Sunday, April 25, 2021

The White Bird

A modern, yet timeless fairy tale...



      Once there was a Princess who thought too highly of herself. 

     Her mother, the Queen, had adored her little girl—her first child—whom she called “Rosabel”, after the hundreds of perfect rosebuds the King had brought to her at the child’s birth.

     The Queen was a gentle and loving woman, and planned to raise her daughter to be generous, good, and humble, as befits a princess. Unfortunately, she died before Rosabel was a year old. Although her father, the King, was an intelligent and effective ruler, he had no idea how to raise a child. In addition, he had a barely-realized fear of also losing his little daughter, the only reminder of his beloved wife. Rosabel was indulged in every way, therefore, and allowed to have anything she wanted, no matter how foolish or selfish. As a result, she grew to be a self-centered, headstrong, spoiled young lady, as could have been predicted by anyone with an ounce of sense. But there was no one to prevent it from happening, so the Princess grew more and more difficult and contrary as the years passed by. Nothing was good enough for her: food, clothing, entertainments, her father’s regard, the courtiers’ deference, the people’s respect—even the daily weather always fell short. She was never satisfied with anything.

      When she came to marriageable age, her father despaired of finding a suitor who would be acceptable to her, his only child. She found something objectionable about each one: they were all too short, too fat, too plain, too ugly, too rude, too boring, too anything else that occurred to her. The king, who wanted grandchildren to enjoy in his old age, became more and more annoyed as time went by.

     One day, as the Princess amused herself by doing nothing useful at all, she became drowsy and lay down to sleep. As she slept, she dreamed—and in her dream, a figure surrounded by shimmering light came walking toward her from a long distance away. As the person drew closer, the Princess’ dreaming heart began to beat faster. It was a man, but a man like none she had ever seen before. This man did not approach with arrogant pride or fawning servility, as had the myriads of suitors she had rejected. This man walked in calm strength, sure of himself, with clear eyes and a noble face. The Princess trembled a little at his approach, sensing for the first time in her life that she herself might be judged. It was a completely unfamiliar feeling for her.

     The man came as close as a few arms’ lengths, and there stopped. The bright light faded until it was just barely there. He looked at Rosabel with steady, measuring eyes, eyes that held a mixture of pity, love, and regret. The Princess, usually never at a loss for words, even in her sleep, was struck with silence. She could only look at the man, waiting for him to speak.

     Which he did. “I came to ask you to be my wife,” he said, while gazing directly at her, “but the time is not right.”

     Rosabel’s heart, which had leaped at his first words, now sank within her. “Not right?” she said, stretching out her arms to him. “Why isn’t it right? I will go anywhere with you!”

     The man repeated sadly, “The time is not right. I am under an enchantment which I cannot explain, and you are not ready. I must leave now.”

     A sharp pain, such as she had never felt before, shot through the Princess. “Please don’t go!” she pleaded, as dream tears gathered in her eyes and fell to the ground.

     “I will not leave you completely alone,” he said and turned to the side, raising his hand into the air. As Rosabel watched, a small white bird appeared and landed on his finger. He gently lowered the bird, smiled at it, and then held it out to her. “This bird carries my love for you, and will always be with you; it will also bring you your greatest desire in an hour of need. But guard it well—if you lose it, you lose me.”

     The Princess held out her hand toward him; the bird flew the short distance between them and settled upon her finger. She drew her hand back and looked for a moment at the little bird. When she looked up again, she saw that the man had turned and was walking away from her. Sorrowfully and silently, she watched him until he vanished in the shimmering veil.

     When she awoke from her dream, the bird was resting beside her. 

*****

     From that moment, Rosabel and the little bird were never apart. She carried it, cherished it, it was her constant companion. Every time she looked at it, she remembered the man’s gesture as he held out his hand to her—the movement of the bird from his hand to hers was a bridge linking them together. “It will bring you your greatest desire,” she recalled, and indeed it seemed to do that. Because it was a gift of his love, she felt him always with her whenever the little bird was close by. When she was awake, she thought of him; when she was asleep, she dreamed of him. My love will always be with you”—the bird’s constant presence was a guarantee of that promise.

     Because of this, the Princess became totally self-absorbed, and was more thoughtless and dismissive of others than ever before. She now cared nothing for everyone and everything around her. She refused to even see the suitors who came to the kingdom, seeking her hand. The King finally lost all patience with her. As he actually did have some wisdom—in everything other than child-rearing—he saw that continuing to present suitors to her was a complete waste of time. He determined to teach his daughter a lesson, one way or another; he soon came up with a hastily-conceived, drastic plan to force her obedience.

