The Lady of the Linden Tree– a Tuesday Tale

From The Lady of the Linden Tree by Barbara Leonie Picard. (This is one I mentioned earlier)

Sir Merewine of the Hill was accounted among the best of all knights, no matter how one chose to reckon it– whether by skill, or courtesy, good looks or good deeds. He was a truly noble man and was adored by many women, but he politely declined all their attentions.

He had sworn to take as his lady only the most beautiful woman in the world, though he did not yet know who she was.

Nevertheless, he served equally any who had need of him. He was not unkind in his determination to choose the loveliest, only set in his mind.

One day, as he was on his way to a midsummer tourney in the Joyous Valley, he passed by the edge of a wood and heard weeping. Being unable to hear the sound of distress without offering his help, the good knight looked about until he saw a young woman under a linden tree, weeping into her hands.

He approached, asking if there were any way to assist her. When she looked up it took all his skill to carefully conceal his disgust, for she, truly, was the ugliest of women.

The lady explained she had three requests to make of some brave knight, but because of her awful appearance she had been unable to find any willing to help her.

“More shame to them,” said Sir Merewine.

He offered to take on her tasks, and asked what they were, but she would only tell one at a time.  The first was a knight Sir Merewine must challenge in her name, in order to bring back his helmet.

Upon meeting the knight, Sir Merewine saw the battle would be hard, but he stood by his word and fought the dark knight until the the larger man fell unconscious under a blow from Sir Merewine.

Having won, Sir Merewine took the fallen knight’s helmet and returned to the lady for the second task.

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The Fly– a Tuesday Tale

In Vietnam there was a rich man who shrewdly increased his wealth through loans with usurious interest.

One day, intending to take anything of value he could from a poor, hard-working man who’s payment was due, the rich usurer walked to the poor man’s hut. No one was home but a boy, entertaining himself with spinning sticks and stones.

“Where are your parents, Boy?” the man asked.

“Father is cutting living trees and planting dead ones,” the boy said, his voice solemn. “Mother is selling the wind to buy the moon.”

Of course the rich man recognized a riddle when he heard one, but he could not think of the answer.

Being who he was, he expected the boy to answer when asked, but the boy went on playing as if he’d heard nothing. Finally the usurer was so angry he promised to cancel the family’s debts if the boy would only speak the answer to his riddle.

This interested the boy.

“Do you really mean it? Would you really cancel the whole debt?”

“I swear by Heaven and Earth,” said the usurer, thinking how easily he could get out of the swearing.

“No,” said the boy. “Heaven and earth cannot speak. We must have a living witness.”

Just then a fly buzzed past, then returned to light upon the usurer’s staff.

“Will this living creature suffice?” asked the man.

“Yes, ” said the boy. “I will agree to the witness. For the price of our debt:

“My father has gone to cut bamboo to make a fence for the man who hired him. My father is quite sensible for planting dead trees. It is good, honest work.

My mother has gone to the village to sell fans in order to buy lamp oil. Surely you must agree that is selling the wind to buy the moon.”

The usurer chuckled to himself, figuring he had bought the answer to a hard riddle for nothing more than a lie.

The next time he returned both parents were home, and the usurer demanded payment. The frightened peasants begged for more time, and the commotion woke the boy. He quickly told his parents of the riddle and the bargain he’d made. When the usurer denied it the case was brought before the local mandarin where the usurer insisted he had never spoken to the boy.

The mandarin was a fair, kind man, but when faced with the word of a man against the word of a boy, he could only say he was sorry, but word to word he could not forgive the debt.

“It is too bad, child, that you did not take the precaution of having a witness.”

“But we did, honorable one. There was a fly. He landed on the face of this man!”

“Little liar! He was no closer than my staff.” The usurer clapped his hand over his mouth, but the damage had been done: The mandarin was convinced the two had spoken.

Having found one lie in the usurer’s mouth already, the official ruled in favor of the boy and his family, and the usurer was forced to forgive the entire debt.

