The Feathered Nest - A Dark Fairy Tale
|dark fairy tale
Another piece I had forgotten all about, but was unwittingly reminded of when someone on Facebook made a post about a fairy tale by Sheridan Le Fanu.
This one was intended to be a competition entry, the criteria being that it had to be a dark fairy tale more suited to adults than children, and within a certain word count. However, when I sent it off it turned out that the competition had been cancelled but the call for submissions online had not been deleted, which is why I have never done anything with it since!
Anyway, although I have altered the original word count very slightly, it is still more or less as it was first written. Enjoy and as always, thoughts and opinions are very welcome.
The Feathered Nest
Once upon a time there lived a bird. A giant beast, a sight to behold; brilliant of plumage, magnificent of grace. She was known as Silent Wing.
Silent Wing lived in the ancient woods at the foot of Glass Mountain. She would glide high above it, noiseless as a cloud, bright as the sun, the mountain mutely reflecting her as she passed over. The trees of the ancient wood grew tall and straight, their trunks smooth and pale and it was at the top of the tallest of these trees that Silent Wing had her nest.
Men working in the woods, women and children gathering nuts and berries, would sometimes find huge white feathers, as glossy as oil. They would carry them home, believing them to be lucky, to keep them in a place of honour in their houses; above a mantel, before a mirror, to be marvelled at and cherished every day.
In return for the precious gifts Silent Wing bestowed upon the villagers, the people would scatter bread crumbs, entrails of fish and ears of corn on the ground below her tree, leaving her in peace to eat them at her leisure.
Silent Wing was often seen in flight above the mountain, easy to distinguish even from the village below. As accustomed to her presence as they were, the people never tired of the wondrous sight, believing it to be a good omen for the day ahead. And so Silent Wing and the people lived in quiet harmony for many years.
One hot summer day, a salesman wandered into the village. Dusty and dirty, tired and worn, he collapsed in a heap in the town square, bags and satchels piling untidily on top of him.
The good villagers rushed to help, Brewer and Blacksmith heaving him to his feet, sitting him on the stool Milliner had run to fetch from his shop.
When the man had drunk the water Goodwife Sloane gave him, he felt well enough to speak.
“Thank you all,” he rasped, his voice hoarse, “I have been walking for days, my water all gone, my way lost,”
“What makes you wander the world so?” Tanner asked.
“I am a travelling salesman. I go from place to place selling my wares, making life easier and more pleasant for folk such as you,”
“Making yourself a fortune, more like,” Spinster said, but the crowd silenced her.
“I make enough,” Salesman said, “I mean only to help.” He looked around, to see that, kind folk that they were, the people believed him. They gave him a room and food and water aplenty, asking nothing in return.
Except for young Elise. The most beautiful girl in the village, set to marry Councillor’s son, she eyed Salesman’s bags greedily.
“Do you have something pretty for a veil?” Elise enquired.
“A simple ring of flowers is all a beauty such as you would need,” Salesman flattered her.
Elise blushed prettily, “It is not enough. I wish to cut such a vision of loveliness that every man who lays eyes on me will forever have the image etched upon his mind! I wish to look as vivid and as bright as, as…” Elise wracked her brains for a suitable comparison, “as Silent Wing herself!”
Salesman sat up a little straighter, “Silent Wing?”
“Have you not heard of her?” Elise breathed, “She is a magical bird who lives in our woods and glides over the Glass Mountain. Her feathers are a purer, more brilliant shade of white than you ever saw! Sometimes folk find feathers she has shed. My father has one above his bed; come and see!”
She took the unresisting Salesman by his hand and brought him to her house, showing him the feather. Even encased behind a glass frame, Salesman was struck by the depth of its whiteness and its mystic aura.
“Such feathers would make a wonderful headdress,” he mused
Elise’s eyes widened, “They would! But we should never find enough; if we should find one at all.”
Salesman’s eyes narrowed, “What price would you be willing to pay for such a headdress?” He asked.
“Anything? Including your hand in marriage?”
Elise quite forgot her purpose in making a headdress. Enchanted by the idea that she might own not just one but many of Silent Wing’s feathers, her lust for fortune overcame her love and she said simply, “Yes”
Satisfied, Salesman left the house full of plans.
It was impossible to get lost on the way to the wood, lining the base of the mountain as it did. By the time Salesman reached its shade the day was cooling, though the sun still glared off Glass Mountain, into the valley below.
