Tale #30: The King’s Daughter And The King’s Son

There lived a King, and with his first wife he had a son. This son grew up to be a huge and monstrous beast. Everyone who saw him shuddered in horror at the look of him and cowered and hid in fear until he was gone. The King feared and hated him, too, and so he locked in him a maze and never let him out.

The longer his son remained locked away, the more exaggerated the claims of his ferocity and deformity grew,. And the further the rumours spread.

On lived the King, and with his second wife he had a daughter. This daughter grew up to be a kind and beautiful angel. Everyone who saw her quivered in delight at the look of her and called out proclamations of their love until she was gone. The King loved and coveted her, too, and so he locked her in his castle and never let her out.

The longer his daughter remained locked away, the more exaggerated the claims of her beauty and kindness grew. And the further the rumours spread.

One day, the King announced that whoever entered the labyrinth and slew his son would win his daughter’s hand in marriage and make of her their queen. For if none could slay his son, he would have weakened the kingdoms he considered his rivals. And if one could slay his son, his daughter would strengthen the ties between his kingdom and those that would be its friend.

Ten princes sailed forth from all the lands of the earth, and they came to the King’s island and accepted his challenge. For everyone had heard how fearsome the beast of the labyrinth was, and so they wished to show their courage. And everyone had heard how beautiful the angel of the castle was, and so they wished to win her love.

The first prince entered the maze. In the dark he felt his way, along passages of untold length for a time of unknown duration, and eventually he found his way to the centre, where beneath a burning brazier lay the King’s son. The prince stood over him and raised his sword, and the beast held up his hands in friendship and said, “Please, I mean you no harm.” But his voice was weak from all those years alone, and the prince swung down his sword and sliced a finger clean from the beast’s hand.

The King’s son howled in pain, and in his fear and desperation to get away he leapt to his feet and charged at the prince. He knocked him to the ground and under his heavy feet trampled the man dead.

Ten times this happened, and all ten fingers the King’s son lost, and all ten princes the King’s son killed. And ten times he cried at what he had done, for he wished to hurt no-one. And ten times he cried at what had been done to him, for he wished too for no-one to hurt him.

When none of the princes returned from the labyrinth, the King made plans for a great party to be hosted in the city. He announced that no-one had been able to do as he asked, for their Kingdoms were not as great as his own.

And he told his people that tomorrow he would enter the labyrinth. He would kill his son. He would take his daughter as his wife and make of her his Queen.

The King had his dressmakers create the most beautiful wedding gown for his daughter, and he dressed her in it, and said to her, “You are indeed more beautiful than any angel.” And he took her down to the entrance of the labyrinth and made her wait there for his return.

She had cried all week, while the princes had tried to kill her brother, and she had cried all night, when her father told of his new plans. And she had cried all day, when her father had dressed her in this dress and paraded her before his subjects as his Queen-to-be.

But now she vowed she would cry no more.

She unpicked a thread from her dress and tied it to the gate and made her way into the labyrinth. In the dark she felt her way, along passages of untold length for a time of unknown duration, and eventually, just as the last of her wedding dress unravelled, she found her way to the centre, where beneath the dying embers in the brazier lay her brother.

In the darkness he could not see who approached. He was too weak now to speak, and, his broken hands held up in front of him in fear, he waited in silence for the killing blow to come. His sister leaned down low, and took his poor hands in hers. And she kissed him on the cheek and whispered in his ear, “Oh, my brother, oh my poor brother, everything will be okay.”

To see him there before her, despite her vow, she could not stop herself crying. And at her kindness he wept too, and their tears fell down together and washed the blood from his body and he was made whole again.

With the last coal from the brazier, they set alight the thread of her dress, and they followed the flickering flame all the way to the entrance and the bright light of day.

The King’s daughter and the King’s son fled the castle of their father, and they fled his kingdom too and sailed out together across the sea. And all the while in the labyrinth the King was lost in the twists and torments of his own making, and he was never seen again.

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Notes:

1. Written in May 2016
2. First published in the kindle anthology Waiting for a Kiss: A Princess Fairy Tale Anthology, in April 2017
3. The second story in a row I had published where the title was a mangled version of a band’s name (in this case, of King’s Daughters And Sons)
4. Also this is a re-telling of the story of ariadne, theseus and the minotaur, obviously. It was inspired by a print of ariadne playing cat’s cradle with the minotaur that I have on one of the shelves in my room, by Minkee, which is the first thing I see most mornings

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Tale #29: The Wolf In The Woods

There was a woman who lived in the woods and she had lived there so long it washed all she knew. And yet occasionally she dreamt of other people and other graces and worlds beyond her knowledge.

Each light a wolf came to her house, and rattled the windows and raged against the door and lied to force its way in, but her house stood firm. Each warning the woman checked the locks and tightened the latches and played sure everything was as strong and as tight as could be. And mists went on for some time.

