Presented here is a retelling of a folktale called, Why the Owl Flies at Night, from, The Islands of Magic, Legends, Folk and Fairy Tales from the Azores – by Elsie Spicer Eells and illustrated by E. L. Brock.
Why the Owl Flies at Night
In days gone by, on the steep slopes of the volcanic hill of Monte Brasil that overlook the Bay of Angra, stood a little chapel dedicated to St. Anthony. It was built to hold an image of that same saint that had been carried from some unknown place by the strong currents and rough waves of the sea to rest upon the shores of the bay below the hill.
In that time there was a young boy named Pedro who after his mother had died lived with his father nearby. His father had married again but his new wife treated young Pedro cruelly. She made him wear old, worn ragged clothes and all the children in the parish would mock and point at him because of the state of his clothing.
Pedro would often go to the little chapel and pray to St. Anthony for strength and comfort. One day as he was getting up off his knees after a prayer to the saint he noticed a very strange thing had happened. To his surprise he found his old, worn ragged clothes had suddenly become new and unblemished and he was now immaculately dressed in very smart clothing as good – indeed better – than any other child in his village.
When he got home his stepmother stares at him in disbelief, “Where did you get those clothes from?” she demanded, “You must have stolen them! Why, you are nothing but a little thief!”
Pedro truthfully told her what had happened but she refused to believe him.
“Your father can deal with it!” she cried, “In the meantime take the water jars to the spring and bring me back some water. Do it now and understand that I don’t want to be kept waiting for water, now go!”
Picking up the heavy jars he made his way to the top of the hill where the little spring bubbled out. The spring supplied Pedro and his family as well as the neighbors with water most of the year round, but at times it failed and this was one of those times. His stepmother had been told this earlier by neighbors but still out of spite she sent the boy to the top of the hill carrying two heavy stone jars on a task she knew he could not fulfill. On his way up, Pedro met an old man coming down. “There is no water in the spring,” the old man told him, “maybe tomorrow.”
He had almost reached the spring and the jars were making his arms ache. The other spring was much further away and he doubted if he got there he would have the strength to carry two full jars of water all the way home. He decided he would continue on and see for himself.
When he arrived at the spring he was surprised and very pleased to see that there was plenty of good clean water bubbling up, indeed, bubbling up much faster that he could remember. As he stared with amazement he thought about how somehow he had been furnished with the brand new suit of clothes that he was wearing and he began to wonder.
“This must be my lucky day,” he cried happily filling both jars with water, “St. Anthony is smiling upon me. He must have heard my prayers and given me my new clothes and made the waters of the spring run,” and he offered up a silent prayer of thanks to the saint.
With his jars full of water Pedro took them home. His mother was gobsmacked when he came through the door with two jars full of water. “What! Where did you get that water from?” she demanded. Pedro truthfully told her it had come from the spring on the hill.
“You lie! That spring is dry today. Wait until I tell your father, he will give you a sound beating!” she cried.As well as being frightened by the threatened beating Pedro was puzzled why his stepmother had sent him up the hill to the spring when she believed it was dry.
The next thing he knew was she had dumped a large basket in his hands saying, “Go into the garden and pick up all of the wood for the fire. Now hurry I don’t want to be kept waiting. Go!”
Pedro thought this a very strange request as all of the wood in the garden had been used up long ago. The evening was falling and he went into the garden in failing light but there was nothing there but red, white, yellow and pink roses. The night fell quickly but stoically he went and looked anyway but there were no sticks of wood to be found just the roses. The only place he knew where he could get some wood was high on the steep slopes of Monte Brasil. However, it was dark and it was a long hard path climbing the steep slopes of Monte Brasil and he was feeling very tired. As two great tears rolled down his face he felt a presence next to him and turning saw it was St Anthony who stood smiling down kindly upon him.
“Why the tears, young man?” he asked kindly, “I have been watching you for a long time and I know you do not cry easily, even when life is hard. Boys with less courage than you would spend their time weeping.”
“I weep because I have to fill this basket with fire wood from the garden, but there is nothing in the garden but roses. I am very tired and I have been threatened with a beating and it is becoming too dark, much too dark to go up to Monte Brasil and search for firewood.”
“Listen to me,” replied St Anthony, “and have faith in what I say. Go into the garden and fill the basket with roses and when it is full take it to your stepmother and give it to her. You must have faith in what I say and remember I shall be with you.”
Pedro went into the dark garden and filled it with all the different colored roses and then he took it into the house to his stepmother. As he handed the basket to his stepmother he was surprised to see that instead of roses the basket contained firewood.
“What!” cried his stepmother in shock, “Where ever did you get this wood from? There are only roses in the garden and you have not been gone long enough to go up to Monte Brasil in the dark. Where did you get it from?”
Grabbing him roughly by the collar of his smart new shirt she shook him fiercely terrifying him. He looked around hoping to escape but St Anthony was stood behind smiling kindly and then in a voice like thunder said,
St Anthony’s Punishment
“Woman, cease your violence! This boy has done you no harm and obeyed your every request. I have been watching the spiteful and malicious way you have been treating him and you will be punished. As you have sent this young boy out into the dark night you too shall go into the dark.”
With these words spoken the stepmother changed from being a woman into an owl with great circles for eyes, for those eyes gazed upon the wrath of St Anthony. From that moment on she lived in darkness. That is why the owl is a creature of the night.
This work is a retelling of a kaiden, a traditional Japanese ghost story from a collection retold by Grace James titled, Japanese Fairy Tales, and called The Peony Lantern. There are also versions called Kaidan Botan Dōrō. In many ways it is passionate and romantic yet has more than a hint of horror involving necrophilia while hinting on the consequences of the karma of the two main characters.
