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The children have grown tired of your stories. 

How can you say this? The children love my stories.

Do you not hear them groan when you announce it is story time?

And do you not hear them gasp in amazement and wonder when I tell my stories?

I do hear them, but you have mistaken their open mouths for what they are; loud yawning.

Enough! I shall tell them one more story and leave it to them to decide whether or not I should continue telling stories.

 

Children for this story I shall require your assistance. Along the way I will ask you for details that will shape the story to your liking. And no matter how you turn it, the story will end just as I planned. Now, if you’re game enough, we shall begin.

Once there was a Wild Man who lived on the fringes of the kingdom. He slept by day and by night he would wander into the fields and flatten the corn and wheat crops, or steal pigs and cows, and occasionally would foul the drinking wells with his garbage. Finally the King sent his men out to find the Wild Man but none could. Then one day came a…

A Blind Huntress!

A Blind Huntress then, and she promised to catch the Wild Man and bring him back to the King. The King scoffed, after all how could a Blind Huntress do what even his best knights, guards, and huntsman could not?  Yet the King was at his wit’s end and agreed to give the Blind Huntress whatever she asked for if she succeeded. Her keen sense of smell allowed her to guide her horse to a river on the far edges of the kingdom. There she set down a bottle of bourbon, a bottle of whisky, and a bottle of beer, then went to lay in wait behind some nearby bushes. The Wild Man came and in quick succession drank the contents of all the bottles so fast that he almost instantaneously passed out cold. The Blind Huntress then casually was able to bind his hands and feet together and bring him to the King.

You thought that by making the Huntress blind that you could throw off my story, didn’t you children? In truth, there is nothing you could say or add that would alter the path this story takes, try as you might.

Is that it then? The Wild Man is caught?

Do you believe he would be so easily caught?

No.

Very well. Let us see what comes next. So the Blind Huntress asks for her reward and leaves just as mysteriously as she came. The Wild Man in the meantime is locked up in a cage in the dungeon until the King can decide what to do with him. As it happens one of the King’s sons goes down into the dungeon to gawk at the prisoners and is so startled by the Wild Man that he drops his…

Yo-yo!

Drops his yo-yo and it rolls into the cage. The Boy demands the Wild Man return the yo-yo but the Wild Man insists the Boy come and get it himself. Thinking this frail old man is no serious threat the boy opens the cage and–

No!

No, he shouldn’t open the cage? But he does! So now what happens?

It’s a trick! The Wild Man will escape!

He does? And what about the Boy?

He should… take the boy with him!

A kidnapping then! Very well. So the Wild Man uses the yo-yo string to hog tie the Boy and wedges the yo-yo into the Boy’s mouth to keep his quite while he steals away. He knows he will be hunted down again so the Wild Man carries the Boy to a far away kingdom where he is…

Forced to roll around in the mud!

And is then left in the care of…

The Emperor’s Gardener!

Are you sure you haven’t heard this story before, because that is precisely what happens next. The Gardener finds the Boy and asks him where he came from the Boy, fearing what the Wild Man might do to him, claims not to know how he got there. Every time the boy considered running away he would catch a glimpse of the Wild Man hiding behind a tree or a bush watching him. That night the Gardener set him up to sleep in a hay bin when the Wild Man visited in the night. He told the Boy to rise before the sun came up, wash himself and comb his hair, then put on some better clothes the Wild Man provided and he would find his life greatly changed for the better. The Boy did as he was told and in the morning found that the part of the garden where the Boy worked the day before had been transformed overnight into a lush landscape that even the Gardner could not have managed. Everyone was impressed, but especially the Emperor’s Daughter who gave the boy a gift of…

A chicken!

Stuffed with gold!

That’s quite a sum! So the Gardener set the Boy up in a different part of the palace grounds to work and see if he could reproduce his magic. And that night when the Wild Man visited the Boy gave him the gold and together they roasted the chicken and ate. It was clear to the Boy that the Wild Man had enchanted powers and began to feel he was better off not asking too many questions. The next morning the Boy awoke, and again that part of the royal grounds had transformed into a lush paradise in miniature. The Emperor’s Daughter rewarded him this time with…

A duck filled with silver!

Again with the bird, eh? So I suppose that when this happened a third time she gave him a…

A goose filled with diamonds!

Now that is a handsome reward, and as before the Boy handed over the prize to the Wild Man and they again feasted on the roasted meat. That night though the Wild Man warned the boy that come the morning he would need to prepare to accept whatever he was instructed to do and to trust that no harm would come to him. The next morning the Emperor himself came and found the Boy and told him his services were required. A neighboring country was on the verge of declaring war and the Boy would need to retrieve a message. When asked what he required the Boy requested…

A three-legged horse.