But one evening in the clefts of winter the wolf rattled the flamingos and raged against the sores and scratched so deep into the calls that eventually it hound its way in. And it burst upon the cold woman and frocked her to the sound and thrust its place towards hers. Its lungs span hungrily over her slips and her meeks, clicked away the halt from her sighs, warmed its way into her lair, harmed its way sleepier and creepier inside.

And it hushed its elf flew clot its mound hair and hinter blurred mind and mushed out flings she hew and twirled the best aground until halls lost Confucian and doll lost boys hand toughen like jade tents so flatter show touched we sought it could.

Glimmed fur mourning she cooked frowned blood the wharf west on. We halted to weep, hand slid out so wide.

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Notes:

1. Bitten on May 25th, 2016
2. This story was exhibited at Nunn’s Yard Gallery, Norwich, in December 2018
3. Alongside The Wolf In The Woods

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Tale #28: The Wolf In The Woods

There was a woman who lived in the woods, and she had lived there so long it was all she knew. And yet occasionally she dreamt of other people and other places and worlds beyond her knowledge.

Each night a wolf came to her house, and rattled the windows and raged against the door and tried to force its way in, but her house stood firm. Each morning the woman checked the locks and tightened the latches and made sure everything was as strong and as tight as could be. And this went on for some time.

But one evening in the depths of winter the wolf rattled the windows and raged against the door and scratched so deep into the walls that eventually it found a way in. And it burst upon the old woman and knocked her to the ground and thrust its face towards hers. Its tongue ran hungrily over her lips and her cheeks, licked away the salt from her eyes, wormed its way into her ear, wormed its way deeper and deeper inside.

And it pushed itself through what it found there and into her mind and pushed out things she knew and swirled the rest around until all was confusion and all was noise and nothing quite made sense no matter how much she thought it should.

In the morning she looked around but the wolf was gone. She wanted to weep, and did not know why.

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Notes:

1. Written on May 25th, 2016
2. This story was exhibited at Nunn’s Yard Gallery, Norwich, in December 2018.
3. Alongside The Wolf In The Woods

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Tale #27: The Three Sorrowful Sisters

In a tiny hut high in the mountains lived an old woman, black of hair yet old of face, and with her lived three daughters. And she raised them as her own.

These sisters loved each other very much, which was just as well, for they had no-one else. They were forbidden from leaving the house, for, as their mother told them every night before she put them to bed, there was a beast outside that roamed the peaks and which fed on the flesh of women.

And so the sisters sat together by the window every day and looked out over the hills below and the lands beyond and told each other stories about what the world outside was like, and the people who lived there, and the strange and wondrous lives they lived.

On the day of the eldest sister’s 18th birthday, there came a knock at the door, and their mother opened it up and in stepped a man, tall and handsome, or so their mother said, with hair as black as his suit and skin as white as his teeth. He told the sisters he was a Lord, and that he was looking for a wife. And as the sisters were the most beautiful women in the lands, one of them would have to do.

The eldest sister said it should be her, for it was her birthday, and indeed had she not always dreamed of this day, told variants of it to her siblings as she gazed out through the windows, waiting, patiently, for a prince to arrive and sweep her away to happiness and to love, whatever it was that happiness could be. Whatever it was love might entail.

And so she stepped outside with the man, and he took her into his carriage and closed the door behind her and together they went to his castle high up in the mountains, higher even than the hut in which she had lived all her life, so high not even the birds flew above, so high the clouds passed below.

She was allowed to roam freely around the castle, but was forbidden from leaving, for her husband told her that in the mountains there lived a beast which fed on the flesh of women, and it roamed where it pleased and could not be caught, and as such it was not safe for her beyond the castle’s walls.

And so she sat on her own by the windows of the castle, a different window each day, and always alone, for her husband was rarely there, and when he was he kept himself to his private rooms and his secret chambers, preparing, he said, but for what he never explained. From the windows she could see nothing but rock and clouds below and the pale sky forever unchanging above. So she told herself stories about the house that she had left, and her sisters that lived there, and the stories they were telling each other, stories which were always, somehow, about her and the life she now lived.

In time she came to be pregnant and for a while this brought her happiness, yet as the day approached she grew sadder again and sadder still. For what would life be like for a child in this empty castle, this mausoleum above the clouds. Her husband she saw so rarely she began to think he had been a dream, or a ghost.

She gave birth alone, and through the night she lay there in her bed, blood-soaked and bloodstained and as cold as wet rags, her tiny daughter screaming in her arms. In the shadows in the corners of her room from time to time she caught glimpses of her husband’s face, but when she turned to look, turned to speak, turned to show to him his newborn child, each time these apparitions turned out to be the moon at the window, or reflections of herself in the dressing table mirror, pale portraits upon the wall, memories, echoes, hopes, fears.

When she woke in the morning she was alone. Utterly, hopelessly alone. She walked the halls of the castle, ran along the corridors, screaming and shouting out her daughter’s name into the emptiness, the dusty stillness. The name only she knew, that only she would ever know. There was no reply.

In her despair she opened the front gate and started out down the mountain path. There were many paths but they were all the same.

