The Singing Bone

Here is the latest flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds. The assignment was to pick a fairy tale and rewrite it in a style/subgenre chosen randomly from a list of 20. Easy enough, but what the hell is Grimdark Fantasy? I looked into it, and found it to be indicative of a dark world, where everything is crap and nobody is happy for very long. This isn’t as gritty or crusty as it might be, but the Grimm’s weren’t known for happily ever after anyway.

********

I stitch the linen through the dark of the night. Every time the needle pierces fabric I think of my love and the spear with which he slew a dread beast. Under my breath I hum a tune, lines of music, words which I shall never sing aloud.

ah, friend thou blowest upon my bone.

Long have I lain beside the water…

 

It seemed we could never be together. He was the son of a poor farmer, who toiled long hours for little pay, and never could quite get the muck off his boots or the dirt from under his nails. But oh, he was fair, and oh, he was kind, and there was never another man of his like in this land. I was—am—the only daughter of the king, so, though no suitors yet pursued me, our interactions were necessarily limited. I am, however, a smart princess, and devised a plan.

There was, in this land, a fierce boar. This beast, through size and terrible temper, had become a bane upon farmers and hunters, goring all who tried to slay it. Mothers would scare their children to sleep with tales of the creature, and the fear of their guts crusting his tusks if they stayed awake acted like warm, honeyed milk upon the wee ones.

Farmers had complained about the attacks on their livestock for years, and the king, my father, had lost many hunters in the boar’s forest. He had been loathe to lose anymore, and advised all to avoid the forest. Most took the advice, as the kingdom did not have a surfeit of courageous lords.

I take a break from stitching seams to embellish the fabric with embroidery of acanthus leaves. I work the twining vines into my love’s initials, and remember my excellent, tragic plan.

When the boar killed another huntsman, one of father’s favourites, I mentioned that, had anyone the courage to slay this abomination I would happily wed them. Father jumped at this opportunity to deal with two necessary tasks, and I nearly jumped at the chance to be with my love forever. I knew others might take up the challenge, and I knew that the boar may well kill my young farmer, but I was not one to leave such things to fate.

From a craftsman of my acquaintance I commissioned a boar spear—strong, with a long winged blade so the animal can’t run up the shaft and kill you as it dies. A former court magician—skilled, but not in favour—placed a spell upon the spear: It’s wielder was protected from harm while using it, and once it had performed its task a lamp, which I kept in my chambers, would light on its own. I arranged for a man in my service to wait in the forest and offer the magic spear.

Unfortunately, I didn’t plan for the brother.

When my love traveled to court to accept the challenge, his brother accompanied him. Where my love was honest, kind and true his brother was lazy, avaricious, and saw a way to an easier life. Where my love was challenging the boar in hopes of spending his life with the woman he loved his brother saw the quest as a chance to bed a princess and never work again. I couldn’t say this to my father, so I kept my own counsel and hoped my plan would work.

My father decreed that the brothers would enter the forest from opposite sides, so that a meeting with the boar would be more likely.

I knew my love had entered the forest. I knew my man had given him the magical spear, and I also knew that he had killed the boar. Yet it was his brother who lay the tusken monster in front of the throne and claimed me as his prize. I said nothing, only mourned silently, accepted my fate, and wondered what had happened.

I wondered for ten years. Whenever I looked at my son, who thankfully does not follow the inclinations of his father, I wondered. I wonder no longer.

     Two days ago a shepherd came to court, to show the king a curiousity. He had found a bone in the mud under a bridge, and had carved a small pipe from it. Instead of playing jigs and reels this pipe played a single plaintive tune.

ah, friend thou blowest upon my bone.

Long have I lain beside the water,

my brother slew me for the boar,

and took for his wife the king’s young daughter.

 

Of course, he said, he had to show it to the king. Of course we knew immediately whose voice sang from the pipe, and of course hot irons on the soles of my husband’s feet loosened the tale from his throat.

     His brother, my love, killed the boar, and when he left the forest found an inn, where all manner of ruffians caroused. His brother was inside. He hadn’t even entered the forest, but had spent some hours gathering liquid courage and upon seeing his victorious sibling invited him in for a stoup of wine. After several such they left the inn and on the way crossed a bridge. Halfway across the brother took a rock and crushed the skull of my farm boy. He buried him in the shadow of the bridge, and carried the boar to the castle to claim his prize.

     Yesterday we found my love’s remains, and buried them, and the grisly whistle, in the churchyard.

     Tomorrow I will watch as guards force my husband into this bag, along with several rocks. I will personally sew it shut with ugly, coarse twine, then watch as he is carried to the bridge, thrown into the river and drowned.

     Only then will I return to my chambers and weep.

     But now I stitch a man-sized bag, and hum four lines of verse, and every needle through the cloth is as a boar spear in my heart.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The Singing Bone

  1. Pingback: Hansel and Gretel: The Aftermath | Jeremy Podolski

  2. Deliciously creepy Dan. Her happiness while stitching is delightful.

  3. I liked reading this from the princess’s perspective. I agree that they’re not often given any sort of agency.

    I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with Grimdark Fantasy on mine; it’s challenging to make a Brothers Grimm tale even grimmer.

    Good job with this.

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