011. Brother & Sister
*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*
Several months passed before the king noticed that his wife had begun acting strangely. At first, his joy at having her restored was too all-encompassing, too overpowering that there was no room in his notice for small details—such as her tendency to glance away from him, as if seeing something in the left corner of her eyes, while he was speaking to her. A year of happiness kept certain information from him, for instance, the fact that the baby had not yet spoken its first word, a miracle which was somewhat past due.
A year was enough to break the spell of the king’s satisfaction. Early in the autumn, some weeks after their son celebrated his first birthday, he caught his wife by her arm in the garden and attempted to embrace her. A hand on her back, the touch of his kiss on her cheek—she recoiled from both. She looked wildly to her left, as if afraid to be caught by someone walking past them. My love, he inquired, what ails you? Why do you cast such glances over your shoulder?
His lovely wife, trembling, placed her hand on his warm, beating heart. She did not look at him. Do not ask me again, she said. Then she turned away without speaking, gazing sorrowfully at the pebble-strewn ground. The king shuddered, touching the place where her fingers had pressed against his doublet.
After that, she did not meet his eyes—not over breakfast or the evening fire, not in the carriage to town or in their marital bed. Her words to him ceased. Even the fawn had passed from her realm of interest, which saddened the king to no end, for this was surely the widest reach of his wife’s sickness. It too began to lose the gift of language, its last tie to its humanness. But the babe—perhaps because it had been touched by her death, felt the brush of her fingers in her ghostly state—the babe she kept close, whispering secrets to him in the garden, secrets he would keep close all his silent life.