Monday, 21 March 2016

Happiness (A retelling of Maurice Maeterlinck's “The Blue Bird”) - Chapter 2 and 3

Chapter 2 – An Old Fairy's Request

Since the evening she appeared at their doorstep, Madam Luna stayed with Tristan and Michelle’s family. At the beginning of her stay she had trouble keeping her place clean, but as Michelle and Jolie visit her daily helping her with the chores on top of what they did at home she slowly learned to do some things on her own such as sewing and folding laundry.
One day they were churning butter at the family home.
“We were never taught how to do things at home,” Madam Luna would tell Michelle.
“So how did you take care of yourself up until now?” the young girl asked.
The old woman hesitated. “We just managed,” she huffed and went back to churning butter.
The phrase “we were never taught how to” was Madam Luna’s favourite with almost every chore they helped her in: churning butter, sewing, knitting, cooking, baking, doing laundry, setting the table – even feeding the cow.
“We used to feed horses,” the old woman said and she would begin telling stories of magnificent horses her family had once owned.
Michelle would listen to the stories with fascination, even though they seemed rather fanciful. Madam Luna would talk about large brightly decorated rooms, gorgeous balls and parties, beautiful dresses she wore when she was young, a handsome brother who doted on her, as well as the unusual but wonderful gifts she received on birthdays and holidays.
“My brother once brought me roses from the gardens,” Madam Luna mentioned, “They were sweet blooms that were white and gradually became pink at the petal edges. How I loved to gaze at them when they sat on my dresser.”
“Where is your brother now?” Michelle asked.
The old woman fell silent. “He went on a journey. He promised he would return, but we have not seen him since.” With tears in her eyes, Madam Luna looked away.

Days passed turning into weeks then to months. Harvest time passed and soon snow fell ushering in winter. Now Christmas was twelve days away.
 “We will have a great tree!” Michelle said excitedly. “I just love to decorate the tree for Christmas! Don’t you, Madam Luna?”
Madam Luna, who would usually begin talking about a scene from her younger days in these moments, was quiet this time.
“Is something wrong?” Jolie asked.
“If you were given a wish on Christmas to having anything in the world what would it be?” the old woman asked.
“A wish?”
“A wish,” the old woman nodded with affirmation.
“I would wish…for a prince to marry me!” Michelle said.
Tristan laughed. “Really, Michelle? A prince? Don’t you think that is too high of an expectation let alone a wish?”
“It’s my wish! I could make it as big or small as I want!” the younger sister stuck out her tongue at her brother.
Madam Luna laughed. “Well, I hope that would be granted for you.”
“What about you, Madam Luna?” Tristan asked, “What is your wish?”
She opened her mouth, but immediately closed it with a sad look on her face. “It’s a secret,” she said quietly as she walked away. Suddenly, she stopped and turned to Tristan. “If you could, I would like to have a blue bird.”
“A blue bird?”
“Yes, a blue bird – a bird of happiness. Do you know where I could find one?”
“Tristan has one,” Michelle mentioned, “He and grandfather caught a blue feathered pigeon some time back. The one he has right now is sort of blue.”
"I am not looking for a pigeon. I am looking for a blue bird."  With that, the old woman walked away.

Days flew by again as Christmas had gotten closer and closer.
Madam Luna began to take trips away from home. First she would travel with Tristan and Pierre to town to see if she could find her blue bird. When she could not find one, she asked the men if there was one in the forest and if they would teach her how to catch one. When the three of them watched birds then set up traps, no blue bird was found or caught.
Two days before Christmas, and the old woman began to act desperate.
“Please, Tristan,” she begged, “Let me borrow your pigeon for Christmas.”
“I’m sorry, Madam Luna, but I cannot let you have my pigeon because it was the last gift my grandfather gave me before he died.”
When she heard this she never asked again.
Tristan later felt bad. Seeing the old woman looking sad did not help either. He once apologized and tried to ask the old woman why she wanted the blue bird so badly, but she walked away in silence and lost in thought.

