Hi, everypony, here ScarletInk!
For those who don't know me, I'm the creator of the RP thread "Ponies: Lost In Space" (here's the link: http://forum.legendsofequestria.com/index.php?topic=15446.0): a month or so ago, while roleplaying, my character narrated a story to another pony and, since it came out quiet longer than I anticipated, after thinking about it for a while I decided to publish it in this section too.The story has been corrected after a beta-reading session, but you're still invited to tell me if there are any vocabulary or grammatical errors: I'm italian, be patient with me.
Hope you enjoy it. The Caged Princess and Her Gardener
A long, long time ago, in a land far beyond Equestria's borders, lived a beautiful princess named Radiant Dawn, who's heart was as gentle and innocent as an angel’s one. She was deeply loved by her parents, king and queen of that land, so much that, scared of her getting tainted by the world's evilness, since her birth they kept her confined in their palace, surveilled by guards all days and nights.
Radiant Dawn didn't suffer this condition: she never knew anything outside of her home and it was big enough, especially the garden, to let her wander as much as she wanted without even see a wall. And, with each passing years, she eventually made friends out of the servitude, the animals that visited the garden and even the royal guards. And everyone couldn't help but simply get enamoured with her sweetness and gentleness.
One day, when Radiant Dawn was nearing her eighteenth birthday, she was quietly sitting under a tree in the garden, cuddling a little bunny that ventured close to her, when, suddenly, the soft breeze brought a new sound to her ears: a singing voice.
It was a male voice... And it was so sweet, so clear and so achingly beautiful that Radiant Dawn felt her heart tightening up and tears, for the first time in her life, filling her eyes. Like in a trance, she rose up to her hooves and started running toward the voice's source, a force stronger than her will moving her legs: even not knowing why, she needed to know who the mysterious singer was.
But, just as suddenly as it came, the voice faded away and Radiant Dawn found herself with no direction, while trying to explain to the guards, coming to escort her back to the palace, that she needed to continue her research, at every cost. The guards, worried about the shocked and upset look of their princess, still brought her back to her rooms, following her parents’ orders for such cases.
The king and queen listened to their daughter talking about the mysterious voice that enchanted her and feared it: the unknown singer could have inspired Radiant Dawn to leave the palace, exposing herself to the dangers of the outside world. So, they decided to seclude Radiant Dawn to her rooms, with guards constantly supervisioning her, while they searched for the singer to convince him to get away from the palace and the princess.
Radiant Dawn for days tried to escape and for days her parents searched for the singer, but both their missions failed: Radiant Dawn never got to escape and her parents never found the singer.
Full of despair, that angelic voice starting to fade from her memories and Radiant Dawn stopped speaking. After a while, she stopped tolerating other ponies's voices. In the end, she fell sick, laying in her bed terribly weakened.
The king and queen tried to consult every healer of the kingdom, for weeks. But spring left place to summer and Radiant Dawn still didn't show any sign of recovery, still barely strong enough to accept food and water from her ladies in waiting.
Until, one day, when the youngest of the ladies opened the window to aerate the room, the breeze brought, again, the mysterious voice to Radiant Dawn's ears: so, suddenly, after weeks spent stuck into immobility, the princess raised up a trembling hoof, in a motion that looked like she was trying to grasp the voice.
The filly, named Twinkling Star, saw this and took immediate action: sprinting out of window, her ears straight and receptive, she raced through the garden, following the voice that revitalized, even if just a little, her adored princess, until she arrived to the big cherry tree that stood, tall and beautiful, on a hill facing the walls.
There, lovingly pruning the branches, was Sturdy Oak, the gardener: he was a big, bulky stallion in his mid-thirties, covered by the scars and calli of his younger years’ fieldwork. He arrived at the palace ten years before Radiant Dawn's illness and some months after his wife's death during a flood, and still brought, in his eyes and heart, the sorrow from that lost: he never talked with anypony, and even systematically left the garden's areas when he heard the princess and her damsels approaching.
But Twinkling Star, light on her feet, managed to reach for him and convince the stallion, solitary but respectful of other ponies, to follow her to meet the king and queen and, hopefully, obtain to see the princess.
