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The Storyteller Presents
The True Bride

Trolls come at the bottom of the list of people you'd want as friends. They can't even stand each other. The Troll in this story had a daughter and she left home straight off. In her place the Troll found an orphan, a young girl named Anya, to wait on him hand and foot. But this girl had more in store than to do for a Troll, oh yes; she had a destiny....
Now whatever the Troll asked of her, Anya did. She never stopped, dawn to dusk, would clean and dust, polish and scrub. She had neither father not mother and the Troll was the other, so she gave him her duty, cruel though he was. But one thing the Troll could not stand was virtue. He did not like charity or hope or kindness or generosity-any sort of virtue you can think of he was against. So for every delicious meal, darned shirt, gleaming floor, there would be a terrible price. A slap for the meal, a kick for the shirt, a spit for the floor. Yet woe betide Anya if these things were not done. I should have said said Trolls are always contradicting themselves. And the Troll like to contradict himself with a heavy stick he kept hung on the wall. It made a horrid sound as it flew through the air onto Anya's back. Blue, it contradicted on her back. Black and blue. The harder the poor child worked, the harder the tasks the Troll set for her.
The Troll was so ugly he would have no mirror. He could not stand her own smell. He moved like a huge rat, scurrying along, his tiny legs overbalanced by a head the size of a boulder. He had fat where there should have been muscle, muscle where there should have been fat, and bones in all the wrong places. He slept standing up and ate lying down. Hair grew from top to bottom and up his nose, and his teeth didn't fit in his mouth. His words came out in a jumble, his jumble came in out words. What he chewed he should have swallowed, what he swallowed he should he should have chewed, and his stomach had a hole in it. He was full of contradictions. He looked at Anya and found her too willing, too nice, too sugar and spice, too much what he wanted. So he resolved to ruin her.
One morning, he trotted in with a bundle of sacks and dumped them on the floor where Anya was speeping. "I'm off without," he announced, his head in the wrong direction. "Inside these sacks are being twenty pounds of feathers. Clean them and pack them before I come back," he instructed and disappeared. Anya rubbed her eyes and stared bleakly at the mound of sacks. Just as she untied the first of them, the Troll's huge head swung round the door. "And remember," he remembered, "I'm being alergic to feathers. A single one floating in the room upsets my nose a-quivering and a-quaking, a-rocking and a-rolling, a-shimmying and a-shaking. And I don't like it! So woe betide me if I be sneezed. Am I clarified?" And thus confused, he shot off again.
Alone with the sacks of feathers, Anya threw up her hands in despair. How could she, before the day ended, finished such a job, how could she? Soon he'd be back, the terrible Troll, soon his stick would contradict. She began to work. She plucked and cleaned and packed and packed, but still the feathers filled the room, still the feathers fought the sacks. After an hour, the room was full of the feathers floating, feathers everywhere. Brave though she was, and not a little stubborn, poor Anya's heart sank. Is there no one in the whole wide world, she thought, to take pity on me? The clock chimed and shook her from her misery. Sniffing up a tear, she went back to the swirling feathers.
Then she imagined that someone had called her name. And the voice she heard was rich and warm and hugged her, and spoke her name in a way that made the world seem different, for she had no father nor mother, and when people said "Anya" it was always barked, hissed, yelled, or shouted. This Anya was a nice sound, and she looked round to see where it had come from. Standing in front of her was a Lion. A great white Lion with a mane like snow. She gasped and fell back, terrified. The Lion pad-padded toward her until his head seemed to fill the room. But when he spoke again, his voice was so soothing that all Anya's fears ebbed away. "Don't be frightened," he told her. "I've come to help you." "Where have you come from?" she asked. And the Lion explained that he'd come from her thoughts. "Is there no one in the whole wide world to take pity on me, you thought. Well, there is." And with that he asked of her task and told her to sleep, sleep, and dream it done. Anya meant to say she couldn't sleep, meant to speak of the Troll's threat, the terrible stick, but before she knew it, she had lain down on the flagstones, her eyelids so heavy, her dreams racing up to meet her; before she knew it, her eyes were closed and she was in a deep slumber.
