I knew she was trouble the minute I set eyes on her; sweet, lovely, guileless, and reeking of magic. The horses, the carriage – even her dress could have been explained away by a good fortune and a better seamstress, but glass slippers? Really? If there’s one thing that sets my nerves on edge, it’s magic.
But I was far less worried about her fantastic footwear than her obviously common background. You can take the slattern out of the scullery, but you can’t take the scullery out of the slattern. All this, unfortunately, appears to have been lost on my darling son. Frederick is clearly smitten, and believe me, I know it when I see it. I’ve been in deep smit before.
That was years ago, when I little more than a girl. I remember sitting by the well in my parents’ garden, shortly before the tragic circumstances that put me on the throne. I was casting pebbles, and seeking to divine my fortune from the patterns in the ripples, when I heard it – that raspy, croaking whisper – “Help me...”
The whisper emanated from a frog, or to be more accurate, a toad. Now, I know, these days your run-of-the-mill princess would have thrown up her soft white hands and squealed in terror, but then, I’ve never exactly been your average anything, and besides, princesses in those days had a bit of spine, and weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, which was exactly what happened when I fished the miserable beast out of the muck and listened to its sad tale of being trapped in a toad’s form by an evil witch.
That was also back when I was considerably more naïve; these days, I’d have been quick to question exactly why the witch had seen fit to imprison him in that fleshy prison, as most so-called witches that I’ve met haven’t struck me as particularly evil - just pragmatic, calculating, and perhaps a bit lacking in physical beauty. Ah, well, we can’t all be blessed with my genetics, can we?
Come to think of it, most witches are rather soft-hearted, in my opinion, always leaving the victims of their curses with loopholes through which to escape, loopholes usually involving nothing more interesting than a bit of gentle kissing. Yes, soft-hearted, and not particularly kinky... But I digress.
All writers of fiction are storytellers, and there’s no sort of storytelling more elementary or entertaining than the classic fairytale. So culturally important are fairytales that a dear friend and mentor, Dr. Anna Vassilieva once told me that to understand a nation’s culture, you must read their fairytales, a pronouncement that led me to read the very wonderful Pashtun Tales, by Aisha Ahmad and Roger Boase before I deployed to Afghanistan.
Fairytales are important because human beings learn best through stories; so much so that the Navy’s top admiral hires professional storyteller Kendall F. Haven to teach his personal think-tank how to use stories to get their message across about revolutionary and controversial changes to policy.
Thinking about the power of fairytales goes a long way in explaining my impetus for writing this story. Of the basic archetypes in the classic fairytale, only about one-third are female, and of that minority share, about half are “evil” (witches, stepmothers, unfaithful wives, temptresses) and the other half are nice, but rather ineffective. Good witches, whose spells are always a bit less powerful than those of
the “bad” witches, damsels in distress, etc. Good girls are young, pretty, patient, and kind. Women who are old, unattractive, or unwilling to suffer fools gladly get cast in the “evil” roles.
But the evil queen or wicked stepmother is a bit of both. She is older than the distressed damsels, but still attractive, which meant she must have been young and pretty once, but wouldn’t that have made her... good? And what is good anyway?
Certainly, I’m not the first author to address this issue, but I must confess I’ve taken a bit more of an unrepentant approach than, say, the scriptwriters for my favorite musical, who managed to show us that Elphaba (the “Wicked Witch of the West”) was actually good all along.
My fictional Queen doesn’t blink an eye at torture, assassination, or all manner of homicides, but then, neither did almost any king or emperor from biblical times through the Reformation. Such behavior is, however, somehow considered more socially appropriate when there’s a man at the helm, or so we might gather from reading fairytales.
Curiously enough, history is full of a great number of queens and empresses, but despite their many worthy accomplishments (and more than a few bloody- handed undertakings) many fail to make it out of the history books and into the awareness of the masses, who can probably name most of the Disney princesses, but wouldn't be able to tell you who the Empress Theodora, Queen Isabella the First, or Queen Ranavalona the First were.
These powerful women were all cut from a darker, stronger cloth than most, presiding over, among other things, the quelling of a rebellion in Byzantium that cost 30,000 rebels their lives, the start of the Spanish Inquisition, and the suppression of Christianity in Madagascar. And they were not alone. Catherine the Great, Elizabeth the First, the Empress Matilda, and many other women ruled with an iron fist,
influenced the course of history and weren’t above breaking a few eggs to make an omelet.
