The Enchanted Gown: The Story
Once there was a time when the fairies were none so shy as they are now. There was a time when beasts talked to men, when there were enchantments and mysteries every day, when there were great stores of hidden treasure to be dug up, and adventures for the asking.
At that time, you must know, there lived a gentleman farmer of good lineage and very winning address who was known for his lovely horses. His wife was a kind and loving lady. They were of very important personage in the hamlet where they lived- at least by their own estimation. Their home was lovely, and their gardens even lovelier, though it came right upon the outskirts of the deep forest. The local folks had it that the wood was haunted. They said it was full of deceiving foxes, that beneath the mossy ground the elves built their houses, and that the fairy children played at hide-and-seek there every morning before dawn.
As it were, to the husband's secret grief, his wife bore him no sons. Nevertheless, a daughter she did give him, who they called by a springtime name, long forgotten now. Each of them loved this child more than life.
All was well for this small and well-to-do family and as the child grew, rumors were about that she had something in her of earth and something of heaven. She was augustly radiant and renowned nearly seven shires away. She was strong but slender, with fair white skin and a flaxen crown of curls atop her head. Her manners were very well, though there was nothing about this particular maid which was not as fine as hand-spun silk.
Now, once upon a trip into the nearest village, the young girl saw many things to wonder at. About the great gardens and churches, she went with her father. Until they happened upon a grand street of shops. The girl gazed about with eyes wide, for she was a simple soul. At length, they happened upon a shop full of the most beauteous gowns.
"Oh, look at the pretty dresses Father!" said the girl aloud, her fingers pressed to the glass window.
"Very pretty indeed," replied her Father. "Hurry on then and let us make haste. We must be home in time for supper child."
"May I have one, please?" she begged him, tugging at his sleeve. He shook his head and insisted she had no use for such elaborate garb. With that, he took his daughters hand and led her down the street again.
That evening, after supper, with much bitterness she retired to lament her woes on the steps of the pond boathouse. Hours she wept for the dress she longed for- so long in fact that the moon rose high into the sky. Little did the young girl know- this was no ordinary summer's night. On this sweet night all manner of fairy creatures came to the gardens by moonlight, slipping their slim dark feet across the moss. Some rested in the tree branches, and made murmuring music all the live-long night. They would creep out from their hovels and clamber out of the thickets to dance in the brightness of the moon. For it was their night of celebration.
Now, it was not long before a very curious and meddlesome fairy did find the girl mournful on the steps. He cleared his throat, tiny talons clacking on the wooden boards.
"Dear little flower," he cooed. "Whatever does make thee cry?"
Startled, the girl sat up, wondering if the small creature that stood before her was real or merely a fantasy. He was a portly thing, leaning on an impossibly tiny walking stick, the moonlight glimmering off his inky black feathers. She likened him to the ravens in the wheat field, though his wings looked much like long and gangly arms with spindly fingers.
"Forgive me, o' golden blossom, for I am Bertok," his black eyes glinted and he bowed gracefully. "I promise thee no harm, child. Pray tell me, why dost thou cry?"
Amused by the talking creature before her, the girl dried her cheek, "My father says I need no lovely dress for I am a farmer's daughter."
"How sad!" he said. "And wrong is he," Bertok cooed, as easy as you please.
"Oh but yes. And I wouldn't suppose you'll be a fairy," she said, "if I'm not making too bold in asking?"
"Indeed," he said, "it's a fairy I am. Howbeit, not the lovely, handsome kind. Now, tell me, are you loyal, child?" asked the fae.
"Dear Bertok, I swear it," answered the girl.
"Upon our vow, in three days time, a gift we shall bring thee. Precious dear, this gift mustn't be opened till the night before thy wedding. Keep this promise and in happiness thou shalt be for all of thy days. Riches thee will know of only and great fame will find thou in fortune."
Therefore the girl and the little creature did make a pact. He sent her home, and summoned forth his brethren. That night, upon the warm wind a fragrance was born, cedar and fresh rain, and the scent of a hundred flowers. The wisteria was in blossom, and hung downwards from the trees nearly into the water of the pond. Blossoms dropped softly through the air like bright rain, and the mystic creatures were merry.
Bertok told them of his promise to the young maiden, and set his friends to work. The fairyfolk were a lively lot; they gathered spider webs in a twinkling, and lost no time at all, but began to unwind the silken threads that minute. The nymphs pulled golden ripples of moonlight from their watery beds, the hobgoblins plucked the brightest scales from dragonfly wings, and the dwarves brought forth the richest of gems. In three nights time the fae created her enchanted vestment.
For three days the young girl sat at her window and brooded. Three nights she sat and gazed upon the moon and the stars. There she was on the third fine night when she couldn't stand it any longer.
"Alack!" she cried, "Must I wait all these years for my dreams to be fulfilled?"
That night the great winds blew away the clouds of the sky, so that the moon shone very brightly forth, and by the sudden light the girl saw a beautiful cedar chest. Impatient, the young girl knelt down beside it. Surely, this was the gift from the fairies! She rested her delicate fingers on its lid and gently opened the box, the moonlight catching the deep blue silk therein.
"Ah, such a sweet, fairy thing!" cried the girl, as she pulled it from the chest. Springing lightly up, she held the dress against her, "Now behold me for the finest lady in all the land. Very envious shall be the daughter of the richest lord, when she sees this fantasy; but I shall be calm and careless, and say, looking down thus humbly, 'Your pardon, noble lady, that I wear this trifling gown, unmeet for your great presence!' What a wonder I shall be."
The young maid slipped into its lustrous folds. It held her warmly and she glowed with the happiness of it. However, in her joy, she forgot her promise. Passing rich was her robe, the collar sparkled brightly and the little glass beads hung like dew on her breast.
On that third night the young maid waltzed through the gardens, danced along the paths, passed the still pond, where were bouncing fireflies and frogs that sang musically. The dress shimmered like mist. She moved like a wave of the sea, or a cloud of the sky, or the wild grass in the wind. Here, she found herself at the foot of a dark oak tree, with gnarled trunk and crooked boughs. She called out for the wee folk, searching high and low for them. But they would not come, for she had broken her promise. Now the girl turned without a word and moved around the twisted oak very slowly, hanging her head.
There she was for a long space, saying nothing. She traced the pattern on her gown with the point of her finger. At length a fog, damp and over-sweet, hung upon the wind, so that the girl grew faint and clung to the tree, trembling.
She had not stood there long before she dropped the gathers of her skirt, with a long cry, and she herself fell her length upon the ground. From that hour, she was in a piteous way, and lay in the mossy bed in agony. Her skin was damp to the touch, an earthen smell seeped in the air.
In that moment, flowers began to blossom from her skin, a thousand blooms that slowly dwindled her away. And in the morning, her father found a gossamer gown quietly lying in the shade of the garden trees.
Nothing else remained.