But, once in front of Radiant Dawn's parents, they recoiled, disgusted: Sturdy Oak was big, dark, dirty from groundwork and, generally, not at all attractive to the eye. The very idea that their pearl of a daughter could even just stay in the same room with such a stallion almost made them gag. So they both raised their hooves to order the guards to kick Sturdy Oak out of the palace, even dragging him, since he was protesting quiet fiercely about it.
But, right when the guards were about to attack the stallion, a mare dashed in, putting herself between them and the gardener: it was Radiant Dawn, who had rose up from her bed after hearing some mares talk about the mysterious singer coming to the palace and had arrived after sprinting from her room, ignoring the shocked guards and damsels.
Seeing their daughter on her hooves, so fierce in her desire to protect the gardener, the king and queen almost wept with joy, until Radiant Dawn spoke: if they loved her, they had to let the stallion stay in the palace and concede her to see him, since she felt, for some reasons, that she needed him in her life. Her parents’ eyes widened, mouths gaping in shock, not differently from Sturdy Oak and the rest of the ponies in the room, right before the mare fainted, slumping against the stallion behind her: she was still very weak, despite the spurt of energy that helped her reaching the throne room.
The following days were full of an equal amount of embarrassment, befuddlement and musings, at least for Sturdy Oak: obeying to the orders from the princess' parents, he never ventured too far from Radiant Dawn, helping her recovering and getting to know her. Or, better, getting her to know him and his world: every time he talked to her, she would stop
him to ask about this or that thing about the outside world, amusing and together confusing
him. He heard the voices about how the princess never left the palace, but just now he found out they were founded: the mare, who was getting from him the first taste of the outside world, was absorbing his words like a sponge.
She was also, for some reasons he couldn't comprehend, completely infatuated with him and that was embarrassingly clear. Everypony in the palace understood it when she faced all the guards for his sake, practically threatening her parents into letting her meet him regularly.
Sturdy Oak sworn to himself that, once she was well and on her hooves again, he would have, gently but clearly, rejected her, not only for the still haunting memory of his late wife: Radiant Dawn was half his age and a princess of great beauty, both inside and outside. She deserved better than a widower obsessed with gardening that could offer her nothing more than himself.
Sturdy Oak was resolved and determined. But Radiant Dawn recovered, he returned to work in the gardens and she started following him, helping him regardless of her admonishing parents, with all the joy coming from new discoveries and from hearing him sing, sometimes even singing with him, and Sturdy Oak still wasn't able to find inside himself the will to reject her: she was just so bright, so optimistic, so eager to stay with him, without caring about her precious dresses getting dirty and fur getting sweated and mane and tail getting ruined... She just laughed when, one day, she fell in a puddle left by the rain and started splashing him too, until they were both laughing and covered in mud.
The realization hit him alongside the guilt: he was a widower in love with Radiant Dawn. Every day, he was eager to see her, to talk to her, to sing for her, he wanted to show her the world outside the golden cage her parents had put her in. He wanted to be happy because he recognized the signs of love in the mare herself, but another feeling kept him from doing it.
Was he betraying his wife's memory, loving Radiant Dawn? Even if there were very few realistic possibilities of them ending up together? He knew his wife would have wanted him to be happy, just as he was every day he spent with Radiant Dawn, but still hundreds of doubts blocked him from saying the truth. So, he kept his feelings hidden, enjoying the friendship with his beloved young mare, feigning deafness to the chatters and blindness to the knowing looks thrown their way.
But the king and queen, now that the princess was again in good health and chipper as usual, started fearing she could become too addicted to Sturdy Oak, so, after officially appointing him Royal Gardener, they started to send him in missions to find new, rare plants to bring to the royal garden. The stallion always returned after a few days, with new flowers and, sometimes, little trees that made the garden even more beautiful and particular.
The experiment succeeded: after a few initial mishaps and restless nights, Radiant Dawn became used to Sturdy Oak's absences, sure of their bond and always ready to be the first welcoming him home. Her parents were finally relieved and became more accepting of her new hobby, happy to see her tending so lovely to the garden and chatting with her maids while waiting for her friend.
