Well, gang, it’s the middle of the night, I’ve got insomnia, and that can only mean that it’s time for another Annotated Fairytale!
There’s a whole class of stories about hog and hedgehog bridegrooms, some of which are weirder and grimmer than others. The hedgehog ones tend to be variations on a theme, and rather cute—the hedgehog demands that a rooster be taken to the blacksmith and shod, and then rides him around playing the bagpipes, which is possibly the greatest thing ever—and the pig ones tend to be pretty standard transformed-fiancee fare, except that they usually kill a couple of wives before they find the one who isn’t put off by their appearance. (In a few versions, they’re all from the same family, and you have to assume that the parents are being held at swordpoint by the time sister number three gets her turn in the bridal bed.)
This particular version is Romanian, and is pretty obviously a version of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, but with some peculiar twists along the way.
The Story of the Pig
Once upon a time there was an old man who had an old wife; the old man was 100 and his wife 90. Both these old people had snow-white hair, and both were as gloomy as a rainy day and all because they had no children. They kept on wishing they had even one child, for all day and night they were as lonely as lonely, and their ears tingled with boredom.
While I do not recommend children as a cure for boredom, this is still a great description.
And as well as all that, they were as poor as church mice. Their cottage was an old ramshackle place, covered with ragged tarpaulin. Their beds were some boards covered with a blanket. And that was all. For some time past, life had become even more unbearable, for not a living soul ever came near them, as if they were ill of the plague, poor things!
Constant complaints about their backaches from sleeping on the boards eventually proved too much for the neighbors.
One day, the old woman gave a loud sigh and said to the old man, “Dear me, old man, dear me! Just think! In all our life no one has ever said to us, ‘father’ or ‘mother.’ There’s no sense in going on living in this world, for I believe God will not bless a house where there are no children.”
“Well, old woman, what are we to do if it is God’s will?”
“That’s all very well, old man, but do you know what I was thinking last night?”
“I will know if you’ll tell me, old woman.”
As a side note, if I live to a great old age, and my Significant Other starts calling me “old woman,” I’m gonna bury his dentures in the cat’s litterbox and pretend it was an accident.
“Tomorrow morning, as soon as it is daylight, get up and go out; just follow your nose; and the very first thing which crosses your path — whether it is a person, or a snake or an animal at all — you must pick it up, put it in your knapsack, and bring it home. We will bring it up as best we can, and that will be our child.”
This was in the days before animal rescue had been invented.
The old man, sick of loneliness and longing for children, got up early next morning, took his sack and his stick and did as the old woman told him. He set out and followed some ravines until he came to a swamp. And what should he see there but a sow and twelve little pigs wallowing in the mud and basking in the sun. As soon as the sow saw the old man, she began to grunt and took to her heels, followed by the little pigs — all except one who stuck in the mud — being scraggy, skinny, and sickly, and unable to follow the others.
The old man seized it, thrust it in his bag, mud and all, and set off home.
“Thank goodness,” he said, “that I have found something to console my old woman! I am just wondering whether it was God or the Devil who put that thought in her head last night.”
“Just wondering. Don’t intend to do anything about it either way. Pig demons will at least be a nice change from boredom.”
And on arriving home he said, “Look, my old dear, what a treasure I brought you! Good luck to him! A boy with beautiful eyes and long lashes and as pretty as a picture! He’s the very image of you!”
Somebody’s sleeping on the board in the living room tonight.
“… Now, get him bathed and take care of him as only you know how to take care of little boys, for, as you see, he’s rather dirty, poor little mite!”
“Old man, old man!” said the old woman, “you mustn’t joke about him; for isn’t he one of God’s creatures, just like ourselves, and perhaps even more innocent, poor thing!”
Then, sprightly as a child, she got some soap and water and prepared to bath him, and because she knew all about newborn pigs—
…this might be normal peasant knowledge, I grant you, but given how many people in fairy tales are as dumb as posts, I sort of wonder if this is the fairy tale plot equivalent of the bubbly co-ed who happens to know Morse Code and was also a candy-striper and thus can perform brain surgery.
—she bathed him, rubbed him gently all over with oil, twigged his nose and cast a spell on him, so as to frighten away the evil eye from her treasure!
“Sure, I can do magic. But only on newborn pigs. It’s a specialty.”
