In fairy tales and fantasy, two types of people go in towers: princesses and wizards.
Princesses are placed there against their will or with the intention of ‘keeping them safe.’
This is very different from wizards, who seek out towers to hone their sorcery in solitude.
I would like a story where a princess is placed in an abandoned tower that used to belong to a wizard, and so she spends long years learning the craft of wizardry from the scraps left behind and becomes the most powerful magic wielder the world has seen in centuries, busts out of the tower and wreaks glorious, bloody vengeance on the fools that imprisoned her.
That would be my kind of story.
Princess Talia was fourteen, her eldest sister was placed in a tower.
Adina was eighteen by then, and so of a marriageable age. She had grown quite
beautiful, though she was more willful than winsome, and she did not care for
the notion of the tower very much at all. Their mother did her best to persuade
her on the subject. After all, the queen herself had been eighteen when her own
parents had sent her to live in that very same tower, to be safely tucked away
until her husband could be chosen, and then ride out to claim her. A tradition
going back ages and ages.
such a sight,” their mother said, wistfully. “I had been alone for so
long. Reflecting upon the nature of the world, and my place in it, and what it
would mean to serve my kingdom. And the solitude was difficult. But then one
bright morning I saw a vision of a gallant knight riding towards me; and I knew
I would never feel lonely again.”
you had best make certain you pick a strong man to be my husband,” Princess
Adina had replied. “For if I go to that tower you can bet I will spend my
time honing my skills with a blade, rather than staring wistfully out of
windows. And any man who thinks to claim me for a bride by anyone’s leave save
my own will need to defend himself.”
mother had tutted, and their father had rolled his eyes; and when Princess Adina’s
belongings were packed with a very pointed dearth of swords or spears or
knives, it was Talia who slipped a wrapped sabre into the travel wagons, and it
was their middle sister, Devorah, who tied another to the underside of the
first food cart to leave for the tower.
a few weeks had passed since Adina left the castle, however, before word began
to spread of dragon sightings in the south. The king and queen, of course, saw
this is a good sign; and they let it be known that any lord bold enough to slay
the dragon would be granted leave to rescue Princess Adina from her tower. It
seemed all too fortuitous, for surely any man who could defeat a dragon could
handle a willful princess; and Adina could hardly deny
the bravery or skill of any such person.
perfect,” their mother had said.
was before the dragon reached the tower.
had been present when the messenger had arrived, bursting hastily into the
hall, and speaking in broken tones about barricades destroyed, and mountains
crossed, and ancient enchantments broken as the dragon had forged its way
straight to the hidden princess. Rumours abounded of the dragon absconding with
Adina; though some varied as to whether she had been seen clutched, terrified,
in the menace’s claws, or riding on its back, whooping loudly. (Calling for
help, the court agreed – if anything; the confused descriptions of startled
shepherds were unlikely to be too reliable, under the circumstances, of
matter of rewards changed, of course, and so it became that any brave soul –
lord or no – who could rescue Adina from the dragon could claim the princess
for their bride. Talia worried, but she didn’t worry too much. She was of a
mind that if the dragon was still alive, then it was likely because Adina
wanted it that way; and her sister was, at least, out of the tower she had held
such contempt for.
months after the incident, a story came back, too, of a renowned hero who had
nearly slain the dragon at its caves in the west; only to be disarmed by
Princess Adina herself, who, by his report, made a very rude and anatomically
improbable suggestion, before knocking him down a mountainside.
king and queen seemed convinced the report was nothing but slander; but Talia
was inclined to give it far more credence than tales of her sister weeping
whole rivers of tears or cowering beneath the dragon’s glare.
around that time that Princess Devorah began sneaking out of the palace at
discovered this one evening while in the midst of her stargazing. If her eldest
sister could be said to be beautiful and headstrong, then it would be easy to
claim that the middle sister was plainer, and yet more charming. She owned a
pale blue cloak, that suited her quite well; but that stood out, too, in the
moonlight, as she slipped away through the palace gardens.
went on for quite some time before Talia at last confronted her sister, who
blushed most tellingly at being discovered.
