Katrine and the Serpent

A Danish fairytale reimagined.

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3. Chapter 2


As I passed through the fields, I held my nose and breathed out through my mouth. It would take another day to get used to the smell, and then I wouldn't notice it for the rest of the planting season. At least, that's what I kept telling myself. I held the lunch pail fast in my small hands as I weaved through waves and waves of fresh, tall, uncut grasses. They soon would be threshed and fed to the animals, but I enjoyed the temporary dry sea they created.

I could see Far in the distance, bent over the field, stabbing the ground, and Bengt, the neighbor's son, following behind him and sprinkling the seeds. We had to pay a portion of our meager yield in exchange for Bengt's help. If I had been born a son, perhaps we would have had more to stretch during the winter. My mother had labored hard with me, and had been barren after my birth. As it was, I was all but useless as a farm child, except for the household chores.

I approached him nervously with the pail, but he was beaten down today, and grim. Too tired to yell or hit, thankfully. He gruffly accepted the food.

"Katrine," he barked. The man never spoke softly.

"Yes, father," I said, staring at the ground, lest I be beaten for impudence for daring to make eye contact. I could feel Bengt's pitying gaze on my back, and my ears reddened. He had seen my father strike me once, but we had never spoken of it. I knew most of the villagers disapproved of Far's demeanor towards Mor and I, but for some reason I felt ashamed. After all, his actions were my fault. 

"I left my jacket by the edge of the field. It is unnaturally warm for the season today, and I would like you to take it back to the house with you. I have no need of it."

"Yes father." I responded, keeping my eyes low.

I turned to leave.

"Katrine!"

"Yes Far," I replied, breath hitching in my throat. Had I done something wrong again?

"I will switch you if you forget," he said, icily. Not an ounce of love in his voice.

I inhaled sharply and turned away, not wanting him to see the tears that had sprung to my eyes from his cold words.

The edge of the fields lay against the barrier of the trees. I hated those trees. I could see the darkness in them as I approached, and I shuddered, chills running up my arms. But I bit my lip and continued. The fear of disobeying my father was stronger than my fear of those woods today.

It took me a while to find where he had flung the jacket, but I finally spotted it, right up against a tree. That was brave of him, I thought sarcastically. Some would have seen it as a potential disrespect towards the forest and its creatures, by daring to put it so close.

As I approached it, I saw the jacket move. I stopped cautiously. Was it a troll child perhaps, taking shelter? Or something worse? I shuddered. I couldn't go back without the jacket. Far would beat me. But I didn't want to go and get it, and risk the wrath of some vengeful woodland creature!

I nearly burst into tears there from frustration and fear. But I made my decision, biting my lip until I drew blood, and approached the jacket. I still had bruises from the last time I disobeyed, only last Sunday when I misread the bible.

"If there be something of the woods, please, I mean you no harm or disrespect. I only wish to claim my fathers jacket," I called out to the jacket as I approached it. It wriggled, and I nearly shrieked out loud as a large, diamond-backed serpent slithered out of the arm.

It was an adder. The largest I had ever seen, in fact. It was at least as long as a full grown man. Viper berus. I had studied them in the book on local flora and fauna. Their bites were poisonous. I wouldn't die if it struck me, but I knew it would hurt like the depths of hell. I crouched, slowly, my eyes never leaving the snake's tiny, beady, black orbs in its scaly head.

Relax. I won't hurt you.

It spoke. More than anything, I wanted to run. Every instinct screamed GO, but my feet felt like the thick roots of the trees next to me.

My voice came out, dry, like aged bark.

"Why should I believe you?"

The snake laughed- well, if you could call the rasping noise it made a laugh.

Because, my dear, if I wanted you dead, you would already be. I know you know what I am. I see the knowledge in your eyes. You know the poison that lives inside of me.

"True," I choked out. "I just want my far's jacket. I don't mean any harm or disrespect, as I said before. I promise on my Mormor's grave."

I believe you, brave one. Let us make an oath, and I will give you your fathers jacket back.

"An oath? With a speaking forest creature? I know the stories about these woods, and I am not addled, even if my father thinks otherwise of me. And I am not brave," I added. I was shaking in my boots.

It is a harmless oath. One with no consequence. Because I am not truly one of this forest. I only ask that you let me be your companion, that you break bread with me, that you give me warmth by your hearth, and you protect me.

"So, you want to be my pet," I said, skeptically.

Of sorts, yes.

"A gigantic snake? Don't you think that my parents will suspect something?"

But he was already shrinking, until he was not much larger than the palm of my hand. I shivered, the magic prickling my skin like tiny needles.

Cautiously I reached out to him, and picked him up. His scales were warm like the sparks from a tinderbox, not like the cold-blooded creature he was supposed to be. This thing, not of the forest according to him, was literally crawling with magic. However, if he was truly of the woods, he would not have asked to be warmed by the hearth, for we all knew that most creatures of the woods feared the fires we burned to keep them away at night. Nor he would have asked to break bread with me, as Jesus had broken bread with his disciples.

"I swear an oath to you," I said, solemnly, holding him up to my face. "You shall be my companion from now on, and I will protect you, and keep you warm, and break bread with you."

Thank you.

I was touched by his gratitude. And humbled. Because a snake had thanked me, but neither my father, nor mother could.

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