ANNA SYBILLA

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ANNA SYBILLA

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          Once upon a time in Sweden on a farm there lived two young sisters named Anna and Sybilla.  They were identical twins.  Anna and Sybilla were jealous of each other and they bickered about anything and everything.

          Sybilla said, “You are taking too much time in the mirror!”

          Anna said, “I wanted to wear a green dress today!”

          Sybilla said, “You took the bowl of porridge that I wanted!”

          Anna said, “You only like Staffan because he likes me!”

          Underneath the floorboards of their farmhouse lived the Elf named Torgny.  Torgny was the impish protector of the farmer’s land, wife, and children.  The bickering of Anna and Sybilla was unsettling to Torgny.

          Sybilla said, “Stop playing your accordion; I am reading!”

          Anna retorted, “Of course, you must keep reading; Teacher says I read so much better.”

          Sybilla countered, “Teacher says I am the best runner.”

          Anna taunted, “That’s because you have to run after all the boys!”

          Sybilla stung back, “Well at least I don’t have to run after Staffan, now do I?”

          Their mother could not comprehend their resentment of each other, “Why can’t each of you be happy with what you have?  Why do you worry that the other might get something better?”

          Anna and Sybilla pointed, each a reflection of the other, and said in unison, “She started it.”

          Mother held both sides of her face as if it would crack in two.

          Just then came a knock on their front door.  It was Staffan, “Did you hear?” he said breathlessly, “They have picked The Queen of Lights.  It is you, Anna!”

          Anna glanced at Sybilla to verify jealous defeat on her sister’s face.

          Staffan continued, “And you, Sybilla, you have been chosen as one of her handmaidens…”

          Sybilla clenched her fists and pouted but Staffan did not notice as he continued, “…and I have been chosen as a Star Boy!  I can’t wait to tell the others.  I get to wear a hat decorated with stars.”

          “It’s only a paper hat,” muttered Sybilla but Staffan did not hear her.

          Staffan turned to leave just as Anna and Sybilla’s father came to the door, “Hello, sir!” Staffan beamed.  “A very good day to all!”

          Father smiled as Staffan danced aside and departed running.  Father said, “Yes, I agree that it is a very good day.”  Father hugged Mother, “It is cold but dry.  The barn is full of grain and warm for the cows this night.”

          “You are just in time.  Supper is ready,” said Mother, “Come along, girls, hurry and wash so Father can enjoy supper while it is hot.  You can tell him the good news then.”

          At the supper table Father was still in a very good mood, “We have had very good luck this year.  We should all give thanks to our benefactor: Torgny!”

          Torgny was listening under the kitchen floorboards.

          Anna reported dutifully, “Sybilla said that The Old Beliefs are silly.”

          Sybilla said pointedly, “So did you, Anna.”

          Anna quickly changed the subject, “Guess what, Father?  I have been chosen as this year’s Queen of Lights!”

          “Oh, my goodness, more good luck.”

          “And guess what else, Father?  Sybilla has been chosen as one of my handmaidens.”  Anna looked toward Sybilla with condescending graciousness.

          “Oh, my goodness,” Father said, “That is wonderful news.  Both of my lovely daughters will be in the procession together.  That is wonderful, isn’t it?” Father nodded to Mother who was eyeing her daughters warily.

          Sybilla said to Anna, “Yes, it will wonderful to watch you trying to balance the Crown of Candles on your swollen head while you try to lead the procession without tripping on your own foot and falling down.”

          Anna glared at Sybilla.  Father spoke up, “Oh, my goodness, now Sybilla, you don’t mean that, do you?”

          “Oh, yes I do.  And…,” Sybilla turned to Anna, “I’ll be marching right behind you holding hands with Staffan.”

          Mother wasn’t quick enough.  Anna threw her biscuit at Sybilla.  Sybilla dashed her milk into Anna’s face.  Anna shrieked.

          Mother flew behind them both, “Enough!  That is it for you both!  No supper for either of you!”  Mother took Anna and Sybilla by the ears and dragged them into their bedroom, “It is nearly Christmas and you act this way?!”  Neither sister dared to protest.

          Father lowered his eyes and shook his head slowly, “What is to become of my girls, my lovely daughters?”

          When supper was nearly finished Father lifted his chin toward Anna and Sybilla’s uneaten supper and said to Mother, “Maybe we should offer their suppers to Torgny tonight.  Maybe he can give us just a little more luck for the sake of our daughters?”

