The outside world looked so beautiful and green and sunny. Lush green trees swayed in the gentle breeze. Soft, lazy clouds drifted by against the background of a perfect blue sky. And beyond these prison bars—er, palace walls—lay a beautiful city with beautiful people and wonderful things to do and to explore. Colorful buildings waited enticingly to be wandered. Boats both large and small yearned to be investigated. And most of all, pristine blue waters sparkled coaxingly, almost as if they were posing a challenge.
Yet, they never could and never would be a challenge because Jesper was stuck inside these palace walls. He had been trapped here for all twenty-six years of his life and would be stuck here for the rest of his life, too.
“Are you even paying attention?” his father, King Silus Felsing, asked, his hands on his hips as he stared down his son with a look of disapproval.
“Yes,” Jesper sighed as he finally tore his gaze away from the window. “Princess Selene will be staying for the week. Don’t worry, father. I’ll be on my best behavior.”
“You better be,” Silus huffed. “She is your betrothed after all.”
Just hearing those words all in one sentence felt as if his father was grating his nails against a chalkboard. Sure, the Greek princess, Selene Anastas, was pretty with her dark hair, dark eyes, and fair skin, but for the duration of their entire betrothal—which was their entire lives—they never really clicked. They always had different opinions, different interests, and different, well, everything. Unfortunately, she had just turned twenty-one which meant she could finally marry Jesper. Everyone in the palace thought he was so lucky, except one person which was himself. Just the thought of the marriage made him sick.
With the advisors and his mother sitting around the table and his father pacing around the room, Silus rattled off the preparations that needed to be made for when the Anastas family came into town. However, Jesper’s attention just returned to the window as he allowed himself to daydream what the world was like.
He dreamed of mountains, of rivers, of oceans, of other lands. He dreamed of seeing other countries that he learned about in his textbooks and immersing himself in the culture that always looked so enriching and exciting. He dreamed of freedom. At least for just one day.
At long last, the meeting finally came to a close and it was all Jesper could do to sneak away. He crept silently out of the room, past palace guards, and toward the only freedom he had ever tasted which was riding his horse outside. The sunshine was just within reach. Just a couple more feet…
“Jesper!” a voice called down the hallway, making him frown inwardly. He had been so close! “There are some documents I need you to sign. Also, I need you in the conference room. We’re holding a meeting about the ship trading and I need you there.”
Nodding his head, Jesper replied, “Yes, father.”
However, when he followed after his father, he turned his head and glanced longingly behind him toward the open windows. The sunbeams had been within a hair’s breadth. So close…
As usual, the meeting was incredibly boring and it was all Jesper could do to keep his eyes open. He felt as if the only way to stay awake during these things were to tape his eyelids open.
Unfortunately, Jesper had to pay attention because more than once, he had been asked for his opinion. Couldn’t this wait until tomorrow? Or maybe even next week?
Finally, at long last, the meeting ended and Jesper bounded out of his seat, now practically running down the hall and toward the door, but to his dismay, when he threw open the door, the world that stared back at him was dark, stars beginning to twinkle into existence in the sky.
The whole day—wasted. Just like most days, he hadn’t even breathed in the daylight air.
Dejectedly, Jesper slumped down into the outside chair and turned his face up to the stars. It was a beautiful night, but he couldn’t do anything outside at night. All he could do was sit here in this chair, otherwise someone—whether it be his mother, father, or one of the guards—would call him inside. It was too dangerous to be outside at night, they said. He was an easier target at night, they said.
“Meow!” said a small creature below him, and Jesper smiled as he picked up his white fluffy cat, Rasmus, and set him onto his lap, petting the cat’s soft, purring fur.
“Count yourself lucky,” Jesper said as he stroked the beautiful white fur. “You can go outside to your heart’s content. Maybe even catch a few mice. I wish we could trade lives for a day.”
Rasmus’s only reply was thunderous purring and happy claws digging into his thigh. But even so, it often became lonely in the palace so the cat was his only friend.
“We had a meeting today about the shipping traders,” Jesper continued as if the feline could understand him. “There’s only so much I can understand without seeing it for myself. I have an idea. Let’s become pirates, me and you. We could sail the seas to our heart’s content and you could be my trusted sidekick. How does that sound?”
The idea sounded heavenly compared to being stuck in his prison all day every day. Even the occasional trip to a relative’s wedding or even funeral was the highlight of the year.
Jesper scrunched his nose at the thought. A funeral being the highlight of the year… How sad was that?
“There you are, Prince Jesper,” a guard said and Jesper couldn’t help himself from digging his nails into the wooden arms of his chair. “Come inside. It’s time for supper.”
“Thank you for informing me,” Jesper said politely although he wanted to scratch the man’s eyes out. Couldn’t they let him have more than five minutes to himself?
Maybe he’d try again tomorrow to ride his horse.
Yet again, that’s what he told himself each and every day, but the servants ended up exercising his horse much more than he ever did.
With a heavy heart, he followed the guard back inside, but he couldn’t help but dwell on the lie he told himself each day. Maybe tomorrow would be better.