There once was a boy of admirable qualities, who would have blushed terribly to hear himself described in this way. This boy, whose name was considered unimportant by his neighbors (and we shall follow their example), lived in a small village on the edges of an enchanted forest. The ignorant, who are not personally acquainted with enchanted forests, often conclude that they are a source of constant trouble, but in truth the village was little bothered by its arboreal neighbor, having been trained over some generations to treat kindly with unknown old women and be circumspect with regard to animals who spoke. This is not to say it was entirely roses and may-sunshine for the residents of the village on the edge of the forest, for they went woodcutting there, and sometimes a pitchfork would bury a perfectly innocent farmer in manure, and betimes a broom would carry off some maiden or other- perhaps to become a witch, because they must come from somewhere.
But ultimately they ignored these troubles and lived simply and honestly, and no-one was more simple and honest and good at ignoring troubles than the boy of whom we have lately spoken. He was handsome, broad-shouldered, and politely brought-up. Nonetheless he had little luck in finding a bride, because he had a reputation for being the son of a turnip farmer (which was indeed the case). This being so, any woman who might have looked on his fair face and broad shoulders with love in her heart instead saw the prospect of endless days of turnips, and turnip products- a multitude of porridges and perhaps, experimentally, turnip liqueurs. This cooled ardor so effectively that even as his parents- a loving mother and a doting father- passed into their old age, he remained unmarried.
About his father little need be said, as he was a quiet and studious man who lived only for the turnip and the proceeds of his ale barrel (which also contained turnips- he was, at least this far, inventive). About his mother, however, we must say a bit more. She was a doughty woman with a seamed, red face and a rubicund nose, because she had hobbies in common with her husband. Perhaps as a result of this, she was given to telling the boy tales about how he had come to be, although thankfully perhaps not the ones you might expect. She told him once when he was six that she had found a log, and nursing it carefully had transformed it into a real boy- which was him. He had consequently watered himself for some months in a spirit of willingness. When he was twelve, she had promised him most sincerely that she had, in fact, dressed a piglet in clothing and loved it so much that it had become a real son of hers- himself, in fact. As a boy of twelve is naturally attracted to mud, the consequences were predictable.
When he reached eighteen years of age, she told him- because he was a man now, and deserved to know the truth- that she had sincerely loved her husband’s turnip-beer so profoundly that a portion of it she had pissed on the floor (perhaps the enchanted floor, as, after all, there was only the one forest) had become a son to her. As it is impossible to live for even eighteen years without learning a little bit from experience, he stroked her cheek and kissed her head (he was a polite and lovely boy) and departed to the village’s only tavern, there to obtain a drink.
The person that he met there was one of his few friends, a rotund young man given to exaggeration and with a forgivable tendency toward anosmia. As he hefted his single beer for the night- made with grain in the traditional manner- he gave voice to his troubles, and expressed a desire to leave the turnip farm, while still, as was responsible, leaving his parents in good condition.
“I would do it, too; I would depart, and never touch or smell or taste or see a turnip again- but I cannot leave my loving mother and doting father with no support in their old age.”
To which his friend replied, laying a finger alongside his nose, that the solution was simple.
“You need only marry a princess, and what is still better, there is a princess nearby- that is to say, in the enchanted forest. I suppose this might perhaps be troublesome, but it is worth going to some trouble for a princess’ hand, I should think.”
In reply the boy only took another long drink, as he was not certain he wished to marry a princess, but he was sufficiently impressed by his friend’s solution to make inquiries. He found that, indeed, there was a princess in the enchanted forest, but she was said to be cursed. This dissuaded him in no small degree, but he also discovered that she was independently wealthy, and that there was a favorable tax situation obtaining at the time with regard to princesses. He also discovered that the story regarding a cursed princess had been circulating for at least nine years, so that the princess must be a spinster by the standards of the time. As he was a modest and self-effacing young man, he felt this might improve his chances.
Some nights after he had heard about the purported princess, he packed together a coil of rope, his tinderbox, a sturdy knife, and some food, chiefly bread and cheese and salt pork, into a sack which could easily be carried over one shoulder. Then, in the dead of night, he slept heavily and peacefully, and in the morning went to his parents and carefully explained what he wished to do and why, and that he would return in no more than three days, or sooner if it looked as if things might be really dangerous. It was on that note that he entered the enchanted forest, looking all about him with the greatest wariness and circumspection.