"But you yourself said I'm still the fairest in the land!" I protested, not wanting to believe my husband would indulge such... appetites, especially with me still at hand.
"Oh my queen, you are the fairest, but she is the youngest. If it were any man but the king, there would be no competition, even if she wasn't his blood. But he desires youth more than beauty, more than anything. Get rid of her before he gets rid of you."
The mirror was right, of course. She always was and I knew she always was, but how could I do such a thing? Murder a girl who looked to me as a mother, never mind that I was only four years her senior. I began to cry.
"Stop that at once!" The mirror commanded. "The last thing you need is to ruin your complexion with pointless weeping. No one says you have to murder the girl. I will tell you what you must do..."
I had never been with a man other than the king, but with the mirror's instruction I found it almost laughably easy to seduce the head huntsman's assistant, a young man only just one year my junior. Once he was in thrall to me, I gave him his orders- to take the young princess into the woods and slay her.
"And to prove you have done this, you must bring me her heart in this box," I said, keeping my voice even. I saw his eyes widen, and I knew he would protest, for he loved the girl (we all did, sweet thing that she was) but I told him this was the only way I would believe he loved me.
Men are stupid for love.
He did as I commanded, and brought the box back to me, smeared with crimson and betrayal. And then I killed him- for how could I allow such a monster to live? He who would murder a little girl for nothing more than a woman's favor...
The king mourned the mysterious loss of his daughter, and of his huntsman, and I gave him comfort, and quietly had any woman beneath the age of forty dismissed, and life returned to normal. But I did not talk to my mirror for a long time... I felt wrong about what we had done, although it was only what I had to do, to save my own life. I spent many hours meditating on the box, warm and heavy in my hands. At times I felt as though I could feel it pulsing, and sometimes at night I could make out a faint beating from the shelf where I kept it.
The moon had waxed and waned three times before I returned to my mirror. I was lonely, and I missed her companionship. I believed that she missed me, as well- but when I pulled the curtain back the look she fixed on me was one of fury.
"You fool," she spat. "You complete and utter idiot. Do you know what it is you spend your days mooning over? Do you know what is in that box?"
"A... a heart," I stammered. "My daughter's heart!" The mirror laughed unpleasantly.
"Oh it's a heart, alright, but not one that ever belonged to a human. That is the heart of a doe, and your so-called daughter's heart remains in her still-living chest!" At first I was filled with panic- still alive! But then I realized-
"What does it matter? She is far away from here, and no threat to me. I am glad she's not dead- although now I feel bad about killing the huntsman."
"Glad, are you?" She sneered. "Will you still be glad when she finds her way home, back into her father's loving arms?" I could not reply with words, could only shake my head in denial and grope for the heart box.
"We shall try again. And this time you cannot give the task to anyone else, for it's just as your father always told you- you cannot trust anyone but yourself."
"For a princess must, by necessity, trust no one but herself," he warned. "This mirror has no interests of its own, and will therefore give you sound counsel. It will also give you someone to tell your secrets to, to keep you from being too lonely on the high path of your destiny."
I did not want to believe my father that a princess could trust no one- but I knew he was right. I had once had a best friend, a pretty girl from amongst the staff. Our friendship was secret, of course- our stations must never be seen to fraternize- but we loved one another dearly. At least, I loved her, until the day I heard her telling stories about me to Cook in exchange for a few tarts. So even at the age of ten, I had experience with betrayal, and I accepted my father's gift for the great boon it was.
At first it was difficult to talk to the face in the mirror- she looked exactly like me, so how could she possibly be any wiser? But time and again, she would give me information or advice that would turn out to be very valuable, indeed. It was she who pointed out to me the power held by the women of the court- power over powerful men, power that resided in their beauty. And when I confessed to her that I, too, longed for such power, she smiled a wicked grin and told me if I would listen to her she would ensure that I was the fairest in the land.
The mirror gave me complicated recipes for potions to use on my hair and skin, to become soft and fragrant. She told me I must give up the sweets I loved, and breads, and yes, even the meats- I must eat only fruits and vegetables, and those sparingly, for at eleven I was too full of baby fat to ever be appealing to a man. She told me how to instruct my women to sew special clothes for me, clothes that would be tight in all the right places, and padded in others. She taught me ways to look, ways to laugh, how to pitch my voice. She told me it did not matter that my brother would inherit my father's throne- for we would find me one of my own.
When I was fourteen the monarch of a powerful neighboring kingdom finally come out of mourning for his dead wife, and announced that he would be holding a ball, to mark the occasion. The mirror hissed with glee at this, for she said that the occasion would really be about him looking over the available royal daughters- of whom I was most decidedly one. He would be in the market for a new mate.
"Am I ready?" I asked nervously, my hands running over the jutting bones of my hips. I felt I was still too rounded in the belly, but a corset could hide that, as well as make the most of my budding breasts.
"My lady you are the fairest in the land," she replied, and her eyes narrowed like a cat who has been at the cream. "And you will certainly be the youngest, which can only be to our advantage. They say this king likes them tender- his dead wife was getting a bit long in the tooth for him, already midway into her twenties. They say her death might not have been an accident..."
"Why would I want to marry such a horrible man?" I cried.
"Because, you idiot girl, he is powerful- which means you will be powerful. And you will not be so stupid as the former queen, to lose your figure to childbirth and let your face fall to ruin. With my help you will remain the fairest in the land, and his eye will never wander."
And then the mirror instructed me on how best to dress, how best to do my face, what jewelry to wear, what scents to apply. I saw my reflection in one of the non-magic mirrors, and it took my breath away- no, he would not be able to resist me.
And he did not.
We were married shortly thereafter (for the mirror was absolutely adamant that I not let him touch me beyond a kiss to the hand, and the man was so hot for me he could not bear a long engagement) and it wasn't until we had exchanged vows that a member of our household introduced me to his daughter.
She was perhaps four years younger than I- about the same age I was when I received the mirror, but far lovelier than I had been at that age. For some unknown reason this disturbed me, but I pushed it from my mind. After all, the mirror continued to reassure me that I remained the fairest in the land, as did the lust in my husband's eyes.
But then came the day, six years later, when I came across him watching her from a distance, and I recognized the look on his face. I remembered the rumors of his past wife's demise... remembered his preference for the young, for the tender (and our white-skinned daughter exemplified both). I watched him watching her with heat in his eyes, and my blood ran cold.
I left work a little early, got someone to cover my class tonight, and came home and went to bed. Bleh. Now I'm sitting with Nathan in the living room while he uploads today's photo, watching some show about a stone-age fellow.
It never fails to blow my mind how truly sophisticated ancient peoples were. We kind of get this arrogant idea that people in earlier times were so hopelessly backwards, but the truth of the matter is that they were amazingly smart and resourceful. Not all of them, obviously, no more so than all of our current population, but enough of them. Clothes, weapons, all of their technology in general... just amazing. Especially when you consider what a large percentage of the population was able to create most of these things. Maybe not with the skill of a master artisan, but well enough to get along. How many among us can build a car? Or a house? Or even a pair of pants?
So here's to you, prehistoric peoples. Way to be freakin' sweet.
(and now my aching head and I are back to bed...)
I hadn't done any stitching for quite a few months... not since I started this blog, I think. But I pulled out my shoe box marked "X-Stitch" and rooted around until I settled on a project. I got to work and let me tell you- I was one seriously Soothed Artist. There is something so... well, to re-use the word, soothing about making all those find little stitches. Very meditative, very calming. Settled me right down. (Nathan was relieved.)
The truth of the matter is that I am absolutely fascinated by the fiber arts- and highly envious of the women (and men) who do them well. I've dabbled in many of them- quilting, crocheting, knitting, embroidery... even mending (which if you don't think is an art then you haven't ever had to do it yourself). I'm not exactly hopeless at any of them, but I'm pretty sure I'm not overly gifted, either. Nonetheless, I always feel incredibly satisfied when I start plying needle and thread. (I have much the same relationship with with clay, actually, but that's another- and messier- entry entirely).
