Firstly, to let you know that my posting might be somewhat irregular until July 11th as the football world cup is going on and I’m watching way too much of it.Secondly, tomorrow Portugal is playing their first match of the tournament. And as I love them dearly, let’s have a Portuguese folktale tonight. 🙂
The Story of a Turner
There once lived a turner who was in the habit of going into a forest which was some distance from his cottage to cut down wood to make spoons. One day as he was sawing a venerable old chestnut tree he noticed a deep hole in the tree, and being curious to see what was inside he unluckily penetrated within, and immediately an enchanted Moor came forward to meet him, and in angry tones at the intrusion said to him: “Since you have dared to penetrate into my palace I order you to bring me the first thing you shall meet on reaching your cottage, but take heed that you comply with my command, otherwise you will surely die within three days.” The turner now departed and went home, where he had three daughters and a little pet dog which always came to the door to meet him.
That day, however, contrary to her custom, as ill luck would have it, it was his eldest daughter, and not his dog, who came out to meet him. This of course so distressed him that he, weeping bitterly, told her what had happened to him and what the Moor had demanded from him. But he entreated her at the same time to go with him and give herself up to the Moor, for otherwise she and her sisters would remain without a supporter or protection.
The eldest daughter very unselfishly consented to go, and prepared to set out with her father; and after taking leave of her sisters she left home for the enchanted Moor’s palace. We shall now leave the turner and his two daughters and record how the Moor acted towards his eldest daughter.
As soon as the girl arrived at the tree and entered the enchanted Moor’s palace he gave her the keys of all the apartments, and at the same time he put round her neck a very fine gold chain with a key which belonged to a chamber into which he forbade her ever to enter under pain of death.
One day, however, the girl full of curiosity longed to enter and see for herself what was contained in that chamber, which it was so essential she should not find out. Unable to contain her curiosity she took the chain from her neck, and with the gold key opened the forbidden chamber.
Great, however, was her surprise and horror to find a number of bodies with their heads cut off. Much frightened and terror-struck at the fearful sight she immediately shut the door, and trusting not to be found out she put back the chain and key round her neck; but when the Moor returned to the palace the first thing he did was to look at the gold key hanging from her neck, and finding a tiny mark of blood upon it he knew what had happened, and without saying a word cut her head off that instant, and laid her down on the floor in the apartment with the other corpses.
A few days after this occurrence the turner, in hopes of seeing or hearing some news of his daughter, and desirous to know how she was getting on with the Moor, returned to the palace and inquired of him how his daughter was; to which he replied: “Go and fetch me your next daughter to be a companion to the one already here, as she feels very lonely and dull without her.” The turner went back for his second daughter and brought her to the Moor.
Like the first girl she received all the keys, and the chain with the one particular key which belonged to the chamber which she was never to attempt to open; but like her sister she also was led by her curiosity to the same fate, and had her head cut off by the Moor on account of her disobedience.
The turner as before called at the Moor’s palace to know how his daughters were, met with the same reply, and was ordered to bring his third daughter. This of course grieved the good honest man very much, who was loth to part with his only remaining daughter, but, fearing to disobey the Moor’s commands, he brought her also to him as desired. When she arrived in the palace the Moor gave her the same injunctions as he had given to her two sisters. But the girl did open and enter the forbidden chamber in spite of the command, and she saw her beheaded sisters, and although horrified she had sufficient courage to remain in the chamber and inspect everything in it. She touched her sisters’ bodies, and finding that they were still warm she felt a great desire to bring them back to life.
In this chamber there was a cupboard in which she found a number of earthenware pots containing blood; and, seeing that two of them had her sisters’ names upon them, she stuck the heads of her sisters to their bodies with the blood; and when she found that they adhered, and remained perfectly set, she wiped the blood off from their necks. When she had finished this operation her sisters came to life again. She, however, enjoined upon them perfect silence, telling them that she would manage to send them home to their father again, unknown to the Moor; whilst the sisters recommended her to wipe the key very carefully from any spot of blood, that the Moor might not discover what she had been doing.
The Moor returned home, and, not seeing any spot of blood upon the gold key, he did not, of course, suspect anything, and believing her to be an obedient loving wife he soon began to love her very much, until he idolized her to such a degree that he at last allowed himself to be domineered over by her, and she could rule him as she pleased; and thus he became a complete slave to her, and ready to do anything at her bidding.
One day she begged the Moor to take a barrel of sugar to her father, for he was very poor, and it would not come amiss to him. To this he readily agreed. She then put one of her sisters in the barrel, and desired the Moor to go quickly and return soon, as, said she, it was joyless to her to be long separated from him; and that to make sure he did not stop anywhere she would go up to the watch-tower and look after him all the way. Before the Moor set out on his journey with the barrel, she told her sister to repeat the following words all the way: “I can see you, dear, oh, I can see you, dear,” so that the Moor should believe that the voice came from her in the watch-tower. The girl who was hidden in the barrel obeyed her clever sister’s injunction, and continued to repeat the words in sweet tender tones: “I can see you, dear, oh, I can see you still, darling;” whilst the Moor, quite fascinated with his charmer, answered her most lovingly: “Magnificent eyes that can see so far; yes, I am running, dear;” and he ran until he reached the turner’s cottage. He left the barrel, and, after a few hurried words, turned towards home, running all the way.
Some days had elapsed when she again asked the Moor to take another barrel with provisions to her father; he again consented, and she sent her second sister home in the same manner as she had done the first.
She was now the only one remaining in the enchanted palace, and to extricate herself from the Moor was a much more difficult affair; but, as she was clever and quick at inventing, what do you think she thought of? She made up a figure with straw, dressed it up with her own clothes, and placed it in the watch-tower, as if she were looking out. She now told the Moor that another barrel was ready to take to her home, and that she would go up to the turret of the tower and watch for him until his return; then she secretly got inside the barrel, and whilst the Moor carried the barrel she went repeating the same words as her sisters had done: “Oh, I can see you, darling, yes, I can see you, quick, quick, dear;” and the Moor replied: “Yes, darling, I am running, I am running as fast as I can; beautiful eyes that can see so far.”
Thus did the three sisters find their way back to their father and home. When the Moor returned to his palace, and did not find the girl at the threshold ready to welcome him back, he ran up quickly into the watch-tower, and on endeavouring to embrace the straw figure, which he believed to be his bride, he missed his footing, and fell from the tower down to the ground, and was picked up quite dead.
The venerable chestnut tree and the palace immediately disappeared, for the whole had been but the work of enchantment.
Text source: Portuguese Stories. Translated by Miss Henriqueta Montriro. In: The Folk-lore Record, vol. 4 (1881).
Image source: Cork oak by Carlos de Braganca
Football fever aside – this is such a wonderful fairy tale which to me feels ancient and modern at the same time. Obviously, the idea of having to hand over a token of obedience, the number three and all that resonates with old folklore. I can’t even pin down what feels modern to me… Maybe the way the story is told? Hmm.