In a previous post I mentioned how different our memories sometimes paint the stories of our childhood, and that how, for me, the underlying theme of Housmans’ Rocking Horse Land was so much changed between my reading of it as a child and my reading of it as an adult.
Well, one of the pictures I took for Christmas jumped out at me. My daughter’s old rocking horse “E” (short for E,I,E,I,O) was in one of the pictures. He is a little worse for wear, having survived not just her childhood but a number of visiting children who hugged him and hung off his neck when they came to visit. Of course, he weathered all this attention with the stoicism that all well-loved toys do. I can’t bring myself to let him go, so he is now a permeant decoration at Christmas. He was a rescue, like so many other things around my house (such as the wide-eyed cat next to him whose previous home had been the parking lot at my husband’s work). We found “E” at Home Depot where he had already been broken by a couple of larger children who had used him roughly, so he came home with us.
Anyway, I don’t know who to blame, the picture or the post, but a story popped into my head which I am now sharing with you. It is heavily influenced by my memories of Rocking Horse Land, and you will find a number of differences between the original and my retelling, most notable being the underlying theme. Still I hope you will enjoy it!
(Fair warning, this is a first draft. The sketch is conceptual and typos are likely!)
The Rocking Horse
When the children woke on Christmas morning they found piles of presents under the tree. There was something for everyone: George had his clockwork mice and Teddy his paint set. There was a working train, complete with bright red caboose, for William; and a silver comb and mirror for Sarah. And for Nell a tea set of her very own, packed neatly in a picnic basket for her to take on her adventures. However, everyone agreed that the grandest gift of all was the great black rocking horse that stood at the far end of the nursery. What a fine proud head it had! And the rippling mane that fell from its high-crested neck was long and full, nearly touched the ground. The tiny golden bells which hung from its saddle and reins chimed merrily with each graceful sway of the rocking horse’s head. A small brass plate afixed to his bridle proclaimed his name to be Roland. The children, one and all, hugged the creature’s beautiful neck and stroked its soft nostrils. They, each one, kissed the broad forehead between its eyes. And what eyes those were! Great eyes the color of fire which shone so wonderfully bright. They seemed as though they must really be alive, save they did not move, but instead stared fixedly ahead.
Each child took turns riding on the great creature’s back; its swaying gate carrying them off bravely into battle, or into the unknown of wild frontiers and landscapes as yet unseen. He was their gallant charger, elegant palfrey, or loyal pack horse. But eventually the children’s interest waned. George returned to his clockwork mice and Teddy to his paint set. William gathered up his train and set off in search of places to set its tracks and Sarah used her silver comb to brush her doll’s hair. One by one they all drifted away, all except Nell. She dearly loved Roland, and all day long she sat upon his back, rocking furiously as she imagined them riding through wildflower meadows and along rainbow streams flowing beneath sherbet-colored skies. In fact, Nell was having so much fun with Roland that she missed dinner entirely. And when bedtime came, she had to be lifted from the saddle, having fallen asleep with her arms wrapped tightly around the rocking horse’s neck. So it should come as no surprise that when she woke later that night, she was hungry. She slipped from her warm bed and padded down the hall towards the stairs that would lead her to the kitchen. As she passed the nursery door she paused, she had a great desire to check on Roland. She longed to see the grand creature with his long rippling tail and great fiery eyes, just for a moment. When she opened the door she was surprised to find the corner where he had been empty. The soft chiming of bells drew her eyes to the other side of the nursery. There Roland stood in front of the large windows, as though he watched the clouds moving across the sky high above. Nell wondered how he had gotten there and went over to see, resting her hand on the soft black nose. When she looked up into the rocking horse’s eyes she found them full of tears. One fell silvery bright onto her hand, were it lay warm and real. “Roland, gentle Roland, why are you crying?” she asked. “Because I miss my home sweet Nell,” Roland answered. “I can hear my mares and foals whinnying to me as they race over the hills.” “Why don’t you go to them?” the girl asked. “Because I am bound here, and so cannot leave,” the rocking horse replied. “You are a prisoner?” Nell said. It broke her heart to see her gentle, patient Roland sad. So even though she would miss him terribly, she opened the window so that he might go back to the home he so clearly loved. “Ah, thank you, kind Nell,” he said. “But I do not wish to leave you either for we have had such a wonderful time together. Search through my mane until you find a silver hair. There will be only one. Pluck it, and wear it round your finger. When the dawn comes, open the window and call my name and I will return to you happily.” She searched through his mane, and found the single silver hair, just as Roland had said. She plucked it and braided it to make a ring for her finger. The rocking horse nodded his head once, then with a joyous ringing of bells, he lifted up into the air. Through the nursery window he flew, racing out across the starry night sky, high up over the moon-silvered clouds, heading towards his home in Rocking Horse Land. Nell went back to bed, her rumbling tummy forgotten. She ran her finger of the silver ring until she fell asleep, and dreamed of Rocking Horse Land. She could see them all racing over emerald hills as smooth as glass. Their proud heads nodding up and down, up and down in their particular way as they strove to go faster. Their shining manes streaming out behind them with their speed. Silvery dapples, coppery chestnuts and golden cremellos, one by one they raced by. And in front of them all, was the ebony figure of her beloved Roland.
She was up before dawn to make sure the nursery window was open, calling Roland’s name out into the pale morning light. And there he was, dipping and dancing through the silvery shadows, until he floated through the open window and landed at her feet. “Did you have fun, my dearest Roland?” “Yes, my sweet Nell, it was wonderful! Thank you,” and with that he was still. His limbs ridge once more as his eyes stared fixedly ahead, just as one would expect a rocking horse to be. Nell returned to the nursery again that night and every night after, to open the window for Roland. Every morning he returned as promised, so that he might carry Nell off on her adventures the whole day long.
Christmas morning came around again, and again the children were greeted with brightly wrapped presents waiting for them under the tree. George got a clockwork cat to chase his clockwork mice, and Teddy finally had an easel to hold up his canvases. William got little houses and stores with people to set up along side his train’s tracks and Sarah finally got the pair of long gloves she had wished for all year, the ones with tiny pearl buttons. But it was Nell’s gift which was the most unexpected. It came in the form of a lovely white pony and from that day on they went everywhere together. Still, every night Nell would remember to open the window for Roland. And sometimes if the weather was foul or if she just had a mind to, she would go to the nursery to sit on his back, rocking to and fro as she told him of her latest adventures. Eventually there were other children; younger brothers and sisters who hugged Roland’s beautiful neck and kissed him between his great fiery eyes. They would ride on his strong back and make up adventures of their own. And they began to leave the window open for Roland at night.
There came a time when Nell realized it had been some time since she had been in the nursery. So she snuck down the hall that evening and peaked in the door. She found Roland standing at the window staring forlornly out at the trees swaying in the night breeze. His bridle was missing a bell or three and his mane and tail were perhaps not as full as they had once been, yet he was still beautiful and his great eyes still shone brightly. “Ah, sweet Nell, have you finally remembered me?” he asked, and though his voice was sad, it held no blame in it. “My wonderful, patient Roland, I am so sorry!” she exclaimed as she hugged his neck and stroked his long soft muzzle. “You gave me so many happy memories, shared so many of my dreams and kept all my confidences. I love you so, but I see now that it is past time I set you free. Be well my dear Roland.” With that she opened the window. The great rocking horse swayed, dipping his head so deeply that it nearly touched the floor, and then with a jubilant ringing of bells, he sprang out into the night sky. Nell unwound the band of silver that circled her finger, and let the evening breeze carry it away to follow behind the one who had gifted it to her. She thought that she could hear the sound of joyous whinnying; a welcoming home to one long lost. Smiling, she quietly closed the window and locked it.
