Once upon a time, there was a young prince, Timotheus, who married a young princess. Like many young men, he wasn’t entirely sure she was the right princess. He didn’t know about the many possible tests he could’ve given her to know for sure. Consequently, he never checked to ensure she could thread straw into gold or whether a pea underneath a dozen mattresses would chafe her milky-white skin. He did know that her ankles and wrists were a little large and they were connected to knobby digits which he didn’t like but accepted. Our young prince also knew that the princess also had a kind but meek father and an evil mother. These should have deterred him since no proper princess has knobby hands and feet and no fairy tale ends happily with an evil mother-in-law.
But Timotheus persisted so they married, hoping to live happily ever after. Eventually, the good fairies gave them children — three of them, like little wishes. Two baby princesses, the first cast in her mother’s image, the second in her father’s. The third little wish was a baby prince, who looked a little unlike anyone, leading the young prince to suspect the baby prince was a changeling. The young princess may have claimed to have been visited by a shower of light from the heavens or by a handsome swan when the baby prince was conceived — we’re unsure whether she said that or whether it happened because sometimes there are details missing from the fairy tale and questions are best left unanswered.
In another kingdom, separated by many leagues and a handful of years, there was another young princess, Junae, who had a young prince of her own. Junae’s kingly father had been accused of stealing property from another kingdom and was unable to care for her. So Junae was all alone until her young prince rescued her from inequity and penury. This young prince was devastatingly handsome, an appropriate suitor for this princess’s petite and helpless beauty. She loved him with passion born of infatuation and gratitude and he accepted her obeisance with affection.
This prince wasn’t often around his young princess, but still before long they too had three little wishes: a son and two daughters, also the mirror images of their parents. While Junae reared the children (without aid of nurses, faeries, or pixie dust), this young prince traveled to many foreign lands, fighting wars and capturing the hearts of many damsels who praised his bravery equal to his charm, creating fearsome temptation for which he was no match. Even from across oceans and great expanses of land, Junae could feel her prince’s affection for her cool and it saddened her in a way that she knew she was helpless to change the outcome. Junae knew she must forge onward because, after all, she had three little wishes to tend to.
One day, after long journeys and much misadventure, it so happened that Timotheus and Junae met. Timotheus sensed in Junae a princess needing rescue and Junae was willing. They had much in common, each with their own three little wishes, each feeling like their own happily after was just out of their reach but yet still possible. It took some time before they could be together. There were no warlocks or dragons, but there were fire-breathing administrators who threw words around like “child support” and “community property” that made life difficult for a time. But Timotheus and Junae persevered and joined their own kingdoms into an alliance of their own where Timotheus was king and Junae was queen.
It wasn’t always happy – Timotheus’ little wishes preferred to live with his former princess and her evil queen mother who often cast a critical eye toward Timotheus and his new bride. Junae’s little wishes disliked Timotheus’s role as newly appointed king of the united dominion and the new laws he put in place to achieve order. In particular, they resented the four new little wishes that the faeries brought to Timotheus and Junae, a new prince and three new princesses – children who consumed the kingdom’s most precious resource, time.
Eventually, though, years passed as years will do, and all the little wishes grew into princes and princesses, each in their own way a reflection of the united kingdom they inhabited and all its good and ills. The youngest ones knew little of their history. In particular, one little princess, named Aglaia, understood nothing of half- or step-siblings and evil queens, of betrayal and lust, of divided families and parents who found new spouses. It never occurred to her that there could ever be but one prince for one princess who were both the parents of all little wishes and that they would all live happily ever after.
One day Aglaia was reading the scrolls in her room when one of the older sister wishes, Kalos, came in offering a new story to share. This story had pictures of a maid who slept in ashes, whose stepmother treated her shoddily, and whose step-sisters stole her clothes and nice things. They treated her abysmally. But the story ended happily after much strife and cross words, the maid turning into a princess who was joined in happiness with a prince who adored her little feet clad in uncomfortable glass slippers.
Kalos finished the story and Aglaia was confused: happy by the ending but disturbed that sisters would treat each other that way. What, Aglaia asked, is a stepsister anyway? Kalos explained that step-sisters and step-brothers are what happen when there are alliances between people like Timotheus and Junae. Step-siblings aren’t like true siblings, they’re lesser and different. They don’t need to love each other. They don’t need to share. They don’t need to be nice. They’re only siblings because two people decided to align their kingdoms, and they can become un-siblinged if a different decision is made. The siblings have very little control over all that because those are decisions that happen to them in spite of possibly wishing to the contrary.
Kalos left. She had a date with a singularly unworthy frog and didn’t want to be late. Aglaia watched out the French doors as Kalos danced to her lime green carriage and the horses whisked her away. Aglaia’s face was warm, a fat tear running down one cheek, followed by another. She felt in great peril of loss and suffocating insecurity. Her stomach hurt, like an evil spell had been cast. Her understanding of life, of family had changed forever after. She knew she couldn’t take her siblings for granted. They could be taken away from her, more surely than by a wicked witch or evil sultan. Siblings could be divided by blood, age, loyalty, and divorce decrees, potentially taking from Aglaia her distinctive family of ten children and leaving her with a not-nearly-so-magical sounding family of just a few. Small families rarely made for good fairy tales, unless they were twins or there was a case of mistaken identity (neither of which was true).
That day, Aglaia lost four sisters and two brothers. She could still see them, talk to them, touch them. But they were lost to her, on the other side of a genetic looking-glass. They were forever part of the ‘other,’ a place she would never inhabit.