The bus was slow that day, making the young prince drowsy. She was ensconced in the back, of course, with the sun filtered between manic children and hazed veils of shadows to dance upon her eyelashes. Perhaps that was why the prince first saw the girl. She was dancing with the sunlight, twirling gaily in its tresses amidst the pedestrians on the sidewalk. Her white dress sparkled, and her laughter sang.
That day the prince only watched and held her breath, her wistful gaze caught by the wonder outside her window. When the bus moved away she felt as though her heart was left behind, waiting at that last stop.
The night’s dreams were haunted with laughter and the colour of light on snow.
The next day the prince could barely concentrate. She distractedly shuffled through the day, and at the end hurried in anticipation onto the bus. But by then the sky was dark and clouded, and the sidewalk out the window was empty.
That night, the dreams were lonely, and the cavity where the prince’s heart had been shuddered in silence.
The next day, and the next, and every day there after, took on a pattern. The prince would dream of her, or dream of the lingering emptiness without her, and she would hurry towards the bus and the brief glimpse she received of the sidewalk. But always the view was empty, and the little prince never retrieved the heart she had left beating on the pavement of the last stop.
Eventually, the young prince gave up. She refused to look at the happy sunlight or to let the rays dance on her eyelashes. She turned away, refusing to even sit by the windows. She scorned the bloody heart left behind.
But, the sunlight would not give up. It continued to dance where it could, flitting between cloud shadows, and tipping coy smiles at the little prince between the leaves of trees. One afternoon, as the bus lumbered past that hated yet longed for stop, the sunlight glinted and leaped from the shimmering petticoats of a much loved white dress.
The prince could not resist- she looked. And at once, she arose, and craned her neck- there she was, a figure lingering sadly outside the window. She was not dancing, no, but there was no mistaking the girl. The prince rushed to the bus doors and, without pause, left it behind.
On the opposite walkway waited the girl. Her snowy dress was dancing on with the sunlight, but her own dance her ceased. She stared solemnly at the young prince, who in her turn was all draped in sorrow black. The prince shyly smiled and, stooping, scooped up her heart. She crossed the street and offered the wet, red thing to the girl.
Amazed, the girl looked at her, blinking heavy eyes up into the prince’s. Where before she had always danced alone, now here the sunlight had brought a partner to dance with her. Yet still, she hesitated.
“It is forbidden,” she whispered, casting her eyes to her bare feet. But the prince could not be swayed.
“It shall be a secret.” The prince was a stubborn soul, and as far as she was concerned her heart was already the property of the girl, whether she would accept it or not.
But, the reward for her patience came- the little girl glanced shyly up, her smile brighter than the day. She accepted the heart gladly, and promised all the long minutes of afternoon light to the prince. But in return, as soon as the sun was gone, the prince must promise to let her go. Recklessly, the prince promised her the world, and it was so.
Entwined, they swayed in the honey light of dusk, the girl wrapped warmly in the young prince’s arms and heavy wool coat, and the happy glint of the sun.
That day, and every day there after, whenever the sun could find its way between the gray clouds, the white garbed girl would stand and wait. Poised on her tip toes, mouth a bright red moue of anticipation, she waited for the bus to come. She waited there for her prince, whose heart she wore on a tendril of golden sunlight around her neck. And, as the last of the sun would fall behind the trees and mountains that ringed the world, the prince would arrive and together, for the last of the light, they would dance.
Then, as night came down as like veil upon their little world, the girl would turn away as quickly as she could and bound away for home. The prince, drunk on the heady perfume of their romance, would smile as the little white treasure faded into the dim twilight, and begin her solitary walk home.
One afternoon, however, the prince felt the veil of their love less. The sun was half hidden in the clouds, and the light was by turns gray and solemn, then golden and joyous- but not enough to seduce the prince into their dance. Instead, she said, might they visit the little girl’s home? The prince had dreams of the girl at night, with the moon radiant on the little girl’s face and silvering her into a likeness of itself.
The little girl raised her eyelids and her face from the prince’s shoulder, hesitant and shy. The sun had brought her so many gifts- and there was the promise, that the prince would give up the dark to enjoy her company unencumbered in the day. But, the prince was stubborn. It was still the day, she reminded the girl, and there was no rule against seeing each other’s homes. Worn down and smiling at the silly antics of her love, the girl agreed. The two ran and danced and sang all the way to the little girl’s home.
