Tale #18: The King and His Weeping Wife

There was a king long ago who lived hereabouts, and who had been away at war. On his return to his castle he chose for himself a wife, and told her she was his one true love. They were married beneath the falling blossom of the orchard trees, and she wept throughout the ceremony, and on into the night, overcome by her emotions. And he called her his Weeping Wife, for she cried her tears of happiness from that moment on.

One day, the king went with his men to the woods to hunt. He caught himself a pale deer and returned to the castle, only to find it quiet there in a way he at first could not quite place. Eventually he realised it was the sound of no-one sobbing, and he welcomed the change that must have come over his wife while he was away. He took the deer to the kitchens and cut out its heart, for it was a rare delicacy much enjoyed by noble men. Satisfied with his meal, the rest of the animal was condemned to the fire.

It was only after he had eaten that he returned to his chambers, and in calling to his wife, realised she was gone. He had his men search for her, and after several days word reached him that she had been taken by her sister, who was a duchess of a neighbouring land. His wife, the messenger said, was so shocked and overcome by the ordeal that she no longer wept her tears of joy.

The king, to give himself time to think, went hunting in the woods once more. The hunt proved fruitless, and he returned to the castle empty handed. There he ordered his army to prepare for battle, and the next morning they rode out.

At the gates of the duchess’s castle, the king called out, “Give me my wife, so I may take her home with me.”

The duchess came to the window of the highest tower, and looking down at the king, said, “No, for she is not mine to give.”

To which the king replied, “Give me my wife, so I may take her home with me.”

His wife came then to the window, and stood beside her sister, and looking down at the king said, “I am not hers to give, nor yours to take. I am mine and mine alone. Leave, and let me be.”

The queen closed the window and went back inside, and she sat with her sister and did not cry, even though she knew what surely was to come. The king below smashed down the gates and rode into the courtyard and set fire to the buildings there, and to the castle itself, and to the fields all around and the nearby town, for there were none that his rage would spare.

On his return to his castle he chose for himself a wife, and told her she was his one true love. They were married beneath the falling blossom of the orchard trees, and she wept throughout the ceremony, and on into the night, overcome by her emotions. And he called her his Weeping Wife, for she cried her tears of happiness from that moment on.

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Notes:

1. Written in July 2014

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Tale #14: The Jealous Lord

There was a lord who fell in love with a married woman. The lord put out her husband’s eyes, for surely she would not love a man who could not see her beauty, but still love him she did. The lord then cut off her husband’s ears, for surely she would not love a man who did not listen to her, but still love him she did. The lord then cut off her husband’s tongue, for she surely would not love a man who would not tell her he loved her, but still love him she did.

Finally the lord cut out her husband’s heart, for surely she would not love a man who was dead. But still love him she did, now more than ever.

And the lord never did win her love.

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Notes:

1. Written on July 13th, 2013

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Tale #6: The Farmer’s Daughters

A farmer and his wife had a daughter, and they both loved her with all of their heart. They called her Red Rose, and they lavished her with love. Two years later they had another daughter, but this time the farmer’s wife died giving birth to her. The farmer called this daughter Black Death, and cursed her with his every breath.

The two sisters grew up reflecting the uneven treatment they received from their father. Red Rose, who was given nothing but praise, was fair of face, with long red hair and a confident and friendly nature. Black Death, however, was scolded and beaten daily and treated with naught but contempt and malevolence, and she grew up to be awkward and fearful and shy, with lank black hair and a sickly pallor to her skin.

One day, just after Black Death had turned 16, the farmer travelled to the city on business, and he took with him the farm’s full compliment of cows to sell at the market. He considered his daughters finally old enough to safely leave on their own, and anyway he was glad to be away from Black Death for a while. She still raised in him a furious hatred and despair that he could not control and which had not dimmed over the years but had instead grown stronger with every passing day.

