The Everwalker

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The EverwalkerOnce there was a girl named Florisse whose greatest dream was to find and marry her true love.  She dreamed by day and she dreamed by night.  She would pray to the gods of her ancestors.  She would wish upon falling stars.  And when she saw lovers hand in hand, she would ache with longing and burn with envy.  One morning when she woke, she found upon the floor of her chamber, a pair of fine slippers.  They were made of satin, the pale color of fresh butter and just as soft.  Her family was not poor, but nor were they so rich that they could acquire such fine slippers as a gift.  They were the kind of slippers that young women wore upon their wedding days.  The girl tried on the slippers and they fit her feet perfectly.  She found a note with the slippers.  The note proclaimed that the slippers would lead the wearer to wherever or whomever the wearer wished.  The girl was so swept up in her excitement that before her family woke, she washed and dressed in her best garments and cloak.  She slipped on the slippers.  She made her wish.  She gave the slippers her command.

“Take me to my true love.  Take me to my future husband.”

Florisse expected to walk to a nearby village or a few villages away at farthest.  Nobles and royals traveled far to wed.  But she was a commoner and she expected a common journey.  She felt a compulsion in her feet and began to walk, the slippers guiding her.  She walked and she walked.  Soon she grew hungry.  She was still on familiar roads and she tried to stop where she knew there was a stream, so she could rest, eat the bit of food she had packed, and have a drink before she continued.  But when she stopped, Florisse felt a burst of pain, like a flash of fire at the bottom of her feet.  She screamed and jumped away and began to run.  The pain disappeared at once.  And when she looked down at her feet, they were unharmed.  She tried to stop again.  Again, she felt the pain as if someone were burning her feet.  She realized that it was the enchantment on the slippers that had brought such pain.

She kept walking and tried to take the slippers off, but they would not come off.  She tried to walk back home to ask for help, but the slippers would not let her walk back the way she came.  She felt a different pain when she tried, as if she were stepping on needles.  Florisse began to panic and she wept, but she kept walking and though she was beginning to tire, she told herself that she must keep going, for soon, the slippers would bring her to her true love.  Then, she hoped, she would be able to take the slippers off, and her true love would lift her up and take her to rest.  She ate and drank as she walked.  And she walked and walked.

Nightfall approached, and she was afraid that the slippers would make her keep walking no matter the dangers.  She had passed through one village already.  She had visited a few times, but knew no one there.  The villages she was most familiar with were in the south.  She was traveling north.  She had tried to seek someone kindly so she could ask help.  But she felt wary of all.  In her fear most everyone seemed dangerous.  Soon it seemed she was heading out towards open fields.  But her luck changed as she passed a group of young women, near to her age.  They were all carrying baskets.  Fruit, perhaps, or herbs, or flowers.  Florisse called out to them.  She told them the truth that her slippers were enchanted and would not let her stop walking.  She asked them to help her though she did not know how they could.  Most kept walking, some making warding sigils against her, and she could not blame them, for she was indeed cursed.  But one of them, an older girl with long dark hair, broke away and started toward Florisse against the protests of her companions.  The dark-haired girl, her name was Lily, walked beside Florisse and told her she would try to help.  Lily called over a few of her friends and two reluctantly obeyed.  The three girls grasped Florisse and lifted her into the air.  Florisse winced for she expected the burning pain in her feet, even worse than the pain of being tired, but she felt no pain.

The other girls cried out.  They nearly dropped Florisse in their haste to let her down.  For a blink it felt heavenly to lay down, but then her feet began to burn, and she quickly rose and kept walking.  She understood what had happened.  The curse of her slippers had passed to the ones who had tried to help her.  Florisse held back tears and called back with her apologies.  But Lily was not satisfied.

“I won’t leave you to walk in the dark alone,” she said.

The young women had lanterns.  Lily asked her companions to run back and get them.  Then she asked for any who would join her to come along and accompany Florisse.  One other came with them and they walked together though Florisse admonished them again and again to turn back, for she did not know where she was walking to.  Lily told her that she seemed to be heading toward their sister village.  When day broke again, she or her companion could run ahead and find a healer or alchemist or the like to help Florisse.

