High up in her lonely tower, the Queen sat stitching. The King was away at war. He was often away at war. So she was often found in the tower, draped in her silks and satins, her needlework spread out before her, her women gathered around in silence, each head bowed dutifully over whatever they had chosen to embroider that day.
Today it was to be a tapestry in honour of His Majesty’s last victory. In the quiet corner of her thoughts, the Queen wondered if it should be called that. They were mere peasants, after all. Driven to revolt by the hunger in their stomachs and on the faces of their children. What fight could a pitchfork put up against a steel blade? What resistance was skin against an iron-clad shoe? But she never spoke these thoughts out loud. Thoughts can be reined, but words are treacherous and in this land of possibility, they could make the unthinkable possible, simply by flying through the air.
By the by – because even the most single-minded woman will sooner or later tire of the chain-stitch – she glanced out of the window. The milkmaids were about. So were the woodsmen. Naturally. All those rosy cheeks, the coy, downturned lashes, the shy giggles –a man cannot live by wolves alone. One of them in particular seemed to have found favour with the maids. She could see why. He was taller than the rest, this one, with broad shoulders, nut brown skin and the most alarming head of hair she’d ever seen. It was black like a crow’s feather, smooth, dark, iridescent. She fingered her own hair, a lock of which had come unpinned. It was pale yellow, silken. She wondered what it would look like fanned across his brown chest. Like butter on a loaf of hot bread. Her stomach ached. “Bread and butter” she told the nearest lady, who scurried away instantly. The Queen licked her lips. This was not hunger. Or perhaps, it was.
The woodsman sensed her gaze upon him. He looked up. She should have looked away. She didn’t. The milkmaids saw their mistress up in her tower and scampered, hurried curtsies not forgotten. The woodsmen, to a man, touched their forelocks and followed suit. Not him. He met her gaze, eyes twinkling, and bowed deeply before walking away. No, not walking. It was a swagger. Perhaps if she wasn’t thinking quite so much about to what to call his walk, things would’ve gone differently. But she was and they didn’t. She pricked her finger on her own needle. Three drops of royal blood spilled on the snow white linen. Her ladies were around her in an instant. They fussed and cooed over her, ineffectual mother hens to an indifferent hatchling. The Queen stared at the cloth. “We would have a daughter” she murmured, “With skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair” she glanced at the retreating figure below, “as black as ebony.”