“To live means to dream.”
Daniel and the Sea Fairy’s Magic Slipper
On the edge of a boundless sea there stood a small cottage in which a poor fisherman’s family lived happily. The waves whispered to them underneath their windows, and when the tide went out, it left them small stones and colourful shells on the sand.
They had one son whose name was Daniel. He used to play on the seashore gathering the small treasures that the sea brought in. He made huge sandcastles, and decorated them with mussels, gleaming oyster shells and pieces of glass smoothed by the waves. From an early age he also helped his father to repair the fishing nets. In short, he was born by the sea, was used to the sea and, indeed, he fell in love with it, just as his father had done. His father would often spend all day, from dawn until dusk, on the sea in his little fishing boat. His catches were never very large, but they were always big enough to feed his family.
As the little boy grew older, his father started to take him out in the boat, but if he was going far, Daniel had to stay at home with his mother. He would sit silently on the seashore, dreaming about the far-off, mysterious place beyond the horizon where the sun went down. How he would love to see that distant land! But his father never took him on such a long voyage, for not even he dared venture that far. So Daniel was left only with his dreams.
Sometimes, when a terrible storm blew up, the waves washed up fragments of wrecked ships. The fisherman and his wife collected the planks and pieces of mast to use as firewood. Daniel ran barefoot along the water’s edge and helped his parents carry the pieces of driftwood. Sometimes he ran into the shallow water to fish out the floating planks.
One day, as he bent down to pick up a piece of wood, he noticed something glittering under the water. Carefully, he dug away the fine sand around it, and drew out a tiny, sparkling slipper made of fish scales, trimmed with shiny mother-of-pearl and decorated with pink coral. On the toe of the slipper shone a large pearl. Daniel ran to his parents and, his face aglow, showed them what he had found. They looked down at the tiny slipper in amazement. Daniel’s mother smiled at him and said:
“Daniel, put the slipper in a safe place. It might belong to the good sea fairy, and she might come looking for it.”
Daniel did as he was told, and put the slipper with his toys and other treasures in the box under his bed.
At first he took the slipper out every day, looking at it again and again. He marvelled at its fragile beauty, and wondered to whom it might belong. Finally, he stored it with his other childhood treasures in a secret hiding-place which he guarded carefully. After a while, however, he forgot all about it.
The years went by. Daniel grew and grew and became a courageous youth. He had long outgrown children’s games, but he still dreamt about the far-off land beyond the horizon. The fisherman now often took his son out in the boat with him. He himself was not as strong as he used to be and looked forward to the day when his son would be able to go out without him.
One evening they were coming back from fishing as the sun was setting. Daniel sat in the boat with his face turned towards the golden-red glow in the west. Just as the sun touched the bluish waves, and its glow spilled over the sea, the boy looked into the setting sun. It seemed as if he could see, in the boundless distance, the outline of a beautiful enchanting castle, whose walls, towers and roofs glimmered brightly in the rays of the setting sun. He wanted his father to see it as well, but before he could say anything, the golden glow faded, the sun slipped into the waves, and the magical picture was lost in the dusk.
When they got home, Daniel told his mother what he had seen, and she remembered that her grandfather had often told her about a magical island of fairies – far, far away over the sea. Indeed, her grandfather had been there once. He was carried there by a terrible storm, and without the help of the fairies he would have perished in the sea. Never again, he said, had he seen such beauty as he saw there.
From then on, whenever Daniel watched the sea in the evening, he thought he saw the magic castle of the sea fairies rise from the surface of the waves at the very moment when the sun touched them. He longed to get in the boat and sail there.
The years passed. His father, now an old man, no longer went out to sea. Instead he sat with Daniel’s mother outside the cottage, where they warmed themselves in the sun, mending the nets.
Daniel had grown into a strong and skilful young man and had taken over his father’s fishing boat. His parents were proud of their kind, hard-working son. His mother no longer worried about him so much when he went far out to sea. An old fishermen’s superstition says that if a child is sprinkled with sea water when it is christened, it will never be harmed by the sea. And so it was. Daniel experienced many violent storms when he was out at sea, but he always returned home safely.
And so they lived happily together until one hot and stifling summer night. Daniel had returned as usual in the evening, but even though he was very tired, he could not get to sleep in the cottage and went out onto the seashore for a bit of air. The night sky was sprinkled with thousands of stars, which were reflected on the water’s surface like golden primroses in a spring meadow.
Daniel sat down on the seashore and watched the stars. Suddenly, a hazy glow appeared on the dark horizon. It became brighter and brighter until there appeared an enchanting castle with slender towers, all clad as if in mother-of-pearl. It was the same castle that Daniel had seen so often in his dreams, or as he sailed home at sunset. This time, however, the image was much clearer.
Daniel could not tear his eyes away from the beautiful sight. Once again the half-forgotten desire to travel into the unknown set his soul alight. This time, though, he could not resist. He jumped into his boat and rowed off towards where the pinkish glow flickered on the horizon.
When his parents woke up the next morning and found that Daniel was not in the cottage, they assumed he had gone out fishing early. But he was already so far from home that he could no longer make out the familiar shoreline where he was born. All around him, as far as the eye could see, was nothing but water. Tired of rowing so long, he suddenly felt hungry and thirsty. It was only then that he realized he had forgotten to take any food or drink with him.
The sun rose rapidly over the horizon, and Daniel hoped he might come across a ship, or at least find an island with a source of drinking water. On and on he rowed as long as his strength allowed. Evening came, however, and there was no sign of a ship or dry land. But never for a minute did he think of returning. He drew in his oars, placed them in the bottom of the boat and lay down to rest. Before long the waves had lulled him into a deep sleep.
The little boat floated on through the dark night into the unknown. Then suddenly it stopped, and Daniel woke up. He remembered his parents, whom, for the sake of his dream, he had left behind without even saying goodbye, and his eyes filled with tears.
“If only I could return home safely,’ he thought.
At that very moment the waves parted ahead of him, and on the surface of the water appeared a beautiful girl in a white robe, trimmed with pink and violet orchids and gleaming pearls. Around her waist she wore a golden sash. Rising above the surface, she smiled at the astonished Daniel.
“Where are you heading, courageous youth? Surely not in pursuit of your dream?” the girl asked jestingly. “I know what you are looking for. You hope to see the sea fairies’ Magic Island and their castle and its inhabitants. You are driven by the age-old human desire to know the unknown. Without my help, though, you would never reach the castle – you would perish at sea. All right then, I shall help you to see what you desire so much. I am the sea fairy Wavelet, and I shall grant you your dream. In return, though, I would ask a small service. When, on the Magic Island, you meet my friends the sea fairies, and our Queen Benevola, do not forget to ask her when I will be forgiven.”
“I shall do so gladly, Wavelet. Just please help me find the Magic Island.”
“I promised to help you, Daniel, and so I shall. But keep in mind your promise, too. I will come and find you on your way home so that I can learn the answer. Now let us set out. We have a long journey ahead of us.”
With these words Wavelet waved her hand at the boat, and it started to fly over the water like a bird. On and on they sped, until suddenly the pinkish glow that Daniel knew so well spread over the horizon like the rising sun. It was still dark, but in the glow Daniel could at last make out the outline of the castle, gradually becoming closer and clearer. He could also see a thick forest surrounding it on all sides. The castle itself stood high on a rock. The little boat landed gently on the sandy shore.
“Here we are,” said Wavelet. “But now you must carry on alone because I am not allowed to set foot on the Magic Island. Tie your boat up on the shore, for you will need it later on. Wait until there is a full moon, and only then set out to the castle and look for Queen Benevola. You have nothing to fear. The sea fairies will not harm you because you come in peace. I wish you good luck, Daniel,” said Wavelet, and waving him goodbye disappeared into the sea.
It was growing light. Daniel tied the boat to a bush on the shore and set out to explore the island. He made his way through the thick forest until he came to a lovely orchard, and in its midst a lake studded with beautiful white and pink water lilies. A lone, white swan drifted sadly among them.
Daniel looked for a way across the lake to the castle. Finding no bridge, he decided to swim across. Just as he was about to jump into the water, however, the white swan let out a cry as if in warning. Daniel changed his plan. He found a piece of bark and made it into a little boat. Then he went down to the edge of the lake again, placed the tiny boat carefully on the water, and waited to see what would happen. Immediately, the water grew dark and was covered with violent waves. Although Daniel was only up to his knees in the water, the waves almost swept him away and swallowed him up. Only then did he understand why the swan had warned him. How well was the castle protected against uninvited guests!
By now it was much lighter. Daniel sat down in the grass by the lakeside and, enchanted, gazed up at the castle, towering high above the surface in its magnificent beauty. In the light of the last streaks of dawn the castle shone like a torch, flaming in a thousand different colours. Now Daniel realized where the magical pinkish glow came from: the whole castle was clad in mother-of-pearl, which continually changed colour in the first rays of the sun. But as the sun rose in the sky the magical picture melted away.
All day long Daniel walked around the lake looking for a safe way to reach the castle. Yet try as he might he could not find one. He was tired, but was at least able to pick some fresh fruit in the orchard to drive away his hunger and thirst. Then he lay down under a tree in the tall, fragrant grass and fell asleep.
He didn’t know how long he had been sleeping when suddenly he was woken by the sound of soft singing and unfamiliar voices. He raised his head cautiously. What a wondrous sight met his eyes! From out of the darkness, the castle shone in a thousand different colours, casting its glowing reflection on the surface of the lake. Countless fountains shot up from the lake and the rock, and their waters fell on the surface of the lake like precious stones. The beauty of it took Daniel’s breath away.
Hearing voices close by, he turned to see two beautiful fairies on the bank, talking earnestly together. As he listened he realized that one of them was the white swan whose warning had saved his life. Both fairies wore beautiful pastel robes and long, translucent veils. One of them, he noticed, was missing one of her tiny slippers.
“That might be why she cannot be with her friends during the day, and is condemned to be a white swan until evening,” thought Daniel.
The two fairies parted, and the unfortunate “white swan” was left alone on the bank. Her friend ran happily away to join the other sea fairies as they danced and sang in the glitter of the fountains. Quietly, he crept closer – then his heart leapt with joy. The slipper on the foot of the beautiful fairy was exactly like the one he had found on the seashore when he was a little boy. Now he knew to whom it belonged. Gathering his courage, he left his hiding-place. He bowed to the fairy and said:
“I am Daniel. Don’t run away, beautiful maiden. I overheard your conversation, and realised that you are still crying for the loss of your tiny slipper. I want to help you too, because if it were not for your warning, I would have died in the waters of the lake this morning. When I was a little boy, I found a slipper just like yours on the seashore near our cottage and kept it safe with my most precious treasures. I’m sure that I still have it hidden away somewhere. Tell me, though, what value does the slipper have for you?”
“I am not a girl, Daniel, but the sea fairy Pearl. Our slippers have magical powers. They allow us to float above the surface of the water, and run freely over the sea. I didn’t lose my slipper in the sea by mistake, however. The Storm King took it from me on purpose to punish me for disobedience. I failed to heed the warning of our good Queen Benevola, who had strictly forbidden us fairies to go out when the sea was stormy. But I liked running alone over the foaming waves. They would play with me and toss me high into the air.”
“Once, when I was out in a storm, I saw a drowning man, and ran to help him. I took him into my arms, and swam quickly with him to the green banks of a nearby island. The stormy sea pummelled me from all sides, and too late I figured out that it was the Storm King, angry with me for what I had done and punishing me cruelly for my impudence. The Storm King is the sea fairies’ greatest enemy. He hates us because we are always spoiling his cruel fun and saving the lives of people in distress at sea. Anyway, with the last of my strength, I reached dry land with the shipwrecked man. He was saved, but I could no longer save myself.
“The storm grew stronger, and out of the angry waves there appeared, at the Storm King’s command, an army of little green storm minions. Holding hands, they danced round me in a wild circle, gradually closing in. By then it was too late to regret not having listened to Benevola, who was always so concerned for our safety. Then, to the crash of thunder, the Storm King himself appeared:
“‘You have once again dared to help people, and I shall punish you severely as a warning to all other sea fairies. I am going to change you into a white swan, and you shall stay that way until some good-hearted person finds your slipper, and brings it to the Magic Island. He will not find it easy, though, for I shall set many obstacles in his way.’
“With a menacing laugh, he pulled off one of my slippers, and threw it far away into the foaming water. Then he waved his trident, and I immediately became a white swan.
“As soon as our Queen Benevola – who always likes to help others – heard of my misfortune, she managed to lessen the King Storm’s cruel punishment so that at sunset, at least, I always regain my former appearance. Many years have passed since then, and no one has brought any news of my slipper – until you, Daniel,” said the fairy sadly.
While Pearl was recounting her sad story, the castle gate suddenly opened and there appeared in the rock an alabaster staircase leading down to the lake. And as he looked, a beautiful and grave lady wearing a golden, pearl-studded crown walked slowly down the steps. It was Benevola, the queen of the sea fairies herself. The fairies stopped their dancing and ran happily towards her.
“Welcome, dear Queen, welcome!” they called, scattering white and pink lilies and gorgeous orchids around her as she walked. Benevola smiled sweetly and greeted them warmly, but she still seemed to be searching for someone.
“Where is Pearl, your sister?” she asked. “Why is she not with us?”
“She is sad, dear Queen. She is sitting on the bank, mourning the loss of her slipper,” replied the fairy Silvermist.
“Poor Pearl,” sighed Benevola. “Until a person with a good heart finds her slipper, she cannot be helped.”
“But Pearl’s slipper has already been found, dear Queen,” called Daniel, who, hearing her, had run with Pearl to the edge of the lake.
“Who are you, bold youth, and how did you manage to reach the Magic Island? Was it by some happy accident? Our castle only appears above the surface of the sea when the moon is full. You were lucky.”
“Yes, dear Queen, I was lucky, because I have been seeing your castle in my dreams since I was a child. I am Daniel, a fisherman’s son. When I was a little boy, I once found a small, glittering slipper on the seashore after a storm. Ever since, I have been urged by an unknown inner voice and a mysterious longing to set out for the Magic Island. For a long time, I managed to resist the temptation, and stayed at home with my parents. The other night, though, when I saw your castle floating on the horizon like a bright torch, I could ignore my desire no longer. Still, I would never have reached your island without the fairy Wavelet. What has she done that she is no longer allowed to join you?”
“Wavelet once deeply offended the Queen of the Sea, Serena, because she became friends with the Storm King, the enemy of all sea fairies. To punish her, Serena took away her pink veil, and Wavelet is not allowed among us until Serena forgives her. The punishment was just, and so it may be a long time before the Queen of the Sea pardons her misdeed. In the meantime, Wavelet is condemned to a life of loneliness,” explained Benevola. “It’s almost sunrise, Daniel, we have to go. As soon as the day breaks, the rock and the castle will disappear once more beneath the waves. You should get into your boat and hurry home for the magic slipper. Make haste and come back by the next full moon.”
“But how will I find my way back to you over the endless sea?” asked Daniel doubtfully.
“I will gladly let you have my veil,” said Pearl. “Tie it to the bow of your boat, and it will show you the way back to us.”
“Pearl, do you know what will happen if Daniel fails to return with your veil and slipper in time?” asked Benevola gravely. “You will be doomed to remain a white swan forever, and never come back to us.”
“I know, dear Queen,” replied Pearl. “But I believe Daniel will not let me down.”
“Don’t worry,” said Daniel. “I won’t let you down. I’ll be back in time, and I shall bring both your veil and the lost slipper.”
“Well, my brave youth, it is time to go,” said Benevola. “Your boat will take you safely home, for now you are under my protection. But watch out for the Storm King on your way back. I’m quite sure he would love to upset your plans.”
With a deep bow to the Queen and her fairies, Daniel carefully folded Pearl’s veil and hid it in his shirt.
By now day was breaking. The fairies brought Daniel a basket of fragrant fruit for his journey and a cask of fresh spring water, and led him down to the sea. They said their goodbyes and Benevola pushed his boat away from the shore. The boat shot forward like an arrow as if propelled by a magical force. When Daniel turned round, he could no longer see the magic castle. All he saw was Queen Benevola, floating above the surface of the water and waving him farewell.
“Come back safely!” he heard her calling after him.
The sun rose higher, and still the boat sped forward as if it were racing with the wind. By the time the sun had finished its journey across the sky and was sinking in the west, Daniel could see the outline of his native shore. Once again he thought of his parents, but only now did he realize what worry he must have caused them. Still, he was sure that once he told them everything that had happened over the last three days they would forgive him for leaving without a word of farewell.
When he went into the cottage he found his parents in mourning for him, convinced that he had drowned at sea. How happy they were to see him alive! When he had told them his story, his mother said she would never let him undertake such a dangerous journey again, not for anything in the world. But his father said:
“A promise is a promise. The Storm King may be angry with Daniel for his agreeing to help the fairies, but if he doesn’t do what he has promised, he will disappoint not only all the fairies but the Queen of the Sea as well. We must cherish the hope that our son will return home safely from his second voyage, too. He won’t be going there for pleasure, but to help those who often put their own lives at risk in stormy weather to rescue fishermen and sailors in distress.”
Daniel’s mother knew her husband was right, but she still feared for her son.
When Daniel had rested a little and comforted his worried mother, they set about looking for the fairy’s slipper. But it was nowhere to be found.
Time passed mercilessly fast. There were now only ten days left until the full moon, and still no sign of the slipper. Then, one night, Daniel had a strange dream. He dreamt that he saw the fairy Pearl, who asked him whether he had found her slipper.
“No, I haven’t,” he told her sadly.
“You haven’t found it because you haven’t looked for it properly,” said Pearl with a smile. “How could you possibly forget that hiding place where you used to keep all your most valued childhood treasures? Don’t you remember? The little cave in the hills behind your cottage – it was your enchanted kingdom that only you knew about. And only you can find the way back to it. When you wake up tomorrow morning, listen to my advice and set out for the hills. There you will find what here you have searched for in vain. Hurry, Daniel, or I will have to remain a white swan for ever.”
When Daniel woke up next morning, he thought it had all been the nocturnal ramblings of a tired mind. But when, after yet another day spent searching the cottage, he again failed to find the slipper, he set out to look where Pearl had sent him in his dream – back to the enchanted haunts of his half-forgotten childhood.
For a long time he wandered about the hills until he finally found the entrance to the little cave, now almost completely overgrown with brambles. Bending down, he managed to squeeze inside. It was dark inside the cave, but still Daniel dimly saw, through the spiders’ webs and dust, his childhood treasures lying on a rocky ledge – and among them, something glittering. He blew off the dust and it shone just as it once did, even in the gloom of the cave. At last he had found what he was looking for. Silently thanking Pearl for her advice, he crawled carefully out of the cave and hurried happily home.
That very evening he began to prepare for the journey. This time he took ample supplies of food and drinking water with him, and tied Pearl’s veil to the bow of the boat.
Early in the morning he said goodbye to his dear parents, and set out. Pearl’s veil was a good pilot, the sea was calm, and the journey passed quickly. Daniel didn’t even feel tired. The task before him urged him steadily onward.
Just when the Magic Island seemed within reach, the sky suddenly grew menacingly dark, and high, foaming waves appeared. A storm was approaching. There was a clap of thunder and the first flash of lightning lit up the summer sky. The waves seized the boat and tossed it in all directions. Pearl’s veil no longer showed the way, and Daniel was left at the mercy of the raging sea. It was now so dark that he could not even see his hand in front of his face, and the storm was so fierce that he could no longer row. Suddenly a huge wave threw the boat high into the air, capsizing it. Another giant wave seized Daniel and cast him up on a small island. When another flash of lightning lit up the sky, Daniel saw that the island was in fact just one bare rock, which he would never be able to leave without a boat. He also knew that whoever had set this trap for him could not be far away.
“Now what?” he thought.
All at once he heard a mocking voice behind him:
“Welcome, dear boy, welcome! I’ve been waiting a long time for you. I’ve been longing to upset your plans.”
Daniel turned to see a scowling little man with a long beard of silver spume. It was the Storm King.
“What do you want, and why have you detained me on my journey?” asked Daniel.
“Well, Daniel, I always enjoy tormenting people. I’m going to keep you here until you give me Pearl’s slipper,” thundered the Storm King.
“You’ll never get that from me,” Daniel replied defiantly.
“Won’t I? Then you’ll remain my prisoner until the next full moon, and Pearl will stay a white swan for ever,” said the Storm King, bellowing with laughter. “No one can defy me. Neither the fairies, nor even their queen Benevola herself, can get you out of here. But you still have time to change your mind.”
“I’ve already told you I would rather stay here than betray my friends,” Daniel replied firmly.
Angrily, the Storm King waved his trident and disappeared into the foaming sea.
Hardly had he done so than the fairy Wavelet appeared before Daniel.
“Wavelet! What are you doing here?” he asked in amazement.
“I have come to help you, Daniel. But first I have to find your boat. Otherwise we won’t get very far.”
With this, Wavelet disappeared into the churning waves. A moment later, in a flash of lightning, Daniel saw her approaching in the boat, with Pearl’s veil fluttering at the bow.
“Quick, get in! We should reach the Magic Island in time. Don’t be afraid. Just hurry!”
Daniel jumped into the boat. Wavelet waved her hand, but the boat stayed where it was as if chained. Behind them they heard the angry voice of the Storm King:
“Wavelet, who permitted to you to help him?”
“I shall do as I please, Storm King. No one orders me about! If I want to help someone I will. I don’t need your permission.”
“You are forgetting that I am the Storm King and I rule the stormy seas.”
“No, I have not forgotten. For a long time I was your friend and did you many favours. But I paid dearly for that friendship. The Queen of the Sea herself grew angry with me, and now I am not even allowed to set foot on the Magic Island and see my friends. I hope that you too have not forgotten our friendship, and therefore will not stop this boat from setting forth.”
“Daniel will never again be allowed to set foot on the Magic Island. So I decree, and so it will be,” replied the king angrily.
“Is that your last word, Storm King? In that case, take your present back,” said Wavelet, taking off her golden belt and giving it to the king.
“Don’t you remember? You promised to grant my every wish if I ever wanted to return your gift. So take it now, and keep your promise. Let Daniel go.”
“Have you considered what you are asking, Wavelet? Anyone who returns a gift of mine is no longer my friend.”
“Yes, I know what awaits me. But I insist.”
“Well then, I shall keep my promise. You asked a favour for the boy, not for yourself. Daniel is free to go, but you will have to stay here on the island for ever. And remember, we are no longer friends! Benevola and her fairies disdain you for your betrayal, and I hate you. You are all alone. Still, you have one more chance to save yourself. Take back your foolish wish and we will be friends again.”
“No, I shall not take back my wish. I have already been punished enough for our friendship. Hurry, Daniel, you must sail to the island on your own. Tell our Queen Benevola that I am very sorry for what I did. I would also like to apologize to Queen Serena for my foolishness, but now it is too late,” sighed Wavelet sadly.
At that moment the sea swelled up, and in front of Wavelet appeared a beautiful, smiling, silver-haired lady with a shining crown on her head. It was Serena, the Queen of the Sea herself. In her hand she held a pink veil which she gave to Wavelet with the words:
“The Queen of the Sea not only punishes justly, but is even happier to forgive those who repent their ill deeds and deserve her forgiveness. Wavelet, you have persuaded me that you have a good heart, and so I forgive you. Always help those who need it. In this way you will best show that you deserved my forgiveness. Take Daniel to the Magic Island and go back to your friends. And say hello to Benevola for me.”
“Thank you, dear Queen! Never again will I make you angry,” said Wavelet. She knelt before the Queen of the Sea, who covered her with the pink veil.
“Rise, Wavelet, you are free again,” said Serena with a radiant smile.
The Storm King, who had been watching this scene angrily, said:
“Why does everyone hate me and love you?”
“Do good deeds, and help and forgive others as we do. If you do that, then everyone will love you, too,” said the Queen of the Sea. With that she waved goodbye and disappeared.
“Good deeds! Huh! If people can’t love me as I am, then at least they must fear me! I’ll show them yet who’s king of the sea,” the Storm King shouted angrily. And with a wave of his trident he disappeared into the depths of the ocean.
By now Daniel’s boat was far away and the sea around him calm and peaceful. At Wavelet’s command, the boat flew forward like a bird, and there was no need to row. The journey passed quickly and by evening they had reached the Magic Island. But when they got out of the boat and Daniel looked around, there was no sign of the rainbow castle.
“Where is the Magic Castle?” he asked Wavelet, disappointed. “Have all our efforts been in vain?”
“Don’t be so impatient, Daniel, and wait a little. When the first evening star appears you will see a miracle. Pull your boat up onto the shore, and rest. I shall be back for you soon.”
Daniel did as Wavelet said. He sat down in the soft, cool grass on the shore and looked longingly at the dusky sky. As soon as the sun had set, and the evening star appeared above his head, the Magic Castle began to rise slowly above the surface of the water. First its slender towers, then the roof and battlements, and finally the white walls with their high windows appeared. The whole castle had now emerged above the surface of the lake. In the light of the full moon, the castle’s rainbow glow lent a fairy-tale splendour to everything around it. At that moment Wavelet appeared in front of Daniel again.
“Are you happy, Daniel?” she asked. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Wavelet, it’s very beautiful. I know I’m mad to ask, but I would love to see the inside of the castle. It must be splendid.”
“It truly is – but as you know, no human is allowed to set foot inside. That is why the castle is guarded by the magic lake.”
As they spoke, fountains suddenly began to play all around them. The castle gates opened, and from within floated the sound of gentle music. Slowly the fairies started to descend the stairs to the lake. The white swan glided towards them. Without her veil, Pearl could not become a fairy even at night. The fairies talked to her lovingly, comforting her and stroking her white wings.
The last to appear from the castle was Queen Benevola. She stepped slowly down the alabaster stairs to the lake, but this time her smile was not so joyous. Now her beautiful face was touched with fear and sadness. She asked all the fairies in turn whether they had come across Daniel’s boat on the sea, but none of them had seen Daniel since his last visit. The Queen’s fears grew. The Storm King must have marred his voyage to the Magic Island.
Suddenly, happy voices were heard close by. The bushes parted and Wavelet emerged, followed by Daniel carrying Pearl’s veil and a small slipper.
“You no longer have anything to fear, dear Queen. I have come to return to Pearl her lost freedom. However, without the help of the Queen of the Sea and the fairy Wavelet, I could never have returned in time. It is to them you owe thanks,” added Daniel humbly.
Then he told Benevola about all his adventures at sea. The happy fairies surrounded them and welcomed Wavelet joyfully. Daniel handed Pearl’s veil to Queen Benevola, who spread it over the white swan. In an instant the beautiful fairy Pearl appeared before them. Daniel gave her back her missing magic slipper.
“Put it on quickly, Pearl, so that it protects you from the Storm King. But next time be more careful,” he said seriously.
