Monday, 21 March 2016

Happiness (A retelling of Maurice Maeterlinck's “The Blue Bird”) - Introduction and Chapter 1


Once upon a time, there was a small kingdom where a king lived with his queen and two children, a young prince and a princess; their names were Prince Lander and Princess Jana. Their kingdom was located in a valley surrounded by densely wooded mountains where a river wound through the kingdom. In the valley, located at an inner curve of the river, was a town called Berlingot. Over looking this town, located at the edge of the mountains was an elegant castle of dark and light stone walls and ebony coloured turrets where the king and his family lived.
In the same kingdom across the river lived a woodcarver named Pierre and his wife Jolie where they also had two children: a boy named Tristan and a girl named Michelle. The woodcarver’s family lived in a cottage that was built near the woods in the mountains that had a lovely view. Not far from their home lived Pierre’s father and mother, the children’s grandparents whom the children visited almost every day.
One Christmas Eve, the grandparents joined their family home for a Christmas feast. During the visit, the children’s grandfather gave them a special gift he had found in town – a sea captain’s spyglass. Once he taught the children how to use it and the children took turns peeking through their gift to see a glimpse of the kingdom they were living in.
“There you are,” Grandfather said as he set up a stand for the spy glass to rest. He opened their attic window the valley stretched out before them.
“Whoa! It’s chilly!” Five-year old Michelle shivered.
Grandfather removed his thick sweater and put it on her. “It would be wiser if we kept the window closed, but it would be hard to look at the world through frosted glass,” he explained.
Tristan, who was two years older than his sister, grabbed the spyglass and scanned the winter valley. He gave a gasp of delight. “Look, Michelle! We could see the bakery! Look at all those sweet breads in the window!”
“Let me see!” Michelle reached for the spyglass as her brother made room for her. “I see them! Wow! Those cakes and pastries look so tasty!” She moved the spyglass in another direction. “I could also see the stained glass windows on the church!”
Grandfather laughed. “I am glad you children are enjoying your gift.”
“Grandfather, I can see the king having a party in his castle.” Michelle held up the smaller end of the glass to him.
The old man took a peek and nodded. “You are right. They have the place beautifully decorated.”
“Can I see, Grandfather?” Tristan asked.
His grandfather stepped to one side so he could have a look.
As Tristan peered through the glass he saw the castle awash in golden light, beautifully decorated with evergreens, holly branches, ribbons, and brightly lit candles.
“Michelle, you have to look at this!” he told his sister.
Michelle gave a cry of delight. “Oh, everything is so beautiful! Even the prince and the princess are wearing such lovely clothes!”
“Children! It’s time to eat!” their father called up to them from the lower stairs.
“Looks like we will have to come back later,” Grandfather told them.
“Oh! But I want to see more!” Michelle protested.
“You will have plenty of time later to look, but for now we should go down before the food gets cold.”
“All right,” Michelle immediately obeyed heading towards the steps.
Tristan took the spyglass and looked at what Michelle had seen. On one of the castle balconies, a young girl in a pretty dress was looking through a larger spyglass – and she was pointing it right at him! Realizing that he was being watched he stepped back. He looked through the glass again, but the girl was gone.
“Tristan, are you coming?” his grandfather asked.
“Yes, Grandfather,” the boy replied. He reached for the window, his grandfather helped him close the glass panes and draw the curtains.
“So what did you see?” the old man asked.
“I think I saw the princess looking at me.”

