Category Archives: Folk Tales
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
The horse wouldn’t stop running. She knew this wasn’t right; horses couldn’t run this fast for long. At such a hard gallop a horse would need to rest every now or then or its heart would burst. This horse didn’t seem to tire, even as it moved at a rate that faster than any horse she had ever seen. She accepted it. What could you except from the horse of a woman who lived miles from anyone and played with golden apples?
The horse did not slow as the sun set. As the stars came out she fell asleep while holding on to its neck. She woke several times during the night, and each time she woke the horse was galloping as fast as it ever was. Her muscles were sore, her bones felt out of joint, and her stomach growled with hunger, but she clung to the horse as hard as she could. The horse seemed to be aiming for a mountain in the distance.
Around noon, as they climbed rocky slopes in the mountain’s foothills, she spotted a cabin. A woman sat on the porch with a bag of wool beside her. She was combing it clean with golden carding comb. The horse brought her to front of the cabin and came to a halt. She practically fell off the side of it. Then, remembering the last woman’s words, she hit the horse as hard as she could behind its left ear. The horse bolted back the way it came as fast as it had come. The old woman gave her a quizzical look.
“Well that was my neighbor’s horse allright, but you don’t look like my neighbor. What are you doing here girl? This is no place for a little thing like you.”
“I’m…I’m looking for a castle that’s east of the sun and west of the moon. I need to find it before the prince there gets married to a horrible troll.”
“How d’you know about that? Oh wait a minute, wait a minute! Are you the one he was supposed to have instead?” She nodded. The old woman clicked her tongue. “Oh it’s a hard blow you done him girl. You were his last hope!”
“What do you mean? How do you know all about this?”
“Settle down there. I can see you’ve come a long way so I’ll get you something to eat. Just wait right there.” The old woman walked inside the cabin, and returned with a cast iron pan full of hot fish. It tasted delicious.
“Well let’s see. It’s a long story child, but I don’t know it all anyway so I think I can make it short. The prince lived with his father, and then his poor mother died, and then his father got entranced with a beautiful woman who he married right away but turned out to be nothing but a mean old troll in disguise, not that he knew it anyway since she kept her bad side hid till’ the “But…why did she—?”
“No time to chat dear. I can see now that you’re not going to give up on your prince there, which I most approve of, lucky for you! Now I’m afraid to say I don’t know where the castle is precisely, but my neighbor knows more of the tale than I do and she might have heard of its whereabouts. Take my horse here, he’ll get you there right quick. When you get there just give a tap behind his left ear and he’ll come back to me.” Before she could react another horse had made its way to her from behind the cabin, and the old woman was helping her onto its back. “Go on, go on, before I think better of it. Oh, and here, you must take my carding comb. It may come in handy! Or not, you never know. Either way you’ll get the castle late or early, I can feel it in my ligaments.”
“Wait, I’m not sure—”
“There you go! Hup hup!” With that the old woman struck the horse’s rump and sent it galloping off towards the horizon.
End of Part 10
Here come’s part nine of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” for your reading enjoyment. You may have noticed that this and the last Storytime Friday are a little smaller than usual. Well, that’s on purpose. I don’t want to lose steam again, and I know that you’d rather have short but regular updates over long but sporadic ones. At least, I hope you do. Anyway! Enjoy!
She traveled for many days. She lived off the land, eating what roots, bitter herbs, and berries she could find. When her family was in their lowest poverty she had to learn to forage. There wasn’t much to find in the woods though.
She got used to going to sleep hungry.
The mountain loomed larger and larger before her. As her path became steeper, she wondered whether this had been a wise choice. What was she going to do? Climb the entire mountain and look around for far off castles? Lacking any better option she trudged onward.
As she crested a foothill she spied a cottage sitting by a brook not far away. It was a small building, built of pine that had aged into a dull grey. The roof’s shingles were falling apart in many places, some hanging by only a nail. Still, someone had patched up any leaks in the roof as best they could, and smoke was drifting slowly out of a crooked slate chimney. An old black horse was grazing in a patch of weeds beside the house. Beside the front door was an old wooden chair, carved with images of rabbits and birds and little bearded men. In the chair sat an old women, dressed in plain clothing that had no holes but had been patched and sewn up many times.
