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“A package has arrived for you Princess! The card says it’s from your beloved….do you think it’s from the Prince?” The servant girl gushed passing the black box over to Willa, callused hand tremulous. “How did it get here so quickly? Who delivered it?” The princess asked reading the note again for herself. “An owl delivered it…white as snow…no doubt from the mountains…” The girl said watching eagerly as the princess tugged off the silver ribbon. Opening the box the servant gasped more exuberantly than the recipient. “Oh how beautiful!” And it truly was beautiful, a silver bracelet the likes of which belonged not to mere royalty but to the goddess Aphrodite herself. Plucking the armband from its soft bed Willa fastened it around a slender wrist. Even though she was not a girl taken by material possession, she could not but admire herself.

=

“Princess? What’s the matter?” The maid asked kneeling beside Willa on the floor. “My arm….it hurts…I can’t…it won’t come off…” She exclaimed panic welling in the back of her throat. “Let me see…it must be pinching pretty hard…I will remove it…don’t worry…” But the maid could not remove the bracelet nor find any means by which to pry it open so that it might be removed by one stronger. “Get tortoise…and please say nothing to my parents or anyone else….please Helena…not a word…” Willa pleaded gripping the girl’s frail freckled hands. “Of course not princess…I promise…” The maid said rushing out the door unable to quiet her hysteria and prevent herself from running.

=

When found, tortoise was in his human form, having just come from his conference with the king. “Please hurry…it’s Willa I think she’s in trouble…” The maid whispered anxiously in his ear lest anyone overhear. Ira took off with the maid, thoughts of marriage, of rivalries, of wooing out of mind for the time being. Whatever images he’d used to prepare himself for the sight of the sick/injured/upset/stuck girl were immediately dismissed for what he saw defied all logic. “Is that truly you Princess” He asked and the girl (who was anything but) looked up her cheeks swollen and red from unresolvable crying. “My hair is turning grey Ira…and my hands…they are not my hands…what of my face?! Tell me how old am I? What am I? I can’t bare to look….” The servant girl broke into useless sobbing and sat herself in the corner of the room. “You are human only aged….I don’t understand how did such a thing happen…” He asked kneeling down beside Willa on the floor. “The bracelet’s what done it…the wolf…” The maid said between sobs. “We don’t know that it was Aurelian…but maybe it was….I just can’t imagine why….” Willa said holding out her arm no longer able to look at the bracelet, for it was now an object of horror.

=

Ira examined the bracelet but no matter which way he turned the frightened princess’ arm he could find no way to remove it. “I know of one who might remove the curse but she is neither pleasant nor cheap….” He said helping Willa to her feet and grabbing a cloak for her to wrap around her head in disguise. “Not a word Helena and don’t leave my room until you have calmed down…you’ll only arouse suspicion…” Willa said threading her arm through Ira’s so that she might rely upon his strength in the absence of her own. She trusted tortoise whole-heartedly if he had a plan then she had every reason to believe it would succeed. She would be back to herself in no time at least physically, mentally/emotionally it might take longer to recover.

=

Once outside it became apparent that Willa was not well, she was weak, feeble in a manner that even her age could not justify. Kneeling down before her Ira could not bring himself to face the girl blushing. “Get on my back I will carry you….” He said and though she hesitated it was but a moment. She was frightened by the thought of betrayal most of all. Wrapping her body around his, she felt the comforting warmth of his skin, the broadness of his shoulders and back. Laying her cheek against him, the heady masculine air of his personal scent both soothed and disquieted her.

=

“Does someone truly live here?” Willa asked her gravelly voice almost harsh against his ear. The house to which she referred was not more than a shack and a dilapidated one at that. No light seemed to enter nor exit the structure and the breeze exacted from its rickety walls was like a chorus of chirping insects. She had no idea how long they had traveled, having dozed off from exhaustion. The character of the forest was much different than that which surrounded the castle grounds and from the placement of the sun they must have traveled a fair distance. This place wherever it was, was not a place she wished to remain. This lifeless place of smeared charcoals and methane fumes was frightening. “Yes in the absence of a culprit I believe she is our only hope…” He said even knowing the price of her services would be high, perhaps even unreasonable.

