This story is copyrighted by Rosemary Lake. All Rights Reserved.
The Once Upon a Time When the Princess(tm) series

 

The Never-Summer Mountain

Once there was a little girl named Lizette, who lived with her Grandfather, the Duke Ferdinand von Hapsburg, in a pleasant manor house at the foot of the great forested Never-Summer Mountain, whose top was covered with snow all year round. No one traveled up the mountain, because the forest was inhabited by rude giants. But neither did the giants bother the rich country of orchards below; perhaps from fear of the Norn, a strange old woman said to live on the mountain top and spin fates. So the people of the manor lived peacefully, and Lizette’s governess taught her painting and piano and herbalism and manners, and her Grandfather taught her romping and riding and forestry.

When it rained they romped indoors; and when it was fine weather, Grandfather took her out riding with him; and on each ride they visited all his orchards and woodlots to make sure that the men of the estate took only a few limbs from each tree for firewood and carpentry, never cutting enough to harm any one tree; for Grandfather had given strict orders to protect all plants and animals. "For every disease there is some herb to cure it," he always said. "Do not destroy any plant, however small, for someday we may find it of use."

Nevertheless, one day while Lizette and Grandfather were out riding round the estate, they found some workmen cutting down a great old apple tree. "Stop that at once!" shouted Grandfather, jumping off his horse and running toward the men. But just then the tree fell; and with a terrible crash it struck the good old man to the ground, where he lay unable to move.

The workmen would have run away, but Lizette shouted and made them come back and carry the old man home. There he lay in his bed for many days, while the finest doctors in the land came and went; but each day the old Duke grew weaker and more withered.

"What can I do?" Lizette asked. "There must be something I can do!"

This day's doctor smiled sadly. "Perhaps a golden apple of the Hesperide .... to keep these doctors away...."

"A golden apple of the what?" said Lizette, taking out her little notebook to write down the prescription.

The doctor laughed bitterly. "It is just an expression, a legend," he said. "Nay, just forget it, child, there is nothing you can do."

"But there must be some cure," Lizette said. "There must. Grandfather always says that for every disease, there is some herb to cure it." So she told all the servants and tenants to bring a sprig of every herb and plant that grew on the estate, and the herbalists tried them all as medicine for the old man (beginning, of course, with the bark and leaves and root of the very apple tree that had injured him).

But nothing helped. The various herbs did great things for the Duke's baldness and bunions. But nothing made him strong and well again, or even able to speak above a whisper. Lizette herself combed the woods and found many rare plants the others had overlooked, but none of those worked either. So every night, after encouraging the populace all day, Lizette hid under the covers and cried herself to sleep, quietly so no one would hear.

Then, in the middle of one night, Lizette awoke to the sound of wings and bird-claws and birds whistling "Mine! Mine!" on her windowsill. Three old bluejays had alighted there (looking rather misty in the bright moonlight) to talk together and share their news of the day.

The smallest jay began the talk by asking the others: "What did you see today, and what do you know?"

The largest jay said: "I flew to the top of the Never-Summer Mountain and saw there the Norn-Spinner who waits for a girl who will fetch the golden apple which will cure her grandsire."

The middle jay said: "I flew to the City of the Iron-Grubbing Giants, which the girl will have to pass through. But she can pass safely, if she will see no ugly, hear no ugly, and say no ugly."

The smallest jay said: "On the way up, this will be difficult. But on the way back, it will be easy."

Then the three jays flew away. But you may be sure that Lizette at once took out her notebook and wrote down their every word, and placed the notebook safely under her pillow.

*

Next morning Lizette woke before daylight. Before anyone else could wake up and stop her, she packed a lunch and took her warmest outdoor cloak and an old soft velvet cloak to wear inside it, and heavy snow boots. Leaving a note saying she was going camping, she saddled her horse, and rode northward up the narrow trail toward Never-Summer Mountain.

For many miles the trail wound uphill through pleasant woods, and all went well. Lizette found plenty of berries and greens to eat, and good pasture for her horse, and no one to ask where she was going.

