fire and gold

by julie w

once upon a time, in the kingdom of lydia, a princess dreamed of fire.

it was always the same dream. flames would surround her, would engulf her, but she wouldn’t feel the heat. her skin would remain free of burns, but the blaze would grow and grow and only stop when she awoke with a gasp and red-orange light seared into the back of her eyelids in the lavish safety of her bedroom.

she didn’t understand the dream, didn’t understand why the gods would gift her this violent, frightening vision instead of a soft, gentle reverie of pretty flowers and prettier skies, but she didn’t dare question what they chose to bequeath to her.

instead, she lived in a dream of her own creation.

the princess had always thought the rose garden was beautiful. and it was beautiful. it was the most beautiful garden in all of lydia. she often wandered the seemingly endless rows, losing herself in the simple beauty of the roses. the air was as sweet as nectar, and every blossom was as radiant as a ruby, until that very morning, when they were as radiant as gold. that morning, she pricked her finger on a thorn and hurried to her father and watched him turn the droplets of crimson etching thin, red rivulets into her palm to ichor more brilliant than the diadem perched atop her head.

and so she ran. she ran from the palace and the rose garden and her father, and she ran until she reached the riverbank, where she knelt.

she thought of a garden of golden roses and golden thorns. she thought of a girl with a golden crown twisted through her hair and golden blood smoldering beneath her skin. she thought of a king who would soon have all the wealth he could imagine and more, a king who had power to rival the gods themselves, and she prayed.

when evening broke and the sun’s exalted chariot ended its voyage across the sky, she began to run once more.

she arrived at the nearest temple in sardis long before dawn, long before the scattered, twinkling stars disappeared from the dark ether. she knelt at the altar, where the hearth burned strong and bright, and folded the fine fabric of her dress over the dark bruises on her knees. she removed her diadem with trembling hands and carefully placed it in the fire and waited. and she waited, and waited, but it didn’t melt, wouldn’t melt, and if it didn’t melt, then she’d made no sacrifice at all, and the gods would refuse to give her refuge.

she had nothing else to offer, or so she thought until she saw the stain on the index finger of her right hand and decided that it was better than nothing at all.

she didn’t see the man hiding in the shadows of the marble pillars, watching with wide eyes as liquid gold spilled from her veins.

the man hiding in the shadows was a hunter. he had come to the temple to pray, but what he left with was hardly the blessing of the goddess of the hunt. no, what he left with was what he believed to be a promise of wealth to come. what he left with was news of a monster who looked like a girl, a monster with blood as golden as the gods’, and he did what any other hunter would have done.

he declared a hunt.

despite the arrival of midnight, word spread across sardis as quickly as a wildfire. with the promise of a beast to slay, the princess’ disappearance was forgotten by all but her father, by all but the king with a cursed, golden touch. and so, the greed-filled king of lydia sent his soldiers from the palace to search for his daughter.

once they had set off, he burned as many offerings to the gods as he dared and prayed that they might restore the princess to the girl she was before he gilded her blood.

the princess fled from the temple as dawn arose in a delicate kaleidoscope of rose petals and flames. mere minutes after she departed toward the river, toward the palace where she’d been turned, by blood, into a monster, the man hiding in the shadows led his army to the entrance of that very temple. they stormed inside in a tempest of battle cries and raised weapons, prepared to die with glory or live like kings.

when they found that it had escaped, the man hiding in the shadows sent his hunters out in every direction with a solemn but steadfast reminder that their enemy, their prey, wasn’t what it appeared to be.

seven men followed the princess’ path, seven men armed with spears and bows and courage, gifted with strength and speed and luck. it wasn’t long until they reached the river and saw a girl standing at its banks.

the archer among them nocked an arrow and waited to see if his target was indeed the monster they were searching for. as he lifted his bow, the wind rustled the forest, and the girl looked over her shoulder.

as the archer pulled back his bowstring, the man hiding in the shadows paced inside the hallowed halls of the temple, awaiting word that the monster had been defeated. he was walking to the hearth to ask for the favor of the gods when he saw a golden crown amidst the flames, a golden crown that could mean only one thing.

the man hiding in the shadows happened upon his epiphany just as the arrow passed between the princess’ ribs.

gold wept ceaselessly from her wound. it pirouetted across her skin, seeping into the gentle, cerulean current where it turned scarlet once more, where her blood became blood. distantly, she heard cries, shouts. the hunters could only watch in despair as their fortune dissipated in the river pactolus’ cool, shallow waters, as their hopes of wealth died with the very creature they had killed.

the last thing the princess-monster-girl saw before her world collapsed was a merciful wall of flames descending from above.

once or twice upon a time, in a land far, far away from the kingdom of lydia, a girl dreams of fire.

About the Author

Julie W. is an incoming eleventh grader at Head-Royce in SF Bay Area of California. She enjoys composing music, dancing, and writing poetry, vignettes, short stories, and novels.

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