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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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Chapter 6: The Boy and His Wicked Stepbrothers, Continued

Part 2

Douglas galloped his horse along the path to the palace. Every now and then he slowed to let the panting animal rest while he thumbed through the hairy godfather’s book. He recited several poems out loud, enjoying the rhythm and beauty of the words, and tried to commit them to memory. Then he spurred his steed onward.

By mid-morning he arrived at the palace and entered the tournament. All of the competitors lined up on a field facing the royal box in which the king, queen, and princess sat with their courtiers. As fate would have it, Douglas was positioned next to his two stepbrothers, but they did not recognize him.

The king stepped forward. “Thank you, gentlemen, for answering my invitation,” he announced. “This tournament is to determine which among you is most worthy for the princess. We shall begin with a hunt. You have two hours to slay something for tonight’s banquet. A variety of weapons will be provided, and you may use the weapon of your own choosing. You must bring your kill back to the place you are now standing, by your own strength, without the use of a horse, where it shall be judged.”

Everyone chose their weapons. Douglas chose a bow and arrows. The stepbrothers never had much luck shooting targets with arrows, so the eldest stepbrother chose a sword and the other selected a club.

“Are you ready?” shouted the king.

The men cheered.

“Then let the first challenge begin!” The trumpets blew and the men ran off into the king’s forest.

Once under the cover of the trees, the men immediately spread out, trying to isolate themselves from one another.

Douglas knew this would not be a difficult challenge for him, as he had to hunt nearly every other day to feed his hungry stepbrothers. He made his way deep into the wood, to a clearing where he knew he would find his prey. Sure enough, he came up on a small group of deer. Soundlessly he took an arrow from his quiver and shot the largest stag. He hoisted the body onto his shoulders and began the long walk back to the palace.

After a while he stopped to catch his breath. While resting he heard the sound of a turkey in the brush. He drew back his bow and shot it. Now he would have two offerings for the king’s table!

Carrying both animals, and feeling quite confident, he continued toward the castle when he heard a strange cry from a glen. He rounded the corner and found a most unusual sight.

It was old nun, laying in the grass, crying.

“Hallo, old Sister! Did you know that at this time the forest is filled with hunters and that you are in danger? You must leave at once.”

The nun reached out to him. “I would leave if I could, but I am caught in this trap.”

Douglas set down his quarry and approached her. Sure enough, her foot was crushed between the two jaws of a steel trap, and she was bleeding. Douglas knew he could get her foot out of the trap, but then what? He couldn’t leave an old nun to bleed to death in the forest. But he couldn’t carry his kills and the woman either.

“Don’t worry, Sister. I will bring you back to the palace, where they will take care of you,” he said as he freed her from the trap. He lifted her in his arms and left the stag and the turkey behind.

Douglas was the very last to arrive at the field. He was so tired and it took all his effort to get to his place in the line and carefully lower the woman to the ground. The people in the stands started to laugh. He looked up and down the line and he could see dead swans, deer, pheasants, turkeys and ducks . . . and Douglas had a nun. What would the judge think?

To make the situation even more embarrassing, he realized that the judge was none other than the princess herself. She walked down the line, noting each animal that was harvested. All those who had brought in small game or nothing at all were dismissed. When she came to Douglas, she folded her arms and frowned. “I am not sure what they do in your country, masked man, but in this kingdom, we do not eat old women. I hope you have a good explanation for this if you want to advance to the next challenge.”

Before Douglas could defend himself, the old woman clasped her hands and begged. “Please, Your Royal Highness, if it weren’t for this man I would have perished. He left two kills in the forest to bring me here. Please, let him remain in the tournament because of his good heart.”

The princess studied Douglas, pursed her rosy lips, and nodded. “Very well,” she said, and she moved on to Douglas’s stepbrother.

“What an impressive stag!” she exclaimed. “Truly, it is the most magnificent one I’ve seen today.”

With pride, Douglas’s stepbrother went into detail about how he had dropped out of a tree, landed on the back of the deer, and slit its throat.

