Writings: Tatterhood Retelling

This is an utterly random post and I'm okay with that. I had to make an updated / retold version of Tatterhood for a game where an NPC storyteller was plying xir trade, so I figured I'd share because why not (and also because xe is pleased with the changes, or as xe would characterize it, "fixes", xe made). Source text here. Ursula Vernon's wonderfully annotated version is here, and seriously go read it because it is hilarious.

Once upon a time, there was a king and a queen who had no children, and the queen was sore afflicted with sorrow such that she seldom had a happy hour. She was always crying, and saying how dull and lonesome it was in the palace. Wherever she went in all her realm, she found children even in the poorest hut. And wherever she went, she heard women scolding their children, and saying how they had done this and that wrong. The queen heard all this and marveled at the idea of having such a blessing and not realizing it as such.

At last the king and queen took into their palace an adopted orphan girl to raise as their own and heir, that they might always have her with them and to love her as their own child. The little princess grew as children do and was fond of playing in the palace yard. A beggar woman lived in the city with her own daughter, and it was not long before the little princess and the beggar's girl became great friends. They would play together, tossing apples and eating them, until the queen saw this one day as she sat at a window in the palace and summoned the girls to her. The princess went at once with the beggar girl, and as they went into the queen's apartment, each held the other by the hand. Then the queen scolded the little lady, saying, "You ought to be above running about and playing with a tattered beggar's brat."

"If the queen only knew my mother's power, she'd not drive me out," said the little beggar girl. When the queen asked what she meant more plainly, the girl told the queen how her mother could get her children if she chose. The queen wouldn't believe it, but the girl insisted, and said that every word of it was true, and asked the queen only to try and make her mother do it. So the queen sent the girl down to fetch up her mother.

"Do you know what your daughter says?" asked the queen of the old woman, as soon as ever she came into the room.

"No," the beggar woman said, she knew nothing about it.

"She says you can get me children if you will," answered the queen.

"Queens shouldn't listen to beggar girls' silly stories," said the old woman, and walked out of the room.

The queen was sore annoyed by all this, but the little girl declared it was true every word that she had said. "Let the queen only give my mother something to drink," said the girl. "When she gets tipsy she'll soon find out a way to help you." The queen was ready to try this; so the beggar woman was fetched up again, and treated with as much wine and mead as she wanted, and it was not long before her tongue began to wag. Then the queen came out again with the same question she had asked before.

"Perhaps I know one way to help you," said the beggar woman. "Your majesty must make your servants bring in two pails of water some evening before you go to bed. Wash yourself in each of them, and afterwards throw the water under your bed. When you look under your bed the next morning, two flowers will have sprung up, a beautiful one and an ugly one. Eat the beautiful one and you shall get with child."

The queen quite promptly did what the beggar woman advised her to do: she had water brought up in two pails, washed herself in them, and emptied them under the bed. When she looked under the bed the next morning, there stood two flowers. One was ugly and foul, and had black leaves. But the other was so bright, and fair, and lovely, that she had never seen anything like it. She ate the fair flower all at once, and it tasted so sweet, that she couldn't help herself. She ate the ugly flower too, for she thought, "I'm sure that it can't hurt or help me much either way."

Sure as the beggar woman said, after a while the queen was brought to bed. First she bore a girl who was dirty and ugly, bawling "mamma" loudly from the moment she came out.

The queen, shocked by the child's appearance, replied, "If I am your mamma, God give me grace to mend my ways!"

"Oh, don't fret so," said the baby girl, "for one will soon come after me who is better looking."

True to her word, her sister followed hard on: a girl who was so beautiful and sweet that no one had ever set eyes on such a lovely child. You may be sure that the king and queen were well-pleased then with their three children: the adopted child who was kind and good, the ugly middle sister who was strong and wise, and the youngest daughter who was lovely and sweet.

And though I do not know their given names, fair listeners, we know that the oldest twin was called "Tatterhood", because she was always so dirty and ragged, and because she had a hood which hung about her ears in tatters. And the queen learned that she could scold after all, and that motherhood was not always as she'd imagined, for though she loved her ugly child, there were times she could hardly bear to look at her. The girl's nurses sought to shut her up in a room by herself, but it did no good: she always had to be where the younger twin was, and no one could keep them apart.


One Winter solstice, when the girls were half grown up, there arose a frightful noise and clatter in the hallway outside the queen's apartment. Tatterhood asked what it was that was making such a noise outside.

Fearing for her daughter's safety, the queen at first refused to tell her. But Tatterhood wouldn't give in until she told all, and so the truth came out that it was a pack of faeries, roaming the halls on their yearly revel, seeking mortals to capture and torment. At this, Tatterhood declared that she would go out and drive them away. In spite of all they could say, and however much they begged and asked her to stay inside where it was safe, she insisted she would go out and drive the intruders off. And she begged the queen to be careful and keep all the doors shut tight, so that not one of them would open the least bit.

Having said this, off Tatterhood went with a wooden spoon, and began to hunt out and drive away the fae. And all the while there was such a commotion out in the gallery that the like of it had never before been heard in the palace before. The whole castle creaked and groaned as if every joint and beam were going to be torn out of its place. And because the littlest princess loved her sister so, and feared for her life, she opened one little door just a bit.

But when the youngest twin sister peeped out to see how things were going with Tatterhood, and when she put her head a tiny bit through the opening, pop! up came a terrifying fae who whipped off the girl's head, sticking a calf's head on her shoulders instead. The princess ran back into the room on all fours, and began to low like a calf, sore afraid and astounded. When Tatterhood came back and saw her sister, she scolded them all and was very angry because they hadn't kept better watch, and asked them what they thought of their carelessness now that her dear twin sister had been turned into a calf.

