The Princess howled for the water creatures to come back to their source. All the water creatures howled back to her. They dissolved into obscure images, climbed onto the surface, joined each other in the middle of the lake to become the girl’s reflection. The image moved back on the water surface to place itself before its owner. Nisha expected to find herself quite happy. Yet, she underwent sadness as she realized how her vital need for her reflection deprived the lake of water creatures. She assumed a lake made of her tears would remain without inhabitants in the middle of the forest.
As the sun found itself much closer to the west of the sky, the little Princess realized how much using her gifts distracted her from the fear of having been lost. A cool breeze carrying the scent of blackberries swept over her, caressing her nose. She looked around, gazed at her shadow cast on the east side of the clearing ground. She did like her shadow, but in secret, as her mother disliked all shadows. The Princess had often turned it into a mischievous girl who played with her whenever, in the absence of her regular friends, she wished the company of a playmate.
Nisha’s shadowy playmate knew of many bizarre games such as jumping into the third square of a hopscotch court of the hereafter, to a school where ghosts taught the parameters of spooking or how to become a successful spirit to complete a graveyard haunting. The neat thing about it all, they always managed to go back to the castle before the sunset. The shadowy girl had also proven her courage in taking or destroying whatever belonged to the forest animals. Once, she had tempted the Princess to go along with her on a rampage of stealing little eggs from the unguarded nests on the top of a remote bushy hill. The Princess revelled in doing all things deliciously disgraceful. Beside her shadow, Nisha had a handful of friends of her own age who lived in the houses with sloping, channelled brick roofs and walls of pastel shades in the arboreal mountain behind the rear walls of the castle.
These were girls and boys who couldn’t resist peeking around the next corner. Like their royal friend, they craved new experiences and cheerfully undertook almost anything they hadn’t tried before. Nisha would often leave the castle by a small backdoor to join her companions who loved to play games in the meadow at the foot of the mountain.
The Princess took a deep breath, paced the forest clearing. The thought of not ever seeing her friends, her nanny or her steed scared her again, ripped her heart into a painful ach. In anticipation of asking her shadow to come to her rescue and help her find a way back to the castle, she scanned it on the low grass. This time, as the shadow had a long, distorted, late afternoon outline, Nisha wished it to become a boy, a little prince. In no time, her shadow became a smoky prince her own age with curious wicked glances, which brought a smile to the Princess’s face. The little Prince looked much like the mischievous little girl, as if her twin brother in all ways.
Upon hearing the girl’s story, the smoky boy promised to help her by setting fire in the forest. Unsure of the wisdom of this solution, Nisha suggested to her shadow to go together picking blackberries to fill their empty stomachs, before starting the fire. The ripened late August blackberries tasted sweet, left stains upon the tongue, stirred up a lust for picking more and more. The children laughed at each other’s purple lips, noticed each other’s glowing face in the red evening light, listened to the sultry hum of insects interposed by cries of wolves.
Their hands peppered with thorn pricks, they trekked and picked until Nisha suspected having heard her nanny’s voice filled with worry calling her name as if she stood next to her. The little girl froze, lent her ears to the direction of the sound, waited. When she heard her nanny’s voice for a second time, the little Princess felt so elated to be rescued, she ran at once to where her nanny’s voice came from. Mother Simorq took the bouncy girl back to the castle without noticing the little boy left behind, unattended, without anyone or anywhere to go. The single subject of conversation at supper time, was how close-by to the forest clearing, unbeknown to Nisha, the palace had been. The little Princess had downright forgotten about the smoky little Prince. No sooner than bed-time, when she sat on the edge of her clean, fresh bed, did she remember her transformed shadow.
“Oh, my swarthy, naughty Prince, my poor little shadow, “ she lamented to herself, sighed, threw herself onto her bed, her heart dulled.
“I’ve lost my shadow, I’ve lost my shadow, I want to die,” she cried raucously.
Mother Simorq entered Nisha’s bedroom to tuck the helpless girl into her bed, sharing some wisdom with her.
“Oh dear Nisha, sometimes early losses are part of growing. Different people lose different parts of themselves at different stages of their lives.”
“But what will ever happen to me, if we don’t find my shadow, my playmate Prince?” said Nisha, her head nebulous.
“All depends on the Prince’s character,“ said Mother Simorq.
“I’ve heard those who lose their shadow become like it,” said Nisha in an exhausted voice. “What does it mean?”
“Don’t worry, Princess. No matter what happens, I’ll be there for you,” said Mother Simorq, knowing too well, with no shadow, Nisha would lose her spontaneous side, become self-conscious, commit cruel deeds unbecoming of a princess. But she did not wish to unsettle further the already-distressed girl. Instead, she pondered on how to find the Shadow Prince without upsetting the Queen whose dislike of the shadows everyone knew about.
When the Queen heard Nisha had lost her shadow in the forest, she came to her daughter’s bedroom, lifting her long skirt to avoid tripping on its hem. She sat on the edge of the bed. “Oh, sweetheart,” said the Queen in a crispy cold voice, “shadows are not as important as reflections. In fact, while princesses do need their reflections to make themselves look good, they don’t need their shadows to be successful.”
The Princess, whose guts told her the Mother’s words had the hue of cruelty, raised her voice a little in protest.
“But my shadow liked me a great deal. It followed me everywhere, like a pet. And the boy I made of it treated me well also.”
The Queen lifted one eyebrow in contempt as her upper lip rotated in a tight circle. She decided to keep silent, not to let her inner resentment boil over. She said good night true to form, without kissing her daughter, left the room whilst smirking at her own shadow. Her jasmine perfume lingered in the air behind her, shifting Nisha’s focus to this relaxing scent she liked so much, nudging her to drift into slumber >>> Part 3 —