A Fairy Tale in Thread
I’ve heard say that most fairy tales begin with ‘once upon a time,’ and so I suppose I should begin this one that way too. But not all fairy tales begin ‘once upon a time’ and not all end with ‘happily ever after.’ I believe this is one of those tales and so I shall tell it as it was told to me and not try to embellish it with niceties that never existed. So I begin, not with ‘once upon a time,’ but with the clack of a loom and a woman weaving her life into thread…
She set the threads and began again.
Small hands the color of buttermilk worked deftly, tips of the finely shaped fingers dyed black from the wool she wove. The old chair underneath her creaked as she shifted her weight to turn more sheep coat into fabric. Her eyes, dark and almond shaped, were focused and her brow puckered in concentration as the thread flowed through her hands like water. Water that was wool which turned to weaving which turned to the stories of past, present, and future.
A knock on the door startled her from her weaving and she rose from her loom as her hair fell about her in a vision of gold. She walked barefoot to the door and opened it to feel the wind on her face and saw the man in front of her.
He was a servant of some kind. Green edged his tunic, darkened his hose and colored the feather stuck out sideways from his tilted hat. He bowed, eyes drinking her in. He cleared his throat and presented a small slip of paper.
“My Lord ordered a tapestry woven. He is expecting it soon.”
She took the paper and looked at it. She remembered it now. It had been a battle, where men fought monsters under a stormy sky. She remembered better the thread. It was heavy and thicker than her fingers. She had depleted her supply of darks to make the sky and she had used her finest gold thread to outline the mighty warrior in the center.
“Yes, I remember the yarn. Come in.”
The servant bowed, sweeping his hat low below his knees and followed her into the home. It was a low roofed building with a solid oak floor, stained in spots with dye. The walls were covered in weaving. One tapestry showed a unicorn, horn lowered to a pool filled with dancing lights. Another was a king sitting proudly on his throne, hooked nose turning into an eagles’ beak.
“Who's he?” the servant asked looking quizzically at the eagle king.
“A man from the past. Someone’s memory they told me about long ago.”
“I guess they never picked it up…”
“It wasn’t an order,” said the weaver whose name was Ile, “It wanted to be woven so I wove it.”
“And this?” The servant had stopped beside a bit of cloth and fingered it with one hand. Whites lined its outer rim, but as it dived toward the center gold flecked the purity. The two colors raced closer and closer to the center, reaching a crescendo and suddenly they stopped. Something was missing, an outline, an unfinished tapestry.
Ile smiled sadly. “That, I suppose, didn’t want to be woven quite yet.”
“So you never finished it?”
“No, I finished it. But it was something I wanted to be woven. Something to cure a lonely girl’s heart. So I wove him, but the fabric couldn’t hold my desires and he escaped the next morning before I awoke.”
The servant raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. Instead he watched the strange woman as she stood looking at her broken heart with a sad, ironic twist to her mouth. He cleared his throat and the weaver started and moved to a place beside the loom.
“I’m sorry. Here is your lord’s tapestry. I hope it will be satisfactory.”
“Thank you, I will return tomorrow.”
“Your lord paid me in advance.”
“But I want to see more of your weaving.”
Ile shrugged and led him to the door. “I wake early, come when you like.”
“I shall,” he said with a smile, and she shut the door behind him.
He came the next morning as he said he would. Ile, absorbed in a vision of a queen, heard the knock and remembered. She opened the door to him and there he was dressed, as always, in his lord’s green.
“You didn’t think I would come?” he asked when she saw him standing on her doorstep.
“No,” she said with a shake of her head, “I just forgot.”
“Too much weaving?”
“Too much thread.”
He nodded and bowed as he did the day before and entered her home. This time he did not put his hat back on his head and she noticed his hair.
“I have thread that color.”
He smirked, “I’m sure you do. I’m sure you have threaded every color of the rainbow in your loom. And so certainly you have thread that matches my hair.”
“It’s my dull brown,” she continued as if she didn’t hear him. “It’s dull and washed out. I keep it next to an earthy tone that I keep running out of. I don’t use this color that much, and so its faded with the sun,” she touched the tips of his hair with her fingertips.
“Well if you’re done rejecting my hair…”
She drew back instantly drawing in a breath of air. “Of course, I’m…I’m sorry. You are here to see my weaving. Not have me tell you the colors of my thread."
“Of course,” he said holding her with his eyes.
