Flash Fiction Folk Tale: The reluctant bride

This tale is inspired by Jeren’s poem which in turn inspired the challenge to write a folk talk from his original idea. If you’d like to try your hand at inventing a real folk tale, the details are here.

Zhar-Ptitsa

Imma’s eyelids fluttered, her lips moved slightly as if she was about to whisper a secret. In her sleep, her eyes were open, mere slits, but through the mists of her dream she was aware, or thought she was aware, of movement, of other flutterings filling the room. Caught by moonbeams, the flutterings became silver wings, and her lips fluttered too, trying to speak, to call out to the owners of the wings to stay. But the night wore on, she remained trapped in sleep, and in the morning, the painted tiles of the floor were scattered with tiny wings, and her eyes were filled with tears.

Imma was to be the bride of the prince, a man not unlike her father, who looked at her with bored eyes and stroked his short, pointed beard with fingers laden with rings. She tried to imagine those fingers stroking her own face, and couldn’t. The wedding was to take place at the end of the month. Remembering her mother’s sad eyes, Imma vowed she would rather throw herself out of the tower window.

For the next seven nights she had the same dream, saw the same silvery wings caught in moonbeams, and each morning, she would slip from her bed before dawn, to search through the fallen wings for a sign, before they disappeared in the first light of the sun.

On the eighth night, the dream changed, and the fluttering was of butterfly wings, hundreds and hundreds of painted wings, delicate as flower petals and all the colours of the rainbow. For the next seven mornings, she rose before light to gather handfuls of petal wings and sigh, before they too disappeared. She knew that the dreams, the wings were a sign and in the sign was a wish. Her lips fluttered like her eyelids, like the wings, but she could not seize it.

On the sixteenth night, Imma’s half-opened eyes watched as bats flitted and swooped, soft and sleek as flying kittens, their wings fine as stretched silk. The bats left their wings too, tender and pale, all the shades of moonlight, that she stroked gently, thinking of the wish that was gradually taking shape in her thoughts.

Seven days later, her father’s house was in a fever of wedding preparations and Imma’s days were spent in fittings for her wedding garments, selecting and folding all the clothes and finery she would take with her to her new home, and attending the ceremonies of purification and preparation for her new role as wife of a prince. She was losing hope of finding the wish among the bright debris of her bedroom floor, and eyed the window in despair.

When the wedding was only six days away, she dreamed of birds, bright, singing birds whose voices filled her with joy, but their fallen wing feathers, so beautiful and quivering with almost life, made sadness return. For three nights, larks, finches and thrushes sang for her and left feathered tokens on the painted floor tiles.

Three nights before the wedding day, the birds were geese and cranes, storks and herons, egrets and all the long-necked, long-legged birds she had ever seen or heard of. In the morning, the floor was covered in long white and grey feathers, but through her disappointment, the wish crept to the tip of her tongue.

Two nights left, and she shared the excitement of the falcons and hawks, owls and eagles that hovered and plunged through the night dark of her room, their yellow eyes shining when the moonlight caught them. Before dawn, she leapt from her bed and gathered armfuls of brown and grey and cream and white feathers to her heart and this time the tears were of joy. She had found the wish.

On the night before the wedding, Imma’s wedding gown lay on a chair, glittering like the sheath of a giant insect. On the table were arranged her wedding jewels, diadem, earrings, rings, and necklaces and bracelets as heavy as a galley slave’s chains. Her eyelids fluttered at the light scraping sound on the windowsill. Her eyes half-opened at the folding of giant wings. Her eyes opened wide when the great winged horse leapt down into the room. She jumped from her bed, wide awake, the wish in her throat, and threw her arms around the horse’s neck.

“Fly me away,” she whispered so the guards at the door would not hear, “Fly me to the place where dreams don’t have to fade, where wings don’t have to wither and fall, and where there are no chains.”

And the horse did.

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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.

66 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Folk Tale: The reluctant bride”

  1. You should publish an anthology of your short stories. They are unique. Something that would sell to those who have only a few free minutes to read, one after another. Like I do at airports, grocery stores, doctors offices. Your short stories are something I would carry with me.

