Strings

By: Radya Ayufa

Being a prince was hard, unlike other princes, Rafe seemed so displeased by his duty. He was taught to battle with a sword and a shield, to ride horses, to swim, to master the art of archery, but never in his life had he found what he loved, or at least something that he was passionate about.

One night of a boring dance party, the Queen and King would invite noble people from other cities outside of Yoria, Prince Rafe would see fresh faces every month, but he would always sighed at the sight. There were a lot of pretty princesses here and there, some may already had a partner, while some may not. Nevertheless, Prince Rafe would not be the one who would approach a woman.

He went quietly through the dining room, into his bedroom. His parents hadn’t seen him, so it must be safe for him to jump outside the window and landed himself on top of his horse, Ruby.

He took a stroll through the night’s sky, the moons and stars were hidden from sight, making that particular quiet night especially dark. The palace guard had to carry torches to make their rounds. Some guards may stare suspiciously at him, but when they saw the white uniform that the prince wears, they carried on.

Prince Rafe finally arrived at the nearby town mill. The mill was quiet, no signs of another human being, but the sound of grinding wooden mill against the river made Rafe felt relaxed. He could just live here forever, away from the noisy chanting and clinks of champagne glasses.

Just across the flowing river, he heard a vague scream of a woman. He almost thought that it was laughter. He descended from Ruby while poised his hand against his sword’s handle, whispered to Ruby to stay put, and crossed the river between the big piles of stones.

Unsheathed sword in his hand, he walked towards the woman who was running around with opened arms, dressed with a long white coat, her oval face adorned with square black spectacles. The woman was singing, laughing, almost screaming. Prince Rafe yelled, “Who are you, stranger?”

The woman turned her head towards the prince. She knelt down in front of the young man, raised her hands. “Oh, Your Highness, please don’t hurt me, I mean you no harm,” she answered, scared.

“What matter of sorcery is this? Are you a witch?” he asked, walked forward towards the woman.

“I-I’m a… a scientist, Your Highness,” she said, stuttered, Prince Rafe could tell that the woman was scared.

The prince sheathed back his sword and helped the woman to stand up. He could tell the woman wasn’t a threat when she proved herself that she couldn’t cast a spell from her hands. She called herself Zoe, a traveler from the future. She and her fellows had created a time machine and she had traveled a long way from the 22ndcentury. A journey that she herself wouldn’t have expected.

It was too dark for her to tell all of her stories, so Prince Rafedecided to buy the woman a horse, bought her a simple red dress, and he rented a room for Zoe inside a small inn for the night. Tomorrow, early in the morning, Prince Rafe went out from the palace to visit the inn where Zoe was alone, reading a book. Beside her, a bard was singing a folk song accompanied by his lute. He was always amazed by the art of music and poetry, he studied them inside the school of Bards. Silently, secretly, without the permission from his parents. They would always deny it, it was not something that he should spend his time on as a prince, said the King.

When Prince Rafe approached Zoe, she ran up to him and yelled about how excited she was to be here. There were a lot for her to discover and study, she talked about how amazing the scenery would be during sundown without giant mirror buildings hindered the sunlight. Whilst Prince Rafe could only cocked an eyebrow in confusion, he smiled, and asked, “Giant mirror?”

Zoe just smiled, revealing her white teeth. “Come, I’ll explain everything to you.”

They both took a stroll around the city with their horses. Zoe had decided to name her horse Frost, because of its white fur. The humid temperature bathed them in its early morning dew, it was cold, but not as cold as it would be on winter. Through the fresh air their horses walked slowly, following the walkway. Zoe could see tall trees everywhere, she smiled at the sight, never in her life had she witnessed such beauty of the nature. Far to the north, both could see a mountain covered with the white sheets of the snow, soared up to the sky where birds would fly above them.

The main walkway led them to a village where farmers and gardeners would wave at them. The crops grew fertile and pretty. The smell of grass and wet soil found its way to their smelling senses. Zoe inhaled, the peaceful, quiet, and beautiful environment almost felt like a dream for her. She could live here forever if she could, away from the noisy machine sounds, busy street, surrounded by people who always smiled down to their phones rather than smiled directly to a person. When they arrived at a nearby old temple ruin, Zoe started her story.

Prince Rafe seemed captivated by her, about how she made the time machine – or she preferred to call it a portal to another dimension – was a small glowing red cube that apparently was made of something very fragile, and it could only travel to two destinations; where she came from, and where she was right now. She talked about technology in the 22ndcentury, the people, and the culture. “There, we don’t use caste levels like in here. If you go there, you shouldn’t be surprised if nobody calls you ‘Your Highness’.”

“Interesting. We, the people of Yoriaare not very familiar with this thing called ‘science’,” Prince Rafe said, rubbed his chin, “how about you take me there?”

Zoe widened her eyes, “It’s not that easy. This portal – this cube, can only be used once,”

She said, groped her pockets to let out few others of red glowing cubes. “You must break it to use it, I’ve only got three of them, I’ve used one, and right now we only have two. We have to use it wisely, got it?”

The prince agreed to take them somewhere deserted, where nobody could see them. It was inside a forest, farthest south from the palace. After they ensured the place was safe and nobody was around, Zoe threw the cube against the soil. It didn’t break at first, so she tried to throw it against a stone. It worked, the cube was destroyed. When a relatively small circle came out from the cube, Prince Rafe frowned his eyebrows, mouth opened, about to say something, but nothing came out. He was speechless.Something that any human being would do once they saw such thing.

