Force Fantasies Fiction

~ The Tale, Twisted ~
By Cathryn Beaumont

 

Once upon a time there was a small village at the edge of a dark wood, and on the border twixt the village and the wood there lived a witch-woman. The witch-woman was wise in the ways of the wood and the wild beasts, for she had lived many years at the edge of the wood, yet she was also learnÚd in the manners of men and their many strange customs, for she had lived a long time near the village, and often were the times when the denizens of both places would seek her aid.

Now, it happened that the witch-woman had a daughter, who was as wise as she was beautiful. The child would often play outside, ranging far through the village and beyond, but, though sinister tales were oft told of the dark wood near the cottage, the girl held no fear of it and would sometimes drift close to the wood's edge. When her mother saw this, she would call out,

"Do not venture too deeply into the wood, child, for there are wolves about, and, if they saw you, they would surely devour you."

And the child would move away, for she was an obedient girl.
 

One day, the witch-woman was looking out from the cottage and smiling on the young girl's games when she saw that her daughter was yet again creeping towards the wood. The mother began to call out a warning when she noticed the girl's face no longer held the glow of childish curiosity. The mother looked at her daughter's body and saw that the angles of youth had softened into the curves of womanhood, and the mother mourned, for she knew then that her daughter was no more a child.  That night, the witch-woman called her daughter to her.

"Daughter," she said, "You are a child no more. You are now a maid and must learn the ways of the world. I am sending you to your grandmother's, deep in the wood. She is wiser, even, than I, and can teach you better what you need to know."

The mother then reached into a cupboard and withdrew an oatcake that the girl herself had baked,
"Take this," she said, "for to share with your grandmother. She is old and toothless and will be grateful that you have come to ease her hunger." And she placed it gently in a wicker basket.
The mother reached again into the cupboard and pulled from it a bottle of wine that the girl herself had pressed,

"Take this," she said, "to wash down the cake. Your grandmother is frail and chills easily and will be glad that you have come to warm her." And she placed it alongside the cake.

Yet again, the mother reached into the cupboard and withdrew a flask of sweet oil that the girl had steeped with rosemary and verbena and other herbs best left unnamed,

"Take this," she said, "to comfort your grandmother. Her skin is dry and her bones ache. She will be happy that you have come to ease her pain and loneliness." And she put this, too, into the basket.
A final time she reached into the cupboard and pulled forth a narrow length of linen, that the girl had woven and embroidered herself.

"Take this," she said, "to prove to your grandmother your worth. It will lend cheer to her home, which is dark and drear, and she will be pleased with your industry." And she carefully wrapped the linen and placed it in the bottom of the basket.

Then the witch-woman bathed her daughter with rosewater and mint leaves, and scrubbed the girl's skin 'til it was smooth as fresh cream. She clothed her in a simple kirtle and a warm cloak and sturdy boots, then she brought out a comb and brushed and brushed the girl's shining hair 'til it flowed down her back like a crimson mantle.

The mother then handed the girl the basket and grasped her by the shoulders. She kissed her first on one cheek, then the other, then pushed her out the door of the cottage and on her way.

"Farewell, my child-who-is-now-a-maid," the girl heard as she entered the woods, "stay on the path and beware of wolves."

The maid walked long upon the path through the wood, 'til her feet grew tired and her belly grew empty. She walked all through the night and the next day. When it was growing dark again, she stopped to rest on a rock and to decide her course. No sooner had she stopped, however, than a large black wolf emerged from the shadows.

"Where do you go, pretty maid?" the wolf asked in a low voice, but the maid remembered her mother's warning and, ignoring the wold, she quickly continued on her way.

Again she walked, 'til her feet ached and her belly grumbled, all through the night and the next day. When it grew dark, she stopped again to rest on a stump and to decide her course. She had not been resting long when the same black wolf crept up to her from the dense woods, and though she was startled, she was tired and had lost her fear.

"Where do you go, pretty maid?" the wolf asked in a low voice, and the maid replied,
"I am bound for my grandmother's house." The wolf smiled slowly and began nuzzling around her skirts,

"And what do you do there?" the wolf asked.

