A Prince's quest for love leads to complications.
The Storm God fumed at the rituals. A wealthy merchant had organized a ceremony to propitiate Apollo, the Sun God. The Storm God regretted sparing the town where the merchant lived in a huge palace with his daughter. Whenever the Storm God had approached the town with ominous intentions, the vision of the merchant’s daughter would sway his mind. She was a beautiful girl with a peaches and cream complexion, blonde curls and violet eyes. His approach with the dark clouds and violent winds would fill the girl with trepidation. The Storm God would see her at the window of her room and would turn back, his task unfinished. They do nothing to honor me, he seethed.
The celebrations ended. The Storm God saw the maiden walking alone in her gardens when Apollo coalesced out of thin air. She genuflected. Apollo raised her and whispered into her ears. She smiled. Consumed by envy at this affectionate act, the Storm God simmered and destroyed the town.
The Storm God's chest swelled when he surveyed the devastation he had caused, but his heart sank on seeing the lady. Her father was dead. Their beautiful home was destroyed. An ocean of tears flowed from the violet pools of her eyes.
Later, the Storm God repented before Jupiter, the King of the Gods.
“You have done your duty. Destruction and Creation are both important for Order and Harmony,” Jupiter reasoned, but the Storm God could not be consoled.
Queen Layla of Ambracia was nineteen and pregnant when her husband, King James, died. The King, old enough to be Layla’s grandfather, had been besotted by her loveliness and had compelled her to marry him. He had no living progeny from previous marriages. The baby in Queen Layla’s belly – Princess Anna – would inherit the kingdom after she married. The young Queen refused to remarry and plunged headlong into the onerous responsibilities of running her husband’s kingdom and bringing up their daughter. The subjects adored her for her compassion and generosity in sharp contrast to her husband who was ruthless and debauched.
As the years passed, Princess Anna blossomed into a beautiful woman. She had inherited her mother’s looks. But what concerned Queen Layla was her conceit and arrogance. The Queen fervently prayed for her daughter to find a loving husband. When Princess Anna came of age, invitations were sent to all eligible males of royal descent to participate in a combat. Princess Anna would marry the winner. To proclaim the news of the upcoming wedding, Queen Layla and Princess Anna traveled across their kingdom. Tales of Princess Anna’s legendary beauty had spread. Crowds thronged to catch a glimpse of her. Prince Stephan from a neighboring kingdom was also there in disguise. He fell head over heels in love.
The day of the combat arrived. The participants competed in a series of martial arts. Prince Stephan easily won. Queen Layla was delighted that her daughter had found a valiant and brave husband. The happiness on Princess Anna’s face gave the Queen great joy. Not only was the Prince a skilled warrior, he was also tall, dark and handsome.
The couple were led to the banquet hall. Queen Layla delighted at her daughter’s excitement, but she sensed a tentativeness in the Prince. When he signaled to speak, an unknown fear gripped her.
“I need to make a confession because I cannot build a relationship on falsity,” the Prince declared. A stony silence descended upon the room. Angst clouded Queen Layla’s face. Princess Anna looked confused.
The Prince spoke again. “I am an adopted child.”
All eyes turned to King Edward, Prince Stephan’s father. The old man stood up and declared, “That is true, but I have always treated Stephan as my own. He will be my successor.”
Queen Layla spoke for the first time. “I admire the Prince’s honesty and don’t see any problem.”
“I cannot marry a commoner.” Princess Anna’s voice sounded like a whip.
Queen Layla persisted. “Birth doesn’t matter my child. You must love your husband for his qualities.”
“He cannot be my husband.”
Queen Layla’s experienced eyes perceived the unconcern in Prince Stephan about the prospects of losing the beautiful Princess Anna. That piqued her. The Prince gestured to silence the din that broke out following Princess Anna’s avowal. He continued. “The constitution of Ambracia says that the winner of this contest is entitled to a bride from the royal family.”
Queen Layla answered. “I know your rights. If I had another daughter, I would have gladly given her to you.”
“There is someone,” replied the Prince.
“Name her. She shall be yours,” promised the Queen.
“Do I have your word, Queen Layla?”
“Her name is Queen Layla.” The statement stunned the crowd.
The Queen's face turned red at that absurd proposal. “I am old enough to be your mother,” she retorted.
“Do you want me to return empty-handed. You want to go back on your word?” insisted the Prince.
Prince Stephan had come to Ambracia to see Princess Anna, but had ended up falling in love with her mother. Both of them were traveling in their chariot when he had seen them. The benevolence and kindness radiating from the Queen’s persona and her sweet face enchanted him. He had instantly known that she was the woman of his dreams. He spent hours studying the constitution of Ambracia and made discrete inquiries after Princess Anna’s character. He was exploiting that knowledge to his advantage.
The Prince observed the disgust on Princess Anna’s face and played his trump card. “I beg you to marry me, Queen Layla and spend your life with me. As per your laws, marriage is not necessary for Princess Anna to become queen. She has to only turn eighteen.”
