the world to meet a woman.
The following year, spring seemed to come later than usual. Unlike the previous years, there were twin princesses coming, who were one year his junior. The old king hoped Brevis would fall in love with one of two princesses, but he did not feel it was as necessary as he once did. His observant elder son noticed how the princesses visited annually. In concern, Talus had spoken to his father. Talus assured the old king that there was someone for everyone—that Brevis would meet his perfect match—that the old king did not have to worry. The old king saw how old age clouded his judgement; despite Brevis being the appropriate age to begin seeking a wife, he thought it would just be an added bonus if the wife to be were one of Kmeri princesses. In his romanticized daydreams, the old king imagined his younger son meeting a charming young lady of his own choosing, falling in love, and giving the old king his long awaited grandchild.
On their arrival, the old king was befuddled. He sat in his throne room with his son by his side, waiting for two little princesses to enter; instead, a handsome copper haired boy dashed through the doors, stopping to bow. The old king had been sure that there was no Kmeri prince, yet there in front of him, stood the apparent prince. The boy introduced himself without his title in the same manner as his own son did. The old king found the gesture unusually heart warming. Save for his unorthodox entrance and introduction, the old king thought the boy was pleasant.
When the princess entered, moments after the boy, the old king understood the situation before him. The old king realized the handsome young boy was no prince at all. The prince was a princess, and the princess, who had just entered, was the other princess. The boy was a girl, and she shared the same face as the other princess. They were an odd pair of twins. Never had the old king met twins so different. Even among the trolls, who always bore multiples, the litters were usually homogeneous. Then again, trolls were trolls.
The princess-prince and the other princess looked similar in the face, but that was where it ended. While the princess-prince was dressed like a prince, the other princess wore a full dress in pastel colours and held a large finely crafted woven basket that appeared to want to topple her over. The princess-prince was strikingly like his younger son.
Brevis did not come to the same conclusion. He was thrilled. He thought that every year he would have to entertain a stuffy princess, but before him was a boy near his age. Finally, he had an excuse to play. They would go out and bond like men. Any poise he held before was quickly lost as he approached the princess-prince. She was equally excited and the pair ran off, leaving the old king alone with the other princess.
She runs as if a she were a boy, thought the old king.
The other princess spoke. ‘Do not worry, Your Majesty. My sister—she is like that. She does not often stay still. We love her nonetheless, but Papa does wish she really were a boy. He wants us to have a king rather than a queen after him, but never mind that. You are so kind to welcome all my sisters and me. I brought a gift for you. I do not know what I can offer a king, but I have always wanted to be a horticulturalist.’ She unveiled to him the contents of her full basket. ‘I grew these fruit myself, and I hope very much that you will enjoy them.’
The old king smiled and thanked the other princess. None of the previous princesses had made such a gesture.
Upon the old king’s first bite, the most wondrous magical feeling spread though his body; with every piece, he was greeted with the sweetest flavour and the softest, smoothest textures. From that moment onwards, the old king was bewitched with the other princess. She was as sweet as the lemons she brought, and her lemons tasted like lemonade. The basket was filled with exotic fruits, found only in Kmeria, and familiar fruits, but every bite was a new experience. Despite having a well-versed palette, as he was the King of Tarsus—he found the fruits to be the best he ever tasted. He spent the rest of the day indulging in the fruits, fearing that they might rot, but no matter how much he ate, the basket was always full.
The old king ate and ate. He thought the fruit was so splendid that each time a person came to see him he offered a piece of fruit, and every person who ate a piece of the fruit enjoyed it as much as the old king did. He wanted to share the fruit with his entire kingdom, but most of all, the old king wanted to share the fruit with his sons and daughter in-law. To his dismay, Talus and Navi were busy with the tasks the old king no longer did; consequently, they did not have the opportunity to enjoy the delicious fruit. Hoping he might be at least able to share it with his younger son, the old king sat with his wonderful fruit near the entrance to the gardens, eating as he waited for Brevis to return.
Brevis and the princess-prince came back as the sun began to disappear into the horizon. With a large fish in tow, they looked as dirty as Brevis had when he was child.
‘Try some of this delicious fruit, son,’ said the old king.
