The Cursed Maiden
After his most recent brief glimpses of her, he had come to the conclusion that the fairest in the land was also the most miserable. The days that he had seen her had been as beautiful as she was, yet she walked through the market with an incredibly dismal expression on her face.
He couldn't understand how such a feat was possible. Her dresses looked as if they belonged to royalty, and her hair was always styled in the latest fashions. Her skin was free of blemishes. She was so beautiful that at least five different princes had proposed to her, yet she always looked as if she was on the verge of tears.
These thoughts ran through his head as he knocked on the door to her quaint little cottage. He hoped that she wouldn't turn him down; her house was the only one in the near vicinity and there was a steady downpour outside of the overhang.
“Hello,” he hurriedly said. The sight of her lit fireplace taunted him as he continued to speak. “I was out for a walk when the storm started. Your cottage is the only one nearby. Is it alright if I stay through the storm?”
She looked him over with her miserable blue eyes, her gaze lingering on the puddle forming underneath his feet. “You can stay here,” she informed him. She stepped to the side and allowed him to enter. To his surprise, she jumped into the puddle moments after he had come inside.
The muddy water splashed onto her dress, but the stains disappeared almost as quickly as they had formed. With a brief and bitter sigh, she returned to the shelter her cottage provided.
He glanced down at his clothes as she led him over to the fireplace. He was tempted to sit down on one of the chairs, but knew doing so would mean getting it dirty.
She eyed the chair for several seconds before saying, “Sit down.”
“But I'll get your furniture dirty,” he protested. She was kind enough to let him stay in her house. Defiling her belongings by covering them in mud and water was a terrible way to show his gratitude.
She shook her head. “It's not like my clothes can get dirty if I sit in it.”
Rather reluctantly, he sat down.
As the two of them sat in silence, she ruffled her hair. He watched her do so with a mixture of confusion and interest. She repeated this action several times, but it always ended the same way. She would give him a triumphant grin when it remained messy, only for the grin to suddenly disappear when the hair quickly returned to how neat it had been before.
“Why are you doing that?” he finally questioned. “Why do you keep trying to get dirty? Aren't you grateful for the gift that witch gave you?”
The laugh she gave was as bitter as her sigh had been. “Gift? It was a curse two years ago and it still is to this day.” She leaned down and tried to tear her dress.
“She made it so you were the most beautiful woman in the entire world, Cora,” he said, exasperated. “If that's not a gift, then I don't know what is.”
The dress fixed itself as she returned to a normal sitting position. The eyes that were watching him were no longer miserable; they were filled with disbelief. She looked as if she had just awoken from a dream and was trying to comprehend the reality she suddenly had to adjust to.
“What if you were in my shoes?” she quietly questioned.
“Then I would be happy because I had been given clothes I would have never been able to afford.”
She shook her head. “I mean in the literal sense. What if you were the one wearing this dress? What if it was your hair that was in this bun, and what if it was your face that was covered with blush? What if every time you tried to get your dress dirty, it cleaned itself? What if every time you tried to undo that bun, it returned to how it had been moments before? What if every time you tried to clean off that blush, you would look into the mirror and see that it was still there?”
The thought of being forced to look like that terrified him; it was an unpleasant reality that he never wanted to live through. “I would demand that the witch change me back to normal,” he replied, despite his mouth feeling dry as he did so.
She crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. “It doesn't work like that, Anselm. You're stuck like that for the rest of your life because that witch thinks you like it. She thinks it's a good way to pay you back for saving her life.”
“But I'm a man,” he protested.
“You don't get to play that card. She still thinks you'll be happier if you're dressed like some sort of princess.” Sunlight had begun to shine through the windows, but neither of them made any move to get up. “You know me better than anyone. We were best friends for years. You know that I feel uncomfortable wearing dresses.”
He shook his head. “But you're a woman! Women are supposed to wear dresses. Did you expect her to make you look like a prince instead?”
Her grip on the arms of her chair tightened, and a fierce anger flashed in her eyes as she watched him with a piercing stare. “Is there some sort of law that says women have to wear dresses?” She spoke in the same slow and careful way that one would speak if they were trying to explain something to a child.
“Then why am I forced to wear one?”
He sighed. “I don't know, Cora. Can't you just deal with it? I deal with it when I have to wear something nice-”
He was interrupted by the sound of her getting out of her chair. Before he could even ask what she was doing, she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him out of his. She was silent as she brought him to the door. After opening it, she threw him into the mud.
“What was that for?” he angrily demanded, rushing to get back to his feet.
She slammed the door in his face.
Glaring at the door, he yelled, “If you're going to be a spoiled brat, then I guess I won't ever visit you!”
“That's fine with me! I don't need the company of an ignorant farmer who can't understand his childhood best friend!”
He turned his back to the house and stormed back over to muddy path.
When she rode past his house on her horse, she was not surprised to see that the windows were dark. The last person to have seen him claimed that he had left town the day after their argument.
She couldn't understand why he had done so. When they were kids, he had always been afraid of leaving the town. She had given him many toys and treats in order to get him to explore the nearby forest with her. Even though that fear had mostly subsided as they grew older, he would never travel unless he had to.
But he's changed, she reminded herself. He would have understood her when they were younger; he would have comforted her and told her that things would turn out alright. Even if it had only been an empty promise, it would have been more than the cruel denial he had given her.
It still hurt. She had believed that he would be there for her. He always had been. With her parents gone, he was the only person she could go to. She had shown him the part of her heart that no one else had seen, only for him to turn her away.
“Cora!” a voice suddenly called out from behind her. She glanced over her shoulder to see who had yelled her name.
A very bedraggled man was running towards her horse. His clothing was old and torn, and his skin was littered with fresh cuts and bruises. The hazel eyes that watched her had bags underneath him. His dark brown hair, which went down past his shoulders, was messy and had several twigs in it.
She almost rode away.
But then he removed a glass bottle from the bag that she had made years ago; it was the same bag that she had given Anselm on his fifteenth birthday.
She dismounted her horse.
Upon reaching her, he took several large gulps of air. He looked as if he had been running from quite some time. “I'm sorry,” he apologized in between breaths. “I should have understood that it wasn't my place to be making judgment on what you want to wear. That's all up to you.”
Relief flooded her. Even though she was in the same unfortunate situation as before, she at least had Anselm to count on. “I'm glad you understand. I don't like being mad at you.”
“I don't like being mad at you either.”
She gestured at her bag. “Do you need some water? You look like you're out of breath.”
He shook his head. “There's more important things to deal with.”
“Like what?” she asked, crossing her arms and raising an eyebrow. She couldn't possibly think of what could be more important at the moment.
He held out the glass bottle. Now that she was closer, she saw that it was filled with a light blue liquid that fizzed and bubbled inside of the container. “After I realized how much of an idiot I was, I went to find the witch. I explained things to her. Once she realized that you were unhappy, she made me this.”
She grabbed it, her hands trembling in excitement. “Will it get me out of this dress?”
He shook his head. The joy that she had felt died away as she stared down at the bottle. “It will break the spell that makes you look like that no matter what you try putting on.” He removed several articles of clothing from his bag. “But that does mean you can change into these.”
They were clothes exactly like his own.
The smile she gave him was one that hadn't seen the light of day for more than two years.