Vignette No.24 – Mirthless

Mirthless

She stopped laughing for a reason. She could not forget what she had seen.

Her father only realised how badly wrong things were when she took to her bed and no one could make her leave it. When he came to reason away her lethargy, she turned her face into the pillows and covered her ears until he went away. When her friends came to coax her, there was a chest of drawers wedged on her side of the door. It took the combined efforts of a master locksmith and two burly royal guards to force it open, and still the princess wouldn’t talk.

Lies taste sweet. They are addictive. The truth is bitter enough to drive you mad.

A physician was summoned. He spoke of temperament and humours and prescribed a restorative tonic that the princess refused to touch. The king came to her with fruit and sweetmeats, explanations and apologies, but it was too late to take back what he had done. In truth, both he and his daughter knew he would not undo it even if he could. All he would change was her presence there, a white-faced girl on the dungeon steps, a candle falling from her hand in a pool of wax and dying flame.

She could still see the blood. The red splatters on the hem of her nightgown had been bleached white, but the stain on the inside of her eyelids could not be washed away.

When the princess at last left her bed, her behaviour was erratic. She alternated between long apathetic silences and violent outbursts of tears. Things that had once brought her pleasure – her daily singing lesson, watching the guardsmen at archery, taking long morning rides with her father – were the things she now would not do. The high notes of a song became a scream in her ears. The red painted target became a man’s bleeding eye.

If her father was in a room, she was not.

Alone one morning at her window, she saw an odd tableau playing out below on the road outside the castle walls. A boy was loping along in the dust, pursued by a motley of the most unlikely characters, all of whom seemed to be haranguing him. This only made him run faster. Under his arm, something fluttered, and shone. The princess felt her curiosity stir for the first time in months and leaned forward across the sill the better to see. No bird she had ever known before had feathers that glinted in the sun, gold as a new-minted coin – how could it be a living thing?

But it was. As she stared, too astonished to move, the golden bird fluttered from the boy’s arms up into hers. And she laughed.

The king would have had her keep it, had he known, as he had kept so many golden things that were only his by his royal word. The princess thought differently. She carried the shining goose down to where its owner pleaded with stony faced guards at the castle gates. He fell silent at the sight of her, blinking dazedly. His thoughts showed in his face clear as clouds in a summer sky.

“I think this bird is yours,” she said. “Where did she come from?”

The boy told her everything. About his brothers, who had battled with a tree and lost. About a little grey man with a weakness for brown bread. Secrets spilled from his trusting tongue like jewels and the princess marvelled at their brightness. She came close to put the bird into his arms and whispered in his ear, “Will you take me there?”

“I will go anywhere you like,” said the boy, devoutly, transparently, not caring if he looked the fool. The princess laughed again and the guards were so dumbfounded by the sound that they did not think to protest when, instead of leading the boy into the castle, she joined him on the other side of the gate. By the time they realised what she was about, she was running along the dusty road towards the woods, beside a boy who did not know how to lie, following the golden trail of an impossible bird, and laughing for no reason at all.

This is a very brief and rather dark interpretation of ‘The Golden Goose’, told from the princess’s perspective. It summarises two of my strongest impressions of fairy tale logic: a) never trust a king, they usually have a gold addiction, and b) princesses have REASONS. The point of retellings, for me, is to work out what those reasons are.

© Faith Mudge 2013

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