When he was twelve, he broke the crown.
If it had been an heirloom vase, the Queen might have forgiven him. An ornate dinner plate, perhaps, or even one of the stained glass windows in the stunning cathedral. All could be replaced, and in their large kingdom--founded on the art of glass blowing--there was plenty of glass to spare. Craftsmen would have lined up from the lower town to the palace just for the honor of replacing any item the young prince destroyed.
But the crown... It was a gorgeous piece, lending true awe and crafted over a span of twenty years by some of the kingdom’s most skilled fingers. A royal symbol of power, it had been blown and shaped from delicate glass into tall, twisted spires. The crown’s eight points had long been held as the finest craftmenship the world had ever seen. People traveled far and wide to behold it.
In the sprawling hills of Stolvay, the crown stood at the very heart of the kingdom’s identity. A sewn image of it flew on every banner of every tower. Tapestries proudly depicted its laborious creation. Every knight proudly bore its likeness on his chest. As he grew, Prince Florian watched his father wear it, but only during important addresses. When the crown wasn’t on the king’s head, it sat safely inside a beautiful glass case within the throne room--set between the King and Queen’s complementary glass thrones. When it did sit on the king’s head, five specially-trained attendants trailed him at all times, ensuring it did not fall off and shatter.
In his prime, King Dorian was a beloved ruler. An artist himself, he understood the people and the guild market his land flourished by. Early on in life, he studied with the very best guildsmen, and by the time he was crowned king, one of the windows in the largest cathedral displayed his own glass craftsmenship. When he married Princess Evana of Tolvia, he made sure she learned the basics of glass making; that way, she could understand the culture she was soon to help dictate.
Evana took to the task with more love and skill than Dorian could have ever dared hope for. She was a natural artist, and before long, the cathedral sported her work as well. Queen Evana became as beloved as the king, and when she bore a child, the kingdom rejoiced for weeks after the prince’s birth.
Prince Florian didn’t remember much about his mother, but he believed if she had lived, she would have forgiven him. Maybe his father would have, too, but not Queen Odile, his father’s second wife.
Odile was not a nasty woman. She didn’t love Dorian, but she did her civic duty. She learned the craft of glass making to the level Dorian asked of her, and she accepted the role of replacing Evana not only as a queen, but as a mother. It was a lot of pressure for a twenty-five year old, but she did her best, and the kingdom recognized her for it.
However, the new queen was not born to lead. When Dorian died, Odile was thrust into a fourth role she didn’t ask for--the role of a sole monarch. The responsibility was simply too much. She could not be a queen, a sole ruler, an artist, and a mother all at once. Poor Florian fell to the wayside, and to her dismay, he also became more and more problematic.
She was told everything. Florian’s instructors reported to her daily. They described to her how Florian was a disaster at glass making and how he broke nearly everything he touched. They told her how he couldn’t seem to stay focused on anything, and how he got distracted every time something glinted in the sun. “But most everything is made of glass in Stolvay,” Odile argued, frowning. “Surely many things catch the sun, and often.”
“Yes,” agreed Florian’s instructor, sighing. Exhaustion ghosted every line that creased his face. “His Highness turns his head so very much. One day soon he may become an owl.”
The instructor shook his head in defeat, and Odile’s frown deepened.
That deep frown became her constant expression in the years to come. True to the queen’s wishes, Florian’s instructors never spread the news of the prince’s lack of skill. If the people of Stolvay learned of his incompetence in the craft, they might not accept him as their king when he came of age, and that simply wouldn’t do. Odile wanted nothing more than to hand the crown off to him. She simply needed to hold on until he turned thirteen. Hopefully by then Florian would be skilled enough to rule in the style of his father--an artist who governed artists.
Odile did pray about it. She did try her best. She provided Florian with the very greatest instructors, both in glass artistry and in focus training, but no one could stop the prince’s brain from wandering, nor his hands from shattering instead of creating.
She supposed she should have seen the day coming. At twelve years old, Florian was so close to coming of age, but when a battle is almost won, monarchs often grow cocky and self-assured. Odile had survived five years without disaster. She could handle one more.
Intrepid little Prince Florian, though--despite his lack of attention and skill--did want to be like his father and mother. He did want to be good at glass making. He did dream of making something as beautiful as the Stolvay crown. I can do it, he thought to himself with his little twelve-year-old mind, filled with the type of bold determination almost-teenagers have. I just need to look at the crown. I just need to see how they did it.
In the end, Odile should have seen it coming. She should have been ready, but Florian and his fate was simply a final topper on her failures. He may not have been her flesh and blood, but they were so very alike--Florian broke everything he touched and Odile couldn’t mend the holes she was given.
The destruction of the Stolvay crown was not something she could ignore. A call needed to be made. The current queen did not hold the love of the people--not as Dorian or Evana had. Florian was not fit to take the throne, and now there was no crown to even crown him with.
She wrote up the decree herself. She hoped the sadness in her voice reached him as she banished him. There was nothing else to be done. If he could come back bearing a replacement of the Stolvay crown--a piece just as exquisitely done as the one he’d destroyed, and one done by his own hand--then he could take his rightful place as king. If not, Odile would retain her hold on the kingdom and planned to remarry, starting her own royal line.
Again, Queen Odile was not a nasty woman. She was just a tired girl who really tried her best. She never wanted to be queen.
Prince Florian was also not a spoiled brat. He was just a distracted little boy who wanted to be like his father. At thirteen, he did not take his banishment as a sentence. He accepted his fate head on. He set out to make a new crown, and people still say that as he left--so very determined to succeed--he looked just like his father.
To this day, ten years later, the craftsmen and women of Stolvay still look out to the crest of the hill the prince disappeared over, waiting to see if he’ll return one morning with a crown of breathtaking beauty glittering in his hands.
Queen Odile does, too. Maybe then, she prays, she could die peacefully, having mended at least one hole.