Once upon a time...
Isn't this how all the stories usually start? Well, not this time.
In fact, it so happened that not long ago and not far from here, there was a village so unassuming that no one even remembers its name. And in that village, a young maiden lived, known simply as Shepherdess. The girl shared her Granny's tiny hut and spent countless winter nights listening to her stories. Come summer, Shepherdess took their sheep out to the pastures where she'd watch over the flock and let her mind wander. During these slow, peaceful days she wished for dreams come true.
In those dreams, dainty Fairy magically transformed her shabby dress into a most exquisite ball gown.
And in those dreams, fair-headed Prince arrived on his white steed to whisk her away and proclaim her his Princess.
Wicked Witch tried her darnedest self to harm them but in the dreams - it was all for naught. And so, in those dreams…
Before Shepherdess could ever get to the best part of her dreams, they were always without fail interrupted by her devoted dog barking at a runaway sheep.
Just dreaming the dreams will never be enough, though.
And so, with the first frost heralding the arrival of winter, Shepherdess brought her little flock home, bid her Granny goodbye and set out carrying her sparse belongings in a bag slung over her shoulder.
The first hours of her journey were effortless, feeling almost like a stroll. With a spring to her step and a cheerful hum, Shepherdess marched on despite the harsh wind blowing into her face. But as she kept treading through vast empty plains, her strength and zeal began to wane, weariness weighing down on her limbs like lead.
On the fourth day, she could walk no more. Cold and tired to the bone, the girl curled up by a tree stump, wrapped in an old mantle against the heavy snowfall. Suddenly, she realised that just a few steps away from her stood a carriage. Did it just appear there at that moment? Or maybe the girl missed it in the rising blizzard? That will forever stay a mystery.
Shepherdess approached the carriage with slight apprehension. The door were open in invitation, the coachman sitting ramrod straight on the box and ready to take off any minute. When the girl stepped even closer, a lovely smell wafted from the inside… a gentle aroma of cloves and oranges. Nothing that smells so lovely can be evil, decided Shepherdess and boarded the carriage. The moment the door closed behind her, the driver cracked his whip at the horses.
Soon, steady rattle of wheels lulled Shepherdess to sleep.
Piercing cold stirred Shepherdess awake. Groaning in protest, she blindly reached for her blanket, desperately wanting to snuggle deeper under it and keep sleeping. Only there was no blanket, no pillow under her head either. No carriage. The girl lied on the ground, half buried under constantly falling snow, at the foot of a massive stone wall. Struggling with her numb legs, Shepherdess dragged herself to the solid wrought iron gate and knocked.
Stern voice boomed from somewhere beyond the gate.
'Who are you and what are you looking for in the Land of Ever-Rising Sun?'
'I'm Sh-shep-pherdess,' she replied through chattering teeth. 'Searching f-for my dre-dreams.'
After a prolonged moment of silence, the gate cracked open with a whine of rusty hinges.
Shepherdess stumbled through the gap and near sat down in astonishment. There was not even a sign of winter! As far as her eyes could reach, lush meadows rolled in gentle slopes. Heady, intoxicating smell of flowers in full bloom permeated the air. Warm sunshine touched her face in a tender caress.
Taking her first tentative steps through this land, she noticed someone picnicking under a jasmine tree. A tall, curvaceous woman, wearing a flowing purple dress, a glass with lightly coloured drink in her hand and a cheese plate by her side.
'Hello, sweetness!' called the woman to Shepherdess with a bright, welcoming smile. 'Would you like to share a drop of elderflower cordial with me?'
'Who… who are you?'
'Why, I'm Fairy. Nice to meet you, love.' The woman patted the blanket next to her, completely unmindful of the girl's disdainful look. 'Have a drink and tell me what you need.'
Shepherdess shook her head and politely refused - her Fairy would be petite and delicate so this wasn't her.
By midday, Shepherdess stopped by a stream to rest. As she scooped cool water into her folded hands, a quiet clip-clop announced somebody's arrival. The girl glanced over her shoulder and saw Prince was dismounting a donkey. At least that was her guess, given the clothes of unmistakably royal quality and the thin coronet adorning his temples. Because otherwise the man was so plain in his looks that no one would give him a second glance.
The man dropped to his knee before Shepherdess and spoke in hushed, gentle tone:
'Greetings, Princess. I'm so happy to finally find you.'
'I'm not who you're looking for, my lord.' The girl shook her head vehemently. 'I'm Shepherdess, not Princess.'
And the more Prince begged and insisted, the stronger Shepherdess kept denying his words. Finally, he gave up and with great sadness led his donkey across the stream.
Despite her first two meetings ending in disappointment, Shepherdess marched on through the beautiful lands, still deeply believing that her dreams would come true.
