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Given and Won

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Her life is a story, and one he knows like blood and dream and bone - it is only now the beginning, but he already knows the end.




When the Princess was born, creatures from about the Kingdom came to see her - some commented at her beauty, for even as an infant she was dark as night and more beautiful than the glowing moon. Some others spoke of her wisdom, for in her eyes they saw already a leader who would rule with mercy and justice. And some few did not care for her at all, for though she was a Princess, she was only a small thing now, small and mewling, and so of no consequence, great or even minor, to the moving of their world.

But those few aside, there was great happiness at the birth of the Princess. Great presents had been brought for her, great treasures that had before never been seen.

The gentle gnomes of southern reaches brought with them a fine blanket woven of silver and gold and embroidered with the thread of gems, and more beautiful than anything wrought in the world above. The Princess was wrapped in it and the gnomes, having gifted it to her, said aloud, Riches, that she shall never know anything but the beauties of the world.

The elves of the far western rock forests brought a set of singing fairies, their voices more lovely than anything in creation, and more soothing. The elves said, So that they might sing our sweet Princess to sweeter slumber.

The dwarves of the northern wilds brought with them a dragon mount from the deepest depths of the kingdom, where it was always burning - and apologised for the size of their mounts having dwindled, though insisting that their valour had not. This dragon shall guard the Princess, they said. It shall watch over her, forever, and never let her stray to harm.

The people of the vast mirror lakes, in whose eyes some said one could see forever, came from their lands that lie far to the east. They gave the Princess a book from which all stories known could be read, saying, That she might learn all that can be learned.

Her mother gave her a small crystal mirror, and set it above her daughter's gold and jeweled cradle. And her mother said, So that you so might never forget who you are, that you might always ponder the wisdom of your own eyes, and that you might always question the unknown.

Her father gave her all of his considerable love, and also the promise of his vast kingdom - and he alone of the gift-givers asked for something in return. This is yours, and shall be yours always, he breathed in promise, if only you will always dream.

The Faun too had been in attendance, had seen praise heaped upon this smallest of creatures. As well, he had a present to give, but the Princess now was only a small baby, and it did not seem the proper time. When the time was proper, the Princess was a babe no more, instead a child grown. She traveled the far reaches of her father's kingdoms, for she wished to know all that she could possibly know. And sometimes, when she was in the company of the Faun, she would tell him of her dreams.

'The world is quite different, of course,' she said. 'But it would be beautiful, I think, to see the shining sun, to walk beneath the wide blue sky.'

These colors and concepts should have been beyond her, but she knew more than any other could possibly know, and perhaps dreamed more, as well. So the Faun asked her, 'Have you not seen other things of great beauty? And are you not beautiful, as well?'

'If I were to go,' she said, hearing him but not answering, 'perhaps I would take a compass. I would not want to lose my way.'

He did not say, 'So you would return?' Instead, he said, 'And where would you go, beneath that wide sky?'

'I can't say I know,' she said. 'But in doing so I would learn even more than I know already.'

'Ah, your Highness. Would you do some work, then?'

'Perhaps, like mother, I might work upon the loom.' She looked at him, regal in bearing. 'My mother once told me, there is nothing base in working with one's own hands.'

'But the Queen, she is wise as age itself.'

'When I am grown, I will be like my mother - perhaps I will even know more.' Then she smiled, and said, 'She is very beautiful, my mother, did you know?'

'Ah, your Highness, certainly I know.'

But the Princess was very wise, and very beautiful even now, though she could not herself tell. And it had been a long time, now, since her birth, but the Faun had yet to give her a proper birth-day gift.

So one day, not so long after that, he kept her watchers otherwise occupied, for he had a great story that he needed to tell. And on that day, the Princess slipped away, was able to follow her dreams. There was great shock, of course, no stone would be left unturned, and all the vastness of the kingdom was searched, from the gentle south to the wild north, from the far west to the even more distant east. The King had nothing to say, troubled and quiet; the Queen wept openly, for she wished for her daughter to be found.

But they did not know where to look, and the Faun had enough time, at least enough time that he might let his Princess live her dreams. He had thought he had more than enough time, and in thinking that, he had wasted too much. When he did finally go looking for her, the Princess had lived one life thinking herself a mortal, and that life had come to its end.

The King said, 'By living, she dies - and in dying, she lives. We might still find her.'

Together, they had the time.

It was countless ages later, or so it seemed, when the Princess came again to the Faun. She did not know herself, nor her royal bearing, nor her parents, so very far away, and they more than any other had missed her all these years.

But before she could return, he would have to test her. After all, she had been gone, and for countless long years.

He could give her no gift, then, nor any great advice - he could only hope that she would remember herself. And she was her mother's daughter, for she wanted to know everything that she could, and wanted to know herself more than all that - and she was her father's daughter, too, for in living through this second life, through promise of blood and dark of burning hell, she had not forgot that she could dream.

Her bravery, well, that had been no gift, but instead something that had been hers all along.

So, his Princess, who would rather die than kill an innocent, died in innocence, and set her spirit free.

And he said, Ah, but her parents have waited so long for her - and they will be well pleased.

A long time after that, when the King passed on from this world to the darker world after, he did so knowing that his daughter had returned, that she was brave as well as wise and beautiful, and that that his kingdom now rested in the most suitable hands.

The Princess was small still, but older now than when she had been born again. With the Queen's blessing, she took her father's seat, his crown and his scepter, and was cheered on by the vast multitudes of the Underground kingdom (except, of course, for some few - those who had not been impressed at her birth, nor any more impressed with her return). When her mother retired, the Princess then became Queen. And with all the presents gifted her at birth, and all the greater presents won through life and death, she ruled for many long years, remembered by all who had dreams in their soul.