“But,” said the princess, as her eyebrows knit together, “this deer has an arrow wound; not the wound of a sword.” Her eyes flicked to Douglas, and he swore he saw a small smile sneak out on her face.

“And this turkey!” she exclaimed, moving to the second stepbrother. “How did you kill such an incredibly monstrous turkey?”

“Oh, I shot him with an arrow,” he said. “See the arrow wound?”

“But where is your bow?” she said with a nod to his club.

“I—ah—I—”

“Oh, I’m sure you left it in the wood,” said the princess.

“Yes, yes. Yes, I did,” nodded the second brother with a red face. “Left it in the wood.”

The princess smiled. “In that case, congratulations. I look forward to seeing you both in the next round.”

As the royal servants gathered animals to be prepared for the feast, the men were escorted to the next challenge. There were fewer contenders now, since only half of them had made it through the first round.

The men were led into an arena where there was a huge pile of logs. “Your next challenge is one of strength and stamina. Each of you will be given a log, an ax, and a wagon. You must chop up the log into firewood as quickly as you can and load your wagon. Those who finish the task in under an hour will move on to the next round.”

Douglas grinned. Another easy task. A crowd of villagers gathered around the arena to watch. At the king’s command, each man raised his ax, and the race began.

Douglas brought his ax down against the tree, cutting into the trunk at an angle. He readjusted his grip, tilted his ax head slightly, struck again at the opposite angle and a huge chunk of wood broke off the log. He did this again and again, as wood flew off in every direction. Meanwhile, his stepbrothers struggled, laboriously hacking away at their logs and stopping often to stretch their backs, ask for water, and complain that their axes were dull.

“His ax must be sharper than everyone else’s,” the younger stepbrother said, pointing to the masked, mustachioed man.

Douglas stopped chopping, wiped his brow and held out his ax to the younger stepbrother. “I’ll trade you.”

The brother snatched the ax from Douglas and gave him his “dull” ax. They went back to chopping and the crowd cheered when Douglas chopped even faster than before. By the time Douglas filled the wagon, most of the men were still working on their logs. His stepbrothers barely finished in time to qualify for the next round.

Now there were only a dozen men left, and as the sun set the final challenge was still a mystery. They were sent to bathe in the royal bathhouse and then gathered in the castle for a magnificent feast. The tables were set with the roasted game that had been harvested that morning. Three roaring fireplaces, stocked with the wood that had been chopped that afternoon, blazed at one side of the room.

The king, queen, and princess sat at the head table and enjoyed watching the hungry men feast as they discussed their favorite contenders. Douglas thought he saw the princess look at him several times.

The king stood and raised his cup. “And now for the final challenge,” he announced, and the room hushed. “Your final task may be the most daunting of all. Servants, please clear the tables and remove them from the room!”

What could the final task be? The men whispered among themselves. Fencing? Boxing? Wrestling a wild boar?

The candelabras were lowered from the ceiling and lit. The king clapped his hands and lords dressed in fine silks and ladies in luscious gowns flooded into the room. An orchestra in the corner began playing a waltz.

“For the final challenge you will each have a turn to dance with the princess and impress her with your grace, wit, and charm. You will only have fifteen minutes.”

When the princess appeared, no eyes could look any place else but her lovely face and figure, and every man yearned for his chance to hold her in his arms. Douglas was glad he would finally have a moment alone with the princess to warn her about his brothers, but she was so beautiful that for the first time he dared to think what it might be like if he could win.

Some of the men proved to be quite graceful dancers and others not so much. To Doug’s dismay he observed that his stepbrothers excelled at dancing and led the princess effortlessly around the room. Douglas rubbed his sweating hands on his coat.

Finally, it was his turn. Taking a deep breath, he walked to the princess, bowed, and offered his hand. They began to dance, or at least, they tried to, for Douglas kept stepping on her toes.

“How about,” offered the princess, “if we modify our 15-minute dance into a 15-minute walk?”

Douglas blushed. “I would appreciate that.”

They left the ballroom and she took his arm as they strolled down the grand hallway.

“I will ask you the same question I ask all of the men,” she said. “What would make you a good husband and future king?”