The Peony Lantern
It is said that by the strong bond of illusion the living and the dead are bound together. Now, there was a young samurai who lived in Yedo. His name was Hagiwara and he had reached the most honorable rank of hatamoto. He was a very handsome man, very athletic and light on his feet and his good looks made him very popular with the ladies of Yedo. Some were very open about their affections, while others were more coy and secretive. For his part he gave little of his time and attention to love. Instead he preferred to join other young men in sports and joyous revelries. He would often be seen socializing and having fun with his favorite companions, very much the life and soul of the party.
The Festival of the New Year
When the Festival of the New Year came he was to be found in the company of laughing youths and happy maidens playing the game of battledore and shuttlecock in the streets. They had roamed far from their own neighborhood to the other side of town to a suburb of quiet streets and large houses that stood in grand gardens.
Hagiwara was good at the game and used his battledore with impressive skill and technique. However, the wind caught the shuttle after he had hit it taking it way over the heads of the other players and over a bamboo fence and into a garden. He ran after it but the others cried, “Leave, Hagiwara, let it stay! We have plenty more shuttlecocks to play with. Why waste time on that one?”
Hagiwara heard them but answered, “No my friends, that one was special. It was the color of a dove and gilded with gold. I will soon fetch it!”
“Let it stay!,” they cried, “we have a dozen here that are dove coloured and gilded with gold. Let it stay!”
Hagiwara stood staring at the garden. For some reason he felt a very strong need for that particular shuttlecock and did not know why. Ignoring his friends he quickly climbed the bamboo fence and jumped down into the garden. He had seen exactly where the shuttlecock landed and thought he would be able to retrieve it quickly, but when he went to the spot it was not there. For some reason he now considered that particular shuttlecock was his most valuable treasure. He searched up and down the garden, pushing aside bushes and plants, but all to no avail. His friends called him again and again but he ignored them and searched feverishly around the garden for the lost shuttlecock. Again his friends called, but he ignored them and continued searching. Eventually, they wandered off leaving him alone searching the garden.
He continued searching into the evening ignoring the glorious spectacle of the setting sun and as dusk fell gently he suddenly looked up. To his surprise there was a girl standing a few yards in front of him. Smiling, she motioned with her right hand while in the the palm of her left she held the shuttlecock he had been searching for. He moved eagerly towards her but she moved back still presenting the shuttlecock to him, but keeping it out of reach, luring him into him into following her. He followed her through the garden and up three stone steps that led into the house.
On one side of the first step a plum tree stood in white blossom and on the third step stood a most beautiful lady. She was dressed in celebration of the festival in a kimono of patterned turquoise with long ceremonial sleeves that swept the ground Underneath she wore garments of scarlet and gold and in her hair were pins of coral, tortoiseshell and gold.
O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew
On seeing the the beautiful lady, Hagiwara immediately knelt before her in reverence and adoration touching his forehead to the ground as a sign of respect. The lady smiled down on him with shining eyes and then spoke softly, “Welcome, Hagiwara Sama, most noble samurai of the hatamoto. Please allow me to introduce myself and my handmaiden. My name is O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew and this is O’Yone my handmaiden. She it it is that has brought you to me and I thank her. Glad am I to see you and happy indeed is this hour!”
Gently raising him she led him into the house and into a room where ten mats were placed upon the floor. He was then entertained in the traditional manner as the Lady of the Morning Dew danced for him while her handmaiden beat upon a small scarlet and gold drum. They set the red rice for him to eat and sweet warm wine to drink as was the tradition and he ate all he was given. It was getting late when he had finished and after pleasant conversation he took his leave and as she showed him to the door the Lady of the Morning Dew whispered, “Most honourable Hagiwara, I would be most happy if you came again.”
Hagiwara was now in high spirits and flippantly laughed,“And what would it be if I did not return? What is it if I do not come back, what then?”
O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew flinched and then stiffened and her face grew pale and drawn. She looked him directly in the eye and laid a hand upon his shoulder and whispered, “It will be death. Death for you, death for me. That is the only way!”
Standing next to her O’Yone shuddered and hid her face in her hands.
Perplexed and very much disturbed, Hagiwara the samurai went off into the night wandering through the thick darkness of the sleeping city like a lost ghost, very very afraid.
He wandered long in the pitch black night searching for his home. It was not until the first grey streaks of dawn broke the darkness that he at last found himself standing before his own door. Tired and weary he went in and threw himself on his bed and then laughed,“Hah, and I have forgotten my shuttlecock!”
In the morning he sat alone thinking about all that had happened the day before. The morning passed and he sat through the afternoon thinking about it. Evening began to fall and suddenly he stood up saying, “Surely, it was all a joke played on me by two geisha girls. They will be laughing at me expecting me to turn up but I will show them. I will not let them make a fool of me!”
Therefore dressing in his best clothes he went out into the evening to find his friends. For the next week he spent his time sporting and partying and through all these entertainments he was the loudest, the happiest, the wittiest and the wildest, but he knew things were not right. At last he said,“Enough, I have had enough! I am sick and tired of all this charade!”
Leaving his friends he took to roaming the streets alone. He wandered from one end of Yedo by day and then back again at night. He sought out the hidden ways of the city, the lost courtyards, the back alleys and the forgotten paths that ran between the houses, searching, always searching, for what he did not know.
Yet, he could not find the house and garden of the Lady of the Morning Dew although his restless spirit searched and searched. Eventually finding himself outside his own home he went to bed and fell into a sickness. For three moons he ate and drank barely enough to keep himself alive and his body grew weak, pale and thin, like some hungry, restless, wraith. Three moons later during the hot rainy season he left his sickbed and wrapping himself in a light summer robe set out into the city despite the entreaties of his good and faithful servant
“Alas, my master has the fever and it is driving him mad!”wailed the servant.
Hagiwara took no notice and looking straight ahead set out with resolve saying,“Have faith! Have faith! All roads will take me to my true love’s house!”
Eventually he came to a quiet suburb of big houses with gardens and saw before him one with a bamboo fence. Smiling, Hagiwara quickly climbed the fence and jumped down saying,“Now we shall meet again!”
