A Story From: Scotland
Read Time: ["20+mins"]
For Ages: 8 to 10yrs.
ONE LATE AFTERNOON young lad Cedric, dozing after a hard day’s work in the field, dreamt a dream that stayed as real to him when he awoke as it did when he was dreaming it.
In his dream, a maiden stepped out of a rosy haze of clouds in front of a castle, and instantly he recognized the maiden as the right woman for him. There was something about her manner and style that felt natural and perfect.
“Do you know what I know?” the maiden said with a welcoming smile.
“I know I’d happy with you all my life,” said Cedric.
“And I with you,” she said. “I am the Maiden of the Castle of Rosy Clouds. You must seek and find me, and then we can be together.” She vanished and Cedric woke up.
Cedric asked everyone he knew – the hired hands at the farm, the shopkeepers, and anyone else he met – if they knew anything about the Maiden of the Castle of Rosy Clouds. Many laughed and assumed he was joking, others figured he must be crazy, while a few seemed to hint they knew something because they would slap him on the back and say, “Well you cut yourself a tall order, didn’t you?” without explaining what they meant.
“I have no choice but to travel till I find someone who knows,” Cedric thought. He gathered his belongings and started on a path through the woods. After many days, he came to a hut so overgrown with weeds he almost didn’t notice a very old woman tending her garden beside it. Even after the old woman stood up, she was not much taller. Cedric thought he had never met anyone that old and wrinkled and hunched over – surely the woman must be over a hundred years old! He said, “Old woman, do allow me to help with your garden.” He pulled all the weeds and set layers of thick grasses between the rows so the weeds wouldn’t come up again for awhile. He filled one of her baskets with green beans, brussel sprouts, potatoes, beets and peas from the garden, and brought them inside to make her soup. The old woman asked the visitor why he was traveling so deep in the woods.
“Ah!” she said after he had told her about the Maiden of the Castle of Rosy Clouds, and sunk down in a chair. “I can’t tell you how to find her, but I think I remember a nursery rhyme about her from when I was a child. Now…what was it?…” After concentrating a minute and humming to herself she exclaimed “Ah, yes!” and sung this:
“How to find the maiden in the castle of the
How to win the maiden in the castle of the rosy clouds?
First you need a stallion gray
Who midst the clouds can find his way.
You need a red mantle, that of a squire
To keep you safe from embers and fire.
And you need the sword that is known as Gull
To split the iron serpent’s skull.”
“Not bad remembering for an old woman, yes?” she smiled a toothless smile. But after a minute she shook her head and said, “Young man, I must tell you this. In all my years – and I have lived a long time! – I have never seen a stallion that can ride clouds, nor a mantle that does not burn, nor any sword known as Gull. So if you ask,” and now she leaned forward, “what is my advice? I’ll tell you. Forget it. Forget about finding the maiden in the rosy clouds.” And the old woman settled back in her chair, nodding to herself.
Cedric stayed with the old woman a couple of days and repaired her cottage and drew plenty of fresh water for her, and then he went on his way. For many nights he dreamt about the gray stallion, the red mantle and the sword known as Gull, but each time when he woke, he did not have any better idea how to find them than he had had before. And with barely a coin in his pocket, even if he were lucky enough to find one of the magical items, he could hardly buy it anyway.
Around five years later, Cedric was traveling through a wild and desolate mountain region where dangerous gorges and dark ravines opened on every side. Suddenly he heard a desperate cry. An older woman burst past him followed by an enormous slithering snake, 200 feet long and 20 feet wide, with black hair shaking from its neck, shining thick horny scales from neck to tail, and flaming red eyes.
“Ah, I wish my knife were bigger!” Cedric pulled his small pocket knife from its sheath and ran toward the snake. Instantly the creature turned its attention away from the old woman, who escaped behind some boulders, to the young man brandishing the pocket knife. The snake seemed ready to devour both boy and knife. As Cedric charged the snake, his knife suddenly transformed into a long, gleaming sword, and with one mighty blow to the snake’s neck the young man chopped off its head.
“Why, that must have been the iron snake,” mulled Cedric, “and this must be the sword of Gull. Since it’s in my hand now I suppose it must be mine.” Cedric went on his way, with hope fired in his heart that he was on the right track to finding the Maiden in the Castle of the Rosy Clouds.
Another five years passed. While Cedric found many chances to put his sword to good use, he found no one who could tell him anything about the Maiden in the Castle of the Rosy Clouds.
One day he came to a village where the people were running frantically around, astir and beside themselves. One of the largest homes in the center of town had caught on fire. “Alas! Old lame Father Lars is still up there!” they cried. Indeed, as Cedric rushed toward the burning house he could see in the third floor window the shadow of a frantic old man. But how to get him out? – the tallest ladder had already burned and no other ladder reached beyond the second floor.
