For most of her eighteen summers, Prudence wore her loneliness like a second skin. Binding her long face tightly in a permanent frown, slouching her shoulders into a sloped curve, moving stiffly, as if every breath and step would pull her apart.
Third daughter, by her Royal father's paramour, Prudence believed herself invisible to others. She passed daily through rooms, down crowded corridors, into busy markets, without a trace of recognition by passers-by.
Both Royal half-sisters, scrupulously looked in the other direction, whenever their paths might cross with their bastard sister's.
Prudence usually avoided their snubbing. The two were easily recognizable at a distance, by the cadre of fawning males, hovering around them like flies covering cow dung.
The isolation felt by Prudence, would have been enough to break most girls of lesser spirit, but just as she was going over the precipice of hopelessness, Prudence hit upon a plan to change her fortunes.
The dawn was still hours away as Prudence stealthily wended her way through the sleeping Keep. Becoming desperate for release from her marginalized life as a bastard offspring, she would seek out the old crone.
Living outside of the village, the hag was reviled as a witch; making her both feared and avoided like the red scourge. Prudence knew all-to-well that feeling of exile from the warmth of friendship and love.
Her mission in this dark hour was simple: seek the witch's aid to change her fortunes in life.
This request seemed easy enough to the young woman when she posed it to the shriveled bag of bones known simply as, "Berta".
"Berta, I shall pay you handsomely tomorrow, if you grant me my fondest wish this day."
"And what be the wish ye speak of, me lady?" asked the hag.
"Tis simple enough; I wish to become like my half-sisters in every way, so my life will be a mirror of their own."
The old woman stared at Prudence with eyes the color of blue ice. Her face, already crinkled like old parchment, broke into a toothless grin.
She grabbed the girl's plump arm and dragged her deep into the woods. They walked a long distance from the hag's wretched shack until reaching a glade with a small stand of yew trees, planted in a semi circle.
Here the old woman took a small knife from her sackcloth shift , making a quick cut into the bark of one of the tall trees. Immediately a red drop appeared and then another, until the tree seemed to bleed its very life out onto the dry grasses around it.
Prudence hadn't seen her, but the old Druid priestess, for that was her calling, had been marking the bark of the yew with symbols and signs, using the red sap. Now, her spell casting was nearly complete.
Ripping a small piece of cloth from the girl's heavy wool dress, the priestess carefully caught the rest of the sap running in rivulets from the trunk. When the fabric was soaked, she ordered the girl to kneel before her and squeezed the rag over her head.
Prudence shivered as the hot red liquid oozed down her forehead and began covering her face. Her eyes were closed against the alien fluid as it rained upon her like a steamy soup.
"It be done, me lady!"
Grabbing her arm again, the old woman helped her to her feet. Prudence struggled not to fall while she was nearly dragged back to the witch's hut.
"You'll get your reward by noon, Berta. If I am pleased with your work, I shall double it!"
With that pronouncement, the young girl ran back through the waning night until she reached the safety of her rooms.
She was exhausted with fear and excitement and crawling back under her down-filled comforter, immediately fell into a dreamless sleep.
The crow had long called his greetings to the rising sun, and the castle was bustling with its usual activities when Prudence finally woke. She carefully washed herself, though oddly, there was no sign of the dark red sap that clogged her ears and matted her hair only hours before.
Her hair brushed out a glossy deep brown when she examined it closely, her cheeks were burnished like sun drenched peaches, her eyes sparkled and danced a merry sky-blue. All of this, she saw in her tiny hammered metal mirror, only able to see small bits of her face; one eye, one cheek.
Choosing a well fitting gown for her day of parading her new self, Prudence left her chambers with a confidence never experienced before. Her back was straight and proud. Her gait was graceful, causing her gown to swing upon the gently curve of her hips, giving her a sensual feeling as it brushed her thighs.
Prudence greeted the servants with a nod and air of dignity; as if she was well above their station but generous enough to acknowledge their existence. They stared back dumbly.
When she encountered the two half-sisters, she merely nodded her greeting to them as well, noticing how they looked upon her with mouths sightly open. and wide eyes.
She flounced away from their surprised faces, leaving the grounds and walking toward the village below. The biggest test, the two sisters, had been met and passed; she dazzled them speechless!
The first shop she passed was the burly blacksmith's. He was already hard at work at his forge, but upon spotting the young woman, stopped mid strike upon his anvil. He watched with a strange look upon his sooty face.
She passed the next two stalls of vegetable and fruit vendors with similar, open mouthed expressions forming on weather beaten faces. One actually looked...awed... by her transformation. She was delighted!
Perhaps I'm too beautiful for their eyes to bear? she mused as she walked on smiling smugly.
She arrived at the silver smiths to order something she had craved all her young life; a hand-held mirror set in an ornate silver frame.
Entering the shop, she paused to let her eyes adjust to the dimness inside the tiny work place.
"I am here to order a hand mirror for my dressing table good man," she said imperiously.
She was answered with a gasp from the sliver smith, sitting on his stool in the corner. He jumped up so quickly, the three legged chair toppled backwards.
"What manner of being are you... imp or witch?" he yelled out.
"What impudence! You know me well, as the bastard daughter of the king.
"I know not that visage you wear...two faces...two faces..."
He ran screaming past the stunned girl. Now it was she who stood mouth agape and wondering at this disturbing reaction.
Everyone she had passed had similar shock on their faces.; shock she attributed to her awesome beauty.
Grabbing a piece of glass lying at the abandoned worktable, Prudence had a full look at her face from left to right and right to left.
On the right side, she saw the flawless features of one sister; on the left...
The glass dropped from her hand, shattering upon the floor. Prudence knew the truth now as she pulled her shawl over her head covering the left side of her changed face.
She arrived back at the old hags an hour later.
"Greetings, girl. I be expecting ye ta come along. I find it time fer a journey, so canna' sit about chatting with ye. I will leave ye to think on yer shallowness in peace,now. Believe me, naught will bother wit ye here," she gurgled out a laugh.
"Why have you done this to me?" Prudence wailed.
"Ye done ta yerself, dearie. Not satisfied wit yer own uniqueness, ye wanted ta be someone else. In yer case... two others. And so, ye are.
The girl stood in the doorway of the hut, watching the witch's back as she disappeared into the forest; the trees closing tightly together at her passage.
She screamed after her, "Undo this...please...!"
The silence was suffocating to her perfect ears; one, her elder half-sister sister's, the other the younger's.
"Two faces to wear and neither one fits like a true one?" rang the witch's parting words in her head.