A Patchwork Fairy Tale: the one with the siblings, the curse, and the salamanders.
A curious young woman sets out to see something of the world, and stumbles upon a lonely creature hidden in a dark lake.
Special thanks to my senstivity reader Talia.
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[Gentle theme music]
Laura: Hi, you can call me Laura, I’m here to tell you a story if you like. If you want to read as well as listen you can find a transcript and mp3 download on patchworkfairytales.wordpress.com. You found one of my Patchwork Fairy Tales. This is the one with the siblings, the curse, and the salamanders.
The Creature in the Lake
Once, in a place so hard to find it seemed no one ever went there except by accident, two children were raised by a whole village. This was because their parent had hardly any family of their own, but a lot of friends, and they were all eager to help out.
Luckily the two children were not the shy kind and they were rather pleased with all this attention. They grew up so treasured that they dared to be bold and bright all day long. So much so that at length the brother was nicknamed Noonlight and the sister Dawnlight. Because, the villagers said, though they were both as bright as the day was long, he was just a bit warmer and she just a smidge more vibrant.
But brother and sister grew up in equal contentment and when they were old enough to wish for space of their own, they both stayed in the little town where they had grown up. So it was their parent in one house, the brother in another, the sister in another one still, and all the village all around them, and a very good thing it was too.
Noonlight was very content and wanted for nothing, but Dawnlight was occasionally curious about the world beyond the village. She was the inquisitive sort, you see, so sometimes she set out with her boots laced up tight and her paints and papers packed into a bundle, to write and draw about everything she saw.
Her brother went with her sometimes, if she did not go too far, but he preferred to sketch people rather than landscapes. One particular person, it seemed after a while. A young shopkeeper that the siblings were both very fond of and that Dawnlight was very grateful to for taking pity on her poor brother by asking him out. Because she had never seen such incomprehensible fumbling as what came out of her brother’s mouth when the was trying to speak to the sweet shopkeeper.
By the time the two were walking out, Noonlight had painted three portraits of them already, and by the time they got married, there were a great deal more.
Dawnlight was very happy for her brother and she adored his husband, but his marriage did have an unpleasant side effect. All the village had had such a wonderful time at the wedding and was so pleased to see two young people so well matched that everyone was wild to have another one. In general people content themselves with plaguing only their own children with such matters, but since the whole village considered both Noonlight and Dawnlight their own, it seemed to Dawnlight that every single one of them was trying to trick her into letting them find her a spouse.
It got so bad that one day when Noonlight and his husband were arranging their bookshelves, Dawnlight burst into the room and declared she could stand it no longer.
“I will go on a journey to see something of the world, and come back when all this wedding business has been forgotten.”
Her brother pouted very hard at this news, because he hated having to do without his sister, and her brother-in-law did their level best to assure her it would blow over soon, but Dawnlight had made up her mind.
“I danced at your wedding with great pleasure, but I do not feel like spending another moment dancing around questions I do not want to answer.” Because the truth of the matter was that Dawnlight had not once been tongue tied over a pair of pretty eyes, or flushed red because someone smiled at her, and she honestly did not see the sense in marrying anybody.
Seeing that his sister’s mind was quite made up, Noonlight resigned himself to her leaving. Instead of arguing further he helped her pack and after she had kissed her parent, hugged her brother-in-law, and waved the village goodbye, he walked with her a little way.
“Where will you go?” he asked her, because that Dawnlight had never said.
This was because she did not truly know, but at that moment she saw a black feather that some bird must have left behind in the grass. “Here we are,” she said. “Where the feather points, I shall go.” And she threw the feather high up in the air so that it fluttered down on the breeze and watched where it fell.
When it was once more on the ground, it pointed to the north.
“Very good,” she said. “I shall go north. That way, to everyone I meet I shall be the girl that came from the south, I like that.”
Her brother agreed that would be a fine thing to be, so he hugged her tight and begged that she’d come back safe. Dawnlight promised she would and so, with her boots laced up well and her bundle on her back, she set of to the North.
She walked down whatever path caught her fancy, sometimes hitching a ride on a passing cart or carriage and talking to the people she met along the way. And whenever she saw something of interest she sketched it, and whenever she heard something of interest, she wrote it down, and if something happened to charm her very much, she took the time to sit down and paint it.
This way she travelled many days without a moment of regret or boredom. But one day, when she had gone quite the distance, Dawnlight noticed that there seemed to be fewer and fewer people around. The landscape around her grew wilder and wilder and after some time she could not even remember the last time she saw a farmhouse. She was surrounded by nothing but nature, in a place where there seemed absolutely no one save herself.
