The Faint Prince
Arumya was a warrior-prince of the great city of Davish, whose fighting legions were known for their discipline and virtue. When he rose to become king, he would lead the armies of Davish as his father led them now.
There was but one problem. Prince Arumya fainted at the sight of blood.
There was nothing anyone could do. His father had called all the priests and the wisest healers and magicians to his court, yet none could cure the prince’s affliction.
The king despaired, “How will my son lead the armies of Davish to victory if, every time he sees the red blood of his enemies, he falls prone and senseless upon the ground as if struck to sleep by Uramya, goddess of dreams?”
But there was none who could answer the king’s despair though he consulted all the wisest of the land, who fed the boy mystic potions, bathed him in magical ointments, and purified him with divine incenses and smoke, all to no effect.
“Your boy is cursed by the demon Onguk-ma,” despaired Waterasu, the wisest man of the land. But even prayers at the temple of the monkey-god, Ram, famed slayer of demons, and a following sacrifice and plea to Onguk-ma failed.
Though the sight of blood made him faint, prince Arumya was trained to lead the army of Davish and to wield weapons.
This was done in secret with a master warrior hand-selected by the king, long known to him and friends of many years, so that should a cure for the fainting be found, the men would not remember the prince as a weak, fainting boy.
It was said that the boy learned well, and were it not for the fainting malady that afflicted him, he would have in time become a warrior of unrivaled skill and virtue.
Time passed, the growing prince becoming more and more shamefully aware of his impairment as the age of his ascension approached, while his father grew old and shameful with worry, his hair gray and unkempt beneath his crown.
On the day of the prince’s ascension, the prince was nowhere to be found, for he had run away, wishing not to shame his father and the great warrior-tradition of their people. He said not where he was going to anyone, if he knew at all himself–for he had been few places but the palace and the city all his life.
This broke the old king’s heart, for this was his only son, and he soon ascended to be with Lord Usha in the limitless sky of Nir-Avanna. Panma, the oldest councilor to the king, was given stewardship of the kingdom until the prince could be found. Twelve riders were sent out to find him, and told not to return until they had found the prince or heard word he had returned.
The names of the dozen riders were Amya, Purya, Dim, Mattese, Shivay the Gold, Demve, Pastish, Balam, Nedro, Purshes, Talam of Mimar, and Kem.
The prince had taken refuge in the summer palace upon the banks of the sacred river Lo, near the mountains of Lhisa, which had not been visited nor cared for in five years, and so was empty of all but the prince.
One day while the prince crept about the nearby village in beggar’s clothing, bowl outstretched to receive the kindness of strangers, he overheard a great demon had arisen north of Davish and now commanded many men and bandits who were sowing strife and murder across the land, terrorizing and enslaving farmers and travelers, burning field and slaying cattle, moving towards Davish.
The prince crept home, his hungry stomach filled by worry, and despaired.
“Oh, my people are suffering, how can I hide here like a coward and mourn a father my cowardice slew? Yet, how can I go to them and be of use? At the first sight of blood I shall fall prone and senseless and useless upon the ground! What good would I be in war or in defending my people? Oh, what shall I do?”
He sat in despair in the empty palace until there came a knock upon the door, and outside found a simple man in simple, travel-worn monk’s robes, smelling of the dust of the road, who asked him sanctuary for the night.
It was custom to shelter any traveling monk for a night, and virtuous to give them a place by the fire and a bowl of rice, so prince Arumya invited him in, “I shall make a fire for us to be warm for the night, but I regret I have no rice to share, for my stomach is full of despair and shame and not fond of food.”
“You are a prince among men,” the monk answered, and bowed deeply, “I am the wandering monk Ylim of Ngonac and I would happily share my supper if I may cook it with your fire, and I will share my ear as well, for it is said by the great teacher Gunamaya that a burden shared is lighter. Though I think he may have been talking about carrying water.”
Arumya did not laugh at his joke and Ylim commented upon studying his dark eyes, “I see your burden is very heavy. Let us make the fire and a supper.”
While the prince gathered sticks and grasses and set to work upon a cooking fire, Ylim of Ngonac drew a rabbit from his sack and a small knife with which to skin it, and at the prince’s request he talked of what he had seen on his journey, for he had come north from Davish.
