Monday, April 15, 2019

The Magic in the Rhyme . . and the River

by Jean Roberta

The history of literature is intertwined with the history of music. All the earliest written stories are in the form of narrative poems which were probably chanted or sung.

Even though modern (relatively speaking) fantasy stories are written in prose, a magic spell that doesn’t have metre or rhyme just wouldn’t seem magical enough to work. It would seem too prosy.

So when I wrote “Madame Blanche,” loosely based on “The White Cat,” originally written in French in the 1600s by the Countess d’Aulnoy, I knew there had to be a rhyme in it somewhere.

In this story, Princess Valerie and her two brothers must compete for their father’s throne by going on a quest to find the perfect dog to keep their parents company in their old age. The princess, who has studied the martial arts and presents herself in public as a young man, comes upon an enchanted castle inhabited by a court consisting of cats who wear clothing and act like ladies and gentleman.

Do you see the problem? Madame Blanche, the chatelaine (who is also currently une chatte), is under a spell which prevents her from appearing as her true self, a human princess. Prince Val (as he would prefer to be known) feels he is also trapped in a body which doesn’t represent his true self. As usually happens in French fairy tales, once these two characters fall in love, they can appear as their true selves, and not only to each other.

This story was first published in Rumpledsilksheets: Lesbian Fairy Tales, from Ravenous Romance, 2010). It is due to be republished any moment now in my own collection of reprints and new stories, Tit for Tat and Other Lesbian Encounters from Renaissance Publishing, Sizzler Editions. (I don’t have a publication date.)

If you have any recorded lute music, that would make a good soundtrack for this excerpt. Welcome to the Land of Faery:


Val rode through one village after another on her quest, and the people addressed her as “Your Lordship.” But the only dogs she saw were thin or half-wild and clearly not fit for a King, and so her quest seemed fruitless. As though Nature herself wished to discourage Val from riding ever farther from her own hearth, the autumn winds blew cold and gray clouds often hid the sun.

At length she came to a dark forest, and her horse was reluctant to go forward. But Val knew that many wonders can be found in such wild places, and no one ever overcame a challenge by surrendering to fear. She urged her horse to pick his way between the trees until they arrived at a clearing that reflected the light of precious jewels: glowing rubies, sapphires as blue as the sky, cool green emeralds, golden topaz, brilliant diamonds. She found herself staring at the walls of a small but exquisite castle made of gemstones, with golden doors and crystal windows.

"Who lives here?" she asked aloud, and her horse neighed as though he were perplexed as well. No gate or sentries impeded her approach, so Val dismounted and strode bravely to a shining door with a great knocker in the form of a lion showing its teeth.

The clang of the knocker echoed deep within the castle. Slowly, the door swung open although no one could be seen within. A sweet voice called out:

"Welcome, Traveler. Have no fear.
Here is linen, meat and cheer."

Val peered into a dark foyer, and saw no one. "Who welcomes me?" she called loudly, knowing she had come to a place of enchantment. She was wary, but determined not to surrender to fear.

The clear voice answered:

"One whose truest form must be
Concealed until her heart is free."

Val felt she had heard herself described. Whoever dwelt in the wondrous castle was surely afflicted, as she was, with a body which did not represent her true self.

To her surprise, a pair of hands floated through the air to seize the bridle of her horse and lead him to an outbuilding which appeared to be a stable made of copper. Another pair of hands seized her by the sleeves and gently pulled her inside, as though honored by her visit. Val’s curiosity and her determination to face every challenge prompted her to accept the strange, unspoken invitation. As soon as she had crossed the threshold, the door closed behind her with a ringing crash.

A hand holding a torch led her into a grand hall whose walls were entirely covered with murals of cats on wooden horses hunting mice, cats dancing upright in elegant clothes, cats fighting battles with drawn swords, cats seated around a table, looking as serious as judges. Val had no time to study the curious images before the hands pulled her firmly to the door of a bedchamber in which all the furniture was decorated in green silk. The pale hands lit the fire and the lamps, then exited. When Val tried to open it, she found herself locked in.

No matter, she assured herself. I have a comfortable bed for the night, and my horse doubtlessly has food, water and clean straw. She would not willingly have deprived the beast of nourishment, although her own appetite had quite fled. Whatever awaited her in the enchanted castle, Val knew that rest would help her to preserve her strength. She removed her clothes and donned the soft nightshirt she found folded on the bed before climbing under the coverlet and falling into a deep sleep.


