Note: Since I’ve been posting this for over a year now, and since I have quite a bit written, these posts will get a little longer for the time being. At least until my creative well dries up and I have a hard time working on it again.
Chapter Fourteen, continued
They painted in silence for awhile, Elaina busily trying to watch what Robert was doing and copying it against the poor wall. Robert was, she was sure, being a gentleman and blithely going about his own business. Part of her wished he would offer to help her, but the other half was glad he was at least pretending to ignore her to spare her some embarrassment. What kind of person had literally never painted before?
“You know,” Robert said cheerfully a little while later, “maroon doesn’t look too bad.”
“Nope,” Elaina said, huffing a little as she haphazardly rolled the paint around the wall. “Do you do this all by yourself every time?”
“Yup,” he said easily. “Nigel has offered to help, but I prefer to do this alone. It helps me process my grief.” He cast her a quick look. “Don’t worry; I won’t demand you leave. Actually, your presence is quite calming.”
Elaina blew a stray strand of hair out of her way, wondering how it had escaped the tight bun she’d wrapped her long strands in. “Good to know.”
They fell silent again, though Elaina could hear him humming a soft tune under his breath. She, meanwhile, felt like she was huffing and puffing her way through this painting party. It had sounded kind of fun in her head. At least, she had tried to make it sound fun. Unfortunately, she hadn’t realized just how much arm work this painting thing required.
“Tell me a story,” she said abruptly.
“A story?” he repeated.
“Yes. One of your mother’s fairy tales.”
Robert laughed. “Oh, I guess I do owe you another one. It’s been a while. Let me think a moment. Would the Red Riding Hood one still be a little too much for you?”
“Yes,” she said quickly. “I just can’t wrap my head around that idea. How about Sleeping Beauty? It was one of my favorites when I was a child. The normal way of telling the story, that is.”
Robert cocked his head to the side. “Yes, she told me her version of that one. It was…very unexpected, even for her.”
“There isn’t actually an end to that one.”
Elaina’s eyebrows rose. “Oh, then that one I must hear.”
Robert shrugged. “Okay. Here goes.”
There were two sisters, once. They were not blood sisters, but sisters of a mystical sort. Born on the same day, there was a bond between them none could break. One was a fairy of immeasurable power. The other was a princess who was destined to be queen. As children they frolicked in brooks and woods. As young women, they learned the ways of magic, but only the fairy ever showed any promise.
One day, the princess was married to a distant prince. They grew to love each other, and the prince grew to see the fairy as a sister. By then, the fairy had risen in power and influence to lead the fairy council and serve as the new queen’s advisor. It was a happy time made even happier when the queen delivered an heir.
But all was not as it should have been. The princess’s birth should have been a time to happiness and celebration. After ten long years, a child had finally been born. But the king had taken many mistresses in that time as his queen failed to conceive an heir. Those women bore him many children who would never live in opulence or bear a royal title. But he loved each and every one of them with his whole heart. The queen had lived ten miserable years with the man she had come to love, a man who no longer seemed to want to give her a second thought. Her heart grew to be stone, which saddened her fairy sister, for she knew the queen to have a bright and beautiful soul.
The heir should have been welcomed, should have brought a broken couple back together. But the fairy and the queen knew something was not right. The queen’s heart had been hardened. The king’s heart had lost love. The princess was tainted with a darkness so dark the fairy could not even stand to look at her.
Bright blue eyes and golden locks should have had the castle happily sighing. Instead, fear had strangled all who lived within. The princess was bright and bubbly, always smiling and sleeping peacefully. But the queen and her sister knew the truth.
Born of two hearts devoid of love, the child was an abomination, but the only heir the kingdom had.
The fairy called the council. Each fairy bestowed a gift: kindness, cleverness, beauty, understanding, wisdom, gentleness, grace, honesty, compassion, respect. The list was endless. The fairy herself bestowed upon her sister’s daughter a just heart.
But it was not enough. The darkness festered within the child as she became a young girl. She was gentle and kind, beautiful and dutiful. But it could not hide the loveless heart, the coldness in her eye. The fairy council withdrew and hid. The king turned from his queen. The princess smiled.
The queen became desperate and distraught. How could she save her kingdom from the monster lurking within her own flesh and blood? The fairy had an answer, but it could not, would not be permanent. But, perhaps, with enough time, a solution could come to hand.
The queen agreed, and her sister cast a spell. The princess pricked her finger and fell into a slumber. She was encased in diamond and set in the highest tower. The door to the tower was bricked closed, the entrance hidden and forgotten. A beautiful princess would slumber for a century and, perhaps, during that time, the sisters could find a way to save the kingdom.
It has now been many years since the princess was cast into slumber. The king has since passed. The queen has taken another prince. A child grows, but fear still fills the castle’s walls.
“Your mother is seriously twisted,” Elaina said.
Robert chuckled uncomfortably. “Yes, I suppose her stories are a little bizarre.”
“Robert, that wasn’t just ‘a little bizarre.’ It was completely nuts. And she never gave it a proper ending?”
He shook his head. “I asked for a while. She just shook her and head and said there was not yet an ending. She said she wasn’t sure if enough time had passed. Then she would mutter something about time passing differently ‘there.'”
He shrugged. “Don’t ask me. She never answered my questions, so I can’t answer yours. But, yes, my mother is an odd one.”
Elaina shook her head. “I’m impressed you turned out so well after a steady nighttime habit of her stories.”
That made him laugh loud enough for her to be startled. “I’m flattered you think I turned out well. Almost all of my past companions have called me some version of nuts and delusional. One even called me a funny duck.”
She smiled. “I think I can definitely see that. Anyways, how long does it usually take to paint your study?”
Robert stepped back from the wall he had been working on. Elaina watched him look around at one almost fully painted wall and one wall where it had only been painted between a window and the corner.
“It takes as long as it needs to take,” he said tactfully.
Elaina laughed. “You’re being nice. But I appreciate that. I’ve never been a big fan of paint and, honestly, these fumes are driving me nuts, but your story really helped.”
He grinned. “I have plenty more. I have an entire childhood of them.”
Elaina quickly held up a hand. “I think I’m saturated for now. I grew up with the, ah, more traditional stories, so your mother’s are taking a lot of getting used to.”
“I guess I can see that. I never read a fairy tale until I was much older and was so confused when they didn’t match what my mother used to tell me. When I asked, though, she just snapped and said it was all lies, but they were my father’s books, so she wouldn’t get rid of them despite the lies they told and perpetrated.”
“So, are we done for today?” she asked, trying to sound casual.
He must have seen right through her. With a playful grin, he took the roller from her hands and shooed her out of the study, telling her to take a break and change while he cleaned up. She couldn’t flash him a grateful smile fast enough and practically bolted from the room.
Catch up on the story here.