Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Witch of the Golden Mountain

Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

Pushbroom felt the wind rush past her as the cat dashed towards the rising sun. He leapt over great rivers and vast lakes until he came to a range of mountains. From peak to peak then, he leapt higher than the mountain goats, faster than the rarely seen Snow Leopard. He moved like a great shadow over the land and as it got colder, his fur seemed to get thicker and Pushbroom snuggled into it being careful not to hurt him. After some time, the cat arrived at the foot of a great mountain upon whose slopes the sun seemed to glow and glisten. From far behind the mountain in a plume of winding smoke, a great dragon arose. Pushbroom marvelled at it's beauty, for she had never seen a real dragon before. It's body was covered in glistening black and silver scales as if it had been enamelled and it's great eyes glowed with it's hot nature.

"Oh how beautiful!" she said seeing the great beast rise into the sky and weave itself between the clouds.

"Harrumph!" answered the cat, "Beautiful but dangerous for he would snap you up as I would a prawn. He is the familiar of the Witch of the Golden Mountain. But it is a long way up to her castle on the Gilded Peak, so we shall sleep here and go later."

"But my lady - and yours was so ill and she is in want of her steel box. We should go instantly," Pushbroom argued.

The cat glared at her for a moment and lashed his tail furiously, but as if reflecting that he knew his mistress better than Pushbroom he calmed himself and curled up around her.

"Perhaps you did not hear the loud cracks that made my lady's house echo," he answered saying the words 'my lady' with some considerable irony.

Pushbroom admitted she had but did not like to pry. The cat laughed at this and answered her,

"Better you had pried my dear. You see all witches have hearts that they freeze to chill their emotions so that they cannot feel anything. In spite of all the cleaning and the hard work she made you do, you brought nothing but kindness to her and so the ice in her heart cracked. Now she is in grave danger of becoming positively charmed by your beauty and your kindness. Oh she knows that the faeries have had a hand in your life - the star upon your brow would tell her that if nothing else. In the box she gave you to give to her sister in Iron was her spare frozen heart that was thawing out. Nothing to be done about that I'm afraid, but in the steel box we shall fetch it is likely that her sister will have a spare frozen heart that can resist your gentleness and your beautiful nature. I admit it, I have come to love you myself, but then I am a cat and I am supposed to change my mind as often as I please."

Pushbroom considered this as the cat rested his chin on his paws. He fell asleep almost instantly for he was very tired. Pushbroom could not help feel sorry for the pain she had caused the Witch of the Deep Savage Forest. She had not meant to, but now she carefully wriggled free of the cat and began to walk up the mountainside alone. A little way up she came to a small rickety cottage outside of which sat an old woman.

"Good day to you grandmother," Pushbroom said politely.

"Good day to yourself little sister," the old woman answered her, "Where might you be off to?"

"I mean to seek the Witch of the Golden Mountain, grandmother," Pushbroom answered.

"Well I knew that," the old woman answered adding, "Take nothing but the hand mirror when it's first offered and you will be alright."

Pushbroom thanked her and continued on her way. It was hard work and she was almost thinking of resting when she came to another old cottage partly built into the rock. Outside of it sat an old woman a little like the first she had met.

"Good day to you grandmother," Pushbroom said politely.

"Good day to yourself little sister," the old woman answered her, "Where might you be off to?"

"I mean to seek the Witch of the Golden Mountain, grandmother," Pushbroom answered.

"Well I knew that, but when it's offered secondly, take the hairbrush from the witch's dressing table and you will be alright. You might take her crimson lipstick too," the old woman said.

Pushbroom thanked her and after a short rest, went on her way up the mountain. Some hours later, when she could almost see the Gilded Peak she came to a rickety old cottage built entirely into the mountainside. Outside of the cottage sat an old woman as wrinkled as a prune and as shrewd as a cat.

"Good day to you grandmother," Pushbroom said politely.

"Good day to yourself little sister," the old woman answered her, "Where might you be off to?"

