Red Civility and the Wolf of Rudeness

“I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone.” –Edmund Burke

 

I’ve been thinking about Little Red Riding Hood—specifically the scene where she confronts her “grandmother” about her new look.

 

Wolf and Red

Little Red Riding Hood choosing her words with care. (picture by William Henry Margetson 1861-1940)

“Oh Grandmother, what big ears you have.”

“Oh Grandmother, what big eyes you have.”

“But Grandmother, what large hands you have!”

“Oh! But Grandmother, what a terrible big mouth you have!”

 

It occurs to me that if this had been present day, Red would never have gotten that close. She would have insulted Grandmother with some quip about, “Girl, you look like death—what’s up with that?!” and dropped the basket at the door. I don’t think anyone wanted her to get eaten by a wolf, but because she did and survived, she was the better for it.

This is a perfect illustration of what we’ve become. We’d rather go for the cheap laugh than really try to help someone. We think of kindness as falseness and are encouraged to, “keep it real.”

Well, how’s this for real? Almost every law we’ve ever fought for and enacted has been in the furtherance of civility. Our constitution was born of a people who wanted respect and fairness. Should we be proud that we are a people who legislate thoughtfulness or sad that it needs to be written into law? Probably both, but in an age where people can anonymously churn out hate in a comment section perhaps Shakespeare is right when he writes discretion is the better part of valor.

This isn’t coming out of thin air. I recently had an experience where my work had to be critiqued. I welcome the chance to hear other people’s thoughts and know it’s the only way to improve. However, one of my reviewers thought it was an appropriate venue to scrawl expletives and spew condescension in place of real criticism. I’m lucky I have a thick skin, but the sting was still there. More than anything, I was angry that the critic thought this was a good way to make a point.

Fairy tales teach us that the kind and sweet suffer, but are rewarded in the end with (their version) of a happy life. I do hope that’s true.

Its times like these I turn, not to fairy tales, but to philosophy. And when the subject is civility no one does it better than Edmund Burke. I leave you with this thought and hope it will help you when you encounter any incivility.

 

“Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” –Edmund Burke

 

 

 

Ending the year going Into the Woods

I’ve never been one for the obvious. If it’s too easy, it’s boring. If everyone is doing it, something must be wrong. So there’s no reason I should like Into the Woods. It’s so blatantly a metaphor for a life lesson. You go through the woods naïve and afraid of the unknown only to emerge smarter and warier of the road ahead. Red Riding Hood learns about the dangers of straying from the path. Cinderella finds her voice. The baker realizes he’s not alone. Jack loses a friend but gains independence. Even writing these lines I want to yell “DUH” at the screen.

But I love it. I love the music. I adore the Witch. The message is clever even while being obvious. When I saw the production as a kid I thought it was so cool that someone decided to mash all these fairy tales together. Now as an adult I’ve gained new insight into the lyrics. It’s an honest to goodness family movie mostly because you can watch it all your life and get something new each time. This time I learned about reluctance.

We’re days away from the New Year and that means the dreaded list of resolutions. Last year I did away with the entire idea of it with the notion that making a list is just a way to make me feel bad by April (or March) because I’ve lost interest in them. My resolutions are usually related to moving more and exercise. Despite my best efforts, I am generally a sedentary creature preferring to read and write more than move and sweat.

I searched fairy tales for a good story on reluctance, but I have yet to find one. Reluctant heroes are not a problem in fairy tales. Princes chase down maidens who gratefully accept the assistance. Tailors seek adventures on the basis of having downed seven flies with one hit. Little girls with bold outerwear head to Grandma’s without a thought for the hungry wolf that lies in wait. Reluctance is not something fairy tale characters are acquainted with.

Except in Into the Woods. Only kids have no fear of the woods. Adults are very aware that the unknown could hold danger or at least disappointment. They’re all reluctant to enter, but they go because it’s the only way to get what they want. Hemming and hawing are allowed, but the woods are still waiting. Just like the New Year and my resolutions. So, I’ll make my resolutions yet again and work to get past May with them (at least).

No more hemming and hawing…the woods await.

Ducktales by the ghyll in UK

A touch of whimsy in the woods.

Happy 2015!

 

 

Losing it

I’ve been thinking about loss and fairy tales lately. It’s the prologue to most stories, shaping the hero’s or heroine’s current misfortune. Be they motherless, fatherless, or orphans loss is the beginning of a story in fairy tales. Disney has made this fact into a cliché. It’s been joked that Frozen didn’t become a true Disney movie until (spoiler alert) the parents are lost at sea. I almost think it’s pointless to warn you of the spoiler because as I mentioned before, it’s Disney’s hallmark.

