Welcome to my third Book Nook! Today I had the absolute pleasure of talking to Elizabeth Chatsworth, author of The Brass Queen, an incredible steam-punk fantasy with the best dialogue and metaphors I’ve read in a while. One of my favourite lines being: I do so love a story well told, and if you agree with that sentiment, you will love this book!
So boil the kettle and settle in for this interview where Chatsworth and I discuss narrative voice and all things steampunk.
Live most magically x
The Brass Queen
She knows a liar when she sees one. He knows a fraud when he meets one.
In a steam-powered world, Miss Constance Haltwhistle is the last in a line of blue-blooded rogues. Selling firearms under her alias, the “Brass Queen,” she has kept her baronial estate’s coffers full. But when US spy J. F. Trusdale saves her from assassins, she’s pulled into a search for a scientist with an invisibility serum. As royal foes create an invisible army to start a global war, Constance and Trusdale must learn to trust each other. If they don’t, the world as they know it will disappear before their eyes.
If you like the Parasol Protectorate or the Invisible Library series, you’ll love this gaslamp fantasy—a rambunctious romantic romp that will have you both laughing out loud and wishing you owned all of Miss Haltwhistle’s armaments.
Can’t wait for January? Neither can I! And luckily for us, neither could CamCat. They have now uploaded the first two chapters of Contest of Queens to their website for you to peruse to your heart’s content! That’s the first 50 pages! Click the black “LOOK INSIDE” button for a preview. Don’t forget to check out the map while you’re there! Can you find Jacs’ farm?
Don’t forget to preorder your copy and add it to Good Reads!
August Hype Train Draw Winner
Every month, the people who have contributed to hyping Contest of Queens up will go in the draw to win some goodies.
This month’s draw was for a Contest of Queens swag bag! *cue trumpets* including: a message in a bottle, a book bag, two postcards, a fridge magnet, a bookmark, and an autographed book sticker.
Congratulations Dylan (@dylankewball on Instagram) for being this month’s winner of the hype train draw! Thank you so much for all you did this month to share the Contest of Queens love!
For more information about the hype train, or if you would like to join, please jump over the the contact page and send me an email 🙂
Contest of Queens Giveaway Winner
This month I also had an Instagram contest to celebrate the cover reveal for Contest of Queens. Congratulations to Ally (@nuggets_allison) for winning all these goodies!
The prize was a Contest of Queens swag bag, and a signed copy of The Rose Petal Princess and other fairytales!
August has been a wild and wonderful month, namely because I was able to reveal the cover of my upcoming novel, Contest of Queens! It was such a magical and humbling experience, and it just kept on going!
The day was spent out at Two Jack Lake with a group of wonderful humans who all took time out of their Saturdays to come celebrate. We had champagne and nibbles, and laughed in the face of the orange smoke that turned all our photographs sepia tone. Billie Marlow captured the day perfectly (check out her photography on instagram: @marlowb).
On top of the in person magic, the cover was also released online through The Nerd Daily, and the story was covered by the Rocky Mountain Outlook (keep scrolling to see what they had to say). I know this journey is truly just beginning, but I honestly cannot believe how lucky I am to be on it! Thank you to everyone who came out and supported the release in person, thank you to everyone who is showing their support from afar, AND the pre-order link is up, so if you want to be the first to read Contest of Queens, please pre-order your copy now!
Welcome back for my second book nook! A space where I get to sit down and geek out with incredible authors about their books. Today I had the honor of chatting with Brandie June, debut author of Gold Spun (released earlier this year) about magic and magic systems in fairytale retellings. So boil the kettle, pour the tea, grab some bickies and settle in!
When seventeen-year-old Nor rescues a captured faerie in the woods, he gifts her with a magical golden thread she can use to summon him for a favor. Instead, Nor uses it for a con—to convince villagers to buy straw that can be transformed into gold. Her trick works a little too well, attracting the suspicion of Prince Casper, who hates nobody more than a liar. Intent on punishing Nor, he demands that she spin a room of straw into gold and as her reward, he will marry her. Should she refuse or fail, the consequences will be dire. Desperate for help, Nor summons the faerie’s aid, launching a complicated dance as she must navigate between her growing feelings for both the prince and faerie boy and who she herself wishes to become
So get a cup of tea ready, and settle in to watch these talented authors and I discuss the roles mentors play in our respective novels as well as in young adult fantasy as a genre. It was such a privilege to speak with these incredible humans, and a huge thank you to Josh Chamberman who was our moderator for this event!