After a few hours spent under the canopy of old trees, she stepped out into a sunny clearing where a group of children were running around, playing and laughing. Sometimes one of them stopped by the gingerbread cottage in the middle of the clearing, to break off a sweet treat and scoff it before rejoining the games.
Then the cottage door opened with a creak and Shepherdess froze in terror. The children, did exactly opposite - without a moment's hesitation, they ran up to Witch and gratefully received mugs of hot cocoa she was passing out.
The girl caught one of the boys as he was running past.
'Why aren't you afraid? Witches are evil.'
'Miss Witch is good.' The boy sent her that grown-ups-are-weird look that children are masters of. 'You ain't need fear her!'
Stunned speechless by his words, Shepherdess looked again toward the cottage. No, this was not Witch from her dreams. She let out a heavy sigh - she still had a long way to go.
The sun had almost set by the time Shepherdess reached a roadside inn. She pushed the door and stepped inside. There was no one there but the fire was crackling in the fireplace, and a steaming bowl of soup and a fresh loaf of bread were laid out on the table.
No sooner had the girl sat down to her meal, than a winged fairy appeared across the table with a smile.
'Welcome, dear Shepherdess. You will meet your prince in the morning. But for now, sleep… lullaby and good night…'
Her gentle though emotionless voice put the girl to sleep.
Shepherdess woke up between silky sheets, soft morning sunshine caressing her face. She stretched and yawned, and flushed with embarrassment when she realised someone had been watching her.
'Good morning, beautiful.' The man's voice was deep and pleasant to the ear, but it still sounded a bit hollow. 'Will you be my princess?'
And from then on everything was as it was meant to be. The handsome fair-headed prince asked to marry her and though the wicked witch tried to spoil their wedding preparations, the fairy's magic kept them out of harm's way.
Shepherdess's dreams came true.
But she did not live happily ever after.
And that's the curious thing about dreams. While you dream them, they are most beautiful, gorgeous, exquisite. But when they come true, the reality turns out to be lacklustre - and something is always amiss.
Yes, the fairy was petite and delicate, fulfilling Shepherdess's every wish before the girl could even voice them.
Yes, the prince was handsome and incredibly charming, courting her with devotion and showering her with dresses and jewellery.
And yes, the witch was truly wicked, casting spells and sending poisoned apples her way, doing her absolute worst to harm them.
Everything was exactly as in her dreams.
With her every whim instantly fulfilled, Shepherdess no longer could simply dream and wish for something. Though lovely, the trinkets from the prince were heavy and stifling. Constant failures made the witch seem more ridiculous than frightening. And above all, Shepherdess-princess suffered from their indifference. In their clearly defined, perfect world she felt like an impostor and though it hurt, she had to admit that none of them would probably care if another girl were to take her place.
One day, Shepherdess snuck out of the castle before dawn. She went down to the stream, dropped off glamorous but pinching shoes, hugged her knees to her chest. Before long, big tears were rolling down her face and she sobbed quietly.
In her grieve, she didn't at first notice the familiar clip-clop of donkey hooves. Or maybe she did notice it but didn't dare believe it was real? But then that hushed, gentle voice filled her ears.
'Why are you crying, Princess?'
At that moment, she realised Prince was telling the truth. For him, she wasn't dressed-up Shepherdess, she became Princess. Smiling at Prince through her tears, the girl asked:
'Take me away, Prince. Take me where the sun rises.'
The man returned her smile at this, his whole countenance brightening. On his humble donkey, he carried the girl to his land where Fairy transformed her dress to one just as beautiful but much more comfortable, while Witch prepared their wedding feast
With the evening approaching, the whole country basked in the last rays of the setting sun. The young couple stood embraced on the balcony, admiring the view.
'My Princess, are you happy?' asked Prince.
Princess pondered this for a moment.
Fairy was far from petite and dainty but she took gentle care of the girl, granting her small wishes while allowing to dream for the big ones. Witch was far from wicked but Princess could always count on her wisdom. And Prince? He wasn't particularly handsome and didn't ride a white steed but his love and tenderness were always with her.
And they all cared for her, not any other princess.
'Yes, I am happy,' she whispered. 'My dreams came true.'
And that's another thing about dreams: you decide whether they come true.
Because you may dream of golden mountains - and climb them, and still want for them while standing on their tops.
Or you may dream of golden mountains - and deeply fearing failure and disappointment, force yourself to be glad with a gold nugget no bigger than your fingertip.
But you may also dream of golden mountains - and truly rejoice at the sight of grassy hills as you find in them what you were really dreaming of, the very essence of your dreams.
It is truly your decision whether your dreams come true.