Sending you over to Corvid Queen this week for a retelling of Godfather Death.
From the editor:
Read on for a patient, compassionate, and surprisingly calming version of Death.
Sending you over to Corvid Queen this week for a retelling of Godfather Death.
From the editor:
Read on for a patient, compassionate, and surprisingly calming version of Death.
Ah, yes, they’ve all been duped by a cat. But haven’t we all been, at one time or another?
It was during the wedding feast, when the air was heavy with roast goose and red wine, that Mirabella realized they’d all been duped by a cat.
Her new husband, the Marquis of Carabas, was sitting to her right, his teeth tearing goose flesh, grease coating his lips. She shuddered and pushed away thoughts of the marriage bed. Her father, the king, was well into his cups and tore at his food as if to mimic his new son-in-law. He slapped the marquis on the back and praised heaven that—at long last—Mirabella had found herself a husband.
At long last, indeed.
Near the end of the table, the cat was lounging, booted hind legs crossed. With a paw, he wiped goose fat from his whiskers. Mirabella fixed her gaze on him until he raised his yellow eyes and took in her full measure.
Then, the creature winked.
She sat back, a flush heating her cheeks, traveling her neck, and ending somewhere near her décolletage. She sighed, not in the mood for wine, song, or her new husband. True, the marquis was handsome. A point in his favor, to be sure. A goose leg slipped through his fingers, and he stopped its descent with one meaty hand. Mirabella cringed and again shoved thoughts of the marriage bed from her mind.
She turned to her new husband and asked, “More wine?”
Without waiting for an answer, she filled his goblet to the rim. He’d barely spoken since they’d exchanged I do. Come to think of it, the lad—for he was hardly older than she—seldom spoke more than a word or two at a time. Mirabella leaned forward and, once again, trained her gaze on the cat. This time when he winked, she didn’t flinch.
Oh, there was no Marquis of Carabas. She’s stake her somewhat tarnished reputation on it. Certainly, if this lad were nobility, he would’ve curried her father’s favor long before now. Not only that, but he was untouched by palace gossip, which was rife with rumors about her improper relationship with her tutor. In her defense, the relationship hadn’t been at all improper.
Well, maybe a little bit improper.
But thanks to some rumors and a fast-talking cat, her father was now praising the heavens and had shoved this lad into her arms and her bed. Would he care to know the truth about the marquis? Of course not. A married daughter was one less burden, especially a daughter with a somewhat tarnished reputation.
The splash of wine against her chest forced a gasp from her. The red liquid soaked into the bodice of her gown, the spot resembling a sword wound. Her new husband stared at his empty goblet as if the wine had sprung forth of its own accord. Her father pounded the marquis on the back, his hearty laugh filling the banquet hall. And, at the end of the table, that damn cat winked.
* * *
Her new husband’s snores filled the bedchamber. From her vantage point on the balcony, Mirabella could see the outline of his form on the duvet. Make no mistake, it was a fine form, despite the drool.
“You admire my master, then, Princess?”
Ah, that damn cat.
“There is more to admire in a man than form or face, Master Cat.”
The cat trod along the balcony’s edge, feet whisper-soft against the stone, even with the boots.
“What is it you wish?” he said.
“I fear my wishes matter not to man or cat.”
“I did not ask that.”
Mirabella glanced into the bedchamber. Yes, assuredly, her new husband would not wake until noon, if then. “Tonight’s wish has already been granted.”
Could cats grin? Well, this one could, and did, twirling long whiskers with a paw. “And tomorrow’s wish?”
Yes, the crux of the matter.
“I cannot simply un-marry, Master Cat, and I doubt my new husband will appreciate his rival.” She gestured toward the telescope at the balcony’s far end. She had yet to peer at the night sky this evening—or rather, morning. Of course, at this moment, the only view was of a cat’s tail, which was swishing in front of the lens.
Still, the urge to lean over the telescope remained. For a few hours, she could pretend that Sebastian was still at her side, imagine his fingers lighting on the back of her neck, hear his ardent whisper. “Do you see it?”