Douglas said the first thing that came to his mind. “I am very good at washing dishes.”

The princess smiled. “Do you enjoy washing dishes?”

“Not particularly,” he said. “But I like it better than dancing.”

The princess laughed. “Then what do you like to do?”

“Read.”

The princess’s eyes lit up as if he had said a magic word. “Is that so?” With a furtive glance to the left and then to the right, she pulled him toward some large doors. “Come in here,” she whispered. When they entered, Douglas couldn’t believe what he saw.

“So many books!” he said.

“Yes. This is our library. It is my favorite place in the palace. I think we probably own every book that was ever printed.”

“Do you own this one?” Douglas said, pulling out the little book his hairy godfather gave him.

“I don’t think so. What is it about?”

“It is a book of poems. Here. Let me read one to you.”

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Syrena Dyreng

They sat before the fire and he recited his favorite to her.

“Oh, that is lovely!”

Douglas handed her the book. “If you like it that much, you can keep it.”

“Oh, no. I couldn’t take your book. You keep it, and maybe sometime we can read again together.”

“I would enjoy that very much,” said Douglas, “but I don’t know if we will have another chance. Here—” Douglas carefully tore out the page, “—you may have this page with the poem. Then you can read it whenever you want.”

“I will keep it forever,” she said. “You are so kind, even if you are a terrible dancer.”

“But an excellent dishwasher,” Doug said with a wink.

Just then the clock struck twelve and Douglas leaped to his feet. “My time is up! I’ve got to go!” he said.

The princess protested. “No, you don’t. We have at least four minutes left!”

“No, I’m so sorry, but I must go now!” And he fled from the room, as if he were being chased by a lion. He ran down the steps of the palace and demanded the reins to his horse from a startled servant.

The princess reached the top of the stairs, just as her mysterious suitor mounted his horse and galloped away. She held the page of poetry to her heart. “I will find you,” she whispered.

****

Halfway home Doug’s steed dissolved beneath him and he tumbled to the ground.

“Get off of me, you stupid, stupid boy!” said a voice underneath him. Douglas rolled off of the mound of rags and to his surprise he saw an old woman pushing herself up off the ground.

Douglas gazed at the woman, quite confused. “I thought you were a rat,” he said.

“I was a rat,” said the woman, looking at her hands and arms in glee. “But the curse has been lifted! I am me again! Ha!Ha!Ha!”

“I apologize,” said Douglas. “If I had known you were an old woman, I would have never ridden . . .” But the woman paid him no mind and hobbled away into the woods.

Douglas walked the rest of the way home, scratching his head and marveling. It was definitely a day for the journal. Competitions, nuns, dancing, talking rats . . . His mind kept returning again and again to the princess, and each time he found it difficult to suppress his smile. Then he stopped and smacked himself in the forehead when he realized he had forgotten the very reason he had entered the tournament in the first place. “I’m so stupid! I never warned her about my stepbrothers!”

The next morning Douglas woke up early, as usual, and chopped wood. He started the fires in his stepbrothers’ fireplaces, made them breakfast, and, since they were still asleep, carried it up to their rooms. He washed the dishes and then started on his other duties. By noon, his brothers were still asleep, so Douglas and his stepfather were the only ones there when the royal messenger appeared at the door.

Hear ye, hear ye! The king is pleased to announce that the tournament winner has been selected, and his name will be publicized in the very near future. On a completely unrelated matter, the princess lost a book that is special to her. She will be travelling the kingdom today to search for the book. Please make yourselves ready to receive her.

Douglas’s heart dropped. A winner had been decided? Did this mean it might have been one of his brothers? He wasn’t there at the end of the ball, and didn’t know what more had transpired since he had left.

Douglas’s stepfather stormed up the stairs, and Douglas heard him yell, “GET UP! GET UP, YOU WORTHLESS DOGS!”

The brothers stumbled out of bed, groaning. “I am so sore. I can hardly move my arms!”

“I feel like I’ve been trampled by elephants.”

