Tale #35: The Lonely Man’s Tale

I was, O Lord, deep in thought in the garden of my house one afternoon when I was awakened from my slumber by a calling from above.

A cat sat in the cherry tree and it said down to me, “You look all alone. Would you give me some dinner in exchange for an afternoon of my company?”

And of course I said yes and the cat leapt down from the tree and settled on my lap. And she purred as I stroked her and the afternoon passed in contentment for the both of us.

As the sun began to set the cat leapt from my lap and went through the back door and into my house. Inside, I found in my kitchen not the cat but an anteater. It was a huge beast, and with its long snout it snuffled through my cupboards and opened up my jars of sugars and sweets, and with its long tongue it licked out the food within until the jars were spotless and clean.

Once it had finished eating the anteater turned to me and said, “You look all alone. Would you give me somewhere to sleep for the night in exchange for an evening of my company?”

And of course I said yes and the anteater sat at the kitchen table and together we played cards for the rest of the evening. And time passed pleasantly for the both of us.

As the clock chimed midnight, the anteater played her last hand and said goodnight and got down off the chair and went into my bedroom.

Inside my room, I found not an anteater but a woman lying in my bed. And she looked up at me and said, “You look all alone. What would you give for a night of my company?”

I said, “All that I own,” and she pulled back the covers and invited me in.

The next day, O Lord, I was alone again. And I was deep in thought in the park of our town when I was awakened from my slumber by a calling from above.

A crow sat in the peach tree and said to me, “I watched you all day, and I watched you all night. If you would give up everything you have for a dream of a woman, what would you give to truly end your loneliness once and for all?”

And I said to the bird, “I may have given her all that I own, but not all that I have, for I still have my heart. And to truly end my loneliness, it would not be enough to give it away. It would have to be taken.”

The crow listened to what I said. She hopped down from her perch and opened my shirt with a swish of her wings and with her beak she cut open my chest and tore away a tiny sliver of flesh from the corner of my heart. Then she took wing and flew high up into the sky.

And, O My Lord, I followed.

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Notes:

1. Written May 27th, 2016

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Tale #33: The Offered Daughter And The Promised Sons

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.

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Notes:

1. Written November 2016
2. Structurally the same as The Cat Wife

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Tale #1: The Unhappy Bride

A young woman was betrothed against her will to the son of a wealthy farmer. No matter what she said, nor how unhappy she became, nothing would change the minds of her family or his, and the marriage quickly came to pass.

On her wedding night, after her husband had fallen asleep, she rose from bed, went outside, and wept bitterly beneath the moon.

A crow looked down at her from a nearby tree and said, “Why are you, who are still in your wedding dress, so unhappy?”

“I did not wish to be married, and I do not love my husband, and I have been betrayed by those who should love me, and so now I am all alone.”

The crow flew down from the tree and stood beside the bride.

“I can help you,” the crow said. “First, take off your dress.”

The young woman did as she was told, removing her wedding dress and dropping it to the ground.

“Now, let me cut off your hair.”

The woman nodded her agreement, and the crow hopped onto her shoulders, and with a quick bite of its beak cut the hair clean from her head.

“Now, let me give you my feathers.”

The crow pulled a feather from its wing, and plunged it deep into the woman’s arm. The crow then pulled a feather from its other wing, and plunged that deep into the woman’s other arm. And in this fashion the crow continued until it was completely bald and the woman was clothed in a thick black coat of feathers.

“Now, take my beak.”

The woman pulled the beak from the crow’s face and placed it carefully over her own mouth.

“Finally, fly away.”

And the woman flew away into the night.

The crow watched the unhappy bride leave, and then dressed itself in the woman’s dress, and placed her hair like a crown upon its head, and went inside her new house and climbed into bed with her husband.

The years passed, and the husband passed away, and after he was buried, the woman sat outside in her mourning dress and wept bitterly beneath the moon. A crow looked down at her from a nearby tree and said, “Why are you, who were never even truly married to this man, so unhappy?”

“I saw myself in this dress and remembered being a crow.”

The crow flew down from the tree and stood beside the widow.

“I can help you,” the crow said. “First, take off your dress.”

The young woman did as she was told, removing her mourning dress and dropping it to the ground.

“Now, let me cut off your hair.”

The woman nodded her agreement, and the crow hopped onto her shoulders, and with a quick bite of its beak cut the hair clean from her head.

“Now, let me give you back your feathers.”

The crow pulled a feather from its wing, and plunged it deep into the woman’s arm. The crow then pulled a feather from its other wing, and plunged that deep into the woman’s other arm. And in this fashion the crow continued until it was completely bald and the woman was clothed in a thick black coat of feathers.

“Now, take your beak.”

The woman pulled the beak from the crow’s face and placed it carefully over her own mouth.

“And finally, crow, fly away to your old freedom, and let me return now to mine.”

The crow, no longer a woman, flew away into the night. The woman, no longer a crow, pulled on her mourning dress, placed her hair like a crown upon her head, and went inside her old house and climbed into her old bed and slept soundly until morning.

And when she woke she rose anew.

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Notes:

1. Originally written in October 2013, although it’s been revised a few times since then
2. Illustrated by Holly English, who very kindly drew pictures for a few of these stories when I was putting a small anthology together in 2015 (for which this was the title story)
3. I like crows

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