Have you ever gone back to read the fairytales you loved as a child? Were you surprised to find them different then you remembered? Not necessarily the stories themselves, but the parts we take away from them.
When I went back to read Rocking Horse Land by Laurence Housman, I was surprised to find that little Prince Freedling was quite a spoiled brat. And in fact, that was the whole point of the story! Since it goes on to show him becoming a more caring boy.
However, that is not at all like the story I remembered reading as a little girl. For my part, I remembered the prince being more compassionate and with a kinder heart. Of course, that could have been because I often took the stories I was reading and rewrote them in my head.
Stone Soup was another example of a tale whose message changed with adulthood. I will always remember thinking what a wonderful thing it was to make something out of nothing. Having to hunt around for whatever ingredients were at hand, having to make due with what you had and still being able to make something delicious out of it. I still love the idea of taking what food I have, especially when the fridge and pantry are close to empty, and coming up with a tasty meal nonetheless. It wasn’t until I reread the story as an adult that the working together theme became clear.
I can certainly see how the stories I read as a child influenced my interests as an adult (I am sure they had some say in my love of cooking). But not always in the way the stories may have been written to. I remember Saburo the eel catcher and the amazing meal he was going to have after having an incredibly lucky day. And my poor grandmama made me stacks and stacks of pancakes when I was little, just so I could pretend that I was eating them with tiger butter. Yet, none of these stories were really about cooking at all!
It makes me wonder if the meanings and morals that we, as adults, derive from these tales are the same as the ones children do. I guess we can never be sure unless we stop and remember what it was like to look through the eyes of a child.
Some years ago now, and looking at this picture I realize just how many years ago, my daughter’s class visited to our local zoo. I was with them (we always went on these adventures together) and she had kind of surprised me by going over to sit on this bronze tiger. As soon as I took the picture, an idea came to mind of a girl and a tiger prince.
The idea grew, and I eventually wrote it down a few years later. I am still only on it’s second draft, so you will most likely find a typo or two, and perhaps some rough edges that need smoothing. But still, I think it is well enough along for me to share it with you. Unfortunately, no sketches to yet.
The Tiger Prince
There were once two young women, one as different from the other as the sun is from the moon. One young woman, Naomi, was the daughter of a great sea captain. She had traveled the world ‘round on her father’s ship, from the icy fjords in the north to the dune edged seas in the south, and was well known for her bold fearlessness. The other, Oriane, was the daughter of a prosperous merchant family. She was sweet natured and possessed a generous heart, but was also shy and terribly timid. Even in looks, they were quite different. Naomi’s hair was dark and wild, her skin kissed golden by the sun. Oriane’s skin was the palest cream, and her heavy gold hair hung in a sleek braid to her knees. They were opposite in nearly every way, save their eyes. Both had clear, blue-gray eyes.
They met aboard a ship as Oraine journeyed towards a distant land; the very same ship which Naomi’s father captained. The two young women soon became fast friends, much to everyone’s amazement. And by the end of the voyage, they were closer then even two sisters could be. One night, just before they were to put into port, they sat in Naomi’s cabin, as they often did in the evening. But on this night, unlike all the others, Oriane seemed to be not herself. Concerned, Naomi asked what it was that was troubling her. With a great sigh, the merchant’s daughter confided in her friend, confessing that her once powerful family was no longer as well off as they once had been. In fact, their fortune was all but gone, and she had set out on this journey with what was the last of her family’s money in the hopes of helping improve their situation. She told Naomi about stories that had reached her homeland, stories of a cursed prince. These stories promised numerous riches to whomever could unravel the mysteries of the prince’s curse. So Oraine’s father, desperate to avoid ruin, had sent a letter to the king of that distant land, the very land towards which they now sailed, in the hopes that his daughter might succeed where others had failed. And in doing so, save her family from its fate.
Now Naomi could see her friend’s determination to do what she could to help her family. But, she could also hear the tremor in her friend’s voice, and feel the shaking in her hands. So she offered to go with Oriane, promising to help in any way she could. She assured Oraine that between the two of them, they could figure out any curse!
That very night, Naomi went to her father the sea captain, and told him of her plans to accompany her friend. Her father agreed, having learned long ago that his daughter was quite capable and certainly able to make up her own mind. And in fact, he thought the whole adventure might be good for her. So the next day, when they put into dock, he saw them off with practical advice and well wishes. Arm in arm, the two young women left the ship. Waiting on the docks for them was a lovely carriage drawn by four white horses, as pale as moonflowers. It carried them down beautifully paved streets, past busy markets filled with all sorts of wondrous sights, and laughing children waved as they drove past. Eventually they came to a glorious palace on the edge of a vast lake. Its walls were built of the palest sandstone, and inside it was open and airy. Soft curtains hung in the doorways, and fountains tiled in brilliant colors filled the halls with the soft murmurings of falling water. Upon their arrival, they were met by a kindly steward, who brought them to a garden terrace that overlooked the shining lake. There they were met by the king, who invited them to sit with him, as he ordered that tea be brought. The king was hail and handsome, and spoke kindly to them as they sat eating delicate little cakes and drinking spiced apple tea. He smiled often as he fed a tiny golden bird who sat quite boldly on his shoulder. Still, for all his graciousness, there was a cloak of sadness that hung over him; which seemed to add a gauntness to his cheeks and shadows to his eyes.
They talked all through the afternoon until the sky darkened into twilight. As the shadows of dusk began to gather on the vast lake, an island appeared from nowhere. It seemed to take shape from the very air itself, much to the amazement of the two young women. On its shore was a palace, with elegant glass-domed rooftops and walls lined with graceful arches. It was then that the king told them of his son, the prince, who was spirited away on the very day of his birth. He had been taken to the very same island that they saw before them, and to the king’s knowledge had been there ever since. The island appeared for only a few hours every day, at dawn and at dusk. When the young women asked if any had traveled to the island, the king told them that many had tried, but all had failed. The bridges they had attempted to build met with disaster, and every boat that had tried to sail the lake’s waters had been plagued with ill luck. Oriane reached out her hand to comfort the king. “You have not seen or spoken to your son in all these years?” she asked. “I have only seen him through the lens of a spyglass,” admitted the king. “And have only spoken to him through letters delivered to the palace each day.” “Delivered by whom?” Naomi asked boldly. “A very curious messenger whom I do not doubt, but if I were to tell you who it was, then surely it would be my sanity that you questioned.”
The king, knowing the reasons why they had come, ordered a suite of rooms prepared for them in the palace. The rooms were spacious and lovely with two bedrooms, a sitting room and a wide door which opened out onto a balcony, overlooking the lake. It was there they would sit everyday for breakfast, beneath an arbor draped in wisteria. They would sip warm chocolate tea and eat buttery pasties while they watched the giant water lilies rise up from the lake. The young women marveled as lily pads the size of small boats unfurled themselves over the water’s surface. Their flowers like a forest of small trees as their pale pink petals opened wide in the morning sun. Gigantic fish slept in the water lilies’ shade; their golden scales glittering and flashing deep below the surface of the tea-colored water. It was no small wonder why boats did not venture out onto the lake; few would survive a single swish from those mighty tails.
When the sun reached midday, the water lilies would fold their petals and the lily pads would curl themselves back up. The fish would awaken, their giant golden bodies making the water eddy and swirl. The island itself would be lost in the dazzling light off the water, disappearing, not to be seen again until that evening. Then it would reappear in the dusk’s silvery shade, bringing with it a truly wondrous and terrifying sight. It strode down the street below their balcony, with a coat like fire; a prince among tigers. He stood nearly as tall as a horse, yet to their utter amazement, none of the people on the street seemed to be afraid of him as he passed them by. At the first sighting of him, Oriane nearly fainted with fear. But Naomi continued to look on in wonder as the great beast stepped up the edge of the water, and gathering his haunches beneath him, leapt easily across the whole of the lake.
