Dear as Salt

In a time long ago and even longer ago than that there was once a king who ruled over a kingdom somewhere between sunrise and sunset. It was quite a small kingdom and when the king went up to the roof of his palace and took a look round he could see to the ends of it in every direction. But as it was all his own, he was very proud of it, and often wondered how it would get along without him because he didn’t have a son to inherit. He did however have three daughters, he could have split the kingdom between them or even waited until they got married and chosen the son in law he liked best to inherit but because he had far too much time on his hands he came up with a cunning plan.

He was very proud of this plan and told it to the queen who was less than impressed although she took care not to show it as he was a very stubborn man and the more she objected the more he would dig his heels in.

His plan was to give his kingdom to the daughter who loved him the most. This probably isn’t the best way to pick a ruler, you’d think knowing something about ruling would be more important but kings always think they know best. He wasn’t a bad king, just a vain one.

Anyway back to our three princesses, they had all been blessed by fairies at their birth as is traditional but the queen had had the sense to chat with the fairies first so their gifts were more useful than many. They all possessed wit, charm, health and courage and luckily because the queen had been very careful to invite all the fairies they did not receive any curses.

The king waited for the evening of the next full moon to carry out his plan and as they all sat down to a delicious meal of the kings favourite dishes: tiny cheese & prosciutto stuffed pasta dumplings in a rich clear broth with clouds of grated Parmesan, platters of mortadella & yet more prosciutto, rich pasties of quail, pigeon & pork, stuffed eggs with cheese, a Tart from Lavagna, a Romanian tart, Beef wrapped cottechino sausage and finally pork loin roasted in milk. There were wines from the palace vineyard and baskets of bread, the best sort with a chewy salty crust and a soft air-filled pillowy middle.

When everyone had dined and drunk their fill, the king cleared his throat and silence fell upon the room (it’s a gift all kings have) and announced with a great deal of self importance that he had a question for each of his daughters. They were all a little shocked but as they had been nicely brought up they gave their father their full attention.

‘First Zosima, how much do you love me?’

‘Father. You are very dear to me.”

“How dear?” Zosima who did love her father but was suddenly stuck for words and glanced down at the table. Inspired she quickly responded with something close to father’s heart
“As dear as bread.”

The king gave a little snort, but said nothing more, for he was greatly pleased with her answer. She must love me the most of all; for bread is the most essential of all foods. She means, therefore, that she loves me so much she could not live without me.”

‘Now Zabina, how much do you love me?’

‘Father. You are very dear to me.”

“How dear?” Now Zabina had had a bit longer to think so she responded with something else she knew her father loved.
“As dear as wine.”

The king mumbled something to himself, but he was obviously delighted. “That is a good answer too,” thought the king to himself. “It is true she does not seem to love me quite so much as the eldest; but still, one can’t live without wine, so there is not much difference.”

‘Now Zizola, how much do you love me?’

‘Father. You are very dear to me.”
“How dear?” Zizola responded knowing her father’s love of food and knowing what makes food so tasty said
“As dear as salt!”

By now the king had forgotten this was supposed to be about inheritance as his vanity had gotten the better of him. Hearing the response, the king was furious. He thought “she only loves me as much as the commonest thing that comes to the table. It’s as if she doesn’t love me at all.”

“As dear as salt? Salt? You ungrateful madam! Out of my sight! I never want to lay eyes on you again!” And he ordered her taken out into the forest and left there to survive as best she could without everything he provided if she was so ungrateful.

The queen, who doted on her, heard the order, and racked her brains for a way to save her. In the royal palace was a Large silver candlestick big enough for Zizola to get inside its base, so the queen concealed her there.

“Take this candlestick out and sell it,” she said to her most trusted servant.
“When anyone inquires how much you’re asking for it, if they are poor people, say a fortune; but if they are wealthy or of noble birth say he can have it for pennies , and make sure he gets it.”

The queen kissed her daughter goodbye, giving her much parting advice about how to behave, along with a store of figs, cheese, chocolate, and pasties. (All the important food groups)

The servant carried the door sized candlestick to the town square, and to all those who wanted to know its price but whose looks he didn’t like, he quoted a ridiculous amount. At long last the son of The neighbouring king happened by, examined the candlestick, then asked its price. The servant told him a preposterously low figure, the prince was a little suspicious that the servant had stolen the candlestick but he really liked it so he paid and had the candlestick carried to his palace. It was placed ‘in the dining room, and everybody who came to dinner marveled at it.

