Thank you all for participating in our fairy tale contest, and happy Tell a Fairy Tale Day! We enjoyed reading so many lovely, enchanting fairy tales. We’ll contact the winners today through email about their prizes. And without further ado, the winners are . . .
Winner: Deidre Bodily with “Etsuko and the Sparrow Dance”
Runner-up: Laura Jennings with “Bright-Eyes and the Candle”
Runner-up: Amy Carr with “Blooms in Winter”
Read the Winning Stories…
“Etsuko and the Sparrow Dance” by Deidre Bodily
In old Japan, there lived a poor girl named Etsuko. Needing to find work, she apprenticed with a theater troupe. Because she was young and untrained, the other members tormented her. But Etsuko was hungry, so she held her tongue and mended the costumes. The cruelest of them all was a girl named Masuyo. Born to a family of dancers, Masuyo had innate talent, but rarely practiced with the troupe because of her heritage.
“Masuyo, will you teach me some steps?” Etsuko asked her one day.
“No one wants to see you dance!” Masuyo snapped, pushing Etsuko down.
Etsuko’s heart sank. That night, she trudged home through the forest, resigned to monotonous stitching and needle-pricked hands.
“Are you looking for a teacher?” a voice asked.
Etsuko looked up to see a many-tailed fox sitting on a stone—a kitsune! She stopped in her tracks.
“Why are you so hesitant, child?” the kitsune asked.
“Because I’ve heard kitsune aren’t trustworthy.”
“Nonsense! Misfortune will not befall you as long as you follow my instructions. Let’s begin.” He leapt down and snapped a tail to the ground. The entire wood reverberated, and on the stone where he once sat, a puppet appeared. It was the most beautiful puppet Etsuko had ever seen, with a brightly-colored kimono with the tiniest needlework. Her white skin was touched by plum-colored cheeks; her hair was as black as ink; her eyelashes angled like the perfect calligraphy stroke. The kitsune flicked a tail once more and the puppet moved lithely on her stone stage. “My puppet Maiko will be your guide.”
“But I haven’t agreed to anything!” Etsuko said, trying to let exasperation drown out her awe.
“Nonsense!” he said, giving a toothy grin that made his eyes squint, “You do want to learn to dance, do you not?”
Etsuko’s heart fluttered, “Yes, more than anything.”
“Then Maiko will teach you sparrow dancing each night on your walk home.”
“Sparrow dancing?” Etsuko asked, her stomach knotting. She had seen festival performers dancing those steps. Light on their feet and agile with their folding fans, they truly were like graceful little birds. “I cannot possibly dance like that!”
“Nonsense!” The kitsune said, “Do you know where sparrow dancing comes from? Why humble stonemasons were the first to dance it. If they can dance it, why not you?”
Etsuko smiled, “Then teach me.”
At her request, two folding fans appeared in Maiko’s hands and in hers. “Maiko,” said the kitsune, “I command thee to dance.” The puppet started to dance and without warning, Etsuko found herself perfectly mirroring its steps. She gasped in delight. The kitsune then said, “Maiko, I command thee to bow.” The puppet bowed and stopped moving, and so did Etsuko. “Listen well to my instructions. At the end of each week, you must undo your own fans’ rivets, remove one of the ribs, and place it on this stone. An ordinary rib will appear, which you must reinsert. With each fan rib you remove and replace, you will mirror Maiko less and rely more on your own movement.
“Can’t I just keep the enchanted fans and puppet so I always dance perfectly?”
“No!” the kitsune said firmly, “Those are the rules.” Etsuko sighed, but agreed. Then, the kitsune disappeared. For many weeks, she danced in the forest. At the end of every week, she reluctantly undid a fan rivet and gave up an enchanted rib for an ordinary one, making it all the more difficult to follow Maiko’s steps. But although her body was exhausted from dancing, she couldn’t help herself from practicing in free moments. Members of the theater troupe noticed: “Etsuko, you must perform a sparrow dance during the next festival.”
Feeling envious, Masuyo followed Etsuko one night to discover her teacher. Hidden in the trees, she watched Etsuko dance alongside a puppet. When Etsuko folded up her fans and left the woods, a kitsune appeared. Masuyo crept from her hiding spot and approached the fox.
“I demand that you give me whatever powers you’ve bestowed upon Etsuko.”
“I haven’t bestowed anything on the girl; like any mortal, she learns by toil.”
Masuyo pursed her lips, “Then teach me.”
The kitsune agreed and gave her the same instructions as Etsuko. But when he disappeared, Masuyo scooped up the puppet and the enchanted fans and never returned.
“What have you done?” Etsuko exclaimed, upon discovering the puppet and the enchanted fans on the eve of the festival. “You cannot take those from a kitsune!”
“You’re a fool for not taking them” Masuyo sneered, “Tonight, I will dance better than you.”
Masuyo sat Maiko behind the screen and commanded her to dance. She picked up her fans and immediately twirled onto the stage, echoing the hidden puppet’s movements. Etsuko, with ordinary fans, followed. She no longer had a puppet guiding her, but with every step, she met the beat of the taiko drum. With each twang of the shamisen string, she flitted from one foot to the other, each fan an extension of her body. At the last crescendo, she flew through the air. She had never felt more alive.
