A Fractured Fairytale
Once upon a time, in a far-off (naturally) kingdom, there lived a young princess.
Her name was, a little unfortunately, Porcupine. This was not, luckily for her, and all who had to declaim her beauty [because princess] down to her being prickly in nature, small, brown, and covered in spikes, with a tendency to eat leaves and curl up for the winter. No. It was, rather, due to her mother possessing truly abysmal hand-writing, and as per the traditions of their country, her name was only announced by a herald twenty-four hours after the birth, and he was handed the name in a note, or perhaps it should be said a scribble, from the queen. Her ideal profession would have been physician, if handwriting experts had been doling out the jobs the day she popped onto the throne.
Crown Princess Porcupine really should have been Crown Princess Penelope, but thankfully, by order of the royal parents, everyone was rather intoxicated on good whisky at the time of the announcement – and far too hungover in the days following – to think about it in any great detail. Besides which, the royal family were much loved, and so it never really came up.
It should also be mentioned that said kingdom was not actually a kingdom. It was for all intents and purposes a queendom, as the crown was handed down first born daughter to first born daughter. If there was no daughter, it rather grudgingly went to the first born son, until a girl arrived, in which circumstance the whisky flowed like – well, like whisky, and villeins and nobles alike were willing to accept someone named Beelzebub without demur, as long as the Princess of Darkness brought them some aspirin, and was extremely quiet whilst she did so.
Two weeks after Crown Princess Hedgey (thankfully for the poor girl, they had realised any shortening of Porcupine would immediately lead to body image issues, and thus reached for an alternative nickname) took up residence in the royal nursery, it was time for her meet and greet with all of the dignitaries around the neighbourhood, otherwise known as her christening.
It should be said the prospect of this occasion didn’t fill her parents with a great deal of joy.
“Why”, demanded Queen Sophie (obviously her mother had beautiful handwriting) of Duke Stefan, her devoted husband, “do we have to have a ruddy christening at all? I mean, it’s not as though she needs any gifts, she’s crown princess, for the love of lambchops! And every time this place has a christening, something” – and here she paused, and looked around furtively, before lowering her voice – “something always goes wrong, thanks to one of the airyfay odmothersgay.”
The last word was hissed out between her teeth.
“The gay oddmothers? That’s very progressive for your people, darling, to have an LGBTQI contingent involved. You aren’t known for your tolerant stance on serving white wine with red meat, let alone lifestyle choices. Have I got the initials right? I tend to get them wrong, quite often in fact”, said Duke Stefan with a frown, making a mental note to check his acronyms.
“Not gay oddmothers! I was speaking Pig Latin! Being secretive! Chuh!” the queen said, in exasperation, but quite fondly, because she loved her husband dearly. “Not that I am opposed to gay oddmothers… or oddfathers, for that matter… am I Crispin?” she tacked on hastily, as she saw her chief butler and all round factotum raise a perfectly groomed eyebrow at the mention of ‘oddmothers’.
“Certainly not, your Majesty”, he said smoothly. “You are known for your tolerance for all of our Goddess’s creatures. Especially those who are in desperate need of a salary increase, and who now feel they may achieve it quite quickly. If I may, your Royal Highnesses, interject here for a moment – although there have been, shall we say, small issues in the past with certain er, fairy godmothers, I feel certain on this joyous day, we shall have no such problems.”
The queen looked at him. He buffed his nails on his coat, and stared straight ahead.
“Why do you say that, Crispin?”
He looked at her and smiled. Broadly.
“Because I haven’t invited any of them, your Majesty. Now, how many cases of champagne do you think we shall require? Two or three hundred? Your father is attending, remember.”
“Dear Goddess. Better make it four.”
“Of course, your Majesty.”
“I am already ahead of you, your Majesty.”
“Thank you, Crispin. You smartarse.”
“Excuse me, your Majesty?”
“I said you are without surpass, Crispin.”
The day of Hedgey’s christening dawned sunny, clear, and azure blue, as radiantly lovely as the Queen herself, who was fidgeting wildly on her throne, waiting for someone to bring the baby to her so that they could start the ceremony. As confident as Crispin was, she still had a feeling of foreboding about something going wrong. She wasn’t a stupid woman, after all, despite her appalling writing. Her beautiful little Porcupine didn’t need any cursing to start her life; she already had the curse of a horrible name.
The bugles suddenly sounded, making Queen Sophie nearly fall off her stately seat. For the love of… oh, but there was her beloved little girl, being brought forth through the crowds of distinguished guests, carried by her nurse, who for some reason had decided to wear a great ugly hood over her head. Sophie sighed. Obviously she’d been at the fizz a bit early.
