A touch of glass . . .

Glass Queen
by Rachel Japs ©2014

The glass knife shattered against the rose stem, and a thorn pierced the queen's crooked finger. She watched as a drop of blood settled on her skin, glossed over crystal clear and rolled into the dirt. Smooth glass slipped up the stem where her bare fingers touched and sealed the petals. With a sigh she tapped her fingernail against the crystal flower and listened for the ping.

"That wasn't supposed to happen."

"That's the trouble with glass knives, my lady." The fat man with the bowl haircut licked the wine dripping from his goblet.

"Yes, that's the trouble with them, Prewitt. But it can't be helped." The queen gazed at the crystalline rose in her hand then stepped away from her bushes, the few things that still grew near her castle. The clear table glistened in the sun. Her eyes had long grown accustomed to the glare. Three red roses settled in the tall glass vase. The queen dropped the rose in among them with a clink. She stepped back to admire them, picked up the crystal pitcher and filled the vase. The glass rose sparkled in the light. She sighed and put her hand over it, gazing at the deep red of the living roses. It was so nice to see color from time to time.

Prewitt watched her from over the top of his goblet. "At least it won't die," he said.

"That is true." She lowered her hand and picked the clear rose out of the vase, gazing at it and marveling how no artist could ever create an identical likeness to the real thing. "However, it doesn't make it any less fragile." With that she smashed it against the table and, cackling, watched the shattering pieces pour to the ground.

Prewitt chuckled softly. "King Midas never had that problem."

"No, King Midas at least grew rich from his curse. I've lost track of how many things I've broken. Aside from that tragedy with the daughter, I do envy King Midas."

She raised her eyes to the clear wall of the tower, one of five that surrounded her glass castle. It had once been an impenetrable fortress made of the strongest stone. She closed her eyes and sighed. When she opened them again, someone was approaching down the smooth crystal path. As he drew near, he stopped, and dropped to one knee.

"My lady, one of the magicians has come to break your curse."

"Oh, is it that time of year already? It seems I just saw one last month. All right, I'll be there shortly."

Her reflection followed her as she walked along the path. It met her again as she entered her castle. One thing she was never short on was a mirror and yet she had grown to hate the look of herself. Her hair was an icy color of white, blue veins covered her nearly transparent skin and then there were her eyes, cold and glossy. She could never tell which was her, the distorted shape in the glass or the mighty queen all her loyalists tried to convince her she still was. Perhaps both, or neither.

She passed a statue on her way, one of the first to fall to her touch, the poor servant. The queen had slipped on the newly formed glass floor and he tried to catch her fall. His face turned crystal right before her eyes. He stood in the same crouched position all these forty years. She never passed him without thinking of it, but then she passed by and it was over. A glass cat with its back arched was the next display. Glittering statues, originally made of stone, lined the corridor all reflecting her strange image as she walked by.

She entered her throne room, lined with sleek pillars and a large glass throne in the center. The wizard was hunched before the throne in robes of midnight blue lined with silver and a large rucksack over his shoulder. He started when he heard her enter and stumbled away from the throne.

"My," she said, giving him a quick glance. "They get younger every year." She continued to the large grand piano to the side of the throne. "I wouldn't worry about the throne," she continued. "I hardly ever use it anymore. Glass isn't nearly as comfortable as it is pretty to look at. Besides, it seems so obsolete now." She sat at the piano and ran her fingers over the translucent keys.

The wizard coughed. "My lady, as you know, the academy holds a contest every year for its graduating class and I am this year's winner."

"Congratulations, young sir. As you can see, I have a few souvenirs from past winners."

He looked to the left where there stood a statue of a man in wizard's robes. Behind him, the silhouette of another was etched into the wall. He coughed again.

"Yes, my lady. We have studied all the past attempts in order to avoid their mistakes."

"It doesn't mean you can't make new ones." She pushed one of the keys of the piano and a slight ring resonated from the piano. "This instrument used to make such beautiful music that would fill the hall and flow through the corridors. It was the best ever made in its day." She played her fingers over the tops of the keys, closing her eyes to hear the song she used to play. "Now half the strings are broken, and I'm lucky to get a little sound out of the others." A harp stood not so far from the piano, and half its strings were broken as well.

"My lady, if you would permit me to-"

"What is your name, child?" She looked up at him, knowing the effect her clear blue eyes had on people.

The wizard gaped at her and for a moment it seemed as if he couldn't draw a breath. "Your highness," he said. "It takes ten years to make it through the academy, not even half of those who join make it to the end. I am hardly a child."

The queen snickered and turned her eyes back to her piano. "When you get to be as old as I am, everyone is a child. No amount of schooling will make a difference where it really matters. Now why don't you tell me your name?"

The wizard hesitated, opened his mouth and then closed it. Finally, he said, "Julian."

"Thank you, Julian. It is good of you to come, but do you really think that after all these years you alone have found the secret to ending my curse?"

