A Fix-it Fairy Tale: more kindness, more consent and more inclusivity for ‘Prince Lindworm’.
Two queens are so eager to have a baby that they forget to follow a witches advice and one of their sons is born in the body of a lindworm.
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[Gentle theme music]
Laura: Hi, you can call me Laura, I’m here to tell you a story if you like. This is Patchwork Fairy Tales and you found one of my Fix-it Fairy Tales: more kindness, more consent and more inclusivity. If you want to read as well as listen, check out the transcript linked in the description. Today we’re fixing Prince Lindworm.
The Lindworm Prince
Once upon a time, there was a country ruled by a kind and responsible young queen. For quite a while she ruled alone, but one fine autumn she met a princess that was as lovely as the sea was wide, and the following summer the two of them were wed. Now the country had two beloved queens and the royal couple was exceedingly happy for a long time. After a while, however, a sadness began to grow between them. They had both begun to wish they could have a child and the more they talked about it, the more they sorrowed over it.
One day the Queen-consort slipped away from her lords and ladies and nobles-in-waiting and went for a walk outside the palace grounds to think her thoughts. Because her thoughts were very glum and therefore very heavy, she held her head bowed low and her gaze pointed towards the ground. This being the case she almost walked into a woman in a black robe with a green sash.
The Queen-consort started back and apologised, because she knew a witch when she saw one. The witch greeted her most cordially, however, and asked: “Why so glum, Your Majesty? What problems weigh down your crowned head?”
“Oh,” the Queen-consort said shyly. “Nothing of note.” Because she did not feel she had any right to complain. Being the queens, she and her wife knew of all the troubles in the kingdom, and while they worked very hard to help solve them, there were always more. It felt very selfish to her to be a queen and yet be glum.
But the witch shook her head and said: “Everyone has troubles, my dear. Why don’t you tell me about them and maybe I can lend a hand.”
So the Queen told the witch of the wish she and her wife harboured to have a child. What’s more, they so dearly wanted a child that was all theirs. “If we had our wish,” the Queen -consort sighed, “I would give my wife the child and she would bear it and it would be all our own.” And again she felt very selfish for even wanting such a thing.
“Well,” the witch said kindly. “Is that such a terrible thing to want? It is what so many others before you have wanted and not even stop to consider if they might have it.”
The Queen-consort admitted that this was true. But, she pointed out, that did not make it any less impossible in their case.
“Nonsense!” the witch declared. “I can tell you exactly how it could be done, if only you are willing to listen and do exactly as I say. So listen carefully. You must go home and take your very favourite drinking cup and bring it out into the palace grounds. There you must place it upside down on the ground in the north-west corner of your garden. When you return to it tomorrow morning, you will find two little roses blooming underneath it. You must pick them both and bring them to your wife so she may choose one. Then you must pluck the petals off this bloom for her to eat and she shall be pregnant with your child on the morrow. But mind your wife only eats one of the roses! The other you must bury in the garden with the bare stalk of the other, this is very important.”
The Queen-consort was all amazement. “Thank you!” she exclaimed. “Thank you a thousand times!” And she wanted to give the witch the gold ring she wore on her finger as payment, but the witch would not take it.
So the Queen-consort thanked her again and then immediately hurried home and did exactly as she had been told. While she placed her favourite cup onto the grass in the garden she did feel a little silly, but she did it anyway. The next morning at sunrise she stole into the garden, still in her nightgown, and lifted up the cup. There, just as the witch had foretold her, grew two little roses. One was red and one was white and they were both perfectly lovely.
Fairly bursting with joy the Queen-consort picked the two flowers and ran straight back to her bedroom, where here wife was still sleeping under the covers. The Queen was very confused for a while when her wife woke her up with talk of witches and magic roses, but when she had shaken the sleep from her head and was able to understand her, she grew equally excited. After all, if the witch’s advice had been true thus far, surely it would continue to be so.
“You must pick a rose, my love,” the Queen-consort said eagerly. “And we shall have our child!”
The Queen really had a hard time choosing. Both the roses were equally darling. Only one was a little fuller and the other was a little more fragrant and so on and so on, making it impossible to choose. So at last she said:
“Place them behind your back, dearest, I shall choose a hand instead of a rose, because I am as fond of your left hand as I am of your right, so whichever I choose I shall be pleased with.”
“Very well,” the Queen-consort laughed and she held the two flowers behind her back where her wife could not see them.
Now the Queen could choose and she chose her wife’s right hand.
“The red one,” the Queen-consort said excitedly and she sat down on the edge of the bed to pluck the petals off the bloom. Carefully she collected all the petals in her cup and when there was not a single red petal left, she gave the cup to her wife.