     One late afternoon he put his plan into action. Calling Rosabel to him in front of the assembled court, he formally banished her from his presence and commanded her to leave until she had come to her senses and agreed to choose a husband. The Princess looked at him blankly, not comprehending what he had just said, until two guards appeared and grasped her by her elbows. Gently, but firmly, they escorted her to the main entrance to the castle, thrust her through it, and barred the doors behind her.

     For a shocked moment she stood immobile. Then she remembered her dream lover’s words: “…if you lose it you lose me.”  “My little bird!” she shrieked, whirling around and pounding at the barred castle doors like a madwoman. It did no good, of course but she kept at it until she heard a soft sound overhead. The Princess looked up and saw something high in the sky. As joy filled her heart, she turned away from the gate, raising her hand into the air. The small white bird descended and landed upon her finger.

     Rosabel drew her hand close to her cheek and closed her eyes, feeling the light touch of the bird’s warm, feathery body against her skin. For a moment she thought of her dream lover—and in that instant, she saw his face in her mind. With a challenging look, he spoke to her: “If you journey, you will find me.” And then his image faded away.

     Journey? What did he mean? The Princess had never set foot beyond the royal quarters in her life, and now she was outside the castle walls. Where should she journey?

     With the bird perched on her arm, she looked around, seeing the city at close quarters for the first time ever.

There were buildings of all types, small ones crowding against one another and larger ones standing proudly on their own. She knew she could not stay where she was—it was getting a little chilly and there was no shelter—but she had no idea where to go. Rosabel turned to look back at the castle doors, but they remained adamantly closed. She knew there was no use trying them again. She might not have paid much attention to her father all these years, but her own stubbornness recognized his. He would keep his vow, but she was not going to bend to his will!

   After examining the nearby buildings, she decided to go to the biggest and most imposing one. Surely that would belong to one of her father’s noblemen; surely there they would help her. She walked up to the gate in the fence and pushed it open. Across a cobbled yard, there was a door in a stone wall, with a bell-pull beside it. The Princess went to the door and rang for admittance. Then she stepped back and waited expectantly.

     After a few moments, there was a sound behind the door, and then it opened. A man dressed in livery looked out at her. “What do you want?” he asked abruptly.

     She looked at him haughtily. “I am the Princess! I need food and lodging. Let me in!”

     The man looked her over, top to toe, and then said sarcastically, “The real Princess never leaves the castle. She has nothing to do with us—although I will say, the way you talk sounds just like her. Now get out of here,” and he shut the door in her face. 

     In disbelief, the Princess walked out through the gate in the fence and continued down the road. How dare he? she thought, letting her temper flare. No one had ever defied her before—and now, in less than an hour, both her father and an ill-mannered servant had done so! Her anger accompanied her to the next large house, where she again demanded admittance. This time, there was no conversation—only the echo of a slammed door ringing in her ears. “I will have my father, the King, put you in his dungeon for this!” she shouted, and then paused. Well … maybe that isn’t going to happen, she thought, remembering her father’s last words to her.

     Not giving up, she continued asking for food and lodging over and over until she had made her way far down into the town. The houses became smaller and less elegant, but the results were the same: sarcastic laughter or doors slammed in her face.

     It grew later in the day; the shadows lengthened as the sun moved lower in the sky. Rosabel started to feel quite cold and hungry, and her feet began to hurt. Is there no place anywhere for me to stay? she wondered uneasily. She looked at the white bird on her arm, but it only rested there quietly. “Help me find somewhere to stay and something to eat!” she asked it, remembering her dream lover’s promise about “greatest desire”—but the bird did nothing. Could there ever be anything I’d want more? she asked herself.

     The next house she approached looked a little more promising. There was a very young girl, not much more than a child, sweeping the front doorstep. The Princess came up to her and repeated her demands. The young girl’s eyes opened wide, her jaw dropped, and she said, “Princess?” in disbelief. Suddenly a loud voice was heard from the window overhead. An older woman leaned out and shouted to the girl below. “Bay? Bay! Why have you stopped working? Who are you talking to down there?”

     The girl called up to her, “Ma’am, it’s—it’s a lady. She’s hungry and wants to come in. It’s Princess Rosabel!”

