Deep in the dark twisted woods, a very frail and old man was casting a spell over his cauldron.
Bring me youth and fame
Cast off this weakened frame
In truth as well as name
Make me young and beautiful again
It wasn’t the first time he’d tried this, but it was perhaps the last chance he’d have. So he was giving it everything he had, his heart beating too fast and his breath coming in gasps. He threw everything into the gaping maw of his pot. Herbs, mice, potions, precious things and the very clothes on his back. Naked and trembling he stood before this morass, singing turning first to chanting then babbling in delirious stupor. Collapsing, at last, on the floor and resting in noisy repose.
To this scene came a young shapeshifter, presenting currently as a young blond page with adundant ringlets escaping from under his jaunty feathered cap. Now the one thing you need to know about shapeshifters is that, to a woman (or man), they are, shall we say, lovers of the theatrical arts. It doesn’t really matter if there’s a visible audience or not, any shapeshifter will take the opportunity to put on a good show. This makes perfectly good sense, if you think about it, because when you grow up with the idea that any random tree or rock or bunny rabbit could actually be your Uncle Ted, you’re going to be more thoughtful about how you present yourself.
So, being somewhat stuck in his ways, the shapeshifter looked around him quickly to check for Uncle Ted, then let out a heartbreaking cry. “O what misfortune have I come across!” and holding a delicate hand up backwards upon his brow. “If only, if only I was a strong and able steed who could carry this poor, this poor old man to the village to be cared for!”. After a pause for effect, during which Uncle Ted didn’t materialise, the shapeshifter shrugged his shoulders in that specfically sulky way that only adolescent males forced to complete unwanted tasks can properly pull off and got to it.
Clip-clopping back to the village, a majestic black beauty of a stallion deposited his charge with the good folk of the parsonage, a place the old magician would be very confused and unhappy in when he awoke. After checking out the local stables and trying his luck with a particularly fetching palamino mare (no dice though, she was stepping out with a Clysdale and everyone knows you do not mess with a Clysdale’s mare), a young redheaded, clean-faced milkmaid started skipping along the bridge back into the forest. She was feeling very much at peace with herself, sure in the knowledge that unobserved though it was, she had used her powers for good.
But just as she reached the first dappled strands of oak and beech, she heard the clink and crash of metal boots and chain jewellery a few steps ahead of her. Into the middle of the path stepped a knight, with the light just behind her enough to create glints and flickers of light reflected on the trees around her and river ahead. She held the flag of the kingdom in one hand, and cocked her jaw at an inposing angle as she removed her plumed helmet and her long waves of rosy hair flew out behind her as she shook her hair. Her imposing black warrior’s lines surrounding her eyes lightened and her rich ruby red lips turned to a smirk as she threw an arm up to point at the innocent and pure milkmaid. “Explain yourself!”
The young mildmaid hesitated for only a moment before dropping a very deep curtsy. “A-aunt Theodora-a! So nice to see you! You look wonderful, by the way…is that Fenty line lipstick you’re wearing?”
“Well actually it’s my own ble….no, young lady. You will explain yourself!”
“I just thought that it would be easier to drop him in town!”
“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, there’s nothing wrong with doing a good deed, but you have to do it with Style, my dear. Turning into a horse and dropping him at the human’s door just isn’t good enough. I’m not angry, I’m disappointed” The milkmaid turned her head down in shame, dropping her face in her hands to start crying, her breathless sobs wracking her body as she collapsed to her knees. Drawn into the emotion of this touching moment of mentoring, her emotions tore through her like waves in the sea.
Theodora looked down at her with pure disgust and continued her tirade. “You could have been a viking from a distant land, carrying a slave back to his homeland for one last look at his people! You could have been his young wife, attached to him through force of compulsive magic and desperate to save your abuser’s life! You could have been him from the past, travelled through time to save his life in order to prevent a collapse of the space-time continuum!”
The milkmaid peeked up with tear-lined cheeks and smeared mascara smudging over the delicate blush of her cheeks and peachy lips. “I am so, so sorry my dearest, most terrifying Aunt. I promise I will mend my ways!” then threw her arms above her in the air and swooned, kicking her legs out from under her skirt at the most perfectly adjusted angle. Her hand twitches for a moment, then a trickle of blood appears next to her, slowly clotting in the fallen debris of the forest track.
Then the old man from the start of our story is hovering over her, checking for broken bones or bloody bruises. “Niece! What misfortune has befallen you?” He cries out as he tries to shake her awake, and one of her eyes flickers slightly before she opens both eyes and yawns loudly, raising a fist in the air and gathering her legs under her. “Oh uncle, I think… uh… I may have been accosted by the second son of a dragon king?” She asks in a hopeful voice.
“Very likely.” The old man replies.”We shall have to quest to find him, obviously.” His voice and face take a darker tone for a moment before his eyes light up with an idea. “…or maybe he’s questing to find the milkmaid he was so cruelly refused by!”
The page and the old man brush off their clothing and link arms to walk back into the forest as the sun sets in front of them. “So what do you think your mother made for dinner?” “I don’t know, he usually entertains the king as his mistress on Mondays, we might be on our own tonight.”