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 #19: The Three Doors and the Fourth

There was a woman who was married away by her family to a man she had never met. Their wedding was brief, and he left as soon as the vows were complete, for he had a great many interests to attend to, few of which, if any, could be delayed or delegated away.

Once he was finally free for a while from his obligations, she travelled the great distance from her home in the city to his in the mountains, alone and unaccompanied by any except for the taciturn driver of her husband’s formal carriage. Even when she arrived at her new home there was no-one around to greet her.

She approached the house and knocked on the door and when there was no answer she knocked again. When her third knock went unanswered she opened the door herself and stepped across the threshold.

She was greeted apologetically inside by her husband, who looked resplendent in the uniform of his office. He told her much about his life and his ambitions, and showed her the many rooms and halls of the house. But there were three doors he forbade her from opening. “Enter them,” he said. “And there would be no turning back.” But of what lay beyond he would not talk.

The next day he left to attend to the important matters of his office of state, as well as to his business affairs. And his pleasures, too, no doubt, although what they might be his wife had no idea, for he had confided in her little beyond the pleasantries of everyday acquaintance. And so she was left alone in the house.

It was too cold outside to venture far, and too remote for visitors to arrive uninvited or unannounced. She wandered the halls and the corridors of the house alone, sitting occasionally in front of a fireplace or beside a window, reading perhaps a book or studying the art that hung forgotten on the walls.

Eventually to overcome her boredom she sought out the first of the forbidden doors and stood before it. She knocked and when there was no answer she knocked again. When that too went unanswered she opened the door herself and stepped across the threshold.

She was greeted brusquely inside by her husband, who looked tired in the drab grey of his business attire. He told her much of his life and achievements, as he walked with her from room to room and through the halls of his house. There were two doors he forbade her from opening. “Enter them and there would be no turning back,” he said. But of what lay beyond he would not talk.

The next day he left to attend to his interests of business. And to his pleasures, too, no doubt. Although what they might be his wife did not dare to know. And so she was left alone again in the desolate house.

There was too much snow outside to venture far, and the roads were unsuitable for all but the most important journeys. So she wandered the halls and the corridors of the house alone, sitting occasionally by a fireplace, reading perhaps a book to pass the time.

Eventually to relieve the boredom she sought out the second of the doors forbidden to her and stood before it. She knocked. There was no answer, and so she opened the door and stepped across the threshold.

She was greeted inside with fury by her husband, who looked haggard and unwell in the faded velvet of his evening wear. He told her much of his life and regrets as he pursued her from room to room. But when she came to one door he stood in front of it and forbade her to enter. “There would be no turning back,” he said, but of what lay beyond he would not talk.

The next day he left to attend to his pleasures, the details of which his wife knew more about than she cared to know. And so she was left alone in the desolate tomb of his house.

The glaciers pressed in against the walls of the house and there was no escape. She sat in her bed and stared at the walls. Before her stood the third of the doors.

She stood before it.

She opened the door.

She stepped across the threshold.

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Notes:

1. From May 2015
2. A variant of Bluebeard, by Charles Perrault (among others)

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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 #16: The Man Who Made Himself A Wife

There was a man who was incredibly lonely. Having reached the age of 39 without ever knowing love, he decided to use his talents as a carpenter and carve himself a wife. He worked tirelessly for over a year until one day he looked at what he had made and realised there was nothing more he could do.

“You’re perfect,” he said.

“But you’re not,” she replied. “Frankly, you’re a right old mess.”

And she took the tools from his hands and began to make improvements.

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Notes:

1. From November 2014
2. This was inspired by The Loves Of Lady Purple by Angela Carter (from Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces, published in 1974)
3. And of course by my tremendous loneliness too

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Tale #3: The Cat Wife

A nobleman had three sons, but had yet to choose an heir. When a cat began to attack the people of the town, he said to his children, “Whosoever saves our town from this beast of the woods shall inherit my castle and all of my lands”, and each in turn set out to defeat the creature.

