*The Tale of The Bea Hind (A Ridiculous Story) Copyright © 2016 by Jennifer Fales
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There once was a wild, comely maiden with hair red as roses and eyes keen and brown as the bark of the wise oak tree. Her name was Beatrice Greeves. The Beatrice part had been chosen by her handsome father, Barlow, in fond memory a mother she never knew. Sadly, the original Beatrice died during childbirth. In later years, as young Beatrice grew into a buzzing hive of rebellious energy, very much unlike the gentle woman he had married, Barlow simply called her Bea.
Aside from being quite the strapping widower, Barlow happened to be a merchant of reasonable acclaim. His reputation for trading in moderate wines, decent spices, and pretty good fabrics preceded him in nearly three-quarters of the cities to which he traveled—and gained his entrance into quite a few bed chambers. Late one spring afternoon—spring was nearly everyone’s favorite season back then—as he traveled home from the latest Faire, with his wooden cart and remaining wares, Barlow happened upon an ancient, knob-kneed druid in the forest
“You’re in luck,” handsome Barlow crowed to the old goat in desperate need of new robes, “for I’m certain I have what you need, and I’ll be happy to provide it for the proper coin.”
“I’m no lord or lady,” the druid replied, pointing out his surroundings. “I haven’t a pound, shilling, or pence, but I do…”
“You haven’t the money—I haven’t the time!” Barlow, who was too far in his cups and in growing need of a chamber pot, announced and staggered on his way.
“You can’t just walk away from me,” the druid gurgled. “You flapdoodle! I swear by my butter-teeth, I’ll curse your whole family!”
Had his brain been less ale-addled, Barlow might have paid better attention to that sort of thing. But it wasn’t, so Barlow hurled back, “Go ahead! I have only one daughter,” and, again, continued on his merry way.
The druid, who was several centuries old and full of all sorts of piss and vinegar, huffed and puffed. Then, he proceeded to gather his herbs and his gumption. When the gathering was through, he fashioned a powerful curse—one that rhymed because all the best spells and curses do:
“For the hapless child
Of this fickle merchant
I craft a curse most queer.
May the rest of her days
As they wax and wain
Endure in the guise of a deer.
Not just any deer; no
But the huntsman’s prize
With barely time to sleep
And the only cure
For this darling doe:
Life inside the King’s keep.”
Back at the Greeves’ cozy thatched cottage, on the outskirts of the woods, young Bea performed her fortnightly ablutions with water from the well. She donned her white chemise and brushed her flowing hair a hundred times in preparation for bed.
As she brushed, Bea made up songs of protest. She sang about the following in a lovely soprano: Housework was incredibly demeaning to women, and marriage was a means of enslaving them. Also, it was a well-known fact that sexual congress was mostly about the men these days. For the last stanza, Bea trilled in her crystal clear voice that it was high time for women’s political, social, and economic equality and added a soulful “feudalism buggers all; sodomize the Establishment” for dramatic emphasis.
Bea wandered to an itchy straw mattress with a hideous quilt after the mandatory making of a sweet maiden’s evening merriment was through. Society might be able to make her sing, but she’d be damned—most likely, she probably already was—before regurgitating the sundry and frivolous words of a bobble-headed saddle-goose!
As for the unsightly quilt, Beatrice Number One’s mother, whom Barlow described as a large, rump-faced harpy who lost one leg in a tavern fight, had knitted the covering long ago. The old woman cursed like the devil himself and possessed not a single stitch of knitting prowess. The paltry cover was a nasty piece of craftsmanship, indeed, yet Barlow had labeled it an heirloom—something Bea must pass on to her child someday—and refused to replace it. Bea glared at the thing as she sank to her knees and clasped her hands together in angelic repose.
“Lady of the Forest,” the fair maiden earnestly beseeched as she had every night since learning how to use words, “please save me from this dreadful, ordinary life with my dull and insensitive pickle of a father. And may I never have a child to whom I must pass on this blight of a blanket. Blessings to all in the world this night. Amen.”
Bea crawled beneath her driggledy-draggledy mess of a quilt with a yawn, pulling it up to the tip of an irrepressibly sonnet-worthy chin. As she drifted off to sleep, she wondered what life must be like for the female creatures of the forest. They never swept a man’s floors, cooked his dinners, or made his bed; it sounded positively lovely.
As his daughter drifted off to sleep, Barlow Greeves parked his horse and cart in their small hay-scented barn and stumbled for the front door. He reached into his pocket, squeezing the weight of his coin-heavy pouch for reassurance, and thought of all the new and exotic wenches it would allow him to bed.
He also felt a moment of guilt over the druid. The old man had been insulted, yes, which was too bad. But a merchant never, ever violated the rules of commerce. It was the kind of thing that could ruin a man’s reputation—and that, after all, was everything.
