Microfiction: Dancing girls

Another long one. It’s a fairy story, so I have an excuse.

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Joris led Snowstorm through the pale light that preceded the dawn back to the cottage on the edge of the forest. The seven dancers were mortally weary; their shoes, the soles worn right through were left behind, and all they wanted was sleep. The youngest was already half-asleep in his arms before the old horse reached the door and stopped with a quiet snort. The six girls slid from his back, and without a word slipped inside and into their beds. Joris followed, laid the sleeping Septa in her little cot and closed the door.

When Snowstorm was settled back in the barn, Joris sat on the kitchen garden wall to watch the last of the stars go out. He wondered how long he would be called upon to ferry the seven sisters back and forth to every ball held by the young king in his castle by the river. He wondered how long he would be able to carry Una the eldest, his secret beloved, to the castle full of glittering nobles and the roving eye of the young king who had yet to find a wife. Not that the king would ever marry Una. But he was young and lusty and he kept in practice for the wife he had yet to find with a bevy of concubines.

Joris frowned and sighed. The woodcutter’s daughters and their passion for dancing would be the death of him. Not that it was their fault. A curse tossed on the golden head of each newborn baby was responsible. They would dance and dance every night the dance called them, until their shoes wore out and their dresses of gossamer and gold thread were in tatters. Every morning, a new pair of shoes and a new dress lay at the bottom of each bed and every night, the dancing would begin again.

Una had begged him to bring them safe home, and he had not been able to refuse. But now he wondered, thinking of how pale and tired she looked, how diaphanous was her skin, thin her limbs, whether she and her sisters were not dancing themselves into the otherworld. It was time to make an end, before they faded away from this world altogether, or before some noble captured each one and put her in a golden cage. Joris would break the spell in the only way he could think of.

Instead of going to his own bed above the barn, he let himself back into the house and hid underneath a pile of sacking in the corner by the door. As the last star winked out and the first ray of sun peeped over the horizon, a wisp of smoke crept beneath the door, swelled and took the form of a woman. Over her arm she carried a pile of delicate dresses and in her hand she held seven pairs of dancing shoes by their golden laces. Before she could leave them by the beds of the sleeping girls, Joris leapt out from his hiding place, his knife in his hand, grabbed the woman by the hair and pulled back her head. Her eyes were wide with surprise and he recognized Sarassine, the sister of the girls’ dead mother. Barren and childless, she had never looked on her nieces since their birth in her jealousy. Steeling himself for what he had to do, he raised the knife to her throat.

“Spare me,” she screamed.

The girls leapt from their beds.

“What are you doing?” Una asked in horror.

“Freeing you from your curse,” Joris replied, through gritted teeth.

“Not like this,” Una said and gently, took the knife from his hand.

Sarassine covered her face and wept. The woodcutter stumbled out of his alcove next to the hearth and his face blanched.

“Maissa,” he whispered.

Sarassine shook her head. “If only I were my sister. Even in her grave she is more fortunate than I am.”

“You look so like her,” the woodcutter murmured.

“If you would let me,” she began in a hesitant voice, “I would stay and take her place.”

The woodcutter took her hands and looked into her eyes and saw the misery that had pushed her to curse the children she wished had been hers. He smiled and said, “I would let you, with all my heart.”

Una whooped with joy and took Joris in her arms. “And I would stay with you, if you will have me.”

“With all my heart,” he replied and kissed her long and deep.

Secunda, Terza, Quadra, Quinta, Sixta and Septa clapped and pushed back the table to dance, but the dancing shoes and the gossamer flocks had blown away like golden mist. With great peals of laughter, they danced in their bare feet until the woodcutter called for his breakfast, the cows bellowed to be milked, and the pigs squealed to be let out, and they never went near the young king’s castle again.

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Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

43 thoughts on “Microfiction: Dancing girls”

  1. Lovely and charming and has all the classic components of a true fairy tale – well done. Rich and descriptive makes for engaging reading 🙂

      1. absolutely …. and often, ha (not that it’s funny as such) we can see that the “bad” aspect hasn’t really changed all that much …. and if anything, the “good” is much harder to find. 😦

      2. The strange thing is that we still tell our children the old stories without hearing the underlying message which is often harsh and brutal, yet we (I use we but exclude myself) censor the modern stories we allow our children to read, weeding out the ‘bad’ words, the ‘unsuitable’ content, as if superficial niceness is all they should be reading.

