Posted in Life and After, Love, Twisted Tales

Down to Cinders

The Merchant

I’ve never been so wrong footed in my life.

Last Saturday, at the party, I was sure the duchess was flirting with me to secure her third husband. Her first marriage had left her a rich widow and the second made her a widowed duchess. Now, with no sons, it seemed natural to look for a third husband to take care of all the accumulated estate…someone like me with tremendous wealth but no title. I had spent the golden years of my life building myself from a nobody to a prosperous businessman and the next few enjoying the success and money. I had been with numerous women but none of them really left an impression, except their lip colour on my shirts and their hands down my money pouch. At 41, I’m running out of choices. It’s high time for me to find a wife too, so I lead her on. I knew I’d never love her but she had class.

But as she invited me home for lunch, she moved the topic to her daughters who, according to her, were both the finest specimens of the fairer sex–beautiful, charming, intelligent, well-read and well-versed in arts. She mentioned looking for grooms for them and ‘hoped I would find them agreeable’.

Something did not add up. If they were even half as good as their mother, they would have a long line of suitors of their age. Why would she want them to marry me who is double their age? For my money?

Curious, I accepted the invitation.

Today, as my carriage drives into their estate, I see a long-running crack in the magnificent garden statue; unkept flower beds; a water fountain that has long dried out; and the wooden floor under the porch creaks…the beginning of the end.

So, money it is…

I knock and a rather pretty girl in her best house-help uniform answers the door. Ella, as she introduces herself, bids me to enter. Her eyes downcast, she informs me, “The Duchess and her daughters are out for an ‘urgent chore’. She has requested you to wait for them. They’ll be back later this afternoon.”

It doesn’t make sense, unless they have found someone richer. Or may be, the announcement of the King’s ball to find a bride for the Crown Prince has averted their gaze to greener pastures.

I should just leave. But Ella is clearly apologetic. Her eyes are pleading me to understand that she isn’t responsible for all this. She is embarrassed at her employers’ indiscretion. I had been there too many times. In my early jobs, when I was a nobody, my employers put me upfront to deal with angry customers. If I leave now, she would think of me as arrogant. For some unfathomable reason, I don’t want her to think I’m arrogant. So, I step inside to wait for the hostess who wouldn’t return for a couple of hours.

The Maid

It’s all too weird. My stepmother has kept me up all night to finish my endless chores before he’s due. She ordered me to get presentable to wait upon this guest while they all dealt with this ‘urgent chore’, whatever it is. Why even one of them couldn’t stay back is totally beyond me.

Why are they avoiding him? Doesn’t he have enough money to their liking? His two-horse-drawn carriage is certainly worth four times our own. He looks regal, right from his formal suit, diamond cufflinks to his silk tie. His brown wavy hair has a slight sprinkling of greys.

Maybe, they think he’s too old to consider…Well, they are wrong. He’s quite handsome and fit, unlike their noble suitors whose age you could guess from the size of their girth. When he introduced himself, his smile made me gasp. He smells like the Arabian perfume that father used to love.

Right now, I feel for him. Once I gave him mother’s message, he looks downright embarrassed for being so easily dismissed. He was clearly expecting to meet my step-sisters. May be, it is better he doesn’t. Marrying them would lead to lifelong shame-facing. I serve him tea and try to be good company.

We talk about books that my sisters have placed strategically in the drawing-room to be able to brag in front of the suitors that they have read them. I tell him of my favourite place in the world, my father’s library. He’s curious, so I take him on a tour. He looks around the library in awe, touching book spines like they were made of flower petals. His fingers are hardened with old marks of callouses. I wonder if he’s had a past like mine. We talk about more books. He laughs. It’s a nice, open laughter without pretence; one that I can get used to. I offer him my favourite book to pass the time while waiting.

Back in the drawing room, he points at the piano, curious who plays it. Too lost in his voice and too busy trying to not stare at him, I blurt out the truth, “It was mine before father passed away…” I clasp my mouth at the admission.

“Yours? Are you the daughter of the late Duke?”

I nod quietly, glancing at my clothes–clean but far below the status of my family, knowing how far-fetched the story seems. Will he mention it to mother? She will burn me at the stake…or in the oven…

But his eyes hold no judgement, only understanding, “So, after your father died, she took over the estate and turned you into housemaid?”

