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Good Knight, Sweet Princess

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“Uncle Daryl?” her voice was clear and bright despite the late hour.

“What, sweetheart?” he asked as he finished tucking Judith in for the night. It was Rick’s turn to stand watch on the North wall, and Daryl had agreed to stay in the house overnight to keep an eye on things.

“Will you tell me a story? The one with the princess?” her tiny voice chirped.

Daryl felt the familiar squeeze around his heart. He should have known that this was coming, but he was never prepared for the empty feeling in his chest, the tears pricking his eyes, or the lump in his throat. Even after these years and miles that had dragged and sped by, it still hurt more than any pain he’d ever known. “Oh, little A...I don’t know...”

“Please, Uncle Daryl? It’s my very favorite.”

Daryl sat on the edge of her bed and rubbed the pads of his fingers against his eyes. He sighed deeply, knowing he was never going to be able to deny the little girl anything she’d ever ask for. “Alright, but you’ve gotta go to bed right after, okay?”

“Promise,” she smiled and snuggled deep under the blankets.

Daryl cleared his throat and began...

                Once upon a time, there was a princess named Beth. She was the most beautiful girl in all the land, and everyone loved her very much. She had hair the color of sunlight, and her eyes shone like sapphires. She was very kind, very gracious to everyone she met, and she sang more beautifully than any bird in the sky.

                She lived in a kingdom with many other people, who worked together to provide for each other. The kingdom was surrounded by a forest full of monsters, but the people were kept safe by the strong walls surrounding the castle. “Everyone has jobs to do,” the princess would say, and while she helped everywhere she could, in cleaning or cooking or taking care of people when they were sick or sad or afraid, and sometimes even taking her turn in manning the walls that surrounded their home to fight the monsters that tried to get in. What Princess Beth did best was love everyone around her.

                Now, the local sheriff and his wife had just had a baby, a beautiful girl, but the wife got very sick and couldn’t take care of the baby. The sheriff was so sad, he wasn’t sure he could take care of the baby either. Princess Beth decided to take care of the baby girl as if she were her own daughter. She fed her and kept her safe and warm, and sang every song she knew to keep the baby happy. It was obvious to everyone in the kingdom that Princess Beth loved this girl more than anything.

                Months passed by and the kingdom lived in peace for the most part. The sheriff and his friend, Sir Dixon, worked very hard to keep the kingdom safe. The little girl grew up, thanks to the princess’ love and care. The people lived in peace in the kingdom for a very long time, taking in anyone who sought the safety of the strong castle.

                One day, an evil ruler from a neighboring kingdom waged war on the princess’ kingdom. Even though the sheriff tried to reason with the evil man, and promised that they could all live in the safety of the great fortress of a kingdom, the ruler attacked and the people of the kingdom had to scatter to all corners of their world.

                The evil man had brought along with him a fire-breathing dragon, its scales like steel, its breath like cannon fire. Sir Dixon fought valiantly against the dragon, and slayed the foul beast, but the damage had already been done. The kingdom was no longer safe to stay in. Sir Dixon stood staring at the remains of the armored beast, not sure what to do next. Princess Beth found him and told him she couldn’t find any of the children she cared so much for, especially the baby she had raised.

                Sir Dixon knew he needed to protect the princess, and together they escaped the burning kingdom into the wild woods that surrounded it. The princess and Sir Dixon had to be very careful wherever they went to avoid the monsters that were lurking in the shadows. They were both very sad to have lost all their friends, but Princess Beth never gave up hope in finding them. Even when Sir Dixon wanted to give up, Princess Beth pushed him on. She may not have known it, but she had saved Sir Dixon just as Sir Dixon had saved her.

                Princess Beth decided to try to find a magic potion, something that maybe wouldn’t make Sir Dixon and her so sad anymore. Together they found a mystical jar of liquid that smelled like peaches, but Sir Dixon knew that it wasn’t nearly good enough for the princess. He led her to a tiny hovel hiding in the middle of the forest, and low and behold, there were several jars of elixir of moonshine. They drank the elixir, but it only ended up making them both sadder, remembering their lives before the evil ruler tore apart their home.

                Sir Dixon and Princess Beth ended up getting into a terrible argument. Now, no one had ever stood up to Sir Dixon before – most people were afraid of him and would rather just leave him alone, and he liked it that way – but the princess had become very brave since she had been with him, and she stood her ground. She never backed down for a second, no matter what Sir Dixon yelled at her. Finally, Sir Dixon dropped all his armor and showed the princess just how sad he really was. He told her how he thought it was his fault that the kingdom had fallen.

