Shakespir Edition July 2016
Copyright 2016 by Lea Tassie
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Once upon a time, in a land far away, a beautiful princess was born. Her noble parents named her Damara, which means gentle. True to her name, she grew into a sweet young woman who saw only the good in everyone.
Damara’s beloved father died in battle when she was seventeen and her mother, heartbroken, soon fell ill. When she knew death was near, she sent the servants from the room and clasped Damara’s hands in hers.
“My child, I must burden you with a secret. Promise never to reveal it.”
“I promise, Mama,” Damara said, her tears dropping softly on the silk coverlet.
“Faery blood runs in your veins, for I am of the Sidhe,” her mother whispered.
Damara gasped. The people in her country scorned faeries, believing them to be evil. Anyone suspected of being a faery was driven out or, at the very least, left to wander the hills and high roads, alone and hungry. Sometimes worse things were done.
“Don’t be afraid, child,” her mother said. “You are under no enchantment and your heart holds its true shape. Your powers will protect you, but guard and use them well.”
“What powers do I have, Mama? Who will teach me how to use them?”
“They will arise when you need them.”
“But is there no one I can call on? People may drive me from the castle, though it is my home and though I harm no one.”
“You must be strong, my daughter, young as you are. I have said your powers will protect you and that is the truth. You need know only one thing else: use them to do good in the world. Never for selfish reasons.”
“Yes, Mama.” Damara’s tears flooded her cheeks.
“Remember, you have given your word never to speak of your faery blood or your power. Farewell, my darling daughter.” So saying, the mother drew her last breath.
Damara wept for seven days and seven nights, then began to learn the ways of the land and the laws of prudent husbandry. Wherever she went, walking or riding, the first footman, young Gregor, followed close behind. He had been trained by her father the king and trusted like a son by her mother, and she soon learned to rely on his strong, steadfast presence, which seemed unusual in one so young. Gradually Damara took up her new duties, overseeing her castle and lands with a kind and sympathetic hand. The people loved her, as they had from the time she was a babe in arms,
In spite of her mother’s words, she sought to explore her mysterious power late at night, when she was alone. But nothing worked. Her spiders remained spiders, flowers did not bloom at her behest, candles did not burst into flame when she flicked her fingers at them. Perhaps her mother had been wrong; whatever power she might possess seemed too weak to have any merit.
Two years passed and Damara’s people prospered. They began to speak of their hope that a prince would come and end her solitude. Damara, too, wished to find happiness in true love. She sent invitations to the nobility in neighboring kingdoms. Alas, her suitors were old men hankering after lost youth or larger empires. She feasted them, pitied them and sent them away.
One day in late spring, Damara sat on her favorite grassy bank, beside a brook that bubbled down from snow-covered mountains. Gregor waited discreetly in the background. She glanced at him to make sure he was too far away to intrude on her thoughts and noticed, for the first time, that he was handsome as well as tall. An acceptable quality for a prince, but of course, he was only a commoner. And, handsome he might be, but he was also dull, never speaking unless she spoke first.
Sunlight filtered through the leaves and crowned her golden head as she bent over the white daisy in her hand. She gently pulled the petals away, one by one, reciting, “He loves me, he loves me not.” The last petal was “he loves me.” Sighing, she dropped the stem at her feet. Why ask about love when there was no one to give it?
Damara picked more daisies and wove a chain with them. She placed it around her head, raised her hand and murmured aloud, “Let my prince come to me!”
“Lady, he is here.”
Startled, she glanced around but could see no one in the glade.
“Here, my lady. Look near your feet and you will see the sad state of a young man who was a prince but chanced to anger a wicked witch.”
A small green frog crouched beside the brook. He looked up at her with large, sad eyes and said, “My lady, the witch decreed that I may be saved from this dire enchantment only by the kiss of a lovely princess.”
Damara gazed at the frog in amazement. She had heard tales of such things but never dreamed they could be true.
“Do you have a name, frog?”
“No, my lady. The witch took it when she took away my true shape.”
“Then I shall name you Calder because you come from a cold brook.” She held out her hand and the frog leapt onto it. His skin felt cold, but his eyes, a mixture of brown and green, were soft and pleading.
Could this frog truly be her prince? Had she woven some magic spell with the white-petaled daisies? Or was the power contained in her raised hand and her wish? Damara stared at the small, ugly creature sitting on her palm. Should she risk a kiss only to have her hopes dashed again? Or put him back in the brook?
“My lady…” Gregor now stood only a few feet away, his face pale, his expression concerned.
“It’s all right, Gregor. I am perfectly safe. You may take up your position again.” She could not tell him that she was protected by faery powers.
And she could not turn Calder away, lonely and unloved as he was.
She bent and kissed the frog on the top of his head. To her amazement, he blossomed into a tall, young prince with hair of ebony, skin of ivory and eyes of summer blue. He held out his hand and raised her to her feet. “My lady, if you will take me as husband, I will love and honor you as long as I live.”
