Daleth Gregorick gave a playful scowl to his nephew. “If you don't lay down, Troy, I'm not going to tell the story.”
The little boy instantly stilled. He drew his knees up to his chin and hugged them, as it that would hinder his jumping on the bed again. “I'm sorry. Please tell it!”
“I'm already asleep, Father.” Another voice came from the corner, and Daleth chuckled.
“Do you talk in your sleep, my boy?”
Fort's young brow wrinkled in thought. After a long moment, he said, “Aye. And I listen good, too, so you can go ahead and tell the story.”
With both boys' attention glued on him, Daleth couldn't help himself. He rubbed his chin. “Well, now, I don't know. It is getting late. And you've already heard this story more times than I can count.”
Troy and Fort both lunged for him. “No, no! You promised to tell us!”
Daleth laughed as he wrestled with both boys. He knew he shouldn't get them all excited again, not when it was already past their bedtime, but he loved their tumbles together. Fort was definitely getting stronger, even at nine years of age, and his father was proud to note all the signs of a worthy leader in him. He had a strong command about him that not many boys his age could uphold, and Daleth knew without a doubt that Fort would be the one to lead the Gregorick name back into its former glory. How could one look at Fort and believe otherwise?
Troy, on the other hand, was full of an innocent and childish energy. His bright eyes eagerly looked upon the world and refused to find fault with it. The six year old's curly blond hair never was smoothed down, and he steadfastly followed his cousin into whatever game or mischief Fort could come up with. Troy had been so young when his parents had died, and yet, almost as if to spite his bleak past, he was never bitter about it. He didn't remember much about his mother or father, and Daleth supposed that helped.
“Father! You said you'd tell it tonight!” Fort cried as Daleth's strong arms pushed him back. “You can't back out of your promise!”
“Tell it! Tell it!” Troy chanted, bouncing up and down once more on his own bed.
“All right, all right!” Daleth threw his hands up in surrender as Fort leaped up to tackle him again. “Sit down, both of you.”
Fort relinquished the fight with a satisfied sigh as Troy dropped himself flat on the bed, eyes dancing.
Daleth cleared his throat. “Dortsa Rosa was a princess many years ago. She was the prettiest maiden in the land, and suitors flocked from all over the Twelve Kingdoms for a chance to win her hand. But she never looked at one of them, for you see, her father had already arranged her marriage to a man worthy of her title and heart.”
“Troinlus Gregorick!” Fort announced, not noticing that he was interrupting.
“I'm named after him,” Troy announced innocently.
Fort turned a scowl on his cousin. “No, you're not.”
“Aye, that he is, my son,” Daleth said. “Now, are you two going to tell the story, or are you going to let me do it?”
“Sorry, Uncle!” Troy buried his face into the blankets. “Keep going!”
And so Daleth did. “Troinlus Gregorick was my great-great-great uncle. He was a good man, strong, handsome, clever, and brave. He was friends with every fairy, dwarf, elf, and man in Malarber. There was no obstacle he could not overcome, no problem he could not fix, no song he could not sing.”
Fort puffed up his chest and whispered to Troy, “Just like me!”
“Troinlus loved the princess Dortsa Rosa with all his heart. The king, too, loved Troinlus like a son, and he was so happy to see him engaged to his daughter.”
“Did she love him?”
Daleth, caught off guard, blinked twice. “I'm sorry?”
Troy took a deep breath. “I mean, did the princess love Troinlus? They couldn't get married unless she loved him, too.”
“Well... I'm sure she did. Her father would not have arranged their betrothal unless he knew it would make his daughter happy. She must have loved him very much, for he was ever her only choice for a suitor.” Daleth lowered his eyebrows. “I thought you said you were going to be quiet.”
Troy blushed. “I'll bite my tongue, Uncle.” And following his words, he did just that, crossing his eyes in an attempt to catch a glimpse himself in the act.
Daleth laughed but continued. “But there were many people who did not approve of their marriage, and so a week before the wedding, someone crept into the palace. The guards never saw him, nor was his evil presence ever detected.”
