Sunday, October 29, 2017


Okay. Is it just me, or are we way past due for a little fun around here? Like, don’t get me wrong, I adore Prince Lindworm, and I’m super proud of my book, and fully intend to continue with the shameless self-promotion. And I’m sure I’ll never run out of anger over all of the various injustices of folklore. But there’s enough tough crap in real life, and I’m kind of over it right now.  So let’s go silly.

Grimm Brothers. Two stories. Two amazing, ridiculous stories in which the noses are really only tangential, but I’m putting them front and center today.

The first time I read through the complete works of the Brothers Grimm, I marked everything remotely interesting with a post-it covered in commentary. This is what that ended up looking like:

So these stories, several pages apart, were both marked “nose swap,” with the page number of the other story. I had to reread them both to figure out what on earth I’d been talking about, and seldom have I encountered a more valuable use of my time.

Our first fairy tale is “Ferdinand the Faithful and Ferdinand the Unfaithful,” and it is a trip, guys. We start out pretty simple. There’s a miracle baby, a mysterious godfather, a mysterious key granting access to a mysterious castle. And then there’s a horse, which our miracle-boy Ferdinand—the faithful one, rides around on, picking up a magic pen, rescuing a fish, and getting a magic flute to summon the fish if he ever needs help in return. Standard stuff.

Then he meets a guy who introduces himself as Ferdinand the Unfaithful. Like, straight up, that’s what they call me. Who does that? Why point out your most significant character flaw upon first meeting, instantly warning everyone that you are not to be trusted?

Of course the really weird part here is that Good Ferd just carries on as if his new friend is not obviously the sketchiest of people (who, btw, knows everything about Good Ferd via “all kinds of wicked arts”).

So this cool, pretty girl is working at the inn where the two Ferds are staying (SHUT UP AUTOCORRECT IF I MEAN FRED I’LL TYPE FRED), and she falls in love with Good Ferd and gets him a job with the local king. And then she gets the same job for Bad Ferd, because she’s a little scared of him.

The king sends Good Ferd off to rescue his beloved, who’s chilling Sleeping-Beauty-style at the other end of the world. Which is where we get back into the helping fish, magic pen, talking horse, whatever crap, which we’re gonna skip because who cares? That happens in like every story.

He rescues the girl, the girl comes and marries the king, she decides the king sucks and she likes Good Ferd. Various shenanigans occur, the king gets murdered, the new queen marries Good Ferd, and we break the spell on his horse, which was, obviously, an enchanted prince all along.

There's a lot to unpack here. First, how did Good Ferd earn the Faithful title? We never even hear about his first girlfriend after she introduces us to the king. And then he stands by while a woman kills his employer, and then he marries her before her husband’s body is even cold. Who or what are you faithful to, man?

And, like, what is even the point of Bad Ferd? He doesn’t contribute to the story at all. Just hangs out in the background being shady.

And last but not least, the nose thing. It’s just this casual, throwaway line when the queen is contemplating regicide. “The Queen, however, did not love the King because he had no nose, but she would have much liked to love Ferdinand the Faithful.” Like, why did this nose situation not come up before? Why did it come up at all? Is it in any way relevant or necessary? Is it some weird euphemism I’m not getting? What is going on with this man’s nose?

To this day, I still have no answer.

On to the second story! “St. Joseph in the Forest.” For some reason I always confuse this one with “The Three Green Twigs.” A completely unrelated story that I mentioned in passing in the last Wednesday blog. Anyway. It’s also kind basic for the most part. Three daughters, increasingly nicer as they get younger, crazy mom prefers the old, mean kid. Littlest girl meets a strange old man in the forest, is nice to him, gets an awesome present. Whole family’s super excited about this, so the next day the middle kid goes into the forest. She’s slightly less nice to the strange old man, and gets a slightly less awesome present. Finally, the oldest girl goes in, and things get interesting. Because she’s totally rude, obviously.

Her awesome gift is…

(wait for it)


More stuff happens after that. She loses the second nose, and then she gets stung to death by lizards. Talk about lessons in minding your manners.

I think my plan, upon writing the original post-it notes than marked this story, was that Mean Girl should somehow transfer her additional nose over to the poor Noseless King. Presumably they would then get together, appropriately nosed, and no one would have to be murdered or stung to death by lizards. But rereading it, they do definitely describe the oldest daughter as a child, so I’m just like, really, Joe? Really? And it’s totally distracting me from the noses.

Saint Joseph. Dude. Sometimes kids are selfish brats. That’s just how it goes. Maybe you should get out of the sainthood biz and look for a new career path that can cater to your unique interests and skill sets, such as the torture and murder of children. There’s gotta be a wicked witch hiring at this time of year, right?


So, obviously, I didn’t bring the complete works of the Brothers Grimm with me to work this morning, because that’s a lot of book to haul around and cram into a cubby.

Which meant that when I wanted to work on this post over my lunch break, I had to rely on the internet for my source material. I couldn’t remember the title of the St Joseph story., the ultimate source for online Grimm brothers texts, betrayed me, and did not have the text of the Ferds. So I was left with Wikipedia, which of course didn’t bother to even mention the missing nose, leading me to believe I’d remembered the title of the wrong story.

Anyway. Some halfhearted nose-googling later, I wound up finding a whole new nose story. It’s called “The Nose Tree,” and may or may not also be Grimm brothers—it’s not in my collection, and it’s not showing up on any websites I would consider reputable sources, but there are a lot of sites attributing it to the Grimms, and there appears to be an Arthur Rackham illustration. It’s midnight. I don’t care enough to do serious research right now.

