Jacob Miller was a kind old man, and the unlikely adopted father of three young girls, but that was where he found himself. One cold and foggy morning while gathering firewood for the coming winter, he discovered the three youngsters wandering in the forest. All were dressed in rags, and looked as if they had spent several uncomfortable nights in the woods alone. The oldest girl, who looked to be about six, cradled a sleeping infant in her arms. The middle child, a shy three-year-old, held the hem of her older sister’s skirt, her wide brown eyes never leaving Jacob’s old wrinkled face.
Knowing the children were either lost or abandoned, Jacob decided to bring them back to his farm, settled in the middle of a beautiful clearing, at the edge of the forest. Knowing he would need to gain the older girl’s trust before that could happen, Jacob knelt and opened his lunch sack, offering the contents to the girls.
While they were timid and fearful, the girls could see the sincere kindness in Jacob’s wrinkled face as he offered up his lunch. The oldest girl approached Jacob and took the hunk of bread and divided it to share with her siblings. After the girls had eaten their fill, Jacob led the ragtag trio back to his home. He settled the girls into warm beds and headed to the village for supplies. When the girls awoke, they found new clothes, a few toys and books, and even a cherry tart which they all enjoyed together. And this was how Jacob found himself the unlikely adoptive father of Meredith, Olivia and Sophia.
For the next twelve years, Jacob and the villagers watched the three small girls grow into beautiful young women, their skin darkening to the color of chocolate in the summer sun, their raven black hair bouncing playfully in ringlets about their heads. In addition to their beauty, each girl showed a promising intellect and special talent. Meredith, the oldest, displayed an affinity for plants, making the most stubborn seed sprout and the sickliest of vines thrive. Olivia, the timid middle child, had the ability to sit so quietly that she practically became part of the landscape. She could sit for hours unnoticed by those around her. Sophia, the baby of the trio, had an affinity for anything that swam, flew or walked on more than two legs. If Jacob didn’t know better, he would swear she could actually converse with the many barnyard creatures.
In winter of the twelfth year, Jacob became ill and was taken to bed, where he eventually succumbed to his illness. At the funeral, Meg, the plump village storekeeper, invited the girls over for tea. While there she told the girls that two days before they were found, a dark skinned couple was discovered murdered on the road into the village. Two bandits were captured and confessed to having robbed and murdered the pair after seeing the symbol of a golden star embroidered on their cloaks. The star was a well-known sign of witchcraft, and the bandits, fearful of magical retribution, murdered the couple, however, they made no mention of the girls. The townspeople, fearing for the girls, banded together to keep them safe until they were old enough to venture out on their own to find any remaining family they may have.
Having been traumatized by the murder of their parents, Meredith remembered little of the event. “What does this mean?” she asked. “Are we witches?”
“That remains to be seen,” replied Meg.
“Why didn’t Jacob tell us?” asked Olivia softly.
“Jacob always wanted to tell you the truth and for you to find your family, but he loved you all too much to let you go.”
The sisters smiled at the thought of sweet old Jacob wanting to keep them close and safe, and knew it was time to head out and find any relatives they may have. Meredith, now 18, was old enough to lead her sisters over the mountains in the direction the couple had come.
Wishing the girls safe travels, the villages sent the sisters off with plenty of food and water to last them on their journey. Along with this, the girls packed up some clothes, a few useful household items, a picture of Jacob, and headed out to find where they had come from.
On their second day of travel, the trio came to a wide ravine whose bridge had been washed away when the river swelled with the winter’s heavy rains. Knowing that walking down river to find another place to cross would take several days, the girls decided to sit and take a rest. Meredith, sunning herself in the bright winter sun, closed her eyes and envisioned the overgrowth of vines on either side of the ravine coming together to form a bridge they could cross.
“Oh my!” cried Sophia.
Startled out of her daydream, Meredith opened her eyes to see that the vines were doing exactly what she had pictured. “I don’t believe it,” she breathed, excitement making her head buzz.
