Zach is a soldier fighting in a war to save a captive princess until a freak accident brings him face to face with her. He may be a knight but this princess is in too much pain to rescue.
Author's Note: Thank you for reading
Clock Tower Princess
It was an extremely bleak and barren landscape, no matter how you looked at it. Jagged hills crowned with dead grass and raw dirt and craters as far as the eye could see. There was a simple clock tower sitting alone in a gully, it hung like a dead tree over the miserable landscape. Long trenches lined the earth below it, checked by an equal number of trenches a quarter mile away. Even the breeze was unpleasant; it reeked of death and decay.
Inside every trench were scores of soldier’s learning fast how cruel the world could be. Uniforms were soaked with mud and filth and bodies were streaked from head to toe with perspiration. Nevertheless, not a single soul could leave no matter how feral things got. All eyes remained on the barbed wire and corpses decorating no-man’s land.
Up the hill leading to equally feral conditions, more soldiers in drab colored uniforms shambled along trench floors. They had it better, more men and a safer position high above the landscape. It still wasn’t anything like home though.
At the very edge of the trenches was a river, a river that marked the end of the left flank. It was the perfect resource for thirsty soldiers, and something their enemy didn’t have. It ran down the hill and into the clock tower, powering its gears. Dozens of boulders sat on the river bed and if you could get on top of one, you could see every grizzly detail of the landscape. Only one soldier was compelled to take advantage of that.
Private Zachary Hart, only sixteen years old and indifferent to his grim environment, sat and stared at the sky on the biggest rock in the stream. He felt the reeking breeze cover his hairless face. It was midnight, and the clock tower’s bell rang out with the most dull and emotionless ring. Silence followed but Zach anticipated what would come after the silence.
A song. Someone was singing from atop the clock tower. It was terribly difficult to make out at such a distance, but it was beautiful. Only a girl’s voice could be so mystifying, a girl who for the past five days had been singing at midnight. Well, it wasn’t so much singing as it was a lovely humming, perhaps distance drowned out the words. Whatever it was, it was the best entertainment he could get in a place like this.
Another soldier’s gait broke his concentration. Zach opened his eyes and found it wasn’t a stranger but a well-known comrade at least twice his age. At first glance he was just another lanky soldier in a muddy drab overcoat but the glimmer of silver on his collar altered the paradigm.
“Captain Wesson?” asked Zach aloud.
Captain Craig Wesson smiled and put his arms out, “What the hell are you doing up there?”
Zach hopped off his rock and trudged across the river. He knew Craig was an old man; graying hair plastered to his face but behind worn eyes was a mind worthy of his rank.
Back in the trench, Zach asked, “Need me for something?”
Craig tucked his hands into his overcoat, “Kids are so stupid, you should be sleeping Hart. Soldiers need to rest their minds every once and a while.”
Zach scratched the back of his head, choosing his reasons carefully, “I’m not stupid; I just like to hear her sing.”
The Captain raised his eyebrows, “Oh, so you need a lullaby to get to sleep? Well here then, let me tell you a bedtime story. Once upon a time I was a senator until some young brat named Prince Cain decided to raise an army and invade half the modern world in order to capture and marry some foreign princess he likes.”
Zach set his gaze on the clock tower, “The princess is supposed to be in that tower right?”
“Yes, according to the Department of the Navy, we’re fighting tooth and nail right now to save her. Apparently she’s quite a pretty lady, do you know Prince Cain actually made a statement saying he started this war because she bewitched his heart?”
“Are you serious?”
“I can’t make this stuff up. Instead of listening to the princess sing every night you should be thinking of ways to rescue her, help us end this war.”
Zach groaned and whipped his face with both hands, “Sure, I’ll do that. Right after I end world hunger.”
“Knock it off Hart.” Craig’s strong voice beat back all of Zach’s insolence. “I know you lied about your age to join the army. If you want to keep your job you need to drop the attitude before I send you home.”
Zach arched his back quickly, “Sorry Sir.”