So what can fairy tales tell us about loss? Is it the impetus that makes ordinary people into heroes? Do princesses (or would be princesses) jump at the chance to marry royal strangers because of “daddy issues”? Are feelings of abandonment just the push a boy needs to take on giants and consider thievery as a way of life? Maybe yes, but maybe nothing so blatant.

As a historian, I’m aware that these stories were written in a time when disease, war or poverty would likely tear apart families. But fairy tales don’t care about the mundane. They focus on the fantastical, spinning tales that take us out of the everyday. Wouldn’t you want to escape a reality in which becoming orphaned probably only meant a life of impoverishment and servitude? In the real world, Cinderella would have grown old and haggard at the beck and call of those three spiteful cats. Or she would have run away to the city and been forced into prostitution to survive.

Am I the only one who sees a face?

Am I the only one who sees a face?

But I’m not just a historian. I’m a person with whimsy who sees imprisoned souls in strangely shaped trees. All it takes is a too bright moon and I immediately start to spin a tale about a community of nightwalkers affected by its phases, collecting magical Moonshine. Not all the ideas become a full-fledged story, but more than a fair share get filed in my ideas folder. And one of the most basic things everyone wonders about is death and loss, so why isn’t it a prominent feature in fairy tales? Sleeping Beauty side-steps it with a sleeping spell meant to keep her in suspended animation for a century waiting for her “true love.” Snow White is barely cold in her glass coffin before Prince Charming comes along and dislodges the chunk of apple the dwarves were clearly too short to Heimlich. Red Riding Hood and her grandmother are swallowed whole by the Wolf only to be cut out of his belly by the Woodsman. Even the newest old story, Frozen, gives us a heroine who sacrifices her life and is rewarded by it being returned to her.

In my search for loss in fairy tales, I came across a story from my childhood. It falls under folklore and legend more than fairy tale, and is a popular story in Puerto Rico. It’s called La Leyenda de la Piedra del Perro, or The Legend of Dog Rock. Not far from El Morro in Old San Juan there’s a small beach with a long natural rock wall. At its tip is a rock formation that when looked at from the right angle resembles a sitting dog.

The story goes that a soldier, Enrique, from back when Puerto Rico was part of Spain, was stationed there, far from home and lonely for companionship. One day he finds an injured and emaciated puppy whom he nurses back to health with food and love. In return the dog never leaves his side and becomes his best friend. As is inevitable with all soldiers, Enrique is called to a battle which requires him to leave the dog behind. They part tearfully and as the boat carrying his human companion sails away, the dog (called Amigo) swims to the rock wall and sits there from sun up to sundown awaiting his return. There’s a brutal battle in which all hands, including Enrique, are lost. The dog overhears the news and rushes out to the wall waiting without respite. He stays so long and so still he turns to stone and remains there to this day.

I’m not sure what that story teaches us. On the one hand loss is something that can’t be gotten over and you can remain stuck in a moment of despair without moving on. Or it could mean that loss forces out the very nature of a being. For the dog, it was loyalty. It could be said that for the characters of popular fairy tales, it was a desire to be more or escape their current situation. In both cases, it led to profound change. Fairy tales teach us that no matter how mundane today might seem and yesterday was, tomorrow could be extraordinary–either good or ill. They teach us that loss is not the end of the story.

Community in the Wilderness: Searching for a Writer’s Group in the Wilds of the Web

“Why did you start a blog?”

It’s a question I get asked periodically by people who don’t write blogs. The honest answer is “platform”. It’s one of those buzzwords you can’t escape if you go to conferences, subscribe to newsletters, and generally stay abreast of the latest in writing and publishing. You hear it often enough that you begin to feel inadequate or inauthentic as a writer if you don’t have one. So, kicking and screaming I began a blog that focuses on fairy tales. It made the best sense because the YA series I’m working on is based on nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

At first, it was a chore. I agonized over the About Me section, trying to sounds both informative and pithy enough that other people would want to read it. I tried to look at it as my “trial by fire” because whatever I wrote would immediately be critiqued. At least that’s what I thought until I realized how hard it is to make your lone voice heard in the cacophony that is the blogosphere. But even when I wasn’t read, I felt as though each posting was a courageous effort to put myself out there–proof I was a writer each time I clicked Publish.

