Laurel sat in her throne atop a dais that looked down into a courtyard. There, half-clad men cavorted as they thrust spears at one another and sparred with swords. Some forwent using weapons and fought each other with bare hands. Villagers from the valley came to watch the spectacle. It was quite the event, they whispered–the games in which the victor would win Princess Laurel’s hand.
Laurel sighed. She had never wanted this—it had all been her father’s idea. He had wanted a son, but got Laurel instead. Now he wanted grandsons, and he was determined Laurel would provide them.
The days wore on. There were mock-battles and races, feats of strength and wit. Laurel watched all of it from the unyielding perch of her throne. After six days had passed, a victor was proclaimed. He came to kneel at her feet and to declare his undying love and protection of her.
Laurel looked away. As if it were possible to love someone you barely knew. He loved the idea of her, or of the power their marriage would bring him. He didn’t love her, or she him.
Laurel surprised her father in requesting the wedding take place as soon as possible. She didn’t want to delay the inevitable, she told him. What she didn’t tell him was that the moon was waxing, and the stars were favorably aligned. It needed to happen soon, or not at all. Her father was happy to oblige, and so Laurel and her suitor were married the following day.
The festivities lasted until the sun had set. And when everyone expected the couple to retire to their bedchamber, Laurel instead pulled her new husband to a moonlit garden. She could feel his gaze upon her as they walked. Soon, she told him. Soon. So they walked on until they came to a secluded grove of olive and juniper trees.
Once she stopped, her husband put his arms around her. Yet before he could bring his lips to hers, Laurel spoke the words she had been saving—words she had heard in the trickling of streams and in the echoes of the wind. Words she had kept to herself, saving them for when they were needed.
As she spoke them, the young man’s skin hardened and his hands formed into branches. Laurel freed herself from his embrace, watching as the bark overtook his face and the man that had once proclaimed his devotion to her was no longer recognizable in the tree that now stood before her.
Laurel listened as the wind stirred in the branches, then she turned and disappeared into the night.