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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Tale #24: The Lunar Queen

I heard a story that went like this.

A troubled king was beset on all sides with trials and tribulations that were beyond his capacity to control. Even his wife was critical of him. In his anger at her betrayal, he shouted, “If you believe you can do a better job than me, I shall grant you a kingdom of your own to rule. Then we shall see what manner of monarch you would make.”

Nevertheless, she continued her criticisms of his policies, and he had her banished from his kingdom and exiled upon the moon. He said to her, “I grant thee this kingdom of rock and ruin. Now let us see the great successes of it you shall make!” And he left her there in the vast ocean of dust that was now her domain.

The queen did not despair. “First,” she said. “I need air so I can breathe.” And so she spoke to the northern winds of the earth, for they blew harder than any she knew, and were despised by the people that lived there for their malevolence and unceasing destruction.

“The people of the north do nothing but complain about you, and have no appreciation of the support you grant them. Come join me here on the moon, and blow as hard and as long as you like, and let them pour their smoke up into a windless sky and choke beneath a fog of their own making.”

The north winds agreed to join her on the moon, and brought with them their birds and their bees, and so the queen had all the air she could breathe, and a great deal more besides. And the north winds had a whole world on which to blow, and blow they did.

“Next,” the queen said. “I need water for me to drink.” And so she spoke to the southern seas of the world, for they were deeper and wilder than any she knew, and were hated by the people of the south for the ships that they sank and the storms that they brewed.

“The people of the south do nothing but complain about you, and have no appreciation of the support you grant them. Come join me here on the moon, and spread you waters as far as you wish, and as deep. And let them pour their filth into their own soil, rather than down their rivers and into you.”

The south seas agreed to join her on the moon, and brought with them their fish and their whales, and so the queen had all the water she could ever need, and a great deal more besides. And the south sea had a whole world round which to flow, and flow they did.

“Now,” said the queen. “I need some land on which to live.” And so she spoke to the eastern mountains, for they were higher and harder than any she knew, and were feared by the people of the east for the barrenness of the soil and the coldness of their cliffs.

“The people of the east do nothing but complain about you, and have no appreciation of the support you grant them. Come join me here on the moon, and stand as high as you wish, and as proud. And let them try to grow their crops without the rains you squeeze from the sky for them.”

The eastern mountains agreed to join her on the moon, and brought with them their goats and their glaciers, and so the queen had all the land she could ever need, and a great deal more besides. And the eastern mountains had a whole world on which to stand, and stand they did.

“And,” she said. “I need some woods in which to walk.” And so she spoke to the western woods, for they were thicker and wilder than any woods she knew, and were hated by the people of the west for the monsters they contained.

“The people of the west do nothing but complain about you, and have no appreciation of the support you grant them. Come join me here on the moon, and grow as thick as you like, and as far. And let them try to build their houses and heat their homes without your wood.”

The western woods agreed to join her on the moon, and brought with them their flowers and their foxes, and so the queen had all the places to walk she could ever need, and a great deal more besides. And the western woods had a whole world on which to grow, and grow they did.

“And finally,” she said. “I need some friends with which to talk.” And so she spoke to all the women of the world.

“The men of the world do nothing but complain about you no matter what you do, and have no appreciation of the support you grant them. Come join me here on the moon, and live exactly as you wish. And let them try to live their lives without you.”

The women of the world agreed to join her on the moon, and brought with them their joy and their love, and so the queen had all the friends she could ever need, and a great deal more besides. And the women of the world had a whole world on which to live, and live they did.

Whatever happened to her husband I never was told.

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Notes:

1. Written September 2016

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If you like the things you've read here please consider subscribing to my patreon. Subscribers get not just early access to content and also the occasional gift, but also my eternal gratitude. Which I'm not sure is very useful, but is certainly very real. Thank you.