On Christmas Eve, the family usually left for the evening candlelit mass, but this year it was different. Tristan and Michelle both decided to stay for the evening with Madam Luna who felt tired that day while their parents left for the event. The three of them shared a meal at Madam Luna's place. The meal was a pleasant affair, with Madam Luna sharing stories of Christmas parties she once had as a little girl.
"Do you not feel envy when I tell you these stories?" Madam Luna asked, after a brief pause from finishing her storytelling – it was an innocent question with no malice.
Michelle smiled as gathered the supper dishes to have dessert ready. "Not at all, we just love to hear about how other people lived."
Tristan poured hot water from a kettle into a teapot as he listened to his sister chat with the woman. He measured the tea leaves and put the lid on the pot followed by wrapping the pot with a tea towel to keep it warm.
"When Tristan and I were little we got a spyglass from our grandfather for Christmas.” Michelle told Madam Luna, “We had a chance to look at the king's castle that evening and saw the luxurious parties they had there."
Madam Luna stared at them in surprise. "You did?” After a brief pause, she asked, “What did you think of when you saw all the decorations, the rich foods, fancy clothes, beautiful people, and huge home?”
“We loved it!” Michelle said as Tristan walked into the room with the now full teapot. “We were curious of how the royal family lived. It was always beautiful! Wasn't it, Tristan!"
Tristan smiled and nodded as he set the teapot on the table. "It was one of the things we enjoyed doing every year, watching the balls and parties the king held for his children." Then his smile faded. He remembered one year when the princess was upset about something.
It was about mid-summer evening, the king held a ball for the princess. Though Tristan was not able to hear what was being said, he saw that princess was not happy. During the ball, the princess stormed out of a ball room onto the balcony teary eyes and had an angry look on her face. Her brother the prince approached her to speak, but as Tristan watched through the spyglass the princess pushed her brother away and hit him. Tristan was taken aback when he saw that scene. Michelle would never do that to him, and yet the princess hit and punched her older brother who was a good head taller than her sending him away. Since then, her violent expressions seemed to have grown as days passed until the king gave a decree to his daughter that she was to be married on her sixteenth birthday.
Then the princess stopped appearing in view. Tristan wondered if she was banished. There have been rumours that the princess still remained at the castle. Her brother left the kingdom and since then, as the story goes, he was never seen again.
"I see." A sad look passed over the woman's face. “And did you also see how the princess behaved?”
Tristan remembered how on the day the prince left the kingdom, the spyglass fell from its base and its lens broke. Tristan took the broken pieces and stored it safely in a wooden box he made, hoping to save up so he could see the princess again. He wanted to know that she was all right. Since then he had not touched the spyglass – and it had been nearly ten years.
"Is something wrong, Madam Luna?" Michelle asked. Tristan’s mind leapt back to the present, still feeling awkward and about peeking into the life of royal family – specifically the princess.
"No," the old woman shook her head, but gave a sniff, "it's nothing. Which reminds me: Are you sure you have not seen the blue bird of happiness around here?"
"Ah, yes, the blue bird!" Tristan brought out the porcelain mugs to the table. "Why are you so determined to find a blue bird?"
The old woman looked down at her hands in her lap.
Michelle joined them bringing a tray carrying a pot of cream and sugar for the tea.
The woman leaned forward and asked in a low voice. "Did you hear about the king's daughter?"
“We heard she was sick.” Tristan told her.

The old woman shook her head. “She was dying and will not live long.”

