Once upon a time, in a faraway land of dreams and ideas, there was a kingdom known far and wide for its riches and beauty. Poets all across the land spoke of it's grand golden halls and the diamonds glittering atop the palace towers. The kingdom seemed to glow no matter what time of day it was, and the lands around it were filled with treasures of the earth.
In this kingdom, the people were celebrating. Ribbons and banners fluttered in the wind, and there was music and laughter. Today, they were preparing for a royal wedding that would take place the next evening at sunset. The arranged marriage of princess Fancissa and prince Troy had been greatly anticipated, and the people of the kingdom were excited for the celebrations and happiness that was surely to follow.
Prince Troy rode into the kingdom atop a white stallion with his friendly knights behind him. He was a handsome young man, with dreamy brown hair and eyes that sparkled like the famous golden halls. He wore a velvet cape with golden thread, and a crown of sapphires rested upon his head. He was smiling - today he would finally meet the princess, the girl he'd been writing to for years and had fallen in love with over her written words. He had heard stories of her beauty and grace from her people, and today, at last, he would finally meet her.
The prince and his knights rode to the grand palace and while his knights led the horses into the royal stables, the prince gathered up his gift to the princess and made his way into the palace.
He was greeted by servants, who bowed and smiled and spoke kindly. They led him to the royal hall, where the king sat upon his throne. The king was old, but not elderly. He had iron eyes and silver hair and possessed an aura of strength and wisdom.
The prince bowed before the king. "Your Highness," he said, "I bring you thanks from my family for allowing me to journey here a day in advance. It is not usually done, but you have allowed it. You have my family's thanks, and mine as well."
The king smiled. "There is no need to thank me," he said. "It was Francissa who accepted the request, not I."
Troy stood. "If I may ask," he said, "where is the princess? I...expected to see her here."
"She did not wish it," the king said. "She is waiting for you in the gardens. She wanted the moment to be a private one." The king's smile widened. "And before you ask, yes. You may leave me to see her. I can see the eagerness in your face. Go, and be blessed."
"Many thanks, Highness," Troy said gratefully, and hurried from the hall.
He found the gardens easily. They were filled with blooming trees and fragrant flowers. The air was filled with butterflies and bees and the sound of birds chirping in the trees and the bubble of the fountains. Troy gazed about; the gardens were truly beautiful.
He heard a rustle and turned. A figure stood between two blooming cherry trees, cloaked in a blue velvet hood. He could not see their face, and did not know them, and yet he was not afraid.
"Hello," he said. "Are you a servant? I am Prince Troy. I am supposed to meet my princess here. Have you seen her?"
"I have," the figure said; the voice was not female, Troy could tell, but it was a higher pitch than most male voice's he'd heard.
"Could you tell me where she may be?" he asked.
The figure lifted their hands and unclasped the hood, dropping it away. "My dear Troy," they said. "I am the princess."
Troy stared at her in stunned silence. She wore a gown of glittering reds and pinks, like the most glorious of roses. Her hair, long waves of black, were weaved with gold and flowers. She wore jewels that sparkled in the sunlight, and slippers made of golden velvet.
And yet...she was not a woman. Her face was most certainly beautiful, but was not truly ladylike. The gown was fitted to her form and yet she had no curves, no womanly bosom or hips. She was thin and tall, nearly taller than the prince himself.
This could not be his princess.
"I...pardon me," he said weakly. "But you cannot be."
"I am," she said. She lifted her hand; in it was a small stack of letters. "We have been writing for years, since we were young."
"My...my princess is not..."
"Is not what?" She tilted her head. "Were you expecting a young, beautiful girl? Am I not enough for you? Have you not said, countless times, that you loved me?"
"Yes, of course, but I...I thought you were....that I was..." He cleared his throat. "Why have you not told me? Why did I not know of your...your...condition?"
Francissa gazed at him steadily for a long moment, and he realized that she had not smiled. Her eyes were cold and steady. Her voice had been...hopeful. And now she looked...what? What was it? Tired. Sad. But not surprised.
"I did not see why it would matter," she said, and all hopefulness was gone in her voice. "You told me you loved me without condition. Now I see that was a lie. And the reason I never spoke of my...condition. You see, I was under the impression that you would not care."
