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Wants and Needs
Once upon a time, in a small village, a peddler came to town to sell her wares. The peddler’s name was Arabella, and she was in reality a fairy, come to help the good people of the town, as she did in every town that she traveled to.
She set up shop in a small wood building, and out front in the window she hung a sign that read:
Here you can buy whatever you need
As long as you pay with an honest deed
Below that, she wrote: Interesting trades considered.
Many people, curious about what she sold, came inside the first day she opened for business, and she smiled at them and greeted them all with the same question: “What is it that you need?”
Most of them did not know, exactly, what they needed; they were just wondering about the shop and its owner. All the shelves were empty. When asked about this, Arabella would always reply that she kept all the items in the back.
Those who thought they knew what they needed always left with something else, an object that they were told by Arabella was what they truly needed. These people always paid with an honest coin, and found in time that the fairy-peddler was right. One of these people was a poor young girl named Freya.
Freya lived in the cellar of a large house on the edge of the village, her only company the animals that lived near and roamed through it, the cats and the squirrels and the dogs. She lived there with her cruel stepmother and slobby, vicious, spoiled half-sisters; their father was dead. Freya was very much in love with the handsome prince who ruled the land, but because she was a peasant who lived in a cellar, she did not get to go out much. Her sisters and stepmother, though, went out all the time, and came home late at night raving about the large party at the palace and how grand it was and how many royals were there and saw them, making Freya sad at heart.
One day, Freya was walking through the village when she saw Arabella’s store, and she read the sign with interest. Feeling both curious and hesitant, she opened the door and stepped inside.
“What do you need today, Freya?” Arabella asked with a friendly smile.
“H...How do you know my name?” Freya stammered.
Arabella only smiled mysteriously and said kindly, “Don’t worry; I know what you truly need. Wait here.”
She went into the back of the store and shut the door; a small burst of light shone out of the crack above the floor, and then it opened and Arabella came drifting out, holding the most beautiful dress that Freya had ever seen. Its hem reached down to the floor and it was sewn from black silk, with aquamarine lace in a trailing pattern down the sweetheart-cut neckline and a wide, full skirt. It seemed lighter than air as it hung there in Arabella’s hand, and Freya, upon seeing it, had never wanted anything so badly. The problem was, her stepmother never gave her any spending money, preferring to spend it all on her half-sisters instead, and she had no money to give for it. She wanted it so badly, though, that she proposed a trade for it.
“Ma’am,” she said in her strong-but-quiet voice, “I admit that I do not know when, exactly, I shall find the need for a beautiful dress such as this, for I am never allowed to go to any of the royal balls with my half-sisters and stepmother because I have to do all my chores and theirs, and I fear that it will simply go to waste in the back of my closet and never get the chance to be worn--truly a crime for a dress as beautiful as this. But I would, indeed, love to have it, and I would trade you this for it, if you will accept it.”
And from her pocket Freya produced a pair of beautiful handkerchiefs that she had woven herself from cast-off silk and satin she had cut from her half-sisters’ and stepmother’s ball gowns, for they wore them only once and discarded them. She placed them in Arabella’s free hand, which was already open and waiting, as if she had expected this trade. Arabella moved her hand up and down slightly, as if weighing them, and Freya waited, holding her breath in anticipation, rocking slightly back and forth on her heels. Eventually, Arabella smiled and closed her fist around the cloths, and Freya’s face broke into a wide smile.
“Yes, Freya,” Arabella said to the girl, “I’ll take these cloths as payment, for they were made with an honest hand and heart. Take this dress and be happy; you will know exactly when you need it.”
Happier than she had been in years, Freya took the dress, and down the road she skipped, back to her home. She hid the dress behind a pile of rags in her closet and, as she shut the closet door, she wondered when she would possibly need such a beautiful garment.
As it happened, Arabella’s prediction came true. That very night, Freya’s stepmother and half-sisters came home chatting about a ball that was to take place the next night in the royal palace. Freya paused in her chores to picture the place, glowing and full of merry laughter and music and people dressed in silken clothes and dripping with jewels, happier than she could ever possibly be.
One of her half sisters saw her pause, and they immediately began to mock her. The other joined in, and Freya felt tears biting at her eyelids, but she refused to let them fall. That would only lead to more torture at the hands of her relatives.
Her stepmother stepped up, raising a hand to quiet her daughters.
“All right, Freya,” she said, unable to keep a cruel snicker out of her voice. “I am feeling strangely...generous today. You may come with us to the next ball...if you can find a gown suitable to wear.”
Freya smiled but kept it hidden, keeping her head down as she hurried off. She went to her closet and pulled out the beautiful dress, unable to believe that Arabella’s prediction had actually come true, and so soon. Heart dancing triumphantly, she hurried out to where her family was waiting, holding the dress up high.
“Will this do?” she asked, enjoying seeing their jaws drop. “I mean, I’ve never been to one, so I’m not too sure what one might wear, but I think this should suffice.”
The next night, Freya accompanied her stepmother and half-sisters to the ball, and heard her name announced with everyone else’s; she smiled in excitement as all the other dancers stared, wondering if the beautiful girl could possibly be the ugly scullery maid that her stepmother had spoken about, the girl who was so graceful and light on her feet, like she was born to be in a ballroom.
