For Chris, who will never read it, and the little girl in me who always wanted to write her own fairytale.THE CHARMING TREEAn original fairytale
Note: Fairytales, by nature, are often both dark and sad, and this one is no exception. Fair warning.
Once upon a time, or so the story goes, there was a young Prince who longed to be Charming.
He was the youngest of the King’s three sons, strong and handsome with eyes of deepest blue; the colour of the clear sea. He was by far the most clever of the three, but his brothers had something he did not; the eldest would be king after their father, and the second was to marry the princess of a bordering kingdom, ensuring peace and the safety of their lands. And so, with these roles filled, the young Prince had no purpose he could perceive, and felt there was no way to serve his kingdom or to make a name for himself as his brothers would.
At this the Prince despaired, for above all things he did not want to be forgotten.
Late one night, as he sat by his mother’s feet and listened to the fairy stories she told, the young Prince realised there was a way he could be of value to his family and his kingdom; he would become Charming.
Many princes before him were Charming; they had been the hallmark of all stories for as long as he could remember. Sleeping princesses awoke to their kisses, trapped maidens were freed by their courage and daring, and monsters fell, slain, at their feet. They were heroes; brave and handsome, kind and true.
And they, the Princes Charming, were never forgotten.
Not every royal son could become Charming, of this the young Prince was sure, and so he would lie in his bed each night in his high tower chamber and watch the stars beyond his window, wishing and wondering as to where he might find his moment.
For the moment made the man, he’d learned that long ago. The kiss, the slipper, the sword in the dragon; he would find his moment, and he would prove his worth.
As the Prince grew, his desire grew with him, and with each year that passed he felt all the more discontent that his moment had not yet arisen. He had few true friends both as a boy and a young man; those who tried to gain his favour saw only his crown, and he saw through them all.
When he came of age, the young Prince approached his mother, and told her of his despair and his desire to be more than just his father’s son; for a prince was born beneath a crown, a trophy never-earned, and he saw no gift in his title, only the loneliness and troubles it had brought him. And so he sought to venture beyond the castle walls, out to the dark borders and of their fair kingdom, to find his moment.
The Queen herself was very wise, and she loved her youngest son very much, and so she promised to allow his quest with her blessing under the condition that he take with him a token of his family and their love. The Prince accepted his mother’s golden locket, and agreed to the price she had set; that he must keep in it only something precious, and must never trade it for gain lest terrible things befall him.
And so it was one cold winter morning that the young Prince woke in the early dark and dressed in common clothes, so nobody would recognise him. He found his horse and tied his pack to the saddle, and set off to seek his destiny.
He rode for many days until he reached the outskirts of his kingdom, down beyond the villages of the southern borders to where the great forests began. The Prince had never been so far from home, but still he rode on, determined to prove his worth.
Eventually he came to a bend in the forest path, and saw woodsmoke rising above the treetops. His body weary and sore from too long on the road, the Prince followed the trail to a hunting cabin in a deep, green glade, and his stomach ached with hunger as the smell of roasting meats and fresh baked bread crossed his path. The young Prince approached the cabin warily, for he had learned in his journeys that not all men are to be trusted, and knocked three times on the door.
‘I am but a weary traveler,’ called the Prince, ‘cold and hungry from the road. Can I beg of you a meal and some shelter for the night?’
The door opened to reveal a Woodsman, kind-faced and handsome, with hair black as coal and eyes like the reflection of a forest in water.
‘Come in, poor weary friend,’ he said. ‘My stables are open to your horse, and you are welcome to come sit by the fire and share my meal.’
The Prince thanked the Woodsman kindly, and sheltered his horse before he returned to the cabin to take a seat upon the floor and warm himself. They shared the Woodsman’s supper, and the Prince in disguise asked the Woodsman about the southern boundaries, and what lay beyond the forest.