Luckily Dawnlight wasn’t frightened. It was very exciting to think she may be the first person to walk this way for such a long time that there were no traces of earlier travellers left, and since there was no road to guide her anymore, she began to draw a map to remember the way.
Going on and on like this she came to a beautiful river. There was no bridge across it, but the water was rather low between its banks and Dawnlight soon found a spot where she thought she could wade across.
No sooner had she taken off her boots and set one bare foot in the glistening water, however, or the water started to rise and it rushed so that she couldn’t possibly cross it.
Just as she stepped back in confusion, Dawnlight thought she heard a voice in the rushing of the water, at the very edge of her hearing, saying:
“Not in all my days as a rushing river has anyone tried to cross me, who does she think she is!”
It surely was a wild river, but Dawnlight wasn’t deterred.
“What a beautiful river!” she called out. “I will not try to cross it yet. First I must add it to my map.” And she walked downstream for a little ways, carefully recording how the river curved through the landscape.
The wild river was all amazement. “No one has ever bothered to chart my path before!” it murmured and it was so flattered that the next time Dawnlight tried to cross, the water let her through.
When she climbed back up on the back on the other side, Dawnlight turned around to bow at the river and said:
“Thank you, rushing river, for letting me cross.”
And to her delight the river murmured back:
“Fare you well, warm one, you are the first human that ever drew me.”
Dawnlight assured the river it had been no trouble, and curiously she asked:
“Am I also the only one to ever pass through here?”
“None such has you has ever come through,” the river murmured. “Only a cold, slithering creature swam through my water, because I dared not stop him. Mind you steer clear of him.”
That was a worrying thing to hear, but Dawnlight had not met with anything that had meant her harm during all her travels, so she was not afraid now. She promised the river she’d be careful and continued on her way.
“Now that is a thing to tell my parent when I get back,” she laughed as she walked her feet dry on the green grass on the other side of the river. “They always did say they could hear the brook outside the village singing to itself.”
The meadow she was walking through now seemed to have no objection to her walking on its grass and Dawnlight travelled on unimpeded, except when she felt compelled to stop to paint the flowers, until she came to a forest so large it stretched as far as she could see.
Most of the trees towered above her higher than any she had ever seen and Dawnlight was too busy looking up in wonder to hesitate before she walked in between the first two trees.
No sooner had she stepped over the first root, however, or the branches of the threes swatted at her as if suddenly moved by the wind. Startled, Dawnlight stumbled back, and over the shuffling of her own feet, she could just hear in the indignant rustling of the leaves:
“Well I never. I have grown here for a thousand years and no one has ever tried to pass through my trees.”
It was a very old and dignified forest to be sure, but Dawnlight wasn’t discouraged.
“What a marvellous forest!” she said loudly. “I will not try to pass through it yet. I will sketch it first.” And walking back a bit she sat down to sketch the tall, gnarly trees in all their imposingness.
This charmed the forest immensely. “No one has ever sketched me before!” it rustled excitedly and it was so pleased that the next time Dawnlight tried to duck under the branches, the trees let her through.
She did not even get lost in the labyrinth of trees and underbrush, but simply walked out into the sunshine again when she had finally reached the forest’s end. When she stepped away from the last tree she turned around to make a curtsy and she said:
“Thank you, fine forest, for letting me through.”
And to her joy the forest, in its rushing voice replied:
“Fare you well, young one, you are the first human that ever sketched me.”
Dawnlight assured the forest it had been her pleasure, but she could not keep herself from asking:
“Am I also the only one to ever pass through here?”
“None such has you has ever come through,” the forest rustled. “Only a snorting, clawing creature fought its way through my brushwood, because I dared not stop him. Mind you do not meet with him.”
Again, Dawnlight promised to be watchful, and continued on her way.
“I will have to tell my brother-in-law about that,” she smiled to herself as she looked back at the forest over her shoulder. “Ever since we met they have insisted the old chestnut in the town square has an opinion on whoever passes by it.”
This time as she walked on Dawnlight kept a very careful lookout, because she had clearly stumbled into a very old place and should watch her step. So when she arrived at the foot of a mighty mountain one day, and could see there was no path leading up, but only inhospitable boulders, she did not even try to climb it.
Instead, she stepped back and said: “What a majestic mountain! I cannot not try to climb it yet. I’ll have to paint it first.” And she set to work painting the mountain in all its imposing splendour.
