This is a revamp of one of my favorite fairy tales. Since it is fairly long for one post, I broke it into three parts. Click the links to read Part 1 and Part 2.

Inga finally came to the place she was looking for. It looked like an old hut. Most people believed it belonged to a fearsome witch. Inga smiled to herself, thinking of how effectively the rumor she herself put into place worked to keep nearly everyone away. Only the foolish or head-strong ventured anywhere near it and, one way or another, they always took a frightening tale back to their villages or estates. She came to the gate,  studied the ingenious construction for a moment, then reached to the side without the latch and touched a knob in the wood. It swung open quietly. Inga listened for clicking of the various traps set in the garden as they deactivated. When she heard the last one click, she walked the horse across the path and knocked on the door. A middle aged man with harsh, battle scarred features and bulging muscles to match crinkled his brow opened the door and stared at her.

“Who are you and how did you know about that gate?”

 Inga smiled weakly at her brother. “It’s me.”

 Arden’s face lost its hardness and twisted into the expression Inga knew meant he was trying not to cry. Few people ever saw it. She alone ever saw any tears actually fall, and that only once, when King Vort killed his wife. He looked at the burdened horse behind her. “And that’s…?”

 “Yes.”

Arden nodded and set his face sternly. Inga recognized the terrible anger that descended on him and felt glad that it was not directed at her. He motioned her inside then stepped behind her to lift Dresden easily off the horse and carry him into the house. He whistled for a servant and nodded toward the horse. The servant quickly scuttled about the job. Inga pitied any servant’s unlucky enough to live under her brother’s stewardship. He never beat or starved them, but the black moods that took him when he grew angry often led to heavily increased workloads for any servant fated to cross him.      

Inga followed her brother to one of two rooms in the hut. He barked for another servant to run for the doctor, then left Inga and her husband alone. Inga gently removed the blanket, now stained and stinking with urine. Less than a year ago she never handled or allowed such filthy persons or things in her presence , but now she threw the blanket in the fire herself and tenderly bathed Dresden, as much with her own tears as with the water from the pitcher on the table. He winced and groaned several times as she gently cleansed the myriad scars and many fresh wounds. She forced as many tears from her eyes as possible so that the doctor would not see them.

The doctor arrived within the hour. He stopped suddenly in the door and gaped when he saw the queen and his wounded king. Inga rose and inclined her head slightly in the best courtly manner she could manage after so long as a wretched swineherdess. The doctor snapped out of his shock and flew to the king’s side. He applied several balms, pressed dislocated joints into place, and bandaged open wounds. He finished by wrapping a bandage around the king’s head to cover his eye sockets.

When he finished, he turned to the queen. She raised her eyebrows in anxious question. The doctor sighed. “His Majesty will develop a fever soon, I think, from all these infections. With time, he may be able to walk with a crutch; his left leg is not so severely damaged as the right. He will not be able to write and simple tasks like feeding himself will be quite difficult at first. He will need constant care until he has recovered enough to do these simple things for himself.”

The queen nodded. “I will tend him myself until he awakes.”

“But your majesty needs to be treated as well! Let me fetch some servants. Surely Lord Arden-“

 “No, Doctor. You will have to do the best you can for me without taking me from my husband.”

The doctor sighed again, knowing better than to argue with his queen. “Well, your Majesty must bathe first, of course.” He held a handkerchief to his nose for emphasis. Inga wanted to laugh, but refrained. She needed to present some semblance of royalty, after all. The doctor continued, “and, of course, you must eat something. Do you have any open wounds?” Inga suddenly realized that she had several scratches and bruises, and worse, from her time as a swineherdess, as the doctor’s question reminded her of her own pain. She nodded.

The doctor left the room to fetch a proper bath for her. A little while later, her own faithful servant girls entered, followed by two of her brother’s servants carrying a tub and hot water. She sent them out while she bathed, wishing to shelter them from seeing the horrors of the Antonia for a little longer. The first bath was such a beautiful luxury that she called for a second one. When she felt clean from head to toe, she allowed the doctor to treat her wounds. He clucked and grumbled about the scrapes and bruises on her extremities. When she let her dress fall from her shoulders to show him the whip lashes across her back, he railed loudly, scolding Inga and cursing the wicked king in one breath, until her brother entered without waiting for her to get dressed. Inga kept her face turned away, embarrassed by her indecent state. Arden said nothing and the doctor fell into silence as well. Inga turned her head ever so slightly to glance at her brother’s face sidelong. He turned and left before her eyes fully met his, but she saw what she was looking for. The doctor slipped out quietly after him. Two servant women came in a moment later with the softest silk robes to dress the king and queen. Inga found it amusing to be consoling the women who used to grow exasperated with her own inconsolability.

Inga stayed beside her husband, gently pouring broth down his throat and wiping the sweat from his brow as the fever the doctor predicted developed. She allowed the servant girls to help with changing sheets and such, but otherwise provided all his care. About noon on the fourth day since arriving, her husband’s fever broke. He awoke screaming a few hours later.

The whole household came running as the king cursed and flailed with as much violence as his injuries allowed. Inga noticed with sly satisfaction that her brother did not come. The presence of so many people only seemed to aggravate their king, so the doctor and Inga shooed everyone out. The doctor kneeled as close just outside the range of the king’s clenched fists. “Your Majesty, it is only I, your own physician, here with your queen.” He spoke softly and soothingly, with the excellent bedside manner that earned him his royal position.

“No! No!” the king screeched, his voice reaching pitches that sent Inga’s head back to the pig sty and the terrible sound those filthy creatures made. Her eyes brimmed with tears. “You can’t have my wife! You don’t have my wife! You leave her alone! Leave me alone!”

