Anyways, here is the original story that will be featured on tomorrow's episode (number 75).
I hope you enjoy it!
Blessed Samhain! Happy Halloween!
Love and Lyte,
There once was a dead queen who ruled over a land without seasons. Town elders spoke of the dead queen in whispers, for she was a ruthless monarch whose past was shrouded in mystery. While rulers came and went, dying as men should, nobody could remember a time when the dead queen had not ruled over the stagnant lands. Kings feared her army of the half-dead, made up of men whose souls she had eaten. Some called her a witch, others said she was a wraith. The truth was unknown, however, as nobody who had met her was ever seen again.
Each year during the time of the gourd harvest, a demon messenger was sent forth from the stagnant lands of the dead queen. They wore cloaks made of rags and shadows sewn together by dark magic and the secrets of murdered men. Purposefully they rode on steeds that were gray or red or pitch black, with eyes that could turn a man to ash should he dare to stand in the way of the dead queen's emissary.
Tradition held that these messengers were to ride directly to the home of the most beautiful girl in each kingdom. It was both an honor and a horror to be chosen, for these girls were privileged to be known throughout the land for one day as having been the fairest of them all. Invariably, somewhere in a castle there was an unchosen princess who wasn't sure whether she should be offended.
When the gourds were ripe, the village elders of the town of Ozat were not surprised when a demon messenger showed up, his wild cloak flying. Nor were they astonished in the slightest when its fiery red horse strode through the town, directly to the blacksmith's door. Everyone knew that Rielle, the blacksmith's middle daughter, was incredibly beautiful, though there was a great sadness felt by those who witnessed the taking of such a humble, kindhearted girl.
The blacksmith, who had little desire to be turned to ash, put up no fight. The girl's two sisters hid in another room as the demon entered the house and turned over the summons to the dead queen’s court. The girl's mother, a very cunning woman named Brid, embraced her daughter for a final time and slipped an iron shoeing nail into Rielle’s hand.
“This nail has been blessed in holy fire. Should you ever need it, it will stop your enemies and remove any curse,” Brid whispered.
Rielle was not allowed to look back. She was not allowed to take any possessions. A strong, skeletal hand gripped her waist and lifted her onto the saddle. In one swift motion, the wicked being was behind her, whipping his blood red steed into a frenzy. With a frightening whinny, the horse sped off to the stagnant land of the dead queen.
Though the kingdom was several days’ journey, it seemed as if Rielle had been on the horse mere moments. In fact, the sun had barely moved in the sky since the time she was taken from her father’s home. The dread messenger slowed the horse when they arrived, just in time for the girl to notice the legendary orchards of the dead queen. Apples, gold and red and honey-pink as far as the girl could see, stretched out for acres on either side of the castle. The village elders, when they were brave enough to speak of this cursed land, had mentioned these groves. These apples were the only thing that could grow in the stagnant soil that saw neither the fertility of spring nor the rest of autumn. They were the food of the dead queen, and since they were the only produce they were also the food of the dead queen’s subjects. Elders told that the apples were neither the food of the living, nor the food of the dead, but that they kept the queen in a state of immortal half-life. A terrible fate, thought Rielle.
There were no gates for the blacksmith’s daughter to walk through, and the girl saw no guards of any kind. Inwardly, she thought this must be because nobody would dare challenge the dead queen in her own castle. The cloaked demon messenger led her down hallways that made no sense as they twisted in to one another. On more than one occasion, Rielle was certain that they were passing through a space that had once been a wall or crossing through the same path they had crossed a dozen times. Until, finally, they came to a stop in a room that surely had once been a wall covered in flags of long conquered kingdoms.
Rielle was no longer alone. In fact, she was the last to arrive, making up a complete set of tributes from each of the surrounding thirteen kingdoms. The girls were in various stages of distress, ranging from emphatic crying to one tall girl, who might have been royalty in her own kingdom, stood stock still with her jaw set. Each girl was more beautiful than the last, and the girl from the thirteenth kingdom was suddenly very shy and quite frightened. The tributes were accompanied closely by a demon messenger who stood behind her, presenting her to a throne that seemed to have only just appeared at the far side of the room. It was larger than any person might require and made of polished black glass. An obsidian throne.