Then she combed him and looked after him so well, that, at the end of a few days, he became quite strong; and with bran and peelings, he began to recover and to grow so that it was a joy to look at him. And the old woman was beside herself with the joy of having such a fine boy, so comical, and podgy, and round as a melon. For everyone who said he was ugly or cheeky, she always had the answer — that her boy was quite different form all others! Only one thing still troubled the old woman: that he couldn’t say “mother” and “father.”
One day the old man wanted to go to town to buy a few odds and ends.
“Old man, don’t forget to bring some delicacy for the boy, for he must be longing for something, the darling!”
“Very well, old woman.” But to himself, he thought, “Deuce take him, for I’ve had enough of your nagging about him. We haven’t enough bread and salt for ourselves, let along stuff him up with good things. If I did everything my old woman tells me, I should go mad!”
Sweety, you’re letting her dress up a pig and claim it’s her son. You are having this internal conversation waaaaay too late. The barn door is not only open, the cows are in Vegas with your life savings.
At last the old man went to the town, bought what he had to buy and when he came home, the old woman asked him, as she always did, “Well, old man, what did you hear in the town?”
“What did I hear, old woman? Not very good news: The emperor wants to get his daughter married.”
“And you call that bad news, old man?”
“Now, be patient for a little, my dear, for that isn’t all, and when I heard the rest, my hair stood on end. When I tell you the whole story, I believe your flesh will creep.”
“But why, old man? Dear me!”
“Then this is why, old woman. Now listen: The emperor has sent his heralds through the whole world to proclaim that the man who can build a golden bridge from his own house to the royal palace — a bridge paved with precious stones and planted on both sides with all kinds of trees with different kinds of birds singing in the branches, which are not to be found anywhere else in the world — may have the hand of his daughter, and even more — half of his kingdom. Whoever dares to come and ask for the hand of the princess, without having succeeded in making the bridge as I described it to you, will have his head cut off on the spot. Till now, a crowd of kings’ and emperors’ sons — dear know where they all come from! — have arrived and not one has succeeded. And every single one has been mercilessly beheaded by the emperor without any exception, till the people are weeping for pity. Now, old woman, what have you to say? Is that good news? And what is more, the emperor has fallen ill with worry.”
Standard fairy tale impossible task. What I love is that nobody ever says “Hey, have you noticed he’s off his rocker? How ’bout a bloody serf uprising, maybe?” No, they all just feel bad that the emperor is worried. All that beheading must be getting him down, the poor wee darling. Horrors! Woe! The executioners are coming down with carpal tunnel!
“Woe, woe, old man, the emperor’s ill health is our health! What you have told me about the emperors’ sons breaks my heart when I think of the sorrow and sadness of the bereaved mothers! What a good thing our child can’t speak, and that he won’t be tempted by such extravagance.”
“A good thing, old woman, but what a good thing it would be to have a boy who could build a bridge and win the emperor’s daughter, for I know it would be the end of all our wants, and what a blessing that would be!”
We could afford a finished board! Without splinters!
While the old couple were talking, the pig sat in his bed in a corner by the fire, his snout in the air, his eyes fixed on them, listening to everything they said and only puffing from time to time.
And as the old people chatted together, they suddenly heard a voice from the fireplace: “Father and mother, I will do it.”
The old woman fainted with joy; the old man, however, thinking it was the Devil, took fright and, in great bewilderment stared into every corner of the hut to see where the voice could have come from, but seeing no one, came to his senses.
I hate it when the Devil starts doing ventriloquism in the house.
But the young pig cried again, “Father, don’t be afraid! It is I! Wake mother up and go and tell the emperor that I will build the bridge.”
Then the old man said hesitatingly, “But, will you be able to do it, my darling?”
Sure, now you like the pig.
“Don’t worry about that father, as long as you are with me. Just go and tell the emperor the news!”
Then the old woman, recovering, kissed the boy and said to him, “Mother’s darling, don’t run your head into danger. And you are going to leave us alone again, sad at heart and without any support!”
Next time, I’m adopting a potato. Or a rock.
“Don’t worry at all, mummy, for you will see who I am.”
Then the old man, finding nothing else to say, combed his beard nicely, took his stick, left the house, and set out for the emperor’s palace.
Sure, I’m about to go claim that my son’s a talking pig who can build magic bridges, but hey, at least my beard is nice. Wouldn’t want people to think I was a wild-bearded crazy man or something.
A sentry, seeing him hanging about, asked, “What do you want, old man?”
“I have to see the emperor about something. My son bets he can make the bridge.”