The Queen laughed nervously and quickly ate the small handful of petals in one go. As soon as she had, however, she wished she hadn’t. It was the sweetest, loveliest things he had ever tasted. Her eyes were wide with delight and her cheeks all flushed with a desire for more. She begged her wife to let her eat the other rose too and she pleaded so desperately that the Queen-consort gave in and plucked the white petals for her too.
The Queen eagerly ate them all and then she kissed her wife so soundly that the Queen-consort forgot all about the warning of the witch. She buried the two rose stems in the garden and thought of them no more, only concerned with her wife. Because sure enough, it wasn’t long before it was very clear that the Queen was with child. The court marvelled and rejoiced and the two mothers were indescribably happy.
Even happier they were when it became clear they would be having twins. Their joy was boundless and when the time came for the children to be born, they expected nothing but happiness.
So imagine their shock, when the first child that the Queen brought into the world was not a human child, but a little dragon! He was a lindworm, all coiled up from his tail to his body and with two short claws that were still clutched to his scaly chest. The second child was a human baby, a little boy with not a scale on his skin to be seen, and the servants immediately tried to take the baby away from the slithery lindworm.
As soon as they did this, however, the little baby screamed so terribly that there was nothing the nursery maids could do but place the baby back beside its serpent brother. The two newborns put their heads together and were quiet again, much to the bewilderment of everyone.
“Oh dear,” wept the Queen. “I should not have eaten both the roses. Now look what has happened!”
“Do not cry, my love,” the Queen-consort begged and she took their children in her arms. “Here we have two children that both look as healthy as can be. Clearly they love each other already, surely we can do the same?”
And the queens looked at the two little creatures, lying contentedly in their mother’s arms with the lindworm’s long tail slung over his brother’s plump little legs, and resolved to do their very best to love both their children equally.
Try as they might, the lindworm was such an ugly, slithering creature, that neither queens nor nobles managed to look upon him long without shuddering. He was clearly very intelligent, but no one at court could understand the horrid noises that came from his fanged snout. No one but the little Prince. He understood his lindworm brother perfectly well and the royal twins were as inseparable as they could possibly be. This did mean that the Prince rarely travelled, because everyone agreed that the lindworm should be kept hidden from prying eyes.
So the years went by. The Prince grew taller and taller and the lindworm grew longer and longer. But while the young Prince seemed to grow more handsome every day, so the lindworm seemed to get more and more monstrous. There was not a soul in the palace save for the Prince and the Queens who was not secretly afraid of him. And even his mothers were increasingly distressed, even though they took care not to show it around their sons.
The Prince felt no such distress, however, and spent as much time with his brother as he could be spared from royal duties. Every day he told him everything that had happened and everyone he had met. One day, he told his brother lindworm about the crown princess of one of the neighbouring countries, who had come with their royal ambassador to visit the palace. He talked about her a great deal. And the following day he talked about her again. And the day after that. And the day after that. When the visit finally ended, he still talked of her. And finally the lindworm swirled his scaly tail across the marble floor and told his brother that he sounded very much in love.
The Prince turned very red, but he could not deny it. “Oh she is the kindest, the cleverest! And you have never seen such a woman, brother! So tall and strong, she is the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.”
“Then you should return her visit!” the lindworm urged. “And if she thinks of you as you think of her, you might marry!”
“What!” the Prince protested. “Am I to travel abroad? And leave you here alone with no one who speaks your tongue? Never!”
Now the lindworm, who had already known so much sorrow in his young life, grew very sad indeed. He could not bear the thought that he would be the reason his brother might not gain this happiness. But no matter how he pleaded and argued, the Prince could no more bear the thought of leaving his brother behind. Together they grew sadder and sadder, until the both of them wept, and the lindworm let out such horrible cries that the whole palace shook and the Queens came running in great alarm.
The Prince explained the situation and the Queens were very sorrowful too. The two Princes wished with all their hearts they could teach their mothers how to speak like they could, but they had tried so many times before, and no one had ever managed.
“But surely something can be done,” the Queen exclaimed. She had been thinking on the subject ever since the two of them had been born and the thought had never quite left her mind. “These are matter of magic.” She looked between her two sons and said: “If we manage to find someone, some noble young royal with a loving heart, who could see our eldest for who he is, surely the magic will give way!” After all, this was in the best of royal tradition.
