Story Saturday: The Princess and the Shadow

This story was inspired by a book of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales I received for my birthday. I thought "The Shadow" was a very interesting story with a disappointing ending, so I decided to rewrite it from the princess's perspective and a few minor alterations. The new ending is inspired by "The Goose Girl" by the Brothers Grimm since it acts as a sort of gender-bent version of this narrative.

"The Princess and the Shadow"

Princess Rosebud felt uneasy about her upcoming wedding to Ian. He came into her life like a whirlwind and literally swept her off her feet with his exceptional dancing ability that seemed almost supernatural. The next thing she knew, her father was planning their wedding. She didn't dread the thought of being married to him, but there were things that made her second guess her rash decision. For one, he would never tell anyone where he came from. His full name, Iacolin, didn't seem to originate from any kingdom she was familiar with. He regaled her and her father with stories of exotic places like the pyramids of Egypt, the cathedrals of Paris, and the lush green hills of Ireland, but he never spoke of any place with a fondness that led her to believe he thought of it as home.

All of these things would have been minor complaints were it not for Nicolai, the man in the wheelchair who seemed to follow Ialocin everywhere he went. The two looked strikingly similar except that Nicolai's eyes were clearer with flecks of hazel and green, while Ian appeared to have no irises surrounding his dark pupils. He explained to Rosebud that Nicolai was once his shadow, but he tragically became separated from him on his travels due to his inability to use his legs. Rosebud wondered if there was such a thing as a shadow that couldn't use his master's legs, especially when Ian was such a skilled dancer. She also found it suspicious that every time Ian gave her a genuine compliment that made her want to be with him always, Nicolai would whisper something into his ear before he said it. The princess began to wonder if Ian was really the one who held such affections toward her. On the eve of their wedding, Ian came to his bride-to-be with grave news.

"The Shadow" by Hans Christian Andersen

"I'm afraid my shadow has fully deluded himself into believing he's a real man. He must be taken care of as soon as possible, preferably before the wedding. You won't want to be distracted by anything on your big day."

"How awful," said Rosebud. "First he loses the use of his legs and is separated from his master, and now he has lost his mind? We should do everything in our power to help him."

"Yes," Ian agreed. "We must help him by putting him out of his misery."

The princess gasped. "You don't mean..."

"You have a gentle heart, my love, but such matters must be dealt with swiftly."

"I will give it some thought and speak to my father about it later tonight," said Rosebud.

Ian smiled as she left, thinking that his plan had worked perfectly. Instead of going straight to the king, the princess consulted her handmaiden at her final fitting for her wedding gown.

"I'm just not certain he's the one I should marry," she said. "His entire past is a blank slate, and now he intends to kill his own shadow. What sort of man would separate himself from his shadow?"

"It's only pre-wedding jitters," said Rosebud's handmaiden. "Everyone gets them. The day before the wedding can be the most nerve-racking."

"That may be," said Rosebud, "but I can't help but wonder if Nicolai truly is Ian's shadow."

"In that case, maybe you should speak to both of them separately. You won't want to be distracted by anything on your big day."

"Perhaps you're right," agreed the princess. "I will give them a small test to see which of them has more humanity."

First, the princess wheeled Nicolai into a room where they would be alone. She noticed that even though his wheelchair cast a shadow on stone floor, it ended before his torso and head rose above the seat. Perhaps there was some truth to Ian's claim after all. Nicolai was unable to bow due to his disability, but he nodded reverently to the fair princess.

"To what do I owe the honor of being graced with your loveliness?" he asked. "Tonight, on the eve of your wedding, your eyes shine brighter than all the constellations in the sky, yet there is a sadness in them that I wish I could remove."

Rosebud thought she had heard some of these words from Ian on one of the many times that Nicolai whispered into his ear, but perhaps she had only imagined it.

"It's true that I am feeling uneasy," said the princess. "You see, our neighboring kingdom to the east has threatened to go to war with us, and I'm not sure what to do."

Nicolai was not as well-traveled as Ian, but he made up for his lack of mobility with books. He was a well-learned man who knew just about everything there was to know about the ways of science and politics. Fortunately for Rosebud, he was very familiar with the ways of the kingdom she spoke of. He knew that they lacked the fine steel that her kingdom used for weapons and armor. If they did go to war, they would be wiped out, which may be good for Rosebud's father, but it would eliminate an entire race of people.

"I do not believe that the kingdom to the east truly wishes to go to war," said the learned man. "They are simply using the threat as leverage to gain better resources from your own kingdom. If you share some of your fine steel with them, I think you will find they will be most compliant."

The princess pondered upon this answer and decided that she was satisfied.

"There is one other matter that I would like your advice on," she said. "What sort of punishment would you give to a shadow who has been separated from his master and goes out into the world claiming to be a man?"

Nicolai knew why she was asking him this. Ever since his shadow had separated itself from his handicap body and traveled the world, it had claimed itself to be a man and was now marrying the very woman Nicolai had fallen in love with. He decided that this was enough of a punishment for him already.

"He deserves nothing better than to sit helplessly as his master marries the woman he loves," he said.

Rosebud was puzzled by this answer. Did Nicolai know that the question was about him? Did he love her? He was kind and intelligent and would make a fine king if he truly was a man. She thanked him for his time and wheeled him out of the room. Next, she invited Ialocin to speak with her. The confident man entered with pride, completely unaware that the answers he gave tonight had the potential to alter his fate, which he believed to already be set in stone.

"My dear princess, you look ecstatic to be marrying me on the morrow," he said, oblivious to the unease in her eyes that Nicolai had spotted instantly. "What is it you wish to ask of me before our wedding?"

"I do have one concern, and I'm afraid it may distract me too much to go through with our marriage tomorrow."

The confident man barely flinched. "I'm sure it's nothing we can't fix. Name your concern, and I will have it handled before morning."

"You see, our neighboring kingdom to the east has threatened to go to war with us, and I'm not sure what to do."

"That's easy," said Ian, with a bright smile but not even a glint of light in his eye. "I've traveled to that kingdom many times. The people there are weak. Let them go to war with us, and we will guarantee a surefire victory. Of course, there will be casualties on both sides, but that is something you must expect when it comes to these things. There's no need to worry because you will be safe and sound in the castle with me."

The princess didn't like this answer nearly as much. Only someone inhuman would show such a blatant disregard for other lives.

"There is one other matter that I would like your advisement on," she said. "What sort of punishment would you give to a shadow who has been separated from his master and goes out into the world claiming to be a man?"

"Ah," said the shadow. "You must be referring to Nicolai. It is my firm belief that he should be put out of his misery as quickly as possible. Therefore, he deserves nothing better than to be locked inside a barrel studded with knives and tossed away to sea first thing in the morning so that we may be happily married by noon."

"You have chosen your own punishment," said the princess. "I would wish mercy on your soul, but as you are actually a a shadow, I doubt you have one."

"Surely my dearest princess is confused," said the shadow. "It is Nicolai who has committed the crime you speak of."

"I was confused, but no longer. Did you hear all of that, Father?"

Rosebud opened the door to reveal the king with several armed guards behind him. The guards took the shadow away in chains, where he was subjected to the exact punishment he chose for himself early the next morning. By noon, the princess was happily married to Nicolai who made every bit as great a king as she thought he would. Together, they ruled justly. Years later when she was with child, Rosebud made certain to hire additional servants with the sole job of making sure her children's shadows stayed attached to their bodies. Though it was an unusual job, it was done with proficiency, and they all lived happily ever after.

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