It might (or it might not) have happened, that at a time long forgotten, a princess had fallen gravely ill. Such an act forced the King and Queen to call every elite healer of the isle to the palace. Only one of those healers recognised the illness; he had treated a young peasant boy from it just that summer. Back then, the healer tried everything, and it was watermelon juice that did the trick.
Unfortunately for the princess, it was December.
So, as these stories go, the king and queen turned to their people, promising an enormous reward (their weight in gold and the princess’ hand in marriage, perhaps) to whoever managed to bring a watermelon to the palace.
It was all very exciting. Everyone knew someone who went searching for the cure.
Needless to say, an unprecedented number of people went missing that winter.
But who cares about them, when there’s an obvious hero in this story? Let’s call her Mane Personnage. The youngest of three sisters, and the only one not yet married. Her worried family tried to talk her out of going, but she wouldn’t listen. Well, ok, that’s not completely true. Not all of her family was against the idea; her eldest brother in law supported her.
His name: Zloedi Meshant Personnage.
Why did he take his wife’s name? He hated his own. It probably had something to do with his tragic backstory. But that doesn’t change anything, so stop questioning every little thing or we’ll be here all day.
He was ecstatic at the opportunity to get rid of Mane, knowing that upon marriage, she (read: her spouse) would receive her inheritance. But, should she die early, said inheritance would be shared between her older sisters. Now, Zloedi wasn’t a big fan of sharing, so he’d have to come up with a solution for that later. ‘Cause, you know, bad guy.
Oh, completely unrelated, but have you seen his beard? No, it wasn’t dripping with blood. It did, however, seem (not at all ominously) blueish under the sunlight.
Anyway, he was among the many there to see her off. His wife was not; he claimed that she was not feeling well…
(Should we be suspicious?)
Her path led her through rivers and mountains, to any place that had a legend attached to it where she could make a wish. On her travels, she met mermaids living in wells and statues rubbed raw and fountains of green fizzy water she had almost drowned in. But none of them granted wishes. Or, at least, not her wish. (Which is kind of unfair, considering her wish was actually pretty selfless for a first-time protagonist.)
By the end of February, she was the only one who had yet to give up and wait until the crop grows naturally. Such determination caught the attention of those whose attention one would rather not catch.
She was freezing in a cave in front of a feeble fire when the whistling wind delivered a handsome boy to the entrance. Immediately, the fire seemed to come alive, licking the ceiling, hugging the hero, biting at her cracked lips. She had to jump away, having previously been leaning as close to it as possible.
The fire’s awakening revealed the boy’s identity to be some kind of supernatural being. So, when he asked for her name, she lied, offering it reversed: ‘Enam’. What she didn’t know was that he already knew her name and, being aware of her lie, he also introduced himself with a small distinction – in a language she did not speak. ‘I’m Petervar. But you may call me Peter for short.’
Oh! Can’t forget to tell you what he looks like. He seemed almost frozen, blue-skinned, frost on his eyelashes, snowflakes stubbornly sticking to his hair and somehow not melting in the face of the excited fire as he limped closer.
He was followed by his siblings, girl, boy, girl, boy, etc. They came in threes. The first group had flowers in their hair, their shirts half-unbuttoned. But they didn’t seem cold at all, blushing happily. One carried a giant sword behind her back. Life followed them in: bees and butterflies, rabbits and hares, tiny gold chicks trying to get into the cave as soon as possible to clear the way for the… less self-aware siblings.
All three shirtless and carrying fruit. Fruit! As soon as they all got settled in this increasingly crowded cave, she was going to ask them where they found these miracles of nature, (and whether losing one’s shirt was the sacrifice).
The following three were holding grapes, rain drops in their hair. No, obviously it wasn’t raining outside, what kind of a question is that?
The last two joined in, looking just as appropriately frost-bitten as ‘Peter’, despite being the only ones covered in soft, fluffy coats. Everyone sat around her in a circle and made up names for themselves, except for the boy sitting between Julia and Sev who wasn’t really paying attention and just blurted his favourite animal when it was his turn to say something.
“We’re meant to be introducing ourselves.”
“Oh. I’m Aug-”
“No! Not that name!’
“I don’t get it. I’ll stick by my first answer.” Which was Octopus, by the way.
As soon as that was over with, the three icicles came closer to her with awed expressions. The youngest, Decker, with spiky green hair, said: ‘I saw you climb the volcano. You-you-’.