An hour later, the clock chimed and she woke, startled, full of anxiety. The first thing she saw was the Contradiction Stick, cold on the wall. She must work, she must get busy. But when she looked, when she noticed, when she took in the room...what a sight, what a wonder! For there before her were the sacks, neatly bound, the work done, not a single feather forgotten. "Oh thank you, Lion!" she cried. "Thank you!" but the Lion was gone, and in his place was the sound of scurrying she knew so well. The Troll was returning....
"I've recurred," he announced as his head appeared, then his body, then his legs. He licked his horrid lips and skipped over to the wall to collect his stick, relishing the swoosh and thwack. Only then did he see the stacks. "You've done it!" he gasped, his mouth dropping. "You've done it!" Anya nodded, hardly believing it herself. "I'm gast and flabbered," muttered the Troll. "I'm founded dumb!" He poked suspiciously at the sacks, untying one. As he did so, his nose began to quiver, his nostrils dancing. A tiny feather escaped from the sack. "Aaaaachoooo!" he sneezed, and a cloud of feathers flew up in his face. "Aaaaachoooo! Aaaaachoooo! Aaaaachoooo!"
The next morning, the Troll woke Anya before the birds began or the light had appeared. "Arise and wakey!" he growled, shaking her. "I'm having another job for you." And while Anya struggled to open her eyes, he set about locking a chain to her ankle, meantime licking the two teeth that protruded from his lower lip. He dragged the sleepy girl from the house, yanking the chain so that she could barely keep her balance, but must hop and jump behind him, the clasp biting into her flesh. "Come on, come on!" the Troll roared. "Haven't got all daylight," and he pulled her to a pond at the back of his garden.
"Observe this pond," said the Troll, observing it. "Deep, you'd say and you'd be right. Depth aplenty." He pulled out a ladle from his pocket and thrust it into her hand. "Drain it," he ordered, his little legs rocking under the weight of his head. "Drain it with this ladle." Anya looked at the ladle, then at the deep pond. "If I be returning back and forth and find a single drop of water, if I so much as gets my foots wet"-the Troll stabbed one of his three fingers at her menacingly-"then heaven help me!" With that, he tied Anya's chain to a tree and skipped off with a cruel giggle.
Alone, Anya bent to the pond and dipped in the ladle. As she retrieved it, the water poured through a hundred tiny holes...for the Troll have given her a sieve for the task. Impossible! Impossible! She tried and tried and cried and cried until her tears raised the level of the pond more quickly than the sieved ladle could reduce it. She slumped back on the bank in despair, rubbing her eyes with her fingers. When she opened them, she was face to face with the great white Lion. "Oh, Lion!" she cried. "My ladle is full of holes, my tears increase the water."
"You're tired, my little," whispered the Lion. "Lie down and sleep a while." Anya shook her head. "I dare not," she told him, "for my Lord the Troll will beat me with his terrible stick." But even as she spoke, she felt so drowsy, so heavy, so pillow and blanket, that she lay back in the grass and in a moment was asleep. And in her dream the Lion pad-padded to the pond and drank and drank and drank his fill until he had drunk it dry.
When she woke, Anya saw a hole where once there had been water and she could not believe it. "Oh, Lion!" she cried, but again he had disappeared. And in due course the Troll returned....
"How abstractly furiating!" he howled, staring at the pool. He was so bothered and bewildered that his toes ventured too near to the edge and carried him screaming into the mud. "Aaaaggghhh!" he screamed, and beat at the sludge with his fists. "Look at me," he moaned. "Now I'll have to wash all my bodything! Get me out! Get me out!" And Anya dragged him out and got a beating for her pains. Oh yes, the Troll's fall cost the poor girl dear. That night, she could not sleep for the colors on her back from the Contradiction Stick. All night she sobbed from its blacks and blues. And while she wept the wicked Troll raged. He raged and raged until by morning he had devised a new task. An impossible task. Back he dragged her to where the pond had been, mutttering darkly, yanking on the chain.
"Good," he said sourly. "Very good, very brilliant. You've dried the pond wetless. Oh yes, rather ingenious, don't know how." Anya said nothing, but held her breath in fear of what was to come. The Troll scowled at the mud. "Now," he said, baring his teeth, "you may build me a pelatial. With numersome rooms and fully decored. All the bits, all the pieces, by nightfall. Or else." And off he scurried leaving Anya chained to the tree with a palace to build by nightfall. She could hear his snigger and cackle for a mile down the lane.