found my knight,” she admitted. “There is a doorway in the gardens, and it
opens to the fairy forest. I did not mean to go, the first night. It was only
that I saw the doorway, and I wondered where it went. And I could not help but
think that my own time to be locked away in a tower is coming swiftly, and what
a thing it might be to escape, and that perhaps fate had given me a chance. But
then I got lost in the fairy forest. It was strange and dangerous, and I feared
I had been too foolish for words, until my knight found me.”
saw the lovestruck look on her sister’s face, and felt a great well of sympathy
folk are strange and dangerous, but Mother and Father are not without pity. If
your knight is as noble as he sounds, perhaps they will understand,” she suggested.
Devorah only sighed, and shook her head.
they would, if my knight were a man. But she is a maiden, as fair as moonlight.
And I would have her no other way.”
sympathy increased tenfold, at that, for she knew as well that their parents
might make some concessions, but that would be a bridge too far for either of
them. As she began to offer comfort, however, Devorah turned it back towards
sister told her, then, of the plan she and her fairy knight had concocted; that
when Devorah was taken to her tower, her knight would come, and open a door
there; and then Talia’s sister would away with her to the fairy realm for good.
The tower would sit empty. The suitor their parents at last settled upon would
ride out to find no one waiting for him.
planned to tell you,” Devorah assured her, and then offered her a single silver
bell. “When it is your time to go to the tower, stand on the highest point
and ring that bell. A door will open, and you can come away with us. The fairy
realm can be frightening, but my beloved will help us, and as well-read as you
are, I am certain you will have more of an idea of what to expect than I ever
the bell, and hugged her sister, and thanked her; though she admitted that she
did not know what she would feel, when it came her own time to go to the tower.
But Devorah only said it would be her choice, whichever she made.
indeed, after a year had passed, her sister went to the tower with none of the
fuss nor complaint that Princess Adina had put up. Being as charming as she
was, there were no lack of suitors for their parents to choose from; and it was
not long at all before the king and queen made an advantageous match with the
eldest son of a neighbouring kingdom, just beyond the western mountains where Adina
and her dragon still roamed.
the son came back empty-handed, accusations of trickery abounded. The western
kingdom accused the king and queen of withholding their daughter; and the king
and queen accused the western kingdom of stealing her to some unknown fate. In
the end matters were only settled once a scryer confirmed that Princess Devorah
had not been in the tower when her suitor arrived; and then, the dispute was
settled with the consolation offer of Talia in Devorah’s place.
rulers of the western kingdom demanded their princess at once; but Talia’s
parents insisted that she was still too young. A compromise was reached. Since
the tradition of the family was to ensconce their princesses in towers, and
since twice these towers had been breached and the princesses lost, the king of
the western lands offered a tower in his own domain. There Talia would stay
until she turned eighteen, and was of age to marry the prince.
so, the king and queen would not have agreed, but for the fact that the western
rulers were renowned for their masterful sorcery and spellwork. Should conflict
break out, the armies they could amass would be formidable indeed.
princesses must think of their kingdoms first,” Talia’s mother told her.
Talia did think of her kingdom.
thought of it as she rode with her accompaniment through the mountains, and
when a great dragon’s roar split the air; and when her guards scattered in
fright, or else were pinned down by the claws of a great, emerald beast, with
eyes like flames and wings that sounded of lightning when they clapped. She
thought of it when her eldest sister slid down from the dragon’s neck, and
rushed to hold her, and begged her not to be afraid.
come with us,” said Princess Adina. “The western prince is a monster, and
the rest of his family no better. I would not let a pig marry him, nevermind my
marvelled at how well-informed her dragon-riding sister seemed to be, but Adina
only waved off such questions.
into town all the time,” she said. “No expects to see a princess who was
kidnapped by a dragon wandering around a market square.”
you spend enough of my coin for them to overlook it, even if they were
suspicious,” rumbled the dragon, though it sounded more amused than anything
are the one who demanded expensive company,” Adina returned.
watched them with fascination, and wondered if they might not be able to fight
an army themselves. But her sister was forced to sadly admit that her dragon
was nearly more show than substance, and that any well-armed force would take
them down with relative ease. Particularly when they could bring magic to bear.
