Once upon a time, in the dark woods, there lived an old lady.
She lived in a ramshackle log cabin deep in the woods, far beyond the last clearing and far from any water-hole. She grew toadstools and nightshade in her small garden patch. Perhaps these were her only diet. Every woodland creature gave her cabin a wide berth. When she went for a rare stroll through the woods, deer ran trembling from her path, birds flew away crying wildly, hares rabbited off down their burrows, foxes fled in fear and even the bears and wolves stayed well away from her. In the late afternoons, when she sat in what passed for the porch of her cabin, weaving cobwebs, sometimes a horned toad would come and sit beside her in silence.
Every morning and evening she would comb her long slivery hair till it shone like a glittering galaxy of stars. After that she would sit on her rocking chair and look out of the window. Many hours would pass this way. Sometimes a tear would roll slowly down her cheek and sometimes she would smile. No one knows what thoughts filled her days. No one visited her, for no one dared to go so deep into the dark woods.
Until, one day, a knight came knocking on her door. The regular sort of knight, in mail and armour, with sword and shield and helmet, riding a great warhorse, bravely caparisoned.
The old lady was frightened. It had been too long since she had seen another human being. She didn't trust them and shining armour didn't impress her. If she thought hard, she felt she could almost remember a time when there had been many knights around her, and ladies-in-waiting, and…but the memories were dim, and she had no use for them anymore. She did remember that fair words and finery were things that had turned bitter for, that she had resolved to turn her back on them.
So she did not open the door. The knight rode up to her door and reined his mount to a halt. He waited silently until it was dark and then left. The old lady went back to her rocking chair and her dreams.
He came again the next day, and the next and the next after that. Knights are persistent, if nothing else. Finally the day came when annoyance overcame fear and she opened the door.
'Go away', she said. 'You can want nothing from me, for I have nothing
to give you, go away'.
The knight bowed. 'I want nothing from you my lady', he said. 'I have come to return something that once was yours'. He placed a carefully wrapped package before her and stood aside. She picked it up and opened it, untying knots and pulling away sheets of cloth and paper. Inside, was something longer than her forearm and a little wider than her face, gleaming softly, like the memories that began to stir unbidden within the old lady's mind.
It was a mirror. A beautiful mirror with a richly worked silver frame and a flawless glass. She saw in the reflection of a terrible, powerful lady of great beauty. A smile from yesterday, beautiful,
proud and just a little terrible came back to her face.
'Yes, this was mine,' she said to the knight. 'And it still is. You may thank that slip of a girl you call your queen for returning what is rightfully mine. And tell her never to bother me again.' The knight bowed, mounted his horse and rode away.
The old lady went inside and hung the mirror on the wall. So you've come back to me, she thought to herself. You are fairer than ever, my lady, came the reply.
Somewhere in the forest, a horned toad darted out its tongue to catch an errant fly.