An island lay on the outskirts of town, its castle shrouded by the curtains of willow leaves and tall river grasses. The black towers pierced the shinning white of Camelot, only a few miles down the river road, with a stark background. Sometimes the towers of that island castle would emit soft puffs of smoke, clouding the point of the roof and crenellations. The frequently billowing smoke gave the castle an appearance of far off purple mountains floating on the tree tops.
From the nearby road farmers and builders would pass, carrying their goods on their backs or in small horse drawn carts. Girls would meet lovers on the road before sneaking off together to build a new life. And sometimes a traveling circus, or theater troupe would march to the busy city of Camelot and their banners would wave and travelers would sing tunes. On several occasions those walking by would hear the creening of what sounded like string instruments coming from the castle.
A tightrope walker, singing a sad song of lost love, heard the beautiful accompaniment and asked about the strange sounds in Camelot. While everyone knew of the whimsical castle called Shalott none had any clue what caused the musical noises coming from it, for no one had ever been to the island and had only heard it was cursed.
But it was not the castle that was cursed. The lady of Shallot was a heafty girl. Although perhaps not the usual figure of a cursed princess, she had the greatest excuse of all. Inside the tower where the evil witch cursed her to stay, there was not much room to move around. Yet she was fed large portions regularly throughout the day. Beef, pork, sometimes a few chickens made it into her meals. From her vantage point the only thing to see was the edge of what appeared to be a large mirror. The corners were black spotted with age. The frame was heavy and curly-cued with a strange language, unreadable.
Images reflected shadows on the mirror from time to time. From her sitting vantage point the lady of Shalott saw many of these lovely sights wandering round the edge of the mirror and sometimes she thought she could even hear the voices of people singing and she would try to hum along to the tune so she could feel like she was part of world running past her. Then the voices and the footsteps would fade away into Camelot and she would dig into her leg of roast pork.
Through the sun roof of green leaves a man came riding on a white horse. His shield was muddied by the long ride, but his eyes were bright and he whistled a sweet song. A yellow field shined on the water separating Shalott from the noble knight, but in the corner of the mirror, the lady spotted the sparkle of the sun on the colorful coat of arms across the front of the bright knight’s armor. From the wave of his hair, the polished leather of the saddle, the knight Sir Lancelot passed the castle of Shalott like a shooting star.
The lady of Shalott dropped the ham bone she’d been gnawing. A whisper echoing through the castle said she was cursed. She could not leave the castle. But the lady of Shalott began to think that perhaps she was cursed either way. Instead of the real world, she only saw a shadow. She left her meals, she left her charge. For that was her curse, to always watch the damsel in the other room as she weaved. No one was allowed in and no one allowed out. But today, she said, I will fly free. In three paces she strode across the narrow passageway to the needle thin window where the outside world filtered in. There she saw outside for the first time.
There were the willow trees blowing and lake running cool and clear, there Sir Lancelot and the tall proud towers of newly made Camelot. The mirror cracked from side to side with the pounding of her feet and from the other room she heard a cry from the damsel “The curse is come upon me!”. Not bothered, she burst through the aging stone tower and flapped her massive wings making a stiff and stormy gale through the willows and tall river reeds. Straining her muscles, the lady of Shalott hesitated before crossing the river.
“What if the curse follows me?” she wondered. The trees shook their yellowing leaves, some falling to the whining river water, signaling the start of fall. A low cloud let down the rain and she blinked her eyes. The drops felt cool on her scales. Down the river, as if in a trance, she looked to Camelot. She was decided.
The wings beside her flapped and stretched and her talons clenched. A pillar of flame escaped her lips and across the river the reeds went limp. She bolted forward and left the grounds of the island of Shalott and made her way to Camelot. In her joy she began to sing a jolly tune she’d heard before from a traveler that had passed her door. And in Camelot down below the villagers craned their necks concerned to hear a tune like cello or a violin singing down from far above. Then as she reached the first house on the edge of the river, the lady’s blood began to boil and her eyes brightened.
Letting out another burst of flame she ignited the hay stacks laying neat and plain. A man came shouting from his home, and she tried to calm him with a song, but he only continued to scream and moan, so she took off for the inner city. Past towers and roof-top gardens she swooped, singing her song and out of each and every building came the people of Camelot. Every knight and child, burglar and wife stared squinting upwards at the pale blue dragon of Shalott. They cowered and held each other tight hoping not to die of fright as the dragon roared and sang across their beautiful city. But on the outskirts of the town, Sir Lancelot of high renown smiled from ear to ear with murderous delight.
“What a handsome dragon,” he mused, “God grant her mercy.”
And he kicked his heel into his steed and rushed to help his fair Camelot from the hungry lady of Shalott.
This too is a musical challenge, this time set to Emilie’s Shalott, chosen by my fellow muse Trebez. Click here to read her awesome story!