May 2023 My Other Mother

  1. Who was she?
  2. Was this mother a female?
  3. Do I know the Mother within me?

The Ugly Queen

A tale taken from Duncan Williamson – Scottish Traveler

The young king and queen of this land had only a baby girl, but the king’s only thoughts were on how to get rid of the giant who marauded the kingdom from his island in the sea. He was fourteen feet tall and walked through the tide to grab anything he wanted to eat, even people. The giant was indestructible, for his heart was not in his body. Do you know any monsters like that – men who have no heart at all? This giant was the scourge of the kingdom. And the king could not defeat him.

Then an accident happened. The king fell from his horse and died of a broken neck. The beautiful queen of the castle did not know what to do. One day she left her little girl out in sunlight for a moment as she stepped into the kitchen to talk with the cook. The giant strode out of the sea, over the grass, and took the baby. When the queen came out, her darling girl was gone. People had seen the giant and told her. But what could anyone do? It was a double tragedy. The queen called in her wisest men, but what answers could they give. This giant did not have a heart in his body. He was indestructible.

Next day an old woman knocked on the door of the castle. She had a basket of eggs to sell. The maid let her in and brought her to the queen, who saw this long-nosed woman with warts – she was a henwife.

“I’ve come to sell eggs.”

“Yes, I’ll buy your eggs. But I have a bag of gold for you. Do you know what became of my girl?”

“I know where your baby is. She’s alive on the island of the giant. And I don’t want your gold. You, my Queen, must go, but not as a beautiful queen. You must turn ugly and old, like me, and travel your kingdom till you find a man who is honest and kind and truthful – whose truth cannot be bought. He will find the way to bring back your child and do away with that fourteen-foot-tall giant on the island.”

“How can I become ugly?”

“Dear Queen, take this one small bottle of ointment and smooth it on your skin. It will make you ugly as me. And should the day come that you want to be your own beautiful self again, take this second bottle of ointment and rub it all over. But don’t mix up the two.”

“Do you know, old woman, where I might find a man both honest and kind and truthful?”

“No, my Queen. That is your journey to discover.”

“Then please take this bag of gold. You have given me wise counsel.”

“No, I’ve no use for your gold. Only pay for these eggs I’m selling.”

The queen paid, and the old woman went her way. Then the queen hid that second bottle in her bedroom. With the first she smoothed the ointment over her face and hands. In the mirror she saw her nose grow long and warts pop out all over, with hairs on some of them. She was ugly! Then she threw on her long cloak that had in its pocket a bag of gold, and she went downstairs. The servant looked at her. “Who are you, ugly woman, that you got in here. Out with you!”

Onto the road she went, out among the common folk, down-and-outs, farm laborers, woodcutters of the forest, itinerant hunters, as well as travelers who had no homes of their own. Wherever she went she asked, “Am I the most beautiful woman you ever saw?” And she shook in the pocket of her cloak that bag of gold. Its jingle was music to the ears. Whoever she met would smile. “Oh, yes, my lady, you are the most beautiful to me.” Then she’d shake her head and turn away.

On and on, day by day, until one evening she found herself near a forest. The trees had been cut from a patch of ground. Beyond it was a cottage with smoke from the chimney. The queen was so tired of traveling and knocked on the door.

“Excuse me,” she said to the woman who answered. “Will you give an old woman shelter for the night?”

“Oh yes. There’s no one here but my son and me. You are welcome to share what we have.”

“And I will pay you in gold.” The queen shook her bag in her cloak.

“No need for you to pay at all. Just come in and make yourself at home.”

The queen was amazed that this woman was not put off by her ugliness. In the kitchen was the young man, who stood up from his chair as she entered. He was tall and clear-eyed and curly-haired, the best-looking man – that so much reminded the queen of her husband.

“Will you please be seated here, my lady?” he said and offered her his chair. “Warm yourself at the stove and have some soup at our table.” He gave her complete respect, for all her ugliness.

After she had eaten she asked the man, “What is your name? Are you working?”

“No, my lady, My name’s Jack. I am a woodcutter, but the need of wood just now is scarce.”

“I’ll give you gold. Will you work for me?”

“My lady, my father was a woodcutter who taught me to be honest and kind and truthful. I can’t accept your money. I am a woodcutter.”

“Look, I’ll give you a bag of gold” – she jingled it in her pocket – “if you tell me one thing.”

“Yes, I will tell you anything, but I have to tell the truth.”

The ugly queen looked sharply at him. “Am I not the most beautiful woman you ever saw?”

