Throwback Thursday #13

I’m a little late with this post because yesterday turned out to be a full day, but here I am now. The following story is one I wrote over five years ago, while taking a class in which I got very bored and fidgety. This story just sort of happened without a lot of thought, and unfortunately, I have no idea what happened to the ending, but I know I did finish it at one point.

***

Once upon a time, in the uppermost room of the tallest tower of a great castle, there lived a princess named Clothilde. Clothilde could not remember ever having seen outside the rooms of that tower; and in fact she had never seen a living person in all her fifteen years.

She had seen many dead ones, for the walls of the tower room bore many panted pictures of beasts and royal ancestors whom she had never known. But she had never talked to anyone who could talk back to her, and she dearly whished someone would. Only the birds of prey, soaring high above the land, their crafty eyes trained for something to eat, ever came to visit her, and they were not especially pleasant. The North Wind too sometimes kept her company, but he was cold and drafty despite his friendliness, and she could not touch him. And it was not that she had nothing, for her rooms were filled with delicious things to eat and books to read (all of which she had read) and chairs to sit in—all that a princess could want, in fact, for it was all provided by magic, which was very convenient. But you will wonder, though, who it was that put her there.

Her father king had once had a beautiful wife and a son as well, and was the happiest kind as had ever ruled that country. But there came to that kingdom a great sickness, and first the queen, then the little prince, Clothilde’s twin, had perished under it. Clothilde had lived, to her father’s joy, and to his ruin. For, greatly burdened now with sorrow, he began to fear beyond all else, even his own death, that his daughter would be lost as well. So he imprisoned her at the top of his securest tower, put a spell on her rooms that she would always have all she wanted (for he had also a little magic about him) but human company. And there he left her, and there she lived, with only the North Wind and the birds of prey for company. But there came a day when the North Wind looked down on the princess Clothilde and saw how very miserable she was. It was her sixteenth birthday too; but only the wind and king knew this.

“If only,” mused the North Wind, stirring up a forest of fir trees as he sighed, “If only I could help her. She is so sad.” This, however, was impossible, for the North Wind wasn’t mortal and only a mortal would do. So he began to search.

After much searching, he at last found one; and it was one he did not expect.

In a small village just over the mountain, there was a farmer who spent his days growing things and driving oxen and providing food for the village and for his king. And this farmer had a son of noble stature and a good bit of pluck and courage. This the North Wind saw. So one evening, while the lad drove in his father’s goats, the Wind came and whispered to him of the faraway tower and the princess who was imprisoned there.

“Me?” exclaimed the lad, and dropped his stick on one of the goats. The goat stared back yellow-eyed and gave an offended bleat but was not heeded. “Me?” said the farmer’s lad. “What can I do? Look at me! I heard goats!” He fetched his stick from the ground and punished the air with a crack.

“Which is not such a bad profession,” replied the North Wind. “At least it’s practical.  I spend my time herding clouds!” The Wind laughed and a sound it was such as the lad had never heard before. He shivered.

“I’ll go then,” he said after a minute. “But I must say goodbye first.”

So the young man, whose name was Seth, left the house of his father and mother and journeyed over the mountain to the castle and the tower of the imprisoned princess. He did not have a hard time of it getting there, as most heroes in the process do; but he was secretly glad of this. He decided that, as Clothilde was imprisoned, he had better go at it from the back.

But as he came unto the tower, swordless and armed only with his fists and a sound mind, the birds of prey saw his coming and descended on him. Their talons seized his flesh and blood welled; his tunic tore from the furious raking of beaks. Seth fled, needless to say; and Clothilde looked down on him as he fled and sorrowed for she presumed him lost.

But the North Wind came to him and said, “Kill a goat or three, and bring their raw flesh to the tower.” Seth did so, although he wondered greatly what good raw meat would do. And when he stood before the castle, the birds of prey came again but he flung the meat to them and they dispersed, quarreling with each other. Seth looked on the tower and saw he could not climb it; but the North Wind bore him upward that he might reach the tower of the princess. Which he did and she was very surprised of course. He balanced on the windowsill and leaned his head through.

Now the princess, as you know, had never seen another human being in her life, so all she could do was stare, which was a little rude.

“Can’t you speak?” said Seth the farmer’s lad, leaning his head farther in the window, for he hesitated to enter yet . “Ah well, I don’t mind much. The question is how to get you down from here.”

But the birds of prey at that moment ceased their quarreling and saw that someone had entered the tower. For they had been sent there years before by the king (who had a little magic, as you know) to guard the princess. Just before they dived at the window to slay him, Seth shoved a great chair cushion in the gap.