      3. I think it’s a time-honoured tradition that refuses to die off; if something has withstood ages, as so many of the traditional stories have, then they become automatically woven into the fabric, we call them “classics” but don’t necessarily want to read them with a critical eye. And given the nature of the social fabric of the world now, the “gut reaction” is to “overprotect” because there is far too much “ugliness” that exists for so many, especially children. By way of casual example: can you imagine having to walk through metal detectors upon entering school? I mean seriously? And something like this makes me think of several things: kids are far more resilient than we give them credit for, and who are we trying to protect, them or ourselves, if we keep “pretending” all is “nice nice” – it can be unbearably difficult to face harsh realities, but ignoring them doesn’t make them any less real.

      4. I agree completely. Parents get their knickers in a twist about ‘clean’ reading for their kids but they’re fine about them standing at the supermarket checkout with men carrying assault rifles. They protect them from ugly swear words or reading about sixteen year olds drinking or canoodling (shock horror) but they don’t get too upset about children being torn apart by bombs in a far away country. It creates an artificial, antiseptic environment that allows adults to pretend the world is wonderful as long as we keep our eyes firmly fixed on what is nice and acceptable.

      5. I guess that’s part of the complexity and duality of nature …. and most certainly our human natures.

        Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to be protective, but at the very least, let’s be honest and realistic – and less willing to pretend “otherwise” …. too much shielding only leads to too many unasked and unanswered questions. And I just happen to think, far better to open the lines of discussion and talk about things, address the “tough” questions, and of course, to also offer the points of “hope” and “delight” …. because for all of the madness and ugliness in the world, there is still epic beauty and light, and it most often isn’t preceded by a “big bang shower of rockets and stars” in celebration. But hey, that’s just me thinking about things.

      6. No, you’re right. There is so much to wonder at that is totally free, low key and simple, but so much more splendid that the Christmas lights in the shopping mall, to cite but one notorious example…

      7. LOL@the Christmas lights!

        I rarely step into a mall anymore, but the “over over the top” everything gives me a headache; not to say that I don’t appreciate twinkling sparkling lights and all, but it’s the volume that does me in every time now.

        I think part of the “problem” is that we run rampant with over-conditioning ourselves into always looking at the ‘flashy, the glitzy, the externals’ all pumped up, when honestly, does a mass feeding frenzy serve any useful purpose? Not to my way of thinking.

      8. I’m finding it more and more difficult to divorce the product from the producer. I wonder how much child labour went into this useless piece of junk, how many rainforests were destroyed, livelihoods taken away, habitat, species lost. The food is the same. How much suffering went into that steak? It means I don’t buy much.

      9. I can understand that …. the thinking “down the line” …. and so, is there anything in particular that has negatively affected your choices and decisions? Or has, your life, in some way, become “easier and better” – do you feel “lighter” and happier? (just curious – and no, you don’t have to answer if this is too personal)

      10. I’ve always been anti-consumer culture, but it’s only reasonably recently, probably because there’s been so much on internet, about the despicable way the food industry works. When you see a lamb ripped apart alive in an abattoir, you don’t buy lamb anymore. I haven’t bought any new clothes for years. The flea market is better quality than the stuff I could afford and more interesting. I’m not happier though, I’m depressed about the way humanity is eating its own tail.

      11. I can understand and relate to what you’re saying, completely.

        I think the only thing that keeps me tentatively sane, and it depends on the day and moments within my own personal life, is that I try to just accept my choices for what they are, as they apply to me.

        If I dwell on the world at large, and start sweeping masses into the generalizations that seem so widespread, it brings me lower than low. And in the end, as you’ve already noted, it doesn’t mean we feel any better about anything. In fact, it just seems to serve as a further “why bother?” when the road seems to lead to nothing but further destruction and barbarism.

        So I *try* to find something that keeps me “okay” – less inclined to be a “prophesy of doom and gloom.” It doesn’t mean that I pretend or walk around all naive, but in the end, it’s hard enough to be so fully aware and stay positive, or hopeful, so in the end, for me personally, it’s about choosing my battles – and deciding how much time, energy and effort I feel necessary to invest. As it stands, most of the time, I can barely keep my head above water.

      12. It’s turning me into an introverted hermit. I judge and I shrink away from stuff I despise, and I get to despise more and more ‘stuff’ every day. The power hungry politicians who eat up everything in their paths, the people who stuff their stupid faces until they balloon into objects that can’t get out of hospital beds, the people who throw away meat they bought and didn’t eat, not caring that some living creature suffered so they could dump their flesh in the bin. I hate what we do, and I despise the people who deny there’s anything morally wrong with it.

