The Scarlet Flower
Once upon a time, there lived a widowed merchant. He was a man of great wealth and means, but far more than any treasure or gold he loved his three daughters. They were all lovely girls, but the most beautiful was the youngest. Moreover, while the older daughters were vain and spoiled, the youngest was modest, and happy to take on the duties of housekeeper. This girl was especially dear to her father.
One day, the merchant was going on a trip and asked his daughters what presents they would like. The oldest girl said she wanted not fine silk nor black Siberian sable, but a rare golden crown that no fire could melt nor water rust, that shone so bright, it turned the night to day. The merchant knew of such a crown. It was the possession of a distant princess, who kept it in a cavern deep in the ground, beyond three iron doors with German locks. It would be no easy task, but he felt sure that he could fulfill his daughter’s request.
The middle girl wanted not beautiful clothes nor splendid jewelry, but a rare mirror of Oriental crystal, that would allow her to regard all the beauty of the world, and when she looked her own image, her beauty would increase greatly. The merchant again knew where to get such a mirror. It was the possession of a Persian Princess, who kept it in a tower atop a high mountain, beyond seven iron doors with German locks. The tower could only be reached by climbing three thousand steps, and on each step stood a fearless Persian warrior. But he assured her that her difficult request was not beyond his means.
Then, he asked his youngest and dearest daughter what she would like. She replied that she wished for only a little scarlet flower, more beautiful than any other in the world. Alas, the merchant said, he did not know where to find such a thing, but he promised his daughter that he would do his best.
Off he went on his voyage, and found the prizes his elder daughters desired. It cost him much effort and great expense, but he was quite happy to pay the price, such was his love for his daughters. But it saddened his heart that he could not find the scarlet flower his favorite daughter had asked for. He saw many little red flowers in the gardens of kings and sultans, but he did not think any of them could be the most beautiful thing in the world.
He set off for his home, gloomy that his youngest daughter would be disappointed. But soon he had another worry: his caravan was beset by brigands. The merchant abandoned all the treasures and gold, and his loyal servants. He fled into the deep forest to escape.
The forest was very dark, and before long he found himself so far into the wilderness that there was not even the sound of a wolf’s growl or a bird’s song or an owl’s hooting. Still the merchant pressed on, and as he went deeper into the woods the branches seemed to move themselves to allow him to pass. Then, out of the darkness, he noticed a bright glow ahead of him. He stepped towards the glow, and it moved on as though it were leading him somewhere. Not knowing what else to do, he followed that glowing light ever deeper into the forest, until it led him to a magnificent palace.
The merchant knocked on the door, which opened of its own will. He called out to see if anyone was there, but only silence greeted him. The desperate and exhausted merchant crept tentatively inside the silent palace, hoping to beg hospitality from whoever dwelled within. He saw fires lit in the hearths, and torches burned on the marble walls. A magnificent feast was laid out on a table that had been set with gold and silver plates. But in spite of these signs of inhabitation, no one seemed to be there. The poor man now realized how hungry he was, and his hunger got the better of him. He sat down at the feast table and ate his fill. Later, he wandered through the palace and came upon a luxurious bedchamber. Here the merchant settled down to rest for the night. His last thought before he fell asleep was of his daughters.
That night, he had a dream where he saw them at home. The two oldest daughters had pledged themselves to marry wealthy and handsome young suitors, even though their father was not there to give his blessing. But the youngest sat alone and wept for her father, who she missed terribly.
The next morning, he decided to explore the grand palace by the light of day. From the window, he could see that the palace had a garden of unsurpassed beauty, so he stepped outside to have a look. Lo and behold, there on a little verdant hill in the center of the garden, before his very eyes, was the scarlet flower his youngest daughter had asked for–there could be no doubt about it. It was indeed the most beautiful flower in the world, and for a while the merchant contemplated it, enchanted by its exquisite beauty. What harm could it do to pick it and fulfill his beloved daughter’s wish? He reached out and plucked the little flower from the ground, and all of a sudden there was a huge rumble of thunder and a horrendous crash.
