This is quite a departure for me. When I was hiking last month with my son, we were stuck for 36 hours in our tent while the worst thunderstorms occured around us on the mountain. In order to save our sanity, we concocted this P&P fairy-tale mashup. My son, age 13, has been reading a lot of classic tales as of late and much of the silliness which ensues sprang from his imagination. I am posting the first bit tonight to see what you might think of this. There are 3 more sections written and I have a good deal more outlined. I haven’t written fantasy or sci-fi since college, so please forgive any parts that are too far-fetched or absurd. Now that all disclaimers are out of the way, I give you A Tale Most Extraordinary.

 

A Tale Most Extraordinary

 

Chapter One- The Beginning

All the children gathered closer to hear what the old man was saying. He loved that he could hold them spellbound for hours as they listened to him weave tales, some true, some not, of life in the countryside. Town they knew well from their own experiences, but the country seemed to be where everything magical happened and they never tired of hearing about it.

The leader of the gang of children was a boy of ten named Edmund. He had begun to grow suspicious about the validity of some of the stories, but he still wished to believe and that was what mattered. Next in age, though not size, was nine-year-old Lizzy. The old man was imminently patient when she would badger him with questions about the people, places and circumstances in his tales. He knew he should love all the children equally, but it was difficult not to favor his bright-eyed Lizzy. The six-year-old twins, William and George, normally were off scuffling with each other but were always quiet and well-behaved for story-time.

He was about to begin when he noted an absence. “Where is Anne? Is she not here?”

A giggle erupted from behind the old man. He turned to find her hiding beneath his chair. “Ah, here she is. Here’s my little Anne. Now, are you children ready for your story?”

A chorus of little voices answering ‘yes’ sounded.

He put on his spectacles and picked up a newly illustrated edition of children’s stories. “Excellent. What should you like to hear today? The Master Cat? Perhaps Blue Beard? Ricky of the Tuft? Certainly not The Little Glass Slipper again?”

Four-year-old Anne piped up, “Ogre and the Princess! Please?”

He hid a smile. This was the story they always wanted. “Are you certain? Absolutely certain? Ed? Lizzy?”

William and George put up a fuss. George protested first, “You did not ask me!” William added, “Nor me!”

He patted their heads. “Because you two scamps are always content to hear Ogre and the Princess.”

William and George agreed that was true enough.

“Now, unless there are any objections…” he waited for Edmund and Lizzy to protest, but they did not. “Excellent. Where then shall we begin?”

The usually shy William exclaimed, “The beginning!”

“Yes, I suppose that would be the best place to start. Shall we begin with the Ogre this time, or shall we start with the Princess?”

Edmund, who usually just sat quiet, asked, “Could you start with the witches?”

He smiled. “The witches it shall be then.”

Chapter Two- The First Witch

“Once a very long time ago, in the harsh, northern wilds of North Yorkshire, there lived a tradesman. This tradesman was a very good man, and he loved his wife very much. They longed to start a family and had tried for many years. After many years, they still had no children and the tradesman was very sad. The tradesman’s wife was a very lovely woman, and she had the most magnificent voice that was ever heard. She would work in her garden and instead of singing, the birds would be silent so they could listen to the tradesman’s wife. One day there was a man dressed in foreign clothes that happened to pass nearby when the tradesman’s wife was singing and he became enchanted.

“The man had a dark secret. He was no ordinary Gypsy, no indeed, this man was a warlock. And the warlock had fallen under the spell of the tradesman’s wife. He approached her and begged her to come away with him, but she refused. She loved her husband more than her own life and when the warlock realized this, he was heartbroken. He begged her everyday to leave her husband and everyday his heart broke a little more when she told him she would not leave her beloved tradesman. After several months of this, the tradesman had finally come home from his business travels only to find this warlock trying to steal away his wife. The tradesman was going to kill the warlock and be rid of the man once and for all but his wife, being a very good woman with a big heart, had grown fond of the warlock, despite never being able to love him.

Anne interrupted, “What did the tradesman do?”

Edmund shushed the girl as Lizzy said, “Anne, if you can stay quiet long enough, he will tell us!”

