23 May 2011

The Maiden and the Red Beard

Once upon a time in a faraway land lived a young woman, who was good and happy, and an old man-witch. Every day when the girl walked by to fetch water the angry man-witch watched her. "Why does she have youth and happiness when I have nothing but this red beard to comfort me in my old age?" said the man-witch, "I must put an end to her pleasure or I cannot bear her existence." Stroking his red beard, the man-witch muttered a curse on the girl for he had learned dark magic from his mother's knee.

Thou who has been bless'd,
Thou must take this test.
Each time I twist my long red beard
The worst will pass, just as thou fear'd.

When he had finished the wicked curse, the maiden was just passing in front of his hut. She stumbled and spilled her water, then looked around in surprise. She had never before fallen on those steps. From the foul-smelling hut next to the path she heard a wicked little laugh and saw the man-witch pointing at her. "Wicked man, why do you mock a fallen girl?" The man-witch did not reply but twisted his red beard. Frightened, she hurried away.

The next day, when the young woman woke, she discovered that her only shoes had been stolen away in the night. Weeping a little, she put on a pair of little slippers and went about to fetch the water. As she walked outside, a little red bird tore a hole in the pocket of her dress, and she didn't see it because the sun was shining so brightly. But by and by, when she came to the well, all her coins had fallen out of the hole and little children had run away with them. Even the bright sun was unkind to the poor girl, and it burned her face and arms until they were red. The girl, feeling disheartened, walked back to her house. By accident she stepped in some rotten vegetables that a market-woman had dropped on the way, and her little slippers became dirty.

When she got home, however, the girl found that her aunt and uncle were speaking a language that she could not understand, and try as she might she could not speak to them. Quietly, she ate a little supper of green beans and flour and butter, but the food pained her stomach and gave her bad dreams.

The next day, when she woke up, the pain in her stomach had gone but the bad dreams wouldn't leave her mind. As she walked by the little hut to fetch the water, she heard the same wicked laugh from the day before. Seized by a sudden burst of courage, the woman pushed aside the moth-eaten curtain to look inside at the man-witch. He sat on a stool, smoking a huge black pipe and twisting his red beard.

"Maid, why dost thou disturb a poor old man on his death bed?" he asked. "Witch!" cried she, "why does your beard stink of black magic?" For the donkey outside had whispered in her ear the secret of her misfortunes. Seizing a piece of broken glass, the maiden cut the red beard until it fell away from the man-witch's face with a mighty crack. The man-witch, touching his bare chin, howled like a wounded bear, and his pipe fell from his lips and shattered on the stone floor. Then the man-witch vanished, for he had sold his soul for a pipe that never went out, and when it broke the devil claimed him.

The young woman, left alone in the shack holding a thick red beard, hurried away to her house where she dug a hole for the beard and buried it. Free from the black magic of the man-witch, the beard grew into a beautiful red bush that protected the young woman to the end of her days.


  1. Obviously there is an autobiographical component here, and I am guessing that some of the fairy tale reading for the course you are taking is influencing this. I like the idea of fairy tales for lots of reasons -- one being that they tend to be short and include a complete narrative arc, as this one does. Going to do anything more with this? (By the way, the first sentence seems to suggest the young woman IS a man-witch, which I'm sure is unintended. Also, I can't help but think of Manwich when you write man-witch...)

  2. I actually wrote the fairy tale because I didn't want to directly complain about the few bad days I had (and I had my mother really worried that there was actually a man with a red beard bothering me--no, he is entirely fictional :) but I could do some more later! I'm not sure if it is as valuable a technique because so much of it is fictional.

    By the way, I like the story more now that I know what a manwich is :)