Published on 2013/03/31

Freeing Beauty

S.A. Weber

In a small village, in another time and place, lived a girl of peerless beauty. Caught between wonder and jealousy, the villagers shunned her, only acknowledging her through gossip. “Fragile creature,” they would say. “The ugliness of the world would surely cause her to break into pieces.”

Forced into isolation, the girl passed most of the time in her garden, the flowers and bees her only friends. “I wish my beauty would wilt like a flower’s petals, leaving me bare,” she would cry. One day a powerful sorcerer heard her cries and took pity on her.

“My poor child,” he said, “your beauty is a gift that should not be wished away.” He promised her he would find a person worthy of her beauty, and with a flick of his tongue, he cast a spell that encased her in glass. He kept her in the garden, a glow in perpetual sunshine. Word spread throughout the land of the beautiful girl that needed to be freed.

Within days hundreds of men flocked to the garden; brave noblemen and convinced commoners desperate to prove their worth. The sorcerer spoke to the rapt faction in a booming voice. “Only one man can claim this girl as his own. I will release her to the first man to bring me back these three items; the foot of a fairy, the tooth of an ogre, and the scale of a dragon. Now go!” The men swiftly disbanded.

The items were not easy to procure, and many men died trying. Time did not matter to the sorcerer, for he did not grow old and his clothes did not wrinkle. He would wait forever if he had to. The girl had captivated him and he was content watching her unmoving body sparkle behind the glass.

The sorcerer had lost count of the days and the dead men when he was approached by a small man with ragged clothes and dirty hands, who carried all of his possessions in a rucksack. “Good day, Sir,” said the man. “My name is Folke and I come from far away. I have heard many stories of a girl so beautiful you can barely look at her and I have come to set her free.”

The sorcerer was amused. “I suppose you must have also heard of all the other men who have tried and failed.”

“Yes, Sir. But I will not fail. I will rescue her and she will be mine.”

A chuckle rose in the sorcerer’s throat. “Very well then. You know what I require to set her free. Be gone with you now, Folke, and best of luck.”

Folke turned and left, smiling as he headed into the forest. He was neither brave, nor intimidating, nor noble, but he had traveled as far as the eye could see. There was no creature he hadn’t met, and his knowledge was as vast as the land.

Toward evening he came across a grove of fruit trees whose blossoms fragranced the air. Breathing deeply, he let out a series of whistles that summoned the fairy queen. “Hello Folke. I thought I would never see you again,” said the queen.

“Well, your Majesty, I was in your lovely forest and I thought I would inform you of something.”

“Oh. And what is that?” The queen cocked her head to the side. Folke spoke carefully, for he knew how unpredictable the queen could be.

“Recently I visited a lovely water pixie named Priscilla who claimed to be the best dancer in the Fairy Realm.”

“What?” The queen shimmered and her eyes widened.

“She put on quite a show for us all, even made the laziest fish leap out of the water to watch.” Folke closed his eyes as if reliving the memory.

The queen sucked in a breath and unfurled her wings. “That is ridiculous. I am the best dancer in the Realm. Perhaps I should remind you of that.”

The queen began to dance, graceful and hypnotizing, moving her body to the rhythm of the trees.

“Excellent your Majesty, although I believe Priscilla danced a little bit faster,” Folke said in a provoking tone.

Refusing to be outdone, the queen spun faster than ever, and Folke saw her only as a blur of color. Suddenly the queen screamed and came to a stop. “Oh no,” she cried. “My feet.” Stuck in the dirt were her two dainty feet. The queen’s vigorous dancing had caused them to fall off.

Folke sprang into action and grabbed a foot, shoving it into his rucksack as the queen’s subjects came to her aide. He slipped back into the woods unnoticed.

With one item procured, Folke treaded lighter along his path, not stopping for rest or food. He could almost feel the girl with him, walking beside him, his beacon to a better life. He didn’t stop until the sun rose the next morning.

A few days later, he reached a swamp that was dotted with large huts made from mud and tree bark. Swords and armor scattered the ground, remnants of previous visitors. The ogre village was quiet. Ogres were lazy, stupid creatures that slept most of the day. At the edge of the swamp, Folke found a large boulder, about as tall as him, and painted a face on it with mud. He stuck some leaves to the top of the boulder and stuck one stick to each side with mud. When he was finished, the boulder crudely resembled a person. Humans were an ogre’s favorite meal.

Suddenly the ground shook as an ogre emerged from one of the huts, a growl rattling in his lungs. Folke hid behind the boulder and watched. When the ogre wasn’t looking, Folke picked up a rock and threw it at the ogre, hitting him in the head. The ogre shrieked and scanned the swamp. His eyes landed on the rock with the mud-streaked smile and he grabbed it. Unable to tell it was only a rock, the ogre bit down on it. A loud crack reverberated through the swamp and the ogre’s fractured teeth fell from its mouth. Folke caught a tooth as it fell and stuffed it in his rucksack. He fled the swamp as fast as he could and never looked back.

With the first two items secured, Folke was eager to find the third. Finding a dragon scale would be very difficult and extremely dangerous, and Folke had to go about it carefully or he would end up like the other men. After coming up with a plan, he traveled to the Winter Forest and caught a snow mite. Then he made his way to the caves where the dragons lived.

Careful to stay hidden, Folke scouted the caves until he spotted a dragon. The enormous beast lay on its stomach at the mouth of the cave, watching and waiting. It radiated a great heat that threatened to consume Folke as he inched closer. The dragon’s great length made it possible for Folke to approach its tail without catching its eye. He gently set the snow mite on the tip of the dragon’s tail and watched as it burrowed under the dragon’s scales, turning them white with frost.

Irritated, the dragon whipped around and curled up its tail, which was turning to ice. With claws and teeth, the dragon began ripping apart its tail, desperately searching for the mite. Folke quickly plucked a scale off the dragon and dashed away, leaving the dragon in agony.

With all three items, Folke returned to the sorcerer, who was astonished to see that Folke had not only survived but succeeded. “I underestimated you, Folke,” he said to the beaming pauper. “You have proven yourself worthy.”

The sorcerer snapped his fingers and the glass shattered, freeing the girl. Folke could not believe his eyes. The girl was so lovely he had to touch her to make sure she was real. As he returned to his senses, he noticed that she was not moving or talking, just standing there, the corners of her mouth turned up in a weak smile. Her skin was warm and soft and her hair as smooth as silk, but her statuesque posture did not change.

Undeterred, Folke picked her up and carried her back to his home. There, her beauty consumed him. He did nothing but stare at her, professing his love to her blank face and empty eyes. Soon he stopped eating and sleeping, refusing to leave her for any period of time. Eventually he became too weak to stand, and worshipped her from the ground. One day the sun rose and Folke was dead, curled up at the girl’s feet.

When the sorcerer discovered them the next day, he reveled in such a tragic scene. Kicking Folke’s dead body aside, he gently took the girl in his arms and stroked her hair. He returned her to the garden and re-encased her in glass that would never break. Life would never touch her again, but her beauty would go on living. Over time, the sorcerer watched countless men draw their dying breath at her feet.

S.A. Weber lives in Central New York, where she currently works in the medical field. She has been writing since she was very young, and this is her first published story.