The old man smiled. “Do we need to take a break, or are you ready to continue?”

The silence that ensued proved they were eager for more and so he continued. “The warlock, touched by the tradesman’s wife’s compassion for his life, offered the husband and wife a bargain.”

George asked, “What kind of bargain?”

William poked him in the side and said, “Be quiet or he won’t tell!”

He began again. “The tradesman and his wife were rather old to not have children…”

“Old like you?” Anne inquired.

He could not help but chuckle. “No, my sweet, not like me. They were still young, but more like your mum and dad’s age without ever having been a mum or dad. Do you see now?”

She nodded eagerly and so he continued. “So the warlock, noting the tradesman and his wife had no children, offered to cast a magic spell that would allow them to have children.” He paused in case there were any more questions, but they remained quiet so he pressed on. “Of course, the warlock was greedy and he demanded that the wife give up her voice in exchange for having a child. The tradesman had deemed the price was too high to pay, but the next day the wife met the warlock in secret and agreed to the warlock’s demands. He took her sweet voice and put it in a jar so he could hear her sweet song whenever he wished. The warlock prepared an awful potion which he had the wife ingest and then he said his magic incantation that would enable the tradesman and his wife to have a family at last.”

Lizzy had forgotten about the stolen voice. “So the wife was left with no voice at all then? How cruel!”

“I forgot a bit. Please forgive this old man. Yes, after the warlock took the wife’s voice and had cast the spell for a firstborn child, he would not leave her mute. He cast a minor spell which allowed her to speak, but her new voice was harsh and shrill and would make whoever heard her speak cringe in fright and disgust. The wife felt ill from the potion and her throat was sore from having exchanged voices and so she succumbed to a swoon before she could even make it back to the house where her beloved husband was anxiously waiting for her.

“When she didn’t come home that afternoon, he searched everywhere for her and had begun to fear the worst when it grew dark and they still hadn’t found her. At first light, the tradesman and his neighbors searched and searched even more until they finally found her sleeping peacefully in the garden. He was overjoyed to have found his wife again and carried her home at once. When she awoke, she suffered from a fever and, for a while, the tradesman lived in great fear that his wife would die. On the fifth day, her fever broke and the tradesman prayed his thanks to God that his wife had been spared. She still wouldn’t speak, but the apothecary and everyone else believed it to be from her illness. No one knew or even began to suspect that she had made a dark bargain with the warlock.

“The spring turned into summer, and still his wife did not speak. He missed the sound of her beautiful voice, but he was grateful to have her alive and with him. In late summer, they discovered they were to have a little one soon join their family and they both rejoiced. That winter, when the babe’s time came due, they received a missive from a faraway land. The tradesman could not read the unusual hand, and so he sought out someone to help him read his letter. There was only one woman in the village that was able to make out the letter and she was very frightened by what it said. The letter was from the warlock. He wrote thus:

My dear Sir and Madam-

I can imagine your surprise in hearing from me. I have consulted my telling ball and I believe your family is about to increase. There is something you ought know, but I shan’t tell. In time you will hear from me and all will be revealed then. For now, just know that I am watching with great interest. I am always watching.

Yours & C.

Dumetru

“Now, you can imagine that the tradesman had never dreamed he would ever hear of the warlock again, and here the man had written him! He asked his wife what she knew of the matter, but she refused to speak without her own voice. In February, the babe, a girl, was born. The tradesman was over the moon with happiness until a cold day in March when the warlock returned.

“The warlock, Dumetru, met the tradesman and told him of all his wife had sacrificed for him. The tradesman then raised his blade in order to dispatch the villainous Dumetru, but the warlock blocked him with his staff. He then warned the tradesman that his daughter was special. She was a witchling, even though she was born of no witch’s blood. With this devastating news, the tradesman fell to the floor in despair and Dumetru made his flight. When he recovered, the tradesman told his wife the news and she cried out in her shame. This was the first that anyone had heard her new voice and the sound was terrifying. The tradesman, who had loved his wife more than his own life, could love her no more. In her sadness, she fell ill with fever and this time, she did not recover.

