LACKINGTON'S

speculative prose

The Ogre’s Brown-Eyed Daughter, by Barry King

ogre's daughter (1)

It was fashionable in those days to mock the traditions of the Court, so one princess shocked the Bani Sidhe by taking an Ogre as a lover, and bearing him a child. But it is also a tradition among the Bani Sidhe to change fashion on a whim, and so it came to be that the Ogre was no longer welcome in the princess’s bed, and so he stole the child and went into the desert where Ogres yet live, hiding behind the wavering vapours of mirage.

There, among cactus thorn and hissing snake, the Ogre whispered lies into her ear, bending the child’s warmest memory of the princess into a chill shadow, half-hidden at the misty edges of a cold dark chamber. The child’s Sidhe eyes, brown like chinquapins, the Ogre mocked, deeming them goat-turds beside the frozen sapphire shards of the eyes of Ogre-kind. “You are so full of shit it fills your eyes,” he sneered when she spoke, and when she did not, he taunted her until she spat curses, and he beat her gladly with his horny hands for that. This is the way Ogres are raised from children, to help them enjoy gnawing living flesh from man and beast without remorse, their hearts steeped in bitter bile until tanned and tough like old leather boots.

Meanwhile, in twilit Unseelie, the princess took a husband of the Bani Sidhe. He was a small faërie, folded into himself, with a precisely creased soul that was resentful of any joy that might seek to unfold it. Thanks to his prying nature, he soon learned of this daughter from courtly sharp-tongued gossip, and demanded to see this half-Ogre girl that tainted his wife’s past. For years she begged that he belay this request, but he refused to do so and begrudged her small kindnesses until she capitulated. So she sent a letter by falcon to the Ogre, who scratched with filthy nails at the tangles of his beard as he read it, thinking of a cunning plan to increase the hurt of the princess, for that is the way Ogres behave towards those they love.

Not daring to let daughter and mother meet, for fear his careful lies would be unravelled, he closed himself away in a grotto carpeted with castoff scorpion-skins, expectorating more lies until he had a sticky ball of them. From this he fashioned a new daughter and sent her to Unseelie. This girl made of lies arrived alone, glowing in the grey moonlight, at the silver gates. Pale-faced footmen clad in silver livery and aquamarine coats, long-limbed and tall of stature, escorted her immediately into the princess’s chambers and withdrew, the rattle of their twig-fingers echoing down the dark corridors and away.

“You are the daughter of my wife?” asked the husband, imperiously gazing down at her from above his shrivelled, hooked nose. “Which is to say you are the one who creeps into her thoughts when I would have her alone? The one who cleaves the chasm between us?”

But the girl made of lies was dumb, and her blue eyes, blank in the light, gazed up forlornly but without understanding, for the Ogre had not taken the trouble to put understanding of these things into her making.

“Wife, come here,” the husband demanded, “and look at this girl. Is she indeed your daughter?”

The princess swept into the room, wrapping her shawl of pearls and shells with a rattle about her shoulders as she took her place beside him. She paused then, for a moment, before raising her eyes and giving the girl made of lies an incandescent glare from under heavy darkened lashes. It was a glare that she had prepared beforehand, in hopes of steeling herself against the heart-blow that might wreck her composure at seeing her daughter at long last. But she realized the girl’s nature on sight, and stilled the surprise that was rising to her face.

Eyes flicking momentarily to her husband, she gave the rein to a grasping fear: for some years now, time’s rivulets had been creeping in at the edges of her face in the mirror, sapping her confidence, and she felt she could not hazard losing this husband; he might be her last. Thinking this and trying to force down the memory of wiry hair and rough hands pawing at her in the dark, she lied. Believing that this “daughter” was a thing that felt no hurt from words, she mocked the girl’s silence, saying, “Isn’t she an imbecile? Just like her father. Send her back to him, and let’s be rid of her.”

In what he hoped the princess would see as acquiescence (thereby earning him credit in the unspoken ledger between them), the husband relaxed the tight moue of his mouth enough to smile. He bowed deeply in a gesture of resignation and ushered the girl from the room, herding her down the corridors, elbowing aside the footmen, pushing her out through the silver gates and away. To her departing back, he bade her never to be seen again under the shifting skies of Faërie.

So pleased was the Ogre when the girl returned that he chortled and confessed all to his daughter, proud of the deception he had wrought on the princess. He paraded the girl made of lies through noisome caverns, praising her great mendacity, her exquisite dissembling to the Ogre-kind gathered there. He did not notice when his real daughter slipped out into the world, her chinquapin eyes wincing in jealousy and rage.