This is basically just a public service announcement regarding the existence of “The Nose Tree.” I’m not going to tell you the story, because the base plot is actually really similar to the fairy tale I’m talking about next week. What you need to know: There’s a magic apple tree that makes your nose grow, and it won’t stop growing or return to its normal size until you eat a magic pear.

Aren’t fairy tales great?

Have an awesome Halloween, and don’t forget about Lindworm!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Conservative Christian's Guide to Not Sucking: Gay Edition

Okay. Here’s the deal. We’re not talking about whether it’s right or wrong. That’s completely irrelevant to this issue, okay? Here are the rules. If homosexuality is a sin, you are allowed to disapprove of it to the exact same degree that you disapprove of divorce, premarital sex, and any other sins of that type. Would you kick a divorced man out of your church? If a woman was killed while spending the night at her boyfriend’s house, would you say she deserved it because she shouldn’t have stayed over in the first place?

If your answer is yes, please take a moment to come to terms with the fact that you are scum. If your answer is no, congratulations. You have completed step one of being a Decent Human Being.

I read a story once—Grimm Brothers—called The Three Green Twigs. In this story, a hermit sees a man being led to the gallows, and has the passing thought that the man is getting what he deserves. God sends him a message, and as penance, the hermit spends the rest of his life begging from door to door, never staying more than one night in one place, carrying a dry branch until it comes alive and sprouts green twigs. He dies the night it sprouts.

The Grimm Brothers’ version of God needs to chill, as evidenced by many, many other stories, but I’ve always found this a good illustration of the instruction “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” I remember being in tenth grade humanities, watching a fight unfold between a dozen kids about whether or not all sins were equal in the eyes of God. And I think what I contributed to the conversation was that regardless of where God comes down on the issue, humans aren’t going to treat all sins as equal—obviously you can’t punish a serial killer the same way you would a kid who stole a candy bar. 

But there is absolutely no way to justify not treating all of the sexual sins as equal. (With the exception of adultery, which actually hurts other people, and rape, which I put in the same category as murder in terms of how despicable it is, except for the fact that you can kill someone in self defense, and there is never, ever any way to justify rape at all, but I’m getting off topic.)

If you wouldn’t tell your recently divorced aunt she’s going to hell, how dare you say that to a teenager holding hands with another girl? Seriously. What is wrong with you?

I once told someone very important to me what I’d read about the shooting at that Florida gay club—how the youngest victim had just finished high school the week before, how she’d gotten into such a good college, how she had so much life ahead of her, and now she was dead. The response? “She shouldn’t have been there.”

This was a few years ago, and we never talked about it again, and I don’t think about it much—I doubt she even remembers saying it. But every once in a while, those words will float through my head, and I’ll wonder. Would you love me if. Would you mourn me if I died and I was gay? Was it because she was gay that you said that? Was it because she was in a club, probably drinking underage? If I died drunk would you be sad? If I died in a club? If I died in love with someone you didn’t approve of? How much do you love me? Where do you draw the line?

Judge not, lest ye be judged by God. Judge not, lest ye be judged unworthy of your loved ones’ trust.

I don’t care if homosexuality is a sin or not. The people in my life are arguing constantly about it—my conservative family, my liberal classmates. Guess what? It doesn’t matter. Your job as a Christian is to love people. Your job is to be there for them. And you don’t hurt the people you love.

I’ve seen Christians forgive rapists and murderers more easily than gay men. Is it because, if you’re interacting with the murderers and rapists, presumably they’ve repented, where the gay man hasn’t? Does it matter? No sin get treated like this. No children kill themselves over the bullying when they cheat on a test. No people are murdered in alleys for robbing a grocery store.

If you think quietly and privately that homosexuality is a sin, just like lying and skipping church and having kids out of wedlock, cool. That’s alright. But if you treat it the way—let’s be real—most conservative Christians treat it, you’re a bigot, and I bet God is ashamed of you.

Maybe you’re older, and your friends are older, and more likely to be conservative, so you don’t know. But I’m twenty four. That means I’m surrounded every day by extremely liberal peers, and they talk about this stuff. All the time. I can’t remember the last time I went an entire week without reading a news article about a teenager committing suicide over sexuality. This is the world you helped create.

So get over yourselves, treat gay people like you treat other people—hello, Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do to you—and remember. For every nasty, careless thing you say, someone you love is wondering, would you love me if?

You don’t get to judge. And if you can’t love people the way God loves people, regardless of everything, what is the point of you? Kids are dying over this. Try not to suck.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Fish and Fairy Tales

Okay, guys, I am so wiped out. I’m having a Halloween party tonight, kind of, so I’ve spent the entire weekend cleaning and baking and shopping, and any spare time has been for writing, and somehow none of the writing managed to be tonight’s blog.

I started a post on noses in the Grimm brothers, and another one about the story “Donkey Cabbages,” and there’s still that final entry in the Lindworm Series that I’ve been putting off, but I just haven’t had the energy to get to the end of them, so enjoy a night of rambling, I guess.

Last Sunday I helped out with children’s church for the first time at my new church, and, well. It was an experience. We learned about Jonah, and then everyone in the room got sent home with a goldfish. Including me.