     “Oh, the Princess, is it? Hungry, and wants to come into my house? Wait, I think I might have something for her.” The woman withdrew her head. A few moments later, a bucketful of water was thrown from above. It just missed completely drenching the Princess, but water splashed all over her. The young girl, who had drawn back quickly, put her hand over her mouth in dismay. The bird fluttered out of the way just in time, but soon returned to its usual perch. 

     The Princess had never been so outraged in all her life. In fact, she was so angry that there were no words and she shook all over—and then suddenly, her anger broke through into utter despair. She looked at the young girl for a moment, and then her eyes closed as her shoulders slumped in defeat. She turned and started to walk away.

     “Princess, don’t go!” a voice called after her. She looked and saw the girl running up to her. In a moment, the girl had pulled off her shawl and handed it to her. “I’m sorry you got all wet,” she said, and then: “Wait here …” and she darted inside the house. 

     Rosabel wrapped the thin brown shawl around herself and stood shivering in the street. Before she could collect her thoughts, the girl ran back, holding out a small bundle. “Here’s some food for you. Please take it!” and then she hurried back inside.

     As she walked away from the house, the Princess opened the little bundle. Inside were a few small pieces of bread and a bruised apple. She almost threw it away in disgust until she realized that this might be the only food she’d have this evening—or in the foreseeable future, for that matter. She fed some bread to the little bird and then ate the rest.

     By this time, she had reached the city walls. Through a still-open gate, she could see the wooded countryside beyond, dim and forbidding in the fading light. The thought of venturing into that complete unknown was beyond her comprehension. 

     Off to the side of the gate was a stable; its open door beckoned. I almost forgot what an open door looks like, she thought bitterly as she went inside. The smell of horse manure nearly knocked her over, but by this time the need for shelter and warmth of any kind outweighed everything else. She saw a ladder leading upward. Climbing it, she found herself in a small loft partly filled with hay. With the memory of a pathetically inadequate meal inside her, and with a damp, threadbare shawl wrapped around her, she made a hollow in the hay and lay down.

     The bird rested on the hay beside her.  As she looked at it, a voice echoed in her ears: “If you journey, you will find me.” But where could she go? How would she survive? She had nothing. The bird nestled closer and pecked gently at her cheek. Rosabel thought of her dream lover, and slowly began to let go of her fears. She reassured herself that if there was real danger, he would surely appear to save her! His love was with her always; hadn’t he promised that?

     As Rosabel lay thinking, she heard a noise in the stable below. She didn’t know what it was, so she stayed completely still and listened carefully. It slowly dawned on her that it was the sound of someone crying. Cautiously she raised her head and sat up quietly—just as she heard someone climbing up the ladder.

     The crying drew nearer. She watched, frozen in apprehension, as a figure appeared. As it turned and stepped off the ladder into the loft, Rosabel recognized the young girl from the last house, the one who had given her the shawl and the food. She had a small bag slung over her shoulder and her face was streaked with tears. As the girl raised her eyes, she saw that she was not alone—and then said, “Oh, Princess! I didn’t know you were here! I’m sorry for intruding.” She wiped off the tears with the back of her hand. 

     “Why have you come here?” asked the Princess. “Why aren’t you still at that house?”

     “She sent me away,” the girl replied. “She said I stole things. But I didn’t steal anything! It was my shawl and my dinner that I gave you! I only took what was my own. But she didn’t believe me.”

     Rosabel sat quietly, unable to respond to that, and then asked, “That woman—she called you ‘Bay’. Is that really your name?”

     The girl blushed slightly, “No, my mother named me Beata. ‘Bay-ah-tah,’” she repeated slowly. “She said they chose that name because I made them happy. The woman I worked for said it was too fancy a name for me, so she only ever called me ‘Bay’. I like my real name better.”

     “Beata is a lovely name; it’s just right for you,” Rosabel said bracingly, “because you tried to make me happy, with your shawl and your food.” She paused a moment, and then went on. “I’m glad you knew your mother. She sounds wise and loving. I wish I had known mine.” Rosabel stopped speaking as she thought of her mother, thought about everything she had been told about her. She smiled sadly.

     Beata watched her, and then a puzzled expression settled upon her face. She looked around the hay-filled loft and then back at the Princess. She shifted her feet uncertainly. The slight noise caught Rosabel’s attention. “What’s the matter?” she asked.

     Beata bit her lip and then spoke. “I don’t mean to be rude, but … why are you here, Princess? Why aren’t you at the castle?”

