Sunrise in the Woods

Sunrise in the Woods

A Story by Shadkim
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"Charlotte ran through the forest, pushing through the twisted branches and spitting out the long pieces of hair that got caught in her mouth when she laughed. It was highly unladylike, but no one was watching."

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Charlotte ran through the forest, pushing through the twisted branches and spitting out the long pieces of hair that got caught in her mouth when she laughed. It was highly unladylike, but no one was watching.
 
For the past few weeks, she made it a ritual of waking in the early hours of the morning to sneak into the forest, just yards away from the castle. It was simple enough to steal away; it was not her room the guards watched over. Charlotte was well past the age of marriage and her family had given up their hopes of her ever tying the knot. It was her sister, fair-haired Marianne, that was watched. She was so much younger and was known for flirting dangerously with many men. There was no fear of an affair if Charlotte was ever mentioned; she could do as she pleased.
 
Charlotte did not escape to the forest because of a man. Far from it. She left because of a frog. It was a great big lump of a thing, complete with swarthy green skin and warts.
 
The first time she saw the frog, she was sitting outside. Hunched over a new romance novel, filled with knights and dragons, Charlotte was in her own little world. She closed her eyes between sentences and sniffed the pages. Newly printed, she thought, satisfied. Her long, bronzed hair was tied back in a loose braid, away from her pale face and spectacles. Yes, she wore spectacles. Brought if off of a peddler after she discovered her vision fading. The green thing hopped up to her feet, staring up at her with its huge, wide eyes. She did not notice; the fire seared her knight’s armor. A little frustrated, the frog let out an obnoxiously loud crrrroak. She had looked up, eyes wide, wondering if the frog had been croaking at her. It could not have…
 
“Miss?” It asked, voice low and husky.
 
The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. That was the first time she it – him talk.
 
His name was Louis, pronounced the plain way. Loo-isss. After the initial shock of a talking frog, she listened to him as he explained his situation. He lived in the forest, all by his lonesome, the prince of no one. He grew up alone in the woods, a lost egg his mother must have left behind. There was not a frog to be found in there, he claimed, and so he spent most of this time admiring the humans. He confessed to watching her sister and her grow up, and in time, learning the language of the humans. He found her approachable, and finally came to speak with her for the first time.
 
She found him enchanting, a colorful personality. The day he came to her was a rare day indeed; no one else had been outside. Usually, she would not have had a moment’s peace, but a banquet was being prepared for Marianne, and everyone was inside. She considered Louis her own secret and refused to let it get out. She made a deal with him: she would meet him early in the forest every morning. They could talk until the castle sprung to life. He agreed, and they had done it ever since.
 
That morning, a fog hung in the air. Charlotte saw the shadow of the woods and ran to it, hair frizzing in the murky mist. She laughed and threw her hands wide, just because. Pushing her way through the trees, she made it to their meeting spot. There was a small clearing with a stump sitting in the middle. A tiny hole, now a puddle, was located next to the stump, and Louis swum around in it.
 
“Hullo, Charlotte,” He greeted, calmly. His legs stopped kicking and he blinked as she took a seat on the stump.
 
“Hello, Louis,” She replied, a giggle under her breath.
 
“You are happy.” He pointed out, cocking his head.
 
“Yes,” She sighed. Taking off her glasses, she rubbed them on the fabric of her purple day dress. When they were clean, she adjusted them onto her face again. “It is just nice to be out here again. You know, I do not think I have run through fog in years – it is fun!”
 
“I will take your word for it,” He chuckled.
 
She smiled, pushing her now-damp hair over her shoulders. “Would you like me to tell you a story today?”
 
“Yes, please,” He concurred, trying to hide the eagerness in his voice.
 
She grinned, blushing with happiness. She loved to tell stories, as Louis learned. There first few days together had consisted of them talking about the day’s occurrences. When that became too boring for their imaginative minds, they started to make up stories. Sometimes Louis would talk of his expeditions in the sky, flying over war sights and describing every bloody detail – Charlotte was not squeamish. She, in turn, would spin tales of princess’s trapped in towers and brave knights allying with old magicians. Having grown up with presumably more experiences than Louis, her stories were filled with little parts of her own life; he enjoyed trying to guess what was real and what was fiction.
 