Hours later, she'd moved a single rock a few inches. The strain of it. The pain of it. But still she struggled, refusing to give up. Light was failing into the red and gray streaks of evening when the Lion appeared. He watched the poor girl lift and drop, lift and drop her pile of stones. "You're tired, my little," came his sonorous tones. "Why not rest for a while?" Anya sighed. "Oh, Lion, I dare not, for my Lord the Troll will beat me until there is not a breath left in my body."
"Sh-h-h," murmured the Lion, his gentle mane shaking. "Sleep." And sleep she did, for his eyes lulled her, his presence soothed her, his voice rocked her gently into dreams.
She thought she was dreaming. The Troll had returned and was roaring at her. "How?" he was roaring. "How? How? How?" I must wake up, she thought. I must wake up. And she willed her eyes open to escape from the fearful rage. There he was, her Lord and Master, crouching over her, the bile spilling from him, his face a furious red, his teeth grinding. "How? How? How?" he was bellowing, shaking until her head ached. Anya began to apologize, tried to explain that she'd fallen asleep, could not have managed his impossible task, when suddenly she saw it: a palace behind them, a beautiful spires tearing the dark heavens, a perfect palace where before a pond had been. "How beautiful!" she cried. "How lovely!"
The Troll's nostrils twitched. "So," he began, the three thick fingers of each hand squeezing her arms, "it wasn't you who's done this?" Anya cowered. "No, sir." Triumph stretched the Troll's queer mouth into what passed for a smile. "Well, that's a contradiction," he smirked. "And when there is a contradiction we should fetch our friend. Is that not the case?" Anya was wretched. "I don't know," she whispered. "Probably." The Troll skipped and lurched, all excited. "Very probably. Certain, in fact."
The Troll dragged Anya by the chain toward the palace. The huge walls, the stained glass, the soaring spires loomed over them. "This is more like it for an important Troll," he announced, and danced across the drawbridge. Inside they found delights of all descriptions. Walls hung with tapestries, chandeliers of crystal, goblets of gold, and rooms of many colors. In a Great Hall, a fire blazed, and the long table groaned with plate upon plate of a fabulous feast. The Troll's eyes rolled in his head, his lips drooled, his feet jigged. "Good! Yum! Mmmmm! Lovely!" he cackled, skipping around the food, dipping in, nibble-nibble, slurp-slurp. "And what about the wine?" he asked, hitching Anya's chain to a ring in the wall and settling down to gorge himself. The glasses and jugs seemed empty. "I must have wine and sweet sherry," complained the Troll, happy to have something to be unhappy about. "Is there being celery for wine?" His eyes darted about and came upon a cupboard. "Go and be seeing," he ordered his servant. "Try that door."
Anya went toward the door, but the chain pulled her up short a few feet from her destination. The Troll, a whole chicken bulging out of his cheeks, the grease dribbling from the corners of his mouth, scurried over. "If you want someting doing," he spuddered, bits of chicken trailing behind him, "be doing it yourself." He reached the door, opened it, and peered into the dark. "Let me fetch you a light," offered Anya, hurrying to the table where the candles flickered. The Troll puffed up with conceit. "A Troll can see perfectly clarified!" he told her, and walked into the shadows. Anya heard a terrible cry, which dropped away from her, echoing into the bowels of the palace, as the Troll fell and fell and landed with a dreadful thump.
Anya, horrified, ran to the door, but again the chain held her back. Straining at the chain, looking frantically about her, she saw the Lion appear from nowhere. "Oh, Lion, quick, quick!" she cried. "My Lord the Troll is in terrible trouble." The Lion pad-padded toward her. "I know," he said, and with a single flick of his paw shattered the chains that held her. Anya ran to the table, fetched a candle, and took it to the door. Holding the flame to the dark, she looked down and down. "Poor Troll," she whispered sadly. "No father, nor mother and he was my other." The Lion's head rubbed against her. "Not poor, my little, but wicked and cruel. I made the palace. I also made the door. And, saying this, he blew against the door, which vanished, the wall closing up, leaving in its place a small portrait of the Troll.
