Around the World and Back Home

Once upon a time, a little girl asked her grandmother what was on the other side of the forest. You see, this little girl had lived all her life in the little cabin that her grandmother owned, and this little cabin was on the edge of a large forest. Its treeline extended as far as the eye could see on both sides of the cabin.
You may wonder how it is that this little girl had never seen the other side of the forest; the town where her grandmother went to sell the chickens’ eggs and the cow’s milk and to buy provisions she couldn’t grow for herself was on the other side of that forest. You may surmise that the girl didn’t go with her grandmother on these excursions to town. You may assume that the girl was too little to walk across eight miles of winding, forested path to reach the town.
But the truth is even sadder than that – the girl had never been outside her own room since the day she was born and set into her dying mother’s arms. The little girl was very ill, you see, and too weak to leave her bed. She spent her days reading the books her grandmother exchanged at the library in town, and looking out of the window.
Why, you know what’s on the other side of the forest, my dear, the little girl’s grandmother told her when the question was posed. It is the town that I sell our produce to and get your books from.
Yes, Grandmother, I know, the little girl said. And what is beyond that?
Beyond that there are roads and other towns, the grandmother said.
And beyond those?
Beyond those, I suppose, there is the ocean.
And beyond-
Look here, the grandmother interrupted the little girl’s question, we’ve talked about how the world works. I brought you that book with the big maps in it, remember? Beyond the ocean is more land and more ocean, and if you continued to ask what was beyond and beyond and beyond, why, eventually we would come right back to this little cabin of ours.
The little girl sighed and smiled. I thought so, but I wasn’t sure, she said. So it doesn’t really matter that I can’t get out of bed, does it? Because even if I could walk all around the world, I would just get back here.
The grandmother bit back her tears, kissed the little girl’s forehead and left the room. That very night, the little girl died with a smile on her lips.
Her grandmother wasn’t satisfied with the answers she’d given to the little girl. If she had known that the little girl would die so soon, she thought she would have found a way to bring her into the world and show her all its marvels. She felt that by making the world seem like a small place, she had cheated the little girl out of her life. Perhaps, the grandmother thought, the little girl would have lived for many years if she’d have thought that there was something worth seeing out there. The grandmother had thought that the books the little girl read would convince her of that and would help her get stronger so that she could see the world. But the grandmother had been wrong.
It was the custom in the place where the grandmother lived to burn the loved one’s remains and keep them in an urn on the mantelpiece. But the grandmother decided that she couldn’t live out the rest of her life with the urn sitting there and reminding her of the little girl who thought the world wasn’t worth it.
Instead, the grandmother packed up some provisions into a bag, tucked the urn under her arm, and walked through the forest and into town. She walked beyond the town and into another forest and then into yet another town. She continued walking until she reached the ocean, and then she boarded a ship and sailed to the next continent.
It took her ten years, but eventually, she had walked and sailed right around the world. Hobbling home from the opposite direction of that she had started in at the very beginning, the grandmother held the urn tightly. But she was very tired, and the ground was wet with the spring rain, and she slipped and fell.
The urn smashed, and the little girl’s ashes scattered in the meadow as the wind picked them up merrily, as if greeting an old friend. The grandmother watched the gray dust that was once her granddaughter fly happily to and fro, and she smiled. There, she said to the little girl who she could suddenly see quite clearly before her. I’ve taken you right around the world and back home.

Princess Without A Name – slightly reworked

I’ve been thinking about trying to submit this story to Hilights, a children’s magazine. With the help of my mother, Ms. Editor Extrordinaire, I reworked it a bit. It’s still too long by over three hundred words, however, and I’m trying to figure out how to shorten it. The reworked version so far is below.

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Once upon a time, there was a princess who didn’t have a name. She lived locked up in a tower, like all princesses do, and had a jolly life there. She got plenty of exercise in the big swimming pool in the basement of the tower, read plenty of books in the big library on the first floor of the tower, and had plenty of food in the pantry on the second floor and plenty of time to gaze outside wistfully from the one window that was on the third floor of the tower. It was a very good tower, as towers went.
The princess without a name was very happy there. She lived her life all alone, except for the girls that came to restock the pantry, and read about other people in books. She had, of course, read all the stories of princesses in the library, and she knew how her story would go. She knew exactly what would happen with her life.
She felt lucky, knowing exactly what was to be. It made her glad to think that one day, probably around her eighteenth birthday, a prince would come riding on a white, or maybe black, horse. He would save her from the tower by breaking into it or climbing up it or doing something else that was very athletic. Then he’d pledge his true love to her, and they would ride off together into the sunset and live happily ever after. The princess without a name liked the sound of happily ever after. It sounded like a nice way to live, though rather vague.