But as the last rays of the sun vanished, Florisse felt a change in the slippers.  She found that she could stop.  The slippers would not leave her feet, but she could stop and rest.  The three girls found shelter in the crook of a hill and as it was still summer, they stayed warm enough.  The next morning, Florisse woke with a jolt as if her feet were aflame.  It was still dark, but she could see that the first rays of dawn had reached her, and so she knew another thing about the slippers.

Lily was as good as her word.  She sent her companion onward to the village and then they walked with Florisse long enough to see her to the village gates.  Florisse was sad to see them go.  She longed for some constant companion or friend to join her on the unknown path she traveled.  But now that she knew she could rest at night, she felt hope.  She began to plan.  She had brought some small amount of coin so that she could purchase food and lodging for a few nights.  But she would need more money.  And she would need maps so that she could slow or quicken her pace such that she could reach shelter at nightfall.  She also spent some coin to send a letter back to her family explaining her condition and whereabouts.  If her father came or even if he sent one of her brothers, she would have that companion she wished for, a protector who could go with her and help her to find a way to get the slippers off her feet.

The Everwalking SlippersThe old healer in the village walked and then rode alongside Florisse for a while, but he could not determine how to help her, for he had never encountered such a case before.  He gave her some food and medicine and a good warm cloak that Florisse found a bit heavy and bothersome to carry, though she took it out of politeness.  The next night, she found another village and arrived there after nightfall.  She could find no lodging but a corner in the kitchen, for the village was celebrating the Summer’s End Festival, which was much like her village’s Autumn’s Eve Festival.  She earned some coin washing dishes and helping the cook knead dough and peel potatoes.  She earned a few hours rest before she woke and began walking once more, leaving behind the village to their merriment.  Her maps helped her to keep safely off the roads where bandits, kidnappers, and other dangerous types preyed on travelers.  Her legs were sore and her feet had formed blisters, but she kept walking and hoping that she was near her journey’s end.  She would ask the slippers sometime if she was close, then mock herself for expecting an answer, and ask again.  She had brought the note with her.  The one that had come with the slippers.  She would stare at it often.  Glare at it often.  For whoever wrote that note had tricked her, cursed her.  And she had let them.  But the note too gave no clue or answer.

***

A fortnight later, she spent enough coin to stay in a proper room.  She took a proper bath, washing around the slippers and trying to ignore the blood that dripped out of them.  She soaked her feet in the water, slippers and all.  She bought a fine meal and she slept in a bed.  And though the wet slippers were still upon her feet, Florisse felt some true comfort for the first time in a fortnight.  She slept through the night and slept so deeply that when dawn came, she was still in the bed.  The slippers woke and they woke her with them.

Florisse had been dreaming of freedom from the slippers.  She had been dreaming of a handsome face and strong arms that would lift her up.  And the slippers would fall from her feet.  And her blisters would heal and her skin soften, and when her true love set her down, her bare feet would touch grass and earth and water.  He would live near a sea, where there was a beach.  She had read of such places.  The beach was filled with sand like the stuff in the hourglass that her father had.  It was all over the land and she would walk upon it with bare feet and wed her true love.  But in her dream, the sand grew warm and hot and she woke, for her feet burned.

She walked out of the inn with many regrets and thought she mustn’t spend such nights in comfort until her journey was ended.  She still wept from the pain of her blisters and the ache in her legs and bones and knees and even her back and shoulders.  She had been slender to begin with and now had lost even more weight.  And she was always hungry because she was always walking.

