A lord came to town and said to the mayor, “Whosoever makes my daughter happy for a year and a day shall have her hand in marriage and inherit a great wealth.”
The mayor, who was poorer than he believed was his right, said, “I am the father of many sons. I promise you that at least one will make her happy, if you are kind enough to allow them the chance.”
The lord assented, and the very next day the mayor held a ball in the lord’s honour. Arriving in a great carriage, the lord and his daughter alighted to gasps of astonishment from the gathering crowd, for she was more beautiful than any woman that had ever been seen before, or would ever be again.
The mayor’s eldest son, who the mayor loved with all his heart, said to his father, “Let me be the one to please her.” His father agreed, and the eldest son took the lord’s daughter by the hand and introduced himself.
He was a very charming man, and as they danced throughout the evening a smile of joy played across her lips. And the mayor’s son smiled too, for he thought even then of his success, and the great rewards it would bring.
Over the coming days and months, they went everywhere together. Her beauty seemed to grow greater by the day, and he revelled in the attention he gained at having such a woman upon his arm.
Yet every night, when he took her to his room and undressed her by his bed, her appearance changed and when she stood naked before him her slender body looked to him like that of a haggard and wizened old crone. He could not bring himself to touch her, nor share his bed with her, and he made her sleep alone.
And this strange behaviour continued for a year, beauty by day yet beastly by night.
When the lord returned to town and met with the mayor, the mayor said, “Our children have now been happily together for a year and a day. Will you grant my son your daughter’s hand in marriage, and with it pass on the great wealth you promised us?”
“They have been together for a year it is true, but not happily, and it is happiness you promised your son would bring,” the lord said. “You son may take great pleasure in wearing her in public like a jewelled ring on his finger, yet cannot bear to be with her in the privacy of his own bed.”
The mayor was shaken by this, and frightened of losing out on the great wealth this arrangement could bring, said, “I am sorry my eldest son was unable to bring your daughter the happiness she deserves, but I promise you my second son will be able to grant her joy, and will be only too pleased to devote his attentions to her needs.”
The next day, the mayor’s second son invited the lord’s daughter to his house for a meal, and together they ate a great feast. And later together they went to his bedroom, and he undressed her by the fire, and she looked as beautiful as any woman he had ever seen or would see again, and he gave himself to her pleasure.
So every night together they ate a great feast, and every night he undressed her by the fire. And every night in the firelight he took her to his bed and together they made love.
Yet, every morning when he awoke, the first thing he noticed was how different she was in the cold light of day. Her beauty would fade, her figure looked portlier, her face more plump, and she appeared to him like a tired old maid. He was embarrassed for them to be seen with her, and they rarely went outside together.
And this strange behaviour continued for a year, beautiful by night but beastly by day.
When the lord returned to town once more and met with the mayor, the mayor said, “Our children now have been happily together for a year and a day. Will you grant my son her hand in marriage, and with it pass on the great wealth you promised us?”
“They have been together for a year it is true, but not happily, and it is happiness you promised your son would bring,” the lord said. “You son may take great pleasure with her in the privacy of his own bed, yet he cannot bring himself to be seen with her in public.”
The mayor was shaken by this, and feared now he had lost out on the lord’s fortune for good. “I am sorry my second son was unable to bring your daughter the happiness she deserves. I only have one more son, an idle stepson who is forever sullen and unhappy. I am not sure he will bring joy to anyone, and so perhaps your daughter should look elsewhere for a suitor.”
The lord said, “You promised me your sons could bring my daughter happiness. If you have lied to me, I shall be greatly displeased.”
So the mayor sent his stepson to meet the lord’s daughter. She was now neither beautiful nor ugly, but as plain as you or I. The mayor’s stepson spoke to her as if to a friend, and she also to him. And when that night the lord’s daughter undressed in front of the fire, she was still as plain as you or I, and so was the stepson. They held each other in their arms and smiled and kissed and so much more.
The next morning they talked with each other as if to friends, and in this way a whole year passed, and a day, and then from there, together, the rest of their lives.
And the great wealth was the wealth of true love.
The mayor was most displeased.
1. Written November 2016
2. Structurally the same as The Cat Wife