Before he could spit out his adoration for her, Harriet, the oldest of the 12, interrupted: ‘How’s your leg? You should keep off it for a while. Oh, I haven’t seen you in so long, I hope it hasn’t gotten worse!’
Peter answered for her, ‘It has. How do you think she climbed up here?’ He didn’t mention that she had to, considering she was driven out of her previous shelter by a bear who woke up early. (It was white) (She’d never seen a white bear before) (I’m assuming no one has, not in the Mediterranean at least).
They knocked her out her as soon as she tried to question them.
Nova leaned in, playing with our hero’s hair. ‘Isn’t she just the cutest?’ the others also creeped closer, feeling freer now to observe the mortal in its natural habitat: unconsciousness.
Julia kept quiet as she examined their chosen champion. She’d seen the girl before, pulling all kinds of stunts in the summer. But she hasn’t really been as interested in her as she was the princess. So, it didn’t really matter what she thought of the girl, the others liked her, and she wasn’t the worst mode of transportation… Julia was just lucky to have such indulging siblings who didn’t mind wasting their time on a nobody to save one of her favourites.
‘The first visual impression is really important, you know. You need to really make her eyes pop.’ They didn’t have sapphires on them, so they had to make do with the gold Sev provided, placing one on each eyelid. This treatment will show guaranteed results; within 24 hours her eyes will begin to shine. Literally. (No refunds).
‘Is her hair black enough? I mean, would you describe it as raven-black or just iffy, normal black?’
‘How about freckles?’
‘Meh. A birthmark would be cooler. Kind of prophetic.’
‘Her family won’t recognise her then. At least try to keep it the same person.’
‘Scars add character.’
‘Didn’t she already get some on her own?’
‘Yeah. But we can do better than that.’
‘Ooh! We could hide them under her clothes, so there’ll be a grand reveal scene later. I love those scenes!’ Even Octopus joined in, having fun bronzing her so that she would shine later, replacing her sickly paleness.
Meanwhile, the weather outside the cave couldn’t make up its mind. The months try not to show up in the mortal realm all at once precisely because this is what happens when they do. But they wanted to have a part in this story, however minuscule. So it snowed and it rained, which was normal. What wasn’t normal was a heat wave running hand in hand with the frost coat. Everyone (who was not in denial) panicked but ultimately decided to wait it out at home. Not that it mattered; it didn’t change our hero’s path at all, so who cares if a few peasant houses were blown away or drowned or whatever?
So, how was the precious princess doing? Well, she was ignoring her prescribed bed rest as if she had never heard of it. In fact, she was pacing around her room, looking livelier than her guards. Perhaps her condition has improved all on its own and Mane is going through all this for nothing?
Nope. She was never ill in the first place. But, consider this, would the king and queen have pulled all the stops for her less than noble friend? Doubtful.
And that’s enough said about that.
When the months finished, they left her with Peter and Julia. Once she woke up and saw that only two of the siblings remained, she started asking questions. They pointed at the lion corpse in the corner as if they expected it would explain everything. When they finally realised that she was still clueless, they claimed it had eaten all their siblings and that she had killed it. Moreover, their eternal gratitude prompted them to offer her the highly sought-after watermelon.
She couldn’t believe it, not at first. But even though she couldn’t remember doing it, it had to be true. Why would they lie? Julia even removed one of the lion’s bloody claws so that Mane could use it as proof to all who doubt her. She added it to the thank-you basket.
Not to be forgotten, a beautiful carriage led by white horses they provided her with out of nowhere.
She stood up on her bad ankle, not daring to hope even though the watermelon was finally in her sights. But soon her attention diverted to the immense pain in her spine. She reached back, only to feel the drying blood. Her dress was all torn up too, so Peter gave her his own cloud-coat and helped her up into the carriage.
It took days until the palace appeared on the horizon. Peter had already written a song about her and it spread throughout the kingdom until the royal family was eagerly awaiting her arrival.
The night February became March, the carriage was (unnecessarily) passing over a frozen river, which cracked as soon as the clock struck twelve, waking Mane when she was swallowed by the stream, sinking faster and faster; she refused to let go off the basket carrying the cure. She would have died, no doubt, had a dolphin not swam her up to the surface.
What was a dolphin doing in a river? Oh, it’s my- I-I mean MARTHA’s, favourite animal.
She wanted to give it a meaningful role in the story, to have it share in the fame she and her siblings had given this girl. So here it is. In a river.
Anyhow, Mane had to walk the rest of the way to the palace (the horses turned back into snow upon contact with water). And wherever she stepped, the ice melted, and snowdrops grew out of her footsteps.
