2. The Beauty

She had already been there since she was aware of the world around her, confined between the grey, cold walls. She had never inquired the reason why she was in here instead of out there, where the sun baked the earth a warm, ripe honey coat. Nobody had ever taught her to question; in fact, nobody had ever talked to her. As if her language was not understood. As if she was not the two-legged creature as they all were.

So, instead of talking, she spent her time watching them, watching the women who fed her daily meals and tended to her necessities. They spoke to each other, she observed, whispering in their softest voice so that she could not hear, or so they thought. Sometimes they were less discreet, deeming her, the creature which had not received the least education, could not understand. Unknown to them, she could, every single word.

What makes me different from them, the maiden often wondered. Surely their countenances were not the same; neither were their figures. Their limbs were larger and thicker; their fingers bony and callous, their nails cracked and stained. Still, all these minor differences put aside, the maiden believed she was not of another species. She had neither wings nor beaks nor feather on her body. If it was just the same as them, why was she treated so differently?

Though she was on her own in the cold tower, the fair maiden was not so lonely. Despite her isolation, day and night she had friends to keep her company. Little robins came to her tiny hole of a window, bringing to her songs of foreign tongues. Even if she did not get the meaning of those tunes, the maiden found herself humming them in her waking time. The gentle wind played with her fountain of hair, caressing her soft cheeks and whispering into her ears. And if she did not comprehend a word of his speech, the maiden still giggled to his delightful tone. Oh, he brought her presents, too. Petals of various sorts of flower, fragrance from a far-away meadow, sometimes a strange-looking leaf or a colorful plume. At times she thought she might just be his bride so that he would carry her to a new land, far away from this dusky tower.

At night, the moon and the candle were her friendly companion. The moon coated her room in a silvery sheen, making the grey walls a deal less gloomy. The candle taught her a playful trick.  As she placed her hands in front of the candle, their shadows projected on the stony walls were molded and twisted by the flickering flame into a variety of uncanny shapes. Every time she discovered a new shape, her melodious laughter echoed through the whole tower. The wind often joined her little game and the fair maiden soon found out that he was even a better player than herself.

Although she was not so lonely locked inside the tower, deep down inside her still swelled a burning desire of freedom. She yearned to be allowed to come outside, to swim in the spring lake, to bathe under the summer sun, to pick up the falling autumn leaves or to play with the pristine winter snow. Many a time she stretched out her hand toward the sun and silently moaned the bitter truth that only the tip of her finger was touched by the warmth of sunlight; the rest of her remained cold and damp inside the tower.

Her young heart nearly burst out of her bosom in delight when the news that she would be out of the tower reached her. The goodswives were mumbling something about a sacrifice but the words were too soft for her blissfully deaf ears to pick. The maiden was so drunk on her vision that she would not mind anything, as long as her sole and only wish was fulfilled. Kept inside this cage, her mind was plain and simple as a child’s.

The scrubbed her clean in bath tub scented with roses and dressed her in soft, smooth gown with elaborate woven patterns, so fine the material that her normal wool robe seemed pitiful rags. Finally, they braided her lavender fountain of hair and placed a crown of white lilies on her head.

In the sunlight, the fair maiden shone like a precious gem. She caught eyes following her as she was put on the dais and carried away, eyes dark with fear and menace. She paid them no mind; as long as she was embraced by the wind and kissed by the sun, she would not be bothered by the crows’ eyes.

They let her upon a broad slab of stone in the thick darkswoods at the last sunlight and went back the way they had gone, silently as ever. The maiden, dosed with dreammilk, was left behind on her own. When she opened her lovely eyes again, she was greeted with the fathomless black depth of the forest and a terrible loneliness she had never experienced before. The wind was howling; his tone rasp and hoarse on her ears. Instead of caressing her hair and cheeks like always, his once gentle hands ruthlessly slapped her across the face, flinging her lily crown down the damp, muddy soil to be trembled on. The moon was too high and distant as if he was nothing but a total stranger who had gone deaf and mute to her cries and pleads.

Her feet began to wander on their own will, leading her nowhere but deeper and deeper into the darkswoods’ heart. She knew neither her destination nor her intention; still she kept on walking, tied to a blind faith that she would eventually find the light. Despite her tears on her cheeks, she was not afraid of the dark. The moon was still here, was he not? The wind was also here, was he not? If that was the case, how come she felt so lonely, so… abandoned? The villagers had abandoned her and her friends, also.

Her tears run dry and so did her strength. Each step and she could tell another portion of her strength being seeped away from her body. She found her legs numb, her feet sore and her stomach empty. A crust of bread or a lick of honey would taste like ambrosia on her tongue. But cruelly, there was none.

She did not know how long she had been walking until her feet, blistered and in agony, failed her and the fair maiden tumbled down a devious cliff.

(To be continued)

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