Lorelei lived in a lonely cottage with her father in the middle of a peculiar forest. All of the trees for miles around were apple trees, but the two never wondered at that; there were no other people. It isn’t hard to imagine what Lorelei and her father ate. They ate apple pies, apple cakes, baked apples, dried spicy apples; they drank apple cider. Now, lest one think this would become dreary after a while, one should know that there were all manner of apples to be had, ones that do not grow in our own country.
Some apples tasted like mincemeat, and some tasted like orange. Some apples reminded you of carrots, and still others were rather like porridge. Tiny apples, giant apples, and all sizes in between could be found, high in the uppermost branches and low near the grass in dwarf bushes.
One wintry afternoon, when the apples rarely grow, Lorelei was foraging for golden bell apples in the lowest branches of the smallest shrubs, frozen in the drifts of snow. As she plucked them and placed them in her apron, she suddenly heard a small shrill voice.
“Good morning, good maiden!”
“Good morning? Why, it’s already two hours before sunset,” she protested, looking about for the source of the voice.
“Indeed!” said the voice. “Only I have just woken up, so to me it seems quite like the morning; but now that you mention it, the sun is coming up in the wrong direction.”
“You mean it is going down,” she corrected.
“Going down. Coming up. It’s all the same when you can’t go anywhere,” the voice answered.
“Where are you?” asked Lorelei, growing curious now.
“In your apron just now.”
“Oh my goodness!” cried Lorelei, spilling her apples.
There amongst the scattered golden fruit was a tiny golden frog, wrapped tightly in a ball. She must have plucked it out of the bush without noticing. It was quite still.
“Oh do take me inside with you that I may be warmed by your fire,” the frog pleaded.
“I really can’t bring strangers home,” she informed the frog.
“What is your name?” asked the frog.
“Lorelei, how do you do? My name is Felina. See? We are strangers no more.” It looked as if the frog smiled.
“Okay, then,” declared the girl, picking her up and filling her apron again. “Let’s go home.”
The sky was just beginning to dim when she reached the door of the cottage.
“Fa-ther!” she called, as she passed inside. “I want you to meet someone.”
“Lorelei! You know I don’t enjoy visitors,” grumbled her father, coming in from the workshop in back. Her father was in fact a grumbly sort of man, demanding of Lorelei, and rarely pleased by his daughter’s work.
But even he was amused by the creature in his daughter’s hand.
“What a strange little frog!” he exclaimed. “Why I haven’t seen one of those in many winters, not since…,” he trailed off. His silvery eyes looked off in the distance as he rubbed his graying hair.
“Father, this is Felina,” explained Lorelei. “I found her while picking the golden bell apples. It’s so cold outside, Father, couldn’t she stay with us?”
“Well, that’s hardly another mouth to feed,” her father remarked. “I suppose she can stay with us for a while.”
“Thank you, kind sir!” exclaimed the frog as she hopped to the floor and plunked down near the fire.
The evening came on and the night wind whistled through the cracks in the door; but the fire roared hot and the sweet smell of applewood put everyone in a cheerful mood. Lorelei sang while her father fiddled, and to their surprise Felina joined in. Just at that moment, the cat woke up.
He was a massive black cat that napped most of the day. He hadn’t been awake when Lorelei came home with the frog. Now his eyes opened to a curious scene, not so much the music but the little golden creature singing by the fire. Was it a mouse? Older than Lorelei herself, his eyes weren’t as sharp as in former days. Maybe it was a mouse, a golden delicious mouse.
“Please, kind guest,” started Lorelei’s father after a while, “tell us of yourself.”
“There’s not much I can tell you,” answered Felina. “I’ve been hanging from that branch for ages, it seems.”
“Well,” offered Lorelei, “could you tell us a story? We would love to hear any tales you have learned.”
“I only know one,” replied Felina, and this is the tale she told:
“Years ago, before you were born, young lady, there lived a good king magician whose greatest love was his son. He gave everything he could to make his son happy. He even caused to be planted an enchanted orchard that bore apples all year round, for this was his son’s favorite thing to eat. But he forbade anyone in the kingdom from eating the fruit, on pain of death. One day, when the boy had grown into a strong and goodly man, he found a golden-haired maiden walking through the orchard, eating some of the forbidden fruit. They fell in love the moment they met and the young man resolved to make her his bride. But the king found out what the girl had done and ordered her to be burned alive! His son fled, and took the girl to the uttermost parts of the kingdom and hid from his father. They married in an old chapel near the bordering realms, and in time, the young maiden gave birth to a beautiful girl. The two lovers thought they would be happy forever. But the king’s men found them and brought them before the royal court. The son pleaded with his father and begged for the life of his bride. The king, his heart saddened, took pity on them; but he was still king and his law must be obeyed. He conjured up all his power and banished his son to live in the orchard for all of time, casting spells that they would never find their way out, nor remember him. The young maiden he transformed and hid her away in the orchard. The only way the spell could ever be broken would be for the young maiden to be burned with fire, as the king commanded. And to this day, that young man lives there with his daughter, doomed to live out the rest of their years.”
Lorelei and her father were astonished. They looked at each other.
At that moment, the cat decided he had waited long enough. He sprang after Felina, intending to make her a meal, and she lept to escape. But the old cat was still frighteningly quick and just at the moment the frog jumped up, the cat swatted her right into the fire!
“No!” screamed Lorelei. Instantly, the fire burst into a white light that filled the room and then just as suddenly was no more. Instead, sitting in the ashes, was a golden-haired lady, weathered by years but no less beautiful than the day Lorelei’s father met her.
“Are you my mother?” asked Lorelei, though she had never known a mother. The woman nodded with a knowing smile. “Oh, Mother!” she shouted this time, tears filling her eyes.
It was a merry reunion, and when the morning came they all discovered that the forest was no forest after all. The walls of the orchard could be seen in the distance and beyond it the castle. Lorelei’s father led them to the castle where they soon discovered that his father, the old king wizard, had died only the day before. As he drew his last breath, the chamberlain told them, he had uttered, “It is time for a new king;” and then, “Return to me, my son.”
The people had not known what he meant but now it was clear. Lorelei’s father and mother were made king and queen that very same day, and Lorelei lived as a princess from that day onward, with her cat.
© 2009 Daniel Alegria