rhian_crockett: A painting of a castle; there is a red flag flying. (Default)
[personal profile] rhian_crockett
Two years ago, I wrote a story for my partner, for our third anniversary. We've actually passed our fifth, now, so this is an old story, but I thought it deserved to get out and see the world.

Obviously, it's dedicated to my partner, always, because she makes me believe in true love and sappy things like that.




Happy Ever Afters

Fairy tales, they like to have us believe, always begin and end in the same way. The once upon a time, and the happily ever after: the beautiful princess, and the handsome prince. Sometimes it begins with a wish, a childless queen, a sad old king and his one beautiful daughter. This story begins, once upon a time, with a king and a queen, and their newborn daughter, who everyone said was already very beautiful to look upon. As a matter of fact, she looked much like any other newborn baby: wrinkled, kind of scrunched up, and rather red in the face from crying. But because she was a princess, she was considered beautiful anyway, and it wouldn't have mattered if she'd grown up the most ugly girl in the world. They would still have called her beautiful.

There was a great celebration planned, naturally. All the good fairies of the kingdom were invited, and gold and silver plates and cups set out, everything glittered with jewels, and chairs were piled high with cushions -- so that the fairies would be comfortable, in theory, and in practice so they could reach the table, because of course, fairies are small. If they weren't, they'd have a job flying on their great, delicate, beautiful wings. Being tall doomed you out of your fairyhood.

The head cook was run off her feet. She thought it was foolish, given that fairies eat very little, to keep themselves nice and light for flight. But the king had ordered a magnificent feast, and of course there were the ordinary courtiers, the distant cousins, the visiting dignitaries. So a magnificent feast he would have.

As a matter of fact, there was another child born that day. Between the two of them -- the one for whom the celebration had been ordered, and the one whose cries filled the hot kitchens and grated on her nerves -- the cook was just about ready to divorce her own husband, or at least ensure he never came near her again. For the second child had been born to one of the cooks, who was now lying exhausted with her babe in her arms, in a room just off the kitchens.

It was really too bad, because that cook was by far the best at making the delicate pastries the fairies would favour.

The story usually passes over these details, being a fairy tale, and concerned mostly with the fairies and the beautiful princesses. Here we might linger on the details of the hall, the joy on the monarchs' faces, and the beautiful glittering host of fairies and courtiers. We must pause to observe the ceremonies, the gift-giving, because that is important in all fairy tales that contain it. Each of the fairies went up to the little wrinkled red-faced baby and blessed her with beauty and good fortune and wisdom and virtue and riches, all the things that a princess must be blessed with. Although, of course, a courtier remarked -- with such illustrious parents, the babe could not but be beautiful and wise and virtuous. And the queen smiled on him for this.

The final fairy stepped forward, raising her wand, and her beautiful delicate wings shimmered in the bright light, quivering gently. She smiled her mild, beautiful, delicate smile, and opened her mouth --

"Stop!"

And our nemesis swept into the hall. There is always a nemesis, a dark cloud, a wicked witch or cruel fairy. This one had some reasons for her fury, it must be admitted. She was a little tall for a fairy, and to be fair, a little plump, and her delicate wings were quite worn out with trying to support her weight when she flew. She walked now as a human, and she was rather bitter because the king and queen had completed the slight -- first she was no longer considered a fairy, and now she hadn't been invited to this celebration, when everyone else had.

But that probably didn't excuse what she did next. She swept up to the golden cradle at the head of the room and looked down at the little baby. "Ugly, isn't she?" she said, and she smiled in a way that should be impossible for a fairy. She raised her own wand. "My gift to this child is a life short enough that her many gifts and virtues shall never weary her. On her fifteenth birthday, she shall prick her finger upon a spindle, and fall down dead. If I'd been invited, I might have given her something nicer, like the ability to eat as much as she likes without getting too plump. But if she gets plump, she will probably have beautiful dimples to endear her to people. There's no fairness in this world, and that is my gift to her -- that lesson."