This was so bright a spark of hope that the very next morning royal messengers travelled far and wide in search of fine, unmarried young royals that might be a match for the lindworm prince. The Prince said this was very proper. He was the eldest, after all, and shouldn’t he marry first? He hoped that whoever the fated person was to be, they would love his brother as much as he did, and would be able to speak to him as he did.
But whatever prince or princess or royal prodigy found their way to the palace – and many answered the call – they were all so horribly scared of the lindworm that they would not even go near him. A single glance at the writhing, scaly body and the sharp, horrid fangs had them screaming or fainting or running in fear, and with each noble child that fled from the palace more rumours began to spread.
Rumours of sharp scales and poison tongues, curved claws and strangling tails. And the people of the kingdom began to whisper that the palace held two princess instead of one and that one of them was a lindworm.
The rumours grew and grew and flew and flew, until they reached the place where a witch in a black robe with a green sash lived with her daughter.
“Mother,” her daughter said one day. “Is it true that Queens have a lindworm for a son?”
“If it is then they did not heed my words,” the witch shook her head. “I told Her Majesty very clearly not to let her wife eat more than one rose. And to think, they did not even seek me out for help!”
“Oh mother!” the witch’s daughter exclaimed. “You must not expect so much of people that are either very happy or very distressed.”
Her mother sighed and shook her head.
“I would like to go and help them,” her daughter insisted. “Will you not teach me how to help the lindworm?”
“Well there is one way,” the witch relented. “If the Queen really did remember to bury the rose stalks in the palace garden, rose bushes will be growing there now, just like they do behind our cottage. If she hasn’t all is lost. But if she has you must go there and collect all the petals and boil them into rose water.” And the witch told her daughter exactly what to do when she met the lindworm. “But you cannot let his brother see him,” she concluded. “Or the curse will transfer from one brother to the other!”
She assured her mother she would take great care to prevent that from happening and set off for the palace.
Everyone inside the palace was at that time in a state of great hopelessness. The queens no longer cared about the spreading of their secret, but they felt so helpless to change the fate they had brought upon their children that they were both growing thin with sorrow. The Prince and the lindworm had shut themselves up in the only room in the palace still big enough to hold the lindworm, and would not speak to anyone.
It was at this sorry time that a servant came in to the Queens’ chambers and spoke: “Forgive me, Your Majesties, but there is a young witch at the gate who says she can cure the lindworm.”
The Queen-consort startled, but the Queen immediately sat upright. “Show her in at once!” she said.
They hurried to the throne room, their younger son joining them immediately, and the unexpected visitor was immediately brought before them. She wore a green robe with a black sash and for a moment the Queen-consort felt very strange indeed, but before she could collect her thoughts the young witch bowed for the royals and said:
“I have come to help the eldest prince the lindworm, if he wishes it. But if I am to do it, I must be allowed to practise my craft. You must allow me seven days and seven nights in his company and I will do my best to help.”
The royals looked at each other nervously, but if it was witchcraft that got them here, perhaps it would be witchcraft that got them out. And, perhaps more importantly, they remembered that their biggest mistake had been not heeding the warning of the first witch.
“Kind young witch,” the Queen said urgently. “We will do exactly as you say. If you can cure our dear son, we will bestow upon you any reward you deem fitting.”
She smiled, and shook her head, saying only: “First I would like to speak with your son.”
The Queens immediately rose from their thrones and the young witch was shown to the lindworm’s chamber. When she entered it, even she was a little taken aback. The lindworm was monstrously big. He coiled around and around and around and his giant claws scraped grooves into the flagstone floor.
“My son,” the Queen-regent whispered. “This young woman has come to help you.”
“If you wish it,” the younger prince repeated her own words.
“Then tell her she may stay with me,” the lindworm said, and the young witch could tell that he was trying very much to speak as softly as possible.
The Prince opened his mouth to speak for him, but the young witch said gently:
“I can understand you, your Highness.”
The queens gasped and pressed their son’s hands and the Prince’s eyes shone with wonder and relief. “Do you really?” he exclaimed, for there had never been anyone but him who could understand his brother.
“I do,” she nodded. “And I would speak to him, if I may.”
The lindworm agreed most demurely, and told his family they might leave them alone. He was pressing his giant body as close to the ground as he could, barely moving his monstrous head.
The Queens quickly departed, but the prince lingered at the door until the lindworm nodded his monstrous head at him. Only then did he slip quietly out of the door and the lindworm prince fixed his glowing eyes on the young woman. “Do you really think you can help me?”
For a moment the young witch was hesitant and then she asked: “Do you want to be a man instead of a lindworm?”