For days the young women watched and debated on how Oriane could reach the island. In that time, Naomi became good friends with many of the servants who believed her to be the handmaiden of the golden-haired merchant’s daughter. That was how she came to be in the kitchen so often where she learned the most interesting things. According to the cook, who was an authority on such matters, it all happened on the very day of the prince’s birth. She remembered well how a tigress came right up into the palace and took the baby away. The butler, who was listening as he polished the silver, insisted that she remembered wrong. He was sure that it had been in the evening, not the morning, that the tigress had put in her appearance. However, both agreed that the prince had not set foot on the mainland since. And that it was from that day on that the island had begun to vanish for a time each day and night. The lake becoming a place where ships dare not sail. It was also at that time that the queen vanished, leaving the king to mourn both his wife and his son.
Almost every morning the little golden bird, which they had first seen sitting on the king’s shoulder, joined them as they ate. It would sing and chirp in the most soothing manner and the young women would feed it crumbs from their plates. On the seventh morning, as Naomi told Oriane about what she had learned in the kitchens, she saw the little bird do the most curious thing. It plucked several leaves from the wisteria that grew all around, and placed them in a row along the stone balustrade. It chirped and hopped from one leaf to another, and back again. Its peculiar antics gave Naomi an idea. Turning to her friend she said, “You know, those lily pads remind me a bit of floating docks. Like the ones at the port where you came aboard my father’s ship, do you remember? You came across those handily enough, I think you could crossover the lily pads just as easily. In fact, I am sure you could!” Oriane did not agree with her friend. She remembered how terrified she was to step out on those docks. How they shifted and bobbed beneath her feet. But she was determined to do what she could to change her family’s fortune. “I can but try,” she said. So they quickly dressed her in a flowing silver dress, over top which they added a sapphire coat. They put pearl slippers on her feet and a jeweled belt about her waist. Naomi braided and pinned her friend’s long golden hair before covering it all with a hat and veil. The veil fell down to the young woman’s breast, covering her face and her hair, as was the custom of her people when a young woman went unchaperoned to meet a potential suitor. Together the two young women went down to the lake shore. Oriane took a deep breath and gingerly stepped out onto the closest lily pad. When it stayed steady under her foot, she took another step. Confident that it would hold her, she smiled back at the sister of her heart, then with feet as light as a butterflies, she continued along the water lily road to the prince’s island.
Naomi kept vigil for the rest of the morning. At midday, just before the lily pads were about to begin curling up to hide from the hot sun, she saw her friend returning. Even from far away, Oriane’s happiness was unmistakable. The merchant’s daughter almost danced down the leafy path towards the shore where Naomi waited. “It was wonderful!” Oriane exclaimed, her smile radiant, as she leapt lightly to the shore and hugged Naomi. Arm in arm, the two young women walked back to the palace where they sat beneath the wisteria for the rest of the afternoon as Oriane told Naomi of her meeting with the prince. In fact, she could not stop talking about him! For it seemed that, at least in Oraine’s eyes, he was all the things a prince should be. But, as the afternoon waned so did her happiness. The curse had not allowed the prince to tell her more than she already knew. However, he could tell her that she would have to come to him every morning and return each evening if she was to have any hope to unravel the mysteries of the curse. So needless to say, as the time for her to return came closer, Oraine’s worry grew. Hadn’t they already thought this whole week past about all the ways she could possibly cross to the island? And it was only this morning had they thought of the water lily road, an option that was not an option now. She couldn’t stop the sense of despair that was beginning to grow in her belly.
Naomi hated to see the unhappiness in her friend’s eyes. Yet, no new ideas came to mind no matter which way she looked at their dilemma. Even she began to feel a little desperate as the sun sank lower in the sky. As the evening light grew thick, covering the land in golden honey, Naomi saw the tiger in the distance coming towards them. He was walking down the road as he usually did, a living flame in the sun’s dying light. Children were running up to him as they sometimes did, laughing as they made a game out of seeing who could touch his tail first. Suddenly, she had a bold idea. “My dearest friend, I think I know how you could return to the island, but you would have to be very brave,” she said excitedly. “Every evening at dusk, the tiger makes his leap to the island, and I have no doubt that he could carry you with him.” Oriane looked at Naomi and her heart quailed at the idea. Tears filled her eyes as she gripped her hands tightly and trembled. “I want to!” she said. “I want to be brave, and I did my best crossing the lily pads this morning. But, I am not like you, sister of my heart. It may have seemed like a small task to you, but it took all my nerve and I have no more.” The tears were now chasing themselves down her cheeks in silvery rivers. She looked as if her tender heart was crumbling to pieces. Naomi had no wish to see her friend so heartbroken, and she wanted her to succeed in her quest to help her family. An idea flashed into her mind like a lightning bolt. She took Oriane by the hand and lead her hastily to their room. “There may still be a way,” she said. “Quick, give me your gown and slippers and veil. I will ride on the back of tiger for you! Then when I return, I can tell you all that I find.” Concern and hope warred in Oriane’s face as she quickly helped Naomi into her gown. “But, how will you get back,” she asked, fearing for her friend. She would rather her family’s entire fortune lost than lose this woman she held so dear. But Naomi laughed, for this was just the kind of adventure she loved. “Have no fear!” she said as she put on the pearl slippers and pulled the veil over her dark hair. “I am sure I will find a way. And don’t worry, we will rescue your prince!” She waved, and rushed out onto the balcony as Oriane watched from behind the bedroom door. Naomi hoped that the tiger had not already passed them by. But as luck would have it, the great tiger was just walking by on the street below. She already had one slippered foot on the balustrade when she called out boldly, “Pardon me, master tiger, but I need your help!” And with that, she leapt from the railing to land on the street beside him, her gown and veil fluttering behind her like sapphire wings. The great cat stopped, and looked at her with golden-green eyes. His head stood as tall as her own, and for the first time in her life, Naomi wondered if perhaps she had been a little too bold. “Please,” she said contritely, “It is very important that I go to the prince’s island. Would you carry me with you?” The tiger nodded his head once, and laid down so that she might more easily climb onto his back. When she was seated he rose up smoothly and Naomi felt as though she were back on a ship at sea because although she might, with luck and skill, be able to ride such a powerful creature, she surely could not control him. In a few long strides he had brought them to the water’s edge. Naomi felt the strong muscles gather beneath her, then suddenly, like tightly held springs let lose, the tiger leapt, carrying them out over the dark lake. On and on they went, as though they flew on the back of the evening wind, until they landed on the opposite shore. The tiger did not stop, but continued to carry her to a small courtyard where night-blooming jasmine grew and moonflowers hung in curtains on the walls. There they were met by the prince. He was every bit as handsome as Oriane had described, with hair the color of midnight and curious eyes; one of which was the palest gold and the other as green as clear jade. Both were filled with kindness. He offered his hand to Naomi as she slid from the tiger’s back, and led her to a room lined with tall arched windows that overlooked the lake. At its center was a table, where he offered her a seat most courteously. He then went over to a large cupboard, and opening it, took out gold-edged dishes filled with dainty rolls and sugared fruits which he placed on the table in front of her. Once all the dishes were on the table, he sat across from her and they ate. All the foods offered had been conscientiously prepared so that she would not have to remove her veil to eat. It showed a thoughtfulness that in Naomi’s experience was uncommon. And she thought that this prince would be a perfect match for her friend, should they decide to wed. However, Naomi was surprised at how shy the prince seemed. From the tales Oriane had told, she had expected someone of a bolder nature. But perhaps he had seemed bold to someone of her friend’s more gentle ways. By the time they had finished eating, it was obvious to Naomi that the prince was well read and possessed an inquisitive mind. He asked her questions about the world beyond the island as they strolled through the gardens with their glass-domed ceilings; and shared with her all the things he had learned from the books he had read and his study of the stars. She, in turn, told him of the wondrous sights she had seen and the strange skies she traveled under. In fact, she was enjoying the conversation so much that she had forgot that she was supposed to be Oriane, and not herself. But if the prince had noticed any difference, he was too polite to say. They talked until just before midnight, then returned to the courtyard where she had first arrived. There, he bid her goodnight, promising that the tiger would arrive soon to carry her back across the lake. As promised, the tiger appeared moments after the prince had left. He carried her back across the lake, and right up into the palace itself. There they parted company. Naomi watched as the tiger headed deeper into the palace, and then suddenly she knew just who it was that brought the king his letters. When Naomi returned to their rooms, she found Oraine waiting up for her. She shared with friend all that had happened and everything that was said during her visit with the prince. They talked the night away, sleeping only a few hours before the morning sun lifted its shining head into the sky. They ate breakfast quickly, heading down to the shore as soon as they were finished to wait for the water lilies to unfurled their leafy path.