Princess Anna brightened at this news. Her eagerness to be Queen was obvious. Queen Layla sighed. She had concealed this information because she considered her daughter too immature to make a good ruler. The Queen had hoped to find a suitable husband for her daughter and then hand over the reins of the kingdom. A good husband would help her rule well, she had reasoned.
“You have given your word, Mother,” reminded Princess Anna, her eyes shining.
“It is impossible,” Queen Layla rebuked.
“Because you are hungry for power,” the Princess lashed out.
The words stung Queen Layla. She agonized between her sense of propriety and her responsibility of upholding the law. Foolishly, she had given her word. The Queen realized that the Prince had never intended to marry her daughter. Now that the circumstances had changed, she looked at him in a completely different light and felt the unmistakable draw of his dashing personality. Unabashed admiration poured from his eyes. My God! He is in love with me, she realized. She felt helpless when dormant emotions stirred in her mind and knocked at the doors of her heart.
“I agree to marry you, Prince,” she consented. “I do not want to hold back Princess Anna from her legacy,” she rationalized. Inwardly, she knew that that was not the real reason for her acquiescence. Guilt rose in her heart at the way Princess Anna had been manipulated, but she was comforted by the fact that her daughter didn’t get into a loveless marriage.
Layla married Prince Stephan. Princess Anna became the new Queen of Ambracia. Before the marriage was solemnized, King Edward sought a private audience with Queen Layla and narrated an incredible tale. “It was eighteen years ago. I was hunting for wild boars when darkness fell. I set my horse free so it could escape if attacked by wild animals. I climbed up a tree to remain safe. Under the moonlight, I saw an unbelievable scene. A tigress was suckling a human baby! I had never seen tigers in those forests before. Whole night she maintained vigil. When she left at dawn, I descended from the tree and reached that child. That child is Prince Stephan. No one ever saw tigers in that forest again.”
The newlywed couple began their journey home. “We are going to our new palace. It is your wedding gift,” whispered Prince Stephan into Layla's ears. “I also promise to find a good husband for Princess Anna. Someone who will help her become a good ruler,” the Prince asserted.
The assurance set her at ease, though she wondered how Prince Stephan read her mind so well. Love began to sprout in her heart. She stole glances at his chiseled features. When their gazes locked, she blushed looking younger and lovelier. As their chariot raced away, she kept brushing aside the locks of golden hair that kept falling into her eyes. The dainty act enthralled the Prince.
Layla’s bliss transformed to dismay when the chariot took a familiar path. When they reached their destination, she was dumbfounded. A magnificent castle stood before them.
“This palace was destroyed in a storm. It was owned by a merchant. I bought it from his debtors and rebuilt it exactly as it once was,” informed the Prince.
Layla's violet eyes were moist. Her voice choked. King Edward's tale reverberated in her ears. “I am sure you know that I am that unfortunate man's daughter. This is the house where I grew up. Who are you?" She implored.
The Prince took in a deep breath. “I am the Storm God who destroyed your house. I killed your father, leaving you destitute. You were forced to marry King James to repay your father’s debts. I caused you great grief,” replied the Prince. He knelt and continued, "I assumed a human form to seek your forgiveness. Please pardon me."
Layla was wise and merciful. She was also touched by the Storm God's penitence. "You were only doing your duty. You have gone through enough trials and tribulations yourself. I forgive you," she answered.
Prince Stephan rose to his feet. The couple embraced for the first time and exchanged shy kisses. Instantaneously, his face twisted with agony, and he collapsed.
"What happened? Are you all right?" Layla entreated with distress.
Prince Stephan managed a wan smile. "The purpose of my birth was to seek your forgiveness and restore your house. I complicated everything by falling in love with you, marrying you, wanting to spend my whole life with you. Love blinded me to my promise to Lord Jupiter. I was to return the moment my task was accomplished," mumbled the Prince, gasping heavily. He breathed his last on Layla's lap.
Cradling her lover's lifeless body, Layla closed her eyes and invoked Apollo, the Sun God. Many years ago, Apollo had granted her a boon. She could give life. “Use my blessing wisely, my child. You can use this power only once,” Apollo had advised. She had smiled.
Prince Stephan opened his eyes. He was overjoyed to see his beautiful bride’s face. “What happened?” he asked. Her story filled him with repentance.
“Why did you not use your gift on your father?” he asked.
"He would have been miserable in a life of penury. The storm had bankrupted him." Prince Stephan winced. After a pause, he continued. "King James?”
“He exploited his subjects."
Prince Stephan marveled at his wife's sagacity. He started to worry about Jupiter when he heard Jupiter's voice in his mind. "You have found a good woman who loves you deeply. She has suffered enough. I will not cause her more pain by taking you away. Take good care of her."
After King Edward's death, Prince Stephan ascended the throne. With Queen Layla by his side, he became a great ruler. They lived a long and contented life and had many children.
After they dies together in each other's arms, Prince Stephan resumed his responsibilities as the Storm God. Jupiter inducted Layla into the Pantheon of Gods. She is the Storm God’s consort. They are always together. Layla is the benign influence on the Storm God's fury. We know her as the "The Lull before the Storm.”