The Third Lost Fairy Tale: The Song In The Woods

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written and illustrated by Adrienne Potter 

Copyright @ June 2002 by  Adrienne Potter

All rights reserved

This is the third in a series of fairy tales that have been lost for centures but have recently come to light:

Once upon a time there was a poor peasant girl named Gayla who had a beautiful voice.  Her singing brought to mind a gentle breeze lifting from a brook, or the first birds of Spring.  It carried your heart where it had always wanted to go, warmed it, and sent it back refreshed.  In the evening she would sing to her large family around the hearth fire of their humble cottage.  It was said that fairies followed the song of the heart and so it was that tiny flutterings appeared outside their cottage window, though no one ever saw them.

There were seven children: five sons, and two daughters named Gayla and Anabel, who was crippled from a long illness when there had been no money for a doctor or medicine.  The children didn't think about their poverty, for they could see the same sunset as the wealthy duke in the castle on the hill who owned the land they tilled.  They could see the same sunrise and feel the same fresh air as any lord or lady.   They all played in the nearby woods after the farm work was done, at games like Hide and Seek, or Kick the Stick.  Sometimes they pretended they were fierce warriors helping the King to save the Kingdom.  They didn't know that an actual battle was taking place at that very moment, for the very purpose they imagined.

One morning, a few hours after the noon sun, a loud knocking was heard at their door.  Quickly the mother went to open it.  The father, seeing there was some commotion, started in from the fields with his five sons.  The mother's eyes went wide as she opened the door to a group of the Duke's soldiers.  They thrust an eviction notice in her face and ordered the family to be out by sunset or face a jail sentence.  "But why?!" she stammered, red-faced.

"Orders of the duke, Ma'am.  These premises are needed for other purposes," a Captain told her roughly.  By then her husband had arrived and was handed the notice.  When he protested the Captain knocked him to the ground and threatened to carry him off to jail that very moment so he quickly shut his mouth.  The soldiers mounted their steeds and rode away.  There was no time for tears, no time for questions.  Quickly all the children were summoned and told to help pack their belongings.  They didn't have much so this was easily done, the difficult part being the rush to harvest what crops were already ripened. 

Well before sunset they had picked the last apple and placed it in a bushel in their cart, had baked the last loaf of bread for their travels, gathered the last blanket, and were on their way.  Other villagers tearfully bade them farewell, fearful that they would be next.

The family went deep into the woods, traveling for hours, and finally set up camp near a little brook.  They built a fire, cooked their dinner, and slept under the stars.  The children saw it as a wonderful adventure and a reprieve from their harsh farm duties.  The parents weren't quite that light-hearted, but they knew things could be worse, as they had been for their neighbors last year who were publicly flogged and imprisoned for not producing the required amount on their limited plot of land, a requirement that increased right at harvest time.

They built an earthen shed with branches and leaves for a roof and set up house in the forest.   The father brushed up on his fishing and hunting skills and taught his sons what he knew.  Gayla and Anabel helped their mother with spinning, weaving, basket-making, cooking, and gardening.  The tiny fairies lingered near them because they sang as they worked.

One day the daughter of the King who had gone to battle, Princess Eleanor, was riding through these very woods in a royal caravan.  She was returning from a visit with her aunt and uncle, the Duke and Duchess of a neighboring fiefdom.  The caravan stopped for water and she was allowed to refresh herself in the brook as the stewards watered the horses.  She didn't realize it but tiny fairies were subtly guiding her with tiny touches and pushes deeper into the woods.  Soon she heard a song floating through the leafy trees and stepped towards it.  Finding a path she continued through the bushes until she discovered Gayla and Anabel singing as they gathered berries in the woods.  Enchanted, she listened for a moment until they noticed her.  Startled, Gayla dropped her basket and Anabel stared.

"Are you a princess?" asked Gayla, noticing her exquisite clothing.  Eleanor nodded and explained who she was and why she was there.  She asked if they would accompany her to the castle and sing on the journey to ease the tedium.  Quickly they agreed and ran to ask their mother.  She allowed it, but told them to be home in two weeks.