She walked another fortnight and tried a bit of thievery in the marketplaces, for she could not hunt.  Her slippers would not let her stop.  It was during this fortnight that she discovered another secret of the slippers.  She had looked down in anger at them one day, at the red and sore places on the tops of her feet where the once-fine slippers chafed her skin.  She had asked the slippers why they could not be a comfortable pair of sandals or walking boots.  To her surprise, as she walked, the slippers had changed.  The sole had thickened.  Leather grew over the tops of her feet and past her ankles.  The slippers turned into a pair of short walking boots.  But where the boots gave some comfort, they also added much weight.  Florisse spent the better part of the hour commanding the boots to change into different forms so that at last, they were as comfortable as they could be.  Made of the lightest and supplest leathers.  Her feet felt cooler and somewhat relieved for a while at least.

Such small victories gave Florisse some heart, but still she wept.  For she was alone, and she knew she had brought grief to her family.   Whenever she had the coin, she would send a message to tell them where she was and what had befallen her.  She had dreamed of her father and brothers riding up to her one day in a carriage with a sorcerer who could break the curse.  She tried to gauge how long it would take for her message to reach them and how long for them to reach her.  She would be walking for many more days, she feared.  But she held the hope in her heart that they would come.  She held the hope in her heart that she would find her true love.  And while she longed to find a friend, she was wary of all and if she found any who were kind, she feared what they would think or do when they discovered she was cursed.  And even if they were kind, she was reluctant to share the burden of her journey with anyone.

***

Florisse was walking upon the great road one day, a well-traveled and well-guarded road that was said to be safe even at night.  The great road led straight to the capital city by the sea.  Many travelers had offered her rides upon their carriages when they saw how weary she looked.  Florisse grew weary of refusing, for she longed to accept.  She considered traveling unseen through the forest.  She knew how to walk in the forest.  She had been stung and bitten and scratched, but had survived it all and learned from her ordeals.  She had learned to move quietly so that she could hide from bandit and soldier alike and still keep walking.  The warm cloak that a kindly old healer had given her was the color of wood and earth and likewise helped to keep her hidden when she wished to stayed hidden.  But it was slower moving through the forest.  And lonelier.

The Everwalker BootsShe knew now where her everwalking boots were taking her.  For the maps showed that she was traveling steadily toward the shores of the great ocean.  And if her true love lay beyond that ocean, she had but one fate.  Her journey would end before she reached him.  She would drown as the shoes compelled her forward into the ocean, or die if she could not bear the pain of standing still.  So she hoped that he lived in the kingdom by the ocean.  She wondered perhaps if he was a prince in the capital city, in the castle there.  That would be fine, she thought, for a prince could never marry a commoner.  The shoes would lead her to him.  Then, she hoped, they would stop, and she could remove them.  She would find a carriage that would take her back to her village and sleep and sleep all the way home.

“Here, share my carriage with me,” a voice said.

Florisse was roused from her reverie and glanced up to see a young man driving a small carriage hitched to a mare.

“I must walk,” she said.

The young man smiled.  “Why must you be so proud?”

“It is my penance,” she said.

“Penance for what?”

“For being a fool.”

“Ah, you are one of the faithful then, traveling to the capital to pray.”

Florisse thought of all the times she had prayed.  Prayed as a child prays, not worthy prayers as for peace or strength, but petty prayers, for dolls and flowers and at last, a handsome husband.  She thought she had been praying for love.  But it was not love she had wanted.  She laughed at herself.

But the young man thought she was laughing at him.  “Not one of the faithful then?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“My name is Corwin,” he said.  “I’m going to the capital to practice my trade.  To learn from the best cooks in the kingdom.  Why then are you going there, if not to pray?”

Florisse said nothing, for she knew not what to say.

“You needn’t trust me, miss.  I know a traveler’s path is full of brigands and worse.  I will jump off the seat and you can drive for a bit.”

