Yannick checked his pockets thoroughly as he regained his feet and was relieved that nothing had been lost or broken during his descent through the darkness. Looking around, he found himself in a small cave and having emerged into the daylight, he was surprised to discover that, apart from the rocky outcrop on which he stood, the surrounding land was a vast grassy plain, extending in all directions as far as he could see. He decided to head eastwards and after some hours walking, noticed that wild flowers increasingly dominated the pasture.
The flowers got thicker, taller and more beautiful as he strode onwards when one of them seemed to lean towards him as he passed. He bent down to look closer at this curious effect when the flower metamorphosed into a beautiful, almost translucent, woman right before his eyes. “Fear me not, I am the fairy Bon-Elen. Unhappily, I can no longer maintain my first form for long. I was cursed by the Queen because I was born with the gift of reading all the secrets of the heart. I know why you are here and urge you to return to your world before your presence here becomes known.”
“If you truly know why I am here then you must know that I cannot abandon my mission. I must bring my boy home,” responded Yannick.
“Then know this. The Queen has your son and she means to keep him; not out of love but for spite. You will need to plead with her at her castle but it is very far away and you have nothing to offer her as tribute. I know what lies in her heart. I know what she desires most of all, the possession of which has long eluded her; the Golden Apple of G’mah. However, no one now knows where it grows or even if it still exists,” said the good fairy.
“But this is incredible! Then, I was right to come. I need only have this apple and she will surely return my son to me, in exchange for it,” said Yannick excitedly.
The fairy cautioned Yannick that there was often an impossible gulf separating desire from satisfaction and, speaking quickly, she advised him to keep heading east and search for a white donkey. This accursed beast had once been the human husband of a fairy but was damned for having betrayed her; he had grazed these lands for centuries and she was certain that he knew something of the golden apple. She offered the sabot-maker some final words of warning: “When you are in the presence of the Fairy Queen, keep your distance and no matter what you see or hear, do not utter a single unsolicited word, else you shall suffer the same fate as me.”
Filled with renewed vigour, Yannick resumed his march east and, at length, came across a lush meadow quite distinct from the pasture that surrounded it; there, in the far corner he espied the white donkey. Approaching the animal, Yannick could see that a charm of fairies were playing on the beast’s back; sliding down its ears and running along its back before leaping and catching its tail which they swung on until they leapt high into the air to land on his ears, where they promptly began their circuit once again. Yannick remained out of sight until the fairies eventually left to find some new amusement.
“The fairy, Bon-Elen, sent me to you, for I seek the golden apple and she was sure that you would help me,” said Yannick. The old donkey sighed a slow heavy sigh before responding: “She did, did she? Then she is far too hopeful. I have trudged these lands for almost three hundred years and have never seen it but I have heard of it. Many years ago I knew a sorcerer who spoke of it but I have not seen him in such a very long time. I am sorry to say that your journey has been a wasted one.”
“But surely there must be some way of finding him?” cried Yannick anxiously.
“Oh, there is always a way but the challenge is to discover it,” said the donkey, “You could perhaps use the power of Golden Grass for it never fails to reveal all that is hidden. And, fortunately, I know just where it grows. Climb upon my back and hold tightly to my mane.” With that, the donkey set off at such a fierce gallop that Yannick had to close his eyes against the sharpness of the wind striking his face. It was some time later before the donkey slowed its furious pace and Yannick was able to open his eyes. In doing so, he immediately sighted a small patch of grass that looked quite different from the rest.
Knowing that, to be effective, the Golden Grass could only be gathered at dawn, Yannick and the donkey settled down for the night but it seemed as though no time had passed at all when Yannick, clad only in his shirt, began to walk barefoot towards the mystical patch of grass. He stopped a few paces beyond the grass and waited until the first rays of the sun danced on the morning dew, whereupon he retraced his steps backwards, reaching down with his left hand to pick the grass as he did so.