“Daniel, let me thank you for all you have been through for me. What would you like as a reward? Tell me – I will gladly grant your every wish.”
“Dearest Pearl – my long-cherished wish, my childhood dream, has already been fulfilled. At last I have been able to see your Magic Castle. I ask for nothing else. I am glad I could help you, and now I will be glad to return to my parents. I am quite satisfied.”
“Is there really nothing else you have always wished to have, Daniel?”
“No, I’m overjoyed just to see you all happily together. God grant you may always remain united.”
Queen Benevola had been following their conversation attentively. When Daniel finished speaking, she addressed him:
“I heard you saying you ask nothing for your help, Daniel. I am impressed by your generosity. You have a good and loving heart, and you are a courageous youth. Even if you ask for no reward, you deserve one, so I shall reward you all the same. You put your life at risk to protect one of us, but also to fulfil your long-held dream. Never forget your dreams, Daniel. All human achievements were born of desires and dreams. Your dreams will take you closer and closer to the stars. However, I know that one of your wishes still remains unfulfilled, and it is only modesty that prevents you from voicing it. May that wish of yours come true as well.”
Benevola turned towards the castle and waved her hand. In the twinkling of an eye, the white alabaster staircase once more slid down to the water, and a slender bridge appeared across the lake. Daniel’s face lit up with a happy, almost childlike smile.
“Come, Daniel, we do not have much time,” said Benevola. She took him by the hand and together they crossed the bridge and walked up the stairs to the castle, followed by the happy throng of fairies. They passed through the castle gates and entered a courtyard where beautiful fountains cascaded into a basin in the shape of a large shell, fringed by enchanting flowers. As the glittering droplets fell on the surface of the water they wove sparkling garlands of every imaginable colour.
From the courtyard they proceeded down a long corridor that led to the castle chambers, each one more beautiful than the other. Their light pastel walls were delicately inlaid with mother-of-pearl and shells of every colour and shape, creating vivid floral patterns on the ceilings, walls and floors. All the vessels, glasses and bowls were also made of shells and other treasures from the sea. The crystal chandeliers gleamed with strings of bright coral and milky-white pearls. In the middle of each room was a large fountain, and all around the walls were tall, slender windows overlooking the sea. Their translucent curtains were decorated with tiny fish scales that glittered like jewels in the candlelight.
Daniel wandered through the castle in enchantment, hardly knowing where to look first. At times he wondered if he were dreaming. Only when he heard Benevola’s voice did he know for sure that it was not all a dream – that he was actually inside the fairy castle.
“Well, Daniel, how do you like it here?”
“Dear Queen, there is more beauty here than I have ever seen or shall ever see in my life again. I shall never forget the Magic Island. The image of your kingdom will remain in my heart forever.”
Benevola smiled at him kindly. Then she took a large oyster shell from a table, breathed lightly on it, and gave it to Daniel, saying:
“The picture will not only be in your heart. You can also show it to your loved ones.”
Daniel looked at the shell and could hardly believe his eyes. In the mother-of-pearl that lined it, the queen’s breath had conjured up a picture of the Magic Castle, fountains and all, glowing in the night in all its rainbow beauty.
“This is to remember us by, Daniel. Keep it safe because you will never see our castle in the sea again.”
Then the fairy Pearl approached him. In her hand she held a beautiful fishing net.
“Here is a small present from me, Daniel, so you won't forget me. I hope it brings you joy, and may it always be full of fish.”
“It’s beautiful, Pearl. You have my sincere thanks, and those of my parents, too.”
The last to address him was the fairy Wavelet.
“Thank you for saving me, Daniel. However, I have nothing to give you but this small bouquet of water flowers. Take them home to your mother. I hope this small but heartfelt present brings her joy.”
As soon as Wavelet finished speaking, a bell started to ring. Gradually, the soft music fell silent, the candles went out, and the fairies began to wrap themselves in their veils. Benevola said:
“Come with me quickly, Daniel. The day is breaking, and that means we must say goodbye. As soon as it is completely light, our castle will sink once again into the depths of the lake.”
As they went down the staircase, the steps vanished behind them one after another, and as soon as they had crossed the bridge, it, too, disappeared. The water started to climb higher and higher up the pearly walls until soon the castle had disappeared from Daniel’s sight altogether.
When they reached the seashore, all the fairies bade him a fond farewell. They quickly stowed supplies for his journey home in the bottom of his boat, and before he could untie it Daniel found himself standing on the island alone with the queen. He had to set off fast, for the sea was beginning to flood the island. As he was getting ready to leave, Benevola said:
“You no longer need to be afraid of anything, dear Daniel. Before long you will be with your parents, who are longing to see you. Give them my very warmest regards; they have brought up a good son. May you always be as noble as you are now! Continue like this, and you will be happy. And now it is time to go. Have a safe journey home!”
“Thank you for everything, dear Queen! I shall miss you all,” said Daniel as he got into the boat.
Benevola waved him goodbye, but the boat had already set off from the shore and was gaining distance. When Daniel looked back, there was no sign of the Magic Island. All about him he could see only the endless expanse of the sea, shining like silver in the rays of the early morning sun.
The boat flew homeward over the calm water like a bird. By evening, Daniel could see his native shore. He was so much looking forward to seeing his parents.
When he entered the cottage they were all overjoyed to see each other again. His mother was especially glad because she no longer had to worry about her son. Daniel told them everything, and then he remembered the presents he had brought back from the Magic Island. The Magic Castle shone out at them from the mother-of-pearl in all its magnificent splendour, just as if it were real. When Daniel’s mother touched Wavelet’s sea flowers with her worn hands, they turned into golden coins. And whenever Daniel went out fishing with Pearl’s net, it always came back full of fish.
These presents meant that the household was never poor again, and Daniel’s family always remembered the kind sea fairies with gratitude. Although the presents had brought Daniel wealth, he never boasted about it. He remained modest forever, and always helped the other fishermen.
Daniel looked after his parents lovingly, and later, when he too married and had children, he looked after his family with the same loving care.
Throughout his life he remembered the wise words of Serena the Sea Queen:
“Make others happy, and you will be happy yourself.”
And so it was. He often told his children and grandchildren about the kingdom of the sea fairies, and of how his great dream had been fulfilled. But never in his life did he see the Magic Castle or the beautiful fairies again.
“True love is inexhaustible. The more you give of it, the more you receive.”
(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
Andrew, Flora and the Garden of Life
Far away, beyond the nine mountains and the nine forests, there was a kingdom ruled by King Henry. He had an only son named Andrew.
Andrew was a clever boy who had been educated by the best teachers in the kingdom and the most eminent royal advisors. When Andrew was eighteen, he knew almost everything that a future king should know. But because he was a wise youth, he also knew that in order to become a really good king he needed to know something that couldn’t be taught by his teachers, and that was to know the people over whom he would one day rule. Therefore he went to the king and said to him:
“Father, I would like to see with my own eyes how our people live, and also to see all the beauty of our kingdom, about which my wonderful teachers have told me. How else am I ever to rule justly and well? I have decided to travel about the country in disguise so that I can find out what people really think, what wishes and desires they have in their hearts, and whether they are happy. Please let me go out into the world to gain some experience. My travels will benefit us both.”
This saddened the king because he loved having his dear son near him, but he had to admit that Andrew was right. Indeed, he himself had once gone out into the world to gain experience. However, that was many years ago, and since his beloved wife had died he had felt very lonely. This had brought him even closer to his son, who was like her in so many ways.
What was he to do? In the end the king yielded to his son’s wish, though with a heavy heart, and blessed him for his long journey. He, too, wanted Andrew to be a good and just king one day, a king who would be loved by his people.
And so the prince began to prepare for his journey. He went to the stables, chose his favourite horse Lucky Star, and put enough food for several days in his knapsack. He said goodbye to his father and early in the morning, before the sun had risen, set out on his first journey alone, unaccompanied by servants. The castle gates clanked shut behind him, and the prince guided his horse into the cool and pleasant forest.
How beautiful it was there! The birds twittered cheerfully in the branches, and the bright sunshine in the glades alternated with the pleasant shade of the trees. Then the forest opened up into a field of ripe corn, whose heavy ears swayed and whispered as if in greeting. Andrew lay down to rest on a pillow of soft, lush grass and gazed up at the white clouds floating overhead. He felt he was in another world. Never before had he seen such wide-open spaces, and he was thrilled to discover how rich and beautiful his native land was.
Everything he saw around him was new, and everything made him happy. The clean, white farmer’s cottages with their red roofs, the pretty little village churches with their bells, and the village people who, although they did not know him, were all so kind and friendly. The world was a brilliantly-coloured mosaic, and Andrew, full of joy, imagined the whole world must be like this.
After he had been wandering for several weeks, he decided to visit a nearby town. He hoped to get there by evening and find somewhere to stay overnight. The path led him through a deep, dark forest, which grew darker with every step he took. There were no flowers, no birds – indeed, not a single living soul. Andrew was a courageous youth who had never been afraid of anything. Nonetheless, a nameless dread now gripped his heart, and he longed to be out of the forest and back in the bright sunshine. But it was getting dark, the sun slid behind the mountain-tops, and there was still no end to the forest.
Evening fell and everything was shrouded in darkness. Andrew got off his horse, took him by the reins, and made his way cautiously over the tree roots and stones. There was no moon, not even a star to light his path. He was almost ready to stop and spend the night in the forest when he saw a tiny light flickering in the distance.
“Where there is a light, there are people,” he said to himself, and set off with his horse in the direction of the light. A little later they found themselves in a small clearing, in the middle of which there stood a cottage. Its window shone welcomingly in the dark night like a bright star.
Andrew knocked on the door, and before long it was opened by an old man with a long white beard that reached below his waist. In his hand he held a wooden mace richly decorated with intricate carvings. Andrew asked if he and his horse could spend the night there. The old man nodded, and led Andrew into a small but comfortable room with a pleasant fire flickering in the grate. Then he led the horse off to the stable to feed and water him. When he returned he saw that Andrew was very tired from his long journey, so he brought him a big mug of milk and a large piece of bread. Andrew had had nothing to eat all day and was extremely grateful to his kind host.
The old man watched Andrew with a kindly smile, and after supper he asked him:
“Well, Andrew, how do you like it here?”
“How do you know me?” the prince replied, amazed. “We’ve never met before.”
“How could I not know you, dear boy? Not only do I know you, but I know your father, King Henry, and I knew your mother, Queen Mary, as well.”
“Who are you?” asked Andrew in astonishment.
“I am Life. I cannot tell you my secret. Even if I did, you wouldn’t understand, just like all those who have visited me before.”
“Where am I?” Andrew asked uncertainly.
“You are at home, dear boy, because my home is everywhere. No one who looks for me can ever find me because I travel alone, and enter your lives unexpectedly and uninvited. But I am present everywhere.”
Andrew wanted to ask more questions, but he was interrupted by a magical glow that suddenly lit up the room. It was as if the sun’s rays had suddenly streamed into the cottage. Before he could recover from his surprise, a beautiful girl stood before of him. She was lovelier than any of the girls he had seen at the royal court. Enchanted, Andrew gazed at her as if she were a vision, afraid even to move lest he frighten her away. He had fallen in love with her at first sight.
“Welcome, Andrew,” said the girl, smiling sweetly. When she saw how awkward he felt, she held out her little hand, which was white as alabaster, in a friendly welcome.
“Who are you, beautiful maiden?” asked the prince.
“I am Happiness, Andrew, but my father Life calls me Flora because I love flowers and like to help him in his garden.”
Andrew felt that this girl, and no other, was the one he would love for the rest of his life, and that he could not live without her. Even if he travelled the whole wide world, nothing would change the feeling of love which burned in his heart.
“Flora, will you be my wife, and come with me to the castle? They will all love you. We will rule together over our beautiful country so that gardens of happiness will bloom everywhere. You will never feel homesick, I promise.”
“I am sorry, Andrew, I cannot do that. I have other, more important tasks to carry out in this world. I cannot leave my father. He would have to do everything on his own. Go home, and forget all about me.”
“I cannot leave without you, my love. If you cannot leave your father, take him with you to the castle. I shall be glad to help you with your tasks. But now that I have found you, dearest heart, I cannot lose you.”
“You cannot help me, Andrew, since my tasks are much too difficult, and no mortal is able to perform them.”
“Flora, please just tell me what I should do,” Andrew insisted. “I will gladly undergo any trial to win you, and no task will be too difficult for me.”
“Alright Andrew, since you are so insistent, my tasks are these: to wipe away the tears of suffering from the faces of the unhappy, and to breathe hope, happiness, and new life into the souls of the sad and broken-hearted.”
“Dear Flora,” replied Andrew, “it is also my great wish to make the people of this country happy. Just tell me what I need to do, and how I can help you with your work.”
Flora turned to her father: “May I?”
The old man spoke:
“Andrew, since my beloved daughter is asking something on your behalf, I do not wish to stand in the way, and hurt her kind, loving heart. Try to win her love then, though your task will not be as easy as it may seem at first sight. Listen well to what I am about to tell you. I have several children. Besides Flora, who brings everyone happiness, I have other daughters named Love, Hope, Faith and Harmony, but they have other missions in the lives of humans. However, I also have daughters named Envy, Hate and Anger, and a son named Grief. These other children of mine forever ruin the work of my youngest and dearest daughter. Flora has to fight with them for human happiness. Love, Hope and Faith help her in the battle, but they have enough of their own work to do in the world. Flora’s help is needed everywhere, even in my garden. It would be difficult for her to stay in one place. So now, Andrew, you see that your task is far from easy. If you help one person, five others will envy him for it.”
“But allow me at least to try to make my people happy and content, no matter how hard a task it is,” said the king’s son.
“Very well, Andrew, since you are so determined, I consent. When your country is completely happy, you will be allowed to take Flora to the castle to live with you as your wife. Do you agree?”
Andrew looked into Flora’s sky-blue eyes, and said:
“For you, Flora, I will gladly undergo any trial or tribulation. I would gladly give even my life if I thought it would make you happy.”
“Let it be as you wish. The trial begins now!” said Life, and waved his mace. Immediately, Andrew was shrouded in darkness. When he looked about him again, he was standing in a meadow next to his horse. The moon sailed through the sky casting a thin, pale light all around. There was no sign of the forest, the clearing or the cottage. Andrew was just about to lie down in the meadow to sleep when he heard the voice of his beloved:
“Andrew, it is me, Flora. I miss you, and I want to help you because you will never manage your task without me. I also love you with all my heart, and would like to be your wife. Take these three presents: a magic purse, a wand, and a whistle. Each will serve you well on your journey. The purse will always be full of gold and silver, the wand has a magic power to give back life, and when things are at their very worst you must play the whistle. But don’t forget you are only allowed to use the whistle three times. When you blow the whistle, I will come and help you.”
Andrew embraced Flora tenderly.
“Thank you, my love. I will not disappoint you. I will prove to your father that I really do deserve you.”
“I believe you, Andrew,” said Flora. Then, picking two herbs, she gave them to the horse.
“If you are ever in a hurry, your horse will help you,” she said, gently stroking Lucky Star’s mane. The horse turned his head towards her as if he understood, and neighed. Then Flora gave Andrew her hand in farewell, but before he could respond she was gone like a puff of air. He called after her, but in vain. She did not reappear.
As soon as the first warming rays of the morning sun lit up the earth, Andrew mounted his faithful horse and started on his journey. He rode and rode until he came to a village where most of the cottages had been destroyed by a great fire. All around could be heard the groans and cries of the villagers. When Andrew saw the tragedy that had befallen them, he took the gold coins from his magic purse and shared them out among the poor people.
New cottages soon sprang up, and sorrow was replaced by joy. The villagers had no idea that their saviour was their future king.
Thereafter, Andrew travelled throughout the country helping everyone in need. Once, his travels took him through a deep forest. He reached a wooden cottage where a woodcutter lived with his wife and children. From inside came the sounds of weeping and wailing. The prince got off his horse and went up to the cottage to see what was the matter. On a bed inside he saw a dying man, who had been fatally injured by a falling tree. His wife and seven children stood around his bed crying. The poor man, the breadwinner of his large family, was beyond human help. Andrew approached the bed and touched the woodcutter with his magic wand. The wand healed the wounds, but it could not revive the man. It was too late. Then the prince blew his whistle and a miracle happened: the man opened his eyes as if he had simply been asleep. He had completely recovered. The children ran to Andrew and embraced him, thanking him for saving their father. Andrew gave them enough money to ensure that the family would never be poor again. Then he said goodbye and continued on his journey.
For several years he rode the length and breadth of his country, always stopping where help was needed most – at the dwellings of the poor and the mansions of the rich, in villages and towns. The magic wand and the purse full of money always served him well.
One day, however, he came to a poor, tumbledown cottage where two little orphans were crying over their dead mother. Neither the purse nor the magic wand could dispel their desperate grief. The children were all alone in the world – abandoned, without love, help or protection. Andrew took pity on them, and blew his magic whistle for the second time. At once their mother came to life again. And at the same moment, Andrew heard Flora warning him:
“Remember, Andrew, you can only ask me for help just one more time, and still you have so many tasks ahead of you.”
But the sight of the two children toddling happily towards their mother warmed the prince’s heart.
So Andrew travelled on through the world, on and on, with still no thought of returning home. And as he went he encountered both the good things of life and the bad. He now understood what the old man Life meant. On many occasions he saw for himself how little love there was among people, and how much anger, envy, and sorrow there was in the world.
One day he came to a town where everyone was dressed in black. When he asked at an inn what had happened, he was told that King Henry, his father, had died. Andrew stood rooted to the spot as if struck by lightning. When he had recovered enough to grasp the full impact of the news, he went back outside to his horse and wept bitterly. All this time he had been taking care of other people, helping everyone he could, and now, suddenly, he was at an utter loss. He decided to go home immediately so that he could see his father one last time before he was laid to his rest. He had completely forgotten that he could ask Flora for help. All of a sudden, his faithful horse turned his head to him, and whispered in a human voice:
“Master, all is not yet lost. Get onto me quickly and hold tight. I shall take a path we have never taken before.”
As soon as Andrew was in the saddle, Lucky Star flew up into the sky like a bird. Together they sailed over the countryside. Below them the forests, hills, towns, and villages rushed by until the horse landed next to a forest which Andrew recognized at once.
“On the other side of this forest is your home,” said Lucky Star.
Indeed, hardly were they out of the forest when Andrew saw his family castle on top of the hill. Black flags fluttered from every tower. As soon as the castle guards and servants saw the king’s son coming, they came out to greet him, weeping bitterly, and together they went to the castle chapel. Andrew’s father was lying on a high pedestal in front of the altar in the pale light of many candles. Andrew knelt at his head and, grieving deeply, kissed his dear father’s face and stroked his silver hair. At that very moment he remembered Flora, and decided to blow the silver whistle for the last time. Immediately, Flora appeared in front of him. He took her hand beseechingly:
“Flora, please bring my father back to life.”
The Fairy of Happiness smiled sweetly at Andrew, stroked the king’s head with her alabaster hand, and disappeared.
To everyone’s amazement King Henry came back to life. He could not believe he had been dead, and felt as if he had merely gone to sleep. He was so happy to see his son alive and well in front of him. Andrew told him about everything he had seen on his travels. The old king praised him for his selflessness – indeed, he could rightly be proud of his son. And so he happily agreed to accompany Andrew on his journeys around their kingdom.
While travelling in their carriage through the country, they were both delighted to see their people happy and content. All their subjects told them about the brave young man who had saved them so selflessly, and many only now realized that he was the king’s son, their future ruler.
One day they came to a clearing where Andrew saw a frail old woman, doubled over with age, sitting on a tree stump. He greeted her warmly, and she replied:
“I’ve been waiting for you a long time. My daughter has chosen you for her husband.”
Andrew laughed and replied:
“I’ve had a bride for a long time, but if you insist, then take me to your daughter since she wants to be my wife so much.”
King Henry and Prince Andrew stepped down from the carriage and followed the old lady until they reached a small cottage. She showed them into the parlour and they sat down. Suddenly Andrew felt he had been in the room before. He leapt to his feet and went back into the hall to ask the old lady who she was. When she showed him her face he stepped back in amazement. She was no longer a frail old lady but his beloved, young and beautiful Flora.
“Darling Flora,” said Andrew, embracing her tenderly. “I had an idea you were testing me.”
Hand in hand they went back into the parlour. King Henry was greatly pleased to see Andrew’s beautiful bride, and was happy to bless them both. Then they got ready to go back to the castle.
Suddenly, they heard heavy steps outside and the old man Life appeared in the door. After welcoming the two guests, he said:
“You have done well, Andrew, and passed all the trials. Your deeds have shown that you truly deserve my daughter. Flora may become your wife since you both wish it so much.”
Then he turned to his daughter:
“I shall not try to talk you out of your decision, dear Flora, because you too have the right to your own love and happiness. However, I am very anxious for you. In the world of humans, everything will seem strange to you, and deceit and disappointment will hurt you as much as a sudden transplanting damages tender plants. If you ever feel sad, my daughter, remember your old father whose one real joy you were, and who will always love you. Remember, you can always come back to me.”
When the old man Life had finished speaking, he shook everyone’s hand warmly, waved his magic mace, and the cottage with its garden vanished into thin air. King Henry, Andrew, and Flora stood alone beside the royal carriage.
They all got into the carriage and cheerfully rode back to the castle. There was a grand wedding followed by joyful celebrations which lasted several days. Everyone was happy, and it seemed that nothing could spoil their happiness.
After the celebrations life at the castle resumed its daily course. Andrew was overjoyed to have his beloved Flora by his side at last. However, Flora was not entirely happy at the castle. With every passing day she seemed to be fading away and losing her former cheerfulness. She stopped singing and taking walks in the beautiful castle gardens, and sat instead at the window deep in thought, gazing sadly into the blue distance. Her eyes lost their sparkle, her cheeks became pale as wax, but she never complained to Andrew as she did not want to hurt him, knowing how much he loved her.
Andrew at first hoped that Flora would get used to living in the castle, and tried all sorts of ways to cheer her up. Soon, however, he saw how deep her melancholy was. One day, as they were sitting together in the rose bower in the garden, he asked her what was troubling her, and how he could help. Flora was reluctant to tell him the truth for fear of hurting him, but when he insisted, she at last said:
“I miss my home and my dear father. Please find him, Andrew, and tell him I am thinking of him all the time. Ask him to send me the magic mirror which hangs on the wall in my room. Once I have this mirror, I will be able to be with him all the time.”
The very next morning Andrew set out. Deep in thought, he rode through the forest, letting Lucky Star go whichever way he chose. He knew that the old man Life would appear at the right moment. Suddenly, there stood before him a beautiful girl who closely resembled his wife: it was her sister Envy, who invited him to visit her home. At first Andrew hesitated. Then, not wishing to offend Flora’s sister, he accepted the invitation.
They walked through the forest together until they came to a clearing where stood a beautiful house with a large garden. A little stream ran past it through the green moss. However, when Andrew tried to drink from it, he found that the water was warm and salty.
“Don’t drink it, Andrew, or you will be unhappy all your life,” said Envy. “These are human tears. The stream belongs to our brother Grief. He’s not at home much, though. He has a lot of work to do in the world.”
Two more of Flora’s sisters came out of the house to meet them. They were Hate and Anger. When Andrew had greeted them all, they asked him where he was heading for. He told them that Flora was ill, and that he was looking for their father to ask him for help. The sisters smiled strangely at Andrew’s tale, and when he had finished, Envy picked a beautiful red rose, sprinkled it with water from the stream, and gave it to Andrew.
“Take this rose to Flora as a present from us. It is sure to make her feel well again, but don’t say a word to our Father about the present.”
The sisters accompanied him back to the path. Suspecting nothing, Andrew put the rose carefully into his knapsack. Then he said goodbye to the sisters, and rode on through the forest.
On and on he rode until suddenly he heard a familiar voice behind him.
“Are you looking for me, Andrew?”
Andrew turned to see Flora’s father.
“I know why you are here,” said Life. “Flora is homesick and thinks the magic mirror will make her feel better. Let’s go into the cottage.”
Everything in the cottage was just the same as before. They went into Flora’s room and Life gave Andrew the small mirror.
“Whoever looks into this mirror and thinks of a person dear to him, will see that person in the mirror, no matter how far away they are,” he said.
Andrew took the mirror and immediately thought of his wife Flora. What he saw in the mirror filled him with grief. Flora, pale and motionless, was lying in bed surrounded by many eminent doctors and wise men whom his father had summoned from all over the world. At the back of the room stood King Henry, looking very sad – he truly loved his young, kind-hearted daughter-in-law. Andrew realized that Flora was indeed very ill, and wanted to set off home at once so that he could be with her. But father Life held him back.
“No, Andrew. You won’t get home in time. In a few moments your wife is going to die.”
Andrew’s heart filled with anguish at the thought of losing his beloved wife. He put his head in his hands, and wept bitterly.
“Can I really not help Flora in any way?”
Seeing his despair, the old man took pity on him.
“Maybe it is not yet too late. Come on, Andrew, quick!”
They hurried out of the cottage and Life took Andrew into a large garden where the air was heavy with all kinds of scents. In one part, a beautiful rose garden stretched away as far as the eye could see. In another part, there were flowers of all kinds, colours, and sizes. At the garden gate there stood a huge linden tree covered with blossom, its fresh green branches reaching far out all around it.
“This beautiful, healthy tree has been standing here since time began. It is a symbol of the soul of your people. As long as it remains alive, the people of your country will not perish,” said Life, opening the gate.
“No mortal has ever set foot in here, Andrew. This rose garden is the garden of human life, and that smaller garden, full of different kinds of flowers, is the garden of life of all other living creatures on earth. My daughter Flora used to help me look after it.
“Both parts of my garden are often plagued by terrible insects, and almost every plant has some sort of hidden disease. However, I do not have the right to lengthen or shorten the days of anyone’s life, and so I am not allowed to remove any flaw myself, even if I know about it. I take good care of all the plants, and water them, but otherwise I leave them completely free to grow and flower as they wish.”
They stepped carefully through the rose garden so as not to damage any of the bushes. Suddenly Life stopped in front of a particularly large rose bush.
“Look, Andrew, each flowering bush represents one family. The big, flowering branches are the parents and the slender, delicate shoots are the lives of their children.
“Whenever a child is born somewhere in the world, a new shoot springs to life and a rose bud appears on it. The same thing happens if a bridegroom or a bride joins a family. The offspring is fresh and green until that person dies; then the bloom wilts and the branch dies.”
Father Life headed towards the very centre of the rose garden where the roses had the most beautiful blooms and colours, and said:
“Here is your family’s bush, Andrew.”
Andrew looked at the rose bush closely. One old, strong branch was still flowering, and had fresh green leaves. To it there clung a second, smaller branch, but this one was completely dry. That was the branch of the life of his dead mother, Queen Mary. There were also two young, green branches. Both were well-grown, and had plenty of blooms, but one of them was wilting before his very eyes. Its leaves and blooms drooped down sadly ever closer to the earth.
