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

 

The Wicker House

Once, on a rocky cliff overhanging the northern sea, there lived an evil Wizard-King with only one little servant girl, for his harshness had driven all his other subjects away. The little girl, whose name was Anna, would have run away also, except that she had nowhere to go and the kingdom was all barren rock, without even roots and berries to eat. So she stayed, learning what bits of magic she could, in hope of either improving herself enough to please the King, or someday managing to escape.

One day Anna noticed a secret door in the central pillar of the castle, and opened it. Inside was a hollow shaft running from the top of the castle down into darkness, with a nice woodsy smell of roses drifting up.

"What are you doing!!" The King lunged toward her. "That place is forbidden!!"

Anna dodged, lost her balance, and fell down the shaft ... down and down and down.

In a way it was scary, falling down through darkness, and in a way it was peaceful. Then Anna landed in a pool of warm water that smelled like roses. When her eyes adjusted, she saw that she was in a dim cave lined with amethyst crystals, and there was only one way out: a tunnel with a faint green light at its far end.

She went along the tunnel, and finally came out into a beautiful small glade full of fruit trees. Here were more pools of warm scented water, and one big pool whose water was flowing round and round: a hollow whirlpool that led way down out of sight.

Anna ate her fill from the fruit trees, then explored. The glade was hidden high on a rugged slope, with nothing but steep bare rock and bitter winds around. 'Why go back to the castle?' she thought. 'I could just live here. No one could find me.'

So for a long time she lived all alone in the glade. Once, as she came out of the tunnel, she saw three people: an old lady, a woman, and a little girl. They had their aprons full of fruit, and as she watched, they all jumped into the whirlpool and disappeared. She wished to see them again, for they looked very nice, but never did; and so she stayed alone in peace and quiet.

But after a while the King missed his servant, and used his magic mirror to find where she had gone, and saw her in the glade eating fruit. Immediately the evil King sent a message to the next kingdom, which still had subjects, for some timbermen to come and cut the trees and destroy the glade. This they did that very night.

Next morning when Anna went out of the tunnel, she found nothing but bare rocks and smoking embers. All the pools were drained except for the whirlpool, and that was sinking fast. Soon only a tiny reflection deep below showed that there was any water at all. But the warm scent of roses was the same. Weeping desperately, Anna jumped into the pool, hoping there would still be water there by the time she reached the bottom.

Luckily there was. She landed in the water and it whirled her round and round, down and down, till finally she fell asleep.

Anna awoke on a warm grassy lawn, with three figures bending over her: the old lady, mother, and little girl that she had seen before. Lovingly they picked her up and carried her into a beautiful little house made all of wicker, through the kitchen, then up wicker stairs to a room with a pink fluffy bed. There she slept again.

Next morning she woke to find herself totally clean and wearing a pink gown. The floor was piled with white blossoms from an apple tree whose limbs stuck in through the open window, and bees were circling all round them, sailing in and out through the chinks in the wicker walls.

Anna ran barefooted down the clean wicker stairs. In the kitchen the woman gave her a bowl of strawberries and cream. The old lady said, "Welcome! Will you live with us? You can help us pick flowers, judge our pies, and test our featherbeds.." The little girl just smiled and hugged her.

Anna was too amazed to speak. She just nodded.

After breakfast the little girl took her out to pick flowers. "Don't pick the female flowers," she said. "We just pick the prettiest male flowers, and carry them around and sprinkle their gold dust on the prettiest female ones."

"Male flowers? How do you tell the difference?"

The little girl showed her, but I can't write it here, because this is a PG book.

So they dusted flowers for a while, then picked the nicest fruits they could find ("Get all different kinds," said the little girl. "Never any two the same!") and took them all home. The woman made a bouquet for the table and cut up the fruit, and the old lady, mixed spices and herbs; and all together they baked a dozen pies to test, not any two the same. "But they're all so good," said Anna, "how can I judge them!?"

"Just help yourself," said the old lady. "Then the Goddess will help you." Next day they all went looking for gooseberry bushes and picked new feathers for all the beds.

Looking around, Anna noticed many of the trees had several different kinds of flowers and fruit, all on the same tree at the same time. "Why is that?" she asked.

"All trees here are branches of the One Great Tree, named Yggrilla," they told her. "Some of its branches go under the ground."

And so they taught her many things about this pleasant place, and Anna lived there for what seemed like a long happy time, and grew strong and joyful.

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Now after a while the King began to wonder about his servant again. Spying through his magic mirror, he saw her in the beautiful country picking tulips.

