By BARRY VAN-ASTEN
THE STORY OF THE PRIESTESS AND THE MAGICIAN
It was a day for adventure and Pegamina was out walking by herself. The birds were singing high in the trees and the sun shone down upon her, making her feel all warm and tingly. ‘Nothing could be more beautiful!’ she thought, as the gentle breeze seemed to whisper all around her: ‘you are so very loved Peg... you are so loved!’
After crossing the little stream and walking by the edge of the wood, she noticed a small boy, standing all alone and crying. He was such an unusual little thing with his curly brown hair that seemed to be everywhere and nowhere in particular at the same time. And as she got closer she could see his large black eyes, which would probably have seemed much darker had his face not been so dirty! ‘Are you lost?’ asked Peg.
‘No, I know where I am, thank you’ he replied.
‘Then why are you crying?’
‘Because they’re broken!’ he sobbed.
‘What’s broken?’ said Peg, looking around but seeing nothing.
‘My wings!’ And the small boy handed Pegamina his broken wings that had been poorly made from leaves and twigs.
‘They are in need of some help aren’t they?’
‘Can you help them?’ said the little tearful boy.
‘I don’t know, but I’ll try’. And Pegamina fastened the leaves and twigs back together as best she could, saying ‘I don’t think you’ll ever fly again!’
‘Oh it doesn’t matter, flying is very tiring, isn’t it?’ and he smiled such a beautiful smile.
‘Who are you?’ asked peg.
‘My name’s Wot Not, what’s yours?’
‘Pegamina. Is Wot Not your real name, or is it short for something?’
‘Oh it’s very real and I think it’s long for nothing!’
And so, Pegamina and Wot Not became quite friendly as they walked beside the little stream together; she, taking his small hand in hers and thinking how nice it would be if she had a little brother to take care of. They talked and they talked, about lots of things, things they had done and things they had seen.
‘You know’ said Wot Not, ‘when I get a headache, the only colour I can look at is green, it seems to make the pain go away. Strange isn’t it? I wonder if animals get headaches... maybe not, with so many green things to look at’. And they both lay down in the long grass and gazed at the sky. ‘I wonder what a mirror does’ said Wot Not, ‘when no one is there to look into it? And how does it know?’
‘What silly things you say!’ laughed Pegamina. Just then, Wot Not stood up and shouted: ‘Angel cake! Angel cake!’
‘What are you doing?’ asked Peg.
‘I’m calling my sister, she’s a grown up!’ he said, twisting his mouth as if the words ‘grown up’ tasted very sour.
‘Is she really called Angel cake?’ Peg said with some surprise.
‘Oh yes! Angel cake! Angel cake!’ he called again. And as if from nowhere appeared a tall, beautiful girl with long brown hair and the same large dark eyes as Wot Not, walking towards them; as she got closer, Pegamina gazed upon her beautiful face and then at her dress, which was long and flowing and had been torn in many places and carelessly stitched back together again. And Pegamina couldn’t help but stare at her feet, for she was barefooted. ‘Perhaps she really is an angel’ thought Peg.
‘Where have you been and what’s happened to your wings?’ said the angel in the torn dress and bare feet.
‘Oh they got broken but my friend here tried to mend them’. And Pegamina introduced herself. ‘I’m Pegamina and I’m pleased to meet you. Is your name really Angel cake?’
‘Oh no, it’s Angelica but Wot Not can’t pronounce it properly’. And the three of them sat down together in the long and waving grass. Angelica was somewhat older than Peg and clearly not one of those sour tasting adults yet there was something about her which seemed to suggest she had not lost all of her child-like ways.
‘Tell us a story Angel!’ cried Wot Not.
‘Would you like to hear a story Pegamina?’ Angelica asked.
‘Oh yes please, if you would?’
‘Now, let me see, ah, yes’. And she proceeded to relate the story of the priestess and the Magician:
‘Long ago, there was a beautiful Priestess named Selemia, the daughter of King Ursalom, who ruled in the Kingdom of Sleepy Sadness. Selemia was so beautiful that all the Princes came from near and far to admire her beauty, but Selemia loved only one man and his name was Per Baugd, the woodcutter’s son. All the young maidens in the village fell in love with Per Baugd, for he was such a strong and handsome man, and he knew it most of all, for he would break hearts as easily as he cut down trees with his axe. But Selemia could think of nothing and no one but Per Baugd. She did not care that he was so poor, because she loved him for his handsome face and his broad shoulders. Per Baugd knew that the Priestess was in love with him and he enjoyed treating her as if she was nothing at all; as if she were just another tree in a large forest that eventually would come down. But Selemia loved him all the more, and oh how her heart ached.
