Hey gang! Hope you have been keeping well.  Apologies for the gap in blog posts, but I have been working on something super exciting…my very own Youtube channel! It will be much like my blog, lots of bookish fun and general nerdiness and I would love it if you coule drop by, check it out and subscribe.  It goes live Monday 21st October 2019 at 8pm- there will be a live countdown on my Instagram. I am so excited and nervous to be starting this next chapter of my life online and I would love if I had some old friends along for the journey. Anyway, back to tonight’s post. In my latest artist collaboration, I have collaborated with the incredibly talented Cat Mallard.  Cat creates beautiful magical illustrations which remind me of fairy tales and far off lands. Her folksy style evokes a sense of nostalgia and comfort and is perfect at bringing to life stories and characters so I was honoured when she agreed to collaborate with me. As I said, her style reminded me of fairy tales but just like me, Cat has a dark edge and loves all things spooky and macabre so when I sat down to write the story for the collaboration, I was inspired to create a dark twist on a well know and beloved story, that of sleeping beauty. The image she created is stunning and perfectly evokes the story. On a side note, each of those little dots were done one at a time by Cat, she is so dedicated to her work that I am in awe (I will show you some close ups so you can see what I mean). I hope you like it! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and if you are an artist and would like to collaborate, please get in touch! For now, happy reading….

Sleepless Beauty

Fairy tales are stories told and retold again and again, passed down through generations, known throughout the world, universal and recognisable.  Stories of girls losing glass slippers and eating poisonous apples, of frog princes and magic kisses, of once upon a times and happily ever afters.  But what if the stories you know and love were in fact true, and what if, they were wrong.  Like Chinese whispers, with each telling, with every piece of information passed along, it morphed and changed, transforming into something more palatable to the audience, something more pleasant than the truth.

catmallard collabShe was a princess of exceptional beauty amongst a dark and thorny kingdom.  A diamond amongst stones.  She was kind, and good to her people and in turn, they adored her.  She was a beacon of hope in their difficult lives.  But sadly, unbeknownst to her, she was also cursed from birth, for her Father in his foolish youth, had begged the help of a local witch when crops failed and families starved.  She had granted his wish for a good harvest and the safety of his long-suffering people, but in exchange, she asked for his first-born child.  Desperate and out of options, he reluctantly agreed, and now, as Aria’s sixteenth birthday approached, and she blossomed into a woman, he knew the witch would come for her prize.

The witch was a collector of sorts.  She would encourage the brightest and most beautiful to grow and to thrive into happy souls, before striking them down in their prime, entombing them in a curse of her own creation.  Their suffering and sorrow, fed and enriched her.  That is how she stayed young after so many years on this earth.  Aria was the brightest and most beautiful of all the souls and would sustain her for decades to come.  So, it was with wetted lips and the tremble of anticipation that she approached the castle on the eve of the child’s sixteenth birthday.

The king begged of course.  He bribed, and blackmailed and threatened and finally broke into weeping, as the realisation of defeat sank in.  The witch remained stony faced and unflinching.  No earthly gold or shining trinket could ever be worth the price of such a rare and desirable soul.  When she had had her fill of his sobbing, she banged her staff against the marble floor, demanding silence.

“You made a deal King.  You got your food and your people prospered, but now it’s time to pay.  Nothing comes in this world for free.”

“Please, I beg of you…take me instead.”

She scoffed, an impatient smile sat on her thin lips.

“Your soul is worthless to me.  I want what’s owed.  The bond of contract cannot be close up cat 2broken King, this you well know.”

He knew it to be true, and so, with a heavy heart and overwhelming regret, he sent his daughter to the witch.  That evening, unable to live with what he had done, nor without his darling Aria, he threw himself from the battlements onto the stones below.  The people wept in waves that day, for they had lost their king and their beloved princess all at once.

Aria tried to be brave, but fear overwhelmed her, and silent tears fell as she walked through the woods to the witch’s cabin.  She did not hate her father.  She understood why he had done what he did so many years before her birth, and she knew that by doing it, he had saved the lives of countless people, and indeed the children they were then able to bring into the world, but still, she felt the loss of her life, her home, with the grief and sorrow one would expect.

For her punishment, the witch, with whispered words and the flick of her tongue, cursed Aria to a life without rest.  No matter how weary or desperate she would become, she could never sleep, never dream, never rest.  She would walk the earth for a thousand years, slowly going mad from her waking nightmare.  It was a punishment worse than any she had dealt before, and one which would cause enough suffering to feed and fatten her like a hog.  The witch was pleased.  Aria wept.

Prince Theor, a friend and cousin to Aria, heard of her plight and the death of her father.  He rode for three days and three nights to get to her side and slay the witch.  Theor was an expert swordsman and a champion fighter.  He feared no man or beast, but the witch was more powerful than ever now she fed from Aria’s weeping breast.  The fight was short, and Theor was slain with his own sword.  One cut, straight to his heart, and his eyes never closed again.  Aria stood by, helpless and watched his blood turn the forest floor red.

“You fool.  I cannot be killed as long as she lives.  Through her pure soul, I am invincible.  For one thousand years, she will sustain me, and I will rule this land as my own.  You will know suffering like never before, and your begging and pleading and desperate tears will only make me stronger.”

Aria thought of her people, and the terrible future which lay before them.  Life in this harsh wilderness was already difficult, with harsh, frozen winters and dry, drought filled summers, but the people worked hard and looked after each other.  They had little, but they were grateful and never wanted for more.  Her heart broke at the thought of their sorrow.

close up catSuddenly, she was struck by a thought.  The witch had called her soul pure, in fact, she had stated for all to hear, that the purity of her soul was the very thing which made her so strong.  Perhaps, if she was to carry out an act of cruelty, for no other reason than to be cruel, it would blacken her heart and tarnish her soul just enough for the witch to lose her strength, for a moment would be all she needed.

When a woods man entered the clearing the next day, lost by the ever-moving trees and the thick thorns which had begun to grow since the witch claimed power over her, she seized the opportunity.

“I’m sorry.”

As he knelt with hurried hands to free her from her shackles, she hit him with a rock, and cleaved his skull in two.  Instantly, he was dead, and as soon as he breathed his last breath, the witch cried out as if in panic.  Aria knew it was now or never.  She scrambled for the hunter’s knife and plunged it into her chest just as the witch appeared from her home, eyes wide with fear.

“As long as I live, you are invincible.  And so, I die, so you may die too.”

Without a tormented soul to sustain her, the decades of stolen life began to catch up with her.  Her face aged and sagged, before it fell away as she became dust and bones.  The three bodies lay close together in the now silent woods, as thorns withered and trees rooted themselves once more, and sun shone behind clouds.

Her sacrifice, and that of her Prince cousin and the poor woodsman, did not go unmarked.  The people of the kingdom remembered them through stories, but over time, those stories have changed into something unrecognisable.  It is understandable why people would choose the alternate version, with a sleeping princess awoken by a kiss, and a witch slain with his mighty sword.  But that is not what happened, that is not the truth, and sadly, the truth is not rides into the sunset and happy ever afters.  It is blood and death and bones.

But, perhaps you prefer the edited version to the reality, it is for you to decide.  Do you choose an unhappy truth, or a happy lie?

 

 

 

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