I think one of the things I like best about stitching is the way you can really put intention into every pull of the thread. It occurred to me last year, as I was making a "muse focus" for a friend of mine (in the form of an embroidered handkerchief); each color I laid down I imbued with a certain trait: Now I'm sewing in courage, now loyalty, now empathy, now joy, now love... It's a process that lends itself well to magic, I'd think. Not flashy magic, but secret magic: women's magic... a magic primarily used for protection, crafted with needle and heart-string.
(By the way, young adult author Tamora Pierce happens to agree with me [or perhaps I agree with her, since she is my elder]. She has several instances of thread-based magic in her books, and I love what she does with them.)
Normally this is not a problem for rats- the little suckers will gnaw on anything and everything (which is why we give them sticks and cardboard tubes and such) which naturally keeps the teeth in shape. They also have a habit of bruxing (ie grinding their teeth together in an equivalent of a cat's purr), which helps keep things under control, too. Notice that I said normally.
Of our two rat babies, Zelda is the bold and dashing one, and Camilla is the shyer, more home-body rat. Zelda's teeth are absolutely fine, but a while ago I noticed that Camilla's lower teeth were causing her to somewhat strongly resemble a nosfeRATu. Pretty freakin' creepy, even for those of us who think rat babies are, as a general rule, default adorable.
At any rate, if a rat's teeth start to look a bit tusk-ish, the solution is to take them to the vet and have the teeth ground down, so I made an appointment for this morning, and round about 1020 Nathan and I loaded up the Ratkins (that's their surname) and headed out.
You might be wondering why we brought both rat babies, if only one of them needed medical attention. Well, the fact of the matter is that rats are incredibly social animals, and we thought it would be way less stressful for Camilla if Zelda came along for the ride. Turned out to be a good decision on our part, since we ended up sitting in a waiting room for like half an hour while they worked on her (they had to give her knock out gas), and having Zelda to play with did a lot to relieve the tedium.
The other bonus was that Nathan managed to get quite a few good pictures of her swarming all over me, being cute, and moreover he was able to use one of her eating a carrot as his "action" shot for today.
They eventually brought a very groggy Camilla back to us (her chompers a respectable length once more) and we discovered what had taken so long. The vet had accidenly nicked her gum while he was trimming her teeth, and the poor man was so distraught it bordered on comical. I reassured him that it was okay- "After all," I said, "I can't tell you how many times my dentist has made my gums bleed, and he's not trying to work with tools the size of my head!" This made the assistant crack up, so I figure they realized we weren't going to sue, or anything.
The vet was able to give us a theory as to why Camilla's teeth had gotten so out of control- turns out her upper teeth are abnormally small, and at an unusual angle, making it difficult for her to brux properly. He says she was probably born that way, and just to keep an eye on how long the lower teeth get. Which tells me we're probably going to have to repeat this rigmarole once every six months.
Ah, "free" pet ownership...
I approached the pub feeling more than a little sick. It was a feeling uncomfortably akin to a first date, but so much more horrifically worse. The emotions involved in this went way beyond any that might be connected with a potential romantic encounter. I took a deep, steadying breath and pushed open the door, managing to be equally terrified of him not being there, and of him already waiting.
Turned out he was waiting.
He'd taken a table about halfway back on the left, and already had a drink in hand. And he was smoking a cigarette, of all things. He'd never been one to smoke when I'd known him. He caught sight of me and I guess my face must have announced my disapproving shock, because he gave me a wicked grin as if to say, Hey, we're all adults here! But I noticed that he stubbed it out pretty quickly. We might both be adults, but I got the feeling there was a part of him just as anxious to not disappoint me as I was to not disappoint him.
I made my way over to the table and he stood up and suddenly I couldn't move- what was the protocol here? Did we hug? I'd never in my entire life wanted so badly to fling myself into the arms of another human; it was something I'd imagined countless times over the past sixteen years, but now that the moment had arrived I felt... frozen. Almost shy. The lump in my stomach rose to my throat, and I willed it to stay there, damn it, and to not make its way up to my eyes.
And then he opened his arms and I didn't care about anything but falling into them, wrapping mine around him and crushing him as hard as he was crushing me. He smelled like warm leather and Old Spice and jet fuel and yeah maybe those are all cliched man scents but whatever- it's what he smelled like, and the memories washed over me so that I didn't even care that I was drowning, and the lump in my throat completely ignored my instructions and broke, flowing out my eyes and streaming down my face, and he just held me tighter, held me until I couldn't breathe and I still didn't care because here he was at last, at last...
I don't know how long we stood there, but eventually we broke apart, and I groped blindly for my chair and he said,
"Ah shit, sweetheart- I didn't mean to make you cry."
I let out a shaky noise that might have been translated as a laugh and responded, "It's okay. I cry at the drop of a hat anyway. Don't you remember how you used to call me Sarah Bernhardt?" He grinned his devilish grin again and took a sip of his drink.
"Yeah, I do- geeze you used to holler about the tiniest things. It was hard as hell sometimes not to laugh at all your so-called sufferings." I raised an eyebrow and signaled for the waitress.
"Which is probably why you usually didn't bother!" He shrugged.
"Guilty as charged."
I ordered a gin and tonic (chilled, no ice) and while I waited for it we just sort of stared at one another. He, of course, looked exactly the friggin' same. Me- I know I was showing the years. How could I not? I didn't dare ask how it felt to see me this way, to see me as an adult. I was afraid of what the answer might be.
"God you're beautiful," he finally said. "You look so much like your mother."
"Funny, she says I look like you," I accepted my drink from the waitress with a nod and a tiny smile, and took a sip. The juniper hit my tongue and I immediately felt more in control of myself. "You should see your son. He looks even more like her. Which is to say, a lot like Grandpa."
"Well that's good. Your Grandpa was a good looking guy."
"So's my brother."
"Well he comes by it honestly."
We were silent again for a while. I knew I should say something- I was the one who had yearned for this meeting, after all- but I didn't know where to begin. I had so many questions, but I didn't want it to be an interrogation. I had so much to catch him up on, but I wanted to hear him talk, not me. I just wanted it to be natural- just the two of us shooting the shit, maybe talking philosophy if we got enough liquor in us. My brain flailed helplessly until I saw his eye fall on my wedding band.
"You got married," he said softly.
"And I wasn't there..."
"Yeah you were, Daddy. Your spirit was, anyway," I started laughing and crying at the same time as I relayed the great Wedding Crasher incident, how a big gorgeous husky had somehow made its way into the Botanical Gardens and gone cheerfully about its goose-chasing business right in the middle of my wedding.
"We all agreed it was your trickster spirit," I explained, and he grinned again. God, he never smiled- it was always a grin with him.
"Well maybe it was. Who knows- my doings of the past few years are a bit fuzzy, you know?" He took another sip of his drink. "Does he treat your right?"
"I mean it. I only get this one night to be all fatherly, and I want to know whether or not I need to spend it shooting out some guy's kneecaps."
"Honestly, Dad. Yes, he treats me right. I wouldn't have married him, otherwise. You think Mom would have raised me to take any shit?" This got a full laugh.
"No, I don't imagine she would. Hell of a woman, your mother."
"So do you like being married?"
"Did you?" I shot back, eyebrow raised. He nodded, but not just in the way that means yes: it was also the way that means, I understand. The left side of his mouth quirked up as he responded,
"I'm glad you found someone to take care of you."
"We take care of each other."
"Well then I'm even more glad."
He signaled the waitress back over, told her to bring each of us another round. As she left I took control of the conversation again.
"Will you tell me what it was like? When you first met Mom?"
And he did. He told me all about falling in love with her, and knowing he wanted to be with her the rest of his life, and the insanity of marrying someone after only three months. He told me the fear and wonder of knowing his child was growing in her womb the first time- and again the second time. He told me about what it felt like to fly, to be alone with God in His silvery courts, far above the mountains. He told me how he felt about religion, and politics, and all the things I'd wished for so many years to be able to talk to him about. And we agreed on a lot of things, but we also argued- of fucking hell, we argued about some things- but it was so good to have that chance. And by the time the pub was closing down and kicking us out I felt like maybe I was starting to get a grip on the man my father was.
"How much time do we have left?" I asked as we wandered into the crisp, clear autumn night.
"I have to leave at sunrise," he said. "Which is in about... five hours."
