Category Archives: Amy’s stories

New Story: The Golden Thread

Hello, beloveds! Long time, no see. As proof that I’ve not been utterly idle this long while, here’s a new fairy tale fresh from the Fairy Tale Factory assembly line:


Once upon a time a husband and his wife lived in a small cottage on the beach. They lived modestly and loved one another very much. Their names were John and Arra. One day they received notice from the king that John must go fight in the war across the ocean. The night before he left, they shared tender embraces, after which John fell deeply asleep. But Arra could not sleep for worrying, so she walked down to the shore to cry. As she wept, a small, sweet voice asked her what was the matter. She looked down and saw a tiny golden woman sitting on a seashell.

“Oh, little friend,” she said, “my husband has been called away to war and I’m afraid I will never see him again.”

“Do not worry,” the woman said. “Reach into your pocket and you will find a shell and a thread. Tie the thread from your heart to his and you will always be able to find him no matter where he goes. The shell is for you. Keep it with you always, and use it only in a time of great need.”

“Oh! Thank you so much,” Arra cried. “What can I do for you in return?”

“You owe me nothing. But remember this one piece of wisdom, and take it home to your husband: If he should meet any strange creature on his travels, he must not reveal his name. If asked for his name, he must look the creature in the eye and say, ‘My name is mine and mine alone.’ If he forgets this advice, he may lose his soul.”

Arra thanked her and ran back to the cottage. In the morning she tied the thread from her heart to his, and gave him the tiny woman’s advice. Then he set off to war.

The separation was hard on them, and harder on him than her. For while she had the comfort of the child growing in her belly, he had only the other sailors and the deep, indifferent sea. He rushed through his days, living only for his dreams at night, ignorant of his wife’s pregnancy.

When he wasn’t sleeping or working, he sat on the deck of the ship and played songs of love on his harmonica. The wind caught his music up and carried it to the sea witch, who cannot love and so must steal it from others. She took the form of a great, ugly bird and came every evening to hear him play. He loathed the sight of her from the start. Every time she appeared he would run at her, yelling, “Shoo! Shoo, you ugly thing!” But she would simply fly up to the rigging and wait for him to play again.

One day she spoke to him. “Why do you hate me so?”

“Ugh!” he replied. “You are so ugly and you stare at me so intensely that it feels like you would steal my soul if you could.”

The ugly bird shook her feathered head sorrowfully. “I cannot help what I am,” she said. “Even my own kind drive me away. Your music gives me the only joy in my lonely life, and I spend my days waiting to hear it.” Tears welled up in her red, beady eyes. “And yet when I come to hear you play, you attack me. What have I ever done to you?”

John was ashamed of himself. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I am also alone and unhappy, and I see now that misery has made me cruel. How can I make it up to you? What song would you like to hear? I will play whatever you like.”

The wicked old bird cocked her head at him. “Truly, I would only like to know who to thank for this beautiful music.”

And he, in his shame and confusion, forgot his wife’s warning and delivered up his name.

As soon as he said it, his name became a fluttering butterfly that flew from his lips. The witch snapped it up in her great, ugly beak with a triumphant “CAW!” And they disappeared without a sound—man and monster alike. When the ship reached the next port, the captain wrote Arra to tell her that her husband was lost at sea, presumed dead.

And that is how Arra found herself, big with child, packing a bag and walking into the sea with nothing but a thread to guide her.


After the first three days, Arra lost track of how long she followed the thread along the ocean floor. Many times she wanted to turn back, but the thread led only forward, and behind was nothing but darkness and the creatures of the deep.

Finally, when she was out of food and wholly exhausted, certain she would die, she came upon a wondrous sight—a castle, majestic in the gloom. Its twisting spires were shaped like narwhal horns and seashells. A high wall encircled it, studded with skulls of drowned sailors and jewels from sunken treasure. Its gates were made of beaten gold and inlaid with mother of pearl, and they were locked tight. The thread ran right between them. Arra beat on the gates, her small fists making almost no sound at all, muffled by the pressing water. “Let me in!” she cried.

There was no answer.

