It began with a curse, passed down from one generation onto the next–a curse many of his ancestors called a gift. Yet, in the mind of this boy king, he was condemned–condemned by the boy in the mirror. For unlike his father and the kings who ruled before him, he loathed his reflection.
What he saw, even in his human state, was a beast. His deep-set eyes hung tired from the fear of death. His youthful grin lost in the kingdoms he had conquered. His sword-wielding arm stained by the blood of his enemies. Never was he just a boy–always, he was a monster hungry for the next victory, the next throne, the next war. What a miracle it would be, if he stopped swinging blades for a day. And, a miracle it was.
“This will be my last battle,” he said.
Sheathing his double-edged sword, he strolled to his steed with his royal army behind him.
“This will ruin your empire,” his advisor replied. “This will ruin you, your majesty.”
“I’m already ruined.”
“You are more victorious than the kings before you. And, you can do so much more.”
“This isn’t me. Before I lose myself again, I must do this.”
During the battle at Vita, while his men pillaged the kingdom, he heard of the Cave of Dreams. Some of the citizens of Vita had braved the beast within in order to flee the war. Alas, no one knew what became of the courageous few. But as Vita crumbled to ashes, the folklore reached his ears–what seemed like a myth was hope.
“I am a monster. I have no control over this body and what it becomes.”
“You are a warrior–a king–not a monster. What will our kingdom become if this beast takes your gift?”
“Gift?” He chuckled.
Arguing with any of the men in his royal court was a futile endeavour. They were the first to reap the harvest of war and would say anything to stop him. Deciding he had wasted enough time with the pointless debate, he excused his advisor and mounted his horse. Reining his stallion East, the journey began.
The Cave of Dreams nestled within the Eastern volcanic range, by the foot of the tallest mountain in the snow-capped massif. From the ruins of Vita, he rode through the pine-dense timberland, crossed pebble-shored rivers, edged around slippery cliffs, before reaching the valleys of the mounts. The tallest of the mounts rose at the head of the range–the colossal grey rock was both daunting and magnificent. But unlike its siblings lined behind it–all birthed from the same phenomenon–it homed the gift only bestowed upon the first born: the cave.
From above the valley, the cave was invisible to the human eye. But as the entourage descended into the first basin, stirring with a bone-chilling breeze, the cave made its presence known. Its mouth, as wide as his kingdom’s iron gate, opened to an unwelcoming darkness. No sound escaped its cracking lip. Nothing living grew within. If he was a common boy, who had never faced death, he would’ve rode by without hesitation. Unfortunately, he was a king–owning a list of enemies before he even became a man.
Dismounting his steed, he strode to the mouth of the cave. But as his men lit their torches, ready to go before him, he had the strangest thought. It wasn’t his own–or at least, it didn’t feel like his own.
Taking a blazing torch, he said, “I’m going alone.” The captain of his army parted his lips, but before the soldier could insist, he repeated, “I’m going alone.”
His men knew not to challenge him. Retreating to their horses–possibly wondering if his nine year-old brother could fill his shoes should he never return–he turned his back toward them. Then, with determination to break the curse, he pushed forward.
He had no fear. He had seen darkness far more consuming than the one before him. He had swam in silence far more lifeless than the hollow engulfing him. He lost his soul at the age of twelve, when the weight of the crown was placed upon his fragile shoulders. And though he had feared death for the past three years, he didn’t fear it anymore. With each step he took, he set his eyes on salvation. But, how many steps were there? The walk down the burrow felt like an endless journey. The entrance of the cave had long vanished–only blackness surrounded him. When he finally spoke, as a question to himself, he found the answer.
“When does this end?” he murmured.
“It ends… when you want it to end,” a deep voice echoed.
“Are you the beast?” he asked the disembodied voice.
“I am… what you want me to be.”
“Then grant me a wish, as the people say you will do.”
“What do you wish for?”
“I wish to be human.”
“Human? You look human.”
“I am not. There’s a curse upon my family–the men who wear the crown become monsters on the battlefield.”
“Then… take off the crown.”
“I can’t–I will only be passing the curse to my brother.”
“I will grant your wish, if you take off the crown.”
“You will break the curse?”
Without contemplation, he lifted the gold, ruby-encrusted crown off his head and placed it on the uneven ground.
“Good. Now,” the voice said, “wake up.”
He opened his eyes. The bright light, streaming through the window of his doctor’s office, blinded him for a second.
“How do you feel?” his doctor asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied, blinking his eyes into focus. “Am I supposed to be a different person?”
“Hypnotherapy doesn’t reflect immediately after a session. Let’s see how your week goes before we give it another try.”
“Sure. I can do that.”
His doctor grinned, before swiftly scribbling on a page in a leather-bound book.
“What are you writing?” he asked.
“You said, you can do that.”
“Is that… odd?”
His doctor merely smiled. “I’ll see you next week. Same time?”
“Sure, doc. I can do that too.”
12 Genre Months © 2018 by Jeyna Grace. All rights reserved.
(Click HERE for the list of stories in this writing challenge.)