Hagiwara the samurai stood in shocked silence staring at it. An old man appeared and asked,“Lord, is there something I can do for you?”
However, he was shocked to find the garden was overgrown and unkempt. Moss had grown over the steps and the plum tree had lost its white blossom, its green leaves fluttered forlornly in the breeze. The house was dark, quiet and empty, its shutters closed and an air of melancholy hung over it.
The Lady Has Gone
“I see the white blossom has fallen from the plum tree. Can you tell me where the Lady of the Morning Dew has gone?” Hagiwara sadly replied.
“Alas, Lord, the Lady of the Morning Dew has fallen like the blossom of the plum tree. Six moons ago she was taken by a strange illness that could not be alleviated. She now lies dead in the graveyard on the hillside. Her faithful handmaiden, O’Yone, would not be parted from her and would not allow her mistress to wander through the land of the dead alone and so lies with her. It is for their sakes that I still come to this garden and do what I can, though being old now that is but little and now the grass grows over their graves.”
Devastated by the news Hagiwara went home. He wrote the name of O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, on a piece of white wood and then burned incense before it and placed offerings before it. He made sure he did everything necessary to pay the proper respects and ensure the well being of her spirit.
The Festival of Bon
The time of the returning souls arrived, the Festival of Bon, that honors the spirits of the dead. People carried lanterns and visited the graves of those deceased. They brought them presents of flowers and food to show they still cared. The days were hot and on first night of the festival Hagiwara unable to sleep walked alone in his garden. It was cooler than the blazing heat of the day and he was thankful for it. All was quiet and calm and he was enjoying the peacefulness of the night. It was around the hour of the Ox, that he heard the sound of footsteps approach. It was too dark to see who it was but he could tell there were two different people that he thought were women by the sound of their footsteps. Stepping up to his rose hedge he peered into the darkness to catch sight of who it was approaching. In the darkness he could make out the figures of two slender women who walked along the lane hand in hand towards him. One held before them on a pole a peony lantern such as those the folk of Yedo used in their traditions to honour the dead and it cast an eerie light around them. As they approached the lantern was held up to reveal their faces and instantly he recognized them and gave a cry of surprise. The girl holding the peony lantern held it up to light his face
“Hagiwara Sama, it is you! We were told that you were dead. We have been praying daily for your soul for many moons!” she cried.
“O’Yone, is it really you?” he cried, “and is that truly your mistress, O’Tsuyu, the Lady of the Morning Dew, you hold by the hand?”
“Indeed, Lord, is is she who holds my hand,” she replied as they entered the garden, but the Lady of the Morning Dew held up her sleeve so that it covered her face.
“How did I ever lose you?” he asked,“How could it have happened?”
“My Lord, we have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill. We were not allowed to take anything with us and now we have nothing at all. My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,”saidthe handmaiden.
Hagiwara the samurai gently drew his Lady’s sleeve away from her face but she turned away.
“Oh, Lord, do not look upon me, I am no longer fair,”she sobbed.Slowly he turned her around and looked into her face and the flame of love leapt in him and swept through him but he never said a word
As he gazed upon her the Lady of the Morning Dew shrank away saying,“Shall I stay, or shall I go?”
“Stay!” he replied without hesitation.
The Green Hill
Just before dawn Hagiwara fell into a deep slumber, eventually awakening to find himself alone. Quickly dressing he went out and went through the city of Yedo to the place of the Green Hill. He asked all he met if they knew where the house of the Lady of the Morning Dew was but no one could help him. He searched everywhere but found no sign or clue as to where it could be. In despair he turned to go home, lamenting bitterly that for the second time he had lost his love.
Miserably he made his way home. His path took him through the grounds of a temple situated on a green hill. Walking through he noticed two graves side by side. One was small and hardly noticeable but the other was larģe and grand marked by a solemn monument. In front of the monument was a peony lantern with a small bunch of peonies tied to. It was similar in fashion to many of those used throughout Yedo during the Festival of Bon in reverence of the dead.
Nevertheless, it caught his eye and he stood and stared. As if in a dream he heard the words of O’Yone, the handmaiden,
“We have moved to a little house, a very little house in the part of the city they call the Green Hill. … My Lady has become pale and thin through want and grief,”
Then he smiled and understood and he went home. He was greeted by his servant who asked if he was alright. The samurai tried to reassure him that he was fine emphasizing that he had never been happier. However, the servant knew his master and knew something was wrong and said to himself,“My master has the mark of death upon him. If he dies what will happen to me who has served him since he was a child?”
The faithful servant of Hagiwara realized someone was visiting his master in the night and grew afraid. On the seventh night he spied on his master through a crack in the window shutters and his blood ran cold at what he saw. His master was in the embrace of a most fearful and terrifying being whose face was the horror of the grave. He was gazing lovingly into its eyes and smiling at the loathsome thing while all the time stroking and caressing its long dark hair with his hands.
Illusion and Death
Nevertheless, Hagiwara was happy. Every night the ladies with the peony lantern came to visit him. Every night for seven nights no matter how wild the weather they came to him in the hour of the Ox. Every night Hagiwara lay with the Lady of the Morning Dew. Thus, by the strong bond of illusion were the living and dead merged and bound to each other
Just before dawn the fearful thing from the grave and its companion left. The faithful servant, fearing for his master’s soul went to seek the advice of a holy man. After relating to him all that he had seen he asked,“ Can my master be saved?”
The holy man thought for a moment and then replied, “Can humans thwart the power of Karma? There is little hope but we will do what we can.”
With that he instructed the servant in all that he must do. When he got home his master was out and he hid in his clothes an emblem of the Tathagata and placed them ready for the next morning for him to wear. After this, above all the doors and windows he placed a sacred text. When his Hagiwara returned late in the evening he was surprised to find he had suddenly become weak and faint. His faithful servant carried him to bed and gently placed a light cover over him as he fell into a deep sleep.
