A reinterpretation of classic faery tales.
|My problem began on the cusp of womanhood. I had not quite reached a full eighteen summers when my name became synonymous with hysterical comedy. When my cycle signaled the start of my maturation, sleep abandoned me as my nocturnal companion. Learning the cause of this problem became as elusive as trapping the wind. Many hypotheses sprouted like wild onions, explaining away my condition. The most amusing have been tales of an anonymous paramour, usually a brave but stupid peasant page boy, ascending the heights of my tower using my long tresses as rope. But those tales are easily dismissible, because on certain mornings I awoke, disrobed and disheveled, in the woods. My only voyeurs were imaginary tree gnomes and the broad, smiling face of the sun himself.
Once the household learned of my nocturnal ramblings, they proceeded to protect their fleeting honour by sequestering me in my tower, furnishing it with all manner of palatial finery. My father thought his honour and my chastity would remain intact from the intrusive assaults of masculine society. Funny, considering that my devious maid had already inducted me into the votaries of Sappho before my fifteenth summer. But this tale concerns itself not with my carnal education. Despite all of father’s precautions, one problem still remained: I could not sleep. So mother instructed the help to stack mattress atop of mattress, until I slept on a mountain of downy fluff. Yet I still tossed and turned; when I did sleep, vile dreams abducted me from the embrace of sleep. Somehow I still managed to find myself alone, stripped to the bare, outside of my family keep.
My maids despaired and my family grew annoyed. They tried everything: sleeping-potions; sprinkling faery dust on my eyelids; enchanted sewing spindles; they even bewitched my apples. Still nothing prevailed. My remedies grew taxing; it did not prove cost effective nor did it seem to justify the lives of some of my fathers more eccentric alchemists. One evening, an old crone prevailed upon my mother to try a bizarre remedy. It seemed she knew a man who sold her young, great grandson three peculiar beans. She said this man was some strange herbalist of some sort and could possibly grow a cure for my somnambulism. Feeling desperate to save the family face more than curing my own ailment, my mother shelled out the appropriate guineas for this miracle herb.
When my mother quickly learned of the pea and its’ qualities she put it to immediate use. Planted firmly underneath the bottom-most mattress, my mother had me retire early. And wouldn’t you know it, the damned little pea worked! That is, until my eighteenth summer drew close. On my eighteenth birthday, though, the nightmare turned uglier and nastier than ever.
Most nights I could sleep peacefully, if by peaceful you mean without dreaming. I would just climb my way up that mountain and surrender to the plushy folds, my maid dowsing the candles lights. I didn’t know where I went or who I became when I slept because I did not dream. Some people say that’s a bad thing, but they never traveled to the distant lands I went to when I did dream.
Once a month at irregular intervals, my dreams grew disturbed. My nightmares took on a horrid and beastly shape, indescribable to me for I could not see it, only feel it. Yet with its’ eyes it revealed to me horrors it performed on my fellow man. Battalions of armed horseman devoured whole; livestock gutted and itinerant woodsman ripped apart by maws more powerful than bear-traps. I saw everything in red, a beautiful, bright red that made my mouth water and stomach growl. I recalled a red so bright I felt blinded. A strong sanguine aftertaste teased my palate every time my tongue tried to lick the redness. Greedily did I salivate while my stomach twisted and knotted itself in preparation for a ghoulish feast! Driven wild beyond measure, the raw stench of fresh and rotting human flesh overworked my sense of smell. Deafened by my own breathing I heard the blood pounding in the throats of terrified victims. I wanted this to end, but it only grew worse as I could listen with alien ears to the conspiratorial whispers of dung flies come first light.
Always in this nightmare I ran. Fleet of foot, I knew where every tree stood, where jutted every rock formation. No fallen log, hidden trap, nor sinkhole could catch me. Some primal force beyond my ken carried me on some broad beastly back. I ran, but not of my will, not out of fear nor duress…I just ran, as if I were the forest itself.
Trees stood gnarled and raped of leaves, exposed to this world’s bitter winds. No bark clothed their nakedness; nothing could dress them for the winters’ onslaught. They resembled skeletal old men nailed to disfigured crucifixes. These warty and scabrous sticks littered the sinking hillsides in prickly thickets, blasted by human warfare and times ravages. No bird ever roosted there again nor did sumptuous fruit grow on those branches ever again.
It was all a dream, until I awoke in blood. Not my blood mind you, because it…how shall I say this…had a different taste. Hailing the St. Mary and cursing the devil brought neither end to this gory ritual nor any peace to my family’s keep. The help vacated the premises en mass, complaining of guttural, feral screams erupting from my chambers. Their invaluable help we could not replace, causing our household to soon fell into disrepute.
Like I said a short while ago, at least once every month I awoke in a swath of blood, dried thankfully, such that none could prove any slaughter took hold within the household, but still it proved quite a mess to clean up. I could recall neither where I’d been nor what I’d done to acquire this visceral fluid, but it upset my household terribly. The cost to my father was more than my maidenhead and dowry combined. He spent considerable sum keeping this quiet in addition to cleaning up.
