January 8, 2011

Dark and Fair by Brian Gray

Once there was a great Sea Captain who had sailed the seven seas and had visited many exotic lands. But as with many great seafarers that pace their heaving decks the squally winds blew salt and brine through his ears and addled his brains, so much so that he decided it was time to take himself a wife and settle down.

His wife was a beauty beyond compare and they both lived happily together, keeping a lighthouse which was their new home. Alas they were not blessed with children of their own, but took it upon themselves to adopt two beautiful little girls from the orphanage. One Dark and one Fair. Their mother loved them so much that she gave each one a ring with a stone. Sadly the wife never lived to see them grow up, but the dutiful daughters tended to their father into his old age as his senses became more senseless and his temperament as crusty as an old crab.

“I will have me a new wife,” declared the Captain one Spring tide morning. This came as quite a shock to his dutiful daughters, but not so great a shock as when he continued – “and it shall be one of you that I shall wed, after all I am not your true father, so I can take either one of you for a bride.”

On hearing this Fair was horrified and fled from her fathers’ presence. But Dark was cunning and agreed to her father’s requests and thus shared his plate as well as his chamber.

This now meant of course that Dark was the mistress of the house and there was no mistress as cruel as the Dark. She forced Fair to scrub and clean, and cook and skivvy, whilst she herself led a regal life in the top rooms of the lighthouse. She even threw away all of Fair’s clothes and possessions, except for the ring her mother had given to her, for it was impossible to remove, and instead dressed her in smelly fish scales so that she was too ashamed to show herself in public. Only one person tolerated her presence and that was a kind young fisherman.

One day there was a huge storm and although Fair had lit the light for the lighthouse, Dark had failed to keep any eye on it and so a ship was wrecked with the loss of all life save but one. The survivor was a handsome young prince and a knock to his head from the jagged rocks had struck him blind.

Dark spent a lot of time with him, but it was Fair who tended to his needs and nursed him to health again, although Dark pretended it was she. At long last the Prince’s father, the King, sent a ship to collect him. The Prince insisted that before he left he would take the ring of the person that tended him so that when he could see again he would return with his father’s blessing and marry that person.

But neither of the rings of Dark or Fair could be removed without also removing the finger of the wearer. So the cunning Dark told Fair that she would cut off her own finger and give her ring to the Prince, and when he returned she would pretend that the ring in fact belonged to Fair. After all Dark was already married, so she had no interest in the Prince. But secretly Dark hoped that the Prince would return with the ring and finger and claim her as a bride. As for the old Sea Captain she knew how to deal with him, for any fool could fall from a lighthouse.

But when the Prince asked for his father’s blessing he realised that the dark stone on the ring was not the same as the fair stone that had touched him so: and so his father never gave his blessing for the Prince’s return. In any event without the right ring the Prince doubted that he would ever find the distant land or the lighthouse again.

Many years passed and Dark became more wicked and Fair more ragged. The Sea Captain met his fate and was washed out to sea. One day Fair was talking with the kind young fisherman and told him her woes. The fisherman took her to the shore and called to the fishes of the sea. “If you really want to find happiness elsewhere then the fishes will help you,” said the young fisherman sadly. A fish with the face of the Sea Captain approached the shore and told Fair that the Prince would only return for the true ring that had so touched him. The fish then bit of Fair’s finger and swallowed it and the ring that bound it. The fish set off to find the Prince with a promise to guide him back to the true bearer of the ring.

This made Fair very happy, but the young Fisherman very sad. Fair was so overjoyed that she told her sister of what was to become. Dark was very jealous at this news and made Fair work even harder and in addition to her cooking and cleaning she had to polish and tend the great light of the lighthouse and clean all the lighthouse steps from top to bottom; and when she reached the bottom she had to start all over again. In short Dark made sure that Fair worked her fingers to the bone.

After sailing the seven seas and guided by the ring and the fish the Prince found the lighthouse with the two sisters and declared to all that “whoever’s hand the finger matched would be his wife and queen.” But when Fair presented her hand she had worked her fingers so much to the bone that her hand no longer matched the finger that contained her ring. Then Dark presented her hand but because she had been so lazy and well fed then the finger matched her hand instead. The Prince was overjoyed at finding his bride and ignored Fair’s protestations that he had been tricked, for how could someone who looked like a serving wench be a true princess and queen.

The Prince set sail at once with his new bride and Fair fled from the lighthouse in floods of tears and straight into the arms of the kind young fisherman, who asked her what was amiss. Fair told him of Dark’s trick with the finger and the rings and how the Prince was still blind even when his supposed true love stood before him.

The kind young fisherman told her that was often the way of the world and that true love was often under one’s very nose if but a person looked to see it. He took her to the shore again and called to the fishes of the sea in the hope that they might take her to the Prince’s land so that she could be at his side. But when the fish with the Sea Captain’s face came to her, Fair remembered the words of the kind young fisherman and said unto the fish, “dear father the sea has addled your brains and grief has torn your heart so that you thought that you could marry your own daughters, but now the sea has washed your gills clear again, so tell me where my true destiny lies.”

The fish with the Captains face shed many tears and said “dear daughter I was wrong to treat you so and you were right to reject me. As for your sister she has fooled both you and I. Your destiny stands with you on this shore; it is here where your true love lies.”

And with that the fish swelled a thousand times and turned into a great whale and swam away.

Some said that the fishermen returning from their daily trips had seen a great whale swallow a ship whole. But those are fisherman’s tales and they are as long and as big as you make them.

As for Fair she married the kind young fisherman and they had many children.

END

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