The legendary tale begins with a simple cliché: Once upon a time…
When the world was weak and susceptible to evil, one man rose, and attained all the power that evil could provide. His power was swift and merciless. The fevering hordes of subjects that infested his world were pests to him. He hated them all for everything they were or thought they could be. Except for one. One small insignificant girl of dark hair and frail frame caught his eye. Her skin was a pale white but her eyes seeped the darkest black which he could not help but notice and be enveloped whenever he spotted them, for his heart was just as dark. He would watch her for hours in the market on the city streets below from his godly perch, unlooked upon by anyone still clinging to their heads. She worked with her father every day bringing in fresh fruits and vegetables from their farm outside the city.
“This would not do,” he would say every day. “Someone like her should be at my side ruling the world from on high.” But when she would leave at days end, he would only watch her go, never muttering a word or command form his tiny dark lips, for he knew not how to talk to her.
A year passed sitting on his cold stone perch watching the tiny girl. The world around had become lax in its stranglehold by his reign. He would wave off executions; sometimes even unnoticing signing dismissals from the gallows in favor of continuing his watch. She was all he could think about at night when he tossed and turned in his lonely bed trying to think of words to gesture to her. One day a man approached the girl in the market, and they struck up a conversation. He was older by about twenty years and even upon his perch he could see the gleam in his eyes at her beauty. The man talked to her father some and then left. Watching from above he could only clench his fists tight as his eyes filled with a rage he had not felt fully for some time now. He continued to look down on her the rest of the day, listening to her sweet voice as she spoke so kindly to all that came near, and soon he had forgotten all about the man from earlier. That night he continued to toss and turn, his bed growing ever larger every night. He needed to words that would not come to him. He had to find them. That night a chill air blew through the town.
The next day as he sat overlooking the market awaiting the girl’s arrival he watched patiently as local vendors set up shop below, but the girl and her father never showed. He was infuriated.
“Where was she? He asked aloud until he was yelling it below, though no one dared look up to him. “Tell me where she is! I demand it!” He shouted in anger.
One set of shallow eyes peeked up to him and answered, “She has grown ill my lord. The chill has taken to her lungs.”
He knew this man. It was the man from yesterday that had spoken to her in the market with that gleam in his eye. The rage boiled within him.
“How do you know this? You should not have ever looked at her; I’ll see you hanged in the court for all to see!” And then something strange occurred to him. “How is it that you knew of whom I spoke?” He said much more calmly.
“My lord, you have sat above us every day for over a year watching, but only on the lady and her father. It is hard not to notice such things. And I, I am the town doctor. I have watched over her for the years since she was born into this world. I have looked upon her as my own daughter, as mine was lost long ago to me to disease. I love her only as I would kin.” He spoke assertively to the man above him.
He felt all the rage drain from his face. He could feel the cold air brush against his face and he made his way down from his vantage point to meet the man’s eyes who had dared speak to him as an equal.
“My love is sick?” He asked. The word left his lips without thought and now he felt open and vulnerable. He had never said such a thing before.
“She has been sick her whole life, only now is it catching up to her.”
The townspeople had stopped moving and were now all trying to steal glances their way. He noticed, but didn’t really care, at least, not right now.
“Take me to her peasant.” He stared into the doctor’s eyes for what seemed to be too long until he spoke one last word before they set off down the road. “Please.”
The father was speechless and afraid when the two came through the door. He could say nothing and tried to look away.
“What is wrong with her?”
The doctor noticing the father’s inability to answer spoke instead. “She has the disease. The same that took my child from me. I thought I had cured it as I had made it my life so that no one else would ever succumb to such a dreadful thing as mine had. But I have only prolonged the inevitable.”
“Who is that other voice doctor?” The gentle voice silenced the breath from the dark man. He had never been this close before and he could feel his legs shaking beneath him.
“She is blind now lord. She can not see you, and having never heard your voice, she does not know you by it.”
