It is early morning in midwinter in the mountain highlands. The Golden Goddess goes for her morning walk. She is very lonely in her crystal ice palace, where all the furnishings are of the purest gold. Her only companion is a snow-white owl who flies in the airy silence around her.
The Goddess goes and sits at the foot of a big oak tree next to the frozen lake. She slips off her golden sandals from her golden feet and dreamily draws spiral patterns on the icy surface of the lake.
In a big cave deep under the ground, the Magician is stoking a big fire under a cauldron. He is trying to melt together all the gold in the world, because that is what the King had asked him to do. His companion, a beautiful black snake with the charming name of Sssssophie, comes slithering by. Sophie tries to draw the Magician's attention to her, but the Magician is impatient.
"Look," he says, "you see I am very busy. I have no time for your games right now. You know the King is not someone to joke with: When he gives an order; we'd better get it done and the sooner the better."
"But," says Sophie, it is precisely about that job that I have to tell you something. I just returned from the back end of the cave--you know where the great skylight is located. And there is a big nugget of the purest gold that seems to sit on top of it. It wasn't there yesterday, but it is unmistakably there now. You'd better come and look."
So said, and so it is done. The Magician walks through the long galleries of amethyst crystals that lead to the great skylight room. And indeed, Sophie was right: just at the edge on top of the skylight glitters what looks like a nugget of gold. As he gets closer, he starts noticing that it is after all not a nugget of gold, but a golden slipper, sitting in the middle of some spirals...
The white owl flies as quickly as it can to the crystal palace of the Goddess. He has alarming news for his mistress: There are cracks and noises at the great frozen lake, something which has never before occurred as long as the owl can remember. "Come and see, there's something really wrong with the lake!" he hooted as soon as he could see her in the distance. They returned together to the big oak at the edge of the lake. And indeed, from under the ice, cracks could be heard--and there was even some movement. The Golden Goddess decided to plunge her arm through the ice, and lo and behold--she felt another arm reaching for her. We'll never know who was the more surprised of the two--The Golden Goddess or the Magician-when they found themselves facing each other. But when their surprise had passed, the Goddess was so happy to meet someone else after all this time alone that she invited the Magician to her Crystal Palace.
Once they had arrived there, the Magician, first bedazzled by the beauty of everything in sight, grew worried: "Now I'm really in trouble. How will I ever be able to complete the orders of the King? I'll never be able to melt down all the world's gold, because I simply don't want to anymore."
"But why does the King want all the gold melted in the first place?" inquired the Goddess.
"Well, he told me that he wants to make his people happy, and that giving everybody some of the gold should do that."
The Goddess started to laugh: "You mean he doesn't know that giving the people all the gold will not do that? Bring me to your King, and we'll have a little discussion."
And so it was done. Together, the Magician and the Golden Goddess went to see the King, and the Goddess explained her big secret to both of them:
When they returned to the Crystal Palace, everything had started to change: the snow was finally melting after thousands of years, the ice lake had grown balmy, and everywhere Spring was showing its first green shoots.
There was something else new. Did I mention that the white owl's name was Sophia? Well, although they had almost the same names, Ssssophie the snake and Sophia the owl did not get along as well as their companions, the Magician and the Golden Goddess. After all, what can a black snake have in common with a white owl? They were always fighting over turf and just about everything else.
But the last time I saw them, they had actually started talking to each other. At least it is a beginning.
But that is the beginning of another story....
|the epilogue, in which the tale comes true|