Beowulf: The Slaying of Grendel and the Water Witch

J. R. Skelton [Public domain]

Beowulf was originally written in Anglo-Saxon times as a poem in Old English by an anonymous writer.  It tells the story of its heroic protagonist, Beowulf, who embodies the much revered Anglo-Saxon qualities of strength, courage, heroism and virtuous behaviour.   It is these qualities, blended with fictional, legendary and historical elements that make Beowulf the ideal role model for the Anglo-Saxon warrior aristocracy.   Presented her is a retelling of the story after his arrival in Denmark to his triumphant return to Geatland drawn from the sources below.

Beowulf comes of Age

The story of Beowulf begins in a part of Scandinavia called Geatland that was a land of tall mountains,  narrow valleys and a long rugged coastline. It was populated by a brave and virtuous people called the Geats who were ruled over by King Hygelac and his wife Queen Hygd, the Wise and Fair.  At regular times King Hygelac would call his earls and warriors to his great hall for feasting and drinking.  These were popular and events that brought together his people from distant parts and helped bond his nation to him and each other.  At these events the stories of their valour and that of their of their ancestors were told by the bards and sometimes one of them might be called upon to tell of a heroic deed they had performed.  Young Beowulf would sit in the great hall taking in all of the stories. He was the son of the king’s sister who from a very young age had caught the eye of his uncle for his physical stature and strength. 

One night a great feast was held in the king’s hall and all of the bravest and renowned warriors and noble of Geatland gathered to enjoy the festivities.  As the evening progressed, King Hygelac stood up and introduced a visiting minstrel, whom he named as The Wanderer,  and asked him to sing a song.  The minstrel brought a stool before the king and sat down and began to play his harp.   He sang of the wild northern lands and of the forbidden mountains that were home to beasts and demons far more dangerous than any of those found in Geatland.  He told of terrible dragons and of their slaying by brave men and he told of the sea serpents and wild things of the sea.

The Song of Grendel

The song of The Wanderer began to change and took on a darker and more disturbing tone.  It told of King Hrothgar of Denmark and of the terrible calamity that had struck that land. He sang of a demon that was part animal, part man and part all terrible creatures and the name of the demon was Grendel. He told how Grendel had appeared one fearful night, twelve years ago after a great feast in the great hall of King Hrothgar that was called Hereot.  After all had ate and drank their fill and the king and queen retired to their own apartments his earls and warriors lay asleep in the great hall. As they had lain peacefully sleeping unaware of any pending peril, Grendel had come and forced aside the great door and carried away thirty of the sleeping earls, murdering and devouring them.

This had caused great sorrow throughout the land and although there had been many attempts to kill Grendel he violently defeated and killed all of his attackers showing no mercy at all.  Now no one dared to sleep in the great hall of Heorot because Grendel often visited it and wreaking his havoc wherever it was in use.  He has killed most of the young and vigorous warriors of the Danes who has dared to stand up to him and now all that remained were defenseless women, children and the elderly.   Beowulf was now completely taken with the song and a fire sprang up in him lighting up his blue eyes. As he listened he knew what he must do.  Springing from his seat he thumped the table shouting, 

“My King and Queen and earls of Geatland, in days gone by King Hrothgar of Denmark was the friend of Ecgtheow my father in his hour of need.  I, Beowulf, the son of Ecgtheow, will slay Grendel for King Hrothgar in thanks for his friendship to my father and the glory of Geatland!”

The Wanderer stopped his song and throughout the hall a silence fell.  King Hygelac stood up and commanded silence and turning to Beowulf said in a voice that all could hear,

“Beowulf your time has come to prove yourself.  You have been blessed with the strength and vitality of thirty men and you should use your powers to help everyone.  Hrothgar, our friend and neighbor has great need. Go now to Denmark and prove yourself and slay Grendel!”

King Hygelac ordered that Beowulf should be given suitable equipment for his purpose and told him to choose fourteen comrades to accompany him.  These should be such as Beowulf, young men who had come of age and in need of proving themselves.  At last suitable equipped and attired the company made their way to the harbour where a ship had been prepared.  At sunrise the next day Beowulf and his company set sail on their great adventure.

Their voyage across the sea was not to be an easy one as they sailed into a great storm. At last they came safely through and arriving on the shores of Denmark they pushed their ship up a beach.  There they met an old man who welcomed them and showed them the path to the great hall of King Hrothgar of Denmark and promised to stray and guard their ship until their return.

The Hall of King Hrothgar

Beowulf and his company followed  the path through dense forest for many miles until the came into a long valleyAt the far end of the valley stood the once fair hall of Heorot.  As they passed through the valley they saw the deserted farms and the homes of the people while all around there hung the stench of death like the very land rotted.  There was no sign of humans so Beowulf led his company onwards towards the great hall. until at last came to it gates.

Three times Beowulf knocked upon the gates and at last a frightened gatekeeper appeared and nervously asked what business they had at the hall.  Beowulf requested the man go to King Hrothgar telling him that a band of warriors from Geatland had arrived wishing to speak to him and were asking for food and lodging.

