Strong Female Protagonist

Dear Mr Producer
Mr Script Writer
Mr Hollywood Golden Boy
Mr Good Guy of the Year

Mr I See Women As People
Mr This Is What A Feminist Looks Like
Mr Women Can Be Heroes Too
I want to thank you.

Thank you for showing us
That we can kick arse
Just like the boys
Because I needed that
And so did my siblings
Who had the dubious honour of being
Assigned
Female
At
Birth

But I want to ask you
Why did it take you so long?
Why did we have to keep asking?
Why are we always thin?
Why are we always white?
Why are we always carrying around those…
Well, you know what I mean.

Why are we always straight?
Why are we always victimised?
Because of those thin, white bodies with those…
Well, you know what I mean.

Because last time I checked
I didn’t need to be desirable
To chop off a monster’s head
Or investigate a murder.

Last time I checked
I didn’t need to be straight
Or wear my long, thick, perfect hair
Swinging down to my waist
To take out bad guys.

See, you missed a vital point
In your process of Enlightenment
You see, you made us into heroes
So you could save us from ourselves
And what you missed in your campaign
To Make Women Great
Is that we’re not all women
And we’re not all pretty
And we’re not all white
But we Sure As Hell are already Great

We’ve been heroes all along
And while I am grateful
Forever
That you helped make that visible
(After decades of us telling you)
It’s not enough to hand a pretty girl a sword
And say she’s equal.

We will be equal when we see fat girls
And hairy girls
And girls with anxiety or PTSD
When we see black girls
And Asian girls
And girls whose first language isn’t English
When we see that Assigned Female At Birth
Doesn’t always mean woman
And Assigned Male At Birth
Can mean feminine.
When we see that feminine
That undesirable
That weak and strong
Are all just as Great as each other

We will be equal when we see ourselves
Through our own eyes
When we tell our own stories
When we see our own lives

We will be equal when we see ourselves
Not “as good as a man”
But as good as ourselves.

When girl is no longer an insult

So thank you,
Mr Feminist,
For your time
But we can take it from here.

You are not my Hero
Any
More.

All Rights Reserved (text and image) to Cambrey Payne 2016. Please acknowledge sources when sharing and do not repost without original source.

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The Monster and the Murderess

Once upon a time, there was a young lord, who was an absolute raging little tit. His parents, truth be told, had been little better than their vile offspring, and had most considerately died early. The young lord, however, stubbornly survived his progenitor, and took control of his family estates at the tender age of nineteen. One stormy night, not long after he had come into his inheritance, there came a knock at the mansion door. An old woman had stumbled into the grounds seeking shelter from the storm, but the young lordship, being an absolute raging little tit, refused to allow her into the house. The old woman was understandably annoyed by this, and warned the little tit that his actions would have consequences. As none of his actions had thus far produced the slightest negative consequence to him personally, the lord laughed in her face and slammed the door.

Unlike their master, the servants of the house weren’t absolutely abhorrent, and allowed the old woman to come around and warm herself by the kitchen fire. This small kindness was undoubtedly all that saved their master’s life (much to the disappointment of the servants themselves), for she was in fact a powerful witch. When she was warm and dry, and nursing a generous cup of mead, she relented a little in her original intention to kill the young prat, and instead cursed him thusly:

From this day forth, young lord, thou shalt take the form of a loathsome beast, and the servants thy treateth as furniture shall likewise be transformed. Thou and they shall be released only by the unselfish relenting of thy heart toward another, or by thy death. But should that death come at thine own hands or theirs, they shall die also.

Don’t ask me why she turned the servants into furniture, she was clearly drunk.
When the horrid young skidmark awoke the next morning, he found his once-handsome visage transformed into the hideous and hairy image of a Beast, and his serving staff struggling to adjust to life as wardrobes, crockery, and candlesticks. After several weeks of throwing trantrums and breaking things, of shouting at the servants to take off their damn costumes, of trying to convince the local horsemen to track down the witch and bring her back, and of destroying several small buildings when they refused, the Beast (as we shall now call him) retreated to his mansion and shut the door on the world.

Several long years passed, and the Beast remained in his mansion, shut off from the world. The nearby villages were so grateful for his disappearance that they celebrated by promptly forgetting all about him, and pretending he didn’t exist. Eventually, they assumed he had died, and got on with their lives. The Beast, however, was alive and well – or, if not well, at least making sure he shared is not-wellness with his poor, suffering serving staff. He never went beyond the gardens closest to the house, and allowed the hedges to grow until they screened the house and its inhabitants completely from view. The Beast treasured no hope of ever regaining his youthful good looks, for he had never yet seen a person whom he could respect as highly as he did himself, and assumed such a person to be an impossibility. He retreated into his library, and spent the next ten years reading as much self-important, pretentious twaddle as he could lay his hands on.

Nearly ten years to the day since the Beast had been cursed, a travelling salesman found himself caught in a storm outside the mansion, just as the witch had been. As the witch had done before him, this salesman sought shelter in the great house. Unlike the witch, he knew to go to the kitchen door and beg a morsel from the serving staff. When he reached the kitchen, however, he found it strangely deserted, although there was food enough on the table, and a kettle singing merrily over the fire. He called out, not wishing to be thought a thief or an intruder, but there was no answer. After waiting some time, and with the storm growing in ferocity outside, the salesman’s hunger and fatigue got the best of him. He ate his fill from the table, poured himself some tea, and settled down to sleep by the fire.

Unfortunately for the salesman, he slept long and deep. When the morning sun broke through the last of the storm clouds, he found himself woken by a terrible roar, and opened his eyes to find a hideous, hairy Beast standing over him. The Beast raised its great, clawed paw as if to swipe the very life from the salesman, but the salesman begged the Beast to spare him. Quite inexplicably, the Beast paused, and asked the salesman why he should not be killed. The salesman cast around for a reason, and, by pure luck (and perhaps some sixth sense known only to tawdry salesmen), he suggested that the Beast might be lonely in this mansion, and that he might enjoy the company of the salesman’s beautiful daughter. If the Beast would only let him go, the salesman, said, he could be back within seven days with his daughter, who would make a fine companion for any man.

