Authors: Kelly Barnhill
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction / Juvenile Fiction / Animals / Dragons, #Juvenile Fiction / Fantasy & Magic, #Unicorns & Mythical, #Juvenile Fiction / Social Issues - Friendship, #Juvenile Fiction / Fairy Tales & Folklore - General
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In memory of Mary Roon, who has gone on.
Loved in this world, loved in every world.
The end of my world began with a story. It also began with a birth.
Princess Violet, last of that name—indeed the last princess at all to be born in the Andulan Realms—was not a pretty child. When she was born, her hair grew in tufted clumps around her pink-and-yellow head, and her mouth puckered to the side whenever anyone peeked into her cradle. Her gaze was sharp, intelligent, and intense, leaving the visitor with the uncanny feeling that the royal infant was sizing him up, assessing his worth—and finding him
wanting. She was the type of child whom a person wanted to
, most certainly. But not a pretty child.
When she was five days old, her round face broke out in a rash that lasted for weeks.
When she was twelve weeks old, the last of her feathery black hair drifted away, leaving her skull quite bald, with a lopsided sheen. Her hair grew back much later as a coarse, crinkly, auburn mass, resistant to braids and ribbons and almost impossible to comb.
When she was one year old, it became clear that her left eye was visibly larger than her right. Not only that, it was a different color, too. While the right eye was as blue as the Western Ocean in the earliest morning, the left was gray—like the smoke offered to the dying sky each evening by the magicians of the eastern wall.
Her nose pugged, her forehead was too tall, and even when she was just a baby, her skin was freckled and blotched, and no number of milk baths or lemon rubs could unmark her.
People remarked about her lack of beauty, but it couldn’t be helped. She was a princess all the same.
Princess. And we loved her.
On the morning in which the infant Violet was officially presented to her waiting and hopeful people, it was dark, windy, and bitter cold. Even in the Great Hall, where there were abundant fires and bodies to cheer us, our breath clouded about our mouths and hung like ghosts, before wisping away. The King and Queen entered quietly, without announcement or trumpets or pomp, and stood before us. The shivering crowd grew silent. In the months following Violet’s birth, both mother and child recuperated in seclusion, as the birth itself had been treacherous and terrifying, and we very nearly lost both of them to the careless shrug of Chance.
The Queen wore a red wool gown under a heavy green cloak. She gazed over the Great Hall and smiled. She was, without a doubt, a beautiful queen—black hair, black eyes, skin as luminous as amber, and a narrow gap between her straight, white teeth, which we all knew was a sign of an open and honest heart.
“My beloved,” she said. Her voice was weak from her long months in bed, but we hung on to it desperately, every breathing soul among us.
“The snow has drifted heavily upon the northern wall of the castle, and despite our best efforts, a bitter wind probes
its fingers into the cracks, scratching at the hearts of the best and bravest among us.”
We nodded. It had been a miserable winter, the most miserable in memory. And heartbreakingly long. We were well past the month in which the ice should have begun to recede and the world to thaw. People came in droves to the castle seeking warmth, food, and shelter. As was the custom of our kingdom, none was ever turned away, and as a result, we all contented ourselves with less.
“Rest assured, my beloved people, that though the cold has crusted and iced, though the winds still blow bitterly and without mercy, here, in the darkest winter, a Violet blooms in the snow.”
And with that, she undid the top clasp of her heavy cloak and allowed it to fall to the ground. Underneath, a tiny creature was bound to her body with a measure of silk and a series of skillful knots. We saw the downy tufts of hair on the head of the new Princess and those large, mismatched, intelligent eyes.
As I said, not a particularly pretty child.
child, who, despite the multitudes present in the room, fixed her eyes on
. And on those tiny lips—a flicker of a smile.
Though both King Randall and Queen Rose longed for a large brood of happy children, alas, their hopes had been dashed. Each time the Queen’s womb swelled with joy and expectation, it ended in pain and sorrow. Violet was her only child who lived.
Indeed, Violet’s very existence was something of a miracle.
“A miracle!” shouted the citizens of the Andulan Realms on the yearly holiday commemorating the Princess’s birth.
“A miracle,” glumly proclaimed the advisers and rulers
of the Northern Mountains, the Southern Plains, the Eastern Deserts, and the Island Nations to the west, all of whom had harbored hopes that the King and Queen of the Andulan Realms would fail to produce an heir. They stared at map after map, imagining their borders with our country erased, imagining themselves able to reach into the great resources of our prosperous nation and pick plum after plum for their own.
But with the birth of the Princess, there would be no annexation without the bother of war. And, my dears, war is a terrible bother. So our neighbors seethed in secret. They spoke of miracles as they clenched their teeth and tasted acid on their tongues.
, hissed a voice, far away at the mirrored edge of the world.
. And that slithery, whispery voice slowly formulated a plan. It licked its yellow lips and widened its jaws into a grin.
By the time Violet was four years old, she had learned hundreds and hundreds of different ways to slip out of the reach of the watchful eyes that minded her—three sharp-faced nannies, a gaggle of pompous tutors, a quick-moving mother, and an easily distracted father. Each day she would go sprinting away through the twisting and complicated corridors of the castle until she reached my quarters, for the sole purpose of hearing another story. I was a storyteller—
storyteller, practitioner of a revered and respected occupation in my world, with a long and (mostly) glorious history.
Also, I don’t mind saying, I was rather good at it.
While there was, in theory, a requirement that any castle resident or visitor must capture the fugitive Princess and deliver her, posthaste, to one of her nannies for the swift application of disciplinary action, this rule was routinely ignored.
Indeed, as it was well known where she would go, the Queen felt it was far simpler to retrieve the child from her intended destination.
The Queen, incidentally, liked my stories, too.
By the time Violet was six years old, she began telling stories of her own. My dears, my heart was filled to bursting! How proud I was! How vain! How delighted that this
child should seek to emulate
Pride, alas, is a terrible thing.
Violet’s stories, even at her very young age, went far beyond my own. She took stories—true stories, false stories, and those of questionable intention—and turned them on their heads, shook them up and down, making them new again. The child told stories with enthusiasm, verve, and wild abandon. And she was a
“There once was a dragon,” the young Violet said one
night after dinner to a hushed, delighted crowd, her mismatched eyes glowing in the firelight, her untamable hair floating around her head like embers, “the largest and smartest and powerfulest dragon in all our mirrored world.” She spoke with a slight lisp, due to the slow loss of her childhood teeth, but it only added to the charm. “His fire was hottest, his flight was fastest, and even the Greater Sun was jealous of his beauty.
”—she held up one finger, wagging it slightly—“it had a problem. This dragon fell in love with a princess. A