Today is National Tell a Fairy Tale Day, and I’ll be celebrating it by tweeting about some of my favourite fairy tales, but I also can’t resist this opportunity to share one of my own original fairy tales with you, Beloved Reader, so here’s one I wrote several years ago with the intention of self-publishing it as part of a collection which for various reasons never came to fruition. Like many of the stories of this type that I’ve written in the past, it is heavily inspired by the Mabinogion, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, among others, and is set in a mediaevalesque fantasy world in which magic exists but is only rarely encountered by mortals. I hope you will enjoy it.
One fine summer’s day young Prince Edgar, his wife the Princess Anne, and her elder sister the Lady Margaret were hunting together in the king’s forest as they often did. They never found their quarry, but what they found instead changed their lives forever.
It was a beautiful morning, and they might have been happy, but for one thing: the king had asked the prince to lead an army north on the morrow to the harsh and embattled borderlands of the kingdom in order to quell the rebellion that had lately erupted there.
By now they had been following a deer path through the forest for about an hour, yet it was not deer they were hunting.
“I do not recognise this part of the wood,” said Prince Edgar suddenly. He turned to the Lady Margaret. “Are we almost there?”
“Yes, Your Highness,” she replied. “It shouldn’t be long now.”
“Good. I am eager to see this well you spoke of, and especially its marker, for as long as I have been hunting in these woods, I have never happened upon anything like what you described, nor heard tell of it before.”
“Perhaps she imagined it,” said Princess Anne. “She is always imagining things.”
“We shall see,” said Lady Margaret.
“Wait,” said the prince. “I think I hear something.”
Now he rode ahead, being the more experienced hunter, and the Lady Margaret took this opportunity to pull her horse up alongside that of the princess.
“It grieves me to see you so unhappy, dear sister,” she said once the prince was out of earshot. “If only there were something I could do.”
“There is nothing,” sighed Princess Anne. “Once the king makes up his mind about something, he never changes it.”
“Perhaps the prince will not be too long away.”
“That is all that I can hope for. But every day I spend without him will seem a lifetime. And if he should—”
The Lady Margaret took her younger sister’s hand in hers and squeezed it gently. “You have a love that most would envy. And yet I cannot say I envy you.”
The princess smiled warmly at her. “You have always been wiser than most.”
“Even though I imagine things?”
“Perhaps because,” said Princess Anne.
“Ho!” cried Prince Edgar then. “I think I have caught sight of our quarry!”
“Where?” his wife called out excitedly.
“Just up ahead. Follow me!”
Now the three friends galloped through the forest until they came to a small clearing that neither the prince nor the princess had ever seen before.
“There it is!” He pointed at the fleeing prey: a small white streak darting in a zig-zag fashion through the tall grass.
“Oh,” said the princess with some disappointment. “’Tis only a hare.”
At this her husband laughed, and now she slapped his shoulder playfully. “You knew!”
“Well,” he replied, “I thought a merry chase might lift our spirits somewhat.”
“Yet this is where I saw him,” said Lady Margaret. “And the well with its stone marker lies just over there. But as I said earlier, this hunt is pointless. He will not come as long as you are both here.”
“Poor dear spinster sister,” teased Princess Anne, “still dreaming of unicorns.”
“I did see a unicorn,” Lady Margaret replied confidently. “At undrentide he comes to drink at the well.”
“All right then,” said Prince Edgar jovially. “’Tis almost undrentide now. Let us go and see this well.” He dismounted and his wife and sister-in-law followed suit. Then they tied their horses to a large oak tree that stood on the edge of the clearing. Now Prince Edgar took his wife’s hand in his, and she took her sister’s hand in her other one, and thus the three of them strolled through the meadow, feeling almost as though they were children again.