With his back to the sun, clutching his staff in one hand and the bunch of Golden Grass in the other, Yannick raised his outstretched arms and slowly began to turn towards the sun. Suddenly, his staff began to tremble and he felt unable to control his own arm as it violently spun his body towards the south-east. Dressing hurriedly, Yannick thanked the donkey for his many kindnesses and having taken a little of his milk, set down the grass so that it pointed towards the south-east. He struck the ground twice with his staff and just as his third hit was about to strike, the golden grass burst into flames and he found himself standing inside a small grove of ash and oak.
“Why have you invaded my sanctuary? What mischief is this? Speak now or see out your days as the miserable toad you are!” commanded a thundering voice that seemed to emanate from all directions at once.
“Please Sir, I mean you no harm, no harm at all. The white donkey said that you might know the whereabouts of the golden apple,” quavered Yannick, nervously removing his hat. Not knowing which direction to face, he kept turning slowly as he recounted the many adventures that had befallen him since the abduction of his son. His words met no response until he said that he had brought a gift of a little black bread and some well-smoked andouille.
“Thank you! Even a few morsels offering the taste of home will be most welcome,” said an old man, dressed in a white habit, who had now appeared behind Yannick. “I am Embreis, the sorcerer. I was a man such as you but I do not know what I am now, for I have been trapped here for over two centuries and the magic here changes a person. The old donkey did well to remember because I do know the golden apple, moreover I believe that the garden fairy was right; it is likely the only thing in this world or the other that the Fairy Queen will change her mind for.”
Embreis told Yannick all that he knew of the apple; not only was it made of gold but it was a singing apple that besides singing as sweet as a lark also cried out to warn of impending danger. In the distant lands, the apple sat atop a tree located in a small orchard that was to be found at the end of a misty valley populated only by monsters and ferocious beasts; its whereabouts now quite forgotten. If the problem of finding the magical tree had been solved, the difficulty of gathering it remained; for the tree was always laden with apples and if one of these other fruits were accidentally touched by the one who climbed to pick the golden orb, it would instantly turn to stone for one hundred and one years. However, the shrewd sorcerer proposed an ingenious solution that could be found in a valley not too far away.
Eager to set off immediately, Yannick thanked the sorcerer profusely and left as soon as he deemed polite. Travelling south, it took almost two days before he reached the Valley of Caves described to him by the sorcerer. He knew that all the caves were set into the east side of the rocky valley and had therefore decided to travel along the western slopes in hopes of quickly identifying the cave he sought. It was not long before he spotted the first cave; looking through the moonstone, he could see that the net hung over the entrance was there to stop a large collection of Sea Woodpeckers from escaping. He moved on to the next cave, containing several Green Storks; the next, a pair of White Blackbirds guarded by a mean-looking korrigan; two entwined dragons slept outside the following cave, which seemed higher-set than the others and concealed a mighty Phoenix.
Yannick was concerned to see only two more cave mouths and hoped that the sorcerer’s information was accurate. The next cave was guarded by an ogre who must have stood sixteen feet tall and Yannick was quite relieved to see that it guarded a rare black Caladrius. His prey must surely be held in the valley’s last cave, he thought and he was pleased to discover that this was indeed the case. The cave was guarded by an enormous black dog whose flaming red eyes Yannick could clearly see from across the valley.
With darkness approaching, Yannick began to manoeuvre himself stealthily across the valley and was getting close to his target when he was halted by a most curious noise. Was there another guardian that he had not seen before, he wondered. Moving closer, he could have laughed aloud when he realised that the mysterious noise was nothing but the snoring of the guard dog. Yannick leapt onto the dog, managing to slip his rosary around its neck as he did so and in that instant of immobilisation, quickly tied a length of blessed twine around the animal’s muzzle. He made the sign of the cross to secure the knot and swiftly tied the struggling dog’s legs together. He was able to slip under the net and into the cave where he held out a piece of andouille, bewitched by the sorcerer, to the bird that would deliver the golden apple to him; a magnificent White Raven.