     “My father sent me away,” Rosabel replied.

     “The King sent you away?” gasped Beata, opening her eyes wide. She thought for a moment, then added, “So we’re both alone now …” 

     The two of them were silent for a moment, as they thought of entirely different things. Then Rosabel looked more closely at the girl’s face and saw faint red marks across her cheek. “Did that woman hit you?” she asked angrily.

     “It’s nothing,” said Beata quickly, covering her cheek with her hand. The Princess looked at the girl’s bare arms and saw marks of bruises, new and old. Then another thought struck her. “Was that really your dinner? Did you give me all your food?” She suddenly wished there was some left.

     “Oh, I wasn’t hungry,” the girl said brightly. “I was glad I had something to give to you. It was my fault you got wet. I’m glad your little bird is all right, too.”

     The Princess just looked at her. There seemed to be nothing to say to all that. Then, “Come and sit down. Tell me, where are you going? Do you have somewhere to go? A home?”

     Beata sat beside her on the hay. “I am going back to my family’s house in the forest. There’s no one there now—they died and I came to work in the city. But I am going back. I can live there; I can take care of myself.” She turned swiftly and looked at the Princess eagerly. “Would you like to come with me? I can take care of you, too!” She reached into the bag hanging over her shoulder and brought out a large knife. “See this? This was my father’s hunting knife. Before … before they died, he taught me how to hunt for food. I know what to do! I can find food and take care of all of us—me and you and your little bird! Then neither of us will be alone, ever again.” She smiled proudly as she held up the knife for the Princess to see.

     A peculiar feeling came over the Princess. “You would do that for me?” She paused and then quietly said, “Thank you.”


     “We can’t travel outside the city by night, though—there are wolves and other scary things,” said the girl. “We should just sleep now and get up when it’s light. But you’re still a little wet—I don’t want you to get sick.” She looked around them. “There’s a lot of hay here. If we pile it up and burrow into it, it will keep us warm.”

     Rosabel agreed, and both of them were soon fast asleep.

*****

     They rose early the next morning. Beata said, “We don’t have far to go, but there won’t be any food in the house, or anything. I can hunt for food later, and there are wild fruits we can eat and a spring for water, but we need to take some things with us. I don’t have any money …” She looked worried.

     “Neither do I,” said Rosabel, “But I have this,” and she removed a silver ring she had forgotten about from her finger.

     “No, Princess, you can’t sell that! That’s your pretty ring—you must keep it! I will think of something.”

     “Nonsense,” said Rosabel. “We need food. You need a shawl. We’ll go sell this and get them.”

     A short time later, with food and supplies in hand and a warm shawl around Beata’s shoulders, they walked through the city gate into the countryside. After a while they left the main road and took a faint, branching side trail. From time to time the little bird flew off and disappeared for a while. The first time it happened Rosabel almost panicked, but the little white bird always reappeared.

     They walked for several hours, stopping for a while to eat some food they had bought earlier. The trail was rough and there were bushes and rocks in the way. The Princess began to get tired, but—surprisingly—she didn’t complain. Beata walked confidently ahead, turning frequently to reassure the Princess that they were “getting closer now!” Finally, they arrived at their destination. In the middle of a clearing stood a small hut, somewhat in disrepair but still having a full roof and a door that looked like it would open and close. The white bird flew off Rosabel’s arm and darted in and out of the windows.

     “See, your little bird likes it here!” Beata looked around and a shadow crossed over her face briefly. “This is where we lived—my family. I was born here. My mother took care of us and my father was a hunter. I know the countryside well. I know where there is a spring for water, and fruit and berries to eat, and my father showed me the best places to set snares. This will be our home now.” She turned and smiled confidently at the Princess. “I will take good care of you and your little bird, you’ll see! I will keep the wild animals away! Everything will be fine.” 

     The Princess peered into the dingy interior of the hut and had her doubts about everything being fine, but she didn’t say anything. Of all the people she had encountered since being thrown out of the castle, only this young girl had showed any concern for her at all. Who else could she turn to? Where else could she go? There were no answers to either question.

 *****

     The King paced restlessly in his chambers. He deeply regretted sending Rosabel away the day before. It was a betrayal of love for his wife, and he also realized how much he missed his child. Despite her airs and rudeness and stubborn ways—stubbornness not unlike his own, he admitted to himself—he loved her very much. He knew she would have little knowledge of the outside world, and he had sent her there, abruptly, with no supplies or even a warm cloak. The King had expected her to beat at the castle door for a long time, until he relented and let her back in. But she had not done that. He had ordered the castle doors to be left unbarred all night, but she had not reappeared. He slept badly that night, if he even slept at all.

