Once upon a time a poor farmer came upon a baby girl sleeping in a clearing in the forest. He called and called for her mother, but no answer came. Farmer John picked her up from where she lay inside a ring of mushrooms. "The poor child must have been abandoned," he thought. "I will take her home to my good wife, Marta."
John and Marta had three daughters. The eldest was named Gilda, for she had golden hair. The next they had named Leeta, for she was fleet of foot and agile. Their youngest was called Tilla because she loved working in the garden. When he brought the foundling home, they named her Treena because she had been found in the forest.
As the girls grew older, Gilda, Leeta and Tilla were a joy to their mother. Gilda was a beauty. Marta could not blame her for being vain. Leeta could dance so gracefully she was a pleasure to watch. Tilla helped with the planting. She was a cheerful, hard working child.
Treena was a strange child, shy, but always listening. She seemed different from the other children. Worst of all, she had green hair. Not a bright or brilliant green, it was almost the colour of willow leaves when they first emerge from the catkins. Farmer John thought it was beautiful, but he was easily embarrassed and so never told this to Treena. Her sisters hated it.
"We'll not take her out in public like that," they said to Marta. "Everyone will stop and stare. It's much too humiliating. You must make her wear a scarve."
Whenever she went to the village with her sisters Treena was forced to wear a scarve. They would constantly check to make sure that not one lock of her hair was showing. Treena didn't understand why they were so ashamed of her. She tried not to complain about the scarve.
When Treena returned home from the village she would often go to the meadow and free her green hair. Then she would dance with the wind, spinning and turning with joyful abandon. She was a beautiful dancer-lighter and more graceful even than Leeta. She was far too shy to dance in public. Sometimes her father would watch her from the edge of the forest. He was very proud of her, but was afraid that if she knew he watched, she would not dance anymore. Farmer John stayed hidden from her. He sometimes wondered where she had come from, this strange and wonderful child.
It was Treena's duty to help Tilla with the garden. She was a hard worker too, but did not really enjoy working with Tilla. All the rows in Tilla's garden were perfectly straight. She never allowed a weed to grow or any plant she hadn't set out herself.
Sometimes Treena would rescue tender seedlings nature planted in Tillas's garden. She would replant them in the meadow where she danced. There they grew to be beautiful wildflowers and herbs. Treena tended them as carefully as Tilla tended her vegetables. The meadow became like a garden itself, an exquisite garden of jewel-like flowers and sweet scents. No one ever visited her meadow except Treena--Treena, the birds, bees and creatures of nature.
One day Marta said to her, "Go and gather some blackberries. I will make a pie for your father. Mind what you're about. Don't go wandering off into the forest as you usually do."
Treena took her gathering basket and set off down the lane towards the bramble thicket. As she was walking along, she spied a most beautiful butterfly. Its' wings were of satiny green, edged with gold. It glittered in the sun. She followed it off the path and through the forest. She could hear the tinkling of a little waterfall. It fed a clear stream that bordered a small clearing. There she found a fairy ring of wild mushrooms-and growing in its center, a perfect white rose. It had such a sweet fragrance that it made her head fairly spin.
"Surely this will please my mother," she thought. She picked the rose and hurried home with the gift.
The next day, Treena worked hard all morning in the garden with Tilla. When, at last, their work was done, they got out a leather ball to play catch. Tilla soon became bored and tired of the game. As a joke, she threw the ball far over Treena's head. It rolled down the hill and through the meadow. Treena happily chased after it.
She searched and searched for the ball, but could not find it. While she looked, her ears caught the sound of running water. It was the stream that came from the waterfall in the clearing. Treena felt drawn to the sound of the babbling water. It was almost as if it spoke to her. She found herself by the edge of the stream. Dreamily watching the sun reflect off the water, she was lulled by its singing. Suddenly, she noticed a fragile golden bubble floating serenely on the water. She bent forward and carefully lifted it from the stream. The world reflected in the bubble's surface looked to Treena like a fairy kingdom. She carried the bubble back to show to Tilla.
