Aspen and the Suitor

Once there was a young farmer who lived near the Scottish border.  He lived alone, for his parents had died long before, and he had no siblings.  But he had the farm, and a fine small farm it was.  He worked only part of the land, for he liked to work for himself and hired no one to help.  So he had fields and pastures and forest, as well.  One day he noticed that a traveler had set up camp on the edge of his land.  Curious, he kept watch to see who it might be, and soon he saw that it was a woman, young and quite beautiful.

She knocked on the door of his cottage the next day and asked permission to stay for a while.  He granted it gladly, for the farmer was taken with not only her beauty, but also her gentle ways and her kind manner.  In fact, the farmer began to find reasons to visit her camp, taking her things he thought she might need and finally inviting her to supper with him in his cottage.

Soon after the young woman appeared the farmer noticed that she was expecting a child, although she had arrived alone and had no visitors.  And it was also not long before he realized that, in spite of this complication, he was falling in love with her.

Finally, he gathered his courage and asked her to marry him, adding that he did not mind that she was with child.  He promised that the child would be raised as if it were his own.

And so they were married, and the farmer was as good as his word.  The child was born several months later.  A girl.  She was a beautiful baby, with pale skin and coal black hair.  This is what people noticed first — the hair.  It was thick and black and shiny, but it had a white streak in the middle, zig-zag, like a bolt of lightning.  She was named Aspen, after her mother’s favorite tree.

Two years after the girl was born, the farmer and his wife had their own child, a boy they named Robert.

Robert and Aspen grew up together and got along unusually well for siblings.  They worked together on the farm with their parents.  Life was good, and the family was happy.

By the time Aspen was fifteen, she was a great beauty.  But it was not only her beauty that people noticed.  She was kind and intelligent, with a fine mind and a quick wit.  She did have one unusual habit, though. Every evening she would brush her hair, now down to her waist, but still with the white lightning streak.  As she brushed, she would sway back and forth and sing a song, always the same, with words in a language no one had taught her.

One afternoon, a man came riding up to the farmhouse.  He was a stranger, but he was obviously rich.  He was tall and handsome in an exotic way.  He rode a fine horse, with a beautiful and expensive saddle of tooled Spanish leather, and dangling from the saddle was a leather pouch that jingled as though it was filled with much money.

The stranger rode up to the farmhouse, knocked on the door and announced his intentions.  “I have heard that you have a beautiful daughter.  I have come to make her my bride.”

The farmer told him only, “I cannot speak for my daughter.  Knock on her door, tell her why you have come, and she will make up her own mind.”

This the stranger did, but hearing his proposal Aspen blushed and said, “I am only fifteen.  Too young to marry.  Return in a year, good sir, and I will give you my answer.”  Disappointed, he left vowing to return in one year.  But as he left, Robert followed him, having an uneasy feeling about the man.  He followed for several hours, and finally the stranger stopped by a loch, dismounted and bent down to drink the water.  As he brought cupped handfuls of water to his mouth, there was a terrifying transformation.  Paws.  Claws. Teeth.  And finally, the transformation was complete.  He was a werewolf, large and menacing and terrifying to behold.  Hiding in the shadows, Robert shuddered with horror.  He was glad that Aspen had not agreed to marry the creature, and Robert returned home, telling no one what he had seen.

Life went on as usual, and it seemed that everyone had forgotten about the stranger.  However, one year to the day, the dark man appeared at the farmhouse door.  This time, Aspen said that she would marry him.  Pleased, the stranger immediately led her to his horse and lifted her up behind him in the saddle.  When Aspen’s mother protested, the stranger assured her that he was a rich man and the girl would be entering a life full of comforts and delights.  Without pausing for more discussion, the man spurred his horse and they galloped away.  At the time, Robert was working in the fields, but when he returned, he was horrified to learn that his sister had gone with the man he knew to be a werewolf.

Robert immediately saddled his own horse and followed in the direction they had gone, hoping to overtake them and persuade Aspen to return.  But one day turned to two and then three, and he had still not caught up with them.  At dusk on the third day he came upon a castle. There he gained admittance, and when the servants he encountered asked who he was and why he was there, he explained that he had brought wedding presents for his sister and wanted to give them to her.  The servant told him that the master had said that they were preparing for the next day’s wedding festivities and were not to be disturbed, but just then there was a blood-curdling scream coming from an upstairs room.  Robert took the stairs two at a time and burst into the room, but stopped, frozen at the sight that greeted him.  In the center of the room was a snake, a large adder, as long as the room was tall and all black, but for a white zig-zag streak that ran the length of its body.  And in the corner was a dark and bloody heap of fur, all that was left of the werewolf.

As Robert stood there, not knowing what to think, the adder was enveloped in a thick mist, and when it cleared, there was his sister, Aspen, in her accustomed form.  Seeing his astonished face, she explained that she had come to know that her father was the king of the adders.  He had seen the love and kindness the farmer showed to her mother, and so had been content to see them married.  But Aspen had gradually become aware that she had inherited some of her father’s powers, including a kind of second sight.  She had immediately recognized the suiter as a werewolf, and thinking that if she refused him, the creature would surely harm her family, she decided to agree to marry him, feeling certain that she could overcome and kill the beast.

So Aspen returned home with her half-brother, and they were greeted with joy and relief by the farmer and his wife, who shuddered at the tale they told.  Life returned to its usual pattern, though they all knew that they could call upon Aspen to protect and defend them should the need ever again arise.

Story provided by Marilyn McPhie