Talia thought of her kingdom, as she declined her sister’s offer, and sadly
sent both she and her dragon on their way. Then she set about encouraging her
guards to come back, and help gather the horses, so they could head out again.
thought of her kingdom all the way up to the tower itself. It was a bleak
spire. Once a sorcerer’s lookout and secluded place of study, according to
their guide; who then helped set up the wards and enchantments. Talia thought
of her kingdom as she bid everyone goodbye. As she made her way inside with her
things, and found that though the place had clearly been cleaned and dusted, it
was sparse and severe and cold. Dark stone twisted up the walls, and drafts
blew through the ragged edges of the window frames. The lights were magic, at
least, but only half of them worked, and there was little in the way of artwork
thought of her kingdom as she selected a room on the highest floor, and
unpacked her things.
when at last it was dark, and she was alone, she did not think of her kingdom.
She thought of herself, instead, and she wished she had flown away with Adina
and her dragon. She wished she could climb to the top of the tower, and ring
her silver bell, and escape with Devorah and her knight. She thought of the
unfairness of being sent to her tower too soon, and even vindictively imagined
having told her parents of Devorah’s escapades, and being spared this fate by
forcing her sister to do her duty instead.
then she felt an awful wretch, for thinking such a thing; and she cried herself
ragged until she fell into a deep sleep.
morning, her mood was grim.
woke to the discovery that the usual enchantments were in place, which was
something of a relief. Princess Talia was educated in matters of diplomacy,
finance, tactics, mathematics, literature, history, geography, and many more
besides, but she had no idea of how to boil an egg. The tower gave her meals in
the kitchens, and warmed the hearth against the cold; and she spent her first
day mostly in that room, with one of the books she’d brought clutched firmly in
her hand, wondering how she was supposed to survive years of this without
perhaps, the intent of all this business with towers was precisely to drive a
princess mad. It would explain a good deal about her mother.
second night, she cried again, and the one after was much the same; but on the
fourth day, she woke to the grey dawn, and the cawing of ravens outside her
window; and she decided that if she was going to live in this tower for many
days yet to come, then she may as well explore it. She made a point of mapping
out all the floors, and figuring out how to reach the highest part, if it ever
came to it. And she found that the attic was full of old boxes of clothes.
Robes and hats and gloves and scarves, worn things and shimmery things, and a
very impressive collection of walking sticks.
was all well and good, and sorting through it gave her a diversion, at least.
She aired out some of the clothes. They were much too big for her, of course,
and the tower wardrobe could provide her with some very nice dresses. But she
imagined she might tire of very nice dresses, after a while, and some of the
robes looked very comfortable.
real find, however, came the next day, when she discovered the door to the
thought that the spareness of the tower was owed to its lack of usual
occupancy; but when she found the basement, another answer made itself clear –
someone had taken practically everything out of the main rooms, and shoved it
all haphazardly into the basement, and closed the door on it.
supposed she could see, on one level, why someone might have deemed the objects
in the basement unsuitable for a princess. Though she could not fathom why they
assumed a bored princess would not simply go downstairs at some point. She felt
inexplicably insulted at the lack of locks on the door; though this feeling
swiftly gave way to curiosity, instead.
rooms contents had not been kindly handled. She tsk’d over books that had been
dumped in piles, their pages crinkled and their spines twisted. Some heavy
tomes on stands had been left to accumulate dust and cobwebs, and boxes full of
glass bottles had been ungently handled, leaving some to crack and leak
suspicious liquids that stained the floor. Several rune-marked skulls lined a
shelf in the room, and looked to be the only things that had not been touched
much. There was strange furniture, and jars of things like powdered unicorn’s horn, which
told her plenty about the ignorance of the people who had cleaned up this
place, because even she knew that was valuable stuff.