The White Deer– a Tuesday Tale

From More Easy to Tell Tales.

Years ago there was a young married couple who lived in Ireland. Though they often wished for a child, in the five years they’d been married none had been born to them. The husband’s parents lived with them, and the older couple had a sorrow of their own, for the wife had been blind for 15 years.

They were quite poor together, but managed to scrape by until the potato crop failed; then starvation came to their door.

The young man knew it was up to him to save his family. So, taking up his axe (it was the only weapon he possessed), he crept over the wall that surrounded the landlord’s estate, hoping to find some game.

Now, this landlord was one of the cruel ones. He’d made it known that anyone caught hunting on his lands would be hanged, as a poacher. The young man knew the risk he was taking but felt he had no choice.

After seeking the entire day and finding nothing, the young man finally managed to corner a beautiful white deer at sunset. As he raised his axe to strike the killing blow, the deer spoke.

“Spare me!” it said, “And I will grant you one wish.”

The young man paused and shook himself, certain starvation had attacked his senses. He raised his axe again, and again the deer spoke.

“Listen,” it said. “If you kill me, you’ll be hanged as a poacher, but if you spare me your wish could save your whole family.”

And when the man still hesitated, the deer added, “You don’t have to decide right away. Go home, sleep on it, and come back at dawn. I will still be here if you want to kill me.”

In a daze, the young man climbed back over the landlord’s wall and headed for home. The first person he met was his old dad, so he stopped and told his father the whole story.

Without hesitation his father said, “Wish for gold! Gold will solve all our problems.”

The young man couldn’t really disagree, but he wanted to hear what his mother had to say as well. He found her next, and shared his story.

Without hesitation his mother said, “Wish for my sight to be restored! Surely that is more precious than gold!”

Again, the young man couldn’t quite disagree, but he’d been married long enough to remember also to seek out his wife’s opinion and counsel.

When he had found her and she’d heard the story and his parents’ responses, she said at once, “Husband, you know I love your mother, and your father, too. But all these years we have prayed for a child. Surely that is the most important wish of all!”

So the young man didn’t sleep at all that night. He could think only of the wish. How should he use it? He only had the one.

Finally, with the first light of day, he crept back over the landlord’s wall and went to the place where he had caught the deer. It was there, waiting for him.

“Have you chosen your wish?” it asked him.

“Indeed, I have.”

“Then speak it, and I will give it to you.”

The young man took a deep breath, then said, carefully and slowly, “I wish for my mother to see my wife rocking our child in its golden cradle.”

And his one wish was granted, and the family lived in contentment for many years.

King Thrushbeard– A Tuesday Tale

Once upon a time…

There was a king with a daughter so proud and clever he had a hard time getting her married off.

No one was good enough for her, and she put her wit poorly to use finding uniquely appropriate insults for each suitor– priding herself on never using the same insult twice.

She was making enemies and losing friends for her father, but the princess didn’t care. Finally, and at the end of a long line of last chances, the princess came face-to-face with a young king that she could find no fault in.

Unwilling to admit defeat, she brushed his narrow gotee with her finely formed fingers and laughed, calling him “King Thrushbeard,” and acted as though she thought him a very plain-looking man.

Turning from the princess the young king bowed slightly to the girl’s father and walked out without looking back. The old king was furious.

“The first beggar,” cried he, “the first swineherd, the first musician– the first thing at my gates that will pass as a man and take you away– you will marry him that same hour.”

The princess didn’t believe him, but the next morning as she ate her breakfast she heard her father speaking to someone as he approached the high table.

It was a beggar. A scraggly man with a dirty face who looked like he’d never eaten well in his life.

The princess was about to object to eating in the same room with such a man when the king raised his voice.

As I swore yesterday, I now hold to my word: Behold the bridegroom of the princess.”

The princess blanched, then nearly fainted as she heard her father say he would not allow the wife of a beggar to sit at the high table. Two soldiers guided her stumbling feet to the step where the beggar sat, eating scraps. She began to weep and was unable to eat any more.

