This is the other story.
There once was a girl who was always the other. We already know her as the other princess, but in her life, she was many other others. Born last in a relatively large family, she was never referred to by her given name. Upon her birth the midwife had said, ‘Here comes the other.’ While referring to her as the other was reasonable at the time, as she was the second in a set of twins, the name stuck. When her father saw her he had said, ‘Oh, this is the other.’ And when her mother introduced her to her sisters, she said, ‘This is the other one,’ following the introduction of her elder twin sister.
Unlike her sisters, who had reasonable names like Liria, Miche, or Pachy, the other princess had an eleven-lettered name that no one cared to remember how to say or spell. Despite her parents being the only ones, besides her, who could say and spell her name, they regularly referred to her as their other daughter.
Her parents did have more than a handful of daughters, so their forgetfulness and lackadaisical approach to her name was understandable, but they always used the correct names for her sisters. Admittedly, her sisters were better than her parents were with her name. Most times, when they did remember her name, they shortened her name to the first three letters and the first syllable.
The other princess once asked her parents why her name was so long and different. They told her that they had felt the urge to be fanciful when naming their last child. Her parents said her that her name was so fantastical that no one else in the kingdom had a name so splendid—that she should appreciate being so unique.
But the other princess did not feel unique.
Being the other did not end with her name. Each sister she had was unique in their own way, but she was somewhere in between with no outstanding traits. She was pretty, but not as pretty as Liria. She was bright, but not as bright as Miche. Her plump sister, Gwill, who spent all her time eating and cooking, was described as a curvaceous beauty and the matronly one. Even drab Pachy’s simple ways overshadowed the other princess. Worst of all, against her eldest sister, Oyama, the Queen to be, and her twin sister, Yulan, who was like the son her father never had, the other princess had no chance to be noticed.
Naturally, the other princes did not want to be the other. She wanted the attention and esteem her sisters had. For the first years of her life, she tried to be like her sisters. She trained in the art of being a lady; she learned to be proper; she became knowledgeable, but no matter what she did, she only became even more ordinary than before. She became a well-balanced individual, knowing a little of every skill, but having no outstanding trait to make her shine.
Being ordinary did come in handy for the other princess. As much as she did not like how people thought nothing of what she did, there were benefits. Unlike her sisters, her actions were never questioned. When Liria decided to learn to cook, no one trusted her in the kitchen; she was swiftly shooed out. When Gwill wanted to play sports, no one wanted her on their team, let alone play against her. They wanted competition, and she provided none. The other princess never faced such difficulties. She was able to spend days in any part of the castle with no one causing a fuss. Nothing was strange, and nothing was unexpected. She was here and there, and that was all.
The other princess was not lost to her increasingly generic nature. She saw the advantages and the disadvantages, and although she liked the advantages very much, she still desired to prove herself as someone worth noticing. She did not want to be the princess her people did not remember they had.
Being a bit of a sly girl, she frequently sat near conversations. She was not stealthy, but no one cared where she was. She was positively harmless. Sometimes when her sisters were chatting with one another, they let her sit next to them even though they did not talk to her directly. The arrangement was suitable for the other princess. She did not necessarily want to speak; she wanted to know was what people wanted, and she hoped she could learn to be what people wanted. Listening to the conversations, she soon realized that different people liked different traits in different people. She was the only person who was not different.
Whenever a sister of hers went abroad to a foreign kingdom, the sister always had much to say about the people she had encountered. Year after year, a sister went to Tarsus, and each sister had a different opinion on the kingdom. They all encountered the same people and the same places, but none shared the same opinion.
The other princess was fascinated.
The young prince they spoke of intrigued her the most. Liria had said she was forced to be around a repulsive little boy, albeit only for a short period; Miche claimed that the young prince had given her nightmares; Pachy thought he was handsome for a younger man, but too active; and Gwill remembered him to be charming, but too skinny for her taste.
Her sisters also gossiped about the family dynamics of Tarsus’ royal family. With what they said, the other princess came to the realization that their father was trying to pair one of them with the young prince. Luckily, for her, none had won him.
