Happy Hobbit Day!

My sister and I put together a playlist of festive hobbity music for our celebrations that I just had to share with you because honestly I think it’s just perfect. Well, we worked long and hard on it so it better be!

This year we wanted to combine the pagan celebration of the autumn equinox (what some call Mabon) with Bilbo and Frodo’s Birthday, so the theme is just as the title suggests: a Hobbit Day Harvest Fest. Enjoy!

Hobbit Day Harvest Fest YouTube Playlist

How We Got Here: the History of Rings Of Power — Lord of the Rings Rings of Power on Amazon Prime News, JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit and more | TheOneRing.net

The debut of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on Prime Video is in many ways a new age of Middle-earth adaptation. Set firmly in the Second Age, thousands of years before the events of the The Hobbit. This TV series sets out to explore the the age of settlements in Middle-earth […]

How We Got Here: the History of Rings Of Power — Lord of the Rings Rings of Power on Amazon Prime News, JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit and more | TheOneRing.net

Where Eagles Dare

As any fan of the Misfits can tell you, many (or even most) of their songs are about, or at least have titles inspired by or taken from, horror films. But “Where Eagles Dare” appears to be one of the exceptions. There is a movie called Where Eagles Dare but it’s not a horror film, and judging by the lyrics the song doesn’t seem to be about it–with the possible exception of one verse which I’ll get to in a bit.

[image description: movie poster for the 1968 brian g. hutton film “where eagles dare” starring clint eastwood and richard burton, featuring an artist’s over-the-top reimagining of the ciimactic cable car scene. (Fair Use).]

The most memorable line in the song is what brought it to mind the other night when my sister, slightly drunker for my birthday than I was, suddenly burst into my room laughing and shout-singing “I AIN’T NO GODDAMN SON OF A BITCH!” I hadn’t thought about that song for a while, so we put it on and listened as we poured another round, and that’s when it occurred to me that there was this movie I had heard about but never seen, starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, about a Secret Intelligence Service paratroop team raiding a Nazi castle in the Alps, and I wondered if maybe that most memorable line from the song of the same name came from the film itself. So I looked it up on Wikipedia only to discover that it seemingly wasn’t related to the song at all… unless it was not so much the premise of the movie itself, but the antics that went on behind the scenes (especially the drunken exploits of Burton) that inspired some of the lyrics:

“Richard Burton, well known for his drinking binges, disappeared for several days with his friends Peter O’Toole, Trevor Howard, and Richard Harris (who were not even in the movie), [causing delays in filming]. In the meantime, as part of his deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Clint Eastwood took delivery of a Norton P11 motorcycle, which he ‘tested’ at Brands Hatch racetrack, accompanied by Ingrid Pitt, something that he had been forbidden from doing… for insurance purposes in case of injury or worse. At one point during production, Burton was so drunk that he knocked himself out while filming and [his stunt double] had to quickly fill in for him. Derren Nesbitt observed that Burton was drinking as many as four bottles of vodka per day. At one point during filming, Burton was threatened at gunpoint by an overzealous fan, but fortunately danger was averted” [ibid].

Anyway, I ended up watching the film on HBO Max, and no spoilers, but even though it’s set during WWII and Wikipedia calls it a war movie, to me it’s not really a war movie. It has none of the heaviness or dreariness of a war movie. It’s more of an action-adventure espionage thriller, and even has some elements of a heist or caper. As such it sacrifices realism in favour of thrilling Bond-style stunts and almost super-human heroics, but for the most part this is a stealth mission in which a small team of special agents are chosen to infiltrate “Schloß Adler“, the Castle of Eagles, which is being used as a Nazi base, in order to rescue a high-ranking American officer before he talks under torture. Which brings me to the one verse in the Misfits song that sort of fits:

Let’s test your threshold of pain
Let’s see how long you last
That tappin’ in your retina
Unbosoms all your past
With jaded eyes and features
You think they really care?
Let’s go where eagles dare
We’ll go where eagles dare

Interestingly, the title of the movie was originally going to be “Castle of Eagles” before it was wisely changed to its current one, taken from a line in Shakespeare’s Richard III: “The world is grown so bad/That wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch.” In the end I’m still not sure whether the Misfits song was inspired by the movie or not, but I’m glad that my curiosity about that possibility led me to watch it because it was a really good movie with some gorgeous scenery and sets that I would’ve most likely missed out on due to its having been labelled a war movie (which I’ve never been that much of a fan of, though there are always exceptions, like Full Metal Jacket, which is one of my all-time favourite films, period). I especially enjoyed the scenes on the cable cars, which reminded me of one of my favourite parts of the game Return to Castle Wolfenstein, only a lot more exciting for reasons I won’t get into so as to avoid spoiling it for those who have yet to see this classic film.

Misfits – Where Eagles Dare

The Rotting Horse on the Deadly Ground

[image description: detail from “the lieutenant of the barad-dûr” by john howe. a grim armoured figure with horned helm and a face like a skull, bearing a lance and wearing a sword at his side, rides upon a hellish steed fitted with metal barding including chanfron and criniere, having demonic red glowing eyes and a greenish tint to its rotting hide (Fair Use)]

As my fifty-first birthday approaches I’ve been waxing nostalgic and so, at the suggestion of my sister, have laboured long and hard putting together a retrospective metal playlist to serve as a soundtrack for the coming celebrations. I wanted it to sort of tell the story of how I became a headbanger thirty-six years ago and also help me reminisce about metal’s profound impact on my life, so I arranged the tracks in order of what I was listening to at various times in my life, and ended up finding it necessary to include so many that I finally had to settle for it being only half evil by capping it at 333. A musical odyssey that spans from 1986 to 2001, though it certainly didn’t end there, it took me nearly a week to finish and will likely take a few days of partying for us to listen to the whole thing. Anyway, this playlist got me thinking about how I discovered one of my favourite bands, Summoning, especially since I just bought a back patch of what I and many other fans consider to be their seminal album, Minas Morgul, with the intention of making a new battle jacket for myself.

As I recall one early autumn back in the late 90s I was browsing in a small leather shop in Greenwich Village when I noticed on a shelf off to one side a cardboard box full of CDs for sale. Curious, I started flipping through them, and quickly realised that they were all black metal albums. By this time I had heard and liked a few tracks from Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, but I was mostly into thrash and death metal so I didn’t recognise nor was I particularly interested in any of the bands whose names were printed on the seemingly endless succession of amateurish album covers in barely readable fonts, so I can’t even tell you today what obscure and ancient treasures I might’ve passed over. But one CD in particular did catch my eye, mostly because of the artwork.

