The Stellar and the Princess
Everyone knows the Daughters of Hope. Even five year old children in remote peaceful villages can describe a Daughter of Hope: golden eyes, golden lips, silver hair, silver nails. They are famed for their fighting ability, notorious for their libidinous lifestyle. Who does not admire them? Who has never ridiculed them? In our fairy tales they are the female warriors whom no man can best, whom no prince can tame, no matter how handsome or charming he may be.
I have been researching the various myths and legends about the Daughters of Hope that have been collected over the years by Crimson Library researchers. In all of these – those at least where a name is given at all – the Daughter of Hope is called Stellar Hope. Stellar is the title given to those Daughters of Hope who complete the rigorous training that makes them the formidable warriors we respect so much – and, as such, ‘Stellar Hope’ is a generic form of address. As a consequence of this, however, folklore is full of tales of ‘Stellar Hope’, creating an impression of a woman who has lived for thousands of years and travelled throughout Artemisia and the lands beyond.
Of course, there was once a Stellar Hope, for she was the first and the Daughters are her descendants, but none of these – I am assured by the Order of Hope – have been named ‘Stellar’. Stellar Hope – the Stellar Hope – is found in our very oldest Creation myths, a warrior woman with eyes of sunlight and hair of moonlight, depicted sometimes as a powerful queen, sometimes as a fertile mother, but always as beautiful and indomitable. There is an ancient memorial to her at the Stellar Spire, with text that translates, in part, as: ‘She was a force of nature, with a passion for life that would admit no favourites, a woman who demanded the very highest standards from herself, whatever her pursuit.’
The rather surprising end to this testimonial is: ‘She brought order to chaos, but left chaos anew in her wake.’ Divine and absolute though she seems to us now, clearly she was a mere mortal as fallible as any of us.
Kariyne Marlo, 3/986
1. The Chamber of Visions
Once upon a time there lived a warrior named Stellar Hope. She was not especially beautiful, nor particularly sweet or innocent, but she was a Daughter of Hope and possessed therefore a good and honest heart. Like her sisters she had eyes and lips the colour of gold, nails that glinted like polished steel, and silver-coloured hair – which she wore shoulder-length. Her skin bore many scars, which she wore with pride, the largest just beneath her left breast where a sword had cut deep, narrowly missing her heart.
One day, weary of war, Stellar Hope set off on a quest to find her true love. For a year she travelled the lands, passing through many villages, stopping for a while in the towns and cities, but though she spoke to many who were fair of face, or otherwise pleasant company, she began to despair.
She took ship, therefore, to the Crimson Isle and in the temple there she prayed to Artemis: ‘Revered Goddess, we Daughters seldom ask anything of you, but I beg you now to aid me in my quest to find my true love.’ But if the Divine Huntress heard, she did not respond.
So the warrior took ship again, and in Tallzehn she climbed the highest peak. ‘Oracle!’ she cried, as loudly as her pained lungs would permit, ‘I, Stellar Hope, summon thee!’ But though her cry startled dragons into flight, the Oracle came not.
With a heavy heart she descended from the rocky heights and followed her last hope north and east, through the forest of Essetta where the vampires live and over the great Mountains of the East. And there, on the shore of the Great Lake, she climbed the thousand steps to the mighty fortress of Kranparbel.
There is a room in that fortress called the Chamber of Visions, a place of mysterious magic that none, not even the wise, can control. It is said that not all who enter return, and that many who do are changed forever. There is a saying: ‘Only the desperate go to the gods for help. Only the foolish go to the Oracle for help. Only the lost enter the Chamber of Visions.’
Stellar Hope entered that terrifying room and found herself standing at the summit of an island mountain, one that she did not know. The sun crossed the sky with extraordinary speed, and clouds raced above her head, but she felt no wind. The sea and the trees were a blur of colour, and utterly silent. She was quite frightened, and almost turned back, but then she spied a column of smoke rising calmly from the chimney of a small house in the valley below her.
As she climbed down the slopes to the house the sun set, casting the world about her into deepening shadow. Before she could knock, an old woman opened the door and invited her into the firelight. Inside there were few furnishings, just two chairs and a table, and some unfinished paintings on the walls.
‘I will aid you in your quest,’ the old woman said to Stellar Hope, ‘but first you must help me with these.’ And she gave her a palette of paint and a brush.
‘But I am not a painter,’ the battle-scarred Daughter of Hope replied.
‘You are – here,’ the old woman said with a reassuring smile. ‘Do not worry – just add what you want.’
So Stellar Hope looked at each painting in turn. One was of a boat tied up at a pier, and she imagined that a young woman stood at the end of the pier. Taking great care – for the painting, although incomplete, was clearly the work of a skilled artist – she crafted curls of chocolate hair framing a face fair and foreign. The old woman’s thin brush followed in her wake, adding details and subtle life, until at last the exotic princess in her purple gown seemed ready to burst into movement.