“Let me in,” she demanded. She pounded until her fists were bruised, she shouted until her voice nearly gave out.

Finally, defeated, she slumped against the gate and said softly, “Please, please let me in. The best part of my heart lies inside.”

The gates swung silently open. She followed the thread right into the castle, into the most beautiful room she’d ever seen. A fire burned warmly in a huge fireplace, and a hot, nourishing meal sat on the table. There was one place set. “Hello?” she called. There was no answer. The thread became a tangle of refracted beams that led nowhere, barely visible in the soft firelight, but Arra was so enchanted by the welcoming castle that she didn’t notice. “Hello? Is anyone home?” She walked through richly appointed room after richly appointed room, calling out, but there was not a soul in sight. The castle was as silent as the ocean floor.

“Well,” she said thoughtfully, rubbing her pregnant belly, “there is more than enough food here to feed me and several others besides. Surely no one would mind if I ate a little. I must keep my strength up for the baby and the journey ahead.” And so she returned to the dining room and ate her fill.

Afterwards, she was so sleepy she felt she might pass out. “How strange that no one has come home yet. Well, surely they wouldn’t begrudge a pregnant woman a night’s sleep. I can introduce myself in the morning.” And so she went down the hall to a particularly inviting bedroom, and found a fire roaring, a hot bath drawn, and a pretty nightgown just her size laid out on the bed. And so she bathed, put on the nightgown, and climbed gratefully into bed.

When she awoke, she found the fire freshly tended and an elegant new dress laid out for her. Her old clothes were washed and mended, and hung in a wardrobe next to lovely garments that seemed made just for her. There was still no sign of any living being. She put on the elegant dress and made her way to the dining room where she once again found a sumptuous meal waiting for her, this time with two place settings, one occupied by a woman so beautiful that Arra felt ashamed of her own common manners and features.

The beautiful woman smiled. “Good morning! I was wondering when you would wake up. How did you sleep?”

Arra stammered shyly, “Very well, thank you. Better than I ever have before. Thank you for the clothes and the supper and the bath and everything. I hope you don’t mind. I couldn’t find anyone when I got here, and I was so hungry and tired.”

“Please, sit and enjoy breakfast with me. I so rarely have company. This is a treat. Which leads me to my next question: How did you get here? This is not an easy place to find!” She laughed like silver bells.

“My husband is at the other end of this thread, which I followed along the ocean floor. ” Arra gestured to the place her thread had once shone bright and true, and for the first time noticed that it was all but gone. “Oh!” She clutched at her heart and tried to grasp the thread, but the tangled beam slipped through her fingers. “Oh! What’s happened to it? I don’t understand! It led through your gates, right up to your door.” She looked earnestly into the woman’s eyes, “Please. My husband was reported lost at sea, but I know he still lives. Do you have a lost sailor here? This,” she gestured at the pale tangle, “was once a true path between us. And I followed it all this way to find him.”

The lady furrowed her delicate brow. “I’m afraid there is no one here but you and me, my dear. You are the first person to visit this castle in more than a hundred years. And I’m not sure what you mean about a thread. I see no thread. Perhaps you are still exhausted from your journey. Perhaps it was a fever dream. You need to rest and recover.”

Arra shook her head impatiently. “It was no dream. Are you certain there is no one else here? Maybe your servants brought someone in unbeknownst to you.”

The lady laughed again, “My darling girl, not a creature draws breath in this place but I know about it. Did I not lay out a warm and welcoming supper for you last night? Did I not have a fire burning and a bath drawn and the most perfect clothes all waiting for you when you needed them? I think I would know if some waterlogged sailor had washed through my door.” She paused as Arra frowned. “Forgive me. I do not mean to disrespect your beloved.” She gestured to the empty place setting beside her. “Please. Eat while we talk. Your baby needs nourishment as much as you do.”

Arra sat, and tried to conceal her growing anger and fear—for she now understood that she was in the home of a fearsome witch. “Thank you for saving my life and the life of my child,” she said cautiously. “You are very kind.”

“Well, I couldn’t just leave you out there to die with your heart full of love, now could I?” The sea witch smiled and patted Arra gently on the knee. “You know, my dear, I feel we are on our way to becoming fast friends. Tell me, what’s your name?”