She reached out her arms, ready to take Hedgey, and dedicate her to the Goddess. But young Quinella didn’t hand her over. The queen gestured a bit crossly. “Come on, Quinella. Give her to me, haha. Time we all got a move on.”
“Oh, I’m afraid not, your Majesty” came a voice from under the hood. A voice far smoother, and far more silky and star-strewn than that of the country-bred Quinella.
“No, I think” – and the hood was thrown back, revealing jet black hair, pale, pale skin, and the glittering cold green eyes of a serpent, of a cat, of a heartless jade – “that we have all the time in the world”.
And the fairy godmother, who had decided to invite herself to the christening, snapped her fingers, leaving all except herself, Sophie, and little Porcupine frozen in alarm and horror.
“What are you doing here, Hellebore?” Sophie hissed.
“What, not happy to see your own dear sister?”, asked Hellebore mockingly. (By the way; also a good name. Porky – er, Hedgey – really missed out, didn’t she.)
“You know I am extremely unhappy to see you. I could only be happy to see you if you were covered in crocodiles, and were being reborn as the lining of a handbag! Now give me my daughter!”
“Or what? You’ll write my name down and make it sound like Hambone?” sneered Hellebore. “I am petrified. I am shaking in my extremely expensive stilettos. No, I think I will hold onto her for a moment. After all, I have yet to give her my blessing, as her fairy godmother… or for that matter, her gift.”
Sophie stopped, and looked genuinely terrified.
“Please, Helly… don’t. Don’t do this.”
Her sister looked at her.
“Then give me the crown.”
Sophie bowed her head.
“You know I can’t do that. I cannot give my people to you. Mother would never forgive me.”
Hellebore sneered again. “Mother is dead. Very well. Porcupine, you vile little creature”, as the baby looked up at her trustingly, and laughed, winding her aunt’s long black hair around her tiny fingers “ugh, stop that! I give you the means of your own emancipation from situations that displease you. What every woman wants, isn’t that right, Sophie?”
Sophie looked at her uncertainly. “I – yes, I suppose so.”
Hellebore was enjoying herself.
“Yes, little Porcupine. Take these” – and she laid a pair of beautifully engraved silver scissors on the baby’s firmly swaddled small body. “When you reach your twenty-first birthday, when you say these words” – and she leaned down and whispered to the child.
“What did you say to my daughter?” said Sophie, suddenly fearful.
Hellebore smiled at her, maliciously.
“Why, I merely gave her an incantation of choice. The cut direct, if you will. The first person she calls out to, whom she loses her temper with, who is cruel, or forbids her from doing what she wants, will have their life snipped in two. Their journey will be severed; they –”, and here she almost threw the baby at her sister, and turned to leave –
She snapped her fingers, and in a cloud of black, rather oily smoke, was gone, leaving suddenly animated people in an uproar, and the queen on her knees, clutching her baby, and sobbing wildly.
Time passed, as time does, and young Porcupine, despite never, ever being told off, or refused a thing by anyone, grew to be a rational, even-tempered, kind and yes, quite good-looking young lady, with a nice word for all, a quick sense of humour and a rather nice turn in irony. How she turned out not to be a squalling, horrible little shit is a mystery, to be honest. You think about it. What would you be like if every time you asked for something, it was yours, no questions asked? If you went to the home of a subject, and saw, say, a pretty dress – despite having cupboards full of them – and said “oh, I’d like that”, and were immediately (miserably perhaps, and through gritted teeth) presented with it? I bet you’d say “well, cheers, me old china”, take it back to the palace and promptly forget about it.
Not young Hedgey. She was horrified at the thought of someone giving up a treasured frock, and refused whenever her mouth acted before her brain caught up. Graciously, and sweetly, quite often with a joke, but refusing; and was all the more beloved for it.
What she couldn’t understand was why people always gave in to her. Her little brother, Arsenic (Arthur, scribble scribble scribble) was always getting belted over the ear if he so much as demanded a second helping of pudding! Admittedly, he was a little fatty, but that didn’t explain it. She thought about it as she dutifully embroidered a sampler one afternoon. She hated embroidery, but she was scared to say so, because of course she’d never have to do it again, and she loved using her special scissors. They were so marvellously… snippy. They almost seemed to talk to her, which she was careful not to mention. She knew what happened to princesses who heard things talking to them. Just look at her cousin Snow White, who had that ‘bluebird’ on her shoulder. She got sent off to the Seven Brothers Asylum for the Royally Disturbed, and nobody was allowed to visit.