You would send a messenger into hostile territory on a three-legged horse?

Yes.

Very well. As we know, the Wild Man was prepared for this and brought the boy to a mountain made of clay. The Wild Man cut a groove into the clay and opened the mountain like split beast until out came an army of soldiers. The WIld Man explained that the Boy had been sent on a suicide mission, that if he went alone he would be slaughtered and thus give the Emperor cause to start the war, as both sides were waiting for the other to strike first. Sure enough, the Boy arrived at the edge of the country and was met by a hostile army ready to slaughter him. Only the Wild Man’s army put down the invaders quickly. The Boy knew they would send for reinforcements and returned to warn the Emperor. He left the Wild Man’s army in the clay mountain along the way, as instructed, and when he told the Emperor that he’d held off the attack the Emperor’s court was both amused and confused.

Certainly they didn’t expect the boy to return – for that was the plan all along, to remove the boy who was clearly winning the heart of the Emperor’s Daughter – but they also could not believe he held off an army all alone on a three-legged horse. So the boy was sent back with a message of warning, and again he went with the Wild Man’s army, and again he won the battle and returned to the Emperor. After he was sent a third time the Boy returned with a note of unconditional surrender which granted the Emperor control over the newly acquired land. As there was nothing left but to admit the Boy had succeeded, the Emperor allowed his Daughter to reward the boy with a goat full of–

No!

No? Should it be a bird of some kind? A turkey perhaps?

No! The Daughter and the Boy are married! That’s his reward. 

Ah, but you see, the Daughter thinks the Boy is wealthy because of all the gold and silver and diamonds he’s been given, and when she learns that the Boy has given it all away and that they are dirt poor she leaves him. Heartbroken, the Boy returns to the Wild Man’s clay mountain and asks that he be buried with all the soldiers for the rest of his days. The end.

What?

No! That’s not what happened.

It isn’t?

It can’t be.

There has to be more to it. What of the Wild Man? 

What of him?

And the Boy. It can’t end with him just like that.

So what happened then?

What really happened was that the Wild Man brought the Boy back home to his father the King. During the Boy’s time away the King had grown weak and frail with age, but seeing his son was now a young man with an Emperor’s Daughter for a wife he was overjoyed to hand over his kingdom to him. Seeing that it had all been for the better, the King forgave the Wild Man of his crimes.

Then the Boy and the Emperor’s Daughter returned to her father where they explained that the Boy was really a Prince and that he had inherited his kingdom. The Emperor was so ashamed at having thrice tried to send the Boy to his death that he begged forgiveness and his Daughter insisted that his Empire be handed over to the Boy, for he had rightly protected an won it. And it was done, and at that moment the curse that had been put on the Wild Man was lifted and he was revealed to be…

To be…

Shall I tell you?

Yes!

The Wild Man was me.

What?!

When your mother was pregnant with you two she had a hankering for a salad made with kale, and I found some for her but it was in the garden of a witch, who was so mad at me for trampling in her garden that she placed the entire kingdom under a spell that sealed it in a mountain of clay…

But that’s a story for another night.

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Things were bad all over, though the powerful had seen to it that no one truly understood how bad things were. Things might have been different during the Great Depression if they’d had their own version of dollar menus at fast food restaurants and clothing made in sweatshops overseas. But this time around there was credit, and flashier toys to distract people from their lives, and media to inadvertently help politicians hide the truth.

The truth was that things weren’t just bad all over, they were worse than they had ever been.

This one woman, raising two kids on her own, she was finally able to afford a house a few years back. And even though her credit was stretched to the breaking point she felt a sense of pride that she’d been able to achieve the Great Grimmoirian Dream. But the economy tanked, her employer took advantage of the downturn to make a reduction in workforce, which meant that this woman was suddenly unemployed. Because hundreds of thousands of other people lost their jobs suddenly the woman couldn’t afford to pay her credit card bills. Then she couldn’t pay for the house. Then they found themselves on the street, shuttling around between shelters, with the kids education in chaos, spending their nights wondering how they ended up in this condition.

Eventually the woman became unhinged and began spouting nonsense to her kids, scary nonsense like “I think I might have to sell you kids” and “You think we could work together and collect recyclables for a living?” and “Perhaps scavenging at the town dump like they do in third world countries isn’t such a bad idea…”

And the kids were all like “Mom! No! We can figure something out!”

