When I speak, the wages of my foolish act of kindness choke me; they swell my throat and burst from my mouth in faceted agony. At first, only diamonds and pearls, but as time passed, my blessings multiplied: emeralds and rubies and sapphires, every precious stone spewing forth from my gullet with the barest whisper. Oh, I long for golden silence.
I was blessed and my sister cursed, but her curse is blessing. Toads and vipers hop and slither away and good riddance to them. No wars are fought over vipers, no murders done for the sake of toads, so she is allowed to live in her isolated silence, to make her needs known through gestures and by writing in the dirt with a stick. She is pitied and left alone.
I should be pitied. Diamonds and pearls are worse than any toad, and the greed they engender more venomous than any viper.
“See my wife,” my handsome, empty prince boasts. “See what she can do. Speak, my dearest love.”
If I will not obey, he has me beaten. The guard’s whip slices into my flesh and I scream, and with the spatter of blood that stains my back, I disgorge rubies, a rain of red upon the stone flags. They applaud, then, my loving family – all the fine ladies and lords of their court, the travelers who have come from the farthest corners of the world to see this wonder: A princess who whispers pearls and speaks diamonds.
My prince comes to me each night to claim his marriage-right.
He hopes to get me with child, for he believes my curse will be passed in the blood and the wealth of his kingdom secured for all time. I share his hope, for women die in childbirth all the time, don’t they? If luck is with me, the screams of my birth-pangs will fill the palace with riches, and then I will pass away, and be done with this.
But I have yet to conceive, and I think perhaps the fairy’s curse has left me barren and dead inside. My children are cold stone.
I moan as he takes me, not because it brings me pleasure, but because it is the only time human flesh touches my own in anything resembling affection. I say ‘resembling,’ for there is no affection for me here; there was none in my childhood home. Affection, I have learned, is nothing but affectation. Diamonds and pearls are real.
So I moan, and a smattering of emeralds coats the sheets.
“Damn you!” The gems slice into his flesh.
“How do you think they feel coming out?” Tiny diamonds spatter against his chest.
He strikes me a stinging blow across the face. “Bitch! You did that on purpose. Shut your mouth or I’ll have you gagged!”
I bite my lip as he flips me over and takes me from behind like an animal. The diamonds cut my breasts, the emeralds graze my belly like the stings of swarming insects. There is blood; I can smell its iron tang, can feel sticky slickness on my belly and then a different slickness between my thighs as he moves off me.
“Mother’s birthday is next week, and she’s quite fond of sapphires.” Still naked, he starts collecting the blood-stained gems left behind on our bed. “Something large, at least four carats. And a couple of large pearls, matched. I want my jeweler to craft her a pendant.”
Oh, for toads and vipers now, vipers of deadly venom. My eyes sting with tears of rage; inside me a white-hot furnace smelts what is left of my heart to slag.
He looks down at me with loathing. “What are you crying for? You don’t know how good you have it. When I met you, you were nothing, a slave to your mother and sister. Now you’re a princess. You sit on a cushioned throne and eat the finest quail and partridge. You wear velvet and silk instead of rags. Now do your duty, you ungrateful bitch!”
“My lord husband–” A diamond falls unheeded to the floor.
His fist slams into my eye. “I said a sapphire, you stupid cow!”
“Please, it doesn’t work that way!” Pearls, an ocean of tiny pearls. My husband throws me down onto the cold floor and his foot slams into my belly. I scream a sapphire which bounces across the floor to rest at his feet.
He picks it up and holds it to the light. “A bit small, but this is what I mean. You see, darling, you can do it if you try. Now come and kiss me.”
I drag myself to my feet and smile, the same smile I gave the fairy that day by the well. Drink, with all my heart, I said, and she cursed me with her blessing.
I take his handsome head between my hands and press my lips to his. He opens to my kiss, the insatiable goat, crushes me to him as his desire rises again. His tongue darts forward to taste the mouth that yields his wealth.
“Die, with all my heart,” I mutter through our open mouths and the gemstones pass through my throat and into his mouth. He struggles, but I hold on with strength borne of desperation and hate, keeping my mouth latched to his, covering his nose awkwardly with my hand. He swallows, starts to choke.
I let go, and he falls like a stone.
My prince, no longer handsome, writhes and kicks at the flagstones, clutching his throat, his face turning the blue-pink of pearls, then becoming white and still as diamonds.
I sing him a death lament. Seven verses of it, and when I am done, my throat aches and he lies in a cairn of precious stones. I walk out of the castle into the moondark night. In the distance, I hear the sweet song of toads.
Rebecca Day’s stories, written under the name R.W. Day, have appeared or will appear in various places, including WildChild’s fairy tale contest, Book of Dark Wisdom, Deep Magic, and in a forthcoming issue of Cabinet des Fées.
Image: Glow of Gold, Gleam of Pearl, William Paxton (1906)