And so Anya found herself mistress of the marvelous palace. Upstairs dresses, downstairs food, servants everywhere. What a transformation! One minute at the mercy of a wicked Troll, a Princess the next. At the end of a long corridor, she found a room lined in velvet, where beautiful gowns lay waiting for her. In the next chamber a hot bath drawn, rich with aromatic scents, and a sandalwood box with pearls for her throat, diamonds for her ears, gold for her fingers. Anya lay soaking away her past for hours and hours, and then dressed herself, pinning up her hair. When, later, she walked back down the corridor, passing a long gilt mirror, she blushed and curtsied, feeling sure she had met a Princess, until she realized the beauty before her was her own reflection. So she curtsied again, smiled, laughed, danced. For the first time in her life, she felt wonderful.
And thus it was that a new life began for Anya. The days blessed her, and the nights caressed her, the weeks sailed peacefully into months, and her beauty blossomed. And yet, beneath the silks and satins and sun and servants, something ached, something yearned, something pined in Anya's sweet heart. What Anya wanted was a Prince, or someone very like a Prince, to share her blessed life with. And when word spread of a lovely thing alone in a grand palace-well, they flocked to her, the suitors, in droves: Prince La-Di-Dah of here, Prince La-Di-Dah of there. But they were a little too much La, or a littl too much Di...or occasionally plain Dah! And a whole year went by until the loneliness welled up in her and Anya began each morning sighing at her window. She would have given everything-palace, jewels, peace, everything-for the rush of blood, the pounding heart, the song and the shudder that love beings.
Then, one day, as she listened to the larks, as she mooned upon the terrace, she saw a tall youth bending to the roses, tending to the soil. The sun touched his face and he whistled as he worked. All that morning Anya watched him, and the next day, and the next, until she was ready before he came, heart pounding, the blood rushing to her cheeks. One morning, he looked up and smiled. Little fish swam up and down her back. And suddenly she wanted flowers in her room, flowers at her table, flowers for her hair, which he brought to her, smiling the while. And gradually the smiles turned to words, the words turned to whispers, and the whispers turned to kisses. She had falled in love with the gardener. And why not? she told herself, full of song and shudder. She was a servant turned Princess. Why not a gardener turned Prince? Anya's heart did a little dance was all she knew. Each time she saw him, a little dance. And that was that. They talked and talked and talked. Marriage? Yes pleace. Children? Yes please. Happy ever after? Yes! "You are my True Bride," he told her, taking her in his arms. "Am I?" sighed Anya, kissing his cheek tenderly. "Than let no one else ever kiss your cheek." And her sweetheart touched the place where her lips had been and smiled. "Never," he vowed. "Never ever." For he loved her true and he loved her dear, and the future was surely roses and violets and daisies and definite.
Their wedding day beckoned. One morning, Anya's Beloved set off into the village. Appointments, he had, with the Tailor and the Barber and the Shoemaker. Spruced up, he would be, to marry his True Bride. She lefted him at the door, kissing his cheek, watching him go-his cheery wave, the sun following his steps-promising to count the minutes until he returned. And she did. She counted the minutes. She sat in her room, embroidering the silks and satins of her trousseau, and counted the minutes. Counted them into the hours when the lamps must be lit, counted them looking out from her balcony into the dark night, counted them straining to catch her Beloved returning, counted them in the creeping dawn as fear curdled her stomach, counted the minutes as they turned into days, as she sat at the table in her wedding dress, as the dust settled around her, as her heart broke, as the tears began to come....
"I am his True Bride!" Anya cried to herself. "I am his True Bride!" But only the walls heard her, cold to her touch. She stopped counting the minutes, and once again the tear became her constant companion. And she never wound the clocks or sewed her trousseau or sang. Until, one day, she brushed the dust from her hair and summoned her resolve. She wrapped a cloak around her to find her and stepped out into the world to find her sweetheart. She trudged to all points, through all weathers, but no luck, no sign, no clue. And so it was she found herself standing in the snow. And she knew she could go no further.