A month later, Damara and Calder were wed under an arch of white rosebuds in the castle courtyard. The people feasted and danced for seven days. And for seventy and seven days, the prince and princess rode matching white horses the length and breadth of the country. Damara took great pleasure in acquainting her prince with the people, the fertile fields and thick woods. Everyone was charmed by Calder and delighted for her, but none were as happy as she.
One day, as they rode, Calder rose in the stirrups and cried, “I must see at once what is over that next hill!” He loosed the reins of his steed and galloped ahead.
When Damara caught up with him, he said, “Why so laggard, lady? Is not the day fair? Are not the horses on their mettle?”
“In a race, I urge my horse to run,” she said. “But when I look at the land, I want to see each leaf on the trees, each bird in flight, each head of grain nodding on its stalk.”
The prince lifted her hand and kissed it. “Sweet Damara! But surely I am entitled to ride as fast as I choose.”
“Of course,” she said, though she was better pleased when he matched his pace to hers. Then she remembered how sad he had looked in the shape of a frog and put away her selfish thoughts. He had his true shape now and it was a delight to see how his eyes, so like a summer sky, danced with merriment and sparkled with happiness.
On the seventy-eighth day, the prince begged leave to remain at home and Damara rode out alone to oversee the corn harvest. She returned to find servants making up the huge canopied bed in which her parents had slept. Calder stood in the middle of the room, caressing his chin with his fingers.
“Ah, there you are, my lady! I have decided that we should take this room as our own; it is the largest sleeping chamber in the castle.”
“But,” Damara said, “the chamber we have is a fine one, with ample light.”
Calder frowned. “I am your husband and your prince. I am entitled to sleep where I choose and certainly I am entitled to the largest chamber.”
“Of course, my dear,” she said, remembering his former sadness. Surely she had done much good by releasing him from his cruel enchantment.
She watched with tears in her eyes as the servants, supervised by Gregor, with a face as expressionless as a mask, carried away her parents’ clothing. No longer could she sit in this room among their things and remember the happy days she had spent with them.
Damara blinked away her tears and managed a smile for her charming prince and his eyes of summer blue. If she confessed how much she missed her father and mother, he would surely agree to keeping their bedchamber as a shrine. But it seemed more generous to brighten his heart by letting him sleep in the chamber he deemed so fitting.
Her sleep was restless that night, her dreams muddled. But life continued its pleasant journey uninterrupted for several weeks, bringing happier dreams. Calder was particularly loving on the turning of the autumn equinox and gave her gold rings for her fingers. Though she was pleased, she chided him for extravagance.
He kissed her on the cheek. “My sweet, are you not the ruler of this realm? Then surely you are entitled to wear the loveliest baubles I can find for you.”
“I am sorry to scold, my love,” she said. “The money you paid for these pretty golden rings should have gone to repair farmers’ houses. Now they will have to wait until after harvest.”
“If I had known that, I would never have bought the rings,” he said. “But it is done and I am sure that the farmers, fond of you as they are, will not mind waiting. After all, they have the harvest to think about, and their pints of an evening.”
“I am remiss,” Damara said. “We have been wed for several months and you have ridden over every acre of our land. I should long ago have invited you to share the responsibilities of administration with me.” Perhaps it was time, too, to confide her secret to the prince, who loved her so well. Her lips parted, but her tongue refused to obey. Her mind echoed, over and over again, her mother’s words, ‛I forbid you to speak.’
Calder smiled. “On the contrary. I am not ready to step into your shoes. I should like another few months to learn the land and the people who work it.”
The next day a carriage stopped at the castle gates and debouched an old woman with dyed red hair and fourteen trunks.
“My mother, Alcina,” Calder said. “She has come to live with us.”
Calder looked at Damara reproachfully. “She is my mother; I owe her my life. Surely I am entitled to have my only living relative by my side?”
Damara’s thoughts seemed caught in a net of cobwebs. But there could be no harm in Calder’s mother, who would naturally wish to be close to her son.
She went out and cordially welcomed the old woman, then brought her into the castle and led her to a large bedchamber with a small reception room attached. The rooms had a southern view and both Calder and Alcina seemed content with the arrangement.
Over the following weeks, however, Damara learned that Alcina had a tongue which wagged at both ends and spewed unpleasant opinions that Damara had never imagined could exist. In order to avoid the old woman’s criticisms and litany of woes, she rode out early each day, with Gregor at her heels, to supervise the workers and often stayed to watch the ripe crops reaped and stored and listen to the chatter of squirrels putting nuts by for the winter.
A stray thought flew into her mind one day; it was the people who farmed the land who were the true royalty, not herself, who was merely born to a meaningless title. Mulling over this new idea and suffused with the warmth and joy of a golden autumn, she could believe with all her heart that Alcina did not mean to be unkind or critical. She admired Calder, too, for the unselfish patience he showed by spending most days keeping Alcina company.
