It was a small cottage dwarfed by giant evergreens and lush ferns. The maiden was thankful to see it was such a lovely cottage. The windows shined out a glowing light of warmth from inside. As she approached the door swung open slowly on silent hinges. No one was about, yet the maiden entered on the advise of the Woodsman.
Inside a fire crackled in the hearth. A table was set quite simply for supper. The maiden sat at the table, glad for the chair. Suddenly wondrous light shown from nowhere and the cottage became a castle banquet hall. Servants in bright, crisp dress with efficient, friendly manner loaded the table, now seven times the size it had been, with fruits and meats, wine and water. They continued to bring all manner of dishes and drinks. Candles appeared along the length of the table. Lush flower arrangements interspersed with the wealth of food that filled the expanse.
The maiden found herself no longer alone. At the other end of the table a Baron, full proud of all that was laid before them, had come to sup with the maiden. He merely smiled at the maiden as the food and mead continued to be brought on. A fine linen napkin was unfolded onto the maiden's lap. Then the staff silently moved to the walls of the great hall to wait.
The maiden had never seen a finer spread. She had never been attended so completely. The food and drink, the crystal and silver all looked sumptuous and bright.
"Please eat." said the Baron.
The maiden took up the fine silver fork laid beside her and gratefully began to eat. The first butter laden glistening bite of beautiful morsel was good. Yet, she was surprised at the lack of flavor the food provided. Her brow furrowed ever so slightly. An attendant left the wall and took away the dish. She was served another dish, this one of tender melting meat. As she took a bite, sure this dish would be resplendent with flavor, she was again surprised at the lack of taste. To hide her dismay she took a quick sip of water. But the attendants had seen it was not to her liking. One took away the dish. Another brought on a new plate. The maiden wishing not to offend her host looked to the attendants and gestured not to take her plates. It's not that they were bad, they just had held such promise in their steaming buttery or fresh oven smells that the lack of full flavor was surprising. The maiden silently wondered, "Is it simply a lack of salt?"
She tried several more dishes and for each one she was unable to hide her disappointment. At each one the attendants carted off the offending food and brought a replacement. Though the candles burned bright and the great hearth flickered warmth, the food was want. At each bite the maiden became more and more convinced a simple remedy could be had. Yet, she saw no salt upon the table. And there was no talking from the Baron or his servants to make an inquiry.
The Baron appeared pleased to have a partner for his meal. He smiled as she tasted each bite, but he said nothing. Nor did he seem to notice she was not able to take a second bite of anything laid before her. She was grateful for the meal, but searching for something, any dish, to compliment the Baron's surely fine chefs.
One by one the marvelous foods were removed from the table. As each plate was taken the room grew dimmer. The table grew smaller. The flowers and the candles simply disappeared from the shrinking table. The maiden wanted to try no more dishes. She did not want to continue the offense surely she must be causing. As the table shrank the Baron grew closer. Finally the maiden spied just at the Baron's elbow a small salt cellar filled with white sparkling crystals, with a fine small silver spoon. This caused her to smile. The attendant, misunderstanding her smile, let her finish the dish in front of her. She smiled to know there was salt on the table. She smiled to know a simple remedy was at hand. As she finished her plate it was taken away and another dish was laid before her.
The maiden looked expectantly at the Baron hoping to gain his attention so that she could speak. He smiled at her and waved his fork in good cheer then looked back to his plate to assess his next bite. He was chewing quite loudly, though proper, and did not hear the maiden clear her throat.
An attendant served her ices and sweets to balance the meal. Coffee and warm chocolates were brought. They were good and charmed the maiden with their sweetness. The meal was winding down. The maiden enjoyed what was left of the flowers and candles that were left on the now small table.
It appeared time to leave. The maiden refolded the napkin from her lap and set it beside her on the table. Her journey, it appeared, was waiting for her outside in the Great Undiscovered Forest. There was no reason to stay for any more dishes if she could help it. Here the Baron looked up startled at the maiden making ready to leave.
"Will you not stay for more?" he asked.
"Nay." she spoke most politely to conceal her dismay for the meal. "My travels await me outside your door. I am comforted with your banquet, but I fear I may be imposing on your good graces to stay. I am most honored to be included in your supper. "
"You did not enjoy the meal? Was everything not as you wished?"
"Oh fine sir, the food offered was most resplendent. I have never been so well attended. Forgive me for speaking plainly, it was want for a few grains of salt to make it pleasing for my taste. I mean you no disrespect. Only that I may continue my journey now as the meal has come to an end."
"Salt?! You would throw away a fine meal with attendants and warmth and attention to every detail but one? You entered my fine hall to find fault with this offering? Salt? A few grains of salt is the bane of all this?!" The Baron swept his arms aside to take in the great hall and fine array. His elbow there toppled the salt cellar off of the table. The fine small silver spoon clinking on the stones and the grains of salt sizzled as they bounced from the floor and spread at the Baron's feet.
The maiden tried to rise gracefully from her seat. Her face was burning in contrition at being so discourteous and ill-mannered before the Baron. She wondered at herself. Who was she to not be grateful for all that was offered? Yet, she wanted no more bland food offered with no banter and nay, without a few grains of salt now lying strewn about the floor at the Baron's feet. He, in turn, stomped over the once clean white grains as he pounded in disgust from the hall.
The maiden turned to leave, ashamed for her unkind words. The great hall was once again the simple small cottage room she had first entered. She stayed a moment to regain her composure by the warmth of the small crackling fire in the hearth.
"I do not know at what moment during the magnificent meal I would have been allowed to ask for that which was missing." she consoled herself silently. "Nowhere during the meal was I asked if what I was offered was to my liking. I know that what was offered should have filled and satisfied me beyond question. But, no one questioned anyway."
Having no means to make amends the maiden left the cottage, quietly closing the door behind her. The Baron, now looking more like the Woodsman he was, stood on the Great Forest path just outside the cottage. He was waiting for the maiden.
"Thank you for coming." he said. He leaned toward the maiden and gave her a most lovely kiss. It tasted salty.