The terrible Beast of the Forest, Denizen of the Deep, leaped out in front of him and roared, Thief! Who dares to pluck my scarlet flower, the one joy of my life? Did I not show you hospitality? Yet you repay me with theft. For this, your life must be forfeit. The terrified merchant threw himself on the ground, trembling and almost unable to speak. At length he recovered his power of speech and, weeping, explained that he only wanted the scarlet flower as a present for his youngest daughter. He begged not to be put to death, but rather be allowed to return with the flower to his daughters.
The Beast heard him out, then announced that he would spare the merchant’s life if one of his daughters would come willingly in her father’s place, to be his companion. If none of the girls would come of their own free will, the merchant must return to face death. The Beast then gave him a ring, and told him that, at the end of three days either he or one of his daughters should put it on the little finger of their right hand to be transported to the Beast’s palace. With a heavy heart, the merchant agreed. He was fully prepared to face death in order to spare his daughters from a terrible fate with the frightful Beast.
In a twinkling, the Beast’s magic transported the merchant back to his own courtyard at the very moment his caravan was arriving, its wealth and goods increased threefold from when the merchant had been forced to abandon it. Now his daughters all rushed out to greet him. He presented the golden crown to the first maiden, and the crystal mirror to the second, and lastly the scarlet flower, in a little golden vase, to the youngest. The two elder daughters were beside themselves with delight when they received their rare presents, but the youngest was strangely saddened when she received the scarlet flower.
She could sense her father’s grief, and begged him to unburden his heart. With a sigh, he told the girls what had happened with the Beast of the Forest. The two elder daughters said to their sister, “It should be you that goes, since you caused this trouble. It was you who wanted the little scarlet flower in the first place, so it is only just that you go in place of our father.” The youngest daughter bravely said that she would do her duty and go to live with the beast, to save their father. They passed the next two days together. On the third day, it was time for the girl to go to the Beast. Her sisters cried and lamented ostentatiously, but the maiden bravely accepted her fate without a sigh or tear. That evening, she put the ring on the little finger of her right hand, and instantly she was transported to the Beast’s palace, along with all her belongings. When she appeared there, her belongings were neatly settled in her luxurious room, as though she had lived there all her life.
She heard the sound of sweet music that filled the air, but as she looked around the palace, she could find nobody at all. She went out into the garden, carrying the scarlet flower to admire it in its natural setting. As she neared the little green hill where it had grown, a wonder happened. The flower flew out of her hand and reattached itself to its stem, where it seemed to grow even more beautiful than before.
The maiden went back into the palace, where she saw a fine meal had been laid out for her. Surrounded by luxury and beauty, she realized that the Beast of the Forest must be a kind and generous creature. No sooner had she thought of him than words of fire appeared on the marble wall: I am your humble servant, and your every wish will be fulfilled.
And so it happened that her every thought and whim was miraculously answered. If she wanted to write to her father, a paper and pen would appear out of nowhere. If she wanted to eat, the finest food and drink would be spread out before her, and whatever music pleased her sounded through the magnificent halls. She enjoyed rides through the deep forest in magical, horseless carriages and whatever other amusements she could imagine. And from time to time the Beast of the Forest, Denizen of the Deep, would communicate with the girl by writing in words of fire on the white marble walls.
As the days passed, the merchant’s daughter grew fonder of her kind and unseen host, and longed to hear his true voice. Do not be afraid that I will shun you, she said as she stood before the white marble walls. Even a terrible beast’s roar could not cause me to fear you, after your kindness. So the fiery writing bade her go into the garden, where her host would speak to her. There, she heard a terrible sound, rough and wild, harsh and hoarse, but she quickly overcame her fear and began to converse with him. Her heart was warmed by his kind and beautiful words and his wisdom.
Soon, she longed to see his true form, and not just hear his voice. She begged him to show himself to her, but for a long time he resisted for fear that his horrible appearance would cause her to despise him. The merchant’s daughter, however, would not be dissuaded and at length he agreed to show himself fleetingly in the garden. As she walked among the flowers, he dashed quickly across the path, and for the first time the girl beheld the Beast of the Forest.
