Friday, May 4, 2012

The Faeries, The Ogres and the Three Curses

As tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, I thought it would be appropriate to share a traditional Mexican fairy tale. This one is known to the people of Mexico as “Domingo Siete,” or “Sunday Seven.” I have tried to remain as reliable as possible to the original while imbuing it with my own style. I have named the two central characters after two renowned Mexican filmmakers. Feliz Cinco de Mayo, Amigos!

Also, don't forget my still readily available sci-fi/fantasy/comic/romance/adventure novel which can be downloaded here at a very reasonable price.

Once, and only once, upon a time, there lived two hunchbacks named Alonso and Guillermo. Despite sharing a deformity, you couldn’t find two more different people if you tried. For while Guillermo cursed the world for his misshapen body and outcast status, Alonso remained cheerful and optimistic in the face of adversity. Hunchbacked as they were, they could not live among other people without being ridiculed, tormented and abused, so they lived in the forest and earned their Daily Bread (which is a special variety of bread available only in certain parts of the world) as woodcutters…

Or, rather, Alonso earned his bread as a woodcutter. Guillermo, however, was lazy, selfish and not really all that nice a guy, so he would often make excuses as to why he couldn’t work. Alonso, being kind and good natured, would consent and do all the work for the pair of them. He wasn’t what you might call enthusiastic about this arrangement, but kind people are always kind, so he spent most of the day chopping away for the sake of his lazy associate.

By the time he was done with the day’s work, it was very late. Too late to head for home. So he set up camp in the forest for the night. But as he was drifitng off to sleep, he heard a strange sound. It sounded like singing. But no human voice could be that lovely. He decided to investigate. Treading carefully, so as not to give himself away, he followed the sound of the singing to a small, secluded glade. Alonso’s suspicion about the voices not being human was quite right. Here he saw a band of faeries dancing and frolicking and singing:

Lunes y martes y miƩrcoles tres...
Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday three…

Alonso recognized the old song at once, but the faeries were only singing the first line over and over again. It was as if they simply didn’t know the rest of the song. Alonso was so moved by their beautiful voices, he wanted to help, so the next time they sang “Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday three…” Alonso came out of hiding and sang, “Thursday and Friday and Saturday six!”

The faeries were initially shocked that a mortal had found their hiding place, but when they realized he had told them the rest of the lyrics to their song they were delighted. I mean, you know how frustrating that can be when you have a song in your head but you don’t know all the words. At the moment, for example, I have “You Can Do Magic” by America in my head and all I know is the bit that goes “You know darn well/When you cast your spell/You can get your way/When you hypnotize/With your…”

But, I digress.

The faeries invited Alonso to join the party and they sang and danced together into the night. And the curious thing was that, even though he had worked hard all day and hadn’t yet slept, he didn’t feel tired. He felt wide awake and full of joy, thanks to the faeries’ magic.

And that wasn’t all! The faeries grew so fond of Alonso that they wanted to pay him a kindness. They all flew around him and bathed him in their magical light and when they were done, the hump was gone from Alonso’s back! He was whole and healthy and strong! He was about to say how grateful he was to his new friends when a terrible rumbling was heard getting closer and closer. “It’s the ogres!” the faeries cried. “Quick, get up in the trees or they’ll see you!” Alonso didn’t need to be told twice and he scurried up the nearest tree (much easier to do now that his deformity was gone) and hid in its branches. Once he was settled, he looked down but the faeries had all vanished, as had all evidence of their party, and three huge, ugly ogres settled down in the clearing to rest and talk about the mischief they had caused.

“Well, amigos,” said the first ogre. “As we are all here, I can now call this annual meeting of the Evil Ogres Society to order.” And so the meeting began and, as with all formal society meetings like this, the first twenty minutes or so were pretty uneventful. Just the minutes from last year’s meeting, points of order, old business, procedural things like that which are the cornerstone of a well-run society, but which are murder for storytellers. Finally, just as Alonso was about to nod off from boredom, they got to the good stuff. “Now the chair will hear reports on the evil deeds performed in the previous year. The chair recognizes Brother Diego.”

The ogre, evidently called Diego, stood and addressed the others. “This has been a good year for me,” he began. “I found a small, unspoiled village full of good, hard-working, honest, pious, happy people. So, naturally, I had to do something about that.” The other ogres laughed, but Alonso listened with rapt attention. “I’ll spare you the details, but the upshot is…they are all blind! Every man, woman and child in the village is blind as a bat! Thank you.” The other ogres clapped and Diego sat. The chair then reconized the next ogre, name of Garcia.

“I too found a village of no-account do-gooders, as did Brother Diego, and I too felt the need to make them suffer for their innocence. Every single citizen of that village is now deaf and can’t even hear the thunder!” This report was also met with warm and appreciative applause. Alonso couldn’t help but admire how formal and polite these horrible monsters were...but only briefly before getting back to the business of loathing them for their evil deeds.

“As for me,” said the Chair-Ogre, “I had some fun with the village I found as well: I struck them all mute! No one can talk or laugh or cry or shout. They are silent!” Alonso was disgusted by the glee with which these monsters talked about punishing innocent people. He was all set to leap from the tree and attack them all, which would likely have gotten him killed almost instantly, when he heard something that made him stop at once.

“The thing that makes it all so funny,” said Diego, “is how easy it would be to cure them, if we wanted to!”

