If Duncan Had Daughters
by Holly Schwartz-Coignat
His bearing was straight, his vestments noble. He caught us unaware, approaching from the west on a bay horse. We didn't see him until he was already crossing the bridge with his entourage; the horses clattering over wood and stone. I was the first to hear them, the middle sister. I saw him crowned in platinum, a brief vision that surprised me on that foggy evening. I knew good fortune had befallen me.
My sisters and I were bathing in the clear pool that collected by the shore of the river. The elder sister with hair of spun silver and gold; the younger with red locks that caught the fires of autumn. The fog hid our youthful forms behind its haze. Our muddied slips darkened our pale skin. We were splashing in the water, playing nonsense games. Making up names for the toads; hoping to catch a prince. Calling to the cats; dressing them in the livery of the kings of Scotland.
"Wild creatures-" I heard him say. "Of the fair sex, but for their thick beards," for the fog had tricked his eye as it gathered beneath our chins.
I stopped and covered myself with a brown square of wool dropped carelessly on the shore. Twigs and leaves clung to it, sticking out like dark claws and tufts of fur.
"Hags," he said focusing on me, "Harpies of the forest."
I hissed and thought this little lord should learn to hold his tongue. Brushing my black hair from my eyes, I stepped into the fading sunlight, where he could see only my silhouette. My sisters watched, gathering their dresses from the trees where we had flung them and laughingly warned me to mind my manners.
I called to him, with a snicker in my throat. "Hail King of Cawdor! Hail he who shall be King here-after!"
He started and drew up his horse. My sisters modestly tried to drag me from the light and he took in the three of us crouched and trembling like wild things. We knew he was not the King, but the foolish lord who trailed his footsteps with ambition poorly hidden in his eyes.
"Who is it that speaks these falsehoods? I am not a king." But his desire took hold and he whispered, "Can you predict that which will be?"
I sneered and tossed my head. "Hail!" I shouted again, and grabbing the hands of my sisters we ran into the forest covered by the growing fog.
It was not long after that the lord pressed his advantage and took the crown for his own. My sisters dutifully wept, but I could only hide my triumphant smirk.
"We gain from the King's death." I dried their teary sobs. "No longer are we held to his political whims and his groping hands. His bidding is not a burden on our shoulders."
They admitted this was true.
"Freedom, my sisters. The moonlight is ours."
We went out into the night. Dressed in white, wearing flowers as garlands around our necks, as crowns on our heads; the queens of the midsummer. With our skirts held high, we danced barefoot to the clear pool where it all began. The night air was cool, the water warm and a white mist, reflecting silver in the moonlight lifted off the water and bathed us in clouds. Our laughter blended with the babble of the river and was carried off to the darkness.
He came. I knew he would. I'd watched him as it all started to crumble. With no where left to turn, he came back to this pool every night, searching for the three harpies of the forest who were the instigators of kings' demise. Crossing the bridge on his handsome horse, the platinum ring shone like a beacon on his brow. He spotted us staring at our faces in the water and reading each others' futures.
"You are not hags, but fairy spirits!" he breathed in excited greeting. "So youthful and fair. Tell me, were you sent here by the witches that frequented this pool not one month past?"
Drunk on sweet, golden wine, my sisters and I found his hopeful words entertaining. The two stepped forward, leaving me in their shadow and teased the King with merry voices.
"Come to Birnam wood! Meet me there!" My elder sister beckoned.
"No, to Dunsinane hill! There you will meet a great fate!" the younger splashed into the shallow water.
"Yes, yes! My fate!" he cried. "Tell me of my fate, now that all seems lost!"
I howled with laughter, and jumped into the light between my sisters, creating a spray of water that startled the horse. My black hair fell across my face and covered all but my eyes. His expression widened, in the middle of the thick beard, formed a dark O.
"Foolish man!" I taunted him. "Don't you know the folly of searching for your fortune among fae spirits in a crystal pool?"
My sisters laughed louder and pulled flowers from their garlands, tossing them at the horse and rider. He began to back away; the mount needed no urging. "Fiends!" he spat. "You are harpies who tempted me to my ruin!"
We danced in the water, "Come to Birnam wood!" My sisters sang. "Meet us in the forest!"
The sound of hooves thundering away into darkness faded underneath our song. We floated back to our home on the Scottish cliffs that over looked the wide ocean and twisted our dresses dry. Within the week our mother called us to the great hall to give us tidings: the treacherous bastard who was responsible for the fall of our own father had himself been struck down.
"Witches, he claimed, were the cause of his doom!" My mother said incredulously.
I lowered my lashes, a pretense of modesty, hiding the laughter in my eyes.
Holly lives in France with her husband. When she's not writing she's either running, cooking, or struggling with the French language.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'When Elements Collide'
'These Are Different Fates'
'The Yearning of the Lighthouse Fairies'
'To Keep the World Turning'