FROM CURSIVE TO CURSES- PART III
Jacob’s quill scratched across the parchment on his desk. The letter he had sent to his brother was well met. Yet, the one that he received troubled him. Their father had gone missing? When had this occurred, and more importantly, why did he care? His father had disowned him. Still, an ache within Jacob’s breast assured him that he did care. What’s more, his brother had a strange tale to tell about a witch eating children and cursing the land. It was a story to rival his own about the talking frog. Jacob shook his head. The world was proving to be a strange place, indeed.
A sharp knock on his door disrupted his thoughts. Before he could answer, Princess Aledia bounced into his chambers. She was a young twenty-two to his twenty-five years. Her blonde hair caught the light as she skipped over to his desk.
“What are you writing?” she asked in a playful tone.
“A letter,” he grumbled.
“A letter to who? Is it to ask for advice on why we have holes in our shoes every night? You will never guess,” she chattered and plopped down in the chair beside his desk. He sighed. Princess Ryia’s father sent Jacob to his cousin’s kingdom to help with his daughters. Every night they would be locked in their room, and every morning, their shoes would have holes in the soles without explanation. Jacob had watched suitor after suitor attempt to unravel the riddle, only to leave just as confused.
“It is a letter to my brother, Wilhelm. As for its contents, that is rather personal.” The moment he said ‘brother,’ Princess Aledia was on her feet.
“You have a brother? What is he like? Is he tall with curly hair like you?” she asked as she pulled on one of the short brown curls that hung in his face. He waved her off.
“No, he doesn’t. He has long hair that is always tied back in a mess. Now, you came to ask me something?” he snapped.
“I wanted next week’s lessons,” she said, falling back into the chair.
“Bored, eh? Now that is surprising. One would think you’d be finding times to take naps with all the dancing, walking, or running that you twelve do at night.”
She laughed at his accusation. “So, you do want to know! I bet that is what your letter is about!” He pinched the bridge of his nose.
“I find that maidens like to keep their secrets the same way that men love to hunt. You will not tell me. For that reason, I will not ask.” He picked up the books from beside his fireplace. “We will be studying fairies and other mythical creatures that dwell in the realm to the west. With how much you read, I would think you to be a scholar, Princess Aledia,” he chuckled. She took the books and blew a piece of blonde hair from her face.
“That will never be my future. I will wed as will all my sisters. It is our lot in life,” she grumbled and moved out of the room, her steps a bit slower. He stared after her and felt a twinge of melancholy. She was bound to follow her duties just as he had once been…
He fastened the cloak to his shoulders and stopped to look at the mirror that hung on the wall. Jacob’s thoughts shifted to his brother. He did not resemble Wilhelm at all. Jacob constantly hid away to read when he was a child. He lacked the stature his brother and father possessed from the labor on the farm. Jacob shook his head from these thoughts. He could not start thinking about his family now. Pulling open the door, he strode towards the banquet hall. Another champion was coming this evening to discover the princesses’ secret. The princesses were already seated. Their dresses were the finest silks and velvets. Each a beautiful prize for the champion.
Beside the king sat a man in rags. Jacob stopped and stared in astonishment. Was the king so desperate to discover his daughters’ secret that he would allow a beggar to be the champion? Jacob found his seat beside the soldier and Princess Aledia. The last of the courtiers arrived, and the king stood to gather everyone’s attention.
“This young soldier is the next to attempt to unravel the mystery. He is a guest in my home, and I expect you all to treat him as such.” He sat down and conversation commenced around the hall. This had become such a constant occurrence that no one paid much attention to the man. Jacob noted the scar that trailed down his face. The wound must have come from some battle. Princess Aledia coughed beside him.
“He’ll never figure it out. He doesn’t appear very clever. If it was you, we might have reason to worry,” she whispered. Jacob arched a brow at her. It was as if she wanted him to figure out the secret.
“What if I assisted him?”
“I suppose that the king would split the reward.” Jacob looked back at the soldier. There was something about him that made Jacob want to help. He ran a hand down his face.
“Your majesty, I would like to offer my aid to your guest.” Jacob tried not to look like the words felt like he swallowed nails. The king looked between the soldier and his guest scholar. Around the table, the twelve princesses pulled faces at the idea. The queen cleared her throat, and the king turned his attention to her.
“If it would help in discovering where the holes in our daughters’ shoes come from, how could it hurt?” she questioned.
“Very well, Scholar. You may assist. If you and the soldier discover the secret, you may have a daughter for a wife as well. If you fail, you will suffer the same fate as all those who came before.” The king declared. Jacob ran a hand over his neck and tried not to think of failure. Those that failed faced death.
