Monday is Once Upon a Rainbow’s release day. Soon, Fairest will be reborn in a new edition, alongside other LGBTQ+ fairytales.
One of the changes is that many of the characters have names. Like Oriana, formerly simply known as ‘The Good Witch’.
With this in mind, I’ve decided to revise and post a freebie story I wrote last year for Fairest.
“Dearest Rose.” My mother spoke with a seriousness that surprised me. Too often, she tried to be cheerful, even to the point of being silly. “This lady is an old friend of mine.”
Any thoughts of silliness disappeared, when I looked up at my mother’s friend.
I almost squeaked.
Bad, bad Rose. Princesses weren’t supposed to squeak, even when startled. We had to stand tall and smile, to be strong in the face anything frightening for our subjects.
This didn’t make it any less disturbing, looking up into the strange lady’s face.
It might have been my own, a mirror image of what I’d look like when I grew up.
Blue eyes as round as mine darkened, as if reading my thoughts. The flesh around them crinkled. They were amused crinkles, but they were also sad crinkles.
“It’s a pleasure to meet Your Highness.” The lady dropped into a curtsy with a grace I could only envy.
Perhaps when I grew up, my voice would sound like hers.
I hoped so. She had a breathless way of speaking, almost creamy in its smoothness.
In my childhood experience, only one was more compelling. A deep, musical voice, which sometimes sang in my dreams. A sweet way of turning words into something almost musical, which left me waking up with their echo in my ears.
My own would never equal hers.
This lady, whose golden hair was streaked with silver spoke in a manner which could be mine, if I grew up good and wise.
I studied my mother’s friend, my hear skipping a beat. She wore a gown almost as fine as my mother, but less showy. It gave her a kind of quiet elegance I admired.
“A pleasure to meet you as well, my lady,” I said politely, before I blurted out, “What’s your name?”
“Really, dear!” A flush colored my mother’s cheeks. An answering heat gathered in mine, as I realized I’d embarrassed her. “You should let me finish doing the introduction, before you go asking questions like that!”
“It’s quite all right,” the lady said, with a casual wave of her hand. The grace in the gesture was enviable.
I was sure I hadn’t seen this lady at court before, even if I was still learning all the names and faces of the people there.
“Such directness is quite refreshing.” She dropped her gaze, studying the flagstones at her feet.
Did she truly like my directness? Or was she simply trying to be polite to the princess?
I decided to test her.
“You still haven’t revealed your name, my lady,” I said, as courteously as possible. “What should I call you?”
“Names have power, even assumed ones,” the lady responded, just as courteously, “Since you are my princess, I shall give you mine.” The wrinkles around her eyes. “Oriana is what I’ve chosen to call myself. You, however, may call me whatever you wish.”
“That’s unfair,” I spoke with a childish boldness my mother never quite succeeded in curbing. “I’ve only just met you. I can’t think of a new name that quickly. I have no choice, but to call you Oriana.”
My mother was trying to smile. I’d embarrassed her with my blunt ways, again.
The lady, offered me a much more genuine smile. It warmed me, right down to my toes.
“You’ve discovered my greatest shortcoming, Your Highness.” The lady gave a deprecating little nod, yet continued to smile.
This touched me. It made me far sorrier than my mother’s embarrassment. “I’m sorry. It’s a bit soon in our acquaintance for me to discover your shortcomings.”
“It is, indeed!” Oriana let out a breathless little laugh. “Seeing as I’m here to remove your curse, it’s best you understand my shortcomings, as well as strengths as soon as possible, don’t you think?”
“My curse.” I uttered the words, only to hear the echo of another voice in my head. The one I dreamed of. The one which never left me.
It murmured promises in a soft, compelling tone. It whispered I’d grow up with all the beauty of the dawn, but my sun would never rise. It vowed I’d prick my finger on a spindle would send me into a cursed sleep for a hundred years.
“Darling, we’ve tried not to talk about it around you.” My mother used the extra gentle voice she reserved for bad tidings. “However, something terrible happened to you, soon after you were born.”
“I was cursed.” This was no surprise to me.
I should have been terrified.
An image of blood red lips, smiling, ever so sweetly, appeared in my mind. They were close enough to kiss me. They promised me a hundred years of sleep instead.
“An evil witch cursed you.” Oriana lifted a golden eyebrow at me in an almost stern fashion.“I’m here to remove that curse, or fight it.”
Did she know what I was thinking? Had she guessed?
“To do that you’d need to be a witch yourself,” I looked her straight in the eye, a little angry at her attitude. “Would that make you the good witch?”
A startled laugh escaped from ‘the good witch’. Some of Oriana severity melted away into laugh lines.
This was a lady, who loved to laugh, regardless of how sad or stern she might be.
“Your Highness is perceptive,” Oriana smiled at me, approving once more. “Yes, as far as you’re concerned, I am the good witch.”
“In which case, I’ll think of you as ‘the good witch,” I said, with a decisiveness which made my mother cringe. “Unless you’d rather I called you Oriana?”
“Either title is just fine.” My good with lifted the corners of her mouth up in amusement, even while she made a gracious, ladylike nod. “I’ll do my very best to play the part of a good witch.”
A strange sadness touched her words, a sadness I wondered about.
By her own admission, she wasn’t a good witch. She was playing a part. This role was another aspect of her mysterious charm, a charm she wore like a mantle of strength.
Given time and attention, that strength would completely unravel.