I entered the 2017 NYC Midnight Short Story Competition with the following story. The competition is interesting in that you get three elements of a story, a word limit, and a time limit. Then you submit the result. I was proud of my little tale. I wrote it over four days with the requirements of it being less than 2500 words, being within the fantasy genre, having a cemetery as part of a setting, and involving an entrepreneur. I received a lot of praise in my feedback as well as great critique. I understand the reason why I did not advance in the competition. I just need to keep going. Nevertheless, I quite enjoy this little tale, and I see it as the start to something bigger, perhaps a novel. It just seemed better to release it for all to read, rather than let it fester within the depths of my computer’s hard drive. I do hope you enjoy, and I would adore any and all feedback. Without further ado, I present to you all…
Your majesty, I would like to extend my humble apologies for the corpse at your doorstep. My only hope is that you have been able to look past the horrific scene and retrieve this note. I assure you, these words will explain everything.
I love your daughter more than the breath of life itself. This has been true for as long as I care to remember. I was only a boy of thirteen when my mother sent me to find work in your palace. I was chosen as a stableboy, a miserable and grueling chore, but the meager earnings were enough to keep the great hunger away. I resented it at first, but soon I found myself unable to stay away.
I have the clearest vision of the first time your youngest daughter, Princess Mazzy, rode toward me. I had never seen her before. All I had known about Mazzy prior that moment was that she was the daughter who would never inherit the crown, the one who could only hope of finding a prince from another kingdom to make his queen. Otherwise, she would languish as a waste of royal blood, forever marked as the daughter who brought shame unto your family. This was her fate as was determined from the moment of her birth, and even I, a peasant boy, was aware of her cruel plight.
But I was never aware of her bloom and elegance. Your daughter has always, ever since that moment, defined beauty for me. I know she was dismissed as the least eye-pleasing amongst your children, but I never saw her that way, not even once. When she met eyes with me, there was instant recognition. She saw beyond my tattered robes and filth and could discern the core of my being. And I could recognize her true warmth through her forced pomp and ostentation. I remember her riding up to me on her storm-gray mare, both of us reluctant to break the millions of words of silent conversation we shared in our gaze. I will never forget the moment when she first spoke to me with the soft cadence and sweet charm of her young, musical voice.
“You look like a Cedric to me.” she said, wearing a smile that filled my heart to bursting.
I could not speak in return, for she was correct. The moment stole my breath. There was no chance she could have known my name. The recruiters had plucked me from a sea of boys, all of us desperate to make a coin a day. I was chosen for my build, not my name.
We knew one other as soon as our first gaze intertwined our fates. The great universe is an endless maze, yet the gods placed her and I together. Mazzy and I played out a story dictated by the stars.
We told no one, for no one else mattered. Not that anyone would have understood.
Peasant workers received beatings if caught speaking to the royals. Your guards were ruthless in their discipline. Mazzy still made time to meet with me almost every day for the next few years, using her clever mind to conjure up ways for us to rendezvous in secret. When we were caught, the guards waited for Mazzy to retire back to the castle, then came to the stables to whip me. This was under your direction. Their lashes split my back open to the point of the scars taking up far more room than any of the healthy skin. Even so, I was never deterred from seeing her the next day.
What punishment is greater than depriving oneself of true love?
That very question was tested countless times throughout the rest of our lives. By age sixteen, I was finally banished from the palace grounds for speaking to Mazzy. This infuriated my mother to no end. She beat me for losing income for our family, and it was true that we never ate well again. I tried explaining to her how I felt. She called me a fool for dreaming of ever having a chance of gaining the affections of anyone within the royal family, let alone a princess. My brothers and sisters soon joined in mocking my love for Mazzy, and my home life became an even poorer existence than is typically afforded a peasant boy. When I could escape the barrage of abuse from my mother and siblings, I walked to the foothills and found a higher peak so I could look down over the castle gates in an attempt to catch a single glimpse of my love.
One day, I knew I saw Mazzy, even though she was as small as a single grain of rice from where I was perched. I was certain she could see my filthy visage amongst all the rocky disarray surrounding me. I was not forgotten. Though we were separate, our hearts remained near.
It was upon my eighteenth birthday that we finally reunited. She snuck out from the castle and found me in the foothills. Despite years of absence, we found no reason to speak.
Instead, we kissed.
It was a dream realized.
And then she had to return. There was no need to explain; I knew she had to go. It was not easy watching her walk away, but I had no doubt I would see her again.
And I did.
Every day, we met and embraced, sharing and expressing our love as we looked over the kingdom that mocked and abused us for following our hearts. The doubters never mattered; our love was as natural as a heartbeat.
It did not take long for the discussion of fleeing to begin. Sadly, the difficulty was money. It was fact that none of the royal wealth would be available should she declare her love for me. And there was no chance a man ostracized from working within the palace grounds would be able to make a decent enough wage within the kingdom to afford elopement.
It was I who came up with the plan to leave the kingdom to find work. This decision I cannot stop regretting, yet there were no other options. I loathed leaving my love, but I saw it as a temporary task for the greater good. I could wander and work hard labor for years, and once I saved up enough to afford our elopement, I would return and steal Mazzy away. We would make a life together in another land. It was a dream I carried with me for several months, and it kept me strong and focused.