I was silent for a moment, face turned up to the stars. "You want to go for a drive?"
Two hours later we were at the coast. Specifically at my little slice of the coast: Short Sands. We sat on a piece of drift wood that was actually more like a tree, and watched the black water push white foam back and forth, just like we were passing a bottle back and forth.
"This is where I learned about passion," I confessed. "This is where I finally met God. When I surf I think I understand how you felt when you flew. I understood why you'd crawl back to base with a broken clavicle, and not get it seen to- because no amount of pain was worth being grounded."
"Your mother told you about that, huh?"
"Mom likes to make sure we remember you weren't a saint."
"Oh does she?"
"She does it at my request. Someone has to balance out your mother." He laughed at that, and told me a few more stories about him not being a saint.
More hours passed, and I did everything in my power to ignore the gradually lightening water. I wasn't sure when he'd disappear. How do the Powers That Be decide these things? Would it be when the sun cleared the horizon, or when its rays finally touched him? Would it be all at once, or would he fade out with the ocean mist? Should I watch, or shouldn't I? Could I bear it again?
In the end I laid down with my head in his lap, and he stroked my hair, singing the silly little lullaby he'd written for me when I was a child. I thought sleepily to myself that I should have remembered to bring a guitar...
When I woke I was alone again, face pressed hard against the bleached-bone tree.
For instance, today I overheard what might have been a very moving tale of the pain and frustration associated with the inability to conceive a child. Might have been, that is, if the woman hadn't been hollering at the top of her lungs about how unfair it is that "that piece of trash bitch" (who was apparently smoking and also a meth addict? Maybe?) is pregnant while she (the hollerer) can't have kids. She also might have been a more sympathetic character had she not gone on to announce to her conversational partner that, "You or I would pay anything for that child, no matter the condition it's in," which sounds okay except she followed it up with, "It will probably just be trashy garbage, anyway." (Trash seemed to be a recurring theme with her.)
Now, I would never pretend to understand the heartache of being unable to have a baby when you desperately want one. But my goodness- maybe there are better ways to channel your energies than being top-volume vicious in a public place. A public naked place, I might add, which always makes private discussions that much more awesome to overhear.
Perhaps it was my mostly-nude expression of scandal that drove them out (I mean, how bad do you have to be for the local tattooed-lady to be shooting you disapproving looks from the corner of her eyes, eh?) but they did eventually leave... and went as far as the front lobby, where I passed them on my way out, still sniping loudly.
Way to keep it appropriate, ladies.
In other, more awesomer news, Nathan is home and he took a photo on the long drive back from South Carolina that I totally approve of! Check it out!
Specifically, Jenny O hates drawing backgrounds. Like, a lot. I am pretty much only interested in drawing people. Rare is the compulsion to draw anything else, especially man-made thingies like architecture, so when the urge hits, I must submit, even if it means I don't get to go inside and see famous dead people with everyone else:
But that's not what we're talking about. No, today we're talking about the fact that I'm giving you an update on the pencils of my little Serenity fanfic, because I am conceited enough to believe you are interested in the process. Hell, you already read my ramblings, you may as well be subjected to the visual components, as well.
(There's a point here, I promise.)
The point is that you will notice that in not one but two of these panels there are backgrounds. What is up. Yes, Georges Jeanty, I finally took your long-ago advice and put something in the background.
And... and I have to admit that... that I kinda like the effect. Damn it. Stupid grounding of objects in space (this sentence is hilarious to me because that's the name of the episode of Firefly I watched last night for interior-Serenity reference). It's just so friggin' obnoxious, because it means I'm going to have to do it more often. Ugh and horrors and stupid suffering for stupid craft...
On the other hand, it means I'm depriving Nathan of the opportunity to look at my work and raise his eyebrows and say in That Tone, "I notice there are no backgrounds..." so that's cheerful.
Speaking of that dude to whom I am married, he's out of town, which makes me grumples (although it does tend to leave me with more time to spend hunched over the drawing desk). He'll be back tomorrow, however, and then I shall be grumples no more! And in the meantime I think I'll just comfort myself with crack-n-cheese and maybe some Netflix... mmm, carbs...
"I have no time to play with you, Coyote," She warned, not turning Her attention from the sequence she was laying out. "I am making you a younger sibling, and must concentrate."
"Of course, AllMother," said Coyote. "I would never dream of interrupting You. I will merely sit and watch."
"Hmph," said AllMother, for She knew She had not created Coyote to be passive. But She had created him to be full of contradiction, so it was possible he would contradict his own nature and sit quietly.
Coyote was still for many hours, watching the complex constellation AllMother wove. In time, She almost forgot he was there. Finally, he said to Her,
"What is it you are creating, AllMother? The steps seem far more elaborate than those I've seen You Dance in the past.
"You have not been around for all My Dancing," AllMother sniffed, "But you are correct- this pattern is trickier than many of the others I've used for animals. I have decided to create an emperor to rule over the lot of you, so that I may continue my Dancing uninterrupted," this last was said with a certain arching of celestial eyebrows.
Now, Coyote did not like the sound of this at all. Someone to keep an eye on him? No, thank you. He tended to get into his best mischief while AllMother was otherwise occupied, and he preferred to keep it that way. He did not voice this concern to AllMother, however, but instead said,
"What a clever idea, AllMother. I have long thought some of the animals could use someone to keep them in line. Especially Cat- she is always making trouble for the smaller animals,"
"Hmph," said AllMother, not buying this for a moment, but not entirely certain what Coyote might be getting at.
"In fact, AllMother, I think it might be a good idea if there was a proper group of us to welcome our new sibling- our new emperor. Shall I go and fetch my brothers and sister?"
"If you must," said AllMother in an irritated tone, but She was not really displeased: She loved an audience for Her Dance. "I will begin My Dance when the moon rises, so do not be late. And I'll have no distractions from you, Coyote, or I'll take your tail as penance."
"Of course, AllMother," bowed Coyote, and scampered off to gather a few particular animals.
The first of his sisters he found was Snake, who was sunning herself on a broad, flat rock. She hissed at him when he blocked her light.
"Don't be so ill-mannered, sister!" Coyote said with as much dignity as he could muster. "I've come from AllMother to summon you to Her latest Dance. She specifically told me to bring you, for you are to play a part," and he outlined exactly how Snake should enter and exit the Dance. Snake, swelling with pride, set off to practice as much as she could before the sun set.
Next Coyote went to visit Beaver.
"Say, brother!" he called out to the center of the lake. "I've come to ask you to be part of AllMother's newest Dance! It's a great honor, and she requested you in specific. Here are the steps you must contribute," as he was demonstrating, Otter popped up out of the water, too. "What about me?" she asked. "Is there a part for me to Dance?"
"Oh yes," said Coyote, and quickly sketched out another demonstration. "Mind you come one after the other, now, so that you don't trip up AllMother. Snake is to go on first of all, since she has not been blessed with any legs." Beaver and Otter nodded their understanding, then began rehearsing together.
Coyote also went to visit Rooster and Duck, to whom he gave similar instructions, then finally gathered up many of the smaller animals, who were prone to over-excitability. To them he said nothing but to show up by moonrise and keep quiet no matter what they saw, except at the end when they were to applaud with all the enthusiasm one of AllMother's Dances deserved.
Just before moonrise Coyote returned to where he had left AllMother, his entourage of siblings behind him. Those who had been given parts in the Dance held themselves with pride, although AllMother did not observe anything out of the ordinary- She was too fixated on the Dance She was about to perform.
The moon cleared the trees, and She began to Dance.
Once She had completed the first circuit, Coyote nudged Snake with his nose.
"You're on, little sister!" and Snake moved twist lithely about AllMother's flashing ankles, although she was careful never to actually touch Her.
"Now you," Coyote hissed to Beaver, who was followed by Otter, Rooster, and last of all Duck. So well did each of the animals Dance their parts that AllMother never even noticed them slipping in and out of Her pattern. At last She came to the end of Her Dance, ending with a flourish and a triumphant pose. All the animals applauded their approval and admiration, then fell silent as AllMother stepped to one side to reveal her new Creation.
