The Prince of the River
By Jamie Burns
Price Theadad was beloved by all in the city. At only 15 years of age the prince was a handsome, well mannered young man, highly educated and gracious to his people. That was the Prince the people knew. He was all these things, but he also had the rebelliousness that can often be expected of a boy that was always forced to look proper in the public eye. Prince Theadad or Theo to the few closest to him, was notorious inside the castle walls for only doing about 20% of what he was told. A percentage that Theo himself felt was quite generous, considering how well he behaved for his father in the public eye. The royal guard did the best they could at keeping Theo within the castle walls. But most of the time they found themselves vexed by the quick witted, agile young prince, and would soon be in search of him again. Theo liked to occasionally make his way past the guards and head to the river on the outskirts of the city where other children would swim in the hotter season.
It was one of the hottest days of the season so far and Theo was once again told by his father to stay inside the castle walls. Finding himself bored and feeling more defiant than usual Theo had slipped past the guards yet again. He was starting to feel it was getting easier and easier to do so.
At the river the other children were already swimming and splashing each other when he arrived. His presence started quite the stir. Theo threw off his shirt and jumped into the water. He was tall for 15 and was sure of himself, his whole life people had told him how handsome he was and he always took the statements to heart. Causing him to be more proud and cocky then the average 15 year old, as one might expect of a prince. The girls drew around him and giggled at all he said. Theo loved the attention.
“They just let you come out here?” One of the girls asked.
“Let me? Of course I can do whatever I like. I’m the prince after all.”
This response was followed by a clamer from the girls. Slowly the arrival of the price became less of an uproar and the splashing continued. Theo enjoyed feeling a bit like he really was aloud to do what he liked, but he knew it would be short lived once the guards realized his absence. As he swam around he noticed a boy that sat along the bank on the opposite side of the river. The boy sat in the shade of a large bush so close to it that he almost seemed to be hiding under it. “Mary.” Theo called to one of the girls. She blushed, surprised that he knew her name and she quickly swam to his side.
“Yes, Prince Theodad.” She said eagerly.
“Who is that boy?” He asked
Mary was visibly disappointed, thinking that he was going to ask her something about herself. “I don’t know his name. He’s just some poor beggar from the east side of the city.” She told him.
“Why isn't he swimming?” Theo asked.
“Well,” Mary started then hesitated. “He was going to but when he started to get in the water the other boys started yelling at him.”
“Yelling at him?”
“Ya, they said he was swine and that he would dirty up the water with his filth.” Mary looked away from the prince and back toward her friends.
“And is that what you think?” He asked Mary.
“I… he’s just too strange. Why wouldn't he just leave? He’s just been sitting there watching us.” Mary gave a small shiver as she said it.
“Have you seen him before?”
“Yes, He is around quite a bit. Watching us walk to school, or working for scraps in the market. He’s strange.” Mary said.
Theo stood silent and wondered about the boy. When he said nothing else to her Mary left his side and returned to her giggling group of girls.
“Oh great Price Theodad!” Called a voice in mock wonder. It’s was one of the boys on the shore. The thoughts of the boy under the bush swept from Theo’s mind and he turn toward the speaker. A hard proud look set in Theo’s face. The boy that had called to him was named Argus. Theo had heard the others calling him that early while they were roughhousing in the water. He seemed to be somewhat of a ringleader to the small group.
Argus stood on the shore with his fists proper one on each hip. A challenging stance to be sure. Argus was not quite as tall as Theo but was much wider in the chest.
Argus continued, “Well since you are our great prince and all, how about you be the first to jump from the look out?” Argus pointed his meaty hand up to the large rock formation that rose up over the river. Everyone looked to the rock and back to Theo.
“That’s not so high.” Theo said, trying to sound unimpressed.
“Good then you won’t mind being the first to go.” Said Argus.
Theo looked back up to the top of the rock and couldn't help but swallow hard from the dryness in his mouth. It truly was high, and Theo was no fan of heights. But he could feel the eyes of the crowd of kids on him. It was the perfect trap, no Prince could not accept the challenge and still be respected. Or so Theo thought in his adolescence.
“Of course.” Theo said. The other cheered at this and Theo started out of the water and climbing the tall rocks. Once he had reached the top he found it to be even higher from there. The kids below looked impossibly small to his eyes. And he wondered if what he saw was true or if his own fear were playing a trick on him. He approached the edge and the world seemed to sway before him when he looked over it. He had been standing there a few moments trying to get his bearings when the jeering started. The other boys calling up to him. “Do it!” “Come on Prince!” And other things that Theo couldn't make out over the pounding of his heart. He inched closer to the edge and found once again that the rock had grown and he was now impossibly high. He couldn’t jump, and decided to back away when he lost his footing and heard the screams of the girls below.