As she approached the house she saw that the old woman was holding something in her hands. The woman would polish it, and stare into it, and occasionally throw it up into the air and catch it in her lap. As she got closer she saw that it was a golden apple, gleaming like frozen sunlight. The woman showed no sign of noticing her as she approached. It wasn’t until she was only a few feet away that the old woman spoke.
“Odd thing, you showing up.”
She was taken aback. “I’m sorry. What’s so odd?”
“Nobody shows up, that’s what’s odd. Not out ere’. Specially not someone your age.” The old woman set the apple in her lap and peered up at her with small, cloudy blue eyes. “Where’d you come from that you’d end up on my doorstep?”
“I’m…I’m looking for a place. It’s very far away, I’m told.” She decided she might as well ask for help. What did she have to lose? “It’s a castle that lies east of the sun and west of the moon.”
“Why’d you want to go to a place like that?”
“Well, you see, I need to find a prince who lives there with his stepmother. If I don’t get there soon he’ll be forced to marry a…well a troll, who I’m told has a nose as long as his arm!” She felt embarrassed to tell such a wild story, but it was the truth. There was no avoiding it.
“How do you know about that!” the old women cried, to her surprise.
“Well, how do you know about that?” she answered back.
The old women looked at her out of the corner of her eye and said “It’s my business to know things.” She snapped her fingers. “I’ve got it! You’re her! You’re the lady who was supposed to get him! You’re the one that looked, ain’t you?”
She shuddered. “Yes. Yes, I’m the one who looked. But I’m trying to find him now, since he can’t come to me. Can you help me?”
“Huh.” The old woman began sucking on her knuckle. “Hmmm…don’t know about that. Don’t know at all.” She rocked back and forth in her chair. “Well I suppose it would be nicer for him to have a girl like you than that nasty troll. Still, all I know is that the castle is east of the sun and west of the moon, wherever that may be, and you’re sure to get there late or never. But I will lend you my horse. On him you can ride to my neighbor, a very old friend of mine. Perhaps she can tell you; she knows a lot of things that others don’t.” The women got up from the chair, grabbed the apple, and led her over to the horse. “When you get to her house just give my horse here a good whack under his left ear, and he’ll come home again.” The crone helped her get up onto the horse, and then held out the golden apple. “You better take this too. It might help! You never know.” Before she could refuse the old woman gave the horse a sound slap on its rump and the beast was off and running.
End of Part 9
It’s back! After an eight month hiatus (wow, that long? Jeez, guess I really dropped the ball on that one) Storytime Fridays have returned! It’s been so long that I (briefly) thought about starting over with a brand new story. Thankfully I decided not to, especially considering how I left the story off on a cliff hanger. You can find Part 7 here if you want to brush up on what just happened previously. If you want to start from the beginning I suggest going to the Storytime Fridays page and scrolling down a bit.
This section was shorter than I prefer, but I know that it’s better to have a short section than no update at all! Enjoy.
She wasn’t sure what to do. For a while she sat there, in the grass, holding her knees tight against her chest. She stared into the woods. She was cold. The sky was gray with clouds. It might rain soon. She knew that she needed to do something, but she didn’t know what. She thought about going home, but she didn’t know if she could find her way back without the bear. A sudden thought chilled her even more. What if the spell had broken there too? Did her brothers and sisters wake to find their fine farm melted away to nothing? She shook her head, trying to throw off that thought. The bear had never said that their happiness would go away; just ours. They hadn’t made any promises not to look. They were surely fine.
She supposed that it would be possible to find her way back to the farm. It would take a long time, but it seemed her best bet. It would be easier at least than trying to find a castle she had never seen, in a place that was impossible to reach. She could be happy there, with her family around her. She could live there for a long time. Maybe someday she’d find another man, and they’d get properly married in a church and they could be happy together. Or she could just stay on the farm, and live a long life of peace. Either option seemed preferable to wandering through the forest in rags searching for what can’t be found.
But she couldn’t bring herself to move. She sat there so long that birds came down and started hunting for worms and seeds around her. She knew what the smart choice to make was. She just found that she couldn’t take it. She didn’t want to go home. She wanted to find the bear. Find her bear. She’d broken every promise she had ever made to him, but she didn’t want to break her last one. She said she would try to find him.
