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Until the very end I thought this short story might be a retelling of the Arthurian myth about the Lady of Shalott, the maiden confined in a solitary tower, weaving an endless tapestry and forbidden to look out of the tower’s lone window, on pain of death. And at first the tale seems to follow that path, describing in rich, poetic detail, the life of this unnamed woman who creates idyllic scenes of trees, rivers and animals from an inexhaustible supply of silken thread, all without ever having seen the things and creatures she fills her work with.
The young woman has no memory of who she is, or used to be; of what caused her imprisonment and the curse hanging over her head. All she knows is that she must never, ever look outside, and although some curiosity about her situation does surface from time to time, she seems content of her endless weaving and of the days, each one like the one preceding it, spent in solitude.
Yet something is about to change: Lancelot, one of the knights of the Round Table, happens to pass near the tower and wonders about it, this strange building not attached to any castle but simply standing there, at the border of a forest. And here is the first inkling that things might not be what they look like, because Lancelot’s musings about who and what a knight must be, and do, seem more attuned to those of a simple-minded fool rather than a valiant knight in shining armor.
A knight must do good. Make a name for himself by doing good, by going on quests and such. Succoring the weak. Slaying monsters. Or all of them at once, if the opportunity presented itself.
Once he learns that there might be a maiden in need of rescue in that lone tower, he sets his mind on freeing her, deaf to the warnings of nearby villagers about the terrible curse hanging over the prisoner. For her part, the young woman, piqued by curiosity about the commotion she hears outside her prison, decides to look out through a mirror – a way to circumvent the curse’s prohibition – and on seeing Lancelot falls in love with him, and for the first time in her life feels the desire to challenge the curse and escape from the confining walls.
Here is where the story veers sharply from the legend and turns into something completely different: I will leave you to discover it on your own… 🙂