Warning: Mention of torture
His cell is at the top of the tallest tower. The single window provides him with a full view of the stars. Up there, he isn’t the hero the public once declared him. He isn’t anyone, in fact. When people come to deliver food, when the princess comes to beg him for answers in regards to why he murdered her father, and even when knights come to threaten the worst punishments they can imagine, he sits and stares out that single window. The bars are rusty, and it would only take one shove to dislodge them, but there’s nowhere to go but down, and he’s assumed to be too far gone to try. Instead, he sits and he stares out, past the bars and at the sky. He knows the stories of the constellations by heart. It’s the only thing he tells those looking for answers. The stories of vain Cassiopeia, brave Hercules, or the hunter Orion fall from his lips like a river; torrential and immovable, shaping his world around him. Once he may have been a proud sorcerer, a brave hero who saved kingdoms and laid evil to rest. Now he only has eyes for the stars and the tales they whisper in his ears while he sleeps.
“What made you betray us?” The kingdom calls.
“Was my love not enough for you?” The princess begs.
“Peace, my child.” The stars say, “You were too young, too broken to know.”
The problem with prodigies is they burn themselves out, much like the stars in the sky above.
“Have you burned out?” He whispers out the window in the dead of night, “Am I seeing the echoes of what once was?”
“The universe is infinite.” He hears the stars whisper back, “You will never see the end.”
They hold him down and put planks over the window to block out the stars, but whenever they return he has torn the planks away and sits gripping the bars with bloodied hands. It becomes too much of a hassle, and they leave him with his window. One day he pushes one of the bars out. The next day another follows. The knights go to the princess with their concerns, but she waves them off.
“Where will he go? His magic can’t save him from such a height.”
A third bar joins the others in the shadow of the tower, and finally he shoves the fourth bar out. He likes it better when the stars aren’t obstructed. He can lean out at night and let the wind caress his face as the stars whisper to him.
“Our poor boy.” They say, “We shall sing you to sleep.”
They serenade him in a way that only he can hear. It’s a song woven deep into the rotation of the planet. It’s ancient and sad, but so are the stars and so is he. Both have seen horrors and wonders, and both have come out of their trials older but no wiser. He lets the stars sing, and sometimes he joins in. His guards bang on the cell door, but he pays them no mind. They don’t understand good music, and he’s never in the mood to try and explain it to them. So he sits, he sings, and he retells the stories the stars tell him.
One day, the princess demands his cooperation. She is fed up with his silence, and she orders him to pay for his crime. She wants his magic, and he happily relinquishes it as long as it means he can continue watching the stars. She has her knights take his sword hand next. What use is a hand when the window remains? The princess throws a fit.
“You were supposed to be a hero!” She points an accusing finger at him, “You were supposed to save us, and look what you’ve done! I kept you alive because despite everything I loved you, but I realize it would have been kinder to execute you like the townsfolk wanted!” He says nothing, eyes searching blue skies for the stars he knows are hidden away beyond the atmosphere. In her rage, the princess orders him to be blinded. Knights hold him down as a prison guard pours chemicals in his eyes until they turn dull and unseeing. His world becomes dark, but not in the peaceful way that night brings. This darkness is oppressive and all consuming, throwing his sense of life off. They throw him in his cell once more, and he lays on the floor because he can’t find his window anymore.
“He deserves worse.” The kingdom spits.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to go this far.” The princess sobs.
“You are hurting.” The stars say, “So we will ease your pain.”
Within a few days, he has taken his seat at the window again, blind eyes turned to a sky that is permanently burned into his memory. He listens to the jeers from below, both nobility and peasantry united in their hatred of the man who killed their king, although he won’t be a man for another two years. They do not care. They call for him to jump from his tower, sadistic smiles revealing their intentions. They want him to die for what he’s done, but if he were to die who would listen to the stars? He tunes the people out and opens his ears to the sky.
“What should I do?”
“You are brave.” The stars say, “You are broken, yet you are strong. What is your crime?”
“I killed the king.” He answers without missing a beat.
“Why did you do that?”
“He had to answer to his crimes.” He says, “He brought prosperity to his kingdom by sacrificing those who didn’t meet his standards.”
The guards call the princess, and they listen to his full confession. He talks about his discovery of the king’s treachery, how he killed the sick and the elderly to gain strength for himself. The king forced him to use his magic to aid in these rituals, and no one would listen so he had to take justice into his own hands. The princess is horrified as she learns what her father had done. She tries to reach out, to get her apologies through to him when they wouldn’t reach him before. He can’t hear her over the sound of the stars in his ears.
“You have always been worthy of our love. Come to us and we will accept you with open arms.”
He climbs onto the ledge between the window and the open air. The stars sing louder outside, the walls of the tower have muffled the song all these years and it’s oh so beautiful, he can never go back inside.
The princess screams, the door to the cell clangs open, and he flies into the stars.