Arra’s heart pounded as she remembered her tiny friend’s warning. “You may think me quite rude,” she said apologetically, “but my name is mine and mine alone. I’ll tell you anything else you want to know, but I can’t give you my name.”

The sea witch crooked an exquisite eyebrow in displeasure. “Child, I don’t know where you come from, but in this land that’s a poor way to treat someone to whom you owe your life.”

“I know. I mean no offense. I am indebted to you, and I will do and give anything else. I simply cannot tell you my name.”

“Well, that’s too bad,” said the sea witch thoughtfully, “because I just remembered that I do have a man here. I’d completely forgotten about him until just this moment. He’s out of his mind, of course, has no idea who or where he is. But he’s very handsome and he plays the harmonica beautifully. It’s a shame you have such bad manners, else I might let you see him.”

“Oh! I’m sure that’s my husband—please let me see him! I’ll do anything you want.”

“All you have to do, my darling girl, is remember your manners and tell me your name.”

Arra Mae’s voice quavered. “I can’t.”

“Well, then. It seems our time together is done. I’ll show you out.” She stood and gestured gracefully towards the door. At this, Arra abandoned her pride and her fear, and pleaded with all her might to see the mysterious man. Finally the sea witch said, “Since you are so pitiful,” she said, “I’ll strike a bargain with you. You may clean my kitchen and cook dinner for me and my guest this evening. You will serve us in the great dining room. If you speak a word to him—even one—you will find yourself outside the castle walls, and the magic that let you walk along the ocean floor will no longer protect you from the crushing cold. If he recognizes you, you may have him. If he does not, you must tell me your name.”

Arra eagerly agreed. “He will remember himself as soon as he sees me. I know he will.”

The woman chuckled. “I hope you’re a good cook, darling. I have a tremendous appetite. You might want to change back into your old clothes. You have a lot of work ahead of you.”


Soon thereafter, she led Arra Mae through a maze of corridors to a huge kitchen that smelled of rot and seaweed. “We dine at six o’clock sharp. Heaven help you if you’re late with it.” And with that, she turned and vanished into the maze.

“But…” Arra stared at the derelict kitchen in dismay, “where’s the food? Where…where’s the fire? There must be a mistake…” A century of filth rose around her, tangles of silverware, cracked dishes, empty pots encrusted with old food. The bones of mysterious animals were jammed into the drains.

As she stared at the mess and the empty cupboards, she remembered the golden shell her little friend had given her. She dug it from her pocket and cracked it open. A dozen tiny golden women bustled out of the shell. “Well,” they snapped, “what do you need? What do you want?”

“Please,” said Arra, “I need this kitchen cleaned and sorted, and I need to serve the best supper anyone’s ever eaten. Can you help me?”

The women laughed. “That’s it? That’s your only request?”

“I beg you. My life and my husband’s life depend on it.”

The little women snorted contemptuously, turned without a word and got to work. By six o’clock, the pots and pans were gleaming, the crystal shone, and even the cracked dishes had been mended. Just in time, they presented her with a cart piled high with the most delicious dinner she’d ever seen. “Oh, thank you so much! Is there anything I can do to repay you?”

“Even if there was,” they said, “you’d probably not be smart enough to do it.” And with that, they disappeared, leaving Arra staring at the empty shell on the kitchen floor.

Arra wheeled the cart through the maze to the opulent dining room. As she stood outside the door, she heard her husband’s voice, followed by the sea witch’s silver-bell laugh. Her heart leapt into her throat. She took a deep breath and pushed the cart into the room. The witch held John’s hand and laughed as he smiled into her eyes. Arra barely stopped herself from exclaiming aloud as the sea witch turned and put her finger to her lips in a “hush” gesture.

And so Arra served dinner silently to her husband and the sea witch. He looked at her once, puzzled. “Who is this? She looks familiar to me…”

Arra smiled at him with tears in her eyes.

“Oh, just a stray that wandered in from the deeps. I can’t imagine someone of your rank would know someone so low, my darling. Here, have some more asparagus. Did I mention that I want to take you on a tour of the kingdom tomorrow?”