As her eighteenth birthday drew near, the princess without a name started to worry about two things. The first was that all the princesses in the stories had names. Not very good ones, no – for what sort of a name is Cinderella? Or Snow White for that matter? Still, they had names. But the princess without a name had no name at all. She never really thought about it. She knew who she was, and that was that. She never felt she needed a name.
The second thing she worried about was that she would have to leave her tower. She really liked her tower, being stocked as it was with good things to do and to eat and to read. She even had a few friends, if she thought about it – the girls from the village who opened the tiny window in the pantry and gave her food every week. The window was much too small to escape from of course, but the girls liked having nice chats and the princess without a name rather liked hearing about their lives, unprincess-like though they were.
Mind filled with worries, one of which being the creases in her brow from being so worried, the princess saw her birthday come and go. And no prince or horse came near the tower. As the days passed, she started to forget a little about it. She kept about her routine, and even had the village girls add a few dozen new books to the library.

Still, fate is fate, and the day before the princess’s nineteenth birthday, a prince appeared. He came riding – of course he did – but on quite an odd black and white horse that looked rather like a tall cow. His face was very sweaty and his chain-mail wasn’t very shiny, being rather caked with mud. The princess without a name looked down at him from her window at the top of the tower and waited.
“O, fairest of maidens! Princess of these lands! I am Pip, and I have come to rescue you!” He shouted up at her, rather as if declaiming, badly, from a page. The princess stifled a giggle. Pip?!
“O lovely lady, will you tell me your name?” he shouted, his voice breaking on the high pitch he put on the word “name.”
“I don’t have a name,” called down the princess. The prince blinked a few times. He looked like he was thinking very hard, and not managing it well.
“Well, then, after I rescue you, I’ll give you one, O star of mine!” he eventually yelled, sounding, and looking, rather pleased with himself at the solution he found for this unexpected development. The princess thought to herself. She looked back into the comfy tower room, her bedroom, and sighed a bit. She looked out at the prince and sighed once more.
“Maybe once you break in, we can live here?” she asked the prince a moment later. She really did like the tower. She heard the prince laugh an odd, trilling little laugh.
“Why, lady, I have a castle waiting for us far away from here,” the prince called back, still giggling. “That is where we shall live, get married and have our children! Why, this little place is scarcely enough to hold one little princess, how could it hold a family and servants and courtiers?”
The princess without a name cringed at his words. A family? Servants? Courtiers? She wasn’t even nineteen. She wasn’t ready for all that. Happily ever after had always been vague, true, but never had she heard about the happy couples having babies and servants and courtiers right away. Also, the princes had always been sweet, not annoying like this one. They were never called Pip. And their horses were beautiful.
The princess thought the matter over for a few more minutes while Pip toiled away at the door of the tower, hitting it with his sword and muttering things like “Have at you!” and “Open sesame!”
“Pip! Hey, Pip!” she called, trying to get his attention away from her faithful door that was solid oak and seemed quite unwilling to let him in. Once Pip looked up at her, wiping sweat from his brow with his hand, she continued.
“Pip, your offer is so kind. But, you see, the thing is,” she began, “I like my tower. I don’t really want to leave. So, thank you, but I’d really rather stay put.” With those words, the princess who didn’t want a name given to her turned, walked into the depths of the tower and went for a long, aggressive swim in her pool.
She never saw Pip starting in shock at the tower. Nor did she see him hacking hopelessly at the door a few more times. Nor did she see the big brass key that hung next to the door on the inside of the tower, just like she hadn’t ever seen it. She would see that key one day, when she was ready to. She would see the key and she would open the door and until then she had no need to know that it was there. Her tower was enough for her and would be enough for her until the day she would know that it wasn’t.