Star of Wonder, page 29
* * * * *
So it was that the Winter Princess returned to her father’s palace, for, as the Star told her when she awakened, her final quest could only succeed if she went back to where she had started. She brought with her a supply of the nectar of the Flowers, to ensure that her mind’s healing would continue, but nothing else except herself and the knowledge she had gained. Her father and mother welcomed her anxiously, but she told them nothing except that she had gone to seek the answers to her troubling dreams, and that she was now satisfied with what she had discovered.
The Princess waited patiently through days and nights, comporting herself always as she had before her fabulous journey, though this grew harder with every hour that passed. At last, one night, as she gazed out her window, she heard a voice speak to her as the moon rose, great and silver in the sky.
“It is time, Princess,” spoke the voice of the Lady Moon. “Are you ready?”
“As ready as I will ever be,” said the Princess, and a broad stream of silver light shone full upon the sill of her bedroom window. Drawing a deep breath, she stepped out onto the path of light and began to walk.
The moonbeam grew steeper and ever steeper, until she was climbing with hands and feet, as though on a mountainside. Whispers beset her from all sides, but when she turned to look, no one was there.
Some of the voices were friendly, that of the Lord Sun, the Lady Darkness, the Peaceful One and her brother the Shadow. “Do not give up now,” they murmured to her. “Keep climbing. The one you seek, the life you wish, both are very near.”
But others were scornful and hateful, the voices of her mother, her father, her own doubts and fears. “What makes you think you deserve a happy ending?” they demanded. “What makes you think you can accomplish this task? You are nothing, less than nothing, and by your own choice, for you make yourself less when you surrender your life to another’s keeping…”
“That would only be true,” said the Princess sternly, “if there were no love. For love turns surrender from slavery to freedom.” And she set her face and climbed onwards and upwards, following the shining Star which beckoned the way, accompanied on either side by the Plover and the Blackbird who had brought the news of the place where her beloved lay imprisoned. She could see it now ahead of her, the Land of Flowers indeed, a great field of blossoms in the middle of the starry night, but all the flowers lay blighted and withered by an icy frost which had fallen upon them.
“Oh, the poor things!” cried the Princess. “I wish I could heal them.”
“You can,” chirped the Plover, fluttering nearer with strong beats of her wings. “You and only you. We cannot enter the Land of Flowers without your help.”
“But what must I do?” The Princess laid her hand upon the edge of the flowered plain, then snatched it back with a little gasp. “I cannot touch it. It is too cold.”
“This ice was laid down by your father, as a final barrier between you and your beloved,” said the Blackbird where he flew on the Princess’s other side. “But what your hands cannot do, perhaps your voice can. What words would you use to proclaim your right to enter here, where love is waiting for you?”
Softly, the Princess began to sing the hymn to which she had walked down the aisle to meet her beloved at the altar on her wedding day, a hymn which rejoiced over the loveliness of the universe and cried out in joy to the God who had made such wonders. The Plover and the Blackbird provided harmony from either side, the Star added a descant line from overhead, and as they sang, the frost began to melt away and the flowers to spring upright. Dimly, in the far distance, the Princess could see a great block of ice like a monument or a tomb, shivering the snow from its sides and preparing to crack—
With a start, the Princess opened her eyes. She lay in her own bed, in her own room at the Winter Palace, with a single star shining dimly through her window. Tears filled her eyes, and she covered her face to weep. “It was a dream,” she whispered bitterly, “only a dream…”
“Do not yet despair, Princess of Winter,” called the sweet voice of the Star from above. “Instead trust your friends one last time. Do your parents commonly hold festivities for the Christmas season which has now come upon us?”
“They do, of course they do, but why would you ask me such a thing?” Angrily the Princess dashed away her tears. “What heart can I have for festivals and balls when my love has been taken from me, and my final journey to reach his side was no more than a dream?”
“Trust your friends,” repeated the Star. “Remember how you have been helped until now. And look for us again when you least expect us, for there we shall surely be.”
With that, for a time, the Princess had to be content, though now and again she indulged herself in a few words of grumbling about those with magical powers who thought they were so everlastingly wise. As she had told the Star, there were festivals aplenty at this season to occupy her, and none more eagerly awaited or largely attended than the masquerade ball held every year on the Eve of Christmas Day. All who lived in the Kingdom of Winter were invited, for on this one day out of the year no distinctions were made. So long as they wore a mask, anyone and everyone would be admitted to the Winter Palace for the ball.
Although the Queen urged all sorts of elaborate garb upon her daughter, the Princess found she had little heart for fanciful dress this year, and so she modeled her gown for the ball after that which she had seen the Lady Darkness wear, though she chose a cloth of deep gray to suit her own coloring. With it she paired a mask as dark as her hair, which she wore loose and flowing down her back, and a small tiara of shining stones, and with that her mother had to be content.
Once, during her fittings, the Princess thought she saw an odd shadow fall across the shoulders of her gray gown, and a distant laugh seemed to chime in her ears. But no other sign came from those she had met on her travels, and the day of the masquerade dawned clear and bright, with never a cloud to cover the sky as it moved on towards nightfall…