The old woman smiled warmly. ‘It’s wonderful,’ she sighed. To Stellar Hope she gave a gift of three pearls, saying, ‘To find your true love, you must go further south than any Daughter of Hope ever has before. You must use these pearls wisely. If you sew them, they will grow as plants, becoming more beautiful each year, so long as you love and care for them. If you grind them up and eat them, your blood will become a potion that will unweave even the most powerful and sophisticated of wizardries – use sparingly, if at all. Swallowed whole, they will bring you priceless treasures – but that you must not do. Until you use them, you must keep them in your most secret place.’
Stellar Hope thanked the old woman and took her leave. When she walked out of the front door of the old woman’s house, she found herself back in the fortress of Kranparbel. Although she had been in the Chamber of Visions for only an hour or two, nearly five days had passed in the outside world.
2. The Princess and the Flower
At that time there lived in the land of Nemarkan, which lies far to the south of Tallzehn, a beautiful young princess named Aribel who was widely regarded as the sweetest and fairest woman in all the kingdom.
Aribel was an only child and was heir to the throne of Nemarkan, and when she reached a marriageable age her father desired at once that she should marry. To that end, they invited all the princes of all the lands to lay their suits before the princess. During the following year many princes came to the court of Nemarkan to ask for the princess’s hand in marriage, but although some were handsome, and some were charming, and many were rich and powerful, none pleased the princess.
The king was very unhappy and very concerned. ‘What is wrong, my daughter?’ he asked. ‘A hundred princes journeyed here to ask for your hand, fine men all of them, yet you have turned each one down.’
The princess was very unhappy too. ‘I’m sorry, father,’ she replied, ‘They were all fine men, but not one did I desire to marry.’
‘Yet marry you must!’ the king insisted. ‘I have only a few years left to me, and you must have a husband when you are Queen.’
The princess thought for a while, and then decided: ‘I will marry the man who brings me a flower as fair as I am.’
‘That will be a hard quest indeed,’ the king sighed.
‘But the victor will have proven himself truly worthy,’ argued the princess.
At last the king agreed, and the proclamation was issued. Men from all over the kingdom, and then from neighbouring kingdoms, and later also from distant lands, dukes to begin with, then earls, counts and barons, then rich merchants and proud warriors, finally even ambitious farmers and inn-keepers, all brought flowers before the princess. Some brought roses or lilies, some brought rare orchids, some brought beautiful flowers from far-off lands for which we have no names in our language. Very quickly the throne room – and indeed all the corridors of the palace – were filled to bursting with the colours and scents of flowers.
Of each suitor the princess would ask, ‘And is this flower as fair as I?’
And the suitor would reply, ‘It is, Princess,’ for they desired to win her hand.
But the princess would shake her head sadly, saying, ‘Then it is as fair as any, but I see none that stands out as any fairer than the rest.’
So another year passed, and still Princess Aribel could not choose a husband.
One day there arrived at the palace a remarkable woman with hair like silver and eyes and lips the colour of gold, and she carried a simple pot in which grew a young tree, barely a hand’s span in height, with snow-white bark and rose-red leaves. So unusual was this visitor and the flower she brought that the court was intrigued, and the king summoned her at once before the throne.
‘My name is Stellar Hope,’ the woman said as she knelt before the king and his daughter, ‘and I bring a gift for the princess.’
‘Is this some kind of joke?’ the king demanded angrily.
‘No, your majesty,’ the warrior woman replied.
The princess too was greatly annoyed. ‘Is this tree as fair as I?’ she asked.
‘No, Princess,’ Stellar Hope replied. ‘There is no flower as fair as you. But this tree is beautiful, and as long as there is someone to love and care for it, it will grow more beautiful with every passing year – as will you, Princess.’
Although the princess was used to flattery, such was the sincerity in the woman’s voice that the words touched her deeply, so much so that tears sprang unbidden from her eyes.
The king smiled to see his daughter so moved. ‘I think we have a winner at last,’ he announced.
The princess nodded. ‘But who is the victor?’ she asked. ‘Who sent this gift? Who am I to marry?’
‘Princess,’ replied Stellar Hope, rising to her feet, ‘I will reveal the identity of your suitor if you promise me, here before this assembled court, that you hold no prejudice in your heart.’
Princess Aribel hesitated, fearful that she would have to marry a man who was hideously deformed in some way, but then she remembered the gift and the silver-haired woman’s words, and she promised that she held no prejudice in her heart.
Stellar Hope nodded – a little sadly, it seemed – and said, ‘Princess, this gift is from me. It is I who seeks your hand.’
Such was the shock and confusion following Stellar Hope’s confession that for a full minute there was silence throughout the throne room. The Daughter of Hope stood calmly looking at the princess. Her expression was forlorn, as though she expected to be put to death for speaking thus.
Princess Aribel was flushed with embarrassment, but as she stared back at Stellar Hope she realized that although marriage to another woman was quite impossible the idea itself did not offend her, and her eyes softened slowly.
Livid with fury, the king yelled for the guards and commanded them to take Stellar Hope and throw her into the dungeon. The princess knew better than to argue with her father while he was in such a rage, and she watched unhappily as the guards marched the warrior woman out of the throne room. However, once the king had stormed off, she picked up the pot with its elegant sapling and carried it with her back to her chamber, where she placed it in the light. She wished she had had a chance to get to know the brave woman who had dared to declare her love.