This retelling of The Crystal Sphere from "If all the seas were ink we'd call them fish tales"


A retelling by J. Kearns

What else? About a crystal ball. A young man discovers his challenge is to rescue a woman imprisoned in the Castle of the Golden Sun. Twenty-three youths have already tried and failed, and if he fails he dies and the woman is forever bewitched.

There was a woman who could make magic and she had three fine sons who loved each other and were loyal to each other as brothers should be. When they had grown up into fine young men, this woman who could make magic unwittingly welcomed into her home an evil sorceress who killed her. The intention of the evil sorceress was to kill also the three sons of the woman. But when she attempted to cast her death spell on the eldest, he instead transformed into an eagle and flew out his window, and the sorceress realized the mother's protection was upon the children and that she would be unable to kill them.

The youngest son was out riding nearby the castle when he saw the eagle fly from his eldest brother's room. The eagle saw the youngest son, and flew to him so that the young man recognized this was his eldest brother and understood what had happened. Crying farewell, the eagle soared off and from then on dwelled in the high, rocky mountains, where he was often seen flying in great circles in the sky.

The youngest son knew he must warn the middle brother, and as this brother had gone out to sea that day, the younger set out in a boat to chase him. He had just reached the deep waters when a whale came close to the boat and circled it so the young man recognized this was his middle brother. The whale then went off to where the valleys of the oceans stretch down to unfathomable depths, and all that was seen of it was when he would spout a great jet of water into the air like a fountain.

The spell which had protected the two brothers was a powerful one, in exchange for which the eagle and the whale each bore their human form for only two hours each day, so there began to be many rumors of an bird-man who lived on the highest cliffs, and a man-fish who made his home in the salt water waves.

The youngest son knew he didn't dare go home lest the sorceress find him as well, so he secretly stole away from the land in which he was born, the borders of which he had never before crossed to the outside world.

Pondering his own destiny, wondering what it may be, the young man journeyed for a long time when one day he found himself lost in a great forest. The forest's paths behaved as a labyrinth, for no matter where he rode he would end up in the same spot again. As he rode he heard from somewhere deep in the forest great crashes and thunderous cracks. He was wondering what kind of storm stayed rooted in one spot rather than traveling with the wind, when he came upon two fierce giants engaged in battle. The great crashes were the sounds of the monstrous giant's footsteps, and the thunderous cracks were caused by their breaking in half, like a toothpick, every tree that was in their way. The young man would have ridden past them, but the giants, spotting him, made a sign to him with their hands that he should approach. When he came up to them, the giants said, "We are quarreling about a cap, and to which of us it is to belong. As we are equally strong, neither of us can get the better of the other. You are a small man, and puny men are cleverer than we, so we leave the decision to you."

"You want me to judge who should win an old cap?" the youth laughed. "All right, my judgment is that I don't see how an old cap is worth such a fierce quarrel so why don't I just throw it away?"

"No! You do not know what properties it has!" one of the giants answered. "It is a wishing-cap; whosoever puts it on, can wish himself away wherever he likes, and in an instant he will be there."

"As you insist on it, I will judge who gets the cap," the youth said with a sigh. "Give me the cap and I'll go a short distance off. When I call, race for the cap, and whoever gets to it first will be the one who wins it."

The youth put on the cap and walked a little way off, and as he walked his thoughts turned to the fortunes of his brothers, then invariably to wondering what his own destiny might be, as this was always on his mind, the desire to know where his path would lead, and as he walked, the quarreling of the giants grew distant, the forest turned to a mist and fell away, and he found himself walking towards an old woman behind whom was a stone wall and in that stone wall a window through which all he saw was blue sky.

The old woman's face was ashen-gray and full of wrinkles. Her eyes were bleary with age. Her hair was white. As he approached, she said, "I don't know whether I should dread you have finally come or welcome you."

"Then you know why I'm here," the youth said, hopefully.

"You are in the castle of the golden sun," the old woman replied. "Twenty-three youths have met their deaths here in each his own attempt to free a young woman who found herself imprisoned here by an enchanter. The way in which this spell was cast, only one more attempt may be made to free her. Only one more person may risk their luck, and after that, no more. Should that last person fail, the imprisoned woman will remain forever in her bewitched state with no hope of escape."

Thinking that the old woman must be a sorceress in league with the enchanter, the youth said, "Will you show pity and release the imprisoned woman? Or must I destroy you?"