Chapter 3 – The Prince and the Princess

"We've heard she was gravely ill and her brother went on a quest to find a cure for her." Tristan said.
"That cure was the blue bird of happiness," Madam Luna explained. "The physicians tried everything, but could not cure her until one of them said, 'If she has the blue bird of happiness perhaps she will be cured.' The prince left the kingdom to find that bird and now, since he disappeared..."
Tristan and Michelle listened, until one turned to the other.
"What about the pigeon?" Michelle suggested.
"Michelle!" Tristan protested.
"Why not, Tristan? The princess is ill! If that will cure her --"
"It is not blue enough." The old woman shook her head.
Brother and sister looked at her saddened look.
"Thank you, my dear, for the idea, but I'm afraid I cannot accept Tristan's precious pigeon. Besides," she added, "the pigeon is not the right colour. It has to be a blue bird."
All three fell silent. Then the old woman said, "The princess has until Christmas Day to recover or she will die."
“Did the king ask his subjects to find the blue bird?” Tristan asked.
“The king himself tried to make the journey, but he too began to get ill. He asked his knights to go and many went, but could not find the bird; some did not even return. He tried asking for someone else, but they didn’t want to go because the journey was dangerous and in order for the bird to be found it could only be made by those who are willing to go.” As she spoke a tear rolled down her brown wrinkly face as Madame Luna’s voice began to crack with sadness, “I took up the task to find someone, no one wanted to take the journey. Everyone was too busy or just did not want to go.”
Tristan pulled up at chair near the old fairy. He asked her, “If I may ask, how did the princess get this strange illness?”
“Tristan!” Michelle chided.
“What?” he asked.
“She brought the illness on herself,” the fairy replied quietly.
Both brother and sister looked at Madam Luna, as she lifted her tear stained wrinkled face to them. “If you are willing to listen I will tell you the story.”
“How about you tell us over tea?” the young woman suggested.
A small smile upturned on a corner of her thin mouth as Madam Luna nodded. “Yes, some tea; and perhaps something sweet to go with it, my dear.”
Tristan brought out a small parcel containing baumkuchen (a pale cake with rings like a tree stump) they purchased from the baker the other day. Michelle served the tea while Tristan placed a small plate, each with a piece of cake, at each place. After all was ready, each of them pulled up a chair and sat around the square table.
Madam Luna took a bite of her cake and a sip of her milk tea. Placing the mug before her, she folded her hands and began her tale:
“You may have already heard about Princess Jana, but let me tell you her true story from the beginning. Many years ago, the king and queen were unable to have children for many years. The queen became saddened fearing that she was failing her duty as a woman in bearing children for the king; finally she asked the fairies for ideas and ways to have children. However, even the fairies did not know how to help the queen. After inquiring nearly every fairy in the kingdom the queen gave up, she would have asked the evil fairies and witches who dabbled into things of a dark hidden world, but the king and his advisor’s strongly went against that idea.
“One day, the queen sat on a swing that hung from a large apple tree in the palace garden. A little girl who was the gardener’s daughter approached her and said, ‘If your majesty had met my fairy godfather, surely he could bless you with a child.’ When the queen asked who the little girl’s fairy godfather was, she answered, ‘He is the King of Fairies. He adopted me when I found him in the woods.’
“The queen, excited by the news, got the direction to the woods and searched for the King of Fairies. When the Fairy King appeared looked nothing like the fairies the queen had encountered. He wore robes that were soft and woven with spider’s webs, trimmed with soft down from birds; his shirt was the colour of cream, his breeches were dove grey with a belt of woven ivy holding it in place, his feet were covered with boots made from what looked like soft velvet the colour of deer’s antlers. His physical features were even more curious: his hair was short, fluffy and snowy white like freshly fallen snow; his amber coloured eyes were arresting, wild, but gentle, bright as the sun, but also hard to read his thoughts; he skin was dark like the colour of walnut. Despite his strange appearance the king was breathtakingly beautiful with his almond shaped eyes, straight nose, and high cheek bones. He was both young and ancient at the same time.
“’What brings you to see me, child?’ he asked. The queen told the Fairy King her desire to have children. He listened until the queen finished and said, ‘You shall be blessed with a child if you do two things for me.’ The queen answered she will grant them. The Fairy King called his son and introduced him to the queen. ‘This is my son, Lander. My first request is that you would take him as your own and let him live in your household. He is to learn the ways of man and teach you and your people the ways of the fairies. My second request is that you would make me the godfather for your entire household. I will watch over and bless your family and your kingdom providing your needs when you ask me.’ The queen looked at the Fairy Prince who shared his father’s features. She briefly hesitated for there never were dark-skinned people in the kingdom, yet because her desire for a child was so great she agreed.
“The queen returned to the castle with young Lander who appeared to be a little boy of five. At first the people of the castle shied away from him unsure of how to react to the alien-looking boy, but when the servants learned of his kind and gentle nature, they approached him with respect. Soon all in the castle got to know the young boy that they all fell in love with him. Within the year Lander lived in the castle, the queen finally was blessed with a child – a beautiful little girl they named ‘Jana’. Though some of the advisors were concerned that Jana was not a boy who could take the throne, the king did not let that bother him – they finally had a child of their own! As the years passed, the prince and the princess grew up together as brother and sister. They loved each other’s company.
