Since watching the movie Inception, has anyone else taken to referring to ideas and events with various layers as "fill-in-the-blank-ception"? This is, of course, in reference to the concept in the movie of having a dream within a dream within a dream.
I experienced something along those lines while writing this short story. I actually had to write it so that another character in a different story could talk about it in detail but then it is also based on a historical event in the world the story (or stories?) takes place in but is a sanitized, disney-esque version of the real story that is merely a background for the first story I was working on in the first place.
Makes perfect sense, right?
Now that we have that not at all cleared up, I went about writing this story in the style of a fairy tale. I read several different versions of a selection of the "classics" like Beauty and the Beast to try and get an accurate voice for it. I think it turned out quite well but it really is more to you, the fair reader, to decide if I succeeded.
So here is my crack at a new fairy tale in the old style...
PERIDOT AND THE REVENANT
By Spencer Stoner
Long ago in a land filled with rolling hills and verdant grasses that filled the very air with the fragrance of exuberance lived a large family of noble means. They were a household of fifteen in all. The citizenry felt the Queen Mother and King Father watched over them as close and lovingly as as the royals watched and cared for their own children.
They were wise rulers, having married the three eldest daughters as well as four eldest sons to neighboring clans. Thus they saw that peace surrounded them always and all sought only to improve the lives and destinies of all in the land.
Even so, all but the second daughter brought their husbands and wives back to their fine castle to live with the rest of their family. Otherwise, missing the feeling of love and compassion that radiated from the Queen and King would have surely dimmed their humours.
One fateful night a carriage came to the castle, out of which a man of a foreboding nature emerged. He demanded an audience with the entirety of the noble family even though the hour was greatly late. In spite this, and being of gracious natures themselves, the Queen and King agreed to meet with this most unusual of guests.
The man was well traveled, wearing clothing of a nature not to be found anywhere in the the vastness of the noble family's lands. Despite his newness to the region, he had come before the ruling family with a most disquieting demand! He insisted that the Queen Mother and King Father relinquish their eldest virgin daughter to him or he would ravage the very fields and displace the entirety of the people who lived in the lands that the nobles so loved.
Seeing as the three oldest daughters had been long since wedded, the burden fell to their fourth daughter, the young Maiden Peridot. As she had only barely reached an age that was acceptable to marry and did not care for matters of politics, Maiden Peridot had busied herself with reading any book that came within her reach and learning the skills of painting and riding horses.
None of these things increased her advantage but they had given the young noblewoman an intelligence that differed from those of her siblings. Among those things that the books she so loved had taught her was the very identity of the type of creature that stood before her family in the guise of a man. As his very countenance matched the descriptions she so clearly remembered, Maiden Peridot revealed to the Queen Mother and King Father that the stranger was truly a creature called a revenant!
Maiden Peridot understood that the revenant was a man of unnatural strength that could fulfill his threat if she did not comply with his commands. So for the good of her family and the people for which they all cared so deeply young Maiden Peridot accompanied the revenant from the castle that had been her home the entirety of her life and into his carriage.
The stallions that pulled the carriage were mighty indeed and carried Maiden Peridot and the revenant a great distance in only a short time. They were still on her family's lands but had traveled into the moors that not many mortal men traversed into due to the unstable earth that could swallow them whole if they stepped wrong.
But the carriage continued on without fear until they finally reached a cave that entered a broad round hillside. Once they stopped, the revenant stepped out and offered his hand to aid Maiden Peridot in dismounting from the carriage herself.
His hand ended in long, sharp claws. Such a sight caused the young noble to gasp but she quickly recovered herself. She accepted the surprising gentlemanly gesture from the revenant and stepped onto the soggy earth.
“I know it does not appear hospitable.” The revenant said. “But I do hope to make you happy here.”
His words confused Maiden Peridot. The gentle nature he was showing her did not match the descriptions of the monsters his kind were said to be in the books she held so dear.
Maiden Peridot had no skill in spelunking and she felt uneasy as she neared the opening of the cave. What awaited her when she peered inside again surprised the young noblewoman. It appeared as if the halls of a luxurious castle not unlike those of her own home had been build inside the hill!