She smiled. “What did you want to see? Anything in particular? I have battles, I have kings, I have mystical beasts…”
She looked up and said softly, “Those too, I have.” She took him to a small room off of the main room where tapestries, fabric and bits of cloth littered low tables and high chairs. Some haunted dark corners, once bright yarn dulling underneath the layers of dust. Their footprints left their own patterns on the dusty floor.
The servant paused at table and at chair, lifting an edge of a piece of fabric, dropping it and moving on. Ile too looked curiously at her work.
“This one,” she said, the past flooding into her eyes, “was told to me by a man who stayed here one night. It was raining. He was on the brink of madness.”
The servant came over and looked at the cairn on the burnt landscape. Rays of sunlight were trapped in the clouds above and darkness sat on the horizon.
“A dragon,” the servant said looking at the land.
Ile nodded. “Among other things.”
“And this one?”
She ran her fingers over the knotted wool on a warmer picture and smiled. “A tinker told me about his stay with the Wolf King.”
The servant stopped looking at the fire burning on the cloth in front of him and turned his eyes to the golden haired woman who had woven it. “All these memories, and only one of them your own.”
Ile looked at him a moment confused, then smiled remembering the unfinished tapestry. “Yes. Only one. And that isn’t even a memory.”
The servant looked at her with an expression Ile couldn’t name then his eyes went to the window. “I need to service my lord,” he said shortly. “I will come tomorrow.”
“To see more weaving?” she asked, following him to the door.
“No, to see more memories.” He replaced his cap on his head and left.
She shut the door behind him and walked slowly back to her loom. She sat, staring pensively off into a world beyond the tapestries, beyond the thread, beyond the loom. She shifted and her hand idly brushed wood and orders sprang to mind, waiting for her able hand to weave them into memory and beyond. She touched her yarn and the other world left her and only her weaving floated in air.
It was on the next day she remembered his eyes. They were the tired green thread she loved and used and dyed endlessly. She loved the feeling of it in her fingers and she loved the joy it gave her, weaving it into tapestry on end. She remembered weaving a banner in that color. The order came for gray but she chose her beloved green and never heard any reprimands.
She held him on the doorstep, peering at his face as the sunlight got caught in her locks of gold.
“Who gave you your eyes?”
“You tell me.” He gave her a quizzical look as she continued to peer up at him in the morning light. “May I come in?”
“Yes,” she breathed absently, stepping aside as he entered.
She stood in the doorway for a moment remembering a bit of thread, a piece of weaving, then shook her head and turned. Then she saw him in the light.
He stood, two fingers touching the broken tapestry, dull hair falling in his eyes. He wasn’t wearing his lord's green but rather an old tunic, white interwoven with golds. Her fingers tingled as she looked at the simple stitch and the thread, old and worn. Her ivory brow wrinkled and she walked slowly forward to touch the old familiar threads with stained fingers. Her mouth opened in silent wonder and her charcoal eyes shot up to his face.
He looked into her eyes and cupped her cheek in his hand. “I lied. I wasn’t looking for a memory. I was waiting for you to find yours.”
“And I found you,” she replied in silent wonder. “Only in my memory you are nothing but thread, thread seen in the dying light of the sun on a tapestry of white and gold. And, now here you are. Standing before me in the morning light,” she reached up and touched a lock of his hair, “and like my thread you’re fading with the sun.”
“’Tis a bane,” he said with a quiet smile, “when you are nothing but thread and the desires of one woman’s heart.”
Her eyes became puzzled and she stepped back with a whisper, “but you are only thread.”
“But anything infused with love becomes so much more.” He reached out his hands and drew her close. “You were right. The canvas wasn’t strong enough to hold your emotions. The thread you used, the very special thread was far too heavy. I was lost, I couldn’t find you…until the lord I work for ordered a tapestry.”
Her breath caught in her throat and she felt her heart beat a steady rhythm, playing the music of her soul loud in her ears. She reached up and brushed his cheekbones, his lips with her fingers remembering the thread. Then she stopped seeing the thread and saw only him.
She started to speak but he took away her words with his lips.
When they surfaced for air he looked at the sun. He brushed the hair from her face with a look of sorrow in his eyes.
“I’m sorry Love, but I must service my lord.”
“No,” she held onto his elbow, voice quavering with unrestrained emotion. “Don’t leave me again. You left me once, not again…”
“Shhhh.” He traced the outline of her lips then leaned in and kissed her forehead. “Never again. I’ve found you and I will never leave you. I am here unrestrained by canvas or cloth. The only strings I have are to my lord.”