Chapter 1 – Madam Luna

Ten years had passed since Tristan and Michelle looked through the spyglass that Christmas Eve. Since then, Tristan had grown into a strong young man with brown hair lightened by the sun and a healthy tan as he and Pierre worked together. He took after Pierre in his looks and build. During late spring they would enter the forest together, cut down trees for making furniture. Business had been good with tables, chairs, a cradle or two for the newborns in town as well as some wooden figurines. Like his father, Tristan was skilled with his hands. He would take whatever scrap pieces of wood left from their furniture making and shape them into toys, figurines, and occasionally a flute or two.
“Thank you for your patronage, Father André,” Pierre shook hands with the local parish priest.
“Your workmanship is always recommended in town, Pierre,” the priest told him. “I still have that chair you have made for me ten years ago. I don’t think I could ever find another one as comfortable and beautiful like it.”
“I am glad to hear that, Father,” the woodcarver laughed.
“It’s the truth.”
Tristan listened to the conversation in pride.
“Well, we should finish our errands and start heading back before it gets dark,” Pierre told the priest.
“That would be wise.”
Upon those words, Tristan hopped on to the driver’s seat of their horse drawn wagon and his father sat beside him. The two men made their way across the river to west of town to make some purchases at the shops located there.
The town of Berlingot was located in the north of the king's castle spreading further north away from the forests and mountains that edged the kingdom border. Berlingot was divided by the river that fed the town that was connected by a strong stone bridge that united the townspeople from both sides of the river. Tristan and his family lived at the far eastern border of Berlingot where it was rich in wood, mines, wild vegetation. Many artisans, carpenters and workers resided at Eastern Berlingot sometimes communing at the local church located there. Western Berlingot was where most of the merchants and tradesmen resided – shops, bakeries, a school, a city hall, and markets. The markets were mainly of farmers and artisans who either sell their wares in families or small communities.
Tristan and Pierre visited the markets located in the heart of the western town to make their purchases.
"Have you heard? Princess Jana had become ill," a plump farmer's wife said to a friend as Tristan lifted a large basket full of apples.
"I have heard! The poor thing!" said a skinny widow with a long nose. "I have also heard she had grown into quite a beauty – and a spoiled one at that!"
"The princess was deathly ill. They had all the physicians look at her and could not find anything wrong. Her brother, the prince, had left on a quest to find the cure for her." The farmer's wife explained.
"Excuse me, ladies," Tristan stepped in, "I could not help hearing you. What was wrong with the princess?"
"They say she was always unhappy," said the farmer's wife, "With that she had stopped eating and had fits that occurred more and more frequently as the day passed."
"If you ask me, I would say it's just something thanks to being selfish and spoiled rotten." The widow then added, her tone lowered, "I heard that she angered her godfather by being utterly rude to him."
"Well, she is the king's daughter. One would not see why."
"Oh, but the godfather was someone even the king respected. They say he even had the king's ear which is why our kingdom had prospered." The widow gossiped, "If you ask me, I believe the godfather placed a curse on the king's daughter as a punishment. Until she changed her attitude and behaviours her illness would only get worse."
"What happens to her then?" Tristan could not help asking.
The widow and the farmer's wife glanced at each other.
"Surely she wouldn't die?" the farmer's wife inquired meekly.
"Who could say for sure?" The farmer's wife received some coins from Pierre.
With a nod, father and son left the two ladies with their gossip that now turned to local matchmaking.
"Since when have you taken interest in local gossip, Tristan?" Pierre asked.
Tristan shrugged. "I was just curious. Besides," he added, "if it’s about the king and his family wouldn't you be curious?"
"Some matters are better left alone especially when they have nothing to do with us," advised the woodcarver. "Listening to gossip will not improve one's life."
"Yes, Father."
After loading their wagon with their items, Pierre gave Tristan a shopping list from Jolie to finish.
"I will stay with Greta," his father patted their old horse still harness to their wagon.
While his father waited at the wagon with their horse, Tristan made his rounds through the market. Then they drove to the east to where the shops were located; there he made three trips. He first visited a grocer for a sack of flour, then a butcher for some sausages and smoked meats, and then a place for lengths of cloth for Jolie and Michelle back home. As he finished his last trip, Tristan saw a bunch of children, pelting an old woman with pebbles.
“Hey! What are you doing?” Tristan approached the small group who stopped at his appearance and ran away. Tristan was about to go after them, but a strong hand held him back.
“Leave them be,” said an aged voice.
He looked and saw that it was the old woman who stopped him. For a moment his eyes grew at what he saw.
She had a shriveled, brown, twisted face with a nose that did not seem to age with it. Her hair was brittle in a tangle of white with a blend of grey. Her eyes were brown mismatched in size with crow’s feet giving them an oddly sad look. She was dressed in a woolen skirt of moss green and a blouse that reminded one of a dying rose. On her shoulders was a large woolen shawl. One of her gnarled hands rested on a cane made from a tree branch that was even more gnarled, as if it had grown especially to match her appearance.
“What are you starting at boy? It is rude to stare at people!” she snapped, thumping her cane on the pavement for effect.
“I’m sorry,” Tristan apologized.
“Humph!” She turned, muttering something about youth and learning manners.
“Uh, grandmother!” Tristan called as stood before her.
“I am not your grandmother! And you are blocking my path!” scolded the woman.
“Madam,” he said softening his tone, “What would you like me to call you?”
She stopped and studied Tristan closing one eye, squinting up at him. “Why would that be of concern to you?”
“I just want to be polite.”
“Hmph!” she strode past him, her cane hitting the pavement in a slow rhythm. “If you want to call me by name, then I would like to have yours first.”
“My name is Tristan,” he said and added, “Madam, what is yours?”
The old woman stopped for a moment. She turned and hobbled back. “I am the fairy Bérylune,” she told him.
“A fairy?” He felt a smile creeping up from the corner of his lips.
“Yes, a fairy.” She lifted her head and looked down from her nose. “Don’t I look like a fairy?”
“You, um, look much older than I expected for a fairy,” he said.
“Well, I am one and you shall call me ‘Madame Luna’, if you please!” she said in a rather snooty tone.
“Madame Luna,” Tristan reached into a bag he was carrying and brought out a smaller paper bag. “Would you like one?”
The old fairy peered at him suspiciously, then at the bag. “What have you got there?”
“They’re licorice sticks.”
She reached in grabbing a piece she stuffed it into her wrinkled mouth and began sucking on it loudly.
“Had better,” she muttered. She walked past him and said in a voice so that only he could hear, “Thank you, boy.”
Tristan watched her walk away for a moment and made his way to where his father was waiting for him.