The revenant guided her deeper into the cave that seemed more a hallway. They passed doors lined either wall, hinting at rooms that led further into the hill until the revenant stopped before a particular door.
“This is your room.” He said. “You are free to explore the cave all you wish but I do have two rules upon which I am most insistent. First, you must stay within the cave. If you try to leave, I cannot be held responsible for what will happen next. Also, while you can explore the cave all you wish, you will be required to adjourn into your room and stay there upon dusk on the night of the full moon until dawn of the next morning. Is that understood?”
The boundaries set by the rules were most simple to Maiden Peridot. However she was of a precocious mind and did not understand the reasoning. Particularly, why must she seclude herself once every fortnight?
When she asked the question of the revenant, he simply opened the door to what was to be Maiden Peridot's room and ushered her inside. It was as luxurious as the rest of the cave, more so even than her room back in the castle.
There was even a large selection of shelves weighed down with numerous leather bound tomes. As well as an easel with a blank canvas and a small table with paints and a pallet resting atop. It was as if he had known it would be her coming to live within the confines of this cave.
Running her hands along the spines of the numerous books, she did not see a familiar title among them. That caused her equal parts excitement equaled only by dread. While the revenant wanted her to be comfortable, he also wanted her to not have anything familiar.
As it had already been late when she was taken to the cave, fatigue quickly found young Maiden Peridot and she adjourned to the bed that had been so meticulously prepared for her. She was astonished when she awoke to find that she had slept fitfully. Never once did she have a dream that she was to be eaten by the revenant in one of the many ways described in the selections of books she had read on the subject.
The young noblewoman found a new dress made of finer silks than she had ever seen before resting on the foot of the bed. Maiden Peridot considered staying in the simple riding clothes she had entered the cave wearing. She found a tub full of steaming water waiting in the corner and decided to weigh her options as she bathed.
She wondered what should be expected of her in a situation such as this. She had been forcibly taken from her home only to arrive in a place even more luxurious. To her the revenant had been nothing but a gentleman but he had also threatened to attack the people her family so vehemently watched over.
Maiden Peridot's mind swirled trying to make sense of the contradictions until the water started to turn cold. She rose from the tub to find her riding clothes missing. The only option besides walking around in naught but her skin was the dress that waited at the foot of her bed.
Dressed in the finest silks she had ever felt Maiden Peridot decided to take the revenant up on his permission to explore. As she entered the hall, the young noblewoman could see late morning light spilling into the cave but there was no sign of the revenant.
She walked from room to room never finding a locked door. Whatever room she expected to see when she turned the knob, a more opulent version awaited her whether it be a sitting room, sewing room or even a study filled with even more unfamiliar books.
Throughout the day she never saw the revenant. She had found a kitchen and made herself a simple repast around midday but she did not see her captor until after sundown.
That was when she found him sitting at a long table with a fine meal resting upon it. There was only one plate set across from him as a silent invitation for her to sit.
As she entered, the revenant rose to his feet and gave her a courteous bow in greeting. “Will you give me leave to see you sup?” He asked.
“As I am to be here at your pleasure, I do not see how I can refuse.” She replied.
Her answer seemed to pain the man. “You are the mistress here, milady. As you so wish within these walls it will be. Even if it is for me to begone.”
She stood silently pondering his words for a long time. Finally, she sat down before the bare plate.
“Though the circumstances are unusual you have done me no disservice so I see no reason to send you from me.” Maiden Peridot said.
That pleased the revenant. As she ate they had a most pleasant conversation. They seemed to share similar passions. Maiden Peridot was clever enough to ask very specific questions that one who had only a precursory study would not be able to answer to alleviate any concern of his knowledge being only to comfort her and not truly enthrall him as well.
By the time Maiden Peridot decided it was time to retire for the evening, she was surprised to see how much time had passed. She bid the revenant a fond farewell and returned to her room.
Inside, she found the loveliest nightgown draped over her freshly made bed. In the hours they had been conversing, there was no way the revenant had time to have tidied her room and delivered new clothing. The noblewoman resolved to learn how it was done but not until after she had rested.
