It is a tale of an unwanted stepdaughter, very Cinderella-ish. I don’t remember the names, so I’m going to make them up for the purpose of retelling the story. It certainly won’t be exact; I don’t remember the whole thing, but just the gist of it. So I rewrote it in a slapdash sort of way just for fun.
Nadia had a stepsister; Irena. She was a blond-haired, pretty girl with rosy cheeks and blue eyes. But that was as far as her prettiness went. Irena was a willful, spoiled girl. Her mother, Aurelia had been a woman of means, and she had married a humble baker. It had taken much of her pride to accept her new life, however she loved her new husband, and while he lived, she helped him with the bakery, and treated both girls very well. Irena was always treated with a bit of a preference by her mother, which can be understood, but when Nadia’s father passed away, everything changed.
Nadia was the opposite of Irena. Her hair was raven black, and her eyes stormy-grey, and her skin was a pale, soft peach. She looked very much as her father had; and that alone made it difficult for Aurelia to even look at her, for it made her miss her beloved husband more every day and caused her great heartache. Every day, Nadia became less and less of a member of the family.
Aurelia had inherited the running of the bakery. And the girls, who were becoming young ladies, were old enough to help. But Aurelia decided that Irena was too pretty and delicate to do the work of the bakery, and so Nadia was forced to wake up hours before dawn every day to bake the wares for the shop. While Nadia toiled by the hot oven, kneaded dough, mixed heavy batters, and cleaned up after herself, Irena would laze about upstairs, eat the freshly baked goods, have new gowns fitted and occasionally come down to the bake room to tease Nadia. Aurelia only woke when dawn had arrived, where she would open the shop and sell all the goods that Nadia had worked so hard to make. Nadia worked hard and did not complain. She was proud that her baked goods were loved by their customers, and so she threw herself into her work, loving it because her father loved it. And the bakery thrived because of her work.
As the months wore on, Nadia’s tasks increased until she was little more than a servant; cooking the meals and cleaning up after her stepmother and stepsister. And worst of all, they took her for granted.
One morning, Irena was feeling particularly spiteful, and she came down to the bake-room to tease her stepsister. Nadia was making four dozen fresh pear tarts for a special wedding, and she had them all laid out on the worktable. Irena slid the tray off the table and onto the floor and then ran away.
Aurelia heard the clatter of the tray and Nadia’s distressed cry, and she came down to the bake room and saw the mess on the floor. It was too late to make new tarts for the wedding, and she became infuriated at her stepdaughter.
“What have you done, Nadia! What a horrible thing to do!” she shouted. Nadia shook her head. She knew that if she told Aurelia that her daughter had done it, she wouldn’t be believed and it would enrage her further to think that Nadia was trying to blame her beloved Irena. So she didn’t say a word, she simply knelt down to clean up the mess. Aurelia pushed her down onto the floor, right into the spoiled tarts and then screamed:
“You have ruined us all! Oh, what shall I do? Master Black will never buy our pastries again if we ruin his daughter’s wedding! Oh, what shall I do?” Aurelia paused, tears falling from her fearsome eyes. “You! You horrible child! Look what you’ve done to us. Look! You get out. GET OUT! And never come back!”
And so Nadia did. She got up off the floor. The front of her was gown soiled from the spoiled tarts, and she climbed the stairs to the shop, and left right out the front door, carrying nothing with her.
She fled the small village. Because of her hard hours in the bake-room, she had no friends there. She had no idea where she was going. She simply walked. She followed the main road into the forest, and within a few hours she became lost.
As the sun set, she finally noticed a light among the trees and went towards it. She came upon a very humble cottage in a glade. There were some chickens and ducks, and a small cow out in a small stick enclosure. Inside, a lean fire burned in the hearth. Nadia rapped softly on the door.
It was answered by a spindly old woman. She looked very old and very frail. Nadia greeted her with a shy smile and asked if she could come in. “I will feed your goat and your chickens in the morning, and make you breakfast if you allow me to sleep by your fire,” she said. The old woman reflected on this for but a moment and then stepped aside so Nadia could come in. The old woman was just having a supper of a thin soup and a crust of bread and she offered some to Nadia. Nadia took only a little out of politeness—there wasn’t very much there for the old woman, and she didn’t want to deprive her when she had so little to give. When the old lady retired for the evening, Nadia took her place by the fire and slept there with no blanket or pillow.
She awoke long before dawn as she was accustomed and so she got up and looked about the place. She found there were ample supplies for baking in the cupboard, so she got started making a beautiful breakfast for the old lady, in addition to making her some bread for lunch and supper. She found eggs under the warm bellies of the chickens, and apples on the old woman’s tree, and she milked the cow. She swept up the kitchen area, and tidied the cottage.
By the time the old woman awoke at sunrise, Nadia had a tray for her to eat in bed; a fine breakfast of delicious pastries, hot porridge with fresh fruit in it, and fresh milk. She delighted in the presentation, and ate it with relish. It was such a treat.
