July 14, 2017

Andersen's 'The Emperor's New Clothes'



Editor's note: The next issue of EC will feature stories and poems inspired by "The Emperor's New Clothes," by Hans Christian Andersen. The story is below, but I have a few observations to make. So, if you are unfamiliar with the story, read it, then come back up here if you are interested in my remarks on the story. The guidelines for submission, which you should read very closely, are HERE: http://tinyurl.com/zb3ex9x

What fairy tale could better reflect the times in which we live? "The Emperor's New Clothes" is a funny story about a powerful fool obsessed with showing off his finery, charlatans who know a dupe when they see one, fear and sychophancy, and finally, the truth.

There are a number of points of view a submission may feature--from the king to the weavers to the boy who reveals what is not, in fact, hidden. And then there are the honest ministers who heretofore have served the their ruler well, but who doubt their own eyes and fitness to be counselors because they can't see any cloth or clothes. But will they admit the truth? No. Because only "fools" could fail to see the magnificent attire the "weavers" produced for the emperor.

The emperor himself can't see the new clothes, and momentarily doubts his fitness to serve his people. But he's not very smart, so he dons the clothes--and you know the rest. The story shows how important clothes and appearance can be to all of us, and how idiotic focusing on them often is.

"The Emperor's New Clothes" gives its readers the chance reflect on how easily we all are fooled by appearances, and how unquestioning subservience to an unfit ruler leads to embarrassment and failure.

The tale is below. The illustration is by Harry Clarke.

*****

Many years ago there was an Emperor so exceedingly fond of new clothes that he spent all his money on being well dressed. He cared nothing about reviewing his soldiers, going to the theatre, or going for a ride in his carriage, except to show off his new clothes. He had a coat for every hour of the day, and instead of saying, as one might, about any other ruler, "The King's in council," here they always said. "The Emperor's in his dressing room."

In the great city where he lived, life was always gay. Every day many strangers came to town, and among them one day came two swindlers. They let it be known they were weavers, and they said they could weave the most magnificent fabrics imaginable. Not only were their colors and patterns uncommonly fine, but clothes made of this cloth had a wonderful way of becoming invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid.

"Those would be just the clothes for me," thought the Emperor. "If I wore them I would be able to discover which men in my empire are unfit for their posts. And I could tell the wise men from the fools. Yes, I certainly must get some of the stuff woven for me right away." He paid the two swindlers a large sum of money to start work at once.

They set up two looms and pretended to weave, though there was nothing on the looms. All the finest silk and the purest old thread which they demanded went into their traveling bags, while they worked the empty looms far into the night.

"I'd like to know how those weavers are getting on with the cloth," the Emperor thought, but he felt slightly uncomfortable when he remembered that those who were unfit for their position would not be able to see the fabric. It couldn't have been that he doubted himself, yet he thought he'd rather send someone else to see how things were going. The whole town knew about the cloth's peculiar power, and all were impatient to find out how stupid their neighbors were.

"I'll send my honest old minister to the weavers," the Emperor decided. "He'll be the best one to tell me how the material looks, for he's a sensible man and no one does his duty better."

So the honest old minister went to the room where the two swindlers sat working away at their empty looms.

"Heaven help me," he thought as his eyes flew wide open, "I can't see anything at all". But he did not say so.

Both the swindlers begged him to be so kind as to come near to approve the excellent pattern, the beautiful colors. They pointed to the empty looms, and the poor old minister stared as hard as he dared. He couldn't see anything, because there was nothing to see. "Heaven have mercy," he thought. "Can it be that I'm a fool? I'd have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the minister? It would never do to let on that I can't see the cloth."

"Don't hesitate to tell us what you think of it," said one of the weavers.

"Oh, it's beautiful -it's enchanting." The old minister peered through his spectacles. "Such a pattern, what colors!" I'll be sure to tell the Emperor how delighted I am with it."

"We're pleased to hear that," the swindlers said. They proceeded to name all the colors and to explain the intricate pattern. The old minister paid the closest attention, so that he could tell it all to the Emperor. And so he did.

The swindlers at once asked for more money, more silk and gold thread, to get on with the weaving. But it all went into their pockets. Not a thread went into the looms, though they worked at their weaving as hard as ever.

The Emperor presently sent another trustworthy official to see how the work progressed and how soon it would be ready. The same thing happened to him that had happened to the minister. He looked and he looked, but as there was nothing to see in the looms he couldn't see anything.

"Isn't it a beautiful piece of goods?" the swindlers asked him, as they displayed and described their imaginary pattern.

"I know I'm not stupid," the man thought, "so it must be that I'm unworthy of my good office. That's strange. I mustn't let anyone find it out, though." So he praised the material he did not see. He declared he was delighted with the beautiful colors and the exquisite pattern. To the Emperor he said, "It held me spellbound."

All the town was talking of this splendid cloth, and the Emperor wanted to see it for himself while it was still in the looms. Attended by a band of chosen men, among whom were his two old trusted officials-the ones who had been to the weavers-he set out to see the two swindlers. He found them weaving with might and main, but without a thread in their looms.

"Magnificent," said the two officials already duped. "Just look, Your Majesty, what colors! What a design!" They pointed to the empty looms, each supposing that the others could see the stuff.

"What's this?" thought the Emperor. "I can't see anything. This is terrible!

Am I a fool? Am I unfit to be the Emperor? What a thing to happen to me of all people! - Oh! It's verypretty," he said. "It has my highest approval." And he nodded approbation at the empty loom. Nothing could make him say that he couldn't see anything.

