Author's Note: This story is based on George MacDonald's fairy tale "The Light Princess," and is technically an AU of my first Free! fic, "Living Water." However, I think it will work as a standalone story for anyone who is unfamiliar with either of those. Much credit goes to Mr. MacDonald, whose style and language I have borrowed much of in order to mimic the feel of the original fairy tale.
The Light Prince
Once upon a time, in a faraway land that I can no longer recall the name of, there lived the good King Nanase and his lovely queen. For many years they had no children, which they were quite sorrowful about. So it brought great joy to the kingdom when the queen at last gave birth to a son—the little prince Haruka.
When it came time for the infant to be christened, invitations were delivered throughout the land. Somebody was forgotten of course, like they always are in these sorts of stories. In this case, it happened to be the Duke Matsuoka's family, which was awkward because the duke had been the king's own brother. Although he was now passed away, the king ought not to have forgotten about the family which his brother had left behind. But the duke's widow had long stopped making calls on her late husband's relatives; and moreover their son, the little Duke Rin, was so disagreeable a child, always pouting and crying during visits, that it was no wonder the king forgot about him when writing invitations.
This was an unintentional yet unwise mistake on the king's part, for Rin—despite being an ill-tempered and peevish little boy—had a gift for magic, and had the bad habit of bewitching anybody who made him cross. Therefore when he discovered that he had been slighted in an invitation (never mind that he had not visited his uncle the king since he was a little baby), he threw quite the tantrum. His mother, wearied by the antics of her difficult son, at last acquiesced to bring him to Prince Haruka's christening, even without an invitation. Little did she know that young Rin had made up his mind to make all of Haruka's family miserable, in the most dramatic of fashions.
Upon arriving at the palace, the boy duke and his mother were kindly received by the happy king (who forgot that he had forgotten them), and they soon took their place in the procession to the royal chapel. When they were all gathered about the basin of water, little Rin contrived to get next to it and throw something in; after which he maintained a very respectful demeanor until the water was applied to the baby's face. At that moment, he spun around three times and muttered the following words:
"Empty of feeling, by my charms,
Empty of weight, in all thy parts,
Nary an ounce in thy parents' arms—
Thus to crush their very hearts!"
The people standing beside the boy thought he had lost his wits and was repeating some foolish nursery rhyme; but then a shudder went through the crowd. The baby suddenly ceased crying and became silent. Then the queen gave a startled cry; she could no longer feel the baby in her arms.
The devious duke had deprived little Prince Haruka of all his gravity.
The first awkwardness that resulted from this unhappy incident was when the queen, in confusion, began to raise the baby up and down in her arms. As a result, the child flew from her arms and towards the rafters. Fortunately, the resistance of the air brought his ascending career to an end just before he hit the ceiling. There he remained, wriggling about and staring down silently at the assembly below with his big blue eyes.
A terrible commotion rose among the people. The king stood staring up in speechless amazement. At last, turning to the queen, who was just as horror-struck as himself, he exclaimed, "He can't be ours, queen!"
"I am sure he is ours," answered she in a trembling voice. "For you can see that he has my raven hair, and your sapphire eyes. But where he inherits this utter lack of gravity from, I am unable to say."
The king squinted up at the floating infant. "Indeed, he does resemble us," he agreed at last. "In which case, we better get him down.—Tachibana!" called he for his trusted footman. "Bring the stepladder immediately."
The stepladder was brought, and set upon the altar, and Tachibana got up on top of it. But, as tall as the footman was, he could not reach the little prince.
"Use the tongs, Tachibana," said his Majesty; and getting up on the altar, he handed over a pair of tongs.
At last the footman could reach the baby, and the little prince was handed down by the tongs.
Back in the arms of his mother, the baby blinked owlishly at both his parents, without a whimper or a cry. The queen clutched him tightly to herself, for fear that he may float away again.
"Why, he weighs nothing at all!" she cried, distraught. "How could this be?"
Amidst the ensuing commotion, the boy duke grinned to himself. His mischief had been done.
This turn of events made for some inconvenient moments in the prince's childhood.
One time when he was barely a month old, the prince was lying on the bed in the queen's own chamber, fast asleep. The queen came into the room and, not observing that the baby was on the bed, opened a window. A frolicsome fairy wind, which had been watching for a chance for mischief, rushed in through the window and, catching up the child, rolled and floated him up off the bed, back through the window, and away. The queen went downstairs, quite ignorant of the loss she had just brought upon herself.
