This was written January 20, 2013 in Montana, while in missionary training. Unedited.
Once upon a time, in a far away land, a princess lived with her father in a beautiful white castle, overlooking a deep forest. Her father, the king, loved her very much and would lavish her with gifts and love, but she longed for a prince to come. He reassured her often that a prince would one day come for her that he had picked out, and to wait patiently. She sat at his feet and would listen to the loving words he bestowed upon her.
When she was still very young, she became aware of a man who stalked the castle in a dark cloak. He came to the princess and told her that her father was lying to her, and then the man would hide in the shadows when others came around. He would point out the things that people did around her to tell her that she had no one. He would make her feel worthless, and only more words from her father would help her ignore the evil things the man would tell her.
She held her hands out to every young prince that came to her castle. Sometimes the men would take them, and spin her around, but they would leave quickly, leaving her falling in the dust, hitting the wall, and sliding to the floor. Then the man in the dark cloak would swoop down upon her, telling her that it happened because of her and that it was her fault – because she wasn’t beautiful and she didn’t deserve a prince.
The princess ran to her father crying, telling him of the man in the dark cloak. He reassured her, “Yes, child. I know he’s out there, but you can’t believe his words; He’s a liar and a thief.”
“What does he steal?” The girl asked.
“He steals innocence. He steals purity. He steals youth.”
The girl feared the man in the dark cloak, and would yell for her father when he came near her.
More princes came to the castle, but her father promised her that if she were patient, the one that would hold her and not let her go would come, and that for now she should stay with him.
But one day as she was walking the castle alone, wishing that the prince that her father meant for her to be with would come, a boy stepped onto her path.
He took her by her hands, and twirled her around, holding her close, and brushing the hair from her face. She stared into his eyes and thought, “This must be the prince that my father meant for me,” They danced often, his leading sometimes painful and strange, but she believed that the boy meant only to help her learn how to dance with him better.
The boy would retreat into the woods for long periods of time, and the princess would stand at the edge of it, calling for him to come out. Often he would sing to her from within, hoping to entice her inside. She would sometimes wander in, glancing around in fear, and he would attempt to drag her deeper and she would flee back to the castle, avoiding the presence of her father, because he would surely know where she had been because of the dirt on her dress and hair.
This same cycle happened again and again, as she delved deeper intot he woods each time – the boy entering the castle and leaving it, enticing her and her fleeing. One day, as she waited for the boy to leave the forest, an arrow came flying through the foliage – and then another and another. As she ducked in fear, she saw the boy she had thought was her prince leading the charge. Many of the arrows pierced her limbs and as the fake prince rode off without a word, she lay gasping at the foot of the castle, on the edge of the forest.
This time, the man in the black cloak came to her and simply stood over her. He didn’t even need to speak his words of poison, for she knew what it was he meant, and truly believed it. It was her fault, because she wasn’t beautiful enough, or important enough – because she didn’t say the right words or dance correctly. It was because of her blind love and the way she opened her heart so willingly. She laid there, gazing into the man’s soul-less eyes, absolutely positive that she meant nothing to anyone at all, not even her father whom she loved so dearly.
She ran away from the castle with the man in the dark cloak, seeking her worth – but only finding death and emptiness at every turn. Every dark tree that passed hid more arrows that flew, and she received more wounds and scars, becoming more and more battered and torn.
In a moment of desperate and panicked clarity, she saw that the liar and thief had taken just the things that her father had warned, and she tried to run from him, but he grabbed the back of her dress and pulled her back. He hissed in her ear, asking where she would run to. The once-princess stared into the man’s eyes and said, “Back to my father,”
The man laughed in her face. “Why would your dear father take you back? He would never forgive you for the pain you’ve put him through. Nor for the betrayal you’ve made him suffer.”
The girl pushed the man away, and ran as fast as she could back through the forest to the white castle, her dress and hair snagging on every branch that stood nearby – but as it rose into view, she shrank back – fearing her father’s wrath. After pacing in fear, she decided to sit on the edge of the forest, just to see if she could see his face again, but the servants of her father noticed her. They called to her father, saying, “Your daughter wants to come home, but she is afraid of coming in the gate!” The king quickly stood from his table and ran to the wall, staring out at his torn and ashamed daughter.
The princess stood up, ready to run back into the forest, but she saw the loving tears on her father’s cheeks. They propelled her forward as her father ran to her and held her tightly, carrying her back to the castle, and telling her lovingly that he missed her and would take care of her always. He listened to her apologies and he brushed back her hair, held her face, and told her that she shouldn’t have run away and that he had been waiting for her to simply call on him and he would have run to her at any moment, just as he did by the forest.
Her tears fell down her face into the beautiful robe he wore as he held her, telling her that she didn’t have to be afraid. For a long time, he cradled her in his arms. He would wash her wounds every day, reducing the scars and erasing the pain, and telling her that the prince was still on his way, still preparing for her.
While sometimes the girl thought back on the old arrow wounds she had received, and though they twinged during bad weather, her father knew her and loved her – and would always be there to prevent them from reopening, if she let him.
And so she waited patiently in the presence of her father.