The prince went to parties every evening and as he was considerate & wanted no one waiting up for him at home, the servants set out his supper and went off to bed.

Zizola had long since eaten the food the queen had provided and was starving so when she was sure everyone had left the room, she jumped out of the candlestick, ate up everything on the table, and returned to the candlestick. The prince came home, found nothing out for him to eat, rang every bell in the house, and gave
the servants a severe telling off. He might be considerate but he did get grumpy when he was hungry. They swore they had set his supper out for him and that the dog or cat must have eaten it.

“If it happens again, I’m dismissing everyone of you,” stated the prince. He then ordered another supper, ate, and went off to bed. Next evening, although everything was locked up and the room checked beforehand for the palace dogs and cats the same thing occurred. For a while it looked as if the prince would bring down the house with all his shouting. Then he said, “We’ll just see what happens
tomorrow night.”

When tomorrow night came, what do you think he did? He was very suspicious by this stage and determined to know what was happening. He hid under the table, which was covered by a cloth that came all the way to the floor. The servants set the table, putting out all the different dishes, then shooed the dogs and cats out and locked the door behind them. No sooner was everyone gone than the candlestick opened and out stepped lovely but hungry Zizola. She went to the table and ate up everything without caution as she was starving. Out jumped the prince and grabbed her by the arm. She tried to get away, but he held her tight., demanding an explanation.

Zizola knew the only way out was to tell him her whole story from beginning to end. The prince was so impressed with her courage and cleverness as well as her love of good food that he fell for her, head over heels. As in the best tales he asked her to be his bride. She, sensible girl that she was and bearing in mind her mother’s advice insisted that they should get to know each other better first. There’s no point jumping out of the frying pan into the fire and she wanted to make sure the prince’s handsome face was not hiding a wicked soul.

The prince was a little taken aback but agreed to this sensible idea.

“I think I have a plan” he said “but you’ll have to get back in the candlestick for one more night”

In the morning he ordered the candlestick brought to his room he said that it was so beautiful he wanted it near him at night. The next thing he did was have his meals sent to him with double size portions as he was suddenly much hungrier than normal. They brought him coffee and pastries, then a hot breakfast, then lunch, then dinner, every meal with double servings. The minute they put the dishes down and left the room he locked the door, invited Zizola out, and the two of them ate together with great enthusiasm. They talked for hours, and the prince’s goodness shone out through every word. They even found that they shared a taste for food and on finding out that they shared the same favourite dish – baked figs with cheese, walnuts & honey, Zizola told the prince that she would be his bride.

The queen meanwhile, who now had to take her meals in the dining room by herself, began to feel neglected. “What on earth could my son have against me not to dine with me any more? Have I done anything to him?”

Again and again he asked her to be patient, that he needed a little time to himself. Then the day Zizola agreed to be his wife he announced, “I am going to get married.”
“And who is the bride?” asked the queen, cheered by the news.
The prince replied, “I am going to marry the candlestick!”

“Oh, goodness, my son has lost his mind!” said the queen, putting her hands over her eyes. He was serious, though. His mother tried to get him to see reason, reminding him of what people would say, but he wouldn’t move an inch: he ordered all wedding arrangements completed in a week.

On the happy day, a long line of carriages left the palace. In the first one rode the prince, accompanied by the candlestick. They reached the church, and the prince had the candlestick carried up to the altar. At exactly the right moment the candlestick opened, and out stepped Zizola in her gold brocaded dress, with rivers of gems adorning her person and sparkling all over. The whole church erupted in shouts of happiness. After the wedding they returned to the palace, where the queen insisting on hearing their whole story. Being a very cunning lady, like Zizola’s mother she said, “Leave everything to me, and I’ll teach that father of yours a lesson.”

So they had the wedding banquet and invited all the kings in the vicinity, including Zizola’s father. For him, the queen had a the same dinner as everyone else prepared separately, without a grain of salt in any of the dishes.

All the guests were informed the bride wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t attend
the banquet. They began eating; but the king who got the tasteless dumplings in broth started grumbling to himself. “That cook forgot to salt the soup.” What could he do but leave it. This was repeated with every dish he tasted: stuffed eggs, quail pasties, sausages, spinach tarts, all came to him just as saltless as the soup.

