This is a tale as old as the world itself. The story of the Hero and the Princess.
The old priest’s gaze passed over each youth that knelt before him. They had trained for years, preparing for this day. They had been chosen by fate to journey across the world in search of ancient and sacred power so that they could defeat a great evil. Each child had the same fate read at their births. A great destiny awaits this one. He cleared his throat and raised his right hand.
“I shall now name the heroes chosen for this dangerous task.”
He had consulted the stars the night before. On that night, when they were aligned just so, their patterns revealed the names of the chosen heroes. Unfortunately for one of the five gathered before him, only four had been named. He sighed and began to speak.
“Jada. Stanli. Destiny has called you. Frengis. Malia. The world is counting on you. Rise and take your place among legends.”
One by one, the children rose and stepped forward into the light. They had smiles on their faces and the old man could tell they were barely able to keep their excitement in. The last child looked up, confused.
“What about me?” he asked.
“I am… sorry Darren. The stars did not name you.”
The boy was knocked back by these words. He couldn’t believe it. He had been told by the elders for years that his was a special destiny. He had trained side by side with the others every step of the way. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
“What does this mean? Why wasn’t I named? Nelius, why?” he bellowed.
“Everyone has a different path to follow, Darren. The auguries said you had a special destiny, this is true. But it appears that destiny is not the same as the others,” the old priest said.
“This has to be a mistake! High Priest Nelius, ask the stars again. Ask them what my future holds! Please!” Darren was practically screaming now.
“There are no stars out now. It is daytime. The time for asking has passed,” said Nelius.
“It’s not fair!”
“That’s enough, Darren,” Nelius said, his voice a steady baritone.
Darren felt his eyes mist up, and he turned and ran from the temple.
The next day, the four chosen departed from the village. Everyone had gathered to see them off. Everyone except Darren. Malia had kept an eye out for him, but he was nowhere to be seen. She felt really bad for poor Darren, but this was destiny. She had to fulfill it. The chosen disappeared from sight beyond the hills, filled to brimming with the cheers and wishes of their village. In his little room, Darren cried and cried without stopping. His world had ended. He should have been out there with them. He should have been chosen too. He knew he should have at least seen them off, wave goodbye, something, but he was too embarrassed to show his face. He wouldn’t come out of his room for a whole week.
The seventh day came and went, and Darren opened his eyes to see his mother standing over him, a worried look on her face.
“What is it, mom?” he asked drowsily.
“You’ve been locked in here for a whole week, Darren. It’s time to get up and move around a bit,” she said as she opened his bedroom window, letting the light in.
“I don’t want to,” Darren said, pushing his face into his pillow.
“You have to. No arguments,” said his mother.
“Mom, I have nothing to do. I was supposed to be a chosen hero, but I’m not. I don’t have a reason to train anymore. It’s over for me.”
“There are plenty of things you can do.”
“Like what?” Darren asked.
“Well let’s see… I need some berries for dinner tonight. You should go and pick some for me.”
“That’s it? That’s so boring.”
“Darren, I need an especially rare berry. This one grows deep in the forest. There are scary monsters that protect it.”
Darren looked up from his bed.
“How scary?” he asked.
“Very big, strong and scary monsters that only a brave hero can slay. I would go myself, but it’s too dangerous for someone like me.”
“I’ll do it! I’ll get the berries!” Darren jumped from his bed, grabbed his gear and ran out the door into the forest. His mother chuckled to herself.
“That silly boy. I didn’t even tell him where they were.”
For three days, Darren went out into the woods to gather berries for his mother. He found the occasional dire rat and feaster bunny, but otherwise there weren’t any monsters for him to slay. He didn’t mind though. It was nice just to have something to do again. On the fourth day, Darren was walking to the woods when his good friend Linda spotted him.
“Where are you off too?” she asked.
“The forest. I’m getting berries for my mother,” said Darren. Linda smiled.
“I’m glad you’re happy again. It’s too bad, because I was planning a special something to cheer you up,” she said.
“Wait, you can still do it. I mean, I might still need a little more cheering up,” said Darren. Linda laughed.
“Okay then. You hurry up with your quest. I’ll be waiting.”