It was... less than impressive. Coyote stifled a snicker as the new creature shook itself awake, slapping its broad tail for emphasis. It was a squat little thing, covered in dense brown fur and sporting paws that looked ideal for swimming or digging. It opened its rubbery bill in a goofy grin and said,
The smaller animals burst into fits of giggles, and AllMother narrowed Her eyes. This was not at all what She had planned for Her animal emperor.
"Hello, my son," She said gently, picking him up to cradle him at Her breast. The new creature closed his bright eyes in pleasure as She tickled him under his chin. "My what lovely spurs you have," AllMother commented.
"Have I?" replied the creature, sounding surprised and craning his head around for a look.
"You have," said AllMother, smiling in spite of Herself. "I'm sure they will come in handy for you. I think I shall call you Platypus, and you shall be a bringer of mirth."
"Oh that sounds nice," said Platypus, closing his eyes again. "I think I shall like that."
"I'm sure you shall," and She put him down carefully in a small stream.
"The rest of you may go," She gestured at the other animals. "Thank you for coming to see My Dance." They moved away from Her, talking in excited tones about their new brother.
"Not you, Coyote. You must stay." Her voice was sharp. Coyote froze where he was, trying not to cringe.
Once they were alone, AllMother raised Her celestial brow once more.
"I believed I warned you what the punishment would be if you interfered with My dance, Coyote,"
"Strictly speaking, AllMother, you warned me against distracting You. Which I did not do. I sat in one place for the entirety of Your performance." AllMother pursed her lips.
"Why I ever gave you the gift of semantics is beyond me," She muttered to Herself.
"He really was a brilliant creation," Coyote offered. "I haven't seen so much shared laughter amongst the animals since... well, ever."
"Perhaps," AllMother admitted.
"And You wouldn't really want us to have an emperor, anyway," Coyote continued. "Can You imagine the pranks I would be forced to pull on an emperor?" AllMother laughed.
"Alright, Coyote, you win. Now get away before I change My mind and dock your tail just on principal."
And that is how the Platypus came to be.
"Ooo!" she says, and for a moment I'm thinking I've really wowed her with "prestidigitation", but then she points across my chest out the window and says, "Peaches!"
"Peaches?" I turn to look and there it is- a road side stand in the middle of friggin' nowhere. "Peaches! Heck yeah, let's pull over!" And so we do.
She puts the car in park and we hop out, and you have to understand how badly we want these peaches, because we are voluntarily exiting the life-sustaining cocoon (there's another good word) of air conditioning and braving the heavy wet shimmer that is the summertime air of Alabama. But man, I tell you what- there is not a geographical location on this planet that can beat the South for heavenly smells. May be that's why there's so much religion down here: hot as hell but smells like manna. We're inhaling the dizzying fragrance of ripe peaches and my mouth starts watering fit to rival a thunderstorm.
We choose our bounty with care- one does not take the privilege of selecting fruits from Eden lightly- and in the end the peaches we select are the size of our doubled fists, each blushing gold and rose and covered in softest velvet. The desire to immediately sink our teeth in is almost overwhelming, but we opt instead to prolong our pleasure- I run my lips back and forth over the fuzz, getting high off the sweet scent, while she strokes it gently across her cheek. I cannot help but smile at us, a couple of silly little girls somehow transported into these adult bodies.
As though by some prearrange signal we both take our first bites- and then there's juice running out the corners of our laughing mouths, dripping down our chins, and our too-clever tongues are darting out to salvage what we can. I look at my best friend and I think,
This is joy.
I never did manage to kiss my elbow, mind you, and I found evidence that my father had, in fact, spent his entire life as a boy (no such thing as photo-shop back in the fifties, Dad...) so I was eventually forced to relinquish my dreams of Daddy-hood. In their place, these days, are nascent thoughts about perhaps enabling someone else's journey to Daddy-hood.
But he'll have to kiss my elbow first.
And so I did.
Slighty less early than originally planned, but early enough: it opens up at 0700, and I was out the door by about 0720. There are two reasons for going so early- the first is that it's important to get there before everything's been picked over. The second is that it's bloody well hot here in the Heart of Dixie, even at eight o'clock in the morning. Better to do things that involve being outdoors early in the morning, or else late at night.
The market is only about half a mile from my house, so when I go I tend to walk (another reason to do it before the sun gets too high) which I did today. I left Nathan sleeping in bed, put on my favorite Patagonia dress and a backpack, slipped some headphones into my ears and got a-walkin'. I was reminded of how much I really do enjoy our neighborhood, especially once I got down there with all my fellow market-shoppers and their gorgeous dogs. I really would like a dog, one of these days...
I had a few things on my List, and I managed to get most of them. Peaches were a necessity, although the ones I got need a few more days ripening. I also picked up blueberries (Nathan's favorite), as well as corn, onion, potatoes (little reds and sweet) and a fresh loaf of bread from our favorite bakery (I totally love that they have a stall there, now). The one piece of produce I was thwarted on was a melon. Usually I can find absolutely gorgeous little melons down there- so sweet you'd think you'd accidentally sugared the thing- but not today. Today only one stall had any watermelons to speak of, and the smallest of them was the size of my torso. I'm not kidding. I mean, I know I have a short torso and all, but that's still a damn sizable melon for someone to haul home in a backpack (and still have room for one's other goodies). So I passed.
The walk back up was a bit less pleasant than the walk down. For starters, it actually was a walk "up"- uphill the whole way. And the sun had managed to clear most of the trees by that point (still pre-0800, mind you) which meant that by the time I got home I was (as I put it to a friend earlier today) wet and slippery as a salt-water eel.
Needless to say, I didn't keep my dress on very long. Thank heavens for blinds, right?
Once I was comfortable again I put away my groceries, washed my berries, and piled half of them into one of our pretty little sushi bowls. It was a very pleasing thing, aesthetically speaking: the dark blue berries against the cool white and cobalt blue of the porcelain. Put me in mind for a portrait, later. Then, because I am the best wife in the world, I headed back into the bedroom and woke my husband up to blueberries for breakfast.
Definitely a good start to the day.
(...later I did backbends...)
I'm driving to the funeral and I'm thinking that this is it- the time has come to test my new(ish) resolve that, as an adult, I no longer "do" viewings. I will go to the funeral, I will sit through the service, I will watch them lower a casket into the ground (or whatever) but never again will I look at an empty shell if I don't feel like it. I'm done with it, and since I'm well into my majority no one can make me.
It's possible that I'm approaching this occasion a bit on the defensive.
I get just the teeniest bit lost on the way, so rather than arriving early, as I'd planned, I'm what might be considered late, and thus am forced to slip unobtrusively into a pew at the back while some singing is going on. Which means I'm sitting alone through a funeral I didn't really even want to come to all, and only came to as a means of providing emotional support for a friend. Who is sitting at the front. Fantastic.
People start eulogizing, and I have to admit- it's better than the last one. Mostly, I think, because the pastor doing the speaking actually knew the deceased. Still, I take time to reflect on the fact that one of the reasons I'm so damned uncomfortable at funerals is the constant references to Jesus. Don't get me wrong- Jesus was a great guy and just so happens to be the personal savior of my husband, but it's not something I believe in and, every once in a while, I'm overwhelmed by the fact that other people not only believe, they believe so strongly it can provide comfort to them in the midst of their grief. I wonder what it would be like to have a community of believers like that...
Sometimes I feel like a cold, analytical alien at these things. I always have to remind myself (rather fiercely, I might add) to be polite and respectful. And to at least put on a grave (no pun intended) face, even if I can't manage to get all the way to sad.
In the end it turns out it's not a funeral at all- just a memorial service. And the deceased was cremated, so I don't even have to make excuses for not going in to look at her corpse. And the friend I'm there to support sees me as things are breaking up, and I give her a hug that lasts a long time while she sobs into my shoulder.
I'm glad I came, if for no other reason than this moment.