Immediately the evil King sent a message to the Gnomes of Zurich: "Send me a ship full of Artificers, small time-pieces, and tiny scissors." As soon as the Gnomes received the message, thirteen Artificers set out in a rowing galley, following close along the coast, for their philosophers taught that just beyond the ocean fogbank was the edge of the world, where ships would fall off.

The Artificers moored their boat at the foot of the cliff just beneath the castle, and the King immediately put them to work.: "Make me a Clockwork Rat, with sharp scissors for its four feet as well as its teeth." As soon as the Rat was made, the King cast a spell which transported it to a cave deep below the wicker house, where grew the root of the One Great Tree Yggrilla; and the Rat at once began clipping the roots of the Tree.

After this, each tree that Anna touched began to wilt. "I am not good for the trees," Anna told the old lady. "You had better send me home."

"We'll soon get to the bottom of this," said the old lady when she had looked at the wilting trees. She marched back to the wicker house, raised a cellar door, and led Anna down between dirt walls; then they came out at the top of a wooden stair which spiralled round and round an enormous mossy tree trunk, that was everywhere green with new shoots. Vines and ferns, with their roots above, thickly hung from the dirt ceiling. "I smell a Rat somewhere...."

They climbed down and down, with Anna being very careful not to touch anything, till they came to the roots of the Tree. When the old lady saw the cut roots, she said, "Whoops, this is no natural rat!" And she took Anna back upstairs and made a list of special fruits and herbs. "Go and fetch these for me."

"Pick more fruits? But every tree I touch--"

"--Will be fine."

Next morning Anna went and picked all the herbs and fruits on the list. The trees shuddered as she did so, but wilted only the slightest bit.

The old lady took the herbs and fruits, mixed them into a pie, and put it in the oven. When it came out, there was nothing in the pan but three beans. "Take these beans," she told Anna, "and climb up to the glade. Plant them all together on the east bank of the warm pool you will find there. You must plant one at sunset, one when the Evening Star appears, and one at moonrise, with a moonbeam shining on the ground where you plant it."

"Is that all?"

"Yes. But, no matter what happens, while you are there you must speak no word, eat no food, and never turn aside nor stop."

"Do I have to go alone?" said Anna.

"I'm afraid so. We three are going to be putting something else in the oven...."

So Anna took the three beans and put on her bathing suit and went up alongside the whirlpool, till she reached the place where the glade had been. It was now all overgrown with thorny briers and brambles and bushes.

There she smelled warm rose-scent, and, following it, found a large, warm pool of water. She waited till the sun sank to the horizon, then planted the first bean on its east bank. A few minutes later the Evening Star came out, and she planted the second bean by the first; then she sat down to wait for moonrise.

Just then the King, who had happened to see her in his mirror, came running up through the bushes, crying: "Halt! You're Under Arrest!"

Anna dived deep into the middle of the warm pool.

The King stopped on the bank, afraid to come in. "Come out At Once," he commanded. "Hot baths are Dangerous. They rot the Moral Fibre."

Speak no word, the old lady had told her. Anna just sat in the water and said nothing.

The King shouted and commanded. Anna went on saying nothing.

The King started throwing rocks at her.

Anna ducked under water and laid low and held her breath. This was oddly easy; and, though it didn't seem a very long time, soon the King was shouting, "Come up, come up, you'll be no good to me drowned."

She waited till she really wanted another breath, then came up calmly.

Then the King waved his hands and cast a spell at her, but nothing happened. "Drat that water!" he muttered. Then he cast a spell on the bank. Two figures appeared: a man and woman who looked just like Anna's dead parents.

The figures began walking across the water toward her. "Come here, Anna darling, speak to us," they called.

Speak no word. Anna bit her tongue and did not speak.

Then the figure who looked like her mother said, "Oh, my dear child, do not be so unkind, ungrateful! Let me at least give you one gift. It is true I am but an illusion, but I come from your real mother, and she so much wants to give you something." A red pomegranate appeared in her hand. "Please just pretend to eat it, for her sake...."

Surely there could be no harm in that, thought Anna. And if her dead mother were somehow watching.... Tearfully Anna reached out and pretended to take the pomegranate, and to raise it to her lips....

Eat no food. She remembered the warning just in time, and jumped back and sat down on her hands in the mud. The illusions disappeared.

The King cursed, then said, "If I know these old fashioned spells, you're waiting for moonrise. I can wait too. When it rises, you'll have to come out to plant the last bean. That's when I'll get you." He flexed his large bare hands, then sat down to wait.

