Tree of Light and Glass

I watch myself in the gilded mirror as my blood hardens. It is an ache like sore muscles, like hard nausea, streaming slowly from my heart.

I cannot move, but only stare. My eyes remain the same for so long, tiny capillaries changing from pink to scarlet and then fading into a golden glow.

That is when I stop breathing. My lungs cannot move in the hard cage of blood and bone. Pain cracks sharp and fast over my skin – my skin splits like the bottom of a desert-dry riverbed. But there is no blood flow, only layers of flesh becoming hard glass and wood.

“Is it worth it?” the magician asks, slipping behind me so I can see his face in the mirror. He smiles over my shoulder.

#

Five nights ago Dominic Apollonius the Third slipped on the highly polished ballroom floor at St. Alphonse See’s birthday celebration. No doubt the moment of quick panic that he’d fall and smash his nose made my reaching out my hand to steady his elbow seem like a hand from heaven. The chandeliers sparkled in his pretty eyes as he gazed into my face. “Lady,” he bowed, sliding his hand into mine and raising it to his lips.

I shivered, despite humid air in the packed ballroom and my many layers of superfluous taffeta. In his eyes was a fever and it was directed all at me.

We danced, because one does not refuse Dominic Apollonius the Third, and I nodded and smiled and giggled as I had done all my life. His words flowed over me and his lips quirked with his standard charm. He is from a long line of Zephyrs, and dancing with him ought to make me light on my feet. His voice should sooth me, seduce me, tease at the hairs on the back of my neck. But they say my great-grandmother had Cassandric blood, so the subtle tricks of the air mages rarely affect me.

At the end of eight dances, and unheard of number, he guided me to the gardens and behind a statue of his patron god kissed my lips and told me he would speak to my father.

#

I wish to tell the magician yes, yes it is worth it to never wed a man I do not love, a man who gripped my arm so tightly it bruised all because I demurred from his advances.

But I cannot speak. My jaw is locked closed and I feel my tongue closing up my throat. The magician runs a long-fingered hand down my arm and raises it up so that I am reaching toward the skylight.

#

“Yes,” said the woman with a butterfly-heart and cold pink stones where her eyes should have been. “Yes, my lord can help you.”

“I have money.” Judging by the shabby office with its damp windowsills and cluttered shelves, I thought that would be enough. I stood with my arms pressed to my sides, clutching my purse and trying not to show her how distraught I was that the hem of my gown was picking up dust from the floor.

She smiled. I could see the beauty in her features, made terrible by her missing eyes. When she moved to lead me out of the office, her thin red gown shuffled around her legs like rags. I followed her up a winding stair, around and around, until my knees were weak and my curls stuck to my cheeks. She pushed open a heavy door wrapped in iron and averted her eyes from the bright light inside. “Sir,” she called. “There is commission come for you.”

The disembodied voice replied, “My thanks, Melea.”

The woman gestured for me to pass her, keeping her face turned away from the glory of the room as if it pained her. I thanked her quietly, and strode in. The last I saw as she shut the door was a long, wicked smile part over her sharp teeth.

#

I rise, of no volition of my own, onto my toes, stretching up and up toward the sunlight streaming liquid-soft through the stained glass of the skylight. As if the sun will save me. My bones shatter and I am trapped in myself, unable to scream or bend. Extra limbs break off and grow, my fingers multiply and the growing is fire that turns to light. I am taller now, too tall to see myself in the mirror. I sense the magician stepping back and craning to see what he has made.

#

His desk sat in the center of a room too large to logically fit into the tower. Along the walls were oddities I’d never imagined: men made of glass playing a game of chess, a life-sized clockwork horse, candles lit by purple flames, a waterfall dropping into nothing but smoke, ghostly-birds darting around the ceiling and singing with violin voices. And the ceiling itself! I craned my neck and for moments forgot my fears. A vast dome of stained-glass so delicately fixed it was like an oil painting depicted an ancient bucolic scene of magic. Each corner housed one of the elements: a Zephyr with his sylphs and rain and gusting winds, a Niobe with her bear, with earth parting for her footsteps, a Nymph in the center of a pond, skimming fishes around her fingers, and a Prometheus alive with flame. In the center of all was the blue sun symbol of a Zeus, who could call on all the magics.

And directly below it the magician known in the Upper Isle only as Titan leaned back in his chair and watched me.

I hugged my purse to my stomach, to the hard lines of steel sown into my corset.

For a famous magician, Titan was surprisingly slight and not at all frightening. His pale hair hung loose over shoulders clothed in a homely blue jacket. Although rumors claim he has lived here in the Green City for centuries, he looked barely older than me. As he waits, he toys with a small contraption of metal poles and copper wire. But his attention is on me.

