Note by the author: This short story/ fairytale is inpired by the Austrian folklore /fairytale about the love story between the giant of the Traunstein and the lakemaid of the Laudachsee.
A long time ago there was a beautiful mountain that rose up high above a green landscape and a deep blue lake. There were forests and fields, rivulets and hills that stretched on and on. The best view was from the top of the mountain and there lived a peaceful giant who watched over all the animals below. He was as big as a tree but was grey like the mountain and had big green eyes. He was their quiet king and looked upon the wolves and the stags in the forest, the owls and the squirrels in the treetops, the hares and the foxes on the fields, the wild cats and the mice on the hills and the falcons and the sparrows in the sky. It was a peaceful reign and spring, summer, autumn and winter defined all their lives and destinies.
One thing the giant always wondered about was the deep blue lake that stretched through his kingdom and glittered in the sun. His eyes that could see everything in his green realm could not penetrate the blue waters of the lake.
One morning, on a bright day in spring, he heard a sweet laughter coming from the lake below. He did not know who this voice belonged to, but it was the most wonderful sound he had ever heard.
So, he rose up from his mountain top and quietly he walked through forest, fields and hills until he reached the deep blue lake. There by the shores, played creatures he had never seen before. Beautiful women with long hair and eyes as blue as the lake. They didn’t have legs but tales like fish, their scales glittered blue, green and silver. The most beautiful of them had golden hair and she was the one who had laughed so sweetly and had moved the giant’s heart.
‘Who are those fair creatures?’ The giant asked a little sparrow who sat on a branch next to him.
‘They are the lakemaids of course, your grace. Here by the lake everyone knows them. In summer they come out of the blue waters. But when the lake freezes in winter they go to sleep with their lake. But come spring, they are back to dance and laugh again.’
The giant thanked the sparrow and smiled. He stepped out of the shadow of the forest and approached the lakemaids. They looked at him frightened for they had never seen a giant. Two of them rushed back into the depths of the lake but the one with the golden hair looked at him with curiosity. She was not afraid.
‘Who are you?’ She asked with a voice, sweeter than any fruit of the forest.
And the giant told her that he was the protector and king of the mountain, forest, fields, hills and the lake. Surprised, she looked at him again.
‘I did not know I had a king. My home has always been the lake.’
‘Of course, it has. And a beautiful lake it is. So blue! Nearly as beautiful as you!’ The giant said and the lakemaid laughed and it was the sweetest sight the giant had ever seen. More beautiful than his mountain and kingdom on the brightest day.
So, every day the giant would walk down from his mountain and talk and laugh with the golden lakemaid. She in turn, was already waiting for him by the shores of the lake by sunrise. She could not wait to see him. Her sisters, the other lakemaids, warned her of him. Some out of jealousy, for they had always admired her beauty, others out of true concern and love for their sister.
‘Don’t give away your heart so easily!’ They said. ‘Your heart always belongs to the lake and the lake is your home and life.’
But the golden lakemaid would not listen, for who listens when one is in love?
By the end of spring, all the other animals could see it too. The giant and the lakemaid were in love. He brought her gems and jewels from the mountain and she would sing for him by the shores of the lake. Sometimes, they would hold hands and watch the rays of the sun dance on the water. Her cool white hand in his big brown hand. Both wanted to be together.
The giant decided to build his lakemaid a castle that would stand by the shores of the lake. Beautiful and white like the mountain itself. The king ventured into the mountain because he could not build the castle on his own. There, beneath the mountain, lived his cousin, the king of dwarves. He reigned over the underworld and the deep caves. There were beautiful underground palaces built of stone and marble, decorated with the most precious diamonds. If anyone could help the giant it was the dwarves. The greatest builders of all times. The giant told him about his love and the dwarf king agreed to help him. Quickly, the dwarves came with the giant to the shores of the lake and started building a castle for him and his beloved.
The other animals were astounded by the quick work of the dwarves. Just within seven days they finished a beautiful grey white castle with four high walls, big rooms, windows that opened to the lake and four towers to commemorate the four seasons all the creatures of this kingdom lived by. Thankfully, the giant wished his cousin and his people farewell. Gladly, they went back underground as they were not used to the sun and her heat.
Excited the giant stood before his castle and was ready to explore it but by the door he realised he was too big! The dwarves had built the castle for smaller creatures, like themselves and the lakemaid. But the King came up with an idea.
