Tag Archives: Fairy tale

A Midsummer Night’s Murders

“It’s a right bloody mess, that’s what it is,” opined Detective Inspector Goodfellow, surveying the scene.  The morning light cast shadows of tree trunks over the site, like prison bars.

“Verily,” agreed Detective Constable Selkie.  “Although there is more to do with dust than blood.”

“That’s what you get,” Goodfellow held a handkerchief to his mouth.  “With the fairy folk.  Kill them and they turn to dust.  Like something you’d find under your bed.”

“So many… It looks like the whole of Oberon’s court.”

“A bloodbath – a dust bath.”  Goodfellow’s toe struck something shiny.  He stooped and retrieved it with his pencil.  It was a tiny, intricate thing, glistening in the sunlight, bejewelled with dew.  “Oberon’s crown…” Goodfellow marvelled.

Selkie shook her head.  “The King is dead.  Long live…  Who?  Who stands to sit on the throne now?”

Goodfellow shrugged.  “Titania’s diadem.  Over there.  Mustardseed’s wings… Someone really went to town on this bunch of fairies.”

“But who?”

“Our job to find out.  Duke Theseus is keen to keep this thing under wraps.  Swift resolution before the rest of the Underworld finds out.  Last thing we need is that lot waging supernatural war against Athens.”

Selkie nodded.  “Those youngsters who were messing about in the forest.”

Goodfellow shook his head.  “Already questioned.  They were all off their tits on love potion.  Courtesy of…” he dropped into a crouch, “this little chap here.”

Selkie held her breath lest she blow away the dusty form of Puck.

“Know him?”

“He had form.  Now he is formless.”  Goodfellow grimaced bitterly at his own humour.

“I don’t get it.  All those lives, snuffed out.  It makes no sense.  Who could possibly have a grudge against the fairy folk?”

Goodfellow held up a hand to silence his partner.  He took stealthy strides toward a thicket.  Selkie followed, taking care not to step on any dusty corpses.

A child was sobbing on the ground, hugging his knees, his turban askew.

“Oh, you poor thing,” cooed Selkie.  “He must have hidden in here to escape the carnage.”  She beckoned to the boy, telling him everything was going to be all right, no one was going to hurt him.

The boy looked up, warily.  He gave a wet sniff and surrendered himself to Selkie’s arms.

“A changeling…” Goodfellow realised.  “Oberon snatched him from India, it looks like.  Poor little chap.”

“We’ll get him down the station and have social services have a look at him.”

Selkie headed back to the car.  The boy watched Goodfellow over her shoulder, his eyes expressionless and unblinking.

Too late Goodfellow noticed the dusty handprints the boy was leaving on Selkie’s back.




Filed under fairy tale, Short story

A Bowl of Broth

“Gran…” Little Red closed the book she had been poring over.

“Yes, dear?”  Her grandmother was at the kitchen sink, washing and peeling vegetables.  Already a pot was bubbling enthusiastically on the stove and the inviting smells of herbs filled the tiny cottage.

“I’ve been thinking…”

Grandmother chuckled to see the little girl’s serious expression.  “That sounds ominous!” the old woman laughed.

“In this book, there are old ladies like you…”

“Go on,” Grandmother dried her hands on a towel.  “And less of the old, if you please!”

“Living alone, in the middle of the forest.”

“What of it?  I’m quite cosy here in my little cottage and I’ve got you to visit me, haven’t I?”

“But these old ladies – in the stories – they’re mean.  Sometimes their houses are made out of gingerbread and they set traps for boys and girls.  Sometimes they make potions out of all sorts of horrible things and they use them to turn people into frogs.  And sometimes –”

“Oh dear,” Grandmother shook her head.  “You can’t believe everything you read in stories.  Now, clear the table.  It won’t be long before the broth is ready.  And you love my broth, don’t you, dear?”

Little Red’s expression was noncommittal, but she put the storybook away and draped a cloth over the table.  She fetched soup spoons from a drawer and the hand-carved salt and pepper pots Granny’s friend the woodcutter had made.  One was an owl, the other a wolf – but a friendly, little wolf, not a big bad one.

