Author's Note: I wrote this while trying to get myself motivated to work on the novel I began during Camp NaNoWriMo this year. I'm rather impressed with it, as I wrote the entire story in about three hours and only had to do a bit of tweaking here and there. There might be a couple of grammar issues I didn't pick up, but I'm happy enough with it to share it with you. It's going to be the only story on my Fictionpress account for a while, so I hope you enjoy it! Reviews make authoresses very happy!
The Sorcerer's Forest:
There was once a king's daughter who was fair as any princess, and she was so beloved by her father and her three brothers that they would have done anything for her if it was within their power.
Now her beauty had not gone unnoticed by a certain wicked sorcerer who lived in a forest beyond the border of their kingdom, and he decided he would have the lovely princess for his wife. He came secretly to the palace in the dead of night, and stole her away without anyone knowing of it, for his magic hid him well.
When the king and the three princes woke in the morning to find her gone, they were grief-stricken. The king sent men throughout the land to search for his lost daughter, but nowhere could they find her.
The king had a sister who was a wise woman, and she knew the sorcerer had stolen her niece away. She came to the palace with her own daughter, who was neither beautiful nor ugly to look upon, and had a sharp mind in her head and some magic of her own. The woman told her brother that her niece had been taken by the sorcerer who lived in the wood, and that one of the princes must go forth to rescue her, since he was grown too old for such travel. He reluctantly consented, and his eldest son prepared to leave for the forest. Before he rode away, however, his aunt took him aside.
"Heed my words, nephew, for they will spare you much grief," she said sternly. "You must not drink from any spring you come across in the sorcerer's wood, nor must you eat any fruit you find growing there, and should you find some magnificent treasure, you must not even touch it, or some ill fortune will befall you."
"I will remember your words, aunt," the prince promised, and he soon rode away toward the forest.
However, shortly after he reached the wood, his supply of water ran dry, and though he could bear it at first, he was soon desperate for a drink. Spying a spring by the side of the path, he got down from his horse and knelt to drink from it, his thirst having driven his aunt's warning from his mind. No sooner had the water run down his throat then he felt his body shrink and change, and lo, there stood the poor prince transformed into a hare. Upon catching sight of his reflection in the treacherous water, he fled away among the trees, not knowing what else to do now that he had become such a loly creature.
When a season passed and the eldest prince had not returned from his mission, the king grew even more heartsick.
"Now I have lost both my bonny daughter and my eldest son!" he cried.
"Your son did not heed my warning not to drink from one of the springs in the sorcerer's forest," his sister said. "He may be saved yet, but your next son must be sent after your daughter."
The king reluctantly agreed, and so the next son was sent to rescue his sister from the sorcerer. The aunt gave him the same advice, and he promised he would heed it. He took three times as much water with him as his elder brother had, and rode away to the sorcerer's forest.
However, though he had plenty to drink, he did not pack as much food, and soon he found his supplies had run out, and grew very hungry indeed. At last, his hunger grew so great that he forgot his aunt's warning not to eat any wild food growing in the forest, and spying a wild plum tree, he gathered some of its fruits and ate them ravenously. He had eaten three of the delicious plums before he realised he could not move from where he was standing, and looking down, he saw that his feet had put forth roots and his legs were growing together. The changes advanced up his body rapidly, until all that remained where the prince had stood was a plum tree like the one whose fruit had enchanted him.
When the king had waited another season, and no second son had come back, he was more anguished than ever.
"Now I have lost my bonny daughter and my two eldest sons!" he wailed.
"Your second son did not heed my warning not to eat the food growing in the sorcerer's forest," his sister said. "There is hope for him yet, but you must send your youngest boy to rescue your daughter from the sorcerer."
The king was loath to do any such thing, but the youngest boy pleaded and prayed until his father finally gave in and let him go. His aunt gave him the warning she had given his brothers, and he promised he would remember her words. He made sure he had enough water and food to last the journey, and rode away to the sorcerer's forest.
He had ridden through the woods for several days, and the towers of the sorcerer's castle could be seen through the trees, when he came into a clearing, and there saw a vast pile of gold and jewels glittering in the afternoon sun. So wondrous were the riches before him that the prince quite forgot that his aunt had warned him not to touch any treasure he might find. He slid out of his saddle and scooped up a double handful of the gems and coins, but as soon as they touched his skin he felt his whole body stiffen, and in a moment he stood there turned to solid gold and the treasure had disappeared from sight.
