Telling Stories

Once upon a time — because that is always how these things start, isn’t it — lived a prince with no name. He had everything else a prince might want: fine clothes, good food, a warm bed and a lovely castle, a thousand and one beautiful things to look at. But he did not have a name, and so he could not have love: for a name is what shapes the heart and gives it voice, and if the heart cannot call for anything, how will it find anything for itself?

Still the prince was content, for he had brilliant tutors and a sharp clever mind that delighted them, and a thousand torches lit his every step, so that he never walked in darkness. He was beautiful and swift and strong, and even the sun itself bowed its head in respect to him.

But perhaps that’s not quite true: for after all, the prince had no name; he had no love. Perhaps instead of respect it was pity, rustling in a thousand whispers until it reached the ears of the prince. At first he ignored it, for he was content with his part in life, with his lovely home and rich gardens and the strength and grace of his arm; however, as time went on, he watched those around him spin away from his orbit, led by their names to those who matched them in turn. He looked upon himself, in his great palace, and saw that it was empty, and the halls echoed with only the sound of his voice alone.

And so he went down to the fortune-teller who lived in the darkest parts of the city, like a shining star descending to the dark earth, and to the fortune-teller he said, “I must have had a name once. Where did it go?”

And the fortune-teller licked its yellow teeth, for it was very old and you could not say if it was man or woman. It touched the prince’s soft cheek with one gnarled finger, and said, “It is gone, gone, and you cannot get it back. You must content yourself with what you have, unless you would give up all the riches you have now.”

The prince put his hand on his breast, for though he had no name he still had a heart, and he felt it beat slowly against his palm. Again he said, “I must have had a name, once. Where did it go?”

And again the fortune-teller told him: “You cannot have it back again, unless you are willing to give up what you have now. You are blessed with grace and strength, but too many gifts and the gods will punish you instead.”

In wonder, the prince said, “What is a name, that would be worth all the riches that a kingdom offers? I want to know, for I am clever enough to know the answer to all riddles save this.”

And the fortune-teller laughed, in a sound like dry old bones and dust, and it clapped its weathered hands, and it said, “Ah! Spoken truly! It is not the name that matters. It is how it binds the heart.” And it touched its finger to the prince’s heart, and he felt it stutter and clutch with a pain he had never before felt.

“Go forth, then,” said the fortune-teller, and then stood tall; beneath the trappings of its dark tattered robes was a fairy, more lovely than the roses of the prince’s garden, with hair golden as the sun and skin silver as the moon. And there was pity in the fairy’s face as she touched the prince’s head, and her power moved through him so that he fell to his knees.

“Go and seek your name,” she said, “but you may not return to your old home, for you are already not the same as you once were.”

So the prince rose to his feet, weeping for terror and grief both, and he walked, away from the fairy, away from his castle and his tutors and his companions, his lovely clothes and his fine foods; he walked away. And the fairy watched him go with her face still and quiet, for there are worse things in life than being reborn, but few as painful.

None in his kingdom ever saw him again, though often they whispered of him, behind their gloved hands, with their eyes turned to the empty castle on the hill. They spoke of him in soft tones, the Nameless Prince, until he had walked from the pages of history and into the words of legend.

+++

“Soubi!” Ritsuka scowled fiercely, but he still stepped aside to let him in. He was wearing pajamas that are a little too large for him, but not for long; Ritsuka was growing. “What the hell are you doing, don’t you know how late it is?” He looked down, then bristled, tail fluffing to twice its size. “And you’re soaking wet! Stay right there, I’ll get a towel–” He was up and gone and back again in a heartbeat, and he only had to stretch as far as his toes to throw the towel over Soubi’s head, growling the whole time, *idiot, idiot, stupid Soubi, disappearing for a month without saying anything, why am I just letting you barge in, and you’re soaked, were you TRYING to get sick?*

Soubi bowed his head and let Ritsuka towel his hair, hard enough to pull at his scalp, but not enough to hurt. His hands uncurled and settled on Ritsuka’s thin hips, where the pajama bottoms pulled down and the wings of his hipbones were prominent under his skin. He pressed his thumbs to the hollow of each and listened to Ritsuka’s voice stutter to embarrassed silence.

“Ritsuka,” he said. If he turned his head, there was sleepy heat and the stale smell of the bedsheets; if he leaned, his nose was pressed to Ritsuka’s cheek. The sound of Ritsuka’s swallow was very loud.

“Soubi,” he said quietly. “I might still say no.”

Gracefully, without hurry, Soubi went to his knees. He put his arms around Ritsuka’s waist and his cheek to Ritsuka’s stomach, which flinched back at the cold of his skin. He had been walking for a very long time, and the ache of exhaustion had set deep into his bones.

But Ritsuka’s hands touched his head, carding through his hair, scratching lightly at the scalp where his ears had once been, low and gentle and he thought: perhaps there was no name for this sort of thing. Naming meant quantifying it, and quantifying it meant cheapning it.

“Where did you go?” Ritsuka asked. His voice was low, barely more than a rumble that made his stomach shift, but Soubi still heard it.

“Ritsuka,” he said, and he kissed Ritsuka’s hip where it rose over the elastic band. The skin tasted faintly of soap. “Tell me a story, Ritsuka.”

“A story?” There was disbelief in Ritsuka’s voice, threatening to explode into full-fledged irritation. “Are you trying to divert me again? Seriously, where did you–”

“A story,” he said, and closed his eyes. He slid his hands up, under Ritsuka’s shirt, and spread his hands flat against warm skin. “Tell me a story, and I’ll tell you one in turn.”

The hands in his hair fisted and pulled; Soubi lifted his face and did not open his eyes until Ritsuka’s mouth touched his, gone light and fast as a butterfly. Over him, Ritsuka’s face was very serious.

“Promise,” he said. “You’ll tell me this time?”

“If you want to know,” said Soubi. “What there is to tell.”

Ritsuka stared at him, then bent as well — less gracefully than Soubi, perhaps, but still with poise, and still small enough that he could tuck himself against the curve of Soubi’s body. He pulled Soubi’s head down to his shoulder like he were the taller, and he took a breath that gusted, warm, against Soubi’s ear.

“Once upon a time,” he said, and Soubi closed his eyes.

+++

And did the prince find his name, and thus find his love? The stories have never quite said.

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