‘Snakes and Toads’ by Elizabeth Russell

 

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Every fairy is born with a special gift for the earth

The wind howled through the tree tops the dark morning I was born. It raged through our world and whipped fairies about pell-mell. My brother told me it was a sign. You see, I am a curse to my people. Every fairy is born with a special gift for the earth, and usually the gift is beautiful, but mine was terrible. From the very first moment that I opened my wee fairy mouth and cried a tiny cry, toads and snakes multiplied in our forest. I wept and wailed like any other child, and the toads and snakes bountifully infested the woods, and ate any fairies they found. By the time I was three years old, and accustomed to be shushed by everyone I knew, a third of my people had been consumed by my creations. And by the time I was old enough to understand the full significance of each word I spoke, we were very few indeed.

One day, though I do not remember it, the giant beasts came to our home, and swallowed up my parents. They tried to eat my brother. He fought them but there were too many and he would have been devoured. Then they saw me, and paused in their destruction. The yellow eyes of the toads gaped at me, and the red eyes of the serpents slithered up and down my body. It was as if they were in a trance. In this moment of opportunity, my brother surged through the air and sliced off all their heads. From then to now, he has taken care of me.

Since the age of four, I have not spoken one word; the last words I ever spoke were a plea.

I spoke them the day my people tried to kill me. You see, the fairies were terrified of my gift and thought they would all die. They came to my brother and declared that the only way to stop this terror was to end my life. It was one fairy or all fairies, they said.

I was a quiet child, cowed by my brother’s eternal insistence on my silence, but I still spoke a little every now and again. I did not think that he loved me. Not, that is, until that day when they told him I was expendable, dangerous, a ‘monster’. He flared up at their words, his face red and white with anger, and declared that I was the sweetest, most innocent child in the whole world! “She is the greatest victim of this entire tragedy, and you would kill her? I will never allow it!”

My brother’s gift is for stone: he can mold it into any shape he likes with his hands. He cleft me a hole in a rock to lock me away from their fear and desperation, but I fought him, writhing in his strong, big hands. “Kill me!” I cried at last, risking the truth that I now knew. “Please, dear brother, kill me.” My tears mingled with his as he carried me inside the rock and laid me down upon the smooth floor.

“You must stay here now. And I will take care of you.” He left me there and sealed up the hole behind him so no one could ever get in. And I have been here ever since.

 

****

 

My brother, on his daily visit to me yesterday, seemed oddly excited. His cheeks were rosy-colored and bright, his eyes danced strangely, and his mouth kept smiling in a most peculiar manner. I signed to him, asking what was going on, but he just shrugged and said “Nothing, nothing at all.” But I know there is a mystery here, and I will find it out.

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Beautiful maiden with a divine smile

Sure enough, I was right! My brother has met someone, though he will not tell me her name. He says she is most beautiful and smiles divinely. I made up my mind, when I heard this, to catch a glimpse of her, so I silently begged him to carve me a window in my stone home. It has been so many years since he locked me in here that there can be no harm in it now. I finally whittled him down – he loves me too much to long deny me a wish – and bored a small hole in the rock face. Curled up beside it, I watched eagerly each day for a ‘beautiful maiden with a divine smile’. Finally, yesterday, I saw her! My brother was not wrong: there is something absolutely enchanting about her. While I watched, my brother approached her with a bouquet of clover, and she gingerly accepted it. Then he reached forward, shyly but surely, to kiss her hand, but she blushed, her eyes widened with fear, and she jerked away from him, clambering atop a mushroom and crying out “Do not touch me! Do not touch me!” My brother’s shoulders fell is dismay, and I was filled with anger for someone who would wound him thus. But just at that moment, a toad hopped upon her from behind, and before my brother could slay it with his sword, the great beast fell to the ground, a stone statue.

Whatever is living that touches her flesh turns instantly to stone.

No wonder he loves her. She is made of both him and me.

