I still love fairy tales very much. I wrote and submitted this one a long time ago, but it didn’t get selected. Nevertheless, I share it with you here now.
The Fair Maiden saw the good in everyone. She could melt the frost from any heart, and she could find the light in the blackest shadows. She grew up believing in love, and she believed that one day she would find it. So when she met the kind Nobleman who came from three lands east of her village she knew that the fates had finally answered her.
The Nobleman had traveled a fortnight to get to her village. He walked gracefully through the market square and cordially greeted the merchants as he passed. The Maiden watched from behind the counter as he approached her candle shop. He didn’t notice her right away, but when he did he couldn’t draw his eyes away from hers. The Nobleman smiled and she returned it humbly. He found himself enamored by her and he knew that he couldn’t return home without her.
“Fair Maiden, come live with me and I vow to keep you happy for the rest of your days. You will have everything you could ever hope for and you will want for nothing again. I will grace you with a thousand treasures and love you without inhibition.” All this, the Nobleman promised.
He had a gentle way about him, so much so that the Maiden could not refuse his kindness. So the Nobleman whisked her away and they traveled beyond the countryside to a small village far from home. It was here that the Maiden’s journey began.
The Nobleman led the carriage along winding paths through woods until he reached the village. It was nothing like the Nobleman had described. It was a village in shambles, and she wasn’t entirely sure there were even people living there.
“I must make a confession,” said the Nobleman. “I’m not who I said I was, and I cannot give you the things I have promised.”
The Fair Maiden smiled, “No matter about these things, kind Nobleman. I love you, but please be fair and kind, and above all please be truthful. It is all that I ask.”
The Nobleman smiled at her and helped her down from the carriage. They walked nearly half a mile through the abandoned streets of a crumbling village. The Maiden looked around for signs of life but there were none. He led her down narrow alleys that had become narrower and narrower until he had taken her beyond the village into a dark forest. A thin fog crept low to the ground and drifted across their feet.
“How much further, my Love?” she asked. “We’ve passed the village hours ago and there are no houses here.” The Nobleman said nothing, and they had come so far that she had no choice but to continue following him.
Deeper into the woods they ventured until the fog became so thick that she could no longer see her companion. She called out to him, but he did not answer her. Where was the Nobleman, and why had he deceived her so? She continued on searching for a way out of the woods. The air around her grew cold, so cold that she could barely breathe, and colder still that she could barely move. The maiden stumbled over an uprooted tree and fell to the ground until fog had blanketed her completely.
As cold and as tired as she might have been, she continued crawling for what seemed an eternity until she could no longer feel the moist foliage beneath her. The relentless fog began to dissipate and when it had cleared she found herself trapped in an iron cage. Then the Nobleman appeared from beyond the trees; his smile had darkened. She was afraid but couldn’t speak, and when she tried no words would come. Tears streamed down her cheek. He had betrayed her and what was worse no one would ever know where she was. He was not noble and she had come to realize he was not even a man. As he approached her his eyes began to sink until all that remained were empty sockets. Its skin turned ashen and its teeth grew jagged and yellow. His hair was nearly gone and all the remained were a few wiry strings of black hair that sprouted from boils on his head. He hobbled toward the cage and tried to reach for her through the iron bars. The maiden sank back to the other side of the cage. He cackled and taunted her, and the Maiden looked away hoping he would leave, and when he finally did she cried out hoping someone would hear her, but no one came.
Weeks went by without hope of escaping her iron cage. Sometimes the creature would return with a bowl of slop and a bowl of water; most of the time he was only there to taunt her by reaching through the iron bars or poking her with twigs. She had come to call him, Pravo, the crooked man with a crooked soul.
The Maiden could barely lift her head when Pravo arrived on the seventh week. He tossed a bowl of water down at her side causing it to spill on her. She was so frail that she could barely lift the bowl to her lips, and there was scarcely anything left when she was finally able to drink it. She could have cried if she had the strength. Pravo was amused.
When the sun went down he left the Maiden alone again. She turned onto her back and looked up at the moon. Her eyes flickered dimly, “This is the end of me,” she uttered unto the heavens sending a swirl of frosted breath into the dark. As her eyes grew heavier she blinked at the sky watching a dust of stars descending – they seemed to dance around her head, and they felt so close that she swore she could feel their warmth surround her. The moon seemed to swell brighter, and she stared in awe of its beauty. It was the first moment’s peace that she had felt in a long time, and she even felt renewed from the warmth that draped over her. She wasn’t sure if it was real or just a dream, but she didn’t care because this new warmth cradled her until she was fast asleep.
When Pravo had returned in the morning he was taken back by what he saw. His sordid grin diminished. The Maiden looked as beautiful as the day he first met her. Her golden waves of hair were full, and her eyes beamed. Her cheeks were rosy and her skin supple. This infuriated, Pravo. She watched him cautiously. He had come with a bowl of slop, but this time he didn’t give it to her. “I feed you too much,” he growled and tossed it aside before hobbling back into the woods. She didn’t care. The Maiden wasn’t hungry. Now that she had regained the energy that had once been lost to her, she would be able to think clearly again. When he returns I will be far away from here, she thought. She looked around her. There were no seams and no doors to pry open. She tried to slip through to no avail, and she tried kicking one loose but it just wouldn’t budge. Magic had welded those bars together and that was what it would take to get her out of there.
Once nightfall returned, the Maiden laid her head down and stared up at the sky once again. She waited for the clouds to part so she could catch glimpse of the moon. She hoped it would be like the night before; after a few hours the sky had cleared, and once again the moon had returned shining bigger and brighter than ever. It beamed down on her and bathed the Maiden in warm light. She felt safe, and she knew Pravo couldn’t hurt her. The Maiden closed her eyes, “Dear Moon,” she said, “Please free me from this dreadful place. I miss my home.” Before long she drifted off into a peaceful sleep.
Morning came and the Maiden opened her hopeful eyes, but she was still trapped in the iron cage. Pravo returned to see if he had broken her again but he was disappointed to see that she was still as youthful as ever. Pravo had had enough. He stomped toward her and pointed his finger at the iron bars. They split open just enough for him to walk through and they closed behind him. The Maiden pressed her back against the far side of the cage, and when she did somehow she fell out of it. Pravo didn’t understand. He pointed at the bars for them to part but they wouldn’t open, and he shrieked so loudly it shook the birds from their trees.
The Maiden didn’t waste any time and she ran as fast as her legs would carry her back through the fogless woods and toward the abandoned village. Even there, she could hear his shrieks, but she didn’t dare look back. She turned a corner onto a gravel road in the abandoned village, and much to her surprise the horse and carriage were there waiting for her. The horse whinnied and she unhitched it from its carriage. She rode as fast and as far away as she could, thanking the moon for setting her free, and she vowed never again to be deceived.