by Gwenan Haines
Like mother, like daughter. Just because I was royalty didn’t mean I was oblivious to what they said about us. For seven months I took to shutting myself up in my chambers, but the resemblance was not a thing I could avoid. Her eyes mirrored mine, her thoughts . . . mirrored . . . mine. One day not so far off I would be the one to translate silver’s watery truth into words the kingdom could use.
Already I had discovered some of her tricks. The dye she kept in a blue bottle labeled Sleeping Potion. The yellow-ribboned corset that created her waist. On the inside of her wrist were constellations of pinpricks—the secret of her ruby lips. I was next in line but I wasn’t the only one. There were sisters, cousins, vying for her place. I didn’t blame her. If she cast illusion’s dust into their eyes, she did it for good reason. Not everyone had her gift for euphemism, for singing bleakness into sunlight.
When she came to me one night and pulled me through black corridors, I understood. “The heart,” she told the hunter by my side, “must be removed.” She leaned down and pressed her lips to my forehead. “When you can run your fingertip along the scar without drawing blood, you can find your way back. Then you shall take my place.”
I didn’t find my way back. I hid deep within the earth, in a place where veins of gold and silver glowed with heat. I woke I in a cottage so small I could only cross from room to room by bending double as I passed between doors. The dwarves were stunted, with gnarled hands, and in the dark their spirits looked no different than the color of wind.
They were hardy but not cruel. I never doubted they would protect me, even when I could run my fingertip along the scar without drawing blood. My soul no longer burned blue at night, but whether it was due to the missing heart or the smallness of the cottage I did not know. After seven years I could pass my hand through my spirit and it was no different than grasping air. One day I looked in the lake’s mirror and saw skin pale as beauty, lips red as pain, hair black as oblivion.
Three times she tried to save me. First the combs, then the ribbons, and, at last, the apple. She knew what it meant: to look straight through one’s palms. I devoured her poisons and embraced the freedom of impenetrable dreams. The light through the coffin glass warmed my mind until its pulse beat blue again.
The prince came at the solstice, just as the sun dawned crimson across new fallen snow. His axe smashed the coffin into a thousand diamonds. One he wrapped around my finger, kneeling to kiss away the blood. The breeze wove all the mirrors into veils.
Image by Harry Clarke.
* * *
Gwenan Haines lives in New England with her 11-year-old daughter and a Siberian husky born on Halloween. She has published stories and poems in several literary-type magazines; she is currently working on the first installment of an urban fantasy novel series. She collects old books, colored glass and complicated recipes. You can find excerpts of her novel on wattpad.
Where do you get the ideas for your stories?
From literature, from life. I’m a voracious reader. I especially love fairy tales—both the old versions and new renditions by writers like Tanith Lee, Robin McKinley, A.S. Byatt, Mercedes Lackey and others. And of course life is brimming with characters and stories.
What inspires you to write and keep writing?
I’m one of those people who has wanted to write for as long as I can remember. I’m also one of those people who tends to commit to too many things. So I’m caught in a never-ending battle between the real world and the world of imagination. Sometimes I veer too far toward the “real” end of the spectrum and sometimes I get lost in the ether. But it’s also more than a battle—each world enriches and enhances the other. Writing for me is very much a process of discovery. When I write, I feel like a sculptor freeing the forms trapped within the marble.
What do you think is the most important part of a fantasy story?
The same elements that are important as in other types of fiction – strong characters, interesting plot, vivid language. The difference, I suppose, is that in fantasy Possibility has a far greater role. When Emily Dickinson wrote “I dwell in possibility” she might have been referring to someone immersed in a great fantasy novel.
What do you think is the attraction of the fantasy genre?
As I mentioned in my last answer, fantasy offers the possibility of escape. Not that escape is always desirable. The world can be gorgeously intense—but it can also be infinity mundane, frustrating, painful and [insert pejorative adjective here]. Nothing better than to sit down and banish all that for an afternoon.
What advice do you have for other fantasy writers?
Read as much as you can. Write as much as you can. Even if you don't think you have time, try to fit a few pages into the gaps in your schedule.