****

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We were tied together in our misfortune

Her name was Rowanna and I grew to love her with a great love. We were tied together in our misfortune and in our love for my brave, selfless brother. She moved in with me in my stone retreat, and both our days were brighter because of each other. She would tell me stories of her adventures, and I would weave her beautiful things from grasses and flowers. We were always happiest when my brother came to sit and visit for a few hours.

But one day, our happiness ended. My brother, as he came to us and we could see him through our window rounding the corner with a happy song on his lips, was suddenly set upon by a great serpent and carried far, far away from us.

We were not going to sit there and let him be taken without a fight, so we tried desperately to force our figures through the little window, but it was no use: we were trapped.

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Rowanna, who like a kindred spirit understood my intention

Then, in desperation, I did something I had not done in fourteen years. I spoke.

“Dear Lord, help me,” I prayed, willing with all my might for the toads and snakes to come to me, and to my astonishment, I made them appear right before us, their great bodies swelling inside the little stone room. Then Rowanna, who like a kindred spirit understood my intention, put her hand upon their slimy and scaly bodies, and with all her strength, turned them to stone. But not any stone: the toughest, sharpest granite possible. Then we used the hardened creatures to cut our way out of the boulder and into the light of the sun. I felt the warmth of the golden day and the blinding, pure light of the sky, and, for the first time since I was a child, I was free.

But I did not care. Freedom meant nothing to me without my brother. “Come on!” cried Rowanna, and we flew over the ground, searching as far as our eyes could reach.

I saw him first and swooped down, Rowanna flitting behind me. A large garden snake pinioned my brother and held him before a mighty, fat toad that sat like a pile of lubber upon a royal throne, bedecked with crowns of diamonds and necklaces of flowers.

“Where is the Lady of the sisslers and croakers? Where have you hidden her? Why have you silenced her?” the Toad King was shrieking at my brother. I floated down and landed beside him.

“No, no, you must go! You cannot be here,” my brother struggled wildly, but I looked calmly at the Toad, who stared back at me with monstrous, round, dull orbs.

“Who are you? We will eat you! Speak! Have you nothing to say?” He croaked and shrieked, but I was silent.

“You would eat her?” asked Rowanna amused, and the toad looked up.

“Ah!” he cried, “it is the Witch! Vile fairy, you have killed one too many of my people.”

“Yes, I kill you; but she creates you.”

“Thisss isss our misstresss?” asked the serpent that guarded my brother, snaking his tall head over me.

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There was a great blast of light like lightening

“Why do you not speak? Why do you not create more of our kind?” demanded the King.

I signed to my brother, and he spoke for me. “Do you not see that she chooses to remain silent? I do not force it upon her: you do. It is you who killed our people, our mother and father, and would kill me once you have your will. My sister is no monster, and she has no wish to create them.”

“Very well,” he snarled at me. “If you will not give us what we want, then we will take what you have! Hisser, kill the boy!”

My mind went blank; I saw the snake rear his head to strike, saw him coil his mighty frame in a great tower, saw his fangs glisten in the sunlight, and then, in the stillness of frozen time, I knew my brother was going to die. I panicked. I whipped my brother’s sword from his side and rushed forward to impale the fleshy beast.

At the same moment, as blind to my actions as I was to hers, Rowanna darted forward full speed to stiffen and silence the attacker.

As she reached his body to turn him to stone, I stabbed so hard I audibly grunted, and our hands touched. There was a great blast of light like lightening. The next thing I knew, I was lying on soft moss with my head resting on Rowanna’s stomach, and the clearing empty of any serpents or toads. My brother stood over us.

“What happened?” I asked dazedly and then covered my mouth. But nothing materialized.

My brother helped me to my feet. “When you touched, a mighty blast of wind blew over the clearing and whirled the beasts away, but did not blow over me.”

Then he reached down, and despite her attempts to avoid him, he grasped Rowanna’s hand and pulled her to her feet.

“Your curses are broken. You have saved each other.”

Rowanna and my brother fell into each other’s arms, and after a moment of love, pulled me in too. I wept aloud, and then I laughed: I did not remember how wonderful it can be to laugh.

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I wept aloud, and then I laughed

 

Images Credit to ArtPassions.net

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