By: Reagan Greenwood
The muddy, filth layered water seeped into the thirsty, cracked earth. Tobias shook the remaining drops from his bucket and then submerged it into the flowing creek that was only a few paces away. The sun was just brimming over the tops of the trees. The day was still new, still young, and he was already exhausted from the day’s chores. He sighed heavily and then hoisted the bucket, his muscles taut, and waddled back to his home on the other side of the city.
He walked through the town square. Merchants had just finished setting up their shops for the day, arranging the final touches before they would begin to shout and beg those who passed for their time and their money. The soles of his shoes were worn. He almost couldn’t hear them clack against the cobblestone beneath him. As he passed by the castle, he looked up at the second story balcony, third to the right. She should be wandering out to the ledge any minute now. Then, as if she could hear his thoughts, Princess Julia walked out onto her balcony. Her head scanned over the square before settling on him. Or at least, Tobias assumed so. He liked to imagine that she was smiling the same soft smile that she wore when he slipped between the satin sheets that covered her bed every other night. Tobias grabbed the brim of his hat, signaling to her that he saw her and he wished her a good morning, before scuttling further towards his shack, his home.
Tobias had several routines, but whenever he got to interact with Julia, if even for a brief passing moment, those were his favorites. Every morning, just as the sky starts to turn into a dusky purple, before the sun has fully awakened, Tobias walked to the creek and replenished the water bucket. His mother would already be out in the yard, feeding the pigs and plucking berries from the garden. His sister would be inside or collecting eggs. Tobias was the oldest at the fresh age of seventeen and the man of the house since his father left for war and never returned.
Tobias sighed as he stepped onto the family farm. The pigs squealed while his mother tossed feed into their pins. He began his chores, following the same lulling sequence that he had followed for years. He chopped wood, repaired the roof, checked the traps, anything that required the effort of a man. This strenuous mind-numbing routine continued until nightfall. The small, incomplete family gathered around the table, said grace, and ate what small portion of food they had managed to scrape together before departing for bed.
Tobias waited. His feet twitched, his hands skittered eagerly waiting for the women in the house to settle into their long awaited sleep. When he heard the subtle snoring seeping through the thin wall of his mother’s room, Tobias slipped out the front door and ran back into the town square, not wanting to waste another minute away from his only reason, his only purpose. It had taken a few weeks, a few trials and errors, but eventually, Tobias learned the weaknesses of the castle’s security and where to scale the walls. And now, he followed the routine. He counted the ten paces of the guard on the other side of the sturdy rock wall, and then hoisted himself up, clinging to the strong vines that had grown intertwined with the rock over the years. Once over the wall and onto the balcony, Tobias saw Julia standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame. The wind rustled her dark hair, but her smile was stable, just like her love.
The feeling, the desire was mutual. Julia had fallen for Tobias well before he started scaling the castle’s walls. The royal family had one of their extravagant parties planned, but not enough food to feed the guests. All farmers were required to donate a portion of their goods to the king. Tobias felt his heart erupt into uneven rhythm of beats the moment his eyes locked with hers. He didn’t know how or even why, but he encountered her, face to face, just moments before he left the castle. She stopped him, briefly thanking him for the goods and before long she was laughing along with him, rather than at him. Later that night, Tobias received word that the princess requested his presence at the castle. One week later, Tobias found himself scaling the castle walls for the first time and they confessed their love for one another.
There was no anger or resentment in their relationship. There was no superiority or servitude, only loyalty, compassion, and love; however, Julia was a princess and Tobias was just a pig farmer. A lowly peasant. Someone of no importance, no rank, no money. Their companionship was not allowed. Their love was not allowed. They were not allowed.
Tobias stripped his shirt and settled into the warmth of Julia. Her arms circled around his torso, welcoming his skinny, rough body closer to her own. She kissed his forehead and smiled as she brushed his hair away from his eyes. He buried his face into the crook of her neck, allowing the sound of her breathing to overtake his consciousness.
There was a pounding. A deep, hollow pounding, followed by shouts. Tobias lifted his head and reached to rub his eyes when he felt something grip his wrist and yank him away from the bed. Before he could collect his thoughts, Tobias’s face was pressed against the cold stone flooring. He heard Julia yelling. Her voice was high, pleading. He tried to look around but his face was being pressed down by someone above him. He watched as two large black boot walked towards him. The figure squatted down in front of him. The king.
“So you want to play king?” He said. “Well, let’s make sure that my entire kingdom knows just how much you enjoy playing pretend.”
The muddy, filth layered water seeped into the thirty, cracked earth. Tobias shook the remaining drops from his bucket and then submerged it into the flowing creek that was only a few paces away. The sun was just brimming over the tops of the trees. The day was still new, still young, and he was already exhausted from the day’s chores. He sighed heavily and then hoisted the bucket, his muscles taut, and waddled back to his home on the other side of the city.
He walked through the town square. He kept his eyes down, watching each step he took carefully. He could feel them, their eyes. The merchants in the square stared at him. The bubbling mummers filled the air around him. Some pitied him while others believed it was necessary. Tobias lifted his eyes for a moment as he passed one of the merchant tables with a large mirror set up. As he walked by, he saw the passing figure of himself. His skinny, toned body covered in splotches of dirt and dust. He elbows were bony. His clothes were worn and weathered. His head was marked with the deep scars that were bestowed upon him by the king. Into his forehead was permanently etched the outline of a crown, stained red.
EDITED BY — Abi Mechley