He went deep into the forest, past the stags and the wolves who bowed to him, but he was in a hurry. He sought out the great ancient oak tree in the centre of the forest. Some say this tree had been there even before the mountain and the lake. In the shadow of that king of oak trees lived the spirit of the forest. The giant approached the oak tree carefully, bowed, as even as a king, he felt the great and ancient magic in this place. It was a beautiful tree. Its branches stretched out wide and far. Its leaves were green and whispered a wonderful melody in the wind. The giant looked around and waited for the spirit. There was only silence. No birds were singing, only the leaves whispered. Then, out of the shadow appeared a beautiful creature. It was the spirit of the forest. Her skin was light green, her eyes amber, her hair was long and of a deep brown like the bark of the oak tree. Her dress was made of leaves and appeared to become one with the earth beneath her. She walked elegantly, like a leave in the wind, as if nothing was holding on to her. On her fair head rested a crown of grey branches and golden leaves. She was not only spirit of the forest but queen of everything green.
The giant bowed again, and the spirit smiled and the grass below her and the leaves above her appeared to grow. Life around her thrived.
‘It is good to see you, king of the mountain, protector of forest, hills and fields. But I can see you carry distress in your heart. How can I help you?’
And the giant told her of his sorrows and how he and the lakemaid longed to be together more than anything else. The spirit walked along the shade of the oak tree in wonder. She was deeply moved by their love but also concerned.
‘I will help you, king of giants, but I will also warn you. It is not a lakemaid’s nature to leave her beloved lake behind. She might grow sick and wither away.’
The giant nodded sadly. ‘She knows. The other lakemaids warned her but she has made her choice. She loves me and I love her. And I love her so much. Every day I still feel so surprised that she, such a wild creature, would give up everything for me. I told her about the risks, but her mind is free and she made her decision. I cannot tell her what to do even if great sadness will befall us. The prospect of our love is greater and might bend the laws of nature.’
The spirit looked at the giant with wonder. ‘That is deep and precious love you talk about. Perhaps your love for her and her love for you will indeed surpass the coldness of winter. Let me try to help you.’
The spirit picked up a little branch that had fallen off the tree, bent it and transformed it into a bronze ring. She handed it to the giant and said ‘This ring will turn you into a human when you turn it three times in your hand. It will last as long as you wish. But beware, in human form you will be mortal and nothing human lasts forever. I fear your love will both be a blessing and a curse. Farewell, king of the mountain. You truly have a giant`s heart.’
The spirit turned to the oak tree and disappeared in the shade and wind. Without hesitation, he turned the ring thrice in his hand and the big giant metamorphosed into a handsome, young man with green eyes and dark hair. As quickly as he could, he ran back to the lake and called for his lakemaid. She saw him by the shore, moved out of the water and her tail turned into legs the moment she touched the earth of the forest. They embraced each other, filled with love. The young man took his beautiful woman by the hand and together they walked into the castle he had built for her and in this night they could truly be together.
The king and his new queen announced that they would have a beautiful summer wedding by the shores of the lake in the shadows of the castle and the trees. Everyone was invited. The sisters of the lakemaid, together with the birds, sung beautiful songs. The little spiders wove a silver dress for their new queen that sparkled in all the colours of the rainbow in the sun. The dwarf king dressed his cousin in golden and purple clothes, colours fit for a king. The stags, wolves, wild cats and squirrels marvelled at the sight of their transformed king and queen. All the animals of the forest, the fields, the hills and the sky came together on this beautiful day and wished the couple good fortune. They celebrated deep into the night with food and music and joy. Everything was at peace in this summer night.
All summer long, the animals would talk about this wonderful night and the happy couple. All summer long, the king and queen would stroll through the forest, visit the hills, run through the fields and even climb the mountain together, in love. It was a plentiful summer, the forest had never been so green and bustled with life. As if the love of the giant and the lakemaid would feed them all. Every day and every night were filled with sunlight and starlight.
But every summer must come to an end. The days grew shorter, the light was fading, clouds began to gather, and the first leaves turned from green to yellow and red. The colours of autumn had arrived, and the leaves began to fall silently.
The castle though was still warm and wonderful. The king and queen were visited by all their friends of the forest. But after every night when they had enjoyed the company of their friends the queen could sense a coldness rising within her chest. As quietly as the falling leaves but visible and within touch.
As the days continued to grow darker and the nights grew colder the queen began to freeze at night. The king noticed her weakness and embraced her with his strong arms and held her cool face in his warm hands.
‘Always hold me close my love.’ She whispered in the cold nights.
‘Together we are strong and will survive this winter.’ He said and kissed her gently.