Grandmother carved an oval loaf into thick slices before giving the broth one last appraisal.

“Yum,” she sipped from the ladle.  “As good as ever.”

She served two steaming bowls and watched with pride as the little girl tucked in.

“That was delicious!” Little Red wiped her lips with the back of her hand.  She yawned.  “It’s funny, Gran, but your broth always makes me so – so sleepy…”

A minute later, she was out like a light.  Grandmother wrapped a blanket around the child and carried her to a cot by the fireside.

Some old women have houses made of gingerbread.  Some make potions to turn people into frogs.

And some, Grandmother stroked the sleeping child’s hair, make broth to stop the ones they love from leaving them all alone.

In an armchair by the fire, the woodcutter slept on.  Grandmother swatted at him with her tea towel to rid him of his cobwebs.



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The Intruder

The princess quickly pulled the veil over her face.  “Guards!  Guards!” she cried, despite the protestations of the young man who had climbed over the garden wall.

“No!  Wait!  Listen!” he made calming gestures.  “I can explain.”

“You are aware, are you not, of the statutes?  No man may look upon my face and live!”

“It can’t be that bad,” the young man scoffed.  “No, wait.  Listen.  I didn’t mean that; that was a joke.  But honestly, Your Highness, I didn’t see anything.  I am not here for you.  I don’t give a hoot what you look like.  I’m not interested.”

Behind the mesh, Royal eyebrows dipped.

“My beauty is famed far and wide.  Many highborn men have forfeited their lives in the trial to win my hand.”

“Yes, yes,” said the young man.  “We’ve all heard the stories, love.”

The princess was aghast.  No one had ever spoken to her in this manner.

“You dare!  You have the temerity, the audacity, to call me your love!”

“Don’t get your knickers in a knot.  It’s just an expression.  Where I come from, we all call each other love all the time.”

The Royal shoulders shuddered.  The princess dreaded to imagine what kind of squalor had given rise to the scruffy youth before her.  His clothes were patched and ragged and his face, though not unpleasant – rather handsome, in fact – was dirty and unshaven.  His arms looked strong – why, if he were to force himself upon me, to carry me away, there would be little point in resisting…

The princess brought herself up sharp.  And where the hell were those guards?

“You say you have not come for me.  For what then have you scaled my walls and penetrated my private garden?”

“Steady on there, Mrs,” the young man laughed.

“Apples!  You are after my apples – what’s the word?  You are scrumping!  Guards!  Guards!”

“Relax.  I don’t give a fig about your apples.  If you must know, I’m here on an assignation.  Within these walls my true love resides.  Stony limits cannot keep love out.”

There was a fire in the young man’s eyes; the princess was certain none of the highborn men who had ventured their lives to win her hand had ever looked at her with such passion.

“For whom have you come?  For whom do you risk your neck?”

The young man blushed, rather endearingly.  “Why, for your brother, the Prince.  You see, once he smiled at me, that special smile – you know the one?  The smile that burns through your eyes and into your very soul and you just know.  You know?”

“I can’t say that I do,” the princess scowled.  “For my brother, you say?”

Curse the fool!  Why should the Prince have everything?  Was it not enough that he would inherit the kingdom?

“Your Highness.”  Two burly men with gleaming breastplates and curvy scimitars bowed before her.  “What is your will?”

“You took your time,” she snapped.  “This youth.  He is an intruder.  Seize him and execute him.”

“No!” cried the youth.  “Why?”

The princess removed her veil and grinned.



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A Visit to the Wise Woman

“Now then, what seems to be the problem?”  The old woman gestured to a stool, her hand a bunch of twigs held together by knotty veins.  The Princess Rosamond demurred – the stool was little more than a tree trunk upholstered with moss.  Gingerly, she lowered herself onto its edge, aware of the old woman’s eyes, black and gleaming, like a raven’s, watching her every move.

