I’m very interested in the idea of fairy tales at the moment, I’m working on a project I’m hoping to submit to a publisher next year, so I’ve been doing some research and have come across the work of Vladimir Propp, through the work of Jack Zipes in his Spells of Enchantment. Propp, in his study The Morphology of Folk Tale, outlined the basic events that created a common form of fairy tale in Europe. To paraphrase Zipes paraphrasing of Propp’s points these are:
The main character is confronted by a rule or limit which he or she breaks in some way.
The main character is banished.
The main character is either given or assumes a task related to the rule or limit that has been broken.
The main character encounters either (a) a villain (b) a mysterious individual or creature who gives the main character gifts (c) three different animals or creatures, who are helped by the main character and they promise to repay him or her (d) three animals or creatures who offer gifts to help the main character who is in trouble. The gifts mentioned are often magical agents which can bring about miraculous change.
The endowed main character is tested and moves onto battle where he or she conquers the villain or unfriendly forces.
There is a sudden fall in the main character’s fortunes, however this is usually only a temporary setback. A wonder or miracle is needed to improve the main character’s fortunes again.
The main character makes use of endowed gifts (including magical gifts and cunning) to achieve his or her goal, the result is (a) three battles with the villain; (b) three impossible tasks which are nevertheless made possible or (c) the breaking of a magic spell.
The villain is punished or the unfriendly forces vanquished.
The success of the main character usually leads to: (a) marriage; (b) the acquisition of money; (c) survival and wisdom or (d) any combination of the first three.
Anyway my obsession with fairytales goes beyond just the project I’m currently working on, maybe it’s the time of year or the number of stories both on page and on screen that I seem to have fallen towards over the last few months; M. Night Shyalaman’s Lady in the Water, Pan’s Labyrinth (which I saw recently but have yet to write about), J. K. Rowling’s Tales of Beedle the Bard, Jan Pienkowski’s Fairy Tales, even Heros and Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth have fairy tale qualities. So when Anonymom’s latest Motherhood Monday fiction challenge was to write something based on a photo from Ficlets, I’m not surprised in myself that I chose a fairytale-esque picture.
The Sun sets on Chateau de Chillion by Eric Hill
How beautiful is that picture? Absolutely timeless. The stuff legends are made of. It really reminds me of the chateau in Labyrinth, although I don’t think that was by so much water.
Anyway Anonymom’s prompt comes coincidentally at a time when I’m increasingly learning the value of visual prompts. My other project, a story for 11+ set in Ancient Egypt had come to a halt because no matter how much I read about the era, I was getting a sneaking impression that my atmosphere just wasn’t good enough because I’ve never been to Egypt and then it occurred to me recently that well although I can’t afford the airfare I can afford some DVDs, so I’ve been watching those and it has helped.
But back to my fairytale picture, the terms of Anonymom’s prompt is to keep your story under 500 words, unfortunately I know I’m not a short story writer, let alone a microfiction writer, so I’m not officially entering the piece I’m about to write below into Anonymom’s competition but I’m linking to it anyway, just to acknowledge where I found my prompt and to thank her for such a great site suggestion and also to say to those flash / microfiction writers out there, it’s always worth a visit to Anonymom’s site for some great prompts!
So finally my story, I’ve based it on Propp’s ‘rules’ above. Normally I wouldn’t want to write something so formulaic but I’m feeling all traditional here. The prompt is the photo above, I’m also following Anonymom’s parenting theme. Names generated from the fantasy name generator.
The Royal Mark
Once upon a time, in a kingdom far away, there lived a boy and his father, the castle blacksmith. The boy and the blacksmith spent all their time together, during the day the boy would be at his father’s side learning his trade and when the king had no current need for them, they would row out in their little wooden boat to catch fish for their supper. It is here that we join them.
“Will you stop daydreaming son and start concentrating on catching some fish, we’ll be hungry for our supper, they’re not going to start jumping into this boat of ours you know.”
Aellyn’s father admonished his son, who was sitting, chin in hand gazing at the castle in the distance over the water, shimmering in the setting sun.
“Why on earth do you keep gazing at that place for? It’s not like we don’t spend enough time within it’s walls.”
Aellyn shook himself from his daydream, “It’s not the smithy I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about the King and his sons, they don’t have to fish for their supper, it just gets presented to them on a plate”.
“Be grateful for what you’ve got Aellyn. We may have to fish for our food, but at least we’ve got each other, not like that old King up there who can’t even trust a single one of his sons.”
At that point, a distant shout came from the shore, Aellyn and his father turned to look, it was Raelly, one of the King’s few trusted servants, he was waving both hands in the air, trying to catch the father and son’s attention.
“I thought you said we’d finished our work for today father?” asked Aellyn.
“Well there must be new work then, it never ends. Come on son, let’s get back to shore.”