      13. I understand and really, I empathize, but I have to ask you this – and maybe you don’t have any answers, and maybe it’s way too personal etc. – so whatever your response is okay – but why are you so hell bent on making yourself miserable?

        I honestly really get where you’re coming from, and as far as I’m concerned, there should be at least a few more “deadly sins” on the list, Hypocrisy being on my personal hit parade, but if there is one thing I’ve coming to wholly appreciate is this: cornering myself and boxing myself in by my own understandings, feelings, “judgments” and jaded cynicism does nothing “positive” for me – it only robs me of any joy or peace in my own life – it’s like that zen/buddhist “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” ….. does any of this make sense?

        I’m trying to understand because I can really taste the vein from which you’re drawing, and I know it can be so difficult to work with these feelings ….

      14. I see what you mean, but I don’t think it’s exactly anger that I feel, nor do I think whatever it is is poisoning me 🙂 It makes me withdrawn, but then I’ve never been a wild party-goer and there’s enough to do in my daily routine without having to involve other people. I walk a lot, usually with the dog who is perfectly good company, and we talk to other dog walkers and their dogs. It’s a strange fact, but dog people tend to be quite outspoken, bolshy types who care about many of the things I care about and have not much time for the glitz on the surface. Maybe because if you have to take a pooch out for long walks every day you impose a discipline on yourself that forces you to take in different perspectives, a different rhythm and gives you time to mull over big questions. I wouldn’t say I’m a miserable person. I’m concerned and I get upset about a lot of things, but it only takes something very small and insignificant to make me smile.

      15. okay …. I have a clearer picture of what you mean and how you feel – so I thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙂

        I can understand, I’m a dog owner too – and although I no longer can walk my dogs for health reasons, I still walk as much as I can.

        I’ve always been a “street walker” – whether living in a huge bustling metropolis, or as I do now, in the country …. granted, I see less of the “glitzy glam madness” and chaos of the big city, but I’ve spent my life “collecting” images, data, information and quite a bit of this, naturally, is through exchanges with other people.

        And ultimately, if you are, basically “good” with getting on with your day to day and are comfortable with most of the “normal stuff” then who is to consider otherwise?

        As far as I’m concerned, if one is “aware” and open to so much of the stuff going on in the world, then it would be really hard to not be affected. And if you personally find ways to affect you, which you can then translate into a more positive means, like through creating art or whatever encourages others to stop and think, then that’s all that really matters.

      16. I don’t think I can change the world, and who am I to presume that my ideas are better than anyone else’s? But I do what I can in the way I live, and my children (for the most part) follow the same broad principles. Three of them are vegan which is better than I have managed so far. As I tell them, I might fall short and eat cheese from time to time, but if it became illegal overnight, I wouldn’t be manning the barricades in protest.

      17. Well, as I’ve said, if in your day to day, you are well and healthy (meaning happy and able to be okay with getting on with your specific needs and creative endeavours, however they manifest) then that’s all that really counts.

        As for being on the front lines?
        Not everyone is meant to be there – and that’s okay too – because sometimes it takes the “backstory women and men” to keep the line holding fast and true.

      18. LOL – well in whatever means and ways, right? And all the world is a stage …..

        And once again, thanks for sharing further your thoughts ….. I do really appreciate it 🙂

      19. Sharing helps to focus. Some are not real thoughts, just gut reactions. They are probably the ones that just make me see red, like circuses, little boys, toddlers, wearing combat gear and studs in their ears, old people too poor to buy their meagre groceries without counting every penny before they get to the check out. I could go on, but I won’t. I’m writing a particularly harrowing section and it’s making me quite upset enough!

      20. Right then …. best to leave it me and refocus your thoughts to what needs your attention. Channel the energy into something positive.

  2. I do like this – happy endings. One wonders where the powers to curse the daughters came from… but that is a minor detail. I think too about how in such times when a spouse passed how a sibling stepped in to take the place of the departed spouse (brother or sister).

    (Off to look for the newest prompt…fairy wise – are they always on Thursdays?
    Also thanks for adding me into the links for the Microfiction challenge. )

    1. I’m pleased you liked it 🙂 Yes, the power to curse I suppose would be attributed to any unmarried woman, especially if she was bitter and resentful. The prompt is posted on Friday so I’d better get looking for a suitable image… See you tomorrow :).

      1. Thanks – I’ll look for your Microfiction challenges on Fridays – I’ll put it on my calendar. (I only follow a prompt sites…I only follow a few sites. Too much main in my in box. But I have been encouraged to make the Alphabet Brothers a series 😉

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