The first Friday in January for many years, I attended Nancy Mellon’s storytelling weekend at the Peck’s. This particular January, she had asked us to write a fairy tale showing children getting lost in technology and finding their way out. I wrote the following tale, which I named Irina and the Enchanted Caravan.
Once upon a time there lived a brother and sister who lived in a fertile valley in the mountains near a big lake. They loved the great mountains and lake and their small village very much. Every day they would go to the lake to play and wonder at its bottomless depths; sometimes they swam in its pristine waters. One day as they were walking towards the lake they spied a large caravan of wagons winding down the path. As they peered through the bushes they saw a mysterious stranger cloaked in purple velvet who was leading the caravan of wagons. They decided to follow him. and crept along noiselessly as he made his way into the center of their village. No sooner did he reach the village square when he began calling to the villagers to come to marvel at his amazing treasures. The children were curious and followed the villagers as the line formed. As they entered the wagons, they were caught by amazing sites: mirrors, baubles strange toys, and machines that flashed with lightning. The sides of the wagons were lined with images and cages full of calling? exotic birds. Anything one could imagine were displayed in those wagons; there was no end of things to explore. Much time passed, yet it seemed like only a moment. Finally the girl called to her brother and told him she was going home. “Come Brother, it must be late and Mother and Papa will be worried”. When her brother did not answer she called out again, and finally she heard a small voice that sounded far away. “Only two more games. I will be home soon, I promise.” As she left, she noticed that it was very dark outside; many hours had passed since they had first spied the strangely cloaked man early that morning.
She ran home to her home on the outside of the village. Breathlessly she told her parents about her brother who would not leave the caravan. They told her to go back and get him out. When she returned to the wagons in the square she couldn’t see anyone. It was as if everyone had disappeared into the fabric of the wagon; only shadows and dim lights represented their previous forms. Again she ran back to her parents to tell them of this misfortune, and they shook their heads sadly and began to guess that an enchantment had surely befallen her brother and all the other villagers. Her papa said, “My dear, you must go immediately to the old man in the mountain. You will find him sitting under a magnificent tree. You will know the tree when you see it. This old man [will] can help you [us].” So she quickly gathered a warm coat and a bedroll and some food and water and set off into the dark night. As she ran, trees swaying and stars twinkling around her, she thought about the silly things her brother loved to do. Her mind shone with memories until at she arrived at a great tree that had been hit by lightning. In the darkness she saw that the tree had recovered by winding itself into powerful formations. A wizened man sat at its base in the great roots. He did not speak or move. She stood for a few minutes wondering whether the man was now part of the tree. Finally, she began to cry to him about the plight of her brother and the village. “ Sir, please help us. My brother is trapped in a caravan. I’m afraid he may never come out.”
Slowly the old man opened his eyes and then he spoke so quietly that she barely heard him. “I saw the magician as he made his way down this very road with his enchanted caravan. Child, you have a special gift. You resisted the enchantment with your clear eyes and heart. Now take these three seeds, and place them at the entrance to the caravan. Be kind to those you meet on the way, and remember that you have a special gift which you have not fully discovered.”
The girl thanked the old man and made her way back along the path, running, tears blinding her eyes, for she was so afraid for her brother. On and on she ran, receiving mysterious energy. Finally she reached the village square and the enchanted caravan. Placing the seeds very carefully at the entrance of the first wagon, she stepped back to see what might happen. Instantly from the first seed sprang a bear that leapt into the caravan. Less than a minute passed before he came back with her brother in its great paws. From the second seed sprang a wolf, who ran into the caravan and came back with the villagers on its back. And from the third seed sprang a panther, which took the magician in her great jaws and carried him away, as she would carry her young on the path over the mountain, drawing the caravan behind. The boy hugged his sister and shouted, “Thank you for saving me! Without you I would still be lost in the stranger’s caravan and I might never again see you, or our parents, or the lake, or our village. Let’s go home to Mama and Papa!” And with that, they ran home to tell their parents what had happened. It was mostly her story but he also was excited to share all of the things that he had seen while trapped inside the enchanted caravan. In the coming years, the girl found that indeed she did have special gifts. Her brother grew and learned much from his experience. Together they helped the village and the bountiful nature that surrounded them to thrive. Whenever the caravan was passing nearby again together they knew what to do.