It’s my niece Amelia’s eighth birthday today. She asked me to write her a story about a princess in a high, high tower and a prince that came to rescue her. The prince had a really hard time finding a way up the tower.
I asked her what happened when the prince finally made it up the tower, and she told me that it turns out there’s a stair and they can just walk out! The story didn’t end up exactly like that, but it certainly had an influence. Give it a read and see what you think.
The Stone Door
Once upon a time, there lived a princess. The princess was kind and fair, smart and strong, and everyone loved her. Kings and princes and paupers begged King David for her hand in marriage. The king loved his daughter and wished her to be happy, but he knew that the man who won her hand would one day rule the land.
He thought long and hard on how he could give the princess a choice and still be sure the man was worthy. A contest! But it could be no ordinary tournament. No mere joust could decide who would marry his daughter and inherit his empire.
King David summoned Percy the Great to his chamber. He told Percy to take the princess to the Tower of Truth. Once there, lock her away and ensure that none could enter, but he who won the the princess’ heart.
The journey to the Tower of Truth took seven days. They rode through plains of tall grass, crossed swift rivers, sailed shimmering blue lakes, and climbed treacherous mountain passes. The princess gasped when she finally saw the high, high tower. The clouds hid the top from her view and she felt a wave a dizziness pass while she craned her neck to look up it.
Percy unlocked the door to the Tower with an intricate silver key and ushered the princess inside. There was no furniture or decorations in the small, round room; only a long, winding stair that spiraled up out of sight. The princess was scared of being alone in the tower, but was determined to please her father. Percy assured the princess that she would find food and water at the top of the stairs. She need only choose a husband to release the spell and leave the tower.
As the princess began to climb the stairs, the wizard stepped out and closed the stone door. He scratched his beard and tilted his head to the side while he stared at the door. His blue eyes sparkled as he snapped his fingers and muttered magic words under his breath.
The spell took shape in swirls of colors and light. The stone door sealed shut. The intricate key melded into the stone. Percy tried to open the door, but could find neither handle nor crack. The stone door was gone.
While Percy and the princess traveled to the tower, seven riders mounted seven black horses and sped from King David’s castle to seven nearby kingdoms. They carried a message: “You shall choose one man to compete for my daughter’s hand. Send that man to the Tower of Truth to prove his worth.”
Each king received the message with great joy. The marriage of King David’s daughter to their prince would grant them power and riches and prestige. The firstborn son of six kings set off for the Tower of Truth. They were young and strong; brave and handsome. Each believed in his heart that he was the one.
There was one ruler whose wisdom matched King David’s. King Henry did not send his firstborn like the other kings. He sent his youngest boy, Tristan. Tristan was not like the other princes. He was clumsy with a sword where the others were skilled in combat. He was shy and timid where the others were used to being the center of attention. He was short where they were tall, weak where they were strong. But what Tristan had was as sharp mind and a talent for words.
Tristan did as his father said and left for the Tower of Truth. He was scared of the trip for he did not ride well, did not enjoy sleeping out of doors, and was concerned he would get lost or robbed along the way. The first few days were pure terror! His body ached from riding. His fingers bled from constantly biting his fingernails. He jumped every time a crow cawed.
Why had his father picked him? Surely the princess wanted a husband who could protect her, win her glory, or bring her treasure. He could do none of those things. He was a scrawny boy with shaggy hair, no stomach for physical activity, and he felt awkward and out of place talking with other boys, let alone a beautiful princess.
Hard, nerve-wracking days passed before the tower came into sight. It was impossibly tall and made Tristan feel small. Around it were six tents and outside the six tents sat six men, each of whom looked rather confused.
Tristan dismounted and led his horse the last hundred yards to the Tower grounds. Six heads swiveled to see the last of their rivals. It made Tristan wish for a bath and a brush, preferably at home, alone, in his room overlooking the sea.
“Hello, my lords,” he said with a small bow. The six faces stared blankly back.
“Any luck with the princess?” he ventured. The faces turned away to look high, high up the tower to the lone window. Tristan followed their gaze and he imagined he could make out the twinkle of a bright eye and the fall of silken hair. He shook his head, convinced there was no chance he would win the princess’ heart.
He looped the reigns of his horse around a fallen tree and walked to the tower. He could see no door.
