by Catt Kingsgrave
I'll have this known at the start — I gave that girl my name. Oh yes, and roll your eyes, but truly; Nimmy nimmy nott? Think ye the Sidhe, who've sung the ages down, Charmed queens, nuns and virgins to summerhill maying, Led knights and kings in circles lifetimes long, Coaxed battlements from rosebriars, truth from false men's tongues, And honeyed gold from bristling flax can rhyme no better? Know this, Mayfly; my kind are not as yours For deceive we may, and without regret, But never do we lie. It is a point of fighting pride with us, you see, And we have shed our ageless blood like pearls in black loam For merely the shadow Of untruth between great hills. Now roll your eyes and call me liar again? Ah, no. And wisely done. I gave my name away that day, And too, the bargain I'd come to regret, Glib-lipped and cocksure; lured in by her honeysuckle tears Pearl pale and sweet with despair in her tiny dungeon boudoir. I had wished so to taste of them, and dip My tongue into the wellspring of her mortal heart. To know her, From suspicion to sorrow, Hope to horror, Delight to despair and back again. Well, that much I did in one moon's time, I warrant, But she did not come to love me. Oh, perhaps a little at first, with gleaming gold piled up To ward her from the headsman's steel. She did weep for me then, a little, and her grateful tears Were silk and diamond and lily petals in the dawning... But though I had bought her a day with my night's toil She took three tries at me straight away. And so I knew it was not love. Not John. Not Hob. Not Nicodemos. And not Love. Not just yet, perhaps, but only let her see Her Prince's eyes agleam upon her morning ransom; Adoring avarice, pretty words and breakfast And a nice bed for the day, And how He spared but one hand to lead her away, The other busy with her skeins of gold. My gold. My courting gift. Oh yes, Just let my girl be led back below when nightfall came, Locked in, her sentence just the same, and Faithful only me, I come — Come once again to save her. Surely she would learn to love me then. But no. Not Harald. Not Timothy. Not Abraxas. "Woman, I will take you away," I told her upon another night, for I'd a place in mind Where girls' bright hours waste not away In airless dungeon rooms, and their evenings sing With fireflies and briar wine, not wheels and spindling greed And if they live but briefly to our ageless span? Oh but their days are bright. Her eyes lit to my promise by grudging candle's glow, Welled tears more fine than cats' dreams or spider's wishes. She bit her lip, was silent, And I hoped, Nearly hoped she understood. But then she named me James, Roger, and Magnicus, While with her eyes cried, "Terror." Then I laughed, because my kind do not weep, Gave her skeins of gold, and fled the bitter day. In the man — her captor, prince and husband — I found no rival. What could he know, palace born, Of a girl who'd run in barefoot fields, And scratched her shins on blackberry castles For love of their sweet black gore? And what could such a wild girl know Of pantomime pageants and ballroom show While footings rot beneath and the roof caves in above, And how very much fine horses need to eat? He would make of her chattel, Whereas I would make her free as lightning fire On a dry autumn hill. Let her only once refuse to guess, Let her but one morning keep her silence in trade for my gold, And no iron bonds could keep her in. But night on night the moon ate herself to blackness And dawn upon dawn, my girl starved herself Despite my offered feast. Not Hector. Not Michael. Not Cobweb. And so, in measured weeks I came to learn her truth And could but mourn to know it true; My girl of the fair, sweet tears and briar-tangled feet Could never love me. She was a creature made of fear, suckled to it Fed upon it, wed unto it Till love itself struck terror in her breast. Oh yes, the love of the Sidhe is fearsome, Wild, fierce, magnificent as a storm, And fearful souls have learned to crave it before, but she, My bruised cavern rose, my weeping willow, Was bent and broken to the fear; trained to it, tamed to it As a wild hawk hooded, Eye-stitched into darkness till dreams of heaven fade, And she thinks herself but a pretty toy Upon a Prince's glove; Freedom bespoke her in fear's voice, Wrung name after name from strawberry lips unthinking. Caesar, Gwyll, Nefarion, Hobarth, Seamus, Absalom, Every word for terror she had ever learned. When the moon swelled thick again, She was making names up, mashing syllables together And hoping they'd stick, Her tears steel sharp and rank with desperation. And however oft I might repeat my vow, She would always, always speak her night's guesses With fear trembling sour behind her milk-sweet breath. It was not that I did not want the girl, For she was still as starving-fair as ice in summer's heat, And I longed to see her fingers stained and sweet once more; Only I realized, by the light of the late moon's widening grin, That I was growing tired. Only think, for a moment, Mayfly; How weary to be always terrible! T'is dilligent work — the flash of teeth, the predatory glare, The thorny claws a'swinging one's tail just so. Exhausting. I could not keep it up for even a pretty Mortal's span, No matter her fate awaiting should our bargain fall her way. Oh yes, even the Wildings of the Hill know what doom befalls The rich-cream cow when she comes dry to milking. I knew a day must come when her Spendthrift Prince Would take hold of her udder only to find he must go thirsty. And sorrowing, snickering, I could scent her fear-to-be, Brought full to bitter fruit. But her tear spinning had grown stale as salt to me, They streaked her cheeks like Bible ink, devoid of pearly shine As she guessed me shriller and shriller. Parksinon, Blix, Filibilocks. "Woman, I will take you away," One final offer, straw bales tottering behind me Beneath the hag's eye moon. I did not give her time to speak, or to weep, Or to beg for that which she had refused already, But set about my mercy with a will. Chambermaids are curious creatures, did you know? This is why oft, we pinch them for it. But peeking eyes and spying ears have their uses, And a lilting inanity sung out of place — A hollow tree, a chalk hole-hill, or the upstairs linens cupboard — Why naught will draw a spying maid the quicker. A simple song it was, such as a serving girl could learn To sing without error in her Mistress' ear. Out of a month's tedious golden whirl, That grinding tune was worst; To sing my name, the key to lock my girl's prison tight, Couched in such pounding drivel, why No hero of the Danaan strove the harder to endure! I confess, I might have laughed Just a little, from the stress. That night, when I my teind delivered, She met me in her prison; My pearl girl, my petal, Her blackberry fingers neat and folded in her lap, Her bracken eyes smug with her doom. "And have you guessed my name?" I asked her, Wondering if her pride could bear To lose our wager, and win the greater prize... Well. That answer, of course, is well enough known; Not Solomon. Not Zebedee. Not free to run In summer's gloaming all her days and dance In bramble bowers beyond the reach Of greedy Princes, foolish mothers, pointless, perilous tests, ah me What fools these Mayflies be To snatch the Ever After, leaving Happily behind. And so we come unto it, friend; The reason for my tale you surely guess For I see the ghosts of brambles upon your booted feet And stolen cherry summers on your lips, And in this close prison room Your moth-silk tears gleam like silver to me, And happen I could love you. A bit, perhaps, I do already. So let us make our wager plain, My apple-bright, my midsummer's morn; I will take on your impossible task, Be it spun, plowed, sorted, slain, sewn, Retrieved from dragon's hoard or muddy well, And I will give to you the seeming of success my dear, only Only if in one moon's turn You do not guess my name, Then I swear it, human child, I will take you away.
Catt Kingsgrave is a writer of fiction, poetry, and music in the New York Capital district. She has a tendency to do all things which are artistic and unprofitable, including drawing and painting, costuming, theatre, dance, gardening, rape crisis counseling, and crochet. Her favorite fruit are the Mount Rainier cherries which grow on the tree outside her office window, but to which the squirrels generally get before she can have but one or two. The little bastards.
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