The gatekeeper hurried off and presently Beowulf saw the king approach in the company of a band of elderly warriors.  King Hrothgar was now an old man himself with a full beard of flowing white and eyes that told of days of fear and sorrow.  As he approached he opened his arms wide saying,

 “Welcome strangers,  I can see by your bearing you are friends and here on some errand to my sad and unhappy kingdom.  Therefore, speak of your errand and who you so that I may help you as I can.”

Stepping forward Beowulf loudly proclaimed, “I am Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow whom you befriended and KIng Hygelac of Geatland is my uncle.  We come to Denmark to slay the demon called Grendel and free you from his terror.”

Then Hrothgar looked long and hard at him and said, “Ecgtheow was my friend and brother-in-arms.  You and your friends are very welcome in Denmark but I warn you Grendel comes often to Heorot and is hungry for young men to devour.  Now come rest and tonight for the first time in twelve years there will be feasting in Heorot and Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful will pass to you the drinking-horn as is our tradition of friendship.”

For the first time in twelve years the great hall of Heorot was made ready for a great feast and fires were lit cooking meats of every kind.  When all was ready the king and queen arrived followed by a great company and took their seats in the hall according to rank. Their number had been greatly diminished by Grendel and now it was mostly old men who sat with the king and queen.  It was not a very joyful atmosphere for fear dwelt in the hearts of all those present of the evil of Grendel.

Queen Wealtheow Pouring Wine – J. R. Skelton [Public domain]

King Hrothgar sat at the head of the assembly with Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful.   In a place of honour below the king sat Beowulf. Beside him on the right his right sat Aescher the king’s most trusted advisor. Next to him on his left sat Unferth, whom The Wanderer had sang about that night in Geatland in his uncle’s hall.  At the word of the King the feast began and as the drinking-horns were passed around many oaths were uttered encouraging the slaying of Grendel.   It was only Beowulf’s company of Geat warriors that were joyful and as the drink flowed they began boasting of the prowess and courage of Beowulf. Aescher endorsed their praises of their leader but Unferth became increasingly sullen and silent never offering a single word of praise as was the Danish custom.

Beowulf noticed this and turning to him said, “You keep very quiet Unferth, the son of Ecglaf, tell us of your deeds of valor that we may give praise to you.  Come, tell us and then I can drink from the cup with you!”

At this Unferth stood up and slamming his fist on the table cried, “Beowulf!  Who is this Beowulf but a beardless boy who stands before us telling us he will save us from Grendel?  Who are the beardless boys who accompany him over the sea? Does anyone think that what so many good Danes have failed this stripling will succeed?  Let him and his friends return to Geatland instead of laughing at our sorrow and loss!”

Beowulf felt his anger burn hot for this was the same Unsferth the Wanderer had sung about who had not dared to fight the demon himself.  Beowulf rose, but knowing the words of his accuser to be false spoke clearly and softly without anger, “Take back your words they are dishonorable.  I come in friendship offering to rid Denmark of this vile Grendel.  Unferth, tell us of your great battle with Grendel?”

A murmur of approval of Beowulf’s words from Danes and Geats ran around the hall and KIng Hrothgar stood up and said, “Having listened to the quiet words of Beowulf I know he is a hero. There has been too much sorrow these last twelve years and makes us bitter and say things we do not mean.  Beowulf, forgive us!”

Then Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful took up a jewelled cup and filling it with wine passed it to Hrothgar who drank from it and then she took it to Beowulf.  He drank and she went around the company of Geatland and thanked them for coming to Denmark in their time of great need and asking each to drink. When they had done so she went around the king’s earls and they also drank to the king and queen and the death of Grendel.

Then the festivities were reopened with much good will from both Danes and Geats.  While the Danes praised the glory of King Hygelac and Queen Hygd, the Wise and Fair, the Geats praised KIng Hrothgar and Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful.  At last Hrothgar rose from his chair and taking his queen by the hand said,  “Now it is time for us Danes to go to our beds and leave Beowulf and his company alone and pray their sleep be untroubled.” 

He led his queen out through the great door of Heorot followed by all of his earls and retainers and the Geats were left to face the night as the great fires slowly burnt out.

The Demon Grendel

Grendel by J. R. Skelton [Public domain]

Beowulf ordered that the doors of the hall be secured and his companions made them so well no mortal man could have entered.  With the doors safe the company spread their cloaks over the benches and lay down to sleep. One of Beowulf’s favorite companions named Hondscio took it upon himself to lay next to the door vowing to be the first to do battle should Grendel choose to appear.   Soon all except Beowulf were sound asleep.  He had vowed to stay awake and lay still and quiet listening as silence crept over the hall.  He could hear the breathing of his comrades but little else.

Outside fog was forming and hiding the moon.  Slowly all sounds died away and even the wind stopped its sighing and all was silent.  As the fog crept across the land and wrapped itself around the hall, despite his vow, Beowulf became very drowsy.  He fought to stay awake but his limbs felt heavy and his eyes closed and he sank into a deep slumber.