He had called her a traveler.  In all her time walking, Florisse had not thought of herself as such.  She had only seen herself as a servant, a slave, to the shoes.  She had only ever seen herself as the prey who must hide during the day and during the night from all the dangers that abounded in the world.  She had seen horrors of disease and cruelty.  She had seen compassion and happiness.  She had been chased off for stealing fruit.  She had shared a loaf of bread earned honestly with a beggar child.  She had some household skills and clothes that were clean and fine enough for her to earn a place in a kitchen somewhere or sometimes even a place in a common room singing songs with a minstrel.  She had spoken with a lord and lady once.  She had earned the friendship of a stray dog, who followed her for many days until he vanished one morning and didn’t return.  She had learned how much to eat and drink so that she could wait till nightfall to use a chamber pot.  She had carved a walking staff from a fallen branch that she had slowed down long enough to grasp and dragged along until nightfall.  She had bought books of alchemy and sorcery and even children’s tales in the hopes of finding a way to break the curse upon her.  She had laughed with strangers.  She had wept alone.

And all along, she had traveled.

“You are kind to make such an offer, though I too have done nothing to earn your trust,” she said.  “But I truly cannot ride.  I must walk.”

“Ah, your penance.  Very well then.  Does your penance require silence?  I should very much like some conversation on my way.  I have come a long way and I leave behind many friends.”

“I would not mind.  Tell me about these many friends of yours.”

And so he did.  He spoke and he spoke.  He was accustomed to it, for he worked as a cook in a tavern and was always speaking to his fellow cooks, the dishwashers, the stable hands, serving men and women, and of course, the guests.  Florisse, before her travels, had always been somewhat shy.  During her travels, she had learned much about different kinds of folk, and how to judge bad from good.  She was not always right, but she liked Corwin, and judged him to be among the good folk she had met on her journey.

When he decided to stop and take his lunch, he invited her to join him, and she of course refused.  He bowed to her and fell back.  Florisse smiled, for she had passed many pleasant hours with the young cook.  She wished him well and continued on, quickening her pace so that she would reach the nearest town by nightfall.  She was passed by other travelers along the way and chatted briefly with some.  A boy riding with his father gave her an apple, and she gave him a book of stories.  But most of her journey was quiet, and her thoughts sobered.

“We meet again,” a familiar voice said a few hours later.

Florisse turned and saw that the young cook had caught up with her.  It was no surprise, for he rode a carriage and she walked.  She felt a twinge of wariness out of habit, but she was glad to see a familiar face.  Gladder than she imagined she would be.  Again they spoke.  Florisse had already given him her name, but this time, she spoke of her family and the far away village from whence she had come.  Corwin spoke of his journey and all the food that he had cooked.  He offered her some food from his stores, which she politely refused once.  But when he insisted he had plenty for himself, she accepted a few pieces of a cake he had baked.  It was sublime.  Even better than her mother’s sweet cakes.

Once more when afternoon become evening, Corwin stopped and had his dinner, while Florisse ate her own as she walked.  She had learned how to prepare foods that she could eat while walking, traveler’s food.  She had stuffed a few buns with meat and potatoes.  At times, she rolled a piece of flatbread around vegetables and rice and cheese.  She ate well, by her measure, once she learned how to eat while walking.

Once more before nightfall, the young cook caught up with Florisse, and accompanied her to the town, where he headed for a rich-looking inn.  Florisse warned him against using all of his coin before he reached the capital and learned that it was the first large town that he had come to.  The villages he was accustomed to only had but one tavern.  She guided him to a suitable inn, where they both stayed.  Florisse had enough coin not to need any more work, but she inquired anyway, out of habit.  A minstrel worked on the stage who wanted another lady singer to sing a harmony with her.  Florisse obliged and earned a little coin from the folk in the common room.  When the minstrel tired and left the stage, Florisse did too and joined Corwin near the fireplace.  Winter had come and the air and the earth grew colder each day.  She often feared the day there would be no town or village to shelter in during the night, but she just as often pushed such fears away for they did her no good.  That night she spent laughing with Corwin, toasting her hands by the fire, until the two were far too tired, and they went up to their separate rooms with fond good nights.

***

Florisse did not oversleep anymore.  She woke before dawn and freshened.  With a fond look toward Corwin’s room and some heaviness of heart, she walked downstairs.  As she passed the stable, she heard a familiar voice call out.  Her heart skipped for she was still not accustomed to familiar voices as she once had been.

