Category Archives: Family Fun

Chapter 7: The Boy and the Seven Swans, Continued

Part 2

“That is a very big knife,” said his mother when Orion showed his parents his sword.

“I’m going to use it to find my sisters and bring them home,” he stated.

The worried king and queen wanted to know how he would do this. Orion raised the sword and sliced through one of the tapestries on the wall. “That is how,” he said.

Orion rode off in the direction the swans had flown. At night he was guided by the stars and during the day he was guided by the sun. He rode up mountains, around great lakes and through white, rushing rivers, all the while thanking Stella for her navigation lessons.

At last he came to a black castle that shone like obsidian. It was obviously the home of the Midnight Queen.

After the sun set, he snuck up to the castle, climbed the vine-strewn castle wall, and peeked in one of the windows. There he saw his sisters all in a room, wearing their nightgowns.

IMG_0359

Syrena Dyreng

“Orion!” they exclaimed. “What are you doing here?!”

“I’ve come to save you. See?” he said, wielding his sword. “I have found my true gift, and I am going to use it to kill this queen and take you all back home.”

The sisters looked hopeful for a moment, but then despaired. “How?” said Lyra. “She is not actually a queen at all, but a powerful witch, and she wants us to be her apprentices and carry on her wicked legacy.”

“We are only human at night, when she trains us. When the sun rises we turn back into swans, but we are so exhausted from our lessons that all we do is sleep,” said Luna.

“And we don’t even get to sleep in the castle,” said Cassiopeia. “We have to sleep in the moat, like ducks!”

“Why don’t you fly away?”

“She has clipped our wings,” said Nova with a sniff.

“Even if you kill the Midnight Queen, how will you turn us back into people? The enchantment is too strong. It comes from these gowns she gave us. They are impossible to remove,” said Andromeda.

“Yes, it is like trying to remove skin!” Venus added.

“I will find a way. I promise,” said Orion. He said good-bye to his sisters and stole away in the darkness, formulating a plan. First, he needed some wool.

Using animal speech, he talked to a local flock of sheep, explaining his predicament. The sheep were skeptical, but the young man seemed so desperate, and he asked so politely, that they decided to help anyway. With his sword he expertly sheered the sheep, gathered up the wool and began knitting.

Meanwhile, he visited his sisters as often as he could, reassuring them that they would be free soon. When Orion’s plan was complete and he strode up to the palace door and knocked.

“Who goes there?” asked the gatekeeper, narrowing his bright black eyes.

“It is I, the 8th child.”

“The 8th child of whom?”

“Just tell the queen that the 8th child is here. She’ll know who I am.”

A few moments later the doors opened and Orion was permitted to enter, as long as he surrendered his sword, which he expected. He was guided to a grand throne room where the Midnight Queen sat on an onyx throne.

“Why are you here, 8th child?”

“Ever since you came to our palace and I didn’t perform my talent for you, I have regretted it. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish that I, too, could become a swan and join my sisters in your palace.”

“So, you are finally willing to perform for me?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. All I need are some knives and some fruit.”

The queen smirked. “I’m not interested in you or your gift,” she said. “I have everything I ever wanted. All of my dreams have now come true and it is finally my turn to live happily ever after.”

“But how can you live happily ever after if you’ve never seen what I can do? You will always wonder.”

“Hmph,” she said. She was curious about this boy’s gift, but she was not stupid. “Perhaps. Unfortunately, I don’t trust you with knives.”

Once again, Orion expected this. “Then may I sing for you?”

“Very well,” she said.

Orion began to sing, and the queen tried to keep from wincing, for even evil queens try to be polite in all circumstances. But then he sang louder and the queen had had enough.

“SILENCE!” she said. “Please, please stop! Servants! Go and fetch this young

man some fruit and the smallest knives from the kitchen.”

A moment later a table was prepared before Orion with a paring knife and some grapes, which he fashioned into exquisite flowers.

“Very skillfully done, but not good enough,” she said.

“You should see what I can do with cantaloupes,” said Orion.

“Very well,” said the queen, as if she were bored. “Bring the boy some cantaloupes.”

“. . . and I’ll need some larger knives,” Orion added.

“And larger knives,” she said.

Out of the kitchen came slightly larger knives and several cantaloupes, which Orion made into beautiful birds, arranged in a cozy nest.

The queen nodded. “I must admit that is quite impressive.”

“That is nothing,” said Orion. “My watermelon carvings are by far the best.”

Servants produced larger knives and watermelons were rolled out, and Orion created three watermelon baskets, filled with carvings of exotic animals.

“You definitely have an unusual talent,” said the queen. “But can you make a replica of my castle?”

Orion stroked his chin. “I will need an even bigger knife and a bigger fruit.”

The cook shrugged. “We have no bigger knives, nor fruit Your Majesty.”

“Then send for a block of ice, you ninny!” commanded the queen, who forgot all about being polite.

The ice was wheeled in but Orion seemed uncertain. “I’m sorry,” said Orion. “I cannot carve the ice into a castle.”

“Why not?”

“Because for something so large I would need my sword.”

The queen snapped her fingers. “Guards! Give the boy his sword. I want to see my castle!” said the queen who was not totally stupid, but was slightly stupid.

Orion’s sword was brought into the room and he stuck it against the ice block, cutting and carving an exact replica of the Midnight Queen’s castle. When he was finished the queen applauded and Orion gave a sweeping bow.

“Excellent work,” said the queen who was much more impressed than she thought she’d be. “Very well, I shall make you my 8th swan. I shall train you to become a great wizard and together we shall be the most powerful family in the world!”

“No,” said Orion.

“No?” answered the queen. “I thought that is what you came here for.”

“I lied. I came to free my sisters. Release them to me now, unless—” he said as he flourished his sword, “—you want to see my greatest talent.”

The woman trembled in rage. “You stupid boy! You are just like all of the others! You shall never have my swans! You want to see a great talent? I’ll show you a great talent!”

The queen began to grow. Her face stretched into a snout and her ears grew to the size of dinner plates. Fur sprouted all over her body except for a long, hairless tail that snaked out from behind her. Before you could say the name “Yetzel” three times, the queen turned into a giant black rat. “How’s this, little boy?”

The rat towered over Orion. She spread her razor-sharp claws and gnashed her pointed yellow teeth. The servants cowered in the corners, under tables, and behind doors.

So this was Sir Spinach’s rat! Orion thought as he drew his sword. The rat swiped at Orion and he somersaulted backwards to avoid her sharp claws. Though his heart thundered inside of him, he could not stop the grin that spread across his face. This was exactly the challenge he had been dreaming of. The rat struck again at Orion, but he nimbly dodged the claws, slashing the rat’s wrist in the process. She howled in pain and pounced on Orion, her jaws open, but Orion scurried through her legs and chopped off the tip of her tail. Then he leaped onto her throne as the rat lunged again for him. He cut the cord of the drapery behind the throne and swung from danger, slicing off one of her ears as he flew by. She groaned in pain, but it only made her even more vicious. He landed on the ground and backed away from the rat until his back was against the wall.

The rat snarled. “You have no place to go now, little boy. I am only seconds away from tearing your pathetic little body apart. Why don’t we make a deal for your life?”

“I don’t make deals with rats,” said Orion.

“Then you leave me no choice,” and she raced toward him, jaws open wide for the kill, but Orion slashed a curtain with his sword and slung it over her head. The rat ripped at the fabric, trying to remove it from her face, and as she struggled Orion plunged his sword into her heart. The rat collapsed to the ground, where she trembled, uttered a final, ignominious squeak, and died.

All at once, the servants turned into mice and rats and scurried out of the castle, and the seven swans, who had been watching from a balcony, trumpeted in triumph. They glided down to Orion and nuzzled him with their beaks.

“Now it is time to turn you back into your human shape.” He led the swans out of the castle to a place where he had hidden a large bag. He pulled out seven sweaters. He helped each swan into a sweater and soon they turned back into humans.

“I knitted them myself,” said Orion.

“I can tell,” said Cassiopeia, still flapping a swan wing where the sleeve had unraveled.

“I’ll fix that when we get home,” said Orion.

They traveled back to their own kingdom and surprised their parents who were so overcome with happiness that they instantly looked ten years younger. In time, each child married a fine spouse from neighboring kingdoms and for the rest of their days they continued to use their gifts to spread joy throughout the land.

 

Dear Readers,   

I hope you enjoyed Fairy Tales for Boys. It was a fun project! I am interested to know what you thought, so please leave a comment below. Also, I would love to hear which story your kids enjoyed the most. Please share with others so they have something new to read during the quarantine. Spread good stories and not bad viruses!