My best day was when, out of nowhere, a random person started following by blog. My initial reaction was, “Why are you following me?” But soon that gave way to real happiness and a renewed optimism in this process. Maybe blogging could be rewarding. Maybe I could grow to love it. Well, I was happy that I could at least find times to like it.

I kept writing. I also kept blogging and reveled in every new follower. I would post and click (too often) on the Stats page to see if my post was being viewed. Often I would be disappointed by the turnout. Sometimes I was surprised by what really got people’s attention. Nevertheless, I continued hoping to find the magic recipe of topic and writing that would make readers want another helping. Then I fell into what all bloggers can attest to.

Call it Blogger’s Blahs or Poster’s Paralysis, but I felt discouraged by the lack of interest and my lack of ideas. It came in waves, and then the Blahs ebbed because a new reader joined or a new comment would buoy me. The realization was almost anti-climactic. What I really wanted was not readership, I wanted community.

Deen Village Scotland

My search takes me everywhere

Blogs about how to find a writer’s group or a critique circle are endless. They have stories of writer’s being bestowed with the friendship of like-minded writers like the Commandments. It all sounds so warm and inviting, a stark contrast to the solitary clicking of cold computer keys. You’re encouraged to branch out, make connections, join clubs and all will fall into place. Well, after a few hits and misses and, just like the querying process, you’ll find the perfect match for you. It’s like blind group dating or “Naked and Afraid” writer’s edition.

My attempts to find my tribe have been mixed. I have one writer friend who is very dedicated to helping me with my writing and we’ve forged a friendship of respect and reciprocity that makes me believe in serendipity. But you learn early on that you need lots of eyes on your work.
The rest of my circle (non-writers all) have fallen away, unable to keep up with the back and forth of rewrites. For once I could say without fear of sounding clichéd—It’s a writer thing, you wouldn’t understand. So, my search continues. Blogs exist to create a virtual community, but eventually virtual isn’t enough.

Why did I start a blog? The short answer is to find more readers, but now I know it’s really to find more writers.

Why did you start a blog? Is it the same reason you keep blogging?

Sympathy for the Devil?

There’s a new school of thought roaming the halls for fiction. I’ve referred to it in the past as revisionist fairy tale history. The stories handed down through the generations are very clearly morality tales all with the same basic message–being good is better than being bad. There are myriad ways to put that, but the easier to digest the better. Wolves, vain queens, little men who can spin straw into gold are best avoided and it’s easy because they so obviously look evil. It’s Black Hat Syndrome or the Disney-fication of character as I like to call it. But a new tendency, a revisionist modern view, is starting to take root in fairy tales.

I say modern because it’s our modern sensibilities, our post-Freudian minds, that asks the question, “Why does evil exist?” It begs the question, what happened in the evil queen’s life to make her hate the step-daughter so much? Can we really blame a wolf for wanting a meal–a lot of us eat meat? Is it wrong to expect payment for doing all the work while the maiden gets a new life? My question is, do you think our fairy tale reading ancestors would have asked these questions?

It’s a topic I’ve been wrestling with lately regarding the new crop of fairy tales. I’m sure everyone knows about Maleficent, Disney’s new live action take on Sleeping Beauty from the villain’s perspective. I will admit, when it first heard about it I was a little miffed because I was in the middle of writing a novel called The 13th Fairy based on the original story and I set it in Reconstruction America. It was told from the point of view of the overlooked fairy who didn’t make the party list because of a lack of golden dishware. A ridiculous reason to exclude a guest who has the potential to give some great gifts or (as they found out) a truly horrific curse. I started to wonder what happened to the fairy after she dropped the party-killing bomb. I thought her story would be much more interesting than a girl who falls asleep and waits for a prince she’s never met to wake her with a kiss. I always thought it was a little presumptuous of the other fairy to put the rest of the castle to sleep while they waited for the big rescue. Talk about royal prerogatives! Nowadays the castle folk would have sued.

But I digress. I think it’s a sign of maturity when you start wondering more about the bad guys in a story than the heroes. When we’re kids we ask why about everything, but I don’t remember questioning the stories that ended “….And they lived happily ever after.” I figured it went without saying it included pretty dresses and lots of cake, the only happily ever after a seven year old can imagine. Now I wonder about the other characters. Were the castle folk paid for their time in stasis? Were the king and queen relieved to have some new clothes? Most importantly, did Maleficent (the best name for a villain, by the way) regret her impetuous act or did she have a real axe to grind? I still haven’t seen Maleficent, but I can’t wait to find out what happens.

