(a French folktale)
Once upon a time, a boy and a girl named Sylvain and Jocosa lived near each other in a little village. Both children were intelligent and beautiful and kind, but their families did not speak to each other because of an ancient quarrel. No one remembered the origin of the feud, but no one would make up. And so the families forbade Sylvain and Jocosa to be friends.
But while the children tended their separate flocks of sheep, they often met in the hills where they enjoyed each other’s company so much they forgot they weren’t allowed to be friends. They laughed and played and talked together. They were so lovely that the Fairy of the Meadows decided she must forever protect them.
The Fairy loved them at first sight. The longer she knew them, the more she loved them because of their generous hearts and because they cared about each other’s happiness.
Years passed, and one day the Fairy decided to show herself to her charges. She watched them as they wandered throughout the day. When at last they sat in the shade of a tree to share a meal, she made herself visible.
Jocosa and Sylvain gasped when the slender lady dressed in green and wearing a garland of orchids appeared before them. “Don’t be afraid,” she said. “I am the Fairy of the Meadows, and I have always loved you. I only came to tell you I watch over you.”
They questioned her eagerly, and the Fairy answered them sweetly. She told them of her favorite fountain in the village not far from their homes, and she told them many other things about the spirits that inhabited the forest. At long last she said, “I promise you will see me again, but know even when I am invisible, I am with you.” She then disappeared.
Time passed, and Sylvain and Jocosa fell in love. Of course, they worried about how their families would react. “We must never be parted,” they said, and they promised they would be true to each other forever and ever.
One day the Fairy appeared before them. “It is time that you do me a favor and, in return, I promise you shall never be parted.”
The two agreed at once, and so she explained what she wanted: “Go to my fountain each day just before dawn. Clear away any stones or twigs or leaves that dirty the waters. Keep my fountain fresh and clean, and you will never be parted.”
They readily agreed. This was a small thing to do in return for all she had promised them, and for a long time they tended the fountain with the greatest care. It was the cleanest, most beautiful fountain in all the land.
Then one autumn morning, before the sun rose, they were hastening toward the fountain when suddenly Jocosa spied some flowers at the roadside. “I shall pick these and make Sylvain a garland,” she said happily.
At just that moment Sylvain stopped to pick some flowers to make a garland for his love. “How pretty Jocosa will look in this,” he said.
They both began to pick the last flowers of the season, but the brightest ones always seemed just beyond their reach. Soon the sun began to rise, and when they noticed, they quickly turned and ran for the fountain. They reached it at the same moment, from opposite directions.
But they were too late.
The quiet fountain had begun to seethe and roil, and as they watched, a mighty stream rushed down and swirled around the fountain. Sylvain and Jocosa were parted by a swiftly rushing river.
Sylvain threw himself into the water to try to swim to the other side, but a force he could not see drove him back. Twenty times he tried, and each time he was driven back.
Meanwhile, Jocosa saw a tree floating downriver and tried to use it to cross the river, but she slipped and fell and was cast back to shore.
They looked across the river at each other. Sylvain pointed, and they both began to walk downstream, but as they walked, the river grew wider and wider, and they were losing sight of each other. They kept walking, even after they lost sight of each other. For three long hours they struggled on, following the path of the river, into valleys and up mountains. But their dream of meeting again drove them forward until they were standing upon high cliffs and saw the river pouring into the mighty ocean.
Once again both tried to throw themselves into the water, but the Fairy of the Meadows, always watchful, waved her hand, and at last they were standing side by side on golden sand.
They clutched each other’s hands. They did not know what to say, their hearts were so full. “I’m sorry,” Sylvain said, but Jocosa stopped him and whispered, “No, it is I who must apologize,” and as they argued this way, the Fairy reappeared.
“Forgive us!” they begged her in unison.
“You are forgiven,” she said. “And your punishment is done.”
With those words she waved her hand again. A chariot of green rushes and vines hung with dewdrops and pulled by six short-tailed voles appeared, and the Fairy stepped aboard. “Come,” she said to Sylvain and Jocosa. “Climb aboard and we will return home.”
How happy the two were to see their beloved home and the lovely little cottage the Fairy had prepared for them. They soon discovered the Fairy had worked greater magic: Their families had made up their quarrel and agreed the two could marry and live happily ever after!
The wedding was celebrated the very next day. While they waited for the wedding feast to begin, the Fairy told them the story of the Yellow Bird to remind them to keep their word and to be grateful for the simple gifts of life. But that is a story for another day.