                Princess Beth held him close, and he instantly felt comforted by her caring for him. After they had calmed down, they spent the rest of the night talking, telling each other secrets from their past, their hopes for the future. Now, no one had ever just listened to Sir Dixon before – most people thought he was only good for fighting and that he didn’t worry about things like that – but Princess Beth saw that he was a good man, and made him see it, too.

                Princess Beth decided to burn down the shack, because now that they had shared so much, she knew it was good to leave it all behind, and their past lives with it. She helped Sir Dixon spread the elixir of moonshine all around and they watched as it caught fire in the dark of night.

                And Sir Dixon was beginning to feel truly happy for the first time in his life, all because of the Princess.

                Over the next several weeks, the two became very good friends. She learned how to hunt and how to fight from him, and she taught him what it was to be a good person, and to have faith that there were still good people in the world. They looked all through the woods for any signs of their friends, and never found anything, but the princess still had faith. One day, while hunting, the princess hurt her foot very badly. Sir Dixon knew he had to find shelter for the both of them, and carried her on his back until they found a cozy cottage on the edge of the woods.

                This cottage was well looked after, and Sir Dixon wasn’t sure it was entirely safe, but they needed a place to stay, so they decided to stay there until Princess Beth’s foot was healed. While Sir Dixon was making certain they were secure inside the cottage for the night, the princess began singing a song. It had been so long since Sir Dixon had heard anything so beautiful, that he could only stop and listen to the music she was creating.

                Now, while they still lived in the kingdom, Sir Dixon never cared for music – he thought any time the princess would start singing, she was just doing it for fun, and there was never really time for fun; there was always work to do – but that night, he thought it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever heard...or seen. He found himself staring, as if he were under a spell. He began to feel things he’d never felt before, but he liked what he was feeling, and let his heart guide him rather than his head.

                Sir Dixon found himself growing happier and happier, and more and more fond of the princess. He knew he was supposed to keep his distance; she was a beautiful princess, and he was an angry knight, more suited for battle than he was anything else. Still, he let himself feel happy. He let himself relax for the first time in a long, long time.

                The next morning, Sir Dixon wanted to surprise the princess by preparing a breakfast for the two of them. He was so excited to show her what he had done, that he scooped her up in his arms and carried her into the small kitchen and sat her down at the table to eat. They spent the day still talking with each other, getting to know each other even more than they already had. Sir Dixon found his heart growing lighter and lighter the longer he stayed in her presence, and these feelings were so new to him, he wasn’t sure what to do with them, so he kept them hidden from her.

                Later, that evening, by the light of several candles they had found, Princess Beth, being the kind and gracious princess that she was, decided to write a letter to whoever owned the house, thanking them for the food they had helped themselves to. Sir Dixon told her that she didn’t really need to leave a letter, that he wouldn’t mind staying in the cottage forever, just him and the princess. Even if the people who lived in the cottage ever returned, he would ask them if they could stay, so he could stay with her in this place that made him feel so happy, this place he shared with her.

                The princess gave him a beautiful smile as she realized he was starting to believe that there were good people in the world, and asked him what had changed his mind.

                Now, Sir Dixon knew what had changed his mind – she was sitting right next to him at the table – but he couldn’t seem to bring himself to tell her that. He only mumbled a response, hoping it would be enough, but the princess pressed on. Sir Dixon found that he could only look at the princess, looking so beautiful in the candlelight. The princess seemed to read his mind, and became very quiet. She seemed to realize that Sir Dixon had feelings for her, and he thought that maybe she was beginning to feel the same way toward him. Sadly, before they could say another word to each other, there was a loud noise from outside.

                Now, Sir Dixon was usually very careful – he always made certain that places were safe before opening any door – but he was so excited and felt so happy with the princess, that he opened the door without checking to make sure it was safe. As soon as he opened the door, a swarm of monsters pushed their way into the cottage.

                Sir Dixon led the monsters away from the princess and yelled to tell her to run to the lane leading to the cottage and that he would meet her there once he had slain all the monsters. It only took a few moments for Sir Dixon to distract the monsters and give Princess Beth enough time to escape. When he finally made his way out of the cottage and out to the lane. When he got there he saw the bag she carried, but no sign of the princess.

