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

 

"And I Thank You, Too"

Once upon a time there was a poor miller, a widower, who had two children, a boy named John and a girl named Sara. One day the father grew ill, and, feeling his death close at hand, he called the children to him. "When I am dead," he said, "you will have to earn your living by minding the water-mill, for I have no other inheritance to give you."

"Please just give us your blessing," said John.

The father blessed them both, then closed his eyes and died.

For some time the children minded the mill: carrying grain into the millstone, repairing the mill-wheel, which was turned by the river, and delivering the flour to the village. Then the river began to dry up, and finally there was not enough water to turn the wheel. "We will just have to turn it by hand," said the boy.

All day they worked turning the wheel by hand, but produced only one sack of flour. Next morning the boy said to his little sister, "You carry the flour to the village, I will turn the wheel by myself. It is too hard work for you."

"It is too hard work for anybody!" said Sara. "There has got to be some easier way."

"Not in the real world," said her brother.

So Sara set out for the village, carrying the sack of flour. Along the way she heard a strange musical humming, and the voices of rough boys arguing. Glad for an excuse to put down the heavy sack, she left it on a clean rock by the roadside and went into the shady woods, following the sound.

Here were thick bushes, only just taller than her head; heavy with white flowers, forming a sort of maze. Sara wandered about, then came upon a path she had never seen before, which led in the direction of the strange humming.

Soon she came to a tall, smooth white stone wall, freshly painted with gleaming wet paint. A little further along she found a group of rough boys, carefully painting the wall, surrounded by a swarm of golden bees which flew round and round them on all sides. In a cage at the boys' feet was a beautiful white cat with a strange golden band round its neck.

As she came near she heard the boys saying: "We've got to get rid of it" ... "No, we don't dare" ... "Here, girl, do us a favor!"

"What favor?"

"Take this cat and get rid of it!"

"Very well," Sara said. "I will find it a good home."

The boys laughed. "Not very likely. Look at its neck."

Looking closely, she saw that the golden band round the cat's neck was made of many tiny live bees, petting each other's backs as they walked round and round. Other little bees were combing the cat's long white fur. "Where did you get it?" she asked.

"The Faery who rules this country told us to take care of it."

"Very well." Sara opened the cage and took the cat in her arms, being careful to avoid the bees. "I will take care of it myself. Thank you."

"Thank you, and good riddance!" said the boys.

The cat purred and settled onto Sara's shoulder. Now the bees were all swarming round and round Sara. Carefully she followed the wall back to the maze of bushes, where, much to her relief, the bees spread out and busied themselves with the flowers.

As she neared the road, the cat spoke: "Why go back to the hot and dusty? It is much nicer here."

"I have to take a sack of flour to market," said Sara.

But when they got back to the road, she found the sack empty. Ants were carrying the flour away in all directions. "Oh dear!" sighed Sara. "That was a whole day's work! What shall I tell my brother?"

"Let us go back to the cool woods," said the cat, "and consider it in comfort."

So they went back to the woods and sat down by a stream. Sara got a drink, then took off her shoes and dangled her feet, letting the stream wash them, while she told the cat the whole story.

"Let us explore the woods," said the cat, "and find some treasure of greater value than that flour."

"Treasure doesn't happen in the real world," laughed Sara.

"It would not take much to be greater value than flour," said the cat. "Let us look for some nuts or mushrooms or such."

So they went searching about, up cooler and prettier canyons, filled with lush green plants and bright flowers, higher and higher, till finally the way became very steep. "This is hard climbing," panted Sara.

The cat, who was riding on Sara's shoulder, yawned. "Why bother? Let us let someone thank us." She hummed to her bees, and they zoomed away in all directions. Soon three bees returned, hummed for them to follow, and led them into a bushy glen.

Just then there was a crashing in the bushes, and rough shouts: "Look, a stray horse!" ... "Grab him, grab him!"

A beautiful white horse plunged through the bushes and knelt at Sara's feet, whinnying, "Pllleeze hellllpp mmme!"

"He went that way! He went that way! Riderless horse, finders keepers!" cried the rough voices, coming closer.

"No, we must take him to the Baron! His orders, all stray white--"

Sara jumped on the horse and sat up as straight and calm as she could, just as a dozen soldiers surrounded them. She opened her mouth but no sound came, and she had no idea what to say anyway.

"I Thank You," spoke the cat in a grand voice, though she was pretending to be asleep on Sara's shoulder, "for herding My horse back to Me. Now begone, and I will speak well of you to the Baron."

While the men hesitated, with a great leap the horse bounded through them and galloped away, with Sara holding on tight to his mane, and the cat holding on tight to her shoulder; and so the soldiers were left arguing among themselves far behind.