So she would.
The birds were startled when she stood, and flew off into the woods. She dusted herself off and looked around. Which way should she go? East to the sun? Or west to the moon? Either choice would take her farther away from the other. And how could you catch either one, no matter how far you walked?
She saw a mountain to the north. Perhaps she could see the way to go from there.
Dim candlelight poured into the room, softly illuminating the outline of the bed and chair. She could see a figure sitting in the chair. It had two legs, and two arms, and its head was tilted back in sleep. Other than that she could not tell, because it was too dark. She listened carefully; his breathing did not change. He was still asleep. She stepped forward and raised the candle high. The light shone upon him and she could finally see his face.
She saw the sleeping face of a young and handsome man. He was dressed in fine clothes, and it seemed to her that he was as lovely a prince as you could ever wish to see. The only strange thing about him was his hair which was as white as snow. She stared at him, unable to move. She was completely entranced. Some people say there is such a thing as love at first sight; perhaps there is, and perhaps not. But what do you call it when you see the face of an old friend for the first time? She could see it in him. There wasn’t a doubt in her mind that this young man was the bear, the gentle and strong bear that she had come to know. And love. As she watched his sleeping face like that of a resting angel she knew that she loved him. She was drawn to him. She thought that if she could not kiss him right there and right then than she would not be able to live a moment longer. So she leaned forward and gently kissed him.
However, when she leaned over the candle tilted and three drops of tallow fell onto his shirt. She opened her eyes, and saw his eyes staring back. She jumped away in fright. That peaceful face was now filled with shock and fear.
“What have you done?” he cried. His voice was like the bear’s, only not as deep or rough. It was full of sadness. “Now you’ve made us both unhappy forever. If you had only been able to wait…”
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! What do you mean wait?” She felt frightened, and guilty.
He slumped down in the chair. “I am under a spell, bewitched by my stepmother to be a bear by day and a man by night. If you had been able to last a whole year without seeing my true form then the spell would have been broken forever. I would have been free. Now I must leave here and return to her, and marry a troll princess with a nose as long as my arm!”
“What!” she shrieked. “No! Stay with me! I’m sorry I looked but you can’t leave me now.” She grabbed him and buried her face in his shirt. “I…I think I love you.”
He looked down at her. He looked surprised, and then sad. He slowly ran his fingers through her hair. “I didn’t know that. This would be easier if you didn’t.”
She felt like the whole world was falling apart. Everything was moving so fast. “What would be easier?”
She looked up at him, and gasped in shock. His face was slowly fading away. She held on to him tighter. “Don’t go!”
“I can’t stop it. The spell is taking me home now, to my mother’s castle.”
“Then take me with you! I’ll do anything.”
He shrugged, sadly. “I can’t. The spell won’t let me.”
“If you tell me where you’re going, I can try to find you. Please.”
He stared at her. She could see the wall behind him through his fading body. “I suppose you can do that. The spell won’t stop you. But there’s no road to where I’m going. The castle lies east of the sun and west of the moon. You’ll never find your way there.”
“I can try! I will try.” She could feel tears form in the corners of her eyes.
He gave her a sad smile. “I’m glad. I love you too.”
And then he was gone.
She fell to the floor in shock. How could this happen? She started to cry. At first she tried to stop herself, but then she just gave in to it. She buried her head in her hands and sobbed. She wept until the candle finally burned itself out, and when she cried so long that she had no tears left in her she curled up on the floor and fell asleep in the darkness.
She awoke to sunlight, and the sound of birds. She opened her eyes. Her bedroom had dissapeared. She was lying in a green field in the center of the forest. The palace was gone. The silver bell was gone. Her dress was gone, replaced with the rags she had worn when she arrived. She was totally alone.
End of Part 7
She hid the candle under her mattress and tried to forget about it.
For the most part she succeeded. She did her best to distract herself over the next few weeks. She explored the palace slowly, and started to map all the rooms. Or at least all the rooms she had found; the palace seemed endless, and each room brought some new delight or wonder. On days she didn’t feel like walking she’d have fun with the silver bell and try to think up new things to summon with it. She had it bring her intricate jewelry, exotic fruits, extravagant dresses–
–just about the only thing it couldn’t conjure was someone to talk to.