"Well, I won't know unless I try." He leaned against her piano. When her eyes fell on his arm touching the piano, he moved away again and shifted his weight. "But it doesn't hurt to try. It may work. In fact, I really do think it will. Now, won't you let me begin?"

"Oh, Julian." The queen stood and made her way to the glass wizard standing with horror on his face. "Over forty years have passed since I made any difference in my own kingdom. My only company has been a few loyal and brave servants and one wizard a year. Even if you could break my curse, what difference would it make now? My life is nearly over. My kingdom will go to my nephew who has ruled in my place all these years. Can you not put aside your arrogance, your desire for glory, and leave an old woman in peace?"

"In peace? But you must know that your own kingdom is not in peace and has not been since you were secluded here. Your nephew is not a stable ruler, his authority has been questioned and you have several other nephews who believe themselves more worthy of the crown. Don't you see there is still time for you to return to unite your people? Have you no desire to save your kingdom?"

The queen turned slowly to Julian, old and resolved. "Everything I touch turns to glass. I am old. Curse or no curse, it makes no difference. It is too late to change a lifetime."

Julian made no answer. His eyes fell to the floor, and the queen sauntered her way back to the piano.

"I suppose it would be a waste of your time to dismiss you without trying," the queen finally said. "You did go through all that work to come up with your cure, didn't you?"

"I've been working on it these ten years," Julian said softly.

"Would you like to begin, then?" She tilted her head and gazed at the young man.

His eager eyes met hers. He nodded. "Yes. Yes, I suppose that will be enough." He dropped his rucksack and pulled out two candles. "Oh," he said looking around. "Is there a table we could use?"

"Whatever you need, magician." She waved her hands and two servants carried in a glass table.

Julian placed two golden candlesticks on the table and set the candles in the sticks. He pressed his thumb and forefinger over each wick, lighting them as he pulled his fingers away. The queen knelt before the table, watching with interest as Julian poured a small bag of red sand in the middle of the table.

"Now," Julian began. "In order for this to work, I need you to recount in as much detail as you can how you were cursed."

The queen laughed. "You will get your details. That is one day I cannot forget."

Outside, evening made its approach. With the dimming light, the candlelight flickered against the queen's face, highlighting her wrinkles and the bags beneath her eyes. For a brief moment, her eyes felt heavy, gazing into the flames, remembering another time, a time when everything felt real. Then the moment was gone, she smirked at Julian and began her account.

"I had everything to gain back then. If only I had known how soon it would all be gone. I was to resume the throne after my father. I was to be queen. They decked me in jewels and gold, the finest silks. I'll never forget the feel of silk, or the strength of a glittering diamond ring on my finger. Even my golden crown, heavy atop my head at first…what I wouldn't give to wear it again."

The queen sighed. She was forgetting herself. With a shake of her head she returned to her story.

"They led me through the streets after my coronation. Paraded me through the city to be admired and praised. The people's new monarch. I would bring them glory like so many had before. But then she appeared." As she spoke, Julian had his hands over his head and was staring at the sand on the table. If she watched close enough, the sand seemed to be moving with every word she spoke, swirling about the table. When she came to the part about the old woman, appearing before her chaise and halting the parade, the sand suddenly stopped and trembled in place.

"She was as ugly a thing as I'd ever seen. A peddler woman with nothing, nothing she could possibly offer me and yet she had the audacity to offer me a gift. If only I'd known then that she had the power to take everything away. It was just a little ball, a glass ball the size of a bubble a child blows with soapy water. She warned me it was more valuable than it looked. Glass? I can tell you there is nothing valuable about glass. Only that it is easily breakable. She told me it would bring me great riches if I kept it safe, but should I grow careless and break it a great curse would befall me.

"Right there before all my subjects she offers me this. Well, I could not deny the gift right there, so I accepted and went on my way. As my parade went on I pretended as if nothing had happened. Later, in my chambers, one of my waiting women asked what should be done with the ball. I looked at her and couldn't believe the look of seriousness on her face. I told her to throw it out the window for all I cared. I couldn't be troubled with such nonsense. When she looked at me and stood there like a dolt, I took it myself and threw it out the window. I'm not sure I heard it shatter, but I know it broke to pieces against the wall on the way down. Without a thought I turned to my dressing table and removed my crown from my head. It was gold when placed on my head, but there in my hands it had turned to glass. It slipped from my hands and shattered to the floor."

"From that day," the queen said. "Everything I've touched has turned to glass. You know the rest. I ruled from this castle, but as more things crystalized around me, my people moved away. Giving my nephew rule of the land is the only thing that has saved my kingdom." She stared into the flames. "I never believed in curses, but now, curses are all I have faith in. One small misstep and everything comes crashing down. Cures are another matter. Anyone who has seen glass shatter into a thousand pieces knows the difficulty of mending it. Do you wonder why I doubt you?"