"Thannnnkk youuuul!" said the horse, as soon as he stopped for breath. "Nowww, plllease, plllease, wwwould youu be so kinnd as to let me carry you up to the top of the mounntian, in case there are more of those sollldiers about?"

"But of course," said the cat graciously. "We will be happy to oblige you."

So they travelled up and up, sometimes walking and sometimes riding, into bright open country where there were still large patches of melting snow. When they reached the top, the horse said, "My home lies yonnnder. I thannnk you again, and farewelllll."

"Already? But you've never told us your story."

"I was on an errand for my Mmmmistress, and --" But just then they heard more soldiers approaching. "Best not linnnger here! Farrrrewellllll!" cried the horse, and galloped away along the ridge path straight up toward a slender marble temple against the sky.

"Let us leave those soldiers a false trail," said the cat. So Sara found a round rock and made false hoofmarks in the snow leading back down the ridge and into a ravine; then they climbed out over some rocks, and the cat brushed out all traces of their climb. "Let them look and look for us and the horse in the ravine," said the cat, "while we go over the ridge."

So they did, and on the far side they followed a pleasant green slope down to a lush valley with a broad river running through it. "This river will lead us back to your mill," said the cat, "and doubtless we will find some treasure along the way."

For a while the way was smooth and the bees much enjoyed themselves in the wide flowery meadow. Then the river broadened and the valley became a swamp, and soon Sara was quite lost in the maze of muddy paths and creeks. "This is getting awfully hard to walk through!" she panted.

The cat yawned. "Why bother? Let us let someone thank us." The cat hummed to her bees, and they zoomed away in all directions. Soon three bees returned and hummed for them to follow.

After a few minutes they came to a small lake, where willow trees hung all the way into the water, making a green-curtained swaying hiding place. Peeping inside, they saw a beautiful sight. It looked like a small empty boat bobbing on the water, just big enough for Sara.

But it was the strangest boat Sara had ever seen: it was round, and looked soft, and was as brightly white as fresh snow with the sun glinting off it. "How lovely!" Sara exclaimed.

"Thank you!" whispered the boat. "But please, not so loud."

"What!!!!?" Sara whispered.

"Shhh. I'm hiding. I'm not really a boat." The boat unfolded itself and turned out to be a white swan, with a big red spot on one w ing. "It's just a disguise."

"Er -- who are you hiding from?"

"The Baron's soldiers. They shot my wing, so I can't fly home. So I'm floating home, disguised as a boat. But I have to hide during the day, because if people saw an empty boat they would take it."

"Perhaps," yawned the cat, "we might do you a favor--?"

"Oh, would you?" said the swan. "Would you let me carry you downstream? I'd be so grateful."

So Sara and the cat climbed onto the swan's back and floated downstream. They floated night and day, getting news from the butterflies, hummingbirds, and tree shrews, so they could stop to sleep under willow branches whenever humans were about. Hanging from one tree was a silken sash, which they took and used for a mooring tie, so that the swan could sleep without being carried back into the current.

After three days, they came to the end of the swamp and floated out into a flooded valley. The water was so deep that Sara reached out and picked apples and peaches from the treetops as the 'boat' drifted by. The swan nibbled pale green pears still hanging on the trees. "Even easier than waiting for them to fall," she said.

By evening they had drifted halfway through the valley. Ahead the river passed between steep cliffs, and on the shore was a watchtower with sentries walking back and forth upon it. Hastily the swan found a hiding place in the tall rushes that lined the shore, and there they rested till it was fully dark, getting news from some lunar moths.

"Is it dark enough to just float on past, do you think?" Sara asked them.

The moths flew about, looking at the swan from different angles.

"It will not do," said one lunar moth. "She shines too brightly upon herself, she casts light for a shadow." For lunar moths tend to talk like that.

"I suppose," said Sara, "I could weave a coat of rushes for her, or cover her with mud or something. But it seems a pity."

The cat yawned. "Why bother? Just wait till the moon rises, and we can hide in its reflection."

So that is what they did. When the moon was well up and casting a bright path across the water, they made their way through the rushes to just the right place, then drifted out upon that path. There were a few bad moments when one sentry idly began throwing pebbles at the reflection, but the lunar moth hastily called a flock of mosquitos, who soon drove him indoors.

The moon path carried them out of sight of the sentries and past the cliffs, into another flooded vallley just like the last one. But at dawn they came to a grisly sight. A side river came steeply down from a mountain to the west, carrying bodies of dead animals: bats, toads, newts, and the like. "Ooh, what is this?" said Sara.

"Let the bees inquire," said the cat, and buzzed to them.

A few minutes later, the bees came back and told them: "That river comes from the Baron's castle. He is an evil sorcerer, and these are the remains of the animals he uses in his experiments."

