Earbellina

Windfall apricots in the shade of a treeOnce upon a time there was a little girl who was no bigger than your ear, although she looked in every other respect like a normal human child. Her parents named her Earbellina.

By her eighteenth birthday, Earbellina was the size of a small doll, say one that’s about a foot in length, although shaped more like a young lady than a baby doll. “Well,” said her father after breakfast that morning, “you are welcome to stay here with your mother and me as long as you like. But at this age your older brother left to seek his fortune in the Wide World, so if you wish, you may leave with our blessing.”

Earbellina had heard about the Wide World from her brother, who had visited after having found his fortune, and she was eager to see it. So her parents gave her some food and a leathern flask, and admonished her to drink five thimblefuls of water a day. She also had her magic boots, given to her by a wise fairy who happened to be passing through. They enabled her to leap 100 yards (about 91 meters) with every stride, which is handy for someone the size of a twelve-inch doll. The Wide World might have been prohibitively far away otherwise.

After they had outfitted her and fussed over her, her parents blessed her and shoved her out the door. Then they danced a little jig and sat down to play Canasta.

After many days and an adventure with a mouse that doesn’t come into this story, Earbellina came upon an old woman sitting on a bridge.

“Good day, grandmother,” said Earbellina. “Have you lost your hat?”

“Yes,” said the woman, “there it is.” She pointed at the hat, which was caught on a tree branch in the stream.

“Let me fetch it for you,” said Earbellina. She took one leap, grabbed the hat, and leapt back, landing on the bridge and getting rolled up inside the heavy, wet hat. “I think I’m stuck” came a muffled voice.

The woman let Earbellina out, and happily slapped the hat on her head, sopping wet though it was.

“In thanks,” she said, “let me give you this key. You may need it to win your heart’s desire, should you find it.” The woman gave her a key no larger than your ear (never put a key in your ear for any reason), and hobbled off down the road. Earbellina called her thanks after her, and continued on her way.

After many more days and an adventure with a cat that doesn’t come into this story, she came upon an old man sitting on a bridge.

“Good day, grandfather,” she said cheerfully. “Have you lost your hat?”

“No,” said the man. “My pipe.” He pointed at his pipe, which was lying on a sand bar in the stream.

“Let me fetch it for you,” said Earbellina. She took one leap, grabbed the pipe, and leapt back, landing on the bridge and rolling around with the heavy, sandy pipe.

The old man helped Earbellina to her feet, and happily put the pipe into his vest pocket, sandy though it was.

“In thanks,” he said, “let me give you this sword. You may need it to win your heart’s desire, should you find it.” The man gave her a sword about three times the size of your ear (never put a sword in your ear for any reason), and hobbled off down the road. Earbellina called her thanks after him, and continued on her way.

After many more days and an adventure with a dog that doesn’t come into this story, she came upon a fish that had flopped out onto a bridge and lay panting.

“Good day, fish,” she said cheerfully. “Shall I put you back in the water?”

“Yes, please,” said the fish. He was every bit as large as Earbellina, and she had a tough time pushing him across the bridge and into the water.

“In thanks,” said the fish, “let me give you this stone. You may need my help to win your heart’s desire, should you find it. Toss this stone into the water, and I shall come” He gave her the stone and swam away. (Don’t put rocks in your ears.) Earbellina called her thanks after him, and continued on her way.

After many more days and an adventure with an elk that doesn’t come into this story, she came to a royal city. There she picked up odd work doing things that it helps to be little to do. Always she looked to find what her heart’s desire might be, thinking of the key and the stone she kept hidden in her innermost pocket, and the sword that hung across her back.

One day she accidentally walked into the royal gardens on the castle grounds. There she met a young man the same size as she was. It was the royal prince, and he was delighted to meet someone the same size as himself. They sat and talked for hours, until they were thoroughly smitten one with the other. “We should be wed,” said the prince, “for I love thee full well, and would fain have thee ever by my side. Wouldst thou marry me?”

“Sure,” said Earbellina, who couldn’t speak Royal. “But would your parents let me marry you, seeing as I’m just a peasant farm girl, and you’re a prince?”

“it seemeth unlikely,” said the prince, whose name was Nosebellino, “but I can ask.”

The king and queen were not at all pleased with the thought of Nosebellino marrying a peasant, and said so. But the prince was so unhappy that they agreed to allow the marriage if Earbellina would bring back an apricot seed from the Tree at the World’s End, by Christmas (it was just after Midsummer’s Day).