His whole retinue stared and stared. One saw no more than another, but they all joined the Emperor in exclaiming, "Oh! It's very pretty," and they advised him to wear clothes made of this wonderful cloth especially for the great procession he was soon to lead. "Magnificent! Excellent! Unsurpassed!" were bandied from mouth to mouth, and everyone did his best to seem well pleased. The Emperor gave each of the swindlers a cross to wear in his buttonhole, and the title of "Sir Weaver."

Before the procession the swindlers sat up all night and burned more than six candles, to show how busy they were finishing the Emperor's new clothes. They pretended to take the cloth off the loom. They made cuts in the air with huge scissors. And at last they said, "Now the Emperor's new clothes are ready for him."

Then the Emperor himself came with his noblest noblemen, and the swindlers each raised an arm as if they were holding something. They said, "These are the trousers, here's the coat, and this is the mantle," naming each garment. "All of them are as light as a spider web. One would almost think he had nothing on, but that's what makes them so fine."

"Exactly," all the noblemen agreed, though they could see nothing, for there was nothing to see.

"If Your Imperial Majesty will condescend to take your clothes off," said the swindlers, "we will help you on with your new ones here in front of the long mirror."

The Emperor undressed, and the swindlers pretended to put his new clothes on him, one garment after another. They took him around the waist and seemed to be fastening something - that was his train-as the Emperor turned round and round before the looking glass.

"How well Your Majesty's new clothes look. Aren't they becoming!" He heard on all sides, "That pattern, so perfect! Those colors, so suitable! It is a magnificent outfit."

Then the minister of public processions announced: "Your Majesty's canopy is waiting outside."

"Well, I'm supposed to be ready," the Emperor said, and turned again for one last look in the mirror. "It is a remarkable fit, isn't it?" He seemed to regard his costume with the greatest interest.

The noblemen who were to carry his train stooped low and reached for the floor as if they were picking up his mantle. Then they pretended to lift and hold it high. They didn't dare admit they had nothing to hold.

So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, "Oh, how fine are the Emperor's new clothes! Don't they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!" Nobody would confess that he couldn't see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.

"But he hasn't got anything on," a little child said.

"Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?" said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, "He hasn't anything on. A child says he hasn't anything on."

"But he hasn't got anything on!" the whole town cried out at last.

The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, "This procession has got to go on." So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn't there at all.

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July 10, 2017

Submissions Open - The Emperor's New Clothes

Submissions are open 
for EC's The Emperor's New Clothes Issue.
Submit your original stories and poems, using this classic fairy tale as your theme, before the July 30th deadline.

Check out our guidelines HERE 

...And here's some art from several wonderful "Golden Age of Illustration" artists to inspire your stories!








Art by Margaret Tarrant





Art by Anne Anderson


Art by Edmund Dulac



Art by Harry Clarke






























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July 5, 2017

Window is Open for 'The Emperor's New Clothes'



Hi All!
If you celebrated the Fourth of July, I hope you had a great time! We sure did.

The window for "The Emperor's New Clothes" edition is open and will remain open until July 30, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

I ask that authors read published work on EC before submitting. Also, a two-sentence bio in the third person is really helpful. And please name your work. It takes extra time for Amanda and I to deal with when we accept a work without a title.

Here are the guidelines: http://tinyurl.com/zb3ex9x.

Image by Milo Winter.

Kate
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June 28, 2017

Table of Contents, 'Donkeyskin' Issue


What an issue we have this month! Lots of poems and some stories--all intriguing and entertaining. As usual, the competition was fierce, and it was clear that the challenging original story really made our final contributors use their imagination and writing skills.

All of the fabulous art was created by Amanda Bergloff, contributing editor and art director here at EC.

Here's the table of contents:

Knight of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, Angie Dickinson

Hide, Lissa Sloan

Worth the Wait, Jeana Jorgensen

Courage's Lament, Cara L. McKee

Boyskin, Dusty Thorne

Dishwater Dreaming, Debby Zigenis-Lowery

The Swamp King, Laura Diaz de Arce

With Diamond Dress, Michael Delaney
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Knight of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, By Angie Dickinson



(Based on "Cat-skin," by the Brothers Grimm.)

The tales are never as simple as they seem. My mother’s ending was unhappy, contrary to popular belief, and I have been forced to become my own fairy godmother. Shocking, I know, but there hasn’t been a real fairy godmother in these parts since the days of my great-grandmother. I’ve been told she was the last.

These days, a fairy godmother of one’s own would be very useful, for we have a dangerously mad king. This could be considered an advantage, if you happened to be one of the greedy old lords who pulled the strings behind the throne, awkwardly lifting the limp, royal fingers to sign decrees with an ignorant and complacent scrawl. If you kept the vacant fool happy in his whims, why then, the land would be yours to rule, as a royal advisor with the heart of a tyrant.

What, after all, was the harm in executing all the millers in the kingdom? They could be replaced, and in return, your pockets were lined by the tax reforms that the king blithely signed in your favor. Or, so what if the king demanded that nothing but jelly rolls be served at breakfast, lest the entire kitchen staff face the axe? Jelly rolls became tiresome, but laws were being rewritten, and the trio of trusted advisors were fast becoming the most powerful men in the land.

And so what if the king had a mind to marry his own daughter? She was the mirror image of her mother, taken by a fever so many years past, and the king cared nothing for the new highway tax, so long as he could have his long-dead wife returned to him.

In this particular way, if you happened to be the daughter in question, raised in a convent and recently reintroduced at court, it was largely to your disadvantage to have a mad king, and father.

My mother was a miller’s daughter, you see, and the imp that made her queen flew into such a blood-red rage when he was denied me, my mother’s firstborn, that he struck my father with madness and my mother with a deadly fever on his way to hell.

