By Lauren Rabalais
Web Content Contributor
“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”— F. Scott Fitzgerald
Prince Alphonse watched from the carriage window as the horses slowed their gait to a walk. He always thought the air beyond the castle walls would be fresh and inviting— and inviting it was, with its own wonders and mysteries that he could hardly wrap his head around, but did it always smell of metal and burning things?
As the carriage approached the city of Dolos, he noticed how the world was painted in that frosty white that he’d only ever seen dust his bed chamber’s balcony railing. He thought it soft and cloud-like—pleasantly chilly to the touch. But here in Apatéa’s capital city, that icy stuff was a sickly grey, plastered to the granite streets like a clammy hand’s touch. He watched as uniformed men plowed through the slushy stuff, removing it from the wettened streets. He wanted to touch it for himself.
Once for he called for the coachman (whom he couldn’t seem to remember the name of) to stop the horses, Alphonse stepped out of the carriage and clumsily trotted down the steps. He stuck a boot-adorned foot into the white mass, but he wasn’t prepared for how his leg sank deep into its unforgiving grip. With a shout of surprise, he grabbed at his calf and pulled at his leg until he yanked his foot free. He turned back to the coachman with a straight face, which lost its impact when paired with the heat rushing up his cheeks.
“Perhaps I could take the time to stroll unaided? I have much to see here.”
“That wouldn’t be wise, Your Highness,” the coachman said in the authoritative manner he’d been taught to use. “Shall I accompany you on your journey? The snow could be quite dangerous if you were to trip—”
Ah, snow, he thought. So that’s what it’s called.
“I won’t trip,” Alphonse said, staring off towards the two frolicking, snow-covered schoolchildren he’d been watching while he was in the carriage. “The new queen granted me sanction to explore as I pleased. Allow me to cherish such an opportunity for myself.”
“If you were to be injured, Your Highness, I would hold responsibility. We do not need more tragedy befalling this kingdom. I shall remain in your gait where you don’t have to observe me,” the coachman said with a little less patience.
Alphonse replied without turning towards him, his eyes shifting to peer at the coachman sideways. “This is an order from your prince,” he said with his chest slightly puffed up and his voice wobbly from lack of practice. “Leave me be.”
“Very well,” the coachman sighed, resigned. “I shall remain in town square, so you shall be able to find me within the area. Do be back before dusk lest the queen is involved.”
Alphonse turned away with only a simple wave and a hopeful grin as he strolled towards the iron structures that cast their looming shadows over the square.
The city lived and breathed as the people did —a manifestation of dreams and aspirations made tangible, neatly lined with iron and brick. Children dressed in black smiled as they hurled balls of snow towards each other, while their mothers, also dressed in black, solemnly watched on with reddened cheeks and noses. It seemed everyone in town was wearing black, and Alphonse couldn’t fathom why so many people mourned over a man they’d never even met.
His coachman had mentioned a large pathway of flowing water splicing Dolos in two during their journey—River Caligo, he’d called it. As Alphonse looked ahead and approached the center of town, he saw a never-ending sheet of ice bridge the city together. Happy children glided across the river, their feet carving a crackly web of veins into the heart of Dolos. There was a certain blackness trapped under that layer of ice, he noticed upon further inspection, and he didn’t want to imagine what monsters lived there.
“Is that Prince Alphonse?” He distantly heard someone say. He looked over to find one of a middle-aged woman speaking to another with a side-eyed glance.
“My word, it is! That poor young man!” The other woman said. When they noticed Alphonse watching, they scurried towards him with lifted dresses and careful steps.
“Oh, dear child!” The one with the pointy nose bemoaned. “I am deeply sorry for your loss. Your father was quite loved.”
“Truly,” the one with the plump figure followed. “Apatéa mourns for the great King Harold. Your Highness, we adored your father. We send you our condolences.”
Alphonse stayed silent as the women looked at him eagerly for a response. How far, he wondered, staring out to where frozen water grazed the horizon, could he walk across the river before the ice cracked from underneath him?
“It must be quite burdensome to converse about such a delicate subject,” the plump one said with a sigh. “Oh, my, it really is tragic!” The woman looked at him with that glance— the one that make him feel small and sick. He couldn’t do this.
“I—” Alphonse started. “I must go.” Before the women could respond, he ran back to where he came from. He’d done a lot a crying, these days, and today didn’t seem to be an exception.
This was supposed to be a whole new world for him to unearth, but nothing was different in this cursed city. People didn’t change, noble or otherwise. He was a caged canary set free into a world of crows—it was only natural that he would never shed golden wings for black ones.
He dashed back towards the carriage where the coachman waited for him.
“You’ve returned so soon, Your Highness? Did you not want to explore Dolos independently?”
“I’ve seen it all,” Alphonse said, and he became one with the abyss. “Let us return.”