A princess is a creature of grace, poise, decorum. They are soft, gentle, patient. I, however, was none of those things, much to my parents’ despair.
They only brought that upon themselves, of course. A firstborn daughter, a royal invitation to greet the new monarch not sent, and therefore an insult perceived by a powerful magical being. You know how the story goes. I was cursed and, in my story, there were no blessings to gentle it. No other wishes for my future, or what little she left of it. Just a creature of shadow and talon which appeared, damned the bright vision my parents had of my life, and vanished.
My childhood was a moderately happy one, even with the dark cloud of the curse hanging forever in my periphery. My parents loved me. My sisters, when they were born, did the same. And I of course love them with all that I am. My parents hired tutors, made sure I learned what it meant to be a monarch, made sure I was prepared for a future of rule. They simply made sure my sister learned as well.
“Just in case.” My father would say, his gaze flitting across the empty hallways as if something unseen was always listening, always watching.
And when I got too restless, when the green of the forest and the blue of the lake called to me and I couldn’t help but give in to the need to run, to chase, they took me riding. We’d make trips, have picnics, run around on the heather-filled fields and watch the sky change her colour with the setting sun. For the longest time, we were as happy as we could be.
My eighteenth birthday was a beautiful and clear full moon night. The air rife with the scents of fresh bread and roasted meats of the feast held in honour of my coming of age. Gentle and joyful music filled the ballroom as people danced and laughed all night.
In an empty hallway, as far away from people as I could get, I screamed and cried as my body tore itself apart. As the wildness that had always lived inside of me wanted out. The howl that tore from my newly changed throat was loud enough to wake the entire city.
I should have been terrified. I should be lamenting the turn my life had taken, all the things I now no longer could do. I should have felt all of those things. But when I made my way out of the castle and into the forest, the ground soft underneath my paws, the silver moonlight a gentle caress on my fur, I couldn’t help but think that his curse tasted a lot like freedom.
The wildness that had always lived inside of me, the parts that longed to shed the tight clothing and even tighter responsibilities of nobility, were torn from the inner shadow where I had hidden them and shoved into the light. The parts of me that wished to run, to hunt, to feast, finally had a chance to be free.
Things changed after that.
Now, people are wary, afraid. My parents try, they really do. To teach me to act normal, ladylike, human. It’s of no use. The wolf lurks under my skin, peering out of my eyes.
People whisper about how much of a waste it is, such a shame, that a curse has changed me so. They don’t see, they don’t understand. The wolf, the wildness, the hunger, has always been there. It is me, the deepest parts of my soul given physical form.
Life goes on. My sister, perfect, composed, kind, steps into the limelight. Or is pushed, I should say. To placate those who question my place at Court. Meanwhile I am forced into the background. An animal in the shadows meant to be forgotten.
My wolf balks at the idea of corsets, of rules, of restriction. Doesn’t understand the need for playing nice with nobles it doesn’t like. She’s a creature of instinct, simplicity, and therefore, so am I.
I spend my days roaming the grounds, protecting what is mine. The people of the city avert their eyes as I go past. Whisper about curses and how they spread, about what it means for the Kingdom that their princess is now a different creature altogether.
My wolf claims the entirety kingdom as her territory and as I get older, I travel further. Checking in daily with the people on the far edges of the lands. The misfits and the outcasts. The ones with wisdom and magic who have been pushed towards the edges of the kingdom long before I was born. Hatred and fear pushed us all here, to the lands where the briar grows three men tall. Where the trees and the shadows move on their own and where the water of the lake is always smooth, no matter how fierce the storm.
I help where I can, chasing off the foxes for the farmers, climbing trees to hang fetches and talismans for protection, bringing food to those who need it most. Most time is spent drinking tea and discussing life with the old lady whom everyone calls ‘witch’. She teaches me all she knows. Things the tutors at the castle never knew to teach me. About the plants and trees that grow, the animals that roam deep within the forest. About life here, on the outskirts of society, and all the peoples and creatures that are part of it. Here, the people look me in the eye. They bow their heads in respect but never in fear. The bravest of the children ask to card their hands through my fur. The old woman laughingly gifts me a crown of twigs and burrs and rowanberries the colour of blood. Every time I’m in my human skin I wear that crown with pride.
One day, deep within the forest at the edge of my territory, I meet her. The being who has brought all that was hidden within me to the front and then illuminated it. I shift back to human, standing before her, naked and open, but never vulnerable, thanks to her. I thank her for the gifts she has given me. For the freedom and power and strength. The look on her face when I name her fairy godmother is priceless.
