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once upon a time: a fairy tale.

once upon a time, there was a girl who believed in magic and the power of love. but she’d been raised in a tower. and while the tower was safe and warm, and the girl had been allowed to decorate it in all her favorite colors, with all of her favorite things, she was also never taught how to use magic and that love came with conditions. magic was in her, but if she cut her hair her father warned she’d never be accepted by others in the kingdom; and if she tried to sing too loud her mother warned her she’d never find a prince.

her father, a knight, would often go out and slay dragons for her whenever any showed up and scared her. and while he did that, the girl’s mother would make oolong tea sweetened with her own tears and the tears of their grandmothers. after the tea was drunk, the girl would lie in her big tower bed, soothed and safe on a mountain of soft pillows, while her father slayed dragons below and her mother read the tea leaves, weaving grand tales of a future that would fill the dreams of the girl when she finally gave in to sleep.

one day, the girl grew up and decided to set out because she wanted to make her own fortune. though she knew she had magic, she was still terribly afraid and besides she didn’t really know how to use it. but her parents had always told her she was a good girl who could do anything she wanted (as long as she never cut her hair or sang too loud), and so the girl had confidence. her father gave her his enchanted shield to protect her, and her mother tucked magical oolong leaves into her bags so she’d always know what to do next. feeling scared but certain, the girl set out on a long journey that would take her far, far away from her tower and all of its safety, all of her soft and warm pillows and the sounds of her father slaying dragons below and her mother’s lullabies as she brewed tea. the girl traveled many days and many nights until, finally, she found herself in the middle of a desert.

though she wasn’t sure, she went ahead and tried to build her own tower there. it wasn’t a very sturdy tower, because her parents had only showed her how to build a tower but had never actually let her do it herself. before long the sandstorms destroyed most of it, and the girl grew weary of fighting off the tarantulas, which were very large and outnumbered her and were beginning to overpower her shield. the girl knew she should probably stay in the desert, find a bigger shield and build a better house, but the desert wasn’t her home and the girl longed to feel safe, was weary and wished to be surrounded by safe colors and her soft pillows. she missed the sound her father the knight slaying the dragons below, and so she packed what little belongings she had left, brewed some oolong tea, and used its leaves to find her way back to her tower where her father was waiting with his sword to protect her. when she arrived, her mother already had a pot of fresh tea boiling.

life was happy then, for awhile. and occasionally the girl would cautiously leave the safety of the tower her parents had built to take strolls in the woods surrounding it. these strolls always started off happy and carefree, and the girl would meet different characters along the way to have adventures with – sometimes a fairy sprite, other times an elf, and once a very sneaky fox who taught her how to catch gingerbread men.

but other times, the girl would befriend something dark and forbidding. the problem with these friendships is the tower her mother and father had built, while it kept her safe and warm and loved, also kept her from recognizing the dark and shadowy natures of some of the things that lurked below, outside of it. one day, the girl met an ogre that looked like a prince and fell in love with it. just as she was beginning to build them a tower to live in, the prince removed his magic clothes and revealed his true nature. he tried to eat the girl, but she was able to escape and run back to her tower. she was bruised and scraped, but more than anything, her heart was broken. her mother soothed her with oolong tea, and her father searched desperately for the ogre so he could run his sword through it, but it was no use, the ogre had vanished. and it had left a dark scar of distrust on the girl’s heart.

the girl spent a lot of her time in her tower, alone, after that. she sometimes would try to weave the magic that was in her, but she’d lost her belief in it. she gave up trying to build her own tower. she would sit at her window, drinking tea, reading tales of handsome princes and the princesses they rescued, wishing a handsome prince would come for her, one who was like her father and would slay the dragons for her.

and then, one day, it happened: a handsome but poor prince wandered below the girl’s tower and heard her singing. it had been a strange day, and for some odd reason the girl had felt like putting away her books of dreams. instead, she’d taken out her magic and begun to weave a bit, and while she did she sang a song with words telling of her deepest longings.

the prince fell instantly in love with her, climbed the trellis rose bushes that spiraled the girl’s tower. by the time he reached the top, his hands were bloodied, his face scratched and torn from the bush’s thorns. the girl was afraid of him, and her father and mother disapproved; this was not exactly the type of prince they’d always dreamed of for her. but the girl was growing restless of her tower, and the prince – though scratched and torn – knew how to build a very strong tower, and promised to teach her all of his magic.