The king and queen stared at her, open-mouthed, and she stared back for a moment, exploiting the dramatic pause for all she was worth. And then she turned and swept back out again. Forgive me for the overuse of that word, but that is really what she did, because she wore a black flowing dress with a long train, which looked very dramatic and swept the floors for her and whomever she visited.

The last fairy stepped forward again, her wings quivering more than ever, her voice barely more than a whisper. "I cannot undo the spell that has been cast on the princess," she said, quietly, rather huskily. "But I can soften the evil. When she is fifteen, and she pricks her finger upon a spindle, she will only fall asleep. A hundred years may pass, but she will lay in her sleep as beautiful as ever, until the right person comes to deliver her with a kiss. And while she sleeps, the whole court will sleep as well, so that when she wakes, whether it be within a hundred days or a hundred years, it won't be among strangers."

The court immediately fell to talking about who the right person might be, which young prince already in attendance might be called upon to climb the steps to her tower -- there would be a tower, that had been decided already: there usually is in fairy tales of this nature, so I wouldn't be surprised if one wished itself into existence just to oblige -- and deliver the kiss.

The little fairy, who was not without a sense of humour, listened to these speculations, and looked very carefully at the princes who were there. She was a good judge of character, and had an eye on the future in any case, so she knew straight away that none of the boys there would do. This one was clumsy: surely he'd fall upon her, and spoil the pretty tableau, and that would simply never do. Another would have terrible acne. Another would be handsome and beautiful and good with a sword, but far too fond of the bottle. And the last, the youngest, would have no interest in the princess at all if he climbed up to her in the tower, unless it was to marvel at the pretty dress she wore and wonder who made it. He would be brave and strong and good, and very handsome, but he would be very unhappy if forced into this destiny.

The fairy had a sense of fairness, as well as a sense of humour, and she knew that life would be quite unfair enough to that poor boy without adding a beautiful princess into his troubles. Also, she decided to arrange for that prince to have a beautiful dress of his very own.

The princess herself, she saw, wouldn't object to something a little different to the usual fairy tale. A small twist wouldn't trouble her.

And so the little fairy crept from the hall. When the king and queen looked for her to thank her, finally remembering their manners despite their dismay, she was gone.

A moment later, she popped her head round the door and looked about again. Quickly, she drew out her wand and pronounced a quick charm. Acne might have disqualified one of the young princes from climbing the tower to wake the beautiful princess, but there was no reason why it should ruin the rest of his life as well. That done, she withdrew again, fluttering quietly through the kitchen. The cook was in a foul temper by now, and didn't notice the fairy, but instead dashed about red-faced and hot, trying to coordinate the order the great dishes would be carried into the hall after the ceremony. This, the fairy thought with some distaste, was the story behind the gold and glitter.

She found the room she was seeking, and slipped right in. Fairies can sense births, of course, since they have to be ready to bless newborn babies when the circumstances are right. She'd known at once that there had been two babies born in the castle that day, but she'd paid little attention to this at first, because it seemed unlikely to be important -- although sometimes kitchen boys turn out to be far more than expected, that tends to happen more in modern fantasy than in delicate little fairy tales.

The new mother laid still and quiet, her face very pale. The baby lay quietly by her side. The little fairy was in rather a hurry by now. She didn't want to miss the meal, for she hadn't eaten all day, that being the latest diet fad among fairies, and also so that she could eat more at the fine feast. She bent down to look at the tiny wrinkled face. "You'll do," she announced, drawing out her wand again. "When the princess pricks her finger on the spindle, you shall be away from the castle and will not fall asleep. I bless you with a quick and a curious mind, a fair face, all the necessary virtues. And," she said, suddenly remembering the wicked fairy, and the fact that this child would be brought up in the kitchens, "the ability to eat as much as you like and never get fat."

With that, the fairy departed. The mother, who hadn't been quite asleep, looked at her little baby with astonishment. "Oh, little one," she whispered. "What's going to happen to you?"

The little girl rolled around in her blanket and kicked, making a little gurgling sound that might have been a laugh. And well might she laugh, because for her the future was bright -- glittering gold bright.

