Rose's Gift (a fairy tale)
Beata Beatrix circa 1864-70 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti from the Tate Online
(Ed. Note. As always, sorry so long! I kept trying to make it shorter and it kept getting beyond me! Hope you read and enjoy anyway.)
I’ve heard it carried in the sigh of a certain wind, caressing the eaves of my house at night, or on the weary backs of the eagles as they return from their journeys to far off lands. This tale drips from the whispers of raindrops as they land on the black thudding earth.
Once there was a City fashioned with stardust and the vines of summer creepers, visible on the horizon between dusk and dawn. This City was blessed with rich, fertile lands and people as good-hearted as they were industrious. Soon they grew owl-round with prosperity. People in the neighboring cities would look at the glinting buildings and try to shield their children’s eyes, for they didn’t want to lose their young ones. But even they sighed at the wonder, and took a moment before they turned back to their own workaday tasks.
The land all around the City was ruled by a wise king and even wiser queen, who showed their people a life of celebration, communion with nature, and everyday magic.
It was a good place to live.
Until one day, inevitably perhaps, fortunes began to turn. The city’s allure was too great, and too many people began to steal into its borders in an attempt to seek their kismet there. The population explosion taxed the black earth until it could provide no more. The rains stopped falling. Food grew scarce, and finally, ran out. The City was gripped by a severe plague of doubt, disease, and famine.
And worst of all, the good Queen, the wise Queen, died of grief at the sight of so many of her people suffering. And the King grew weak and confused, and soon lawlessness reigned where there was once order, and ugliness where there was once magnificence.
One would imagine that the neighboring areas would harbor a little bit of satisfaction as they watched the City falter and fail. After all, they had all lost loved ones to that glinting Promised Land. They had watched their own lives look dull and squalid by comparison. They had sat in disappointment at the mundane direction of their lives.
But these were basically kind folk, and if they felt that way, they didn’t let on. Immediately, they began to organize vast caravans of aid to traverse the now barren, arid lands surrounding the City—lands that had once been so laden with riches and crops that they seemed to stretch in every direction. But now, only dust and remnants remained.
In spite of all of the much-appreciated help, though, the City remained stunned by hopelessness and loss. It seemed nothing—no food, no drink, no money from foreign lands—could restore it to its once celestial glory. Old timers blamed the death of the Queen, and subsequent withdrawal of the King. “Without them,” they would sigh, “what examples do we have? Who will show us the way to go on living? We can fill our bellies, but our hearts and souls remain empty and lost.”
A small, plain woman named Rose watched these happenings with a secret grief in her heart. She lived in a small, thatched little cottage, chosen so many years ago because of its views of the City from every room. As a girl, she has thought that someday she would like to live there, very much, once she got married. But, no one ever asked her, and she couldn’t imagine moving there by herself. So after her parents passed away, she used her small inheritance and bought herself the cottage, and in it she lived content enough, watching the City from afar and imagining the glories that surely surrounded the people who were lucky enough to live there.
At first, she didn’t want to believe it. It seemed to be growing faint, like a star at dawn. The fields around it, normally so verdant and lush, became parched, withered, and then finally died. The malaise was spreading its poisoned fingers throughout the land, until finally the City was on the verge of annihilation.
She had to do something.
So she gathered everything she could find of value in her small cottage—her healing herbs and her pots and pans, her books of poetry, her small store of jewels—and wrapped them in a rucksack and began to make her way to the City. Not inside of it, oh, no, she still did not believe she was worthy enough to live there, even in its present condition—just to the outskirts. Just close enough to find some kind person to carry her load inside, to offer her small help to the suffering denizens of the City.
Before long, she came across a richly appointed caravan, a gift from another city from beyond the horizon. Exotic animals cawed and cooed in the dead air. Palms waved languidly, cooling the servants who carried boxes laden with gold, with rare herbs and plants, with life-giving food and wines. Shyly, she approached a man at the head of the parade, and offered her own rucksack. “Could you take this along to the City for me?”
“Why, that puny basket looks completely out of place around our treasures! It might even insult the King of the City, even in his fallen state!”
The woman shrank into the shadows and said no more. She watched the caravan until its people were merely dots along the horizon.
She waited, and soon saw a grouping of young girls and women, lugging baskets of fragrant fruits and herding lowing cows, heading towards the City.
“Could you please take this to the City for me?” she asked, a little tremulously. She was still smarting from the first man’s response.
“We’re all full up.” A woman replied, not unkindly. “Got no more room for anything.”
And Rose nodded sadly, and let them go on their way.
Days and nights went by, and Rose felt as though she was rooted to her spot in the desert, watching the sand blast its way north and south, and east and west. No one had passed her for some time.
Finally, a small child walked by, carrying a small sack of potatoes and pulling a reluctant goat, making his own determined way to the City.
Rose hesitated, but desperation made her bold.
“Little boy…can you take this to the City for me?”
The little boy glanced at Rose, and the rucksack. His eyes were wise pools in his sunburned little face.
“It’s your gift, ain’t it?” And with that, he walked away.
Rose stood, thunderstruck. Her ancient fears warred with the boy’s wisdom, and before she knew it, she was putting one foot in front of the other and moving towards the City.
When she arrived, she faltered once more. But the City was in its death throes. It needed all possible aid.
“I’ll just sneak in, drop this off, and leave.” She told herself. “No one needs to even see me.”
But as soon as she passed through the threshold, trumpets blasted on all sides. People stopped what they were doing and looked at her curiously. The commotion even caught the ear of the King, who rushed down to look.
She wanted to sink into the ground. Well, I’ve come this far.She sighed, even as she quaked with nameless fear. Whatever happens now, happens.
Soon, the people approached her and began taking things out of her rucksack. The herbs were exclaimed over, and soon midwives and nurses were busy creating salves to cured the sick and plague ridden. The seeds fell unbidden on the ground and the earth already looked healed. People began reading the books in groups, laughing and light hearted once more.
It appeared she had brought exactly what the City needed.
When the King saw Rose, he took her hand and said, “My dear departed Queen came to me in a dream last night and said, ‘Today you’ll meet a woman with long green hair, like a mermaiden. Take this woman and make her your Queen, and you and the City shall suffer no more.’”
Confused, Rose backed away. “Green hair? Mermaid? No, no…I’m just…ordinary. I’m nothing.”
The King smiled and led her to a small stream, where he showed Rose her reflection in the waves. Now, maybe it was a trick of the light, maybe it was the shimmering of the water, but her hair DID look green and it DID look long. When had she grown so beautiful? And when had she stopped looking at herself at all?
“You are far from ordinary, Rose. You saved the City. You saved us all.” The King appeared young and restored once more.
And with that, a great wedding feast was prepared, and all of the members of every aid caravan attended, with the little boy and his goat in a place of honor.
And Rose wore her own jewels, having learned well the lesson about bringing her own gifts.
And the City celebrated and prospered once more, never again taking for granted their good fortune.
Or so I hear told in the hush of the winter’s first snowfall, as the sun burns the clouds away between dawn and dusk.
Labels: story time