As they approached the well in the midst of the clearing they found that it was a tranquil and pristine natural pool of water most likely fed by an underground spring. In the light of the midday sun it seemed to sparkle with magic, a world unto itself, hidden and untouched by man. Only one thing seemed out of place: before the well there was a tall, crudely hewn stone like unto a grave marker or monument of some kind, on which the following rhymes had been neatly inscribed:
TOSS THY GOLD INTO THE WATER,
SON OF ADAM OR EVE’S DAUGHTER;
WISH THOU ONCE, WISELY AND WELL,
BUT THY WISH NO OTHER TELL.
AN THOU REPENT, WISH ON A TEAR,
BUT NEVER MORE MAKE WISHES HERE.
“Whatever can it mean?” asked Princess Anne.
“Why, ’tis a wishing well,” said Prince Edgar. “All we each have to do is to toss a gold coin into the water and make a wish, and as long as we tell no one what we wished for, it will come true!”
“Nonsense,” his wife chided. “You’re worse than Maggie.” But she giggled as he now produced three gold coins from his purse, handing one to his wife and one to her sister, and keeping one for himself.
“Who will be first?” he challenged with an impish grin.
“This is a foolish game,” Lady Margaret protested. “And perhaps, a dangerous one. And anyway, I already have everything I could ever wish for.”
“Truly?” teased her younger sister. “Well, you’ve always been an odd duck.” And with that she spun around and with scarcely a moment’s thought tossed her coin into the wishing well.
A few heartbeats later, Prince Edgar’s coin followed.
“What did you wish for?” his wife asked him then.
“I cannot tell you,” he replied, “else it will not come true.”
“Oh, fine, we will play this game by the rules if you wish.” She nudged Lady Margaret playfully with her elbow. “Well it’s your turn, dear sister. And remember, wish wisely and well!”
Lady Margaret closed her eyes and thought for a long time before she finally tossed her own coin in. Then they all waited breathlessly for the magic they felt was about to happen.
But nothing happened at all.
“Oh well,” said Prince Edgar after a while, “I have wasted a lot more than three coins on far less entertaining larks.”
“Did you really believe our wishes would come true?” laughed his wife.
“No, I suppose not,” he replied. “Well, it’s getting late. I suppose we should head back to the castle.”
Now they made their way slowly back across the meadow, for none of them were particularly eager to return home, and untethering their horses, they mounted them and followed the same path through the forest they had taken earlier that day.
During the journey homeward, both husband and wife continued to try and get from the other what they had wished for, but to no avail.
“What does it matter if we tell each other now?” Princess Anne argued at last. “Unless we hope that our wishes might yet come true?”
“I guess we must all really want what we wished for,” said Prince Edgar with a smile.
Then they could spy the tall turrets of the castle rising high above the trees, and their moods fell as reality confronted them once more.
But just as the three friends were ascending the long causeway leading up to the castle gates a mounted herald bearing the royal insignia rode out from under the rising portcullis to greet them, followed by at least thirty knights in full battle dress.
“The king is dead!” the herald cried on their approach. “Long live the king!”
“The king is dead?” Prince Edgar asked with surprise. “Then my cousin Richard is king?”
“No, Your Majesty,” the herald replied. “You are.”
“But how is that possible? I am third in the line of succession!”
“A terrible accident, sire. King Mark, Prince Richard, and young Prince Albert were all in the council chamber discussing matters of state when the roof fell in on them.”
At that Prince Edgar swore under his breath. Then, as he and the princess and her sister were being escorted into the bailey he thought to himself: “This is uncanny. But I never wished to be king. It must be my wife’s doing.” Yet he said nothing to anyone about it.
A few days later, almost immediately after his coronation, the matter of the northern rebellion was brought before King Edgar. By now the rebels had gotten wind of the old king’s demise, and had called a temporary truce that they might sue for peace with the new one. Thus King Edgar was handed a thirty page document listing their demands. None of these demands were particularly outrageous, except for one. They wanted their own kingdom and their own king.
“Well,” said King Edgar, “if it will bring peace to our kingdom then why not give them what they want?” And so he signed the document.
But the king’s own barons were outraged that the north had been let go so easily, so now they organised their own rebellion, and before long they were laying siege to the king’s castle.
