Star of Wonder, page 23
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The Princess’s mug shattered on the stone flags below her as she leapt to her feet and fled the hall with all her speed. Her mind churned in turmoil, and she knew not where she had run, until she looked up through tear-filled eyes to see tall bushes and trees all about her, bright colors and whimsical shapes, and she knew herself to be in the gardens of the Palace of the Morning.
Under one of the trees the Princess cast herself down and let her tears have full rein, tears half of triumph, half of despair. Her dreams stood proved, by the words of the Blackbird and the Plover, no misty moonbeam fantasies but solid sunlit truth. Still, she had worn through not only her shoes but her strength to reach the two Palaces of Night and Morning. A third journey, this one to the stars themselves, seemed as far beyond her reach as drawing truth out of those same dreams.
At length a shadow fell across her, and she started up in confusion. “Peace!” said the woman who stood beside her, holding up her hands to show them empty. “I mean you no harm.”
“Who are you?” the Princess faltered, rising to her feet to stare in awe. And indeed the woman who had entered the garden was worth staring at. Her face was as beautiful as the statue of a goddess cast in bronze, though few goddesses ever smiled so kindly, and a long fall of silken hair of the darkest brown imaginable tumbled across the broad shoulders bared by her elegant gown of midnight blue.
“I am the Lady Darkness,” the woman made answer, “the wife of the Lord Sun. And you are the Winter Princess, who has come to seek our help with your troubling dreams.”
The Princess frowned a little at this, hearing in the back of her mind her mother’s angry words. “I have come to seek knowledge, not help,” she corrected, though inwardly she quaked at her daring. “A Princess must fight her own battles and walk her own paths, or she is no proper Princess at all.”
“And does that mean she can never have help in fighting those battles or walking those paths?” The Darkness laughed softly at the reluctant nod the Princess gave. “Ah, my dear, I know what you are thinking, I have been where you are, for I too was a Princess in my time, the Princess of the Sky, as now are my twin daughters. But tell me this. Is it sensible, is it reasonable, is it wise to be angry because you must sustain yourself with food and drink, or because you must lie down every night to sleep, or because you must clothe yourself warmly against the cold?”
“No!” The Princess laughed in her turn. “That would be silly! A body cannot help what it needs to live.”
“And yet, for all these things, you need the help of others, or they could never be.” The Lady Darkness smiled again, most gently, and reached out to take the Princess’s hands in hers. “You need the help of those who coax your food from the earth and the skies and the seas, and who prepare the food for your plate and the drink for your cup every day. You need the help of those who built the house and the bed on which you sleep, and who guard you safe from harm while you wander in your dreams. And you need the help of those who spun the thread and wove the cloth and cut and sewed the clothing which you wear. We all need help from one another, every day, every hour, so is it not just a little foolish to say that a Princess must never need help?”
“But my mother—” The Princess went very still, then closed her mouth tightly, as newly acquired knowledge fitted together in her mind all too well with the memory of her mother’s sharp scolding.
“Your mother had, perhaps, her own reason for not wishing you to seek help with this trouble,” the Lady Darkness finished quietly. “Yes?”
“Yes.” The Princess swallowed against the mingled anger and fear which burned bitterly at the back of her mouth, then looked up into the face of the Lady Darkness. “Please, my lady,” she said, forming each word with care. “Will you help me? My life and my love have been taken from me, and I have neither the strength nor the knowledge to regain them on my own…”