We’ve been without internet for the last 48 hours (seems like forever) so I have been doing a lot of writing. Probably why this story ended up considerably longer than it should have done.
The princess was furious. Each step she climbed up the highest tower in the tallest building in the city made her angrier. Her mother had no business just going off like that, leaving her to deal with assemblies and councils and delegations alone. Her father had left her the reins of government when he died, but that didn’t mean her mother could just leave her in the lurch.
The battlements of the tallest tower looked down on the sleeping city. Above her head, the great dome stretched, keeping out the night and the stars and the clouds. The air was warm and pleasant and silent. Nothing stirred; the world slept. She searched for her mother in her favourite place, where gardeners had brought up barrow loads of earth so she could plant her favourite flowers. Nothing grew in the shadows below, she was fond of saying. The buildings blotted out the light and there was no wind to carry seeds, no bees to carry pollen from flower to flower. She made her magic up above the city, made her bees and her soft breezes, and even a few birds. And the flowers of course. The flowers were pretty, the princess agreed, but then so were lots of things, and duty was duty. Her mother should have been at court.
Still fuming, she poked about in the bushes and among the fruit trees, looked in every cosy corner, the little pond with the gold and silver fish and where irises grew tall and straight. Her mother was nowhere to be seen. Then she noticed it, the gnarly, twisted vine the colour of suntan and wrinkled as one of last year’s apples. The vine seemed to shrink away from her gaze, and the fruit that dangled at the end of each of the two branches shivered.
“Mother! What have you done to yourself?”
The vine wilted a little more. “I’m sorry, dear,” it said, “but I couldn’t take any more. Your father was bad enough, but you, I’m afraid, you seem to understand even less.”
The princess stamped her foot and frowned. Her lips pouted and she threw out her hands in exasperation. “But you have to help me! You know all about the protocols and the regulations, the treaties and the maintenance contracts. How am I supposed to do it on my own?”
The vine shrugged and the fruits, like dangling earrings swayed from side to side. “You’re not. No one woman should have the fate of the world in her hands. Organize an election. Ask the people to decide.”
The princess’s jaw dropped. “Ask the people? They would tear down the dome in a twinkling if they had their way!”
“It’s for the best, dear. We have kept the outside at bay too long. The stars know and the wild things. They have no need of a sanitized dome. We need to breathe the clean fresh air and walk on grass from time to time.”
“So you’ve changed yourself into a pot plant so as not to participate any more, is that it?”
The queen mother nodded her fruity head. “You can hardly have a tree as a counsellor can you?”
The princess looked out through the glass panels of the dome at the stars. It seemed to her that one of them winked at her. She looked along the horizon. Clouds floated, pale grey against the dark blue sky, across the moon. Their edges shone with silver light, and long beams fell through the gaps between them, dappling the tower garden with pale light and soft shadows.
“It’s harsh out there,” she whispered.
“But it’s real,” her mother said.
“So is the wet that drops out of the clouds, and the cold swirling stuff that covers the ground with white. What will happen when the earth is covered in cold white or wet water? What will happen when the sun frazzles and the rivers flood and the leaves fall and the winds howl?”
Her mother shrugged again. “We will wait for it to pass. If we behave ourselves and take care of the outside, all those things will pass, no problem. And most of it is fun, anyway.”
The princess looked through the glass panes to the rolling hills and the woods and forests and the silver mirrors of lakes in the distance. She had never been outside the city, never walked on grass or felt the wind on her face, rain on her skin or tasted snowflakes.
“So if we look after it, tread carefully and not disturb things too much, the outside will not turn into a raging beast and destroy us all?”
Her mother was silent for a moment, and a silver pear-shaped tear dropped from each of her branches. “We did that once before. But we were the raging beasts. We raged and rampaged until nothing was left of the outside. Outside is strong and courageous though. It came back and with us out of the way, it grew green again.” She bent her branches close to her daughter and brushed her cheek with a soft leaf. “It’s where we are meant to be, dear. Not cooped inside a tank. Let the people out, but make sure they behave themselves this time.”
The stars looked down and winked again. The princess watched the changing light as the clouds passed in front of the moon, the reflections on the silver lakes, the mysterious deepness of the forest. She thought long and hard. Eventually, she turned back to her mother and said, “I’ll think about it. But it sounds like a cranky idea to me. There’s the midsummer ball coming up and I’d hate for something like a rain shower to spoil it. Or for it to be too hot. Meanwhile, I suppose I’ll just have to get used to dealing with embassies on my own.”
Her mother wilted and her earring fruits dangled almost to the ground. “Don’t forget to water me,” she called after her departing daughter in a small voice.