A companion piece to my story Real. Baker POV.
Not in any practical sense, of course. The sun still shone as it did before, and at night, candles and lamps gave illumination enough to read by and to navigate the stairs when he finally went to bed. But practicalities aside - a certain luster seemed to be missing from sun and flame, some color that he had never noticed until it was gone. It bothered him. He had always been a practical man, and he had married a very sensible woman. The better they got to know each other, however, the more he realized that her good sense had been only one facet of her. She was vivacious as well as intelligent; she had been a sun in her own right, shedding warmth and light into his life. Burning, sometimes; he remembered pain and redness, now and again. But that was the risk of a sun, wasn't it? His very own sun, rising and setting for him every day, and how had he come to deserve that?
Perhaps, he reflected, he hadn't. And that's why he had lost her. Their last words had been in anger, not gratitude or love; how could he have done such a thing?
His house had been half-destroyed when Jack, Red, and the Princess had moved in, and that had been a blessing. Every day was an attempt to balance baking and house-building, all the while trying to care for his restless son. His day would begin before that curiously unsatisfying sun had risen, and it would go to bed long before he would. The exhaustion was quite welcome. It had kept him too busy to think.
It did not keep him from dreaming, though. All of his dreams were very similar, that first year. They would start as scenes of normalcy; him and his wife baking, or cleaning, or walking down the path that used to lead past the lake. She would look at him, and smile, and suddenly the earth would tilt and she would slide away. He would try to grasp her arm, but she would slide away so quickly, still smiling, as he scrabbled to grab a handhold and screamed her name. She would fall into nothingness, still smiling, and he would wake in a cold sweat. Sometimes he would find he was crying, and it mortified him to think that the Princess could probably hear him, through the wall that he had just not made terribly thick.
He did not think he could have made it without the Princess. She had been a gift; she had tended the garden and the animals, helped keep Red in line, and cared for the child, all while keeping the cottage clean. The Baker had come to believe the gossip that said that the Princess had been a kitchen wench before the Prince married her. She was just too practical to have been born to royalty. She had a peasant's strength and a certain blunt sense of humor that she kept in tight rein, but let loose once in a while.
The Princess. She was not a blazing sun, like the Baker's wife had been. She was a little more quiet, a little more subtle, but a little more steady and solid to match. She was starlight - never blazing, never burning, but always glowing like a steady beacon, a constant North rather than a brilliant rise from the East and a rapid plunge to the West, over and over. Distant, as well, like a star; the Baker was fairly certain she did not even know his name. There was something in her constant 'dear's that carried evasion.
Cool and distant, yes, but still not distant enough; the Baker constantly tried to put her on a pedestal, but she insisted on stepping down off of it and doing her share of the work, shedding her gentle, sweet light all over the cottage.
As the dreams began to decrease in frequency, the Baker began to realize why he put her up there, why he insisted on calling her Princess. She did not want to be there - but as long as she was up there, she was out of his reach. As the dreams began to decrease in frequency, he started to see the luster that she cast; different from his wife's, but lovely and compelling, nonetheless. It repulsed him, when he thought about it. His wife had been the love of his life, the mother of his child. How could he even consider someone else?
He told his son the story of it all, when he had the time, but the boy could not possibly understand the words. The story became more and more one of rote every time the Baker told it, and would the boy even understand, once the words made sense to him? The story seemed, more and more, to be a story that happened to a group of strangers who lived in a far-off kingdom that none of them had ever visited, one that might have never existed. How could he communicate to the boy how magnificent his mother had been? How would he ever know when the only account he would get would be from the Baker?
At least he would never have to tell the boy about the Princess. She was his mother as much as his real mother had been, after all. And the Baker was as undeserving of her as he had been of his wife. Even if she did have some... desire to join him in life beyond sharing the same cottage, did he have a right to pull her into this? She had been royalty, after all, and still carried some of that dignity with her. People noticed it, he knew. He heard the gossip, as the village re-grew and customers began to come back to him. The miller's son Ben had eyes for her, and he was quite the handsome lad. Industrious, too. Or the wine merchant, who the Baker did not know - he was wealthy, however, and that counted for quite a bit. Every time she and Jack left to make a delivery to one of the nearby villages, he expected Jack to come back alone, leaving him to care for an over-energetic pair of teenagers and a child who was never quite happy in his arms. But she always came back to care for Red, Jack, the child, and the chickens.
Not to mention one heartsore Baker. And a rather embarrassed one, after that evening he had tried to speak with her once Red and Jack had gone to bed - why had he, come to that? For what purpose? He had no idea. He had just had some confused idea that he did not want to leave her and go to bed alone yet again. Of course, he had anyway, after she had put her lips on his and awakened possibilities that, all things considered, might have been better left untouched. Because now she was Ella; he could not call her Princess, after that. It had all brought her within reach, and that was dangerous.
He knew, all too well, that to gain anything good was to risk its loss. Could he take that again?