The Princess and the Crab
A very special Today in Crabs fairy tale
It’s a stormy day in Maine and you all seem to enjoy Today in Crabs, so sit down here by the fire and let me tell you a story…
Once, on the shores of the land of Andale, there lived a crab. It was just like any other crab, hiding in the mud from the shadows of the gulls wheeling above, and the arms of the hungry octopus lurking under the rocks. The tide came in and washed it up on the beach. The tide went out and washed it out to sea again. The crab could see all the way to the horizon ahead, but it could only move sideways. This crab was like any other crab... until one day it was not.
On the shores of Andale there also lived a witch, in a rickety hut made of driftwood and sea grass. The witch scavenged on the beach for her food and for any useful items that washed up. She collected the rain in giant shells to drink, and she cooked and conjured in a rusted iron pot over a driftwood fire on the sand. She was not an old witch, nor was she green-skinned or warty. In fact she was quite young, with reddish-brown hair and a kind face. One day the crab, washed far up on the beach by a high spring tide, came across the delicate footprints of the witch, and, gazing at the dunes in front of him, followed the tracks sideways until he came to the fire in front of the witch’s hut.
The crab stopped before the fire and held his claws up in the only sign of greeting his species has. He was not a particularly big crab, and the witch didn’t notice him right away. But eventually she realized there was a crab standing in front of her fire, looking directly at her (as far as she could tell–it isn’t easy to know what a crab is looking at), and holding its claws up in the air. She looked at it. It stood with its claws up. Finally the witch said:
The crab lowered its claws and, in a muddy voice, said “Are you the witch?”
“There are some who would say so,” replied the witch. “What is it to you?”
“I am tired of being a crab,” said the crab. “The tides wash me in and out, and I have no choice about it. Every creature on the land, in the air, and under the sea wants to eat me. I can see the green fields and mountains in the distance one way, and the white foam of the deep ocean waves rolling over the reef the other way, but I can only scuttle side to side on this beach. I loathe the feel of mud under my claws, and I hate the rotting fish that is all I have to eat. I may have been born a crab, but I am destined to rule over men and make them bow to me. I ask for your help.”
The witch looked at the crab for a long time. She was so still that even the crash of the waves seemed to grow distant and muffled, and the beach wind died down to the lightest breath. Finally she nodded.
“I will help you,” she said.
That night, when the moon rose, the witch built up her fire until it was a roaring blaze. She walked up to a gull on the beach, making a strange motion with her hands to hold it mesmerized until she got close enough to pick it up. She whispered something to it, and then broke its neck with a sharp snap. She dropped the limp bird on the sand next to the fire.
Next she waded into the black sea up to her neck and stood still, then turned and walked back to the shore. As she emerged from the waves, the crab saw she had a Man o’ War jellyfish draped across her shoulders like a shawl, its tentacles and stings hanging in a fringe down her back. If it stung her, she didn’t seem to feel it. On the way back to the fire she reached down under some seaweed, and plucked an urchin off a rock.
When she returned to the fire, she picked up the gull and scooped out its eyes with her thumbs.
“By the lights,” she said, “none shall see you.” And she tossed the eyes into the fire, which flared up red.
She then shrugged off the jellyfish and pulled out its long tentacles.
“By the stings,” she said, “none shall feel you.” And she threw the tentacles into the fire, which flared up blue.
Last she picked up the urchin, and scooped out the meat from its spiky round shell. The meat she tossed away, and with both hands she held up the shell before the fire, where it was reflected in the mirrors of the crab’s two shiny black eyes.
“By this crown,” she said, “shall you rule.” And she threw the urchin shell into the fire, which flared purple and cast golden sparks far up into the sky, where they blended with the stars until the crab couldn’t tell which was which.
The crab waited, but the witch went back into her hut and dropped the cloth that covered the door. The fire died down rapidly until it was nothing but dim coals. As its eyes adjusted to the dark, the crab realized it could see a gap in the dunes that lined the beach, just up from the witch’s hut. It was a road.
The crab faced the road, and walked forward up the beach toward it.