The Beast lowered his paw and considered for a long moment. He was, indeed, lonely. His servants were hardly good company for a lord, no matter what he looked like, and no other humans would come near him in this hideous form. He thus decided to accept the salesman’s offer, reasoning that if his daughter were ugly or tiresome, he could always retain the privilege of killing the father as punishment.

To ensure the salesman held up his end of the bargain, the Beast sent two of his guards – now transformed quite conveniently into empty suits of armour – to accompany him to his home and bring back the daughter. The salesman was not best pleased at this addition to his party, but as the alternative was remaining and being killed, he accepted it with as good a grace as he could manage. He was not at all worried about what his daughter would suffer by the exchange he had made, for he was as large a prat as the Beast himself, and cared for nothing and nobody beyond himself. His daughter was a troublesome, ungrateful wretch, who insisted upon educating herself, being useful, and refusing all offers of marriage that might take her off her father’s hands. In fact, the more the salesman thought on it, the more he realised that he might have got the best of the bargain, for he would be getting his daughter of his hands forever.

Belle, for that was the daughter’s name, was not best pleased at being traded away like a prize mare. Pleased or not, however, she had no choice in the matter, and was dragged kicking and screaming to the Beast’s mansion by the implacable guards, cursing her father all the way. The Beast met her at the door, and was surprised to find that, not only had the salesman not been lying about having a daughter, she was even more beautiful than he had hoped. The Beast, having been raised to be a gentleman, even as he had been raised to be an absolute numpty, bowed politely as she was escorted into the hall. Belle, however, was unimpressed by his polite greeting and immediately told him in great detail why she thought his deal with her father was despicable, and why he in particular was an abhorrent humanoid who didn’t deserve companionship of any kind, least of all hers. While this response might have been deemed natural by any rational person, the Beast took it rather personally, and ordered the guards to seal Belle into one of the upper bedrooms until she could be more reasonable.

I think, dear reader, we must forgive poor Belle for what she did next, for her situation would have tested the most resilient spirit. Upon entering her new room, she threw herself onto the bed and cried for half an hour. When she was calmer, she sat up and was rather alarmed to find a candlestick, a small clock, and a large wardrobe all regarding her curiously. She still had fortitude enough to prevent a swoon, however, and she greeted them as politely as she could, having never addressed furniture before in her life. The candlestick bowed most properly and apologised for his master’s behaviour, for master the Beast was, and these were the servants. The clock inquired most generously as to Belle’s health, and the wardrobe offered her a drawer full of handkerchiefs, and in a very short time Belle was feeling more comfortable than she would have thought possible, given the circumstances.

“What am I to do?” was her first question. The furniture exchanged glances (which is rather a sight to see, if you should ever happen to have the chance) and appeared to come to some agreement.

“Well, Mistress,” began the candlestick, “we may be able to assist you. Do you know how our master became a Beast?” When Belle replied in the negative, the candlestick related the story of the witch, and lingered heavily on the last half of the curse.

“As the master is such an excremental smear, it is next to impossible that he should find his way to breaking the curse himself,” said the candlestick. “And the terms are such that we are unable to do anything but remain as we are, and hope for someone to set us free.”

“So you see, my dear,” said the wardrobe, “you may have a way out soon enough – and a chance to do us a kindness as well, if it pleases you.” Belle considered her position for all of half a second, before agreeing to the furniture’s proposal.

“But how is it to be done?” she asked. “He is such a great brute, surely I should have no hope against him?”

The clock assured her that there were more than one ways to skin a cat, and that they should assist her in any way possible, that would not break the terms of the curse.

“Well then,” she said. “I shall begin immediately.” And she knocked on her own door and begged to be taken down to the Beast, in such gentle tones that her guards were quite overcome, and immediately complied.

“What are you doing out of your room?” was the first thing out of the Beast’s mouth when she appeared in the doorway of the library.

“I wished to apologise to your lordship for my dreadful behaviour this morning,” said Belle meekly. “I fear my distress at my sudden removal from my family and home left me quite hysterical, and I am most ashamed of the unladylike language I used. I pray, my lord, that you will forgive me.”

The Beast looked at her in surprise. This blushing, quiet creature was quite different from the harridan of the morning, although just as beautiful. He regarded her thoughtfully for a few minutes, and relented.

“I am not an ungenerous man,” he said, ignoring the fact that he was not a man at all. “If you are truly sorry, and can promise to control yourself from now on, pray let us say no more about it.”

Belle dropped a graceful curtsy and thanked him for his kindness. From that moment on, she was the Beast’s most faithful companion. She read to him; she sat and sewed while he told her about how terribly unfair his life was, or explained the wonderful philosophical revelations he had found in the books around him; she served him his meals with her own hands, and always remembered to thank him for his kindness in bearing with such a silly, empty-headed noodle as herself. She also became quite skilled at maintaining control over her facial expressions.

In her spare hours, the Beast permitted her to wander the gardens, gathering flowers and tending the herb beds. The Beast found himself growing almost fond of his guest. She would be rather unbearable for long periods, he thought, if she were plain, but beautiful as she was, he could happily tolerate her adoration of him. He never questioned her change of heart, for it seemed to him only natural that a woman such as herself, who could not have known many luxuries, would venerate such a generous patron – and such a worldly, educated man – as himself.

As the weeks passed, however, the Beast found himself growing ill. It came on gradually, and at first he thought it nothing but a winter chill. But as the days passed, and his head weakened, and his limbs trembled, and his hairy brow beaded with sweat, he began to fear that it might be something worse. He attempted to call a physician, but none were willing to work with such a patient – and it must be observed, that they would not have been much use if they had, for they worked on humans. The Beast soon took to his bed, wracked with pain and fever, and certain he was dying. He would allow nobody near him but Belle, who still brought him his meals, and could coax him to eat and drink when nobody else could.

At last it seemed the Beast was nearing his end, for he could take nothing but water, and spent most of his days in a fevered delirium. Late one night, as Belle sat by his side, the Beast found himself unexpectedly conscious for the first time in some days, although unable to move his limbs. He spoke her name, and she came to his side, gently lifting his head so he could drink a glass of water.

“I think you are feeling a little better, my lord,” she said.

“Perhaps a little,” the Beast replied, hoping that his return to consciousness might be a sign of recovery.

“Well, that won’t last for long,” Belle observed placidly. It took the Beast a moment to determine her meaning.

“Am I dying?” he asked fearfully.