Without the constant attacks from her father, Black Death, who called herself Raven, gradually became less withdrawn. Red Rose, who was usually forbidden by her father from helping her sister, shared with Raven the daily chores around the house and her work in the fields. Raven, who was forbidden by her father from playing with her sister, joined Red Rose in her games in the garden, and in the evening they swam together in the river that ran near their house.

By the end of the fifth day, Raven had begun to laugh and smile, and she said to her sister, “I wish this week could last forever. It has been to me as if a dream. But alas by Sunday our father will be home, and he shall wake us the next morning and all this shall be gone. It will be as if nothing has changed nor ever did. A dream fading away like all the others come the break of day.”

Rose, who loved her sister, said, “Let us run away together, far away, and never mention our father again.”

But Raven said, “He would never let us go. You due to love, and me due to hate. And when he came eventually to find us he would forgive you, and blame everything on me, and my punishment would be even more severe than that under which I suffer now.” And so they did not go.

On Sunday, the sisters were working in the fields when they heard a screaming by the river. They rushed there to discover a woman had been knocked into the water by her two cows, and was now being drowned beneath them as they clambered into the water to drink.

Raven, whose arms were strong from years of toil and could pull as strongly as an ox, grabbed the cords around the cows’ necks and hauled them up the river bank and back into the fields. Rose, who spent many of her days swimming in the river and was as agile as a fish, dived into the water and pulled the lady to safety.

“You have saved my life,” the woman said to the sisters. “Tell me anything you want, and I shall repay you as best I can.”

Red Rose said, “I have received nothing but kindness and riches my whole life, regardless of what I have deserved. Yet none have brought me happiness, for the only thing I want is for my sister to know joy, and be free of her life of torment.”

And Raven said, “My sister suggested we should run away together, for it is our father who torments me and has prevented me from ever knowing joy. But if we leave he will search us out until we are found, so he can punish me and reclaim my sister. For in love and in hate he considers us his own.

“But this week our father has been away, and today it is that he returns. So all I ask is that you come with us to meet our father, and tell him the kindness we have done you, in the hope that it will help convince him to let us leave. Then your debt to us will be repaid.

“For if he does agree to let us go and to leave us be, for as long as we live, both me and my sister can know true joy.”

And the woman said, “It will be done,” and she went with them to the road through the woods, and there they waited for the farmer’s return. When the old woman saw him approaching, she told the sisters to hide in the undergrowth with the two cows, and to remain quiet until all had been agreed.

“I will give him a chance to show his kindness,” she said to herself, and then to him she said, “Sir, your daughters saved me this afternoon from drowning, and I owe to them my life. In repayment for their deeds I wish to take them with me to my castle, where they can live like queens, for I will treat them with a kindness and generosity unknown in this part of the world. They shall want for nothing, and be happier than any who have come before or since.”

“No,” said the farmer. “I will not let you take them from me. They are my daughters and mine alone to keep.”

The woman said, “If their happiness is not enough, I offer you all my money and the great vast expanse of my lands, for I rule a great world. You shall be a king there without equal, and your daughters and I can stay here and toil as farmers upon the land.”

“My older daughter, whom I love, is all I have left to remind me of my wife, and as such is more precious to me than even the greatest treasure. Every time I look upon her face I see the beauty of her mother, and briefly I am happy again. No money nor power in the world would be enough to let me give her up,” said the farmer. “As for my other daughter, whom I detest, glad would I to be rid of her. But what she took from me can never be returned. To honour the memory of my wife, whose life she stole, her punishment must go on. And not for anything can I set justice aside and let her go free.”

“Then I shall return to you your daughters,” she said. “And you can go on your way.”

The old woman brought forth from the undergrowth her two cows. “Here is Red Rose,” she said, pointing to the cow with red-brown fur. “Here is Black Death,” said she, pointing to a cow of black and white. “Take them with you, and forever be gone from my sight.”

At this she rose up, and took on the appearance of a great witch, and in horror the farmer took the cows, believing them to be his daughters transformed by a great and terrible power, and he hurried away with them to his home and did not look back. Then the old woman took Red Rose and Raven to her realm, which was as vast as she had said, and vaster still, and there she treated them as if they were her daughters, and as if they were her friends.