Sara sighed. "I shall be glad to get back to our own shire."

But when they had drifted to the foot of this valley, they found a great pile of the same dead animals, which formed such a dam that it had caused to water to back up and flood the valleys; and the river-course ahead was dry.

"Oof," said Sara, wrinkling her nose. "No one would thank us for this problem!"

The cat yawned. "I will make some arrangement." She hummed to her bees, and two of them set off, one to the west and one to the east. "In the meantime, let us have lunch."

"Away from here!" said Sara.

The swan swam them back up to a clean creek coming from the east. From here they could just keep an eye on the dam, without actually smelling it. The swan moored herself to the middle branches of a tall walnut tree, and they waited in the shade, eating nuts with their lunch.

"I've heard of tree houses," said Sara, "but a tree boat is very strange."

"Especially a swan-boat," smiled the swan.

After quite a long time a bee returned from the west, followed by a whole cloud of bats, who began flying away with the dead animals. One bat flew to them and lit on the walnut tree. "I am the King of the Bats," he said. "Thank you for telling us about these bodies."

"And we thank you, too," said Sara. "But what do you want the bodies for?"

"Just today," he said, "we received a gift of a recipie for a very powerful healing potion, which can even restore dead animals. These bats were our relatives, so we are going to restore them." So the bats kept flying back and forth carrying bodies away till the dam was gone, and the river flowed again in its old course.

Sara untied the mooring sash and they drifted on downriver, now with a brisk current. After a pleasant day's journey, they came to a creek all full of reeds and waterlillies. "This is my home," said the swan. Suddenly she upended herself and poked under the water with her beak, nearly spilling Sara and the cat off her back. In a moment the swan came up, holding a dripping muddy bag. "Please take this, as a reward for helping me. Now farewell."

Inside the bag were twelve beautiful pearls.

"Thank you very much," said Sara. "But must you go so soon? I do wish you had told me your whole story...."

"She has told me not to speak of it, but since you have been so kind.... I was on an errand for my mistress, and--"

But just then they heard hoofbeats and soldiers' voices. The thick reeds parted for the swan, and she gllided away calling, "Best not linger here!" Sara caught just a glimpse of a terrace with white balustrades and children throwing bread-crumbs, before the reeds closed behind her.

"Let us leave those soldiers a false trail," said the cat. So Sara collected some white feathers out of the creek, and, after they had gone some distance in the woods, dropped the feathers one by one. After going further yet, they stopped to rest.

"I'll miss the swan," said Sara, hugging the cat and stroking her fur. "Are you on an errand for your mistress also?"

The cat yawned. "I am my own mistress, and I'll thank you--"

But just then the troop of soldiers happened by. Sara dove into the bushes, getting scratched all over, but the soldiers surrounded them. "Aha! We've had Reports of you!" they said, and bundled Sara and the cat each into a separate bag and carried them away.

Sara was put in a dark dungeon all alone. She hoped the cat was all right. The Baron brought his guards to her cell and said: "Off with her head! Three days hence, this girl is to be executed, in a public ceremony on the roof of my castle. Let that be a lesson to everyone!"

On the day of the execution, all the Baron's nobles gathered on the roof to watch, sitting in folding chairs under awnings made of bats' wings. The Baron's soldiers drove the rest of the citizens and slaves into the public square where they would have to watch it too. "Let this be a warning to you all!" the Baron intoned. "Trouble-makers are always caught, and--"

Three guards carried Sara up to the guillotine platform with her hands and feet tied. There, in an iron cage, sat the cat, washing its face.

"What are we going to do now?" Sara whispered.

The cat stretched and gave her biggest yawn ever. "Let us let a great many creatures thank us." She whispered to the bees, and one flew away west.

"--and suitably punished...." the Baron droned on and on, making a long speech. The sun sank lower. A cloud appeared on the western horizon.

The cloud grew; it got darker; it came closer, with a sound of flapping.

Then the air above them was full of bats, flying round and round like a tornado. Each bat was carrying a small white jar. One of them lit on Sara's shoulder, opened his jar, and spread white lotion on her scratches, which instantly healed. "It's from the new recipie," he said.

"Thank you," said Sara.

Five hundred bats zoomed down and began flying in tight conical formation above Sara's head and above the cat's cage.

High above them all, the King of the Bats squeaked: "Bombs away!"

Hundred of bats flew over, dropping jars of healing potion. Jars crashed all over the roof. The awnings came apart. The nobles scattered and jumped off the roof. The Baron hid under the platform. Only Sara and the cat were not hit, because the bats in conical formations steered aside every jar that came near them.

Jars crashed, broke, and white potion splashed all around. Where a drop touched a bat-wing of the awning, it instantly became a whole, healthy bat and flew up to join the others.

