Storytime Fridays: East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Part 11
It was two days before the horse slowed. She was ragged. Her eyes were weighed down with dark circles, her legs were raw, and her arms were as stiff and cold as granite from clinging to the horse’s neck. Her hopes rose when a mountain grew larger on the horizon. She almost shouted out with relief when another cottage appeared on the desolate rockface. This was the smallest yet; a ramshackle hovel made of dry logs and mildewed thatch. An old woman sat on a stump outside the door. She was spinning yarn out of goat’s hair on a golden spinning wheel. She was short, and her face was a wrinkled and leathery as an old walnut.
The horse stopped a few feet away from the spinning wheel and she fell off of the beast like a sack of potatoes. As she lay groaning on the ground the old woman walked over, helped her up, and ushered her inside of the cottage. She didn’t have the strength to protest as the old woman led her to a small cot and tucked her in with a thick wool blanket; she did have enough presence of mind to tap the horse behind its left ear before she went inside, and without pausing for a breath the creature ran off at breakneck speed. “There there dear. You’ve gone a long way. Get some rest now. You have time enough to sleep, I’m sure.”
When she woke she found breakfast waiting for her on the table. There was pickled herring, half a loaf of coarse bread with butter, and a pitcher of goat’s milk. She felt better after eating it. It had been a long time since she’d enjoyed an actual meal.
The old woman was spinning outside again. “Good to see you awake dearie. Here, sit down on the log there. Don’t worry, its dry.” As she sat the old woman removed the last of the yarn from her wheel. “Now what are you doing here young lady? Nobody comes to my house by accident.”
Slowly she told her the whole story, from being the daughter of a poor farmer, to the bear and the palace, to now. The old woman didn’t interrupt. “…so you see, I’ve come all this way and I’m desperately hoping you have the answer to my question. Do you know where the castle is? The one east of the sun and west of the moon?”
The old woman smiled, but shook her head. “I’m so sorry dearie. You’ve come such a long way, but I’m afraid I don’t know. Still, I can see you are determined. If you’ve come this far then you’re sure to get there eventually, early or late. But I can tell you the whole story of how these events came to pass, if you’d like to hear it.” She nodded her head eagerly.
“Well my neighbor told you the first bit of it rightly. There was a good old king who ruled not far from here in a grand castle. He had a son, the prince who you’ve already met, but his wife died before they could enjoy any more children. The kind was filled with sorrow, and in his sad state I’m afraid a rather old and nasty troll took advantage of him. She disguised herself as a beautiful woman and wormed her way into the king’s heart. Soon enough they were wed, and not long after the king took ill and died, likely as not the result of some trollish mischief. Now she was in charge, and soon arranged for the prince to wed another troll, with a nose as long as your arm, disguised as a beautiful princess. However the prince was not as blind as his father and soon found out the terrible truth. He refused to marry a troll, and revealed his stepmother’s true nature to the entire court. Well that old troll fell into such a temper that she cast a spell that flung the entire castle, foundations and all, off to someplace east of the sun and west of the moon. Still, even then the prince refused to abide by her schemes. So she cursed him to take the form of a bear by day. Then she made a bargain with him; if he could live with a woman who would be his bride for a whole year without her seeing his human form then he would be free of her and the curse forever. But if he failed he would have to consent to marry the troll princess. He had no choice but to agree, and now you know the story from top to bottom. The prince must marry the troll, and there will be no happy ending unless you make it yourself. Perhaps you might at that, before all is told.”
Her heart felt cold. She was glad to have heard the whole story, but it only deepened her feeling of guilt. She was the prince’s last chance and she had failed him. She had tried as hard as she could to make things right, but after days of searching she was no closer than before. “I don’t see how I can fix any of this mess. I don’t know how to find the castle, and I don’t know what I would do even if I could get there. It’s hopeless.”
The old woman smiled broadly, though she had hardly any teeth left in her mouth. “We’ll see about that. I don’t know the way, but I know someone who would, if there is a way at all. You can ride my horse, dearie, and he will take you to see the East Wind. He and his brothers will be feasting at his home tonight. They might be able to set you right. You never know!” Another horse, this one taller and stronger than the rest, came from behind the cottage. The old woman helped her mount the mighty creature. “When you get there just touch him gently behind his left ear and he’ll return to me. And here!” The old woman, with some effort, lifted the golden spinning wheel and loaded it onto the horse’s back. “Take my golden spinning wheel. Who knows? It may come in handy, and you’ll need all the help you can get. Hold on tight my dearie. It’s a long way to the East Wind’s house but you’ll get there safe and sound before it’s all over. Good luck!”
She gritted her teeth and held on tight as the horse began galloping away. It was going to be another long trip.
End of Part 11