The Lass Who Went Out at the Cry of Dawn

Contributed by Marilyn McPhie

There was once a lass who went out at the cry of dawn to wash her face in the morning dew, for it was well known that the morning dew would make her skin soft and lovely.  But the lass never came home again.

Her father frowned and her mother wept, but that did not bring the lass back home.  She had a younger sister who declared that she would go out into the world and would not rest until she could bring her sister home.  So the father gave her his blessing, along with a gold coin in a small purse, and her mother also gave her a blessing along with a cloth packet that held a bobbin of yarn, a golden needle, a paper of pins, a silver thimble, and a wee sharp knife.

The lass set out, not knowing at first where to go, but she had heard that there was a wicked wizard who lived on Mischanter Hill.  He had been known to steal young maidens, so she decided to seek for her sister there.  When she got to Mischanter Hill, she saw that the path to the top was steep and rocky, and as she rested on a stone before attempting the climb, along came a tinker – a traveler – pulling a cart loaded with pots and pans.

She greeted him and added, “It must be very hard to be doing the work of a horse.” 

“It is for certain,” he admitted.  “But I have no horse and no money to buy one, so I must pull the cart myself.”

“Well, as it happens, I have a gold coin in my purse, and it is doing me no good, so take it and buy yourself a horse.”

The tinker was surprised and delighted.  “I have been pulling this cart for a long and weary time, and no one has offered me so much as a kind word until now.  If you are going up to the wizard’s castle, I have a bit of advice.  What you see and hear are not what they seem to be.  Of course, I also advise you to run the other way and not go up to the castle at all, but I doubt you’ll heed that advice.”

“Indeed I will not,” said the girl.  “But thank you kindly anyway.”  And she began to climb the steep, rocky path.

When she got halfway up the hill, she saw an old man whose clothing was all tatters and patches.  He was trying to mend the tears in the rags with thorns.  Of course, the thorns kept breaking and they were never very secure even when they did not break, so the old man was having no success.

“Oh my,” said the girl.  “It must be difficult to mend your clothes with nothing but thorns.  As it happens, my mother gave me a paper of pins.  They’re doing me no good now, so take them for your mending.”

The ragged old man smiled at her and said, “I’ve been standing here for many a weary day, and I’ve not received so much as a kind word until you came along.  In return for your kindness, I’ll offer you some wisdom.  Gold and silver are a match for evil.  Of course, I’d also advise you to go back home now, for if you continue to the castle the wizard will surely put a spell on you.  But I doubt that you’ll take that advice.”

“Indeed I will not,” said the girl.  “But thank you kindly anyway.  And she resumed her climb.

When she reached the top of the hill, there was the castle.  She boldly pushed open the gates, and when she knocked on the castle door the wizard himself answered.  Speaking as politely as she could, the lass said that she had come to fetch her sister home.

The wizard replied, “Your sister may be here.  I’ll see if I can find her.”  He led the lass into a small room and shut the door.

The lass sat down to wait, but suddenly she heard the crackling of fire, and the room was filled with smoke and flames.  She jumped up and was about to run from the room, when she remembered what the tinker had said.  “What you see and hear are not what they seem to be.”  She realized that the smoke and flames were not real, but only an enchantment, and they soon disappeared.

Still the lass waited, but soon she heard the familiar voice of her sister, calling to her, urging her to come and find her.  The lass was convinced that this was another of the wizard’s spells, but it sounded so real that she felt compelled to run towards the voice.  Instead, she took out the bobbin of yarn and wound it round and round, tying her arms to the chair, so that she could not move.  Finally, the voice was quiet, and the lass cut the yarn with her wee knife.

A few minutes later, the wizard came into the room.  He looked surprised to see her still there, but he forced himself to smile, and he said that she should come with him to locate her sister.  There were many maidens in the castle, he said, and she’d have to pick her sister out for herself.  He led her to a room where there were seven statues of maidens—all of them identical and all of them in the very likeness of her sister. 

“You have one chance,” he said.  “If you can pick out your sister, you are welcome to take her home with you.”  His grin told her that he didn’t think she could do it, but the girl remembered the advice of the ragged old man.  “Gold and silver are a match for evil.”  She took out her silver thimble and slipped it on the finger of the first statue.  The thimble turned a tarnished black.  That was surely not her sister.  She tried it on the next five statues with the same result, but when she slipped the thimble on the finger of the last statue, it sparkled and shone so bright that she knew it was her sister.

“I’ll take this one!” she cried, and as she took the statue’s hand, it turned into her own dear sister, as alive as she had ever been.  Quickly, before the wizard could stop them, they ran hand in hand out of the castle and down the hill.  But the wizard conjured up a huge fierce wolf and sent it after them.  They ran as fast as they could, but the wolf got closer and closer. The lass remembered the ragged man’s advice about gold and silver.  She faced the wolf and held out her golden needle.  She plunged it between the wolf’s eyes, and the wolf dinged down dead.

The sisters kept running, but now the wizard was furious and determined to stop them.  He came flying through the air with his black cape outstretched like wings.  The lass was desperate.  She had only the wee sharp knife for defense now, but as she pulled it from her pocket, along with it came the blessings of her mother and father.  She threw the knife – and the blessings – at the wizard, and with a great shriek, the wizard fell dead. 

The girls kept running, as behind them they heard the enormous crash of the castle, for now that the wizard was dead, his spells were ended.  Realizing that they were no longer in danger, the girls slowed to a walk.

Halfway down the hill, they encountered a handsome young man, dressed in the finest of clothes.  “You might not recognize me,” he said.  “I’m the ragged old man you gave the pins to.  I was under the wizard’s spell, but now I am free.”

So the three of them continued down the hill until they encountered another fine young man, this one with a great shining coach and four fine horses.”  “You might not remember me,” he said.  “I’m the tinker you gave the coin to.  I was under the wizard’s spell, but now I am free.”

The four of them got into the coach and traveled to the home of the girls’ mother and father, who of course, were overjoyed to see them safe and sound.  On the way, the four travelers got along so well, that soon there was a wedding, a double wedding.  The older sister married the man with the pins, and the younger lass married the man who had been a traveler, and they all settled down to a life of joy and happiness.