Once upon a time, in a land behind the mountains, there lived a King and a Queen and their daughter, Princess Eliza. It was a fairly nice kingdom, and everybody who lived there was quite okay with things as they were and with life on the whole. Some people were more happy than others and some were more miserable. Some people had more stuff than they needed and some had less. Some people had loved ones and some were alone.
Princess Eliza was quite happy most of the time. She had more stuff than anybody else because the king and the queen loved her very much and gave her presents all the time. You may think that this would spoil the poor child, but it didn't. Princess Eliza was a very caring and considerate person who had a mind as beautiful as her appearance, and she was always ready to give of her stuff to the poor and needy. But even if she had more than she needed, there was one thing that she wished for more than anything else; more than mechanical birds, more than fountains of chocolate and leather bound books and pencils with pink feathers on top. She wanted a little brother.
You may think that a little girl who was so much loved, not only by her parents, but also by the court and by the people, would have many friends. But it was not so. The royal castle was big and empty and the halls almost echoed with the silence from absent playmates. It was a cold and dark and spiritless environment for a lonely Princess to play in.
The King and the Queen knew this but they could do nothing. When Eliza was born, there had been some complications during the… biological process (It shouldn't be necessary to account for the specifics here. For anybody interested, look it up for yourself in any medical handbook on the subject). But it effectively meant that they couldn't have any more children. The King and the Queen had cried a lot when they found out, but then they had poured all the love onto Eliza and treated her like a real princess. Which she was.
But one day in early spring, thirteen years later, a wandering animancer sought audience with the royal family. He was a lean and very dark man who had come from far away on a quest to make the world a better place, and he had heard of the charitable and altruistic Princess and her wish for a brother and decided to offer his services.
“I need three drops of blood from the King”, he said when he was admitted into the throne room and presented before the King and Queen, “and I need three drops of blood from the Queen. And then I need the life essence of an animal, any animal will do as long as it is bigger than a duck, and finally I need a sculpture of a boy-child, and it has to be made of clay that has been dug up from the banks of a whitewater rapids by a virgin”.
It was almost easier done than said. The blood was extracted with instruments of gold and crystal by the court medics . An exquisite specimen of piglet was selected and had its life essence removed. A well-known virgin with beautiful, golden hair was sent out to the Rainbow waterfalls to collect the finest, white clay, and a master sculptor was commissioned to make the ultimate statue of his career. It all went well - except that the sculptor had to use a tiny bit of his own clay to finish the statue's right leg. Apart from that, the animancer was satisfied and began the procedure to make a living little brother for the princess.
Several days later, he was done, and to the court and the King and the Queen and to Princess Eliza he presented; Prince Hal.
Prince Hal was a boy with beautiful, golden hair and rainbow coloured eyes. He had a slight limp in his right leg, but it was compensated by his courtly gestures and serious countenance.
“Hello father, hello mother, hello sister”, he said. “Will I be the next King when I grow up?”
The royal family thanked the clever animancer for a job well done, threw a big celebratory feast in his honour, paid him handsomely with gold and jewels from the treasury and had his portrait painted and hung in the Hall of Heroes. When he finally left the kingdom, life returned to normal - except that the princess now had a brother.
It soon turned out that Prince Hal was a very selfish and uncaring child. He played with his sister - but only when he had nothing else to do, when he hadn’t access to a tiny tortoise to torture, or a tired tutor to trick with a whoopee cushion or a water balloon.
One day, when they visited the market together, a kind, old lady gave them each a vanilla strawberry ice cream cone.
“I’ll have both”, Prince Hal said. “My sister is so fat she shouldn't be eating ice cream”. And then he took both ice cream cones and walked away. Princess Eliza thanked the old lady and followed her brother.
Another time, when they were walking through the city with their guardians, they accidentally entered the poor district. A skinny boy their age, with torn clothes, scars from mistreatment and grime in his face, was sitting on a piece of cardboard with his hand outstretched, begging for alms. Prince Hal went over to him and kicked him hard in the thigh.
“Get a job, you filthy pig”, he said angrily.
“You mustn't do that”, Princess Eliza said and pulled him away from the poor boy. (Yes, she was much stronger than him, and that was very fretting to him). “It is not right”.
“You are so stupid”, he answered. “When I become King, I shall make you poor, so you can come here and marry him”. And then he walked away as fast as he could on his limping leg.
A third time, he stole his mothers jewels and hid all of them but one in Eliza’s bed, under the mattress. Then he told his mother that he had seen Eliza sneaking around outside her private rooms in the middle of the night. The next day, the maids of course found the hidden jewels under the mattress and reported their findings to the Queen. Eliza knew that it was Hal who had stolen the jewels, because she had happened to see him when he was selling the missing one to a jewellery store in town, but she didn't say anything to anybody.
