The Twelve Dancers

Worn-out shoes.  That’s what it came down to.  He was risking his life for worn-out shoes.  He shifted back on his heels in the mud, and raised his fingers to the place where a thorn had torn a sticky gash in his neck.  He’d had far worse, but it was all of a piece with this whole night.

The thing had stank from the beginning.  Find the secret in three nights or be put to death?  What sort of offer was that?  But the king was a father and fathers got desperate.  He hadn’t been far from desperate himself — out of a job, out of money, about to exhaust his options.  No one seemed to want his nicked and battered sword or equally battered self.

So he’d offered himself up, and things had only gotten worse.  The princesses’ quarters had given him a bad feeling of the kind he hadn’t had in years, not since that disastrous campaign that still hurled him out of sleep in a sweat at night.  The girls’ faces.  The bars on the windows, the poisoned spikes.  Were they meant to keep people out or in?  He couldn’t have slept there for the throne itself.  Dumping the drugged wine and following them out of that hellhole had been something out of a dream or a nightmare, he wasn’t sure which.

And here he crouched behind the brambles in a cavern where no brambles should grow, watching the princesses dance.  There was an eerie beauty to it, but it wasn’t the grace but the sense of purpose that riveted him.  He had one more night.  From the way the power was building, he wouldn’t need it.  When tomorrow night came, the king would have other things to worry about.

He looked up again, and found the oldest princess’ eye on him, finding him again and again through the whirl of the dance.  He stared at her for a long moment, then nodded gravely and turned back toward the castle path.

 

This week I’m combining prompts for the first time: Write on Edge‘s Write at the Merge challenge gave us a Degas dancer and an Ayn Rand quote about slaves and masters, and Trifecta Writing Challenge gave us the word EXHAUST (verb):

3a : to consider or discuss (a subject) thoroughly or completely  
  b : to try out the whole number of <exhausted all the possibilities>

I was pretty convinced slavery and dancers were going to stump me, but then another fairy tale happened.  Thanks for reading!

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  1. Dawn says:

    Hm! Powerful – makes me curious to see what all came before and comes after 🙂 Well done! 😀

    Neat idea combining the prompts! May try my hand at that as well.

    • Annabelle says:

      Thanks! To be fair, I was an hour or two into writing the Write at the Merge response when the Trifecta challenge posted, and realized it would be reaaallly easy to add the word “exhaust” to what I was already writing. In another week that might have been more challenging.

  2. JannaTWrites says:

    I really want to know what will happen the next night (both with the dancers and the man)!

  3. Joe says:

    Some secrets are best left kept!

  4. Brian says:

    That little flash back to the earlier campaign was my favorite part, because it gave him a lot of depth, turning him into the fantasy equivalent of a burnt-out cop. Really interesting start!

  5. kz says:

    loved this! enjoyable read that piqued my curiosity. i most certainly wanna see what happens next ^^

  6. Michael says:

    I hadn’t read the fairy tale about the dancing shoes in a really long time; this was a lovely take on it.

  7. Draug (@Draug419) says:

    This is a brilliant piece. I’m jealous of your lovely writing (:

  8. Bee says:

    I’d love to know what came before and what will come next! Great way to use both prompts!

  9. kgwaite says:

    I really like the visuals, the spikes, the eyes, and the message that the dancing princess seems to want to convey.

  10. Sandra Crook says:

    Totally fascinating, well written.

  11. I like the moment of connection between the MC and the eldest sister. It shows there’s some sort of allegiance there, though it may be on shaky ground.

  12. lumdog says:

    What a great read. Like the others, I’d love to read the whole story. Well done!

  13. He was risking his life for worn-out shoes – love that sentence, and the premise behind it.
    The whole idea of the “hidden” dancing is enchanting.

    Btw, not sure which you were going for in the 2nd paragraph: stank or had stunk.

  14. deana says:

    This is really good. I hope you will be adding to this!

  15. Flippa Bird says:

    Wowza… that poor soldier! What a good story… leaves me wanting more. 🙂

  16. Trifecta says:

    Very visual, especially the end part about catching his eye on every turn. Great job!

  17. habibadanyal says:

    I loved this story as a child! Remember badgering my teacher for this one. Thank you for bringing back old memories

  18. Jennifer says:

    I think that the King will have no tomorrow night at all if the Princesses have their way.

    This was lovely, melodic and lulling. It was one of those moments where when I got to the end I wanted the rest.

  19. Steph says:

    Yes, very visual. I love the detail of the thorn and the sticky gash – small details that say so much. And the princess finding him through the whirl of the dance. He had one more night. I’d like to know what happens. Great story.

  20. Suzanne says:

    I really love the way you’ve set the mood in this piece. Great tension, great visuals! Would love to know what happens the following night.

  21. Renee says:

    I can only vaguely remember the story of dancing shoes. It keeps tickling the edges of my memory now.
    I loved the visuals you evoked in this. And like everyone else, id love to know more. Before and after.

  22. rashmenon says:

    The whole piece has a mystical air, skilfully applied with princesses’ dance and poisonous spikes and a desperate man

  23. sandra tyler says:

    very nice combo to those two challenges! I saw the writer’s edge one and thought it was too hard but you pulled it off!

  24. Christine says:

    Fantastic! I love this fairy tale, and the way you brought it down to a very personal level was brilliant.

  25. Atreyee says:

    Wonderfully magical!Transported me to childhood & fairy tales:-)

  26. Carrie says:

    I do enjoy you fairy tale twists 🙂 Another fun one

  27. Morgan says:

    The curious and untold side of the fairy tale – the poor knight sent to keep an eye on those pesky dancing daughters. Well done and fun!

  28. H.L. Pauff says:

    Great story. Really enjoyed this!

  29. Rambly says:

    Interesting story one that leads the reader for more – well cone.

  30. sonya says:

    that was very well done as always! I only vaguely remember the story of the dancing shoes and now I may have to go and look it up to see what it was all about!!

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