"Not care?" he said incredulously. "Not care? I cannot marry you! You are not a woman, you cannot bear me children. We would have no heirs!"
"There are plenty of children with no parents," she said calmly. "We could adopt them."
"That is not the same! They would not have my blood. You...how...how could you not tell me?"
"As I said," she said coolly. "I assumed you loved me without condition. I was wrong. We both were." She reached down, picked up her cloak. "The marriage is no more. You can return home in the morning, after a night's rest."
He watched as she pulled her cloak back on and strode past him into the palace. As she went by, he caught the scent of vanilla - it was familiar, as he always caught a waft of that smell whenever he opened one of her letters. He turned, intending to say something, anything, but she was gone, long gone into the palace, leaving him alone in the gardens.
That evening, the princess paced her chambers. She should have known. She had had the same reaction from the other suitors her father had "hooked her up with". Each of them had been cold, angry, disappointed.
Her desires were simple. She wanted love. True love, where she would be happy and not...feel as though she was a disappointment.
There was a light tap on her door.
"Yes, father?" she sighed. The king stepped in with an ornate box under his arm. She knew fully well what it contained. Her father always brought her chocolates when she was upset.
"I was just informed by one of the prince's knights," he said gently. He walked to her bed, sitting on the edge. "I'm sorry, my darling. I thought he would be the one."
"As did I." She sighed, looking out her window. "But I am afraid. I fear I cannot find love. I fear I will be alone, and never marry, and you will not have a successor." She took a breath, fighting back her tears of fear and frustration. "Am I a failure?" she asked softly.
The king frowned. "No," he said. He stood, walking over to her. "No, my darling, of course not. You are my pride and joy in this world. Your happiness is all I wish."
"Why is it so difficult?" she said. "Why must they hate me so? I am a princess! I...they want a woman, with breasts and curves and...and lady parts, and I have none of those things! I despise myself for it."
"Do not," the king said firmly. "Do not, my dear. You are perfect. You are a princess, a great princess, the most beautiful in the land."
"Beauty does not matter to me. I want love. I want to be loved as I am. Flaws, imperfections, everything I am. I want...I want to be accepted by someone's heart." She could not hold back the tears now. "I...I wanted it to be Troy."
The king reached up, brushed away her tears. "I know," he said gently. "I know you did. And I believe he did, as well. People are blinded by the flaws in society. They believe that only men can love women. That women only love men, and have no desires of their own. Our kingdom is known most for the riches it produces from our mines, for it's beauty and it's splendor. Not for it's equality of gender and sexuality. We have little crime, little hate within our walls. Those beyond the walls know little of this miracle that is our kingdom. They see what they want, they accept what they're told, and it is rare to find others with minds as open and accepting as ours." He smiled, brushing back her hair. "You will find love," he said softly. "Be it a prince, a farmer, a miner or a smith. I swear to you, we will not stop looking. We will find your love."
Prince Troy lay awake that night gazing at the ceiling. He was...conflicted.
He felt sad. And he felt...ashamed. He couldn't think of anything besides the princess. He knew he had hurt her. He had seen it in her eyes when the hope had left them. And it upset him. She had been through this before. He knew it.
But what was he to do? He couldn't marry a man. He was a prince. He had to rule, and be sure he had successors and a safe kingdom, and if he was married to a man...well, it would seem like a sign of weakness, wouldn't it?
He had grown up believing he would marry a beautiful woman. He had daydreamed about her for years. He had envisioned their lives filled with happiness and children and celebrations. And yet...now those dreams were gone. At least, they were gone with Francissa in the picture.
He could find another wife. He would have plenty to choose from. There was no shortages of princesses or noble ladies. He could live his dreams of a perfect family with them.
But then...why did the idea fill him with dread?
The next day, he and his knights prepared to leave. As he pulled himself up onto his horse, he glanced at the palace. The king stood on the steps, Francissa at his side. They both seemed disappointed.
"Farewell, Prince Troy," the king said. "We wish you good luck and blessings for your family."
"Thank you, Highness," Troy murmured. He glanced at Francissa. She gazed at the ground, her eyes red and puffy. She had been crying.
"I...I wish you the best of luck, princess," he said softly. "We...were not fated to be."
"Perhaps," she said. "Good-bye, Troy." With that, she turned, striding back into the palace.