The trip home was usually quiet, yet that day, Tristan felt like talking. He talked about a strange woman he had encountered in town before they left.
“She was a strange one, but she was not bad. I wonder why the kids pelted her with rocks.”
Then the conversation went on to the table they delivered to the local priest.
“I am glad Father André was pleased with the table we built.” Tristan said to his father Pierre as they sat in the wagon heading home.
“Tristan! Papa!” A petite figure in the distance waved towards them. It was Michelle, a lovely girl of fifteen with sand coloured hair tied back in a kerchief. At her feet scampered their shaggy dog Tylo barking excitedly at father and son.
“Michelle!” Tristan stood up from his seat and waved with both arms.
Their father watched them exchange their greetings and chuckled.
“What’s so funny?” Tristan asked as he sat back down.
“I am just glad to see you and your sister have not changed since you were children.”
“We have too!” Tristan pointed out, “I’ve grown taller and stronger. I even help you with your work.”
“That you do,” Pierre nodded.
The cart arrived in front of their home, Tristan leapt from the driver’s seat.
Michelle ran up to meet her brother with Tylo in tow. “We’re having sausage and lentil stew tonight.”
Tristan smiled as he looked at his sister’s excited face. Sausage and lentil stew was their family favourite.
“This is for you,” Tristan reached into his pocket and handed her a bag of licorice sticks.
His sister’s eyes lit up at the treat. “Thank you, Tristan!” she said throwing her arms around him, “You are the best!”
He laughed as he spun her around.
“All right, let’s wash up for supper before the food gets cold,” their mother Jolie said with hands on her hips and a smile on her face.
“Race you!” Michelle said racing for the water pump, Tylo followed barking excitedly.
“Hey!” Tristan protested as he went after her.

As the family ate around the table, they heard a knock on the door. Tylo began barking at the sound. Michelle’s black cat, Tylette, who was curled up in the corner opened one eye in irritation at the noisy dog.
"I wonder who that could be?" their father wondered aloud.
"I got it, Father." Tristan excused himself from the table to get the door.
The door persistently kept knocking.
"Coming, coming!" He unlatched the door and opened it a crack. At the door stood the old woman he had met in town. "Can I help you?"
"I'm sorry to bother you at this time of day," old woman said in a pleasant tone that was surprisingly different from before. "Would you mind sharing some food and shelter with an old woman?"
"Who is it, Tristan?" Pierre called.
"Why don't you come in," Tristan opened the door wider and let the woman in.
The rest of them saw an old woman with a shriveled face and a twisted cane.
"This is Madam Luna. She was asking for some food and a place to stay," Tristan explained.
Pierre stood up from his seat and made room for the guest. "Please sit here, Madam Luna. Jolie, another bowl for our guest."
Jolie went into the kitchen and returned with a tray holding another bowl of steaming stew and a dinner plate holding some vegetables from the garden and a roll from the bread basket. The old woman thanked awkwardly at her hosts as she took the seat and accepted the meal placed before her.
After the meal was finished, Jolie and Michelle washed the dishes while Pierre and Tristan spoke with Madam Luna about her situation.
"If you could let me stay for a while I would ever be grateful. It is only until Christmas Eve," the old woman said, "and I promise I will not trouble you any further."
"Do you have family to return to?" Tristan asked.
Madam Luna fell silent. Her eyes looked down saddened in thought.
"How about spending Christmas with us?" Pierre suggested.
“What?” Tristan asked.
The woman looked surprised at Pierre’s suggestion. "But –"
"We have an empty cottage not far from here where my parents used to live. If you would like you could stay there." Pierre told her, "That is if you have nowhere else to go…."
"Yes, please do stay," Jolie affirmed. "It would be nice to have someone live there to take care of the place."

And so, it was settled.

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