Now I'm leaving, making my way across the now deserted parking lot to my little green car, and I'm wondering to myself what people will do at my... going away party. I'm not particularly religious, and I know that as far as a large portion of the population is concerned, I'm going to hell. Which I'm pretty sure rules out the comforting Jesus talk. But I'm hoping people will elect to swap hilarious and/or embarrassing stories, instead- perhaps utilizing the social lubrication of copious amounts of whiskey. Or wine, or beer- I'm certainly not going to dictate what alcohol people choose to toss back at my rip-roaring wake. In fact, I'll go so far as to say I'll allow water. Or even Shirley Temples. Behold my deathly magnanimity. I'll be sure to pause on my way to the Next Adventure to nod approvingly at whatever beverage you choose.
This post is getting ridiculous. Time to call it a night, I think.
There were a lot of good things to be said about being sent on a mission, but Rafe had always felt that the most interesting aspect by far was… well, was seeing what aspect one got to take on. After all, angels don’t really have a “true form”, per se. Their “true form” was, in fact, formless: more akin to a concentration of energy than a shape, and not certainly nothing that observable by humans. Which is why, when being sent on certain missions, angels had to take on corporeal form. And that corporeal form was entirely dependent upon whatever person they’d been sent to aid.
You see, every person has a different concept of what an angel is. To be certain, the vast majority feel that they are people-shaped, and generally sport wings, but even within those parameters there is an amazing variety. For instance, on this particular night Rafe found itself to be wearing the body of a human in its prime, and a certifiably male one at that (which meant Rafe must think of himself as “himself”, rather than a gender-neutral identifier). More interesting than genitalia, however, was the fact that he was covered in smooth blue-black skin patterned with a deep gold iridescence, and sporting a pair of midnight blue wings tipped in pewter. A very pleasing combination, aesthetically speaking, and one he’d never worn before. It made him highly curious to meet the human who thought of angels in such terms.
He spread the wings out for balance as he turned his face up into the rain- so nice to feel the physical experience of rain again, instead of just its essence. Being in physical form had its drawbacks- limited access to what humans might refer to as his cognitive powers, for starters- but it also had its benefits, physical touch among them. Smiling, he shook the rain off his eyelashes and set out in search of his mission.
(As originally written)
Strictly speaking, he didn’t have a true form. But people had gotten it into their heads that angels were people-shaped (with wings, no less!) so whenever he took corporeal form it tended to be that of the traditional human concept of an angel: wings and all. Oh, sometimes he’d get lucky and be assigned someone with a more creative idea of what constituted an angel (he’d rather enjoyed the time he’d gotten to wear a dog’s form) but for the most part it was feathers and damned inconvenient robes.
He took a moment to shake them both out, trying to rid himself of the rain drops before he was too thoroughly soaked. He really did hate the smell of wet feathers, almost as much as he hated the way wet fabric clung to his… regions. That was another awkward thing about this current mission- his charge had very definite ideas about gender assignment, which meant that, for the time being, he was a he rather than a conveniently gender-neutral it. And while the Creator surely knew what it was doing when it divided humanity into males and females, and he was sure it was a good idea within the grand design, Rafe rather preferred the route the Creator had taken for angels. Taking on flesh carried more than enough restrictions without the added irritation that genitals and hormones provided.
Rafe sighed and adjusted his perch.
Perhaps I'd spoken (thought?) too soon. I sat up, bracing myself for the shattering pain I was sure would follow- but it didn't. I touched my fingers to the side of my head- nothing. No pain, no blood- my skin was smooth and unbroken.
A warm breeze stirred the hair laying against my jaw, then ruffled the hair on my chest- and it struck me that I shouldn't have been able to feel it. Not because of the whole, "I should be dead," thing, but because the last time I had had consciousness, I had also had clothes.
Not any more, apparently.
I looked around the room, growing more and more confused. It looked like the same room, but... different, somehow. But maybe it's just because it was so dark. I stood up and groped for a wall.
No answer, not even my own echo. I tried again, louder.
Still nothing. Fingers following the wall, I moved toward where the door should be. The wall had a thick layer of grit on it, and I couldn't help but imagine the strange trail I must be leaving. A trail that would show anyone who might come looking for me exactly where I'd gone.
I let my hand drop back to my side.
Still, this didn't feel like a place where people were. It felt... abandoned. Although I couldn't fathom that my enemy had left me without making absolutely certain I was dead, it appeared as though she had. Who knew how long I'd lain there unconscious.
Long enough to completely heal without starving to death? Or soiling myself? While my clothing rotted away into nothing? Long enough that the dried blood that should have been there disappeared?
I shook my head to clear it. None of it made sense. Maybe something had happened to me earlier, and I'd just imagined her bashing my head in. Maybe I'd been drugged. Still...
The door did not move easily, which it should have. I remember barely having to touch it, when I first entered.
If you entered.
That was easy enough to do, once I saw what was in the next room, because that's when I realized things had gone far more wrong than I could have imagined.
The room was absolutely enormous, as I'd known it would be. It had to be, to house what sat at the far end- the pinnacle of generations of engineering; a symphony of gears and cables; a being who held coiled in her mechanized heart the potential to recreate our world:
My beautiful She'enna.
But she was old. And that was impossible.
The metals we crafted her from- they don't degrade! They're incapable of oxidizing. She is immune to entropy- this cannot be her!
But it was her. I would know her form in my dreams- perhaps even in my death. I choked on a sob and ran towards my decrepit love.
That being said, it is too hot in here, and I have a headache. Blargh.
Nathan took a picture of me while I was being all cranky and horrible earlier. It blows my mind that that man not only puts up with me in all my moods, but still thinks I'm attractive and worth being married to. But then, I guess that's why I married him.
There is a hairball on the floor that I so don't want to clean up. ::sigh::
"You see, Gramma, it's very important to be careful with the crayons," her voice is prim as only a seven-year-old instructing her elders can be, and she is almost comically articulate. "You have to color with them at the proper angle, so that their tips stay slanted like lipstick." She carefully replaces the 'marigold' she's used for the curly hair of the fashion doll in the coloring book, then draws out the 'strawberry' to begin filling in smiling lips. The two shades look lovely together; she has an eye for color, that girl. Something she got from her mother, for it certainly didn't come from our side.
You would think that after having three children of my own I would no longer be so surprised by the unique blending of traits that creates an entirely new person... but I am. I cannot help but marvel at the way this new person combines my son's blue-gray eyes with his wife's solemn gaze, or how the pale, freckled skin she got from her father stretches across the delicate bone structure that is her heritage from her mother.
She continues to work, oblivious to my musings; she has already filled in two images, and has begun work on a third. I smile at her coltish limbs, sticking out at awkward angles as she chews on her lip in speculation, considering her next color. She is not even a sixth of my age- how can she be so focused?
As I think this she dumps out all the crayons onto the floor and then picks them up one by one until they form a kind of technicolor bouquet in her small fist. Then, much to my amusement, she turns to a blank page in the coloring book, presses them all point-down against it, and draws a looping swirl.
"What happened to being careful about the angle? I ask, amused.
"Well Gramma," her voice every bit as serious as it was during her earlier lecture, "sometimes you just have to have fun."
fragile as a butterfly's wing
the lushness of your youth forsaken
your veins bled out and dry
staining these pages scarlet
pages with words
written in a hand i never knew
written in a voice long silenced
written to remind someone
of a time
when words were worth more
i wonder if that love
faded along with this ink
or if it, too, was pressed-
held tightly between two lovers
Whenever we get a chance to get together like this, Nate and Meredith try to get some joint-photography going. Meredith has recently started experimenting with light painting, so it was suggested that that be the subject of tonight’s session, since Nathan is interested in learning more, as well. In the end Nathan didn’t actually end up taking any shots (he’d gotten a good one of Leafy earlier in the afternoon) but I think he learned a lot by working with Meredith on hers. Tim and I took turns being models and playing photographer’s-assistant (such is the fate of photographers’ spouses everywhere) and generally having fun. At least, I had fun- it’s always interesting to me to model for different artists, because everyone has their own methods. And I will say that it did not hurt my feelings at all when Meredith complimented my ability to keep still between shots rather than running to look at the camera… (A trait that pretty much comes from getting my training during Katie’s film-camera beginnings, I’m sure…)
Anyway the whole experience was just good, and it really illustrates how important creative community is when you’re an artist. That’s something I wish we had more of- or, rather, lived closer to. All our artist friends are scattered across the country, and it makes it difficult to get together and bounce ideas off one another like we did this evening. I look forward to the day when we can have more regular access to a Studio of peeps...
