day the Sun was travelling all over the earth looking to see which of
his children were ready to return home, when he peeped into a dark cellar
and saw a young Prince sitting by himself with only a solitary candle
The flame cast the flickering shadow of the Prince onto the wall, and
since it was a very bright flame, the shadow stretched itself until
its head almost touched the ceiling. When the Prince moved his shadow
moved too. 'I believe my shadow and I are the only living things in
this place,' he said to himself, 'unless it is the candle; for without
it I should be even lonelier.'
a little barred window high in one wall the Prince could see the street,
and upon the other side, a lovely wrought iron gate captivated him with
its beauty. Often he would stare at it hoping to see someone he knew,
but no one ever passed through it. Behind it lay a beautiful garden
ablaze with the most colourful flowers he had ever seen, and their scent
was so strong, it reached him even in his cellar. Sometimes he thought
he heard the most heavenly music coming from the garden, and at others,
elfin voices singing so sweetly
they brought tears to his eyes. Once he thought he saw a lovely
maiden standing amidst the flowers, but when he rubbed his eyes to make
sure they were really open, she vanished. 'How does one get into that
garden?' he asked himself, 'for the gate is very tall and strong and
I do not know how I can squeeze through the tiny window in my cellar
to reach it?' The Prince sighed and took up his pen, and his lonely
heart poured forth it's longing in orisons of sublime poetry, which
floated upward on multi-coloured wings, like radiant angels taking flight
for heaven, and the Sun beheld them with pity in his benevolent eye.
As if sensed the Prince's thoughts, the shadow shivered in the candles
light, and shrank back against the wall.
"So — you're back then?" it said.
"Did you speak?" asked the Prince in astonishment.
"What do you think?" asked the shadow.
"I don't know what to think," replied the Prince. "One
minute I dreamed I was in a lovely garden with a beautiful maid and
the next I was back here again. Who are you?"
"Don't you recognise me?"
The Prince shook his head.
"I am your shadow. It was I who furnished this cosy cellar you
seem so eager to leave!"
"I must still be dreaming," said the Prince, rubbing his eyes.
"This can't be happening; shadows don't speak."
"Well it isn't something that happens every day," said the
shadow. "But then you are a Prince. Nobody knows that better than
I. Don't I have to walk in your footsteps and listen to your pathetic
poems when I could be outside having fun?"
"You can leave the cellar?" asked the Prince.
"Only when you're asleep."
"Why have I never heard you speak before?"
"How should I know?" replied the shadow peevishly. "I
don't know what you get up to when you're asleep. Perhaps it has something
to do with that imaginary garden you're always babbling about."
"Imaginary?" said the Prince indignantly. "There's nothing
imaginary about it. I can see it plainly from here."
"Where?" snorted the shadow, "show it to me."
"There," said the Prince, pointing to the tiny window high
in the wall.
"What? You call that old pile of rotting leaves and brambles a
"Can't you see the lovely flowers?"
"Bah! There's nothing there but a rusty old gate and some stinking
The Prince stared at the shadow in disgust, too astonished to speak.
"Well? What are you staring at, you drivelling
idiot? Have I worked my fingers to the bone all these years to furnish
this glorious palace just so you can mope around and gaze like a feeble-minded
ass at a pile of rotting leaves?"
The Prince gaped at the shadow in disbelief. It was astonishing how
real it looked. It was dressed in the finest suit money could buy, wore
garish rings on all its grimy fingers, and had a magnificent gold watch
pinned to it's silk waistcoat. Yes, the shadow was well dressed and
there was no gainsaying it. But the strangest thing about it was that
it was completely black, even down to its crooked teeth and shifty eyes,
which glowed malevolently as it grinned at the Prince.
"Cat got your tongue?" it asked.
At last the Prince found his voice and jumping up from the bed shouted
"You foul liar! How dare you claim to belong to ME! You
are a disgusting snake whose lips spit poison. Begone before I stamp
you back into the dust from which you erupted!"
