Her breathing came shallow, in fits and bursts. She couldn’t see anymore, her hands scraping rocks and trees, their surfaces ripping into her, making her bleed. Her hair caught on branches, her feet felt far away and more like useless stubs than a mode of transport attached to her body.
Must get away, must get away, the rhythm of everything seemed to throb. From What? A treacherous part of her asked. ‘Danger, Danger, Danger,’ she replied, almost gasping the words out loud. From What? The perpetual question came back.
Daisy Mae opened her eyes and smiled, ready to greet the day. The normal assortment of birds and other forest creatures serenaded her from her windowsill. Today? Today she would pick flowers, play in the sunshine, be a princess in the brightly lit forest. She would frolic and sing and wait. Always wait. Stay in her tower made of trees and flowers and cute little animals. And fear. And wait.
For What? The Voice was not to be ignored. Her feet slowed, all their leagues from her body. The stinging from her cuts came into sharper focus. Why was she running? She had almost forgotten. The cold, pain, and darkness of the woodland cave were dimming her memory. From What?
‘I was picking flowers,’ she began, and stopped.
Daisy Mae was a King’s daughter, and children are the biggest commodity in the kingdom. Subjects must be subjected to something. And so things went the usual way: a curse, a bargain, an exile, and waiting, waiting, for a savior in white armor. What would he look like? ‘Handsome of course,’ her keepers always answered. All princes are. Inbred beauty breeds more beauty, if not always brains. And who really minds an extra finger or two? When would he come? Someday, the echo always answered: someday, waiting…waiting.
So she went to pick flowers. It was one of the few chores fit for a princess, plucking the beauty from the earth. She wandered down the paths she trod daily, habitually. A bird swooped down and sat in her path.
“Where are you going dear princess?” It asked. It was bright blue.
“To pick flowers, pretty bird,” She answered.
“What are you waiting for?” The bird asked. Its voice sounded strangely familiar.
“For my prince,” She answered unthinkingly.
“Why are you afraid?” It once again enquired.
“I do not know,” She replied, now beginning to be troubled with ruby red pursed lips.
“From What?” The bird flew away.
The prince pulled up his horse in a puff of dirt, rocks tinkling down the hillside. A princess is waiting, he thought. Ride, ride, ride. Where to? For a moment the prince thought his horse had spoken. Where are you going? And why? The Voice came again, as though it had been echoing inside. In the distance, a bright blue bird topped the trees.
‘I go to the princess,’ he replied, unable to answer or to contemplate the why?
The cave was dark and damp, with water dripping slowly down the walls. And silent. Oppressively silent. Even her breathing, lending puffs of frost to the air, echoed gently in the black shiny hallows. She looked around, leaning on the smooth chilly rock behind her, and tried to assess the situation calmly. She had been behaving like a ninny, running to and fro, and from What? ‘Ugh! I don’t KNOW!’ she mentally yelled, her breath coming harder again. Her limbs were numb but her brain was starting to catch up. ‘I wandered off the path…there was a bird, he made me sad…’
And then? Gah! There was always an empty space in her memory whenever anything exciting happened. ‘I was waiting!’ She almost started crying at the pure frustration. ‘I was waiting for him – so where is he? I need him now! Where are my keepers? Where am I going? Why? Why? Why?’
Daisy Mae looked back at the little house and rolled her eyes. She loved her keepers, but fairies are just a little hard to understand sometimes. Their rules and religion were not like hers. They could be savage and harsh just as quickly as they boiled a pot of tea to comfort her. And she could not help but feel that they might resent it, having to look after her, all because her mother was good to their people. All on orders from their king, born of a different land. Their powers did not work as well here; they had to do some things by hand. And they were fairies. She sighed. These were not thoughts she was supposed to be capable of. She would never get rescued like this. Flowers and singing and shiny things…well into the woods she would go.
The prince shook his head, hard. He hated when his Voice interrupted his day. No, he preferred to ride hard to the next inn, get fairly plastered, and pretend that all of this wasn’t real. That there would never be another dragon, that he owned a farm, that the next princess would be the One – the One he wouldn’t make trade tower for tower, that she would read and be able to think for herself. But they never came, and he never rescued the right girl. Unfortunately, after you rescue one, they are yours to keep. His father was getting impatient for him to find one that he wouldn’t leave in a week – grandchildren were always a concern. An heir…and there was the fact that they were running out of room in the castle. All those princesses had a lot of baggage.
He shook his head again and rode towards the blue bird at a gentle pace, having nothing better to do on a day when the sky opened up above.
She turned slowly in a circle now, taking stock of everything that she could see. Light, light, light became her new mantra – it was desperately needed. She had this overwhelming sense of foreboding and it became a severe physical effort to keep her legs in place, to stop herself from regaining the perpetual motion that she knew instinctively would kill her. What was that up ahead? A foggy patch. It’s me, said the Voice. Ungrammatically. And now what?
Daisy Mae started skipping lightly over the paths strewn with rocks in the woods. She would act carefree, stop thinking those thoughts, and maybe, just maybe, she would become…rescue-able. She wrinkled her nose at the thought. Singing softly under her breath, a silly childlike song about a bright blue bird, she wandered into the growing darkness to look for the prettiest flowers in the forest. Seeing a patch of lilies beyond the confines of the path, she stopped. ‘This is Danger,’ she thought. But then with a tiny shake of her head, she pushed that word aside. She was a princess, for goodness’ sake! If her prince were ever going to come she would have to act like the typical dumb blonde and put herself off the path from time to time.