“Don’t worry,” King Edgar told his queen and her sister on the first night of the assault. “They will never breach our defences.”
But as the weeks wore on, it became clear that they neither intended to nor needed to.
“They mean to starve us out,” Queen Anne lamented one morning. The castle stores had long since been depleted and they had not eaten so much as a morsel of bread in three days. “I can’t take much more of this!”
“At least we are still together,” the king pointed out.
“And we’ll die together!” she spat. But she soon regretted her outburst, and sobbed: “Ah, don’t you see, husband? This is all my doing!”
“Because you wished me to become king?” He placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged it off.
“No, you fool! Because I wished to become queen!” With that she burst into tears. “And oh, how I wish now that I had never done so!”
No sooner had she said these words than the three of them found themselves standing before the wishing well, once again dressed in the same garb they had worn on the day they had first made their wishes, as though nothing had ever happened. And Princess Anne still held her gold coin in one hand, as though she alone of the three had never tossed hers into the water.
“Well,” she laughed with relief as she handed the coin back to her husband, “I guess we know now what the inscription meant by ‘wish on a tear’.”
“But I did not repent my wish,” the prince replied. “I wonder…”
“I do hope your wish was wiser than mine, dear husband.”
“As do I,” said Prince Edgar.
“We shall see,” said Lady Margaret.
Then, once again finding their horses where they had tethered them, the three of them rode with all haste back to the castle.
When they reached the causeway this time they were once again greeted by the herald, though now he was alone rather than leading a company of knights.
“Your Highness,” he said, “the king would speak with you presently.”
So Prince Edgar was led into the king’s council chamber, where he kept a wary eye on the rafters during the entirety of their conversation.
“Good news!” he announced to his wife and sister-in-law when he at last emerged. “The ranks of the northern rebels have been decimated by fever. The rebellion is over!”
“Ah, that is joyous news indeed!” cried Princess Anne, throwing her arms about her husband’s neck.
He kissed her fondly. “There is just one thing…” he said.
“What is that?”
“I must still ride north. The king wishes me to oversee the reconstruction of Ingol Castle.”
Her face fell.
“Never fear, dear wife! There is more good news. Now that the rebellion is over and I do not have to go to war, you may accompany me. The castle and its lands are to be ours!”
At this the princess was very much relieved. “And Maggie?”
“She may come as well, if she chooses.”
“Of course I will come,” said Lady Margaret. And so the three of them made preparations to travel north.
The journey by coach to Ingol Castle took several days, but it was not unpleasant. The three friends kept themselves entertained with a lively but inconclusive debate over whether the unicorn the Lady Margaret had seen had anything to do with the eldritch power that had granted them their wishes.
“But was Maggie’s wish even granted at all?” Princess Anne wondered aloud after a while. Then she turned to her sister. “What did you wish for, anyway?”
“Ah,” said she, “but you know I cannot tell you that.”
“I am burning with curiosity myself,” said the prince. “But I understand your unwillingness to break the rules of the wishing well.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” his sister-in-law replied. “For I think it was a good wish, and I still behold it coming true.”
“A good wish…” the prince repeated. “I do hope so, for all our sakes.”
When they finally reached the castle they found it to be mostly a ruin. The royal apartments at least, were still intact, however. The reconstruction would likely take several years, so in any case they were resigned to the fact that they would all just have to get used to roughing it. So for the next few days they made the most of a bad situation, with far fewer servants than they were wont to have, a lot less food, and an almost unbearably draughty castle in climes that more resembled late autumn than the middle of summer. Yet Prince Edgar kept his spirits up by giving the workmen a hand with the fixing of things, especially those things that were essential to his wife’s comfort. Still, he could tell she was miserable, and he supposed that her sister was as well, though she never so much as complained.
But then, after almost a fortnight of this, the Lady Margaret suddenly came down with the fever, and after a brief but valiant struggle, she swiftly succumbed to the illness and died.
