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Art by Melissa Mead

Sister

Melissa Mead lives in Upstate NY. She is a member of Codex and the Carpe Libris writers group: carpelibris.wordpress.com Her stories have appeared in DSF, Bull Spec and other fine places. Sometimes her artwork appears in DSF too.
Sister knew about wicked stepmothers. No one warned her about wicked stepfathers. Stepfather only noticed Sister at night, in the dark.
When she saw Brother's bruises, Sister declared "Mother's too scared to help us. Let's go into the forest. We'll be safer there."
Hours later, their joy at leaving Stepfather faded as they grew footsore and thirsty. At last they reached a spring. Brother dropped to his knees to drink.
"Look!" said Sister. "Claw-prints. And listen to the stream's voice. If you drink, you'll become a bear."
The next spring had wolf tracks beside it. Brother eyed the cool water longingly.
"We could become wolves together. Wolves who aren't so thirsty."
Gently, Sister turned him away.
The next spring had dainty hoof-prints on the bank. Brother flung himself down and drank deeply of the cold, clear water. The air shimmered, and a wide-eyed young roebuck trembled where the boy had been.
Brother submitted meekly while Sister looped her sash around his neck.
"I'm sorry. I was so thirsty."
Sister eyed the rippling water. If they both became deer, they could browse on twigs. But she remembered the predatorial glitter in Stepfather's eyes, and straightened.
"Now you can eat sweet grass, but I still need human food."
"Don't leave me!" Brother cried. Sister hugged his velvet-soft neck.
"Never. You're my brother, on four feet or two."
Just beyond the stream they found a hut with a deep, cold, unenchanted well. Sister drank, ignoring the thought that if Brother had only waited he would still be a boy, not a beast.
The hut felt far more homelike than Stepfather's house. Brother browsed in clearings and sniffed out tasty mushrooms for Sister with his transformed nose. Sister collected edible plants for a garden. Birds perched on her shoulders while she worked. The glossy black snake that killed rats in the grain slept in her skirt pocket.
Then the days shortened, and the sound of hunting horns brayed through the golden forest. The roebuck fretted, battering the door with his hooves.
"Let me out, sister! The walls smother me. Put your blue ribbon around my neck, and the hunters won't bother me."
He pleaded and wheedled until she let him go. She worried all day, but he returned unharmed, prancing and jubilant.
"I saw the King! So tall and splendid, on a great white horse. His arrows had peacock feathers and silver tips…."
"Which could've pierced your heart! You're the prey now, remember?"
Brother pawed the dirt floor. "I forget."
Sister resolved not to let him out again, but when his wild-creature's spirit sickened she relented. That evening he returned limping, one leg bleeding from an arrow-wound.
"You followed them?" she exclaimed, gently cleaning and binding the wound.
"The trumpets…"
"Well, at least tomorrow you won't be chasing after hunters." She stroked the back of his sun-warmed head and sighed.
But the wound was slight, and when Sister went out the next morning, the little roe bounded into the sunshine.
Sister pursued him through bracken and brambles. He soon vanished, leaving Sister alone, sick with worry for her heedless brother.
Horns blasted. Riders thundered past. The leader reined his white horse to a halt where Sister stood, heart racing.
She'd seen that profile on farthings. The king. Sister sank into a curtsey.
"Surely this must be a dryad, alone so deep in the wood."
Sister's cheeks burned. She was scratched, sweating, twig-thin from living on forest gleanings. Still, she met the king's gaze.
"Your Majesty, my brother, the little roebuck… Please tell me you haven't hurt him!"
The king's eyebrows shot up. "Your brother! Are you a deer-child also?"
"No, Your Majesty. My little brother's enchanted. He has only me to protect him. Please tell me he's unhurt."
"He eluded us, the clever little devil! Are you truly alone in the world?"
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"I believe I'm enchanted myself. For years, my ministers have entreated me to marry, but I've never found anyone like you. Will you come with me to the palace?"
Sister's head reeled. Surely he couldn't marry some raggedy stranger from the woods! Still, the part of her that wondered how she and Brother would survive winter yearned for warm clothing and well-stocked tables.
"If my brother could come--"
"Of course!"
The king gestured. A courtier swung Sister up before him on the white horse. They cantered off, jarring the breath from Sister's astonished body.
Brother sprang from the underbrush when he saw his sister riding the king's horse, and capered alongside. The courtiers laughed at his chatter. Sister caught snatches of conversation:
"…better venison if it's chatty?"
Her stomach turned. Then the king's hand slid downward, reawakening memories.
Stepfather.
Sister remembered the king's calculating voice, asking if she were alone. He was used to having power over others. Sister had dared to question him. Brother had eluded his hunt for days. Kings didn't tolerate defiance.
His hand caressed her thigh. She recoiled. He smiled.
Sister's thoughts raced. He'd never actually promised to marry her…
The riders stopped to drink. Without thinking, Sister cried "Stop!"
The king scowled. "Why, girl? It was a long, thirsty hunt."
"Squirrel prints, Your Majesty. If you drink here you'll become a squirrel, as my brother became a roebuck."
"Nonsense!" But the king commanded one man to drink. The luckless knight scrambled up a tree, flicking his bushy tail.
The next spring had chipmunk prints. Another hapless knight vanished down a nearby burrow. The grumbling men rode on.
At the third spring, Sister didn't speak. The King pinched Sister's bottom.
"Well, my pretty maid, how will this water change me?"
Sister noted the rat prints on the bank. "Not at all, Your Majesty."
The men drank, and the black snake in Sister's pocket slid out to feast.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, June 6th, 2011


"Sister" is an unusually dark story for me. I got to thinking about the fairy tale "Brother and Sister," and why a king would marry some random (if attractive) stranger he picked up in the woods, and things just took off from there. I’m afraid the traditionally kind king got turned around as a result.

- Melissa Mead

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