[image description: cover art for Summoning’s 1995 LP “Minas Morgul” (Fair Use)]

Its quaint fortified medieval city surrounded by high walls nestled between majestic soaring misty mountains was what got me, along with the implication of the title with its Gothic blackletter font–namely that this was the very citadel of Minas Morgul, the Tower of Sorcery from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. As I flipped the CD over and perused the song titles on the back cover I was enticed by the following track listing, also printed in the same font:

Soul Wandering
Lugburz
The Passing of the Grey Company
Morthond
Marching Homewards
Orthanc
Ungolianth
Dagor Bragollach
Through the Forest of Dol-Guldur
The Legend of the Master-Ring
Dor Daedeloth

From this I surmised that, unlike those of many black metal bands and artists who assumed Tolkien-ish names, these songs were actually about and/or set in Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle-earth. So I bought it, brought it home, and listened to it… and my heart sank a little as the first song, “Soul Wandering” began electronically, turned out to be instrumental and without guitars, and then ended much the same way it began. It sounded like something one of my Goth friends might’ve produced in their basement using only an electronic keyboard and a mixing console, and I was immediately worried the whole album would turn out to be like that. Not that I don’t enjoy that kind of music now and then, it just wasn’t what I expected based on the packaging. But then the next song, “Lugburz” came on, with a freezing black rain of metal guitar and growling of orcish vocals, followed by the even better “The Passing of the Grey Company”, and I knew right then that I had discovered something special. The entire album sounded like a horde of orcs singing battle hymns as they marched off to war, to music that was at times slow and melodic, evoking the medieval, and at times fast and uproarious, like the most frenetic of black metal tracks, and at all times something I wouldn’t hesitate to use as background music for one of my D&D or MERP campaigns.

After that, Summoning, which turned out to be a duo from Austria, became my favourite band, and over the years I would collect every single one of their CD releases (except for their latest which I plan to order soon), including their debut album, Lugburz, which was more like traditional black metal in style. As each successive LP or EP came out, there seemed to be a progression, or evolution of their sound, and yet they always kept to that medieval/folkish style of their second LP, Minas Morgul, which has earned them the distinction of being labelled as “medieval atmospheric black metal”. Still, each new album was unique, and today if you ask eight different Summoning fans which is their fave you’re likely to get eight different answers. But best of all, I was right about their songs mostly being about Middle-earth, and in fact much of their lyrics are taken directly from Tolkien’s poetry. And they didn’t draw inspiration only from The Lord of the Rings, but The Book of Lost Tales and The Simarillion as well.

Now there are quite a few tracks from several different Summoning albums that I could pontificate about, but the one that’s been on my mind the most recently, partly due to certain current events, is the one that gives us the title of this blog entry. “The Rotting Horse on the Deadly Ground” is the sixth track off their 1999 LP Stronghold, and I won’t be talking about the music but rather the lyrics, because they’re the reason I’m finding the song particularly relevant today. But I’ll link to the song at the bottom of this post so you can appreciate the musical aspects as well.

[image description: screengrab of the lyrics entry on darklyrics.com for summoning’s “the rotting horse on the deadly ground” (Fair Use)]

As depicted in the image above, the text of the song lyrics when centered forms the unmistakeable shape of a mushroom cloud, making this an instance of concrete poetry. In such poems, the shape the lines form is usually a clue revealing what the poem’s (usually unnamed) subject is, so I think it’s safe to say that this hidden feature of the song is letting us know what it’s actually about. The bulk of the lyrics themselves, as with many Summoning songs, is a composite of Tolkien’s poetry, but added to this is a refrain I believe to be all their own:

Take a ride on, ride on,
on your rotting horse
on that deadly ground
Take a ride, ride on,
on your rotting horse
with a pounding sound.

I remember when I first listened to this song I wondered what that part meant, but it wasn’t until I saw the lyrics centered as shown in the previous image that I at last began to understand. The lyrics taking the shape of a mushroom cloud are a clue that this song with its added refrain is about nuclear war, giving new meaning to the lines from Tolkien’s poetry which were by themselves simply about conventional war and the loss it brings:

Wars of great kings and clash of armouries
Whose swords no man could tell, whose spears
Were numerous as wheat field’s ears
Rolled over all the great lands, and seas
Were loud with navies, their devouring fires

Behind the armies burned both fields and towns
And sacked and crumbled or to flaming pyres
Were cities made, where treasuries and crowns
Kings and their folk, their wives and tender maids
Were all consumed. Now silent are those courts
Ruined the towers, whose old shape slowly fades
And no feet pass beneath their broken ports

I heed no call of clamant bell that rings
Iron tongued in the towers of earthly kings

Here on the stones and trees there lies a spell
Of unforgotten loss, of memories more blest
than mortal wealth.
Here undefeated dwell the folk immortal
under withered elms,
Alalminore once in ancient realms
.

Seen in this light, there are three explanations for the added refrain that I can come up with and they aren’t mutually exclusive. Firstly, as I touched upon in an earlier post, the horse is a symbol of the cavalry, which in medieval times were the noble knights who sought honour and glory in war. So one thing we might glean from it is the message that unlike with conventional warfare, there is no possibility of honour and glory in a nuclear war, only the senseless destruction of all life. Hence in this nuclear age the noble horse of chivalry is not only doomed to rot, but in a sense, already rotting.

Another take on it is that the rotting horse refers to the point of view some hold that we must have nuclear weapons in order to avoid getting nuked by others who have them, a well-known argument on which the military doctrine of “mutual assured destruction” is based. In other words, as the reasoning goes, the very fact that a nuclear war can have no winners should serve as a deterrent to the use of nuclear weapons on both sides. This is often used as a apology for the stockpiling of nuclear weapons, so the lyric may be a critique of that. The metaphor of a horse as someone’s point of view or political position is not such a stretch, given that we have such idioms as “beating a dead horse”, “come down off your high horse”, and “fuck you and the horse you rode in on.”

Lastly, what the lyric “rotting horse on that deadly ground” evokes for me most vehemently, especially in connection with that image of the mushroom cloud that the lyrics form when the text is centered, is this oft-quoted line from the Book of Revelation:

 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.

Revelation 6:8 (KJV)

Not long ago I finally got to see the film The Green Knight, which I found to be a beautiful if overly long and convoluted take on the 14th century poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and now one scene comes to mind featuring a conversation about the colour green and how it can represent not only life, as with the verdancy of living and life-giving vegetation, but also death and decay. I mention this because the original Greek wording of Revelation 6:8 literally translated is not “pale horse”, but “green horse”. The word used for “green” in this case is chloros (χλωρός), whence comes our word “chlorophyll”, the pigment plants use for photosynthesis which gives them their green colour; as well as “chlorine”, named for its yellow-green hue. But in this context it refers to the sickly green or greenish-yellow of disease and putrefaction (and it is for this reason that in some more modern Biblical translations, the phrase in question is rendered as “a pale green horse”). The implication is therefore that Death rides upon a rotting horse, which of course makes perfect mythopoetic sense.