Princess Anne was distraught. “She never said so,” she sobbed as she knelt before the bed upon which her sister’s corpse lay forever senseless and silent, “but I knew—I knew she never wanted to come here. She only did so because she knew I needed her. She always thought of others, never herself.”
Prince Edgar wept then, wailing: “This is all my doing! If only I hadn’t wished for a speedy end to the rebellion, the fever never would have spread, and your sister would still be alive today! Oh, how I wish now that I had never tossed that coin into the well!”
And no sooner had he said these words than the two of them found themselves standing before the wishing well once more, with the Lady Margaret—who was very much alive again—beside them.
Prince Edgar still held his coin in hand. He quickly put it back into his purse. “I hope your wish was wiser than mine, dear sister,” he said as the three friends tearfully embraced each other.
“We shall see,” said Lady Margaret.
As they approached King Mark’s castle for the third time since they had made their wishes, once again our three friends were greeted by the lone herald as they rode up the causeway. And once again the herald summoned Prince Edgar to the king’s council chamber, as his wife and sister-in-law awaited him in the chambers without.
“Dearest nephew,” announced the king, “we have had a change of heart. We are old, and may not have long to live. And if Prince Richard is to be perceived as a strong king, then he must show a strong hand to the north. So we are sending him to quell this rebellion in your stead.”
Then, when he saw the relieved look on Prince Edgar’s face he added: “We do hope that you are not too disappointed.”
Needless to say, Princess Anne was overjoyed at this news, as was the Lady Margaret. And over the next few years, Prince Richard led a largely successful campaign, though the northern rebellion was never truly quelled. He did get to return home in triumph after a glorious first battle, yet war continued to brew in the north for quite some time after that.
Then came the day that old King Mark died and his son ascended the throne. Since King Richard had already had two sons by then, Prince Edgar now moved still further down the line of succession. But he didn’t mind that one bit; nor did his wife.
Meanwhile, by this time Lady Margaret had taken religious vows, and had been quietly and contentedly living a life of piety in a convent not far from the castle. Over the course of her life she had become renowned for her generosity and her work with the poor and downtrodden, but now she was old and bedridden, and had resigned herself to her impending death. Thus it was that one day Prince Edgar and Princess Anne, having received word that the Lady Margaret was dying, came to visit her for the last time.
When she saw them standing over her she smiled faintly. “Have you come to bid your final farewells?”
“Dearest sister,” said the princess tearfully, “you don’t have to die just yet. If you will but repent of your wish, we will all three of us be back at the wishing well, young and hale once more. We can all start over again, as though we had never found that accursed well in the first place!”
“I will never repent my wish,” the dying woman whispered. “It was a good wish. And I still behold it coming true.”
“And what was your wish, dear sister?” the prince asked. “For you never told us.”
“I may never tell you,” she replied. “I must take that secret to my grave.”
And so she did.
As for Prince Edgar and Princess Anne, they lived on for several years more, without having to worry about him being sent off to war since he was now too old. And so, though he never became king and his wife never became queen, and though the northern rebellion never truly came to an end in their lifetimes, they were both as content with their lives and with each other as any mortal man and woman can be. And best of all, they were never parted from each other for very long, even up until the night they died.
And this is how that happened: One evening the elderly couple retired to bed and fell asleep wrapped in one another’s arms as they were wont to do, but neither of them awoke the next morning, for some time during the night they had both passed away peacefully, within moments of each other. The next day they were buried together in a single grave.
Hence the Lady Margaret did truly get her wish at the end, having never revealed it to anyone, having never repented it, and having wished wisely and well. For out of selfless love for her sister and her brother-in-law she had merely wished for them what they might have wished for themselves had they been a little wiser.
© 2016 by Strider Lee
2 thoughts on “Wishing Well: An Original Fairy Tale”
What a fantastic tale! Very well written and thought out with a good moral, much like a classic fairy tale. Thank you so much for sharing your writing. 🙂
Thank you so much for your comment! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I am encouraged to post some more, but I’ll have to look them over first and see if they need editing.