Summer of Faerie: “The Decision” by Loren Warnemuende

August is hot. Humidity hangs heavy in the air and (some mornings) paints fog on the windows. The leaves have darkened from their fresh spring green and hang limp, shriveled. I’m writing this while sitting on the back porch steps, my feet on the dusty earth and brittle grass, as our golden retriever sits in the middle of a lawn chewing a stick. Crickets murmur in the woods. Just now, though, a cool wind just came running through the tree canopy with that delicious rustling sound like running water.

My Faerie research has lapsed (somewhat) as I work through summer reading for St. Andrews. On our Montana trip, however, I read Charlotte E. English’s delightful Faerie Fruit, a tale with shades of Eden, Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” and C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew mixed in with small-town intrigue and told with enchanting prose. The first section was my favorite, but the whole story was a fascinating look at food and eating in Faerie (a branch of study I need to examine further), community and friendship, self-control and desire, love and choices.

This week’s Summer of Faerie post also concerns choice and desire. Loren Warnemuende, who wrote a retelling of “King Thrushbeard” earlier this summer, also contributed an excerpt from her manuscript, Exile. It’s the first book in a trilogy named Daughter of Arden which retells the Grimm Brothers’ tale of “Maid Maleen.” I’ve had the privilege of reading some of the first drafts of the series, and it’s marvelous – rich, exotic, compelling, and gripping at every turn. I hope to see them in print someday. Enjoy!

The Decision

by Loren Warnemuende

Cathedral interior
Photo credit: Loren Warnemuende

“Her Royal Highness, the Princess Maleen!” Minister Gooldon boomed. Echoes reverberated through the Hall, up against the arched stone ceiling and down across the glimmering windows.

 At the front of the Hall King Darrick rose, and the assembly turned toward the center where Maleen must walk. She swallowed. There were so many people watching. Three days before she had stood here alone with her father when he had given her the incomprehensible choice—marriage to Prince Jared of Dranneth, or sojourn in a tower. He said the tower was the only alternative to the marriage, and both were to keep her safe from the looming war with the barbarous Kalomenn. Maleen had begged him to consider other options—if only he would consider Prince Melanor of Pandor, the one she loved, who loved her!—but the king wouldn’t bend and now she had to announce her decision.

Maleen took a deep breath, fixed her eyes on her father, and swept toward him. Colors swirled along her sides and the path moved on and on. She felt she traversed the history woven into each of the tapestries lining the walls, back to the dawn of Arden. At last she reached the steps of the dais. King Darrick stepped down to meet her and took her hands in his.

They stood, brown eyes to brown. She did not speak, and tried not to look down, forcing her face to give no signs of her turmoil. The hush in the Hall was almost unbearable.

“And so, Maleen?”

His words were soft, but they permeated her being and flowed through the Hall. Maleen lifted her chin, but her gaze dropped.

“I choose the tower,” she said, and the weight of the stone pressed in around her. But it was the only option that would give Melanor enough time to come for her.

The king gripped her hands tightly and a chatter of voices rattled like tossed pebbles through the Hall behind her. The king’s hold loosened, and he sighed deeply. He stepped up to his throne, leading Maleen to her delicate copy of his massive seat before he sat down. He motioned to a guard who stood by the council chamber door. The guard stepped within, then emerged followed by a man and a woman. They approached the dais and bowed deeply to the princess and the king.

“Princess Maleen,” King Darrick said, “I would like you to meet Sage Granimor and Dame Marietta. Granimor, as you know, will build the tower.”

Maleen nodded in acknowledgment toward the man with the wind-grained face and bulky shoulders. The man’s frame seemed out of place in the ornate hall.

“I am honored to see to your safety, Princess,” Granimor stated, looking at her with piercing blue eyes. He carried his authority as a sage like a mantle. Maleen wondered how honored the man really felt for Granimor revealed nothing.

“And this,” Darrick continued, “is Dame Marietta, who will join you in the tower.”

Maleen jerked her head toward her father, then turned her full stare onto the woman before her. Someone to accompany her? The thought had not crossed her mind! She assumed she was in this on her own—how could her father impose such a fate on anyone else? Then she realized her father would never force someone to join her. But who would come willingly? Not, of course, Maleen reminded herself, that they would actually enter the tower, but what if…. No, the idea was unthinkable.

The woman stood quietly before her and Maleen wondered what far corner of the castle she had been found in. Her hair, dark brown except for some gray at her ears, was pulled back loosely from her tanned face. She, too, had keen blue eyes that were fixed steadily on the princess, and her mouth was firm, but not tight. A blue sash tied the waist of her brown linen gown and her back was straight.

She stepped onto the first step of the dais and took Maleen’s smooth hands into her rough ones. Her eyes were now level with Maleen’s.

“I am looking forward to serving you again,” she said smiling. Her voice was low and rich. 

