Here is a faery tale I wrote recently. It has been in the works for quite some time now, and I am quite fond of it. It deals with some complex thoughts on love, turns a few faery tale cliches on their heads, and expresses a lot of what has been brewing in my mind the last few months. Hope you enjoy it!
The Folly of Benjamin Bell:
A Tale of Loss and Love
Once upon a time, for so many good fairy tales have begun, there lived a fellow named Benjamin Bell. Young Mr. Bell was a horse-master who lived on a little ranch near the shining coastal town called Harper’s Haven. His tale is from a time when faeries and their kin were a good deal less outlandish than they are today.
Mr. Bell had a loving heart, but as is often the case with loving hearts, he also had a broken heart. Benjamin Bell was madly in love with a lovely young maiden named Ariel McFallon. And Ariel, in turn, was also madly in love. The only problem was that the man she was in love with was not named Benjamin Bell. To be fair to poor Benjamin, he had cared for her a good many years longer and more deeply than the other fellow had. Any person who had known the two would have readily testified that Benjamin Bell was the far better man. Yet, such is the mystery of love that Ariel chose the lesser man.
Although young Mr. Bell was a decent man, no man is immune to folly, not even the decent ones. The folly of Benjamin Bell was that he refused to give up. This characteristic held true in every aspect of his life, but none so predominantly as in the matters of the heart. Day after day he gave her his love, and when she refused that, his friendship, all in the hope that one day she would see him as he desired to be seen. Yet each day broke his heart more than the day before it. The brokenness of his heart caused him to become something he never intended to be and to act out of his injury in ways he never thought he would act.
After many days had passed and he at last began to understand that all of his efforts were fruitless, Mr. Bell sought audience with the Faery Queen, for faeries are really quite keen on matters of the heart. Yet speaking with the Faery Queen is no easy matter, for she can only be seen by those she wishes to see. Long did the horse-master search for her, and long she stayed unseen. Many nights and many days rode Benjamin Bell on his sturdy horse, through many woods and many glades.
Long did he haunt the places where faeries can be found. He ambushed them in their enchanted forests, and riverbanks, and chased them deep into the valleys and high onto the mountain summits. He hoped to catch one that he could convince her to bring him to her queen. Yet each time he came close, they would scatter and vanish, for agile though he was, they were much quicker than he and could be yards away before his second foot fell. This went on until at last came she, the Faery Queen, half out of pity and half wishing to be left alone, to the weary faery-hunter.
“Welcome, Benjamin Bell, horse-rider from Harper’s Haven. You have searched long and traveled far, and many times have you disturbed my subjects in their merriment. Yet your search has not been fruitless, for I know of the love which drives you to seek me. If you agree to leave my people in peace, I will help you obtain the love you seek. If you shall obtain the ingredients, I will craft a potion which, if applied a few times, will render you irresistible to the one you love.”
Now that he heard his desire voiced out loud, Benjamin Bell caught a quick glance at the true state of his heart. He hesitated for a moment, feeling some misgivings, but then agreed when he remembered Ariel’s lovely face and the pain of living without her. The next moment, though he was never quite sure how he got there, Bell found himself alone in a field of flowers with a scroll in his hand.
Upon the scroll he found words which were written in a language he could not speak. The more he looked at them, however, the more familiar they appeared, even though he knew he had never seen their like before. Although he could not decipher the meaning of the letters, he discovered that he was somehow able to understand what it was that the first line was commanding him to do. It told him to search the field for the silver Blossom of the Crucible.
Although the command was simple enough, it certainly did not prove helpful enough. What the scroll neglected to tell him was what the blossom looked like or where in the expansive field it could be found. Still undaunted, Mr. Bell began his search. He began by identifying and ruling out all of the flowers he already knew. By nightfall he had exhausted his supply of botanical knowledge and found dozens of plants which he did not know. He chronicled each of them into his pocketbook by description and ordered them by likelihood of being the Blossom of the Crucible.
After sorting through them all, none seemed to be a good fit for his flower. He had found magnificent flowers of colours from all over the spectrum, and flora of brilliant designs and shapes, yet none seemed likely. Among all the greens, golds, magentas, crimsons, and indigos, he found no silver. He was beginning to become frustrated, but told himself that love is worth the pursuit. He searched the field a second time, and a third. He searched until he came to the Western-most point of the field, where he found a tangle of thistles he had previously overlooked.