I knew to expect something awful when the sisters at the convent told me I was summoned to court. In fact, they had been using their own skills and knowledge of fairy ways to reinforce my inherited magic and prepare me to protect myself. Nevertheless, I had not expected this.

The horror was undisguised on my face as the most withered and wretched of the greedy advisors, Lord Rufin, declared my fate.

“You shall never have a child by him, we will take measures,” he said, patting my hand with his paper-dry one. Of course, not. The beauty of granting the king this whim is that the royal line would end with me, leaving the advisors free to select their next puppet. They likely would sentence my father and me with incest and execute us directly following the wedding. The reassuring lord made no mention of changing our kingdom’s laws to satisfy this whim of my father’s.

There was not a moment to lose if I was to survive this.

I took steps to ensure that I would be working with the best ingredients. I demanded three ballgowns be presented me as a bridal gift. One, made of tempered silver threads and set with moonstones. Another, gold threads. Simple enough, our vaults had been overflowing with gold threads since my mother arrived. The last one was trickier and took longer to acquire, but the lords went to great lengths to please my father. It was woven with literal starlight. The peddlers from far lands carry the most exotic things, and through my amateur magic I verified the authenticity of these shining threads.

A month before the wedding, I was poring over the gowns in an attempt to awaken my brain and figure out how best to use the powerful properties, when someone pounded on my door. I opened it, and a guard pushed me roughly aside as he entered, his arms full of dead animals. He was followed by another guard, and another. Finally, Lord Rufin entered. He smirked as the guards, one by one, dumped their grisly armloads of bloody carcasses on my bed. They piled them on top the gowns.

“What is this?” I finally gasped, choking through the heavy stench.

“Another wedding gift, from your father,” Lord Rufin responded silkily. “He thought you would appreciate one of each animal in the kingdom to be hunted for your enjoyment. We thought it best to indulge him. He means well.” He could not hide his glee behind the thin fa├žade of compassion. He gestured for the guards to precede him out of the room, then turned to me once more when we were alone.

“One more thing. You may as well make one of those gowns your trousseau, for there has been a change of plans. Your wedding will take place tomorrow.”

“Another whim of my father’s?” I spat, my chest tightening.

“Oh no.” His pale, watery eyes were unblinking. “No, we felt this was the best course.” He dropped something at my feet. It was a fox with a broken neck.

I knelt down and gently scooped up the still-warm, soft body of the small fox as Lord Rufin swept from the room. My tears froze in my eyes and I smiled. I needed to work quickly.

#

Our land is imbued with powerful magic. Everything serves a unique purpose, if you know how to use it.

With a speed born of desperation, I fashioned the cloak. I constructed it of fur, a bit from every animal in the kingdom. My heart broke as I sifted through the remains of the creatures, and I blessed each of them for their gift to me. I harnessed the powerful combination of magical properties and wove them together to suit my need. The cloak would conceal my identity, and give me the appearance of anyone I chose. There would be no need to disguise my face with ashes, or steal the apparel of a servant. I could be anyone.

I worked feverishly as dawn broke, and the morning light illuminated the ravaged, bloody scene of my chamber. Three of the woodland creatures held a walnut in their cheeks, and I took each of these and spelled their interiors to expand. Holding my breath, I fed the fabric of the golden gown into the spelled walnut, gently, until it was completely concealed within. I heard footsteps in the corridor, and crammed the others into their shells hastily.

Someone tapped gently on my door. I stuffed the walnuts into my pocket and flung the cloak over myself. The handle began to turn. I ran to my dressing table and scooped up my mother’s ring: the emerald that my father gave her as a wedding gift before his madness took him.

The door swung open. A maid entered, followed closely by Lord Rufin. I closed my eyes, and envisioned another of my lady’s maids, then opened them again.

“Where is she?” Rufin asked, glancing at me.

I bobbed a curtsy.

“She said she fancied a walk in the garden before breakfast, my lord,” I answered.

“Did she, indeed,” Lord Rufin sneered. “Clean this up, you two.” He strode out of the room.

The other maid glanced at me, then looked around the room. “What was she doing in here?” she asked in disgust.

“I’ll fetch a bucket,” I said.

#

It took me no time at all to leave the castle grounds. The cloak allowed me to appear as a servant or guard to every person I passed. Once I reached the gates into the city, I assumed the form of an old beggar woman, and hurried, unnoticed, through the streets.

It took me the rest of the day to reach the edge of the city. Guards barreled about in a panic, which likely signified that my flight had been discovered. They jostled me a few times in their haste, but were no threat to me.

I managed to make my way out of the city and into a neighboring village. I grew weak from the journey, and I knew that I had drained much of my magic while making the cloak. I needed rest to restore it.

I found work at a few rich homes and inns, scrubbing and sweeping the hearths for meager wages. Eventually, I felt my magic returning, but at an achingly slow pace. I kept it in reserve, rather than using it to deflect the innkeepers’ backhands, or the cooks’ smacks, or to heal the sores that opened on my fingers as I scrubbed the skin clean off them. I grew heartily tired of this, but over time my strength and magic were nearly restored. I hoped to return home someday when my power had grown, to take up my great-grandmother’s work and save others from the evil that ruled my kingdom.

The shouts of a town crier, who tore through the streets shrieking the news, froze my blood and changed my plans. My king was dead.

I fell to the cold ground, heedless of the shouts around me, and grieved for my father, for he was never my enemy. I barely knew the poor man, and he thought I was my mother. I knew that I was not free. If his advisors ever found me, they would kill me quietly.

“The princess, too! Took her own life, she did!” the crier shouted. “No blood heir remaining!”

The next king would be chosen via tournament. Of course, I knew he’d already been selected – groomed, or ensorcelled, doubtless, to be the malleable toy of the lords. The tournament would be held immediately, three days of fighting, accompanied by a masquerade ball each night. There would be no time of mourning for my father, or for me.