                He looked up and saw a strange man dressed in black, riding a black horse, a white cross on the back of the knight’s tunic, galloping down the road, leaving a cloud of dust behind him. Sir Dixon could just make out the golden hair of the princess flying in the wind.

                Without a second thought, Sir Dixon ran with all his might to try to catch up to the knight who had taken the princess. He called out over and over, hoping she would hear him, hoping they would stop, but the horse only picked up speed. Sir Dixon ran all night, following the horse’s tracks, until he came to a heavily used crossroads and realized there was no way he could follow them anymore. All he could do was collapse in exhaustion in the middle of the road. He was very, very sad.

                After several hours, a group of bandits surrounded him, and threatened him, saying he could either come with them or they would kill him. Now, Sir Dixon knew these were bad men – the princess had taught him what is was to be a good man, and these men were nothing like what she had spoken about – but he knew if he was to ever find her again, he had to stay alive, so he joined up with the bandits.

                He learned that these bandits were looking for a man who had killed one of their own, and could use his help in tracking him down. Sir Dixon was left with no choice but to help them. Eventually they all caught up with the man they were looking for; it turned out to be the sheriff, his friend from the kingdom, the sheriff’s son, and a wandering warrior who had joined the people of the kingdom. Together, they fought against the bandits and won. Sir Dixon told the sheriff about the princess, and knew his friend could tell how very much he missed her even though he couldn’t say the words.

                The four of them followed the trail, still looking for the rest of their people, Sir Dixon always searching for the princess. They came to a strange kingdom called Terminus, and at first were welcomed to join them, until the sheriff realized that the people of Terminus were wearing and using things that he knew belonged to the people of their own kingdom. They learned too late that Terminus was a trap, and they were thrown into the dungeon.

                As terrible as Sir Dixon’s luck had been, it seemed to be turning. As their eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw that, also in the dungeon, was the rest of the people from their kingdom. Together, they prepared to make their escape, as the people of Terminus had planned all manner of terrible things to do to them.

                Their plans fell through, and they found themselves in grave danger. Suddenly, there was a loud sound from outside the walls of the kingdom, then a louder sound from within the same walls. The sheriff made his move to escape, and Sir Dixon and the rest followed him. They all met up outside the walls of the now fallen Terminus to find Lady Carol, who had been the one to cause the distractions that allowed the rest of the group to escape.

                It turned out Lady Carol had met up with Sir Tyreese, who had been caring for the sheriff’s baby after their kingdom had fallen. The sheriff was so happy to see his baby girl again, and Sir Dixon was too, but more than that, he was sad...very, very sad...because the princess had been right. Here were all their friends, safe and sound, only a little worse for wear, together again. She had had such strong faith, and he had doubted her for so long. Now he saw that she had been right all along and she wasn’t here to see it.

                Sir Dixon made it his mission to find Princess Beth no matter what, so he could show her how right she was.

At this, Daryl paused, hoping the little girl had fallen asleep. As soon as he stopped talking, the girl’s eyes popped open.

“Uncle Daryl, don’t stop there. Tell the rest of the story,” she begged.

“Are you sure, sweetheart? You know it doesn’t have a very happy ending.” His heart sank as the little girl nodded her head.

“Yes, I’m sure. Princess Beth is so brave. I want to be brave like her.”

Daryl sighed heavily and continued, swallowing past the lump growing in his throat.

                One night, Sir Dixon had followed Lady Carol away from the group. He wasn’t sure why she was walking around at night by herself, and toward one of the horses they had found earlier. He was starting to ask what she had been planning to do when a man on a dark horse galloped past them. Sir Dixon saw the same white cross on the knight’s tunic as before, the one who had taken Princess Beth, and rushed to get himself and Lady Carol mounted on the horse to follow them. He was so sure this knight would lead them right to the princess.

                They followed the knight to a kingdom Sir Dixon had only visited a few times, but Lady Carol was well familiar with it. Together they searched for clues to finding the princess. They came across a boy who ended up having met the Princess Beth, and had been trying to free her. The three of them tried to make their way out of the kingdom, but before they could, Lady Carol was struck by a runaway carriage. Sir Dixon wanted to help his friend, but the boy, Noah, convinced him that the people of the kingdom would take care of her, and they could come back to rescue both Lady Carol and Princess Beth.

