“Drunkards and hypocrites, the lot of them,” muttered the old woman.
She stepped off the road, onto a footpath so overgrown with weeds that it was practically invisible. It was certainly forgotten by almost everyone else in the village. Besides herself, the old woman reckoned that only the village priest knew the path still existed, and what lay at its end.
The sun had set by the time the old woman arrived at the graveyard. Stone markers shimmered in the gloom. Here and there, an iron cross could be seen, aged and rusting, rising from the long grass like islands in a sea.
Carefully, the old woman made her way among the graves. The footing here could be treacherous; the last thing she wanted was to fall and break a bone. If that happened, she would be just another corpse, lying among the unhallowed dead.
By the time she had crept to the intended grave, the moon had started her long climb across the sky. The old woman settled herself on a log and sighed.
In front of her, a stone slab was barely visible beneath long, twisting creepers. At its head, an iron cross was hammered into the ground. The grave was unnamed and unmarked.
“It’s been a long time since my last visit, I know.”
Sighing, the old woman wiped a rheumy eye.
“I’m not as young as I used to be and times have been hard.”
She remembered the flowers and tossed them atop the grave.
“They’re not much, but they’re the best I could do, poppet. You always liked the last flowers of the season. Do you remember? We would go gathering the last blossoms when you were just a girl, from the valleys behind your father’s house.”
The old woman leaned on her stick, peering through the gloom at the stone slab.
“The least they could have done was carve your name into the stone. You were still a queen, poppet. They could have shown you that much respect.”
For a while, the old woman sat there in silence. A cool breeze began to blow. Dark clouds skittered across the moon’s face.
“Do you know what’s happened, poppet? Do you know how your enemies have been brought low? All those sanctimonious do-gooders, the ones who spoke so poisonously against you, are all gone now. Wherever you are, my dove, I hope you know. I hope you know and you rejoiced when they were knocked off their pedestals.”
She grinned; it was a grin of savage glee.
The girl had been the first to be brought low. They could have explained away the pregnancy, could have said the child was just early. If the child had been normal that would have happened, but the child hadn’t been normal. It had been a twisted runt. Its mother had lived long enough to know her shame, before dying in the birthing bed.
Despite priestly objections, the king had ordered the child abandoned in the forest. If dwarves had fathered the creature, then dwarves could raise it. The fate of that twisted infant remained unknown.
The charming prince’s love for his bride hadn’t lasted long after the birth. It was hard to love someone who had made a fool of you. Rumors spun that the princess had cuckolded her princely husband, that she was known to every stable lad and baker’s boy in the castle.
First, love went away and then, quietly, insidiously, the prince lost his charming luster. Embittered, he grew twisted and violent. No more the charmer, the servants whispered, but a dark prince with dark appetites.
He marched off on a crusade and returned ten years later, drenched in blood, lacking any fine sentiments. Upon the old king’s death, the prince assumed the throne and ruled with an iron fist.
In the graveyard, the old woman cackled. “And they thought you were wicked, my dove!”
The Dark King had shown them true wickedness. Blood ran like water in the gutters of the castle. Everyone suffered in equal measure, the highborn and the low, beneath their Dark King’s rule.
“Was it any wonder then, my poppet, that they rose against him? Priests and lords and commoners alike! All united!”
Lowering her voice, the old woman leaned forward, spoke softly for there could have been unfriendly ears, even in this place.
“They poisoned him, my dove. A bit at a time, little by little. It took a long time for him to die, but he did. That fine prince died like a mad dog, foaming at the mouth, wild with pain. I’m sure it was glorious!”
She drew back, sighing. “They’re all gone now, the ones who wronged you. All the ones that matter, at any rate. The dwarves are probably still out there, lurking in the deep woods. But who cares about dwarves?”
In the dark woods, an owl hooted. Overhead, the clouds parted, revealing the full face of the moon.
“I don’t think I’ll be back, my poppet,” said the old woman. “It’s a miracle your old nurse has lived this long. The reaper will come for me soon, I think, and I’ll be glad when he does. I’m tired of life, of outliving all the ones I love.”
Standing, she drew her tattered cloak close and leaned heavily on her stick. The moonlight washed over her weathered face.
“Maybe the next time we speak, you’ll be able to answer me, my poppet.”
She turned and walked away, back along the path. Clouds slid across the moon, concealing its face, and the old woman vanished into the darkness.
# # #
The inspiration for this story came from that old expression, "History is written by the victors." That's probably a universal truth, so, with that being the case, how many of those happily ever after fairy tales would really have ended so happily? How many of those stories could be trusted? And, most importantly of all, how many of those dastardly villains would be as thoroughly evil as they were portrayed?