- January 14, 2021
The Ice Princess
The King paces back and forth through the halls. This isn’t his palace, this isn’t the one he grew up in, this isn’t the red carpet he trusts, it isn’t his home… yet it is where the Queen screams, for the princess is not here yet.
He can hear her screams of pain as he paces on the floor below. The midwife told him his pacing was making her erratic, so he had to leave and wait somewhere else. He thought that was insane, he still thinks it’s insane, but at the same time he’s glad.
He doesn’t want to be in that room.
Not many husbands want to be in the room when their wives are giving birth, not really. Not many wives want to be there themselves. Only a masochist would want to give birth, if given the chance they’d all magically have the baby appear in their arms, no hard work done, no pain, but that is not how it works.
The stained glass window lets him look outside at the Queen’s country. It’s cold, it snows every winter, and it snows hard. The summers aren’t very warm and the people aren’t very warm either. He doesn’t like it here, but that was not his choice.
The King is the third son of a king, this was the best he could do, be married off to a princess, and become the King of a small but wealthy country. He thought being the king of this small country would beat being the King’s brother in another. Now that he’s experienced the weather he disagrees.
The King suddenly stops his pacing. At first he doesn’t know why, it takes a minute for him to realize, longer than he cares to admit.
The Queen has stopped screaming.
It’s over, there’s a little prince or princess in the world. He always wanted a princess of his own, but he doesn’t have one yet.
The King walks slowly to the Queen’s chambers. Very slowly. With each step his feet only grow heavier until they don’t move at all. He’s not even past the stained glass.
I wish I were the glass, to be in and out, he thinks. He has to be on one side or the other, there’s no impartiality in what he must face. He must be a hero or a villain, but he’s not sure which would be which.
The chambermaid, the Queen’s confidante it seems, the one she’d rather have in the room with her to hold her hand than the King, hurries down the hallway as the King stares into space. Oh, the horror in his mind.
“The Queen has given birth, your Grace,” the chambermaid tells him, but he knew that. He’s not stupid, just unsure, an issue that’s not his fault has been forced upon him. When the chambermaid says, “You have a daughter,” the King snaps to attention, he readjusts his cufflinks on his regal coat. He stretches the vest as he finds that he no longer likes his skin.
He can’t help but wonder, Why would she say that? How can she think that? Then he realizes that she said daughter, there’s a princess. He wanted a princess, he was once a prince himself, he knows how terrible they are. For a princess, he can only imagine how terrible it will be.
So many thoughts, and it’s all covered in horror and terror, he thinks to himself, thinking of the two as different things.
“Would you like to meet her?” the chambermaid asks him, and when he still hasn’t responded, she inspects his face and thinks him ill. “Don’t you want to meet your daughter?”
She’s not my daughter, he almost says, almost. He almost dooms that girl and her mother then. He’s always dreaded this day, he hoped for a miscarriage, prayed for it even. He never told the Queen this, he never did anything but do his best to be supportive. He didn’t think there was anyone to blame, but still he prayed for the nightmare to never come, because really…
The Queen was already pregnant when they met.
A mere few weeks before their dire marriage, she told him that she was pregnant. She was late, and while that happens, she just knew, and she was right. She asked him to spare the child, to spare her, the King was horrified. How could she ever think I’d harm a child?
But then he remembers that he prayed for its death. That would have been the same, wouldn’t it? If it had died and I had prayed for it? I am surely hell bound now.
He told the Queen, who didn’t want the marriage anymore than he did, that he didn’t care. They could say that it was his, that he could raise it. The Queen was what all Queens had to be as Queens, not his type.
He thought it was perfect, now he would never have to be intimate with her. He could have his child and never have to do what neither wanted to do as husband and wife. At first the Queen laughed at that stroke of luck, but then she started crying.
The King had followed the chambermaid in his thinking. He doesn’t know how he ended up before the Queen’s door, he thinks the chambermaid dragged him there. He wasn’t an intimidating king, the cook could have slapped him and the King would have apologized.
He’s not brave, he’s not heroic, he’s horrified. This poor girl is going to have a castle, servants and maids, dresses and balls, and it’s all going to be horrible. She’s going to be judged, hated, despised. He can give her whatever she wants but the people will want her head and her mother’s, for who she is, for what she is, and everything they won’t understand.
And he’ll be nothing but a victim to them. He can see it now. I won’t feel like a victim, I’ll be a bystander. The King can already see his own lack of strength.
The chambermaid opens the door for him. The midwife is there, and the old crone has this spiteful face for him. Why is she mad with him? Because he kept his wife’s secret? She delivered the baby, she must know that the princess is not the daughter of the King.
He hears crying, tears even. Not the baby, that noise that gets drowned out. There’s no emotion other than anguish and confusion in a baby’s tears, not sadness. The crying that he listens has depression seeped in and lathered all around it.