When she got out of bed, Nadia took the tray away and cleaned it up. She thanked the old woman profusely for her kindness for allowing a stranger in her home and sharing her food. The old woman smiled.
“Oh, my dear, you are so kind and helpful, you are most welcome. Because you were so good to me, I would like to offer you two tokens of my great appreciation for the breakfast and the beautiful breads you made for me.
Nadia was reluctant, but she did not want to be rude and turn down the lady’s offer. The old woman opened an armoire to reveal a row of cloaks. “This is what I do; I make cloaks. Have your pick, you can choose any one of them. You should not be out alone with nothing to keep you warm.”
Nadia’s eyes scanned the tidy row of cloaks, they were all lovely; they ranged from very rich silken cloaks with gold cording and fine ribbons to adorn them, to simple linen ones with no trimmings. She chose the plainest of them all; a pine-green cloak that had no embellishments, not even a clasp to close it at the neck. She accepted it graciously, and thanked the old woman again and again, slipping it over her shoulders. To her, it didn’t matter how it looked, it was the most thoughtful gift because it would keep her warm on a cool day.
“You’ll need a clasp. Come with me, I have many of those as well.” The old woman opened a drawer and revealed a multitude of clasps, and again, they represented a wide range of quality and value. There were clasps shaped like frogs of gold, clasps shaped as butterflies of silver, but what Nadia pointed to was a simple clasp with a brooch shaped like a little bird carved of wood.
“This is too much,” she said, her eyes brimming with tears, “I thank you so for your kindness. I never thought anyone could be this generous.” The old woman beamed with pride that Nadia had such delight over simple gifts, “Think nothing of it,” she replied, “it is my pleasure.”
She sent Nadia along with a kind hug. Nadia emerged from the cottage, warm in her new cloak, and heartened by the kindness of this old woman. She had no idea where she was going to go from here, but the path seemed clearer somehow, so she took it. The narrow path eventually led out of the woods into a small village that neighbored hers. It was a quiet morning, and the only sound in the village was the trickle of the fountain in the center square. Nadia found it, and sat down at its edge, utterly devoid of ideas. As she pondered some children came to her; a little girl and a little boy, both richly dressed in fine clothing. They greeted her with open smiles and she smiled back at them. The asked her name, and giggled with her. They asked her to tell them a story, and she did. They asked her to sing them a song, so she nodded to them, and thought of one she liked.
Nadia’s voice rung out like the song of a nightingale; and the children fell still from the power of it. As she sang, her cloak transformed itself in a shimmer into a garment of immense beauty; the drab green linen becoming an emerald silk edged in silver cording. Her clasp turned into a golden nightingale, her tattered, soiled gown became a soft, billowy gown of snow-white muslin.
The children’s father, a widower and nobleman turned the corner into the square looking for his children, and beheld her. He fell instantly in love with the dark-haired beauty with the angel’s voice. He came to her, and took her to stay with his sister; and only a few days later, she agreed to marry him.
Nadia was not a selfish soul, and she renewed her connection with her angry stepmother and jealous stepsister. They attended her wedding. Irena’s fingernails were caked in flour. It seems that when Aurelia’s hands were in threat of getting dirty, then Irena wasn’t so delicate or pretty anymore that she didn’t need to work. Aurelia complained to Nadia how hard it was to get Irena out of bed to work in the bake room every day.
Nadia recounted to Irena during the wedding, the story of the magical cloak and the old woman and how she came to meet her loving husband and to have two beautiful children. Irena decided she would do the same, for she believed she deserved such fortune herself.
So she followed the road into the night, and found the cabin of the old woman. But Irena is not a giving soul, and she did not offer to help the old woman when she opened the door. But the old woman let her in anyway. She ate most of the old woman’s watery soup and bread. She insisted that the old woman share her bed with her so she didn’t have to sleep on the floor.
Irena did not wake early to make her breakfast. She slept long after the old woman had gotten up, and when she did wake, she asked if she could eat some of her bread. And before she left, she said: “You gave my sister gifts before she departed, where are mine?” The old woman wordlessly opened the armoire, and Irena saw all the cloaks and her eyes grew wide. “Oh, these are beautiful,” she cried. She reached in and took the finest cloak, a red silk velvet cape, and threw it around her shoulders. The old woman then went to the drawer for the clasps, and she picked the golden frog as a closure. Without a thank you or farewell, she skipped off to the fountain to find her nobleman.
But as it is fated for those who are selfish and ungrateful, the sheen of the fine new gifts gave way to the ugliness of their owner. She sat on the fountain and sang only to croak like a frog, and the gilded frog clasp turned into cracked, old wood. Her billowing cloak of red silk velvet turned into a thin, threadbare, stained and moth eaten thing. And no nobleman found her. Instead a pig-farmer was passing through who thought her golden features pretty and he decided he needed a wife to care for him and to help him with his farm.
Aurelia continued to run the bakery, only now with no daughters to do the work for her.
Happy Friday everyone. ;)