‘Don’t you dare,’ said the princess-prince, almost too quickly. ‘We have a fish to cook and eat.’
‘I see no harm in having a piece of fruit,’ countered the old king. She was his friend, but it was not her place to overrule his father, the King.
‘Your Majesty, there is!’ insisted the princess-prince. ’My sister grows such delicious fruit that his appetite will be spoiled, and he needs meat to grow into a strong man.′
The old king digested her words. She was correct. He had not eaten anything other than the fruits the entire day. They were that delicious, and his son did have a few crucial growing years left. ‘Very well,’ the old king said. ‘Take your fish to the cook.’
That spring, Brevis and the princess-prince treaded into the Tarsusian wilderness every day. When the old king saw them, he continued trying to offer his son one of the fruits from the never-ending basket; but like before, the princess-prince always told Brevis that he had to save his appetite for what they had caught that day. As summer neared and the days grew longer, the pair returned less and less, only appearing at night, opting to cook their meal in the wild where they had caught it.
The old king thought his son and the princess-prince were on romantic trips, and it did not please him. He thought it was splendid that they were bonding, that his son had a friend, but he wanted his son to bond with the other princess. He wanted his son to have romantic dates with the other princess instead.
To clarify the situation, one day upon the duo’s return, the old king asked his son what he was doing with the princess-prince. Brevis enthusiastically told his father about their adventures. The old king noticed that Brevis used the male pronoun in reference to the princess-prince. Apparently, Brevis thought of the princess-prince as another male friend, a male friend who enjoyed hunting even more than Brevis did.
The old king was ecstatic! He thought that it was possible that Brevis may want the princess-prince for a sister-brother. Moreover, the best way to make her his sister was for him to marry her sister, the lovely other princess. If Brevis saw how terrific the other princess was, their life would be perfect. She was gracious, beautiful, and a quite the conversationalist. Of course, he did not need Brevis to like her for him to marry her. He was King! He had the power to make people marry, and he had the power to choose his future daughter in-law.
Unlike her sister, the other princess spent her time on palace grounds at all time. She never once ventured past the gardens and into the forests. She only took leisurely strolls to admire the kept flora in the morning, and spent the remainder of the day inside. The old king noticed that much of the palace staff was taken with her as well. The old king thought her to be as wonderful as the fruits she grew. Instead of exploring the land like the princess-prince, she stayed and had her meals with the old king; he greatly appreciated the company, especially since his queen had passed. His two sons were always too busy to spend such quality time with him.
She also apparently had a bit of a crush on his eligible young son. Many a times she gushed about how charming she found him. ‘Oh, he is so handsome—his eyes twinkle in such a lovely way. He must get his looks from his father,’ she would say. Clearly, his son was blind if he could not see the smitten girl. What fool wanted to spend his days with a girl-boy instead of being in the presence of such a delightful young lady?
The two princesses’ stay was coming to a close, and the old king had a decision to make. He had hoped his son would have affection for his future bride, but he did not even view the princess that he spent all his time with as a female. To add, there was the other princess, who was the perfect lady and had feelings for the young prince. For the old king, his next actions were obvious. Brevis would have the princess-prince for a sister-brother, and the old king would have the other princess for a daughter. Considering how perfect the other princess was, there was no doubt in his mind that when Brevis matured and she grew, she could win his heart. He forgot about how he wanted his son to choose his bride and decided to do the choosing for him.
When the old king sent the two princesses back, he sent along a contract that would secure the marriage of his younger son to the other princess. He let no one other than his most trusted advisors know. He even took precautions so that neither Talus nor Navi knew. No one was to interfere with his plans. When the contract returned signed, the old king locked it in a safe only for the King’s eyes.
The old king’s time came soon after. He was beside himself, thinking of how he would not be able to enjoy the other princess permanently living in the palace. He wished he could live for a couple more years to see her join his family. On his deathbed, the old king weakly continued to eat the fruit the other princess had given him. He dreamed of the beautiful orchard the other princess had and the garden he hoped she would continue in Tarsus. He wanted to eat all the fruits she grew! The old king let Death take him, praying to keep the basket of fruit with him when he entered his happily ever after.