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General · 31st January 2014
Francesca Gesualdi
Preamble to this folk tale
Above us the late summer sky lay deeply salted with stars, luminous crystals bridging unimaginable distances. One by one, and in small clusters, we settled onto the beach logs circling the campfire. Drifting up from the shoreline, the sea-loamy scent of bull kelp settled with us. Our odd-lot family - some kin by blood and others kin by the choice of being there in that moment- fell into an ancient and abundant silence together. The fire crackled in tongues, reaching for the stars.

Auntie Emme, stepped into our silence, her ageless storytelling voice a wild and lyrical magnet.

“This is the story of the girl who loved salt,” she began, smiling calmly. Then, brushing my gaze kindly with hers, she added, “ A girl just like you, dear.”

The Girl Who Loved Salt____

In an old and elegant castle by the sea lived a young girl who loved salt. Salt turned her ordinary lamb chops and her simple barley soup into an extraordinary, delicious, very satisfying meal. She loved the way it dissolved on her tongue, like salt dissolving in the ocean itself. The smell of salt in the air seemed to awaken memories in her of the deep blue sea and all the creatures in it. She always had a few grains of salt in her pocket, and sometimes she turned them over and over again in the palm of her hand, just to feel their sandy grit.

Those who understood her love of salt, like Ute, the castle Chef, called her the Salt Fairy. Those less kind or full of jealousy called her the Salt Witch. Her name was Lady Maria, and her father was King of the land, so nobody called her the Salt Witch too loudly, but she heard them all the same.

Maria had her mother’s eyes, pale blue moons as deep as the ocean itself on a cloudless day in mid-winter. They were set imperially high in her forehead, like her father’s. With those eyes she watched every flutter of the wind, every flapping of a wing, with a quiet grace, for every movement mattered to her.

Most of all, this Salt Fairy loved to make her own salt. She had her own system of shallow trays in which she collected brine from the ocean and set it to evaporate in the sun, leaving behind a quantity of salt crystals, each crystal unique in its own way. Sometimes when Chef Ute had extra heat left in her stove from cooking the castle dinner, Maria would run out for a few bucket loads of sea water and use the heat to boil out the water, which left her with more salt.

Maria wasn’t one to sit about and let the grains of salt pile up idly around her. She went straight into business as a purveyor of salt. With so many uses for it, there was always a market for salt. She could never hope to make enough to meet the needs of the Royal kitchen, but she could certainly make enough to trade it for things she wanted in the village square on market day.
She had saved enough salt to buy her own horse, a fine chestnut Arabian mare she named Electra. She hadn’t known she wanted her own horse, until she saw Electra, and the two of them became immediate companions.

With the fabric merchant in the square Maria traded salt for two knee length capes of fine blue wool; one for herself and one for her mother the Queen, on the occasion of the Queen’s birthday. With the spice trader she traded salt for rich dark chocolate. Maria herself did not like chocolate, but Ledo the Royal astronomer did. A large chunk of chocolate bought Maria the use of Ledo’s telescope so she could watch shooting stars from the balcony of her room.

Maria kept a tidy ledger, noting the days she made salt, the varying lengths of time for evaporation, the quantities of salt she made, and her business transactions - the quantities of salt sold in exchange for merchandize or services purchased. In this way, she also kept an inventory.

Chef Ute told Maria that many governments in the history of civilization had charged a tax on salt, but advised her not to follow their example. This may have been because Ute herself bought salt from Lady Maria; one full cup a month to dissolve in her Sunday bathwater. Ute swore the salt made her skin as clean and smooth as a baby princess’s bottom. In exchange, Ute taught Maria how to salt pork, and cure beef, how to make a fine brine to pickle beets in, and how to ferment apple cider vinegar. “You can live without the burden of gold,” Ute would say, “but you can’t live without salt and vinegar.”

One day the King called all his children to him.
“By sunset tomorrow, “ he ordered, “ I want each of you to bring me a symbol of your love, so that I can see which one of you loves me the most.”

Maria thought the King was being a little foolish, but she thought it better not to say anything. This foolishness would pass, as had his other temperamental whims.

The next day the King’s three children, gathered before His Royal Highness in the Royal Chambers, in their best costumes to pay tribute to their father.
Maria’s older brother Donal went first.
“ I have brought you the finest gold from distant lands, my beloved Father, “ he said,
‘For I love you more than gold.”
The King seemed pleased enough.
Maria’s older sister Merredith went next.
“I have brought you the finest gems from the belly of the earth, dearest Father,” she said,
“for no jewel can match the worth of my love for you.”
The King smiled.
Maria stepped up and unveiled one of her salt trays, overflowing with dried grey-blue crystals.
“I love you more than meat loves salt, for one cannot live without salt, dear Father,” she beamed.

Her older siblings laughed in ridicule.
“Crystals that dissolve in water, like a weakened broth, “ scoffed her brother.

“Isn’t it time you grew up and stopped playing with your salt?” shouted her sister.
All the King’s men started laughing, too, more because they thought the youngest child had been the cleverest, but this only made the King red with fury.

“How insolent of you to say such a thing,” he admonished. “We have let you have your way with this salt nonsense long enough. It is time for you to take on the duties of a royal princess. Who will marry a girl smelling of salt? You will make a laughing stock of me.” he cried.
“Royal Guards,” ordered the King, “See to it that this child’s salt pans are destroyed and bring them to me in pieces. Then lock her in her room until she vows to give up her love of salt.”

Maria thought with her feet. Whistling her secret call for Electra, she made lightening haste for her salt shed, where she kept all her equipment and her ledger, where she hung her blue silk cape. Faster than the confused royal guards she was. She gathered what she could in the folds of her dress and swung her blue silk cape around her shoulders. Electra, sensing her mistress was in danger, but not knowing from what, was already at Maria’s side. Maria mounted her in a single leap and Electra galloped into the twilight faster than the wind, until they were far from the castle and both the faithful steed and its rider were out of breath.
to be continued.....