Ugly Beauty

Zelda hated her – the lovely Lorete. There were times when she stood in the garden and Zelda could have sworn Lorete’s hair was as yellow as the Queen’s favourite roses. Birds gathered around her, sitting on her shoulders. When she walked into the meadow, picking flowers for her hair, the King’s horses ran to her, snuffling for sugar cubes.

Prince Val was in love with Lorete. Zelda heard all the servants in the castle whispering about it. They were sure he was going to ask for her hand. They couldn’t blame him. ‘She’s so beautiful,’ they said.

Zelda was incensed. Beauty wasn’t enough of a reason to love someone. She wondered what Val would think of the lovely Lorete if she was a hideous hag.

Zelda had a secret. She had been reading her father’s book of potions. He was Sorceror to the King and paid so little attention to his daughter that he had no idea of her developing ability in the magic arts. She had tried out a few small spells – levitating objects, boiling water – with success.

A few weeks back she had found a spell to steal beauty away. The spell promised to make a beautiful person ugly. Zelda had been gathering the components of the spell for weeks. The hardest ingredient had been getting an imprint of a lark’s foot on pure white muslin; but she had succeeded this morning when the grass was still wet with morning dew, luring the lark with finely ground wheat from the grain stores. She finished making the potion just before Cook started serving breakfast, stirring it into Lorete’s porridge and handing it to her with a flourish.

‘How kind you are to make me breakfast,’ said Lorete in her sweet voice.

‘I hope you enjoy it,’ said Zelda in an even sweeter voice. ‘It is my secret recipe.’

She watched, eyes gleaming, as Lorete ate the porridge with relish, finishing every bite, disappointed when nothing happened immediately. She tried to keep an eye on Lorete all day but got distracted when her father summoned her to help him oil his cauldron.

Lorete didn’t come down to dinner. Zelda took advantage of her absence by chatting to the Prince with a lightness and vigour that wasn’t true to her character. She felt elated, bewitched by his chestnut eyes.

Upon settling down to bed there was a scuffling at her door. A woman wrapped in a thick, black shawl stood there. ‘Let me in,’ she groaned, pushing her way into the room.

‘Wait a minute,’ Zelda protested. ‘Who do you think you are coming into my room like this?’

‘It’s me – Lorete.’

Lorete pulled away the shawl. Zelda regarded her with a dreaded fascination.

Lorete’s face was covered with hundreds of tiny, shiny white scars.Β  As the candlelight flickered and the shadows rose like water, it was almost possible to see Lorete as she once was. Almost.

‘Do you see these marks?’ Lorete cried. ‘I am covered in them. They are all over my body. What is this ailment that looks like the foot of a swallow or a tree martin?’

‘Or a lark,’ Zelda exclaimed in awe.

‘You have to help me, Zelda. Get your father to make me a potion. I cannot let the Prince see me like this. He will be repulsed.’

Lorete collapsed on Zelda’s bed, weeping until dawn. She stayed hidden for one week, two, three. The Prince became distraught, quizzing Zelda five times a day as to Lorete’s whereabouts. Zelda tried to distract him with witty comments and her knowledge of military strategy, but he remained disinterested.

Eventually she decided that there was nothing for it but to let him see Lorete in all her hideousness. He would find her repugnant, there was no doubt of it. Let him. Zelda would be there to comfort him, to offer an alternative to the once-lovely Lorete.

She arranged a meeting in her father’s sitting room. Twilight tinged the stone walls with amber. Lorete was nervous, coughing as if she was going to be sick. Zelda was bordering on euphoria.

The Prince entered the room, his chestnut eyes full of hope as he saw the form of Lorete in the shadows. She stepped into the light. ‘I have been cursed,’ she said. ‘I am ugly beyond belief.’

Zelda waited, biting her lip, drawing blood.

The Prince took Lorete’s hands, kissed each one.

‘Your beauty lies within you, right down to your soul. I will love you no matter how you appear.’

Zelda screamed. ‘No, no , no. This wasn’t meant to happen. You were meant to hate her as I do.’

