The Riddle– a Tuesday Tale

An unfortunate chain of events while hunting left a king lost and dependent on a lowly charcoal-maker.

Somewhat overawed by their unexpected guest, the charcoal-maker and his wife served the king as best they could, which was far from what the king was accustomed to.

Amazed that his hosts could seem content in such circumstances, the king ventured to ask the charcoal-maker how much he earned for a day of work. The answer astounded him.

“How do you survive with so little?” the king asked.

Smiling, the charcoal maker said, “I don’t just make enough to survive. On that income I also pay off a debt, invest for the future and still find enough left over to throw out the window.”

The king couldn’t believe this and asked the meaning of the poor man’s riddle.

“Your majesty, my mother brought me up, and now I care for her in her old age. In this way I am paying off a debt. I raise my son with the hope that he will do the same for me. In this way I am investing for the future. I also have a daughter, and put aside an amount for her dowry, which, as you know, is the same as throwing money out the window.”

This answer pleased the king greatly, and he gave the charcoal maker a gold coin for his hospitality.

“Can you keep a secret, charcoal-maker?”

“Until you allow me to speak of it again.”

“Very good. You may speak of it again– when you have seen my face 100 times.”

The charcoal maker agreed, and guided the king back to the road.

As soon as he returned home, the king set the charcoal-maker’s riddle before his entire court, promising the position of royal counselor to the person able to come up with the correct answer.

While others guessed futilely, a crafty courtier rode until he came to the charcoal-maker the king had spoken of.

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Giving God Advice– a Tuesday Tale

A malcontent was sitting under a tree looking at a neighbor’s pumpkin patch.

“You sure got that one wrong, God,” the complainer said.  “Here’s this great, beautiful tree bearing tiny nuts, while a mere vine yields pumpkins.”

At that moment a nut broke loose and bounced off the malcontent’s head.

“Never mind, God.  You knew what you were doing.  I could have been dead if you followed my advice.”

The Ebony Horse– a Tuesday Tale

(From The Arabian Nights and attributed to several nights’ going.)

A beautiful horse, carved out of ebony, that could fly! It was so magnificent the sultan had to own it. He commanded the magician to name his price. The magician demanded the sultan’s own daughter in marriage.

The sultan did not instantly agree with the magician, but neither did he have him thrown out for presumption and disrespect.

When word of this reached the princess she was terrified. Knowing she could not plead her own case, she went instead to her brother, the first-born son, and begged him to speak for her.

Furious that that his father would consider trading away his sister for a new plaything, the prince went to him.

At his father’s urging, the prince mounted the life-sized ebony horse. He followed the magician’s directions, and gasped as the statue began to rise, but it did not make him less angry.

“No thing made by the hands of men is worth giving my sister to this man!”

The magician reached up and pushed hard on the lever under the prince’s hand. The ebony horse rose out of the courtyard and out of sight.

The magician was immediately put in chains and thrown in the dungeon.


Only losing his head for a moment, the prince felt the opposite shoulder and found a second knob. After some trial and error (a terrifying exercise at such a hight) he mastered the controls and despite his concern for his sister, forgot her entirely in the thrill of this new sensation of flight.

When it grew dark, the prince brought the horse closer to the earth, but found himself in an unfamiliar land. Gravitating naturally toward the palace he saw, the prince landed on the roof and began exploring by moonlight. Looking in a large window he noticed a beautiful princess asleep on her couch, and went in to see her more closely.

She awoke suddenly, but did not cry out.

“How do you come to be here?” she asked. “I am at the center of three rings of defenses and guards at each wall. Even now there is a guard outside my chamber door.”

The prince cared for none of this. He had already decided he was in love. Telling her hurriedly of the fantastic horse that had brought him, he invited her to come away with him to his own kingdom, where he would one day rule.

As he seemed gentle, and was young and handsome, she agreed, glad enough to leave the stifling control of her current life.

When they arrived early the next morning just outside the prince’s kingdom, it was agreed that the princess would wait with the horse while the prince made arrangements for her to be brought into the city as was fitting for his bride-to-be.