By the time the paint had dried the boulders already seemed less formidable and when Dawnlight tried to climb the mountain, she could make her way up quite easily.
The mountain was a great deal too old and too serene to say anything, but it was very flattered that someone had made a painting of it, because this had never happened before and even mountains have their vanity.
So she calmly climbed the mountain, looking all around her, and going down on the other side was just as easy for her. She had been sorry to leave the mountaintop, because of the gorgeous view, but now she was descending, she saw a big lake shimmering in the light of the setting sun at the foot of the mountain. So now she knew where to walk next and when Dawnlight climbed off the last boulder, she turned round, looked up, and waved goodbye to the mountain.
“Thank you, mighty mountain!” she called up. “For letting me climb over.”
And to her pleasant surprise a very low, rumbling voice replied:
“Fare you well, little one, you are the first human that ever painted me.”
Dawnlight told the mountain is had been an honour to her, and, because at this point she really couldn’t resist, she asked:
“Am I also the only one to ever pass through here?”
“None such has you has ever come through,” the mountain rumbled. “Only a growling, writhing creature clambered over my rocks, because I dared not stop him. Mind you don’t run into him.”
Perhaps Dawnlight would have been frightened if she had seen any sign of this creature so far, but since she hadn’t, she wasn’t, so she thanked the mountain for its warning and set off towards the lake.
“I will have to tell my brother about this,” she chuckled to herself. “If only to show him that learning how to paint landscapes is worth it!”
After all that climbing it was a relief to wander around the soft banks of the shimmering lake and since Dawnlight did not really know where she was going, but was nevertheless exactly where she wanted to be, she strolled all around it. She stayed to draw the lake into her map and to sketch the way it lay nestled between the reeds and when night began to fall she made a fire on its shore to camp there.
But barely had she begun to cook her dinner, or there was a rustling and a scurrying in the reeds by the lake. For a moment Dawnlight startled, but then she watched in amazement how an entire congress of salamanders crawled out of the lake and towards the flames of her campfire. The little beasts wriggled with joy at the glowing heat and happily crawled into the fire to warm themselves.
Very slowly, so as not to startle the salamanders, Dawnlight reached for her bag to get her sketchbook, but she had not even managed to get her pencil yet, when she heard the water of the lake slosh in the dark. She peered into the shadows and at first she wasn’t sure if she truly saw something moving, but then two eyes lit up and now there was no doubt about it. A large, bulking figure emerged from the water. A frightening looking creature. He was slithering, clawing and writing, just as the river, the forest and the mountain had said, but as Dawnlight got to her feet with her heart thumping high in her chest, the creature stopped moving.
He pressed himself close to the ground, keeping his head down and as Dawnlight looked from the happy salamanders to the shy creature and back again she felt her fear fade. She grabbed some more wood and began piling up the fire until it was large and hot enough that it’s warmth and light could reach the poor creature in the shadows.
Now the creature looked up at her and she smiled. He slowly crept closer, just a little, and toasted his wet back in the heat of the fire.
So they sat in silence for a long time, until the creature spoke softly:
“Are you not afraid of me?”
“No more of you than of the salamanders,” Dawnlight smiled. “After all, you all came to my fire for the same reason.”
“It is so cold in the lake,” said the creature mournfully. “And the salamanders are my only company.”
“Then stay here and warm yourself,” Dawnlight invited him.
The salamanders shook their tails in the flames and the creature stretched his paws shyly and tried to not look quite so big and monstrous. But Dawnlight wasn’t frightened or disgusted at all. He did not look so scary now she could see his eyes, they looked very kind to her.
“Do you have a name?” she asked.
But the Creature shook his head, because he did not remember his name. “I am just a creature,” he replied.
“They call me Dawnlight,” she said and the creature would have told her, had he not been far too shy, that she was as lovely as the dawn itself.
Dawnlight did not question him any further, but she told the creature he could stay by the fire just like the salamanders as long as he liked. When she got ready to sleep, however, the creature said that he would go. He did not think it proper to watch her sleep, so he slowly turned around and crawled back to the lake.
Dawnlight watched him go. “Goodnight, Creature!” she called after him.
“Goodnight,” the creature mumbled in return.
The next morning Dawnlight found the salamanders asleep in the smouldering remnants of her fire, but not a sign of the creature. Just when she was about to ask them what it was they ate, she heard the water slosh and there came the head of the creature poking up above the water.
“Good morning, Creature,” the girl said cheerfully.
“Good morning, Dawnlight,” whispered the creature, trying to stretch his legs so he could walk instead of crawl. “I thought you would have left already.”
