This is the story of a curse, a damsel in distress, and the prince who saves her.
The curse is no ordinary curse. It doesn't poison her until true love's kiss, or turn her into a fantastical beast in the moonlight. It wraps its strings around her heart, letting the hateful comments in, poisoning her, and making sure nothing positive ever sticks. It does not kill her itself; it's far too clever for that. Instead, it makes her want to take her own life, for she has lived with the curse for years and believes every word it whispers in her sleep.
But the damsel is no ordinary damsel. She doesn't sit in a tower or a glass coffin, waiting for her prince to come rescue her. Instead, she's out there fighting, learning to run and fence and even though she isolates herself because the curse tells her she will only get hurt, she keeps trying to make friends. But she can't give her heart fully to anyone, because the curse tells her that he will break it.
And, as you've probably guessed, the prince is no ordinary prince either. He isn't tall or strong or confident. He trips over his armor and fumbles with his sword. In fact, no one sees him as a prince, because at this point he isn't a prince, but a princess with developmental issues. They tease him and he shrugs it off and reads books in the palace library on how to become a prince, and once he's old enough he's going to find a witch who can fix his body so it isn't so wrong.
That's why the damsel finds him. He needs somebody to listen.
The damsel is different from the others. They've teased her just as badly, and the curse makes her believe their insults. The library becomes her quiet place, where she can hide and read of a world where people have friends, not curses. She hears the muffled sobbing among the books and she goes to investigate, because the curse cannot stop her from feeling the pain of others, and she finds the prince, dressed in his brother's clothes, his hair chopped off raggedly because he did it with a stolen dagger that he's learning to wield as a prince should, and he's pouring over the volumes on how to be a prince and in that moment her heart feels something and she wants to run her fingers through his ragged hair but she doesn't. Instead, she pulls up a stack of books and sits beside him.
And says, "It's okay. You're okay."
He rocks back and forth softly. She sees the rawness of his palms from too much washing his hands and the pain in his eyes when someone drops a stack of books and the echoes reverberate in the silent space.
Unlike the others, she doesn't leave him. She sees him.
They read together in the library, not saying a word. This goes on for days, weeks, and she realizes that she feels something for him.
It's something she's felt before, but she's always been rejected because no one wants someone with a curse. She doesn't admit to him that she's feeling it.
The young library worker who stacks the books back onto their shelves seems to know something. She comes to the damsel for advice, since the damsel is older and probably wiser, and the damsel admits everything to this young worker, making her promise not to tell the prince. She's never had someone she can trust before.
The young book keeper holds the secret for a month before the damsel's heart bursts with longing. She wants the prince to hold her in his arms while they're reading together. The book keeper drops hints, but tells the damsel she must tell him herself.
This lasts a week before the damsel blurts it out and races off to hide under a desk in the far corner.
The prince comes to find her, crouches down at the entrance to her dark hiding place, and reaches in, seeking her, to wipe the tears from her face. For she is crying; the curse has told her it's unrequited and she's ruined the most natural friendship she's ever had.
He says, "It's okay. Come back. I like you, too."
She settles into his arms and they read together, his hand intertwined in her long hair. She's happier than she can ever remember.
Outside the library, though, the insults get worse and her heart gets darker and more burdened. She begins to distrust her prince, saying something dumb and insensitive and running off to hide because she knows she has ruined the beautiful thing they have. He comes and finds her, scolds her a bit (which she believes) and reassures her that he will never leave (which she doesn't). He doesn't know about the curse. She doesn't tell him. It hurts too much, and it says he'll leave her.
He comes to her at other times, when the world hurts so much that she has to find a way to bleed. She presses the sharp end of a pin into her wrist until the blood bubbles and flows. He searches for her until he finds her, and he takes her tattered wrist and cleans the blood. He shows her scars of his own, marks on his hip bone.
Next time she cuts, she makes marks identical to his, and he looks at her with tear-filled eyes but doesn't scold her. Instead, he gently takes the pin for safekeeping.
At night, when he isn't there, she hugs a pillow and pretends it's him. She sleeps better for this.
He says something gentle, laying his own scars bare for her to do as she will. She assures him that she'll never leave him, even when he's handflapping and hiding from all the people and the loud noises and the bright lights. She walks over and snuffs out the lantern and sits just next to him, because he doesn't like to be touched when it's like this. And the words begin echoing in her brain: I love you. But the curse won't let her say them.
The curse is tightening its hold on her heart. She doesn't realize it's doing this because it feels threatened by the three words. If she says these words, it will have no power over her.
She finds another pin, another pair of tweezers, but three words keep them at bay, layering in her mind until she can think nothing else. I love him I love him I love him.
He won't feel it back. It's not the right time. The curse whispers, whispers louder, threatened. She doesn't know it's threatened, and she believes it.
She's reading one day, curled up next to him, her head on his shoulder. He's reading something quantum physics-y, that she doesn't even pretend to understand. The words on the page brand themselves into her brain, seeping under the ropes of the curse. "It's that you need to love something that much so you can never be controlled. It's not a weakness. It's your best strength."
Something moves inside her, something she's never felt. Butterflies. She's feeling butterflies for her prince. Something snaps inside her, one of the strands of the curse, and it feels good.
She looks up at her prince. The curse screams at her to stop. She reaches out a hand and cradle his cheek and doesn't stop herself from looking straight into his beautiful eyes. The curse screams at her that it will ruin everything in the last two months. She takes a heart-stopping breath.
And (Don't say it! screams the curse.) "I love you."
Somewhere in the stacks, the young book-keeper cheers.
She holds her breath. He's going to run away now. She wishes she could take it back.
He gently slides his hand into hers, their books abandoned. "I love you." He's crying, and she realizes she is, too.
It snaps. She's free. She believes him. He asks her to dance and she says yes and the curse says you can't dance you whale and she tells it to do something anatomically impossible for a curse. The four-letter word in her brain feels good this time.
They waltz across the library.
She knows the curse will be back, but she knows how to fight it. She trips over her feet and the curse tells her she's a clumsy fool but she just laughs it off and holds tighter to her prince as he leads her.
She needs him to keep the curse at bay. He needs her to be sensitive when no one else is. It wasn't him that broke the curse, but her ability to love him, unafraid. When she feels it creeping back, she knows what she has to say.
I love you, my prince.
Originally published on December 25, 2013.