Love, Chelsea

10 Comments

Filed under Fairy Tales for Boys, Family Fun, writing

Chapter 7: The Boy and the Seven Swans

Once upon a time, in a land where happiness and harmony had existed for so long that no one even knew what the word “war” or “weapon” meant, there was a queen and king who had seven daughters. At the Gifting Ceremony of each daughter the royal fairy Philippa bestowed upon them a magical skill that would fill them with complete joy. The eldest, Andromeda, was given the gift of wisdom, the second, Lyra, the gift of song. The third, Cassiopeia, was given the gift of knitting, and so forth, all the way down to the youngest.

But even with seven talented daughters, the queen and king felt something, or someone was missing from their perfect family. It wasn’t long before another baby was born, and finally they had a boy.

The royal couple named their new son Orion and his birth was celebrated throughout the land. On the day of his Gifting Ceremony, the infant was presented to Philippa the fairy. She placed one hand on the baby’s head and the other over his heart and closed her eyes, just as she had with each of his sisters. Then she waited for the images to pass through her mind that would tell her the gift that was best fit for the child.

With each sister the gift had come quite easily. For the fourth daughter, the image of a horse galloped across her mind. “Horsemanship!” she announced for the baby Venus. For Stella, the fifth, a picture of a compass and sextant surfaced. “Navigation!” she had said.

But as she held the boy, she felt uncertain. Surely, an object did come to her mind, but it was something she did not have a word for. It looked useful and vaguely familiar, perhaps even ancient. She doubted if she understood her vision properly, but since all eyes were on her she decided to come up with the word that best fit.

“Cutlery!” she announced.

There was a hesitation as everyone contemplated this unexpected response, but the king began to clap and soon everyone was applauding and cheering for the new baby boy whose talent would be chopping up vegetables.

And so, as soon as he was old enough to stand on a stool, Orion was thrust into the palace kitchens and given a knife. At first he cut bananas, then advanced to carrots, and then finally meat. It was clear to the royal chef that the boy did indeed have a gift for wielding a blade, and only after minimal guidance was able to cut up anything with speed, precision and finesse.

With Orion in the kitchen, the banquet table became a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach, with watermelons sculpted into fruit baskets, perfectly carved hams and steaming bowls of julienned carrots.

But Orion’s gift did not bring him the pleasure that his sisters felt when they were using their gifts. Luna, the sixth daughter, was gifted with dance, and the joy that she brought to those who watched her was only outmatched by the joy that was on her face as she performed. Nova, the youngest, possessed the gift of animal speech, and she could beckon any bird to perch on her finger. For Orion, dicing potatoes and mincing celery did not give him the challenge nor the joy that he craved. Though he tried to be creative, by carving out more interesting edible creations for each banquet, the task grew tiresome and eventually loathsome.

He soon refused to go to the kitchen. Instead he played for hours with sticks, stabbing pillows and smashing candelabras. He was louder than his sisters, more demanding, and more reckless. In short, he became a palace nuisance. The king and queen were at their wit’s end to figure out how to keep him under control. “Perhaps we should send him to a boarding school,” they whispered to one another in moments of desperation.

But Andromeda, the eldest daughter, observed her brother with wise eyes. She gathered her sisters together, all of whom had had it with their youngest sibling.

“He is annoying!” said Stella.

“And destructive. He destroys everything he comes in contact with.”

“I can’t concentrate on my knitting when he is present,” cried Cassiopeia.

“And whenever I try to sing, he mimics me by howling like a wolf,” said Lyra, folding her arms. “It is insulting.”

“Something is definitely wrong with him,” stated Luna.

Andromeda calmed them all. “No, sisters, I do not believe there is anything wrong with our brother. I think he is simply unchallenged. How would you feel if your gift was cutlery?”

Every head nodded in sympathy.

“I have an idea,” she said. “Let’s teach him our gifts.”

“He will never be as good at knitting as I am,” said Cassiopeia.

“I can’t even imagine him singing!” said Lyra.

“Or dancing!” added Luna with a laugh.

Then little Nova, who had been silent during the meeting, finally spoke. “He is good with animals,” she said timidly. “Or . . . at least, he tries to be.”  Her sisters stared at her. “He is not afraid of them, and does not scare them away. I’ve taught him things. And I think I could teach him more.”

Not to be outdone by the youngest, the sisters grudgingly decided to give Andromeda’s suggestion a try.

Over the next few months Orion was passed from sister to sister, each girl teaching him her talent as long as she (and he) could possibly endure before handing him over to the next. At first, he squirmed, complained, and protested, but as he began to see progress in his new skills, he grew less restless and bored, and more interested in what his sisters had to teach him.

Andromeda shared with him book after book about philosophy, diplomacy, history and mathematics. Cassiopeia taught him to knit his own socks. Luna found him to be a teachable dancer with surprising fluidity and grace. Stella taught him to read the sun, moon and stars. Only Lyra met with defeat, for singing was the one skill that escaped Orion’s grasp.

He never could master the talents quite as well as his sisters, but he worked hard and improved. He did not find complete joy, but he did catch glimmers of it.

Then one day, when he was 17 years old, an unusual visitor arrived at the palace.

She called herself the Midnight Queen and she came from a faraway queendom. She was old, with long silvery hair and bright black eyes, and would have been quite beautiful if it weren’t for her pointed, yellow teeth. She rode in an ebony carriage, drawn by six coal-black horses. She had two other carriages behind her, one for her clothes, and one for her servants, all of whom had bright black eyes, just like her.

The king and queen graciously welcomed their guest and prepared the best chambers for her and her servants, and a great feast was arranged. After dinner, the king and queen desired to show the Midnight Queen their talented children. Each child performed their gifts, except Orion, who still refused to have anything to do with the kitchen, and declined to display what he had learned from his sisters, lest he be compared and deemed less worthy.

The queen’s black eyes glittered with delight as she observed the splendid talents of each sister. “You are so fortunate to have so many beautiful and talented daughters,” she said to the king and queen. “I would give anything to have even one daughter so gifted.”

“We also have a son,” said the queen with pride.

“Yes!” said the king. “Our boy Orion! He is just as talented. Have the chef bring some fruit and Orion will show you what he can do.”

A table was brought, with knives of all sizes and several large watermelons and a pumpkin, but Orion refused. After all of those talents, he was going to cut up fruits and vegetables? It was humiliating. He hid in the shadows and would not emerge, no matter how much his family coaxed, all of whom were more embarrassed at his lack of charm and graciousness than by his talent.

But the Midnight Queen didn’t care two beans for the son. “I am so grateful that your daughters shared their gifts with me,” she said, “that I would like to bestow a gift upon them.” She snapped her fingers and her servants brought in seven black boxes, each tied with a scarlet ribbon. The girls unwrapped the gifts and pulled out beautiful satin nightgowns, each the color of a ripe blackberry. Delighted, they all wore them that night to bed.

Orion didn’t care. He didn’t want a satin nightgown.

In the morning the palace woke to find the Midnight Queen and her entourage gone. Orion and his sisters emerged from their chambers and sat to breakfast, the girls still wearing their satin nightgowns, and discussed the strange and premature departure of their enigmatic guest.

Andromeda offered some wisdom as to why the queen had left, but as soon as she spoke something strange occurred. Her skin turned black and feathery, as did her hair. Her nose and mouth grew long and scarlet. Her neck stretched and her body shrank until Andromeda was no longer a lovely daughter, but a black swan with shining feathers.

The king and queen rushed to her side, and tried to speak to her, but Andromeda only honked back and flapped her wings in fear.

“Let me speak to her,” offered Nova. But as soon as Nova approached her swan sister and tried to use her animal speech, she, too, was transformed into a swan. The two black swans were skittish and frightened and soon took to the air, flying out the windows of the Great Hall together.

Everyone ran out to the balcony and watched the swans disappear into the morning light. “Where are they going?” cried the queen. “How will we ever find them?”

Stella opened her mouth, thinking she could add some insight into what direction her sisters had gone but as soon as she did, she too, turned into a swan and flew away.

“Stop this!” cried the king. “My children, you must refrain from using your talents. The Midnight Queen must have cursed you, and when you use your talents you transform into swans. I command you to not use your gifts until we find a way to bring your sisters back.”

The next few days were long and dark days at the castle. There was no singing, no dancing, and no joy. Everyone missed their three sisters, especially Orion.

Perhaps, he thought, if I turn into a swan, I could go and find my sisters and bring them back. Late one evening he went to the kitchen and cut up an apple in the shape of a rose. He held it in his hand, waiting to be transformed, but nothing happened. He had not been cursed. Orion didn’t know whether to feel relieved or neglected.

His four remaining sisters languished. Eventually they could not resist the temptation to use their talents, and one by one they turned into swans and flew away until only Orion was left. The palace had never seemed so dismal.

A year went by, but the king and queen seemed to age ten years. This troubled Orion and he became restless. To pass the time he took long rides on Venus’ horse. One day he heard strange sounds in the forest: metal against metal. He came to a cave at the foot of a hill. Outside the cave was an old man, dripping with sweat, pounding a hammer against red-hot metal. Then he took the metal and plunged it into a barrel of oil and the metal hissed as steam rose from the barrel.