“That was close,” he panted, a fact that was rather obvious but which he thought he should state as there wasn’t much to say. For how does one talk to a mute princess when one is only a farmer’s son and an utter stranger at that?

The birds had nearly clawed their way through. “Come on, Princess Clothilde,” said Seth. He glanced quickly around; at first all seemed lost. But it wasn’t, for there was a door in the floor where the cushion had been. That decided quite a lot. They went down.

It was dark and stuffy on the stairs. Seth began to think something was wrong. If it was so easy to defeat the birds (which were now destroying the room above), why had no one done it before? He didn’t know there was others who had done so and never been seen again; he also didn’t know there was a giant snake waiting for them just ahead in the dark.

“Get back!” the boy hissed and threw himself in front of the princess. She stumbled and fell against the wall. Seth thought fast. No way to slay this monster with his bare hands. He needed something more. His belt. Yes. That might work. He slipped it off and slashed it downward before him. It met the serpent’s head with a sound like wet galoshes. The serpent screamed and reared backward. Seth was ready: he leapt on its neck and swifter then lightning pulled his belt tight across its throat. There was a terrible gurgling sound, and he saw the monstrous eyes bulge, for he was a strong lad and well-used to restraining wild animals. He pulled and strained with all his might, and sweat ran down his forehead, and venom from the strangling beast’s maw dripped in his skin. With a final horrible thrash the serpent crashed on the stairs, and not another sound issued from him.

Pain seeped through Seth’s body. He staggered and fell to his knees. But all at once light shone from his skin and the dank darkness was dispelled as if with fire.

“Well!” said Seth, astonished. He began to think maybe there was more to him than he thought.

The rest of the tramp down the stairwell was uneventful, except for the fact that Seth continued to glow, which was an unusual state of affairs but not unpleasant. They could no longer hear the birds ransacking the chamber above, and a light had appeared below them.

Now all this while the princess Clothilde hadn’t spoken; but now, as the sliver of light grew under them: “Who are you?”

“What? Oh,” said the farmer’s boy. “Seth. I’m—well, nobody really. But I came to rescue you.”

“But why? And how?  I mean…no one has ever gotten past that snake. Or glowed, for that matter,” she added, glancing at the light emanating from the farmer’s rough fingers.

Seth didn’t know what to say to that. They came to the bottom of the stair and blinked in the sudden brightness. But the birds, tired of ransacking the tower room, now lay in wait just beyond the ivy-grown wall. Barely had the two emerged from the stone stair when the birds of prey descended on them like lightning. But as they drew Seth’s blood again, they shrieked and screamed as if in agony, and wheeled upward into the air and vanished.

“How did you do that?” gasped the princess.

“I don’t know,” Seth admitted. But he began to think about the snake’s venom on his skin, and how it glowed; and his thoughts stayed there.

The birds, however, had not all gone. One came to rest on the wall before them, silent as if made of stone. Seth knew something was wrong; he didn’t know what, and it chilled him. Then with a horrible writhe of black wings the bird transformed.

“Father!’ exclaimed Clothilde.

“The snake is dead, I presume,” said the king, rubbing his hands as if they hurt. He fixed a cold and fearful stare on Seth.

“Indeed,” said the farmer’s lad. “Quite dead.’ There was fear on the king’s face and fear in the movements of his fingers. It deepened the wrinkles in his cheeks and dulled his eyes, yet they still burned with pale fire.

Now the princess Clothilde didn’t know the depth of her father’s magic, nor had she known about his ability to become a bird. But the West Wind knew. He also knew how the wizard king could be defeated, for he had watched the king every night since his ignominious birth, which does not come into this story. Seth felt a warmish zephyr find his ear, and he listened.

But in the meantime the wizard king had opened his cloak (which bore uncanny resemblance to crow’s wings) and beckoned Clothilde to him. She went, of course; Seth saw this and wished mightily that he had a sword or at least something other than his bare hands, or his belt. Hands and belts were all very well for herding errant goats; but wizard-kings who could transform into crows were an entirely different thing. But he remembered what the Wind had told him and was silent.

“You’ve come to take her away.” It was not a question.

“I have,” said Seth.

The wizard king drew his daughter closer into him, so close that Sesth could see only the right half of her face and one pale hand clutching her father’s arm.

“You are out of luck then, farmer’s lad,” crowed the king, spitting out the words like a bird discarding a bad worm. “You’d better come with me as well.”

Seth saw a blast of light hurting at his face. It hit him. He tried desperately to keep awake, but his body had somehow turned to lead.

“Blast,” said Seth, and said no more.

***

And that’s all I have of the story. As I said, I don’t know what happened to the rest of it. Thanks for reading!

~H

 

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