“Oh yes, my lord,” the girl replied. “You could hardly be otherwise, for I have been poisoning you almost since the first day I came.”

The Beast stared at her, his mind already growing foggy once more.

“No,” he said.

“Oh yes,” Belle replied, seeing his vision fading. “And you have just received your final dose. Now go to sleep, like a good Beast, and stop making everyone’s lives a misery.”

The Beast wished to make some reply, but the poison had already done its work, and he was dead before he could open his mouth. Belle watched him for a minute with a satisfied little smile, before descending to the main hall, where the servants had been awaiting the news that their master was gone. It was with great delight that Belle found herself greeted by a series of unfamiliar, but decidedly human faces. There was a great deal of awkwardness for a while, as furniture rarely goes in for clothing, and the servants could not rightly remember where they had stored such things. But everything was soon sorted out and they celebrated their freedom and Belle’s successful murder with a great feast in the kitchens.

After some time to become reacquainted with their limbs, most of the servants left the house in search of new employment. A few remained, however, and once the Beast had been burnt in the furthest corner of the grounds, they settled into the mansion quite happily. Belle chose to remain also, for her old home had not been a happy one, and she and the servants had grown rather fond of one another. They spent the remainder of their days quite happily together, left completely in peace by the villagers who still feared to approach the mansion. The Beast was never mentioned by any of them again.

And it remains to you, dear reader, to decide if the moral of this story is that a woman’s wit will always triumph over a man’s ego, or that one should never be a dick to one’s talking furniture.

This adaptation is the property of Cambrey Payne 2017. Please acknowledge sources when sharing and do not repost without original source.

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The Hairy Peasant

Once upon a time, there lived a girl named Rapunzel. Don’t ask me why – she was an amiable girl, and almost certainly didn’t deserve it, but so it was, and she was stuck with it. Rapunzel lived with her parents in a small hovel near the village of Hornswagger-Upon-Lyme (it didn’t deserve it, either), where they tended a farm. Their land, and the village, and a lot of other things that I would mention if they weren’t so very dull, were owned by Lord Aussohl McLaudeponce, who certainly did deserve it.

Rapunzel and her family were, as is usual for peasants (and if the word hovel had not made it clear enough) very poor. They were humble people, however, and were no more given to complaining than the average farming peasant (a tendency that I shall charitably leave to the reader’s imagination) until the approach of Rapunzel’s 16th birthday. Rapunzel’s coming of age ought to have been an event of celebration, but alas, for girls on Lord Aussohl McLaudeponce’s land, this was a time of great fear and despair.

On some estates, perhaps, some girls would have been protected by a lack of certain personal charms, but McLaudeponce could not be accused of fussiness – merely of being a gigantic, unutterably foul, disgustingly base, odiferously malodorous scumbag. He preyed on young women according to an ancient, and thus repugnant law, which stated that a Lord could claim the unmarried daughters of his tenants provided they were of age. The scarcity of the population meant that this rarely happened, and most families ensured their daughters were safely married to the closest available Nice Young Lad before they came of age, but a dearth of Nice Young Lads meant that Rapunzel, despite being rather plain, was now facing the very worst of fates. And McLaudeponce was as happy as a… as a… Well, as happy as a thoroughly debauched man when faced with legally justified debauchery, the bastard.

Fortunately for Rapunzel, her parents had a Plan. Rapunzel’s mother had a sister, whose name was Winnifred Weeshcroft (poor dear). In a turn of events that should have surprised nobody, Winnifred had, as a young woman, Got Ideas, and had thus been run out of the village for being a witch. Concluding that, if one were to suffer the indignities of being an accused witch, one might as well go the whole hog and deserve them, Winnie had promptly settled down to a life of arcane study, devil worship, and the under-the-table healing of everyone in the village. For while one must publicly condemn all witchcraft, it is quite another thing to trust a mere doctor to treat a fever.

Winnie built herself a small tower in the woods, with a single, large room at the top, where she lived. The tower had no doors or windows other than those at the top, and its smooth walls were utterly unclimbable. The only way in was to fly (Winnie, as a witch, naturally had a broomstick for this purpose), which meant that not only was Winnifred safe from tedious witch-burning parties, but she never got woken up by Jehovah’s Witnesses on Saturday mornings.. It was to Winnie that Rapunzel’s parents turned, begging her to hide their daughter from McLaudeponce until they could find the requisite Nice Young Lad for her to marry.

Winnifred, who had kept herself out of village business for so long that she’d been quite unaware of Lord Aussohl’s ‘tradition’ (which his father, by the by, had not followed), was absolutely incensed. She agreed at once to take Rapunzel into her home, and declared that she herself should do something about the puffed up little tadpole who called himself a lord. Rapunzel was immensely relieved to be free from the immediate danger (although she hoped to yet convince her aunt to take her on as an apprentice, and thus avoid the necessity for finding a Nice Young Lad), and she and Winnifred slipped away from the village under cover of darkness the very night before Rapunzel’s birthday. (Perhaps, dear reader, you think they ought to have arranged Rapunzel’s escape a little further ahead of the dreaded date, to avoid any unnecessary danger, and I am quite of your mind. But pray remember, her parents were peasants, and one can only expect so much of people who spend 10 hours out of every 12 thinking of turnips.)

As soon as she had made Rapunzel comfortable in her new home, Winnifred immediately began to prepare for her first foray into political activism. Her first concern was to make it possible for her niece to exit and enter the tower unaided, since it would be rather unpleasant to be stuck in the top of an unassailable tower without the means to get down, no matter how safe you were from the local lordship. Winnifred therefore laid a charm on Rapunzel’s hair that made it grow unnaturally fast and long, until there was a great rope of it coiled about Rapunzel’s feet, enough to allow her to abseil down the side of the tower if she chose. It was, of course, magic hair, which would obey only the commands of the wearer, so perhaps Winnifred thought it would be safer than a garden-variety rope ladder, but the general opinion when the story was told later, was that this solution was utterly ridiculous. Witches often are ridiculous; it was believed at the time that there was something in magic itself that rendered practitioners a little doo-lally, but the truth is (as I’m sure you, enlightened reader, are well aware) that all humans are completely ridiculous, and magic merely provides the opportunity to be more obvious about it.

