Fiction: The Wind and the Stars

Cover for "The Wind and the Stars" by K. A. Cook. Cover shows a night-time scene of black, silhouette-style tree branches against a cloudy sky with a full moon, a lighter halo of cloud surrounding it, in the top centre of the cover. The title text, in white serif and antique handdrawn-style type, is framed by three white curlicues, and a fourth curlicue borders the author credit at the bottom of the cover.True love’s kiss will break any spell. Always be kind to wizened crones. The youngest son is most favoured by wise foxes and crows. Princes save princesses from beastly dragons and towers overgrown with briar brambles. A happily ever after always involves a wedding…

The Wind and the Stars is a short aro-ace fairy tale about heroes, love, adulthood and the worlds we make in the stories we tell.

Vendors: [Smashwords]

Formats: [PDF] | [EPUB]

Length: 1, 309 words / 4 pages.

Content advisory: Please note that this story contains non-explicit sexual references. It’s also a story about storytelling, so it refers to common fairy tale structures that contain misogyny, heterosexism and amatonormativity, along with depicting society’s unquestioning reaction to these structures. There’s no romance beyond the mention of other characters in romantic relationships. It’s also written in second person.

Note the first: This wasn’t meant to be a thing. I was walking to an appointment while an idea popped into my head. Since I liked how it read after I’d finished scribbling (while sitting in the waiting room), and since there’s nothing stopping me from editing, formatting and designing a digital book, well…

Words, the right ones, can tell you who you are.

True love’s kiss will break any spell. Always be kind to wizened crones; never disregard any advice they may give. The youngest son is most favoured by wise foxes and crows. The girl for whom a witch hunts may be found disguised as a swan on the lake or a rose on the bush. Princes save princesses from beastly dragons and towers overgrown with briar brambles. Never venture alone into abandoned castles, unless you’re the hero and a princess in need awaits your bravery. A happily ever after always involves a wedding—and whispered things said by your older sisters who giggle behind their hands and insist, with the lordliness of their years, that it is nothing about which you need to know.

“But why be kind to crones and not everybody?” you ask, sitting beside the roaring fire, listening to Grandmamma spin yarn and tales while you hem skirts and work-shirts. Your fingers cramp and it’s hard to hold your legs still, but you have work to do, work spurred on by the sharing of tales in the same way the farm labourers sing songs while ploughing that Mamma won’t let you hear. “But why are youngest sons special? But why do princes go to the rescue, not princesses? But why?”

Grandmamma’s lips thin. “That’s how the story goes.”

Night after night, your questions are heeded no more than the gusting breeze rattling at the shutters.

They call to you, the wind and the stars, the wildness of a world where nobody uses words to define what is and isn’t real.

You’re not made for spinning, weaving and sewing: even with your hands busy, you squirm and fidget, stamping your feet, longing for open skies and space to run. Mamma realises this and sends you with a bulging satchel to a trader in the next village, a garrulous person in want of a companion and apprentice in their summer and autumn travels. You spend your nights sleeping under the stars in field and forest, your days travelling. The trader teaches you how to make strangers feel easy and how to craft a bargain that leaves seller and buyer satisfied. The trader laughs at Grandmamma’s tales and tells their own against a rhythm of creaking wood and the mule’s road-clopping hooves: tales of warrior maidens rescuing merchants’ daughters, of genderless heroes overcoming fearsome monsters prophesised to remain undefeated by man and woman, of princes fighting the strictures of custom and law to marry a handsome knight.

You like the idea of being neither prince nor princess, neither maid nor houseboy, defined by nothing so arbitrary as gender. It’s a truth, new and shining, that you hold close to your heart, a truth gifted by story.

Words, the right ones, can tell you who you are.

The trader’s stories still end, though, with a sorceress and a goosegirl wed and walking hand in hand into the sunset. When you visited Mamma last winter, she took you aside and explained the intimate happenings between people. Listening to the trader, too grown for giggling, speak of their blacksmith wife and of the home and children the couple wish to make together, such happenings seem remarkably lacking in all mysteries—save one.

“But why?” you ask, the mule’s braided reins comfortable in your fingers, the sun beaming down on your faded straw hat. Dust cloaks your lips and the wind kisses your hair. “Why do the stories always end with two people together?”

The trader’s lips thin. “That’s how the story goes.”

When you are accounted an adult, wise in the speaking of bargains, you take over the mule, the cart and the wandering path from village to village. You spend your days selling spoons and pots and knives for the blacksmith and her partner, a person who smiles broadly now they stay at home with children under their feet. You sleep under the stars in a new spot each night, with a guard dog at your side and the mule at its picket, and if it’s difficult to smile at strangers to cement a purchase, betimes, there’s no roof between you and the sky.

The path leads you to bards and travellers, labourers and adventurers. In your first year, you meet a tall girl in battered armour, bearing a sword and wreathed in the perfume of sweat, metal and mud. Her dry lips brush softly against yours, her calloused hands sure and gentle. She gasps, no giggle to be heard, as you come together under sky and stars, and the next morning her smile is sad and yearning, as if some magic binds her skin to yours: “If only you can come with me.”

The stories say you should follow her to war, to save her from the coming blood and battle, but the stories also say that the touch of her body against yours must shake the world. You feel nothing with her that you can’t make with your own hands, and you wave her off to sell spoons and pots and knives, wandering like the wind blows.

Sometimes, when the stars are bright, you hope she finds someone to follow her.

In your second year, as you smile and deal alone with a mule and a dog, villagers see you as a storyteller, someone who treads strange roads in stranger places. You can speak of lands far away, of foreign politics and magical marvels, but the answers to the questions your customers wish of you sit heavy on your lips. Do you have a pretty boy waiting for you back home? What about a handsome girl or a stalwart person? Do you dream of finding someone, settling down, building a home of love and laughter, abandoning the road? Do you dream of kisses and all those things said with glinting eyes and hands covering giggling lips?

“But why?” you ask, one hand buried in the thick fur under your dog’s collar, your lips framing the aching, professional smile of the trader. Two more customers and then you can leave, wander on down the path with mule and cart. If the days are leaden with questions, the star-studded cobalt of night is yours alone and precious for it. “Why do you think I want this?”

But that’s how the story goes.

The girl, buying a spoon for her father, stops and blinks. “Because you’re supposed to have someone to love,” she whispers, her eyes downcast, her fingers twisting the lace edging her sleeve. “You’re supposed to ask about someone’s love. You’re supposed to want.”

She sways while she talks, and you notice the worn soles on her boots and the grass stains marking her tomato-red skirts.

“I heard a story,” you lie, but the untruth exists only within the second word, “of a hero who went to every tower in the land, who rescued every noble from every monster and every dragon. Their true love’s kiss broke every curse, for what is deeper than the love of a hero who weds none and saves all? They never bed another, never stay. They wander the world, sleep under the stars and help anyone in need of saving, the greatest hero ever known.”

You don’t leave the village alone; a girl wearing crimson skirts and scuffed boots walks beside you, beaming up at the sun. If two sets of lips don’t touch when you both lie under the stars that night, if there is nothing between you and the girl then or thereafter but discussions on how to best sell pots and a love for the road, the stars seem no less bright for it.

That’s how one story goes.

It’s the tale you tell, listening to the wind sigh without, when your bones creak, your knees ache, and your sisters’ grandchildren by the fireplace ask you one ringing question: “But why?”

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