“I – I don’t know where to begin,” Rosamond faltered, her voice barely above a whisper.

“At the beginning, dearie!” the old woman suggested.  “And speak up!  My old ears!”

“I –” Rosamond wrung her hands in her lap, her fingers wrestling each other, like worms in competition.  “You’ll think me foolish and wanton.”

“My dear, many young ladies have perched on that stump.  They come to me for help.  They come to Old Helga for help when they can find it nowhere else.  I have seen all and heard all.  There is nothing you can say that will shock Old Helga.”

Rosamond frowned.  “And, so we’re clear, you’re Old Helga?”

The woman laughed, a cackle like a rusty hinge, exposing a row of broken teeth like the palings of a ruined fence.  She confirmed she was indeed Old Helga, the wise woman of the woods.

“What is it, dearie?” she said, in a softer, kinder voice.  “Tell Old Helga.”

“Well,” Rosamond looked at the writhing fingers and forced them to be still.  “I’m not happy.  With who I am.  With my body.”

Across the table, the wise woman grunted.  If I had a ducat for every time I’ve heard this one.

“I see,” she said.  “What is it, your nose?”

“No!” Rosamond’s hand flew to her nose in horror.

“Your teeth?”

“No!” Rosamond’s hand dropped to cover her mouth.

“Your chin?  Your tits?  Your fat arse?”

Scandalised, Rosamond got to her feet.  “How dare you!  You cannot talk to me like this.  I am a Princess!”

“And you’re cured!” Old Helga held out her hand, a dry leaf, cracked and paper-thin.

“What?” Rosamond gaped like a landed fish.

“Pay up!”

“But, I –”

“Three florins, as per our agreement.”

“But, I –”

There was a rustling as Old Helga got to her feet: the susurration of a pile of leaves disturbed by wind.  “Shazam!” she cried, pointing a gnarled stick at the princess’s face.  There was a puff of green smoke and Rosamond disappeared, her gown billowing to the floor.  From a sleeve, a tiny green frog emerged.  It looked up at the wise woman and let out a doleful croak.

“That better?” said Helga.  “Or would you prefer longer legs?  A stickier tongue?  Be off, before I drop you into my soup.”

Rosamond muttered a disgruntled ribbet and hopped out into the forest.  Overhead, a heron swooped.

No, thought the bird, passing up the chance of a froggy snack.  That one’s too ugly.



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Wicked Queen

The peasants are getting cocky.  They come right up to the castle walls to forage their herbs and fungi.  They use them to lend flavour to the myriad dishes they concoct from the humble turnip.  They have developed quite a cuisine, I’ll say that for them, but you won’t catch me – or my taster – sampling any of their homely fare.  It’s the hygiene, you see.  They’ve never heard of it.

But I can’t have them and their grubby mitts pawing my things.  Not even the black stones of my retreat.  Time was, they wouldn’t come within a league of my domicile and I would have a bit of peace.  Now, they encroach upon my personal space – I need a lot! – as if they’ve never heard of me other than as a figure of legend.

It’s time I flexed my muscles once more.  Remind them who’s boss.

Last week I tried showing myself on the parapet.  There was a full moon and I angled myself so the horns of my headdress would be in silhouette against its pallid splendour.  My high collar was turned up and the jagged edges of my cloak – oh, I looked the part all right.  Three hours I stalked along the battlements, wafting my dragon-headed staff about as though I might smite someone at any second.

Waste of time.  No bugger was out that night.  Oh, they still fear the full moon, all right.  They daren’t traverse the forest when there’s a full moon.  Werewolves and all that nonsense.  Why they have to invent monsters to frighten their children into an early bedtime when I’m right here, I’ll never know!

I’ve been too complacent; I see that now.  It’s been too long since I last put myself about.  So long, I can’t remember the spell for turning someone into a toad.  I’d better look that up in the grimoire before I venture out.  I’m a bit rusty with the staff, if I’m honest.  I’d better get some practice in – I don’t want to put my shoulder out.  You must never show weakness to these people or they start getting ideas.