There, amidst the chaos of the thorns, he found one solitary blossom. It had a shape akin to that of the bluebell, but had leaves and petals which shone like silver. It seemed almost to be made of living metal. He knew beyond a second thought that this was the flower for which he had searched for so long. Kneeling down to take it in his hand, he felt sad to have to pluck such a masterpiece. When he lifted the blossom from its stem, its withered leaves grew suddenly strong and the stem immediately put forth another flower.
Having placed the flower into a glass jar and stowing it in his goat-skin satchel, Mr. Bell returned his focus to the scroll. The second line then became clear to him, just as the first had done so earlier. It told him to travel to the East to seek the Mount of the Blacksmith, and there to claim a scale of living gold from the dragon’s breast. At least this time it told him where to find it, though he almost wished that it had not. The young hunter’s heart sank into his boots. The only thing Bell had ever been afraid of was fire. Though he knew the fire within him burned stronger than the fire outside of him. And the inner fire drove him on to face the outer fire.
So Benjamin Bell journeyed far across barren fields and unknown sands. Traversing canyons, and labouring over mountain passes, he traveled far. After passing through dangers of wild beasts, and unsavory foes, he crossed the last ridge and saw the site of his next challenge. At last he found himself in sight of the Mount of the Blacksmith.
There it stood, a towering monolith, dominating the landscape around it. Unlike the other mountains in the range, its peak was not snow-capped, but instead was scorched black. Benjamin Bell felt deeply uneasy about approaching such a menacing summit, but took a deep breath and began on the path towards the dragon-fire. The trail leading to the mountain was eerily easy and well-trodden, which only made him all the more uncomfortable. It appeared to him almost like a friend uttering deceitful words of comfort in a hopeless situation.
The climb was long and tiresome, and the heat grew nearly unbearable. The temperature made Bell all the more nervous considering he was used to it being cold on mountain tops, not scalding hot. Towards the summit of the mountain he saw the mouth of a cave, which seemed to be the source of the heat. Taking this to be the lair of the dragon, he approached it cautiously. His heart pounded within him like a church bell at noonday. The anxiety nearly choked him as he came to the rim of the charred entrance of the cave.
When Bell passed through the threshold he found that what he had taken to be a cave was in fact a tunnel which took him deep into the heart of the mountain. The path grew darker and more perilous as he descended, and several times he slipped and earned himself many bruises. He also found that the temperature continued to rise as he went on, until it made him feel like he was being roasted alive in a furnace. Several times along the path his will nearly broke and he almost turned aside, but love drove him on.
At last the tunnel bellowed outwards into a great cavern, the floor of which was blanketed with layer upon layer of the finest gold and the brightest gems. In the center of the room lay the dragon, coiled up on his expensive bedding, with smoke coming from his nostrils with each breath. Mr. Bell had hoped to catch him asleep as he had read happened with many storybook heroes and their dragons, but he was not so lucky. The massive golden beast stared at him with open eyes, both as orange as flames, which seemed to burn their way into the depths of his mind.
“Well, Mr. Bell,” began the dragon, ”I see that you want one of my scales. How exactly were you thinking of going about collecting it?” No sounds came from the creature’s mouth, yet Bell knew that the words which he heard in his mind had no other origin.
It was then that Bell realized he had entirely left the dragon out of his calculations and had not the faintest idea of how he was going to retrieve one of its golden scales. He was not a gallant knight of shimmering steel, or a hardened champion of warfare. He had no armour or shield with which to ward off the flames. He had nothing but his hunting knife with which to even remove the scale, let alone to fight the beast with. He offered no answer to the dragon.
It was then that a very peculiar thing happened. The dragon plucked a scale from his own breast and held it out in his great paw, offering it to Benjamin Bell. It was of the brightest gold, and seemed to be more than mere metal, but to be alive, just as the silver blossom had been, but with a different sort of life in it. “It is yours, if love is worth the pain. Otherwise, there is no risk in retreat.” said the dragon, with a gleam of mischief in his cunning eyes.