Julian was no longer paying attention to her. As he stared into the sand, he began a soft chant. "What was broken can be mended. What was lost must be found." As he repeated the words, he moved his hand over the sand. It lifted from the table and danced in the air, forming into a ball. Julian beckoned for her to bring her hand forward.

"Take the sand," he said.

She did and with a bright flash of light, they both jolted back. A breeze blew over the candles, but they did not go out. The queen blinked and when she opened her hand, found a red glass ball, like the one she was given all those years ago. She looked at Julian. His eyes were glazed over. He shuddered and focused on her.

She cocked her head at him. Her heart pounded and her hand was shook. She wanted to drop the ball, fling it from her sight. The memory of that day came flooding back to her, the woman's shrunken face and beady eyes staring from under a dark hood. Her crooked fingers wrapped daintily around the smooth glass ball. Now the queen stared at her own crooked fingers grasping the ball. She could remember how young her hands had been when she had taken it from the witch and all the wasted years came back to her. How she longed to fling that ball back at Julian.

He was panting. His eyes were bright and his face flushed. "It worked!" His voice came out in a gasp.

"Did it? You've recreated my curse and only given me something else to break. What is this supposed to mean?"

He shook his head. "I didn't recreate it. I only worked with it. I've reversed it and brought back what you broke. There was regret in your voice when you spoke. You wished to undo what you did. The spell knew that and it turned back time for you. It should be enough to keep you from turning things to glass anymore."

The queen let a laugh pass her lips, but she stared at the ball in her hand just the same. It was a clever trick. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves." She leaned toward one of the golden candlesticks. "Is this valuable to you?" Before he could answer, she wrapped her fingers around it and like all other times before the gold disappeared beneath crystal clear glass.

Julian's mouth dropped open. The queen felt a sinking in her heart for a brief moment and then she straightened and snickered. "Well, I hope you regret that candlestick more than your failure here. You are not the first, and I certainly didn't expect you to succeed." He stared at her with downcast eyes and then put his hands over his face.

The queen stood and looked down on him. "Now, now. Disappointment is a part of life. I've lived this long with that fact blaring in my face. You'll get over this soon enough." She tossed the red ball in her hand and caught it. With a smile she left the throne room and made her way to her bedroom.

Fading light streamed from the ceiling. Her servants were wandering about lighting candles. The light danced off the walls and fixtures of her beautiful enchanted castle. Her room was large and mostly covered in glass, but occasionally she managed to place live flowers in her vases and the servants brought her a new bed every night. It would be glass by morning. She sighed and sat before her dressing table gazing at her new ornament.

"A memento," she said to herself. "For failure. For lost years." She turned her gaze to the mirror. The old woman stared back at her, so cold. She shivered, hardly knowing why. The cold had been a part of her for so long that she never felt it anymore.

That wizard. For a brief moment, she almost believed him, almost believed he could cure her. She gave up hoping or even desiring to end her days cured of this curse and yet he had caused her to remember-remember what it was like all those years ago, simply to feel anything at all. She squeezed the ball in her hand waiting for it to break beneath the pressure.

If only…yes, if only. But what would she have been then? Would she have been any less made of glass than she was now? It wasn't as though she had cared for anything but that crown.

She opened her eyes to see her small wrinkled frame staring back. She turned away. Then as hard as she could, she threw the ball at the mirror. They shattered into a thousand pieces both mirror and ball. The pealing sound of breaking glass made her smile. Little red bits scattered about her clear dressing table. She stood and went to a pedestal where a tall clear vase stood. It was one of her favorites. She sighed and dropped it to the floor. Everything was just broken glass…everything.

It was then that she noticed the blood on her finger. She must have cut herself. She stared at it, confused. It was warm and wet…still blood. She walked over her broken vase and brushed aside the glass on her dressing table until she found a comb of ivory. She took it in her hand and waited for the transformation. It never came. She threw it to the floor, but it remained whole.

Her breath came in gasps as she flung herself to her bed brushing her hands across the soft down of the comforter. She touched her face. Cool wrinkled skin tingled her fingers. A sob escaped her throat. Tears warmed her cheeks. She ran her fingers up and down her arms. A low moan formed from her very depths.

She remembered her room. All about her was glass. She darted about searching for anything real-soft rose petals from earlier that day; water, cool and wet. Clear tables, clear bedposts, clear picture frames. Everything was glass. She placed a vase of roses carefully back on the table and stepped around it. Tip-toeing across the room, she opened the door and peaked out into the hall. Glass walls reflected candlelight from glass holders. Light and dark flickered across the clear floors. Thousands of stars poured down light through the ceilings.

"The world is made of glass," she said though laughter. She hugged her warm, shivering body and ran down the hall. "The world is made of glass! The world is made of glass!"

x x x

So we move from princesses to a queen-a natural enough progression with an unnatural tale as a result. My feelings about this are transparent - after all, I chose it. How about yours? Let us know on our BBS. - GM

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