I nod again.

“Is there anything I could do to remedy your situation? I could request an audience with the king. He is just. He would ensure you are provided your share in the property.”

My eyes well up at the unexpected sympathy, “Thank you for the offer. I, too, could have applied to the king. But I’d rather stay home and sweep the floor than drag my family through dirt.”

The Merchant

Ever since I saw her, it has been difficult to look elsewhere. My eyes had been drawn to her face. But now, I see her in a different light.

Is she for real? She cares for a family that reduced her to a maid. Her little hands in the lap are full of calluses from the daily hard labour. I can see the blue marks peaking out of her shirt sleeve where she had been hit with a cane over and over. And she doesn’t want to change that for her family’s honour?

I cross the distance between us to where she stands. She looks so vulnerable as she looks at me with surprised gaze. I take her hands in mine, as gently as I can, “You know, Ella, I always thought that women like you had ceased to exist.”

Her hands fit in mind perfectly and her face is a picture of subdued beauty that comes from forgiveness and love. Suddenly, I know I will not be able to forget this face or walk out of this place leaving her behind. It is clear what I have to do.

“I came here seeking a bride. I think I’ve found one–if, of course, you’ll have me. Will you?”

She’s surprised and hesitant, “I’m afraid, it won’t be appropriate, considering I am just a maid. I won’t have my father’s name or property to bring along.”

“I don’t care about the title and I have enough money to last several lifetimes. All I care about is whether you like me? Would you like to spend your life with a man like me who doesn’t have a family title, but who fell in love with you the moment he saw you?”

She blushed a deep red and nodded sheepishly, “I think, I did too.”

The Duchess

“Of course, you have my blessings, my dears. I’ll arrange the two of you to get married this Sunday. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be much of a fanfare because the time is short…”

I don’t think they cared for the size of celebration any way.

When we had returned, Ella was in his arms, as I had expected. She’s captivating even when covered in cinders from the oven. Being dressed decently and left alone for two hours was more than enough to bring a marriage proposal. As for Ella, she couldn’t wait to be shot of us. She would have married a horse, had it proposed her, just to get away from us.

So, now that all has gone according to my plan, she will be married a week before the Royal Ball. Thank goodness for that too! Of course, we will need to hire household help, so it wil be a little inconvenient, but with her out of the way, my beautiful daughters are sure to win the Prince’s heart.

Posted in Life and After, Twisted Tales

Apple of Discord: The Cottage

The continuous singing is too annoying…with the singing come the birds who put so much pressure in the chorus that I am now covered with bird-shit.

I should have known that she was bad news the day she walked in all wide-eyed. I should have slammed the door on her face, or may be, when she was sampling from each of the seven bowls on the table, I should have shook a chair or two to drive her out.

I let her try all the beds and later my seven owners actually talked about upgrading the security as if I wasn’t able to defend myself against a child. Well, I was not ineffective, just plain selfish–when I saw this girl in servant clothes, I found hope. I thought that, finally, we might have someone who knows dusting and other cleanup that I sorely needed.

The dwarfs weren’t really thinking when they created the roof that high. Once cobwebs started showing in the rafters, they couldn’t reach them. Now, huge cobwebs hung like an year-round Christmas decorations. The metal frame of the door to ceiling windows had gathered enough dirt to grow plants in. It was rather difficult to tell apart the cows by their colour since they were too high to wash regularly and any hen who flew to the roof was a lost cause.

Well I was right about that part. Once the seven hired her, she did spruce up the place, no doubt. But her habit of singing in a high trill is getting on my nerves. As if birds are not enough, the rabbits, squirrels, porcupines and deer are also here from dawn till dusk, leaving only to eat. Also, the rats and insects are now joining ranks and I am gradually becoming a wildlife sanctuary. Throw in a tiger or too and we could open a circus.

Worse still, she has the habit of inviting random vendors inside the home, regardless of the wares. Never misses a good gossip, that girl! She buys all type of stuff that she may or may not use. It is rather annoying, if you ask me, being treated as a storehouse for useless stuff–smelly candles, too colourful clothes, leather shoes that shrink with first drop of water…

Also, twice in the past years, she has ended up almost dying because of this obnoxious habit–once when a vendor woman sold her laces and tied them too tight around her waist cutting off her breath, and yet again when an old hag combed her hair with a poisonous comb. A reasonable person would have seen sense by now.

