marginalia: (Default)
disagree (1) ([personal profile] marginalia) wrote2010-01-01 10:35 am

Fic: Ever Before (Into the Woods, The Baker's Wife)

Title: Ever Before
Fandom: Into the Woods
Character: The Baker's Wife
Notes: Written for [profile] romanticalgirl in [community profile] yuletide.


Once upon a time, in a far-off kingdom, there lived a young maiden.

"Maiden?" her mother interrupted, looking over her shoulder. "Heap of trouble I call her. Always getting into scrapes."

"And getting myself out of them," the girl muttered, her pen hovering over maiden.

"Sometimes true." The girl's mother returned to chopping carrots. "Would save a lot of bother not to get into them in the first place."

"Life wouldn't be half so interesting that way." She frowned, and sketched trees in the margin of the page.

"Life is too interesting already. Just last week the woodcutter's wife was telling me there's a fairy out and about, appearing as an old woman to some and a fine lady to others." She tilted the carrots into the pot, gave it a quick stir, and slipped the lid back on. "Girls all over the kingdom with everything from pearls to frogs falling out of their mouths when they speak. There's a lesson in that somewhere."

Probably the lesson was to not talk to people you meet in the woods, which was rather unfortunate, because people in the woods could be downright fascinating. Last week she had met a dwarf, there were always youngest sons passing through the kingdom on the way to seek their fortunes, and once she was quite certain she saw a cart being drawn by a horse with a tiny man whispering in its ear. Not to mention the wolves! Though truth to tell, they made her a little nervous. All the talking animals did.

She knew better than to tell her mother about any of them. She'd never be allowed past the hen house alone again, not even to deliver eggs, and certainly never to go to the castle. If they let her go at all, they'd send her little brother with her, as if he could provide magical protection by virtue of being a boy. Ridiculous. He wasn't even much good in a fight with her, let alone against any of the mysteries of the woods.

Stuck at home collecting eggs was no way to meet princes.

::

One afternoon, when she least expected it, she met a prince.

"You did?" asked her father.

"I tried." She shrugged, and pulled her book back out of his hands. "They are always coming for the sleeping princess of course, and one supposes when they fail to break through the tangle and the bramble they might opt for someone more accessible. Or at least for someone who's awake."

"But you're not a princess," he pointed out. "I should know. Though sometimes you're as much trouble as a princess."

"I could be one. You can never tell for sure. They don't all start out princesses. Look at Beauty!"

"That was France," her father said. "You definitely do not want to be royalty in France."

"Or up north," added her mother, pausing at the kitchen table with a basket of laundry that smelled of sunshine. "Remember the princess who got turned into a harp? Princesses are always mistreated. Go out and feed the chickens. It's excellent practice".

Practice for what, the girl wondered. It seemed to just be practice for being a hen wife, and that was not how she intended to go about meeting a prince. She closed her book and set it aside. "A lot of them do all right in the end, marrying princes, living happily ever after."

"Princes are all well and good at the start, but there's no such thing as happily ever after," her mother said. "And if there is, you can only make it for yourself. No prince will do it for you. They tend to be too busy killing giants, eyeing the princess in the next far-off kingdom, or being tricked by witches and getting themselves turned into frogs."

All the same, thought the girl, I wouldn't mind having a chance at one.

::

And they lived happily ever after.

When she first met the baker's son, they were both children. He was still in short pants, with a scraped knee, racing after something she could barely see. It was a tiny thing, quick like an animal, but with an eerie laugh that was nearly human. "Help me," he gasped. "It's the Johnny cake. He's getting away."

They never caught the Johnny cake, which she filed away in her mind as yet another strange story passing her by in the woods, and when she met the baker's son again, they were very nearly grown up.

He tried to brush away a bit of flour on his sleeve. "Are you sure you're not a witch? My great uncle met one once, disguised as a young lady, and my great aunt wound up with a pudding attached to her nose." He looked around him nervously. "And that was a relatively happy story, so far as us and witches go."

"Don't be ridiculous," she laughed. "If I were a witch, don't you think I would have made myself better looking?" He blushed furiously, and she felt sorry for teasing. "Besides, we met before. And I used to bring your father eggs, though my younger brother took that over."

"He brings them to me," he corrected. "I'm the baker now." He jammed his hands in his pockets. "Anyway. You look different in the woods."

She didn't tell her parents they had met until three days later, when he appeared at their door with a basket of sweet rolls and an invitation to go walking.

"You could do worse for yourself," her mother said. "People always need bread. And his father passed a few years ago, didn't he? In some sort of accident? So he's been making his own way for a while. Yes, you could do worse."

It took a month for him to dare to take her hand, and ever so much longer to steal a kiss at sunset. It took a solid week of trying to work up the nerve to ask her to marry him, and by the end of it, it was all she could do not to answer before she'd heard the question.

He wasn't a prince; he wasn't even dashing, but he was full of kindness. He would make a good father, and a baker's children would always have full bellies.

She saw that he was stronger than he believed, and the prince in him and the princess in her were the story they would write together.
gloss: (Kino: the stars my road)

[personal profile] gloss 2010-01-01 07:36 pm (UTC)(link)
I was drawn in by your title, which is genius. I don't know the Sondheim canon, but I love this far more than I thought I would any fairy-tale fic. I love the fraught nature of living amidst so many stories and tales and oddnesses and the resolute (or resigned) dedication to ordinariness that the girl's parents have.

which was rather unfortunate, because people in the woods could be downright fascinating.
THIS. There's such subtlety and wit here, and just...real honesty.

"You definitely do not want to be royalty in France."
Hee!

He wasn't a prince; he wasn't even dashing, but he was full of kindness. He would make a good father, and a baker's children would always have full bellies.
I love this denouement -- not least because it would be *really* hard to twist the fairy-tale expectations *without* succumbing to cliche. But the "full bellies" and kindness make this decision particular and believable.

This is just so wonderful. ♥
cesare: (hummingbird)

[personal profile] cesare 2010-01-01 09:51 pm (UTC)(link)
Aw. I love this musical dearly, and this story perfectly extends the character and the world around her. And now I have "Moments In The Woods" in my head. :-)