"I mean to seek the Witch of the Golden Mountain, grandmother," Pushbroom answered.

"Well who didn't know that?" the old woman answered adding, "When you are nearing the Deep Savage Forest, kiss the cat you came on for he is an enchanted king and the kiss of a gentle maiden will free him from the spell."

Pushbroom admitted that she had not realised that, but that he was such a beautiful cat that she would be happy to do it. She thanked the old woman and continued slowly up the rest of the way. When she turned into the large entrance to the Witch's castle, wasn't she surprised? There sitting on the step was the cat waiting for her.

He said not a word of accusation, but led her through the great doors into the castle of the witch. She walked alongside of him and caressed his great shoulder gently. He purred a little but nothing more. When she was led into the company of the Witch of the Golden Mountain, Pushbroom curtseyed and begged the witch's pardon but her lady, the Witch of the Deep Savage Forest had sent her to fetch a steel box.

Now the Witch of the Golden Mountain was steely-eyed and her hair was dark as pitch. She was tall and thin like a sapling and when she eyed up this young lady her hunger knew no bounds. But she could hardly tempt Pushbroom into her cooking pot. She took Pushbroom to the bottom of the staircase and pointed up the high-stepped steep stairs.

"Go up to my bedroom and get it my dear," she said, "It's on the dressing table."

For she hoped that Pushbroom would fall down the stairs and break her neck. But Pushbroom's fox fur boots seemed to close comfortably about her legs turning her own beautiful feet into fox's paws. Her crow-feather cloak seemed to open out and form wings and she trotted nimbly up the stairs, to the witch's boudoir.

I doubt that you have ever been inside a witch's boudoir and it is probably for the best. Witches are untidy creatures at best, for they love clutter and
the Witch of the Golden Mountain was no exception. There were dresses hanging from the picture rail and trunks with dresses bursting out of them. There were boots everywhere and her underwear was scattered over dressers and on the vast iron bed. There was however, by the window with a spectacular view from the mountain, a large dressing table. Pushbroom's first instinct was to tidy everything, but she resisted for she did not like to impose. There were several boxes, some might be silver, some were definitely gold and any number of them might be steel, but she did not know which. She returned to the top of the stairs and called down,

"I am afraid my lady I do not know which box is which. Where is your sister's steel box?"

The witch growled. She did not like the way the young lady had trotted up the stairs without having the decency to break her neck. She held out a little promise however and called up in as sweet a voice as she could muster,

"It must be the one next to the old hand mirror, which you can have if you bring the box down."

Pushbroom returned to the boudoir and pocketed the hand mirror but took up a silver box. She trotted carefully down the stairs remarking, somewhat unnecessarily the witch thought,

"My what steep stairs, I wouldn't want to fall and break something."

She handed the box to the witch who growled and shook her head,

"Foolish girl, it's next to the hairbrush, which you might take if you can get the right box this time!"

"Oh dear," remarked Pushbroom and taking the silver box, she trotted back up the stairs without a single slip, much to the witch's annoyance.

Once again Pushbroom entered the boudoir and this time she looked for the hairbrush. Beside it was a small box that she saw was steel. There was a little key in the lock and a scarlet tassel attached to the key. Beside the box was a large bristly handbrush which she took up and placed in her pocket. She was about to take the box down when she heard the witch stomping up the stairs. Seeing the crimson lipstick, she took that also and put it in her pocket with the mirror and the brush.

The witch was hungry now and could not wait for this impertinent maiden to break her own neck. I suppose I shall just have to do it for her, the witch thought and taking up her skirts she stomped up the stairs. Now she could not know but at her bedroom window, her sister's cat had appeared.

"Quickly," he told Pushbroom, "Get on my back and let us go for the witch means to kill and eat you."