“Did you do that?” Olivia asked softly.
“I think so,” Meredith replied smiling at her sisters. “Come on!” she shouted, running for the vine bridge.
Testing the green glistening, ropey vegetation with her weight, Meredith, and her sisters crossed the ravine safely, continuing their journey.
As they rounded the last bend before beginning their ascent over the mountains, the sisters came across a dozing ogre. His large, sickly green body was blocking their way. Perplexed, the girls retreated to the woods lining the road to discuss what they should do.
“We could look for another path,” suggested Sophia.
“That could take weeks,” replied Meredith.
“Or we could go back home,” said Olivia.
When her sisters turn to argue with her, both were shocked to find Olivia nowhere to be seen.
“Alright Olivia, come out from wherever you’re hiding. The ogre’s asleep. He’s not going to see you,” Meredith said, becoming annoyed.
“What are you talking about?” came Olivia’s voice from someplace to Sophia’s right. “I’m right here. I was only kidding about going back to the farm.”
“Ohmigosh!” whispered Sophia excitedly “You’re invisible! First, Meredith can make plants do crazy things, and now you can make yourself disappear! This is amazing! What you do you think I can do?”
“Shh!” hissed Meredith as the ogre shifted in his sleep. “We’ll have something else to be excited about if we’re not careful. I don’t know about you two, but I really don’t feel like seeing if I can outrun an ogre.”
“You really can’t see me?” Olivia asked skeptically.
Meredith and Sophia shook their heads in response.
“Not even your clothes,” said Meredith.
“Wow,” breathed Olivia. “I might have an idea,” she finished thoughtfully.
Using the length of rope Sophia had packed to hang their food from bears while they camped at night, Olivia stealthily crept up on the sleeping ogre. Slowly, being careful not to jostle the creature as she worked, Olivia wrapped the rope round the ogre’s ankles, and tied the ends together in a double knot.
Cautiously, the girls begin to climb over the sleeping monster. Sophie and Olivia had made it over safety and were waiting for Meredith when they saw her nose start to twitch. She had reached the ogre’s head and the mold growing to the ogre’s skin was making her nose itch. Trying as hard as she could to stifle her impending outburst was no use. A mighty sneeze exploded from Meredith’s nose.
The ogre’s eyes flew open. Meredith wasted no time, and jumped from the ogre’s head, landing next to her sisters. Without missing a beat, the girls ran as fast as they could up the mountain trail.
Seeing the girls run away from him, and thinking they would make an excellent meal, the ogre jumped to his feet to pursue these tasty tidbits, but Olivia’s rope trick did its job, and the ogre fell to the ground, hitting his head on a rock, knocking himself out cold.
As the girls made their way up the mountain, two thuggish men on horseback rode up to the ravine Meredith had grown the bridge of vines across. Knowing the obvious, yet rare, signs of witchcraft, the two men spurred their horses forward in search of the culprit responsible for the living bridge in the hopes of bullying them into lining their purses with gold and other riches.
Several hours later the thugs came across the unconscious ogre. His feet neatly tied with strong rope. Excited they were on the right trail, the men deftly maneuvered their mounts around the prone figure of the ogre, and hastened up the mountain path.
Being quite worn out after their encounter with the ogre, the girls had stopped at a widening in the road to rest and have some lunch when they heard sounds of horses quickly approaching. Thinking it better to not push their luck with possible thieves, the sisters quickly packed up their belongings and hid away in the woods.
The men, being expert trackers, noticed the abrupt end to the tracks they had been following in the rain softened road. Bringing their horses to a halt, they dismounted and started searching for the witches. It didn’t take them long to spot Sophia’s blue dress peeking through the boundary line of the winter-browned woods.
“There!” shouted one of the men, pointing to where the girls hid.
Quickly jumping to their feet, the girls ran farther into the woods until they came to a river to wide and swift to cross.