The king put down his fork “Why aren’t you eating, Majesty? Isn’t it good?”
“Of course, of course. It’s delicious!”
“Well, why don’t you eat?”
“Uh, uh, I don’t feel too well all of a sudden.”

He tried putting a forkful of his favourite roasted loin of pork into his mouth, and he chewed and chewed it like a goat but no matter how much he chewed, the meat would not go down.

Then he recalled what his daughter had told him, that he was as dear as salt to her. Overcome with remorse which in all honesty he had been bottling up since he had foolishly thrown her out as he thought to fend for herself, he burst into tears, thinking that she would not have survived in the wild woods . “Woe is me, what wrong have I done!”

The queen wanted to know what was the matter, and he told her all about Zizola. At that, the queen rose and summoned the little bride. Again and again her father embraced her; he couldn’t help weeping and asking what she was doing there, as though she had risen from the dead. When Zizola saw how distressed he was for his thoughtless actions she forgave him although she did make him promise to divide the kingdom between her sisters now she stood in no need of it herself.

They sent for her clever mother too who became thick as thieves with her new mother-in-law, they renewed the festivities with a party every day, and I do believe everyone is there to this day and still eating, drinking and dancing.

The Cailleach & The Bringer of Spring

The Cailleach was the mother of all the gods and goddesses in Scotland. She was of great height and very old, and everyone feared her. When roused to anger she was as fierce as the biting north wind and harsh as the tempest stricken sea. Each winter she reigned as Queen of the world, and none disputed her rule. But when the sweet spring season drew nigh, her subjects began to rebel against her and to long for the coming of the Summer King, Angus of the White Steed, and Bride, his beautiful queen, who were loved by all, for they were the bringers of plenty and of bright and happy days. It enraged Cailleach greatly to find her power passing away, and she tried her utmost to prolong the winter season by raising spring storms and sending blighting frost to kill early flowers and keep the grass from growing.

The aged Cailleach was fearsome to look upon. She had only one eye, but the sight of it was keen and sharp as ice and as swift as the mackerel of the ocean. Her complexion was a dull, dark blue, Her teeth were red as rust, and her hair, which lay heavily on her shoulders, was as white as an aspen covered with hoar frost. On her head she wore a spotted cap. All her clothing was grey, and she was never seen without her great duncoloured shawl, which was drawn closely round her shoulders. The only tool that Cailleach used was a magic hammer. When she struck it lightly on the ground the soil became as hard as iron; when she struck it heavily on the ground a valley was formed. 

After the mountains were all formed, the Cailleach took great delight in wandering between them and over them. She was always followed by wild animals. The foxes barked with delight when they beheld her, wolves howled to greet her, and eagles shrieked with joy in mid-air. The Cailleach had great herds and flocks to which she gave her protection— nimble-footed deer, high-horned cattle, shaggy grey goats, black swine, and sheep that had snow-white fleeces. She charmed her deer against the huntsmen, and when she visited a deer forest she helped them to escape from the hunters. 

During early winter she milked the hinds on the tops of mountains, but when the winds rose so high that the froth was blown from the milking pails, she drove the hinds down to the valleys. The froth was frozen on the crests of high hills, and lay there snow-white and beautiful. When the winter torrents began to pour down the mountain sides, leaping from ledge to ledge, the people said: the Cailleach is milking her shaggy goats, and streams of milk are pouring down over high rocks. The Cailleach washed her great shawl in the sea, for there was no lake big enough for the purpose. The part she chose for her washing is the strait between the western islands of Jura and Scarba. The Cailleach’s “washing-pot” is the whirlpool, there called Corry-vreckan. It was so named because the son of a Scottish king, named Breckan, was drowned in it, his boat having been upset by the waves raised by the Cailleach.

Three days before the Queen of Winter began her work her hag servants made ready the water for her, and the Corry could then be heard snorting and fuming for twenty miles around. On the fourth day the Cailleach threw her shawl into the whirlpool, and tramped it with her feet until the edge of the Corry overflowed with foam. When she had finished her washing she laid her shawl on the mountains to dry, and as soon as she lifted it up, all the mountains of Scotland were white with snow to signify that the great Queen had begun her reign.

The Cailleach is the spirit of winter. She grows older and fiercer as the weeks go past, until at length her strength is spent. Then she renews her youth, so that she may live through the summer and autumn and begin to reign once again. 