Craig grinned, “I knew that would scare you. Let’s try and be a little more dedicated to the mission alright?”
“Give it some time, you may not like it but one of these days you’ll be faced with some difficult decisions and you better have the motivation to make them. Now get some sleep. Nothing exciting is going to happen tonight anyway.”
Craig turned and marched away through the mud and water. He was in perfect stride down the trench but his fifth step slipped out from under him. He let it happen; he needed to hug the ground as a firestorm of lead flew over his head. Zach’s ears nearly bled as he scrambled to get out of sight. A hundred rifles were being fired at once, each one trained on Zach’s trench. And if the noise wasn’t already unbearable, a hundred more rifles returned the favor.
Clutching his own gun, Zach flattened himself against the wall of his trench, wet boots slipping in the mud. His rifle was loaded and what came next required no genius. The Private leveled his sights across a barren landscape and fired, feeling the painful recoil in his shoulder. Completely focused on the firefight before him, he barely noticed someone calling his name amid the pandemonium,
“Hart!” it was Captain Wesson, wading through the chaos, “Got a job for you!”
In an instant Zach found his rifle replaced with a pair of binoculars.
Craig was quick to explain, “Our mortars are ready to go their spotter just took one to the chest.”
Zach soon discovered a lump in his throat, what on earth was Craig going to have him do?
“Remember that boulder you were on?” he asked, “I need you to get back on it and find out where the bad guys are, can you do that?”
Zach wasn’t even given a chance to respond.
“Good, now hop to it.”
It was a short walk back to the stream but Zach’s favorite perch was a freeway for stray bullets. This was crazy, how the hell could he be expected to do this? Sure he was a little un-motivated and spacey to a certain degree but did Craig hate him that much? It took a very long time before the private could act; insubordination was still an option in his mind. Well, Craig was right behind him, so he had to do something. Acting out of fear, not duty, Zach jumped on top of his favorite rock and stared down at the battle.
It was close to impossible to see much of anything, it was dark, and Zach’s trembling hands couldn’t keep the binoculars steady. Bullets hissed past his ears and face, splashing in the water.
“What do you see?!” asked Craig.
Zach’s breathing became ragged; he needed to find something. The first enemy trench was a lot like his, save for one part where an exceptionally large amount of fire was emanating, “First trench, right flank!” he shouted, “Machine gun I think!”
Craig turned around and shouted to the nearest soldier, who in turn carried the message down the line. Soon, the point he had picked out was eviscerated. Geysers of fire and mud drenched the area.
“Good job Zach!” shouted the captain, “Find us another target!”
Time to see if lightning could strike twice. The private looked at everything but now all the light was blending together. Resting his sights on a small grove away from the action, Zach spotted a glimmer. In the darkness he couldn’t see what it was, but it looked quite large. Was it important? All of a sudden a very important question shot across his mind, did his enemy have any artillery of their own?
Zach’s heart stopped, the object he was sighting was a horse drawn howitzer, and the glimmer he had seen was the binoculars of a spotter just like him. The ground shook like a six point earthquake and a loud whistling invaded his senses. Beside him, Captain Wesson was jumping up and down like a madman,
“Oh Christ! Hart, get out of there! Run!”
The binoculars in Zach’s hands slipped out of his lifeless fingers as he starred up at the starry sky. If fear ever had a face, he was sure it would look something like a gleaming metal shell hurtling to earth.
The earth exploded around him blanketing him in mud and rocks. It didn’t hurt, but then again the fear had turned him numb. He felt nothing as his face dove into the cold river water. Then it all went black and all he could hear was Craig shouting and cursing, “Medic! Hart’s down, someone get a medic!”
After that there was nothing else, not even fear.
A strange noise floated by Zach’s ears, it wasn’t much but after being unconscious for hours anything could sound beautiful. It was the creaking and groaning of a single water wheel, scooping up the river water and depositing it on the other side. Hardly noise but to the Private, it was proof he was still alive.
