A very long time ago there was a boy named Jerry who had magic. He lived in a brown house in a brown town between a brown river and a snowy grey mountain. No one in the town knew that the Jerry had magic; so he was raised like most boys. When he was hungry he was fed brown bread and butter, when he tore his brown cloak it was patched with patches and when he was dirty he was rinsed off with a brown bucket filled with water from the cold grey well behind his house.
Jerry’s magic was simple and unrefined. A boy’s magic. He could change yellow straw into things that were not yellow straw. Jerry never knew what the straw would become when he changed it, but change it he did.
One day Jerry was watching his family’s flock of woolly brown sheep graze among the first grey rocks of the snowy grey mountain. Autumn was falling and so were the brown leaves on the brown trees at the foot of the snowy grey mountain. He had watched the leaves turn from green to red and to yellow as yellow as straw. Jerry, sitting on a rock and watching the sheep, was turning fresh yellow straw into things. He made a beetle and he made a knife and he made a wooden harp. He had one length of straw left when one of the brown sheep bleated in fright. It was being carried up the grey mountain by a man in a grey cloak and grey boots.
Jerry followed the grey man up the stony mountain and into a black cave. He had left behind the brown town and brown river and was soon very lost. He sat down on the damp cave floor to rest and pulled out the wooden harp. Sadly, he plucked the first string and listened to the brown echoes of the note come back from many directions. He plucked the second string and the note was twice as brown and had twice as many echoes. The third string he plucked was so brown it was black, and there was no echo; a note deep as the earth came rolling back instead. The black note smote Jerry and he stood up. He plucked the third string again and followed the black note into the cave. Each time the deep black echo died, Jerry would pluck the string on his wooden harp and follow it again.
The black echo led him deeper into the mountain until he came up against smooth and seamless stone. Despair overtook him. In the dust on the floor he found a bit of wool. It smelled brown like his sheep. He put the bit of wool into his pocket and found the beetle. Jerry pulled the beetle out of his pocket where it had been sleeping. It stretched its wings and flew out of his hand. Jerry was all alone. Even the sound of the beetle’s wings faded into black. He slept.
Later, he heard the faint wings of the beetle once more. However, this time they were on the other side of the smooth wall. Jerry cried out and hit the wall. It shuddered and opened into a dimly lit room with a brown sheep and a man in grey cloak and boots in the center. Jerry ran toward his sheep but the man held up a grey gloved hand.
‘No,’ the grey said. ‘Ransom.’
Brown brought out the knife and offered it to grey.
‘A weapon is no kind of ransom.’
Brown cut his hand with the knife and offered red to grey.
‘Blood is useless as ransom.’
Brown brought out yellow straw and changed it.
Into to yellow straw.
Grey smiled and took the changed yellow.
‘Your gift is ransom. You may go.’
Jerry grabbed his brown sheep, wrapped it in his brown cloak and left the room. No sooner had he taken a step into the black cave, he saw the exit to the snowy grey mountain. Jerry climbed down toward his brown house in the brown town between the brown river and the snowy grey mountain and the brown sheep went back to grazing. And Jerry could only change yellow into yellow ever after.