Most of us have been lucky to find positive role models and mentor figures either in our lives, or in books, shows, and movies. Some of my favourite mentor figures in media include Uncle Iroh from Avatar the Last Airbender and Bromm from Eragon. I’d love to hear about the mentors that have made a difference in your lives! Leave a comment, or pop me a message 🙂
Live magically x
Be sure to pop over to CamCat Books for more information about these authors and their upcoming (or released) novels. https://camcatbooks.com/
Welcome to my book nook! A place where I get to indulge my nerdy side and talk books with amazingly talented authors. Today’s guest is Aamna Qureshi, author of The Lady or the Lion which is coming out July 20th, 2021, and When a Brown Girl Flees which is coming out in 2023.
It was such an honor to speak with Aamna today, so I hope you all enjoy our discussion about fairytales, retellings and their place in YA fantasy (with a little romantic intrigue thrown in for good measure!)
Live magically x
Aamna Qureshi is a Pakistani, Muslim American who adores words. She grew up on Long Island, New York, in a very loud household, surrounded by English (for school), Urdu (for conversation), and Punjabi (for emotion). Through her writing, she wishes to inspire a love for the beautiful country and rich culture that informed much of her identity.
For more information, check out Aamna Qureshi’s website: https://www.aamnaqureshi.com/ Follow her on instagram: @aamna_qureshi or Twitter: @aamnaqureshi_
On May 27th, 2021 I was lucky enough to be one of the authors featured on CamCat Books’ panel Writing Debut YA at the PW US Book Show. It was such a surreal and wonderful experience chatting with these amazing women, learning more about their worlds, and how they wrote their inspiring female leads. If you have a cup of tea ready, watch the full thing below and enjoy the show!
Also, if you look really closely, you can see a sneak peak of my book cover for Contest of Queens!
For your second cup of tea, check out these two wonderful authors:
The Lady or the Lion
He sunk his teeth into her heart and she let him.
As crown princess of Marghazar, Durkhanai Miangul will do anything to protect her people and her land. When her grandfather, the Badshah, is blamed for a deadly assault on the summit of neighboring leaders, the tribes call for his head. To assuage cries for war, the Badshah opens Marghazar’s gates to foreigners for the first time in centuries, in a sign of good faith. His family has three months to prove their innocence, or they will all have war.
As Durkhanai races to solve who really orchestrated the attack, ambassadors from the neighboring tribal districts arrive at court, each with their own intentions for negotiations, each with their own plans for advantage. When a mysterious illness spreads through the villages and the imperialists push hard on her borders, Durkhanai must dig deep to become more than just a beloved princess—she must become a queen.
To distract Durkhanai from it all is Asfandyar Afridi, the wry ambassador who tells her outright he is a spy, yet acts as though he is her friend—or maybe even something more.
If Nor can’t spin gold, she can always spin lies.
When seventeen-year-old Nor rescues a captured faerie in the woods, he gifts her with a magical golden thread she can use to summon him for a favor. Instead, Nor uses it for a con—to convince villagers to buy straw that can be transformed into gold. Her trick works a little too well, attracting the suspicion of Prince Casper, who hates nobody more than a liar. Intent on punishing Nor, he demands that she spin a room of straw into gold and as her reward, he will marry her. Should she refuse or fail, the consequences will be dire. Desperate for help, Nor summons the faerie’s aid, launching a complicated dance as she must navigate between her growing feelings for both the prince and faerie boy and who she herself wishes to become.
Something a little harsher. Mild violence warning. A short story about escapism.
This will likely be my last short story published here for a while. I have three incredible writing projects I’m so so excited about working on this year and between those and my day job- I don’t see myself having time for much more. But I hope you’ve enjoyed them. If you want more, please check out my short stories from previous months, and in the meantime, save a space on your bookshelf for my upcoming novel: Contest of Queens!
A Griffin stood before her. The sleek feathered head, wings, and talons of an eagle merging seamlessly to the silky haunches and tail of a lion. It towered over her, head high. A Queen surveying her subject. The sunlight shone like gold on its fur, and shimmered across iridescent feathers. Its eyes held an ancient knowing of one who has understood their power for as long as a mountain has known its height.