He was lucky, he could have easily been sucked under the water wheel and that would have been the end of it. He must have washed up onto something; his head was against solid ground. It felt cold like a stone floor. He needed to get up, he needed to figure out what the hell had happened to him, figure out if he was hurt or not.
He bumped his head sitting up. Opening his eyes, he quickly remembered the sensation of fear; he was nose to nose with a girl.
“Um…” He stuttered, trying not to breath on her too much. She looked just like an ordinary girl, save for a worn out white dress stained with mud. Her eyes were blue; her face was round like his. She had something on her head, Zach’s army helmet. It sat awkwardly over her small face, covering up one of her eyes. The long hair cascading down her shoulders was blonde, and her body was slender, so slender Zach had to worry about her health.
Time was wasting; he needed to say something, “May I ask your name ma’am?” he managed, noticing how uneasy his words made her look.
Soon he got a reaction, the girl’s lips parted, and her tongue moved. She let out the loudest scream Zach had ever heard in his life.
She ran as fast as a bullet and flattened herself against a wall, snow white legs trembling. In turn Zach panicked just as much as she did; throwing his hands up like it was surrender.
“I’m not here to hurt you, I’m a soldier and my name is Zach.”
Her screaming stopped but the look of sheer terror remained. Zach had to think long and hard about his next move. Staying perfectly still was a good option, but he needed to know where he was and how to get out. He moved forward. She moved as well, father down the wall and out of Zach’s path with watering eyes. She nearly clocked him when she threw his own helmet back at him. Well, he couldn’t have expected a warm welcome.
As everything came into focus, Zach made quick evaluations of his surroundings, careful not to let the girl out of his sight. The walls were stone, covered in pictures drawn with chalk, her only entertainment maybe? A small river ran behind him, turning the massive wheel that had nearly swallowed him.
Wooden cogs and wheels rumbled a hundred feet in the air, turning the hands of the clock tower Zach had watched every night. He was inside it; he was inside the clock tower. Suddenly, the girl before him wasn’t as much of a stranger.
“You’re that princess girl,” he mentioned out loud.
The girl flashed a demonic frown, “I have a name!”
Zach whipped the sweat off his brow; all the excitement was causing him to perspire, “You have a name?” he asked, “What is it?”
The girl worked hard to bring up that one important word, “Princess Myra.”
Zach nodded, confident that he was making progress. Before he could ask another question though, she lashed out, “Why did Prince Cain send you?”
Zach’s eyelashes fluttered, “He didn’t send me.”
Myra maintained her frown, “You don’t work for him?” she asked like a professional
Zach pulled at his shirt, “Look at my uniform, I don’t work for him.” Sighing, he tilted his head back, “You have no idea how much trouble my Company has been through trying to save you. Sit tight, I need to find my Captain.”
Zach had to stop right there, Myra was charging at him but praise to God there wasn’t anything hostile about such an advance. She tackled him, squealing in joy. Zach fell onto his butt realizing just how much that artillery shell had hurt him. He cried out in pain while Myra cried with love, “You came! You came! I thought everyone had forgotten about me!”
Fighting a blackout due to all the pressure on his tailbone, the private wrapped his arms around Myra’s back, “No one ever forgot you Myra,” he groaned.
Myra pulled her head off his shoulder, dangling her hair over his neck, “Does this mean I can see my mother again? Can I go back to school? Can I see all my friends again?”
Zach’s jaw clenched shut, “Um…Yes, but before you can do that, I need some information. What’s going on with you and the prince?”
Myra gleefully hopped out of Zach’s arms and pranced about the room, “I would have thought a soldier like you would know that.”
Zach regained his feet, “You’d be surprised how much they don’t tell me.”
Myra calmed herself down enough to explain it all to him, “He’s been after me since we were kids. I didn’t hate him but I kept trying to explain that I didn’t love him, he wouldn’t listen. He invaded my country, started this war and now I’m here.”
The young princess put her hands behind her and began to sway back and forth, “The day I was taken, my mother promised that one day she would come save me, but months passed and I began to lose faith…until you came along.”
