The Skulls: Microfiction

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Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The princess was awakened in the night by rough hands and gruff voices.  Her attendants were killed, and she was thrust into deep hole, a dungeon known only to few, while her captors decided if she was more valuable to them alive or dead. She was a pawn in dynastic feuds.

She lay there in the dark, too stunned and fearful to think or do anything. A rustling in the fetid space around her, finally got her attention. Somehow she knew the sound came from beings, not only rats–though they probably would come looking for a piece of her to chew on soon.

“Don’t be frightened,” she said. “Someone will help us.

My mother used to tell me stories. Shall I tell you one?”

More than a little frightened herself, she began speaking, telling a tale of magic and light, of music and sunshine, of finding a way home from the darkness. Gradually, figures appeared, glowing spirits. They hovered around her, listening to the tale and illuminating the dungeon with their light. She was now able to see that all around here were piles of bones and skulls, the remains of men, women, and children who had been left here to die alone. The princess told these lost souls story after story, until she, too, was near death.

But the princess did not die. One of her attendants had hidden under the bed and survived the slaughter in the bedchamber. This loyal attendant had run for help, the kidnappers were captured, and the princess was rescued–but she did not forget the lost souls in the dungeon.

Eventually she became queen. Shortly after her coronation, she returned to the dungeon. Ordering her guards to remain at the entrance, she walked down the dark steps alone. She sat there in the dirt and told a story of magic and light, of music and sunshine, and of finding a way home from the darkness. She rose then and told the spirits she would build them a new home.

Before long a section was added to her palace. It was called Hope’s Annex, named for the Queen, who had taken the name Hope. The bones from the dungeon were gathered, sorted, and placed there. The building was filled with light from large windows and glass doors, which were opened to the flower gardens in fine weather. It was furnished with comfortable seats, tables, and bookcases crowded with books. People visited, day and night. They read the books, had concerts, and told stories. And the spirits were happy, at last.

 

This is for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange Microfiction Challenge.

The prompt is the illustration above, which is certainly strange. I have no idea what the original fairy tale was about.

 

 

Light in the Darkness (The Rescue): Microfiction

 

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By Virginia Frances Sterret, Old French Fairy Tales, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Esmeena knelt on the cobalt blue tiles in her long, azure gown and gave the small deer a hug. He had just come from patrolling the castle’s grounds.

Then she stood, and said to the cat meowing plaintively at her feet, “Honestly, Reggie, I am working on it.”

He was her brother, and she had accidentally turned him into a cat while trying to cast a spell. “I’ve had a lot of responsibility since Mother’s been gone.”

Their mother was at a Council Meeting of Orwan chiefs. The Council was trying to decide if they should intervene here on Earth, now that humans seemed bent on destroying it. Wars, demagogues, fracking—the list of horrors and craziness seemed to grow daily. Thousands of years ago, the Orwan had come to Earth from the Planet of the Blue Ponies, (which was why they loved blue so much). They generally kept to their own realm, invisible to humans.

“I’m sure it’s not all that terrible,” Esmeena continued, “there is that female cat who seems to like you. And after all, you do still have all your. . .um. . .parts.”

At that, Reggie tried to spring at her, but he miscalculated the width of the table between them. With all four legs stretched out wide, he slid right over the table and crashed onto the floor on the other side.

“You are the least graceful cat I’ve ever seen,” said Esmeena.

Just then the massive castle door was flung open. Their mother entered, wearing a midnight blue cape and a frown.

She looked at Reggie, muttered some words, snapped her fingers, and he returned to his normal form. He rose from the floor, all gangly arms and legs.

“Esmeena, what has been going on here?”

“I was trying to reinforce the barrier,” Esmeena said.

“Didn’t you think I would check on it before I left? But why did you think a sparkling rainbow-colored barrier would make the castle invisible to humans?”

“Everything is so dark now. I just wanted to make something light and cheerful.”

“Child,” said her mother, “I can see I still have much to teach you. Don’t you know the light is within you? We carry it in our hearts.” She touched her chest, then picked up a candle that now glowed brightly in the darkness of winter night.

“Come,” she said to her children, “the moon is humming. It’s time. Let’s go celebrate the solstice.”

This story is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge.

The prompt was the painting above.

 

 

 

 

 

The Red Tree: Microfiction

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Virginia Sterrett (Old French Fairy Tales (1920)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Dove was tired of rules telling her how to dress, how to behave, how to think. She tore off the black cloak that covered her from head to ankle and threw it to the ground. She took the pins from her hair and let the breeze toss about her long, golden brown curls. She removed her shoes to feel the grass, slightly damp, on her bare feet. Then she walked to the red tree with its fruit of many colors, and defying the laws of her people, she picked a purple one and took a bite. She didn’t die; she didn’t feel any ill effects at all. In fact, the forbidden fruit was delicious. She continued to munch on it as she strolled home, ignoring the gasps and murmured prayers of the people she encountered.

Within an hour, the council summoned her. Though her parents begged for leniency, Dove was unrepentant, and the council banished her from the village. She hugged her parents and left her homeland.