The sentry, knowing the command of the emperor, wasted no time in further talk, but led the old man into the presence of the emperor.
On seeing the old man, the emperor asked, “What do you want, old man?”
“May you live long, illustrious and all-powerful emperor! My son, on hearing that you have a daughter to be married, has sent me, on his behalf, to inform your majesty that he can build the bridge.”
“If he can build it, let him do so, old man; then my daughter and half my kingdom will be his. But if he does not succeed, then … perhaps he has heard what has happened to others, more highly bred than he?”
I’ll have you know my son is a pure-bred Gloucestershire Old Spot!
Actually, that reminds me of an incident at the farm where we get our meat from. We went out for a picnic a few months ago, and there was this mother pig with a litter of the weirdest looking piglets. “What breed is this?” we asked, baffled, since the farmer is big into heirloom breeds and keeps an Old Spot boar.
“Half pot-bellied pig, half Old Spot,” he said.
We examined this answer from all angles and finally I—you know I’m the one asking these sorts of questions—said “Tucker, why would you breed him to a pot-bellied pig?”
“I didn’t!” he said, exasperated. “He did it himself. Through an electric fence.”
We all looked at the boar. The boar looked smug as only six hundred pounds of testosterone with his very own mud wallow can look.
“Worse,” said Tucker gloomily, “this is the second time he’s done it. And I reinforced the fence after the first time.”
Several men present removed their hats.
Anyway, what were we talking about?
“If you undertake this, then go and bring your son to me. If not, then begone and get rid of any foolish nonsense in your head.”
Right, crazy emperor, beheading, magic bridge, unfinished sleeping board.
The old man, on hearing these words right from the emperor’s lips, bowed down to the ground, then left and set off towards his hut to bring his son. When he arrived home, he told his son what the emperor had said.
Then the pig, bursting with happiness, began to skip about the cottage, dived under the bed, upset several pieces of crockery with his snout and said, “Come on, daddy, let us go to the emperor.”
I love the detail of upsetting the crockery with his snout.
Then the old woman began to weep and said, “It seems I am not to have any luck in this world! Till now I have struggled to bring him up and provide him with all his needs and now … it seems as if I am to be deprived of him!” And still weeping, she fell into a swoon with worry.
But the old man kept his word; put on his fur hat, pushed it down over his ears, and took his stick in his hand, and went out, saying, “Come on with your father, boy, let us go and buy your mother a daughter-in-law.”
Maybe she’ll be a chicken! Or a cow!
Then the pig, out of sheer joy, took one more dive under the bed, then followed the old man, and until they arrived, he trotted behind grunting and snuffing on the ground, as a pig should do. They had hardly arrived at the gates of the imperial palace, when the guards, catching sight of them, began to look at each other and burst out laughing.
“What does this mean, old man?” said one of them.
“Well, this is my son, who reckons he can build the bridge for the emperor.”
“Good gracious, old man, you still have a lot to learn; it’s easy to see you are doting,” said an old guardsman.
“Well! Every man’s fate is written on his forehead, and everyone must die once.”
“It seems to us that you, old man, are looking for trouble with a candle in broad daylight,” said the sentries.
And let’s take a minute and point out some really fabulous dialog here. A lot of fairy tales don’t even both with dialog as such, but this is really nice. “Every man’s fate is written on his forehead.” “Looking for trouble with a candle in broad daylight.” This is wonderful.
“That has nothing to do with you. Be careful, mind what you say, and go and tell the emperor that we have arrived,” replied the old man.
The sentries looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders.
Then one of them went and told the emperor of the arrival of the new candidates: the old man and his pig! The emperor commanded them to present themselves. The old man, on entering, bowed low and remained humbly standing at the door. But the pig, grunting, trotted ahead up the carpet, and began to sniff through the room.
Then the emperor, seeing such frightful impertinence, wanted on one hand to laugh, but on the other, he was very angry and said, “Well, old man! When you came last time, it seemed to me you had all your wits about you, but now what are you thinking of? Wandering about followed by a pig! And who, may I ask, gave you the idea of making fun of me?”
“Heaven forbid, your majesty, that I, an old man, should ever think of such a thing! I crave your forgiveness, your imperial majesty, and this is my son who sent me to you before, if your majesty remembers?”
“And it is he who will build the bridge for me!”
“It is our hope, your majesty, that he will be the one to do it.”
“Now! Take your pig and get out.”
