Tree of Knowledge
by Shari Klase
Tonya’s laugh tinkled out merrily. “The Butcher is old,” she said.
“Yes, he is old, but my father says he has his own business and home and plenty of food to keep a family well-fed and secure.”
“Do you want to marry the butcher?” Tonya asked.
“No! The thought of that bloody meat hanging nauseates me. But what will I do?” Della threw her hands up in despair.
“You must go to the woman at the Tree of Knowledge!”
Della stopped in her tracks. “It is so far! Across the mountains, through the brambles, and over the moat. How could I ever go there?”
“She knows everything. She is said to be the wisest woman in the world. She can tell you what to do,” Tonya insisted.
Della nodded and shouted out so suddenly Tonya jumped. “I will do it!”
The next day despite her father’s protests, she gathered a bundle of clothes tied with long pieces of string, a loaf of fresh bread, and some cheese. She put on her warm cape and set out for the Tree of Knowledge.
Della’s jaw was set in determination as she marched down the village road that led to the mountain pass. She had never climbed the mountain before, but she was so set on her goal that her lips barely trembled as she hurried resolutely on her way.
The mountain trail was harsh and rugged, and her shoes had holes in them by the time she reached the top of the mountain. She camped overnight in a little cave in the mountain cliff. She shivered as wolves howled in the distance.
“They will not be on the mountain,” she thought with reassurance. “There are only mountain cats here.” That fact made her tremble all the more.
She slept little that night and continued on her way down the mountain path in the morning. Hurrying, she fell and scraped her knee. Tears sprang to her eyes, but she brushed them aside.
“I have a long way to go, and I must not cry over sore knees.”
When she finally reached the bottom of the mountain, she kneeled on her bruised knee and thanked God for allowing her to make it over the mountain. When she reached the thorn forest, it was night fall.
“Luckily, there is a lot of firewood in here,” she said with a smile.
It was not easy for her to look on the bright side as she peered into the darkness of the brambles. The wolf howls sounded closer as she scurried quickly to gather branches and light a fire. She huddled around the fire while eating her bread and cheese.
Suddenly, she saw two green eyes glaring at her. The wolf, though frightened, was hungry, and a young girl looked appetizing. Della grabbed a flaming stick from the fire, not even feeling it burning her fingers, and thrust it at the wolf. The wolf yelped and bounced back. Della ran at it and threw the branch as hard as she could. The wolf sprinted off.
Della dashed back to the fire, breathing heavily. She did not sleep much that night. In the morning, she made her way carefully through the brambles. She was scratched and bleeding in a dozen places, but she had finally made it to the moat. In the distance she could see the huge Tree of Knowledge with three branches poking out from the center of the island.
But how would she get across the moat? She could not swim. It was too far. She had no boat to sail or row there. She sat down, perplexed. Had she come so far to turn back?
“No!” she said loudly. “I shall find a way.”
She turned all around. There was nothing but brambles and branches everywhere. Then she picked up some branches and tossed them at the moat. They floated on top of the water like little boats. Della laughed. She gathered as many sharp and thorny branches as she could. She was so tired, but she was determined to not spend another night near the wolf-infested forest.
She tied the branches all together with the rope from her bundle. She sat upon her boat to test it. Would it hold her, or would she sink to the bottom of the moat? As she sat down, the thorns pierced through her clothing.
“Ow!” she cried and jumped off.
She took off her cape and spread it over the top of the brambly raft and slid it into the moat. She climbed upon it and smiled in amazement as it floated softly to the island.
It floated so peacefully and quietly that she fell asleep and did not wake until the raft bumped with a thump upon the island shore. She startled, hopped off the raft, and pulled it ashore. Her cape was wet and wrinkled but she was dry.
She spread her cape out upon the grass to dry and then ran with impatient steps toward the Tree of Knowledge. The sky was turning pink, and an owl hooted from the tree. Nightfall would approach quickly.
Della was out of breath when she neared the tree. It seemed to glisten in the approaching twilight. Next to the tree was a little cabin. The old woman with all knowledge must live within.
She banged out forcefully on the door, and then she thought, “She will think I am a robber with my loud knocking.” She laughed at the thought of a thief knocking on a door.
Still, she cried out, “Please, old woman, let me in! I am only a young girl afraid of the coming darkness.”
The door slid open. An old woman with twinkling eyes welcomed her in. “You are trembling. Do sit down by my fire.”
Della padded in quietly and sat upon a stool by the fire. The old lady sat beside her on a rocking chair and stirred her pot on the fire.
“I have a little garden outside and am making vegetable soup. Would you like some?”
Della nodded. She was so weary, however, that she barely touched her soup before she nearly fell from her stool in exhaustion. The old woman helped her to a bench in the corner, covered it with soft blankets and a pillow, and put the girl to bed. Della slept more soundly than she had ever slept before.
In the morning she woke up refreshed. She jumped up to see the table set with a bowl of fresh berries and a pitcher full of creamy milk. The old woman smiled at her.
“I have some goats that give me fresh milk, and there are berries everywhere on this island. It is a paradise. Only it gets very lonely sometimes.”
Della smiled back at the kind woman. “You have not even asked me why I am here,” she said quietly.
“Oh, I know why you are here. From time to time, someone comes with their dilemmas. I am an old woman and have lived many years. People think I am wise and believe I will solve their problems.”
“That is why I have come. I journeyed over the mountain. I came through the bramble forest. I fought off a wolf and crossed the moat with a little boat of brambles.”
The old woman’s eyes widened. “You have done all that?”
Della nodded. “My father wants me to marry the butcher. He says my fortune will be made if I do. I have defied him to come to you.”
The woman studied Della intently. “You do not want to marry the butcher?”
“No,” Della replied softly. “But my father will throw me out if I don’t.”
The old woman laughed merrily.
Della’s eyes flashed in anger. “You think it is funny that a young girl is tossed into the street? I came here for help.”
The old woman smiled at Della and shook her head. “You do not need my help. You climbed a mountain. You cut through a thorn forest. You fought off a wolf and you fashioned a boat. You are courageous, strong, and clever, far too clever to be told what to do by an old woman or a foolish father.”
Della’s eyes widened in amazement. “You are right. I am strong, courageous, and clever. I will go back home and explain to my father that I’ve decided not to marry the butcher.”
The old woman nodded. “That is exactly what I thought you’d say.”
Della smiled. “That is because you are the wisest woman in the world.”
1. Who did Della’s father want her to marry?
2. What did Tonya tell Della she should do?
3. What animal did Della have to fight off in the forest of thorns?
4. How did Della cross the moat?
5. What did the wise woman tell Della?