"I am to learn the ways of the world," the maid replied.

"And what do you bring her?" the wolf asked, sniffing the basket.

"Gifts to honor her," the maid replied, and pulled the basket away from the wolf.

"There is a shortcut through the wood. If you leave the path, you will surely get there sooner," coaxed the wolf.

But the maid remembered her mother's warning and quickly continued on her way.

She walked and walked, til her feet were blistered and her empty belly cramped, all through the night and the next day. When it grew dark, she stopped to rest beside a flowing stream and to decide her course. Before long, the same black wolf slid out of the brambles and crouched down beside her, and she was pleased to see him and began stroking his head, for she was tired and lonely.

"How goes your journey, pretty maid?" asked the wolf in a low voice.

"It is long and tedious, wolf," replied the maid with a sigh.

"If you leave the path," said the wolf as he pressed into her hand, "you will surely get there sooner."
And the maid forgot her mother's warning and, thanking the wolf, she left the path and continued on her way. But the maid was distracted by the wilds around her and she dawdled, playing with the woodland creatures and picking wildflowers. She played all through the night and all the next day, and it was not 'til night was falling that she reached her grandmother's house.

When she entered the house, it was dark save for a dull, smoky fire that smoldered in the hearth, and the air that enveloped her was heavy and close and smelled strongly of musk.

"Grandmother?" the maid called, and a low voice emerged from a large bed in the shadows,

"Who calls?"

"It is your granddaughter, who is now a maid," the maid replied.

"Are you now," the low voice rumbled, "and why are you here?"

"I have come to learn the ways of the world," said the maid.

"And so will I teach you them," said the voice, and the maid trembled at the tone, "but first, sit by the fire and rest, for the path you have traveled is long and you are surely tired."

And the maid sat by the fire, for she did not wish her grandmother to know that she had left the path and was not tired.

"Maid, why do you not remove your boots, for they are dusty, and your feet are surely sore."

And the maid removed her boots, for she did not wish to disobey her grandmother.

"Where shall I place them, grandmother?" she asked.

"Throw them in the fire," said the low voice, "for your journey is over. You shall not need them again."

The maid threw her boots in the fire and she heard a rustle of bedcovers, felt eyes upon her, and knew that her grandmother watched her.

"Maid, why do you not remove your cloak, for the night is sultry and the fire now burns high."

And the maid removed her cloak, for although she was trembling, the room was indeed warm.

"Where shall I lay it, grandmother?" she asked.

"Throw it in the fire," said the low voice, "for I will keep you warm. You shall not need it again."

The maid threw the cloak into the fire and she heard harsh breathing, felt eyes upon her, and knew that her grandmother watched her still.

"Maid, why do you not remove your kirtle, for it grows late and you should to bed."

And the maid removed her kirtle, and her hair tumbled around her naked body like a crimson mantle.

"Where shall I hang it, grandmother," she asked.

"Throw it in the fire." said the low voice, "for your hair covers you well. You shall have no need of it."

The maid threw the kirtle on the fire, and she heard the voice command from the shadows,

"Come to bed, maid, and we shall keep one another warm."

The maid approached the bed, and saw her grandmother's eyes flash in the shadows, reflecting the meager light of the fire.

"Grandmother," she said, "what bright-burning eyes you have."

"The better to see your woman's shape," the low voice replied, "come closer," and a gnarled, clawed hand reached around her.

"And grandmother," said the maid, "what large, strong hands and arms you have."

"The better to hold your body fast to mine," the low voice whispered. The maid was pulled closer til at last her length lay against that of her grandmother's, chest to chest, belly to belly, thigh to thigh.

"Oh, grandmother," she said, "how large and hairy is your body."

"The better to cover your woman's body," the low voice rumbled, "and to make it warm." The maid felt the large solid form move to cover her and worked to breathe under its weight. She heard a low growl and looked into her grandmother's face above hers, and she knew fear.

"Grandmother," she whispered, "what long, sharp teeth you have."

And the wolf-who-was-her-grandmother smiled slowly,

"The better to devour you, pretty maid."

