The Horse (A Fairy Tale)

(This is a fairy tale that I wrote at age 13. Sadly, I had misplaced it for a long time, but while cleaning out clutter in our house I found it again.)

Once upon a time there was an old king of 84 years, who was quite distraught in his old age, for his son, the prince, had been turned into a horse by an evil spirit’s curse. However, the prince had to be saved within one year or he would die.

The dreadful news about the king’s suffering reached all the corners of his kingdom, and a beautiful, young maiden was so filled with compassion for the king’s misfortune that she decided she would try to help. When the king learned about the maiden’s intention, he summoned her to his court and said: “It is right indeed that a young maiden should want to try to save my son, for an old woman in the forest foretold me that his curse could only be broken by a maiden.” The young maiden replied: “Well, my king, let me give it a try.” However, the king warned her, “Many, who have tried to accomplish this task before you, have perished.” But the young maiden would not give in.

“Then, my child”, replied the king, “you must walk south day and night without looking either right or left, even if someone calls out to you. Do not stop to rest or you will suffer great harm! But, if you steadfastly stay on your path, you will reach a little cottage. Knock on the cottage’s door and an old woman will open. Ask this woman if you may spend the night. At night do not open your eyes, even if you hear voices calling your name. If you have made it thus far, the worst is over. For the next day when you wake up, you will find yourself in a castle and see my son in his human form. He will give you a ring and reveal to you the last step.”

The young maiden thanked the king for his advice and went on her way. She kept her promise and looked neither left nor right. Many entrancing voices tempted her, but she tried hard not to pay them any attention. Finally, she arrived at the little cottage. She was afraid, because it was such a deserted place, and she was all alone. When she finally knocked on the door it was dusk. An old woman with white, wavy hair and a long, crooked nose opened the door and asked the maiden for the reason of her visit.

As instructed by the king, the young maiden asked for a night’s shelter. The old woman led the girl into the house, gave her food, and showed her to her room. Tired and exhausted the young maiden went to bed and fell fast asleep. At midnight the cuckoo clock above her bed surprised her with such loud chimes that she was shocked and almost opened her eyes. It was just in time that she remembered the king’s words of caution. Suddenly she heard the door to her room open with a squeak and someone entered. The girl wanted to know so badly who it was, but she was not allowed to open her eyes. A voice begged her: “Dearest maiden, please look at me!” But the girl did not move, although she was really tempted. Now the cuckoo clock chimed one o’clock and the voice disappeared in the distance.

The next morning the young maiden awoke in a magnificent castle. She rose from her ornate bed which was made from pure silver and gold and a handsome prince greeted her: “Beautiful young maiden, you have almost saved me and I will make you my bride.” He gave his savior a golden ring. Then he became very sad.

“What is wrong, my prince?” the young maiden asked him. “I have to leave you now”, the prince replied, “and you must go on and save me forever. Continue your walk, but do not turn around to look back! This time you must walk east where you will reach a forest. There is a castle in the forest on whose door you must knock. A handsome, young lord will open and extend his hand to greet you. Do not give him your right hand for no one must touch it else both of us will be harmed. You will encounter other handsome noblemen in the castle. Do not let any of them seduce you!”

All of this the young maiden promised the prince and then they kissed and bade each other good-bye. The girl went on her way and walked east. She never turned around to look back. After a while she reached the castle in the forest and knocked on the door. A handsome lord opened and extended his hand to greet her. She stretched out her right hand. However, when she realized what had happened, he had already touched her little finger. She turned around and, with tears filling her eyes, she ran deeper and deeper into the forest until she crossed ways with an old woman who asked the young maiden for the reason of her sorrow. Distraught about her mistake and the consequences the girl told the old woman her whole story.

With crackling voice the old woman replied: “My dearest child, all is not lost. It is not too late for you to save the prince for the lord of the castle only touched your little finger.” The girl asked what she needed to do, and the old woman instructed her: “You must fulfill three tasks for the sorcerer who lives about one mile from here.” The girl thanked her and hurriedly went on her way to see the sorcerer. Meanwhile the old woman disappeared in the thicket.

After walking a while the girl found the castle of the sorcerer. Full of courage she entered, went before the sorcerer, and pleaded: “Please let me try my luck one more time to save the prince!” The sorcerer assigned her the first task. The young maiden had to build an entire house out of pure honey within one day.

Saddened by the impossibility of this task, the girl walked for a while thinking about what to do when she saw a bee on the ground who could no longer lift itself off to fly. Gently, the young maiden picked up the bee and helped it launch its flight. Grateful for the help the bee said, “Dearest girl I know what is troubling you. Since you helped me, I will help you, too. Encouraged by the bee’s words the young maiden continued on her way.

Once again she encountered the old woman of the forest who warned her: “For fulfilling your last task, the sorcerer will allow you as much time as you would like. Do not lie down and rest, however, for the year in which to save the prince will be over in four days!” The girl thanked the old woman for her advice and hurried back to the bee, but it was no longer there. Instead, there stood a huge house made from pure honey. The young maiden showed the honey house to the sorcerer who assigned her the second task: “You must build a large pond by tomorrow.”