"Anya? Anya?" She imagined in her sorrow she heard her name. And again, "Anya?" But looking about her, the snow swirling, she could see nothing, no one. And then, as if the snow itself were fashioning his shape, the Lion appeared, white in the white, his huge mane shaking, pad-padded toward her. Anya had no words, simply hugged and hugged him, the tears falling. He set her back up on his back and leapt off, bounding through the snow, huge strides, impossible speeds, over cliff and cavern, crevasse and chasm, cave and canyon, helter-skelter to a strange land. A desert. And there, by a town, the Lion set her down. He must leave her, the Lion told her; she must finish the journey alone. Anya kissed his proud head and made ready to continue her search. Before he disappeared, the Lion dropped three small walnuts onto the sand. "Take them," he said in a rich roar. "Take them. Inside there are gifts. Use them wisely." As Anya knelt to retrieve them, he disappeared, his body pouring into the sand. "Thank you, dearest Lion," whispered Anya to the sand. "I won't call for you again. And I will find my Beloved."
It was an hour later, as she approached a crossroads, that she saw people for the first time. Riders were approaching and Anya thoght she would stop them to ask of her sweetheart, for why else had the Lion brought her to this strange place, unless to find him there? The riders neared, the sand billowing out under the horses. The first horse cantered up to the crossroads, and Anya stepped out to greet the rider. Looking down at her, his face blank, his eyes clouded over, was her Beloved....
"My Beloved!" cried Anya. "My darling!" The rider slowed his horse, tipped his hat, smiled politely, and rode on. "Wait!" she implored him. "Please wait!" But the horse continued without missing a stride. Before Anya could think what to do, the second rider was upon her. She turned. Her heart, in turmoil, missed one beat, then another. Her face was white. Her stomach churned. Fear seized her by the throat. For looking down at from the saddle, with eyes rolling, was her Lord the Troll!
Anya fell backward, swooning, dumbfounded. She put up her hands, expecting any moment the thwish and thwack of the terrible stick to rain down on her. Nothing happened. She opened her eyes and saw the figure continuing on its way as if nothing had happened. Her eyes strained in the haze of the shimmering sand. And then she noticed a pigtail, a diamond earring, a hint of silk at the neck, and the truth hit her. It wasn't the Troll, it wasn't his ghost come to haunt her, it was his daughter the Trollop! Twice as ugly, twice as foul, and there she was, riding off with Anya's Beloved. He'd forgotten her! He didn't recognize her! She'd walked the wide world to find him and he'd forgotten her! Anya sank back to the ground and wanted the sand to swallow her as it had swallowed the Lion. She lay there, weeping, while the sun beat down on her. Then, slowly, slowly, her resolve strengthened. "I am the a True Bride and he my Beloved!" she cried to the heavens. And without more ado she set off, determined.
On her way to the town, she met many folk, learned many things. One man told her that the Trollop, Queen of the sand, Mistress of the deserts, had traveled to the land of the Troll, her father. Another spoke how on the way she had met a handsome Prince and brought him back with her under the cast of a spell. Another told her they were betrothed. Each snippet tortured poor Anya, each clue tormented her. Her Beloved betrothed to another! Then, at the gates to the town, castle to the left, dungeons to the right, she met a woman.
"The Trollop's so greedy," whispered the woman, casting uneasy glances about her for fear of being heard. "Sees gold she wants it, silver she snatches it, diamonds, pearls, she'll be giving anything for jewels, covered she is in things precious, to hide what's underneath: a cruel heart, repugnant. She collects handsome men like ornaments. 'My Ornamen,' she calls them."
So instructed, Anya took a room for the night. A plan is what she needed, a plan to get back her man, and slowly, as she fell asleep, dizzy, spinning with the day's events, an idea came to her in a dream.
Next morning, she walked to the castle and stood under the Trollop's window. From her pocket, Anya took one of the Lion's gifts, cracking its shell against the wall. Sweet music-a lullaby harp-twinkled from it, and from one half of the walnut peeked a tiny piece of silk. Anya tugged on the silk, and inch by inch more material appeared, a continuous stream, unwinding and coiling on the ground around her. However she pulled, she could not reach the end of it, and after a while she was surrounded by silk, swathed in it brilliant finery.