It was Corwin.  He was grooming his mare and he hailed her.  He asked if she might join him for breakfast, and it was with regret that she said she could not, for she knew dawn’s rays would soon alight upon the earth.  She knew she would soon feel the burning in her feet if she did not start walking.  Already they were tingling and felt too warm.  Corwin nodded to her then and bid her a good day.  He hoped to meet her again on the path to the capital city.

Florisse smiled and waved and turned away.  She began to walk and noted with a start that the town was quite bright, for dawn had arrived quite quickly.  She hoped she would see her friend again.  It was another hope that was added to all the hopes she still hoped.  All the hopes that had thus far failed to come true.

But this last one did.  For Corwin found her upon the road, and this time he teased her about what a fine breakfast she had missed at the inn.  He had spoken long with the cook before setting out.  It was almost lunch time when he caught up to her.  He tossed two boiled eggs toward her and insisted she try them.

“They are incomparable,” Corwin said.  “They must have been laid by enchanted chickens.”

At the thought of enchantment, Florisse’s smile faded a bit.  Corwin saw and he asked.  And though she now counted him as a friend, Florisse was loathe to tell him about her curse, for she was loathe to tell him about her foolishness.

They spoke of other things and spent the day together again.  And that night they reached a village.  They laughed like old friends beside another fire.  But the next morning, Florisse readied herself to leave and looking at the map, she saw that there would be no village she could reach in time for the next nightfall.  Even if she ran all day.  And she felt she could run by then, so hardened were her feet.  So strong were her legs.  She would try it, she decided.  She would try running.  There would be travelers out in the path, stopped for the night, with fires and food, protected by weapons and numbers.  But she could not know whom to trust.  She had built a fire at night once and heard noises in the woods.  She had hid and seen a group of brigands find her fire and her meat and enjoy it while she skulked away.  It had been the start of autumn then and the night had not been so cold, not with fur-lined boots and a warm cloak.  But no number of cloaks would keep her warm from the winter nights.

That morning, she did not see Corwin.  He had spoken of staying a few days in the village.  So she had not asked, as she had wanted to, if he would travel with her.

That day as she walked through a lightly falling snow, she felt the absence of her new friend.  They had spent only two days together, but she had remembered what it was like to have companionship.  She ran and ran with purpose and even with anger.  She wanted her journey done with.  She no longer wanted her true love, for who could be worthy of all she had suffered?  She wanted only to find him so that the boots, the everwalking shoes, the cursed slippers, would be satisfied.

***

She passed a few startled strangers on the road that day, but did not stop to greet any.  She was lost in her thoughts and heard only the pounding in her head.  She did not hear the drumming of hooves until they were close enough to overtake her.  She glanced back and saw a rider chasing her.  Her first instinct was to turn from the road into the woods, but there was something familiar about the rider and the horse.  She glanced back again.  And she heard a familiar voice call out.

She slowed and slowed until she was walking, and she let the rider catch up.

“What in the seven hells do you think you’re doing?” Corwin asked.

Florisse kept walking.  She caught her breath.  And this time, she answered.

She told him her whole story.  She told him of her foolish wish, her foolish prayers, and the slippers that mysteriously appeared one day.  She told him how far she had walked.

“It seems a lifetime ago, or someone else’s life,” she said.

“It’s not foolish to seek love, Florisse.”

“But that’s not what I was truly seeking, not when I first put these accursed things on.”

“All right, just because no one has been able to help you so far doesn’t mean all is lost.  I’ll stay with you and help you break this curse.  Or, if we can’t break it, I’ll stay with you until the spell is done, until you meet your love and the shoes let you be.”

“And if I must cross the ocean?”

“Then I’ll arrange for us to cross the ocean.  I’ll go on ahead, like that young woman who sent her friend to the healer for you.”

