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Many years ago, before man destroyed the largest forests to make way for houses and roads, there existed a magical forest called "Silverwood."
People would walk for many miles just to spend the night in Silverwood as it was rumoured to have magical healing powers.
From aches and pains to broken bones, anyone who had a problem would gladly travel for days just to be cured.
Over time the stories have become vague or forgotten, but if you have ever met a person who visited the forest they would tell you it wasn't the forest that was magical but the creature who lived within it.
The creature was unlike any you will see today because it looked like a tiny silver monkey, except for its wings and big pink eyes. They say its eyes were pink because it never came out in the daylight, only in the early hours of the morning, just as night was fading and before the sun came up.
One of the last stories ever told before man destroyed the forest was that of a young orphan boy who went into the forest, never to be seen again.
His name was Nicholas and he was a shy child who spent most of his time sitting outside his uncle's thatched hut weaving baskets. This was because his legs were too thin and weak for him to run around and play with the other children in the village.
People were not unkind to him, they just ignored him. His uncle had two strong sons and a daughter who helped her mother with the household chores and fed the animals.
Nicholas longed to run and play with the other boys and help tend the fields but whenever he offered to help the answer was always the same. "What do you think you could do lad? You need crutches just to stand." Nicholas was treated the same as the old women in the village, relegated to weaving baskets.
One day a traveller stopped to ask for directions and as he drank the mug of ale he was given, he sat and told of his travels. Even though he was an old man, he had travelled the width and breath of the country and had some fascinating tales to tell. The one that made Nicholas stop his weaving and listen closely was of a magical forest many miles away, where people from all over the country went to be cured from their ailments.
After the traveller left, Nicholas timidly asked his uncle if there was any chance he could be cured if he went to the forest. His uncle actually looked at Nicholas with a touch of pity in his eyes. "No lad", he said shaking his head. "Don't believe all the tales these travellers tell. Most are just to keep us entertained while we feed them."
Nicholas lay on his pallet of straw that night and thought about the magical forest. "What if, just IF it was true?" he wondered to himself. To be able to live like everyone else, to work and play was all he ever wanted.
Nicholas knew his uncle would never take the time to search for the forest with him, so he hatched a plan to go on the journey by himself.
At the end of the summer when all the wheat had been cut and stacked, a wagon driven by four big Shire Horses would come to the village to collect it. Nicholas planned to hide in the wagon, until it reached the nearest town.
The summer seemed to go on forever but it was finally time to cut the wheat. Nicholas had been collecting bits he would need for his journey and hiding them under his pallet. A compass in case he lost his way, spare clothes, a thick warm blanket and a new, stronger pair of crutches he had made throughout the summer months. Now all he needed was to pack some food and water.
The hay wagon rolled into the village and everyone was so busy stacking it with the wheat that no one noticed Nicholas slip away to collect his things. While the driver was having a meal and chattering to the villagers, Nicholas wriggled his way in between the bales of hay, covering himself with his blanket.
The journey took several hours and he was hot and sore from all the bouncing around. The wagon arrived on the outskirts of the town just as the sun was setting. The driver unhitched the horses but left the unloading of the hay until the next day. When all was quiet Nicholas made his escape.
He walked slowly through the town on his crutches, stopping every so often to ask if anyone knew where the magical forest was.
Most of the town's folk just laughed at him and a few even gave him money, thinking he was a beggar. Finally his poor weak legs could take no more and Nicholas huddled down in a doorway to sleep.
He was rudely awakened with a kick. "Get out of my doorway you dirty beggar!" barked a huge, fat man, Nicholas limped away on his crutches not knowing where to go next.
The smell of freshly baked bread tickled his nostrils and he was glad of the money people had given him as a beggar the night before. He sat on a wooden box to eat his fresh crusty bread and drink his buttermilk.
An old wizened man stopped and skipped around Nicholas chanting, "Beggar boy, beggar boy I know what you want. Magic's what you want my boy but you don't know where to go."
"Do you?" Nicholas asked timidly.
"Maybe I do, maybe I don't," the old man cackled gleefully.
"What you gonna give me if I tells you?" he asked craftily.
"I don't have very much, but you're welcome to share my food", he offered hopefully.
"I can get food whenever I want", was the rude reply.
"Maybe that nice pair of hand crafted crutches eh? I could do with some help getting around in me old age", he cackled.
"But I need them," exclaimed Nicholas alarmed.
"Ah, but if I tell you where the magical forest is, you won' need them anymore will you?"
In the end the old man offered to show Nicholas where the forest was, on the promise that he agreed to leave the crutches at the edge of the forest if he was cured.
It took two long days and nights to reach the forest and Nicholas was exhausted by the time they arrived. He curled up at the base of a big oak tree and fell into a deep slumber. When he awoke the next morning he discovered that the old man had stolen his crutches and vanished.
He stumbled around the forest for days mainly on his knees which were cut and bleeding from the rough forest floor.
Going for days without food and drink, Nicholas finally gave up, he didn't even have any strength left to crawl.
"Why didn't I listen to my uncle", he thought, before he cried himself to sleep.
At that magical time when night turns into day and the forest was covered in a pearly mist, a branch just above Nicholas's head snapped and gentle wings fluttered over the boy. A shower of silver dust settled on his body and a gentle smile curved his mouth in his sleep.
The sun was just coming up and peeping through the trees when Nicholas woke up with a raging thirst. He lay on his back staring up through the leaves of the tree, when he suddenly sat bolt upright. He could have sworn he saw a tiny silver monkey jumping from branch to branch. He rubbed his eyes and stared again but there was nothing, just the leaves moving in the breeze.
Although hungry and thirsty Nicholas felt better than he ever had in his life. He was covered in a fine silver dust and as he stood up to brush himself down, he discovered that his legs were fine and strong. The forest had worked its magic!
Tears of happiness poured down his cheeks as he ran and whooped through the forest.
Curled up in a tiny ball going to sleep for the day, a silver monkey gave a gentle sigh of happiness.
Many years later when men came to cut the forest down, it's rumoured that a fine, strong young man was seen leaving carrying a silver bundle in his arms.
A short story by Sheila Helliwell
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