One of the people captured by her beauty was the handsome young prince Luca, who could not stop staring from across the room. Constantly distracted by her looks and movements, he stopped listening to conversations he had up until then been involved in, and people stopped going up to him in disgust, knowing that he would not care about or remember what they had to say.
As time passed, the prince worked his way over to her, and Freya’s heart grew even lighter as she spun by her family in the prince’s arms and saw the glowing looks of flaming envy patterned on their ugly faces.
Long after Freya married the prince, in her closet at the castle--which was larger than her whole quarters at home had been, at least twice as well--, displayed in a place of honor, was the beautiful dress she had bought from Arabella with a pair of handmade kerchiefs.
But Freya was not the only one in the village that Arabella helped--no, far from it. Soon after Freya had visited, in walked a small boy named Blue. Blue was a poor boy from the village who lived with his loving mother and father, and he was happy, but he often thought that he would be much happier if only he and his parents had more money to take care of things.
He walked slowly into Arabella’s shop, wondering what he was doing there, when he had no money to spend there. Something, though, drew him in, and he shuffled slowly in, looking shyly around and starting when a woman almost floated out of the back, smiling kindly at him, speaking his name as if she was an old friend.
“Hello, Blue,” she said, and he stared at her.
“Do you know what you’ve come here for?” she continued. He shook his head, and she said, “That’s all right, because I do.”
He stared in disbelief at her as she procured from the folds of her simple dress a bag--a bag that was filled with rocks, he saw when he took it and undid the drawstring around its neck.
“Ma’am,” he said, “what would I need with rocks? I could go get some of them in the forest, if I needed them.”
“No, Blue, not these rocks,” she assured him, and closed his fist around the neck of the bag. “These rocks you can’t find anywhere else.”
It was clear to Blue that she truly wanted him to have these rocks, but whether because she knew he would need them or she simply wanted to trick him out of his money, he was not sure. He felt himself teetering between the two choices, the two paths set before him, and then he remembered the single gold coin he had in the pocket of his trousers, the one he was supposed to use to buy food for his family. It suddenly felt heavy against his leg, like it was begging him to spend it...on a bag of rocks. He wondered if he was touched in the head.
“Do I need these rocks?” he asked the woman, who was waiting patiently. He squinted. Was it a trick of the light, or was she...glowing?
“Not yet, Blue, but you will. Soon,” she said, and he shivered, wondering how she had this knowledge. Was it possible that she was a witch, the kind his parents had always warned him about? But she seemed too nice...
“Um...Okay,” he said, for an instant his hand moving faster than his brain, and he handed her the coin and took the bag before he had too much of a chance to think about what he had just done.
The woman smiled--Arabella, he thought, remembering the name displayed on the sign outside--and ruffled his hair, in a way that felt motherly. He couldn’t help but smile, and she said, “There you go, boy. Keep those close to you. You’ll soon need them.”
More than food? he wondered, and then he winced, thinking about what his parents would think when he came home with a bag full of ordinary rocks instead of the food they needed?
His mother cried. His father yelled so loud it shook the walls, which frightened Blue because his father, a woodsman, had never yelled at him before. With tears streaming down his face, Blue ran out of the tiny, run-down cabin that he lived in, hearing his parents call his name behind him, but all he could do was run. It was cold, for autumn was coming, but he wore no jacket, no shoes. All he had with him was the bag of rocks as he crashed through the trees and bushes into the woods that his home perched on.
Once his surroundings ceased to be familiar to him, he stopped running and pulled his sobs in, aiming to take stock of his surroundings and figure out where, exactly, he was. It was difficult. He had never gone deep into the woods before, and he had always been with his father. The farthest he had been was to the river, and he had passed that a while ago. The water had seemed to bubble, as if telling him not to go on and to be careful if he did. He had ignored its warning and ran on.
He sniffled again, scared now that the darkness surrounded him. He felt cold and alone, and even the animals were silent. He thought about witches and wolves and other wicked things and began to tremble. Good things never happened to people who were alone in the woods. He had heard enough stories in the village to know this.
“I’m lost,” Blue said in a wavering little voice. “I’m lost, and all I have is a bag of rocks!”
Angrily he hurled the bag, and the drawstring ripped and the stones spilled out. He looked at them, expecting to see simple forest or river rocks, but instead a strange, magnificent thing began to happen. Instead of simply lying on the ground, cool and dark, they were glowing, a strong, bright white that he could have seen from miles away.
And they were also moving, as well, crawling along the ground and forming a long, straight line, both behind and in front of him. Looking and following the glow with his eyes, he realized the line behind him led back the way he had come, and he knew that if he followed it he would be led right back to his cabin.
But Blue was not ready to go back and face his angry, disappointed parents yet, and there was also a line leading in front of him, to some unknown destination. He stared at it for a moment and then decided to follow it, wanting to know where it would lead him. It would not lead him off, he figured, if there was not something waiting at the other end. Suddenly not so cold, and not feeling so alone, comforted by the light of the magic rocks, Blue set off and followed them, running along their trail until he came to a mound of earth.