    1. Thank you, Ann! That’s kind of you to say so. I’ve self-published novels and stories but can’t sell them. It’s a lot of work and so dispiriting at the end of it. I agree, it seems so logical that short stories would be popular when we’re told that people have less and less time to read, that even novels have to be written in a sound bite form or they won’t sell. But nobody will publish short stories unless you’re an established author, and as far as I can tell, nobody buys them either. Maybe I’ll give it another whirl…

      1. I think you should but then I harbor a notion that you should be publishing so much and I know it isn’t that easy. IOU an email by the way … perhaps later 🙂

  2. Is it the example of escapism or realism? Hmm.. Or escapism fuelling realism.. That would be varying degrees of feelings for the readers..

    1. Folk tales are funny things. The set up with princesses, crones in hovels, witches, lost children, magical birds etc is extraordinary but familiar at the same time. Anything can happen, but it has to follow a well-trodden path. All different, but comfortingly familiar.

      1. The resonance of not being able to change but wish for a change or the idea that change can be brought slowly but surely after you desire it.. Hmm.. While the underlying messages are same, sadly the struggles are too..

      2. That’s true and their survival depends on hope from which they themselves Originate.. The never ending cycle..

  3. Jane, this carried me along, relishing every word. I see others have suggested a book. Yes, yes! I’ve wondered why you haven’t published more of both your poems and fiction. They are so well done!

    1. I’m glad you like it, Sarah, but I suppose the answer to your question is that you’re asking it—I have published story collections but they’re part of the invisible nine tenths of Amazon publications. I don’t advertise or promote, so nobody knows they’re there. A lot of work for nothing. Maybe I’ll have another try and make a big effort to promote.

  4. The repetition of the dream in different versions lends it a lovely fairy-tale feeling, as does the entire idea of the princess trapped in the tower trying to find a magical way to escape. I especially liked the detail of the bracelets being like slave’s chains. And what a great image, her flying off on the winged horse!

  5. All the story elements! Hooray! This is certainly a wonderful story and I agree with the comments – very publishable. I think I understand the reluctance over the publishing part. It’s all business. For me, that would rob the joy of the writing.

    1. It’s the let down that gets to me. It’s a lot of work getting the thing formatted, making a cover, pestering people to read it, and it’s always the same handful who do. If you don’t promote like crazy and spend money on advertising, the book sinks like a stone.

      1. Guys even the big boys have to work at it. That’s part of it.

        Just because they now have folks to do it for them, doesn’t mean they always did.

        There are things you can do to help yourself to let folks know of you.

        They don’t have to cost your life’s savings.

        Contact me to learn more.

      2. Boy do I understand that.

        I only charge $30 for an entire year of Social Media and Blog Coverage, if ever you’re interested I have several very inexpensive packages. I also am a huge believer in the barter system.

        I do not work for massive amounts of money.

        I have a huge belief in the Self-publishing movement, and unlike some who started with nothing, who have now made it big, and have forgotten from where they come, I who am still nothing more than potato peelings herself, only want to reach out and assist others as I have been assisted over the years.

        Anyhow, I don’t ever mean to make light of anyone’s situation.

        I know how frustrating it all can be.

        I cannot even publish for myself. I have to have someone do that for me, because so much of the internet is still so very inaccessible to folks like me who use screen-reader programs and voice-over, so I get it.

        I really do.

        My first book, Campbell’s Rambles: How a Seeing Eye Dog Retrieved My Life cost me way more than it should’ve to publish. In fact, I’m still paying for it.

        When all was said and done that editor charged me $2000 to publish a 230-page book, and so I know all about things like this.

        Also, when my rent and utilities each month are paid I live on just over $200

        It is very difficult, and this is why I reach out as I do to others.

        My blog has more of other’s things on it than it does my own because I reblog a lot.

      3. I’m neither for nor against self-publishing. I don’t believe it’s the democratic cream rises to the top institution some people claim, but nor is traditional publishing. All I know for certain is that if you don’t pay for advertising, your book won’t sell, and that applies to traditionally published books too. That’s why I’m not self-publishing any more novels. I don’t have the spare cash to invest in them. It’s a shame, but that’s the economic reality of publishing.

      1. I don’t have a flying horse, but I have a wonderful dog.

        He is magik in his own self. 😊

  6. Wow! This is beautiful, Jane! The underlying concept and the tone of the writing was delightful. You continue to amaze with your words. I like how you evolved from tiny wings to a winged horse and it was wonderful.

      1. I have knows these little buggers since I was ten or even younger, but never thought of them other than a pest. Now they seems like holders of life’s secrets to be free and happy. Whoever said that, that beauty is in the eyes of beholder, he is damn right!

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