So the kids went out and found a bunch of people protesting against corporate greed. These people had set up a camp in the city and collected resources from sympathetic people and were living in tents and makeshift shelters. When the kids brought their mother to the protest camp they found a community and food and fellowship and were happy for a while. But then the woman realized they still had no home, no stability, and that their community was tenuous at best. She began to say things like “I suppose we could get arrested and then child protective services could take care of you guys” and “Jail probably wouldn’t be so bad, at least I’d get to shower regularly again” and “Why don’t you kids go throw some garbage at those policemen over there…”

And the kids were all like “Mom! That’s crazy talk! Just give us a little more time to figure things out!”

The kids realized that their mother was losing it, that decades of constant lies and the long, slow decline in the standard of living had taken their toll. The kids had learned in school – before they were forced to give up their public education, which was designed to make sure they bought into the Great Grimmoirian Dream – that a democratic government is judged by how it treats the citizens, and it was clear that their democracy was failing them. They knew that there had been populist uprisings in the past, and recently in other faraway countries, and that perhaps the time had come to change the way things were in the Grimmoire.

But what could they do? How would they change their world and save their mother at the same time?

I would like to say that this story has a proper ending, but it does not. In the Grimmoire of old there was a similar story of a mother and her two daughters. Starving from famine the girls scrounged for bread to keep their mother sane and so they wouldn’t starve to death, but their solution in the end was rather extreme. The girls promised their mother to lie down and sleep until the famine was over, and they did, and nothing could ever wake them. Stoically, they died. And their mother is reported walking away and never heard from again.

And so it was, but so shall it be again?

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There was a time when wishing would make things so, when times were less complicated and an oath to god was rewarded without haste. And so it came to be that there was a pious and fair maiden who swore to god that she would not marry. That alone might be enough of an explanation for most fairy tales, but the truth behind that statement is interesting.

There was, indeed, a fair maiden whose father was a king and, as kings are wont to do, he was anxious to marry off his daughter to his own gain. The maiden, as headstrong and egalitarian as she was beautiful, grew tired of the endless parade of losers her father presented as suitors. The king should have learned, but failed as many parents do, not to push his will upon his daughter. Which was how it came to be one day when her father invited another vain and obnoxious – and, it should be noted, as rich as all get out – prince before his daughter.

Ugh! Father, I promise, you bring another buffoon into this palace for me to consider and I swear to god you’ll never see me married!”

Exasperated, the maiden sought solace in the chapel where she made her request.

“God, please, I beg of you, help me to repel these ill-equipped half-wits! Give me a full beard that will both repulse them and send my father the message that I am serious!”

And so it was. The maiden was instantly granted a long beard of curls as rich and beautiful as the ones atop her head. Naturally, no man in any fairy tale was interested in marrying the bearded lady, and this so enraged the king that he did the only logical thing he could think to do. He had her crucified, and she died, and achieved mystical, instant sainthood.

Or so the tale insists.

Feeling something he called remorse, something probably closer to conspiring with the church to keep the people from revolting over such a revolting act, the king had a statue of his daughter made to serve as an ossuary set in an alcove of the chapel. He was careful to have the court sculptor turn her beard into the ripples and folds of a veil that the priest insisted was a symbol of her devotion to god. The people of the kingdom thus called her their saint and no one dared correct them.

Naturally, a true saint must perform a miracle, and that came when a wandering minstrel paid a visit to the maiden’s statue one day. It is said that as he was the first to kneel before her and recognize her innocence that she rewarded him by letting slip one of the golden shoes with which she had been fitted. But this can’t be entirely accurate, for many had come before and knelt before her statue and recognized her innocence. It would be romantic to think that the sainted statue had finally fallen in love and wished to pass along a token of her affection to the musician, as maidens will, but no. Quite simply, the shoe had been fashioned with soft gold and merely slipped off.

The minstrel was initially accused of theft and when he protested that it had been a gift the people of the kingdom demanded proof. Crammed full of people, the chapel quickly overheated, which in turn softened the gold of the remaining slipper on the statue. As the minstrel was making his plea to the maiden’s image the other slipper fell at his feet. The people, uneducated and with as much faith in superstition as anything else, declared it a miracle. Out of such things are miracles born.

The fairy tale says that the minstrel was granted his freedom and sent merrily on his way. The king and the priest were well aware of the publicity that would follow and prepared accordingly. Soon people came from all over the land to pay their respects to the bearded lady saint everyone called Solicitous. And the people of the kingdom were most accommodating, opening new inns and selling candles and small printed prayer cards with the maiden’s image on them. And once a year the kingdom held a carnival in her honor, complete with the crowning of a local girl as the saint of the carnival. Perhaps crowning is the wrong word, as the maiden chosen was adorned with a fake beard for the duration of the carnival. After all, what is a carnival without a bearded lady?

