Fairytale: The Gardener ~ Outside the Margins with Megan Derr

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I recently finished reading The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairytales and it’s only just been additional fodder for my fairytale-obsessed mind. There was one in particular stood out, called Goldenlocks, that I could not leave alone. And I was in the mood to post something fun and cute here, so I hope peeps enjoy:

Once upon a time a poor woodcutter sat in the forest consumed by despair. His wife had run off months ago and he had no money for food, for no one had use of a woodcutter anymore and would not pay him for what they felt they could do just as easily themselves.

It came to pass that a witch was passing through the woods and saw the woodcutter weeping. When the woodcutter agreed he would give anything to see his life improved, the witch bid him surrender the precious thing he did not know he owned but would encounter that evening. Baffled, but certain he could easily part with whatever it was, the woodcutter agreed.

The witch bid him dig at the base of an old tree and there he found the lost wealth of a long-dead ogre. He also gave to the woodcutter a ring that he would remember his promise. Thanking him, the woodcutter packed up all of the gold that he could carry and headed home.

Upon his arrival he found on his doorstep a basket in which was bundled a young babe, with a note from his wife that the child was his and she wanted nothing to do with it. The woodcutter’s happiness vanished as he realized that his newfound wealth had come at the cost of his child. On his finger, the gleaming gold ring felt like a red-hot iron band.

Heavy-hearted the woodcutter carried the child into the house then dragged his sack of gold inside and cast it into a dusty corner of the house. In the morning he returned to the woods where he’d met the witch and there begged to be given a little time with his son before they must be parted.

The witch told the woodcutter that come his son’s twenty-first year he would be the witch’s to claim. To ensure the woodcutter was unable ever to hide his son from the witch’s sight he marked the child with hair the color of gold, as fine and beautiful as the coins for which his father had unwittingly traded him. It could be neither cut nor colored, and all who saw it would remember it.

So the years passed, and father and son lived together happily for many years. But on the eve of his son’s twenty-first birthday, the woodcutter was finally forced to reveal the terrible bargain he had struck. He begged his son to flee for no good ever came to those who were stolen away by witches.

But the son refused for a bargain was a bargain, and so on the morning of his birthday he ventured into the woods and there found the witch waiting for him. Cackling, the witch took the young man to his home, seven hills and seven valleys from the woodcutter’s cottage. There he told the young man that he was the son of a witch, born under a witching moon, but also the son of a man with a good but weak heart, and so he would never use magic—but he was a source of power the witch could use.

There he put the boy to work slaving over the fire and the stove and the laundry, made him feed the pigs and the chickens and the goats. Taught him how to tend the garden, how to clean, how to cook suitable meals for the goblins that showed up from time to time to help the witch with one scheme or another. The witch also taught him how to feed and tend the fearsome dragon he kept chained in a cave behind his cottage, how to wield sword and shield. Finally the witch dragged the young man to the stable and there bid him feed the strong, handsome brown horse but give nothing to the thin white mare.

For three years the young man served the witch, tending the witches his home and unwillingly providing power and strength to all the witch’s spells. Each day was more miserable and frightening than the last, as he watched helplessly as the witch cursed and tricked and killed, took his goblins out to steal and slaughter, returning covered in blood and in need of more power from the poor woodcutter’s son.

One day, when the witch was exhausted from a long and difficult spell and had fallen into a deep sleep, the young man gave some leftover grains to the poor starving mare. She nuzzled him gratefully, and with the witch’s absence was able to whisper to him that she was a princess stolen away from her father long ago and imprisoned by the witch for the past seven years. She begged the young man to free her, and the woodcutter’s son happily agreed.

Taking up an old, neglected sadly lying forgotten in the back of the stable, he prepared the mare and quickly they fled, riding over seven hills and seven valleys until they at last reached the place where the princess’s father still mourned his beloved daughter. He tried to thank the young man for his deed, repay him in wealth and station, but the young man feared what might happen to everyone in the palace if he lingered with the princess and the witch found him there. In return for his help, the king gave him three tokens of gratitude: a charmed woolen cap that would hide his enchanted hair, a magic helmet that would protect him from all manner of threats, and a tincture that could only be used once but would cure any illness or ailment.