The trail joined a road, which led up through a canyon, and the canyon became narrower and narrower, with steeper and steeper cliffs. Then, from ahead, came an ugly noise of clanging and shouting.

Beyond the next turn, blocking the whole canyon, was a great noisy ugly city with high iron walls. Before it lay a smoking iron-mine in a field of uprooted trees, which the giant miners had torn up in their search for iron nuggets. From the mine and the city came constant rough shouting in deep giant voices.

At once Lizette turned her horse into the bushes at the edges of the field, and hid there watching and listening for a long time to the talk of the giants hauling their nuggets on the road. Finally she said to the horse, "I do not think those giants are evil. I think they are just near-sighted and stupid. I think we can get through their city. Anyway, the bluejays thought we could...."

So she guided her horse out onto the road through the torn field. But the horse was used to the beauty of Grandfather's estate. He became more and more nervous as they went through the ugly field, with more and more of the ugly giants walking near them.

For a few minutes Lizette was able to reassure the horse and keep him going toward the city. But soon a giant bumped into them, sneezed, and cursed. The horse panicked. He bucked Lizette off and ran headlong back into the forest. Through a gap in the trees Lizette watched him gallop down the trail toward home.

Lizette sighed. She could hardly blame the poor horse. If only she could turn and go home too ... and find Grandfather well again ... instead of her having to walk on through this ugly place.....

She buried her head in her arms and cried and cried, till she forgot what she was crying about, and just rested in the beautiful darkness behind her eyelids. After she had rested a while she remembered the bluejays, so she pulled her cloak over her head so as not to see the ugly field all around her, and took out her notebook and looked at the jays’ words which she had written down.

These words stood out: ... see no ugly ... hear no ugly .... But how could that be possible, where there was nothing else but ugliness?

Just then, along came three giants driving a wagon full of carpets bound for the city. That gave Lizette an idea. If she hid under the carpets, she could not see the ugly field nor the ugly city, and no one could see her either. "May I have a ride?" she asked the giants.

"Duh" ... "Grrr" ... "All right," grunted the giants.

So Lizette got in the back of their wagon and hid under the carpets and shut her eyes, and the wagon carried her into the city. At the city gate the driver muttered an ugly password, and a guard let the wagon through. The ride was bumpy and dusty and dark, but she saw no ugly, and the carpets muffled the ugly noises of the city as well.

The wagon bumped along through rusty iron streets, then stopped; and the giants began unloading the carpets. "You will have to go out the gate by yourself," they said (though in rougher words). "Often the gatekeeper searches wagons as they leave, to make sure we are not smuggling something out."

Keeping her cloak over her head, Lizette thanked the giants and asked the way to the gate to the north.

"Just follow this street," they said.

Lizette peeked out of her cloak for a moment. The street was so crowded with dirty giants that she could see little else. The giants all seemed to be quarreling, using curses and rude catcalls. Some pigeons and sparrows were squawking and stealing crumbs in the gutters, but she saw no bluejays nor other wild forest birds. She wondered if the old jay might be visiting again today. But even if he were here somewhere, she’d been eavesdropping on the three jays’ talk in the first place....

Quickly Lizette stuffed cotton in her ears; then, with the cloak over her head and looking mostly at her own feet, she followed the street through the city till she came to the north gate.

There she found many giants standing in line to get out of the city, waiting to give their passwords to the gatekeeper. Lizette took her place in line and (taking some of the cotton out of one ear) listened to the giants ahead of her, but they were speaking words too ugly for Lizette to say or for me to write here. I cannot talk like that, she thought, so what shall I do?

Lizette could think of nothing. While the line slowly moved her forward, she tried to practice saying some ugly words, but her voice failed her. She had been too well brought up! If Grandfather were here, she thought, he would say that it was all my governess's fault for raising me to be so prim and proper! And at that memory she was so overcome with homesickness that she began to cry and sniffle, and then to sneeze.

Just then Lizette was pushed to the the front of the line!

"Speak a password and pass," said the bored giant.

"I - I cab nob!" Lizette sniffed.

"G’wan, midget, get out of here before I catch your cold!" the gatekeeper growled.