Without thinking, she sunk into a deep, reverential bow. Pain bloomed down her left side as she bent forward. Her breath caught, she squeezed her eyes tight shut, and focused on the creature before her. She watched the breeze playfully ruffle feather and fur, watched the creature’s long tail flick ever so slightly. Minute adjustments and shifted posture gave life to this creature of legend. With every breath, the goddess became mortal.
The Griffin inclined its head slightly and clicked its beak. Hesitantly, she approached. Each step soundless, weightless. She slowly bridged the distance between them; its great eye watching her all the while. She was now close enough to count the barbs along individual feather vanes. Each snowy white feather crowned in soot black. A loaded quill awaiting parchment.
She raised a hand, the Griffin bowed its head, and she placed her palm against its cheek. Her nails were decidedly intact, her wrists purposefully unblemished. Tan on black on white. Eyes level, she saw the turn of the Earth within its iris, saw the depth of the night sky within its pupil. Gently, she stroked its cheek. The Griffin closed its eyes and made a contented sound deep in its throat. A dove’s coo harmonized with a kitten’s purr. She smiled, wincing only slightly as her lips pulled taut and cracked.
Her eyes slid down its neck to rest on the space between its wing joints. Again, the Griffin beckoned, shifting its head. She tentatively traced her palm down the line her eyes had drawn. Then, her body unnaturally light, lifted herself upward and settled in between the wing joints. She could almost feel the warmth against her thigh and the feathers slipping between her fingers as she sought a handhold among the rachides.
She inhaled. Warm notes of hay, chestnuts, and pine resin danced in her mind, fighting back the scent of mildew and gasoline.
A sudden metallic crash rang in her ears and resonated within her skull, rattling her bones.The screech of something monstrous. She buried her face in the Griffin’s neck. Her eyes squeezed shut. Through the reverberation, she could hear the gentle cooing echo in the creature’s throat. The soft sound drowned out the dying crash. Heavy footsteps followed, but had no place where they were headed.
Emboldened, she sat upright and applied the slightest pressure through her knees. As though awaiting this command, the Griffin tossed its majestic head, flicked its tail, and set off at a gallop. The approaching footsteps became the pounding of paw and talon.
Three great strides and the creature launched itself into the unknown.
The field slipped away from them as they rose higher towards the heavens. She was the fulcrum, and the world spun beneath her. All life now orbiting her place on the Griffin’s back. Air currents swirled around her, cooling her feverish brow. She stretched her arms to either side, embracing the light, and was almost able to ignore the dull ache spanning the length of her ribs.
She felt a bubble of laughter building in her chest. Light and playful it burst forth and danced around the clouded realm. The anticipated windswept laughter hit her ears with hollow dissonance. Losing its substance as it fell from her lips, the marrow sucked from a bone. A dry, rasping husk of joy.
Still she looked higher. Clouds enveloped and released them. They soared above meadows of mist. Fluffy white mountains and milky valleys stretched away below; all edged in a golden glow.
“Alright girly, get up,” a harsh voice scraped from coarse throat. Its notes flew at her. The words chased her as she spurred the Griffin forward. She glanced behind them, her breath caught in her throat as she glimpsed the sinuous shape emerging from the gathering clouds. Ruby eyes gleaming, scales glistening, it stalked her on the wind.
She bent low over the Griffin’s neck and urged the creature onwards. Great wings beating on either side of her, matching and masking the sharp, swift flashes of pain blossoming within her like fireworks.
The clouds darkened, billowing up to meet her. Shadows corrupted the valleys of light. A patch of sun remained high above her. She pleaded the Griffin higher. Arms outstretched, pain devoured her as she reached her fingers towards the sun.
Then her wrists were wrenched behind her. Manacles materialized and she felt the hard back of a chair along her spine. Her last patch of light snuffed out. Shadows rose up to consume them as down, down they fell. Wings became paper thin and useless. Hands and talons grasped at nothing. The Griffin screamed. Eagle cry blended with lion roar. The crashing of thunder merged with howling winds. The scream exploded in the void, echoing through the darkness, struggling for purchase in the abyss, growing softer and weaker, until finally, dying in a girl’s whimper.
Slowly, her eyes opened.