The two men, one young, one old, each took a paddle and rowed across the lake to where Raelly was standing waiting for them. Before Aellyn could even finishing dragging their boat onto the sand Raelly gabbled out his instructions.
“The King needs you urgently in the Smithy, one of his middle sons has teamed up with his youngest son and our spies tell us they plan to attack the walls at moon rise.”
Aellyn and his father hurried back up to the castle, the Smithy just within it’s walls. They arrived to find the fires of the forge red hot, casting a fiery heat over the other blacksmiths, bent over the swords and shields of the King’s men. Aellyn and his father slipped into their roles and soon became absorbed into their work, Aellyn stoking the fires, his father mending broken shields. Aellyn was so absorbed in his work he didn’t notice another apprentice, his arm laden with tools pass behind him, Aellyn took a step back just at the wrong moment and crash! Aellyn, the other apprentice and the tools were in a tangle on the floor, Aellyn clutching his shoulder, his tunic blossoming red with blood. Aellyn’s father rushed over.
“What are you doing you fools?” he demanded, not Aellyn’s father but his superior.
He saw Aellyn’s wounded shoulder, “Just what we need, get out of here boy, you’re no use to us now. Go and see cook, she’ll patch you up.”
Aellyn stepped out of the raw heat of the Smithy and into the cool dusk air, still clutching his shoulder. He didn’t want to see the old busy body cook, he’d avoided her and her sewing skills for long enough but he knew that he needed to be back in the Smithy, so he went to the kitchens reluctantly.
The kitchens were quiet, many staff already hiding in anticipation of the next attack on the castle, but cook was at her table, preparing her medical supplies for those that may need her over the hours ahead.
Cook looked up and saw Aellyn, “Someone already, my, my! Come here boy!”
Cook studied Aellyn carefully, “A blacksmith by the look of you, young, so an apprentice. A lucky one though, can’t say you’ve needed my care before.”
Aellyn shook his head.
“Come here then boy, turn round and take your shirt off.”
Aellyn did as instructed, wincing as he pulled his blood stained shirt off.
“Let’s clear this blood off then,” said Cook as she wetted a scrap of cloth in a bowl of water and not so gently started to clean Aellyn’s shoulder.
Cook cleaned methodically until suddenly Aellyn could hear Cook draw her breath and pause, damp cloth hovering over his back and then an awed whisper “The Royal Mark!”
“What?” asked Aellyn confused, wondering what the old woman was going on about.
“I’m sorry your highness, you boys have grown so fast I didn’t recognise you. I must say a blacksmith’s apprentice is a very good disguise. “
Aellyn was even more confused, he turned to face the cook, who consequently attempted a curtsy, to which he replied confused “What are you doing?”
“I’m so sorry your highness, your disguise was so good, I didn’t realise, not until I saw your Royal Mark you see,” stuttered the cook, embarrassed and fearing she was in trouble, bobbing up and down in a continual curtsy.
“Stop, please, stop this, just who exactly do you think I am?” Aellyn put his arms out to hold the cook in an upright, still position.
“One of the royal prince’s sire, let me see, I’m sure I’ll be able to place you under that excellent disguise; Phairithrap? Raedaiphos? Allycal? Eosridil? Seostyrap? Istydil?”
After each name Aellyn shook his head “Why do you, silly old woman, think I’m a royal prince?”
“But, but, you have the Royal Mark on the back of your shoulder,” said the cook.
“What?” Aellyn tried to crane his neck over his shoulder, wincing as he remembered too late that he was injured.
“The Royal Mark, let me show you,” the cook bustled across her kitchen and returned with a large, empty, shiny silver platter, “I had Risur shine this all morning, you should see your reflection good enough.”
Cook held the large platter up behind Aellyn. Aellyn gently this time looked over his shoulder and sure enough there beneath his cleaned wound was a birthmark the shape of a fish. Aellyn tried, wincing again, to rub at the mark, it didn’t come off.
“I didn’t know I had that,” said Aellyn.
“All royal blood descended from this very castle have the Royal Mark, right back from the old King’s grandfather, to the King’s father and to his six or is it seven sons now? I should know, my mother was at the birth of the King and I was at the birth of all . . .”
“What?” asked Aellyn.
Cook was standing staring at her hands, mouthing names and dates and counting them off with her fingers, “Seven” she whispered, she looked hard at Aellyn “You’d be the right age, but I thought you were dead before you were even one day old.”
“But my father’s a blacksmith . . .”
“Oh no he’s not, you’re the seventh son.”
With Cook’s last pronouncement, Aellyn took flight from the kitchen, he’d patch his wound up himself, which was starting to congeal now anyway and wasn’t appearing as bad as it had originally felt. He couldn’t face going back to the forge so he returned to the little house he shared with his father, also nestling just within the walls and he lay awake that night listening to the sounds of battle.
