Bedtime Fiction Fantasy

Egret and Heron sat at opposite sides of the small table in the parlor of their castle. In the center of the table sat a gleaming silver tea set consisting of a pot with more curves than their mother, two cups with fancy scrolled handles, saucers, a creamer with tiny lion’s feet, and a sugar bowl. The noon sun’s rays plunged through the tall, multi-paned windows and dazzling white reflections from every shiny surface buffeted round the room like a light-filled kaleidoscope.

The handle of the sugar spoon was an eagle with a garnet eye. The merlot-colored gemstone flashed crimson, emulating the fire in the girls’ eyes as they glared at each other with tight, grim lips.

Egret, who was ten, at last broke the silence and said, “Try a scone dear sister. I helped Miss Dorothy make them just this morning.” Her eyes widened to parodies of innocence.

Heron, who was nine, said, “No thank you dearest Egret. I do not care for scones.” At nine, she was a twin reflection of her sister. She willed her own doe-like eyes to remain carefree. She used to like scones quite a lot, especially the ones with small bittersweet chips of chocolate in them, like the ones taunting her from the table. The week before, she’d been halfway through eating one when a foul taste in her mouth made her gag. 

Egret had fallen to the floor in a fit of uncontrollable laughter. Between her annoying giggles she’d said, “Not all small brown chips are always chocolate.”

Their mother was sick to death of their sibling rivalry, when Egret had snitched, she’d said, “You are sisters. You should be best friends. These negative feelings between you two are wasting precious moments you’ll never have again.”

Heron hated to see her mother so distressed, it made her guts curl and shrivel up like a dying snake on the end of an iron stake. She tried to be good but inevitably found herself playing pranks to get even. 

As footsteps approached the parlor door, Heron patted the pinned-up braids in her deep auburn hair, checked her fingernails again, and smoothed the pale green silk of her simple gown. Egret did likewise, like a mirror image except her’s was a gown of magenta, with sparkling beads and emerald embroidery. Egret liked fancy things. Heron would have preferred squire’s britches and poet blouses. Under her long skirt she wore tan leather riding boots and now she made sure they were tucked completely underneath. Naturally, her sister crossed her legs and a bright pink satin slipper bobbed coquettishly, the gems and sequins flashing in the sunlight.

Their mother swooped into the parlor in a regal swirl of cream-colored silk. Her dark hair flowed freely down her back, pinned up at the sides with topaz hair clips. Heron’s palms dampened and her scalp itched fiercely, as if turned to a nest of fire ants. She should have known Mother would come to tea. Since last week’s horrendous prank, she’d been checking in on her wayward daughters more frequently. 

Evenline D’Amoressy sat gracefully on a shantung covered seat between them. “Well, it’s nice to see you two properly honoring the Balmoral Circle Ceremony. With no teasing and shrieking and what-not.”

Queen D’Amoressy pulled Egret’s cup to her place setting and eyed the scones suspiciously. Egret said, “The scones are fine. I’ve been good and proper all week Mother.”

“Pour yourself a cup and let’s enjoy each other’s company.”

Heron willed a calm voice and said, “Mother, wouldn’t you like my cup instead? Mine is hotter.”

“Sweetheart, you know to pass to the left when a new guest sits at the table.”

Egret reached to the tea cart, daintily chose another cup, and positioned it in place with the handle facing right. It was her turn to host, so she offered the cream and sugar counterclockwise, first to her sister, then to her mother. 

When it was apparent that her mother intended to stay for the duration of the tea ceremony, Heron feigned illness.

With pinkie out, Evenline sipped then said, “There is nothing better for an upset tummy than a nice Earl Grey”. 

After fifteen minutes, she sipped again. Then frowned. She studied the remaining liquid in her cup. She gagged, stood hastily, and ran from the room with a hand over her mouth.

Egret looked into the cup and grinned. “Ohhhhhh…you’re in big trouble now!”

In the bottom of the cup was a fat brown Pukebug.

Later that evening, when Queen D’Amoressy felt no more waves of nausea, she summoned her daughters and got to the truth. Heron had attempted retaliation for the scone incident after promising no more pranks. 

“As punishment, I am sending you to Grebelda’s tower. You will remain there until your father comes home.” The girls sucked in breath. “Egret, stop gloating, it’s unbecoming of a princess.”

Heron said, “But Auntie Greb is crazy and…and…Father…”

Eveline silenced her with the look of a coiled viper and the unfinished lament buzzed in the room like a deadly excreta fly. Had Heron finished her plea, it would have been, ‘…and Father is away at war and may never return.’

The queen said, “It is true Greb is a tad bit eccentric. But she is world traveled and the one who brought us the Balmoral Circle Tea Ceremony, all the way from far eastern Xaxang. You went too far this afternoon, young lady, and poisoned the actual tea itself. Shame on you. Greb will teach you to respect the ceremony.”