Rapunzel waved her aunt farewell with good cheer, having that innocent faith in the power of witchcraft that is common to commoners in general. She settled into her new home to wait and be Bored – something not frequently experienced by farmers, and something which Rapunzel planned to enjoy to its fullest extent. She had only just begun to feel restless, however, when she heard a voice hailing her from outside. She frowned, and crossed her arms, and attempted to ignore the hullooing from outside, but it was no use. She was Interested, and once one was Interested in something, all hope of true Boredom was instantly banished. She sighed and went to the window, determined to send whoever it was on their way as quickly as possible, and fervently hoping they said nothing original with which she would be obliged to be fascinated. Sadly for Rapunzel and her determination, the figure who waited below was quite the opposite of Boring, and quite failed to realise how really inconvenient this was.

“What do you want?” demanded Rapunzel, rather sharply. The figure below, who had just this moment alighted from her horse, looked up. She was clearly a knight, although not the daft kind, who ride around on hot days in metal pots attempting to broil themselves and bash each others’ brains in with lances. She was dressed instead in sensible chain mail, wore sensible boots, carried a sensible sword, and overall looked rather too sensible to be a knight in the first place, but I suppose everyone has their little whims.

“I say,” said the figure, “what are you doing up there?”

“I live here with my aunt,” replied Rapunzel, and added, “She’s a witch, you know,” in the hope that the knight would take the hint and go away. Sadly for Rapunzel, this did not have the desired effect.

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” said the knight. “Would you like me to rescue you?”

Rapunzel frowned, rather puzzled that anyone would think she’d need rescuing from her own aunt.

“No, thank you,” she said (for her mother had taught her to be polite, even to people who made no sense). “I’d really rather stay where I am, since if you take me home, Lord Aussohl McLaudeponce will have his wicked way with me, which is why Aunt Winnie brought me to stay with her in the first place.”

Now it was the knight’s turn to look puzzled.

“Are you sure?” she asked, after a moment’s thought. “Only, it’s usually witches who are wicked, and noblemen who do the rescuing, you see.”

“Have you met any noblemen?” said Rapunzel, quite astonished at this hitherto unheard-of phenomena of noble noblemen. The knight thought for another moment.

“Good point,” she said. “Well then, if your aunt the witch is keeping you here to keep you safe from Lord Wotshisface, where is she? Surely she shouldn’t leave you alone up there?”

“Oh, she’s gone to give Lord Aussohl a right thrashing,” said Rapunzel. “I’m perfectly safe up here. Nobody can climb up, you see, and I can get down if I need to, by using my hair.”

“Fair enough,” replied the knight, who by this point, was willing to accept almost anything. “Are you sure you don’t need rescuing?” she added, rather hopefully.

“No, I’m quite all right.”

“Well, suit yourself,” grumbled the knight (whose name, I should perhaps have mentioned earlier, was Sir Beatrice Rideswhelle, for some incomprehensible reason). “Would you object if I went and offered my services to your aunt?”

“Not at all,” said Rapunzel. “I’m sure she’d be happy to have you.”

“I’ll bid you good day then!”

“Good day, and good luck!”

And with that, Sir Beatrice rode off, leaving Rapunzel to her quest for Boredom, which you will be happy to hear, she achieved a mere two hours and thirty six minutes after Sir Beatrice had left, which shows some natural talent, I think.

It was, as it turned out, rather fortunate for Winnifred that Sir Beatrice had been in such desperate need of a rescue mission. Winnifred had begun her quest to give McLaudeponce a right thrashing with quiet aplomb, but it had quickly gone Aussohl up. Upon approaching the keep, she had easily disabled or terrified the guards (three of whom ran away and became quite excellent sailors as a result of her sudden appearance in the gatehouse), had made at least two noble ladies faint at the state of her shoes, and had managed to blast open the doors of the main hall with surprising ease.

Sadly for her, she was here set upon by not only Lord Aussohl’s personal guard, but also his personal wizard, Sir Vankstein. She could have beaten either of them on their own, but together, they were too much for her. She promptly found herself chained, thrown in the dungeon, and facing death by burning the next day at noon (dawn is more traditional, but Lord Aussohl wasn’t a morning person, and he hated to miss a good witch burning). She was feeling quite cross with herself, and wondering just how she was going to get out of her fix, when Sir Beatrice showed up. Faced with the prospect of not only giving an evil lord a good thrashing, but also of rescuing an innocent political prisoner (innocent can mean almost anything to the right kind of mind), Sir Beatrice was happier than a unicorn eating cake on a rainbow.

The rescue itself was, to Sir Beatrice’s mind, rather dull. Her horse pulled the bars out of the window with pathetic ease, Winnifred squeezed through without any of the usual unnecessary comic relief of getting stuck halfway, and the blacksmith was having a half-day holiday, so it was no trouble at all to borrow his tools to remove the witch-proof manacles from Winnie’s wrists.

“I say,” said Sir Beatrice, as they made their way stealthily back toward the main hall. “I hope this Laudeponce’s guard is going to be a bit more challenging than this rescue lark.”
Winnifred, who never hoped for unnecessary hardship if she could possibly help it, looked askance at her companion.

“I should think they’ll be challenge enough for one knight. There are twelve of them, after all.”

“Excellent,” said Sir Beatrice. “I’ll leave wizard to you then.”

One might have expected them to have come up with a rather more complex plan than this, but Sir Beatrice wasn’t really the tactical type, and after being locked in a dungeon all night, Winnifred was feeling rather too testy for strategy. Fortunately for them, they didn’t require it. Winnifred was quite capable of disabling Sir Vankstein (I shall not describe the process, in deference to my more delicate readers), and Sir Beatrice had a lovely time giving Lord Aussohl’s personal guard a right thwacking. (It would pay to add that if the personal guard had paid attention in guarding lessons, they would have had a far better chance against the knight; but they still had the vague notion that it was unsporting to take on a fellow swordsperson more than one or two at a time, and therefore allowed themselves to be roundly beaten.)

Lord Aussohl and the few lesser nobles of the keep were initially too surprised to react at all, and by the time they realised they should have been running away, Winnifred had already bound them to their seats with magic rope (the ordinary kind just isn’t reliable – after a few good spells, it frays quite alarmingly). As you can imagine, Lord Aussohl McLaudeponce did receive his thrashing, and more besides, since when the villagers found out he and his soldiers were at their mercy, I’m afraid they rather let themselves get carried away. The result was that, by the end of the day, McLaudeponce, his nobles, and his wizard, had all been beheaded, their heads displayed from the keep walls, and their bodies burned on the pyre intended for Winnifred.

