KHM

Dear Myra,

Or, should I say, "My dearest step-daughter?" Though you're my only step-daughter, so admitting that you're the dearest really isn't saying much; but the truth is that I loved you, in my own way. Oh, I never said as much, and if I didn't intend for this to come into your hands only after I have passed on, I wouldn't be writing it now; but still I loved you.

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KHM

Snow and Rose: First Steps

We were born from the same egg, Jak and I: the red twin and the white. In a crowd of purple-pink hair we stood out—my hair had the lightness, the touch of violet; hers had deep warmth, but without any blue. She had almost no ability to travel between places, but slipped around in time like a river-eel; I was stubbornly rooted in now, but with prodigious precision in my location. Hand in hand we could travel more widely in time and space than the rest of our classmates put together. With her intuition and instinct for adventure added to my perceptiveness and considered judgement, we were sure we could achieve anything.

Helplessly reliant on each other, one teacher wrote despairingly; but we never saw it that way. The charge of recklessness fit us better—it might have been Jak who suggested most of our escapades, but I would be lying if I claimed to be an unwilling participant.

It was thanks to her flashing eyes that I agreed to try a leap between worlds, far younger than we should have been allowed. It was there we discovered that our unusual appearances could be our greatest asset.

Just different enough from the other Grimms to be noticeable; and so just different enough to seem human.

I suppose this—the ability to pass among the humans, the subjects of our tales—led naturally to our greatest arrogance. If you have read them you may already have noticed it. Still, we adapted the story of ourselves that it might suit our human audiences too. We wrote of a dwarf and a bear, adapting villages and cities into metaphor, for some of them were known to eighteenth century Germany, where we had chosen to publish our work, and we did not want to seem critical. The ending we framed as being happily wed, and to princes beside, for that was what our readers would see as the ultimate success for young women of the time. In truth, of course, it was our greatest goal we expected to achieve at the end: reaching Master status in the Guild of Story Makers.

Some of it was more thinly clad—our names an obvious example, riffing on our coloration. Our mentor we shaped as our mother, watching as we set forth on our journeyman trip to collect and compile stories. It all fit very neatly, we felt. We presented it to her perhaps two months into our journeying, along with a few other early stories.

She laughed when she read over our simple tale. “Nothing worth winning was ever won so easy,” she said.

And she was right.

*

For our first attempt as humans we passed as women, for that gender seemed the closest to Grimm life, but very quickly we learnt it was not so simple as this. We had a boldness to which the time was unaccustomed, taken to be licentiousness or mannishness in women, and our independence was looked upon askance. Our bodies being ambiguous enough in form to pass as either, then, we settled on men as the easier option.

Jak had always had an interest in the animals of human worlds, so we set ourselves up in the dales of Yorkshire, which it seemed as good a place as any to establish ourselves, and a suitable place for farming beside. Cows seemed over-large to us, but we kept sheep, and made clothing from their wool and cheeses from their milk. Where the land rose, we dug to accentuate the rise and keep the animals close, and when spring came it was more they who taught us how to help them birth, for we had only seen layings and hatchings and never a babe pushed live from its mother’s womb. We felt that we were well-integrated, living in the manner of the local people, using the land as seemed natural to us.

England, we agreed, was a land of legends, and would welcome our own.

They did not, on the other hand, welcome us.

It seems there was a strangeness about us. Though we built walls where they were needed to support the steep ground marking the boundaries of our fields, we planted no flowers on the land above, nor kept a house to grace our small vegetable garden. We slept among the sheep, and this sparked rumors; worse, there were doubts as to whether we were brothers or something more strange, demons perhaps, for many swore we had been women when first they saw us. The fact that we had, as well as our confusion of gender pronouns and our accustomed physical closeness, only added to this.

And finally, to be highly literate in that area was to be suspicious; and so at the end, we were chased from the village not for our closeness or our sheep, but for our habit of recording the tales we overheard.

*

“There is a reason you are the first to try this,” they told us when we returned home, meaning that the humans were unpredictable and unreliable, that their world was unfamiliar and fraught, that no Grimm could truly adapt to it.

Jak and I mourned, each in our own way, for we had lost much -- the sheep we had raised from lambs, who could not come home with us; the way of life we had carved out for ourselves; the hopes of writing in the language that had shaped itself to the will of a Midlands man renowned even among the Grimms for his turn of phrase, his command of meter.

It was a hard thing to come back from. But when she had finished her fits of anger and tears, and I had stopped wandering without awareness or aim, we were both agreed: We tried it because we dreamt bigger. We still believed in that dream.

And we would try it again.
KHM

The King

In the morning the girls come downstairs, their eyes still far away. Susannah, as always, is the exception: hers meet mine, a combination of guilt and resentment and defiance. She understands as none of the others ever has; but I have no words for her, no explanation that can compensate. Even I’m sorry would feel like a mockery. I knew exactly what I wished for; just not what the consequences would be.

