The Four Dolls

A Patchwork Fairy Tale: the one with the servant, the wizard, and the marionette.

A determined girl finds herself keeping house for a wizard and finds out that those who came before her did not fare well.

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  • Read the full transcript below:


[Gentle theme music]

Laura: Hi, you can call me Laura, I’m here to tell you a story if you like. You found one of my Patchwork Fairy Tales. This is the one with the servant, the wizard, and the marionette.

[Music fades]

The Four Dolls

There once was a girl that was one of many children in a big farmer’s family. They all lived in a sweet little farmhouse with a thatch roof and they all worked as long as the daylight lasted.

Despite all this, money was rather tight. Still, it was not so tight that it caused immediate problems and the parents didn’t want any of their children to have to leave home.

However, this didn’t stop our girl from worrying about it. She felt she should be earning something instead of only helping out at home.

Every year there was a market in the nearby town where young people could go to find craftsmen to be apprenticed to or masters or mistresses to go into service with. As the time for the market approached the girl thought about if more and more.

Finally, when the day came, she decided to go. Her parents admitted it would be a big help if she could earn a bit of money, even if it was only a little bit to put by for a rainy day. She hoped she could find a temporary place. Perhaps she need not go into service long, only long enough to earn some savings.

But when the girl arrived at market these dreams were cruelly shattered. Everyone was looking for girl or a boy that would come stay for as long as they possibly could. Far, far longer than she would ever be able to bear being away from her family.

Just when our girl was about to get a discouraged an old man came up to her and told her he had come to hire a stout girl of all sorts to keep house for him.

 “Come into service with me,” he said. “I could use a strong, young pair of hands around the house. If you work for me for one year, I shall give you a pouch full of silver as pay.”

The girl gladly agreed to that, one year away from home would not be too much to pay for such a handsome sum.

Sadly, the old man lived very far away. The girl had to ride in a rattling carriage, drawn by two tired horses for days on end. She had never been this far away from home and it made her sad to see the landscape change around her until everything seemed strange and unfamiliar.

When they finally arrived at her new master’s house the old man welcomed her very kindly and apologized for the long journey.

His house was a fine stone house with a grand courtyard, surrounded by barns and outbuildings, but it lay in the middle of the woods. The girl did find it strange that the old man would live there all alone with no neighbours for support or company, but she felt it was not her place to question. After all, some folks prefer solitude.

That night she cooked a hearty meal for herself and her master and went to sleep in a very nice bed in a tidy little room all her own.

The next day the old man told her what he expected her to do. She could start by sweeping the floors and cleaning the kitchen. The work was not hard and the girl didn’t mind it at all.

Her whole first week he asked her to do nothing more than housework she did twice as much of at home and she thought she had done very well for herself finding a place like this.

When she had finished her work on the seventh day her master praised her and told her that he just had one more task for her, before she could have the evening to herself.

 “Go outside to the little shed at the other end of the courtyard,” the old man said. “There you will find three dolls with china faces. You must take this whip and lash their backs properly. They have brought me bad luck, those wretched dolls, and I cannot sleep soundly unless they suffer.”

The girl thought this was very strange, but there are a lot of strange people in the world.

“Besides,” she told herself. “If one must hate something, better it be a doll than a creature of flesh and blood.”

However, when the girl entered the little wooden shed behind the house and saw the three dolls she was no longer sure of herself. The dolls were like little women with china faces with staring eyes. They wore flowery cotton dresses and crisp white aprons edged with lace and little black shoes that shone like anything. But they looked so sad and forlorn that the girl did not know what to do.

She held the whip in her hand, but when she closed the door behind her and turned around again all the dolls cried out in fear:

“Do not strike us! We have done nothing wrong!”

The girl almost dropped the whip, such a fright it gave her. But the dolls looked so scared that she could not stay frightened herself.

“Do not cry, little dolls,” she said softly. “I shall not whip you.”

Then the girl took a ribbon from her hair and twirled it across the backs of the dolls so that they cried out with the tickling chills it sent down their spines.

