Hidden Gifts

by Holly Stacey -

It was yet another blustery day on the cliff tops where the old storyteller sat on his oak stump. He stroked his long beard and peered through blue eyes at the crowd. One little boy looked up, excitement forming in his face.

“What will today’s story be?” the little boy asked. He tried hard to sit still, but he couldn’t help but fidget. The storyteller was very good at telling fun stories.

The storyteller looked down at him and smiled. “Today’s story is about Olwyn.”

The boy’s eyebrows rose. “Olwyn?” He was getting used to hearing these funny names, but he really liked the sound of Olwyn.

Seeming to read his mind, the storyteller winked at him.  “Yes. She lived long, long ago and had long, long fair hair…”

* * * *

Olwyn, which meant ‘white track’ was named for the long trail of blonde-white hair that flowed behind her as she walked. She was very beautiful and very kind. Her step-sister was also very beautiful but horribly mean. Her name was Mari and she followed Olwyn everywhere, trying to step on her hair and make her fall. Mari’s hair was also long, but it was a deep, deep shade of chestnut that radiated red and gold in the sunlight. It wasn’t as long as Olwyn’s, and even though it was strikingly handsome, Mari hated her step-sister’s long locks with a passion.

Olwyn was good-natured, but there comes a time when having your hair stamped on just isn’t any fun. It was a hot and sunny day when Olwyn decided that enough was enough, and she hid from Mari.

“Olwyn! Come out! I know you’re here somewhere.” Mari pushed her brown hair back from her green eyes and looked behind every door for Olwyn. But she couldn’t find her. She looked in the stables, and under the beds, she even looked down the well, but Olwyn was nowhere to be found.

Mari didn’t mind too much that she couldn’t find her step-sister. It just meant that she could ruin all her nice dresses while she was away. There were four of Olwyn’s dresses hanging out to dry, and Mari pulled the line so they all landed in the mud below.

“That will teach miss goodie-goodie long hair not to hide from me; now she’ll have to wear old potato sacks when she gets home.” She laughed to herself and did a spin on top of the muddied dressed, digging them even further into the grime.

Meanwhile, Olwyn was walking near the river. It was so hot she decided she would put her feet in the water to cool. She knew she’d have to pay for leaving her step-sister behind, but today she just wanted to have some time to herself.

“Help, help!” a voice shouted from across the water.

Olwyn looked up and saw an old woman dressed in rags on the other shore.

“Help, I need to cross but the current will take me.”

Olwyn didn’t waste any time. She crossed the icy water and carried the woman to the other side.

Once they were back on shore, the woman transformed into a beautiful enchantress. “You are very kind indeed, so I shall reward you.” She waved a wand, and when Olwyn tried to step back, roses and jewels came out from under her feet. Shocked, Olwyn jumped back only to find a large pile of rubies and diamonds where she had once stood.

“That is my gift to you. I’ve been watching you for some time and now I know you truly deserve your reward.”

When Olwyn got home, her mother and step-father were trying to clean her dresses that had been ruined by Mari. When they saw she was leaving a trail of gems and flowers they were amazed. Olwyn told them the story, and Mari listened with a frown on her face.

“If Olwyn can get such gifts, surely I can too.” She resolved to go to the stream first thing in the morning and find the enchantress.

It was a cold morning when Mari arrived at the stream. Even though the sun beamed down, her breath came out like a cloud, and she had to wear several layers to keep warm.

“Help, help!” came a little girl’s voice from across the water.

Mari looked across. There was a small girl with a filthy face pointing at something in the water.

“I’ve lost my satchel with my food! Please, I’m so hungry, can you get it for me?”

Mari laughed. “You silly girl! Get your own food, I’ve got to wait for someone important.”

The little girl waded out to the satchel. “Help, help!” she shouted again. “It’s freezing in here and I’m not strong enough to make it out.”

Mari didn’t move. “Just keep kicking.”

When the girl made it to shore, she walked up to Mari.

“Ick, you smell like rotten food, get away!”

“That is the third time you’ve insulted me,” the girl said and she waved a wand and turned into the enchantress that Olwyn had met the day before.

“I’m sorry! I thought you were just a little girl.” Mari was on her knees, begging for mercy.

“I’ve been watching you for some time and although you are beautiful, inside you are ugly.” She waved her wand over Mari and walked away.

Mari walked home and every time she took a step, toads and snakes appeared behind her. She rushed home screaming that the enchantress had cursed her. She had no idea the little girl was magical. If she’d known, she would have acted differently. Olwyn, after all, had been blessed by an enchantress done up as an old woman, not a silly little girl. It just wasn’t FAIR.

She paused to catch her breath and a toad jumped on her foot. “Ahhhhhhh!” she screamed, kicking it off and running again. She glanced over her shoulder; snakes were slithering away everywhere and some were just gobbling up the toads.

“I HATE toads. And I hate snakes!” She was nearly home now. She didn’t know why she assumed home would be safe.

But when she got home, her father was waiting outside. “I knew something like this would happen. Olwyn has captured the heart of a rich merchant. He likes it when she walks—all those jewels! I don’t want you to scare him away. Toads! And snakes?” He looked behind her and his frown deepened. The snakes were now starting to eat each other. “Hide in the barn, we’ll sort this out after sundown.”

The barn was cold and a little damp. The toads seemed to love it, but the snakes slithered away to find warm rocks to sun themselves on. Mari tried to think what life would be like. Maybe she could be carried everywhere. Yes! That was it. She just needed to never take another step and then the snakes and toads wouldn’t follow her. She got up and started pacing. More toads and snakes appeared. She could be a travelling circus? Hmmm…

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