I affixed the crown of foxgloves and honeysuckle atop her dark head. Upon first contact the leaves spurred into life and twisted anew, forming a pulsating noose around her throat.
The sunlight throbbed between the trees, in our enclosed tightness. Anything and everything grew here, for this was the lair of the Erl-Queen, who perched atop the crumbling remains of the Erl-King.
His russet nipples and sour cream skin had decayed, leaving ligneous bones and lichen teeth. The one who choked him with his rustling hair and released the birds who sang from their cages, naturally, became the true Erl of the woodlands. After all, as a certain vampire mistress once said, a caged bird can learn a new song.
And the Erl-Queen would be a different ruler of the forest, I believed. Erl-Queen won’t do you grievous harm. She will feast on the sweet melodies of the nightjars and kiskadee’s, weep for the orchids and heathers which fail to bud and bloom, fornicate amongst the bracken with the tenderest of maidens, bringing life anew to this ghoulish greenery.
Perhaps it could even be I, who she chose as her mate, I believed.
Upon the Erl King’s demise, my Queen found herself shedding anew; her cold, pale skin which was once soft and untouched turned mossy and warm. Soldier beetles and fireflies nested in her vined locks. Those milky, faint eyes shone a deep crimson red and then she knew she was one with the forest.
I was the only one there for her. In the twilight hours, when the wind ravaged our china-box nest and the company of wolves howled, I was there to comfort her. I stroked her autumn mane and sent great barrages of leaves twirling through the storm, as she slept I felt those softened breasts and tender lips.
She was the Erl-Queen, and I would be her lover.
But then a lost man entreated into her realm. He was a soldier, who had recently returned from his regiment’s embarkment to France.
He was here many years ago, he said, fingering the fanged rose in his breast pocket. So long ago, he said wistfully.
And then she was hypnotized. My most precious, tender Erl-Queen, who needed no man to serve beneath her, chose him regardless.
As I strode to gather carnations that winter, the forest was lank and lifeless. Snow had raped and pillaged the fair beauty of our sanctuary, dahlias and chrysanthemums became crystallized diamonds.
It was whilst I fed a tawny owl that I felt it. The earth convulsed beneath my feet, an insane, reckless thrusting. Peonies and lilies erupted from the ground, shining ivory, pearl and alabaster. I heard the moans echo as the lightning struck, then with an explosion of sound, the snow was stained red. And the lilies were deflowered. Thus the snow child was born.
The ice melted, but the blood remained fixed upon the juniper grass. It could not be removed, no matter how one tried. Like the tale of a girl who was naïve and childish and explored her husband’s bloody chamber, only to have the sins of her impertinence marked onto her forehead forever.
I hated it. She was to be mine and mine alone, but she was ravaged and mutilated by that rogue monstrosity. He didn’t care for her in the slightest, I heard his night time whispers, his ‘lady of the house of love.’
Then he left. He left and the Erl-Queen wept. She wept for forty days and forty nights, even the wolves joined in her lament. Yet I remained by her side until the snow came again, alone and mortally wounded.
I do not wish to live like this, she said, this trifling existence burdens me so. I have seen so much misery and I do not care to see it any longer.
So I did the only thing I could do. As is ritual, I gathered her crown of foxgloves and honeysuckle, tightening it round her throat.
Spring is here.
The winter was harsh indeed. As my skin smudged shamrock and the forests inhabitants found their home within me, my eyes rose crimson and I saw things differently.
A lone wolf, part wolf-part girl, who I named Alice, placed atop my head a crown of primroses and bluebells.
And thus the cycle began anew.
This was the first story I originally wrote for my series: For I Am No Lover of Lilies.
It is, of course, based off of Angela Carter’s short story The Erl King, except he has ceased to exist and instead been replaced by a queen on his lichen throne.
I’m really pleased with the subtle references to Carter’s other fairy tales, which I managed to sneak into this one!
Copyright © 2016 Rebecca Sherratt, (adapted from ‘The Bloody Chamber’; copyright © 1979 Angela Carter).