The day the long lost princess returned, she was met with jeering from the villagers that remained. It was widely believed that the witch was to blame for summoning the Ravages. Her knight was the only one who listened and led her and her betrothed to the queen. The castle was in ruins, but her mother’s pride was not. The queen turned her away at once with a wave of her hand, her other arm supporting a baby suckling her bosom.
Banished from the castle, the princess surveyed the broken kingdom before her. Once prosperous, it had now mostly dissolved into sand. But as her beloved took her hand and kissed it, she could not bring herself to regret chasing after her happily ever after.
At the supper table, she struggled to smother her stupidly happy smile. She reached for an apple first to conceal the fact that her lips were flushed and tender. The queen asked whether she had enjoyed last night’s ball, and she answered that she had met a most enchanting stranger. The king was pleased, for he had seen her leaving the ball with the dashing young prince of a neighboring kingdom with which they had cordial relations.
The princess crossed her legs under the table. She longed more than anything to return to her quarters, where the magic awaited her for another night.
When she was a child, she begged her father every night to read her fairy tales before bedtime. Though the stories seemed to repeat, she found them no less magical. The witch tempted the princess with a poisonous red apple. The witch transformed the handsome prince into a wretched beast. The witch traded the voice of the princess for legs that forever felt as if they were walking over knives.
She asked her father whether he had ever met a witch, and whether they were truly as evil as the stories wrote. He gently closed the book and told her that a witch’s curse could very well spell the end of the kingdom as they knew it. But all was not lost, for a prince would always, without a doubt, come to save the princess from her tower.
The prince saved her from a baron who had twirled her enough times to make her dizzy. She stumbled into the prince’s arms and was rewarded with a smile that dazzled the hearts of countless young maidens. He asked whether he could steal her away for the next dance, but she answered that she preferred to go for a stroll at the royal gardens.
In the shadows of the trees, she felt brave enough to admit that the grand ball had been her mother’s idea, for the queen had craved another baby since the princess had grown old enough to walk alone. She told the prince that she would much rather explore distant lands than preside over the royal court, and that she was tired of pretending otherwise. The prince knelt and kissed her hand. He told her to get some rest. He would cover for her absence, then come to visit the next morning.
The Ravages visited one morning to swallow half the kingdom. Their spiky jaws were deceptively small, but could stretch wide enough for a mob of villagers wielding pitchforks to enter and never return. But what the Ravages did not swallow, they warped. Trees shot back into the soil to leave seedlings in their wake. Villagers awoke to find unfamiliar codgers or crones beside them in bed. Chickens turned to eggs, and eggs turned to chickens.
The king himself disappeared right when his subjects needed him most. The queen took over his duties, an infant curled up in her arms no matter where she went. No one had known that she had been expecting a child. While the princess did know that her mother had been barren since her birth eighteen years ago, she was much too absorbed in her plans. Very soon, she intended to escape into a fairy tale of her own making.
Once upon a time, the princess of a lush green kingdom returned from a night of dancing with strange princes, only to chance upon an exquisite young woman sleeping in her private quarters. The witch had journeyed far and long to afflict the princess with a curse for her eighteenth birthday. However, weary from her travels, the witch had fallen asleep on the very bed of the princess. The princess was captivated by the witch’s hair, spread like a black fan over her pillow. She knelt by her bed and stole a kiss from the witch’s lips, which were as luscious and red as a ripe apple. The witch’s eyes opened, and she fell in love only a heartbeat after the princess did.
A kiss might end most tales like this, but here it is only the beginning. For the love that grew between the princess and the witch was such that it unraveled the threads of time, and perhaps even the fabric of reality itself, to be weaved into the tapestry of a new age.