The Tale of Princess Ivana and the Chipmunk
Once upon a time, there was a shack that nobody dared to visit. It was home to a strange creature named Brutta Wartsnout, a witch who resembled a rhinoceros. She used to reside in the castle, but the cruelty of Princess Ivana forced her to leave. Some weeks later, she settled into a shabby house on the outskirts of town and officially opened for business.
Every peasant knew that if they had a problem, Brutta Wartsnout was for hire. Yet, few were brave enough to seek her assistance.
It was raining the night that Brutta heard a knock on her door. Given that she never received visitors, she was astonished by the disturbance. She raised her gravelly voice. “Whoever you are, I’m not in the mood for games!”
“Please, Madam Wartsnout. I’m getting drenched out here!” a young woman replied.
Sighing, Brutta let the stranger inside. The young woman was quite a sight, being drenched from head to toe. Brutta expected the visitor to scream upon seeing her disfigured face, but the young woman did not. She didn’t comment on Brutta’s unique appearance at all. Instead, she shook the rain from cloak and respectfully curtseyed.
“Thank you for letting me in, Madam Wartsnout. I’m Edith. A maid in the castle.”
“You’re a long way from home,” Brutta noted. “What could possibly bring you out here in such dreadful weather?”
“I’ve heard your name here and there. Rumor has it you can make certain things happen for the right price. I have a task for you. I’m willing to do whatever you’d like in exchange.”
“What’s the task?”
“The princess…she’s a very mean person. She insults the castle staff every chance she gets. She calls me Edith Extra Thumbs,” Edith held up her hands, showing that she had two thumbs on either hand. “She’s just as harsh to her family and guests! I think she’s so vicious because she’s unhappy. Is there anything you can do for her? Something that’ll make her happy and kind?”
Brutta now understood why Edith didn’t react to her peculiar appearance. The young maid had experienced plenty of judgment herself. With a knowing hum, Brutta tapped her chin. “Yes, I remember how cruel Princess Ivana can be. You can imagine what she once said about me. Her and that perfect face and perfect figure. Hmph! I’d like to change her. I really would.”
“I can’t alter someone’s personality. I can change them into a chicken or make them fall in love, but who they are inside is quite untouchable.”
“You won’t help?”
“I didn’t say that. I have an idea, but it’d take a lot of help from you. You’d have to get her into the forest, deep into the forest, and abandon her there. I’ll be sure that she stays lost for a few days. Then, you can retrieve her. She’ll be as sweet as honey when you do.”
Edith frowned. “How can I get her into the forest? She hates me.”
“You’ll have to get creative. I believe you can do it.”
“And what happens when I leave her?”
“That’s up to me. Well? What do you say?”
“Yes. I’ll do it,” Edith agreed. “What do I owe you for this?”
Brutta had a laugh. “In this case, it’s personal. Just don’t fail me. Have her in the woods tomorrow at dusk.”
“So be it. Thank you, Madam Wartsnout.”
Edith curtseyed again and tucked her cloak snugly around her bodice. She ventured back into the rain and wind. A smile came to Brutta’s face. Finally, she had a chance to do something about the princess. She rushed to her cabinet of magical wares and ingredients. In less than twenty-four hours, she had to be ready.
The following afternoon, Edith wrung her hands together and anxiously paced outside of Princess Ivana’s room. The princess was supposed to be having tea. Instead, she was throwing the tea set around the room like a hurricane. She growled at the servant who brought the tea tray. “I said I wanted English Breakfast blend! Not Irish Breakfast!”
This servant, a tiny man in a tight coat, quickly darted from the room. He hurried by Edith towards the kitchen. Edith sucked in a deep breath and steadied herself. Then, she went into Princess Ivana’s room. The princess flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder, glaring.
“What do you want, Edith Extra Thumbs?”
“I wanted to tell you that a peasant found the rare kissing lily flower in the forest. He found a whole garden of them. I know how you’ve wanted them to spruce up the castle.”
Princess Ivana grinned. “Yes! Did he have any to buy?”
“No, ma’am. But he told me exactly where they are. I can go and—”
“No, no. I won’t let anybody pick those lilies unless I’m there. They have to be just the right size, and I don’t trust you simpletons to know what that is.”