But honey, it was really just a quest for a killer pair of shoes. And, of course, the ability to wear them.
There are many wonderful things about being a daughter of the sea king- a mermaid, as he dubbed me. Many wonderful things, indeed. Your hair always- and I mean always- looks good. You have more pearls than most people could even dream of. And the amount of swimming the lifestyle necessitates means that your body is totally good enough to pull off the topless look my people favor. All in all, not a bad deal. But the thing is you have a tail- and while that tail is just fantastic for propelling you through the water, it just sucks for accessorizing. Fins, not feet. Fins. And do you know what kind of shoes fit on fins?
Neither do I. Because they don't exist. Trust me.
I might have gone my entire life not even knowing what was missing, if my older sisters hadn't been in the habit of scavenging ship-wrecks. They brought me along one day, and I noticed that they kept discarding what were, to me, beautiful pieces of art. When I asked them why they told me they were useless- things called shoes that land-dweller females wore on their feet. Of course I knew what feet were- sea birds have feet, after all- but I had a hard time picturing them on mortal women. You must understand that the only glimpses I'd had of the creatures they were wearing long gowns, each and every one of them- I guess I'd had the impression that they were rather bell-shaped below the waist. But when I saw those beautiful little shoes, I knew I had to find a way to wear them- no matter the cost.
(She's Got Legs)
The evil fairy had grown tired of her mortal husband, and had eventually arranged for him to be disposed of. Not, however, before she had given birth to a daughter by him. She purged the child of its mortality by plucking out one eye, and so the fairy daughter was ageless like her mother, but eternally disfigured, and nowhere near as beautiful as her half-sister. The evil fairy liked her less for this, and often abused her.
Years passed, and it was announced to the kingdom that their queen was to give birth to a royal heir. The announcement included a retelling of the queen and her brother’s early adventures, and when this reached the ears of their evil fairy step-mother, she flew into a rage, for she had always assumed they’d been torn apart by the wild animals of the wood. Her fairy daughter was listening as well, and she said softly to herself,
“How nice to have a handsome husband and a lovely baby, to be a loving family. I wish I might have such happiness for myself,” but she knew her mother would never allow her to live the life of an ordinary mortal, even if she hadn’t been so ugly. However-
“You shall have your wish!” snapped the evil fairy, and stormed off. The fairy daughter was frightened, for she knew her mother’s anger to be terrible indeed, but she had no idea what part the woman had played in the tale of the queen, and thus gave no thought to what plans she might now be concocting.
The next day the evil fairy bade her daughter mount up on a lovely white mare while she rode a white stallion, and the two of them made haste to the royal palace. The evil fairy knew by her arts that the queen was to give birth that very afternoon, and so put into the king’s heart a great desire to go hunting. After he had gone, she used her magic to give herself the appearance of the royal midwife, and took the woman’s place in the birthing chamber, where the queen lay recovering from her long labor. Her daughter she disguised as her assistant, and had her carry a basket filled with poisoned herbs.
When they entered the room the white stag looked up and made to cry out, for he was not fooled by her appearance. But the evil fairy twitched her fingers and the animal was struck down as though ill, unable to move or even make a sound. The evil fairy smiled sweetly at him, then moved to his sister’s side.
“Come my dear,” she said to the queen. “We have prepared a bath and refreshments for you, that you might recover your strength more quickly.” The queen, gentle and trusting as ever, allowed the two women to help her to the bathing room. Once there, however, the evil fairy built up the fire to an unbearable heat, threw herbs into it, and left the queen to suffocate in the poisonous smoke. Her daughter cried out at this, but the evil fairy struck her in the mouth and told her to mind her tongue or she would cut it out.
“Do you want a husband or no? Now get into the bed!” Terrified of what else her mother might do, the fairy daughter did as she was bade. The evil fairy then used her magic to give her daughter the queen’s form, although she could not restore the lost eye. “You must always lay on your right side to hide it,” she instructed, and the fairy daughter did so, weeping for the evil she had been a part of. Then the evil fairy transformed the queen’s body to look like her own daughter, and took it into the woods to be devoured.
Once the evil fairy had left the room, the fairy daughter rose up from the bed and walked over to the stag, who had witnessed everything with silent tears streaming down his velvety face. He closed his eyes and prepared himself for death, but when her hands touched him, they were gentle.
“Poor stag! That was your sister, I know, and now you are all alone in the world. I cannot undo the evil my mother has done, but at least I can be as good to you as a true sister.” And she kissed him between his golden antlers and wept again. Then, terrified that her mother might catch her, she crept back into bed and waited.
In the evening the king returned, and his heart was full of joy to discover his wife had given him a beautiful son. He rushed to her side, but was stopped by the evil fairy, still disguised as the midwife.
“No my lord, she must rest! Would you kill your wife with your selfish desire to see her face?”
The king was mortified at the harm he had almost done, and went away without having seen the false queen. After he had gone away the evil fairy went to the stable to tend her horses, and the baby’s nurse brought him to the false queen.
“Leave us be,” said the fairy daughter, and the nurse did so. The fairy daughter was enchanted by the beautiful baby, and held him to her breast, but of course no milk would flow, and both she and the child she cried bitter tears of disappointment.
“What use is it to have a husband and a son if I can give neither what they need? And how can I be happy knowing my life is built on the murder of another?” She crept with the baby over to the white stag and laid him down on its silken flank, then curled up with her arms around the two and slept, remembering to keep on her right side.
As she slept the nurse came back in but, seeing how exhausted the young queen looked and not wanting to disturb her, she sat quietly in the corner out of sight, keeping watch. So it was when the clock struck midnight she witnessed a silvery figure appear in the room. The woman glowed softly, but the nurse could see she was not beautiful, and she had only one eye. The apparition went over to the sleeping trio, picked up the baby, and fed him from her breast. Then she stroked the white stag and kissed him on the forehead before disappearing once more.
The nurse was did not understand what she passed, but she knew enough of the queen’s magical past that she was afraid to interfere. Each night thereafter, however, she kept watch and witnessed the same strange event. Sometimes the shining figure would even lay a hand on the sleeping queen, and give her a look filled with such pity it brought tears to the nurse’s eyes.
During this time the midwife continued to deny the king entrance to the queen’s bed, claiming she was still too weak to bear his presence. The king thought this must be true, for he could see through the bed curtains that she appeared to be wasting away. Fearing for his wife’s health, the king did not disturb her, though it pained him to keep such distance. He was at least comforted to see that the white stag never left her side, and he often caught a glimpse of her gently stroking him in her sleep.
One night, when the moon was but a slender crescent, the nurse heard the silvery maiden singing softly to the baby:
Twice more I come
To see my loves
Twice more by light of moon
My child and stag
I long to keep
But I must vanish soon
The hair on the back of the nurse’s neck stood up, and she knew then that however magical the queen’s life must be, such a rhyme could not bode well. The next morning she found the king and told him what she had witnessed.
“My wife’s life has long been steeped in magic,” he said, “Much of which has sought to harm her. I shall keep watch tonight, and we shall see what we shall see.”
That night the king hid in the corner of the room and waited for the figure. When it appeared he was disappointed, for it looked nothing like his wife. But then it began to sing:
Once more I come
To see my loves
Once more by light of moon
My child and stag
I long to keep
But I must vanish soon
As the last notes of her song trembled and disappeared, so too did she. The king wept then, for he knew that whatever shape the vision might have been, it was his wife’s spirit he had seen. He turned in rage towards the figure sleeping in the bed, but she looked so much like his beloved he felt confused, and could not bring himself to harm her. He stumbled from the room, uncertain what he would do.
The next day he came to the queen’s chambers and ordered the midwife locked in iron chains. She screamed as the metal touched her, but she could not win free of them. Then the king sent everyone from the room and sat at the foot of his wife’s bed. The fairy daughter, terrified of being discovered, pretended to sleep through it all.
“I know you are not my wife,” he said, “But I do not think you could have harmed her, either. I have seen the way you are with the white stag, her brother- you love him just as my wife did. Can you not tell me what has become of her?”