Are there any fairy tale villains you wish you knew more about?

“Jack” and the Beanstalk

I think we can all agree that, on the whole, fairy tales try to teach us something about life. Usually there are warnings about the dangers of taking a dark path, talking to strangers, and not minding your elders. Others show how goodness can reap its own rewards and sometimes a castle and a title for your troubles. What about stories that do neither? I’m talking about Jack and the Beanstalk.

There’s some debate as to how old the story of Jack and the Beanstalk is, but the story pretty much stays the same. Jack and his mother are poor and their last asset, a milking cow, is no longer viable. Jack has to take the cow to market, but is met by a man along the way who offers him magic beans in exchange for his cow. Jack, for some reason, jumps at the chance and upon showing his prize to his mother is rebuked. She tosses them out the window in a huff, but by morning they have grown clear to the clouds. Jack climbs, finds a home and a sympathetic woman who feeds him and warns that her husband will come back hungry for the “blood of an Englishman”. Jack, who is either clever or proof that God takes care of fools and babies, eludes the giant three times and steals his gold, his golden egg laying goose, and a self-playing harp. He then chops down the beanstalk killing the giant and lives with his mother happily ever after and rich.

It’s a great story, action-packed and complete with a happy ending, but what’s the moral? If you’re stupid enough to sell your cow for some magic beans you may luck into a fortune if you’re willing to kill a giant? I’ve read and seen a few versions of this story. My favorite was the one with Matthew Modine called Jim Henson’s Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story aired on NBC when it did mini-series before succumbing to the black hole that is cheap reality TV. It gave a plausible account as to why Jack did what he did and the repercussions of his actions. Of course I saw the Warner Bros. big screen adaptation, Jack the Giant Slayer, which was a slight disappointment. At the end when (spoiler alert!) the magical crown that controlled the evil giants was finally taken by the princess, she handed it over to Jack instead of using its power herself. This after an entire movie of her trying to prove that she could take care of herself. But it got me thinking, what if Jack had been female? Would it have turned out the same way? Is it true that women prefer diplomacy to violent confrontations? I would submit that there are few who actually like physical confrontations, but it seems more acceptable for women to take that path.

 

Once there was a poor farmer who lived with his daughter. Her name was Jacqueline, but everyone knew her as Jack. Jack and her father only had one milking cow and very little else, but the day came when the cow no longer gave milk. Jack’s father decided the best thing to do would be to sell the cow at market to a butcher and in that way have some food to eat for the winter. Jack loved the little cow, but her father was unmoved by her pleas. So with a heavy heart and a small snack for the road, Jack offered to take the cow herself so she might have a chance to bid the creature a proper goodbye.

Along the way, she met with a man who looked even hungrier than her. Already feeling down about having to butcher the cow, she offered her meager lunch to the man. He gratefully sat down to eat and asked that she sit beside him. At length he finished the meal and then asked Jack why she looked so sad. Jack told the man the story of her cow and what had to be done to keep food on the table. The man considered a moment and said, “What if you didn’t have to kill your cow and could still put food on your table?”

I would say it’s a miracle,” replied Jack.

Not a miracle. Magic. Magic beans to be more precise,” corrected the man. He fished into his tattered pocket and pulled out four iridescent beans no bigger than a fingernail. He placed them in Jack’s hand. “Now, although I am thankful you shared your meal with me, I cannot give these to you without payment. Magic unpaid costs more in the end.”

But I have nothing to give you. I’ve told you I’m poor,” reasoned Jack.

“Ah, but you have that nice cow. I promise she will not be killed or eaten, but to keep her alive and your stomach full you must give her to me in exchange for the beans,” he replied. Jack was skeptical, but was heartsick over the thought of having to eat her friend, so she handed the lead over to the man. Looking down at the handful of beans, sparkling in the sunlight, Jack had only one question.

“How do they work?” But the man and the cow had disappeared. Jack saw that as proof of the man’s magical claims and ran home, the beans clutched tightly in her hand…

At the Crossroads of Fairy Tale and Folklore

According to my outdated (read: paper copy!) Webster’s Dictionary the definition of fairy tale is a story about fairies, magic deeds, etc., while folklore is defined as the traditional beliefs, legends, etc. of a culture. So does that mean all fairy tales and folklore have in common is etc.? What’s etcetera anyway in this case? I like to think that the etc. in a fairy tale are the traditional beliefs and legends and the etc. in folklore are the fairies and magical deeds. Which means they’re the same, right? Well, now I suppose I have to address the 800-pound gorilla. That gorilla is called culture.