The bear was gone almost every day now. Which was fine. He was just a bear after all. A kind, playful, and charming bear. But still a bear. Possibly a troll, she reminded herself. Not that she really thought he was a troll. Still, on the rare occasions she did see him, she didn’t feel as comfortable around him as she used to. What exactly was he? She was too afraid to ask. What could he possibly say to reassure her? A troll would deny being a troll too if he was just fattening her up to eat. And what if she asked and he said that he was a troll? What could she do? It’s not like she could outrun him.
So she didn’t say anything. She didn’t play with him anymore either. The bear seemed somber lately as well. She was pretty sure she knew why. He was worried that she would to look.
And so was she.
She told herself she wouldn’t. Every day she reminded herself about how happy she was. She had everything a girl could want. There was no way she was going to risk it all just to satisfy her curiosity. It would be foolish in the extreme.
But when night came, and she woke to hear quiet breathing in the dark, she felt differently. Some nights it took everything she had to keep herself from reaching for the candle. To pull it from it’s hiding place, light the wick, and finally see for herself. It wasn’t because she was scared. I mean she was scared; terrified, actually. But she didn’t really believe that the bear could be a troll. Not deep down. She was just so lonely. She had everything a girl could want…except someone to hold. Someone to laugh with. Someone who would stand by her side, and never let her go. And she was terrified that she would never have that. She needed to know. Who was the bear? A troll? A man? Did he love her?
Would he still love her if she looked?
She didn’t have the nerve.
So she spent her days vowing not to look, and she spent her nights trying desperately not to. Until one day something strange happened. She woke up couldn’t find the will to get out from under the covers. She just stared at the empty chair at her bedside. She stared, and wondered, until a voice deep within her said “I’m going to look tonight.”
She told herself that she wouldn’t. She went over all the reasons not to. She recited them from top to bottom until she was satisfied that looking would be the stupidest and most irresponsible thing she could do. Then she got out of bed, and summoned breakfast. All through the day she renewed her vow not to look. With every step she took she swore she would just go to sleep and ignore any nightly voices. That evening, as she crawled under the covers, she congratulated herself for staying true to her promise.
A few hours later she woke to the sound of steady breathing. She thought very hard about all the reasons she shouldn’t look. And then she calmly slid out of bed and fetched the candle from under her mattress. She stepped outside of her room into the pitch black hallway, and quietly made her way downstairs to the great hall whose fireplaces never stopped burning. She lit her candle and made her way back to her room. She only paused a moment at the door. This was it. Time to find the truth.
She opened the door.
Before she could say a word her mother shut the door, and turned to her. “Oh, my sweet baby. How are you really? What is that bear like? Has he hurt you?” She was surprised to see that her mother’s eyes were glistening with tears.
“N-no,” she replied. “He’s very gentle. He hasn’t done anything to me at all. I mean he plays with me sometimes, when he’s around.”
“When he’s around? What does that mean? Oh daughter, tell me everything. I could see that you’ve been holding back when we ask you.” Her mother began to sniff, the tears gently flowing now. “I was so afraid when you left. I’m happy to have this house, and I’m glad we all have enough to eat, but what kind of mother sells her own daughter to a bear? A bear!” Her mother pulled out a handkerchief and blowed her nose the best she could. “Can you ever forgive me?”
She stepped forward and embraced her mother, holding her tightly to herself. “Oh mother. Of course I forgive you. I agreed to go, didn’t I? And I really am fine. More than fine, actually. It’s all been unbelievably wonderful.”
Her words seemed to comfort her mother. After a few moments she regained her composure, and they both sat down at the table. Soon she was telling her mother everything; about the palace and the gardens and the bell that gave her anything she wanted. As she spoke her mother dried her tears, and began to listen with interest. She wasn’t too sure if her mother believed it all, but she felt comfortable just letting it all out. If there was anyone she could talk to it was her mother.
After she finished talking about the castle she told her mother all about the bear; how he could run like the wind, how he was so serious yet could be so playful, and how he would disappear most days but came back each night to sit in the chair by her bed. “Sit in a chair?” her mother interrupted. “But how? He’s a bear.”
