While sometimes described as an erotic variation of the Donkeyskin fairytale, I also see this as an effective take on the ‘after the happily ever after’ that has become common in fairytale deconstructions.

Lilian has been married to Edward for seven years, and their initial happiness has since resided to an “irritable boredom.” She catches him glancing at the young servants for a little too long, and while he hasn’t done anything yet, she fears he may eventually stray. This makes her think of the time her mother, the Queen, came to her before her wedding night.

“Would that marriage could always be like the first night; filled with celebration and the newness of one’s partner,” the Queen said softly. Then her expression became bittersweet. “But marriage that begins as a clear broth thickens quickly into a roux.”

Lilian had laughed at the remark. “It was because of soup that you won the King’s heart.”

“And because of these,” the Queen said. The Queen opened her hand to reveal three walnuts, their brown sides hinged with tiny gold clasps.

Two of the walnuts hold exquisite gowns, the third a cloak of many dark furs stitched together. At the next ball Lilian wears one of the gowns, and she is admired by all who see her, but Edward’s gaze still strays. In frustration she dons the tattercoat the next day so that she can wander around the countryside without anyone recognizing her. In the evening she sees Edward crossing a bridge and, without telling him who she is, seduces him. She finds the experience exhilarating, and notes Edwards increased affection to her. A few days later he comes up with a flimsy excuse that will ensure he crosses the same bridge at sunset, and Lilian ensures she is there…

Tattercoats by Midori Snyder

Availability: print, e-book

Word count: 9,400

First published: Black Thorn, White Rose, edited by Ellen Datlow & Terry Windling, 1996, AboNova (e-book available from Weightless Books here)

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