Though the king felt the occasional pang of remorse over losing his daughter, he lived happily to a ripe old age and no one ever faulted him for crucifying his own daughter.
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Howdy, stranger. New here? The New Grimmoire is my take on The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated and edited by Jack Zipes. Yes, all of them. This one happens to be number 239 from the book, a story originally entitled “Saint Solicitous.” Technical difficulties have kept me away for the last couple of weeks, but a new tale is posted here pretty much every Thursday.

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There are many who believe that Death works alone, but he has many relatives all plying the family trade. While Death certainly is the one who comes and plucks the soul in the final moment his Uncle Pestilence and Aunt Famine will often prepare the soul in advance, as will his cousins War, Neglect, and Madness. Of them all the most morbidly playful is Death’s younger sister, Misfortune. She is like a cat toying with a mouse, amusing herself all the while giving her selected playthings a false sense of hope for escape.

A man woke up one morning and found himself served with eviction papers. Through no fault of his own he had been convinced he could afford his home but hadn’t fully realized the nature of economics and was suddenly without a place to live. He sold what possessions he could, stored the keepsakes, and went in search of a temporary housing.

After taking up a spare room with a friend the man suddenly found himself made redundant by his employer who had sent his job overseas to be done at a fraction of the cost. He went in search of new work but discovered he was considered too old for most positions, though the employers couldn’t admit that by law, and they reasoned the man would surely find the work beneath him and leave. Why train a new employee who was worth more than they could pay when they could find a college intern to do the job for free anyway? Without income to contribute to the food and utilities he consumed at his friend’s place the man was forced to move on.

The man knew of a neighborhood where property was often neglected and found a building with a basement that was easily accessible and unoccupied. For the cost of a padlock he was able to secure for himself a suitable room that contained a wash basin with running water and a few electrical outlets that worked. Entering and exiting in the cover of night the man was able to outfit the basement room with discarded furniture and a bed he built from cargo pallets and a piece of foam. Which was all very well as the season had changed and the rains had come. Daily the man would go out in search of work, scrounging meals from the trash cans at cafes and the dumpsters of restaurants. He would collect recyclables as well and used the money he gained to wash his clothes and by essential toiletries in order to maintain whatever level of civility he could. He was destitute, and growing less ashamed to admit it, but did what he could to not make it appear so obvious when you saw him.

But winter came, and the basement was cold and damp. He managed to find a small space heater and hung old wool blankets used them to build a room within the basement room to contain the heat better, but he became sick with cold and it progressed to pneumonia. Too weak to work, barely strong enough to go to the free clinic for antibiotics, the man spent weeks in the cold basement unable to scrounge for food or collect recyclables. His skin grew pale, circles darkened around his dull eyes, and staring into the vibrating red coils of the space heater the man was certain things could not get worse.

He woke to the acrid smell of smoke stinging his nostrils. There was noise and shouting in the night, chaos as people who lived above him hurried to leave the building. A siren in the distance made it clear that the building was on fire. The man grabbed what few possessions he could and stood on the sidewalk with the other residents watching the building burn to the ground. Still weak, the man collapsed and next found himself in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. He was delirious as he looked at the EMT who was tending to him – he was certain that looking over the paramedic’s shoulder was a beautiful woman with kind, warm eyes and a smile that wrinkled as it beamed. In that brief moment he knew Miss Fortune had been with him all along and that it was only in this state that he could see her.

Suddenly there was a jolt. The ambulance had been slammed into by another vehicle and knocked onto its side. Only the man survived the accident and was barely able to free himself from the stretcher before both vehicles were engulfed in flame. The man took his vision to be a sign that Miss Fortune had smiled down him, that she was releasing him from her spell, his surviving the accident was proof. He had survived so much during the previous two years and in that moment of sudden clarity could actually feel himself getting stronger.

He spent the night wandering the streets of his town and a new life became clear to him, a new path. He knew of a shelter that would provide a shower and an opportunity to prepare himself for job interviews, and he knew exactly where he would find a job. He chided himself for not remembering about these things before this moment, but he felt so good that all he could do was laugh at his own folly. As it was early in the morning, too early for the shelter to be open, he took a seat in a bus shelter across the street and waited. As the sun rose a pregnant woman came to wait for the bus and the man stood to giver her his seat.

It was a stupid miscalculation, a clumsiness perhaps brought on by all that had come before, but when the man stood up he stumbled over his own foot and fell head-first into one of the steel corners of the bus shelter. The impact caused the man’s brain to swell and hemorrhage and he died after being in a coma for three days.

Miss Fortune had been with him to the very end, though she had help along the way.