Rapunzel’s parents were quite surprised when their daughter announced she had no intention of coming back to be a farmer, but when they considered how useful it was to have a witch in the family, they weren’t too disappointed. Winnifred was glad of the company in her tower, particularly once she found that her niece’s hair made the finest magical rope in existence. They became quite wealthy selling it to wizards (who are generally hopeless at those sort of handcrafts, the lazy buggers), and were eventually able to buy from the Crown the land on which the villagers – and Rapunzel’s parents – lived and worked, and return it to those who needed it most.

And no young maiden was ever forced to marry a Nice Young Lad before her sixteenth birthday ever again, which not everyone was happy about, but as I am rather on the side of the young women in this case, I shall say no more about it.

This adaptation is the property of Cambrey Payne 2017. Please acknowledge sources when sharing and do not repost without original source.

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The Princess and the Pauper

Once upon a time, there lived a cruel and malicious king, whose evil tendencies had led his kingdom into despair and darkness. A great many of the king’s subjects lived in abject poverty and deprivation, while the nobles who ruled them prospered under the king’s rule. The suffering caused by the greed and ignobility of the noble classes had been made worse by a drawn-out war, begun most unnecessarily by the petulance of the king’s only son. The kingdom had won the war with a neighbouring principality, but at a heavy cost. The king’s son and only male heir was killed in battle, along with a large portion of the kingdom’s young men, for which the formation of a generous treaty, and the health of the king’s only other a child – a daughter – was poor compensation indeed.

The king cared very little for the loss of one fifth of the population, provided it did not inconvenience him. But for the women, children, and old men who remained, life was far worse than inconvenient. Dissent and rebellion naturally followed hard on the heels of the peace treaty – rebellion led primarily by the women who, until now, had been little better than possessions in the eyes of their men and of the law. One does not favour one’s sex too highly when one says that it was hardly surprising that a rebellion led by women will be more effective, more practically damaging, and more persistent, than any flash-bang nonsense conceived of by men. Howsoever that may be, the rebellion increased in number and strength over the course of several years, and the king, while hardly willing to grant that mere peasants could have enough power to challenge the noble classes, began to fear where this dissent would lead.

During this time, Princess Charmaigne reached the advanced age of twenty. She was in possession of great personal beauty, firm good sense, and little practical power, save that of being traded by her father to the highest bidder, which is no power at all. It was perhaps this last, at least as much as her good sense and moral judgement, that led her to sympathise with the rebellion her father feared. While she could no more understand with the struggles of poverty and deprivation than she could those of a cart horse, she certainly understood what it was to be treated as a possession. It was no surprise, then, that she should wish for any means to break free of her chains, golden though they might be, and that she was willing to go to any lengths to do so. Thus, when her father determined that she had reached an age to be married, she reached out to the rebellion and offered them her assistance.

It took some time for the leaders of the rebellion to trust that the princess was genuine in her wish to be rid of her oppressors, and even longer to be sure that, should the king somehow be disposed of, the princess would be a better ruler than her father. But in time, they agreed to a deal – the princess’s freedom for her service. Princess Charmaigne was only too happy to agree, and she immediately proposed to her father that they should celebrate her coming of age with a festival, culminating in a great ball, to which they should invite the nobility of all the neighbouring kingdoms, as well as their own. Her father, pleased with an idea that would bring his daughter into contact with so many eligible young princes, immediately agreed.

The princess was not the only young woman of the rebellion to come of age at this time. Among the rebellion’s most valued soldiers was a woman called Cinderella, although that had not always been her name. She had once had another, before her father died, and her mother had been forced by her family to marry a man of far less noble character (although of equally ‘noble’ birth). Her mother did not live long after this second marriage, and when she died, Cinder was offered a choice: to remain in the family as an indentured servant, or to be thrown out of the house. As she was only twelve years old at the time, she naturally chose the former, and joined the serving staff in her own home. Her two step-sisters were no better than their father, and despised their relative. They christened her Cinderella, for in winter, she was forced to sleep on the hearth with the other servants to keep warm, and she was almost always daubed with ash.

Cinderella knew they meant to offend with such a title, but she instead wore it as a badge of honour, as a sign that she had been ejected from the idle and frivolous noble class to which she quickly developed a great dislike. Her service in the rebellion was her most valued possession, and she served well.

While the rebellion was a serious hindrance to the noble classes – they attacked carriages, looted unsecured mansions, kidnapped noble families for ransom, stole goods and food intended for the palace, and generally made the country unsafe for those of high rank – they could not access the palace, nor could they hope to mount any meaningful attack on the king and his supporters without risking more lives than they were prepared to sacrifice. Unlike the king, they valued their followers.

For a time, they focussed solely on stealing and kidnapping enough to feed and clothe those who had been left homeless, jobless, or destitute because of royal policy. But as the rebels became more bold in their activities, the king became more angry, and sent soldiers into rebel territory in an attempt to stop them. These raids were rarely successful, as the king suffered the same prejudice toward women as much of his sex, and assumed only men could organise such effective resistance, and arrested only men. However, the violence the king ordered done in his name was still very real, and the rebellion determined that they must aim higher. It was then that they heard from the princess, and saw the opportunity to end what had become civil war without the loss of rebel lives. It was Cinderella to whom the rebellion turned now. Not only was Cinder a talented spy and warrior, she was still technically a noblewoman, although from a family not often included at court. Her invitation to the ball was thus secured, and the rebels set about providing Cinderella with the appropriate tools for her task.

On the day of the ball, and after many difficulties, complaints, and unforgivable abuse of the serving staff, Cinder’s step-sisters and step-father were borne away from the house in their carriage. Now Cinderella’s preparations began. It would have greatly surprised her step-family to observe the line of heavily-cloaked figures who filed, one by one, through the kitchen door once Cinder was sure it was safe. It would have surprised them even more to see these same figures emerging into the coachyard an hour later. Six of the rebellion’s most able fighters were dressed in uniforms of grey and black that hid their feminine appearance so well that their employers would not have recognised in them the quiet and mouse-like maids whom they were used to see. The coach that awaited them appeared to be that of a respectable noble-merchant – and indeed, this was what it had been constructed from. Or, more accurately, it had been constructed from several coaches of respectable noble-merchants, whose conveyances had been taken by the rebellion and reconstructed in the barn of a local pumpkin farmer.