They continued their journey in the royal carriage, singing, talking, and laughing.  They were excellent company for the tired, bored, and lonely princess.  At the castle they met her uncle who was her guardian since her father was away with his troops.  Her mother had died years before.  Gayla and Anabel took an instant dislike to the man, sensing he couldn't be trusted, but Eleanor seemed comfortable with him.  To Gayla he seemed too much like the duke who had evicted them.

The first week in the castle was magical.  Eleanor ordered some lovely dresses made for the two sisters and allowed them to choose some from her wardrobe until their new clothing was completed.  There were dinners every evening and Gayla entertained the guests.  The knights admired her from a distance and sent her flowers, for she was a pretty girl, as was the princess.  Anabel had her own special beauty, though she walked with a heavy limp.  All of the servants were helpful and polite and courtsied whenever they passed.

The second week tragic news came from the far off battlefield.  The King had been killed.  The kingdom went into mourning and Gayla sang woeful music in a sad voice.  Eleanor was distraught and Anabel tried to comfort her.  Eleanor's uncle, Lord Bulbashere, announced that he was now in charge.  Eleanor protested and ordered a letter delivered to her other uncle, but before it was sent Lord Bulbashere had her and the two sisters locked in a tower.  They languished there for days and heard from the servants who brought them food that the evil Lord now had control of the guards and the army.

"I never did like that man," Gayla told Eleanor.  "I never should have trusted him," she confided tearfully.  She was not only mourning her father, but also the loss of her freedom, her throne, her servants, and all her possessions.  Now all she had were Gayla and Anabel, the dress she was wearing, and what few things that were in her hands when she was forced up to the tower.

Meanwhile, a young knight who was actually a prince from a nearby country, went about the people looking for followers who would rebel against the cruel King.  He had been an ally of Eleanor's father and knew of the cruelties of Lord Bulbashere from refugees who fled into his kingdom to escape death or imprisonment.  He called himself Sir Gregory.  Word was passed to the King's spies and Gregory was banished from the country with his faithful page.  They were roughly deposited on the border and told never to return.

The Lords and Ladies of the court asked far too many questions about Eleanor, and Lord Bulbashere was worried that sympathy for the princess would threaten his position, so in the dead of the night he and some trusted cohorts removed them by force from the tower, covered their heads with cloaks, tied their hands, and threw them into a carriage.  The horses ran through the night for hours and finally stopped in a dark woods.  Lord Bulbashere and his men forced the three young ladies into a dark cave without food or water and covered the entrance with a huge stone, knowing they would starve to death.

By now the two weeks of the sisters' visit had ended and their mother anxiously awaited their return.  When they didn't come she sent her two eldest sons into the royal city to learn where they were.  They learned that the King was dead, Lord Bulbashere had usurped the throne, and their sisters had disappeared.  Sadly, they returned home with the terrible news.

Sir Gregory wandered through the woods for several days.  One day he shot a rabbit and skillfully roasted it over a fire.  As he sat eating it he thought he heard music.  He listened quietly, but the woods were silent.  A moment later he was certain he heard it again, and this time he rose to investigate.  The singing stopped again.  Tiny fairies gently guided him through the woods, the roasted rabbit in his hand.  Soon he was near the cave, and this time he heard it clearly coming from behind a large rock.  Using a strong tree branch he pushed the stone away and with great surprise looked into the astonished faces of the three young women, who were now faint with thirst and hunger. 

"We're saved!" cried Eleanor.  The knight shared his rabbit with them, gave them water, and listened to their tale of woe.  "Come with me to my kingdom and meet my father, and we'll see what he has to say about all this," said Gregory.  "Can we stop at our cottage first?" pleaded Gayla.  "I'm certain my family is in anguish over us."  Sir Gregory and Princess Eleanor agreed and the four set off towards the cottage in the woods.

The family was overjoyed to see them unharmed, and were warm hosts to the Princely Knight and the Princess, offering what little comforts they had and sharing the meal gladly.  After hearing the reason for their circumstances Sir Gregory invited the entire family to come to his kingdom, and they gladly accepted.  The next morning the whole group set off, and after journeying several days they arrived.  Sir Gregory's father welcomed the party and enlisted Gayla's brothers in his army, with promises of hefty rewards if they were successful.