“There once was a princess…” She started, gathering her thoughts, “… that grew up in a loving family. Every day, she learned more and more, and made her parents proud. When she was sixteen, a special ball was prepared, and people from all over the kingdom came to celebrate. She was given a special gown, made of shards from the ocean, glittering over the turquoise fabric. If she looked close enough, she could see the waves crashing in the shards. She felt beautiful, and stepped into the golden room with confidence. The room was filled with other people, looking splendid and wearing masks. She crossed the room slowly, greeting strangers in dizzying awe. The music played, a slow waltz, and the first of many gentlemen asked her to dance.
 
The room became a blur as she swung lightly in small circles. The music cheered her, but she still did not find what she was looking for. This celebration was not only for her birthday – this she knew. Her other birthdays were celebrated by only her family and close friends. She was being displayed to the rest of the kingdom, a trophy to be sought after. Though she knew this, the princess still held hope close to her heart. If she was to be sold, she wanted it to be for love. The gentlemen she danced with did not care for what came out of her mouth, only cared what shape her mouth was. And the princess was not reliant on her plain looks. Her heart sunk as each hour passed…”
 
“Charlotte…” Louis frowned, his voice oddly strained, “… you do not have to –”
 
“No,” she interrupted, her hazel eyes glowing soft. “I have been meaning to tell you this story.” In truth, she had wanted to tell him so many weeks before. At first, it was a matter of trust – it was a story so close to her own. She had not even told her parents. Over the time she spent with him, she felt comfortable with him. He listened to her, did not judge her by her looks. He somehow looked past her pale, plain exterior into the beauty of her soul. She felt warm with him… and the warmth felt oddly familiar.
 
“Yes,” He muttered, strained.
 
Charlotte took a shaky breath, and started again, “So her hope seemed fleeting, and inside she was sad. Was there no one who could see the real her? After the dance ended, she hurried away from the gathered group, excusing herself. She stepped into the hallway, lit by the moon, and found herself alone on a balcony. It overlooked a rose garden, and the calming smell wafted around her, easing her spirit.
 
Just then, a soft voice sounded behind her, startling her. It said, “Please excuse, my lady… I can not help but see you are alone.” As the princess turned, she saw a young man standing before her, one that she had not seen in the gold room. He stood tall, wearing the simple colors of black and grey, with tinges of silver sewed into his jacket. He was not the most handsome man she met that night, but his eyes drew her in, wide and curious. They seemed to search her face, looking for something within. His gaze make her cheeks glow.
 
“I am sorry,” the princess stuttered, trying to regain her composure, “I just wanted to get some air.”
 
The young man nodded, a knowing smile on his lips. He stood next to her, leaning on the stone railing. “It can get overwhelming in there,” He chuckled, “I would imagine. All the falsities can make your head spin – I thought air would do me good too.”
 
Her eyebrows furrowed and she looked down at the garden. Her features showed her anxiety.
 
“Are you alright?” He asked, concerned. He gently laid his hand over hers, a simple gesture.
 
“I really do not know,” She replied, a little unsteady. “I guess I am just shocked, is all. How can all these men want me without knowing me? And the women, why do some scorn me while others fake friendliness? I do not understand.”
 
“You should be happy you do not,” He replied.
 
“What?” The princess asked, surprised.
 
He smiled, “It means that you have been raised in a cocoon of love your whole life, so to say. Your family loves you, and so do your people.” He raised his hands, gesturing past the ends of the castle property, “But out there, no one could be that lucky. Life can be cruel and children are not always loved.”
 
“I know that,” She pouted, frustrated. She felt she did not need to be preached; she read enough to know about the world outside her own.
 
His eyes, turning a dark piercing green, seemed to hold her gaze, “You may not have thought it would affect you.” He seemed to read her mind. “However, some nobles can smell money and opportunity. They will do what they can to grab it. That is what you have encountered tonight.”
 