She smiles at me then, a flash of razor-sharp teeth. I bare my own fangs back at her. She asks me then, if I understand. How they are being treated. Those who do not fit in, those who are made of wildness and shadow and blood. How they are shunned because of what they are.
She tells me this will change, once I am queen. When I tell her that I never will be, that my parents will never find a match for me, she simply laughs and tells me not to worry. After all, I have a fairy godmother now.
She keeps close after that. Always watching, always near, but never interfering. Not unless I ask her to. So when war, inevitably, finds itself at our borders, I ask for her aid. I stand in the middle of the bloodied battlefield, staring at the incoming forces. The wolf in me is itching underneath my skin. She wishes to hunt, to kill, to feel flesh rip underneath her claws, blood filling her mouth as she tears them apart. So I call out to my fairy godmother, asking if she would join me for a hunt, before I shed my skin along with my humanity and charge forward.
The battle is brutal and short. The enemy army is better trained, but not against the army of outcasts led by myself and my fairy godmother. Their swords and shields quickly fall against our teeth, claws and magic.
Afterwards, I greet my father on the battlefield. Bare and covered in blood. There is fear in his eyes, yes, but also respect. And, for the first time, trust.
Things change once again. I am brought back into the castle, but nothing is the same. I spend most of my time in the forests, still, but I also find myself fighting. Training with weapons other than tooth and claw. Weathered old men, tutors, hired by my father to teach me all they know. I learn how much I don’t know, how much there is still to learn. I earn my scars, even if they never stay for long. I earn their respect, even if it is hard won. I am no longer alone, some of my people from the outskirts join me and never leave their princess’ side.
It doesn’t take long before suitors come from all over the world, wishing to marry one of my sisters. Singing praises about the small kingdom that could so quickly put an end to war. That could tame monsters and wild things. Silly men, none of us were tamed, we simply chose to fight.
My parents and sisters work hard to get the most advantageous matches. To make sure that both the kingdom and my sisters will continue to grow and prosper. Bargains are struck, feasts are had. One by one my sisters move away, happy with their chosen husbands. All of them are visited by a giant wolf at least once. They know to treat my sisters well, or one night feel the sharp tips of my fangs against their throat.
Years later I am gifted another crown. It is a beautiful thing. Delicate golden flowers and bright shining gems. It feels uncomfortable to me the way all pretty things do. “It might not suit you,” my father tells me, “but you have earned it.”
“As you have earned your rest.” I tell him.
“You will be wonderful, my Queen.”
Rumors start spreading, about the Wolfqueen, the Wild One, sitting upon a blood-red throne. About the Kingdom of monsters where beasts, fae and man live free. About the Queen with the Iron Heart, who turns away all who wish to court her, and kills all who dare more.
It’s not that I do not want someone at my side. I do. I wish for the love that my parents share. That my sisters eventually found with their husbands. But all those who come for my hand, those who finally dare when I have no more free sisters left, come for just that. My hand but not my heart. They are all poised and polished. Perfect little princes who look towards the wealth of the castle but away from the wildness within me. They are afraid to meet my wolf’s cold, assessing gaze.
Some even try to change me, to find the human underneath the wolf. They only try once.
For years, I rule alone. Through another war, through a plague born of magic, through prosperity and abundance. My people always by my side but no one to claim my heart.
But then, a commotion. A man, dressed in furs. No scars on his body, but plenty on his soul. His eyes glowing the same gold as mine in the gentle torchlight. A wildness in them that my wolf recognizes. A challenge that my wolf is eager to take, to rise up to.
“Your Oracle told me to come here.” He tells me, “I asked for guidance, to find what my heart truly desires, and she sent me to you.”
My fairy godmother steps up behind me, laying a hand on my shoulder. I can’t see her, but I know she is smiling a smile of sharp pointed teeth. No doubt the oracle he speaks of.
“My Queen,” he continues, bowing deep, his eyes never leaving mine, “I came looking for connection, for freedom. I believe I will find it with your time and your company. Will you grant me it?”
“And what, my prince,” for if my fairy godmother sent him, he can only be that, “will you grant me in return?” I lean forward, eager, hungry.
“Loyalty,” he steps forward, onto the dais, “companionship and understanding.” He leans over me for a single, challenging moment, before kneeling before me, baring his throat. “Perhaps in time even love. But for now, the thrill of a hunt. Of a chase.” He grins, baring sharp fangs. A breath, and a beautiful black-furred wolf sits in front of me.
Oh – the hunt is on. A thrill goes through me as I shift, ready to run, to chase him down and claim him for my own. For if one thing is certain, it is that I am a wild thing, a Queen, a hunter, but never, ever, prey.