As a stand-alone line, this one is not quite on par with “I have no particular predilection for tortoises,” but it’s right up there.
“If the bridge is not built by tomorrow morning, old man, your head will be where your feet are now. Do you understand?”
“God is merciful, your majesty. If, however, the desire of your majesty should be fulfilled, then with your majesty’s permission, we should like the princess sent home to us.”
So saying, he left, and taking the pig, set off home, followed by some soldiers, who had been ordered by the emperor to keep an eye on him until next day, to see what it all meant. What a lot of chatter, what roars of laughter, and what speculation this joke caused in the palace and all over the country!
No one in the kingdom had ever seen “Babe.”
Towards evening, when the old man and the pig arrived home, the old woman was overcome by fear and trembling and began to weep, saying, “Oh me! Old man, what are you up to now? What do I want with soldiers?”
“You dare to ask that! It’s your doing! I allowed myself to be carried away by your foolish head, and to be coaxed to bring you an adopted child, so to speak.
So to speak, indeed.
And now you see what a pickle we’re in! I didn’t bring any soldiers. They brought me! And my head is only to stay on my shoulders until tomorrow morning!”
The pig, meantime, was wandering about the cottage, sniffing around for food, and was not at all concerned about the trouble he had caused. The old couple quarreled and squabbled for a while, but worried and all as they were about the events of the day, they at last fell asleep.
Then the pig jumped lightly on the bed, broke a window, and the breath from his nostrils shot out like two tongues of fire and reached from the old man’s cottage — which was now no longer a cottage — to the emperor’s palace.
Some monsters breathe fire. The pig breathes bridges. Like you do.
And the bridge with everything commanded by the emperor, was now complete. The old man’s cottage was now a palace — much grander than that of the emperor.
The board is inlaid with gold! The splinters have been replaced with Swarovski crystals!
And suddenly the old couple were clad in imperial purple, and their palace was full of all the good things in the world.
Proof that I am not the author of these fairy tales, as I believe that many things are good, like blue whales and Tasmanian devils, which would nevertheless be somewhat awkward to have in the palace. I can just about believe that they have a wing for Obscure Rainforest Beetles, Birds Of Paradise, And Small Brightly Colored Frogs Of Excessive Toxicity, but the blue whales stretch credibility.
And the pig romped about and frisked all over the fine carpets.
Meanwhile, extraordinary rumors were spreading all over the kingdom, and even the emperor and his counselors were overawed when they beheld this great miracle. And the emperor, fearing lest some misfortune should befall him, took counsel and was advised to hand over his daughter to the old man; so he sent for her immediately. Because the emperor, however powerful, was overcome by fear owing to the great wonder which had just happened.
The pig breathes bridges, man! You better watch it, he’ll come up to the palace and hyperventilate and we’ll be ass-deep in girders! We’re off the map now, man!
Okay, in my head, that’s what the counselors said. In my head, they also have a bong, and, unaccountably, a great deal of hemp jewelry. I did mention it was late, didn’t I?
The wedding did not take place. Well, how could it, when there was no one to marry!
There’s a pig right there. I don’t know what you’re complaining about. It talks and everything.
When the princess arrived at the bridegroom’s house, she was very pleased with it and liked her mother- and father-in-law, but when she caught sight of the bridegroom, she was very astonished. But, after a few moments, she shrugged her shoulders, saying to herself, “If this is what God and my parents wished for me, let it be so.” And she at once set about her housekeeping.
Seriously, given the way the emperor’s been acting, I was kind of expecting to marry a volcano or a doormat or a jeweled lobster or something. At least the pig’s a mammal.
The pig snuffed about the house during the daytime as was his custom, but each night when it was time to go to bed, his pig’s skin dropped off, and out stepped a handsome prince! And before long, his wife grew quite accustomed to him, for he was no longer ugly as he had been at the beginning.
This is all very casual. I can only imagine how the first night went down. “And you’re a pig. And you’re not a pig. And…okay, time out, gonna need a minute here. I’m not complaining about the lack of hot pig lovin’—although I hear they can do it through an electric fence—but this is all happening a little fast. Do your parents know about this? I mean, I love your mother, but I had her pegged as “insane woman projecting childlessness onto convenient target” and your father as an enabler of her delusions, and now I’m having to reassess this whole family dynamic. Does having your skin fall off hurt?”