He felt a strange pang in his heart. He pulled his horse around, urging the stallion forward. And with the glittering palace behind him, he rode out of the gates and back towards his own kingdom.
They stopped for the night beside a flowing stream. The knights built a fire, talking quietly as the prince walked along the stream. His thoughts were scattered. He thought of his home one moment, Francissa the next. He wished he did not have her in his head. He wanted to move on. He had only met her for a few minutes, the most disastrous minutes of his life. HE was going home, going to find a wife, going to live happily ever after.
So why was his heart in such pain?
He sighed, looking up at the night sky. The stars glittered like diamonds, the moon glowed full and pregnant with light. It was a romantic sight, the stars, the moon, the flowing stream gurgling with watery laughter.
For one, brief moment, he imagined sitting with the princess, laughing with the stream, the jewels in her hair illuminated by the moonlight, the glow of her skin. Her smile. God, her smile would surely be gorgeous.
He stopped walking. He stared at the stars, feeling a sense of realization.
He had not thought of her any other way. Even seeing her, seeing her Adam's apple bob as she spoke, seeing her male form, seeing her masculine features...he had not thought of her as anything other than "her". Not once had it crossed his mind to say "him".
Just her. Only her.
He sank down onto a rock by the stream. How had this escaped him? He had known Francissa, through words, through the smell of vanilla on parchment, through anticipation for letters and doodles and pressed flowers. He had felt excitement, joy, sadness...writing to her, imagining her, reading her thoughts and dreams and joys.
He had loved her then. And, he realized, he loved her now. After seeing her, after looking at her and seeing the hope fade from her face...his heart ached for her. For the fact he had hurt her. And for the fact that he had left her.
He had left her. He had made a mistake. God, how could he have been so blind? It was as if a fog had been lifted from his eyes. He saw now, what he truly wanted, who he truly loved.
He stood, running back to his horse. His knights looked up as he mounted the stallion. "Prince Troy?" they said. Then shouted with exclamation as he shot away, back towards the palace, as fast the stallion could go.
So what if the world saw it as a weakness? It was far from weak. It was brave, it was impulsive, it was true. He saw that now. He had to mend the heart he'd broken. He had to rekindle her hope. He had to give her the happiness she desired. The happiness he himself desired.
His mind was only on Francissa. As the palace came into view, the jewels glimmering in the moonlight, he felt a surge of hope. He could make it. He could fix what he'd broken. He could do it!
The stallion skidded to a halt outside the closed gates of the palace courtyard. He climbed down, running along the walls. It would take too long, waiting on the guards. He had to get in. He had to find her.
Vines climbed along the walls in jagged patterns of thorns. He began to climb. Perhaps it was difficult. But he was determined, he was not going to be stopped by plant-life. He grabbed vines, ignoring the thorns that pricked his arms. They were nothing, nothing at all. He would suffer the pain if it meant getting to Francissa.
He hauled himself over the palace wall, landing in the gardens. He untangled himself from the rose bushes he'd landed in, gasping from the laborious climb. He looked up at the palace walls, as the candles in the windows, searching for a face, a clue, anything.
Then he saw it: the candle, the glow, the figure leaned against the window, asleep. It was her. He knew it. But how to get there? The palace was asleep. The doors were locked. Could he climb? Could he reach her?
He had to try. He yanked off his velvet cape, dropping it to the stones on the garden pathway, and shoved back his sleeves. He felt along the wall until he found a stone jutting further out than the rest.
And he began the climb.
Francissa had been reading the letters. Her heart was heavy with sadness. She had truly hoped it would be Troy. He had seemed so sincere in his letters. She had felt connected. Whole. But now...now she felt cracked. It was different from the other suitors. She had expected their dismay. But Troy...he had been her hope. And now it, and he, was gone.
She must have fallen asleep, because she was jolted awake by a shrill shout outside her window.
She blinked, rubbing sleep from her eyes. No. It couldn't be. She pushed her window open, peering down, and shrieked.
"Troy? What are you doing?!"
He was clinging onto two stones, sweaty and straining. Dirt stained his shirt, his hair was messy, and leaves and thorns stuck to his clothes. He looked like he'd just fallen into a garden plot. And smelled like it, too.
"Had to - come back," he panted.
