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True love is found then lost again and again

You stop short.
The impossibly old, twisted little juniper-tree of a man gazes at you imploringly.
"I'm sorry, do I know you?" In a moment, you're berating yourself for speaking. You have the feeling he's mad.
He thrusts a package at you. It's tiny, wrapped in old brown paper. You stare at it. What if it contains something horribly dangerous?
You have to squash feelings of regret and pity as you see him stiffen. "Aye, m'lady." His accent's startling. It's got this tinny quality, like a voice in an old movie. You're sure you've never heard anything like it.
His words jolt you. "In every lifetime we meet, and it is always the same."
He's insane. You walk faster, this street is too empty. Best go somewhere crowded, just in case. He doesn't seem to notice, just trots alongside. You could lose him if you tried, but what if he has a gun? You couldn't lose his bullets. Best not to make him angry.
"Perhaps you've heard the tale, for it's been told before." His voice draws you in.
'Tis a tale as begins, as many do, with a birth. But this was not any birth, it was the birth of a prince. And what a prince he was! The king named him Delight, and as he grew, he never failed to live up to his name. He was always kind. His servants loved him. He was exceedingly generous. He brought peasants to dinner at the palace and sat them in his own seat at the right hand of the king.
Delight was the king's pride and joy, and he gave the young prince the finest of everything. The king was a good ruler, a good father, and all the land lived in peace.
And then the queen took ill and died. The poor king, who adored his wife, was devastated. He wasted away, and soon followed his wife, dying of a broken heart.
His last act was to provide for his beloved son. The throne would be his at the age of 14, and for all his education, for all his intelligence and kindness, Delight was unprepared. So the king called his dearest servant, his Faithful.
"You have always been my most trusted servant, Faithful. I need your service once more. In a few hours I will be dead."
Faithful could only nod.
"My son will assume the throne. You must assist him. Show him the land and acquaint him with the people. Lead him through the castle, for he knows not its secrets. But there is one thing you must keep from him always. He must never enter the highest room of the highest tower."
"M'lord," Faithful asked, "What rests there?"
The king croaked out: "Doom." Then he expired.
Immediately after Delight's coronation, Faithful spoke to him: "M'lord, afore yer poor father's death, he did call me t' his bedside. He bade me take ye all o'er th' land, so ye could meet th' folk ye are t' rule, so ye could learn their needs an' their troubles. Will ye go, my king?'
The boy agreed. Faithful gathered what they would need for their journey and they set off the next day.
They spent two years traveling, visiting every village, every remote farmhouse. The people grew to love their new king, for he was thoughtful, kind and humble. He listened to their grievances, and when it came time for him to judge he was always just, always wise.
When finally he returned home his subjects supported all that he did. He assumed fully, for the first time, his duties as king.
A few weeks later, Faithful spoke to Delight again. "M'lord," Faithful said, "'afore 'is death, yer father spoke t'me. A great many things, strange an' wonderful, lie in this castle. Many were gifts t'yer father from magicians. An' I know all o'them, ev'ry bit o'magic in this vast castle. Yer father bade me show ye it. So, m'lord, will ye spare Faithful a few hours t'see the magic?"
Delight trembled. Magic was strange, once outlawed and now looked upon with suspicion. And yet he said, "I shall always have time for Faithful."
So every day, King Delight left the court for a few hours and sought out Faithful and together they unlocked another room, saw another mystery. Over time the edge fell from King Delight's terror, and he grew to regard the magic objects as tools rather than an uncontrollable force.
Soon Delight had scoured every hidden room, every locked door of the castle, and had seen what wonders each contained.
When there was but one room left, Faithful turned away, proclaiming he had seen everything. The young king was mystified. "Dear Faithful," he cried as his servant was descending the stairs, "What about the last room?"
Faithful did not stop. "We'll nae enter tha' room."
"Wait! Please wait, dear Faithful! Why not?"
But Faithful did not wait, did not turn around. A terror had seized him. He remembered the old king's last words, the fear, pain and sadness in the king's eyes as he had told him that doom awaited in that room.
Delight was determined to enter that room. He took his ring of keys out. Not until he had tried every key did he retreat. He was angry with Faithful.
Morning came, and with it Faithful to King Delight's bedchambers, for he had anticipated the boy's anger and regretted leaving him. But Delight's anger was beyond what Faithful had expected so he spoke quickly, "I'm sorry, m'king. 'Twas horrible wrong o'me t'leave ye there, yesterday."