That’s the Queen.
He thinks at this point, he can consider her a friend. At this point, who else can be there for her? I should go. He tries to, and his step is slow, so slow the chambermaid pushes him. If he were his father that maid would be beheaded, right along with the glaring midwife.
Not this King though. He stands up straight, slowly, having walked into the coldest room he’s ever known.
His eyes drift to the Queen, crying in her bed.
The blood has ruined the sheets, sweat and stress had made her skin pink and her hair fray, but that’s common, that makes sense. The tears really get him, and the baby crying right next to her reveals her fate.
That’s the baby girl, that’s the princess. The King is elated, and he forgets to hide it as he walks around the side of the bed. He bends down, as the midwife approves and the chambermaid lets out a sigh of relief. He walks in front of the window, and blocks the Queen’s view.
The King looks at the little girl she’s given birth too, and he’s overjoyed.
She doesn’t look like him.
She doesn’t look like her father. Never in a million years would a single common person think that her father was hers. Her skin is pale, near white, and the baby’s eyes are a crystal blue, and her blonde hair… it’s so blonde its almost white.
That is not her father.
Everything he’s feared, everything he’s been worried about, it’s all moot. Hundreds of blonde babies come from parents with dark hair. His hair his brown, the Queen’s hair is so dark it’s almost black, but the blonde hair, that doesn’t come from people who look like this princess’s father. No one will ever question that she’s the King’s.
So why is she crying?
Not the princess, everyone knows why the princess is crying, why is the Queen crying?
The Queen is crying as she looks past him, over his head. The King turns around, he looks out the window. No amount of stencilling or designs is going to hide what lies outside. The tallest mountain on the small peninsula country. The snow covered peak that barely reaches the clouds.
That’s where he is.
The King turns back to the Queen. He wishes for a moment that he were different, that he was the kind of man that could love a woman as his Queen wants to be love. She’s beautiful, he can see that, but also he doesn’t, he can only give her sympathy, and he feels so guilty.
“She looks like you,” he tells her, when she doesn’t. The princess likely will in the face, but she doesn’t look like her now, not with her pale colors.
When the Queen looks at him, he realizes that he was wrong to say that. He shouldn’t have said that. No matter what the princess looked like, the Queen was never going to be happy. She would look like her father or she wouldn’t look like her father, and she would be a reminder of where her father wasn’t. The Queen was never going to be happy seeing her daughter born, never.
The Queen turns her head into her pillow, wishing she could suffocate herself to death. She hopes these pains will pass, these deadly feelings. She was raised to think she could have anything. Once everything was possible it became a lot less alluring. Now, there’s something she wants, and she can never have it. She’ll never have her friend, her love, him.
The Queen turns over, and gives her back to him and the princess. The King’s heart drops, not for him but for the baby.
He feels the midwife’s hand on his shoulder, he hears her tell him, “This happens sometimes, sadness, the denial, not every woman can handle it all, it should pass. She’ll remember she loves her.”
The Queen huffs having heard, angry at the midwife who judges her. She thinks this is hormones, that this is a side effect, but the midwife has no idea.
The midwife tells him, “You should hold her, here let me show you-” but she stops as she watches the King hold her perfectly.
The King slips his arm under the princess’s back as she’s cocooned in her blue blanket, until the princess’s head and back is draped over his forearm. He makes sure that the princess’s head is turned outward, resting near the crook of his arm. He pats and rub the princess’s back with his other hand. Then he checks her head and neck to ensure that she is supported in his arms.
The midwife is impressed, he studied, he cared.
The King holds the princess in his arms, and while the women watch him stand, he cradles the baby princess. He rocks her and she stops crying. The women think it’s a miracle.
The King is a little afraid. Fatherhood is scary but that’s not why.
The King’s loving eyes never left the princess’s face. He watches and savors every moment, for he knows he will miss many come the future, but he will not miss this. He will not miss the princess’s eyes, looking past him to the mountain.
The princess looks out the window as her mother did, and her eyes changed. The princess’s eyes turn a pure white, as if they were ice.
And there her father lies.
Her eyes stay like that way for a moment, and then they change back to their blue, and she starts crying again. The King’s eyes never stopped watching the princess’s eyes, he fears what they mean. She may not be so safe, after all.
Fate does not seem to lean to any one side, the King thinks, it seems to lean towards chaos with one move, then peace with another. It always lands in the middle, on the precipice of disaster.
The King hates fate, no matter how much he tries to accept it.
The Queen has yet to hold the princess.
The palace is rather concerned and shocked by that. Having seen the princess grow up, they all would have thought she’d be a rather happy and caring mother. She had cared about people once, she would fight and fight with her father when he was still king. If something didn’t help people why do it? Why spend so little time helping people?