Bea’s father swung open the door to his cottage and stepped through, looking over at his daughter on her mattress by the window. Bea loved him too much to put the thick wooden bar in place, blocking his entrance, though her temperament invariably made her threaten to do so. She was forever hurling accusations of leaving her to rot while he rode on his palfrey through the civilized world, his cart full of wares, buggering anything with a skirt and a pulse.
It was the vilest of slander, insulting and hurtful. Barlow took great care to exercise the utmost discretion in choosing partners for his indiscretions. But his child, like the rest of her sex, had been born feather-headed and stubborn. What kind of father would he be, risking his beautiful Bea’s exposure to the rutting beasts and charlatans (aside from himself) at the Faire?
Awash in moonlight cascading from the window, his daughter’s eyes were clamped tightly in sleep. Much to Barlow’s horror, the orbs beneath began shifting and shaking, violently, to and fro as he watched. Bea’s breathing, expelled through her delicate rosebud of a mouth, changed from soft snoring to frightened panting, and her button nose blackened and broadened, turning velvety and full.
Not only did Bea’s nose change; her entire face narrowed, her hair melting downward into it. Her ears rose, elongating into tufted points that jutted out from the tip of her head, and her cheeks swam high to sharpen the angles of her face. Bea’s eyes slanted sideways and upward, the slope of her nose shooting down to form a peak just above her mouth. All the while, her body contorted and quivered beneath the horrid-looking quilt.
When his daughter finally laid still again, her widened eyes staring up at him, Barlow stooped down and removed the covering. The doe she had become wriggled out of her nightshift and leaped from the mattress, landing with a flick of an ear and the clatter of hooves. She looked down at her long, spindly legs in amazement, then up at her father’s face.
“Right, then,” she said. “I have no hands to work the door—would you mind?”
“But,” her father responded with a slow blink, “you’re a deer.”
“Yes,” Bea answered wholeheartedly, “I most definitely am—and anyone with sense knows deer do not belong indoors.”
“But,” he said, “who will sweep the floors, cook my dinners, and make my bed?”
“Someone with hands?” she suggested. “It looks like you’ve got two of your own there so…problem solved!”
“This is horrible,” Barlow frowned, not really listening because that was always a flaw where his daughter was concerned, “and it’s all my fault. I insulted a Druid, and now he has cursed you.”
“It’s no big deal,” she assured him. “Now, about that door…”
But Barlow refused to touch the door that night. Instead, he assured her as he stumbled off to his goose-feathered mattress that he would set off on an errand in the morning. After a good night’s sleep—because drunk riding was dangerous and a man might hurt himself and others in the forest—he was going find that awful druid and make things right again.
The Bea Hind paced, at first, in agitation as she listened to him snore. Then she chewed on the ugly quilt. The thing tasted awful and proved indestructible. After that, she too slumbered and dreamed of wide, open skies and row after row of crunchy acorns stretched out as far as the eye could see. Unfortunately, she also ate the straw in her mattress.
In the morning, Barlow, who was a little upset over all the mattress eating, closed the door behind him and left. Bea, quite depressed with the unfairness of her situation, sang to lift her spirits. She sang songs of protest about the oppression of women, and deer in captivity, and how nobody was willing to give a magical doe a break these days.
Now, it just so happened that a young man recently ejected from the king’s grounds due to his desire to found a union for the ethical treatment of left-handed hunters was wandering nearby. Wandering was a strong term, really; he was breaking into the merchant’s barn to pilfer goods and sell them in the marketplace near the castle. As he explained to Bea, whose singing impressed him, he intended to sell them for just enough coinage to replace his confiscated hunting gear.
“That’s very noble of you,” Bea said, impressed by the fact that that the young robber wasn’t her father. “Let me out and I’ll give you my blessing to take what you like.”
“Thank you,” the young man said, tossing all his noble intentions to the wayside. The king would surely trade a fortune for a magical red (singing) doe for his treasured daughter! “I couldn’t help but notice—you trilled the words so eloquently in your exquisite song of protest—that you never get to go anywhere. Would you come to the marketplace, with me, in search of adventure?”
“Oh, yes! Yes! A thousand times, yes!” Bea shrieked, jumping in circles and pawing at the ground in her excitement.The young man and the Bea Hind ventured out on their journey, with a few things in the young man’s hands and a few small items (nothing too bothersome) strapped to Bea’s back. As they traveled back through the forest, they met an amphibian. It was a rather unpleasant and green, yelling at them about how lucky they were to have so much tasty meat proportionally distributed across their great big bodies.
The young man and the Bea Hind ventured out on their journey, with a few things in the young man’s hands and a few small items (nothing too bothersome) strapped to Bea’s back. As they traveled back through the forest, they met an amphibian. It was a rather unpleasant and green, yelling at them about how lucky they were to have so much tasty meat proportionally distributed across their great big bodies.