It was very fortunate, then, that the footman's little son, Makoto, just so happened to be playing in the gardens where the impish little wind-puff had carried the baby off to. Makoto was distinctly alarmed when he came across the little prince slumbering soundly beneath a rose bush, and he quickly called for his father, who, upon seeing the predicament of the prince, rushed to return the baby to his parents. After this, Makoto and his family were handsomely rewarded for retrieving the prince, Tachibana the footman was elevated to be the prince's personal guard, and the prince himself was watched more carefully from then on.
No doubt it would be endless to relate all the odd incidents resulting from this peculiarity of the young prince. But, despite the occasional inconvenience of having to fetch the prince from the rafters, the palace household became rather fond of him. While it was not easy for the nurses to hold him, at least he never made their arms ache. And how the servants loved to play ball with him! There was positively no danger of ever letting him fall. In fact, the little prince himself was the ball; flying from one servant to another, stoically staring down each one whose hands he landed in.
Admittedly, the baby's serious demeanor was rather unnerving at first. As strange as it was that little Haruka was void of any weight, stranger still was how he was void of any emotion. But although the servants found the baby's lack of crying or laughter off-putting at first, they soon came to find that they loved the ball itself even better than the ballgame. They did have to take some care how they threw him however, for if he received an upward direction, he would never come down again without having to be fetched.
But while the palace help had made themselves quite comfortable with this unusual state of things, the royal monarchs were still rather agitated by their offspring's strange condition.
"Oh, my child, my poor, poor child!" the queen gave a spontaneous sob one evening, as she and the king sat down to supper.
"What about your child?" asked her husband, pretending that he did not know, as men are often apt to do. "He is neither up the chimney nor caught in the rafters again. So why are you distressed, my queen?"
"You know very well why!" said the queen, then promptly burst into tears.
The king sighed, and in attempt to soothe her, said jokingly, "So we have a light prince. But it is a good thing to be light-hearted, my dear, and he is as light in mood as he is in weight. For look at him, he never cries."
"To be light-hearted is a blessing, to be sure," answered the queen, "But to be empty-hearted is a curse…and he is as empty of feeling as he is of weight. For look at him, he never laughs."
And the king had nothing to say. The two morose-ful monarchs sat in heavy silence until, at last, the queen ventured, "What are we to do, dear husband?"
The king brooded over this for a moment. "We will wait until he is older," he said finally. "Maybe then he will be able to suggest something himself. He will at least know how he feels by then, and perhaps explain things better to us."
A thought suddenly struck the queen. "But what if he should marry?" she exclaimed, in sudden consternation at the idea.
"Well, what of it?" answered the king, uncertain as to why his wife seemed so aghast by the notion.
"Just think! If he were to beget children!" cried the queen. "In the course of a hundred years the air might be as full of floating children as there are stars in the sky!"
There was a moment of silence as both monarchs visualized this in their heads. Suddenly, the king gave a chuckle, which he quickly tried to disguise as a cough. The queen tried her best to give him a stern look, but found that the corners of her mouth were upturned also. Finally, unable to hold it in, their Majesties both broke out into a royal bout of laughter.
"Let us trust our child to God, my dear," said the king at last, wiping tears from his eyes. "Perhaps He simply wants mankind to fly someday!"
"And to not sink when walking upon water, just as He did," quipped the queen, and they fell into another fit of light-hearted laughter.
As the years passed, the little prince grew and grew. Still, he never cried (though he never did have the chance to fall and scrape his knee, as many a child did in order to learn the art of crying); but he never laughed either. Not when the nurses cooed at or tickled him as a baby, and not even when the most famed of jesters were brought into court to entertain him as a boy. The little prince always remained as stoic as a stone.
One time he was told, for the sake of experiment, that they had been violently defeated in battle; he simply blinked his big blue eyes and then returned to the meal he was eating, without the least bit of concern. Another time they told him that the enemy was on their way to besiege his papa's capital, and he simply shrugged; but when he was told that the city would certainly be abandoned to the mercy of the enemy's troops—then he yawned widely, before floating towards his chambers for a nap. He never could be brought to feel any care or sentiment over anything. When his mother wept, he merely observed her with mild curiosity. Saddened even more so by his cold reaction, she once sobbed to him, "Have you no concern for your mother's broken heart, my son?"
"You are broken, mamma?" said the boy, in one of his rare instances of speech. "I see; that is why there is this strange leaking coming from your eyes."
This made the queen sob even harder.