With only a small, poor bundle, she was turned out of the palace to follow her new husband, and they walked for many days as they worked their way back to his homeland.

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The Bear Trainer and his Cat– a Tuesday Tale

A bear-trainer and his animal were lost in a blowing storm and begged shelter at the only cabin they could find in the mountains.

The householder did not seem at all frightened by the enormous bear but tremblingly warned the trainer that all the trolls of the hill were coming to his house that night– as they did each year– to eat him nearly out of house and home.

“And if I can’t stop them from starving me to bones, how can I offer you safety?”

The trainer assured the old man he’d look after his own safety if only he had a roof over his head, and the householder allowed him in.

As soon as he had laid out on the table all the food he had, the skinny old man climbed into the loft to hide. The trainer had his bear lie down behind the stove, and sat down beside it himself, to thaw the ice from his fingers and toes.

An hour before midnight the front door blew open and in came a swarm of wrinkly-skinned trolls, gray as the mountain and tall as the trainer’s waist.

Without seeming to notice him, they fell on the food at the table, quickly consuming a mound larger than their whole group. A young troll, satisfied sooner than the others, was playing with a long sausage in the fire when he noticed the bear behind the stove.

“Does kitty want a sausage?” he shrieked, poking the bear’s nose with the burning meat.

The bear rushed out with a roar and chased all the screaming trolls from the cabin. When another troll, larger than the rest, peeked in the door, the trainer called, “Sic ’em,” and the bear got rid of that one too.

A year later, the old man was working outdoors when a single troll asked from behind a rock, “Have you still got that big kitty, master?”

“Oh yes,” said the old man, thinking quickly. “And she’s had seven kittens since then.”

“Then you’ll never have us back for guests!” said the troll.

And the old man never did see them again.

Love– a Tuesday Tale

This is the one I’m preparing to tell for a workshop that concludes on Friday. It’s from a Belorussian (*too* many ways to spell that) collection I picked up over the weekend.

ETA: The version I ended up telling tightened this up quite a bit. I’ll leave this as-is (I understand that’s basic blogging courtesy), but I was so much more pleased with my worked version I had to say this is different than what I told.

A tsar’s wife (a witch) was nosing about for a boy baby to adopt and pretend to the tsar was her own (she had been unable to conceive and her husband had been thinking of getting rid of her).

Her serving women finally found a baby floating in a tiny boat on a deep pond. When the child’s mother, who was watching from the reeds, learned what they were seeking, she dove in to retrieve the baby, nearly drowning herself.

The true mother was delighted to have someone else raise her illegitimate child, and moved close to the palace so she should watch him growing up.

It was well worth watching. He grew up handsome and considerate. More considerate, in fact, than his royal parents were comfortable with. He spent a good deal of time with the common people of the city– especially one poor woman who was kinder to him than his own (he thought) mother.

When he was old enough to marry, his own parents had a nice princess picked out for him, but the prince insisted he already had chosen a sweetheart. She was the daughter of a merchant, and while the merchant was wealthy, he was undeniably common. His parents argued with him until they were hoarse, but he refused to budge.

As they had no idea who the beloved maiden was, the parents took out their anger on the young man. His tsarista mother changed his head to that of a pig, rendering him too ugly even too look at. And his father banished him to an island.

The prince did not arrive empty-handed, however. he had a mirror of his mother’s and a stick of his father’s. Naturally these were not ordinary objects.

The mirror let him see whatever he was thinking of (it’s first image was of his sweetheart, as she was at that moment, wringing her hands for worry of him). The stick he struck against the ground and a magical serving man appeared.

At the prince’s request the servant provided a house and grounds in the heart of the wooded island. However, despite his apparent power, the servant of the stick said he could not bring the prince’s sweetheart or the kind poor woman as he requested.

Only those who chose of their own free will may come to this island.

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The Wonder– a Tuesday Tale

From Gary Schmidt’s book, Mara’s Stories: glimmers in the darkness.