Zoe took the prince’s hand and they both stepped into the circle. With matter of seconds, they traveled to the busy street of Zoe’s hometown.

Prince Rafe whispered, “Is this where you came from?” his question was answered by a small nod from Zoe. The prince stared the place in awe as they walked through the busy city. It was still morning, the air was fresh, but not as fresh as it was in Yoria. Zoe could tell the huge difference. There were no mountains visible far to the north, she would turned her head around, but she would rarely see any tall trees, and no one uses a horse. The smell of freshly grew crops and wet soil was gone, all replaced by the – now common smell – the smoke of pollution.

As they walked on the sidewalk,few people stared at them with a measure of admiration and confusion, maybe because of their attire. The prince often would stare at the cars that crossed past beside him. He was deeply curious about a square device that people stared down to while walking. “Is it something like a hypnotic stone?” he asked, Zoe just laughed.

“No, it’s called a cellphone, smartphone, something that people use to communicate with other people,” she explained.

Prince Rafe’s eyebrows were furrowing, “We can just talk to a person directly instead of starring down to a stone, right?”

“It’s not a st-“ Zoe paused, sighed. “Whatever. Are you hungry?”

They took another walk again to a nearby food stand. They ate together, talked to each other, throwing pebbles into the lake.They went to the park at evening to enjoy the sundown. They sat down on the bench while stared at five street musicians; each played different instruments. The music combined into one, the notes met in harmony as the musicians sang the lyrics.

“What are those bard instruments?” asked the prince.

Zoe laughed at his every questions, but she answered anyway, “That’s a piano, that one is a violin, the guy in the farthest left is playing a saxophone, and the guy in the middle… he plays the guitar,” explained Zoe while pointing to each one of the musicians.

“Guitar…” Prince Rafe nodded several times, “it’s like the newest model of a lute,” he said, Zoe would just chuckle at the statement.

“I’ve had a dream of becoming a bard someday…” the prince continued, “but I guess being the only prince in family makes it not possible,”

Zoe turned her face towards him, “You could be a bard here,” she paused for a little while “if you want to.”

Prince Rafe smiled, Zoe could see his eyes were full of hope and passion. So, she decided to help the prince pursue his passion, to be a street musician. At first, she bought a cheap guitar at the store for the prince to practice. They stayed at her apartment where Zoe would go to her lab every morning and prince Rafe had to stay inside, forgetting his previous life in his father’s kingdom, lost in the pulsation of the strings from his guitar. Not just music, he also learned technology and how to use them. He had stayed there longer there than he had expected. He was thinking of coming back shortly after he visited the 22nd century, but he became comfortable living there, with Zoe. But he didn’t care about anything else other than living his life as it should be in this age. Everything had been completely different for him, but he was eager to learn everything that his eyes was caught by.

One day when Zoe returned to her apartment and found the prince had gone, a note was taped on the bedside table. “Went to the park.” The note says. Zoe smiled as she strode out to the park and found the prince played along with the five musicians that always plays during sundown.

Once the last song had ended, the prince turned around to face Zoe, he handed a pocket full of coins and cash to Zoe’s hands. He smiled, but Zoe did not.

“What’s wrong?” the prince asked.

Zoe tilted her head, “It’s been six months after your first arrival. Don’t you think it’s time for you to come back?” she asked. “Have you forgotten about Yoria? About your honor?”

Prince Rafeopened his hands, raised his voice, “I was beginning to think that,” he answered. “But I like it here, everyone is equal. We can be whatever we want.”

Silence was formed between the two of them, “But I thought-“

“Listen, Zoe,” Prince Rafe emphasized his words, “for the first time in my life I’ve found something that I’m really passionate about,” he paused. Created another silent atmosphere, “please, don’t take this away from me,” he continued. The despair in his voice sounded almost like a pleas that Zoe could not fulfill. The prince grabbed Zoe’s shoulders and squeezed it for a little while. Zoe grabbed his hands back to tell him that she understood what he feels.

“But what about your kingdom, your parents?” asked Zoe, her demeanor changed into something that the prince had never witnessed from within a joyful soul: sorrow. “The people of Yoria are in need of your assistance. You are a prince, you should act like one. Everyone here craved to be like you.” she continued.

Prince Rafe grabbed Zoe by the hand, “If you insist, very well then, I will come back to Yoria,” said the prince.

Zoe smiled as she remarked, “This is the last one,” while she took the last red glowing cube from her lab coat. “What would you do once you return?” she asked, looked up to the prince, silently saying a goodbye inside.

Prince Rafe snorted, “I have gone for far too long, and no one would recognize me as a prince anymore. From now on, I shall be known as Rafe the Bard.” He explained.

Zoe was about to threw the red cube when the prince grabbed her hand all of a sudden. “On one condition,” he abruptly said.

The woman smiled playfully, “What is it, Your Highness?”

Prince Rafe smiled back, stared at her eyes, “Come with me.” He said.

It was not long after the cube had shattered on the ground. Revealing its magical portal, they both entered the circle, laughed as they did. The city went quiet when both vanished into thin air.