“I have only myself in the world so what have I to lose?” thought Cedric and he ran up the stairs to the third floor while flames licked both legs. Outside, the villagers saw a second shadow enter in front of the window and lift the old man as if he were a child, but in the next instant the entire building was aflame. “Both he and the stranger are lost!” they wailed. Yet moments later, with an astonishment they would relay to their children and grandchildren again and again in years to come, they saw the young man emerge from the flaming building quite unharmed, carrying on his back the old man who was just as surprised as they.
Perhaps none was as surprised, however, as Cedric himself who, as he set down the old man, noticed a red mantle fluttering around them both. “Of course!” he thought, “the red mantle from the rhyme that protects from fire! Now I have two of the magical items – the sword of Gull and the red mantle. The only one left between me and the Maiden in the Castle of the Rosy Clouds is the flying gray stallion.”
The young man politely stayed for a few days and let the villagers feast him and congratulate him over and over, and then he resumed his journey.
Ten more years passed. While Cedric brandished the sword of Gull, protected others from fire with the red mantle, and performed many a great deed, he discovered no clue to bring him closer to his Maiden in the Castle of the Rosy Clouds.
By this time Cedric developed something he didn’t have before – a companion. Another young man, impressed with Cedric’s brave deeds, had become his friend and asked to accompany him on his adventures. Often the friend implored Cedric to share with him the secret of his success. Finally, Cedric confided in him the magic powers of the sword of Gull and the red mantle. They talked long into the night. The next morning when Cedric awoke the companion was gone, and so were the sword and mantle.
Furious, Cedric called for his friend everywhere, followed footprints, but all to no avail. He climbed a hill to get as wide a view as possible, and there in the distance noticed his friend, clutching the red mantle in one hand and his own sword in the other. Cedric realized his worst fear. “He robbed me!” Yet the next moment, something even more unbelievable took place. The red mantle unfolded from under the lad’s arms, rose into the air like a blanket, then grabbed his former friend like an eagle swooping for its prey, and held him aloft, kicking his legs and crying out in terror.
The mantle soared higher and higher, carrying the thief over a wide, deep, chasm. When it reached the other side it dropped him, and there he tumbled headlong until Cedric could see him no more.
“Surely he’ll die of wounds from the fall if he’s not already dead!” Cedric thought, alarmed, and ran to the edge of the chasm. He must jump across to the other side and there wasn’t a moment to lose. Cedric took a running start and leapt as wide as he could, but almost at the very moment both feet left the edge of the ravine he realized he didn’t have enough momentum to bridge the gap and would surely fall to his death. As he lost momentum and started to fall, Cedric somehow landed on something soft and realized he was riding a horse, a gray stallion in fact, that was riding through the air and taking him safely to the other side. The moment they alighted, Cedric rushed to his friend, who moaned in mortal pain near the bushes.
Hurriedly, Cedric ripped his clothes to make bandages to stop the flow of blood. When he had tightly bound the wounds and tucked soft grasses under his friend’s head, Cedric stood up and look around. The gray stallion was still there, neighing softly, and the sword of Gull, and the red mantle, which had neatly folded itself, lay on the ground. Cedric slipped the sword back in its sheath, tied the red mantle around his neck, and lifted his friend on the horse in front of him. He rode the fallen friend to the next town, where he stayed until he was well.
More long years passed. Cedric’s cheeks became furrowed and his hair had turned gray. His childhood friends had long since married and had children of their own, many of whom had grown up and married, too. Still, Cedric continued to ride the gray stallion in search of the maiden from the dream of his youth.
Then one day in the distance, swirled a rosy mist. Through the clouds he caught a glimpse of a golden spire of castle glinting in the sun. Could it be? The stallion seemed to know and caught the excitement, eagerly starting on the winding road that led to the castle. As soon as Cedric entered the foggy haze of the clouds, a fierce giant let out a roar and pounded toward him. As the giant, now close enough to strike, flung back his arm, Cedric clutched the sword of Gull. At that very moment, the giant vanished without a trace. Then everything was quiet except the galloping of the gray stallion, bounding up the mountainside toward the castle.
At last, he arrived. The drawbridge lowered, and stepping out to welcome him was the very maiden of his dreams, the Maiden of the Castle of the Rosy Clouds. She smiled with a warmth every bit as inviting and wonderful as he remembered.
“You have come,” she said. “You found me and now you have won me.”
“But it took so long,” the rider sighed. “Now I am old and gray.”
The maiden only smiled, took his hand, and led him to the drawbridge over the moat. She pointed to his reflection in the water. Looking back at Cedric from the water was the image of his youth, a handsome young face with firm, unlined cheeks. Amazed, Cedric felt his own face – could it be? He took the maiden’s hand and together they entered the castle.
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A Scottish folktale retold by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2006. All rights reserved.