“That is Flora’s life,” said the old man sorrowfully. “When this branch dies, your wife will die, too.”
“That must not happen,” cried Andrew in despair, and began to examine the wilting branch leaf by leaf. Soon he found the cause of Flora’s illness. Further down, almost at the ground, the twig was being eaten away by a large, ugly, black worm. Shuddering in disgust, Andrew pulled it off the plant and crushed it underfoot. Then he fetched some water from the lake in the garden, and sprinkled it over the wilting branch. At once it revived, as if waking from a bad dream, straightened its leaves, blooms, and buds, and recovered. Straight away Andrew looked in the mirror. Flora was sitting up in bed, smiling. She was saved, and so was Andrew’s happiness.
Then the old man Life said:
“I knew well that Flora’s life was being eaten away by the worm of sorrow, but I wasn’t allowed to help her although she is my dearest daughter. That is why I brought you here so that you could save her yourself. However, Flora is not yet completely well. She is missing the water of happiness in which she used to wash when she still lived with me, and helped the suffering. But I cannot give it to her since the water must be always fresh; otherwise it loses its magical powers. I can advise you, though. Go to the crystal spring where the water of happiness rises, and ask the water sprite Caelia, the guardian of the spring, to help you.”
Then Life embraced Andrew, and said:
“Thank you for saving my daughter. Now ride on until your horse strikes a hoof against a large stone. Then take thirty steps towards where you hear a cuckoo calling. There you will find the magic spring. I wish you much happiness, Andrew. Give my blessing to your love, and remember me to your father. May you live happily with my daughter! You and I shall not meet again. Never tell anyone about what you have seen here.”
With this, Life waved goodbye and disappeared.
Andrew did just what father Life had told him, and before long he was standing at a small pool – the magic spring. He leaned over its crystal-clear surface and called:
“Caelia, please help me!”
The surface of the pool rippled and there emerged a beautiful girl holding a small bunch of blue forget-me-nots. The water sprite listened kindly to Andrew’s request and said:
“Welcome, Andrew. I shall gladly grant your wish. Flora is a good friend of mine, and I often think of her. Wait here – I shall be back in no time.”
The water swirled, and Caelia disappeared. When she reappeared above the surface, she was holding a small crystal bottle which she gave to Andrew.
“When you return home, sprinkle this water in a shady spot in the castle garden, and give all my love to Flora. I wish you both much happiness.” With these words, she disappeared into the water.
Andrew put the little bottle carefully in his knapsack, mounted Lucky Star, and raced off home like the wind. He could hardly wait to be reunited with Flora and his father. The journey passed quickly, and before long he saw the family castle perched on its hill. As he rode cheerfully through the castle gate he was welcomed by all his subjects, and by Flora and King Henry. He told Flora how he met her father, and took the small mirror and the crystal bottle out of his knapsack.
They all went to the castle garden. Andrew sprinkled the water from the bottle over a plot of green grass in the shade of several large trees. Immediately, there burst forth a small spring of crystal-clear water. Flora leaned over it, collected some of its cool water in her cupped hands, and washed her face. At once the colour returned to her cheeks. Then she sprinkled Andrew and King Henry with the magic water, and their hearts were refreshed. Every eye was bright with joy at the happy reunion.
As they were about to go back inside, Andrew remembered the present from Flora’s sisters and took the rose out of his knapsack. Just as he was about to give it to his wife, a sudden gust of wind tore it from his hand and blew it into the magic spring. No sooner had the rose touched the water of happiness than it changed into a black raven, which flew away, croaking loudly.
“What a strange present, my darling,” said Andrew, taken aback.
“That rose would have killed me,” replied Flora sadly, but in her heart she could not bring herself to hate her sisters, even though they had wished her ill instead of helping her. An evil deed cannot be answered by evil, as many people foolishly think, because two wrongs do not make a right. Just as we should do good deeds so, too, we should learn to forgive evil ones, otherwise the world will never become a better place. That was Flora’s message.
With Flora’s recovery happiness returned to the castle. Andrew became a good and just king to his people, and in all matters sought his wise wife’s advice. People thronged to the young queen, who without fail helped them overcome their hardships and sorrows. Thus happiness reigned throughout the land ever after. For they had indeed been blessed by Life, and truly deserved their happiness.
“In concerning ourselves with the happiness of others, we find our own.”
Brave Wenceslas and the Golden Star of the Gnomes
Long ago, on Christmas Eve, a little boy was born in a small cottage in the mountains where the snow reached up to the roof. His parents named him Wenceslas. His mother laid him in his cradle just as the clock on the church tower struck midnight.
The years passed and all was well. Wenceslas’ father worked in the silver mines, and took good care of his family. When he came home from work, he would always find time for his little son. He would sit him on his knee and tell him about the hard work in the mines, and about the little gnomes, whose mischievous, cheerful characters endeared them to the old miners. He told Wenceslas how the gnomes took care of the treasures hidden deep down in the earth, and how carefully they guarded the lives of the miners. If danger threatened, the gnomes would mark the spot with a little red light. As long as the miners heeded the warning, it often saved their lives.
His father knew how to tell good stories, and little Wenceslas always begged:
“Go on, Daddy, please. How do the gnomes make their light shine?”
“Well, the gnomes shake their lamps, and because gnomes like to stay invisible to us, it looks as if the little red light was jumping up and down by itself.”
“And have you ever seen a gnome, Daddy?”
“Not an actual gnome, Wenceslas. But I have seen the little red light a few times, and it saved me from death, just as it did your grandfather. But now it’s time for bed,” father would say, and carry the little boy off to his room.
The days and years flew by. Wenceslas grew big and strong, but he was still fascinated by the secret of the gnomes. Again and again he asked his father about the little red light and the gnomes, but every time his father said:
“No, I didn’t see them today, Wenceslas.”
Time passed, until one evening when the boy was almost fourteen his father did not come back home from the mine. A wagon piled high with ore had broken loose from the others and killed him on the spot. It all happened so fast that not even the gnomes managed to warn him in time.
Suddenly, the little cottage was shrouded in grief. All Wenceslas’ hopes were gone. His father had promised to send him to the town to study because he was a bright, curious boy, but now all was lost, and poverty descended on the cottage. A hard winter lay ahead for the boy and his mother, who wondered if they would survive on the little money they had.
When Wenceslas saw how worried his mother was, he decided to lighten her burden and take the place of his father in the mine. His mother was at first against the idea, but finally agreed.
His late father’s foreman was impressed by the boy’s courage and love for his mother. He took him on, promising to give him some easy work. Wenceslas was happy to be able to help his mother. Together they spent Sunday altering his father’s mining clothes to fit him, and the next morning the boy set off for his first day at work.
He was a sorry sight, the little miner in his father’s clothes – despite the alterations still a little too big for him – with his lamp dangling from his belt. His cap, with its embroidered miners’ badge of two crossed hammers, flopped down over his eyes. Nevertheless, Wenceslas strode manfully down the road to the mine, accompanied, on this first morning, by his mother. On the way they passed other miners, who nodded cheerfully in greeting.
“God save you!” rang out on all sides.
The miners were moved by the fate of Wenceslas and his mother, and more than one eye shed a large tear.
The foreman was waiting for them. He greeted them heartily and said:
“Come with me, Wenceslas, I’ll give you some easy work. I’ve kept my promise – after all, I was very fond of your father. You’ll be taking the empty wagons and looking after the pony.”
When he saw Wenceslas’ mother’s sad, anxious face, he told her:
“Don’t worry. Wenceslas will be fine with us. The miners will look after for him – he’s the son of their friend. Besides, he’s a sharp boy – I’ve seen that for myself. No harm will come to him. On the contrary – he’ll learn many useful things here.”
They said goodbye to Wenceslas’ mother, got into the cage, pulled the chain, and slowly started to go down. They were a long time descending into the depths of the earth and Wenceslas began to feel frightened. He was so glad to have the old foreman by his side. When the foreman saw how scared Wenceslas was, he squeezed his hand in a fatherly way and smiled kindly.
“Don’t worry, Wenceslas. You’ll soon get used to it down here. It’s just as cheerful as up there on the ground. And in winter it’s even warmer here than it is at home by the stove.”
At last the cage reached the bottom. “Here we are,” said the foreman. In the distance they could hear the clinking of picks. The boy’s eyes were not yet accustomed to the gloom and he stumbled as he followed the foreman, who did his best to comfort him. The tunnels that ran off from the cage on all sides made him feel as if he were in an impenetrable maze.
“Soon you’ll be walking along here just as if you were going down the road, Wenceslas. It’s just a question of getting used to it, you’ll see.”
The clink of the picks grew closer, until they could also hear the miners’ voices. Soon they reached the end of the tunnel.
“Hello, lads,” said the foreman. “I’ve brought you a new helper. This is Wenceslas, your friend’s son. Look after him, and try to make things easy for him.”
He turned to Wenceslas. “And you, listen to the older miners’ advice and keep your wits about you. You’ll soon get used to the work, and on Saturday morning you can come to my office to collect your first wages,” finished the foreman kindly. He shook the boy’s hand warmly and together they walked off down the tunnel.
The miners went back to work and Wenceslas soon started to feel lonely. The picks rang out, and fragments of silver-veined stone fell to the tunnel floor. Now and then a piece would gleam brightly – this was the silver ore. The oldest miner said to Wenceslas:
“First have a good look around. Ivan will be back in a minute. He’ll show you where to go with the empty wagons, and where the pony’s stable is.”
Wenceslas sat down on a rock, picked up a piece of cold stone, and shivered. Suddenly he felt sad. He remembered his mother and the sunlit world somewhere up above. Then, looking back down the dark tunnel along which he had come, he thought he saw a small light in the distance. He was right: a young miner was leading a pit pony harnessed to several wagons. Seeing it had reached the end of the tunnel, the pony neighed in relief. The young man shook Wenceslas’ hand warmly:
“You must be Wenceslas. I”m Ivan. We’re both in the same boat. My father passed away, too. I’ve been looking forward to having you here. It’ll be more fun working together.”
Ivan untied the pony, gave him some water, and put an armful of hay on the ground. Then he sat down next to Wenceslas, and offered him some of his sandwich. But Wenceslas did not feel like eating or talking.
“You’re scared, aren’t you? I was just the same when I started. But look, I’ve been here two years, and nothing terrible has ever happened to me.”
Meanwhile, the miners had loaded the wagons with ore, and the break was over. Ivan harnessed the pony again, and the two boys trudged slowly towards the buffers where the ore was unloaded and sent up to the surface to be smelted. The whole time Wenceslas felt as if strange, savage faces were grinning at him from the tunnel walls, and each noise that came out of the gloom filled him with fear. At last they reached the buffers.
Only now did Wenceslas realize how much effort the miners had to put in before the rock with its sparkling silver veins reached the pulley buckets. When they had filled a bucket with ore, Ivan pulled on a rope, and the men above ground pulled the bucket to the surface.
When they had unloaded all the wagons, they went back to the miners for more ore. On the way, Ivan showed Wenceslas other tunnels. Some of them had not been mined for a long time, and were a two or three hours’ walk long. To Wenceslas they seemed endless. Ivan warned him not to go anywhere alone until he knew the mine well, because he might easily get lost.
During the lunch break Wenceslas got to know the other older miners. They all welcomed him kindly, and told him many stories about the mischievous gnomes in the mine, and what they had been up to. These were the kind of stories they liked to tell young miners, who were still afraid of being underground. They thought they might cheer the boy up a little, but Wenceslas found the stories gave him gooseflesh all over. How he longed for his first shift to end, so he could see the sun and his mother again.
As they made their way back to the buffers after the second break, Wenceslas asked Ivan:
“Do you think there are any gnomes in this mine?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen any. They don’t show themselves to all the miners. But some older miners do say there are gnomes in this mine. They take special care of those young miners whose fathers have died in accidents, and who were born on Christmas Eve. The gnomes make their lives easier by helping them with their work.”
“I was born on Christmas Eve – that must be a good sign. What do you think, Ivan?” asked Wenceslas pensively.
“I’d love it if the old miners’ superstition came true, and the gnomes helped you find some treasure. I know from my own experience how hard it is when your father has passed away. None of us has an easy life ahead. But then I wasn’t born on Christmas Eve,” laughed Ivan.
At last the first shift was over. The boys took the weary pony to his stable – a stall hollowed out of the rock – put some oats in his manger, gave him some water, and finally they made their way up into the orange light of the setting sun. How beautiful it was up there above ground! Wenceslas hurried back to his mother and spent the whole evening reassuring her he had been quite alright down in the mine, and in good company. His mother was glad he had managed so well.
The week flew past, and Wenceslas received his first wages. How proud he was to come home and put the few silver coins, his very first earnings, on the table. His mother put one coin away as a lucky memento.
After a few more weeks Wenceslas felt quite at home in the mine. He gradually got to know all the miners, and often took the pony to the buffers by himself. He even tried working with a pick, but he did not yet have the strength for such work. So he loaded and unloaded the ore, and looked after the pony. All the miners soon grew fond of the quiet, hardworking boy.
And time went by. Up above, on the earth, winter was drawing near. Down in the tunnels, however, it was as pleasantly warm as in the summer sun. Time passed, and Wenceslas had already been working in the mine for almost half a year. He left home early in the morning and returned late in the evening, just as his father had done. December came, and the miners started to look forward to Christmas. Wenceslas was sad – it would be his first Christmas without his father. Still, he looked forward to surprising his mother with a small present.
On Christmas Eve so much snow fell that the miners barely managed to get through the drifts to the mine. None of them wanted to go to work much, and so they all looked forward to the bell at the end of the shift. Ivan was ill that day, so Wenceslas went back and forth with the wagons on his own. When he came for the ore the third time, the miners told him there was no need for him to come back; he should take the pony to its stable, and then wait for them at the cage so they could go up together.
Wenceslas was only too glad to do as they said. He unharnessed the pony, made him comfortable in the stable with several bundles of straw, and fed and watered him. As the miners had still not arrived, he lay down in the straw beside the pony to rest. He expected the miners to appear at any moment, but the bell that signalled the end of the Christmas shift had still not sounded. As Wenceslas watched the flickering light of his lamp in the warm, silent semi-darkness, his eyes started to close, and before long he was asleep.
When the bell finally rang, Wenceslas was fast asleep. He slept so soundly that he did not hear the voices of the miners, nor the clank of the cage as it came down and went back up. By now his lamp had gone out, so when one of the miners came into the stable to see whether Wenceslas was still there he did not see him. They all thought he had gone up before them so as to be at home with his mother all the sooner.
The mine fell silent, and Wenceslas was left underground all alone. Not even the startled neighing of the pony was enough to wake him.
His mother had finished decorating the Christmas tree and making the Christmas Eve dinner hours ago, and was now waiting impatiently for her son to return. Night descended on the village, and thousands of stars came out in the heavens, shining brightly like yellow dandelions in a spring meadow. And still Wenceslas’ mother waited for her son. It was nearly midnight and people were on their way to church for Midnight Mass, but still Wenceslas did not come home.
His mother put a little wood on the fire, then went to the door and looked out. All she could see was silent whiteness. She went back inside, sat down by the fire, and wondered what could have happened to her son. No one had said there had been an accident in the mine that night. All the miners had come back safely to their families and sat down with them for Christmas Eve dinner. Perhaps the foreman, who was fond of Wenceslas, had invited him to dinner. His mother comforted herself a little with that thought.
When the church bell rang for Midnight Mass, Wenceslas suddenly woke up. At first he could not figure out where he was. Only when he heard the pony’s soft whinnying did he realize what had happened. He had fallen asleep in the mine! A shiver ran down his spine and he was gripped by fear. His lamp had long since gone out, and he had no more oil. How would he find the way out? What was he to do?
Wenceslas thought of his mother and, realizing what anxiety he must have caused her on such a happy day, was overcome with grief. He knew he had to get to the buffers, and ring for help. The watchman might hear him – that was his only hope. He left the stable, and trying to remember the way, stumbled along in the direction of the buffers. Walking in the dark was far from easy and frequently he had to stop and rest. He seemed to have been walking for ages, and still there was no end to the path. On and on he went, but there was no sign of the buffers. Suddenly, his hands met a wall of rock. He had come to a dead end.
Tired by his long and fruitless wandering through the impenetrable darkness, he sat down on the ground and closed his eyes. He kept thinking of his mother and wanted to cry. All of a sudden he heard a faint knocking nearby. At the same moment a hole appeared in the wall opposite and a little man with a lamp jumped out. The sight fairly took Wenceslas’ breath away, but he managed to get a good look at the little figure in the flickering lamplight. He did not doubt for a moment that this was a gnome – an inhabitant of the underground kingdom.
The gnome was dressed just like a miner, the only difference being the colour of his clothes – though this might have been an effect of the lamp, which made everything around glow red. His overalls were reddish, and on his head he wore a poppy-coloured cap. Around his waist he had a little hammer and a shovel. His thick, white beard reached below his waist. In his hand he held a little miner’s lamp, but the red light that flickered in it did not come from a burning wick but from a large red stone. The gnome sat down on a rock, rather impatiently, looking as if he was waiting for someone.
After a while, a second little light appeared in another tunnel. As it grew closer, Wenceslas made out another little gnome, who looked exactly the same as the one sitting on the rock close by. The two gnomes shook hands, and sat down facing each other on rocky ledges.
“So, how is our princess? Is she still ill?” asked the first.
“Unfortunately, yes. Since she went blind, she’s been fading away before our eyes,” said the second.
“Listen, Robin,” said the first gnome. “I’ve found a miner who I think could help us.”
“Have you indeed? But what exactly do you mean? Tell me about your plan,” replied Robin.
And Elwin explained: “Not long ago, a young miner called Wenceslas started to work on my passage. His father was a miner before he died. I soon realized Wenceslas was an honourable and hard-working young man, who took good care of his mother. I also know he was born on Christmas Eve, which means he is the most suitable person to save our princess. I know he would like to learn more about us, and our underground kingdom, and I think he deserves to. I’m sure we can trust him. I hope our king will also like him. If Wenceslas manages to restore our princess’ sight, the king of the gnomes will no doubt reward him richly.”
“You did well to find this boy, Elwin. We gnomes are wilting away day by day, too, without our little underground sun. But how can we take Wenceslas to our king without the other miners noticing and spoiling our plans?” asked Robin.
“I’ve thought of that. That’s why I brought the boy here after putting him to sleep in the stable with the scent of a magic flower. Look, he’s sitting over there on that rock – and he’s heard every word we’ve been saying. You can ask him yourself whether he would like to help us with our difficult task, and whether he won’t betray us,” said Elwin.
The two gnomes turned to the astonished boy. “What do you say, Wenceslas?
Would you like to help us save our princess, and the whole of our underground kingdom?” Robin asked.
Only now did Wenceslas understand what had happened to him earlier. However, he also saw that the gnomes had not brought him here just to have fun and tease him, as they liked to do to young, inexperienced miners. They were actually hoping he would help them. He had often heard the miners talking about how gnomes had helped miners in danger, and saved their lives. How could he now refuse to help them? Wenceslas had a kind heart, and so without any further thought he replied:
“I will gladly help you if I have the strength. Tell me what I can do for you.”
The gnomes smiled happily. “Thank you, Wenceslas, in the name of our king. Before we can tell you our secret, though, you have to swear that you will not tell anyone in the world the purpose of your journey. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” answered Wenceslas, and as proof of his vow of loyalty and silence he shook their hands.
Then Elwin continued: “Listen, Wenceslas, to what has happened in our kingdom, and why we so much need your help. Our princess Dawn, the only daughter of our king Hreidmar, is very beautiful, good and kind, and always willing to help anyone in need. The king and all of us adore her for her goodness. For a long time her life was carefree and happy. Her main task was to keep the holy fire burning in the golden hearth. This holy fire is for us as important as the golden sun is for you humans. For centuries it has lit our underground kingdom and given us strength.
“One day, however, Dawn found a wounded miner whose foot had been badly crushed by a rock, and who would have certainly died without her help. She was determined to save him.
However, it took the miner a long time to recover, and during that time he told her how beautiful it was up above ground. He persuaded her to come with him and see that earthly beauty, if only for a brief moment. The king did not want to let her go, and all the gnomes warned Dawn against this treacherous man who had failed to win their trust. Deceit was written in his eyes, but Dawn would not see, and would not listen. She kept begging her father to agree to the fateful expedition, until in the end the kind-hearted king Hreidmar let her have her way. But before she left, he told her:
â€śMy dear daughter, you will be surprised by the light and glare up there. Don’t be deceived, though. There are also many cool, shady, dark places – they are just not apparent at first sight. Since you are so keen, go and see the bright sun and look around the earth, then come home quickly to tend the holy fire. You know it must not be allowed to go out.â€ť
“The princess said goodbye to her father and the gnomes, and went above the ground with the miner. What an ill-fated journey! The first piercing rays of the sun blinded poor Dawn for good. When the miner saw what he had done he ran away like a coward, leaving her on her own above ground without help. That was the reward she got for her goodness. The gnomes and their earthly friends, the elves and fairies, looked for the poor princess everywhere. However, by the time they found her the holy fire in the golden hearth had gone out. It was a sad scene when the blind princess returned to her ageing father.
“After a while, the king of the gnomes set out to ask the advice of the Spirit of the Rocks and Underground. He said he could not restore Dawn’s sight, since she had lost it as the result of her own curiosity and foolishness, but that he would tell the gnomes how to get back their holy fire, since they had done nothing wrong. He told the king that a long way away there lay in the sea a bare and rocky island called Red Island. In the middle of the island was a hollow where once there used to be a well. Every Christmas Eve at midnight a star fell deep into the bottom of the well. If an honest orphan, born on Christmas Eve, were to undertake the voyage to Red Island to save the gnomes, he would overcome every obstacle and danger and succeed in retrieving the magic star from the bottom of the well, which its heat had long since dried up. As soon as that honest person placed the golden star on the hearth, the holy fire of the gnomes would blaze up again, and with its first flicker the princess would regain her sight.
“Since then,” continued Elwin, “many years have passed, and we are still waiting in vain for our saviour. If you wish, Wenceslas, you can save us because only a human can wash away human betrayal with a good deed. First, however, come to our castle, and meet our good king Hreidmar.”
The gnomes took Wenceslas by the hand, and walked towards the rocky wall. When they touched it, the rock parted and a wide corridor opened up in front of them. As they went on, Wenceslas was amazed to see that the corridor closed behind them after each step, and became solid rock again. When the gnomes saw how surprised he was, they explained:
“You see, Wenceslas, we don’t need to dig long passages in order to walk around under the ground. We walk around here as freely as you humans walk above ground.”
After a long journey through dark corridors, they suddenly emerged into a grassy meadow, which led into a beautiful garden, full of all kinds of sweet-smelling flowers, trees and bushes. Although it was not as bright here as it was above ground, there was no need of lamplight. On a hill stood a white castle with many spires, surrounded on all sides by the garden. As they walked through the royal gardens they met other gnomes, whom Robin and Elwin greeted cheerfully. All the gnomes were dressed alike and all had long, white beards. It was hard to tell them apart.
In one particularly beautiful part of the gardens full of flower-covered gazebos, comfortable benches and wide paths, Wenceslas saw a beautiful, pale girl walking by. She was the king’s daughter, Dawn. Her two companions guided her by the hand, for the poor girl was blind. As soon as the boy saw her, he decided he would do everything to find the golden star and return the light to her eyes.
Then the gnomes took him up to the castle on the hill. Inside, the corridors, furniture, carpets, and even the throne in the Great Hall were all white, and everything glowed with a strange, delicate light. The gnomes were assembled in the Great Hall, impatiently awaiting their king. When at last the king entered the hall and saw Wenceslas among the gnomes, he came up to him and embraced him warmly. The gnomes had already managed to tell him that the boy wished to undertake the difficult task of saving his beloved daughter, and with her the whole kingdom.
King Hreidmar equipped Wenceslas for his long journey generously. He thrust into his hand a magic silver coin so that Wenceslas would not be in need. He also lent him a gold ring with a large reddish-black stone on which were engraved crossed miners’ hammers and mysterious magic symbols. As he put the ring on Wenceslas’ finger, the king said:
“All our friends will help you when they see my ring.”
Then Princess Dawn approached him:
“Thank you, Wenceslas, for your willingness to put right something that was caused by my own curiosity and foolishness. Since you are volunteering to undertake a difficult task on my behalf, I would like at least to make it a little easier for you. Take this magic hammer. It will help you to get the star out of the hard rock. And if you are ever in danger, this jewel will save you,” said Dawn, placing round Wenceslas’ neck a fine chain with a silver medallion, in the centre of which a large ruby shone like a drop of red wine.
Honoured, Wenceslas thanked them both for their presents. However, he also asked the king whether before setting out on such a long journey he could go and say goodbye to his mother, who must be very worried about him. Hreidmar agreed. He was impressed by Wenceslas’ love for his mother, but reminded him of the vow of silence Wenceslas had made to the gnomes. He assured the boy that the gnomes would look after his mother well while he was away, since his journey would be a long one.
When Wenceslas was about to leave, King Hreidmar said:
“We all trust that within a year you will return to us safely, Wenceslas. Now don’t delay and set out right away. Remember, you must bring the star back to us by next Christmas Eve, or we shall all perish. Keep travelling to the west until you come to the sea, and from there make your way to Red Island. This is the advice the Spirit of the Rocks gave me – I’m afraid that is all I have to offer you. Be careful, and never trust anyone whom you do not know well. And now – farewell, Wenceslas!”
“Farewell!” replied Wenceslas, bowing deeply to the king, the princess, and all the gnomes. As he and Elwin left the castle, King Hreidmar and all the gnomes waved until they were out of sight.
“I’ll come back safely!” Wenceslas called, and then followed Elwin into the dark corridor, which gradually closed behind them. The tunnel through which they were now passing led upwards, and glowed so brightly in the light of Elwin’s lamp that Wenceslas could hardly look at the walls. These were covered in glittering silver, into which precious stones of various kinds were set. The stones glowed like little lanterns, lighting up the silver with their fairytale colours.
“What incredible riches are here!” said the boy in amazement. He thought how many people such riches could make happy.
As if reading his thoughts, the gnome replied:
“Wenceslas, you are wrong if you think such riches can make people truly happy. They might help a little, but you know that happiness is something far beyond the clink of gold coins.”
“It will be a long, long time before we show these riches to humans,” Elwin went on. “People often succumb to the charms of the golden calf, but in the end it does not make them happy. This is why we have been living in the mines since time immemorial – to protect these treasures from human greed. One command from our king, and all this would be transformed into mere rock. Our king only allows humans to mine as much silver as is necessary for them to still consider it a precious metal. Otherwise it would lose its value, and people would waste it.”
