I am so thrilled to be featured in this new anthology of erotic lesbian fairytales (the best combination of three words I can think of) edited by Sacchi "My Fave" Green and published by Cleis Press. I have read the published anthology and can attest to there being a story that will appeal to everyone. You want action and plot with swords and dragons? Gotcha. How about lyrical writing and slow-burning love? No problem. Pure, decadent smut? But of course! Comedy and sexy banter? Sure thing. Whatever sort of tone or mood you’re looking for, you’ll find it in this delicious collection of brilliant writers. It’s super flattering to be a part of it.
My story is called “Woodwitch,” and it was probably the fastest short story I’ve ever written. Over the course of two evenings the words flew off the page. Even though I’ve never written a similar story before, I think that ‘fairytale voice’ was already in my hands and fingers. I just had to uncurl them, and it was free. I was raised on old dusty books of fairytales, where the princesses were always fair, the witches always hideous, and the endings always wet with blood and justice. “Woodwitch” tells a familiar story: a princess disguises herself as a man and goes off to war. However, the story diverges a bit on the battlefield, where the princess meets a truly uncommon witch. I tried to capture a little of that old fairytale darkness: the threat of violence that lies at the edge of the woods, or in the witch’s cottage, or behind the keen eyes of the wolf. There’s definitely a bit of “Game of Thrones” inspiration as well; my world is vaguely magical and medieval, but with a healthy dose of modern day sexism and war-mongering. (One day I SWEAR I’m going to write a fairytale where women don’t have to disguise themselves as men to go to war, and are free to live the lives they please without fear. It seems sad that I could imagine a world of magic and witchcraft, but gender equality just seemed a little too much of a stretch…)
Anyway. Wanna take a peak?
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The battle raged for the rise and fall of two moons, and when at last the enemy ran staggering from their sight, the princess found herself slick with sweat and blood. She had cut down two men, she knew that much. Maybe more. One had his throat slit open, wet red roses blooming over the dry earth. One had her sword buried in his belly, opened up around her blade like rotten meat. The princess had been sick after that, but the ground was so mired in filth, the air so ripe with smoke, that no one had taken any notice of her.
There were fewer of her number than before, and as she stood amidst the thinned crowd of the injured and the dying, she realized that her leg was bleeding.
Cursing, she tore a strip from her tunic. The cut was high and deep, rending both skin and muscle. Even as she bound it, blood spilled from the bandage like dark fingers, the pain enough to make her dizzy. She had felt numb before, fueled only by pure and terrified survival, but in the aftermath of battle all her injuries were making themselves known. Her muscles screamed with exhaustion, her ribs throbbed where she had been kicked. She took a hesitant step, and felt bile at the back of her throat.
She wondered if her brothers had felt like this after battle. She wondered if she was a true knight now, now that she had stopped a man’s heart.
“That wound needs seeing to.”
The princess did not know who spoke until she noticed the dark-haired witch a few yards away, moving like a dancer between the crows and carrion. The princess ignored her, pulling the binding tighter. The witch was not looking at her, crouched and peering into the mouth of a fallen soldier. When she jerked her arm, the princess realized she was pulling teeth from the corpse, strange pinching tools clutched in one hand and a rattling bag in the other.
“It is ungodly to desecrate the dead,” the princess said, despite the heartbeat of pain running from her leg to her throat.
“The dead don’t need their teeth.” The witch stood, brushing off her skirts. “And the eyetooth of one killed in violence can be used as a charm against drowning.”
“That is ridiculous.”
“Not if a sailor believes it.” The witch looked at the princess then, bird-black eyes narrowed in suspicion.
At last, the princess thought, and then felt alarmed. Those words meant nothing. She had been waiting for nothing.
“The battlefield is no place for a woman,” the princess said, because that was what a true knight would say.
“I am ministering to the wounded.”
“You are mutilating corpses.”
“Bit of both, then.” The witch came closer. “I tell it true, m’lord. That wound will fester if not tended. I’ve seen men lose their legs to shallower cuts.”
“I have bound it. I can see to it myself.”
“Aye, bound it in your own rags, you have. In a fortnight, it will be black and you’ll be begging for your friends to take a blade to it.” The witch knelt suddenly, digging her hands into the soil. After a moment, she rose again, thin fingers clutching damp, gray earth.
“Beggar’s clay,” the witch said, meeting the princess’s eye. “It will draw the sickness out.”
“I have no need of your black magic.” The thought of those hands against her skin made the princess feel nauseous. She hunched her shoulders, ready to be sick, but there was no food in her belly. She sank to her knees and heaved, dryly. The ground was spinning again, and the princess lay down on her back, squeezing her eyes shut. When she opened them, the witch was peering down at her.
“Lie still, for I do not wish to cut you.” With a flash of silver, the witch sliced through the meager bandage with her dagger. The princess flinched, trying to force the other woman away.
“Lie still, I said,” the witch hissed, spitting into her hand before smearing the clay mixture against the princess’s thigh. The relief was immediate, and the princess almost let out a gasp in her true voice, a breathy female gasp that would have revealed her immediately.
Luckily, she composed herself in time. She had been playing this role for too long to let a kohl-eyed crone unmask her now.
“There now,” the witch murmured. “Bind soft cotton over the clay, and change it nightly. In two days’ time, the pain will ebb. In a moon, the scar will fade.”
“Away from me, madwoman.” The princess scrambled backward, putting distance between them. The witch still knelt before her, eyes wide and curious.
“As skittish as a colt, you are. And no more than a lad, I’d bet my throwing stones on it. I’ve never seen a grown man with eyes so blue.”
The princess cast her blue eyes toward the ground. Many knights had thought her a boy before this; it was as good a disguise as any. Still, she remembered the witch’s rough hand on her thigh, and felt a tremor run through her. It might have been fear, but it did not feel like fear.
“Fare thee well, then, my errant knight.” The witch rose, wiping her clay-covered hands on her skirt. She tossed a look over her shoulder as she strode off into the smoke, and the princess watched the corner of her mouth curl, like the whorls of black ink marking her forearms.
‘An ill omen, she is,’ the princess thought, and her thoughts had the same low pitch as her voice these past few weeks. Already she was forgetting what she truly sounded like. Or perhaps she’d always sounded like this—gravel throated and weary. Perhaps this life was her truth now, and the other was nothing but a dream. A fairy tale.