Zach shrugged with a smile, “Well, my country wasn’t thrilled with the situation either, I think they care about you a lot.”
Myra looked like she was on the verge of jumping for joy again, but she managed to restrain the emotion to a beautiful smile, “After all these years I’ll finally get to go home.”
That was a wish Zach felt honored to fulfill. There was just one small problem; they had nowhere to go, he was cut off from Craig and the army. If he could keep Myra occupied, he might be able to think of something but that wasn’t going to happen.
“Hey Zach?” asked Myra, “I know it’s wrong to ask this with you being hurt so but, can we leave before morning? I really want to go home.”
Zach felt his blood run cold, knowing full well what was going through her mind. He had tricked her without even knowing it; she thought Zach’s presence was the vanguard for a rescue.
Myra’s cheer died on the spot as she looked at him with broken-hearted eyes, “What? What do you mean? Why can’t we leave?”
“I think you’ve gotten the wrong idea, I’m alone. The friends are still fighting Prince Cain’s army. I have no way of getting either of us out of here.”
First it was confusion that captured the young princess, then a sudden grasp of what
he meant, “I’m still trapped?”
Zach felt a little funny; she was no more than half his size but he still took take a fearful step back.
“Calm down Myra, once my country pushes your brother’s army out, and that will happen, I’ll signal them to come pick us up.”
“But you’ve been fighting my brother here for months!” cried Myra, “You won’t win! You’ll just keep fighting and fighting, I hear it every single day!”
Zach was losing control of the situation fast, “You don’t know that. I know who is in charge of the army and he’s been the best commanding officer we’ve ever had, we’re going to win.”
Myra just crackled and began playing with her hands anxiously, “Yeah, right. So in other words your coming here didn’t mean a thing. You got my hopes up for nothing.”
“Don’t do this. Be patient and we‘ll get out of this.”
Myra angled her head down, casting her face in shadow. From that position she hissed, “I’m tired of being patient. I’ll never find a way out, I’ll just stay here for years, listening to everyone else die.”
She didn’t move and the darkness over her face left no clue as to what she was thinking, “No one will ever find us. You’ll be forgotten just like me, and the killing will never stop.”
The words weren’t a play for attention; they were her honest opinions, which meant time was running out. And if things weren’t already bad enough, a small tremor shook the clock tower. A firefight had broken out outside and the noise perforated the walls.
The Private stared up and around, imagining what must have been going on outside. With all his experience in combat he never stopped to think about it. In the thick of things it was hard for him to think about what was going on around him, but alone, all Myra could do was think about it and let her mind paint terrible pictures.
The young princess whimpered when she heard the battle reach high tide, “It never stops…. Never… Zachary? I’m glad I met you,” she began with the saddest face; “You made me happy, if only for a short while, thank you.”
Zach tilted his head, what was that supposed to mean? Before he could ask, she turned on her heels and made for the rickety stairwell that spiraled up to the very top of the clock tower, scaling up and out of sight.
The young soldier had no motivation to follow her because for the first time he found himself believing what she had said. Who was he kidding? This was something better left to real soldiers; all he managed to do was make things worse.
Zach walked around aimlessly; glancing at the staircase every time he passed by it. What was Myra so upset about anyway? It was a shame; someone with such a bright future shouldn’t have their life ruined because of war. Reflecting on his own career, Zach wished their positions were reversed. Heaven knew Myra deserved freedom a lot more than he did.
It was quite a hike up the spiral stairs and the sounds of combat outside were very audible. Myra had sure picked a strange place to meditate, considering how much she hated the war. The roof was close and the night air was saturated with gunpowder. He scaled the last step and emerged onto a simple square roof surrounded by short walls with teeth carved out. It reminded him a lot of the crenels used in old medieval castles.
“Listen Myra, I’m not going say that I know what you’re going through, but if you only look at this from one angle you’re going to drive yourself mad. I know this sounds a little cliché but I want to see you happy. You have no idea how bright your future is so don’t give up now. We’re both going to get out of this, the war will end, but you have to help make it end.”