It wasn't long before the music threaded into the room where the Trollop sat. She scurried over to her terrace and looked down to see Anya with her fabulous treasure. "Hoy!" she called greedily. "That's being rather prettiness. I need it." Next minute, she was outside gathering up the silk, wrapping it around her shoulders, hugging it to her, wanting it. Anya said nothing, but continued to draw the material from the walnut. "Is it being for peddle?" demanded the Trollop. "Is there a cost involved? I'm expecting it's a gift for your Queen, how kind and thank you." Anya smiled. "It's magic," she told the Trollop. "And therefore cannot be sold, only exchanged." And then she told her the bargain. She would give the Trollop the magic walnut in exchange for a night with the Prince. "With my Ornaman?" exclaimed the Trollop, "Rageous!" Rageous or not, those were Anya's terms. The Trollop swooned in the silk. "Desperation," she mumbled, kissing the swathes of cloth. "I am delirious of it." And within a minute the bargain was struck. "How generous I am being," she told Anya, snatching away the nut. "A night with my Ornaman. He's very sweetness, you know."
So it was that very evening the True Bride came to the castle to spend a night with her Beloved. "Alone," she told herself, heart racing. "Once alone, he'll know me." All atremble she entered his chamber, bathed in moonlight. Inside, asleep on his couch, was her darling. She rushed to him. At last! "My love!" she whispered gently, kneeling by him, "My love..." He did not stir. "Dearest," she sighed, taking his hand in hers. Nothing. The Prince slept and would not wake. "Please wake," she begged him. "It's me. Your True Bride." But no matter how she tried, no matter how she pleaded, his eyes stayed closed to her. No, the fact was he couldn't wake. A glass stood empty by his bed. In it, drunk nightly, was a sleeping herb, powerful, and would last till morning. And when morning came, the bargain kept, Anya could do nothing but leave, her loved one none the wiser for her vain vigil. What could she do, our Anya, what could she do but try again?
Later the same day, the Trollop was sunning herself on the tarrace, silk billowing, when she heard the sweet thread of Anya's music. In an instant, she was at the balcony squinting down to see Anya holding up one half of a walnut from which gold poured, impossibly, gold piece after gold piece, a small hill of gold already growing beneath her hand, and, accompanying the lullaby harp, she heard that marvelous tune which gold makes...chink, chink, chink, a fortune pouring onto the ground. The Trollop could not believe it. "Hey!" she yelled. "I can't believe it!" And once again a night with the Beloved was swapped for Anya's magic. Quick, quick, the Trollop wanted the bargain struck, for there across the way, in the narrow slits that were the windows of the dungeons, gold was reflected in greedy eyes, gold blinked back from the jail's back holes.
But that night the same story. Anya hurried into her darling's chamber only for him to stay sleeping. "Darling," whispered his True Bride, over and over, and "Beloved." To no avail. Morning arrived and the Prince slept on, the cup of herbs beside him, two of Anya's gifts wasted. What could she do but try a final time?
As for the Prince himself, his days were vague, his nights dreamless. Stop him and ask him his thoughts, what would they be? "Oh," he'd murmer vaguely, or "Well..." The Troll had rubbed away his past with her wicked spell. He hadn't heard his True Bride whispering the night through, weeping in the morning.
But the prisoners in the dungeon had listened, their eyes blinking in the black, their ears sharp. Yes, they'd heard the clink of gold, but also teh True Bride's lament. So the next day when the Prince was walking the ramparts, they called out to him. "How do you sleep at night," they cried, "with the beauty weeping at your side?" The Prince looked out at the sheer granite walls of the dungeons, the narrow slits crowded with faces. "'Beloved,' she calls you," they told him. "And she says she is your True Bride." The Prince scratched his head, his past denied him, his memory a cloud. "When do you hear these things?" he asked them. "All night. All night," they chorused. "Oh," murmured the Prince. "Well..." And he walked on bewildered.
But even as he walked, the Queen of all the sand, Mistress of all the deserts, was hovering on her terrace, ears twitching in readiness, eyes swiveling. Yes! There it was, the harp's sweet lullaby. And another a chandelier shivering in the wind. She rushed down the stairs, not bothering to look over the balcony, hurtled down, silk cascading, gold chinking, charged to the spot under her window where Anya stood with the third gift, a rain of diamonds and rubies, sapphires and emeralds pouring to the gound in a torrent. The Trollop was close to fainting with greed. "Oh! oh! oh!" she sighed, her little legs buckling beneath her, the jewels glittering in her gaze. "So meeable, so agreeable! I need them!" Her tiny anxous eyes darted about her. From the narrow slits of the dungeons she saw the jewels reflected. "Quick! Quick!" she urged Anya. "Gather up all my little babies. Eyes being everywhere...hurry!"