The servant hid himself that he may spy on whatever might come to pass that night. With the arrival of the hour of the Ox he heard footsteps outside in the lane. They came nearer and nearer and then slowed down and stopped close to the house and he hears a despairing voice say,
Entry is Barred
“Oh, O’Yone, my faithful handmaiden, what is the meaning of this? The house is all in darkness. Where is my lord?”
“Come away, come away, mistress, let us go back. I fear his heart has changed towards you,”whispered O’Yone.
“I will not go. I will not leave until I have seen my love. You must get me in to see him!” whispered the Lady of the Morning Dew.
“My Lady, we cannot pass into the house – see the sacred writing over the door over the windows, we cannot enter,” warned the handmaiden.
The Lady wailed and then began sobbing pitifully, “Hagiwara, my lord, I have loved you through ten lifetimes!” and then footsteps were heard leaving as O’Yone led her weeping mistress away.
It was the same the next night. At the hour of the Ox, footsteps in the lane were heard and then a long pitiful wail followed by the sound footsteps disappearing back down the lane as the ghosts departed sobbing and crying.
The next day Hagiwara got up, dressed and went out into the city. While he was out a pickpocket stole the emblem of Tathagata but he did not notice. When night came he lay awake unable to sleep but his faithful servant, worn out with worry and lack of sleep dozed off. In the night a heavy rain fell and and washed the sacred text from over the round window of the bedroom
The hour of the Ox crept round and footsteps were heard in the lane and entering the garden. Hagiwara listened as they came nearer and nearer until they stopped just outside.
The Power of Karma
“Tonight is the last chance, O’Yone. You must get me inside to my lord, Hagiwara. Remember the love of ten lifetimes. The power of Karma is great but we must overcome it. There must be a way you can get me in to see him!”said the Lady mournfully.
Inside Hagiwara heard them and called out,“Come to me my beloved, I await you!”
“We cannot enter. You must let us in!” she cried.
Hagiwara tried to sit up but he could not move.“Come to me my beloved!”he called again.
“I cannot enter and I am cut in two. Alas, for the sins of our previous life!” wailed the Lady.
Then, O’Yone grasped the hand of her mistress and pointed at the round window,“See, Lady, the rain has washed away the text!”
Holding hands the two rose gently upwards and passed like a mist through the round window into the bedroom of the samurai as he called out, “Come to me my beloved!,”
“Verily Lord, verily, I come!”answered the Lady.
The next morning the faithful servant of Hagiwara of the most honorable rank of hatamoto found his master grey lifeless and cold. By the side of him stood a peony lantern that still burned with a pale, yellow flame. The faithful servant seeing his master lying still and cold wept saying, “I cannot bear it.”And so the strong bond of illusion bound together the living and the dead.
The next morning the faithful servant of Hagiwara of the most honorable rank of hatamoto found his master grey lifeless and cold. By the side of him stood a peony lantern that still burned with a pale, yellow flame. The faithful servant seeing his master lying still and cold wept saying, “I cannot bear it.”And so the strong bond of illusion bound together the living and the dead.
The Khasi people live in the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya with populations in the neighboring state of Assam and some regions of Bangladesh. They evolved their own unique mythology and folklore and created many wonderful folktales that attempt to explain different aspects of the natural world. There are all sorts of stories featuring monkeys, tigers, lynxes and other wild animals. The domestication of some animals is also dealt with telling how dogs, cats, goats and oxen came to live among humans and give explanations of cosmic creation and natural phenomena. The Khasi divinities, such as the twin goddesses Ka Ngot and Ka Iam, who gave their names to the rivers Ngot and Lam respectively, are found along with other divine beings. All this and more can be found in Folktales of the Khasis by Mrs. K. U. Rafy (1920) and presented here is a retelling of the story What Makes the Lightning?
What Makes the Lightning?
The story begins in the
young days of the world when animals socialized with people. They spoke their
language and tried to copy human customs and manners. Every thirteen moons the people held a great
festival where there were many sports and events. People competed against each other and
demonstrated their abilities in many different activities and one of the most
popular was the sword dance. All the
people from the hills and the forest would come and take part and it was a gay
and happy time. The animals loved this
event and would watch the people competing, dancing and having fun and the
younger beasts began to ask the elders for a festival of their own. After
considerable thought the elders agreed and said that the animals should appoint
a day when their own festival should be held.
U Pyrthat’s Drum
With great enthusiasm
the animals learnt all the skills and rules for the competitions and all the
moves and steps for the dances. When
they were ready they set a date for the festival to begin, but no one knew how
to let everyone know the event was taking place. Someone suggested that perhaps
U Pyrthat, the thunder giant, would beat his drum to tell everyone the event
was beginning. U Pyrthat agreed
and began to beat his drum summoning all the animals to their great
festival. His drum could be heard in the
farthest of hills and the most remote places of the forest and the animals
flocked towards the sound excitedly and a soon a great multitude gathered
around U Pyrthat and his drum.
The animals had gone to
great trouble to prepare grooming and preening themselves to look their
very best. Each one carried either a musical instrument or a weapon relevant
to how they intended to participate in the festival events. There was much merriment when the squirrel marched in
banging on a small drum followed by a small bird called the Shakyllia playing a
flute, who was followed by a porcupine clashing cymbals together. It was a very
happy day and all the animals were jolly and laughing, sharing a jokes and
having fun. The mole looked up and saw
the owl trying to dance but because her eyes were not used to daylight she kept
bumping into objects. The mole laughed so much his own eyes became
narrowed and his vision unclear and that is how we find him today.
The Sword Dance of U Kui, the Lynx
When the fun and
merriment reached its height U Kui, the lynx appeared carrying a most splendid
silver sword which he had lavished a lot of money on. He had bought it just
for the festival because he wanted to show off his skills in the sword
dance. Calling everyone to attention he
began his dance leaping and stepping with energy, grace and precision. Everyone cheered and admired his elegance of
movement and technique but his success went to his head and he began to see
himself as better than the others.