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Tales From The New Grimmoire is an on-going project wherein I rework all the stories in The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated and edited by Jack Zipes. Today’s story was adapted from #240 “Misfortune” and is a blend of our current political climate and a dose of personal experience. Or, as they say, “based on a true story…”

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There once was a prince so anxious to get married that he asked his father to find him a bride, quick. His father, the king, being oblivious to his son’s urgency, agreed.

“Your wish is my command, son. However, you must be married to nothing less than a princess so we must send word that we are seeking the finest princess in the land.”

“Whatever, pops. Just hurry!”

A proclamation was sent throughout the land, and soon the palace was overrun with young ladies claiming to be princesses. The prince pointed to one of the princesses at random.

“Her! I want her!”

But the king did not think the girl the prince chose was a princess, and under interrogation it turned out the king was right, she wasn’t a princess. In fact, none of the girls who showed up were princesses.

“I want a wife! I want a wife! I want a wife!” the prince shouted, like an impatient child. “At this rate I’ll be dead before I have a wife!”

The queen – who it should be known was the true power in the kingdom, for she was wise and could see beyond the surface of many things – noted the peculiarity of her son’s behavior and decided to step in.

“Calm yourself, my son. We shall find what you are looking for soon enough.”

Soon enough there appeared at the door a young woman. She was bedraggled, her clothes muddy and faded, her hair in tangles.

“You can NOT be serious,” said the prince. “Girl, you’re a mess.”

“You come to us like this and expect us to believe you’re a princess?” said the king.

“I came from a distant country, as fast as I could,” said the princess. “In order to gain a chance I had to forgo traveling with a retinue as they would slow me down. True, my clothes have faded in the sun and become muddy with travel, but I felt if I was to have a chance against those who lived closer I required haste as my master.”

The queen was pleased, for here was a girl as desperate as her son to marry and she hardly seemed to care to whom she was married. And so the queen devised a plan to test her suspicions.

“I know an ancient test to tell if, indeed, she is a princess and worthy of our son. She shall spend the night with us and in the morning we will know.”

“But how?” said the prince.

“There are ways. Now, my son, I need to you take to your bedchamber and prepare to share your bed.”

“Mother!” said the prince.

“What?” said the princess.

“Do as I say or no one shall get what they want!” barked the queen. And once the prince’s bedchamber was ready the queen took the princess aside and spoke with her.

“My son will not bother you in the night, but he is rough in bed, tossing and turning the whole night long. If you should be his bride you will need to prove you can sleep with him the night through.”

The princess agreed, reluctantly, and reported to the prince’s bedchamber as instructed.

“My mother has lost it,” said the prince.

“Trust me, she has nothing on my mother,” said the princess. “Well, let’s make the best of this.”

The prince and the princess went to bed and were soon visited by the queen.

“I have brought you both some warm milk to help you sleep,” she said, carefully handing them each a cup of warm milk. The milk seemed to have an instant calming effect on the prince and princess and they were both nearly asleep before the queen left the room. What they didn’t know what that the queen had added medicines to their milk, a deep sleeping potion for her son and another for the princess that would cause her to wake up after a short spell.

Within an hour the princess awoke and quietly gathered some bedclothes to sleep alone curled up on the floor next to the fire. Meanwhile the prince slept as deeply as the queen intended, so deeply that he lost control of himself and wet the bed during the night.

Sleeping on the floor was rough but the princess knew it would keep her alert that she could wake before the prince and pretend to have slept with him through the night. As she heard the prince stir she rushed up from her place by the fire, tossed the bedclothes back onto the bed, and proceeded to the window as if greeting the day. The prince, shivering and cold from having slept on a wet mattress, sat up embarrassed and alarmed.

“Good morning,” the prince said cautiously.

“And to you, you highness,” said the princess.

At the sound of their voices the queen entered, having spent the night camped outside their room.

“Ah, children,” said the queen,  “How well did you sleep?”

“I had a most marvelous sleep, one of the best ever,” said the princess.

“Really?” said the queen.

“Oh, yes,” said the princess. “Trust me, I’ve been forced to sleep on beds full of hardened peas, and beds full of pebbles, and all sorts of lumpy beds.”

“How odd,” said the prince, although he was grateful that the princess didn’t seem to have noticed the condition of their own bed.

“Yeah,” said the princess, “I told you about my mother.”

“And you, my son? How did you sleep?”

“I?” said the prince. “I slept the sleep of angels in a heavenly pillow of cloud.”

The queen nodded and smiled, pleased that he test had worked.

“I suspected something was up, given the desperation with which you both wanted to be wed, and so I devised the pee test.”

“The pea test?” said the princess. “But that was the most comfortable mattress I’ve ever lay upon.”