Does culture determine whether a story is a fairy tale or folklore? Does that imply that anything that doesn’t originate from Northern Europe (from where most popular fairy tales come) is folklore? Moreover does that imply that Northern Europe doesn’t have a culture? Neither should be the case. Fairy tales started out as folklore which became so popular that they transcended culture. That means that all folklore, despite culture, can grow to fairy tale status. All they need is a little push in the direction of popularity.

One of the barriers to wider appeal for many folk tales is language. Would we love Grimm’s Fairy Tales or the stories of Hans Christian Andersen so much if someone hadn’t decided to translate them? We should invite more cultures to the party. Right now the subject of diversity is really hot with writers, especially YA/MG writers of which I am one. It’s kind of a minefield of emotions, political correctness, and common sense that everyone has to wade through. As a parent, I want to make sure that my daughter sees herself reflected in the books she reads and the shows and movies she watches. As a writer, I want to insert my reality into my writing (even though I write mostly YA fantasy). But as a bona-fide member of the person of color club, not to mention being part of the largest minority–womankind–I feel as though I shouldn’t have to bang the drum too loudly because it’s worse than preaching to the choir. Instead of asking for change, I’m going to make change (I know there’s some funny cashier joke that I should make, but I can’t think of one–any suggestions?). For my own edification and hopefully for your enjoyment, I want to explore folklore that begs to be more popular, starting with my own.

 

 

April Fool

I think of April first as a time for the topsy-turvy to take over. I think the weather has a lot to do with it.

I’ve never been one for tricks because I really do believe in the golden rule. If I drop a balloon full of pudding on someone’s head can I really avoid a prank call about my car being totaled?

Instead I want to write about the role of The Fool in fairy tales, one of the chief archetypes. What they all seem to have in common is that they are good for no reason. Their families go out of their way to give them the worst of everything and ridicule them for any kindness they show. So does that mean that a fool in the times of the Grimm Brothers was kind despite the wretchedness of his life?

One of my favorite stories is The Golden Goose. The youngest of three sons (they’re always the youngest of three) has to chop wood for his family because the elder two have had terrible axing accidents after denying a old man some of their lunch (talk about fools!). The Simpleton, who is given vinegar instead of cider and hard bread offers to share the meal and is rewarded with a Golden Goose. After parading around town with the treasure, and having townspeople stick to it and each other trying to pull off a feather, he arrives in a town that offers the hand of a princess if they can make her laugh. Being simple and not having noticed the train of buffoons behind him, he shows her the goose, everyone falls and she laughs thus proving that girls like guys who can make them laugh.

Another story, The Queen Bee, runs along the same lines except he helped animals and insects who helped him in return. He and his smarter, older brothers are given impossible tasks to complete and the young idiot gets it done with the help of some ants, some ducks, and a bee. For his trouble he wins himself a castle and a princess to marry. These are called serendipitous fools, very popular in fairy tales. Couldn’t we all take a lesson from that?

I recommend that for today, instead of giving your best friend a fake winning lottery ticket or calling your parents and telling them you just got married, try being a fairy tale fool. Be nice for no reason and here’s the kicker…people will think you’re up to something thus playing the biggest trick of all. Happy April Fools!

The Hidden Minority

I have to say that I am encouraged by the current push of contemporary fairy tales. They give women a voice and often make them front and center as heroes in their own stories. The LGBT community finally has a glimmer of hope in seeing protagonists that have the same thoughts and feelings as they do. Latinos, African-Americans, Asians, and myriad cultures are being discovered within the pages of novels which before had almost ignored their existence. I don’t think we’ve reached the goal of true diversity in stories, but I can see light at the end of the tunnel.

Except for one slice of the underrepresented pie…

Now, I’m willing to be proven wrong on this front, but I think stories have failed to acknowledge a particular segment of society. It’s one that exists across all borders, within every culture and comes from every socio-economic background. I speak, of course, of the Plus-Sized protagonist. In an age where we worry that the population is overweight and health issues like diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease are of serious concern, I understand why we are reluctant to glorify a state which could bring about all of these things. Then again, we glorify the bad boy who after years of being a dick can find his heart because of the love of a nice girl.