When Tilla saw her, she asked, "Where is our leather ball?"
"I could not find the ball, Tilla," said Treena, "but look at what I found in the stream."
"That is only a bubble," said Tilla. "It is useless. You cannot play catch with a bubble." She took the golden bubble from Treena and tossed it carelessly to the ground. The bubble broke. "You see," said Tilla, "it was not good for anything."
Treena often found it hard to understand her mother and her sisters. She always felt so alone and apart. She loved her father dearly, but he was not a man given to many words, so she never felt she could really talk to him. Sometimes she wondered why she seemed to see things so differently from them.
One evening Marta said to Treena, "Father has worked three days mowing Farmer Tom's fields. They live across the meadow and through the forest. Farmer Tom has given us a spotted cow in payment for Father's work. Now he must hurry on to the next farm to mow. I want you to fetch the spotted cow. All of your sisters will be busy helping me with our harvest, so you must go alone. Get an early start and don't dawdle on the way. That cow is very valuable. We need the milk to make cheese to sell at market. That will get us through the winter."
Treena arose early the next morning and put on her cloak and the scarf to cover her green hair. She packed a lunch and hurried to Farmer Tom's farm. Farmer Tom gave the pretty spotted cow to Treena. He gave her a willow switch to drive it home.
Treena started off through the forest. The sun shone high in the sky. Treena found she was getting hungry... and a little sleepy, too. She decided to stop in the clearing by the waterfall to rest and eat her lunch. It was her favorite spot. She had once asked her father where the stream went. He had told her that the stream traveled far and fed an ocean that separated the earth from the land of the fairies. Her mother and sisters had all laughed. They told her it was just an old superstition.
"Don't fill her head with such nonsense," said her mother. "She's addled enough as it is."
But now, as she lay near the stream, and listened to its melodies, she felt she did believe all the old legends. Soon she dozed, dreaming of a magical land where everything was beautiful and all the people kind and good.
When she awoke, the spotted cow was nowhere to be seen. "Oh no!" thought Treena. "What will Mother say? I have disappointed her again."
With sadness in her heart, she started for home. As she knelt beside the waterfall to wash the tears from her face she felt a warm nuzzling at her shoulder. "The spotted cow!" she thought. But no, when she turned around there was not the cow, but a magnificent white unicorn. "What a wondrous animal," thought Treena. "Perhaps if I bring it home to my mother, she will not be so angry about the spotted cow." She put her belt around its neck and the beautiful unicorn followed her home as docilely as a lamb.
She arrived home in the late afternoon, leading the unicorn. Leeta saw her coming down the path and ran ahead calling to their mother, "Come and see what Treena has brought. It is not a cow at all."
When her mother saw the unicorn, she said, "Why have you brought this strange beast home? It can give us no milk. Where is the spotted cow promised by Farmer Tom?"
"I am sorry Mother," said Treena. "I lost the cow in the forest. I have brought you this unicorn though. It is said it will bring good luck."
"Good luck!" said Marta. "It will take more than good luck to get us through the winter. Without the milk from the cow, we will have nothing to sell at market. I should have known better than to send you."
Treena could feel her face growing red with shame. She tried hard not to let her tears fall. As she started to free the beautiful unicorn, Gilda said, "Wait, Mother. There is a seller of potions at the market who would pay well for the unicorn's horn. Perhaps it will be of some use after all."
Marta thought about it. "Keep the unicorn, Treena," she said. "When Father comes home he will kill it. At least we will have the horn to sell."
Treena was horrified. How could she betray the beautiful animal that had trusted her? Yet she dared not disobey her mother. She could not eat her evening meal and went to bed with a heavy heart.
The unicorn came to her in her dreams. He looked at her with such trust and understanding that she awoke knowing what she must do. She crept quietly out of bed and slipped out to free the unicorn. She untied his rope and led him through the meadow in the light of the waxing moon. She hurried along the edge of the stream until she came to the clearing by the waterfall. With tears in her eyes and fear in her heart, she released him.