Yet my sense is that the speaker is not literally addressing Death, the actual figure who is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; though the metaphorical image is certainly of him riding his “rotting horse” over “that deadly ground”–an obvious reference to ground zero, being that long after a nuclear detonation the affected area remains deadly from radioactive fallout–“with a pounding sound”–which could also be a reference to the multiple detonations that a full-scale nuclear attack would entail, since one might imagine that from afar the successive explosions would resemble the pounding sound of hooves, as of some monstrous warhorse galloping across the land. Rather I think the target of this sardonic admonishment is altogether human.

Theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, after having witnessed the successful detonation of the first atomic bomb he helped to create, famously said that it brought to mind a line from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Perhaps Summoning had this in mind when they wrote the refrain of “The Rotting Horse on the Deadly Ground”, which to me only makes sense within the context of the rest of the lyrics if it is directed at those mere mortal scientists, politicians, and military officials who would themselves become Death, the destroyer of worlds, by continuing to engage in a foolish arms race which can only lead to our utter annihilation.

Anyway, here’s the song if you’d like to hear it:

Summoning – Stronghold – The Rotting Horse on the Deadly Ground

Though here we stand/In darkest night

[image description: A light display shines from where the World Trade Center used to be. The two beams of light are illuminated each year on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton – Public Domain)]

I dreamt earlier this morning that I was writing these lyrics to music, to be sung by a choir. Though it was a simple tune, I couldn’t remember it upon waking, but I started jotting down as many of the words as I could recall as soon as I woke up, and I think I not only came close to a complete transcription of it, I may have even improved on it a little. It’s clearly inspired by Sam’s Song in the Orc-Tower, which impressed me at an early age, well before I ever heard it set to music. Though not composed with the September 11th attacks specifically in mind, I thought the above image of the Tribute in Light a fitting one for this poem.

Though here we stand
In darkest night
Our hope will rise
A shining light

To pierce the veil
Of cloud above
To never fail
On wings of love

A helping hand
A hopeful sight
A healing word
A beacon bright

Though here we bide
Deep in the dark
The light inside
Ignites a spark

With starkest wings
Against the night
Our song it rings
And takes to flight

To pierce the veil
Of cloud above
To never fail
On wings of love

© 2022 by Strider Lee

I Love Horses!

[image description: a pair of horses stand side by side in a green pasture under a blue sky. attribution: Nokota_Horses.jpg: François Marchalderivative work: Dana boomer, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons]

Today is “National I Love Horses Day” so I’m taking a break from working on my Camp NaNoWriMo project to express my own love of horses, which began in my early childhood—despite having never ridden one. Does a pony count? I recall a pony ride from when I was around four years old, and that’s one of my oldest memories, but the closest I’ve ever been to horseback riding was when a New York City mounted police officer nearly trampled me with one once upon a New Year’s Eve at Times Square back in the late 1980’s (in his defence, someone had thrown a Champagne bottle at him, which probably startled the poor horse).

Anyway, according to NationalToday.com, a website that explains all these weird and wonderful “national day of’s” which modern society seems to have proliferated in recent decades, “National I Love Horses Day was created to highlight the importance of the animal in human history and development. Horses have been around for around 50 million years and they were domesticated by nomads in 4000 B.C. The animal is believed to have originated from North America, with increased traveling and globalization taking it to other parts of the world…. As human populations increased and commercialization started taking over, horses began being used to cultivate the land and other general agricultural settings. Because of the strength and endurance they displayed, horses were also being used for the transportation of goods and people over long and short distances. Over the years, horse racing and show-jumping contests also gained the attention of the public.”

Horses also appear to have been important religiously in many cultures that had contact with them. There is evidence of horse worship, for example, in Europe and the Mediterranean dating as far back as the Bronze Age. The worship or at least veneration of horses was probably also practiced by the early Anglo-Saxons, which is perhaps why the eating of horsemeat is still taboo in England as well as in cultures derived therefrom today. It has even been suggested (perhaps erroneously) that J. R. R. Tolkien invented the fictional race of Rohirrim, or Riders of the Mark, a horse-centred culture whose language is based on the Mercian dialect of Old English, as an answer to traditional history’s claim that the early Anglo-Saxons were defeated by the Viking cavalry because they themselves did not fight on horseback. At any rate, there is plenty of evidence that these early English settlers did have a strong horse culture, and the mythical brothers said to have led the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes into their newfound land according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, were even called Hengest and Horsa, whose names mean respectively “stallion” and “horse”.

I think I first became fully conscious of my love of horses when I read Black Beauty as a child. Then it was not long afterwards that I became fascinated by all things medieval, and of course the knight on horseback has always been a very prominent symbol of the Middle Ages. Of the few occasions that I got to see a horse up close, the most memorable were at the Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon Park, and the New York Renaissance Faire in Tuxedo, New York, both of which have always featured jousting. There were of course, numerous cinematic influences as well. One of these which I’ve already blogged about twice was Excalibur, a film adaptation of early Arthurian romances and the literature inspired by them, central to which is the concept of knighthood, which at its most basic is the culture of mounted warriors or soldiers. After all, a knight is almost always a member of the cavalry (a word derived from the French “cheval” meaning “horse”, which also gives us “chivalry”), as opposed to the foot soldiers, or infantry, of which the root word “infant” is not a coincidence, for it originally referred to soldiers considered “too inexperienced for cavalry“. So we see that from early on, the mounted fighting force was considered a class above the ones obliged to fight on foot, and this is even reflected in the lowly status of the pawn in chess. It is of course also telling that the chess piece known as the knight is represented by a horse’s head.

It was not so much that I wanted to own a horse (though I certainly fantasised about it as a child), but that my heart soared whenever I saw one, especially if it happened to be running. I wasn’t even particularly keen on riding one, or else I should have done so long ago—there were, after all, reasonably-priced horseback rides in Central Park until 2007, and I was surely making enough money in the early aughts to be able to afford one. That’s not to say that I don’t regret having never ridden a horse, and it is in fact on my bucket list—just that it’s not one of the things I prioritise in connection with my personal appreciation for these majestic animals. In fact, my love of horses once even prompted me to Google the question “Do horses like being ridden?” It had suddenly occurred to me that they—at least when domesticated—were very much at our mercy. Perhaps they would prefer to be roaming free? The answers I got were frustratingly inconclusive, but here’s the most comprehensive one, for what it’s worth.

The history of the horse is every bit as fascinating as the history of humankind, not the least because they are so intertwined (or at least, have become so in relatively recent times). I could go on and on about this subject, but then by the time I was done it would no longer be National I Love Horses Day, and I wanted this post to be timely. So I’ll conclude with this video that I’ve posted to the blog in the past, but which bears repeating. It’s a fascinating look into the origin and history of horses and their domestication for all those who are interested in such things.

