Friday, 18 July 2014

    Strawberries in Winter
    This is a traditional Slovakian folktale, very similar to our Cinderella faerie tale.
Ella lived with her stepmother and stepsister in a large house at the edge of the forest. Her father had died the previous winter from a fever leaving her alone. Although Ella was not as pretty as her stepsister she was kind and good and was a great favourite with all the visitors to the  house. Her father had been quite wealthy and Ella was due to inherit the estate on her sixteenth birthday. But  her stepmother was not happy that her own daughter would be left with nothing so she and her daughter hatched a plan to be rid of Ella for good.
So the stepsister took to her bed feigning illness.
‘Primroses,’ she declared. ‘Were all she needed, the beautiful scent would raise her spirits and make her well again.’
The stepmother hurried down the worn  stone steps to the kitchen ‘Ella get your coat, you must go out and find some primroses for your poor sister, I think she will die if she does not have them.’
Ella was dismayed, it was the middle of the winter with deep snow on the ground.
‘I wish to help my sister, but it is too early for primroses,’ she said.
But the stepmother would not listen and pushed her out of the door into the cold. They were hoping  that Ella would get lost and die in the snow.
Wrapping her jacket about her, Ella pushed her hands deep into her pockets and headed  towards the forest.
In the spring the floor of the forest was thick with primroses but there was only thick snow beneath the trees now.

 Dusk began to fall but in the forest it was very dark and Ella became so cold that she lost all feeling in her fingers and toes. She desperately wanted to go home but dare not without the flowers. Just as she was giving up hope she saw a glow off in the trees. Gathered around the flames was the Council of the  Faerie Seasons, too cold to feel afraid Ella stumbled forward and asked if she could warm herself by their fire.
‘Come forward child and warm yourself,’ Faerie Spring beckoned her forward. ‘Why do you disturb our council? ‘
Ella explained her search for the flowers for her sick sister.
‘I will help you,’ said the Spring Faerie. ‘As you have such a pure soul.’ She lent over and breathed gently on the snow covered ground and from under the mantle of ice six beautiful primrose blooms appeared.
‘Thank you so much,’ Ella said gathering them carefully; and hurried back through the dark forest to her home.
The stepmother’s face when she answered the door to Ella! She snatched the flowers from Ella’s hand and sent her back down to the kitchen.
That night the stepsister took to her bed again declaring that she was ill. ‘What I really need are strawberries, something to tempt my appetite and make me well again.’
 The stepmother hurried down the worn  stone steps to the kitchen. ‘Ella get your coat, you must go out and find some strawberries for your poor sister, I’m sure she will die if she does not have them.’
‘I wish to help my poor sister, but it is much too early for strawberries,’ she said.

 The front door shut with a bang behind Ella leaving her alone in the cold once again.
Ella hurried back into the forest to find the Council of Faeries, hoping that they would help her again.
Far off she could see their fire burning brightly.
‘Please may I warm myself by your fire again?’
The Summer Faerie beckoned her forward. ‘Come child and what do you seek now?’
‘Strawberries for my sick sister otherwise she is sure to die.’
‘I will help you,’ said the Summer Faerie. ‘As you have such a kind heart.’
The faerie opened her hand and inside nestled in a basket of leaves were four large strawberries.

Thanking the faeries Ella hurried home.
Her stepmother was amazed that she had  come back  but the stepsister was delighted with the fruit and ate them all quickly.
‘They are so delicious, why didn’t you bring more?’ she asked greedily.
All the next day her stepsister lay on her bed complaining how ill she was.
‘Apples! I need apples,’ she exclaimed. ‘And tell her to bring more this time.’
The stepmother hurried down the worn  stone steps to the kitchen.
‘Ella get your coat, you must go out and find some apples for your poor sister, I know she will die if she does not have them.’
‘I wish to help my poor sister, but it is really  too early for apples,’ she said.
So Ella set off to the forest again struggling through the snow until she could see the faerie’s fire in the distance.

 ‘Oh please help me kind faeries for now my stepsister wants apples.’
The faeries smiled and beckoned her forward into
the warmth of the fire.
‘I will help you,’ said the Autumn Faerie. ‘As you are so patient.’
The faerie walked to a nearby tree and caressed the bark, whispering words of enchantment to the spirit of the tree within. And on a branch over Ella’s head  two small  apples appeared which grew and grew until they were big and ripe.

She carefully picked them and put them into her apron pocket. ‘Thank you so much,’ she said politely and hurried home.
The stepmother was most disappointed to see Ella back but her stepsister was delighted with the apples and snatched them quickly, exclaiming at the delicious flavour.
The step mother took a bite of the second apple ‘Why didn’t you get more of these wonderful apples?’ she scolded Ella, but Ella was not listening. She was so tired that she had fallen asleep in a chair by the fire.
‘Come daughter, let us go and find some more apples ourselves.’
They wrapped themselves up against the cold and set off for the forest. The snow was deep and they became increasingly cold and weary until at last like Ella they saw the fire in the distance. The four faeries were gathered around the fire watching as the two figures stumbled into the clearing.
‘Out of the way and let us near the fire, for we are freezing.’
The stepmother pushed her way past the Winter Faerie to warm her hands over the flames but as she

and her daughter stood there the fire died and dwindled down to ash.
‘You didn’t say please,’ whispered the Winter Faerie, and as she spoke the wind whipped up a blizzard of freezing snow and ice and engulfed the two mortals.
The snow piled up high around them and they froze into two solid lumps of ice, still holding out their hands to the fire.

As for Ella, needless to say, she lived happily ever after!

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