Wenceslas was struck by the wisdom of Elwin’s words. The time passed quickly as they talked. Soon the rock gave way to clay and gravel, and then suddenly they were above ground. Above them spread the dark blue sky, studded with a thousand stars.
“Your village is in that direction. Now we have to part, Wenceslas. Remember the king’s words. God save you, and return you safely to us in a year’s time. When you come back, wait in this spot until darkness falls so that no one sees you. Then touch the ground with the magic ring. The path to our kingdom will open up for you.”
Wenceslas was suddenly alone. His head whirled with memories of what he had just seen, and for a while he wondered whether it had all been a dream. The first snowflakes began to dance through the air, and soon a cold wind blew up, bringing him back to reality. Shivering with cold, he set off homewards to see his mother.
Their faithful dog Chester welcomed him at the gate with a joyful barking. How long his mother had waited for him! Now she threw her arms around him in a tight embrace. But soon her joy turned to sadness when she learned that he was to leave on a long journey, the goal of which he was not allowed to disclose even to her. She beseeched him to tell her at least what he was planning, but Wenceslas reminded her of his father’s saying: a promise is sacred, and none more so than a promise of help. And so Wenceslas’ mother finally accepted her son’s decision.
As morning came and the winter sun rose in the sky, Wenceslas set out on his journey. He walked a long, long way, but the path had no end. The ground was covered in fresh snow, making it very difficult to walk. The harsh wind had abated a little, but it began to snow heavily and soon all the signposts were obliterated. How was the poor boy to know which of three paths led to the sea when the sea was nowhere to be seen?
There was no one he could ask the way, so he chose one of the paths at random. He soon realized that he had gone the wrong way. The snow grew heavier, and Wenceslas felt his strength ebbing. However, he didn’t want to lie down for fear of dying of cold in the snow. Somewhere in the distance he heard the tinkle of sleigh bells, and a vision of his smiling mother and her cottage danced before his eyes. That was the last thing he remembered before falling into the white darkness. He did not remember anyone picking him up, putting him in a sleigh, taking him to a beautiful house, and tucking him up in bed like a little child. He did not know how long he slept, or that all the time he was fighting for his life. When he finally came to, he saw an elderly lady standing at his bed:
“Where am I?” Wenceslas asked.
The woman told him that her daughter Snowdrop had found him lying half-frozen in the snow, and had saved him from freezing to death.
Then she asked Wenceslas where he was heading in such weather, and why it could not wait until spring. Wenceslas did not want to lie to her, but neither could he tell the truth. Gradually, he began to realize that he had fallen into an elaborate trap. He was even more afraid when the woman pointed to the presents he had received in the underground kingdom, and asked him who had given them to him. How could he not tell her?
“Who are you?” asked Wenceslas in a tired voice, all the while trying to work out how to get out of this prison.
“I am Queen Winter, and Hreidmar, the king of the gnomes, is my greatest enemy because he is the ruler of fire and warmth. You will not be able to help him, boy, because you will never get out of my house,” said Queen Winter in an icy voice, and left the room.
Wenceslas was so sad and lost in thought that he did not notice a pretty, red-cheeked girl in a floating white dress covered with silver snowflakes entering, or rather dancing into the room. On her head she wore a glittering diamond crown, decorated with small bunches of snowdrops.
“Good morning, Wenceslas,” she said with a lovely smile.
“Who are you? Are you Snowdrop, who saved my life?” asked Wenceslas. “Oh, Snowdrop, what is the point of life without freedom, if I cannot fulfil my mission?”
“Don’t despair, Wenceslas. I’ve helped you once, and I shall help you again. I know that my mother and King Hreidmar have long been enemies, but I am still sorry for Dawn and the gnomes. I believe you are capable of helping them. You can trust me – I will never betray you. Now rest a little more so that you have strength for the long journey. Don’t be afraid. I shall come for you later, and help you escape from my mother’s kingdom.”
Then Snowdrop went into the next room, where her mother was resting. When Winter had dozed off to sleep, Snowdrop carefully took the presents she had stolen from Wenceslas and gave them back to him. Together they got into the sleigh and flew off like the wind. The horses carried them above the clouds, the sleigh bells rang merrily, and the journey passed quickly.
“We must hurry if we are to cross the border of my mother’s realm before she wakes up,” said Snowdrop. “Otherwise we will be in terrible trouble.”
Below them the snowy woods and fields, and frozen rivers and lakes flew past. Suddenly the air grew much warmer and the landscape changed. The sleigh descended to the ground.
“I cannot go any further with you, Wenceslas. The sun, which does you good, would kill me. I wish you lots of luck on your journey. We shall see each other again. Goodbye for now, Wenceslas,” called Snowdrop as her sleigh rose up into the clouds again.
For a little while the tinkling of the sleigh bells could still be heard, and then there was silence.
Wenceslas continued his journey straight away. He was worried that his misfortune had caused him to lose valuable time. Remembering the king’s words, he walked further and further west. Again the landscape gradually changed until there was no trace left of the snow. The burning sun beat down out of a cloudless sky. The plants and trees were a rich green, and the flowers brightly coloured, but the people were different from those at home. When Wenceslas asked passers-by the way, they merely shook their heads. They spoke a foreign language that he did not understand.
When he stopped for the night at a roadside inn, however, he met a fellow countryman. He was so glad to hear his native language again. The man was a merchant travelling far from home with many carts full of costly foreign goods. When he found out where the boy was heading, he promised to take him to the port the next morning. He was as good as his word, and next morning Wenceslas was finally standing in the port.
He walked up and down the seashore, wondering how to get to Red Island. The merchant told him that he had heard of such an island on his travels, but he had no idea how to find it. Wenceslas looked around and saw a small fisherman’s cottage nearby on the shore. He hurried over. An old fisherman, who had seen many things, came out of the cottage to meet him. Wenceslas greeted him politely, and the fisherman said:
“Welcome, my boy! Where are you from? And where are you heading for?”
“My name is Wenceslas, and I come from Bohemia. But how do you know my mother tongue?” asked Wenceslas, surprised.
“Dear boy, I have spent all my life sailing over the far seas, and I have met many travellers like you. You’d like to go to Red Island, wouldn’t you? Everyone is drawn by its mystery, but no one who has set out for it has ever returned alive. It would be a waste of your young life to set out on such a futile journey. I know that the island lies in the middle of the vast ocean, but not even I, nor any captain of the boats on which I have worked, has ever dared go there. My grandfather did tell me, though, that a storm once took him to that island. He said it was all made of very hard red rock, which is why it’s called Red Island. In the middle of the island there is a small well that glows in the night, but my grandfather never told me where the strange glow came from, and he never tried to find out. He was glad to have made it through the storm alive, and so, as soon as the sea was calm, he hurried home. After all, he had eleven hungry kids to feed.
“What would you do on Red Island, anyway? It’s quite deserted. You don’t know the sea, you’re not from round here. You’d be sure to meet your death somewhere out there,” said the fisherman.
Meanwhile the fisherman’s son had come out of the cottage and was listening to their conversation.
“Father, don’t prevent this brave young man from reaching his goal. Let me take him at least part of the way, and teach him how to manage at sea. He’ll need to know that if he’s to return from such a long journey safe and sound. Not even I have been so far, and I grew up by the sea.”
“O headstrong youth! What am I to do with you?” complained the old fisherman. “Today I shall get everything ready for your journey, and tomorrow you will set out with my son. But remember, son, you have here a wife, children, and an ageing father. Do not take Wenceslas further than half way. What would we do without you?”
Wenceslas was secretly happy that he would finish the voyage himself because he did not want to tell the fisherman’s family the real purpose of his journey. And so the old fisherman got two boats ready for the next day. In one of them he put double the amount of supplies and drinking water for Wenceslas.
The two young men set off soon after dawn. The sea was calm and the breeze light, so Wenceslas quickly learned how to row. The journey passed happily. That same evening they reached a small island where their ways were to part. Wenceslas thanked the young fisherman for his help and all his valuable advice, and gave him a few silver coins for his family. The fisherman did not want to accept them, but Wenceslas tossed them into the bottom of his boat and quickly pushed it out from the shore.
“Give my best regards to your family!” he called.
“Have a safe journey,” the fisherman called back as the boat disappeared in the gathering dusk. Darkness was falling quickly, so Wenceslas decided to spend the night on the island so as not to get lost at sea. He lay down in the soft, warm sand on the seashore, but sleep would not come. His head was full of all sorts of thoughts: he wondered how much time had already passed, and thought of his mother and all his friends. How he wished he was back home with them!
Suddenly he heard a voice in the darkness, and saw a little red light flickering nearby as if someone were giving him a signal. He stood up and went closer. Lying on the sand he saw one of the gnomes’ little mining lamps, but he could not see anyone near it. The strange voice said:
“Do not be afraid, Wenceslas. I am the Spirit of the Rocks, and I have come to give you good advice. On the distant island, which you will reach tomorrow, great danger awaits you. Do not eat or drink anything there, otherwise you will be overcome by eternal sleep and never return home. You cannot avoid visiting the Island of Dreams because you need to get a little sleeping powder from Mab, the Lady of the Island. You will need that powder to fulfil your task, as the golden star on Red Island is guarded by an evil ogre. Without the sleeping powder, you cannot beat him. If Queen Mab hesitates to give you the powder, give her Dawn’s jewel in exchange. Don’t worry! I will give the princess another present. And if you are overcome by tiredness on the Island of Dreams, smell this little flower. It will protect you.
“As soon as you dig out the golden star on Red Island, hurry home so that Queen Winter does not waylay you on your journey. She would love to spoil your plans. That is my advice. God be with you, boy, go safely! We shall meet again on your way home.”
The mysterious voice finished speaking, and the little red light went out.
Wenceslas thanked the good spirit, and when he looked down at the sand he saw a little flower with a strong smell that reminded him of home. It was thyme. Carefully, he put the precious flower in his pocket, then lay down on the soft, warm sand, and fell asleep.
The next morning he awoke refreshed and continued his voyage. A mild breeze blew up. Everything happened as the Spirit of the Rocks said. The boat was carried to a small, distant island as if by a magic force. The shores of the island approached fast, and before long Wenceslas saw an enchanting sight. The whole island was covered by a beautiful garden with many gazebos and columns of white and pink marble. From all around came the sound of sweet music and singing, inviting travellers to rest. There were tables laden with food and drink, and around them graceful young girls sang, danced, and played on various instruments. On the ground, leaning against the columns, travellers slept. For a moment Wenceslas thought he was in paradise. If it had not been for the strong smell of the thyme, he might have forgotten all about his mission.
He kept on walking through the magical garden until he saw a beautiful, white-haired woman standing by a fire, sprinkling a powder with a sweet, intoxicating smell onto the flames. He realized at once that this was Mab, the Queen of Dreams, whom he was supposed to ask for help. At first she refused, but when in exchange for some of the powder Wenceslas offered her Dawn’s jewel, which she liked very much, she finally relented, and gave him a little box of sleeping powder.
She advised him not to start digging on Red Island until the sun went down. He should then light a small fire near the well, and if anyone disturbed him, he should throw several grains of the powder on the fire. Its smell would intoxicate the intruder, and allow Wenceslas to carry on working undisturbed. Before saying goodbye, Queen Mab told him:
“I am impressed by your courage, Wenceslas, and that is why I have helped you. I know where you are going and I know why. I also know why my magic powder did not put you to sleep, and who protects you. You don’t have to tell me anything. I shall make sure that the glow of the star does not blind you while you are working on Red Island. But remember: once you dig the golden star out, you must not touch it. If you do, its glow will burn you to dust. You should look for two large oyster shells lined with mother-of-pearl. Put the star inside them, and tie this magic silk scarf round them. Only thus can you take the star safely back to the underground kingdom of the gnomes. Give them my best regards. And now, off you go, so that you do not disturb my sleeping travellers any more.”
Wenceslas bowed to the Queen of Dreams, thanked her for her help, got into his boat, and set off. Towards noon on the third day of his voyage he finally saw Red Island far ahead of him. The sea being perfectly calm, he reached the island by early evening. In the glow of the setting sun he saw it really was the colour of red brick. However, it was not clay, as Wenceslas later discovered when he explored the island, but solid rock.
“I’ve got a hard job ahead of me,” thought the boy. “And I only have the small hammer that Dawn gave me. How will I ever cut through this hard rock?”
Before it grew dark, Wenceslas managed to make a small pile of wood next to the well as the Queen of Dreams had advised him. The well was quite dried out by the glow of the star. Since the island was quite bare and nothing grew on the rock, he went down to the seashore to collect pieces of driftwood. They were mostly bits of shipwrecked vessels or trees from far-off islands. He also gathered some dry sea grass for kindling.
When the sun had gone down and it was growing dark, a dazzling, bluish glow shone up from the bottom of the well. Wenceslas lit the fire and got to work. The star glowed so brightly that at first he had to dig with his eyes closed. But soon he got used to the glow and hardly felt it at all. Queen Mab kept her promise. Dawn’s magic hammer broke miraculously through the rock.
All of a sudden, the evil ogre appeared in front of him:
“I’ll kill you if you don’t stop banging at the bottom of my well and tell me what brings you here to my island!” roared the ogre in a terrifying voice, grabbing at Wenceslas with one of his huge paws. Wenceslas jumped aside and, before the ogre could make his next move, sprinkled a little of the sleeping powder on the fire. The sweet, intoxicating smell immediately spread around the island. Quickly, Wenceslas sniffed the sprig of thyme that had already protected him once from sleep. The ogre yawned, and staggered as if drunk. His arm dropped heavily to the ground, and soon he was fast asleep.
Wenceslas wasted no time, and when he saw that he was out of danger he quickly started digging again. By dawn he had already dug a good-sized pit, but the star was still very far off at the bottom of the dried-out well. Tired, he went down to the seashore and washed his aching body in the cool water. Then he lay down on the soft sand to rest a little before evening. He could not work now anyway, since during the day the hammer lost its magic power. For a while he lay on the seashore, listening to the hiss of the waves as the tide came in, and watching a flock of seagulls wheeling above his head. He wondered how he would be able to get past the ogre this evening again, and carry on digging.
Then he decided to try digging during the day as well. He would not have the help of the magic hammer, but the ogre would not be able to surprise him at work. He dug vigorously for the rest of the day, but the rock, which at night he had cut through like gingerbread, would not budge during the day. And so by the evening Wenceslas had managed to dig only a tiny bit more. Tired after his long day’s work, he sat down by the well and was soon fast asleep. As soon as the last rays of the sun disappeared, the ogre appeared by the well:
“You won’t escape me this time, you little worm. You’ll pay with your life for your audacity and insolence. I’ll throw you to the fishes!”
With that he picked up the sleeping Wenceslas and tossed him into the foaming waves.
But Wenceslas did not perish as the ogre would have liked. At that very moment the sea nymph Coralia, who happened to be swimming past, noticed the strange symbols carved into the ring on the drowning boy’s hand. Taking Wenceslas gently into her arms, she wrapped his head in a translucent veil and swam with him to safety.
When Wenceslas woke up he saw he was surrounded by water. All kinds of fishes and strange sea creatures were swimming past him. It was like in a fairy tale. He could see everything that was going on, but was separated from the water as if by a glass wall and found he was able to breathe as on dry land.
After a while, a beautiful nymph swam towards him through the water wall that divided him from the realm of the sea. It closed behind her immediately. She was dressed in a translucent, flowing, turquoise robe, richly decorated with sea pearls, and in her hair she wore a wreath of enchanting sea-flowers. Such beauty Wenceslas had never seen before.
“Welcome, Wenceslas, to the Realm of the Sea. I am Coralia, the sea nymph. Don’t be afraid of me. I know who you are, and why you have come to Red Island. Queen Mab told me about you, and asked me to help you if the evil ogre tried to harm you. We are all sorry for poor princess Dawn and the kingdom of the gnomes. Though they live far away they are our friends. Please be my guest. During the day, when the ogre cannot hurt you, you will be able to dig in the well, and at night I shall bring you here, out of harm’s way. But remember, you cannot stay in the well after the last rays of the sun disappear.”
And so, for several days, Wenceslas dug hard in the well. The pit was now up to his waist, but the star was still far below him. He spent many nights in the Sea Realm with Coralia, who brought him bowls of fresh fruit, nuts, and other delicious food. The sea nymph grew very fond of Wenceslas, and showed him the whole of her kingdom.
“How can I reward you for your generosity and goodness, Coralia?” asked Wenceslas.
“There is no need, Wenceslas. You are helping others, and I have helped you. What is difficult for one, two can manage easily. With a little unity a good deed is easily done. Always help those who are in the right and in need of help. Don’t forget that, Wenceslas.”
The pit at the bottom of the well grew deeper and deeper, but the star still did not appear. One day, when Wenceslas had stopped work to take a little rest, he looked up and saw a flock of twittering swallows. He realized that it must be autumn at home, and that the end of the year was getting close. And so that day he kept digging for much longer than usual until he was quite exhausted and fell asleep in the pit. He did not hear the warning call of his friend Coralia, who had already swum up to the island three times to take him to safety before dark.
Darkness fell, and immediately the angry face of the ogre appeared over the edge of the pit.
“I’ve got you, my boy! Your days are numbered! No one can help you now. You shall pay dearly for your impudence. No one will bring you back to life this time,” said the ogre with a fearsome grimace. He tore a huge boulder out of the rock and held it threateningly over the sleeping Wenceslas.
“Don’t you dare! Put that boulder down at once! The boy is under my protection,” thundered a formidable voice right behind the ogre.
“The Spirit of the Rocks?” whispered the ogre fearfully. “As you say, O Master.” And carefully he put the boulder down.
“It is well you know me,” thundered the voice again. “To punish you for your treachery, and for wanting to hurt an innocent boy, I hereby order you to finish the work for him yourself. Do not dare disobey me! I hope I have made myself clear!” added the voice menacingly.
The ogre cursed viciously, but he was afraid to disobey an order from the Spirit of the Rocks. He carried the sleeping Wenceslas out of the pit, placed him on a rock not far from the well, and then climbed into the pit himself. It was easy work for him, and before long he had finished. The golden star lay glittering at the very bottom of the pit. The ogre covered it with a small rock, and carefully brought the sleeping Wenceslas back into the pit. Then he pulled an angry face at him, and disappeared.
When the boy woke up the next morning, he could not believe his eyes. The pit was much deeper than it had been when he’d finished digging the day before. Then the sea nymph Coralia appeared by the well and told him what had happened in the night. She also brought him some fruit and nuts to give him strength, and Wenceslas, refreshed by his sleep, set to work again. The stone crumbled and split into two halves, and under it Wenceslas finally saw the golden star. His heart leapt with joy as he ran down to the seashore to share his joy with the sea nymph.
“Coralia, my task is accomplished. At last I can return home,” he shouted at the waves.
The sea nymph swam over to the island, came out on to the shore, and helped him find two large oyster shells. Wenceslas put the star into one of them, and covered it with the other. Then he bound the shells tightly with the silk scarf, as the Queen of Dreams had instructed him. The star’s brilliant glow could no longer hurt him; all he felt was a pleasant warmness in his hands. Coralia gave him a string of sea pearls and corals for Princess Dawn, and as a keepsake for himself, he chose a crystal goblet inlaid with mother-of-pearl from which he had drunk when he was Coralia’s guest. Then the sea nymph touched his boat with her magic slipper. Immediately, the little boat changed into a tall, handsome sailing ship with pink sails, and a strong wind sprang up over the sea.
“Thank you, dear Coralia,” said Wenceslas with emotion, embracing her warmly. “I shall never forget your wisdom and goodness.”
“Get aboard quickly, Wenceslas, and hurry home. It is high time. God be with you!” the sea nymph called after him, but the ship was already skimming away over the waves. Wenceslas had the wind behind him the whole time, and after two days he reached land.
Which was the way home, though? Wenceslas remembered that when he had set out in search of the golden star, he had gone west. And so now he set out to the east. He walked and walked, but the landscape was still unfamiliar. The days passed. One hot day he sat down by a stream to drink a little of the cool water and refresh himself. He dipped the goblet into the river, but as he was lifting it to his lips he saw there was a little fish in it. It spoke to him in a human voice:
“What do you desire, my master?”
Wenceslas was struck dumb. Only now did he realize that Coralia’s gift was no ordinary goblet.
“Little fish, if only you could tell me the way back home.”
“I don’t know where your home is, but my sisters in the big river will surely be able to help you. Find the largest river in the country, and ask them.”
“Thank you, little fish,” said Wenceslas, and slipped it back into the stream.
He did as the little fish said, found the big river, and asked the big fishes for advice. They told him the way back to his homeland, and that it was now winter there. Wenceslas thanked them, and grasping the oyster shells with the star tightly in his hands, set off with renewed energy. After three days he saw familiar hills in the distance. At last he was back in his country. He went into the first cottage, and an old lady gave him some bread and milk – he was back among his native people. When he asked the old lady the way, he learned he was still a week’s walk from his home. It was already December. A bitterly cold wind was blowing, the sky was heavy with snow clouds and there was no sign of the sun. Queen Winter had returned to his motherland, and the boy was afraid she would again disrupt his journey.
One evening when Wenceslas was only about three days’ away from home he came to a big farmhouse on a hill. He knocked at the door and asked if he might stay the night. The lady of the house opened the door but spoke not a word of welcome. Then she took him into a large room, and revealed her face. With dismay Wenceslas recognized Queen Winter. He wanted to escape, but the door had already been firmly locked.
“I told you that we would meet again,” said Queen Winter in an icy voice. “This time I won’t let you go. You see, Wenceslas, I always win in the end.”
Wenceslas recovered from his shock, and remembered the precious present he was bringing to the gnomes. He carefully unwrapped the scarf, and opened the oyster-shells a little. Immediately, the room was filled with pleasant heat and light, and the walls of the farmhouse began to melt. Soon there was no sign of the farm at all. Wenceslas stood alone in the middle of the night. Queen Winter had disappeared for good: the glow of the golden star had triumphed over her.
Relieved he no longer had to be afraid of her plots, Wenceslas hurried on. The shells with the golden star made his hands pleasantly warm, and the light that peeked out from between the shells lit his way. Snow began to fall, heavier and heavier, as if someone had ripped open a huge feather bed. Wenceslas found it more and more difficult to walk in the fresh snow. Just as his legs could carry him no further, he heard the tinkle of sleigh bells approaching.
“Is that you, Snowdrop?” he called out uncertainly.
“Yes, it is me, Wenceslas. Don’t be afraid, we will get there in time. I have come to help you. Get into the sleigh quickly before my mother finds out where I am. I’ll take you home.”
And so Wenceslas got up onto the sleigh next to Snowdrop, and the horses started up. Their hooves rang out, and the bells tinkled cheerfully.
“My mother is angry with you for what you did today, but I am happy you have succeeded in your difficult task, Wenceslas,” said Snowdrop. “Take the star safely to Dawn. I do hope her sight returns.”
“You have such a kind heart, Snowdrop. This is the second time you have helped me. Without you I would never have been able to carry out my task in time, and all my efforts would have been in vain. How can I repay you, poor as I am? All I can offer you is my sincere thanks.”
“Remember that sincere thanks are a far greater reward than the finest present given without sincerity. Good deeds cannot be rewarded with money, only with the heart. A good deed that is paid for is no longer a good deed. But you always knew that. May your heart remain as pure as it was when I first met you! Then you will be happy, and make others happy, too. And here is your home at last. Good luck, Wenceslas.”
Snowdrop stopped the sleigh and waved goodbye to Wenceslas. Then the sleigh disappeared in a flurry of snow.
Soon it got dark and moon sailed across the sky bathing the village in its pale light. Wenceslas ran impatiently to his mother’s cottage. He knocked quietly on the window, but no one appeared – not even Chester, who always rushed out to meet him with a welcoming bark. There was nothing but silence, and Wenceslas shuddered with grim premonition.
Then a neighbour came out of the cottage next door. Wenceslas went up to him:
“Good evening – it’s me, Wenceslas. Do you know where my mother is? Has anything happened to her while I was away?”
The neighbour invited Wenceslas in, and told him that soon after he had left his mother went to visit some relatives so as not to feel so lonely. Wenceslas knew, however, that they had no relatives anywhere near, and was naturally very worried about what might have happened to his mother. He stayed chatting with the kind neighbour a little longer, then thanked him for his hospitality and warm welcome, and set off to the mine where a year ago he had said goodbye to Elwin.
It was almost midnight when he reached his destination. After making sure there was no one around, he tapped on the ground with the king’s ring. At once a hidden entrance opened up, revealing a staircase that led down to the underground kingdom. As he descended the steps the ground closed again above him, and the corridor became lighter and lighter. After walking down the long corridor for a while, Wenceslas came to a large open space, and not far ahead of him he saw the king’s castle. Meanwhile, the gnomes had seen him coming. Some ran out cheerfully to meet him, while others went to the castle to announce the happy news to their king. And so, before Wenceslas had even reached the castle, he saw King Hreidmar and Princess Dawn coming out to meet him.
“Welcome, dear friend,” cried the king with heartfelt emotion. He embraced Wenceslas, and led him into the festively decorated hall. As soon as King Hreidmar had sat down on his throne, Wenceslas told him:
“I have kept my promise, Your Majesty. I am bringing you the golden star so that it may light your sacred fire once again, and return the sight to Dawn’s eyes. I also bring you greetings from your friends around the world without whose help I would have never managed to achieve my goal.”
Wenceslas unwrapped the silk scarf and removed the top shell from the star. The room was at once filled with light and heat. The golden star flickered brightly in its pearly bowl. Wenceslas went up to the hearth and slid the star into the ashes. Immediately, the first flames of the rekindled sacred fire leapt up, and Princess Dawn called out joyfully:
“I can see, Father! I can see again!”
Wenceslas watched with emotion as the princess rushed into her father’s arms. “How happy they are!” he thought with a sigh. His greatest wish had been to see his mother again, and he was bitterly disappointed.
King Hreidmar watched Wenceslas for a little while, and then he said:
“Why are you not rejoicing with us? What’s the matter? My people are so grateful to you for your help, and my old heart is full of joy. Tell me your wish, and I will gladly grant it without delay.”
“Your Majesty, believe me, I fully share your happiness. I am sincerely glad to have been able to help you. But when I went out into the world, my mother saw me off, and the whole time I looked forward to hearing her dear voice and embracing her again. And now when I have finally returned home safely, I found our cottage abandoned. Our neighbour told me my mother had gone to stay with our relatives, but we have no relatives here far and wide. How can I help feeling sad when I am so worried about my mother?”
“I might be able to help you. Your mother may not be so far away. She went to stay with relatives, did you say? And that you don’t have any round these parts? Not even good friends? Have you never done anyone a good deed that they might want to reward you for?”
“Besides the small service I have done you, Your Majesty, I have never helped anyone.”