Anna was afraid he was right. He was sitting square on top of the first two beans, and she had to plant them all together. But she couldn't think of anything to do about it. Well, at least she could have a nice warm soak till the time came. Anna shut her eyes and lay back so that the water covered her ears, then opened her eyes just enough to watch the stars.

Finally the Moon rose. Anna got up, took a deep breath, and started toward it.

The King stood up, so tall that the Moon disappeared behind him, and flexed his muscles.

Never turn aside nor stop.

Anna could not stop. She kept walking in the direction of the Moon, as though the King were not there. He yelled something but her ears were still full of water.

Then Anna stepped on solid ground. A shaft of moonlight was shining between the King's feet.

'He'll kill me when I bend over,' she thought. 'But maybe I can get the bean planted first.' She dared not stop. She knelt and reached her hands into the wedge of moonlight. Warm rose-smelling water dripped from her hand onto the King's foot.

The King screamed and ran away, straight through the briars and the brambles and the bushes, leaving a piece of his clothing caught on every single thorn.

Anna bit her lip because laughing might count as talking and ruin the spell. Holding her breath she scratched the bean into the ground and patted mud over it. Then she ran back to the whirlpool, swam down and down, round and round, popped out the bottom into the strong woman's arms, and laughed and cried for an hour.

When she calmed down and told them the story, and they three all laughed and cried for three hours. Then the old lady said, "Whoops, I forgot the oven!"

They all ran inside. In the piepan this time was one big dry seed, just a little singed around the edges.

"That should do just fine," said the old lady. She took the seed outside and looked around the trees in the yard for a good place to put it. "Everything's so full already, we have got to get some of this stuff picked...." Finally she put it in a crotch of the old elm tree and stuck it in place with a hair-pin. "That ought to do it. Put on your coats and we'll go up and watch the show."

This time the old lady cast a spell that carried them quickly up through the whirlpool without anybody getting wet (though Anna's hair and bathing suit were still damp from the last time) and when they got there they spread out crocheted cushions on a big rock by on the bank of the warm pool. "Moonlight swimming is for young folks," the old lady said. "Now everybody sit close together over here on the inland side. Clouds, go away!"

The clouds went away. Anna looked for the beans she had planted. They had already grown as big as young trees, and were sending large roots into all the cracks around the pool.

While they watched, the roots grew and cracked the rocks open. All the water whooooshhhed down. "Foof," said the old lady, "that'll make a mess on the yard. I should have thought of that."

Now a new shoot was growing upward from below. When it got to the surface, it branched and matured into a tree, and each wet black branch bloomed different flowers, and then made different fruits: pomegranates, figs, and bright green pears. All this time the whole tree was growing bigger, though not taller. The top of the tree stayed level with the top of the pool, but the branches became as big around as a man's waist, and the fruits as big as a man's head; and still they kept growing.

The rock Anna and the others were sitting on began to quake, to shake. "Oh, all right, rock, if you're scared!" said the old lady, and witched the rock up in the air safely above everything, with all three of them still sitting on it. "We can see better from up here anyway."

The fruits grew as big as boulders, as houses, as barns. They split apart the pool, then the ravine. The earth trembled.

The evil castle on the cliff shook and rattled. The King's spells began to fail; and the clockwork Rat was magically whirled through earth, water, and air, to land back in the King's lap, all muddy. The King screamed and ran away again.

The fruits kept growing, each pear as big as a castle, then bigger yet, till they grew so big that they pushed the evil castle, cliff and all, into the sea.

As for the King, as the castle fell, he and the Gnome Artificers all leapt out the windows, followed by the clockwork Rat (still ticking), and rowed off in their boat. "Out to sea, out to sea!" commanded the King, cracking the bosun's whip. The Gnomes obeyed. The boat fell over the edge of the world, down and down, with the King still shouting commands and the Gnomes obeying, rowing madly in the air. And none of them were ever seen again.

"Well," said the old lady, brushing her hands together, "I guess the show's over." She witched the four of them straight back home. Sure enough, the whirlpool had made a muddy mess on the yard. "Oh, well," she said, "it was worth it."

After this, the kingdom above became warm and fertile again. The subjects returned, sent down gifts, and asked the old lady to be their queen. But she refused, saying she was too busy, and appointed a good couple from among the citizens to rule them instead.

All the trees which had begun to wilt put out new leaves and flowers and became twice as beautiful as before, and Anna and the others lived happily in the wicker house ever after.

The End

All mine, though a rat nibbling the roots of the World Tree is from Northern European myth. --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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