Azorean Folktales: The Mask of Linda Branca

Jean-François Portaels [Public domain]
Presented here is a retelling of a folktale from the Portuguese islands of the Azores called , Linda Branca and her Mask, from a collection called The Islands of Magic,  Legends, Folk and Fairy Tales from the Azores, by Elsie Spicer Ells and illustrated by E.L. Brock.  According to the author, women in the Azores would often say “Stay pretty,” as a farewell to each other when parting and wonders if this story had anything to do with it.

Linda Branca and her Mask

There once lived a long, long, time ago a very beautiful girl who had grown tired of being beautiful whose name was Linda Branca.  Many girls of her age would have envied her as her beauty made her the focus of all of the handsome young men in the neighborhood and indeed for miles around who were all desperate to court and marry her.

Every night in the street under her balcony young men would appear singing the most beautiful romantic ballads they had written themselves just for her.  Their songs were carefully written hoping to impress her and make her fall in love with the singer of the song.

In fact none of them did and she grew bored and tired listening to the same performance every evening.  She did not like hearing them sing in public of her glowing hair, flashing eyes and beauty finding it all disconcerting and in truth false.  Some nights she could not sleep with all the singing under her balcony and would be grateful when her neighbours opened the windows and shouted at them to be quiet.

Nevertheless, all of her suitors were all very good looking, very rich, and very cocksure of themselves.  They placed bets among themselves, each betting they would be the one to win the hand of the lovely Linda Branca.  When Linda heard about this she was angry and unhappy. Although most girls would have given anything for her beauty and such male attention she began to see it as a curse.  

Her mother had died giving birth to her leaving her father to bring her up.  Although he loved her very much and tried his hardest there are always times when a girl needs her mother.  To make it harder as she grew up he was always away on business.

“I wish I was as homely as the girls in the marketplace and not considered beautiful and desirable by men.  I want a man who loves me not for my beauty but for who I am. I don’t want to be owned by anyone and I don’t want to own anyone else,”  she said one day.  She knew the young men only desired to possess her beauty and cared not for what she did, what she thought, or who she was.  To them she was a prize that would prove their manhood and how handsome and wonderful they were to possess her.

Linda Branca did not want to be possessed by anyone. Linda Branca was determined to be the mistress of her own destiny.  Yes, she greatly desired a soulmate – a companion – who knew and understood her intimately and who she knew in the same way.  She knew that he would not be found singing under her window under the moon above. She knew that those who had laid bets on owning her would be losers for she would never accept such young men.  

The Artist

Linda Branca now saw her beauty as a curse and standing upon her balcony looking down into the street said aloud in frustration,

“If only I could be as homely as that girl walking over there I would have a chance of finding my star – my soulmate, my lover, my hero and would gladly marry him.  All these handsome young men are indeed very attractive but they are shallow and fickle and when I begin to age they would forsake me, that is what they do all the time.  I want someone to grow with to an old age becoming closer and closer.”

As she spoke she looked at the girl’s plain homely face and eyes, Her ordinary hair and body and said, not realising the girl could hear her,

“If only I was as plain and homely as her I could find someone who loved me for myself to marry and be happy, but with all of these unsuitable young men in the way I fear I shall never find my husband and soulmate.”

The girl heard the complaints of LInda Branca and looked up and seeing how beautiful she was she was truly astonished.   She thought she must have been hearing things and challenged Linda Branca to say it again. Although a little embarrassed at being overheard Linda Branca was unrepentant and repeated what she had said that she wanted to be as homely looking as she, though she apologized if this should offend her.

However, the girl was not offended and smiling up at her said, “It so happens I am an artist and one of my arts is making masks.  If you really want I can make you a mask to be as plain and homely as you want, but be careful with what you wish for!”

Linda Branca was astounded and at the same time very pleased with the suggestion. “Please make me a mask to make me look ordinary and homely, it is very much my heart’s desire!”  she exclaimed joyfully.