He reached a tentative hand towards Arra. “Why are you crying?” he asked. But she could only shake her head, mindful of the sea witch’s threat.

The witch caught his outstretched hand in her own. “Pregnancy plays havoc with a woman’s moods, darling.” She dismissed Arra with a wave. “That will be all, girl. Clear the table and go have a good cry in the kitchen.” She turned to John and frowned sympathetically. “Poor thing.”

Arra numbly wheeled the cart back to the immaculate kitchen and sat, waiting.

“Poor dear,” said the witch when she finally came to the kitchen, “I told you he wouldn’t recognize you. He doesn’t even know himself. I’ve told him he’s a lost king. I like him. I may offer him my hand in marriage. What can you offer him? A shack on the beach? Your love? What are those things compared to the entire ocean kingdom?”

Arra wiped her tears away proudly. “My love and our child are kingdom enough for any man.”

The sea witch narrowed her eyes. “Hm. You have a point. I cannot offer him a child. Since you failed so miserably at your last task, I’ll offer you another chance to save yourself and your family. How about this? I’ll hide your name somewhere in the castle. You’ll work for me as my servant, honestly and excellently, as you have shown you can do. In your free time, you may look for your name. If you find it before the baby is born, you can all go home. But if you don’t, you are mine, your husband is mine and your baby is mine, too.”


The sea witch laughed her silver laugh. “And so, my darling, my dear, I ask you for the final time: What is your name?” Arra spoke and her name fluttered forth and hung in the air between them. The sea witch caught it easily and watched with pleasure as Arra’s clear, direct gaze clouded and slowly turned inwards. “How are you feeling, my love?”

Arra looked at her anxiously, vaguely. “I’m…I feel so strange. I think I’ve lost something, but I can’t remember what it is. Can you help me?”

“I’m afraid I can’t, my darling.” The witch took her elbow and gently led her towards the sink of dirty dishes. “Perhaps you’ll remember what it is while you’re washing the dishes. They say thinking about something else is a good way to recall what you’ve forgotten.”

Then the witch turned, drew her hand from her pocket and swallowed the delicate butterfly in one greedy gulp.


The days passed quickly after that, and soon they turned into weeks, and then months. She cooked meals and served them, making sure never to speak. She and John would look at one another with curiosity, but the witch always redirected his attention, and after each meal she’d remind Arra that she was never to speak to him. After each meal she’d call Arra into her sitting room so she could stroke Arra’s growing tummy. She’d ask with concern, “Did you find what you were looking for, my darling?”

Arra would shake her head in frustration. “No, ma’am. I’ve looked through every drawer in almost every room in the castle, but I haven’t found anything that looks like it.”

The sea witch would tsk-tsk sympathetically and rub Arra’s tummy. “Poor thing. Keep looking, my love, I’m sure you’ll find it.” Then she’d say, “This baby you’re carrying will rule this kingdom one day. It’s a noble task you’ve been charged with, carrying the royal heir. It’s quite an honor.”

“I know. It still makes me sad to think of giving it up.”

The sea witch would give her hand a sympathetic squeeze and say, “It’ll pass, darling. It’ll pass.”


And then one night it happened—the contractions began. Arra labored and struggled for hours while the sea witch watched with hungry eyes. When the baby was finally born, Arra hugged her close and cried fiercely, “I won’t give you up!”

“You made a bargain, my dear, and you must keep it. If you don’t give her to me, I will put you out to drown.” She took the baby girl and walked away. “Now my family is complete. I can’t wait to show my king.”

Arra followed her down the hall. “Give me back my baby!”

“Shut up, girl, and go back to your room! I’m almost out of patience with you.”

John wandered out sleepily. “What’s going on? Why are you shouting at each other?” His face softened when he saw the baby in the sea witch’s arms.

The sea witch purred at him, “Congratulations, my darling. I’d like to introduce you to our daughter. Now our family is complete…my king.”

Arra grabbed for the baby. “I don’t care if you put me out to drown. I won’t give up my daughter!”