First Horse Warriors

Then once you’re done watching that, take a gander at this excellent music video from Of Monsters and Men featuring a hypnotic continuous animation of running and jumping horses:

Of Monsters and Men – Mountain Sound (Official Lyric Video)

Still need more horse love? Check out this list of the 50 best horse movies according to HorseNetwork.com.

Gift of the Unicorn: An Original Fairy Tale (Part IV)

Read Part IRead Part IIRead Part III

[image description: virgin and unicorn by domenichino (public domain)] 

“No, I will not do this.” Prince Zakir was adamant. “I will not keep secrets from my wife. There has to be another way.”

“There is none, my prince,” the unicorn replied sadly.

“Then I must remain celibate, even if it be for the rest of my life.”

And so another month went by, and winter slowly turned into spring, and with spring came all the longings that a young man has to lie with a woman. Yet still Prince Zakir kept true to his vows.

One night, however, he could take it no longer, and so he went out into the castle garden and called the unicorn’s name softly.

As Ancoron approached, he bowed his head, only this time the prince bowed back, and said, “May God forgive me, but I have reconsidered your offer.”

“Then you will swear never to speak of me to your wife or anyone else again?” the unicorn asked.

“I swear it,” said the prince, and bowed his head lower as if in shame.

No sooner had he spoken these words than Ancoron disappeared; and Prince Zakir knew in that moment that he would never see the unicorn again, for he was no longer pure of heart.

That evening the unicorn met with Princess Geva in the garden for the last time.

“I must go away now,” he told her. “But I will never forget you.”

“No, Ancoron!” she cried. “Please—I couldn’t bear it! If I lose you my heart will surely break!”

“You have your prince,” said Ancoron, “to mend it for you.”

She burst into tears now, weeping and sobbing into her hands with head bowed.

“I am sorry,” the unicorn sighed, and then, as the princess reached out a hand to caress his nose, with a nod of his head he tilted his horn quickly downwards and scratched her palm with its tip, just enough to draw blood.

She let out a small gasp and then immediately fainted.

When she awoke a short time later she was alone, lying next to the rosebush, and seeing the scratch on the palm of her hand she chided herself for being so foolish.

“I stayed too long awake,” she said, “and fell asleep on my feet! I must have tried to grasp the rosebush as I fell.”

Then she went inside to seek her husband, and soon found him waiting for her in their bedchamber. She smiled fondly as she saw him lying there in what was to be their marriage bed. Now he beckoned to her, and letting her gown fall from her shoulders, she climbed into bed with him.

That night Princess Geva knew her husband for the first time, and afterwards as she lay in his arms she whispered to him: “My dear prince, my own Zakir. Why ever did we wait so long?”

And this brought a tear to the prince’s eye, but he turned his face away so that she would not see, and not willing to lie to his beloved, only said: “We had to wait until the time was right.”

The next day Princess Geva rose, and leaving her husband sleeping, dressed and went out into the garden as she was wont to do; though of course she now no longer remembered the reason for it, but imagined it was only to enjoy the spring air and the birdsong and the beauty of the flowers.

It was a lovely morning, and the sun shone gently as it rose over the tops of the trees that bordered the castle grounds, and as she strolled thus she felt happy, but also a little sad. The happiness, she knew, sprang from her love, but whence the sadness came she had no inkling. It was like a dull ache in the breast, or a tightening around the heart; as of a deep, abiding longing that she could not name, or a wound that had no physical cause and therefore no practical remedy.

“I suppose every woman must feel this way after the loss of her maidenhead,” she thought.

Then later that afternoon, as she took the same route back to the castle, she passed the rosebush on her way and recalled again how the night before she had so foolishly fallen asleep and scratched herself on one of the thorns. And now as she glanced down at the spot whereupon she had awoken, a flash of light like the sparkling of a dewdrop caught her eye.

Curious, she bent down for a closer look.

There, amid the tangled roots of the rosebush, a tiny tear-shaped diamond lay glittering in the sun.

© 2014 by Strider Lee

Gift of the Unicorn: An Original Fairy Tale (Part III)

Read Part IRead Part II

[image description: virgin and unicorn by domenichino (public domain)] 

So did the prince ride upon the unicorn’s back, far to the west, swifter than the wind, through many kingdoms and principalities, across deserts scarcely inhabited, over mountains and seas, until at last they arrived at the briar wall that enclosed the dwelling place of the legendary maiden.

Here and there upon the massive thorns of the briar hung the bleached white bones and rusted armour of all of the enchanted maiden’s previous would-be suitors, but the prince was not afraid. “If my beloved is truly on the other side of this wall,” he said to himself, “then I must breach it somehow, or die in the attempt.”

But even as Prince Zakir approached the briar wall the thick thorny vegetation parted of its own accord, forming a path for him straight to the great lawn on which Geva’s castle stood. So without hesitation he followed the path safely through the briar, and as he crossed the lawn and approached the gardens he saw Geva standing there at the castle gates beside a large rosebush, with sunlight in her hair, looking even more beautiful than she had in his visions.

When Geva saw her prince she nearly lost her breath. “You are the man of my dreams,” she said, and meant it quite literally. For she had often dreamt of him but had told no one about this, not even Ancoron, as she had thought it but a bit of folly.

“And you are the woman of mine,” he replied.

She blushed. “I never dared hope that you truly existed.”

He took both her hands in his. “The hope that you truly existed is what has kept me alive all these years.”

Meanwhile, when the witch’s familiar saw that the briar wall had come down, it immediately slunk off to tell its mistress. But before it even left the castle grounds, the cat was once again pinned to the earth by an invisible spirit.

“I can see that you’ve been up to no good again,” said Ancoron as he kicked one of the wicked creature’s nine lives out of it with his mighty hoof. And no sooner had he done so than Geva’s mother ceased her babbling and got out of bed and went looking for her daughter, having been under the spell of the witch’s familiar for all that time. As for the cat, it ran back to its mistress with its remaining eight lives and never returned to the castle again.

When the unicorn next found the couple in the garden Geva scarcely noticed him at first, so enraptured she was with her charming prince. But then at last she turned to him, and ran to embrace the fair creature, weeping tears of joy. “Ancoron!” she cried happily. “I feared I would never see you again!”

“It was I who found your prince for you,” said he, not without a fair bit of pride.

“I know,” she said. “He told me. I can’t thank you enough! You are a true friend.”

Now that Geva’s mother had regained her wits, she busily prepared a magnificent wedding feast. But in her happiness she forgot to invite the witch. As it turned out, the old hag showed up at the castle anyway, and as soon as Geva’s mother saw her she blanched, but recovering herself quickly, ushered her in and announced her to everyone as the guest of honour. But she wouldn’t say why she should be the guest of honour at her daughter’s wedding feast, and so Geva began to fear that her mother had lost her mind again.