Another dozen bats flew down and untied Sara. Quickly she opened the cat's cage. "Now what?"

The cat squeaked at the bats.

A thousand bats zoomed down. Each, folding his wings and hanging upside-down, hooked his feet into the next bat's wingclaws, till they had formed themselves into a long rope of bats. Then, opening their wiings just enough to fly low and slow, the rope wove itself into a hammock, and squeaked.

"They're ready," the cat said.

Without giving herself time to worry, Sara sat down in the hammock. It mostly felt very soft and warm, just a little prickly in places.

The cat squeaked again.

Some bats opened the cat's cage and made a hammock for her too. Both hammocks took flight, suddenly becoming very drafty. Gently, the bat-hammocks lifted Sara and cat up into the center of the bat-tornado, then hovered there.

The other bats were still bombing the castle with jars of healing potion. The potion ran all over the castle roof, and down the stairs into the castle. It dripped from ceilings into the cages in the laboratory, and made the captive dogs and frogs so strong they burst open the doors and ran all over the castle, barking and jumping and knocking over tables and shelves and breaking all the Baron's bottles. Wierd evil potions dripped from tables and ran on the floor, smoking and hissing.

Wherever a stream of evil potion met a stream of the white healing potion, all the eyes of newts and hairs of dogs and other ingredients in the evil potion instantly became whole, healthy newts and dogs and other animals . Healed animals burst open every door and window of the castle and bounded out into the square, barking loud and fierce at the soldiers.

The soldiers ran away, and so did most of the citizens and the slaves; except for those who ran to meet the dogs, calling and hugging their own.

Healing potion began seeping into the cracks in the castle floor and walls. Where it touched tiny fossil creatures in the mortor, they all instantly became whole and healthy, and broke apart the mortor as they wiggled free.

The whole castle burst apart at its seams and collapsed into a heap of rubble!

As for the Baron, in the collapse he became entangled in his own guillotine, and it chopped off his head. When the people saw the head bouncing through the square, they began to cheer and cheer.

The cat yawned. "I think we have been sufficiently thanked."

"Where would you like to go now?" the bats asked Sara.

"Back home," Sara said. "And thank you very much."

"It is our pleasure," said the King of the Bats.

So the bat-hammocks flew Sara and the cat back home. They had a peaceful flight along above the river, which was now all full and strong again; and then the bats, not wanting to go too near the village, set them down in the forest and bade them farewell.

When Sara and the cat reached the mill, they found the wheel turning merrily and her brother taking his ease, while half a dozen new apprentices took care of the work; for as soon as the dam had been removed, the river had begun flowing twice as fast as before, and his business had immediately prospered. Sara told him the story and showed him the bag of pearls at once, and he was quite impressed. "But these pearls are all yours!" he said. "The mill is enough for me. And where is that excellent cat?"

Sara looked around, but the cat was nowhere to be found. "She has probably gone off to nap," said Sara. "And I could use some sleep myself...."

A few days later the two of them received an invitation to tea at the Palace, signed by the Faery Catriona, who ruled the whole country. "It is not for the likes of me," said her brother, "but you go, with my blessing."

So Sara went to the Palace alone, and was introduced to the Faery: a beautiful lady dressed all in white, with a golden necklace. The King of the Bats was there too, in human form, wearing a black tuxedo. "I have come to thank Her Highness for sending our people the recipie for the healing potion," he said.

The Faery took her guests into the flower garden, and golden bees began swarming around her.

"How is your cat?" said Sara. "May I see her?"

The Faery smiled. "Do you miss her?'

"Yes!"

Instantly the Faery transformed herself into cat form and licked Sara's hand. "I have missed you too!" she said.

Sara hugged her -- then patted her very respectfully. "But -- why did you go travelling with just me?"

The cat changed back halfway, becoming a beautiful cat-faced lady covered with white fur, and yawned. "I wanted to get rid of the Baron, but his spies were everywhere. Only my cat form could get into his shire. But I wanted a nice companion for the journey. With a nice lap and shoulder." She gave Sara a warm furry hug. "And there is one more favor you can give me now."

"With all my heart," said Sara.

"Will you come and live in my Palace to keep me company from now on?"

"I would love to!" Sara said. "Thank you."

"And I thank you, too," said the Faery Catriona. And, since John was quite comfortable in his mill and had no wish to leave it, she made him a generous allowance as well.

To share the palace with her and Sara, the Faery summoned the horse and the swan (whose wing was now fully healed), for the mountain temple and river villa were also her estates and she was their Mistress as well. And so they all lived together in ease and merriment ever after.

The End

All my own -- with bows to Puss In Boots and the Cabinet des Fees. --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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