The Prince And The Pine Cone

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The booming knocking echoed throughout the quiet castle. Wondering who was at the door at this time on a miserable night, the guard hurried to find out.

‘Who’s there?’ he called above the wind.

‘A brave man, lost and weary from fighting and travel!’ a voice yelled back.

The guard peered through the small door and looked out into the darkness. He could hear armour clinking together and the shuffling hoofs of a horse. Taking a lantern he had brought down from the tower with him, the guard shone the light outside and confirmed the figure of a knight walking his horse in the heavy down pour or rain.

‘What is your name, Sir?’ the guard asked.

You could never be too sure about travellers theses days.

‘I am Prince Adrian Bardun, of the kingdom next door. Can you offer shelter or not?’

‘Right away, Sire,’ the guard responded and opened the gate.

The prince led his horse inside and they stood for a few moments under the keep, rain water dripping off them. The guard pointed out the door to the castle and agreed to take the horse to the stable.

The prince walked up to the door and knocked just as loud. A elderly servant opened up and after making inquires, let the prince in. He was given a chance to dry off for a minutes whilst the servant went off to announce him.

The swishing of a long dress and soft padding of shoes on the castle floor, brought the prince’s head up and he saw walking towards him a beautiful a young woman. Her dress was dark blue, her hair was long and golden and she had a small crown on her head.

He bowed to her and introduced himself, ‘I’m prince Adrian Bardun. I seek shelter. I became lost in the forest and lucky happened upon your castle, my lady.’

‘I’m princess Aurora. Welcome,’ she said then turned to the servant, ‘take him to the kitchen to get warm and give him some food. And get someone to make a room up for him.’

The servant bowed, ‘follow me, sir.’

‘Thank you, your highness,’ the prince said and followed the servant to the kitchen.

The princess waited then drifted back to her chamber. She was tried after a day of helping her people sort out their disagreements. Sitting down at her table, she began to brush her hair again. It was task she greatly enjoyed.

A knock came at her door and when she told whoever it was to enter, her adviser, Walden Duner, walked in. He was tall man with a long nose, wearing a dark red robe. He was in her father’s, the king’s, service and had been for a long time. With the king being away, he had been charged with helping to direct the princess.

‘My lady,’ he said and give a small bow.

‘Sit, please,’ Aurora said.

The old adviser gratefully sank down on a small stool.

‘What do you think of our guest, the prince?’ she asked as she turned back to the mirror and carried on brushing her hair.

‘I’m not sure about him, your highness,’ Walden answered, ‘I’m not sure he is a prince from the neighbouring kingdom. I haven’t heard of him before you see.’

‘Oh. What shall we do?’ the princess asked.

‘Well…there is a test we could give him to prove if he really is a prince,’ Walden spoke slowly.

‘Go on.’

‘We pile his bed high with mattresses and blankets then we put a pine cone at the bottom and if he can feel the pine cone then he’s a real prince.’

The princess laughed, ‘that’s so silly. It’ll never work!’

‘Perhaps, it is just an old wives tale….’ Walden trailed off.

The princess finished brushing her hair whilst she thought then she spoke, ‘okay, do it. Pile everything you can on his bed and put the pine cone in. Even if he doesn’t turn out to be a prince it’ll be really funny.’

‘Yes, my lady,’ Walden said and got up to leave.

Trying to control her giggles, the princess got ready for bed.

The next morning, the princess dressed quickly and hurried to the guest chambers. On the way, she asked a maid which room the prince had been given. Going up to that door, she knocked and waited.

‘Who is it?’ the prince’s voice spoke out.

‘The princess,’ she replied.

The prince opened the door, he was dressed in trousers and a half opened shirt. The princess had not been able to see him clearly last night and he had been wearing a lot of armour too. She admired him, taking in his broad shoulders and large chest. He was a tall handsome man with dark hair.

The princess smiled up at him, lost for words.

‘Good morning,’ the prince said.

‘Yes. Good morning…How did you sleep?’ she asked.

‘Not very well to be honest, princess.’

‘Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.’

The prince held the bedroom door open wider and said, ‘I was actually just trying to see why and I think I’ve found the cause. Would you like to take a look with me?’

Wide eyed, the princess nodded and stepped into the room. Straight away she saw the bed was piled almost to the ceiling with mattress, blankets and cushions. The four poster bed frame looked like it was about to collapse and the curtains were bulging off to the side.