The feast was indeed a magnificent affair, with the finest minstrels in the land playing continuously in the gallery, and a luscious board laid out in seven courses, and jesters and jugglers entertaining the many highborn guests. But the prince and his new princess soon found it tiresome. They only wished to be alone with one another, yet they sat through it patiently nonetheless, making eyes at each other from across the table and laughing at each other’s jests. After dinner they danced together for the first time, and that was the most delightful part of the evening. Then, before they knew it, it was all over, and the guests were leaving. They both heaved a sigh of relief.

But before the witch left the castle she pulled Princess Geva aside. “You look radiant, my dear. I am so happy for you and your new husband.”

“As am I,” said the princess.

“Alas,” the witch replied, “too bad such happiness cannot last.”

“Can’t it?”

“No, I’m afraid not. For after tonight you will no longer be innocent.”

“What do you mean?”

“It is difficult to explain. Innocence can only be fully comprehended by those who have lost it. But trust me when I say that once you and your husband have lain together you will no longer be innocent.”

Now a thought occurred to Princess Geva that she had not considered before, and she politely excused herself and went out into the gardens where Ancoron was always wont to appear to her, whereupon she called the unicorn’s name softly.

“I am here,” he said, stepping out of the shadows.

“Ancoron!” she cried. “After tonight I will no longer be innocent! Doesn’t that mean I will never see you again?”

“Alas,” said he, “it does.”

“Oh, no!” Now she was on the verge of tears. “You have been my dearest friend—my only friend! I can’t bear to lose you again, Ancoron!”

“But you must.”

“No—I can’t—at least, not yet. I will speak to my husband. He will understand.”

And so she went back into the castle, and spoke to the prince, telling him what she had learned, and tearfully explaining that she could not bear to part with her dearest friend so soon.

“Then we must live apart for a while,” Prince Zakir said sadly, “lest the temptation become too great for us. But I will visit you often, and furthermore I vow that whether we be together or apart, I will have no other for as long as I live.”

So the prince went back to his own land; but true to his word, in the weeks that followed he remained faithful to his wife, and returned often to visit her and her mother and Ancoron. And on one such occasion, as the young couple strolled through the garden together hand in hand on a brisk autumn evening, they both saw snow for the first time, whereupon they laughed and laughed as it fell upon their upturned faces, delighted with it, and with the world, and with each other.

And as Ancoron watched them unseen, it was then that he finally made up his mind to convince Princess Geva of the wisdom of letting him go that she might truly be with her prince. But he waited a week, delaying the awful moment when he would have to say farewell, and thus before he could do so, the maiden’s dear old mother passed away.

“I can’t leave her now,” the unicorn said to himself. “Not so soon after losing her mother.”

And so another month passed, and then another, and through it all Prince Zakir waited patiently, staying at the castle but still remaining chaste and ever true to his vows.

Then at last one day Ancoron felt it was high time he convinced Geva to let him go. Yet he knew it wouldn’t be easy, so he sought out the fairy again to ask her advice. He also knew that this was a long shot, for fairies are capricious beings at best; but once he had told her all that had transpired since their last conversation, she became furious. “That meddling witch!” she cried. “So she’s the reason I was trapped in that bottle in the first place! Come with me, Ancoron. I’m going to go give that old hag a piece of my mind.”

When they reached the witch’s dwelling they found her busily brewing some foul concoction or other in her huge cauldron, humming an ancient tune to herself as she churned it with the boat paddle, so preoccupied that she didn’t even notice that anyone had entered at first. But then suddenly she looked up in surprise at Ancoron standing there in the doorway, and immediately ceased her stirring of the foul-smelling substance, a sound issuing from her foul mouth that might have been a gasp though it more resembled a death rattle. Even though the witch was far from innocent and pure of heart, she was able to see the unicorn because she too was a magical being and possessed the sight. But she could not yet see the fairy, who had cast a veil of invisibility over herself that even the witch’s third eye could not penetrate.

“At last!” the old hag cackled with glee. “At last I have my very own unicorn! I knew it wouldn’t be long before you fell into my trap!”

Just then the fairy appeared to the witch in all her glory: a fearsome creature with hair and eyes of silver flame.

“Spirits preserve me!” the hag cried.

“Not likely,” the fairy said. “I have come for my revenge.”

“Have mercy!”

“This is the extent of my mercy. You must abandon any plans you have of capturing a unicorn. And you must help Ancoron find a way to convince Geva to let him go and consummate her marriage with the prince. In return for this, I will overlook all the trouble you’ve caused me.”

“All right, all right,” the witch groaned. “I’ll tell you what must be done. But your one-horned friend will not like it.”

“What is it?” asked Ancoron.

“You must cause her to forget all about you,” said the witch.

“And how do I do that?”

“With a potion. Give me an hour or so and I’ll mix one up for you.”

“Very well,” said the fairy. “You have one hour. And I will stay to make sure you hold up your end of the bargain.”

An hour later the potion was almost ready. The witch turned to Ancoron then with a wicked grin. “The last ingredient is the hardest to come by,” she said. “But we’re in luck, because it just so happens it’s a unicorn’s horn, and you’re a unicorn.”

“But if you take my horn,” Ancoron replied sadly, “I shall not have long to live. Nevertheless, I will not stand in the way of Geva’s happiness. Do what you must.”

“Ancoron, you fool!” the fairy cried. “It’s a good thing I stayed.” Now she turned toward the witch, her pale face flushed with fury. “There’s no way in hell you’re harming a hair on this creature’s head!”

“Never fear,” the witch assured them, “it needn’t come to that. I need only spread the potion on the tip of his horn. But then he must wound her with it—it needn’t be a deep wound, you understand—just the merest scratch, but enough to draw blood.”

“And what will that do to her?” asked Ancoron.

“She will fall into a deep slumber, and when she awakens, she will no longer remember you. I suggest you have the girl meet you by the rosebush that grows beside the garden wall. That way, when she awakens, she will think she merely fell asleep and scratched herself on one of the thorns.”

Ancoron looked long at the potion. “And just like that, all memory of me will be gone. It will be as though we never met—as though our friendship never existed.” He sighed heavily. “Well, I suppose it’s for the best.”

The fairy looked upon him kindly. “Mortals are much more than mere bundles of memories,” she said.

“True,” said the witch. “Though the girl will no longer remember you, she’ll still feel your loss—somewhere, deep inside of her, as a vacancy—like that left by a missing puzzle piece—a part of her that’s empty, that hungers for something, though she won’t know what. She won’t feel truly whole—not for a long while—perhaps not for the rest of her life.”

“Is that true?” Ancoron asked the fairy as doubt began to gnaw at him once more.

“For the most part,” she replied with a scowl at the witch. “But many a truth is told in malice, as they say. On the bright side, the love of her prince may mend Geva’s heart eventually; for true love has healing powers that none of us immortals will ever comprehend.”