So the bargain was struck for the third time. Something for nothing, smirked the Trollop to herself, hanging diamonds from her ears, pinning them to her silks. And that night Anya arrived for her vigil, the final gift gave, her Beloved sleeping deeply. "Will you never wake?" she lamented, despairing at the sleeping Prince. She took his hand and wept as the precious minutes ticked away, her tears marking the seconds. "Don't cry." Anya dropped his hand in shock. Her darling had waked! "Don't cry," he murmured again, forcing himself from sleep. "Dearest," wept Anya. "My dearest." But the Prince did not recognize her. "Oh," he murmured vaguely. "Well..." Anya leaned over his cheek but he shrank away. "Not there," he said, unease clouding his eyes. "I promised, you see, not there."
"Me!" Anya told him. "Me! You promised me!" And with that she kissed him and the Trollop's spell over him fell away, and his head cleared, such a tender kiss, such love, such sweetness of cheek. "My True Bride," he whispered. "My True Bride!"
At that very moment in the vaults of the castle, where the Trollop sat counting the piles of gold, a strange thing happened. Very odd. The silks, an armada of them drapping the Trollop, faded and shriveled, dropping from her in tatters. The jewels, pinned everywhere, disintegrated into the sand, sand pouring from her ears, her neck, her wrists, her fingers. And the coins, barrels of gold, crumbled to dust before her. "Aarrggh!" howled the Trollop. "No! My goldies! My silknesses! My die-dies! Come back!" And she began to jump and skip and hop and stumble and buckle and foam and bellow like a bull. In she burst to the Beloved's chamber, her rage booming down the corridor. But too late-the couple had fled.
Oh, yes, too late! They've gone, they're away, the lovers, running, running, running home together. The Trollop, apoplectic with anger sent dogs, men, cannon, sent her whole army in their wake. "After them! Get them back! Whiz! Haste! Hurtle!" And the Trollop herself pursued them, hissing, spitting poison, cursing, cantering across the desert. Charged by bile, fueled by thunder, she closed on the fleeing couple, until she must surely catch them. Anya and her Beloved heard her galloping legs approaching, the baying of dogs, the gnashing of teeth nearer and nearer. "Gggrrrrrr!" roared the Trollop, planning their punishment, ripping them limb from limb in her mind. She was on them, her hot breath on their backs, shrieking in triumph when, suddenly, rising from the sand itself, the great white Lion appeared, growling, forcing her to a halt. On his back the couple clambered, hopeless. Yes, off he sped, bounding through the snow, impossible speeds, over the cliff and cavern, crevasse and chasm, cave and canyon, helter-skelter to the palace. Home!
"Thank you, Lion!" they cried, hugging him, locking the doors, catching their breath, thrilled, delighted, their adventure over. And they lit a fire and exchanged stories, how one was enchanted, the other despairing. And in between, hugs; and all the time, kisses; while the Lion tossed back his proud mane and padded away, leaving the lovers, but not before a final task, unseen. The lovers, for their part, barely noticed he had gone, they were so full of their past, their present, and their future. They were home, they were safe, they were sound, the care falling away from them. So it was that they quite forgot about the Trollop, who had not forgotten them. Even as they blew out their candles and prepared to sleep, she was well past cliff, well past cavern, long past crevasse, and hurdling the chasm...and getting nearer. By the time the True Bride and her Beloved were deep in dream, she had arrived, stealthy as a bat, at the doors to the palace, determined to exact a dreadful vengeance.
She scurried inside, sniffing them out, her nostrils twitching and heaving. There! her nose told her. There! behind the door. And, inching toward it sure enough, she heard their voices, heard their laughter, her evil smile spreading over the bulging teeth, her hands moist with excitement. With a road and a leap she charged at the door, leaping in...and fell.
And no sooner had she landed with a terrible thud than the hole closed up and the door disappeared. Unstairs the lovers slept on peacefully. And from that day lived peacefully. Babies came to bless them and the sun forever shone, and on their wall they hung a painting of the Lion, whom they both called the Thought Lion. And they explained to their children he could come alive in an instant if he wanted to, or if they needed him. But the children found it hard to believe.


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