Creative works by author Dan Foley.

The Merchant, the Witch and the Christmas Tree

The Merchant, the Witch and the Christmas Tree

(or the origin of the Blue Spruce)

an original fairy tale

 

Once upon a time, in the land of Patara, there lived a very proud merchant. His name was Rupert. He traded in gold and silver and fine cloth. His clothes were the finest in the kingdom, his house the largest, his children the brightest, his wife the most beautiful. In all his life, Rupert always had the best, until one Yule time when a lovely Christmas tree appeared in the window of a lowly shoemaker.

The tree became the talk of the city. “Have you seen the shoemaker’s tree? It’s beautiful,” everyone told him as they came into his shop.

“Yes, but it is as beautiful as mine?” he would ask.

“Oh, more beautiful,” they all answered until he could stand it no more. Finally he decided he had had see this marvelous tree for himself. He drew his shutters, locked his door, and set out to find the cobbler’s shop.

The walk was a long one. He passed the well-to-do shops like his own and the shops that sold common cloth and dry goods. All along the way he overheard people talking about the shoemaker’s tree.

“It’s so beautiful.”

“Unbelievable.”

“Where could he have found such a tree?”

Finally, in a part of city he had never been in, amongst taverns and warehouses, Rupert found the cobbler’s shop. A crowd was gathered in front of the building, pointing and talking and he was forced to push his way through it. When he reached the window he peered in and before him was loveliest Christmas tree he had ever seen. It filled the tiny shop from floor to ceiling. Its branches were laden with trinkets and ornaments, sweets and small toys. On its top sat wooden doll dressed as an angel. Rupert looked at this wonder of Christmas and his heart grew cold. This could not be. He could not allow it. A lowly cobbler, a fixer of worn shoes, could not possess a tree lovelier than his.

“Shoemaker,” he said as he pushed his way into the shop, “I would buy your tree. What is your price?”

“The tree is not for sale,” the shoemaker replied. “It is the joy of my daughter’s life and I would not part with it.”

“Bah,” Rupert replied, placing a pile of gold coins in the cobbler’s hand. “Buy her another tree…buy her five. What difference would it make to a child?”

“I’m sorry,” the shoemaker said, handing back the coins. “The tree is not for sale.”

Rupert left the shop, his heart even colder than before, knowing that if he could not have the cobbler’s tree he must find another, more beautiful one for himself. He searched the woods for days, but each tree he found had a flaw – a broken limb on this one, a twisted trunk on the next. Then, just as he was ready to admit defeat, he found a grove of spruces. He wandered in awe among them for each was perfect and more beautiful than the next. He was trying to decide which one to take when an old woman approached him.

“Do you like my trees?” she asked.

“Your trees?” Rupert answered. “No one owns the forest, how can these be your trees?”

“The trees are mine because I care for them, protect them, keep them from harm. In the summer I make sure they have enough water and prevent the sun from burning them. In the winter I keep the wind from breaking them and the cold from splitting their branches. If that does not make them mine what does?”

This did not make the trees hers, Rupert thought, but it paid to be cautious with old women met in the woods. “Would you sell me one?” he asked, willing to part with a coin or two if only to make her go away.

“No, but I’ll give you one if you tell me what you want it for and agree to replace it in the spring.”

Rupert readily agreed. “I will take it to my shop in Patara and decorate it with sweets and toys. I will adorn its branches with gold, silver and strips of fine cloth. I will crown its top with an angel of spun glass and put it in my window for all to see,” he told her.

The old woman looked long and hard at Rupert before answering, “You may take a tree,” she finally said. “But before you leave, mark the spot where it stood. Save the top six inches of the tree and return with it in the spring. Replant it in the same place you took it from. Pick any tree except the one that stands in the center of the grove. You will know it by its blue color. It is my favorite, the only one like it in the world, and I would not lose it.”

When Rupert agreed to her terms the woman held out her hand for the coin he had offered. When he placed it in her palm, the coin, and the woman, disappeared.

Standing alone in the wood with his axe, Rupert went to the nearest tree, and although it was perfect, he did not take it. “Perhaps the next is even better,” he said to himself, and went to look at its neighbor. This tree was also perfect, but again Rupert did not choose it. “Perhaps the next,” he said, and in this way eventually made his way to the center of the wood. There, surrounded by a sea of green, Rupert found the most perfect tree he had even seen. Its blue-hued branches enchanted him and he knew he had to have it. No one would match this tree. Without a thought of his promise, or the old woman, Rupert felled the tree, put it on his back, and carried it out of the forest. On his way, he passed an empty space among the green trees marked by a small leather sandal. Bowed under his load, he failed to see the sandal, or the single pinecone that dropped from the tree he carried.

Y  Y  Y

The next day, Rupert and his tree were the talk of the city. He had adorned its branches with sweets and toys, gold, silver, and strips of fine cloth and crowned it with an angel of spun glass just as he said he would. He then dressed himself in his finest clothes, wore his most expensive jewelry and, upon his head, wore a hat decorated with the feathers of rare birds.

“Have you seen the tree in Rupert’s shop? It’s wonderful, and it’s blue.”

“A blue tree, where did he find a blue tree?”

For a while everything was fine. The tree filled Rupert’s window and the customers it drew filled his purse. But as the days wore on and the tree began to dry, Rupert felt a great thirst that he could not slack no matter how much he drank. When the tree’s needles began to drop, he removed the gold, silver, and strips of fine cloth and the angel of spun glass and cast the tree into the alley behind his shop.

In the following days, as the needles fell from the tree the hair fell from Rupert’s body. When a storm covered the tree in snow, Rupert shivered in the warmth of his home. When the weight of the snow snapped the tree’s brittle branches, Rupert’s bones broke like twigs underfoot and poked through his drying skin. When a homeless man burned the tree for its warmth, Rupert was consumed by fever. And finally, when the ashes from the tree were scattered by the wind, Rupert’s soul was torn from his body and he lay dead upon his bed. In the morning, when his wife found his body, it was missing its head. In its place she found a single gold coin.

In the spring, the old woman of the wood, called a witch by some, completed Rupert’s bargain. “A life for a life” she whispered as she carefully planted his head where the blue spruce had stood. On her way out of the wood she smiled at the sapling that now stood next to the worn leather sandal.

Unknown to her, the seeds from the dropped cone were also sprouting. In the following years the wood would be filled with blue.