"Hah!" sneered the shadow. "You won't be rid of me that
easily. You were nothing more than an insubstantial cloud of nothingness
until I took a hand in your development and made a man out of you! Who
do you think feeds and clothes you, and has scoured the earth for the
choicest luxuries so you could live in comfort and ease? Too long have
I had to listen to your vacuous dreams and pious platitudes. Well NOW
you've finally woken up you are going to have to get used to having
ME around; behind and in front, you prattling puff of sanctimonious
"I will NOT!" shouted the Prince, furiously. "I
care nothing for your empty treasures, your worthless gifts, or this
filthy, dark hole I have to live in! And I will not put up
with your wicked lies a moment longer. Begone!" And with
that he lunged at the shadow. But it was too quick for him, and stepping
nimbly out of the way, leaped onto the table, kicked over the candle,
and disappeared in a malodorous cloud.
'How very strange,' the Prince said to himself when
he had calmed down. 'Can it really be true that that loathsome creature
is MINE, or have I simply dreamed all this? He walked over
to the candle and set it upright again and looked out through the window.
'The garden is there,' he said to himself, 'although the flowers do
not seem as bright as they were..' He looked around the cellar and sighed.
'The shadow has tried to make it cosy in here and I suppose I was happy
here once; but ever since I saw the garden and the maid I have
been like one who has lost a great treasure but cannot remember where
it is. Can you tell me?' he asked the candle. But the flame did not
stir. Perhaps he had been too hard on the shadow? After all, it had
looked after him all these years — or so it had said. What was
the truth? Who could tell him?
The days passed and the Prince continued to dream
of the garden but however hard he searched he never found the maiden
again. The shadow re-appeared at intervals, and the more he abused it
the more violent and loathsome it became. They fought like cat and dog;
yet the Prince had to listen to its insinuating voice, just
as the shadow had to put up with him.
"We shall get along a lot better if you keep to your side of the
cellar, you canting old hypocrite," it said to him after one particularly
"And I should be much happier if you would moderate your language
and stop interrupting my meditations with your vainglorious boasting
and poisonous advice."
The battle went on day after day until one morning
the Prince awoke with the sobering realisation that perhaps the hateful
shadow really did belong to him. 'This can't go on', he said.
'Something will have to be done'.
The next time they met he forced himself to remark how attractive the
cellar was looking and congratulated the shadow on its housekeeping
skills. 'Also', he added in a rush, 'I shall not be reading my poems
aloud any more'.
The shadow was quite taken aback and rather touched, though it took
pains to conceal it.
"Now you come to mention it," it replied hesitantly, "They
were not all bad. For my part I shall try to behave with a
little more refinement in your presence, though I confess your shining
countenance and regal bearing do give me the shakes."
In time the Prince's dreams became so vivid that
even the cellar began to look cheerful and the candle blazed up so brightly,
it almost outshone the Sun that occasionally peeped in at the tiny window.
The shadow only flinched occasionally when it caught sight of the Prince's
poems, and actually started to whistle as it followed him about. Once
he caught it staring surreptitiously out of the window with a puzzled
expression on its face, and that made him so happy he went out his way
to be especially kind to it for the rest of the day. 'I confess,' he
said to himself, 'my shadow is looking less and less ugly every day.'
Not long afterwards he woke up after a particularly lovely dream and
found it sitting on the end of his bed grinning at him.
"How are things going?" it asked politely,
and looking around, added cheerfully; "it's become uncommonly bright
"It has," agreed the Prince. "I imagine it has something
to with all the time I spend in the garden I told you about."
"So I've noticed," replied the shadow. "Perhaps I was
wrong about that; it doesn't seem as shabby as I remember it; and the
flowers don't stink nearly as bad as they did."
"You can see the garden?" asked the Prince in surprise.
"I always could, but I didn't like it very much. To tell you the
truth it used to set my teeth on edge — and the smell..."
it added with a shudder.
"It's growing on me."
"Which is more than I can say for you," chuckled the Prince.
"You appear to have lost a great deal of weight since last we met;
and I see you've changed your clothes."
"I am a good deal lighter," admitted the shadow. "My
former diet doesn't seem to agree with me anymore and I find little
pleasure in the pastimes I used to enjoy."
"Life is a dungeon dark and deep; a long night of sorrow through
which we sleep," declaimed the Prince mournfully.
"Oh I wouldn't go that far," replied the shadow.
"Though I am beginning to agree with you that this cellar isn't
quite as cosy as I once imagined."
