Wintersong

By: S. Jae-Jones

For .





OVERTURE



Once there was a little girl who played her music for a little boy in the wood. She was small and dark, he was tall and fair, and the two of them made a fancy pair as they danced together, dancing to the music the little girl heard in her head.

Her grandmother had told her to beware the wolves that prowled in the wood, but the little girl knew the little boy was not dangerous, even if he was the king of the goblins.

Will you marry me, Elisabeth? the little boy asked, and the little girl did not wonder at how he knew her name.

Oh, she replied, but I am too young to marry.

Then I will wait, the little boy said. I will wait as long as you remember.

And the little girl laughed as she danced with the Goblin King, the little boy who was always just a little older, a little out of reach.

As the seasons turned and the years passed, the little girl grew older but the Goblin King remained the same. She washed the dishes, cleaned the floors, brushed her sister’s hair, yet still ran to the forest to meet her old friend in the grove. Their games were different now, truth and forfeit and challenges and dares.

Will you marry me, Elisabeth? the little boy asked, and the little girl did not yet understand his question was not part of a game.

Oh, she replied, but you have not yet won my hand.

Then I will win, the little boy said. I will win until you surrender.

And the little girl laughed as she played against the Goblin King, losing every hand and every round.

Winter turned to spring, spring to summer, summer into autumn, autumn back into winter, but each turning of the year grew harder and harder as the little girl grew up while the Goblin King remained the same. She washed the dishes, cleaned the floors, brushed her sister’s hair, soothed her brother’s fears, hid her father’s purse, counted the coins, and no longer went into the woods to see her old friend.

Will you marry me, Elisabeth? the Goblin King asked.

But the little girl did not reply.





PART I



THE GOBLIN MARKET

We must not look at goblin men,

We must not buy their fruits:

Who knows upon what soil they fed

Their hungry, thirsty roots?





CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, GOBLIN MARKET





BEWARE THE GOBLIN MEN



“Beware the goblin men,” Constanze said. “And the wares they sell.”

I jumped when my grandmother’s shadow swept across my notes, scattering my thoughts and foolscap along with it. I scrambled to cover my music, shame shaking my hands, but Constanze hadn’t been addressing me. She stood perched on the threshold, scowling at my sister, Käthe, who primped and preened before the mirror in our bedroom—the only mirror in our entire inn.

“Listen well, Katharina.” Constanze pointed a gnarled finger at my sister’s reflection. “Vanity invites temptation, and is the sign of a weak will.”

Käthe ignored her, pinching her cheeks and fluffing her curls. “Liesl,” she said, reaching for a hat on the dressing table. “Could you come help me with this?”

I put my notes back into their little lockbox. “It’s a market, Käthe, not a ball. We’re just going to pick up Josef’s bows from Herr Kassl’s.”

“Liesl,” Käthe whined. “Please.”

Constanze harrumphed and thumped the floor with her cane, but my sister and I paid her no heed. We were used to our grandmother’s dour and direful pronouncements.

I sighed. “All right.” I hid the lockbox beneath our bed and rose to help pin the hat to Käthe’s hair.

The hat was a towering confection of silk and feathers, a ridiculous affectation, especially in our little provincial village. But my sister was also ridiculous, so she and the hat were well matched.

“Ouch!” Käthe said as I accidentally jabbed her with a hatpin. “Watch where you stick that thing.”

“Learn to dress yourself, then.” I smoothed down my sister’s curls and settled her shawl so that it covered her bare shoulders. The waist of her gown was gathered high beneath her bosom, the simple lines of her dress showing every curve of her figure. It was, Käthe claimed, the latest fashion in Paris, but my sister seemed scandalously unclothed to my eyes.

“Tut.” Käthe preened before her reflection. “You’re just jealous.”