The king waited another season for his youngest son, and when the boy did not return he was so sick with grief that he would not leave his bed, and his sister took charge of the kingdom. But the good woman was grieved by her brother's sorry state, and she decided to take matters into her own hands. She took her own daughter aside and said to her:
"Now, my child, you are the only one who can save all your cousins. You must travel to the enchantress who lives in the eastern mountains, and there offer yourself as a servant to the lady of the house. She is friendly with the sorcerer, and knows his secrets, but you will have to earn every answer you want from her. The tasks she sets may be difficult for any common girl, but you are not ordinary, though your face be neither pretty nor plain."
The girl loved all her cousins dearly, and would willingly do whatever it took to save them from the spells the sorcerer had laid on them. So she hurried away at the first opportunity, riding on her faithful brown pony.
In time, she reached the eastern mountains, and found her way to the enchantress's castle. There she presented herself, and asked if there was any work to be had there.
"What would you want from me in return for your services?" the shrewd woman asked the girl.
"I seek the answers to three questions, good mother," the girl replied meekly, "but I would not expect you to give them without payment from me."
"You would be right, my girl," the enchantress said. "Tomorrow, I will give you seven bales of golden wool from my flocks. If you have spun it into yarn by sundown, then I will answer one of your questions. If not, then you shall be changed into a sheep with golden fleece and I will keep you here all the days of your life."
The girl was inwardly frightened by this threat, but she remembered her mother's words of encouragement and agreed to the witch's bargain.
The next morning, the girl was led to the barn where the wool and a large spinningwheel had been made ready for her. The enchantress left the girl to complete her task, expecting her to fail as others had done before her. But as soon as the witch was gone, the young woman began to spin and sing as if she had not a care in the world, and as she sang, the wheel spun faster and faster, the spindle filling again and again, until all the yarn was spun, and with an hour to spare.
When the enchantress returned and saw all the spools of golden yarn, she was stunned that the girl had succeeded, and when the maiden asked her how the ones who drank from enchanted springs were to be turned back into humans, she was obliged to tell her that she must take a spool of the yarn with her, and to tie a piece of it around the neck of any creature who had been changed by such a spring, and they would immediately resume their natural shape again.
"Now, tomorrow, I shall give you seven churns of cream from the winged cows I keep hereabouts," the enchantress told her. "You are to churn it all into butter before sundown. If you do so, I will answer another of your questions, but if you don't, you shall become one of my cows and be obliged to provide me with milk for my potions as long as you live."
"Very well," the girl said, although she was frightened by the threat. She was a determined lass, however, and would not give in so easily, especially since she had her magic to aid her.
The next morning, she was taken into the dairy, where the churns waited. Once she was left alone, she began to churn, and also to sing, although the song was different to the one she had sung when spinning the yarn. The cream was soon churning of itself, and by noon all had churned to butter.
When the enchantress returned that evening, she was even more surprised to see the work done than she had been the night before. When the maiden asked her how one changed into a tree through eating a cursed fruit was to be restored to human form, the witch reluctantly told her that the butter she had made was magical, and she had only to smear some of it in a ring around the trunk of the tree, and it would revert to its previous state.
"Now I shall give you a task you are sure to fail," the enchantress declared. "Tomorrow, you must guard my flock of golden geese, and gather any eggs they may lay, for their eggs and feathers are all made of solid gold. If you succeed in this, I shall give you not only the answer to your third question, but all the eggs you collect. If you fail, you shall be changed into a golden goose yourself and be spelled to lay eggs at my will until your dying day."
The girl agreed to this, though she was sure it would not be easy and the woman's threat terrified her.
The next morning, she was led out to the pen where the geese were kept. As the creatures were let out, they all hissed at the poor maiden and snapped their bills threateningly, but the girl began to whistle so sweetly that the birds were soon charmed by it, and gathered close around her as they had done with no other but their mistress before. They stayed by her side all day long, and laid so many eggs that the girl heaped them into a great pile that the witch saw from a distance as she came to greet her at dusk. When the witch saw that not one goose was missing, she was even more shocked than she had been the previous nights, but she at last agreed to answer the girl's third question. When the maiden asked how one turned to gold by enchanted treasure was to be restored, the witch told her that the statue was only to be stroked by a golden feather plucked from the tail of one of her geese, and it would turn back to flesh and blood once more. The girl reached out to one of the geese and plucked a tail feather, which it allowed without so much as a squawk of protest.