You may be sure Lizette darted through the gate before the gatekeeper could change his mind, and slipped away from the giants into another ugly field and hid behind the nearest brush pile. She could scarcely believe her luck! Beyond this torn and trampled field, she could see the outlet of the canyon, above which lay beautiful rolling meadows and green woodlands.

Quickly Lizette ran through the field (stumbling for she held her eyes nearly closed) and climbed to the beautiful smooth green country. There she opened her eyes and ran full speed for the nearest trees, and did not stop till she was deep in the forest, curled up in a mossy hollow tree on clean dry leaves, staring at a clump of beautiful scarlet toadstools, and taking great deep breaths of sweet forest air.

*

Next morning Lizette bathed in a clean creek, found some berries and nuts for breakfast, and climbed on up the mountainside.

All day she climbed, up to where the trees became smaller and smaller as the wind became colder and colder; and finally she came near to the smooth white snow that never melted, just as the sun was going down behind the peak of the Never-Summer Mountain.

"What am I to do now?" she thought, shivering, and consulted her notebook again, in the level red sunset light. See no ugly? Well, that was easy, all around were splendid mountains, and underfoot were beautiful lichened rocks, nothing to tread on anywhere but naked grandeur. Hear no ugly? Well, that was easy too; there was nothing to hear but the high cold wind and a few sweet birds. Say no ugly? Who'd want to, anyway?

But the bluejays had said nothing about exactly where to find the Norn-Spinner and the apples, much less shelter for the night. Looking around, she found a ring of sun-warmed rocks where the coney-rabbits dried their hay. There, wrapping the velvet cloak around her (it smelled like home and her governess's face powder), and laying the outdoor cloak over her for shelter, she lay down and slept.

*

Later the moon rose and Lizette came wide-awake. All around seemed to be dancing mist-clouds and dancing moonbeams. On the nearby snow-patches she could see moving patterns which looked like shadows of trees dancing in gentle breeze, although there were no trees here, nor any wind to feel.

Lizette could not go back to sleep, so she got up and continued climbing the mountain in the moonlight. The higher she went into the snows, the more tree-shadows and dancing moonbeams there seemed to be. Which was odd, because although there was a bright full moon, there were no clouds in the sky to break up the moonbeams and make them dance so.

Soon, walking over so many tree-shadows, Lizette could almost think she saw tree branches above her head as well – as long as she mostly looked down at the shadows dancing on the snow, instead of looking directly up to where the trees would have to be.

*

Finally Lizette came to the top of the Never-Summer Mountain. Here the moonlight was even brighter. When she looked above her head she could see misty silvery trees which were casting the moving shadows – wonderful big trees full of fruit and vines and birds, all crowded and dancing together.

In the midst of all the trees and vines stood one huge tree with apples which shone golden even in the moonlight. Under this tree sat an old woman with long white hair. She was spinning white flaxen thread, which ran from her spinning wheel down to a pile around her feet, then on down the slope, like a creek. The old woman put down her spindle and smiled kindly on Lizette.

Lizette curtsied. "Good evening, m'am. Are these the apples of the Hesperides?"

"Yes," said the old lady, who was the Norn-Spinner. "And of many other places as well."

Just the Hesperides will be enough, Lizette thought, but was too well bred to say it out loud. "Er, may I please have an apple?"

"No," said the old lady, "but you may have three. Provided you eat one of them right now, that is."

"Er, yes, m'am." Lizette reached out to the misty tree and plucked a misty gold apple. It felt very light in her hand, and biting it was like biting a meringue pastry.

But the apple had a wonderful sharp sweet taste.

Immediately, as soon as Lizette tasted the apple, the silvery misty trees all around became solid and brightly colored, and the moonlight became golden sunlight, and the air was warm and full of smells of peaches and strawberries and apples. And it was full of the sounds of warm summer wind, and rustling leaves, and soft birdsongs, and linnets’ wings. And the rest of the apple in Lizette’s hand was solid and bright and heavy as real gold (though still warm and good-smelling).