All the long winter the Cailleach kept captive a beautiful young princess named Bride. She was jealous of Bride’s beauty, and gave her ragged clothing to wear, and put her to work among the servants in the kitchen of her mountain castle, where the girl had to perform the meanest tasks. the Cailleach scolded her continually, finding fault with everything she did, and Bride’s life was made very wretched.

One day the Cailleach gave the princess a brown fleece and said: “You must wash this fleece in the running stream until it is pure white.”

Bride took the fleece and went outside the castle, and began to wash it in a pool below a waterfall. All day long she laboured at the work, but to no purpose. She found it impossible to wash the brown colour out of the wool.

When evening came on, the Cailleach scolded the girl, and said: “You are a useless madam. The fleece is as brown as when I gave it to you.”

Said Bride: “All day long have I washed it in the pool below the waterfall of the Red Rock.”

“To-morrow you shall wash it again,” the Cailleach said; “and if you do not wash it white, you will go on washing on the next day, and on every day after that. Now, begone! and do as I bid you.”

It was a sorrowful time for Bride. Day after day she washed the fleece, and it seemed to her that if she went on washing until the world came to an end, the brown wool would never become white.

One morning as she went on with her washing a grey-bearded old man came near. He took pity on the princess, who wept bitter tears over her work, and spoke to her, saying: “Who are you, and why do you sorrow?”

Said the princess: “My name is Bride. I am the captive of Queen the Cailleach, and she has ordered me to wash this brown fleece until it is white. Alas! it cannot be done.”

“I am sorry for you,” the old man said.

“Who are you, and whence come you?” asked Bride.

“My name is Father Winter,” the old man told her. “Give me the fleece, and I shall make it white for you.”

Bride gave Father Winter the brown fleece, and when he had shaken it three times it turned white as snow.

The heart of Bride was immediately filled with joy, and she exclaimed: “Dear Father Winter, you are very kind. You have saved me much labour and taken away my sorrow.”

Father Winter handed back the fleece to Princess Bride with one hand, and she took it. Then he said: “Take also what I hold in my other hand.” As he spoke he gave her a bunch of pure white snowdrops. The eyes of Bride sparkled with joy to behold them.

Said Father Winter: “If the Cailleach scolds you, give her these flowers, and if she asks where you found them, tell her that they came from the green rustling fir-woods. Tell her also that the cress is springing up on the banks of streams, and that the new grass has begun to shoot up in the fields.”

Having spoken thus, Father Winter bade the princess farewell and turned away.

Bride returned to the mountain castle and laid the white fleece at the Cailleach’s feet. But the old queen scarcely looked at it. Her craze was fixed on the snowdrops that Bride carried.

“Where did you find these flowers?” the Cailleach asked with sudden anger.

Said Bride: “The snowdrops are now growing in the green rustling fir-woods, the cress is springing up on the banks of streams, and the new grass is beginning to shoot up in the fields.”

“Evil are the tidings you bring me!” the Cailleach cried. “Begone from my sight!”

Bride turned away, but not in sorrow. A new joy had entered her heart, for she knew that the wild winter season was going past, and that the reign of Queen the Cailleach would soon come to an end.

the Cailleach would not go quietly however, he reason why the Cailleach kept Bride a prisoner was because her fairest and dearest son, whose name was Angus-the-Ever-Young, had fallen in love with her. He was called “the Ever Young” because age never came near him, and all winter long he lived on the Green Isle of the West, which is also called the “Land of Youth.”

Angus first beheld Bride in a dream, and when he awoke he spoke to the King of the Green Isle,

saying: “Last night I dreamed a dream and saw a beautiful princess whom I love. Tears fell from her eyes, and I spoke to an old man who stood near her, and said: ‘Why does the maiden weep?’ Said the old man: ‘She weeps because she is kept captive by the Cailleach, who treats her with great cruelty.’ I looked again at the princess and said: ‘I would set her free.’ Then I awoke. Tell me, O king, who is this princess, and where shall I find her?”

The King of the Green Isle answered Angus, saying: “The fair princess whom you saw is Bride, and in the days when you will be King of Summer she will be your queen. Of this your mother, Queen the Cailleach, has full knowledge, and it is her wish to keep you away from Bride, so that her own reign may be prolonged. Stay here, O Angus, until the flowers become to bloom and the grass begins to grow, and then you shall set free the beautiful Bride.”

Said Angus: “I go forth at once to search for her.”

“The wolf-month has now come,” the king said. “Uncertain is the temper of the wolf.”

