Part 1 can be found here.
In the morning, the three men awoke to find that the spirit had kept his promise. Each of them sprang out of bed in wonder and looked out at the new world that lay before them.
The shortest man ran to his looking-glass and nearly cried when he saw what was reflected in it. His ears were perfectly proportioned and nestled close to the sides of his face, while his nose had shrunk down to a satisfyingly exquisite size. His receding hairline had been replenished with thick, glossy, golden locks, and his pale complexion had turned rosy and vibrant. Ecstatic, the shortest man spent the early morning watching his reflection, marveling at the way his eyebrows slid sideways when they were knitted together in a frown, and the way his lips curled when he stretched them into a smile. Not a single feature had been left untouched.
If there was ever a moment when he felt unlike himself, when he wondered whether he had made the right choice in accepting the spirit’s gift, he soon forgot it. His life would be better now, he told himself. And he rejoiced to be changed so completely.
Later that morning, the shortest man decided to go out into the village, hoping to share his good fortune with his neighbors. He had been afraid of their wagging tongues for so many years that he trembled as he walked, momentarily forgetting his good looks. It took all the courage he had to charge up to the town square and show the villagers what the spirit had done.
(Continued after the jump.)
At first they did not recognize the shortest man, but when they saw that his voice and demeanor were the same, he began to capture their interest. They did not know the shortest man very well because he hardly ever spoke to them (and only ever when he was spoken to), but they could not escape how charming he had become, and they began to flock around him like geese.
The milkmaids encircled him and touched his rosy cheeks, giggling, while the wood-cutters envied aloud his muscular shoulders. The thatchers marveled at his thick head of golden curls, and the shopkeepers offered him remarkable bargains for their wares. The weaving women merely whispered to each other, filled with ideas for outfits they planned to sew for him, while the gardeners presented him with several bouquets of flowers, all sweet-smelling and colorful.
The beautiful miller’s daughter was among those who stood several feet away, unsure of the shortest man’s new appearance, but the shortest man was so flattered by the attentions of the milkmaids that he hardly noticed. He began to speak with them, suddenly free of lifelong fears of what they might be thinking. Some of the things he said were soft and poetic, while others came out brazen and strange, but the milkmaids seemed to like it all. They laughed and tickled his cheeks. The shortest man flushed deeply, which made them laugh harder.
From then on, the shortest man spent his days in the centre of the village, showing off his sparkling smile and having his hair combed by the plumpest of the milkmaids (who was his favorite after the one with the dimpled chin.) Sometimes he noticed the miller’s daughter watching, although she always had a frown on her face and left before he could speak to her.
It was several weeks before it occurred to him that he had never met his friends by the river as planned. He brushed the thought away as though it were a bothersome fly that had bitten him on the ankle. After all, he thought, the only thing that had tied them together was their misery. Now that he was happy, why should he be dragged down by his miserable friends?
If the shortest man’s heart had grown a little colder, he never noticed it.
When the middle-sized man awoke the morning after receiving the water spirit’s gift, he thought immediately of the baker. Although he knew that the spirit had promised to do as he asked, he was still surprised to discover a feeling of emptiness where his love for the baker had once been. It was an odd feeling, he thought, but he supposed it must be better than misery, so he got up smiling and made his breakfast.
After a while, it occurred to him that he might start looking for a wife, or at least someone to take up the space that the baker had once filled. Unlike the shortest man, the middle-sized man decided not to go to the village square, because he worried he might see the baker on the way. Instead, he headed for the fields, where a number of pretty shepherdesses lived.
One field in particular was tended by a set of sisters, who spent their days watching their ailing father’s flocks. Between the six of them, they had hardly any work to do, and had gained a reputation for having rather short attention spans. When they saw the middle-sized man approaching, they ran toward him eagerly, leaving the sheep to their grasses.
Instantly, the middle-sized man was struck by how stunning each of them was. The tiny feet of the first shepherdess was equal only to the dainty elbows of the second, and the snub little nose of the third matched only the delicate chin of the fourth. At first glance, the middle-sized man could not tell which one he liked best, so he allowed them to take him into the field and show him their favorite places to while away the day. Overjoyed by the fascination he was feeling, he began to pay the shepherdesses compliments, ignoring the small voice within him that wondered why he was encouraging them to abandon the sheep, which seemed likely to wander off.
As the afternoon wore on, the middle-sized man found that there were still no shepherdesses that he preferred over the others. Each one was just as beautiful as the next, and since he knew no more of them than their beauty, it was impossible to choose a favorite. For a moment he thought of the baker, and the kindness and understanding that had drawn him to him. But he felt only emptiness where love once lay, and so he put the baker out of his mind.
He decided that he would love the shepherdesses equally, appreciating the beauty they shared.
Thanks to the water spirit’s gift, appreciation soon turned to infatuation, and the middle-sized man began to spend every spare moment in the shepherdesses’ field. Several sheep did wander away, as the middle-sized man had predicted, but as time went on he found he didn’t care, and none of the shepherdesses seemed to, although odds were that they had been lost to wolves or worse.
One day, on his way home, he crossed paths with the baker, who had been grieving his company since the day the middle-sized man had made his wish. For a brief second, the two stopped and stared at each other: then the middle-sized man hurried away, concentrating hard on the shepherdesses’ identical smiles.
It was several weeks before it occurred to him that he had never met his friends by the river as planned. He tossed the thought away as if it were a clump of dirt he had found on his shoe. After all, he thought, the only thing that had tied them together was their misery, and now that he was happy, why should he be dragged down by his miserable friends?
If the middle-sized man’s heart had grown a little colder, he never noticed it.