Back in the old days, when the world was still young and wishes would still come true if only you were pure of heart, there was a Queen who had three children. The younger of her sons was so beautiful, even the Sun, having seen much of this world and more, stopped to paint a myriad of tiny dots on him whenever her rays grazed his noble fair skin. His lips were so red, not even the colors from far, foreign lands could match their color. They were only rivaled by the roses in the King’s garden, in color and in softness. All this was crowned by a shock of brown hair. But not the brown of dirt or bark, no, it was the shimmering brown of freshly freed chestnuts. The wind loved blowing through it, leaving the fine hair tousled ever which way. The most notable of all his features, however, were his startling blue eyes. Some days, they were bright as a cloudless sky. On others, they would shimmer like the deepest lake.
Every servant, every peasant loved this Prince. Often, he would be given apples or fresh baked goods, just so they could see his smile.
The Prince loved walking the woods around the castle on bright days. He would go alone and bring only a book to spend the day on his own, returning only at dusk.
One such day in a lovely warm spring, the Prince fell asleep with his favorite book in hand. He’d sat down next to a tree a storm in the last year had blown over and read, but soon the noises of the woods and the warmth of the sun had lulled him into sleep. As he was dreaming, the book slipped from his hand, into the hole left by the tree. There, at the bottom, between sturdy old roots, a badger had made its home. And just into that burrow, the book tumbled.
As the Prince awoke, he noticed the book was gone. He searched here and there, everywhere around him as far as he could see, but the book, well hidden in the burrow, was not to be found by him. At last, the Prince dropped down on the soft forest floor and began to weep from the depths of his heart. Fat tears welled up in his beautiful eyes, dropping off his chin like crystal. Sobs shook his slender frame.
Then, there suddenly was a voice, “Prince, oh darling prince, why are you weeping?”
The Prince looked up, drying some of his tears. There was a wolverine sitting on a stump not far away, watching him. “Oh, I have lost my favorite book,” he sighed. Even stone would have taken pity at his distraught expression. “I cannot find it anywhere. It’s like the Earth opened up and swallowed it while I was asleep.”
“Fret not, oh Prince,” the Wolverine spoke. “For I have seen where your book has gone. It is now in the living room of the badger who made a home below this tree.”
“Oh, no,” the Prince gasped. Fresh tears sparkled in the sunlight. “This is just as bad as if the Earth really had swallowed it. Oh, Master Wolverine, if only you’d bring me back my book, I’d give you all my clothes, my pearls and jewels, even the crown upon my head.”
The Wolverine shook his head. “What am I to do with all that frippery and gewgaw? All I ask in return, oh Prince, is a promise that you will treat me like a companion, as your favorite playmate, and let me share your meals and room and bed.”
“Anything, Master Wolverine, anything you ask, I promise you if only you bring me back my book,” the Prince hastened to assure the Wolverine.
“Very well, I shall trust that you stay true to your word.” And thus, the Wolverine jumped off the stump and raced into the burrow. Muffled angry growls could be heard from underground and a number of bumps. Then, the Wolverine emerged, lacking a piece from his ear, but the book in his jaws. A moment later, the book was delivered in the Prince’s waiting hands.
“Oh, thank you so very much,” the Prince said, wiping away the crystal tears from his eyes. And with those words, he leapt to his feet, rushing off to the castle with the book clutched to his chest. All promises were forgotten at the joy of lost treasure regained.
“Wait for me,” the Wolverine called, but to no avail. The Prince wasn’t hearing a word he said, no matter how much he yelled.
It wasn’t until supper, as all the nobles in the castle had sat down to share the meal as was their custom, that the Prince was reminded of his promise. A faint scratching could be heard over the din, and a thin voice pleading for the Prince to remember his promise and open the doors.
The Queen turned to her younger son. “What is this commotion outside? Did I hear your name being called?”
“Oh father,” the Prince said, biting his lower lip in shame. “This day, I lost my book as I fell asleep in the woods. A kind wolverine brought it back to me. However, I had to promise him that I’d make it my playmate in return, that I’d let it eat from my plate and share my things.”
The Queen looked sternly at her son. She knew that a promise like that should never be broken. And so she said, “Well, then, open the door and ask the Wolverine to join our meal. He shall sit by your plate and share your food.”
With a sigh that made his chest heave and eyes big and pleading to be spared, the Prince nevertheless got up and did as his mother had ordered.
And so the Wolverine was offered food and drink from the plate and cup of the Prince, listening to profound apologies from both the Queen and, a little more grudgingly, the Prince himself for the heedlessness he’d had to suffer. By the time the meal ended, the Prince and the Wolverine were exchanging descriptions of their favorite spots in the forest. It was tentative, but the Prince and the Wolverine sounded like they could become companions to those that listened to them.
However, when the meal had ended and the Prince made to take his leave, the Queen reminded him of the other part of the promise. “You shall take Serah Wolverine up to your chambers with you and let him share what you have, as you promised,” the Queen said, her tone stern and unrelenting.
The Prince merely bowed his head in response, misery over what fate had bestowed upon him plainly visible on his features. This time, he remembered the Wolverine’s much shorter legs and smaller body, so he took the beast in his arms, careful not to get any claw caught on his fine clothes.
The peace held until the Sun had sunk below the horizon, the Night’s velvet sky blanketing the world, Moon and Stars watching over the waking world as it readied itself for sleep. The Prince had just stripped off his doublet and shirt, as the Wolverine jumped on the bed, making as if to settle on the pillows for the night. The Prince gave a startled cry, unwilling to share the bed with the creature. In a moment without thought, the Prince seized the Wolverine and threw it, only intending to move it to the ground but instead hurling it with so much force the poor thing smacked against the wall.