Florisse shook her head.  “How would you know which ship I should board?  If we go in the wrong direction, the shoes will have me walk right into the water.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.  Why would the shoes put you in danger?  What kind of a way to grant a wish is that?”  He spoke with passion and anger.  And Florisse was so touched, she began to weep.  Corwin took her weeping to be despair.  He dismounted and took his horse by the bit as he walked beside her.  He put a hand on her shoulder and it gave her such comfort that she composed herself.  “Take heart, Florisse.  We won’t abandon you.  Will we, Midnight?”  He turned to his mare and she neighed.

Smiling, Florisse wept again, but not as she had wept before.

***

So they traveled together.  For another three moons.  They walked during the day and slept at night.  Corwin hunted and cooked food when they camped.  But there was little need for that past their first month together, for they met many villages and towns the closer they traveled to the ocean.  The inns also became more and more costly.  One night, Florisse insisted they save their money by staying in the same room, for she trusted Corwin.  And before he made the jest, she knew that Corwin would say that he might not be able to trust her.  They told the innkeeper they were wed, which made Florisse look down at her boots with a grimace.  Though they had slept in each other’s arms for warmth out in the forest, Corwin insisted on sleeping on his bedroll on the floor, despite Florisse’s many protestations.  He at last pretended to admit that he could not abide by her wearing boots in a proper bed.  It was another jest.  But Florisse was reminded how good and noble a man he was, and how fierce a friend he was to her.  She had never loved a friend so well and before she lay down to sleep that night, she lay a kiss on his forehead and willed all the good spirits and every good god to watch over him always, even when she was gone.

Morning came and Florisse blinked and frowned at the brightness of the room.  The fire should have burned out long ago.  She raised herself in her bed and saw that the fire was indeed gone.  The bright light that filled the chamber was sunlight.  Florisse gasped and she swept herself out of the bed and onto the floor.  She stopped.  She sat down in the bed.  Her feet were not burning.  Yet day had come.  But her feet were not burning.  She glanced at Corwin, and she understood.

She lifted up her right leg and try to pull the boot off, but it wouldn’t come off.  She tried the left, but that one wouldn’t come off either.  She felt her heart hammering in her chest.  She was too excited.  She had to wake Corwin.  He would help her get the boots off.  Perhaps that was the rule.  She shook him awake, smiling at the way his hair had gotten mussed in the night.  There was a spider crawling on his sleeve and she swiped it away as he woke.

He opened his eyes, blinked at her, and smiled.

“It’s you,” she said, and she kissed him on the mouth and pulled away.  And she frowned for they both had night breath.  Then she began to laugh.

Corwin was startled and now wide-awake.  A bewildered smile started and then faded from his face as he looked around and saw that the bedchamber was bathed in sunlight.  He stood and reached down a hand to help her up.

“The curse is broken,” she said.  “You broke it, or rather we did, I suppose.”

He looked down at her feet.

“Help me get them off,” she said.

Corwin tried, but he too could not remove the boots.  Florisse was bothered, for she was determined to get the shoes off her feet and fling them into a fire.  But she was also overjoyed that she had found her true love, confused at her joy, for she had abandoned her vain dream.  She had at times unfairly blamed whoever this true love was for her troubles.  She had only wanted to meet him to be rid of the shoes.  But that was before she knew that her true love was her friend.

***

They freshened and readied the carriage.  Florisse sat at a table in the morning and marveled at her good fortune.  But she could not enjoy any freedom until the boots were off.  Corwin had borrowed a set of shears from the innkeeper.  He and Florisse went to the stable and she sat on a stool.

Her feet began to feel warm.  Corwin knelt before her peering at her boots.  He raised the shears.  Florisse gripped his shoulder.  He looked up at her.  Her feet began to burn.  Florisse rose from the stool and began to walk.  The burning vanished.

“Oh no,” Florisse said.

Corwin followed.  “What’s wrong?”

“I know why I couldn’t take the boots off.  The curse is not yet broken.”  She saw the pained look on his face and put a hand to his cheek.

“Corwin, you are my true love.  Of that I am certain.”  She thought back to her wish.  To the words she had spoken.  She knew now that there were many tricks to the enchanted shoes.

Take me to my true love.  Take me to my future husband.

