Cross over the stone bridge; keep to the pathway on the left hand bank, past the dark pool where the salmon swims, up into the forest. It’s not a long walk, not far in distance, a simple stroll through pleasing countryside. Amongst the tumbled rocks and the tree roots you will come to a small clear spring hidden by an overhang, a solitary solid rock.
If you stay silent by the pool you will notice, once in a while, a disturbance and bubbles dancing over the silver surface as the earth breathes out fresh water to feed the river. Stay silent a little while longer, and on all sides you will see birch trees guarding the winter snowdrops, the spring violets, the hot summer poppies and the juicy blackberries of autumn. Stay silent a little longer still and you will hear the breeze rustle the birch leaves as they tell their story.
Hereabouts, a beautiful princess held court with many caring handmaidens. A radiant loveliness, the princess’s generosity of nature and delightful manner shone across the earth. The land bathed in the contentment of her presence. Regrettably, such attractiveness can often create the opposite. For the princess, so blessed, had a twin sister. She had some fine characteristics, it must be admitted, but no one cared to search them out. The good-looking princess was so easy to talk to and enjoyable company. The ugly sister, a harsh phrase but one often used by the relatives and neighbours, grew up and grew bitter. Jealousy and envy crept into her heart and an inner part of her lost all tender emotions, withering her spirit. No one noticed of course. They were all too busy indulging in fun with her rival, her sister.
Envy can become overwhelming, and so it did with the forgotten, poor sister. She started turning green. No one noticed. Vengeful, cruel thoughts flowed through her mind and nurtured and lodged in her heart, now like an old wrinkled prune. Wretchedly, she wove a nightmare to rid the land of her sister. She contrived a scheme. Put her plan into action then all would pay her attention she fantasized. Get rid of her; get rid of her, echoed through the twisted hurting heart.
Now the beautiful princess often swam with the salmon in the deep pool near the bridge, discussing a philosophic matter with the wise fish, whilst drying herself. And it was in this attractive setting the evil deed was easily performed. Just one quick swing with the sword, a sweep of the sharp blade with a flash of lightning and the beautiful, honourable head fell to the ground.
Overjoyed the ugly princess for she was now truly ugly, screeched with jubilation in her victory, picked up the head and ran. She ran. She ran up the hillside, on the right hand bank of the river. She scurried through the boulders, splashed through dark muddy holes and finally came to the single rock above the little spring. She placed the head triumphantly on top, where all could see it. Wildly looking around she realised no one was there to notice. Even in her time of greatest triumph, triumph in her confused mind at least, no was watching. Was there no one to see her? No. Not a sheep, not a fox, not a little bird, not a mouse. No one. Madly she turned around, swirled in fury of jealousy, and then she began to run again, up, up past the rock, up into the mountains, up into a wild haunted place for a wild haunted soul.
Down at the poolside, however, everything was not as the executor imagined. The beautiful princess was on her feet, wandering by the river, searching for her head. The salmon, shocked by the events, had dived into the depths of the dark waters in fright. Being wise, however, he quickly recovered his composure and swam up to the surface. ‘She ran up the riverbank’, he advised the princess. And so, together, the princess and the salmon journeyed up, against the flow of the water, tracing the wild woman’s terrible escape.
Little by little it darkened as they travelled. Now that the light of the beautiful princess had been lost the land could not bathe in her splendour. Nothing could radiate such light as hers. All other lights were a mere reflection of her radiance.
Desperately, in the gloom, the salmon and princess struggled over rocks and splashed through the mud. Yet, eventually, they reached the spring and the overhanging rock. The salmon leapt clear of the water in excitement as the princess reached up, picked up her head, bathed and refreshed it in the bubbles of water rising from the earth, and replaced it on her shoulders.
The rustle of the leaves of the birch trees ends and the story ends. In the full light of day, the path over the old stone bridge up to the spring and the overhanging rock is easy to follow.
Within the Grove of Silver Birch
Stands a stone of ancient rite.
Moss covered base, curved smooth seat,
It beckons all dreamers,
Light day or dark night.
A year and a day since I visited here
I return in a starry sleep,
And am blessed by the White Ladies of the Wood.
Branches entwine with my hands
As they dance their circle song...
And I weep.
Crying to the moon to reveal the truth
Of the past and the future, I wince
As I look deep in the mirror
That Brigid holds...
Then, dawn breaks,
and kiss the Frog Prince...
Page last updated: 29th Nov 2017