“I could take you there right now, ma’am. The sun is still high.”
The princess thought for a moment. Afterwards, she grabbed her diamond-studded shawl. “Well, since that weasel of a man ruined my tea, I think now is a good time.”
Edith led Princess Ivana to her carriage. Smiling at her craftiness, Edith drove them deep into the forest. By then, it was almost dusk. Edith found a clearing full of flowers. She stopped the carriage there and let Princess Ivana out. She looked at the field with a huff.
“These aren’t kissing lilies.”
“The peasant assured me they’re here, ma’am. They must be mixed in with the other flowers. We’ll have to look.”
Although she wasn’t happy about the extra work, Princess Ivana went to look at the flowers. When she was across the field, Edith quietly walked away with the horses and carriage. Once she was clear, she hopped onto the carriage and rushed the horses back to the castle. Princess Ivana didn’t realize the carriage was gone.
Brutta, being a witch of exceptional power, could sense where Edith left the princess. She arrived in the field just as dusk came. With the wave of a wand and drizzle of a potion, Brutta spoke the magic spell. “Lizard feet, spider eyes, bat wings, and dragonflies—let the princess speak to the creatures, for they are love’s teachers!”
With the spell cast, Brutta vanished in a cloud of smoke. Princess Ivana noticed an odd haze in the nearby trees. That is when she realized the carriage had left her. She called out. “Extra Thumbs? Where’d you go? You dumb maid!”
“It’s not nice to call people dumb,” a squeaky voice said.
Princess Ivana looked for the source of the voice, but no one was there. “Who said that?”
She looked down to find a chipmunk on her shoe, which was adorned with diamonds. “Was that you?”
“Yes. I was just walking by and saw your sparkly shoes. Very nice,” the chipmunk said.
Furiously, she kicked the air in the hopes that the chipmunk would get off. That didn’t work. It climbed up her dress. She shrieked and spun in circles, yet the chipmunk still held on. It made its way to her diamond necklace. The creature stood on the stones. It was nearly nose-to-nose with her.
“Get off! You dirty little thing!” she yelled.
“I take it you’re not used to the woods. That’s all right. We’ll make you comfortable. Come on. It’s almost supper time.”
The chipmunk slid down her dress and to the ground. It grabbed her by the hem of her dress and tugged. She froze in place. It tugged again and again. When she finally took a step in the right direction, the chipmunk jumped back onto her shoe.
“That’s it. Keep walking. I’ll tell you when to get off the highway,” the chipmunk cheerfully said.
Knowing that she was alone and had no clue where she was, Princess Ivana listened to the chipmunk. At the time, talking to a chipmunk seemed like a very natural thing. She didn’t give it a second thought, even as it directed her deeper into the forest. They navigated the trees, logs, and creeks until they got to the lazy river. A group of animals had gathered beside a small waterfall.
A squirrel, a toad, a doe, a woodpecker, and a fish were chatting amongst themselves. There was a collection of nuts and fruits piled between them. Princess Ivana caught the tail end of a story involving a farmer and the stolen berries, which were courtesy of the squirrel. The chipmunk alerted the group to their presence by clearing its throat.
“Look what I found,” the chipmunk said, referring to the princess.
The doe glared. “Is it safe?”
“I think so. She’s a bit scared, so I’d say we’ve got another lost one,” the chipmunk explained.
“Oh my. That makes three this year,” the toad commented.
“Four. You forgot the girl in the red cape,” the squirrel reminded the toad.
Between pecks on its tree, the woodpecker glanced at the princess. “Why don’t you sit down? We’re about to eat.”
“I don’t know, guys. I’m afraid she’ll eat me,” the fish gulped.
The chipmunk shook its head. “You should be fine. There’s no way for her to cook you.”
“Hey, I heard about this new thing called sushi. I don’t know if I want to take my chances,” the fish argued.
Tugging at her dress, the chipmunk looked up. “You won’t eat Fish, will you?”
“No,” Princess Ivana said.
“See? Make some room for her,” the chipmunk told the doe.
