“One spark. Two sparks. Three. This is what it takes to ignite a revolution.”
A reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairytale, “The Tinder Box” tells the story of a witch at the heart of an incipient rebellion—and all of those to come.
After the soldier cut off my head it rolled away under a holly tree and thereafter sun wind snow rain petals dripped down upon the earth through the gaping eye sockets of my skull.
Teach a callow man to be a soldier and he will learn to use violence to solve his problems. It was for that reason I had appeared to him as an old hag and allowed him to fill his pockets with coin from my secret treasure. He was a vain and trifling fellow, and it is never so very difficult for men of that temperament to dispose of women who they see as ugly.
Losing my head was a small price to pay for my ultimate object, the overthrow of the king and the uncommonly clever queen. Their regime was thoroughly regimented. Those who rule with an iron grip and attention to detail know how to crush each least spark of rebellion, how to behead any small cry for freedom. No carefully crafted revolution, however righteous and passionate, stood a chance against their cunning secret police, prosperous merchants and landlords, and well-fed and well-paid military.
But what would a common soldier be to them? Merely a man without ambition except the gratification of material desires like rich food, expensive clothing, and a forbidden kiss from their daughter, the beautifully passive princess. My hope was that the king and queen would not take such a soldier seriously until it was too late, when he had finally understood the power of the humble tinder box he’d stolen off my corpse.
As for him, he thought cutting off my head would end my part in the matter. He couldn’t know he was only the first part of my plan.
My skull lay for years I could not tally as I waited for the right heart to pass by my slumbering roots.
There came a soldier marching down the road: One, two! One, two!
I spun myself as a springtime bloom into a gown with the languid purple of a crocus and a checked apron of white and blue. My hair fell as fine and pale as dandelion filaments. I stumbled to the road, pretending to fall.
A strong hand caught me. “There now, what’s a delicate flower like you doing out alone in the forest?”
I clung to him as to a stout tree in a wild storm, so he would believe me helpless. “What news of the army, soldier? My brother marched out. I wonder if he will ever return.”
“You should not be outside the walls where any criminal might chance upon you.” He set me at arm’s length with the frown of a man who finds a woman desirable and is ashamed of his thoughts. “Let me escort you to the city gates before I continue on my way.”
“You are not a city man?” I asked.
“Village born. Just passing through, though there’s not much waiting for me at home. When the war started the king paid our parents to sign up their extra sons. They’ll not welcome another mouth to feed when I return.”
“I can’t help but notice you have a very sharp sword but an empty knapsack.”
“True enough. For all our victories, we soldiers haven’t been paid. There are a lot of growling stomachs coming back to our villages and towns in the next weeks.”
I smiled. “Perhaps we can help each other. Before she died my grandmother told me about a tree.” I pointed to a massive old oak with its gnarled trunk. “It’s hollow to the roots and underneath there’s a hole. I can’t get into it by myself. But if I tie a rope around your middle, then I can lower you down and pull you up again.”
“What would I do in a hole under a tree?” he asked.
I gazed at him with my primrose eyes. “Do you love the king?”
“I love the king as much as he loves me.” He glanced at his boots, so worn they were held together with string, and shrugged to jostle the knapsack which was as light as if it was filled with air, for that is exactly what was inside it: air and hunger.
The old regime would never have let its soldiers lack food, the better to use them to keep their subjects cowed and compliant. But he had not been born in those times. Hunger made him ripe for persuasion.
“Under the tree beyond the hole lies a bright hall burning with lamps. The hall has three doors, and each door has a key in it. In the first room you’ll find a big chest in the middle of the floor. On that chest sits a dog whose eyes are as big as teacups. But don’t fear! Spread out my apron and set the dog on it, and he’ll be quiet. Open the chest and take out as many copper coins as you wish!”
“Just like that?”
“Be sure to use the apron exactly as I’ve told you.”
“What if I forget?”
“Then the dogs will kill you, and that would be a shame, would it not?”
He smiled to hear me speak of his death as a shame. Then he registered the words I’d said. “Dogs? There is more than one dog?”
“Indeed there is. Through the next door is another room, and another chest, and a bigger dog. This one has eyes as big as mill wheels that spin as water flows. Don’t fear him either! Put him on my apron and he’ll sit obediently. In this chest you’ll find silver. And even that isn’t all of it! In the third room sits another chest and another dog, this one with eyes as huge as the royal tower and a growl to match. But pay him no mind. Put him on the apron, and you can take all the gold you could ever need.”