The princess watched him, breathing. “Who are you?” She whispered, mystified. How did he know her so well?
 
His eyes lightened, and the smile returned to his face. “No one of consequence, I promise.”
 
“But-”
 
“I just dropped by,” He grinned, “to see the new princess coming out.” He lowered his head and whispered in her ear, “I am pleased that I could meet you, my lady.” His voice seemed to purr.
 
Her face lit up like a red tomato, and she shivered when his breath tickled her ear.
 
“I must go,” He said, promptly, sadly. He left her side and started to walk to the hall, not looking back.
 
The princess gasped, watching his retreating form. Her legs felt like jelly, but she did not want him to go. Sloth-like, she dragged her feet and followed after him. “Wait!” She whimpered, tripping as she rounded the corner. He turned around just in time to catch her in his arms. Before he could utter a word, she cried, “Where are you going?”
 
He hushed her, holding her against his chest. He could feel the princess’s frantic heart pound against his own. “I have to go,” Is all he said, sighing. Holding her close for a mere second more, he gently slid away from her.
 
By this time, the princess was feeling things she never felt before. And she knew what they were. She could tick them off her fingers, one by one: sadness, anger, anxiety, and loss. Many more. But the strongest, she knew, was love. It had hit her quick, faster than she ever expected. But she knew what it was. Seeing his back retreat again, she could say the only thing she could, “Can you – can you marry me?” She blurted, face red. Her teeth chattered with her bluntness.       
 
“No,” He whispered, sadly. He turned to face her, his smile bitter. “I am but a soldier, my lady, and I should not be here.”
 
With that said, the young man finally disappeared. She stood in the hallway, long after he was gone, her teeth still chattering. She did not return to the gold room. Her family found her hours afterward, staring down at her dress in the moonlight and watching the wave’s crash in the shards. The moment she looked up, her own wave started, and tears poured from her face as she ran into her family’s embrace.
 
The princess never saw the man again. The sadness – no, emptiness she felt was so profound, that she decided to lock her memories of that night deep inside her head. On the outside, she had returned to her family’s loving girl. On the inside, she was the young woman who watched her happiness walk away. Somehow, her family still knew that, though she never told them, and they did not pressure to find a husband. To please them, she wandered the gold room again and again, not really there. Over time, her sister was brought to the gold room, and those horrid eyes never looked her way again. She spent the rest of her time wondering… wondering if she would ever see that man again. The End.”
 
The ending was a bit rushed, Charlotte thought, but she had become impatient towards the end. She wanted to know what Louis would say after her story was through. Would he answer the question she asked, gently, in her story? Was her guess right? She sighed and stretched, flexing her arms that had waved about during her tale.
 
Louis had barely moved in his puddle, tension seeping off his slimy skin. He watched her, unwavering, and spoke, “That is a sad story, Charlotte.”
 
“I know,” She agreed, now cupping her cheek in her hand, leaning forward.
 
“I think that was more real,” He said, slowly, “than I expected. Not the kind of story you would want to tell party guests.” He stopped, blinking, “Not the kind of story you would tell to your family.”
 
“Right,” She breathed, her eyes wide. “Does it sound familiar to you?”
 
Louis seemed to think, kicking his webbed feet as he swam in a small circle. He let out a small croak and admitted, “Yes, it does.”
 
A small smile started on her face. “Then,” She asked eagerly, “Are you him?”
 
The frog looked up, startled, from his circular swim. “What?”
 
“Are you that man?”
 
“What makes you think that?” He asked, warily.
 
“Well,” She started, picking at her dress, “from the stories you’ve told me. Many times you have talked about the battlefield and that man said he was a soldier. Also, I feel kind of warm around you, and I trusted you right away. I have not felt that way in a long time.”
 
Louis seemed to swallow loudly. He looked worried. “That’s not –”
 
“Are you?” Charlotte demanded, her voice rising a bit higher for her own taste.
 
