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Feather Ties

Five years later, and the remaining six were almost--almost--accustomed to it. To the point where the third girl had almost--almost--convinced herself that it was not all that bad. Yes, the ceaseless parades for ambassadors, or great feasts, or simply when the king felt the queen needed to smile, never got any less humiliating. No, she could not stop flinching whenever the goose called out, which was often. Yes, the parson's ongoing reminders that this was entirely her fault--well, the fault of her and her sisters--never got any less aggravating. And yes, she could not stop dreaming of having a day--an hour--a minute--entirely to herself, away from everyone, and especially away from the other five, who never left.
But she had a roof. Fine food. And no need to work, as long as this goose remained alive. The parson and sexton had taught her to read and write with her one free hand, and one of the queen's ladies was teaching her fine needlework.
And she was almost--almost--accustomed to the heavy feel of the parson's hand on her shoulder, stuck there for five years.
What she was not accustomed to, could not get accustomed to, were the pointed looks at her hand.
The hand that--if she agreed to have it cut off--kept her tied here, between her sister and the parson.
The king's executioner, skilled at such things, had already freed the second laborer four years ago, after the man had collapsed weeping to the floor, dragging the other six--and worse, the golden goose that held them--down with him. He could not take this anymore, he had sobbed. None of it. Needing to be fed by servants, needing to be the castle clown, never getting a moment alone--he could not take it. He had begged the executioner to cut off his hands.
The executioner was skilled at such things. It was quick.
It was not painless, nor bloodless.
The first laborer had stared at his own hands, still on the sexton's back, and had declined the executioner's offer to go next.
They had not talked about it for a year. Not until the parson--naturally the parson--had brought it up. Yes, it had been painful and bloody, and yes, the poor man would never be the same again. A fine reward for his attempt to help, the parson had added, giving the girls a hard stare, which as always, was lost on the second sister, who could never see him, trapped as she was between her sisters.
It was not lost on the third sister, who spent that night, and others, staring at her hand.
If she had the executioner cut it off--if--Well. She would lose the hand. She would not save her sisters. But she would be able to leave--to return back to the inn, or head elsewhere, to some place where golden geese were only legends. She would be free.
Free from the parson's hand, heavy on her shoulder, where it rested day and night.
The parson, who would be freed, along with the sexton and the laborer, if she let the executioner cut off her hand. The men who, as they reminded the girls regularly, had only wanted to save the girls from the consequences of their own mistakes. The parson, who had assumed that they must be chasing a boy, not merely caught by a spell; the sexton, who had wanted to save the parson, not them; the laborer, who had ignored their warnings and their screams.
The way she had ignored her sisters.
"I didn't know," her eldest sister repeated, over and over, hand still stuck fast to the goose. "I didn't know. She didn't know. But you did."
Her skin itched.
Someday, surely, golden or not, the goose would die. Perhaps when Simpleton and the princess had a child, or perhaps when that child was old enough to enter another fairy tale, freeing this one.
For now, she wiggled beneath the parson's heavy hand again, and placed her head on her sister's shoulders, and tried to sleep.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, March 25th, 2019
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