Said Angus: “I shall cast a spell on the sea and a spell on the land, and borrow for February three days from August.” 

That is why, ever since, there are always three days in August that feel like February.

He did as he said he would do. He borrowed three days from August, and the ocean slumbered peacefully while the sun shone brightly over mountain and glen. Then Angus mounted his white steed and rode eastward to Scotland over the isles and over the Minch, and he reached the Grampians when dawn was breaking. He was clad in raiment of shining gold, and from his shoulders hung his royal robe of crimson which the wind uplifted and spread out in gleaming splendour throughout the sky.

Up and down the land went Angus, but he could not find Bride anywhere. The fair princess beheld him in a dream, however, and knew that he longed to set her free. When she awoke she shed tears of joy, and on the place where her tears fell there sprang up violets, and they were blue as her beautiful eyes.

the Cailleach was angry when she came to know that Angus was searching for Bride, and on the third evening of his visit she raised a great tempest which drove him back to Green Isle. But he returned again and again, and at length he discovered the castle in which the princess was kept a prisoner.

Then came a day when Angus met Bride in a forest near the castle. The violets were blooming and soft yellow primroses opened their eyes of wonder to gaze on the prince and the princess. When they spoke one to another the birds raised their sweet voices in song and the sun shone fair and bright.

Said Angus: “Beautiful princess, I beheld you in a dream weeping tears of sorrow.”

Bride said: “Mighty prince, I beheld you in a dream riding over mountains and through glens in beauty and power.”

Said Angus: “I have come to rescue you from Queen the Cailleach, who has kept you all winter long in captivity.”

Bride said: “To me this is a day of great joy.”

Said Angus: “It will be a day of great joy to all mankind ever after this.”

That is why the first day of spring–the day on which Angus found his princess–is called “Bride’s Day”.

Bride came forth with Angus and waved her hand, while Angus repeated magic spells. Then greater growth was given to the grass, and all the world hailed Angus and Bride as king and queen. Although they were not beheld by mankind, yet their presence was everywhere felt throughout Scotland.

“Spring has come!” the shepherds cried; and they drove their flocks on to the moors, where they were counted and blessed.

“Spring has come!” chattered the raven, and flew off to find moss for her nest. The rook heard and followed after, and the wild duck rose from amidst the reeds, crying: “Spring has come!”

The Cailleach was wrathful when she came to know that Angus had found Bride. She seized her magic hammer and smote the ground unceasingly until it was frozen hard as iron again–so hard that no herb or blade of grass could continue to live upon its surface. Terrible was her wrath when she beheld the grass growing. She knew well that when the grass flourished and Angus and Bride were married, her authority would pass away. It was her desire to keep her throne as long as possible.

“Bride is married, hail to Bride!” sang the birds. “Angus is married, hail to Angus!” 

The Cailleach heard the songs of the birds, and called to her hag servants: “Ride north and ride south, ride east and ride west, and wage war against Angus. I shall ride forth also.”

The Cailleach mounted a black steed and set out in pursuit of Angus. She rode fast and she rode hard. Black clouds swept over the sky as she rode on, until at length she came to the forest in which Angus & Bride were to be found. Angus looked up and beheld the Cailleach drawing nigh. He leapt on the back of his white steed, and lifted his young bride into the saddle in front of him and fled away with her.

Angus rode westward over the hills and over the valleys and over the sea, and the Cailleach pursued him.

Angus escaped to the Green Isle of the West, and there he passed happy days with Bride. But he longed to return to Scotland and reign as King of Summer. Again and again he crossed the sea; and each time he reached the land of mountains and glens, the sun broke forth in brightness and the birds sang merrily to welcome him.

The Cailleach raised storm after storm to drive him away. First she called on the wind named “The Whistle”, which blew high and shrill, and brought down rapid showers of cold hailstones. It lasted for three days, and there was much sorrow and bitterness throughout the length and breadth of Scotland. Sheep and lambs were killed on the moors, and horses and cows perished also.

Angus fled, but he returned soon again. The next wind that the Cailleach raised to prolong her winter reign was the “Sharp Billed Wind” which is called “Gobag”. lasted for nine days, and all the land was pierced by it, for it pecked and bit in every nook and cranny like a sharp-billed bird.

