An edited and re-worked version of the original 'Rambling Man and the Princess,' a collaborative effort between myself and FogCat.
Once, not so very long ago, there was one known as the Rambling Man, for he made his living by traveling the roads, stopping at each city or village along his way to perform for coin. He brought with him only a lute, stringing out melodies gratefully within any tavern or shop he might encounter. He stayed for several days, pleasing the crowds and filling his pockets with their handouts. He would procure a room, sometimes for coin, sometimes in exchange for entertaining the bartender's patrons, and he would enjoy the finest fare the town could offer.
The Rambling Man had earned himself quite a reputation, so much so that upon his first day of arrival, he would already have gathered himself quite an audience. And as famous he was as a performer, he was equally famous to be friendly with the ladies, always smiling particularly brightly and passing a 'secretive' wink to the maidens in the front row every time he played. And with his tall stature, pale complexion, and stark, raven's hair flowing long behind, it seemed no fair maiden was beyond the spell of his lyrics, charm, and composure upon the stage.
Which had never, before his visit to this one particular town, caused him grief before. For the Rambling Man was a good and honest soul, and never would he let himself by compromised by the wiles of a woman.
But in this one particular bar, on one particular night, there was one woman in particular: come to hear the famous songs and stories of the Rambling Man. She sat in the back, concealed by shadow, covered in poor woman's rags and filth. She had been seated in that very same spot the last few nights, speaking with no one, and not being spoken to. She sat alone, simply listening and watching the beguiling antics of the Rambling Man.
She was no ordinary beggar or even citizen, though: she was in fact the princess of the entire city, snuck out of the castle in disguise. She had happened upon the Rambling Man by chance, and was instantly captivated by his charm. The princess had taken a liking to sneaking amongst the common people as of late, to free herself of the burdens and responsibilities of a maiden within the royal court. She wanted to be as the commoners here, free and able to do and say what they please without repercussion. Within the castle, her every movement was watched, her every action monitored by a thousand eyes of the city; each of them just waiting, it seemed, for her to blunder and make a disgrace out of the kingdom. That kind of unrelenting, ruthless burden was maddening, and she, only at night, sought solace amongst the very persons who during the day monitored her so unblinkingly.
After many days of watching the Rambling Man, she approached him after one of his performances. Addressing herself under a false name, the two spoke, holding palaver in a secluded corner of the tavern. Meeting and speaking with him in person, the princess became even more enthralled--her heart bursting with newfound emotion. Never before had any man made her feel this way. Love, for surely that was how she felt, did not exist in the court; only rituals and customs to be followed precisely.
And the Rambling Man was polite, and became friends with the beggar-woman, not sending her away just because of her less-than-savory appearance. He enjoyed her company and her mind, and they talked earnestly of many things long into the night.
And it was after only a few more of these secret meetings that, after the Rambling Man's public performance, he allowed himself to be led away into the night by the beggar-woman, led to a place of absolute privacy amongst the unspeaking horses of the stables.
And once there, her heart bursting and her emotions raw, the beggar-woman revealed her true identity to the Rambling Man, asking if he would marry her.
Now for the Rambling Man, this was indeed all quite sudden. He had enjoyed the company of the beggar-woman in disguise, it was true, but he did not once return her level of emotion or dedication. And to hear of her identity as princess was quite staggering, and he was overwhelmed by the ideas of wealth and fortune and fame. He would live in the castle, he knew: his every whim attended, with enough gold and jewels to claim his every desire.
But the Rambling Man was a man of the road, and had no such dreams in his heart. His only desire was to remain traveling the roads, doing what he loved in the accompaniment of a large audience, and living free and unburdened by the worries of the world. He understood the princess' obligation to behave and speak a certain way in court, and he did not wish to share that burden.
Additionally, the Rambling Man also had a fine, young sweetheart awaiting his return back at his hometown. He simply could not settle for another woman, nor could he ever find a greater offer than hers, even with this promise of riches and royalty.
And so, the Rambling Man, as politely as he could, denied the princess's very generous offer. The princess, not expecting this reaction in the least, was distraught: her heart muscles rendered into a thousand pieces. Her will was destroyed utterly; her emotions, so generously extended, neatly severed away. She was diminished, and turned to leave.
The Rambling Man, feeling bad for the princess, offered her a song to cheer her up, but to no avail. She wanted only his hand, and she desired him all to herself, without sharing or being handed charity.
But The Rambling Man, discontent to merely sit by and watch without helping, vowed to fix the problem he had caused by denying her. He made the princess swear to meet the other men of the village, for there was a swelling line of suitors waiting gladly to take her hand in marriage. The princess, as one last favor to the man she loved but could not have, agreed, and over the course of the next few days allowed herself to dine with the most gracious and kindly men in all the city: all of which were, unfortunately, not the Rambling Man, who haunted her thoughts throughout.
In a terrible depression, acting on the last words of the Rambling Man, she allowed herself to be claimed by one of the suitors, picked quite at random. And by this day, the Rambling Man himself had already moved on. But he had not moved on far enough or quickly enough to not hear the foul news to come thereafter.
Before the princess and her new suitor were to be wed, the man, arrogant and lustful, shattered the innocence of the princess one dreadful night. The princess was left horrified, made fearful of the public and men in general, and she locked herself away in her room for days and days, seemingly without end. She refused to speak a word of what happened to anyone, and even the king and queen remained ignorant of her grave plight, for she would not even tell them.
She did, however, in a secret letter, share her pain with the Rambling Man.
When the Rambling Man received the news of her peril, he was grief-stricken, his heart made heavy knowing that his presence had inspired all of this foul business, and that it had been his idea for her to find another suitor in the first place.
The Rambling Man did not hear from the princess after that, as she never wrote to him again. He was uncertain of her fate, as separated and left in the dark as he was. And, thus, he did the only thing a Rambling Man could have done in that instance.
The Rambling Man rambled back to his homestead, and stayed with his sweetheart a long while before rambling the roads once again.