Once upon a time there lived a miller and her husband and their daughter Silverskin in the land just to the left after the forest. One day the miller said to her daughter:
“Silverskin, you must go to the village and buy some rapeseed oil for the mill. The wheels are squeaking and the flour comes out coarse.”
Silverskin was a beautiful and kind-hearted young woman, and many boys from the village and the surrounding farms had already been courting her – but in vain, because Silverskin was sure there was a “one and true love” for her and she was determined to find that man. That's why she gladly went on errands to the village, even if it took the whole day to get there and back; she was hoping to meet the love of her life.
This day she arrived at the village later than usual; it was a cold and windy day and a heavy rain had made the forest path dark and slippery. Although she kept her eyes open, she did not see any handsome prince or shining white knight, only a big stable boy, a dirty blacksmith apprentice and a gang of good-for-nothing layabouts, all of them whistling and cheering after her. She made her errands and began her journey back with the heavy barrel of oil in a leather harness over her shoulder. She had to hurry if she were to come home before dark.
She'd been walking for a good hour and was well into the forest when she suddenly heard a cry for help. She left the path and hurried towards the sound, hoping to help the person in need before it was too late. She ended up in a small grove surrounded by ancient trees, some as old as time and barely alive - and in the middle of the grove Silverskin saw the most beautiful apparition she had ever seen. Hair like angel feathers, skin like snowflakes made of peach juice and milk, lips like a shimmering, one-coloured rainbow high above the clouds. Silverskin couldn't move. Her heart was beating faster, not from the dash through the dense undergrowth, but from strange feelings that surprised her with overwhelming intensity, feelings that could not be explained because they were unreasonable. It was a girl, with one leg jammed deep within the roots of the old trees. A girl that had stopped crying and now stared back at Silverskin with the same bewilderment. The girl was smiling, and her wet cheeks glistered like stars on velvet. Silverskin didn't notice, but she was smiling too, smiling because she was happy to see the other girl smile and happy because the universe was such a marvellous place where there could exist such beauty.
For a long time they just stared at each other, then Silverskin stepped forward and reached out her hand.
“Is this... heaven?” she asked.
“If it is,” the other girl answered, “I don't want to go back to earth.”
“My name is Silverskin,” Silverskin said.
“Silverskin.” the girl whispered slowly, tasting it like a piece of candy. “That's the most beautiful name I ever heard. Silverskin.” She took Silverskin's hand and it burned without being hot and it was freezing without being cold and it was soft as an open wound that did no longer hurt. “My name is Princess Red. It used to be Princess Blue because I was so cold, but now it is Princess Red because I am warm, and you have opened my heart.”
“And you shall remain Princess Red for you have opened your heart and I am stepping in and I shall never leave:”
They embraced, and Silverskin poured the rapeseed oil over the roots that had caught Princess Red's ankle so that she could slip free and then they talked for hours, and even if the night grew cold and dark they stayed warm in each other's closeness and their bodies shone like daylight. Suddenly Princess Red became sad.
“My father, the King,” she began, “is a very old and very kind man and I love him, but he will never let us get married. A miller's daughter isn't good enough for him – let alone a girl. We must run away; we must move to another kingdom, far away, where nobody knows us and where we can get married and live the rest of our lives together.”
“I cannot take you from your father, who you love and who surely loves you too,” Silverskin said. “I will find a way to make him like me enough to let me be his daughter-in-law. I will leave you when the sun rises. Go back to the big city and your castle and wait for me. I won't be long.”
They stayed together the rest of the night until the sun shot its first rays of light though the striding morning fog and the loud voices of the King's men, searching for the princess, echoed among nearby trees. With tearful eyes they kissed each other goodbye, and Silverskin ran into the forest and through the bog and over the moor and all the way home.
Her mother and father had been worrying all night and were so happy to see that no ill fate had befallen their daughter that they did not reprimand her for the missing rapeseed oil. But when Silverskin told them, most truthfully, of what had passed during the night, they were not so pleased.
“Silverskin, my child,” her mother said, “you cannot love a woman. What about Erk, the butcher's handsome son – or Nils at the manor, he is rich and he has been asking for you?”
“Love doesn't knock on the door, love doesn't ask to be let in,” Silverskin answered. “Love invades, and there is nothing I can do about that.”
“Then you are no longer our daughter”, her father said.
That night, saddened by her parents' firm conviction but unable to act according to their wishes, Silverskin packed a bag and left her home.
She had not travelled more than half a day's journey before she stumbled upon a handsome man, hanging upside down from a tree branch across the path.
