Original Fairy Tale
The 12th Spirit
by Silvia Hartmann
Once upon a time and in a land that was not unlike ours in many ways, it came to pass that one of the ruling groups had fallen into disrepute; and all the members of the group as well as their families were being hunted, jailed and killed for all manner of evil doing they may or may not have committed.
As luck would have it, one young man had been away on travels when this had happened; and when he came back, he found himself a sought traitor, with a big price on his head and his family dead, his lands in ruins.
In great fear of his life, he fled.
There was no safe place left for him to go to; there was no-one who would offer him shelter, take him in or hide him, and so he went north east, as far as he could go, into an old, old forest, where no-one lived at all and no-one had lived for as long as anyone could now remember.
He walked and stumbled for many, many days; his only food was berries he would find, and other fruits of the forest; nuts from the abundant trees, and water, fresh from the small rivers there.
He wasn’t used to hardship, and although he was a sensible young man, he had not used his sensibility for much other than for leisure and for pleasure in his life.
Here, in this vast, old forest, where the first leaves were falling gold and red and made his footsteps hushing, rushing reminders of his flight, he was at a loss more profound and more lonely than he had ever known.
But he kept on walking as there was nothing else left for him to do; and when it rained, he would sit beneath a bush or in the shelter of the roots of a great tree and huddle in his cloak, that once had been the height of fashion and was never meant to be his only blanket, only means of dryness, warmth or comfort in the world.
The nights were cold now, and the mornings were of mist and chill; still, the young man walked on, lost in the forest which took away the thoughts and feelings about all those things which were now of the past, and all those things that once had been, and now no longer were for him.
How long he walked, we cannot know; but one day, and as the morning had long given way to gentle sunshine streaming through the oldest of the trees, he came upon a clearing, where grass grew luscious and the green of luscious bushes reflected in the surface of a deep, still lake.
By the side of the lake, there were the ruins of what must have been a large and stately building once; now, there were walls still standing, and stones thrown here and there; between them there grew forest flowers and a host of berry plants, all greater and finer looking than he had seen elsewhere in the forest, and as though this was a place of magic, where magic flowed from the very ground below and gave all living things a special charge and sanctuary where they may flourish to their greatest height and realised potential.
When the young man saw this place, he knew at once that it was most enchanted, and he knew at once that here, he had found a home within the forest, that this place would help him rest, and heal, and that it would now take him in and give him shelter, that his long journey of confusion had finally come to an end.
For the first days, and how many there were, we cannot know, he simply slept and rested in the ruins. He found a part where something like a house did still exist, and three of four walls were still standing. There was a hearth, still stout and bearing an ancient chimney, and a roof above; he collected dry leaves to make his bed and be his blanket too in the coldness of the nights, and then he set about to look around, to see what he might find and that might help him live here and survive the coming winter.
He found old pots made of earth and clay to carry water in; he found pieces of wood to burn in the hearth and even found a rusty old sword which he laid aside with a notion to sharpen and clean it with a stone in the coming nights of winter.
All through this time, he slept deeply, never dreamed and in the days he didn’t think of anything at all. In the silence of the forest he simply lived and worked to make this place a home as best as one who has no knowledge of the ways of home craft, carpentry or masonry might manage.
He collected berries and roots and nuts to dry and store, and one day, as he explored the ruins, he found beneath a layer of creeping vines and dark green ivy what appeared to be a set of steps that led down into the ground, in darkness.
He was excited by this discovery; there may be hope of stores of things, and some might still be now of use to him, and so he fetched a little burning wood to be his torch and climbed the stairs of stone with care as they were covered in debris that had been falling there for many, many years.
The deeper he went, the less the leaves, the little sticks and stones became and then, there was only dry dust remaining. He found a pathway, deep below, with a rounded ceiling made from big and finely fashioned blocks of stone, and he followed through this passage way until it opened up into a chamber.
This chamber was empty, square in shape, save for a single old and very heavy looking set of shelves made from sturdy old black wood at one end.
He was not disappointed or disheartened; this place was very old and it would have been most surprising to find anything at all, so he counted his blessings to have found the heavy wooden shelves and thought that he could use those to make a front for his apartments, to keep out the wind and snows which would be soon to come.
So he put down his piece of burning wood and tried to move the shelf, and move it he did, and when he moved it, he saw that there was a door hidden behind the heavy shelf, and that this door was made of metal, not of wood, and that it had a great locking bar which secured it from the outside.
“What might this be?” he wondered aloud to himself, and set about trying to raise the crossbar which was most ancient and quite rusted into the iron hinges which were holding it in place.
But finally, the crossbar gave way, and he pulled the door open.
There was a strange movement of air, very cold air that made him shiver and feel most disconcerted for a moment, but then he got his piece of burning wood and stepped inside the room he had discovered.
And there, on the floor in a large and wide room, deep underground, there lay the skeletons of monks, still in their cloaks, a great many of them, with their heads close together and their feet pointing outward, and their bony hands still folded on their chests as they had been for an eternity.