The men advanced menacingly, demanding that the girls make them rich.
Sophia screamed in fear as one of them drew a large knife.
Suddenly a powerful roar was heard from the woods nearby, startling both sisters and thieves alike. Frightened, everyone looked in the direction the thundering noise had come, and watched dumbfounded as a giant black bear burst through the woods.
Scared out of their wits, the thieves turned tail and ran the way they had come, never to bother the girls, or any other witch again.
Left alone with the snarling bear, Meredith shook with fear, and Olivia promptly disappeared. Sophia, unlike her sisters, sensed the bear meant them no harm, and smiled, thanking the beast kindly for his assistance with the thieves. Understanding Sophia, the bear folded his right paw, bowing down to let Sophia scratch him behind his shaggy ears before disappearing into the woods once again.
Meredith blanched and Olivia yelped, unseen from somewhere nearby.
“What just happened?” Meredith asked, the blood slowly returning to her face.
“I think he heard me scream and came to help,” Sophia said, smiling happily.
“I knew you were good with animals, but that was unbelievable Sophia,” said Olivia, her figure slowly reappearing next to Meredith.
“Ohmigosh! This means we know what all of our powers are,” squealed Sophia. “Meredith you can control plants, Olivia you can become invisible, and I can talk to animals. I mean really talk!”
“Hey Sophia, did you order a ride?” Meredith asked, nodding the two horses that had walked up while the girls had been talking.
“They’re the thieves’ horses!” Olivia exclaimed happily.
“They never liked those men, but had no way of getting away until now,” Sophia said, gently stroking one of the horse’s gray neck.
“This will make getting over the mountain way easier and faster,” said Olivia.
“Let’s get moving!” shouted Meredith.
Riding the horse made quick work of the mountain, and before they knew it, the girls had come to a small village on the other side. An old woman gathering water at the town square saw the three dark skinned girls ride into town. She looked closely at the oldest, and recognized her daughter’s eyes, and knew this must be one of her granddaughters.
Dropping her water jug in shock, the old woman whispered, “Meredith?”
The girls, hearing the clay jug shatter on the cobblestones, turned to look at the old woman. She had the same dark skin and black curly hair as themselves.
Tearing her eyes away from Meredith, the woman finally seemed to notice the other two sisters.
“Olivia? Sophia? Can it be? Can it be that you’ve come home to me?”
Skeptical, Meredith asked, “How do you know our names?”
Tears began to well up in the old woman’s eyes, “You are my granddaughters. Your mother and father left with you twelve years ago to start a new life, but I never heard from them again.”
The girls told their grandmother of how their parents had been killed by bandits, and of old Jacob Miller and the kindness of the villagers in keeping them safe.
Finding their grandmother had answered many questions for the girls, but the new village wasn’t home. Being that their grandmother was their only living relative, and knowing that she had stayed there in case her daughter or the girls had returned, it was easy for the sisters to persuade her to come and live with them on Jacob’s farm.
For many happy years, the sisters tended to the farm alongside their grandmother who was welcomed by the villagers just as the girls had been many years before.
A/N: For this fairytale, I kept with the traditional format of things happening in threes, but decided to break most of the other conventions. Instead of a kind old woman who helps the main character, I have an old man who becomes the protector and active father figure of the orphaned children. Instead of three siblings with the youngest being the most clever, and outsmarting the first two, I made them all equally strong and important. Magic is usually held by figures outside the main characters, like with a fairy Godmother or evil witch. Here I had the three main characters be the magical ones. In addition, I also made the girls in charge of their fates, something that is lacking in most traditional fairytale where the female leads are limp damsels waiting to be rescued. I also kept the narrative short and as concise as possible, mimicking the bedtime stories I now read to my own child. Lastly, I made the sisters dark skinned in a European based tale. As a child, I can’t remember ever having read a fairy tale where the main characters or any characters for that matter were anything other than white.
Originally published January 20, 2014 on DuelingLibrarians.net