Outside the old man heard the noise and thought that the girl had obeyed him. He was very pleased with her when she came back and asked her kindly if she had seen anything unusual in the shed.

“Not at all,” the girl lied. “Nothing but wooden walls and china dolls. But the coil of my whip did make the walls creak terribly, as if there were voices crying out!”

The old man nodded pleasantly and promptly gave her the evening off. So the girl retired to her room to worry about what all this meant and how these dolls could have come to be there.

Another week the girl worked diligently, but this time with nagging doubt at the back of her mind. She could not forget about the china dolls and she wondered every day if the old man would send her to the shed a second time.

When seven days had passed, he did. This time he gave her a stick to bash the doll’s heads in.

The girl took the stick and went into shed, but even before the dolls could start pleading, she put it down on the wooden floor and took out a daffodil she had stuck in her button hole instead.

She gently hit the dolls over the head with the daffodil and the yellow pollen fell so thickly on the dolls’ faces that they sneezed loud enough to shake the whole shed.

Again the old man praised the girl and exactly seven days later he sent her back, this time with a knife to stab the dolls.

The girl put the knife in her apron pocket, but she never took it out, instead she fetched a feather and tickled the dolls with it until they screamed with laughter.

When the dolls had stopped laughing one of them whispered:

“You have been good to us, but if you do not get out of here you will end up just like us.”

“But where would I go?” the girl said fearfully. “I do not know the way home.”

“It doesn’t matter where,” the second doll cried out. “We were all serving girls here once and look at us now!”

The girl turned white with fright.

“Perhaps it would help if you look behind those planks over there against the wall,” the third doll whispered.

“Oh she can’t,” the other dolls hissed, but the girl had already walked over to the bunch of wooden planks leaning against the wall.

She moved them and saw that behind them, leaning against the wall, was a wooden doll. A marionette without strings.

“Oh,” the girl said. “How do you do?”

The marionette did not answer.

 “How come you three can talk with your mouths of painted china, but your friend over there can’t say a word?” the girl asked curiously.

“He cannot move his jaw,” the dolls answered.

“You cannot move your lips,” the girl retorted.

“China lips were never made for moving,” the dolls chimed.

“But wooden marionette’s heads were, I see,” the girl said. “Well, if you cannot talk, I shall speak for you,” she said kindly.

She made a curtsy for the wooden doll and said:

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir.”

Then she wiggled his hinged wooden jaw with her finger and said, in a deeper voice:

“Charmed, I’m sure.”

Suddenly the wooden jaw moved on its own accord and spoke:

“I am certainly charmed, but I would at least have replied that the pleasure is all mine!”

The marionette had startled her so that the girl nearly fell over, but she recovered quickly and apologized for taking the liberty of speaking for him.

“I am glad you did!” the marionette cried. “If you hadn’t I would still be silent! And I have been silent ever since my brother laid this wretched curse on me!”

“The old man cursed you?” the girl said, terrified.

“We were both wizards, he and I,” the marionette replied. “But he never agreed with me, always tried to mess with my spells and spoil my charms. Since he is the oldest, he always felt he should be the most powerful, but he never was.”

The marionette gave a great sigh.

“He turned me into this sad marionette a long time ago,” he said. “And every time a friendly soul came along and talked to me he turned them into a china doll, that is what happened to these poor girls.”

The dolls let out soft wails of sorrow and the girl turned even paler than she’d already become.

“I could turn them back if I could only move, but I can’t, as I’m a marionette without strings,” the wooden doll sighed.

“I could help you move,” the girl said.

“Only if you could make me strings,” he answered.

“Then I’ll make you strings!” the girl said with determination. “Then you can free the china dolls and beat your brother and I can go home!”

“That will not be easy,” the marionette hesitated. “The strings have to be made out of hair from my brother’s beard.”

The girl’s face fell for a moment, but soon she looked up with a gleam in her eye.

“The old man combs his beard every evening by the fire!” she said. “He does it after I go to bed, but I know where he keeps his comb. I shall rub a little grease into the comb, so some of the hairs will stick. I doubt he’ll ever notice.”

The china dolls gasped and the marionette was stunned.