“Are you sure, Wenceslas? Though I admire your modesty, I think you should not belittle your efforts. You’re a good boy, you have brought me joy, and in exchange for that I have a small surprise for you.”
King Hreidmar clapped three times. The castle wall parted, and in it appeared Wenceslas’ mother and Chester.
What happiness, what joy there was as Wenceslas held his mother in his arms! And then the story-telling began: Wenceslas told of his adventures and all he had seen on his travels, while his mother told him how the gnomes in the underground kingdom had looked after her so kindly while he was away. She had only told her neighbours she was going to visit relatives so that they would not worry about her unnecessarily. Then Wenceslas gave Princess Dawn the presents from her friends, and returned King Hreidmar his ring.
Suddenly a familiar voice rang through the hall:
“Dawn, thank Wenceslas for saving you. This courageous son of man has washed away a shameful deed of human betrayal. But be more careful in future, Dawn, because next time there will be no saving you or your father’s kingdom. Your rashness nearly caused the death of everyone in the whole kingdom! I shall now give you back your jewel, but do not forget what I have said. God bless you all!”
A hush fell on the hall. It was broken by the king:
“Did you hear who your protector was, Wenceslas? It was the good Spirit of the Rocks and the Underground Kingdom himself. This is a great honour for you, such as no human has ever had conferred on him before. Now it is my turn to reward you for your faithful service. Just tell me what you would like, and I shall grant your wish.”
“I shall tell you the truth, Your Majesty. When I first entered the underground kingdom, I wanted at least some of these riches to be mine. That was when I still thought that riches could make people happy. However, on my long journey I learned otherwise. I realized that what people need to be truly happy is the love of their fellow men. The good spirits and fairies I met on my travels showed me where to seek my own happiness, as well as that of others. Now I know how to make our lives happy. I shall obey their wise advice.
“I have helped your daughter, and you have taken care of my mother the whole time I was gone. We are even. Joy at seeing my mother again is my greatest reward. I ask for nothing else.”
King Hreidmar was secretly amazed at the wisdom of the boy’s words. Out loud, though, he said:
“If you insist, then so be it! I like what you say: we are even. But all the same I shall not let you go empty-handed. When you become a man, you should dig in the little field behind your cottage. There you will find my present, a rich vein of silver. Use it wisely to help all the miners in the area. I have come to understand your kind and noble heart, and I know that the clink of silver will never harden it. All my subjects will protect your mine faithfully until the end of time. One day we shall meet again in your new mine. Until then, Wenceslas, God bless you!”
All the gnomes accompanied them out of the king’s castle. When the time came for Wenceslas to say goodbye to the king and the princess, Dawn hung the gleaming jewel from the Spirit of the Rocks around his neck to remind him of her own greatest treasure: the light that he had returned to her eyes.
Then Wenceslas and his mother left the mine and went home to their cottage. It was a clear night, and thousands of stars shone overhead. It was Christmas Eve again, and when the bells rang out, they set out with their neighbours to church for Midnight Mass. In quiet prayer they thanked God for their happy reunion.
Several years passed, and Wenceslas grew into a courageous man. He did as King Hreidmar had told him. After digging for a short time, he found a rich vein of silver, and because he remembered his friends’ advice, his mine soon flourished, and the miners who worked there were happy. Wenceslas did all he could to make their work and lives easier, and no one ever had an accident in his mine. The gnomes kept their promise and looked after their friend’s mine with great care.
In a few years the poor village had become a fine little town where all lived contentedly. Wenceslas was glad whenever he saw the miners’ happy faces. And thus the wise words of his friends Snowdrop and Coralia proved true: the greatest happiness one can achieve is to make the eyes of other people shine with happiness.
“When someone’s heart cleaves to you, accept it gladly, for it will protect you against the darkness of the world.”
Diana, William and the Forest Kingdom
Once upon a time, in a clearing deep in the forest, there stood a wooden cottage in which lived a gamekeeper named George and his wife Elizabeth. George looked after his forest with great care, while his wife kept house and made sure the cottage was always spick and span. She also often helped her husband plant new trees in the clearings, and in winter put out food for the animals. All in all, they had a good life. Yet though they loved each other, and had enough to get by, they were not entirely happy because they had no children to fill their lives with joy. The years went by and they grew older, but still no children came. The gamekeeper was sad that he would have no one to leave the cottage to, or his work in the forest that was so important. His wife was worried that there would be no one to tend the garden after her.
One day, when George was walking round his hunting ground, he went much further than ever before. Tired from his long walk, he sat down to rest for a while on the soft, green moss. How beautiful it was in the forest! Everything was bursting with life. Overhead nimble squirrels hopped and darted from branch to branch, and birds sang sweetly. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear the hooting of an owl and tapping of a woodpecker. Enjoying the pleasant coolness, the gamekeeper stretched out on the moss and watched the swaying treetops and the clouds floating high above. It was as if time had stopped. The sounds of the forest kingdom lulled him to sleep.
Suddenly, there was a crackling in the undergrowth and George woke up. The branches parted, and he saw a magnificent, white hart with blue eyes, walking straight towards him. In his surprise and confusion, George raised his gun and aimed it at the deer, whereupon it addressed him in a human voice:
“Don’t shoot, George!”
Stunned, the gamekeeper dropped his gun in the moss.
“How do you know my name? And how are you able to speak?”
“I cannot tell you who I really am, but I know why you and your wife are sad, and I want to help you. If you promise to do as I say, in a year’s time you will have the child you have been longing for. But first tell me whether you are willing to do as I say.”
George realized that the hart had magical powers, so he replied:
“I shall gladly do anything you ask if it means we shall have a child.”
“Good, then that is settled. Your little daughter will be born in a year’s time. When she is seventeen, you must bring her here to this spot to meet me, because I badly need her help. As soon as she fulfils the task that awaits her, she will return home to you, and we will all be happy. Remember, George, what you have promised, for if you do not keep your word, I will find your daughter myself, wherever she is.”
With this, the hart disappeared into the forest in a single bound. When the exhausted gamekeeper returned home that evening, he thought it had all been just the imaginings of a tired mind. He did not mention the strange meeting to his wife, though deep in his heart he hoped that it had not been just a dream.
Time passed quickly. One evening, a year to the day since his encounter with the white deer, he was returning home as usual when he heard a baby’s cry coming from the cottage. His heart leapt with joy. The white hart had kept his promise: a beautiful daughter had been born to them. The happy parents named her Diana.
When the little girl was several months old, Elizabeth dressed her up, wrapped her in a lace-trimmed shawl, and set out with George to the town to christen her. Living all alone in the forest they had no one to ask to be her godparents, so when they reached the town they looked for someone who might perform this service. They passed all sorts of unsuitable-looking people, until in front of the church they saw an old man and his wife smiling at them kindly. After they had exchanged greetings and the gamekeeper had told them their predicament, the old lady said to her husband:
“Well, dear, shall we be godparents to this little girl?”
“Yes, my dear. She’ll certainly need us as she grows older,” said the old man. And so they agreed.
When they came out of the church after the christening, the old lady said:
“It’s usual to give a child a christening present. We are poor and have no money and so, dear Diana, we shall give you something else: a pure soul, a loving heart, and happiness in your life.”
The old man, too, leant over the gurgling baby, and said:
“And I, Diana, will be your protector and help you attain all these gifts your godmother has granted you.”
No sooner had they said goodbye than they vanished into thin air. Hurrying to get back home with their daughter before dark, George and Elizabeth hardly gave the strange meeting another thought.
Diana brought new life to the cottage and grew into a cheerful, lively girl. Most of all, she liked to be with her mother in the kitchen where she played with their dogs Rusty and Sparky, and teased Timmy, the big hairy tomcat. When she was a little older, her father began taking her into the forest with him, and telling her about his work.
She was a good girl, and gave both her parents great joy. Soon, she was helping both of them.
The years passed quickly and suddenly the little girl had turned into a young maid, as pretty as a picture and as slim as a young tree. She was no longer afraid to go into the forest alone. She would pick raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and mushrooms for her mother, and take her father lunch wherever he was working in the forest.
Once when Diana had gone into the forest to pick strawberries she came across a handsome young man in a clearing. Her first thought was to run away, but the young man bowed to her and said:
“Good morning, young lady, my name is William. I got lost in the forest. Please could you tell me how to find the way to the town?”
“My name is Diana. I grew up here in the forest and I’ve never been to the town – only when I was christened. But come with me to our cottage if you like. My father will show you the way.”
The youth gladly agreed, and they set out for the cottage. Diana’s mother was pleased to have such a charming guest, and prepared a hearty dinner to welcome William to their “forest kingdom”. When George returned home, William told him long stories about his travels to far-away places. George, though impressed by his courage, suggested he stopped travelling stayed with them instead. William, who had fallen for the gamekeeper’s daughter at first sight, was only too glad to promise he would return to them when he had finished his affairs in town. Then they all said a warm goodbye, and the gamekeeper accompanied William to the path to the town so that he would not get lost again.
George was looking forward to having someone to work with him in the forest, since fate had denied him a son. A few days later, William did indeed return from the town. His kind and friendly nature made everyone fond of him. Soon, they treated him as a member of the family, and William rewarded their love by helping them as much as he could. He always brought something back from the forest for Diana as a little present. In the evening they used to sit together in the garden under the old linden tree, and talk about what had happened that day.
And so they all lived happily together for more than a year. One day, however, a messenger came from the town with the news that William’s mother was seriously ill. William was deeply grieved. He would have to leave Diana, whom he loved dearly, her parents, who treated him as their own son, and the whole forest kingdom, which over the year he had grown to love so much. He went out into the garden to tell the family his sad news.
Before saying goodbye to Diana, William asked her to be his wife. Blushing, she accepted. It was just what she had been hoping because she loved William, too. They fell into each other’s arms and felt, in that brief moment, pure happiness. Diana’s parents were glad, too, knowing they would have a kind and hard-working son-in-law. William asked them to take good care of his bride while he was away. He promised that as soon as his mother was well again he would come back for Diana and they would have a grand wedding. Then, after saying goodbye to them all, he set off.
With William gone the cottage felt empty. Diana sat at the window thinking of him, hoping he would return soon. Her parents also missed his help and kindness. In his sadness at William’s departure, George had completely forgotten the promise he had made so many years ago to the white hart. However, it was now exactly seventeen years, and the time had come for Diana to leave them, too.
That day George waited in vain in the forest for Diana to bring him his lunch. When she had not turned up by late afternoon George began to look for her, but she was nowhere to be found. She was not in the cottage either. His wife told him that Diana had gone into the forest with his lunch as usual just before noon. Only then did the gamekeeper remember his encounter in the forest so many years ago. He told his wife what had happened at that time, and why he had forgotten his promise. George and Elizabeth searched for their daughter in the forest for more than a week, but she had disappeared without a trace.
When a few weeks later William returned to the cottage with the happy news that his mother was feeling much better, and that his family were all looking forward to meeting his bride, he could not believe the disaster that had befallen the gamekeeper’s family. Though overcome with pain and grief, he still did not lose heart:
“Don’t worry, I shall find Diana, even if I have to walk the wide world over. I shall not shrink form any obstacle or danger. Nothing will stand in my way. I shall set Diana free, and bring her home. Soon we’ll all be together again, you”ll see.”
So William said goodbye to Diana’s parents and set out in search of his bride.
George was not wrong in thinking that the girl had been taken away by the white hart. The deer had surprised Diana in a clearing as she was bringing her father lunch. As soon as she saw him she wanted to run away, for she had never seen a white hart with deep, sky-blue eyes.
When he spoke to her in a human voice, however, she froze in fright.
“Don’t be afraid of me, Diana, I won’t hurt you. Come with me, please. It will be for your own good and for the good of all of us. Someone has been wishing to see you for a long time.”
The hart beseeched her so sadly and sincerely that only a heart of stone could have refused. Then suddenly she thought of William and her heart leapt with joy. Maybe it was he who was waiting for her!
Her longing to be reunited with her beloved William was greater than her fear and so, with a silent prayer, she willingly followed the hart.
After a long and tiring journey through the forest they came to a small glade, in the middle of which stood a huge spreading maple tree hollowed out with age. Its branches reminded Diana of human arms, outstretched as if beseeching to heaven, and she felt a strange excitement. The white hart stopped and knocked three times on the maple with his hoof. The tree opened up in front of them, and the deer beckoned to Diana to follow him. They entered the tree. Before them was a narrow wooden corridor, which gradually grew wider and brighter until they came to a huge meadow, flooded in light and covered with flowers. The light, though, did not come from the sun, but from the golden domes of a beautiful castle perched on a hill in the distance. It was for this castle the deer now headed.
When they arrived at the castle, the gates opened and the hart ran cheerfully into the courtyard as if he were at home. Diana followed him in astonishment. He led her through the castle chambers until they came to the most beautiful of them all. There a white hind with sad, kind eyes as blue as forget-me-nots was waiting for them. But there was not a human soul in sight. When the white hart spoke to Diana again, tears welled up in her eyes:
“Welcome, Diana! You have nothing to fear; no one will hurt you here. For years we have been waiting for you to release us from our curse. I had to come for you myself because your father forgot his promise. If you stay here with us for a year, and follow my advice, you will help many innocent people. I hope you will feel at home here. Don’t worry, you will be well looked-after. But remember: you must never set foot on the green island in the lake beyond the garden. And you will not see me, or have anyone else to talk to, for the whole year. There will be no one to warn you against the fatal attraction of human curiosity. However, you can only save us if you resist this great temptation. Tell me, are you willing to undergo this trial for us?”
“Yes,” said Diana firmly, not yet realizing what a difficult task she was taking on.
The white hart and hind disappeared, and Diana was left alone in the castle. At first she wept in despair. Then, when she had cried all the tears that would come and calmed down a little, she set off to look around the castle and its surroundings. A deep, sad silence reigned everywhere. Birds flitted through the tree tops, but did not sing. A brook flowed swiftly over stones, but did not babble. The wind played with the leaves in the trees, but they did not rustle. While out on her walks Diana met various animals, but none ever uttered a sound. What a bleak place it was! Diana felt sadder and sadder. To pass the time, she watered the flowerbeds, picked fruit in the orchards, read many books in the castle library and, with golden thread, embroidered pictures that reminded her of William, her mother and father. Whenever she was hungry or thirsty she went to the castle dining room, where there was always delicious food and drink laid out for her. But in the whole castle she never saw a living soul.
The days dragged by. And still it was only half a year since Diana had come to the enchanted kingdom! One day, walking further than usual, she came to the white wall of the garden. From here she had a good view of the lake and the little green island. Just in time, however, she remembered the white hart’s warning and resisted the temptation to explore it. From that day on, though, she grew restless. The mysterious island attracted her irresistibly.
A hundred times she was tempted, and each time she managed to resist. One day, however, curiosity finally got the better of her. As Diana grasped the handle of the beautiful wrought-iron gate, it opened before her as if in invitation. Without hesitation she headed for the lake. At least she would be able to gaze at the island from afar.
When she reached the edge of the lake, a little boat appeared in front of her. Diana quickly climbed into it, and the boat shot across the water like an arrow. A moment later she was on the island. But imagine her disappointment when all she found was a flowering meadow, some tall trees, and beyond them a forest – no different at all from the grounds around the castle. Suddenly, the white hart and his mate came out of the forest and ran straight up to her.
“Oh, Diana, what have you done?” said the hart miserably. “Why didn’t you listen to me? The time of your trial was nearly over, and we could have all been freed!”
How very sad his voice sounded. Yet there was no hint of reproach in it, just immense human grief. Diana was about to beg his forgiveness when all of a sudden a black vulture swooped down on her and pecked her head with its sharp beak. Instantly, Diana was changed into a hare, which hopped after the deer and disappeared in the forest.
In the meantime, William had been wandering through the deep forest. On his way he met gamekeepers, woodcutters, charcoal-burners and hermits. He asked all of them if they knew where he could find Diana, but no one had seen his bride. One day, however, tired by his long journey, he stopped at a small cottage on the edge of the forest to ask if he could stay the night. The door was opened by a kindly old man with a long, white beard which gleamed in the moonlight like pure silver. His wife invited William to sit down to supper with them. She gave him a bowl of steaming mushroom soup and a large chunk of bread, for he had had little to eat on his travels. Meanwhile, her husband brought a jug of fresh, cool water from the well. The exhausted young man was immensely grateful to them for their hospitality.
When he had finished eating, the old man asked him why he had been wandering around the country for so long, and what brought him to these parts. William could tell he was an honest man, and so he told him his secret. The old man and his wife listened attentively to his story. Soon it became clear to them that William was extremely fond of Diana and her parents, that he had a kind, loving heart and was willing to undergo all sorts of dangers to set Diana free and reunite her with her unhappy parents. Somehow William had the feeling that the old couple knew Diana, and were themselves very sorry about what had happened to her.
Finally the old man said:
“William, we know your bride well. We are her godparents. When she was christened, we promised to help her throughout her life. Diana is now far away, in the enchanted kingdom. You cannot rescue her because a wicked witch has changed her into a hare, and guards the entrance to the enchanted kingdom closely. But do not despair – I shall help you. Take this nut. Whatever wish you utter, the nut will grant it. I shall also give you a piece of good advice. When you come to the old, hollow maple tree that hides the entrance to the enchanted kingdom, wait until the full moon, for only on that night may you enter the tree unnoticed.
“At every full moon, the white hart comes down to the castle lake to swim, and the evil witch watches his every move. That evening you have to try to save him. If you do so, you will also set free Diana and the whole enchanted kingdom.
“At that point, the witch will take the form of a black vulture. She will fly over the white hart’s head while he is swimming in the lake to make sure he does not escape. If you can manage to shoot the vulture with one shot, and in such a way that the first drop of its black blood falls right on the hart’s white head, the spell will be broken, and everyone will be free.”
“I’m a good shot – I”m sure I’ll be able to do that,” said William confidently.
“Don’t be in such a hurry, young man. Without my help you will never shoot the vulture. Have you any idea who hides under those black feathers?” said the old man, taking William’s gun. He sprinkled some red powder on the fire, and held the gun in the fragrant smoke. Then he whispered three magic words, and gave the gun back to William.
“Now your gun has magical powers. You will hit whatever target you choose. As soon as the vulture starts to circle above the white hart’s head, take good aim. Then, without waiting any longer, shoot! Remember, you can only shoot once, or else all is lost.
“Now I have told you all you need to know. Rest well this evening, and have a good sleep before you set out on your journey. You must leave first thing tomorrow morning, for it will soon be full moon. Good night, William.”
William was all too glad to stretch out in a soft feather bed, and in a moment he was fast asleep.
When he awoke early the next morning, he felt refreshed for the first time in a long while. He breakfasted on a slice of bread with honey from the forest bees and a glass of fresh goat’s milk. Then he said goodbye to the kind old couple, thanked them warmly for their help, and set out on his journey with renewed vigour. As he went, he remembered what the old man had told him about the nut. To try out its magical powers, he tapped it, and said:
“Silverbell, jump out of the nut and take me to the enchanted kingdom!”
No sooner had he spoken than a fine dappled horse with slender legs appeared before him, pawing the ground impatiently with its hoof. William leapt into the saddle and prodded Silverbell, who set off at a tremendous gallop. It was a fine summer’s day. The air was warm with the smell of pine resin, the birds sang overhead, and a clear blue sky flashed through the treetops.
On and on they rode. The forest grew ever thicker, and the evergreen trees gave way to oaks and beeches. Towards evening Silverbell finally came to a halt in a small glade, lit by the setting sun, in front of an old, hollow maple tree with huge spreading boughs full of merrily twittering birds. The horse neighed, and touched the ground with his foot as a sign that they had reached the spot. William thanked him for his service, and said:
“Silverbell, go back into the nut!” And the horse disappeared.
Gradually it grew dark. The birds fell silent, and the forest settled down to sleep after a busy day. It was a warm, light summer’s night as the full moon rose and climbed silently into the sky. When all the forest was bathed in its light William, crossing himself, tapped the nut on the bark of the maple and said:
“May the way to the enchanted kingdom open!”
The old tree opened, and William hurried down the wooden corridor, ran across the garden full of flowers, and passed the richly decorated castle without even looking at it. However, he could not see the lake anywhere. Quickly, he made his way to the iron gate in the middle of the white wall that surrounded the castle garden. There he finally saw the beautiful lake with the little green island in the middle, and the dark forest in the background. Impatiently, he turned the handle, but the gate would not move. Then he remembered the old man’s present. Taking the nut out of his pocket, he touched the rusty old lock with it. The gate opened at once.
He reached the lake just in time. The white hart, followed by his mate, had just entered the water when a large, black vulture flew over the deer’s head. William raised his gun, and tracked his target for a moment. Then he pulled the trigger. The shot rang out, and the magic bullet flew straight to its aim. A drop of black blood fell on the white hart’s head like a fleck of soot.
Suddenly the ground started to shake. The water in the lake churned wildly and spurted up into the air. The light faded as a strong wind got up, bending the trees down to the ground like saplings. Terrified birds flew up into the sky. William felt dizzy and weak. His head spinning, he lost consciousness and fell into the soft grass.
When he woke up he did not know where he was and looked around in amazement. He was lying on a snow-white feather bed, and over him there hung a sky-blue velvet canopy embroidered with gold. Diana was kneeling by his bed, holding his hand and thanking him for setting her free. She told him what had happened to her, and promised she would never again be over-curious. William told her how he had met her godparents, without whom he could never have rescued her. They were both so deep in talk that they did not even notice the young king and queen entering the room. The king and queen went up to William and Diana and thanked them for setting them free. Then the king told them why the wicked witch had hated and persecuted them.
Many, many years ago, the king’s father had promised that his son would marry the daughter of the neighbouring monarch. He did not know, at that point, that the queen in the neighbouring kingdom was a powerful and cunning witch. When his son realized how cruel and evil she was, he refused to marry her daughter. He broke his father’s promise, and instead married the daughter of one of his father’s loyal advisors. As soon as the evil witch found out, she took her revenge by changing the young king into a white hart, and his beautiful wife into a hind. All their subjects became birds and small animals. They would have to wait in the enchanted kingdom until they were set free by an innocent girl, who would undergo a severe trial to save them.
The years passed, and still no one appeared. One day the king, still in the form of a deer, managed to escape from the prison, and met Diana’s father. When, seventeen years after their encounter, he saw that George had forgotten his promise, he managed to deceive the witch a second time, and found the girl himself. When he brought her to the enchanted kingdom, they all thought that at last they would be released. But Diana let them down by being too curious. Had it not been for William’s great courage, they would have been lost for ever.
The king ended his story, and all those present raised a cheer for William. Then they sat down to a festive dinner. The tables groaned under the weight of choice delicacies. Once again they all were free and happy. Great celebrations were held throughout the country in William’s honour, but the modest young man was longing for the moment when he and his beloved Diana could go home together. The king saw how restless the young couple was, so he did not press them to stay longer. He gave them lots of handsome gifts and prepared a coach for them, drawn by a pair of beautiful white horses. At last William and Diana got into the coach and, accompanied by many cheers and words of thanks, began their journey home.
Diana’s parents had long since given up their daughter for lost, and their future son-in-law as well, after he had failed to return from his travels. One evening they were sitting together in front of their cottage, reminiscing about their lost happiness, when suddenly they heard the rumble of wheels. The next moment a beautiful golden coach drew up in front of the cottage, and out of it stepped Diana and William, both smiling happily.
“Our beloved children, how happy we are to see you both again,” said Diana’s mother as they embraced her. Their reunion was long and joyful, for Diana’s parents had thought they would never see their daughter alive again. With tears in their eyes, they thanked William for rescuing her. Then the long stories about their adventures began.
The next day when they had rested enough, William said it was high time they all went to visit his parents, who were naturally very keen on meeting the young couple and Diana’s parents. At first George and Elizabeth were unsure about going to the capital city, since they had never been that far, but William insisted. So they all got into the coach, and off they went. Soon they were out of the forest, passing villages, towns, fields and meadows until they reached the capital of the kingdom. Diana’s parents gazed in amazement at the splendour: magnificent town houses, pretty squares with high-towered churches, parks and promenades bordered with fragrant flowerbeds – a sight that especially delighted Diana’s mother. But the main surprise was still to come. The coach passed through the city centre, and headed for the royal palace.
When they stopped in the courtyard and got out of the coach, all the king’s servants were lined up to meet them, bowing deeply. Footmen in gold-embroidered livery led them down corridors and through luxurious chambers into an impressive hall where King Charles sat on his golden throne with a bejewelled crown on his head. William’s mother, Queen Anne, sat at his side. When the royal couple heard the fanfare announcing their son’s return, and saw him entering with Diana and her parents, their hearts leapt with joy. They rushed to meet them and welcomed them warmly. Diana was showered with love and warmth as if she were their own daughter. Only now did her parents realize that William was of royal blood.
Soon a grand wedding took place at the castle, attended among others by Diana’s godparents, and the king and queen of the liberated kingdom.
When the long wedding celebrations came to an end, William and Diana said goodbye to their royal parents. Leaving affairs of state in the hands of his younger brother, William returned with Diana and her parents to the old cottage, and to the forest kingdom. It proved to be the right decision because kingdoms, whether great or small, all need to be looked after with the same loving care.
And so they all lived happily ever after. Diana’s godparents visited the cottage regularly to celebrate the christening of yet another child. For children are indeed a blessing from God, and His greatest gift.
“Freedom is nothing else but a chance to become better.”
Patrick, Laura and the Crown of Freedom
At the end of a little village, in a cosy little cottage right by the forest, there lived a wise old man named Elgar. He was doubled over with age, but his kind blue eyes, which shone like two jewels in his wrinkled, smiling face, had not yet lost their sparkle. From spring until autumn he would wander through the woods and meadows collecting various healing herbs and roots, as well as wild fruits and mushrooms, which he then exchanged with the villagers for food. Often he would also heal them with his herbs. He was able to cure almost any illness or pain. There was only one thing that the healer and his herbs could not do: to give people back their lost national freedom.
The story began a long time ago, in a small country which lay next to a large and powerful kingdom ruled by the cruel King Erik. For many years, Erik had been scheming to bring the neighbouring country under his control. He knew that its people were bold and courageous, and that wars would not get him anywhere. So he began to expand his territory by ruse. He sent out loyal and rich merchants, and ordered them to settle in the neighbouring country. The new settlers spoke a foreign language, and practiced different customs that the native people did not understand. The wealthy settlers soon offered the natives work, and paid them handsomely. King Erik’s plan was beginning to work. After a short time, the native people began to abandon their mother tongue, even though they had not yet properly learnt the foreigners’ language, which did not sound melodious to their ears. And so gradually the people’s voices fell silent. In exchange for money, they had lost their songs, their freedom, and with these their joy in life. Erik had won without even lifting his sword.