“… No,” He said, gruffly. He hopped out of the pond, splashing water onto the thirsty grass.
 
“What?” she gasped, her heart falling. “But…”
 
“I said I am not,” Louis said, still debating something in his mind. He looked up at her again, eyes large and brilliant. Full of secrets. “I promised…” He muttered to himself, “… but I cannot hide it from her any longer.”
 
She watched him, not breathing.
 
“I am not you who think I am, as I have denied,” He said loudly, regally, as if he forced these words from his froggy lips. “But I do have something to tell you… that you must know… about that man…”
 
“Something I should know?” Charlotte repeated, staring down at the frog in disbelief.
 
“Please, scoop me up,” He ordered lightly.
 
She left her seat and bent down on her knees, carefully cupping her hands under the wet, green body. With water dripping between the crevices of her fingers, she held him as close as she could to her body. Wind danced through the trees and played with her long braid, tossing the locks haphazardly behind her. Leaves rustled beneath her feet, catching on the hem of her dress. The soft chirp of birds was the only sound in the dawn. 
 
“I’ve been lying to you,” He said, softly. “I’ve stretched some things.”
 
“Please then,” She said, “Explain.”
 
“It’s true; I have lived my life in the forest without any other frogs to keep me company. I have watched you and your sister grow older and have learned to speak the human tongue. However, you are not the first human I have spoken to.
 
About a year ago, I was hopping through the forest at night. It was a full moon and I was trying to get a better view of it. As I made it to the edge of the forest, I saw a figure come stumbling towards me. Under the light of the moon, I saw it was a man. His clothes were torn and tattered and his tripped over the smallest of stones. He collapsed before the forest, sobbing and pounding his fist in frustration. I croaked and he stopped. He did not look up, but instead reached out his hand, searching for me with his fingers. I knew then that he was blind.
 
“It took a few days, but I was able to help him live in the forest. He was too weak to make it through the forest, his wounds too great. I did all I could for him, telling him where to get food and how to use the things around him to heal his injuries. After I told him I was a frog, he did not shy away. He felt me with his fingers and smiled. He accepted me for what I was. I was happy, taking care of him. When he was well enough, he started to tell me stories. About his life as a soldier, fighting battles across the land. He also told me,” Louis paused, “about the time he snuck into a ball and met the Princess Charlotte.”
 
“What?” She whispered, looking down at him with wide eyes.
 
“Yes, that’s right,” Louis affirmed, “He had heard about you when his troop approached the castle. Of course, he did not believe that you were as beautiful, graceful, or delicate as rumors said, but he had a funny feeling. He felt like he had to go to the ball. When he saw you,” “he croaked, “he was blown away. Standing there on that balcony, in your turquoise gown. A vision of beauty.”
 
“But I wasn’t,” Charlotte interrupted, brow furrowing. She looked helplessly at the frog, cheeks red. “I made up the beauty part! My hair was pulled back into this insanely tight knot, and a peacock feather was sticking out of it! Oh, and I was still wearing my spectacles – it really makes my eyes bug-like.”
 
Louis seemed to chuckle, “He wasn’t looking at that, Charlotte. He saw you for yourself, the real you. Isn’t that what you were looking for?”
 
Her breath caught in her throat. “Yes…” She whispered, tearing, “Of course.”
 
Louis croaked, almost like clearing his throat. “He told me of how he had to leave, his troop would be gone by the next sunrise. He traveled with them for a few more months, until the troop was ambushed. He… was severely wounded, and he lost his eyesight in that battle. His comrades lay dying all around him; he could hear no call answering his own. Rapidly, a vision of Princess Charlotte met his mind. He could see her once again, her blue eyes sparkling with hopeful tears. He knew then, that he had to find his way back to you, no matter the cost.
 
 
‘He did not know how long it took or where he was going. He received help from passerby’s, taking him wherever they were going. When he arrived in a town, he asked for the way to your kingdom. Someone, thankfully, would take him a step closer to you. Finally, he made it to this forest. By then, he had failed to take care of himself and his wounds had only gotten worse. He had only you on his mind and had neglected all else. It was a miracle that I was able to help him.”
 