She frowned. "Did you forget something?"
"What? Clothes? Gold?"
"No," he huffed, "I forgot - to -"
"To what? Shall I get my father?"
"No!" He scowled. "Stop it! I forgot to marry you, damn it!"
For a moment, she stared at him. Surely he didn't...he hadn't just...had he..?
"Yes! Marry you! Like - like we said we would!"
She opened her mouth. Closed it. Opened it again. "But I thought you-"
"I was stupid," he panted. "I was - foolish. I thought it was - was weak, was impossible. I - I'm sorry, Francissa. I'm sorry. I love you. I always loved you. A-and I don't deserve you, I know that, not after what I said, and did, b-but-but if you'll have me, if...if you'll forgive me, I....I'd like to...to be yours." He gazed up at her, hope and desperation on his face.
She was stunned. She had....not expected this. Not even for a moment. She had assumed he was just like all the others. But here he was, clinging on for dear life, telling her everything she'd ever wanted to hear.
Was it true? Was it too good to be true?
"You hurt me," she said quietly.
"I know. I know I did. Francissa, I-"
"No, shut up, you idiot." She huffed. "You hurt me. And if you want me, truly want me, then you're going to have to make it up to me. I'm talking major make-up."
"I j-just climbed the palace walls and the palace itself to tell you I love you!"
"Do you want a reward?" she asked dryly.
He sighed. "C-could you at least h-help me in? Please?"
It took some effort, but she managed to help haul him inside. He panted, slumped down on the floor. She crossed her arms, frowning down at him.
"What changed your mind?"
"I...I was sad," he said. "Last night - and all today, and I was thinking that...that I could just find someone else." He pushed himself up, looking up at her. "But...but it's not so. I realized that...that this entire time, I've never....I haven't thought of you in any other way than yourself. I tried to think you were a man, but you..." He shook his head. "I don't care what your body tells you you are. You're a princess. You've always told me, in your letters, that you are a princess. And you are. And I...I was a fool to not trust you, to not...not trust myself." He shifted onto his knees. "I never stopped loving you," he said softly. "Not once. Even when I thought I didn't, I did. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, Francissa, I was a fool."
"Yes, you were." She sighed, kneeling before him. "You really were." She lifted her hands, hesitantly cupping his face. "But you're my fool," she said softly. "You're all I ever wanted. All I ever dreamed of. Of course I forgive you, Troy. Of course I do."
He couldn't help the smile that spread across his face. Or his arms when they wrapped around her. Or his lips, when they pressed against hers. And he certainly couldn't stop the feelings that rushed through him, feeling her kiss him, feeling her sigh. Just being there. He had never been happier.
"I love you," he whispered against her lips.
"I love you," she murmured back.
"...Am I still an idiot?"
She laughed, and the sound was music to his ears. Her smile dazzled him more than any jewel ever could.
"Yes," she said. "You are."
The wedding was held the next day as scheduled, upon a hillside facing a gloriously golden forest. Troy's family arrived in the kingdom right before the ceremony, and were seated beside the king. They spoke happily, and laughed, and when Francissa appeared, dressed in a flowing gown of white with silver flowers and thorns, they hid their shock poorly.
"That is the princess?" the queen whispered as Francissa glided towards Troy down the aisle.
"That is my daughter, yes," the king said; the pride and joy in his voice silenced the queen and her husband, much to the relief of the king and those seated beside them.
The wedding was a grand celebration. Francissa and Troy smiled, and laughed, and teased each other. They said their vows, they blessed each others family, they kissed. And all throughout the kingdom, people rejoiced, for at last the princess had found her love.
Their happy tale spread across the land. The kingdom that was once famed for it's riches and beauty was now also famous for it's equality. Soon, other kingdoms proposed the same laws to their rulers. The world was filled with the tale of princess Francissa and her prince Troy. And their happiness spread like wildfire, filling people with hope. For if it could happen in one kingdom, could it not happen for the rest of the world?
In a neighboring kingdom, a new tale was begun, but that is a story for another time. For now, the world was being shaped by the influences of the young and bold, and soon, it would change - for the better, or for worse. For despite the happiness and hope, something much darker lurked beneath. And soon, it would try to corrupt and change and twist the mind.
But for now - in this moment, in this time - there was peace.