“Well I’m not sure. He moves so softly when he comes in. I think…I think that he might not be a bear at night.”
Her mother looked surprised. “You mean you’ve never looked?”
She shook her head. “It’s pitch black in the room at night, and he told me to never light a candle at night or try to see his face. So I haven’t.”
Her mother was taken aback. “Oh daughter. Don’t you see? Night must reveal the bear’s true form. Why would he hide it from you unless he was something truly terrible? So terrible that turning into a bear is an improvement! He could be a troll! You must find out. For all we know he’s just fattening you up to eat you.”
“No!” she cried. “Mother, I promised him that I wouldn’t try to see his face. He’s been so kind to me, and given me such wonderfull things. He couldn’t possibly be a troll.”
“Then why did he have you make that promise?” Her mother replied quickly. “If he’s so good what does he have to hide? Why hasn’t he told you who he is or where he goes all day? Why all the secrecy?” She stopped suddenly. “I…I don’t want harm to come to you daughter. I know you’re happy in your golden palace. And we’re all happy here in this beautiful house. I wouldn’t want you to anger him, and risk taking all that away. But I’m afraid. All this magic worries me. If he’s really some terrible monster, and is just waiting until he’s hungry enough to eat you–or something worse–I couldn’t live with myself.”
“Oh mother…” she said, taking her hand as she spoke. “Don’t worry. I know he’s not a monster. I’m perfectly safe there, and happier than I’ve ever been in my life.”
“As safe and happy as pigs are up until the day they are slaughtered?” her mother snapped. “I’m sorry. I’ll try to trust your judgement daughter, but I’m having trouble doing so. Good men don’t hide behind darkness.” Her mother stood up, and walked over to a fine oak dresser, where she removed a small candle from one of the drawers. “Here. Take this with you when you leave. Hide it so he doesn’t see.” She began to protest but her mother cut her off with a gesture. “You don’t have to use it. I won’t force you to. But take it anyway, just in case. When it’s late at night, and he sounds as if he’s gone to sleep, then you can light it and take a good look at him.”
She could see that there would be no arguing with her, so she took the candle and hid it in the folds of her dress. Then she and her mother embraced, holding each other tight. “Don’t worry mother,” she said quietly. “I’ll be safe. I’ll visit often so you know I’m still alive.”
Her mother squeezed her tighter. “You better. I’ll try not to worry about you, but I know I will anyway. Stay safe, and please remember what I’ve said. ”
She promised that she would, and then they both left to join the family at the bonfire. Though her brothers and sisters were in high spirits, she found that something was weighing heavily on her spirits. What if she’s right, she thought. She shook off the thought. The bear had been good to her. She trusted him. She would keep on trusting him, not matter what.
But inside she wasn’t so sure anymore.
She stayed with her family for another week. On the day of her departure the bear appeared as silently as he had disappeared before. She wasn’t sure how he knew she was ready to go. Perhaps he had been watching her. She said goodbye to her family, who were all sad to see her go, and she promised she’d visit again soon. She climbed onto the bear’s back, and he walked slowly away from the grand farmhouse. The last face she saw was her mother’s. She looked terribly worried.
When the house was out of sight the bear began to run, flying through the forest like a comet through the night sky. After they had traveled some distance, the bear spoke to her. “Did you enjoy your visit?”
“Yes.” She answered. “Thank you very much for taking me there. And thank you for keeping your promise to make them rich.”
“A promise is a promise.”
They were silent for a while, as the trees left streaks of color as they shot by. Riding the bear was so peaceful and comfortable that she could almost fall asleep.
The bear broke the silence. “Did you speak with your mother?”
Her heart almost stopped in surprise. She couldn’t reply for almost a full minute. When she did the word came out like a small mouse under the eyes of a watchful hawk.
The bear simply nodded. Neither of them spoke for the rest of the trip. She wondered if he was angry.
When they arrived at the palace he stopped at the gate, and she climbed off his back. She coughed. “I’m…” she mumbled, “I’m sorry. I promised I wouldn’t talk to her alone, but…”
The bear stopped her with a kind look. “It’s alright. I know that you tried your best. Mothers can be hard to stop.” He looked straight at her with his sad brown eyes. “Just know this; if you listen to your mother’s advice you will make us both very unhappy. All this,” he looked up at the palace, and then back to her. “Will be over. Do you understand.”
