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There was once a couple who lived in a little house in the middle of the woods. They had five strong boys, who made their parents very proud, but they had no daughters, and for that they were sad.

One day, while washing clothes in the little stream which ran by their house, the mother began to cry, and a little bird flew down to sit on a branch.

“O mother,” said the bird, “Why do you cry?”

“O little bird,” she said, “I wish I had a daughter, a pretty little maid to fill our house with laughter and ribbons.”

And with a sigh, she went back to her washing.

“Give me a ribbon,” said the bird, “And I shall see what I can do.”

Further in the forest, the father was chopping down a tree, and he stopped to rest his axe and heaved a heavy sigh.

A squirrel ran up to his feet and looked up at him.

“O father,” said the squirrel, “Why do you sigh?”

“O little squirrel,” he said, “I wish I had a daughter; my sons are strong and brave, but I wish for a little maid to protect and love.”

“Leave that tree over there untouched for me,” said the squirrel, “And I shall see what I can do.”

Further yet into the forest, the five sons were collecting wood when a noise startled them, and they turned to see a great bear standing before them.

“O mother bear,” they said, afraid yet steadfast, “Why do you stand before us?”

“Your mother wishes for a daughter, a little maid, to fill your house with laughter,” said the bear.

“We know,” said the eldest son. “But there is nothing we can do.”

“Your father wishes for a daughter, a little maid, to protect and love,” said the bear.

“We know,” said the youngest son. “But there is nothing we can do.”

“I can give your parents what they want,” said the bear. “For a price.”

The sons looked at each other and nodded. “It is what our parents want more than anything,” they said. “What is the price?”

The bear looked at the eldest son. “From you,” she said, “The price is your golden hair.”

The eldest son looked sad, but nodded. “For a little sister, I will pay that price.”

The bear reached out with her sharp claws, and took off the eldest son’s hair close to the roots.

“From you, one of your blue eyes” she said to the second son, “And from you, one of your green eyes,” she said to the third.

They swallowed hard and nodded. “It is a hard price to pay, but for a little sister to please our parents we will pay it.”

The bear reached out with her sharp claws and one! two! swiped the eyes clean out of the boys’ heads.

“From you,” she said to the fourth son, “Your hearing.”

The boy nodded, and asked only for his brothers to all bid him farewell before it was taken. Then, with a swipe, the bear took his hearing away.

“And from you,” she said to the youngest son, “Your voice.”

The youngest son nodded, and spoke his last words. “That I will pay, for a little sister to please my parents.”

With a swipe and a roar, the bear took the boy’s voice and ran away into the trees.

The sons, forgetting the wood, raced through the forest back towards their little house. They found their father standing beside the tree he had felled and the eldest called out to him.

“O father, o father, hurry home, for our sister is waiting!”

Their father looked at them astonished, hardly recognising his eldest son without his golden hair, and startled by his two one-eyed sons, but the words struck home and he dropped his axe, racing with them through the trees.

They found their mother at the stream, and the second son called out to her.

“O mother, o mother, hurry home, for our sister is waiting!”

Astounded at their appearance, she dropped five shirts into the water and raced with them to their little house in the woods.

The door stood open, and in front of it stood the great bear. As they watched, the squirrel jumped out of the window and ran away, and the bird flew up out of the chimney and away into the sky.

“O bear,” said the mother. “O mother bear. Have you brought us a daughter, a little maid, to answer our prayers?”

The bear dropped to all fours with a great thump, and walked away without a word. Not a word was needed, however, as the sound of laughter rang out from the little house in the woods, and out ran a little golden-haired girl with one eye green and one eye blue. The five brothers ran to meet her, and her parents embraced her, and they all lived happily ever after in their little house in the middle of the woods.

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: I felt like writing a fairytale this week!)

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