Mother and father used to tell me this story, a story of a prince who fell in love with an enchantress but only loved her for her power. They told me that the prince was perfect in every way but he was vain and power hungry with a cruel heart. The enchantress was beautiful inside and out and loved by all except the prince. When the enchantress figured out that he didn’t really love her, she ran away and cursed him and his palace and said: “The curse may only be lifted if you fall in love with someone powerless in your most powerless state!” Till then he was cursed to be a horrifying giant black wolf in a place that only snowed so he would stand out like he always wanted in the cruelest way.
Those stories were lost on me when my mother and father died. Now I live with my grandmother who calls me “Väike Phoenix” which means little phoenix in Estonian. She gave me that nickname because of my fiery spirit and hair. My grandmother and I live in a small town in Piirissaare Parish, Estonia. It’s one of those towns where everyone knows everyone but we all have roles that we take care of and work well together. There are only forty-two people in the town.
The people of the town know me well, I'm a jeweler, everything I make is unique and exquisite. My work does cause some problems though, a boy doing girls work isn't right to most but it's what I love and I'm the best at it. My work is worn by almost every woman of the village. My grandmother has told me that many girls are interested in me but I'm not interested in them, then she teases me for falling in love with my work.
I hum a soft lullaby my mother used to sing to me and pull a little mosaic glass bead onto a copper chain. I'm making a new bracelet for a valued customer, the town owners daughter, who I happen to know is completely in love with me but she is only pretty on the outside.
There's a soft tap at the door then my grandmother walks in, she has a loving smile and joyful eyes full of wisdom. She holds a plate of kringles with cowberries on top. Kringles are usually a pretzel-like dessert but my grandmother loves them for breakfast. The cowberries add a sweet and sour flavor to the delicious dish. She tells me to eat my breakfast and go out to get some groceries in traditional Estonian which she taught me to understand but I'm not that good at speaking it.
I eat my ”breakfast”, secure my unfinished work, grab my jewelers satchel, and head out. It's about six o'clock in the morning and people are bustling down the brick pathways to the center of town to get their shopping done. The red brick pathway is almost fully covered in a thin sheet of fluffy snow. My old black boots crunch against the snow with each step I take and I pull my coat tighter around my body to keep warm. Hot air from my mouth makes clouds around me each time I breathe out. I look back at my little cottage that is the colors of dusk, dark blue and burnt orange, which my grandmother got because my eyes were the same color, the top of both eyes are dark blue while the bottoms are a burnt orange.
I continue on my way and hear someone calling my name, I look around to see Miss Kadri Ilves, a thin widowed woman who makes a living on painting some of the most beautiful portraits. She beckons me over and continues to call my name. ”Oh, Baelfire my dear boy! Would you be a dear and be a model for me? Your look is so unique, you're the only one in the village with red hair and dual colored eyes, your skin is like cream with the cutest freckles and dimples in the world.” I smile sweetly and reject her offer. ”Sorry Miss Ilves but I have things that I must do, maybe another time.” Miss Ilves pouts then smiles mischievously, ”Ooh! Do you have a date by any chance little Bael?~ You're already eighteen, you must find a woman perfect for you. Oh, I can just imagine your adorable children! You know that Mister Kangro’s daughter likes you very much and she's quite beautiful.”
I dismiss Miss Ilves again in a polite manner and continue. Ramsus Kangro, the town owner, and his daughter Eliisabet Kangro. Eliisabet and I have known each other for a long time but as her feeling for me grew, mine lessened. I learned that she is manipulative and manipulated her own father into doing her bidding. She made him raise taxes in the town so she can get more expensive clothing for herself. She pays me generously hoping to win me over with money but I give most of the money she gives me to my grandmother and the poor townspeople. I'm not one to simply be boughten.
I past by small cottages on my way and pause at the small gap between them; the gap goes into the dark forest that is said to be cursed. I stare at the dark trees that bend towards the dark dirt path in an eerie manner. The wind blew through the barren tree branches and beady-eyed crows watched from above. My mind was blank and I didn't notice that I was walking towards the opening. The tether of the forest snapped when I felt something on my arm. I looked to see a lovely cream colored hand that bore one of my rings on the index finger. The hand belonged to Miss Moonika Spriit, a beautiful honey haired woman whose age was as mysterious as the legends themselves.