Outside the fog thickened and completely obscured the moon and tightened its hold upon the hall.  For a second the fog parted and a gigantic black shape loomed and slowly moving towards the great hall and stood before the door in the weird light.

Inside, unaware of the horror that lay outside, Beowulf and  his company slept under the bewitchment Grendel had wrought upon them.  Beowulf fought hard to break the spell and desperately tried to crawl out of the nightmarish pit he found himself in.

Outside Grendel slowly brought his strength to bear silently pushing the door open despite its  securings. Beowulf, fighting hard, crawled from the pit and saw the door wide open and fog streaming in.  He saw the great shape of Grendel bend down and picking up the sleeping Hondscio tear his limbs from his body and now he saw clearly the nature of the demon he faced.  It resembled a gigantic but twisted and deformed man yet there was something beast like about it. Its body was covered in grey scales that rattled when it moved and a pale light flickered from its eyes.  Struggling to his feet he watched in horror and disgust as it crushed the body of Hondscio and greedily ate his remains. Then it turned its vile gaze around the hall until it fell upon Beowulf. Slowly the monster moved towards him.

Beowulf, full of loathing and disgust shook off the spell and ran at the beast.  Clashing together the two grappled to gain a hold on one another. Although the claws of Grendel were strong and dug into his flesh, Beowulf was quicker and slipped easily from his hold.  As Grendel sought to grasp, hold and tear his opponent apart, Beowulf moved quickly around him dodging his grabbing hands. While his company lay in spell induced sleep he and Grendel engaged in a deadly hand to hand fight for life. 

Grendel tried to grasp and crush the head of Beowulf who in turn evaded him and continued to seek some advantage or weak spot.  At last Grendel managed to grab Beowulf but his quick turn forced both of them to the ground and for a split second the demon experienced fear and doubt. Like a true warrior Beowulf sensed this and quickly took advantage of this lapse and managed to grasp him briefly by the throat, but its scales prevented him from taking a killing grip. 

Then Grendel thrashed out and almost gained the advantage but Beowulf grasped hold of his arm and giving a quick twist jumped behind the brute pushing it high up its back causing it to scream in agony.  The two fell to the floor and Beowulf continued to grip his arm wrenching this way and that until he felt the muscles and sinews weaken and give way and he pulled the arm free from its socket. Grendel stumbled up and through the door disappearing into the fog leaving the exhausted Beowulf clutching his severed and bleeding limb.  With the spell broken his companions awoke and gathered around in wonder and horror. 

As dawn broke people slowly appeared at the great hall to see how the Geats had fared though they expected the worse.  Soon a great crowd of people thronged the hall and they were astounded by what they saw. Hanging high from one of the roof beams was the massive severed and bloody arm of Grendel.  Upon the king’s dais stood Beowulf wearing a scarlet cloak his blue eyes flashing fire and his fair hair shining like gold like some god of old. 

King Hrothgar was sent for and quickly arrived and said, “Give thanks now to Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, to be sure, this is the end of Grendel and his terror.  Hail, to Beowulf hero of Geatland!” Then Queen Wealhtheow praised him and called on the servants to prepare a great feast. The celebrations went on all day and into the night and Beowulf was greatly honored by all.

Vengeance of the Water Witch

Beowulf and the Water Witch by J. R. Skelton [Public domain]

The next day a  messenger rushed in his face white with fear, body shaking and eyes wild and kneeling before the king said in a trembling voice,   “Sire, I have just run as fast as I could from Heorot;  The good and wise Aescher has been most terribly murdered.  His head has been severed from his body and his limbs crushed to a pulp.”

With that Hrothgar and Wealhtheow, accompanied by Beowulf, hastened to the great hall. They found the mangled remains of Aescher amid a scene of great destruction and the severed arm of Grendel had been removed.  Queen Wealhtheow cried, “This is the revenge of Grendel’s mother.  In our gladness at the defeat of Grendel we had forgotten her evil presence.  Unless she too is slain she will wreak unending devastation upon us. Beowulf, we implore you to hunt her down and slay her too!”

On hearing  this Beowulf called his company to him saying, “Come, let us finish this evil once and for all before night comes,” and begged Hrothgar for horses and hounds to hunt down the monster.  Then Unferth, stepped forward from the crowd and said, “Beowulf, I am put to shame that I have ever doubted you.  Take with you my sword. Its name is Hrunting. It is a magical sword and will be of help to you.  Forgive my foolishness and let us be friends.”

Gladly, Beowulf embrace Unferth and taking the sword he and his company mounted the horses that had been brought for them.  He called for the dogs to be set loose and they soon picked up the powerful scent and raced away on the trail with Beowulf and the Geats  and King Hrothgar and the Danes following on behind. The dogs ran over hill and fen for many miles until at last they reached a small dark mere.  Strange and slimy things moved in its depths and putrid vapours rose from its surface. The dogs stopped at the water’s edge and Beowulf and his company rode up.  Throwing off his cloak and unbuckling his sword he cried, “I go into the mere alone.  Wait here until I return!”