Cinderella would not have been recognised by her family either – which was fortunate, as they would also be at the ball. Gone were her ash-daubed, frequently-patched robes, replaced by the dress of a noblewoman. Numbered among the stalwart matrons who organised the rebellion was a singularly skilled dressmaker, who had made the most of a shipment of luxurious fabrics that had been ‘liberated’ by the rebellion some six months earlier. This veritable magician had transformed several yards of heavy, dark grey silk into a dress that would have sent Cinder’s step-sisters into violent raptures.

It was fortunate, perhaps, that long gloves and powdered faces were the fashion at this time, for even in this disguise, Cinderella’s true occupation would have revealed itself in her chapped fingers and coarse cheeks. But the signs of Cinderella’s servitude were well-covered, her hair was curled and pinned with jewels, and her proud bearing would not have disgraced even the princess. The true gem of her costume – literally, as well as figuratively – were the sparkling, jewelled shoes that peeped from beneath her sweeping train. They were uncomfortable, despite being fitted for Cinder’s feet by the same fairy godmother who had created her dress, and rather garish to the more modest tastes of the wearer, but they served a greater purpose than mere decoration – they were intended to distract and disguise.

The princess had spent the week of the festival in alternate agonies of suspense and boredom. She had been courted by every eligible prince from five kingdoms, as well as several senior noblemen; her father had provided broad hints as to which he felt were the most suitable, which Charmaigne felt was rather pointless, since he would make the final choice regardless of her preferences; she had heard nothing from the rebellion, other than that the ball would be when they would strike, and that she should be prepared. When the night of the ball arrived, she could barely maintain her facade of polite interest as she sat at the Royal Table beside the father she hated and feared so much that she had effectively signed his death warrant. The rebellion had kept her mostly in the dark about their plans, in case she proved to be treacherous after all, and she had very little idea as to what form the rebellion’s action would take. She only hoped they would take it soon, before the attentions of Prince Errol of Stook forced her to take matters – and a steak knife – into her own hands.

The evening was well under way – and the king and his closest advisors well into their cups – when the princess saw Cinderella enter the ballroom. While nobody else appeared to notice the way the grey-clad noblewoman moved about the ballroom in such a way as to always keep the royal family in her line of sight, and how she always appeared to be measuring the distance between her and the exits, Charmaigne was sure this was the person she had been waiting for. For a moment, when Cinder looked up once again at the Royal Table, their eyes met, and acknowledgement passed briefly and unnoticeably between them. Charmaigne, her heart now thudding painfully in her chest, watched out of the corner of her eye (she was careful not to draw any attention to Cinder by staring) as Cinderella appeared to drop her reticule, briefly seemed to fix some problem with her shoe, and straightened herself. Charmaigne could hardly see what Cinder did next without looking directly, but as Cinder raised her fan to her face, a small, black mark appeared on the neck of the duke to Charmaigne’s left. The princess immediately realised the rebellion’s plan, and while it was not wholly unexpected, she found she had not been as prepared for the reality. Charmaigne forced herself not to stare at the tiny, thorn-like dart in the duke’s neck, and covered her brief shock by offering the duke more wine.

Over the next ten minutes, Cinder continued to move about the ballroom, fanning herself lazily as she walked, allowed to pass through the crowd without notice. By the time she turned to exit the ballroom, nine darts had embedded themselves in the necks of the king and his inner council. The most powerful leaders in the country, though they did not yet know it, had been assassinated. Cinderella paused in the shadow of a column outside the ballroom and bent down, returning the tiny blowpipe – with which she had practiced for months to attain the accuracy that would allow her to complete this mission (although when she had commenced such training she had not known how important it would be) – to her shoe. It had been decorated with jewels to seem like just another decorative feature, and fit neatly into place when its job was done. The poisoned darts were concealed in the raised heel of the other shoe, for the toxin they contained meant they could not be simply left lying around for innocent servants or gardeners to pick up. She paused for a moment, and removed the shoes from her aching feet – they would not help her either in fighting or fleeing, if she had failed to escape unnoticed, and they were fairly torture on one not used to fine footwear.

As Cinderella stepped toward the stairs, however, she was arrested by the sight of the princess coming toward her. She immediately feared that the rebellion’s trust had been misplaced – although it would not now save the king – and that she was about to be arrested. While she had always been prepared to risk arrest, and the inevitable death sentence that would follow, in her work, she did not welcome the idea. The princess, however, approached her wordlessly, and took her hands. Cinder saw there were tears in the woman’s eyes, and her heart was touched.

“I cannot ever thank you for what you have done,” said the princess. “You have saved all of us.” Cinder bowed her head, surprised at her embarrassment.

“I do no more than my duty,” she replied. There was a sudden outcry from within the ballroom, and she knew the duke must have succumbed to the poison in his veins.

“You must go,” said the princess, reluctantly releasing Cinder’s hands. “But please, tell me where I might find you, when this is over.”

Cinderella’s guard, who had been waiting for her at the foot of the stairs, ready to come to her aid if she might be followed, interrupted them.

“We must leave,” said the nearest, pulling Cinderella away from the princess. “There is no time. Princess, you must return to the ballroom. They will be looking for you.”

And with that, Cinderella was gone, running down the stairs with her shoes under her arm. She went to stop as one of them tumbled from her grasp, but her companions pulled her forward. The uproar in the ballroom was now spilling outside, and they had mere seconds before they were noticed and stopped. She was bundled into the carriage, her companions pulled themselves into their places outside it, and they were gone.
The princess, watching from the head of the stairs, saw the shoe fall. She had just time enough to run down and claim it before the chaos claimed her attention, and the true drama of the evening was revealed.

It was some weeks before the princess was at leisure to think once again of her rebel companions. She had sent them a message immediately after the assassination, thanking them, and vowing that she would keep her word when she was crowned queen, and set about repairing the damage her father had done to the kingdom. And she had already done so, forming a court so very different from her father’s as to be almost unrecognisable. Those few remaining nobles who might have challenged the new queen’s power were quickly sent away, and new laws and practices were quick in being formed. It would be many years before the kingdom would taste the true benefits of such change, but that it had begun, was enough to give the people something to live for.