“Listen,” said the stepfather. “Get yourselves dressed. Comb your hair. Gargle some water. The princess will be here soon, and you may still have a chance.”

Douglas, listening, realized that the winner must not have been announced last evening, and that any one of them could still be in the running. A grin crept onto his face.

The two brothers got moving. They hurried around their rooms trying to get ready and shouting demands to Douglas. “How come I have no clean clothes!? Where are my clean clothes, Dougie?”

“My breakfast is cold! Why is my breakfast cold, Dougie? I can’t marry the princess on an empty stomach!”

But Doug’s mind was elsewhere. Perhaps he was the winner. Why else would the princess be looking for that book? Afterall, he had been disguised, and he hadn’t given her his name, so she would have no way to trace him. But she was smart, and she probably knew that if she found the book she would find him . . .

“Why aren’t you helping me?!” Howled the younger stepbrother.

“Dougie, WHERE ARE YOU???”

The sound of the ax brought them all to the window. “Why is he chopping wood right now? The lazy good-for-nothing. We need him up here.”

But a thought occurred to the stepfather as he watched the fluid way his stepson swung the ax. “What about the masked man?” he mused. “He was excellent in all of the challenges.”

“Except dancing,” pointed out the elder stepbrother. “He was so terrible that he fled in embarrassment. There’s no way he could have won.”

“With all the balls that are thrown in this kingdom, it is unusual for a young man to not know how to dance. Unless . . .”

“Unless he had never been to a ball before,” said the eldest stepbrother.

Father and son looked at each other with knowing glances.

“Come, close, my sons,” said the father. “I have something I’d like you to do.”

Douglas was in the yard, repairing a wagon wheel when he first smelled smoke. When he finally turned to look, the barn, which sheltered the 245 books that he had saved from his father’s collection, was on fire. He dashed to the well, filled a bucket of water, ran to the barn, and hurled it at the flames. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed his stepfather and stepbrothers sitting on the steps of the house. “Hurry! We must put out the fire!” He ran back to the well, filled up the bucket again, ran toward the barn glancing again at his step family for help. He slowed to a stop. They had not moved an inch, and no concern showed on their face. They simply stared at him.

“Do you want the barn to burn?” he asked, incredulously.

The oldest brother spat.

Then Douglas understood. His jaw tightened and his fists clenched. He wanted to walk up to his brothers and punch each of them in the face. He was strong enough now that he knew he could beat them both together. But instead he walked to the fire, calmly tossed the bucket of water on the flames, dropped the bucket, and went back to the wagon wheel he was repairing.

When the barn was nothing but a skeleton of smoldering black boards, the princess’s carriage pulled up to the house. After she was welcomed warmly by Douglas’s stepfamily, she inquired if they had any books.

“We have no books,” said the stepfather. “But surely you remember my sons from yesterday. Did you notice how well they performed in the tournament? Did you notice their strength and stamina during the tasks and their grace while they danced?”

Politely she nodded and told them she did, but she needed to be on her way now. She glanced over at the young man working on a wagon wheel. “What about him? That boy over there? Does he have any books?”

The brothers laughed. “He can barely read!”

The princess started walking to the young man, but the brothers stood in her way. “He is just a hired servant.”

“And he smells.”

“And picks his nose.”

“Stand aside,” commanded the princess with such authority that the stepbrothers wilted.

“Young man,” she said.

Douglas stood and bowed.

“Do you know how to read?”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“Do you own any books?”

Douglas glanced wistfully at the smoking pile of ashes. “I did, once.”

The princess gazed at him in earnest. “Then you do not have the book in which this page fits?” she said, holding out the page before him.

“No, I do not, Your Highness,” he said, looking deep into her eyes with such a forlorn expression that it almost made the princess want to cry.

She turned and walked back to her carriage. Behind her she heard the soft words, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments. . .

She stopped.

Love is not love which alters when its alteration finds

She looked down at the page in her hands, following the words as they were spoken.

Or bends with the remover to remove. . .

            “Oh no, it is an ever-fixed mark.

            “That looks on tempests and is never shaken.”