Framed within a story of a rabbi’s daughter telling tales in a death camp during WWII, all the tales are a mix flavored by older ideas and images, and embedded in the un-ignorable “now” of Jewish oppression and the camps.

Chiam (whose name means life) had just lost his father, and now his faith. Immersed in the destruction and death of the camps the boy fought to simply stay empty.

This particular morning Chiam had an assignment, and waited in the mud with a line of other boys and old men for his turn to help carry a huge vat of watery soup back to the barracks.

When he stepped forward he saw it was his own rabbi who would be helping him carry the load back through the cold and slippery yard.

Somehow the rabbi knew at once that Chiam had lost faith, and gently probed the boy’s wounded loss, insisting,

“He is the all and ever-present. He is here… even in this place.”

Chiam resisted the suggestion.

“I have seen the world, Rabbi, and I know that God cannot be here.”

“What would God have to do,” asked the rabbi, “to prove Himself to you, young Chiam who has seen so much of the world?”

“He would have to make a wonder, Rabbi. God would have to make a wonder.”

As they talked and walked, the muddy ground grew more and more treacherous underfoot. As they approached the steps of the barracks the old rabbi’s grip slipped and hot soup sloshed on the shins of the guard at the door.

Chiam braced himself for the blows he knew would come next. He knew the old man would be killed for his clumsiness, and maybe Chiam too. The boy felt ready to welcome death in such an empty and meaningless world.

But two heartbeats, then three, passed without the guard looking at them. The rabbi steadied himself and they entered the barracks together and setting down the vat of soup.

Chiam looked up into his rabbi’s face, eyes shining with a new hope. The old man leaned forward, cupping the back of Chiam’s neck in his hand, and drawing the boy forward until their foreheads touched.

“Even here,” the rabbi whispered. “In this place.”

The Braided Rope– a Tuesday Tale

I have written this off the corner of a memory of a description of a tale.  I welcome anyone pointing me to the original source so I can give due credit.

A young man and woman married despite the desire of her family.

They did not expressly forbid her to marry, for there was nothing wrong with the hard-working young man, other than he was a fisherman.

“You will be poor, and most likely widowed in your youth!” her mother would moan. “Then what will you do?”

But the couple was determined, and as they began their new life together the wife shyly presented her husband with a gift of her own lovely hair, braided into a small ornate rope. He tucked it into the inner pocket of his jacket, in order to have it always close to his heart.

As everyone had known would happen one day, the fisherman’s small boat was caught out in a storm, and he knew he was lost.

With all his great muscles straining, he fought the winds and rowed until the waves ripped the oars from their locks.

Looking toward the shore he saw his beautiful wife standing on the rocks looking out over the ocean.

Her long hair whipping in every direction because of the fierce winds, he feared she would be knocked into the sea. At the same time he knew she would risk that for her last chance to see him.

The fisherman pulled out the ornament of hair she had given him. It was frazzled and matted from long months in his pocket, but he didn’t notice. All he saw was his bride standing by the water, and felt sorrow not at dying, but for leaving her alone, and his own grief of parting from her.

Impulsively, he kissed the cord of hair, and saw his wife look up suddenly.

In a gray boat tossed like a toy in a gray sea, she saw him.

She held out her arms to him, and without thinking the fisherman dove into the ocean.

Kicking off his huge boots and pulling with all his power through the icy water, the fisherman felt the braided cord clinging to his fingers as he swam. Waves continued to break over him, but they never pulled him under.

Every time he cleared his eyes again, there was his wife standing in the shallows, her clothes dripping in the downpour. She would be waiting with a rope to throw him– if he made it close enough.

He began to feel a warmth that reminded him of her arms. He swam more slowly, and the sound of the wind seemed to be growing muffled.

At that moment he felt a rope against his hand. Coming instantly alive he wrapped it round his forearm and began to fight the waves with renewed hope.

The cold was burning him now– innumerable lances of pain weighing down his limbs and screaming at him to give up, but in the rope he could feel the touch of his wife’s hands. She, who loved him enough to risk being pulled into the sea. His anchor. His tie to land and life.