The doctor tried again and again to calm his king, but Dresden only became agitated to the point of danger, do the doctor left, beckoning Inga to follow him. Inga did not bother to check her tears this time, though she refused to let the doctor hear her sob. Outside the door, the doctor shook his head. “He is truly broken, Your Majesty.” Inga strained to hear him above her husband’s screeching. “I don’t think-“

“No more doctor,” Inga cut him off indignantly. “Give me some time before you give your opinion.” The doctor bowed low and waited. “You may go,” Inga only just remembered to say before turning back to the room housing the sick man. She did not take the same cautions as the doctor. Her husband’s fists glanced off her several times. She laughed and cried at the irony that Dresden, who once out boxed most of his knights, now hit her with all his force without leaving a bruise, and his physician feared to approach him. She gently caught one hand in hers and began whispering a song, a sweet lullaby she composed herself for their little twins. Dresden used to stand beside her and sing along as she rocked their precious son and daughter. The song belonged to him alone now. It hurt the deepest part of her heart to sing it, but sing she did, until her husband found her voice among the nightmares that haunted him and his missing eyes wept tearlessly into her arms.

When Dresden calmed down enough to understand reasonable talk, Inga called for food and drink, then dismissed the servants immediately after they set the food down. She shoveled the food into his mouth. He ate ravenously, as she expected. She refused to feed him beyond a certain point, though, remembering how she vomited up everything only moments after clearing her plate the first time she tried to eat royal food since returning from Antonia. Dresden grumbled and even whined until he fell asleep about twenty minutes later.

The sun dawned brightly the next day, and the king woke with it, asking about the warmth he felt. Inga noticed he trembled violently as he asked, but kept his voice under control. She explained to him again that he now rested in the secret house and that the sun, not nearby hot-irons, warmed him. Inga sat quietly on the bed next to her husband while they waited for breakfast. She could call the servants in early, but decided not to. Dresden seemed content to lie quietly with an arm over her lap, occasionally asking whether he was dead and in Heaven. She felt guilty about it, but she was grateful he couldn’t see her anymore. He might not guess Heaven otherwise, she thought.

The doctor accompanied the servants into the room. Inga ignored the pained look on his face the last few days, but today she decided Dresden could do without her for a few minutes. She gently unwrapped her husband’s arm and helped sit him up. “I’m going to leave now, but only for a few minutes. My maids will feed you in my absence.”

Dresden pressed his lips together, his face strained, but he nodded his head and asked the servants what they brought him. Inga swept the doctor into the hall and shut the door behind her. “You haven’t wished to trouble me, doctor, but there is something you think I should know.”

The doctor nodded, his face contorted. He wrestled with his emotions, searching for the correct words, until Inga finally took pity on him. “My brother left the same hour I returned, did he not?”

The doctor’s eyes widened in surprise. “You ordered his deser… I mean, you ordered him to leave?”

Inga let the corner of her mouth twitch toward a smile. “No. I ordered nothing.”

The doctor panicked.  “You know he is a traitor, then?”

Inga laughed out loud this time. “My brother would suffer far worse than His Majesty has for my sake, Doctor. Do not worry.”

With that, she left the puzzled doctor standing in the hall and returned to her husband, wishing she felt as confident as she pretended to be. She counted the days since her brother’s departure. “One week,” he told her so many months ago when they whispered together in this very room,  “that’s all I’ll need once you and Dresden are safe.”

Trumpets sounded outside the hut the next morning. Inga and Dresden still lay in bed, quiet, but not asleep, while the rest of the household bustled about. Soon Inga heard the footsteps of many people running toward the door followed by cheers. Dresden sat up slowly. “What was that.”

Inga smiled broadly. “It is my present to you, my Lord, as my husband and king.” She helped the king to sit up the rest of the way.            

“The trumpets are joyous and I hear people cheering.”

“Yes, my Lord. Shall I fetch a servant to help you dress?”

The king’s brow wrinkled above his bandage. “My queen should not be reduced to fetching. Summon them, my Lady.”

Inga smiled to herself but obeyed quickly. It took the better part of an hour to bathe, dress, and groom his majesty and herself. Inga waved away their court clothes, insisting on their hunting attire for the sake of their healing wounds. When both king and queen were ready, a servant brought in a wheeled chair for His Majesty to sit upon. It looked very comfortable. As the king sighed contentedly into it, Inga made a mental note to thank the doctor for his thoughtfulness. Finally, the king raised one crippled, bandaged hand and commanded, “Take me to this gift my queen has secured for me.”

Outside, about fifty ragged soldiers stood at arms. Inga smiled at them, silently giving them permission to do the same. The trumpets sounded as the king emerged from the hut. He sat quietly and waited. Arden stepped out from among the men, carrying a head by its hair and dragging a bloody sack behind him. He knelt in front of the king, holding the head out to him. “Your Majesty, I present to you the head of your enemy, King Vort of Antonia, and the heads of his sons, nobles, and chief torturer, at the command of Her Majesty the Queen.”

The king reached one damaged hand forward. Inga’s brother held the head to it. The king felt the gift and nodded in approval. “And the kingdom? To whom does it fall?”

“To your Majesty.”

The king nodded in silent approval. A shout went up from the entire assembly. Inga sensed Dresden’s desire to be alone and announced for him, “Tomorrow we leave for the capital!” The soldiers whooped and celebrated. Inga signaled to the servants attending the king to take him back to his room. Tomorrow she would worry about being queen of two nations. She might even find the woman who shared her blanket and reward her with some noble position. But for the rest of today, she intended to be only one thing: a wife to her husband.

Alexander's Wife Presenting the Head of Spitamenes by Curtius, 1696

Alexander’s Wife Presenting the Head of Spitamenes by Curtius, 1696

           

                  

 

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