“Oh Red Rose, look at what has been done to you,” said the farmer when he got home, and sadly stroked the red cow’s back. “Oh Black Death, look what you have done to her,” he said, and struck the black and white cow harshly with his hand.

The cows, although docile in temperament, were old and strong, and also stubborn and immovable, and they remained unmoved by both his kindness and his spite. In this way he lived out his days, his love and his hate stripped of power, and eventually he died. And on that morning the cows walked out beyond his fields and disappeared into the mists at the river’s edge.

As for the sisters, it is said they were never parted for as long as they lived, and nor were they ever unhappy again, in this or any other of their lives.

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Notes:

1. The first draft of this was written between June and November 2012, but this version is from May 2015

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Tale #5: Lonely Isobel

In the days before even my mother was a girl, there lived a lord of these lands who was so protective of his daughter, Isobel, that he kept her locked in a room at the very top of the tallest tower in his castle, and he forbade everyone from seeing her. And so she grew up all alone.

One day, a travelling prince came to town and a huge ball was held in his honour at the lord’s castle. Noblemen and gentlewomen from across the shire came dressed for the occasion, and from her window Isobel marvelled at the extravagant beauty of the gowns the ladies wore.

“I wish, just once, that I could wear a dress of such beauty,” Isobel said, looking down in despair at the drab rags that her father insisted she wore.

Unbeknownst to Isobel, it was her 18th birthday that very night, and a passing fairy heard her plea.

“Lonely Isobel,” the fairy said as she appeared out of the thin night air. “Here is your dress.”

And in an instant Isobel was dressed in a gown more opulent than any she had seen below. Pale blue silks were adorned with exotic white furs, and all was overlain with sparkling gems of every form and colour.

“It’s beautiful,” Isobel said, and for a while she danced joyfully around the room in giddy excitement. But eventually she returned to the window and looked down at the still arriving guests.

“I wish I could go to the ball to dance with them all,” Isobel said. “Rather than be here all alone on my own.”

“Of course,” said the fairy. And as quick as that, Isobel found herself at the heart of the ball.

Even there, amongst the richest and most refined people of the land, Isobel stood out. Her radiant jewels shone brighter than the stars. The elegance of her dress made the other guests look as if their gowns were ill-fitted rags borrowed from their servants. And her joy… O, her joy!

The great prince could not fail to notice her, and soon he asked her to dance. Isobel agreed, and for the rest of the evening they could not be parted. She was the centre of all attention, and it was to her like a dream. People talked to her, listened to her, complimented her, laughed with her and danced with her. She had never before realised how silent her room was, and how still. How complete her isolation had been.

Nor how constricted she had been. She swirled around the hugeness of the hall, dancing in every corner, sweeping her dress round every pillar, sashaying past every doorway, lingering only at the windows to see each new view across the courtyards and the gardens.

And to see her tower anew, from the outside. To see it how others saw it, if they saw it at all.

The next day, the prince and all his guests left. In the dull morning light her outfit was transformed – the jewels now looked like lumps of milky quartz; the furs resembled clumps of wool; and the dress itself looked enormous and absurd as she walked awkwardly on her heels across the cobbles of the market square. The looks she received now were not of admiration but of prurient disdain.

“I wish I was back home,” Isobel said, and she found herself returned to her home, back in her rags, locked in her room at the top of her father’s tallest tower. But she could not be returned to her earlier state of solitude, unhappy as it was, for it was only now, having experienced friendship and company no matter how briefly, that Isobel would forever be cursed with true and unending loneliness.

And she finally grasped the fullness of her father’s cruelty.

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1. Originally written in October 2013, but heavily rewritten since.
2. A Cinderella variant (obviously)
3. The title comes from the Bjork song Isobel, which I always remember as saying “Lonely Isobel / Married to myself” rather than what it actually says

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