The other princess looked forward to meeting him. He sounded different, interesting— and fun. She giggled thinking about how a prince was able to disgust Liria. Normally, Liria wanted to be associated with any prince. Moreover, to give Miche nightmares, not even her twin sister was able to scare her so thoroughly. Best of all, if prudish Pachy admitted a man was handsome, no doubt, he was a vision to see. According to Gwill, he was nice too. He was all these wonderful things, and he easily left an impression. The young prince was special.
She patiently waited for her year. They went according to age, and appropriately, her twin would go before her. The other princess thought that the young prince might like a wife like herself. Considering how vivacious she heard him to be, she did not think he would want a woman who might overshadow him as Yulan might. He needed a gentle soul.
The other princess thought of how it would be like to be married to him. She would not ask for much. She would let him live as freely as he wanted to. As long as she won his heart, people would have to acknowledge her. She would have married a prince, and when his older brother passed, she would be Queen.
Not a month before Yulan’s expected date of departure, the other princess was informed that she was also to visit Tarsus that year.
The other princess was distraught. She did not know how she could compare to her vibrant twin sister. Yulan was charismatic, and their father loved her the most. The other princess was bland and boring in comparison. Opposites attracted, but from what she had heard, the young prince and her twin were very similar. She was certain the two would become best of friends, and the young prince would not notice her. Despite going with her sister, the other princess refused to allow it to be the end. She was sure that she could find a way to charm the prince.
The other princess spent the remainder of the month researching. She scoured the library for knowledge. For a long time she found nothing. She was not a brilliant reader like Miche, or as familiar with the library catalogue. She constantly worried she might have missed the perfect book, and keeping track of the books was difficult as she drowned in their vast amounts. When she looked under that category romance or love, she would find books detailing romantic adventures and guides on how to woo a man, but that information was not new to her. She had seen it all through Liria. The other princess directed her attention to more obscurely named sections.
The other princess’ intuition to do so proved correct.
Late one night in a creatively named aisle, she found a book unlike any other. In the very back, on the highest shelf, she found a dusty old book; the book was unimposing and appeared like any other, albeit without an image, word, or design on the cover. She thought it was a forgotten journal, and she opened it only out of curiosity.
The pages coughed and dust scattered. The face of an ugly old hag etched onto the pages. ‘Why hello, dear,’ said the hag in the book. ‘What knowledge are you seeking in this here library?’
‘What—who are you?’ the other princess sceptically asked. She had never heard of a book like this before, and Miche certainly had never mentioned a book of this sort before.
‘I am a humble sorceress who was trapped in here when judgemental people decided that my craft was that of the devil,’ said the hag. ‘But they were not the ones who imprisoned me. My sisters were worried that our craft would be lost. Thus, before they burned us to ash, my sisters put me in this book to keep me safe. As you can see, those people were wrong. Would selfish evil witches save their sister as mine did? No, they would certainly not.’
She was right, the other princess thought. To be separated from her sisters like that was a tragedy. If the other princess had such loving sisters, she did not think she would be able to leave them. The other princess was intrigued. ‘What do you know?’ she asked.
‘I know everything,’ said the hag. ‘They entrusted me with all their knowledge. Whatever you want to know, I can tell you. Whatever you want to obtain, I can give you.’
‘Can you make love potions?’ the princess queried.
‘Why would a pretty little young thing like you need a love potion?’ asked the hag.
‘There is this prince in Tarsus,’ said the other princess. ‘My father has sent all my sisters to meet him. Soon it will be my turn. My father has not yet said so, but I know he wants one of us to wed him. From what I have heard, he is absolutely wonderful; I am, however, far less charming than all my sisters.’
‘You are in quite the predicament,’ said the hag. ‘Now, how much you desire to be with this prince? If you decided you did not want him one day—oh, what a waste of my effort that would be.’
‘I know we are meant to be together,’ insisted the other princess. She was sure the prince would also know they were meant to be if she had the opportunity to show him her true colours. ‘I can feel it in my heart. I have never wanted a person so much in my life.’