And so the season passed in much the same way. Naomi would often help in the kitchen while Oriane was away visiting with the cursed prince. And when Oriane returned, she would sit with the king to share his midday meal. She would tell him of his son, and he in turn, would tell her stories of himself, so that she might share them with the prince. This was how they learned about the queen and her sister. It seems that both had been powerful enchantresses whom the king had met in his travels. The king had fallen in love with the eldest, but when he and his would-be queen announced their decision to marry, the younger sister flew into a rage. It seems that she too had fallen love with the king, unbeknownst to him. She cursed their union bitterly, and soon became so consumed by jealousy that it turned her into a twisted, ugly thing; a fearsome hag who believed herself betrayed by her sister. It is also how they first found out about the magic cupboard.
One day, upon her return, Oriane told Naomi of the most delightful cake that she had eaten while visiting with the prince. It was light and fluffy, covered with delicate cream frosting and fresh strawberries. Naomi remembered the cook placing just such a cake in the great wooden cupboard in the kitchen that stood in the kitchen. However, she never remembered anyone taking back out. Which begged the question, how did the prince get his food? Curious, Naomi proposed a test to see if it had truly been the same cake. The next morning, she was down in the kitchen as she usually was, when Oriane visited the island. Naomi watched as food was put into the cupboard. And when the cook stepped away for a moment, leaving the cupboard door open, Naomi quickly placed a small spray of wisteria next to one of the cakes. She turned the plate so that it would not be easily seen. Then she waited. The cook returned, closing the door firmly after she had added a warm pot of apple tea. Naomi stayed in the kitchen longer than was her custom. She saw no one come to take away the food that had been placed in the cupboard. In fact, no one opened the cupboard at all. At noon she returned to their rooms. And soon after Oriane arrived, the spray of wisteria tucked in her jeweled belt.
They talked for the rest of the day as they often did. Oriane confirmed that the spray of wisteria had been beside the cake which had come from the cupboard. She also showed Naomi another flower, a beautiful orchid, which she said the prince had given to her. She happily recounted the tale of how the prince scaled the rocks near a waterfall they often visited (the island being much larger than it looked from the shore) just so that he could give it to her. She went on to praise his fearless nature and adventurous spirit. This made Naomi think back to her own conversations with the prince. They had been interesting and varied. And she had often thought that the prince would make a wonderful husband for the sister of her heart (and though she might not admit it, for herself as well). However, she never would have described him as having an adventurous spirit. Nor could she see him giving her a flower such as the one he had given Oriane. She felt that the flower he gave her would more likely be something like meadowsweet or marsh mallow. A flower whose beauty was subtle and its virtue deeper. “You know, sister mine, if I did not know better, I would say that we were talking about two different men.” Naomi ruminated. “The prince whom I have spent these many evenings with is interesting and deeply read. He has a thirst for knowledge, and is captivated by the tales of my travels. However, I would not say that he has an adventurous spirit. Nor would I call him bold, but rather I would tend to think him reserved. Tell me again, is your prince tall, with night dark hair and a generous mouth?” she asked her friend. “Yes,” said Oriane, “and his left eye is as bright as a gold coin, while his right is a clear jade green.” “Huh, curious,” Naomi said, “because I would have sworn that it was his right eye that was gold and his left green.” “Could that be a clue to the curse?” Oriane wondered. “Perhaps,” Naomi agreed. “If we could but see him together, I think all would be made clear, for it is not by a person’s look that you truly know them.”
So the two friends devised a plan, and that very evening they set it into motion. Naomi left to meet the prince as she usually did, riding on the tiger’s back as he flew across the lake. Meanwhile, Oriane, cloaked and veiled, carefully hid herself. When she thought that all the servants were elsewhere, she followed the instructions given to her by Naomi, and crept down into the kitchen. Heart pounding with fear, she opened the cupboard to found it empty. Carefully, she folded herself up inside, then steeling her nerve, closed the door and waited for she knew not what.
No sooner had she closed the door, then she heard voices. It wasn’t the cook or one of the other servants, but her friend’s well-loved voice and another that she had just recently come to also hold dear… no, that was not quite right. The pitch and timber were the same, but the manner of speech was not one she was familiar with at all. As carefully as she could, she cracked open the cupboard door. The room she looked out onto was familiar with its tall arched windows looking out over the moon-silvered lake. And there before her was her dearest friend talking with the prince. It was in that moment, Oriane realized that her friend had also fallen in love. Anxious butterflies fluttered in her stomach, as she listened as the sister of her heart talk with the prince that she, herself, had come to love. But the longer Oriane listened, the more the butterflies settled. There was no doubt that this was not the bold prince she had come to know. And when she heard Naomi begin to speak of the curse, she quietly slipped out of the cupboard.
“My prince,” Naomi said, as they stood watching the moon on the water. “I believe I can solve the riddle of your curse. If I am right, than this land has not one, but two princes. Your mother, being a powerful enchantress, changed her shape. She was the tigress that carried first your brother and then you across to this island. She then became the little golden bird who stays by the king and sings to him most lovingly. And I believe she did it all because she was afraid of what her sister’s curse might call down upon your heads.” “Right in one, you clever, clever woman!” He said as he picked her up and spun her around. The prince’s smile was as bright as the morning sun as he looked up at her. “Yes, well done,” said a voice that both musical and light. The prince set Naomi’s feet back down on the ground, but kept her hand clasped firmly in his own. Where once they had been alone, there was now an elegant woman in the room with them; and it was she who had spoken. Her hair was as dark as the prince’s and both her eyes were a bright and shining gold. There was little doubt in Naomi’s mind that the woman standing before them was the lost queen, mother to the man now holding her hand so tightly. The queen gave them a beautific smile. “You have indeed solved the curse’s riddle and as such are entitled to the fortune promised you. But, if there is more that you seek, and by the way that you hold my son’s hand I must guess there is, then the curse must be broken.” A look of pity washed over the queen’s face. “Though I wonder what the sister of your heart, as you, yourself, call her, would say if she were to see you holding the prince’s hand thus.” “I would wish her well, with all my heart,” said Oriane, stepping from beside the cupboard; where up till then, she had been watching as things unfolded. “Even if she were holding the hand of the man I love, but thankfully she is not.” Without hesitation Oraine crossed the courtyard to where the great tiger waited in the shadows. There was not the slightest tremor in her hands as she bravely placed them on either side of his fierce head and looked up into his eyes. “The one I love is here,” she said. “Are you sure, child?” the queen asked. “I am,” said Oriane. “For it is his heart I know, not the shape he wears.”