The night spent with her tutor fueled court gossip even now. That the two of them had gazed at the stars and not into each other’s eyes was of little matter. As she ran a hand along the telescope, the skies were clear, but her mind was clouded with thoughts of the upcoming tour of the kingdom. The grand celebration of her marriage meant visiting people she didn’t much care for and receiving gifts she certainly didn’t need. But the real question was: pack the telescope or leave it behind?
“You’ll be traveling light,” the cat said.
“Unlikely, Master Cat. Have you never seen a royal entourage take to the roads?”
“I have, Princess. It’s all part of the plan.”
“What plan is that?”
“Do you not wish to see your Sebastian again?”
Her hand stilled on the telescope, her fingers ice. Damn palace gossip, and damn that cat besides. How could he know her heart?
“You keep a great many unsent letters beneath your bed.”
Oh. That was how.
“Would you like to be free? Study with your tutor in peace?”
Mouth dry, Mirabella nodded.
“Then, trust me.”
“I shall do no such thing, Master Cat.”
“But what if you could un-marry, Princess?” the cat asked. “Would you trust me then?”
“What God has joined together, let no man put asunder,” Mirabella replied. “Even cats know this.”
Ah, yes, cats could grin. “Oh, Princess, have you not noticed? I am certainly no man.”
* * *
The carriage bumped over never-ending ruts. A week on the road, and the only sign of the cat had been this morning when he had slipped a wineskin into Mirabella’s hands.
“Hold it beneath your cloak,” he said. “Just so.”
Only thoughts of her studies, of Sebastian, compelled her to comply. She cradled her burden and settled in for another long day.
A cry rose up outside the carriage.
“Brigands!” a guard shouted.
Swords clanked, and then the carriage door flew open. The cat sprang past her, a single claw piercing the wineskin. Red bloomed beneath her hand, the wine soaking her gown. The marquis took one look at the stain spreading across her bodice and crashed to the carriage floor, face-first. Never mind that she reeked of her father’s finest vintage (come to think of it, so did the marquis); she was, in everyone’s view, fatally wounded.
And with death came freedom. Un-marry, indeed.
Before she could leap from the carriage, a paw tugged on her sleeve.
“You’ll need this, Princess.” The cat proffered a dusty cloak, ragged along the hem. He dropped a small canvas sack at her feet. “And, of course, you’ll need these.” He pulled the boots from his hind legs.
He crouched, then sprang through the carriage window, and Mirabella swore his final sentence was more caterwaul than words. She pulled on the boots, the leather kissing her legs, the soles cupping her feet. She held one leg extended, turning it to study the boot. How was this possible?
No matter. They fit. She jumped from the carriage. The boots carried her through sword clashes and rearing horses. No one called out. No one stopped her. Except for a cat that wove between her ankles.
His tail twitched, and he blinked slowly, but that was all.
She nestled him in her arms, the cloak shielding them both, and took to the road.
That night, she tugged the boots from her feet and placed them far enough from her campfire that no spark would reach them.
“Master Cat, would you like to take a turn in your boots?”
Within moments, the cat was standing before her in all his booted glory. He surveyed their surroundings.
“Seems safe enough,” he said. “I shall fetch dinner and return shortly.”
Mirabella pointed to the pot simmering over the fire. “I have dinner.”
“I shall fetch us a decent dinner, then.”
She huffed but couldn’t argue. Her skills with a telescope far surpassed anything she could manage with a cook pot.
“I shall almost regret finding Sebastian,” she said to him later, over stew and a loaf of hard-crusted bread from a nearby village. “I will miss these marvelous boots.”
“Why not commission another pair?” the cat asked, strutting about, the leather boots glowing warmly in the light of the fire.
“How will I do that, Master Cat? I will be a scholar and a somewhat impoverished one at that.”
“Haven’t you guessed, Princess? Who do you think gave me these boots to begin with?”
“Not the marquis?”
“Princess, you know their creator. Intimately, if I dare say so.”
“But … Sebastian is a scholar. He studies—”
“The mysteries of our world—and he has mastered a few.”
Mirabella sucked in a breath and blew out a stream of air rather than harsh words. After all, what was there to say?