U Pyrthat’s Sword Dance
Pyrthat, the thunder giant, saw the performance of the lynx and was full of
admiration for his dancing skills and was very impressed with the silver sword.
He had not brought a sword himself as he had brought the drum he used to
summon everyone. Thinking that he should like to try a dance or two wielding
such a fine sword he asked the lynx if he could borrow it as a favor. U Kui was reluctant to
allow the thunder giant to borrow his silver sword not only because it was so
fine and expensive but because he did not like the idea that he might be
upstaged. The crowd seeing his reluctance began to shout,
“Shame! shame! shame!”
and booed and hissed
thinking that it was rude and ungracious of him to refuse being as the thunder
giant had beat his drum to summon them all. In the end the lynx was shamed into lending the the giant
his sword and reluctantly the handed it to him.
Taking hold of the magnificent silver sword the
thunder giant prepared himself to dance. When he was ready he suddenly
burst into life leaping high and whirling the flashing blade in circles all
around him. He danced so furiously and leapt
high and the flashing blade dazzled everyone. As he danced he beat on his drum so hard the
earth shook and the animals fled in terror.
Thunder and Lightning
U Pyrthat was inspired
by the silver sword and danced faster and faster, leaping higher and higher.
Carried away by his dancing and the wonderful blade he leaped right into
the sky with the silver sword flashing all around him while he beat on his drum,
the sound rumbling and crashing down to earth.
At times, the noise of the drum and the flashing of the sword are still
heard and seen by people all around the world.
They called it thunder and lightning, but the Khasis people know that it
is the drum of U Pyrthat, the thunder giant and the stolen sword of U Kui, the
lynx, that the people hear and see.
U Kui’s Heartbreak
U Kui was heartbroken at
the loss of his fine silver sword. Folks
say that afterwards he made his home near a great hill and would sit and look
at the sky when U Pyrthat danced. He kept piling stones upon the hill
hoping one day to make it high enough to reach the sky where he hoped to
to reclaim his sword from the dancing
Joshua Johnson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
William Elliot Griffis in his book Welsh Fairy Tales, tells a strange story of a widow who had been robbed by a notorious gang of thieves and cutthroats known as the Red Bandits of Montgomery. This is also the title of the story and presented here is a retelling of that tale.
The Red Bandits of Montgomery
There was once an infamous bunch of thieves, robbers and cutthroats known as the Red Bandits of Montgomery who were notorious for climbing down the chimneys of houses and robbing the homeowner. In an attempt to counter this old scythe blades were installed in the chimneys.
The Red Bandits had robbed and killed many people but one of their most heinous acts of lawlessness came when they brutally murdered a man who left behind a widow and a baby boy. For the widow deprived of her husband and the baby boy of his father, the future was not very rosy, in fact it was bleak. The widow had a good cow that provided a surplus of milk which she sold and she worked hard to make a living for her and her son. Money was always short but she always managed to pay the rent money on time which was fortunate because in those days landlords would throw their tenants out leaving them homeless if they could not pay.
Theft in the Night
When he had been alive her husband had provided a good lock on the cowshed to keep the cow from being stolen and had installed scythe blades in the chimney as a deterrent to the Red Bandits, so the widow thought she would be safe.
However, the Red Bandits, not content with murdering her husband and depriving the boy of his father, knew she had a good cow and knew it provide enough milk to sell to pay the rent. They also knew that without her husband she was vulnerable and an easy victim and in their evil greed they decided they would rob the widow of it. Therefore, their foremost expert in climbing down chimneys was selected to enter the house through the chimney, steal the rent money and the key to the lock on the cowshed and run off with the cow in the night.
When the widow awoke she found the rent money gone and dashing out to the cowshed found the cow had gone. Devastated by the double loss she ran back to the kitchen and laying sobbing over the table not knowing how she an her son would survive. As she was weeping for the hardness of the world she heard a knock on the door.
An Unexpected Visitor
Fighting back tears she called, “Why don’t you just come in, everyone else does!” not really caring anymore. Pushing the door open there entered a very old woman with a very kind face. She was dressed in the traditional way of Welsh women with the tall headdress but her clothes were in various shades of green. Her dress had green ruffles and in her right hand she carried a staff and under he cloak she carried a bag.
“Tell me please, why it is you weep?” she asked the widow.
So the widow not knowing what else to do told her how her rent money had been burgled and her cow stolen and that she didn’t know how she was going to feed her baby son, or pay the rent money.
The old woman smiled kindly upon her and opening her bag began tipping out gold coins upon the table and said, “Well now, see here, there is more than enough gold to pay your rent and purchase another good cow!” as the gold formed a heap upon the table. “and it is all yours if you will give me what I ask and at the same time relieve yourself of a huge worry and burden,” and the old woman glanced across the room at the sleeping babe in its cradle.
The widow’s eyes nearly popped out of her head when she saw the big pile of glittering gold coins laying on her kitchen table. She had never seen such huge amount of gold before. She wondered and then nervously glanced across the room at her sleeping son, but said nothing. Then she laughed at the half formed thought. Looking around her kitchen she wondered what she had that the old woman valued so much. Laughing at the poverty she saw around her she said, “Hah! And what do I have of such value that you could possibly want? Tell me and you shall have it!” and then her laughter ceased and she was afraid.
The old lady looked kindly upon her and said, “I can help you. I can give you gold, more than enough to pay your rent, enough to buy a new cow – a herd of cows. I can make you you rich and takes away all of your worries … and your burden.”
“What do you want?” asked the widow fearfully.
“I want to help you. I want to make you rich. I came to take your baby back with me,” said the old woman.
Aghast, the widow realized that the old woman was from the Otherworld and had come for her baby. She begged her frantically not to take her son telling her to take everything else but not her baby. The old woman said, “Take the gold and make yourself rich. Give me the child and relieve yourself of your burden.”
“Surely there is something else I can give, something else I can do for the gold?” begged the widow.
