In A Flash: The Prince and the Unicorn

When the Prince of the Seventh Sea and the Lands Beyond the Far Isthmus of Shadows was born, people throughout the realm celebrated. The feasts and celebrations lasted eight days, for the King was considered one of the wisest to ever to rule in those lands, and the people knew that he would raise a son who was just and fair. The King and Queen wept upon seeing the child for the first time, for they had suffered many tribulations in their efforts to have children and they had never seen a baby so beautiful.

That beautiful baby grew into a handsome youth, whose smile seemed to set the birds in the trees to song and make calm the wildest of beasts. He was a brilliant student, and his father spared no expense in bringing tutors from beyond the far reaches of the kingdom, so that the Prince might learn all there was to know of the world. As he grew older, the Prince also became renowned for his exploits. He ran the fastest, climbed the highest, leapt the farthest, and, in general, bested all his companions in whatever game they played.

All in all, the Prince seemed extraordinary, with everyone agreeing that he possessed all the necessary abilities to be a fine King.

When he came of age, his father told him it was time to find a bride and said he could choose any woman in the land. Word was sent out across the realm, even into the depths of the Isthmus of Shadows, that the Prince would receive any lady who would consent to be his wife.

The response from all the subjects in the land was overwhelming. Everyone, whether high or low born, thought their daughter the most beautiful, suitable woman for the perfect prince. They set out for the capital, by carriage, horseback or on foot, no matter how arduous or expensive the journey might be, all determined to stand before the Prince and be found worthy of his love. They lined up by the thousands, from the great halls of the palace down the streets of the city and out the city walls, waiting days upon days for their opportunity.

The Prince received them all, sparing no time for any of his other pursuits, for he understood the sacrifices so many had made to see him. For every woman that curtsied before him he had a kind word and a smile, sometimes even a joke. His questions were always pertinent, but never too inquiring, the conversations neither too long, nor too short. He had a gift for setting all the women at ease and sending them away without disappointment, even if they had failed in their quest.

And fail they did. Woman after woman came before him, and woman after woman he sent away. The King began to grow worried. He went to his son and declared, “All the women of the land have come before you and you find them all lacking. The most beautiful, the most intelligent, the most accomplished woman, you have sent them all away.”

“I have not seen the woman I will marry,” the Prince said.

“What can you possibly be looking for? You have seen all the realm has to offer.”

“I don’t know,” the Prince said. “All I know is that I haven’t seen her yet. When I do, I know she will be the one I will marry.”

The King was exasperated, but he said no more. He understood what his son was looking for and he did not have the heart to tell him he would not be able to find it. For it was perfection itself that he sought. It was impossible, but the King knew he would have to learn that for himself.

But the Prince continued to send women away, finding all of them lacking for one reason or another. Unrest began to grow in the capital and across the kingdom, as the populace began to wonder why their Prince should find fault in all of their daughters. The King and Queen pleaded for patience, even as they demanded that their son choose a wife before the people turned against them.

“When I see her I will know,” was all he would say.

As the days went on, the lines finally began to dwindle, until some days there were only one or two women for the Prince to see, or none at all. The King became desperate, telling his son that he should choose from one of the women he had already seen. “There are so many fine ladies that you have seen, surely one of them is worthy to be your wife.”

The Prince would not be dissuaded though. “I will know her when I see her.”

One day, as evening came on and the gates of the city were about to be locked, a woman arrived and asked to see the Prince. There had been no women to see him for two days and it took some time for the courtiers to locate him in the palace and bring him to the great hall so he could receive this claimant. The Prince was weary after a day of jousting and he almost had the courtiers tell the woman to return the next day, that he was too tired to receive her. But he decided that would be impolite and so he summoned what energy remained to him and went to receive her.

As soon as he laid eyes upon her, the Prince knew she was the woman he would marry. “My lady,” he said. “You are enchanting.”

She curtsied gravely before him. “You are as well, my lord.” She glanced around the great hall with some curiosity.

“May I ask where you are from, my lady?” The Prince could barely find the words to say. His face reddened.

“I come from a place beyond the mountains, beyond the sea and beyond the isthmus.”

“You are not of this realm? What has brought you here?”

The woman considered the Prince and he felt the smallest person in the world. “I wanted to see what it was like to stand before a Prince in a palace such as this.”

The Prince was taken aback at her answer, but he did not dwell on it long, so overwhelming was his passion for this impossibly beautiful woman. “My lady, as I am sure you know, I have been seeking a wife. All the women of these lands have been attending to me so that I might choose one of them to be my bride. Having set eyes upon you, I cannot imagine wedding another. Will you do me the honor of being my wife?”

The woman considered his request for a moment, looking somewhat confused. “I cannot,” she said. “I cannot stay among you.”

The Prince was wounded deeply, but he covered his hurt as best he could. “I am sorry to hear it, my lady. Perhaps I can convince you to remain with us here awhile. I hope you will enjoy our hospitality.”

To the Prince’s relief, the woman agreed and quarters were found for her. The Prince spent the next days wooing her, attempting to dazzle her with feats of wit and strength, though nothing seemed to impress her. The woman seemed utterly mystified by his entreaties and indifferent to his feats. The Prince was left heartbroken and inconsolable. Nothing the King or Queen said could rally his spirits.

The Prince was contemplating throwing himself before the woman once more, declaring his undying affection and begging her to be his wife, when word came she had disappeared. He swore immediately that he would not rest until he had found her. He rode across the realm, beyond the mountains, beyond the sea and beyond the isthmus. Once there, he found the lands utterly empty of people and set off into a forest in the hopes of locating anyone who might tell him where the woman who had so possessed might be.

In a clearing in the forest he came across a unicorn, a beast long thought to be myth. But here it was, staring directly at him. Something about its gaze made him pause and he stared back at it, and was filled with the certainty that somehow this unicorn was the beauty who had called upon him in the palace. He got down from his horse and knelt before the creature and said, “I beg of you, come with me and be my wife. I will do whatever to make you happy.”

The unicorn did not say anything, but still the Prince came to know its answer. He nodded, tears stinging his eyes, and rode home. Though the King and Queen begged him to reconsider the Prince never married, for he was convinced no woman in the land could match the one who had been a unicorn. Even after his parents died and he came to the throne, Prince refused to marry any woman and he bore no children. He ruled as wisely and justly as his father had, but after he died the land fell to ruin.

In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…

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