I’ve wanted to post some of my fictional pieces for a while now and thought I would start with this one. I was inspired to write my own fairytale after reading a poem in one of my literature classes and after studying the bitter emotion of envy for a different class. The result was this story, which contains a few references and nods to some of my favorite fairytales. Speaking of class, I just finished my second year of college last week and will have plenty to write about when I have my thoughts in order. For now, enjoy this rather “grim” fairytale.
A Poison Tree
A Fairytale by Andrew Corder
A Reimagining of William Blake’s Song of Experience
Once upon a time…
there were two sisters. The two sisters were also the young princesses of a vast and enchanted kingdom. Rarely had they set foot outside of the palace grounds, however, because they were still quite young.
Now most of you will probably know that a princess’s life is never ordinary. It is either full of fairies and happiness and joy or witches and curses and tragedies. Or a bit of both. I regret to inform you that the tale you are about to read is one of grim tragedy. But the beginning is pleasant, so at least stay for the beginning.
The older of the two sisters was Rosamond. She had fiery red hair and a temperament to match it. She was persistent, determined, inquisitive, and spent countless hours with her father, learning the laws and customs of her kingdom. Rosamond was as vibrant as a flame and as beautiful as a rose, thorns and all. The younger princess was Myra. Her hair was silvery white, and she possessed the most gentle of hearts. Elegant, graceful, and affectionate to all, Myra reminded those around her of a beautiful swan, always craning her neck over the shoulder of her sister.
The princesses were the best of friends when they were little, playing in the palace gardens that reflected their innocence. The grounds were grown to look like a giant chess board, with alternating squares of light and dark green. The princesses would spread out a quilt and have tea parties on the lawn. Often they would play croquet, and Myra always insisted that her animal pets take a turn, much to Rosamond’s annoyance. Other times they would run through the hedge maze, playing a game with an imaginary dragon. Sometimes they would even have the palace servants stand on the green squares and play a life-sized game of chess at the sisters’ commands. Myra’s favorite place on the grounds was a small fountain pool as clear as a looking glass. She would sit and play with her animal friends for hours. Rosamond preferred the comfort of solitude and would take long walks in the grove of apple trees beside the palace.
As the two princesses grew older, they also grew further apart. Rosamond preferred to be indoors, studying and mapping out battle strategies with her father. She was rash and fierce, but eager to learn in preparation for her future role as queen. The princess made friends with the palace guards and knights, particularly the Knave of her father’s army. Myra made friends as well, but with the villagers of the kingdom. The people loved her kind and caring heart. They would continually give her gifts: flowers and tarts and such. Anytime the royal family visited the villages, the townspeople would dote upon the youngest princess. The favoritism showed by the common people irritated Rosamond, but she was satisfied with her place in the palace and her growing leadership skills.
The tragedy began in the midst of a crisp and colorful autumn, when the princesses had both become beautiful young women. A handsome suitor began to make frequent visits to the palace. He became a knight in the king’s army and a close friend of the royal family. Rosamond took a natural liking to him, interesting him in the palace libraries and halls. She gave him tours of the castle and persuaded him into playing frequent games of chess. The Knight was lively and warm, and Rosamond had never felt the way she did when she was near him. Most of the other knights in the castle perceived her as a fellow warrior or regarded her with timid reverence. Rosamond was so caught up in her fantasies about the Knight that she failed to notice the source of his joy.
His pining looks across the room, his occasional inquiries about her sister, the white roses he often picked from the garden, they all failed to point Rosamond to the truth: that the Knight was in love, not with her, but with her sister. By the time the older princess began to pick up on the signals, it was too late.
It was a difficult reality to face. Myra always had a line of suitors waiting for their chance to court her. And while most of them liked Rosamond, it was only because of their common interests. None of them were interested in her like they were in Myra. None of them looked at her with the same appraising glances which they reserved for her sister. With the Knight, Rosamond felt that she might finally have her chance at true happiness, only to have it swept out from under her feet. Myra did not seem to notice her sister’s aching heart, though she certainly noticed the Knight’s affections, and returned them with her own.
Some days later, Rosamond looked out of her tower window to see Myra and the Knight running off into the golden afternoon, surrounded by a haze of autumn leaves. Rosamond’s resentment of her sister only grew after that. Broken hearted, she forced down her bitterness and envy, little knowing that something was taking root deep inside her. Her nights were restless, and she often had to take walks in the grove of apple trees to calm her nerves.
It did little to help when she returned from her wandering one night to see a candle glowing in the window of her sister’s bedroom. What was her sister doing up at this hour? As Rosamond neared the castle beneath her sister’s tower, she caught sight of movement beyond the candle light. It illuminated the silhouette of a handsome and all too familiar figure. What pain had splintered Rosamond’s heart now snapped it in two. The princess turned and ran back into the shelter of the trees. She collapsed at the roots of the largest tree and released the tears that had been boiling inside her. They splashed on the roots like acid and seeped into the wood. Her tears released, Rosamond rose and went back to the palace. Now that her sadness was spent, her envy felt sharper, clearer. Something had just given birth in her heart, and she reveled in it.