One day she came home to find Calder in the library, bent over heaps of parchment maps. When she asked what he was studying, he smiled and said, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it, my sweet. I am plotting a surprise, which I trust will provide endless delight for you.” Her fears allayed, she went off to the kitchens to discuss the following day’s menu with the head cook, though she could not help wondering how much money Calder planned to spend on the surprise.
The first winter flurry of snow had come and gone when Damara, on her white mare, clattered across the moat early one afternoon and saw Calder with maps under his arm, leaning against the battlements on the roof of the keep. She handed the reins to Gregor and hurried up the worn stone steps to the roof. Was Calder about to reveal his surprise? She could barely contain her curiosity.
“My lady, I am glad you are come. I have spent much time studying our lands and it is time to tell you of the improvements I have planned.”
“What might those be?” The quick beating of her heart seemed to warn of danger. What possible improvements could be made to lands already rich and beautiful?
Calder waved his arm to encompass the rolling fields, hills and forests, horizon to horizon. “This land feeds us well with barley and corn, my sweet, but barley and corn may be had anywhere. I intend to cut down the trees and level the ground for jousting. Many knights live for sport and they will pay well for such an amenity. More than that, we will grow rich from rents for the seats and huts we erect for those who joust and those who watch.” He raised her chin with one finger so that he could smile into her eyes. “I will buy golden rings for every one of your lovely toes.”
Damara’s heart constricted with pain. “My love, I know you have only my happiness at heart, but I cannot give my consent to such a plan. This kingdom is my birthright and my heritage, but also mine to care for. In fairness to the land and those who live on it and by it, such a thing must never happen.”
Calder’s smile vanished and he looked at her coldly. “Your heritage? I know about your heritage, madam. You are naught but a faery, full of foolishness and mischief.”
Her blood quieted, became like ice. “Who told you such a thing?”
“It came from your own lips, my sweetling, as you slept.” Calder sneered. “I will shout it to the world if I must. I am your prince; I am entitled to your obedience.”
For the very first time, her mind spat lightning. She remembered her mother’s words, ‛use your powers only to do good.’ And she had failed. She had raised up this ungrateful prince for her own pleasure. Worse, because of that foolishness, her powers might be forfeit.
Her tongue loosened. “Indeed, you are entitled, too, to all the air your lungs can take in.” She waved her arm to describe the broad arc of the sky. “Pray breathe deep of it!”
Calder gave her a mocking smile. Then the smile turned to a look of surprise as air filled his body, and finally to one of horror as his body inflated into a balloon which floated up from the roof of the keep, becoming larger and larger.
Damara stood amazed, her hands over her mouth. Here was magic after all, come when it was least deserved, but most needed.
A light breeze wafted Calder toward the flag pole. The tip caught him in the chest, and there came a sound like the popping of a champagne cork. As the air rushed from his body, he plunged toward the greensward of the inner bailey.
Damara hurtled down the stone steps. Though he had betrayed her trust, she could not bear it if he were hurt. At the foot of the steps, she lifted her skirts and ran across the grass.
But Calder’s body was nowhere to be seen. Alcina was kneeling, her hands clutched to her breast. Damara opened her mouth to speak, stopping only when she saw the searing hatred in the woman’s eyes.
“You murdered my son! You ruined our plans. I shall destroy your crops, destroy your lands, destroy all you hold dear.” Alcina rose and strode toward Damara. “And you yourself shall live the rest of your miserable life as a mongrel dog, begging for scraps.” Alcina raised her hand. In it was a witch’s wand.
Instinctively, Damara raised her own hand and the words came without thought. “Take your true shape.”
The witch’s wand vanished and Alcina shrank. In a few seconds a small green frog squatted where she had been standing. The hatred in its eyes was as easy to read as it had been in those of the woman.
“Leave my lands for all time,” Damara ordered. “And never again will you take human shape.”
The frog shuddered and gasped, but finally turned and hopped toward the moat. On the far side, it stopped and looked back, but Damara raised her hand and the frog fled down the road.
Damara turned her gaze to the grass, searching for Calder. But, where he had fallen, where Alcina had knelt, lay the body of a green frog. Its jaw sagged, the eyes were open and crossed, the summer blue faded to muddy green. In death, her prince had returned to his true shape.
“My lady.” Gregor stood close by. “Shall I have the prince’s body removed?”
She looked at her footman and her vision cleared. Here was her real prince, one whose true shape remained as steadfast as the land from which he came.
“Yes, Gregor. Then attend me, if you will, in the drawing room.” For a moment she felt breathless and faint, and put her hand on his arm to steady herself. “We have much to say to one another.”
The look in his eyes said far more than she could have dreamed possible. “With the greatest of pleasure, my lady.”
Also by Lea Tassie
Tour into Danger
Cats in Clover
Cat Under Cover
Cats & Crayons
A Clear Eye
Green Blood Rising
Red Blood Falling
A Proposal of Marriage
Running the Shale
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