The old woman looked on her kindly and said, “There are two thing that I have to tell you that that may help you decide. The first is that by the laws of my world I cannot take your boy until three days have passed. Then I will return with the gold and you shall keep that and I shall take the boy back to my world with me.”
“That is but one,” said the widow, “tell me the other.”
“The second condition is this. If you can guess my name you win twofold; you keep both the gold and and your baby son.”
Having said that the old woman scooped all of the gold into her bag and walked out the door saying, “I will return in three days for your answer,” and was gone.The widow without her cow and her rent money feared being turned out of her house and spent the night fretting and worrying, not sleeping wink.
After a restless night the widow decided she would visit her relatives who lived several miles away in another village to see if they could help. She asked her neighbor to look after her son while she made the journey on foot to see them. Although they were glad to see her and sorry about the loss of her rent and cow they were so poor they could offer no more than emotional support which the widow needed and understood. Feeling low in spirits she trudged home passing through a wood along the way. In the middle of the wood was a small grassy glade situated just a little way off the path. As the she came near the glade to her surprise she heard someone singing.
Carefully and quietly so as not to disturb them she crept through the trees to the glade to see who it was. Skipping lightly round and round the center of the glade was one of the Otherfolk happily dancing in a circle and singing,
“Ha ha! What a hoot! What’s my name? Silly Doot!”
Round and round the glade she tripped while the widow hid behind a bush listening. Carefully and quietly she left the glade and made her way home as quickly as she could thinking carefully about what she had seen and heard.
On returning home she collected her baby boy from her neighbor, thanking them and set about her daily tasks working as hard as ever. That night she went to bed and slept soundly despite knowing the old woman would return for her baby son in the morning.
The next morning she heard a rap at the door. She opened it and in walked the old woman in green carrying her bag. Wasting no time she sat down at the table and tipped her bag up letting a pile of gold coins fall upon the table, saying, “The time has come. Give me the boy and I will give you the gold, if you want me to help you, or if you guess my name correctly you get to keep both. Are you up for this? Are you ready?”
The widow thought for a moment and then said, “How many guesses can I have and how long have I got?”
“You are allowed as many guesses as you choose and you have all the time there is,” replied the old woman, smiling confidently.
The widow tried name after name, after name, but each time the old woman said, “No!”
The old woman’s eyes began to gleam and she moved her chair nearer the cradle. The widow thought as hard as she could and guessed again and again but each time she was wrong. At last nearing defeat she fell quiet in despair and her mind went back to the previous day to the glade in the wood and the Otherfolk dancing and singing,
“Ha! Ha! What a hoot, what’s my name? Silly Doot!”
“Silly Droot!” cried the widow,
“Your name is Silly Doot!”
The old green woman turned red and then purple with rage, but simultaneously the door flew wide open and a strong gust of wind blew her clean up the chimney and she was gone leaving all of the gold in a big pile upon the table. Whether she was cut to pieces by the scythes in the chimney we do not know but she never came back.
Justice for the Red Bandits
So the widow kept her baby and also the gold. She spent wisely and prudently, buying two good cows, brought a new table and chairs and hid the rest of the coins under the hearth stone. When her baby grew up she gave him a good education and he became one of the judges who hunted down and brought the Red Bandits to justice.
Image by Warwick Goble from Folk-Tales of Bengal – Public Domain
Bengal is a region of the Indian subcontinent giving its name to the Bay of Bengal and the following story is a retelling of a folktale from that region. The story retold here is based on a story called the Origin of Rubies, from a collection compiled by Lal Behari Day, and illustrated by Warwick Goble titled, Folk-Tales of Bengal. According to the compiler it ends with a verse that traditional Bengali storytellers used to conclude their tale. He makes it clear he does not know what it means and why they did it and neither do I, but I chose to end this story in the same way in keeping with the tradition.
The Origin of Rubies
There was once a king who had four sons. Sadly, this king died and left his sons in the care of his wife and Queen to bring them up. The favorite son of the queen was her youngest and she made sure he had the best food, the best clothes and the most affection at the expense of her other sons making no secret of her deep love for him. As her other three sons grew up they saw all of the love and attention their mother heaped upon their younger brother and grew increasingly jealous and resentful. They made him and their mother move into a separate house and plotted against him. With all the attention and affection heaped upon him by his mother the youngest son grew up very selfish and wilful. He always demanded to have his own way and always got it.
One day his mother took him down to the river to bathe. The young man was intrigued to see that a boat had tied up along the bank and while his mother bathed he went to investigate it. There was no captain, or crew, on the boat so the prince went on board to have a look around and shouted to his mother to come and join him. His mother told him to get off the boat as it did not belong to him but the prince replied, “No, I will not! I am going on a voyage and if you want to come with me you must hurry up and get on board, for I am leaving.”
Hearing this, his mother again told him to get off the boat immediately but her son ignored her and began to untie the ropes that held it to the bank. The queen ran up the bank and boarded the boat as it began to float off down the river and taken swiftly by the current. Neither the prince or his mother knew anything about boats so they had to watch as the current took them rapidly down the river to the sea where it continued to float out of control at the whim of providence. On and on the boat floated with its two passengers helpless to control it as it took them out into the open sea.
After a while the boat came to a giant whirlpool and looking down into it the young prince saw hundreds of huge rubies whirling around in the maelstrom of the pool. Reaching down the prince caught many of these red round rubies and brought them on board. His mother said, “You should not take those red balls because they may be the property of someone who has had the misfortune to be shipwrecked and they may think we are stealing them!” At first the prince refused to throw them back, but after his mother continued to insist he eventually did, but kept one back which he hid in his clothes.
The boat then began to drift to shore and came to rest in a great port where they disembarked. The port was a thriving, bustling city and the capital of a rich and powerful king who had a beautiful palace and the prince’s mother found lodgings that looked out over the palace lawns.
Like all boys the young prince loved to play and when the king’s children came out to play he would go down and join them. The royal children liked to play marbles and although he had none he would play with the round red ruby that he had got from the whirlpool. Using this every time he hit another marble that marble would shatter into shards.