By the time he was seventeen, the prince was known by all to be a serious but peaceable young man; he never smiled, but he never once flew into a temper over anything either (which was ironic, because he often flew over everything else). He was silent most of the time, bordering on the edge of sullen; but never was he spiteful.
This would have been a perfectly acceptable mode of disposition to his parents, if not for the still existing fact that there was an absence of gravity in his bearing.
So one day, after a long avoidance of the painful subject, the king and queen resolved to speak with their son about it; and so they sent for the prince. In he came, floating and gliding from one piece of furniture to another, and managed to at last put himself in an armchair.
"My son," said the king, "You must be aware by now that you are not exactly like other people."
"That is funny of you to say, father," said the prince, although he did not seem to find this the least bit funny. "For I have got a nose and two eyes, just like everybody else."
"Now be serious about this, my dear, for once," said the queen.
"I always am," said the young prince very seriously.
"Would you not like to be able to walk like other people?" said the king.
His son seemed to consider the idea and roll it about in his mind, but gave no reply.
"How do you feel, my child?" he resumed, after a pause of uncomfortable lengthiness.
"Quite well, thank you."
"I mean, what do you feel like?"
"Like nothing at all, that I know of."
"You must feel like something."
"I feel like a nap, good sir," was all he deigned to say on the matter, "So now, if you'll excuse me," and he began to rise.
"Now really!" began the queen, displeased by how difficult he was being; but then she was interrupted by her son's involuntary and rather undignified bounce over her head...for he had risen just a little bit too quickly.
The king grasped his son by the ankle and plucked him out of the air easier than one does a balloon, then replaced him in his former position on the chair. To this the prince just gave his father a sullen and somewhat resentful stare. (No doubt he found no joy in having to be handled like a babe still, due to his peculiar condition).
"Now son," continued the king, "Tell me, is there nothing you wish for?"
The prince gave him a blank look. "What is there to wish for?"
"Haven't you a dream, my dear?" tried his mother gently.
"I can hardly dream if you are keeping me from napping, now can I?" he replied coolly.
The queen threw up her hands in exasperation and defeat. Seeing that no cooperation could be gotten out of the prince, she rang the bell, and sent for the servant boy Makoto to lead His Highness back to his chambers.
"Prince Haruka is wanting a nap," she instructed Makoto, who was now as tall and broad of shoulder as his father. "See to it he does not float off in the process of getting to his chambers."
"Yes, Your Majesty," said Makoto obediently, and escorted the prince away.
As soon as the two had exited, she turned to the king.
"Now, dear king," she said, "What IS to be done?"
"There is but one thing left," answered he. "Let us consult the college of metaphysicians."
"Headed by Hazuki and Ryugazaki?" said the queen, lifting a skeptical brow. "Those two have traveled back to the East for a season of study, and left behind their sons in their stead. But the latter are barely adults; only just past boyhood. The first doesn't cease to banter with the second and the second doesn't cease to bicker with the first. What wisdom could they possibly offer?"
"Nagisa and Rei are young, yes," the king conceded, "but they are students of medicine and science, with excellent letters of recommendation from the East. Come, good queen," he added as his wife began to interject, "Don't be so cynical! What is the worst they could do to our child?"
"Dissect him," replied the queen seriously.
"Nonsense," scoffed the king. "They aren't barbarians. They are students of science! Let us see what they may know." And with that, he rang the bell and called for the two young metaphysicians to be brought.
The first, golden-haired and youthful-looking, skipped in straightaway and gave an excited little bow to the two monarchs. The second, dark-haired and bespectacled, strode in behind him, and executed a needlessly extravagant bow.
"Your Majesties!" boomed the second young man, Rei. "We are, of course, aware of the predicament you have called upon us to resolve." He then laughed uproariously, as though the thought of not being aware was perfectly outrageous.
"That is needless of you to say," giggled the other, Nagisa. "Who isn't aware of it?"
Rei shot him a glare.
His Majesty cleared his throat. "And what, good metaphysicians, do you suggest we do to resolve this 'predicament,' as you say?"
"Simple!" declared Rei. "It is a condition of the body in which something is amiss; namely, weight. If His Highness is missing weight, we simply put the weight into him. I suggest opening the chest cavity and inserting a weight therein. In other words, we—"
"Dissect him," said the queen flatly. She sent her husband a sharp glance.
"Good heavens, Your Majesty, no!" returned Rei, looking dramatically aghast. Then he paused thoughtfully. "Well…yes. But then we would put him back together."