My magic was nearly at full strength, fuller now for all that I’d endured. I knew what I needed to do.

I left the village in the night and made my way back through the anxious city to my father’s castle. To my castle. I constructed a tent alongside those of the many travelers who arrived for the event.

The first ball was held the night before the tournament. With my heart pounding and fingers trembling, I took my golden dress out of its walnut shell, and shook it out. It was as bright as the sun. I washed my face and shining hair, and fashioned a mask out of golden wheat and violets.

The ballroom was bright and loud with revelry, and I danced merrily, keeping far away from the lords, lest they recognize my gown. I found the chosen champion easily, a strapping, young beast of a man. I sensed the mark of sorcery upon him, and knew that he was bewitched to do as he was bidden – probably to win at any cost. Magic radiated from the sword at his hip, as well. Nevertheless, his good nature shone through when I danced with him, and he seemed awfully sorry to see me leave.

The tournament would begin at dawn, but I had too much work to do to sleep. Throughout the night, I worked enchantments over my glittering gown, until it was not a gown at all. I was ready when the time came.

I retrieved my own horse from the stables, and rode onto the jousting field when my name was called. I kept my visor down, and used a name I created for myself: The Knight of the Sun, Moon, and Stars. Golden armor might be a bit ostentatious, but it would have to do.

Using every speck of magical fury that I could access, to make up for my lack of experience, I managed to unseat enough knights to advance to the next day’s melee round. The spectators seemed to enjoy the golden knight, for their cries grew louder with each victory I won.

I swirled my animal skin cloak over my shoulders the moment I rode off the field, and slipped away, unrecognized, from the seething crowd and harried guards.

I wore my silver gown to the ball that night. The crowd was abuzz with gossip of the day’s champion, and I knew I must be careful not to be noticed. The young man I met the night before was swift to find me. I adjusted my grass and snowbell-woven mask nervously, but could not suppress a smile at his enthusiasm. He said his name was Corin, and he made no mention of the many knights he himself unseated. I sensed a heavier magic upon him than before, and knew that I would have to fight even harder tomorrow.

I worked through the night yet again. I was delighted with the liquid magic that emanated from the silver in my gown, and the armor I created was truly striking to behold.

The next day was bright and heaving with energy, and the melee was terrifying. It was every knight for himself as we attempted to unseat one another in a frenzied battle of clubs. The crowd began to chant my title. I saw Corin, the lord’s champion, beating knights down with fervor. There was a glazed sort of confusion in his eyes, and he fought like a man possessed. In the end, he and I were among the final five to make it through the round. I glanced through my visor at the lords, high in their canopied box, and saw that they were infuriated that I, the crowd’s favorite, had advanced. I feared for their champion.

 I slept through the day, but was still exhausted by nightfall. I put on my gown of starlight and stood on the hillside outside the castle. As the heavens shone down over me, I felt the very light of the star-threads in my gown soaking into me, feeding my magic and renewing my strength. With renewed purpose, I ran down the hill and strode into the ballroom.

Corin found me immediately, and begged for a dance. I clasped his hand, and felt the hot fever of heavy enchantment over him. The lords, so desperate for their champion to succeed, might just kill him in the process. I would have to be his fairy godmother, as well as my own.

“Sit with me?” he asked hopefully as the banquet was laid out. I noted the eagle eye of Lord Rufin upon me, but I sat. I felt the lord’s gaze, and a buzzing filled my ears, and my head began to pound as he directed a silent enchantment at me. I was certain, then, that he was the one holding Corin captive to his sorcery. I whispered fiercely over my mother’s emerald ring, and left my seat, approaching Lord Rufin. His mouth dropped open as I leaned in close.

Your sins will find you, murderer,” I hissed into his face. His concentration faltered, and the buzzing in my ears stopped. While his pale eyes were on mine, I dropped my ring into his soup.

That night, I stole a sword from one of the defeated knights’ tents, and infused it with a measure of magic. I wondered if it would be enough when I faced Corin. His spelled sword and bewitched state could mean the death of me, and him, if the enchantment did not break soon. Again, I worked feverishly through the night. The starlight proved to be a more rebellious material, but finally, as dawn lifted the night away, my shimmering armor was complete. I steadied myself, and approached the combat grounds.

A larger crowd than ever before teemed around the field, from neighboring kingdoms as well as my own. There were two knights I needed to defeat before I faced Corin. I battled fiercely in the blazing sun, and emerged the victor, to the raucous joy of my people. I fought back tears as their love washed over me.

No knights remained except for Corin. I glanced up at Rufin, white and still as a statue in his box. I took a deep breath as Corin faced me. He charged suddenly, ferociously, his eyes gleaming beneath his visor. I raised my sword, and met his in a ground-shuddering clash that vibrated painfully through my bones. As violently as he’d attacked, he wheeled back, and flung his helmet to the ground, shaking his head. He threw his sword at my feet.

“I don’t want to be king,” he ground out. I sensed the sorcery draining out of him.

He looked up at the lords in fury, and I followed his gaze. Lord Rufin, his body and magic now clearly weakened from the poisonous spell on my ring, stood and tottered forward, hands outstretched. He swayed, and toppled from the balcony of the scaffolding.

His weak-chinned comrades stared at the broken body in fear as the crowd began to rustle. I took a deep breath, and pulled off my helmet. My hair spilled out over my starlight armor. The silence throughout the grounds felt full and ominous.

Corin’s face split into a grin, and he clasped my hand, then raised my sword arm up over my head. We faced the crowd. They were silent as the wind howled around me. Then a courtier stood up and shouted, “It’s the princess! She’s alive!”