“It is probably best that way.” He waved the doctor down as he approached her bedside, kneeling to look at her, frail though she was, but only beautiful to him. His chest clenched and he searched for words he had spent so many nights trying to find, but they did not come.
“Who are you sir. Your voice sounds sweet, I would hear it some more if I could.”
“I…” He stammered. “I am just someone who has seen you once and never known anyone the like.”
Her pale cheeks flushed with a slight hint of red for a second and then faded. “Well, your voice is most pleasing kind sir. I am sorry you have come to see me like this and that I can not see you as well.”
Something came over him that he did not understand until some time later, but he reached for her hand and clutched it securely. “My lady. To gaze upon you even like this, there is no comparison. I have only ever seen you from afar, and I have never known you to be as such you are.”
She was speechless, the smile gone, only a look of surprise upon her face. A stream of tears trickled down her pale cheeks.
The man saw her tears. “My lady, please, I did not mean to make you cry. Have I said something wrong?”
“No…no. No one has ever spoken such beautiful words to me before, forgive me for being taken to tears, they are not of any wrong doing of yours.” She spoke softly.
The feeling of her hand in his made him feel warmth inside his chest that he didn’t really understand, but that he liked. Why hadn’t he spoken to her before he pondered? This should have been done long ago. Perhaps then so much time wouldn’t have been wasted wondering, or sleeping so restlessly.
His vision started to blur, and he started wondering if someone had poisoned him, but then he rubbed his eye and saw the same liquid flowing from his eyes that were flowing from the girls. He was crying. He didn’t know why or how, but he was, and he knew that something had to be done.
“My lady. I can not have you die. Not if there is anything that can be done. Can there be anything that I might do for you now? Is there anything this body can achieve that yours may live still longer?”
“Good sir, this life of mine has been short yes, but pleasant. I’ll not want for anything in the end of things, though I am pleased to have met you. I would like to have seen your face, but that it can not be helped, is only timing. I can imagine just the same, and will be none happier for anything different.” She cried through her smiles, and felt his face to more closely understand his features.
(Now here is where the story can be read as one of two ways.)
*Ending 1 is a far more miserable, deceptive ending which I personally love in a ‘moral of the story’ sort of way.
*Ending 2 is more of a happy ending per say. Skip down towards the bottom if you want the second ending.
(Either way, I give you your choice, but feel free to read them both if you have the time.)
“Ahem.” Came the clearing of the doctor’s throat from behind them. “My dear, there is something that can be done still. Have you forgotten?”
She looked uncertain, and wrinkled her brow. “Doctor, I…I don’t believe it decent of me to even suggest such…”
“But there is something. This man has offered and we would be shameful for refusing such a request.” The father said, looking up, but still not directly at the dark man.
The man’s dark eyes brightened. “Yes, indeed good people. Tell me what there is that may still be done. There is nothing that can not be attained by me; I’ll get anything that is needed only tell me quickly that I may speak more to her yet.”
“No good sir. Too much should never be asked of anyone, especially strangers.” She said still looking uncertain.
“My lady, I would be a fool to not admit it now, but I believe that I love you. It is something that I have never truly felt before, but I know it to be true still. I must do this, whatever it is.”
“Sir. Some many miles from here on a flat high grass field grows a very special herb, one I have long since run out of. It is protected by the wild beasts of that terrain, and none, even those in dire need, dare go any more for none have returned in some time. It is said that the beasts have migrated over the years, and that this herb is a delicacy to them. It is so revered by them that each of them protects it at the costs of their lives, often fighting amongst themselves to have some for their own. It is most perilous, but the herb is quintessential to the medication I’ve devised since my daughters death.”
“Then there is no time. I will be gone at once to fetch this herb. I’ll take a team of the best men with me, and I will return soon. Doctor, if you would inform me further as to its exact location as we make our way back to the city, it would be most helpful. My lady. I will return soon with this herb, please rest, and don’t give up hope. I promise I will be most quick about this.”
“Oh please sir, be quick, she’s all I have left now since her mother died some years ago.” The father spoke while staring at the ground.