Orion was mesmerized. “What is that?” he asked. “Are you making a great knife?”

The man looked up from his work, gazed at Orion and shook his head. “This is no knife. This is a sword.”

Orion inched closer. “What . . . is a sword?” he asked.

“It is an ancient weapon. There has not been a need for one for two centuries, but there is a need now, and for a man who can wield it.”

Orion frowned. “Is it used to cut up large melons?”

The man stopped pounding and stared at Orion. “It is used to kill.”

After that Orion kept his mouth shut. He watched the man work on the sword all through the day. When the sun set, Orion built a fire and watched the man work into the night. It was near midnight when the man finished. He laid it on his palms and presented it to Orion. “Test it. See how it feels.”

As Orion wrapped his fingers around the handle and felt the weight settle in his palm, he felt a quiver of excitement race up his arm and through his body. He rotated his wrist and watched the moonlight flash up the blade. He swung to the right, he swung to the left.

All of the sudden, Orion heard a loud roar. He looked up to see the old man coming at him with another sword raised high above his head. Orion crouched, closing his eyes and shielding himself with the new sword to keep from being cut in half by his attacker. The blow was deflected, but the man attacked again, clashing his sword against Orion’s. This time Orion stood his ground and fought back, using the sword as a weapon instead of a shield. The man kept striking, forcing Orion into the forest where they dodged tree trunks and fallen logs by the dim light of the moon. Orion was grateful for Luna’s dance lessons that helped him order his steps and keep his feet steady as he thrust and swung the blade. Soon he began to feel more natural and fluid, and the feel of the sword—the grip, balance, the weight—all felt so innate, so sublime, and it filled his heart with indescribable joy.

IMG-2197

Syrena Dyreng

Orion grinned. He began to strike at his opponent with more confidence. He advanced instead of retreated. Then he took advantage of a hesitation made by the old man and flipped the man’s weapon from his grasp where the blade tip stuck into a thick over-hanging branch.

Breathing hard, the old man walked to the quivering sword and pulled it out of the branch. Orion steeled himself to continue the fight, but instead of engaging, the man bowed.

“You will do,” he said with a kind smile.

“Excuse me?”

“While the world was at peace, she has grown in power.”

“Who?”

“The rat.”

“Rat? What rat?”

“Just remember that weapons are not to provoke, but to defend,” the man said, guiding his sword back into its sheath. “They are not to make wrongs, but to correct them. Not to cause loss, but to recover that which was lost.”

Now that made more sense. Orion didn’t know anything about rats, but there was an evil queen he wouldn’t mind trying this sword out on.

“Good sir, may I ask your name?” Orion asked.

“Spinach,” said the man as he began packing up his tools. “Sir Spinach.”

“With all due respect, Sir Spinach, isn’t this a large sword for a rat?”

He shook his head. “It will barely suffice.”

“But Sir Spinach, what if I can’t find this rat that you speak of?”

“Oh, you will find her,” said the old man, lifting his satchel onto his shoulder, “And when you meet, you must kill her, for if you do not, she shall take over the world.” He then turned and disappeared into the cave.

Orion waved the sword around a few more times, enthralled by the feel of it. He realized he had never thanked the man, so he trotted after him into the cave, but the cave was not as deep as it had seemed and he soon found himself staring at a granite wall.

Orion looked at the new sword in his hand, marveling. He kissed the blade and rode home as fast as the horse could go, his heart bursting with joy.

He had found his true gift.

 

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

Author’s Note: The final post of Fairy Tales for Boys will be published tomorrow. Or maybe the day after that, depending on whether or not I have to take another member of my family to the hospital (my husband broke his ankle yesterday).

If you are enjoying Fairy Tales for Boys, please share with other quarantined friends!

Leave a comment

Filed under Fairy Tales for Boys, Family Fun, writing

Chapter 6: The Boy and His Wicked Stepbrothers

Part 1

Once upon a time in a grand country mansion lived a couple and their young son Douglas. The father was a studious man who had a large library filled with books that he’d collected from around the world. The three spent hours in the library together reading novels, biographies, travelogues and poetry. Before he left on his next journey, the father promised to bring back another book. But alas, he never returned, for his ship was dragged to the bottom of the ocean by a giant squid.

Life became very difficult for the mother after that. The mansion was large and required much maintenance to keep up. Soon there wasn’t enough money to pay the servants, and one by one they left. She tried to repair things that broke, but none of her repairs lasted long. Though Douglas was young, he did his best to help. Finally, as the estate began to fall into ruin, and she sunk further into debt, she realized she had only one choice left.

She woke early and put on her prettiest dress. She combed through her long hair until it was smooth and silky and then pinned it under an attractive hat. She rubbed rouge on her cheeks and cleaned her dirty fingernails. When she emerged from her chambers, Douglas thought she looked just as pretty as when his father was alive.

“Take care of the house while I am gone,” she said, giving him a big hug. “I am going to the city to find you another father.”

With a lump in his throat, the boy watched her ride away, hoping that she too wouldn’t disappear and leave him completely alone.

A few days later, a carriage pulled up to the mansion. Douglas stood outside to receive it. When the carriage door opened his mother stepped out, looking radiant and wearing a flattering new dress. She ran to her son and swung him around. “Things worked out even better than I imagined,” she said. “Come and meet your new father.”

A large man exited the carriage, and Doug’s mother introduced them. The man smiled and seemed kind enough. “And I have another surprise for you!” said Doug’s mother, beaming. From behind the man stepped two boys, both a year or two older than Douglas. “Now you have brothers! Isn’t this wonderful? Everything is going to be much better for us now, my sweet son. You shall see.”

The big man swept Doug’s mother into his arms and carried her into the house. Douglas looked at his two new stepbrothers. “Welcome to my home,” he said with a smile, even though he didn’t feel like smiling.

The older of the two sniffed, spit on the ground, and said, “You mean our home.” Then they shoved Douglas out of the way and walked inside.

****

Doug’s mother was right—everything was much better, at first. His new stepdad had money to get the house repaired and he was mostly kind. He hired new servants and bought new horses and a new carriage. All of them received new clothes. And although his new step-brothers teased him now and then, his step-father would always put a stop to it, and Douglas felt grateful for his fatherly protection. Best of all, he had not seen his mother so happy in a long time, and he and his mother spent the evenings in the library staying up late and reading the way they used to.

But after a few months Douglas noticed a change in his mother’s countenance. Her eyes, which were always filled with light, gradually filled with shadows. Bluish bruises appeared on her arms and sometimes her face. When Douglas asked her about it, she laughed and said she had fallen. She stopped eating at dinner and soon became so weak that she stayed in bed all day. One rainy night she called Douglas to her side. She looked so feeble that he hardly recognized her. She took Doug’s hand as tears welled in her eyes. “My son, I have made a grave mistake, and I don’t think your father will ever forgive me. I’m so very sorry.”

“Sorry for what?”

“I am sorry that I have made things worse for you.”

He squeezed her hand. “No, you haven’t, mother.”

“Yes, I have. You will see.”

****

Two days later his mother died.

After the funeral Douglas went to his bedroom to be by himself, but the door was thrown open and his stepbrothers barged in.

“This is my room now,” said the eldest brother. “It doesn’t make sense for me and my brother to share rooms anymore.”

“No, this is my room,” said Douglas. “Just ask Father.”

The stepbrother scoffed. “My father is the one who told me I could have your room.”

Douglas didn’t believe this, and he went downstairs and told his stepfather what was happening.

The man shook his head and chuckled. “Oh Douglas, don’t be so sensitive. Can’t you see? You don’t need such a large room. The other boys are bigger. It is time for them to both have their own rooms.”

“But where will I sleep?”

“You can sleep in the barn. It will be warm in there, and you can have the place all to yourself.”

Douglas marched back upstairs, hurt, confused, and fuming.

“What are you doing back here, Dougie?” said the eldest stepbrother. “Get out. This is my room.”

“I’m just coming to get my things,” growled Douglas.

“These aren’t your things. They are my things.”

“No, they aren’t!”

“You want to fight about it? Hit me, little boy.”

Douglas was so mad that he didn’t really think about what he was doing. Making a fist, he pulled back and punched his stepbrother in the stomach. But his brothers just laughed. “That’s not a punch. You want to know what a real punch feels like?”

That evening Douglas stumbled into the barn and crawled into a bed of straw, every muscle aching with pain from the beating he’d received from his two stepbrothers. He pulled an old quilt over himself and wished he could die.

The next morning the barn door was thrown open and his stepfather shook him awake. “Get up, boy. We need wood chopped for the fire.” And from that time onward, Douglas was treated as the lowest servant at the mansion, emptying chamber pots, tending fires, and chopping wood.

