As she flicked through the brightly coloured pages, the smell of the paper, the ink on paper, wafted into her nostrils in great waves. It drew her back. Back to the sunny front room of her family's home in Aspley. The sun falling on the pages of the book of fairy stories her grandparents had given her for her sixth birthday. She lay on her belly, propped up on her elbows on the green and black mattress of the stacked beds in her mother's sewing room. She was utterly engrossed by the tales of witches, evil stepmothers, princesses, princes, cats, wolves, frogs, soldiers, giants, pigs, bears, genies, elves, dwarves and birds of many varieties.
Since learning to read she had devoured books. She completely lost herself in the worlds they created. Even when there were no pictures to accompany the words she could see the imaginary worlds in her mind's eye. The faces of the characters, the houses they resided in, the cities they inhabited.
At six years of age, of course the concept of princes and princesses was alluring. She asked her mother how you became a princess. Her mother told her you had to have blue blood. She pressed her fingertips against the veins in her arms and swore the rivers that flowed below the skin were blue, but whenever she grazed her knee in the yard or the doctor took blood it was always, disappointingly, a deep crimson colour. Not blue at all. She had not been born to be a princess.
As she grew older she learned more about fairy stories. Their origins as warnings to children about the dangers of nature, of predatory adults, of greed, sin, pride and such. She learned the stories she grew up with were sanitised, censored, made palatable for consumption before bed without driving small children to nightmares, though originally they were intended to strike fear to the very heart of children to keep them close to home and out of danger. The darkness that inhabited the original fairy stories was muted to a dark grey, instead of a deep, deep black. Gruesome endings became happy. Good conquered evil, always.
As she grew older she grew to prefer the darkness of the original stories. There was more reality in the original stories, though they were often heartbreaking. The darkness of the stories drew her in much more than the saccharine, over-bright palate of the stories she read as a child.
She wanted less and less to be saved by a handsome prince, and more and more to save herself. Or be an intelligent woman and avoid any of the traps that befell those princesses in the first place.
She grew up to learn the reality of princes and princesses was one of decisions made for them by others. Everything was strategy and allegiances; not love. For all the romantic stories she grew up on, history told her those were just stories. The realities were about diplomacy, alliances, war, peace, and cold, hard cash. Most princes and princesses were puppets without the free will to choose their love, to choose their lovers.
And yet, the myth of the perfect, all-encompassing love continued to endure in her mind. It pervaded everything, blinding her to the realities of this imperfect world she inhabited. A world that shared more in common with the original brutal fairy tales of the Grimm Brothers and their compatriots. A world not easily drawn into the whims of a ceaseless romantic who truly should have outgrown this fantasy world well before now.
And yet. And yet she grasped onto this ideal with white knuckles.
She built a castle around herself. She secured the moat, drew up the drawbridge, surrounded herself with soldiers to keep this ideal safe away from the bruising realities of life. Perched on a mountain top, she surveyed the lands around and wondered from which direction this one true love would emerge. She gazed across the lands around her, wondering when it would emerge. She waited. And waited.
And still, somehow, the cynicism that drew her away from dreams of princes and princesses and fortunes and kingdoms and all of that pomp and circumstance didn't seem to dim her belief in something she had still yet to see or to have known to even be sure that it existed. Her belief in logic, in fact, in truth; that all took a back seat to her undying belief in something more when it came to love. Despite her better judgement.