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Flambé a Fairytale

A 'fractured fairytale' is a story set in the past, present or future, which collides and merges with an existing fairytale(s) thus giving the lucky reader two or more for the price of one.


The Magic Mirrors

(A Fractured Fairytale)

Once upon a time, in the Land of Burpengaria, there lived a queen named Avoirdupois who – not to put too fine a point on it – was a large woman. Generally speaking she was a kindly queen, or at least not overtly vicious, but she was sensitive about her weight and always on the alert for any reference to it by her people. 

Her subjects soon learned that joking about the queen's weight, or any other unfortunate queenly trait, was a good way to get themselves banished from court, snubbed in public, and (if the offence was severe enough) denied the provision of goods and services to the point where moving to a neighbouring kingdom was the only option.

It seemed to them an amazing thing, that even if an unflattering remark was whispered in private to a trusted confidante in an open space, the queen still seemed to know about it. There was an explanation for this. The queen was a witch. The citizens of the country did not know she was a witch of course, but it seemed wiser to err on the side of caution, and therefore the queen was never mentioned in private conversation by sensible people, except in the most flattering terms.

Queen Avoirdupois found this rather dull. She lived, for the most part, in a tower of the castle in a room of her own creation. The walls were of primrose yellow, and the bed, sofas, chairs and curtains were gaily decorated with yellow flowers on a sky-blue background. There were also tables, chairs and a large number of cabinets and bookcases crafted from the finest mahogany. Superb displays of artefacts, collected during travels through the kingdoms of her many relatives, decorated every available surface.

The paint on the walls of the primrose room was magical paint which incorporated special receptors designed to pick up frequencies emitted by any spoken (or indeed written) words which might refer to her – such as ‘the queen’, ‘Her Majesty’, ‘the fat one’, etc. The detection of any words such as these caused a transcript of the conversation to appear on the walls, and the queen spent many a gleeful day plotting revenge against those who had offended her, whilst those who were shrewd enough to flatter her were generously rewarded.

In addition to the paint on the walls, the queen possessed another magical secret. A wizard, who had come off second best in a confrontation, had presented her with three full-length oval mirrors in exchange for a pardon. The mirrors graced a wall at the end of her boudoir where she could see her reflection in all three, and in the depths of the mirrors strange shadows moved. The frames of these mirrors were exquisitely carved, with flowers and dragons lavishly coated in pure gold.

Even though the queen was more than plump, she was not uncomely. Indeed, few in the kingdom could match the charming dimple in her left cheek, her right elbow caused much appreciative comment, and for a large lady, her ankles and feet were remarkably dainty. 

The magic embedded in the mirrors was this – the mirrors reflected only what the seeker wished to see. Thus, the primrose room became a place of balance for the queen. The rage caused by the remarks scrawled in script across the wall was assuaged by the unduly favourable reflections selected by the mirrors.

Although the queen did not suffer fools gladly, she did appreciate a good joke, and it came to her notice that a travelling troupe of adventurer/comedians was being touted as the very latest thing in chic and humour, with particular emphasis placed on their ability to deliver hilarious impersonations of the aristocracy. Provided the spoof on nobility didn't include her, the queen considered a laugh at her neighbours' expense an excellent idea, and the troupe's presence at court a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Accordingly, she sent a messenger to find the Snide Brothers (for that was their name) to offer them a three-month contract as ‘humorists in residence’ at the castle, with performances twice nightly on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, plus appearances on special occasions to be determined by the queen. In addition, she promised to supply a small cottage rent-free and as much food and wine as they could eat and drink.

The brothers could scarcely believe their good fortune. Despite their impressive reputation, monetary rewards had been few, and this looked to be a nice little earner. A good time was had by all. The brothers' performances at court proved to be exceedingly popular, and they were made welcome in the very best of homes.

There were three brothers – Hearty, Smarty and Stupid. Hearty, a rotund, jovial individual, with rosy cheeks and an even rosier nose, was the master of the pratfall, slapstick and belly laugh. His younger brother, Smarty, was a tall, lean gentleman of almost cadaverous appearance, who had small sharp eyes, a long thin nose and a rather cruel twist to a mouth from which flowed the bon mot, the caustic comment, and the most devastating of impersonations. 

The youngest brother, Stupid, was a stripling of handsome if vapid appearance, with a pale skin, pale blue eyes and fair hair which always seemed to blend in with the background. He appeared to be slow of thought, and was traditionally made the butt of jokes by both the brothers and the audience, but seemed to take it all in good part.

The truth was that the apparent absence of a brain on Stupid's part masked a very thorough intellect. Stupid was a person who thought that one should not venture an opinion until one had properly mulled over the facts. By the time he had considered a question from all angles, the audience had gone home. Anyone who remained was startled to hear a statement of emphatic truth (from which all unnecessary ornamentation had been ruthlessly stripped) issuing from the lips of this apparently vague youth.

