The Light Princess’, Ephiny Gale

Illustrations © 2013 Ivan de Monbrison

 [ Light princess, © 2013 Ivan de Monbrison ] The queen died shortly after childbirth, of internal burns. The baby princess lay crying in the corner. They knew this because of the wails; the baby was so bright that they could barely see her limbs, let alone her features. By some curious genetic match, or perhaps mutation, instead of the slight glow of her countrymen, the princess radiated light. The king could not hold her for more than three seconds without burning, and besides, looking at her hurt like staring into the sun.

As the princess grew up, the king scoured the land for potential suitors. On her sixteenth birthday he brought her the Ice Prince. His icy body reflected her light and, although she was better adjusted to her own radiance than others, this almost blinded her. She clamped her eyes closed over the starbursts in her eyelids and held his hand through his thick glove. Seven seconds later he had to pull away; his palm was melting into the glove’s fingers.

On her seventeenth birthday the king brought her the Water Prince. He left slightly wet footprints on the tiles of her room. He was naked aside from a pair of damp shorts, and tiny water droplets constantly beaded on top of his skin. He took her in his arms and neither melted nor burnt. She was light as air as she savoured the feeling of his skin, his muscles under her palms, his lips on her neck.

Twelve seconds later he pushed her away.

He said she was boiling him on the inside.

The king declared that there were no other suitable men in the world. Even he, himself could not marry her. She would never bear children. He locked her in a tower at the edge of the ocean, believing the only thing she was useful for was becoming a lighthouse.

During the night, she slept, a ball of light illuminating the rocks below. During the day she cooked with the heat of her hands and the supplies in the basement, and she examined the faded world map on the wall. A corner in the south-east had been torn off. It seemed deliberate, like a jilted lover tearing a face from a painting.

Sometimes she stood at the gigantic tower window and wished she could jump. She thought she could probably reach the waves, but she’d never learnt to swim; the glare in the water had always been too bright.

During the day, she dug a hole in the bottom of the tower, shovelling dirt with a silver spoon.

At dawn on her eighteenth birthday, the Light Princess escaped and rushed south-east. She took only the spoon, a knife, and as much food as she could carry. At sunset, she hid in caves or buried herself in the ground, with just enough space for her eyes, nose and mouth. And before too long, blissfully, she crossed the border into the next kingdom.

Many things in the Metal Kingdom hurt her eyes, including the Metal Prince. She could only sit on the prince’s lap for twelve seconds before heating him so much that he burnt her flesh, and ended up falling backwards and almost cracked her head open. The burns took three weeks to heal. She wondered why everything she didn’t burn on first contact turned painful.

After that she came to either the Earth Kingdom or the Steam Kingdom. If it was the Earth Kingdom, its ochre-coloured prince glared from under his dusty eyelashes and forbade her from coming any closer. He believed his arteries were stems, his veins were shoots and his capillaries were roots. One touch and his entire circulation system would ignite.

If it was the Steam Kingdom, she laid her hands on its prince’s shoulders while his scalp steamed gently. In seven seconds wisps of steam began to seep from the rest of him. They rose to scald her on the face and arms and hands. She cried and her tears went up in steam, too.

If it was the Earth kingdom, she cut through the curtain of vines across its border with her knife. If it was the Steam Kingdom, she reflected her own light with her silver spoon, and thus shone a pathway through the thick, suffocating clouds of steam to the other side.

Regardless, she reached the south-east corner of the map.

The palace was made of smooth, black stone that didn’t shine. Inside, in the opposite way to which those in the Light Kingdom projected it, the king and queen seemed to suck the colour and light out of the air. It was a peaceful kind of darkness, and the king and queen apologised that they had never had a son, and there was no Dark Prince for her to procreate with.

She slept in a deep, deep basement in the palace and slept for a long, long time.

When she woke there was a void in the room. It was a person-shaped void, and the Light Princess believed the king and queen must have lied. She leapt towards it and flesh materialised out of the darkness in her hands.

 [ Dark princess, © 2013 Ivan de Monbrison ] That flesh was cold and strong and pitch, pitch black. In the presence of the void, her heat and her light had retreated to a soft glow, and the Light Princess no longer had to squint to see around her. For the first time, she could just make out the shape of her nose where it sat on her face. She could see her hands for the first time, where they clutched at the void’s back. She could see the void’s long black hair and short black dress.

“You’re so warm,” said the Dark Princess, and even the whites of her eyes were black.

The Light Princess counted to three. Seven. Twelve.

Neither let go.

© 2013 Ephiny Gale

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