When he heard Arra’s voice, John shook his head, as if he were trying to recover from a blow. He looked at her with new eyes, and his heart remembered his loving wife, even if her name was forgotten. He put an arm protectively around Arra and scolded the sea witch. “She should be in bed now, not chasing after her little one. What’s the harm in letting her keep her baby for just one night?”

The sea witch snapped, “That slut gambled her own baby away. She’s mine now!” He looked at her with revulsion as she corrected herself, “I mean ours. This beautiful baby is ours, my darling.” She bounced the tiny girl softly in her arms. “What is your name, little one? I have your mama’s name, and I have your papa’s name, but I haven’t got a name for you.”

At this the infant’s tiny eyes flew open and terrible golden light shone from them. “I know my mother’s name, witch,” the baby exclaimed. She pronounced Arra’s name, and the sea witch’s mouth flew open as if by force. Arra’s name fluttered out and landed gently on her lips.

“And I know my father’s name, too!” She pronounced John’s name, which flew from the witch’s mouth to his own. John and Arra truly recognized each other for the first time, and embraced joyfully.

The baby turned her gaze to the terrified witch, “And I know your name, too!”

When she pronounced the ugly syllables of the sea witch’s name, all the names the witch had ever stolen flew from the her mouth in a shimmering cloud. The witch writhed and shrieked, growing thinner and thinner, until, when the last name fluttered from her lips, she turned to dust and blew away.

And that is how Arra and John and their beautiful daughter (whose name is hers and hers alone) came to rule the kingdom under the sea wisely and well for the rest of their days.

The End

The Wood Wife

Once upon a time there was a discontented wife. She thought her husband limited and boorish, and her two young children drove her nearly mad with their moods and demands. She yearned for something nameless, and her heart was a panicked bird.

She dreamed of escape day and night until she figured out how to slip away unnoticed. She resolved to construct a substitute who would be like her in every respect, who would cook the meals and wash the children and do every thing a good wife should. Then no one would notice her absence and no one would ever look for her. She gathered branches from the forest, shells from the beach, flowers from the meadow, and moss from the well. The branches became limbs, shells became eyes, flowers were lips, and moss was hair. The discontented wife then gathered whatever love she had left for her family and breathed it softly into a perfect silver bell. She tied the bell where the wood wife’s heart should be and left the wood wife at home watching the children while she fled into the forest like a wild thing. No one was the wiser. The discontented wife eventually grew so wild that she lost her human shape and frayed into the forms of the animals and forgot that she had a name.

Years passed and still no one noticed the wood wife living in their midst. The affection that animated her was true and sweet, and she was a good companion to her husband and a loving mother to the two children. She loved her family tenderly and counted herself blessed. Her only unhappiness lay in the fear that one day the discontented wife would come back, that she would be turned again to a loveless pile of sticks and shells and moss.

As the children grew older, they were allowed to play farther and farther from the house, though the wood wife admonished them not to stray too deeply into the forest. One day the children wandered deeper into the woods than they had ever gone before. They played happily by the babbling brook, their laughter and conversation ringing through the trees like the bell of their mother’s heart. When they looked up from playing, they were terrified to discover a she-wolf crouched next to a tree, watching them intently. The children knew better than to run. They slowly backed away, taking care to make no motions that would mark them as prey. The wolf only watched with her great, golden eyes until they were out of sight, then turned and disappeared into the forest again.

From that day forward, the wolf came to them wherever they were in the forest. They slowly lost their fear of her, and as time passed they came to consider her their friend. They brought her scraps from the table and scratched her ears when she came to eat. They took naps nestled in her fur and she guarded them as she would her own cubs.

One day they were chattering happily to the wood wife about their forest games and told her about the she-wolf. A cold finger of jealousy snaked through the wood wife, for she knew who lay forgotten behind the she-wolf’s golden eyes. The night as she lay in bed with her husband, she told him that the children were being seduced by an evil spirit disguised as a wolf, and that he should follow the children into the forest tomorrow and kill the beast.