Her Majesty opened her mouth to say just what she thought about that, but was interrupted by the blond-haired metaphysician.
"Oh ho, Rei-chan, you've only got it half right," asserted Nagisa to his colleague. "The condition is not merely physical…For he is as devoid of delight and despair as he is of any density. It is not merely a bodily weight that we must insert in him, but also a substance of soul, a significance in spirit!"
"Poppycock," retorted the spectacle-wearing metaphysician. "How on earth could we insert such a thing? It is intangible, immeasurable."
"You always were mediocre at understanding matters of the heart and soul," returned Nagisa with a smirk.
"Is there nothing the two of you can ever agree upon?" demanded the king sternly.
Rei shouldered his colleague aside. "Both our theories require and rely on this: That the prince's heart be opened up, and that something to be put inside of it."
"Figuratively," added Nagisa.
"And literally," corrected Rei.
"Which would presently arrive in the form of grim death," observed the queen.
"If it should, he would yet succumb for the sake of science," reasoned Rei.
The queen had half a mind to behead the two young metaphysicians, but really she was too kind and tender-hearted a queen to do such a thing. Her husband was of a like mind. So instead, they simply dismissed the two and resigned themselves to whatever fate would bring next to their offspring.
Perhaps the best thing for the prince would have been to fall in love. But, as I have made clear thus far, the gravity-deprived prince was perfectly incapable of falling into anything. As for his own thoughts on the matter, he did not seem to care for the idea very much. But this may very well be likened to a blind man who does not care very much for the idea of colors, or a deaf man who does not care very much for the idea of music. For Prince Haruka, when it came to love or any other kind of emotional attachment, there was only one thing that evoked a similar sort of sentiment within him. Strangely, it was neither father nor mother, but rather the large and lovely lake whose shores the palace was built upon.
The reason for this preference can be explained as follows.
One summer evening, he had been taken to the lake in the royal barge, accompanied by many courtiers in a fleet of little boats. In the middle of the lake he wanted to get into the footman Tachibana's boat, for the footman's son Makoto, who was by now fast friends with the prince, was in it with his father. Now the old king, being in the habit of handling his hardships with humor, decided to playfully assist his son by catching him up and tossing him into the footman's barge (a gesture which was wholly unappreciated by his humorless son). He lost his balance, however, and, falling back into his own boat, lost his grip on the prince. At the same time, his fingers imparted a downward direction on his mishandled son; and, as the king fell into the boat, the prince fell into the water.
What transpired next defied the expectations of everyone present: Prince Haruka disappeared down into the lake. A cry of horror ascended from the boats. They had never seen the prince go down before. Half the men were underwater in a moment; but they all came up again for breath, one after another, when—tinkle, tinkle, bubble, and splash! came the sounds of the prince from far away, swimming like a swan. For the next hour he would not come out for king or queen, footman or son. He was perfectly obstinate.
But at the same time he seemed to have more zeal for life than usual. Never had anyone seen him display such enthusiasm over anything before. Perhaps this was connected to the fact that, the moment he was immersed in the water, he had recovered a sense of bodily weight which had been so wickedly stolen from him. Whether this was owing to the fact that water had been employed as the means of conveying the curse, I do not know. But it is certain that he could swim and dive as naturally as any fish, and even, if he so wished, exhale all the air in his lungs to sink even deeper into the lake. Naturally this was quite a novelty for him, as he had never been able to sink before.
After this event, the passion of his life was to get into the water. Summer and winter it was quite the same; only he could not stay very long in the water when they had to break the ice to let him in. During the summer, he could be sighted there from morning to evening—a streak of white in the blue water—lying as still as the shadow of a cloud, or shooting along like a dolphin; disappearing, and coming up again far off, just where one did not expect him. He would have been in the lake all night, too, if he could have had his way; for the balcony of his window overhung the deep end of the lake. Indeed, when he happened to awaken in the middle of the night he could hardly resist the temptation. But there was the sad difficulty of getting into the water from his vantage point. He had as great a dread of the air as some children have of the water. For the slightest gust of wind would blow him away; and a gust might arise in the stillest moment. And if he gave himself a push towards the water and just failed of reaching it, his situation would be dreadfully awkward; for at best there he would have to remain, suspended in his nighttime apparel, until he was seen and reeled back in from the window.
This was the only time Prince Haruka ever wished to have gravity like other people.