The prince of the week follows them, his eyes a bit shiftier than my daughters’. What excuse is he to give me, their father; what excuse is he to give his parents, who expected him to win this prize; what if he never gets to give the excuse? My excuses would suit him no better: It was never me who killed those who failed.

I can only do what I always do: play the furious king, pretend it is an exception I make in sparing his life this one time, make sure the bottle of sleeping potion Susannah uses to stop them following is always full.

“It has been three days,” I intone solemnly.

“Your Majesty…”

He bumbles out his excuses while I inspect my daughters’ faces. Liza, the littlest, just fifteen, looks frightened, as if she has woken from a nightmare. Part of me wishes she would come to me for comfort, but it is a familiar, dull ache. I also know who set the nightmare on her, and all her sisters; I also know it is not yet over. Diana is still thrumming to the beat of the music. Irena looks put out; perhaps she liked the look of this prince. His outfit was certainly bejewelled enough for her. Others look simply exhausted.

“…please, I beg you, one more chance…”

With an effort I remember my role in this drama. “And what good will one more day do you?” My voice booms around the room. The prince cowers; my daughters barely notice.

“I only wished to be of service…” He’s terrified, pleading for his life.

“Of service?” I echo. “Drinking my wine, and eating my food, and neglecting to perform the one task I asked of you—is that what you call service?”

He’s stunned into silence. Meek idiot. The first men who came to brave their task thought they might care for one of my daughters; these men simply seek glory. Which none of them have found.

I lower my voice to a hiss. “Get out.”

His mouth gapes like a fish for just a moment, and then he scuttles from the room as fast as he can, before I can change my mind.

Susannah says, “Father,” and curtsies before leading her sisters out. It’s a perfunctory politeness at best. This is as much as any of my girls have said to me in years.

The worst part is knowing I deserve it.

*

It was twenty-some years ago—Hanna had just been born, Susannah was perhaps six—when my uncle’s daughter made her debut. She was ten years my junior, the Princess Rosanna; I could remember holding her in my arms when she was born. My uncle’s only child, born of his late life, seventeen and graceful and royal and heir to his dukedom, attributes enough to recommend her to anyone.

But also unlovely, with a twist to her lip and a squint in her eyes and hesitance in her speech, shy and trusting and slow of mind.

My uncle was a good man, if proud; and perhaps if he had been well— But the fact is he was not. And my father too was ill then, and I was much occupied with preparing to take on the mantle of kingship. My spare time was devoted to my lady wife and my daughters, and not to my cousin, much as we had played together as children.

Make what excuses as I can, what happened is that Rosanna fell deeply in love with one of her suitors, a man handsome if poor, with charm enough to capture any woman’s heart. It was her father’s dearest wish to see her wed before he died, and so the wedding was held. Her father survived their wedding by barely three weeks.

And I, as I have said, was too busy to notice.

He only stayed two years, and they were of hell. He never got a child on her, for perhaps he despised her too much, but he made free of her wealth. When finally I realized he fled before I could bring him to account.

The hardest part was Rosanna was still as deeply in love, crying in my arms, saying if only she could have had a child of his to be always her own, as handsome and as good as he was to her.

The bargain I made was for my daughters’ protection: that only one who cared for them could ever come close enough to win their hearts; that no one who courted them for riches beyond their love would ever do so again to any woman. What price will you pay? the sorcerer asked me, and I answered: Any.

I had thought, you see, the price would be mine, and not theirs.

*

So they disappeared each night to a land of illusions, and those who followed, should they take a step off the path or a sip of the wine, never returned. I followed once; but as I was no suitor, my diligence could not break the spell. In the mornings they cared nothing for the life of the court, neither for the men who came to win their love nor the father who had tried to protect their hearts.

The challenge became well-known, though not spread by me; and eventually I contrived to have Susannah notice a sleeping potion, to protect the untrue suitors from deaths they did not deserve.

Rosanna I set up in a cottage a little ways away, isolated and protected; she was not aware that soldiers guarded her, for they would have frightened her. I visited as often as I could—oftener, for my daughters cared nothing for my presence.

And one day a soldier reported back to me that a man had come to Rosanna’s cottage, who was gentle and kind, who listened patiently to her slow speech, and rushed to help her; who had no idea who she was; who was a foot-soldier himself, crippled by an injury from the wars. Rosanna cared nothing for him; she waited only for her false husband. And clearly he did not seek to win her, but saw her goodness and appreciated her hospitality, for he was recuperating still.

*

Had I come to him as the king with advice for escaping my own trap, of course he never would have listened. So I disguised myself. He had heard the tale of my dancing daughters. I told him not to drink Susannah’s wine, and I gave him a cloak that would hide him from their eyes, and I advised him to care for the girls and not the treasures if he wished to return.

And I waited.

It’s a strange feeling, to wake up with hope.

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This is an intersection with lrig_rorrim, who wrote this tale from a different perspective.