“The girl-child, despite everything, was all that was lovely. Her father, against his better judgment, doted on the child. It was just the two of them, the tradesman and his daughter, for several years before he met a friend of his sister’s and found love again. The tradesman married and had two more children- another daughter and a son. Though he loved all his children, he was always especially worried about his eldest. He had named her Carys, for despite all that had happened, she had been born out of the great love he had once felt for her mother. Carys was a charming child when she chose to be. She could be polite when it served, but more often than not she was scheming against her sister and brother for a greater share of their father’s affections.

“When Carys was but seven, her father was overtaken by some highwaymen and killed. Llewella and Cai were very small when this happened, but their mother, a kind woman named Eirian, did the best she could to keep them all together. Before long, Eirian had come to the end of what she could provide for the children. She was just about to part them out for labor when a man came from out of nowhere to pay her court. Can anyone guess who this man was?”

Edmund was quicker than the others. “Was it Dumetru?”

“It was! Eirian was left with little choice. Dumetru did not love her, nor did he expect her to love him either. He married Eirian and took Carys on as his apprentice. He provided a home and care enough for Eirian and her children, but he held Carys above everyone else, as she reminded him of his lost love the tradesman’s wife. Eirian had truly loved her first husband, and she tried to stay strong enough to go on for Cai and Llewella, but in the end her broken heart wasn’t strong enough to go on. Dumetru was not cruel to Cai and Llewella, but having them around interfered with his plans for Carys’ education in the dark arts. He sent Cai and Llewella off to live with some of Eirian’s distant relatives.

“Dumetru taught Carys to think of herself first, to think meanly of others and showed her the means to acquire whatever she wished for, by whatever means were necessary. When Carys turned eighteen, he set up an establishment for her in Town and provided enough for her to look after her sister and brother. Through some prudent investments mixed with magic, Carys and Dumetru had amassed a small fortune that was enough to but entry into much better society than they had ever before known. Once Dumetru was certain his protégé would be successful, he made his way back to his homeland, but only after promising  Carys he would always watch over her.

“Carys knew that she would need help in achieving the money and prestige that she sought, so she set about to make amends with her half-sister and brother. Cai was an easy-going and likeable fellow and she sent him to the finest institutions in the land for his education. Llewellen was another matter. Her sister was still suspicious of this newfound affability and so Carys felt she had no choice but to marry her sister off at the earliest possibility.

“Carys was about to make a match for her sister when Llewellen met and fell in love with a man named Urien. While Urien loved Llewellen very much and respected Cai, he mistrusted Carys and was very wary of her. Cai finished his schooling and Carys was determined that her brother would be the gentleman their father could never have dreamed to be.

“And that is where we will stop the tale of the first witch. What character shall be speak of next?”

Chapter Three- The Farmer and the Fair Maiden

“What say you Edmund? The second witch? Or is it the Ogre of which you wish to hear?”

Edmund thought for a moment before giving his answer. “The farmer! I would like to hear about the farmer and the maiden.”

The old man looked to Lizzy. “Do you think we can make a fair go of it without yet telling the tale of the second witch?”

Lizzy smiled. “I believe if anyone could, it would be you!”

“Very well then. For this part of the story, we must turn to Derbyshire. In Derbyshire there lived a very kind farmer and his family. This farmer was a rare thing, for he was a wealthy farmer and he farmed land of which he had ownership. In fact, this farmer had more land than he could honestly take care of on his own, so he rented out the adjacent lands to other farmers at a fair price. This not only had made the farmer wealthy, but it had made him well thought of and respected throughout his home country. The farmer was proud of his land and the things he had accomplished. He had inherited his farmlands and like every generation before, he had made improvements to his lands and had begun to instruct his son in all the ways that he could make the lands profitable and prosperous for years to come.

“When the farmer and his son went one summer to Town, the son was encouraged to make friends and partake of the amusements that could not be found north in Derbyshire. One evening at the theater, the farmer’s son chanced to see a beautiful girl, the fairest maiden in all the land. After the play was over, the farmer’s son looked everywhere for the maiden, but could find nothing at all. While the farmer spent his days in negotiations for market prices, the farmer’s son searched frantically for the maiden. Each day the farmer’s son became more determined to find this ethereal creature and court her with the intention of making her his bride.

