Author's note: Characters from Phantom of the Opera are the property of their original authors. Bluebeard is a French fairy tale that I have adapted for use here. The original fairy tale was complied by Charles Perrault in the 1700s; my adaptation owes much to Bela Bartok's one-act opera, Duke Bluebeard's Castle. No copyright infringement is intended.
Kekszakallu: A Fairy Tale
Author's note: Phantom of the Opera characters belong to their respective authors. Bluebeard is a French fairy tale that I have adapted for use here. The original story was compiled by Charles Perrault in the 1700s; my adaptation owes much to Bela Bartok's one-act opera, Duke Bluebeard's Castle. No copyright infringement is intended.
Once upon a time, in a house by the sea, lived a little girl named Christine. Christine's father played the violin, and in the summer, when the rich and noble families from all of France would come to the seaside to spend the warmer months in their mansions there, he would come to their mansions and play the violin. His music was so beautiful that he earned just enough money for him and his daughter to live on, and although they did not have very much, they had enough to get by. To Christine, life was perfect. Her father loved her, and their house was filled with the sound of their music. The beach, and the meadows and the hills were all hers to explore during the long summer days. And in the winter, when the winds blew so hard that it seemed their little house must surely be blown away, she had her book of fairy tales. Although she quickly learned many by heart, she never tired of hearing her father read them to her.
Because Christine and her father lived by themselves, there was no one to watch Christine when her father went to play at the mansions by the sea. So Christine often accompanied him, sitting quietly with her doll in a corner of the kitchen or the hall, falling asleep to the murmuring noise of the party, and the soft, soft strains of her father's violin. The music played through her head all night as the hours slipped by, until her father came, picked her up and carried her home, still half-asleep, through the warm summer nights.
But at one particular mansion, on one particular night, Christine met someone. She was sitting against the wall of a small servant's passage leading off from the kitchen, when suddenly she became aware of the sound of running feet. A small boy with rumpled brown hair and a starched white shirt darted into view around a corner, and upon seeing Christine, skidded to a stop in order to keep from tumbling over her. He nearly lost his balance anyway, as the wooden floor was slick, and Christine saw that the boy was wearing no shoes.
"Quick," said the boy. "Where can I hide?"
Christine jumped to her feet. "I don't know - try that way!" She pointed in the direction opposite the kitchen. The boy took off without a backward glance. Seconds later, Christine heard the sharp clacking of boots approaching from the direction the boy appeared from, and frightened of being seen and subsequently questioned by whomever the boy was running from, she jumped to her feet and fled after him. After running just a few yards down the passage a door flew open in front of her, and Christine stifled a shriek. The boy grabbed her by the arm and pulled her inside, motioning emphatically for her to be quiet as he eased the door shut again. They were inside some sort of linen closet, from what Christine could see, although the only light was coming from the cracks at the top and bottom of the door.
Presently, Christine heard the clacking sounds of their booted pursuer walking down the corridor, but the boots did not stop at the closet door, and the sound soon faded into silence.
"You ought not to wear shoes next time, you know," said the boy abruptly. "You can be ever so much quieter without them. I heard you coming from all the way down the corridor, with the noise you made."
"I'm sorry," said Christine, a little bewildered. "I shall try to remember that next time. Were they… very angry with you?"
"My nurse," said the boy, by way of explanation. "I'm too old to have a nurse, but Father thinks I shouldn't be allowed downstairs when that have company. But Phillippe is always allowed to come, so I come too, when I can manage it." Christine though she saw him smile at her through the darkness.
"Who is Phillippe?"
"My older brother. Hey, you aren't one of my cousins, are you?"
"No," replied Christine. "My father is the violin player here. My name is Christine."
"Christine," said the boy, as if trying out the sound. "I am pleased to meet you. My name is Raoul."
Raoul led Christine back into the passage and down another hall, which although it seemed to be quite wide, appeared deserted, and rather dusty. At the end of the hall stood an imposing-looking wooden door. "Let me show you something."
Tugging on the handle, the door creaked open, and Raoul winced at the noise. "It needs oiled," he whispered. "Come on, quickly now." He held the door open for her and again Christine saw him smile.
The breeze twisted about Christine's hair, carrying with it the familiar salt smell of the sea. Christine felt gravel under her feet, then a few steps later, grass. The door creaked again, and suddenly the faint light from the doorway vanished. Christine froze, and she sensed rather than saw Raoul approach her and take her hand. He led her away from the door, and Christine began to see bushes and trees around her as her eyes began to adjust to the dark. "Now, turn around." Raoul said.
Christine looked back and her eyes lit up. Behind her, with all of its windows blazing with light, was a castle. She could see the towers, each topped with a turret, with a conical roof and big, pointed windows. There even seemed to be a rampart connecting them, and Christine in her mind's eye could see where the knights would stand, shining in their armor, or where the princesses in their gowns and ribbons might walk to and fro… Lower, there were other windows, long and pointed at the tops, and she could even faintly make out the great dark shape of the door they had just passed through.
"Raoul", Christine whispered. "You live in a castle!"
"I don't live here really," said Raoul. "My family comes here in the summer, but we never stay for long. Father's business…" He trailed off. "But I thought you might like to see it."
"It's wonderful," said Christine, still in a hushed voice. "Why didn't I see this from the road?"
"This isn't the front anymore, since they added the new wing. I suppose it's a bit of a secret."
"Yes. Raoul, what is in there? Is it really a castle? What is up there in the tower room?"
"Just rooms," said Raoul vaguely. "What do you think would be in there?"
"All manner of things," said Christine, turning back to look at Raoul. "Fairy godmothers, spinning wheels, knights in shining armor, captive princes…"
"Or maybe trolls, or evil witches, or dungeons, or ghosts!"