The fairy-daughter began to cry then, and sat up, revealing her missing eye. The king gasped and said, “The maiden who comes in the night to nurse my son- she is missing an eye, too!”
“That is my true form,” the fairy daughter explained. “My mother is an evil fairy who switched my body for the queen’s. I would give anything to bring her back to you, for I cannot stand to see you or the stag so heartbroken, but I do not know how! My mother never taught me magic of any strength.”
“Never mind,” said the king. “She will come again tonight and surely something will occur to us!”
That night, as the clock struck midnight, the true queen once again appeared. She picked up her child and began to sing:
No more I come
To see my loves
No more by light of moon
My child and stag
I long to keep
But I must vanish soon
The king cried out and leapt to embrace her, but it was the fairy daughter who suddenly realized what must be done. She threw herself on the sharp golden antlers of the stag, piercing her own heart and cried, “My life for yours, sister!”
When she did this the ghost disappeared with a blinding flash, and when the king could see once more he saw the fairy-daughter crumpled on the floor in a pool of blood, being nuzzled by the white stag. He rolled her over and discovered to his amazement that her breast was whole- and then she opened both her eyes.
“My husband!” she breathed, and the king knew his wife had returned.
The three of them rejoiced, but also wept bitter tears for the fairy daughter’s sacrifice. In the morning the king sentenced the evil fairy to death by fire, and as she turned to ash her enchantments were undone- the white stag became a handsome young man, sound in both body and mind. But before they could finish exclaiming over this, two strange white horses from the stables suddenly became an older man and a beautiful woman. The queen and her brother cried out and rushed to embrace them, for they were their father and mother, transformed long ago by the evil fairy. Their mother explained what she never had never told any of them before- that she, too, was a fairy, but a good fairy and a rival to the evil fairy, which is why the other had sought to cause so much harm to her and her family.
“But there is one of us missing,” she said, and with a wave of her hand the fairy-daughter appeared, summoned back from the dead.
“My son used his heart’s wish to give you the power to restore his sister, and you used your life to fulfill it. From now on you shall be a daughter to me; I shall restore your eye and we shall all live together as a family, happily and with great love and joy.”
And it was so.
Why the heck is there a reference to a tiger in a western European fairy tale?! The other animals make sense- both wolves and roe deer are native to the areas from which the story Brother and Sister (or Sister and Brother, as I've dubbed my version) sprang. But tigers? Dude, what the hell? I'd grant you lions, maybe, but not tigers. Why not a bear? I really think being turned into a bear would make more sense. Maybe I'll change that in my version... I do like for things to have consistent internal logic.
This entry is short, but I'm sure you'll forgive me when I explain that Nathan just got home.
Once upon a time there was a girl who had an older brother. The older brother had been touched by fairies in infancy, and could not be trusted not to wander. This is why, even though the girl was younger, it fell to her to mind her brother. Her brother was strong-willed, and not much inclined to be minded, but he loved his sweet little sister so much that there was very little she could not convince him to do, and so for the most part she kept him from harm.
Their mother had died when the girl was only five, but at last the day had come that their father was going to remarry. The girl was very excited- she had longed for a mother’s gentle touch, and someone to teach her the ways of women. She tried her best to be like a mother to her brother, but she feared she might be doing it wrong. A real mother could help her- and perhaps in time there would even be another child! Her brother was less excited about the change. He did not see why there should be more than the three of them in their little cottage- but in time she coaxed him around to her way of thinking, and the morning before their new mother arrived he went so far as to collect flowers for the woman.
When their father returned with his new wife, it was not on the old donkey he had left on, but rather on a lovely white horse. The girl was in awe- she had never seen such a magnificent creature in her life. Surely their new mother must be a fine lady, indeed, to have brought such a dowry with her!
The woman came forward to meet the children, and smiled warmly at the girl and complimented her on the neatness of her dress. But when her eyes fell upon the boy, the girl thought she saw a particular gleam come into them.
“Ah, young man! I have heard so much about you. Come, give your new mother a kiss- we are sure to be the best of friends!”
But the boy would not kiss his new mother. He let out a scream, threw the flowers in her face, and ran off into the woods.
“Brother!” cried the girl, and moved to chase him, afraid he might injure himself in flight.
“It’s alright, daughter,” the woman said sweetly, catching at the girl’s arm. “I must be new and frightening to him. Give him time- he will come around.”
But he did not come around. He avoided his new mother whenever possible, and positively would not meet her eyes. He reacted with violence any time she moved to touch him, much to their father’s rage. At first the girl tried reasoning with her brother, but when that failed she finally threw up her hands in exasperation and asked what was wrong with their new mother, anyway.
“She’s been very good to me,” she said. “She’s showed me how to do fine stitching, and a better way to make bread rise- and she’s teaching me women’s secrets, too!”
“She’s bad,” was all he would say as he rocked back and forth, arms around his knees and pushing himself with his toes. “Bad bad bad. She gets inside my head- she wants things… she’s bad bad bad.” And on he would rock.
The girl didn’t know what to believe- she had never seen her brother act this way. Normally he was so gentle- surely there must be something wrong with their new mother to cause him to react in such a way. But the woman was so kind to the girl and so concerned for her brother, always asking about his wellbeing. Surely those were not the actions of a bad person?
One night the girl decided to approach her father with her concerns, but as she got close to his bed she heard her new mother speaking to him in hushed tones.
“You must kill him- there’s no other choice. The fairies have made him evil, and he will do us all harm. You must kill him- there’s no other choice. The fairies have made him evil…” Suddenly the girl realized that her father was asleep, and the new mother was whispering these words into his ears, poisoning his dreams with them. Quietly the girl crept back to her bed. How long had this been going on? How much longer would it take for their father to give in to these nighttime whisperings? The girl didn’t want to wait to find out, so the next morning she gathered up some bread and a little skin of water, took her brother by the hand, and led him deep into the woods. Her brother, cheerful to do anything that involved being far from the new mother, didn’t ask any questions as she led him further and further from the parts of the woods they knew. Finally they stopped to eat a meal, and she told him,
“It’s no longer safe for us to be at home. We must go make our way in the wide world, and hope that providence will have pity on us.”
“We have to escape the bad woman,” he agreed, and reached for another sip from the water skin.
“No, brother. We must save it for later, when we are truly thirsty.”
And so they set off into the woods again, wandering until they were too exhausted to go any further. They made a little nest of the soft green grasses, curled up in one another’s arms, and went to sleep.
The next morning they set out again, and before long the brother was complaining of thirst. His sister handed him the water skin to drink from, but found it was empty.
“Oh no!” she said, “It must have leaked out in the night. We must find a spring to refill it at.” And so they went looking for a spring.
What they did not know, however, was that their new mother was actually an evil fairy- and she had married their father in order to gain access to the brother, all for mysterious reasons of her own. When she discovered that the children had escaped her, she sent out her evil magic to cause the water skin to leak, and then created an irresistible trap to capture them. And so the children did not think twice when they found an unnaturally beautiful spring, surrounded by flowers that were far out of season. The brother immediately rushed for it, for he was very thirsty, but his sister held him back.
“Wait,” she said. “I think I hear something. And so the brother waited, and finally the girl realized she was hearing a voice singing,
Woe be to he
That drinks from me
He then shall be
“It’s the water!” she gasped. “Brother, you must not drink from this spring, or you’ll turn into a tiger and devour me!” Her brother sulked, but turned away from the spring. Thirsty as he was, he would not endanger his beloved sister.
Before too much longer they came upon another unnaturally beautiful spring. Again the brother rushed for it, but again his sister held him back. “Listen,” she hissed, for this water, too, was singing to her.
Woe be to he
That drinks from me
He then shall be
“I don’t hear anything,” complained the boy, and moved forward to drink.
“No, no brother you mustn’t,” cried the girl. “If you drink you’ll turn into a wolf and devour me!”
Again her brother managed to turn away, although by now his thirst was like claws raking at his throat. Still, he would not endanger his sweet sister for anything in the world, and so they walked on. This time many hours passed before they found another spring. This one was smaller than the other two, and somehow less unnaturally beautiful, but again the girl could hear it singing to her.