He did as she asked. He followed stealthily behind the children, and hid himself to spy on them as they played all day with their mysterious companion. When the children ran home, he raised his gun and shot the wolf through the heart. As soon as the shot struck home, the wolf transformed into the shape of his beloved wife. Horrified, he ran forward and gathered her in his arms, begging her to explain what was happening. She could only answer, “To restore me, bring me the bell from the wood wife’s chest and tie it where my heart was.”

Deeply shaken, he returned home and told the wood wife all that had happened. “See, it is as I said, husband. An evil spirit dogs our family and will not let us be. We should go now to collect the body and burn it. Then we will truly be free.” He led her out to the spot where he’d left the body, but there was nothing to be found.

The animals of the forest were witness to the murder of the discontented wife. When they heard her tell her husband how to revive her, they resolved to hide her body and watch to see if he would return with the bell. When he returned instead with the wood wife and a resolve to burn the body, they knew they would have to retrieve the bell themselves. They watched the wood wife from the trees and marked the spot in her chest where the silver bell rang.

That night, the mice set off to get the bell. But the wood wife was canny and had locked the big, fierce tomcat into the bedroom with them. When they awoke in the morning, the tomcat lay fat and full on a bed of mouse carcasses. The wood wife smiled to herself as she made the family breakfast.

The next night, a swarm of bees came down the chimney to retrieve the bell from the wood wife’s chest. But the wood wife was canny and had built a smoky fire in the fireplace. When they awoke in the morning, dead bees littered the hearth. The wood wife sang a little song to herself as she sat and did the mending that day.

The crows, meanwhile, had been watching with their clever eyes. They knew things the mice and the bees did not. While the wood wife and her husband were still awake, the crows flew over the chimney and dropped rotten eggs onto the hearth below. By bedtime, the entire room stank of sulfur and rot. Though the wood wife pleaded with him not to open the windows, the husband threw them open to clear out the smell. Though she tried to stay awake, the wood wife soon dropped off to sleep beside her husband. Once she was truly sleeping, a crow landed on the window-sill and pretended to be hurt until the cat leapt madly after it and out the window. Then a flock of crows flew in through the window and picked the wood wife to pieces. Once they found the silver bell, they carried it back to the forest and placed it tenderly into the hole where the discontented wife’s heart used to be.

The husband awoke the next morning to a bed full of sticks and shells and black crows’ feathers. Panicked for the safety of his wife, he ran downstairs to find her laughing and playing with their two children. She cuddled them close and nuzzled them for all the world like a wild thing. He breathed a sigh of relief to find her safe, and they all lived happily ever after.

The Owl and the Maiden

Once upon a time there was a proud, beautiful young woman. Though she was haughty, many men wished to marry her, but none of them was good enough. Her father despaired as she rejected suitor after suitor. Eventually there came a day when her father lost his patience and declared that he would pick the most suitable husband for her and that she would marry that man whether she loved him or no. They fought bitterly, but in the end her father prevailed. He was sad, for he loved his daughter very much. So he carefully considered all the men who wished to marry his daughter.

‘He must be patient, for my daughter is tempestuous and haughty. He must be kind, so that he does not abuse her when she is too harsh and hard. He must be wealthy, so that she and their children will never want. He must have a strong sense of himself, so that he does not become henpecked and beaten. He must be intelligent, so that he might find a way to win her heart.’ And so forth. It was a very long list. And, in the end, he found a man who was an excellent match for his daughter. Handsome, intelligent, patient, kind, wealthy, confident, and with no illusions about his bride. The man understood that the girl did not love him, but he admired her spirit and her intelligence, and he felt confident that in time she would soften towards him.

He told her as much the last time he saw her before they were married, and that was the mistake that sealed his doom. The proud girl determined that she would never love this man, no matter what he did. And so, the night before her wedding she slipped out of her father’s house and went deep into the forest until she found the roost of the owl. ‘Owl!’ she called. ‘I desire a favor.’

The owl regarded her with its great pitiless eyes. ‘What favor do you seek and why should I grant it?’

‘I wish for you to take my heart. I am to be married tomorrow, and I have sworn never to love. Will you help me keep my vow? Your payment is my very heart.’