In spite of herself, she was filled with terror, for he was indeed horrible to behold, uglier than tale can tell or word can describe. On the end of his crooked arms were the claws of a wild beast, and on his back were the humps of a camel. He moved on legs like a horse, and on his face the boars tusks projected from his mouth. His nose was like an eagles beak and his eyes were like an owl’s. He was so hideous, the girl nearly fainted from terror. But once again, she mastered her fear, and apologized to the Beast of the Forest for offending him. From then on, she did not regard him with terror, and again they enjoyed their long conversations and walks in the garden, though the Beast still kept a safe distance from the girl, for fear of upsetting her.
The days passed sweetly for them, but after a while the girl had a dream that her father was very ill. She begged her host to be allowed to visit him, and the Beast of the Forest gladly agreed, for he could not refuse her anything she wanted. He gave her a ring and asked her to put it on the little finger of her right hand before the end of three days and three nights, so that she might return to the Beast. He warned her that if she did not return by the end of the third night, he would perish, since he loved her more than himself and could not bear to be apart from her any longer.
Suddenly, the merchant’s daughter found herself at her old home, where her father lay ill of grief. He had been pining for her since she left. But now she had returned, and her father and sisters rushed to embrace her. They all marvelled at her beauty, and her sisters were struck by the magnificent clothes the maiden now wore. The merchant quickly began to feel better, and he and the two older daughters sat and listened as the youngest daughter regaled them with tales of her enchanted life in the palace of the Beast of the Forest, Denizen of the Deep.
The three days passed quickly. During this time, the elder sisters tried to persuade the maiden not to return to the Beast, but rather stay with her family and let the Beast die. The girl was angered at their heartless suggestion, for how could she be so cruel as to abandon her kind host? No, she would never do that. Her sisters, meanwhile, had grown jealous of the luxuries she now had, so they thought it best that they stop her from returning to the Beast’s palace. They set back the clocks in their father’s house, so the maiden would not know when the end of three days had come.
When the real time had come for the merchant’s daughter to leave, she felt a deep and profound sorrow. She looked up and glanced at the clocks, but they all showed that she had several hours more before she needed to return to the Beast. Her sisters continued to distract her with questions and idle conversation. But at length, the maiden could bear it no more, and felt she needed to go back to her kind host. She looked again at the clock, and saw that it was a minute before the appointed hour. She put the Beast’s ring on the little finger of her right hand, and once again was transported back to his palace.
She was greeted by deathly silence. Where once the palace had been filled with the sounds and signs of life, now it was quiet as a tomb. She ran all through the palace, calling for the Beast, and then came to the garden. There she found the beast lying on the little green hill, clasping the scarlet flower in his misshapen talons. The girl knelt beside him, her hot tears falling on his lifeless body, but in spite of all her efforts she could not get him to awaken. At last she took him in her arms and cried, Awaken, my dear friend! I love you more than myself, you are my true beloved! As soon as she uttered these words, lightning flashed around her and thunder boomed in the air…
And suddenly the maiden found herself seated on a golden throne, and next to her was a prince who was more handsome than tale could tell or words could describe. They were surrounded by courtiers dressed in fine silks and brocades, and in front of the couple stood the maiden as father and two sisters. The prince explained that he was, in fact, the Beast of the Forest. An evil witch who had quarrelled with his father, a mighty king, had put a curse on the prince, transforming him into a hideous monster. The curse could only be broken by a maiden who fell in love with him in his monstrous form. I have lived in this form for thirty years, and in that time eleven maidens came to my palace, but all rejected me. You, my dear, were the twelfth. You were the only one to see the kindness and love I held in my heart, and the only one to return my love. Now you shall be my bride, the queen of a mighty and glorious kingdom!
The merchant was overjoyed to give his blessing to the young couple, and even the girl’s envious sisters offered their heartfelt congratulations. The merchant’s daughter and the handsome prince were wed in a great ceremony, with all due pomp and splendor, and they both lived happily together in prosperity and joy until the end of their days