Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, lived a kind and loving girl Dawn with her twin brother Jack, mum, dad, and granny. Their little village was at the edge of a dark green forest, Windset Grove. The villagers grew huge cabbages, gigantic eggplants, juicy carrots, and sweet turnips in their fields but never ventured into the forest; for beyond the dense greens lived Lady Limus – the evil witch of Glacius.
Windset Grove was no ordinary forest — the most beautiful violets, plumerias, gardenias, and daisies grew there. It was home to the tallest oaks, bulging baobabs, and wild aspen. The leaves and branches swayed in the wild blue yonder, teasing the fluffy clouds. Beautiful butterflies, handsome robins, gleeful magpies, and resplendent birds of paradise lived there freely, along with the bunnies, deer, badgers, and foxes.
The forest was also home to magical creatures. Pixies, elves, dwarfs, and even gnomes lived happily under the loving care of Asphodel Bloomsbury, the Fairy Godmother.
All the village kids stayed away from the forest, except for Dawn. While kids her age played with dolls or balls, she preferred the company of her forest friends. She ran after the butterflies but never hurt them. She played with the little fox cubs. She nursed the little magpies and cuddled the bunnies. She danced with the pixies but never told a soul about them.
To the villagers, the forest signaled terror, but not to Dawn. She belonged to the forest, and the forest loved her, cared for her, and protected her.
One sunny day, Dawn was playing hide and seek with her forest friends. The wild grass grew tall, building a fortress as she neared the edge of the forest. ‘Can I please see the lake?’
‘Oh no, my love,’ the Pixies chorused, flapping their wings in fear.
‘The lake beyond the wilderness,
Is the home of evil lady Limus.
Not a place for children,
For none comes out alive from her den!’
‘But Aunt Pixie, why do children go there?’ Dawn was curious.
‘They don’t go by themselves-’ said Fruntok, the rosebud fairy.
‘She takes them away!’ interrupted Gomo, the baby goblin.
‘Oh, stop it now!’ The fairy godmother scolded. ‘Dawn, don’t worry about the witch. She will never come for you.’
‘Are you sure Fairy Godmother?’
‘Yes, my darling, come on now, hurry. It’s getting dark soon. Your mum would be looking for you.’
Pixies sprinkled gold dust, illuminating the path, while the elves and gnomes walked Dawn towards the village.
A few days later, Dawn woke up to an unusual sight. Jack was not wearing his usual clothes.
‘Oh, brother mine, you look so funny!
I’ve now an ache in my tummy
Dressed in my gown,
You look not a boy but a clown!’
Joyous tears popped out of Dawn’s eyes.
‘Stop laughing,’ said an angry Jack, and stomped out.
‘Stop laughing,’ said an anxious Mum, chewing on her nail.
‘Stop laughing,’ said a perturbed Dad, and took his ax to the fields.
‘Stop laughing,’ said a glaring Granny, and returned to her book.
She continued laughing and spoke between her guffaws. ‘Why are you wearing this?’ When she found no answers, a confused, sad, and angry Dawn went off to play with her friends. In no time, she forgot about her mum, dad, granny, and Jack.
She played till the sky turned purple.
Soon, her friends left for their homes, but she stayed alone under the twinkling stars.
Only when her stomach rumbled and grumbled did she hop towards home.
Instead of the aroma of pot roast, a deathly silence greeted her. Mum was not bending over her pots and pans.
Dad was not strumming his violin.
Granny was grim, rocking in her chair.
Even the lambs were not bleating.
And Jack was nowhere to be seen.
‘What’s wrong?’ asked Dawn.
Mum stayed silent, but her eyes were brimming with fury, grief, and anguish.
Dad remained glued to the door, as if waiting for someone.
‘Granny, what happened? Why is mum crying? Why is dad sad? Where is Jack?’
‘He is gone,’ said Granny
‘When’s he coming?’
‘What do you mean, Granny?’
‘The evil witch has taken him.’
‘It’s Kretius day today.’ Granny replied in a feeble voice.
‘What’d you say Granny?’
‘On every Kretius day, Lady Limus, the evil witch of Glacius, takes away young boys.
‘Takes away? Why?’
‘Nobody knows. Legend says, the witch goes after the boys, but not the girls. You are too young, so you may not remember, but all the boys of our village have always dressed up as girls on this day to escape the witch’s wrath. That’s why your mum had dressed Jack in a gown, but he changed back into his shirt and trousers.’
‘G-Granny, did he change his clothes because of me?’ Dawn’s hesitant words filled the silence.
A dark look reflected in mum’s eyes. Dad averted his gaze, not meeting Dawn’s eyes. Dread and despair clouded Granny’s shriveled face.
But in their silence, she found the answer. It’s my fault.