The silence broke like the rushing of a waterfall crashing over a boulder. “Long live the queen! Long live the queen!” my people bellowed, rushing into the ring to embrace me. I looked up into the box and saw that the remaining lords were restrained by the firm grasp of the guards, who saluted me.

My heart felt full to bursting as my people knelt and cheered. They welcomed me home, and I would look after them, always.



Angie received a B.A. in English Literature from Spring Arbor University, and has been writing for her own enjoyment for many years. She has been passionate about fairy tales in their various forms for as long as she can remember.
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Hide, By Lissa Sloan

Every girl wants to be chaste
Or is it chased?
Either way, I ran from you
Taking only what I could carry in a nutshell

I thought I knew about men
With their twinkling eyes
Protective arms
And strong shoulders for riding on

But I was a child
I did not know

About chins rough with stubble
Eager hands
And ardent whispers, hot in my ear

I suppose you only want what’s underneath 
To get to the meat of it
Of me

So I ran 
I ran from you and I hid
So deep within
So deep beneath
Ermine and hare and mink
Fox and bear and wolf
Sun and moon and stars
Cloaked in a garment so impossible
Not even you will know me

Waiting, watching, I curl around my secrets
Crouched in a hollow
Under the stairs
Outside your door

Where the sound of your boot
The touch of your hand
The scent of your skin
Whisper in my blood
That you are not the man I thought

Would you be the one
To look beneath the furs and dirt 
the glitter and gold 
the skin and bone
And get to the heart of the matter?

And what would I find
Hidden inside your layers
Of courtly manners
And animal instinct
If I only dared to look?

They say the way to a man’s heart
Is through his stomach
And I know what you like

The secret ingredient is love
Or salt
Or a circle of gold
Buried treasure in a spoon

Do you know me now?

If you’re bold enough to uncover me
Golden hair and rough skin and everything underneath
To see me as I am


Then I will claim my prize

Lissa Sloan's poems and short stories are published in Enchanted ConversationNiteblade Magazine, Krampusnacht: Twelve Nights of Krampus, and Frozen Fairy Tales.  “Death in Winter,” Lissa's contribution to Frozen Fairy Tales, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  Visit her online at her website, lissasloan.com, or on twitter: @LissaSloan.
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Worth the Wait, By Jeana Jorgensen



I didn’t always flinch at kindness
but now a stray hand at my elbow
to steady me while carrying trays
crumples me.

The first year after I left,
I was only good for washing dishes,
leaving my fur matted with water and lye
while my eyes stared unseeing.

There is no story to remember:
here I am only a scared animal
that does as it is told
with quickly-working sooty fingers.

The second year after I left,
something inside me unfurled.
Whatever my father reached inside me and broke
stirred just a little.

Pastry blossomed under my fingers
transforming into sweet buttery shapes
with only a few stray hairs
and people noticed.

The third year after I left,
the cook stopped scolding me
the maids stopped teasing me
and if the prince noticed, I didn’t.

I wove a beautiful thing
and only later knew it a net,
too absorbed by suds and sobs
that came on suddenly.

The fourth year I could breathe again,
wear the dresses without shuddering,
touch and be touched without freezing,
and I noticed the prince noticing me.

There is no story, but this is the truth:
a powerful king takes what he wants,
a mourning daughter yields,
a wise prince waits.

No godmother aided my flight.
I asked for the dresses on my own.
I did not escape unscathed.
But I did not let him attend my wedding.

It took five full years until I was ready
to drop my ring in the prince’s cake batter
and reenter society on my own terms.
He’s worth the wait; so, I learned, am I.


Jeana Jorgensen holds a PhD in folklore from Indiana University. She currently teaches folklore, anthropology, and gender studies at a Midwestern liberal arts college, while both publishing academic research and blogging about folklore topics, feminism, and sex education. She directs a dance troupe, Indy Tribal, and her poetry has appeared in Stone Telling and Mirror Dance. Her personal essay about divorce was published in Split: true stories about the end of marriage and what happens next. She can be found on Twitter as @foxyfolklorist and her blog is located at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/foxyfolklorist/.
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Courage's Lament, By Cara L. McKee


Oh father, you who helped to give me life
and with me truly mourned my mother's death,

you've watched me grow but now your gaze has changed
and fills my fragile form with newfound dread.

Oh father, you have haloed me in heaven
and yet you cannot see the worth of me.

Oh father, you have lustered me in moon
yet won't reflect upon your monstrous will.

Oh father, you have splendored me in sun
that I would set, burning my form away.

You cannot see my heart within my form
and would possess me, hoard me to yourself.

Oh father, all you see is what you want
and not what I've become, nor what we had.

Oh father, I would beg you let me go
for I fear what you may do to your soul

which is already shadowed and so I
shall hide my light, shall flee, dressed in the drab

of donkey skin, and yet still not escape
for all the world is filled with foolish men

who wish to capture women's fragile light
all heedless of the person there within.

I cannot help but glow and grow and change
my weakness is no offering to claim

and so I claim myself to be my own,
although the path alone be high and hard.

Oh father, you've adorned me but forgot
I am a person and I need a name

so as I claim myself I choose my own
and I choose Courage, and choose to be gone.

For I thank you who helped to give me life
but Courage now will glow and grow alone.