The queen became very popular because of her entertainers. She loaned her comedians to those holding parties throughout the kingdom and soon the brothers began to run short of material. They were unaware of the queen's predilection for punishing those who made thoughtless remarks about her, and Smarty decided to feature her in witty conversation.

At a soiree from which the queen was absent, having pleaded migraine, Smarty prepared to deliver a cutting performance. The queen was in the primrose room watching the wall.     

A baron remarked that it was strange that no one had seen the king for the past year or so, to which Smarty replied, ‘Perhaps he’s lost in the folds of the queen’s gown.’

There was an eerie silence, although not in the primrose room.

‘The queen,’ Smarty went on, oblivious to the sudden ominous quiet, ‘is a most delightful companion for any man. Should she allow herself to be tattooed, she would…’ At this point he glanced at his brothers, who immediately recognised the introduction to a very old jest.

‘Provide shade in the summer,’ hooted Hearty.

‘Warmth in the winter,’ added Stupid thoughtfully.

‘And moving pictures all year round,’ finished Smarty with a flourish. 

You could have heard a pin drop.

The next day the brothers were invited to the primrose room. Queen Avoirdupois was an impressive hostess. She plied them with food and wine, and complimented them on their appearance and talent.

Suddenly she turned to Smarty and asked viciously, ‘Do you have any tattoos?’

Before Smarty could answer, she pointed at the wall upon which the full details of the brothers' conversation the previous night were appearing in huge black letters.

‘Now, here's a jolly jape,’ said the queen, and before the men could utter a word they found themselves inside the mirrors looking out.

‘These mirrors have never told the truth in their entire existence,’ said the queen sharply, ‘and neither have you! In a few moments’ time I will count to three, and when I count to three you will fall asleep and never wake until such time (if any) as the mirror in which you are trapped is addressed directly. 

‘Should that be the case, you will awaken, and then must answer any question the person reflected in the mirror puts to you, but you must never tell the truth. If you do tell the truth, the mirror – the only way in which you may continue to exist – will shatter!’

As time passed, Queen Avoirdupois grew old and eventually died. Her husband, the king, had been found in a far-away kingdom hobnobbing with a girl who sold oranges for a living. Since, in her realm, the succession passed through the female line, the queen left him not a penny, but bequeathed the succession to Amortis, the Wicked Witch of the West. Furthermore, she directed in her last will and testament that the three mirrors were to be separated and delivered to the three noble relatives she despised the most.

Hearty went to the emperor. He was awakened by the emperor saying, ‘Well, my trusty mirror – what say you to the fit of these clothes?’

Hearty saw the emperor standing stark naked in front of him while two obsequious tailors smirked and winked at each other in the background. ‘Fit?’ hooted Hearty, ‘Fit? More like a convulsion, I say!’ He winked at the emperor conspiratorially. ‘I certainly hope it's your birthday sir, for that is all you have on – your birthday suit.’

Since what he had said was the absolute truth, the mirror shattered and Hearty departed to the divine comedy in the sky.

Baron Hardup received the second mirror. His first wife had been a gentle woman and not at all vain, so the mirror was used very little. Her nature was inherited by Cinderella, the daughter of that marriage, who was relegated to the kitchen by his atrocious second wife and her two ugly daughters.

There was a commotion in the house because the two sisters were to go to a ball being held by the king and queen of that land for their son, Prince Charming, in the hope that he would find the girl of his dreams. The two nightmares fussed in front of the mirror while their mother exclaimed, ‘Oh my lovelies! Mirror, have you ever seen such a sight?’

Upon being so addressed, Stupid awoke, and confronted by girls so ugly they grew pigtails in their armpits blurted out, ‘Indeed I haven’t madam––they are sufficient to make any peeping Tom throw up on the window sill!’

His eyes then alighted on Cinderella hovering in the background. ‘Ah!’ he exclaimed, ‘but of those here present, a girl as beautiful in soul as in body will one day be queen.’ And so saying, both he and the mirror promptly shattered.

Smarty's mirror had been shipped to a cousin in a foreign land, and for many years stood forgotten in a dusty room until found by the king's second wife, who fancied herself the most beautiful woman in the world and was determined to keep it that way. 

The queen gave orders that the mirror was to be polished and re-polished until the golden frame gleamed and the mirror positively sparkled – the better to see herself in the privacy of her boudoir. She paraded before the mirror in her finest silks and satins. She posed, primped and preened, and covered herself in splendid jewellery.

Something sounded in Smarty's sleeping brain. When his vision cleared, he saw a beautiful woman standing before him, but the grin was wolfish and the heart was as black as the body was fair. Smarty knew that he had met his match and he cringed as she laid her face against the glass. ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall,’ she hissed, ‘who is the fairest of them all?’ 

And Smarty lived unhappily ever after. 

The End 

© L.J. May

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