Another reason for him being fond of the water was that in it alone could he enjoy any freedom. Normally he was not permitted to walk the kingdom grounds without a large entourage, for fear of being abducted by the wind. And the king and queen grew more apprehensive over the years, until at last the poor boy was not allowed to leave his chambers without some twenty silken cords fastened to him, which were held by twenty noblemen. But he was free from all such restrictions when he got in the water.
So remarkable were the water's effects upon him, especially in restoring him to ordinary human gravity for the time being, that Nagisa and Rei actually agreed upon a recommendation for once (which was a very remarkable occurrence indeed). They suggested that, if water of external origin and application could be so effective, then water from a deeper source might work a perfect cure; in short, that if the prince could by any means be made to cry, he might recover his lost gravity.
But how was this to be brought about? To make the prince cry was as impossible as to make him weigh. They sent for a professional beggar; commanded him to prepare his most touching oracle of woe; promising great rewards in the event of his success. But it was all in vain. The prince listened to the man's story and hardly batted an eyelash, much less shed a tear. At last, looking bored beyond measure, he ordered the attendants to drive away the beggar without giving him a single copper. And there was not the smallest sign of sympathy or sorrow in the serene blue of his eyes.
It was around this time that the daughter of a king, who lived a thousand miles from King Nanase's kingdom, was sent out with an entourage of palace guards to meet with the prince of another neighboring kingdom. The princess' name was Christine, and her parents had high hopes that their daughter may fall in love with the prince whom they had arranged her meeting with, as he was heir to a large kingdom. The princess herself was far more interested in the trip than the destination, however, as she had never before had the opportunity to leave her own land.
One day, while wandering off to explore a section of the great forest she was traveling through, the princess became accidentally separated from her retinue. Now this princess was generally a very calm individual, and not given over to worry or concern; for, by whatever reason, she always seemed to be blessed with good luck and good fortune. And so it did not occur to her to worry over her current circumstances. She simply assumed that she would rejoin her retinue again whenever time deemed it right for them to find her once more; in the meantime, she relished the chance for a bit of freedom and fun.
Half an hour of wandering had passed when her horse suddenly stumbled upon a footpath which led to the side of a lake. Thanking the heavens for this fortuitous find (as she had begun to develop quite a thirst), the princess dismounted to approach the water. Suddenly she paused, and squinted across the lake. There was something unusual about how the setting sun glinted off the lake's center, she thought; for there, the water almost seemed to be white rather than blue. Suddenly, she realized that the whiteness was not water at all, but rather a body, submerged beneath the surface.
Now as I have said before, the princess was generally a very calm individual. In this instance, however, she was overcome by an unfamiliar sense of panic. In an instant, she had torn off her outer bodice and the train of her riding gown, kicked off her slippers, and plunged in. She soon reached the body and, throwing her arms about its torso, kicked and heaved and dragged it back towards the shore. Of course, this body happened to be that of our dear prince, who, before being rudely interrupted by the princess, had been enjoying a sense of sinking which was made possible by the water.
Now I cannot tell how it came about—whether the princess had caught the prince by surprise so that he'd breathed in a lungful of water, or whether the shock of a pair of arms round about his waist prevented him from struggling for the time being—but somehow the princess managed to bring him to shore in a fashion most ignominious to a swimmer, for he coughed and sputtered all along the way each time he tried to speak, and seemed nearly half drowned by the end of it all.
When they finally reached shore, the bank was only a foot or two above the water; so the princess gave the body in her arms a desperate heave upwards and out of the water, hoping to somehow roll it onto the bank. But, the prince's gravitation ceasing the moment he left the water, away he went up into the air with an angry shout—for he had at last expelled all the water from his lungs.
"How DARE you!" he yelled, voice raised to a volume that was quite uncommon for him (a fact which the poor, perplexed princess was unfortunately unaware of). "You insolent, ignorant, impudent wench!"
No one had ever succeeded in putting him into such a temper before. When the princess saw him ascend, her jaw dropped, and she momentarily wondered if she herself had drowned and passed on to some strange spirit realm. But the prince caught hold of the topmost twig of the branch of a lofty tree. This broke off and so he caught at another, and another; all the while drifting farther to the left as a gentle breeze began to steer his weightless form along the side of the bank. The princess, meanwhile, stood in the water, staring, and forgetting to get out. But as the prince began to disappear from her sight, she came to her senses and scrambled ashore, gathering up her wet skirts and running after him. At last, a hundred feet away, she found him climbing down one of the branches of a tree towards the base of its trunk. Reaching the ground, he turned on her, blue eyes ablaze.