Bell hesitated for a moment, taking into account all that he had heard about dragons being wily and cruel creatures. It did not seem beyond the realm of possibility that the beast would taunt him before making a quick meal of him. He was unsure whether the dragon would really freely give him a scale, yet he was equally unsure he would let him retreat in safety. Long he deliberated, searching the dragon’s face for any hint of its intentions, and the fear grew more intense with each passing moment. Breathing deeply, he decided that love was worth the risk. He took up the bell-shaped scale in his right hand.
The scale was still hot and scorched his hand deeply. He grunted and quickly dropped it into the jar which he kept in his satchel. He waited for a moment for what trap would follow, but found that there was no trap to be sprung. The dragon which he saw before him was not a wicked creature, but a lonesome one. As it turns out, the great beast was too pleased by his courage and too amused by his terror to make a dinner out of him.
Bell wrapped his burnt hand in a makeshift bandage which he tore off from the bottom of his tunic, bowed gratefully to the dragon, and made a swift exit. In spite of the deep pain he felt from his wound, he was overwhelmed by a sense of elation and surprise. Although he was met with just as many stumbles and the way out was steeper than the way in, he found his journey out of the mountain went by much quicker than his descent into it.
As he approached the end of the tunnel and was enveloped in the cool light of day, Bell found that the final words on his scroll became clear to him. This time they told him to journey to a place which was all too familiar to him. It told him to return to Harper’s Haven and journey deep into the valley there until he came to the vast Mirror Lake, which was where he had first met Ariel when they were children so many years ago. The return journey was surprisingly easy and he encountered few enemies and dangers upon the way, which was a welcome change.
The Benjamin Bell who returned to Harper’s Haven was different from the Benjamin Bell who had left it. A new strength and resolve which had lain dormant had blossomed in his soul, and a courage which had previously been altogether foreign to him was now quite familiar. His encounter with the dragon in particular had awoken something inside of him. For although the danger might not have been as real as it seemed, the bravery which it stirred in his heart certainly was.
The church bells were ringing with the sound of highnoon as he passed through the village and all the people who lived there were bustling about with their lives, paying no heed to him. Bell could not help but find it strange how he could be so fundamentally and suddenly different, yet appear exactly the same to everyone else. As he saw all the familiar men of the village chattering with their wives he wondered how many of them had been on a journey similar to his own to win the love which they now had.
By nightfall he had come out of the village and to the edge of Harper’s Valley. The path before him could be seen well enough due to the moonlight and so he began his descent. When he reached the lake, he found a very strange thing. Although it was springtime, the entire lake as far as his eye could see was frozen solid. Bell stepped out onto the lake. He was nervous that it would break at any moment, yet something drove him on until he reached the centre of the lake.
To his surprise, Bell discovered a stairwell made of solid ice which led him into a chamber deep underneath the surface of the lake. The walls of the chamber were of ice which was thicker and clearer than glass so that he could see the bottom of the lake quite lucidly all around him. At the far end of the chamber was the Faery Queen standing beside a mirror, which hung from the ceiling and was in the shape of a large bell. “Welcome, horse-master from Harper’s Haven. You have traveled far and braved many dangers. Come, look into the mirror to see your heart’s desire.”
Although Bell did not realize it, this was the greatest test which he had encountered thus far. When he drew up close to the mirror, he found that it was not solid glass, but living water, and when he looked into it he saw himself for who he really was, not just how he appeared. “All you must do now is to fill your jar with some of the water from the mirror, and the potion will be complete.” Bell reached out with his burnt hand and touched the mirror. Immediately the festering wound healed up, leaving only a scar. He took out the jar which held the scale and the blossom and brought it close to the water, but found that he could not bring himself to fill it.
For now that Benjamin Bell looked into the mirror without a mask, and saw himself for who he really was, he understood that his love for Ariel had not really been love at all, but only self-love. He understood that he had been acting really quite selfishly and that to force her to love him would only bring harm to both of them. He found that his broken heart was not a result of loving her too much, but of loving her too little. It was then that Benjamin Bell did the most loving action he had ever done. He loved her enough to let her love someone else.
Handing the jar to the Faery Queen, Bell bid her a respectful farewell and turned to leave the Chamber of the Mirror. The water of the mirror had healed more than his damaged hand, it had also healed his damaged heart. The Faery Queen had made good on her promise, for in the heart of Benjamin Bell, he had found the love he had sought, if not the object of it. I would like to say that Bell won the fair maiden’s heart in the end, but such was not the case. But the love which he did win, was far greater than the love he had lost.