length, she rolled up her sleeves, and set about organizing it, just as she had
done the attic. Though, in this case, the task was much larger. She broke down
into its simplest steps. Step One – the books. Going through the mess, she
picked out all the books she could find, and did what she could for them. Some
were in languages she did not recognize. Even the ones she recognized had
uncommon titles, like A
Beginner’s Guide to Necromancy, and The
Lost Art of Summoning, and A Comprehensive Bestiary of the
books proved not only to be the first step in cleaning up the basement, but
also the world’s most sufficient distraction. Talia found herself paging
through them out of sheer fascination with the volume of subjects available,
and the fact that she knew next to nothing of these topics. Soon enough she had
gathered up every book for beginners she could find, and before long she
discovered that one of the largest tomes was a dictionary, and she unearthed
also a translation guide for one of the unfamiliar languages that seemed common
to the texts.
then, slower going for the tasks of dealing with the broken bottles in the
crates – in the end she found a pair of thick gloves in the attic, and picked
out the ones that were not broken, and shoved the rest – crates and all – into
one of the empty closets.
reading a bit more, she then barricaded the closet.
left the skulls be until she opened up the book on Necromancy, and then she
carried them up to a room where the moonlight could hit them. That evening she
had her first proper conversation inweeks as she took a chair into
the room, and waited for nightfall, and then spoke to some quite interesting
and helpful spirits. They were transparent of course, and not all of them were
very coherent. But they seemed happy to be out of the basement, and keen enough
to help her get a better understanding of some concepts from the books that had
been tricky for her.
organized the jars of ingredients, and discovered several discarded cauldrons,
and after some more reading, she went back up to the attic and fetched down the
wizard staffs that she had taken for walking sticks, and put them where they’d
be closer to hand. In a box under an overturned table she discovered a smashed
crystal ball, with a tiny pixie’s skeleton in it; and an unbroken crystal ball
which gleamed and glowed only faintly when she held it up to the stars.
her think of Devorah and her knight. So that evening she did at last go up to
the highest point of her tower, and ring her silver bell.
enough, a door appeared in the basement. She wrapped the pixie skeleton in a
piece of black velvet, and tucked the crystal ball under her arm, and opened
sister was delighted to see her, though confused as well. It was too soon for
Talia to be in her tower. So it was that Talia had to explain what had
transpired, and when she did, Devorah was overcome. It made her feel triply
awful for her uncharitable thoughts that first evening, to see her sister cry
and offer to go back and take her place.
have to stay here with your knight,” Talia insisted. “It isn’t all bad.
There are some interesting things in the tower. And if I can talk to you
sometimes, as well as the skulls, I probably won’t go mad.”
blinked back her tears.
skulls?” she asked, in a voice that said she was worried her sister’s mental
state had already faltered.
Talia found herself explaining about the tower, and its basement, and the
crystal ball she had brought, and the little skeleton, too. That made Devorah
cry a bit more, because she was a kind heart, and she had grown fond of the
little pixies in the fairy realm – even the vicious ones. She called for her
knight to come, then, and Talia watched as a silvery figure rode up on a white
horse that looked more like a ghost than a proper steed, however solid it may
have been to the eye.
love looked like moonlight made flesh; slender but sharp as the blade of a
knife, and she bowed with courtly grace. She showed less grief over the pixies
than the princesses did. But then, her expression seemed to reveal very little
at all, until it turned to Devorah. At which point it would soften, and stars
would seem to dance in the dark pools of her eyes.
this prince, who is so perilous a betrothal?” the fairy knight asked.
not know him. I know only his reputation, which had seemed fine enough, until Adina
spoke to me,” Talia explained.
a little more of him,” Devorah admitted, frowning. “Adina and I went to
one of his sister’s weddings, years ago. You were too young to come along. He
was a horrible brat, but then, he was a child. His father wasn’t much better,
fairy knight looked at the tiny pixie skeletons, and then at once broke the
crystal ball. The wisp of a sprite which escaped was small and quick, barely
there before it was gone again. But Talia didn’t mourn the loss of the crystal
ball. And after a moment, her sister’s knight tilted her head towards her, and
went and drew a small vial from her saddlebags.