The daughter wandered through the desert. The sun and moon danced dosado around the world as she drifted, growing ever more distraught as the desert stretched on beyond all reason. Famished and parched, she ate the toe-shaped cacti that grew on the ground and drank dew from leaves like donkey-ears. She followed strange lights that appeared before her, dancing in streaks of purple that stayed in front of her eyes, causing her to stumble. She fled from terrifying voices that called from the gaps under stones and out of the shadows of stunted trees. People with nondescript faces gave her unmemorable directions, pointed in skew lines, muttering advice too softly to be heard. Tunnels of grass pulled her forward in undertow, and the night swallowed her whole.

She awoke at the bottom of a mountain gully, shaded by jungle canopy. Following a trickle of water, she found a clearing filled with silent children, all of an age like hers, set in grid formation, facing a large black rectangle nailed to a tree. It was covered in incomprehensible scribbles, ladder-like formations of lines and circles. A middle-aged woman was writing on it while speaking in long sentences full of many nouns and few verbs, but every word nuanced with a hidden anger of her own. When her back was turned, the children would dice and gossip. She would whirl around, seething, but never once catch them in the act.

The Ogre’s daughter slumped into a chair, dizzy and wild-eyed from her journey. She turned from one child to another, introducing herself, telling them a little about herself. Her real self, not the false self with glass-shard eyes that the Ogre had lied into being. She spoke of joy, and laughter, and little songs about shaving cream and lobotomies and other things that made her happy. But the children did not heed her. They looked at her with the whites of their eyes and pretended she had not said anything. She began to believe she was not there at all and started to squirm in that way she did when the sadness in her stomach threatened to make her sick.

She turned in her chair and squeezed the back, waiting for the feeling to stop, when she caught another pair of chinquapin eyes looking directly at her. It was a boy her age and his eyes were doing the smiling for him. She laughed at that, and she repeated some of the things she had shared with the others. He listened mostly, and nodded where she expected a nod, and asked her where she came from. It all came out in a rush, so she didn’t have time to make sure it was dressed, its face properly cleaned before she let it out of her mouth, but he didn’t seem to mind.

There was a bell and everybody got up. He smiled at her as they all left and she waved back. He had disappeared from sight when a horny hand flew down from somewhere above and whisked her away.

Many weeks passed in a blur. Many times she found herself speaking to someone who was talking to the girl made of lies instead of her. She came to believe that she had never left the Ogre’s cave. Her mouth spoke, though, telling her of all the things she’d done, but she didn’t want to believe herself. She bit her fingers, trying to stop her mouth from speaking, trying to wake from the dream this might be. But it was to no avail. Every day her reasons became fewer and the lies drew closer, weaving and braiding among themselves into whole cloth. One day, they sealed her in.

Years went by, and the girl made of lies became two girls made of lies, and there was a boy made of lies. Soon there were many children made of lies around the Ogre’s cave. And that’s what allowed the Ogre’s daughter to escape in the end. She learned, looking at herself in the bathroom mirror, that lies grow like hair, some falling out and new ones coming in. She learned to grow her own lies that fit her better, made her more comfortable, warm in the winter and cool in the summer, but otherwise indistinguishable from the lies that made all her siblings. Eventually, the Ogre forgot that he ever had a daughter by the princess of the Bani Sidhe, and thought all his children were his creation alone.

Slipping out the door one night, she girded the lies around her like armour and made it far away from the Ogre’s desert to a land hidden by a mountain where he could not find her. Don’t ask where. It’s a secret. Yes, even still. There, she found a husband of her own, and they made a house together out of fine clay and cedarwood and filled it with dogs.

Not wanting to be a bad daughter, though, she would send postcards. The Ogre would not reply, but the children made of lies would, inventing cunning taunts, and their replies hurt her so badly she stopped sending the postcards. She also sent postcards to her mother in the court of the Bani Sidhe, but the replies were strange, superstitious, about court life and the shrivelled husband—never asking about her, which was just as hurtful as the postcards from the Ogre’s children. This letterbox stalemate continued for years, nothing ever changing except the who and how of the beastly things the Ogre or the princess did to those around them.

Nothing changed…until it did, and the daughter found herself holding a daughter of her own. But it was all wrong. She held her daughter with arms clad in lies; looked at her with eyes like blue mirrors; spoke cruel words she did not say. That’s when she realized it all had to change once and for all.

Remember, then, reader, that she was a daughter of the Bani Sidhe, with magic in her blood and a will of ice. Remember also that she was a daughter of Ogre-kind, with violence in her veins and a heart of fire. She remembered these things, too, and knew what to do.

