Out of the Ashes excerpt: The Box

Given the setting of Out of the Ashes, it doesn’t have the flashy magic frequently found in Cinderella re-tellings. Specifically, there are no fairy godmothers creating ballgowns out of thin air. In The Wonderful Birch, a closer parallel to my version of the story, the beautiful dresses are given to the main character by her dead mother, and are found in the limbs of a birch tree. The excerpt here is my take on that scene.

BtBT excerpt


She set the lid back on the box, then carried it, along with the broom, back outside. Once there, she set the box on the stump, laying the broom on the ground beside it. She carefully removed the lid again before peering inside.

At the top sat a pair of beautiful red leather shoes. Ásta picked them up, stroking them as if they were an animal. She had never seen any shoes so magnificent in all of her life, nor felt leather so soft. She couldn’t stop herself from sliding them on her feet.

Laughing with the discovery that they fit as if they were made for her, she twirled around the stump before returning to the box. Next inside was a piece of red cloth, finely spun and woven.  She pulled it out, gasping as it unfurled – it was a lovely red dress, with delicate blue embroidery along the seams. She pulled off her own filthy dress and slipped this one on, hugging herself with the joy of wearing something that had belonged to her mother.

This lovely clothing was more than she had ever expected, but still she peeked back into the box. A cloth of blue was next, and when she shook it out she discovered it was a smokkr decorated with thin lines of red embroidery; clearly the two dresses had been made to be worn together. Pleats across the front were held fast by a piece of finely-woven trim sewn between the straps. Ásta had never seen such exquisite work in all of her life.

Not having any brooches, she hugged the smokkr while looking to see if there was more in the box, and to her surprise, there lay the brooches; gold, with raised images of animals cast into the metal. She slipped on the smokkr, added the brooches and nearly wept with the joy of finding these beautiful treasures of her mother’s.

Sure there could be no more left, as this was more than she ever could have dared hope to find, she lifted the lid to close the box but a flash caught her eye. Astonished, she found two final things inside – a lovely string of beads and a thin golden circlet. When Ásta needed to hold back her unbound hair for celebrations, she used a plaited length of wool and hadn’t thought ill of it, but she’d always wondered what it would feel like to have a golden circlet such as this; it was the kind of thing she imagined a jarl’s daughter might wear.

She strung the beads between the brooches then shook out her braid before setting the circlet on her head. She picked up the broom, laughing and dancing around with it, until the rumbling of her stomach reminded her why she’d gone back into the house to begin with.

Smiling, Ásta undressed quickly, setting the golden circlet first into the box and ending with the shoes. She tugged her old filthy dress back over her head, then carefully set the lid back on the box before returning to the house. Before laying the box back inside the bench, she kissed it and said, “Thank you, Mother. Thank you for showing me your treasures.”

© 2017 C.C. Naughton.


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