All of his companions protested, each wanting to accompany him but he would not allow it.  He embraced his followers in turn and paid homage to King Hrothgar and turned and ran into the dark water holding Hrunting before him.  The mere covered him and he found himself sinking into the cold darkness. To his surprise the water was deep and as he sank through the darkness he entered into light. Looking down he found he was being dragged by a most vile hag. Her hair was a mass of twisting and hissing snakes. Her mouth was filled with long green fangs and her eyes  burned red like hot coals. She held him by her skinny arms and dragged him into the cave.

Quickly, looking around Beowulf saw he was in a cavern with a great fire at one end.  Huddled in one corner was a dark mass that he knew to be Grendel and now he knew this to be Grendel’s mother who now gripped him.  In that cave at the bottom of the world Beowulf grappled with the fiend striking her with his sword but it could not pierce her skin while she clawed at him trying to reach his throat.  She cast a spell and he found the strength ebb from his body. He managed to trip her off balance and threw her in the air, but she fell on top of him and he felt her claws around his throat.  Confident she had him in a death grip she relaxed a little and for a split second the spell lifted. 

Quickly, he threw her from him and staggered to his feet and moved to put his back to the wall.  There he found driven into the wall the hilt of an old sword. Grasping it he heaved with all of his might and pulled it free.  As she attacked he struck a blow that cut her clean in two. Turning to Grendel he cut off his head and then threw both bodies into the fire.  Clasping the severed head of Grendel he ran to the cave’s mouth and into the mire and surged upwards through the water until he reached the surface where his friends were waiting.

His companions were still there but King Hrothgar and the Danes had gone for he had been absent for a very long time.  He was greeted joyfully as they all crowded around wanting to hear his story, but he would tell them nothing. Instead he showed them the head of Grendel as proof of his victory.  With that he commanded them to mount their horses and they returned to Heorot and King Hrothgar. 

When the company arrived back at Heorot bearing the head of Grendel, Hrothgar was delighted Beowulf had survived and even more so to see the head of the demon he carried.   He presented all of the company with rich gifts of fine swords and weapons and chests of gold, silver and precious jewels rewarding Beowulf the greatest of all.

Having achieved all he had set out to achieve Beowulf thanked the King and Queen of Denmark and took his leave deciding to sail for home with his company. He led the company back along the forest path and at last they reached the beach where the old man still sat guarding their ship.   With all aboard he gave the order to set sail for Geatland.

Return to Geatland

King Hygelac was delighted to welcome his nephew home bearing riches from his exploits in Denmark.  After hearing of his heroics in freeing Denmark of its monsters he acclaimed Beowulf the greatest hero of his people.  The minstrels made songs of his bravery and heroism and he became famous throughout the northern lands but there were still further exploits written in the stars including a great flame dragon for him to overcome.

© 20/11/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright November 20th, 2019 zteve t evans

Japanese Folktales: Yuki-Onna, the Snow Woman

Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions] – Source

In Japanese folklore, Yuki-Onna or Snow Woman, is a yōkai, which is  a kind of demon, spirit or supernatural monster.  There are many different Japanese folktales and traditions that feature Yuki-Onna and accounts of them vary from region to region. Presented here is a retelling of a story called Yuki-Onna, from Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, by Lafcadio Hearn.

Yuki-Onna

Mosaku and Minokichi were two woodcutters that lived in a village in Musashi Province. Mosaku was an old man and Minokichi was a lad of eighteen years of age and his apprentice.   Everyday they would walk the five miles to the forest to find wood and on the way they were obliged to cross a river.   The river was wide and in good weather could be swum but after heavy rains the current was too strong so they would use a ferry boat to cross to the other side.  There had been several attempts to build a bridge but on each occasion as soon as the river rose its fast flowing current washed it away, therefore people who wanted to cross had to use the ferry.

One winter’s day and Mosaku and Minokichi had gone out as usual and used the ferry to cross the river.  They spent the day gathering wood and as it was growing dark they realized a snow storm was approaching and made their way back the the river. Unfortunately when they arrived they found the ferryman had taken the boat to the other side of the river and gone home.  

The Snow Storm

The snow storm hit them and as it was no weather to swim they took shelter in the ferryman’s hut nearby. It was small and cramped but as the snow came down they thought themselves lucky to have such shelter at all. Unfortunately there was no smoke hole or brazier to light a fire in, nevertheless locking the door  they settled down to wait out the night covered only in their overcoats.  

At first they were quite comfortable and expected the storm to pass over quickly.  To begin with the heat from their bodies began to warm up the as the small hut and Mosaku fell asleep quickly.  Minokichi could not sleep and lay listening to the howling wind outside. He could hear the snow crashing against the hut and the roaring of the river as it began to rise.  The rickety hut began to creak and groan under the full force of the snowstorm and suddenly it grew very, very cold. The apprentice began to shiver and despite the cold he too fell asleep.