Crispin appeared before her, in that noiseless way he had.
“Do excuse me, Crown Princess, but I was just wondering – your plans for your upcoming twenty-first birthday…” he said, with care.
She snapped her scissors together at him, which he winced at. She wondered why; it wasn’t as if she would hurt him!
“No Crispin! No celebrations! I know my mother is not keen, and therefore neither am I.”
“But the people…” he said feebly.
“Oh, of course they must celebrate! I expect the whole country to run with champagne, and whisky, and no doubt with other things the next day that are less attractive! But for me… no. No.” The last said very firmly.
His brow cleared. “Oh, well, that’s alright then, your Royal Highness. As long as the people are able to er, drink to your health, then I think we shall manage to keep a low profile for yourself. Excellent. Well, I shall leave you and your er, companion to your embroidery, shall I? By the way, you have spelled ‘welcome’ with two ells”. He bowed and stepped backwards.
“Oh bugger, so I have”, and she clashed her scissors together. Crispin visibly paled, and fled.
“Now what was that about?” she muttered, and sighed. She put the scissors on a side table, where they gleamed in the light. Watchful, and humming in alertness, they waited.
The day of Porcupine’s twenty-first dawned just as clear and sunshine-filled as her christening. Queen Sophie, still beautiful, although a little greyer, took Stefan’s hand, trembling, as they approached breakfast together. The doors were opened to the second dining parlour by the third and fourth footmen, and the royal couple passed through.
Hedgey was already at the table, stuffing her face with bacon and eggs, with her little brother Arsenic across the table.
“Oh hello Mummy, Father. Lovely day.”
“Happy Birthday, my darling girl”, said her mother, bending to kiss her, and snapping her fingers to the first footman, who came forward with a tray of presents. He was followed by her father, who hugged her fiercely. They took their seats, watching her glowing face, as she smiled in pleasure and surprise.
“But I don’t need anything! Oh how lovely! Arsenic, do you want to come and help me?”
Her brother, who despite being somewhat of a chubster, was not a bad egg for a younger sibling, rushed around the table.
Hedgey produced her scissors, and started cutting strings, not seeing the look of fear that rushed between her parents. Arsenic was tearing paper, not worrying about strings, nor ribbons, or anything. He was in full auto-boy, with his eyes on the possibly model-plane based prize (hey, you never know, right).
Porcupine found herself growing unaccountably annoyed. Some of that paper was quite beautiful!
“Arsenic, take a little more care, you rathead”, she said, still fairly evenly.
No response. Tear, tear, tear.
“Arsenic, please.” This more sharply.
“Stop it, I say!”
If anything his movements grew more frenzied.
Porcupine stood up, clashing the scissors together horribly.
The queen and her duke stood too, their faces contorted in horror. This was it. Hellebore had succeeded. She had cursed their daughter, and it seemed she had cursed their son as well.
But she had not considered the variable in making a curse on an unknown quantity. It is exactly that.
And Porcupine loved her brother. Like her parents, and her country, her people, he was part of her silver link to the world, her silken tie.
Porcupine cried out “whoever you are, you are not behaving as my brother would! He is not so selfish and horrible as you – but I wish you, you horrible creature, were dead!”
The boy Arsenic looked at her, and with a horrible wail, crumpled to the floor, and faded away, leaving behind the figure of a tall woman with pale, pale skin, long jet black hair, and green, green eyes, the colour of jade, the colour of a poison snake, now sightless and staring to the sky.
Arsenic broke the fascinated and awed silence by wandering in, stepping blithely over the body, and saying “Happy Birthday, Hedgey! Ohhh presents!”
He looked up at his sister, who was still standing open-mouthed, the scissors opening and closing aimlessly in her hand.
“D’you think”, he asked hopefully, “there’s a model plane in one of them?”
There is no real moral to this story. Why should there be? It’s just a story. But for those who need dry biscuits with their delicious runny Brie and brioche, here you go:
Don’t forget to invite fairy godmothers to christenings. They get really shitty when left out of celebratory occasions. And take pride in your handwriting, otherwise you may well end up naming your child Jelly one day.
Oh, and don’t run with scissors. It’s just stupid.
Author’s Note: I borrowed part of the idea of the naming tradition from the wondrous, late, great Sir Terry Pratchett’s brilliant Carpe Jugulum, specifically young Esmeralda Margaret Note Spelling of Lancre.
He continues to inspire me, amuse me, and make me grab life by the throat on a daily basis. Wherever you are in the multiverse, Terry, I know Great A’Tuin, Death, and Albert (and his grease-laden porridge) will be treating you kindly.