"Really?" asked the Prince
"Really." affirmed the shadow.
"You have spoken very handsomely," said
the Prince, "and I am sure you mean what you say, so I ought to
be just as honest with you. As a shadow you know what Royalty can be
like. Some of them cannot bear to have coarse people around them without
it upsetting them. Well, I had the same feelings toward you when first
we met. But now I see that we have a lot in common and might be friends
if we could put aside our differences and learn to rub along together."
"That's very handsome of you," said the shadow, "I had
come to much the same conclusion myself."
"Of course," added the Prince, "There can be no question
of us being equals — I am, after all, a Prince, and you
are only my shadow. I hope that's not offensive?"
"Not at all," replied the shadow. "So long as you remember
that this is MY cellar, and stop interfering with my management
of it. I hope that's not offensive?
The Prince laughed and reached out to shake the shadow's hand, which
was much lighter than he remembered it. "Friends?" he asked
"Friends," agreed the shadow.
"I imagine we will be seeing a lot more of one
another in the future," observed the Prince thoughtfully.
"You can depend upon it," said the shadow.
"In that case I hope you won't mind if I take my leave of you now.
I am rather tired and would like to rest for a while."
"Visit the garden, you mean," said the shadow with a grin.
"Why yes," said the Prince. "If I can get there. It's
not always possible you know."
"I'd quite like to take a little peek myself," said the shadow.
"You would?" asked the Prince.
"If you wouldn't mind.."
"I'd be delighted; only we can't both be asleep at the
same time or who will look after the cellar when we are gone?"
"I hadn't thought of that," said the shadow.
"Perhaps we can take it in turns?" suggested
"I'm afraid not," said the shadow. "I cannot enter the
garden on my own. I can only see it at all because you are here with
"I had no idea," said the Prince sadly. "Have I been
very hard on you?"
"You did call me a 'disgusting snake," replied the shadow.
"And you called me a 'prattling puff of sanctimonious wind."
"Which was true," said the shadow.
"Perhaps," admitted the Prince, "but now we are friends."
"Now we are friends," repeated the shadow. "And friends
help one another."
"What do you mean?"
"I could show you how to see the garden if you promise to tell
me what it's like afterwards."
"How will you do that?" asked the Prince.
"By walking out of the door, up the stairs, and across the road
to look in through the gate."
"But the cellar door is locked — I have never been
able to get out."
"Ah," replied the shadow with a grin, "that's because
you didn't have the key."
"And you do?"
"I've always had it, my friend."
"Then why didn't you say so?" asked the Prince in astonishment.
"You never asked," replied the shadow with a chuckle.
That was how the Prince and his shadow became friends.
From that day forward the Prince went out to look at the garden every
day and made a point of telling the shadow everything he saw and experienced
whenever they met. In time the Prince taught his shadow to appreciate
the wonders he glimpsed through the gate almost as much as he did. For
his part, the shadow transformed the dark cellar into a palace of loveliness
and grew so transparent you could almost see right through him.
Then the Sun, seeing that one of his children had
grown up, let down a golden ladder into the cellar. The Prince had no
sooner set his foot upon it, when to his everlasting astonishment, he
found himself in the garden beyond the gate. The strangest thing of
all was that the shadow had utterly vanished! As he slowly took in his
surroundings the Prince realised that there were no shadows anywhere,
nor was there any sun, although the entire garden blazed with light.
But the greatest wonder was still to come, for at the height of his
joy, the Prince turned around and found himself gazing into the most
dazzling pair of blue eyes he had ever seen.
"My Princess!" he cried, as he embraced the ravishing maiden
he had first seen from his cellar window. She was even more beautiful
than he remembered. A shimmering dress of white and gold clung to her
slender limbs and upon her brow was bound a blazing jewel that shone
with all the colours of the rainbow. The Princess smiled shyly out of
the corners of her eyes as the Prince took her slim hand in his, and
Then the Sun, seeing that there was no more to be
told, climbed into his golden boat, and sailed away into the West.
F I N I S
© 1998. Mercedes Dannenberg.
All rights reserved.
Picture: Edward Burne-Jones (1833 -1898) — 'Love among the Ruins'
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