is a poison of sleep,” said the knight. “If you drink of it, you will fall
into a trance, and will not wake but for true love’s kiss. In dreams you may
find freedom. I would have offered it to Devorah, had she refused me, and her
suitor proven cruel. I will offer it to you, now. Should the worst come to
pass, drink it.”
tiny vial was silver and elegant. Pretty enough, even by the reckoning of
princesses. Talia took it, with gratitude. And when she left through the fairy
door before dawn, and came back into her tower, she felt lighter than she had
since leaving home.
several months, then, the little silver vial rested in her pockets, as she wore
dresses but also sometimes robes. Talia learned the few benefits of a life
primarily alone, in an empty and unoccupied tower that was locked up tight –
though even her mostly-indoor spirit began to long for the feeling of wind in
her hair, and grass between her toes, she could also parade around the rooms
naked as she pleased. Or clad only in a long robe which railed behind her, as
she sang songs with no one to care that they might be off-key, or that they
were ones she had overheard drunken servants singing.
poured through her new books and consulted with spirits, cavorted with her
sister and the fairies by night, and one morning she woke up and snapped her
fingers in a moment of grand epiphany; and flames darted up at the gesture.
alone, in the long and quiet days, she learned.
months into her stay, Talia discovered how to unlock the tower door. It was a
simple spell, in fact. More a matter of tricking the tower into doing as she
wished. She strolled the grounds, well away from any guard posts, and found
wild vines and strange plants growing in the tower gardens. There was a book of
plants inside, and so she dragged it out with her the next day, and set about
identifying all the growing things she could not recognize; which, apart from
the dandelions, was nearly everything.
dusted off the cauldron, then, and must have burned herself sixteen different
times in attempting to master the various magical recipes involving the garden
plants. And plants from the fairy realm, as well. In one of the big, heavy
tomes, which always seemed to fight her every time she turned the pages, she
discovered a recipe for the sleeping draught which Devorah’s fairy knight had
given her; and by the gleam of a full moon, she gathered ingredients from both
worlds, and set about trying to recreate it.
was difficult to gauge without tasting the end results, though. She was very
sure to label her own attempts accordingly, and dared not drink any of them.
not a bad life. Not at all. It was lonely, at times, but with Devorah and the
spirits, not terribly so. And the freedoms she found were beginning to seem
more and more appealing. As time went on, Talia found herself thinking she
would much rather stay in her tower than see any shining prince approach from
when at last he came, she was ready for him.
time almost snuck up on her, but the terrain visible up from the tower window
was wide and barren, and one night as she went to bed she chanced to see a
campfire burning. And she counted the days in her head, and then fell into a
flurry of activity. She readied a fine dress, and packed up her things. She
slipped the best staff in amongst her chest of clothes, and packed the skulls
in with her jewellery. She slipped the sleeping potion into her pocket, and
emptied out the bottom of the crate containing her shoes and slippers; and she
did away with half of them, and fit as many of the most important books she
could manage in their place. She hid potions ingredients in among her make up,
and her own notes were kept safely in her diary. And every spare nook or cranny
she could find, she stuffed something she deemed worthy; until the things she
had first arrived with had become like a veil for the things she had uncovered
find yourself in that tower,” her mother had once told her.
mother had found her place as queen; and Adina had found a dragon; and Devorah
had found her doorway out. As the sound of hoofbeats grew closer, Talia stared
towards the horizon of the western kingdom. Her fingers toyed with the stopper
of the sleeping draught.
wondered what she had really found.
drink it yourself? one of the spirits had asked her, the first night she had
come back from visiting her sister, with the tiny vial in hand. It seems to me that the logical
thing to do, in an unhappy marriage, is poison the other person. Especially
when that opens a door to you taking his kingdom out from under him.
interesting things, her skulls had to say.
course, the kingdom she would marry into was one ruled by magic. Sometimes
princesses must think of their kingdoms first.
wry little twist of her lips, Talia practised her best expression of swooning
relief, and waited for her prince.