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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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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