Then that dolorous day descended. The gods no longer seemed to favor our union.
My oldest sister sent me the carrier pigeon with the news of Mazzy’s death. There were no details of how or why. The rolled up piece of parchment only wore these mocking words:
“Your precious Princess Mazzy is dead.”
I remember feeling as though I myself would die from the shredding of my soul. My heart was wrung out by cold and ruthless hands. I cursed the gods and swore off all allegiance to them.
Mere moments later, I took the wages I had saved to the nearest pub and began grieving under the foolish cloak of heavy drink. My traumatized and intoxicated mind relived the tale of my love for Mazzy to anyone who would listen, and eventually my story landed upon the ears of an elderly man with a black mustache curling up into sharp, pointed ends. He invited me out to the front of the building where he had parked a cart of his wares. I followed him only because I was drunk, and I was curious about his claim that he could help me. Part of me hoped he was a criminal, leading me off to stab me in the heart and end my misery.
His cart was packed to the brim with ointments, potions, and jewelry. He pointed out numerous items designed to help with coping, with forgetting, with moving on. Amongst all the flash and distraction, a small vial filled with an opaque black liquid drew my attention. He caught me staring at the bottle and complimented my taste, stating that what I had found was an elixir of his own creation.
The old man said his elixir could bring the dead back to life, but at a cost. It required an exchange, a life for a life. Half of the bottle had to be consumed by someone alive before the other half was poured into the mouth of someone dead. The dead would revive, and both people would remain alive until the following sunset. Once the last sliver of the sun’s light slipped off the horizon, the exchange of life would be complete. The dead would live once more, and the living would perish.
I was at first appalled at the claim of the liquid’s effects, so I accused him of being either a warlock or a wizard. He chuckled, stating he was merely a struggling entrepreneur, but he guaranteed his product would work. In honesty, I cared not if his potion was dark magic. All I knew was that I had a chance to bring Mazzy back from the dead, and doing so was worth more than my own life. I spent almost the remainder of my wages on the old man’s elixir and began my return journey home in the next moment. I never once stopped for rest.
Even so, the journey took three days, and I did not make it back before her corpse was secured in several feet of earth.
I walked onto the cemetery grounds just before dusk. The dirt in front of her headstone was freshly moved and lilacs and lavender were strewn upon it. For a moment, I considered myself to be too late. It felt wrong to dig up my love’s remains.
But then I read her headstone. Its message compelled me to expose what lay underneath. My task had changed. I did not wish to rescue my love any longer. The purpose of my mission had become far greater than I imagined.
I clawed the earth away from the grave in what felt like mere minutes, tears streaming from my eyes to the point of blinding me as I dug. My fingernails tore and bled with my efforts, yet I felt nothing but love and desperation. At last, I reached the casket and pried it open with strength I never before knew I had.
The headstone was not a lie. I cradled the tiny body and brought it up out of the grave. Mazzy’s remains were now only remains, nothing more. She was gone. This tiny infant boy in my arms, though, meant everything to me, to us, to our love. I fell to my knees, sobbing, hoping for everything to be a nightmare. My gaze shifted back and forth between the baby boy and the headstone declaring Mazzy, my love, to be the victim of a difficult childbirth. Next to her name was another name with the birth and death date being the same, only three days earlier, on the day my love died.
The inscription declared his name to be Cedric.
I will admit that I was unsure of the elixir when I first sipped my half of its contents. My skepticism did not matter, though. I had to try and rekindle the fire of the love I shared with your daughter. I wanted to give the other half to my child right away, but I realized that I had no means for caring for the boy. I thought of all the nursemaids at the palace and the care little Cedric would receive there. I brought his body to your front door, and we arrived in the early evening.
I gave Cedric his half of the elixir on your doorstep. The old man’s concoction worked exactly as he stated.
You will see what I saw. He has her soft, powder blue eyes. His cry is strong. He is healthy. I only had a few glowing moments with my son before I knocked at your door. I don’t remember quite what happened, but the guard sent for one of your nursemaids, and they took him from me, to safety.
I do not know what was said of Mazzy’s pregnancy, but I am certain the news was not met with great enthusiasm. Perhaps she told you the truth, and you thought the child was only the bastard son of a missing peasant boy. He is much more than that. Cedric, your grandson, is perhaps the most special child to grace your kingdom in many millennia. He is the direct product of true love. He is a perfect creation.
I know I did right by him. I know I did what your daughter would have wanted. In Cedric, the greatest love carries on. Love him as your own. I plead for you not to reject him.
As I write these words, the sun is settling in behind the foothills I used to sit upon while studying my love from afar.
I apologize for my corpse on your doorstep, but I felt you should know the love from which that boy is made. Cedric is perhaps the most precious child in your kingdom. He is the product of pure love, and he has already defeated death. Both of his parents sacrificed their lives so he could live on.
I beg you to treat him as your own.
And perhaps, one day, you can tell him of his parents’ sacrifice, and how he is built from the truest love in the history of your kingdom.