She looked down at her feet. “I understand.” I trust him, she thought to herself. I really do. I really, really do.
But there was still a small part of her that wasn’t so sure.
End of Part 5
That night her family held a huge feast in honor of her visit. The food was delicious but what she enjoyed the most was getting to see her family again. As the food was cooking (her family had servants now! A cook, a maid, and a butler. She could hardly believe it.) the whole family gathered together before a large fireplace in a well furnished room. Her father lit his pipe, and told her the whole story of what had happened after her departure with the bear. Her brothers and sisters interrupted regularly to point out some small event that Papa forgot, but the summarized version is as follows. The day after the bear took her away her father went out to weed their little garden. He noticed a particularly long vine that was getting out of hand and he began to pull it out of the ground. However no matter how hard he pulled the vine wouldn’t budge an inch. Eventually he fetched a shovel and began to dig it up. He dug and he dug, but the root continued deep into the soil. When he finally reached the end of it his shovel hit something hard. It was a large stone with an old rune carved in it. He pulled it aside, and beneath it lay an old longsword that had rusted almost completley away. Well they weren’t sure what to do with such a find, so they hung it above their door for good luck. People in town heard of his discovery, and word spread quickly. A few days later the king himself arrived in town, followed by a procession of nobles and men at arms, and came to visit them. The family was worried when he arrived, and wondered if they had done something wrong. Instead he only asked to see the sword that they had taken from the ground. They showed it to him, and to their surprise the king fell down to his knees before it. Apparently it was the lost sword of his great-great-grandfather who had slain a terrible dragon of old with it. It had been lost for many years, and the king never thought he would ever lay eyes on it himself. To reward them for returning the lost sword to his family he gave them five large sacks filled to the brim with silver, and granted them deeds to all the land within five miles of their home. He then had his royal architect design a beautiful mansion for them, and within two weeks it was finished. Surely the bear had kept his promise, and they were as now rich as they were once poor.
Of course once their story was out they wanted to know what had happened to her. They had been very worried that something terrible might have happened to her; that the bear might have gobbled her up, or kept her as a slave. She reassured them that she was extremely happy and had everything she could wish for. After that she changed the subject as politely as she could; she didn’t feel like explaining all about her beautiful palace and magical bell. It was enough for them to know that she was comfortable and content.
She stayed there for several days enjoying large meals with her family and horseback rides across their considerable property. She was happy and enjoying herself, but she was always careful to never let herself be alone with her mother. Though her mother was happy to see her she could tell that something was bothering her. She remembered the bear’s warning, however, and did whatever she could to avoid talking to her in private.
As it turned out she could not avoid her forever. One day after dinner her father declared that they would have a bonfire under the stars that evening, and her brothers and sisters quickly followed him out to help pile the wood and light the flame. She tarried a little too long and before she could follow her mother had placed her hand on her shoulder. “There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
End of Part 4
Here’s the next installment! Enjoy.
The next few weeks went by quickly, as if in a dream. The palace was huge and magnificent, and every day she discovered some new hidden treasure. There was a fountain made of solid gold, covered with magnificent carvings of fish that sprayed cool clear water out of their many mouths. There was a room made of mirrors of the finest crystal, and within it was a tree made of pure silver with glass leaves and marble apples. One night, when she had gone farther into the palace than she ever had before (there seemed to be no end to the place) she descended a spiral staircase deep into the earth, and came out in a huge cave whose walls sparkled in the candlelight with precious gems of all kinds, and whose ceiling was too high to see. These were just a few of the wonders she discovered.
The bear was usually gone, off on some secret business of his own. But some days he stayed with her in the palace, and they would eat and talk together. Once, when she was in a particularly playful mood, she snatched a fish right off the bear’s dinner plate and ran off into the garden, shouting “Catch me if you can!” The bear rumbled with his particular laugh, and chased her all through the garden. Though she knew he could have caught her in an instant if he chose, the bear instead let her stay just a little bit ahead, until he finally tackled her and wrestled the fish from her hands. Though his limbs were thick and strong enough to batter her to bits the bear was as gentle as could be. They played this way often, and it always ended with them both collapsing into a happily exhausted heap. Often she would curl up next to him and fall asleep in his warm, soft, fur. She liked those days the most.