"I know how to swim, you fool," were his first words to her on dry land.
The princess gaped at him. "I'm sorry, I didn't—I mean, I thought you—"
"What business had you to pull me down out of the water," the prince went on, quite ignoring her, "And throw me to the bottom of the air?"
"The bottom of the…where?" Suddenly, the memory of a strange rumor swirled to the forefront of her mind and clicked into place. "Prince Haruka, son of King Nanase," she stated in abrupt recognition. "The Light Prince, they call you."
He gave her a cold stare. "Put me back up this instant."
"Put you back up?" echoed the princess, baffled. "Back up where?"
He looked at her like she was stupid. "In the water, woman."
"Oh." She looked at him confusedly for a moment longer, then turned to glance at the lake behind them. They were now at quite another part of the lake, where the bank was at least twenty-five feet high. She turned to him again. "Ah…how am I to put you in?"
"That is your business," he snapped. "You took me out—put me in again."
"Um, well," said the princess, looking the prince up and down in awkward assessment. "Couldn't you just…jump?"
He gave her a look of utter condescension. It was then that she noticed he was still grasping the lowermost tree branch, keeping himself rooted to the earth despite the current breeze.
"Right, the Light Prince, sorry," she amended quickly, feeling foolish. "Very well. Hold on to me." And she raised up her arms, offering her waist to him.
He raised an eyebrow at her. "What on earth for?"
"You need some gravity to get back in, do you not? I'll just let you borrow some of mine." She waited patiently for him to follow her suggestion, but he just hesitated. She sighed. "Go on, I won't mind," she told him, then added, "I think the circumstances allow for a break in decorum."
The prince gave her another suspicious glance before stepping forward and gingerly placing his hands on her waist. She, in turn, wrapped a tentative arm around his shoulders.
"Now, hold on tight and don't go flying off," she instructed him sternly, then promptly leapt from the rock with him in her arms.
There was barely enough time for the prince's eyes to widen in surprise before the water closed over them. When they came to the surface, he gasped for breath, but it was more from the rush of falling than for the need for air.
The princess saw his shock and laughed in spite of herself. "How do you like falling in?" she asked, lifting wet hair away from her face.
He turned blue eyes on her. The cerulean of his irises seemed to quiver.
"Is that what you call falling in?" he asked.
"It seemed to me more like going up," he countered.
The princess laughed again. "I certainly felt as though I were flying as well," she quipped. "What a rush, and such fun!"
"Yes," said the prince thoughtfully, rolling that last word around in his head. "Fun. Quite."
Naturally, neither of them had experienced the fun of leaping off of a cliff before, as they had both been raised to be a proper prince and princess, respectively.
"I have never fallen before," revealed the prince, then felt strange for making such an honest confession. But seeing as he had already begun, he went on to admit, "I wish I could do it more often."
And then the poor prince looked almost sad.
Now the princess was as kind of heart as a princess should be (for she was not of the spoiled variety of princesses), and whenever she saw someone sad, it made her heart ache for them severely. In this respect she was quite different from the prince. And so, when she saw how his countenance had been brought low, she quickly offered, "I shall be most happy to fall in with you any time you like."
The prince looked at her suspiciously. "Why would you do that?"
"Well, I am most sorry that I dragged you out earlier against your will," said the princess. "And I would very much like to make amends. Besides, it is such good fun falling in! I am not sure I would ever have a better excuse to keep doing so."
The prince looked doubtful, but said, "Thank you. At all events, as we have fallen in, would you like a swim?"
"Yes, very much!" responded the princess.
And away they went, swimming, and diving, and floating, until at last they heard cries along the shore, and saw lights glancing in all directions. It was now quite late. They swam to the bank, and the princess helped the prince to get onto the shore and gain stable footing there.
Finally, the prince turned solemnly to the princess. "I must go home," he told her.
"Alright," returned the princess.
They stared at each other for a beat.
"Shall we meet here again tomorrow, then?" the princess ventured to ask.
"I will be here, to be sure," said the prince, then added, somewhat vaguely, "If you are here as well, then a meeting is sure to happen on its own."
"Right," said the princess slowly. "Well then…Prince Haruka. I look forward to falling in with you again." She curtsied, somewhat awkwardly from the weight of her soaked gown. He, in turn, gave a stiff little bow. And then they parted ways for the night.
Little did the princess know that she was soon to be falling in with the prince in more ways than one.