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.
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.