He was sharply awoken  with a start by a snow hitting his face. Opening his eyes in surprise he saw the door had been forced open.  Outside the snow had eased but was still falling and the ground had a thick white covering which glimmered strangely under the moon and stars.  

The Snow Woman

In the snow-light he was shocked to see that there was someone else in the hut apart from his master and himself.  He saw it was a woman who was dressed all in white and bending over Mosaku was blowing her breath upon him. It streamed over his face like bright white smoke.  Seeing Minokichi stir the woman turned and began stooping over him, lower and lower and lower.   He tried to cry out, but he couldn’t. He tried to move, but he couldn’t.

All he could do was watch in fear as her face drew nearer and nearer until it almost touched his and he could feel her cold breath.  He saw she was very beautiful but he was afraid of her eyes. She stooped over him looking at him for awhile and then she smiled and whispered softly,

“You are young.  You are so pretty!  Minokichi, tonight I intended to do with you as I have done with your companion.  Have no fear, I feel pity for you and I will not hurt you. You must never speak of what you have seen again, not to sun, moon, stars, not to anything. If you ever tell another person, even your own mother or another living being about what you have witnessed tonight I will immediately know.  I will come for you and I will kill you. Do not say you have not been warned!”

For a few terrible moments she gazed into his eyes, then she straightened up, turned and walked out of the hut and into the snow and was gone.  To his relief the spell that had held him transfixed was gone.  He jumped up and looked quickly out of the door but could see no sign of her, not even her footprints and the snow was thick on the ground.   He closed the door making sure it was secure wondering if he had been dreaming and the wind had blown the door open.

Turning to Mosaku, his master he was shocked to see that the old man had not moved through it all.  He called to him but there was no answer, He touched his face and it was as cold as ice. He shook his body but it was stiff and lifeless and realized his master was dead.  With nothing else he could do he settled down to wait out the night.

In the morning the storm was gone and the ferryman had crossed the river.  On entering his hut he was surprised to see the unconscious figure of Minokichi and the body of his dead master.  He promptly gave aid to Minokichi and managed to revive him but there was nothing he could do for Mosaku who was now frozen solid.

Recovery

With care and over a period of time Minokichi recovered in full from his ordeal.  The death of his master and his encounter with the Snow Woman had left profound mark on him.  He spoke nothing of these to anyone not even his mother took care of him. Eventually he grew fit enough to resume woodcutting to make a living.  Every morning he would walk to the river alone and cross over to the forest and collect bundle of sticks that he would take back and with the help of his mother sell.  

Time passed in this way and some twelve months later one winter evening he was walking home with his bundle of sticks on his shoulder.  He was walking fast wanting to get home when he caught up with a girl who was travelling in the same direction as he. She was very tall and very slim and also very pretty.  As he was striding past, so as not to unduly alarm her, Minokichi called out a friendly greeting.  She returned the greeting in a friendly way but Minokichi was struck by the sound of her voice which sounded  very pleasant to listen to like that of a songbird. He slowed to her pace and walked beside her and as she seemed amenable to conversation he began chatting with her.  

O-Yuki

He told her his name and she told him her name was O-Yuki and that recently she had been bereaved of both her parents.  She was on her way to Yedo where she had relatives and hoped they would help her find a place in a rich family as a servant.

He was absolutely intrigued by the girl and the more they talked and traveled together the more beautiful and entrancing she became to him.   They chatted easily together of many things and laughed along together. As they walked along and at last he asked her if she was betrothed. She blushed and laughed but told him that she was absolutely free.

In return she asked if he was engaged or married and he told her that he too was free and only had his aging, widowed mother to support.  Somewhere between them unspoken but in their minds were thoughts of an “honorable daughter-in-law”.  Both silently considered and they walked on in silence. but there is an old  saying,

“When the wish is there, the eyes can say as much as the mouth.”

The more they walked together the more they liked each other. When they reached the village lived Minokichi politely asked O-Yuki if she would like to rest and take refreshment at his home for awhile and meet his mother.

O-Yuki blushed and after hesitating agreed.  His mother made her very welcome and made her sit down and rest while she made her a hot meal.  O-Yuki was so polite and agreeable that his mother asked her to stop the night and take a break from her long journey. The next morning as she was preparing to leave his mother came to her and persuaded her to stay for a  few days saying she really enjoyed her company. Of course this pleased Minokichi greatly and it came to pass that O-Yuki never left and was gladly accepted into the household as “An honourable daughter-in-law.”

An Honourable Daughter-in-Law

Indeed, O-Yuki became something of the perfect daughter-in-law and when Minokichi’s mother died five years later her last words poured nothing but love and affection upon her son’s wife.  O-Yuki gave her husband ten beautiful children all, slim tall and as handsome as she.

All of neighbors and local people saw O-Yuki as a wonder.  Unlike the local women who grew old early through hard work and poverty she remained as young, fresh and beautiful as she been the first day she had met Minokichi even after giving birth to ten children.

