1. The village

Once upon a time, in a village far beyond the horizon born a maiden of great beauty. She was so fair a maid that one would look at her face and claim he had never seen a more beautiful goddess. Even the gods were jealous of her unearthly pulchritude that they brought a terrible curse upon her family: her parents suffered a gruesome and unusual death while she was only a suckling babe and the pitiable maid herself was made to spend the rest of her living years inside a dark tower, accompanied by none but her own shadow. Any men who dared to approach her enraged the gods and brought divine retribution upon his being.

So the rumor was spread and repeated from kingdom to kingdom, each time with a faint touch of tragedy added to earn tears for the beauty and warn men against finding her. There was no cure for the damned but to let her rot and waste her existence in her stone prison. And while men, nobles and peasants, kings and knights, grieved for the maiden’s cruel fate every time the tale was told, none would try to pay her tower a visit for fear of provoking the gods’ wrath.

Such was only a rumor; the villagers knew better. Because it was them who had breathed life into it.

The fair maiden was indeed cursed and confined in a stone tower; however, there was a crucial twist to that tale that not a soul outside the village was to know. It was men’s hands rather than jealous gods’ that caused her miserable fate.

Long ago, a man had come to this village, a man wiser than all. At first, he came alone at a traveler, seeking a shelter on his long journey. After a while he agreed to stay, to the village head’s insistence. His knowledge was immense and he was generous to share with the humble folks all of what he knew. He taught children and adults about the world outside their gate; he helped the head govern the village; he provided cures for the sick and advised farmers the best time to sow. Most importantly, he was believed to be a powerful mage. And a mage indeed he was, for he was able to glimpse into the future and speak of things that have yet to happen.

A figure of fear and respect, his words were gods’ words.

All but the wise man rejoiced when the birth of the fair maiden was announced. When he said the maid would grow up to be a walking catastrophe to bring doom upon the village, none had the least doubt in his words, even the babe’s parents. Her beauty was a curse rather than a blessing : men who laid eyes upon her face would be enchanted and to win her hand, they would not shy from even the worst blasphemy. But to kill her would enrage the gods, for she was gods’ trial to mortals. Therefore, to prevent the impending disaster, the babe was torn from her mother’s bosom and left in the high tower near the darkswood. The child would be thoroughly provided, yet none was allowed to speak a word with her, let alone the truth of her birth.

There in the tower she grew up, alone and ignorant of the rest of the world. As she matured, her beauty blossomed, hidden, unappreciated, like a pretty rose in the dark.

Even when the cursed maiden was well confined and she had yet to invoke any catastrophes, darkness loomed over the faraway village. From the darkswoods he emerged, a ferocious monster with eyes like blazing embers. With him came the chaos and terror the small folks had never known before. Hunters would rather starve than step into the woods and woodsmen would rather freeze by their dying hearths than risk their lives, for those who had dared never returned.

Every night the beast howled. Its cry, an ominous and eerie mix of mourns and rages, echoed through the village. Men and animals were woken from their slumber to tremble in their imagined terror of his fangs and claws ripping out their soft hearts. Brave men sharpened their weapons in anxiety and gentle mothers barrred their doors, holding their children in utmost fear.

The beast has to be slew, the first brave man raised his fist and soon, his voice was joined by a thousand others, forming an anthem of valor and courage. To leave the beast alone, the wise man pledged but his voice was drown in their thundering footsteps as they marched into the darkwoods with swords and axes and arrows, all shining and new and thirsty for blood.

Many left their homes to join the quest of slaying the monster. Few returned with their limbs intact; fewer with their sanity. Men had left crying for victory; men returned screaming of the horror of the beast, of its eyes dripping blood, of its claws tearing flesh. It was then that the village folks came to the wise man, desperate for an advice. With sad eyes and soothing tone, the wise man spoke :

“To calm the raging beast, you must offer him your fairest maiden.”

His words of wisdom flew through the village like spring wind, carrying hope. One offering and they would all be safe again, in his wisdom the folks trusted. But when it came to sacrifice, who would volunteer? The village maids, all fair and young and lively, what parents would be cold-hearted enough to fling them into the beast’s jaws ?

To the tall tower they looked and a salvation they found. When it came to fairness, the cursed beauty was without competitors. Moreover, as her parents had passed away, drown in their grief and guilt of abandoning their only child, none would be saddened by her leave.

For the sake of the village, the maiden was brought out of her cell for the first time, diamond to be polished so that its glamor would shine the most.

To pray was all that was left.

(To be continued)

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