If he were smart, Father would have barred my only window. Instead he fell victim to his own sense of alarm. My father called forth favours from the locale parish; at the time it seemed the only intelligible reaction to this unnatural occurrence. When the fat little abbot tried exorcism, I played along, stifling my hysterical laughter. But that did not stop the slaughter. So, goaded on by the fat abbot and his court advisors, father called forth an inquisition of the countryside. My condition found no remedy, but his accusers claimed many false confessors and created many ersatz witches and warlocks. They fanned the fires of hatred and fear, as well as paving the way for the eventual downfall of my family.
As for me, I found my company undesirable once word leaked. It spread venomously like a canker, rotting the hearts of all who once felt very favourably towards me. Polite society shunned me and the peasantry mocked and ridiculed me in the local pageantry. My name became publicly abhorred: the bloody naked princess. When ever my chaperones escorted me about, I wore long veils, hiding even my precious dark lockes. My effect soon transcended towards nature. Flowers withered and fields gradually grew barren wherever I trespassed. Only wild lupines and vagrant canines seemed kindly disposed in my presence.
Residing in a spacious room fitted in the peak of a tower I have no way of escaping except by stair well. The only window overlooked a vertical drop of some two to three hundred feet. It was surrounded by a moat some fifteen feet deep and what felt like a mile wide to some poor weak swimmer. I could neither leave nor enter that way using ordinary human power alone, save by whatever human machinery supplied me from with out. In all fairness my isolation seemed too high a price to demand for my chastity, all things considered.
To idle away my time, I had tutors come and instruct me in the languages of the land, sewing, music, religion and philosophy. Whenever I feel daring, I venture off into the realm of math, but not too much to upset the pride of my tutors. However it did not take long for me to grow bored with my studies. Oft I’d stare out of my window, daydreaming of other lands and people. Most of the time I just yearned for the feel of feathery soft grass tickling my bare feet again and for the seductive odour of fresh roses to waft through my nostrils. On sunny days I would open my window and dance to the warbling tunes of jays and let the sun caress my cheeks again. Oh it felt so nice to feel the wind play with my loose strands of hair like a mischievous lover!
Sometimes I while away the hours garnering gossip on the locals. I’m always amused when they squabble amongst themselves. Though their losses are trivial to me the farmers usually resort to silly proofs to justify their outrageous demands at recompense. Listening to them argue and swear you’d think these fools carried over a grudge originating at the local fair. But sadly, most gossipers wanted to focus on my regions newest resident-the beast.
Much like the black plague, news of this monster swept over much of the countryside, killing people with fear and panic. Ever since mid-summer (I know because that’s when I became a woman) people have lit candle light vigils for missing loved ones. Our once beautiful forest became haunted by an unknown terror. A lot of speculation centered on a spirit or ghost from the heathen past returned to serve a coven of satanic crones. Few blamed my father’s inquisition, and credit the violence to a growing number of armed brigands seeking revenge via terror. Many younger folk, maidens mostly, felt that the forest itself became alive and capriciously ate the souls and flesh of whomever. Vagabonds completely disappeared like they never existed. Shredded children clothing hung from scabby tree limbs, reminders of the dangers that stalk the night. That was not the worst of it though. Word grew of a secret cult devoted to appeasing the monster. They sighted the fact that it struck only once a month and during the time that the moon swelled with malicious intent. So this cult would roust a woman, usually married, accuse her of adultery (and later witchcraft) and blind and gag her and take her to the deepest part of the wood. Once there, the cruel society left her to fend for herself. To mock her and I, they dressed the poor frau in a white wedding gown overlaid with a long, heavy scarlet cloak. Obviously these cruel inquisitors defended their barbarities with lies and pseudo-truths, ie, that the monster sprouted in our wood due to rising incidents of cuckoldry with the devil. Of course these were simply local legends grown out of a reaction to a reliance on ancient pastoral tradition vice the church, and now the Catholics sought ways to insinuate themselves into all stretches of our humble pastoral lives. That is until some villagers brought to my family’s attention a shredded scarlet cloak and a few tatters of a once bleached garment stained with viscera.
Between Father’s inquisition and the ravages of the beast, my villages’ lived in fear of two terrors. As the death toll mounted, so did the crows feasting on them. Our terrorized existence knew of only two alternatives: eaten alive or eaten dead. Regardless of which path they chose from, though, the victims found their spiritual journey interrupted. As villagers took to ancient home remedies to stave off death and his winged messengers, the inquisition readily found a fresh new batch of victims. The only fruit borne on tree branches were the stiff bodies of innocents hanging from a noose. The sun stopped shining on them as black waves of crows blotted out his lights in a mad feeding orgy.
The whole countryside flew into a panic. The price of food and non-perishable inflated, fields became fallow and barren, taxes climbed rapidly, and even tariffs started crippling our once prosperous trade. Poverty soon enslaved the remaining survivors and began to steal from my family’s coffers. This angered Father and his ministers deeply because this proved to be a thief one could not set a trap for. Very few visitors came to our keep given the apparent unpredictability of our woodland tormentor.