“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.
“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.”
“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.
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!