One winter the old herbalist Elgar went down to the village to buy some supplies. At the door of one of the rich merchants’ homes, he saw a small, frail boy begging for food. The merchant shouted at him angrily:
“I have nothing for beggars,” and shut the door in his face. After such an experience the boy did not dare to knock anywhere else.
Night was rapidly falling on the village, and the little boy, who clearly had nowhere to go, started to sob. Elgar watched the poor boy shivering with cold. He felt sorry for him. And so he went up to him, and said:
“Don’t cry, little boy. Come with me, and things won’t be so bad. You can help me in the cottage, and I can give you a home. I can’t manage all the work myself any more. There’s room enough for both of us, and I won’t let you die of hunger either. At least the place will be more cheerful now.”
The old man took the little boy by the hand, and together they headed for the cottage. When they got there, Elgar showed him his new home. The boy was amazed: all around him hung little bags full of various herbs, giving off a pleasant fragrance of meadows and woods. He had never smelt anything quite like it.
Elgar threw an armful of sticks on the fire, and made the boy a bed next to the fireplace. Then he covered him with two warm sheepskins, and made him some strong herbal tea to get rid of the terrible fever that had taken hold of him. The boy drank the hot tea, and was soon fast asleep. He slept restlessly, however, and all night the healer kept watch over the weak little body racked by fever. The healing drink did its work, though. By morning the boy was feeling stronger. Elgar made him a hearty breakfast to give him back his strength.
After breakfast, the old man asked the boy why he was wandering about the world alone. The boy told him he was an orphan. From an early age he had been brought up by poor strangers who sent him out into the world to make his own living, because they did not have enough food even for their own children. And so the boy wandered from place to place looking for work, but because he was still small and weak, and could not yet do any heavy work, he was rudely turned away. The life of an orphan is a sad one. The boy did not even know his own name.
While he was speaking, Elgar nodded his silver head in thought. When the boy had finished, he said:
“Everyone must have a name. If you like, call me grandfather, and I shall call you Patrick. It is a noble name, and I hope you will be worthy of it. You can stay with me for as long as you wish, but remember you are a free person and can leave at any time. If you decide to stay with me, I shall teach you everything I know, and believe me, it will be very useful to you.”
Patrick was overjoyed at Elgar’s offer. Finally he had found a real home. He was more than happy to stay with the old man in his cottage, and did his very best to help him. Patrick was a good boy, cheerful and hard-working. Often he would break into song as he worked, and Elgar loved to listen to his singing. And so they lived all through the winter.
When spring came, the old man began taking the boy out into the meadows and woods. They picked various herbs for Elgar’s medicines, and as summer came there were raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and mushrooms, which they then exchanged in the village for modest supplies of food for the following winter.
A year had passed since the boy had arrived at the cottage, and Elgar had grown truly fond of the intelligent, lively lad. He treated him like his own grandson. In the evenings, when all the work was done, he often read to him from the big old leather-bound books which he kept in a chest like a precious treasure. They were the chronicles of the small nation’s glorious history, and were full of tales of courage and gallantry. Elgar was a good teacher and Patrick an attentive pupil, and before long he had kindled in him an ardent love of his native country.
Soon Patrick showed an interest in reading the books himself, and this marked the real start of his learning. As he was a diligent pupil he quickly learnt to read and write. In the evenings he would sit by the fire with Elgar reading the history books, and from the old stories he would compose songs about historical tales and legends. When his angelic voice rang out through the quiet cottage, Elgar realized that the boy had a God-given talent for music.
The next long winter passed, and the countryside grew green again. Elgar and Patrick went out together for long walks. They always took baskets with them for collecting herbs. Back at the cottage, they then put the herbs in nets in the windows to dry. The spicy, intoxicating smell wafted through the cottage from spring to autumn. Sometimes the herbalist picked whole plants, sometimes he picked only the leaves or blooms, and sometimes he pulled up the fleshy roots. At home he taught Patrick his art. He told him the names of all the plants, how to care for them, when and where to pick them, and how to dry them.
As spring advanced more and more flowers burst into bloom until the whole countryside was sweet with scent. By now, Patrick knew each plant in the area. Once he was familiar with the healing plants, Elgar told him how to make medicines, lotions and ointments from them, how to prepare various herbal teas, and what to use for which illness. Before long Patrick had become a useful assistant.
Summer and autumn were the seasons for working outdoors. During the long winter evenings they would sit by the fire and read the ancient books. Elgar often asked Patrick to sing for him. When the boy’s sweet voice rang out through the cottage, the old man beamed with pleasure, nodding his grey-haired head in approval. He always enjoyed Patrick’s songs, and when the boy finished Elgar would sit musing silently to himself, though he never told the boy what he was thinking. But Patrick felt there was something that made Elgar very sad.
Several more years passed, and the boy grew into a strong youth. Step by step, the old man gradually passed all his knowledge down to him, and Patrick was very grateful for his love and care.
Together they worked diligently for ten years, and time flew by like a dream. There was always something new to learn, and Patrick began to realize how wise his teacher and protector was, and how much love was in his noble heart.
Soon another summer came round, and with it Midsummer Night. It was a warm night, and the air inside the cottage was hot and stifling. Patrick thought he would sleep outside in the garden on the cool, soft grass, as he often did in summertime. But when Elgar saw him go to the door, he said:
“Tonight is not a good night to sleep in the open, Patrick. It is Midsummer Night, a special night – the only one in the year when the magic flower of the golden fern blooms, and when fairies, elves and other spirits hold their yearly meeting. No good will come to anyone who dares disturb them.”
“How can a fern bloom?” asked Patrick in surprise.
“It happens like this, my boy. As soon as it gets dark, a single glittering bud appears on the hundred-year-old fern. At exactly midnight, it blooms, and a golden light shines far out into the night like a bright star. It is a very rare flower, and if not picked by daybreak the flower wilts. It is said that anyone who finds and picks it will be protected against all magic, and the golden flower will bring him happiness. But by daybreak the fairies always disappear with it. So stay indoors tonight, and do not go out of the cottage. I don’t want you to come to any harm.”
As always, Patrick listened to Elgar’s advice. He went back into the cottage, lay down, and tried to go to sleep. But the room was hot and uncomfortable, and he could not get off to sleep. Just as he was beginning to doze off, he heard soft footsteps. He thought he was dreaming, but just to make sure he got up and went to Elgar’s room to see whether he needed anything. But his bed was empty. Patrick ran out of the cottage just in time to see his bent figure walking towards the forest. Was it really Elgar? Why was he going out on this night, when the forest was full of mysterious magic? What if something happened to him there?
Patrick began to worry. It did not take him long to decide that he had to follow and protect him, just as Elgar had protected him all these years.
He quickly got dressed and ran out of the cottage. But Elgar had already disappeared into the dense black forest. Patrick set out after him. As he entered the dark forest, he remembered the old man’s warning, but his fear soon gave way to curiosity. The forest grew thicker and thicker, and soon the boy was quite lost. There was still no sign of Elgar, who seemed to have disappeared without trace. Patrick now had difficulty seeing more than a step in front of him. He stumbled aimlessly through the forest, and began to regret that he had not listened to his old friend.
How would he find his way back? And what would he say to Elgar if he were not at home when the old man returned?
Patrick set off in a different direction, towards what he thought was the edge of the forest. But he was wrong again. That night it seemed as if the forest was endless. As he groped his way among the trees, his eyes fixed on the ground, he suddenly noticed a small, glowing light in the moss ahead of him. It did not move, but shone in the dark night like a bright star. The light’s magic power drew him towards it, and at the same time the forest was filled with a sweet, intoxicating smell that Patrick did not recognize. All of a sudden his doubts and fears were gone. He felt light-headed and happy – he even felt like singing. He walked towards the glimmering light to see where it was coming from, and found himself gazing at the tiny bloom of the golden fern.
“The magical flower of the fern,” Patrick whispered to himself. Kneeling down in the moss, he carefully picked the tiny flower and slipped it inside his shirt. Then he carried on into the forest. Now he no longer had to fear any magical powers because he was well protected. Hardly had he gone a few steps when he heard some voices, and through the trees he saw the faint flickering of a flame. At first he was afraid a fire had broken out in the forest, but as he drew closer he made out a host of figures lit up by firelight. To his amazement Patrick saw they were all old men with long, grey beards, all alike and all exactly the same as Elgar! They could all have been brothers. They were deep in earnest conversation, and as they talked, more and more old men kept coming into the clearing, greeting each other joyfully.
“Why have they all come here? What is going to happen?” thought Patrick as he watched the scene intently. The grey-haired old men suddenly stopped talking and stood in a semi-circle. In its centre appeared a throne, which seemed to have grown out of the earth. It was beautifully carved from white linden wood, and decorated with flowers of all kinds and colours. On it sat a noble-looking man, with long white hair and beard. He wore a flowing robe that reached down to the ground, tied at the waist with a golden sash. In all other ways, however, his clothing was no different from the simple clothing of the other old men. Casting a kindly eye over the assembly, he began to speak:
“Dear friends! We meet on this Midsummer Night, as we do every year by ancient custom, to discuss the future and share our feelings and concerns about our beloved country, which we all cherish. Ever since the king of the neighbouring country stole my crown of freedom, our people have been suffering under the yoke of oppression, and the evil enemy is waiting for the moment when our dear mother tongue dies out forever. Our people, it seems, have forgotten the value of freedom. They have traded it for the false freedom of glittering coins. The ranks of the faithful are dwindling, and we are all awaiting the day that will bring us at least a glimmer of hope. Would any of you like to share your thoughts?”
For a while there was silence. Then a familiar voice asked to speak. It was the voice of Elgar.
“O great King Theodore, are even you in despair at the fate of our nation? Then let me share with you all a prophecy the stars showed me last night. Maybe this will bring a spark of hope to your hearts.”
“Speak, Elgar, speak!” cried a chorus of eager voices.
“Very well, then. The stars told me that the day of our freedom is approaching – and faster than we think. But first we have to find that one who has picked the flower of the golden fern. Only this person can help us to defeat the evil wizard Erik, and regain our crown of freedom. But he cannot be left to act alone: we too must work to free our nation. In the towns and villages there are still loyal people, but we must wake them from their sleep. If we fail in this, all will be lost.”
“Thank you, Elgar, for your inspiring words and for the spark of hope that you have struck in our hearts,” said King Theodore. The assembly nodded in agreement.
At that moment a bevy of beautiful maidens appeared and began to dance joyfully around the men and their fire. They wore feather-light robes, and were adorned with garlands, ribbons, and forest flowers. But Theodore soon put a stop to their frolicking.
“Stop your dancing, woodland fairies! Tonight is not a night for games. Our hearts are heavily burdened.”
Suddenly a new figure appeared in their midst: a beautiful girl as fresh as the bunch of rosebuds she held in her hands. She wore a fine pink dress decorated with little roses, and had a rosebud in her hair.
“Look – Love is in our midst!” the assembly shouted. Love greeted them, then turned to Theodore:
“Forgive us, dear friend. We hoped that by dancing and singing we could drive away your sadness and despair.”
“Welcome, Love,” said Theodore kindly. “Come and sit next to me on the throne.”
At that moment startled whispers broke out among the wood fairies, and one of them cried:
“Hark! We are not alone – someone has been listening to our meeting. Look there, he’s hiding behind that tree. I saw the firelight reflected in his eyes.”
King Theodore gave a signal, and immediately two stout men brought Patrick over to him. When Elgar saw whom they had brought, he cried out:
“Oh, Patrick, why did you not obey me?”
But Theodore, angered, was already addressing the boy:
“Tell me who you are and what you are doing here. Do you not know that it is wrong to spy on people? What do you have to say in your defence?”
“My name is Patrick, and my intention was not to eavesdrop on you. I did not leave home to come here and disturb you, but because I was worried about my friend Elgar. I saw him walking into the dark forest at night, and feared some evil might befall him. So I came to look for him, and witnessed your meeting quite by chance. I heard you speaking of the great danger our country is in, and I gladly offer my service. Please tell me how I can help the people of my homeland, and where I should seek the lost crown of freedom. Is there anything I can do to redeem myself in your eyes?”
“It is too late for forgiveness, Patrick, even though you appear to be telling the truth. Our laws strictly punish mortals who have witnessed our meetings. We cannot risk being discovered – and humans are not to be trusted. Therefore, your service to your country and your punishment will be as one. You shall become a linden tree, with great spreading boughs. For centuries you will tell people who come to rest in your shade of the glory and bravery of your nation. It will be your task to awaken their patriotism. You shall never be cut down, as the linden tree is sacred to your ancestors.”
When Theodore had finished speaking, he rose from his throne and, with a wave of his hand, uttered the magic command:
“Let it be!”
But nothing happened. Strange to say, Patrick did not turn into a tree. Everyone gaped in astonishment.
“What?” Theodore shouted in disbelief. “Have I no power over you, a mere boy? Tell me who protects you!”
“In the forest this night I came upon the golden fern. The flower was in bloom, and I picked it. Elgar had told me about the flower’s protective powers.”
“That explains everything,” said King Theodore. “And there’s your prophecy of the stars, Elgar,” he added, pensively. “I think we should trust this boy. Do all of you agree?”
The assembly nodded in unison, and Elgar’s face beamed with joy that his boy was the chosen one.
Patrick felt deeply honoured.
“Thank you for your trust!” he said. “I shall not disappoint you. Tell me where I can find the evil wizard Erik, so that I can defeat him and take back our crown of freedom.”
“Be patient, my boy. The task is much more complicated than that. It will not be enough simply to return the crown. First you have to awaken the people of this country from their sleep, rekindle the fire of patriotism in their hearts, and revive their love of their mother tongue. Only then will you be able to defeat Erik,” replied King Theodore.
Then Love spoke:
“I am a loyal friend of humans, since I am with you all your lives. I have a magic key to open your hearts with. Though my power is hard to resist, yet some people still do. My task is a joyful one. Whenever a child is born, I am there and plant three rosebuds in his heart. These then grow into three beautiful flowers: love for parents, love for friends, and love for country. Sometimes, however, the buds do not open. Then I send my cousin, the fairy Laura, to revive the rosebuds and foster love in human hearts.”
“Thank you, Love. I see that only you can save my people. Please put in our hearts as much love for our country as you can,” said Patrick.
“Do you love your country?” asked Love.
“More than my own life,” replied Patrick.
“Then you are proof that I have fulfilled my task – I can do no more. I give my gifts to each person in equal measure, but I cannot help it if in many hearts my rosebuds die before they bloom. For a long time I have been watching how love in the world is fading away, and evil, envy, and hatred are growing stronger. My gift can be offered just once. If people’s hearts have become hardened and they feel no love, Laura is their only salvation. I think she could help you in your task, too.”
At that very moment, the fairy Laura appeared next to Love. They looked almost identical, except that Laura wore a sky-blue dress and a wreath of forget-me-nots in her hair, and held a golden flute in her hand.
“Do you know how my cousin Laura can help you?” Love asked Patrick. “She appears wherever my rosebuds are wilting, and revives and warms them with her sweet songs so that they do not freeze in people’s frosty hearts.”
“So are we to unite our people first, and only then go and fight Erik?” Patrick asked the king.
“Yes, Patrick,” replied King Theodore. “When a forest is ravaged by a storm, one tree looks to the other for protection. You should do likewise. Well, day is breaking so we must bid you farewell. God be with you, courageous youth. I wish you every success in your mission.”
A bluish haze enveloped the clearing and the grove fell silent. Laura, Elgar, and Patrick found themselves alone.
“Let’s go,” said Elgar. “A new day is dawning.”
When they came out of the forest they made their way to the cottage to prepare for their journey. There Laura changed out of her sky-blue dress into the clothes of a common country girl. Elgar asked a peasant girl from the village to come and look after their cottage while they were away. When all the preparations had been made, they left the village.
They walked and walked until they came to a small town with a beautiful square, and they decided to try their luck there. It was just getting dark. Laura climbed on to the steps of the fountain, and began to play her golden flute.
The joyous sound flowed through the silent square, the liquid notes joining together in a lovely stream of melody. People stopped in amazement, and listened to the soft, beautiful music. They hurried out of their houses, and before long the square was as busy as on a holiday.
Laura stopped playing to rest a little, and asked Patrick whether he liked her music. He nodded blissfully. Then she suggested accompanying his songs about the country’s glorious history on her magic flute.
Patrick was a little nervous about singing in front of so many people, but Laura placed her hand on his lips, kissed his face, and said:
“Don’t be afraid. Just start singing. You’ll be fine.”
And so the concert began. Patrick had never sung with more beauty and feeling than he did in that quiet little square. He felt he had grown wings. The sweet tones rang through the night like silver bells, as gradually the people in the square joined in. When they had finished singing, Elgar faced the crowd and told the people about their enemy, King Erik. He asked them to free their minds, and unite against their oppressor. The next day the town’s inhabitants said goodbye to them as if they were old friends, and thanked them for awakening their souls.
The little group went from village to village, and from town to town. Patrick and Laura played and sang, and Elgar told people about their glorious history, encouraging them to unite, and to be brave. Throughout the country people began singing Patrick’s songs and using their mother tongue again.
In the larger, richer towns, however, where King Erik governed the people by the power of money, our friends” task was much harder. The rich foreign settlers knew only too well what danger the three travellers spelled for them, and tried to stop them in every imaginable way. So as to silence Patrick’s singing they would shout, cause a commotion, and sing their own songs. But Patrick would not be silenced. At such moments, the golden flute was of the greatest help. With only a few of its sweet notes, the fiercest of the rabble-rousers fell silent and they all started to listen to the enchanting music. When Elgar talked to the people, he not only had the attention of those who were already loyal, but also won over those who resisted. Their enemies soon melted away into the night, knowing they no longer stood a chance.
And so these musical compatriots travelled around their country for more than a year. Soon, news of the three mysterious travellers, who sang to people and awakened their souls, had spread far and wide. Their songs started to have an effect: Elgar’s words were taken to heart, angry neighbours began to make it up with one another, the rich helped the poor, and children once again respected their parents.
One day, however, the three travellers came to a border village where only foreigners lived. They did not understand Patrick’s songs, and were unmoved by the sweet tones of the golden flute. As the travellers were not welcome, they could not find anywhere to stay in the village and had to sleep in a nearby forest. Tired after their long journey, they soon fell asleep on the soft moss. In the middle of the night they were suddenly roused by a thunderous noise, which seemed to be getting closer. But in the pitch darkness they could see nothing. The next moment a menacing voice boomed out above them:
“I have been watching you for some time, and know what you are up to. Now you are completely in my power, and you shall feel my wrath.”
Undaunted, Elgar replied:
“Who are you that you dare threaten me with punishment? Do you not know that I am the untouchable guardian of this country, and anyone who lays a finger on me will be punished by all the good spirits?”
“I am King Erik. You know of me. This forest in which you stand belongs to me. Old man, do you think that even here you are untouchable?”
“Have we wandered into your territory?” asked Elgar in alarm.
“Indeed, you have. And I am exceedingly glad to have you as my guests,” continued the evil king with biting sarcasm. “I have heard a lot about you. You are rallying my subjects against me, and you shall be rewarded for your noble work handsomely. But I shall imprison only one of you: the one who does me so much harm, the key to your success. Laura, you shall be silenced!” thundered King Erik.
“Laura!” Patrick cried in horror. Too late! Laura had disappeared without trace into the darkness.
King Erik laughed malevolently:
“Now go home and sing to your heart’s content. However, I think that from tonight you will be singing a different tune,” added King Erik, mockingly.
And with that the forest fell silent. Patrick and Elgar did not sleep a wink for the rest of the night. At first light they set off home to ask King Theodore for advice on how to free Laura. They travelled without stopping until they got home. The cosy little cottage was just as they had left it; it looked as if they had only been gone a day. They rested a little to regain their strength, and when evening came, they went into the forest to seek Theodore’s advice.
They went the same way Patrick had taken on Midsummer Night until they came to the grove. Elgar went up to the highest pine tree, knelt down on the ground, and began looking around in the moss for something. Before long, he pulled out a golden key, which he struck three times against the mighty pine trunk. A passage into the earth opened up beneath the tree. He and Patrick descended underground and made their way down a narrow, winding corridor. Soon they came to a large cave lit by a fire. King Theodore sat deep in thought on a high, ornately-carved wooden chair. He seemed not to notice them, but after a little while he addressed them kindly:
“Tell me, dear travellers, how have you fared in the world?”
When he saw the worried look on their faces, he added:
“Don’t tell me you bring bad news?”
“I’m afraid we do, Your Majesty. The evil King Erik has imprisoned Laura. By accident we wandered into his territory and so were no longer under the protection of our native land. We were powerless against him. Now we have come to ask you where we should look for our lost friend Laura.”
“That should be easy enough to discover,” said Theodore, throwing a handful of wet pine needles on the fire, followed by some red rowan berries. In the thick white smoke the image of a well-fortified castle, standing high on a rock, gradually took shape. It had four towers, and was surrounded by massive walls and a deep moat.
“Mark this image well, Patrick. It is here, in this castle, that Erik has imprisoned the fairy Laura. But it will not be easy to get there. You will have to risk your life and face many dangers. May all the good spirits protect you! I hope you will emerge victorious, but hope alone is not enough. Make sure you protect the flower of the golden fern well, because you will need it. And let me give you something else to help you achieve your goal. Come here, Patrick. I am sending you to a foreign country, but you must not be recognized as a foreigner by the natives there. Swallow this petal, and the language of that country will come to you as easily as if you had spoken it all your life.
“And here is a small gift from me for your journey,” continued Theodore. “A white scarf, embroidered with the emblems of your country: blue forget-me-nots and red hearts. Wear this scarf, and your compatriots will know you for one of their own. If you find yourself somewhere and are not sure whether you are among friends, spread the scarf out in front of you. If you have friends there, they will make themselves known to you. I wish I could help you more than this, Patrick, but in everything else you will have to fend for yourself.”
Patrick bowed to King Theodore and thanked him for everything. He put the scarf in the secret pocket where he had hidden the flower of the golden fern. Then he and Elgar bade him farewell and returned above ground. Elgar put the key back in its hiding place, and they set off home. It was already getting light.
As they parted, Elgar said:
“Goodbye to you, dear boy, and return home safely. You know I love you like my own son. During all these years, I have taught you everything I know. I hope you will find it useful now. May you achieve your goal!”
“Goodbye, Elgar. Thank you for everything. I shall do my best to save my country and Laura, and bring back Theodore’s crown. Let us hope we will all meet again soon.”
And so, Patrick set out, inspired by love and a great desire to help his people. Sometimes, after walking all day, he would knock on the doors of cottages, and show his white scarf. If there were compatriots in the cottage, he would always find a warm welcome. As he passed through towns and villages, he could hear people singing the songs he had sung to them with Laura, and this gave him strength. After several weeks of travelling he came to a range of high mountains covered in dense forest. This was the borderland between his country and King Erik’s kingdom.
After crossing the border, he made his way to the first village beyond the forest to ask where he might find the castle with the four towers. He spoke the foreign language so fluently that they took him for a fellow countryman, and it was not long before he found out what he wanted. He hurried to a large lake, in the middle of which was a small, rocky island. High on the rock, surrounded by a moat, towered the mighty castle. When Patrick arrived, luck was with him: the drawbridge over the moat to the castle gates happened to be down. But first he had to cross the lake. He walked all around it but there was no bridge across to the island. Finally, he found a small fisherman’s hut hidden in the reeds, with a little boat tied up by the shore in front of it.
Patrick went inside and begged the fisherman to take him to the island, saying he wanted to go into service there as a guard or labourer. The fisherman was surprised at his request, since no one had ever returned from the castle alive. But without asking Patrick any more questions he got into the boat with him and took him to the island, where he wished him good luck and returned home.
Not wishing to arouse the suspicions of the castle guard, Patrick set off up a steep path leading straight uphill. On the way he realized it would be almost impossible to escape from the castle. For a moment, his heart was gripped by fear. But then he thought of his country, and how badly it needed his help, and forgot the dangers that lay ahead. With the determination of a valiant knight, he crossed the drawbridge, knocked on the heavy iron gate, and waited. After a moment he heard steps in the courtyard. The bolt rattled and a grumpy voice invited him to enter. Patrick found himself in the courtyard, confronted by a guard in heavy armour.
“What do you want?” snapped the guard.
“I wish to enter into the service of your king,” replied Patrick. “Might there be a job for me here?”
“I don’t know,” said the guard. “I don’t decide these things. You’d better see our commander.”
“Doesn’t the lord of the castle live here?” asked Patrick.
“No, King Erik lives in another castle. His commander is in charge here. This way!”
Patrick did not dare ask any more questions. The guard took him down a long corridor. They stopped in front of a massive wooden door.
“This is where the commander lives. Ask him whether he has a job for you.”
Patrick knocked on the heavy door. A stern voice called out:
Patrick went in. He bowed to the scowling commander, who sat behind a big table:
“I’d like to enter the castle service, Sir. I”m sure you’ll be satisfied with me. I’m brave, and my arrows rarely miss their targets. Besides, I know a lot about herbs, and how to make medicines and ointments for all kinds of sicknesses and wounds.”
“I see. But why do you want to serve at this particular castle?” asked the commander. “There are several other castles nearby. Why don’t you ask for a job at one of them?”
“I have asked, Sir, but none of them needed guards. Besides, I didn’t much like those castles. But when I saw this solid, impregnable castle, I thought I would serve here for free if only you would let me stay. Please don’t send me away, Sir. I will serve you loyally.”
“Very well, I’ll take you on for a trial period. When our king returns, he will decide whether you can stay here for good. Now, have the sergeant of the guards show you your bunk. And mind your manners, boy, or you will get into big trouble!” barked the commander angrily.
Patrick breathed a sigh of relief. He had successfully taken the first step in rescuing Laura and retrieving the golden crown.
He soon made friends with the castle guards, and when they all met in the evening after their shift, he sang them the folk songs he had heard while wandering through their country. However, he was always very careful not to sing any songs from his own country. Although he had made friends among the guards and had been at the castle for a while, he still did not know whether anyone was being held prisoner at the castle. Whenever Patrick tried to steer the conversation in that direction, the guards shut him up at once:
“Don’t worry about that, it’s none of your business. The less you know the better for you.”
So the winter passed, then the spring, and still Patrick did not know in which tower Erik had imprisoned Laura.
And then one day King Erik returned to his castle. Patrick was terrified of meeting him, since he knew the king was bound to recognize him. And he did. First the king sent for his new guard with the angelic voice, and asked him to sing the songs he had sung to the guards. Just as Patrick was beginning to think that he had passed unrecognized, Erik asked him to sing one of the songs he had sung to his own people with Laura. After that Erik gave him two choices: to betray his people and join Erik’s side, or to be thrown into irons and chained to a rock forever. The courageous youth refused to betray his own people, so King Erik had him thrown into prison and shackled to a rock.