"Thank you so much!" Lizette said to the old woman. "Is there anything I may do for you?"

"Finish the apple," the old woman said, "and put the seeds in your pocket."

So Lizette did. Now the mountaintop was a hundred times more beautiful than before, and she could see and hear all sorts of animals frolicking in the branches, and birds singing loudly, and some bluejays chanting "mine, mine" much more musically than they did at the manor. She wondered if any of them had been among the three on her windowsill.

The rich plants grew in such a thicket that there seemed no way through, and scarcely room to stand. And they were still growing. Lizette tried to move aside for them, but there was no room to move to. "Never mind," said the old woman, "just walk around, and the plant people will make a path for you."

So Lizette took a step, and sure enough, everywhere she walked, the leaves folded themselves back into beautiful green buds, and the branches folded themselves back into green sprouts, and the oaks folded themselves back into acorns, and soft green grass sprang up for her to walk on, spangled with dandelions. But as soon as she had passed, the acorns unfolded to great oaks again, and the green sprouts to graceful branches, and the buds to beautiful green leaves; and the green grass and the dandelions folded back into the soft fragrant ground.

"Er, thank you," said Lizette. "But how can the plants do that?"

"It is always so," said the old woman. "Would you like to stay here with us?"

Lizette thought about it. She could scarcely remember why she needed to go back down the mountain.... "At home ... someone ... needs this apple.... Could I come back here later?"

"Nothing is more certain," said the old woman. And she gave Lizette a hug. "Now, do you not need some help for the journey back down?"

"Oh, yes... There was some problem...." Lizette tried to remember about the ugly city she had passed through on the journey; which seemed quite unreal now. But she still had the notebook where she had written the bluejays' words ... if she could remember what pocket it was in. Finally Lizette found the notebook, found the right page, shook out the carpet dust, and handed it to her..

"See no ugly ... hear no ugly.... Hm." The old woman reached into a sewing bag which Lizette had not seen before, and pulled out a scarf and a soft wide-brimmed hat, both woven of the sheerest white flax-thread, even finer then the stuff that was flowing from her wheel and down the mountain. "When you are in the torn field, wear the hat. When you are in the city, wear the scarf as well."

"Thank you very much, m'am," said Lizette. "And at the gate, when they want a password?"

The old woman looked round and whistled. A jaybird flew down from a pawpaw tree and lit on her shoulder. They whistled to each other for a minute; then old woman turned to Lizette. "You will not need magic for a password."

"But I was just lucky the first time--"

"Then earn more good luck." The old woman laughed. "Be generous. Feed the jaybirds."

"What--?"

"The jays will come and help you. But you may have to remind them with food." And she kissed Lizette again and sent her on her way.

*

By the time Lizette reached the lichen meadow, the sun was up and the rocks were warm. Lizette napped for a while and woke completely rested, though a little unsure what had and had not been a dream. The apples were still quite solid, anyway, and the scarf and hat as solid as they had ever been.

She made good time through the forest and by mid-afternoon she reached the ugly field north of the giants’ city. Let’s see, the old woman said to wear the hat in the field....

Lizette put on the big floppy near-transparent hat. Immediately she saw dancing tree-shadows around her feet, on the bare dirt of the field! Looking up, she could see all the beautiful trees and vines that used to grow here, and many more, palms and giant ferns that had not grown in this world for centuries. They were all twined and bowing in the warm wind, taking turns which unfolded themselves and then folded back up to make room for the next, just as they had done for her on the mountain. The giants and their carts of nuggets traveling through the field looked like shadows, moving through the dancing plants without disturbing them or even noticing them.

(The giants didn’t seem to notice her hat either; and when a giant walking through the field brushed against her, he went straight through the hat as though it were a shadow. But it still felt solid enough to her, or as solid as such a fine-woven thing could ever feel.)

When she approached the gate of the noisy town, Lizette shut her eyes and took off the hat long enough to put on the scarf. As soon as she had tied it tightly over her ears and around her head, the noise of the city changed. Some of the far-off rude shouts just sounded like bluejays crying "Mine, mine!", and others sounded like dogs barking, and the rude catcalls just sounded like polite meows. She put the hat back on and opened her eyes. With the brim down, she could scarcely see the gate for all the plants moving in front of it. So she tilted the hat till she could see the gate and road.