She bowed and raised her eyes to a cheering crowd; but, Masuyo hadn’t stopped. Through gasping breaths, Masuyo cried, “Maiko . . . I command thee . . . to bow!” But the doll would not listen, for the girl had disobeyed the kitsune’s commands. Masuyo danced wildly, no longer a sparrow, her body pushing past its limits. Perhaps if she had not shirked her talent, she could have kept pace. But she twirled on and on, getting smaller and smaller until her costume swallowed her up. All that remained was a puppet.
While Masuyo’s idleness and greed consumed her, Etsuko became known throughout the province for her joyful dancing. As long as a person had a desire, Etsuko happily shared her gift with others, inviting the common folk to learn the freeing steps of the sparrow dance.
“Bright-Eyes and the Candle” by Laura Jennings
In a hamlet in the woods, a boy and girl were fast friends.
He was the tanner’s son, the youngest from a large family that danced and sang at harvest.
She was the daughter of the richest man in town, with eyes so blue that everyone called her Bright-eyes. Her mother had passed away giving birth, so the rich man was solemn and melancholy.
One foggy morning the tanner’s son ran to her with a wren in his hands. Bright-eyes bound the bird’s wing and helped return the fledgling to its nest. From then on she had the love of the tanner’s son.
In the spring they danced the maypole, in summer they ran in the woods, and there were hayrides in the fall and snowball fights in the winter.
This displeased Bright-eyes’s father. The tanner was a respected man, but poor.
The morning of May Day, the rich man stood, watching his daughter play with the tanner’s son. “If only there was a way to get rid of that boy, I would pay anything.”
A woman in a crown of gnarled elder and robes as dark as wine appeared beside him. In her hands she held the skin of a wolf and a candle. “I can help you.”
The rich man was afraid, but said, “How?”
“Toss this pelt upon him, and as long as you keep this candle lit, he will not be able to set foot in the village.”
“What is the price?”
“You need not worry about that now. I will return for them on the day of your daughter’s wedding.”
The rich man agreed, for if his daughter was wed while the tanner’s boy was kept away, all would be well.
The next morning, he laid in wait in the forest, where the tanner’s son came every morning to meet with Bright-eyes. When the boy appeared, he flung the pelt at him. On the instant, the boy changed into a wolf and ran howling into the woods.
Back home, the rich man lit the candle and had a special vestibule built to house it. He hired a servant to make sure it remained lit at all times, and no one else was allowed to look upon it.
Every morning Bright-eyes came to the forest and waited. A storm flooded the river, and everyone said the tanner’s son must have drowned. Bright-eyes wept for weeks. In time her grief eased, but she never forget the tanner’s son.
But the village soon became a cursed place: sheep and the shepard’s children were found torn to pieces. Grain stores were broken into, their doors splintered. No one dared to set a foot in the woods, which grew dark and menacing with no one to cut it back.
Bright-eyes grew into a maiden, and all the while the secret candle burned. Soon her loveliness caught the eye of a merchant’s son whom her father approved of, and so they were betrothed.
One morning Bright Eyes was filled with longing for the woods of her childhood, and the games she played with the tanner’s boy.
“I will not be afraid,” Bright-eyes said.
The intertwined branches of the forest cut the sunlight down to slivers of shine.
It was not long before she stumbled upon a group of bandits. They all wore animal skins and howled, pretending to be wolves and comparing their stolen items.
“Look at my bag of gold!”
“Look at my new dagger!”
Their leader scoffed, holding up a flask. “Mine is better than all of that. This magic wine will make the drinker tell one truth!”
At that moment a branch snapped under Bright-eyes’s foot.
“Seize her!” the leader cried.
Bright-eyes ran. The bandits cornered her in a thicket, laughing when she picked up a branch to fight.
A real wolf sprang from the thicket, snarling. Terrified, the bandits fled.
Bright-eyes trembled at the sight of the wolf’s sharp fangs and yellow eyes. But it lowered itself on its belly, crept forward, and laid its head upon her feet.
Bright-eyes realized the wolf had not killed anything in the village. It was the bandits who had murdered the shepard’s children and ruined the stores, preying on the fears of the people.
The wine of truth had fallen from the leader’s belt. Bright-eyes picked it up, took it home, and prepared three glasses of wine.
She took the first glass to the servant, who said, “I guard a magic candle under the orders of your father.”
She took the second glass to her betrothed, who said, “Your father told me he transformed the tanner’s son into a wolf so you could have a proper marriage.”
And she took the third glass to her father, who said, “In cursed form, the tanner’s son can never set foot in the village as long as the candle burns.”
The next day was Bright-eyes’s wedding day, and her father wept and scolded her by turn.
“Peace, father,” Bright-eyes said. “I will be married this day.”
Everyone in the village gathered to attend. Bright-eyes waited alone in a splendid dress near the vestibule. The servant watching over it snored from drinking the wine the night before.