For seven weeks and seven days he traveled, constantly fearing the witch might finally catch up to him. His hair he bound and hid beneath an old wool cap, and though many regarded him strangely for it, he refused ever to remove it.

By and by he came to a beautiful palace where lived a lonely king and his three young daughters, the oldest just seven years old. When the young man went to the kitchens to beg for work the cook took him in. Though the young man knew little about cooking when it wasn’t for crude, malicious goblins, it took him only a few weeks to learn.

One night, he cooked a soup so fine he was summoned by the king. Though nervous, the young man obediently went to the hall of the king. But when the king bid him remove his cap, for it was rude to retain it inside and in front of royalty, the young man refuse. When the king asked him if something was wrong with his head, the young man agreed there was, and all the hall laughed and sneered and called him Louse.

After that he was banished to the gardens, there to unsnarl years of neglect at the hands of the lazy gardener he had replaced. But Louse bent diligently to his work, clearing away weeds and thorns and dead bits, and as the months passed he created a garden that bore all manner of fruit and vegetables, so grand in size and flavor that many came to stare at the beautiful garden, though they always whispered and laughed at the strange, quiet lad in his wool cap who tended the garden but rarely spoke.

Only the king had nothing but kindness and praise whenever he went to visit the gardens…
“Good afternoon,” King Westric called out.

Louse looked up, wiping sweat from his brow and setting aside his trowel. His stomach fluttered the way it always did when he saw Westric. He wasn’t what Louse had always pictured when he thoughts of kings. Not like Princess Miana’s father, who was huge, towering, always the center of attention and an unstoppable force.

Westric was small, shorter even than Louse’s average height. He had bright red hair prone to curling and tangling, and it was always in need of tidying, often carrying bits of papers or ink stains or crumbs left by his youngest daughter. If he grew facial hair Louse had never seen it, though he’d stared plenty at the countless freckles that covered his face—and likely all the rest of him, but Louse tried not to ever let his thoughts wander that far astray.

“Good afternoon, Your Majesty,” he greeted, bowing his head low since he was already kneeling.

“I’ve told you that’s not necessary,” Westric replied as he reached Louse and casual as he pleased, sat down in the grass.

No one else who visited ever left the paths that Westric had painstakingly shaped to grant full access to the gardens without getting in the way of all his plots. They preferred to stay as far away from dirt and Louse as they could get while still admiring his gardens. Some days it made him angry, but most of the time he was able to ignore it.

Because however malicious the rest of them could be Westric more than made up for it with sweet smiles and sincere gratitude, the way he would come by and visit for as long as he possibly could. Some days it was only a few minutes, usually it was an hour or so, and on the best and rarest days he’d stay until dark talking and talking, banishing the dreariness and loneliness of Louse’s days.

If he wished sometimes he could follow the king into the palace when he was done with his day and spend more time together in a private setting, if he wished sometimes they were not king and gardener but something infinitely closer…

Well, no one cared what he thought so long as the fruits and vegetables were provided and he caused no trouble. Wishful thinking wasn’t a crime.

Finished with the turnip plot, he put away his tools then walked deeper into the garden. Westric trailed behind him rambling on about an upcoming dinner. Louse smiled as he set to work picking apples—red, green, yellow and some that were many colors all at once—and when the king occasionally lapsed into silence Louse filled it with singing and old song his father had once sung to him.

But eventually one of the king’s clerks came looking for him to solve a problem, and Westric departed.

Louse sighed in the silence that fell once more over the garden, and when he tried again to fill with singing it did not have quite the same cheer as it had before.