“Are you really sure about this? asked the artist.

“Yes! Yes! Yes! Please make it as fast as you can!” begged Linda Branca.

As evening fell the usual cacophony  of young men singing their hearts out found Linda Branca stood on the balcony looking this way and that.  This was a most pleasant surprise to them as she usually never appeared to acknowledge their romantic efforts.

But it was not the love songs that Linda Branca was on the balcony to for.  She was hoping to see the artist appearing along the road with her mask but she did not come.  

Evening after evening she stood looking out from the balcony. The young men below crooned their hearts out thinking that she must be choosing her most favored suitor. Indeed, as she stood looking out from her balcony her sparkling eyes and dark flowing hair sent them into raptures of song.  While the young men below were all very excited by her appearances the young woman besieged upon the balcony was not remotely interested in them at all. She was simply looking out for the arrival of the artist who bore the mask of Linda Branca.

The idea of a mask had greatly excited her and she hoped it would solve all her problems.  She was so excited she would not have been able to sleep even if the barrage of love songs floating up from her desperate suitors below ceased to exist. When she did manage to sleep in her she dreams she saw herself wearing the mask.  Sometimes her beauty was covered up by the likeness of a plump homely girl. Sometimes a skinny homely girl and once or twice with the face of a donkey. She thought they would all have adequately covered her loveliness and would gladly accepted any of them.

The Mask

At last a week later the artist finally arrived with the mask which was none too soon as she had grown very impatient and began to give up hope.  When the artist showed her the mask she could see why it had taken so long. It was indeed a very plain face, though not ugly, but homely and unremarkable and just like a real human face.  The kind of face that does not stand out and is easily lost in a crowd. It was an amazing work that had required great skill, patience and artistry to create and now it was here ready for her to wear and said, “Why, it is even better than I had hoped.  It will cover my beauty and is not too ugly but plain enough not to stand out in the crown and be recognized!”  She was confident that when she put it on not one of the flocks of admiring suitors would recognize her and she made a plan.  

Having no mother to answer to and her father being away on business would make her plan easier.  Her father was a successful businessman who made a great deal of money and doted on his daughter.  When he came home after being away he would take her out and buy her expensive presents of jewelry and fine clothes that enhanced her beauty.  She rarely wore them but there were two gowns that she particularly liked. One was blue and trimmed with silver and the other was also blue but trimmed with gold.  Although at the time she had no plan to wear them she thought that maybe one day she would be in need of something finer to wear on some occasions. Therefore, she packed these  and a few other belongings into a bag.

Placing her new mask upon her face and a long, dark cloak around her shoulders she left the house walking through her crowds of admirers who never gave her a glance.  Wasting no time she traveled to the city and finding the palace of the king, knocked on the door and asked a surly looking woman who answered if they required a maid.  The surely looking woman was the King’s mother and glaring at Linda replied, “It is my son who is the King, therefore you must ask him,” and took her to see the King.

The King looked down on Linda unkindly and said, “Only last week I employed a new girl servant purely because she was so very pretty.  I think I will employ you purely because you are very plain.”

Not a very nice thing to say you would think, but this was music to the ears of Linda Branca as she took up her employment in the service of the King. However, although the song sounded nice to begin with she would find it would go on far too long for her liking.

She met the pretty maid whom the king had employed the previous week and saw that although she was pretty she was not anywhere near as pretty as herself without the mask.  Furthermore she discovered that it was she who would get all of the hard and dirty jobs while the pretty maid smiled and fluttered her eyes at her employer and was given the easier tasks.

Although her sleep was no longer being disturbed by her many suitors singing under her balcony, because of all of the hard work she was going to bed exhausted and sleeping through until sunrise.  When she awoke she would have a quick breakfast and then begin work again carrying water, scrubbing floors, washing dishes and doing all the tiring unpleasant jobs around the palace.

