Tale #89: The Poor Woman

There was a woman who lived in the woods. She had no money, and could find little work, and those that paid her paid her very little.

One day an old lady knocked at her door and begged for some food to help her through the cold winter’s night, for she was far from home and farther still from reaching her way. The woman who lived in the woods said, “Alas, I haven’t enough even for one, let alone two, but you may have what little there is, although whether it will do you any good or not I cannot say. And you may sit by my fire and warm your bones, although the wood is already burning low, and the night has barely yet begun.”

The old lady came in and together they sat by the fire, which seemed to burn brighter than ever, and ate the last of the bread, which seemed to fill the bellies of them both. After an hour the old lady got up and said that she must again be on her way. “In repayment for your kindness I will leave you a gift,” the old lady said. “So you may earn that which your kind spirit deserves, each time you receive payment for your work you shall become twice as beautiful as before, and subsequently earn twice as much, the next time circumstances allow.”

With that the old lady made her way to the heart of the woods, where she disappeared from this world and went on her way to the next.

At first the woman noticed very little change. She still struggled to find work, and for many weeks she starved away, surviving on scraps scavenged from the forest, and if anything when she looked at herself in the waters of the brook she thought that rather than becoming any fairer her famishment had made her ever fouler.

In the early days of spring, however, after the snows had melted and the flowers of the forest had begun again to bloom, a woodsman from the nearest town knocked at the door of her house and she invited him in and provided him with what he desired. As he left she asked him for a shilling, but he looked her up and down sadly and paid only a penny.

She wept that night, but the next day, when she caught sight of her reflection she was surprised by the vitality of her appearance. When the woodsman knocked again, he gladly paid the price she asked, and the day after he gave her double. “A tip,” he said, “for one so pretty.” And he even asked her to walk back with him to town, for rather than being ashamed by his patronage he now was overcome with pride.

After she saw him to his house she tarried awhile in town, and by the end of her stay her beauty was greater than any the town had ever known, and her purse fuller than she had ever dared dream.

Soon only the local Lord could afford to pay her. He took her into his house, and by the end of the week the house was hers and the Lord a beggar, much to the satisfaction of his staff, and the spiteful delight of his wife. The woman, who no longer lived in the woods, was generous with her money, and kind to all in her care, for she knew the horrors of poverty, and the humiliations of servitude.

Eventually the King came calling, for by now stories of her otherworldly glamour had spread far and wide. As his treasuries emptied over the subsequent weeks, and her beauty multiplied, the King began to despair, for soon he would no longer be able to afford her services, and he could not bear to return to the drabness of his court. “How could I live, knowing this beauty was out there, beyond my reach?” he sighed.

He ordered his treasurer to mint him a million pound coin, and then two more. By now the currency of the land and the entire economy of the country was on the verge of collapse. No matter how much of the money lavished on her by the King she spent trying to alleviate the suffering she saw around her, the country continued to collapse into despair and horror. And all the while the King tried ever more desperately to finance the further satiation of his lust.

For him the end came quickly. The people rose up and threw him into the sea without ceremony or regret.

In the ensuing days, they crowned the woman their Queen. She used her money and her wisdom to rebuild the country into something far greater than it had ever been before, and she ruled divinely for the rest of her days, delighting in way her country now prospered. She spent the rest of her life enjoying the many friendships she formed with the subjects of her land, and occasionally bankrupting other countries when politics and desire demanded.

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Notes:

1. Written on February 9th, 2015

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