“That just might work,” he said.

Suddenly he laughed and his laugh did not sound like the laugh of a marionette.

“My brother will regret the day he brought such a clever young woman to this cursed place!”

Hastily the girl stood up, because she was afraid she’d stayed too long already. She promised to start gathering hair immediately and to start braiding it into strings as soon as she had enough.

That night, just like every evening, the old man sat down in front of the fire and combed his long beard. Afterwards he cleaned out his comb and threw the discarded hairs into the fire. But this time some long hairs stuck to the grease the girl had rubbed between the comb’s teeth. The old man’s eyes were not what they once had been however, and he did not notice. He put the comb away in its usual spot, where the girl slyly took away the hairs the next morning.

It took only a few days before she had enough to start on the first string. Every morning she took more hairs from the comb and braided a little more of the marionette’s strings.

Soon the first one was finished and she went to the shed to tie it to the marionette’s right hand. She gave it a tug and he waved at her.

“Wonderful!” he cried.

“I will start on the second one,” the girl whispered and hurried back to her work.

That day the old man came to the kitchen while the girl was cooking and said:

“You are such a hard working girl, as a token of my appreciation I have gotten you this apron.”

And he handed her a nice white apron edged all with lace. The girl obediently took it, but she had turned quite white in the face, because it looked just like the frilly aprons the poor china dolls were wearing.

“He wants to turn me into a china doll, just like the others!” she thought, but she didn’t say a word. Instead she smiled nicely and thanked her employer.

However, as soon as she had finished her work, she ran to the shed and showed the apron to the marionette.

“Don’t put it on! Don’t put it on!” the china dolls wailed all together, and the marionette said:

“Leave the nasty thing here and hide it well, but you must make my brother think you have accepted his gift. If you give your own apron a good wash, it will be just as white. And if you go up to the attic you will find an old chest full of ribbons and lace. Trim the edges of your apron with lace and my brother will never see the difference.”

The girl followed the marionette’s advice and when she appeared at breakfast next morning wearing her freshly washed and prettied up apron, the old man smiled contentedly.

Again the girl worked diligently and secretly collected the beard hairs from the comb every morning. She braided string after string and whenever she was sent to the shed to beat the dolls with sticks, whip them with whips or stab them with knives, she took the strings along and tied them to the marionette.

Weeks went by and one night the old man behaved so strangely the girl was afraid he was onto her scheming, but it turned out he had another gift for her. This time it was a pair of dainty little shoes, shining black like the polished stove. They looked just like the little shoes the china dolls wore over their little white stockings, but the girl took them smilingly and didn’t let the old man know her worries.

That evening she went to show the shoes to the marionette and the china dolls all wailed with fear and sorrow.

“Go back to the attic,” the marionette said. “And look on the shelves against the north wall, bring me the little silver box you’ll find there and bring me your best pair of shoes.”

The girl did as he asked and brought him the little silver box and her best shoes.

“Now give a tug on the strings on my arms,” the marionette said, for he had strings on both his arms already.

The girl did as he asked and immediately the wooden arms set to work. The marionette opened the little silver box, that was filled with polish, and he started to shine the girl’s shoes so that they gleamed exactly like the doll’s shoes.

When he was done the girl happily put on her shining shoes and hid the pair the old man had given her with the frilly apron.

The old man did not notice she was not wearing the shoes he had given her and even more weeks passed. The girl was getting restless and the only time she felt really at peace was when she brought another string to the marionette.

He now had a string to both his hands and feet, but he still could not move longer than a few minutes after his strings were pulled.

“The last string will break my brother’s spell,” the marionette assured her and the girl promised him she would finish it any day now.

One day she went to bed early to finish braiding the last string. There wasn’t any more work to do so she did not think anything of it, but to her horror she heard the old man’s footsteps on the stairs when she had just taken out her braid work.

She tried to hide it, but she fumbled and was not fast enough. The old man opened the door and froze on the doorstep. A pretty dress hung innocently over his arm, but his eyes were fixed on the grey string in the girl’s hand and he knew immediately what was going on.