In despair, Patrick wondered how he might escape. At night he held the flower of the golden fern in his hand; its clear light lit up his dark cell. It was the only treasure he had managed to hide from the evil Erik, as he had hidden it under the collar of his shirt. But no matter how hard he thought, he could not think of any way to outwit Erik. Just as he was beginning to feel that all was lost, a strange old man suddenly appeared in his cell.
“Do not despair, Patrick. I have come to help you,” said the old man.
“Who are you, and how did you manage to get in here unnoticed?” asked Patrick in astonishment.
“My name is Fate,” replied the old man. “I am here to help you fulfil your task. You have suffered enough for your people. I won’t let you die here.”
“Why do you want to help me? Are you my friend?” asked Patrick.
“I am no one’s friend, and no one’s enemy. I enter into the pathways of your lives whenever I think it is necessary. And since I am as capricious as a small child, I bring continual changes into your lives. Some people praise me, others curse me. The ones who curse me, though, mistake me for Bad Luck. But in truth the choice is always yours. It is you who have to fight for your happiness.”
“But what is the point of all our efforts if you play with us as your whim takes you?” asked Patrick sadly.
“Don’t get me wrong, Patrick. I don’t play with everybody. I like to help good and courageous people – it is only the weaklings I really play with. I promised to help you, and I shall stand by my promise. I like you because you love your country, and would give even your young life for it. It would be a shame were you to perish here in prison. Now, here are seven golden keys. I cannot tell you what they unlock, though. Where Erik is hiding Laura and the golden crown, I do not know. You have to find that out by yourself. I cannot make your task any easier, but you should know that your golden flower has magical powers. If you touch your fetters with it, and the lock of your cell, you will be free. Still, you must take great care not to arouse any suspicions too early. Be strong and steadfast. Soon we shall meet again.”
With that, Fate disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared, and Patrick was once more alone in the cell. If he had not been holding a bunch of golden keys in his hand, he would have thought it had all been a dream.
By way of a test, he touched the irons on his legs with the magic flower, and they silently fell open. Then he touched the lock, too, and was free. And so every night, while the castle was asleep, Patrick crept out of cell and explored the prison fortress. It was a difficult and dangerous task. The secret corridors were endless, but one night he managed to find Laura’s cell by following the soft sound of her golden flute deep into the castle dungeons. When at last he came to her cell door, he was able to unlock it easily with one of the golden keys. How happy they were to see each other again! Patrick told Laura they must escape together at once. No sooner had they closed the cell door than Fate appeared again. He took Laura into his arms, covered her with his cloak, and carried her safely off to the home of the lake fairy Rosalba.
Now Patrick faced his second, even harder task: to find where Theodore’s crown of freedom was hidden.
Erik was furious when he discovered that the fairy Laura had disappeared without a trace, and had Patrick guarded day and night. The only time Patrick could slip out was when his guard got drunk and fell asleep.
One day Patrick overheard the guards talking to each other about Erik’s departure from the castle. His heart leapt with joy. Some of the guards would be accompanying the king on his journey, and so Patrick would have more freedom for his night-time search. One night, while roaming the castle, he saw the commander walking down one of the secret corridors leading to the dungeons. Patrick followed him carefully, memorizing the way.
The next night he set off down the corridor himself, and after a short search discovered a safe bearing Erik’s coat-of-arms carved into the rock. But no matter which of the golden keys he tried, the safe would not open: it was protected by a powerful spell. Then Patrick remembered the magic flower of the golden fern. The moment he touched the lock with the glowing flower, the evil spell was broken and the safe sprang open.
There, on a white silk cushion, lay Theodore’s beautiful golden crown encrusted with brilliant blue, white and red gems. At its top sparkled a large red garnet, the symbol of his country.
“No one can take it from us ever again,” whispered Patrick, pressing the golden crown to his heart. Then, from behind him, he heard a familiar voice:
“That depends entirely on you and your people. Freedom is too delicate a flower, and human hearts are all too easily intoxicated by its smell. But an ill fate awaits those who cannot use it wisely – as ill as that which attends those who willingly take on the chains of slavery. Both paths lead to destruction.”
Fate told Patrick to follow him. However, they took a different path from that Patrick had taken. More than once Fate touched the wall with his hand, and it opened magically before them. When they were back in Patrick’s cell again, Fate said:
“Give me Theodore’s crown, Patrick, and I shall take it to the lake fairy Rosalba for safekeeping. You yourself would not be able to protect it from Erik’s anger, such is his magic power. So far you have done very well. Your task will soon end. I still have some work to do here, but I will come back for you before long. In the meantime be patient, and wait for me.”
With these words Fate disappeared. Patrick waited fearfully to see what would happen next. He already knew of Erik’s malice and foul temper. The king, though, had other worries. Seized in mid-journey by an evil foreboding, he ordered the carriage to turn around and take him back to the castle as fast as possible. But of course he was too late. Now the golden crown, too, had disappeared, though Patrick was still chained to the rock.
As soon as Erik saw what had happened, he shut himself up in his room in the tower and gave orders for no one to disturb him. Then he took out his crystal ball and lit a fire. On it he sprinkled a yellowish powder, over which he then poured a black liquid. Next he placed the crystal ball in the middle of the flames and began reciting mysterious spells over it, calling on the aid of all evil spirits. He wanted to know where Theodore’s crown had gone.
In a moment, a vague picture began to appear on the wall. As it became clearer, Erik recognized in it the fairy Rosalba. She was holding Theodore’s crown, and laughing gaily. By her side sat Laura.
“So that’s their game, is it?” he muttered. “Even the fairies have joined forces against me! But I am not afraid of anyone, not even fairies. I must have that crown, even if it means fighting the whole world. If I were to lose it, I would lose all my power, and my great glory would fade. I cannot allow that!”
Furious, Erik strode to the door and shouted to his servants:
“Set out immediately! Take the crown from the fairy Rosalba, and capture the fairy Laura. Hurry! Off with you!”
He slammed the door in rage and returned to his chair to consider what else he could do. Suddenly, a strange, hooded figure appeared before him:
“Erik, you will never shine like the sun, since you are dark and evil. You forget that the sun brings goodness, benefit, and blessings to the world every day, but it also reminds men of how transitory everything is here on earth. Observe its path through the sky one day, and think about it. There is no beginning without an end. That is the way of the world, and there is nothing you can do to change it.”
“Can’t I indeed? And who are you to talk so boldly to me, and teach me lessons?” Erik raged.
Fate revealed his face a little, and bowed to the king.
“Do you still not recognize me, my cruel king? I am your guide, and have accompanied you faithfully your whole life. You must not curse me. In the beginning I liked your fearlessness, and I supported all your efforts. You expanded and strengthened your kingdom through many wars, yet still I supported you because I kept hoping that one day you would stop your fighting, and start to live in peace with all your neighbours. I waited long, but in vain. When I found out that you wanted to take Theodore’s country by trickery and deceit, I decided to stand in your way. You will never rule over that country. But I came to give you one more chance. Think it over properly, you proud king. You cannot outwit me.”
“I will never change my mind,” replied Erik stubbornly.
“You have made your own decision, my proud, foolish king. I am more powerful than all your allies together. Just as I helped you on your earlier path to glory and power, I shall now punish you for your misguided pride and cruelty. You will pay the price for all your evil deeds. We shall meet again on Midsummer Night in Theodore’s country. There, before the whole assembly, I shall pronounce my verdict on you.”
With these words, Fate disappeared. Erik, blind with rage, ran through the castle like a wild beast. When he had regained his senses, he sent his guard to check whether Patrick was still in his cell, and ordered the guard not to move a step from him. The guard checked Patrick’s chains and, seeing everything was in order, sat down on the ground next to him and soon fell fast asleep.
Before long, a chill draught swept through the cell, and Fate appeared before Patrick a third time.
“It’s time to go, Patrick. Our accounts here have been settled.”
Fate took the chains off his legs, then bound the guard with them and said:
“Get up, guard, and tell your master that his battle with Fate has begun!”
Fate wrapped Patrick in his cloak, and whisked him away to the lake kingdom. A moment later, they were standing in a delightful little garden, so beautiful that Patrick was quite entranced. All around him were well-kept flowerbeds full of all kinds of flowers. The boy was overjoyed, for up in the castle he had never seen a single flower.
In the middle of the garden there stood a glass gazebo overgrown with roses. Around its walls, in a semi-circle, were soft, purple velvet-covered seats, inviting guests to sit down and rest. A silver sparkling fountain, fringed with a wreath of blue forget-me-nots, splashed in the middle of the gazebo.
“This is where the lake fairy Rosalba lives. We shall wait here until she returns,” said Fate as he sat down on one of the velvet seats.
Patrick carried on walking among the flowerbeds, feasting his eyes on the flowers.
“It’s so beautiful here,” he said happily as he sat down next to Fate.
Fate smiled and said:
“There is beauty everywhere, dear boy, both around you and in you, but it is people’s own fault that they do not see it, and can neither understand nor value it. Beauty is everywhere and in everything. Look around you carefully, and you will understand my words. You just have to know how to look properly. Those who are able to see beauty in everything and everywhere find their journey through life much more meaningful. Their souls stay young and fresh, and their hearts noble and good.”
At that moment the lake fairy Rosalba appeared above the fountain, light as a wisp of smoke.
“You are right, Fate, there is beauty in everything, but not all people have the ability to enjoy its gifts, since many eyes are blinded by anger, and many hearts are cold as ice. Forgive me, though, for not having greeted you straight away. You are my special guests. I invite you to stay with me as long as you wish.rdquo;
“Thank you, dear Rosalba. We shall not stay long, however. Patrick has to hurry home with the golden crown, and I have to watch King Erik, whose evil deeds have outweighed his good ones for far too long, and the scales are out of balance. He must now reap what he has sown, though he will not like the harvest. Erik will never again bask in his own power and glory. All light brings with it a shadow, and all violence contains the seeds of its own destruction.”
Patrick pricked up his ears.
“Fate, tell me more about the scales you were talking about just now. I don’t quite understand.”
“Very well, dear boy, I shall grant your request because you deserve to know the truth. The future of each person lies in scales like these.”
Fate opened his cloak and pulled out a small pair of scales. One side glowed white like freshly fallen snow, while the other was black as night.
“You see, Patrick, all your good deeds, desires, and wishes fall on the white side of scales, and all your bad deeds and evil wishes fall on the black side. However, good deeds are light as a feather, and so a lot of them are needed to balance one bad deed, which can be as heavy as a stone. And as the scales rise and fall, so your life moves the same way. When the white side is heavier, you say that Fate favours you, and when the black one dominates, you say that you are running out of luck, and you curse me, though I am not the cause of it.”
“And do you control the scales of human deeds?” asked Patrick.
“No, there is no need. I only observe, and regulate the movement of the scales. Either I speed them up or I slow them down. This is why I do not reward good deeds immediately, and do not punish every bad deed. First I wait and watch, and I only judge after years have passed. Then, I either reward or I punish. You are still young. One day you will understand that this is the only right and fair way. Life itself will show you where to look for true happiness. It isn’t always easy. Often something that appears at first to be a source of great unhappiness, will later turn out to be a source of happiness,” Fate said.
“I still think that everyone has the right to happiness,” said Patrick.
“I agree with you. But do you suppose that everyone on earth knows where to look for it? In your country you could all achieve it if you honoured and loved one another, and helped each other like one big family. Then you would have priceless riches, and all the people in your country would be happy.”
“If only it could be that way everywhere on earth,” sighed Patrick.
“One day it will surely happen, and people will no longer need good spirits and fairies to protect them,” remarked Rosalba. “However, while there are evil Eriks in the world, humans will never be entirely happy.”
“You are right, Rosalba, but time is running out, and here I am talking instead of taking action,” said Fate. “I am glad you reminded me about the score I have yet to settle with King Erik. But now I have to go.
“Patrick, I wish you a safe journey home. Take Theodore’s crown to your country, then your mission will be over. You have done well in your trial. I shall take care of everything else myself. We shall meet again on Midsummer Night.
“And thank you, Rosalba, for your help and your warm welcome. God be with you both. I shall see you soon.”
With that Fate disappeared, and Patrick was left alone with the lake fairy.
“Come, Patrick, I shall take you across the lake, and give you the crown of your country,” she said.
Rosalba took Patrick by the hand, and together they walked over the lake as if it were dry land. When they reached the other side the fairy disappeared into the lake, only to emerge a moment later with a splendid, richly decorated casket.
“See, I have looked after your treasure well.”
She opened the lid of the casket a little, and the glittering reflections of the precious stones lit up the inside.
“Now, Patrick, hurry to your homeland. You are no longer in danger because everywhere around here the people have risen up against King Erik. As they say: he who sows a wind, reaps a storm! And don’t be sad,” she added, seeing the sad look on the boy’s face. “We shall meet again. You will never lose your friends. I wish you the best of luck.”
With these words the lake fairy waved him goodbye and was gone. Before the sun had risen above the horizon, Patrick was on his way home.
Meanwhile, the ever patient Fate had set out to visit King Erik for the last time. He entered Erik’s room quietly. The king was sleeping, but only lightly. He seemed to be having a nightmare. When Fate addressed him, he woke up with a start.
“Erik, do you now realize what a dangerous enemy I am, and how swiftly I can thwart your plans? Where is the fairy Laura now? Where is the golden crown? And where is your prisoner Patrick? Answer me! And where are all your friends?
“I have come to give you a final warning. You have a great kingdom, and there is no need to expand it any further. Stop behaving like an enemy, and live in peace with your peace-loving neighbours. You still have time to save yourself and your country.”
“Why do you keep trying to persuade me?” growled the king. “I have told you once already that I shall never give up my plans. I am not afraid of anyone or anything, not even of you! I can do whatever I want!”
“Do you really think so, Erik? How proud and arrogant and foolish you are! Very well, be it as you wish. You will receive the punishment you deserve. I am only sorry for your innocent subjects, who will suffer with you for your sins. That is why I have come to warn you one last time. Can’t you see? Destruction is all around you. Everyone is deserting you. You have no friends left. The day of reckoning has come, and you must pay the penalty for all your sins. Soon we shall meet again!”
And Fate disappeared.
When Erik awoke in the morning and looked out of his window, as usual, to admire the lake, he saw soldiers approaching the castle from all directions.
“Betrayed by my own subjects? That is exactly what Fate foretold!” Erik thought to himself, and ground his teeth. At that moment his last loyal guard ran into the room to tell him that his own people had risen up against him, and troops were on the way to the castle to overthrow and arrest him.
“Make haste, my lord! We may still manage to cross the lake in time. But we must leave at once.”
They hurried down the narrow path to the lake and called for the fisherman. They called and called, but still he did not come, and all the while the soldiers were getting closer. The little boat finally appeared, but too late. The soldiers caught them in the middle of the lake. When Erik saw how fast the soldiers’ boats were closing in, he fainted in fright. But when the soldiers came on board and searched the boat, the king was nowhere to be found. They had to be content with capturing his guard. King Erik had disappeared!
Meanwhile, Patrick was heading for the border. Under his jacket he pressed to his heart the priceless treasure – Theodore’s crown, the symbol of his nation’s freedom.
He passed through many towns and villages until finally he saw ahead of him the forested mountains that marked the border. He knew that once he crossed them he would be safely home. He walked for another day and night almost without stopping, and by evening he was back in his native country. It was getting dark and, finding no house where he might spend the night, he lay down in the moss under a tree to sleep.
Suddenly, he heard a quiet whispering nearby. At first he was frightened, thinking some danger was at hand, so for a while he listened carefully. In a moment, though, he recognized both voices:
“Elgar! Laura!” he shouted joyfully.
There was no more thought of sleep. They spent the whole night talking, and in the morning, little rested, they hurried homewards.
“We must be back by tomorrow night, Patrick.” said Elgar. “It’s Midsummer Night! Fate told us you were on your way, and sent us to find you so that you would be back with the crown in time for the assembly in the forest.”
As they got closer to home, more and more fellow countrymen joined them. Everyone was dressed in their best clothes, smiling and talking to each other about the big celebration. Patrick asked Elgar what was going on. But Elgar simply shrugged.
It was evening by the time they reached the cottage. As soon as they had refreshed themselves a little, they all set out for the forest. This time, however, the forest was not empty and silent, but humming with activity. The clearing in the grove, lit by a thousand candles, shone far into the forest. Patrick’s heart was brimming with joy! Theodore sat on his white linden-wood throne surrounded by a sea of flowers. By his side was Love, and before the throne stood forest sprites, water and woodland nymphs, fairies, elves, and gnomes from the mountains. Closest to the throne stood the white-haired old men, the guardians of the country, and all around were throngs of people.
“Come, Patrick, don’t be shy. The assembly is waiting to hear the story of your mission to rescue the golden crown,” said King Theodore kindly.
As the three walked to the front, the hum of voices in the grove subsided. Patrick gathered up his courage, bowed deeply to the whole company, and spoke out in a clear voice:
“A year has passed since I swore, on this very spot, that I would regain the crown of our King Theodore. However, I would never have survived the struggle against the cruel wizard Erik by myself. In my difficult task of awakening the people of this country, I was faithfully helped by my kind friend Elgar, and the fairy Laura, whom Erik captured and threw into jail. I set out to Erik’s country to free her, and was imprisoned myself. I thought my end had come, and I would no longer be able to fulfil my task. Then two new friends came to help me: Fate, and the lake fairy Rosalba. They freed both of us, and helped me to rescue our sacred crown of freedom. Not I, but they should take the credit for returning the golden crown, Your Majesty.”
The assembly broke into rapturous cheers. Patrick stepped up to the throne, and handed the shining crown to Theodore. Then he went down on his knees, and called out:
“Three cheers for our King Theodore!”
When the cheers had finally died down, Theodore spoke, deeply moved:
“I am old now, and you do not need a king or queen to rule over you. You are now capable of governing your country yourselves. I will continue to be your friend and protector, as I have always been. You are now one big family. Love each other, and help each other. No one will take your freedom from you ever again.
“And to you, Patrick, my great thanks. If it had not been for you, Fate and Rosalba would have had no one to help.”
At that moment three new figures appeared before the throne: Fate, the lake fairy Rosalba, and King Erik. Fate called out in a powerful voice:
“Look who I have brought. This is your former enemy – let us judge him now! Death would be too light a punishment for such an evil man. Before I allow him to die, he must pay the penalty for all his sins here on earth.
“Erik, your punishment will be to wander through this world for the rest of your life as a miserable tramp. May your conscience allow you not a moment’s rest, and may your heart experience all the pain, suffering, and grief you have caused to others. No one will have mercy on you. For all time, you will serve as a warning against reckless violence, insatiable cruelty, and wicked pride. Thus your dream has been granted: you will be immortal – though not in glory, but in eternal disgrace and shame. Only when all the suffering that you have caused other people has been redeemed, and all their wounds healed, will our accounts be finally settled. Only then shall I allow you to die.
“And now, out of my sight!” shouted Fate in a terrible voice. He waved his hand, and Erik disappeared into the forest.
Then Fate turned to the assembly and said:
“Your wish has been fulfilled. The golden crown of freedom once again glitters on Theodore’s head. Guard and protect this most rare gift, which outweighs all the treasures of the earth. Choose wise and prudent men from your midst who will ensure order in your country, but remember: Only a free nation can be truly happy!”
With that Fate blessed the whole company and was gone from sight. Then King Theodore addressed the people:
“Be united and love each other, and the good spirits will never deny you help, nor will they abandon you even in hard times. Live gloriously, my dear nation!” called Theodore, nodding his head in farewell.
Then he, too, disappeared, and with him all the mysterious spirits. All that remained to mark the spot where the white throne had stood was a blinding light and thousands of flowers.
The crowds gradually dispersed. People pinned the remaining flowers to their clothes as treasured mementoes of a memorable evening.
The last to leave the grove were our three friends Elgar, Patrick, and Laura. She was the only one who had not disappeared with the other good spirits. Patrick was delighted. When he took her hand, she said cheerfully:
“I am staying here on earth with you because I want your country to be full of song and laughter, which chase away sadness and grief. Where there is song there are good people, and love and happiness may flourish.”
Then Laura took Elgar and Patrick joyfully by the hand, and together they went home.
The long night of darkness was over. A pink glow lit the eastern sky as a new day dawned on a truly free nation.
“Most of us only realize what is truly valuable when we lose it.”
Happycap and the Two Brothers
Long ago, in a distant country, there lived a wealthy merchant who had so many ships he could hardly count them. They brought him many precious goods from all over the world, which he then sent around the country in his carts. The merchant had a large town-house built, with a beautiful garden where he liked to sit with his family in the evenings. He had a good wife and two sons, Thomas and John. The merchant loved his family more than all the treasures of the world.
His sons were almost identical: the same height, and very much alike. People often confused one with the other. The boys were both kind-hearted and good to their parents, although their mother slightly preferred the cheerful Johnny, and their father the more courageous Tommy.
For many years, the merchant’s family lived happily, and the merchant continued to increase his fortune. One day, however, there came sad news: two of his finest ships had been attacked at sea by pirates, and the precious treasure that they carried had been lost. The merchant was very much grieved by the loss of his ships. Suddenly, he was overcome by fear, and waited anxiously to see what further bad luck might befall him. Sure enough, it was not long before more bad news arrived.
Within less than a month, a terrible storm wrecked almost all the merchant’s remaining ships. At one fell swoop the merchant had lost nearly everything. Nervously, he awaited the return of the carts that he had sent to trade in far-off cities. They should have been back long ago, but none of them had yet returned and he had had no word of them. One day, the merchant learned that robbers had attacked his carts in a forest, and all his goods had been stolen.
And so, in only a short time, the rich merchant had almost become a beggar. The home that had once been full of happiness and plenty was suddenly filled with misery and woe.
The sons shared their parents’ grief, and decided that they were old and strong enough to set out into the world to seek their own fortunes. Their mother, afraid they might come to harm, did not want to let them go.
“Children, you are our only source of joy and hope,” she told them. “Do not leave the family home. What would we do in our old age if we were to lose you?”
However, their father approved of the boys’ decision and said:
“Very well, go out into the world to seek your fortunes. But before you set out, listen to my tale, and remember it well, since the happiness of our whole family depends on it. As you know, until recently no misfortune has ever befallen us.”
His face suddenly grew sad.
“I think I know why our happiness came to an end. It was my fault, and I want you to know the truth. Happiness is a great gift. I took it for granted, and this is why we have had bad luck.”
The boys and their mother looked at their father in great surprise, and urged him:
“Tell us, father.”
And so the merchant began to tell them his tale:
“Since before we can remember, a little elf called Happycap lived in our house. He was a tiny little chap, about as big as a child’s puppet. He wore a little blue cap, but instead of a bell, there was a precious stone at the end of it. As you know, when elves live in human houses, they are invisible to us. We can only see them when they take off their caps. However, elves very rarely do that, and so their world, like many other things, remains a secret for humans. Now, this little elf called Happycap with his blue cap lived in our house in a little attic room, and guarded our happiness. For this loyal service, each head of the household in the family had to bring him a small goblet of red wine twice a day, and that was all.”
“As long as I performed this daily duty, we all lived happily. Recently, however, business has taken up so much of my time that one day I forgot about our little elf. It was only the next day that I remembered, and ran upstairs to the attic with a little goblet of wine in order to make it up to him.
“Please don’t be angry, Happycap,” I told him. “I’ve been so busy with work and worrying about my business that I forgot all about you. It won’t ever happen again.”
“But the elf, who had been waiting for me impatiently, frowned and said: “Take your wine away. I don’t need it any more. Today I am leaving your house for ever, you ungrateful man! Your duties were next to nothing, and yet you so carelessly neglected them. There used to be many of us in the world. We helped you humans, but you don’t deserve our help. You have been driving us away for ever with your selfishness. I am returning to live with my brothers in our own kingdom.”
“Again and again I asked the elf for forgiveness, but in vain. As soon as he had finished speaking, he put his little cap on his head and disappeared from sight. Since the elf moved out of our house, we have had nothing but bad luck.”
The merchant finished his story and sighed. His sons had never before heard of the house elf, but as soon as their father finished speaking they decided they would set out to find Happycap, and ask him to come back to their house.
Early the next day, soon after dawn, they set out. They had no idea where to start looking for the elf. They only knew his name. And so, for a long time, they wandered through far-off lands, asking everyone they saw, but no one could tell them where the elves lived.
A whole year passed, and still they had found no one able to tell them where they might find the elfin kingdom. Finally, the landlord of an inn in a little out-of-the-way village advised them to go and ask the mysterious and powerful wizard who lived deep in the forest. The boys thanked him, and early the next morning they set out again on their journey.
They found the wizard’s hut in the forest without too much difficulty. When they knocked on the door, a small, grey-haired man appeared. He listened carefully as they told him their story and asked his advice. Once he had looked the two boys up and down, he invited them in.
Inside, the hut was dimly lit. The old man sat the boys down at a table, and then fell into deep thought. The boys did not dare disturb him. After a long while, the wizard spoke:
“You did well to come and ask my advice. I know where the kingdom of the elves is, and I also know how you can get there.”
The boys were overjoyed that the end of their journey was in sight, and they promised the old man that their parents would reward him richly for his help. However, the old man said:
“I do not need any reward from your parents. It is you boys who have to earn my help. Listen carefully to what I tell you. Over the nine mountains, in the ninth forest, lies the kingdom of the elves, ruled over by King Aubrey. That is where your house elf Happycap has gone. You will find the entrance to the elfin kingdom in the ninth forest, in a clearing with three pine trees. At their roots there is a little well. However, anyone who wishes to enter must wait until the full moon, when the elves come out of their underground kingdom and go looking for food and supplies. At the same time, their king goes out for a ride. Only at that moment is it possible to get in through the gate. Which of you would like to go?”
Both brothers volunteered, but the old man said:
“Only one of you will go to the elves; the other will stay here with me. I have given you advice, and in return I require obedience, and some service from you. Johnny is weaker, so he shall stay here. Tom shall set out alone.”
The brothers had no choice but to obey the old man’s orders. The wizard continued:
“Tom, you shall set out first thing tomorrow morning. Time is short, and you will have to hurry if you want to reach the elfin kingdom by full moon. Be very careful not to make too much noise in the forest, or you will frighten the elves. If they notice you, your journey will have been in vain.”
“How will I recognize our Happycap in the middle of the night if I can’t let anyone know I am there?” asked Tom.
“Don’t worry about Happycap. I shall arrange that myself. Your task is to take from the elves the little bell that hangs on the wall inside the gate to their kingdom. When you bring me the bell I shall reward you handsomely, and I shall send Happycap to your house myself.”
“What do you need the bell for?” Tom asked.
The old man replied:
“Don’t ask too many questions. If I had not fallen out with them, I would go and get the bell myself.”