While the two girls grew, without ever meeting, the king and queen did all they could to prevent the terrible curse of the wicked fairy. Perhaps they didn't quite trust the promise of the last fairy, or perhaps they were simply being prudent. Regardless, they outlawed the spindle, made great bonfires of innocent spindles -- and it did not matter to them what kind of spindle, for there is a thing called a spindle in a bicycle pedal, and these were dismantled and sent away too. There weren't such things as CDs in fairy tales, and besides the spindles to store those wouldn't burn, but they'd have done something about it if they had existed. There is no word for fear of a spindle, but the queen had that phobia -- she fainted dead away at the mere mention of one.

They did not think of the simple method of telling the princess not to touch any spindles. They never do, in fairy tales, and besides, thanks to their diligence, she wouldn't have known what one looked like to avoid touching it.

There is nothing remarkable in the fifteen years those two girls grew. They grew much as expected: the princess was the most beautiful young girl in the land, and the serving girl a close second, her face as fair as the fairy who'd blessed her could have imagined -- though, of course, more feminine than one could wish in the person who would climb the tower and kiss the princess awake. The princess was just right: neither too tall nor too short, light-boned, so that people who saw her thought she could almost be a fairy. She had to be careful of what she ate, for though she would look just as beautiful if she got plump, she had to stay light enough that she could be swept off her feet properly, in due course. She had beautiful blue eyes and long curling blonde hair, and her laughter was music to anyone's ears.

The serving girl grew tall, but she kept reasonably thin, for two reasons. One, of course, was the fairy's blessing. And the other was that she was as quick and curious as the fairy had wanted her to be, so that when she wasn't needed in the kitchen, she was forever out and roaming, sometimes very far from the castle. She had very dark hair, almost black, which she kept cut short, so that sometimes she did look something like a boy. Her eyes were a bright green, and very piercing and quick. So she, too, was beautiful in her way.

You can guess at the next part of the tale, I'm sure. The beautiful day that was the girls' birthday, and the wicked fairy determined to have her revenge: the spindle, high in the tower. The curious princess, smiling, reaching out to touch -- and then sleep, a soft veil falling softly down over the castle.

The kitchen girl was not in the castle. Indeed, every time she thought of going home, something attracted her attention -- a bird's nest, a young deer, a beautiful flower. That night she slept away from home, not for the first time, curled beneath a tree.

But eventually, she made her way back to the castle. She looked around in dismay at all the sleeping people -- even the birds and bees and butterflies all lay asleep. Her mother drooped like a wilted flower from a chair in the kitchen, the great fat head cook dozed with her head upon a counter, the kitchen boys she'd grown up with slept on the floor. Greatly daring, she crept from the kitchens into the parts of the palace that she'd never really seen. Her feet made no noise on the thick carpets, and even when the doors creaked as she looked into rooms, nobody so much as stirred.

The girl was seized by a sudden impulse. She had seen the princess, of course -- from a distance. She knew that she was beautiful, and good, and kind, and in all ways virtuous. Or at least, that's what everyone said. She had wasted a lot of daydreams on this far away beautiful figure, as a matter of fact. She had imagined down to the finest minutiae the sweetness of the girl's face and temper, the softness of her hands. She wished that the fairy who had blessed her had thought to bless her in such a way as to keep her hands soft, for working in the kitchens had roughened them terribly, and try as she might she couldn't imagine touching the princess with her rough hands -- not so much as taking her hand to press it in friendship.

That's what people overlook, in marrying princesses off to knights, or scullery boys. Their hands aren't likely to be very soft. But perhaps true love makes this impediment as nothing. You may make your own mind up about that.

In any case, now the serving girl realised that now was a wonderful time to climb up to see the princess, without feeling ashamed of her own rather tattered appearance. She hurried back to her own room, and changed into her best dress, all the same. We all have our vanities.

And off she went to climb up the tower. It was quite a tall tower, with many steps, and flaming torches in sconces all the way up, as was the fashion in those times. It was rather gloomy and silent, but as the whole episode with the thicket of thorns, the handsome prince, and the fight against the wicked witch had been cut out by this twist of the tale, nothing hindered the serving girl as she climbed the steps, and she wasn't so silly as to be too creeped out by the quiet. She knew why all was quiet, after all.