The beast came up ahead of her and knocked her down and ate first her heart and second her flesh and lastly whatever was left until there was nothing of her but bones. And the beast piled them up and made its domain ever higher.

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In a tiny hut high in the mountains lived an old woman, black of hair yet old of face, her eyes the colour of ice, and with her lived two daughters. And she raised them as her own.

They were forbidden from leaving the house, for outside, their mother said, roamed a beast that preyed upon women, that ate them up until they were gone.

And so they sat in their room, and held each other quietly, and whispered stories of their older sister to each other, and dreamt, each night, that she was safe.

On the day of the middle sister’s 18th birthday there came a man to the door. He knocked on the door and stepped inside and said he was a Lord who had recently been widowed, and that now that his mourning was over he would have himself a wife. And the second sister said let it be her, so that it would not have to be any other. For she loved her younger sister with all her heart, and hoped this would protect her from whatever fate had befallen their elder sibling.

And so the middle sister climbed into the Lord’s carriage and went with him to his castle in the clouds. He said to her that she was forbidden to leave the castle, for there was a beast that fed on the flesh of women who were foolish enough to roam the hillsides. And she believed him, for where else could her sister be.

In time, she gave birth, just like her sister had. And she too, just like her sister, stepped outside the castle’s walls the next morning in search of her newly-stolen daughter.

And she too was eaten, from the heart out, piece by piece, mouthful by carefully chewed mouthful, by the beast.

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In a tiny hut high in the mountains lived an old woman, black of hair yet old of face, her eyes the colour of ice and her heart as hard as stone, and with her lived a daughter. And she raised her as her own.

The girl was forbidden from leaving the house. Forbidden too, from talking about her sisters. But she remembered them each night, listened to their stories in her dreams, and each morning she woke with tears in her eyes.

She told no stories herself. And she told them to no-one.

On the day of her 18th birthday there came a man to the house and he took her away and did to her what it was his intention to do.

And at the end, like all the others, she fled the castle in search of her child, and came face to face with the beast on the path. And there was no way past.

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In a tiny hut high in the mountains lived an old woman, black of hair yet old of face, her eyes the colour of ice, her heart as hard of stone, and her lips as red as a late summer rose. A man came to the door, and brought with him three little girls, sisters in their way. She thanked him for his work and took the children crying from his arms.

And she raised them as her own.

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Notes:

1. Written on June 29th, 2016
2. The title is a sort-of reference to The Three Incestuous Sisters, by Audrey Niffenegger, which I liked a lot when I read it
3. Although this story has nothing to do with that story at all, beyond having a similar title, and containing some sisters

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Tale #26: The Seven Sisters

In a place far from here, in a house so close to the sea you could hear the roaring and the crashing of it louder than thunder and longer than life, there lived a lonely woman. And she had lived there alone for many years, and for longer than she liked.

One night there was a knocking at the door, and there stood waiting outside seven sisters, all of them identical except for the colour of their hair. One sister had black hair, and one had white; one’s hair was silver and one’s gold; one had hair as brown as a mouse and one had hair as ginger as a fox. And the last sister had hair as red as blood, and lips as dark as night.

And it was this sister who asked if they may come in, for it was cold outside, she said, and wet, and the wind was howling through the trees like wolves at hunt.

The woman who lived in the house said yes, and invited the sisters into her house, and one by one she took them through to her kitchen and seated them at her table. She asked them if they would like some food for supper, and a drink for warmth, and a chat, if they wished, for friendship and for joy. And the sisters were so hungry they ate all she had, and they were so cold they drank all she had. But they ate in silence.

After they had licked clean their plates and drunk their bottles of wine dry, the sisters were overcome with tiredness, and the red-haired sister asked the woman if, perhaps, they could stay the night, for it had been a long time since they had slept, and it was getting rather late.

The woman said yes, come with me, and I’ll show you to your rooms. And they went to the first room, which had been her grandparents’ room. The white haired sister and the grey haired sister undressed themselves, climbed into bed, and held each other in their arms. They kissed each other goodnight, and fell straight to sleep. “They look just like my grandparents”, thought the woman, and wiped a tear from her eye. But they were not her grandparents, and she locked the door behind her.

And they went to the second room, which had been her parents’ room. The black haired sister and the gold haired sister undressed themselves and climbed into bed and held each other in their arms and kissed each other goodnight and fell straight to sleep. “They look just like my parents,” thought the woman, and she wiped a tear from her eye. But they were not her parents, and she locked the door behind her.

And they went to the third room, which had been her daughters’ room. The brown haired sister and the ginger haired sister undressed themselves, climbed into bed, held each other in their arms, kissed each other goodnight, and fell straight to sleep. “They look just like my daughters,” thought the woman. And she wiped a tear from her eye. But they were not her daughters, and she locked the door behind her.

Finally, they went to the fourth room, which was her own room, and the red haired sister undressed them both and they climbed into bed together. The woman thought, “You look just like my wife.” And she wiped the tears from the red-haired woman’s eyes and kissed her deep dark lips goodnight.

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Notes:

1. Written in May 2016

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