Deal Me In, Week 24 ~ “The Story of the Eldest Princess”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Story of the Eldest Princess” by A. S. Byatt

Card picked: Six of Hearts
From: The Djinn in the Nightengale’s Eye

Thoughts: Once upon a time (and this is how Byatt begins this story), the sky over a kingdom between the mountains and the sea turns green. It’s still a beautiful sky made up of all the possible shade of green, but…well, it’s green not blue. The wise men and witches of the kingdom suggest that a Quest must be undertaken to restore the sky. The single silver bird and her nest of ash-branches must be retrieved. The King and Queen have three daughters. It is, of course, decided that the eldest daughter must be the one to go on this Quest.

The eldest daughter willingly sets out because she feels it’s her duty to help the kingdom. But as she walks along the Road (and she must not stray from the Road), she remembers all the tales she’s read about Quests. She realizes that the eldest is always the first to go on a Quest, but it’s never the first who succeeds. The first always fails in some way—turned to stone, imprisoned in a vault, cast into magic sleep. Rescuing the first becomes part of the Quest for some later person. This doesn’t sit well with the eldest princess. It seems terrible to waste five or seven years of life as a statue. If she isn’t going to succeed in finding the single silver bird and her ash-branch nest, will it make any difference if she decides to leave the Quest of her own volition? Surprisingly, it’s the nudgings of a scorpion, a poisonous toad, and a cockroach, that make the decision seem reasonable.

Sometimes, a story comes along at a good moment, as “The Story of the Eldest Princess” has for me. Stepping off the Road is a scary, counter-intuitive thing, but maybe it’s the better idea for the princess. The sky will be okay whether it’s green or blue.

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