=

“Is it you my dear boy…how I’ve missed you…who is that with you child? The woman asked stepping from the shadows a short stooped figure, with serpentine grey curls and eyes the color of fingerprint streaked glass. “My name is Willa….” The aged girl answered feeble limbs now so weary that she was resting all her weight upon her guardian. “Ah yes the princess…Ira do sit the girl down…” The crone answered to which tortoise complied laying Willa out flat on a cot, for she could not sit. “Good that you came quickly…she dies….we must not waste a moment…” The witch’s words were unnecessary for seeing Willa he understood all too clearly. She was no longer middle-aged but elderly, her life was being leeched away at an alarming pace, she was sickly and unrecognizable, almost a corpse. “Your price…speak it…” Ira said turning to the witch, whose yellowing tusks jutted from a noxious smile. “Ah the price….first there is the matter of removing the bracelet…for that I would have one of your eyes…the girl’s eyes are no good to me in her current state…” The witch said sizing up tortoise. “No Ira you can’t…I w-won’t..” Willa dissolved into a fit of coughing that shook her shrunken frame violently. “Done…” Ira said not flinching even when the witch’s talons drew near his left eye (the extraction was relatively painless as the crone took only his vision and left the eye intact).

=

As soon as the transaction was completed the crone went over to Willa and removed the bracelet with an incantation. “Fang marks?” Ira asked looking at the girl’s now bare arm. “For draining the life…speaking of which…your dear princess has perhaps only weeks left to live…so much life taken…so little left it’s a shame…” The witch said shaking her head in parody of sadness. “Can her life be restored as it was?” Ira asked combing Willa’s brittle silver hair from her weathered cheeks. “Had she someone willing to part with 80 years…” The crone cackled. “She has…take my life…restore hers…” Ira said placing a hand atop the bony one now desperately clutching his wrist. “No Ira you mustn’t 80 years is a long time…” Willa said meeting his eyes, nearly incapable of discerning his face for the cataracts now obscuring her vision. “My life is long princess…longer than you can imagine…a life without you I do not which to….give her half my life so that we may die together….”

=

Alright it is up for vote now! Do you want Willa to end up with Aurelian or Ira?

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17 thoughts on “The Princess The Tortoise And The Witch

  1. I’ve been cheering for Ira — but something makes me think that he is not as he seems (as I’ve suggested before). Why and how did he come to know the witch? Is he what/whom he seems to be? I still wonder about shape shifters, enchantments, and spells. But given the history between Aurelian and Willa’s family, (and his mother-in-law!), his one true love gone, is he offering Willa a wild freedom or a prison?
    I always seem to have a lot of ?s, lol.
    Given what we know so far, Ira does seem like the better of the two, and willing to give up his sight and years (good thing that tortoises can live to be over a hundred!) for Willa shows his devotion to Willa.
    Waiting for the next chapter!

  2. ah what a hero….giving half his life….that is his love speaking…nice tension in this one….hmmm….wonder where that came from…was it intentional…why….IRA please….smiles…

  3. The hero does what he does not for gain, but because it is his way. The wolf hungers, always for more and will take until nothing is left to give. Willa will find the wolf exciting and irresistible for she understands herself not. She will gravitate to his call and parish in pursuit of an illusion. Or maybe not!

  4. I vote for Aurelian. I’m not impressed with black and white stories. So make it gray: the main characters are both the protagonist and antagonist. Besides, if Willa ends up with Ira, it will be easy for you. I want to make things difficult for you lol

    This is a good story. Give one more riddle, one significant last twist, and you’ll be very proud of yourself (as a writer) and your work.

    But of course it’s up to you 😀

    (I’m too serious again I don’t know why)

  5. need I say?…a sly sneaky wolf versus a heroic upstanding tortoise….
    I loved the freckled arm and the aging bracelet is pure genius…the witch..the eye…the years my hero gave…how could a girl deny one who gave so much…however, in the world of today’s girls, SSMatthews may have a point…far be it from me to really understand the mind of a woman…

    1. I chose Ira in real life my husband is the sweet/nerdy/shy guy I got over the whole bad boy thing when I was 12. I do think some drama is needed for a story not sure in which direction I am going yet but the ideas are percolating lol

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