Sunday, July 24, 2005

Fairy Tale Offering for Duwamish

She was not a village beauty, by any stretch, but sturdy sinewy and fit for childbearing, and he thought she would do for a wife. Her singular distinctiveness was in the strange color of her eyes, a honey brown almost golden in some lights, that some thought merely odd, and others found disturbing, and that he dismissed completely. With liberal salt seasoning his peppery beard he had no time for frivolous anomalies; perhaps once upon a time when he'd been the king's favorite huntsman, he'd have held out for a better choice, but that seemed a lifetime ago to him now, and possibly another's life.

She'd been seamstress to royalty, but she, too had returned to her home after the king died. Now she stitched traplines into the forest, and traded in furs: ermine for the wealthy, bear for warriors, badger for witches. The village folk kept her at a discreet distance; it just wasn't proper, they thought, but they lined their winter jackets with her bounty, and quietly looked the other way when she stalked through the weekly market, munching a baked quail pastry, and unerving them all with her yellowish stare.

. She strode right past the huntsman on her way back out to the woods, while he gazed after her unseeing and ordered more ale the color of her eyes; before he was able to drink into oblivion he found himself instead wandering, lost in a dark remembering:

The queen had come to him, once, in that other life, and handed over her stepchild - now, there was a beauty - and told him, Take her deep into the forest, and return to me with her heart. And he, not daring to refuse, took the girl to a hidden place in the shadow of ancient trees; but before he could unsheath his knife, a Little Man of the Wood stepped forward, and silently offered to ransom the child for a bag of gold coins; he sensed others, watching, but none stepped into the dappled light spilling through the leaves. He reached for the bag of sovereigns, and the Little Man vanished with the girl; the huntsman climbed into the arms of an oak, and waited for a stag to pass below.

But hours passed, and no stag came, and he grew stiff and sore in his stillness, and he longed for a drop to drink. So when a doe, heavy with twins, stepped into the clearing, he loosed his arrow on her, and cut out her heart. For a moment it seemed the forest held it's breath, shocked beyond twitter and leaf-rustle at his crime, but no avenging Guardian appeared, a creature of granny-stories after all. He took the doe's heart for the queen's luncheon along with his bag of coins to an inn, where he drank a drop and more. When he woke in the morning, he found the heavy coins had turned into tattered oak leaves, and he was forced to creep away in the chilly pre-dawn, before the innkeeper discovered he had only twigs in his till.

Eventually the queen discovered his treachery, but obsessed with her pursuit of the beautiful child, neglected to exact a revenge on him either, and so at length he convinced himself the he'd have spared the girl without the bribe, that the doe had been carrying twin monsters wrapped up in one another's tentacles, that he would go unpunished; he mounted his horse and turned him to the carriage path through the forest, and went home.

So the huntsman wooed the honey-eyed woman, a bit perfunctorily, since he thought she wouldn't refuse such a generous and unexpected offer of reprieve from spinsterhood, and at last she agreed. They married at the dark of the moon, which called for shakings of heads and whispers of ill omen and other such nonsense; but the midwife said his seed would take hold in the darkness, and their babe would grow with the moon's light.

The next night they sat down together, husband and wife, to remnants of the wedding feast, but on the third night she served hedgehogs, their sharp little prickles rolled into clay balls she'd roasted on the fire; and he roared with fury and threw his plate at the wall, shouting that they were muddy and fit only for tinkers, and he took himself off to the tavern, to succor his wounded pride. There he slammed his mug on the table and called hoarsely for more beer, to silence the soft whisper of regret, and balm the icy stab of shame.

Every night thereafter, she made sure there was lamb or pheasant or salmon or some other rich meat fit for a king's huntsman on their table, but he always visited the tavern first, and fell drunkenly asleep soon after eating; he was unable to meet her amber gaze. So she left off tying up her hair in intricate ribbon-twined braids; it became once again shaggy as a winter pony's mane, and she returned to spending her days in the forest. The two newlyweds saw one another but for a brief time each evening, and spoke each to each hardly at all; the villagers agreed they suited one another, he with his beastly manners, no better than the creatures he'd hunted; and she so unnattractively undomestic and wild.

The huntsman thought, as the moon waxed toward fullness, that his wife grew stranger by the day: restless and irritable and forgetful in turn; she burnt his toast, and tipped over the marmalade pot, and snarled at him when he pointed it out; and she had a feral smell about her. Alarmed, he went to consult with the midwife, who told him to pack her off to the menstrual hut, "...and get a child on her, you motherless twit, or you'll have to put up with this every month." But his wife refused to leave her traps to go to the House of the Moon, which was only for young girls in their first blood, and wrinkled crones with their tales.

The night the full moon sailed round and dusky into the sky's harbor, she was not waiting for him on his return from the tavern; the hearth was cold. A soft early snow began to fall, and he heard a lonely wailing from the forest, and since it wouldn't do to have his wife devoured by beasts, out he went again to look for her, footfalls crunching in the new whiteness.

But his luck had finally turned: it was the wolf he came upon, hunched over a tuft of fur and glistening bone. The wolf raised her head from the bloody snow, and looked at him with her golden eyes; his bow lept from his hand and bounded away like a hare, and his arrows freed themselves from his quiver and flew off silent as owls. He sensed others, watching, but none stepped into the pooling moonlight. His own eyes grew large and dark with fear, his limbs thin and stiff; his hair stood upon his head. He turned and ran, as fast as ever he had, and then faster still; he flew as fast as the wind through the trees, and lept brooks and fallen logs and mossy boulders in his wild terror; but the carriage road that led through the forest turned into a deer track, and then a rabbit run, and finally a tiny mouse path, which disappeared into a tiny mouse hole. Then brambles caught his hooves and held him fast, and his antlers tangled in the branches above, and all the while he heard her, panting and howling behind him, even over his own desperate thrashing and crashing in the unforgiving underbrush; so at last he stilled his fruitless struggles, and waited trembling in the clotted shadows, for his bride.


At 8:34 AM, Blogger Audrey Larkin said...

Wow! Great story Lisa! Had me tightly in it's grips!Perhaps they'll be a continuation?

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Lisa Phoenix said...

Glad you enjoyed it,it was great fun to write.
i'm currently wooing the muse for more, but i never know how these stories will turn out....

At 11:35 PM, Blogger Lois said...

Loved your story Lisa.on being in my local book shop at the w/e I spied a book on the Sale Table....
Title was "Modern Muses" reduced in price from $70 to $20.
On opening it I flipped through ,glossy photos of,Picasso,Charlie Chaplin,various presidents of the USA Steinbeck etc etc etc ..I could not feel anything for it as it seemed to be that to have a beautiful woman around meant that the artist was better at his craft...not an intelligent woman to be his equal it seemed, just good to look at....Oh such is life...Lois (Muse of the Sea)

At 6:58 AM, Blogger Megan Warren said...

Hi Lisa

I really enjoyed this - I hope that
the Muse is wooed - I'd love to read more.


At 4:00 PM, Blogger Anita Marie Moscoso said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:11 PM, Blogger Lisa Phoenix said...

i am grateful to be a part of this community, this grand adventure.

i have always struggled to find a sense of belonging - surprised by bliss at finding it here, with you.

At 9:06 AM, Blogger Anita Marie Moscoso said...

I raise a glass to our own Angela Carter...well done.

Anita Marie


Post a Comment

<< Home