The unicorn thought about this for a long moment. “And what of Prince Zakir? Must I wound him as well?”

“The spell will not work on him,” the witch replied, “for the very reason that he does not love you. He loves Geva only, and has no room in his heart for anything else.”

“You must bid him swear never to mention you to his bride,” the fairy suggested.

“He will not like that,” said Ancoron.

“Then you must explain to him why it is necessary,” she replied. “Now I must go. But remember, old hag, if you betray us I’ll be back for you.”

© 2014 by Strider Lee

Read Part IV

Gift of the Unicorn: An Original Fairy Tale (Part II)

Read Part I

[image description: virgin and unicorn by domenichino (public domain)] 

Meanwhile the legend of Geva’s beauty continued to spread throughout the land, and even to lands beyond. And with the legend of her beauty went the legend of her imprisonment behind the briar wall. So of course it wasn’t long before all manner of would-be suitors started coming from all over to try their luck at freeing the maiden and winning her as a bride.

Many came, and many tried, and all of them died. They could not break the spell, for even if they were princes, they were neither innocent nor pure of heart, and even if there had been one who was all of these, how could he truly love Geva, having never so much as seen her?

And so the years passed, and still Geva’s prince did not come, and Geva remained a maid, with only the birds and animals for company. For her poor old mother had taken to lying in bed all the time, babbling inanely, and wouldn’t even feed herself, so that she had to be spoon-fed by her daughter. It was a lonely life, and Geva wanted nothing more than to have a real friend. But she was utterly innocent of the ways of love, and so it had not occurred to her that she might desire a husband as well. Thus it was only a matter of time before a unicorn appeared to her, as these magical creatures are attracted to innocence. She had been sitting in the castle garden listening to the birds sing when the magnificent beast approached her from out of the briar wall, which only barred mortal men and women from passing through it, and he was easily the most beautiful creature that Geva had ever seen.

“Hello there!” she greeted him as he drew nigh her. “Will you be my friend?”

“Of course,” said the unicorn. “My name is Ancoron. It means ‘One Horn’. What’s yours?”

“Geva. It means ‘Gift’.”

“Lovely. But why are you here all alone, behind this wall of briar?”

“I don’t know. I only know that no mortal can pass through the briar. It’s been this way for almost as long as I can remember.”

“Well now,” said Ancoron. “That doesn’t seem right.”

“I know,” the maiden replied. “When I was a child, we had servants in the castle. I remember that. And many people came and went, and my mother wasn’t bedridden, and—and—I didn’t feel so lonely.”

“Well you needn’t feel lonely any longer,” Ancoron assured her. “And perhaps together we can solve this strange mystery. After all, I’m no ordinary animal. I’m a unicorn.”

“I know all about unicorns,” said Geva, for over the years she had busied herself in her prison with the reading of countless books on all sorts of subjects. “You can only appear to the innocent and pure of heart. Your horn is a coveted ingredient in many magical spells, wherefore a maiden is often used as bait to lure you into a trap, that hunters might take your horn. And when you weep, the moonlight turns your tears to diamonds.”

“I don’t know about that last one,” said Ancoron. “A unicorn doesn’t weep unless his heart is broken, and as far as I know, that’s never happened. Say… you aren’t trying to lead me into a trap are you?”

“No,” said Geva. “Of course not.”

The unicorn chuckled. “As if you’d tell me if you were.”

“You’ve got me there,” said Geva, with a smirk. “But then, if that had been my purpose I would’ve been foolish to mention it at all.”

“True,” laughed Ancoron.

“I have no need to trap a unicorn,” said Geva after a moment. “But I do need a friend.”

“Well,” the unicorn replied, “now you have one.”

After that Ancoron came to visit Geva in the garden every day, and he would bring her news of the world outside, whereupon they would talk of many things, and play many a silly game, and sometimes she would brush his mane. Then one afternoon she was doing just that when suddenly the unicorn’s ears began to twitch. “What’s that sound?” he cried with sudden concern.

“What sound?” asked Geva, whose sense of hearing was nowhere near as acute as a unicorn’s.

“I hear something breathing nearby.” The unicorn tensed, the fine downy hairs under his magnificent mane standing on end. “Wait here, I’ll just go and check.”

He didn’t have to go far before he spotted it: a sleek black cat sitting under a rosebush, watching and listening. As soon as he saw it Ancoron could tell it was up to no good, so he circled around, sneaked up behind it unseen and unheard, and pinned it to the ground beneath one of his forehooves.

“Aiiiii!” the cat screamed. “What invisible spirit has caught me thus?”

“One that can crush you to death,” said Ancoron. “So you’d better tell me what’s going on here, and quickly!”

“My mistress is a witch,” the cat eagerly confessed. “She taught the old woman how to trap a fairy and get three wishes from it. But the foolish mortal angered the fairy, so it imprisoned her and her daughter behind this briar wall. I’ve just been looking after the girl, I swear! My mistress feels responsible for her since it was she guided the old woman in the first place.”

“Where can I find this fairy?”

“I don’t know, I swear it!”

“Perhaps your mistress knows.”

“She doesn’t, else she would have already convinced it to lift the curse.”

“Well then I suppose I must find this fairy myself.”

“That sounds like a splendid idea,” the witch’s familiar replied, his yellow eyes narrowing.

“You had better stay away from Geva,” the unicorn warned the cat, “if you know what’s good for you.”

And with that he let the beast go, and making his excuses to Geva, straightaway went looking for the fairy, with a promise to return to the maiden promptly. And being a magical being himself, it was not long before he found the immortal wight where she dwelt in a grove not far from Geva’s castle.

The fairy was seated on a magnificent throne of silver briarwood, clad in silver from head to toe, with eyes of silver and hair and skin as white as snow, and she was easily the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes upon.

“Are you that very same fairy who put a curse on the innocent girl who now inhabits yonder castle?” he demanded of her.

“I was angry,” the spirit admitted. “Of course I regret it now. The poor thing. But what can I do? The spell cannot be lifted, not even by me; nor can it be broken. It can only be fulfilled. None but a prince who is as innocent and pure of heart as she, and who is her true love, can free her from her prison.”

Ancoron thought about this for a long moment.

“Can you not transform me into a prince?” he asked finally.

“I cannot make you something you are not,” the fairy replied. “You would look like a prince, but you would only be a unicorn disguised as a prince. And though you may be innocent and pure of heart, you would not be the maiden’s true love.”

“Then I suppose I must find a prince,” said the unicorn, “who is innocent and pure of heart, and who will be her true love.”

“Yes,” said the fairy. “Well, good luck with that.”

