Maartje van Dijk lived in a windmill.
At the age of ten, her vater and moeder perished at sea, and she was sent to live with her Opa on the coast. Despite her grief, she grew to love him and he taught her all about how to grind the village’s grains and tend the enormous sails and gears that made the mill run.
Her Opa hadn’t always run the mill, though. Each evening, by firelight, he would show Maartje the amazing feats of transformation that he used to perform all over the world.
“Oh, please do the mouse again,” Maartje would plead, and Opa would smile broadly at his one-person audience and twitch his nose. His thick, white mustache would grow thinner and wispier, and his ears would grow larger and fold inward. His old, brown jacket would grow fuzzy, like fur, and he’d shrink himself down to barely three inches tall. Only his eyes — his bright blue, sparkling eyes — gave away his true identity. Then he’d scamper around Maartje’s feet and she’d shriek and cover her eyes. When she opened them again, there he was, her Opa, just the same as he’d always been.
Other nights, he’d amuse her with stories about her parents. She’d never thought to ask them of their past while they were living, but now those tales were more dear to her than any made-up fairy tale. “Tell me again how they met,” she’d ask, cupping her chin in her hands.
“Your moeder loved to dance,” Opa would say, his eyes wistful and wet. “Wherever I performed, she’d always come with me and dance for the kings and queens and princes. She wore a white dress and would move like a swan across the stage, drawing the eye of everyone in the room.”
“And that’s how she met my vater.”
“Ja, it is. He was but a young artist with nothing to offer her. So instead, he promised to make a sculpture of her as a wedding present, though he doubted he’d be able to capture even a fraction of her real beauty.
“He revealed the finished sculpture on their wedding day, and it was a perfect likeness of his bride. It was heralded near and far as the most beautiful piece of art ever seen. Wealthy lords and ladies flocked for miles around to ask your vater make sculptures for them.”
Maartje clasped her hands together, nearly bursting with pride. Yet somehow, this picture of her vater as a highly sought-after artist wasn’t quite the childhood she’d remembered. Hers, instead, was a childhood of watery soups and small, dirt-floored cottages. “What happened, Opa?”
“Ah, well,” Opa would say, shaking his head at the turn of events. “It was a curse, that beautiful statue of your moeder, because no matter how beautifully he sculpted anything else, the patrons were always disappointed, because no other work came near the loveliness and perfection of that sculpture. Soon, his business dried up, and — as a final resort — he agreed to sell the sculpture of your moeder to a far-off king. They traveled to a distant land to present the sculpture to him, and then set to sea again, their pockets filled with enough gold to live comfortably the rest of their years.
“And all would have been well had it not been for the storm.” Opa tsk-ed and shook his head, and they sat quietly for a moment, each in their own thoughts, until Opa looked up at Maartje slyly and asked, “How would you like a rabbit with a white, fluffy tail?”
And as Opa twitched his nose and his ears stretched up over his head, all of Maartje’s sorrow melted away like butter on warm bread.
The years passed and Maartje grew into a beautiful young woman. Then one day, Opa set out to deliver a barrow full of flour to the baker down the way, leaving Maartje alone to tend the mill. She’d just finished sweeping the floors and washing the windows when she heard a knock on the door. Thinking it was one of the local farmers, coming to have their grain milled, she opened the door with a smile.
The man who stood before her, though, was not one of the farmers, nor any of the other people from the town. He wore the clothing of a sailor, but the weight of his money belt seemed too great for a seaman. She leaned out the door and could see, off on the distant waves, the massive ship from which he’d come.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said, “but my Opa only does business with the local farmers; we don’t have anything to trade.”
“No matter, signorina,” he said with a smile. Maartje backed up across the threshold, for she saw something in his eye that she didn’t quite trust. “My ship, you see, was caught in a storm, and we only wish to know where it is that we are now, so that we may be on our way once more.”
Maartje gave him the name of the nearest town and pointed him towards the river nearby, and he was so pleased with her answer that he promised her a beautiful golden mirror for her troubles.
“It’s only just on board my ship, right over there, within sight of your windmill. Please, just set aboard with me, and you’ll be given a reward for your kindness.”
Maartje hesitated, but then she thought of her Opa and how much he might earn by selling off a golden mirror. It would certainly be enough to keep them warm and fed all winter. So she agreed to go with him to the ship. As soon as she stepped foot on the ship, however, the sly sailor pulled the gangplank forward and threw her to the deck.
“You tricked me!” she shouted, fighting her way to the side of the ship so she might fling herself back into the water. “Let me go! Let me go back to my Opa!”