With a paw, the cat twirled his whiskers, and then strode off into the night. So, it had been Sebastian all along.
And, of course, that damn cat.
A Most Marvelous Pair of Boots was first published in Timeless Tales, January 2014.
Continuing with the fairy tale retellings. This week, a different take on Sleeping Beauty.
“Try it,” my cousins say. They are the perfect princess trifecta, all in pink, peach, and plum.
I hesitate. I don’t trust myself. Not around things that are sharp. My mother, the queen, has banned all things pointy—embroidery and knitting needles, even crochet hooks, but the object in the corner of my room is different.
“Come on,” Plum says. She holds up her cell phone, ready to take a picture while the other two urge me forward. “You know how she is.”
I do. So does my mother, who always intones, “Never trust a woman whose only goal is to look as young as her teenage daughters.”
My aunt’s gifts have a way of backfiring. Last year, she gave me an elixir that makes your lips red like cherries and your cheeks glow like apples. I refused even to try it, but my cousins guzzled it down. At that evening’s ball, fruit flies swarmed around them the entire time.
What I really want for my birthday is a baseball bat and glove. I want to round up the pages, cajole the scribe into keeping score, and play until the sun hovers low in the sky and it’s too late to bathe for a formal dinner, never mind the ball afterward. But my cousins tremble; if they don’t get proof that I’ve at least touched the present, their mother will rage. Pity compels me forward. Besides, compared to last year, a spindle is downright practical. I reach out. Plum’s cell phone camera clicks.
Three seconds before I hit the stone floor, I think: my finger is going to hurt all day long.
Chaos roars around me, but I can’t wake. A narcoleptic slumber is no way to spend your sweet sixteen. My mother thunders at my cousins, and they cower, all quivering tulle and satin.
My finger still hurts.
The sobs subside. Yawns fill the air. Courtiers sink to the floor. Page boys slump against the wall. My cousins, too, sleep. My mother tucks a blanket around me and kisses my forehead before taking to her own bed.
For one hundred years, we lie dormant. This wouldn’t be so bad except my cousins, they snore.
Heavy boots stomp. A sword rattles. The door crashes open. The scent of blood and sweat fills the room. Something looms above me, something I think means to kiss me.
I worry about one hundred years of neglected dental hygiene. But really? He’s the one with dragon breath. Volumes have been written about epic first kisses. This one? I’m not sure it rates a Facebook status update.
My eyes spring open, that kiss the living embodiment of caffeine. A boy I don’t recognize kneels by my bed. I worry about being nearly one hundred years older than he is. We will have to rename the village. Cougarville has a nice ring to it. First, we should probably get to know each other.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
I blink. I’m sure he’s many things. Clearly, he has mad skills in the sword-wielding department. But I was on the receiving end of that kiss. Charming?
Not so much.
“Shall we marry at sunset?” he asks as if he already knows the answer.
Shall we … what? He squeezes my hand. Pain shoots through my finger, and I yank free. Marry? For real? I’d rather swing a baseball bat … or a sword. And Charming does look tired. (I hear dragon-slaying is kind of stressful.)
After all this time, the spindle still sits in the corner of the room. I point to it.
“Can you bring me that?” I ask, all princess-y innocence. I should feel bad about this, but I don’t.
Charming only manages a step, spindle in hand, before he crashes to the floor, armor clanking loud enough to wake the dead. But everyone sleeps on, and Charming’s snores blend with my cousins’. It’s a fairytale match. They can fight over him once everyone wakes up.
I fashion a new notch in his belt, and then I attach the scabbard and blade around my waist. I pull on my own boots and pick up his shield. It feels good in my hand. I tuck a pillow beneath Charming’s head and leave the room.
My finger no longer hurts.
In the master suite, I pause next to my mother. A serene smile lights her face. I tuck the comforter around her shoulders and whisper, “I’ll be back.”
After I’ve slain a few dragons.
It wouldn’t be February without a pair of star-crossed lovers.
Everyone knew that pixies were cruel. Those teeth. Their words.
A conversation with one was like dying from a thousand tiny cuts. You might think: one or two scornful remarks won’t matter. But they added up, faster than you could count.