“No one will ever want me for me,” the frog sobbed in conclusion, “it’s just these blasted, gorgeous legs of mine. For heaven’s sake, I’m disproportionate; can’t you see how morbidly unfair that is? I deserve to be built like the rest of you!”
Bea rolled her eyes and informed the frog that: A) He was wallowing there, in the warm muck and mire, in a false sense of entitlement. B) He would never know what it was like to spend eighteen years as free labor for an ungrateful merchant. Sure, someone might eat his legs, but it just wasn’t the same magnitude of suffering at all.
“It’s very small of him not to see your pain,” the young huntsman-turned-robber agreed. He shook his head sadly as they left the frog behind them in the lush, damp heart of the forest.
Meanwhile, the merchant who rode forth that morning to find the druid still in search of suitable vestments had followed him into the marketplace nearest the king’s keep. It was the self-same marketplace to which the Bea Hind and the young robber huntsman were heading with the merchant’s things. And, by some odd twist of magic, fate, or luck, the king and his daughter, who had seen but seven springs in her lifetime, also happened to be there that day.
“Good Greetings, Sir Druid!” Barlow tied up his horse and hailed the gnarled man publicly.
“I find no good in anxious greetings,” the druid said dryly, raising an eyebrow. “Why do you follow me like a huntsman after prey?”
“I follow for the sake of my daughter, Bea,” Barlow answered. “Lift this curse, I beg you.”
“You should have asked in the forest last night,” the Druid responded. “Instead, you walked away.”
“I was…” Barlow began.
“An ass?” The druid suggested.
“Inebriated,” Barlow said.
“An inebriated ass, then,” the druid amended the statement for him.
“…Yes.” Barlow conceded.
“And what will you give me, Ass?” the druid queried.
“My thanks and gratitude,” Barlow said.
“No robe, then,” the druid muttered, shaking his head. “still an ass.”
“Why should a merchant give a man, who has no coin to pay for it, a robe?” Barlow asked.
“Why should a druid un-curse a man’s offspring, when given no robe for incentive?” The druid replied.
At this point, the dissent had drawn a crowd of flour-coated baker’s wives, two blood-dotted butchers, and several gypsies. There was also a great, sweaty blacksmith with hands the size and smell of well-fed country hams; the others stood at a distance from him.
“Father!” a voice called from the left of the blacksmith. “What are you doing here?”
“What am I doing here? What are you doing here, you ungrateful child, when I left you, at home, inside?” Barlow replied, staring back at the red doe with much less surprise than the crowd.
“Fie on you, you bloody, callous monster!” the huntsman replied. “I liberated Bea from domestic enslavement beneath your roof!”
“That’s not a bee, that’s a deer!” someone muttered. “He’s obviously daft.”
“Of course, he is,” someone else replied, “That’s the one, you know—the huntsman that tried to unionize.”
“She’s not all you liberated,” the druid remarked with a squinted eye. “You don’t happen to have a robe over there, do you, thief?”
“No.” The huntsman didn’t bother to deny it. “Why?”
“To lift the curse for her father, of course.”
“No—you mustn’t!” Bea cried.
“But who will sweep the floors, cook my dinners, and make my bed?” Barlow still wasn’t sold on the whole self-sufficiency thing.
“I don’t care,” the doe answered. “If you’re so concerned, find yourself a sodding wife!”
“Ah,” the druid said, “that explains the rest of it.”
“Father,” a child’s voice reached them from a distance, “isn’t that the left-handed, ungrateful huntsman—the one who attempted to unionize?”
“See. I told you!” Someone hissed in the crowd.
“It looks like him, Astraea,” the King, who had named his daughter after the Greek word for justice because he wanted her to be exceptionally wise, agreed.
The small girl took a deep breath and spit out excitedly, “Didn’t the druid just accuse him of thievery? And the merchant accused the druid of cursing his daughter? And the thief accused the merchant of enslavement? And the merchant accused the daughter of ungratefulness?”
“That’s what it sounded like, sweetheart,” the King told his daughter, patting her on the head.
“Then we must do something!” the daughter insisted.
“What would you like me to do?” the King asked. “Kill them all?”
“Heavens, no.” The girl, being the only one still young enough for sense, looked appalled. “Those are the actions of a tyrant. It would never do. Lock them up in the keep and I shall decide upon a reasonable outcome.”
“Fine,” the King answered, much to the disappointment of the bloodthirsty locals in the marketplace. “Guards, seize these four and haul them to the keep!”
So the four travelers found themselves trapped behind bars together in the belly of the King’s keep. The druid blamed the merchant and complained of the draft through his tattered robes. The thief blamed the King for denying his petition for unionization and ousting him. The merchant blamed the druid for the curse and his daughter for being ungrateful.
