The Deceit of Ever After
“The savior of the realm? You really knew him?”
The King’s small smile held those happy memories that had slipped unseen into sorrow, victims of time’s sad magic. “He saved my life. We rode together for years, on an epic quest to liberate the kingdom.”
“What was he like?”
A momentary pause. “He was my best friend.”
“So what happened?”
The King reached up and straightened his crown, his eyes flicking toward it regretfully for one single moment. A shadow crossed his face slowly, so faint it could have been imagined, a sense of melancholy and unfulfilled dreams left in its wake like a fine layer of dust.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the “happily ever afters” in fantasy novels / shows / movies.
Mostly I’ve been thinking about how they are a lie.
What these stories don’t mention is that “happily ever after” isn’t exciting. “Happily ever after” is life. And life is hard. Life can beat you down. Life can make you wish for the excitement that lives in your memories, for adventure. Life can make you wish you could shed yourself of responsibility. It’s true for kings and queens just as much as it’s true for you and me.
The peace that comes after an incredible quest means no more dead friends, no more suffering – but it also means less excitement, less sense of purpose, less confidence in your path.
And that is what the king in the story is struggling with – at least to me. In my mind his best friend, the savior, got to ride off and keep living adventurously, while the king was forced into the hard/boring role of ruling the kingdom. The role of sitting on a cold throne while he grows fat, the people around him vying for favor and power, squabbling over trifling things.
In my head the king envies his friend.
He had to say goodbye to adventure. He laments the fact that nobody told him the quest was the exciting part, and that living the life you’re destined for (day after day after day) is the hard part. He wishes he hadn’t been the hero or the chosen one, but the chosen one’s friend, the one who had the freedom to choose the life he wished for after their ordeal was over.
It’s been fun trying to tell as big a story as possible in the fewest amount of words. This story specifically is so short, so quick, that I had an amazing time (read: smiling like an idiot in the dark by myself) trying to cram meaning and emotion into such a fleeting exchange.
This also leaves the story open to interpretation. Maybe to you think the king’s friend didn’t ride off to live his own life, but sacrificed himself in the final battle, cementing his legend. Maybe the king had to kill him. Maybe he died in the plague.
Either way, the king was left behind. That’s the point of the story. Heroes’ happily-ever-afters aren’t always everything they’re chalked up to be.
So there it is – that’s my short story! I hope you enjoyed it!