“Why would I do that?” Dawnlight asked.
She made breakfast and she offered the creature some, but he shook his big head. Then she offered the salamanders some, but they simply blinked and did nothing else. So Dawnlight ate everything herself and when she was done she took up her book of travel notes.
“Why are you staying here?” the creature asked after a while.
“Because it is very interesting here,” Dawnlight answered pleasantly.
The creature was silent so Dawnlight began to talk about the places she had travelled through before arriving here. She talked of high mountains and green valleys. Of rushing rivers and, dry flatland. She talked of many things and the creature listened silently, every single world warming him a little bit more from the inside out. He had been alone for a very long time, this creature, and he did not remember the last time anyone had spoken to him so kindly and warmly.
Dawnlight was very eager to listen instead of talk, however, and eventually she asked:
“But how did you come to be here?”
The creature blinked his large eyes and said: “I used to be the son of a sorcerer once.”
And he told Dawnlight that his father had been a brute of a man and that he had had no intention of following into his footsteps.
“He cursed me to be this way to make me do his bidding, but I ran away to hide in this lake, because I would ten times rather be a creature in the lake than a prisoner in my father’s house.”
What he did not tell her was that he knew, as a sorcerers son, that a curse like this might be broken if someone would share a loving bed with him as partners do, for three whole nights. Because even if he was sure that Dawnlight was the kindest girl he had ever met, he did not want her to think that was what he desired of her. That would not have done for either a creature or a young man.
Dawnlight was as furious as the summer heat and as mournful as the winter cold. She had never heard anything so horrible. And she immediately offered to bring the creature back home with her, where there would be plenty of people that would not let themselves be frightened by his appearance and that would listen to him instead.
The creature thanked her, but shook his head. He would rather hide in the lake.
“And you have not finished your travels,” he said. “You should not return home now if you don’t want to.”
“Very well,” Dawnlight sighed. “But then I will stay here a while. Until the moon is full to light my way when I leave.”
So she stayed beside the lake for as long as the moon was waxing. Every day the creature came to talk to her, but every night, while the salamanders stayed in the fire, he returned to the lake.
Except on the last night before the full moon it was so cold that he shivered as he turned away from the fire, and Dawnlight exclaimed:
“Dear, silly Creature, come here.”
And she tucked her blanket around him as well as herself, despite it being far too small, and slept side by side with him in the warmth of the smouldering fire. That night the creature wasn’t cold.
The following day Dawnlight continued her journey, but she promised the creature she would return to the lake on the way back. The creature was not sure if he could believe her, but he wanted to believe her, so he did.
For Dawnlight it was the strangest thing. The further she travelled from the lake, the more eager she was to turn around again and when she had walked her feet weary she found herself back on the shore again.
The salamanders came to greet her first, but then the creature came out of the lake and Dawnlight hugged him around his long neck with a joyful cry. She told him all about what she had seen and said that she might as well stay by the lake a while longer, until the moon was full again.
The creature was far too glad to see her again to protest. All he wanted was to stay with her, so he did. Instead of hiding in the lake each night, he slept rolled up on the other side of her campfire, listening to the salamanders purr.
By the time Dawnlight made ready to leave again the creature looked so sad and forlorn that she came to sit on his side of the fire and hugged him tight. She stroked his scaly head and patted his bulky back and told him he was her very own, dear creature and the creature felt very glad and very sad at the same time. Because he could see now that he had fallen in love with her almost as soon as he’d seen her, but he did not know how to say it.
But with Dawnlight next to him he did not feel quite so forlorn and Dawnlight felt better for it too, so she stayed right there until they both fell asleep.
The next trip Dawnlight made she felt very strange indeed. Whatever pretty thing she saw she thought about: “I must tell my dear creature about this,” right after thinking about what she would say to her family. And she felt all torn up about whether to go just a bit further or go straight back.
When she finally made it back to the lake it seemed to her like an age had passed and to the poor, lovesick creature it felt just the same. The salamanders wriggled with happiness to see her, but the creature nearly came running out of the lake and Dawnlight hugged him very tight.
“It is the strangest thing,” she shook her head. “It is like I no longer know whether to be homesick for home or for the lake!” And she asked the creature once again if he would not let her take him home with her.
But the creature could not bear the thought of once again having to clamber over the forbidding mountain, fight through the gnarly forest and swim through the rushing river, only to be stared at by every person he would meet, so he said he would not go.
This made Dawnlight very sad, because by now she really did long to go back home again, but she smiled and said that she would stay a little while longer by the lake then. Until the full moon had arrived to light her way.