Her coral colored lips and green eyes attracted every man of the village. She was gentle and nurturing, always giving to the old and poor. She treated me like a little brother which I never minded, she's always been like a big sister to me. She pulls me away from the forest entrance and into her soft orange colored cottage that was monochrome on the inside. She sat me down on the soft black couch and sat next to me. ”Close your eyes little Bael.” she mused in her natural silky tone. I obeyed and heard rustling. When she told me to open my eyes I didn't exactly know what I was looking at.
In her hands was a little wooden black box, it was no bigger than a jewelry box. ”Um, Moon, what is this?” I asked in confusion. Her smile was still gentle but seemed a bit sad looking at the box. ”It’s something I've held onto for a long, long time, I think you'll be able to make good use out of them.” Before I could ask what she meant by ”them”, she opened the box revealing dozens of filtering gems of different shapes, sizes, and colors. Sapphires, diamonds, rubies, opals, and so many more gems that I couldn't even name. My eyes started to water with happiness, Moonika stared at me with a smile. ”Happy Birthday Bael.”
I was surprised, even I forgot that today was my birthday. It has been unimportant since my parents died. I hugged Moonika and then left with the little black box in my hands. My fingers caressed the smooth wood and I took in a sweet scent from it that I've never smelled before. The scent was intoxicating, addictive, I don't know why I loved it so much but it filled me with wonder and a buzz of magic.
I finally got to the bustling town square, I took in the delicious scent of freshly baked pastries and flowers. I walked over to a small brick building that happened to be the bakery. I rang a little bronze bell and out popped Mister Jürgen Vainola, the tubby old baker with the rosiest cheeks and smile sweeter than his delicious pastries. His bald little head glistened with sweat from the heated inside of the bakery. His thick white mustache moved as he spoke. ”Baelfire my boy! Happy Birthday! I made a cake for you, I hope you enjoy.” Mister Vainola grabbed a cardboard box and a beautiful large basket containing many types of bread. I looked inside the box and enjoyed the scent of the sweet lilac frosting covering the cake.
Mister Vainola wishes me happy birthday again and I'm on my way. Someone tugs at my side and I look down to see Leili, the florist's seven-year-old daughter. Her milky brown eyes shimmer with a child's innocence and her bright blonde hair reflected the sun's light. She pulled me over to where her mother was preparing bouquets. ”Good morning Miss Võsu.” Miss Mari-Liis Võsu turned her head, she gave a motherly smile and hugged me tightly. ”Happy Birthday Bael, I have a special gift for you.”
She turned around to grab something and placed it in my hands. It was a flower, of course, but not one that I've ever seen. It was indescribably beautiful with bright red petals that swirled to the center. Miss Võsu cleared her throat to get my attention, ”It’s called a lotus, there are many types and colors but I've never seen one here, I happened to find one floating down the stream early this morning.” I hugged Miss Võsu once more and then left to finish my shopping. I got extra of everything today since it was my birthday.
Rein and Rain, twin brothers that were a bit older than me, offered to take my stuff back to my cottage so I could enjoy this day. I happily obliged since they were trustworthy. I kept Moonika’s present in my satchel and enjoyed a nice little stroll through town. I suddenly heard someone yell my name, a voice I knew too well that I dreaded. Eliisabet. I turned slowly, her long platinum blonde hair was up in a high ponytail and her lips were painted red. Seems today's clothing color is a plum purple.
She hugged me tightly then spun so I could see her whole outfit. ”Isn’t it exquisite Bael, my daddy bought it for me, it’s the highest quality of Italian silk. Oh! And I have a present for you since we’re so close.” I may have been smiling on the outside but if there is anything I hate more than Eliisabet herself then it's when she calls her own father ’daddy’. She handed me a flat rectangular box that had a ribbon wrapped around it. I untied the ribbon and opened the box, inside was something soft and black. ”It’s a cloak with a leather interior and fake fur since I know you don't like to hurt animals. I had it custom made just for you. You can use it to keep you warm or maybe attend a wedding.”
This was the only thing I actually like that she has given to me. I knew what she meant by ‘attend a wedding’. I would never, ever marry someone like Eliisabet. Her hazel eyes seemed innocent to most but only I could see the manipulation hidden inside.
After thanking her I went back home. The savory scent of smoked fish and freshly baked bread radiated out of my cottage. I happily skipped inside to see my grandmother holding a tray of two loaves of rye bread and our neighbor, Mister Jääger, grilling big flounders. After a hearty dinner Mister Jääger went back to his house. I happily retired to my room.
I placed Moonika’s gift on the table next to my bed and curled up in my mother's quilt that she made for me long ago. As I started to fall asleep I sang my mother's lullaby and slowly doze off.