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Challenge #01296-C201: Coat of Paper, Coat of Fur

"And she swore she would never eat another strawberry!" -- OohLookShiny

The assembled crowd of children turned to stare, open-mouthed, at the Silent Princess. Her name, insofar as anyone could understand her pantomime, was River. And she was living under a curse.

Beyond that, and her dislike of strawberries, everything was up to anyone's guess.

River shook her head and her hands danced. They danced to say, You have everything wrong, but they danced to people who did not understand the movements.

"Izzat magic?" said one of the bolder children.

River shook her head. She was not what anyone would call beautiful. She was not fair. She was not blonde. She was not dark in either hair or skin. She was splotched, and her hair was brownish, dull, and had a tendancy to never do what anyone wanted. She kept it short, and let it curl around her like hyperactive snakes.

But she had to be a princess, because they found her wearing royal clothing. And she had to be a princess, because she was kind and generous and wanted to help everyone she came across. Why, just yesterday, she gave her last crust of bread to a blind beggar. Everyone had seen it.

And every day, they swore, she was looking slightly more lovely.

The peasants of the little village that took her in would have given her a pen and paper, but none of them could read. And she would not or could not speak, so all they had left was her dancing hands.

Once upon a time, there were two step-sisters. One was beautiful and the other... not so much...

Every day, she did good things for the people of the little village. She tried to give away what little riches she had on her. Turned her hands towards hard work. And though she was clearly inexperienced, she spent honest effort in all her tasks.

The mother of the not-so-pretty child grew jealous of the stepdaughter, and treated her poorly...

Every day, a little of her curse wore off...

Finally, they sent the stepdaughter off into the woods in the middle of winter, wearing nothing but a paper coat. There, she met three little men who gave her three gifts...

And she hid herself whenever the Prince Regent and his dazzling bride toured their part of their lands. The royal baby was beautiful, everyone said. But River hid, and would not look.

When the selfish daughter went to find them, she went in a coat of fur, and she was rude. And the three little men gave her three curses.

River eventually married a shepherd who took the time to learn the meaning of her dancing hands. Who learned her real story and did not judge her in her repentance.

He knew that, should she speak, a toad would fall from her lips. He knew that she would always bear the mark of her temperament on her face and skin. And he knew that he was her curse, too, because the little men had said, "She will never find a rich husband."

But that did not mean that she would never be happy.

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