Another historical story I wrote, "The Water-Harp," is about a beautiful orphan named Dorcas who has been raised by nuns, who then offer her a job in the laundry they run, since she is sensible enough not to go into private service. She has noticed the way men look at her, whether they are single or married. The young lord of the local manor meets her when he brings in his clothing to be washed (in truth, he likes to survey the laundresses). In due course, he whisks her away to become his mistress.

They make love beside the river where Dorcas has always noticed that the song of the water changes its pitch at a certain point. The "water-harp" that has played a distinct tune for a generation is actually the corpse of the lady whose portrait hangs in the manor. To find out more, you have to read the story, in Underwater, an anthology of water-themed fantasy stories from Transmundane Press (2016).


The weather was sunny, and neither of the lovers wanted to stay in the manor. They walked together to the riverbank, where the ceaseless babbling of the water replaced human conversation.

They sat down, and Edmund pulled out a simple flute. “My angel,” he said, “do you know ‘Laura, I am in your thrall?’”

Dorcas cleared her throat and found a note that she hoped would be pleasing. She sang as Edmund played the melody.
“Laura, I am in your thrall. My heart is yours for keeping. And you shall dance behind my pall when I have died from weeping.”

Edmund did not wait for Dorcas to finish all the verses before pulling her onto his lap. His crotch hardened and she knew she would have the bittersweet pleasure for which she had been waiting all her life. She wanted him, understanding, at last, how orphans are made.

Edmund undid his trousers and pulled out his shirttails while Dorcas unbuttoned her gown as quickly as she could.
He laughed. “My little minx. You shall be paid for your song. I’ll have you right here.”

She was beyond caring what any passerby might see.

He sighed at the sight of her naked body and suckled her breasts, one after the other, as he wrapped his hands in her hair. He was too eager for patience or subtlety. His strong hands cupping her buttocks sent a rush of warmth all through her loins.

She spread her thighs to give him welcome.

“I will try not to hurt you any more than necessary.” He guided his prick into her narrow opening and pushed it steadily deeper.

She groaned, and he paused.

“Halfway in,” he assured her. “You’re a brave little soldier.”

She focused on the sweetness behind the pain, and at length, she enjoyed feeling him fully rooted in her.

Edmund moaned as he moved in rhythm, thrusting in and easing out with rising intensity.
“My darling,” he said in her ear.

The pleasure surged in her like a tide, and she responded, hesitantly at first, with her own movements. Dorcas was glad she had explored herself alone in the years between her first blood and this new initiation. Her maidenhead did not present much of an obstacle.

He reached his crisis before she did and closed his eyes as he plunged as far in as he could. Releasing his seed inside her, he pressed his warm lips to hers. When Edmund withdrew, he showed her that he was not ready to quit the field.

“You too,” he told her, spreading his fingers between her lower lips. He found the focal point of her pleasure and squeezed until she covered her mouth to smother a shriek. A palette of brilliant colors burst behind her eyelids as her whole body erupted in ecstasy.

They lay wrapped in each other’s arms for a long moment as the sun caressed them. Dorcas became aware of the fugue-like rushing of the river in several lines of melody, just beyond their reach. This was the spot she had discovered before.
The setting sun left their damp skin chilled.

“We must get dressed, darling. We’re not really creatures of the wild. We can’t go home like this.”

Dorcas pulled on her gown like a sleepwalker. “Edmund, we must remember this spot.”

“Always.” He smiled at her. “It will always be sacred to us.”

“We must return here tomorrow with oars or pikes. I want to know why the water sounds different here than farther upstream. It’s like a musical instrument, a kind of water-harp that plays a certain chord just here.”

“You are very attuned to nature,” he said. She could see that he thought he must humor her moods.

“And you are not,” she told him. “Each for our own reasons.”



  1. Congratulations on the upcoming collection! These both sound delicious, though of course I am particularly partial to the tale about the cats!

  2. Great news about the collection. "The Water-Harp" is quite an intriguing concept. I've heard of placing stones in a river deliberately to change the sound of water flowing past, but a body, especially the ribs, does suggest water-played harp music.


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