For Christmas 2015, The New Craftsman commissioned novelist and short story writer, Sara Maitland, to write a trilogy of fairy stories inspired by her selection of maker’s pieces – The Maker Tales. My bowl became swept up in her narrative and was subsequently beautifully illustrated by Cameron Short.
Part 1: Precious Things
Once upon a time there was a haughty queen, as harsh as February, as hard as flint. And the queen had a servant girl, as sweet as May, as soft as mohair, and as loving as she was lovely; but the queen was very cruel to the girl. In winter she was kept cold, in summer she was kept thirsty and she never had enough to eat.
One sharp morning when there was ice on the puddles of the castle courtyard and the little servant girl was shuddering and shivering from cold, she slipped and dropped a beautiful and precious bowl that belonged to the Queen. The lovely delicate porcelain shattered into a hundred pieces which lay in bright shards on the grey cobbles. The queen’s cold rage knew no bounds. She made the girl collect up every last fragment of the broken bowl in a silken handkerchief, handed her a small loaf of stale bread, banished her to the dark forest and said she must live there and not return until she had mended the bowl – not just repaired but remade it so that it was more beautiful and more precious than before it was broken.
What hope had the little serving girl? With tears in her eyes and the handkerchief parcel in her hand, but with her head held high and her dignity more lovely than the rags she wore, the girl walked out of the castle gate and into cold winter exile.
It was grim in the winter forest, with naked trees and blackened leaf mould cold underfoot; dead briars painfully scratched her legs and long tendrils of grey lichen vilely caressed her cheeks; huge dank toadstools glowed in the tangled underbrush and through the night she could hear the screams of dying fox-prey. She found an ancient hollow oak, but did not like to sleep in the piles of dry leaves within because she did not want to disturb the sleepy dormice and dreaming hedgehogs. So she climbed up and settled herself in the niche between the rough trunk and a moss covered branch. And she sat there and wept through cold grey days and fierce black nights. Ah, that poor child.
Then, one bright morning with the frost making diamond necklaces along the spiders’ webs, there came a pair of Jackdaws, feathers brittled with cold and eyes sharp with hunger, pecking plaintive and defeated among the rotted twigs and leaves. And the little servant girl took the last crumbs of her stale loaf, more precious than porcelain or silk, and scattered them down from her perch so that the Jackdaws could peck it up joyfully.
Jackdaws are good friends for the lonely and the exiled. They came at night and roosted on her lap to keep her warm. When they could find any they brought her food to repay her for the bread. And one day, because Jackdaws love things that glint and sparkle, they brought her a pair of golden scissors and a silver needle – magic things, precious shining things. They were good friends to her and she was comforted.
And because when someone is not cold and not hungry and not frightened and not lonely she often becomes more intelligent and more creative, the girl began to think about her test, her quest, and what she might do with bright slivers of finest porcelain and how she could remake the Queen’s bowl. Then she used the golden scissors to cut up the silk handkerchief; she used the pieces of the bowl as templates for the silk; she threaded the silver needle with her own long golden hair; and she sewed the bowl together with tiny, lovely stitches. And as the hazel catkins turned to gold, as the grateful dormice woke up, as the wind-flowers and the snow drops blossomed she had created a new bowl more beautiful and more precious than before it was broken.
And then of course, because this is a fairy story and this is what happens in fairy stories, a handsome prince just happened to come riding through the spring forest. And he saw the little servant girl and he fell in love with her; he lifted her down from her oak tree perch; he wrapped her warmly in a royal blanket as dark and clear a blue as summer nights, as bright and rich a gold as daffodils, as soft and sweet as May time and mohair wool. And he took her back to his castle and he married her. The female Jackdaw was her bridesmaid.
Probably she should have taken the re-made bowl back to the cruel queen and inflicted some ferocious punishment upon her, but she was too happy to be bothered. Instead she gave the bowl to the Jackdaws, who used it as a nest and raised many healthy and handsome broods in its quilted interior. She kept the golden scissors for herself though, and when her husband had to go off and ride through other forests she snuggled herself in her beautiful blanket and dreamed happily until he returned.