Once upon a time, there was a city ruled by three sister princesses. They were much-loved in their kingdom- the eldest with eyes of brightest blue, the middle with lips of sweetest pink, and the youngest with hair of deepest red. They were incredibly close, acting as each other’s friends and confidantes. They were just, and kind, able to balance the people and keep the peace in their land.
For a time, all was well.
And then it wasn’t.
A neighboring kingdom, jealous of this city’s prosperity and peace, sought to disrupt it. They dragged to its gates hideous war machines, made of magic and steel and human skin. The king, a man of great magical learning and power, demanded the princesses surrender their city to him, and if they did not, he said, he would raze it to the ground.
Mother, I’ve never heard of this story.
Then listen when I tell it to you.
The youngest daughter, when she heard, did up her deep red hair, put on a delicate crown, and clothed herself in a beautiful dress. “I will offer him an alliance,” she told her sisters. “I will give him my hand in marriage for our kingdom’s safety.”
The other sisters wept, understanding the sacrifice that their youngest was making, and held her close until dawn. They saw her off at the castle gates, and watched until she disappeared into the still city.
When the youngest daughter reached the enemy’s camp, she stood tall, and did not show her fear. She spoke kindly to the weary soldiers, curtsied before the cruel sorcerer-king as custom demanded. She was brave, oh, my darling, she was so brave.
And the king spat at her fine words, and spoke the words that drew all the light from out of her, until she went mad with despair. As the sun set on the day, and on the youngest sister, who lay despondent in the middle of the camp, a soldier came upon her, and killed her in a fit of mercy.
But you said that she was brave.
Yes. She was.
When the other sisters heard, the middle sister donned silver armor, borrowed from the guards in the castle, and took up a crossbow. “I go to kill the king,” she said. “I go to avenge our youngest.”
And the eldest held her close, and wept, until she let her go and watched her disappear from sight into the streets.
When the middle sister arrived at the camp, she moved quietly, looking through the tents with eyes and a heart made cold with fury and grief. She reached the king’s tent- asleep, inside was the enemy, and she raised her crossbow to finish the job. And she would have, darling, she would have, had she not seen, hanging from the post of the kings fine bed, her sister’s delicate crown.
The king awoke when she sobbed at the sight of it, and spoke words that caused her to wither and decay where she stood, crumbling to rotted remains inside a suit of armor.
Mother, I don’t like this story.
You must hear it.
The eldest sister heard the news and she did not weep. She drew her courage about her, and set off into the forest to find her and her sister’s mother, who was a powerful witch.
Her mother answered the door and bade her come inside, offering her condolences about her sister’s fates. Once the door had closed, her mother hesitated, then spoke.
“I left you in that castle long ago, and I will give you your answers, and then I will give you your vengeance against the king.”
And so the daughter listened.
Mother, I don’t want to hear this.
Long ago, there had been a queen with great magickal abilities, but she was never able to find a love, so she used those powers to create three daughters.
One, she formed from a bottle of light captured at the sun’s violent surrender to night. It woke last, a child with beautiful red hair, and so it was the youngest.
One, she shaped from a gentle pink anemone, the last in her castle’s courtyard to survive winter’s onslaught. It woke second, a child with curved pink lips, and so it was the middle.
One, she carved from a piece of sapphire the size of her fist, and as she did, she cut her finger with the blade, so it was made with blood, as well. It woke immediately, with bright blue eyes, so it was the eldest.
The sun took her first child home, she told the sapphire-girl. Her body turned to light, and then to nothing, what it always was. The body of her second daughter rotted in the encampment like a flower decayed beyond its lifespan. “All the king can do is turn you back to what you were before,” she told her daughter. “He will turn you back to stone if you are unprotected.”
She gave her daughter a vial full of black liquid. “This will turn your heart forever to sapphire. The king will be unable to change you- but you will never feel again. No blade shall pierce your skin, but no joy or grief will stir within you. You will never be warm, or cold. I offer you not immortality, but a half-life of invincibility.”
The daughter regarded the vial, and uncorked it. She brought it to her lips, but before she drank, she asked her mother, “Why did you leave us?”
And then she swallowed, so she would not care about the response, and she left her mother in her home before she found the answer.
But why did their mother leave them?
Because she knew, daughter, even then, that her eldest child was capable of committing this act, and she was afraid.
The eldest daughter marched to the encampment, and to the kings tent. She was attacked, but nothing drew blood, and so she went forward. The king, upon seeing her, spoke the words that would have crumbled her to so many sapphire shards, but nothing happened.
She pulled out the king’s heart through his armor, and she felt no relief at having killed him.
She felt nothing.
Mother, that can’t be how the story ends.
Mother, that is not how the story ends.
Do you want another ending?
Very well, then.
The people saw what their queen had done, and began to fear her. The queen, unable to feel love or even affection, went back to her mother to find a way to make a child that her people would adore, because, without emotion, she saw that that was what they needed.
The child was made of ice over a pond, and her hair was the orange-white color of the fish, still alive in the cold.
And the queen raised her daughter to love the kingdom, to rule well, and to one day overthrow her mother.
Is that better?
No, mother, it’s- it’s not.
I am sorry.
Why did you tell it to me?
Because you deserved to know, daughter.
You deserved to know what I did.