Weeks passed and each day went much like the ones before. Maiden Peridot came into the habit of painting for several hours after waking up in the mornings, then exploring deeper into the cave, finding new rooms well into the afternoon.
She never lost track of where the dining room was, always finding the revenant waiting inside. “Will you give me leave to see you sup?” He always asked.
Maiden Peridot would not contrive a false reason to refuse him and since he personally treated her with nothing but kindness she always granted his request. They spoke well into the night, more than once finding the sun starting to arise from the horizon beyond the cave's entrance when she finally took off to bed. It continued this way until the night of the full moon.
The revenant entered the reading room where Maiden Peridot had discovered a new volume about painting techniques and was studying its pages. He begged her forgiveness for his intrusion and presented her with a covered silver platter.
Finding a meager meal compared to the fare she had been served up to this point the young noblewoman did not hide her confusion at such an unexpected change. He asked her to return to her room with the platter and stay until morning came.
Remembering his rules Maiden Peridot did not argue and withdrew for the evening. When she returned to her room, she found it as she had left it that morning. The bed was unmade the same nightgown she wore the night before rested upon the rumpled covers.
This did not worry the young noblewoman as much as make her wonder how the fullness of the moon related to such a sudden change. Maiden Peridot pondered on this the rest of the day until she finally readied herself for sleep in the nightgown from the previous night.
It was then that fearful feral noises came from outside her room. She had promised the revenant that she would stay inside her room the entirety of the night. But being of a wondering nature Maiden Peridot proclaimed herself unable to go on without knowledge of what could be the source of such terrible noises.
Maiden Peridot opened the doorway just enough to peek out into the cave beyond. She took in the sight of the revenant tearing into the flesh of a long haired animal in a manner that could only be described as ravenous.
She covered her mouth to stifle her gasp of shock at the sight but the revenant still somehow heard her. He turned his face toward the door of the young noblewoman's room and Maiden Peridot received her second shock. The face that looked back at her no longer contained any humanity as blood dripped from its long fangs and down the chin of the creature.
Unleashing a howl that seemed unable to come from any form of mortal animal, the revenant streaked for Maiden Peridot. The young woman hurriedly closed her door and found it to be without a lock. Until this moment she had not thought to need one.
Maiden Peridot could still hear the revenant pace back and forth in front of her room, releasing occasional growls and other beastly sounds. But the beast did not enter.
Though he somehow appeared more of a monster than a man he surely retained the physical ability to open doors or at the very least break one down with his unnatural strength. While she was worried for her life, Maiden Peridot wondered why the revenant would not enter.
Eventually the young noblewoman found her fatigue victorious over her worry and she slept. Awakening the next morning she found a hot bath drawn for her as usual but beside it was a letter on a small table.
“I regret any discomfort you had to endure over the evening.” The note read. “I do hope you will forgive the lapse in your mediation and will still join me in the dining room this evening as has been a practice I have found most pleasant this past fortnight.”
Despite herself Maiden Peridot found herself flattered at the words the revenant had written. It also ignited a curiosity about the nature of this revenant that made him so unlike the words from the experts in such things that she had read.
This was a mystery she intended to solve starting that very day. As she traversed deeper into the cave than she ever had the previous fortnight she desired to find the place the revenant took sanctuary in these daylight hours.
The walls of the cave started to more resemble their namesake rather than the well built castle-like facade she had lived within. Still, there were doors and she entered the first in this more natural area.
Inside was a study much like the one Maiden Peridot used to learn her new art techniques. There were fewer books inside and none of them had any titles on the spines to hint at their subjects.
She pulled one of the volumes from the shelf and opened the cover. She found it to be a journal belonging to the revenant!
The young noblewoman felt it was improper to look further into the book and replaced it on the shelf. Then she realized that more time had passed than she realized and if she did not make haste she would be late for dinner with the revenant. She had found herself enjoying these repasts and did not want to miss out.
“Will you give me leave to see you sup?” The revenant asked as he did at the beginning of each dinner.
Again she did not refuse him. As they had every evening previous the noble and the creature conversed about a great many subjects but Maiden Peridot felt as if the air in the dining room was more leaden than it had been in evenings past. She soon learned why.
“Did you leave your room last evening?” The revenant finally asked.