“Then go,” she whispered studying his face. “I will be here, as I always am. Weaving what the thread wants me to weave. Now there is no more reason to want to weave anything else.”
He smiled, “My body will go to my lord but my heart remains always here.” Their lips touched again and he left, shadow darkening the doorway and disappearing on the road to the castle.
She sat at her loom and the thread was more vibrant than ever under her fingers. She moved deftly, for once not paying attention to the colors that filled her vision as she wove her happiness into wool fabric and tapestry. Her desires, her love, after many years had come back to her. The vibrancy of the thread and colors filled her own heart and she felt more alive than she had for as long as she could remember
Hoof beats on the road outside startled her. The sunlight was dying in her windows. Had it gotten that late? She looked at the tapestry in front of her. A pattern of colors of life and happiness she did not remember weaving. She smiled and rose fluidly from her loom and opened the door into the dying light.
He was there before she saw him, brushing back her hair and kissing her deeply. She felt herself melt and the threads of her heart unravel. He stepped from her suddenly then and into the home where he paced nervously in front of her loom.
“What’s wrong,” she asked shutting the door softly.
He picked up some undyed sheep’s wool and pulled it slowly apart. “I broke with my lord today. He wanted me to go to war, but it would take me away from you.” His eyes flashed green fire, emotion that Ile never remembered weaving. “I will not leave you now that I have found you, and you have found the weaving in the depth of your memory.”
“But you are nervous,” Ile murmured, coming close. “I know my weaving, I know my thread, I feel…you. What are you not telling me?”
Hoof beats, loud and harsh penetrated the wooden walls and echoed through every stitch and every bit of fine thread, wool and yarn.
He looked up, a rueful smile twitching on his lips. “Apparently, my lord does not like people to break with him. He does not take it well.”
“No,” Ile put her back against the door. “Not now. I have threaded my broken heart together again, I can’t let them take you...I can’t…Now that you’re here I doubt I’ll ever be able to weave another one of you again. No.” A tear, like a tiny diamond, ran down her cheek.
“Love,” he said taking her by the hand. “Unravel me.”
“What?” Ile looked up through her eyes the color of coal that now sparkled with the lights of diamonds.
“I am nothing but thread after all. Unravel me and when they leave you can weave me again. All will be well.”
“But what if I cannot weave you again? What if…?”
“Do you love me?” he kissed her fingers.
“Then you will be able to weave me again.”
She took a breath and reached a hand up to the faded brown yarn that made up his hair.
When the lord came to the home and the men broke through the door, they saw no one but a weaver, standing defiantly in a pile of colored thread. They questioned her, but she made no reply. ‘Search the house,’ was the only thing she said, dismissing them nonchalantly with a wave of her hand. The men, whose clothes were edged with green, searched the house and finding nothing but tales and stories in thread. The lord became frustrated. ‘Search harder!’ he proclaimed and the men turned their own frustrations out on the tapestries the weaver had worked her life upon. She cried out as the eagle king dissolved and the blasted land became nothing but colors on the hardwood floor. ‘You have him, you know where he is,’ they shouted at her, “tell us, tell us!” She screamed back her ignorance and they advanced upon her loom with clubs.
The weaver awoke the next morning in the wreckage of her heart and soul. The wood around her was in pieces and her own body ached from the beatings she had received from defending her loom with her own body. With broken hands she pieced her loom together as best she could and began to weave. It was not the same. The thread did not flow through her broken hands on the broken loom and the desire she had before was overcome by the sadness of the stories that had gone back to their essence, nothing but thread, nothing but yarn, nothing but dyed animal coat on the floor of a poor girl's home.
She tried to weave him again. She tried to remember the love and the passion she had felt but all that touched her soul was sadness. She tried to remember the feeling of his hair in her fingers, the color of his eyes in the green she loved but all that touched her fingers was the rough feeling of wool. She wove slowly and shakily but her creation contained none of the emotions she felt before and came out crooked and broken. She cried out in frustration and began again to turn out something even more ugly than what she had before. Again and again she tried until the tears flowed freely down her cheeks and hopelessness began to spawn in the depths of her soul.
And so my tale ends, not with happily ever after, or even something so definite as to be called an ending. She still sits there today in her small house with the walls that are warped with age. Her hair is now longer than a dragon's tail and grayer than a dove's, her fingers and hands are wrinkled and crooked but still she sits, trying to weave her life and love back into thread, tapestry and memory.