‘I will help you,’ the hag said. ‘Unfortunately, we have a bit of a problem. While I can give you instructions on how to make a love potion, the process of making a love potion is rather complex. If I do not show you physically, you may not be able to brew the potion to perfection, which may lead to a potion’s failure. Helping you would be much easier if I were free from this wretched book. That way I could watch over you and guarantee that you execute the steps correctly so that you may possess his heart.’
‘I will free you then,’ said the other princess eagerly. ‘What must I do?’
‘You would? What a sweet dear you are,’ the hag said.
‘Of course I would,’ said the other princess. ‘If you help me, I must help you.’ She would do anything to repay such a kind person.
‘All you have to do is cut your finger on my pages and drip a single drop of blood onto me,’ said the hag.
The other princess raised a page and severed a finger on the edge, making a shallow but bleeding cut. She dripped crimson on the image of the old hag then began to grow, lifting off the flat surface. Dropping the book, the other princess backed away.
Becoming more hideous than her sketched form, the old hag morphed, coming to life, and warping the other princess’ perception of reality. Without developing entirely, the old hag looked like a ghost, her legs tapering into a tail and keeping her form attached to the book. When the hag was as complete as she could be, she sprung forward and into the heart of the princess.
The witch was free.
Like any other morning, the night before forgotten, the other princess awoke on her plush bed. Her chest ached. She wished she could drown in her pillows and blanket. Nevertheless, her body moved. She wanted breakfast, but she walked past the kitchen and the dining room. She tried to ask a servant to bring her food, but her body would not let her speak. She was lost and confused. She did not know where she was going. Her body was headed in a direction she had not gone before.
The other princess figured her studies had gone to her head. She should have left the books to Miche. Perhaps Miche knew what was wrong with her. She should have asked her sisters for help. In spite of her blandness, they did relatively like her. Liria had taught her how to apply lipstick, and Gwill occasionally shared extra dessert with her. Yulan even took her out to play sometimes. It was not as if Oyama did not like her either. Oyama was simply the busiest of them a; she was to be Queen one day.
While she had nice thoughts about her sisters, another voice entered her mind. The voice came from her heart. Do not think such silly things dear, it said spitefully. Do they know your name? Does anyone know your name? They do not care, but I know your name. The voice whispered her name repeatedly. Never had the other princess heard her name said so superbly.
Still in her nightgown, she ventured deep into the woods. The morning air was chill, and her feet pattered across the dew slickened grass. She knew the voice in her heart was seeking something, but she did not know what. This is not right. We will find it. I promise you, the voice in her heart reassured.
The other princess saw what the voice was seeking in the darkest corner of the woods. Beneath a sliver of light was a small shrub, with little mauve leaves overflowing with silver berries.
‘Mother, you have returned!’ cried the bush. ‘Oh, how I have waited for you. Finally, I can be of use. They burned and cut my sisters, but you planted me so safely. I have been so lonely. They ignore me and trample over me. No one loves me the way you love me, Mother. Take my berries, please. They weigh me down.’
The other princess crouched to the bush, lifted the skirt of her nightgown, forming a makeshift pouch, and began collecting as many of the little berries she could. She pricked her fingers on the thorns of the plant as she picked, tinting the silver berries with her blood.
‘What are you doing here?’ a voice interrupted her. The other princess recognized it to belong to her twin sister, but she did not deter from the task. ‘You are bleeding,’ her sister noted, kneeling to inspect her fingers. ‘You better stop. Just because I have rough hands does not mean you should too.’ The other princess did not stop. ‘At least wear some pants when you come into the woods then. I know they say it is indecent, but this is even more so.’ The other princess did not respond. ‘Please stop,’ her sister pleaded further, grabbing the other princess’ hand in an attempt to halt her already bloodied fingers. ‘Father said those berries are poisonous,’ she said. ‘I know they are pretty, but touching them cannot be good.’
‘I know what I am doing,’ the other princess said dismissively. The voice was not hers, just as her actions were not her own. The voice in her heart had come through her mouth. The tone was foreign for her sister and herself to hear. She had always been one to care when others cared for her.
