Orissa, Queen of the Forest
By Valerie L. Egar
A young girl named Orissa lived at the edge of a great forest with her mother and father. She was eleven, with braids long enough to neatly wrap around her head. In the spring and summer, her mother wove flowers Orissa picked in the meadow into her braids. Daisies and honeysuckle, red poppies and Queen Anne’s lace crowned Orissa. She loved wearing flowers in her hair.
One morning, Orissa’s mother gave her a metal pail and asked her to go into the forest to gather berries. Orissa skipped down a dirt path into the forest singing,
Raspberries, blackberries, ripe and sweet,
Tonight we’ll have pie to eat!
As much as Orissa liked flowers, she liked her mother’s berry pie even more.
Orissa slowed when she entered the forest. She admired the mottled white bark on the birch trees and took a deep breath to smell the clean scent of pine. She listened to the cuckoo’s call and the shill cry of a hawk. Warm sun filtered through the leaves and made lacy patterns on the forest floor. Orissa sat in the velvety moss underneath the trees to rest and listen to the birds for just a moment. Soon she fell asleep.
Orissa woke with a start and found a bright blue eye staring into hers. A tall woman wrapped in a blue cape lifted her to her feet. “At last! The Queen of the Forest!” The woman pointed to Orissa’s flower crown.
Orissa shook her head. “No,” she said. “I’m a little girl.”
“Ha! You can’t fool me,” said the woman “I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday. You’re the Queen of the Forest.” The woman smiled slyly. “Now that I’ve caught you, give me all the gold you’ve hidden.”
Orissa frowned. “Only leprechauns hide gold.” Orissa looked at her empty pail and how high the sun was in the sky. She was anxious to pick berries or there would be no pie after supper.
“Wait, maybe I have my creatures mixed up,” the woman said. She scratched her head. “Pearls. I want all your pearls!”
Orissa rolled her eyes. “I’m not sure, but I think mermaids have those.”
“How about diamonds? Rubies?”
“Where would I find those around here?” Orissa said. “This is the forest!”
The woman’s eyes narrowed and she looked at Orissa’s empty pail. “Oh, you’re a clever one, trying to trick me. What’s the pail for?”
The woman laughed. “Magic berries! That’s why you look so young. Why I bet you’re over a hundred years old and you don’t look a day over ten.”
“I’m eleven,” Orissa said.
The woman cackled. “And I’m only twenty-one. Ha! I can’t wait to eat some of those magic berries. ”
Orissa shrugged. “If you help me fill my pail,” she said, “I’ll show you where the berry patch is. You can have as many as you can eat today.”
“I understand,” said the woman. “They’re only magic when the moon in full. Tomorrow they won’t be magic anymore.”
“No,” said Orissa. “I leave enough berries for the birds and the bears. They enjoy them, too and people shouldn’t be greedy and take more than they can use.”
“Right,” said the woman. “You’re the Queen of the Forest. I should have expected you’d say that.”
The woman quickly helped Orissa fill her bucket with sweet ripe berries and Orissa sang her way home. A pie was soon baking in the oven.
The woman stayed in the berry patch and gobbled berries until her fingers and lips were stained and her stomach was full. Since she expected the berries would make her younger, she was careful not to eat so many that she turned back into a baby. She thought being eighteen or nineteen again might be nice and that’s what she hoped for.
When she looked in the mirror the next morning, she wasn’t even one day younger. For the rest of her days, she told anyone who would listen how the Queen of the Forest tricked her.
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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published October 8, 2017, Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).