‘The woods are a dangerous place for even the strongest of men,’ said the Woodsman, ‘dark shadows dwell beneath the blackened trunks of hollow-trees, and darker spirits still will leave your soul a Winter Wisp upon the wind and turn your bones to ash should you misstep.’
The Prince listened to the Woodsman’s tales of darkness and shadow, of a mighty sorceress at the heart of the forest and all her terrible powers, and slowly he began to drift to sleep in the warmth of the fire. As he succumbed to his exhaustion, the Prince dreamed of fighting grotesque, shadow-faced monsters, of saving princesses from their clutches, and returning home both Charming and victorious.
The next morning, as he prepared to depart, the Prince thanked the Woodsman and offered that he name his payment in return for his kindness. The Woodsman, who was himself a clever and wary man, asked only to know of his quest, for he was certain that the young traveler had a good heart and had set himself a dangerous path.
And so, as promised, the Prince explained to the Woodsman that he had ridden a long way, down from the northern kingdom, in search of glory and a moment to make his name.
Upon hearing this, the Woodsman feared for his new friend’s safety, and begged that he accompany the young traveler as his guide, as he knew the forest better than any man.
The Prince considered the Woodsman’s offer, but was reluctant to accept, as he had no means of payment.
When the Woodsman insisted he required no payment, the Prince refused, as he had learned from many stories that everything must be repaid, and that dire consequences always befell the greedy of spirit. And so he searched his pockets for anything he might offer, until finally his hand came to rest upon the golden locket around his neck.
‘I can give you this,’ the Prince insisted, certain that his mother would not mind his repaying an act of such kindness. ‘Use it only to hold something precious, and do not trade it for gain, and it will bring you fortune. Please, take it, and I will accept your offer of a guide.’
Unwilling to let the young man go alone into the dark forest, the Woodsman agreed to his payment and accepted the locket gratefully.
And so the Prince saddled his horse and set off with the Woodsman as his guide, and as they ventured further into the darker reaches of the forest, the two men told each other stories to pass the time, holding tight to each other upon the Prince’s horse to keep warm through the winter cold.
As their campfire burned each night, their stories grew longer and their talk softer, and the Prince came to understand what it was to have a true friend. Enraptured, he listened to the Woodsman’s love stories and tales of adventure, and revelled in both the warmth of the fire and his guide’s good company.
With each passing day the Prince's affection grew, and soon he could no longer tell his head from his heart when it came to the Woodsman's companionship. He found himself all too glad his identity remained secret, as he was sadly certain that if he were to reveal himself, he would lose his love, just as he’d lost every friend that came before him.
One day upon the winding forest path their horse came to halt, and the Prince stirred from his gentle sleep against his companion’s shoulder. Surrounding them were trees of deepest black, dark as the night sky, and beyond their trunks lay only shadow; they had arrived at the boundaries of the forest.
The Prince stared into the darkness, more frightened than he had ever been, but still the will of his dreams whispered in his ear. He was certain that the moment he was searching for lay beyond the shadows.
The Prince found his sword and prepared himself for everything he may meet in the dark; dragons and witches, trolls and goblins and beasts of the deep; he would find his moment, and return a true Charming, just like the stories.
As the hollow-trees began to beckon and whisper to them softly, the Woodsman grew fearful, and begged his companion not to go; for the Woodsman had fallen deeply in love with the Prince along their journey, and was heartsick at the thought of his loss.
But the Prince was set upon his path, and so bade his love farewell and wandered into the forest black, promising to return to him.
Three days passed in the dark of the forest, and the Woodsman camped each night by the boundary, sick with cold, weary, and waiting for his love to come home.
On the third morning the Woodsman awoke to find ash upon the ground, strewn amidst the snow, and he knew his love was lost. As he wept, the Woodsman cursed the blackened trees, and the shadows they cast, and all the grounds around him for what they had stolen.