Reports soon reached the castle concerning a skirmish with a neighboring kingdom in a far corner of their border. Knights were needed for reinforcement. Rosamond suddenly found her influence over the kingdom’s troops and their stations to be a satisfying one. She had the Knave place the name of Myra’s knight on the list of troops to aid in the skirmish. Determined to prove his bravery, the Knight left the castle with the promise to return to his beloved princess.
“Make sure he’s on the front lines,” Rosamond commanded the Knave as he made the battle plans for the captain who was to oversee the kingdom’s defense. Rosamond kept the Knave close at her side and confided in him with most of her schemes and wily plots. The monster in her heart was growing stronger.
The following winter, tragedy struck again. The king and queen had been away on unexpected business in a nearby kingdom. They were traveling back to the palace at night, and their company was led astray by a misguiding path of glowing mushrooms. Their carriage became stuck in the forest, and they were forced to continue on foot through the winding and treacherous paths. They accidentally stumbled into the lair of a giant, flesh-eating bird and were promptly eaten.
The news brought much despair to the kingdom. Myra hoped it might strengthen the fraying bond between her and Rosamond, but it only seemed to widen the gap between them. The funeral was solemn and quiet, the land gray and shadowed. Myra had requested white roses for the service. The people carried them as well, filling the castle and its grounds with the sickly sweet smell. Rosamond hated the flowers. They were too pure and reminded her of the Knight and everything her sister had that she did not. But there was one thing Myra did not possess which Rosamond now did, and that was the title of queen.
A coronation ceremony was held immediately after the time of mourning had passed. Nearly everyone from the kingdom crowded into the throne room to watch the procession. Rosamond, dressed in a blood red gown glittering with ruby hearts, stared ahead, stoic and unflinching as the golden crown was placed on her fiery-colored locks. Rosamond appointed herself the title of The Red Queen. She vowed that the color would come to symbolize her reign, one of passion, power, and strength. Her crowning was met with powerful cries of, “Long live the queen!”
After the coronation, life in the kingdom returned to normal as well as it could. A solemn cloud still hung over the palace. The Red Queen kept herself within its boundaries. She visited the apple tree grove to discover that the trees were not surviving the winter. They were decayed and black with no fruit to be seen. The queen still took comfort under the largest tree that she had cried upon many nights ago. She swore she could see a face in the rough, black bark: a monster born from the tears that had sprung from her heart. She whispered dark secrets to it, and it to her.
Myra fared much better than her sister. She spent time in the village with the people, helping them as she could. They became like family to her and helped her cope with the loss of her parents and her sister too, in a way. The Red Queen saw these events unfolding and it unnerved her. She ran to her tree and asked it what she was to do. She now spent many a night under its comforting branches, conversing to the monster that was born of her hatred.
“If my sister continues to cast her pretty little spells on the minds of those stupid peasants, they will revolt against me. She means to take the crown! Tell me what I must do.”
“You must do the only thing you can,” it replied in its creaking, sinister voice. “Keep your sister under your watchful eye.”
The very next day the Red Queen forbid Myra from leaving the palace or its grounds.
“You are to stay close by and not wander off into the villages,” she said.
“Why are you doing this to me?” Myra begged her.
“The world is dangerous!” her sister cried. “I can’t lose you like I lost Mother and Father!”
In reality, the Red Queen was afraid. She saw how much the people loved Myra…and how much they hated her. Though Myra insisted that they never did, the Red Queen swore she saw them scowling at her, whispering behind her back. They could see she wasn’t a worthy enough queen for the crown. They wanted to take away the only thing Rosamond ever had that her sister did not—the only thing that made her special.
The monster could sense betrayal in the townspeople too. Before long, they would demand that Myra be queen. The very thought disgusted the Red Queen. Why couldn’t they see what she saw? Myra was crafty and manipulative. She was wrapping the people around her tiny little finger.
“Besides,” the Red Queen thought to herself, “I am the eldest! Who ever heard of a younger sibling inheriting the throne?”
The next day the queen was approached by the Knave.
“I have a proposition for you, Your Majesty,” he said.
“What is it?” the queen asked. “Of all those who would turn against me, you remain ever loyal and true. I will listen. What do you propose?”
“Since Myra has been forced to stay within the palace walls, why not crown her as a queen as well?”
The Red Queen was appalled.
“Show the people you are united and strong!” the Knave continued. “It may help to boost the morale of the people. You and Myra can rule together.”
The queen was furious. Her rage bubbled over.
