The Princess descended from her carriage wearing only a cloak embellished with the royal sigil, uncaring of her nakedness beneath it. Few in the town square were shocked; below her neck the Princess’s body was made entirely of glass and unclothed glass was nothing to be shocked about.
She had not been born this way, so it was whispered (for no-one wanted to offend a princess, even one made mostly of glass) but a terrible injury in her youth had forced her parents to turn to strange magic in order to save her life. A less popular story said that she had been cursed by a sea witch when, as a young and arrogant girl, she’d been foolish enough to tread on sacred sands. But the story whispered quietest of all was this: the Princess’s own vanity had led her to treat with spirits and trade her ephemeral flesh for ageless glass.
Cailin watched the Princess walk to the town hall, her silver and diamond rings glittering in the sunlight, her translucent body moving with a liquid grace as sunbeams scattered over her sleek, unblemished arms. The glass was cut smooth and clean, the clarity was perfect. She paused on the stone steps, smiling and nodding to the crowd with immaculate poise before she entered the hall. There she would sit and hear petitions from the townspeople and grant justice as she saw fit, in her royal father’s name.
Cailin had no grievance to make, no wrong to avenge, but he stood in line all morning and all afternoon, one hand resting protectively on the wrapped object beside him. When the sun kissed the horizon, a guard beckoned him inside.
The Princess sat straight-backed, her eyes sombre but alert, as though the lengthy day had done nothing to tire her. Cailin bowed and she beckoned him forward, her long clear fingers glinting in the light of the oil lamps and the last rays of the sun.
“State your name and your case,” said the woman standing beside the Princess, her voice rough from use. She wore the sigil of the Royal House and the medallion of a legal chancellor.
“I have no case,” he said. “I’m here only to present a gift.” He brought forward a great covered birdcage, bowed again, and then lifted the cloth. He saw the Princess’s eyes widen and the chancellor scowl. There was a slight movement from the guard behind him and he looked back: the man’s hand had moved to the hilt of his sword.
The Princess stepped forward and crouched down by the cage to examine the creature within. It was a songbird, its head and wings feathered bright blue and green but its body and its legs were made of glass. Such fine, beautiful glass, the very best that Cailin could craft. The bird turned towards the Princess and twittered in rich, confident notes. Cailin held his breath.
The Princess’s fingers grazed the cage’s narrow bars; her expression was unreadable. “You’re quite the artisan,” she murmured and opened the cage. The bird hopped out onto her hand with a gentle clink. Her cool glass fingers stroked its feather wings. The bird looked up at her — head cocked, eyes keen — and began to sing again. Finally the Princess nodded. “She seems happy enough,” she said, and returned the bird to the cage, sparing a quick glance for the guard behind Cailin, who instantly stepped back.
“Why wouldn’t she be?” Cailin asked.
“Take my hand,” said the Princess, and he did so. “What do you feel?”
Her fingers were smooth and cold and strong in his. He shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
She favoured him with a faint smile. “It’s a beautiful bird,” she said. “You have my thanks. Allow me to present you with a gift in return.” She slid a silver and diamond ring from her finger. Cailin could not bring himself to try to reject it, though that would be the polite form, as it could buy him so much freedom in his art. He pressed the diamond to his lips instead and thanked her with flustered courtesy.
“You have a fine talent, Master Glass-smith,” the Princess said. She raised her hand to dismiss him. “I pray you will always remember to use it kindly.”
L. M. Myles likes spaceships, sword-fighting and cakes. She lives in Scotland and has had her writing published by Big Finish, Mad Norwegian Press and Reflection’s Edge.