8:4: “Rumpled Skin”, by Mari Ness

8:4: “Rumpled Skin”, by Mari Ness

My gold made her into a queen, although she hated me for it.

From the shadows, I watched as she shuddered each time the king stroked her arm, how she paled each evening as the night grew near and it came time for her to follow the king into bed. I saw the bruises on her arms and legs, and heard her muffled screams in the night. I saw his smile grow each morning.

He only stopped when she quickened with his child, although she and I both knew it would not be for long.

“I hate you,” she whispered, although she could not see me in the shadows where I crept.

“You are alive,” I whispered back, throwing my voice so she would not know where I was. “My gold kept you alive.”

“This is not alive. I have not been alive since I lived at the mill.”

I did not answer that.

“You were weeping,” I said instead. “I saved you from your tears.”

“I hate you,” she repeated.

The child within her grew; freed of his attentions, she grew less pale, and gained a smile from him when she tended the bruises of the girl who took her place in his bed. “This respite will not last long,” she whispered, and it did not. He struck her before the birth began.

“You owe me the child,” I reminded her.

“A straw promise.”

“Nevertheless.”

“He will kill me, if you take him.”

The servants did not hear, nor did he, but I waited in the shadows, and wove her cries and screams and blood into my hands. I watched him take the child in his arms; saw her face grow tight in pain.

“Weak, like you,” the great king said. “Though her skin is touched with gold.”

When he placed the child into her cradle, I could see the bruises on the child’s arms. The great king frowned. “I shall have no whining brats,” he said, and bruised her mother’s arm.

“I hate you,” she whispered.

I traced the bruises on her skin with my shadowed hands, kneeling beside their golden bed.

No wonder, then, that I took the child. The only wonder: that for three days, she pretended to forget my name.


Mari Ness lives in central Florida, where she focuses on attempting to convince two adorable cats that her laptop, despite appearances, is not a cat bed. You can find more of her fiction and poetry in odd corners of the net, including Fantasy Magazine, Hub Fiction, Goblin Fruit, and more. She keeps a very disorganized blog at mariness.livejournal.com. She says:

“I’ve always been fascinated and repelled by the dark undercurrents that flash through fairy tales. What would happen, I wondered, in a marriage that began as unpromisingly as that in Rumplestiltskin – where the king does not marry the girl for her beauty, but because he believes she can spin gold, and the girl does not marry the king for love, but because her choice is marriage or death?”



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