The Fern Flower

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The Fern Flower

A Polish Story by Kaja Zielinska 


St John’s night is the shortest night of the year.  It is on this night that the legendary Fern Flower blooms somewhere in the forest.  The golden flower, with its mysterious glowing centre, blooms for only one night until dawn.  When the first rooster crows, the flower disappears and will not bloom again until the following year.

It is said that the path to the flower is protected by the trees and mystical creatures of the forest so that only the most courageous and noble young man might find it. The flower possesses the power to fulfil wishes, and whoever finds this flower will have all of his wishes granted; but he will not be allowed to share his wealth with others or he will lose everything.

 The Fern Flower

Long ago, there was a young boy called Jack, but everybody in the village called him The Curious One because Jack always wanted things which appeared beyond the grasp of others. He did not care about things which he could get simply by reaching out his hand. Instead, he wanted things which required a great effort to obtain.

Once, when everybody in the village was sitting around the bonfire, the elder of the village told the story of the Fern Flower. The woman was very old and had travelled all over the world and seen many strange things, so Jack listened to the story very carefully.

The young boy was fascinated and promised himself then and there that he would find the flower and make all of his wishes come true. It did not matter that the Fern Flower bloomed only once a year.  If Jack did not find the flower on the first year, then he would keep looking year after year.

When St John’s Night finally arrived, Jack dressed in his best clothes and went into the forest to seek out the mythical flower.  Jack knew the paths and the trees of the forest very well, but on this night he did not recognize a single thing. The trees appeared much taller, and their branches and trunks stretched out in such a way that he could not always walk around them. The bushes were thicker and spikier, and the pathways were all darker and scarier.

Jack kept walking despite all of the obstacles in his way; despite the darkness and the terrifying blue, red, yellow and green eyes watching from the darkness.  Jack walked on because he knew that the strangeness of the forest, and the scary eyes in the darkness, were all there to prevent him from finding the mythical Fern Flower.

The pine trees were tall and wide and caused Jack to make very slow progress.  The bushes were so thick that he had to hack at them with his hands and feet in order to continue on his journey.

Then he came across a pine tree that was so tall it seemed to stretch up into the sky, and so wide it seemed to him as if it would take forever to walk around its trunk.  When eventually he had gotten to the other side of the tree, he noticed that it was not so tall and wide after all, but rather another trick of the mysterious forest.

Some time later, Jack came across a marsh in the middle of the gloomiest, dampest part of the forest.  There was no way around the marsh, and when Jack tried to put his foot into the water he almost sank to the bottom.  Eventually the young boy noticed very small clumps of grass dotted here and there across the length of the marsh.  He decided that this was the only way to cross the boggy water, so he took a deep breath and jumped from one clump to the next until he had crossed over to the other side.

Jack continued on his winding journey through the forest until he came across a massive fern in the middle of a clearing.  He noticed a tiny, radiant flower growing on a leaf of the fern. Jack had never seen anything so beautiful. The flower had five golden petals, and in its centre something like an eye that flickered and glowed against the darkness of the night. Jack also thought he heard the distant sound of laughter, but told himself that it was just another trick of the forest.

He reached out very slowly, but just as he was about to touch the flower, the rooster crowed and there was a bright flash of light and the flower disappeared.

In the darkness Jack fell asleep, and the next time he awoke his mother was standing over him and he noticed that he was laid out in his own bed.  Jack’s mother looked very worried and explained how she had found him asleep in the middle of the forest that morning.

The young boy felt ashamed that he had failed, but he never told his mother or his friends what he had been doing in the forest that night because he was afraid they would not believe him.  Instead, Jack made a silent promise to himself that he would try again the following year. 

Jack thought about the flower all year long until St John’s night finally arrived again.  As the villagers gathered around the fires, he dressed in his best clothes and went into the dark forest in search of the flower. This time the trees were even wider and taller.  There were huge, slippery stones on the forest floor, and thick ferns, some much taller than the young boy.  Once again, the strange eyes looked at him from out of the darkness, but Jack continued on his search.

After many hours, he saw something glowing in the distance. As he got closer he knew that it was the same flower with its five golden petals and the amazing glowing eye at its centre.

Jack approached the flower in awe, but before he managed to touch it, the rooster crowed and the flower disappeared just as before. Jack was so tired after his adventure that he instantly fell fast asleep and experienced a strange dream in which the eye of the flower looked right at him.  The flower asked the young boy, ‘are you ready to give up yet?’

When eventually he awoke from the dream, he promised himself that next St John’s night the flower would be his for certain.

The year passed very slowly, but eventually St John’s night arrived, and again Jack dressed in his best clothes and set off into the forest.

