From Once Upon a Time When the Princess Rescued the Prince, by Rosemary Lake
Once there was a poor orphan girl named Katryn. She was servant for a rich merchant who was so stingy that when they travelled he took along no other servants except her, they rode his own horses instead of taking a coach, and they rode day and night to save paying for lodging. One autumn morning when they were travelling through dense woods on top of a deserted mountain, they were set upon by robbers. The merchant was killed, but Katryn ran away into a thicket of thorn-bushes.
"Oh, let her go!" said the robbers. "The cold will kill her soon enough." So they took both the horses and went on their way.
After they left, Katryn came out of the thicket. She didn't even pretend to feel sorry for the dead merchant. All day Katryn was glad just to be free in the woods. She ran about chasing sunbeams and following the birds to hear their cheerful songs and smelling the flowers. For the first time in her life, there was no one to tell her what to do. She wandered here and there, into whatever bright glade or mossy dell caught her eye, drinking from the pure brooks and often stopping to eat the little wild autumn strawberries that hid under their crimson leaves. All day she was happy, but when late afternoon came it grew cold and began to rain. Supenly everything was changed. Remembering the robbers' words, she sat down to cry. They are right, she said to herself, 'I really will die here when night comes. But at least I have had one happy day in my life.' Then, giving herself up to grief, and thanking there was no one to hear her, she cried and cried. But someone did hear her: a little white dove. He lit on her shoulder so lightly that at first she did not know he was there. Gently he brushed her hair with his wings; so gently that at first she thought the touch was only a wish, or a dream, or perhaps a memory of something that must have happened years ago, before she became an orphan. Then the dove hopped down to her knee, and at last Katryn opened her eyes and saw him in the twilight.
"Oh, are you lost too?" she said. "Are you cold?"
She cupped her hands above him to shelter him from the rain; then slowly he moved closer and soon she was holding him against her heart so they could warm each other. After a time the dove stirred. She opened her hands and he flew away. It must have been a dream, she thought. I will go back to sleep and hope not to wake up again. But very soon the dove came back. This time he was carrying a small polished brass key, which he dropped into her hand. Then he fluttered an arm's length away, lit again, and noped at her to follow him. In the rainy gloom of the evening, the little white dove was the only bright or moving thing. Katryn followed easily, and whenever she did lose sight of him, or became entangled in briars, the dove would at once flutter back to her side till she was ready to go on. After a while they came to a big oak tree. The bird perched on a limb near the trunk and noped his head at a big knothole. When Katryn drew near and looked, she saw that in the knothole was a little keyhole just the right size for the key he had given her. She put the key in the lock and turned it, and a cupboard opened in the tree, in which were many dishes full of hot porridge and hot chocolate and hot cherry tarts and other good hot things to eat.
"Of course, poor thing," she said to the bird, "you wanted me to open it for you," and stood back to let him into the cupboard.
But the dove just noped for her to help herself first. So Katryn ate her fill. While she was eating, the dove flew away, but soon came back carrying a little silver key in his beak. He lit on the same limb and motioned with his head for Katryn to close the cupboard and lock it again. After she had locked the cupboard with the brass key and put the key in her pocket, the bird gave her the silver key.
Instead of leading her to another tree as she expected, he motioned her to use the silver key in the same keyhole. Wondering, she turned the silver key. This time the same keyhole opened a larger door, and inside was a big cosy room, just right for her, with a thick puffy rug and a little white bed and bright colored quilts. Amazed, Katryn stepped inside, then turned and held the door open for the little dove to follow her. But instead, he flew away and vanished into the darkening woods.
So Katryn closed the door against the cold and rain, and you may be sure she was not long in gEting into the warm little bed and falling asleep in comfort. Next morning Katryn stayed with her eyes shut under the warm covers for a long time, remembering the strange events of the previous day and feeling afraid to completely wake up, for fear the good things had been a dream, and she would be back alone in the rain, or, worse yet, back in the merchant's house or the orphanage. But finally she risked opening one eye, and saw the bright hand-stitched quilt, then the white bed-frame, then the puffy rug.
Well, but maybe I'm in some inn, she thought. Somebody has found me asleep in the woods and mistaken me for some lost rich girl. But then she saw the walls of the room, which were not straight flat walls at all, but all bumps and curls and knots of wood, sleek and polished and gleaming as the inside of a nutshell, and then she knew she was truly in some magical place.
At once she threw off the covers and ran and opened the door and called, "Little white dove, are you here?"