He finished with the apples and hauled the basket to the kitchen, where a cook waited for him to set it down before lifting it up and skittering away. Like he hadn’t worked in the kitchen for months without any trouble. No one had cared about his hat or what might be under it until the nobles had decided it should be an issue for them to be delicately horrified and vastly amused with.

Returning to the garden he set to work picking vegetables—carrots, cucumbers, peas, peppers, and more. Plenty of food was brought in from the village each day but the king’s table was served only the food from the king’s garden. Pride curled through him, warmed him, and he smiled faintly as he finished his chores for the day.

When all the food had been delivered and the sun was nearly set he trudged all the way to the back of the garden where a little cottage sat. Cleaning himself off at the pump he then went inside and, alone and with the door locked and every window closed, he removed the cap from his head.

His golden locks spilled down his back to his waist, as bright and gleaming as a newly minted coin. Louse combed it out meticulously, then braided it and bound it atop his head. His cap he scrubbed clean in a bucket and hung by the fire to dry.

While his cap dried he ate dinner—bread and cheese from the kitchen, vegetables and fruit from the garden, a glass of wine from the cask he’d bought himself while in the village one day.

In the distance he could just hear the music that was playing as the nobles dined. Though he could not hear Westric’s voice, it was nice to pretend that he could. His beautiful laugh, the way it rose when he was excited and softened when he was unhappy. He could picture Westric’s eyes lighting up as he told a story, the way they sharpened when someone spoke unkindly. How soft and sweet they went whenever his daughters entered the room.

Sighing softly, Louse finished his wine and tidied up the dishes. He then checked on his cap, which had dried, and put it back on before going to bed. Listening to the faint strains of music from the palace, he closed his eyes and fell asleep dreaming of dancing with the king.

When he woke in the morning it was not to the usual tolling of the bells, but to the ruckus of the royal army putting on armor, readying horses and supplies, shouting and yelling. Dressing hastily Louse headed for the palace. “What’s wrong?” he asked the cook who stood nearby.

She clasped her hands to her chest. “A witch is coming, with an army of goblins and a dragon! A dragon!” She wailed the words over and over, until another cook came along and gently guided her away, scowling at Louse as though he was responsible for her distress.

Louse looked across the courtyard to where the king stood patiently waiting as his army assembled. He was as beautiful as ever, but it was a different, colder and sharp-edged beauty. He wore gleaming armor and his hair was for once tamed and pulled back. No crown rested on his head; instead he clutched a helmet in one hand and a sword in the other.

A witch with goblins and a dragon. Louse felt sick for he knew of only one witch that could command both goblins and dragon. Slipping away from the crowd he snuck into the army’s barracks and found a spare tunic and old, dingy armor that no one would miss. He buckled a sword at his hip, and took two daggers as well, then at last took up an old, battered shield that had long ago lost the beautiful crest once painted upon it. When he was dressed he returned to his cabin and exchanged the wool cap for the magic helmet that protected against all harm.

As the army marched off to the sound of people calling farewell and the king’s sweet, young daughters crying for their father, Louse slipped in at the end where he was easily missed or ignored by the other soldiers.

They came upon the witch, the very one who’d kept Louse as his servant for three long years, in a great field. The dragon breathed scorching flame and thick, terrible smoke, turning the battlefield into a hellish nightmare for the poor soldiers but leaving the dark, creeping goblins unaffected.

Unaffected by the dragon’s fire and smoke, Louse slipped into it and fought his way through the vicious, relentless goblins in search of the king.

When he reached the king it was to find he’d already passed out from the smoke. Standing in front of him Louse protected the king from all the goblins that tried to come and take him, stabbing and kicking and hitting them as he had so many nights when they’d gotten drunk and violent while they ate the meals he’d prepared.

By the time the goblins were all defeated Louse was exhausted and could barely stand. But there was still the dragon to stop and so Louse dragged the king to safety and went to see the dragon.

