There once was a castle, hidden away from sight at the bottom of the deepest valley between the two highest hills in the land. It only appeared on one map and people were unsure that it even existed.
Going there was something that had been in the back of Eliza Charming’s mind for a while, but recently it had become an obsession. Her brother, Prince Charming, had ventured to a slumbering castle and rescued a princess from a century of nightmares. She was beautiful and kind and they were so in love. They had married immediately upon their return and Eliza knew she wanted that too. She wanted to rescue a Princess of her own.
She had trained alongside her brother. She had better swordsmanship, while he was a superior archer. Having seen her brother’s success she felt ready for a romance of her own.
She set off just as the sun was beginning to wake, riding out of the gates just as the nightshift guard were being relieved of their duties. She carried with her enough food to last a few days, her sword, her bow, a full quiver and the only map to the hidden kingdom. Her brother and his beautiful wife wished her luck and waved her off.
She rode for many days and nights. The night before she was set to arrive she stopped and picked a bunch of flowers to give to the love she hoped to find.
When she reached the bottom of the valley she came across a high wall that was covered in even higher, thick and thorny branches. She cut her way through them, climbed up the wall.
And found nothing.
A clearing beyond the wall filled with nothing but bitter disappointment. Her heart was shattered, her body was tired and she could not bring herself to move. She sat at the edge of the clearing for so long that the sun began to set. She was just deciding whether or not to leave or set up camp here, when she noticed the shadows that were creeping in to the clearing. They spread slowly around her, but some of them were thicker than she had seen before. Some of them seemed to move on their own. As the sun set, the thorns that rose high above the walls around her started to light up.
The light cut through the growing, darkening shadows and started to form a silhouette. It was almost perfectly formed, except from the place where she had cut down some of the branches to get in. The sun was gone, the darkness was strong and before her stood a castle made of shadows. As the stars came out she heard music and laughter from inside the walls.
She discovered a door made of a shadow that was strong enough to knock on. Her knock rang out in the once-empty clearing. The music stopped. The shadow door opened.
“Hello?” the Shadow Princess’s voice was tentative. “Can we help you?”
“I’m terribly sorry, but I think I might have cut down a part of your castle to get in,” Eliza admitted. They both looked to where the damage had been done.
“It’ll grow back,” the Shadow Princess shrugged. “Would you like to come in?”
Eliza hesitated, “What… what is… where am I?”
The Shadow Princess smiled at her confusion. “You’re in the Shadow Kingdom,” she explained gently. “The light gives us shape and the stars give us life.”
“Oh. How beautiful.” Eliza replied. Now it was the Shadow Princess’s turn to look confused. “How beautiful it must be to me made of starlight.”
For the first time in her life, the Shadow Princess didn’t know what to say. “Please come in,” she said. The first time she’d asked it had been more out of politeness, but now she felt that she had to get to know this bold and charming woman.
Eliza Charming nodded and held up the bunch of flowers she had picked the day before. “I brought you these.” They were a little bit wilted now and Eliza was embarrassed. The Shadow Princess clasped her hands in excitement.
“Oh how beautiful,” she said. “I never really get to see things that are so made of sunlight.”
Both Princess stared at each other. And felt that this was the beginning of something more magical than either of them thought possible. Eliza took the Shadow Princess’s hand and they danced in to the night.
When the sun came up. The Shadow Princess and her Kingdom began to fade. Eliza curled up to sleep in the morning sun and await her love in the dark.
Read the next part of the series here.