So that he would be better able to move about in the darkness, Yannick had decided to carry the raven in a canvas sack. This precaution was soon proved necessary when, just a mile from the valley, he was suddenly attacked by a korrigan who hit him hard across the legs with a club; Yannick struck back and a furious fight ensued. Finally, Yannick, holding his staff in both hands, lunged at the korrigan who was propelled quite a distance into the gloom. Fearing that he might have made himself invisible before launching another attack, Yannick quickly rubbed his eyelids with the moonstone and slowly scanned the area for the dwarf. He saw nothing but thought that he heard the sound of something falling nearby.
Scouring the area carefully, Yannick noticed a large flat stone; seemingly the only piece of rock in sight. Remembering his discovery at Brobearh castle, he lifted it to uncover a hole big enough for a man to pass through; hoping that it was not too deep, Yannick let himself drop into the pit. He now found himself in a small cave which was empty save for a most singular feature: a large circular stone well, constructed from large blocks of cut granite. As befitted such a big well, half a barrel sat on its lip attached to a winch that held what he estimated to be about 25 feet of rope. Uncertain how the korrigan might have escaped and returned the barrel to the well-head, Yannick positioned the barrel over the opening, stepped inside and began to work the rope.
After half an hour, Yannick realised that he must have descended over 200 feet but the well proved so deep that he reckoned that three days and nights had passed before he finally reached the bottom. Stretching his legs after so long confined, Yannick lit the candle of his lantern and looked around; he was in a rough, square chamber with four doors set into the wall facing him. Remembering the korrigan’s advice, he immediately opened the door on the extreme left and stepped through to find himself in a room that looked exactly the same as the one he had just left. When confronted with a series of doors, always open the one on the left, the korrigan had told him and so he chose that door; this new room was the very image of the previous one. Once again, Yannick took the left-hand door and once again he found himself standing in a chamber that mirrored the others.
Trying a different tack, he lifted his staff and struck it against the door three times, passing through the now open doorway he could see that he was in the rear of a small cave; daylight streamed in through the opening to illuminate the wizard Embreis. “What? How, in the name of all the saints, can this be?” asked an incredulous Yannick.
“Now, it is my turn to reassure you,” smiled the sorcerer. “As you know, I am condemned to stay in this world because I did not leave its boundaries in time but I tried to leave with a grass fairy and such folk are forbidden to ever leave this world. For this transgression, the Fairy Queen split me in two; so that I might endure twice the punishment. One of me lives in the forest above and I keep to the caves here below.” Yannick nodded but did not understand any of this at all.
“You have the raven? Good. Give her to me and I will instruct her to meet you, with her precious cargo, at the Feunteun ar Grogez,” said the sorcerer as he recited a charm into the bird’s ear before casting it out of the mouth of the cave.
Yannick stepped outside to watch the raven soar away but was taken aback by the panorama that was now spread before him. It was a sea of gently rolling, verdant hills skirted by fast flowing streams and deep, lazy rivers and everywhere, the graceful silhouettes of lofty towers and grand castles. He could see that fat cattle and large sheep roamed freely here; unfamiliar birds ranged across the sky; richly coloured butterflies and dragonflies swooped from flower to flower, whose thick scent hung on the warm breeze.
Together, Yannick and the sorcerer made their way down the hill and towards a small wood that lay to the south. After some time, they were close enough for Yannick to see that the wood seemed completely encircled by a well-disguised palisade and when, at length, they stood before it, he realised that it was quite impenetrable. Embreis led them westwards along the edge of the wood before stopping before two enormous chestnut trees. “Now, we must wait,” he said.