Look. I love animals. There are those who are concerned that I may have a bit of a problem with spontaneous pet acquisition. (Spoiler alert: we’re working up to the place where they might have a point.) But I didn’t really want a goldfish at that moment.

However, having received said goldfish, I felt obligated to provide it with the best quality of life possible. So I bought a tank, water conditioner, and goldfish food. I named it Eunice. I got home, I set up the tank, and the tank instantly sprung a leak. Back to the pet store. New tank, bigger and sturdier.

Of course, by the time the poor thing got set up in a new tank again, the stress was really taking a toll. Long story short, I kept Eunice alive for slightly less than seven hours.

So now I have a beautiful tank set up, and no one in it. And then yesterday I went shopping for Halloween party stuff. I couldn’t find any caution tape, and I was sad. So I went to the pet store.

Meet my new friend. His name is Mars.

So now it’s me and my three boys in the tower here: Mars, Helios, and Alfred Lord Tennyson.

I’ve been thinking lately about getting a hamster. His name would be Icarus, of course. And I already have the cage set up for my future guinea pigs, Perseus and Andromeda, who would of course produce more adorable guinea pigs. And I really miss having hermit crabs. I’ve even worked out where in my little apartment everyone would go.

Seriously, guys, I have a problem. An animal addiction. Send help now.


On a completely unrelated note, I’ve been thinking again about that stuff I was reading a while ago about oral traditions dying out. And it wasn’t a problem I was really taking seriously at the time, because I figured, well, we just read things now instead of listening to them. I hadn’t really thought so much about how stories are very much falling out of the collective consciousness of our community, and that does freak me out a little.

Last night I watched “The Swan Princess” with my ten-year-old cousin. She’d never seen it before. She’d never even heard of it before. And Odette, for my generation, was like, the ultimate princess. Sure, we were all about the Disney, but when you got right down to it, we’d choose our bird girl every time. I don’t think I know a single girl my age who doesn’t still want desperately to have Odette’s hair.

A couple weeks ago, I found out my best friend had never heard of “The Brave Little Tailor” before. So now I’m sitting here trying to comprehend how one spends a full two decades without a picture of this adorable, ridiculous little fly-swatter in their head, and, like, it does not compute?

Once I mentioned “The Princess and the Pea” in passing, and the person I was talking to was all, like, “What’s that about?”

I strongly suspect that there are a great many people in this world who are unfamiliar with stone soup.

So I was thinking the other day about (of course) Beauty and the Beast, and how I got to the early novel-length version that I frequently rant about. It happened on a ballet website. The details are foggy—I think that I was in the midst of one of my “Swan Lake” phases, and trying to track down performance variants after learning about the version where all the swans are boys.

Anyway, I ended up on this site for this fancy ballet company or something, where they had the complete histories of all their performances. And I guess there’s a ballet of Beauty and the Beast, because this site detailed the entire history of the story, from that French novel straight on up to Disney. And that was the only place I’d ever heard that first story—it’s floating around all over the internet now, but back then it might as well have not existed at all.

I know that I’m way more into fairy tales than the average person.  But I also know that a lot of these stories are built into me, as old as any of my earliest memories, that they’ve been shaping who I am since long before I started consciously seeking them out.

A lot of kids aren’t going to be able to have that. Not with the same stories, anyway, and not with the same kinds of stories—if we don’t tell our stories anymore, if we just watch the movies of them like we mostly do, everyone knows the same version. You lose what I think is the most beautiful thing about folklore; the story never belongs to one person, because everyone has touched it, but it belongs to everyone in a slightly different way. I can’t—and don’t want to—imagine a world where fairy tales are like any other form of story-focused media, where there’s just one, officially recognized version. I can’t imagine many things more tragic than losing the unpredictable, ever-changing, multifaceted beauty of a fairy tale.

So please, don’t let our stories die.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Why We Don't Have Sex with Cows (Looking at You Here, Pasiphae)

Let’s talk about variants, winners writing history books, and, especially, my man Asterion.

(Betcha didn’t know the Minotaur had a name.)

I love Asterion, okay? I want Asterion to be real so he can be my friend, because his life sucks and he deserves a friend. Usually when I want someone to be real, it’s so I can punch them really hard for being Extremely Stupid and/or Terrible, so this is a new and exciting feeling for me.

Let’s review the story of the Minotaur quick, okay?

So we’re on Crete, and we’ve got King Minos, right? And he’s big on the Poseidon worship, all about the sacrifices and crap. So one day he gets to praying or whatever, like, “Please give me something super awesome so that I can give it back to you because nothing I own would be a worthy sacrifice.” Like, legit plan, but then the dude gets this awesome white bull in response, and decides it’s way too cool for a sacrifice and he’s gonna keep it for himself.

Poseidon, understandably, is pissed. Poseidon, less understandably, decides to respond by making Minos’ wife, Pasiphae, fall in love with the bull in question. Hello, consent issues.

So Pasiphae gets a dude to make her a wooden cow she can hide in, and, well, I’m not gonna speculate on the logistics, but nine months later, a little half-bull baby is born. They name him Asterion, after his grandfather. Step-grandfather? Whatever. It’s Minos’ dad.

They call him the Minotaur, because he’s Minos’ bull. Kinda. They build a giant maze, plop him in the middle of it, and start feeding him Athenians by the boatload.  Some brave Athenian prince comes along, kills the monster (with the help of the monster’s sister), and lives happily ever after.