“Not to worry, I will only be as long as the journey takes.”
The dark man released the lady’s frail hand and quickly made his way out of the cottage with the doctor in tow. With the location known, he was off on horse with a team of men as that night fell.
The journey took nearly four weeks, at which two men had already been lost. The dark man had grown weary at travel but kept going at the thought of his love’s life being spared. He hoped that he was not too late already.
That day they finally reached their destination. The field was vast and open. Nothing stirred though and the man and his team were relieved at the thought of a quick extraction. They located the herb quickly towards the center of a small hill, and stuffed a satchel full before heading away from the field. But they did not make it to the forests surrounding the area before the beasts were upon them. They were more vicious than any beasts they had ever seen. The men were quickly taken by them until only the dark man was left clutching the satchel as he shook in fear. He could only think of the girl whom he had come here for, dying if not already dead. He closed his eyes and waited, apologizing to the air around him for failing.
The kingdom had grown calm and fruitful. Though there was no direct leadership in the land, small groups had formed to guide the others to success. The people were finally happy and feeling free for the first times in a long time. The streets were busy with the vendors as usual, and the father was at work selling goods.
“Hello good friend. How is your morning today?” The doctor said to the man with a wide smile upon his face.
“All is well, and sales are most well.” He chuckled a little.
“Excellent. And your daughter?”
“Father, I told you to watch the apples, they have fallen to the ground and gotten dirty.” She said popping up from below the stand.
“Dear girl, how is this fine day treating you?” The doctor asked with an even wider smile.
“Fine enough sir. If only father would listen to me things would be even better.”
“Now dear, how can I listen when we now live in such a wonderfully peaceful world? I no longer even have my stomach problems. Not since that dreadful man left all our lives.”
“Father please, you know I wish not to speak of that anymore.”
“Dear, it is thanks to you that we are all so happy. Had it not been for you he would have never gone on that fool journey.”
“Alright, alright. I won’t bring it up anymore today, no matter how it makes me smile.”
Two years passed in peace throughout the kingdom. People had risen to power over the people by the people themselves. All was as they had made it, and to them it was good.
One day as the father and his daughter tended the market stand a despicable looking wretch, dirty, and most lost looking passed by, eyeing the fruit stand with a most hungry look. The young girl took pity on him and fed him with a few pieces of fruit and vegetables from the stand, but the man just stood in front of her, looking very lost.
“Is there anything else I can help you with sir? Do you need directions to anywhere?” She asked in her gentle caring voice.
The man just stood still, holding the fruit in his dirty hands and he said nothing. After a while he trailed off to a corner not far away and watched the girl and her father for the rest of the day. When night came the girl and her father packed up, and went home, passing the man in the corner.
The next day, they again passed the man still in the same corner, with the same fruit and vegetables she had given him the day before, uneaten. Throughout the day, he would continue to watch them, unmoving, and still looking lost. Around midday, the girl again approached him.
“Sir? Is there something I can do for you? You look troubled.”
But the man just sat, still staring beyond her at the market stand.
“Really, it wouldn’t be a bother. Is there anything we can do to help you, my father is an excellent reader of maps and could show you the way to most anywhere.”
Still looking beyond her, he spoke, “Some many miles from here on a flat high grass field grows a very special herb, one I had long since run out of. It is protected by the wild beasts of that terrain, and none, even those in dire need, dare go any more for none have returned in some time.”
Her hands were in front of her mouth and she looked most shocked. Some years ago these exact words had been spoken. She remembered as it was she that was to speak them to a man in hopes he would venture far away never to return. And here these words were again, coming from the mouth of some street urchin. A lost soul.
“Until today.” He said as he reached into his tattered clothing and pulled a small pouch out extending it towards the young girl.
Still shocked she took the pouch into her hand and opened it. Inside was a long since dried piece of the very herb from the grassy field on the hill. She looked at him again, but still he continued to look beyond her at the stand.