After a week or two, the young princess, very homesick, set out to visit her parents, leaving her husband at home, for she was ashamed to be seen with him.
No matter how good he is in bed, at the end of the day, you’re still not-quite-married to a pig. Probably a moral lesson there somewhere.
When her parents saw her, they were overjoyed and asked her all about her new home and her husband. She told them all she knew.
Then the emperor began to advise her saying, “My darling! You mustn’t be led into doing him any harm, in case misfortune should overtake you; for, as far as I can see, the man, or whatever he is, has great magic powers. There must be something strange about him, since he has done something which is beyond human strength.”
Also, y’know, he’s a freakin’ were-pig.
Then the empress and her daughter went out to stroll in the garden, and the mother gave her daughter quite different advice: “My dear! What kind of life will you lead, if you can’t appear in society with your husband?”
When your father went mad and became obsessed with bridges and beheadings, I could hardly show my face at Bingo Night.
“I give you this advice: See to it that there is always a good fire in the stove, and when your husband falls asleep, take that pigskin and put it in the fire and let it burn, and then you will be rid of it.”
“What a good idea, mother! Such a thought never entered my head….”
And when the young princess returned home, she ordered a good fire to be lit in the stove. When her husband was fast asleep, she took the pigskin from the place where he had put it, and threw it on the fire. Then the hairs on it began to singe and the skin began to sizzle, turning into burnt rind and ashes. Such a frightful odor spread through the house that it woke her husband, who jumped up terrified and looked sorrowfully towards the stove.
And when he saw this great misfortune, he burst into tears saying, “Alas! Stupid woman! What have you done? If someone told you to do that, you were ill advised; but if you did it on your own initiative, it was a great mistake.”
Then the young wife noticed that she was girt round the waist with a belt of iron, while her husband said, “You have listened to the advice of others and brought misfortune to the old couple and to us as well. If ever you need me, remember my name is Prince Charming, and I will be found at the Incense Monastery.”
All those times we said that Prince Charming was a pig, and here we are.
Just as he finished speaking, a sudden gust of wind blew, and a terrifying whirlwind whisked the emperor’s son-in-law off his feet and carried him out of sight. Then the wonderful bridge immediately began to crack and crumbled to the ground, so that it was impossible to say what had become of it; and the palace where the old couple and their daughter-in-law lived with all its riches and all its magnificence, turned once more into the miserable little cottage which the old couple had inhabited. When they saw this great misfortune and their daughter-in-law in such misery, they began to scold her with tears in their eyes and ordered her sharply to go back home as they had no means of supporting her.
And if you think you’re sleeping on the guest board, you’re sadly mistaken, young lady!
Finding herself so forlorn and deserted, she wondered what was to be done; where to go. Should she go home? She was afraid of her father’s severity and the dangerous gossip of the people. Should she stay there? But she had none of the things she needed and was tired of the remorse of her parents-in-law.
At last she decided to go and search throughout the whole world for her husband. And having taken this decision, she said, “Please help me, God?” and set out, just wandering where her fancy led her. She went on straight ahead, through the wilderness for a whole year until she came to a desolate place she had never seen before. And here, seeing a little hidden house, the roof moss-covered (which showed how old it was), she knocked on the door.
Then she head the voice of an old woman inside saying, “Who’s there?”
“It is I. A lost traveler.”
“If you are a good person, come into my little den; but if you are a wicked person, get away out of this, for I have a fierce dog with teeth of steel, and if I let him out he will make short work of you.”
I often use this on Jehovah’s Witnesses, myself.
“I am a good person, good woman.”
Then the old woman opened the door, and the traveler entered.
“But what chance brought you here, and how did you ever find your way through this desolate land where no magic bird ever penetrates, let alone a human being?”
I like the specificity of this one. Magic birds can’t even get here. Such an eloquent unit of measurement! “Well, we had a moderately enchanted parakeet make it most of the way once, but he got exhausted and had to walk home…”
Then the traveler heaved a deep sigh and said, “My sins have brought me here, good woman. I am looking for the Incense Monastery and don’t know in which part of the world to find it.”
“Evidently you still have some luck if you have chanced to find me. I am Saint Wednesday. Perhaps you may have heard of me?”
“Your name is familiar, good woman, but it never entered my head that I should find you here.”
Okay, it’s the Catholic in me, but I love this. In various other version of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, she meets with the Four Winds and various other things, but in this one you get these marvelous saints-of-the-week. I have never heard of Saint Wednesday in any other context, and I don’t know if she was common in Romanian fairy tales, or invented just for this job.