Though she had opened the door Maiden Peridot was able to answer honestly that she did not. This answer did seem to satisfy the man and the subject again turned more pleasant.
The young noblewoman did feel a certain guilt though it was not entirely about her answer to the question from the revenant. She decided to confess that she stumbled upon his study and the collection of journals that rested inside.
“Did you read any of them?” The revenant asked.
“That would have been an invasion of trust I could not justify.” She answered.
“All that is here is yours.” The revenant said. “You cannot invade that which is yours.”
“Then shall I read your journals?” She wondered.
“If it is your wish.” He nodded.
Maiden Peridot could not bring herself to return to that study for several days afterward. Finally, though, her desire to know more of the revenant overtook her and led her back deep into the cave.
Pulling free what appeared to be the oldest of the volumes, Maiden Peridot read the words written in the hands of a man from before he had become a revenant. The tale told was of a noble that fell into the all too common trap of pride in his station.
After reading this story from cover to cover Maiden Peridot adjourned to the dining room. She did not tell the revenant what she had done and their conversation was as pleasant as it had ever been.
Maiden Peridot found herself returning to the study every day. She learned of the curse that came upon the man and made him into a revenant. She was reviled as the joy the revenant took in writing of the details of his early attacks on the mortals around him.
But it was the later volumes that truly astounded the young woman. As much pleasure as the creature took in his attacks he was even more so disgusted when he wrote in his journals the following day.
He wondered why God would allow such a cruel fate to befall a noble of his stature. He begged any deity that would listen to take this burden from him and saw no relief.
Peridot found the revenant to be a walking contradiction. As much as his wickedness brought him joy it brought misery down upon him tenfold. Still, whatever demon that resided in him would not allow him to stop his evil.
Until the previous fortnight. He entered the land of Peridot's family and demanded a sacrifice. He had intended to commit great evil on her but found himself unable to do so.
The revenant spoke of their conversations over dinners which only Peridot ate with as great of affection as Peridot herself felt. He wondered why the blood of animals was able to sate him now when he could not even stomach it before entering these lands.
The night of the next full moon, Peridot read the last of the revenant's journals. On the last page the creature had written a message specifically to the young woman.
“I have found your company to be the greatest gift that could be given to a monster like me.” He wrote. “But I cannot allow myself to hoard a treasure such as you any longer. Tomorrow, please take whatever you would like as a reminder of your time here and return to your home. My carriage will take you in the morning and, afterword, be yours. Please do not return as I wish you only joy from this day on.”
Peridot wanted to run to the revenant but she found the clocks striking the time of dusk. She had to rush to her room to keep her word to the man and shut herself in for the night.
Growling and gnashing of teeth again echoed through her door but she bared it no mind. If she was to leave tomorrow, she determined to give the revenant a gift that would only be able to repay perhaps a fraction of the kindness he had shown her.
She resolved not to leave the cave until she had spoken to the revenant one last time. She declared this desire in a note that she left beside her bathtub, hoping that he would somehow be able to read it when whatever drew her bath came to do so in the morn as it had every day.
When she awoke the next morning, she found a note beside her bath responding to her message just as she had hoped. What it said, though, drew tears from the young woman.
“I cannot.” Was all that was written.
Peridot took her gift to the revenant and started deeper into the cave than she had ever braved. Doors disappeared to become dank offshoots of the murky cave that coated mud all over the young woman's feet.
Peridot traveled so far into the cave that she was no longer sure she could find her way back. That was when she heard the sounds of metal scraping against metal. She followed the odd noises until she found the revenant awkwardly fastening a cuff around his arm.
Every other one of his arm and legs had been restrained in a similar manner. The cuffs were each attached to chains that were in turn attached to the wall. When he saw Peridot he froze in horror.
“I cannot leave until I have given you a simple token to remember me.” The young woman cried.
She pulled the cloth that had been covering a painting of the revenant. Peridot held it up so that he could see every detail.
“This is how I see you.” She confessed.
There was more humanity in the painting of the revenant than he had seen even in himself in the longest of times. There was no hint of the monster that lurked within.