                Sir Dixon brought Noah back to the rest of the people from the fallen kingdom. Noah told them that this new kingdom was run by a group of witches and warlocks, with very powerful magic and weapons. The leader of these was an evil witch named Dawn, who was very controlling, and felt very threatened by her own people. Noah explained that he was a servant to Dawn, and knew just how to get into the kingdom to save their two friends. He knew that the rest of the witches and warlocks in Grady Kingdom did not like Dawn, and that would be the way to take her down, by using her own people against her.

                The sheriff chose members of the group to return to the kingdom of Grady, including of course Sir Dixon, to find a way to rescue Lady Carol and Princess Beth. Together they ended up capturing a witch and a warlock, some of Dawn’s sentries, and planned to ask for an exchange, these two for their friends.

                The group made their way into Grady Castle, and found that Dawn was willing to trade with them. Lady Carol was released first, then Princess Beth. Her face had changed – she looked stern, fierce. Her cheek and forehead were now marked with scars, no doubt delivered by the hands of the evil witch Dawn. Sir Dixon was so happy to have her back with him, scars and all, but before he could tell her so, before they could turn around to leave the kingdom, Dawn called after them and demanded that they hand Noah back over to her, claiming that he was still her servant and she wanted him back.

                The sheriff argued with her, but Noah stepped forward, saying this was the way it had to be. Princess Beth chased after him and hugged him goodbye. Sir Dixon could only watch as she stepped up, face to face with Dawn. He was in such shock to see Princess Beth again, happy to see her acting so brave to stand up to the one who had kidnapped her, that he was powerless to move to stop what happened next.

                The princess had hidden a small dagger in her long flowing sleeve. She raised her arm high and brought the dagger down, slamming it into Dawn’s shoulder. In a flash, a loud sound rang through the hall, like a small cannon. Before anyone could react, the brave, beautiful, kind and loving Princess Beth sank to the ground – Dawn had cast a spell on her, a terrible spell that ended her life.

                Without thinking, Sir Dixon yelled out and grabbed his sword and ran Dawn through. He walked over and knelt next to the princess’ lifeless body on the ground. He wept over her, in front of his friends and the strange people of Grady Kingdom, but he didn’t care. He felt his heart breaking and knew that nothing, no spell or potion or elixir would ever be enough to heal it.

                He lifted the limp body of Princess Beth in his arms, carrying her carefully through the Castle Grady outside, to join the rest of the people of the fallen kingdom. Each step was harder and harder to take as his heart broke into millions of tiny pieces. He no longer felt like the good man the princess had seen. He felt sad, angry, and empty inside.

                It broke Sir Dixon’s heart that he couldn’t even give Princess Beth a proper funeral. As they left Grady Castle, a swarm of monsters started to chase them. He couldn’t bear to risk anything happening to her body if he couldn’t hold them off, so he was forced to leave her in an abandoned carriage on the side of the road, promising to come back to find her if he ever had the chance.

                His chance never came.

                No one else in the group had known just how much Princess Beth had changed since their kingdom had fallen. No one knew how strong she was, how brave, how independent...how beautiful she had become, even with the scars that marred her perfect face.

                Sir Dixon felt lost again, just like he had when the kingdom had first fallen. He made it his life’s mission to make sure that the baby girl that Princess Beth had cared for so much, would survive, would live in safety, would want for nothing, and would never, ever forget all that Princess Beth had done for her.

“The end,” Daryl said shakily, his voice barely above a whisper. He looked over at the girl, still tucked in under the covers and smiled sadly. He got up then bent over to kiss her forehead. “Good night, Judith, my sweet girl. Pleasant dreams,” he whispered before turning toward the hallway, rushing to leave the room before the tears began to fall, just as hot and angry as they had been falling all these years.

“Uncle Daryl,” her sleepy voice called. His eyes turned heavenward, silently asking for strength, and turned around. “Princess Beth loved the little girl very much, didn’t she?”

Daryl sniffed and shook his head vigorously, “Yes...yes she did, Judith.”

Judith thought for a moment then added, “I think she loved Sir Dixon, too. I think he loved her, too.”

Daryl released a shaky laugh, the first of his tears spilling over his cheeks. “I think you’re right, sweetheart.”

“Why don’t you have any kids, Uncle Daryl?” she asked innocently.

The question cut through what was left of Daryl’s heart. He swallowed before answering, “Because you should have kids with your one true love, and mine’s gone.”

“Will you ever find her again?”

“I hope so Lil A...I hope so. Get some sleep okay?”

Judith yawned, “Alright. Good night Uncle Daryl. I love you.”

Daryl took a long, wavering breath. “I love you, Princess.”