Editor's note: Aliza's dark, skillfully-told take on "The Blue Light" is a terrific example of the kind of twists I like to see when an old fairy tale is being excavated for new life, retold. Her story exemplifies the kind of ideas I set forth in Beyond the Glass Slipper. For these reasons, her story was chosen as the grand prize winner of the BtGS contest. As you can tell by the four previous winners, she had very stiff competition!
y husband the king is in a deep slumber. I know he will not wake, but I still cannot stop myself from shaking as I get out of bed. What if the dose isn't strong enough, or if he hasn't drunken enough of the wine? I move slowly and carefully, making sure to take shallow breaths and keep an eye on him at all moments. The bedchamber is still. I creep to the other side of the bed until I am standing over him. I can just make out the edge of the pipe sticking out from under his pillow in the dim moonlight. My hand creeps slowly towards it as I send a silent pray to the heavens. This has to work. I do not know what I will do if it does not. My delicate fingers are perfect for the job. They move towards the pillow and slide under it, feeling for the smooth wood and grasping it tightly. My breath catches as he grunts and rolls over to face me, and for a moment I am sure I see his eyes open. But the moment passes, the movement was in sleep and a moment later I pull the pipe out and it is mine.
I do not even give myself time to sigh in relief. I check the pipe and see the brown cloth hiding the blue light. Caution forgotten, I turn and run, throwing the door open before me and running through the deserted castle hallways until I reach my old room, the one place I still feel safe. I know this should not be the case, seeing this is the room I was first taken from to serve my husband in the dead of night, but I still find comfort in it and in the memories it holds. I lock the door behind me and go over to my bed, my knees weak from relief. I have succeeded. Hands shaking, I undo the bundle that holds the blue light and use it to light the pipe. I wait for the wisp of smoke and the dwarf to appear, as I know must happen. I had seen it happen many times when my husband lit the pipe.
But nothing happens. Now I start to panic. I try to light it again, clutching the pipe tightly, trying to will it to work. When it does not, I feel the tears coming. Why isn't it working? I bite my lip tightly in an effort to hold the tears in and take the blue light between my hands. I hold it tightly, begging it to work, begging the dwarf to show itself. I am about to light the pipe again one final time when I notice the light has grown brighter, and it is starting to get hot. I drop it with a start and it rolls on the floor. A moment later, the black dwarf is standing where empty air stood before. I hurriedly wipe the tears off my face. The black dwarf's eyes find mine, and a smile twists his lips.
"I was wondering when I would be serving you, my lady. You took your time. I was starting to think you would not have the courage to steal the blue light,” the dwarf says, his black eyes glinting.
"Many have tried and failed,” I manage to find my voice and say, a shiver running through me at the thought that he had been expecting me.
"That is true. They failed for the very simple reason that they would have no use for the blue light, not truly. You, however, will make good use of my help. How can I be of service, my lady?” the dwarf asks, bowing low.
I straighten up, trying not to let his words unnerve me. I know exactly what I want of him. I had many years to dream about all the things I would ask of him.
"I wish you to return my father from the grave,” I say.
The dwarf eyes me sharply.
"My magic is not powerful enough for that,” the dwarf sounds almost disappointed. “If that is all you wish from me, do yourself a favor and return me to my former master before he finds what you have done and punishes you.”
"It is not. I have more requests,” I had not thought my first would be granted, but I had to try. I had steeled myself for the disappointment, but still I feel as though a hand is clenched over my heart. I use the feeling to give me strength.
"Shackle my husband, the king, and place him in the deepest and darkest dungeon in this castle,” I order.
The dwarf's black eyes pierce mine and I am about to look away when he nods shortly. In a moment he is gone and soon he appears again.
"It is done.”
"Now bring me to him so I may speak with him.”
“If that is your wish.”
I allow myself a moment of satisfaction at the sight. My husband, the king, chained to a dank wall, sitting on a damp cold floor as the rats scuttle om the side. He is furious. His eyes narrow when he sees me, and he tries to stand, but the chains hold him down.
"You,” he spits, the word filled with venom. “I should have known you would betray me, just as your father had.”
I shake, this time with anger. “My father never betrayed you. He was a good and just ruler and he had given you all you wanted, but you still felt the need to-” the words chokes in my throat.
"To what? To kill him? The old man deserved what he got. After all he did to me I wasn't going to wait patiently for him to die before I got the throne,” my husband snarls, the chains clashing around as he struggles against them.
"My father did nothing to you,” I say. I didn't mean to get into this argument. We had fought it many times before. It often ended with me on the floor and a hand mark across my cheek, but not this time. This time he has to listen to what I have to say so for once I will listen to what he says.
"Nothing is exactly what he did. I served him faithfully for many years. I fought his wars and risked my life and all I got in return was nothing.”