so the girl told her father and mother good-bye, jumped on the prince’s horse, and they rode off into the woods where the prince built the girl a beautiful tower. true to his word, he taught her his magic and kept her safe inside his tower. but the girl was clumsy with magic, and the prince grew disenchanted with her. the girl, afraid, and taught that love never came without conditions, frantically tried to fix herself. the prince liked her hair braided, and so she did that, even though her braids were always not quite good enough, with pieces escaping everywhere. the prince didn’t like the taste of tears in his tea, and so the girl switched to false laughter which did please the prince, though he often complained of stomach aches all night.

the girl worked harder than she ever had. she quickly forgot her own magic and relied exclusively on the prince’s. she was safe in his tower, and while she didn’t like keeping her hair in braids and hated the taste of false laughter in her tea, she continued on. she loved her prince, and he loved her, and that was all that mattered.

one day, the girl’s father went on a hunting trip and never came back. a cursed bear had proven too strong for her father’s shield and sword and had taken his life. the knight was buried, and when they buried him the girl placed his sword and shield onto his chest so they could be buried with him, to always keep him safe since he could no longer protect her. she wept for weeks. her mother stopped making oolong tea and grew fearful and angry. she turned into a crone, and began making demands on the girl’s love that caused a lot of heartache for the girl and added to her weariness. the girl was lost and sad, even though she lived in a beautiful tower and was loved by a handsome prince.

eventually, the crone found another knight. but the girl’s tower was torn down, all her soft pillows scattered across the kingdom, and her magic and memories lost to the rubble forever. she was the prince’s now, and this would be her tower forever.

except…the girl wasn’t very happy with the prince, and she was restless in his tower because she could still occasionally feel her magic deep within her, though she’d never really understood how to use it and was certain it was lost to the rubble when her old tower had been torn down. and also, the colors of the prince’s tower weren’t like the ones in her old tower, and while the prince slayed all of the dragons that came along now and then, he would often return from battle angry with the girl that she kept making him fight the dragons, demanding she start fighting them, too. but the girl didn’t know how. she tried now and then, but her father was gone, her magic was lost, and she’d never really learned how to fight a dragon. and some of the dragons weren’t that fierce anyway, and it pained the girl to think of hurting other living things. the girl and the prince fought a lot about this, with the prince often demanding the girl learn to become a warrior. but in her heart, the girl knew wasn’t a warrior and was never meant to be a warrior. she was a dreamer, longing to find her lost magic, and she never wanted to fight dragons in the first place. but the prince was relentless until finally the girl grew angry and bold, packed up as many belongings as she could, and went out into the world to learn how to slay her own dragons.

she built her own tower but, like the one in the desert, it was flimsy and had a weak foundation. she slew dragons, but more often than not they wounded her with their claws, leaving her scarred and afraid. while living in her flimsy tower with the weak foundation, the girl met a handsome peddler selling silver and gold plates. she bought many of his wares, and invited him in for dinner to eat from his plates. she cooked him a stew laced with bits of love her mother had shown her how to make, and she brewed the peddler oolong tea, sweetening it with her tears and the tears of her grandmothers. the peddler ate her stew and drank her tea, and he made love to the girl. the girl felt safe in her tower then, and confident. the peddler told her lovely things about herself, and so the prince had been wrong after all: she was strong, she could build her own tower, and here was another good man who would slay the dragons for her.

but then. but then, the girl woke up. the peddler lay next to her, drunk on oolong tea laced with tears, and the girl went in to wash the silver and gold plates, to make breakfast for them. when she walked into her keeping room, she was horrified at what she saw: the plates had never been silver and gold; they had been metal the whole time, riddled with brown rust stains and black where fires had burnt them. the food the girl had made for the peddler was crawling with maggots, and as the girl covered her mouth to keep from vomiting and screaming, the peddler came up behind her and asked what was wrong. when the girl turned to tell him, she saw an ogre.

the girl screamed and ran out of her tower, away from the peddler-ogre, right into the arms of her prince. she was back in her old tower, and it was safe. she rebraided her hair, brewed oolong tea flavored with fake laughter, and began working to figure out how to weave the prince’s magic in just the way he liked it. the girl was no longer angry or resentful; she loved her prince and he loved her. her prince was relieved she was back in his tower, and the girl was relieved the tower was still there. and she was grateful for forgiveness. the prince taught the girl about forgiveness.

then, one day, the girl and the prince had a baby. the baby was magical and beautiful, and the girl fell deeply in love with her little princess. she vowed, each night, as the little princess lay sleeping in her arms, that she would teach her about magic and building towers, that they would learn to slay dragons together because the girl felt incredibly protective of her little princess and was willing to slay anything that would try to hurt her. the girl promised her sleeping princess that she would always protect her, and that they would make oolong tea together, and sweeten it with their tears and the tears of their grandmothers, no matter what the prince said.