“I accept. We will find your answer,” Jacob responded. He felt Princess Aledia shift beside him. The soldier smiled, and something within Jacob felt like this was the right call. The rest of dinner was uneventful and Princess Aledia excused herself early.
The soldier and Jacob focused on their plan. He would watch the door from the outside while the soldier kept watch within the princesses’ room. Jacob excused himself. This was sure to be a long night. He would need reading material. As he walked, Jacob ran his hand over his neck. He put his life on the line, and for what? So that a soldier could have a chance at a better life?
Jacob sighed as he opened the door to his chambers. No, it was Princess Aledia. In her, he saw so much of himself. Her duties and family tied her down. She wanted to be a Scholar. Duty and family forced her into life as a princess. He scoffed. It was a bit different than his life as a farmer’s son, but she felt the same chains. Jacob stopped as he noticed a strange fabric that sat on his desk. In the candlelight, the fabric shimmered like water. A note fell from the folds as he lifted the fabric.
So, you see me in the light,
Now I vanish from the fight,
So, with these words, I do decree,
Now I vanish from all you see.
Jacob read the words to himself, and the fabric shimmered out of existence, and so did his hand. Startled, he dropped the fabric. It shimmered back into existence, and he stared. Fabric that could turn the wearer invisible? An idea sparked in his mind. He gathered a few books and ran from his room.
The soldier was not hard to find. He was leaving the seamstress’s chambers after getting new nightclothes. Jacob was glad that he caught him before the soldier left for the princesses’ chambers. He panted as he handed the soldier the fabric.
“T-The princesses will think it to be a blanket. Read this, and it will make you invisible.” The soldier grinned.
“Then, I will follow them as silent as a mouse! This is genius! With this, I will discover the answer. Thank you, my friend.”
The evening passed without event. Jacob sat by the princesses’ door and spent the evening engrossed in his book. Not once had the princesses attempted to leave their chambers. The morning sun had begun to rise when the soldier emerged and grabbed Jacob by his arm. Without an explanation, he dragged him to the king’s chambers. The guards knocked and announced their names. What could he have found that demanded they wake the king? The king entered his sitting chambers with a robe tied around his frame and hair mussed from sleep.
“What have you found?” he demanded. The soldier produced two lush branches—one made of pure silver and the other of shimmering gold.
“There is a secret passage in your daughters’ room that leads to an underground kingdom. They are spellbound to dance with twelve princes underground every evening. Yet, once the princesses turn their backs. The princes transform into goblins. I have brought you the branches as proof.” The king took the branches and examined them.
“Call forth my daughters.” He called to the guards. The twelve princesses entered the sitting room. Each was wrapped in an elegant embroidered robe and looked weary. The king held out the two branches and demanded the truth. Jacob watched as realization dawned on their faces. The truth was evident to everyone.
“A master mason will seal the passage and a mage will ensure the room is reinforced against enchantments. You both may select a daughter, and you will wed this very day.”
“Your Highness, I would like the eldest,” the soldier declared. The eldest looked horrified at marrying a commoner with a scarred face. The King turned to Jacob.
“I would like to take Princess Aledia. Not as a wife but as an apprentice.” Princess Aledia’s face lit up with delight.
“I suppose that would be acceptable…” the king said after a moment of hesitation. “Now, all of you, get out of my chambers. I have a wedding to plan and a few hours of sleep still.” The eleven princesses trudged back to their room for some much-needed sleep. Princess Aledia followed Jacob back to his chambers with a bounce in her step. Jacob felt the exhaustion drag at his bones as he fell into his desk chair with a deep sigh. Aledia took the seat beside him.
“I’m going to be a scholar. It’s hard to believe.” She couldn’t stop the smile.
“Duty to family is important, but it can’t rule your life. You have the freedom now to write your own destiny,” Jacob smiled. She was free from her bonds, thanks to his help… The king had given his blessing on her new future. The two letters that sat on Jacob’s desk caught his eye. One was from Wilhelm and the second was Jacob’s response. Family would only drag you down if you let them. If the king denied Princess Aledia this new future, she would be trapped in her duty. Jacob would not let all the work he put into his own destiny be in vain by one letter from his brother. He would not go back to the family that had shunned him. Princess Aledia was able to read two lines on the letter before Jacob threw it into the fire.
I need you, brother. Please come help find our father.
Princess Aledia stood. “Thank you for helping me. We can both learn a lot from each other.” She smiled and left. As soon as the door closed, she furrowed her brows and headed to her study. She had a letter to write to a Wilhelm Grimm. Jacob had helped her. Maybe she could help him in return.