“Maybe she’s not there at all,” he said aloud. “Maybe it’s some elaborate hoax by King David. I bet he’s having a good laugh right now.”
“Don’t think you’re the only one who’s had that idea,” a voice said, startling Tristan.
“Sorry ‘bout that, didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”
“No. It’s – it’s fine. I’m just tired. It’s been a long ride,” Tristan said. The man facing him was much older than Tristan, he looked at least twenty-five!
“It was a long journey for us all. And once we got here, we couldn’t figure out what to do next. We were all so eager, we just rode off without thinking. I do that a lot, actually.”
Tristan laughed at the joke. “I’m Tristan, son of Henry,” he said, holding out his hand.
“And I am Jonathan, son of James, but my friends call me Johnny.”
They shook. Tristan was glad to meet someone kind. The princes he had met before were too busy worrying about themselves to notice others.
“So you’ve found no way in and no way to talk to the princess?” Tristan asked.
“That’s the long and short of it. We don’t even know if she’s up there.”
Both men raised their eyes to the window high above them.
Tristan laughed and held his head. “It’s easy to get dizzy looking straight up the tower like that.” He leaned against it while he regained his balance.
“There’s got to be a way up to her,” Johnny said.
“What’s this?” Tristan asked. He ran his finger along a ridge in the Tower. “It looks like writing.”
“If it is, it’s no language that any of us know. It’s the only marking on the Tower, but for the window way up there.”
Tristan backed up and studied the writing. The script looked familiar to him, it just was written in a strange way. Instead of left to write, it turned up and then right and then left and then down and then sideways. He followed the line of text and realized that it was in the shape of a key.
He followed the path again, and this time he started to make out words. It was written in an ancient language that Tristan had studied. It seemed his time spent reading ancient poetry was going to pay off.
“Johnny, I think I know what we need to do.”
Tristan called the princes together.
“My lords, I have read the inscription on the Tower wall, and I believe it will help us in our quest for the princess’ hand.”
“Read it, did you? That’s a novel idea,” someone piped up. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Probably because you can’t read,” Johnny said. “What does it say, Tristan, son of Henry?”
“The inscription reads:
The door of stone
sealed by fate
opens for love alone
Reveal the door
with her heart’s desire
and live in bliss forevermore
“For the love of the princess, what does that mean?” asked one of the men.
“I think that’s exactly what it means,” said Johnny.
“Say it plainly, Tristan?” asked another.
“We’re here to prove our worth, right? That’s what I was told. Well, our worth to the princess is what her heart desires.” Tristan said. “So, what do you think she desires?”
The princes exchanged a glance, and then Norman, son of Norman cried out first, followed quickly by the others.
“Well, now, there you go, my lords. One of you surely knows what the princess wants,” said Tristan. His smile faded. He could offer none of those things. “So, it’s a contest. We should behave honorably and take turns, don’t you think? Who got here first?”
“Norman was the first one here,” George, son of Edward, said.
“Can we all agree that we’ll go in order of arrival?” Tristan asked.
“That puts you last, Tristan. I don’t think that’s fair, since none of us would have a chance without your help,” Johnny said.
“Thanks, Johnny, but it’s fair enough for me. Norman, you’re up.”
Tristan walked over to his horse, unsaddled it, set up his tent, and then took a seat to watch Norman’s attempt.
Norman thought long and hard about how he could show the Princess that he could protect her. He was a tall, strong lad, with straight, black hair that reached to his shoulders and bright, blue eyes. But he was not overly smart. It was Johnny who finally tapped him on the shoulder, shaking him from his quiet contemplation.
“Why don’t you go fight some bandits and bring them back here?” said Johnny.
“Men, I’ve a great idea! I am going to fight bandits and bring them back here for the Princess to see. Then she’ll know that I can protect her. Surely, that is her heart’s greatest desire!” Norman said. Then he ran to his horse, jumped on, and rode away.
Johnny looked across the camp to Tristan and shrugged. That’s more like how Tristan expected a prince to act! They always took credit for other people’s ideas.
The other men drifted back to their tents and thought up ways to impress the princess and break the spell on the tower. It was nearly noon when Norman returned. There was a bandage around his head, and his clothes were torn and dirty, but he sat tall and proud in the saddle. Behind him were a group of ten dirty, beaten bandits.
“Well, boys, time to pack up and go home. I’ve single handedly fought these bandits and brought them here to show the princess. She’ll choose me for sure.”
