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Breath & Shadow

Summer 2021 - Vol. 18, Issue 3

"A Song of Quartz and Queens"

written by

Starlight Matis

High upon the hills, a queen lay in wait. As she sat on her footstool atop the balcony, gazing upon the stars that gleamed above, she knew her quiet peace couldn’t last. Her

private bubble of solitude beneath the heavens was to pop, for another must enter. She couldn’t live her life alone.

Beneath the trees, a young man sat cloaked in dust. To him, the night was a moment to breathe. A whiff of fresh air. A chilling wind bound him to the ground. Morning was soon to arise.

Atreus, the stars seemed to whisper to him. Alone you lie upon the dirt, the zephyrs of the breeze upon you. The heavens spread wide above. You are in a beautiful world,

Atreus. So why, in such an expanse of majesty, do you contemplate life alone?

The smoky air filled his lungs as the morning decree echoed in his head. As a kingdom of miners, her challenge tested the spirit of her land.

One week. That was all the time she gave them. One week to scour the earth for her deepest treasures.

Seven days to seek out the glittering emeralds of the dirt.

One hundred and sixty-eight hours to find a gem worth a queen.

This was the order of Khione, daughter of the glittering snow and shining stars.

As he descended into the depths of the earth, he heard a voice behind him.

“Excuse me! I don’t want to fall on your head.”

Glancing up, he saw a man about his age, glowing white locks crowning his head.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Christophsis. I’m not interested in winning the princess, so I’ve sworn myself to helping men in their mission for her.”

“Seems reasonable,” Atreus responded.

Christophsis offered his hand.

“So, who are you, then?” he asked casually.

Atreus sighed, thinking of the stars unfolding across the sky.

“I am the son of the dust beneath the horizon, the dirt under the dawn. Son of the smoke upon the wind, of the ashes beneath the burning flame. I’m nobody, really. Or at least that’s what I’ve told myself.”

“And I am the child of the sky, of the snowflakes gliding upon the breeze, glinting in the harsh sunlight, and glowing under the moon. The drifting crystals reflecting the glimmer above. You are the aurora, and I am the night.”

Atreus grasped Christophsis’ hand.

“They call me Atreus.”

“I’m glad to meet you, partner.”

For the first time in ages, Atreus smiled. The dawn and the night, the aurora and the moonlight. They’d be together, with another who understood their love of the sky.

Days passed. As the two dug deeper into the ground, the less they found. Copper gave way to coal, coal seated over dirt. Nothing of value. The dawn and dusk rose and fell, and the final hours were approaching upon the horizon.

“Well, it doesn’t look like we have other choice. We’re going to have to move the rock,” Christophsis said, crestfallen.

The rock in question was a grey boulder buried below the soil. They’d hit it so many times, thinking they’d found a gem worth the princess’ heart. But it was only that same slab of stone.

“That rock? I doubt we can.”

Christophsis raised an eyebrow, disappointed.

“We- we can try.”

Satisfied, Christophsis nodded in approval.

The two bent over the rock, shoulders touching, jaws clenched as they pulled. Atreus felt the rough edges cutting into his fingertips.

“I- I don’t think we can do this,” gasped Atreus.

Christophsis glanced over at him, silver eyes shining amid the dim light from above. Meeting his eyes, Atreus tightened his grasp, and the rock came flying out of the ground, tumbling into the dust. In the hole it left was a slight glimmer. Atreus reached into the dirt and dusted off a single fragmented piece of white quartz.

“This is it. This is all we’ve found. Just a chunk of worthless quartz.”

After all they’d done, this was all they could do? They were the aurora and the night, the warmth of dawn and the gentle chill of moonlight. And this was all they’d found.

“At least we have something now. It’s not much, but I want you to present it to the queen. You deserve at least to see her, even if nothing comes of it.”


“And even though the odds are against you… I believe in you. You are a strong, caring, and passionate man. Deep down I know that the queen will see that in you. The light of daybreak shines upon you. I believe in you, Atreus.”

The line of suitors snaked around the palace. As Atreus gripped the quartz in his pocket, he glanced around to see what gems had been brought before the queen. Rubies reflecting the sunbeams, emeralds with hues as lush as a jungle. Pathetic, isn’t it? Even with his help, I couldn’t succeed.

At long last, step by step, suitor after suitor, Atreus reached the palace gates. The white marble glinting in the sun’s gentle glow, with tulips at the columns’ heels. Queen of the Night, they were called. A fitting name for the rare black blossoms.

Linen sheets hung over the walkway to the throne, obstructing the palace’s interior. It was the queen’s design, as the suitors’ focus should be not on the decor, but on her.

As he approached Khione, princess of the glittering snow and the glistening stars, he sighed, remembering what Christophsis had said. You are strong, caring, and passionate, and I believe in you. If only Atreus could trust in himself.

“Greetings, Atreus. I, Khione, daughter of the crystals below the earth, upon its surface, and in the heavens above, am ardent to see what you have brought.”

The queen sat before him on a simple wooden chair. Crowned in luscious silver locks and a thin ringlet of gold, she smiled amiably. Nothing to be nervous about, Atreus.

“Your majesty, I have brought a crystal of quartz. Though it may be modest and plain, I have gone far to retrieve this gift for you. Plucked from the earth and washed to perfection with the finest oils I could find. It may not be luxurious, but it is honest work. And I hope you will see all that has gone into it.”

Atreus placed the stone into Khione’s outstretched hand. Her delicate fingers closed over it as she closed her eyes.

“You have done much to earn this, haven’t you, my friend?” she asked, her voice shifting to something more familiar. Atreus gazed up into her eyes. These eyes were the same ones that had peered into his in the mines. The same silver eyes, reflecting the dim light.

“Christophsis,” he whispered in awe.

“Christophsis, Khione, what’s the difference? Both sides of me are the same, a child of the sky. A lover of the night and the stars. A dancer in the glittering snow as it sprinkles onto the ground.”

“But… there’s one thing I don’t understand. Why?”

“Atreus, my friend, do you really think I’d choose a spouse based solely upon their gems? I entered the mines to see the men in their truest form, the way they act when they think they are alone.

I knew coming before me, they’d put on a facade of humility or excellence, of modesty or pride. But all beginnings must come to an end. I had to see who they really were.

And I found you. Is that not worth more than any jewel brought before me today?”

“You are the moonlight, and I am the aurora,” he breathed.

And the queen of the night took the hand of the dawn, to be united evermore.

Starlight Matis lives in rural Pennsylvania, but also in a near-constant state of apathy. They find it hard to care anymore. The one outlet they have is their writing. This story was used to channel positive emotions into one piece.

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