‘Drop those silly things,’ persisted her sister. ‘I am searching for maple sap for our journey. Perhaps you could join me. Wouldn’t it be splendid to have something sweet to enjoy during travel?’
Maple sap was sweet indeed, but a prince’s love was even more so. The other princess’ voice found its way to the surface. ‘No, I need these,’ she said harshly. ‘They are for my prince. I will not let you take him from me!’ She broke her hand away from her sister at her own will, and she ran, taking her berries with her. ‘Where do I go? What do I do?’ she asked. The voice in her heart answered:
To each tree, that bears fruit, plant one berry beneath. Then from the branches of each tree, you will strip its bark and weave it together into a basket. Be sure to use one from each tree, no more and no less. Then when you leave for Tarsus, rise early, pick fruit from all the trees, and place them into the basket. Do this, and whoever eats the fruit will love you.
With her bare hands, the other princess dug into the ground under the trees, clawing at the dirt until she reached a depth she felt was safe. She did exactly as instructed and planted a berry. When she had placed all the berries, she climbed atop each tree and snapped off a branch. Dirtied and covered in sweat, she hid behind an old shed on a part of the estate that was no longer tended. She bit into the branches and peeled off the stiff skin. She kept the wood moist in a bucket of water so that it would remain malleable, and she began weaving.
That night, she returned a mess. She walked blankly down the halls and went straight to her room, collapsing onto her bed without changing out of her dirtied nightgown, going to sleep in filth. Those who saw her went for help, trying to clean and feed her, but she shoved past them and screamed. She ran until they lost sight of her, back to her spot behind the old shed. For three days, she repeated the cycle: sleep, weave, sleep, weave, sleep, weave. After plenty of blood and sweat, she wove the branches together into a fine basket.
Looking like death, she came home that night with her basket in tow. She bathed and put on a clean gown. Starved, she ate more than Gwill. Onlookers feared she would burst her little stomach, yet as she stuffed her face with food, no one dared to stop her. After supper, she slept for days. She woke on the day of her departure. Mindlessly, she went to each tree she had planted a berry beneath and harvested her fruit.
When she returned, ready for the long ride, she noticed her sisters acting oddly. While it was normal for her sisters to let her be, they took the behaviour further than they had before. They stood far from the other princess, avoiding her like the plague, and staring at her with weary eyes. When she saw Gwill giving Yulan a basket of baked goods for the ride, Gwill turned away as if she had been caught red handed, and scurried back to the rest of her sisters. Her sisters bid Yulan farewell, but when the other princess tried to speak to them, none spoke back. The other princess was accustomed to being ignored, but not to such an extent. Never before had her sisters not cared to bid her farewell.
Yulan requested to ride on her horse ahead, claiming she did not want to be cooped inside a carriage. Their supervisors thought the request was odd, but they complied with her, attributing the independence with growing up and her boyish behaviour. Yulan did like being outdoors after all.
The other princess did not share the same sentiments. Although they had separate activities, they entered the world together and went everywhere together—in the same carriage. That was how things consistently were. Their bedrooms were across from each other, and they had attended their first lessons together. She could not help but think her sisters no longer trusted her.
Before she left for Tarsus, a sister did approach her.
Full of anger, Oyama stalked out from the castle’s main doors to the other princess. ‘Give me the basket,’ she demanded.
The other princess shook her head fervently. ‘I need it,’ she mumbled. The other princess scampered into the carriage and closed the door, ready to leave for Tarsus immediately.
‘You dare run from me,’ Oyama said, yanking the carriage door open. ‘This is for your own good.’ Oyama stood imposingly, her gaze piercing into the other princess. She held a hand out to receive the basket, waiting for the other princess to comply.
’No, I will decide what is good for me!′ cried the other princess.
Oyama did not move. She gave the other princess an ultimatum: ‘Give me the basket or you will no longer be welcomed in Kmeria when I am Queen.’
‘I do not care,’ the other princess said. ‘If I have this basket, I will not need this home! I will not need any of you ever again!’
‘So be it,’ said Oyama, shutting the carriage door. ‘Take her to Tarsus.’
