Once there was a young girl called Magpie, for her hair had strands as dark as night and as white as milk all tangled together, and her eyes sparkled with the blue and green of a magpie’s wing in sunlight. She was the only child of a farmer and her mother had died giving birth to her, so with no one else in the house to help, she joined her father in tending to their fields at the edge of the kingdom, herding the sheep and caring for the cattle, and their life was hard but good. Their little farm stood in the shadow of a mighty castle, and in the evening as Magpie churned the milk into butter or darned her father’s socks, she would look out at the lights glowing bright in the castle windows, and wonder and dream of all of the fabulous feasts and parties that took place within those high walls.
One day as she was taking the sheep out to graze, she saw a royal hunting party pass by. The young man at the head of the party captivated her. His clothes were of the finest spun silk, his eyes were as golden as the rising sun, and upon his head he wore a crown of silver. It was the king’s eldest son, the prince and heir to the throne, and to Magpie there could have been no more perfect a man created. She knew in the instant she saw him that her heart was his, and could never belong to another.
And how she was wracked with grief. It burned inside of her like a cold fire, consuming her. For the prince did not know who Magpie was, and even if he had, he would never marry a farm girl such as her. She neglected her chores and became listless and lifeless. For days she would not eat or sleep, but only lay in bed staring at the thatch above her, until her father, afraid that she would waste away and die, took Magpie to her grandmother’s house deep in the forest, for her grandmother had lived long and was very wise.
When her grandmother saw Magpie’s sleepless eyes and careworn face, she said at once, “Your daughter has had her heart stolen from her, and she will surely die unless the one who has taken her heart returns her love.” Magpie wept and beat at her breast and asked her grandmother if she knew of a spell that could accomplish such a thing, for no other way could win her the love of a prince.
Her grandmother’s heart broke in two at the sight of her own flesh and blood so wretched. So she gathered her granddaughter’s hands in hers and said, “There is no spell to change the course of another’s heart, for the heart is a wild bird that flies where it will. But I will give you a spell to capture his thoughts and walk in his dreams. He will be able to think of nothing but you, he will long for you day and night, and it will feel very much like love.”
Magpie was overjoyed, and the colour flowed back into her cheeks, and for the first time in weeks she laughed aloud. Her grandmother prepared a cauldron over the fire, and together they cut and stirred sacred herbs and chanted secret words. At last the spell was ready, and Magpie’s grandmother stoppered it in a little vial and gave it to her granddaughter.
“Be warned,” she said. “The spell is only temporary. It will last the span of ten thousand kisses, and by then you must have truly won his heart if you hope to keep him.”
Magpie hurried home with her father, dancing and singing for joy, her head lost in dreams and fantasies, for ten thousand kisses from a prince seemed a lifetime to her.
The next day, as the royal hunting party passed the little farm where Magpie lived, the prince’s horse lost a shoe and they were forced to call upon Magpie and her father to rest and wait while the horse was re-shod. Magpie served the noblemen ale and bowls of hot stew, and into the prince’s bowl she emptied the potion. As the prince ate, his eyes grew wide and he looked at Magpie as if seeing her for the first time. He begged to know of her life and childhood, and came and sat with her by the fire, and when his horse was ready, he had to be called away by his men back to the hunt, and even then looked back over his shoulder and watched Magpie in the door of the little farm house until they were out of sight. And Magpie knew the spell had worked.
The very next day, the prince returned to the little farm house with a royal train, and asked for Magpie’s hand in marriage. She accepted, and returned with him on a fine dappled mare to the castle. At the gates of the castle, all of the powdered, painted nobles came hurrying to stare at this young farm girl with her strands of dark and light hair all tangled up, and her eyes as blue and green as a magpie’s wing. They sniffed and scoffed and muttered jealously that a commoner such as her should one day be their queen. But Magpie didn’t care about any of that. She was lost in her prince’s eyes, eyes as golden as the rising sun. She was given royal chambers and ladies to wait on her, and they bathed and perfumed her and dressed her in fine garments made of cloths as light as clouds and studded with precious gems, and soon she looked as fine as any princess. They were married the next day, and as the bells of the kingdom’s churches rang out, the Prince planted a kiss upon Magpie’s lips, and a little voice inside her heart said, “One.”
Time passed. The Prince and Magpie spent their days walking in the palace gardens, hunting in the forests, and dining on plates of gold and ebony. In the mornings the Prince awoke her with sweet music and in the evenings they recited poems and romantic tales to one another into the night. And every time the Prince kissed her, the small voice in Magpie’s heart whispered to her. Ten kisses. Twelve. Fifty. One hundred.
And time passed. Magpie’s belly swelled and she gave birth to three beautiful children, two girls and a boy, their eyes as golden as the rising sun, and their hair a tangle of light and dark. She tended them jealously, refusing to hand them over to the nursemaids, and their father the Prince idolized them. Every time he came to see them he planted a kiss upon each of their light and dark tresses, and a kiss upon her cheek. And the quiet voice in Magpie’s heart whispered: Three hundred and four. Nine hundred and twenty. Two thousand.
And time passed. The Prince led his father’s armies to war and returned victorious, with beautiful gold and silver chains to hang about Magpie’s neck, and polished pearls to hang from her ears. She spun tapestries depicting the tales of his battles, and they watched as their children grew. The Prince taught them to ride and hunt, and Magpie taught them to sing and dance, and they were loved by all in the palace. And every night Magpie would lie awake and her heart would count away the kisses. Four thousand. Five thousand. Seven thousand.
And then the day came that Magpie had only twenty kisses before the spell’s power was broken. Her heart filled with a terrible fear at all that she might lose, and so she gathered her belongings and stole away from the palace under cover of night and disappeared into the forest.
When the Prince discovered she was gone, he called all his guards, and sent a proclamation out across the land promising untold wealth for anyone who could restore his lost princess to him. He led scouting parties across the land himself, and refused to sleep or eat until he was too weak to stay upright upon his horse. But Magpie evaded them at every turn and stayed hidden deep in the forest.
One day, as Magpie went about collecting firewood for her camp, she saw a large army marching through the valley below her, marching under the Prince’s banner. The Prince had become convinced that his bride had been captured by enemies in a neighbouring country, and had declared war to try and find her and bring her home. Magpie’s heart broke into a hundred pieces, for she could not bear the thought of losing her love and her family – but she could not live with herself if she allowed people to die by her inaction. She ran down into the valley and commanded the army to halt. They turned around and brought her back to the palace.
As she arrived at the palace gate, the Prince was there to meet her. He was so weak he could barely stand, but he hobbled down the steps and threw his arms around her neck, showering her with kisses. Magpie held him tight and closed her eyes as she counted each kiss away.
Ten thousand kisses. The spell was broken. The Prince stepped back and his golden eyes met Magpie’s green and blue ones. They stood, looking at each other on the palace steps as if for the first time, and Magpie waited with bated breath to see what he would say.
Thank you for reading! This is Day 5 of Writers HQ’s #WritingAdvent and the prompt was GIFT. I’ve had the idea of the gift/curse of love for ten thousand kisses before, so seemed like a good time to expand on it. I also love telling traditional tales, and this story seemed simple and clear enough to fit a traditional fairy tale narrative. What do you think, folks? Could you imagine telling this around a campfire somewhere? Leave me a comment below, and as always, if you’re writing anything yourself, hit me up and I’ll have a look 😊