“I do not know,” the lindworm said. “I have never been a man. But I would like to be able to speak to my mothers and have them understand me. And I would not want my brother to be stuck here forever on my account.” He sighed sadly, and it was a terrible, cold sigh. “As I am now I will keep growing and growing until there is no longer a place big enough to house me. I think it would be better to be a man than to have to slither out into the world and hide myself forever.”
“Then I think I can help you,” the young witch nodded. “For you and your brother were born the same way I was born, and I do not wish to see you suffer.”
The lindworm was so surprised he could not speak for a moment, but it did give him the tiniest spark of hope. So when she asked him to trust her he said that he would and the young witch set out to bring about her cure.
She went into the palace garden and there, just as her mother had said, grew a sprawling rose bush that was already in full bloom. She gathered all the petals she could carry and went to the palace kitchen to boil them into rosewater. Then she hauled the kettle to the lindworm’s chamber, and she started all over again. Meanwhile she ordered firewood to be brought to the lindworm’s chamber. Heaps and heaps of firewood. So while she plucked and boiled and hauled, servants walked to and fro with as much fuel as there was to be found.
The whole day she worked and when night fell, she told everyone to leave them be, and shut herself in the room with the lindworm. She shut all the windows and lit a blazing fire in the hearth, as big as she could possibly make it.
Hotter and hotter she stoked the fire, until the lindworm was twisting and writhing in the heat.
“I am hot, kind witch,” he begged. “Douse your fire.”
“I shall not douse my fire,” the young witch replied. “Why don’t you shed a skin?”
The lindworm shuddered, as if he could feel her words in the very core of his being, and he cried: “No, no, that is something no lindworm can do unasked.”
“Well then I ask you now,” she said firmly.
And the lindworm, writhing and slithering, hulking and bulking, shed his skin.
It was a gruesome sight, and a painful one, but the young witch kept her face calm and kind. “Not too hot now?” she asked.
The lindworm shook his giant head. “But my new skin is raw,” he rasped.
“Then I will bathe you in rose water, if you like.”
The lindworm said that sounded very pleasant, and the young witch bathed his scaly body all over with the rose water. No one but his brother and his mothers had ever come so near him and the lindworm got so shy that when she washed his scaly snout he would not look her in the eyes.
When she was done, the young witch was so tired, she sat down exhausted. But the lindworm’s skin no longer stung and he thanked her for her attentions. Together they sat out the rest of the night, sometimes sleeping, sometimes waking, until the sun rose.
Barely had day broken in earnest, or the young witch heard a knock on the heavy door. It was the Prince, coming to enquire after his brother, but she knew she could not let him in.
“Forgive me, Your Highness,” she called out. “You cannot come in.”
“How is she treating you, brother,” the Prince whispered through the heavy door and the lindworm replied:
“She speaks to me kindly.”
So the Prince drew breath and eased his worry and let them be.
That second night everything was just the same. The young witch stoked the fires high and the lindworm watched her warily, holding out as long as he could, until the heat became impossible to bear.
“I am burning, kind witch,” he wailed. “Douse your fires.”
“I shall not douse my fire,” the young witch replied. “Why don’t you shed a skin?”
Again the lindworm shuddered in horror. “No, no, that is something no lindworm can do unasked.”
“Then I ask you now,” she said.
So the lindworm shed another skin, roiling and coiling, and shuddering all the while, until he was free of another layer of scales.
Once again the young witch offered to soothe his skin with rosewater and she washed him all over until he was no longer sore, and she was too tired to lift her arms any further.
No one else in the palace knew what strange happenings took place in the night, but the palace trembled in the dark and never had the scent of roses hung so heavily in every corridor. The queens worried, but the Prince was nearly sick with doubt. Every night he started awake with the rumbling and every day he ran to the locked door and begged his brother to tell him whether he was treated well. And the Lindworm always answered, one assurance after the other:
“She speaks to me kindly. She dries my tears. She soothes my skin.”
But the two brothers were too used to being always side by side and when the seventh day came the Prince no longer knew how to bear their separation. He sat at the door and begged and pleaded so miserably that the poor, raw-skinned lindworm writhed in misery and tears of sorrow rolled out of his eyes.
The young witch, who had cared for him for six days and nights and had listened to all his hopes and dreams, was no longer able to stand firm. So she took the sash from round her waist and opened the door at the slightest crack, holding it out to the Prince.
“You must not see your brother,” she urged him. “But bind this over your eyes so that you can see neither light nor dark, and then you may come in.”
So the Prince wound her sash around his head, tying it fast, and took the young witch’s hand. She led him carefully into the room, to where is brother lay. It was still so hot that he gasped and the floor was so wet that his feet slipped, but she guided him with steady firmness and the lindworm spoke to him and when the Prince put his slender hand on the lindworm’s giant claw both of them grew calm again.
