A Fairy Tale

29 Apr

Long before science and reason replaced alchemy and faith, there was a sizable coastal village named Tempus. A port town, Tempus boasted a population of nearly a thousand, almost one per cent of them literate, and saw a few thousand sailors, traders, and opportunists pass through its wide streets every day. Tempus was flush with cash, but not only because of its proximity to the sea. No, the town’s coffers were filled mainly with the money from tourists who had come to see the Great Spire.

No one was sure when the Great Spire was built, or who had built it. Many believed that the town grew around the spire, though the town’s intellectuals were certain that the reverse was true. The assumption was that the spire, really a tall, thin tower that rose nearly three-hundred feet into the sky, was built as a lookout post before the dense surrounding forest had been cleared and Tempus’ port could be viewed from street level. The one window at the top of the Great Spire facing the sea seemed to certify this fact. However, as impressive and mysterious the Great Spire was, tourists did not come to see the structure itself. No, tourists came to see the inhabitant of the tower, a trapped princess whose name was, fittingly enough, Princess.

It seemed people were less sure about how Princess had been captured in the tower, or by whom, than they were about the Great Spire’s origin. Even the eldest citizen of Tempus couldn’t remember a time that Princess wasn’t trapped in the Great Spire, languidly staring out of the only window at its uppermost point and ignoring throngs of sight-seers below. No one thought to ask her why she was there, or who had put her there, or why she still appeared as young as ever though she had been in her prison for at least thirty years, possibly longer. The people of Tempus didn’t care, they were glad to have something in the town that was worth seeing. As long as Princess remained in the Great Spire, Tempus would be one of the wealthiest port towns in the land.

One day, a knight in shining armor came to Tempus and strode purposefully to the base of the Great Spire. The crowd parted as he approached and murmured about the knight in hushed tones. The knight pushed up his helmet’s visor and peered up at Princess, who held her gaze to some point on the horizon as always. His features revealed, the knight appeared a handsome, rugged sort, no stranger to violence or romance. The knight then did something that no one had ever done before: he called out to Princess.

“What ho, fair maiden,” said the knight in a booming voice that caused the nearest people to reel in surprise, “are you all right?”

The crowd began to buzz with excitement as Princess looked down for the first time in anyone’s memory. Some gawkers hung their heads in shame for having made such spectacle of Princess’ plight. If she felt condemnatory, she didn’t let on in mannerisms or speech. In a loud but feminine voice that no one had heard before, Princess called down: “I’m fine. Just bored.”

Emboldened by this response, the knight called out to Princess again, “Why are you in the Great Spire? Can you come and go at will?”

Princess shook her head, her brunette locks bobbing lightly around her face. “I was trapped here some time ago, the only door out is locked. By virtue of a magic spell I can never age nor die of hunger while I am kept in this tower. But my life is a waking death. I would love to get out of here.”

The knight grinned broadly at what he perceived to be a challenge. “Fair princess, I will extract you from your lofty prison, for I am Knight Aurumate, and rescuing captured maidens is what I do.”

Princess laughed a hearty, sarcastic laugh that ended with an unbecoming snort. “You can not rescue me, good knight, for I am locked up here as tight as a beetle’s asshole. The spiral staircase leading to my room is fraught with dangers, including an immortal skeleton warrior, a three-headed dragon who breathes fire, ice, and acid from its corresponding heads, and a mystical chasm that looks like it can be leaped but which is always just wide enough to be impassable. And, if you get through those trials–which no one ever has–you will have to answer three riddles from the four-sided pyramid outside my door. The penalty for answering incorrectly is instant death, though I can’t confirm that since none have ever reached the four-sided pyramid.”

Knight Aurumate’s grin widened even more so that it looked almost like a hysterical grimace. “Nonetheless, fair princess, I shall best these trials and arrive at your door in short order for your rescue. Is there any aid you can give me, your humble servant?”

Princess perked up a bit. No one had tried to rescue her in ages, for so long that she’d entirely given up on the possibility. But this brave knight, this handsome Knight Aurumate seemed like he could fit the bill. And what would be the harm in trying? She began to feel something she had not felt since before she was imprisoned: Princess felt hope. And, braced by this hope, Princess touched the charm that hung on a thin necklace, an iron key. After stroking the cool metal for a few moments, she abruptly snatched it off her neck and tossed it down to the knight.

“This key will open the door to my room, dear knight.” said Princess, “That is my only copy, so you had better make good on your promise!” Knight Aurumate bowed graciously at the waist and went to open the door at the base of the Great Spire. It pushed open easily, which caused the amassing crowd to issue a collective gasp: no one had ever tried that before. Knight Aurumate turned to the crowd and gave a friendly wave, then slipped into the doorway and vanished into the darkness. The door of the Great Spire stayed open, but none of Tempus’ citizens would go near the doorway.

No one could see it, but Knight Aurumate defeated the immortal skeleton warrior near the bottom of the tower’s spiral staircase. A little further up, he sliced the necks of the three-headed dragon before any of them could exhale. Almost immediately after that, he came to the mystical chasm which looked to be a couple of feet wide but was deceptively wider. Knight Aurumate crossed the chasm with ease. After a few more stairs, he found himself at the four-sided pyramid, a waist-high glowing structure just outside the heavy iron door which held Princess captive in the Great Spire. The four-sided pyramid asked three riddles–very difficult ones, mind you, ones that you’ve never heard and which you certainly couldn’t answer–and Knight Aurumate answered them correctly. The four-sided pyramid stopped glowing and seemed to power down, allowing the knight to approach the door unmolested.

Knight Aurumate proudly strode to the door. “I am here, fair maiden, to rescue you!” He fumbled for the key in his satchel and went to open the lock. However, he couldn’t find a keyhole in its usual place under the door handle. Knight Aurumate looked on the hinged side of the door, but there was no keyhole there, either. He searched the entire face of the door looking for a lock while Princess urged him to hurry from behind the iron slab. Knight Aurumate felt all over the door, then began feeling in the jambs for some sort of secret latch or hole. After several minutes, he despaired and called out to Princess: “Maiden, I am at the door but I cannot find the keyhole. How do I unlock the door?”

“Oh,” replied Princess, thoughtfully, “you can’t. It’s locked from the inside.”

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