So, this story was my small attempt to give the archetypal “evil stepmother” the voice that she’s been rather unfairly denied, encourage readers to learn a bit more about the many great (and sometimes cruel) women who have shaped history, and was also a fun exercise in looking at some old stories from a new and slightly skewed angle.
This is the fourth story that I have published as an NFT, and my second time collaborating with a cover artist – whose words you can read here, too! It was a very different, very rewarding experience on several levels. First, the element of collaboration is transformative! In the traditional publishing space, you tell the artist what you want, they give it to you, you give them a set fee – it’s very transactional and feels quite impersonal.
For me, working with MoonDust, it was just the opposite – I knew I loved her artwork and felt it would be a good fit for the story, but I didn’t know if she would feel the same! So, first, I asked if she would read the story and see if it resonated with her inner artist. It did, and so we agreed to join forces, and split any sales 50/50 – imagine if the cover artist for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had such an agreement! Then, as she worked on the art, we talked about variations, colors, shading - it was very cool to be a part of the process!
Personally, I find this sort of cooperation and collaboration to be one of my favorite parts of publishing in Web3 as opposed to elsewhere – our working relationships are built on friendship, on a shared appreciation for each other’s work, and on an egalitarian approach to the business end of things. Personally, I like that a lot better than the transactional approach to art, translation, and other elements that we see in the traditional and Web2 publishing space!
When Edward offered me the chance for collaboration by creating a new cover for his book, I immediately agreed, because after reading the story, I was very enamored with it. I was especially struck by the way it took a well-known main character and showed her actions from a completely different angle.
In spirit, the Queen is very close to the visual characters, mostly female, that I create myself. Therefore, the process of creating the cover was very natural and fascinating and I think Edward and I were really able to connect with each other through it.
Thank you for being a part of history by reading the first book to be self-published as an NFT powered by Creatokia’s smart contracts. Happily Ever After is not the first book to be published as an NFT; but as I write this in November 2022, there have only been a handful of others – and your choice of this book, this NFT, will help to decide the future direction that publishing takes.
By choosing this NFT edition, you have attained unique utilities beyond what anyone who ordered a simple e-book would have gotten. Any airdrops or unlockable media assets that you receive, along with your membership in the Discord server will be yours to keep – even if you choose to resell or gift this NFT. In fact, if you enjoyed this story, I encourage you to do just that – so that other people can read it, enjoy the cover art, and share it in turn.
Speaking of the Discord server, that’s your direct-access pass to ask me any questions you might have about this story or seek advice on Web3 writing in general – here’s your invitation link! Please join the server and verify your ownership of this NFT to unlock additional media, qualify for airdrops, and interact with other readers and writers in Web3.
Edward H. Carpenter is a 29-year veteran of the US military, who spent most of his life as a warfighter but chose to finish his career serving as a peacekeeper. An award- winning writer of both fiction and non-fiction, he’s a member of the Washington Post talent pool, and reads for the Harvard Review. A graduate of Harvard’s Creative Writing and Literature program, he enjoys reading, writing, experimenting with visual arts and photography, and adventures involving charismatic megafauna.
Find Edward on Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, OpenSea, Foundation, and Objkt!
MoonDust is a mixed media artist (AI, 2D & 3D) based in Switzerland, who proudly carries the title of "Knight" and "Artista" of Bardi House. She is in love with neons and unusual textures and has become a featured artist on OpenSea with her Freaky Goddesses collection.
She says, “There are two entities living in every woman, a goddess, and a demoness. The goddess strives for perfection, she wants to be loved and admired by
all. The demoness, on the other hand, is rebellious and yearns for independence from public opinion, burning all bridges in her path.”
Find MoonDust on Twitter, Instagram, OpenSea, Foundation, Objkt, KnownOrigin, and more!
Thank you for collecting and reading this book. Please feel free to re-sell it, gift it to a friend, or hold on to it – the choice is yours, and whatever you do, any airdrops you receive, and your Discord privileges are yours to keep.
And if you enjoyed this story, please do take a moment to give a shout out on social media – for small artists and authors, word of mouth really is the best form of advertising!
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