Born in Yorkshire, Cara L. McKee now lives in Largs on the West Coast of Scotland with her young family and two kittens. She has recently had poems published in Enchanted ConversationShe Might BePeacock Journal, and other places, she'll have another in the next edition of Interpreter's House. She blogs at caralmckee.blogspot.co.ukCara loves reading (currently Runaway by Alice Munro), and is working on a modern retelling of the Tam Linn fairy tale. She wishes she was better at drawing.
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Boyskin, By Dusty Thorne



Long ago, in a golden palace atop a tall mountain, there lived a dangerous king and his captive queen, a woman whose beauty had so enticed the king upon their first meeting that he had conquered her entire village, just to possess her. He had married her almost immediately, and within a year, she had become pregnant with the king’s child, henceforth delivering a daughter on the night of the harvest moon.

Not all was well, however. As the queen had never wished to be taken from her home, she deeply resented the king for all he had done to her, though she never felt brave enough to say so to him. Instead, the queen focused on helping their daughter to grow up in the golden palace as well as she could, often by schooling her to understand and predict the king’s mercurial moods in order to avoid confrontations with him. Meanwhile, her daughter befriended many of the servants in the king’s palace, as she was not permitted to venture far beyond the palace, nor down the side of the mountain, and so she often grew bored and craved the company of others.

Eventually, when the princess was hardly a teenager, the queen was struck by a terrible illness, which drained the strength from her body and made her quite feeble, hardly able to even hold up her head. For her daughter’s sake, the queen fought the illness for nearly a year, but then, realizing one cold night in December that she was losing her battle with death's approach, the queen began to greatly fear that another woman might soon suffer the same fate that both the queen and her village had suffered: to be taken over by the king, without having any say in the matter.

Shaken by this thought, the queen called for the king and then begged him to only remarry if he were to someday find a woman who was as beautiful as the queen herself was, for despite her illness, she knew the king still believed her to be beautiful, and so she hoped he could not so easily replace her.

However, much to the queen’s surprise, the king agreed without complaint to her request, and then, shortly after the queen’s death, he began in earnest his search for a suitable replacement to drape across his arm.

Though the king’s attention did not at first turn towards his daughter, it became clear over a number of weeks that there were no other women in his kingdom who could so closely match the beauty of his former queen. Only the princess was as beautiful as his queen had been, and so, to fulfill both the promise he had made to his wife, as well as his own desire to possess the most beautiful woman in the kingdom, the king came to his daughter and proposed a marriage to her.

This crude and unwanted question shocked the grieving princess so greatly that she at first could not comprehend what her father had asked of her. Running far away to pretend she had not heard him, the princess went to seek guidance from the palace’s resident fortune-teller.

“This, I sadly foresaw,” the elderly woman softly told the princess, as they sat on opposite sides of the iron bars that surrounded the fortune-teller’s prison cell, where the fortune-teller was kept when her gift of foresight was not being used to assist the king in conquering more lands. On the elderly woman’s wrists were shackles so thick they nearly hid the traditional tattoos of her tribe, from which the king had stolen her decades before.

“But there is a way around it, still,” the fortune-teller continued, and then told the princess to request from her father, as a condition of marriage, the commissioning of a royal portrait, which was to be life-sized and painted by the most skilled painter in the land, a portrait artist whose paintings could appear almost as true – if not more true – than life itself. The artist was to use paints from every known country, and he must clearly display both the king and the princess on the canvas as members of the royal family.

Though the princess was unsure how a painting would help her to avoid the unimaginable horror of marrying her father, she brought the request to him all the same, to which he agreed. The royal portrait took nearly a week to gather the materials for, and then weeks more after that to make it. As the artist her father had snatched up from a neighboring town carefully copied every small detail of the king’s face onto his canvas with a narrow, horsehair brush, the princess sat in her bedroom and began to devise a plan of her own.

That night, the princess asked her father if, when it was her turn to pose for the portrait artist, she could be allowed the additional security of a fully-armored knight beside her, preferably one who would obey only her commands. She also requested a wig be made for her out of the softest, shiniest hair possible, and a set of hairpins emblazoned with the royal seal to hold it in place so that she could look her best in her royal portrait.

Seeing the logic behind these requests, the king agreed, and when it was the princess’ turn to sit before the artist and have her half of the royal portrait painted, she did so with a perfectly styled wig on her head. Meanwhile, a knight dressed in silver armor and wearing a helmet with a long, silky red feather atop it stood beside her. To break up the time, the princess would speak to both the knight and the artist as her portrait was being painted, and as the days passed, she built up camaraderie with them both. She learned, for example, that the artist worried greatly for his wife, who had been left behind in his fishing village when the king had brought him here without offering any warnings, and that the knight in silver armor possessed a deep, inner sadness, despite his relative youth.

When the princess asked both men one day if they thought her marriage would be as loving as the marriage between the artist and his wife was, their answering silence told her all she needed to know about what they thought about a man who wanted to marry his own daughter, no matter how wealthy or powerful that man may be.

This silence gave the princess courage.

A week later, while standing in the dew-covered rose garden where the final touches of paint were being applied to her royal portrait, the princess asked the knight and the artist if they would help her to escape her marriage to the king. At first, both men hesitated, and the princess’ heart plummeted into her stomach, horror filling her at the thought that perhaps she had made a fatal miscalculation, and that she would not be able to escape her father’s attempt to produce a male heir with her after all.

A moment later, however, the artist dropped his paintbrush into its little glass jar of colored water, swished it around to clean it, and then said, “My wife and I have a daughter.”

Seconds after this declaration, the knight removed his helmet and placed it over the princess’ head, thus covering up the wig she had been using to hide how she had shaved her head bare.