Minokichi loved her dearly and one night after the children had gone to sleep he sat watching her sewing by the light of a lantern and said,

“Watching you sewing with the lantern light reminds me of a very strange experience I had when I was a young lad of eighteen.   In all of my life I have never met anyone as beautiful as you and as white and perfect as you, except once and she was very much like you.”

Without looking up or taking her eyes from her work O-Yuki said,

“Oh … Tell me about her.  Where did you meet her?”

Minokichi thought for a minute recollecting his memories of the experience. Then he told her everything that had happened the night Mosaku and he had taken shelter from the snow storm all those years ago.  He told her all about the mysterious Snow Woman and how she had smiled and whispered to him and about how Mosaku had frozen to death that night and said,

“In all of my life, either awake or asleep have I ever seen a person as beautiful as you.  However, this … Snow Woman … was not … could not have been human and I was terrified of her she was so white … pure … perfect … yet terrifying! Sometimes I think it was all a dream or a spirit of the snow.”

Sudden Change

O-Yuki snarled and flinging away her sewing jumped to her feet.  Stooping over him where he sat in shocked silence at her sudden change she lowered her face to his and shrieked,

“Do you not see that it was I … I … I! … It was I!  I told you that I would find you and kill you if you ever said another word about what happened that night.  If not for our children I would kill you here and now! Listen and remember! If you do not take good care of them. If they come to any harm through you – I will return and I will kill you.  Do not say you have not been warned!”

As she shrieked her voice became thin and wailed like the wind as she slowly dissolved into a pure, white mist that spiraled up and around the roof beams and left through the smoke hole, shrieking into the night and was never seen again.

© 04/06/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright May 4th, 2019 zteve t evans

Persian Folktales: The Son of Malik ut Tujjar and the Grateful Dead

This is a retelling of a Persian folktale called, The Story Of The Grateful Corpse from “Persian Tales”, by David Lockhart Robertson Lorimer, E. O. Lorimer.  Folklorists use the the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system which places this type of story as one of the Grateful Dead tales which is type 505.  In the past in some countries it was a custom  that people who died in debt could not be given a proper burial unless their creditors were paid.  It was believed that without a proper burial the soul of the deceased would not be able to rest or enter heaven.

The Son of Malik ut Tujjar

Malik ut Tujjar was the Chief of the Merchants in the city of Chin.  One day he called his son to him and told him it was time he learnt how to make his own way in the world.  He gave him a bag of money and told him to go down to the bazaar and buy merchandise he could sell on for a profit and so become a merchant and trader.   So his son went down to the bazaar hoping to pick up bargains he could make money on. However when he came to the bazaar he was shocked and appalled at what he saw.  Hung up at a crossroad was the corpse of a man and people were beating it with sticks.

“Why are you beating this dead man?  What terrible crime has he done to deserve this?” he asked.

One man stepped up to him and said,  This man died without paying the money he owed us and we are beating him so that people who pass by will give us money, no matter how little, towards paying back the debt.  We will continue beating him until we have collected enough money to pay off all the money he owed us. When we have collected enough to cover his debt we will bury him, but not until then.”

The young man said, “Well if it is only a matter of paying off his debt that will make you stop beating him then I will gladly pay it.”   With that he gave them the money and they stopped beating him and took him down and gave him a proper burial. Then the young man returned to his father who gave him another bag of money to buy merchandise with.

The Test

This time he went down to the bazaar and brought lots of merchandise and hired men who loaded it upon camels and donkeys ready to go out in the world and trade.  He joined a passing caravan to travel with but a little way along the road a thought came to him, “I wonder if these are the kind of men who would help me if I needed it, or just pass me by if something untoward happened? I will put them to a test.”

So he went to one of his fellow travelers and asked him if he could borrow a jug.  The man obliged and the young man went off the road pretending he was going looking for water.  What he really wanted to see was whether the caravan would stop and wait for him so he dawdled along pretending to look for water.  Then he looked to see if the caravan was waiting, or if someone was coming back to look for him.

“As I thought” said the young man to himself, “if something bad happened to me they would not help and probably would not even notice.  I won’t go with these I will return to the city and seek out more reliable traveling companions.”  

Returning to the city he waited until the next day and joined up with another caravan. Again he decided he would test them in the same way he had tested the first and again they proved untrustworthy and he decided to remain behind.

A third time he again applied the same test to the caravan but this time his traveling companions missed him and returned to look for him making sure he was alright. Thinking he could trust them he joined them on their journey.

The caravan traveled on until evening and  found a good place where they decided to set up camp for the night.  As they were all sat around the campfire waiting for their evening meal to cook they saw out of the setting sun a fair and valiant youth crossing the desert towards them.

The Valiant Youth

He strode boldly up to them and sat down knee to knee beside the son of Malik ut Tujjar and said, “With great respect, it looks like you are a merchant and I wonder if you are in need of a servant. If so, may I put myself forward for the position? ”

The son of Malik ut Tujjar looked at him in astonishment and after a few seconds of thought  said, “Yes, a servant would be useful and you can be my servant if you like, but tell me, what work you can do?”