Days passed, but their little cottage remained devoid of life.
Mum forgot to smile.
Dad didn’t hum or whistle.
Granny’s books lay unattended.
I must do something… but what? Dawn ran to her secret thinking place in the forest.
‘Where were you?’ asked Dozmoum, the papa dwarf.
‘We were so worried about you,’ said Puvin, the green pixie.
‘Is something the problem?’ asked Gaehom, a teen gnome.
The pixies, elves, dwarfs, gnomes, bunnies, butterflies, and cubs surrounded her. Mighty branches drooped to listen as Dawn told them everything.
‘You are just a child.’
‘It was an honest mistake.’
They consoled her, but her tears continued to flow. ‘I miss my brother. Wish he could come back.’
‘Why don’t you go to the witch and bring him back, Dawn?’ asked Gladyl, a baby goblin.
All the animals, birds, pixies, and elves gasped. ‘Gladyl!’
Dawn petted his soft bald head. ‘Yes, I should do that! Thank you, my dear friend.’
‘No!’ screamed the pixies.
‘You can’t do that,’ shouted the elves
‘It’s dangerous!’ the dwarfs murmured.
Her friends tried to convince her, cajole her; but Dawn had decided. ‘I am going! Will you please help me?’ She requested.
Asphodel broke through the chaos. ‘Dawn, what you wish to do is very brave, but at the same time, very, very dangerous. The witch might kidnap you too!’
Dawn nodded. ‘I understand the dangers, but I’ve to do my best to bring back my brother.’
‘You should sleep on it, it’s a grave decision for you to make.’
Dawn tossed and turned the entire night.
An orange sphere peeped far from the horizon, and in the mellow light, a little girl entered the forest. Hopeful and determined, she strode ahead with no fear. All she left behind was a little note to her parents and granny – a promise she was sure to fulfill.
‘I’m here.’ Dawn announced with aplomb.
‘I am proud of you, love.’ Asphodel Bloomsbury tapped her magic wand on little Dawn’s head.
‘Oh, my darling child,
You are so brave and kind.
You have the blessings of your Fairy Godmother
Think further not and bring back your brother.’
Dawn leaped up in joy, ‘Thank you, Godmother.’
Asphodel held Dawn’s hand, and they both flew over the bushes, shrubs, plants, and trees. At the edge of the forest, they settled down near a sparkling mulberry bush.
‘Lady Limus is no ordinary witch. She was a princess once, very brave, and accomplished. She now rules over Glacius. On every Kretius day, she resurfaces on the land and kidnaps pre-teen boys.’
‘Jack would have turned 13 in a few days. But why does she take only boys and not girls?’
‘I don’t know the reason, my dear child. All I know is this has been going on for many years now. Life nipped in the bud for many.’
‘Separated from their near and dear
Gone once and forever
The little boys never find their way
No matter how many years slide away.’
Dawn let out a harrowing wail, sending the birds scrambling out of their homes. Trembling leaves dropped from the trees, even though it was a warm spring morning. Cubs abandoned their gay frolic and huddled towards their parents, calming down once they found their blanket of comfort and safety. Even the gnomes shuddered with fear.
‘Jack would be scared too.’ Dawn whispered, looking at the sight around. ‘I am sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you all.’
A kind pixie brushed her wings on Dawn’s shoulder. ‘We understand your anxiety.’
Dawn wiped her tears. ‘How will I find Lady Limus?’
Not even a leaf stirred as the fairy godmother spoke.
‘Pass the land of the dead,
But do not dread.
Swim through the sea of grief,
But do not lose your belief.
You’ve to cross mountains of hopelessness,
But you must go on regardless.
An avalanche of despair will crash through,
But carry on, my darling you.
Then you’ll reach Irriwood Waters,
Lady Limus’s quarters.’
‘How will I recognize her?’
‘Nobody knows how she looks. She is a water -nixie, so she has the power to change her appearance. The only way to identify her is by her skirt. It is always damp.’
Dawn shuddered and shivered at the daunting task which lay ahead. ‘I’m a little scared.’
‘I know, my love. You can just go back home. No one blames you for Jack’s disappearance.’
‘No! I can’t.’ Dawn stood up with a firm resolve. ‘I’ve to bring him back.’
She embraced Asphodel and all her friends. ‘I shall see you soon.’ Tears sparkled in her eyes as she bid them farewell.
‘Wait!’ Primért, a blue pixie, flew over Dawn, sprinkling fine blue dust. ‘It will keep away thirst and hunger.’
‘And here’s my Moonbeam Charm. It will always show you the right direction,’ said Eroeicine, the mother elf.
‘These are Ataraxia fused frost guards. They’ll help you swim.’ said Fuanstyl, the blue-finned Fairy.