Charlotte stopped in her tracks, waiting for him to tell her more. He only stared back at her, blinking. Her eyes were moist, and her heart was filled with sorrow, relief, and hope. “Is… is that all there is to your story?” She asked, stammering. “I have so many questions but… is that where the story ends?”
 
“It could end here, for now,” He murmured, looking up at the sky. The sun was coming, slowly peaking up from behind the clouds. The sky had become only a little lighter, but the moon had indeed traded places with its partner. “It’s almost sunrise,” Louis stated, “You should be heading back home. The guards will be taking their places soon and you will surely get caught.”
 
“I do not care!” Charlotte shouted, shutting her eyes against tears. She held him up close to her face, her blue eyes like pools of ocean. “I want to find him too. I’ve never truly lost hope… you see. This is something I have only dreamed of. I am scared that if I leave now, I’ll wake up and find myself alone in my bed.” She swallowed, “Please, lead me on.”
 
Louis nodded, happy to oblige. “Then I guess you will be writing your own ending to this story.” He looked ahead to a clearing, “Just beyond there.”
 
Charlotte shook as her feet took her to clearing, and her mind seemed to move at the speed of a snail. Her heart pounded erratically when she finally arrived; beholding the man she had been dreaming of seeing again. He looked just like he remembered, if not older.
 
He sat on a log, in front of a makeshift tent made of tree branches and leaves. He had an angled, square face with a long nose. His short, blond hair was ruffled from a night of restless sleep and golden stubble littered his cheeks and chin. His eyes, forest green, stared vacantly at nothing. His skin was tan from the sun, his lean figure wrapped in a dirty brown cloak. He heard the crunch of leaves and looked in that direction. His mouth formed a soft smile and he asked, “Louis, is that you?”
 
“I am here,” Louis replied, leaping from Charlotte’s hands. He plopped on the ground, almost gracefully, and croaked loudly. “And I brought a guest, Byron.”
 
“A guest?” He asked, lightly.
 
Charlotte could keep quiet no longer. Watching him sit there, right before her and not notice her drove her inwardly mad. She wanted him to know that she was finally there. “Byron…” She whispered, touching her lips as she spoke his name. “So I finally know your name.”
 
Byron blinked, looking straight to where she was. His eyebrows rose, and his voice cracked, “C-Charlotte…? Could it really be…?”
 
Charlotte blinked back new tears, fighting to keep her vision. Her lower lip trembled and she flew to him, tossing her shoes aside as she slid through the grass. When she reached his side, she collapsed beside him, taking his head in her hands. “It’s me,” She sobbed, guiding him to her chest. She hugged him close, overcome with her emotions.
 
He was still in her arms, fighting back his own tears. He listened to the erratic rise and fall her chest and pressed against her. The chill of the cold morning grass had seeped into his bones after many nights outside so he was grateful for the warmth. He looked up, knowing that her face was just above his. “I-I had Louis find you,” He gulped, “so that I could meet you again.” He gently caressed her arm, closing his eyes briefly, “I was so scared you had forgotten me. With good reason, of course – I left you.”
 
“It’s okay,” She choked, her heart swelling. “I never forgot you… I always dreamed you would return.” The tears fell down her face now; she could not hold them back. Her vision became as blur and she took off her glasses, gently tossing them on the grass beside her. Then, with her head swimming, she leaned down and brushed her lips against his.
 
As her tears fell, some fell into Byron’s eyes. He blinked them away, aware that she was crying for him, for many things. He felt her breath as she came closer, and closed his eyes, meeting her lips with fervor. He wrapped his arms around her waist and seated himself so he was now her height. Their tears mingled and added a salty tang as their mouths slowly explored one another’s. The sun finally left its hiding place, lighting up the world with its warm rays. The forest seemed to spring to life and the darkened colors of the deep forest seemed to glow with morning dew. Reluctantly, the two pulled back when they felt the warmth on their eyelids.
 