As the years went by, the stepbrothers spent piles of money on fancy clothes, horses and carriages, and attended a different ball each week. It wasn’t long before men in black suits and grim faces came to the mansion, demanding money. Douglas recognized these men; they were creditors. The house again fell into disrepair and the servants left. But instead of making repairs and keeping the house clean as his mother had done, all was left to ruin. The rooms were never swept or kept in order, dust layered the shelves, cobwebs filled the corners, food was strewn about the house and bedrooms, for his stepbrothers never cleaned up after themselves, and rats and cockroaches roamed freely, night and day.

As each servant left, Douglas was forced to take on their duties. He tried to make the food (for his stepbrothers were ravenous eaters), and keep the kitchen somewhat clean, to wash the dishes and the windows and milk the cow, but as soon as he started a task, his stepbrothers demanded he work on something else, so nothing was ever completely finished. And when he didn’t do a task well enough his stepfather called him lazy and beat him.

He spent most of his time chopping wood. Every morning and every evening, in the sun, in the rain, and in the snow. Ironically, he always felt better after he chopped a pile of wood, for at least it gave him a way to release the frustration he wished he could inflict on his tormentors.

His only other respite was in the evenings after his stepbrothers retired or left for another ball. He would sit in the library and read from his father’s books until his stepfather banished him to the barn.

One day he noticed a row of books missing from the library. “What happened to these books?” he asked his stepfather.

“We sold them,” he said with a shrug. “How else am I to pay for all the food you eat?”

After that, each day Douglas took care to take one book from the library and hide it in the barn.

One day, while Douglas was outside chopping wood, a royal messenger rode up to the mansion and knocked on the door. When the stepfather answered, the messenger read a royal proclamation.

Hear ye, hear ye! An announcement to every household in the land. The princess has come of age and it is time for her to marry. To find the most suitable young man, the king is holding a tournament of stealth, strength and stamina. All men of good character are permitted to enter, but only one will win. The competition will be held one month from today, on the castle grounds.

“Well, boys, how would you like to become royalty?” asked the stepfather when the messenger had gone.

The eldest rolled his eyes. “I could win this tournament with both hands tied behind my back.”

The second brother laughed. “I’d like to see you try. I’ll take over once you’ve made a fool of yourself in front of the princess, and I will be the winner.”

The boys continued to bicker until one punched the other and it turned into a fist fight. Douglas shook his head and went back to chopping wood.

The stepbrothers spent the next few weeks getting ready for the tournament. They bought new clothes that they didn’t have money for, while Douglas washed their dirty ones. They practiced their archery skills with targets posted to trees and sent Douglas into the woods to shoot deer for their dinner. And each day, while they lay on the sofas, bragging to each other about who was the strongest, Douglas carried load after load of wood upstairs to their bedroom fireplaces.

Late one evening when Douglas was in the library reading the very last book, his brothers strutted in, wearing their new clothes. “Tomorrow is the tournament, Dougie. What do you think of my new clothes? Don’t you think the princess will swoon when she sees how handsome I am?”

The other brother rubbed his knuckles against Douglas’s head.  “I bet you wish you were going to the tournament, don’t you?”

“Not really,” said Douglas, his eyes still on his book.

“That’s good, because the princess wants someone strong and manly. Not a wimpy little bookworm like you.”

Douglas ignored them and turned a page.

Doug’s indifference angered the older stepbrother. He snatched Douglas’s book. “See how manly I am!” With a roar he ripped the book in half and tossed the pages around the room.

After they left, Douglas gathered the pages, placed the damaged book together, and carefully tied it with string. That night he took it to his secret book stash in the barn.

 

IMG_2182

Syrena Dyreng

Douglas woke early the next morning to get the horses and carriage ready for his stepfamily. They climbed in, and with a flick of the whip they were off, leaving Douglas in a cloud of dust. “Next time you see me, I’ll be a prince!” one of them called out before being whacked by his brother.

Douglas knew there was much to be done before his stepfamily returned, but instead of attending to his duties he walked into the house and sat in the quiet library, stared at the empty shelves, and scowled.

“Don’t you want to go to the tournament?” said a voice.

Douglas turned and saw a man with a white beard sitting in his father’s favorite chair.

“Who are you?”

“I am your hairy godfather.”

“My . . . hairy godfather?”

“Yes, and I have the power to make wishes come true. If you want to go to the tournament, I can make that happen. The only question is, do you want to go?”

“Yes, but for all the wrong reasons.”

The man leaned forward. “Please expound.”

“I want to go and see my brothers lose. I want to see them humiliated.”

“That isn’t very noble,” agreed the man. “T’would be more noble if you went for the purpose of winning the princess’s hand.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” said Douglas. “It would be more noble to court the princess in a way that gives her a choice.”

The hairy godfather scrunched up his lips. “Yes, that is actually more noble, you are correct. But perhaps the princess has more choice in the matter than you think. And perhaps she may need help knowing which suitors are real men and which are brutes. Perhaps she may need to be warned.”

Douglas lifted his head.

“Imagine if the princess ended up with one of your stepbrothers.” His voice grew quiet. “Imagine if your mother had someone who warned her.”

Douglas’s jaw tightened. He stood, filled with resolve and determination. “I will go, if only to warn the princess.” Then his shoulders dropped. “But I have no horse.”

The hairy godfather snapped his fingers at a passing rat, which immediately transformed into a black steed.

“I have no proper clothes.”

The hairy godfather snapped his fingers and Douglas was dressed in a clean muslin blouse, leather vest and riding pants with boots, belt, scabbard and sword.

“I have no . . .  idea what to say to her.”

“You won’t need to say anything,” said the hairy godfather. “All you have to do is be yourself. But with your stepbrothers there, you might have more luck with a disguise.” He snapped his fingers and a black mask appeared over Douglas’s eyes. He snapped his fingers again and a cunning mustache and goatee appeared around Douglas’s mouth. “That’s more like it. Even your sweet mother wouldn’t recognize you. I must warn you, however, that my magic will only last for the day and will vanish by midnight tonight. After that you will be dressed in rags and riding a rat.”

Douglas nodded. “Thank you so much. I hope to be worthy of your gifts.” Not wanting to waste any time, he led the horse outside and mounted.

“One more thing.” The hairy godfather said as he stood in the doorway. He snapped his fingers and a small book appeared in his hand.

“What is that?”

“This is a book of poetry, written by a fellow named Shakespeare.” He handed it up to Douglas. “You might find it useful. Did I not tell you I would bring you a book back from my travels?”

He snapped his fingers once more and was gone.

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

2 Comments

Filed under Fairy Tales for Boys, Family Fun, writing

Chapter 4: The Boy Who Guessed the Secret Name

Once upon a time there was a group of old women who liked to get together and knit in the village square, and while they knitted, they bragged about their children.

“My daughter makes beautiful dresses,” said the tailor’s wife.

“My son can grind wheat faster than any man in the kingdom!” said the miller’s wife.

The baker’s wife, who often felt inferior in front of her friends and wanted to prove that her child was just as good as theirs said, “My son can bake loaves of dough into bricks of gold.”

Well, none of the other women could top that, and the baker’s wife felt satisfied, even if it was a complete lie. Little did she know that her statement was overheard by a servant from the castle.

“He can bake loaves of dough in to bricks of gold?!” exclaimed the Queen when the servant told her. “Bring him to the castle at once!”

The young man and his mother were brought before the queen. “Is it true you can bake dough into bricks of gold?”

“Uh . . . no,” said the boy, with a puzzled glance at his mother.

“He is just being modest,” said the baker’s wife. “Go on, tell the queen the truth, son.”

“I am telling the truth. I don’t know how to bake dough into gold.”

“Well,” said the queen. “We shall see about that.”

She put the boy in the royal kitchen with a huge pile of dough. “I want all of this dough made into bricks of gold by morning or we will chop off your head.” And then she bolted the door.

The young man sat on the bench, feeling very confused as to how he came to be in this dreadful predicament. After all, was it even possible to make dough into gold? Did they share any similar chemical components? He looked around to see if there was a way he could escape, but escaping seemed just as likely as turning things into gold.

“I can turn anything into anything,” said a small voice.

The young man, whose name was Alastair, looked around. “Who said that?”

“Me,” said the voice, and a black rat jumped up onto the table.

The boy frowned. “I don’t think it’s very sanitary for you to be in the kitchen.”

“Does it matter? You don’t want to turn the dough into food to eat, you want to turn it into gold. And I can help you do that.”

Alastair laughed. He laughed and laughed and laughed.

“Stop laughing,” squeaked the rat.

“First of all,” said the boy, regaining his composure, “why are you so excited to help me? What’s in it for you?”

“Because we both need something. You need to turn this dough into gold to save your life, and I need a baby that I can raise to be my apprentice and carry on my wicked legacy.”

The boy shrugged. “I can’t help you. I don’t have a baby brother or sister. I don’t own a baby, and I can’t give birth to a baby. Maybe you should go ask a girl.”

