The Five Trials of Peru: Trial 5 Part 3

The next day marked the wedding. Festivities began with the rising sun and continued until the noontide meal. Peru expected to see Florette during the celebrations; after all they were for him just as much as for her. But she remained absent, instead to his right sat Lothar and to the left the mistress. She abounded in talk and laughter, seemingly the happiest of all, while his captain remained silent.

The ceremony followed the meal and proceeded without a hitch. Soft music played and the living proof of all his dreams appeared before Peru’s eyes. At long last the prince stood across from Florette, concealed by a veil and a long dress so that nothing of her skin showed. “I have dreamed of this day for many years,” he whispered, wanting nothing more than to hear her voice in response. The figure simply nodded and spoke not.  

The leader of the church stood at the head of the alter, a steady stream of chants and blessings issuing from his lips until the final moments. Just as the prince reached out to his moments-away wife to seal the ring around her finger he felt a strong pair of hands pull him away.

Stepping forward Lothar spoke to the prince but loud enough for the whole of the room to hear. “This wedding is a miserable scheme. This woman is Florette, but she is not the one you seek.” Pulling the veil from the bride’s head a hideously deformed face revealed itself. The figure fell back in shame and fear as a gasp issued from the very room they stood in. “The drawing you fell in love with is of another,” Lothar looked to the side of the room. Following his gaze Peru turned to see the girl, the slave, he had so easily dismissed, standing calmly a few feet away with an air of certainty he had never seen in another and a smile to calm even the sun’s flames. It was then he saw her for who she really was and not who others pretended her to be.   

Silence settled over the room. Prince Peru slowly approached the woman, whom he once believed to be nothing to him, and wept. Throwing himself to his knees he raised his face to hers. “I am sorry. I was a fool to believe lies when truth stood obviously before me. I am unworthy to stand by your side.”

“Many men have come seeking the nobleman’s daughter,” the girl said, kneeling next to the prince. “All these I have left to their own devices, caring for them not. But with you… I think there is hope.”

Rising to their feet the two embraced and felt true love before a rending screech ended the moment. The mistress, Florette’s mother, stood in the isle eyes ablaze. “How dare you!” She accused the girl still in Peru’s arms. “I should have killed you the moment that fool of a painter portrayed you on paper!”

A loud popping noise accompanied this curse. A woman screamed as the king of the jinn and all his men appeared at the head of the church, sending the clergyman stumbling out of the way in awkward fear. “Dear prince Peru,” the king spread his arms out wide, encompassing the whole assembly in warm benevolence. “I am pleased to see you overcome this puzzle. Ederin is the true one you seek, not Florette. The mistress, that wretch of a woman, cursed her daughter to be born undesirable by any man due to her wicked deeds throughout life. After the death of her husband she knew her extravagant lifestyle could only be maintained through the marriage of her only child to a prince. But none would consent to marry such a creature; seeing this she took the lovely Ederin and played her as heir. Once suitors came they could only see the supposed beauty they courted on the day of the wedding. But once seeing whom they truly married all called for divorce straight away. Sworn to secrecy concerning the truth word did not spread of the scheme.” The king smiled down fondly at Ederin. “Dear, sweet Ederin is a distant relative of mine who under unfortunate circumstances was kidnapped and sold, forced to serve the noble’s wife. When you landed on my island I knew you were seeking her, the picture in your pocket confirmed it. I decided to test you in worthiness to judge if you were even fit to stand before her, let alone marry. I was pleased then and I am all the more pleased now to see Ederin has decided she likes you as well. So what more is there to discuss? May the two of you find pleasure and happiness with each other as long as each shall live.” With that the Jinn king smote the mistress where she stood, riding the world of her. Peru and Ederin, along with the captain and the rest of his men, all rode on the backs of jinn to their island where a proper wedding took place without a hitch or lie.

The party flew back to Peru’s homeland, which he had not seen in over ten years. In an act of kindness the Prince and his new bride brought the poor Florette back as well. Shunned and locked in the attic since birth she was innocent in her mother’s schemes. She led the rest of her life happily, spending most of her time outside in the gardens making up for lost time.

True to his word Peru opened his treasury and served each family of the men lost on the journey with everything they would need to lead a comfortable life for many generations to come, hoping to make amends and receive a pardon from the surviving family members. Pleased with the act no one begrudged him.

The tale of Peru’s quest soon spread throughout the kingdom and he became a hero to the people. They also regarded Ederin fondly, her rise from slavery endearing her to their hearts.

With his heir back in the country safe and sound Peru’s father died a few months later, elevating the prince to king and Ederin to queen. Lothar, Peru’s truest and most reliable friend, stayed in the kingdom as the king’s advisor, serving faithfully all the years he ruled. They were visited often by the Jinn king, who loved to tell anyone who would listen the wild stories of a young boy beneath a pear tree who fell in love with a painting.

