The Marionette (1)

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I.

An old song, a princess and a cursed boy

They said she could be seen from the rusted window still of the castle beyond the Puppet’s Forest. A magnificent wonder of a glorious empire it had once been thousands years past; now what remained for the world to see was a mere empty shell buried under tall trees.

No one knew who or what she really was. They were only told by their grandfathers, and their grandfathers before them, that she had already been there when they came exploring the ruins, as if she had been there since the beginning of time.

Those had had the courage to cross the ominous shadows of the Puppet’s Forest claimed they had witnessed her face. Though she possessed the face of a goddess, they all agreed that she lacked what was vital for any living beings: a soul.

Yes, she was souless. Days and nights she sat still on her dusted throne, clad in her worn blood-red robe. Her beautiful lips froze in a perfectly straight line and her jewel eyes only looked and never saw.

They doubted if she was even human.

However, there were ones who claimed to have witnessed her weeping. Tears, if they could be called ‘tears’,  streamed down from her jewel eyes, thick and bright and blood.

Only a cursed being would cry out blood, they were convinced.

Still, before the first brave men’s crossing the Puppet’s Forest, there had existed an old song.  Old as the princess’ myth, the song had etched itself deeply into the hearts and memory of the villagers. Curiously, generations had passed and they only remembered her as a sorrowful princess locked in the castle ruins and not the damned creature she might as well be.

“The princess sat by the window still

Watched by the moon, greeted by the winds

The castle laid in the forest deep

And the princess who could never sleep

Forever waiting, forever weeping

Till the arrival of her king

Till he came and pulled the strings

That orchestrated the marionette’s swings”

Why a princess, not a queen?

Because a queen was cruel and evil while a princess was pure and innocent.

Where did such notion come from?

Who knew?

Nevertheless, it had been long long since the last man traveled to castle to see for himself the princess’ unearthly beauty. The truth about her nature remained hidden underneath layers of cobbles and dust and the old song was the only reminder of her existence.

Provided that she really existed.

He was called the devil’s child by many for he was born with a bright red ring around his neck. First, it was only a faint, hair-thin line; as he grew up, the ring became more and more prominent, to the point it looked like it might severe his head any time.

The village’s sages believed  the red ring was a stigma of his previous life. Whatever he had been in the past, he must have been a being devious enough for the gods to leave a mark on his body to remind himself as well as others of his wicked deeds.

The red ring could not be anything other than the sign of misfortune, the villagers concluded. So, before he himself learned of his stigma, the boy and his mother were exiled from the village to live by the entrance of the Puppet’s Forest.

The boy was frequently visited by the same bizarre dream. In this dream, he saw two things: a face and a net of red strings. The face, placidly emotionless, with beautiful lips frozen in perfectly straight line and jewel eyes he had neither known nor seen before, appeared entangled in the net of red strings. Both were motionless until an invisible hand began to struck the strings. The cold stiff façade immediately shattered and the face started showing a variety of expressions. Sometimes the lips curved in a lovable smile. Sometimes the eyes widened in speaking of a silent fright. Sometimes the eyes sealed up and from them streamed down tears thick and bright as blood.

He woke up each time in sweat-soaked garment and a scorching pain around his neck. His fingers instinctively reached the skin and found blood.

The red ring was seeping out blood. His own blood.

Terrified and confused yet he kept this horrifying secret for himself.

He grew up with the old song just as many other children in the village did. Unlike them who didn’t know past the soft, soothing melody of the song, the boy was strongly curious about the myth associated with the lyrics.

Though he had neither a concrete proof nor a logical reason but deep down, he held onto a firm belief that his mysterious stigma, his incomprehensible dream and the ancient story were all connected in a great puzzle.

A great puzzle he would definitely solve one day.

The little boy once pointed his forefinger at the fathomless darkness behind their hut and asked his mother:

“Why do they call it the Puppet’s Forest? Are there puppets deep inside?”

He keenly noticed his mother’s eyes widen for a brief while, the same way the face in his dream did. But before he could decipher her bizarre expression, her eyes quickly resumed their normal state.

“Because it’s dark and scary, my child. They said thousands of years ago, there lived a queen in a wondrous castle. She had the face of the fairest angel but the heart of the worst devil. Those who dared defile her wills got brutally  executed and later, their bodies were hung up on the tall trees. When the winds blew, the unfortunate’s remains would ‘dance’ like puppets being pulled by the strings. The scariest thing is that their miserable souls, up until today, are still trapped in the forest despite their vessels had long rotten. And they’ll kill anyone who gets lost in the forest to avenge their conditions.”

She paused and patted his head.

“Therefore, you must never, ever wander into that forest.”

“But mother“- he rebuked- “isn’t there a beautiful princess waiting in the castle beyond the forest just like the song says? Why isn’t she afraid of the ghosts?”

His mother prolonged her silence for a few minutes. When she finally opened her mouth, her voice came out hoarse and shivered.

“Because she’s worst than those ghosts. She is no human, only a cursed thing.”

He wanted ask her more but seeing the terror in her eyes, he forced himself to be content of her answer.

He knew he wasn’t the least horrified by the myth. Every night, before going to sleep, he would always take a look at the scenery outside his window. Transfixed by the borderless darkness, it seemed even his soul was being lured out by the ancient sinister spell uttered by the ghosts.

Did he see them dance, I wonder.

The villagers thought him mad when the news of his venture into the Puppet’s Forest was heard. None advised him otherwise though; they were more than relieved to get rid of him, a sinned existence which would invoke the gods’ wrath and bring catastrophe upon them.

He bid his farewell in front of his late mother’s mound. Mother, this time, I can’t oblige to you.

With courage and a gradually growing sense of desperation, the boy-turned-man set foot on his path to uncover the truth about his destiny.

(To be continued)

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