This week, I introduce you to one of the most blunt, witty, and intelligent characters I have ever written. She’s one of the side characters in my work-in-progress, The Messenger and the Hunter, and by far one of the most interesting characters to develop. I hope you enjoy the brief story of her past and the turning point in her life.
The Princess with Starlit Eyes
Once upon a time, there was a princess born with stars in her eyes, though not the kind people usually thought. In fact, when Rena Delilah Kumar III first opened her eyes, there was a lot of screaming and crying and scorching. When her parents found out, which was basically when she first opened her eyes, they immediately decided that she would have to live blind and hidden, never to be seen by the outside world. After all, they weren’t the fairytale monsters who just left their baby at the top of a mountain for the animals to devour, causing a series of events that would lead to their ultimate downfalls. Oh, no. This isn’t that sort of fairytale.
Instead, Rena was forever forced to wear a smooth metal mask that fell tightly over her eyes, sealing any light and object from sight. It should have meant the end of Rena’s independence, forbidding her from ever living on her own in the outside world. But Rena was a resilient, clever girl, and she compensated in other ways. She learned to see through sound vibrations, clicking silently between words to sense her surroundings. Eventually, she could see nearly as well as the sighted.
Throughout her life, Rena gorged herself on knowledge, ordering every single book in the royal library be printed in a language of bumps and divots, one of the many languages she learned throughout her solitary childhood. Of course, her doting parents complied with her every whim and need, printing multiple copies of each book and filling the royal library with Rena’s printed language.
Rena’s parents tried as hard as they could to hide her eyes from the public. They swore maids to secrecy, never let Rena leave the walls of the palace, and refused to mention their daughter’s existence anywhere outside the walls of their home. But eventually, time passed, and rumors spread, and it seemed everyone in the kingdom knew the story of ‘the princess with starlit eyes,’ as the common folk so eloquently called her. Still, Rena was only the stuff of rumors, and she grew lonelier and more bored with every passing day. Shadows weren’t exactly the best company for a blunt, quizzical princess.
Rena always thirsted for more than the familiar walls of the palace. She wanted adventure, street smarts to match her over-the-top book smarts. She wanted it more than she could say, but wanting would get her nothing if she was not patient. So she bit her tongue, waited, and learned.
Although her parents were private (to an absurd extent, Rena thought) about personal and political matters, Rena read— albeit old— political manifestos and wartime texts stacked around the library like an addict, coming to the firm conclusion that the only way to truly be a good ruler was to be one of the people.
So she made up her mind.
On that fateful autumnal day, she made her move. It wasn’t an immediate decision, an impulsive run from the only home she’d known in the twenty-one years of her life. It took weeks for Rena to collect supplies and plan a way out of the confines of the castle, not to mention the time it took to figure out the social skills she would need out there. Still, the princess persisted. She was leaving, and she would not come back until she found what she needed, whatever that was.
Rena listened intently to the sounds of the palace, the whoosh of curtains in the breeze, the clicking of heels across the marble floor above her, the sparkling of the chimes placed everywhere for her enjoyment. She would miss this place, but if she was going to rule an entire kingdom, let alone one as large and diverse as the Kuman Empire, she would have to integrate herself with her people and explore, not be trapped forever on a golden pedestal miles away from their hardships and struggles.
The idea of learning a trade sent a thrill down Rena’s spine. It was positively exhilarating. Unfortunately, Rena would have to hide. She couldn’t just walk around her kingdom as a princess. Anyone could discover her and send her back to her tiny world of maids and flightless whims.
While the garb of the usual commoner wasn’t that hard to steal, her mask would be a dead giveaway to her identity. She couldn’t walk around in the middle of the streets wearing a delicate wrought-iron mask. That would be absurd. Instead, she found a sturdy cloth that would block her light from reaching daylight.
Rena blindly stared at herself in the mirror, feeling at the side of her mask where the clasp sat tight against her temple. Rena’s hand shook, clammy over the clasp. All the possibilities ran through her head: she could burn through the cloth, the stars could reflect in the mirror and scorch her alive. The list could truly go on forever.
Nonetheless, Rena took a shaky breath and slipped the metal security blanket off, squeezing her eyes shut as she felt for her cloth. It was odd existing without the mask, almost as if some part of her might be missing or chopped off, but it was too late to go back now. The fabric was coarse and thick, usually used to smother accidental flames. Tying it against her face, Rena acknowledged that the textile was beyond uncomfortable, rubbing like the claws of millions of insects crawling across her skin. But Rena opened her eyes nonetheless, relieved to see the familiar gray she grew up with. As Rena threw her hood over her hair, she rolled her shoulders back and smirked. She was ready. She stuffed the metal mask in the large pouch of supplies and coin that would carry her through her quest. She was restless, not stupid.
Before leaving her chambers, Rena left a message to her parents, a goodbye note telling them that she would be back and they needn’t worry. Although she had to admit they coddled her a bit too much and were overly-overprotective, she couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness at the thought of leaving them. She would miss her parents, even if she was coming back one day. In the letter, she reminded her parents that she loved them and told them that she hoped they respected her decision to leave, even if they disagreed with it. She left the note on her nightstand, folded carefully under a heavy paperweight. Then, she was off.
Rena slinked through the halls of her palace, following the trails by muscle memory alone. She had explored these halls, memorized the corners, learned their secrets long ago. Hell, she knew more about her home than the architects that built the complex structure in the first place. Finally, her knowledge was being put to the test.
Rena stood in front of the seemingly unremarkable wall, grabbing hold of the nearest candelabra and twisting it ninety degrees to the left. As soon as it hit its mark with a click, she heard the wall slide aside, revealing her passage. Rena silently strode through the rickety hall, letting the wall slam closed behind her without looking back. She took the practiced turns: right, left, right, and with one final click made it to freedom at last.
The cool air was the first thing that struck her, the smell of sand and salt and dead fish. She felt the coarse, cool, nighttime sand crunching under her thinly covered feet. She let the whoosh of the waves wash over her, the ecstasy of freedom filling her from head-to-toe. But Rena couldn’t stay. She had to go or she would get caught. Rena knew the way to the nearest village, Eskil.
The path to the village lingered in Rena’s head as she turned her back on her past and trekked forward through the slippery sand, moving one step at a time towards her chunk of the unknown.