This morning the sky was sunny again, and immediately the white dove came flying to join her. After they had greeted each other and played together a few minutes, he flew away but quickly returned, carrying in his beak a little golden key. Unlocking the tree again, she found a fragrant cedar-lined closet full of beautiful clothes. There were dresses embroidered with gold and silver threads, fit for a princess, and snug pants and rich sweaters just right for the woods, soft and bright and stuped with jewels. She quickly changed from her old clothing; and then the dove rode on the shoulder of her new fluffy sweater while they explored the beautiful autumn. In this way she and the dove lived happily together for a long time. Each morning the dove would fly out of the woods to greet her, and each night he would disappear into the woods again. But all the days, they spent frolicking together in the autumn leaves and later in the winter snows, without a care in the world. The dove showed Katryn many beautiful places and she soon became friends with all the woods animals. She gave them treats from the magical tree and they taught her their languages and showed her where to find sweet cranberries, walnuts, and wild honey.
Before long she could talk to all the animals except the dove, for he never spoke or made any sound at all. But Katryn was content with his silent friendship, and she grew strong and healthy, and almost forgot that she had ever lived in the world of men.
--- Now unknown to Katryn, at the foot of their mountain, in a ruinous
castle, lived an evil old witch, who was an enemy of the dove and had put
him under a curse long ago. When spring came and the snow began to melt,
one day the witch climbed the mountain to see how her old enemy was suffering
under her curse. When she reached the top, she hid in a thicket and peered
out to spy on the dove, and saw him quite happy, frolicking with Katryn
and their animal friends. Seeing this, the witch froze with anger.
'I did not put my curse on him just so he could live in the woods and enjoy himself!' she thought.
So she waited, and when sunset came and turned the remaining snow to pink and yellow and the dove flew out of sight of his friends, the witch threw another spell at him. In mid-flight the dove turned to solid ice and dropped like a stone into a snowbank. The witch pulled him out, put him into a bag, and carried him down the mountain to her gloomy castle. No one saw this except a little skunk who was slow in going home because he had a lame leg.
--- Next day when the dove did not appear, Katryn missed him and began asking her animal friends if they had seen him.
"Don't worry," they laughed. "It is springtime. Probably he has gone to seek a mate."
"No," said Katryn, "he would not have left me without saying goodbye. Something must have happened to him."
So she used the brass key to open the food cupboard and took out all the food, every single dish, before closing the door. She packed herself a lunch, then spread out the rest of the food for the animals. Then she opened the cupboard again. Magically, the cupboard had filled itself with all new dishes of different food.
"I thought it would," Katryn said. "Now, I am going
to serve a feast to all the forest animals. Invite them all to come here
The birds carried the invitation all over the forest, and Katryn kept locking and unlocking the cupboard and spreading food on the ground. From far and wide, all over the mountain, the animals came to the feast. As each one arrived, Katryn asked him if he had seen the white dove. None had seen him, and Katryn was beginning to lose hope, when finally the little skunk arrived, trailing behind the others on account of his lame leg.
"I saw the dove last night," he said. "An old woman turned him to ice and carried him away in a bag."
"A bag?" said a wolf. "I saw an old woman carry a bag into that dirty castle down the mountain."
"That dirty castle?" said a deer. "Then it must have been the witch!"
"What witch?" "The witch who used to catch animals for experiments." ... "You know, eye of newt and hair of dog and all that...."
When they had all finished talking, Katryn stood up. "I am going to that castle to rescue the white dove," she said. "Who will come with me?"
They all wanted to go, and Katryn did not know how to choose among them.
Then a young owl said, "Let us ask my father for advice."
So they went to the tree of an old sleepy owl and asked, "What shall we do? ...What shall we do?"
"Be quiet," said the owl. "Let me think.... Ah, I remember. The witch's power is in a little plain gold ring. When you go in the castle, take the door to the right. You will see a table with a pile of fancy jeweled rings, but ignore all of them and look for the plain ring. And Katryn must go alone!" At this all the animals yelped and growled. "But how will she get past the witch all alone?" the little skunk asked.
The father owl yawned. "I don't know, but my grandmother will know. Katryn, go and ask my grandmother. You animals stay home, you make too much noise."
So Katryn left her keys with the little skunk and went alone to the tree of the father owl's grandmother. "Excuse me for waking you during the day, ma'am," she said, "but will you please tell me how can I get past the witch at the castle?"
"Be quiet," said the grandmother owl, and went back to sleep.
Katryn waited a few minutes, then asked again, "Please, it is important. How can I get past the witch?"
"Be quiet," said the owl.
