art by Melissa Mead
The Gifts: Part Two
by Mari Ness
He stared at the silver hands resting on the pillow, all three draped with a single piece of fine red and gold silk, stained with tears.
The silk had been the idea of one of his advisors, who had pointed out that anything else would be difficult for the poor child--that is, the princess, the advisor swiftly corrected, after the prince had given him a single look. She was clever enough with her stumps--exceedingly clever--and no one was more impressed with how she could use her mouth and feet instead than he--but, still, it would be kinder to give the--the princess something she could open easily, with her wooden hands.
And so the prince had wrapped them in silk, holding them out to her on bended knee, his gaze kept firmly on the floor.
"Go on," he told her. "It's for you."
He'd been proud of them--perhaps too proud. Not his creation, exactly--as a prince, he'd never learned to work silver, only to claim and count it--but his idea, his design. They were beautiful: the silver so finely sculpted that fingernails and knuckles shimmered in the candlelight. The fingers were slightly curled, and parted, so she could use them--he thought this particularly clever--not quite as hands, but almost as hands. She could finally wear the rings he had longed to give her--the ones that she should be wearing, by right as a princess. She would sparkle in the sunlight, glimmer in moonlight, her hands fit for a queen.
She had cried into the silk.
"We will wed now," he told her, kissing her cheek through the salt.
And so they had, he kissing her hands and lips in the ceremony.
For once, she had eaten with the rest of the court--he feeding her each delicate morsel, she laughing at the jugglers and dancers he had hired. She was happy. Happy.
He was certain of that.
"Leave them on," he had said that night, as they went to bed.
Her eyes widened.
"At least this night," he added.
In the morning, the hands were off--she was, as he had learned, exceedingly clever with her mouth. He kissed her stumps and their still unfaded scars, then her mouth, then her stumps again, and then they were wildly tumbling together, laughing and kissing, legs intertwined.
In the sunlight he noticed the red rash creeping up her arms from the silver at her wrists.
"Have your maids find some cream for this," he said gently, kissing her again.
She still preferred to eat alone, or with him, using her feet to handle knives and forks--at first he had admired it, and now it seemed so natural that he wondered why he had wondered, but sometimes consented to join the great feasts, her feet encased in golden slippers. He fed her everything she desired as her silver hands rested on the table. The room whispered of their love. Some nights she kept the hands on as they made love, and he shivered to feel their coolness against him. Other nights she removed them, covering his mouth with hers before he could protest. He kissed her stomach, certain of a coming child.
He reached a shaking hand towards the hands, pulling off the silk.
Beneath the hands, a note, on heavy vellum paper. He knew the writing; he had watched her form letters with the quill in her mouth before. It had been, he thought, one of the reasons he had married her, the movement of her mouth.
I beg you, send these to my father.
He placed his head in his hands, and wept.
This story was first published on Wednesday, September 25th, 2013