“One day, the princess was given a special ball in her honour for her tenth birthday. The king invited all the nobles and royal relatives from neighbouring kingdoms to visit and celebrate the princess’s birthday. At the ball the princess had met other young princes and princesses who had a life quite different from her own. They began asking her questions such as: Why does her brother looked strange with the dark-skin and white hair he looks nothing like the others? What did she like to do at her castle home? The princess answered that her brother was adopted and she loved playing in the woods and on the castle grounds with her brother. The other princes and princesses looked at each other and said they should play together – without Prince Lander. When the princess said she would not go anywhere without Lander, the other princes and princesses began to tease her. When the princess begged them to stop, they told her if they leave Lander and join them they will let her play. The princess was torn. She loved her brother dearly, but she wanted to be friends with the other children too. So she left Lander and went off to play with her new friends.
“Years passed and the princess played less or even spent time with Lander. She left the castle often visiting other royal neighbours while Lander was left at home with the servants. With the spoiled influences of her peers, the princess took up unpleasant habits: disrespect, selfishness, pride, and envy. Soon she showed anger with violent tempers and tantrums, shouting and saying cruel things to people, even demanding things that were unreasonable or impossible. The king and queen began to grieve at the sad and angry behaviours coming from their own child. Not long after that, the servants feared the princess so much they did not even want to go near her. Only Lander was the one who approached her lovingly and faithfully. Yet, even the unconditional loving coming from a brother did not change the princess.
“On her sixteenth birthday, the princess demanded an extravagant ball be held for her that would rival her neighbours. Wanting to pacify her anger, the king and queen granted her wish. At the ball, the princess invited the royals and nobles of the neighbouring kingdoms, showing them her castle’s wealth. One of the royals made a comment saying how their palaces were bigger, another made a comment saying how the food their cooks made were tastier, and still another said how their kingdom was bigger, their servants were larger in numbers and because their parents were richer they had nicer things than Princess Jana’s family. Upon hearing these comments, the princess got angry and began to throw one of her violent tantrums: she swept her arms across the banqueting table knocking dishes, glasses and cutlery scattering the lovely meal and dinnerware across the marble floor into a broken and splattered mess; she even grabbed handfuls of food and began throwing them at her guests ruining their fancy hair and clothes. Prince Lander entered the room that was beautifully decorated after hours of preparation and hard work from the servants now in shambles and tattered mess. The guests mortified, angry and fearful of the princess’s violent actions had all fled from the room as Prince Lander entered. The prince stood at the door, watching and waiting his sister finish her destruction. When he saw the princess panting and stopping from exhaustion, he quietly approached her and called her name. Suddenly, the princess turned and violently struck her brother across his face. He put his arms around her to stop her from violence, only to have her twist her ankle sending them both toppling to the floor on to the broken shards. Prince Lander held her and landed on the broken pieces to protect his sister from injury. Shards of glass cut his shoulder and arm. Blood stained his shirt and fell, at that very moment the window to the ball room burst open. The servants, who saw the state of the room and what happened to the prince and princess, told the king and queen. The king and queen entered the room to see the Fairy King in his radiance and wrath at what had happened to his son.
“The Fairy King turned to the now quiet and fearful princess. ‘You foolish child!’ his voice boomed echoing, making the castle walls shake. ‘In your selfishness and discontent you allowed anger to rule over your heart and hurt not only those close to you, but most of all poisoned and hurt yourself. For the injury you caused on my own son, I will take away the blessings I had bestowed on you. You say the food is not to your liking? Very well then you shall not enjoy the taste as you should. You say the clothes you were are rags then rags you shall be in. For every discontent you claimed to your guests these past years, you shall find no peace within you, you will not be able to rest in your own bed, enjoy a decent meal or even the company of a friend or stranger. You will be destitute in heart and soul, you will be friendless, your royalty will be taken from you all because you are discontent by choice and you took your anger on others for that choice you made!’
“The Fairy King then sadly turned to the king and queen of the land. ‘I gave you my son to stay with you so he would learn the ways of mankind and share the ways of the fairies, however because of what your daughter had done to my son, I will have to take him from you along with the blessings I have bestowed on you and your kingdom.’ Upon those words, Prince Lander stepped in between them and his true father.
“’Please, Father!’ the prince begged, ‘Please forgive Jana! She did not know what she was doing. Please forgive her father and mother; they only wanted to maintain peace in their household and in their kingdom. Please do not take me away from them.’ Then Prince Lander added, ‘I love my family here, though they do not make the right choices, act upon selfish desires and ambitions, demonstrate poor behaviours at times – I still love them dearly! Please, Father, forgive them. Do not be so by giving Jana such harsh decree.’

“The Fairy King looked at his son with love then said, ‘Because my son had asked for forgiveness on your behalf, here is what I will do: Princess Jana, your youth and beauty shall be taken from you this very night. You shall be an old crone that is twisted and ugly as your heart. You shall not stay at this castle where your parents live. You shall wander in your own kingdom searching for the blue bird of happiness. Until you have found that bird you will die by next Christmas Day.’ With that the Fairy King disappeared.”

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