Yannick must have fallen asleep, for the moon was high in the night sky when he felt Embreis shake his shoulder, saying “It is almost time.” As if on cue, one of the stars overhead began to brighten noticeably, it’s soft white turning an electric blue. “We must enter the charmed wood separately; it is their way and besides, no visitor hears the same demands as another.” So saying, he got up and walked to the wall of roots that spread between the two chestnuts; he struck it with his staff, uttered something unintelligible to Yannick and swiftly passed through a doorway that disappeared as fast as it had appeared. Yannick followed immediately and struck the wall with his staff but nothing happened. He therefore struck it three times in quick succession, again to no avail.
He was beginning to think that perhaps some other talisman was needed to summon the door, when he heard a low voice ask; “What goes into the fire and is not burnt?” Surprised to have been asked a child’s riddle, Yannick was about to question the voice when he recalled two other words of caution the old korrigan had given him; nothing is shown or said by chance and questioning is disrespectful in the realm of the fairies.
“A ray of sunshine,” he answered confidently.
“You took over long to answer,” said the voice. “What is made from wood but is not wood?”
Sensing an impatience in the dismembered voice, Yannick was quick to reply: “An apple?”
“Do not distract yourself by thinking about me or my questions and do not answer a question with another. What most resembles the head of a horse in a window?” the voice responded.
Yannick realised that he still retained too many narrow thoughts from the other world; he needed to guard against such thinking: “The head of a mare,” he replied. Whereupon a door appeared, through which he promptly passed. Embreis was waiting for him and laughed as Yannick related the words of the unseen guardian. Seemingly cut through a carpet of bright anemones, the path that they followed eventually led to a small glade of striking beauty, at the centre of which stood a monumental stone fountain of exquisite proportions, surrounded on all sides by a pavement of cut stone; the Feunteun ar Grogez.
“Alas, I cannot go with you to the Queen’s palace but be assured that, if truly needed, help will be close at hand. Now, wash yourself in the waters of the spring and, once re-dressed, drink a pint of its water.” Yannick did as he was bade and was almost dressed when the White Raven swooped down to stand on the floor in front of Embreis; in its mouth hung the golden apple from a long stalk. By dawn’s early light, the sorcerer wrapped the apple in a piece of linen, over which he cast a spell of concealment before handing it over to Yannick. “You know what not to do! Go now. I wish you and yours a happy life. Go!” he said as both men nodded towards each other in silent thanks.
Standing on a slab to the west of the fairy fountain’s basin, Yannick readied himself and struck the floor with his staff; being immediately transported to the gateway of a most magnificent castle whose massive doors swung open at his approach. He stood in a hallway lit by lights as dazzling as the sun, whose ceiling was as high as that of Quimper cathedral. Yannick passed from one splendid chamber into another; all sumptuous but all seemingly empty. He decided to test this and surreptitiously took out his moonstone which he rubbed quickly against his eyelids.
Having walked through six wonderful rooms, he now found himself in the most beautiful of all that he had seen. He could not see it’s ceiling due to its brilliance; an effect magnified by the mirrors that seemed to completely cover the room’s walls, reflecting light so bright that he could hardly look at them. All around the room, he could see crowds of fairies, fions, fadets, korrigans and other magical beings standing as still as if they were made of stone. Atop a mound of gold and silver, stood a fairy so dazzling that he could scarcely bear the sight of her.
“I know who you are,” spat the Queen of the Forest, “but I do not know why you are here. I told the old witch that my decision was final; I will keep your child here where he will remain forever young, no matter how badly you dare treat the changeling. Leave my domain forthwith else you provoke my displeasure and you would not wish to do that … again!”
“Majesty, I have not come to plead with you to change your mind. The weight of my crime, albeit unintended, is great. I have made the arduous journey to your halls so that I might apologise, in person, for my wrongdoing. I am truly sorry for my offence and for my ignorance that occasioned it.”