Angus returned, and the Cailleach raised the eddy wind which is called “The Sweeper”. Its whirling gusts tore branches from the budding trees and bright flowers from their stalks. All the time it blew, the Cailleach kept beating the ground with her magic hammer so as to keep the grass from growing. But her efforts were in vain. Spring smiled in beauty all around, and each time she turned away, wearied by her efforts, the sun sprang forth in splendour. The small modest primroses opened their petals in the sunshine, looking forth from cosy nooks that the wind, called “Sweeper”, was unable to reach. Angus fled, but he soon returned again.

The Cailleach was not yet, however, entirely without hope. Her efforts had brought disaster to mankind, and the “Weeks of Leanness” came on. Food became scarce. The fishermen were unable to venture to sea on account of the Cailleach’s tempests, and could get no fish. In the night-time the Cailleach and her hags entered the dwellings of mankind, and stole away their stores of food. It was, indeed, a sorrowful time.

Angus was moved with pity for mankind, and tried to fight the hags of the Cailleach. But the fierce queen raised the “Gales of Complaint” to keep him away, and they raged in fury until the first week of March. Horses and cattle died for want of food, because the fierce winds blew down stacks of fodder and scattered them over the lochs and the ocean.

Angus, however, waged a fierce struggle against the hag servants, and at length he drove them away to the north, where they fumed and fretted furiously.

The Cailleach was greatly alarmed, and she made her last great effort to subdue the Powers of Spring. She waved her magic hammer, and smote the clouds with it. Northward she rode on her black steed, and gathered her servants together, and called to them, saying: “Ride southward with me, all of you, and scatter our enemies before us.”

Out of the bleak dark north they rode in a single pack. With them came the Big Black Tempest. It seemed then as if winter had returned in full strength and would abide for ever. But even the Cailleach and her hags had to take rest. On a dusky evening they crouched down together on the side of a bare mountain, and, when they did so, a sudden calm fell upon the land and the sea.

The Cailleach’s reign was now drawing to a close. She found herself unable to combat any longer against the power of the new life that was rising in every vein of the land. The weakness of extreme old age crept upon her, and she longed once again to drink of the waters of the Well of Youth. When, on a bright March morning, she beheld Angus riding over the hills on his white steed, scattering her fierce hag servants before him, she fled away in despair. Before she went she threw her magic hammer beneath a holly tree, and that is the reason why no grass grows under the holly trees.

The Cailleach’s black steed went northward with her in flight. She did not rein up her steed until she reached the island of Skye, where she found rest on the summit of the “Old Wife’s Ben” at Broadford. There she sat, gazing steadfastly across the sea, waiting until the day and night would be of equal length. All that equal day she wept tears of sorrow for her lost power, and when night came on she went westward over the sea to Green Island. At the dawn of the day that followed she drank the magic waters of the Well of Youth.

On that day which is of equal length with the night, Angus came to Scotland with Bride, and they were hailed as king and queen of the unseen beings. They rode from south to north in the morning and forenoon, and from north to south in the afternoon and evening. A gentle wind went with them, blowing towards the north from dawn till midday, and towards the south from midday till sunset.

It was on that day that Bride dipped her fair white hands in the high rivers and lochs which still retained ice. When she did so, the Ice Hag fell into a deep sleep from which she could not awake until summer and autumn were over and past.

The grass grew quickly after Angus began to reign as king. Seeds were sown, and the people called on Bride to grant them a good harvest. Before long the whole land was made beautiful with spring flowers of every hue. 

That is the tale of The Cailleach and Bride, some say two sides of the same coin.  There can never be just the one, they must co-exist but if Winter sometimes stays too long or Summer tarries a while you will know that Angus is fighting his mother on behalf of his bride and sometimes he wins but just as often she does.  

The Clever Girl – Part 2

The King sat in his throne room pondering and decided, perhaps with the nudge from a passing fairy (remember the one that popped up at the beginning) that he was going to pursue Sofia. He vaguely remembered her beautiful face and her cleverness and boldness endeared her to him.  Unusually for a king he liked people to stand up to him.  Not too much obviously, as some kings have found found out to their discomfort, or you may find yourself outside the walls of the kingdom with a small pension and a cart for your few belongings (and thats the better ending). He decide to pursue her, which he found most novel as most prospective brides came to him.

So next day the king made the journey out to the lonely farm and the happy cottage and knocked at the door in what he felt was a very regal manner, but no one opened. He knocked louder, but the same thing. Sofia did not open the door. Finally, tired of waiting as he never imagined that there might not be any one at home, he broke open the door and entered:

“Rude girl! Who taught you not to open to one of my rank? Where are your father and mother?”

