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OK, let’s start the episode.
Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for advanced learners. The name of the story is Sleeping Beauty. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/SleepingAdv. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/SleepingAdv. That’s short for ‘advanced’. This is a levelled-up version of a beginner story. You can listen to the beginner-level version of Sleeping Beauty at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Sleeping.
So the weekend before last, I went to visit Bristol with my girlfriend.
Bristol is a big city in the south-west of England. Well, I say ‘big’—it’s big by UK standards. It has a population of just under 500,000 people and it was a very important port city in the past. There were many ships that were built here and went from here to travel to many parts of the world. Actually, Bristol has a bit of a dark history because it was very closely linked to the international slave trade.
However, these days it’s often remembered more positively, especially because it was the birthplace of Isambard Kingdom Brunel [actually, he wasn’t born in Bristol, but Portsmouth. However, he made his fame in Bristol], who is one of the most famous engineers, probably in the world. He created the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which is a really big bridge that connects Bristol to the surrounding areas. He created a lot of the early railways, and I believe he also created some ships. So he was a very important figure.
Nowadays, Bristol is known for its alternative culture and, in my opinion, it should also be known for its great food. It’s a very popular site for graffiti artists and it is the birthplace of the famous graffiti artist Banksy. You might’ve heard of him. He does a lot of political graffiti art around the world. And generally, there’s lots of alternative music, fashion, art and so on.
However, we weren’t really there on a cultural visit. Because I grew up in Bath nearby, I’ve been to Bristol many times, and my girlfriend’s also been there before, so we mainly did shopping and eating lots of food.
In particular, we went to a really nice Korean restaurant and I tried Korean dishes like bulgogi for the first time, and then afterwards we went to a Japanese pub, an izakaya, and had sake, and I believe it was the first time either of us had had sake, so that was really lovely. And then on the Sunday, we took a short trip to Bath and saw some of my friends and we went to another Asian restaurant and shared a big platter of sushi between us. It was really good.
And it was so good that my stomach was just grumbling. You might’ve heard that! Probably just the memory of that delicious food made me hungry again.
Anyway, if you want to hear about my trip in lots of detail, you can go and join the Patreon at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Patreon. For just $5 a month, you can get Elevenses with Ariel, a five-minute daily podcast for intermediate and advanced learners, and I did several episodes about our trip to Bristol
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
When something is beloved, then everyone loves it. For example, Harry Potter is a beloved British literary character.
Compassion is the ability to feel sad for the suffering of other people. If you have a lot of compassion, you are a compassionate person, then you will get sad a lot when you hear about how other people are suffering. Compassion is an important quality in our modern world because we know so much about bad things going on around the world all the time, so it’s easy to lose a sense of compassion.
Dye means to change the colour of something, by using chemicals. In the past, dyeing fabrics to make clothes was a complicated process. People had to find certain insects and animals to produce certain dyes. Now, we can use artificial dyes to dye fabric any colours we want. More people dye their hair these days, although some people think dyed hair looks unnatural and ugly. Well, I have purple hair at the moment, so clearly I like dyed hair!
A compliment is when you say something nice about someone else. For example, ‘Oh, you look nice today!’ or ‘You’re really good at cooking!’ Some people are good at accepting compliments, and some people find it very hard to accept compliments.
A gladiator is a person who fights other people and animals in an arena while others watch for entertainment. In Ancient Rome, watching gladiators fight was a popular sport. Nowadays, we don’t really have gladiators, but we do have boxers and MMA fighters.
A throne is a big chair that kings and queens sit in. Thrones are usually at the centre of a throne room. In the TV show Game of Thrones, there is a big throne made out of swords called the Iron Throne.
A cloak is a long piece of clothing. It is basically a coat that covers the whole body and has a hood, a bit which goes over the head. Cloaks are not very popular nowadays, but they were very popular in the past for travelling and keeping warm. You mainly see them in fantasy stories now.
A spell is a piece of magic. For example, in Harry Potter, Wingardium Leviosa is a spell that makes things levitate or fly. When you are under a spell, you are being controlled by the spell, the magic, of another person. However, if you are very clever, you might be able to break the spell, and then you’ll be under it no more.