“You have done so and it is now time for you to return to your world, Christian.” replied the Fairy Queen with an air of finality. Yannick bowed low and began to retreat from the room. In doing so, he put his hand in his pocket and pressed his auger hard into the fleshy part of his palm which he then wrapped around the apple.
“What was that? You dare to practice magic in my presence? I felt it! What magic can you weave, sabot-maker?” demanded the Queen.
Knowing that his blood had broken the concealment charm, Yannick spoke carefully: “I am no sorcerer, Majesty. I can no more cast a spell than I can fly. Perhaps, my little apple sang to you?” Having removed the package from his pocket, he unwrapped it and held the golden apple aloft at which point it began to sing a sweet and melodious refrain.
“How did you come by that? This is powerful magic indeed; that the apple allowed itself to be picked by you, a mere mortal, when hundreds of great fairies have failed to gain it down through the centuries.” The Fairy Queen appeared genuinely perplexed as to how Yannick might have been thought worthy to possess the fabled golden apple.
“This will make a fine gift to my wife and I feel sure my children will be delighted with it, Majesty” said Yannick, “Still, I would be willing to part with it but it would need to be a very rare bargain indeed.”
The Queen immediately understood and soon agreed to return Yannick’s son in exchange for the gift of the apple. She knew, as Yannick surely did, that possession of the apple could only be freely gifted; ownership of such a marvel could never be conferred by purchase or theft. However, although she had elected to change her mind and decided upon the exchange, she refused to confirm when she would return his son. Nonetheless, the Queen’s attitude had changed markedly and she arranged for Yannick to enjoy some refreshment before setting off for his world. He ate a little of the fairy bread, it was as light as a dandelion’s head yet as filling as a New Year’s meal, but gracefully declined the proffered juice of the white water lily.
Realising that now he risked all by staying, Yannick soon made his farewells and began to quickly retrace his steps through the Fairy Queen’s palace. The korrigan and the sorcerer had both cautioned him against drinking water lily water, for it bewitched any man who tasted it. He needed to locate the exit from this world as soon as possible. Thankfully, he found the door where the Queen’s attendants had said it would be; set into the rear wall of the old stone bread oven that sat in the palace’s kitchen garden. It did not open, as expected, at his touch and so he struck it with his staff but nothing happened. He therefore struck it three times in quick succession but with the same result. Suspecting treachery, Yannick could feel the panic rising within him as he anxiously looked around him for signs of anyone’s approach.
“Do not despair, the Queen intends to honour your bargain. The enchantment that holds your son will break when the sun has left the horizon,” said a thin voice from somewhere close by. Yannick could see no one near when he noticed some kind of fairy floating near his shoulder. “I am Sandrin, an old friend of Embreis who asked me to guard over you while you were in the palace. Tell me all that you carry in your pockets.”
Yannick felt about in all his pockets and listed the items he found: his auger, flask, moonstone, piece of black bread and an amulet containing the eye of a wolf. “Are you sure that is all?” asked the grass fairy, half a moment before Yannick admitted to also carrying a piece of fairy bread that he intended to show to his family. “Return it to the palace,” she instructed. Yannick quickly ran back to the palace entrance and threw the bit of fairy bread inside before returning as fast as his legs could carry him.
To his great relief, the little silver door now swung open at his touch. He thanked the fairy for a kindness that he could never repay and she told him that his camaraderie with Embreis represented any payment in full. She also warned him that mortals can penetrate the domain of the fairies only once. Anyone who tried to return, even if they were to have waited a century, would instantly fall dead under the watchful gaze of the fairy who guards the observance of this ineluctable law. With these words of warning ringing in his ears, Yannick passed through the doorway to find himself standing in front of another silver door, concealed in the thick roots of a giant stump of oak and draped by a rich curtain of ivy.
Having extricated himself, Yannick immediately recognised the stump that had been the root of all his troubles but he felt no bitterness, only relief. He turned towards home as the rosy fingers of dawn began to stretch across the morning sky, bringing with them a new day full of hope.