Of course whether the bear was there during the day or not, she would always hear him come in and night, and sit in the chair beside her bed. She wondered how a bear his size could sit in that chair every night without crushing it to splinters, but she remembered the bear’s warning and tried not to let her curiosity get the best of her. She refused to look. Still, she found she couldn’t sleep soundly until she could hear him breathing next to her, and knew he was there.
Still, after some weeks had gone by, she began to miss her family. She wondered how they were doing, and whether they were worried about her. So when she next saw the bear she asked him if she could visit her family.
“Of course.” The bear replied. “You are not a prisoner. I can take you there today if you’d like, and you may stay with them as long as you wish. I’m sure they’ll be very pleased to see you.” The bear’s voice suddenly became very serious. “However, you must promise me one thing. Your mother will want to talk to you alone; do not let her. Only speak with her when there are others around. She will try her best to lead you into another room to speak privately, but you must not let her. If you do we will likely become unhappy, and great misfortune may come upon us.”
She was confused, but she would agree to almost anything if it would let her see her family. Besides, the bear had given her everything she had ever wanted. She trusted him. “I promise.” The bear simply nodded in reply, slowly.
After they had eaten a magnificent breakfast she climbed on to the bears back, and held on as tightly as she could. Immediately the bear began to run in his incredible way, and soon the world was a blur around her. A few minutes later the bear stopped, and she could see her old home. Or rather she could see the valley where the little shack and stunted farm once sat; but now where the shack once was there stood a grand white farmhouse, two stories tall with windows of real glass. The land around her had been transformed into beautiful fields and pastures, with hundreds of cattle, goats, and sheep. In front of the farmhouse many of her brothers and sisters were playing; when they spotted her they let out a shout of excitement, and ran to see her. She jumped off the bear’s back and found herself embraced by many arms, and the air was filled with exclamations of joy. “Welcome back!” You’re alive!” “Do you see our new house? Do you see it?” “Where did you get such a beautiful dress!” She laughed and gave them all a great big hug. “It’s so good to see you again!” She turned to thank the bear, but the bear was gone. He had left as silently as a cat.
End of Part 3
This installment was a bit on the short side. I usually like my cliffs to be a bit hangier at the end of a post, if you know what I mean. I might end up posting an extra storytime friday update next week (if only to make up for last friday, which had no storytime at all). So keep your eyes peeled for that.
And now the story continues (read part 1 here).
Though she was scared to go she had made up her mind. The bear nodded to her as she walked over to him in the cool evening air. “Climb on to my back” he said in a deep, but not unfriendly, voice. He kneeled down so that she could climb up, which she did with only a moment of hesitation. The bear smelled nice, like fir needles and earth. He rose to his feet and said “Hang on tightly to my fur, and do not let go.” She grabbed hold of his thick white fur until she was satisfied that she had a sure grip. She looked back at her family, who had gathered outside to see her off. Her mother looked worried and her father looked unsure. She gave them her best smile.
“Don’t worry about me,” she said. “I’ll be alright. I’m ready to go now, bear.”
Suddenly she found herself in a world of motion. The bear was running through the forest at incredible speed. Trees whipped past her on either side, but no branches touched her. She was so surprised that she nearly let go of his fur, and if she had she would have surely fallen off and been smashed to bits. She closed her eyes and concentrated on keeping her hold on his back. After a few minutes she couldn’t hear any more trees rushing past. She opened her eyes and found that they were traveling across a broad clearing beneath a tall mountain. The air of the alpine meadows was perfumed with the fragrance of wildflowers. She had never smelled anything so nice before, and it made her laugh. To her surprise the bear laughed too, a low and jolly rumbling noise.
Soon they were traveling at great speed up a steep mountain slope. Far ahead she could see lights coming from near the top of the peak. When they drew closer she gasped at what she saw. The lights came from a magnificent palace, built of beautiful and honey gold stone. The palace’s towers reached up into the evening sky toward the brilliant Northern Lights. Within moments they were there, standing before its magnificent gates. The bear slowed to a normal walking pace and as he approached the two tall and broad oak doors they opened before him as if by magic.