So Daisy Mae wandered, deliberately thoughtless off of the path (something anyone knows will always bring a wolf) and went to the flowers, blue as the bird and effervescent, shining brilliantly in the low light. It was as though they were made by her fairy keepers.
She tried to breathe evenly, squinting in the dark and the damp at the fog in front of her. ‘Who?’ She asked, unsure if she was walking into greater danger. Gone was the feeling of needing to be rescued. Here was survival, here was instinct. Here was a stronger force than marriage or white armor.
I, the Voice replied. You, it continued. She pursed her lips again but her feet seemed to move of their own accord, frozen into compliance, thinking only of light. She moved toward it, though somehow she never seemed to make any progress. Slowly the mantra returned, making her keep a solid pace, gaining and losing sight… always moving, no longer waiting, but for the first time trying.
The prince’s heart started to pick up again, his mood lifting from dark thoughts about empty princesses and overbearing fathers. Riding was something he loved to do, the horse made him feel alive. And so he entered a darker part of the forest with the flowers all around him casting a blue glow. He had nothing but his own strength to make him forge onward, through strange colors and sounds.
There was a princess here, he thought – then pulled up with a jerk again. Where did that come from? And a far away laugh, deep and rolling, seemed to answer him. ‘A princess? But where?’ He almost sighed out loud (something royals never did), ‘Not another one.’
Oh but this one is different. She is the One. Ugh! Not that damned Voice again. He drew his sword, turning this way and that. But…your horse won’t fit, highness. Huh?
Keep moving; keep walking, just a little farther… she would convince herself again and again. Far away from this place she laughed at her pep talks to herself. But this cave seemed to undo everything humorous, or even human. Base emotion was king here, only thoughts and numbness and the Voice.
‘Where did you go?’ She asked, her mind-voice shaking a little, making her cringe.
I am here always, the reply came, a little distant, making her trot faster into the blindness of the caves. The smooth rocks further on no longer cut her but guided her and everything seemed to move itself so that her way was unblocked, unmarred again. ‘Please, wait!’ She cried, fully out loud this time and gasped with the echo that bounded around her. A small chuckle answered her, like leaves rustle in the woods. That is your job, princess.
Ok, so what was this Voice talking about? Should he listen? Was he going crazy? Probably, he thought with a real sigh this time. Oh well, it was bound to happen at some point – his father had married his half-sister for crying out loud. He began to look around him in earnest, slowly sliding down from his saddle. All right, where could he go that his horse wouldn’t fit? He started walking down the path, startled at how uneven it was, and gave his horse a quick pat on the neck for not complaining or stumbling the entire way.
That blue glow…what was it? The horse bent its neck to sniff a flower, but the prince jerked it away, feeling fear touch him. It was an almost tangible thing here and he wanted to run. To ride, far away. ‘But I am a Prince!’ He shouted out loud, a challenge. It was always good to yell first and think second, people think you are brave that way. The prince was indignant at the fear – that was not part of his job description. Dragons, thorns, evil stepmothers, bring it on. He would be damned if a blue flower would…was that a cave?
Almost, almost, almost. The Voice, (or was it her own) chanted repeatedly. It could have been an echo, as it sounded all around her, seeming to beat on her flesh, raising goose-bumps again. She was warm now, she realized with a start, and moving quite comfortably. Her feet – she could feel them – and as she peered up ahead, the haze of fog started to glow brighter and turned just a little blue. ‘Yes!’ She thought, elated, and increased her pace. Almost, almost, almost. ‘Almost there,’ she whispered, almost done waiting, almost safe, almost home, almost me.
It was a cave! Daisy Mae thought, and the prettiest flowers she had ever seen were growing in its mouth. Well then, she skipped toward them, pushing away the thoughts crowding in. It was as though her mind was no longer her own, as though one Voice broke through the many… Yes, my child, go…
She entered the cave, and fear broke over her. She looked behind her, slowly, not wanting to see, and screamed. RUN!
Now she could see an opening, a way out, and she broke into a delicate run, lengthening her stride, feeling encouraged by the haze and the echo and her thoughts all around her. She was warm; she was almost there.
And she escaped into the forest, into a clearing that was almost blindingly blue – a horse whinnied nearby. She laughed, a brilliant laugh, charming and spellbinding, a princess’ laugh. She had done it! She was the first princess in the history of the world to save herself. The Voice laughed with her, and all seemed right.
“Hello?” a voice said uncertainly.
‘Go away, Voice,’ she thought sternly, wanting to stay forever in this moment.
“Are you all right?” It came again, and this time it seemed male, less pounding, less omniscient. It was a prince.
She gasped. Crap! A prince, and just when she didn’t need one anymore. She stood staring at him, realizing for the first time that she must look like a crazy woman. She was, after all, dancing alone in a clearing with torn clothes and tussled hair. And that blue glow…was he handsome? Was that a white horse?
“Oh. Hello…” she replied.
Story written in 2011 in roughly 15 minutes as an addendum to Senior Independent Study.