A man stood before her. She glared up at him through swollen eyelids. Breathing heavily through gritted teeth and cracked ribs, her vision swam. Blood smeared his knuckles. He dragged a forearm under his nose and spat near her foot. For a moment, she caught sight of the gleaming red eyes of a serpent. The inked beast twisted around his wrist.
A lighthearted story to start the year off the right way. This is about one of those moments in history that gives me the giggles every time I think about it, and I just hope I did it enough justice that it gives you the giggles too. So the timeline has been tweaked a little to make the story more condensed, and I took some artistic liberties, but the events are accurate. Two young girls did manage to fool Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, esteemed author of Sherlock Holmes, (as well as many many other people) with photographs of ‘real’ fairies. Like my other stories, this one pairs well with a cup of tea- may I suggest something floral? Chamomile, perhaps?
Cottingley, England. 1920
“The state you’re in!” Elsie’s mother’s voice crashed into the girls as they came into view, making them stop short at the parlor door. She rose from her seat at the window and strode towards them. Her stern posture somewhat ruined by the dimples flickering in her cheeks.
Frances, Elsie’s younger cousin, looked down guiltily at their bare feet, grass and mud clinging to their soles, and winced at the inches of sopping hem above their ankles.
“Where have you been? We have a visitor arriving soon.” Elsie’s mother cushioned the word visitor as though it were a precious vase. Elsie clutched her sketchbook tightly and glanced at Frances.
“We were visiting the fairies.” Frances said sweetly, exchanging a knowing look with Elsie and stifling a grin. The dimples in Elsie’s mother’s cheeks deepened and all hints of severity smoothed out with an indulgent smile.
Elsie’s father snapped his newspaper from where he sat on the settee. He did not look up, but Elsie could see the lines deepen on his forehead, and heard a distinctive short, sharp sniff.
“Did you see any today?” Elsie’s mother asked.
“Yeah, loads!” Frances replied, absently scratching one foot with the toes of the other.
Seeing an opportunity, Elsie added, “If father allowed us to use his camera again, we could have taken some more pictures to show you.” She sighed delicately, though loud enough to carry over her father’s paper barricade. He did not respond, but sat now too still for one supposedly reading.
“Never mind that,” her mother said with a wave. “Hurry and change into something dry, and put some shoes on. Elsie, help Frances fix her ribbon will you? And clean up that muck. You look like you’ve been living in the woods.”
Before the girls could obey, a crunching of gravel, the knocking on and creaking of the front door, and the purposeful footfalls of a man with an appointment made them scurry behind Elsie’s mother. There was a murmuring just beyond the parlor entranceway.
A servant appeared and announced, “Ma’am, the theosophist, Mr. Edward Garner is here.”
With a panicked and slightly exasperated look at Elsie, her mother removed a leaf from her daughter’s hair and said, “Send him in.”
The servant bowed, stepped aside, and gestured for their guest to enter.
The shine of his shoes entered first. The man followed. He wore a dark suit, white shirt, and an understated dark tie. His seams had been pressed, and his tailor- most likely- well paid for his diligence. His hair was white, and his salt and pepper goatee was trimmed neatly. He stood in the doorway with the air of a man used to speaking from podiums. Surveying the parlor, he caught sight of the nature-tumbled girls, opened his palms by his sides, and beamed.
“And this must be Miss Elsie and Frances Griffiths,” he said. The girls said nothing, they simply stared.
“The very same,” Elsie’s mother nodded and shot a look at Elsie that compelled her to step forward.
“I’m Elsie, sir, and this is my cousin, Frances.”
Frances took a half step forward. Mr. Gardner beamed wider still and shook each of their hands in turn. He did not appear to notice their grubby nails and mud smeared palms.
“Marvelous!” he exclaimed. “I’ve been so looking forward to meeting the girls who discovered fairies!” He bounced slightly on the balls of his feet and wrung his hands excitedly.
Frances giggled, “Our fairies?”
“Yes indeed little Miss, you and your cousin have made a breakthrough of religious proportion. To think that you have done what many have tried and failed to do; captured fairies on film! And it’s not just me who wants to see them, I have been sent by my dear friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He entrusted me to determine whether these photographs are to be believed.” He inflated visibly at the mention of his friend and looked around expectantly.
The girls exchanged a glance. Elsie felt her cheeks flush and her stomach flutter. “Sir Arthu… you mean…” she began.