No, toads and staff-wafting won’t cut it.  I’ll have to go full dragon if I’m to reassert my reputation in these parts.  The peasants are thriving.  More and more of them build their ramshackle shacks closer and closer to my land.  But that’s the thing when you fashion your houses from twigs and dried dung: they burn up a treat.

A quick sortie, a flyover and a few blasts of fire from my nostrils ought to do the trick.

Sometimes you just have to remind people of their place.


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“Let me go and I’ll grant you a wish!”

Kevin peered at the little man in the upturned tumbler, his tiny, perfect hands pressed against the glass. The voice was high-pitched and barely audible. Kevin marvelled. The little man’s clothes were more detailed and more delicate than anything any of his action figures sported in their mass-produced, factory-made costumes.  And now he was at Kevin’s mercy.  Well, that’s what you get for trespassing in our garden! Kevin laughed.

The little man’s expression implored his captor to do the decent thing. Tiny tears, smaller than dew drops, coursed down his ruddy cheeks.

Kevin sat back on his calves and tapped his chin as though considering the best course of action to take.

“Think about it!” the little man urged. “Anything you want and I shall provide it.”

Kevin laughed. “Why should I believe you? If you can do magic, why don’t you magic yourself out of the glass?”

The little man shook his head. “You’re a smart lad. It doesn’t work like that. I can’t use my powers to my own advantage.”

“But surely, granting my wish so I will set you free is to your advantage.”

“Indirectly, yes, I’ll give you that.”

“I need proof,” Kevin decided. “Prove to me you have magic powers and then I’ll make my wish.”

“And then you’ll let me go?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Might be good to have my own personal magic man in my pocket.”

The little man waggled a finger. “It doesn’t work like that. One wish per person.”

Kevin rolled his eyes. “Who makes up these stupid rules anyway? All right. Show me proof and I’ll think of a wish.”

The little man tapped his chin in direct imitation of Kevin’s gesture. “Let me see… I could change the weather for you. How would you like that?”

Kevin glanced at the cloudy sky. He shook his head. The weather was changeable at this time of year. How would he know that the little man was causing it?

“Do you like animals?” the little man asked.

“I love them!” Kevin cried. “I know! Turn me into an animal so I know it’s true. Then you can grant my wish and I’ll let you go; I swear I will. On my mother’s life, I swear it.”

“Very well.” The little man pushed up his sleeves and made some arcane gestures. Frustrated, he shook his head. “It’s no good. The glass is getting in the way.”

Kevin laughed. “You can’t fool me. If I lift the glass, you’ll get away.”

The little man looked insulted. “I would never! Now that I have engaged to grant you your wish. I have honour, young sir.”

Kevin looked suitably abashed. “OK. I’ll lift the glass just a little but at the first sign of you trying to escape, it’s going back down again. I once cut a spider in half doing that.”

“You’re a brave boy indeed,” said the little man. “Ready when you are.”

Kevin nodded. He tilted the tumbler backwards. The little man basked in the rush of fresh air. He repeated his arcane gestures. Kevin began to itch. The garden around him stretched and grew as he shrank and shrank to the size and shape of a flea.

The little man’s hand darted out and pulled the flea under the glass with him, just as the tumbler fell back into place.

“Now do you believe me, you nasty little bug,” the man shook the flea. The flea nodded its head vigorously.

“Now make your wish!” the little man commanded. He cocked his head. “You wish to be restored, is that what you want?”

The insect nodded again. The little man dropped it to the grass. All at once, the ground fell away, as Kevin stretched and expanded until he was his natural shape and size again.

Using one of the words he’d heard his father utter when someone cut him up in traffic, Kevin lifted his foot and brought it down on the little man, crushing him to death.

“Kevin!” came his mother’s voice from the back doorstep. “Why have you got a glass on your head?”

Kevin laughed and spun around. The tumbler tumbled; it smashed on the path.

Kevin’s mother dropped dead in the doorway.