Life felt darker for the other princess. While she was driven away, she peeked through the window of the carriage door to see each sister hugging Yulan goodbye. She saw Yulan’s small figure mount her horse, and she watched as her sister and the horse came closer until it galloped past her carriage.
As they travelled, Yulan remained ahead of the other princess. When Yulan arrived at Tarsus’ palace, she did not wait for her sister. She hopped off her horse and went straight into the palace. When the other princess entered, her sister had already made her introductions and was busy stealing the young prince, leaving her without a chance to speak with him.
The other princess had worked so hard to weave the basket and grow the fruit, but she had no recipient.
That is not true, said the voice in her heart. Give the fruit to the King. If the King adores you, he will give you what you want. The King can command his son to eat the fruit for you. The King can command his son to marry you.
The voice was right. Her bewitched fruit was sure to be enchanting. If the king ate her fruit and shared it with his son—and maybe his entire kingdom—everyone would love her! Hope returning, the other princess gave the basket of fruit the old king, who gratefully accepted her gift.
Her time in Tarsus ended without the young prince eating a piece of her fruit. She knew it was due to her sister’s intervention, but it did not worry her. She envied Yulan, who spent every day with the young prince, but their interaction mattered not, for the other princess was certain that the old king wanted her, not Yulan, to be his daughter in-law. The person she had intended to eat the fruit did not eat them, but she still had the results she wanted. The people who worked in the palace loved her too. The old king gave her fruit to everyone! Her life was going to be perfect, and when she and the young prince married, she could feed him the fruit then. He would love her; she was sure he would.
However, when they married, she barely saw her husband; furthermore, seeing her husband was the only sort of interaction she had with him. She had not been able to feed him her fruit as she had assumed.
One day, he ran away. She felt the other being within her seep deeper into her heart. After all she had done for him—all that she was willing to do for him—he left her. She hoped his leaving was only a physical leaving—that he would come back to her, and she would be able to make him fall in love with her—but such was not the case.
One morning, as she was strolling though the gardens, she saw him with a beautiful young woman, a woman more alluring than any of her sisters. The way he looked at the woman threw the other princess off kilter. He looked at the woman in the way she had prayed someone would look at her.
The Good Witch,′ whispered the voice in her head. He has a woman to love, and the King and Queen will have the child they seek. What is your purpose? The other princess stumbled back and closed her eyes, wishing that she had not witnessed what she had seen. Everything had been for naught. She was now the other woman. The voice in her heart cackled and repeatedly said, He loves you not. He loves her so.
Three seasons passed, and as the voice had told her, a beautiful baby girl was born to King Talus and Queen Navi.
Her name was Nelumbella, and Tarsus rejoiced. All doted upon their new princess. From far and wide, people came to give their blessings, congratulating the couple on finally having the child they desired. Her name was one that her uncle had suggested. Both her mother and father loved it, for they thought only such a name was unique enough for their precious little princess. The name was long, but all of Tarsus knew it from the first letter to the last, with every syllable perfected. They had a princess, and she was worth the wait.
The other princess dreaded that after Nelumbella was born she would become the other princess again. Such proved to be the case. No longer was the other princess the princess of Tarsus. The other princess became the forgotten bride of their prince.
During the Queen’s pregnancy, the other princess hoped to be involved with the family in some way—that her new family would not forget her. They did not, but what they remembered was worse. The King surrounded the Queen only with people who made her happy, wanting no complications. Although the other princess was her sister in-law, she was not one of the included people. The other princess was strongly disliked by the Queen; she blamed the other princess for the Prince’s disappearance. She wanted the Prince, who was like a son to her, to be safe at home and not gallivanting on an adventure without the proper entourage to keep him well nourished and out of harm’s way.
How she was never truly accepted into her husband’s family irked the other princess endlessly. The King and Queen barely spoke to her. She had no family, no wealth of her own, and no power. Anything she had, belonged to her husband. The title she was born with was inapplicable in Tarsus. She was princess in Tarsus because of her husband, not because of her birthright, and with Oyama the current Queen of Kmeria, she had nowhere to return.