It so happened that because they were traveling through the wild desert lands infested with thieves and bandits the members of the caravan had agreed between them that every night they would share the sentry duty between them.  The Valiant Youth looked at the son of Malik ut Tujjar and said, “I can guard the caravan every night. I give you my solemn promise that I shall bring the caravan safely through the dangers of the wild desert to its final destination. If you agree to take on my services you must promise you will say nothing and you must not interfere in what I do, but act as if it was you that were my servant.”

The son of Malik ut Tujjar asked the other the members of the caravan if they minded if he take on the Youth as a servant who would act as their night sentry. All readily agreed and the son of Malik ut Tujjar made the Valiant Youth his servant.  The Valiant Youth started his guard duty that night and the caravan remained safe throughout the night. The next day the caravan moved on and travelled through the wild desert for several days. Each night the Valiant Youth would guard the travellers and they were all kept safe and sound.

Forty Thieves

One clear and starry night as the Valiant Youth guarded the caravan while the others slept, across the desert against the night sky he saw a yellow flame shoot up high and flicker bright against the sky.  Seizing his sword he crept stealthily towards the blaze. When he reached its source he saw that it was a bonfire and around it sat forty thieves all sat huddled together in a circle beside the fire eating from a big pot in the centre.  Standing up he boldly stepped into the firelight and sat down knee to knee with them and also began to eat.

“Who are you, and what do you want?”  they asked.

“No, who are you and what are you doing?” the Valiant Youth replied.

“We are thieves!” replied the thieves.

“Good, because I also am a thief,” he told them and then they all fell to chatting about all of the good people they had robbed and all of the splendid things they had stolen. Then the Valiant Youth jumped up and said, My friends, some evening we must all go out together and rob and steal.”

They all agreed it would be a good thing to do, but then they asked who it was they should rob and what they should steal from them.

The Royal Treasury the King’s Court

“We should break into the Royal Treasury and rob the King of all of his treasure now!” said the Valiant Youth.  They all thought this was a wonderful idea and so they followed the him across the desert until they arrived at the city of the King and stood below the vast walls of his Treasury.  Then the Valiant Youth said, “I am the youngest, the fittest and the strongest, I will climb the walls and pull you up one by one.”  

To this they all gave their agreement and so he threw up a grappling hook with a rope attached to it and when it held firm he quickly scaled the walls.  Then he threw the end of the rope down and a thief caught hold of it and he pulled him up. As soon as he was over the wall and out of sight of the others the Valiant Youth came up behind him and cut his head off.  He did this time and time again until all of the thieves had been pulled up and had their heads cut off. Next he carried them all down one by one to the the King’s Treasury and arranged all forty of them in a semicircle with their chief seated on a chair in the center with his head upon his lap.

After this he found his way to the King’s court where a lion prowling around looking for a victim.  Without hesitation he whipped out his sword and smote the lion killing it instantly. Then he draped the dead body of the beast across the front of the throne.

He went to find the king’s bedroom and found him sleeping soundly. Beside the sleeping king his servants had left food and water.   First, he made a mark on one of the King’s legs, then he ate a small quantity of food and took a puff or two from his pipe. After these exploits he returned to the caravan returning safely back just before sunrise while his master and the others were asleep.

The Next Day

After the sun had risen and his fellow travelers had woken and had breakfast the caravan set off upon its way.  Presently they came to a small fort situated in the middle of the road that was occupied by an elderly ogre, who would attack passersby from it.  She would steal their goods and kill and eat anyone she laid her hands on and no one got past her alive. The caravan stopped at a safe distance to rest the night knowing they would be safe because the Valiant  Youth would be on guard while they slept.

Looking out on the road from her for she saw the caravan approach and then saw the Valiant Youth and  letting out a blood curdling cry rushed out intending to slay and eat him. The Valiant Youth was too quick for her and drawing his sword he whirled it around and cut her clean in two.  Then he went into the fort and found it full of all sorts precious stones, jewelry of gold and silver, and many fine and expensive items that were beyond price. He also found that there were a number of men being kept prisoner which he set free and then locked the doors.  Then he returned to where the caravan was camped before sunrise and finding his master and companions still asleep woke them up crying, “Awake! Awake! The sun has risen and morning is here!”

persian_khwarazmi

By UnknownUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The King

Meanwhile back in the city, the King had awoken and saw that someone had been puffing on his pipe.   Furthermore, someone had been eating his food and drinking his water. Going into his throne room he saw that someone had killed a lion and draped it over the front of his throne.  Summoning his vizier he said, “Look at these strange things! Whatever has been going on while I have been asleep?”

The vizier replied, “Strange things indeed, but even stranger things have happened in the Treasury.  We have found forty thieves all beheaded and arrayed around their dead leader!”

“It is good that forty thieves are dead but do not let news of these events escape.  If anyone dares to tell anyone else I will have them cut into quarters alive!” the king told his vizier.