Her hands flew to her mouth, shocked that she had given herself away.

‘It is an enchantment,’ the Prince cried. ‘Seize her.’

Now Zelda sits in the tower, forced to lift Lorete’s enchantment, watching as she and the Prince laugh in the gardens. She must complete one hundred tasks of atonement before she is released. As she completes them, one by one, she ponders how it is that some people can see past physical beauty to the soul within. And how some cannot.

* Inspired by the Search Engine Stories prompt – beauty.

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17 thoughts on “Ugly Beauty

  1. This was a very satisfying story to read, Selma. It feels complete and wonderful. I know real life doesn’t always work that way, but when it does, it feels like this story.

    Satisfying, with a side of sighs and smiles.

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  2. That’s interesting … a couple of years ago, I met a Spanish lady called Loreto; she said she knew of no other by that name, and, ever since, I’ve been trying to remember where I heard it before …

    But, I love the story … allegorical, I think, is the word. It made me think of Auntie Edna (she wasn’t really my aunt, but everyone called her Auntie). She was unfortunate enough to have a face like a bagful of spanners, but was still one of the loveliest ladies I ever met. And, her husband of 63 years adored her.

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  3. wonderful piece, I think Zelda did not or could not see the real Lorete overpowered by her own jealousy toward Lorete, I like the setting and it has a fairytale-like to it which I like very much

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  4. KAREN;
    Occasionally real life works out that way, doesn’t it? When that happens I am definitely like the cat that got the cream. Moments to be cherished. And gloated over. πŸ˜€

    TRAVELRAT:
    I actually used to work with a French girl named Lorete – that’s where I got the name from. I also did medieval history at Uni and I think there was a character named Lorete in one of the chivalric romances. I’ll need to check.

    ‘Face like a bagful of spanners’ – oh that has made my day. It is up there with my Uncle’s favourite (slightly cruder) – ‘Face like a smacked arse.’ πŸ˜†

    Lovely story, by the way!

    LISSA:
    I think jealousy really does blind us, doesn’t it? I’m really glad you liked it. I felt like a fairytale today!

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  5. I’m with Lissa – my pity is for Zelda and her blindness. I have told Britt so many times that “perception is reality” (she hates that, by the way). It makes me think, what do I need to do within ME to be able to see the beauty and value within everyone? Because to see only everyone’s ugliness (and we all have it) is exhausting – I don’t want to do that.

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  6. Oops – and of course, marvelous story. You can tell, because I get caught up in it with the characters. πŸ™‚

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  7. DAN:
    Absolutely. Jealousy can turn perfectly reasonable people into nutters. It is a scary emotion.

    STERLINGMF:
    I want to see the beauty in people and most of the time I can. Some people are hard work, though. They are usually the ones who can’t see the beauty in themselves. It’s hard to break through that barrier. I’m so excited you are blogging again!

    KATE:
    Even in this sophisticated age we live in, it’s still the case, isn’t it? When will we stop judging a book by its cover?

    EPIPHANY:
    Epiphany’s back. Epiphany’s back. I am so happy. YAY!!

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  8. Oh I feel for Zelda. I think beautiful people (whatever their beauty) have an arrogance or security that others cannot reach and it is easy to hate them for that. It is hard not to be beautiful.

    My heart goes out to Zelda. Lorete may be lovely in every sense but is probably horribly dull!!!

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  9. such a poignant and telling tale Selma – expertly drawn as usual, my heart breaks for Zelda in her blinding jealousy, so sad, such things propagate such horrendous actions in the world…nice job casting the prince as insightful and genuine – such an important story you have here – really nicely done!!

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  10. RELUCTANT:
    The truly physical beautiful people I have met certainly possess that arrogance. Things come more easily to them too. Like jobs. Makes me sick. *grumble grumble grumble*

    KAYT:
    I love how you refer to it as blinding jealousy. That type of emotion does blind us to the good in a person. Not that I have ever suffered from it *whistling nonchalantly* πŸ˜€

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