And as usual, I’m in a ranty kind of mood today, so let’s get into this.

Step one: the brave Athenian prince. His name is Theseus, and he has two daddies. (Greeks didn’t quite have a handle on genetics yet, T’s mom slept with Poseidon and the king of Athens in the same night, and we’re totally skipping the paternity tests—you’re both the father!)

Exploits of Theseus’ youth: When she was, like, seven, he kidnapped Helen (see: Trojan War, Most Beautiful Woman in the World, Face that Launched a Thousand Ships, etc, etc) with the intention of marriage, presumably after puberty had set in. Then he left her with his mom and went to help his friend kidnap Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, and force her to marry him. (Spoiler alert: this did not end well. And while he was gone Helen got rescued, and lived to be kidnapped another day. Paris, Aphrodite, hello again, consent issues.)

The aftermath: So Minos’ daughter Ariadne helps Theseus navigate the maze to find and murder Asterion. Then she runs away with him, and then they stop on an island quick, and then he leaves her there. (In his defense, Dionysus called dibs or something, and you don’t say no to a god. But abandoning the chick without an explanation, after she risked everything for you? Come on, man. And you know she liked you. She’s never even met Dionysus. What if she hates him?)

Then he keeps on heading home, and forgets to change his sails from We’re Going to Crete to Die Black to Yay I Killed the Minotaur White, the way he promised his dad he would. Athens dad, not ocean dad.  So dad thinks his son’s been eaten and goes and kills himself. Great job, T. Fantastic.

Okay! Step two. Let’s say hello to logic.

Asterion is half boy, half bull, right? With the implication that it’s the whole bull thing that launches him into monster status. But last time I checked, cows? Not big carnivores.

Step 3: The history. The thing you need to know about Asterion and Ariadne is that they had a big brother. A big brother who was killed by Athenians.

(Sidenote: Can you believe spell check doesn’t recognize Ariadne? What is wrong with this thing? It’s like it doesn’t even know me.)

So basically this is a revenge gig. Minos wants to get back at Athens for killing his kid, and decides to use his wife’s illegitimate monster child to do it. Does this have anything to do with the Minotaur’s desperate craving for human flesh? Probably not. He’s just sufficiently scary to keep Athens in check, and a handy excuse to demand tribute.

Step 4: The confirmed, real life history. Because as we all know, the winners write the books. And the Athenians definitely won here.

To be clear, I am not discussing the sort of history-history where a man-bull hybrid actually existed, because I’m reasonably certain that’s not how biology works.  We’re talking like, the history of mythology. Stories of the Minotaur definitely existed in Crete, but the versions that were preserved and are told today came from Athens. Athens, where Theseus is a hero and Asterion is a monster.

Here’s some pottery from Crete. Look at cute little baby Asterion, sitting on his mom’s lap. Does that look like a man-eating monster to you?

In conclusion, Asterion rocks, and Theseus can feel free to get trapped in the underworld again at any time now.

Remember to support me on Patreon!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Trouble with Christian Fiction Part III: Keep It Simple, Stupid

We’re going to start this post by talking, again, about the movie God’s Not Dead. The problem for today is widely prevalent in Christian fiction, and in specialty fiction in general, but God’s Not Dead is an extreme (and therefore particularly useful) example.

The real reason I hate this movie is that I could have loved it. I could have loved it two or three times, at least.

The thing you need to understand about God’s Not Dead is that it has, like, fourteen different plot lines. There’s the evil atheist professor (See Part II). There’s the Muslim family with the daughter who converted to Christianity. There’s a couple of depressing romances,  mostly with a focus on conflict due to religious differences. Someone’s dad is dying.

Like, just chill, guys. Not one of those stories got the attention it deserved. And they were all crammed into the space of a couple weeks.

I’ve talked before about how to salvage the evil professor bit. But do you know how much I’d pay to see a sincere, respectful portrayal of that conversion subplot? Hint: it’s a lot. I mean, think about it. The sense of betrayal when your daughter casts aside your faith. The struggle on both sides, loving someone but knowing they’re wrong, not knowing what to do, what to say to them, how to interact anymore—there is so much potential here for a powerful story about love and doubt and reconciliation, about relearning how to be a family when something huge, like your core belief system, has torn you apart.

But instead you made it a halfhearted subplot in a crappy movie full of halfhearted subplots all overwhelming each other and the mediocre main plot.

So many stories, particularly Christian stories, are like this. My wife’s in a coma, my house burned down, I have two kids, and I’m mad at God. I read that book, and the wife actually fell into two separate comas.

Look. If you’re writing a six book epic fantasy, you can include all the subplots you want. But no one has the energy for a novella where you’re mourning your dead daughter, developing feelings for a man who doesn’t share your faith, struggling to cope with the knowledge that your little brother had premarital sex, and helping your parents transfer into a nursing home, all while you’re in the process of moving to a new town where everyone is atheist and trying to found a church despite violent opposition from city officials. It’s just too much.

Find the story you want to tell. The real, main thing. Is it the aftermath of losing your daughter? Is it developing a relationship with someone who doesn’t share your beliefs? Pick a plot.

Subplots are meant to build a story up, not bog it down in inconsequential side notes.  Find subplots tat will connect to and clarify you main story. Aim for thematic resonance.

Every story doesn’t need to do everything. And you shouldn’t try to make it from a decent writing standpoint , but also because it leads you into one of the standard pitfalls of Christian fiction: the martyr.

