Friday, December 07, 2012

How The Blue Lady Became - A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time a princess lived in a castle in a cold mountain land. The castle was very warm inside, but the princess longed to explore the beautiful mountains, even though everyone in the castle told her she would freeze to death if she went outside, as her mother the queen had done when she left the castle with a mysterious traveller one night so many years before. Yet every day, the princess would sit in the window of her tower and look at the long empty road that led away through the mountains into the lands beyond, and sing a song of longing.

One day as the princess was gazing out at the long road through the mountains, and singing her song of longing, she saw a traveller walking towards the castle. He sat under her window and listened to her song. Then, when she stopped singing, he went away. The princess was sad. The next day when she came to her window and began to sing her song of longing again, the traveller returned, and sat listening to her song. On the third day the same thing happened. But on the fourth day when the princess sang nobody came. Sad, she went down to the banqueting hall for the feast, only to find the traveller warming his hands by the hearth. Her father the king told her that he had found the traveller outside the castle walls while out hunting, and offered him a meal and a warm bed for the night.

The princess sat beside the traveller all night, listening to his tales of the lands over the mountains. The traveller was on his way to a magical island in a deep blue ocean, where it was always warm and where beautiful flowers grew, and every tree was heavy with fruit. The princess had never seen flowers or trees, or the ocean, and she longed to go with him. “Why don’t you?” asked the traveller. But the princess told him sadly that if she ever went outside the castle, she would freeze to death. “Oh no you won’t,” said the traveller, and told her he had a gift for her that would stop her from freezing. He showed her a beautiful fur coat. The princess tried it on and felt warm from head to toe. “What can I give you in exchange?” she asked the traveller. “Sing me a song,” he said. So she did. And that night, when everyone in the castle was fast asleep, she put on her new fur coat, and followed the traveller out of the castle and onto the long empty road. But in her fur coat she didn’t freeze. She didn’t feel the cold at all.

The princess and the traveller walked for many days and many nights, all the way through the mountains to the other side. Every day the princess saw marvellous things she never new existed, and every night she sang to the traveller as he built them a fire and cooked the food he had foraged and hunted along the road. Eventually they reached a deep dark forest and the princess was frightened, but the traveller held her hand and promised to keep her safe. As they walked through the forest they heard the crackle of branches as something came towards them. The traveller unsheathed his knife, but it was only an old lady in a long travelling cloak and hood. “I am all alone and the forest is a dangerous place,” she said. “Please may I travel with you?” But the traveller told the old lady to keep away and leave them alone. The princess was sad, but the traveller said he could only look after one other person, and the old lady would slow them down. He wanted to get to the magical island as quickly as he could.

As they travelled on, the forest got warmer and warmer, and became a jungle, and the princess became very hot in her fur coat. But the traveller wouldn’t let her leave it behind, because it was too precious, and one day she would want to return to her mountain homeland, and then she would need the coat again. So the princess struggled on, carrying the coat under her arm, but it became a heavier and heavier burden. One night as the traveller slept, the princess was woken by the sound of weeping. She followed the sound and found the old lady sitting crying in a small clearing nearby. The princess thought the old lady was crying because she had no food, so brought her some of the stew from their own stewpot. But the old lady said the real reason she was crying was because she was lonely. The princess felt ashamed that the traveller had turned the old lady away, and told her to travel with them to the magic warm island. But the old lady said she did not want to go to the magic warm island, she was tired of the heat. She wanted to go back to the beautiful icy mountains where she came from, but she was so old and so frail that she would freeze to death on the road before she ever reached the castle. So the princess gave the old lady her fur coat. The old lady thanked her for her kindness, with tears in her eyes. The princess slept soundly that night. The next morning she told the traveller nothing of what had happened the night before.

The next day the traveller and the princess reached the edge of the jungle and walked out onto a beach of golden sand. In front of them was a deep blue ocean, and rising out of the ocean was the magic island. They could just see tiny people waving to them on the shore. Eagerly the traveller threw off his clothes and waded into the water, ready to swim across. He held out his hand to the princess. But the princess would not follow him into the water. She had never seen water before and she was afraid. She could not swim. The traveller was impatient to reach the magic island, but he offered to teach the princess how to swim so she could come with him. The princess was afraid, but she followed the traveller into the water, because she had followed him all the way from her frozen homeland and he had kept her safe until then. The traveller held the princess up in the water and showed her how to move her arms and legs, but as soon as she let go she would sink under the water, again and again, and the traveller would have to pull her back to the surface, choking and gasping. All day he tried to teach her, until the princess was so tired and afraid of the water that she could bear no more. So the traveller helped her back to the shore, where she sat shivering on the beach, despite the heat. “Put on your fur coat and warm yourself,” said the traveller. But the princess told him she no longer had the fur coat, because she had given it to the old lady. Then the traveller was very angry. This is why he had sent the old lady away, because she was a trickster and a thief. The princess had concealed from the traveller that the old lady was following them, and the old lady had taken the most precious possession that the foolish, trusting princess owned. If the princess did not trust the traveller to look after her, and did not follow his lead, then he would not help her to reach the magic island. With that, the traveller dived into the sea, swimming to the magic island and leaving the princess behind.