At some point Aellyn must have fallen asleep, as he suddenly realised daylight was streaming through his window and birdsong had replaced the sound of bombardment. Aellyn quickly dressed and made his way outside, there was barely an obvious scratch on the castle or it’s surroundings.
Aellyn saw a passing soldier, “How go it last night?” he asked.
“Easy” replied the soldier, “If the princes really think they’re going to challenge their father, they’re going to have to do better than that.”
“The King,” thought Aellyn, touching his shoulder unconsciously, “I need to see him, find out the truth.”
An so before Aellyn’s father had even returned from the Smithy, Aellyn made his way up to the King’s quarters. As Aellyn passed each set of guards, as they challenged him Aellyn was surprised to find was that all he had to do was show the guards the Royal Mark and they let him through. Aellyn was causing such a commotion that by the time Aellyn had passed the fifth and final set of guards, the King already knew this strange boy from the Smithy who appeared to have the Royal Mark was coming straight to see him and the King was prepared.
When Aellyn stepped into the King’s chamber, he was greeted by the King and a retinue of his finest guards, if this boy was a son, sons meant trouble.
Aellyn bowed, if anything so that he could buy some time, he never thought he’d get this far, he wasn’t sure what he was going to say.
Finally, “Your Highness”.
“What do you want?” demanded the King rudely.
“Sire, I have the Royal Mark,” said Aellyn.
“Nonsense,” snapped the King, “Guard, remove this man’s shirt and reveal him to be the charlatan that he is!”
The guard nearest Aellyn ripped off Aellyn’s shirt.
“Spin him around” demanded the King.
The guard positioned Aellyn so that the King could see his back. The sight of the Royal Mark caused the King to leap from his chair.
“This is trickery!” he roared.
The King strode over and tried desperately to rub the mark off, it would not move.
Aellyn turned to face the King “I’m your seventh son, sire.”
There was a ripple of whispers amongst the courtesans in the hall “The seventh son of a seventh son.”
The King silenced them with an angry dismissal with his hand.
“The Mark means nothing, you’re only my son if you can prove your royal blood, through leadership, courage and honour.”
“I can prove all those sire and if I do?” said Aellyn bravely.
“If you prove those three things through the tasks I set you, you will be admitted to my court to sit by my side, if you fail, you and your ‘father’ will be banished from these lands.” The King thought for a moment “I give you three tasks; prove your leadership by uniting my warring sons under one banner, your courage by bringing me the head of the Merdragon of the lake who has been greedily eating my fish and honour by cutting your ties with your ‘Smithy’ father. Now be gone with you!”
Aellyn hurried from the King’s chamber, his commands ringing in his ears, how was he going to do it? But as he passed through the sumptuous jewelled passageways of the King’s castle, he knew it was his birth right to be there and be there he would.
First he had to unite the King’s sons, now the princes were legendary for their dislike of each other as much as their dislike of their father. Phairithrap, the oldest detested his father for not dying quickly enough and he was in turn detested by the other five princes for being the eldest and therefore first in line to get everything. Raedaiphos, the second eldest was considered to be a bit of conniving toad, more hopeful than the younger sons that he actually had a chance of inheriting the throne, he tried transparently to wheedle his way into his father’s affections at the expense of the other princes. Allycal and Eosridil, the middle princes, lacking the seniority or connivingness of the elder brothers or the youth and apparent immaturity of the younger brothers were perpetually being banished, only to return like yo-yo’s to launch some offence or other. Seostyrap was the dunce of the brothers, easily persuaded to join in on any scheme going and finally there was Istydil, the youngest and the most vicious, with no hope at all of the throne my legitimate means, ‘little brother’ had nothing to loose in attacking his father directly or in trying to reduce the number of princes waiting in line before him. Aellyn knew all this from stories told around the castle walls, how was he going to get them together?
Aellyn thought and thought, as he strode through his old childhood haunts, thronged with children from a new generation. He watched as one or other of the children would go running up to their mother or father and tell tales on the others, in a perpetual battle of favouritism, it gave him an idea. That night Aellyn rode out to each brother’s camp in turn, keeping secret his real identity, with news of a plot against the king from one of the other brothers, which if the other brothers didn’t come to their father’s defence would guarantee the loss of their chance for the throne. Each not wanting to lose out to the another came riding to their father’s rescue, storming into the King’s chambers as the sun rose the next morning.
“We are here to defend you!” each one claimed valiantly and in unison.
“From whom?” asked the King smiling, realising who had tricked his sons as Aellyn stood silently at the rear of the room. “You need to defend yourselves against a simple boy from the Smithy who claims to be my son,” the King said pointing.