The doe made a spot available for Princess Ivana. Unsurely, the princess sat down with the animals. The chipmunk stayed beside her as the toad distributed food among the creatures. Automatically, the chipmunk gave half of his fruit to the princess. She saw how little food the chipmunk had left.
“Why are you giving me so much?” she asked.
“You must be hungry. Aren’t you hungry?” the chipmunk returned.
“Well, yes, but I don’t understand. I called you ‘dirty’ and tried to get rid of you. You shouldn’t want to give me anything.”
“That wouldn’t be kind of me. The kind thing to do is to always be kind no matter what.”
“Isn’t that hard?” she wondered.
The chipmunk gave her another red berry. “Not really. It’s the only way I know how to be. I’m an animal, you know. We’re pure in heart and soul.”
“No buts, my lady. You eat that food. Keep up your strength. We’ll help you until you’re found. I’m sure they’ll be looking for you,” the chipmunk said.
Princess Ivana smiled and popped a berry into her cheek. “You’re really nice. People try to be nice to me all the time, but I’m never nice back.”
“Why?” the fish asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe because I don’t think I deserve their kindness, so I don’t give them a reason to be kind.”
“Humans are so backwards,” the toad remarked.
For the first time in a long time, Princess Ivana laughed. “Yeah. I guess we are.”
“Well, now you know that you don’t have to be so backwards,” the chipmunk said.
“Maybe not,” the princess agreed.
That night, Princess Ivana ate with the woodland creatures. They allowed her to sleep beside their favorite tree, and they kept watch over her. In the morning, she walked in the woods with the doe. The chipmunk rode on one shoulder, and the woodpecker sat on the other. They told her stories about the woods, and she answered their questions about life as a human. Giggles echoed through the trees.
After another night in the forest, the sun rose high in the sky. Princess Ivana was having wild mushrooms for breakfast when she heard her name. This time, it was a human voice. “Princess Ivana! Are you out here? Princess!”
“I knew someone would come for you,” the chipmunk told her.
She felt a pang of sadness. “I hate to leave you all.”
“You don’t belong out here, you know,” the toad replied.
“You can always visit,” the doe said.
Princess Ivana nodded. “I suppose so. Thank you for everything.”
“Be kind,” the chipmunk reminded her.
She gave them each a loving pat on the head before heading towards the human voices. Edith had arrived with a few of the castle guards. Edith saw the princess wandering towards them. She was terrified. Did Brutta manage to turn Princess Ivana into a happy and kind person? At first, the somber look on Princess Ivana’s face made Edith believe Brutta’s plan had failed.
“Princess! Are you all right?” a guard inquired.
Passing the guards, she went straight to Edith. Edith instantly apologized. “I’m so sorry, ma’am. I didn’t mean to—”
“It’s fine, Edith. I’m okay. The last few days have been like a dream. I made some new friends.”
“Friends?” Edith repeated.
“Yes. I talked to the animals. You probably think that sounds crazy, but I did. I want to apologize to you.”
Edith was awestruck. “Pardon, ma’am?”
“For being so cruel to you. Calling you names. You’ve only ever tried to do the best you can for me, and I’ve only ever met you with meanness. Not anymore.”
As a symbol of sincerity, Princess Ivana took off her diamond shawl and wrapped it around Edith’s shoulders. Edith immediately unwrapped it. “No, ma’am. I can’t.”
“Keep it. It brings out the sparkle in your eyes. Come, let’s walk back to the castle. I find that I like the open air.”
Edith and Princess Ivana started the lengthy walk back to the castle. Brutta watched from the safety of the trees. When Edith noticed her, she gave Brutta a discreet nod. The nod seemed to say: “You did it!” Brutta grinned. She watched the women wander off while the guards followed in the carriage.
Brutta looked down at her shoes. The chipmunk was sitting there. She sighed contentedly. “I knew I could count on you.”
Winking, the chipmunk left to gather food for that evening. Brutta waved as he scurried off, wishing she had thought to send Princess Ivana into the forest years ago. Better late than never, Brutta figured. She was able to go back to her shack knowing that the castle was going to be a better place.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Based on the prompt in the Reedsy short story contest #86 - "Write a fairy tale about someone who can communicate with woodland creatures..."