Gather round for a story about the fairy in the oak tree...
Once upon a time, a prince left his castle to hunt in the woods. Although an inexperienced tracker, the prince marveled at how quickly he came upon a rabbit. But with the animal in his crosshairs, the rabbit appealed to the hunter.
“Dearest Prince, spare me my life! One good deed deserves another, so if you let me go, I’ll tell you a secret when the time is right.”
The prince adored secrets, so he put the arrow back in its quiver, the bow on his back, and continued further into the woods.
Not long after meeting the rabbit, the prince spotted a fox sleeping outside its den. Once more, he aimed his weapon and prepared to shoot, but with the animal in his sights, the fox begged for mercy.
“Dearest Prince, spare me my life! One good deed deserves another, so if you let me return to my family, I’ll share with you something far more valuable than my pelt. Not now, of course, but when the time is right.”
The prince was sympathetic, and since he had a family himself, he placed the arrow back in its quiver, the bow on his back, and continued further into the woods.
The prince noticed that the deeper he ventured into the forest, the more peculiar the trees became. The trunks grew twisted, the branches gnarled, and the leaves appeared to glow. When the man approached a tree to inspect, a deer jumped out in front of him. The prince grabbed his bow, but the animal appealed to the hunter before he could steady an arrow.
“Dearest Prince, spare me my life, and I offer this blessing in return: Although you have wandered far, I encourage you to keep walking. Walk until you see a giant oak tree with three branches. Cut off one of the branches, and a fairy will appear.”
The prince had always wanted to meet a fairy, so he put the arrow back in its quiver, the bow on his back, and headed deeper into the woods in search of the oak tree.
The deer called after him, “Make sure you carry some water, for the fairy requires a drink!”
The mighty oak was not hard to find, and the prince quickly sawed off one of the branches. A beautiful fairy emerged from the tree, but when she asked for a sip of water, the prince fumbled and spilled his flask. The fairy wept and died in his arms.
Brokenhearted, the prince cursed his foolishness. He was about to return to the castle when the fox arrived at his side.
“Dearest Prince, I’ve come to repay your good deed. Cut a second branch from the oak tree. This time, when a fairy appears, be sure to give her a drink of water! One gets rather thirsty living inside of a tree.”
The prince’s heart was restored! He hastily removed a second branch, and another fairy sprouted from the tree. But because the prince still had not collected any water, he offered her a drink of wine. Although some might boast that wine is better than water, after sipping from his flask, the fairy closed her eyes and died.
Devestated, the prince cursed his rash behavior. He was about to return to the castle when the rabbit arrived at his side.
“Dearest Prince, I am here to repay your kindness. There is a secret spring where you can fill your flask for the fairy in the oak. Perhaps I might show you?”
The rabbit bounded into the woods, darted around trees, and eventually, the animal and the prince ended up at a bubbling spring. After filling his flask, the prince followed the rabbit back to the magical tree and removed the final branch. And this time, when a fairy stood before the hunter, she drank until his flask was empty.
With the third fairy alive and well, she and the prince headed to his castle. However, as they neared the village, the fairy told the man she dared not leave the woods dressed as a fairy, and would he mind bringing her some new clothes? Happy to oblige, the prince left his love resting beneath a willow tree and promised to return.
But in his absence, a wicked witch appeared. She tossed the fairy into a nearby well, where upon touching the water, she transformed into a golden fish. With the fairy out of the way, the witch raced home and grabbed one of her daughters. She cast a glamour over the girl, and when the prince returned with clothes for the oak fairy, he was none the wiser. The witch’s daughter (under the guise of a fairy) made one final request before joining the prince at his castle – she was hungry and wanted to eat the golden fish swimming in the well. Wanting nothing more than to appease his bride-to-be, the prince caught the fish, which the witch’s daughter ate in a single bite.
What the witch’s daughter didn’t notice was the single fish scale that fell to the ground and got stuck beneath the prince’s shoe. Back at the castle, the scale grew roots and turned into a giant apple tree. The next morning, the prince watched in awe as apple blossoms appeared, and then, come noon, the branches drooped with fruit. Once the moon rose, a coven of fairies appeared, danced around the trunk, and snacked on the enchanted apples.
The witch’s daughter was livid, for she knew this was the work of the fairy. Hoping to rid herself of the fairy once and for all, she instructed a woodsman to chop down the tree and burn the cursed timber. The woodsman did as he was told but kept one branch for whittling. He was amazed when that evening, a fairy emerged from the tiny sliver of wood and began to tidy up his home. Since the woodsman and his wife weren’t sure what to do with their new visitor, they invited her to work with them at the castle.
The following day, the girl from the apple tree sang songs with the weavers and washers while the prince prepared for his daily hunt. As he gathered his arrows and strung his bow, he asked the women if they knew any stories.
Immediately, the tree fairy stood up. She told him about a prince who’d saved her from a mighty oak tree, only to be turned into a fish by a wicked witch. She described being eaten by the witch’s daughter, all but a single scale, and carried to a wondrous castle. The weaving women listened as she explained how the scale sprouted roots, like a seed, and grew into an enchanted apple tree. She told the prince about the woodsman who was wise enough to save a tiny branch and how, no matter what form she took or where she lived, her magick would endure.
This story was inspired by the Hungarian folktale of the same name.
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