They came upon a spire, very tall and very white- as white as the girl’s beautiful dress. The prince was delighted, and felt the blossom of laughter come to life on her lips- however, the girl had become suddenly wary in the shadow of the tower. Placing a finger on the lips of the prince, she warned her- the girl lived with a very old, very dark witch, so they must must must be very quiet.
So taken with the blinding white of the girl’s home, the prince murmured her agreement without thought. Reaching for the girl’s hand, she tugged the girl up the stairs and through the doors. Inside, the hall glowed a pure, warm white. “Come with me,” whispered the girl. Taking the lead, she dragged the prince up and up and up a winding staircase, spiraling like a unicorn’s horn into the air. They quietly laughed as they ran, around and around, into the tower reaches. “This is my favourite place,” the girl confided as they ran.
The prince and the girl at last came upon a wonderful landing, ringed with a lace balcony. The view beyond showed a shining white vista, every surface rippling and dancing with a cascade of pure light. The young prince, captivated, dropped the girl’s hand and walked out onto the landing. Standing, absorbed in the scene, she felt as though the whole world had become beautiful- as beautiful as the little girl. She failed to hear, to feel anything but the sun’s warmth, to be anything but eyes absorbed with the worlds of myth. The sun danced for her, flirting and showing off, for every last minute it could- but, time does not stop for beauty. With a sudden finality, the last rays of sun disappeared.
At once, the dazzle of the view ceased to enthrall the little prince. Turning, she looked for the little girl. But, the stairs were dark now, and the landing empty. Calling, the prince moved away from the rails. As she approached the yawning maw of the black stairs, a figure moved forward. Bent and pale, her hair like oiled cobwebs across her face and neck and shoulders, the witch came forth.
“Where is she,” the prince demanded, heedless of the air of danger that clung like slime to the roof of her mouth. There was a strange deadness to the air- even the wind had abandoned that balcony.
Swinging one thin and bony hand forward, the witch threw a shape at the prince’s feet. The loose body of a hare, her pure snow coat mottled with the terrible red of blood, her neck rung and boneless, landed before the prince.
“She has broken my trust,” rasped the witch, “and the spell that gave her form has been broken as well. Nighttime is no time for little girls, only frightened rabbits- and frightened rabbits must not forget bargains made with wolves. I have punished her, as I will punish you.”
“No,” the prince, lips numb, denied the witch. She tried to step forward, tried to attack- but a soul-wrenching pain went through her body, a sensation that the world had shifted. Stumbling, the young prince felt as though something was propelling her back- but, with the fury born of a broken heart, she pulled free of whatever spell she supposed the witch had on her. She stumbled, launched herself over the body of the hare, and through the fading wraith of the witch. She would find the girl. Stubborn, she ignored the pain radiating from her heart, and fled back down the stairs. Down and down, she ran. There was no where else the girl could have gone- no rooms up there apart from the landing, and the little girl certainly was not there- only a floppy dead thing and the memory of a bitter old woman. Down she ran, calling for the girl. She was blinded by tears and by fear, but still she ran, until a stray step brought her forward in a painful tangle to the base of the stairs. Landing in a heap, she sobbed and cursed and hated the world. Here, the tower was plunged into the black of despair and the prince knew no more of hope.
So it was here that hope found her- a distant voice called past her grief and awoke the prince’s senses. “I am here, my prince,” said the voice, “do not go out the doors. You do not wish to see what lies there. I am here, dancing with the sun- look up!” Through her tears, the prince looked up into the cavity of the stairwell. The stairs themselves had begun to blur away, but there bright and clear as day was a rope swinging. Bound and woven in the gold of sunlight, it waited within easy reach of the prince, and it led to the girl. Instinctively, the prince reached for the rope and began to climb.
Again, she rose up. Past the stairs and the melting world of the witch, past the memory of the hare and those white, dead hands that had throttled it, into the sky she climbed. Above her, the face of the girl looked down towards her, smiling even as the jewels of her tears glimmered in the air, showering the prince and falling in silver sparkles below. The prince had eyes only for the girl, the girl with the heart, still full and red and made of hope, draped around her neck.
“I am here, my prince,” she whispered as the rope at last brought them together, their lips pressed in a kiss.
Atop the tower they met, they embraced, they danced.
Never did the prince look away from the girl again. Swaying, her eyes filled with the girl she adored, she thanked the sun. She never did she see her broken body, in the shadows at the tower’s base.
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By Danielle K. Day