“Who knew it was you? My father is where he should be and my mother has left for the next world. You must leave, for I have something else to do rather than listen to the man who threatened my father”

She then continued on with her spinning.  You can guess what happened next.  The king rode off in the biggest huff that had ever been seen in that part of the world and then sent back guards to escort the poor huntsman to the palace.  He was very angry and complained to the father of his daughter’s rude manners.  The huntsman tried to explain that there wasn’t much he could do with Sofia but the king suddenly came up with a plan.  

‘Return home’ he said to the huntsman. ‘Then send her to the palace, so that I’ll have the pleasure of chatting with her but mind that she comes to me neither naked ror clothed, on a stomach neither full nor empty, neither in the daytime nor at night, neither walking on her feet, nor riding on horse, ass, or mule. She is to obey me in every single detail, or both your head and hers-will roll.”

“What next?” said the poor distracted father. “For all her cleverness this task is beyond her.”

He gave Sofia the King’s message; and she only laughed. “Oh, that’s easy enough!” she said. Then she went to her room, took off her clothes, let down her long thick hair, which fell to her feet, and drew it close round her by a great net so she was neither naked or clothed. Next she ate a lupin so she would be neither empty or full. Then she went out to the field, caught her father’s old ram, put one foot over its back, and hopped along the road to the town on the other so she would be neither on foot or on horseback. Thus she reached the Palace just as the sky grew lighter (it was neither day nor

night). Taking her for a madwoman in that outlandish get-up, the guards barred the way; but on learning that she was just carrying out the sovereign’s order, they escorted her to the royal chambers.

“Majesty, I am here in compliance with your order.”

The king split his sides laughing, and said, “Clever Sofia! You’re just the girl I was looking for. One could never be dull with such a wife! Sofia, will you marry me?”

When the farmer heard about it, he said, “If the king wants you for his wife, you have no choice but to marry him. But watch your step, for if the king quickly decides what he wants, .he can decide just as quickly what he no longer wants. Be sure to leave your workdothes hanging up here on a hook. In case you ever have to come home, you’ll find them all ready to put back on.”

But Sofia was so happy and excited that she paid little attention to her father’s words, and a few days later the wedding was celebrated. There were festivities throughout the kingdom, with a big fair in the capital. The inns were filled to overflow, and many farmers had to sleep in the town squares, which were crowded all the way up to the king’s palace. So the King married Sofia, the huntsman’s clever daughter, and they lived happily and merrily together.

You might have noticed that I didn’t say happily ever after and thats for good reason as there is more to the tale of Clever Sofia and the King. Do you want to hear it? Then let us return to the kingdom of the happy couple.

One Sunday two peasants were passing a church; one of them had a hand-cart and the other was leading a horse ready to foal. The bell rang for mass and they both entered the church, one leaving his cart outside and the other tying the horse to the cart.

One farmer, who had brought to town a pregnant horse to sell, found no barn to put the animal in, so an innkeeper told him he could put it under a shed at the inn and tether it to another farmer’s cart. Lo and behold, in the night, the horse foaled. In the morning the proud owner of the horse was preparing to lead his two animals away when out rushed the owner of the cart, shouting, “That’s all right about the horse, she’s yours. But hands off the foal, it’s mine.”

“What do you mean, it’s yours? Didn’t my horse have it last night?”

“Why wouldn’t it be mine?” answered the other farmer. “The horse was tied to the cart, the cart’s mine, so the foal belongs to the owner of the cart.”

A heated quarrel arose, and in no time they were fighting, striking out in blind fury at one another. At the noise, a large crowd gathered around them; then the constables ran up, separated the two men, and marched them straight into the king’scourt of justice.

It was once the custom in the royal city, mind you, for the king’s wife also to express her opinion. But now with Sofia as queen, it happened -that every time the king delivered a judgment, she opposed it. This was normally because she could see things from a normal persons point of view, as well as just being generally wiser.  However our proud and capricious king wasn’t going to stand for that and banned Sofia from the Court of Justice The farmers therefore appeared before the king alone.

After hearing both sides, the king rendered this decision : ‘the foal belongs to the owner of the cart’, because, he said, it was more likely that the owner of the horse would tie her to the cart in order to lay a false claim to the cart than that the owner of the cart would tie it to the horse. The owner of the horse had right on his side, and all the people were in his favour, but the King had pronounced sentence andwhat could he do? The king’s judgment was final.

