A Story From: Iceland
Read Time: ["16 to 20mins"]
For Ages: 8 to 10yrs.
The Magic Tree Trunks ~ Fairy Tale Stories for Kids
LONG AGO, a king and queen ruled a large and powerful land that is now known as Iceland. Their two children, Prince Sigurd and Princess Sophia, were beloved throughout the land. There was only a year between the brother and sister, and they loved each other so much that there was little they did without the other nearby.
For many years all was well. Then one day their mother, the queen, fell ill and died.
For quite a long time, the king was so bowed down with grief that he barely sat on the throne to run the kingdom. At last his Prime Minister shared with him that the people were starting to grumble. They needed their king to rule as a king should, to settle matters and to make peace.
"Ruling the kingdom without my dear wife at my side will not be easy," sighed the king.
"Sire, if I may," said the Prime Minister, "there's something else. People are also saying it would be best for Your Majesty to remarry as soon as possible, for the good of the kingdom, that is."
"Ah!" said the king. "I know what you say is true, though it may be hard to bear. Very well, then. Go. I command you to seek a lady from far and wide who's fit to share my throne."
So the Prime Minister assembled a group of the king's attendants to visit the royal courts of the world and seek such a lady. But the ship that carried them had been gone only a few days when a thick fog came on. For a whole month, the ship drifted about in darkness. At last the fog lifted. Before them appeared a rocky island. The crew did not know where they were, but at any rate they were grateful to see land. Perhaps there was fruit and water once they went ashore.
Taking a small rowboat, the Prime Minister rowed to shore to explore, and find out if the island was safe.
He had just stepped onto sand when he heard music. Turning toward the sound, he saw an enchanting woman and a girl beside her, who was playing on a harp and singing a sad tune. The minister greeted the lady politely, and nodded to the girl. The lady replied in a friendly way. She asked why he had come to such an out-of-the-way place. He told her about the king and how he had lost his wife.
"Indeed, I have the same situation as your master," said the lady. "I was once married to a mighty king who ruled over this land, until the sad day when pirates came. They killed my husband and put all of our people to death. My daughter and I were able to escape and hide, and that's how we were able to survive."
The daughter whispered, "Mother, are you speaking the truth?"
"Hush!" the mother angrily whispered back. She twisted the girl's cheek in a quick gesture the Prime Minister did not see.
"What is your name, madam?" asked the Prime Minister.
"Helga," replied the enchanting lady, turning back toward him. "And this is Agna, my daughter." After this, the lady and the Prime Minister talked of many things. He was so impressed by her charm and appeal that he soon persuaded her to return with him on his ship, to marry the king.
As the Prime Minister looked back from the ship to the shoreline, he could tell the rocky island was completely barren and deserted, not fit for anyone to live in. But of that he did not care, nor did anyone else on the ship if they happened to look back, too. At least, they all felt, they could return home at last.
The winds were favorable and the crew enjoyed a speedy voyage. On arriving back home, the Prime Minister sent a messenger to run ahead to the capital and inform the king of the success of his voyage.
When His Majesty's eyes fell on the mother and daughter, both clad in dresses of silver and gold, he forgot his sorrows. At once, he ordered preparations for a wedding to the lady to take place at once.
After the marriage, things were different. The king's new wife had to be consulted on all matters. She attended all council meetings, and her opinion was the one that mattered in deciding issues of peace or war. The king did not notice something that other members at court, with alarm, had started to see. Whenever anyone disagreed with the new queen, that person soon disappeared without a trace. Soon, members of the court kept a careful distance from the new queen. The king's two children, Sigurd and Sophia, saw all of this, too. They also kept a safe distance from their new stepmother.
One day, the queen insisted to her husband that his two children must move out of the castle. The king felt he must go along with her wish, though he arranged that their new house was comfortable and luxurious, with servants and carriages and anything they could possibly want.
Soon afterward, his wife said to the king that it was time for him to tour his kingdom and see that his governors were not cheating him of the money that was his due. "And you need not worry about leaving the castle," she added, "for I will rule the country while you are away as carefully as you would yourself."
The king felt uneasy, nevertheless he set about his preparations. The night before he was to leave, he went to his children's home to say good-bye to his son and daughter.
They rushed into his arms, for they loved him dearly. After catching up with news and stories of the day, he said, "Listen to me carefully. There is something important I must tell you. If I should never come back from this journey, I fear it may not be safe for you to stay here." The children were surprised their father should say such a thing. Yet with everything lately that had been going on, they felt it was best to keep quiet, and listen.
"If you learn that I have died," the father continued in a warning tone, "you must leave here right away. Take the road going east till it leads you to a mountain. Cross over the mountain, circle around a bay, and then look carefully for a grove of trees and for two special trees - one that's entirely blue and the other red, so you cannot miss them. These trees are magical. Each of you can hide inside the trunks of the trees. They will keep you safe until the danger has passed."