When her last night on the lake’s shore had come they settled down to sleep just like always, with her on one side of the fire, the creature on the other side, and the salamanders right in the middle of it. But Dawnlight did not sleep easy. She had such dark thoughts and such a troubled mind, she woke in the dead of night with such a nightmare as to scare her bolt upright.
And because she was sad and frightened and in dire need of comfort, she quietly took her blanket and went to lie beside the sleeping creature, hiding safely between the resting claws. The creature did not wake, but he shifted in his sleep, wrapping his tail around them both, and the rest of the night Dawnlight slept like a rose.
The next morning the sun came up, steadily and self-assured, and in the bright morning sunshine she was named after, Dawnlight woke with nothing but good thoughts in her head. She opened her eyes and imagine her shock and surprise, when next to her, wrapped in her blanket was not her dear creature, but a strange young man!
Only it did not frighten her more than half a second, because a moment later she was already calling out:
“Wake up! Wake up and look at yourself! See what has happened!”
The creature, or rather the young man he had once been, was quite ten times more frightened than Dawnlight. When he tried to get up he fell over, because he had no tail to support him, and because his head was so close to his body now.
Tears rolled out of his eyes and Dawnlight hurried to dry them and hug him and ask him how in the world this might have happened. She was so gloriously happy she was twice as bright as the dawn colouring the sky and soon her cheeks were also twice as rosy.
Because the young man who had been a creature confusedly explained to her that there had only ever been one way to break the curse and that was to thrice share a bed with him as loving partners do.
“But you didn’t, I mean we didn’t,” he stammered, his cheeks quite as red as hers.
“Well,” Dawnlight huffed through her blushes. “I should hope there is more than one way to share a loving bed.” She thought about it and then she said. “I have certainly never wanted to curl up in someone’s arms for comfort other than my family’s ever in her life. And have I not told you a thousand times you are my own dear creature?”
For the moment that was all she said, because while she was suddenly very sure that she was very much in love with him, such feelings are never easy, and very hard to tell apart from other kinds of love that usually live right next to it.
They were both far too relieved and happy to worry about it much, though, because now the young man readily agreed to come with her.
So Dawnlight packed up her things and the young man collected all the salamanders and that is how they both left the shores of the lake.
First they must go up the mountain and Dawnlight waved to it and said:
“Here I am back again, mighty mountain! I have found the creature you told me about, and I am so very fond of him.”
The mountain’s rumble was very surprised and it let both of them up and down most courteously and the young man smiled happily.
Then they came to the forest and Dawnlight curtsied to it and said:
“Here I am back again, fine forest! I have found the creature you told me about, and I love him so.”
The forest’s rustling was quite astonished and it let both of them through most politely, and the young man blushed joyfully.
Finally they came to the river and Dawnlight bowed to it and said:
“Here I am back again, rushing river! I have found the creature you told me about, and I am so in love with him.”
The river’s murmur was almost startled and it let both of them across most apologetically and the young man beamed so bright he should have been named after the sunlight himself. Because now he knew the girl he loved, loved him back, and they had all the rest of the way back to their home to talk about what that meant.
What a joyful, wonderful homecoming that was for Dawnlight, because she did not only bring home her maps, her drawings and her paintings, but the most marvellous thing she had met on her journey she could bring home in person.
Her parent, her brother, and her brother-in-law all cried out with joy when they saw her returning, because she had been gone an awful long time, and the whole village rejoiced to have her back again.
The young man went to live with her in her house, where he got not only a partner, but a parent and two brothers besides. None of which he had ever had, and all of which he was outrageously happy with.
He was really convinced there wasn’t a happier creature in all the world than he was, but Dawnlight always told him she wasn’t at all sure about that. Because there were also the salamanders now living cosily in their stove. And they were gloriously content indeed.
Laura: And with that last word stitching up the very last sentence, this story has its proper end.
Thank you so much for listening, lovely of you to stop by. You can follow this podcast on podcatchers like Spotify, iTunes, or Stitcher, where new episodes will be available for 90 days, but you can always find all my fairy tales on the website patchworkfairytales.wordpress.com, where you can also contact me and find out about my other projects like my book and webcomic. You can also find me at laurasimonsdaughter.tumblr.com which is full of folklore and urban fantasy, or you can follow @patchworktale on twitter.
There’s another tale to tell some other Wednesday but until then…
Share you honey with bumblebees, never take an unknown wager, and be safe~
Copyright Laura Simons, please do not copy my stories without my permission, lest you insult the fae.