Friday, June 12, 2009

One Painting, Different Stories...

PROMPT: Use a painting (Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott) as inspiration for a story. (20-30 minutes)

Version 1: The Return, by Nancy Langdale Hough

The stable boys’ shouts announced the approaching rider racing toward the gates, and Elsbeth knew, without seeing, it was Richard. He had come back, just as he had threatened.

The voices riveted her to the loom’s bench, but the shuttle dropped from her hand and fell between the warp threads, snapping two fine strands of linen before clattering on the stone floor.

The baby startled from her sleep and whimpered. Elsbeth rose and gently shushed the infant. What sort of life would the child have when the truth was told? Men survived lies, fraud, even slander, but what child could survive the truth she held? Well, then, a lie must take the place of truth and truth must be proved a lie. For the child’s sake.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

PROMPT: Use a painting (Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott) as inspiration for a story. (20-30 minutes)

Version 2: Waiting Dame by Maureen L. Hough

Lady Elsa’s days thickened into weeks, but still the embroidery stayed unstitched further, ends unknotted. From her window, at the King’s request, she could see poles and lumber joined together in the moat. It was curious work, because a different person brought each piece, and none but the king and his diadem gleam saw the construction come together. Lady Elsa was not content just to watch, no more than one might be content to light a smoky fire in a windowless dungeon. To watch was to suffocate, because she alone knew the purpose of the king’s new whim.

Earlier, despite his interest in making the cloth come out right, the king had not dared to enter, having been informed by the room’s previous captives that if a mind even with the smallest stain entered the chamber, the thread would positively turn tawdry. And no one – especially a king mid-rebellion – can risk a threadbare prophesy. The king seemed to have not trusted his own saving graces, and instead diverted his interest to a peculiar project by the bridge – a house for a newly acquired infant boy, Gustav, a boy for whom vice would be made, shall we say, impossible.

As she returned her eyes to the chamber filled with every pleasure to suppress any inkling of envy, she alone had begun to know that, like her son chained in the king’s whim construction, she would stay put behind the curtain of luxury, refusing to tapestry the prophesy and cut it loose upon the land where paupers remained veiled by the distances demanded by decrees and decorum.

Like looking out the window, this too wasn’t a happy thought – to remain unmoved may mean unchanged scenery, but to tie oneself to the fate of the threads was to never change, to remain forever young with the unfinished task, to become a weft crossing the warp of others’ short lives.
PROMPT: Use a painting (Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott) as inspiration for a story. (20-30 minutes)

Version 3: The Dream-weaver, by Mark L. Hough

It is a tricky business, weaving dreams. My Lady is the best at it…something everyone knows…and yet even she must occasionally pull apart the entire work of a day. Still, I am fortunate to watch her—for even her worst mistakes would put any other dream-weaver’s work to shame.
Once, it is said, the king himself was taken in a war and a ransom was asked with price too great to be counted. My Lady was called upon to give aid, along with any else who possessed an enchanted eye—though she was hardly out of her apprentice attire. She fashioned a woven kerchief of royal scarlet, with pattern too small to be traced and image so fine the king’s captors thought nothing of it when it was handed to the king on his way to the gallows. The king—who has an enchanted eye himself, it is said…or at least one in the family—knew at once the strange gift was heavy with dark dreaming. After wiping the cloth across his eyes the whole of the city fell asleep…from mouse to mule horse. The king returned wearing my Lady’s kerchief like a scarlet plume in his cap.
All this is said, though none but the king could tell the truth of it. Many times I have asked my Lady, yet she will say nothing. But I have seen the king pass her once at court, and—though it may be treason to say—his head did bow before her… And if the story is not true, then why does she alone—common dream-weaver as she is—go by the title of “Lady” and wear the king’s royal scarlet whenever she chooses?

Version 4: The Girl in the Tower, by Faith E. Hough

My hand wearies of the constant chafing from the linen threads I am weaving. Enchanted thread, for an enchanted tapestry, is no easier on my fingers than the normal sort.
It is my mother that has placed a spell on the string. It will never run out. When my hand touches a spool, it becomes exactly the color I need. And it is she who has enchanted the tapestry, still in its making. Its images tell a tale, ever-changing, meant to lull me into contentment, though I am a prisoner…never to leave my tower of wonders.
What wonders? I have trays that never empty of rich and delectable sweetmeats; I have shelves of magical books; I have a flute that plays for me with no musician to wield it; I have a bureau that provides me with a newly-sewn dress each time I open its heavy, oaken doors. Today’s dress is red…red as blood. Red as my strange namesake.
I also have a magic mirror, which I abhor; it taunts me with its reflections of life as it could have been. I glance at it now and quickly turn away from the sight of a river, freely running its course, its banks tread upon by a maiden my own age. She leans into the shoulder of a handsome lad as they walk, hand clasping hand.
I frown, and stroke my hair to soothe my fingers. Black as night, softer than silk and soothing as a stream’s water it is—or as soothing as I imagine a stream’s water to be, at least. I love it—and, alas, it too is enchanted.
From the window I hear my mother’s voice, reverberating up the endless stone:
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!”
I sigh and let it drop, hoisting it over the window’s edge and watching the braid shimmer like the long, glassy river in the mirror.
Do I grudge my mother her means of entry? I do. But ‘twas she who made it as it is. She made all of it.