The wolf's rough tongue tasted her flesh and the maid shivered in fear, for she knew that death was close by, but the witch's daughter was a cunning maid and she remembered her mother's gifts and knew that in them lay the wolf's downfall.

"Please, wolf," she said, and her voice was soft and high, "do not devour me yet, for I did bring gifts to honor my grandmother."

"And what matter these gifts to me?" said the wolf, and his breath was hot upon her face "for I have what I want and care not for them."

"Yes" reasoned the maid, "but I am truly caught and cannot flee. What harm to see them, and if you grow bored, then you may devour me."

"Very well," growled the wolf, so she struggled from the bed and retrieved the basket. Laying next to the wolf, she pulled the oatcake from the basket and offered it to him.

"What need have I for cake?" said the wolf, "I am a predator, and flesh and blood and sinew are what I feast upon," and his tongue ran across his muzzle and he stared at her smooth flesh hungrily.

"Yes," said the maid with a quiver, "but the cake is made of oats and barley, which is what your prey feasts upon. When you eat them, so do you eat the cake and it will whet your appetite for myself. What harm to try it, when you will devour me soon after?"

"Very well," rumbled the wolf, so the maid broke the cake and gave half to the wolf, and they both ate their shares til there was naught left but crumbs.

"Well, maid," said the wolf, "you have bargained for a little time, but as you said, the cake served only to whet my appetite. Come close, that I may devour you."

"Wait, wolf," said the maid, "for surely the cake has parched you, and see, I have wine with which to wash it down." And the wolf sniffed at the bottle she held up, then sneered.

"What need have I for wine," said the wolf, "I am a beast, and either water or your own sweet maiden's blood is all I need to quench my thirst."

"Yes," the maid reasoned, "but the wine is here now, and may be easily contained in a vessel, that you may drink it at your leisure and not watch it drain away. What harm in trying it, for you will surely be devouring me soon."

"Very well," grated the wolf, so the maid arose and found a goblet into which she poured the wine, and she and the wolf both drank deeply from it til there was not a drop left.

"Now, maid," said the wolf, "my patience grows thin. Your wine has only increased my hunger for you. Come."

"Hold, wolf," said the maid, "for surely you must be sore and dirty after so long in the forest. Look here, for I have an ointment that I can rub into your skin and through your coat. Will that not be pleasant?" and the wolf sniffed at the vial she held up, then sneered.

"What need have I for such," said the wolf, "I am an animal of the forest. My coat is thick and protects me from injury, and I have no need for sweet scents."

"Yes, said the maid, "but your own scent frightens your prey and your coat cannot protect you from all discomforts. What harm to try it, for 'twill be only a short while 'til you devour me."

"Very well," grumbled the wolf, so the maid poured the oil over him and began working her fingers through his hair and over his skin til the wolf was growling in pleasure.

"Enough, maid," he finally said, "for I grow weary of your stalling and hungrier still, besides. I will brook no more of your nonsense. Still yourself, that I may devour you."

"Stop, wolf," said the maid, "for I am frightened. If you were to devour me, I would surely struggle and attempt to flee. Perhaps if you were to bind me," and she pulled the linen cord from the basket.

"Faugh," sneered the wolf, "what use have I for cords and bindings? I am a wolf. I can hold you no matter how you struggle."

"Yes," said the maid, "but if I am bound to you, you may devour me at your leisure and not tire yourself with holding me. What harm to try it, this last request?"

"Very well," said the wolf, and he took the cord from her and bound their wrists tightly til at last they were joined.

"Now, maid," said the wolf, licking his chops, "I shall devour you." But the maid held up their bound hands between them and said,

"Nay, wolf, you will not."

And the wolf felt a strangling in his throat and a burning under his fur and the linen cord bit into the flesh of his paw like a hunter's trap. "Maid," he growled, "what have you done to me?"

"I have cast the strongest of mortal spells against you, wolf. As we ate bread together, you are now flesh of my flesh. As we drank wine together, you are now blood of my blood. As I anointed you with sacred oil, so do we now share one spirit, and, as this cloth binds us, so too are we bound in life. We are wed, wolf-who-is-my-husband," said the witch's daughter, and she smiled in sly triumph.

And the wolf screamed.

 

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