“I will try,” said Earbellina, and off she went over Nosebellino’s protestations that it was an impossible task.

“Holdeth thy tongue,” said the king.

Once she was out of sight from the castle, Earbellina bounded 100 yards to the step, and after many days and an adventure with a moose that doesn’t come into this story, she reached the World’s End, which as it turned out was the name of a castle by the sea. In fact the world kept going some ways beyond the castle, but everything in that direction was purported to be very wet.

The castle was deserted. The orchard consisted of one scraggly apricot tree, which was bereft of fruit but surrounded by windfall. With the help of her sword, Earbellina opened three pits and took their nuts, placing them in her innermost pocket.

After many more days and an adventure with a rhinoceros that doesn’t come into this story, Earbellina returned to the castle and presented the king and queen with one of the nuts. It was well before Christmas, but the queen was furious, and insisted that Earbellina undertake one more task before she could marry the prince. She must bring back the Pearl from the Bottom of the Ocean, by Easter.

“I’ll see what I can do,” said Earbellina, and off she went over Nosebellino’s protestations that is was an impossible task.

“Beeth still,” said the queen.

Once she was out of sight from the castle, Earbellina bounded 100 yards to the step, and after many days and an adventure with an elephant that doesn’t come into this story, she came to the seashore and threw the stone into the waves. “Oh fish!” she cried.

The fish appeared, saying, “How may I help you?”

“I need the Pearl from the Bottom of the Ocean.”

“Coming right up,” said the fish.

After some time (it was less than month but more than a week), the fish swam up to the shore with the pearl in his mouth. Earbellina took it, and thanked him profusely.

“You are most welcome,” said the fish. “Now I’d best be getting back to the missus.” And with that he swam away.

After many more days and an adventure with a gryphon that doesn’t come into this story, Earbellina returned to the castle, and presented the king and queen with the pearl. It was well before Easter, but the king was furious, and insisted that Earbellina undertake one more task before she could marry the prince. She must bring back the Nightingale from the Top of the World, by Midsummer’s Day.

“Whatever,” said Earbellina, and off she went over Nosebellino’s protestations that is was an impossible task.

“Shutteth up,” said the king.

Once she was out of sight from the castle, Earbellina bounded 100 yards to the step, and after many days and an adventure with a hydra that doesn’t come into this story, she reached the Top of the World, which as it turns out was a castle on the side of a high mountain. You could go further up the mountain from there, but it was pointless.

The castle was deserted, and inside she found a nightingale locked in a cage. She pulled out her key and unlocked the cage, and the nightingale staggered out weakly. “I am famished,” he complained. Earbellina offered some of her food, but the bird interrupted her. “I can only eat one thing. I might as well lie down and die now because there is no way I can fly to the Tree at the End of the World to get an apricot nut.”

Earbellina of course still had two such nuts, and she fed the bird, whose name was Nicholas.

“Thank you! You have saved me! How can I repay you?” said Nicholas once he had had a drink and a flap around the inside of the castle.

“I have to give you to a king in order to win the hand of the man I love,” Earbellina explained.

“Will he feed me apricot nuts from the Tree at the End of the World?” asked the bird.

“If he doesn’t, I will,” promised Earbellina.

“Then let’s go win this boyfriend of yours!” said Nicholas.

After many more days and an adventure with a basilisk that doesn’t come into this story, Earbellina returned to the castle, and presented the king and queen with the nightingale. At last they relented, and allowed the young lovers to marry. They even set the nightingale free, but the bird chose to stay with his rescuer.

And so Earbellina and Nosebellino were wed. Everyone came to the wedding, including Earbellina’s parents; the boot-giving fairy; the old man and old woman, who were Nosebellino’s grandparents on his mother’s side; and the fish and his wife, who were nearly served for supper but discovered just in time, and who chose to live in the moat from that day forward.

Earbellina and Nosebellino had two beautiful children, who were both small but given sensible names. Nosebellino never became king because he had an older brother, which suited him fine.

When their first child was eighteen years old, he asked for a blessing to set out to explore the Wide World. Earbellina gave him her boots and her blessing and an admonishment to drink five thimblefuls a day. Then she and Prince Nosebellino waved as their son Nicholas leapt off to find his fortune.

Copyright © 2016–2017 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

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