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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A Modern Fairy Tale in Four Parts, Part One

Once upon a time, in a cold climate, there lived an old woman with grey hair and sad eyes. She lived in a very small cottage by a small river. Behind the cottage was a dark and thick forest. Behind the forest were tall, cold mountains. The old woman knew the forest and would gather things to eat there. She gathered berries, leaves for soup, and wild carrots. She gathered mint, and rue, and hickory for tea.

The old woman was not ugly, but plain. She had two sets of clothing-one for winter and one for summer.

The summer set of clothing was pale rose, like an old rose, with light sleeves made of a light material, as light as the breeze. Her winter clothing was dark, dark blue, like the sky at night and was made of sturdy wool. Both sets of clothing responded to her wishes, like live creatures.

The old woman had a small garden and a pear tree.

She had three cats and two mice, who were allowed to live in the garden, and as they were dormice, the creatures were content with seeds and water.

The old woman had a small fireplace, one cup, one plate and one set of silver ware. She also had two books.

But, one day, her quiet life was interrupted by the braying of hounds. She left her small room and went out into the front of the cottage and peered over the green river. There, she could see a young man with coal black hair, like a raven's, running for his life.

Behind the young man, who the woman recognized as a prince from his clothing and demeanour, and from a hollow feeling in her heart, were a pack of dogs, howling and attempting to reach the young man.

Now, the old woman was not a witch, but she did have some secrets. One secret was that she could make the river level lower by a prayer taught to her a long time ago by an angel, so she prayed, and, for a few minutes, the green river became a stream. The young prince was astonished, but plunged away reaching the other side just as the river became a rushing torrent, as it was spring, and the winter snows were melting on the mountains above the forest. The dogs could not cross the river and remained on the far shore.

The young man, whose brown and green clothing were hardly wet said to the woman, "Hid me, for the men who are behind the dogs want my life." So, the old woman placed her summer rose coloured cloak over him and he disappeared from sight. Just then, four men arrived at the edge of the river and shouted,
"Old woman, have you seen a young man running this way?" The old woman answered, "I see no one like that, sirs, do you?"

The men looked at the dogs panting for breath on the river's edge and answered, "No, we do not see anyone. And no one could cross this river as it is today." They turned and dragging the dogs with them, left.

The woman could see them travelling for about a half-mile of the plain behind. Then, she went into the cottage where the prince was waiting inside.

"Here is your cloak, old mother, and I thank you for saving me.What can I do for you?"

"Prince, as I see you are, you must be honest and tell me why they are chasing you to kill you?"

The prince sat down on a small wooden chair carved like a swan. He stared at the strange woman.

"My father abandoned the kingdom years ago to sail away in a ship for southern lands. Word came back to us that he is long dead. I am his rightful heir. But, these lords, seeing that I was not yet a man, wanted to kill me and share the kingdom for their own. My mother and my sister are gone as well, so I am alone."

"Are you a witch, as you do not feel like a witch?"

The old woman smiled. "No, I am a Christian long exiled from your own kingdom by your own father many years ago. He was to marry me, but wanted another, wealthy wife, your own mother, and to rid himself of my presence, which reminded him of his broken promises, he exiled me. I was forgotten by all, and I forgave him and his people. One the day I forgave him, angels came to me and gave me a few gifts. I use these gifts rarely.  As you are the son of one I loved, I shall help you, but you must obey my small instructions. You are full of anger and revenge and pity for yourself. These things must be addressed."

The prince marvelled at the old woman's words and was ashamed, but remembered a tale spoken of by some of the servants of a beautiful maiden, as poor as a church mouse, but loved by the king, who disappeared a long time ago. As she had no family, no one searched for her, except some mice and a few cats, who found her finally on the other side of the river,

Their descendants, the cats and mice, lived with the old woman as her only companions, except for one small yellow bird, who woke her every morning.

The woman looked at the prince for a long time. She made some tea for him. Then, she spoke, "You are to undo the injustice of your own father by helping me so that you will be king as you should be. But, you must follow some simple instructions and climb the mountains behind the forest to find three things.

The first is a golden rose, never seen before, but growing in a cleft in the rocks. The second is an amethyst, as pure as dawn, lying in a small stream. And the third is a white scroll with words unknown to you written in black characters hanging from a tree at the top of the highest mountain. Bring these to me and you will be king, overcoming your enemies. But, you will have distractions and you must ignore all things and persons or creatures which will try and dissuade you from this task."

The young prince eagerly agreed to all these things, being young and adventurous, and a bit naive. But, none the less, the next morning, with a satchel of food and drink from the old woman, he set off for the mountains of snow and ice.

To be continued...copyright 2013