Transgendered Fairy Tales
In the Scottish Highlands there lived a poor widow and her three children. The youngest was a handsome boy, and the older two were girls. Her daughters were fair to look upon, and indeed the young men admired them greatly; but they had no dowry, so they had little hope of marriage. All the widow possessed on earth was her cottage and a garden full of kale, which was the family's principal food. Then one morning a big grey horse came and fed upon the kale. Morning after morning he arrived, and try what they would, the horse came and went as he pleased.
One day the eldest daughter said, "Well, indeed, mother, we must do something to keep this beast from eating all our kale! Let's see how we fare tomorrow morning, when I take my spinning wheel outside. I'll sit by the garden, and if the sound doesn't keep him off, I'll do what I can to drive him away."
"Sure but you're a brave lassie," the widow said. "When he comes, give him a clout with your distaff, and mayhap he'll think the better of coming here again."
The next morning, the horse arrived as usual, and there was the eldest daughter spinning in the midst of the kale. Up she got in a fine rage, and taking her distaff, she gave the horse one fine crack! But och! och! when she did, it was *she* who was frightened, for the distaff stuck to the horse, and her hand to the distaff, and away went the horse and she with him.
The horse stopped before a rock wall, and the wall had a cleft. The horse stamped three times and shouted, "Open for the son of the King!" The cleft opened and he and the girl passed inside. But inside wasn't a cave or a hole — it was a palace, and a lovely one at that. The girl found warm water to wash her feet, a soft bed to lie upon, and beautiful clothes to wear.
In the morning the grey horse came to her and said, "Today I am going hunting. See that you prepare a good dinner for me. Here are all the keys of this palace. You may open every door of every room — all but the one that opens with the little key. Swear to me that you will not open it. Swear upon your life."
She promised she would leave that room alone, and the grey horse said, "Remember your promise, and if you are a good girl while I am away, I will marry you before very long," and off he cantered.
The girl went into the grandest kitchen she had ever seen, and prepared a fine dinner. And then she thought she would see what the palace was like, so she opened room after room, and each seemed more magnificent than the last.
Then, of course, she began to think about the forbidden room. "What could be in it? If I take just the smallest peek, who will be the wiser, and where could be the harm?" So she turned the key and opened the door a little way. But what she saw put the fear on her so she fell to her hands and knees, and once she had the strength to stand, her hands were bloody all over! For the room was full of poor dead ladies — a fearsome sight indeed it was.
She tried to wash the blood off her hands, but could not get the stains out. "Oh dear, oh dear!" she sobbed in terror, "What am I to do?"
Then came a wee little cat to her feet, and it says, "Give me a plate of milk — even a little drop — and I will lick the hands of you until they are clean."
But the girl said, "If warm water won't take out the stains, is it likely that a cat's tongue will? Shoo! Scat! Off with you, you ugly little beast!"
As she spoke, home came the grey horse himself, all pleased with his hunting, and asked for his food. As he ate he said, "Well, were you a good woman today?"
"Oh, yes, I think so," was her reply.
"Let me see your hands and I will know if you speak true," says he. She opened her clenched hands, and there was the blood on them!
"Oho!" he said to the terrified girl, "So that is the way of it!"
He took an axe and chopped her head clean off, threw her into the forbidden room — and went back to finish his meal.
Next morning, the grey horse was feeding on the widow's kale, and the second daughter says to her mother, "Well, mother, I am going out this morning to see if I cannot drive that beast from among our precious kale."
And the widow said, "That's you for a brave lassie!"
Out the second daughter went. She took with her a seam she was sewing, and right to the horse she went, and stabbed him with her needle! But could she pull it away again? No, och! och! Nor the hand that held the needle! And away the horse went, and the girl with him, to the rock wall with the cleft.
He stamped his hoofs as before and shouted, "Open, for the son of the King!" and the cleft opened, and in they went. And everything happened as it had before.
Next morning, the grey horse gave the widow's second daughter the keys of the palace, warning her on her life not to use the smallest key. And telling her to have a fine dinner ready for him when he returned, he went away.
Once the dinner was ready, she went opening up the rooms of the palace and admiring all the beautiful things in them. After she looked again and again at the little key of the forbidden room, she could no longer resist the temptation to peep into it, and gently she opened the door.
What she saw made her let out a scream, for there was her sister, lying atop a heap of poor, dead ladies! The fright made her fall on her hands and knees, and when she rose up, one of her hands was all over blood. She ran for warm water and scrubbed it and scrubbed, but it would not come clean. A terror came upon her.
Then came the wee little cat, saying as before, "I will lick your hand as clean as ever for a plate of milk."
But the girl replied, "Ugly little beast, be off with you! If the warm water canna cleanse my hand, is it likely that your tongue can? Shoo!"
"Well, then, see what happens when himself comes home!" said the cat, and it sat down to lick itself.
Then came the horse, galloping home, and he called for his dinner. When it was set before him, he asked the second daughter, "Well, were you a good woman today?"
"That I was," says she, shivering all the same.
"Let me see your hands," he said, "and I will know."
She spread her clean hand open over the stained one, but he pulled out the other hand from below. When he saw the stains, he cried, "Oho! So that is the way of it!" And he took his axe, chopped off her head, and threw her into the chamber beside her sister.
Next morning, the widow's son saw the grey horse back again among the kale. He'd seen how it went with each of his sisters, so he ran outside, and struck the beast again and again with his hoe, but the hoe did the horse no harm, and neither did it stick. The horse, when he ate his fill, ran off, and the boy ran after, but the horse was faster and soon it was away.