Maleen gaped openly at the woman now. She was sure she had never laid eyes on her, and yet this peasant had the audacity to take her sovereign’s hand. Maleen closed her mouth, smoothed her face, and drew her hands away. Marietta, unperturbed, nodded slightly and stepped back to the foot of the dais.

Maleen saw her father frown faintly before he turned to her.

“Marietta has been a faithful member of this household since before you were born,” King Darrick explained. “She has worked in the library and kitchens, but it was she who nursed you your first two years.”

“Oh.” Maleen had no other words. She knew someone must have nursed her after her mother died, but no one ever said who. She’d never thought to ask. She stared again at this quiet woman who smiled at her with peaceful assurance.

The king waved his hand at the enigmatical pair, and with another bow they retreated to the council chamber. Maleen couldn’t take her eyes from the door where they exited. The rest of the Hall no longer existed.

Her father spoke beside her. “My dear, I hope you will continue your regular activities until the tower is built. It will be some months before it is complete.”

Maleen tore her eyes from the door but focused on her hands and didn’t look toward him.

“Yes Father, of course.”

He coughed slightly, and stood. She looked up into his face, trying to put away any feeling. The sight of his sad eyes, brows crumpled, and mouth compressed was too much for her. She stood quickly so she could avoid looking into his face again.

 “You may go now,” the king said, his voice low. And then, “I will try to call you in more frequently, my child.”

 “I—I thank you,” Maleen stammered blankly. She turned and stepped down the dais, moving toward the distant open doors, willing herself to remain calm and poised. She must be stalwart before her people. What would they think if she broke down now? And how could she let her father see how she felt? Let him show his pain! He should be anguished over sending his only heir and daughter into a prison. Besides, she thought, there’s no need for tears or tantrums! Melanor will come and take me away, far away, from all these people who pity me. She raised her chin again and left the hall with swift, unfaltering steps.

 She had expected her ladies would follow. They had said they would stand behind her, and she thought they’d want to be there, if only for the purpose of scrutinizing her initial reactions. She had looked forward to venting her frustration onto them. But no one followed, and when Maleen reached the bottom of the Hall stairs she realized she was alone save the stony sentinels of the King’s Elite. She caught her breath, forcing down an unexpected lump in her throat, then conversely welcomed the rushing wave of relief that she was alone. 

 Maleen strode toward Ramia’s Garden, thankful there would be no unwanted company at this time of year. She wandered the paths in silence, trying to think only of the muted colors of winter. Eventually she settled onto a stone bench hidden in the rose arbor and wrapped her arms about herself to ward off the evening chill. 

No roses bloomed, but the branches entwined the trellises, providing shelter from the cool winter breezes and possible prying eyes. The sun slipped behind the castle wall, but its ambient light cast a soft glow over everything. Maleen sat, drinking in the quiet, pushing thoughts away. Her eyes wandered, settling eventually on the brown stone of the Akklesia visible over the gardens. This building, a place of worship to the Mighty One, had stood for centuries here in Ardenay. It was a symbol of hope for the people—a center. It was only a small Akklesia, structured for the worship of castle inhabitants. Every castle and large town in the country had an Akklesia, most far more grand than this. But this one was significant because it was the first. Arden’s first king and queen had built it with their own sweat and blood, forging a core for their young kingdom. It was they who lit the first Light, the eternal flame that burned on a pedestal in the Akklesia, representing the Mighty One’s constant presence.

 And what was the Mighty One’s perspective on Maleen’s situation now? Wasn’t he worshipped and honored because he protected his chosen people? Maleen was from the line of Arden’s kings and queens—the blood of the firsts flowed through her. Why didn’t the One Who Saves reach down and change her situation now? Why had he even let it occur?

No voice answered her questions; she hadn’t expected one. Instead the clear tones of the Akklesia choral girls rose, singing their evening hymn of praise. The single line of notes climbed sweetly into the clean air, dragging with it the lump lodged in Maleen’s chest. It rose into her throat and then mouth, and with it came the tears she had repressed so fiercely. A final ray of the sun lanced over the castle wall catching the roof of the Akklesia, and the water in Maleen’s eyes magnified it so it seemed to ignite and consume the building, annihilating hope. Without further care for appearances, Maleen lowered her head and sobbed.

Loren Warnemuende

When she was in fourth grade, Loren won a story-writing contest and decided that she’d grow up to be a writer. Since then God has led her into many roles including wife to her Renaissance man, Kraig, and mom and teacher to their three kids. Loren also teaches Worldview and Bible to high schoolers in a homeschool co-op, and adults at church. Through all these roles writing has been a source of hope and a way to share the stories and big ideas that fill her mind and heart. Loren lived most of her life in Michigan, but now calls East Texas home. You can find more of her sporadic writing on her blog Willing, Wanting, Waiting…..

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