In that moment, the princess had nearly fainted from relief, so glad to have people willing to stand beside her, but she still had one more task to accomplish before attempting to escape, and so that very night, she hid her body entirely within the knight’s silver armor and visited the prison cell of the palace fortune-teller. Standing against the iron bars separating them, the princess asked the old woman if the attempt to escape from her father would be successful, but the fortune-teller did not answer her. Rather, the fortune-teller only sat there in her rattling chains and ragged dress, watching with a small smile as the princess in her silver armor took the metal hairpins from her wig and used them to pick the lock of the fortune-teller’s cell.
                                                                                 
Once the door was open and the shackles had been unbound from the fortune-teller’s wrists, the princess removed her wig and then placed it over the fortune-teller’s much lighter, nearly white hair to help hide the color of it. Removing the wig allowed the princess’ own bald head and oil-painted, false beard stubble to momentarily reflect the firelight of the torches on the basement walls, before the princess pulled down the visor of her helmet and stood up from the floor.

It is not known if it was at this moment that the fortune-teller saw a vision that the princess would someday become a powerful leader in the fight against her father’s rulership, or if the fortune-teller only hoped for this, but when the princess, disguised as a male knight, snuck out into the dark, moonlit forest outside of the palace where she had spent nearly her entire life, the fortune-teller was quick to follow her.

Meeting the artist and the knight at the edge of the forest that surrounded the palace, the princess and the fortune-teller dove into the shadows, having no light to guide them, but hoping they could still find their way.
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Dishwater Dreaming, By Debby Zigenis-Lowery



Dare I hope?
Steaming water reddens my hands,
Skin once white as apple blossoms
And smooth as velvet petals.

The prince has asked for a cake baked by me…
Did he see?
How could he see
Beyond this stinking
Pelt
I wear?

Dare I hope
He has seen beneath this shaggy skin?
I rinse a heavy pewter cup,
Take up the next.

Once I caught the eye of a king.
I shudder.
How the thorns and branches of the wood
Tore at my face and hands
As I fled
My own
Father.

But this time it is a prince,
Young, winsome.
I rinse the last cup,
Dry them all quickly with
The rough,
Homespun
Cloth.

I shall sneak into the orchard.
Aye, when I am done.
The apple trees are blooming,
Their petals will be just the thing
To transform these work-worn hands
To the hands of a queen.

Debby Zigenis-Lowery is a reteller of folktales, a historical fantasy novelist, and a poet. You can find her blogging at https://literatelives.wordpress.com/ or indulging in her favorite addiction at https://www.pinterest.com/debbyzig/.


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The Swamp King, By Laura Diaz de Arce



Once there was a rickety, old house between a large orange grove and an ancient hidden swamp. It was a small cottage that sat on stilts to account for the times the nearby river flooded. It always seemed a little unsteady, and if a hard storm came, the walls would creak and the house would sway this way and that. The people who lived inside could live and die by the strength of the storm, always fearing that a harsh one would blow them over.

This cottage sat next to an orange grove, when the wind blew west the air would smell like sweet fresh citrus. But when the wind blew east, it would be the hot, moss-ridden breeze of untamed wet air and decay. The swamp had a fierce reputation for the people who lived near it. It was filled with poisonous snakes, alligators, and predators of all kinds. If the rain came there was no safety from the climbing waters. More than one hunter had disappeared in that swamp looking for game, and search parties were often too afraid to go near. They said that in that swamp was a cursed King, who reigned over the wilderness and kept people at bay. That this Swamp King traded in fearsome and unruly magic that ran amok in and around the swamp.

In that rotting little cottage lived Silvia and her step-father. While most fathers love their daughters, and most daughters love them back, Silvia and her step-father carried no such affection. Silvia's father was as cruel to Silvia as he had been to her mother when she was alive. When Silvia's mother had finally dared to try to leave, promising Silvia that she would come back to her, she was found frozen by a mysterious spell a mile away from the cottage. In her worst nightmares, Silvia still remembered her mother's horrified face behind that strange block of ice that refused to melt in the heat of summer. Silvia desperately wanted to escape herself, but she feared she'd be frozen as well, or worse. That fear kept her imprisoned to her step-father, frightened of the beasts and wild magic that lay out there.

Until one day that fear could no longer keep her safe from the ever-lingering gaze of him. In that years since her mother had passed, Silvia had grown into a beautiful young woman. She had delicate long limbs like the roots of a mangrove and lips as red as a scarlet snake's collar. Her dark hair trailed behind her like as the leaves of a willow as she swept and did the cleaning. Silvia had a habit of sneaking off and climbing up the orange trees like a spider to gorge herself on the fresh sweet fruit. One day, with the juice of the fruit on her chin, while the wind blew east, Silvia's step-father grabbed her wrist, looked her in the eye and said, “You know, you look a lot like your mother when we met.”

That night under the large, low-hanging full-moon, Silvia decided that she needed to get away. Despite her overwhelming fear of rogue curses or fearsome creatures, she crept out of the cottage and gazed at the shadowed lands. If she went east into the orange grove, she could easily be caught by her wicked step-father. In the west, the swamp's moonlit pine trees beckoned. Those branches seemed to call to her while they swayed in the night-summer breeze. 

Silvia set out into that vast swamp, less afraid of the poisonous critters than of the shadow of her step-father. She walked for miles, avoiding snakes and dangerous footpaths. Every few steps she heard a new and more frightening noise, like the lingering hoot of an owl or call of a turkey vulture. Vines hung down low, seemingly clawing at her in the dark. She waded in the shallow waters, saw grass cutting at her sun-tanned skin, making a million little incisions. At last, mosquito bitten and exhausted, she paused before the early morning light in the cradle of a cypress tree. 

When she awoke it was to a low sound like that of a bullfrog. But it was not a harmless amphibian. Instead, staring at her from a few feet way on the water was the largest gator Silvia had ever seen. She looked around as the creature swam closer and closer, its tail lapping the water, sending currents to the shore of the small lake. Silvia wanted to get up, she wanted to run but something in the gaze of that gator kept her fixed in place. The knees of the cypress, which last night cocooned her in a comforting embrace, now acted like a prison. The gator made its way to shore and climbed up to the nook where Silvia cowered. He opened his massive jaws, jaws that could swallow Silvia whole and said:

“What are you doing in my kingdom girl?” The gator's voice was a deep croak.