When the Sultan heard his son’s story he ordered the magician be released, and while the royals collected the necessary people for the procession, the angry magician sought his revenge.

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The Kiss– a Tuesday Tale

Here’s another short one– I was too young to understand it the first time I read it, but somehow still knew it was funny.


In the days of the Soviet Union, a young woman, an old woman, a KGB officer and a university student found themselves sharing a cramped railway car traveling from Moscow.

Passing into a tunnel, the car became utterly dark. As soon as the light was gone the four heard a loud kiss followed immediately by the sharp sound of a slap.

The old woman thought, Now there’s a girl with good morals.

The KGB officer grumbled to himself, thinking, Isn’t that tidy. The boy steals a kiss and I catch the clout for his impudence.

The young lady felt confused. I wonder why that handsome student tried to kiss the old lady and not me…

And the student smiled to himself, knowing he had gotten away with assaulting an officer simply by kissing his hand.


This is the type of trickster tale that I enjoy– where the little man learns how survive (and frequently to thrive) within the rules of a much larger and frequently hostile system.

The Third Witch– a Tuesday Tale

From Barbara Leonie Picard’s The Faun and the Woodcutter’s Daughter.

A young king, lost in a forest, found his way to a cottage in forest’s heart.  The three women who received him had matching golden eyes. Scoffing away the idea of money, they told him he could work for his bed and board.  Each of the next few days the task he was set to took the entire day and all of his strength, so he was compelled to stay the next night, repeating the cycle.

Each day he survived (each task put him in mortal danger) one of the older women was gone, until only the youngest and most beautiful remained.

Smitten, the king asked her to return with him and be his queen. She warned him that she was a true witch, and would not care for him in the least. In fact, she told him, she could not even grow to care for him, for her heart was made of stone, and if it ever softened enough to love, it would break, killing her.

The young king heard all this, but was confident he had enough love for them both.  His only request for her was to refrain from practicing her magic while she lived with him, for he disliked the dark arts intensely, fearing their wickedness.  The young witch agreed to this and became his bride.

There were a number of times over the succeeding years when the husband’s resistance to magic was tested. His wife would approach him, reminding him she held a simple solution, if he would only ask. Horrified, he always refused, even when it meant a drawn-out war, and, later, the death of his beloved brother. The witch, in her turn, was not offended or put out by his refusals. She only offered because it was courteous, then watched impassively as he endured the costs of living without magic.

However, despite the king’s heartbreaking resistance to the solutions offered by his wife, the rumor that she was a true witch continued to grow, making the kingdom afraid. The day came when the people stormed the castle demanding the witch, and the soldiers did nothing to stop them.  Seeing the king ready to throw his life away in defense of his beloved queen, his own bodyguard subdued him and held him back as she was taken from him, telling him it was for his own protection.

The king, no longer fearing the darkness as much as he feared for his wife’s safety, called to her to do whatever she needed to in order to escape. The queen only laughed– unafraid. Knowing her own power the threats of the crowd meant nothing.

As they carried her to the burning place, the queen calmly considered how best to make her escape.  A lioness, to rend some and frighten the rest? A bird, to soar above their angry reach?

But as she considered a string of creative options, the result became obvious:  The kingdom’s accusation would be confirmed that the queen was a witch, and that the king had concealed it.  Her transformation would be the proof that destroyed him, the proof that caused his own people to turn against him.

The witch realized she didn’t want her husband to be hurt. She realized that she cared for him. Even loved him. At that moment her heart of stone cracked, and she died.  But there was such a look about her in death that the very people who had been ready to burn her felt ashamed.  There were whispered questions from those who saw her face. Murmurs rippled, questioning whether she had really been an angel, after all.

And the place where she was to have have been burned in disgrace became instead a burial mound that was held in honor for generations afterward.

The Dispute in Sign Language– a Tuesday Tale

A lowly chicken farmer agreed reluctantly agreed to engage in a debate with the king of the land.

