Coming of Age: A Fairy Tale

"...he Discovered a Wrinkled Old Woman Cooking over Her Fire."

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(The Duchess of Chevreuse as Diana the Huntress)
(The Duchess of Chevreuse as Diana the Huntress) | Source

Spring

One morning, Adrian, a handsome youth, went for a walk out into the forest. Stopping before a tiny hut, he discovered a wrinkled old woman cooking over her fire. From her pipe, clenched in her toothless embrace, plumes of blue-white smoke curled up into ancient oaks, far, far above.

“Grandmother, if you will, please show me my destiny. What awaits me in this life?”

She gestured, “Sit down, boy.”

Jerkin and breeches in the dust, Adrian gingerly perched on a stone by her cook-fire. The good-natured youth—he was known for that, everywhere—grinned and looked up at the old woman.

She smoked, rocked on her heels, and blew on the coals. In just two shakes of a sheep’s tail, Adrian found himself in a sunny meadow with the old woman nowhere to be seen. Instead, Adrian sat on horseback beside a maiden who was scandalously clad in leather breeches and shirt, over her shoulder a woolen cape. She tossed him a vivacious grin as she kicked her own horse and galloped off. Adrian charged after her without a second thought.

Just then an object whizzed past his ear. He saw the arrow catch her, and she fell. Adrian reined in his horse and stood over her in helpless silence, staring at the shaft that protruded from her back. She lay motionless.

An Introduction to Fairy Tales, by National Theatre Discover (2013)

Summer

“Here, drink.” Back at the fire, the crone, by now clearly more than a simple old woman, urged hot broth upon the shaken youth, who could only stare. She nodded and stirred the fire. Around Adrian, the fragrant smoke curled, billowed, and then cleared.

* * * * *

The young woman lay under an oak on a white damask cloth, her gown green as summer grass, her auburn hair undone. Adrian knelt before her and kissed her lips as she dreamed. Her eyes opened and gazed clearly into his with the depth of a fathomless lake over which paired swans fly homeward.

However, all too soon, her arms slipped from his neck, and she breathed quietly, and then closed her eyes forever. Adrian rocked back onto his heels, his teeth chattering with chills despite the warm sunshine.

* * * * *

“Here, boy, eat!” The hag’s rusty voice brought him back to the fire by her hut. He stared at her, and then took the proffered crust. They chewed for awhile in silence. Then the old woman tossed her last crumbs onto the fire and again blew on the coals until they sparked up into the sky, which had become black and frosted with stars.

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Autumn

Adrian found himself in a dim chamber warmed by a cheery hearth. Languidly, he burrowed into the soft down tick on which he lay, and then was startled to feel his lips brushed by another’s and his naked shoulders softly caressed.

A woman’s brilliant black eyes welcomed him. Passion flooded his senses, knowledge and trust ignited deep inside his heart, and Adrian closed his eyes and kissed her.

A moment later, he reopened them upon the sight that he’d feared: yet another beautiful young woman lay beside him, dead.

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Choose Love, although Death May Come

In an instant, he found himself once again before the witch’s fire. Reeling and dizzy, Adrian cried in anguish, “Why did you show me all this? Was it my fault that they died? Am I only to find pain, never happiness?”

The wise woman merely tightened her shriveled lips around her pipe’s stem, stepped back into her hut, and shut the door.

Shaken and confused, Adrian trailed homeward through the dark woods. In the window of a small cottage on the forest’s edge, he saw the glow of a rush light and in his extremity, he stumbled onto the step and knocked on the door.

“Can you please spare a cup of wine?” Adrian bowed shakily before the beautiful young woman who stood in the open doorway. She smiled, and, reaching out a warm hand, welcomed him in.

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Coming of Age: A Fairy Tale

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