Removing his helmet, Louse approached the dragon and rested a hand on chest. “Gentle dragon I know you have no desire to do the witch’s bidding. I am sorry I did not free you before when I was equally enslaved.”

The dragon rumbled quietly but ceased to breathe its terrible smoke. “The witch comes. Take your sword and plunge it into my heart.”

Though it saddened Louse to have to do so terrible a thing he obediently took up his sword and thrust it into the dragon’s chest, piercing its heart.

He gasped as the dragon turned into a beautiful woman, as grand and fierce and mighty as the greatest knights. She took up Louse’s sword, leaned down to kiss his cheek, and said, “Thank you, my friend. I’ve waited long for this day to come. Tend to your king, and I will slay the witch, I’ve wanted to do so for a long, long time.”

Louse watched her run off, vanishing into the distant woods in pursuit of the escaping witch. He turned away and returned to Westric, who began to stir with a soft groan. Louse hastily shoved his helmet on his head, though there was nothing he could do about his golden hair.

Westric’s eyes opened and he stared in puzzlement, and then awe, at Louse. “Who are you?”

“Only one deeply devoted to you, Your Majesty,” Louse said. “Are you all right?”

“I feel a bit sick but that’s probably from the smoke.” Westric stared wide-eyed around the field, eyes filling with sadness as he saw the fallen soldiers. “Help me up, if you please. I must see to my people.”

Louse helped him to his feet, kept hold for just a moment too long to have a memory to savor, then stepped back. “Be well, Your Majesty.” He turned and fled, vanishing into the lingering smoke and chaos. He dragged himself all the way back to the palace though he was dizzy and sick and tired. Once there he returned to the barracks and discarded all that he’d borrow. Retrieving his cap he hastened to his cottage where he scrubbed himself clean and once more bound up his hair beneath his wool cap.

Despite his exhaustion he toiled away in the garden to see that the kitchen had everything it needed to make the finest of meals for the king and soldiers. When he finally was able to drag himself to bed, it was to the sounds of a victory celebration that led to more dreams of dancing with Westric.

In the morning, after he’d had breakfast, Louse headed for his berry patches and began to pick blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and more. But when he went to the deliver them to the kitchen for the bakers to turn into pies and tarts and other sweets, he found the kitchen in chaos and many of them crying. “What’s wrong?”

One of the scullery boys turned to him and said, “The king has fallen gravely ill and nothing the healers do have been able to save him. They are calling for help far and wide but fear he will be dead by sunrise.”

Louse returned to his cottage and from his trunk he pulled out the tincture that could cure any illness or ailment. Pulling off his cap and dressing in fine clothes once given to him by the princess, he slipped into the palace and found his way to the king’s chambers. “I can cure the king,” he declared.

The guards, overtaken by the beauty and certainty of the mysterious, gold-haired stranger, admitted him to the king’s chambers.

Louse looked upon the Westric, pale and fragile looking in his giant bed. The room was in shadow so as not to strain him, and he stared in puzzlement at Louse as he approached, eyes locked on his gleaming hair. “Who are you?”

“Only one deeply devoted to you, Your Majesty,” Louse said softly, and offered up the tonic, which shimmered like moonlight, encased in glass that sparkled like starlight.

When Westric had drunk it, Louse touched his finger’s to Westric’s face and whispered, “Be well, my king.” He slipped away, ignored when the king called after him, and quickly fled back to his cottage where he once more dressed in his plain clothes and woolen cap.

The next morning it was announced that the king was well and in better health than he’d ever been. Louse smiled as he worked in his garden, waiting impatiently for the hours to pass and reach the time when Westric would come to visit in the garden for a little while.

But as morning turned to afternoon to evening Westic did not come. Days passed and still he did not come.

On the seventh day, miserable and distracted, Louse slipped while trying to climb a pear tree. As he landed in a heap on the grass, his wool cap went flying, and his gold hair tumbled out all around him. Still as gold as a new coin, bright and gleaming in the sunshine.