A curse is an evil spell, evil magic. When you curse something, you change something about it, and the curse must be broken to get it back to normal. For example, a witch or wizard might curse a prince so that he dies on his eighteenth birthday. To break the curse, the prince has to have true love’s kiss.
When you go to the beach, you’ll see the sea crashing against rocks and the sand. When it does this, it leaves some white bubbles behind that quickly disappear. This is seafoam. In the original version of the fairy tale The Little Mermaid, when the mermaid cannot kiss the Prince who she loves, she is turned into seafoam. So when you see seafoam, you never know, it might be a mermaid…
When you drop something, it might not fully break, but it might get a crack in it. A crack is when something has almost broken but not quite. If you have a crack in a glass, you can’t use it because the water will fall out through the crack. If you have cracks in the walls of your house, then it’ll probably get cold. Some people believe that it is bad luck to walk on cracks in the street. They say, ‘Step on a crack and you’ll break your back.’
OK, so listen and enjoy!
In a world far away from ours, in a time long past, there were two castles: the Blue Castle and the Red Castle. In the Blue Castle, where the fairies lived, everything was soft and blue as a clear sky. Joy ruled there, even when misery threatened it.
Among the fairies, one stood out as the most beautiful, a young creature called Izod. Izod loved her people, and her people loved her. She had a heart as soft as butter, and even the slightest injustice could bring her to tears. Whenever one of the High Fairies passed away, she cried for months longer than anyone else. Her softness of heart was only matched by the beauty of her wings, longer and paler than those of any other fairy. They shone in the sunlight and danced in the air as she flew, and everyone called them her ‘wings of water’.
It came as a surprise to nobody when Izod was chosen to be the next queen. She was beloved by all, and the ruler of the Blue Castle was always a fairy of great compassion. At first, Izod was scared, but as the years passed, her excitement grew. On her sixteenth birthday, she would become queen, and she would be able to share all the love for her people that lived in her heart.
But on the day of her sixteenth birthday, the men from the Red Castle came.
Dressed in deep red, their eyes burned like the fires of hell. They dyed the Blue Castle red with blood. They murdered without care, and for every drop of blood spilled Izod shed a bitter tear. When they finally came to her, her home lying in flames around them, her body was a dry, empty shell.
But the Red Men did not kill her. That would have been far too kind a fate for a fairy like Izod. They beat her, ripped out her wings, and left her alone in the Blue Castle. All alone.
Her beauty was dead, and her magic was gone.
Della loved her people, and her people loved her. Her mother and father, the King and Queen of the Red Castle, boasted loudly of her with pride, and her people gave her endless gifts and compliments. She had gorgeous red hair, which burned bright in the sun, and the people called it her ‘hair of fire’.
In the Red Castle, everything was warm, bright and strong, and Della was the strongest of all. She watched countless battles between gladiators without fear, and when they killed each other, she jumped and cheered. She would be queen one day, and she would be a powerful queen.
But on Della’s sixteenth birthday, everything changed.
The day started with beautiful sunshine but quickly turned dark and wet. Many people had come to celebrate the Princess’s birthday, and now they stood packed inside the chilly castle, their bright mood ruined by the bad weather. It was a sign, said some, but the King and Queen laughed off their comments.
‘The gods are simply afraid of your strength,’ said the King, ‘and even they wish to challenge you.’
Della smiled. ‘One day, I will destroy them, too.’
Della sat on the throne and received the people’s gifts one by one: cakes, fine jewellery, gorgeous paintings and dresses, but most importantly, a wide range of weapons, and even a few war horses. Finally, Sir Galen, the head of the Queen’s guards, came up, dressed in his autumn-leaf uniform. He had a particularly interesting present for Della, presented in a small wooden box.
‘These are fairy wings, Your Majesty. They possess strong magic. Although it is a dangerous force, a powerful queen must learn to use all forces for herself. Be cautious with them.’
Della reached forward to examine the wings, but as soon as she touched them, the doors to the Red Castle flew open, banging loudly against the walls. A horrible wind blew and sheets of rain swept inside, bringing cries of anger from the guests.