In the top of the highest tower, Heron sat across from a very old woman. Greb passed a tray of lemon bars to her left as Heron passed the sugar to her left. Greb stirred the tea to make sure it had steeped to just the right rich amber color. Her bony wrist a stark white contrast to the soft woven black gown she favored. The worn ivory lace of her undershift ruffled from her neckline. Heron wore a long green velvet vest over her chemise and dark tights. At least she was more comfortable and did not have to hide her old tan boots. She wore her auburn tresses loose like her mother.

“You are the spitting image of Evenline!” Declared Greb. “Although she’d never be caught dead in a man’s britches. Ho ho hoooo!”

“I am so happy to be allowed to be me. I always assumed you were sent here by Father because you were insane, but now I think I understand that you choose to live up here. It’s peaceful here, and lovely…no rot, no filth, no angst, no fear…”

She turned to the tall tea service cabinet in the wall by the ten-foot west window. It was built into the stone wall and held a shelf of four beautiful tea pots, two were of fine China, two were of silver. The shelf below it held sixteen cups and sixteen saucers. On the bottom shelf were assorted serving dishes, plates, creamers, and sugar bowls. High above Heron’s head was the top shelf which seemed empty. 

On Heron’s tenth birthday, tea was served at four.  At four, the sun came into the tower parlor window sideways. Something glowed like amber fire on the top shelf, just out of sight.

Greb put an assortment of special treats on the table and asked Heron to choose her favorite teapot and settings. She turned around in time to see Heron pull down a golden teapot, glowing like a lantern in the sun. “Oh, Auntie Greb…”

“Stop! Don’t touch that thing!”

Heron jumped and the golden teapot flew from her fingers like a chicken escaping the chopping block. Grebelda wasn’t ninety anymore, but twenty, as she caught the teapot deftly, and, holding only the spout and edge of its ornately scrolled handle, she placed it on the bottom ledge.

Shaking, Heron said, “I-I’m sorry. It’s so beautiful…”

“It’s also very dangerous. Never, NEVER touch it again.”


Grebelda silenced her with a withering look. She pulled a chair over and put the forbidden teapot back on the top shelf, pushing it until it touched the back wall.

They finished setting the table in silence.

“Long life and sweet tea. And a very happy birthday to you.” The old woman said.

“Long life and sweet tea, Auntie.”

They sipped.

“You were only half correct when you surmised my reasons for living up here. The other reason I do so is to protect the entity of the teapot. It must never, EVER fall into the wrong hands. Unleashed, it is a force of fury so great, all in its way is destroyed. Never, EVER caress the belly of the pot. To look upon its golden surface is to be possessed, the pot will sing to you the sweetest lullaby. Your mind will be lost if you listen long enough.”

Heron looked up to the top shelf. The sun’s rays had moved on and had taken the magical glow with it. Grebelda smacked the table for her attention, the sound like a pistol shot. “Have a chocolate macaroon, they were your favorite when you were little.”

Heron accepted. She didn’t look to the top shelf again but late that night, in her bed, the teapot did indeed sing to her.

And continued to beckon to her every night thereafter. Its voice was melodic, soft, yet reassuring…” Free me my love” it sang. “I will save you if you save me,” it sang. She had no idea what that meant.

The pleasant days flew by, the end of summer brought wild banshee hurricanes. High in the tower she watched people flee for cover, hanging on to what little they possessed. She watched the yard turn from soupy brown muck to a roiling brown lake.

Heron read and studied and practiced her shot with her longbow and arrows, taking aim at inanimate objects- carts, trees, wagons.

Through every season, every night, the teapot sang its beckoning song. It had become a lullaby that sweetened her dreams with imaginings of its singer. She pictured a tall, broad-shouldered prince on a magnificent shiny black steed. He’d have peridot green eyes and dark curly hair.

On the last day of spring, a thunder of hoofbeats arose and found the tower window. Heron rushed to it. “Father!” She was free!

“Go on child. Go welcome your father.” Her aunt was smiling, but sadness tinged her eyes darkly.

Out on the field, Egret and her mother were helping her father off his mount. The horse was near collapsing, a stable-hand led the weary beast away. The other knights were dismounting, and Heron counted only twenty of them. There had been two thousand the year before. She ran to her father who was falling heavily against Evenline. Two of their manservants unburdened the queen before she toppled under the weight. The king’s body oozed thick, gooey blood from too many perforations. His chainmail hung like swampmoss from his stooped, shrunken body. Blood pattered to the dirt.

The queen shouted to her, “Go boil some water! Fill the tub! Have Donny fetch the surgeon!”

“I’m here my queen,” said an old man in a long deep blue robe, his soft white beard wafting in the chilly wind as he spoke. 

Heron saw the fear in his eyes and braced herself for the inevitable. Egret was a statue with streams flowing from her eyes. Her hair had come undone, and her pale dress was soaked with blood. 