Our hero made quite the scene as she entered the palace, what with snowdrops growing out of the marble. The audience was sure she was a goddess: Persephone herself had come to visit them on the first day of spring.
‘I, Mane Personnage of the northern village, have brought the cure for the princess.’ She then dramatically opened the basket. Everyone was properly amazed.
What happened next: the juice was made, the princess (‘s friend) was saved, the hero rewarded.
All was well.
Until she came home, that is. Her brother in law, Zloedi, was filled to the brim with jealousy. He even wore green on the day of her return, so that you guys know he was very jealous without being told so.
Figuring that there are many more people who have contracted the same sickness, his vision clouded with the dream of all the gold he could get from the marvel of year-round watermelon. He interrogated Mane almost immediately.
Not that she said anything that he didn’t already know from the song and from the weaved illustrations made by the housewives (even his had sawn some into the only available fabric, her apron).
That night, as everyone slept, Zloedi tiptoed into Mane’s room to steal the lion claw. Martha saw it happen through the open window and told her siblings.
‘We don’t need to make a sequel’ they said. ‘It won’t be as good as the original.’
But Martha was curious, so when Zloedi arrived at the cave claiming to have killed the lion, who’s corpse was still there, she couldn’t help but show herself.
‘That was very brave, warrior. But may I ask why you have come all this way?’
‘The one watermelon my sister received was not enough. The princess has not been healed. I have come to ask for as many watermelons as you can spare.’
‘How many will you be able to carry on your own?’
‘You’re meant to give me a carriage.’
‘I am, am I?’
‘Obviously. You’ve given Mane a carriage, so I get one too.’
He tried to pin her down with his gaze, but Martha payed no mind as she sat down and weaved him a basket made of daisies with the help of her jittery pet hare. She knits and twists the flowers with practiced motions while amusing herself with the images of the massacre she knew her little gift would bring. A village on fire, screams, an abandoned child crying for his mother in the middle of it all. All the cliché representations of chaos to start with.
It’s not enough.
So, she entertained the thought that the next village would be caught completely unawares. Their only clues of looming danger: the unnaturally large amounts of smoke and rivets of what they first assumed was sacrificial wine for the celebratory feast each village held for the miraculous recovery of the princess. Or – or even better! They would know exactly what was going on but would simply not care enough to send help. It wasn’t their problem, after all. They’d barely mention it at all, until it was at their doorstep and then it was them dropping like bats.
Now, she couldn’t pull a watermelon out of a hat like Julia, so she filled her basket with 23 carefully picked teeth from her collection (every month had one) that children have been unknowingly contributing to since the dawn of time. With them came a quick and easy instruction: after having buried them leaving a spoon’s distance between each tooth, add a pinch of wishful thinking. The final step is to tell them to grow. Simply wait 15 seconds before reaping what you’ve sown.
She then summoned him a carriage that brought him back to the village. Not a single thing happened on his journey back – no earthquake, or flood, not even a little rain.
Naturally, the entire village gathered upon his arrival, everyone gazing at him in awe. They watched with bated breath as he followed the given instructions to the letter. Unfortunately (for the village), Zloedi had no noble descent to boast of, nor a prophesy, so the gods didn’t bother poisoning a witch to help him out.
No one survived.
The hero’s song continued to be passed down, from generation to generation, until someone wrote it down. The passing down of the song made some people think that it was open to interpretation and they added a few changes as to their liking. The next generation gave the story its own values and tinkered with the plot to justify their version. And so it goes, until it is discovered (when someone with eyes takes a look) that the village’s obliteration, previously considered to be a product of the plague, was not.
Excavation of the area finally attracts people back for something other than dark tourism of mass plague death zones. So-called specialists flock to the honeypot, not unlike a pack of rottweilers, each trying to look unique in the way they sniff at the rubble. Having found the lion’s claw clenched in a man’s hand, they conclude that he was obviously the Mane Personnage the song spoke of.
The unmarried woman (no wedding ring) was obviously the jealous bringer of evil, Meshant Zloedi. The jealousy, they say, was aimed at her sister, the hero’s wife, for she loved him and wished to impress him, in order to steal his attention from his always-at-home-never-seen wife.
They all pat themselves on the back for a job well done and go home so that they can curl up with their phones in their special reading area to stare at their colour coded shelves and choose a book they can drag around the city in their bag all day tomorrow, assuring themselves that they’ll read it… one day.