With these words, the king kissed them goodbye. He boarded ship and after a few days, the wind suddenly picked up. Soon came a fearful storm of thunder and lightning. In spite of the efforts of the frightened sailors, the ship was driven onto the rocks. Not a man on board was saved.
That same night, Prince Sigurd and Princess Sophia had the very same dream. They dreamt their father appeared before them in clothes dripping wet. Taking the crown from his head, his father set it down on the ground, and then he disappeared.
The brother and sister agreed the dream meant that their father must be dead. They must lose no time in obeying his orders and fleeing to safety. So they collected their jewels and a few clothes, and left their house.
They took the road east until they arrived at the mountain. Prince Sigurd glanced around. Behind him, he saw their stepmother was following them in pursuit, with an expression on her face that made her more fearsome than the scariest old witch. He and his sister hurried on over the mountain and around the bay. They reached a grove with the two unusual trees which they recognized right away - one red and the other blue. Quickly, each jumped into one of the tree trunks, and once inside, they felt safe and protected. Unable to find the children, Queen Helga returned to the castle.
Now at the same time, there ruled in the faraway country of Greece a king who was very rich and powerful. He had one son, young Prince Leo, who was the pride of his father's heart.
Now Prince Leo had heard reports of the charms and many accomplishments of Princess Sophia of Iceland. He determined to seek her out and to ask for her hand in marriage. By her black arts, Queen Helga learned of his voyage to her land. When Prince Leo of Greece arrived at port, she dressed her daughter Agna in a splendid gown and prepared the court to greet the visiting prince.
When he arrived at the palace, Prince Leo was brought to the Queen. After the usual greetings, he asked to see the famous Princess Sophia, admired for her grace and skills. The Queen brought forward her daughter, Agna.
The Prince looked at her and was rather disappointed. There seemed to be something missing in the expression on her face.
"Oh, you must not wonder at her pale face and heavy eyes," said the Queen hastily, for she saw what was passing in his mind. "She has never gotten over the loss of two fathers - first her own father, and now, my husband."
"That shows a good heart," thought the Prince, "and when she is happy her natural zest will come back, no doubt." So without further delay he begged the Queen to agree to their engagement, for the marriage must take place in his own country of Greece.
The Queen was delighted. She had hardly expected to succeed so soon. At once, she set about preparing Agna for her journey.
Prince Leo and Agna set sail in a splendid ship headed back to Greece. In a short time, however, a dense fog settled over the ship. In the dark, the captain somehow steered to a bay. As the fog lifted, the Prince noticed two beautiful and strange trees, one red and the other blue. As you can imagine they were quite different from any trees that grew back home in Greece!
Eager to bring back such rare treasures, the Prince bade his sailors to cut down the two trees and carry them on board. And so Sigurd and Sophia, hidden inside the two tree trunks, were carried onto the ship. Then the ship sailed on to Greece.
The king and queen of Greece met their son and his intended bride on the steps of their palace. They led the girl to the women's house, where she would have to stay till her wedding day. The Prince ordered that the two unusual blue and red trees should be brought into the drawing room of his castle.
The next morning, Prince Leo called for his attendants to bring his future bride to the drawing room. When she came, he said to her, "All the world knows of your exceptional skill at weaving, Princess Sophia." For as you'll remember, he thought Agna was Princess Sophia. "Here is plenty of silk yarn and a loom. You are to weave two gowns, one blue and the other red, and a green robe as well."
Left alone, Agna burst into tears. She thought that everything would be discovered, for Princess Sophia's skill in weaving was known far and wide, and she didn't know the first thing about weaving. As Agna sat with her face hidden and with sobs overtaking her, the Prince Sigurd, hidden inside his tree trunk, heard her wails.
"Sophie, my sister," he called out softly, "Agna is weeping. Help her."
"What?" said Sophia from inside her tree trunk. "Have you forgotten the wrongs her mother did to us? Thanks to her and her mother we were thrown out of our own castle. After that, we had to escape for our lives!"
But she was not really so unforgiving, and very soon Sophia slid quietly out of the tree trunk. Taking the blue skeins of silk to the loom, Sophia sat and began to weave. Much surprised was Agna to see her stepsister there in the room, you can be sure! Soon the blue silk gown was not only woven but embroidered, too. Sophia slipped back safe inside her tree trunk before the Prince returned.
"Why, this is the most beautiful work I have ever seen!" said he. "And I look forward to seeing the red one next. It'll be even better because the thread is even more fine." With a low bow he left the room.
Agna had secretly hoped that when the Prince had seen the blue gown finished he would have be so impressed, he would have released her from having to weave the others. But when she found she was expected to weave the second gown, too, her heart sank. She began to loudly moan and groan. Again Sigurd heard Agna's cries and urged Sophia to come to her aid. Sophia, feeling sorry for her distress, wove and embroidered the second gown as she had done the first, mixing gold thread and precious stones along the collar, down the sleeves, and along the bottom where the gown would sweep the floor. When it was done, she glided back into her tree trunk just moments before the Prince stepped into the room.