Arriving with one of his chickens in the basket on his back, the Jewish man knew that this was only an attempt to justify the king’s desire to expel all the Jews from his realm.

Approaching the throne the poor man saw the king rise and show one finger.

Stopping where we was, the chicken farmer responded by holding out two fingers.

The king seemed surprised, but continued by holding out a lump of cheese. The Jew replied by showing the king an egg.

Next, the king reached into his pocket and scattered a handful of grain.

The chicken farmer then released a hen from the basket on his back and watched her eat every seed.

“You have answered well,” the king said, breaking his silence. “In all justice I must allow your people to remain.”

Confused but relieved the poor man left, richly rewarded, and the courtiers clambered for the king to explain the exchange.

“First I held up one finger, claiming there is but one king. The Jew recognized the near-blasphemy it was and rightly countered with his two fingers that there are two kings, one in Heaven.

“Second I held out a lump of cheese that he should divine if it came from a black or brown goat. He held up an egg to counter with the question of whether it came from a white or golden hen.

“Finally, I threw out the grain to remind him how scattered and abandoned are the Jews, and he set loose his hen to remind me that the Messiah will return to gather all his people.”

Back in the Jewish quarter The chicken farmer gave his version of the events.

“First he stuck out one finger, as if to warn me he’d put out one of my eyes, so I held up two fingers, to say I’d take both of his eyes if he tried.

“Then he showed me a lump of cheese to remind me I was poor and needed his help, so I took an egg out of my pocket to show him I don’t need his charity.

“In the end he threw a bunch of grain on the floor, and I thought, Best to not let it go to waste...”

The Three Spinners– a Tuesday Tale

A queen, out riding, saw a woman beating her daughter.

The mother, ashamed to admit that her grown daughter was useless and lazy, improvised that the girl was so industrious that the wool of their small herd could not fulfill her mad desire to spin, and beating her was the only way to stop her from working

Clapping her hands the queen said, “This is just the sort of girl I would love to have in my service. And if she is truly as hard-working as you say, she may even do as a wife for my younger son. Diligent hands are dowry enough.”

Taking the girl with her at once, the queen brought her to a large room with prepared wool and a spinning wheel.

“If you live up to my expectations,” the queen told her, “I will be happy to have such a daughter-in-law. If you fail,” she shrugged, “you will receive the standard punishment for lying to royalty.”

Attempting to spin, the young woman found the small amount of yarn she managed to twist was bunched and uneven. She fell into tears, until she heard someone calling from outside.

Looking out she saw three ugly old women.

She explained her sorrow to them and admitted, “Now it seems I truly cannot spin to save my life.”

Smiling among themselves, the women urged her to bring them up, which she promptly did.

The first woman had an unnaturally large foot and sat, beginning to pump the treadle. The second woman, whose bottom lip was over large, wetted the wool, and the third woman, with a thumb more than twice natural size, twisted the thread.

The wool of the queen’s test was shortly transformed, and with grateful tears the young woman asked how she could repay the kindness.

They told her they would return on her wedding day and not to be ashamed of their appearance, but to introduce and honor them as aunts.

The girl promised to remember, and at her wedding feast she invited them to the high table.

Unable to stop staring at his new relatives, the prince asked each in turn how she had become so ugly. Upon hearing all three times it was the result of their labors, and evidence of their skill,

the prince declared, “Never again shall my beautiful bride sit and spin!”

And the new princess loved the three all the more.

The Pickpockets– a Tuesday Tale

A skillful pickpocket realized his great talent was going to waste in the small town where he was born, and so traveled to London, where his craft would have broader application.

He began at once to make a fine living, and so went alone at his business until the day he felt his own wallet lifted.

Turning to see who could have been so accomplished as to pick the master, he saw a pretty blond girl, a young woman, making her way through the crowd away from him, and knew at once it was she.

He immediately chased her down and proposed a marriage and a partnership.

“With talent such as ours, we could breed a whole new race of pickpockets!”