And with that, a man now stood before the golden-haired merchant’s daughter. Truly, he did have the same look as the prince who stood next to Naomi. Though seeing them together, it could be said that Naomi’s prince, the younger of the two (if only by a few minutes), stood just a little taller while Oriane’s. Though her prince, the elder, had just a touch more breadth in his shoulders. This second prince picked Oriane up and spun her around, much as his brother had just done to Naomi, smiling up into her face. “Brave and beautiful! For all your protestations, I knew you had a strength within that you did not see,” the elder prince said. “How can you say ‘beautiful’ when you have not seen either of us?” Oriane asked shyly, for it was true that both she and Naomi were still veiled. “Just as you said you knew my brother,” said the younger prince from where he still stood beside Naomi. He turned to face her. “For it was not your looks we fell in love with.” At that, both young women lifted their veils, smiling up at their princes.
The princes both changed back into tigers, for they were their mother’s sons, and now that the curse no longer bound them, they could change at will. With both Oriane and Naomi on their backs, they leapt across the lake with the little golden bird following close behind them. When they all came before the king, the queen, still in her guise as a golden bird, she asked him to name who she was. He did and she became herself again. The queen had been worried that he would be angry at her, for having to have endured all that he did. She need not have feared, for when the king saw his lost wife before him, their sons at her side, there was no room for anger in him, nor sadness either. All of that fell away as soon as he eyes rested upon them. Like his sons, he hugged his wife, and lifted her from her feet to spin her around in his joy, and the elegant queen laughed and laughed.
It was not long after that the two young women, Naomi and Oriane, became sisters in truth, marrying the princes they loved. Her family’s fortune saved, Oraine and the eldest prince stayed at the palace with the king and queen, for although she had found that she was indeed fearless, she still preferred her adventures to be small. Naomi and the younger prince, however, chose to return to her father’s ship where they went to see all the places that the prince had read about. But they visited often to share their tales with those they held most dear.
And what about the queen’s sister, one might ask. The sister whose jealousy had twisted her so much that the queen feared for her sons? The very one whose curse led to all the events about which this tale was told? Well, it is said that someone found her heart and she herself got the ending she deserved… but that is another tale entirely.
For my tenth birthday, my aunt and uncle gave me several interesting books, one of which was A White Horse with Wings by Anthea Davis. Printed in 1968, it is a collection of stories, most of which are retellings of fairy tales and myths. I read them many times through out my childhood. And one of my favorites was the story of Tam Lin.
Of course, the story in the book was a much easier read than the ballad you’ll see further down in this post.
So why did I include the story of Tam Lin in my musings and inspirations? Well, mostly because I can’t help but enjoy a tale about a strong-minded woman who saves her lover through her determination and fortitude. But also because those familiar with the story will find Lumina and the Goblin King all the more interesting for having read it. (And in case you are curious, no, the book is not a retelling of Tam Lin)
Also, the story takes place on Halloween. So what better time then this to share it!
(source: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 1882-1898 by Frances James Child)
O I forbid you, maidens a’, That wear gowd on your hair, To come or gae by Carterhaugh, For young Tam Lin is there.
There’s nane that gaes by Carterhaugh But they leave him a wad, Either their rings, or green mantles, Or else their maidenhead.
Janet has kilted her green kirtle A little aboon her knee, And she has broded her yellow hair A little aboon her bree, And she’s awa to Carterhaugh As fast as she can hie.
When she came to carterhaugh Tam Lin was at the well, And there she fand his steed standing, But away was himsel.
She had na pu’d a double rose, A rose but only twa, Till upon then started young Tam Lin, Says, Lady, thou’s pu nae mae.
Why pu’s thou the rose, Janet, And why breaks thou the wand? Or why comes thou to Carterhaugh Withoutten my command?
“Carterhaugh, it is my own, My daddy gave it me, I’ll come and gang by Carterhaugh, And ask nae leave at thee.”
Janet has kilted her green kirtle A little aboon her knee, And she has broded her yellow hair A little aboon her bree, And she is to her father’s ha, As fast as she can hie.
Four and twenty ladies fair Were playing at the ba, And out then came the fair Janet, The flower among them a’.
Four and twenty ladies fair Were playing at the chess, And out then came the fair Janet, As green as onie glass.
Out then spake an auld grey knight, Lay oer the castle wa, And says, Alas, fair Janet, for thee, But we’ll be blamed a’.
“Haud your tongue, ye auld fac’d knight, Some ill death may ye die! Father my bairn on whom I will, I’ll father none on thee.”
Out then spak her father dear, And he spak meek and mild, “And ever alas, sweet Janet,” he says, “I think thou gaest wi child.”
“If that I gae wi child, father, Mysel maun bear the blame, There’s neer a laird about your ha, Shall get the bairn’s name.
“If my love were an earthly knight, As he’s an elfin grey, I wad na gie my ain true-love For nae lord that ye hae.
“The steed that my true love rides on Is lighter than the wind, Wi siller he is shod before, Wi burning gowd behind.”
Janet has kilted her green kirtle A little aboon her knee, And she has broded her yellow hair A little aboon her bree, And she’s awa to Carterhaugh As fast as she can hie.
When she came to Carterhaugh, Tam Lin was at the well, And there she fand his steed standing, But away was himsel.
She had na pu’d a double rose, A rose but only twa, Till up then started young Tam Lin, Says, Lady, thou pu’s nae mae.
“Why pu’s thou the rose, Janet, Amang the groves sae green, And a’ to kill the bonny babe That we gat us between?”
“O tell me, tell me, Tam Lin,” she says, “For’s sake that died on tree, If eer ye was in holy chapel, Or christendom did see?”
“Roxbrugh he was my grandfather, Took me with him to bide And ance it fell upon a day That wae did me betide.
“And ance it fell upon a day A cauld day and a snell, When we were frae the hunting come, That frae my horse I fell, The Queen o’ Fairies she caught me, In yon green hill do dwell.
“And pleasant is the fairy land, But, an eerie tale to tell, Ay at the end of seven years, We pay a tiend to hell, I am sae fair and fu o flesh, I’m feard it be mysel.
“But the night is Halloween, lady, The morn is Hallowday, Then win me, win me, an ye will, For weel I wat ye may.
“Just at the mirk and midnight hour The fairy folk will ride, And they that wad their true-love win, At Miles Cross they maun bide.”
“But how shall I thee ken, Tam Lin, Or how my true-love know, Amang sa mony unco knights, The like I never saw?”
“O first let pass the black, lady, And syne let pass the brown, But quickly run to the milk-white steed, Pu ye his rider down.
“For I’ll ride on the milk-white steed, And ay nearest the town, Because I was an earthly knight They gie me that renown.
“My right hand will be gloved, lady, My left hand will be bare, Cockt up shall my bonnet be, And kaimed down shall my hair, And thae’s the takens I gie thee, Nae doubt I will be there.
“They’ll turn me in your arms, lady, Into an esk and adder, But hold me fast, and fear me not, I am your bairn’s father.
“They’ll turn me to a bear sae grim, And then a lion bold, But hold me fast, and fear me not, And ye shall love your child.
“Again they’ll turn me in your arms To a red het gand of airn, But hold me fast, and fear me not, I’ll do you nae harm.
“And last they’ll turn me in your arms Into the burning gleed, Then throw me into well water, O throw me in with speed.
“And then I’ll be your ain true-love, I’ll turn a naked knight, Then cover me wi your green mantle, And hide me out o sight.”
