The Story of Tatterhood

or: Why You Should Never Mess With A Girl Who Rides A Goat

Once upon a time there was a kingdom with the nicest, handsomest, and best rulers any land had ever known. King Hal and Queen Beatrix were two people who were so complete and happy in their love for each other that others felt stronger and more well-off just being around them. Their kingdom flourished financially and never fought wars. It was a land of rolling green hills, fields of amber-hued grains which waved frequently in the gentle breezes which always seemed to blow sweetly, and softly running brooks tamed by rough-hewn bridges which frequently hosted lovers walking arm in arm. It was an idyllic land of happy people whose only burning question was why the glorious king and queen had never decided to have children.

Truth be told, though it was little known in the land, both royals wished for many children upon whom to lavish all the love and affection that flooded both their hearts. They wished to have offspring to govern the land they loved when they were gone, to see that it was always protected and cared for just as well as they cared for and protected it. They burned to have children's enthusiastic voices echoing through the walls of their open-aired palace, to be able to click their tongues and lecture someone for leaving fingerprints on the marble walls, to have small, tangible representations of their love running about and causing the joy and havoc which only children can wreak.

Alas, despite tears and prayers, the queen never, never found herself with child. She tried everything she'd ever heard or known- she tried exerting herself physically to make herself strong enough to grow and birth a child, but that didn't work. She tried to rest as much as possible, to retain her energy to give to a life growing within her, but that failed also. She tried eating more, eating less, eating only fruit, eating only meat, standing on her head, and other things best kept to the privacy of the royal budoir. But all of her efforts (as well as those of the king) failed to result in a child. This was the great sadness which clouded the hearts of both King Hal and Queen Beatrix.

To fill the void in her heart, Queen Beatrix always allowed children from nearby villages to come to the palace and play. She would provide food for the children, let them run through the grounds, ride the horses, and frolic in the fountain; and all were pleased by this arrangement.

One day a very quiet girl broke away from the other children and approached the queen, who had been watching a handful of little ones splash each other in the fountain. The queen smiled at the young girl, a bewitchingly lovely Gypsy child, and offered her a piece of chocolate. The girl accepted, thanked the queen, and slowly savored the morsel, yet her eyes never left the queen's face. After a moment the intensity of the girl's stare disquieted Her Royal Highness and she gave an uncomfortable laugh.

"Did you need something, child? Can I help you?"

The little girl shook her head, no. "But I can help you, my Queen."

"Oh, you can, can you?" The queen had spent enough time with children to know that they sometimes spoke in strange ways, and was used to humoring them when they did so.

"I should certainly appreciate your help. With what shall you help me?"

"You want a baby. I know how you can become pregnant."

Queen Beatrix was more than a little astonished to hear this come from the girl's lips. True enough, there was something uncannily precocious in the girl's face, but there was still the question of what so small a child could know about the matter of making babies where none would grow previously.

"What would you recommend?"

Her nearly-black eyes still boring into the queen's, the girl solemnly stuck a thumb between her lips and issued the next statement around said digit.

"First, you must go on a sort of journey. This will show to God that you are willing to work for that which you most desire. Don't worry- it's dangerous, but not so very far. Do you think you have the strength to do so?"

The elfin girl with curly black hair now had the queen's undivided attention. She seemed no more than six, yet spoke as though her very soul were older than the grown woman she was addressing. Were all Gypsies like this? At any rate, Beatrix nodded eagerly, afraid to discourage the girl in any way. She somehow felt that the instructions she was listening to would, truly, result in a pregnancy.

"Tomorrow night there will be a lunar eclipse. It is when the moon is blacked out that you must go into the Stygian Forest which is just outside of this town- you know where that is, of course, my Queen."

The Stygian Forest? Everyone knew that the forest was the property of the trolls, ogres, hags, and other unsavory types. It was the only place in the kingdom which was cloaked in enough darkness for these creatures to thrive. All in all they were left alone by everyone else in the land- partly from fear and partly from respect. No one wanted to encroach on the lands of such strange creatures lest they be taken and used for Dark purposes. For, as everyone knew, once you set foot in the Stygian Forest, anything that saw you could take you for its own. The inhabitants of the place rarely, if ever, ventured forth from their Dark place, and everyone respected these unwritten rules.

"If you enter the forest just as the moon goes out, no one will see you. You must follow the Sanguine River that will be there for a mile. After that the river will fork and just in the center of the fork, you will find two plants. One will be a lovely, luminous flower- you will find it in the dark because it glows with its own light. Don't ask how such a beautiful thing can come from such a dark place, for no one knows, but it is there. Next to the flower is a weed- sickly, pale, twisted, and unappealing. When you see the weed, you'll know that the flower you see is the right one.

"You must eat the flower, pluck the weed, and cast it into the river. You must do this quickly, for the eclipse cannot last for long. Only long enough for you to follow my instructions exactly. Eat the flower, cast the weed into the waters, and flee back to your land. If you do exactly as I say, you shall make it to the edge of the forest before the moon once more lights the way.

"If you do everything I said, just the way I said, you will become a mother within the next year. If you fail in any way, I cannot vouch for your safety or that of the children you may one day bear. Thank you again for the chocolate, my Queen."

The girl curtsied to the queen, turned, and exited. For her part, Beatrix was trying hard to commit to memory all the child had said.

It was all madness, she reminded herself. There was simply no way a child could know such things. Children told tales, that was all.