‘Shut those doors!’ commanded the Queen.
The guards attempted to do so, but the doors were held open by the force of the wind. Out of the rain stepped a tall figure wrapped in a black cloak. As soon as they were inside, the doors slammed shut behind them. All stood in silence and observed the mysterious figure, who pushed through the crowd towards the Princess.
‘Who are you?’ demanded the Queen.
The figure stopped and pulled off her hood. It was a woman, but no ordinary woman. Her skin was dark blue, covered with deep lines, and her eyes were as white as milk. Despite her appearance, she had a softness about her, underlined by a great sadness. She looked like a raincloud personified.
Della had heard of the Blue Castle and the strange blue fairies who lived there, but they had all died, many years ago. That was what her parents had told her.
The blue woman raised a bony finger and pointed at Della. ‘Those wings are mine. Return them to me.’
Her voice came out as a dry whisper, but nobody else dared make a word as she spoke. For the first time in her life, Della felt fear, true fear.
‘These are not your wings,’ she declared. ‘Sir Galen gave them to me.’
The blue woman repeated herself. ‘Those wings are mine. Return them to me. I need them to fly.’
‘Guards!’ shouted the King. ‘Capture this woman!’
But the guards stayed perfectly still, as did everyone else in the room. Under some kind of spell, no-one could move an inch, apart from the fairy and the Princess.
The blue woman repeated, stronger this time, ‘Return my wings to me! I need them to fly.’ She sounded like she might burst into tears at any moment.
Della calmly stood up, taking the wings in her hands. She held them up to the light and examined them. They were a beautiful piece of work, too complex and regular to be a work of nature, but equally, too thin and delicate to be the work of a human.
Della never gave things up without a fight. That was what her parents had taught her. And yet, she had a strange feeling in her stomach. She knew that if she did not return the wings to this woman, her birthday would be ruined.
All eyes staring at her, Della descended the steps and went towards the fairy.
‘No!’ shouted Sir Galen. ‘It is Izod, the evil queen of the Blue Castle!’
Della stopped suddenly. The fairy’s face changed, filling with anger. She jumped towards the wings, and her spell was broken. The guards ran forward, grabbing her thin arms and easily holding her back.
‘If she will not give me my wings, then let her suffer like me! If I cannot fly, then she must sleep. Tonight, your beloved princess will fall into a deep sleep and never wake up again!’
And then, in an explosion of raindrops, Izod was gone. The damp cloak fell to the floor and left the guards grasping at air. The Red Castle fell silent, and the rain outside stopped, the sun finally returning. But none could feel its warmth.
Although the people of the Red Castle dismissed magic and those who used it, they understood its power. Nobody doubted the words of the blue fairy, and the King and Queen sought the help of the best healers and spellcasters in the land to remove their daughter’s curse.
But none could undo it, for it was a curse more powerful than any of them had ever seen. All they could do was take precautions.
So that night, Della did not go to bed. Neither did she the night after that. For a whole week, she avoided her bed as if it might burn her, and stayed awake by any means possible. Her parents found entertainers—musicians, clowns and dancers—to keep her occupied every minute of the night.
And yet, with each passing day, Della grew more tired, and her parents could do nothing about it. One night, while eating dinner together, her head fell onto her plate and she fell fast asleep.
The King and Queen tried to wake her up. They shook her violently. They waved sweet-smelling flowers and foul-smelling drinks in front of her nose. They had the musicians play as loud as they could. They held her nose and poured buckets of water over her. But the Princess did not move, and finally, exhausted and heartbroken, they carried her to bed. They sat by her every night, telling stories and brushing her hair. But eventually, their suffering grew too much, and even they left her.
Della lay alone in her room. She was a sleeping beauty, and nothing more.
Izod, too, slept. Without her wings, her magic was weakened, and the only way she could keep Della in her sleep was to link it to her own.
In their dreams, the two girls met. At first, Della ran away at the sight of the fairy, escaping into the endless dimensions of the dreamland. But as the years passed—and she had no way of keeping track of the time—she realised that they would have to talk, sooner or later. So she sat down by the sea and waited, and eventually Izod came to her.