We talked a little about this last time, in the context of the atheist bad guy, but it bears repeating. Embrace reality, people. The persecution plot? It’s getting really old. You’re a Methodist in modern Midwestern America.

The world is not out to get you, okay? It’s just not.

So if it’s not the atheist bad guy, you make it about death and unemployment and natural disasters. In order to actually be persecuted, you would have to do something other than writing crappy, self-indulgent stories about how much you suffer because of your faith.

And then there’s the Christian fantasy angle. Like, oh my goodness, the instinct to read  in the dark and hide the book in my underwear drawer is way stronger when I’m reading Christian fantasy than anything else—it just tends to feel dirty. Demons and dragons and ill-conceived allegories full of blood and gore. Distortions of love and memory. Demonic monkeys. Angelic monkeys, which frankly I find even more disturbing.

And if I let myself go any further down this road, it’ll morph into a Ted Dekker rant, so let’s move on.

Everything doesn’t have to be so uncomfortably over the top. You’re not doing yourselves any favors with the death and drama and demons. Just keep it simple.

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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Lindworm: My Story

The curse is broken, but the transition from beast to prince isn't always that easy.

After the lindworm is defeated, Marit expects to go back to her normal life. But two princesses are still dead, and two wars are still brewing, and Marit is (technically) still married to the lindworm. Or Prince David, as they’re calling him now.

The thing about Davey is that he’s hopeless—and who can blame him? He spent the first two decades of his life as a giant snake. He doesn’t know what to do with legs. He doesn’t know what to do with hands. He doesn’t appreciate his new sense of smell, or his new hearing and eyesight, or the fact that he has to chew his food now. All of this, in addition to the fact that his dragon instincts have been replaced with a human conscience, leading to overwhelming guilt over the two princesses he ate.

All Marit wants is to go home to her father and sister. But instead she finds herself deeply embroiled in palace intrigue, trying to save a depressed, inept prince from himself and everyone around him.

Okay, so this is the shortest post I’ve ever written, with the exception of those times I’ve just put up a random poem. A little more background: the story is set somewhere vaguely Scandinavian, sometime after the Protestant Reformation. It takes place primarily after the original fairy tale, dealing with the aftermath for the following year or so. Folkloric influences are primarily Danish and Norwegian, though it occasionally draws from German, Swedish, and even Japanese tales.

There’s one more post in the Lindworm series, but it likely won’t go up right away—I’m super ready to talk about other things.

Anyway, remember that Chapter Two was posted on Patreon today. You can access this, and upcoming chapters, by becoming a $1 supporter.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Lindworm Chapter 1

“Thank you so much for thinking of me,” Marit said, “but really I’d rather not marry a monster.”
The king stared at her, his men standing stiffly by. It had not, of course, been thoughtfulness that led him to her cottage in the woods. Marit knew this, and knew that the marriage was not optional, and that one could not speak to a king in this manner and expect to keep one’s head. But when one has already been sentenced to death, such things as respect for royalty matter very little.
She had heard the story—she was sure the whole kingdom had, by now. How some six months ago, their prince had set off to find a bride, and how his path had been blocked by a dragon, a snake-beast, a great lindworm who spoke with the voice of a man, demanding a bride of his own before the prince could have one. How instead of chopping him into small pieces, the prince had ridden home, and how instead of sending someone else to chop him up, the king had set about finding the lindworm a bride. How the lindworm had devoured that bride, and demanded another, which the king had also found. And now, with two princesses dead and two countries about to declare war, he had chosen Marit to be the third. She was no one, and lived near enough to the palace. He could not risk another princess.
It was rumored that the lindworm was his son. She did not know how true that might be. She did not much care.
Finally, the king found his voice. “You misunderstand me. This is not an offer or a suggestion. You may come willingly, in which case your family will be compensated, or you may be dragged off by your hair. Choose wisely.”
Kings, she thought, ought to be more impressive and aloof.
Also kinder.
There was no doubt they needed the king’s gold. It had been a dry summer, and an unpleasant winter. If he had called for volunteers, she might have gone, to see her family safe through this next year.
But he had not called for volunteers, and stood now in the mud, glaring down at her in his purple coat as if she were the one that was worthless. The chickens squawked around him.
“Ja, and what next?” she said. “After me, you’ll kill off every maid in the country, and then I suppose you’ll have to go to war, and find slaves to feed his appetite? Discipline is important for growing boys, Your Majesty. Learn to say no to your son.”
The king slapped her, but did not contest the claim he was the lindworm’s father. He did not bother to punish her further. There was no further punishment than this wedding.
“You will be collected, and the gold delivered, in one week,” he said. “Of course, there will be men watching to see that you do not run.”
“Of course,” she echoed. Her father and sister were in the back—they would not have heard the commotion. She could hear the cow mooing still from here, more than enough to drown out a king. It would be left to her, then, to explain. She did not look forward to it. They had dreamt of kings and queens and ball gowns. Greta was half in love with Prince Harald, as were most girls her age. The king had long had a reputation for mercy and kindness, before the lindworm. And now she would explain to them that he was the sort of man who struck defenseless girls in the forest.