“Sweet maiden”, he pleaded. “Save me”.
“I will help you.” said Silverskin. But as she started to climb the tree into which the trap was attached, a fierce looking troll emerged from behind a cluster of birches.
“Do not touch my prey,” the troll roared.
“Your prey?” Silverskin said, turning towards the hideous monster. “This is my prey. I set the trap this very morning and now I have caught a delicious manchild. I will have him for supper.”
The troll looked confused. “This is my trap,” it said. “I set it several weeks ago and now it has finally caught me some food”. It took a step forward.
“Listen, it’s very easy: You wouldn't think of not saying that this isn’t “not you trap” but that trap being not over there wasn’t my trap. Don't you agree?”
“Eh, yes. When you put it like that…” The troll was very uncertain. “But I always set my traps fifty paces apart. Over there…” He pointed at a spot further away along the road, “There must be another of my traps.”
Silverskin went over to the indicated spot, carefully looking out for a trap mechanism. She spotted the trigger, well hidden in a tuft of grass, almost invisible from above. She began to stomp the ground like a madwoman, as hard as she could, but at a safe distance from the trigger.
“Look!” she called out.”There is no trap over here.”
The troll hurried over to confirm Silverskins findings but did not see the grass tuft and trigger. A rope sprang up from the dust and dirt, writhed itself around the troll’s ankle and lifted it, upside down, high up from the ground.
“Oh,I didn’t see that”, Silverskin said.
“Help me”, the troll begged. “If my friends find me like this they will laugh at me for two hundred years. If you help me I’ll give you a flask of Troll Potion.”
Silverskin gasped. She knew that Troll Potion was very rare and very valuable. If you drank it you could become anything or anyone you liked for an hour.
“Yes,” Silverskin said. “That sounds fair enough.” And she untied the knots and the troll fell to the ground with a thump.
“Thank you,” the Troll said and stood up. “You are very kind. If you ever become a princess, I promise I will not eat you. Here is the potion.” He handed a green flask to Silverskin and then he vanished into the woods.
Silverskin went back to the other trap where the handsome man still hung upside down in the air. She carefully untied the knots and lowered him to the ground.
“Thank you,” he said, brushing off some dust from his trousers. “You are, as the troll said, very kind and wise. You are also beautiful like a water lily in a moonlit pond. I am a prince. One day I will be king and I can make you very happy. Will you marry me?”
“I am sorry,” Silverskin answered and smiled, “but my heart belongs to another.”
After several days of walking and several nights of loneliness and longing, Silverskin finally reached Eldor, the capital of Eldoria. But when she entered the city, she began to hear rumours that Princess Red was about to get married to a wealthy prince from the north. This could not be true, Silverskin thought. There must be some mistake.
But there was no mistake. The city was preparing for a royal wedding; shopkeepers were decorating their storefronts and street musicians were singing songs about the royal couple. Multicoloured paper garlands hung from every nook and cranny and the smell of fresh paint and roasted chestnuts filled the air.
Silverskin was devastated. She walked up to the castle and asked to see the princess. The palace guards promptly grabbed her, carried her down to the river and threw her into the dirty water. Soaking wet and temporarily disheartened she thought there had to be another way. She went back to the guards and told them that she was a florist and had come to the palace to work. One of the guards went inside to check with the decoration committee. Luck had it that a young florist apprentice had just been fired and the decoration team was one florist short. They had sent a message to the decorators guild for a replacement and was quite astonished by the quick response. Silverskin was immediately led into the castle and handed over to a pompous woman.
“Put on this apron”, she said, “and take this bunch of buttercups to the second floor”.
The second floor was where Princess Red lived. With a heart thumping like a galloping horse, Silverskin went up to the princess room and knocked on the door.
“Go away”, a frail voice from within the room answered. “I need to be alone”.
Silverskin opened the door defiantly and entered.
For a few seconds Princess Red looked at her visitor with mouth open and cheeks flaming red from too many tears. Then she threw herself into Silverskin's arms.
“You came”, she sobbed. “You shouldn’t”.
“I promised you I would come for you. Life without you is too unbearable, now that I know you exist. I had to come”.
“But it is too late. And I have made up my mind. I am going to marry the prince, because that is what a princess does. I cannot disobey my father and I cannot break this ancient tradition. With a heart broken like an egg under the hoofs of a warhorse, I have to do it. My life will go on without joy”.
Crying like a mourner at a funeral, she ushered Silverskin out of her room, and after a last and desperate kiss she closed the door.