“Stop being difficult,” said the rat. “If you make this dough into bricks of gold, the queen plans on having you wed her daughter, the princess.”

Alastair narrowed his eyes. “Is she a baby?”

“No, you imbecile! She is a perfectly beautiful young woman, only a year younger than you.”

“Is that so?” said the boy as he pulled up a stool and leaned on the table. “Tell me more about her.”

“She’s everything you ever dreamed of, with hair like the sunrise and lips like the sunset.”

“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s bake some gold!”

The rat held up her paws. “Not so fast. Before I help you, you must promise to give me your first-born child, if it’s a girl.”

“And if it’s a boy?” asked Alastair.

“You can keep it.”

“You got yourself a deal!” The arrangement sounded perfect to Alastair, who didn’t care much for babies, and if he did ever have a baby, he would much rather have a boy than a girl anyway. He shook hands with the rat, and together they began pulling off dough and placing it in the bread pans.

In the morning when the queen unbolted the door, she saw the young man sitting at the table with a confident smile on his face. Stacked next to him was a huge pyramid of golden bricks.

The queen clapped her hands. “Marvelous!” she exclaimed.

Alastair was then introduced to the princess, whom he thought was far more lovely than the rat had described, not to mention affectionate, witty, and smart. They married, and their first year of marriage was so blissful that Alastair forgot all about his promise to the black rat.

****

In time the princess became pregnant. Alastair was filled with excitement and anticipation. On the day of the birth he was the first to hold his new baby girl.

He and his wife were so happy to have this new little princess, and together they took care of her; holding her, bathing her, and making silly faces so she would smile. Alastair cherished his little daughter and couldn’t remember a time that he had ever been happier.

A few weeks later, as the sun peeped over the distant mountains, the princess shook Alastair awake. “Alastair! Get up! There is a rat in our room! Kill it!”

“Yes, yes, wake up and kill the rat, you silly boy!” sang the rat. “But you won’t be able to because we made a bargain.”

Alastair sat up in bed. “You,” he said.

“Yes! It is I! Ha! Ha! Ha! And I know that you’ve been blessed with a beautiful baby girl, which means you owe me something.”

Alastair dashed to the crib and stood in front of the baby. “Never,” he said.

“Alastair?” asked the princess, narrowing her eyes. “What is going on?”

Alastair didn’t know what to tell his wife. He realized now that making a bargain with the rat had been a huge mistake. He was younger then, and he didn’t realize how deeply he would love his baby girl. The thought of this dirty rat taking away his precious child and breaking the heart of his wife made his body tremble with anger. Deal or no deal, there was no chance he would let this rat win.

“Leave this castle at once,” demanded Alastair.

“‘Leave this castle at once,’” mimicked the rat. “A deal is a deal,” she said. “And a magical deal is more binding than any other.”

The princess panicked. “What deal? Alastair, what did you do?”

“I made a deal with this rat that she could have my first-born child . . . if it was a girl.”

“YOU DID WHAAAATT???!!” The princess leaped out of bed and started throwing shoes at the rat. “Get out! Get away from my baby!” she screamed.

The rat dodged all of the shoes with ease until the princess had thrown every shoe in her closet and was panting in exhaustion.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” said the rat. “I realize this must be an unpleasant surprise. But a magical deal cannot be broken.” She held out her greedy black paws. “The baby, please. Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of her.”

The princess crumpled into a sobbing heap, but Alastair stood his ground. “There must be another way. Something else I can do for you. I am a prince now. I can give you anything you want. Gold, jewels, silk . . . anything!”

The rat laughed. “I made gold bricks for you out of bread dough. You think I can’t make those things if I want them? What I can’t make is a baby, and we made a deal.”

Alastair reached for a sword and swung it at the rat, but the sword bounced off of her, as if she were protected by an invisible shield.

“Remember, a magical bargain cannot be broken,” said the rat smugly.

“Then we shall make another bargain,” said Alastair.

The rat cocked her head. “Go on.”

“Give me a task and three days to accomplish it. If I can’t, the baby is yours. If I can, you must leave and never return.”

The rat laughed. “Silly boy! You are simply prolonging the inevitable,” she said. “But I do love to make a deal. . .” She caressed her whiskers thoughtfully. After a few moments a sly smile appeared on her face, showing her pointed, yellow teeth. “Very well. Here is your task: you have three days to guess my name. I will visit you on the morning of each new day. If you can guess my name by the third day, you may keep your baby.”

Alastair frowned. “You could ask me to slay a giant or kill a dragon, and you want me to guess your name?”

“If it sounds too easy than we can stick with our original arrangement.”

“You are a dirty rat,” he said, and agreed to the bargain.

Alastair wasted no time. He thought of sending out a proclamation to the kingdom, offering a reward for anyone who knew the name of a talking rat, but the princess pointed out that first, everyone would think he was crazy, and second, he’d probably get hundreds of imposters who would waste their precious time with normal, everyday rats. So they decided it was up to the two of them.

The next morning, a servant brought breakfast into the royal chamber and placed it on the table where the prince and princess were compiling a list of names. The servant bowed. “Anything else, Your Highness?” he asked.

Alastair lifted his teacup and took a sip. “No, thank you, Spinach,” he said.

A few moments later the rat appeared at the window. “Do you know my name?” she asked, blinking her bright black eyes.

“Katrina,” said Alastair.

“Sylvia,” said the princess.

“Marilyn,” said Alastair.

Alastair and the princess tried dozens of names, but the rat shook her head at every one.

“Time’s up!” announced the rat, and she crawled out the window.

The next morning the servant brought in breakfast to the prince and princess while they prepared a whole new list of names.

“Will there be anything else, Your Highness?” asked the servant.

“No, thank you, Spinach,” said Alastair. And the servant departed.

Just as before, the rat appeared at the window and asked, “Do you know my name?”

“Gertrude,” said the princess.

“Grogda,” said Alastair.

“Forcythia,” said the princess.

And just as before, they read through their entire list of names until the rat said, “Time’s up! One day left!” she crowed, and crawled out the window.

The princess was beside herself with grief. “Alastair, what will we do? We can’t let that horrible creature take our baby!”

Alastair wiped her tears and promised that he would find out what the rat’s name was. That night he snuck into the forest and asked the animal creatures if they knew of a black rat. But of course, Alastair did not speak animal, and the animals, being merely animals and not enchanted witches, did not speak human. So that was fruitless.

Depressed, hopeless, and out of ideas, Alastair returned to the castle. He tossed and turned all night, for he knew that on the morrow he must surrender his beloved baby.

In the morning the servant brought breakfast to the couple, who were tearfully making their last list of names.

“Will there be anything else, Your Highness?” asked the servant.

“No, thank you, Spinach,” said Alastair.

But instead of leaving, the servant hesitated. “If you don’t mind me asking, sire, you and the princess seem very distressed.”

“We are distressed. If you do not laugh, I will tell you why. In a few moments a rat is going to appear in that window and ask us to guess her name. If we cannot guess her name then she will take our sweet baby.”

“A talking rat, sire?”

“Yes. You probably think I am crazy.”

“Oh no, sire, I don’t, for I once knew a talking rat.”

“YOU DID?” asked the couple at once.

“Yes. She actually locked me in a tower in the desert when I was five years old and I had to stay there for 10 years. She wasn’t a rat then, of course, she was a witch. Luckily my father saved me and we escaped, but then she followed us to our home where she tried to turn my father into a rat but her spell reflected off a mirror and struck her instead.”

Alastair and the princess stared at Spinach, their mouths agape. “Well, what is her name?”

Spinach bit his lip and looked at the ceiling. “It was a long time ago, and it was a very strange name, and to remember it I had to rhyme it with something. Oh, I remember, it rhymed with . . . with . . . pretzel.”

Just then, they could hear the scratching of something outside the window. Alastair told Spinach to hide under the bed, but Spinach couldn’t fit under the bed, so Alastair told him to crouch down on the side of the bed furthest from the window, so as not to be seen by the rat.

The rat appeared, a smug smile on her face. “Do you know my name?” she said.

Alastair and the princess looked at each other and swallowed.

“Wetzel?” said Alastair.

“Snetzel?” said the princess.

“Fetzel?” said Alastair.

The rat placed her paws on her hips and narrowed her beady eyes. She didn’t like where this was going.

“Zetzel?” said the princess.

“I know!” said Alastair, his face brightening. “It’s Chetzel!”

“Enough of this foolishness! Don’t you think it is time you gave up? You have one more guess!”

The princess looked at Alastair, who glanced at Spinach, who had changed position and was lying on his back with his legs together and both arms stretched up at diagonal angles.

Alastair looked back at the rat. “Could it be . . . Yetzel?”

The rat screamed like she had been tossed in a firepit. She hopped up and down. She tore out handfuls of her fur. She whacked her head against the stone wall. “You cheated! You cheated!” She was in such a rage that she hurled herself out of the window, and was never seen again . . . in that kingdom, anyway.