But in spite of all that, she is talking to this apple vendor. I don’t like the woman–she looks fake, worse, the way she eyes Snowdrop, she could be a maniac. If she was inside, I would have thrown her out, or may be thrown something on her head.

But the dwarves had been clear to not allow anyone in. So, the two of them are sharing an apple through the window! If you ask me, it looks rather scandalous. Snowdrop often shares ‘stuff’ with other handsome male vendors. But sharing a bitten apple with a woman?

Moreover, she doesn’t seem like she ever cleaned her teeth. She could have Pyorrhea…

Damn! I knew it! Now, Snowdrop’s fainted–must be the woman’s bad breath…


Free image by Ella de Kross on Unsplash

Posted in Life and After, Twisted Tales

The Apple of Discord: The Maneater

Humans don’t tread quietly–at least those who aren’t hunting make enough sound to raise a hibernating bear…

The other day, I saw someone run through the woods and decided to inquire if a good meal was in order. Alas, she was too thin. There was no meat to be had, only skin on bones. Not sure why humans do it to animals. Starving themselves is okay, I guess, but what’s the point of entering my territory if I couldn’t enjoy it too? I would call it downright mean!

I would have sampled a bit of her anyway but she was too scared, and all that adrenalin kills the taste. So, I waited until she settled but she was too excited! These tourists…they enter forests on a dare and, then, they jump at every sound, as if we were going to eat them…well, I do, but that’s beside the point. She was jumpy all evening and all night. Honestly, I do prefer a quiet meal so I waited. She shrieked at every dangling limb of tree and every pair of eyes. For instance, I always found rabbits rather harmless but who knew she could make a maneater out of them…

I had a hard time sleeping with all that shrieking and was a little late when I woke up. I decided to have a snack before I go gargle, but she was gone already. Damn those little people for building their stupid cottage in the forest. I can’t get within 250-meter radius of the place. You see, once, I wanted to experiment whether a hint of mushrooms affects the taste. So I tried to sample the Dopey one but one of the other six brought an axe and I had to make a hasty exit. Ever since, they put enchantments around that place so if I try to get close to the place, the axe finds me and chases me out of the perimeter.

Everybody else is welcome, it seems. I never saw that girl run out with the axe behind her. I waited outside for what felt like an eternity. (Well, did you ever try waiting for food delivery at breakfast?) When I lost all patience for the panicky, skinny piece of meat, I left to get breakfast.

When I returned for her, I was afraid they’ll eat her before I do but they had kept her as a pet or something. (These dwarfs have a weird taste, I tell you!) So, now I pace outside the enchanted periphery waiting for her to step out while she sings to birds and rabbits as they finish her chores. How unfair!

Posted in Twisted Tales

The Folk of the Forest — Tiny Tales

We’ve all heard of folklore. How many of us believe in it? Have you felt the lure to go down an unused path, explore unseen places, see through the dense fog and what hides beneath it? Beware! An awesome site with fantasy so thick, you will lose yourself in it.

I’m sure you’ve heard tales of the strange folk said to dwell in the forests, folk not human. Go ahead. Laugh. Call ‘em nothing but fairytales, stories to scare defiant children. There was a time I’d have joined you…

The Folk of the Forest — Tiny Tales
Posted in Life and After

Forever and After

Life is rather boring here, thanks to our ‘honorable’ prince.

First, he riled up the witch enough that she turned him into a Beast and the city to ruins. Then, rather than scoping out the nearby area for a kissable girl, he decided to mope around instead.

How did he expect her to find him? Did he have GPS installed, or a neon sign, “This way to the Cursed Prince”?

Does he even know about the existence of Online Dating? Men ‘meet’ sexy women out there all the time, make them fall in love, exchange virtual kisses! Who said the kiss had to be real?

But no, he had to wait for a century until this unfortunate woman walked in and fainted at his first sight! So much for true love!

Now he spends all the time hiding from her. He watches her from hiding spots behind the curtains and secretly follows her around like a lost pup.

Sigh! I wonder when that kiss is going to happen. After being lonely for a century, I am dying to watch some action⁠—not that castles can die. We just sulk…for centuries…

Being immortal sucks.


Photo by Kevin Jackson @ Unsplash