For such a high fall Theo found that the water came quickly up to him. Was it water? It felt like rock when it hit his chest. Or what he had always imagined it felt like to be kicked by a wild stallion. Then he sunk under it. The force had pushed all the air from his lung and the pain seemed to seize his whole body. He was unable to move, unable to breath, unable to surface.
He opened his eyes and could see the sun light dance a crossed the surface of the water. Past it he could make out shadows of moving figures, surely one of them would come for him. His eyes burned and he felt his back hit the bottom of the river. His head was so clouded that the idea of moving his arms and legs couldn’t seem to make it to his limbs. Looking back to the surface Theo realized that the shadows were growing smaller, they were backing away. “Good God help me I’m your prince!” Theo screamed in his head. The edges of his vision started to grow darker, the last thing he was able to see was a flurry of bubbles and the beams of sunlight were completely obstructed by a dark figure.
Theo felt himself being dragged along rock and sand. Then hastily dropped onto the ground, the figure that had been doing the dragging crouched next to him. Theo opened his eyes to see the face of the dirty peasant boy that had been sitting under the bush. The boy had darker skin from spending most of his time outside, he had dark hair that lay matted and wet against his face. When Theo had seen the boy earlier he thought him a younger boy maybe 12 looking so meek huddled next to the bush, but now he could see that the boy must be closer to his own age.
The poor boy leaned back in relief that Prince Theo had opened his eyes and was indeed alive. The pain that had struck Theo started to subside and he slowly sat up on to his elbows.
“Don’t try to sit up just yet your Highness.” Said the boy. His voice was deeper than Theo had expected yet still soft in tone.
Theo looked around the river banks, they were deserted but for him and the boy. All the kids that had been there moments before telling him to jump were now gone with not a trace left behind.
“Cowards.” Was the first thing Theo was able to get out with his raspy voice after a few minutes of silence.
“I’m sure they were just scared.” The boy said.
“And you.” Theo said, looking over to the boy and giving him a once over.
“I was scared, but in a different way I suppose.” The boy gave a polite smile.
Theo couldn’t deny that even for a peasant the boy had good features, featured one might find in the face of a noble bloodline. Once the boy stood Theo realized he must have been at least 2 inches taller than himself. But his limbs where fraile from lack of nutrition.
“Do you feel like you might be able to stand your Highness?” The boy stretched out his hand to Theo.
“Yes.” Theo took it and together they slowly got Theo to his feet.
“Come, I shall help you get home.” The boy pulled Theo’s arm around his shoulder and allowed Theo to place his weight heavily on him. They made their way slowly back toward the town.
Along the way Theo realized he was doing little to no work and the boy was mostly carrying him back toward the castle. Theo tried harder to carry his own wait but found it too difficult.
“Thank you.” Theo said as they walked
“Of course your Highness.”
“No, you must not call me that again.” Theo said as he winced trying to put more weight in his own feet. The boy looked to his Prince with worry, had he offended the Prince in some way?
“I’m sorry Prince Theodad?” The boy unsure what else to say.
Theo laughed a bit. “No, you should call me Theo.”
The boy’s eyebrows raised. “Surely I couldn't do that your highness.”
Theo stopped them in their tracks. “Yes, you will, you have just saved my life and that will never be forgotten. I insist you are to call me Theo for that is what a friend would call me.” Theo said in the most commanding voice he could manage with the rasp still in his throat.
The boy stood up a bit straighter “Yes your hig… Theo.”
“Ha there you go, it wasn’t so bad was it? Now my friend, what shall I call you?” Theo through his arm back over the boy's shoulder.
“I’m Erian your highness.” He grimaced after he said it. The thought of calling the prince by his first name was unacceptable in Erian’s world.
Theo smiled “Don’t worry you’ll get used to it. Erian you say. Alright then Ery you will be joining me for dinner tonight.”
“Oh Theo I’m not sure I could do that.” Erian said. He thought about his dirty skin and his dripping clothes. He would never be allowed to stand in front of the castle much less go inside to dine looking like he did.
“You can and you will. I will have no more talk of it.”
So they made their way back to the castle and as it grew closer so did Theodad and Erian.
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Copyright JAMIE BURNS 2016 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.