art by Steven R. Stewart
by Joanna Michal Hoyt
My sister Amy came back smiling from the village well, saying she'd drawn water for a beggar-woman. She gasped when the first rose fell from her mouth, followed by a rain of diamonds. She'd thought it reward enough to see her kind lovely face mirrored in the woman's eyes. But it didn't take her long to decide that she deserved the gift, and that her sharp-tongued older sister deserved less.
I was fool enough to resent that, so when I went to fill a kettle and a lady asked for a drink and asked after my sweet pretty sister, without asking how I was, I bade her draw water for her sweet pretty self. I faltered when the snake fell from my lips.
Amy said she couldn't stand all the snakes and toads underfoot. I said she could blame her benefactress. She said it was past time I learned to hold my tongue. No coins or roses came from that exchange. Amy wept beautifully as she left. She was probably still weeping beautifully when Prince Felix found her.
On my way to the grain fields I saw them under the dog rose. Amy gazed into his eyes, pouring out admiration, flowers, and gems. He smiled like a midsummer morning.
"Her jewels won't pay your debts," I told him. "One kept for a month. Most vanish in a day or two. I hope your promises last longer. If not, don't you go making them."
Felix recoiled from the snake at his feet and said in his beautiful voice that he loved my sister truly. I looked narrow-eyed at him. He told me less beautifully to be off and stop maligning them. I asked how I could possibly malign two who were so well-matched in beauty, sense, and honesty. Something smooth fell into my hand, flashing jet, gold, ruby in the sun. Felix exclaimed that Amy's goodness had turned my curse to a gift like her own. He reached for the necklace he thought I held, to hang it on Amy's neck. She screamed. He flinched. The coral snake fell to the ground, slithered away. Small wonder that I was banished from the realm.