“Nothing wrong with that!” he said. “But what shall I give to you, my flower? I can suppose you must want something from the arrangement.”
His eyes grew bright with longing. But he was a man of restraint, and therefore just what I needed.
“I do worry about my brother, and how he’ll fare if he ever makes it home. Our parents are gone and we lost our tiny home because we couldn’t pay the tax. I want you to buy an inn in the city where you welcome soldiers returning from the war. Serve them drink and food, at a price they can afford. Give beds to the indigent ones until they’re on their feet again. As for me, all I ask is a little room in the back where I may sleep until I can find out whether my brother is among the living or the dead.”
He agreed at once.
The deed was easily done, and this time I suffered no harm from it. He was not the sort to lop off the head even of an ugly old witch. Certainly he was not going to murder a pretty young woman he was well on his way to falling in love with.
As we walked toward the city I asked him innocent questions to help me discover how much time had passed and how exactly things stood in the kingdom, all without him realizing I did not know. He was a younger son with no prospects, and had joined the army during a famine for the promise of getting two meals a day while his starving parents had gotten a coin and a bag of seed. A man like him knew farming and the routine of army life. The city and the doings of the royal family might as well be the moon.
A rifle’s shot from the walls there stood beside the main road a pair of stone monuments inscribed with the words: Memorial to the Gallows Revolution.
“Let us go see,” I said, for I knew I would find answers here.
A marble-paved path led to a tall gallows with a viewing stand surrounded by an honor guard. The wooden structures were weathered from years of sun wind snow rain. Fresh wreaths had been heaped upon the raised floor with its hanging frame. Beside the gallows a small brass and steel shelter cleverly built to resemble an oversized tinder box sheltered three lamps, one small, one medium, one large. Beneath each lamp was affixed a coin-shaped medal with an inscription. The copper coin read STRENGTH, the silver TRADITION, and the gold BOLD ACTION.
At the viewing stand, a polished brass plaque recorded how a wicked conspiracy of evil witches and villainous malcontents had murdered the gracious king and queen and all their councilors and judges in broad daylight. Only the dogged resistance of a brave soldier coming three times to the aid of the beleaguered princess had saved the kingdom from utter ruin. Thus she married him and together they became the new king and queen and restored the peace and harmony her parents had so prized.
“How could a single man defeat a multitude of conspirators?” He studied the account with the skeptical eye of a man who has been told once too often of an evening to expect rations in the morning that never come. He could not connect the lamps to the dogs, or know that each strike from the flint of the tinder box would magically bring a dog to serve the one who held the humble-seeming implement. “When I first joined the army there were people who claimed the king as he is now used a terrible magic and three enchanted dogs to murder the king and queen who came before. Thus he gained the princess’s hand and the throne.”
“Is there more to the story than is written here?” I asked with all the innocence of pretended youth, as if I had not handed the means to the first soldier for this very purpose.
His smile had a nervous energy. “Now that I think about it, anyone who made such claims vanished or died until there were none left to speak of it. I pray you, pretend I said nothing of such a rumor.”
I rested a gentling hand upon his arm. “I would be the last person to mention it or to put you at any risk. In truth I have long wondered the same thing. But it all happened before you or I was born.”
“Before you were born, my fresh flower. I was born the year the new king and queen came to the thrones. Thirty-three years.”
So. Thirty-three years my bones had lain on the earth. Now I would discover if it was time enough for grievances to simmer and suffering ferment beneath the rule of a violent king and a gormless queen, so different from their disciplined predecessors.
In the city I became his guide. I showed him along the elaborate city walls with their cunning interior staircases and concealed tunnels. I conducted him to each of the city’s thirteen bridges that carved the city into defensible neighborhoods, and taught him their fanciful names like Hidden Pearl Bridge for lovers and Scattered Petals Bridge where foreign sailors congregated by the docks and Iron Claw Bridge that controlled the approach to the part of the town where factory smoke churned day and night.
We strolled the grand avenues where those with money ate the best food at the best inns wearing the most fashionable clothing. My own garb was thirty-three years out of date. As we walked I shifted its colors and cut bit by bit and piece by piece in the subtle manner a plant produces a flower. The plain leather belt became a cloth sash embroidered with keys. The cut of my bodice sloped a little lower to display more bosom. The length of my skirt moved a little higher to give a glimpse of ankle. My long straight hair by slow degrees curled upward into an artfully styled cascade adorned with a chain of red poppies.