The combination of storm-twilight and salt-spray now obscured her from sight, but that she held him– defying the sea– was undeniable.

At last he felt rocks underfoot. He stumbled toward the shore as though running downhill. The rope was still in his hand when he collapsed beside his wife.

“That was a good throw, my love,” he said, as she clutched his head to her pounding heart.

“We must get where it is warm,” she said.

“How far do you think you threw it?” he persisted, leaning heavily on her shoulder as they walked toward shelter.

“It was with you the whole time,” she said

The young woman held up the end of the rope he still clutched. He could see it was firm and untangled, woven in the same pattern as the token she given him so many months before.

But this rope was far longer. Long enough to reach from storm to shore, and strong enough to bring him safely home.

“And all the times you’ve been away,” she said, “I’ve never let go of it.”

Straightening a Hair– a Tuesday Tale

A poor farmer was moaning to himself about his ill lot in life when an enormous djinn appeared before him.

Naturally the man was terrified, but he could not be silent when the djinn demanded his reason to be discontent.

“Good master,” said the man, “I have land enough, and this year even seed, but I cannot afford to hire the help I need to prepare and sow all the land.”

“You think you have too much work to do?”

“No one could do so much alone.”

The djinn offered a deal to the man, promising him great wealth if he were able to keep the djinn occupied until noon. Of course the man would lose his life if he failed this condition, but he felt himself in no real danger.

Eagerly the man agreed to the terms, and the djinn returned the next morning at sunrise.

First the farmer set the djinn to clearing and planting his lands. This he finished in less than an hour.

Then the man ordered a well be dug. Half an hour.

Realizing he’d made a bad bargain, the man became afraid, but thought of a third task– to dig a cellar and prepare the foundation for a grand home he would build if he somehow survived.

While the djinn was working at this task, the farmer went to his wife and confessed his folly, begging her forgiveness and attempting to set his affairs in order. She would have none of that.

“You say he must have a new task as soon as his current one is complete?”

“Yes. And he must continue to have a task until noon, or my life is forfeit.”

“Then, husband, there is no worry at all.”

She pulled one curly strand of hair from her head and handed it to him. “Tell him your final task is for him to straighten that hair.”

The man was horrified, but had no time to think of an alternative, for the djinn had completed his extravagant request in less than an hour and was back demanding more work.

Tremblingly extending the hair, the man told him to straighten it. The djinn took the task as seriously as all the other work.

He pulled at it, stretched it, smoothed it across his hairy goat leg. Every time he released the end it sprung away from his enforced straightness. As the sun climbed higher he began to grow angry. He put the hair on an anvil and hammered so hard the hammer broke.

But nothing he could do would straighten the curly hair, so he had to give the farmer what he’d promised.

Killed by a Tiger– a Tuesday Tale

Found in Folktales from India.

A brother and sister lived in a forest alone, with no parents.

One day, they offered shelter to a stranger lost in the woods. He was struck by the sister’s beauty and made arrangements with the brother to marry her.

Some months after the marriage the sister sent word that she would soon give birth, so her brother set out on the journey that would bring him to her village.

It was a long journey, and to be safe from wild animals through the night the brother asked a tree for permission to sleep in its branches. This the tree agreed to.

That night a great tiger came to the foot of the tree and askedit to accompany him to the next village.

The headman’s wife has just had a son, and I will be killing him on his wedding day.

The tree begged off, saying he had a guest, and the tiger said there would be great punishments if the visitor revealed what he had heard.

Now, the brother was quite distraught, convinced it was his new nephew the tiger had spoken of. When he reached the village he found out it was so, but said nothing of what he had heard, only making his sister promise she would inform him so he would be present when his nephew was to marry.

After many years he received word, and returned to his sister’s village, stationing himself with his bow and ax at his nephew’s side, never leaving him for a moment.

That afternoon the young man declared he would take a walk in the fields, no matter what his uncle might say. So the faithful uncle went along, too, convinced this would be the time the tiger would attack.

He was right.

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