I read a lot of fairytales as a child. Most children do, I suppose. The stories are supposed to have morals, lessons, and although the core of the story may remain true they change shape and form as generations pass.
I’m fascinated by the idea that stories can be traced back so far in time. Rapunzel was always one of my favourite fairytales. A maiden with long beautiful hair trapped in a tower in the middle of nowhere. The original tale is rough and dark. The Disney version is, well, amazing. And the story I read as a child probably falls about somewhere in the middle. I still think about that girl, trapped in the tower, looking out at the little part of the world that she can see from her window.
I started writing my own little version of a fairy-tale. I re-write it every now and again over the years and the story grows in the telling. There are similarities but, my tale is not Rapunzel. There is a girl and she does end up in a tower but the spirit of the story is different. It’s mine. I re-wrote the beginning on the train the other day and although the story unfolds further than what I had time to write, it’s like a hazy horizon that is within sight but not yet visible, I’d like to share what I wrote.
This is the story of The Princess And The Tower.
Once upon a time a princess was born and her name was Maeve.
Maeve had two older brothers but, as the only girl born to the King and Queen, she was the ‘little darling’ of the entire kingdom. They were a happy, prosperous little family for the first five years of Maeve’s life. She grew up no quicker than any girl her age should have to and she was taught music and science among a wealth of other subjects, as people were quick to comply when she showed a delightful interest in the way that the world around her worked.
However, there are some souls in this world who cannot be satisfied. War was loudly sweeping in from the West and privately the king worried for the sake of his family and the people of his small kingdom.
Maeve had just celebrated her fifth birthday when the king received an official missive. Their kingdom was at war with the King of the West.
The oldest son had just turned sixteen and he was eager to prove himself, as boys that age always seem to be this way. The second son was twelve years old and he showed an extraordinary interest in the Court Healers and their practice although he was not encouraged in the slightest. The idea of a prince becoming an apprentice in such a field was a much contested debate between the King and Queen in their private chambers. The Queen was beautiful and a famous warrior in her own right. She was ready to battle beside her husband again.
Allies were sent for. Supplies were gathered.
As for Maeve, they all worried about her fate. Something had to be done to protect their precious little girl. In the end, it was the King who offered the solution.
There were not many in the new millennium who practised magic, it was a terribly complicated business and nobody seemed to have the patience to learn the skills anymore, but those who did discover a talent for manipulating latent energy – magic in layman terms – were highly sought after.
As a much younger king he’d been in the company of a Mage who’d been employed by the royal family. The Mage could do wonderful and occasionally life-saving things. The King never really grasped the extent of the Mage’s respect for him but, shortly after he’d married his wife, the Mage fell ill and the King sat at his friend’s bedside for five days.
Magic and learning are symbiotic although a spark of natural talent is also needed in order to produce tangible results. Every Mage will take great care when he stores the tools of his craft. Some take on apprentices so that there will be every precaution taken with their belongings when they die. The king’s friend had no such apprentice and he wanted to repay the king for every kindness he had been shown.
He coughed, wracked with painful shudders, and rasped, “Dear King, I have only ever had one secret worth keeping but, come closer and I will share it with you.”
The king listened intently, and with sadness, as his dear friend used his final words to tell the king of an extraordinary, hidden tower that would take hours of riding to reach. After his friend’s death he travelled only once to the tower and, although he stepped one foot inside and was amazed by what he’d found, he could not move forward any further. The death of his friend was too raw and the king parted sadly, vowing silently that he would come back and take care of his friend’s possessions in the future.
The king locked the door and did not go back again although he thought about doing so many, many times.
It was not until his daughter’s life was in danger that he felt that the time was right. He accepted his friend’s gift and prayed that the tower would keep Maeve safe from harm.
The family’s goodbyes, late one night, were tearful but there were only three cloaked figures on horseback who rode away from the palace that night. Although the king had only travelled once before to the tower he had not forgotten the way. An idle part of his mind was wondering if his old friend could possibly be helping him in some way for, though he could barely see through the gloomy dark, neither he nor his horse put a foot wrong.
Maeve stayed quiet, although she was very tired and bored after the first ten minutes. She was clasped tightly by the cloaked figure settled in the saddle behind her. The third member of their little party was Sara, Maeve’s governess although she was much younger than people expected her to be when they heard her job title. After Sara’s mother retired she’d been offered the position and she’d not hesitated to accept. Maeve adored her.