So Ancoron returned to the maiden and explained everything, and before long he went off on his quest, promising to return with the one who would break the spell. She hated to see him go, but also had the utmost faith in him, and the prospect of the curse being lifted at last was certainly an appealing one; especially since it meant she could summon the finest doctors to the castle to see to her mother. For at this point the idea of finding her one true love did not seem as important.

For many days the unicorn searched long and hard, and far and wide, but to no avail. See, in every kingdom he visited, there were marriageable princes aplenty, but not one of them was innocent or pure of heart.

Meanwhile, despite Ancoron’s warning, the witch’s familiar took advantage of his long absence to cozy up to Geva, and soon the girl found herself confiding in the wicked creature.

“The unicorn is never coming back,” said the cat one day. “You might as well get used to that fact. But I will be your new friend, and I won’t ever leave you.”

At that Geva began to weep, but quickly wiped her tears away. “Do you swear?” she asked innocently.

“On my life,” said the sly feline, who had an extra eight of those to spare.

It was at around this time that Ancoron gave up his fruitless search and was on the point of returning home. But as sometimes happens in situations like these, before he was even halfway there, he serendipitously stumbled upon exactly what—or rather, who—he had been searching for.

Two servants stood before the gated entrance to a walled garden adjoined to a magnificent palace. It was midday, when most peasant folk rested from their labours, and now the pair sought out the shade of a large palm tree and sat down to share a loaf of bread and a jug of wine.

“It is high time the prince took a wife,” said the first servant.

“He will have none,” said the second.

“Ah,” said the first. “Well, that is not so unusual. When I was his age—”

“No,” the second interrupted, “you misunderstand me. The prince has never been with a woman at all, nor does he wish to.”

“You mean—”

“No, that isn’t it, either. He has fixated himself on some maiden he has never seen except in a vision.”

“A vision? Then the tales about him are true.”

“I would not speak of such things if I were you.”

“Of course you are right. Come, we’d best get back to work.”

Curious, the unicorn followed the servants into the garden, which was very large and magnificent, with many high trellises and all manner of flowering plants and trees. In the midst of the garden sat a handsome young man upon a chair of gold, splendidly dressed in the finest silks, with long dark hair, almond eyes, and olive complexion.

“Good morning, fair creature,” he said when he saw the unicorn approaching. “I am Prince Zakir.”

The unicorn bowed his head. “I greet you, Your Highness. I am Ancoron.”

“And what sort of beast are you,” the prince asked in surprise, “that you can speak the language of men?”

“I am a unicorn.”

“I see. It stands to reason that you are a magical beast. I have heard of such before, though I have never seen one. But what brings you here?”

“I come on behalf of a maid most rare, who may only be betrothed to a prince who is as innocent and pure of heart as she, and who will be her true love. I have searched long and hard, and far and wide, but this is the first time I have encountered anyone who met the first two requirements; though of course whether or not you will meet the third remains to be seen.”

“I have only one true love,” the prince replied, “and I will have no other. As to the second requirement, I am far from innocent—oh, innocent of the ways of love, I grant you—but though I have never personally shed blood, many men have died by my decree.”

The unicorn thought about this for a moment. “Perhaps,” he said, “a prince may dispense the realm’s justice and still be counted innocent, so long as he is pure of heart. For if you were not both of these, you would not be able to see me.”

The prince smiled, but Ancoron thought, a bit sadly.

“You are far more generous than my enemies,” he said at length. “Though they fear to raise a hand against me, they have no qualms about speaking ill of me behind my back.”

“And what do they say of you, Prince Zakir?”

“They say that I am not my father’s son. They say that my mother made a cuckold of my father, and lay with an efreet, who got me on her. They say that I am a bastard, and the spawn of a devil.”

“And why do they say such things?”

“Because I have had visions, and the visions have all come to pass—all, that is, save one.”

“That being?”

“The vision of my beloved.”

“Tell me of this vision.”

“The vision of my beloved is engraved upon my heart. While I live, I will have no other. And if ever I find her, if she says she will not have me, then I shall immediately die of grief.”

“And who is your beloved?”

“I do not know her name. I do not even know her whereabouts, else I should be with her. I only know that she is far, far away, and hidden from all men; a beautiful prisoner with golden hair that reaches to her ankles, eyes the emerald green of the forests, and skin as pale as milk.”

“Come with me,” said Ancoron, “and I will take you to your beloved.”

© 2014 by Strider Lee

Read Part III

Gift of the Unicorn: An Original Fairy Tale (Part I)

That he should come—and pass—and would not stay,
The Silken-swift—the gloriously Fair!
That he should come—and pass—and would not stay…

~Theodore Sturgeon

[image description: virgin and unicorn by domenichino (public domain)] 

There was once a farmer’s widow whose life was never ending toil. All she had ever wanted was a child of her own, but her husband had died before that dream could be realised, and now she felt she was too old to bear one.

One spring morning while she was toiling away in the fields she started humming a lullaby her mother used to sing to her when she was a child, and this made her sigh and lament aloud: “Alas, I will never sing lullabies to anyone, for I will never have a child!”

“My mistress could help you with that,” said a voice behind her.

Startled, the old woman whirled around. But there was no one there but an old black cat. “Did you just…? No, it couldn’t be. I must be losing my wits.”

“I assure you,” said the cat, “you are not.”

At this the woman gasped and backed away. “How is it that you can speak?” she asked the cat.

“I am no ordinary cat,” it explained, “but a witch’s familiar.”

“Oh!” the old woman crossed herself and made a sign of warding. “I’ll have no truck with witches and their ilk!”

“Well,” the cat sighed, its eyes narrowing. “That’s a shame. There might have been a beautiful child in the bargain for you.”

Now the widow thought about this for a moment and then she said: “What would I have to do?”

“You’d have to agree to her terms,” the cat replied, “whatever they might be. Why don’t you ask her yourself? It couldn’t hurt, and she doesn’t live far from here.”

The old woman shuddered, but she did want a child very badly.

“Very well,” she said after a moment. “Take me to your mistress.”

So the cat led her over the fields and through the woods until they came to the witch’s dwelling, which was nothing more than a small cave at the foot of a large hill, with a hole in the ceiling to let out the smoke from her firepit. Over the firepit stood a large black iron cauldron on three legs, and behind this stood the witch, busily brewing something. Whatever it was seemed to need constant stirring, and this she did with a wooden boat paddle. She was extremely old and frightfully ugly, with a grimace that might have scared off the devil himself, and when the widow saw her she was tempted to turn and run. But then the witch smiled at her, and suddenly she didn’t look quite as fearsome as she had whilst frowning intently over her brew.

“Welcome,” she said without ceasing her stirring. “What can I do for you?”

The widow bowed respectfully. “I have always wanted a child. But now I am too old. Your familiar told me you could help me with that.”

“Indeed I can,” the witch assured her. “Or rather, I can explain to you how you may help yourself with that, and much more besides. But I require payment.”

“What sort of payment?”