Salesman began to scour the woodland floor, searching in vain for a dropped feather. By the time darkness had begun to fall he was exhausted. He sank to the cool ground, resting his back against a giant tree.
He closed his eyes. Something light brushed against his cheek. He flicked at it, thinking it a moth or a spider web. Whatever it was, it hit the ground beside him and Salesman opened his eyes.
He could not believe it. One of Silent Wing’s feathers! Although he had never seen her, he recognised the plumage at once.
There came a rustling from above. Through the foliage of the tree, Salesman could make out the huge form of Silent Wing, settling into her nest.
“Send me some more, beauteous creature,” he implored, but Silent Wing did not respond.
All night long, Salesman crooned to her from the bottom of the tree, begging her to loosen a feather or two more. He tried tempting her with trinkets, hoping she was as seduced by shiny things as are magpies. He cooed to her like a dove, sang to her like a blackbird; to no avail.
As morning broke, Salesman had begun to show his true nature. He hurled stones at the nest; his aim poor, his throw weak. Frustrated, an idea began to take shape in his dark mind.
He filled his rucksack with the biggest stones he could find. Using two sharp knives as grips, he began to claw his way up a neighbouring tree.
Many times he thought he would plummet to his death, or scare Silent Wing away, but neither happened. Finally he reached the top of the tree and rested, panting, on a strong, wide bough.
Silent Wing was still some way above him, but he could see her clearly in her nest now. The bird’s graceful neck formed an S-shaped, her massive wings folded delicately around her. She was staring placidly ahead, her eyes opaque and glossy; sleeping.
Salesman saw his chance. He reached into his rucksack, took out the largest stone he could find, and took aim.
Forever after, the villagers wished that this was where the story ended. That Salesman lost his balance and fell, leaving Silent Wing unharmed. But it is not.
Salesman’s aim was strong and true. It struck Silent Wing hard, sending her plummeting to the ground, heavy and graceless, her magnificent wings never beating; dead before she landed.
Salesman hurried down the tree after her as if he were the one with wings. He was amazed at her size but it did not deter him from setting to work as fast as he could. Soon, his rucksack was empty of stones, feathers taking their place. Satisfied, he went back to the village, ready to receive the applause of the people and of Elise, his new bride to be.
They say the sun did not rise so high that day, nor did Glass Mountain shine as bright. Salesman strode into the village square, calling the people to come and behold a wondrous sight. Excitedly, they came pouring out, eager to see what the stranger had brought. Elise was first to arrive, a smug smile on her face.
The people formed a circle, Salesman at their centre. “Good people!” He declared, “I have been on an errand for the beautiful Elise, to procure for her the most stunning headdress ever to be made, in return for her hand in marriage”
The thrilled gasps of the crowd turned to shocked amazement at what the man had claimed. “Is this true?” demanded Councillor, his son disbelieving behind him.
“It is,” Elise said shamelessly, “but wait ‘til you see what he has brought!”
“What prize could possibly be worth more than our love?” Her erstwhile fiancée asked.
“This” shouted Salesman, shaking out the rucksack triumphantly.
Silence fell; a deep, weighty quietness, until Salesman finally stammered, “What is this? I do not understand…”
Before him, in a straggly, shabby, fraying heap, was a mountain of dull grey feathers. They lay like doused ashes, lifeless and lacking in brilliance.
“Are these Silent Wing’s feathers?” Spinster asked softly, “Did you think that in stealing her beauty you could make it your own?”
The people were horrified; they began searching the sky for Silent Wing. Men set off to the woods in search of her; even though in their hearts they all knew that Spinster was right. Silent Wing was dead.
“I will not keep my promise, since you have failed in yours!” Elise spat spitefully to Salesman.
At this Spinster fell to her knees, shovelling feathers and dust into the rucksack. She thrust the bag into Elise’s hands, pulling Salesman alongside her.
“Off with both of you; you are well matched!” She hissed, shoving them beyond the village gates, “May dry dust and ugly feathers be the only fortune you shall ever know!”
Those who heard her trembled, believing the curse of a spinster to be as effective as that of a witch.
And a so a beautiful young woman who had known only love but who wanted fortune, and a man who knew nothing of love but whose heart was filled only with lust, set off into the world, joined together forever by the terrible thing they had done.
And nobody lived happily ever after.
S P Oldham