“I will teach you to conspire against me, you little liar!” he roared and he leapt forward and meant to bring his walking stick down on the girls head with a terrible blow.

But as soon as the heavy wood touched the girl’s head, the cane turned into a large flower. Soft petals sprayed all around and the old wizard gave a cry of dismay.

With a great shout the girl darted past him and ran for it. She stumbled down the stairs three steps at the time and scrambled to get to the door. Wizards are hard to run from however, and the old greybeard was right behind her. In his hand he held the terrible black whip and he struck at the girl with it.

The leather hissed through the air, but just when it was about to curl around the girl’s middle the leather rippled strangely and all that hit her back was a ribbon of the softest satin.

The old wizard howled, but the girl did not let astonishment slow her down. She went right out the door and straight to the wooden shed where the dolls were hidden.

All flying skirts and outright terror she burst through the door of the shed. The grey string was still clutched in her hand and with trembling fingers she tied it to the marionettes head.

“Now look what you’ve made me do!”

The words were not meant for the girl, they were meant for the marionette.

The old wizard’s frame darkened the doorway and with a short jerk he plunged a long knife straight into the girl’s back.

The knife quivered and bent. It was no longer a knife, it was merely a feather. A long, brightly coloured feather.

The girl grabbed the marionette’s strings all together and pulled on them desperately.

The marionette made an odd little jump when his strings were pulled, but when the girl dropped the strings as the old man made a furious grab for her, the marionette did not fall down. His wooden limbs jerked left and right and his wooden jaw rattled.

The old man howled at the sight of the dancing marionette, but before he could turn around and flee, the wooden puppet had grown into a man of flesh and blood.

“I will make you rue the day you used my arts against me!” the younger wizard cried.

There was sawdust in his hair and sorrow was drawn in lines under his eyes, but he was clearly decades younger than his brother was now. Decades he had spent as a wooden doll, stripped of all his power.

The old man leapt towards the door, but the young wizard gave a vengeful flick of his wrist and with a sudden viciousness the lace-edged apron and the shining shoes turned on their creator.

The girl had crawled to the other edge of the shed and there she cowered, holding the three china dolls in her arms, shielding their painted eyes from the sight of the old wizard, who was being trodden into the floor by the shining shoes.

His younger brother towered over him and turned him into wood with a single touch of his hand, just before the embroidered apron strings could wrap around his neck.

“See how you like it, brother,” the young wizard said, tossing the wooden doll aside. Its eyes were painted and unmoving and it had a beard made from grey yarn.

The girl got to her feet, still holding the china dolls. The young wizard turned around and smiled at her.

“How can I ever repay you!” he said with a gallant smile.

The girl looked from the wooden doll to the young wizard. Then she glanced at the apron and the shoes, now lying listlessly on the floor. She looked back at the young wizard and held out the three china dolls.

“Turn them back,” she said.

“But of course!” he cried. “Immediately!”

He took the dolls, one by one, and placed them before him on the floor. Then he snapped his fingers and clicked his heels and in the blink of an eye, all three dolls were gone. Where they had been stood three young girls, all restored to their former selves, no longer made of cloth and china, but of flesh and blood.

The girls burst into tears and hugged each other, something they had never before been able to do. And then they hugged the girl that saved all their lives and thanked her from the bottom of their hearts.

When they had finally dried their cheeks the young wizard was jumping from foot to foot impatiently.

 “I shall bring you home now!” he cried enthusiastically and held his hand out to the girl.

“Oh no,” she shook her head. “These three girls have been away from home for much longer. Simply point which way I must walk and bring the first serving girl home first.”

“At least take my brother’s carriage!” the young wizard urged, but the girl refused to get into it. She had much rather walk.

So the young wizard pointed the girl into the right direction, hastily took the first china doll girl by the hand and sped off with her as fast as the storm winds blow in December.

The girl, finally free, set off on her long walk home. She was too happy to be tired and walked the whole night through. When the sun set again she heard quick footsteps behind her and when she turned round, she saw the young wizard had caught up with her.

 “I have brought the first girl home,” he said. “Now let me help you.”

