by Eva Schultz
There once was a little girl named Ada who lived with her aunt and uncle in a cottage near the woods. Sometimes when she was sent to bed, Ada would cry because she was afraid of the dark. Her uncle would shout, “Stop that crying!” and her aunt would snap, “Brave little girls do not cry.”
One day an old man knocked on the door and asked for food. Ada’s uncle shouted, “Go away, you worthless beggar!” and her aunt threw a rolling pin at the old man. But Ada could not bear to see the sadness in his gaunt face, so when no one was looking, she fetched a loaf of bread, followed the old man, and handed it to him.
The old man accepted the bread and said, “Thank you, child. For your kindness, I will repay you with a gift.” He handed Ada a piece of parchment, rolled up and tied with red ribbon. “This is a map,” the man said. “In the hands of a brave child, it will always show the way home.”
When Ada went back inside, her uncle and aunt were waiting for her.
“How dare you steal bread from our table!” her uncle shouted. “I will thrash you!”
“No,” said her aunt. “I can think of a punishment even better. Ada, go into the woods and draw water from the stream.”
“No!” cried Ada. “Please, I am too afraid of the dark woods!”
But although she pleaded, they sent her out into the woods alone.
As she walked, the forest became deeper and darker all around her, and the path grew more and more faint until she could not see it at all. She walked on and on, but at length, she realized that she was lost.
She remembered the map in her pocket, but when she opened the parchment, she saw that it was blank. Fear gripped Ada’s heart, but she raised her chin and said, “Brave little girls do not cry.”
A stiff breeze blew through the trees, and their leaves whispered as Ada walked on. Though she felt tears in her eyes, she said, “I am not afraid.”
Far above her, she heard a hawk’s screech. Ada’s breath grew shallow, but she said, “I will not cry!” and she walked faster.
Across a clearing, she saw a wolf staring at her with deep yellow eyes. Then Ada felt such fear as she had never felt before. She opened her mouth, but no words would come. She could not say, “I am not afraid” anymore.
She dropped the water bucket, and she turned and ran as the wolf howled behind her. At last Ada could run no more, and she flung herself into a pile of leaves. All alone in the darkness, she began to cry.
As she wept, her tears fell upon the parchment, and a map formed before her eyes. She could see her own hiding place and a path leading out of the woods.
Ada rose and followed the map faithfully, and soon she saw the sunlight through the trees once again. But when she walked out of the woods, her aunt and uncle’s house was nowhere to be seen. Instead, she saw a beautiful castle, its pennants waving in the breeze.
Beside the gate was the old man who had begged for bread at her door. In a flash of light, he transformed. Now he stood before Ada in royal robes and the coronet of a king, his face hearty and smiling. “Welcome, dear child!” he said.
“I do not understand,” said Ada. “You told me the map was meant to guide a brave child home.”
“And so it has,” said the king.
“But I was afraid in the woods,” said Ada. “I was afraid, and I cried.”
“My dear child,” said the king, “it takes all the bravery in the world to admit that you are afraid.”
And then the king presented Ada to his queen, and they brought her to live with them in the castle, and there she always stayed.
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