While she was working away the pretty maid would be doing all the easy tasks like waiting upon the King and laughing at his jokes. As the days went by the more work she was given the less the pretty maid received.  Furthermore, she could not help but notice it was the pretty maid who received all of the praise and attention from all of the high people. All she ever received was more and more work. It was clear the pretty maid had the easier, happier life and was never as tired as herself when she went to bed.  Linda Branca began to think that just maybe there was something to being pretty after all. “I am wondering if maybe I should once again be pretty!” she said to herself as she climbed exhausted into her bed one night.

The Banquet

The following evening there was to be a great banquet that would be held over two days and Linda went to the King’s mother to ask her if she could attend.  As usual the King’s mother was not in a very good mood and told her angrily, “Go and ask my son for he is King!”

Therefore Linda bided her time until she was in the King’s presence tasked with the job of polishing his boots.  

“Please may I go to the banquet tonight?” she asked as politely as she could.

“What? Go away or I will boot you!” replied the King.

In the evening after the feast had begun Linda Branca unpacked her beautiful blue gown trimmed with silver.  She put it on and taking off her mask looked into the mirror. She saw she was still just as pretty as she had ever been and far prettier than the pretty maid.  Indeed, she found it quite a pleasure to see herself pretty once again after such a long time of being plain. Wasting no more time she took herself down to the banqueting hall and mingled with the guests.  

The Land of the Boot

Everyone was astonished to meet this beautiful and mysterious young woman.  She was the talk of the evening and the King paid her special attention dancing and chatting gaily with her becoming completely beguiled by her beauty.

“May I ask where it is you come from, beautiful one?” he said as they danced.

“Why, I come from the land of the boot,” replied Linda Branca laughing gaily at her own little joke and slipped from his hand and was gone leaving the King bemused and trying to puzzle out where the land of the boot was.

The King was most perplexed.  He had never heard of the land of the boot and he asked his mother and all of his wise men but they had never heard of any such place.  The next day he spent his time pouring through books and maps searching in vain for the land of the boot but could not find even one single mention of it.

“I want to marry her, she is the most beautiful maiden I have evers seen.  How will I ever be able to see her again if I cannot even find the land she comes from?”  he cried to his courtiers.

The King fell into a depression and all of his courtiers and counsellors were worried.  It was very disconcerting that their King had fallen deeply in love with a mysterious and unknown maiden from a far country and nobody knew its location or could even find it on a map.

The next day Linda Branca donned her mask and went about her work as usual but found she seemed to have even more and harder tasks than usual while the pretty maid had none. The King passed by looking down at the plain girl he had employed as she scrubbed the floor.

Later after she had completed her work she went to the King’s mother to ask permission to attend the banquet that evening. “You must ask the King,” she snapped in reply.  Therefore at an opportune moment while the pretty maid was brushing the King’s hair she asked him ever so politely if she could attend the banquet that evening.

“What!” cried the King, “Get you gone or I will hit with my hairbrush!”

In the evening after she had finished her work she put on her beautiful blue gown with the gold trim, took off  her mask and looked at herself in the mirror. She was pleased to see that if anything she looked lovelier that ever and went down to mingle with the guests in the banqueting hall.

The Land of the Hairbrush

As she entered the King, who had been watching the door attentively, gave a  happy cry and ran over to greet her. From then on he danced with her all evening chatting and laughing gaily and never left her side.

“And what country did you say you came from?” he asked politely.

“Why, I am from the land of the hairbrush!” said Linda giggling at her own little joke.

“And where is that land?” asked the King but the intriguing maiden would not tell him no matter how he implored. He turned around to call over his wise men and asked them where the land of the hairbrush was not none of them knew.  When he looked round again he found the beautiful and mysterious maiden had gone.

“Find her!” he commanded and although the banqueting hall was searched high and low there was no sign of that mysterious maiden, just some plain servant girl washing up in the kitchen.

The next day the King and all of his wise men poured over books and maps searching for the whereabouts of the land of the hairbrush but found not even a mention.  The king flew into a rage and chased them all out and went through the maps and books alone.

