|Anne's bonny head was|
suddenly turned into a sheep's head!
Once upon a time, in the Orkney Islands off of Scotland, "there lived a king and queen. The king had a daughter named Anne and the noblewoman he married had a daughter named Kate. The two girls grew to love each other dearly." Not so dear was the jealousy which this queen showed over her stepdaughter's affection. As the years passed, and Anne's beauty increased, the stepmother decided to tip fate's hand toward her daughter. Else she was sure that the best husband would go to Anne, with only leavings for Kate to choose from. One day, the queen spied the hen-wife, and went to seek her counsel. This one "was known for her magic potions and spells." The hen-wife listened to the queen and said,"Send the lassie to me early in the morn. But be sure 'tis before she's had food or drink." So the next morning, the queen called for Anne and told her to run along to the hen-wife to bring back fresh eggs for breakfast. She scolded her to go quickly, stopping for no reason. Anne took a basket — and a bit of bread to eat on the way — and went to the hen-wife. And there she told the old wife that she wanted fresh eggs. That one said to her,"Now, lift the lid of that pot and tell me what you'll see!" Anne did so, and saw nothing but steam. When the old woman heard that, she said, "Go home to the queen and tell her to keep her larder better locked." This the girl did, and the next day, the queen sent her for fresh eggs once more, and saw her out the door, empty-handed, herself. But on the way, Anne "saw some country folk picking peas by the roadside, and being a friendly lass, she stopped to talk with them. They offered her a handful of fresh peas and these she took to eat on the way." When she got to the hen-wife's cottage, the old one told her to look under the lid of the pot again. Once more she saw nought but steam, and when she said so, the hen-wife replied,"Tell the queen the pot won't boil if the fire's away." On the morning of the third day, the queen herself escorted her stepdaughter to the hen-wife's, and bade the girl ask for fresh eggs. This time, "when Anne lifted the lid off the pot to peer inside, her bonny head was suddenly turned into a sheep's head." Now the queen, it was true, had wanted Anne to become uglier than Kate, yet even she had not bargained for a wooly head adorned with curling horns. She took the girl home and Kate declared her guilty of cruelty toward her sister. Then the two girls wrapped themselves in cloaks, Anne with "a fine linen kerchief" about her face, and went away to seek their fortunes. "They walked on and on, over a mountain and down the other side, till at last they came to a castle." Here Kate rapped upon the door and begged lodgings for herself and her "sick sister". "The two were fed and given a room but they were not long in the castle before Kate saw something was amiss. Such lamenting and grieving among the castle folk!" Inquiring as to the reason, she was told that the young son of the master of the house had a mysterious disease, which had left him exhausted and unable to rouse and speak. "The king was fair beside himself with worry , and he had offered a peck of gold to anyone who could restore the prince to health. But the curious thing, the castlefolk told Kate, was that anyone who sat up all night with the prince was never seen again." Kate and Anne discussed the matter privately and concluded that, for the reward of a peck of gold, they would endeavor to cure the prince, who was surely enchanted. So Kate arranged to spend that night in the prince's chamber. She sat in silence, watching the handsome young man as he slept, and felt a great sorrow that one so young should wither before full bloom. The night deepened, and, just as Kate was beginning to wonder whether the mystery would reveal itself to her, the clock began to strike the midnight hour. Suddenly, "up rose the sick prince from his bed, dressed himself, and went down the stairs. His eyes were open, but he did not notice Kate. He seemed like one sleeping, or entranced." The lass tiptoed after him, and when he went to the stable for his horse, she nimbly jumped up behind the saddle. "Away rode the prince and Kate through the greenwood. The moon shone faintly through the trees and Kate saw the branches on either side of them were heavy with hazel nuts. She plucked the nuts as she passed, filling her pockets with them." They rode on and, at length, came to a grass-covered mound. Here the prince stopped and called out, "Open! Open green hill and let the young prince in.' 'And the lady behind!' added Kate." Now they passed through a long tunnel, emerging into a ballroom that glowed with light. "But candles there were none — it was the light given off by all the fairy host gathered there." These fairies were beautiful, arrogant creatures, who cared only for their own pleasure. All night long the prince was kept dancing, handed from fairy woman to woman. When he gasped for breath "the fairy women would fan him for a few minutes and bring him right back into the dance." When the cock crowed for the dawn the fairies released the prince, and Kate rode home with to his castle. There he stumbled into bed, and she sat down to crack nuts by the fire. So, when the attendants came in the morning, they found the prince abed as usual, his face drawn in exhaustion. As for Kate, she told them nothing of the evening with the fairies, but went straight back to her sister, Anne. The two agreed that the tired prince was under enchantment, and discussed how they might free him. Anne felt that it was too dangerous for Kate to follow again,but they knew no other way. And this night, when Kate rod behind the prince, she hid among the draperies, and so overheard the fairies' conversation. It seemed that if they could keep the prince with them for just one more night, he could never be freed from their power! What was more, she overheard two small children squabbling over a rowan stick. Then someone said, "No matter! 'Tis only a charm against sheep's head spells." So Kate snatched it when the bairns backs were turned, and when she was safe in the castle again, "touched Anne's head three times with the rowan crook." The horrid sheep's head disappeared, and there was Anne, looking very relieved! That night, when Kate rode with the prince, she filled her pockets with hazel nuts again. And while she watched the prince dancing madly, she heard one fairy say to another, as a pretty bird lighted in front of them, "The prince doesn't know that to eat of that bird would break our spell!" So Kate learned their secret, and, when the fairies had moved on, used her nuts to lure the bird to her. Quick as a wink, she popped it into a little willow basket. At dawn, she and the prince rode home again. There Kate "took out the strange bird, plucked the feathers, and cooked the bird over the fire." When its smell filled the room, the prince began to rouse. He whispered, "Oh, I wish I had a bite of that bird." Kate gave him a bite, and then he sat up in bed and asked for a second bite. When he had swallowed that, he said, "If I had but a third bite of that bird...!" So Kate gave him a third bite, and he stood up hale and strong." That's when he dressed in his riding clothes and went out to see the castle folk. A great cheering went up in the hall, and the prince came back and sat by the fire with Kate, roasting nuts in the embers and cracking the shells. And then, "great was the feasting and celebration on the young prince's recovery! The feasting and the drinking and the merry-making went on for seven weeks. And they say that all who were there lived happy and died happy and never drank out of a dry cappy."
From Tatterhood and Other Tales, (Ed. Phelps).New York: The Feminist Press.
Notes: This story has such a funny name! It is identified in the book's notes as "collected in the 19th century from an elderly woman in the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland." It is refreshing to find sisters who stick together, and easy to sympathize with the poor young prince, who is forced to dance all night. According to Alison Jones, there is an ancient European tradition of sweethearts placing nuts into the embers, and watching each other's to see what happens. If the nuts "burst or cracked instead of smoldering, the couple would face a quarrelsome future together."
Montessori Connection: Botany/Nuts
1. Read this story and notice the role that nuts play in it.