The owl blinked and bobbed its head around, considering. It fluffed its soft grey feathers and flexed its razor sharp talons. The girl stood defiantly, head high, waiting. Finally the owl swooped down with no warning and plunged its beak deep into the girl’s breast. It tore her heart out in one stab, tossed it in the air, and swallowed it. The girl gasped in shock and pain, and collapsed on the forest floor. She awoke in her bed at dawn, her nightdress stained with blood. She smiled, satisfied.  

For the first few years of their marriage she didn’t miss her heart at all. Her husband was kind, and she was content to be a good wife to him, knowing that she had already exacted her revenge. But when she had her first child, the nanny and the housemaids began to whisper that though she was a good mother, there was something cold about her that made them uncomfortable. She was proud of her son, and she took pleasure in caring for him and spending time with him. But she could not love him, and nothing could completely disguise that fact. 

At the birth of her daughter it became even more obvious that something was missing. She cuddled the girl, sure, but never cooed endearments, never embraced her spontaneously. Her husband and son loved each other and the baby girl so well that her own lack of passion seemed almost cruel by comparison. People in the village began to whisper that she was a monster, or a witch. 

The rumors about her circulated and, like fire, eventually consumed the town. One day the townspeople came before her husband and confronted him. They accused her of selling her soul to the devil, and of planning to devour her children, and many other monstrosities that would have been silly in other circumstances. He managed to talk them into a truce, but it was uneasy, and none of them slept well that night. She laid awake in the dark, listening to her husband breathe, thinking about her beautiful children in the next room. She had come to regard her husband highly. Her father had chosen well for her, and had she not given her heart to the owl, she would have loved him passionately and been very happy. She thought long and hard about what to do. After many hours, she determined to find the owl and ask for her heart back.

So again she went deep into the forest to the owl’s roost. ‘Owl!’ she called. ‘I desire a favor!’

                The owl regarded her with its great pitiless eyes. ‘What favor do you seek and why should I grant it?’

‘Seven years ago I came to you and I asked you to take my heart. I have come to regret my decision. I wish to reclaim my heart from you, and I will pay any price you ask.’

The owl blinked and bobbed its head around, considering. It fluffed its soft grey feathers and flexed its razor sharp talons. The girl (now a woman) stood defiantly, head high, waiting. Finally the owl spoke. ‘You seek to reclaim that which you paid to me. The price will be dear. Turn around.’ The woman turned around and saw a giant cage at her feet. She shrieked and leaped backwards, for the cage was full of mice. ‘Your husband and two children are in that cage. Find them and you may reclaim your heart. You have until dawn tomorrow.’

                The woman grabbed the cage and ran home. She ran into her bedroom and found her husband gone, though the bed was still warm as if he’d just left it. She ran to her children’s room and they were likewise missing. She looked in despair at the cage full of mice – a hundred of them! And wondered how she would ever accomplish her task.

                The next day and night were a terrible trial. The woman examined each of the mice for distinguishing features, but they were all the same. She spoke to them, asking her family to reveal itself, but none came forward. She collected their favorite things and hoped that some mice over others would gravitate towards them, towards the red ball or the well-worn hunting knife or the book of rhymes. But all the mice wandered over the trinkets indifferently, and the woman learned nothing. She sang to them, she called their names, she closed her eyes and tried to feel which of them was her kin. But without her heart, she had even less chance than others of passing the test.

                At dawn the owl flew into the window. It blinked at her and bobbed its head towards the cage. ‘Have you made your choice, then?’ it asked.


The woman began to weep. ‘I cannot. I cannot tell which of these are my family. Please give me a different trial, this is unfair. With my heart I could tell. Give me my heart and I will find them in an instant!’

                The owl flexed its razor sharp talons, then coughed as if it were coughing up the bones and fur of a woodland creature. Her heart landed on the table before her. ‘Very well,’ it said. ‘Perhaps you are right. Perhaps it was an unfair test. See if you can find your family now.’