Heart pounding, Louse snatched up the hat and shoved it back in place, anxiously shoving his hair back under it. Once his hair was safely hidden again, he picked up his dropped basket and climbed the pear tree again.

When he went to the kitchen to deliver the food for that evening’s banquet, Louse could hear music and revelry, louder and happier than ever he’d heard it, and when he asked the reason the cooks knew only that the king had a special announcement and seemed to act like a man in love.

Heartbroken, though he’d known the day would always come, Louse dragged himself back to his cottage and closed up the door and windows to muffle the sounds of revelry. He pulled the cap from his head and cried over his golden hair, wishing he could cut or burn it and no longer have to hide from the witch.

But even free of the witch he was only a gardener, unfit to love a king except from afar and in secret.

If all he could be was the king’s gardener then that was what he would be. Drying his eyes and resettling his cap, Louse returned to his garden to finish the chores he’d neglected.

He had only just started working, however, when a footman came rushing into the garden. “His Majesty requests your immediate presence in the banquet hall.”

“Why would the king was to see me?” Louse asked.

“It is not your place to question His Majesty, Louse! Make yourself presentable and come at once.”

Louse hurried to his cottage and cleaned up quickly, wiping dirt and grass from his cap. But he had no time to rebraid his hair, could only comb it and twist it up quickly beneath the cap. As ready as he could be, heart beating rapidly in his chest, he scurried after the footman into the palace to the hall.

The whole of the palace seemed to be gathered there, at least thrice as many as had been present when last he’d been there.

And on the royal dais, in front of his table, stood Westric. He was as beautiful and breathtaking as ever, with a warm, inviting smile and soft, kind eyes. Louse swept his gaze over the table, across the room, desperately seeking for the person who’d won Westric’s heart. But all he saw was confused and angry faces.

Westric’s voice drew his attention back. “Dear gardener, thank you for coming. Please, approach.”

With no small amount of trepidation Louse approached Westric and gave his own hand when Westric held his out. Clasping it firmly, Westric drew him in close—and reached up to whip the wool cap from Louse’s head.

His hair tumbled down, bright and golden in the firelight.

“It is you,” Westric said softly.

Louse tried to pull free, run away, but Westric held fast. “You must let me go.”

“Why do you hide?” Westric asked, reaching out to clasp his other hand.

“I am the property of a witch, promised to him as a babe by my father. My hair marks me and wherever I go he can find me. He will do whatever it takes to get me back. Give me the cap and let me go or the witch that nearly killed you will return.”

Westric shook his head and only held him tighter, drew him closer. “Dear gardener, you are not the only one who is deeply devoted. I thought you preferred your garden and your solitude, until twice you came to save me and slipped away without reward. I wish you would accept my devotion in turn and let us face the witch together.”

“I’m only a woodcutter’s son, a witch’s tool, a humble gardener…”

“And I might have been any of those save for chance and luck,” Westric replied. “I would return your devotion, your affection, if you would but have me.”

Louse stared back, and could not find it in him to refuse a third time. “You have always had me, Majesty.”

“Then say my name, and tell me yours,” Westric said, drawing him in so close their words could be heard by no one else.

“My name is Aurea,” he replied, and closed the remaining space between them to kiss his king.

~Megan Derr

About Megan Derr


Megan is a long time resident of LGBTQ fiction, and keeps herself busy reading, writing, and publishing it. She is often accused of fluff and nonsense. When she’s not involved in writing, she likes to cook, harass her cats, or watch movies. She loves to hear from readers, and can be found all over the internet.

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Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

Brandilyn
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6 thoughts on “Fairytale: The Gardener ~ Outside the Margins with Megan Derr

  1. So very cute! I’ve seen you mention The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairytales elsewhere and I’m thinking now I might have to pick it up, as well.

  2. I loved this, as usual, nobody writes Fairytales like Megan Derr! I’ve read Fairytales Slashed Volume 1, but now this has put me in the mood for more, thanks 🙂

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