He would not eat and he would not sleep but continued to study all the maps and books in the palace.  When he had studied these and found nought he decreed that all the books and maps in the land must be sent to the palace.  From then on he studied each and everyone himself for the land of the hairbrush and the land of the boot refusing to eat, sleep or drink until he had found it.  

All the books and maps in his kingdom were brought to his palace and as good as his word he studied each one without taking a single sip to drink, a single bite to eat, or a single wink of sleep.  By the time he had finished he was so weak he had to be carried to bed by his physicians but he had not found those mysterious lands. They begged him to eat and drink but he refused and said, “What do I care for food, or drink or sleep?  I only care for the beautiful maiden I was dancing with.”

When Linda Branca heard the King was ill she took off her mask and put on her blue gown with the silver trim that she had worn on the first night.  Looking at herself in the mirror she thought, “Maybe, It is not such a terrible thing to be pretty after all!”

The Masquerader Unmasked

Sneaking outside she made her way to the window of the King’s bedroom and peeped in for a few minutes before one of the King’s counsellors saw her.

“Whose is that beautiful face looking through the window at the King!” he cried.

“It is the mysterious maiden from the land of the boot,” said one.

“Nay, it is the beautiful maiden from the land of the hairbrush,” cried another.

The King jumped out of bed and ran to the window but when he opened it, there was no one to be seen.

“Mother, tell me who was at my window!” he cried.

“There was no one, or maybe just a masquerader,”  she answered nonchalantly but she was very worried about her son fearing he was so ill he would die.

The following day the King had grown weaker and the royal physicians feared the worst. The King lay on his bed, refusing to eat, drink or sleep with his eyes set firmly on the bedroom window should the lovely face return.  The entire palace fell quiet and as an atmosphere of gloom pervaded, Linda Branca, this time dressed herself in the blue gown with the gold trim and sneaked to the King’s bedroom window and peeped in.

She looked directly into the face of the King and he looked into hers. “Ha!” he cried jumping up and running to the window and managed to grasp a handful of the blue skirt.

“Masquerader, unmask yourself!” he cried.

Linda had quickly put on her mask and looked into the King’s face with the face of the plain girl he had employed for her plainess.  He stepped back in surprise and then she slipped off the mask revealing her true beautiful face smiling at him with shining eyes.

“Ha! Now I know who the beautiful mysterious maiden from the land of the boot and the land of the hairbrush is!” he cried.

Confession

With that Linda Branca confessed to the king and his mother and all present.  She told them the entire story of how she had longed to be plain and how she had concealed her beauty with the mask the artist had made for her.

No one had ever heard of a maiden who had yearned plainess instead of being proud of the beauty that nature had bestowed upon her. The King’s mother said,  “I have always been confident my son would one day choose a rare and beautiful woman to be his wife,” while giving him a little dig in the ribs.

Marriage

The King remained silent for a long time gazing upon the lovely face of Linda Branca with such love in his eyes but what he said was not what his mother expected. “If it was the will of Linda Branca I would humbly beg her hand in marriage.”

Linda Branca looked at the King in surprise and in his eyes she saw nothing but love but then turning quickly she placed her mask quickly on and turned again to face him,

“And how would you have her as your wife?” she said looking him full in the face while she wore the mask, “Like this?”

The King looked at her in the mask and looked deep into her eyes for they were still her own beautiful eyes that he saw.

Or perhaps like this?” she said pirouetting  and pulling the mask off to face the King in her own natural beauty.

After a pause the King  answered thoughtfully, speaking with deep sincerity,
“I am asking for the hand of Linda Branca in marriage but in doing so I wish her to know that if she should accept there are three conditions that she must understand and agree.  The first is that she would be her own sovereign over her own body and her own mind. The second is that she will have complete sovereignty over my body, soul and all my worldly goods.  The third is that should she so wish she may wear or not wear the mask as is her want and it will make no difference for my love to her.”