Even though he knew the story, Troy gasped. “Who was it?”
“No one knows to this day who that man was, or even if he was man at all. Some people think it might have been a dwarf, or even a fairy. But they never caught him. And they never suspected that someone would do something so ghastly as he did.”
Fort was also hooked. “What?”
“He poisoned Dortsa Rosa.”
“No!” The two boys breathed at the same time.
“Aye, that he did. One week before the wedding, the king and queen held a magnificent banquet in Troinlus's honor, and the very next morning, they found the princess asleep in her bed.”
“But that was a bad thing,” Troy offered, forgetting his promise to be quiet. “Because she never woke up.”
Daleth gave a sad nod. “Her parents did all they could to wake her. Doctors were called from every corner of Malarber, and some were even summoned from Troisem and Darancia. But no one could wake her. She slept, and she would not be stirred. Weeks passed, months passed, and still the princess slept. Her parents grew old and died, and Troinlus was devastated. He kept her memory alive and never married, always pledging himself true to his betrothed. But he could not last forever, either, and it wasn't long before the good people of Malarber buried Troinlus.”
“And that's when bad luck fell on the Gregoricks.” Fort looked very solemn, but his facial muscles twitched in deep thought.
“Aye, with Dortsa Rosa asleep, Troinlus could not marry her, and thus the family of Gregorick passed into a lesser name. Troinlus's younger brother married and kept the family alive, but their former glory was all lost.”
“And what happened to the princess?” Troy asked in a whisper.
Daleth studied the face of his nephew. “No one ever saw her again. Some say she still sleeps, only to waken after a hundred years have passed. Others believe that she will never waken again.”
The story finished, Fort and Troy settled under their blankets. Daleth gave them each a good-night kiss on their forehead and then left the room. As the door shut behind him, Troy bounded out of bed and raced to keep it open.
Daleth turned. “What is it, Troy?”
“What does Dortsa Rosa mean? Why do we call her that?”
“It means his flower sleeps. Troinlus gave her that name while she slept to honor her memory, and so she is still called today because no one can remember what her real name was. Now, are you quite finished with questions?”
“Yes, Uncle. G'nite.” Troy shut the door and scuttled back to bed.
No sooner had he jumped onto his pillow then Fort yanked it from beneath him and smacked him in the face with it. With a stifled giggle, Troy snatched his cousin's pillow and counterattacked. The fight only lasted a few moments before Fort had the six year old pinned down on the floor.
“All yours!” Troy gasped. “Get off!”
Fort rolled off with a grin. “Say, do you want to know a secret?”
Troy's eyes gleamed. “What secret?”
The older boy crawled to his bed and reached under the mattress. When he pulled his hand back, he displayed two matching rings to his cousin. They were made from the purest gold, with a thin red thread of metal worked into the circle. On the inner curve was etched something that looked suspiciously like words to Troy's eye, but he wasn't sure what it said. After all, he was only six.
“Dortsa Rosa and Troinlus's wedding rings. I found them in the treasury.”
Troy gaped. “Are you allowed to go there?”
“No.” Fort grinned proudly. “But Father will never miss them. They're ours now. They'll stand for our pledge.”
“Right.” Troy wasn't sure what a pledge was, but hearing Fort speak of it like that, it must be something awfully important.
Fort grabbed his cousin's hand and placed it on top of his with the rings between their palms. “Dortsa Rosa is real, Troy. I just know it. And it'll be us who find her one day. She may be sleeping, but we're going to wake her up. That is our pledge.”
“Aye!” Troy shouted happily.
As the two of them climbed back into their beds, Troy lay awake for a while, thinking as only a young boy could think. He knew Fort would find the sleeping princess. Fort could do anything he set his mind to. Fort was just like Troinlus, and if he said Dortsa Rosa was sleeping, if he believed that they could find her, then it was all true. Fort would be a hero in all Malarber, and Troy would be his right hand man.
Like Troinlus, there would be nothing they could not do. Not as long as they were together.
~ Beyond the Thorns
(Copyright of Kiri Liz; please do not steal; thanks)