From nowhere, a door materialized and the dead queen entered. She was tall and lean with dark brown hair adorned by black raven feathers and a circlet of iron and obsidian. Her skin looked as though she was terribly cold, but she moved gracefully enough. She wore fine, simple clothes, yet her cloak was a sight to behold. It was a patchwork cloak, sewn with real silver thread, with raven feathers and stones of jet and obsidian and black tourmaline attached throughout. The cloak was long and looked as though it might trail behind her forever in a river of black wool and silk and twill. She and her cloak were altogether a terrible and beautiful sight.
The queen spoke, “I am the ruler of this land, and because my kingdom is mightiest in all the realm, your people have sent you in tribute to pay homage to me. Set aside any thoughts of leaving, for you will spend your days here until you become soil for my apple groves.”
The girl from the second kingdom, the one who had been weeping so dramatically, fell to the floor as if in agony. She tore at her clothes and screamed between sobs. Seeming mildly vexed at having been interrupted, the queen turned to the girl and narrowed her dark eyes, mumbling inaudibly. The sobbing girl suddenly sat up straight, silent as midnight, mouth agape with a look of excruciation, and then fell over like a rag doll. The demon behind her moved forward slightly, and the queen made a relenting gesture. The demon messenger drew back his hood to reveal a hideous, twisted, rotting head with an incredibly large mouth full of teeth like daggers. Without hesitation, the thing knelt down and, to the sound of screams and gasps, ate the girl slowly, as though it were ingesting a rare delicacy.
The queen continued, “Your lives are over. You have no value. If you displease me, you will meet the same fate.”
With that, the dead queen turned back through the door she’d come. The remaining girls were led back through the twisting hallways to a long row of numbered doors that corresponded to their kingdoms. Rielle was led to the thirteenth door. Inside the room was a pile of rank straw and a bucket of water. The girl sobbed quietly, hoping that the dread messengers would not hear, and propped herself in a corner, not wishing to sleep in the foul smelling hay.
When the girl awoke, she found a basket next to the bucket that was labeled ‘Corviary’. It contained a key and a small apron. The door to her room opened and she could hear a voice beckoning her into the hallway. Grabbing the basket, she quickly obeyed. However, when she exited her room, she saw nobody.
“This way,” called the voice, that seemed to be halfway down the hall already.
Silent and obedient, Rielle walked swiftly in the direction of the voice. Her disembodied guide continued to direct her around corners and through doors until she came to a large ebony door with a silver plaque labeled ‘Corviary’. Using her key, she opened the door to find a room of perches filled with ravens.
“Clean room, feed the birds,” said the voice. Then, as soon as the instructions were given, the door slammed shut.
The girl worked very hard that day, raking and sweeping the floor with some rudimentary tools found in a small chest. She fed the ravens from a sack of grain. At the end of the day, when the sun’s light was not visible in the slightest, the door slammed open and her disembodied guide returned to take her back to her room.
This process was repeated every day. The girl awoke with a slam, was led to the Corviary, and tended to the queen’s ravens. When it was over, she was taken back to her room. In the morning and evening she would find what looked to be leftovers from a much grander feast. Chewed bread was sometimes accompanied by gnawed roast meat and wilted, soured vegetables. Every meal, though, was accompanied by a large apple from the queen’s orchard. It was polished and untouched, gleaming in what little light the girl had from a slit high up on the wall, far out of reach. The girl obediently ate what she was given, drinking water from her bucket, but made sure never to eat the apple.
Sometimes she would hear the other girls crying or attempting conversation. Occasionally a girl would go mad and begin kicking the door or screaming for help. This was invariably followed by the sound of a door swinging open and shrieks of pain as the girl met her fate in the jaws of one of the queen’s demon messengers.