“The most comfortable mattress you’ve ever lied about more like it,” said the queen. “For if you had spent the night in that bed you most certainly would have been most uncomfortable sleeping in the prince’s urine.”

“What?!” said the princess.

The princess ripped off the bedclothes and saw that, indeed, most of the mattress had been soaked. The prince and the princess looked at each other in alarm, then to the queen.

“I see right through you both. Neither of you desires a partner of the opposite sex and are hoping to use your position and marriage to hide the fact from the world. But a marriage of convenience, built on lies and deception toward one another, will only suffice to make you both miserable.”

“Well, what now, mother?”

“You shall both be married.”

“But you just said…” the princess sputtered.

“Yes, because the rest of the world is not yet ready to accept who and what you both are, it is better than you appear married in public and live openly with each other in private. The outside world need not know what you do in private and with whom, and I suspect that you will be able to work out a suitable arrangement. I only want what any mother would want, if their hearts were true and honest, for their children to be happy. If you will allow it, I will set about with the marriage arrangements and make sure all runs smoothly. There is some trickiness involved in your producing an heir, but we can discuss those matters at a future point. If you can make a ceremony of your happiness I can assure you true happiness will follow. Are we agreed?”

With this the prince and the princess fell to their knees, each kissing one of the queen’s hands.

And they lived happily ever after, but not the way most people imagined they did.

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Once there was a robber who grew tired of the life he had chosen. He tired of living in the forests and hiding in ravines and working in horrible weather merely to rob passing noblemen in order to avoid working. Indeed, the robber had come to realize that in all his years he had worked harder as a robber to amass his fortune than if he’d settled down and raised pigs. So one day he emerged from the forest, declared to the people of the village that he had changed his ways, and was taken in as the good and reformed man he became.

In time the robber married and had three sons. The sons grew up hearing the stories of their father and had seen that he turned out alright, so much so that when the robber asked them what they intended to do with their lives they announced their intention to go into the family business as robbers.

“My sons, a fair bit of warning before you head out into the world. There is much I haven’t told you about my days as a robber. I hold scars and old wounds that I have never fully or completely explained. You will find the life is not as easy as you think it and the ends hardly justify the means.”

The boys looked to their father, his home for which he never worked to build or maintain, the fact that he continued not to work, that he was able to find a true love, marry and have three sons, and they decided they could withstand anything that would bring them such a life. And so, without blessing or curse, the father let his sons out into the world.

Immediately the boys set their sights on the horse belonging to the queen. The horse itself would fetch a good price but it was the saddle trimmed with bells of solid gold they knew would make them a fortune quick. Already they had a plan in place, where the smallest of the brothers would lie in a trough covered by the finest grass from the forest. When the queen came to town the boys would lead the queen’s horsemen to the trough to be tied up, and when night fell the youngest boy would emerge, silence the bells with wax, and then ride to the agreed-upon rendezvous point with his brothers.

And their plan might have worked, had they not chosen the queen’s horse, for the horse had been trained to be met by the queen each morning and given a small apple to eat. So come the dawn as the three boys mounted the horse they were surprised to find themselves unable to control the beast who, like a homing pigeon, returned to where he had been tied up to be met by the queen and her horsemen who captured the boys and threw them in the dungeon.

When the queen inquired as to why three strong, smart, good-looking young boys should want to take up as robbers they protested that it wasn’t their fault. They begged the queen’s mercy and promised they were only doing what they’d been taught, that they had been raised the sons of a well-to-do robber and knew no other skills than the family trade. This piqued the queen’s curiosity and she sent for the boy’s father immediately.

“You sons tell me they are in the family business of taking things from people,” the queen said.

“My sons are mistaken, I have not robbed since before they were born, though I suspect I deserve some of the blame for the stories I told of my own youth. Had I not kept from them some of the darker, more fantastical tales of my robbing days, perhaps all of this could have been avoided.”

“I was yo have them beheaded for their theft, but I would be willing t let them go if you were to tell me the most fantastic of your adventures.”

The robber considered this a moment, then agreed.

“When I started out there were nine of us, a band of robbers, working the countryside. We spent our days taking the purses of the rich and noble who could afford it and let pass those who worked hard for what little they possessed. At night we would make camp in the forest and divide our gold and feast on whatever nature provided. Though we were close and bound by honor we nonetheless took to hiding our gold in secret away from the others.

“One day one of my brother robbers went to hide his gold and never returned. A few days later another disappeared. ‘Perhaps they have given up life here in the woods’ I said, but I was beginning to worry. Every few days another of our band disappeared until there were only two of us left. I decided that the forest was haunted and intended to gather my gold and leave before I was taken next.