It was three days later, wandering the woods to escape the oppression of mourning at home, that she met the old woman. She was short, with white hair spilling from her cap, bright and cheerful in a blue skirt and red vest, and she smiled like an old friend at Marit.
“And why are you so sad?” the woman asked.
“It is nothing.” She would not tell her sorrows to a stranger with the soldiers watching—she had some small pride, still.
“Come,” said the woman, “perhaps I can help you.” She leaned forward and spoke softly, so that only Marit might hear, “It is the lindworm, is it not?” Marit was too surprised to answer, and the woman led her deeper into the trees, where there was snow still on the ground. The soldiers could see them still, from their post behind the evergreens, but would not hear. “Now. Here is what you must do.”

The king came himself to collect her for the wedding, which might have been an honor, except that they had learned to hate him, these past seven days. He said that her family was invited to the wedding, of course. Perhaps her sister could be a bridesmaid.
Marit had declined his generous offer. Her father had sent her off with her mother’s wedding dress, just as if this were something real. Greta had cried.
The walk to the palace was long and mostly silent. Marit would have expected a carriage. She walked beside the king, in front of a small horde of soldiers, clutching the bundle that held her dress and everything else she might need.
If they had come through the city from the front, instead of through the woods, she could have walked beneath the rows of pink flowered trees that led to the gates. She would have liked that.
They probably weren’t blooming yet.
Greta had cried. She would not. Not in front of the king.
The terracotta waves of the palace roof were in sight when he started trying to make conversation. “What is your name?”
“Olaf,” he said, and it sounded like an apology she would not accept. She had known his name already. She had not cared.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”  
“We all do foolish things for our children.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” She wondered if he meant the lindworm, or only Prince Harald, who could not be married until it was satisfied.
“We’ll probably have to go to war with the princesses’ fathers.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“You had much more to say a week ago.”
She would be dead by morning, and he wanted small talk to distract from his guilt. “What would you have me say? I’m sorry this is hard for you? Good luck with your war? I’m sure I’ll be very happy with your son? No, I really don’t mind dying before I’m twenty?”
A few soldiers stepped forward, and he waved them away. There was another long silence before the king asked quietly, “How old are you?”
Marit stared down at the ground, arms wrapped around her chest. “Seventeen.”
“I am very sorry,” he said. He did not speak again until they reached the palace.
It was stunning, but few things are truly impressive when one is about to die. Mostly, she just felt numb. She asked, dully, as a troop of maids descended, “When will the wedding be?”
“At eight o’clock,” he said. “Will that give you enough time to prepare?” One of the maids assured him it would, and he told her, “Give the girl whatever she wants. It’s her wedding day, after all.” He laughed, unamused, more bitter than cruel, and then he was gone.
“Is there anything special we can do for you, miss?” the maid asked dutifully.
Marit thought of the old woman in the forest. “This is going to sound a little strange.”

The rest of the day was spent preparing her for the wedding, as if it could possibly matter what she looked like, as if the lindworm would notice or care. Would the state of her hair really impact how she tasted?
They even had a mirror. She had only seen her reflection in rippling water before, and it was incredible, like magic, but this was much too high a price for learning she had freckles.
The worst part was that she felt special, by the end. Like a real princess, with her hair piled high, and those gorgeous soft slippers. Her mother’s wedding dress. And she was cleaner than she’d ever been in her life. So much hard work, all for her.
She didn’t want it. Her father had the king’s money, and that was only fair. She didn’t want any favors. She didn’t want to die feeling like she owed them something. Not when she was the unwilling sacrifice. She didn’t owe them anything.

