Fantasy Fiction

Once upon a time, in the village of Mold-Upon-Turnip, there lived an unremarkable girl called Durinda. Her hair wasn’t ebony or chestnut, gold or russet, but a dull shade of blond that someone had once likened to “possum fuzz.” Her skin didn’t shimmer or grow tawny in the summer sun, but was a sickly pale that barely freckled. And her eyes? They were green, but so is grass, and so are leaves. 

In Mold-Upon-Turnip there was a cruel woman who held more wealth than God, and possessed less sense than a child, Princess Jet. She called herself princess because of her lofty view of herself, and her disparaging view of everyone else, and Jet because it was her favorite gem; black, hard, and as dark as her soul. She lived in a fine manor house high above the town, and if anyone wanted a job at all, they worked in one way or another for Princess Jet.

Durinda slaved as one of Princess Jet’s serving wenches. It was a thankless job that left her exhausted and half-starved every night of her life. 

One autumn day, Durinda was tasked with toting a tray of boysenberry wine to Princess Jet’s table, her hands sweating and shaking. Princess Jet sat resplendent in front of her admiring guests, dressed in a gown of pure white silk, her blond tresses piled high on her head, and an elaborate Jet choker adorning her wrinkled neck. It was when Princess Jet turned her withering gaze upon her that Durinda felt her insides quake and her legs falter. The next thing she knew the tray was airborne, the glasses were shattering, and Princess Jet looked like she’d been bathed in blood. 

Durinda had fallen face down on the stone floor and stayed there, listening to Princess Jet shriek things like, “My gown is ruined!” and “My party is ruined!” and finally, sickeningly, “BRING HER TO ME!”

Durinda was lifted up around the armpits by two guards as all the guests and the rest of the servants scurried out like crazed cockroaches. After being slammed into a chair, Durinda watched Princess Jet pace back and forth a few times before screaming, “Fetch my Aunt Portia!”

Princess Jet wrung the wine from her soiled dress. She stalked over to Durinda, bent down close, and hissed, “What is your name?”

“Durinda,” she said, avoiding looking Princess Jet in the eye, focusing instead at the gleaming black gems on her red, pulsating neck. 

“You admire my jewels, don’t you?” Princess Jet asked. “You’ll never have anything so nice, not in your entire, miserable life.”

“You called for me?” croaked a voice from the doorway. Durinda turned to see a fearsome sight; an ancient, white-haired woman, bent and emaciated, hanging onto a staff constructed of bleached bones in order to stay upright. She was draped in reptilian skins and matted fur pelts, and she gave off a crippling odor of dirt and rot. 

“Come here, Auntie, and look what this cretin did to my fine gown. She must be punished!”

Portia stumped along until she was right in front of Princess Jet. “Looks like blood, ‘tis an omen, niece!”

“You shut your toothless mouth about omens, and hex this piece of trash into oblivion.”

“You have been warned, and I’ll not utter it again,” Portia promised, turning creakily towards Durinda. “What shall I do with you?”

“Nothing?” Durinda offered. “I’ll go and never come back.”

“Make her life even more unbearable than it already is,” Princess Jet commanded. 

She stopped, and addressed the two guards, now standing at the door leading from the dining hall. “You, take her away when my aunt is done with her, and you,” she said pointing to the other, better looking one, “meet me in my chamber. I have want of your services.”

After she was well out of earshot, they began to argue. “I’ll dump the girl in the woods, you take your turn with her,” the better looking one said. 

“She pointed to you, and it’s you she wants. I’ll not subject myself to her. I’d rather go without the rest of my life!”

Meanwhile, Portia rummaged in a bag around her neck. “Ah, you can have this. ‘Tis a rune, brings fair luck-“

“Fair luck?” Durinda said, taking the small, flat stone, engraved with a symbol that resembled an arrow. “But you’re supposed to hex me!”