Tears welled from the man's face in a way that he thought he had been no longer able since he had been cursed. He wept tears of joy.
He confessed to the young woman that he had intended to entomb himself deep in the earth and starve himself out of his cursed existence so that he would never harm anyone again. Until he had met Peridot the revenant thought that undoing his curse was impossible but now he wanted to find a way so that he could return to the land of daylight with her.
The next fortnight Peridot painted every morning. She painted landscapes of the sun drenched marshes just outside the cave to remind the revenant of the beauty of the land to which he wished to return. In the evenings they poured over every tome both could find in search of a way to cure his unnatural condition.
As the night of the next full moon neared, though, the revenant found sadness overtaking him. Peridot tried to reassure him that they would find a way to help him but he only shook his head.
“It is not for me that I weep.” He said. “I look at your beautiful paintings of the world of light but each is surrounded by the darkness of this cave. I darkness to which I have exiled you.”
Peridot tried to comfort him but, again, he shook his head. He guided her to the entrance of the cave where the carriage awaited, loaded down with as many trunks as it could carry.
“I have not lost hope.” He said. “But my heart aches at the pain I have caused not only you but your family by what I have done. Please, go back to your home and show them that you are safe. I will restrain myself with my chains. If you return, I will become a man again. If you decide to stay away, I will afflict this land no more.”
The revenant did indeed understand her heart. As much as she enjoyed his company and wanted to help him her heart did ache when her thoughts turned to her family.
“I will do as you ask. But I will return to you before the next full moon and we will leave this cave as man and woman.” She promised.
Peridot returned to the luxurious castle that had been her home just as the revenant wished. As she entered the courtyard she was surprised to find many men sharpening blades and hammering armor in preparation for war.
When she was reunited with the Queen Mother and the King Father they were overjoyed to see their daughter delivered from danger. When they asked how she escaped, Peridot told them of how the revenant released her.
“Then you can guide us back to his lair so that we may destroy this threat to our lands!” They declared.
Peridot tried to protest. She tried to explain to them how the revenant had changed but they would not hear. Instead they had Peridot's eldest brother as the commander of the armies loose one of the stallions from the revenant's carriage and release it onto the road so that they could follow it back to the cave where the revenant waited.
The Queen Mother and King Father restrained Peridot in her room so that she could not interfere. Then they decided to accompany the army so that they could see the revenant die for his transgressions against their family.
In the time they had been apart, the noble family had forgotten about the cleverness of their daughter Peridot. She was able to escape from her room and find the fastest of the revenant's stallions held in the stables.
Peridot did not waste the time it would take to saddle the stallion. She instead rode the horse back to the cave faster than the army could as they had to follow a stallion not running as fast as it was able.
The young woman rushed into the cave and told the revenant of her family's plot. Though he was now freed from his chains he did not seek to flee or fight.
“Thanks to you I am now a man.” He said. “We will meet the Queen Mother and the King Father at the cave's opening. If they accept me as I am now they will share in the joy you have given me. If they still seek my life, I will give it to them in penance for my misdeeds as a monster.”
Though the idea that the man who was a revenant no longer dying saddened Peridot, she was heartened by his sense of honor. She resolved to stand with him, hopeful it would be forever by his side in life or in treasuring the memory of the fine man he had again become in death.
They waited at the mouth of the cave as the army drew near. The Queen Mother and the King Father screamed with rage, not seeing the man the revenant had become but the monster he had been.
So great was their rage that they charged past their own armies to strike the killing blow themselves. They did not know of the dangers the loose soil of the moors held and were swallowed up by the bogs until only their crowns remained above the water.
The former revenant and Peridot tried to come to the aid of the young woman's parents but failed. Despite this, the eldest son saw the pure intention of the one who had taken his sister when he was a monster. Now he saw the man and decided to spare him, allowing the monster to be forgotten.
The nobles and all the people in the land mourned the passing of the Queen Mother and the King Father but later rejoiced when the Lady Peridot was wed to a fine man of the regal Desiderata Clan to the north.
The sorceress that had taken his lands and cursed him into a monster died the moment he returned to being a man and he was able to reclaim his birthright. His and Peridot's lands joined together and a new era of peace and joy fell across the continent.