     As soon as it was light the next morning, he sent soldiers to scour the town for her. As they went from house to house, they slowly pieced together the Princess’ movements–castle to city walls–from the reports of astonished citizens.  “You mean, it really WAS the Princess?” they said in horror. Beata’s former mistress turned pale when questioned, but just shook her head and remained silent when asked if she knew anything. She had no idea what the punishment would be for throwing water on a member of royalty, and had no desire to find out.

     Eventually the soldiers questioned the craftsmen and shopkeepers in the market. One of them told of buying a fine silver ring earlier that morning, and turned it over to the soldiers. Another remembered selling food and a shawl to a young woman and a girl. When they brought this news to the King, he recognized the ring at once, and then sent the soldiers back to the shopkeeper with money to replace its loss.

     He now stood, looking at the ring. It reassured him slightly, knowing that his daughter had some food and money and possibly a companion, but he was no closer to knowing where she was now or if she was safe. He feared that she had ventured outside the city walls. If that had really happened, there was no telling where she was now.

     He put the ring down on a small table and crossed over to the window. “Where are you, my Rosabel? I love you and I miss you. I am so sorry,” he said quietly as he looked out over his kingdom. He closed his eyes over tears and despair.

     All of a sudden, he heard the sound of fluttering wings. He opened his eyes quickly; a small white bird had landed on the windowsill in front of him and perched there calmly. They looked at each other for a long moment. “Where did you come from? You are not afraid of me!” the King said in wonder.

     At his words, the little bird flew into the room. The King turned in time to see it land on the small table, right next to the ring. The bird picked up the ring in its beak and then flew back. As it did, the King stretched out his arm and the bird landed on his hand. It dropped the ring into his palm and then looked up at the man.

     The King started in recognition. “I know you now—you’re Rosabel’s little bird!” He stared in astonishment at the ring and then back at the creature. “Is she all right? Is she safe?” he asked anxiously. The white bird bobbed its head a few times and then flew to the King’s shoulder and sat there quietly.

     “You’re not afraid—and I shouldn’t be afraid, either?” the King asked. The bird flew up into the air, circled the King’s head, then landed again on the windowsill, facing outward. The King went closer to the window and touched the bird lightly on its feathery wing. “Will you go back to her? And watch over her until she returns home? I wish you could tell her that I love her and I’m sorry.”

     The bird bobbed its head once more and then flew away.

*****

     Rosabel and Beata settled into their new life. Day in and day out, Beata foraged and hunted for food, and brought home small flowering bushes to replant around the hut. Her bruises faded, and she sang as she proudly provided for the household. Her happiness and unselfish caring both surprised and gratified the Princess. Rosabel herself gathered wood for their fires and, by trial and error, learned to cook and wash clothes in the nearby stream, and to keep a clean and warm home for them both. She even contrived to build a perch for the bird inside the hut. For the first time in her life, she felt useful and appreciated; it was a strange yet comforting feeling. Every now and then she paused to reflect on how different her life had become, but then another chore needed to be done, or another meal needed to be prepared, and she returned to her current daily activities and responsibilities. Her former life started to pale, bit by bit; she was surprised to find that it didn’t really matter.

******

     Days and weeks passed by; one day they were both at home. While Beata was in the hut, Rosabel went outside, preparing to go to the spring to get water. All at once, she felt a strong sensation of danger. She stopped where she was and scanned the yard. At the same moment, she heard Beata’s voice calling to her from the hut. “Princess! Princess! Run to the house right now!” When she looked in that direction, she saw Beata standing in the door, tense and white-faced. She followed the girl’s gaze, and saw a frightening creature peering out from the underbrush at the other side of the clearing. 

     “Please, Princess, it’s a wolf!” Beata said in a loud whisper. “Hurry to the house right now! You can make it and we’ll shut the door. We’ll be safe inside!” Over the roof of the hut, the white bird was wheeling and circling rapidly.

     But Rosabel was overcome with dread and unable to move. She continued to stare at the wolf, becoming more and more paralyzed with fear. The wolf emerged from the underbrush and began to creep forward slowly, never taking his eyes off her.