Finally, I whispered, “I need your help.”

Swooping to his feet, Titan came to me. His jacket billowed slightly around his thighs and he stopped a mere foot away. Close, I realized his dark eyes were the green of old dead things, and tiny wrinkles crawled away from the corners. “What can I do for you?” His voice was low and soothing, like a lullaby.

He led me to a divan of spotted orange fur and gave me a glass of water collected from the waterfall. It tasted like moonlight.

And I told him that my father threatened to have me serving in the stables of a nunnery if I refused Dominic Apollonius the Third, that it was an honor and my duty, that my children would number among the finest Zephyrs in all the Isle. I told him that I needed something to make Dominic stop loving me. And I told him that I know he helped Margolee Ephera escape the Isle when her mother went mad. It is how I thought to come here.

“I cannot change love, Lady Daphne,” Titan said with a quiet shake of his head. “But I can remove you from his pleasure.”

“Thank you,” I gasped. “I have money, here.” I thrust my purse at him.

“I am a collector.” Titan glances around at the strange contraptions. The clockwork horse raised its head and tapped a silver hoof on the floor. When the magician looked back at me, he smiled. “Come here. I will make you uninteresting to him.”

I hesitated. “Will I be ugly?”

“No.” He walked across to an empty spot beside a full-sized gilded mirror, then held out his hand. A long, thin wand in black lacquer appeared there.

“What will you do to me?” My heart thumped in my chest. I stepped forward, my slippers whispering on the floor. Suddenly, I needed to know how he helped Margolee escape.

Titan spread his hands. “I will make you more perfect than he is.”

It surprised a laugh out of me. “You’ve met him, have you?”

“I have had that displeasure, indeed. Come.”

#
Standing before the mirror, I watched as he tapped his wand to the crown of my head, then drew it up and pointed toward the skylight. He whispered, “There is little in this world so perfect as the mountain laurel, you know.”

I did not know.

#

I do not see with eyes, but with every petal of the white flowers weighing down my twisting branches. I am a tree of light and glass, emerald leaves stretching for the sunlight. It warms me, and slowly, slowly, I spread out. My roots crack through the floor and spill below into the layers of stone and wood of the tower. A man touches my slender trunk. His fingers are cool and I sigh into them.

*This week our prompt comes from Anne Marie, and was Bernini’s statue of Apollo and Daphne.

83 thoughts on “Tree of Light and Glass

  1. *shudder*

    Wow.

    This is awesome. Just goes to show that you have to be really specific and ask questions when you deal with any artist. Or magician.

    *shudder* I can totally feel that transformation.

  2. Excellent. I decided to focus on the most gruesome aspect of the original myth… then the story itself didn’t turn out as darkly as I was expecting!

  3. Me, too! Clearly. I have, what? 4 stories here now?

    I promise Titan will water her every day. 😉

  4. I like how this starts off as your run of the mill fairy tale, transitions into an almost normal feeling errand and then sneaks up on you with casual horror. The sequencing really kept my attention as well. NICE

  5. Thanks. Sequencing sometimes feels like cheating, but sometimes it’s just the best way to tell something! 😉

    I love that you think an opening with gruesome transformation is run of them ill fairy tale. It’s why we’re friends.

  6. The transformation was quite gruesome….and not fair to say that part is run of the mill at all. I reall meant the dance ..the ball… the prince bit 🙂

  7. LOL. Well, given most of the Grimm stories, the transformation isn’t THAT out of the ordinary. 😀

  8. I love how you took the myth and brought it to life in a different setting. The last description of Daphne as a tree is breathtaking.

  9. Thank you. Retelling myths and faerie tales is one of my all time favorite things to do. Thanks for reading!

  10. Oh wow, I really love this one. Everything fits together so perfectly. I need to experiment with the brief scenes like this in my own writing.

  11. What I would love to be able to do and really admire about all these short stories, is the imagery presented, for example- the tree of light and glass, the collection of interesting things in the magician’s room,
    ‘I rise, of no volition of my own, onto my toes, stretching up and up toward the sunlight streaming liquid-soft through the stained glass of the skylight. As if the sun will save me. My bones shatter and I am trapped in myself, unable to scream or bend. Extra limbs break off and grow, my fingers multiply and the growing is fire that turns to light.’
    Just…inspiring. Seriously.