Bright-eyes blew the candle out.
Everyone murmured in awe at her beauty when she appeared, carrying a bouquet.
Someone shouted. A wolf bounded out of the heather.
But before their eyes, the wolf’s skin fell away. And the tanner’s son, now strong and handsome, stood naked before Bright-eyes.
Like a clap of thunder, the dark-robed woman appeared astride a blood-colored horse. She picked up the wolf skin and retrieved the candle, saying to Bright-eyes’s father, “It is your daughter’s wedding day. Now come with me, for it is time I was paid properly.”
She tucked the man under her arm, and despite his pleading she set her heels to her horse and rode off into the wild woods.
Bright-eyes and the tanner’s son were married that day, and the feasting and dancing lasted long into the night.
“Blooms in Winter” by Amy Carr
The last winter had been hard, when Mother had taken ill and the boy and his sister struggled to keep up with the work. Mother was now recovering, but it was still necessary for the boy to venture forth to seek work.
The boy began down the road with a small pack. The town soon faded from view and he made a small camp to the side of the road as snow began to fall. He was nearly settled, but as the moon rose, a pure white deer appeared on the road.
Shining in the bright light of the moon and snow, the deer met the boy’s eyes and tilted its head as if to beckon him forward. The boy hesitated only a moment before gathering his pack and following the deer into the woods.
The trees soon became denser and the world darker. The boy struggled to follow and eventually the deer was lost from sight. Freshly fallen snow covered any tracks; he had no choice but to continue. He was fairly sure it wasn’t the way back to the road, but felt right all the same. Walking became more difficult as the snow piled high, but it wasn’t long before he spied a light in the distance.
The light belonged to a cottage, deep and alone in the woods. It was an unusual place to settle, but stranger still was the overwhelming amount of flowers that still bloomed around its walls. The snow was as deep here as anywhere, but spring lilacs and narcissus brightened the corner while summer blooms of climbing roses and fragrant lilies surrounded the door. The boy wondered if he should be afraid of a place so clearly filled with enchantment, but he had nowhere else to go.
The door was solid, rough wood that swung open easily at his knock. A large hearth was burning and its warmth reached him along with the smell of a hearty stew.
“Sit, eat, shut the door.” The words came from a woman in the far corner. He could not see her but for a deep blue cloak. “You may warm yourself for the night or you may stay until spring and return to your family with ten gold pieces and a hog for their table. All I ask is that you chop firewood, gather supplies, and build my table. You may decide in the morning.”
The woman disappeared into another room.
The boy ate and found a low bed in the corner, not far from the warmth of the hearth. He was unlikely to find better employment, so he rose early and prepared the morning fire.
He worked for the winter, never once seeing his employer’s face.
When spring arrived, he worried that he would not be able to find his way home, but the white deer stood just beyond the cottage door with the small beginnings of spring antlers.
As fall turned into winter again, it became clear that the boy would need to leave again; his earnings could only help for so long. He set out and the stag appeared, bright as the fallen snow with new two-point antlers, at his camp that night
Again the cottage bloomed as if it was summer still. This time he did not hesitate to knock.
“Sit, eat, shut the door,” the woman spoke. He could just see light hair showing around her cloak. “You may warm yourself for the night or you may stay until spring and return to your family with fifteen gold pieces and a kettle for their fire. All I ask is that you chop firewood, gather supplies, and repair my hearth. You may decide in the morning.”
He stayed for the winter and followed the stag home in the spring with his earnings.
The next winter the boy, now a man, prepared to leave before his mother could begin to despair over their situation. He did not make camp, but waited for the stag, its antlers now four points large, and followed it to the cottage.
“Sit, eat, shut the door.” Her arm extended, revealing her pain skin for the first time. He had still never seen her face. “You may warm yourself for the night or you may stay until spring and return to your family with twenty gold pieces and a quilt for their bed. All I ask is that you chop firewood, gather supplies, and build my bed. You may decide in the morning.”
He began chopping wood at dawn.
This winter, more than the previous, the evenings were spent talking around the fire. One night, late in the season, she confided that she had been cursed to where a face not her own, and that the end of this third winter of his servitude would free her.
He fulfilled his duty and returned home to find his sister preparing to marry. The beautiful quilt he had earned became their wedding present. The new couple would take in the mother and the boy would be left without a purpose. He spent a month with his family, but when the celebrations ended, he went to meet the stag.
Although it was still high summer, the remarkable ten-point white stag was waiting.
The cottage blooms were even more beautiful in the summer and their scent filled his lungs before he knocked. The woman rose, her face uncovered and radiant, surrounded by a halo of bright hair, “Winter has not come. You served me three years and so freed me from my curse. Why have you returned?”
The man bowed his head and then spoke, “Allow me to serve you for the rest of our days. I will chop firewood, gather supplies, and repair the home. All I ask is that you allow me to share your table, hearth, and bed.”
“You may not serve me, but you may help me and work beside me and share my table, hearth, and bed.”
They were married before the next winter fell.