A Patchwork Fairy Tale: the one with the merchant, the siblings, and the golden ring.
A kind merchant brings her son a mysterious ring she found on her travels and the young man is soon visited by its rightful owner.
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[Gentle theme music]
Laura: Hi, you can call me Laura, I’m here to tell you a story if you like. If you want to read as well as listen, check out the transcript linked in the description. You found one of my Patchwork Fairy Tales. This is the one with the merchant, the siblings, and the golden ring.
The Fox at the Window
In a land so far away that the names of places and people were all forgotten on the way here, a kind and responsible merchant once lived in a fine country house with large windows.
The merchant had had it built right at the edge of the deep dark woods, almost as if to shield the farms and villages behind it from its depths. The merchant’s son and daughter did not fear it however. As they grew up they were in the habit of going round the edge of the woods together, the brother with a sword hidden in his cane and the sister with a gun strapped to her back, and neither were ever afraid of what might come from between the trees.
The three of them lived there very contentedly and the merchant stayed as much at home as she possibly could, but sometimes she must necessarily travel for her trade. So it was that one day she was to travel to a faraway town to buy new wonders. She never liked leaving her children behind, and to relieve her feelings she went to find her daughter where she was sprawled out in her window seat in the library and asked:
“Now, my girl, what shall I bring you from far away?”
“Oh,” said her daughter, who delighted in anything new. “Just bring me the first thing that makes you laugh upon arriving there.”
“Very well,” the merchant agreed, and she then went to find her son where he was seated in his wheelchair in the gardens and asked:
“Now, my boy, what shall I bring you from far away?”
“Oh,” said her son, who was fond of everything unusual. “Just bring me the first thing that makes you halt your horse on the way back.”
“Very well,” the merchant agreed, and when she was ready to leave both her children hugged her goodbye and waved her off until she was out of sight.
Their mother did not forget her promises. Once in town she looked eagerly about, until in one of the workshop windows she found such a clever little music box that she laughed with delight. That would be her daughter’s gift.
The merchant did her trading, buying and selling, and soon she could return home again. She was very pleased with herself as she rode along and was eager to get home, but she did not forget to keep an eye out for her son’s present. There was nothing on the road to give her pause, however. Not for miles and miles.
It wasn’t until she was already quite close to home that she saw something glittering in the dust of the road and instinctively halted her horse to get a closer look at it. It almost looked like a piece of jewellery. And when she climbed down from the carriage box she saw that it was a broad, golden ring.
“Now that is a find!” she exclaimed. And as there was no one around and she had passed no one on the road who might have lost it, she put it in her pocket to give to her son.
Her children were as happy to see her home again as they had always been when they were little, and for a while the presents were forgotten. At dinner their mother remembered, however, and cheerfully presented each of them with their gift.
Her daughter was delighted with the clever little music box and its clockwork figures moving stately as it played, and her son was deeply intrigued by the beautiful ring.
“Who could this possibly have belonged to?” he wondered, turning it over in his hands. “It must have been a gentleman’s. See? It fits my right ring finger exactly.”
His sister laughed that it might fit her just as well, but now he had put it on, her brother did not feel like taking it off again. So he had his ring and she had her music box and they both had their mother back, and all three of them went to bed happy that night.
The merchant’s son had hardly laid down to sleep, however, when he heard a strange sound at the window. It sounded almost like nails scratching. But the young man found it too much trouble to get out of bed for. His bedroom was on the ground floor and any old hedgehog or dormouse might have wandered out of the garden and scuffled past his window.
Except the noise did not cease. First it grew louder, then it grew slower, and then it sounded almost like a gentle tap, tap, tap on the window pane. By now the merchant’s son had grown too curious to stay in bed and he left the warm covers to lift himself into his chair and moved towards the window.
There, in the pale light of the moon, he saw a large, auburn fox. It had both its paws up on the windowsill and looked at him from behind the glass with keen, intelligent eyes.
“Look all you like,” the merchant’s son laughed. “But it surely wasn’t you tapping on my window.”
He lit the candle on the windowsill, but neither flame nor movement scared the animal off. It still stood there, its fur all the redder in the firelight, and looked at him expectantly. And then, as the merchant’s son still stared in surprise, it lifted its right paw and tap, tap, tapped against the window pane.
Fully overcome with wonder the merchant’s son reached out to open the window. No sooner had he done so, or the fox jumped nimbly into the room. It pranced for a step or two and then, right in front of his eyes, the fox stretched its back and raised itself up on its two hind paws. And then there was no longer a fox at all, but a slender young man with auburn hair stood in its place.
“Do forgive me for coming uninvited,” the fox youth said with a bow. “But in a fine house such as this foxes are rarely considered as guests.”
The merchant’s son, who had never seen anyone half as handsome as this strange young man now standing in his chamber, was too surprised to be either scared or offended. “You may consider yourself my guest, then,” he replied courteously. “But will you not tell me who you are and how you came to be at my window?”