And for a time, they were happy again. But when all the leaves were gone, and the winds brought on the winter clouds most animals went to sleep. The forest became quiet and so did the queen. From her castle, she looked upon the lake that was not deep blue anymore but grey and silent. She longed for her sisters in the deep below, for the cool touch of the water that could make her fall asleep in this cold time to wake her again in spring. But knowingly she had made her choice and was the queen of the castle now and she could not go back. She felt cold in all the dresses the kind spiders had woven for her. The only time she still felt warm was beside her lover. Filled with weakness she fell to the floor and then shaking, she could see the first snowflakes fall. Her lover picked her up gently and carried her to their bed. He tried to feed her, but she would not eat. He tried to warm her but the fire in the hearth was not enough. Only when he would lie beside her, embrace her, for a moment, she would feel his love and be warm. The only thing she would drink was the water from the lake. That made her feel better and for a time the lovers could forget the dark winter and feel happy once more.
But then the darkest days of winter came, and snowstorms raged by the castle walls. The queen was freezing, and the king was helpless. He ran to the shores of the lake, to bring her more water but the lake had frozen. Terrified, he ran back to his beloved. He had never seen her so white. Her golden hair shone like the setting sun, and her blue eyes looked at him filled with love.
‘I fear I leave you.’ She whispered.
‘I fear I love you more than anything in the world.’ He said and kissed her so gently like a summer breeze would touch your skin. And for a moment they looked into each other’s eyes and remembered all the summer days and nights they had spent together. This was the last moment they were happy.
‘Bring me to my lake please. I want to see him one last time.’
So the king took her in his arms and carried her to the shores of the lake to the spot where they had met only some moons ago, but now it felt like all the ages of the world. The storm had ceased and pure starlight shone down upon the frozen lake. It was a moonless night. The queen looked like a beautiful ghost no more part of this world but already seeing another.
‘I don’t want you to go.’ The king said and his voice expressed pain that would linger for a thousand years.
‘I wish it was summer again.’ The queen said and smiled one last time.
Some animals of the forest, the wolves, the stags, the wild cats and the owls who didn’t go to sleep could sense their sorrow and came to the shores of the lake, their eyes filled with tears.
‘I am so sorry. I wish you could live.’ The king said, hot tears running down his cheeks.
The queen touched her king’s face with a cool hand and said ‘Don’t be. We gambled with love and love is all we got. And that was all we needed.’
With the other hand she touched the frozen lake looked at her beloved and her blue eyes faded grey and the king new she had left this world. He closed her eyes and held her cool beautiful face in his hands and wept. Tears of love and sorrow. All the love and warmth of the summer days and nights they spent together fell from his eyes and on the frozen surface of the lake. The animals of the forest bowed their heads to their departed queen and disappeared in the night. But the king wept on. His hot tears stirred something within the lake. The ice started to crack and the surface broke. The king held on tight to his queen. Then he saw her sisters emerging from the black water. They too were crying.
‘We are so sorry.’ One of them said. ‘We warned her, but her love was stronger. We hoped her love, your love, would be strong enough to withstand the winds of winter but winter won. We wished her all the happiness in the world but sometimes the world is very cruel.’
The king nodded thankfully.
‘Your tears of sorrow have called us forth. Our sister should return to her beloved lake. Home is calling.’
The king nodded. Carefully he placed his beautiful bride in the arms of her sisters.
‘She will find peace in her blue lake.’
The king just looked at them and like a snowflake dissolving, his queen sunk down into the depths of the lake. Silence befell the king and his castle. He stood up and turned around. Snow began to fall. The world was quiet. One last time he turned around and looked at the castle where they had been so happy, the lake that was so beautiful and the shores where he met his golden queen in spring who was nothing more than memory now. The lake had already frozen again. Then the king turned to his forest and disappeared between the dark trees and was never seen again.
And as summer must turn to winter, winter must turn to spring. Life returned to the forest, but it was a sad awakening. The spirit and the dwarf king heard from the animals what had happened and were quiet. Every time though, the animals of the forest and the lakemaids looked at the castle, that now stood like a tomb by the shores, they would smile and remember the beautiful summer days they had spent with their king and queen.
Generation after generation they would tell each other the story of the lovers who tried to bend the laws of nature, loved like no one else and failed in the deepest of winter.
The king, the giant of the mountain was never seen again for his heart was broken beyond mending and his immortal soul could never return to the life of the forest, as he would always remember and treasure his one summer with his queen.
Beautiful and happy summers returned to the forest, love did not die but took new forms and grew again. Yet, the king and queen had left this world, for a thousand summers could not bring back what a single winter night had stolen. And so, the lakemaid and the giant were gone, for nothing in this world lasts forever.