October 12, 2017

Throwback Thursday Tale - Those Who Came Before

The memory of a magical night that changed her fate is altered by the whispers of the ghostly woman from a portrait...

All Hallow's Eve is fast approaching, and during the month of October, EC is featuring stories and poems to celebrate this time of year.
This week's
THROWBACK THURSDAY TALE
"Those Who Came Before"
is an original poem from the EC story vaults by author Gerri Leen

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And now EC presents:

You wander the castle
Your husband lies sleeping
Or that’s what you tell yourself
You have not shared a room for some time
You can’t decide if you miss him
He stopped being a charming prince long ago
Your sons mutter as you poke
Your head in the doorway, the candle
Throwing strange shadows on the wall
The heir and the spare
That’s what the courtiers say
With knowing looks
As if doing your duty means the end of everything

You find your way, as you do most nights
To the slipper of glass
You haven’t seen your fairy godmother
Not since that night she made you more
Than a girl who slept in ashes
And brought you all of this
The slipper is glowing, catching the moon’s light
And the lamps in the main room
Their flickering flames
Lighting up the one who walks with you

“Have you nothing to say?” you ask
Your ghostly companion
“I have said my piece”
This is a woman you know only
From portraits
Your mother, your dead mother
A revenant who walks with you
But only recently
And you think you know why
“Is he with her now, Mother?”
“Do I have to say, my daughter?”

Your mother reaches for the slipper
And you cry out, your protest a form of fear
If the slipper breaks, all will be lost
Or so you still think
Even if you are queen
Even if you have born the prince-now-king
Strong sons
Still, his love for you is rooted in
The legend of your romance
He fell for you in the space of an evening
He tired of you far more slowly
But still, he tired of you

“She is very beautiful”
There. It is out. You have said it
Your husband’s lover is beautiful
“They always are”
Your mother leaves the slipper in peace
Her eyes are gentle and knowing
“Your father’s lover was no exception”
You close your eyes, hating to hear this
The beauty of your parent’s love sustained you
When all you had were cinders and rags

“What happened to Father’s woman?”
Your mother laughs, a loud cackle
Making you startle
“Why, she has been exiled, my love”
You close your eyes to yet another hard truth
“You called her stepmother, did you not?”
It makes you hate your stepmother more
But it makes you hate your father, too
You always blamed grief for her presence
In your life, in your mother’s house
She was such an unsuitable replacement
But he knew her, he knew her before

“What do I do?”
“You are queen. She is not. There is
Nothing to be done”
She nods at your slipper
Before your children, it was the
Most precious thing in your life
“Smash it, if you want
End the charade”
You reach out and touch the glass
Remember the way the orchestra sounded
The looks you got from the other girls
Looks you still get sometimes, if they aren’t
From court—aren’t in the know

“It’s still pretty”
You leave it and return to your wandering
“Watch your back,” your mother says
“I didn’t watch mine, witness the result”
She leans in, her expression ugly


“Even queens die of poison”


You think the king’s mistress would be
Better to your boys than your mother’s rival
Was to you
She is a sweet girl
She once was your friend
If queens even have those
But he will tire of her, too, and the next one
May not be so harmless

“I don’t know what poison smells like”
Your mother beckons you follow
The stillroom lies dark and peaceful
She points to various herbs and spices
And begins to detail what to watch for
How they smell and taste and feel
You wonder how long it will take
Before you ask her how to make a dose
Kings die, too, of poison
And some toxins leave no trace
This is not what you envisioned when
A pumpkin carried you to a ball
But you’re a mother now
A better one than the woman floating next to you
And you will protect your children
From the life you had to lead
No matter the cost

Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. In addition to being an avid reader and an at-times sporadic writer, she's passionate about horse racing (the racing part, not betting), tea, whiskey, handbags, and art. Her work has appeared in: Nature, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, Grievous Angel, Grimdark, and others, and she has edited several anthologies for independent presses. See more at http://www.gerrileen.com.  

Art by: Amanda Bergloff



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