People have a misunderstanding that others will work as hard when they have something to lose as when they have already lost.
The palace is still quite shocked by how the King has yet to put the princess down. He has sat in her nursery, all the way into a dark dusk, and rocks in his chair, lulling her to sleep. His care comes from love and fear.
The King wants to see if her eyes will change, if it will happen again. He needs to convince himself that her father isn’t there, that it was a trick of the light, the magic in her eyes.
The King sits and rocks her to calm down, and then sleep, several times over. The midwife was shocked, and jealous too. It wasn’t normal.
He rarely looked away from her eyes, he was always looking into the princess’s eyes even when she was fed by the wet nurse. He was waiting to see if her blue eyes would turn pale white again. When it grew cold as winter nights do, the King didn’t even rise from his seat to start the fire. He waited a moment to see if the princess grew cold.
A servant came and started one before he could find out.
With the night having come, the servants, the wet nurses, the chambermaids, they were all ready to finish the night throughout the palace.
Only the moon shines light into the room, with the fireplace hidden behind grates. The King thinks he’s convinced himself enough that he should take this opportunity to sleep before many more sleepless nights.
The door opens before he can. The chambermaid enters to check on the King and the princess one last time, because she knows the Queen will not tonight. She’s still shocked by the King’s long watch, but impressed nevertheless. How sad it is that a man caring for his challenge should seem so positively strange, it’s a low bar to meet.
She watches as he rises from his chair, slowly and carefully to lay the princess in her crib where she will sleep across the hall from the King and Queen. He’s so gentle, afraid she might break, or so the chambermaid thinks.
The King worries that he may break.
He still stands over her, seeing how the moonlight affects her, if he should close the blinds, but the moonlight doesn’t even make the princess stir. Asleep on the first night, that should have been a warning sign. Everyone else assumed they had a miracle baby, a sign for a good princess to come.
The chambermaid asks him, in the quietest whisper, while he’s only just looking away from the princess, “Have you given her a name yet?”
He purses his brow. Why would I? he wonders to himself. That sounds like something he should leave to the Queen.
The chambermaid sees the confusion on his face. She remembers that while they may speak the same language, a close dialect even, they are not of the same ways. “Here, the father names the daughters, and the mother the sons. Have you not thought of a name?” He shakes his head, disappointing her with his answer. “Well, there’s still time.”
She chalks it up to the King being the absent minded fellow they all think he is. In reality, he realizes that it is not his place to name the princess.
I’m not her father.
It’s a thought that’s going to run through his head for the rest of his life if he can’t stop it.
He follows the chambermaid out the door, wondering what he can possibly do tomorrow. How does anything get better after this?
It’s not supposed to be like this, he thinks as he shuts the door behind him. The chambermaid gets away from him as his thoughts refuse to do the same. He touches his face, his beard, an absent minded tendency. We’re not supposed to be like this.
There’s a long slamming noise in the bedroom, and the princess starts crying. The King’s shoulders slump, recognizing the sound as the windows. This is a cold and windy night as important nights are, he should have known better than to forget to lock it. The chambermaid turns around but he lifts his hand to her.
“Aaaa-aaahhhh!!” the princess keeps crying.
“I’ll close it, see if I can get her back to sleep.” The chambermaid gives him a sympathetic look.
“I’ll ask the Queen,” she says, and she leaves him to it.
He turns back around, wondering if this is how life is going to be. Everytime he thinks he’s out, he’s going to be dragged back in by the worry and the pains.
The crying will never stop, he thinks to himself.
Why should it? From now on it’s only lies and hidden pain.
And I have to know.
I have to know it all.
The King picks up his head, he hears the silence. He didn’t walk in yet.
He swings open the door, but the immediacy dies as fast as it rose. The King stands just before the door, it closes on its own. He stands where he is. The King’s eyes never leave his eyes.
The windows lie open, and the room is filled with a terrible chill, but there he stands. In his dark cloak, the hood over his head. The white irises of his eyes gleam with light they shouldn’t have.
The King sees his face, and his hand, the man doesn’t look like the princess. If she did there would have been no hope, is she looked like the dark foreigner he is. He doesn’t look as dark as the once slaves across the sea. He isn’t as short or round as the those at the end of the silk road.
He’s… something of his own. His skin is dark, but his cloak is the thing that is black.
He blocks the moonlight, and the long shadow he casts envelops the princess, as if guarding her from its brightness. His shadow puts out the fire. He frightens the King.
But the princess is delighted.
Her father, the man in the cloak, the man who is dark and who’s daughter is white and pale, he moves his hand from underneath his cloak. He’s never once looked at the King as the King watches him, it would hurt to.