Charlotte smiled shyly, leaning back and holding his hands in hers. “The sun is out,” She sighed, “It looks beautiful.”
 
“I am sure it does,” He nodded. He opened his eyes, pretending to look, and was shocked to find that a bright light stung them. He tried to open them again, but great globs of grey and the light still caused to shut them.
 
Charlotte noticed his struggle, “Byron? What’s wrong?”
 
“N-nothing is wrong,” He struggled, trying again. “I do not think…” He held his eyes open long enough, and the light seemed to dim. The grey mass in front of him formed into a woman. She stared back at him, a worried look on her face. She had a delicate face with wide, blue eyes. Her hair was long and many strands had sprung loose and waved in the wind. He smiled; he had always imagined that the princess would look lovely when the wind added its touch. Unhurried, Byron lifted his hand to her cheek, stroking her creamy skin. It was real. “I can see,” He murmured, his smiled broadening. “I can see you!”
 
Charlotte has watched as his eyes changed. They were no longer blank and unseeing. Instead, they glittered with regained intelligence and enthusiasm. She could feel his green eyes sweep over her, and her skin turned a deep red. “Do you… do you like what you see?” She asked, timidly.
 
Byron chuckled, a grin on his face, “Of course, my princess.” His tone was nothing but loving. He leaned over and picked up her glasses, sliding them back on her face. “I always liked what I saw, even with the peacock feather.”
 
“Hey!” She barked, playfully pushing him. He lost his balance, and she fell on top of him. Giggling, she snuggled into his chest. “You know…” She started, “you owe me an answer.”
 
“What?” He asked, his eyes laughing.
 
“Remember that question I asked you, at the ball?” She asked, shyly. “The last one – I was hoping that you have a different answer now.”
 
“Mmm.” He stared into the clouds, a smile on his face.
 
“Do you?” She asked, looking up.
 
“Princess! Princess Charlotte!” came cries, from far away, “Where are you, Princess?” The guards were out looking for her, now that the sun was out and shining. She had not returned, and everyone was surely worried about her. The sound of metal clashing against bark filled the silence of the forest, and the shouts got louder.
 
“It seems they are looking for her,” Louis mumbled. He croaked in frustration, fixing his big eyes on the clearing. He had been watching the two from the tall grass, quietly content.
 
Byron sat up, helping Charlotte get to her feet. She watched him expectantly, her last question hanging in the air around. “I am but a soldier,” He started, grinning, “and I certainly should not be here. I came before you a weakened blind man, with nothing to offer but my love. I still only have love… with nothing to my name. If you are happy with that,” He whispered, “then I am yours.”
 
“Yes,” She smiled, blue eyes tender. “I would have no other.”
 
The guards found Charlotte in the arms of a man, laughing as she was swung in a small circle. The two of them, and Louis, returned to castle, where Charlotte and Byron each told their stories to the king and court. There was much rejoicing in the kingdom, and the lovers were wed in splendor. Even Marianne gave up her spotlight for them, sincerely happy for her older sister. They spent many days together, out in the fresh sunlight, and many nights by the fire. They theorized about Byron's returned sight and told each other stories.
 
Louis was invited to stay in the castle and was given his own room with a pond attached. He spent his days learning to read with the help of many; soon enough, he absorbed most of the royal collection. By the time Charlotte and Byron had children, he became the first frog to tutor a royal family.
 
 
 
 

© 2008 Shadkim


Author's Note

Shadkim
This story is finally back up, but now it's all in one part instead of three :)

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I enjoyed reading this, Shadkim. A nice, old-fashioned fairy tale with a frog and a princess. I liked the idea that neither Charlotte nor Byron were were extrememly good-looking in a physical way. You've done a great job on it, and I thank you very much for sharing it.

Posted 12 Years Ago



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Added on July 31, 2008

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Shadkim
Shadkim

Tampa, FL



About
I'm 21, and I am a senior English Major at FSC. I don't usually write poetry - my passion is prose, specifcially things like fantasy, adventure, romance and mystery. However, I like to try out all dif.. more..

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