Woe be to he
That drinks from me
Hunted roe buck
He then shall be
“No, wait!” the sister called, but it was too late. Her brother had already dipped his face to the water and begun to drink, for he could wait no longer, and somehow he knew this water, at least, would not cause him to harm his sister.
As he swallowed the first mouthful, a brilliant flash dazzled the eyes of the sister, and when she was able to see again, a shivering white fawn stood where her brother had once been.
“Oh! Oh no!” The girl reached for the animal, but it sprang away and bounded off into the woods. Too weak to go on, the girl sank down by the edge of the spring and began to cry. What she did not see was that as her tears touched the water, they set off ripples far too large for their size. The ripples began to glow blue, and as they faded a head slowly emerged from the water. It was a water-fairy, hair streaming in swirls about her lovely face.
“Don’t despair, little one,” she said in a voice like gentle currents. “Your tears of true love have freed me from the evil fairy’s curse, and my water is safe to drink once more. Come, slake your thirst.”
The girl did so, and though she had never tasted water so sweet. Once she had drunk her fill, the water fairy said to her, “Now I shall give you three wishes, to repay you for my freedom. What would you like?”
“I want my brother back!” cried the girl.
“I cannot break the evil fairy’s spell,” said the water fairy sadly, “for she is much more powerful than I. But I can at least call him back to your side. Once he has come, slip this about his neck- it will help him remember who he is so he does not run off again.” And a fine golden chain washed up by the girl’s feet. Soon there was a rustling in the woods, and the white fawn emerged once more, looking vaguely guilty. The girl put the chain about his neck, and he followed her as docilely as he ever had.
“What is your second wish, little one?”
“I wish we had a safe place to live,” the girl said.
“Do you see that large tree on the other side of my banks?” asked the water fairy. The girl nodded. “If you circle around it you will find a little door between the roots. You may live there, if it pleases you.” The girl immediately ran to the tree and found the little door. When she opened it she was amazed to see that it led into what appeared to be the sweetest, coziest little cottage she’d ever seen. There was a little bed for her, and a cushion for the fawn, and the cupboards were full of good food to eat. She rushed back outside.
“Oh thank you!” she cried. “It’s perfect.”
“None may exit or enter save you yourself open the door,” warned the fairy, “so make certain your brother does not wander off without you.”
“Oh I will,” said the girl, and stroked her brother’s snowy flank.
“What is your final wish, little one?” The girl thought and thought, but as long as she had her brother and a safe place for them to live, she could not think what else she might desire.
“Is it alright if I give my wish to my brother?” She asked.
“It is,” said the water fairy, and turned to lock eyes with the little fawn. “But since you cannot speak, it must be a wish of the heart. I will know when it has been made.” So saying, she disappeared back into the ripples, and they never saw her again.
The brother and sister lived happily for many years in their little tree home, and each grew to maturity. The girl became a lovely young woman, graceful and sweet. Her brother grew into a beautiful stag, crowned with golden antlers that had three points each. Really it seemed as though he had always been meant for life as a deer- certainly he seemed much more at ease than he ever had as a boy. His greatest joy came from running free in the woods, and although his sister worried about him, she knew he was far faster and cleverer than any of the other animals.
The only time she would not let him out to run was in the autumn, when the hunters came to the woods.
“It is too dangerous,” she would tell him, time and again. “You are safe from the wolves in this wood because you have the mind of a man- but these hunters also have the minds of men. No, you must stay here with me, or my heart will break with worry.”
But the time came when he could no longer stand it- he must run with the hunt or else die of a broken heart, himself. His sister saw his great distress, and at last relented, though it grieved her to do so.
“After all,” she said to herself, “Were he still in human form he would be a man grown, and I’d have no right to keep him locked away, fairy-touched or not.”
All day long the girl waited in the house, worrying, but the stag gave the hunters a merry chase. It was no ordinary hunting group this day, but the royal Hunt, led by the king himself. The king was young and handsome, and full of hot blood and passion. When he spied the white stag with the golden collar he knew it was meant for him, and forbade any other hunter from shooting the creature. But no matter how he pursued, the stag seemed always to elude him, dodging with ease any arrows sent its way. At last darkness fell, and the king and his men were forced to return to the palace. The stag, too, returned home, and gave that particular knocking at the door he and his sister had devised to let her know it was him:
click click, clack clack, clock clock
And his sister immediately let him back into the little house. When she saw he had taken no harm from the day’s adventures she was greatly relieved, and the two of them curled up together to sleep. The next morning the hunter’s calls came again, and again the white stag gave his sister such a look of heartache that she had to open the door for him.
This day the king was better prepared to hunt a fantastic beast- he had brought with him a quiver of arrows given to him by his fairy godmother when he was much younger. She had told him then that anything they were aimed at they must necessarily hit, but he had never tested them, thinking them too fine to waste on childish games. Today, however, he knew at last finally knew what they were meant for, and when at last he found himself alone and staring across a glade at the stag, he let fly an arrow.
What his fairy godmother had not told him, however, was that while the arrow must hit anything he aimed it at, it would never kill another piece of fairy craft, which the white stag surely was. And so, even though the king had meant to pierce the beast’s heart, he instead struck him just above the hoof. The creature was away again, but not as swiftly as before, and the king found he could follow him by the trail of shining blood he left.
The white stag, out of his mind with pain and fear, soon ran home to his sister.
click click, clack clack, clock clock
The king arrived just in time to witness this strange ritual- and just in time to catch the briefest glimpse of the most beautiful face he’d ever seen as a young woman flung open the door and cried, “Oh my brother! What have they done to you!” before gathering the stag into her arms and pulling him inside.
The king made his way back to his hunters, feeling a great weight of guilt in his stomach- and more, feeling a new heaviness in his heart. It grieved him beyond telling that he had hurt the brother of such a beautiful maiden, had given her cause for distress. But even more, it grieved him to think of never seeing her again. He returned once more to his palace, and gave the matter much thought.
In the meantime, the girl cleaned and dressed her brother’s wound, and gave him a thorough scolding. In the morning he felt much better, however, and she could tell he wanted to go out once again.
“No,” she said, “I’ll not have it. You’re going to get yourself killed by those horrible men, and I shall be left all alone.” And she refused to open the door all that day, or the next. Her brother, however, began to refuse to eat, and finally on the third day she opened it once more.
“Better that you die free doing what you love than locked up and miserable,” she said, and cried bitter tears after he had gone.
At first the king was worried that once again the white stag would not come- but when the animal at last showed himself, the king turned to his men and gave them very specific instructions.
“Chase him,” he told them. “Chase him and never stop until the sun sets, but do not a single one of you harm him in any way, or let any harm come to him. I have a mission that I must attend to alone, but if I am successful we shall bring the white stag home before the moon rises.”
After his hunters had left, the king made his way back to the little door in the tree he had seen. He used two knuckles as though they were a hoof, and he knocked against the door:
click click, clack clack, clock clock
He heard the maiden saying, “Back so soon, my brother?” and his heart squeezed because he could tell she had been crying. Then the door opened, and he found himself breathless once more at her beauty (red-eyed though it was).
“Oh my!” she said, for she had not seen a man since her father all those years ago- and her father had never seemed so young or handsome.
“Please, gentle lady,” the king said, dropping to his knees. “If I had known the white stag was your brother, I never would have hunted him. I would never knowingly harm you or yours!” The maiden did not know, of course, that this was her king, but nonetheless she felt such a man should not kneel before her- or anyone.
“Please sir, come in. I will accept your apologies if you will accept a cup of tea, and keep me company while I await my brother’s return.”
The king did so, and they passed a pleasant afternoon together, until at last the sun began to slip below the horizon. As the last of its rays played through the leaves of their tree, the king asked the maiden if she would like to come with him, and be his wife.
“Only if my brother may come, too,” said she.
“Of course!” replied the king. “He shall live with us and have everything his heart could ever desire.”
And so when the white stag returned the three of them left the little home together, and went back to the palace. At first the girl could not believe she was to be a queen, but in time she came to accept it, and truly she became a fair and gracious queen, whose love for her people was eclipsed only by her love for her husband, and of course her brother. For many years they lived quite happily, until once again the wicked fairy got up to her mischief.