“After everything I’ve been through?” she screamed. “You want me to share the crown with—with her?”
“If the rumors you tell me are true, about the people wanting your sister to be queen, this may help to quiet them,” the Knave said. “I am not suggesting that you give up any share of power, just give the people more reason to trust you.”
The Red Queen grew calm. “Forgive me. You’re right. Convincing the people that we rule as one will make them love me more.”
And so, another coronation service was held, but this time it was for Myra. She wore a lacy white dress that twinkled like snowdrops, her lips and face a bright rosy pink. She was given a silver crown embedded with pearls and bestowed the title of The White Queen. Her sister smiled at her, and for the first time since they were children, Myra imagined they could be friends again.
The shift in behavior surprised everyone. The Red Queen was suddenly kind to her sister. They spent meals together and discussed matters of the kingdom from their matching thrones. No one but the monster knew the truth. The Red Queen kept her rage and envy locked inside her heart. Whenever she escaped to her tree, she shared everything with it, watering the roots with her tears and feeding it with her rage. The people still loved Myra more. Knights still visited the castle asking for her hand. It wouldn’t be long before she planned to overthrow the Red Queen. Surely the idea was already simmering in her head.
The Red Queen never told her sister any of her true feelings, but instead let them fester and grow. The connection with the tree in the decaying grove was somehow mutual, and the more the Red Queen watered it with her bitter tears, the stronger she felt herself growing. Feeding the monster her rage and jealousy gave her a kind of power, and she liked it. The other trees faded and withered, but the queen’s tree grew to be a prominent feature of the palace gardens. A scarlet bud had appeared on one of the branches. She knew her revenge was close at hand.
One winter’s night the Red Queen returned from her conversation with the monster in the tree. Her crimson cloak swept over the snow like a wave of blood. The candle in her hand dripped with wax—like blood flowing from a heart. As she returned to the palace, she noticed a candle lit in her sister’s bedroom window. Yet no gentleman’s shadow graced the wall beyond. Myra was preparing to leave the castle, and the Red Queen knew it. She ascended the castle stairs to her tower and fell into a restful sleep.
The White Queen took a candle of her own and stole out into the frosty night. Her own white cloak blended with the snow, and no one saw her go. She tiptoed past the green squared lawn, now blanketed in white. Her light steps barely left any footprints. Across the garden the White Queen stole, first to the greenhouse, to pick a perfect white rose. It was the anniversary of her beloved knight’s passing. A messenger brought the news when the battle was almost won. Upon her request, his body was buried in the castle grounds, on the other side of the grove. It was the same grove where they swore their love in a shower of golden leaves. Every night that marked a year of her beloved’s passing, Myra laid a white rose at his grave. As she crept through the ashen grove that was once full of beautiful apple trees, she paused. Only one tree remained: her sister’s mysterious tree. It bore something bright and red.
The Red Queen awoke the next morning, not knowing what the cause of this light, peaceful feeling was, only that she had not felt something like it in a long time. She dressed in one of her favorite red gowns and went down to the dining hall for breakfast. Not long after, as the queen was sitting in the library, the Knave came to inform her that no sign had been seen of Myra since the evening of the previous day. She was not in her room.
The Red Queen rose and searched her sister’s chambers. Not finding her there, she hastened down the palace stairs and threw open the doors leading into the garden. The queen followed the familiar path through the grounds, her heart beating rapidly in her chest. Where was her sister? Could it be true? She reached the tree, calling for the monster. Its face did not appear, but the Red Queen heard its laughter. It echoed from her own heart, its thoughts from her own mind. It had been rooted in her heart all along, a fantasy of her poisonous envy.
In place of the monster was something new. A body lay across the tangled roots of the tree.
Myra. Her sister. The White Queen.
She was a stark contrast to the pure, new fallen snow. Her lips, nails, and the roots of her hair had turned black, her eyes hollow, and her skin deathly pale. A few feet from her elegant, open hand was a blood red apple with a single bite marring its otherwise perfect surface.
The poison had done its work. Here she lay, outstretched beneath the tree.
“The monster killed my sister,” penetrated the Red Queen’s thoughts. “The monster killed my sister!”
It forced its way from her lips now.
“The monster killed my sister!”
But still no face appeared in the tree. The Red Queen looked down to see her fingertips stained with the same blood red color of the apple. There it lay just a few feet from her—the truth. Its bright scarlet skin created an unsettling distinction against the snow. There were drops of scarlet in the snow too, likely coughed up by her sister. They created a trail, showing where the White Queen had fallen and collapsed against the tree. And there, clutched in her sister’s other hand and most jarring of all…
Was a white rose.
Painted red with her own blood.
I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night.
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.
And into my garden stole,
When the night had veild the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
“A Poison Tree” —William Blake, 1794
Copyright © 2017 Andrew Corder