Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge: Love’s Breath & Sorrow’s Retort

There are fools, and then there are fools in love. Give me the normal fools, for love makes the foolish more so. Who am I to speak such words of sanity amidst the worship our society heaps upon fleeting ephemera?

My name is Emerald. No other moniker required or desired.

For years, I have watched the besotted flock to my door in search of just a taste of that phantasmal creature known as “love.” From the meanest beggars to the bluest-blooded, they all come. To one and all, I give it to them.

But it costs, as everything does. That is one thing the poets and minstrels rarely make plain. I am neither, so I am free with the truth. As I’m not one to make claims without justification, I will give you a tale.

It will cost, however. The price is for you to decide.

My story starts as so many others do:

Once upon a time there was a beautiful maiden. She wandered the village with gay abandon, her smile straightening the backs of peasants bent from toiling in the fields and reddening the cheeks of the eldest widow jealous of those enjoying what time stole from them. Promised to God, her habit brought peace and comfort to the poor villagers.

One day, a prince rode through and spied her skipping about her devotional duties. Eros, always the trickster and bitter at the old gods usurpation, fired his arrow straight to the royal heart, but left her untouched.

The smitten lord spent months in the village, trying to woo the fair nun. Roses by the thousands were delivered to the nunnery, with promises of riches, lands, and titles. He declared the day he first laid eyes on her a holiday. He followed her on her duties with knee ever-ready to bend, only to rebuffed at every turn by her sweet, “I am promised to God, my lord.”

Despondency and desperation go hand-in-hand. When word reached him of a hedge-witch who specialized in potions that melted the hardest hearts, he rode three days and three nights through the Dark Forest. Bandits, ogres, and goblins fell before his blade on his perilous journey, until he reached a small hovel in the middle of the forest.

Fearless, he strode inside with nary a knock and pronounced, “I am searching for the witch! Come out in the name of the Prince!”

A young woman with ancient eyes glided out of nowhere, greeting the royal with an equal’s nod. “Highness. What may I do for you?”

“I need a potion to make the woman I love love me in return. I will pay anything!”

A gleam entered those aged eyes, a warning the smitten prince failed to recognize. “And the woman does what?”

“What does it matter? Make your potion and name your price!”

She clucked her tongue and shook her head. “Magic is delicate, milord. A happily married woman would be much more difficult to enchant than say…an orphan girl with no family. I need to know so I can adjust the spell accordingly.”

The prince ground his teeth, but spat out, “A nun.”

A slender eyebrow raised. “Ah. Well, that will take a strong potion indeed.” She clapped her hands and smiled. “Very well. Bring me that cauldron over there and do exactly as I say.” Her smile grew wider. “Payment we shall discuss…later.”

Once the prince set the cauldron on her table, she poured a cup of water in it and grabbed several vials. “Essence of baby’s laughter,” she muttered as she poured the contents of the vial. “Mist of a rainbow and a unicorn’s tears of joy. The breath of true love’s first kiss.”

She glanced at the prince and handed him an empty vial. “Prick your finger and squeeze ten drops of blood into that.”

The prince grew suspicious, but did as bade. She poured the crimson drops into her concoction and stirred. She lowered a flask into the cauldron. “This potion is potent. Let the contents breath under the light of a full moon, then pour the remains into a cup of rose tea. Have her drink, and she shall be yours.”

The prince snatched the flask from her and hurried back to the village, forgetting about asking about her payment in his haste. He followed the witch’s instructions, and wooed the peasant nun. She broke her vows and traveled to the palace with the prince. They married in a ceremony celebrated by the whole kingdom.

Time passed, as it does, and the new princess found herself lost amid the castle manners and intrigues. She knew nothing of the world in which she found herself. The prince’s ardor for the simple young woman faded, sated now that he’d acquired that denied to him. The couple, married during the throes of passion, found little in common.

The prince’s attentions wandered and, like a rose cut from the stem, the former nun soon wilted from neglect. She withdrew from to her parlor, barred from the outside and the people she’d once served, and alone except for when her husband tried for an heir.

The king passed and the prince became ruler of the land. His wife, barren and faded, but devoted by spell to her husband became queen. So the unhappy couple stayed for several years, the new king searching for any reason to divorce the peasant he married, but foiled by her unwavering fidelity toward him.

One day, the witch, untouched by the years, came before the king. “It is time for my payment, lord.”

The king dismissed his court except for three guards. “I have a new deal for you, witch.” He gestured and the guards grabbed the witch’s arms. “Create a potion that will kill my wife, so I may marry someone of breeding. Do this, and I won’t have you executed for witchery.”

The witch grinned and the temperature of the room dropped. “Of course, my lord. If I may have a place to work?”

“Take her to the dungeon. She can work there.” The guards led the witch to the bowels of the castle, and she did not resist their rough handling.

Once ensconced within her cell, she told one guard she needed a cauldron. He left, but a different man returned with her request. She asked for water from another guard, and a different man brought her a pitcher of water. The two new guards turned on the third guard who carried the king’s secret and killed him.

The witch laughed and set about her task. She pulled various vials out of her dress and added them to a new spell. “Echo of traitor’s promise, a serpent’s tongue, some tears of a fallen angel, and…” She pulled out one last vial, remnants of the former prince’s blood used for the original potion, and stirred it in. When finished, she dipped in a flask and handed it to the guard. “Give this to the king and let him know he must bury it with a freshly hanged murderer for seven days. Then he need merely baste the queen’s dinner meat with it, and he shall have his reward.”

The king followed her instructions, hanging the guard who brought the witch’s potion and burying the flask with him. A week later, the king desecrated the grave to retrieve the flask and finish his heinous undertaking. He smeared the witch’s cocktail on his wife’s dinner and dismissed the servants to deliver it to her room himself.

He watched as she at, an unaccustomed smile creasing his features despite his revulsion at her doe-eyed looks of love she lavished on him. She finished and stood, falling upon her bed as dizziness engulfed her. He rose from his seat and tossed her into a semblance of repose. Once he finished, he readied to call the guard, but her eyes snapped open in fury, startling him.

He backed away, but she stalked him across the room, picking up the knife from her dinner remains. With a speed and strength unexpected from so small a frame, she pounced upon her former false-love. The knife rose and fell over and over.

He never had time to scream.

In the dungeon, the witch cackled and disappeared…

So ends my tale. I’m sure disbelief will be your reaction, visions of fairy tales with happy endings smothering the truth of the events.

So be it, for I am not one to force my views upon anyone. Believe what you wish, it makes no difference to me.

As for the price…payment will be discussed.

Later.

***

For Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge over at terribleminds. This week the challenge is to create a cocktail, give it a name (to be used in the title), and incorporate it in a way vital to the story. This week he’s giving us 2,000 words to tell the story. Check it out and give it a try!

Hope you enjoy.

Happy Reading and Writing!

J. Milburn

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6 thoughts on “Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge: Love’s Breath & Sorrow’s Retort

  1. Haha! That was a lot of fun to read!

  2. Actually, I thought the ending was quite suitable… he was a wretched, wretched man 🙂

  3. I like this story and i like the way it is written 🙂

  4. You had me hooked from the first sentence! Excellent. ‘Happily ever after’ has been long overdue for retirement 😉

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