Here’s the deal. I don’t hate skinny girls. I will admit to the occasional bouts of “big girl rage” when I skip dessert but want to chow down on some cake. But I can’t be angry at someone who can eat anything they want while I have to exercise in order to stay in my favorite jeans. Everyone has something! I just don’t understand why every heroine (and hero for that matter) has to be willowy thin with athletic abilities. How is it that the bookishly smart hero, who spends all his time in the library also manages to have a perfect BMI? Is the chubby sister any less deserving of a prince than her wasp-waisted sibling?

I suppose I can imagine anyone as Sleeping Beauty or the miller’s daughter in Rumpelstiltskin. That’s the power of an immersive story. But then I see the story come to life on screen. Yes, I’m one of those annoying people who whispers “The book was so much better”, but we live in a visual age. Even if I don’t want to see the movie version of The Great Gatsby, I can’t help but think of Leonardo DiCaprio whenever I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book. So unless I want to live under a rock, the actors cast as my favorite characters tend to stick in my imagination. Would it be so wrong to hope for The Zaftig Mermaid (something to keep her warm in the big ocean) or a pleasantly plump set of sisters in Frozen (for the cold winter nights)? Red Riding Hood and Cinderella were work horse, traipsing through the woods with heavy packages and cleaning house for an exacting step-mother, respectively, so I understand their thinness. Couldn’t Belle have been just as…belle…if her voracious reading came with a chocolate and croissant habit? Rapunzel was looked up in a tower, for goodness sakes, and you’re telling me she couldn’t have been cute if she were full-figured? Yes, I’m fixating on Disney, but it has given us the most popular versions of these heroines.

This doesn’t only have to apply to fairy tales. I would love to hear about a popular YA series featuring a sassy and shapely girl or a handsome yet husky guy. They would have to be just as capable as their lean counterparts and most importantly not apologize for their size. Just a thought.

Magic and Mayhem – A reimaging of the 12 Dancing Princesses

I’ve read quite a few versions of the 12 Dancing Princesses and even remember watching a TV movie or two. Basically, it revolves around a mystery. A king has 12 daughters who he locks up every night only to find that their dancing shoes are worn through every morning. He asks them where they go. The eldest tells their father that they never leave their room. How can they? He locks them in every night. So, he proclaims that the man who can figure out where they go gets the eldest as his wife. Of course plenty of eligible nobles try and fail, but a wounded soldier is able to follow them with the help of a wisewoman, who cloaks him in invisibility. He follows them to an underground kingdom where the girls dance with enchanted princes every night. After falling in love with the eldest princess, he tells the king the truth and marries the princess.

Call me crazy, but what kind of deal it that? Getting locked in your room and then when you try and have a little fun you’re sold to a snitch? I’m thinking of changing the name of this blog to Happily Ever After? because when you look at these stories it’s hard to see the up side. So I tried to write a story that would give these princesses their much deserved happily ever after.

Part I

An expectant hush pervaded the room. All that could be heard was the crackling of a stoked fire and the snoring of a lone drunk sleeping it off in the corner. The new arrival walked purposeful to the man who held himself slightly apart. Those around him instinctively took a step back in deference to his importance. Their visitor’s light tread faltered slightly when she reached the king, but she held her expression as blank as possible.

“What news? Is it done?” asked the king neutrally. The emissary wasn’t fooled seeing how tightly he held on the back of his chair.

“You have a fine daughter,” replied the woman and barely had the words out before the cheers and well wishes were declared in chummy unison. Movement suffused the space as men smiled and patted each other on the back. In a mass they all converged on the king, still gripping the back of the chair waiting for the woman to finish her task. She had yet to move and set his mouth in a grim line waiting for her next words. “And an equally fine son,” she continued in a whisper.

A burly man with a scarred face was about to clap his hand on the king’s shoulder, but quickly stopped his approach when he heard the words uttered. Another whispered in the corner to a confused witness, “It’s the prophesy. It’ll always have its say, it will. No matter how many children the king has it’s always twins, a girl and a boy.”

“Why should that make a difference? The queen is in good health and sons are always a blessing to a king with a large kingdom and enemies to spare,” replied the stranger.

“Not when the enemies are inside. The prophesy states that one of his son will inherit the kingdom while the king still lives,” he replied and didn’t have to add that a son inheriting a kingdom from a living king must have committed an act of treason to do so.

The happy bonhomie of a few moments ago became a stilted silence. Even the fire dimmed slightly. The king finally released his grip on the chair.

“Thank you, Bronwen. I will see the queen momentarily. Someone fetch the court sorcerer,” he said and exhaled audibly. No one met his eye as he sought another glass of wine and the solace of the hearth. It did little to save his mood.