"You are as quick as you are clever," said he, admiring the shining red gown. "Why, this gown looks as if it had been embroidered by the fairies! The last one is a robe, my dear, and it will be the very green robe I will wear on our wedding day." He expected the princess would be pleased, but in her face he saw only gloom and despair . "Take three days to finish it," he said, thinking that might relieve the dread he saw in her eyes. "It will be the best yet, no doubt!" he said, and trying to sound as cheerful as he could, he added. "I will wear it on our wedding day." With a short bow, he left.
Agna sank into a chair and tears overcame her once again. She remembered all the unkind things that she and her mother had done. After all, she had said nothing when her mother had forced Sophia and her brother to move out the castle. She was marrying the Prince of Greece only because he believed that SHE was Princess Sophia. Could she hope now that Sophia would come to her rescue yet a third time? Sophia had already helped Agna twice, and was thinking she might let Agna get on as best she could this third time by herself. Yet her brother Sigurd begged his sister to help just one more time, and the tears of poor Agna pulled at Sophia's heart.
So Sophia again slid out of her tree trunk and set to work, to Agna's great relief. Sophia wove that shining green silk into a pattern such as no one had ever seen before. But it took a long time. On the third morning, just as she was putting the last stitches into the last flower, the door opened.
Quickly, Sophia jumped up. She tried to slip back into her tree trunk in time, but the folds of the silk were wrapped around her and she tripped. She would have fallen to the floor if the prince of Greece had not caught her in his arms.
"What's this?" he said, as the real Princess Sophia pulled back and righted herself. Looking at both women, he said, "I've thought for some time that something was amiss around here." And to Sophia, "Tell me, who are you?"
So Sophia told the prince who she really was, and the story of how it came about that she and her brother had to flee from their home. Before the Prince Leo could ask the whereabouts of the missing brother, it struck him that he had been deceived by Agna. He angrily turned to her and declared that by posing as she did to and deceiving him, she could face death!
But Agna fell at his feet and begged for mercy. It was her mother's doing, she said. "It was she and not I, who passed me off as Princess Sophia." In fact, Agna knew more than she was saying about Helga, but none of the others knew what she did, and who would believe her anyway?
"Look," said Princess Sophia to the Prince of Greece, "The only lie she ever told you about was the gowns and the robe, and does she really deserve death for that?"
Prince Leo was struck by the compassion and wisdom shown by this maiden, the real Princess Sophia. At that moment Prince Sigurd stepped out of his tree trunk, too.
"There you are!" exclaimed Prince Leo.
Prince Sigurd echoed what his sister had said, and also appealed to Prince Leo to forgive Agna. With the two of them urging him to forgive her, he relented. And perhaps, he thought, this was just one of those misunderstandings that sometimes happens. Agna stood up. Now it was Princess Sophia who was impressed by the Prince of Greece for his generous spirit.
Then Prince Leo went down on one knee. He asked Princess Sophia if she would consent to become his bride.
Sophia was pleased, but shook her head. "Not until my stepmother is stripped of her powers and banished from our land," said she. "Until then, she will not stop bringing misery upon us all."
"But what can we do?" said her brother.
That was when Agna told them all the whole truth about Helga. She not her real mother after all. In fact, she was an ogre who had stolen Agna from a neighboring palace where she had been working as a lady in waiting. Besides being an ogre, Helga was also a witch. Agna had been terrified of all the terrible things her false mother might do if she didn't go along with what she wanted. Using her black arts, it was Helga who had pulled the Prime Minister's ship to their rocky island when he and his crew were seeking a bride for the king. It was Helga who had sunk the ship in which Sigurd and Sophia's father, the king, had set sail. And it was Helga who had caused the strange disappearances of the palace attendants who disagreed with her, for which no one could account, by eating them during the night. The evil woman hoped to get rid of all the people in the country and then fill the land with ogres like herself. It was only through the black arts, Agna told them, that Helga could be defeated.
The Prince of Greece summoned a wizard skilled in artful magic. He then gathered an army. Prince Leo, Prince Siguard, the wizard and the army all set sail to Iceland, where they marched on the town where the false Queen Helga ruled. The army came so suddenly that Helga was easily captured. Then the wizard saw to it that Helga's powers and strength were stripped away. She was set sail to a distant island, and no one ever heard from her again. The two princes, the wizard and the army returned to Greece.
Princess Sophia no longer had any reason for putting off her wedding to the Prince of Greece, nor did she wish to. The two of them were married, and Agna became Sophia's most trusted lady in waiting. Prince Sigurd returned to his homeland to rule, while Princess Sophia remained in Greece to rule with her new husband.
Over the years the brother and sister stayed close in touch, visiting each another as often as they could. In time Prince Siguard also married. And they all lived happily ever after.
Question 1: If you were Prince Siguard or Princess Sophie hiding in the tree trunks, would you have helped Lineik?
Question 2: Did you ever forgive someone who did a bad thing?
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Adapted by Elaine Lindy from "The Three Robes" from The Crimson Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang (Longmans Green & Company, 1903), pp, 221-232.
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