The ballroom where they held the wedding was gorgeous, with shining wood floors and dark walls covered in rosemåling, blue and gold and red. All the court was seated when she arrived, dressed in their finest clothes, looking horrified. She recognized the king and the queen and the prince, familiar from a dozen parades, sitting in the front row. The rest were strangers.
And then she saw the lindworm.
He was enormous, the height of seven men at least, white like a maggot, or the mold on stale bread. He had dark wings on his back, far too small to hold his weight in flight, and shiny white fangs quite visible even when his mouth was shut. He had no legs. There was a crown on his head, the size a man would wear, which might have been funny if he hadn’t planned to eat her, and he was staring at her with an expression of mild curiosity.
That was the worst part—the look of his eyes, which were a comfortable human shade of blue.
She broke eye contact and started walking down the aisle, alone, since her father wasn’t there, and quickly—maybe the anticipation was worse than the death itself.
One could only hope.
The lindworm stared at her a moment longer when she took her place beside him, then turned to the priest, who stared silently ahead, pale—whether in anger or fear, Marit couldn’t tell. It was a mockery of a marriage, and enough to infuriate any priest.
If he disapproved so much, he needn’t have performed the ceremony.
There was a long pause before the lindworm hissed. “Whenever you’re ready, Father.”
Marit flinched at the sound of his voice. She had known he could speak—how else could he have demanded a wife in the first place? But hearing it for herself was different.
“Of course.” He swallowed. “Do you, Prince Lindworm, take this girl—” He paused, and looked up slowly to meet Marit’s eyes.
“Marit Liefsdotter.”
“Thank you.” There was another pause, until the lindworm hissed again. “Do you, Prince Lindworm, take this girl, Marit Liefsdotter, to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
“I do.”
Marit looked about the room, hardly listening, as the ceremony continued. Her dress, fine enough for a peasant girl’s wedding, must be the poorest garment these people had ever seen. She did not want to care what they thought of her, these fine lords who stood by, swords in their belts, sacrificing when they could be stabbing, and ball gowns were not so tempting as they had been in her dreams, on these stiff cold women who did not care.
She realized that everything was quiet again, and then that everyone was staring at her. Including the lindworm, his forked tongue darting in and out below those terrible eyes. “I’m sorry?”
The priest repeated, slowly and unhappily, “Do you, Marit Liefsdotter, take this lindworm to be your lawfully wedded husband, for be—”
“I do,” she interrupted. There was no point in drawing it out.
He nodded, and mumbled something that sounded like “You may now kiss the bride.”
Marit took a step back. “Absolutely not. There will be no bride kissing here.”
The people in the audience leaned forward. Marit saw them, and wondered if the princesses had let themselves be kissed, but mostly she was focused on the lindworm, who was unreadable.
How did a lindworm kiss?
She didn’t want to know.
“Time for the reception, then,” the king said, finally, from his seat in the front row. The lindworm twisted his head to stare at him, but didn’t object.
Prince Harald took her arm to lead her to the banquet hall, the lindworm somewhere ahead. He was very handsome, their prince—well, the whole kingdom knew that. But he was also rumored to be funny, and kind, and very charming. If she had any hope of rescue outside the old woman, it lay with him. But he had already failed to save two girls more important than her.
“Could we not just be done with it all?” she whispered.
“You don’t want the reception?” He sounded surprised.
“We all know how this ends, ja? I would rather not pretend at being a happy bride.”
“There will be a banquet. You don’t want him hungry, do you?”
 “That’s your plan to save my life? Feed the lindworm wedding cake?”
He stopped abruptly in the middle of the hallway. “Honestly? I don’t think anything is going to save your life. But if this gives you a few more hours, well, isn’t that worth something?”
“You’re the prince. You’re supposed to be a hero. It’s your job to kill him and save me. How can you let him do this?”
He had the grace to look uncomfortable, at least. “So I should chop off my brother’s head to save a stranger? I’m sorry. I am. I hate him. I hate what he’s doing. But there are bigger things in this world than a farmer’s daughter, or even two princesses and a war, and I will not live with his blood on my hands.”
“But you’ll live with mine.”
“I’m sorry,” he said again. And then they were in the banquet hall, and she walked unaccompanied to the lindworm’s table. He looked up with interest as she sat, then ignored her as the food was served.
A short blonde girl caught the prince’s arm as he walked away. “This is dreadful. Harry, please.”
He shook her off. “Don’t call me that.”
Marit did not see the prince again. She watched as the wedding cake was cut, a golden tower of ever-narrower rings, white icing dripping down the sides.
A little boy, six or seven, charming with curly copper hair, ran forward to whisper, “If I were bigger I’d kill him for you,” and his mother dragged him away. The lindworm stared down at his plate and said nothing. He must have heard. 
Everyone ate in silence, eyes cast carefully down. They were afraid of the lindworm, and he was frightening, of course, but just then he was flicking his tongue absently at a slice of cake, and looked less deadly than he might have. If there was any chance of reasoning with him, now would be the time.
 “Not hungry?” she asked.
His head swiveled around, and she thought he was confused, and looked down to avoid his eyes. “No. I don’t eat much.”
“Oh. Maybe if you—” She stopped. But there was nothing to lose, anymore, by being direct.  She looked into his human eyes and asked him, “Will you be hungry tonight?”
His tongue stopped flicking. “I’m never hungry.”
“Then you do it for fun?”
“Fun,” he repeated slowly. “Is this supposed to be fun? With the cake and the terrified silence? I’m not having fun. Are you having fun?”
“No,” she whispered. He had not blinked once all night. Maybe lindworms didn’t. Normal snakes didn’t seem to, after all.
“Let’s get it over with, then.”
“I thought you weren’t hungry.”
“I’m not. That’s why I want to leave the banquet.” She let herself be pulled into those eyes again, trying to understand what he wasn’t saying, and he added, “It’s only some pathetic cosmic joke. You realize that, don’t you, Marit?”
It was the first time he’d said her name. She nodded, wishing he hadn’t.
“The other ones didn’t.” He rose, towering above the entire room, and announced, “Princess Marit has had a long day. She is bored and tired. We will retire to our room for the night.”
A few people in the crowd looked sick, but no one objected, and Marit wondered, as they started to flee, why she had wanted this. Surely, a few more hours to live would have been better.
But then, perhaps the old woman’s plan would work.
The lindworm led the way, managing stairs quite impressively without legs. Marit followed, hemmed in by fleets of maids and soldiers, as if she were foolish enough to think she could escape this now. There was no sign of the royal family.
At the door, the lindworm bowed his head, and one of the maids, trembling, went to lift off the crown. He slithered into the room, and Marit stood frozen in the doorway.  Finally, one of the soldiers nudged her, and she took a step forward.
