Friday, August 11, 2006

O Sister, Where Art Thou?

Once upon a time, there were two little girls. Not princesses—this isn’t a fairy tale—just ordinary little girls. But then again, fairy tales always have happy endings, don’t they?

So. Princesses then.

The princesses lived in a bleak, unhappy kingdom. The Queen was a raging sun that threatened to consume everyone and everything around her. The King was a cold, rocky planet whose orbit was too distant to reach. Any love the royal couple may once have felt for one another was long gone. Their hatred was a dark miasma hanging over the kingdom, obscuring any hope of happiness.

The Littlest Princess was heartbreakingly beautiful, as littlest princesses almost always are. Her eyes were the deep blue of pansies, her hair like spun gold. She was graceful and lithe, with a smile that shone like a beacon in the dark.

The Eldest Princess was not nearly as lovely. She was clever, but she was also sharp tongued and jealous of her sister’s beauty. Although she loved the Littlest Princess above all else, her envy manifested itself in a thousand small unkindnesses. Still, she vowed to protect her sister and keep her safe.

The princesses were torn between mother and father, fire and ice. They huddled together as the Queen raged and seethed and the King became colder and more distant. As best she could, the Eldest Princess kept her vow and took care of The Littlest Princess while their parents’ mutual hatred rocked the Bleak Kingdom’s very foundations.

Eventually, The kingdom cracked under the strain, and the Queen and King went their separate ways. At first the princesses were relieved. But without the royal couple’s anger to anchor them, the princesses began to drift.

Then the Eldest Princess met a handsome prince. Perhaps the Prince saw something in her that no one had seen before, or perhaps his love made her truly beautiful. In any case, they soon wed and made their own kingdom, which was not bleak or unhappy in the least.

The Littlest Princess had many suitors, but most treated her cruelly. Finally, she met her own prince, who whisked her far away, across the ocean. Both princesses were busy with their lives, so the Eldest Princess didn’t worry much when she heard from her sister less and less often.

The years passed, and the Eldest Princess had two children of her own: a princeling and a baby princess, both with clear blue eyes and spun-gold hair. As she watched the love between them grow, she realized how much she missed her own sister. But when she finally reached out, she discovered that the Littlest Princess and her prince had disappeared.

Then one day, the Littlest Princess sent her sister a message. Princesses don’t have e-mail, of course; she wrote it on a lock of her own hair, which she tied around the leg of a white seagull. The seagull flew day and night until it reached The Eldest Princess, who read:

I love you so much I think my heart might explode. Every day all the time. Even if you have no way of knowing it, I hope you somehow do.

A cold splinter of fear pierced the Eldest Princess’s heart. She tried to imagine what dire fate had befallen the Littlest Princess. Was she the victim of some dark enchantment? Had her prince turned out to be an evil ogre who kept her locked away?

The Eldest Princess decided to mount a Quest to save her sister. But as she polished her armor and her sword, a terrible thought occurred to her: perhaps the Littlest Princess had chosen her exile. Perhaps she wished nothing more than to flee from the horrors of The Bleak Kingdom—one of those horrors being the Eldest Sister herself.

Of course, this isn’t really a fairy tale, and there is no happy ending. Not yet, anyway. The Eldest Princess remains frozen in indecision. Should she mount her Quest? Or is that exactly what the Littlest Princess fears most?

So instead, the Eldest Princess dips her quill into her inkwell and lets her words unfurl into the aether. She hopes that somehow, somewhere, the Littlest Princess is safe and happy. She hopes that her sister knows how much she loves her. She hopes that one day they will be reunited. Until then, she watches her own children play, and her heart contracts with loneliness and love.

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