Rielle, the blacksmith’s daughter, kept to herself. She never attempted to speak with the other girls, truly she rarely saw any of them. She diligently performed her duties in the Corviary, and inwardly hoped that her service might - beyond the scope of reason - be rewarded with freedom. Every now and then, if she were feeling particularly homesick, she would pull out the nail her mother had given her and stroke it in her hand. Sometimes she dreamt of using it to pick the lock on her door and run away, except that her door had no lock to pick.
After some time had passed, Rielle found herself enjoying the time she had in the Corviary. It was the only time she got to see another living thing. She would catch herself singing to the birds, softly, and force herself to stop. She made sure to pet them and show them some kind of affection, as she knew what it was like to be kept up in a cage.
One day the girl found herself talking to one of the ravens. She would tell it about how she missed her life at her father’s home and how much she wished to be free. She lamented, also, about the state of the Corviary, how the birds were doomed to remain in this tower and never fly of their own accord. The girl sighed to herself and turned to the small slit that allowed a breeze in from time to time. She could not tell how much time had passed since she came to the castle of the dead queen, as the seasons never changed and the light remained forever at a point of early evening. Suddenly, from behind her, the girl heard a voice.
“Squawk! For being so kind to me, I shall help you,” croaked the raven.
Rielle turned in shock to see that the bird was, indeed, looking directly at her.
“Did you just speak?” asked the girl.
“Of course, I did,” replied the raven. “I was once a beautiful princess, but the queen turned me into a raven because she wanted me to spy on her enemies.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that. Is there any way for me to help you?”
“Since you are surely the kindest of all the girls brought here, I will help you first. In order for my curse to be lifted, the dead queen must be commanded to give up her hold in this realm and slip forever into the land of the dead.”
“But how could that happen?”
“I will help you, but you must promise that once she is gone you will take me with you. I have been here so long, my family and loved ones are verily long dead.”
“Good. To command the queen, you’ll need three things. The first I will give you. It is one of my feathers. Ravens are creatures of both the land of the living and the land of the dead. To command the queen, you’ll need the magic of both worlds.”
“Thank you,” replied the girl as the raven plucked out 2 feathers and handed them over in her beak.
“The next item is the queen’s cloak. It is magic, and it acts as a holding place for all the souls she’s stolen over the years. Those souls allow her to remain in this world.”
“But however will I gain such an object?”
“The queen only wears the cloak when she is in front of the fully living. Otherwise, it is stored in a room not far from this Corviary. When the invisible servant comes to take you back tonight, turn left at the end of the first corridor instead of right. The first door you see will be the cloakroom. Be quick and fold the cloak up in your pocket. Since it is magic, it will be no problem at all to tuck it away unseen.”
“This sounds very dangerous. And, what is the third item?”
“The third item you’ll need is something the queen gives to you. You must eat of her apple grove. Do not throw away the apple you are given tonight. The dead queen will know her cloak has been taken, as she can sense any change or movement in its magic. She will come to your room to retrieve it and punish you.”
“Why would I dare such a thing?”
“Fear not, girl, for once she has entered your room, you must eat the apple while the cloak is around your shoulders and the feathers are in your hair. Then, once you have eaten of the queen’s fruit, you may command her to kneel before you. You will have fully power over her to do as you will.”
The girl thought this over and realized this would be her only way to escape. She thanked the raven and finished with her chores quickly, as she did not want to be punished prematurely. When the door swung open after the day was done, she followed the disembodied voice from her room, caressing the raven feathers she had hidden in her apron next to the nail her mother had given her.
At the end of the corridor, she turned left and followed the raven’s instructions. The first room held only a cloak stand, burdened by the weight of the bejeweled, black cloak. It looked heavy and cumbersome, but when Rielle picked it up it seemed to instantly become lighter and much smaller. In fact, when she began to fold it, the cloak became as small as a napkin that could easily be hidden inside her apron. Quickly and quietly, she returned to the hallway and hurried back to her room.
Back inside her bare room, she saw the customary leavings of a crust of bread, a chicken bone with barely any meat on it, and a bright red apple. Fearing she had only moments before the queen would be upon her, the girl took out the raven feathers and braided them into her hair. As she did so, she felt as though she could hear voices where there had been none before, almost out of earshot yet audible enough to recognize that they were female.