That was why Renate kept her distance. That, and because she was a goblin. And not one of those flashy lime green ones, or one a delicate shade of violet. She was brown, like the bark on the trees of the forest she called home.
Practical, but dull.
But the pixie? Oh, he would dazzle you—lithe, sultry. His talent was the piccolo, as Renata soon learned, but he could sing and dance and execute all manner of acrobatics. His wings were a glittery sapphire while his skin was the icy hue of a January sky.
He was so beautiful, his features elegant and lovely, even those razor-like teeth. Renata felt a bit chagrined for her admiration. It was shallow, wasn’t it? It made her shallow, didn’t it? She didn’t even know his name. Pixies seldom confessed such things, not even to a lover.
If you knew a pixie’s name, the saying went, then you knew their entire heart.
But never, in all the annals of history, had there ever been a goblin-pixie pairing. So Renata dreamed her unattainable dreams safe in the knowledge they were only that.
Until the day the pixie fluttered down from the sky and landed on the forest floor in front of her.
His feet barely whispered against the carpet of fallen leaves. His wings hummed, and the sound was warm and soothing, like a lullaby.
“Why do you stare at me all day long,” he asked.
Renata knew she didn’t have quick wit—if this were a conversational trap, then she would walk right into it. So she saw no reason to be dishonest.
“Because you are the most beautiful being I have ever seen.”
With those words, heat burned her cheeks, her skin so hot she might set the forest aflame.
The pixie tilted his head. “Do you like how I play the piccolo?”
“I do, very much.”
He twirled, a perfect pirouette, and landed gracefully. “And my acrobatics? What do you think of them?”
“They are lovely.”
For a long moment, he scrutinized her. Then, he nodded once and took flight.
Odd things happened after that. Sweet music—that of a piccolo—accompanied her trek through the forest. The tune changed depending on what she was doing. Slow and thoughtful for rooting out mushrooms. Lively and quick for picking berries.
When she was helping a doe birth twins on a slushy spring morning, a warm buzzing sounded above her, shielding her and the doe from rain. Renata glanced up, but all she could see was the furious beating of pixie wings.
On clear nights, when she peered into the sky, her name would sparkle among the stars.
She searched for hidden cruelty and found only kindness.
The next time the pixie landed before her, stepping lightly across daisies and buttercups, Renata could do little more than clutch her hands beneath her chin.
“Why do you always brighten my day?” she asked.
“Because you brighten mine.”
“Me?” This she could not fathom. “How?”
“You know which of the forest’s bounty is edible, and which is not.”
“Don’t pixies know this?”
He flushed, a delicate pink spreading through his entire body. “It’s a good thing pixies have strong constitutions. I only know what to eat from watching you.”
“I can teach you.” Such boldness! Renata almost swallowed back the words.
But he inclined his head and continued. “You care for the forest creatures. You care for our home when the rest of us enjoy it, use it, but far too often disregard it.”
“I love the forest and everything in it.” It was as close as she dared come to confessing her feelings for him.
He took one step closer. “And you have the eyes of a doe and the skin the color of a wise oak tree. You are beautiful.”
She was about to protest or shake her head when he took another step forward.
“I am Simon.”
“You know I’m Renata.”
“I do. May I kiss you, Renata?”
She didn’t think twice, although perhaps she should have. She knew of the teeth, of the cuts, of the pain. Kissing a pixie was something a steadfast, ordinary goblin like herself should never do.
Renata stepped forward.
She closed her eyes.
The kiss was warm, steeped in magic and honey. When the quicksilver taste filled her mouth and blood ran down her chin, Renata gasped. She felt no pain, had no cuts.
It wasn’t her blood.
It was his.
Simon had sliced through his own lips as to not injure her.
But a steadfast little goblin such as herself had a salve for that. She tended to his wounds, and by nightfall, he was healed enough to play the piccolo.
It took until winter, with the snow piled high around Renata’s little cottage, until they discovered a way to kiss without incident.
Neither one minded.
The Goblin and the Pixie was written especially for the (Love) Stories of 2020 project.
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