When the old man finished speaking, he sent the brothers to bed. Then he studied his books of black magic until late into the night, and brewed a magic potion over the fire. In the morning he woke Tom, and let a white dove out of a cage.
“She will guide you, Tom. Keep following her, and at night-time always make sure you put her back in her cage so she doesn’t fly away. Otherwise I will punish you severely. As soon as you get the bell from the elves, hurry back here. Your brother will wait here until you return. Should you try and betray me, you will never see your brother alive again,” said the old man, handing Tom the white cage.
Then he fetched another cage, a little silver one hanging in the window, took a green bottle out of his pocket, and sprinkled a magic potion over Johnny. Immediately the poor boy changed into a little bird, and flew into the cage. Scowling, the wizard closed the cage and hung it up in the window. Tom was petrified. Only now did he realize that this was not a kind old man but an evil wizard.
“Now, Tom, you see that I have great powers. Be assured that I can find you anywhere, and if you plan to deceive me, you and your brother will perish forever. Now you know everything you need to. Go, and don’t you dare disappoint me!”
With that, the evil wizard pushed Tom out of the hut. The little white dove flapped its wings and flew ahead of him, showing the way.
Tom followed the dove for a long, long way until they finally reached the ninth forest. In the middle of it he found a small clearing with three tall and mighty pine trees, and a well at their roots that shone in the green moss like a silver moon. The well seemed bottomless, and was full of icy-cold water. The boy knew that he had reached his destination, and all he could do now was to wait for the full moon. Tired by his long journey, he found a place to sleep underneath a spreading tree beside a stream that wound its way merrily through the forest. The beautiful smell of woodland flowers and the cool of the evening soon lulled him to sleep.
Suddenly, he was awoken by the enchanting sound of singing coming from somewhere close by. He got up without a sound and looked about to see where exactly the beautiful singing was coming from. By the brook, not far from where he had been sleeping, he saw several beautiful girls dancing and singing. Each of them was clad in a feather-light veil in all the colours of the rainbow. As they danced, their veils fluttered in the moonlight like big brightly-coloured butterflies. In the middle stood the most beautiful of them, tall and slender, clothed in a glowing white veil. Her long, ebony hair flowed over her white shoulders, and on her head there shone a small golden crown studded with precious stones that gleamed like stars. In her hands she held a delicate garland of water lilies. Tom realized that the dancing girls were water nymphs, the guardians of streams, rivers, and lakes, and that the girl with the golden crown was their queen. He crouched down quietly so that the water nymphs would not see him, and waited to see what would happen next.
After a while, the queen of the water nymphs stopped the dance with a wave of her hand, and said:
“The evil wizard once again wants to get hold of the little bell that belongs to the king of the elves. He has sent Tom, one of the merchant’s sons, to fetch the bell for him. Tom was guided by our poor sister Liliana, whom the wizard changed into a white dove. He ordered the boy to shut her in her cage every night, so we cannot set her free. If she could only fly here to us, I would hang a garland of water lilies round her neck, and the evil spell would be broken. Liliana could rejoin us.”
When Tom heard that the white dove was a water nymph under a spell, he called out from his hiding place:
“Do not be afraid of me, water nymphs. I can help you save your sister.”
The nymphs were startled to hear a human voice, but Meliora, their queen, asked:
“Who are you, boy, and why do you want to help our sister?”
Tom stepped out of his hiding place, and said:
“I am the person you have just been talking about. I am Thomas, the merchant’s son. The evil wizard has sent me for the elfin king’s little bell. I did not know that the white dove who guided me was your sister under a magic spell. I would be very glad to set her free.”
“Then run and open her cage quickly, Tommy. But hurry! By sunrise we must leave the earth and disappear into the water,” said the queen of the water nymphs.
Tom ran to the tree where he had left the cage. As soon as he opened it, the little white dove hopped out and flew straight to the stream, where she perched on the queen’s outstretched palm. Meliora quickly hung a garland of water lilies round her neck. Immediately there appeared in front of the queen a girl as beautiful as all others – Liliana, their sister. The evil spell was broken. At that moment, the first pink rays of the rising sun spread over the horizon. The water nymphs disappeared into the mist, and Tom heard the queen’s voice:
“Wait here for me tomorrow night.”
Tom was glad that Queen Meliora herself might want to help him. He lay down under the tree again, and was soon fast asleep. By the time he woke up it was already late afternoon. He waited impatiently for nightfall and his meeting with the queen.
Finally dusk came, and stillness fell on the darkening land. Tom paced along the stream, waiting. The moon rose and the first bluish, twinkling stars appeared. It was almost midnight when the water in the stream started to bubble as if it were boiling, and a fountain shot up high into the dark sky. In the midst of the glittering drops appeared the queen of the water nymphs.
“Welcome, Queen Meliora,” said Tom, relieved. “I have been waiting for you.”
Meliora stepped out of the water, smiled sweetly at Tom, and said:
“Yesterday we had to leave quickly before the sun came up, and I was not even able to thank you for setting free our sister, Liliana. You and your brother are in the power of an evil wizard. Liliana told me today of all the evil things he has done to people. For centuries the evil wizard has been trying to take control of our kingdom. So far he has failed, but if he had the golden bell, our kingdom would be at his mercy, we would have to obey and serve him. The evil wizard cannot enter the kingdom of the elves himself, which is why he has sent you to get the bell for him. Do you wish to help him enslave us?”
“I don’t want any harm to come to you, dear Queen. Please tell me what I should do so that the wizard does not realize I have deceived him. Even if I escape his wrath, my brother Johnny will not.”
“Don’t be afraid, Tommy. The wizard will harm neither you nor your brother. I will help you myself. Tomorrow evening wait for me here again. If I am late, then call my name three times over the water.”
The queen of the water nymphs disappeared into the mist as beautifully as she had appeared. Tom looked at the setting moon, and saw that tomorrow night it would be full. If Meliora did not help him tomorrow, he would have to return to the wizard empty-handed.
Once again, evening fell. High above hung the full moon, spilling its silver glow among the stars. Tom waited impatiently for the queen to appear. In the distance an owl hooted Midnight. But still no sign of Meliora. Tommy bent down over the water, and called quietly:
“Meliora! Meliora! Meliora!”
Still the queen did not appear.
Tom was almost in tears. He didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, he heard a voice whispered behind him:
He turned towards the voice.
“Who is it?” he asked.
“It is I, Liliana, the water nymph you helped set free,” she said, emerging from the water. “Our queen asks you to go quickly to the well in the forest. She is waiting for you there. Hurry up, Tommy, while it is still night. You must get there in time!”
The nymph waved him goodbye, and disappeared into the mist.
Overjoyed that Meliora had not forgotten her promise, Tom hurried through the dark forest to the clearing with the three pine trees. Their thick needles shone silver in the moonlight as before, but when he looked down, he saw an amazing sight. At the roots of the pine trees where the well had been was now a beautiful golden gate, from which little elves, with silvery grey beards that hung down to their waists, were marching out. Each of them had a little pointed cap on his head with a precious stone at the front, shining like a lamp. In their hands they carried hoes, spades and baskets. With quick tiny steps, they scuttled off in all directions.
Then the sound of bells was heard at the gate. The elves moved aside, and through the gate there came a small coach made of pure gold, drawn by four squirrels with golden bells around their necks that tinkled merrily, and driven by two elves. Then Tom caught a glimpse of the king of the elves inside the coach. King Aubrey wore a golden crown studded with precious stones, and in his hand he held a trident, the symbol of his sovereignty. The elves stepped aside, bowing respectfully to their king.
Suddenly, Meliora appeared in the clearing. The elves knew her well, and so none of them were startled by her arrival. However, when they saw Tom they were terrified and rushed back towards the golden gate. The king, undaunted by the sight of Tom, stopped the coach.
“Welcome, dear Meliora. What news do you bring us?”
“Hail, dear Aubrey, king of the elves. Today I bring bad news. The evil wizard is once again attempting to take over our kingdom, and wants to get hold of the elves’ golden bell. This time he has chosen Tom, the merchant’s son, to steal the bell. However, Tom has helped to free our sister Liliana from the wizard’s spell. We would like to reward him, so I have invited him here today.”
“Please help, Your Majesty,” Tom added. “My brother Johnny is in the hands of the evil wizard, and if I do not return to him with your bell, both of us are lost. Tell me what I should do to free my brother, and return him to human form.”
Meliora and the other water and woodland nymphs all begged King Aubrey to help Tom. The king listened to their pleas, smiled kindly, and said:
“If the wizard wants to have the little golden bell, then let him have it!”
The king turned to the elves and called:
“Alvin, Blossom, Foster, Eldon and Beetle!” Five little bearded elves ran up at once and bowed:
“What is your command, Your Majesty?”
“Bring us the golden bell!”
The elves bowed again and ran off to the golden gate. A moment later they returned with the little golden bell on a dark red velvet cushion and held it out to the king.
King Aubrey said to Tom:
“Take our magic bell, Tommy, but do not give it to the wizard until you see your brother standing alive beside you. Then both of you run away as fast as you can.”
Tom took the bell from the king. Then he told him why he had set out with his brother Johnny on such a long journey, and how the wizard had promised to return Happycap to the merchant’s house after Tom had accomplished his task.
“But the wizard has no power over you, has he?” Tom asked the king.
“No, he has not,” replied the king. “That is, unless he has the golden bell that he sent you for. Whoever possesses the bell can command all the elves, woodland and water nymphs. The wizard knows its magic powers very well, and that is why he wants to get hold of it with your help – so that he can finally rule over us. However, I can see that you are a good boy. Therefore I shall forgive your father, and return Happycap to you. But remember, I only forgive once!”
Tom thanked the king warmly for his help and kind words. It saddened him to think he would have to give the magic bell to the evil wizard. Still, if he wished to save his brother’s life, he had no choice.
Aubrey just smiled mysteriously to himself. As they parted, he added:
“Don’t forget, Tom, you must not hand over the bell to the wizard until you see your brother in human form again. When the wizard rings the bell, you and your brother must run as far from his hut as you can, or you will meet a horrible end.”
The king of the elves waved farewell for the last time and signalled to the coachmen. The squirrels trotted off, and a second later the golden coach had disappeared through the gate, which also disappeared as if earth had swallowed it up. In its place, as before, was the clear, smooth surface of the well.
The queen of the water nymphs, who until now had been standing next to Tom, approached the well and picked a small bunch of ferns. Then she plucked a water lily from the garland on her head.
“Take these to remember us by, dear Tommy. When you return home, throw the ferns and the water lily into the lake in your garden. If you ever need my help, call my name over the lake, and I will come. Good luck, courageous youth!”
With these words, she waved him goodbye and vanished like a wisp of mist.
Tom was left standing in the clearing all alone. In one hand he held the little golden bell, and in the other, the water lily wrapped up in a bunch of ferns. This was the only proof he had that it had not all been a dream.
Early the next morning, Tom set off back to the wizard’s hut. This time, however, he had to find his way without the white dove to guide him. But the joy he felt at being able to help his brother and father drove him onwards. He barely paused to rest, and by evening had already passed the eighth forest. Overcome by exhaustion, he had to find a place to rest. The birds sang overhead, the sharp scent of the pine resin filled the air, and the moss was soft and cool. Tom prayed that the next day would end happily, and that he would safely see his brother and parents again. With that hope, he fell asleep.
He was suddenly awoken from a deep sleep by the voice of Liliana, the nymph whom he had helped to free.
“Wake up, Tommy! I want to thank you for setting me free, and I have brought you something to remember me by,” said Liliana. She handed him a glittering fish scale.
“Keep it safe, and if the evil wizard follows you, run with your brother to the water. The water will save you. Throw the scale in the water, and call my name,” said Liliana, and was gone.
The next morning Tom made his way through the last forest. Now he was close to the wizard’s hut. When he arrived he stopped a few steps off and called:
“I have returned from the kingdom of the elves, and have brought you the golden bell, as you commanded. Come out and get it!”
When the wizard opened the window and saw Tom standing there, he tried to coax him inside with a broad smile and a wheedling voice:
“Come in, dear boy. No danger threatens you here. Come and have some refreshment and a rest after your long hard journey.”
But Tom was not so easily deceived. Ignoring the wizard’s invitation, he replied:
“I will not enter your cottage, nor will I give you the bell, until I see my brother alive and well, and standing by my side!”
The wizard scowled malevolently.
“Do you think I’d try to trick you? Give me the bell immediately, or woe betide you!”
Tom stood his ground and repeated:
“I will not give you the bell until I see my brother.”
When the wizard realized that he would not achieve anything by his threats, he said:
“Then come and see for yourself that I am not tricking you.”
He went to the other window, let the bird out of its cage, and whispered a spell over it. In a flash it changed back into Tom’s brother Johnny.
As soon as Tommy saw him, he shouted:
“Johnny, come out of the hut!”
“I won’t let Johnny out before you give me the bell! Think about it. You may never see your brother alive again!” cried the wizard.
Tom did not want to make the wizard too angry, so he said:
“So that neither of us can trick the other, Johnny should stand in the doorway. As soon as I pass you the golden bell through the window, my brother will step outside.”
The wizard agreed, and Johnny went and stood in the open door. Tom took the little bell and held it out to the wizard through the window. As the wizard snatched the bell impatiently, Johnny ran out of the cottage to his brother’s side. They were both curious to see what would happen next.
The wizard smiled happily, and called:
“Tom, you have no idea what a precious thing you have brought me.”
“Maybe I don’t know and maybe I do,” replied Tom. “But now it is your turn to keep your promise. Give us back our elf Happycap, now that you have the power to command the elves.”
“Exactly,” cackled the wizard. “But I have other, more important plans for your elf than sending him to people’s homes to bring them good luck.”
The wizard rang the bell sharply. No sooner had its sweet voice rung out than a strong wind blew up. Through the swirling air came the beating of a mighty eagle’s wings, and before the wizard could recover from his fright the golden bell was clasped firmly in the eagle’s beak. The bird soared up into the air and within seconds had disappeared in the clouds.
Then King Aubrey’s voice sounded from afar:
“You rejoiced over your victory too soon. You hoped in vain that we would give up our treasure voluntarily. I could have punished you for your boldness in a different way, but I wanted to play with you a little, and show you how insignificant you are. We all know how much you would like to have power over us, and order us about, but all your attempts have failed. The tribes of the elves and the fairies have always been free, and are well able to defend their freedom. Thus it will always be.”
When Aubrey finished speaking there was a roll of thunder, and out of the sky shot a fork of lightning that set the wizard’s hut on fire. The brothers took to their heels. But run as they might they still could hear the wizard’s footsteps close behind them, gaining on them with every step.
“You’re doomed!” boomed his enraged voice right behind them.
“Johnny, hurry up! Run down to the stream!” Tom yelled. He had suddenly remembered what the nymph Liliana had told him. They ran down to the stream and leapt over to the other bank. Tom took the fish scale out of his pocket, threw it into the water and shouted desperately:
“Liliana, please help us! We are being chased by the evil wizard!”
But Liliana did not appear, and the water in the stream continued to flow as before. Meanwhile, the wizard had also reached the stream. He tried to jump over to the other side, but at that very moment the calm water in the stream suddenly stirred, and a powerful jet of water shot up beneath him and tossed him into the swirling water, which instantly closed over his head. The brothers hugged each other with joy, thanking God for his protection. At last they set off home, excited at the thought of seeing their dear parents again.
One evening, as the merchant and his wife sat in the garden under the spreading tree thinking sadly about their lost sons, the boys suddenly appeared before them alive and well. What joy and celebration there was! Their mother brought out all the good things she could find in the house. When they had eaten, the boys told the long story of their eventful journey.
All of a sudden, they heard a soft voice behind them:
“Well, here I am.”
They all turned in surprise. Sitting by the gazebo was a tiny little man. In his hand he held a little blue cap with a glowing jewel at its tip.
“Look, it’s our little elf Happycap!” cried the merchant joyfully. “Welcome, honoured guest!”
“I thought I would never return to you, but our king himself sent me back. He sends you his very best regards, and says he hopes you will prosper and be happy for the rest of your life.”
Tom poured a little red wine into a goblet, and they all drank a toast:
“To Aubrey, the king of the elves, and to our dear little friend Happycap!”
Then they all went down to the little ornamental lake in which the merchant used to keep goldfish, and Tom threw the present from the queen of the water nymphs into the water – the water-lily bloom wrapped in ferns. The water rippled, and in the middle of the lake a little jet of water began to rise higher and higher until it made a beautiful fountain. Then a bright glow shone out of the water, and Queen Meliora appeared among the glittering drops. She smiled at Tom, and in a kind voice said:
“Tommy, you deserve your happiness. Now make sure you keep it. We won’t be able to help you a second time.”
In her hand Meliora held a bouquet of water lilies. As she finished speaking, she scattered the petals over the surface of the lake.
“I will leave you the fountain and the water lilies as a memento, Tommy, so you will think of me whenever you sit here with your family. May you always live happily here together.”
With that she waved them all farewell, and melted into the bright glow of the fountain, whose drops continued to glitter in the moonlight like diamonds in a rainbow.
“Take heed of Meliora’s warning, and remember it well,” said Happycap. “We really wouldn’t be able to help you a second time.”
“Dear little elf, how can we reward you for your kindness?” Tom asked.
Happycap replied with a jovial smile:
“We ask for no reward, but if you really want to make us happy, then help someone else as selflessly as we have helped you. Help all those who need your help, and all who ask for it. If you follow this advice, you may be sure that not only you but all your family, too, will be happy even without me. It is not the task of men to work only for their own benefit; they should also do their utmost to do good to others. If everyone lived in harmony and love, and people helped one another, there would be more joy and happiness in the world.”
With these words, and a little bow of farewell, the elf put on his little blue cap with its glittering jewel and disappeared forever. They called to him and pleaded with him to show himself again, but to no avail. None of them ever saw Happycap again. But the merchant and his family always followed the elf’s advice, and lived happily in that old town for many generations. And perhaps they are still there to this day.
You can see their sons and daughters around everywhere. It isn’t hard to recognize them: they help other people as best they can. And that is a great mission – the mission of the truly good man.
“Don’t let the children cry! A long rain is very damaging to flowers.”
The Heavenly Lamb and the Promised Land
We are almost at the end of our series of fairy tales. Six of them have been from a long time ago, but the seventh will take us into a completely different time. What time is that? Wouldn’t you like to know? Well, wait and see...
Before we begin our final story, I have to tell you that it was my youngest son James who told it to me.
At that time I was very sad, so maybe he told me this story to cheer me up a little. Or to cheer us both up. Who knows? Anyway, just listen.
When Jamie was still a little boy, he had no need of modern technology to take him to the land of fairy tales. All he had to do was get into bed, snuggle deep under his quilt until only his tousled black hair was visible, and close his eyes.
“Goodbye, Mum, I have to fly,” said my little prince, and for a long time I wondered what he meant. But there is an answer to every question, and one day, several years later, I discovered what he meant.
It was summertime, and as usual we had gone to our country cottage with Grandmother and our dog Ben. A beautiful summer’s day had just begun, and Jamie woke up like a little laughing sun. He opened wide his almond-brown eyes, and then quickly slipped under my quilt for a while. Snuggling up to me like a little purring kitten, he said:
“Mummy, do you want me to tell you a story?”
He stretched out his hand. In his palm lay some little white pebbles, washed smooth by the sea.
“Look at these lovely white ones. The white lamb gave them to me,” said my son, completely serious.
I wondered where he might have found the pebbles. Somewhat doubtfully, I asked him:
“Who gave them to you, Jamie?” and quickly checked his forehead to see if he had a fever. We adults often do that if we can’t understand something, or don’t want to. When my son had convinced me there was nothing wrong with him, he gave me an understanding, playful smile, and continued:
“You know, Mum, the heavenly lamb gave them to me. The one, who tells me stories when you don’t have time. He knows lots and lots of stories. All I have to do is close my eyes – watch, Mommy – then I call to him and he comes to me and says:
“Sit still, Jamie, and hold on tight, so we don’t lose the golden bell.” And off we fly! Sometimes it all happens so fast I don’t even have time to say goodbye to you.”
“Ah, I see. You fly away together,” I said, pensively. Deep down I wanted to fly, too, but somehow I couldn’t.
I thought that was the end of my son’s story, but after a while he went on:
“If you want, Mummy, I can tell you about all the things I saw on my journey with the lamb.”
Of course I couldn’t wait to hear. It was a real tonic for my soul.
“The white lamb told me that everyone has his own star in heaven. Each and every one of us. We all want to get closer to our star, maybe because we want to shine like the stars do. But it’s very hard to do. Sometimes people burn their hands so badly that they bleed, and yet they try again and again,” said the little boy, admiringly.
“And do you know why they do it, Jamie?” I asked.
“Of course I do, Mum. The lamb told me. People want to shine like the stars, but it’s terribly difficult.”
“Yes, my little prince,” I thought sadly. “But so far they haven’t had much success.
When Jamie saw I was sad again, he quickly continued:
“As we flew through the sky together, the white lamb showed me all of the stars and the moon as well. He told me a lovely story about the moon. Do you want to hear it, Mummy?”
“Of course I do,” I replied eagerly, and drew my son closer to me.
“Then I”ll tell you,” said Jamie, and began his tale.
The Naughty Stars and Their Heavenly Shepherd
“The Moon and the stars live together in the heavens. The Moon is the father of all the stars, and he looks after them as carefully as a shepherd looks after his sheep, or a father looks after his children. But the stars can be as naughty as children. They run and play all over the sky and do all sorts of mischievous things, and sometimes stay out so late that the Moon can’t count them all when it’s time for them to go to bed in the morning. Night after night they keep running away and being naughty; they’re little rascals, just like me. That’s why the poor Moon is so worried and keeps getting thinner and thinner. He has so many worries he almost disappears, and when all that’s left is just a thin little crescent, the stars become frightened that they might be left all alone in the sky. So they quickly promise to change their ways and be good, and the poor Moon always believes them. Then he’s so happy he starts getting plumper and plumper, and so it goes on, month after month.”
“That was a very nice story, Jamie. What else did the white lamb tell you?” I asked curiously.
“Once, when I was a very good boy, not naughty at all, the lamb wanted to reward me, so he took me to a country far, far away. He told me to watch carefully and remember everything, because one day the whole world would be like that country. You were there too, Mum.”
“Was I? Where was that?”
“You were there in that country, with me. I wanted so much to have you there with me that the lamb made my wish come true.”
“Of course he did,” I nodded, no longer surprised and ready to believe anything. Cradling him gently in my arms, I waited for him to carry on.
But my little boy fell silent.
“Where did we fly to, sweetie? What was the name of that far-off country?”
“I don’t know, Mummy. It didn’t have a name. The name’s not important. But it was very, very beautiful, and you liked it there, too. It was so beautiful that you didn’t want to come back home.”
“Really? Tell me about it, my little lamb, tell me,” I said, eager to hear the whole of Jamie’s story.
“We flew for a long, long time. When we got to that country, the white lamb put us down on the shores of a beautiful sea. He knows I love the sea. We spent the whole day running along the seashore, jumping in the waves, collecting shells and feeding the seagulls. And, Mum, they weren’t afraid of us at all. I brought these pebbles back from there as a keepsake. The lamb let me keep them, and so did you. They’re magic, and will help us to remember that far-off country and the fun we had there.”
“Well,” I said, “if we both let you take them, then you definitely have to keep them somewhere safe,” I said, playing along. But for my son this was no game, and he surprised me by replying quite seriously:
“Of course I have to keep them, Mum. How else could I find that far-off country again?”
It sounded logical enough. “Yes, how else could you find it?” I said with a sad sigh. I thought that might be the end of the story, but my son paused to stretch a little, and in a moment carried on:
“Do you remember where we flew next, Mummy? To look at the sheep, remember? The lamb wanted me to pet them because they’re his brothers and sisters.”
“And did they let you pet them?”
“They did, and they had lovely soft shaggy wool, like the tomcat I played with in the city.”
“Did you say city, sweetie? Did we fly to a city?”
“Yes, to a big city. But the people there were different.”
“How were they different?” I asked, not really understanding.
“Just different. They were kinder. They loved each other, and didn’t hurt each other at all. They chatted to each other about ordinary things, and didn’t knock into each other in the streets. They weren’t in such a hurry, but they still managed to get all the important things done. And their eyes shone like the stars, do you remember, Mum?”
“Did you say they got all the important things done, and their eyes were still shining?”
I asked rather sceptically, thinking of my own never-ending daily grind.
“Yes, Mum, they got everything done that mattered, and they still managed to tell their children stories every evening,” said my little prince, innocently.
His words pierced my heart.
“Then we flew over the city and stopped to look at a beautiful house. In the garden we saw a Mum and Dad and eleven children, all of them completely different,” continued Jamie, obviously impressed.
“How were they different?” I asked, puzzled. “Children are just children, aren’t they?”
“Well these children were all completely different. Though you’re right, Mum, they were all the same as well.”
“Different but the same?” Now my son had lost me completely. “What do you mean, Jamie?”
He explained at once:
“They were all different colours. But they were all one big family, and they all understood each other, all of them. The lamb told me that’s how it should be, and that’s how it used to be, here on earth.”
“Maybe it was, Jamie. And could you understand all the children, too?”
“Yes, Mummy, the lamb taught me how. It was very easy – anyone could do it.”
“And where did we fly after that?”
“After that? It was nearly evening and I wanted to see the sea one more time, so the lamb took me there.”
“And you had a lovely time there together again, sweetie?” I said.
“No, Mum,” said Jamie with a serious look. “I helped.”
“Helped? What do you mean?”
“I pushed chairs along the sea shore.”
“Did you say chairs?” I asked a bit confused.
“Chairs for seeing the world in,” said my little son.
“Oh, I see, sweetie,” I said, although I still wasn’t sure what he was talking about.
“Well, they were like armchairs on wheels. We wheeled the old people from the city to the seashore so they could enjoy the beauty of the seaside. It’s too difficult for them to get there by themselves now. I’m surprised you don’t remember that, Mum. We also took children who couldn’t walk, just to make them happy. They love the sea, too, and need to play as well. The children told me someone took them to the sea every day. In that country, no one is ever alone, and no one is sad. That’s because it’s a place of love, harmony and happiness, like in your fairy tales, Mum.”
Jamie’s story made my head spin and brought tears to my eyes. How wonderful it would be if only I could believe his story.
I was awoken from my thoughts by Ben’s fierce barking, and Grandmother’s anxious voice:
“The dog’s got a hedgehog again. Come and help me, someone!”
It was time to get up. The white lamb had long ago returned to the sky with his heavenly brothers and sisters, and here on earth a new day was beginning.
But the magic pebbles were still lying on the table. God only knows where they had come from.
But maybe it was not just a dream,
How beautiful would this world seem,
If everyone could live in harmony together,
And keep the little child in them for ever.
Maybe, this is the key to HAPPINESS,
And to the door of the Promised Land!