                The woman grabbed her heart and immediately saw her children and her husband. How could she have missed them before? They were so obvious, not like the other mice at all! She joyfully plucked each one up and placed them in a bowl in the table. ‘There! You see?’ Like lightning the owl darted its beak into the bowl and ate first the woman’s husband, then her son, then her daughter. The woman shrieked in anguish and disbelief and dove at the owl, hoping to pull her beloved family from its cruel throat. 

                The owl flew easily out of her grasp. ‘You said you were willing to pay any price,’ it said. ‘And so you did. You have your heart, and I have my breakfast. My part of this bargain is fulfilled. Do not trouble me again.’ And it flew away.

                And for the first time the woman felt the full force of a mother’s love. And a wife’s. And she fell to the floor nearly unconscious with grief for all she had lost. Later that day the townspeople came to her and demanded to speak with her husband. They found her sobbing on the kitchen floor, arms wrapped around the cage full of 97 mice. ‘Where is your husband, witch? Where are your children?’ they said.

                ‘Dead,’ she sobbed, ‘all dead and all my fault.’

                The townspeople searched the castle and found no sign of the family. And so they dragged her into town and they burned her alive. Deep in the forest, the owl blinked its great pitiless eyes and coughed up the bones and hair of the three juicy mice it had eaten for breakfast.

The Yellow Bird

Once upon a time there was a king who lived in a tower without a door. There were windows on every side of the tower, high above the ground. The king used to stand at the windows and watch the people in his kingdom going about their business, and he wondered what it would be like to go anywhere and do anything one pleased. One day the king turned from the windows to find a beautiful woman dressed all in green standing in the middle of his tower room.


“If you do as I say,” she told him, “you can break the spell that keeps you trapped in your tower, and you can have me for your wife.”


She was so beautiful to behold, and her promise was so tempting, that he agreed without first asking what he must do.


“On the night of the new moon you must allow me to kill you and to cut you up into pieces. When I have done this, I will cover you with a shroud that I have woven for you, and I will weep over your body for three days and three nights. On the fourth day you will arise, healed and whole, and we will be wed and your kingdom will be restored to you.”


The king was sorely afraid when she told him what he had promised. but he was an honorable man and knew he must keep his word.


“As a token of my faith, I give you this yellow bird. She will fly far and wide over your kingdom, and report back to you all that happens. In this way, you will be ready to govern when you are freed. You will know who is a thief and who is in need and who is virtuous and kind.”


And so it came to pass. Every day the king would send the yellow bird out into the land, and every night the bird would come back and tell him tales of the people. He learned who was a thief, and who was in need, and who was virtuous and kind. He learned the face of his kingdom so well from his little friend that by the time the new moon came he was, indeed, ready to govern wisely.


On the night of the new moon the green lady stood once more in the center of his tower room. Before her was a large basket and in her hand was a gleaming sword. “Kneel before this basket so that your head will fall in when I cut it off,” she commanded. Quaking with terror, he did so, after thanking the yellow bird for her friendship and service. The green lady first cut off his head, which landed neatly in the basket. Then she cut off his arms and put them in the basket. Then she cut off his legs and put them in likewise. Lastly she picked up his trunk and put it in the basket also.


She carried the basket to a bier she had arranged on the roof of the tower, and she laid him out on the bier as if he were whole again. Over him she threw a shroud she had woven of fine linen, green with white stars throughout, and she began to weep. For three days and three nights the green lady wept piteously so that the shroud was drenched with her tears. She pulled at her hair and beat her breast and mourned for him as if her own beloved had died and would never return. The yellow bird sat at his feet the entire time and sang tunes so mournful that the people below stopped in their tracks and wept.


But at sunrise on the fourth day, the instant the sun peeped over the horizon, the lady dried her eyes and the bird ceased her song. Then the lady flung back the tear-stained shroud and saw that her lover was whole again, though he bore scars where she had cut off his head and his arms and his legs. She leaned forward and kissed his lips as the sun warmed his death-cold face, and he awoke.


In wonder, he took her hand as she led him down the stairs of the tower and out into the courtyard where a priest was waiting to marry them. All the lords and ladies of the land were assembled, and it was a fine wedding. The king was a kind and able ruler, and with the green lady by his side and the yellow bird on his shoulder, he governed well and lived happily all the rest of his days.