In the evening he purchased a run-down inn in the poorest neighborhood of the city. I chose a humble little room with a narrow little bed for my own, and he respected that. But he gave me a curious once-over before we each went to our rest.
“Weren’t you wearing an apron before? Or no, that’s not it.” He smiled triumphantly, pleased with his discernment. “You’ve changed something about your hair!”
“Wind has blown it awry all the afternoon,” I said, knowing he would soon forget about the checked apron. “Fortunate for us that tomorrow is a new day.”
He smiled, thinking my words the cleverest aphorism any person had ever spoken. I heard him repeating the phrase as he walked down the passage to the innkeeper’s office where his lamp burned late into the night. He was a diligent worker. So was I.
By the end of the first week the common room was spick and span and already busy with soldiers home from the war. They liked to sit beside others who had endured the same indignities they had. They liked me as I served their tables because I asked each man his story as if it were the most important story ever told, and these were men unaccustomed to thinking themselves the center of any tale. Nights when comrades froze to death on the hard ground for want of a tent while noble officers luxuriated with braziers and furs. Days with only a dry crust of bread and congealed porridge while visiting ministers devoured cattle commandeered from unprotected villages. Coats so worn they could not keep out the rain while brightly clad courtesans sang and danced inside houses and inns requisitioned for the use of the highborn.
What young village lad who has joined the army for adventure, or for a meal, and who has been cashed out without pay can resist a pretty smile he believes is meant for him alone? They called me Sweetpea or Rosie, Violetta or Daisy, Fleur or Zahara or Yasmin. Camellia if they fancied themselves poets. They needed a name to put to the words I spoke at their tables, as if I were the first person ever to question the unfairness of the hand they’d been dealt, as if they were the first person I had ever breathed my rebellious thoughts to.
As for the soldier who was now the innkeeper, he called me only and always “my flower.” Because he was a good man, he left me alone even though his smiles revealed his heart.
After a month the common room was so crowded and lively with talk of the war that the prince got word of it. He was a great hero to them for his reckless bravery, the sort that got those fighting around him killed while he never suffered more than glancing wounds.
He appeared late one night like fireworks bursting out of a gloomy sky. They all exploded into song, a splendid shouting fusillade of a melody which he joined in. He was as handsome as the day is long, winter or summer depending on the taste of the observer.
The glowering expression of the innkeeper told its own story.
“Do you know him?” I asked with a look as dewy as the petals of a just opened bloom.
“As if a common soldier like me would know a prince. My unit fought under his command a time or two.”
“Weren’t those all great victories?”
“For those strewn like gravel on mud to stabilize the path for others, I would not say so. Of the thousand men in my unit, I don’t think more than two hundred returned home.”
“And even then with empty knapsacks and no back pay?”
The anger in his furrowed brows and the flash of defiance in his eyes was the answer he gave.
The prince shouted, “Drinks on the house!” and we had no more time to talk. But I had a reason to glide up to the handsome prince bearing a fulsome cup and an abundant smile. He was the sort of man who could not be satisfied unless he consumed both, once he perceived they were on offer.
The evening passed with songs, with tales of this battle and that siege, with ale flowing freely as if at the prince’s bequest although of course he had carefully said “on the house.” He was a man who never had to pay for what he used up.
I spun in and out of his grasp until the night grew late and the songs faded. Exhausted, war-weary men fell asleep slumped over tables. Just in time, since the innkeeper had twice had to send out to other establishments to bring in more ale at his own expense. Because of me he had coin enough to cover it, but if he had not, who could say no to a prince?
At last the prince noticed his circle of admirers had thinned down to those hangers-on who had arrived with him in the first place, and to me. I aimed my arrow carefully, hidden within my artless chatter.
“They say the treaty signing ceremony with Brevikin was held in a palace whose tapestries are woven of gold thread. But I suppose such a place would be nothing special compared to our own copper castle.”
“Have you not danced in the great ballroom, Camellia?” He laughed in his hearty way, and his friends laughed with him although they were not sure why it amused him since why would a common-born serving lass have any means or cause to dance beneath the glittering chandeliers as violins played a spritely melody?
“Why, I am sure my eyes would be too dazzled and my heart overcome, and I would swoon to see it.”
“Would you swoon into my arms?” He leaned closer with the smell of liquor on his breath.