  12. Breathtakingly awesome. Did you see the whole story in your head before you started?

    Lesley

  13. Oh, wow, this was very claustrophobic, as that horrible change came… *shudder* I love mountain laurel, but…

  14. First and last paragraphs, exquisite. Must be the week for first and last bits. Its very busy in here this week. Hey everybody, some fans have been here since day one, and have never won anything. No pushing from the back I loved them first. I’m thinking that in my everbody loves raymond voice.

  15. It’s a fun way to write, and I have to admit it’s good for making stories shorter! Can build tension in interesting ways, too!

    Thanks!

  16. Thanks! And no. Not at all. This was my thought process:

    – What’s the most gruesome aspect of this myth?
    – Turning into a tree! That would hurt!
    – *writes opening paragraph*
    – uh…… I guess something else should happen.
    – Who would do this to a girl?
    – An awesome wizard!
    – Why would she want it?
    – well, duh, Apollo’s a punk…

    And so forth.

    I tend to write my shorts for MF with either only the beginning or only the ending when I first start. You know, the morning it’s due. It’s scary and I think of it as “power writing.”

  17. Oh, yes! It is claustrophobic! Cool. Thanks for pointing that out. I have claustrophobic tendencies myself, so maybe that informed it. I was mostly thinking about the pain and details of the transformation itself.

  18. Thanks! I sometimes think first and last are the most important parts. But of course, it’s really the path of the story that matters. The meat.

  19. In the original myth, Daphne doesn’t want the attention, either. She begs her father to help her, and HE is the one who changes her into the tree. So, alas, I wasn’t being original about that! 😉

  20. Shows how much I know! But that’s just one reason why I’m a fan of the Merry Fates, the priceless education 🙂

  21. WOW! And they all turn out so beautifully! I am in awe! But then again, I always knew you were an evil genius 😛

    Lesley

  22. That was great! I’ve always thought Daphne’s fate was rather horrific, whether I was meant to or not—then again, the Greeks and Romans had some pretty screwed up ideas about female virginity, and the father’s investment in it. I really like how you blend the ancient story with a setting that is more baroque, like the sculpture, and about which I’d love to read more. Thanks!

  23. I agree it’s totally horrific. Virginity = commodity = badness!

    And thanks. This is my favorite kind of story setting. It IS very baroque! Thanks for that!

  24. Tessa,

    Wow.

    I read Maggie’s and Brenna’s before this. I wasn’t sure what to expect, having read their’s first. I am so impressed with your writing and how simple yet intriguing it is.

    I especially loved this. I could really see-

    For a famous magician, Titan was surprisingly slight and not at all frightening. His pale hair hung loose over shoulders clothed in a homely blue jacket. Although rumors claim he has lived here in the Green City for centuries, he looked barely older than me. As he waits, he toys with a small contraption of metal poles and copper wire. But his attention is on me.

    Great work!

    – Rachel

  25. Thanks! I’m really glad you enjoyed it. I love prompt weeks, because it’s so interesting the different things we all do with the same story. And this week, in particular, highlights our individual styles quite a bit, I think.

    (part of me is shuddering at the tense problem in that paragraph! LOL. That’s why we have editors for real novels.)

  26. Yes. I agree. I saw A LOT of individuality in each piece of prose. I think you each have a unique style and a clear, distinct voice. I am not surprised you are all awesome writers. 🙂

    -Rachel

    (How did you get into writing?)

  27. Short blog comment answer: reading. Few things changed my life as much as reading amazing books when I was a kid and young adult, so when I was in graduate school, writing and trying to get an MA to change the world I realized I could do it best by writing stories for teens. Plus, I’d been writing stories since I was about 8, so… it was kind of meant to be. 😀

  28. This wrenched with aching slowness, like the hardening of her body into a tree. It’s disturbing, but I want to read it again (which I shall as soon as I post this). Then I will go back and find your other stories in this world. It’s so very present in the telling.

  29. Yup. This world is a great place to visit, but I don’t know if I’d wanna live there. 🙂

  30. This is such a rich and fulfilling world. When you are done playing with your Norse gods, I hope you return here and expand it out to the far reaches of a novel’s imagination. Thank you for creating art from art!

  31. LOL. Thanks. I might use this for a novel someday. Lots and LOTS of ideas. But at least there will be more short stories here. 😀

  32. oh wow. This was just…yeah. I was meant to be eslsewhere, doing other things but I got too immersed to stop. Beautifully crafted…

  33. by eslsewhere, I clearly mean elsewhere

    And thank you. I (worryingly) love being helped to procrastinate. Apart from when I am racing the words out onto a page…

  34. “That is when I stop breathing. My lungs cannot move in the hard cage of blood and bone.”

    Gah. Your sensory descriptions always get under my skin.

    Personally, I’d rather be serving in the stables of that nunnery.

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