Her father with his sleeve and glove as dark as his cloak, moves his finger down towards her. He wants to touch her one time, he won’t ever be able to hold her.
The King watches his finger move to the princess’s cheek, and with a stroke the princess laughs, smiles. The King watches the princess be calmed and delighted by the touch of her father. Then the King watches her eyes turn white, and that’s when the King sees him in her.
But it’s not the same. The princess’s eyes are white, joyful, full of life and energy, and her father’s have dulled to grey. The King looked at her father’s eyes for a long time, but he never noticed the bags under them, the wrinkles of exhaustion and stress, rhe sadness that other man would hide. What is there to hide from his child?
The King watches as her father pulls his hand back underneath his cloak, and her father looks as if he’s nothing but blackness and a head. Her father finally looks at him.
Her father and the King look at each other for a long time. This is him, the King thinks, this is the man I’ll never be, this is man my wife looks for when she looks up at the mountain. This is the man my wife will dream about when she must sit beside me. The is the man who knows how to help the princess, who can teach her to be whatever magic she is.
This man is not me, he is not a man who likes other men, he is not a man who lies to himself and to others every day. He is a father of the princess I wish were mine.
Her father thinks, This is the man who will raise my daughter.
The pain is transferable, they can look into each other’s eyes and tell what the other is thinking. They’ve done nothing but think about every reason they could have to hate each other, and they know that the other has thought the same. They could hate each other, but they don’t, they only feel the pain.
“She loves you, she loves you still,” the King tells the other man.
The other man’s face softens, there’s more pity to be shared. “I’m sorry,” he tells the King.
The other man looks at the princess, his daughter he knows he must never see again. “She’ll call you ‘father,’” he tells the King.
The King’s jaw clenches. “I’m sorry,” the King tells the other man.
“They’ll call her a monster,” the other man tells the King.
The King sees the fear in the man’s eyes for his daughter, the same fear that he has been feeling, he is someone who understands. “Then I’ll protect her.”
Her father smiles, but there’s no happiness behind it. “If she’s like me… they’ll call her a monster.”
There’s a tremble in her father’s voice, one that he tries to contain. He rolls his tongue in his mouth as he doesn’t know how much more he can bear. The King swears, “I will do everything I can to protect her.”
Her father smiles, as he can bear it no longer. “Good.”
The princess’s father turns his back to her, and he stops. This is it, this is the last moment he can steal while the winter winds blow, and the snow prepares to blizzard. He wants one last glance. One last…
He turns his head, and looks at the princess reaching out to him, a baby looking as if she is about to cry.
Her father joins her in that endeavor, and his arms push his cloak back, into his cape.
The King is aghast with amazement and horror at the same time. The wings on her father’s back spread nearly the span of the room before they tighten together, to prepare for another flight.
The wings not of a dove, but a hawk.
They push back the darkness of his cloak, letting the King see the thick leather that makes up the tunic and the gauntlets. They reveal the hands and the swords, the muscle and the strength.
A fearsome man, King thinks, he is the strong man.
Her father’s hand moves to the window before he leaps, and the King sees the princess about to cry. He doesn’t want that, he doesn’t want all of this… this hell and torture to befall these people. He doesn’t want to see this man say goodbye to his daughter, to retreat and hide. He doesn’t want this princess to ever suffer and learn that her father couldn’t give her anything but a love she can’t fathom or remember.
The King calls out, “Wait.”
Her father stops, his head nearly out the window, but he leans back. He looks at the King as the King takes slow steps towards him, but with nothing to say. There has to be something, the King believes, there has to be someway, that somehow she will know how much her father loves her. There has to be. But he can’t think of it, and her father only sighs, seeing this man struggle for him.
This man is her father, he should be able to give her something, something she’ll always know, something that everyone will know her by that won’t endanger her. Something that can never hurt. The answer is on the tip of his tongue, and he realizes it once he thinks of her as this man’s daughter, and not the princess.
“It, it is customary for the father to name his daughter,” the King tells the other man, “would you name her?”
Her father knows no words to accurately describe the King before him. What kind of person who would do this for another person he doesn’t know?
He is the strong man, her father thinks of the King, and the princess’s father looks to her.
He’s thought of a thousand names, but when it happens he knows what she should be called. “Eleanor,” he names her, “call her Eleanor.”
“That’s a beautiful name,” the King says, as he moves over the princess, as he moves over Eleanor. He looks down at the girl, and thinks of her with the name her father gave her.
The King feels the wind and he hears it, but he doesn’t watch Eleanor’s father leave. He listens and waits until he can no longer hear the flapping wings. He waits and lets Eleanor cry before he lifts her from her crib again.
The King quietly hums to her, rocking her back and forth, letting her cry and mourn, without understanding what it is she cries for.