He looked around confused for a moment.
“Well, now what? Tristan, what’s next?”
“Uh, well, there weren’t any other instructions, Norman. Go up to the Tower and tell the princess what you can give her?”
“Ah. I just thought of it. I’ll go to the Tower and tell the Princess what I can give her.”
Tristan shook his head at Norman.
“Princess! Can you hear me? It is Norman, son of Norman. I offer you protection. No bandit will find haven in our lands. No lawlessness will go unpunished. No harm shall be done to you, so long as I have breath in my body. Come down from your tower and join me.”
No answer came from the high, high tower, and none could see the princess in the window though Tristan thought he saw the gleam of her bright eye and a strand of her fiery hair.
“Bronnnnggg!” A deep sound rang from the tower, but the door did not open.
“I think that means you lost,” said George. “Good try though, old boy. I rather thought you had that sewn up. But, it does mean it’s my turn to give it a go. Step aside, Norman. I know what the lady wants.”
If Norman was a tall, strong lad, then George was a giant. His muscles had muscles. His head was bigger around than Tristan’s waist, and his legs were thicker than both of Tristan’s combined. George bent down and put his arms around a massive rock. None of the others could have moved it, even if they worked together, but George lifted it with ease and then hoisted it up over his head.
“See that boys? Strength!” he said. His eyes bulged, his face turned red, and sweat popped out on his forehead, but it seemed he could hold the boulder up forever. “Now, come on over, climb up my back, and get on the rock! That’s right, Norman. Climb right up. All of you. I want the princess to know how strong I am.”
So they did. Six princes climbed up George’s back and crammed together on the rock. George wasn’t even breathing hard.
“So, Princess, I reckon that’s a mighty show of strength. Don’t know many blokes that could do that. I’m strong. I’ll be strong for you. What do you say?”
“Bronnnngggg!” The tower gonged so loudly that George backed up a step and lost his balance. The six princes and the rock came tumbling down.
“Ahh, whatdya do that for, George!” said Harry, son of Patrick. Patrick’s kingdom was the richest in all the land. They mined gold and diamonds from the mountains and sold them for great profit.
Harry picked himself up off the ground and started dusting off his immaculate clothing. The threads were made of gold and the buttons were made of diamonds.
“It was a cute try George, it really was, but no princess wants a muscle-bound giant to lift things. What good does that do?” Harry turned to the tower and didn’t see the anger on George’s face, or that Tristan put a brave hand on George’s chest to kept him from beating Harry up.
“Princess! Can you hear me?” Harry cried out. “I am Harry, son of Patrick. I am sure you know my father, and what his kingdom has to offer. My dear princess, I offer that kingdom to you. A life of luxury. A life of pampered relaxation. A life without worry or fear or need. You shall have servants. You shall have clothes. You shall have jewels and castles and horses and coaches. You will have gold, rooms of gold for you to swim in! All this, I offer. What say you?”
“Bronnnngggg!” the Tower rang immediately.
Tristan was happy to hear the sound. The princess did not want protection or strength or money. Could he offer what the princess desired most of all? But what could it be?
“My turn, my lords!” Johnny, son of James, said. “I have but one thing to offer so fair a creature. And I shall show it to her face!”
He ran at the tower, took three steps up it, and then jumped. His fingers found a hold and he began to scale the tower with the skill of a spider. Johnny was a small, athletic man whose home was high in the mountains. He meant to climb all the way up to the princess and win her over with his daring.
Tristan watched his new friend with interest. Surely, the princess would be impressed by his display. Tristan wasn’t sad that Johnny would be the one to win her hand. He was a good man.
But then Johnny cried out and Tristan saw his left hand had slipped. He was holding on with one hand!
“George!” Tristin yelled. “Come quick! You’ll have to catch him!” George ran over just as Johnny fell with a strangled yell. George raised his giant arms up over his head and caught Johnny. They tumbled to the ground in a heap of arms and legs.
“Thanks, George!” Johnny said. “That could have made for a bad day.”
“Bronnnngggg!” went the Tower.
“A good show, John, but it seems the princess wants someone who plays at grownup games.”
It was Arthur, son of Alfred who spoke. All of the other princes knew of him, for he had saved his father’s kingdom from invaders many times. He was a renowned warrior, cunning general, and was destined for great things.