     “Princess, please, Princess, run to me!” Beata’s voice was very loud now and filled with urgency. 

     Rosabel suddenly turned and ran—wildly, away from the wolf, away from the house, heedless of what direction she was heading. But her foot caught on a tree root and she fell hard to the ground.  As she looked back, she saw the wolf coming closer to her. She covered her face with her hands and tensed for its attack. 

     It never came. Out of the hut ran Beata, with the hunting knife in her hand. She placed herself between Rosabel and the wolf and stood facing the wild animal. “Princess, get up! Run into the house! I’ll follow you—now go, go!”

     The wolf sprang, straight at the young girl. She raised her hand and struck at it with her knife, but the wolf grasped her other arm in its jaws. She continued to strike at the wolf, again and again, as it snarled and bit and tore at her arms and legs and body. The Princess stood up, uncertain whether to go to the house as Beata had said or to try to do something, anything, to help. Her whole attention was fixed on the struggle in front of her, willing with all her might that it would end, that the wolf would run away, that all would be well—but it continued, for what seemed like forever. She heard Beata cry out each time the wolf attacked. She heard the wolf’s yelps as the hunting knife hit home. She feared for and expected the girl to fall at any moment, but that did not happen.

     The action slowed a bit and then Beata’s knife flashed in the air one more time. The wolf gave a final giant cry and fell to the ground. Its legs twitched, it shuddered once, and then it moved no more.

     Beata straightened up slowly and turned around with the knife in her hand. “Princess?” she said, as she wavered in the air. There was blood everywhere. Let it be the wolf’s blood, only the wolf’s blood, please! the Princess thought as she ran forward, just in time to catch the girl as her eyes closed and she collapsed. She eased the small body down to the ground, cradling her as gently as she could, trying to avoid the open wounds that she could see wherever she looked. She was frightened to see the torn clothing, the trembling limbs, and the whitening skin. She had no idea what to do—that moment in time was all there was. “Beata, Beata!” she said in a stricken voice.

     The young girl opened her eyes and smiled at the Princess. “I told you … that I would take care of you,” she spoke breathlessly, as blood flowed from the many wounds on her arms and soaked her clothing from other places unseen. Reaching out her hand, she weakly grasped Rosabel’s arm. “That wolf … will never … hurt you now. You’re safe.” Then her eyes closed and she lay still—very still. Yet her smile remained.

     The Princess sat beside her, feeling the light grip on her arm easing a little. In disbelief she stared at the small body on the ground beside her—and the wolf’s body a short distance away. She gave her life. For me. She gave her life for me—for me! The words went spinning around in her mind. 

     Without moving the arm that was still being held by Beata’s small hand, she reached with her other hand and touched the girl’s face, caressing her forehead, her cheek. As she felt the stillness of death, her throat and chest grew tight until she burst out into wild sobbing. “No! No! Don’t be dead, Beata! Please don’t be dead …”  This was my fault! My fault! I should have run to the house when she called me. Why didn’t I do that? Why didn’t I listen? My fault, my fault!   “Please—I’d give anything to see you open your eyes, and laugh and talk to me again. Anything, anything …” and she closed her eyes as tears streamed down her face.

     There was the soft sound of wings in flight; the touch of a feathery body next to her arm. Rosabel opened her eyes and saw the small white bird right beside her. Its eyes looked straight into hers, and a familiar voice echoed in her mind, “You can have that wish. If you kill this bird and sprinkle her with its blood, she will live again.”

     There was a complete and total silence. Rosabel looked down at the young girl; the thought of Beata being alive again, and happy and loving and giving, filled her with wild hope.  But then she remembered his earlier warning: “…if you lose it, you lose me.” The choices raced around and clashed in her mind. Oh, yes, please, I want her to live! But if I kill this bird, I’ll never see or hear my dream lover, or feel his love for me again. He will be gone foreverAs she is gone now….  She closed her eyes for a moment, and then opened them. 

     With no expression at all upon her face, but with slow tears rolling down her cheeks, she gently removed her arm from Beata’s grasp; she then slowly reached for the knife with one hand and the bird with the other. As she raised both, the bird looked steadily into her eyes. She lifted the knife and plunged it into the bird’s breast. Turning quickly, she sprinkled its blood over the body of the young girl.

     There was the soft sound of a breath being drawn; the movement of a small body beside her. As Rosabel watched, the blood vanished and all the wounds disappeared. Beata’s eyes opened. She sat up slowly and then looked around in a panic. “Princess, where is the wolf? Did it hurt you? I tried to stop him! Are you all right?”

