November 29, 2020

Bonus Story: The Singing Wings, by Maxine Churchman


Editor’s note: I love how Maxine used the simple tone of fairy tale writing, while dealing with complex ideas and feelings about motherhood and childhood. And she has a very interesting take on wings! This bonus is an early holiday gift to readers from EC. (KW)

When the king declared his betrothal to the beautiful maiden from over the mountains, some were dubious of the match. However, all who witnessed her radiant smile and silken hair on the day of the wedding fell in love with her. There was much celebration in the land, and everyone eagerly awaited the news of a first-born child. As time went by, and no announcement was made, many spoke out against the queen and her lowly origins. Everywhere she went, she saw unhappy faces and shaking heads.

She took to walking alone in the Great Forest behind the castle grounds. One day she heard someone singing. Their beautiful song brought joy to her heart, so she followed the sound until she came to a shady glade next to a beck. An old woman, surrounded by birds and animals, was seated upon a large moss-covered rock in the centre of the clearing. It was her voice the queen had heard; it soared and fluttered, weaving sunlight and wonder throughout the glade and beyond.


The queen stepped out from the trees. Immediately, the birds and animals scattered and the old woman stopped singing.


“Good morning, grandmother,” she said. “Your song brought great joy to my broken heart.”


The old woman smiled and bade her sit a while to rest her feet.


The queen sat on a flat rock, next to the old woman, and the thick moss moulded itself to her form creating the most comfortable seat imaginable. She ran her hand over the soft cool surface. “I should gather up this moss to make a cushion for my throne.”


“It would soon dry out and crumble; this is where it belongs. Things should stay where they belong if they wish to thrive.”


These words stung the queen and she glared at the old woman. She wished she had stayed on the other side of the mountains and thought her subjects felt the same way, but none had been so bold as to say so. She stood to leave.


“Fear not my queen; you will have a baby soon. A very special baby.”


The queen was greatly troubled by the old woman’s prediction and hurried from the clearing before she could say more. There were old stories of a fairy who had been banished to the forest, many years ago, for trying to steal a royal baby. Could the old woman be that fairy? She told the king about her meeting and vowed never to enter the forest again.


A year later, the queen gave birth to a daughter. Everyone rejoiced and the celebrations went on for a whole month, but the queen worried about the old woman’s words. How would her daughter be special? Would she be safe? She had the princess guarded night and day.


When the princess turned one, the queen noticed strange growths on the child’s back. Each day they became more prominent until it was obvious she was growing wings. The queen called for the royal surgeon to remove them, but even his sharpest blade could not sever them.


The king was perplexed. “Does it really matter? She is still our daughter and we love her just as she is. Isn’t that all that counts?”


But the queen was distraught. “How can we keep our daughter safe if she can just fly away?”


“We could tie a silk string to her wrist so she could not fly far,” he suggested.


“Like a kite?” The Queen was outraged. “She will be called a freak and it will be my fault. Everyone will hate me again.”


The king didn’t like to see his wife so unhappy, so he sent his men to find the old woman. Perhaps she would be able to help. After all, the king was sure she was indeed the fairy of the forest.


The queen kept close to her daughter as the old woman inspected her wings, lest she try to steal her.


“I can remove the wings, if that is what you really want,” the old woman said. “But you must keep the wings safe; the princess will need them one day.  When that day comes, you must allow her to visit me in the forest.”


The queen would never allow her daughter into the forest, but the King accepted the terms and the old woman rubbed a lotion on the wings. After a few moments she plucked them from the child’s back leaving nothing but two small marks. She conjured a large flat box and placed the wings tenderly inside.


“Why is the box so large?” asked the queen.


“So the wings have room to grow. Look after them well and let them out from time to time.”


The queen locked the box and pushed it under the bed. She would like to burn it, but was terrified it would harm her daughter.


As the years passed, the queen thought about the wings less and less. The princess grew to be pretty and adventurous. Although she was not allowed out of the castle grounds, there were still plenty of places to explore and lots of trees to climb. She searched for frogs in the pond but although their raucous noise suggested a large quantity dwelt there, she rarely spotted any.


When the princess turned twelve, she asked her mother if she could explore outside the castle grounds for a change. The queen said no: terrified she would get lost or be stolen. The defiance in her daughter’s eyes did not escape her notice and she doubled the guards protecting her.


To ensure her safety, the queen had a tall tower built in the garden. It had only one small entrance and the first ten floors had no windows, just a spiral staircase winding up the centre. Five sumptuous floors with tiny windows topped the tower and it was in these rooms the queen locked the princess. No one was allowed in except the king and queen. Two soldiers guarded the entrance at all times.


With the princess locked in the tower, the queen relaxed. As the years passed she felt more and more confident the princess would be safe and never leave her.


One day, she became curious about the wings. She had not seen them since they were removed. She secured the door and windows of her room and, for the first time since it was hidden under the bed, she pulled out the large box. The golden key was on a chain around her neck and she slipped it into the lock.  Opening the lid just a crack, she peered inside. It was too dark to see so she put one hand in and felt soft feathers. Pressing firmly down on them, she opened the box fully. The wings filled the box. The feathers looked dull and lifeless but she tied a silk ribbon to the bony extrusion on each wing before letting them go. They didn’t move.