The young woman agreed with the brilliance of his plan, and they were soon married, and expecting a child.

When he was born, the baby was perfect in nearly every way, except that one of his hands was crumpled in against his chest, and nothing his distraught parents could do would cause the little arm to straighten properly.

“What shall we do?” his poor mother wept, knowing what a great disadvantage her son was now in, having only one good hand to pick with.

Her husband was more stout-hearted, and insisted, now that they were comfortably wealthy, on seeing every specialist in London.

Most simply turned them away, as soon as they saw how young the child was, but at last gold and pity opened the office of one kindly old gentleman doctor.

He poked and prodded the child, and could find nothing else wrong with him.

“How bright-eyed and alert he is for his age!” observed the doctor. He pulled his shiny pocket-watch from his vest, and began to dangle it above the infant’s withered reach. The boy’s eyes followed the movement intently.

Slowly, slowly, the clenched arm began to stretch toward the watch. And just before the tight fist reached the timepiece to touch it, the little hand popped open, and the midwife’s wedding-band fell from it.

A Polite Malady– a Tuesday Tale

(This is up later than usual– I’ve been without a browser for a few days.)

A woman in China went to visit her married daughter who (according to custom) lived with her new mother-in-law.

The three women had just sat down to the evening meal when a gust of wind blew out the lamp.

“I will fetch a light,” the daughter’s mother-in-law said in the darkness, but the daughter was already rising and leaving the room, so instead the mother-in-law remained.

Thinking she was alone with her daughter, the visiting mother began a lecture on the duties of a host to see to the greatest comfort of her guests, recommending her daughter turn the choicest sides of the serving platter to her mother, in order that she might take the best without appearing greedy.

“Indeed, as the guest is your own mother, nothing less than filial duty demands you giver her the best that may be offered.”

Just then, the daughter returned with light, and the mother realized in horror that her daughter’s mother-in-law was the one listening to everything she said.

“Forgive me,” the mother said. “I have a curious malady with no known cure. It causes me so speak nonsense in sudden darkness, until the light returns and brings me back to my senses.”

The mother-in-law nodded knowingly.

“Ah, yes,” she said. “I understand perfectly, for I have a similar malady that affects me in the darkness. When the light suddenly goes out, I am rendered deaf, and can hear no word until a new light is brought.”

Also from Ragan’s book.

The Stolen Child– a Tuesday Tale

The sídhe (pronounced, “shee”) are a powerful and nearly human-looking fairy folk (often distinguished from the flying, cute and/or friendly varieties by spelling it faerie). They are primarily distinguished by their unusually long, slender fingers and their sharply pointed ears.

~ ~ ~

Two women of the sídhe were walking a road that ran along the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea, when they came upon a human baby, crying in the middle of the path.

Looking all about them and seeing no one, the fairies quickly wrapped it up in the shawl of one, and, taking the child with them, they hurried along faster than they had come.

At the same time, a pair of fishermen were heading home for the day, and one spotted something white on the side of the nearly sheer cliff.

His companion tried to pretend he thought it was a bird, but the first man insisted on navigating the rocks and climbing up. He rightly suspected it was some traveler who had become lost in the mist and tumbled over the edge.

It was a young woman, hurt but alive, and they brought her home, handing her off to the fisherwives to be tended.

When the girl came to her senses she immediately began to cry for her baby, and the men were sent back out to look for him. But neither up nor down the road, nor in any of the nearest villages could they hear any news of a found bairn.

When the young woman regained her strength she said goodbye to the kind fisherfolk, promising to return when she had found her child.

After much fruitless wandering, the young mother happened upon a gypsy camp where an old grandmother divined in the fire that the baby was taken by the sídhe, and advised the girl to give up her quest.

When she refused, the gypsy mother gave her some advice.

“The sídhe, for all their magical arts, have no power to create anything for themselves.

“Whatever they want they must either buy or steal. If you can offer something rich, rare, and beyond compare, that may buy your child back from the sídhe.”

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