“I was honor bound to play by the rules, so I have been content to wait my turn and watch you fail. I believe we each knew who the winner would be and now I shall claim my rightful spot.”
Arthur walked towards the camp, went into his tent, and came back with three large flags on three stout poles. He stuck the poles in the ground, and raised his hand to the flags.
“Princess! Before you stands Arthur, son of Alfred, the Savior of Savoy. You may have heard of me. These three flags represent the glory that I shall win for you. The red flag with the wolf’s head is the standard of Mordred of Millburn. He came to Savoy at the head of one hundred of his fearsome soldiers to take our land. I beat him and took his flag.
“The yellow flag with the eagle’s head was taken from Eric Yellow-Beard. His screaming barbarians sought to plunder our livestock. I defeated him and took his flag.
“The black flag with the silver crescent belonged to Sultan Solun. He came across the great sea to steal our wealth. I sunk his ships and took his flag.
“My name is known across the land. Join with me and I shall bring glory to you. Your name will live beside mine for all time!”
The tower did not respond immediately. Arthur bowed to the other princes and walked to the tower. He reached out and touched it, hoping that the door of stone would open.
“Bronnnngggg!” went the tower. The princess did not desire glory. Arthur frowned and slunk away.
“So it falls to me to win the princess’ hand. It’s easy to see why. You’re all dressed like peasants!” It was William, son of Charles, who spoke. His hair fell from his head in golden waves. His skin was flawless, his eyebrows arched just so. His goatee was expertly trimmed. His clothing was meticulously tailored and of the highest quality. His posture was impeccable, his body perfectly proportioned and fit.
“Princess! I am William. On my eighth birthday, eight statues were made of my face. The artist sold them for an enormous sum of money. For my sixteenth birthday, my face was put on our kingdom’s golden coin. Trade stopped because none wished to part with my face! Join me, princess, and bask in my beauty daily!”
“Bronnnngggg!” went the Tower. The princess did not desire someone so vain as William.
Tristan fought down a grin. He had a shot to win the princess’ hand! But what could he offer that she had not already turned down. Protection, strength, money? Those had not impressed her. Daring, glory, beauty? It was well she did not want those, because Tristan possessed none of them.
“Well, Tristan. You’re the last hope. How will you win her hand?” Johnny asked him.
“I don’t have anything to offer. What if she doesn’t want any of us?” Tristan said.
“Poppycock! She clearly doesn’t know what she wants. When you fail, I will try again and this time she will see sense,” said Norman.
Tristan didn’t want Norman to get that chance. He realized he wanted to win her hand for himself. Tristan knew he was not like the other men. Was the princess more like him? He would tell her of the things he desired and hope she wanted them too.
Tristan ran back to his tent and brought out his lute. When he came back, he stood in front of the crowd of princes eager for him to fail. He strummed the lute, winced a little at the sound, and then tuned it. A second strum, a minor fall then a major lift, and he began to sing.
Tristan sang of family and friends, of honor and trust, of children and hope. He sang of sunsets and mountains and flowers. He sang of breakfast in bed and a hard day’s work. He sang of growing old and sharing it with his best friend.
He sang of love.
When he finished, he heard a few sniffles, then the princes burst into applause.
“That, that was b-b-b-eautiful,” George managed to say between sobs.
“Thanks, George. It’s how I feel, but I doubt it’s what the princess wants.” He turned to the tower and waited for the sound.
It didn’t come.
Instead, the writing unwound from the wall, became an intricate, silver key, and fell to the ground. Tristan picked it up and saw that there was a keyhole in the tower. With a shaking hand, he placed the key into the hole. It fit perfectly and turned with ease.
The door of stone opened.
The princes cheered!
“Well done, Tristan!” Johnny yelled.
Tristan couldn’t help but smile, then gave them a wave and ran up the stairs.
He was sweating and breathing hard by the time he reached the door at the top. He paused to catch his breath and hastily tried to make himself presentable. It was never an easy task for him. He reached for the doorknob and then pulled back. He couldn’t believe what had happened. Could it be true?
He started to open the door again, but it opened from the other side. The princess stood before him. She was a vision of beauty and grace.
“Did you mean what you sang?” she asked.
“It came from my heart,” Tristan said.
“It is in my heart as well.” She pulled him close and kissed his cheek.
Prince Tristan and Princess Amelia lived happily ever after.
~ The End ~