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Hello, dearie. Buy an apple, dearie? Freshly picked this very morning they was. Look at ’em, all succulent and round. Like this big red one. No? Well, perhaps I could come in for a moment, dearie? I’ve come a long way. I’ve got old bones and my lungs ain’t what they used to be. If you get to my age, well, you’ll know – What am I saying? Through here, is it, dearie? My, my, you have got it nice in here. Ceiling’s a bit low, isn’t it? You must bump your pretty head on a regular basis. It doesn’t bother me – I’m old and bent but once – oh, once, I stood tall and proud in the knowledge that I was the fairest in the land. You might not think so, looking at me now, but I was. The fairest in the land.

I’ll just sit here, if I may, dearie, by the fire. This is a little chair! Kiddies’ chair, is it? Got yourself a kiddie running around, have you? And where’s the man of the house? At work, I expect. Left you to look after the kiddie, has he? What? What’s that? You’re unmarried! Well, I’m not here to judge, dearie – You have no children, you say? I don’t follow you. Why all these little bits of furniture?   I’m not being rude, dearie, but your backside – pert though it may be – isn’t going to fit on one of these seats, is it? How on Earth do you manage? I’m old and bony now so it’s no trouble to me. I won’t keep you for long, dearie. Just having a breather. It’s a long way back through the forest. Long way to come for nothing. Do you know, I haven’t sold a single apple? What a waste of a day it has been! And they won’t be as good tomorrow. They won’t be as firm and as crisp as they are today. Such a pity not to snap them up while they’re fresh. What’s here? Four –five – six – no, seven chairs… Listen, if you buy them one apiece I’ll chuck in the big red one for yourself free, gratis, and for nothing. What do you say?

Who are they all, dearie? If you don’t mind my asking. The people what sits on these seven chairs. Some kind of nursery, is it? Are you running a kindergarten on the side, dearie? Is that what this is? Well, apples is good for growing children. Keep the doctor away.

What’s that? They’ll be home soon? Well, I won’t keep you. I’ll be getting along. If you could just give me a hand, dearie. Help me get back on my feet. That’s it.

Are you sure I can’t tempt you? No?

I’ll tell you what. Because you’ve been so kind and hospitable to a frail old woman what’s come a long way, I’m going to give you an apple. The big red one! With no obligation to purchase. Go on – have a bite. That’s the way; go on.

What do you mean it tastes funny? Are you insinuating there’s something wrong with my apples, my lovely apples? How dare you! I’ve never been so insulted. I’ll have you know – oh, my dear! You have gone a funny colour. Here, lean on me, dearie. Let’s get you to a chair – a couple of chairs for your ample behind. Can I get you a drink of water, dearie? You’ve gone rather pale, if I might make an observation.

Oh dear! Well, if you’re more comfortable on the floor, dearie, you go right ahead. No, no, I can’t hear what you’re saying with all that frothing going on around your mouth. Steady now, you’ll get froth on my dress. Oh, for pity’s sake, just lie still, you little slut, and stop clawing at me or you’ll have me down with you.

That’s right – you recognise me now, don’t you? I can tell by the way your eyes is widening. Yes, it’s me. Took you long enough, but then again it is a fool-proof disguise.

I’m off back to the castle now, dearie, to slip into something more regal. I can hear your seven housemates coming up the lane so I’ll nip out the back way. Through here, is it, dearie?

Dearie? Oh, dear.

Not the fairest in the land now, are you? Not no more. And at last I can stop speaking like an insufferable old pleb. Toodle-pip.


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Gretel Regrets

Looking back, perhaps we shouldn’t have done what we did. We were young, we were desperate, we were so hopped up on sugar we didn’t know what we were doing.

She was partly to blame. Whose gingerbread cottage was it? That’s right. If you build your residence out of confectionery and don’t have so much as a fence around it, you can only expect to have chunks bitten out of it when two hungry, frightened children stumble upon it.