“Enough, signorina!” he said with a scowl, and Maartje stopped fighting, seeing his hand close around the terrible knife at his side. “My name is Biagio. I am the second son of a king, and, therefore, have no claim to an inheritance. But my older brother, Adamo, refuses to marry, and my father has promised a third of the kingdom to whoever can find him a bride.”
“But why should I marry him?” Maartje asked, looking out at the shore, where Opa’s cozy little windmill grew farther and farther away by the minute. “And why would he want me?”
“He’s in love with a statue,” Biagio explained with a sneer. “A statue he found hidden in a locked room of the palace. He will not marry until he finds a woman whose beauty matches.”
Marrtje drew in her breath for she suddenly suspected what this statue was. “Does this statue look like me?” she asked.
“It does,” Biagio said. “As it should, for I know its story. I have searched high and low for the lost daughter of the sculptor, in hopes that she may bear at least a passing resemblance to her mother. Imagine my joy when you opened the door of that windmill and I saw that, indeed, you do. You shall make my brother happy and that shall make me rich.”
With that, Maartje wept, for she knew that there was no way that this prince would willingly let her go, knowing that he’d never find anyone to suit his brother’s tastes as she did. She leaned over the deck’s railing, and her tears fell into the water below.
Then suddenly, a fish jumped from the water — a fish with bright blue, sparkling eyes.
“Opa!” she shouted, and the next time it jumped, she caught it in her apron and hastily whispered her plight before dropping it back into the water so it could breathe. All through the rest of the day, the fish followed the ship, and Maartje felt comforted by its presence, knowing her Opa was there and would not desert her.
When night fell the prince dragged her to his table, demanding that she dine with him. She wept into her soup as Biagio slurped his. Just then, something tapped at the window, and the prince stood and opened it, peering out into the dark sea. A raven flew forth and landed upon the table.
“Get out, foul bird!” Biagio shouted, waving his arms.
Maartje, recognizing the bird’s bright blue, sparkling eyes, shielded it from him. “It’s harmless; let it be!”
Then the raven spoke in a voice hoarse and ragged:
“No prize will be given you, treacherous villain.
For the gift that you give is not yours to be given.
Tell your brother of this beautiful one,
And your very own body will turn into stone.”
Biagio shook and shuddered and stumbled from the room. After he left, Maartje gently patted the raven’s head. Then, it flew back out the window and Maartje returned to her chamber, certain that, in the morning, she’d find herself once again on the shores beside her windmill, returned to her rightful place.
But when morning broke, the ship had not turned around, nor did it the following day, or the next. Maartje spied the blue-eyed fish in the ship’s wake, and knowing her Opa was there, did not despair. But Biagio became more and more agitated and rarely slept, instead pacing the deck well into the night. When they finally arrived at the far-off kingdom, he brought Maartje directly to the castle and shut her up in a room by herself, save for one small blue-eyed mouse which followed them in from the harbor.
“You shall meet Adamo in the morning,” he said. “You shall present yourself and you shall tell him that I have sent you to him. I shall not be the one to tell him, and, therefore, I will not be in danger of that horrid raven’s curse. Do not betray me, or I promise you shall regret it.”
The following morning, she was bathed and dressed, and led to the great hall where the Prince Adamo was dining. When he saw her across the room, he rose from his chair and rushed to her, falling at her feet and kissing her hand.
“Signorina!” he said. “There is no beauty like yours! Please, tell me who brought you to me that I may reward him, for merely being in your presence, I have now known happiness.”
Maartje was shocked, for this man was as gentle and sincere as his brother was harsh and cruel. She looked up and saw Biagio standing in the doorway, ready to claim his prize. But there, at his feet, was a tiny, blue-eyed mouse, and Maartje knew just what to do.
“My Opa came with me, your highness,” she said. “He’s watched over my journey to you.”
“Lies!” Biagio shouted. He rushed into the room and grabbed her arm. “She lies! I have brought her! She is my gift to you. She has no family here, only me!”
No sooner had he spoken the words than his feet turned the same gray color of the stone floor. Up, up through his legs and then over his chest and arms, the color spread until every last hair on the wicked prince’s head was made of stone. And standing beside him was not a little blue-eyed mouse, but Maartje’s very own Opa, with bright blue, sparkling eyes that looked upon her with pride.
And so it came to pass that Prince Adamo courted the beautiful daughter of the sculptor and the dancer, and when they married, her Opa — who had overseen her journey to the far-off land — inherited a third of the kingdom. There he built a little windmill, where he lived out his days in peace and quiet, knowing his granddaughter was safe and well-loved.
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