The young man stepped back and stared; he breathed the cold and dusty air and felt the stone floor spin beneath him, and to center himself and regain his senses, he counted the bodies of the monks.
There were eleven, all told.
He looked around the room and saw that it was orderly and tidy in all ways; and he saw too that there were candles still, unlit and dusty; that there were books that even still below the dust showed shining glimmers of their gold leaf bindings, and there were treasures, paintings, altar pieces made from precious metals too, stacked neatly in the corner of the room.
Slowly and carefully, he walked around the skeletons in their brown robes, and as he did, it struck him that they were quite small and slender; these had not been adults, but youngsters, acolytes, and not grown men as first he had imagined.
The young man did not know quite what to do.
He had no wish to be intruding here, or to disturb that what had happened and what seemed to still happening within this room; and knowing not of any purpose, he decided to leave all just as it was for now, and so he closed the door again and even placed the heavy shelf back in its old position, climbed from the cellar and sat by the lake in the late autumn sunshine, thinking not at all and simply watching the reflections on the water, deep gold and golden red.
There, he fell asleep on the soft grass, and there, he dreamed a dream.
And in the dream, the centuries rushed by in speed, and once again, the past was here and now and long ago was real, and what was now a ruin was a monastery, build to worship God in deep serenity, and there were roads within this forest, and further out, castles and villages, full of life and full of people doing what they would and always had.
There was a school here where the ones who felt the calling would assemble and the older ones would teach the younger, songs and stories, prayers and what wisdom they had found themselves or heard from others too.
There was a war, and soldiers came; and as the young man dreamed he saw all things now unfolding, as the older monks hurried the young ones to the cellar hiding place with all the riches they had to protect; and there, they shut them in and told them just to pray and not to fear, so they would all be safe and that no harm should come to them.
But the soldiers came and they slew all the monks, and everyone around they butchered too. They searched the monastery, took what could be taken, but they never found the acolytes nor all the great and wondrous treasures that were rumoured to be hidden there and in anger, they set a fire of revenge upon the monastery so that it was destroyed.
All who knew about the hiding place were dead; and it was locked not from the inside, but from the outside, and so it was that no-one came to finally release the boys who sat and prayed and waited there within.
Days passed and then, their food and water was all gone; but still, they talked amongst themselves and they gave each other solace, and they prayed and sang together, and when one amongst them cried in fear or hunger, all the others would combine and tell him of the love of God, and that all things would be well; and so they did not lose heart, nor did they lose their hope, and even after long they knew that not a soul would come now to release their bodies so that they may live a life within this world, they did not fear, nor did they cry; they prayed and sang and talked of God and all the glories that awaited them, a different kind of freedom.
As they got weaker, and then weaker still, they lay down together on the ground, close and with their heads together so they could whisper still and hear each others voices in the dark, and then they went to sleep and they began to dream together, and in their dream, they died together, but never knew that and so still, they lay and dreamed of God, and all the glories that awaited them, a different kind of freedom.
And their dream was so beautiful, so restful and so healing, so relieving of the burdens of fear and nights of darkness, loss of hope that when the young man joined their dream, he too began to understand a great many things about his life and that of others in a different way, and he too began to raise and rise within himself, and when he did awake, he was a different being by his meeting and his dreaming in this most enchanted place.
All through the winter, when it came, he slept and dreamed the dream together with the others, and as the snow settled thickly outside, he would do his work of keeping clean and alive, warm and safe, and then lay down to sleep and dream again, and it was there that he brought his existence then into the dreaming circle, all the things that he had known, and felt, and tasted, touched, experienced; and it was there that then the others understood that they were dreaming still and had not realised that they were dreaming, for he alone did wake, and wake again, and eat, and fuel the fire, mend his clothes, and shine the rusty sword with a soft stone most lovingly, and gather wood, and melt the snow for drinking and to wash his body.
All through the winter, the dream expanded and it deepened; and when the young man walked on virgin snow, mystical mornings of blue and enchanted hues of rosy red beneath the distant sun, he would not walk alone, but all would walk, and all would feel, as all would dream when he lay down and closed his eyes, when night had come and stars of radiant light would bless the sky above.
And then, the snow began to melt; the sun grew stronger and the first and finest blades of grass reached green through crystals left of ice; and then the young man knew that time was right, and time had come; and when the ground was soft again and flowers bloomed amidst the glade and ruins, he lovingly and with the deepest reverence, and with his own hands, dug the soft dark earth and made eleven graves, all side by side.
And he went inside and with the greatest care, enfolded each of the small bodies in their cloaks, and carried them outside, and laid them there into the ground, and covered them most gently over, so that they might rest and that the dream would now become reality.
Each one he knew, and each one he knew by name; and when the last one had departed, the young man too stood up and blessed this place with all his heart, and left on his own path, to be a king.
© Silvia Hartmann 2005