The brothers turned to look at Aellyn, he knew he had made enemies, but there was time for that later, he had to deal with the Merdragon first. The Merdragon, who lived in the castle’s great lake had dwindled the nation’s fish stocks for a season, good men were loosing their lively hoods and people were going without food. This had meant that brave men had gone up against the Merdragon before and all had failed, some never to be seen again.
Aellyn wandered down to the lakeside to talk amongst the fishermen to try and pick up some clues on what to do. He heard tales first hand from the men who had witnessed them, of brave souls who had rowed to the centre of the lake, underneath which, a mile down was the Merdragon’s cave, guarded by razor sharp coral, the first brave men had tried simply to hold their breathes but failed to get even within site of the cave, others swam with tubing made from the gut of a cow in their mouths, making a link between them and the air above, but it would snag and tangle and collapse and leave stranded the poor unfortunate souls with no means of going further down and not enough air in their lungs to go back up. Aellyn knew he had to take his air with him, in a large enough container that wouldn’t leak. A wooden barrel, big enough even to hold him in his entirety would make sense he thought, but he didn’t think a wooden barrel could be made big enough and be able to enclose him without extra support, something like the metal braces Aellyn had seen his Smithy father work on. Aellyn looked at the wooden row boats on the shore, they were sort of half barrels he thought, if he could somehow join the two together, cut a hatch in the bottom to exit in and out of, he would be able to at least get to the Merdragon cave. He needed his Smithy father’s help.
Using his swift tongue Aellyn purloined two row boats lain unused from the shore and the men to carry them up to the Smithy. Aellyn’s Smithy father met him at the door, word of his son’s new claim having reached him before. He knew what success meant, riches for his son but the loss of a son he suspected he had already lost, he could refuse to help in this mission but failure to do so would not stop the boy from going ahead and a lost live estranged son was better than a dead one, so with a heavy heart he agreed.
A hatch was created in what was to be the bottom segment of the submersible. A hinge running along the side of the two boats joining them together was welded on and a padlock added to the other side. The joined boats were carried to the lake side and pushed in, two boats in tandem. Joining Aellyn’s strange contraption was a fleet of other small craft, each carrying as many heavy rocks from the shore as they could safely carry. When together they reached the centre of the lake, each boat loaded their stones into Aellyn’s craft and as the waterline approached ever closer to lapping into Aellyn’s boat, Aellyn pulled at a rope connecting the other joined boat, pulling the two boats shut, one on top of each other like a clam shell. The extra weight pulled the contraption under, like the heavy stone it was. The craft was water tight and Aellyn braced himself as it plummeted to the bottom, when it hit, the soft sandy lake bed, it fell slightly to Aellyn’s relief, to it’s side, this enabled him to quickly exit through the hatch, shutting it again quickly before too much water displaced the air bubble inside.
Aellyn swum outside his boat, he had been expecting it to be dark, so far underneath the water but there was a soft green luminous glow from the strange swaying plants and the coral that coated the outside of the entrance to the cave before him. Not sure what he was going to face as the Merdragon had only been seen before in the fevered ramblings of men driven white by shock, Aellyn swum cautiously but quickly, aware of the constraints of the air in his lungs, into the cave. A little into the cave he came across the most fearsome sight, coiled like a gigantic eel was the Merdragon, wrapped around itself it appeared to be slumbering, it’s dragon’s head resting on it’s green translucent scales, a razor bladed tail, it’s sharp fin as tall as a man itself glinting in the green light. Thinking fast, aware of the tightening in his chest, Aellyn swam right up to the sleeping Merdragon and rammed his arms in it’s gigantic sleeping snout. It woke with a roar , seeing the intruder it made a dive for Aellyn, it’s mouth ready to snatch him, as Aellyn ducked quickly behind the sharp bladed tail. The Merdragon thought nothing of diving over it’s tail until just as the dragon’s wide open jaws were looming above Aellyn, he pushed at the gigantic tail with a sharp sliver of rock he had found beneath his feet. The tail jerked up in pain, slitting with a cloud of warm green blood, through the Merdragon’s neck. Aellyn somersaulted through the water to avoid being hit by the fallen head. When the head had finished rolling on the rocky bottom of the cave, Aellyn swam over to it and pulling at the Merdragon’s long serpentine tongue, pulled it back to his boat where he tied it to a hook on his boat and then pulling open the hatch, swum in for great big lungfuls of stale air. Opening the hatch again quickly, Aellyn pushed out the ballast stones, even with the added weight of the Merdragon’s head, the boat rose quickly and before long it was bobbing on the surface of the lake. Aellyn pushed open the two halves of his contraption, expecting to be greeted by triumphant cheers but to be greeted instead by the swords of the King’s six sons as their ships surrounded him, still united in their hatred this time for this seventh ‘imposter’. The broken remains of the fishermens boats drifted around them.
“The head then your life, boy!” sneered Phairithrap.
To be continued . . . . here