When they brought him to me, he had the brass to lie – as though his pockets weren’t stuffed with the evidence of his perfidy.
“What’s this, then?” I asked, and plucked the diaphanous scrawl of a word from his waistcoat.
The word was Once, and its inevitable companions tumbled after it, a spill of filmy shadow. In a pique, I snatched the whole fabric from him and shook it out. The forest shimmered between us, picked out in black floss finer than hair on a field of candle smoke. From his coat pocket, I pulled an airy overlay as delicate as the frost flowers Winter paints upon the window panes. So. A tale of snow and wilderness – I remembered it well.
“You took these from my workroom,” I said. “I cannot have a thief beneath my roof.”
“You are no story maker, you red-haired witch.” He spat upon the floor. “Like a spider, you spin only nightmares. Murder-traps for the unwary.”
I stepped back from him in shock. Inside the alabaster corset of my skin, my eight legs gripped my ribs until they creaked.
“Nightmares?” I whispered.
The ladies of the court sighed and wept. He was handsome. His story could have been so different. I reached out and laid my hand against his chest. Where I touched him, his clothing fell to dust.
“You have a traitorous heart, sir,” I said. “Allow me to relieve you of it.”
I’m sorry you had to see him as he is now, but it often happens that adventuresome princes come to grief. I think I know why he chose to steal this particular story. Perhaps I’ll tell it to you, another night when you aren’t so upset.
The girls have prepared my bath. Come, help me wash the blood from my hair.