Pushbroom suspected that the witch meant her ill and got onto the cat's back, nestling deep into his fur. Just as the witch reached the top of the stairs and turned to her boudoir, the cat leapt from the window towards a distant peak. The witch opened her bedroom door and seeing no Pushbroom and the cat heading for the peak howled in a rage. She strode back down the stairs and called for her familiar, the black dragon. The clouds seemed to speed away and from between them the black dragon wove his way to the witch. She sprang on his back, took out her cleaver from her coat pocket (and a boiled sweet which she was rather fond of even with fluff on it) and ordered the dragon to pursue the cat and the young woman.

Onwards the cat leapt from peak to peak towards the home of the Iron Witch. He made it ahead of her pursuing sister but only just. With a lash of his tail, he pounced on the troll and hurled Bronze Bone down the well. Then he stamped his paws upon the iron mountainside and from the mountain's depths a furious fire sprang upwards.

"That's one!" he yowled and leapt away.

Witch of the Golden Mountain and her black dragon were catching them up. Over hills they went, over the fields and still she was behind them, waving her cleaver in the air and sucking on her boiled sweet, her black hair streaming out behind her.

"She comes, she comes!" Pushbroom cried fearfully.

"Throw the hand mirror over your shoulder," the cat answered.

She did as she was told and as the mirror fell, the cat murmured a spell. When the mirror hit the earth it did not shatter, but instead it became a great sea with vast sea monsters and towering waves. The witch looked down and seeing the waves lurching and pitching and fearing that she might fall and either be cleaned up thoroughly or drowned or chewed up by a sea monster she made the dragon pause and go around the great sea. The dragon sighed and obeyed.

The cat leapt onwards and upwards from land to land, from valley to valley but before long the witch on her black dragon was behind them again and Pushbroom could see the light glinting off the witch's cleaver.

"She comes, she comes!" she cried.

"Throw the handbrush over your shoulder," the cat told her and she obeyed him.

As the brush fell, the cat murmured a spell and as the brush fell to earth a vast forest sprang up from the bristles and the strands of the witch's hair tangled in it became serpentine vines. The witch ordered her dragon to earth and dismounting she hacked at the vines and the trees. But the vines became angry and snatching the cleaver from the witch they chased her off. The witch made her escape and mounting the dragon muttered,

"I suppose we'll have to go around it."

The dragon sighed and flew up and around the forest. Soon enough as the cat was nearing the Deep Savage Forest Pushbroom looked behind them and saw the witch on her black dragon closing fast.

"She comes, she comes!" the young woman cried out.

"Draw an arabesque in the air with the lipstick and then fling it over your shoulder," the cat replied.

Pushbroom obeyed him and the crimson arabesque in the air fell to earth along with the lipstick. Below them it became a river of blood but the arabesque also arose from the river and became a red dragon that called to the black dragon. Without warning the dragon plunged downwards sending the witch screaming from his back and into the river where she drowned and was quite dead.

Pushbroom in her shock had dropped the steel box and it followed the
Witch of the Golden Mountain into the river never to be seen again. When the cat arrived at the forest, the witch was up and walking in her garden. Pushbroom kissed the cat and the spell upon him was broken. So handsome was he that she loved him instantly, but she would not leave the witch whose heart was quite melted by now. Instead of a dreadful witch she was now a kind a loving witch who welcomed the little sister with open arms. The king left the two women and returned to his kingdom but he sent to the little sister's two cruel sisters, a bowl of strawberries from the Royal Hothouse. The two sisters were so excited that they gobbled up the strawberries until they exploded.

The cats will dance, the mice will run
And now my friends the story's done.


Charlotte said...

I can let go my held in breath now. Utterly enchanting.

Griffin said...

Well I wouldn't want you to be gasping! Glad you liked it.

Rosemary in Utah said...

I enjoyed this very much, Griffin. Caught up in it, after the mirror became water and the bristles became a wood, I figured the lipstick would become..

This story needs an illustrator!

bad penny said...

a wonderful tale - I didn't want it to end

Marina said...

Haha! I loved the transforming objects. And the Royal Hothouse!

Griffin said...

Elements of this tale are borrowed from folktales, but for the lipstick at the end!

A folklorist would have a field day with all the elements, but my aim is to tell a tale that works and that hopefully is enjoyed.