Once these changes had begun, however, the queen was at liberty to think once again of the mysterious young woman who had made it all possible. She found her admiration for the stranger growing with every passing hour – the courage, intelligence and skill that would have been necessary to carry out such a feat were beyond what the queen had often seen, and she wished more than anything to be able to see the young woman again, and to speak with her. The rebellion had gone silent after it had acknowledged her thanks, and she could gain no information from them. But she had maintained her possession of the rather remarkable shoe that had been left on the palace steps, and she soon decided that it would be the most eligible way to find her hero.

Thus the queen, already established as a thorough eccentric, began her search through all the noble and semi-noble families of the kingdom, hoping to find the owner of the other shoe. She had little time to spare for such a search, and it was many, many weeks before it led her to the door of Cinderella’s house. Cinder’s step-father, perceiving that the queen had a great admiration for the woman who had worn the shoe, instructed his one of his daughters to claim it for her own. The shoe, however, was too small, and the queen abruptly ordered Cinder’s whole step-family to be placed in the town stocks for a day as punishment for lying. The sisters wailed at such a punishment, which was beyond anything they had thought possible (they were very sheltered). The commotion drew the attention of all the serving staff, who were greatly amused by such a sight, and Cinderella was astonished to see the queen standing in the drawing room, holding her lost shoe. The queen, as we already know, was a most observant young woman, and recognised Cinderella immediately, despite her dirty apron and chapped fingers.

“I believe I have something of yours,” she said, holding out the shoe. Cinderella, somewhat shocked, but also quite pleased, stepped forward to take it.

“Your majesty is quite welcome to keep it,” she said. “I have no use for such finery.”
The queen laughed at this remark, surprising Cinder’s fellow servants.

“It has served its purpose admirably,” said Charmaigne. “For it has not only rid the kingdom of those unworthy to rule it, it has brought me to one most certainly capable of replacing them.”

Cinderella’s surprise at such a remark rendered her temporarily speechless, but you may be sure that she was soon sufficiently recovered to make a respectful answer, and in time, she became one of Queen Charmaigne’s most capable advisors. The leaders and warriors of the rebellion – women, all – came into the public eye once they could be assured of their safety, and were as valuable to the queen as Cinder herself. As the years passed, the power of the noble classes was greatly diminished, and the welfare of the common folk most wonderfully increased. Under Charmaigne’s just rule, the kingdom became a peaceful, prosperous place, and the women of the rebellion were the most able and sensible leaders of this new society. The men of the kingdom naturally objected to having so much of their power taken away, but with such an able queen, backed by such able women, there was little they could do, and it was very few generations before they ceased their griping and settled comfortably into a more just, happy way of life.

This adaptation is the property of Cambrey Payne 2017. Do not reshare without original source and acknowledge sources when sharing.

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The Nightmare Girls

People always want to know about beginnings.  They want to know where it all started, but the truth is, there is no such thing as a beginning.  Every beginning has its own past, and what we call the ‘start’ of anything is simply where we choose to say “there, that is where It began”.  When people ask where the Nightmare Women began, how a house full of women (Somebody’s Mothers, Somebody’s Sisters, Somebody’s Daughters) became Vigilante Murderers, they don’t really want to know how we came to be, but about how we came to be conscious of ourselves as Ourselves.  There was a Before, when we were still making ourselves into Ourselves – a dark, lonely, loud Before – but it is never allowed to be our Beginning.  Why not?  If we’d had no Before to escape, no Before to remember, no Before to fear, we would not have found that Beginning, the one everyone wants to read about.  The story of our Beginning is only a tiny fraction of Our Story, but humans are so very eager to know where Things Started.  They already know how it ended.  This is how it Began.

It would surprise people to learn what we remember first when we think of The Nightmare Women. It’s not blood, or death, or violence. Those were only ever background to those of us who were there. We remember the food – lasagne and risotto and stirfry and dahl and home-made naan, which was apparently a complete betrayal of a major culinary tradition, but which tasted delicious. We remember fruit mince pies in July, just because we could, and chocolate cake with jam in the middle, and butter cookies decorated in garish colours by chubby little fingers. It took three or four of us to cook dinner for everyone, three or four bodies dancing around one another and stepping over toys and shoes and toddlers as we stirred and strained and instructed various children to do their homework or take their shoes off at the door or don’t-touch-that-you-little-beggar. Our home – and it was a home, not a barracks, or a base, or a compound – our home always smelled of cooking. There were nearly twenty of us, after all, and all those mouths needed feeding, all the time. But we didn’t just feed each other with pasta and cakes. We fed each other with our words, our thoughts pouring out in a river, tongues finally freed after so many years of biting silence. Our words spilled out of us and filled the rooms, warming them and lighting them, resonating with laughter that was, for the first time, un-faked and un-smothered. These words that were as warm and comforting as tea-and-biscuits, or fresh-baked-bread-and-apricot-jam. Words of love; I-knows and it-will-be-okays and you-can-take-your-times. Words that were uncensored, unafraid, tumbling over one another, shocking at first, like a first kiss at the back of a cinema, or the first taste of alcohol. We baked words for our sisters. What we remember of The Nightmare Women is sustenance.

There was another beginning, of course, before the Beginning.  This beginning was Sadhna.  She was forty when she said “no more”, and escaped.  She brought Jaya here, just a child then, and made it a fortress.  And in the beginning it was a fortress, when it was just Sadhna and Jaya.  They barricaded themselves behind these walls and pretended the world didn’t exist.  But the world didn’t stop existing.  It kept creating more Sadhnas and more Jayas, and some of them found their way to the fortress, and Sadhna let them all in; all the single mothers and high school drop-outs; the queers and trannies; the Abos and towel-heads and chinks; the bludgers and povvos and spastics and nutters.  The survivors.  The empty rooms were opened and we filled them with noise, with bundles of second-hand clothes, and op-shop furniture, and recycled fabric turned into Etsy-worthy bedspreads.  We filled them with night terrors, and cups of tea delivered by sister insomniacs, with tears and whispered stories and arms around shoulders.  We filled them with ten people trying to learn sign language because the new girl was non-verbal.  With seven different languages, and toddlers who would use words from all of them in the same sentence, plus a few they’d made up.  With study for the first time in two decades, and night shifts keeping an eye on the diabetic eight-year-old, and children sleeping in their own beds for the first time, and music that everyone sang along to, and laughter.  The walls grew warmer.  They held the world at bay, and inside, we made our own world.