"But I'll see if I can't set her free," she said.

Then she asked the king their father for a ship with a full set of sails and good load of stores, but she would not have a captain or any sailors. No, she would sail away with her afflicted sister all alone. There was no holding her back, and at last they let her have her own way.

Tatterhood sailed off, and steered her ship right up to the land where the faeries lived. When she came to the landing place, she told her sister to stay quite still on board the ship. Then she herself rode on her trusty goat steed up to the faeries' castle. When she got there, one of the windows in the gallery was open, and there she saw her sister's head hung up on the window frame. Well! Tatterhood jumped her goat through the window into the gallery, snapped up the head, and set off with it!

The faeries came after her at once to try to get the head back. They flocked around her as thick as a swarm of bees, and as fierce as a nest of ants. The goat snorted and puffed, and butted with his horns, and Tatterhood beat and banged them about with her wooden spoon. And on the battle raged, the girl and her steed against the fae, until at last the pack of faeries were forced to give up, and fled back to their castle, their hides smarting from Tatterhood's blows.

So Tatterhood got back to her ship, took the calf's head off her sister, and put her own on again, and then she became a girl as she had been before. The two sisters embraced, delighted and relieved at their good fortune, and Tatterhood said they might well see what else fortune might have for them. Her sister agreed, and so the girls sailed a long, long way, to a strange king's realm.


Now the king of the faraway land was a young widower whose infant son and younger brother both brought him much joy, though he was sometimes very lonely.

When he saw the strange sail on his shore, he sent messengers down to the beach to find out where it came from, and who owned it. But when the king's men came down there, the only person they saw on board was Tatterhood. She rode around and around the deck of their ship on her goat at full speed, until strands of her hair streamed wildly in the wind.

The men from the palace were all amazed at this sight, and asked if more people were not on board. Yes, there were, said she; she had a sister with her. The king's men wished to see her too, but Tatterhood said no. "No one shall see her, unless the king comes himself," she said, and she began to gallop about on her goat until the deck thundered again.

When the servants got back to the palace, and told what they had seen and heard down at the ship, the king set out at once to see the girl that rode on the goat. When he arrived there, Tatterhood brought out her sister, and she was so beautiful and gentle that the king immediately fell head over heels in love with her.

The king brought them both back with him to the palace, and wanted to have the sister for his queen, but Tatterhood said no. The king could not wed her sister unless the king's brother would marry Tatterhood. That, the prince refused to do, because Tatterhood was so ugly to look upon. Yet the king and all others in the palace urged him to agree, arguing their noble birth and the love it would foster between their kingdoms. Eventually the prince submitted out of love for his brother and duty to his king, but it went sore against his grain for he was a proud man.

Now the kingdom began making preparations for the wedding, with much brewing and baking and chiming of happy bells. The king and queen and their eldest daughter were sent for over the sea, and they came to watch their beloved twins wed. And when everything was ready, they all rode in a procession to the place where they would marry, with all the kingdom turned out to line the road and cheer them on.

But the young prince thought it was more a funeral procession than a parade, and he was miserable and gloomy. His brother the king left first with his bride, and she was so lovely and so grand and so much better than Tatterhood, that all the people stopped to look at her along the road, and they stared at her until she was out of sight. Yet after them came the prince on horseback by the side of his ugly and inferior bride, who trotted along on her goat with her wooden spoon in her fist. To look at his expression, one would think the prince was not going to a wedding, but to a burial, and his own at that. He fretted that soon he would be wed to a bride he despised, and did not speak a word to her or to the people.

"Why don't you talk?" asked Tatterhood, when they had ridden a bit.

"Why, what should I talk about?" answered the prince, downcast in his heart.

"Well, you might at least ask me why I ride upon this ugly goat," said Tatterhood.

"Why do you ride on that ugly goat?" asked the prince, his curiosity piqued, for they had offered her a fine horse at the palace, yet she had refused.

"Is it an ugly goat? Why, it's the strongest steed that a bride ever rode, capable of driving off the faeries that stole my sister's head." And the prince was much amazed and knew not what to say.

They rode on a bit further, but the prince was just as quiet as before. Tatterhood asked him again why he didn't talk, and when the prince answered, he didn't know what to talk about, she said, "Well, you can ask me why I ride with this ugly spoon in my fist."

"Why do you ride with that ugly spoon?" asked the prince, for it was unlike any scepter that a princess ought to hold.

"Is it an ugly spoon? Why, it's the finest weapon a bride ever carried, capable of driving away the faeries that came to kidnap my people on solstice night." And again the prince was much amazed and knew not what to say.

They rode a little way further, but the prince was still just as quiet, and did not say a word. In a little while Tatterhood asked him again why he didn't talk, and told him to ask why her face was so ugly and gray? The prince did not want to, dear listeners, because for all that he was proud, yet still he was not a cruel man. Yet Tatterhood insisted and would have her way, and so the prince asked in a quiet way, "Why is your face so ugly and gray?"

"Am I ugly? You think my sister lovely, but I am just as beautiful," said the bride. "I protected our people when others cowered, I saved my sister when others faltered, and I sailed our ship with my own hand across the wide strong sea." And when the prince looked at her, he saw how wise and strong she was, and he thought then that she was the most beautiful woman in the world. After that, the prince found his tongue to speak and ask her many questions, and he no longer rode along with his head hanging down.

So the king and his fair bride, and the prince and his wise bride, and the brides' mother and father and eldest sister all drank their cups long and deep, and the people cheered, and ever after both their kingdoms were joined in prosperous trade and friendship. And now, my listeners, I have set my tale free upon the air where only the quickest can catch it.


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