Two commands.  She had given two commands, though she thought it was the same.  She thought he would be one and the same.  Her true love.  Her husband.  It should be so.  She told Corwin.

“Maybe I need to declare it,” Corwin said.  “My intentions.  I will wed you.  Or, I must ask you.  No, I must ask your father’s permission.”

Corwin might have been right, but Florisse knew the shoes better than he did.  They cared not for intention.  They only cared for truth.  Corwin was her true love.  But he was not her future husband.  She did not doubt that he would wed her if he could.  She could think of only one thing that would stop him.  Not a father’s disapproval.  Not a rival.  Death.

A shiver passed through her body.  There was one other thing that could stop him.

She could stop him.  She could not lie and say she was mistaken.  He would not believe her.  So she spoke the truth.  That she feared for his life.  That she wished for him to remain only her friend, for she could bear being alone, but if he died, she could not bear knowing that it was her doing.

He listened.  Then he kissed her on the cheek.  “Keep walking, darling.  I’ll be back for you.”  He dashed back toward the town and she called after him, but she could not follow.

She walked along for the better part of an hour, hoping he would not return, and then hoping he would just come to bring her the things she had left behind at the inn.  She only had her warm cloak.  But a light snow had begun to fall and it brought a chill breeze with it.  She walked faster just to warm herself.

Soon, she heard the sound of wagon wheels.  Feeling both dread and hope, she turned.  It was Corwin, and there were others with him.  A preacher sat beside him on the carriage.  Riding two horses was the innkeeper on one and the cook and his wife on the other.

They passed her and all dismounted.  The cook took the driver’s seat on the carriage and the preacher sat on the back facing her as the wagon rolled slowly forward.  The innkeeper, the cook’s wife, and Corwin walked beside Florisse and joined in step with her.

“I explained,” Corwin said, “in brief.  And these good people want to help us get wed.”

The cook’s wife startled Florisse by pulling Florisse’s cloak off and replacing it with a fine silken hood the color of a blushing rose.  She placed a wreath of red berries and branches on Florisse’s head and gave her a bough of wintergreen to hold.  For there were no flowers to be had in that kingdom during winter.

Corwin likewise was donning an ornate cloak that was somewhat too short for him.  He pulled from a pocket two bands of silver.  Florisse was taken aback.

“If you truly do not wish to wed me,” Corwin said, “say so now.  But do not refuse because you fear for my life more than you fear for you own.  And do not refuse because you think I only seek to break your curse.  I do, but only because I seek to live a long and adventurous life with you.”

Florisse looked down at the boots on her feet.  As she walked, she spoke.

“Do my bidding, shoes,” she said.  “Turn back into slippers.  Red slippers for the blood you have taken from me.”  And the shoes did her bidding.  They turned a deep and beautiful scarlet.

Corwin smiled and nodded to the preacher.

And they were wed.

Walking beside each other, Florisse and Corwin kissed, and it was far sweeter than their first kiss in many ways.

Then Florisse stopped and gasped.  She lifted up her dress for her feet were tingling.   She watched as the slippers on her feet faded from red to orange to yellow to the pale color of fresh butter.  And then to a sickly gray.  Both slippers tore from toe to heel.  Florisse kicked them off.  She looked down and gaped.  She had not seen her bare feet in half a year.  They were slightly mangled, crusted with a layer of hard skin.  They were beautiful.

She looked up at Corwin and beamed.

“You want to walk, don’t you?” Corwin asked.  She guessed he did not want to insult her pride.  But pride was for fools.

“No,” she said, still beaming.  “I want you to lift me up and put me on that carriage.  And I want you to sit beside me.”

“Oh!”  Corwin did just that, after she bent to pick up the remnants of the slippers.  She would burn them when they reached the next town.

“We have plenty of time to walk beside each other,” Florisse said to her true love, her husband.  “I hope.”  She propped her feet up again and gazed at them as they traveled onward.

Her feet had bled and blistered and hardened, and finally, strengthened.  And so had her heart.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel.

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