Seeing the farmer so upset, the innkeeper advised him to go to the queen, who might find a way out. The farmer went to the palace and asked a servant, “Could you tell me, my good man, if I might have a word with the queen?”, “That is impossible,” replied the servant, “since the king has forbidden her to hear people’s cases.”

The farmer then went up to the garden wall. Spying the queen, he jumped over the wall and burst into tears as he told how unjust her husband had been to him. The queen advised him with an wise course of action.

The farmer listened and acted on her advice. With a net thrown about him, he went up and down the town, and round and round the outside of the Palace, crying, “Ho! ho! the fisherman! Who wants to catch fish with me?” Up and down the town he went with this cry, and round and round the Palace, stopping always before the King’s own windows. At last the King could stand it no longer, and he bawled out, “Be off with you! Would you have us catching fish in the streets? You’re a fine fisher, you country bumpkin! And it’s a fine catch you’ll get in my gutters.”

The farmer, who had been advised by the queen, answered: “Majesty, if a cart can give birth to a foal, then theres a fine chance I can get a good catch of fish in these streets.”

And the King, who liked a good answer, laughed heartily, and ordered his servants to give back the foal to its true owner. Nevertheless, he was very angry; and when the man had gone, he called for his wife and said, “I know who put the fellow up to that trick. It was you. You have no care for my interests. You like the peasantry best. Be off with you! Out of my palace, go back to being the farm girl you truly are!”

Queen Sofia answered “Very well, your Majesty, I’ll go back again to my home. They will be glad to see me, but it is hardly fair I should go away empty-handed. When you married me you said, ‘Whatever is most precious in this palace belongs to you!'”

“Oh, take whatever you like! Only, be off with you!”

“As you wish, Majesty. Only, I would ask one last favour: let me leave tomorrow. Tonight it would be too embarrassing for you and for me, and your subjects would gossip.”

“Very well,” said the king. “We’ll dine together for the last time, and you will go away tomorrow.”

Sofia asked the cooks to prepare roasts and hams and rich heavy foods that the King particularly enjoyed but that would also make a person drowsy and thirsty. She also ordered the best wines brought up from the cellar. At dinner the king ate arid ate and ate, while Sofia emptied bottle after bottle into his glass. Soon his vision clouded up; he started stuttering and at last fell fast asleep in his armchair, snoring softly like a pig.

Sofia ordered a great coach to draw up before the palace door, and had the King carried into it, still in his armchair. Then she got in herself, and they drove away to her father’s cottage.

“Open up, Dad, it’s me,” she cried. At the sound of his daughter’s voice, the old huntsman ran to the window.

“Back at this hour of the night? I told you so! I was wise to hold on to your workclothes. They’re still here hanging on the hook in your room.”

“Come on, let me in,” said Sofia, “and don’t talk so much!”

The farmer opened the door and saw the servants bearing the armchair with the king in it. Sofia had him carried into the sleeping room, undressed, and put into her bed. Then she dismissed the servants and lay down beside the king. The Huntsman saw that he’d been demoted to the stable again and headed there, hoping this wasn’t going to last long.

Around midnight the king awakened. The mattress seemed harder than usual, and the sheets rougher. He turned over and felt his wife there beside him. He said, “Sofia, didn’t I tell you to go home?”

“Yes, Majesty,” she replied, “but it’s not day yet. Go back to sleep.”

The king went back to sleep. When at last he woke he found Sofia sitting by him. But where were they? It seemed a very small place, and the light was dim; and his couch uncommonly hard. He could hear the donkey braying, the bleating of the sheep, and saw the sunshine streaming through the window. He shook himself, for he no longer recognised the royal bedchamber. He turned to his wife. “Sofia, where on earth are we?” “What has happened?”

“Only what you ordered,” replied Sofia. “Didn’t you tell me, Majesty, to return home and that I might take with me the most precious thing in the palace? So I did, I took you, and I’m keeping you.”

Then the King laughed, and laughed again, till the cottage rafters rang. And he laughed all the way back in the coach. Of course, Queen Sofia sat by him, laughing too. They went back to the royalpalace, where they still live, and from that day on, the king has never appeared in the court of justice without his wife. Their reign was a long and a merry one but couldn’t always be called peaceful ……