A wizard once lived who could bestow the gift of a long life. Some said a hundred years, others five hundred. No matter the length, the storyteller always ends the tale with this warning: "Be you tall or small; all things must balance. Be careful what you ask for, as a life not well lived is filled with an eternity of regret." Many a night has been spent pondering the meaning of this caution.
Near the forest was Liptonstein, a village known for its tasty pastries. The best came from Papa Grundel's Strudel Shoppe. All this fame brought great wealth. You would never know it since the bakery sat in a simple building similar to others around it. A fact not lost on Papa's wife, who felt their wealth set them above the rest. Papa Grundel would not hear of it when she wanted to build a new shop.
One day, as Papa put strudel out to cool, a traveling minstrel happened by. Noticing the pleasant smell, the musician offered to exchange a tale for a piece of the pastry. Being kindhearted, the baker told the minstrel he could have the whole pie if he would recite the Northern Forest Wizard story. The storyteller accepted and, after a bite, began his tale.
He sang of a wizard who granted long life and exceptional beauty to those worthy of this gift. As the baker's wife listened, she began to think about how wonderful it would be to have radiant beauty. She had grown tired of her mundane life, and with so much gold gathering dust, her mind twisted until it brought forth an evil plan.
Papa Grundel thanked the minstrel and gave him two silvers for cider with his strudel. They parted company, and Papa returned to his ovens, paying little attention to his wife. With her husband occupied, she slipped away and headed to the tavern, where she met the minstrel enjoying his pastry and cider.
She greeted him with a bow and asked whether he could tell her how to reach the northern forest. The traveler offered to accompany her to her journey's end. They agreed to meet the following morning. "Won't your husband miss you at the shop?" asked the minstrel. The wife said he was off to visit his brother and would close the shop while he was away. Saying her goodbye, the woman asked the innkeeper for a tankard of cider and left.
Then, the wife stopped at the village herbalist and asked for a sleeping powder to get a good night's rest. That evening, Papa Grundel enjoyed a sumptuous meal with cider. Papa mentioned that the innkeeper had lost his touch as the cider seemed a little bitter. "I will mention it when I see him again." said his wife. Slipping into a deep slumber, Papa failed to wake when his wife touched his arm with a hot ember.
The wife attached a large stone to his legs and loaded his body onto a cart. Reaching the well, Papa's wife placed the weight on its edge and gave a push. As the stone fell, it dragged the baker to the well's bottom.
The vile wife removed the ashes from the oven and covered the baking racks with a cloth. Gathering her gold, the baker's wife stepped into the street, locked the door, and headed for her rendezvous with the minstrel.
As the clock struck eight, the murderer and the minstrel exited the village. They arrived at the next town and sought food and rest at a local tavern.
The following morning, the baker's wife met the storyteller. He offered to accompany her to the forest. Approaching the woods, a voice called out, "If you seek the one who grants wishes, beware wishes left unfulfilled."
"The worthy get what they deserve, and I shall receive what I justly deserve," spat the wife, then walked past the crouched beggar.
They came to a stone stairway where the Wizard stood. "Is it a long life or beauty that you seek, young lady? And you storyteller, what is your wish this day?" asked the man.
"I ask for nothing for myself, only that this woman gets her just reward," said the minstrel. "Long life and great beauty," said the woman.
"Before I grant your wish, follow these stairs to the clearing, where you will find a stone table. Place your offering there and await judgment," said the Wizard. The minstrel remained since he did not seek a reward.
Approaching the table, she thought of Papa and the rundown bakery. Never again would life be dull; instead, it would be extraordinary. Carefully placing the gold on the table, she stepped back to wait for her wish to be fulfilled.
The Wizard appeared and spoke, "Since you have requested both long life and beauty, it will take a moment."
The wife set down her case, straightened her clothes, and prepared for transformation. Raising his staff, the Wizard spoke, "For long life and beauty, one may grant in the form of the worthy plant." A flash of light, and then the wife felt her body change. Closing her eyes, she imagined how beautiful she would soon be.
When she opened he eyes again, the minstrel and the Wizard stood before her. She tried to ask why the minstrel was there but couldn't speak. "This is some trick to get my gold," thought the wife and attempted to reach her case but found she couldn't move either.
"You seem to have received your just reward. I hope you use the years ahead to reflect on your vial deed. I told the innkeeper about your wish to visit the Wizard while Papa was away, and he informed me his brother had died years ago. It occurred to me that you murdered him for his gold so that you could be granted your wish. I accompanied you to inform the Wizard and ensure you received all you deserved," said the storyteller.
The minstrel reached down, picked up the case, and walked back into the forest. The Wizard smiled, "Yes, you are astonishingly beautiful. I will enjoy your company over the years. Oh, I seem to have forgotten to tell you. Even as beautiful as you are, you're still a tree, and they burn. Let's hope there are no fires in the forest soon."