My writing class was given the task of rewriting a fairy story. Which story do you think I have chosen?
An ordinary bridge. A bridge spanning a fast moving river. A hump backed bridge, its wooden slats worn by the elements and hundreds of footfalls over the decades of its use. An ordinary bridge, but a special bridge, a bridge that connected all and nothing.
From his hiding place William sat and watched the bridge and its guardian. It used to be a right of way to all. The land on the other side fertile, producing more than enough for its citizens and for those willing to give labour in return for food. He looked back and saw the devastation all around him. Crops withered and parched, buildings destroyed by conflict.
He and his two brothers had tried to find other crossing points but the river was too fast and dangerous. They had seen many attempt it, the old and sick, the babes in arms, the young and fit with much to offer in a new land. They had seen many perish.
William turned his back on the bridge and walked towards his home. It had once been comfortable, not large or lavish but comfortable. Its tiny garden produced enough for them, the chickens who roamed about the plot gave eggs and meat. Anything else that was needed could be obtained on the other side of the river using either trade or labour. But that was before. Now his home was a pile of rubble with tarpaulin draped across to keep out the worst of the weather.
His brothers looked up, he shook his head.
‘There is no way, unless we have something we can give as a bribe. I watched and saw many try. Pretty young girls he raped, letting some pass others he turned back and laughed at their shame. One old man offered gold, he took it and then pushed him in the river. His son jumped in to try and save him, they were both swept away. The rest of the family stood by helpless. He just laughed.’
Simon looked up at his brother, ‘If we stay we will starve or become ill. We have nothing left to barter. We will have to trick him into letting us across.’
‘He’s not very bright. They employ him for his brawn, not his brains.’
The brothers nodded their agreement and began to formulate their plan.
Chris, the youngest of the brothers was first to go. He shouted to the guardian,
‘Sir, will you please let me cross the bridge. I am starving and if I don’t get food soon I will die.’
A great bellow of laughter greeted this.
‘And what will you give me if I allow you across?’
‘Before the war, when we were all allowed to travel freely, my father wanted to make provision for his sons and so he buried a casket of gold on the other side of the river. He instructed us on how to find it. It is yours if you let me cross.’
He had got the villain’s interest.
‘You may cross but if you have lied to me I will seek you out and kill you.’
He watched as Chris walked to safety.
Simon approached the bridge.
‘Sir, please let me cross the bridge. If I don’t I will die.’
‘And what will you give me if I allow you to cross?’
‘I can see you are an intelligent man. You allowed my brother across so that he could give you my father’s gold. The box containing the gold has a combination and we each have to put in the numbers in in order to open it.’
He could see the gleam in the man’s eyes. The thought that such a box must contain riches beyond his dreams made him careless.
‘I could just follow you and take the box for myself.’ But he knew that he could not leave his post, that certain death would follow if he did.
‘As I told your brother, if you are tricking me I will seek you out and kill you both’
Simon crossed the bridge and joined his brother.
The monster, for that was how everyone thought of him, stood in the middle of the bridge and shouted.
‘Where is my gold?’
Simon and Chris stood together and laughed.
‘You are stupid to think there is any gold. We tricked you.’
He was beside himself with rage. He stamped his feet on the wooden struts, and shouted and cursed at the brothers. Knowing that the rulers of his land would kill him if he deserted his post.
He was making so much noise that he failed to hear William, the oldest and strongest of the brothers, begin to cross the bridge. The younger siblings continued to antagonise him and increase his anger. Too late he turned and saw William who ran and pushed with all might until the monster fell and disappeared below the green icy water.
All good fairy stories should end with ‘and they all lived happily ever after,’ with good overcoming evil. Sadly the rulers of the land heard what had happened and set out to take reprisals, making the lives of those on the wrong side of the river even worse.