“Do you want me to?” Portia asked. “ I can, but honestly she asks me to hex at least three people a week. No one would be left if I really did so.”

“Well, no, of course not,” Durinda said, feeling relieved. 

“I ought to put some sort of spell on you,” the old crone said, thinking. “Here’s one - kistle dunwiddy, val dicto lo horum.” With each word, she waved an arthritic finger at Durinda.

“What does that do?” Durinda asked. 

“It allows you to talk to animals.”

“That’s actually kind of nice-“

“Not the cute, fluffy kind of animals,” Portia chortled. “Rats and bats and other creatures.”

“I see.”

“She likes me to do this one, especially to women,” and then Portia cleared her throat. “Callix infrapsis, dontae absillum!”

“What was that one?” Durinda asked. 

“It’s a curse that no man in his right mind will ever fall in love with you!” and Portia fell into gales of laughter. 

Durinda sighed. “That was probably the case anyway. No magic needed.”

“Back to the dungeon, mother,” the better looking guard said. He’d walked over close without Durinda realizing. “You come with me.”

As Portia trundled off, Durinda stood and stretched, asking, “Is she really your mother?”

“Don’t be daft,” he said, smiling a little. “Go get your things.”

“I have no things.” Durinda looked down at her tattered dress and patched shoes. “Not even a cloak to keep warm.”

“Then come with me,” he said, grabbing her arm, and she went along with him. 

“I thought you had to go upstairs, with Jet?” she asked as they exited the fine house and made their way to the stables.

“I gave my mate a month’s pay to go in my stead. And it’s not decent for a girl like you to talk of such things.”

“A girl like me? Who cares what I think, or say?” She looked up at him, at his warm brown eyes, and sideways smile, and wondered what his hair was like under his helmet. Or if he had any at all. 

“You’d be surprised.”

“So you have to take me out somewhere and dump me? Does that really mean kill me?”

“Of course not!”

“Out into the forest then? Abandon me?”

“That’s what we do with everyone who displeases Jet.”

“Then if I follow that trail, I’ll find someone who’ll help me?”

The guard stopped, and looked down at her, at once flustered, and aggravated. “There’s quite a little settlement now, yes.”

“Then I can go by myself. I’m used to it.” She broke away from him, and started off. 

“You can’t just walk in there alone!” he called after her. She stopped and turned around. 

“What’s your name?” she asked. 

“Floyd,” he said, a little embarrassed. 

“Until later, Floyd. I’m sure you’ll end up out there eventually as well.”

Durinda found the forest to be quite pleasant. Cool as opposed to the steamy kitchens, quiet as opposed to Jet’s constant tantrums, and freshly scented as opposed to Mold-Upon-Turnip’s pervading stench of sewage and failure. At the manor house she always feared being screamed at, struck, banished. Now it had happened, and she was that pleased. Even if a bandit jumped out now, and cut her throat, she’d die free of that place. 

But it was not a bandit that crossed her path, but a possum. It was slow, and fat, and rather cross eyed. Soon it was joined by a smaller one, its face actually sort of pretty. “Hello,” Durinda said to them, not really expecting a response.  

“Merry Christmas,” the cross eyed one said, stopping Durinda in her tracks. 

“Never mind him,” the smaller possum said. “He’s got brain damage. Bad accident with a wagon wheel.”

“I can hear you,” Durinda breathed. “It can’t be.”

“It certainly can be,” the smaller possum said. “I’m guessing Portia put a spell on you? Every now and then her spells actually work.”

“You know about her? And Jet?”

Durinda asked, bending down more to their level. 

“Who doesn’t? What’s your name, anyway?”

“I’m Durinda, and you?”

“I’m Dandelion,” the girl possum said, “and this is MC, because all he says is-“

“Merry Christmas!”

“Where are you headed?” Dandelion asked. 

“I’m not sure,” Durinda said considering. “Any ideas?”