“The great author of Sherlock Holmes, naturally.” Mr. Gardner supplied, standing taller.
“He wants to see our fairies too?” Frances asked incredulously.
“That he does, that he does. He has even sent you each a camera to use as a thank you for documenting these elusive creatures.”
The two girls were speechless. Mr. Gardner appeared to take it as a sign of awe and gratitude. Elsie’s father finally lowered his paper.
“Arthur Wright,” he said to Mr. Gardner by way of introduction. Mr. Gardner shook his offered hand. “How did you hear about the girls’ photographs?” Arthur asked.
“Dear, I told you,” Elsie’s mother hurried to explain, “I shared them at the Theosophical Society’s lecture in Bradford last year. Mr. Gardner saw them and…”
“Became captivated by them!” Mr. Gardner finished merrily. “Now,” he turned to the girls, “if I may, where can I see the fairies?”
Elsie shifted her sketchbook slightly behind her and looked away. Frances scratched her foot again absentmindedly and said, “Well, the thing is, sir, you can’t.” The words were pulled from her slowly by the steady gaze of the eager theosophist.
Mr. Gardner looked like a balloon that had just met a pin and began to deflate before their eyes. “I ca-” he began.
“Because they don’t show themselves to adults… especially men.” Elsie cut him off, giving Frances’ hand a squeeze.
A silence echoed around them as Mr. Gardner visibly fought with his disappointment.
“Ah! Of course!” He said finally, re-inflating. “I should have guessed. Much like the myth of the Unicorn. Yes, very similar. I suppose it follows. Quite right. Say no more! That’s what the cameras are for after all. I will… well you two go and find the fairies, and I will…”
“Would you like a cup of tea Mr. Gardner?” Elsie’s mother offered. “And maybe some biscuits while you wait?”
Mr. Gardner beamed. It was settled. The girls were each given a new camera and set off towards the beck, a small stream in the woods at the back of the property. Mr. Gardner remained inside with Mr. and Mrs. Wright as the latter suggested. The former skeptic, Mr. Wright was only too eager to insist that he had believed, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in the photographs from the moment he saw them.
Elsie and Frances, feet still wet from earlier, carried their cameras and a pouch filled with secrets into the woods.
“Isn’t it wonderful to have Sherlock Holmes investigate our fairies?” Frances whispered. “What if he finds out they’re fake?”
“What if he doesn’t?” Elsie whispered even quieter, her eyes sparkled.
It had drizzled all morning and tiny pearls of rain glistened from leaves and petals across the garden. As the girls passed through the trees, their pace slowed to one of reverence. Their hands fell to their sides to caress the still-damp leaves in their path. Moss absorbed their footfalls. Their steady breathing mingled and became lost in the breeze flickering through the trees. Sunlight shone in dappled patterns around them, illuminating their eyelashes and dancing through their hair. The beck giggled away to their right, guiding their course.
Theirs was a place of whispers.
Standing stone still, moss creeping up their heels, the girls paused with hands held. The sounds of the woods floated around them. A robin’s song rippled from a nearby branch. It did not take much imagination to believe that this was a realm for fairies.
The girls set to work. Elsie, with an artist’s eye, selected the perfect location. Frances readied one of the cameras and passed Elsie the small pouch. Elsie carefully retrieved a few hatpins and her latest creation: a delicate dancing figure with dragonfly wings, her arms outstretched and toes pointed, carefully cut from paper. Admiring the way the sunlight shimmered through the thin paper, she began positioning the tiny figure among the leaves and secured it with a hatpin. She stood back to regard the effect with her head tilted, readjusted the hatpin, and considered it again. It was a while before she was satisfied.
“Ok, now Frances, you stand there and look as though this fairy is flying towards you… hang on, let me fix your ribbon.”
The shutter clicked and clicked again. The paper coming to life with each picture captured. Finally, as though completing a ritual, the girls took their little paper muses to the beck and watched them float away. One got caught briefly in an eddy and Elsie swore she heard it laughing.
Once the film had been developed, the girls showed their pictures to Mr. Gardner triumphantly. He was speechless for a time and appeared to be blurred around the edges, such was his excitement.