Everyone in the hall was suddenly in a great hurry to get away, but Marit had just remembered something. She turned back to the door.
“Wait, please.” The last maid stopped, looking helpless and miserable. There was really nothing to wait for. “Can you just help me with the buttons? On my dress? It was my mother’s, and I don’t want it to be ruined when—could it be sent back home, please? After I—to my little sister. Tell her it doesn’t—I mean, she should still wear it. She’d look beautiful in it.” The girl nodded and started to undo the buttons, glancing nervously over at the lindworm as she worked.
“Good night, princess,” she whispered, just as if Marit were a real princess. And then she fled.
Marit closed the door and turned to the lindworm, who was twined around the bedpost, watching her intently. He had done nothing so far, and didn’t look too malevolent.
“All right, then.” She stepped out of the dress, so she was in just her shift, and began to fold it carefully. “This dress is a very important family heirloom. So I’m going to leave it up here.” She set it on top of the wardrobe. “You’re not to tear it or get it bloody or anything. I want it left alone, and returned to my family tomorrow. Ja?”
The lindworm flicked his tongue a few times, then nodded. “You may take it home to them in the morning.”
She felt the pressure of tears rising, and blinked them back furiously. If she hadn’t cried for the king, she certainly would not for the lindworm. “Well, that’s just mean.”
It looked puzzled.
“We all know what happens next. We’ve heard the stories, even us peasants in the forest. So don’t act like this is some kind of—let’s just get on with it, ja?”
“All right.” It slithered away from the bedpost, stopping just a few feet from her. “Would you take off your shift, please?”
The lindworm had manners. She was sure that would be a great comfort as it devoured her.
She took a deep breath. It was time to find out how crazy the woman was. “I will take off my shift after you take off your skin.”
It tilted its head, clearly puzzled, but started to wriggle obediently. “The others didn’t ask me that.”
Marit didn’t want to think about the others.
It was a full ten minutes before the skin lay on the ground beside the lindworm, long and thin and hideous. He was bigger than he had been. Just slightly. But if every skin shed led to such an increase in size—it wouldn’t. The woman had said this would help, and growing could only make things worse. She took off her first shift and laid it on top of the skin.
The lindworm seemed fascinated by the second shift, but not unduly concerned. “Take that one off too, please.”   
“You first.”
“I don’t think I’m supposed to shed twice in one day. I wasn’t even due the first one for another month.”
“No skin, no shift.”
The wriggling started up again.
It was not until the sixth or seventh skin that Marit began to be really concerned. Hours had passed. It was taking longer each time, and it sounded painful. He wasn’t getting bigger anymore—in fact he was getting smaller. He was more greenish than white now. But he kept going, with no more questions or complaints.
It was not his health that worried her. If he was this determined to have her unclothed, what must he be planning for when it was finished? She could not imagine he would go so far merely to avoid the hassle of eating fabric.
She was down to her last two shifts, and he was working, very slowly, with long and frequent breaks, on the ninth skin, when he asked, sounding rather alarmingly like a little boy, “Can I be done now?”
“Not if you want my shifts off.” She crossed her arms and tried to look stern.
“I’m sorry. Only it really hurts, you see, and I’m afraid it might get messy. I don’t know how many skins I have.” He was beginning to look a little transparent. She did not tell him that he had only ten. He would find out soon enough.
While he was working on the tenth, she went to the closet to organize the supplies the maids had left for her. That she wore ten shifts was strange enough; what must they have thought about a tub of milk and one of lye?
And the whips, of course. She dipped them into the lye, now, and carried them back out to the lindworm, just in time to see the final skin slip off.
He had been horrific enough before. The first layer had been stiff and dry, and very thin. This last one was thick, slimy with blood. She looked up from the floor to the lindworm, and caught glimpses of his insides that she had not needed, and she wondered how old he was. Not far from Prince Harald, she thought, but perhaps lindworms aged differently.
She lifted the whips.
“What are you doing?” he asked, and his voice was shrill and frightened and young.
“I don’t know.”
Anyone listening would assume the screams were hers.
He shouted and whimpered and begged, and she thought that nothing right could cause a creature such pain, not even a creature like him, and would have stopped, but he would have eaten her, as he had eaten the others, who had spoken to the woman too, and who had not listened. He called again and again for Ida, apologizing and condemning her, then apologizing again, and finally Marit could bear it no more, and dropped the whips. She dragged the tub of milk to him and dunked him once, reminded absurdly of a baptismal service she’d seen last spring. Then the milk turned red with blood, and she dropped him whimpering to the floor, and found her hands and arms still streaked in it.
But they were nearly done.
She lifted him again, a quivering mass of blood and twitching muscle, and pulled him to the bed, where he fit from head to small bedraggled wings, the rest of his tail in a heap on the floor. He had lost the majority of his great size, between the shedding and the whips.
He seemed to be crying.
She looked up at his eyes, the blue even more startling now against the red.
“Is it over?” he asked.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know.” The woman had promised that Marit would survive the night. She had not said how it would end for the lindworm.
He was no danger to her now, at least. She did not know how long he might survive in this state, or what she would tell the king when he woke to find him dead.
Telling the king, she would manage, somehow. She did not want to explain to those blue eyes how unlikely it seemed that he would live much longer.
“I am afraid,” he said.
“It’s all right. Just go to sleep.” She pulled the blanket over him, gently. There was already enough blood to wash out. It could not hurt to give him some warmth, or herself some distance, as she lay down carefully beside him. This was the final step—something symbolic that the woman had not explained. She reached up to catch a trickle of blood before it dripped into his eye, then closed her own eyes and lowered her hand.
The blast threw her across the room.
When she sat up, she was half convinced she’d been knocked out, and woken in some dream world.
There was a thin, pale young man on the bed, bent down with his head on his knees, arms hanging useless at his sides, crying quietly. He was completely naked, covered in long red welts.
“Make it stop,” he was saying, apparently to himself. “I don’t want it. Make it stop. Make it stop.” He repeated this, again and again.
Marit approached slowly, and touched his shoulder when he didn’t react. The boy leapt up explosively, then slumped down again. She backed away.

“Oh, gods,” he said.

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