The eldest son, a soldier, picked up his sword and marched out into the forest where the cat was presumed to live. He quickly became lost and as the day headed towards night he sat down and, although only intending to rest for a short while, fell asleep against the trunk of an old oak tree.

When he awoke it was completely dark, and he could feel the weight of something heavy on his chest. He tried to move but the cat – for that was what it was – pushed its claws into his skin, opened its eyes (which were just in front of his own) and said, “What is that you hold in your hand? Is it for me?”

The eldest son said, “Yes, it is for you. If you let me up I will give you a good close look of it.”

The cat leapt from his chest and sat down in front of him, and the soldier stood up, raised his sword, and swung it as hard and as fast as he could at where the cat now sat. But the cat’s eyes saw so well in the dark that she dodged easily out of the way of the blade and then leapt forward and sliced the man’s head clean off his shoulders with a single swipe of her claws.

The next day the nobleman woke to find the head of his eldest son left on their front doorstep. So now the middle son, a farmer, strode out into the woods to try his luck against the cat, and he carried with him a bag of the finest meat from his farm.

He quickly became lost as he searched through the unfamiliar woods, and as the day headed towards night he sat down to quickly rest his weary legs. Yet he ended up falling into a deep sleep, and when he awoke the moon was high in the night sky above him and bathed in its light he could see the cat asleep on his own chest.

When he tried to move, the cat awoke and said, “What is that you have in your bag? Is it for me?”

And the farmer said, “Yes, it is for you. If you let me up I’ll open up my bag and give you a good look at what’s inside.”

The cat leapt from his chest and sat down in front of him, and the farmer stood up and opened his sack, and took from within the meat he had brought with him and threw it onto the ground. The cat sniffed at it, and satisfied that it was not poisoned, began greedily to eat, and while she was distracted the farmer held out the sack and approached the cat as quietly as he could. But before he could lower the sack over her head, she heard the heavy beat of his heart as he approached and leapt out of his way. And then, with a single swipe of her claws, sliced his head clean from his shoulders just as she had his brother’s.

The next morning, the nobleman awoke to find the head of his second son left on their back doorstep. The youngest son, who was considered useless by his father for he had no job nor a wife, was still in bed when his father burst into his room. His father dragged him from his room and insisted that now he must make his way to the forest and avenge the deaths of his brothers.

To this the young son said, “I do not want to, father. This cat has never harmed me. And anyway, surely now you’ve sent my brothers to their deaths, I’m your only son and your only heir.”

In response to this insolence the nobleman beat his son so fiercely that the boy agreed tearfully to go to the forest, even if only to escape his father’s wrath, and he set out before lunch. In the woods, the young man did not become lost, for he cared not where he was, and gave no thought to returning home.

He came soon to a stream, where he stripped naked and bathed his battered body in the babbling brook. When he returned to the riverbank, he found the cat sat on top of his blood-soaked clothes, busily tearing the cloth of his shirt to ribbons with her long and deadly claws.

She looked up at him while her claws continued their game and said, “Your first brother brought me a sword, and with it tried to kill me. Your second brother brought me a sack of food, and with it tried to capture me. What have you brought me, and what will you try to do to me with it?”

The youngest son said, “I have brought you nothing, for I came here only to escape my father. I cannot give you my clothes, for you have already destroyed them. I cannot give you money, for I have no job and therefore nothing to spend. I cannot give you food, for I forgot to bring any even for myself. All I have left are my hands and my heart, which for all my trying I have never been able to give away, for no-one has ever wanted to employ me, and nor have any ever wanted to love me.”

“Then give me your hands,” said the cat. “To stroke me whenever I desire. And give me your heart, to love me forever and without regret, and in return I shall become your wife, and cease my attacks upon on the town.”

So they returned to his home and were married that very afternoon. For saving the town, the young man and his cat wife inherited the nobleman’s castle and all of his lands, and lived there benevolently until the end of their days. As for where the noblemen went, none would say.

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Notes:

1. The earliest version of this I can find is from August 2013.
2. Illustrated again by Holly English
3. I like cats

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