“On my way to my hiding place I took a different path than normal, afraid something might be waiting for me along the way.  That was when I discovered a cave that practically glowed with heat from all the treasure stored within. Something told me there was a connection so I sat watch and waited for days until I saw an Ogre return with two sacks over his back. One sack was full of gold that he added to his spoils while from the other he removed my remaining fellow robber! As he strung my friend from a tree like cured meat I realized what had happened to the rest of my band and where the cave full of gold came from.

“Afraid to move for fear of being spied by the Ogre I fell asleep in hiding but woke to find the Ogre tying up my arms and legs. He took me back to his cave where he set me on a pole propped over a cooking spit. I knew that if I didn’t think fast I would end up eaten just like my brothers…”

The robber paused. He could see the queen and her court caught in thrall of his story.

“Surely what I have told you so far will be enough to release one of my sons, your highness?”

“Yes, yes! Continue and free the other two!”

“Very well. In watching the Ogre prepare me for cooking I could see that he had difficulty with his eyesight. I offered to help him with his eyesight if he would permit me, and if I failed he could continue to eat me, but if I succeeded he would have to let me go. The Ogre agreed but only if I could do it while remaining tied up. So I instructed him to place a large cooking pot on the fire and proceeded to instruct him in the making of a potion that would cure ailments. In it I had him place sulfurs and acids, toxic mushrooms and poisonous animals. The Ogre did as I said but was wary the entire time, as if he were expecting it to be a trick. I had originally intended for him to drink the deadly potion but when I announced it was completed the Ogre insisted I try the potion myself first. I knew that if I didn’t think fast I would end up poisoned by the potion myself…”

The robber paused. The entire court sat on the edges of their seat waiting to hear what would happen next.

“I believe by this point that I have at least secured the release of two of my sons, your highness.”

“Certainly!” said the queen. “Continue and free your last son!”

“Very well. I had been correct in my assessment of the Ogre’s eyesight and asked that he free my hands so that I might drink better. Once freed, and the Ogre placed the ladle in my hands I pretended to drink, letting the liquid pour out onto the ground in front of me. And it was one deadly potion! It hissed and steamed and scorched the earth at my feet. Satisfied that it was not poison the Ogre snatched the ladle and greedily bent over to drink directly from the cooking pot. As he did, I hopped onto his back and then onto his head until it was submerged in the potion. I jumped away as the potion melted off my boots and burned the ropes off my legs but was stunned to see the Ogre lift his head from the potion. Instead of killing him outright the potion merely burned and disfigured his face, blinding him in the process. You would think I would have made my  escape at this point but the Ogre fell to his knees and began crying and I found myself filled with remorse.

“‘You win,’ said the Ogre, ‘Take what you will from me, You have beat me fair and square and I cannot stop you.’ And then he removed a ring from one of his fingers and handed it to me. ‘With this you will never be lost. Wear it in good health.” I put on the ring and had intended to make my escape when all of a sudden I found myself shouting ‘Here I am!’ over and over again uncontrollably. With this the Ogre jumped up, groped around for his club, and came after me. It was clear to me that the ring was bewitched, forcing me to announce myself to the Ogre so that he may strike me through sounding. I tried to remove the ring but it was attached to my finger in such a way that the only way I could remove it was by removing my finger along with it…”

The robber paused. The queen and all in her court looked at the robber’s hands and noticed one of his hands was gloved as if to hide something. The robber noticed them looking his hand but seemed lost in thought until the queen spoke.

“Show me your hand,” said the queen.

“Ah, yes. You will wanting proof. If I show you my hand will you grant me a request? Regardless of what you see?”

“You have told a good story, and that alone merits reward. I have already made my promise about your sons freedom, so, yes, I will grant you a wish.”

The robber removed the glove from his hand and revealed that he was, indeed, missing a finger.

“I could just as easily have lost this finger in a trap, or had it eaten off by a hungry fox or a bear in heated battle,” said the robber. “Instead, I was forced to remove my knife and slice it off so that I could escape the curse of the Ogre’s ring. As you can guess, I was able to escape from the Ogre long enough to make plans to slay him and claim his fortune for my own.”

“I hope you’ll forgive my doubting you,” the queen said. “And now, you have a request?”

The robber looked at his missing finger then put the glove back on. He thought of all he had done, all he had lived, all he had survived.

“Though I am not proud of my former life as a thief I came by my fortunes through much hard work. I did not wait for my father to come save me from an Ogre and I wasn’t fool-hearted enough to believe I knew everything when I went out into the world. Tell me, you highness, what would you have done if my boys had no father to gain their release?”