What bothered the other princess most was how Nelumbella was not hers.
’That should be you,′ nagged the voice in her heart. You should be Queen. That should be your child. The voice was right. Her child should have been the one who was being celebrated. Brevis should have been with her. She should have been the one he looked at with all the love his heart could offer. Her child should have been the one he held, not the one who was the product of what the woman had given the King and Queen.
The other princess needed to put an end to the nonsense. She could not allow herself to let Tarsus live in peace. Tarsus was supposed to be hers. Thus, while the King and Queen attended a meeting, leaving her husband alone with the infant, she took the opportunity. She was intent on making the royal family of Tarsus as miserable as she was.
Furiously, the other princess entered the nursery to see the Princess sleeping in the arms of her husband. Almost a year after his return, she still only saw him. She hated how she saw him, the perfection he always was. She hated how he spent his time, tending to affairs his brother was unable to do. She hated how he dotted over his niece. She hated how he would not spare his wife a glance. Heart contracting tightly, she felt rage boil, breaking something within her. Uncontrollably, she yelled at him for caring for an infant more than his wife.
Her husband was baffled. He reasoned with her: ‘You cannot possibly be jealous of an infant. This is a different sort of affection.’
‘Do not think I do not know,’ spat the other princess. ‘You love the child because of that woman!’
‘I do not know what you speak of,’ her husband denied.
‘I saw you when you returned,’ the other princess cried. ‘You love the baby because she is an extension of the woman who stole your heart from me!’
‘You never had my heart,’ he stated calmly.
‘Your heart was supposed to mine!’ she seethed. From her chest, she felt her skin fracture. The crack ran up, straight through the middle of her face, the witch within surfacing.
She strode up to him, so close that she felt his breath against her breaking skin—so close that he felt her skin crumbling onto him.
‘What are you doing?’ he asked, stepping back.
She moved with him, remaining close. ‘Do not worry,’ she said softly, intertwining her hand in his, finally touching his flesh. ‘I release you.’ She removed the gold band.
As she turned to leave, the King and Queen entered, rushed, but poised. Her screams had echoed through the palace. The palace staff, who overheard the commotion, had hurried to the King and Queen, not knowing what to do in such a family affair.
‘Why is Nelumbella crying, and why are you yelling?’ Talus asked, concerned not only for their child, but also for his brother and the other princess.
Their caring personality frustrated the other princess further. How dare they show her this side so late. She hated their kind hearts and hated that had they made her feel unlovable.
′They hurt you first!′ the voice in her heart screamed. The cracks on her face ran deeper, falling off in pieces, breaking into dust as it hit the ground. She stomped her feet, shaking off what appeared to be a shell. Beneath, her skin was a green and worn surface, appearing far more destroyed than the shell she was shedding. Her pretty face was gone. Before them stood a hag who was more vile in appearance than imaginable.
The fear they felt seeing the other princess in this form was nothing in comparison to the disgust she felt looking at the way her husband held onto the infant protectively.
The other princess cackled and cried. ‘Travelling so far to find a witch when you had one here all along. What a silly man you are. I made your father marry you to me. Yes, he wanted you to marry a Kmeri princess, but he also wanted you to be with a woman of your choosing—one you loved. If only that sister of mine had not kept you away from my delightful fruit. After all, only a spellbound man could love a face like this. Now hear me, since you have all chosen to leave me in silence for so long. I have a gift for your dear princess.’ She slit her own throat and sang:
While her face may be delicate,
She will walk the life of a peasant.
You will fall from your peak.
She will marry a freak.
Not made to be a Princess,
Your people claim she is worthless.
Her inability to find acceptance
Will lead to your kingdom’s sentence.
Blood sullied with dirt,
I will have my just desserts.′
Blood dripped as she sang; and her body dried, flesh cracking. She turned into a muddied sculpture of compressed sand. With each word, each muscle she moved, she dissolved further. By the end of the song, her form was a pile of dust and dirt, some thickened into goo by the blood that had shed. Then, wind swept through the room, blowing away even the slime of her remains.