“I was running away from my stepfather, who wants me to take my mother's place," Silvia replied, suddenly regretting her decision to run.

“And so you ran into the swamp, where my subjects can eat you up and use your bones like toothpicks.” When the gator closed its maw, she could see he had milky-white, blue human eyes and along the top of his head were jagged lumps of scar tissue that looked like a rough crown. She had thought the tale of the Swamp King a fantasy, but now she had come face to face with that very legend.

“I had nowhere else to go. Are you going to eat me?”

“You've entered my home during a full moon, uninvited. Our laws are clear that you are fair game. How lucky for you that I am a kind King and that I just ate.”

“Thank you your highness,” Silvia said, dazed for a moment. “How do I repay this kindness?”

“A human, wishes to grant me a favor then?”

“Yes,” she said, not knowing what exactly she could do for the King. 

“What is your deepest wish?”

Silvia did not even need to think, “I want my father gone.”

The Alligator thought silently for a moment. Then he slammed his tail one, two, three times until two small ibises came to chirp in his ear. The ibises then bowed low to the Swamp King and flew off. He thought a moment longer, reading something invisible in Silvia and then said “I can give you my skin to use, to destroy your father if you would grant me a favor.”

Silvia took a second to consider the Swamp King's proposal. She wanted to be free of her step-father but she was wary of the kind of bargain a fearsome Swamp King would make. In the end, nothing seemed worse than the possibility of being caught and dragged home to that evil man. “What is the favor?”

“That will happen after I give you my end of the bargain.”

Silvia took the risk with a nod of her head.

The Swamp King let out a roar that shook the very ground and shed his skin. The Swamp King's skin became a large greenish and brown spotted coat. In his place was an old man, with a white beard that fell to the ground. He had an ancient, rusted crown atop his head and he sat down in the crux of the cypress after handing over his skin. The Swamp King looked up at her and said, “To use my skin, you must put on the coat after the moon comes up. And you must return to me before the light comes. If you do not return in time the Swamp will make its displeasure known.”

Silvia agreed and then turned and marched east to the little cottage. It was sunset when she reached her home. Her father was nowhere to be seen, so she hid behind a ripe orange tree and waited. When the sun finally set and the large moon climbed over the tree tops Silvia shouldered the coat. For a moment, nothing happened. Then she began to feel a great tingling all over her body. She looked down at her hands, and she no longer had them, but lethal claws. She went into the cabin to find it empty. Her massive footsteps made the stilts of the cottage creak under the pressure. Looking into the mirror she did not see the gator she expected, but something beastly in-between. She had the skin and maw of a gator, but the stature of a great black bear. Silvia had become a grand, powerful monster and she no longer feared seeing her stepfather.

Silvia's stepfather came home well past the stroke of midnight. In the dark, Silvia could see his form by the light of the moon. He seemed smaller than she remembered, and for a moment she almost felt pity. But then she recalled how he had dragged her away while she had screamed, begged and cried from the frozen corpse of her mother. She took her massive tail and swung it, hitting the lecher straight in the stomach and knocking him over before his eyes had even adjusted to the darkness. He screamed and tried to hit Silvia the beast with his fist, but she was too fast and cut off his hand with a single swipe of a claw. She saw the fear in his eyes, and the beast in her smiled a crocodile's smile. Silvia wasted no time chomping him in half and tearing him apart. She dragged what was left of his body to the orange grove and buried it beneath a fallow tree. 

But it was getting light and Silvia remembered her promise to the Swam King. She began to run, fearing she would be too late. As her heart quickened she started to feel incredibly light, and she slowly realized that she was no longer running but flying. The Swamp King's coat had turned her into a grand heron and she made it to the King just moments before sunrise. 

As she removed the coat, she paused, wishing to keep it. She had never felt such power or safety as she had in the disguise. It allowed her to be what she needed to be – what she wanted to be. Then the Swamp King took the feathered coat in his crooked hand and looked up at Silvia.

“Are you ready to make up your end of the bargain?”

She looked at the old man, whose limbs twisted and creaked, and she nodded.

“You must break this spell that keeps me here. I have been the ruler of this swamp for three hundred years, and now I am old and tired and no longer wish to be king. I hope to rest here forever. But you must willingly take that burden and that power.”

Silvia looked at this frail, old man whose flesh had grizzled from age. She thought about how she may never see another person again, forever tied to a swamp. Then she also remembered the freedom she felt in flight, and the power she'd felt in her monstrous form. Her decision was clear. Silvia held out her hand and the old King handed her his crown. In her hands, it became a wreath of orchids. With that, Silvia became the Queen of the Swamp.

It time, that little cottage by the orange grove was overrun with ivy and disappeared into the nature surrounding it. But now the swamp has a new reputation. When the wind blows east, it has the sent of magnolia and jasmine. They say that the Swamp Queen is loved and respected by all the swamp creatures, from the tiniest gnat to the spoonbill, to the panther. Even the humans nearby look upon that swamp differently. They say that the pure-hearted, if they are brave, can cross the swamp in peace. If they are in trouble, they can even ask the Swamp Queen for a favor. But villains who trespass may find themselves between the jaws of a gator. 

They say that you should never eat an orange from that grove on the full moon, for those oranges can sometimes bleed.  


Laura is a native South Florida author with a love of the fantastic. You can find her on Twitter @QuetaAuthor and @SmokingMirrorP 

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