Softly, on a chill breeze, a warm and gentle Winter Wisp brushed by the Woodsman’s cheek and swept away his tears. Knowing it was all that was left of his companion, he clutched his locket in both hands and captured the Wisp from the air, sealing his love inside and keeping him safe, precious, and guarded alongside his heart.
Through the darkened trees and brambles the Woodsman pressed on into the deep, heartbroken and lost to his grief. Soon blinded by the razor thorns, the Woodsman stumbled on through the black and tormenting forest he had once cared for until he came to the sound of a rushing river.
By the riverbed stood a Sorceress, powerful and bright, and she spoke to him softly in the song of the forest wind.
‘Why have you cursed my trees, my land?’ she asked. ‘This forest you once loved so dearly?’
The blinded Woodsman told her of his love and his loss, and begged that if she had the power she might repay his years of service to the woods and the animals who lived there, and restore his companion to him; even if it meant taking his life in return.
Upon hearing his tale, the Sorceress drew the locket from his neck and dipped it in the water, and in its reflection she could see the beautiful young Prince kept safe within for who he truly was.
‘Young traveler, who sought to best the very shadows of the forest; this man offers his life in return for yours,’ the Sorceress told him eagerly. ‘Do you accept?’
‘I do not,’ the Prince declined in the trickling whisper of the water. ‘I am happy, alongside his heart. I will keep it warm and safe as long as I am with him.’
‘If you let me take him,’ offered the Sorceress, ‘I promise to restore you, and bring you glory. You will be Charming, as you have always wished. You will be remembered.’
‘I would rather be forgotten,’ the Prince replied, ‘than leave his heart alone.’
But the Sorceress was not so easily deterred, and so turned to the blinded Woodsman at her feet.
‘Your love has deceived you,’ she told him. ‘He is not a simple traveler, but a Prince in disguise, seeking only glory and fortune to his name. He does not love you. You still offer your life?’
‘Give him any name, any face, any purpose, and I would love him still,’ the Woodsman promised truthfully.
‘Please,’ begged the Prince, ‘he is my love. Let me guide him safely home.’
‘I will give you both what you have asked,’ the Sorceress decided. ‘Your Prince will guide your heart safely home, and once there you must bury this locket and wait for him; he will be returned to you. But remember your words, Woodsman.’
With this she plucked the locket from the stream and returned it to the Woodsman, and then she was gone again on winter winds.
Through the forest and ever on the Woodsman wandered, drawn forward by the guiding warmth of his Prince and the locket pressed against his heart. Brambles bowed away before him though he could not see them, and the road grew even and smooth beneath his feet until he came back to his own small cabin, hidden in the glade.
With both hands he dug the hole deep and drew the locket from his neck, kissed it once, and buried in fresh soil by his window. And then, the Woodsman slept.
As the Woodsman recovered from his terrible journey, cold and lonely without his love, he waited for the sound of his Prince’s voice to come again as he was promised. When his Prince did not come home, the Woodsman ventured out again only to find a tree had grown in the locket’s place, capturing his Prince inside forever.
Devastated by the Sorceress’ betrayal, the Woodsman curled up beneath his lover’s branches and cried, and slept, and rested against its trunk, unwilling to leave his love alone in the cold.
As the years went by, the Woodsman grew older, and still every night he would lie beneath his Charming tree and whisper to the branches, the leaves and the flowers, blue as the clear sea; telling him love stories.
One winter’s night, when the Woodsman had grown very old, he sat beneath his Charming tree one last time. He rested his head against the trunk, where it curved just so to fit his tired body, and there he fell into eternal sleep.
As winter melted into spring, a new tree grew alongside the old, and as it stretched up to the sky their bodies pressed together like an embrace, their branches intertwined, and silver flowers grew amongst the blue. With every passing wind their voices whispered to each other in the dawn and in the dark, telling love stories.
And so it was that the Woodsman and his Prince Charming were together again, holding each other forevermore, never to be forgotten.
© Gigi Coyote 2012