Then Saint Wednesday gave a loud shout and immediately all the creatures in her domain assembled. She asked them about the Incense Monastery, and all replied at once that they had never heard of it. Saint Wednesday, hearing this, was very disappointed, but, being unable to help, she gave the traveler a piece of holy bread and a small glass of wine to have something to eat on the way, and she also gave her a golden distaff which could spin alone and said kindly, “Take care of it, for it will come in useful when you are in need.”
Then she directed her to the house of her eldest sister, Saint Friday.
The princess set out and wandered for another whole year, still through wild, unfamiliar places, until, with great difficulty, she arrived at the house of Saint Friday. And here the same thing happened as at the house of Saint Wednesday, except that Saint Friday gave her a piece of holy bread, a little glass of wine, and a golden reeling machine, which could wind alone; and she, too, directed her, with great kindness and gentleness to the house of her eldest sister, Saint Sunday.
The princess set out again from there the very same day and wandered for another whole year through places which were even more desolate than those through which she had already traveled. And being weary with three years of wandering, it was with difficulty that she arrived at the house of Saint Sunday. And Saint Sunday received her with the same ceremony and just as warmly as her sisters had done. And taking pity on the wretched weary girl, Saint Sunday shouted out once with all her might, and immediately, all living things in her domain assembled: from the waters, from the land, from the air. And then she asked them whether any of them had ever heard of the Incense Monastery. They all replied, with one voice, that they had never even heard the name mentioned. Then Saint Sunday gave a deep sigh from the depths of her heart, looked sadly at the unfortunate princess and said, “It looks as if God is angry with you or something, because you cannot find what you are looking for, my daughter! For this is the end of a world which even I don’t know, and however much you or anyone else should wish to go further, it is quite impossible.”
“The end of a world which even I don’t know.” Really, this one has some lovely phrases.
And at that moment a lame lark was seen limping along as best he could. And warbling, warbling, warbling, he stopped before Saint Sunday. Then she asked him too, “Lark, do you by any chance know where the Monastery of Incense is?”
“Of course I know, mistress. My heart’s desire took me there, and there I broke my leg.”
My heart’s desire was competitive ice dancing. It’s hard when you’re a lark.
“If you do, then go there at once and take this woman with you, as you know the way, and give her the best advice you can.”
Then the lark, sighing, replied humbly, “With all my heart, I obey your command, O mistress, although it is very difficult to get there.”
Then Saint Sunday too, gave the traveler a piece of holy bread and a little wine to have something to eat on the way to the Monastery of Incense; and she also gave her a large gold clucking hen and chickens also made of gold in case of need on the way. Then she entrusted her to the care of the lark, who set off at once, warbling as he went.
Sometimes the lark went on foot; sometimes the princess flew through the air; sometimes she went on foot; sometimes he flew. And when the poor princess could no longer go either way, the lark at once took her on his back and flew along with her. Going on like this for another whole year, with great difficulty and hardship, they flew over innumerable countries and seas, over terrifying forests and deserts, where dragons crept along, poisonous asps, basilisks with the evil eye, otters, each with twenty-four heads, and thousands of other dreadful monsters who lay with open mouths, just ready to gobble them up; it would be quite impossible for any human tongue to describe the greed, the cunning, and the wickedness of these animals.
I would comment on the peculiar flying princess and the apparently enormous lark, but I am completely stuck on the otters with twenty-four heads. Dude. There’s this split second where you’re reading along going “Okay, okay, dragons, asps, basilisks, fine–wait, otters? Why are otters on this list?” and then you keep reading and WHAM! Twenty-four headed otters. Are they tiny heads? Does it have a really big body? Or is it just insanely top-heavy and constantly trying to swim in different directions at once? Do they have to eat travelers because the fish can get away, or are the fish so paralyzed with shock—“SWEET JESUS, BOB DO YOU SEE THAT THING OR AM I HAVING A FLASHBACK?”—that they just sit there staring and the otter sort of flumphs up to it like an elephant seal covered in otter eyeballs and eats it?
In the end, after so much trouble and so much danger, they succeeded in arriving at the entrance to a cave. Here the princess mounted once more onto the lark’s wings which were now scarcely able to flutter, and he alighted into another world which was more beautiful than Paradise.
Yes, yes, I’m sure it’s lovely. How many heads do the otters have here?