She walked for days and nights until her food was gone. Wrapping herself in the hated cloak, she cried herself to sleep. In the morning, she woke to see the bright, rosy-pink dawn, and she was filled with hope that something good would happen that day.

She brushed the dirt from her clothing and continued her journey. Before long, she came to a town. As she approached it, she heard the most glorious sound.  She stopped a woman and asked her what the sound was.

“It’s the town choir,” the woman said. “Come, I’ll show you.”

The woman took Dove to the town hall. There Dove saw that the sound—music—came from a group of men, women, and children dressed in colorful garments.

That is how a rainbow must sound, thought Dove.

In time, Dove discovered that she had a voice, too. All she had to do, was open her mouth and let it out.

This was the first of many discoveries Dove made. She soon realized that the people of her homeland were not protected, they were trapped there by their ignorance and fear. She took a new name, Violette, for the purple fruit she plucked from the red tree, the fruit that set her on her journey of discovery and knowledge. Eventually, she fell in love and gave birth to a daughter. They named her Aurora as a reminder that dawn always comes, even after the darkest night.

 

Although I went way above the word count, this fairy tale is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge.  The prompt was the painting above. I have no idea what old French fairy tale it is actually illustrating.

 

 

 

Chosen: Microfiction

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Ilya Repin. “Choosing a Bride for the Grand Duke” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Once long ago, as the full moon glowed in the sky, a line of maidens stood in brilliantly colored gowns and feathered headdresses. They chattered and peeped like exotic birds, as they waited for the king to arrive to choose one of them to be his bride.

Katerina alone was silent; she comforted herself with the thought that she was unlikely to be chosen. She had nothing against the king in particular—he seemed pleasant enough. But marriage to him meant a life of seclusion in the women’s quarters, a gilded cage, a life spent producing babies and little else.

Katerina’s mother had convinced her father that reading was a skill that would allow Katerina to assist her future husband. So as she stood waiting in the Great Hall, Katerina read. When the trumpets sounded, announcing the King’s arrival, she quickly tucked her book inside one of her wide sleeves.

As the king strode down the line, each maiden curtsied before him. When he stood in front of Katerina, she bent low, and as the king took her hand, the book slipped from her sleeve and dropped to the ground. The onlookers gasped, but the king merely bent and picked up the book. Glancing at its title, he smiled, commenting that philosophy was an unusual choice for a woman. He handed the book back to Katerina and walked on. Throughout the night, the king talked to all of the women, but he kept returning to Katerina.

At dawn, the King announced he had chosen Katerina to be his queen. As a result, carrying books—even if they were not read–became a fad among unmarried women. Over time, Katerina adjusted to her role as queen and to life in a “gilded cage”—though she had to admit that it was a luxurious, gilded cage that many would envy. Using her position, she convinced the king to let her teach all the women at court to read. A generation later, all of girls in their country, as well as the boys, were permitted to go to school. Finally, after many decades, on another moonlit night, a woman became the leader of the nation. She was also named Katerina, after her distant ancestor, the queen who made books and reading fashionable.

 

This fairy tale was written when I was feeling hopeful. It is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge—though I am again stretching the meaning of the term “micro.”  There were two possible painting prompts, I chose the one above.

 

 

 

 

Kingdom of the Sea: Microfiction

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John Bauer, “Agneta and the Sea King,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Kingdom of the Sea? Yes, I know of it. It lies beneath the wine-dark water. You can’t see it from the surface, though perhaps you might sense its presence. Perhaps you think you see something, a figure there under the shimmering waves. But then you’ll blink or shake your head. Oh, I imagined it, you’ll say. Still, you will shiver. Because you know there is something there.

I’m an old man now; perhaps you think my mind wanders. Perhaps it does. But I’ve seen The Kingdom and lived to tell the tale. Come, pull your chair closer to the fire, and I’ll tell you about it.

You see, it was because of Jenny with her long, amber curls and blue-grey eyes. I was in love with her. All the boys in the village were. But she said her heart belonged to the sea. Foolish poetic ramblings, I thought.

She had come out on my father’s boat with me. It was a warm day, and the water shimmered with light and possibility. I kissed her there—the first and only time–and I swear, she kissed me back for a moment, before gently pushing me away. We dozed then in the warm sunlight, rocked by the waves. I woke to see her hanging over the boat. I heard her whisper, “Come for me, Love.”

I saw him then–the Sea King, glorious and terrible. He reached up and pulled Jenny down beneath the ocean’s surface. I dove into the water, frantic to save her.

But I know now, she did not want to be saved. I watched Jenny enter the Kingdom of the Sea with the king, and as she did, she turned and waved farewell to me. The castle glimmered beneath the waves; like a vision, it was there and gone. Then there was a sudden darkness inside my head.

I awakened on the shore, soaked and exhausted, but Jenny was never found.

Of course no one believed my story. They said she must have fallen out of the boat and drowned, while I was washed ashore by the waves as I tried to save her. But I know what I saw.

 

This is for Jane Dougherty’s microfiction challenge–though since I’ve gone way over the word count, I guess it’s not really microfiction.  The prompt was the illustration above by Swedish artist, John Bauer, for a book of fairy tales.