[Story] Too Late

Once upon a time, there was a prince. Not the regular type of prince. He was neither tall nor slim, neither athletic nor tough. In his palace in the center of his country he had 90 rooms, most of them filled with shelves and books and papers. From the very morning when the first rays of sunlight gently touched the ground up to the deepest nights, enlightened by the final rest of a candle, he sat in his rooms and read. He studied a lot, and all across the continent he was known to be a famous writer, scientist, a wise and knowing person.

However, he was not well liked. After a couple of years into his reign, the people started to wonder. They suspiciously gathered in their taverns and bars and started rumours. “He never tried to marry!” they said. “Who will be the next prince once he is gone?” Others claimed “He keeps that much of a distance to everybody! I know some courtier who has only seen him twice in three years!” Yes, the prince was wise and gentle, but he kept his distance.

Ten years after he was crowned, the prince had to host a huge festival. It was a celebration of his coronation, and thus there was no way for him to avoid this kind of event he hated so much. All the people on his lands were invited, there was food and beverage, loud music, there were clowns and artists. The people were running across the meadows of his palace, joyful. Later, in the evening, young girls and boys strolled away, hid in the giant maze behind the palace, trying to get some lonely moments.

Inside the palace, the prince was sitting on his throne. A fantastic ball had been organised with all those honorable people from everywhere – princes, princesses, some barons, even a high member of the church dared to come to this mundane activity. They held a dance just in front of the prince, who did not want to join. Caught in his own home he sat there and rolled his eyes.

It was more than just randomness, it was fate that he recognised that young man at the other end of the hall, who secretly chuckled. It was a handsome young man, not much younger than himself, with a shining smile. Maybe one of the courtiers. He had seen the prince and his boredom, and he thought it to be funny. That guy, he was a prince, powerful and mighty, rich and adored, but if once in a while there was a festival just for him he rolled his eyes.

The prince blinked several times, then slowly shook his head. The young man though, still looking at him, simply shrugged. The prince frowned, but the young man grinned. Whatever he did, that young man reacted to him, and the longer they played their secret game, the brighter the prince’s mood got.

At night, when the festival slowly ended, all the other noble people bowed in front of their host and gracefully thanked him for his hospitality. One of them was that man who had stood there in the corner, playing his games with the powerful lord. But before the prince could stop him, he turned around and fled the room. Helplessly the prince stared after him.

On the next day, the prince got up late. His thoughts were filled with strange and strong images, and thus he did not dare to sleep a lot. He had spent hours within the library, but the page he read never got turned. He was deeply sunken in thoughts about his life, circling around himself. And even on this next morning, he returned directly to his library, his cozy chair where nobody in this world could disturb him.

“Mylord?” one servant hesitantly said as he came closer.

“Yes, what is it.” The prince was not happy about the unknown disturbance.

“There is a letter for you, mylord. A young man delivered it this morning. He said it would be important and ease your mind.” With these words he gave the small but carefully written letter to the prince.

He did not have to read the letter to know its origin. Carefully, almost scared, he opened the sheet and started to read. Some servants gathered behind the door, and they all were almost shocked when there was laughter coming out of the dark room! They had never seen their lord to be delighted by any disturbance in the morning, and still, this letter had amused him! It had been written with care and ease, with wisdom, with a sensitive empathy and many words.

Some hours later, the prince left his study room. “Servant!” he yelled, and one of them quickly rushed towards him. “Take this letter. Go ahead and bring it to the maze within our gardens. Leave it there, close to the fountain.” The servant bowed and took the letter without any look of inquiry.

This was the starting point for a strange ceremony held for a long time, and the servants wondered a lot. Every day their lord received a letter in the morning, and in the afternoon he sent another one into the maze. They never knew the addressee and even though they had a close look at the maze they never found out.

One day, though, things changed. Another letter arrived at the prince’s palace, but late in the afternoon, which left the prince nervous and unsteady. He ordered his men and tried to use his time, but his mind was racing. When the letter arrived he ran to the library. And did not come out for several days.

When he finally returned to the living, he looked pale and thin. His skin and his eyes were sad and full of tragedy. But his voice was harsh and stable as he yelled “Servant! Saddle the horse!” He had not been out on a ride for ages, and the servants shared worried glances, but they did as he ordered. And so, the prince went out on a ride, with nothing more than a little bag over his shoulder and his horse between his legs.

Three weeks he rode into the same direction, passing cities and villages and meadows, churches and taverns and mountains. Some people he passed raised their brow, saying “Did you see that man? He almost looked like our prince!” And then, when he had crossed his land’s borders, people said “Look at that man, whom nobody will stop, he clearly knows where he wants to go!”