Linda Branca looked at the King in surprise and for once she felt loved and desired above all. At last she knew deep down that she was happy to be blessed with beauty and from then on she would stay pretty.

© 26/06/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright June 26th, 2019 zteve t evans

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Azorean Folktales: Why the Owl Flies at Night

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.

Pedro

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.

His Stepmother

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!”

The Spring

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.  

Fire Wood

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.

St. Anthony

“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.

© 12/06/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attribution and Further Reading

Copyright June 12th, 2019 zteve t evans

Azorean Folktales: The Gift of Fruitful Words

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By Prianxi [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

The following is a retelling of a folktale from the Azores from The Islands of Magic, by Elsie Spicer Eells called The Silent Cavalier – The Story of the Peach Tree.

The Silent Cavalier – The Story of the Peach Tree

There was once a young Flemish cavalier of the order of St. George of Borgonha, by the name of Jesus Maria.  One day he was told by an old wise monk that his destiny was inextricably linked to the sea saying, “The name your were given when you were baptised is Iesvs Maria, but if those letters are transposed they say in Latin, Maris es via.”

The young cavalier thought a lot about this.  When he heard that a new group of islands called the Azores had been discovered and people were being sought to sail over the sea and settle on them he decided he would join them.  Therefore, he boarded a ship that was bound for one of the new islands called Fayal.

When he arrived he soon fell in love with the rugged, rocky coastline and the ravine where a stream of gurgling water ran through.  He was inspired by the ancient crater lake and the view across the sea to where the snowy peak of Mount Pico sat in majestic serenity on the island opposite his.  For these reasons he thought himself very lucky because he saw the island as his destined home.

Love

When he had arrived on the island he had found there were already some Portuguese settlers there and in one family there was a beautiful daughter named Ida.  In the eyes of the young cavalier she was the fairest maiden that had ever lived and he fell head over heels in love with her.

Sadly, this posed a problem that he could not see an answer to.  To be a cavalier of the order of St. George of Borgonha required each member to give a solemn vow of chastity and remain unmarried for life.  Jesus Maria, despite his love for Ida, could not break these solemn vows and yet he could not keep from his mind her pretty face and sparkling eyes, or the feelings they induced.  With breaking heart he decided that the best thing for him to do was leave the island he loved and return to his homeland of Flanders. Thinking back he recalled how at the words of the wise monk he had set off across the sea and how he had come to the island and made it his home and how happy he had once been and decided he could not return to Flanders either.

Mount Pico

Dismayed and unhappy and not knowing what to do he gazed around in despair until his eyes fell upon the snow-clad peak of Mount Pico across the sea on the opposite island.  He admired its majestic, silent dignity and stillness and he gained strength from it and said to himself, “I will be like the mountain silent, strong and magnificent in my dignity. From this moment on I will not speak another word to another soul and then I will not be tempted to break my vows and tell Ida of my love for her. “  

Ida never knew the special place he kept in his heart for her.  As the days went by the young cavalier found it harder and harder not to speak. Whenever he saw her he wanted to pour out his feelings to her.  At last feeling he could not go on like this much longer he decided he would make his home on the main island just over the sea so that he would no longer be tempted.

Therefore, he packed his few belongings into a little boat and sailed across to the island of Pico.  At the foot of the beautiful, silent mountain he built himself a small cabin and there he lived never returning to the island of Fayal and never again setting eyes upon his secret love, Ida.   He never again spoke a word to anyone, but the people called him the good hermit of Pico.

The Gift of Fruitful Words

Nobody ever knew his secret and when he died a peach tree grew from his grave – the symbol of silence.  The leaf of the peach tree is shaped like a human tongue and inside the fruit is the heart shaped stone.  Inside this stone is the seed which planted in the ground will produce a new tree and it is said,

“Words which bear fruit, spring from the heart and it is in silence we learn the gift of fruitful words.”

© 26/09/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 26th, 2018 zteve t evans