Seem like a silly thing to put as the title for Fiction Friday? Think again. The driving force behind any Maiden in the Tower story is the green growing thing craved by the mother of the Maiden, whether that be parsley (like the Italian original), a parsnip-like root named rampion, or a low-lying winter green called lamb's lettuce or rapunzel.
Branching out from there, most Cinderwenches (like my sister) are required by their wicked stepmothers to pick beans or seeds out of the ashes of the hearth. Knowing what your beans and seeds look like in the first place would surely help, no? And what about new types of apple to tempt the Snow-Skinned Princess? Let's not forget what strain of roses those are guarding the Beauty Asleep, and whether they have strong vines, strong thorns, both, or neither...
I could go on and on, but the fact remains that fairy tales come from a world and a time which lived very close to nature, and understood things like plants and animals better than most people who live in modern cities or suburbs can imagine. Of course, questing princes and enchanted princesses might have just as much trouble figuring out email, Facebook, and YouTube... but I digress. I'm here to tell you a story, and tell you a story I shall.
Before I do, some brief news. My back and hips are neither better nor worse, but I do have a doctor's appointment early next week so we shall see what we shall see. Writing on my NaNo continues, and I might even catch up at some point this weekend. Writing in other venues... well, sadly, making a living comes before having a life in this crazy world of ours.
Thanks as always for reading, and I hope to have better news for you next week! For right now, please enjoy this little riff on one of the tales mentioned above, and know that I do certainly have plans for the other ones I mentioned. Because when don't I have plans? (Mwahaha.) See you next time, and let me know what you think!
Once upon a time, in a kingdom far away, there lived a young couple who had no child, until one day they conceived. Their joy was great, but it lasted only a little while, for the young woman began to feel terribly ill, and could hardly keep down water, to say nothing of food. She longed for something green and fresh to eat, but it was the middle of the winter, and the only greenery to be seen grew in the garden of a witch not far distant, a low-lying plant known as lamb's lettuce. The young woman tried and tried to suppress her cravings, but it was no use, and at last she confessed to her husband that if she did not have some of the leafy green plant to eat, she feared that she would die.
The young man, terrified that he might lose his wife and child together, rashly climbed over the wall of the witch's garden and tore up a handful of the greens in the middle of the night. Once he did this, and once again, without alerting any watchers or sounding any alarms, but on the third night when he came back to snatch another handful of greens, the witch herself was in the garden, and caught him green-handed.
"What are you doing?" she cried out. "Those plants are magical! Who has eaten them? You? Your wife?"
"My wife," the young man quavered, "who is pregnant and feared she would die if she could not satisfy her cravings."
"Pregnant." The witch sighed. "You foolish man. Take me to her."
And so the young man did, and the witch laid her hands gently against the young woman's belly and sighed once again. "You have eaten magical food, grown in the depths of winter by a spell," she said, "and now your child will be cursed, or blessed, with growing magic of her own. I can channel it, but I cannot entirely take it away."
"Channel it?" the young woman faltered. "What does that mean?"
"I can place all the magic of growth which now fills your child into one part of her body. Into, let us say, her hair." The witch laughed a little. "It will grow three times faster than it ordinarily would, for the three times you have stolen my greens. This will mean she does not outgrow your womb before she is ready to be born, or her clothes faster than you can make them, so be grateful for that."
"But still she will be different," the young man said, with anger in his voice.
"She will be different because you stole what could have been freely given, if you had only asked!" The witch glared at the young man. "Do you want my help, or not?"
"Yes, please!" the young woman cut in before the young man could say anything. "But is that all you can do? Is there nothing more?"
"Not all my own powers will suffice to take away her magic, now that it is rooted in her," the witch said coldly. "But if you fear to raise a child with magic, if you think she will not fit into your lives, then give her to me, and I will raise her myself. Does that suit you better?"
Well, the young woman wept a few bitter tears over the loss of her child, but she had to admit that she was frightened at the thought of a child whose hair grew so quickly, and the young man, abashed at having been caught stealing and having been scolded for it, threw his own weight onto that side of the question. And so it was that the little girl, when she was born, was washed and weighed and swaddled, all the usual things which happen to an infant, but before she had even had a chance to nurse at her mother's breast, she was handed over to the witch, who stroked the golden hair nearly as long as the child's body and smiled to herself.
"Your name is Agnes," she said, "for you became mine because of the lamb's lettuce which your blood mother ate."
And so Agnes, the daughter of the witch, grew up as normal as any witch's child ever could, learning from her mother the arts of magic, and carefully tending her magical hair as it grew, often enchanting a book to hang in the air before her as she wielded brush and comb and pins.
It was in the summer of Agnes's twelfth year when her mother told her that things must change for them. "Your body will soon be that of a woman," said Dame Godith, for such was the witch's name, "and when a witch undergoes this process, there are strange happenings around her. I wish to have you safe, far away from the possibility of anyone's hurting you, or of you hurting anyone else without cause. Do you understand?"
"I do, Mother." Agnes bowed her head. "Where must I go?"
"Deep in the woods there lies a high tower, one without doors or any other means of access from the ground," said Dame Godith thoughtfully. "It is a great act of magic to pass through walls as though they were not there, but we must only perform it once, for when you are safely inside the tower, you may let me come and go by means of this." She reached out a hand and laid it on Agnes's heavy, coiled braids. "I will be sure to supply you with all that you need, and you are a good enough witch now yourself to do those small chores which may arise while I am gone."
"I am." Agnes covered a giggle. "Won't it surprise the bookseller when my orders start appearing in baskets on his doorstep in the morning, instead of my coming to his shop for myself!"
Dame Godith chuckled as well, and so the new life of Agnes began, with plans and laughter.