Delight didn't blink, just said, "Yes. It was."
Faithful said, "Will ye forgive me, m'lord?"
"Will you give me the key to the room at the top of the tallest tower?"
Faithful winced. "Nay, m'lord. Yer father tol' me not to."
Delight knew that Faithful would never disobey his father. But he was eaten up with curiosity, so he sent a servant to the locksmith to have a key made for the tower room. All that day those who saw him couldn't understand his distraction. The next day he disappeared. The court spread tales of kidnapping and murder. Only Faithful realized where Delight must be.
Faithful forced his aging body to the tower room. He opened the door and rushed in.
Delight stood in a corner, laughing. Faithful stepped into the room and feared that the poor boy had been bewitched.
Delight started. "Faithful! What are you doing here?"
"M'lord, ye've not been seen by a soul for three days now."
"That long? I didn't realize... I was talking to... Oh! Faithful. You've no idea. I must introduce you to..." He gestured to a painting in the corner. "This is Beauty."
Faithful stared. "M'lord, that's a portrait o' yer father."
The portrait frowned and the dead king spoke: "Faithful, you were not to let him into this room."
"My king!" Faithful cried and knelt in front of the portrait. "I'm sorry, dear king. I dinnae try near hard enough."
"I forgive you, Faithful. But now you must do one more thing for me. It has been prophesied that my son should fall in love from afar, that he should go through lifetimes of misery to win the one that he loves. And now he has fallen in love -- this portrait is powerful magic, for it shows a person their true love. Through all his suffering, Faithful -- no matter what -- you must help my Delight. Do not disappoint me."
Faithful bowed his head. "Ne'er again, my King."
It took Faithful and lovesick Delight almost a year to find Beauty's kingdom. After a year of sailing his clothes were tattered, his skin, no longer the pale of court, his hands, calloused. Why, even in his finest remaining clothes, he looked no better than a common merchant!
So when Faithful said, "M'lord, wouldst ye be able to deceive yer love t'gain 'er audience?" Delight assented, though it pained him.
Faithful set about finding the finest goldsmiths in the land, and had all the gold in their ship -- besides Delight's crown and his signet ring -- melted down and crafted into treasures and trinkets. Delight and Faithful loaded a cart with treasures and stored more in the hold of their ship.
The princess adored the trinkets, and declared that she wished to buy them all. "My lady," said Delight with a bow, "There are many more treasures in my ship. Would you like to see them? It's not far from here."
They set out at once. Beauty was so enraptured by the treasures that she did not notice the ship's movement until they were far from port.
"You kidnapped me! My father, he's a sorcerer, when he finds out..." she said.
Delight sighed. "I will tell my sailors to turn around."
"Yes! Do it! Now!"
"But first you must listen. I have sailed for nearly a year to find you, dear Beauty. My father had a portrait that showed the face of the viewer's true love. It showed me you. I've sailed all this way to find the face I have seen in the portrait. If you cannot love me, we will take you back to your castle."
She softened, just a bit. "I do not even know you."
Delight took her to the portrait. As she saw his face smiling back at her, she knew he spoke the truth. "You are but a merchant! My father would never permit it."
"I am a king, my dearest." He drew his signet ring from his pocket. And so Delight won his queen.
Delight and Beauty were wed as soon as they returned to Delight's land. In the middle of the country's long celebration, Beauty caught sight of her favorite steed from her own lands. "How wonderful!" she said to Delight, "My father must have sent it as a wedding gift."
The moment Beauty touched the steed, she vanished.
Delight was heartbroken. He called every magician in the land, asking them to bring Beauty back again, but their answers were always the same: "You will not have her back in this lifetime."
He had almost lost hope when the last magician added, "But I can make it so that you may find her again in another."
Delight smiled: "Yes! Yes, do it!"
"Aye, my king. I cannot find her for you, but I can make it so you shall never age, except when you are with her. But, my king -- there is a price. Another must feel the ravages of age doubly for all the time you do not age, and not find the peace of death until you do."
Faithful didn't hesitate. "I'll be that one, magician." That was what the king had meant, wasn't it, when he had spoken to him in the portrait that day?
The stars looked cruelly upon Beauty and Delight. Again and again he found her, in lifetime after lifetime, only to lose her. But still he keeps searching, hoping. You take the package, almost reflexively. Inside is a small gold ring -- a king's signet ring.
Faithful smiles. "So, m'lady Beauty -- will ye come with me?"
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Upload Date: 31/12/1969

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