The day of the wedding began with a rumour spreading through the city. The rumour said that the princess had vanished from the castle during the night. The rumour also said that she had eloped with a secret lover; or that she had been murdered by a jealous princess from another country; or that she had been cursed by an aunt and was now living as a house mouse.
When the rumour reached Silverskin, she ran up to the castle and asked the servants and yes, the princess was gone. The true story was that she had been taken by the Iron Dragon, who lived in the mountains above the city.
Silverskin had heard enough. She gathered her few possessions and left for the mountains.
She walked for fifty hours and she walked until her feet bled and her legs sent pangs of pain through her body for every step she took. She would never give up because her love was stronger than any pain. She didn't eat, she didn't sleep and she didn't rest. She walked until her shoes were gone and she walked until her clothes were worn and torn - and then, suddenly, she stopped. A predatory roaring and the smell of burnt wood and sulphur told her she had arrived at last at the dragon’s den.
Crawling under some bushes she soon discovered the mighty Iron Dragon himself, standing on a cliff shelf in front of a dark cave. Silverskin already had a plan, so she backed off to a nearby glade and opened her satchel.
She still had the priceless Troll Potion - and if it was ever going to be used, it was now.
“Please make me in the shape of a Golden Dragon”, she whispered to the vial. “A powerful and big and beautiful one that will instill both fear and admiration”. And then she swallowed the potion.
Her body felt like it was filling up with live herrings, flapping their tail fins and twisting their spines. The ground seemed to race away from her, and moments later she had turned into a beautiful, strong and very convincing Golden Dragon. And she could fly. She flew high up in the sky where she could see the city and the mountains and the whole kingdom, and then she descended and landed in front of the Iron Dragon. She was much bigger than him, and he immediately lowered his head and looked down at the ground.
“”Greetings, gilded one”, he fretted. “By what honour do I receive Your attention?”
“I have come for the princess”, Silverskin answered, as demanding as possible.
“But...I went through so much trouble getting her”.
“That is why my appreciation is so much greater”.
The Iron Dragon hesitated for a second, but, confronted with a senior golden dragon, he didn't have much of a choice. “Please wait here. I’ll go and fetch her”. He turned around and went into the cave and was gone for a few minutes.
When he came back, he was dragging Princess Red in a rope behind him. She looked terrified. Dirty as a mud collector and tied so tight that she could hardly breath.
“Be cautious with this one”, the Iron Dragon said. “She is a princess, and you know how easily they break”.
“I know exactly how precious they are”, Silverskin answered. “And this one is special. She is part of a prophecy and must never be touched. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, my Lady”.
With all the care in the world, Silverskin grabbed Princess Red, lifted her up in the air and flew away, leaving the Iron Dragon behind.
An hour had soon passed and Silverskin had to land in a clearing by a brook before her ability to fly came to an end. She put down Princess Red by the water and untied the ropes. While she did so, she began to shrink, and in front of the princess astonished eyes, she turned back into herself again.
“Silverskin”, the princess rejoiced. “It is you. But how..?”
“I told you I would come for you. I love you, and here I am”:
Princess Red threw herself into Silverskin’s open arms and hugged her as if she would fall into a bottomless chasm if she ever let go.
“I won’t marry the prince”, she sobbed. “I understand now. Life is more precious than just living like a prisoner, and a life without you is nothing but a prison. I will marry you, no matter what. My kingdom will have to find another queen. But we have to go back to my father and mother. I want to say goodbye and explain why I must leave”.
“Yes. At least they will be happy to know that you are alive”.
They walked, hand in hand, back to the city and into the Royal Castle. Still hand in hand, they made their way to the throne room.
“Father. Mother”, Princess Red said with a trembling voice. “I was captured by a fierce dragon and was surely meant to be devoured. But I was saved by brave Silverskin, the beautiful woman that stands here beside me. I love her more than life itself and I will marry her, if she wants me, no matter what the law and traditions says. If we have to live in exile, so be it”.
The King and the Queen sat silent for several minutes, but in the end their happiness that Princess Red was alive and their gratefulness to Silverskin, who had saved their precious daughter, won over traditions and rules.
“If we have to change the law”, the king proclaimed, “then we change the law. If we have to break traditions and rules, we invent new traditions and rules. Traditions and rules that make my daughter happy. Silverskin, will you have my daughter, who now seems to call herself Red, to be your wife?”
Silverskin fell on her knees and bowed. “Yes, my liege. I will take and honour her for the rest of my life”.