          Torgny was listening underneath the kitchen floorboards and he licked his lips thinking about all that food.

          Before Mother and Father went to bed that night they placed Anna and Sybilla’s supper bowls on the fireplace mantle.  Father intoned so that his daughters could hear, “Oh, Torgny, we hope you enjoy this wonderful food.  And, oh, my goodness, we hope that you can help us with our silly daughters.”

          Mother smiled wryly, “I don’t know if that is such a bargain.  We may have to invite him to eat with us every meal.”

          Soon, when the farmhouse had grown very quiet Sybilla, who was not sleeping, said softly to Anna, “I am hungry.  Can we agree that we are both hungry since we had no supper?”

          “Yes.  Why?”

          Sybilla sat up in their bed and whispered, “You heard Mother and Father say that they were going to give our suppers to Torgny?  Well, what a waste.  I’m terribly hungry now.  They’ll probably give that food to the pigs in the morning before we even rise and then they’ll tell us that Torgny ate it, like they always do.”

          Anna whispered back, “I know what you are going to say.  I will do it if you will do it with me.”

          Sybilla nodded, “Good.  What a good joke to play on Mother and Father.  We will pretend that we don’t know anything.”

          Anna added, “We can say in the morning how hungry we still are and how sorry we are and look sad.”

          So Anna and Sybilla tip-toed to the fireplace mantle and ate their suppers that were still warm.  They returned to their bedroom and lay side-by-side without squabbling for once.

          Torgny was furious when he found that the bowls left for him were empty.  He quickly figured out what had happened and he looked toward the girl’s bedroom.  Curling his lip he said, “So you want to play with Torgny?”

          Sybilla awoke first in the morning.  When she tried to get up out of their bed on her side she was restrained and quickly hissed at Anna, “Let me go!  Why are you holding me?”

          Anna then awoke and as usual she tried to be the first one out of their bed, but she too was restrained.  “Stop it, Sybilla!”

          Finally they both pulled the blanket off of themselves and they screamed and screamed.  There was only one body there and it had the head of Anna and the head of Sybilla!  They thrashed in panic upon the bed.  Mother and Father heard their screams and ran into the bedroom.  Mother toppled against Father and nearly fainted, but Father knew right away what had happened and he said, “Torgny!”

          Father held his wife and called to his daughters, “Stop screaming!  Be still!  It is Torgny.  You ate the gift of food we promised him, didn’t you?”

          Finally the weight of reality held Anna and Sybilla still.  Anna’s head was on the right side and she could feel only the right arm and the right leg.  Sybilla’s head was on the left side and she could feel only the left arm and the left leg.

          “We have to move together!” cried Anna.  She and Sybilla concentrated and finally pushed themselves upright on the bed.  They concentrated and slowly moved both legs to dangle over the bedside.  Mother held her hands over her mouth and stared in horror.

          Father understood and said to Anna and Sybilla, “You must now work together.”  He said to Mother, “What a sly prank to answer our prayers.  We must all bear Torgny’s judgment and please him and hope that someday he will forgive our daughters.”

          So Mother and Father began to call the enchanted creature Anna Sybilla.  One person, two names.  Their daughters could only accept their fate and make the best of their punishment.  Very soon the whole village knew of the magic spell and everyone was in awe of Anna Sybilla.

          Both sisters learned to help each other to comb their hair.

          They both learned to agree on the dress to wear.

          They both learned to agree on what to eat.

          Anna taught Sybilla how to play the accordion.  They both became a sensitive musician.

          Anna helped Sybilla with her reading.  They both became a very good reader.

          Sybilla taught Anna to run and together they ran like a deer.

          They together charmed Staffan and all the other boys who now fought to carry Anna Sybilla’s books to and from school.

          They together helped Mother and they learned how to cook.  As an excuse to cook, Anna Sybilla began to prepare meals as a gift to Torgny, breakfast, lunch, and supper.

          Father was so very pleased and proud.

          One morning Anna Sybilla awoke and they were again two separate sisters.

          Anna said, “The Old Beliefs are wise beliefs, Sybilla.”

          Torgny was underneath their bedroom floorboards and he smiled and nodded as he anticipated his breakfast.  Mother and Father who were looking in on their daughters now wept with joy.

          Sybilla gave Anna a great hug.  They both whispered tearfully together.

          “I miss you.”

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