In his frantic attempts to find his way back to the caravan, he came across a sight that held his gaze. It looked like a formerly over trodden path which had, at some point in time, been overrun by weeds. Inviting, nonetheless. He followed the meandering path, curious about where it led while still trying to grasp how it had just suddenly appeared in front of him out of thin air even though he was quite sure he’d crossed that exact point atleast half a dozen times before since he’d been walking around in circles, completely lost.
Curiosity killed the cat, he kept reminding himself but his feet kept moving forward. It’s getting late and dark, it’s time to turn back and find shelter, not to go on a wild goose chase, he chastised himself. Yet, he could not bring himself to stray from that path.
After what felt like a mile of walking, the path took a sharp turn. As he had been walking in a daze, he could not stop before getting hit by several low, criss-crossing branches right in the middle of his face. He now saw that the path was fenced in from both sides by dense trees. Gingerly, he moved on ahead, careful to step over roots that were running through the ground any which way.
Just as suddenly as he had come across the path, he now came across a castle. A castle in ruins. A castle that had been taken over by the elements of nature. One that had been claimed by wild flowers, shrubs, bushes, climbers and creepers. The rains, however, had given tough competition to the foliage by wearing down the roofs, walls and pillars till only a few halls and rooms could even be made out anymore. Yet, he could see that the castle still stood tall. It still had about it an aura of old, like a proud king refusing to bend the knee.
As if on cue, there was a loud clap of thunder, lending further mystery. He looked up and saw grey clouds closing in. Just as he abandoned all thoughts of further exploration in the face of worsening weather, it started to pour. He was left with no option but to seek refuge somewhere inside the castle itself. He figured there would be atleast one room with a roof on top. Defeated and cursing the moment he first saw the path, he stepped a begrudging foot inside.
As soon as his other foot crossed the threshold, he felt something come alive. It felt like a surge of power or energy moving through the surroundings. He tried to shake off that feeling but there was no denying the fact that the castle was now breathing all around him.
Confused, angry, and a little scared, he started looking for a dry enough room to spend the night in. With every step, however, he was overcome with the feeling that he was meant to be here. Something brought him to this place. He had to have some connection to this castle. With his face set in determination, he decided to find out what it was.
Methodically, he went through every room, every hallway, every gallery of the place, looking for a clue, looking for absolutely anything at all actually. Yet, he was met only with resounding emptiness. It appeared like the place had been ransacked and nothing had been left behind. Everywhere he looked, he came up empty.
Just on the verge of giving up, he reached a huge doorway. Surprisingly enough, the doors were still intact. He pushed them open and found himself standing in a huge hall. It was a long one, supported by dozens of pillars and arches. To him, it looked like a throne room. Like every other room though, this one lacked a roof too.
Since it was almost dusk now, he could not see the other end of the hall clearly. However, something glittering under the setting sun’s rays caught his eye. He hurriedly walked towards it. Lo and behold! There sat the most beautiful of thrones. Encrusted with rubies, sapphires, emeralds, opals, topazs and pearls, it shimmered like a rainbow.
Yet, he was still to take in its beauty. Because before the throne stood a statue. A statue of the most melancholy beauty. It was a girl, with stony tears running down her cheeks. Her mouth open, as if calling after someone. One hand extended as if to stop someone from leaving. Her other hand, however, held her heart which had been carved out of her chest. Drops of stony blood dripped over her hand from her heart.
He stood, mesmerized. He stood, enthralled. A tear began to form in his eye as he took in every aspect of the statue. Someone had taken great pains to portray every intricate detail in this scultpure, he thought to himself. It obviously depicted someone from the royal family guessing from the tiara adorning her head. Yet, nothing could take away from the look of abject misery and sorrow that was woven in every ounce of her being.
Stirred by some unknown force, he walked up to her. He noted how in his mind the statute had changed from it to her and tried to fathom the reason behind. Before he could stop himself, his hand moved up and carefully covered her glistening heart in his palm. Very delicately, he caressed it. He noticed now that it was cracked and broken, deep ridges spanned across its stony exterior. He could feel the pain it must have gone through. He could feel her pain. The tears did not stop now as his eyes welled up. Streaming down his face, they fell over the heart. And then, the most curious thing happened.
As his tears fell over her heart, it started to come to life. He looked on in shock as he felt it beat in his palm. He looked on as it changed from stone to a deep red. And he looked on as the other hand holding out the heart took on a human tinge. Within minutes, she stood before him. In flesh and bones. Breathing.
Her eyes opened wide on seeing him. A gasp escaped her newly moistened, red lips.
“You came”, she whispered in disbelief. Her voice hoarse after years of not being used.
“How could I not?” He answered with a smile, feeling at peace for the first time since he got lost that day.
He held her heart in both his hands and took an oath. Never again will he let her get hurt. Never again will she die a thousand deaths. Never again will she give up all hope and become so unfeeling that she would end up being turned to stone.
As he seated his queen back onto her throne, the castle started to repair itself magically. Soon enough, the wilderness had shrunk back and in its stead stood a majestic castle that was rejoicing the return of life. He gazed upon his lady with all his love and decided he would like to remain lost here for life.
And, of course, he managed to get a roof over his head to settle under for the night.