Christine shivered. "Are there any… ghosts, or anything?" she asked, part of her hoping that the answer was yes.
"Of course not," snorted Raoul. "Nor any of those other things either. Not in real castles. Not anymore."
"But there must have been, once, long ago - maybe even here." She looked back at the castle. "Think about what it would have been like then."
Raoul, thinking of when he had seen the dungeons on a previous 'excursion' from his nurse, simply shook his head, but Christine did not see it.
"The tower window - 'Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your long hair' - and Prince Charming, in that room there! Or Sleeping Beauty -" she broke off, as Raoul was laughing silently. "What?" she asked him, feeling a little embarrassed.
"Nothing," he said, and his eyes looked at her warmly. "Tell me one of your stories."
"What, now?" asked Christine, surprised, but pleased that he had asked.
"Yes," said Raoul, still looking at her.
"Well, all right," said Christine, and they sat down on the grass. Christine folded her hands primly in her lap and began the story as all of her father's stories began.
"Once upon a time…"
"Once upon a time, in a village by the sea, lived a woman named Judith. She lived alone in a cottage with a garden, and she was very happy. But one day, when Judith was walking alone far from the village, she came upon a castle. It sat at the top of the hill and looked down over the faraway village, and down even to the sea, and it looked very old, and very sad. Judith wondered who might be living in such a place, and she knocked on the castle's door. The door opened before her, and Judith walked into the castle. The door closed behind her, and it was very dark. Judith began to feel afraid.
"Then a man appeared, who looked as old and sad as the castle itself. 'I am Kekszakallu' he said, 'and this is my castle.'
" 'Is it always this dark?' Judith asked.
" 'And always so cold?'
"And Judith looked around her and she saw that the walls of the castle were wet with tears, as if the castle had been crying for many, many years. Judith looked at Kekszakallu.
" 'Are there not even any windows to look out upon the light?'
" 'None,' said Kekszakallu. "But I will show you my garden. It is the only beautiful thing I possess, and it is yours if you wish it.'
"So Kekszakallu led Judith through the castle and out into the garden, in a courtyard in the middle of the castle. The garden was beautiful, and full of flowers, and fruit trees and sunlight and Judith saw it and was happy again But all around the garden rose the walls of the castle, cutting off any view of the world outside. And even here, the walls were weeping.
" 'Why is the castle weeping?' asked Judith.
"And Kekszakallu did not answer her, but said only 'Would you not be happier at your house in the village?'
" 'But why is the castle weeping?'
"Kekszakallu did not answer.
" 'Then I will dry its tears,' said Judith.
"So Judith walked back into the dark, weeping castle, and began to wipe the tears from its walls. But the castle was vast, and there were many rooms.
"Judith found rooms with swords stained dirty red and brown, rooms with chains hanging from the walls, rooms with hundreds of books in a language she did not know. And as she worked, light began to return to the castle, and it grew warmer. And she spent many days in the garden with its strange keeper, and learned the names of all of the beautiful flowers that grew there. But every morning Judith would wake and find another room in the castle with dark water bleeding from its walls.
"One day, Judith came to a door in the castle that she had never seen before, in a hallway that she did not know. The tears seemed thicker on the walls than ever before, and Judith hoped and feared that she had found the source of the castle's sadness. Judith opened the door.
"Before her were three women in white dresses. Ropes coiled around their necks, tears stained their faces and their feet did not touch the ground. The women whispered to Judith, 'We are women Kekszakallu once loved. Our tears bathe the walls of the castle, as our bodies nourish the flowers of the garden. We love Kekszakallu. He will join us under the soil.'
"The love that Judith saw in the eyes of the women was more terrible than anything she had ever seen. She ran from them, and her feet took her to the one place of beauty that she had ever found in the castle.
"But the garden seemed changed to Judith, and Kekszakallu changed with it. Never had the thorns on Kekszakallu's flowers seemed more menacing, nor their master so terrifying. 'Now, Judith, you know all my secrets', he whispered in his still, low voice. 'Will you yet stay here, after what you have seen?'
"The three women whispered into the room, and stopped behind Judith, as though they were waiting for a signal known only to themselves. Yet Kekszakallu watched only Judith as if she were the only thing in all the world. 'I cannot save you from what you yourself have done, Kekszakallu,' Judith said. The three women slipped past Judith then, and circled Kekszakallu like a noose. Terrified, Judith ran from the garden, lest the women she had loosed turn on her as well. As she passed through the castle, she seemed to see that the tear-filled walls glimmered red.
"Judith ran from the castle all the long miles to the village, not stopping until her feet touched the familiar stones of her own doorway. She looked back to the castle, but clouds were hanging low in the sky, and the castle and its master had vanished from her sight. A raven croaked out a laugh, and Judith thought she heard in that croak, a name. Judith looked at the flowers growing between the cracks of the paving stones and whispered to herself the names she had been taught. It seemed to herself that she was waiting for something, but she did not know what it could be.
"Perhaps she is waiting there still."
Puffin's Note: Kekszakallu is Czech for Bluebeard; I have used it here because it sounds to my ear more like a personal name. Likewise, I've followed Bartok in naming Bluebeard's lady (unnamed in the original Perrault) Judith. If you are at all into opera, or even if you aren't, I would encourage you to try and find a recording of Duke Bluebeard's Castle. I think its one of the most effective pieces of theatre ever written, and its not even an hour long.
There will hopefully be a few more chapters to this, and a few more of the Perrault fairy tales will be making an appearance. The Perrault tales were compiled in the 1700s, and would probably have been known to Raoul and Christine.