Waiting for the Man
A Fairy Story by Andrew Peregrine
Once upon a time there was a princess. She lived in a tower in the forest,
deep in the forest, far away from the village. All day she would sit at the
only window of the tower and watch. Waiting. Nothing ever passed the tower.
No one ever visited. For the tower was far away, and horrible. It rose, picking
at the sky like a rotting finger. The walls were black, and lichen crawled along
it, green and peeling. Sucking the dead life from it's empty walls. But despite
the grotesqueness of the tower, the princess stayed there. No one chained her
there. No one had cursed her. She wanted to be there. She wanted to wait there.
She was waiting for the man.
Sometimes people in the village would remark on the princess, sitting up in her tower all alone. Why didn't she marry some nice man ? Why wait in that horrible place ? She was beautiful (as all princesses should be) and charming. Her hair was the colour of a cornfield shining in the sun. But under the yellow that flowed down her back was a dark layer, the shadow cast by the corn. Her skin was flawless but pale, saddened by the loneliness. Somedays it was scarred by a tear. But not today. But all her wonder was in her eyes, deep amber. Constantly searching the horizon for a sign. A sign that he would come. The man for her. Her prince. She had given up everything for the tower. But she knew the tower was magical despite the evil of it's face. She knew if she waited long enough her prince would come. He would come for her. The tower would draw him.
One day there was a knocking from the front door of the tower. For a moment
the princess ignored it. After all no one visited and she had not seen anyone
approach. But then she realised that she must have a visitor. She became as
exited as she was surprised. A visitor, for her ? There must be some mistake.
But as she flung open the door, giddy with the thought of human contact, she
saw it was no mistake. However, the anticipation was not as justified as she
had hoped. For her visitor was not as special as his arrival should ensure.
He was a merchant, and a poor one at that. He stood there, ragged cap on one
side, looking at her as if she was his visitor, that she had opened his door.
He looked her up and down. A little taken aback, she returned the compliment.
She was, after all, a princess and would not be belittled by this now unwelcome
"Buy my wares milady ?" he inquired, showing her the yellowed gaps in his teeth. He raised a rather grubby suitcase before her and opened it.
There was very little in the case to arouse the interest of the princess. All of it was golden or brass. Mainly candlesticks and nick-nacks. Junk rattling around on a background of faded dog tooth pattern case lining. But among the broken tangle of ironwork was something special. It caught the princesses' eye. It was a hexagon of crystal. It was cut into a thousand facets and gleamed there among the trinkets. The sun passed into it and warmed the princesses' face with light. She fell in love with it, she knew she had to have it.
"How much for that ?" she inquired, as coolly as she could.
"What, the crystal ?" said the merchant feigning ignorance, "That is a tidy penny and no mistake. What can you offer me ?"
The princess was about to answer when she realised she had nothing. She had spent all she had to get the key for the tower. All she had was the food she had brought from her father's castle. That was beginning to go a little stale as well anyway. She didn't know what to do, for she wanted the crystal so much.
"My father is a king," she told him. "Whatever you ask, I am sure he will grant. I can write him a letter to tell him so." Her spirits rose a little as she said this.
"Nay milady." said the merchant, and cast down her hopes. "I am not travelling past your fathers lands. Anyway, if you want it, you must pay for it." He grinned at her again.
"But please," she begged, "There must be something."
"Very well," the merchant leaned closer as if he was about to do her a secret favour. "Give me the key to your tower, and it is yours."
The princess was taken aback. She had given everything for this tower, spent all her time here. What if the prince was to come ? All that waiting for nothing. But she so wanted the crystal, and she had denied herself so much. What was love anyway ? At worst she could wait outside. He would still come. Yes that was it. All was not lost.
"Only this key is mine," she told the merchant, "not the tower. But I will give it to you and leave you to this tower in return for the crystal." She reached round her neck and drew out the chain upon which she kept her key, a small rusted iron key. She passed it to the merchant who passed her the crystal with all the solemnity of a done deal.
"The key will do me well enough. You can leave my tower now you have what you want." With that he nudged past the princess and into the tower, slamming the oaken door shut behind him. She stood a little while outside, stunned at what she had done, and looked at the crystal. It shone with rainbow brilliance in the sun. She gazed at it lovingly and knew somehow she had done the right thing. She began to sit down in the doorway, but had a thought. What if she needed to be inside the tower for the magic to work ? Had she given up her prince and the love and happiness he would bring. She would have to speak to the key man, who had sold her the key. He would know. It wasn't far, and now she was outside she longed to go for a walk. It would be silly to wait now if waiting was no use. The prince could come when she is gone, but the risk would be worth it. Clutching her new and only possession tightly, she walked down into the village below.
As always the village was quiet. A few people stared at her as she passed
on her way. She looked less regal than perhaps she should. Her dress was getting
a little frayed, and her shoes were old. But she was still a princess, and her
bearing made the villagers respect her for it. None of them passed comment on
her, or spoke behind her back. It wasn't long before she reached the key man's
He took his time answering her knock at his door. As he opened it, it was difficult to hear whether it was he or the door who creaked the most. Eyes downcast (more due to his back than any humility) he ushered her inside.
