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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2318926-Shadows
Rated: E · Short Story · Fantasy · #2318926
A fairytale of a princess and an overprotective king
Twelve-year-old Princess Rosalie sat by her bedroom window, studying the fine details of a trompe l'oeil mural her father had recently commissioned. King Leon kept a watchful eye on her as he signed papers.

Rosalie yawned and stretched, extending her gaze down to the castle courtyard below.

"Who is that strange lady, Papa?"

King Leon leaned out, peering at the woman approaching on a white horse.

"Good heavens," he gasped. "It's my sister, Lady Gladys! I haven't seen her in twenty years."

The king rushed downstairs, out into the courtyard to meet her.

"Gladys! You're alive!"

She swung off of her horse. They embraced.

"I'm glad to see you looking so well, Leon." She put her hands on his shoulders and examined him closely.

"Where have you been all these years?" He said, his voice shaking. "You were lost behind enemy lines when the war broke out—I never thought I'd see you again! Come, meet my daughter Rosalie."

"What a splendid room!" Lady Gladys exclaimed when they entered. "The walls, alive with painted images—lions, tigers, horses, goats, minstrels, constellations, flowers, trees. I am surrounded by the talent of many artists. A wonderful gift, to fill her room with such pleasant, lifelike pictures."

"Alas, it is all dear Rosalie sees of the world," Leon shook his head, the glow of family reunion fading to a sad smile as they approached his little girl.

Rosalie extended a hand to her as Leon introduced them.

"I've been longing to meet you, dear Aunt Gladys. Papa missed you so. Please excuse me for not arising to greet you properly… my condition does not permit me to stand or walk."

"My dear, it makes no difference to me if you sit or stand," Gladys sat down and put an arm around her niece. "Do tell me some of your favorite things so I can get to know you."

***

"Leon, what misfortune has befallen Rosalie?"

Gladys settled into a leather armchair in her brother's study. Leon, sitting at his desk, rested his chin in his hands, eyes closed.

"A plague. Rosalie's mother died of yellow fever shortly after she was born, and Rosalie has been a helpless cripple ever since."

Gladys leaned across the desk as he buried his face in his hands.

"Is there no cure?"

"I have had the best doctors to see her. They all tell me there is no hope."

"But why has she never been beyond the castle walls?"

"I cannot allow it. Her life with me is quiet and protected. I have provided her with everything: books, toys, teachers, and a wall of the finest murals one could ever wish for."

"And outdoors?"

"We sit her in the garden once a week for fresh air and sunshine."

"Ah, but has she ever planted a flower? Or touched the velvety petals of a rose, or admired the intricacies of a lost feather? What about teaching her to paint or play music? There is immeasurable value in experience, in engaging the senses in the real world, in the act of creation. Rosalie is merely a spectator in her own life."

"I don't want her to feel bad if she can't participate the way others do. I can look into getting her music and art lessons."

"But about traveling…"

"No. Absolutely no traveling. What good would that be?"

"If you take pride in your kingdom, you should be happy to show your daughter around."

"But it would weary her. Rosalie is not interested in the hot, dirty city streets, or the wild empty wilderness, or the banal toil of a cattle farm. It is of no value to her."

"Does she not even have a pet?"

"It would be too much sorrow for her to lose it when it grows old and dies."

Gladys sat back, her forehead rising in wrinkles. She looked long at her brother. He said quickly,

"It's the best thing for my Princess. I want her to be safe and happy."

"You don't realize how much she's missing out on. As for you—when was the last time you visited your subjects?"

"Oh, two, maybe three years ago…" He rubbed his fingers together and reached for a pen. "The people come to me with their problems and requests. My men report conditions in the land. I need to be here for Rosalie."

"Very well, then. I respect your decision." Gladys arose.

"You live with us from now on, of course. Rosalie needs a loving aunt like you."

"I have no plans to leave." Gladys smiled and walked away.

***

The day after was Rosalie's day to be brought out to the garden. She sat half-dozing in her wheelchair, surrounded by perfectly trimmed hedges and stunning rose bushes with nary a deadhead to be seen.

Gladys and Leon stood off to one side.

"Where are the gardeners?" She asked.

"They're not allowed to be around when Rosalie is out."

Gladys raised an eyebrow.

"You mean she doesn't realize how much work it requires to maintain a garden?"

"I suppose not."

"My dear brother, what if I told you about a miraculous spring of healing water which lies many miles away from here… it has the power to cure all diseases, restore frail bodies to their youthful vigor, and give new life to invalids."

"No… surely you jest."

"Leon, would I joke about something this serious? You have a chance to heal Rosalie. I found it in my lonely explorations. The cool spring water rushes down a mossy, gravelly rivulet worn by time. Sweetly scented herbs grace the banks. Rare wildflowers dot the alpine slopes."

"How have I never heard tell of this glorious spring?"

"It is a deeply cherished secret—but it lies within your kingdom. Bring Rosalie, and find healing."

"I… I cannot."

"Why?"

"How do I know such a thing truly exists? I would be putting Rosalie at great risk. And if it fails to heal her, the heartbreak would be unbearable."