Heron touched her sister’s arm and said, “He’s not coming back. He’s---”

“Oh shut up! What do you know?!” Egret whirled and strode off, followed by a young handsome knight. Heron followed slowly, tears falling from her hanging head.

In the castle, she sat in the masculine parlor outside her father’s closed door. Her mother came and put her arms around her. She softly said, “Welcome home darling.”

Heron hugged her mother. The queen stood again and turned towards the closed door. She frowned at Heron and said, “What in Peta’s name are you wearing? You look like a boy.”

Egret barked a laugh.

The queen shook her head and mumbled, “Nevermind. We’ll discuss your homecoming later.” She went to the door, and just as she was about to lever the handle, it opened, and a tall figure in blue slowly shook his white bearded head. Evenline squawked like gut-shot goose and ran into the room. The surgeon closed the door behind her. Though the door was two inches thick, Evenline’s wails reverberated in the gloomy parlor like a loon’s cry on a lonely lake.

Heron slipped out from the castle unnoticed and climbed the tower stairs as fast as she could, the pounding in her heart overtook her booted footfalls. At the top, she nearly collapsed from exertion, her breath escaped her lungs like cannon-fire.

Her aunt was fastening a soft, long cloak around her bony shoulders. She was not surprised in the least to see Heron back. 

Heron, still panting, said, “Father’s dead.”

Grebelda nodded. “Yes. Stay here in the tower, you will be safe. There’s a black storm coming. Reginald only lived long enough to warn us.”

Before she could enquire about any of the mystical vocalizations, Grebelda was gone.

She never returned.

At dawn, Heron awoke from a dazed, not-quite-sleep, to the sounds of battle cries. 

She looked out the window. The fields to the north were black with soldiers like thousands of chitinous- coated ants. The wind changed direction and she heard the hoofbeats and clanging of armor and weaponry. 

The tower servant was bringing her more arrows, she could see him in the yard, prying the old arrows from wagons and carts. Her father’s army had been decimated. There was no hope. 

The guards at the gate were bowled over like tin soldiers when the iron-fisted battering column broke through. The soldiers in black swept through the yard like a plague, indiscriminate and blood thirsty. She saw their faces smiling and laughing – their enemy was dead; the castle was theirs. 

Heron pulled the bowstring surely, her left arm a solid mast, and the laughing face of a Satan’s minion split in the forehead, under the force of her specialized dragonstone arrowhead. She wasted no time between firing and did so like a machine. Her aim was true and after fourteen kills, she’d been discovered.

Black Satan’s spawns surged towards the tower. She looked straight down and saw that six-foot building stones had been piled against the only entrance. ‘Thank-you Auntie.’ She continued slaying the attackers, ignoring all thoughts of her family, for they were surely gone. ‘Or captured.’

She watched as the servant boy’s body was trampled to rust-brown paste at the stones. She swallowed back down the bile-like cry. She had forty arrows left and needed a clear head to make each one count.

And they did. Useless as it was. Throughout the night, after she’d run out of arrows, she’d only been able to watch in horror as everything turned to blood and ash. Eventually, she knew they’d come for her. In the safety of her tower, she gave in to fatigue. All she could do was take each minute at a time, as hopeless as those minutes seemed.

She slept against the windowsill. As always, the handsome prince’s lullaby swept deliciously through her head. In her dreams of him she said, “I must leave you now my prince. I am surely doomed, death awaits me by the morn’s lonely path.”

The lullaby turned to a violent barrage of an opera singer’s baritone voice so powerful it reverberated in the stone walls. Heron was alarmed to find she was not dreaming but fully awake, yet the voice of the teapot raged. It said the same things as always, “I will save you if you save me!”

She ran to the tea cupboard, dragged a chair over, and stood with arms outstretched. She felt the teapot and brushed it closer with her fingers. She pulled it out with a hand on the spout and the other on the handle. Moonlight caught the golden surface as she descended the chair. At the table she placed both hands alongside the teapot. It should have been cool to the touch but was warm as if filled with hot tea. She held the teapot in both hands to her body, caressing its silken warmth.

The air inside the tower whirled like a golden dust-storm. It poured from the spout in glittering mica whorls, and she couldn’t breathe. Around the glittering, tornado swirls, the voice she’d heard for a year laughed. She wasn’t afraid. Why should she be? She was to die at the dawn of the next day.

Heron whirled around the room, dancing her last dance with her fantasy prince. 

The golden dust settled, and she saw it was not actually a prince that had sang to her, but a freaking, incredible… golden dragon!

The golden dragon was twelve feet tall with leathery wings tucked against its body. He did have peridot green eyes however, and said, “It is dawn. You saved me. I save you.” He lowered his scaly, golden body down and she climbed up between his wings.

The dragon said, “I’m Harold by the way.” As he swooped from the window over the decimated courtyard. Everyone in the yard was burnt to a crisp as well as anyone dumb enough to run out of the castle itself.


For now…

January 13, 2022 03:19

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