Tears were welling up in her eyes and her insides felt on the verge of exploding. With the first tear hitting the ground she fell to her knees and wrapped her arms around him and continued to sob.
“I thought you were dead. I thought for sure I had sent you to die.” She said still holding the disgusting man. “Please. Once more. Speak those words you spoke to me those years ago. I have since heard any as pleasing and can wait no longer to hear them again.”
The man just sat though, continuing his gaze forward, never looking her way.
“Sir?” She said hoping to grab his attention.
He finally looked her way, his dark eyes sadly looking upon her for the first time. And when he spoke, everything within her broke with a single word.
“Why?” He said.
She fell to the ground crying even more. “My father…everyone…they hated you. They wanted freedom. They saw how you looked at me and knew I could get you to do anything. They told me to send you to a place no man had ever come back from. But I couldn’t. I was the one that was supposed to tell you where to go, but when you spoke to me with such words as you did, I lost purpose. I couldn’t bring myself to send you away, but my father and the doctor stepped in and spoke for me, and before I could change anything, you had gone. I thought you had died, and without ever being told back what you had told me. You see, from that day, I too have l…”
“The girl that those herbs are for died years ago. I was too slow in my duty to bring them back, but I promised, and here now I have come to deliver upon that promise. Now that I have fulfilled that, I will go. My duty here is complete, and my life as I once knew it is now over. A new life awaits me somewhere, but here it does no longer. Goodbye girl, please give those herbs to the town doctor, he may need them again someday, even if his daughter did not ever truly perish those many years ago.”
“You knew? You knew and still you left? Why?”
“Because once I loved someone and vowed to do anything for them. The herbs are not actually medicinal, rather a spice. Dried for two years, the spice is finally ready. I have kept my promise as best I can and now I’ll go. Good day girl.” He pulled himself up to his feet and made his way slowly out of town, a failing limp in his gate.
The girl watched as he slowly disappeared from view, crying while holding the small pouch. She had wanted to say that she had loved him, that his words truly were unique, and that she had not stopped thinking of him since he left that day years ago. But now he was gone, and she could not bring herself to follow, for she had killed him, even if his body still roamed the earth.
“My lady, please. I can’t just sit here and watch you pass. Anything, anything at all,” The dark man pleaded.
“Sir, I would have you smile. This face I feel seems to have never known a smile, I can feel it here at the corners of your mouth. Happiness is fleeting in this world and I would have you find some.”
“But lady, surely there is something more…”
“Good sir, I have asked of you my request. Can you not keep it? Should I have not asked?”
“No. Certainly. I will do as you ask, as best I can. Only I must ask a favor in return.”
Curious, she asked, “What would you ask of one such as me. I’m afraid I might not be capable of much, but I’ll do as I can.”
“Let me stay by your side. As you cannot see, let me be your eyes. If you need water, let me be your legs and arms to get it for you. And if you should need anything else, I would be here for that as well.”
Tears poured down her cheeks as she nodded her head in a most appreciative yes. They held each other’s hands far into the night until she fell asleep. The dark man sat all night by her side just watching her sleep, though he was still unable to sleep himself, he felt the bed at home was no longer so empty.
Weeks went by as the girl’s condition worsened steadily, and still the dark man stood by her side and did as he had asked. The last night they had together she had grown so very weak, unable to even raise her arms, so the dark man took her hand and pressed it to his mouth. He was smiling. He had finally learned to smile as she fell asleep never to wake again.
Throughout the next year of the dark man’s life, he tended to his people. His ways had changed, and he repented to the people for forgiveness, though he didn’t expect any. He worked hard to improve the lives of those within his empire until finally relinquishing his rule handing it back to the people. He made his way to a small country home where he spent the rest of his days as a simple farmer. At night he slept as if he weren’t alone, for although he was, something inside didn’t feel as empty as before. When the spring trades brought about the lively trade markets he would visit the father and speak as equals. But one spring he did not come, and when the father and the doctor visited they found the dark man had faded in his sleep, a smile upon his face.