Perhaps that’s why she locked my brother in the pantry. Perhaps she thought we were literally going to eat her out of house and home. Bit of an overreaction, a citizen’s arrest. And then she didn’t even call the cops. She kept him locked in but she made sure he had plenty to eat while I did all the bloody housework for her to compensate her for the bits of her dwelling we had devoured.

Like I said, we were frightened. Our parents had turfed us out – they couldn’t afford to feed us, they said. We were tearaways with no respect for anybody. I blame the ruling class. They made things tough for our parents – no wonder they abandoned us.

And what kind of future will we have now, my brother and me?

We can claim it was self-defence. We can claim it was her or us. But who are they going to believe, two tearaways disowned by their own parents, or a frail old feeble old woman who lives alone in the woods?

They’ll throw the key away and chalk up another mark against the wayward youth of this kingdom.

I kept asking when will our debt be paid. And she kept saying one more day, dearie, one more day. Stupid old witch.

And then I found the shoes. Dozens and dozens of pairs of children’s shoes, all colours and all sizes, filling every drawer in the house. I asks her about them and she goes crazy. She tells me I’d soon find out what happens to naughty little girls who couldn’t keep their noses out. And she grabs a knife and pulls my brother from the pantry. She’s going to stuff him in the oven and he’s crying to me to help him so I grabs the tablecloth and chucks it over her head. While she’s stumbling around, flailing and flapping, we both rushes at her and it’s her what goes in the oven. We slam the door shut and we peg it out of there. The old woman’s screaming is enough to bring the house down but Hansel has a better idea. He grabs a log from the fireplace and whoosh, the whole wall goes up. We pelt it out into the forest and we watch, breathless and exhilarated, as the gingerbread house goes up in smoke. And the old woman is screaming no more.

And I’m glad. I’m glad she’s dead.

My only regret is I didn’t save the shoes. They all got burned up too. And now, without them, nobody’s going to believe a word of our story and we shall swing for it.

And our mum and dad, when they hear about us, will look at each other and say, Told you so.

gingerbread house

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Meanwhile at the pond…

“Here she comes, lads!” Grandfather Frog splashed the alarm. “Take cover!”

The younger frogs – some of them barely more than pollywogs – dived for safety. The deepest recesses of the lily pond would afford them shelter until the danger had passed.

Huddled together in a rocky nook, the froglets trembled but their fear was tempered with excitement. It was an exhilarating game to them and Grandfather Frog was keen to impress upon them the severe peril of their predicament.

“Don’t look up,” he warned. “No matter how prettily the sunlight dapples the surface. If you look up, she will see you and, if she sees you, she will reach down and seize you. And if she seizes you, she will hold you up to her face – a face as big as the sun appears now – No, don’t look up! You must never look up! She will hold you in her hand and look into your eyes and you will be spellbound and you won’t think to leap – and if you do think to leap, you won’t do it. You’ll be too high up. The surface of the water will be like stone rising up to meet your belly and split you open.”

The young frogs cowered and giggled at this horrific prospect.

“But you won’t think of leaping; leaping will be the last thing on your tiny mind once she fixes you with those eyes of hers. Eyes as blue as cornflowers and more dazzling than any star.   You won’t be able to look away. You’ll be stuck there on the pink lily pad of her palm and there’ll be nothing you can do to escape.

“Next come the lips, moist and puckered like rosebuds drenched in the morning dew. And they come right at you and they press against your face and you think you’re going to be smothered and all you can do is wait until it’s over. And when it’s over, those cornflower eyes dim and cloud with disappointment, and those rosebud lips curl in a sneer of disdain, and that soft, pink lily pad tips and down you fall, and the water races up towards you and you better have your wits about you and stretch your body out like a reed, like the beak of the deadly heron, or SPLAT! You’ve had it, lads.”

“Coo…” said the young frogs.

Except one.

One young frog raised a flipper to attract the attention of Grandfather Frog. “But why, Grandfather?” he piped up. “Why does this giant do this? When it only leads to disappointment for her and danger for us?”