“Normally, thieves left in the dungeons to spend the remainder of their lives.”

“Then that is my request, that they be sent to the dungeons.”

“But you more than earned their release.”

“Yes, but they haven’t earned their release. I faced down an Ogre to secure my freedom. If they are to be free they shall have to earn it themselves. Promise me that you will do nothing to aid them, or take pity on them and give them any unearned freedoms.”

“You have my word,” said the queen.

And the robber’s sons were never heard from again.

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King Leir lay dying.

“Water! Fair daughters, the first to bring me the healing water from the well shall inherit my fortune when I pass!”

The King’s eldest daughter, Goneril, went to the well and when she fetched the water it came up all brackish and brown. Out of the water popped a frog, who startled Goneril as he croaked out to her.

Let me call you “Sweetheart,” I’m in love with you.
Let me hear you whisper that you love me too.
Keep the love-light glowing in your eyes so true.
Let me call you “Sweetheart,” I’m in love with you.

Goneril was almost as repulsed by the frog’s choice of song as she was with the water. The frog knew this.

“If you would concede to letting me call you my sweetheart I will give you clean water for your father to drink.”

Goneril would have none of the frog’s proposal and instead went to fetch a bucket of bleach to pour down into the well. She made sure to throw the frog back down into the well before dumping the bleach on his head.

“Perhaps a bit of chlorine will clear your brain as well as the water, frog,” she said.

Having failed at her task, Goneril sent her middle sister, Regan, to try her hand at getting the water. When Regan retrieved the water from the well she was nearly flattened by the chemical smell of the bleach and then got the surprise of her life when a mangy frog gurgled and croaked:

Meet me tonight in dreamland,
under the silvery moon;
Meet me tonight in dreamland,
where love’s sweet roses bloom.

“Really?” said Regan. “Tin Pan Alley? Frog, you aren’t going to get anywhere singing corny songs like that.”

“A kiss, dear darling, to send me off to dreamland, and I shall bring you healing water for your father.”

“A kiss?’ said Regan. “A mere kiss? I shall give you a bucketful of kisses!”

And Regan gathered the coal bucket and began hurling lumps of coal at the frog, knocking him back into the well where she continued to pelt him until she had run out of coal.

That night after dinner the three girls tended to their dying father, Goneril and Regan promising that they did all they could to fetch him healing water from the well. Later Goneril and Regan explained to their younger sister in private all that had happened with the well and the frog and together they wept. After all were asleep for the night Cordelia stole away to try her hand at the well. She drew up the bucket and there, in the moonlight, she found a bucket of the clearest water. And though she couldn’t tell where it was coming from at first, a broken and poisoned frog sang weakly from the rim of the bucket.

I’m Henery the Eighth, I am,
Henery the Eighth I am, I am!
I got married to the widow next door,
She’d been married seven times before.
And every one was an Henery
It wouldn’t be a Willie or a Sam
I’m her eighth old man named Henery
Henery the Eighth, I am!

“What a queer little frog you are,” said Cordelia. “But stranger still, this water is perfectly clear and pure.”

“Indeed,” said the frog. “Though your sisters hardly meant well, the bleach killed off the bacteria and the coal absorbed the chemicals, clearing the water.”

“It doesn’t seem to have helped you at all,” she said.

“Ah, me. I’m just a lonely frog. But perhaps you could do me one favor, one last bit of kindness before I go. Would you hold me in your hand and call me your sweetheart? Would you do that much, and then dream of me tonight?”

How could Cordelia refuse? He may have only been a frog but he deserved to leave this world beloved and beheld.

“Dear frog, my sweetheart, rest well and seek out your great reward.”

And the frog smiled and closed his eyes and died.

Returning to her father with the water Cordelia was shocked to see King Leir sitting up for her, fit and hearty.

“I have brought the water, father, but it appears you no longer need it.”

“Indeed, child, I never needed it. What I needed was to see the true nature of my daughters. While each of you went to fetch me water I followed in secret and watched to see what you did at the well. I heard the frog and your conversations, and I must say I’m glad at least one of my daughters has the compassion and courtesy to treat living things with respect.

While Goneril and Regan slept soundly, caring little enough about their father to sit vigil in the night, King Leir and Cordelia left immediately with orders to have the older girls sealed in their rooms until the palace could be relocated to a secret location with them left behind.

And later, when she slept, Cordelia dreamt of a frog sailing across the sky swallowing the moon as it passed. When she woke there was a song in her head.

Fly, Rana, fly.
Sing, Rana, sing.
My sisters set your spirit free,
But you’re forever here with me,
So sing, Rana, sing.
Fly, Rana, fly.

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