"But I am the imprisoned woman," the old woman replied. "I have been bewitched so that human eyes can only see me now in this state. So long have I been in this condition that even I have forgotten my original appearance. Yet I am still the same person as I was the day I was born."

"I must try my hand at rescuing you," the young man said.

"So many have met their deaths in vain attempts," the old woman said, "and you are so young, I can't help but grieve over your determination. It's a dangerous quest that requires much cleverness, and if you fail, you will die, and I will be doomed."

"This is my destiny," the young man said. "Nothing can keep me from trying."

"Then I will tell you what the others before you have failed to do," said the old woman. "Descend the mountain on which this castle stands. Below, you will find a wild bull by a spring. You must fight with this bull, and if you have the luck to kill it, a fiery bird will spring out of it which bears in its body a red-hot egg, and in the egg a crystal sphere lies as its yolk. The bird will not let the egg fall until it's forced to do so. If the egg falls on the ground it will flame up and burn everything that is near, and even the egg itself will melt, and with it the crystal sphere. All your trouble will have been in vain."

The youth then left the old woman. He went outside the castle and saw it did indeed rest on a high mountain, possibly the highest mountain in the world. It must have been incredibly difficult for him to descend this mountain, but he did, and when he had he went to the spring where he'd been told the bull would be.

Just as the old woman had said he would be, the bull was standing by the spring. The huge bull snorted and bellowed at the youth, then charged at him. For nearly an hour they battled until both the bull and youth were so exhausted that had the contest gone on much longer they both might have perished from fatigue. Then, the bull stumbled.

With a tremendous effort the youth threw the bull off balance and plunged his sword into the bull's heart. Instantly, a fiery bird arose from it and was about to fly away, but the young man's eldest brother, the eagle, swooped down out of the clouds and pursued the fiery bird all the way to the sea. When the fiery bird was at last over the water, the eagle struck it with its beak. The fiery bird released its grasp on its treasure. Down, down the egg fell and was so hot if anyone was watching who didn't know the egg had come from a fiery bird they would have thought a comet had been flung out of its orbit of the sun and was plummeting to earth.

Down, down the egg fell, and the youth, who had run to the seashore, feared it would fall into the sea and be lost. Then he saw his brother, the whale, emerge from the water just as the egg fell not into the sea but on the thatch-roof of a fisherman's house that was on the very edge of the shore. The whale slapped his tail hard on the water even as the fisherman's house burst into flames.

The whale slapping his tail on the water caused a huge wave to form which swept immediately over the beach and the fisherman's house, and would have drowned the youngest brother had he not seen what was happening and climbed immediately into a small boat that was there. When the waters receded, the youth ran to where the egg was and found it was not yet melted; the shell was broken by being so suddenly cooled with water and he took the crystal sphere out unharmed. All about the shattered bits of egg shell the sands had fused, with the heat, into marvelous glass beads.

The crystal sphere in his possession, and his pack filled with the glass beads, the youth pictured in his mind the Castle of the Golden Sun and immediately found himself there. The enchanter, whose castle this was, met the youth at the threshold. "My power is destroyed," the enchanter said, "and you are now the King of the Castle of the Golden Sun.

The youth went up to the woman's room. If she had looked into the crystal, she would have seen she was young again, the spell broken, but she had no need to do this as she could see it in the man's eyes.

The new Queen of the Castle of the Golden Sun made a beautiful necklace of the glass beads which the new King of the Castle of the Golden Sun had brought her. When the King and Queen of the Castle of the Golden Sun had children, they used to wander the beach, and occasionally their children would find more of the glass beads, which they playfully called aquafire seeds, because their strange color reminded one of fire and ocean water. The Queen made up a story about this for her children. She told them that the glass beads were formed each night when, near a very distant land, the sun sank into the ocean. For a brief instant, the sun would catch the distant land's beach on fire, the melted sands of which were immediately cooled by the green sea. The waves, she said, caught the glass beads up in their white foam, and carried them to deserving children far away. Not only that, but when Aphrodite first stepped ashore, born from the ocean, she wore the foam of the ocean's waves for her dress, and for ornamentation she wore on her foam dress thousands of the glass beads which sparkled in both the light of the sun and the moon.

Retelling by j. kearns based on the Brothers Grimm tale of The Crystal Ball

Copyright 1999 j m Kearns

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