‘This will help you kill the evil witch.’ said Gimeno, the goblin, handing over his Netherbane, the bruiser of evil souls.
‘Good luck!’ They all cheered as countless drooping branches stood straight – revealing the vast lands beyond the forest.
‘This will show you your mum, dad, and granny when you miss them.’ Asphodel placed a sparkling crystal ball in a satchel, along with the other items.
Dawn’s feet felt heavy as she walked on the land of the dead. As far as she could see, there was a vast emptiness. She dragged her feet on miles and miles of barren land. No trees, birds, or animals were in sight; except for a raven, which seemed to come and go as it pleased. The brown earth cracked under her feet, sending tingles of fear till her nape.
Yet she walked on. And when she crossed the land of the dead, she was still alive.
Her heart hammered as she saw the turbulent inky sea, roaring with fury. She jumped into the sea of grief. She swam and swam till she found land. When she came out of the water, she felt even more determined.
There was not a single soul around her, except for the raven – watching her surreptitiously.
She went up the steep mountains, but her hopes did not dim. She stood at the top and watched icy blue waters glimmer and shimmer farther into the horizon. She ran down the slope, filled with renewed hope. An avalanche of despair threatened to suffocate her, yet she carried on.
Finally, after days and nights of walking, swimming, and climbing, she stopped and smiled. Her reflection in the icy blue waters stared back at her as she danced with joy. She had reached her destination – Irriwood Waters, the home of Lady Limus.
‘Jack!’ she shouted
‘Where are you?’ she screamed.
All she heard was nothing.
All she saw was nothing.
Yet she waited and waited for the evil witch.
The sun rose and set every night, stars twinkled and faded away. But Dawn didn’t find anyone, except for a strange three-eyed duck that would swim from the lake waters to the shore every day.
And sit opposite her.
One day, Dawn couldn’t wait anymore. She jumped into the crystal-clear lake and went under and under.
In no time, she landed on a mossy carpet. Mermaids and mermen swam amidst the beautiful corals. Schools of fishes slid past her. She gawked at the surrounding sights, but her gaze settled on an unexpected sight. Deep under the cold water stood a giant castle, with glimmering glass walls. Inside the enchanting castle was a magical forest with a giant baobab, a majestic cedar, and a nasty pine. Dawn pinched herself as she eyed the brightest, biggest flowers, giant sparkling butterflies, and birds of all colors.
Under the canopy of the branches was a table laden with porridge, fruits, loaves of bread, buns, and even cakes and cookies. Her mouth watered at the sight.
Her feet sunk into the plush carpet as she caught sight of an army of dwarfs – chained and walking in a file – dusting, sweeping, cleaning. Their blanched faces held no emotions, and they were working as if under a trance.
Noiselessly Dawn veered towards the transparent structure. She had hardly taken a step when an icy hand gripped her by her neck and pulled her upward.
‘H-help,’ Dawn bellowed, but the water drowned her muffled screams.
She landed on the ground with a thud. She shuddered with terror as Jack’s face floated in front of her eyes – he was one of the dwarfs!
‘Who are you?’ A steely voice cut through her thoughts.
Dawn blinked hard as a wave of blinding light hit her.
‘I am Dawn. My-’
‘You aren’t permitted to be here,’ said a gruff old man standing next to her.
‘I want to meet Lady Limus.’
‘What for?’ Asked a kind voice.
In place of the old lady stood a boy with golden hair and sad brown eyes.
‘Uh- my brother-,’ a bewildered Dawn stood, aghast.
In the blink of an eye, the lad vanished, only to be replaced by a young woman with wavy brown hair resting on her shoulders. Her kohl-laden eyes sparkled, matching the crystal hoops dangling from her ears. A variety of charms and amulets covered her slender body. And a raven perched delicately on her shoulder.
‘I asked you a question,’ the woman reminded Dawn.
Dawn jumped up with joy as her gaze fell on the sapphire-blue, damp skirt. ‘I’ve found you, Lady Limus.’ She admired the one standing across. ‘You seem different. You don’t look evil at all!’
‘Stereotypical!’ Lady Limus tsked. ‘Anyway, you seem quite happy. Why so?’
‘So, I can take my brother Jack with me.’ Tears swam in Dawn’s eyes, but she remained glued to her place. ‘I cannot leave without him. It’s my fault he is here. Only if I take him back will my mum, dad, and granny be happy again.’
‘No one leaves my kingdom, young lady. Ever!’ the woman thundered.
Dawn crossed her palms behind her back and held her head high up. ‘You are mistaken. I will leave, and that too with my brother Jack.’
She thought of using Netherbane. One strike and she would be dead. Should I use it or try talking to her first?