“Marvelous!” he exclaimed. “Oh I can just hear my dear friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle now, I’ll show him the photographs and ask, ‘Is this mere imagination?’ and he will laugh that laugh of his and reply, ‘How often is imagination the mother of truth?’” Mr. Gardner chuckled to himself, then, seeing the blank look on the girls’ faces, added, “Just a little Sherlock Holmes joke for you.”
They smiled weakly.
A few months passed after Mr. Gardner’s visit. Elsie was reading to Frances by the fire. A shriek shattered the tranquil moment and Elsie’s mother ran into the room holding a magazine and a crumpled letter to her breast.
“Girls! My darling girls! It’s your fairies! Sir Arthur- he’s written an article! Sent us a copy. In a magazine! Apparently it has already sold out. They’re having to reprint. Can you believe? You! You two have brought the discovery of fairies to the world!” She paused for breath, face glowing and letter still clutched tightly in her fist. She thrust the magazine at Elsie who accepted it in stunned silence.
“Arthur!” Elsie’s mother shrieked. “Arthur, you must see this!” and she vanished from the room as quickly as she had come.
The two girls looked at each other and Elsie slowly opened the magazine. There were their photographs in the middle of an eight page article boldly titled: The Evidence for Fairies. Their names had been changed, but their faces were very much still clearly in the photographs.
Elsie quickly scanned the article and read the caption under the picture of Frances and the leaping fairy out loud, “‘The fairy is leaping up from leaves below and hovering for a moment. It had done so three or four times. Rising a little higher than before, Alice’ – that’s you Frances- ‘thought it would touch her face and involuntarily tossed her head back.’ He then says, ‘A girl of fifteen is old enough to be a good witness, and her flight and the clear detail of her memory point to a real experience.’”
She put a hand to her mouth as Frances snatched the magazine from her to read it herself.
“But…” Frances said finally, “he’s a detective!”
“No, he just writes about one.” Elsie said quietly.
“But he should be cleverer because he writes about one.”
“Maybe…” Elsie scanned the article again, her fingers brushing the image of the leaping fairy. “Maybe he just wants to believe they’re real?”
“Oh.” Frances scratched the top of one foot with the other, thinking. “Well… well now we really can’t tell him the truth.” she said.
I have always been somewhat obsessed with King Henry VIII and his wives. It is such a fascinating period in history and it really is amazing how one man’s desire for a male heir changed the course of a country’s history and even their religion. I fell in love with this period in time mostly through Philippa Gregory’s novels and have always thought that Anne of Cleves, though only married to Henry for six months, won (if it can be considered a contest). She doesn’t get much fanfair, and we don’t have nearly as much information about her as we do of say Anne Boleyn, but she ended up outliving Henry and all of his previous and later wives. She lived out her days known as, “The King’s Beloved Sister,” and according to record, never actually had to consummate the marriage. What. A. Queen. So here’s a little story about the beginning of their end.
It is said a portrait is worth a thousand words. A thousand words. Is a thousand words enough to define a person? To capture their true essence and reveal the inner workings of their soul? Is a thousand words enough with which to fall in love? Surely the number should be higher? The portraits required should be numerous? And what a responsibility to hang on the artist. The stress of the job must burn one out before they are halfway to four and twenty. But the King of England was in need of another wife, so Anne’s picture was painted, packed, and shipped to the English Monarch.
Portraits of both Anne and her sister had been requested, as the King enjoyed options, and a simple alliance of families was all that was needed. Portrait-sitting was a tiresome activity and Anne had enjoyed making faces at her sister behind the artists’ back to pass the time. She had studied her likeness in her reflection and compared it to the finished portrait. Sure, the oil imitation held a shadow of her smile, and hinted at the crinkle around her eyes, but it really only captured a single facet of who she was. Tipping and angling her face in her looking glass, she shifted through a myriad of Annes. Each singular and unique until another expression took its place. She could only hope, as she inspected her oil likeness for signs of variation, that the artist captured the Anne that would be most pleasing to the King.
When his portrait arrived, she could not help but wonder which versions had been omitted in favor of the captured colossus presented to her household. While her portrait had been sent as a question, his had been sent as a statement. It declared: “Here is your husband.” In preparation, she curtseyed with head bowed under the portrait’s cold eye when she passed it in the hall.
Her portrait was selected, and her sister brushed an expression of excitement on her own features for Anne’s benefit. Just like her painting, she was packed up and shipped to England. Her stomach rolling, breath shallow, and palms clammy, she did what she was bid without complaint.