The princess sat on the beach alone, watching the traveller swim away from her, while the tears ran down her cheeks. She sang again the song of longing she had sung before from the window of her castle room as she looked out over the long empty road into the mountains. Then the old lady came to her again, and wrapped the fur coat around the princess’s shoulders to stop her shivering. “Do you really want to reach the magic island?” asked the old lady. “More than anything in the world,” replied the princess. “Then,” said the old lady, “because you have given me a gift, I will give you a gift.” And the old lady gave the princess a jar of blue paste. “This paste is made from the shells of the creatures that live on the ocean floor,” she said. “I have been collecting them for many years, and for many years I have been crushing the shells to paste with my pestle and mortar, but now I have enough, I no longer want to reach the magic island.” “But what does the paste do?” asked the princess. “Cover your whole body with the paste,” said the old lady, “every inch of it. And the blue will protect you, so that you can walk right under the waves and into the water, without drowning.” “Oh thank you!” said the princess, reaching for the paste. But before the old lady would give the paste to the princess she had one more warning. “Once you have covered yourself with this paste, it will never wash off again. You will always be blue.” “What do I care what colour I am,” said the princess, “as long as I can get to the place I long to be more than anywhere else in the world?” So the old lady gave the princess the blue paste, and the princess gave the old lady back her fur coat once more, because now she was filled with hope again she had stopped shivering, and the two women said goodbye.

The princess covered herself in the blue paste from head to toe, and then she walked into the water. Sure enough, as soon as the waves closed over her head, the princess discovered she could still breathe, and she could see everything under the water too. The princess walked along the seabed towards the magic island, and along the way she travelled through the most beautiful world she had ever seen, full of sea anemones and brightly coloured fish. When she reached the island she walked out of the ocean onto the beach, and there, sitting on the shore, was the traveller. He was staring across the ocean to the beach where he had left her, and there were tears pouring down his cheeks. The princess walked over to the traveller. “It’s all right, I’m here,” she said. But when the traveller saw her he leapt away from her in horror. “It’s me,” she said, “the princess!” But the traveller said, “Get away from me, monster!” He did not recognise the princess. The princess thought of a way to show the traveller it was her, so she began to sing. But the traveller put his fingers in his ears. “Stop that ugly sound!” he shouted. “And get away from me!”

Heartbroken, the blue princess walked away from the traveller, through the flowers and the fruit trees of the magic island. But she didn’t see them, because her eyes were full of tears. The blue princess climbed to the top of a rock by the water and she sang her song of longing, as the tears fell down her face. But although the tears trickled down her skin, they didn’t wash off the blue, because the blue was there forever. The blue princess didn’t even try to rub the blue away, because she knew the old lady had been telling the truth. She would always be blue now. It was only when the sun had set and the princess climbed down from her rock that she discovered a crowd of island people gathered at the foot of the rock, all on their knees before her, and offering up trays laden with fruit and garlands of flowers. As she walked among them they lifted her up on their shoulders and hailed her as their blue goddess, who came to them from the ocean and healed their pain with her song.

The island people carried the princess to a beautiful garden palace full of flowers and fountains, music and joy, where everyone danced and laughed and feasted, and where she lived happily among them for many years. But sometimes the princess would dream about the frozen mountain land of her childhood, and as the years went by she began to long to return there. So sometimes the blue goddess would walk alone into the waves and gather tiny blue sea creatures from the ocean floor, then she would carry them back to her palace and crush the shells into a paste, until, after many years, she had a whole jar full of blue paste. Then she said goodbye to her people and walked into the waves, never to return.

When she reached the other shore, the blue princess concealed the colour of her skin beneath a cloak and hood, and walked into the forest. After a few days travel she met a man and a young woman travelling together. The man did not trust her and sent her away, but the woman was kind to her and offered her food, so the blue princess followed them, keeping out of sight. One night the blue princess found the woman crying by herself in a clearing. She asked her what was wrong and the young woman said that she wanted to reach the magic island, but she couldn’t swim. The blue princess offered the woman her jar of blue paste, and the young woman accepted it gratefully. In exchange she offered the blue princess her fur coat, so the blue princess could travel to the frozen mountains. Before the blue princess left the young woman she warned her that once she had covered herself in the blue paste, although she would be able to walk under water without drowning, she would be blue forever, and her companion might reject her. But the young woman smiled. “When you are a traveller,” she said, “everywhere you go and everyone you meet is strange and foreign. So you must accept them all. Or you will always be alone.”

So the blue princess put on the young woman’s fur coat and walked towards her frozen mountain home, knowing that her island people would soon meet their new blue goddess from the waves, and that waiting for her in a warm mountain castle far away was the old lady who had helped her so many years before, and who was also the blue queen, her mother.