“Oh, yes,” agreed Garcia. “It would be the work of but a moment to release these pitiful people from these curses…but we won’t!”

“Gentlemen, please,” said the Chair-Ogre, trying to restore order. “For the sake of posterity, let us all say how we can cure our victims. In my case, all they would have to do is go to the fields and pick flowers from the cenizo plant. A tea brewed from this flower will cure muteness.”

“My village,” began Garcia, “is in the shadow of the Hill of the Bells which is covered in giant stones, but one of them is actually a bell in disguise. Strike that stone with a heavy hammer and the sound will echo throughout the village, curing everyone’s deafness.”

“If my victims wanted to cure their blindness,” said Diego, “they would have to wait until the first week of April and collect all the dew from the grass in the morning. Rub that dew into their eyes, and they’d all be able to see at once!”

“Well," said the Chair-Ogre, "I don’t think there’s any fear of our curses being undone any time soon! I mean even if these people were to somehow find out how to cure their various afflictions, it would take some kind of superman, or perhaps a man who has worked hard all his life, become strong and accustomed to hard work and who has, possibly, recently undergone some kind of physical change making it easier for him to move his body." The laughter of the ogres rang through the trees like dramatic irony. "So, if there’s no more business, I hereby adjourn the meeting. We will meet back here in one year.” The ogres disbanded and wandered off into the woods.

Alonso climbed down his tree. The faeries paid me a great kindness by removing my hump, he said to himself. I should try and help others the way they helped me. Starting with curing these poor, unfortunate villagers. So resolved, Alonso set forth on his adventure.

He didn’t know where any of the villages were, but it turns out it’s not that hard to find a village entirely peopled by the blind, deaf or mute and before long he was standing at the outskirts of the Mute Village. Though unable to speak, the people heard quite well and understood Alonso when he explained how they could be cured. The villagers wasted no time, but rushed out into the fields and picked every cenizo flower they could find. The tea was brewed and served to everyone in the town, and they could all speak once again! They were so grateful to Alonso that they gave him a burro laden with silver.

Next he went to the Village of the Deaf where he used some of his silver to buy a heavy sledgehammer with which he climbed the Hill of the Bells. He found the place the ogre had spoken of and began pounding every stone he could find. After striking one hundred and thirty-six stones and just before collapsing in utter exhaustion, he swung his hammer one last time and when it collided with the one hundred and thirty-seventh stone, the sound of a great bronze bell echoed across the village and all were cured of their deafness. Alonso was rewarded with a second burro, this one loaded with gold.

By now, it was the first week of April, and Alonso carefully gathered up each and every single drop of dew from each and every single blade of grass. Then he dipped his fingers in it, ran up to the first person he saw, and rubbed her eyes gently with the dew.

“Hey! Just what do you think you’re—” But the senorita was not angry anymore, since her blindness was cured…by a very handsome stranger. Alonso explained the situation to her, and the two of them spent the rest of the day curing each and every villager so that by sundown, there wasn’t a blind eye in the village. They even cured an old beggar who had actually been blind since birth and was, therefore, not affected by the ogre’s curse, but who was, nevertheless, grateful.

Unlike the first two villages, this one was not rich and they didn’t have any silver or gold to give him. As it happened, they did have something far more precious to offer him as a reward and when Alonso left for home, it was with a burro loaded with silver, a burro loaded with gold, and the beautiful girl he had cured first who had fallen in love with our hero which is, let's face it, always a nice thing to happen in a fairy tale.

It was, indeed, a joyous homecoming for Alonso and his new love. When he had last set foot in his home village a year ago, he was a misshapen woodcutter without two coins to rub together (which was actually a pretty common practice back, no it wasn't, I'm just being silly). Now he was strong, handsome, rich and engaged. Not to mention famous for his heroic deeds. He was welcomed with open arms by everyone…except Guillermo, who was jealous of Alonso’s good fortune.

“Why should he get all this, but I have to remain a hunchback?” Guillermo thought. “I know! I’ll go into the woods and find those faeries. That should do it!”

So that night, Guillermo crept into the woods just as Alonso had done the previous year. And, sure enough, he did hear voices which he followed to that same clearing. Unfortunately, these were the voices of the ogres, who were meeting slightly earlier this year because they had a serious problem to discuss:

“It seems all of our curses have been cured,” said the Chair-Ogre. “And I thought we were the only ones who knew how to do that.”

“It wasn’t us,” said the other two. “Apparently, some woodcutter came and cured everyone. He must’ve been spying on us last year.”

It was at this moment that the faeries came out to play, not knowing the ogres were already here. Fearlessly, they began to sing:

                    Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday three…
                    Thursday and Friday and Saturday six…

Seeing his opportunity to share his friend’s good fortune, Guillermo leapt out of his hiding place and cried out:

“And Sunday seven!”

Which was a mistake because, not only was that not the next line of the song, but now the ogres thought he was the traitor who had eavesdropped on them the year before. That was the last anybody ever heard of Guillermo and even I don’t know exactly what happened to him, though there were rumors in a neighboring village of a horrible monster that lived in the forest with not one, but two ugly humps on his back.

And that’s the story of the two hunchbacks who lived in the woods and how the one who was kind, friendly and hard-working had great adventures and great reward, and how the one who was mean, cold and lazy suffered …which makes for a pretty good moral to any story, if you ask me.


Next Week: "The Big Ole' Tree"

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