Gloomy, gloomy was the night, And eerie was the way, As fair Jenny in her green mantle To Miles Cross she did gae.
At the mirk and midnight hour She heard the bridles sing, She was as glad at that As any earthly thing.
First she let the black pass by, And syne she let the brown, But quickly she ran to the milk-white steed, And pu’d the rider down.
Sae weel she minded what he did say, And young Tam Lin did win, Syne covered him wi her green mantle, As blythe’s a bird in spring
Out then spak the Queen o Fairies, Out of a bush o broom, “Them that has gotten young Tam Lin Has gotten a stately-groom.”
Out then spak the Queen o Fairies, And an angry woman was she, “Shame betide her ill-far’d face, And an ill death may she die, For she’s taen awa the bonniest knight In a’ my companie.
“But had I kend, Tam Lin,” said she, “What now this night I see, I wad hae taen out thy twa grey een, And put in twa een o tree.”
This is my first ebook, and I confess it was more than a little frustrating at times. There may have even been tears and swear words involved on occasion. But it was so worth it!
I was also very lucky in the people I met along the way. I certainly owe a ‘thank you’ to Celine Jeanjean. Her willingness to share information and her insights helped me more than I think she realized (not to mention I love her steampunk adventure series The Viper and the Urchin). And of course my editor, Kathy Macfarlane. A good editor is a treasure, and I could not have asked for better. Thank you, Kathy!
So the ebook for Lumina and the Goblin King is finally finished and out the door *finger crossed*. You should see it on all your favorite book buying sites by November 11th. I promise to post links here, so keep an eye out!
I will admit getting it ready was a bit stressful, and it took all of this past week to finally finish it up, but it was worth it. The good thing is, once everything was finished, I was able to spend a little time out in my butterfly garden. To celebrate, I thought I would post some pictures of said garden (a few of which I did not take yesterday). And of course, I had to include a few pictures of my research assistant as well.
they were surround by huge trees. Thick silver chains hung down from their trunks, stretching like a glittering web across a small clearing. In its center was the most exquisite minute castle built entirely out of the palest alabaster. It sat just about head height above the ground; rocking gently in its silver cradle as a sweet-smelling wind whispered soothing lullabies through the evergreen needles above.
The princess and the phooka walked full round it ducking under the silver chains as they went. There were no windows to be seen, and only a single door without a knocker or a knob. There was, however, a bell pull beside the door, though there was no bell attached to it. Try as she might, the princess could see no way to reach it. In the end, it was the phooka who climbed long the silver chains on his nimble cat feet with the bell between his teeth. He placed the bell on the hook meant for it. Once it was in place, Fairer-than-a-fairy pulled the bell chain, and the clapper, now free of its cotton wrapping, rang a pleasant chime. The knobless door opened, and with the phooka’s help, she climbed in through the door. As soon as they crossed the threshold, it closed quietly behind them.
The room they entered was pitch black, save for the light coming from the lantern in the princess’s hand. The single room they stood in seemed to fill the whole of the castle. Gold and jeweled stars set in the ceiling above them, twinkled in the lantern’s light. There was no furniture to be seen, except an elegant couch around which rainbow-hued curtains hung; opaline specters swaying softly as the castle gently rocked like a boat on a calm sea. A man lay reclining on the couch. When the princess approached him she found that his eyes were open but seemed blind to all around him. She had no way of knowing if this was indeed her Rainbow Prince, but she thought him very handsome all the same. Of course, if he truly was the prince with whom she had spoken to all these years, it would not have mattered how he had looked; she would have thought him handsome. For the heart sees the world differently, and through it, all things can become beautiful.
The phooka, a sleek black tomcat once more, jumped up onto the man’s pillow and patted his cheek with a paw, but the young man did not stir. However there was no time for the princess to wonder at this as there were more pressing things for to attend to. She was quite sure that as soon as they had opened the door, the fairy Lagree would have known someone was at the castle. She was also sure that they would be a reckoning as soon as the old fairy caught up with them. Fortunately, a plan had been growing in her mind since they crossed the Lake of Mirrors. She left the couch where the man lay, and setting the lantern in the middle of the room so that she might better see what she was about, crossed over to the door through which they had entered. There she took out the hand mirror which she had been carrying in her bodice, and propped it on the wall beside the door, angling it just so. To her surprise, it began to grow larger. It grew and grew until it stood taller than she, and twice as wide, on great golden feet. She went next to the wall across from it and took out the jug which held the water from the Lake of Mirrors. Using the skirt which had once held the bell, she washed the wall until it too shone silver, careful to look only over her shoulder at the mirror she had propped up on the wall next to the door. When she was done she left the jug and cloth in a corner; taking up the lantern once more, she went back to where the man lay. The cat still sat on the pillow beside his head, but now small red dots now marred the prince’s smooth cheek.
“Tsk, be careful you mean thing!” she scolded. “Why would you do such a thing!”
“Because he hasn’t said a thing,” the phooka, human once again, groused from where he still sat on the pillow, poking the prince’s cheek with his finger. “Can he not see you!”
“Is it such a wonder that he can’t see me, trapped in a dark place such as he is?” she asked. Carefully she unwrapped the glass rose, holding it up so that the radiant flame burning within the lantern could cast its light through it. A brilliant rainbow sprang from its petals and fell across the prince’s eyes. His blind gaze cleared, and he turned to look at the princess who stood beside him. And although Fairer-than-a-Fairy, having never seen him in the flesh, had not been sure that he was indeed her Rainbow Prince, he certainly knew her. A smile as bright summer sun lit his face at the sight of her.
It was at that very moment that Lagree arrived. Flinging open the castle door, the wicked fairy saw the two young lovers surrounded by the lantern’s light, an island amid a sea of darkness. With a howl of rage, she raced in straight away, reaching out with her cruel hands to grab them. This time, she would just throttle the life out of them and be done with it. But her hands closed on empty air, as though they were ghosts. There was no flesh beneath her bony fingers. She turned to go back the way she had come, but she found she couldn’t. And that, of course, was because it was not the two lovers themselves that she had seen, but their reflections, cast from the mirror that Fairer-than-a-Fairy had placed near to the door, onto the wall which she had painted with the waters from the lake. It was towards that very same mirrored wall that Lagree had rushed, intent on catching the two young lovers, only to be caught herself. So there was nothing she could do as she watched Fairer-than-a-Fairy and her Rainbow Prince run, hand in hand, out through the door. Nor was there anything she could do when the reflection of the cat who was with them, winked one pumpkin-orange eye back at her as they left.
Once the three of them, the princess, the prince and the phooka were free from the castle, they laughed and hugged each other happily. The castle door closed behind them and they took the little brass bell from where it hung. As soon as they had, the whole castle seemed to melt. Much to prince and princess’s surprise, it became a tiny pond, shining mirror bright in the darkness of the deep wood. It was of course the very same pond in which the phooka had tossed the princess all those years ago. “If you jump as far as you can out into the middle, you will come out the other side, back into your very own wood,” said the phooka. Fairer-than-a-Fairy hugged her friend fiercely. “Will you come with us? I am not sure what awaits me when I return home, but no matter what it is, it will better if you were with me,” the princess said sincerely for she held no ill will towards the phooka for having been the one to steal her away. “Yes, please come with us,” the prince added. “We would have been lost long ago had you not been a friend to Fairer-than-a-Fairy.” The phooka agreed, thinking it a fine idea to go, and live in the mortal realm. Truth be told, he really did like sleeping on the princess’s feet and purring in her ear. And he figured the beds at the castle would be much softer than the one they slept on at the old fairy’s house. Having decided, he turned himself back into a fine black horse. The princess and prince climbed on his back and together they leapt into the mirror bright pond.