This time the forest looked normal, just like it did in the daytime. Jack looked for the flower but could not find it anywhere. Then, quite suddenly, he noticed it, right there at his feet: the flower with five golden petals and the mysterious, glowing eye at its centre. Jack reached out and finally touched the mythical flower before the rooster could crow.

The flower burnt his fingers as if the petals were on fire!  But Jack did not let go.  As he put the flower inside his jacket, he heard a quiet voice say to him, ‘now you can have anything in the world you have ever wanted, but you may never share your happiness with another soul.’

But Jack was too excited to hear the words of warning as he felt the flower laying down its delicate roots into his young heart.  The Fern Flower was finally his, and he was going to have his every wish fulfilled.

When Jack reached the edge of the forest he should have been able to see his cottage, but instead he saw a palace in the middle of a large kingdom.  This was something Jack had always wished for: to live in a palace and be ruler of his own kingdom.  There was also a carriage with six white horses waiting to take him to his new palace.

There were many servants inside the palace, but his family and friends were not there, nor anybody from his old village on the edge of the forest.

The young boy had a very comfortable bed and mountains of gold in the vaults of his palace.  He often thought that he might send some of this gold to his family, but then he would remember how it was forbidden for him to share any of his wealth and happiness with another soul, even his family.  If he did this, then everything would disappear and he would be poor again.  And so the young boy decided that he must keep everything for himself, and if anybody else ever needed anything then they would just have to search for the Fern Flower as he had done.

Jack lived what many would call a happy life, but although the young boy had everything his heart desired, he was very bored and so became a cruel and wicked king who treated his subjects unfairly.

One day, he decided to take the carriage and visit his old village because he missed his mother very much.  When he arrived at the little cottage on the edge of the forest, Jack’s mother observed the six white horses with fear in her eyes.  He stepped down from the carriage with open arms but his mother did not recognize him.  She said, ‘My son Jack dead.  If he were alive he would never leave his family. If he ever found the Fern Flower he would not keep such wealth and happiness for himself.  He would share it with his family and friends.’

Jack wanted to show his mother how much he longed to share everything he had with her, but each time he reached for the gold in his pocket he remembered that he would lose everything if he were to share with others.

With this realization, jack’s heart turned to stone and he ordered his carriage to take him back to his palace. 

Upon his return, he ordered his subjects and his servants to entertain him.  He got drunk on wine and tried to forget about his old life in the little village; but no matter what he did, Jack could never forget the look of sadness on his mother’s face. 

One year later, Jack decided to visit his family again.  This time, when the carriage pulled up outside of his home, his mother did not come out to greet him.  Instead, his brother approached the carriage.  When Jack asked about his mother, his brother told him that she was very sick and that his father had gone.

Jack entered the cottage and saw his mother laid out on her tiny, uncomfortable bed.  She looked very sick and could not even sit up to face her son.  Jack felt a great guilt and fear come over him.  He could not stand the thought of losing his mother.  He wanted to reach into his pocket for the gold that might help his family, but again he remembered that he would lose everything if he were to share his wealth with others.

‘My mother is old and will not suffer for long,’ he reasoned. ‘I am young, and if I give up everything now I will suffer for many years.’

Jack turned his back on his family and returned to the palace.  But as hard as the young boy tried to forget his family, he was haunted by images of his sick mother and his poor brother.  He tried to ignore his feelings but was unable to enjoy his wealth or his beautiful palace.

It was during these long, lonely nights in the palace that Jack realized how useless his wealth really was if he could not share it with friends and family.

As time went by, Jack lost weight and his health became very poor.  He was always miserable and his vast wealth no longer seemed to matter.

The young man awoke one day and knew that he must return home to his family and his friends.  He ordered his carriage to take him right away to his old house in the village on the edge of the forest.  But when Jack arrived back at his old home, nobody came out to greet him.

Jack stepped down from the carriage and approached the little cottage.  He looked through a tiny window hoping to see his family inside, but the cottage was empty.

It was then that an old beggar approached Jack and told him, ‘Nobody lives in that cottage anymore.  They all died of disease and hunger for they were too poor to buy food and were unable to send for a doctor.’

Jack began to cry over the loss of his family.  He was the boy who could have anything he wished for, but what good was that if he did not have his family or friends around to share in his happiness?  Jack wished he was dead because he could not bear the thought of being alone any longer.

Suddenly the ground opened up beneath his feet and Jack vanished into the darkness below, the mythical Fern Flower still clinging to his cold heart after fulfilling the young boy’s final wish.

The Fern Flower has never been found by another, and Jack, the young boy whom the villagers once called The Curious One, has never been seen again.