Letting Life Lead
Note: Writing on the Fly is a series I do when I write cold. Very few edits beyond spelling as I see it. I don’t do outlines. I just write the story as it comes to me.
Once, in a land where wizards might tame a dragon and a mountain might speak to a mortal, a baby girl was born to a poor young woman. The infant was born on the third hour, on the third week day, of the third month, in the third ruling year of the new king. At once, the wizened recognized the marks of destiny and they each took their turn at the king’s ear. The great oracles, from the four points of the word, had foretold of such a child who was destined to sit upon the throne and bring fortune to the kingdom.
All took this to mean a pauper would wed the crown prince — a boy who had seen three seasons.
The king’s mood grew as dark as the berries on the nightshade trees that grew in the Blackwood Forest. Not a stranger to plots, he had dispatched the previous king with the aide of a usurper second queen who, too, had won her place through deceit. The king’s plans for his son did not include betrothal to a gutter rat.
Full of dark intention, in the garb of the royal guard, slipped into the mother’s hovel and deepened her slumber with the vapors from the roots of the Indigo Thistle. The babe, whose flush of black hair shone almost blue even in the night, did not stir. The king had in mind to fill the cradle with blood and place blame upon the woman for the vile deed. Oh, fortune’s bewitchment! The blade shattered in its sheath the moment the kind’s hand clasped the hilt! A barrel drowning he tried next, but the bindings broke and the staves burst apart. He tossed her onto the hearth fire and it snuffed out and turned cold in an instant. Bludgeons turned to dust and ropes would not tigheten. Vexation! Determined to be rid of the babe, he stuffed her into a basket, packed it with rocks, bound it with twine, and threw it into the cold White River.
With pomp and circumstance the next morning, he visited the hovel in the guise of friendship (by then all knew of the prophecy and expected the king would groom the child for the life of royalty). He accused the dazed and distraught mother — who had barely shaken the induced slumber from her eyes — of murder of the most egregious kind.
None heard from her again, nor would any befoul their tongues with her name.
But murder had not been done. The lucky basket had been woven from whettle reeds which held within them tiny chambers of air and a possessed a property of swelling watertight (so buoyant even under heavy weight). For three nights, the babe dozed in the cradle of the river. She did not cry nor wake under the spell of the river’s lullabies. The rapids quieted and the current brought the bundle to the home of the Millers who had wept their sadness to the river (they had not been blessed with children). With joy at their fortune, they promised the river that the baby girl would find comfort and love in their family.
As it was and ever shall be, years pass, deeds fade, and children grow.
There came a day when the king’s carriage had lost wheel and horse and he had to take refuge at the mill for the night. The Miller’s thought it was their greatest honor that royalty should end up at their front door. They made accommodations and moved out of the tidy main cottage to the mill house so that the king might repose in privacy. The king took interest in their daughter whom they called Thala — a name which meant three and thistle in the old tongue (for when they found her she’d had three thistle seeds stuck in her hair).
“Loyal subjects, I notice your hair is as fair as the hay upon the farm hills and your daughter’s hair is black as coal pitch.”
“Your majesty, it is as you say. Fate smiled upon us eighteen years ago and the river brought us the baby we longed for,” Mother said with a hand to her breast and tears in her eyes.
“We presumed dark times befell her parents as it has for so many, and we raised her as our own. ” Father spoke with pride. He patted Thala’s face and smoothed down her hair that she always kept short for her working life. “A finer young women you’ll never meet.”
Thala curtsied as her mother taught her though she was still in her working trousers, “Fortune was with me that day, Majesty.” She put a hand to her throat to draw courage from the thistle necklace her parents had made from the three, lucky seeds.
The king hid the growing frustration rumbling within. He thought to dispatch them all there and leave their bones to grind beneath the great mill stones, but a bewitching in the air would not allow him to put his hand to sword. Whenever he drew near the hilt his arm locked and would not draw. It was then that he knew that Thala was the accursed babe he’d hope to lose in the White River. The king paced, turned upon his heel, sat down at the table, and called for a parchment and quill.
“Trustworthy and true?”
“None more, sire.”
The Millers had no reason to learn to read for they had all they needed in mind. Thala — as was her nature — was ever curious about the script. She could not read well, but kept her eyes averted lest she glean what she was not invited to see. The king rolled and bound the parchment with the royal seal and handed it to Thala and bid her to deliver it straight away to the castle by her own hand escorted by his most trusted guard.
“It is a matter most urgent,” he said. “I have a mind to reward your family, but a test of loyalty I require.” For amusements, the king had often given such tests (many fool’s errands and one way journeys). He once promised a poor fellow a flagon full of jewels to find a black goat with a single horn growing out the middle of it’s head — a goat who had lost a horn in an accident would not do. There were none would would refuse though they knew success was not theirs to claim.
Thala gave her word and set off on the back of a mule.
The king instructed the guard to sabotage their travels with all due cunning and lure Thala to be sold away to the lowest bidder — the farther the better, though, the king would have preferred her heart wrested from her chest. If the guard found failure, the king had yet another plan in motion.
To be Continued…
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