“Your Highness!” I cried, pressing a hand to my comely bosom, not that he hadn’t already studied the contours of my breasts many times over.
“We shall go now!” he proclaimed as only a prince can proclaim, sure he will not be gainsaid in the moment. “My good friend whom we call Lord Embellishment here can play a wicked fiddle, and not that kind of fiddle haha! He shall accompany us with a tune. You my fair and sumptuous blossom shall dance in the ballroom of the palace as if you were a great lady of the realm.”
“As you please, Your Highness,” I said demurely.
When I went to get my cloak, the innkeeper stayed me with a hand. “My flower, you mustn’t go. He’s a dangerous one.”
“So am I,” I said as I met his gaze. For the first time he took a step away from the heat of me. “Do you suppose I have forgotten my brother? Or our purpose here? Don’t you forget it.”
“You know my heart,” he whispered roughly.
“I rely on you to have a heart that desires justice.”
I left him there.
Clinging to the prince’s arm and laughing all the while at his polished and mean-spirited witticisms, I arrived at the castle gates.
What a great vast space wealth carves out of the world the rest of us live in. Those who dance on elaborate parquet floors need never clean up the scuffs their footfalls leave behind. The ballroom was made so bright with mirrors and polish we needed only a few stalwart lamps to light our revels. In such a place even one flame can light a thousand reflections.
We danced until dawn broke. The mirrors in the hall tore the rays of the rising sun into knife-like shards.
A uniformed attendant wearing a serious face and white gloves arrived bearing a note upon a silver tray. He presented it to the prince.
Written in a fine, graceful hand, the note read: Their Graceful Majesties require Their son’s attendance in the breakfast room.
The prince’s sullen expression revealed his heart. Such a man will flout convention and act rudely rather than appear weak. He offered me his arm as if I were an elegant lady. I took it.
“You aren’t taking a common serving wench into the royal residence!” gasped the one called Lord Embellishment, who was still clutching his violin.
A flash of ire lit the prince’s eyes. “Who will say no to me? I will do as I wish.”
The grand ballroom had windows on three sides and on the fourth a marble paved foyer that led into the formal receiving halls of the palace. As we passed through these magnificent public chambers on our way to the private residential wing, our footfalls made happy click clack noises. Everything was so clean and so empty. So much space, while the poor were crammed ear to heel into hovels and tenements.
If he were tired, then his anger at the summons gave him fresh energy to beguile me with his accomplishments and coming triumphs. “Here is where I received my commission into the Guards as a captain when I was eighteen. I am the youngest man ever to be so honored! In there by the ancestral chapel is where I shall be married one day, before the procession to the cathedral and the public ceremony. Over in that corner when we were younger I stuffed a dead mouse down my sister’s gown and she squealed right when the ambassador from Brevikin was making a speech calling for peace and amity. That’s why I call it Sissy’s War. Haha.”
The breakfast room in the residential wing overlooked a garden bathed in morning sunlight. The king and the queen turned away from the serene view to scowl at their son. He arrived without a whit of remorse or apology in his hearty greeting.
“I have been awake to all hours touring the city with my comrades in arms. No wonder I’ve worked up such an appetite!”
The king had grown somewhat stout from the soldier I had met thirty-three years ago. He had the expression of a man who will speak politely to your face and then lop off your head the instant you don’t answer questions whose answers he has no right to know. He looked me up and down with the measuring eye of a man who loves his pleasures, but his look held no tremor of recognition. How could it, when he had last seen me in the guise of an old hag? He was the sort of man who knew for certain that witches took to witchcraft only because they couldn’t interest a man like him.
He indicated to a steward that a person such as I should be swept off to one side, by the curtains, next to one of the glass doors that led outside, a bit of trash ready to be thrown out when it was convenient.
“You’re late,” the king said to his son. “Sit down by your gracious mother.”
The queen had aged into a stately and well-kept woman of late middle age. She wore a fashionable gown in muted colors adorned with dark purple ribbons. Her gaze flicked toward me and as quickly away as if to avoid noticing an embarrassing stain. She sighed as her son took a seat beside her.
“Have you forgotten today is the anniversary of the Gallows Revolution? Have you forgotten we always dress appropriately to the gravity of the occasion? Have you forgotten we take the royal coach at daybreak to the Royal Tomb to place a wreath upon the graves of your deceased grandparents of blessed memory? Have you forgotten this is the day we affirm our oath to keep the kingdom free of witches and other such malcontents and troublemakers so no such terrible event can happen again?”