“Oh no,” the girl shook her head. “I shall keep walking in this direction, you bring home the second serving girl first.”

The young wizard gave her a disappointed look, but he did as she asked, speeding away back to the house he had once shared with his brother to fetch the second china doll girl.

So our girl just kept walking, paying no mind to dark or light or how much time passed, until the young wizard caught up with her again.

 “I have brought home the second girl,” he said. “Now please let me help you.”

“Oh no,” the girl protested. “You bring back the third girl first, I shall keep walking,”

And walk she did, on and on, until the lanes and woods began to seem familiar to her. Her pace quickened as memories flooded her head and by the time she reached the path leading up to a little farm house she was almost running.

She stood looking up at the thatch roof for a while and while she was standing there, she once again heard the swift footsteps behind her.

The young wizard appeared and came to stand beside her.

“All three girls are safely home now,” he said. “Now will you finally allow me to assist you?”

“There is no need,” she smiled, with her hand on the garden gate. “Here is my home already.”

The wizard looked up at the house and smiled. “Then I have not repaid you for all you did,” he said.

“You shall have to live with that,” the girl laughed. “For at this moment I want for nothing.”

“Well, to be forever in your debt will be my greatest pleasure,” the young wizard said with a deep bow.

The girl curtsied with a calm demeanour, for she was not one to have her head easily turned.

“Just know that me being in your debt means I shall make it my life’s work to see no harm ever comes to you,” he told her.

The girl did not answer that statement, she simply looked back with a slightly tilted head.

The young wizard sighed, seeing there was simply nothing he could do but go. With one last look, the wizard clicked his heels together and where he had been a gust of wind blew swiftly away over the treetops.

Happily the girl went through the wooden gate and as she walked up the steps of the house a great shout rang out from behind the window. In a moment she was all surrounded by siblings and parents. Everyone hugged her, everyone kissed her, and the girl was so happy all the fearful days in the old wizard’s house began to fade.

A week later a messenger on horseback stopped at the farmhouse and delivered two pouches of silver to the girl, so heavy he could hardly carry them.

The girl took one and looked doubtfully at it, but a pouch of silver was a pouch of silver and when negotiating her pay the size of the pouch had never been mentioned. Still, there certainly had only been one pouch in the agreement.

“Only one of these is mine,” she said. “One pouch of silver for my service.”

“But I was given two and only one recipient,” the messenger said unhappily.

“Then the second one must be for you,” the girl said confidently.

The young man stared at her and then at the pouch.

“Truly?” he said.

“Truly,” the girl smiled.

His face lit up and looking twice as tall as before he got back onto his horse.

“In that case,” he said. “I think I shall go home and get married.”

“Good luck to you!” the girl said, laughing as he rode away. “But shouldn’t you get engaged first?”

“We’ve been engaged for five years!” the messenger called back from his speeding horse. “Just wait till I tell them both!”

Blushing with contentment the girl went back inside and that was the last time the young wizard offered her anything that could be declined, because he now knew she certainly would.

All her life the girl never went looking for the three other girls, to see if they were really safe, because she trusted the young wizard. And neither did she go looking for the wizard’s house to reassure herself it was real, because she trusted herself.

So she never saw either girls or wizard again, but all her life no branch or blade of grass dared to swat the girl’s legs or arms when tramping through woods or fields. No pebble kicked up by a passing horse would hit her. Not even leaves allowed themselves to be blown into her face.

But if the girl ever took note of this, or knew whose doing it was, she always took care not to mention it.

[Theme music]

Laura: And with that last word stitching up the very last sentence, this story has its proper end.

Thank you so much for listening, lovely of you to stop by. If you want to listen to more of these, or find out about my other projects, check out You can also find me at which is full of folklore and urban fantasy. If I’ve set everything up right, you should be able to find this podcast on all the regular apps.

There’s another tale to tell some other Wednesday but until then…

Ring a bell at pixies, cry your tears into the sea, and be safe~

[Music fades]

Image of the Patchwork Fairy Tale dragon from the podcast logo.

Copyright Laura Simons, please do not copy my stories without my permission, lest you insult the fae.

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