Bea, who had changed into a naked girl the moment she entered the keep, did her best to cover all her naughty bits. As she did so, she sang a lovely song of protest about blaming everyone but herself and how her tantalizing nudity was a form of exploitation, deliberately engineered by a conspiracy between the druid and the shamefully androcentric, patriarchal royalty. She added an obligatory “and feudalism buggers all” at the end, but even the guard agreed it felt like she was just mailing it in.
At the same time, the King’s daughter, quite excited to have her first case to try, was doing her best to restore logic to the situation by compiling a pro et contra list. As she explained to a curious guard, that was Latin. It meant she was essentially weighing the positive and negative effects of her taking any particular course of action. Her ultimate goal was to set an example via her own behavior, putting the interests of others first, which, she said, was something no adult seemed concerned with doing these days.
“But sweetie,” the King said, peering over his child’s tiny shoulder at her desk and paper, “that’s practically unheard of—why aren’t you using the what dost be in it for mine own self approach?
“Because, Father,” Astraea replied sweetly, using her ink-dipped quill to add popular opinion to the contra list, “unreasonable bias and blind self-interest are what buggered the four of them up so royally in the first place.”
“Of course,” the King said, “but that’s just what we do, dear. It’s the way people are, and it always will be.”
“But what of reason and respect?”she asked.
“Oh, I think you’ll discover they all find their own ideas perfectly reasonable and invite others to respect them, loudly and routinely,” the King answered.
“I fear I must ask you to leave now,” Astraea replied as she patted her father’s enormous, ring-bedecked hand. “It is time for your wee, daft child to ponder things minus your irreplaceable wisdom and council.”
“It’s all for the best,” the King said. “I have courtesans in need of use. Otherwise, I’m just throwing the people’s tax money away. Those girls don’t work for free, you know. Nobody does—except for the merchant’s daughter, I suppose.”
“So be it,” Astraea responded, happy at the prospect of a few hours peace. “Merry Swiving, Father—and my gratitude again for your council.”
Princess Astraea drafted a long, complicated list and, afterward, read through it, considering her father’s words. Why must it all be so difficult? The merchant’s daughter thought she worked for nothing all those years, but, in truth, she hadn’t.
Beggars pleaded for alms in the street—with a roof over her head, food to cook, and a bed to make, Bea suffered no such fate. Barlow had sought not to imprison her, but to protect her. Albeit, most likely, from men like himself. The druid tended to the forest, preserving the sanctity and magic of the space the merchant wandered home through every evening. And even the thief had once been a huntsman, eliminating threats to the villagers’ livestock, and putting food on the king’s own table?
“So much here has been taken for granted,” the Princess mused—and that’s when the answer came to her. Of course! She would alter the purpose and course of their lives, making them see beyond themselves.
The next morning, she went to the keep with the guards and her father and the following joyous proclamation was read:
“Yea and verily, ye in captivity, by the infinite wisdom of the crown, the young Princess Astraea decrees all your lives shall be spared upon the sole condition of the swapping of a year’s time. In such time, the Druid and shall be Merchant, The Huntsman shall be the Daughter, and the Merchant shall be the Druid, and the Daughter Shall be the Huntsman.”
There was a brief moment of silence—a processing of sorts—before the four captives responded.
“This is heinously unfair! A blatant miscarriage of justice!” the druid cried, his sandaled feet kicking dust onto the hem of his robe as he fretted and paced to and fro. “What of the taxes leveraged on my business? The crown would defeat me before I begin! How do you expect me to survive? ”
“Insensitive bull shite!” The merchant followed behind him, howling and shaking his fist, “Those taxes are valid and should be rendered unto me for I am the caretaker of a forest that suffers injury! You trample it every day beneath the weight of your cart, and your heels and, yet, do you offer me no recompense? NO, and NEVER!”
“Fie on you all!” the huntsman cried. “Take advantage of me this way? Strip me and deny me my rights, will you? All of you idiots blind to my suffering while I toil for you, day after day, year after year—with nary a ‘thanks’ in return. It’s a travesty; I tell you! Inexcusable!”
“What?” Bea shrieked in disbelief, still covering herself. “Have you all gone mad? Surely any man not struck with idiocy would see the direst of all cruelties has been visited upon me? Denied my trade by the crown itself! I shall devise a song of protest wherein I express the depth, breadth, and height of my incomparable suffering and misery!”
“I hate to say I told you so,” the King said as he looked down at his young daughter, thinking how polished and pretty she was in all that fine linen, “but it’s the way of the adult world, Astraea.”
“Very well, Father,” Astraea shuddered and turned away, thinking of that far off dreadful day when she, too, must become an adult. “Do what you will for why should I care? I’m off to play games with the small and the sensible, far away from these braying asses, while I still may.”
*Note: Bea Hind is pronounced as behind and, yes, the story is about people making asses of themselves.