Plans were made to go to battle.  Gayla and Anabel composed a battle hymn and began to sing it wherever they went.  Soon it became the anthem for the army and for the people, and the soldiers sang it as they prepared for war.  The song spread from village to village, over the border, and into Gayla's kingdom.  The words were:

We will make the people free, we are come to take the throne,

We fight for truth and justice, for Eleanor is come home.

As the army marched towards the royal palace of Eleanor the people shouted and cheered, overjoyed to know that their new Queen was alive, for Lord Bulbashere had told them she was dead and the kingdom was in mourning.   Tired of the tyranny of their false King, young men flocked to join the ranks of Prince Gregory and his army swelled.  They marched towards the castle, but fairies warned the Prince that treachery was ahead.  Spies had informed Bulbashere of the advancing army and his soldiers had prepared flaming arrows and boiling oil to throw down on them.  The bridge over the moat had been rigged to fall away into the water as soon as there was sufficient weight on it and hungry serpents hid quietly in the water beneath it.

Prince Gregory heeded the warning of the fairies and lay siege to the castle rather than attack it.  Nothing and no one was allowed in or out.  All food was confiscated.  He sent Gayla's brothers into the hills at Eleanor's suggestion and they found the source of the stream that supplied water to the castle.  They rerouted it into a nearby lake so the castle was without water, then camped in the hills to watch the movements of the evil Lord.

After a week Lord Bulbashere and his troops were out of food and water, for they depended on the surrounding farms for their food.  Finally the exited the castle  in desperation and the battle began.  Prince Gregory's troops fought fearlessly against the brash army of Bulbashere.  Prince Gregory himself was in the thick of the battle.  When it looked as if the freedom fighters were close to victory a loud noise was heard and soon a gigantic catapult could be seen advancing towards them.  Lord Bulbashere had planned well.  Soon fiery spheres were being hurled towards Prince Gregory's men.  They ran from the spots where the bombs were aimed and now there was mass confusion.  Gregory shouted for order, but as a ball landed next to the horse on which he was mounted he too was  forced to to move.

Anabel's brothers had heard the commotion and were descending from their camp in the hills above the castle.  When they saw the catapult, which was at the rear of Bulbashere's troops, the charged towards it.  One of them dipped his sword into a cauldron of tar he passed and then dipped it into a fire that burned to supply flames to the enemy's arrows.  They had not been spotted as they approached from the rear.  Quickly he rode to the catapult and threw his burning sword in the middle of it.  His brothers saw his plan and had done the same with their swords.  Now, the catapult was in flames.  

The brothers made quick work of the troops manning the weapon and then galloped at high speed to the side of the battlefield and forward to join their comrades.  In the confusion Eleanor, Gayla, and Anabel emerged from the woods where they had been hiding on their horses and began to sing the battle cry at the top of their voices.  As the sound rose above the fields the troops were inspired and returned to their posts just in time to witness the brave brothers' actions, and now they advanced towards the enemy, their courage renewed.  Lord Bulbashere's troops crumbled into chaos.  Soon Gregory's forces had overpowered those of Lord Bulbashere and the battle was over.  The evil Lord was banished, along with his faithless knights, and Eleanor was proclaimed the rightful Queen.  Those who surrendered were forced to turn in their weapons and swear allegiance to Eleanor, which they gladly did rather than face banishment.

Eleanor invited Gayla's family to the castle and appointed her father Duke of agriculture and  her mother a lady-in-waiting.  The five brothers were placed in the royal guard, with the eldest as captain.   Gayla was appointed the royal musician and Anabel was her assistant.  Eleanor and Gregory had been great admirers of one another and soon a courtship began in earnest, followed by a joyful wedding.  Gayla and Anabel were soon married to the twin sons of a loyal Lord, and the whole family lived happily ever after.

Authors note: A crumpled note was found with this manuscript which contained the words: "Rejected by publisher on the grounds that women should not be singing on the battlefield."

The End

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