"And what of the kingdom? What of its people? Your people? Have they wronged you thus as well, that you let them starve and ignore their pain as you sit up here with your gold and feasts?” I reply, my voice getting stronger with every word.
"None helped me when I was in need,” my husband says. His tone shifts to a lighter one, “So, dear wife, what do you plan to do now that you are the master of the blue light?”
I take a deep breath, “I plan to right your wrongs.”
He chuckles softly, “what do you think I planned to do when I first lit that pipe? You seem to despise me so, dear wife, and yet you will become just like me. The blue light allows only one course of action.”
"And what is that?” I demand, almost scornfully.
"Vengeance,” he whispers, the word cutting me like a knife. “The dwarf will serve you until you repay anyone who has ever done you wrong, and then he will move to the next poor soul and give them the chance to do the same,” a twisted smile curls his lips, “it seems you were suffering more than I thought, dear wife.”
"Not as much as you will,” I say, and my hand reaches under my gown and grasps the blue light tightly where it is hidden, until the black dwarf appears.
"What will you have me do, my lady?” he asks, and I know he is referring to my husband.
"Make him pay for all he has done,” I say, my voice as cold as it can go.
"You must be more specific. Do you wish him dead? Tortured?”
Before I can answer, my husband says, “That's how it starts, isn't it? A witch tricked me into working until I was desperate enough to get the blue light for her and then she threw me down the well to rot, so I sent her down the same well and stole all her treasures. An eye for an eye. Seems so innocent at first, does it not?”
Death or torture seems too cruel, even for him. Surely there has to be some other way I can repay him for the years of misery, the nights full of pain and fear, the death of my father, the ruin of my kingdom ... or perhaps anything else would be too kind.
"What do you wish, my lady?” the dwarf asks, his voice soft and enticing, telling me all options are open. I can do as I please and I have every right to do it, and no one can judge me for anything.
"After you are done with me, what will you do? Believe me, once you start you will never be satisfied. You will not stop until you have everything, and still you will need more. This is the nature or revenge. Hurting me will not bring your father back. It will not satisfy you either, no matter how much you think it will. It will not truly right any wrongs,” my husband says. He seems resigned to his chains now, and he leans against the wall, hollow and empty, the bitterness in his words making them ring true.
"What should I do with you then? Leave you be? I cannot do that and you know it,” I say, trying to fight my sudden uncertainty.
"Give me a reason for vengeance, then, and perhaps one day the blue light will find its way back to me, won't it, old friend?” he turns to the dwarf, a twisted smile on his lips.
The dwarf ignores him. “What do you wish me to do?”
The words bring to mind once again all I owe the man in chains before me. I know I cannot let it go. I owe my father and my kingdom their vengeance even if I can forgo myself that luxury.
I stand up straighter. The glinting light goes out of my husband's eyes. He knows me well enough to see I have come to a decision. The chains clatter together loudly.
"All you will achieve is a heart as black as mine now is. A heart as black as him,” he jerks his head in the direction of the dwarf.
But I know I have no choice.
"Kill him,” I say, “quickly.”
The dwarf looks disappointed, but he nods shortly.
I turn my back but do not leave. I will not ignore the consequences of my actions. It is over in a moment. I close my eyes tight at the cry that is quickly silenced. When I turn back to the dungeon cell, he is dead and the dwarf is gone. He looks peaceful in death, more peaceful than I have ever seen him in life. His quest is finally over. I close his blank eyes and mutter a prayer. Then, hiding the blue light once more under my dress, I turn to leave.
I go to the stables. It is dawn. I take a horse and ride out. I feel the blue light through my underclothes, its heat reaching to my skin. I find myself thinking of the servants who had shot dark looks at my weakness, the courtiers who had talked behind my back, the friends who had teased me in polite words when I was growing up, even the dogs that had never seemed to like me. I see all the things I can do to them. I ride on, refusing to look back, refusing to let the thoughts set. I ride until I reach a hut in the woods. There is no light in it, but I know it was the right one. I see the crumbling fence and the overgrown garden. I see the well. Peering down, I see the witch's bones at the bottom. The death that started it all.
Now I will end it.
I take the blue light out of my dress. It sticks to my fingers as I reach my hand over the well. The thoughts of revenge strengthen. My will wavers. I can be more than the ruling queen, I can be empress of the world, the world that had never once come to my aid. I can destroy all the servants who had heard my cries and had been too scared to help me.
I open my fingers and the blue light drops, down and down until it hits the soft mud with a heavy thud. There it shines, the light at the end of the tunnel for the most desperate souls. The light that makes everything around it seem even more black. I turn back and ride to the castle before I can try to retrieve it.
Aliza Faber is fairy-tale-obsessed eighteen year old. She has already been published once in EC, and she is trying to introduce herself and others to more fairy tales at taleaday.blogspot.com.