Fearing she had allowed the wings to die, the queen gave the silk ribbons a sharp tug. The wings lifted ponderously into the air and over to the window where the sun was streaming in. They fluttered and stretched as though soaking up the sun’s warmth, and as they did, they began to change colour. The flat brown feathers plumped up and turned golden. The wings flew around the room, flapping ever more strongly until they were causing a powerful wind that took the queen’s breath away and ruffled the soft furnishings. She held the ribbons tightly and feared she would be pulled off her feet. The wings stopped near the window and beat against it until the glass broke. Seeing what was happening, the queen tied the ribbons to a bed post so the wings could not escape. They strained at the end of the silk and began to sing as the breeze from the window caressed their feathers. The song had no words, but the tune held the queen enthralled and made her cry: it was so sad and beautiful.


When she felt she could cry no more, she pulled on the ribbons. The wings came to her without protest and she locked them in the box and pushed it under the bed. Her heart was beating fast and she vowed not to open the box again.


In the tower, the princess had lots of toys and books to amuse her, but she spent most of her time looking out of the windows. From her high vantage point she could see the tops of the trees that made up the forest. They stretched for miles towards the horizon. In the other direction, far across the plains, she could see the pink and purple mountains. 


Just outside, birds soared overhead and flitted in the trees. She envied their freedom and ability to fly. How wonderful it would be to float across the sky and dive through clouds.


Below, she could see people going about their daily business, but she was too high to hear or speak to them. It was a sad and lonely existence. At night she wished on the stars and tried to sing to the moon, although her voice reminded her of the croaking of the frogs in the pond.


The evening before her sixteenth birthday, when she was feeling particularly low, she heard beautiful music. There were no words to the song, but the tune evoked feelings of sun on her face and wind in her hair. That night she dreamt of jumping off the roof of the tower and flying all the way to the mountains.


During that same night, a fire broke out on one of the lower floors. The tower acted like a chimney, drawing the flames up to the living quarters. With no windows in the lower section, no-one saw the fire until it had taken hold and become too fierce for anyone to use the stairs. The princess was trapped.


Loud crashing noises in the tower below woke the princess. She smelt the smoke and felt the heat from the flames. Terrified, she made her way up to the roof. She could see that no rescue was likely. She started crying and praying to the stars above.


The king and queen stood by the tower, wringing their hands and begging someone to rescue their daughter. The townsfolk threw water at the fire, but it was too high and hot for their efforts to be effective. No ladder was long enough to reach the princess. Everyone feared the worst.


On the roof, the smoke billowed making the princess cough and her eyes stream. There was nowhere for her to escape the intense heat of the fire. It would be better to jump and end it all quickly. She closed her eyes and stepped towards the edge.


The fairy from the forest shook the queen’s elbow. “Release the wings,” she shouted above the commotion.


The queen pushed and shoved her way through the crowd and arrived in her chamber out of breath. Tears of frustration streamed down her face and she prayed she would not be too late to save her beloved daughter. With clumsy fingers she put the golden key in the lock. As soon as the lock was released, the wings burst out of the box, knocking the queen over. They flew through the open door, their song dark and haunting.


The princess could hear singing. There were no words to the song, but the tune was urgent and fearful. It sounded so loud and close. She opened her eyes. Through the smoke and her tears she saw a golden bird swooping around the tower. The heat of the flames blackened its feathers, yet still it came and still it sang.


As it flew beneath her, the princess jumped. The ground raced towards her sending her stomach into her throat. She felt the bird touch her shoulders. Pain seared her back as the wings reattached and took her weight. Wonder flooded through her as she felt the strength and power of the wings and realised she could control them. She took several powerful downward sweeps that sent her high into the sky. She kept pumping her wings until the air grew thin and the ground disappeared behind a thin layer of cloud. She swooped and soared, rolled and spun, elating in the freedom and the cool night air on her skin. She sang to the moon of freedom and flying: her voice now was beautiful and clear. At last she flew down to the castle and landed next to her parents. They embraced and shed many tears of joy and relief.


The fairy of the forest spoke. “Princess, the Fae Folk lent you to your parents, now you must learn how to wield the magic you possess. I will teach you if you will come with me into the forest.”


The princess was delighted, she longed to explore beneath the canopy of the vast forest. She looked at the queen expecting her to disapprove.


The queen took her hands. “I nearly lost you tonight because of my foolishness. Go if you wish, but please promise you will return to me often.”


The princess gladly agreed to return, she could not imagine a life without the love of her parents.


“Your first lesson, princess,” said the fairy as she threw back her cloak, will be how to fold your wings so they don’t show.” She unfurled two magnificent purple wings and held her hand out to the princess. “Follow me.”


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Bio: Maxine Churchman is a mother and grandmother from Essex, UK.  Her hobbies include reading, hiking, yoga, and, more recently, writing. So far she has concentrated on short stories, but hopes to make progress on a novel in 2020 and beyond. She has had work published by CafeLit, Black Hare Press, Stormy Island Publishing and Clarendon House Publishing. She blogs at Cccmaxine.blogspot.com


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Image is The Fair Face of a Woman, by Sophie Anderson.


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P.S.: For those of you viewing on full desktop, I’m working on the paragraph spacing. It might take a day or two. Sorry. KW

8 comments:

Kelly Jarvis said...

I love this story and the beautiful images of the singing wings!

Maxine said...

Thank you for reading and commenting Kelly.

Lynden Wade said...

Lovely. A great example of a fairytale speaking truths we all need to remember in life. Nice to have a mother's viewpoint, too.

Maxine said...

Thank you for your kind comments Lynden.

Victoria Dixon said...

Lovely revisiting of Rapunzel with great visuals and message. Nicely done.

Maxine said...

Thank you for reading and commenting Victoria.

Doris McGerther said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful tale. Wonderfully weaved together and twinkling with just the right amount of magic. Thank you for sharing xxx

HulderMN said...

Lovely, unique story! ❤❤

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