Inside was a large and magnificent garden, filled with every kind of beautiful plant of the high mountains. Wildflowers in all the colors of the rainbow seemed the paint the garden with streaks of light. She had never seen such beauty concentrated in one place before, and it filled her with awed silence.
“I’m glad you like it,” the bear said in his heavy voice. “I planted it just for you.” She was surprised. No one had ever made anything so beautiful for her before. “I made this whole palace just for you.”
At the far end of the garden was large door covered with silver engravings of trees, flowers, animals, and stars. When they reached it the bear went down to his knees and she carefully climbed off. She stared at the door. It was beautiful, but it had no handle or ring or knob to open it with. She reached out and touched its cold silver surface and drew her hand back in surprise. As soon as she had touched it the door began to open, its silver hinges making no sound. The bear nodded. “This is your palace. There are no doors you cannot open, and no room that is not yours to do with as you please.”
Beyond the silver door was a grand entrance hall, thirty feet wide, a hundred feet tall, and three hundred feet long. On either side of the hall and at its far end were three giant fireplaces with logs the size of tree trunks burning cheerfully and warming the massive space. Far above their heads the ceiling was made of a graceful spider web of silver framing panels of clear crystal. The Northern Lights shone above their heads, filling the hall with pulsating light. Doors lined the walls, and four grand staircases occupied the corners of the room.
They walked slowly down the hallway. She took it all in with amazement. It seemed like a dream; there was no way such a magnificent structure could exist, and if it could exist it was impossible that it could be hers.
The bear led her up one of the staircases, which slowly and gently spiraled up into the palaces tallest tower. Halfway up he stopped at a door covered with carvings of the sun, moon, and stars. The door opened and revealed a magnificent bedroom. The room itself was bigger than her entire house had been and contained a magnificent bed covered with fine furs and thick quilts. There were also dressers, and wardrobes, and a golden mirror. It was so luxurious and so outside of her experience that she almost began to cry at the sight of it all. It was too much to believe.
The bear walked slowly to an end table next to the bed, on which sat a small silver bell. “Right this bell and ask for whatever you wish and shall have it.” She said, with a hint of excitement in his voice. “Food, clothes, jewelry, anything you wish. You will want for nothing here.”
She walked over to the bell, and lifted it carefully. It was engraved with the sign of a bear. “Well…um. I guess I wish I had a good nightdress, one that would fit better in this beautiful room.” She rang the bell, and suddenly on the table before her appeared a beautiful white nightdress. She gasped in delight, and picked it up. It was as real all right, and made of fine silk. She turned the bear, her eyes moist. “I’ve never had my own clothes before. I mean clothes that were just mine, and not my sister’s old things. Thank you. Thank you so much for…well for everything. It all seems too much…” She almost was crying now. It had been an overwhelming evening.
The bear stared at her for a while, and then politely looked away as she wiped her wet eyes dry. “There is one thing you must know.” He said in a much more serious voice. “I have duties elsewhere, and must go now. But tonight, when you have put out all the lights and gone to sleep, I will come back.” He pointed his nose as a tall chair that sat facing the bed. “I will sit and watch, and sleep myself. I will do this each night. Whatever you do,” and now he looked her straight in the eyes “you must not light any candles or try to see my face. It must remain perfectly dark in this room when I am here at night. Do you understand?”
She was confused, but she nodded. It was a strange request but she felt like she would do anything in order to stay here in this magical place. “I understand.”
“Good.” The bear replied, sounding pleased. “I will go now. I will be back tonight, but when you wake in the morning I will be gone again. I have many duties, and my work will often take me away during the day.” The bear turned, and left the room. In the hallway he looked back at her. “Good night, love.” Then the door shut.
That night, as she slowly fell asleep in her bed (the largest and most comfortable bed she had ever slept in, and the first one she hadn’t had to share with her sisters), she wondered whether she would wake up the next morning and find it was all a dream. The last things she heard before nodding off were the door quietly opening, someone sitting down in a chair, and gentle breathing.
End of Part 2