The girl knew that this task was unachievable, but she had to try. She scooped up water with a bucket from a stream and carried it to where the new pond should be. There she encountered a little old man with a long white beard who got stuck by his jacket on a tree stump. The young maiden hurried over to help him and the little old man thanked her for her good deed. When the girl went to scoop up and carry more water to fill the pond, it was already full to the brim.

The young maiden showed it to the sorcerer and he assigned her the third and last task: “You have fulfilled two tasks, but not the third one. There is a ring at the bottom of the new pond. It is somewhere in its middle. Go and fetch it! For this task you can take as much time as you like.” But the girl wanted to get to work right away as the old woman in the forest had advised her.

When she reached the edge of the pond she saw a fish on the ground next to the pond. She felt sorry for the stranded fish and threw it back into the water. While she contemplated how to find the tiny ring in the huge pond she saw a swarm of fish coming toward her with the fish that she had saved in their middle carrying a ring in its mouth. Grateful for saving its life, the fish gave the ring to the young maiden.

Happily the girl ran back to the sorcerer with the good news, but he was no longer there. Instead she found a horse carriage with the king’s son inside. Joyfully, the princess-to-be jumped into the carriage and they kissed. When they returned to the prince’s father’s castle he had already died and the prince became king. They had a magnificent wedding and lived happily ever after.

Tree Project: Late Fall Follow-Up

Sunday, December 2, 2012.  Afternoon.

Today, I found my Ginkgo tree virtually bare. Drayton & Middleton 136_2_1

Only a handful of leaves managed to hang on to its branches.  An ocean of withering, golden leaves blanketed the ground beneath.  Their time has come to disintegrate and be reabsorbed into the earth and to support new life.

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One unexpected peculiarity caught my attention:  The Ginkgo tree had something that looked like new leaf buds.  Winter is approaching, and it looks as if the tree is already preparing for new growth.  It will be exciting to see what happens next when I visit it again in a few weeks.

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I definitely expect new leaves to emerge from the Ginkgo in spring. Not one of these leaves will be identical to the old ones, but they’ll still be from the same tree.

There is something to be learned from this observation.  One day, the time will come when our bodies will disintegrate and be reabsorbed into the ground as well. Will we also reemerge in the material world like the new Ginkgo leaves, perhaps in a different form, but still from the same, original source?

The Ginkgo tree has a delicate, little vine with heart-shaped, deep green leaves climbing up its trunk.  So pretty!

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The other interesting thing I’d like to report is that, despite the recent rainfall, the long, white ‘mystery hair’ still hangs off the same Ginkgo branch.  Unfortunately, I have not found out yet who it might belong to.

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Could the hair be Jake’s?  Oh, I have yet to introduce Jake to you …

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His barn and pasture are to the right of my trees.  Today, I was fortunate enough to be able to watch Jake getting groomed.  He deserves every bit of love and attention.  You see, Jake used to be a work horse and had to pull horse carriages.  Now he is retired and can enjoy his days roaming around on the pasture.  The people at Middleton Plantation love and respect him very much and give him lots of TLC.

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Jake’s story reminds me of the elderly.  I wish all elderly would be able to enjoy the same kind of retirement Jake is having now.  They, too, worked as hard as work horses in their lives.  The truth is, however, that many people are impoverished, in lack of needed care and attention, unloved, and forgotten by society in their old age.  At least, this is true for Western culture.  Why does our society not love, respect, and care for our elderly the way we do for animals?  Definitely, something to ponder!

To my surprise, the Chinaberry tree still had all of its berries.

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This means the feast and intoxication of the birds has not taken place yet.  I don’t know why, but I am generally not fond of tree berries.  Maybe it has something to do with the warnings I received as a child that most tree berries are poisonous and I should keep away from them.  But I have to admit, a leafless Chinaberry tree with nothing but clusters of berries looks quite attractive, especially when the light conditions of its background are just right.

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It would have been an almost perfectly quiet afternoon at the stable yards if it had not been for the Guinea birds.

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Their calls can be quite loud and penetrating.  Guineas are also fast runners and, thus difficult to photograph.  I see them as a challenge to improve my motion photography skills. 🙂

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They seem to shed a lot of their feathers which then mix in on the ground with the fallen Ginkgo leaves and berries from the Chinaberry tree.

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Today, my trees had another visitor.  It was an injured goose.  One of the wings of this goose is permanently extending out to the side.  The goose cannot completely retract it and fold it in against its body anymore.

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The caretakers at Middleton Place assured me, though, that this injured goose it just as happy as the rest of the flock.  Is there yet another lesson to be learned here?  Accidents and misfortunes do happen in life.  Can we also uphold a happy disposition even if we are faced with short-term or lasting physical ailments or handicaps?