The Five Trials of Peru: Trial 4 Part 3

Seven slow years passed as Peru and his men served under the Jinn king. Aside from a small skirmish with migrating cannibals the time was spent pleasantly for the burdened men. The jinn, terrifying in lore in temperament and appearance, proved to be far more mild mannered and pleasing to the eye. Though they worked hard day and night the men were not mistreated. It wasn’t long before the prince became the personal servant to the Jinn king and they spent many hours in discussion, talking of anything from Peru’s childhood, his favorite subjects of study, and his eagerness to met Florette. Rather than bemoaning his position, once a royal served by servants now a servant himself, he rejoiced in the knowledge every passing moment brought him closer to his one wish and was happy to serve such a being that could give it to him. The king saw this and was much pleased.

At long last came the day the men were set free, having served their time faithfully. Peru listened carefully as the king detailed what was to come. “You will leave tonight for the land of Asia. Florette lives in a grand house on a corner in the capital. Knock at the door and a servant will answer; say you wish an audience with the mistress of the house. The head of the house, her husband, died several years ago and she now oversees the estate. You will be taken into the front parlor and introduced. When she sees you she will know you are of reputable background and listen to all you say. When she hears you wish to marry her daughter she will be very pleased and consent to the arrangement without question. Be not foolish and all things will happen as you wish.”

Blessing his journey the king sent Peru and his men away on the backs of servant jinn, flying through the air at incredible speeds straight through the night. When morn struck the prince and his men stood in an alleyway at the end of a street. The jinn whom Peru rode on pointed at a impressive house on the corner and without word took flight followed by the others, leaving Peru and fate hand in hand.

The Five Trials of Peru: Trial 4 Part 1

Aside

Two months passed – two men died. Pushing their bodies overboard Peru felt his journey weigh more and more heavily on his heart; he found swearing promises to widowed wives and fatherless sons seemed meaningless when he held nothing to show for all the sacrifice of others. The remaining men were losing moral and forgetting why they were so eager to leave land, as was Peru, no matter how many times he looked at the fading picture. On the second month and fifth day the raft washed ashore an island carrying a strange air. Exhausted from thirst and hunger the group crawled onto land and collapsed.

Waking to the sun high overhead Peru struggled to move his body, stiff with dried sand and salt. Looking up he saw a man standing before him, tall and frightening, flanked by five others equal in presence. Sitting up Peru felt for his sword and found it gone.

“Stay calm Prince Peru, we mean you no harm,” the man said. “I am the Jinn king, and this is the jinn island. Tell me who you are, where you hail from and where you head towards.” 

“You know my name,” the prince said cautiously. “So you must already know who I am and all other things.”

“Oh-ho, this is true. But it is so rare we have visitors,” gathering his robes the man sat cross-legged on the ground and motioned to the men on either side of him to do the same. “I would like to hear it from you directly. Tell me all that has happened.”

Peru did, laying bare his journey from the moment he first set sight on the image of Florette through the shipwreck, his time as a slave to the cyclops, the sirens, and the last voyage landing he and his men on the island. The Jinn king sat quietly, listening all the while as the landscape turned purple in the setting sun.   

“You have been through much,” he commented. “Rouse your men.” Standing he made his way towards a ticket of tall grass a few paces away. Jumping to his feet Peru hastened to wake Lothar and the others, bidding them follow.

The Five Trials of Peru: Trial 3 Part 2

The men and Peru resided on the island a full year more. One night the prince left the makeshift camp the men built on the sands of the beach to wander the forests. Sitting against a tree Peru pulled from his pocket the portrait of his beloved Florette. Tracing the lines faded by wear and tear he sighed deeply, mourning for the two years lost to him. Surely she would be married by now and with child. What would he do if such and such had come to pass?

The prince looked up from his miserable gaze to see a small pond he had not noticed before. Without thought he stripped, hoping the cool water would clear his mind and steel his soul. No sooner had his feet touched the mossy bank than a beautiful melody filled his ears. Wading deeper he felt arms embrace his torso, filling him with wonder.

As if in a dream the image of Florette rose from the water, greeting him with a smile paling the glow of the moon shining above. Peru gave himself up to her whims as the joy he felt at standing before her completely overwhelmed him. Slowly she drew him farther into the pool until his chin treaded water.            

Peru felt his heart beat fast as he lost himself in her clear eyes. Reality crushed him like a wave. Sirens lacked souls making their eyes translucent, an unnatural color for any human. Crying out Peru jerked back, repulsed by the creature’s touch.

The siren ceased her singing and screeched, dismayed her spell was broken. A battle of wills ensued as the mermaid clung to Peru desperately as he fought towards shore. With one great heave he threw himself onto the bank, tearing himself away from the claws in his skin, sending the spirit swimming back to the depths of her home empty handed. Struggling to his feet Peru grabbed his sword and clothes and ran back to camp.

