The Spellbook in the Forbidden Room
IN THE MOUNTAINS OF POLAND there once lived a miller and his three daughters. All the eldest daughter loved to do was to gaze at herself in a mirror or in a pond, turning to one side for a pose, taking up her hair to see if that looked more fetching, then letting it down again with a flounce. The middle daughter spent her days dancing about, skipping everywhere, twirling and dipping.
The youngest of the father's three daughters was quieter. Often she was lost in thoughts or daydreams. But she adored her two older sisters, and would clap with delight at her eldest sister's choice of red ribbons for the ends of her braids, then clap a beat for her other sister to dance circles around her.
The father dearly loved all three daughters, but sometimes wished he could teach them to read. Only a couple of people in the village knew how to read, but they were too busy or important for the father to ask, and besides, he had no extra coins in his pocket to pay for lessons even if he could approach them.
One autumn day a shivering old woman knocked on the father's door asking for a bite to eat. He quickly ushered her inside, offered her a bowl of hearty bean stew with sausage, and a place by the fire. After dinner the old woman took out a book and started to read quietly to herself. At once the father said, "May I ask, dear woman, if you would consider staying here with my family for the winter? You'll have a soft bed and warm meals, and in return would you give reading lessons to my daughters?"
It was agreed, and the first lesson was scheduled for the very next morning. The eldest daughter would have come, but she disappeared in the fields to gather wildflowers for a party that night. The middle daughter would have come, too, but a traveling minstrel was passing through town with an accordion, and she couldn't miss dancing to that pumping beat. Only the youngest daughter was there for the lesson. And with the gentle teachings of the old woman, the maiden started to make sense of the strange-looking squiggles on the page.