“If I had ever thought to forget, Mama, then I should know you would remind me.” His words were impertinent, but he smiled as he gave her a filial kiss.
She patted him affectionately on the arm. “Eat your breakfast, dearest. We shall go once you have eaten all that you wish.”
By the glass doors I had a good view of the spacious breakfast chamber where three people ate while fourteen attended them.
The walls were painted with scenes of dogs. Hunting dogs. Racing dogs. Lap dogs. Water dogs. Guard dogs. Almost hidden among their cavorting could be seen a fenced yard, rather like a cage, where three dogs were seated, one with eyes as big as teacups, one with eyes as big as mill wheels, and the largest with eyes as big as a royal tower.
The food was laid out on covered platters set on a side table. Served by stewards, the royal family ate off the finest porcelain using silver utensils. At the king’s right hand sat a humble little tinder box of brass and steel, looking out of place amid the fine garments and glorious vessels. He and I were the only ones there who understood its power.
But the closed and battered tinder box wasn’t the only thing in the room easy to overlook as the king and the queen and the prince chattered in the loud voices of people accustomed to being listened to and obeyed. A fourth chair set in front of a plate with scattered crumbs on its gilt surface revealed there had been another person at the table, one who had finished eating and left.
The queen said to her son, “Dearest, tell your sister if she doesn’t stop reading she’ll start squinting. And then however shall we marry her off?”
A cool voice spoke from the far corner of the room, its bearer concealed by a high-backed chair. “If only it were so simple to avoid a state marriage! But I have long been assured every princess is as beautiful as her parents are wealthy and powerful. Even if she has a squint.”
I had missed seeing the young woman tucked into a chair with an open book on her lap. She wore a subdued gray silk walking gown appropriate for a visit to a tomb and no other ornament except a gold coronet gleaming against her raven-black hair.
Her gaze flickered to me where I stood by the curtains in my crocus-colored dress. Color brushed her porcelain cheeks as she hungrily studied my face and form for an instant too long before she remembered herself and looked away.
The prince raised his fork with its skewer of meat dripping bright juices onto the lace tablecloth. “Good news, Sissy! I met a fine young prince in Brevikin, by which I mean he surrendered to me because all of his older brothers were dead on the battlefield. A perfect match for you, don’t you agree?”
“You’re not dead,” she answered.
He roared with laughter. “A sword to the heart, my lovely sister. Your wit is as keen a blade as any I have faced. Haha. I meant, then you can get out of here and rule your own roost.”
“Do you think I want to be fenced into another palace? Think again.”
He gulped down the meat. “No, no, Sissy. You don’t wish to stay here. You’ll be better off there. You can build a library to your own satisfaction!”
“Why can I not do something else besides marry? Why is my fate not my own? Why am I nothing but a pawn in your chess games?”
“A princess is raised to serve her family,” said the queen primly.
“Is that how it happened with you?” the princess asked with a sharpness I did not expect.
The king’s right hand spasmed, closing on the tinder box before releasing it at once.
The prince laughed as at the best joke he had ever heard.
The queen’s expression would have congealed a blustery summer storm into a sheet of ice. “You will secure the alliance and keep Brevikin under our control. Your father and I have already agreed.”
The princess closed her book and rose. “Since I am done here, I will await you in the carriage.”
I had thought the prince the best target but now I spied riper fruit hanging lower, well within my grasp.
As the royals finished their meal it was easy enough for an overlooked and unwanted creature like myself to filch an unattended tray from a sideboard. I eased myself out through an open glass door into the summer garden as I altered my clothing. A purposeful stride and a tray is all a young woman properly dressed in a palace uniform needs to walk through the residential wing without being queried or halted.
I made my way to the courtyard where the royal carriage awaited its royal passengers. The princess had a foot upon the step, ready to mount up into the interior. Hearing footfalls, she turned. At first she saw only a palace servant. Then she recognized me as the woman her brother had brought to a place she ought not to have come. A deep blush stained her cheeks as I walked up to her. I knew enough to know that I should look her straight in the eye.
In a voice as soft as a tongue tickling through the pinkest of fresh rosebuds, I murmured, “You are one of us. I can see by your face.”
She did not say, “What do you mean?”
She said nothing.
I extended the tray. She lifted the cloche and saw a note lying on the plate, a trifling bit of transformational magic for one like me. No sunset is as beautiful as the one viewed from Hidden Pearl Bridge.