“Follow us, there’s more of you banished people out here than us anymore,” Dandelion said, and they took off, down the path, Durinda mindful to walk as slow as the possums, not wanting to offend as they were helping her. 

Soon a very large, swaggering raccoon joined them. “Who’s this, then?” he asked Dandelion, never guessing Durinda could hear him. 

“Reg, this is Durinda. And she can hear you.

“Can she now?” he asked, stopping and and standing in his hind legs. “Interesting. How?”

“Hex from Portia, how else?” Dandelion said, annoyed. 

“Hex, nothing! That’s an absolute gift!” Reg said, equally put out. “She can learn a lot, if she listens.”

Finally they came upon an encampment with crude huts, and tents, and fires. “We better stay back,” Dandelion said. “To these people, we’re dinner.”

“I’ll go for a stroll tomorrow, and we can talk more then,” Durinda promised. She could hear Dandelion and Reg arguing as they left, but MC came back to offer one last, wheezy, “Merry Christmas!”

Durinda recognized most of the people sitting around the fires; all of them at one time had worked for Jet.  There was a man who had his fingers cut off for stealing, an old washerwoman who had her arm broken because Jet’s underthings felt “itchy” one day, and a seamstress who had her head shaved because the hem on one of Jet’s gowns was crooked. Every single person was broken in one way or another, and Durinda felt fortunate that she got away with just a jinx. She also had the rune Portia had given her, tucked away safe in the pocket of her skirt; maybe it was working?

They were kind to Durinda, and shared what they had. She bunked with the seamstress, a girl called Bonnie, who asked every day if Durinda thought her hair was starting to grow in. Durinda lied, and said she really did think so, but in truth the poor girl had less fuzz than a peach. 

Each day Durinda walked out into the forest, and talked to her real friends, the animals, with Dandelion and MC listening to her stories, and Reg complaining about their domain being taken over and ruined by humans. 

“Well, what can be done?” Durinda asked him. 

“I have an idea, but it’s mad,” he grinned, twiddling his shiny black thumbs in front of his face. “It’s a plan to do away with Jet once and for all.”

“You are mad,” Dandelion scolded. “What can any of us do about her?”

“Listen-“ Reg began, smiling wide, but he never got to finish his thought. 

“No, you listen,” one of the crows said, swooping down from a branch to a rock nearby. “A man is coming, and he’s hurt. Scatter!”

The animals did as they were told, leaving Durinda alone, sitting on a tree stump. She got up and stood on it to see better, and saw it was one of Jet’s guards, stumbling along, grasping at trees for support. Blood was streaming down his face, and as he grew closer, Durinda realized something. 

It was Floyd. 

She did her best to help him walk, but when they reached the encampment, people were hesitant to assist him. “He’s one of Jet’s guards!” and “He’s the one who threw me out!” they cried. 

“I don’t think we should help him,” Bonnie said. “He, more than once, went to Jet’s chamber. He’s here to spy.”

Floyd slumped down against a tree as everyone watched. “They’re right, Durinda. I’m not a spy, but I don’t deserve your help.”

Durinda knelt beside him and looked more closely, seeing it was his right eye that was hurt, but he kept it clamped shut tight, and tried to turn his face away. “What happened?”

“She was in a rage that I wouldn’t look at her anymore, so she...” he couldn’t finish. 

Durinda realized the sickening truth. “She gouged out your eye, didn’t she?”

Everyone around them gasped, then flew into action to help. 

“What of Portia?”

“Dead. She refused to curse me, and Jet had her throat cut. She was covered in blood, just as Portia prophesied,” he answered. 

“I’ll be back,” she assured him. “Everyone here will take care of you, I promise.”

Durinda stalked off back into the trees, and called for Reg. When he finally ambled out from under a shrub, he asked, “Ready to hear my plan now?”

