The wolf—who was of course the evil fairy in disguise—had failed to recognize the crown prince, but was quick to spot a way to deal with both the king and younger princess. Stopping her advance, the fairy cast a spell upon the “huntsman” that would make him in a single shot kill bird and hare together.
But before the spell had fully taken hold, the princess sang.
She sang a tune the prince and she had sung when they were children, and the warbling notes began to thaw his frozen heart until they became words within his mind that told him: “Save your shot, dear brother. Do not let your heart grow cold enough to kill without a cause.”
And so he’d changed his aim and killed the wolf instead, and with the evil fairy dead the whole enchantment ended and the king and princess were restored to their true selves, and with the prince they left the forest and set off along the path they knew would lead them home.
* * *
“That’s not a proper ending,” was Jacqui’s opinion, when I read the tale to her over the phone.
“She never does say if they made it home safely. Most readers,” she said, “like a little more closure.”
“They just do. It’s human nature, I suppose. We want things to end tidily—especially with fairy tales. We want our happily ever afters.”
“Not every story has one.”
“Yes, I know.” My cousin’s voice reminded me that she, with her two less-than-wonderful marriages, knew from experience frogs sometimes stayed frogs no matter how often you kissed them. “But that’s the beauty of my business, darling. We can manufacture them.”
In honesty I didn’t mind an open ending, one that left some room for my imagination to continue with the story line and end it where I chose, or let the characters keep living on within my mind like distant friends I could look in upon from time to time. But I deferred to Jacqui when it came to knowing readers’ preferences. I did, though, feel the need to point out, “Mary’s fairy tales aren’t really meant to stand alone, though. Denise says back in those days women’s fairy tales were woven into novels, so you’re not supposed to read them on their own—you have to read them in the context of the narrative around them. That’s why this one makes more sense when you know what’s going on in Mary’s diary, with MacPherson and the wolf attack, and when you can see how she’s pulling in the other themes dealing with King James and the Jacobites.”
My cousin tried rewinding me a notch. “Denise says this?”
“She studied it at uni.”
“Ah. And how are you two getting on?”
“Denise and I? We’re getting on just fine. I really like her. Why?”
“She doesn’t mind that you and her ex-husband are…” Jacqui paused, as though in search of the right phrase.
I waited, curious to see what she’d select.
“…together?” was her final choice.
“She doesn’t mind at all. She’s said so.” Several times, I could have added. Clearly. Unequivocally. You’re good for him, she’d said to me this morning, when we’d stood together at the kitchen window watching Luc come up the path from the back garden. He’s so happy. Look at him. He made me happy too, and she had commented on that as well.
My cousin said, “I see,” though I suspected that she didn’t. “And just how ‘together’ are you?”
Bluntly, because she had learned the blunt approach was best with me, she asked me, “Are you sleeping with him?”
“Oh.” There was no way on the phone that I could try to sort the blend of vocal tones in that one word. I couldn’t tell if she was pleased or disapproving or surprised. “Why not?”
She wasn’t being rude. She knew my pattern; knew that normally I’d meet a man and have him in my bed and out the door again within a week. I shrugged and said, “I don’t feel any rush, with Luc. I feel like we have time.”
She didn’t answer straightaway. And then she only said, “That’s good. I hope it lasts.”
I knew that tone. “But you don’t think it will.”
“I didn’t say that. Does he know that you have Asperger’s?”
“No. Not unless you told him.”
Jacqui reassured me with, “You know I’d never do that.”
“Good. So, getting back to Mary and the diary…”
“Yes. Where are they now?”
“Just outside Nîmes.” I named the city in Provence, just south of Avignon, where Mary and the others had been forced to break their journey. “They’ve been stuck there for a while now. Mr. Thomson’s ill in bed. He has a fever.”
“All that walking in the rain, no doubt. Or else his dunking in the river.”
“Mary walked in rain too, and she isn’t ill.” I knew it wasn’t logical for me to feel such pride in the resilience of a woman I would never meet, but I was growing close to Mary through her words and so I felt it anyway. I liked her sense of humor and her strength and her tenacity, and her determination to let nothing keep her down. She’d had no liking for the rooms they’d lodged in outside Nîmes, and Mr. Thomson with his fever had apparently not been an easy patient, yet she’d made the best of things and done her part to entertain him and Madame Roy and MacPherson in the evenings with her stories, having noted in her diary her amusement that MacPherson, when she’d told them all the story of the huntsman and the wolf, had replied with his opinion the crown prince would have done well to shoot the lot of them and gain himself a kingdom he could rule alone in peace.