Laughter and loud voices warned her of the approach of the rest of the royal party. She slipped the note from the platter as her gaze lifted to meet mine. Flushed, she hastily got into the carriage. By the time the king, the queen, and the prince arrived in all their clamor, I had safely faded into the background bustle of their departure.
As the sun sets each night, hardworking people hurry to get home to their meagre supper while those who mean to carouse through the night venture out on their first reconnaissance. It is a time of transition. All manner of people might pause upon one of the city’s graceful bridges to appreciate the golden glow on a cloudless summer day as the sun sets into the wide delta beyond. It is a beautiful city in its way with its docks and water gardens and the floating market and the lilt of song rising into a darkening sky.
Four nights I waited on Hidden Pearl Bridge with the patience of a weed, for a weed can as easily savor the taste of a breeze redolent with freshly baked pastries and relish the kiss of the occasional misting rain as can a rare flower cultivated in a palace garden.
On the fifth night a woman walked with hesitant steps onto the bridge. No city woman would wear a cloak sewn of midnight silk to make herself appear like an ordinary soul, but what could a princess know who has been brought up in a copper castle?
She knew me, when I glided up beside her and lightly brushed her hand with mine.
She shivered at my touch, yet she let her hand remain warm beneath my fingers. “I wasn’t sure you would come.”
“I said I would be here.”
Beneath the last rays of the setting sun her lips had the color of faded and forgotten blood spilled by the hands of others. She said, “I know you will laugh at me, but I wish I were not burdened by the golden coronet.”
“Ah,” I said wisely. “You would rather labor in the mills until your lungs rot from the dust you’ve inhaled? Ruin your hands and eyes sewing embroidery for the gowns of rich women? Pick through rubbish rotting in the alleyway in the hope of finding a discarded scrap of bread for your starving child? March a hundred miles on an empty stomach in order to die in the mud in a battle whose victorious fruits you’ll never taste?”
Her gasp was music to my ears.
“What can you mean?” she whispered, as if I had gifted her with an unspeakable secret.
“Let me show you my city,” I said. “If you’re brave enough to open your eyes to the truth. If you’re bold enough to wish to know the source of the royal wealth. If you’re honest enough to see what power is and how it might be harnessed for justice.”
“I can be brave, and bold, and honest,” she breathed. Her gaze upon me was like a poet’s upon starlight, with its distant promise of what they have long yearned for.
I did not kiss her then but by the end of the night I kissed her once and then twice, and the third time just because I wanted to. A witch knows how to nurture a seed until it blooms into the weapon that is needed.
By the end of autumn she stole the tinder box out from under the king’s hand and returned it to me.
I dropped the tinder box back into the hidden hollow of the old oak. You may have hoped I would use it to call the dogs but I had a more powerful weapon to hand.
One spark. Two sparks. Three. Deprivation. Corruption. Injustice. This is what it takes to ignite a revolution.
The city rose up like so many caged dogs long chained to a cruel master. In the savage months that followed the people fought street by street and barricade by barricade. The innkeeper died a martyr’s death and his name became a rallying cry. Much later, I laid a rose upon the plaque dedicated to his memory at the grand entrance into the new parliamentary building. Just one rose, but I salted it with a tear.
As for the rest, you think you know it already.
The histories say the princess died in the conflagration that killed her parents and her brother, but in truth she fled the royal residence before that night, changed her name, and took her kisses where she pleased among the bloody barricades. In the public square built atop the ruins of the glittering ballroom she danced in the arms of women just like us. Eventually she opened a bookshop. In time she faded into the woodwork of history, gone about her own quiet journey with so many overlooked others.
As for me, whatever your heart needs to call me is the name I will answer to. I am the pretty girl who caught the eye of the painter as she waved the banner she’d sewn from scraps. I am the innocent youth with a piquant face who stands in for the beautiful triumph of our deadly struggle. I am the one who lets you believe deep in your heart that you will be among the brave and bold and honest when it is time to step up, whatever actually happens when push comes to shove.
Those who fight for justice will die or they will live. Fate is beyond my power. But I will prick their hearts until they either choke on their own blood or are forced to swim in the river of truth.
In time I will grow old again. All things do. New rulers will build power on the ruins of promise, and they will become corrupt again and kill me.
The dogs wait and the tinder box slumbers.
“The Tinder Box” copyright © 2021 by Kate Elliott
Art copyright © 2021 by Katie Ponder