(Based on the Cap O’Rushes Fairy Tale)© 2010-2012 Jodi Lee
A long time ago, longer than any one alive today, a little girl lived with her parents and two older sisters. She was as old as all the fingers on her right hand, and she thought that was very old indeed. Her name was Lily.
Every night, after they’d supped on rich stews and fresh bread, after stories had been told and just as the fire was dying on the hearth, the little girl’s father would ask each child how much they loved him.
“Rose, my eldest. How well do you love me?” he asked, drawing the girl into his embrace. With a peck on his cheek, she would reply “I love you as well as you wish, Father.”
Satisfied, he would give her a tiny sweet and send her on her way to bed. Then he would turn his eyes on his middle child. “Daisy, my dearest. How well do you love me?” he repeated. Daisy, being a sullen and morose child, refused his embrace. “As well as I must, Father.” Again he would be satisfied and offer his child a sweet. Daisy would snatch it up greedily, and trot off to bed without so much as a by-your-leave.
Finally, it was Little Lily’s turn. “Little Lily, my lovely. How well do you love me?”
Every other night, she told her father the same thing. Every night, it was “I love you, Father, more than anything else under the sun or below the dirt.” This night Lily had decided to tell her father something new.
“Father dearest, I love you more than meat needs salt.”
A hush fell over the room. Rose and Daisy stopped fighting over the bedclothes, their mother stood quiet and pale at the table. Finally, Lily’s father spoke. “What did you say?”
“I said I love you more than meat needs salt, Father.” Lily smiled at her father in her childish innocence, not realizing she’d made him very angry. Very angry, indeed.
“How can you say this to me? Do you not love the man who has fathered you, raised you, clothed and fed you these past five years?” Lily’s father stood and grabbed her by the shoulder. She cried out, now realizing she’d made him angry, but not knowing why. She struggled against his grasp, great sobs heaving from her chest.
“Get out of my house, you little monster, and don’t you ever step foot across this threshold again!” With that, Lily’s father pushed her through the door and slammed it shut behind her.
Poor Little Lily. She had to spend the night in the barn with the cows and sheep. She hid from her father in the morning, when he fed the animals. He didn’t leave any food for her, and her tiny tummy was so hungry! Lily tried eating the grain in the manger, but it was dry and tasted of dirt.
As dusk fell her mother came to check on her. She told Lily that she must run away as quickly and as far as she could, that her father was so angry he would never let her back into his house. She gave Lily a crust of bread and a bit of cheese and sent her on her way through the forest.
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young girl who lived deep in the forest not far from here. She had outgrown her old clothes long ago, and now wore breeches and a shift of woven rushes, with a jaunty cap to go with them. She’d long forgotten her name, but those that saw her in the forest called her ‘Cap O’Rushes.’ She was friend to many around, not just the animals and other creatures of the forest, but also the dairyman and his children, the shepherdess and her flock and the man who drove the coach to and from the big city miles away.
Everyone loved Cap O’Rushes, and she loved everyone right back.
One morning, she heard the sounds of hooves and coach-wheels on the dirt road, and rushed out to greet her friend the driver. This day, however, another man was driving a smaller coach. He pulled to a stop where Cap stood next to the road. She smiled and bowed, sweeping her cap from her head and letting loose all her blonde curls.
“Why, you’re a girl!” exclaimed the young man. Cap only smiled, as she as suddenly shy with the stranger. “Would you like to go for a ride, here with me?”
Cap thought for a moment before nodding, and clambered up beside him. She was very excited; she couldn’t remember a time she’d ever ridden in a coach before! They waved to the shepherdess, then to the coach driver as he passed them, heading in the other direction, and they waved to the dairy hands taking the cows in for milking. Quite some time later, Cap realized she didn’t know where she was. The young man had driven her straight out of her beloved forest!
“Where are you taking me?” she spoke in her tiny voice. “I don’t know where I am!”
“Don’t worry, young miss. I’m taking you home with me so you can meet my father, the king. I know he’ll find you as strange and wonderful as I do.”
Cap wasn’t sure she liked this idea, but she stayed and only moments later was in awe as they rounded a bend and a castle came into view. She didn’t even notice a child run up to the coach and speak to the driver.
“Good afternoon, my prince. Shall I run ahead and inform the cook you have brought a guest?” At the prince’s nod, the boy ran off. By the time the prince brought the coach through the gate to the steps of the castle proper, his father the king and his mother the queen were there, waiting to greet their son and his new friend.
Naturally, Cap O’Rushes won their hearts just as thoroughly and quickly as she had the prince’s. She agreed to stay with them and be a companion to the young princesses, as well as the prince, of course.
Several happy years passed. One day, the king declared the prince must be wed, and so they would have a magnificent ball, inviting everyone in the land to attend.
Everyone was happy except the maid who loved the prince with all her dark and evil heart. She knew the prince loved Cap O’Rushes, she knew he would choose the orphan stranger-turned-companion over a lowly maid. And so she plotted.
The night before the ball, the maid volunteered to take Cap O’Rushes a mug of hot tea. Into this tea she slipped the grindings of a dried toadstool from a fairy ring. In fact, the evil maid put enough into the tea to kill not only Cap, but two grown men besides!
Poor Cap, she drank the tea without ever noticing a thing.
In the morning, Cap’s body was found tucked into her bed, as though she’d simply fallen asleep. The queen herself washed and dressed Cap in her finest clothes, before having the house guards carry her body to the parlor to await a funeral.
Instead of canceling the ball, the royal family insisted on handing out mourning candles to all in attendance; at midnight they would be lit in honor of poor little Cap O’Rushes.
The ball was a splendid display of royalty and riches, and all who danced were treated to foods and drink the likes of which they’d never seen. Only the evil maid noticed that the prince sulked in a corner, far away from everyone else.
She grinned a very evil grin, indeed.
At a side table sat a sad old man with an even sadder wife. With them sat two frumpy and grumpy young women. The father thought they had come a long way to sit and be ignored by the prince. He was about to go and complain—complaining was his specialty—when quiet settled over the crowd of dancers, spreading to those sitting at the tables.
A young lady had entered the ballroom, one who wasn’t supposed to be there.
Cap O’Rushes walked past everyone, ignoring the mumblings and whispers—and gasps from one table in particular—and went straight to the prince. There she curtsied, and held out her hand. The prince rose, smiling for the first time that evening, and led her to dance.
After one dance, the prince bent to one knee to propose. The crowd applauded, but no one noticed that Cap did not speak or smile as she should have.
The prince declared they be married at once, and the priest stepped forward to perform the ceremony. More food was carried into the next room, and the ball became a wedding celebration.
To everyone’s consternation, Cap O’Rushes walked to each table and removed each salt cellar, smashing them upon the floor. As she approached the last tables, she began to walk as though she’d had too much drink, and a smell came from her like that of rotting meat. Pieces of her skin and chunks of her hair began falling to the floor, leaving blackened holes that bled pus and viscous fluids to cover her body.
When she stepped to the table where the old man, old woman and their two frumpy daughters sat, she howled. It was not an altogether human howl, it was something else entirely. She snarled at the man, grabbed him by his jowly cheeks and bit his nose off. When she’d swallowed that, ignoring his screams, she bit into his cheek and tore a good mouthful to chew.
When she spoke, her voice was deep and gravelly, not at all like it had once been.
This short story is one of many in my collection, Into a Long Ago Future.