life went along then, and the little princess grew. but the girl and the prince were deeply unhappy. the prince hated the tea with the tears, and each time the girl tried to slay a dragon, the prince criticized her techniques. the girl tried to teach the little princess about magic and building towers, but quickly realized how hard it was to do that…when you’ve lost your magic and were never taught how to build a strong tower.

and the prince made the girl feel ridiculous. the girl’s father was long dead, his shield buried with him. the crone was off with her new knight doing her crone things, and the girl was lost and afraid but also very very angry. she grew so angry with the prince that, one day, she began drawing blueprints for her own tower. the prince had taught her some things about building one, and she was determined. she worked hard at learning how to wield a sword to slay dragons, and she tried and tried until finally she was able to find threads of her old magic which she tucked into secret places in her heart. one day, while out shopping in the bazaar, she met another peddler who promised her many things and sold her beautiful goblets of clear crystal that sang when she drank from them.

the girl grew brave enough to begin building her own tower. she packed as many of the little princess’ toys and clothes as she could, and she left the prince’s tower and started to build one for herself and her princess. she took a shield she’d hammered, one that was flimsy but reminded her of her father’s, and she held on tight to the wispy threads of magic in her heart. and she packed her mother’s oolong tea, hoping she could find her way back if she got lost. getting lost was most frightening to the girl, because she wasn’t traveling by herself this time.

“But why, mommy?” the little princess would ask. the princess was sad about leaving her father’s tower, but she loved her mother and trusted her. the girl couldn’t answer the princess, because she didn’t know why, really. just that there were dragons to slay and it was time she learn to slay them herself, so her little princess wouldn’t be as dependent on others to slay them for her. and the girl knew there was a tower to build, and it was time to build it herself so her little princess would know how to build her own one day, and not want to run back to her old tower. the girl’s magic told her that if she could just slay her own dragons and build her own tower, she’d be okay. her father the knight was no longer there to help her, her mother the crone was off growing gardens, and the prince – though he loved her and she loved him – had never really liked the way she slew dragons or brewed tea, and the girl wanted her little princess to know it was okay not to have a prince if she couldn’t find one who loved her without conditions.

the girl built her tower, and it was much stronger than the others she had built. and the girl slew a couple of scary dragons along the way, and was so impressed with her skills. her shield was flimsy, but did the trick. and her magic was growing stronger.

but. yet.

the peddler was still with her, and though his goblets sang when she drank, the girl was feeling restless. the peddler wanted to live in her tower and the girl felt, for some strange reason, protective of it. finally, one day, the girl asked the peddler to leave. and when that happened, the peddler’s goblets shattered and he removed his mask and what stood before the girl was the biggest, most frightening ogre she’d ever seen. the ogre began swiping at her, trying to devour her, and the girl ran. she grabbed her little princess and she ran.

along the way, she met some fairies who offered her safe shelter when she was tired. but now the fairies looked like haggard witches to the girl, and she didn’t trust them. the girl met some spritely elves, who offered to feed her when she was hungry as she ran. but now the elves looked like hairy trolls to the girl, and she didn’t trust them. and the girl met a strange and curious fox, who offered to teach her some tricks to lose the troll forever. but he looked like a wolf to the girl, and though she was grateful for the fox’s kindness and stayed with him for awhile learned his tricks, the girl didn’t really trust him and she ran.

the girl finally lost the ogre-peddler, but she was weary and broken. her trust was destroyed, and her little princess was angry and missed the prince. and the girl missed the prince, too. she missed the safety of the tower, even the tea with fake laughter. the girl sat with her little princess in the rubble of what had once been a tower they’d begun building together, disgusted with peddlers, fearful of fairies and elves and strange and curious foxes, clinging to her flimsy shield and longing for her knight, wondering if she’d ever find her magic again.

and the girl is still sitting in the clover, today, kissing her little princess as she plays and feeling blessed that she is there. but the girl has lost her magic, her tears have dried up and she drinks it bitter now. she is terrified of ogres, and longs for what once was and could have been. because she still doesn’t know how to build a strong tower or slay dragons.

once upon a time there was girl who grew up in a tower that was built for her, watched dragons slayed for her, felt loved as long as she kept her hair braided and brewed tea the way others liked it. once upon a time there was a girl who tried to build her own towers and slay her own dragons but never learned how to protect herself from ogres. once upon a time there was a girl who brought a princess into the world and wanted to show her how to work magic, but lost it along the way.

once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to live and be free, but has learned that freedom comes with a price. once upon a time there was girl who thought she was willing to pay whatever freedom’s price was, but now she’s broken and tired and just wants to be in a safe, strong tower.

even if she doesn’t build it herself.

 

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