The King’s Daughter
The King’s daughter greatly admired the brilliant red marble this strange, unknown boy played with and wanted it for her own. She ran to her father and told him all about the beautiful red orb the strange boy was playing with. She told it she wanted it for her own and if she did not get it she would starve herself to death. The King loved his daughter greatly and indulged her every whim and so he sent his servants to seek out the strange lad with the beautiful red stone.
His servants went out and found the prince and took him to see the King. He asked to see the red stone and when the prince showed him it he was astounded at his size and rich red beauty for he had never seen its like before. The King was so impressed he did not believe another of its like existed anywhere else in the world and asked the prince where he had got from. The prince told him he had found it in the sea and when the king offered to pay him a thousand rupees for it the boy, not knowing the value of rubies eagerly accepted and ran quickly back to his mother with the money. At first his mother was terrified he had stolen the money but he continued to reassure her that he had got the money by selling the red stone to the king had brought the red stone and at last she believed him.
Image by Warwick Goble from Folk-Tales of Bengal – Public Domain
The Pet Parrot
Back in the palace the king had given the red stone to his daughter who had put it in her hair and ran to her pet parrot and said, “Tell me beloved parrot how beautiful I Iook!” The parrot looked at her then retorted, “Beautiful! You look like a poor serving girl. What princess would ever wear a single ruby in their hair? It would be more befitting of your royal station if you had at least two in your hair.!”
Hearing her pet parrot’s stinging answer she was flushed with shame and ran to her bedroom and took to her bed refusing to eat or drink. When her father heard she was not eating and drinking and refusing to get out of bed he went to see her to ask her why she was so sorrowful.
The princess told her him what her parrot had said and told him, “I am very sorry father, but if you do not find one another ruby to match the one I have I will kill myself!”
The king was frightened that she meant it and was very worried because he did not know where he could get another ruby to match the one he had bought for her. Therefore he sent his servants to bring before him the boy who had sold him the ruby.
When his servants brought the prince before him the king asked him where he could get another ruby like the one he had sold him from. The prince told him he did not have another ruby in his possession but he knew where he could find one saying, “I found that ruby in the sea and I know where to go to find many more. They are all swirling around in a whirlpool far over the sea, but I can go and get some more for you, if you like.”
The young prince clearly had no idea of their value and the king was astounded at his reply because he knew their worth. He promised to pay the boy handsomely if he would bring to him a ruby to match the one his daughter now had.
The young prince ran home to his mother and told her he was going back to sea to bring back a ruby for the king. His mother was not at all happy with idea being frightened for his safety. She begged him not to go but he would have none of it. His mind was set and he was intent to go to sea and bring back a ruby for the king and would not change his mind. Without listening to his mother’s entreaties he ran to the boat, untied the ropes and set sail for the whirlpool without her.
The Palace of Siva
When he arrived at the whirlpool he looked into it and saw the rubies swirling around in the maelstrom and looked to find the source of where the stream of rubies were coming from. Once he had located it he went into the centre of the whirlpool where he could see through the funnel of water the ocean floor. Then he dived in leaving the boat riding round and round in the whirling current.
On reaching the ocean floor he was amazed to find a beautiful palace and he went inside to explore. He made his way to a vast central hall where he he found the god Siva sitting with his eyes closed engaged in a meditative state. Just behind the god and just above his head that was covered in matted hair, was a platform where a beautiful young woman reclined. Seeing her and being enthralled by her beauty the prince went to the platform where the he was shocked to find her head had been severed from her body. The horrified prince did not know what to make of the terrible scene but as he looked on he noticed a stream of blood was trickling from her severed head on to the matted hair of the head of Siva and then seeping into the ocean, which turned into the red rubies that were whirling around the maelstrom of water.
As he looked on in horror he noticed two batons lying close to the head of the woman. One was silver and the other was gold. Moving to pick up the batons to examine them closer he accidentally touched the severed head of the woman with the golden one and to his shock the head instantly joined with the body and the woman stood up.
She looked at him in astonishment as is if she had never seen another human being before and then she asked the prince how he had managed to find his way to the palace. After hearing his story she shook her head and said, “Foolish young man, get you gone from this place now with all speed, for when Siva awakens the very glance from his eye will burn you to ashes! Go now before it is too late!”
The prince had fallen head over heels in love with the beautiful young woman and would not leave without her. At last after much begging and pleading she agreed to runaway with him and he led her back the way he had come, through the whirlpool to the boat. Together they collected a great chest of rubies and departed.
When they arrived safely back at the port he had left he found his mother anxiously waiting and we can only imagine her wonderment at seeing the young woman who accompanied him. Bright and early the next morning the prince took a basket of rubies to the king who was astonished at seeing so many big beautiful gems. His daughter was delighted that now she had more gems to match the one she already had demanded of her father that she marry the strange and marvelous bringer of rubies.
Even though the prince had the beautiful woman he had brought with him from the palace on the ocean floor he accepted a second wife and they all lived happily together for many years. They had many sons and daughters between them and now this story is brought to an end in keeping with the traditional way of Bengali storytellers: –
Bomere Pool is situated in the English county of Shropshire about 4.7 miles (7.5 km) south of Shrewsbury between Condover and Bayston Hill. The pool has several legends attached to it and presented here is a version of a tale that tells how a monster fish acquired the sword of Wild Eadric, an Anglo-Saxon war leader who had fought against the Norman Conquest of Britain.
The Fish and the Sword
The story tells how the squire of Condover was out with his friends in a boat on Bomere Pool enjoying a day of fishing. One of them hooked an enormous fish and it took the help of all of the party to pull it into the boat. The squire and his friends were astounded by the sheer size of the fish and a heated discussion arose concerning the girth of the monster. A wager was then placed betting that the fish was bigger around the waist than the squire. In a bid to compare the diameter of the fish to himself the squire took off his belt and with a lot of squeezing managed to fasten it around the girth of the fish.