The men, hearing the unearthly sounds of the siren, gripped their swords and stood at the ready when the prince crashed through the trees. “We are leaving this island tomorrow.” He ordered and collapsed.

The next morning the prince led the men as they labored under the hard sun. Whether or not Peru was still in search of Florette was undecided, but the prince knew he and the others could not stay on the island any longer. With Peru’s intelligence and Lothar’s wisdom, for the prince knew much in theory but little by way of experience, they used what they had to cut and lash tree trunks together, forming a make-shift raft big enough to hold all contributing. Praying for safe deliverance to an island uninhabited by giant cyclops or witchy sirens, they cast off.

The Five Trials of Peru: Trial 3 Part 1

Looking at the sun the prince gauged the men were facing north. Heading west they traveled for several days before coming across a small lagoon. Emerald green trees and bright pink flowers grew around the water’s edge, enticing them with pleasant fragrances and the promise of cool relief. Striping of cloth the men waded into the water, grateful for a place to wash and refresh themselves. 

As the others chatted the prince hung back against the shore, lost in thought. Several months had passed since he left his homeland, possibly a whole year. He had planned on arriving in Asia by now to meet his would-be wife, Florette. Lothar, captain of the men, now looked to him for guidance, a mere seventeen year old. Peru held confidence but pressure weighted so heavily his shoulders sagged beneath the water. Survive and find a way off the island, that was most important now. But the prince could not escape the sound of bells haunting his dreams.    

An eerie silence settled over the men as a sound like harps filled the air. The water itself parted ways before the beautiful women rising from the depths of the pond, singing a beautiful melody. Awe-struck the men could only gaze as the slim figures coyly circled, continuing to sing until their song reached a fever pitch.

Astonished Prince Peru watched the women in awe until, from his distance, he noticed their legs were not two but one. They were mermaids who, like sirens, seek wayward men to ensnare in their song to drown and eat. Fewer in number the women gravitated to a select few, embracing the all too eager men in their arms. Reality stricken Peru called out to his men, warning them of the true nature of the predators. Some did not hear, already in the arms of the mermaids and lost in their magic. The men who had not been chosen by the woman, hearing Peru’s cries, swam towards shore panic stricken of a watery grave. Moving from the bank Peru swam opposite, prying the hypnotized men away from the sirens. But try as he might no sooner did he break the bond did the men hurry back to their maidens only as a pair to sink below the water out of sight. Peru felt arms wrap around him, promising everything he ever wanted and more. Refusing to listen Peru struggled until he broke free from the creature’s grasp and made his way to shore. Once safely on land he turned to see many men missing, never to be seen again.  

“Prince Peru,” Lothar spoke. “Once more I saw you risk your life to save others. The men remaining and I are eternally indebted to you and are your slaves for life, if you will take us.”        

“There is no need for such commitment,” the prince replied. “Help me reach my goal and your debt is paid.”

The Five Trials of Peru: Trial 1 Part 2

Peru’s heart swelled at the thought of what little time remained separating him from the girl he loved. True, that little time was measured in months, but every breath he took shortened those months to moments; he could only view the coming days as a time he would look back on as a split second in his life.

With the sky clear and the wind at their backs the crew worked the ship in a pleasant mood. None would admit it, but secretly they were all hopeless romantics. Leaving their homes and families behind felt burdensome, but to see such a strong desire in the prince to gain what they already had left them feeling eager to see his heart fulfill its greatest desire.   

A few days into the journey dark clouds gathered on the horizon and a storm swept the seas in a turbulent riot. The men fought hard to steady the ship but with one great gust the boat overturned and all were cast into the sea. The storm raged on for many more hours and only those God saw fit survived, catching hold of debris to cling to for survival. Peru was one so lucky, and save two more all others perished. Staying close to each other the men drifted at sea for many days, hunger and thirst biting at their throats.

“We are all going to die,” one man called to the two others, seated on a plank of wood from the ship. “We will perish and it is because of the young prince and his foolish whimsies.”

“Bite your tongue.” The other man said. “The cause of our demise is the sea and nothing more. Do not blame a hapless boy for fate.”

“Because of you,” the sailor said to the prince. “I will never see my wife and children again. I will die and they will become beggars on the streets eating rats from the gutters to survive!” He continued  raving until all sense fled him and he fell into the sea in a fit, drowning.

The remaining crew member floated hopelessly across from the prince, who felt the sailor’s words deeply and could not shake the debt he felt he now owed. Impossibly the picture of Florette survived the wreck but was smudged by dampness. Peru took it from his pocket to dry and swore by her to honor the men who had perished and their families should he survive.

The next morning the pair washed ashore an island, green and wild.