Once upon a time there lived a girl who loved a prince. Princes, as she well knew, marry princesses. But she fell in love regardless and adored him with the stubbornness and mystery of a first love. Whenever he rode hunting in the forest, her eyes followed boldly as his figure flashed past her window.
Snow fell, flowers blossomed, and they both grew older. The King and Queen decided it was time for the prince to fall in love – or at any rate to marry – so they could retire and relax and do more important things at night than stare at the ceiling of their six-poster bed, thinking about taxes and decrees.
So for the prince’s next birthday they planned a magnificent ball and invited all the kings and queens they knew with daughters. They then helped the prince start making up his mind about which to marry.
“Princess Christina of Vishpuria” read off the Queen from a list that stretched to the ends of the Palace Cemetery. “She’s one of the most eligible princesses. It says here she’s their only child and quite rich. Surely you remember Christina?”
The prince thought for a moment.
“Yes,” he said.
He crossed the Great Drawing Room and stood by one of the windows, observing the weight of heaven imperceptibly crushing out the light of day.
“I don’t want to marry someone just because she is rich,” he announced finally, not turning around. “I want to marry for love.”
A short pause scurried to the corners of the room.
“Of course you want to marry for love. I completely understand that,” the Queen said slowly, trying to understand it. She seemed to remember that love had something to do with meadows.
“Yes, yes, of course,” said the King.
“But you could marry Princess Christina for love, couldn’t you? Just because she’s rich doesn’t mean you cannot love her.”
“True. But I don’t love her. I remember her and I don’t love her.”
“Is it because she’s older than you? It’s only by a year.”
“No. I could love an older princess,” said the prince. “It’s because of her eyes. She doesn’t have blue eyes. And I’m in love with blue eyes.”
“Whose eyes?” asked the king.
“Why blue eyes? My eyes are green.” The queen picked up a mirror and examined her eyes thoughtfully.
“I don’t know. I only know I’m in love with blue eyes and Princess Christina does not have blue eyes.” The prince was silent a moment. “Love is one of those things you can’t explain. Like why sunsets are beautiful and warm and sunrises are always insipid and cold. I’ve simply fallen in love with blue eyes and I can’t love anybody else.”
The prince’s eyes were brown, not chestnut brown, not chocolate brown, not the soft velvet brown of a puppy’s fur. They were just brown.
“Well,” said the king, “Plenty of princesses at the ball will have blue eyes.”
The prince said nothing, his eyes fixed out the palace windows on the blue sky overhead.
The Birthday arrived. The Great Ballroom was flooded with people and perfumes and glitter and many, many eyes.
The prince danced with each girl and each princess, his eyes searching theirs, looking for the blue eyes he knew he did not know but he knew he loved.
Outside the ballroom doors in the gold cold air of the Grand Hall, the girl who loved the prince stood wondering what to say to him.
“I love him,” she said to herself. “I will tell him so, for it is the truest truth I know.”
Her blue gown fluttering in union with her pulse, she entered and saw him bowing to a blue-eyed beauty as the last waltz stopped singing. Seizing her soul, she walked directly in his line of vision, right up to him. Her breath mingled with his in the air.
“Good evening,” said the prince, with polite warmth and a beautiful smile.
“I love you,” said the girl.
And they danced. And the girl’s heart exploded and reformed a million times as their eyes searched each other’s and their fingers twined tightly like ten eager lovers.
Three minutes after eternity had begun the waltz ended, and fingers and eyes divorced.
“You have beautiful eyes,” said the girl softly, her empty hands clasped together.
“So do you,” said the prince. “Thank you for the dance.” His eyes hid in a bow and he walked away. And the girl broke. For his eyes had said goodbye to her and eyes do not lie. She knew that he did not love her. The second truest truth.
“You’re right, mother,” she said, twenty miles later at home. “The prince is charming.”
“A real prince treats everybody kindly,” yawned the mother from her rocking chair. “I told you his family were real royalty.”
“So,” said the Queen to the Prince that night, thinking of meadows that she grew up in before she got married. “Who will be your Queen?”
“I do not love any of the girls from the ball,” said the prince quietly.
“Why not? I saw many princesses with blue eyes.”
“I do not love their blue eyes,” said the prince.
“Oh well,” said the Queen, getting lost in meadow memories. “Maybe you’ll change your mind.”
“Yes,” said the King, falling asleep in a chair.
The prince was silent.
But because the girl knew she loved and because it was her first love, she did not give up. The next day she visited the Woman in the River. Bending over the water, she whispered, “Tell me why the prince does not love me. Is it because he is a prince and princes marry princesses?”
The Woman rose to the water’s skin and answered, “No. The prince will marry for love, not royalty. It is because he is already in love.”
“With anyone and no one. He is in love with eyes, eyes he sees in the sky and in his dreams and in his mother’s wedding vase that holds yesterday’s flowers.”
“What kind of eyes?” The girl held her breath with both hands, it had grown so heavy.
“With blue eyes.”
The girl thanked the Woman and returned home. She stared in her mirror for a long time. She did not cry. Finally, she returned to the River.
“Please, give me those blue eyes the prince dreams of.”
“I will,” said the Woman. “But what will you do with two pairs of eyes?”
“I know three truest truths,” the girl repeated slowly. “One,” the girl reached up and pulled out her left eye. “I love the prince. Two,” the girl reached over and plucked out her right eye. “He does not love me. Three,” she placed both her eyes in one hand. “The prince loves blue eyes.” She held out her empty hand. “Give me his blue eyes.”
So the Woman gave the girl the blue eyes she asked for and the girl carefully placed them where her old eyes had been.
“And your old eyes?”
“I don’t need them anymore.” The girl dropped them blindly into the river. “Guide me home, please.”
That night she lay in bed staring with unclosed eyes at a ceiling she could not see.
The next day rising early, she carefully felt her way out of her bedroom, out of the house, and down to the tree stump in front of the window where she used to watch sunsets and sunrises. When she heard the prince and his party come riding by she called out, “Prince! Prince!” And being a real prince, the prince steered his horse toward her, dismounted, and approached. “Good morning,” he said politely. “Did you call?”
The girl held her head high and his silent eyes met her blind eyes.
“I love you,” said the girl.
“I love you,” said the Prince.
The marriage took place a month later. The King and Queen were delighted with the expensive wedding gifts from neighbouring kings and queens that they didn’t mind that the girl was not a princess.
“Times change,” said the Queen. “And we need time off.”
“Yes,” said the King, happily.
But they had forgotten how to do more important things and at night lay like mummies in their white expensive nightgowns, thinking about taxes and meadows under a six-poster bed ceiling.
And the girl and the prince became the new Queen and King and lived happily ever after. The girl never cried for her old blue eyes; in fact, she could not cry. But she could smile and she had two new blue eyes and her prince loved her.
This short story by Isa Gill is posted in submission for the ESA’s 2022 Short Story Competition.