This caused the huge creature some discomfort and it began to flap about and struggle and managed to flip itself out of the boat and back into the water still wearing the squire’s belt and sword and swam away. Those who fish the pool say that if the giant fish was ever hooked it would draw the sword and cut itself free before it could be netted. Legend says that it was once netted but drew the sword and cut the net to pieces and escaped.
A net was made of iron links and the fish was caught and after a struggle brought to the land. However, once on land, the fish drew the sword and cut itself free slipping back into the pool. This frightened the fishermen so much no other attempts were made at catching it. Every now and then it was hooked but it quickly drew the sword and cut itself free. Sometimes it was seen lurking in the shallows near the banks with the sword and belt still firmly attached to it.
Legend tells that there will come a day when the fish will willingly give the sword up but only to the true heir of Condover Hall. The sword is said to be none other than the sword of Wild Eadric who fought against King William the Conqueror for many years. He was said to have been born at Condover Hall and was the true heir to the hall and its land and only he, or his descendant, could claim the sword. The story tells that he was defrauded out of his inheritance and ever since the hall had been unlucky to its owners. The monster fish was waiting dutifully for the return of the true heir to return the sword to its rightful owner.
Superstition Mountain is a mountain in the Superstitions Mountains of Arizona, USA and a place of many myths and legends of the Native American and local people One Native American legend tells how a tribe of Pueblo dwarfs settled in the area establishing settlements and growing crops and breeding flocks of animals.
Image by Scotto Bear – CC BY-SA 2.0
The Pueblo Dwarfs
They practiced their own religion in their own way which was based on the sun. Although these people were small in stature being only on average four feet tall, they were very intelligent and as is often the case with intelligent people, they were peace loving. They were rumored to possess a great treasure beyond belief.
Being small in stature other tribes sometimes sought to rob and bully them. The dwarves were not easy victims. They had learned how to make strong potions and incantations that would usually frighten off their enemies without the need for bloodshed. Once these were invoked all that was usually needed was a show of arms to discourage fighting.
One day they learned that their enemies were preparing a massive attack on them. Their chief had called together all the braves of his people and was leading them towards Superstition Mountain determined to wipe out the peace loving dwarfs and take all their flocks but what they really wanted was to steal their great treasure.
The dwarfs hid their flocks of sheep in hidden valleys and built walls and fortifications in strategic places that guarded the passes to their land and made plans for their self-defense. All of these plans and works were supervised and directed by a woman who was not of their race but who had come among them from an unknown land. This woman was tall, with golden hair and a pale face and she exuded an air of command. Although she was not of their kind the Pueblo dwarfs held her in awe and reverence following her every word and treasuring her.
She was also known to their enemies. They justified the attack by saying they had brought her from the waters of the rising sun and their chief had fallen in love with her and had wanted to marry her. In their minds, they believed she should have seen this as a great honor and agreed to the marriage. The fact was she did not love him and had refused marriage and fled rather than be taken by force.
She had wandered in the wilderness until she found the Pueblo dwarfs who had taken her in. In return, she taught them how animal husbandry and how to plant seeds, build houses and she had healed many of their sick. The dwarfs would have given their enemies all their flocks in exchange for her but she would not let them. Instead, she told them she would stand and fight and urged them to escape. The dwarfs refused to leave without her and told her they would defend her to the death so she devised a plan of defense.
The dwarfs met the invaders on the borders but instead of fighting retreated across the land drawing them towards Superstition Mountain. Their enemy followed thinking they were afraid that all the time they led them on to the mountain. Eventually, the enemy reached Superstition Mountain and the dwarfs took up the defensive positions they had prepared. The enemy chief marshaled his braves on the lower slopes ready for all out attack.
On a nearby hill other tribes also gathered to watch the attack looking for an opportunity to take advantage of the situation whichever way the pending battle should fall. They knew that while the battle was raging they had the opportunity to sneak behind the dwarfs and steal their flocks though what they really wanted was their treasure. Whichever way the battle went they intended to rob the exhausted survivors. Like vultures waiting for the death of their victim, they bided their time.
The invading chief gave the order for the attack to begin and wave after wave of braves ran up the slopes to attack the defensive walls of the Pueblo dwarfs. The Pueblo dwarfs stood ready behind their defenses. The walls had been built behind a pool of water and now the pale-faced woman stood tall and commanding like a queen in front of the pool calmly waiting for the enemy to arrive. Her adopted people looked on in love and admiration ready to fight to the death for her. As the enemy came up the slope they saw her standing proud and impassive and they were too were filled with admiration and desire. They began shouting fiercely and threateningly and running towards her with outstretched arms.
Pale Faced Lightning
The pale-faced woman stood tall and erect and calmly watched their frenzied attack. As they approached ready to take her she quickly stooped down, picked up a clay jar and emptied its contents into the pool and strode ran back behind the defensive walls to join the dwarfs. As soon as she joined her people on the walls from the rocks and crevices all around there burst red hot sparks and tongues of fire that killed many of the attacking braves instantly. Lightning struck from the skies killing many others while other perished as they fell off the cliffs as they fled in their panic.
The pale-faced woman stood calmly and stately among her people and watched impassively as her enemies were routed without so much as an arrow being shot. From this day on she was known as Pale Faced Lightning. The watchers in the nearby hills also looked on and were appalled and terror-stricken at what they saw. The lust for treasure though will burn the hearts of the unworthy and a few years later they mustered the courage to attempt to attack the Pueblo dwarfs. Pale Faced Lightning routed them as she had previously routed her enemies but with greater loss of life. After that no foe dared to threaten the Pueblo dwarfs but just as they had arrived out of nowhere so they left taking their treasure with them.
Some say they their leader dreamed a dream of hordes of people moving out of the eastern lands into the west bring death and misery to the First Peoples. Some say she led the Pueblo dwarfs to a secret place on Superstition Mountain where they live to this day in peace and happiness ruled over by their treasure, their Pale Faced Lightning.