“Here we are at the Monastery of Incense,” said the lark. “Prince Charming, whom you have sought through so many difficulties, lives here. Is there not something familiar here?”
Then, although her eyes were dazzled by so much splendor, she looked more closely and at once recognized the wonderful bridge from the other world and the palace where she and Prince Charming had lived for such a short time, and her eyes filled with tears of joy.
“Wait a moment! Don’t be in such a hurry to rejoice, for you are still a stranger in these parts, and you are not yet out of danger,” said the lark.
He then showed her a well where she must go three days in succession; he told her who she would meet and what she should say; he advised her what to do in turn with the distaff, with the reeling machine, and the golden clucking-hen and chickens, given to her by the three sisters, Saint Wednesday, Saint Friday, and Saint Sunday.
Then, saying good-bye to the princess entrusted to his care, he turned back suddenly, flying without stopping, afraid lest someone should break his other leg too.
They hate larks in Paradise. It’s kind of a problem. There are Lark Anti-Defamation Leagues and everything, but you get into the small towns, and…well.
And the unhappy princess watched him as he flew, her eyes full of tears. Then she went towards the well which he had pointed out.
And when she reached the well, she took out first of all the spindle from the place where she had carried it, and then sat down to rest.
Shortly afterward, a servant came to draw water, and seeing an unknown woman and the miraculous distaff, spinning golden thread by itself (thread which was thousands of times finer than the hair of your head), fled to her mistress to tell her the news.
The hair on my head is pretty fine. This kinda sucks in some regards, as it will frizz out given a single drop of moisture anywhere in the atmosphere. But regardless of this, even if I had hair like electrical wire, thousands of times finer is a LOT. This thread cannot possibly be visible to the naked eye. The servant is apparently coming to the well to draw water with an electron microscope in her back pocket.
The mistress of this servant was the old witch who turned the Devil’s hair gray,
Oh god, the phrases keep coming!
the housekeeper of Prince Charming’s palace, a marvelous sorceress, who could make water curdle, and knew all the Devil’s mischief in the world. But there was only one thing the old hag didn’t know: man’s thoughts.
The Shadow’s got her totally beat there.
The old witch, on hearing about this wonder, sent the servant at once to ask this strange woman to come to the palace. And when she arrived, the witch asked, “I have heard that you have a golden distaff which can spin alone. Would you sell it to me, woman, and how much do you want for it?”
“Will you allow me to spend one night in the room where Prince Charming sleeps?”
“Of course. Give me the distaff and stay here until the evening when the prince returns from the hunt.”
Doesn’t bat an eyelash. “Sure, I regularly sell tickets to watch the prince sleep. It’s a thing. We call it the Twilight Special.”
Then the princess gave up the distaff and remained. The hunchbacked, toothless old woman, knowing that the prince was accustomed to drink a cup of sweet milk every evening, now prepared one for him to make him sleep right through till the next morning. And as soon as he returned from the hunt and lay down on his bed, the old hag sent him the milk; and as soon as he had drunk it, he fell fast asleep. Then the old woman called the unknown traveler into the room of the prince, as had been arranged, and left her there, whispering softly, “Sit here until the morning. I will come and fetch you then.”
The old woman whispered and went on tiptoe so that the prince should not hear, and she took good care that a faithful servant who accompanied him to the hunt every day and who was sleeping in the same room, should not hear either.
And as soon as the old woman had left the room, the unhappy princess knelt down by her husband’s bed and began to week bitterly, saying, “Prince Charming! Prince Charming! Put your right arm round my waist so that the spell may be broken.”
Oddly this does not seem to be a euphemism.
And poor thing, she persevered like this until the morning, but in vain, for the prince seemed to have gone to the next world. At daybreak, the witch came along and sulkily told her to leave the courtyard and go away. The unfortunate princess came out without having succeeded in making her husband hear, and very unhappy, went once more to the well and this time took out her reeling machine. Again the servant came to fetch water and seeing this second wonderful object, rushed off to her mistress and said that the woman had now a golden reel, which could wind alone and which was even more wonderful than the distaff she had given her. Then the old witch sent the servant to summon her and took possession of the reeling machine with the same craftiness, and the next morning took her out of the prince’s room and chased her out of the palace.