The witch’s eyes glowed red with fury as she cackled.
‘Foolish girl, a gift I gave you with love and care
A chance so rare
To rise and shine like the sun
And become number one!’
‘Gift? What gift!? You snatched my brother!’ screamed Dawn.
‘Don’t you realize I did it for your benefit?’ Lady Limus screamed louder, angrier, and harsher than Dawn.
Dawn and Lady Limus stared at each other.
‘What benefit?’ Dawn broke the silence.
‘For your rights.’
‘Lady Limus, I don’t understand.’
‘Alright, let me tell you everything from the start.’ Lady Limus walked towards the lake and sat down on the placid waters. Dawn followed her, and instead of sinking, she walked on the surface too.
‘I am Princess Lamizze, the daughter of King Mizash of Auteora. A brave warrior, I had led my kingdom victoriously in many wars for many years. Not only warfare, but I was also educated in sciences, mathematics, languages, and even astronomy. I was the bravest and most educated person in the entire land. But in choosing a successor, my father and his ministers decided my brother was the rightful heir.’
She smirked. ‘He wasn’t even half as qualified as me. He became the ruler just because he was the son. I tried reasoning with my father, but when he refused to concede I declared war and imprisoned him, his Ministers, and even my brothers. I fought for my rights and became the ruler. Only then I realized there would be countless girls who might not fight for their rights. And I decided to help girls from all over the land. I embarked on this noble mission on Kretius day, the day of my coronation.’
‘Uh- and you’re doing this to help girls?’
‘Yes, why else?’
‘But this is wrong!’
‘No, it isn’t. This is justice for all. If I don’t take away the sons, the daughters will always be treated as inferior beings, and never get their due.’
‘Lady Limus,’ Dawn’s voice was laden with understanding. ‘You’re mistaken. My mum, dad, or granny don’t love me any less than they love Jack. They treat us both equally.’
‘I don’t believe you.’ Lady Limus thundered.
‘Here, see for yourself.’
Lady Limus peered into Dawn’s crystal ball.
Dawn’s mum was crying, calling out her kids’ names. Her dad was blaming himself for losing his children. Granny’s slumped frame seemed devoid of want life.
‘Can’t you see they miss us both? By taking away the sons, you are not helping the girls. Rather, you are spreading sadness.’
‘I have done nothing wrong.’ Her voice grew harsher as she tried to convince Dawn and herself.
Dawn swallowed hard so the witch would not hear her voice quiver. ‘It’s the truth, Lady Limus. I am not lying. Your actions have left behind broken families and distraught hearts.
I understand you were wronged. But now parents raise their sons and daughters equally. If not, do you think I would have been able to come here? That too alone?’
Dawn continued, ‘your traumatic experience is preventing you from believing me. But times have changed. I-’
‘Stop!’ an angered Lady Limus sprang up, holding a Blazefury Claw in her hand. Fiery flames leaped up from the weapon. ‘You ungrateful girl! This will be the end of you.’
Dawn’s petite frame shook with fear, but she stood her ground. ‘Lady Limus, do you believe your actions are helping girls? Either you can continue to believe the lies which have blinded you from reality or you can let me help you see the truth. The choice is yours.’ She took out the Netherbane from her satchel and placed it on the ground. ‘I don’t want to use this. Please listen to me.’
A visibly shaken Lady Limus listened in disbelief and horror as Dawn narrated stories of girls becoming firefighters, soldiers, teachers, and doctors; of the world accepting and acknowledging daughters and sons as equals; of parents giving them the same opportunities.
Her lower lip trembled as the fairy godmother’s crystal ball came to life with stories from all over.
‘Oh, my! What have I done! All this while I thought my actions were noble and for the benefit of people.’ Lady Limus blinked hard to stop her tears from falling.
‘I deserve to be banished in hell. But before that, I must rectify my mistakes. Thank you, Dawn. I hope it’s not too late to piece together the shattered lives.’
Dawn and Jack crossed a steep mountain, swam across a deep sea, and walked on miles and miles of land. But unlike the last time, ensconced in a blanket of hope, joy, and life, the brother and sister enjoyed their long journey.
The mountains, sea, and land brimming with life were a genuine delight.
Lady Limus did not just release Jack, but all the boys she had held captive. She opened up her heart and her kingdom to girls and boys from all over the land. The kingdom of Glacius bloomed with love, life, and laughter. She released her family from captivity and continued to rule with her vision towards progress and betterment for all.
With bravery and kindness, Dawn won the witch’s heart. She showed the world that veiled underneath the evil actions were a kind heart and good intentions. All that Lady Limus needed was someone to show her the right path.
With Lady Limus mending her ways, Dawn, the villagers, and the magical beings of Windset Grove lived happily ever after.
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