Maybe Painted Anne had been just as nervous? After all, she had been locked in the dark and propelled across bumpy roads and a tumultuous sea only to be unwrapped in a foreign land and gawked at by foreign people. Although, Painted Anne’s duty had been simple: accurately represent the real Anne of Cleves. She did not have to worry about pleasing the King, adopting the English customs, or learning to speak their tongue. She did not even have to consider what it meant to be the fourth wife of a King who changed his country’s religion for a divorce. A King who, when that was not enough, relieved his second wife’s neck of the burden of her head. No, Painted Anne could sit quietly and let events fall as they may. Not a single crease to blemish her smooth brow.
Meanwhile, the Real Anne tore through several kerchiefs during her shipment. Twisting and knotting her worries into the embroidered fabric until the stitched monogram warped beyond recognition. She had no way to prepare for what was expected of her, and no frame of reference to guide her. Her first betrothal had never amounted to anything more than a few sweet verses of proclaimed love she still kept within the pages of her bible. But, when given the choice between herself and her sister, the King had chosen her. Surely that was promising? Was it possible to love someone from their portrait?
She was unpacked in an English tower. Her things put in their proper place while she floated about, unsure where to land. The English spoke quickly and took her silence for agreement– or at least for a lack of protest.
Finally, they seated her in a chair by the window. The courtyard below was a flurry of activity as a number of small dogs took it in turns to attack a tethered bull. The men and women around her cheered and clapped as the little dog darted at the poor beast. Coin changed hands, goblets were refilled, and a new dog was introduced to the fray. Anne mirrored the reactions of those around her. She fell into their rhythm and made sure to smile at those who made eye contact with her.
A knock at the door interrupted the spectacle. Her companions exchanged knowing looks and eyed her with excitement. She rose. The door opened. A drunk in a thread-bare cloak stumbled in.
“Happy New Year,” he slurred in broken German; the first words she had understood all afternoon.
“A gift from the King of England,” he said, a roguish glint in his eye. She stood very still and he lunged at her. Clasping her tightly and smothering her mouth with his, he forced a small token into her fist as he drew back. His eyes were hungry and he looked at her expectantly.
She tasted the remnants of stale ale and onions on her lips, felt the blood rush to her cheeks, and heard a ringing in her ears. The room turned to look at her. Dozens of eyes alive with Schadenfreude fixed upon her flushed face and wet lips. The bull bellowed in the courtyard below. Still the drunk waited. She squeezed the token in her hand as though to reduce it to dust. Breathing sharply through her nose, she felt a smile lift the corners of her eggshell mouth.
“My thanks to his majesty,” she responded in barely a whisper. As though moving through mud, she lowered herself in a curtsey, then sank into her seat. She forced her gaze to return to the bull baiting below.
His next attempts at conversation were lost to her ears. The drunk’s blundered German, rather than setting her at ease, opened an ache for home within her heart so profound it was all she could do to remain upright, eyes fixed on the bull. The little dogs nipped and yipped at the stoic creature far below. It snorted and lowered its deadly horns in a challenge.
After a time, the drunk retreated. The door clicked shut and the room was silent but for the sounds from the courtyard below. No one approached the painted figure in the window.
A knock came again. She turned, dreading a similar visitor. The door opened and the drunk reappeared, transformed. As if by magic, he now was adorned with jewels and wore a coat of deep purple velvet. A man heralded his entrance and Anne picked out the words, “His Majesty, the King of England, King Henry the Eighth.”
The room erupted in applause, and the King beamed with arms outstretched. Anne hurried to clap with the others, all the while feeling a pit form in her stomach. From far below, the bull bellowed again. It strained against its rope as the dogs circled closer, teeth bared. The crowd jeered.
She caught the King’s eye and noticed a deep crease upon his royal brow as he regarded her. Piecing her smile back together, she received her fiancé warmly. This time, determined to show that his presence thrilled rather than offended. That his breath was sweet, his German fluent, and his touch welcome. He explained the rules of bull-baiting to her as though to a child, and he ensured she was presented with a fine selection of sweetmeats. All the while, the same thought ran through her mind: The royal painter is a liar.