Blue stared at the mound; it was up to his waist and seemed newly dug, but there were no footprints around it, nothing to indicate who had dug it or when. He knelt and, only half-aware of what he was doing, began to dig in the dirt with his bare hands, digging faster and faster as moments passed. The dirt was soft and newly-churned and easy to move, and soon he had quite a pile next to him. His mind raced with thoughts of what he might find there, and soon his knuckles struck something solid. Excited, he cleared the excess dirt away and stared at the object that lay in the hole he had just created.
It was a small wooden chest, the lock gold and new but hanging open; whoever had buried the chest had forgotten to lock it before doing so. His heart jumped and began to beat so hard it might have hurt if he wasn’t so astounded by his discovery. He slowly opened the lid and his eyes popped. Inside the chest were gems and jewels of all shapes, sizes, and colors, as well as stacks and stacks of gold and silver coins that glimmered in the light from the stones.
Blue danced around the chest for several minutes, excited by his discovery and finally sure that he had made the right choice buying those rocks from Arabella’s shop. He laughed and smiled and cheered, and then he closed the chest’s lid and carried it back to his family, stopping once or twice to rest because the treasure made it heavy. He never lost his way, though, because the rocks were there to guide him, and when he reached the edges of his family’s property he opened the bag and the rocks crawled back in and quieted their glow. He tucked the bag away in his pocket and then went to share the riches with his family.
Even when his family moved to a large mansion and he had large meals and good clothes and his family never had to worry about money again, Blue kept the bag of rocks close by so that he would remember forever how he and his family had gotten so lucky. Whenever he would venture into the woods afterwards, he would bring the bag with him in case he strayed too far and needed to find his way home. And, occasionally, the rocks would lead him on another adventure, each one grander than the last.
But not everybody who ventured into Arabella’s shop got what they desired--sometimes, instead, they got what they needed. One of these was a teenage boy named Dresden, who, despite his young age, was already quite wicked and unsavable, preferring doing bad to good and not caring who he hurt to get what he wanted.
Arabella’s store seemed like a dream come true to him, and so one day he walked in, pockets heavy with coins that he had stolen from an old widow in the village.
“Hey,” he demanded rudely. “Woman. What do you think it is I need?” Dresden did not know the difference between “want” and “need” very well. He felt they were the same thing.
From her pocket Arabella produced a fine bag, and she handed it to him with a knowing smile on her face. He stared at it, feeling its lightness in his hand, and demanded, “A bag? What do I need a bag for?”
“You’ll see,” she said, and he took some of his stolen coins and paid for it. As he left, Arabella murmured a few words and all the coins that he had taken were replaced to their original owner. She murmured a few more words after that and something else disappeared and reappeared somewhere else, somewhere it did not belong. Then she smiled and went to attend to her next customer, knowing that Dresden was about to receive exactly what he needed.
Dresden went walking that day, and as he walked he passed by the palace. He stopped and looked to see what was going on, noticing that the whole place was in an uproar.
Inside, out of Dresden’s view, Princess Freya was crying and shrieking--her crown was gone. It had been stolen.
“Where was it?” Prince Luca asked her.
She pointed. “Right there,” she said, sobbing. “On my pillow. I turned my back for a moment to lace up my gown and when I turned around again, it was gone.”
Luca turned to the guards. “Find whoever stole the crown and I shall make you a lord,” he told the knights. “For stealing the crown, the thief shall spend the rest of his life in the dungeons.”
Outside, Dresden heard this proclamation and panicked, knowing that his thieving reputation was well-known and that he would of course be a suspect. He tried to run, but suddenly found that his one leg was too heavy to move, and as the guards began to approach him he remembered the bag Arabella had sold him, which he had put in that pocket.
“But it’s empty!” he muttered, pulling it out to examine it. “She sold me an empty bag!”
But it was not empty when he pulled it out; it was heavy, what had been weighing his leg down, and there was a great lumpy thing in it. Confused, he tried to flee as the guards came closer, but the bag was too heavy for him and they easily caught up to him.
“What’s in the bag, lad?” a knight asked, and Dresden puffed up angrily and said, “I didn’t steal the crown, you--”
Another knight speared the bag with his sword, slitting it open from top to bottom, and out spilled the royal crown in all its shining glory.
While Dresden, unlike the others, did not live happily ever after, he indeed got what he needed, as Arabella promised he would. He learned the error of his ways and that stealing was wrong; he got a valuable life lesson that he could never use because he spent the rest of his life in the castle dungeon, which was exactly what the town thief Dresden needed.
Arabella stayed in town until everybody had been a customer in her shop and gotten what they needed, for better or worse; most of the villagers were good, like Freya and Blue, but there were a few here and there who were more like Dresden, and who needed a lesson taught quickly. Then, one day, people noticed that her store was empty and boarded up, as if she had never been there. Even her sign was gone.
A week later, a woman opened up shop in a village several miles away, and in the front window she hung up a sign that read:
Here you can buy whatever you need
As long as you pay with an honest deed
Interesting trades considered.