“Right, see ya around, Linda!” Darren said as he sprinted for the forest with renewed vigor. It was early yet, and the sun was still hanging low in the sky. Darren’s thoughts went wild as he walked. What were his friends up to? Were they having a good time on their journey? Did they miss him? He still felt crushed that the fates had deemed him not worthy enough to save the world. Perhaps his was a different but no less important path. Maybe he would become a blacksmith that would forge a sword that would kill a great evil. Mordecai the blacksmith was looking for a new apprentice after his last one accidentally cut his other hand off. He wondered what kind of special something Linda was planning.
Darren looked around. Somebody screamed, and it was close by. He quickened his pace, following the sound.
“Please help!” called the voice again. Darren followed it until he reached a clearing. He jumped past the tree line and found the source of the noise. It was a young maiden, about his age, maybe younger. Their eyes met. Hers were a golden brown. To say she was stunningly gorgeous would have been an understatement. Her hair flowed down to her waist and was either white or silver, it was hard to tell in the light. She was wearing a simple but expensive looking light blue gown with tiny jewels embedded all over it.
Then he noticed she was crying and out of breath. She ran up and practically jumped on him. He gasped in surprise, almost falling backwards.
“Hey, what are you doing?” he stammered.
“We have to run. He’s coming!” she screamed.
“What?” Darren asked.
“Please, let’s run. Run run run!” she said pushing Darren along.
“You’re in trouble?” he asked.
“A great deal of trouble. I’ll explain later, just please help me!” she pleaded.
“Don’t worry, I’m a hero,” Darren said.
Before she could say anything more, he grabbed her hand and led her into the forest. They followed a crooked path past a river and up a hill before stopping to pause behind a massive tree.
“Thank you,” she said between breaths. “Thank you so much.”
“What are you doing out here?” Darren asked as he kept watch for danger.
“I was running from a terrible man. He kidnapped me from my kingdom,” she said.
“It’s okay, I’ll make sure…” he stopped mid sentence.
“What? What is it?” she asked. Darren turned to face her.
“Your kingdom? Does that mean…”
She stood up, wiping her gown as she did. Clearing her throat she said, “My name is Princess Helera. I thank you for your courage. I need to return to my home at once. My father and mother must be worried sick about me and I fear that without my presence the whole kingdom will fall into a disastrous civil war.”
“Wait, wait, wait wait wait wait… wait. You’re a princess?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“Huh,” Darren said a little confused.
“What’s the matter?” she asked. A little smile worked its way up Darren’s face.
“I get it now. A special little something, eh Linda? Heh.”
“Excuse me?” the princess asked.
“Look, I know what this is. I appreciate it, really I do, but you don’t have to do this,” said Darren.
“What are you talking about?” asked Helera, getting frustrated.
“You can stop pretending ‘princess’, I’ll tell Linda you did a good job and that I was totally convinced,” said Darren.
“I am not pretending. I really am a princess and I really am in danger,” said Helera.
“Wow, you’re persistent. Um, look it’s fine. You don’t have to keep acting. I appreciate it but you really don’t,” said Darren.
“This isn’t a joke! Someone is chasing me and he could find us any minute!” she cried desperately.
“Princess!” came a menacing growl. A large man draped in animal skins and chain mail leapt through the trees swinging two giant axes around his head. He had extremely rough features and shaggy hair covering his face. He was scarred and tattooed all over, generally just an unsavory looking character. “I found you!” he bellowed.
“No,” was her barely audible reply. She fell to her knees and started shaking, eyes wide and tears flowing freely. He gave Darren a quick look over and smiled.
“Thanks for finding my princess, boy. Here’s a reward for your trouble,” he said with a rotten grin. He reached into his pants and pulled out a small leather satchel, filled with coins. He threw it at Darren’s feet. “Now come along, princess. We don’t want to be late.”
“Hold it!” shouted Darren. The man looked at the boy with a hint of annoyance.
“What?” the man asked.
“Are you for real? Did you really kidnap this girl?” Darren asked.
“Yeah. So what?” replied the man.
“What are you, a pervert?” Darren asked.
“She’s just a poor defenseless girl! What could you possibly want from her? She’s way too young for you,” said Darren.
“I don’t want her for me!” cried the man, exasperated. “She’s a princess. There’ll be a huge ransom for her safe return.”
“So you really are a princess?” asked Darren. Helera looked like she about to scream her head off. “Okay! Right! So this isn’t a game. Right. So, this is how it’s going to work, big guy. You’re going to back away and let the princess go.”
“Hah! What is this? I don’t even… You trying to be a hero, kid?” asked the man.
“I am a hero!” screamed Darren.