This is a Fairy Tale written in a style to match (think Grimm Brothers rather than Disney). I’ve always loved fairy tales; loved the originals, loved the retellings, loved the animated versions. There’s such a beautiful magic that fairy tales evoke and the suspension of disbelief allows for wonderous things to occur (unless you’re the “um actually…” type). This is the first of nine fairy tales nestled in my fairy tale treasury: The Rose Petal Princess and other fairy tales. Read more about this treasury here: https://jordanhbartlett.com/fairytales/ Cover image designed by Ashley Banbury, @ashtreehouse on Instagram
Long ago and far away, there lived a Queen. She lived in a magnificent palace and ruled over her realm with compassion and grace. Her people loved her, and she loved them in return. She was happy in every way but one: in her heart, she longed for a daughter.
Every night before she went to bed, she would dance beneath the stars in a courtyard scattered with rose petals. As she danced, she would wish for a little girl that she could love and care for; a little girl she could dance with and hold in her arms. The Queen’s feet would fly and her skirts would twirl as she spun through the petals alone.
One evening, as she twisted and turned with her arms outstretched, her bare foot trod on a lone thorn among the rose petals. She cried out and fell to the ground. A shimmering tear slipped down her cheek and landed on the bloodied petals at her feet.
All at once, the wind picked up and rushed through the starlit courtyard. The air filled with perfume as the petals swirled around the frightened Queen. She covered her face with her hands as the wind became a gale and the soft petals, now razor sharp, cut at her skin.
When the wind finally stopped and she lowered her hands, the Queen gasped at what she saw. Spread across the middle of the courtyard like a mosaic, hundreds of petals had spiraled to form a rose. A young girl stood in the center.
“Hello mother,” the girl said. “I’ve waited so long to dance with you.”
The girl helped the stunned Queen to her feet and hugged her. Then mother and daughter began to dance under the stars. Their feet flew and their skirts twirled as they spun through the petals, laughing all the while.
The Queen was finally happy because her heart was full. The realm rejoiced to watch the little rose petal Princess grow to be as beautiful and graceful as her mother. Every night, the Queen and the Princess danced together under the stars. Their movements were always in perfect harmony, and word of their skill spread across the land.
On the night before the Princess’ sixteenth birthday, a comet cut across the sky and many of the stars in its path went dark. The palace was quiet; all those within held their breath. Guards lined the entrance hall, waiting. No one knew what this strange omen meant, or what future it foretold.
As the clock struck twelve, a loud crash rattled the front door in its frame. The Queen held the Princess’ hand tightly from the top of the stairs as the sound came again. At the third crash, the door burst open. A monster made of darkness emerged from the shadowy night. Its two gleaming red eyes scanned the room, its sharp yellow teeth flashed as it grinned up at the Queen and her daughter.
The monster lifted one black finger and pointed it at the guards. At its command, an army of people, long dead and somehow impossibly alive, crawled into the hall. With black eyes and cruel smiles, they swarmed into the palace and cut down all those who stood in their path. The monster of darkness laughed in the chaos and addressed the Queen.
“Light-footed Queen,” it said, “you and your petal will dance for us one last time.”
The Queen squeezed the Princess’ hand tighter. As the undead creatures crept closer, the two women began to dance.
Their feet flew, their arms twisted, and their bodies spun. Moonlight illuminated their limbs, leaving a bright trail following behind each movement. The creatures stopped, stunned by the spectacle. Then, with a subtle nod to her mother, the Princess began to dance faster. The Queen seamlessly increased her own tempo to match.
Delicate pointed feet became like hardened steel, bended arms became slashing blades. Their bodies becoming living weapons, they fought through the crowd of monsters. Heels crashed into decaying flesh. Fists cracked through brittle bone. They danced in perfect unison. Two edges of the same blade.
They fought through the night. Never faltering, never missing a beat, the rhythm of battle hammered out with each landed blow. Too quick to catch, the enemy struggled to lay even a finger on them.
As the sun rose and light shone through the palace windows, the Queen lowered her arms. The Princess mirrored her posture. The monster of darkness had vanished, leaving an entrance hall filled with the bodies of fallen foes.
They had won.
While the realm celebrated the vanquishing of such evil from their borders, the Queen and the Princess began to prepare for its return. They trained their people to dance like weapons, and every night they looked up from their rose-strewn courtyard to the starlit sky.