Sturdy Oak, instead, without anypony knowing, was on the verge of crying every time he had to leave Radiant Dawn behind: seeing the palace's doors being closed from outside, trapping her, her curiosity and will to live in, was becoming unbearable, like watching the wings of an angel being torn apart. But he also knew that nothing could have convinced her parents to let her go: they were two cowards who couldn't stand the idea to let their daughter grow up and leave her safe nest.
Until, the night before a new mission, an idea, so simple yet so powerful, made him stop on his way to his house and turn tail to reach Radiant Dawn's room: he could make her escape. He would study a plan, he knew it would have took time, the guards were not easy to surpass, but he would find a way.
With a little bit of luck on his side, he managed to avoid the guards and to reach Radiant Dawn's bedroom without getting caught: she was no more under strict surveillance, fortunately. When he entered the room and saw her, still awake and bathed on moonlight, he couldn't lie anymore and, even before explaining his plan, he confessed he loved her. And that brought the happiest smile she ever wore on her face, while standing up and rushing to embrace him, admitting her love for him in return.
They passed hours talking about where they would have gone after their escape, fantasizing about creating a new garden - with a cherry tree, Radiant Dawn practically ordered - and, one day, starting a family, until they were interrupted by a knock on the door: a wandering guard heard whispers coming from the room and had come to check in. Sturdy Oak, quickly, went for the window, but Radiant Dawn stopped him on the sill to give him a peck. Sturdy Oak, shocked, fell like a rock in the below goldfish pond.
The day after, Sturdy Oak departed, waving back at his beloved Radiant Dawn with a sprint to his step and a joyful demeanor that nopony in the palace even known he was capable of.
So, the days passed and the princess, knowing she would have left as soon as possible after Sturdy Oak's return, tried to spend as much time as possible with her parents and this made her start to question the escape itself: how would have her parents reacted to her sudden departure? They loved her so much and she loved them as much in return: had she rushed in her decision to follow the stallion she loved?
She decided it was best to talk about it with Sturdy Oak: he was her best friend, other than her lover, so they would have to find a solution together.
But days turned to weeks and still the stallion was not coming back.
And, in the end, he never came back: summer ended and the first leaves started to fall and a young stallion from the kingdom's borders came to the palace, bringing with him a message sealed with the royal family's mark.
He brought terrible news: the gardener had been assaulted by a group of bandits during his travel. Even managing to escape and dragging himself to the nearest village, he was fatally injured: the village's healer couldn't do anything about it. With the few strengths left in his body, Sturdy Oak wrote a final message and begged the villagers for two things: first, for the letter to be delivered to Radiant Dawn; second, for his body to be buried under the cherry tree he could see out of the window.
After hearing this, Radiant Dawn fell to her knees, a hoof covering her mouth and her eyes wide and unbelieving, filling up with tears. Before the young stallion could give her the letter or her parents could reach out to hug her, she had already left the room and ran in the garden, toward Sturdy Oak's shack.
For all the day and the night she cried, closed inside her great love's house, refusing to get out or let anypony in. And, for all the days that came after, she never got back to the palace.
Her parents, not knowing what to do, left her to mourn in peace, charging Twinkling Star, the filly that helped Radiant Dawn and Sturdy Oak meeting, to bring food to the their daughter and make sure she was taken care of: she was the only pony the princess let near her.
Most of all, Twinkling Star was entrusted with the gardener's final message, to be given to the princess whenever she would have been ready to read it.
Autumn came and left, and so almost did winter, before Radiant Dawn set herself free from the apathy she had chosen to not feel the pain of Sturdy Oak's absence, looked at the filly, curled up against her under a blanket, and asked her for the letter.
After reading Sturdy Oak's last words, her eyes, until that moment dulled from the tears, flared up with determination.
The day after, Twinkling Star didn't get to kitchen to retrieve the princess's meal but, in return, the guards found out that somepony stole food from the pantry and, also, male clothing from the servants: Radiant Dawn and her maid had escaped from the palace.
And there was just one place where they could have gone to.
Radiant Dawn and Twinkling Star reached the village where Sturdy Oak died in a beautiful first day of spring: birds were singing, flowers were blooming and the cherry tree was starting to sprout.
Radiant Dawn, then, kneeled beside her love's grave, caressing it with a hoof, a peaceful smile on her face and on her lips the words from the letter:Life and love continue: this is what you taught me.