Alastair, the princess, and their baby lived happily ever after.

And Spinach was knighted.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Fairy Tales for Boys, Family Fun, writing

Chapter 3: The Boy Who Brought A Basket to his Grandfather

Once upon a time there was a boy who lived with his father at the edge of a great wood. The boy had bright red hair and everyone called him Little Red. His father, who also had red hair, was called Big Red.

One day Big Red said to Little Red, “You are old enough to go into the forest alone, and I need you to do an important errand for me.” He took a basket, covered by a cloth, and said, “Carry this basket to your grandfather who lives in the middle of the wood. Take care you do not get distracted, for the wood is a wild place. Most of all, you must not lose the basket, nor tell anyone what’s inside.”

“What is in the basket, Father?” asked Little Red.

Big Red leaned over and whispered into Little Red’s ear. The boy’s face became serious and grave. He looked up at his father. “I promise, Father. You can count on me.”

The boy set out on the trail early the next morning, knowing that it would be quite a long walk to his grandfather’s house. As he went, he thought he could hear footsteps behind him, but when he looked no one was there. Then, as he rounded a corner, out from behind a tree stepped a very beautiful fox.

IMG_6905

Danny Dyreng

“Hello, little one,” said the vixen. “Where are you off to on this lovely day?”

“I’m going to my grandfather’s house to give him this basket.”

“That is a big basket for such a small boy. What’s inside?”

“I–I cannot say.”

The vixen cocked her head and pouted. “Why not?” she asked. “I won’t tell anyone. It can be our secret.”

The boy started walking again, but the fox followed close behind.

“Is it bread and wine?” she asked.

Little Red didn’t answer.

“Is it ham and cheese?”

Little Red didn’t answer.

“Is it blueberries and cream?”

Little Red didn’t answer, but he did say, “Having you trotting behind is making me uncomfortable.”

“I am only protecting you from the wild things of the woods,” she said. “You never know when you might meet a wolf or a bear or . . . a rat?”

The pair stopped walking, for a large, black rat sat in the center of the path, blinking her bright black eyes.

“Hello, little boy,” said the rat. “What do you have in that basket?”

“This is my little boy,” said the fox. “Go and find your own little boy. And besides, there is no use asking him. He won’t tell.”

“I’m not interested in little boys,” said the rat to the fox. Then she turned to Little Red and asked, “Could there, by chance, be a baby girl in that basket?”

The fox swiveled her ears toward the boy in interest. “Is there?” she inquired, batting her eyes. “I’m very good with babies.”

“Definitely not,” said Little Red.

With that, the rat scampered into the weeds.

“Nosy rat,” muttered the fox.

The boy gripped the basket a little tighter and walked a little faster. Everyone in the woods was after his basket! It was not light, however, and the farther the boy went, the heavier the basket seemed.

“Ah, you are getting tired. Let me help,” said the fox, and she reached for the basket.

But Little Red held it to his chest. “I’m sorry, Ms. Fox, but it is my basket and only I can carry it. Besides, I’m not tired.” Even though he actually was.

They continued to walk through the forest.

“Oh, look at those flowers off in the distance. Come with me and gather them for your grandpa.”

“No,” said Little Red who kept on walking.

“You must be thirsty. Why don’t you come with me to my den for some tea? Then, once you are refreshed, you can continue on your journey.”

“No,” said Little Red who kept on walking.

“Ouch!” cried the fox, falling down and holding up a limp foot. “I think I’ve twisted my paw. Can you help me?”

But Little Red knew she was pretending and he kept on walking. The fox became angry and she bounded ahead of the boy and blocked the path.

“You shall go no further until you show me what is inside of that basket,” she demanded.

“I will not,” said Little Red.

The vixen stepped menacingly toward him, baring her teeth and backing him up against a tree.

Little Red was very frightened. Surely she would eat him up, whether he showed her what was in the basket or not. If he could only hold her off until he got to his grandfather’s house.

“What lovely, big eyes you have,” said the boy. “I’m certain you could see me from a mile away.”

“Indeed,” said the fox narrowing her eyes.

“And what large, soft pointed ears you have! You could probably hear me breathing from the other side of the forest.”

“That is for certain,” said the fox, twitching her ears.

“And what an amazingly strong jaw you have. It could easily crush my fragile, little bones.”

“Yes!” snarled the fox, showing her teeth.

“And how patient you must be.”

“Huh?”

“Yes, for you are a hunter, and hunters are the most patient of all the animals.”

The fox took a step back. “Most definitely I am,” she said, sitting down primly and wrapping her bushy tail around her legs.

“I am just a small little boy. I cannot run from you, nor can I hide. I also cannot show you what is in my basket. But if you are patient, when we get to my grandfather’s house, he will tell you.”

The vixen laughed. “I am a fox, and I know when someone is playing a trick on me.”

“This is no trick!” said the boy earnestly. “I’m telling the truth. You would be very interested, I think, in what he would tell you. Besides, what I have in my basket, my grandfather has many, many more!”

“Is your grandfather very old?”

“Very old. And feeble.”

The fox decided that she could be patient, especially if there was more of what was in the basket.

“Please, dear fox. Just walk with me a little further through the woods, and protect me from wild bears and wolves like you said, and when we get to my grandfather’s house your curiosity will be satisfied and he’ll give you a bellyful.”

Then it is food! she thought, licking her chops.

The fox was content to walk with the boy and before long they came to the grandfather’s house in the wood. Little Red knocked on the old man’s door.

“Who is it?”

“It is me, Little Red!”

“Who is that with you, Little Red?”

“Oh, just a friend I found in the forest.”

An old man with a bushy red beard opened the door and the fox looked up. Her eyes grew wide and her tail flicked nervously. She glanced around, noticing for the first time the animal hides stretched out on the door, the racks of guns over the mantle and the large fox-skin rug spread out before the hearth.

“Old Red!” she gasped.

“Well hello, little fox,” said the man. “What a lovely coat you have. Would you like to come inside my cottage?”

“Your grandfather is Old Red!” exclaimed the fox.

“Yes, he is,” smiled Little Red. “The greatest hunter in the forest!”

And with that, the fox bounded away and disappeared into the woods.

“It is too bad she couldn’t stay for tea,” said Old Red with a grin. “Oh, well. Let’s see what your father made for me.”

Little Red put the basket on the table and took off the cover revealing a dozen newly fashioned crossbow bolts.

“You are a good boy, Little Red. I was running low. Say,” he said, taking his crossbow down from its place on the wall. “Would like to join me on a fox hunt?”

Little Red smiled.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Fairy Tales for Boys, Family Fun, writing

Chapter 1: The Boy Who Was Locked in a Tower

Once upon a time there was a woman named Yetzel who didn’t care much for children or men and definitely did not want to live with either. Instead she dedicated herself to the study of sorcery and became a powerful witch. She lived alone in a small cottage, brewing potions in her kitchen and growing illegal plants in her garden. Though her career kept her stimulated, fulfilled, and busy, she would sometimes feel a surge of loneliness and wonder if maybe it wouldn’t be so bad having a child after all. It might be nice to have an obedient, quiet little girl to share her knowledge with and to pass on her wicked legacy. By the time she warmed up to the idea of having a child she was much too old to have a baby, and though a witch can do many magical things, she cannot make herself pregnant. Eventually she decided that if she couldn’t have her own, she would have to steal someone else’s.

. . . And the couple next door happened to be expecting.

She picked some spinach from her garden, made a salad, and set a spell on it to make it delicious but unsatisfying, so that the person who ate it would want more and more. She placed the salad into a basket, put on her best shawl, and walked to her neighbor’s home.

“Hello! I’m Yetzel, your sweet, innocent neighbor,” said the witch to the young husband when he opened the door. “I heard your wife was expecting, so I brought her some of my prized spinach. I don’t have very much, but I made the sacrifice hoping it would bring her some good.”

The husband and wife were touched by the woman’s kindness, and when she left the wife devoured the salad as if she hadn’t eaten for days. As soon as she finished, she begged her husband for more.

“But it would be rude to ask for more. Remember what the woman said? It is her most prized plant and she doesn’t have very much.”

“But I must have more or I shall die!” wept the wife.

The poor man didn’t know what to do, but he couldn’t bear to see his wife in so much distress. So late that night he snuck into his neighbor’s garden and pulled some spinach. His wife was so grateful that the husband felt justified, so the next night, when she asked him to go again, he didn’t even hesitate.

This time, however, he was caught.

“Thief! How dare you steal from me after I was so generous!” said the witch.

The man trembled in fear and embarrassment. “Forgive me, Yetzel! But my wife says she must have it or she shall die.”

“Is that so? Then we shall have to make a deal,” said the witch, for this was all part of her plan. “If this spinach is so important that your wife will truly die without it, promise to give me your child when it is born, in exchange for your wife’s life.”