     Rosabel gathered her into a strong embrace; she held her tightly for a long time. She felt both happiness and anguish at that moment, but deep inside she was completely at peace. 

     Suddenly Beata pulled back out of her arms. “Oh, Princess, what happened to your little bird? Did the wolf get him?” She started to cry as she looked at the bird’s lifeless body on the ground.

     “No, dear,” Rosabel began, but was interrupted by something strange happening. As they both watched, the body of the little bird began to shimmer and glow. Its outlines became blurred and the shimmer grew in size—larger and larger until it filled the space before them. As Rosabel looked into the brightness, she saw a figure walking through it from a long distance away. As it drew closer, her heart leaped in an extraordinary way. She knew well who it was.

     He came as close as a few arms’ lengths, and there stopped. The shimmering brightness faded away completely, and he stood in the clearing, smiling at her—no dream image this time, but flesh-and-blood real. Rosabel stared at him.  “I am not asleep now; I am not dreaming. But you are here and you’re real. How can this be?” She could hardly bear to take her eyes away from him, but she quickly glanced down at the ground. There was nothing there.

     The man spoke. “The bird is gone. It gave you your greatest desire and so fulfilled its purpose.” He looked at the young girl beside the Princess, who was holding her hand tightly. “Your greatest desire was to restore Beata’s life, no matter what that would cost you. That was a selfless request, and it has broken my enchantment. Now all dreams and desires can be fulfilled.” He looked at her as intently as when they first met, but now there was no hint of pity or regret in his gaze. “The little bird is no longer needed to convey my love for you. I can give that to you myself now.”

     He reached out his hand, and Rosabel put hers into it. He helped her to rise and Beata stood up, too. “Come, we must go to your father. He loves you dearly and is sorry for sending you away. He waits anxiously for you to return home. And I must speak to him—about you.”

     She bowed her head. “I need to ask his forgiveness for how I have behaved… But no–I can’t go!”  Rosabel drew Beata closer to her side and looked distraught. “I have to stay and take care of her after all she’s been through! I can’t leave her here alone!” 

     “Of course not. We will never leave her behind.” The man leaned over and picked up the young girl, then held her with one arm against his shoulder. “Beata will always have a home with us.” She put her arm around his neck and nestled there happily.

     The man reached for the Princess’ hand and drew her closer. “Dearest Rosabel, will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?”

     “Oh, yes…” the Princess looked at him lovingly and then stopped as a wondering expression came over her face. “You know my name, but I don’t know yours!” she said in surprise.

     “I can’t remember what it used to be,” he explained simply. “It was wiped away in the enchantment. But I remember this…

     “I was once as discontented as you used to be. I made everyone else’s life miserable by my selfishness, no matter where I was or who I was with. No one else’s needs mattered—only mine.” The Princess listened intently with her eyes fixed upon him. “But one day I offended the wrong person, someone who had the power to change people’s lives. As a consequence of what I had done, he said to me, ‘You will be under enchantment until the day someone who cherishes your love selflessly sacrifices that love for the sake of another.’ In an instant, I was no longer me—no name, no home, no family.  I’ve been wandering ever since, searching for someone to break the spell and give me back what I’d lost. You did that, my Princess, when you put aside your own desires in order to help someone else.” He smiled at both the Princess and the young girl. “And now my life begins anew, with you and our little Beata. Her caring for you, changed you—then your caring for her, freed me.”

     After a brief silence, the man continued speaking. “Whatever it was, my old name was part of my old life, which is gone forever. Now I need a new name. Would you choose one for me?”

     Beata lifted her head and looked at the Princess in expectation. After a moment’s thought, Rosabel leaned forward and whispered something into the young girl’s ear. Beata nodded; then the Princess stood up straight and looked at the man shyly.

     “I thought of…David. But I’ll try to think of another one if you don’t like it,” she added anxiously.

     The man’s face lit up. “And you are beloved, too, my beautiful rose. I will accept that name gratefully and we will be happy together.” He included Beata with his last words.

     Rosabel stood on tiptoe to kiss him, and then touched Beata’s cheek. Her heart was full—all that she loved the most was right there in front of her. Taking David’s hand, she said, “May we go now?” He nodded, and together they walked out of the clearing toward the city.     

 The memory of the white bird went with them.

_________________________________________________________

Mary M. Isaacs
@ 2021


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