Grandfather Frog smiled sadly. “Those are good questions, Filbert. That poor giant is a Princess in her land and she seeks a husband. She believes that if she can only find the right frog and kiss him, he will be transformed into her mate and they shall live the rest of their days in luxury and bliss. But, it was decreed, long before any of you were spawned, that at first sight of this deluded human, we are to conceal ourselves in the deep. I know, lads, for I have gazed into those eyes and I have plummeted from a great height because I could not meet her ideals. I was extremely lucky to survive – Hush now, and hold your peace until she leaves.”

The group fell silent but young Filbert was not satisfied. He could not see why – just because Grandfather had had a bad experience – he should be denied his chance.

Do I not deserve a life of luxury and bliss? His throat swelled indignantly. Perhaps there is a Prince within me who deserves his moment in the sun.

With that thought overruling notions of personal safety, Filbert broke free from the group and swam towards the surface where the sunlight dappled the water so prettily.


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The Princess in the Tower

The Princess languished in the tower year after lonely year. She had almost given up peering through its only window to see the clouds pass by, just as life was passing her by, and the birds making nests in the treetops below, just as she would never have a family or home of her own.

Why she had been locked in the cylinder of stone since birth she couldn’t say. She suspected jealousy on the part of the old woman who was her gaoler and her only contact with the human race. The Princess would idle away the hours imagining stories: the old woman had stolen her as a baby and things had got out of hand and now she couldn’t possibly return her to her real, royal family… The old woman had entered into a pact with an enchantress and the price of having a baby had been her youth and beauty, and now she kept her daughter imprisoned in a place so secret no enchantress could ever find her…

Now, as her eighteenth birthday approached, she yearned more than ever to leave the tower, to feel the green grass, so distant and unknowable, tickle her feet; to paddle in the silver stream she could see glistening in the distance; to meet people – her subjects! – and talk with them and actually at long, long last live in the world that had been denied her for a lifetime.

She had concocted a plan years ago, when the old woman had become too frail to climb the hundreds of steps to the top of the tower. Nowadays, the old woman would put provisions in a bucket on a long, long rope and the Princess had to haul it all the way up to the window or go without her supper.

The Princess planned to climb down the rope and run and run and run, she cared not in which direction; she just had to get away. But she bided her time. She waited and waited. And waited.

One day the old woman didn’t come. Or the next day. Or the next. The rumbles in the Princess’s belly echoed through the tower. But she continued to wait. Perhaps the old woman was sick. She would get better and then she would return…

Perhaps – the Princess’s blood ran cold to think of it – perhaps the old woman was dead.

A week passed. The old woman was dead, to be sure, and the Princess would surely starve.

The time had come at last to climb down the rope and flee to freedom.

The Princess sat on the windowsill. A wave of vertigo nauseated her and she almost swooned. She put one foot in the bucket and held onto the rope with both hands, clutching it tight so that the bucket did not plummet to the ground and take her with it to certain death on the stony ground below.

Gradually, she lowered herself, moving hand over hand, until the window was a speck above her and the shadow of the trees fell across her, and the smell of the grass and the flowers rose up to her nose as though in greeting.

The bottom of the bucket hit the ground. The Princess held her breath and stepped out. She was free at last.

“Who goes there?” said a voice, a deep voice, quite startling the Princess. She gazed at the man who had spoken with wonder and admiration on her face. His armour was glinting in the sunlight and so was the tip of the pikestaff he was pointing at her chest.

“Why,” said the Princess. “Do you not know who I am?”

“Oh, we know who you are all right.” The man nodded to his confederates who were strolling around the base of the tower. “Here, lads. We’ve got her at last. This is Old Sal’s girl. For years, the old boot’s been robbing the palace kitchens blind and this one here’s been scoffing the lot. Eating the evidence.”

“She wants locking up,” said another.

“No!” cried the Princess. “That’s the last thing I want.”

But her words fell on deaf ears. The men marched her off to the castle where she was locked in a dungeon, deep under the ground, and left there to rot.


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