‘What a strange custom your kingdom has, princess. Your adviser told me this was a tradition here for guests….He refused to explain it to me. Can you?’ the prince said.

The princess smiled, fully impressed by Walden and her servants. She looked at him shyly, taking his body in once more.

‘But surely,’ the princess said slowly, ‘that’s not the reason for your bad night sleep?’

‘No, but look under here,’ the prince said.

He walked over and lifted all the bedding up and laying in the middle of the first mattress that had been bought on was a small pine cone.

The princess picked it up and looked at it. The pine cone was still complete and didn’t seem to have taken any damage from the mountain of bedding. The prince let the bedding fall back into place with a huff.

‘That, my lady, is what caused my sleepless night,’ the prince said and plucked the pine cone from her hand.

‘Oh…You felt this? I wonder how it got there…’ the princess wondered.

‘I have no idea…another custom maybe…?’ the prince asked with a smile on his face.

The princess smiled back. She lend in close to the prince, her fingers touch the pine cone as her lips brushed his.

 

(Inspired from: https://mindlovemiserysmenagerie.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/tale-weaver-121-25-05-17-reversenaughty-fairy-tales with thanks.)

Dawn

The streets weren’t safe after dawn. Hannah Long knew that, just like she knew the cause. Sitting in the window box of the attic, she watched the sky changing colour. The streetlamps went out marking a growing pathway of light. Sighing, Hannah watched the first of the spores rising towards the sky. They always started appearing seconds after dawn arrived. At first glance the spores looked like large snowflakes, only green coloured. They were soft and damp to the touch, but they didn’t melt away. Instead they absorbed into skin and spread poison into the body.

Opening her scrapbook, Hannah flipped through the pages. Ever since the spores had first appeared, she had gathered clippings of all kinds. There were newspaper, magazine and internet articles, her own notes from the TV and radio, pictures she had found and others she had taken. Mixed in were her own diary passages, which contained thoughts and reflections on things she had read.

Tucking a lock of brown hair behind her ear and fixing her glasses, she began to read the first reports in the budging book. At first the spores had been something of a spectacle, a mystery of nature across the world, but then they had started killing. It had taken scientists and biologists awhile to figure out the cause, but things were too late and the mushrooms had become well established.

Hannah glanced out of the window as the spores tapped against it. They were growing in numbers as it got lighter and hotter. Looking back again, she scanned an article about how the spores were not being reported in freezing places like Alaska and the North and South Poles. Luckily, they still weren’t, but the idea of fleeing to one of those places now was long past. Their boarders had closed a few months ago, when her parents, who were leading mycologists, had discovered that the spores could transfer via skin contact and it didn’t matter what the outside temperature was because they could almost instantly move.

That was the other reason why Hannah was currently alone. Her parents were living in secret headquarters, working around the clock to try and kill off the mushrooms and their spores. Being fifteen and almost completely aware of the dangerous and progress, Hannah’s parents trusted her. They sent her money once a week and paid for a cleaner and cook to come on set days to help her. She was also still allowed friends over, though most of the people she’d known were either dead or had moved away.

Flipping through more pages, Hannah went to the last few. Most of these articles were about her parents and their team’s progress. She felt tears sting the corner of her eyes and turned the pages on the photographs. She never thought that she’d miss her parents so much. Turning to the next empty page, she picked up a fountain pen and lent back. The brick wall was cool on her back and hard on her head. Turning slightly, she watched the spores gathering into a thick fog now that the sun had fully risen.

Pressing pen to paper, she wrote:

It’s my 16th birthday today and also Halloween. My parents can’t come home, so they are going to video call me later. I miss them. The spores seem thicker today and I was able to watch then rise as dawn broke. The remaining humans must feel like vampires because we are now officially nocturnal. We live in the night and sleep during the day. I fear that the spores might find out how to overcome the darkness that protects us.

I watched a TV interview about that and a biologist said it could never happen. The spores need the light and they know that to be a fact. However, they have yet to truly understand the mushrooms, so what if they can adapt?  

I’m trying not to think about it. Cook said she’d bring me a pumpkin to carve this afternoon. That’ll take my mind off things. Still though, I can’t help but wonder what things will be like when we are all gone.