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The Lonely Prince

There was once a beautiful prince who was very lonely. He would often stand on the castle ramparts and look down at the young people playing in the square and sigh. He sometimes wished that he wasn't a prince, but he was, and that was that, as the Lord High Chamberlain was wont to say.

There was a time when differences didn't seem to matter, but somehow along the way, other children in the royal academy found it awkward to be in the his company and either made flimsy excuses and left or said as little as possible to him.

When others looked at him, they saw only a prince, but when he looked in the mirror, he saw only a stranger. 'Who am I?' He kept asking himself. 'What does being a prince mean to me?' He tried asking some of the courtiers, but they just did not understand. Even the gruff king seemed to have forgotten what it was like to be a prince and would tell him to 'take responsibility', whatever that meant.

He wondered if he was ugly or something. The way others behaved made him feel ugly, and so he started to act that way, dressing clumsily and eating gluttonously. His thoughts grew ugly too, as he blamed others for his own shortcomings. And in blind compensation for an aching sense of lack, he boldly took whatever he wanted and gave nothing in return.

With nobody he could call a friend, he took to writing. By various means he got several pen-friends in distant cities and, taking on various personas, he explored what it was like to talk with others as if you were not yourself. This solitary scribing kept him sane for a while, but it was not here and eventually confused him more as he became increasingly lost in imaginings.

One day, however, fate took a hand and something happened that changed him again.

He enjoyed sailing with the academy, which had several tall ships in which he could climb a mast or stand in the bow, gloriously alone with nature. On one such trip, a terrible storm blew up and a great wave ripped away the mainmast, which smashed through the hull. The boat started to sink and the prince, clinging to the bow rail and scared out of his wits, felt sure he was going to die, a life wasted, unfulfilled, forgotten...

He was literally dragged back to the present by an old sailor and hurried to a lifeboat with a number of his classmates. The last they saw of the ship as they clung to their seats was it disappearing under another massive wave.

By the skill of the hoary sailor who had gone with them, they somehow survived the storm, and after a couple of days later they spotted a small island. Making beachfall, the sailor declared they must find food, water and shelter. On the boat, the prince had fallen silent whilst others wailed and were sick. He had nearly died! Now, determined to play his part, he quietly set to, gathering wood for a fire. Some followed the sailor's instructions whilst others sat huddled on the beach, not talking. After his work, the prince went and sat next to these, asking gently after them. His correspondence had taught him some patience and a couple spoke a few words, but he got precious little response.

The following day, the sailor declared the need to get their bearings and the prince volunteered to climb the island's peak to look for land and ships. Two others joined him and they set out on the arduous climb. Before long his back was aching and his feet were sore, but he said nothing, only looking to the others in case they were uncomfortable too. Conversation, initially stilted, grew as they helped one another through undergrowth and over rocks, and by the time they reached the summit, the prince was feeling a warmth inside that he had not felt for a long time. The view was spectacular but revealed little but endless ocean in all directions. The prince spotted a large bay to the north of the small cove where they had landed and they set off down the hill to explore it. In the bay they found an abandoned but serviceable hut. They were all exhausted by now so the prince left the other two there whilst he tramped wearily around the coast to fetch the rest of the party.

Over the coming weeks, they built a serviceable home and explored further, finding fruit and wild boar. After palace luxury, the prince found it hard, but stoically kept working to sustain the group. If something needed doing he would quietly work on it. When people got desperate, he listened and distracted them from their woes with games and laughter. When a cornered boar attacked, he lept to the rescue. Slowly, one by one, he earned trust and made friends with strangers he had known for so long.

And so they survived, foraging and exploring until one day a ship was spotted, signal fires were lit and they were rescued.

Back at the castle a lean and confident prince sprung up the steps to greet his delighted and amazed parents. Introducing his awed friends, he told gravely of how each had contributed to their survival and return. As the queen fussed with many questions, the king said little. The prince looked over at him and his father nodded and beamed with pride. Now my son, he thought, you are ready.

 

***

 

~by David Straker~

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