Aphelion Issue 268, Volume 25
December 2021
 
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Always Hungry

by Brad Ruxton




There were bars on her window. With her elbows on the rough stone sill, she stared out over the vista. The kingdom – her kingdom – covered many leagues and stretched to the foot of the far mountains untill the houses seemed like specs.

A painting of her father smiling beneath his crown adorned her wall. Darts stuck from both his eyes and his image was dotted with tiny holes. She could not bring herself to look at him.

Princess Petrosinella had incredibly long hair the colour of beaten gold. Her eyes were blue, her dress blood red. She groomed her hair, easing a whalebone comb through its soft length.

Her father (with the help of a sorceress) had trapped her in here then died. So, no one knew why she had been locked up in the first place. It was so cruel and stupid it was almost comical. Petrosinella had tried to learn magicks to help her escape but her tongue tangled the incantations rendering them just useless words.

The gurgling of her stomach filled the room.

Petrosinella covered her belly with both hands. Her tower had no latch, no conveyer or pulley system and so she was always hungry. And when she was hungry, she sang.

Her voice rung down from her high tower. It was clear as ice, haunting like the howl of wind through open doors. Peasants and laypeople stopped to look up then shuffled quickly away. Her voice tumbled over the thatch roof buildings and parsnip fields. It reached all the way to the church on Highbridge Lane. The pastor shuttered his window.

When Petrosinella was done her stomach gurgled with fierce hunger.

“Fair lady!” a voice echoed from below.

Petrosinella pressed her face against the bars and peered down. When she saw the gallant man, she licked her lips. He was dashing with tight green leggings and matching tunic. His boots were black, his horse a chestnut brown rearing beside him. He had a little trouble hitching the post to tie his beast as the creature tugged away. When his job was done, he called to her. “Pray tell fair lady, what be your name?”

“I am Princess Petrosinella.”

“I am not from these lands. Why is such a voice singing from so high a tower?”

“I am trapped. My father placed me here but passed on before he told me why. So now I wait for a sign that I may leave.”

The man might have smiled, he was too far away to tell. “Well fair lady,” he begun, “it just so happens I am your sign.”

Petrosinella grinned.

The man searched the foot of the tower. He actually scratched the top of his head and it made Petrosinella giggle. “Kind knight, this tower is bewitched. It has no entrance way, even crawling creatures fall from its surface.”

“Then how am I to reach you? How am I too see the origin of this melodious voice?”

“If I give you my hair you could use it to scale the tower. Though I warn you it is a dangerous journey, many men have fallen to their death trying to reach me.”

“Fair lady let down your hair!” the man said, his tone indicating he thought this was some jest.

Petrosinella uncoiled the entirety of her hair, careful to wrap it around two bars first (she had learned the hard way that it needed a hitch elsewise the weight of the man would pull her against the bars painfully). She rubbed her forehead at the memory.

The golden tangle slithered down the tower, easily a hundred feet long it stopped prettily before the man. “Fair lady … some spell has been cast upon you.”

“Yes,” Petrosinella said, “it is dangerous to come up here good Sir, I would not ask it, but my window may only be opened from the outside. An ingenious latch that is as cruel as it is effective. I beg of you Sir, please scale my tower and set me free.”

The man rubbed his chin as if deciding whether to attempt the climb.

“I would be forever in your favour and endeavour to repay you in any way imaginable.”

“Very well. Julien, I shall return,” he said bidding his horse goodbye. The man begun to climb. It took him a few attempts to get it right but once he had the trick (coil the hair around his foot to form a soft hold) he raced up to meet Petrosinella.

“Fair lady your hair smells like a fleshers shop. Part of the witchery no doubt!”

“I’ve been ever so lonely,” Petrosinella called out, ignoring his observation, “and ever so hungry.”

“For what reason do you believe your father placed you under this confinement without hope of egress?”

Petrosinella drew circles in the dust with the tip of a carving knife. “At our family manse all the kennelmaster’s dogs were vanishing. When a stable boy turned up flayed, Father blamed me, claimed I had been born on the eve of a thunderstorm and was an ill omen.”

The man could not respond, the effort it took to scale the tower was too taxing. After ten minutes a red face appeared at her window. He was comely, with an angular face and soft features doused with sweat. “Fair lady, you are the most radiant creature I have ever laid eyes on,” he said between gasps for breath.

“The latch is just there,” Petrosinella said and pointed, her other hand hidden behind her back.

The window was lifted, the man clambered inside. He dusted his green tunic and bowed low. “My lady, I am known in all three countries as Piper the Pretty of the Catskill Mountains. I am to be knighted one sennight from now by his excellency Sir Beauchamp of…” his voice trailed off to nothing as he scanned her tower room. The flush drained from his face.

“My lady … what are all these skeletons doing in your room?”

Petrosinella licked her lips.

“Why … all the bones have been picked clean…” The window bars slammed behind him.

The knife appeared from behind her back. “I am ever so hungry…”

THE END


2021 Brad Ruxton

Bio: "I am a twenty-seven-year-old Australian who recently graduated from university with a degree in English. I am easy-going and personable with a penchant for suspense, horror and bad endings of all kinds."

E-mail: Brad Ruxton

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