That night, however, the prince’s faithful servant sensed what was happening and taking pity on the poor stranger, set out to discover the old woman’s trick. And when the prince rose and was setting off to hunt, his faithful servant told him in detail what had happened in his room on the two previous nights. And the prince, on hearing this, gave a sudden start, as if the sky had fallen. Then he cast down his eyes and began to weep. And while tears were streaming from his eyes, at the well, his spell-bound and tormented wife now took out her golden hen and chickens — her last hope. And while she stood by the well, the servant came along once more to fetch water.
Magic distaff, meh. Magic reeling machine—I know this is about weaving, but I keep seeing a fishing rod—whatever. Lot of versions, it’s a set of three dresses.
But the golden hen and chickens? Now I’m intrigued.
And when she saw still another wonder, she didn’t even wait to draw water, but rushed to her mistress, saying, “Good gracious, mistress! Imagine what I have seen! That woman now has a golden hen with chickens also of gold — so beautiful they are that they could steal your eyesight.”
Do not look directly into the chickens. Use a smoked lens or make a pinhole chicken camera. Staring at the chickens can cause damage and irritation to the retina.
When the old woman heard that, she sent for her at once, saying to herself, “She won’t get what she’s looking for.”
And when the princess came in, the old witch took possession of the golden hen and chickens by the same sly means.
But the prince, when he returned that evening from the hunt and when his milk was brought in, said to himself, “I won’t drink any more of this milk.”
So he threw it away and lay down, pretending to fall sound asleep.
When the old woman thought he was asleep, and was confident that he was now under the spell of the magic milk, she once more brought the princess into the room, just as she had done on the preceding nights; and leaving her there, she went off. The, the troubled girl, falling on her knees by her husband’s bedside, dissolved in a flood of tears, again saying these words, “Prince Charming! Prince Charming! Have pity on an innocent soul who has been tortured for four years with the most cruel suffering, and put you right arm round my waist so that the spell may break, for I cannot bear this any longer.”
I think it’s been at least six years, but hey, who’s keeping track?
And when she had finished speaking, Prince Charming stretched out his hand, as if in sleep, and when he touched her waist — bang! The belt burst open, and the spell was broken. Then the princess told her husband how much she had suffered since he had disappeared.
“…and the lark kept talking about ice dancing and there were these twenty-four headed otters and I’ve been sleeping on things that would make a board look comfortable and did I mention the otters had twenty-four freakin’ heads? Seriously, I’m not gonna get over that in a hurry. Also, you used to be a pig. I think I’m holding up very well, all things considered. By the way, I met a couple of saints. They say hi.”
Then Prince Charming rose, and, although it was the middle of the night, awoke the whole court and ordered the old witch to be brought to him, together with all the treasures taken so slyly from the princess. Then he ordered a wild mare be brought to him and a sack of nuts.
…I cannot even begin to figure out where he is going with this.
And he ordered the old witch and the sack of nuts to be tied to the mare’s tail and to set the mare galloping. And this was done. And when the mare began to gallop, each time a nut dropped from the bag, a little bit of the witch dropped too; and when the sack fell, the witch’s head dropped off.
This is the weirdest use of sympathetic magic I have ever heard of. Seriously, you already tied her to a mare’s tail, the nut thing may just be gilding the lily.
The old witch was the sow with the pigs from the swamp — one of which had been brought home by the old man, Prince Charming’s foster father. By her wicked tricks she had turned her master, Prince Charming, into the miserable, mangy little pig, so that later on she could make him marry one of her eleven daughters who followed her from the swamp.
I like to think they went on to lead various fulfilling lives, perhaps as saints. Or otter trainers.
That is why Prince Charming punished her so severely. The faithful servant was handsomely rewarded with gifts by the prince and princess who keep him in their service as long as he lived.
And very soon a son was born to the prince and princes.
Now remember, good people, that Prince Charming had no wedding ceremony when he was married. But now he celebrated both a wedding and a christening, a thing which never happened before and which I’m sure will never happen again.
Oh honey. How long ago was this written? You’d be amazed what we get up to in the future.
Prince Charming took a wish, and immediately the parents of the princess arrived and his foster parents, the old man and the old woman — once more dressed in imperial purple.
The board was padded this time. The old man assumed that the Devil was involved.
And he seated them at the head of the table. And millions of people assembled for that large and sumptuous wedding reception, and the gaiety went on for three days and three nights, and unless it has ended, it must still be going on.
And with that, dear readers, I am going to bed. Perchance to dream of…err….hogs. (Oh, who are we kidding? It’s otter heads all the way down.)