“Is it one more night?” the Prince said, voice trembling.
“One more night,” the lindworm sighed.
“You shall see him in the morning,” the young witch promised, more determined than ever, and she led the blindfolded prince back out of the room.
The lindworm watched him go and when she joined him again he asked, very quietly: “Why have you come to help me?”
The young witch looked at him, dishevelled and tired and smeared with soot. “Because I was born from wishes and roses too.”
That night as she piled up the fire, the lindworm did not speak, but shuddered. As she stoked the flames, the lindworm did not speak, but writhed. As the heat began to roar, the lindworm did not speak, but clawed. But when the blaze was so big that it seemed bound to escape the hearth, he burst forth wailing:
“Kind witch, rose daughter, sweet friend, I am burning.”
And this time she answered him right away:
“Then shed a skin.”
But when the lindworm had shed his seventh skin, what was left of him was no longer a lindworm, but much much smaller, and cowering miserably on the floor. This last, scaly skin, ended up in a big heap with all the others and for a moment it seemed like there was a second lindworm, hidden in the mass of scales.
Without a moment’s hesitation, the young witch grabbed all seven skins and dragged them straight over to the fireplace and into the flames. No sooner did they touch the blazing fire, or the poor lindworm began to scream as if it was him that was burning and not his shed skins.
Quickly the young witch took the last jug of rose water and emptied it over his quivering body. He stopped screaming, but now he was crying, so the witch took him in her arms and held him fast, letting him cry until he fell asleep, utterly exhausted.
After a while the young witch could not keep her eyes open any longer either and she too fell fast asleep.
The following morning, at the first light of dawn, the Prince ran through the palace with a clamour, waking every soul inside it in his haste to get to his brother. His mothers hurried after him and soon half the court had crowded around the heavy door of the lindworm’s chamber.
It was very quiet inside and none of the courtiers dared enter the room, but the Prince was too eager to be frightened for long and he burst inside with a plea for his brother and a question for the witch.
No one without the room could hear any answer, but the Prince cried out with such joy and astonishment that the two queens ran straight after him and then what tears and thanks came bursting forth.
For lying there, with his head in the young witch’s lap, was not a lindworm, but a young man. Hale and hearty and every bit as human as his brother.
The both of them had only barely blinked the sleep from their eyes when the youngest Prince had already thrown his arms around his brother, and the two queens nigh tripped over their skirts in an attempt to embrace all three of them together.
There were such rejoicings in the castle as there were never known before and the young witch was as happy as any of them, because she had come to care so deeply for the lindworm that the thought of failing him had almost squeezed a dent into her heart.
But now there was no more fear or worry. The two princes, now so alike in appearance that most everyone struggled to tell one from the other, were so gloriously happy that it made the queens weep to look upon them.
For the first time in his life, they could speak with their eldest son, and now they told him all the apologies, confessions and affirmations that had ever stuck in their throats.
Of course the eldest Prince, who was still unsteady on his legs at times, urged his brother to pay a visit to his dear princess across the sea, but declined to travel with him. His brother agreed most readily, but he would not leave until he had begged the young witch not to take her leave before he had returned. For he would be so sorry to miss her that this could not be. The two queens quite agreed with this. There was no end to their love and appreciation for her. Because not only did they owe their present happiness to her kindness and courage, they understood very well that the happiness of their eldest son depended on her all the more.
So it may very well be that in time, there were two weddings among the roses in the royal garden. With two grooms very alike, and two brides very different, and a witch in a black dress with a green sash seated on the left hand of the queen, smilingly shaking her head all the while.
Laura: And with that last word, stitching up the very last sentence, this story has its proper end.
Thank you very much for listening, I hope you enjoyed my take on this famous Scandinavian fairy tale. If you want to know how to contact me or where to find my other projects, you can find all that on my website laurasimons.com.
One of those other projects is extra exciting: a little ghost story in a similar style to the patchwork fantasy snippets will be published in the anthology Dark Cheer, Cryptids Emerging, by Improbable Press. The publisher specifically asked for “generally-positive stories of weird beings coming into their own” and I’m so excited to read all the other stories they’ve collected! The volume I feature in, Volume Blue, will be published in December 2021, the second one, Volume Silver in February 2022, but they are both available for preorder right now! I will put the links in the description.
There’s another tale to tell some other day, but until then…
Mind the words of witches, guard your name, and be safe~
Copyright Laura Simons, please do not copy my stories without my permission, lest you insult the fae.