The Lad and the Maiden in the Rose-Colored Clouds
Illustrated By: Emma Leeper
ONE LATE AFTERNOON a young farmer's helper named Cedric dozed off in the fields after a hard day's work. He dreamt a dream that seemed so real to him that when he awoke, it felt just as real as when he was dreaming it.
In the dream, he saw the tip of a castle and only the spire because the entire castle was covered by rose-colored clouds.
A maiden walked out from the clouds toward him. There was something about her manner and in the way she looked and moved, that felt natural and perfect. As she approached, he knew at once that she was the right woman for him.
She was the first to speak. "There is something that I know," said the maiden with a welcoming smile. "Do you know it, too?"
"I know I'd happy with you," said Cedric, "for the rest of my life."
She seemed not at all surprised and said, "And I'd be happy with you, too."
"What would it take for us to be together?" said Cedric.
The maiden said, "I am the Maiden of the Castle of the Rose-Colored Clouds. If you search for me, you can find me. And then we can be together." She vanished. And that was when Cedric woke up.
Cedric asked everyone he knew - the other hired hands at the farm, the shopkeepers at the village square, and anyone else he met - if they knew anything about a Maiden of a Castle of Rose-Colored Clouds. Many laughed and assumed he was joking, others figured he had turned crazy. A few seemed to hint they knew something because they would slap him on the back and say, "Well you cut yourself a tall order!" without explaining what they meant.
"No one here will tell me anything," Cedric thought. "I must leave and travel till I find someone who can help." He gathered his belongings and started on a path through the woods. After many days, he came to a hut so overgrown with weeds he almost didn't notice a very old woman tending her garden beside it. Even after the old woman stood up, she was not much taller. Cedric thought he had never met anyone that old and wrinkled and hunched over - surely the woman must be over a hundred years old! He said, "Old woman, do allow me to help with your garden." He pulled out all the weeds, cut down some grasses, and set layers of thick grass between the plant rows so the grass would keep new weeds from coming up around the plants. He filled one of her baskets with vegetables from her garden - green beans, brussel sprouts, potatoes, beets and peas, and brought the basket inside to make her soup. The old woman, sipping her soup, asked the visitor why he was traveling so deep in the woods.
"Ah," she said after he told her the maiden he was seeking. "The Maiden of the Castle of the Rose-Colored Clouds!"
"You know about her?" said Cedric, amazed.
"Only from a nursery rhyme I once knew when I was a child. Now...what was it?..." After concentrating a minute and humming to herself she exclaimed
"Ah, yes!" and sung this:
"How to find the Maiden in the Castle of the
First you need the sword that is known as Gull
To split the iron serpent's skull.
You need a red cape, that of a squire
To will keep you safe from embers and fire.
And you must have a certain stallion gray
Who midst the clouds can find his way."
"Not bad remembering for an old woman, yes?" She smiled a toothless smile. But then she shook her head. "Young man," she said. "I must tell you. In all my years - and I have lived a long time! - I have never seen a sword known as Gull. And I have surely seen no iron serpent. There is no mantle, red or otherwise, that can keep anyone safe from embers and fire. And for goodness sake, what stallion can ride clouds? So if you ask my advice." The old woman leaned forward. "I'll tell you. Forget it. Forget about finding the Maiden in the Rosy Clouds." And she settled back in her chair. Soon the old woman nodded herself to sleep.
Cedric stayed with the old woman a couple of more days. He repaired her cottage and drew plenty of fresh water for her. Then he went on his way. For many nights, he dreamt about the sword known as Gull, the red mantle and the stallion grey, but each time when he awoke, he did not have any better idea how to find them than he had had before. And with barely a coin in his pocket, even if he were lucky enough to come upon one of the magical items, he could hardly buy them anyway.
Some weeks later, Cedric was traveling through a wild and desolate mountain region where dangerous gorges and dark ravines opened on every side. Suddenly he heard a desperate cry. An young boy burst past him followed by an enormous slithering snake, 200 feet long and 20 feet wide, with black hair shaking from its neck, shining thick horny scales from neck to tail, and flaming red eyes.
"Ah, I wish my knife were bigger!" Cedric pulled his small pocket knife from its sheath and ran toward the snake. Instantly the creature turned its attention away from the young boy, who escaped behind some boulders, to the young man waving the pocket knife. The snake seemed ready to destroy both boy and knife in one gulp. As Cedric charged the snake, his knife suddenly changed. It was a long, gleaming sword! With one mighty blow, the young man had chopped off the snake's head.
"Why, that must have been the iron serpent," mulled Cedric, "and this must be the sword of Gull. Since it's in my own hand now I suppose it must be mine." Cedric went on his way, with hope fired in his heart that he must be on the right track to find the Maiden in the Castle of the Rose-Colored Clouds.
Five years passed. While Cedric found many chances to put his sword to good use, he found no one who could tell him anything about the Maiden in the Castle of the Rose-Colored Clouds.
One day he came to a village where the people were running frantically around, astir and beside themselves. One of the largest homes in the center of town had caught on fire. "Alas! Old lame Father Lars is still up there!" they cried in feaer. Indeed, as Cedric rushed toward the burning house he could see in the third floor window the shadow of a frantic old man. But how to get him out? The tallest ladder had already burned up, and no other ladder could reach past the second floor.