Again she caught a ride in a wagon to get through the gate into the city. Then she went her way on foot, making sure the scarf was tight around her ears and the hat low over her eyes. Now even in the city she could see the  tree-shadows around her feet and (when she looked up through the hatbrim) all the beautiful trees and vines and palms and giant ferns, just as in the empty field. And all sorts of wild forest birds and animals were leaping and frolicking in the trees as well, laughing down at the giants, to whom the playful creatures were all quite as invisible as the trees.

This was great fun! Lizette got through the town as though it were a game of blind-man's-buff, with all the giants blindfolded. When she got hungry, instead of joining a crowd of giants at a smoky sausage wagon, Lizette just turned aside and picked pawpaws and blueberries from dancing trees and bushes that only she could see. Luckily the fruits stayed invisible, even when she was eating them; but in her stomach they felt real and sweet enough.

Then she came to the south gate. Here there was no line of giants to push her through; this gate was closed and bolted, and a guard looking wide-awake stood by it. With all these sweet-smelling misty trees around she couldn’t sneeze, and who could cry with the golden apples of the Hesperides in her pocket?

Golden apples.... She remembered the words of the Norn-Spinner.... Be generous. Feed the jaybirds.

Sure enough, there was a flock of misty jaybirds high in a misty sycamore tree, far above the ground. The tree was swishing in a wind the giants could not feel, and the voices of the birds came only whispering down.

First Lizette tried picking some blueberries off a dancing misty bush and threw them up to the dancing misty birds, but the birds were not interested. Probably they had blueberries all the time anyway. So she took out the second golden apple, shielding it from the sight of the giants, and held it up where only the birds could see it.

The jays were very interested in this! The whole flock swirled down to her shoulders to peck at the apple. As they ate, luckily they stayed invisible, but their voices became stronger and stronger. Soon they were squabbling just like any jays, squawking "Mine! Mine!"

"All right, all right," growled the gatekeeper. "If you’re in such a hurry to get to the mine, go ahead!" And he opened the gate for her.

Lizette dashed out the south gate and across the ugly south field into the familiar woods, where she could see the path that led down the mountain toward home. And you may be sure that she did not dawdle her way along that path!

*

When finally she reached home, the whole estate was in a flurry of searching for her. "Lizette," said the governess, "where have you been, you little nuisance!" She hugged her hard. "We've been looking all over for you!"

"I got Grandfather an apple of the Hesperides, to keep the doctors away," said Lizette. And as soon as she got untangled from the hug, she ran up the stairs to Grandfather’s room and handed him the apple, saying, "Here is what the doctor said would cure you!"

Grandfather smiled sadly and said in a weak voice, "I wish it were that easy..." But to please her, he took a tiny bite of the apple.

Immediately, as soon as he tasted the apple, quick as wishing, Grandfather's voice grew strong and his legs grew stronger, till all over he was twice as strong as he had ever been in old times! And with a great shout he jumped out of bed and grabbed up Lizette and tossed her in his arms for joy.

Since one tiny bite of the apple had cured Grandfather, they gave the rest of the apple to the herbalists to study and make potions from. But Lizette put these seeds in her pocket along with the seeds of the apple she had eaten on top of the mountian. And you may be sure that at the first possible moment, she and Grandfather jumped on his horse and the two of them galloped about planting the seeds all over their own woodlands.

And what happened when those seeds grew, is another story....

 The End

[Protection of all herbs was a tradition of the von Hapsburgs; birds are often overheard giving useful information; and the golden apples really are from the Hesperides. The Norn, the magical old woman who spins the rope of fate, is Norse and usually has two or more sisters.– RL ]

 

This story is copyrighted by Rosemary Lake. All Rights Reserved.
The Once Upon a Time When the Princess(tm) series
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Rescued the Prince,
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Beat the Dragon
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Cast the Spell
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Got the Treasure

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