And he was right, it was a mad idea, but just mad enough to work. Reg dealt with the animals in a sort of hierarchy, seeing raccoons at the top of the garbage heap, and mice at the very bottom. But it was agreed, they would visit each faction and plead their case: humans banished by Princess Jet were ruining the forest, and if the animals were to ever take it back, Jet must be deposed, and the people returned to Mold-Upon-Turnip. 

It made Durinda’s flesh creep to address the bats in the caves, and the rats at the dump, and the crows that converged at the boneyard, but all agreed to help, and all agreed it should happen as soon as possible. 

“Princess Jet gives parties often,” she said to the crows. 

One piped up, “She is having one tomorrow night. I know, because I sat upon the stone wall around her rose garden, and saw the preparations being made.”

“Tomorrow night then,” Reg told them, “when the moon and stars first emerge!”

They cawed their approval, a deafening sound that made Durinda not feel fear, but pride. 

“You, of course, must stay far away,” Reg told Durinda. “No one must ever suspect you are involved.”

“And I should send my friends into danger, alone?”

“You think of us lowly trash eaters as your friends?” Reg asked, dumbfounded. 

“Of course I do.”

“Then we need our ally alive and well. Stay with your kind tomorrow night, and care for that man who wandered up.”

“He has the rest to help him.”

“But none that care such as you.”

What happened that next night became legend, told for generations among human and animal kind alike for generations. 

Princess Jet held court with all her toadying guests in the garden, the festivities lit by golden lantern light. At first there was but a soft tickle of sound, a tweet, a peep, tiny feet upon grass, frail feathers upon the wind. A few attendees turned toward the stone wall out of curiosity, then gaped in silent horror as a rippling wave of rodents rolled over the top, toppling wildly to the lawn, and then surging in all directions toward them. Women screamed, men bellowed, as first mice, then rats, and finally possums climbed and crawled and clawed over velvet shoes and up silken skirts and pant legs, onto chairs and tables, swarming and devouring the food and drink. 

If the rats, mice and possums were the berserkers, then the raccoons were the tactical corp, charging on into the manor to cause mass destruction, destroying all furnishings and laying waste to the kitchens. 

Next came the bats, sweeping through the house, frightening out anyone who’d taken refuge there. More people ran out into the cobbled streets of Mold-Upon-Turnip, the bats in hot pursuit. 

Princess Jet screamed at her servants to do something, but none had stayed to defend her. She kicked at the rats at her feet, who then crawled up her legs and back and into her hair, biting and clawing as they went. Through excruciating pain and near-fatal fright, she looked up to see the moon blacked out by hundreds of crows, which wheeled about and landed with precision on top of the garden wall. 

“Leave her!” their leader called out to the rats, and all dropped away. Princess Jet, bleeding from a thousand scratches and bites, thought for the briefest of moments that she had been spared. But she was very wrong. With a mere tip of his wing, the head crow signaled to his fellows to descend. 

Princess Jet, eternally screaming and hollering, threatening and torturing, died without making another sound. 

In the woods, Durinda sat with Floyd. Turns out he had very nice, wavy brown hair under that helmet of his, and Durinda felt he’d eventually look quite dashing with an eye patch.

“What’s that?” he asked. “That glow, through the trees?”

Durinda stood and looked down on Mold-Upon-Turnip. “Well, it does look like the manor house is on fire. And a good portion of the village also.”

In the morning, people started to trail back down to the village and found it cleansed of Jet and those loyal to her, the remaining houses and stores empty. There was no excuse to hide in the woods anymore. 

Durinda and Floyd were the last to leave the settlement in the forest behind, as she was hesitant to say goodbye to her friends, promising to come back at least once a week. 

“Portia only got one spell right,” Durinda said. “She said no man in his right mind would ever fall in love with me.”

“Is that right?”

“You seem sane,” she lamented. 

“I’m not though,” Floyd said, taking her hand. “I’m crazy about a girl who talks to squirrels.”

And as is always the case in fairy tales, if not in real life, they lived happily ever after. 

March 23, 2021 10:28

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