There was a bright light in the moment the body touched the stones. It spread and changed shapes, gleaming so bright the Prince had to avert his eyes. A heavy thud echoed through the room. Only as the light had died down again, the Prince dared to turn back.
On the floor, holding his shoulder, was not the Wolverine the Prince had thrown, but a bear of a Man, stark naked save for the hair on his skin. The Prince gaped, remembering much too late that it was impolite to stare, even more so when the other was without clothing.
“That wasn’t very nice of you,” the Man rumbled, voice still much the same as the Wolverine’s had been, if a little deeper and richer. “Hurts like blazes, actually.”
“Who-” the Prince gasped. “Just who are you?”
The Man looked down his front. For a second, the Prince’s eyes followed, before snapping back to the ungroomed face of the Man. He’d need a shave and maybe even a haircut in the morning, the Prince noted, but all the hair did little to hide a handsome, angular face. “I was… no am… the heir to the neighboring realm,” the Man sighed. “My name is James, but I was cursed by a warlock Many moons ago, for threatening to chase him from my realm should he not cease to abuse the peasants and for speaking too blunt once too many. It seems that you have broken the curse.” A smirk spread over his features, his teeth bright amidst the dark overgrowth of beard. “I had hoped for a gentler way than being thrown against a wall. Maybe a maiden’s kiss. But alas, I shall not complain when it means I am back to my own body. Should you wish for it, I will send to my realm tonight, so that I will be picked up and gone as soon as I could be.”
“But, why would you hurry so to leave?” the Prince asked, before he could stop himself. He bit his lip, causing it to shine red and wet when he released it again. “Please, James, stay as long as you wish.”
The Man blinked. “I was under the impression to be despised by you.”
Surprised laughter pearled off the Prince’s lips. “I do not despise you.” He motioned to the bed. “Please, stay. I gave a promise and I will be true to my word.”
“So you say now,” the Man snorted. “And yet you hurled me against a walk with a shriek.”
The Prince swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. “Then let me make it up to you,” he pleaded, throwing back the blankets on his bed.
The Man sized him up for a long moment, but then at last he nodded. “Then again, you shall be forgiven. I must, however, ask you to accept my thanks as well, for freeing me from the curse.”
And so, the Prince nodded and stripped off his breeches and undergarments, before slipping under the covers where the Man was already waiting for him with his arms open.
Days passed. Prince James had sent a messenger to his home, but the realm was far and the wait long. And so, the two Princes whiled away the days in the forest, exploring it away from prying eyes. At night, they would return together to the chambers of Prince Charles, for that was the name of the lovely Prince, given up after much coaxing from James late in that first night after the curse had been lifted.
As all good things, those days had to come to an end eventually. It was with not little sadness that Prince Charles noticed the carriage rolling into the courtyard one rainy day they had decided to spent indoors. All of a sudden, the weather felt like it had announced the day of parting and Prince Charles had been too distracted notice.
The royal carriage was as sumptuous as any. The horses had been adorned with blue and yellow headdresses and the carriage itself was richly painted and gilded. A nimble servant jumped off the coachman’s seat as soon as the carriage had come to a halt, hurrying up to the castle and out of Prince Charles’ view.
Prince Charles sighed.
“What is it, Charles?” Prince James asked. He was stripped down to his shirtsleeves as was his habit when they were alone. All of a sudden, the sight bore no more joy for Prince Charles.
“Oh, dearest James,” Prince Charles sighed. “The carriage you sent for has arrived. I fear that this is the day of our parting.”
Every so soulful as his eyes were, they compelled Prince James to step up to Prince Charles and wrap him into his arms. “It doesn’t have to be,” he rumbled. “Come with me and I shall make you my royal Consort.”
At those words, Prince Charles swallowed all too heavily, willing away the sudden tears of bliss from his eyes. “I shall, I shall,” he murmured against Prince James’ chest.
There were many tears when the Princes came down to the great hall of the castle and told the Queen and court of their plans, but they were given the blessings of the Queen freely and warmly. She asked them, though, to wait until the next morning to depart, for she wished to hold a banquet to celebrate the engagement.
The banquet lasted until it was almost dawn, the imminent departure doing little to stifle the celebrations. The Princes found no sleep that night, but climbed into their carriage in the morning, a long journey ahead of them.
They’d barely passed the edge of the forest in which the Queen’s castle sat, when there was the noise of metal bursting. The carriage rolled on, however, so the Princes went back to sleep.
Just before they would stop for their midday break, there was the noise again. And again, the carriage rumbled on as if nothing had happened.
It was close to dusk, when the noise startled the Princes again. “Konrad, oh my dear Konrad, I fear the carriage is breaking,” called Prince James to his servant on the coachman’s seat.
“Don’t worry, mein Herr ,” Konrad the servant called back. “It’s not the carriage that’s breaking. It’s the heavy iron rings I had placed around my heart. For I was so aggrieved when the curse was put upon you, I was afraid my heart would burst from it. But now that you have been delivered, mein Herr, my heart can beat freely in my chest again.”
Touched by the fealty of the servant, the Princes presented him with riches on their wedding day, ensuring the stalwart Konrad never had want for anything in his life, nor his offspring.
And if they haven’t died yet, they’re still ruling the lands of King James, with Prince Charles by his side for all eternity.