The enchantress was then obliged to let the girl leave her domain. The maiden took with her a spool of the golden yarn, a jar filled with the enchanted butter, and a vast chest on wheels which contained all the golden eggs she had collected. The golden feather was tucked safely into her pouch with several other items she valued.
The maiden rode for many days, the magic chest containing all her golden eggs rolling along behind her. She used some of the eggs to pay for food in several towns, and soon had plenty of supplies.
At length, she reached the sorcerer's forest, and immediately sought her eldest cousin. At last, she spied a hare peering around the trunk of a tree, and by use of her magic, she recognised the enchanted prince. So long had he been in the form of a wild animal that he had almost forgotten himself, but he knew the girl and came up to her without much prompting, though he seemed shy. The maiden cut a short strand of yarn from the spool she carried, and tied it around the animal's neck. In a trice, there stood the eldest prince, swaying unsteadily, but otherwise unharmed. The two embraced in delight, and once they had found the horse the prince had been riding, which had wandered about the woods near the spring in the long months since his master had disappeared, the two travelled on until they came to a pair of plum trees. Again, by use of her magic, the maiden divined which of the two was her second cousin, and taking out the jar of butter, spred a ring of the yellow substance around the trunk. In a trice, there stood the second prince, his arms still raised stiffly in the air. As soon as he realised he was human again, and that his brother and cousin stood before him, he ran to both of them and embraced them tenderly. When his horse had been found by the clever maiden, the three rode onward until the castle was in sight, and then they came upon the clearing where the third prince stood, his golden form gleaming in the setting sun. The maiden walked up to him and stroked his cheek with the golden feather. Instantly colour and life washed back into his body, and he stretched and looked around himself. When he saw his two brothers and his cousin, he too fell upon their necks and embraced them. The four all exchanged stories, then began to plan how they would rescue the princess. The cousin had an idea, and quickly told the three princes what must be done.
The princes searched the forest for several days with their cousin's help. They found many people who had fallen victim to the sorcerer's enchantments, and used the yarn, butter and feather on them until they were all human once more. The large crowd then returned to the castle and stood at the gates, drawing the attention of all the servants and the mage himself. You may well imagine the shock of the enchanter when he beheld all of his former victims gathered at his gates. He tried to bind them with more spells, but the magic of the items used to liberate the people protected them from any harm he might have done them.
Meanwhile, the clever cousin had taken the opportunity to slip into the castle by a back entrance, and soon found the lovely princess sitting in a lavish parlour, weeping. Her tears turned to gems as they rolled down her cheeks, and there were many such jewels piled around her. When she saw her cousin, however, she lept up, hundreds of bright gems spilling from her lap as she did so.
"Sally? Is it truly my dear cousin I see?" she cried in delight.
"Aye, it is," said Sally. "Has the sorcerer made you marry him yet?"
"I have refused every time he asked," the princess replied. "He promised me many things. He even cast a spell that caused my tears to turn to gems when he saw how much I wept for my lost brothers and dear father, but I would not give in. He will be furious if he finds you here."
"You needn't worry for me," Sally said. "Only tell me where the source of his power is if you know it."
"It is in a sealed room in the tallest tower," the princess responded, "but no-one can enter without a golden feather to touch the door, and I do not have such a thing."
Sally then produced the feather she still had with her and smiled.
"Leave everything to me," she said.
Soon enough, Sally had found the tower room and used the feather to open the enchanted door. Within, she found a large crystal as black as night, and she lifted this with difficulty, for it was heavier than it looked and seemed to grow heavier still as she carried it up the stairs to the top of the tower. The maiden held on, however, and when she had reached the battlements, she pitched the crystal over the ramparts and it shattered on the flagstones of the courtyard far below. In the same instant, the sorcerer let out a shriek of rage and bursed into flames.
With their enemy dead, the princes and their sister returned home with the many other folk they had rescued from the forest. Their return was celebrated with a feast that lasted a full month, and the king's joy healed him better than any magic could have. Sally was given in marriage to a neighbouring prince, and the happy couple had many children together. The four children of the king each found a sweetheart among the former victims of the sorcerer, and all of them lived happily ever afterward, though they remembered always to heed the advice of their wise aunt.