At the top of the hill that hid the house of clay and cedar, she set her daughter down. She bade her daughter’s eyes capture what came next, so that they could bear witness one day to what had transpired that night. She turned toward the sun that set on the Ogre’s desert, shimmering as it was in mirage and shadow, and she reached deep into her throat to pluck out the small heart of her, the small, person-shaped part of her that was the girl that fled both Ogre and princess years ago. Still attached to this part was the first of her own lies, the first thread that she had fashioned for herself, in those years long ago when she desperately sought her freedom.

She gazed awhile at it, glistening like a spider hanging from its own silk in the ruddy light, then she spun it gently over her head with the part of her on the end, fluttering like a leaf in the wind. Around once, twice, again, each time paying out a little more thread, unravelling the cloak of lies like a sweater unravels. Whoosh! Five times, Whoosh! Thirty, Whoosh! A hundred, Whoosh! A thousand, Whoosh! Until the tip of her heart was swinging far out over the distant oceans, sweeping around the world with every swing, and gathering to herself, spider-like, all the threads from the Ogre, from the children made of lies, from the shrivel-hearted husband, from the princess of Unseelie, wrapping them close like a spider wraps a fly, hardening them with the heat from her flight, creasing them all into a single canopic jar—burnished copper in the glowing rays of sunset.

When all was gathered and sealed, it flew back towards her on the mountain, reeling in the thread like a spider returning to its web, inch by inch, foot by foot, mile by mile, until nothing was left but the canopic jar inhabited by the girl-that-fled. She sealed the mouth of the jar so that the girl would be hidden and all that had happened would be sealed away with her. Then she took both daughter and jar home.

The jar she put on a high shelf where she could always look up at her younger self, and remember, and know that, in silence, she remained vigilant for herself. The daughter she put in a crib, then a bed, then in her own room, watching her grow until she became a young woman just like the girl she had been herself. But her daughter’s brown Sidhe eyes were clear and bright and saw things the Ogre’s daughter had never been able to see. She knew then, for sure, that the magic had worked.

Sometimes, though—late at night—she would take down the jar and look inside at the girl-who-fled, see the small hands clamped over the mouth, the terrified gaze. She could see the fear for her daughter in those eyes—a fear that she feared to voice lest it all come out in a rush, face unwashed, and ruin the magic, set Ogre and princess free. Mornings after these times, she would seek out her daughter, try to warn her away from mistakes she had herself made, comfort her from hurts she had herself felt, protect her from people her daughter had never met. It was at these times that her own eyes would become bright and clear as her daughter’s, but the light in them was angry, uncompromising, and fiercely alone. Silence would fill the house of fine clay and cedar when this happened, and everyone therein would grow silent and lonely under its baleful influence.

One day, the chinquapin-eyed boy came to the door of the house of cedar and clay. She cautiously let him in, introduced her husband, and showed off her daughter with pride. They spoke for a long while of the many years in between, and as the fire died out, she showed him a spare bed in a spare bedroom and bade him sleep there for the night.

He did not. When all was silent save the snores of the others, the boy came out and crept into the room where the jar sat upon the shelf. He lifted it down and peered inside.

“I remember you,” he whispered.

She shrugged.

“You don’t remember me, then?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“I didn’t think so. But I remember you. That’s why I came. Do you understand?”

She shook her head, firmly, still covering her mouth with her hands.

He smiled, laughing with his eyes as he had before. He replaced the jar on the shelf. Then he lifted his rucksack and fished around in it. His hand came out, holding a canopic jar about the same size, of burnished copper, creased in the same tortured manner. This he put beside the other.

“Everyone needs a friend,” he said.

Nobody in the house that night heard the front door closing.

*

Issue 5 (Winter 2015)

Story copyright © 2015 by Barry King

Artwork copyright © 2015 by Richard Wagner

Before the internet, Barry King lived in Greece, Tunisia, Pakistan, Brunei, and the Philippines, then studied Philosophy and Technology in Athens, Georgia. During the internet, he worked for refugee organizations in Washington, D.C., introducing the new technology. After the internet, he works around the world again, remotely from his wife’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario, having converted to Canadianism in the process. His short stories and poetry can be found in such diverse venues as Unlikely Story, The Future Fire, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Crossed Genres, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and Ideomancer. The rest of his time is spent in the kitchen.

Richard Wagner (artwork) is a graphic designer and illustrator living in the United States. His academic schooling consists of a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with an emphasis in painting and drawing as well as training in graphic design and illustration. For nearly nineteen years he taught college-level graphic design and photo-illustration classes while also freelancing. He now works on his own and enjoys focusing solely on being a designer/illustrator.

 

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This entry was posted on February 12, 2015 by in Stories.
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