One day, Selemia went to the magician and told him of her sad aching heart and asked if anything could be done.
‘You have fallen in love with a man who can love no one but himself’ said Magar the King’s Magician, ‘and there is nothing I can do to change such a man, for vanity is greater than any magic. But there is one thing I can do, I can change your own heart and the desire within that you have for this man’. And Selemia agreed, for she could not bear the pain of loving a man who could never return that love. And so the Magician mixed his potions and cast his spells, saying ‘you must hide yourself away for a week and a day, letting no eyes fall upon your beautiful face. And when the white swan sings three times, the first thing that you see on opening your eyes shall be the love of your heart and the love of your life!’
Well, a week and a day pass by and Selemia, still with her eyes tightly closed, waits for the white swan to sing. All day she waits until eventually she hears the sad and lonely song, three times. But she was afraid to open her eyes for she did not want to give her love away too carelessly. And so she waits and thinks very hard and very long.
Time passes and still she could not bring herself to open her eyes. Then, she hears the sound of sleigh bells and she knows it is Trypthelda and his reindeer, Minska, pulling his sleigh full of furs and silks over the snow on his way to market. ‘Yes, Trypthelda is a kind man. I could love a man like him’ she thought. And she opened the door of the little cottage where she had been hiding away for a week and a day and she opened her eyes. But it was not Trypthelda that she saw, or Minska, his reindeer, for there before her, pulling the sleigh that he had stolen, was Orlon, the monstrous, hideous and mute hunchback. Of course, Selemia fell deeply in love with Orlon, for she could not see his repulsive face or his hunchback, she only saw the love of her heart and the love of her life. And she went to him and kissed his twisted face as he grunted with happiness. And she took his rough, bleeding hands and led him into the sleigh, covering him in furs and silks to keep him warm. And she pulled the sleigh herself, while Orlon lay fast asleep upon it. She pulled him everywhere, and although he could not speak, she knew that Orlon loved her more than any man, and could give her more love than anyone as vain as Per Baugd.
Over the snow, over the snow,
The Priestess and her sleigh would go.
Years passed and the Priestess and Orlon grew very old together. Yet still she pulled the sleigh. Eventually, poor sick Orlon died, but Selemia, never hearing him ever speak a word, never noticed. And still she pulled the sleigh.
Selemia’s beauty faded until it was only a memory and her fine dress had become thin and worn beneath the fur coat that she wore. Her beautiful long blonde hair was now grey and thin too, and all day she would speak to no one, except Orlon, the love of her heart and the love of her life, whom she pulled everywhere in the sleigh. But she did not know that under the furs and under the silks, heaped with snow, her Orlon was dead and dreaming of her now!
Well, when she discovered poor Orlon, her heart broke and she died too and she was found, still clutching at the hunchback’s bones, lying under the furs and under the silks that were heaped with snow, as much in love in death as she had been in love in life!’
‘What a sad story’ said Peg, ‘I thought it was going to have a happy ending?’
‘It was a happy ending’ Angelica said, ‘don’t you see? Per Baugd’s beautiful face disguised his hideous heart just as Orlon’s grotesque face disguised his beautiful heart. In the end it didn’t really matter. Selemia was beautiful and the hunchback was ugly, but when they became old, they both grew uglier anyway, except Selemia had further to grow in ugliness than him!’
‘But Orlon couldn’t have been very nice if he stole the sleigh!’ said Wot Not.
‘It’s not surprising when someone who has been treated like a monster that they should begin to act like one too!’ said Angelica.
‘Yes, but Selemia had to use magic didn’t she?’
‘And doesn’t that tell you something?’ Angelica said as she looked more and more like an angel. And Pegamina closed her eyes and thought about it for quite some time until she opened them and found herself sitting all alone. She called out ‘Wot Not!’ Angelica!’ but there was no answer. And she saw the broken wings upon the grass and held them. She knew that something was different and changed; she felt it in her heart!
Over the snow, over the snow,
The Priestess and her sleigh would go