This was the kind of boy Prince Hal was, and Princess Eliza began to wonder why she ever had wished for a little brother in the first place. But he was from the same blood as she, and she had to take care of him and do the best she could of the situation. She tried to show him kindness when he was cruel and patience when he was angry. She tried to teach him that people ought to be nice to each other so that everybody could enjoy life and be happy, and she told him stories and fairy-tales in the evening and sat by his bed when it was late and he was afraid of the dark.
The years went by, but the prince didn't change. If anything, he got even more cruel and showed even less compassion for others, if that was possible.
One day, the king was suddenly hit by a bad fever and was confined to his bed. The council was immediately called to a meeting to discuss the royal line of succession, should anything undesirable be the outcome of this unfortunate crisis. All the council members knew about Prince Hal and his unpleasantness, but some of them still believed that the law is the law, and that a male offspring has antecedence before a female one when it comes to choosing a ruler. Others pointed out that Princess Eliza was older and wiser and much, much more suitable to rule a happy and prosperous country.
“Prince Hal doesn't know what love is”, said the Minister of Affairs.
“Prince Hal limps like a duck”, said the Minister of Health.
“Prince Hal is weak like a wounded wasp”, said the Minister of War.
The council could not agree on an acceptable solution so they had to resort to voting. When the votes were counted, the proposition that Princess Eliza would inherit the throne, won by a small margin.
What the council members did not know at this moment was that Price Hal stood behind a pillar in the hall, hidden and listening to every word they were saying.
Luckily the King got better and the whole crisis was soon forgotten. But not by everybody. Prince Hal thought quite a lot about what he had heard. Why would a King have to be strong? he wondered. A King can always send someone to lift things for him - if something needs to be lifted. And what was the problem with limping? First of all; Hal was sure he had seen pictures of kings with missing arms or crooked eyes or in an odd-leaning posture. Well, perhaps not. But if he did see one, he wouldn't be surprised. And second of all; a king mostly sat on his throne and ruled. He didn't have to limp around like a common peasant. And finally; love? He couldn't even imagine what that would be good for. He just had to look at his sister to understand that that was a totally crazy idea that only gained others and not oneself.
One sunny day, later that year, the Prince and the Princess found the ruins of an old, abandoned castle, not far from the Royal summer palace in the south where they were staying. As they explored it, Princess Eliza found a lamp under a heap of mouldy trash. She thought that maybe it would look good on her bedside table, after it had been cleaned up a bit, but her brother took it from her and threw it on the ground.
“It’s icky”, he said. “It reminds me of you”.
Used to his manners, she bent down and picked it up again. It was a bit icky, she agreed, so she began rubbing it with a handkerchief.
Immediately, a big, bright, blue cloud sprang from the opening in the burner and a contourless spirit took shape in front of them.
“You have freed me from my prison”, it said in an eerie voice. “I grant you three wishes. All recursive wishes will be nullified. Please state your first wish”.
While Eliza was thinking about all the good things she could do with this gift, Prince Hal had already begun wishing.
“I wish that I was the strongest man in the world”, he shouted. “And I wish I didn't limp”, he continued, thinking as fast as he could. What was the third thing they had talked about, those bloody council members? Yes. He remembered. “I wish I knew what love is!”
And he smashed his fists in the floor, so very pleased with himself that he had managed to come up with all three wishes before his sister had even begun wishing. But it didn't feel as good as it used to when he fooled his sister. He almost felt… a bit… ashamed.
Being the strongest man in the world can cause you trouble if you are not careful. And trouble was just what happened next. Prince Hal's fists had caused the ground to tremble, and bricks and stones began to tumble down from the already weakened ruin walls. There was no time to find a safe way out from the growing inferno. The whole castle was coming down.
They stood, frozen in place, looking at each other without knowing what to do, how to escape. Then Hal looked up to the top of the tower surrounding them and saw a big, flat boulder-sized stone heading straight towards Eliza. He threw himself over her to protect her, and the boulder landed on his back with a nasty sound and sent flashes of pain through his body, so intense that his eyes watered. Soon the boulder was followed by more stones that threatened to bury them both alive.
“Hurry”, he shouted, standing over her like a protective roof. “There is a way out to the right of you”. His muscles were about to burst from the heavy load.
“I cannot leave you”, she shouted back, lying on the ground.
“If you don't move - now - you’ll die”. He kicked her in the side, but not hard. “Go!”
He kicked her again, a little bit harder, but still not as hard as he used to. His face was red from the exertion. “I’m coming after you. I promise. But you must go first”.
She began crawling out. It was a tight fit, but with her slim body, she managed to wriggle herself out of the pile of debris.
“I love you, sis”, she heard him call while more and more stones fell on top of the pile. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was such… love you…”
She backed away just in time before the whole tower came down.
When the dust had settled, she called for him. She walked across the mountain of rocks and stones and rubble and called for him for hours. She called for him until the guards that had been sent out to look for them, found her and dragged her home. And she still calls for him, sometimes, in her sleep, calls for her little brother when she is dreaming.