“Oh, there were fields golden yesterday and black today, with livestock slaughtered and stolen, and women and children, too. Many fleeing south to the safety of Davish. I am glad I was not accosted by the demon’s bandits, for it was said they are so foul and corrupted they do not respect holy men. The people are terrified and Panma does his best to rally the army and the city, but the people’s hearts are still heavy with the death of the king and with thoughts of their lost prince.”
At this, Arumya could not contain himself any longer and cried out, throwing himself on the ground and throwing dust over himself, “Oh, Ylim, I am unworthy. I am a beggar. I do not deserve to share your supper or this fire. I should sleep in the woods with the beasts and serpents to eat, though they should reject me, too, for I stink of cowardice and carrion. I would be better dead myself!”
The monk let out a cry of surprise and confusion at this, “What is it you speak of, my virtuous friend?”
“I am prince Arumya, the coward who fled Davish, and so broke his father’s heart he killed him as well, who sits now eating rabbit and sharing a fire while his people are terrorized and killed. Who cannot help his people for he is cursed to faint at the merest sight of blood and could not lead an army or fight in their defense and so is useless.”
“So if I cut you with this knife, or you were to cut yourself?”
“I should faint away when I looked upon it!”
“Then do not look,” Ylim replied.
The prince was clever, though, and saw what Ylim’s lesson seemed to be, so answered, “But on a battlefield there will be blood everywhere. There would be no place where I could look and not see blood.”
“Then do not look,” Ylim repeated.
“How could I not look at the blood if it is everywhere?” Arumya answered, feeling despondency settling upon him again at these reminders, wondering if the monk were taking a secret pleasure in subtly mocking his disability.
“Do you watch your feet when you walk?” Ylim asked.
Prince Arumya laughed with half his heart, “Of course not, that would be silly.”
“Then how is it your feet know where to step if your eyes do not guide them?”
The prince thought, but had no answer for this.
“Do you command your heart to beat, or your lungs to breathe, or your bladder to fill?”
“No,” the prince answered slowly, “They simply do so. But what does that have to do with my feet?”
“Only this: that you command them to move, but they know where to step without you watching them. Just as your heart, lungs, and bladder all know what to do without your knowledge.”
Ylim then reached over as if to help the prince to his feet or pat him upon the shoulder in comfort, and instead suddenly cut him across his shoulder with the skinning knife.
Arumya yelped and jumped up, grasping it, staring at the monk, “For what reason did you cut me, Ylim? If you meant to end the cowardly beating of my heart, you have grievously missed! Or do you wish to rob me when I faint at the sight of it?”
“Have you fainted?”
The prince realized though he could feel the blood and could smell it, and it was warm and sticky upon his hand, he had not fainted, “No, it is behind me. I can not see the cut.”
“So it is not the feel, or the smell, or the idea of blood that causes you to faint, only the sight. That is a most curious affliction, my virtuous prince Arumya.”
“Yes, and a painful one, now, too,” he answered, and the monk kneeled down behind him to attend to the wound.
The monk removed the prince’s hand from the injury and asked, “How do you know where the wound is?”
“Because I can feel it upon me, a sharp line in my skin. My body tells me where it is.”
“So your body knows what to do, and it is only your that eyes betray you.”
When he finished binding the wound, the prince and the monk stared at each other across the crackling fire for a long while before Ylim finally held up the rabbit carcass and asked, “Do you know how to skin a rabbit?”
The prince grew queasy at the thought of that much blood and merely shook his head.
“Then I will teach you,” Ylim grinned mischievously.
“Are you mad? I would faint at the first red drop the knife should draw,” Arumya answered.
“Then close your eyes.”
“So I might cut off my fingers? Then I shall be a coward who looks like a thief, and perhaps I will be hung or stoned at the next town I come to, sparing me further misery. Perhaps you would have me lie down underneath my horse next so I might be trampled?”
Ylim merely smiled and turned around, looking back at the prince, eyes closed, smiling, and working his hands, “When your body knows the path, you do not need your eyes.”
When the monk finished skinning the rabbit, he skewered it and lay it across the fire to cook, “Do you know how to fight?”
In the morning, Arumya washed off the ashes he wore to mourn his father in the river Lo, and set out southwards upon his horse, while Ylim watched him go from the door of the abandoned summer palace and smiled too widely with rotten and blackened teeth when he was gone.