The tower itself was not terribly interesting beyond the fact that it was the only built structure within miles and miles of forestland that stretched out in all directions. It looked as though it was a tall turret, a few metres wide and many metres tall, made from bricks and mortar. There was some general wear and tear but nothing, not even the patch of rot in the bottom corner of the only door in the tower was as it seemed.
The slightly dull, grey monument looked exactly how it was supposed to look. The king could not see the slightest change in detail around the glade despite the many years that had passed but there was no time to waste on unanswerable questions.
He swung down from his horse and Maeve was peering around the glade with curiosity from where she was sitting as he made his way over to her. He helped her down and then he helped Sara who stumbled when her feet touched the ground as she’d not sat in the saddle of a horse for many years and her legs were aching from the effort.
The King smiled warmly down at his daughter. Maeve had always felt that her father had a very nice smile. He asked her, “Are you ready to see something amazing, little one?”
The king simply knocked on the door five times and the aged wood swung open underneath his palm. If, like the king was the first time, you are disappointed by how simple it was to open the door you must remember that a Mage never really chose an apprentice for his ability to do magic. If this was the case then there would not be many wizards who would chose to leave an apprentice alone with all of their worldly goods. So, a little bit of magic cast upon the apprentice, with their consent, did the trick of keeping their homes from prying eyes whilst an apprentice could still find the door.
Magic towers are never what they seem to be from the outside. There would not be much point in referring to them as magic otherwise. To the uninitiated it may seem utterly implausible that, as the travellers stepped inside they found themselves in a room which stretched upwards an outwards in an unrealistic fashion. There were stuff everywhere, some of it was recognisable and some of it was not, but what dominated the space was books.
There were hundreds – thousands – and every single one had once belonged to the best friend of a king. Last time, the King had stepped no further but this time he gathered his courage and gently led his daughter across the carpeted floor.
Just past the first tall stack of books there was a signpost, tilted to the left and painted in blue and silver, which read:
After a long internal debate the king decided not to argue with the magical building that had not been troubled in sixteen years. Following the signs to find their way around turned out to be simple and Maeve squealed with delight when the king pushed open a door to Maeve’s bedroom. It looked remarkably similar to her bedroom at home but, at the same time, it was somehow more.
The king could not bring himself to leave until the next night. He spent those last few daylight hours playing with his daughter who scrambled over hills of books and oddities with glee. Sara had found her own bedroom, not too far away from Maeve’s and it also looked like her bedroom at home but there were clothes finer than any she’d ever bought hanging in the wardrobe.
When the king left under cover of darkness he looked back once and prayed that whatever was left of his old friend would keep his family safe.
… Usually this is where I stop writing the story but I can see now what may unfold next, beyond what I knew before.
I started reading ‘Uprooted’ by Naomi Novak yesterday, another reason why fairytales are on my mind, as the beautifully but dangerous world Naomi creates is, as always, incredibly enchanting. I finished reading it today and I loved the ending, although the twists and turns of the book had me a little bit worried for a while that things wouldn’t turn out the way I wanted them to. I love it when a book is so good that caring about the way the story will turn out has you on the edge of your seat and the pages can’t turn fast enough as you stumble towards the conclusion. I thoroughly recommend it although be warned for some serious emotional highs and lows as you read.
Note: I made a mention of having to stop reading Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett last week for something else. I was asked to read ‘Us’ by David Nicholls so that I could review it on the radio on Sunday. For a book that’s not usually my style I actually enjoyed the emotional honesty of the narrator which made it fairly easy to read despite the constant jumps between the past and the present which sometimes made me lose the thread of what I was reading. I finished the book in about three hours, but I’ve been reliably informed that I read quickly.
I went back to Terry Pratchett on my way home on the train on Thursday and was really close to finishing it due to a delay when I was on the train but, alas, I didn’t have time to finish it until Friday morning (I did mention that there was going to be a lot of time spent on the train while I’m doing my internship). I loved it. The plot was ever so slightly bananas but that was in the best way and the characters were wonderfully colourful. I’m definitely going to have to buy the next one once my to-read pile has dwindled a little bit. I’m working on that.