GRANDPA YORI PUT DOWN HIS BOOK and smiled at Michelle. She was his favourite. “Yes, it’s true, my dear, we lived in magical times once.” The girl crawled into his lap. Her hair smelled of lavender.
In olden times when I was young, we lived on the edge of a very thick forest. There stood at its center an old castle. My mother told me often of the aged woman who lived there all alone. She was a sorceress. [You know what that is, don’t you? Good.] By day she took the form of a cat. At night she was an owl, and for a few hours every evening she looked like a human being.
Mother said that if anyone came within a hundred steps of her castle, they would get stuck there, forced to stand in the same place and unable to move until the sorceress said the words to set them free. If it was a young maiden, the witch would turn her into a bird, put her in a basket and carry her to a chamber in the castle, where she had more than seven thousand of these birds locked up.
Not far from our house lived a young maiden named Florinda [yes, my dear, the same as your great grandmother]. She was more beautiful than all the other girls in the village. I should know: she was my fiancée. She thought I was very handsome then, but we were in love, so what would you expect?
Sometimes we would take long walks in the woods. We loved to be alone together. Of course, we tried to remember not to go too close to the castle.
One beautiful evening, we went for our usual walk. The sun shone between the trunks of the trees and brightened the dark leaves of the forest, while the cooing of the turtledoves [pigeons, my dear] sounded so sweet and mournful coming from the beeches that Florinda began to cry. I could feel it, too. Something terrible was about to happen.
Meanwhile, the sun was setting behind the trees. The songs of the turtledoves made us so sad that we didn’t pay attention to where we were. Suddenly Flo looked up, and we saw the walls of the castle. She gasped and turned white with terror. I reached for her, but she vanished! She turned into a nightingale. She sang to me, such a sweet sound you’ve never heard. Just then a night owl with glowing eyes flew over us three times, screeching loudly. I could not move. I was stuck like a stone, unable to move, speak or cry.
The sun went down. I saw the owl fly into a bush, and out came a crooked old woman, thin and sallow, with big red eyes and a hooked nose that almost touched her chin. Muttering to herself, she grabbed the nightingale and carried her away in her hand. A little later she returned and said in a hollow voice:
“I greet thee, Zachiel; when the moon in a basket shines, bind; loose, Zachiel, till the good hour comes.”
I could move! I fell to my knees in front of her and begged her to give me back Florinda. She said I could never have her back again and left me. I cried. I wept. I screamed and wailed, “Oh, what shall I do?” But all to no avail.
I went away to a distant town and got a job as a shepherd. I stayed there for a long time. I could not bear the thought of going on without Florinda. Sometimes I would go around by the castle – not too close, mind you – but I never saw any sign of her.
One night I dreamed that I found a blood-red flower with a big, beautiful pearl in its middle. I dreamed I plucked the flower and carried it to the castle. I knew that while I carried it, I was safe from all sorcery [like magic spells, my dear]. But most important, I dreamed that this flower enabled me to get back my dear Florinda.
I woke up in the morning all excited, with the dream as fresh as a real-life experience. I knew I had to find that flower right away. I left town and travelled over mountain and valley, looking everywhere for such a flower. On the ninth day of my search, I almost gave up hope. Let’s face it, who ever heard of a flower with a pearl in it? It was early in the morning, and the dew drops on the fields and flowers made me think of pearls. Suddenly, in a shady spot, I saw it! Blood-red, and in its centre a dewdrop, a big one, as big as a beautiful pearl.
I plucked the flower and travelled night and day with it until I reached the castle. My heart pounded in my chest like a sledgehammer when I reached the hundred-step circle. But I could still move! I walked to the castle gate. I went into the courtyard and stopped to listen, trying to hear the singing of the birds to find out where the sorceress kept them. At last, I barely made it out. I followed the bird song until I found the hall in which the wicked old woman had locked up the birds in seven thousand wicker cages.
The birds went nuts when they saw me, and it scared me silly. They scolded and hissed and squawked. Some spit poison at me, but they could not reach me. Maybe they could not spit that far [yes, my dear, I can], but I still think the flower protected me.
I could not turn back, I had to find the nightingales. There were hundreds of them. Which one was Florinda?
While I stood there, trying to figure out how to find my fiancée, I spotted the old hag sneaking toward the door with a basket. There was a bird in the basket. I jumped and ran as fast as I could and smacked her with the flower. When I touched her and the basket, it broke the spell. She could no longer hurt us. Right before my eyes, the nightingale shimmered and grew and turned into Florinda. She was as beautiful as ever and she came over and threw her arms around me. We have embraced and kissed many times since, but that was the greatest kiss in my life.
I touched all the other birds with the flower, which broke the spell on the rest of the young women. Florinda and I went home together and got married as soon as we could make all the arrangements again.
And we lived happily ever after.
“Yes, my dear. After all, we had two handsome sons, two beautiful daughters, a dozen grandchildren and a very special great granddaughter. Now if that isn’t happily ever after then I don’t know what is.”
He carried the drowsy girl to her bed and tucked her in.
“Good night, my dear.”
Grimm’s fairy tale adapted by JT Hine. This retelling © 2022, JT Hine.