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童话 | Märchen

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From the south came Yeh Shen, 叶限, who slept in mud and was slave to her father’s first wife. Her mother was killed twice, once by plague and again by cruelty toward kind spirit, but her mother could not die. And then came the king, who took her away, clad her in shoes of gold and a cloak of kingfisher feathers, which were her mother’s.

From the south came Woo-san, 吴暹, who again was saved by childbearing, though she saved herself again. She was born of vengeance and dead of hate, except she sold her daughter and her daughter slew her.

There is no joy in fairytales. The power which is woman’s is subsumed into clay, into earth and womb, as though there were no mode of womanhood outside this form of gore. Sister strives against sister for the hand of a saviour: no union, no sorority, for that is not allowed.

From the south came Cassandra, who was named in no other tongue. They christened her in a different history, a different fairytale, a different myth. She was the speechless, voiceless prophetess, the priestess of a capricious god, sexed and unsexed at his whim, her body not her own, her words stolen, her story erased.

They gave her back her name, those saviours of hers, and a new name. Again a man’s name. Again the name of a creature that these people feared, like the noble dragon, like the beauteous snake: a bat of a dark night and darker evil, not the bat of her homeland who was bright and auspicious.

The world is not a fairytale. There is no witch to be vanquished, no Christian devil, no white prince. And yet it is, for the woman is monstrous and there are no greys in justice.

When Barbara – whose name means gibber – taught to her the words of her newest language, it was with picture-books intended for children, whose images were of fair girls who wedded princes under heaven’s fair gaze. Cassandra regarded those with curiosity, because she did not see herself in Cendrillon, nor in Yeh Shen preceding.

There are stories, older stories than these tales of the mistreated redeemed and the wicked brought low. There are stories that have been renamed myth, because they do not agree with how people like Master Bruce see the world – though again there is a line between doctrine and myth – Master Bruce’s god, for instance, will never be myth, while Woo-san’s gods always are.

There is Nvwa, who saved the world, who made the people and repaired the firmament. Afterward they said it was Pangu, but on the seventh day of the first month Cassandra knows whom to thank.

Cassandra’s story is a fairytale: of the lost child found, of the servant raised, of the princess saved. But it is not, also, if you know where to look, if you know whose mouth, whose hands shaped the world. She’s not a coloured body on whom a tale is to be scrawled. She’s not a canvas. She is Woo-san’s loss and Cain’s slave, Master Bruce’s page, Barbara’s pet student, but she is no Yeh Shen, no Fa Mu-lan, no token role to be performed with blank-faced diligence. She is herself and no one else, no archetype, no trope.