Until he came.  Fools that we were, we allowed ourselves to believe in Safety.  We had Got Out.  We had Survived.  It was a Good Area.  It was quiet, so quiet that you could Leave Your Doors Unlocked (although we never did, even in that magical innocent time).  None of us talked to our pasts any more.  We believed what we were told; we believed we should have been Safe.  But he found us, and for those fateful twenty-seven minutes, our home – our safe, warm, noisy home, smelling of roses and gumboots and curry – our home became a fortress again, and we were under siege.  This was the Beginning.

********

It was our favourite kind of evening.  We had already started hanging the Christmas decorations.  We spent our spare time stringing popcorn garlands to hang from the door frames and the three baby pine trees we’d cut from the bottom of the garden.  We’d already gone through three bags of popcorn and we’d barely finished the ground floor.  Sadhna and Bec and Meara and Jackie were making tacos, the easiest meal possible with so many children.  We always used normal corn chips, though, because they were cheaper.

– Harley, stop hitting your brother! Bec hollered through the kitchen window.  Harley was Viv’s, but we shared everything, including parenting.

– Do I have to come out there? Viv shouted over the back of the couch.  A chorus of giggling ‘no’s came back through the screen door, followed by a shriek indicating one of the older ones had found the hose.  Bec and Meara rolled their eyes and laughed.  It would be worth the wet clothes to have twenty minutes of relative peace.

It was our favourite kind of evening.  It had been muggy all day.  There was a storm coming, the brief, showery kind that barely cools the air.  The gloryvine nodded in the breeze, the scent of rain and the distance crackle of thunder had energised the children, which was why we’d sent them all outside.  Except Finn, of course, who was sleeping on the rug, his little three-month hands clenching and unclenching as he dreamed his baby dreams.  Viv relaxed back into the couch and sighed.

– How long since we were all home at the same time? she asked, clasping her glass of wine like it was the Elixir of Life.

– About six weeks, replied Hen, her eyes facing the television but her hands flashing toward Viv.  We’d opened all the windows, and for once, none of the children had sports training or music lessons or dance class, none of us had to work or visit a relative.  We sat and leaned and stood and lay in the cavernous living area and drank tea and coffee and wine and beer while we strung garlands and yelled at Family Feud and at each other, and the only way we could tell what was going on was because of Hen’s closed captions.  She needed them because when we were too loud, she couldn’t interpret individual sounds, and we were often too loud.

It was our favourite kind of evening.  Finn woke suddenly, his face crumpling and legs pumping angrily as he worked his way up to a decent howl.  Seven voices said ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwww’, but Sal got to him first, cuddling him tight as she couriered him to Meara for a feed.  Meara gave her a brief hug as she took her son back, resting her cheek against Sal’s.  It was nearly two years since Sal had arrived, bruises still fresh, the tiny urn in her luggage carrying a deeper wound than anyone outside of this home would ever understand.

– Can you hear something? Hen signed at Viv, the only one still facing her.  We were too busy smiling at Finn or worrying about Sal, and the television was turned up and the children yelled too loud for us to notice.

– Hey, shush, you lot, what’s that?”

It was our favourite kind of evening…

 

I know you’re in there, you filthy bitch!  Fe fi fo fum…

It’s amazing how silent a noisy room can become when fear arrives suddenly like that.  It’s amazing how familiar fear can be and yet still so jarring.  Only two of us knew the man, but we all knew the voice.  It wasn’t drunk, not this one.  He didn’t need to be.  It was a toddler-in-a-man’s-body voice; a toy-taken-away, it’s-not-fair voice; a bitch-slut-whore you-belong-to-me voice.  A Man’s voice.

– How did he find me?  Why is this happening?

– Ssshh, someone get the kids inside.

– Don’t worry, Meara, you’re safe, it’s fine, it’s fine.  Please let it be fine.

– What are we going to do?

– We’ll deal with it, don’t worry.  Who let this fucker walk free?

– Okay, kids, we’re going to go upstairs.  Don’t worry, sweetie, it’s going to be okay.  How dare he frighten our babies.

– Turn the TV down, lock the door.  We’ll deal with It.

– He’s my child, Meara!  You’re my wife!  I smell the blood of a frightened woman…

Nine pairs of frightened eyes.  Nine pairs of angry eyes.  Nine pairs of hands signing.  Nine heads nodding.

–  You promised ‘til death do us part!  You seem pretty alive to me, you fucking whore!  Be she alive or be she dead…

And just like that…

– Let me in, you crazy dyke bitches!  Give me my wife back!  I’ll grind her bones…

It was our favourite kind of evening.  And that was the real reason it became our Beginning.  We had finally found our Place, and he wanted to take it away from us.  Like every other Man we had ever known, this one wanted to take what we had worked for, what we had built.  He wanted to steal it and make it his.  We were all afraid.  We carried fear with us from the moment we were born, Women-in-a-Man’s-World; property, objects, saleable, ownable.  Killable.  But this time the fear didn’t win, because this place wasn’t a Man’s World.  This place was Our World, and he wasn’t welcome.  In this place, we could be angry.  Anger, after all, is what happens when you have been afraid for too long and you want it to stop.  Anger was our Beginning.  And those are still our favourite kind of evening.

I suppose there are people who will want to know his name.  They will want to know who he was, what he had done, exactly what we feared he would do.  They will want to know what we did, and where he is buried.  But to us, he has no name, not any more.  He is simply the one who reminded us that in this world, in this reality, we are never safe.  He is the one who tried to bring the Man’s World into Our World; who tried to take back our humanity and turn us, once again, into Women-in-a-Man’s-World.  Instead, he turned us into an army, and reminded us that there were other fortresses out there, other Women-in-Men’s-Worlds who wanted to be human too.  We learned, then, that if we fought on their terms, we would keeping losing.  So we made our own terms.  There was no other way, nothing else to be done.  This was where the Nightmare Girls began.

All Rights Reserved (text and image) to Cambrey Payne 2016. Acknowledge sources when sharing and do not repost without original source.