Then he made an important announcement saying, “Let it be known that the King will give his daughter in marriage to anyone who can tell him what took place last night in the King’s court and Treasury,” and added, “but let no one know of these events, or else …”

Men came from far and wide to tell the King all sorts of made up stories but the King and his vizier saw straight through them for the lies they were.   After listening to many stories over many days the King said to his vizier, “What can we do?  We have listened to so many liars telling false stories and we are no nearer knowing who it was who killed those forty thieves and slayed the lion.”

“It so happens that a strange merchant has arrived in the city recently.  Could he know anything I wonder?” said his vizier.

“I will speak to him.  Bring him to me,” ordered the King.  So the vizier, sent the Royal soldiers to bring the son of  Malik ut Tujjar who did not want to go with them. However the Valiant Youth insisted that he should go reminding of the promised he had made to obey him and told him he would accompany him.   They were taken before the King who was instantly struck by the Valiant Youth and said, “Well now young man, tell me all that you know and saw!”

The Valiant Youth’s Story

“Your Royal Highness, I myself saw nothing but my friend here” referring to his master, “told me all about it and know not if it is the truth or a falsehood.”

“Then tell me all that you do know,” commanded the King.  The Valiant Youth told him the entire story of the killing of the lion and the forty thieves and finally said, “and what is more there is a mark that he made on one of your kegs.”   This surprised the King who checked his legs and found it to be true and so believed the story.

“And what reward do you seek for the slaying of the forty thieves and the lion?” asked the king.

The Valiant Youth replied,  “Your Royal Highness, I do not speak for myself but for my friend standing next to me, who heroically and single-handedly slayed the forty thieves and the lion and I say, such heroism  deserves the highest reward. Therefore, I humbly suggest an appropriate reward would be the marriage of your daughter to this hero of heroes. As a wedding gift I suggest seven hundred camels and seven hundred mules fitted out with appropriate loading bags, saddlebags, ropes and handlers to take care of them.”

The King nodded thoughtfully and agreed and the son of  Malik ut Tujjar married his daughter and received the the camels and mules with all the equipment and handlers to take care of them.   Malik ut Tujjar, with his bride, set off back to his own country along the same road he had traveled down and the Valiant Youth accompanied them.  When they arrived at the fort they collected together all of the treasures that had been left and loaded it upon the mules and camels and traveled onward back to the hometown of the son of Malik ut Tujjar.

A Test for  the Son of Malik ut Tujjar

As they approached home the Valiant Youth said, “Son of Malik ut Tujjar, let us be honest, you would have none of all of these riches because it was I that slew the forty thieves and the lion and it all came from my deeds.  Still, despite that I would be happy to divide it all in half between us, do you agree?”

Then the son of  Malik ut Tujjar said,  “What you say is true and I agree to your suggestion.”

So they divided all the treasure, all the camels, mules and handlers between them equally and fairly.  The the Valiant Youth said, “All that is left is the King’s daughter, your wife and we cannot divide her.  Therefore, I suggest that either you take all of the treasure and I will take the King’s daughter, or you will take the King’s daughter and I will take the treasure.   What do you choose?”

The son of Malik ut Tujjar was not at all happy with this suggestion and the two began to argue.   In the end the Valiant Youth toòk her and tied her to stakes in the ground and said,  “The only fair way is to have half each and taking his sword swung it in the air as if to cut her in half.”

The son of Malik ut Tujjar wept in fear and horror as he watched him swing his sword but he never dealt the blow.  Just as he was about to strike a black snake wriggled out of the mouth of the helpless princess and quickly slithered off into the desert.

The Valiant Youth lowered his sword and set her free and said,  “Behold, she is now free!  I had to do this to free her of the demon that possessed her.  Now son of Malik ut Tujjar, she is all yours and so is the treasure along with all of the animals.  May God go with you for now I must leave you.”

“Wait!” cried the son of Malik ut Tujjar, “Tell me, who you are?”

“I am the one whose corpse was hung and beaten at the crossroads in the bazaar whose debts you paid, allowing me to be given a proper burial,” replied the Valiant Youth and as he said this he slowly faded before the eyes of the son of Malik ut Tujjar and was gone.

Consequences of the  Return of the Grateful Dead

There are strange consequences implied in tales of the Grateful Dead.  The first is that people still living, such as creditors can influence and prevent the soul of the dead resting and entering heaven until their debts are paid.  This provides a stark warning to those who borrow money to ensure their debts are paid as quickly as possible as we never know when death will call. There is also the idea that the creditor has a degree of ownership of the soul of the debtor and a degree of approval from God who surely has the last say who goes to heaven.  Then there is the idea that a person can return and influence the lives of the living by rewarding someone who has paid off their debts. This often entails putting that person through a test or series of tests to determine their worthiness and highlights the strangeness of this situation and the consequences hidden within the stories of the Grateful Dead.

© 02/01/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright January 2nd, 2019 zteve t evans