“Whoa, take it easy,” said the man.
“Get out of here, and take your money with you,” said Darren, tossing the satchel back.
“Come on. You can’t seriously be doing this. What are you like ten?” asked the man.
“Leave this girl alone,” said Darren as he took his sword out. The man’s face scrunched up in anger.
“You’re playing with fire, kid. Hand her over and I won’t kill you,” said the man.
“Leave right now and I won’t kill you.”
“That’s it!” he screamed. The man twirled his axes around, then held them low. Darren reflexively went into the low guard position with his sword. “I hope you enjoyed your short life, boy!”
The man dashed forward. Darren felt his training come back to him. He remembered to watch the man’s torso. The eyes lied, the torso didn’t. He waited for the right moment, then he dashed forward to meet his opponent. Their weapons clashed and Darren’s sword fell from his hand. The man brought his axe down but missed as Darren jumped to the side. Darren grabbed his knife, hidden on his belt, and threw it at the man’s face. The princess-napper was barely able to block the incoming projectile with one of his axes. Darren rolled and grabbed his sword from the ground and stabbed it into the attacker’s knee. The man screamed in pain and bashed Darren’s face in with the butt of his axe. Darren fell onto his back, clutching his face.
“You little scum bag!” yelled the man. “I’m going to cut you up and feed you to my pigs!” He limped over to where Darren lay.
“No!” screamed Helera. Darren forced his eyes open. The man had both his axes over his head. Darren kicked the man where he’d been stabbed. The man stumbled back with a grunt. Darren got to his feet quickly. He jumped on the man, pulled the man’s head back by his long greasy hair and shoved his sword down the man’s throat as hard as he could. The man froze, his face the very definition of surprise. Slowly, he slumped down to the ground and fell over, gurgling his last words. Darren took a second to catch his breath and then laughed as hard as he’d ever laughed.
“Who’s dead now? You son of a hog!” Darren said as he kicked the man in the stomach repeatedly. After he was quite satisfied, he went over to Helera.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“You killed him,” said the princess.
“Yeah, he won’t be bothering you anymore,” said Darren.
“You just, murdered him. He’s dead,” said Helera, still stunned.
“Yes. That is what happened,” said Darren, wondering what she was getting at.
“He only kidnapped me. You didn’t have to end his life!” the princess screamed.
“He was going to kill me! What was I supposed to do?” asked Darren.
“I don’t know, maim him? Disable him? He’s dead now. How could you?” asked the princess.
“I thought you’d be a little more grateful about me saving your life. Unless. Oh no. This whole thing was a joke wasn’t it? I killed an innocent man,” Darren said, panicking.
“No, no of course not. I am a princess, he really did kidnap me. I just can’t believe you killed him like that,” said Helera.
“You’ve had a very comfortable life, haven’t you?” Darren asked. Helera looked at him, confused. “All right, let’s get you back to the village.”
A short walk later, they arrived at Darren’s village. He brought the princess before the elders. They simply nodded as Helera explained her situation.
“This is a most troubling development indeed,” said High Priest Nelius after Helera was done. “It is imperative that we return you to your kingdom at once, your highness. The lives of many hang in the balance.”
“I thank you for your hospitality,” said Helera between sips of hot tea.
“We will make preparations for your departure immediately. The roads will be even more treacherous, so we shall send you on your journey with a guardian,” said Nelius.
“I appreciate it,” said Helera.
“Darren, come here,” said the Nelius.
“Me?” Darren asked.
“Him?” Helera echoed.
“He is the one who will protect you on your journey home,” said Nelius.
“But, he’s only a child!” Helera exclaimed.
“Hey, I killed the guy that kidnapped you. That counts for something, right?” asked Darren.
“Indeed he did, and I am very proud of you,” said Nelius.
“What?!” exclaimed Helera.
“I believe you have found the destiny that was meant for you,” said Nelius.
“Yes! I knew it! Ha ha!” Darren jumped up and down with glee.
“What is wrong with you people,” Helera mumbled to herself.
“Then it’s settled. Darren shall be your guardian. Tomorrow you will begin your journey home, princess,” said Nelius.
The next day, Darren and Helera left the village to a thunderous applause. The princess watched as the sun rose above the curve of the earth, unsure of what her future held. Darren walked with his chest out and his face beaming with joy. He was absolutely certain that he was marching toward his destiny to become the most awesome hero of all time.