"I have only myself in the world, so what have I to lose?" thought Cedric. He ran upstairs to the third floor while flames licked both legs. Outside, the villagers saw a shadow enter in front of the window and lift the old man as if he were a child, but in the next instant the entire building was aflame. "Both Lars and the stranger are lost!" they wailed. Yet moments later, with an astonishment they would relay to their children and grandchildren again and again in years to come, they saw the young man emerge from the flaming building quite unharmed, carrying on his back the old man who was just as surprised as they.
Perhaps none was as surprised, however, as Cedric himself. As he set down the old man, he noticed a red cape fluttering around them both. "Of course!" he thought, "the red cape from the rhyme that protects from fire! Now I have two of the magical items - the sword of Gull and the red cape. The only one left between me and the Maiden in the Castle of the Rosy Clouds is the flying gray stallion."
The young man politely stayed for a few days and let the villagers feast him and congratulate him over and over. Then he resumed his journey.
Ten more years passed. While Cedric brandished the sword of Gull, protected others from fire with the red cape, and performed many a great deed, he discovered no clue to bring him closer to his Maiden in the Castle of the Rose-Colored Clouds.
By this time Cedric developed something he didn't have before - a companion. Another young man, impressed with Cedric's brave deeds, had become his friend and asked to accompany him on his adventures. Often the friend begged Cedric to share with him the secret of his success. Finally, Cedric confided in him the magic powers of the sword of Gull and the red cape. They talked long into the night. The next morning when Cedric awoke, the companion was gone and so were his sword and red cape.
Cedric called for his friend everywhere. He followed his friend's footprints till they disappeared in the hard ground. He climbed a hill to get a better view. Out in the distance he noticed his companion, clutching the red mantle in one hand and his own sword in the other.
His companion had stolen his magical objects! Yet the next moment, something even more unbelievable took place. The red cape unfolded from under the young man's arms, rose into the air like a blanket, then grabbed his former friend like an eagle swooping for its prey, and held him aloft, kicking his legs and crying out in terror.
The cape flew higher and higher, carrying the thief over a wide, deep, canyon.
When it reached the other side of the canyon it dropped him to the ground on the other side. There he tumbled across the top of the cliff and out of sight until Cedric could see him no more.
"Surely he'll die of wounds from the fall if he's not already dead!" Cedric thought, alarmed. He ran to the edge of the canyon. He knew he somehow must jump across to the other side. Cedric took a running start and leapt as wide as he could, but almost at the very moment his feet left the edge of the ravine he realized he didn't have enough momentum to bridge the gap and would surely fall to his death into the deep canyon.
As he started to fall, Cedric somehow landed on something soft and realized he was riding a horse, a gray stallion in fact, that was riding through the air and taking him to safety to the other side. The moment they alighted, Cedric rushed to the young man, who moaned in mortal pain near the bushes.
Hurriedly, Cedric ripped his clothes to make bandages to stop the flow of blood. When he had tightly bound the wounds and tucked soft grasses under the young man's head, Cedric stood up and looked around. The gray stallion was still there, neighing softly, and the sword of Gull, and the red cape, which had neatly folded itself, lay on the ground. Cedric slipped the sword back into its sheath, tied the red cape around his neck, and lifted his former companion on the stallion. He rode the young man to the next town, where he found a doctor and left him in the doctor's care.
More long years passed. Cedric's cheeks became furrowed and his hair turned gray. His childhood friends had long since married and had children of their own, many of whom had grown up and married, too. Still, Cedric continued to ride the gray stallion in search of the maiden from the dream in his youth.
Then one day in the distance swirled a rose-colored mist. Through the clouds the lad caught a glimpse of a golden spire of a castle glinting in the sun. The gray stallion seemed to know it and caught the excitement, eagerly starting on the winding road that led to the castle.
As soon as Cedric entered the foggy haze of the clouds, a fierce giant let out a roar and pounded toward him. As the giant, now close enough to strike, flung back its arm, Cedric clutched the sword of Gull. At that very moment, the giant vanished without a trace. Then everything was quiet except the galloping of the gray stallion, bounding up the mountainside toward the castle.
At last, he had arrived! The drawbridge lowered. Stepping out to welcome him was the very maiden of his dreams, the Maiden of the Castle of the Rose-Colored Clouds, only now she was real. She smiled with a warmth every bit as inviting and wonderful as he remembered.
"You have proven you are the man I knew you to be," she said. "And now at last you are here, with me."
"But it took so long." The rider sighed. "Now I am old and gray."
The maiden only smiled. She took his hand and led him to the drawbridge over the moat. She pointed to his reflection in the water. Looking back at Cedric from the water was the image of his youth, a handsome young face with firm, strong cheeks. Amazed, Cedric felt his own face - could it be? Then he took the maiden's hand. And so hand in hand, the two of them entered the castle together.
- How Was it silly for Cedric to look for so many years for the Maiden in the Castle of the Rosy Clouds?
- Tell about a time you kept trying for something you wanted, even though it took much longer than you thought.
A Scottish folktale retold by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2006. All rights reserved.