Suddenly, Myra’s voice caught his ear from behind, “You’re right Zachary.”
Zach spun around and felt sick as his gaze fell onto her eyes, empty as black holes. She was standing on top of one of the crenels, bare feet hanging over the edge.
Her face was contorted with anger, “I’ll end this war here and now!”
The wind picked up a little and at the same time, the clouds behind Myra’s billowing white gown parted to reveal the full moon. Zach closed his eyes tight, praying that when he opened them that glimmer of insanity would leave Myra’s eyes. It didn’t, and Zach was confronted with a situation that was anything but simple.
He started slow, “What are you doing?”
Myra threw her long blonde hair aside, “Killing myself. I’m not spending another minute in this hell.”
“You really think that’s the best way to end the fighting?” asked Zach, living one second at a time.
Myra was quite out of her mind, the innocent little girl Zach remembered was gone. Something else was in her place, “Prince Cain started this war because of me. Men always get what they want in the end; if I had just surrendered to him he wouldn’t have started all this!” She kicked air.
“You didn’t start anything, what’s wrong with you?!”
Zach made a feeble attempt to seize her but Myra led him around in circles, “Killing
yourself won’t fix anything, what about all the people who care about you?”
Myra cackled, “Please, don’t play with my emotions like that. You don’t care about me, you don’t even know me.”
She kicked Zach in the gut and ended their silly chase. Zach could never have prepared himself for what she would say next.
“You think the prince was the first man to pursue me? I’ve been pursued my entire life. Babysitters, tutors, classmates, even my own uncle. All chanting that they loved me. They all said I was just a beautiful vixen trapping them in my web of seduction.”
She looked over the edge of the clock tower, at the raging battle below, “In their eyes I was just a whore. I put up with it my entire life, but I can’t put up with all of this.”
She hoped onto the edge of the clock tower and balanced herself on one leg.
“You’re insane!” Zach was no longer thinking before he spoke, “I know you better than you think! You want to be happy!”
She ignored him and laughed to herself, talking to all the soldiers below even if they couldn’t hear, “Look at me! I’m the reason you’re all dying! Go on! Shoot me and end all this!”
The clock tower bell rang out loud and empty, shaking the floor beneath Zach’s boots. It also shook Myra. She couldn’t keep her balance and began to fall, her face a blank as the moon.
“No!” cried Zach.
He watched her fall. The battle below her was a dazzling sight, like deathly fireworks exploding all around her. Myra’s face was anything but scared; she actually looked as cute and innocent as when he first met her. Zach would never ever agree with her choice but there was no doubt this was exactly what the tormented princess wanted.
She was gone.
Zach fell down and struggled to process what had just happened. He didn’t understand and probably never would. Myra was a princess cursed with nothing more than a beautiful appearance, perhaps she hated herself above all else. That was something Zach certainly couldn’t understand no matter how much he wanted to.
The battle ended and Zach was again reunited with the wet, dank hospitality of the trenches. His country was victorious, or so the other soldiers told him.
When Craig found him he wasted no time, “I thought you were dead!” He noticed the empty bottle in Zach’s hand and the flushness of his face, “Private Hart? I heard you got swept into the clock tower. What happened to the princess?”
Zach’s dull senses delayed his response, “We talked for a while. And then she killed
It was a bombshell like no other. Craig sputtered, “She killed herself?! Where the hell were you?!”
“I tried to stop her.”
Craig seized Zach by the collar, “She was just a child! How could you let that happen?!”
Zach looked his Captain in the eyes, no longer afraid of him. He had no acceptable answer so he just stayed quiet. Craig gave up and let him go.
“You stupid kids,” he muttered.
Yeah, thought Zach. That was the problem. Forget about all her pain, she was just a stupid kid like he was. Zach dropped his bottle and shambled forward hoping that a long march would erase the princess from his memory.