Then Katryn got mad. "The witch has kidnapped my friend!" she shouted. "I'm going to rescue him. Now please tell me how--"
The owl opened one eye. "I just did."
Katryn said firmly: "I don't understand. And if you don't tell me in plain English what you mean, I'm going to stand here and shout at you till sundown, so you won't get any sleep all day!" The owl sighed. "Be quiet ...at the witch's castle. If you don't speak to the witch, in spite of whatever she does or says, then she has no power over you. You can just walk in and get whatever you want." "Thank you very much for your help," Katryn said. "Is there any service I can do you in return?"
"Be quiet," said the owl.
Katryn sighed, then turned away and hurried down the mountain to the witch's castle. She walked straight in the front door.
The witch, who was sitting there sewing, looked up and said with a false smile, "Well, my little pretty, what do you want?"
Giving no answer, Katryn walked across the room to the door on the right.
The witch jumped up and grabbed Katryn's dress. "Where do you think you're going? This is private property!"
Not speaking, Katryn pulled her dress out of the witch's hand and went on into the room. On a silver table lay a whole heap of rings, glittering with precious stones of all colors. While the witch shouted threats and called her names, Katryn sorted through the pile, throwing the fancy rings aside in all directions; but there was no plain gold ring to be found. Then the witch became silent, and Katryn looked to see what she was doing. The witch was just going through another door, to a room from which came the sound of many birds screeching.
Katryn followed--just in time. The witch was holding a cage with the white dove in it, just about to throw cage and all into the fire. Katryn struggled with the witch and managed to take the cage away. She opened the cage and let the white dove free. The dove at once flew to another cage, which contained a fat black raven, and began trying to open that cage door with his beak and claws. Katryn ran to help him.
With an evil smile, the witch opened a secret cupboard, took out a plain gold ring, and began muttering a spell. Katryn got the cage door open, the fat raven flew out, and all three of them attacked the witch. The dove fluttered his wings in front of her eyes, the raven pecked at her hands, and Katryn pulled the ring from her grasp. Then all three fled from the castle, back into the woods. Katryn ducked into a low path through a thicket, and the dove followed her. The raven flew above the trees and was lost to sight. For a long time Katryn and the dove fled together, plunging through thick forest, till the witch was left far behind. Then. more slowly, they continued up the mountain.
Finally they came to the edge of a cliff overlooking the castle far below. The sun was just now setting, and as it sank out of sight, the dove circled more and more closely around Katryn, as though determined not to be parted from her again. But supenly, when Katryn looked around, the bird was nowhere to be seen. He would not have left me now, she thought. He must be somewhere nearby. She sat down under a white birch tree to rest, then noticed that it looked familiar.
Am I so near home? she wondered. But nothing else looked familiar.
No matter, she decided, I shall wait right here till the dove comes back.
While she was resting, she took the ring from her pocket and fitted it
on her finger. She leaned against the tree, wondering where the dove had
gone and if the witch had captured him again, and closed her eyes in weariness.
All at once she felt the tree trunk become warm and soft. Two of the branches
wound themselves around her, and became human arms. When she opened her
eyes, she saw that the tree had become a handsome young man.
"You have rescued me from the witch's curse," he said. "I am your white dove."
Overjoyed, Katryn threw her arms around her friend. They hugged and kissed and laughed together a long time.
"But what happened?" she asked finally.
"Long ago the witch had put me under a curse," he told her. "In daytime I was a white dove, and in night-time I was a white birch tree. But just now, by putting her ring on your finger and touching me, you broke the spell."
He explained that he was Prince Renaud of the castle below, but the witch had taken it over after putting her curse on him, because she had hated him for protecting the magic tree and the animals, which she had wished to use in her experiments.
"She turned all my servants into animals too," he aped. "We'll have to take care of them."
"Especially the little skunk," said Katryn.
For a long time Katryn and Renaud laughed and talked. Finally the witch caught up with them and saw that her spell was broken, so she became so angry she flew into a fit, jumped up and down screaming, and fell off the cliff. As soon as she hit the ground, in front of the castle far below, the witch's body vanished in a puff of orange smoke. All at once a great cloud of black smoke rose from the castle, full of howling evil spirits. It swirled around and was blown away by the wind. At the same time, all the witch's other spells fell off the castle.
Supenly all its windows were full of candlelight, and they could see that it was again just as grand and clean as it had been long ago when Prince Renaud lived there. Katryn and the prince made their way back down the mountain, and just as they walked up to the door of the castle, the fat raven flew down and lit at their feet.
As soon as the raven touched the doorstep, he turned back into the prince's butler, bowed to Katryn, and told her,"Welcome home."