"It has never failed me."

"Why then is it not more well known?"

"If it became common knowledge, people would fight over it and desecrate the holy waters with pollution and turmoil. This is no lie."

"No, Gladys. I will not take the chance. My daughter is happy here. She has everything. Why should I risk her peace of mind for a pipe dream?"

"Leon, the world outside is real. You have built a world of shadows for Rosalie."

"Speak no more of such things." He turned away, arms crossed.

***

Two mornings later, King Leon woke up to the shouts of his servants,

"The princess is gone! And Lady Gladys!"

"No! Never!" He leaped out of bed and stumbled to his knees in prayer.

"I fear they were kidnapped," his second in command said. "The castle gates are left open."

"We shall chase the scoundrels!" Leon roared. "No one takes captive my family!"

He set off with ten soldiers and traced the carriage's path quite easily, as it left a fresh, prominent trail in the dirt road. They caught up and surrounded it. The carriage stopped, and Gladys herself looked down at them from the driver's seat. Rosalie sat beside her, wrapped in blankets, her face glowing.

"Gladys, what have you done?! Why?"

"You refused to give Rosalie a chance to live life as it should be lived." She waved the whip at Leon with a stern frown. "My only choice was to explain everything to Rosalie and kidnap her. I knew you would find us immediately."

"Treachery! I should have you dragged to the dungeons. How dare you go behind my back and promise my crippled daughter a miracle? Return to the castle immediately!"

"No, Papa!" Rosalie cried. "I want to see the miracle springs. Don't make us go back yet. I want to have a chance to walk. Please, Papa."

Leon stared from Gladys to Rosalie with a quivering lip. His shoulders shook. He lowered his eyes.

"As you desire, my child. I… I shall have one of my men drive the carriage. We must sit inside, as befits royalty."

***

"Oh, Papa, this is wonderful!"

Rosalie clapped her hands as the royal carriage rolled through the cobbled city streets. She leaned out the window to wave to pedestrians, who stopped and waved back, tipping their caps to the beautiful princess.

"The world is so alive!"

Her rosy face and sparkling blue eyes were a sight King Leon hadn't seen as long as he could remember. Gladys held Rosalie's hand in hers.

The land eventually grew too rugged for a carriage to pass. King Leon pushed Rosalie's wheelchair as Gladys led the way up the hillside. A creek soon evidenced itself.

"We must climb to the source in the rocks."

They pressed on. Rosalie wanted to stop every few minutes to admire some new delight: a patch of dainty violets, a softly swaying young pine sapling, a doe and her fawn grazing peacefully in a sun-dappled clearing.

Gladys, too, paused frequently to pick up unusually shaped leaves or pretty colored river pebbles for Rosalie to examine, speaking softly to her about the wonders of nature and pointing out geographical elements.

"Why, it's just like my textbooks, Auntie!"

King Leon breathed in the fresh wild air and wondered why he had never taken a moment to appreciate the great outdoors. Perhaps his sister was right about spending time exploring his lands. He resolved to make room for it after Rosalie was healed.

Finally, they arrived at the source of the bubbling springs, bursting forth from a crevice in a boulder embedded in the mountainside. The pure, clear water gathered in a pool and went merrily down the way they had come.

"We are here."

Gladys and Leon picked Rosalie up and set her down on a blanket by the side of the pond, gradually sliding her legs into the water.

"Ooh, it's so cold!" She giggled.

The sun warmed the rocks they sat on. Birds sang in the trees. Gladys unpacked a picnic basket. Rosalie squealed with delight when a little brown rabbit cautiously poked his nose out from a hole in the tall grasses on the hillside. They tossed some bits of carrots his way and watched in awed stillness as he slowly hopped forward to nibble on them.

King Leon wondered how long it would take for the miracle to happen. Then,

"Papa, I'm getting cold." Rosalie squiggled impatiently and hoisted her legs out of the water as if nothing was wrong. Then she jumped to her feet.

"Look! I'm standing!" She shouted, spinning in a circle with arms flung wide. She ran into King Leon's open arms.

"It's a miracle!" he said, tears in his eyes.

Gladys joined their embrace, and they held hands and sang and danced in silly circles around the pond like little children.

***

Rosalie had so much energy, the walk back down the mountain was more like Leon and Gladys trying to keep up with her. It wasn't until they were almost in town again when she fell asleep at last in the carriage, snuggled in blankets between her family.

"Gladys, I am truly sorry I had to be forced to take this opportunity." Leon stared out the window at the passing kingdom he barely knew. "I allowed myself to become a hermit these many years, retreating behind walls of safety, and my daughter suffered for it."

"You provided the best you knew." She patted his hand. "Yet the shadows, though beautiful, are no substitute for a life lived fully."

"I now understand."

"What you may not fully understand is that even if physical healing had not taken place, the experience of life in the full spectrum of disappointment, joy and heartache would have been forever valuable."

"True. I will never again hide reality behind walls painted with shadows."

"Are we home yet?" Rosalie murmured.

"We are always home when we're together," Gladys responded with a smile.


Notes:
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