The wild ride brought him into countries he had never heard about, into the deepest wilderness and along unknown civilizations. But his eyes were steady, his route was clear, and his horse was tired.

After three weeks, he reached his final destination. A small village in the middle of nowhere, hardly called to be the home of the living. Some crows were sitting on a large rock next to the road, staring at him like he was the first man in centuries to come along. The meadows were green and bright, the trees were tall and telling stories of centuries, the sky was bluer as his own sky has never been. It must have been paradise.

The prince stopped at a certain house. He did not care for the beautiful landscape, he did not care for the wilderness, he did not care for the emptiness. He got off his horse, bound it to the fence and stepped towards the door. But when he lifted his hand to knock on the bright wood, the door opened before he could do so. A young man had opened. The young man he had seen at the hall, so much time ago, during his celebration.

“Why did you come?” the young man asked, and his voice was filled with bitterness.

“Why do you say it like that?” the prince asked, and his fingers fumbled for his bag. He opened the lacing and threw the bag on the stairs. Inside the bag, there were dozens and dozens of letters, each and every single one of them once carried into the palace. “You know why I came.”

The young man did not even waste a look to the ground. His dark and sad eyes sparkled full of despair in the sun when he looked at the prince. “You shouldn’t have come. I told you so.”

“Why? I am here, I told you I would come.” the prince replied, trying to do another step towards the door. But the young man shook his head, left the door frame and stepped outside the house.

“Look at this. Look at all of this. This is my home, my world, my life. Wild meadows. Lonesome trees. My beloved village full of emptiness. Now think of it. You are a prince, what do you know of the world we are living in? You have the meal, the beverage, the books. You have your palace with servants and fine clothes. I love my life, but I cannot give you what you are looking for.”

A dark and bitter sadness was in his words.

“I told you, many times, but you never listened. You live in your own world, unwilling to experience reality. Now, here you are. This is the real world. Far from any of your fancy visions.”

Then he turned back to the prince, sadly staring at him.

“I wish you would have never come.” He turned his back and went up the stairs and into the door. Within the door frame, he stopped for a moment.

“You are wrong.” the prince then said with a gentle voice.

“Is it the meals I miss in the morning? Is it the beverage in the evening? Is it a soft and gentle bed I cannot live without? Is it a palace full of thousands of servants I cannot live without? Is it a people who never loved me I would grief about? There is no money, no property, no comfort in life. I told you, thousand times, and you denied, everytime.

“You wrote to me about your dreams, your future, your destiny. You told me your story as if it were mine. You shared your fears, your sacred wishes, your anger and pain. You stormed into my life with a smile and hook me with a gentle letter. Yes, you told me never to come. But… you told me who you are.”

The prince did a deep sigh, bowed down and took the bag with all the letters.

“You told me never to come. I came. For you. When I wake up in the very morning, my first thoughts are about you. My joy, my grief, all my emotions were packed in those moments with your letters. My fun and pride, all my soul was covered by writing to you. When I dined, I imagined you sitting there, reading my lines. Smiling. You were everywhere. You told me I was crazy. I am. But I knew it. And I wanted it.

“You told me it cannot be. You told me it will not be. You told me my words would never be right, and here I am.” The prince did another deep sigh. “I came here for one reason. One reason alone.”

The young man turned around, and anger, despair, fury were in his face. “Who do you think you are! What do you want! There is nothing I can give you! There is nothing here! I cannot stand it, so go, leave, and accept it!”

The prince looked at him for some moment, then he reached for another letter, a closed one, which had been hidden in his jacket. He handed it to the man who took it, hesitatingly.

“I understood. You could have seen.”

With those words, he turned around and went down the stairs.

The young man, though, he opened the letter. There was not much in there. Just one single line.

I wanted to be the one who made you smile. And to give you what you need.

“But… you were! You are!” the young man said, still staring at the words.

The prince did not turn around. “You could have told me. Too late.” he said.

If you look close enough, you see another page attached to the back of this story. A little piece of paper with some hastily drawn lines. It seems like some stories don’t end the way everybody believed them to end.

The young man looked up again, staring at the back of the prince. But suddenly, the lord turned around, and their eyes met, for a split second, little more than an eternity. The prince’s feet, they took him back towards the stairs, up the stairs, and as the young man opened his mouth in surprise, they were met by the prince’s lips. Heat and agony paired, thrown into a vortex of desired pleasure. Willingly, he closed his eyes, as he feeled the start of an eternal fire kindling. And the door closed. Behind them.