Now, the poor man, although he was devoted, was not the brightest husband. He truly was convinced that if he didn’t get the spinach his wife would die (which she wouldn’t have) and he didn’t know his neighbor was a witch (which he couldn’t have), so he decided to make the bargain without his wife’s consent (which he shouldn’t have).

The man promised.

After that, Yetzel gave him all the spinach his wife desired, and by and by the woman gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby, whom of course they named Spinach.

A few days later the witch came to claim the child. The husband was forced to explain to his wife the shameful arrangement he had made with the witch, and his wife was so overcome with sadness and betrayal that she died right there of a broken heart.

“Ha! Ha! Ha!” laughed the witch. “This makes it so much easier!” She scooped up the baby in her arms and stole away into the night.

Yetzel took the baby far away and began the task of raising it. As with all first-time parents, she encountered some things she hadn’t expected.

First of all, Spinach was a boy. No matter, she thought. If she couldn’t make him into a great witch, she would make him into a great wizard. But as the months went by Spinach turned out to be much louder, much messier, and much more trouble than she expected. He knocked over her potions, he soiled her spell books, played with her frogs and snakes and let them escape, and he was constantly interrupting her when she was in deep, meditative thought.

When Spinach turned five years old Yetzel couldn’t stand it any longer. “If only there was a way to skip this child stage and train him when he is more grown-up and mature!”

This spawned a dreadful plan.

She locked the little boy in a tall tower in the middle of a desert and bricked up the entrance. She would bring him food and water for a decade or so, and once he had grown to a more manageable age, she would let him out and he would be her apprentice and carry on her wicked legacy.

At first the boy didn’t mind being locked in the tower. At least he was away from Mama Yetzel who was always yelling at him for one thing or another. But as the weeks passed, the boy languished. He had plenty of food and water from the witch, (for she would send it up to him via rope and pulley with a basket and then take the rope away with her), but he had no toys or books or friends to play with. To pass time he would count bricks or birds or clouds, but most of the day he just leaned on the window and wished he had someone to talk to.

Back in his cottage, Spinach’s father was also lonely, and tormented with grief and regret. He couldn’t forgive himself for being duped by his neighbor, whom by now he realized was a witch. He vowed to not cut his beard until he found his son. He journeyed near and far, telling his story to everyone who would listen, and asking them if they knew anything about the witch who had taken his precious little boy.

IMG_6874

Syrena Dyreng

One day, when the boy was looking out his window at the vast desert, he saw a bearded man crossing the dunes.

“Hello! Hello!” the boy shouted, and the man looked up.

“Hello, little boy! What are you doing way up in that tower?”

“My mother is hiding me here until I grow up.”

“That is a strange thing for a mother to do,” said the man. “What is your name?”

“Spinach.”

The man knew that there could only one child on the earth with a name like that. “Spinach! I am your father!” he shouted and started dancing around in the sand. Spinach didn’t know he had a father, and didn’t know if he even wanted one or not, but he liked this funny dancing desert man and he laughed so hard he almost fell out of the window.

“How can I get you down?” asked the funny man. “Is there a door?”

“There is no door,” said Spinach. “I can’t ever come down, nor can you come up.”

But this father didn’t travel all around the globe to be stopped by a mere tower. He started to climb. It took him all day, but finally, with bloody fingers and skinned knees he reached the top and dropped over the window sill.

“I’m glad you came, because I have been very lonely,” said the boy. “But now we are both stuck up here.”

“We’ll make do,” said his father. “We are together again, and that is all that matters.”

The father told Spinach the origin of his birth and Spinach was overjoyed to learn that the mean witch was not his real mother. This man was loads more fun than she was, and he never got mad at Spinach for making a mess or being too loud. Instead, they made messes together and were loud together. And every few days the witch would come and bring food and water which they always shared.

“Too bad we don’t have that rope,” said the father one day after the witch left, taking her rope with her.

“We have your beard,” said Spinach who was cleverer than his father. “If you don’t cut it, then someday we can use it as our rope.”

The father thought this was an excellent idea and was proud to have such an intelligent boy.

Over the course of the next few weeks the boy asked the witch for greater portions of food, and the witch obliged, knowing that if he was hungrier, he must be growing, and the sooner he grew the sooner she could use him as a proper apprentice. Meanwhile, the father told his son stories about his travels and the people he’d met. He taught his son to read and write and they sang songs together and created stories on the walls of the tower. On windy days they made kites and flew them out the window. They roasted marshmallows at the fireplace and told ghost stories. They had arm wrestling matches and jumping contests, and all the while the father’s beard grew and grew and grew.

On Spinach’s 15th birthday, they decided to make their escape. The father cut his beard and braided it into a strong rope. That night they tied the rope to the pully, climbed down, and silently slipped away under the desert stars.

The next day, when Yetzel came to bring food, she noticed a long rope coming down from the pulley. She climbed the rope and found the tower much different than when she left Spinach there 10 years before. There was a checkboard carved into the table. There were stories written on the walls. Most telling of all, there were pictures scrawled on the floor of a boy holding hands with a long-bearded man.

Yetzel was furious. Not because someone ran off with her boy that she didn’t particularly want, but because she had been fooled by a fool.

Spinach and his father located a nice place to live next to a blue lake where there was a good school that Spinach could attend. He was very bright and got along with his classmates well. He was so happy that he barely remembered the witch at all, and looked back at his time in the tower with his dad as a happy memory.

Then, one dark night there was a knock at the door. When they opened it, there stood Yetzel, holding a large staff, her bright black eyes blazing with anger.

“You rat!” she said, pointing to Spinach’s father. “How dare you steal away the child that I stole away from you! We made a deal, and you shall pay for this!” She pointed her staff at the man and it began to spark with magic blue light. But just as she began her incantation, Spinach grabbed a mirror from the wall to shield his father. The witch’s spell hit the mirror and bounced back at her. Spinach and his dad watched in astonishment as the witch’s body shriveled and shrank until all that was left of her was a large, black rat.

“Ahhh!” squeaked the rat. “You are more trouble than you are worth! Next time I shall steal a girl baby!!”

Spinach and his father lived happily together for a long time after that, and eventually Spinach got a good job working in the castle and married a lovely young woman. They had many children which made Spinach’s father a very joyful and content old man.

And they always had rat traps set.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Fairy Tales for Boys, Family Fun, Parenting, reading, writing

Coming Soon: Fairy Tales for Boys

SMP_5137If your family is like my family, you raided the town library as soon as you heard they were about to shut their doors. And, if your family is like my family, you’ve already read all of the books you checked out.

And we still have weeks to go.

Months, perhaps.

Whatever shall we do?

Well, I have a suprise for you.

First, some background: As much as I love all the girl-power movies and books, sometimes I feel like the boys are getting left behind. So a few weeks ago I wrote some fairy tales for my kids. I took stories like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Goldilocks, and I changed the main character from a girl to a boy.

You’ll be surprised how this small change can alter the entire plot of the story (no matter what people tell you, boys are different than girls). Each fairy tale hero uses the best of his masculine virtues to outwit foxes, outcompete wicked stepbrothers, outcast evil witches, and ultimately achieve his own happy ending . . . with as little kissing as possible.

Girls will love the stories, too, since there are plenty of strong female characters for them to identify with. (Psst: these make great bedtime stories.)

I will be publishing each story, serial-style, on my blog every other day, starting tomorrow. I hope they can be something you and your kiddos can look forward to during these strange and extrodinary times.

The first one is about a boy who was locked in a tower . . .

 

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under Fairy Tales for Boys, Family Fun, Parenting, writing

A Word You Never Forget

Today my son competed in the school spelling bee. Danny is an incredible speller, and the whole family was very excited for him. Even his older sisters ducked out of school, happy to receive tardy marks in exchange to watch their younger brother compete.

Dan and I worked for weeks on the spelling list, replacing sacred piano practice with spelling practice, and going over words like “gingerbread” and “menthol” over and over again. Danny, competative and confident by nature, was eager to study and excited to display his spelling prowess in front of his classmates and teachers.

IMG_6136

When I arrived at the school library, there were about twenty 4th graders, arranged in two rows on little wooden chairs, facing the proctor. The anxiety in the room was intense. Just before the bee started, six of them needed to use the bathroom and one said she had a migraine (but when questioned further, took a deep breath and said she felt confident she could carry on).

The bee began with the first boy who was asked to spell “chicken” and spelled it wrong. Most of the students did well, though, and they moved on to the second round. By the 5th round half of the students were out.

Danny breezed through the first 7 rounds.

But then, in the 8th round, he stumbled on the word “messenger.” He never missed that word in our practicing. As soon as he finished he knew exactly what he’d done wrong. I could see his face grow hot and red, and watched as the tears threatened.

It was a sad and uncomfortable moment for him, and instead of sitting with the other “defeated” students he came and sat by me, eager to vent his frustration in hushed whispers. (He’s always been a very verbal child.) I told him he did great, handed him a vitamin C lozenge, and told him to be quiet so that we didn’t disrupt the final spellers.