The girl then took the small black cloak from her apron and flicked it open with a flourish. Instantly, the cloak grew large enough to cover her. As she put the heavy, stone-laden cloak about her shoulders, she felt herself getting colder. She imagined that it must be the chill of the lost souls sewn into the cloak. Likewise, it seemed to her that the voices were getting clearer. They seemed to be chanting something, but she could not make out what it was.
Presently, she heard firm footsteps coming down the hallway. Though she could not explain it, she felt the presence of the dead queen. Despite the lifeless monarch getting ever closer, Rielle did not fear her. In fact, she realized that she would be free of this dead queen within moments.
What a silly creature, she thought. This dead queen leaving about her magical protection. I’m surprised nobody killed her sooner.
As the footsteps approached her door, the blacksmith’s daughter stood tall, apple in hand. The chill of the cloak felt oddly comforting, like when hot water and cold mix to find a place of balance. The cloak seemed to belong to the girl, and the voices became much clearer.
They were chanting: Hail our queen! Hail our queen! Hail our queen!
Rielle scoffed at the notion of the dead queen. Who was she anyway? Soon, the queen would be of no consequence and she would be on her way home. Then, the door opened, and a squawking voice could be heard.
“Yes, mistress,” said the raven. “This is the girl who stole your cloak.”
The blacksmith’s daughter stared in shock as the queen entered with the talking raven on her shoulder. The queen looked incredibly angry, and narrowed her eyes at Rielle. The girl felt a pain begin somewhere close to her heart, but she acted instinctually and ate a bite of the apple.
The dead queen stopped what she was doing. The raven cocked its head to the side as if to see how this would play out. And, Rielle chewed the bit of apple slowly. The apple had a dry, sandy quality to it. Gritty. However, the more the girl chewed, the more she found the taste to be pleasant. Suddenly, the girl realized she was not feeling the chill from the cloak, but rather from within her.
“Thank you,” came the papery voice of the dead queen.
The girl was puzzled, and she could hear the chanting voices loudly, as though they were right outside the door. HAIL OUR QUEEN! HAIL OUR QUEEN! HAIL OUR QUEEN!
The dead queen spoke again, “Long before my time, there was a queen who ruled this land. It was rich and fertile, and she was beloved by all. However, she was vain, and she wanted to remain young and beautiful forever. She consulted a witch who told her how to make a pact with a demon, a creature of the underworld. She was warned that immortality is a tricky thing, however, and it comes with a price. The queen did not live forever. Instead, her soul was bound into that cloak so that she might find another who was young and beautiful and steal their years. Just as the queen’s soul remains aloft between the worlds, so too does her kingdom stagnate. And so it has been for generations upon generations. Each year at the harvest, girls are sent from all around, but only the most beautiful is chosen.”
Rielle didn’t need to hear the rest of the story. She knew how this would end, and, somehow, she accepted it. The blacksmith’s daughter had worn the feathers of the trickster raven, wrapped herself up in the cloak of souls, and had eaten the food of half life. Though she had not known it, she was taking on the mantel of the dead queen. Her mind began to fill with sinister thoughts as the apple found its way to her stomach. There was only one thing needed to complete her transformation. Her fingers felt their way into her apron pocket and produced her mother’s iron nail. The nail that could stop her enemies and break any curse. The nail that could end her curse before it began and allow her to return to her family.
Weighing her options, Rielle looked at the raven and then into the dead eyes of the queen. The girl strode across the room and in one fell swoop, stabbed the queen in her half-dead heart. The dead queen looked shocked for a moment, but then smiled. Her skin regained its color, as the cursed soul of the original vain queen left her body and found its way up Rielle’s arm, down her back, up to her face, and, finally, into her heart. Whoever that girl had been, she now slumped over dead, allowed to fully embrace the arms of death.
Rielle, the new dead queen, was then accompanied by her demonic messengers to a balcony where she could overlook her kingdom. She smiled a wicked smile as she could finally see the legions of dead men awaiting her orders. The dead army of the dead queen.