In the end, it turned out even better than anyone could have hoped, for it seems that time moves differently in faerie than it does in the mortal realm. So, it had been only fourteen months, not fourteen years since the princess had gone missing. And though the king and queen were surprised to see their daughter now grown, with a suitor in tow no less, they were both so overjoyed to have her returned that they did not let such a thing bother them for very long. The king, who had been the saddest of all, could not have been happier, welcoming them all with open arms. Even the pumpkin-eyed cat who seemed to delight in shedding black hairs all over the castle’s white pillows. In time, the prince was reunited with his family who it turned out lived just beyond the eastern sea; and they all gathered together to celebrate the joining of the two young lovers. They lived happily with their friends and family around them. Even as the years passed into decades, and they themselves became the rulers of their lands, time diminished neither the virtues, beauty, nor the mutual affection of King Rainbow and his Queen, Fairer-than-a-Fairy.
Things are coming together, and soon Lumina and the Goblin King will be out for all and sundry to read. I can’t wait!
No. Really. I can’t wait!
So here is an excerpt. Thanks to my editor, Kathy, for suggesting which scene to share with you all.
“Lumina slept the day away, not waking till late in the afternoon. Which, in and of itself, was not really a surprise; unlike the being she saw standing at the edge of her glade when she awoke.
The white stag stood just beyond the trees’ shadow, bathed in brilliant light. He was a sight to behold with his pale coat sparkling like new fallen snow beneath the sun’s caress.
He must have been waiting for her to wake, because as soon as she saw him he started towards her. Even beneath the dimness of the trees he was magnificent, glowing like the moon at her zenith as he made his way through the glade to where Lumina was.
Stopping at a respectful distance away from her, he lowered his head to regard them with his moonstone eyes.
“Goblin King,” she said, standing at his approach and offering him a curtsy. “You were not expected.”
Puzzlement filled his pale eyes for a moment, but then he slowly nodded.
“Perhaps I should have sent a messenger ahead,” he said and Lumina worried that it had not been puzzlement, but offense that she had seen in his face. She hastened to make amends.
“It is not to say that you are not welcome,” she assured him, although her statement was just on the edge of truthfulness.
A whisper of whiskers tickled her arm as the silver cat passed her, boldly walking up to the white stag.
“No cream, no fish, no cheese?” he said as he rubbed his head along the stag’s jaw, his tail curling impudently over the elegant muzzle as he did so. “Then why did you come to see me?”
“I did not come to see you, you impertinent thing. I came to see your mistress,” the white stag retorted. “Good afternoon, lady. I realize my coming was unexpected but I was hoping that you would join me for a few hours.”
“You wish to spend time with me?” she asked, a bit alarmed at such an idea. “To what end?”
“To what end,” he chuckled, leaning even closer as he did so. Soft breath whispered over her, cool and fresh like the air just before a storm. “Because I wish to court you. I would rather it was the price of your heart, not the price of your debt that brings you to me on our wedding day.”
Lumina found her heart pounding at the thought, but whether it was with anticipation or terror she could not say.
“And I have things I would share with you. Things you might find of interest,” said the white stag, retreating a little. “Come with me, fair one, and I promise that you will be as safe as if you had never left your glade.”
“And will you return me to my glade?” she asked, with more confidence than she felt.
The white stag nodded his head. “My oath in it, before the church bells finish tolling the midnight hour.”
The silver cat gave a little sneeze. “Well… then… there is no reason for me to go,” he said.
“What do you mean, Dearest?” Lumina asked, more than a little unnerved at the thought of being alone with the Goblin King, even in his guise as the white stag, which was admittedly less intimidating.
“No cream, no milk, no fish, no reason for me to go,” he said, sitting down to wash his ears. “But don’t worry about me, Mistress,” the silver cat said, pausing to look at Lumina with big round eyes. He blinked once, slowly; the picture of cat innocence.
“My Lady, I would be happy to carry you,” the white stag said soothingly, tilting his proud head so that she might easily sit on his antler if she chose to. And so she did, somewhat hesitantly, glancing at her treacherous companion, who only blinked innocently at her again. She wrapped her arm around the burnished silver brow tine as the stag lifted his head smoothly.
“I will see you soon, Dearest,” Lumina called back as the stag stepped out into the late afternoon light. The silver cat closed his eyes tight, giving her a knowing cat smile, before going back to his washing.“
By midday, they stood at the edge of a wild wood made entirely of clear glass.
The princess slid from the phooka’s back, and he was once more a young man. “The Forest of Glass,” he said. “Some place you must go that I can not follow, but if you would heed my advice I would say now is as good as time as any to put on those boots.” She sat down on the ground to follow the phooka’s advice, for it seemed quite good advice to follow. “One thing more,” he said. “While in there look for two blooms you find pleasing to the eye, pluck them and bring them with you. They may prove useful before all of the tale is told.”
And with that, he promised to see her on the other side of the wood, and turning himself into an eagle, flew off. Once he had disappeared from sight, the princess made her way into the forest. Tall trees of cut glass spread their branches above her. Beneath them, brambles twisted themselves into tunnels through which she carefully slipped. Grass made of spun glass crunched loudly beneath her her boots. Every leaf and stem she passed tore at her dress. But she paid little mind to the danger because rainbows danced all around her, sparkling on every leaf, petal and blade of grass. They turned her thoughts towards the Rainbow Prince, and she wondered if he could see her even though she could not hear his voice in the colors surrounding her. Plucking two roses from the arching canes above, she turned them this way and that, watching as the light fell through their prism of petals. She decided then and there that after she was free from her geas she would not go back to the fairy Lagree. Instead she would set out to find her beloved, if he could be found. She carefully removed her torn skirt, thankful that she wore two more beneath it, and wrapped the blooms. Tucking them safely in the bag of cotton, she continued on her way, finally coming out from the Forest of Glass. The phooka was waiting for her there. Mounting on his back, they headed off.
The sun was low on the horizon when the phooka stopped again. The princess slid down from his back and once again he stood beside her in the guise of a man. “Up ahead is the Garden of Bells, though you can not yet see it,” he said. If she listened closely, she could hear a faint sound on the wind. “Once again we come to some place you must go that I can not follow. But if you would keep the madness from your mind, then you must keep the sound of the bells from your ears. The cotton in your bag should do the trick.” “That is good advice that I shall be happy to heed, but there is a thing that I should tell you,” Fairer-than-a-Fairy said as she pulled two pinches of cotton from her bag. “After I have seen this quest through, and my geas has lifted, I plan to continue on in search of the Rainbow Prince.” “Oh, and so I was sure you would,” said the phooka and there was laughter in his voice, “for as I have said before you are a brave girl to have weathered what you have without a tear or complaint. If that is to be your road, then one more suggestion I would make. The bells in this garden have many a virtue. So while you walk through, look for a bell that feels true to your heart. If you find one, bring it with you, for I am sure that it will be of some help, before all is said and done.”
With that he turned into a eagle once again, and flew off. The princess stuffed the cotton in her ears and continued on her way. She soon came to a garden gate, opening it she went through. The long light of the evening glinted through out the garden on bells of every kind and size. They grew down from the trees and up from the ground in silver and gold and colored glass. Even bluebells grew here and there, whose tolling only dead men could hear. They all swayed gently, whether the breeze raced through them or not. But the tufts of cotton did their job well and she heard not a thing. Though all were beautiful, with their delicate designs and jeweled clappers, there were none that stood out to her mind until she came to the gate at the very end of the garden. There hanging next to it was a plain brass bell. It filled her heart with such longing for a home that she had all but forgotten. Stuffing more cotton from her bag around the clapper, she gently lifted it from its hook. She wrapped it in her second skirt and tied it tightly to her belt. Then passing through the gate, she hurried along the road to where the phooka waited for her, and away they went.