The champion word, the final word that the last boy spelled, was, anticlimactically,  “amino.” Danny looked at me with big, tragic eyes. It was word he knew.

When it was all over, Danny dispared about the paper certificate he received (who wants a certificate?! he says). Yet, he smiled like a champ for the group photo, and he went up to the winner and gave him a high five.

Someone told me once that you should pray for your children to have disappointments. Who came up with such a cruel idea? But over the years I see the wisdom in that advice, and I am grateful for these small disappointments, so that when they experience the inevitable, big disappointments, they’ve already had practice. How else do we learn grace, humilty, composure and resilience

I went up to the mother of the winner, congratulated her on what a fine job her son did, and asked her (with Danny listening at my side) how she prepared her son for the bee. She gave me some great tips, and as she turned away Danny muttered, “I’m going to beat him next year.”

I smiled. Maybe he will, and maybe he won’t. After all, that boy has won three years in a row now, setting a school record. I am confident, however, that Danny will never spell “messenger” wrong again. Just like my husband who will never misspell “walnut” (he spelled it wallnut) and my daughter who will never misspell “undertow” (she spelled it undertoe). You never forget the word that you missed in a school spelling bee.

At the dinner table we will laugh about it and commiserate, everyone will (once again) share their past spelling bee fumbles, and Danny will know he is in good company.

And tonight I will thank Heavenly Father for all the things Danny learned because he did not win.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Family Fun, Parenting

The Best Motel in Jackson Hole

IMG_4001[1]

If you travel to Jackson Hole, and you need a comfortable place to stay the night, look for a mountain that resembles a Native American chief, laying on his back with his arms folded across his chest. Now turn 180 degrees. You will be facing my family’s motel, located 1 mile north of Jackson Hole.

When I was 11 years old the Flat Creek Motel was built just down the hill from my house. I remember walking through one of the framed units with my dad. We leased the motel for a couple decades, but about 6 years ago the motel returned to our hands, and is now owned by my mom, my siblings and me.

The motel is rustic but comfortable, and every room has a view. (Besides having a spectacular perspective of Sleeping Indian and Snow King, it is also faces the largest elk refuge in the world).  My nieces and nephews change the sheets, clean the rooms, make promotional videos and run the desk. My brother works the web cams. My sister-in-law decorated the lobby. My other brother is one of our certified fuel tank operators, my sister does the bookkeeping and marketing. Another sister (and more nieces and nephews) writes blog posts. My brother-in-law manages the finances. My stepfather fixes electrical problems. Another sister does the flowers . . . This is all just a smidgen of the things my siblings do to make this motel a comfortable place to kick off your boots rest your head.

I don’t get to help out very much with the motel because I am the black sheep who moved to the East Coast, but I did create the logo and I print the business cards. (You can see the logo on Instagram @flatcreekinn.)

This summer we brought our kids out West to experience the motel for themselves.

I entered the lobby and was greeted warmly by a handsome young man . . .

IMG_4081[1]

. . . who happens to be my nephew. In the lobby there are photos of my dad, back when the property was a firework stand and gas station. There is also a jack-a-lope mounted on the wall. (Very rare.)

IMG_4083[1]

And check out the sweet, retro keys he gave me for my room. No flimsy credit card keys at this motel.

IMG_4075[1]

Our room was clean and warm. Our towels were folded into trumpeter swans. Our kitchenette was stocked with utensils and dishware, as well as a toaster, knives and whatever else we would need. (I’ve stayed in Airbnbs that were not as well equipped.) At 10 pm we realized we’d forgotten to get picnic supplies for our excursions the next day, but it was no problem because we found everything we needed at the motel’s convenience store. How cool is that?

I had the best night sleep I’ve had in a long time. Maybe it was because of the ultra-comfortable mattress I slept on. Or perhaps it was because I spent the whole day paddling a canoe in a glacier-fed, emerald-green lake at the foot of the Tetons.

IMG_4003[1]

Don’t hate me.

The next night I had an even better night sleep. Was it that fabulous mattress again? Was it listening to the sandhill crane out in the elk refuge? Or was it because we’d spent the day in Yellowstone checking out the bison and geysers?

IMG_4008[1]

Who knows? All I know is that I was sad to leave, and that I will definitely be back.

Thanks, Flat Creek Inn. #flatcreekinn #thatswy

To book your dream vacation to the Tetons click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Family Fun, Family History, Uncategorized

Without Fear There Are No Stories

IMG_9444

Four months ago we were driving up I-15 on our way to the Salt Lake City International Airport. We sold our house, gave away our cat, loaned out our dog, said goodbye to some of the dearest friends I have ever had, and now were heading to England with our five kids and 17 pieces of luggage.

And I felt like I was going to throw up.

To be honest, it wasn’t that we were moving to England that was causing me to be sick. It was the airplane ride across the Atlantic.

I hate flying, and the only way I can get myself on a plane is to remind myself that there are worse ways to die. I remember once flying across the country by myself and forcing myself to read a book so that I wouldn’t think about the plane engine catching fire and spinning out of control and crashing into Kansas. The book was called In the Garden of Beasts by Eric Larson. It is about Berlin, Germany in the years leading up to WWII. Halfway through the book I realized that dying on a plane crash would actually be a relatively pleasant way to go, and to this day I remind myself of that every time I board a plane.

When we arrived in Oxford there were a myriad of new things to worry about. Talking to people I didn’t know, figuring out how to get from point A to point B without getting lost or mugged or run over by double decker buses, and making sure my kids didn’t cross the road without looking both ways.

One thing was for certain: I would not ride a bike. It was far too dangerous. There is so much traffic, and the roads are cramped. So I spent the first couple weeks walking from the grocery store, to church, to the schools, and my feet were killing me. As I walked dozens of bikers would leisurely sail by and I gazed at them the way a man in a rowboat gazes at passing yachts. There would be a father on a tandem bike, his child peddling along behind him, or mothers who had sometimes up to four children chatting away happily in little rickshaw-like contraptions. Grannies passed me, with their big baskets and bells chiming and scarves flying. College students casually peddled down the road with ear buds in their ears and their hands in their pockets. The more I watched these people, the more archaic walking seemed. One day I walked by the train station and saw hundreds upon hundreds of bikes in a bike rack the size of four tennis courts. Surely, I thought, these people are no more intelligent or coordinated than I am. Finally I started to think that if all of those people can do it, so can I.

But what really drove me to get on a bike was laundry day.

The nearest laundromat is 2 miles away, and I had four loads of laundry. There was no way I could do this job on foot. So I loaded up a huge duffle bag and strapped it to my back, said a prayer, and that is how I started biking in Oxford.

And guess what? Biking is my favorite thing to do. I can’t even tell you how much I love riding my bike around Oxford. Many times I can get places faster than my friends who have cars. I create no pollution. I buy no gas. I know the quick routes and the scenic routes. I love biking along the canals where the swans and ducks swim along side the long canal boats. I love braving the roundabouts where I am the only bike and their are four cars. I don’t even mind carrying my bike up steps and bridges, since it makes me feel like an athlete. I have biked to all corners of Oxford, from the LDS church in the south, to JRR Tolkien’s grave in the north, to CS Lewis’ home in the east and of course, the laundromat and craft store in the west. I feel like I am ten years old again with the wind in my face, soaring like a bird.

We mustn’t be afraid. Seriously. We will all die some point anyway, and to not do something that we want to do simply because we are afraid ensures that we don’t even live. If I find that I am not doing something that I want to do simply because I am afraid than I make myself do it. (This is different than doing something I DON’T want to do. For instance, I am afraid to go sky diving, but I also do not want to do it, therefor I see no reason why I should. However, I do want to go to Australia someday, even though I am afraid to (plane ride), so I should just do it.)

This whole England experience has been a series of  stepping from one fear to another. Should I let my kids walk to the store by themselves? Should I let Dan ride his bike to school? Should Scott rent a car and drive on the left side of the road?

And should we ride with him?

If I had listened to that fear we would have missed out on the White Cliffs of Dover, Stonehenge, the Battle of Hastings, hiking in the Cotswolds and Tintern Abby in Wales. Those were some of our best memories. Scott turned out to be an absolutely brilliant driver, just like he is when he drives on the right side of the road. 😉

I remember walking my daughter to school one day and she confided to me how nervous she was to go on the school trip to Wales for a week. I told her I knew how she felt. But if we only did safe things we’d never have stories to tell.

Letting kids conquer their own fears and allowing them to be brave and successful is one of the most satisfying things about parenthood, and has been the best part of this trip to England. I could make a huge list of things my children have accomplished these past four months that they didn’t think they could do, but I won’t embarrass them. But I will say I am so proud of all of them, for they have done hard so beautifully, and now they have so many stories to tell!

 

4 Comments

Filed under Family Fun, Oxford, Parenting