Jack met her, eye for eye. “You can keep your gold, mother. You are not beautiful at all. You are the ugliest woman that ever walked through our door. Why your gold long since has not been taken from you mystifies me. But I will not accept a single coin of it.”

“I am the most beautiful woman!” she said.

“You are the ugliest old thing that ever sat by this stove.”

She rose from her chair and placed the bag of gold on the table. “I’ve been waiting so long for words such as yours, Jack. Do you know who I am?”

“No. You are still an ugly old woman.”

“I am the queen of this land.”

Jack went down on his knee before her and begged pardon for his words. And she told him how her baby girl was lost. “Jack, that giant has no heart in his body. He is indestructible. But you survive on truth. Would you do this for me? Would you go to the island of that giant and rescue my daughter?”

Jack’s mother came in. “Son, I think you’d better do what the queen asks.”

“Well, Mother, I’m not doing very much at the moment. I guess I can go.”

The queen turned to Jack. “You know what you are facing?”

“Yes, my Queen. There’s a giant on the island and he has your baby girl for a prisoner. I’ll bring her to you. But promise me you’ll be there when I fetch your daughter back.”

“Yes, I’ll be there.”

Jack wanted no money. Next morning, he bundled into a bag a bannock and a wee collop that his mother fried for him. He bade his mother and the queen goodbye. He walked over meadows and streams, along cobble roads and muddy rucks – till he came to the seashore. He thought he’d sit for a while and rest. Out of his bag he took the bannock and a bit of ham. And a white swan came sailing in and sat beside him. Naturally, Jack threw bits of his food to the swan. And the swan spoke to him.

“Are you talking to me?” Jack said. He’d never heard such a thing.

“Yes, I’m talking to you, Jack. I know what you’re going to do, to rescue the queen’s daughter. But that giant on the island is indestructible. You cannot beat him. He has no heart.”

“What? No heart at all? Everybody’s got a heart.”

“You cannot beat that giant. But you have fed me, Jack, and on that island is my nest. In my nest is an egg, and in that egg is the giant’s heart. So, when you take up that egg and squeeze it, then you’ll have power over the giant.” And with these words, the swan flew away.

Jack borrowed a boat and rowed across to the island. He rowed on the tide, came ashore and beached the boat. There in the tall cattails and weeds he found the swan’s nest. He saw an egg. It looked mottled and old. He took it up and carried it in his hand toward a great castle. Out of the door came a fourteen-foot-tall giant.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’ve come for the baby!”

“I shall never part with her. For years her father brought his wrath upon me. Now that he is dead, by luck I have his baby girl. And I’ll keep her to the end of my days.”

“Your days are ended right here.” He squeezed the egg in his hand.

The giant staggered and cried out. “Where have you found the power of my body?” Jack squeezed again, and the giant doubled over. “Please, don’t do it. Please!”

Jack squeezed ever so tightly. “You shall return the baby to her mother, the queen. NOW!”

“Please, don’t squeeze so hard. You’re hurting me!”

“You shall take up that baby and walk through the tide to give her back to her mother.”

“Yes, I’ll do that. But please don’t hurt my heart. Please.” The tall giant walked right through the tidewater and carried the baby girl to the ugly queen. The girl looked at her mother and cried aloud. The giant walked back through the channel waters. As he entered the depths, Jack broke the egg on the shore, and all that drivel drained into the rocks. The giant staggered, shivered, and then tumbled into the sea – drowned and dead.

Jack rowed back to the mainland. Everyone was excited to have the baby back, but no one quite recognized the queen. Only Jack.

She told the servants and folk, “We must have a feast for Jack, who saved my daughter.”

People were kissing and holding up the baby girl, and they heard their queen’s voice despite her ugliness. And a feast was held. But Jack wanted only one thing now, to go home to his mother and away from this ugly old queen.

“Won’t you stay?” said the queen. “Am I not the most beautiful woman you ever saw?”

“I have finished my work with you. Now I want to go home. The truth is you are still the ugliest old person I ever saw in my life.”

The queen went up to her bedroom. She took the second little bottle the henwife gave her and spread the ointment over her face and hands, rubbing and rubbing it deep in. She looked in the mirror. Ahh, myself again! She went down, and there was Jack, about to go through the door.

“Who are you?” he said in astonishment.

Servants recognized her at once as their queen. Jack could not quite believe what he saw. “You are no queen. You are the most beautiful person that ever walked this earth!”

“Jack, I know you’re telling the truth.” The queen smiled.

And Jack put his arms around her and kissed his lovely queen. “I never wanted gold. I don’t want a thing. I want you for my wife.”

“I know, Jack – because you are telling me true.” And Jack married the queen. The whole kingdom lived happily for many years to come.

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