“A month soon passed, but the farmer’s son was still hunting everywhere for the fair maiden. Then one day he and his father were at the park in Town and he spied her across the way. He caught his father’s attention and indicated he wished to seek an introduction. His father was the sort of man who would do anything to ensure the happiness of his children and so made it happen. The fair maiden was, in fact, the daughter of a fearsome Earl and he did not like the idea of his precious daughter being courted by a mere farmer’s son.

“The fair maiden soon fell in love with the farmer’s son in equal measure to how the farmer’s son felt about her. The farmer met with the Earl several times in order to plead his son’s case. They had plenty of money, his son would inherit the second largest estate in all the country and, while not titled, the farmer’s family was well-know and had been of good reputation for centuries. The Earl countered that while that would be sufficient for a mere country lass, his daughter was expected to do much better.

“The farmer’s son, in the meantime, established a friendship with his beloved’s brother, the Viscount and future Earl. He was as gentlemanly a fellow as one could find anywhere and, more importantly, he supported their cause to wed. The Viscount tried to soften the Earl’s heart. He could not understand why his eldest sister should be made miserable by having her heart’s desire denied for no good reason.

“The Earl, in the meantime, had come to admire the young man’s persistence. A year had passed and the farmer’s son was still seeking permission to court his eldest daughter. The truth was the Earl could not bear to part with his favorite child. His eldest daughter was in every way an angel and it would not have mattered if a Duke or even a Prince had sought her hand, the Earl would have still denied permission. However, as the farmer’s son had earned the grudging respect of the Earl, he took pity on him and offered his younger daughter’s hand. The younger daughter had also fallen in love with the farmer’s son, but I do not wish to get ahead of our story, so I will get back to the younger daughter later.

“The farmer’s son was insulted and cried that the Earl was being cruel and unfair to both himself and his eldest daughter. The Earl had begun to wonder if he could ever be rid of this lad and so he set a series of impossible tasks before him. If the farmer’s son rose to the Earl’s challenges, he would win his most beloved daughter’s hand. Feeling relief at finally making some progress, the farmer’s son readily accepted.

“The first task was to bring back some tea from Boston. You do know your history and the significance of tea in Boston?”

Edmund raised his hand. “The colonists dumped the tea in the harbor to avoid paying taxes on it. Is that correct, sir?”

“Very close, Ed. The Boston Tea Party, as it’s called now, was a turning point which led the colonies to eventually revolt against the crown. The Earl demanded tea from Boston, thus sending the farmer’s son on a long journey to America and back. The farmer’s son was gone nearly a year and each and every day of that year he prayed that his beloved would not forget him. When he came back with the tea, the farmer’s son was not even permitted a glance of his fair maiden. The next task the Earl demanded was sugar, for the tea of course, from Antigua. The farmer’s son had just spent a year travelling abroad and now he would spend another one travelling to the tropics. He returned, no worse for wear aside from having his skin weathered, to only be sent upon another impossible journey. This time, the Earl wanted honey from Egypt. Off the farmer’s son went, wondering what far-flung corner of the world he would be sent to next. Upon his return, he discovered something wonderfully dreadful had happened while he was gone.

“What? What happened?” asked a most excited William.

“The Earl had died. The new Earl, his friend the former Viscount, immediately granted permission for the farmer’s son and his sister to wed, just as soon as the period of mourning was over, of course. After all the trials of the last three years they’d been through, waiting another six months was easy by comparison. Finally, some four years after he’d first laid eyes on her, the farmer’s son at last was wed to his fair maiden and they moved north to Derbyshire.”

Anne meekly questioned, “And did they live happily ever after?”

He patted her head and smiled. “For a time they did… but for now, we will leave the farmer and his maid alone in their newlywed idyll while we move on to another part of the story. What shall it be? What say you William?”

William glanced to his fellow audience members and as they nodded to let him choose, he asked, “May you tell us, pray, the tale of the second witch?”

“Ah, so it is to be the tale of the wicked witch from the garden, then? Excellent notion, my boy!”

 ~Home~

 

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A Tale Most Extraordinary by michchick aka Jennifer Hickling is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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