"Come in, come in," he grouched at her, "What do you want this time ? I ain't seen you since you took one of my keys from me. Come to give it back have you?"
"I'm afraid not," the princess told him gently. "I want you to tell me something, if you'd be so good."
He mumbled something about free services, but seemed attentive to her inquiry. As he settled into an armchair (without offering her a place to sit) she looked about the room. It was just the same as it had been before. Keys hung from every possible place. Every nook of every wall was filled. Big keys, little keys, old keys, rusted keys, keys for doors, keys for chests, and keys for things the princess couldn't imagine. Not a lock in sight though, just keys.
"Well, how can I help you girlie ?" he mumbled as he lit a pipe without asking if she minded.
"I need to know about the tower," she said. She didn't like pipe smoke and grimaced a little as the smell struck her nostrils. She was still standing. Her manners would not allow her to sit until invited. "I need to know if he will still come if I'm not inside it."
"He might, and he might not," grumbled the old man, still annoyed this silly woman would not sit down. "I don't know, I only keep the keys, not the knowledge. If you've finished with the one I gave you, I'll have it back."
"But you can't have it I'm afraid, I sold it."
"What ?" screamed the old man, leaping from his chair in surprise. His tobacco tin was flung across the room with his pipe, both scattering their contents as they travelled. "You sold a key ? What for, why, how could you stand to loose one ?"
"But you sold one to me," rebuked the princess. Her heart still fluttering from the key man's excitement.
"No, no, no, no," he muttered. "I let you rent a key, I always knew where it was. Now it is lost. What could you possibly sell a key for."
The princess was more than a little taken aback by his behaviour. He had sold his key to her, not lent it. "I sold it for this," she announced in an uncharacteristic fit of pique, and showed him the crystal. The key man almost sunk to his knees in shock. Light from the crystal shone into his face, patterning him in light. He tried very calmly to ask if she would sell him the crystal. But he had the look about him of one who knows what you have, and knows you do not know what it is worth. The princess wanted the crystal herself anyway. She told him it wasn't for sale. At this he fell upon his knees and begged.
"Please let me have it, I'll give you anything, all my keys, anything."
The princess was torn, as she felt bad to see him so hurt. "Why is it so important ?" she asked.
"It is the key of all keys. It is that which unlocks all things and makes them possible. Please you must let me buy it from you."
But the princess had given up too much for it. She politely but firmly refused, then left. She felt that was best as the key man was very distraught and began to make her offers he couldn't possibly fulfil. Some were most unfitting for a princess as well. So feeling more alone than when she lived in the tower, she left the village to continue her vigil by the tower.
But when she returned to the clearing the tower was not there. Instead was
a bare patch of ground. There was no doubt the place looked better for it's
lack of construction. But the princess was heartbroken. Who had taken her tower
away ? What was she to do now ? She knelt down on the warm grass, downhearted
and alone. But in her hand the crystal shone. That comforted her, but she didn't
know why. She held it up and looked through it. She studied the rainbows of
light warming her face in the sunshine. As she did so she noticed something
strange. Where the tower had stood there was now a door, lying on the ground.
But she could only see it through the crystal. It was a solid oak door with
strong brass hinges. She leant over it and to her surprise it opened for her.
A long set of stone steps lead down into darkness, visible even without the
crystal. The princess was afraid, but decided to see what was below.
It was dark in the underground. The steps lead into a cold passageway, with a chill wind blowing through the darkness. But the crystal had been in the sun, and now released what it had stored. Golden light ran out of it, showing her the way forward. Her fear lessened, and she went on.
Presently she reached a cavern, with no other exits. But in the centre was a stone altar upon which lay a man. As she approached, torches shocked into flame, lighting the room. She looked at the man and knew she was in love. He was apparently sleeping, lying there so still. His face was handsome and kind, framed in dark hair. There was a peaceful smile on his lips, but no breath issued from them. He was dressed as you would expect a prince to dress. Fine cloths and a thick cloak, with a silver sword resting at his side. The princess leant forward to kiss him, and as her lips touched his, she felt no warmth. Nothing happened, he did not awake. This wasn't right, wasn't fair. She had waited so long. Now all she had was this shadow of what she wanted. What had she done that was so wrong to deserve this ?
She knelt on the floor and sobbed, resting the crystal on the man's chest. But she did not see it sink into his breast. Nor did she see his eyes open. All she felt was his touch on her shoulder and his gentle voice in her ear.
"Why are you crying milady," he whispered softly, and lovingly. "You have rescued me from a curse, and I can be nought other than happy and grateful."
With that she fell into his arms and he wrapped her up in his own. When they kissed she knew this was the man, her prince, and he was here at last.
"But who are you, what happened to you ?" asked the princess as she gazed at her loving prince.
"A sorcerer stole my heart many years ago. Then he imprisoned me here. He hated my father you see, and wanted to hurt him. As soon as my heart was gone it turned to crystal, and I fell into a deep sleep."
"But that was no heart, I saw things through it, it lead me to you."
"If you look through a heart you can find whatever you seek. If you follow it, it will lead you to your greatest desire."
She smiled up at him, and held him close. Soon they married and eventually became King and Queen of their two kingdoms. The princess never did find out where her tower went, but she still lived happily ever after.