‘Why did you do this?’ Della asked. She no longer sounded like a proud child. She was a suffering woman now, just like Izod.
‘I had nothing left.’
Della shook her head. ‘But what did you gain from this? Now we are both asleep. You do not have your wings, and I will never rule my kingdom. Does it make you happy to see me suffer?’
‘Of course it doesn’t. I know how you are suffering. I feel your pain.’
Della bit her lip, trying in vain to hold back the tears that she had locked within her all her life. ‘Then why did you do this?’
Izod simply raised a hand up. Out of the sea, two castles formed, one blue, one red. Watery figures poured out of the Red Castle and marched towards the Blue, striking it with arrows and swords, smashing it to seafoam.
‘I know the history of our lands,’ Della admitted. ‘I know it was wrong. But being queen is not easy. My mother has to do many things she doesn’t want to do. And your people were dangerous. You had magic.’
‘We all had magic, once.’ Izod smiled. ‘But they did not tell you that part of the story, did they? Once, we were all one, Blue and Red together.’
‘What happened?’ whispered Della.
‘We broke ourselves up and killed our other half. Split ourselves in two.’
Della shook her head. ‘Why?’
‘For the same reason that my people feared yours and your people hated mine. Unity never lasts. It is nature’s way to split and divide. Animals kill each other, the sea tears apart the land, and queens conquer.’
‘Then why fight?’ Della knew she was being selfish, but why couldn’t the fairy leave her kingdom alone? Even if war was inevitable, couldn’t her people be happy?
‘Della,’ said Izod, putting a hand on the girl’s shoulder. ‘There is one last hope. A way for us to wake up and bring our peoples back together. But you will not like it. You won’t be able to go back to your life in the sun. That castle has fallen down.’
Izod stared into the fairy’s eyes, deep pools of water. She had no reason to trust her. She was every part the monster that her parents had warned her of. And yet, her parents were just as much monsters themselves. She saw that now.
Della woke up suddenly. No, she was not Della now. She was Izodella. She had her wings of water and she had her hair of fire.
Izodella floated out of bed and examined the dusty room she was in. Death and dirt had climbed into every inch and crack of the castle, and she knew instantly that her parents were gone. Many years had passed, and when she looked out of the window, she saw a dying land. The earth was Red, red with fire and blood, and she saw no joy or bravery, only misery and pain.
Without hesitation, Izodella flew to the throne room, and there, sitting upon a throne twice as large as himself, sat Sir Galen.
‘Well, well, well. The Princess has finally decided to wake up.’ His face turned into a cruel smile. ‘I think I preferred you asleep.’
The King’s—the new King’s—guards rushed forward, but Izodella was faster than them. She dove forward, pushing her nails into Galen’s chest and ripping out his heart. The King gave his last breath and collapsed onto the floor.
Then came the guards and the soldiers. They swung at her with swords, fired arrows, beat her with sticks. She threw them all aside like flies, breaking through the castle doors and flying above it.
Below her, the people sweated and bled for their kingdom, and now they looked up at her in an expression of acceptance. The end had come, and they knew it.
Izodella raised her right hand.
Fire rained down. It swallowed the Red Castle and ran across the land, burning through fields and forests. It climbed mountains and danced across rivers, and finally it reached the ruins of the Blue Castle, swallowing them just as it had the Red.
Izodella raised her left hand.
Water rained down. It washed away the ashes of the fire, swept the bodies of the dead into the sea, and wiped clean the land.
Finally, the fire died and the rain stopped. The land slept. Izodella lowered her hands and cried. She cried rivers and oceans, her tears pouring onto the dry earth. All around, silence and darkness ruled.
And then, where her tears had fallen, something arose out of the dark, something this land had not seen for a very long time.
Thank you to everyone who’s supported the podcast on Ko-Fi. I did get a lovely bubble tea while I was travelling last week, and I did think of you all while I drank it! Specifically, I had a taro tea with tapioca pearls in it. Yum! Until next week.