She knew she could not return to her home now. She walked and walked through the forest, until she could walk no further. She sank down in the shelter of a hollow tree and fell asleep just as the first light broke.
When her mother discovered that Treena was gone, and that the unicorn had been freed, she was very angry. But when Treena had not returned by nightfall, or the next, or the next, Marta became worried.
On the fourth day, Farmer John returned home, leading the spotted cow. "This cow returned alone to Farmer Tom," said Father. "What has happened to our Treena?"
Her mother explained that Treena had run away to free a unicorn. Father said nothing, but filled his pack and went into the forest to search for her. He looked all day. He even searched the clearing where her had found her as a babe. Finally he discovered her, making her poor bed in the hollow tree. She was cold and hungry. He wrapped her in his coat and gave her some bread from his pack. He started to carry her home.
"I should not go back," said Treena. "I have lost Mother's spotted cow."
"The cow has been found," said Farmer John.
"Even so," said Treena, "if I return I shall only cause more trouble. I am not beautiful like Gilda or graceful like Leeta. I do not please Mother like Tilla. I am different from my sisters, and from everyone. I have no place with them. It is best for me to stay here in the forest where I can do no harm."
Her father said nothing, only looked sad and troubled. They were just leaving the clearing by the waterfall. The moon was full, and in the center of the clearing was a ring of wild mushrooms.
"It was on a night very like this night," started Father slowly, "that I came upon a poor lost babe, right in this very spot. It was sleeping in the grass, inside a fairy ring of mushrooms. I thought at first that I had stumbled upon one of the fairies themselves. When I saw that it was a baby, I brought you home to Marta. I've often wondered if I did the right thing. Perhaps if I had left you here, your own mother would have returned for you. I called and called that night, but got no answer. No one came inquiring about a lost child, so we kept you and raised you as our own daughter."
Just as he finished his story, a strange glow seemed to fill the clearing. The water from the falls parted as though it were a curtain. Out stepped a beautiful man and woman. They were dressed in silken gowns and wore golden crowns about their flowing hair. They came to the center of the fairy ring and spread their arms in greeting to Treena and Farmer John.
"I am Queen Thursa of Fairhaven," said the woman. "I have come to claim my daughter, Princess Channa."
Treena stepped forward fearfully, but when she looked into the eyes of her Queen mother, she felt only peace. Her fairy mother and father enfolded her in their arms and stroked her smooth green hair. Tears of joy, like diamonds, glistened in their eyes.
They turned to her human father. The fairy King said, "We thank you for the care you have given our daughter. She has been sorely missed in our court since that long ago night when we left her here for you to find. Our kingdom here on earth is doomed, and only one more ship may cross the gray ocean to Fairhaven. Not all of our kind will be able to make the crossing. It was necessary for one of us to live among you and learn your ways. Princess Channa was chosen for this task. She will return with us now to the fairy court. There she will teach the fairy children the ways of humans, so that those who must stay behind can live with you in peace on earth."
"Will I ever see her again?" asked Farmer John.
"I cannot say," said the fairy King. "It will be her choice--whether to take the last ship when the time comes, or to stay here on earth."
"Good-bye to you...Channa," said the father sadly.
Channa came forward and embraced the good man. "I shall see you again, I promise," she said. "Say good-by to Mother and my sisters for me. Tel them not to worry."
The old man watched as the fairies took their path back through the waterfall. He did not try to follow-he knew he couldn't. He felt an ache of longing for his little Treena, but in some way, he had known all along that she could never be truly his. Now he knew that she would finally be happy.
He often thought of her teaching the fairy children. He hoped she didn't think too badly of humankind. Whenever he saw a shy or quiet child, or one who danced with the wind, he would wonder if it were one of her pupils. And sometimes, when the light was right, he was almost sure that he saw some children with green hair.