Neither he nor his mother closed an eye that night for wondering what had happened to the girls. So the boy said to his mother, "Well, mother, I am going to find out where my sisters have gone. Tomorrow, come what may, I will go with the grey horse and look for them."
"That's you for a brave lad," says the widow, "but you're the last of my bairns, so mind you come back home to me."
And so the lad dressed in his sister's clothes and took up his sister's knitting and sat in the garden to wait for the horse to come. Truth be told, he made the fine figure of a lassie, sitting there as pretty as you please. Up came the horse, and the lad cried out, "Where are my sisters?" and he thrust the knitting needle into the horse's side. It stuck to the horse, and his hand to the knitting needle, and off they went to the rock wall with the cleft.
The horse stamped with his hoofs and shouted, and the cleft opened, and everything happened to the lad as it happened to his sisters, whom he saw the next day, dead, in the forbidden chamber. The shock of it made him fall down, and his hands, like theirs, became stained with blood, and though he tried and tried to wash them, the stains would not disappear.
Then came the wee little cat, and offered to lick his hands clean in return for a drop of milk, but he did not speak harshly as his sisters had done. His answer was, "If you do as you promise and lick my hands clean, you'll be worth a good drink of milk. Come then, and I'll pour you some."
After the cat had lapped up the milk, it licked and licked the boy's hands until there was not a stain upon them.
So when the horse came home for dinner there was no fear in the boy's heart. And when the horse asked to see his hands and saw not one spot upon them, he was very pleased indeed and said, "Aha! You're not like your sisters. If you'll be good for a few more days, we will be married." For the horse didn't know that the girl was a boy. Not like his sisters, indeed!
The next day the horse went off again to hunt.
Then the little cat came and sat beside the boy and said, "See now, I can help you accomplish the wish of your heart, and show you how to marry the son of the King. In the treasure room of this castle there are many old chests. Take out three of them and clean them up. Then tell the grey horse that they can easily be spared, and that you would like him to carry them to your mother's house. And tell him that on no account should he look inside them, for you will see through the tree-tops and call out to him if he does.
"Now, above the door of the treasure room you will find a magic sword — you must take it down when the grey horse goes hunting tomorrow. Bring it to the forbidden room, wave it once over yourself, and once over each of your sisters, and they will come alive again. Then, put each sister in a chest, along with some jewels from the treasure room. Close the lids, and ask the grey horse to carry them, one at a time, to your mother. While he carries away the second chest, put yourself into the third, and take with you the magic sword, and he will carry you home.
"After this third journey, the horse will return to the palace, and when he finds you are not here, he will go back to your mother's cottage. You must be waiting there for him, and when you have the chance, bring the magic sword down hard on his neck, and you will see how to find the King's son."
Now the lad had no interest in marrying the King's or anyone else's son, but he did want to bring his sisters back to life. So he thanked the little cat and did exactly as it bade him. He found and cleaned the trunks, and when horse went to hunt, he took down the sword and opened the forbidden room.
He waved the sword over himself, and the strangest thing occurred! Two lively white breasts sprouted on the front of him, and a lovely head of curls grew down to his shoulders. His waist pulled in and his hips curved out, and his cheeks and lips and eyes were as fetching as you please. The widow's son was now as fair as his sisters, and fairer still. He gaped in the mirror and looked himself up and down. It was a pretty piece of work that sword had done!
But the lad — or lassie — didn't stop long to admire herself. She restored her sisters to life by waving the magic sword over them. She put them in two of the chests and heaped gold and jewels over them. Then she told them what to do if the horse tried to peek inside.
The grey horse was willing enough to do as she asked, though he certainly wondered what she'd put into the chests. When he came to a spot in the glen where he thought he would not be seen, he tried to peek inside. Immediately a voice came from — well, he couldn't tell where it came from — and said, "Why are you peeking? I see you peeking!"
Thinking it was the girl's voice, he laughed and said, "Well, well! So you *can* see through the tree tops!" and on he went with his burden.
After the third chest was delivered to the widow's cottage, the horse went home for his dinner.
When he found no dinner and no one waiting to welcome him, he galloped back to the widow's cottage in a great state. The door was closed, but he crashed through it with his forehead. Behind the door was the youngest child with the magic sword in her hand, and when the head crashed through, she brought the sword down on his neck with all her might, and the grey horse immediately changed into a beautiful youth!
"Oh!" she cried out in wonder. "It is true, then — you are the King's son!"
"I am indeed," he replied, "and more than that, I am your husband-to-be." He took her hand, led her to the widow and said, "Madam, this third daughter of yours has broken an evil spell that bound me. Will you give her to me, for indeed, I love her truly?"
Well, the widow could barely speak for the joy of having her two daughters back. Now, to find that she had a third daughter — all grown up — and ready to be married! She gave her glad consent.
Thanks to the same newly-made girl, the widow not only had her two eldest daughters, but with them enough gold and jewels to ensure good husbands for each, and comfort for herself for the rest of her life.
When the King's son took his bride home to his palace, it was no longer hidden inside a wall of rock. Not only that, but a pretty girl came running out to meet the prince and kissed him affectionately.
"Why, who is this?" asked the young bride in astonishment.
"No one but my sister," he answered. "My sister, who was the wee little cat! At the same time you released me, you released her from the spell that had changed her. She will be a sister to you and live with us until she marries." The two girls embraced each other tenderly.
With the magic sword they revived all the poor dead ladies and sent them home to their families. The prince and his bride lived happily and well, and many a time did the widow bless the day that brought the grey horse to eat her kale!