“When the time comes, you must make me the guest of honour at your daughter’s wedding feast, but you must tell no one why.”

“Daughter!” the widow gasped. “But—”

“How did I know that it was a daughter you wanted? It’s as plain to me as the nose on your face. And you shall have her, if you agree to my terms and do everything exactly as I tell you to.”

The widow considered this for a long moment. It seemed a small price to pay for something she had wanted so badly for so long, even if the guest of honour was more than likely to frighten off all of the wedding guests. So finally she said: “It’s a deal!”

“Excellent,” said the witch. “Now listen to me very carefully, and follow my instructions to the letter, for what needs to be done is extremely dangerous. You see, in order to get what you want, you must summon and trap a fairy, and then refuse to release it until it has granted your wish.”

Then she told her how to go about doing that, giving her a small bottle sealed with wax. The wax seal bore some sort of magical symbol on it, which the witch had enscribed upon it with a pin.

“Once the fairy is inside the bottle,” the witch explained, “it will not be able to get out until you break this seal, and must therefore bargain for its release. But beware: you must ask for no more than three wishes. It would not be meet to ask for any more than that. And be sure to word your wishes carefully. Fairies have been known to twist a mortal’s words to suit their own purposes, especially if they’ve been angered. So above all, be respectful. The fairy will not take kindly to being trapped, and if you add insult to injury, it will be all the more inclined to trick you.”

So the old woman went home with the bottle and did as the witch instructed, and when she was done summoning the fairy the bottle started to get cloudy, and then to shake and rattle, and then finally to glow with a soft green light.

“Who has imprisoned me?” cried a voice that came from inside the bottle. “Release me at once!”

“I will release you,” the old woman said, “once you have granted me three wishes.”

“I see,” the fairy said. “Very well, what is your first wish?”

“I wish to safely give birth to a healthy baby girl who will grow up to be a beautiful young woman with long hair like beaten gold, eyes as green as emeralds, and skin as pale as milk.”

“It shall be done,” the fairy assured her. “Now what is your second wish?”

But the old woman hadn’t really thought beyond her first wish, so now she considered this for a long while. There were so many possibilities. How could she settle on just two? And even once she did decide, she would have to be very careful with the wording of her last two wishes. So now she said: “I need time to think of what my second wish will be.”

“Fine,” the fairy replied. “But see that you do not take too long. I have places to go and things to do, and you have already delayed me long enough.”

“Of course,” said the widow, and for now she put the bottle away in her cupboard. But the old woman could not think of what else she might wish for until after her daughter was born, which was around nine months later.

She named the girl Geva, and as she looked upon her for the first time she said to herself: “Why, of course! I cannot condemn my daughter to such a life of toil as mine, living in a hovel such as this. We must be rich, and live in a castle!”

So now at last she returned to the cupboard and opened it and took out the bottle the fairy was trapped in.

“It’s about time!” said the fairy irritably. “Now make your second wish!”

“I wish,” said the old woman, “for my daughter and I to be rich and dwell in a castle.”

“By rights that’s two wishes,” the fairy pointed out. “Being rich and having a castle. Normally I would say you should just wish to be rich and then buy a castle. But if it will move things along more quickly, I’ll grant it nonetheless.”

No sooner had she spoken than the hovel the widow lived in transformed itself into a magnificent castle with a great lawn and a walled garden, and also a huge vault deep within the castle keep which was filled with more silver and gold than any mortal could hope to spend in a lifetime. And because the fairy really did want to hurry things along, the castle was already teeming with servants.

“There,” the fairy said. “Now make your third and final wish!”

“Oh,” said the widow. “I must really give some thought to that one! I wouldn’t want to waste it.”

“Seriously?” The fairy was beginning to lose her patience. “Very well. But you’d better not make me wait as long as you did the last time!”

But the new mother was so happy with her daughter and her riches and her castle that she couldn’t think of what else she could possibly want until Geva was already on the verge of womanhood. Of course by now the maiden was quite a beautiful creature to behold, with long hair like beaten gold, eyes the emerald of the forests, and skin as pale as milk. In fact, her beauty became so legendary that it wasn’t long at all before suitors from all over the land started coming to seek her hand in marriage.

“Oh dear!” thought Geva’s mother then. “How time flies! Of course we must get my daughter a husband now that she is of age. Yet so far the best of her suitors has been but a knight. My daughter deserves no less than a prince!”

Then she remembered the fairy, and went into the castle pantry and retrieved the bottle from where it still sat locked away in the cupboard, now all covered with dust and cobwebs. But as she brushed these away and peered into the bottle, the visage the fairy bore was so frightful that it nearly froze the old woman’s blood with fear.

“Have you come at last to make your third and final wish?” the spirit asked angrily. “Do it quickly, for I have just about run out of patience with you.”

“I’m sorry,” the old woman said. “Yes, I am here to make my third wish. It is that my daughter be married to no less than a prince!”

“Naturally,” the fairy said. “Fine, it shall be as you requested. Now release me!”

But Geva’s mother knew the fairy was angry with her, and now she didn’t trust that she would hold up her end of the bargain. So she said: “Not until I have seen my daughter wed to a prince.”

“Tiresome woman!” the fairy roared then. “If you will but release me now I will not only see to it that your daughter is married to no less than a prince, I will improve your foolish wish. Because your daughter is innocent of any wrongdoing against me, out of kindness I will protect her from your folly by adding these requirements as well: this prince must truly love her, and she him, and he must be as innocent and pure of heart as she. Now set me free, or I will grant your wish as originally stated, only it will be to a prince of ogres who will devour her on their wedding night!”

“All right, all right!” the woman cried, and broke the seal on the bottle with her forefinger.

But no sooner was the fairy released than a great briar hedge grew up around the castle grounds, forming an impenetrable wall a mile thick and three miles high, with thorns as long and sharp as broadswords. Moreover, all the servants in the castle disappeared, for they had not been part of the original bargain after all.

“Since you took so long to release me,” the fairy said then, “you will now be made to know what it is like to be a prisoner. No mortal man or woman will ever pass the briar wall, save one—in keeping with our agreement, your daughter shall be married to no less than a prince as innocent and pure of heart as she, who will be her true love. Once the one who fulfills all of these requirements comes to this place, the briar wall will be no more, and you will both be free.”

“Please,” the old woman cried, “have mercy!”

“This is the extent of my mercy,” the fairy replied. “Within the circle of the briar wall time will cease to pass. It will always be summer, and neither you nor your daughter will age while the wall exists; nor will either of you ever want for food or drink. You will both abide here in peace and plenty for as long as it may take for your daughter’s prince to come, whether it be a hundred, or a thousand, or a hundred thousand years.”

Then the spirit disappeared, leaving the old woman alone to weep and wail with grief and remorse.

© 2014 by Strider Lee

Read Part II