Night had already fallen by the time they reached the sandy shores of a waveless lake. The water stretched out, as still as a mirror, beneath the starry sky. A high-prowed boat, glowing with a soft pale light, sat quietly at its edge like a crescent moon come to earth. The sand shone like silver stardust beneath the phooka’s hooves as they made their way towards the lake. He stopped just short of the water’s edge and the princess slid from his back. In a blink he was there beside her, a pumpkin-orange eyed youth once more. “Ah, the Lake of Mirrors. And there is our boat, waiting patiently,” he said. “Fortunate, because you will have to cross it if you wish to reach the orge’s house. Happily, this time I can come with you. Fair warning though, beautiful though it may be, this water is not for gazing in to, lest you lose the whole of yourself in its reflection. So take care to keep your eyes on the horizon.” With that warning in mind, they stepped lightly into the boat together, and it set off of its own accord.
They glided in silence across the lake, with only the stars to light their way. Their eyes they kept fixed firmly on the horizon, so as not to fall to the temptation of down into the water. When they were almost half way across, Fairer-than-a-Fairy took out the jug of water, now near to empty, so that they might finish what was left off between them. As she held the now empty jug, a thought came to her. “Should I fill this with the water from here?” she wondered aloud. “Not if it is to be for drinking, but if you had in mind for it another purpose, then perhaps it could prove useful.” She thought that having water that could capture one in its reflection, could indeed prove useful. But how to safely fill the jug, now that was the question! It turned out to be a question that the phooka had an answer to. Because when she voiced it, he quickly reminded her of the little hand mirror she had taken from the old fairy’s trunk. She took it from her bodice, and turned it just so. Until the silvered water they glided across appeared in its surface. Looking only at the hand mirror, she carefully dipped the empty jug into the water, taking care not to touch it herself. When she felt she had enough, she pulled it up and corked it. Still looking away, she tore the hem of her dress to wipe the rim and all the places where the water might have touched. “At this rate, I shall be unclothed before our quest is done!” she said. But when she looked she was glad she had, for the cloth now shined back at her as though it too was made of mirrored glass. She was careful not to look directly at it.
They landed on a rocky shore, and left the boat glowing softly on the beach behind them. When scarcely a minute later she looked back, it was no where to be seen. Although a thin moon now rose in the sky just ahead of them to light their way. They climbed up steep paths that wound and wound through rocky crags until a cottage appeared just ahead of them. There they stopped and hid behind a huge boulder. They would need a plan if they were to get the fire and leave without the ogre using Fairer-than-a-Fairy’s bones for toothpicks. Luckily, the phooka had already thought on just such a plan. “We need only wait,” he assured her. “Locrinos goes out most every night leaving his wife to sit at home. Although still an ogress, it is said she has a sweeter nature than her husband, and perhaps a gift may make it sweeter still. What do we have?” They laid out all that they had from boots to bell, and decided that the roses from the Forest of Glass would be the best gift. “They are lovely, but I don’t see why we need give her two when surely one will do,” he said. “I am glad you think so for the colors they cast in the light remind me of my love and I can’t bring myself to part with both,” Fairer-than-a-Fairy admitted. “But one I could give up, if it will soften the ogress’s heart towards us.” While she spoke, she broke a rose from the stem, pricking herself on a glass thorn. Three drops of blood fell on its petals turning them deep red so that they shone like garnets, even in the thin light of the crescent moon. “Hmm, better still,” said the phooka. “But have a care to spill no more blood. We wouldn’t wish to give her ideas.” And with that, he took her finger and licked it. And just like that her skin was healed, as neat as you please.
They did not have to wait long before they saw the fearsome ogre leave the house, a sack thrown across his back. He gave his wife a kiss and left, hollering over his shoulder that he would be home before morning. The two friends waited to make sure he was well and gone, before marching up boldly and knocking on the door. The figure that opened it filled the doorway, but was not at all what one would expect an ogress to look like. She was buxom and quite pretty, that is if one could ignore the small horns on her head and the fearsome tusks sticking up from her lips. They greeted her most politely, and told her that Lagree had sent them (which was the truth, after all), then showed her the darken lantern. They offered her the rose as a gift, just as they had planned, and she took great delight in it. “Ah, mortal blood always smells the sweetest!” she sighed as she brought the garnet hued petals to her nose, gesturing for them to come in. “There is the fire, and you are welcome to it.” A giant hearth took up a whole corner of the cottage. Across the front of it were two doors made of metal and glass. When Fairer-than-a-Fairy bent to open them, she quickly learned that the fire they hid, was of no ordinary flame. It burned with the same bright light as the sun, so that she could not look directly at it. The heat scorched her face and out of the corner of her eye, she could the figures of salamanders dancing at the edges of the flames. She knew with absolute certainty that if she were to reach her hand in, it would be burned to the bone. While she sat back on her heels, unsure of how she was to overcome this obstacle, she heard the phooka talking to the ogress. She realized that he was telling her of the Rainbow Prince, and Fairer-than-a-Fairy’s love for him. Tears rose unbidden in her eyes, chasing themselves down her cheeks, and she was at a loss to stop them. “Tsk, tsk, child,” the Ogress tutted. “Such a waste!” and held a bowl beneath Fairer-than-a-Fairy’s chin to catch the tears as they fell, only taking it away when it was near to brimming. The Ogress dipped her finger in the bowl and tasted it, rolling her eyes to the heavens as though it were the most wondrous ambrosia. “Umm, heartache and hopelessness! Such bitter tears do make the finest beer. My husband will be so happy! Such wonderful gifts you have given me, let me give you some in return.” She handed the princess a long wand from a myrtle tree, and a small gray stone with a single band of white quartz circling its middle. “The first will let you light the lantern if you can find a way to keep the salamanders from devouring it before you can gather the flame. The second is a wishing stone. Follow the path that continues beyond the cottage and it will bring you to a sea. When you are standing on the shore, hold the stone and make a wish, while tracing the path of quartz that circles it, then throw it into the water. It will take you to your heart’s desire.” Fairer-than-a-Fairy took the wand and the stone from the ogress. She put the stone in her pocket and when she did so felt the hazelnuts that were in there. Taking a handful out she tossed them into the hearth. The salamanders came to play with them and while the nuts crackled and popped, she reached in with the myrtle wand. The tip lit after a moment and she was able to light the lantern with it.
With that their quest was completed. She could feel the geas fall away like a collar from her neck. They bid the ogress goodbye, wishing her well in her beer making, and headed off down the path she had told them about. It wasn’t long before they reached the sea. It stretched out in front of them, glittering beneath a blanket of stars. There they stopped and Fairer-than-a-Fairy took the wish stone from her pocket. “You know with that stone you could return to the mortal realm, and Lagree would be none the wiser,” the phooka pointed out. “Truly, I could, but what good would it do me without the Rainbow Prince there to share it with. I have been gone twice on seven years, and I do not even know if there is a home to return to,” she said. “And what of you my friend? It was indeed a great harm you did to me when you stole me from my home, but your friendship over these many years has been a salve to my tortured heart. You owe me nothing more, yet still you seem ready to go on with me. What is it you seek for your future?” “I don’t know,” the phooka admitted. “I find it best to read a story straight through and not to skip to the end. So let it be what it will be. But I have to say, I like sleeping on your feet and purring in your ear.” That said, he turned himself into a cat, and leapt to her shoulder where he tickled her cheek with his whiskers. The choice made, she traced her finger along the path of of the white quartz, and made her wish. She closed her eyes and sent the stone sailing out over the waves.