I have no idea how the princess came to be in the top of the tower. Perhaps the spindle was there, and she fell gracefully onto the bed, as princesses inevitably do. Fairies would have been much too slender to drag her up to the bed, but they could have arranged her limbs gracefully upon the bed. The room had been prepared for her just in case the curse came to pass, in any case.

But there the princess was, lying in a bed at the top of the tower. The bed was, of course, the latest fashion, with a canopy and rose-scented silk sheets and flower petals and curtains flowing down to half-conceal the girl lying there. Not something you could buy in Ikea, obviously -- as you might guess, this was something the fairies had made, with love. Much like the gown she was wearing, which in some fairy tales would garner at least a page of description. I will settle for saying that it was blue, and chosen to match her eyes. The youngest of the princes, at this stage in his life, would have yearned for it, had he seen it.

The serving girl, on opening the door to the tower room, had no eyes for anything but the beautiful face of the princess lying on the bed.

You know what happens next. The serving girl crept over to the bed and sat down on the edge of it, looking down at that sweet face, finding it the same and yet more beautiful than she'd imagined. Which you wouldn't have thought was possible, if you'd seen into that girl's dreams, but it was the case all the same. And the girl dared to reach out and touch that face with her calloused, roughened fingertips.

The fairy, who was hiding in that room to see how things turned out, wondered if she should've thought to say something specific on the subject of kissing. She did look with pleasure on the serving girl's features, though. Hardly what she'd expected, but -- curves in the right places and all of that. She'd do nicely enough.

"I probably shouldn't do this," the serving girl whispered. She hovered for a moment longer, and then leant down, kissing the princess right on the lips. And then she leapt away, quickly, her heart hammering, feeling that she had done something terribly wrong.

The princess stirred. Her eyelashes fluttered.

The serving girl stared.

The princess opened her eyes. "Who are you?" she whispered. The serving girl trembled, and whispered her name. With anyone else, she would not have been shy. But with this princess... She dropped down to her knees, bowing her head. The princess sat up. "You woke me," she said, wonderingly. She knew her fairy tales well enough. "It was supposed to be a prince."

"I'm sorry, ma'am," the serving girl whispered, closing her eyes tightly. For a moment, the princess said nothing. Then, quietly, she did speak, and she reached out her hand to the serving girl as she did so.

"I am not," she said, firmly. "Look at me."

The serving girl did.

The king and queen, no doubt, would make some objection. But the princess, looking down into the fair face of the girl who had kissed her and woken her, could find none. All she could see was her happy ever after.

The fairy crept out, unnoticed, unable to quite suppress a giggle.





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This work by Rhian Crockett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-10-27 04:25 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] amethystfirefly
Oh... I really, really love this take on the traditional fairy tale. :D

(no subject)

Date: 2010-10-28 10:58 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] amethystfirefly
Is there a "diversifying fairytales" type book out there?? -ponder-

If not, you should totally make one. XD

(no subject)

Date: 2010-10-30 06:44 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] amethystfirefly
If I knew where to even start, I'd be like "LET'S MAKE ONE! :D"

But I don't, so... XD

(no subject)

Date: 2010-10-30 07:00 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] amethystfirefly
If you can find a couple of good online sources for fairy tales, I'd love to help. :D

(no subject)

Date: 2010-11-02 01:28 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] amethystfirefly
I think that would be a good idea. I know there are tons of versions of different fairy tales out there, so maybe everyone starting from one base group would be a good idea, and then we can do extra research if we need to.

(... And I hope that makes sense.)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-11-03 11:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tayles.livejournal.com
Oh, this is lovely. I love the modern mentions and the fourth wall breakage and the snarky/cynical/no-nonsense asides. Good idea, little fairy. A very pleasant twist indeed.

(no subject)

Date: 2013-08-04 08:00 pm (UTC)
alexseanchai: Blue and purple lightning (Default)
From: [personal profile] alexseanchai
*likes muchly*

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rhian_crockett: A painting of a castle; there is a red flag flying. (Default)
Rhian Crockett

August 2013

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