“That is . . . my poem,” gasped the princess. “Father! I found him!”

Out of the carriage came the king, and everyone dropped to their knees. He walked to Douglas and said, “Rise, young man. You have just won the tournament.”

“What?!” Exclaimed the stepbrothers.

“The tournament was actually my idea,” said the princess. “I wanted to test your strength and skills, but I was also looking for kindness, honesty, compassion and humility.”

The elder stepbrother threw up his arms and yelled. “I can be kind!”

The younger said, “I can be humble! You just never gave us a chance!”

Douglas was taken to the palace right then and there (as he had no other place to sleep), and he and the princess spent the next few weeks reading together in the library. Soon after that they celebrated a glorious wedding. Together they ruled the people with such love and devotion that it began an era of peace that lasted over 200 years.

Meanwhile, his stepbrothers were sent to work in the royal kitchen where they became very good at washing dishes.

 

Stay tuned for the last chapter of Fairy Tales for Boys, coming Monday, April 13!

 

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Chapter 5: The Boy and the Three Bears

Once upon a time there was a boy who had everything he ever wanted and was consequently very spoiled and selfish. His name was Golden.

He lived as an only child at the edge of a wood, and he never did anything his mother asked him to do. When she said, “Wash the dishes,” he would go outside and play. When she said, “Clean up your dirty clothes,” he would fling them around the house. So, on the fateful day when his mother said, “Don’t ever go into the wood alone,” he decided to do just that.

Off he went into the forest, looking for excitement and adventure, kicking mushrooms and decapitating wildflowers as he walked. He didn’t see any wild animals except for an old, scruffy-looking black rat which he caught, swung by its tail, and threw into a bush.

Before long he came to a small house that was owned by three bears. The three bears had just left for a walk to let their porridge cool, and were not at home. The boy was curious about the house, as he didn’t think anyone lived in the woods. Plus, he was very hungry and forgot to bring a lunch. He knocked on the door but there was no answer, so of course he walked in.

To his delight, there on the table were three bowls of freshly made porridge! He tried the first bowl, but it was too hot. He tried the next bowl but it was too cold. He tried the last bowl and it was just right. He ate it all up, but he was still hungry, so he decided to mix the hot and cold bowls together and then it was just right, too, and so he ate everything until there was no porridge left.

He then found three chairs. One was too hard, one was too soft, and one was just right. He wasn’t one to just sit around in chairs all day, so he decided to make a fort and took the cushions off and tipped the chairs over and stacked them on top of each other. But playing in a fort all by yourself gets boring, so he decided to see what was upstairs.

There he found one large room with three beds and he started jumping from one to the other and had a wonderful time of it until he broke all three beds. Now that his fun was done and he didn’t know what to do, he decided it was time to leave and find some real wild animals instead of messing around in stranger’s homes. But as he went to leave through the front door, the three bears walked in.

“AAAAHHHH!!!” screamed the boy.

“AAAAHHHH!” screamed the bears.

Papa Bear caught Golden by his suspenders and held him in the air. “What are you doing in my house?” he roared.

“And what did you do to our living room?” demanded Mama Bear.

“And why did you eat all of our porridge?” yelled Papa Bear.

“And why did you break all of our beds?” cried Baby Bear.

Golden didn’t know what to say except, “I want my mommy!”

“You aren’t going anywhere until you clean up this mess!” said Mamma Bear.

She made him wash all of the dishes and cook new porridge for the bears. After he put the chairs in order and tidied up the living room, Papa Bear took him upstairs with a tool box and made him fix all the beds. Then he had to change and wash the sheets and re-make the beds so that the room looked even better than it did before he came.

After everything in the house was cleaned or repaired and the sun was beginning to set, the three bears walked him home (because you never know what wild animals you might come across in the forest) and handed him back to his very worried mother. They informed her that Golden was invited over anytime to have a playdate with Baby Bear, provided he minded his manners and didn’t destroy anything.

After that Golden always did what he was told, even if it was washing the dishes or picking up his clothes, and every Tuesday and Thursday he and Baby Bear got together and played for hours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

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