“Oh, I’m just a simple squire’s son!” the handsome fox youth laughed. “But where I come from we are all changed to foxes when we come of age and must spend three years learning the ways of the world. My three years are almost up, so under cover of night I can change as I please. But at the first greying of the sky I must be a fox again.”
With every word he spoke the merchant’s son was more charmed by him. He simply could not help it. “And how came you to be at my window?” he asked curiously.
“Only to beg your forgiveness once more,” the fox youth said. “For the ring you now wear on your finger is my own. I had foolishly lost it only the night before, but in looking for it I found my way here.”
The merchant’s son would be sad to lose the ring. But as he was very glad to have met the fox youth he did not say so, and immediately assured him that he had no intention of keeping it now its owner had been found. The fox youth thanked him warmly, but curiously begged to know how his ring had ended up in his possession. So the merchant’s son explained it had been found by his mother and that she had wished to bring both him and his sister a gift from her journey. This led the fox youth to speak of his own family, and before the two young men knew what they were about, they had talked the whole night away.
“Morning already!” the fox youth suddenly exclaimed and he looked quite unhappy. “I can feel the sky greying. I must be going.”
And with a hasty goodbye he bowed himself low and where the youth had been there was a fox once more. As nimbly as he had come, the animal leapt through the window again, and stole away into the twilight.
It was only after he had watched the fox disappear into the dark of the woods that the merchant’s son realised that the golden ring still gleamed on his finger.
Imagine the laughter of the both of them, when the fox was there again the following night. “Now I shall return it to you directly, so we will not forget again,” the merchant’s son said.
However, they did no such thing. For in speaking of forgetfulness the fox youth was reminded of the places he had visited before and neglected to return to, and this made the merchant’s son remember the journeys he had been on with his mother when he was too young to stay at home. Once again they talked the night away and once again, only after the fox youth was forced to transform and hastily depart, did the merchant’s son discover he still had his ring.
So it went, night after night. The merchant’s son told the fox youth of the crafts he had learned and the plans he had made, and the fox youth told him how to listen for fox calls and how things were done where he came from. And the merchant’s son became more and more reluctant to mention the ring at all. Not because he did not want to part with it, but because it would mean parting from its owner. For a great many nights the fox youth said nothing of the ring either, but at last the merchant’s son felt he had no choice.
“I do not like to,” he said. “But I had better give you your ring back, or you will end up going home without it and I would feel like a thief.” And he took the ring off his finger and held it out to him.
But the fox youth looked at him with glittering eyes and said: “I had much rather you put it back on, if only you’d consider it our engagement ring.”
The merchant’s son blushed as red as the fox youth’s hair, but there was truly nothing that could have made him happier so he slid the ring right back onto his finger and gave the rest of his answer with a kiss.
Never had there been two boys so besotted and when they had finally told one another all the things they had been too afraid to say before the fox youth said:
“In seven days my three years are up. Then my shape shall be my own to command and I can visit you and your family properly.”
And they agreed they would make their engagement known that very day.
The merchant had no idea why her son had become such a lie-abed. He never seemed to rise before twelve nowadays. But since he seemed as healthy and happy as could be otherwise, she did not worry about it and found it no excuse to stay at home when business called her away again.
“When will you be back?” her son inquired, because there were only three days left of the seven days and he would hate to have to wait.
“It’s only a day’s journey,” the merchant said cheerfully. “I will be back the day after tomorrow.
So the merchant set off once more and her son and daughter stayed behind. The merchant’s daughter did think that her brother seemed rather distracted, and even sleepier than before. It made her a little uneasy, especially while their mother was away, and the evening before her mother was to return she decided to chase off her nerves. So she stalked past the edge of the deep dark woods with her gun on her back, like she used to do so often when she was a little younger.
It was already quite late when she set off and when she returned to the house there was only just enough light to see by. And what she saw gave her a terrible fright.
The merchant’s son had gotten into the habit of leaving his bedroom window open for his lover, and right when his sister came walking up, the fox was just about to leap onto the windowsill.
But all the frightened young woman saw was a strange creature at her brother’s window and she did not stop to think or watch, she dug in her heels and shot at it. “Away with you!” she screamed. “Leave my brother alone!” And she caught the poor fox in its beautiful tail with her buckshot.
Her brother was inside, but he was stood at his bookshelves with his cane and he could not rush to the window fast enough. All he heard was the shot and the fox’s scream and when he got to the window all he saw were a few stray drops of blood.
“Sister!” he cried in horror. “Sister what have you done?” And the two unhappy siblings could only make each other unhappier as they began to understand what had happened.
The merchant’s daughter wept when she realised what she had done, but her brother did not shed a tear. He sat, grey faced and silent, until he had made up his mind.
“I will go find him,” he vowed. “And I won’t come back until I have.”
So he hitched their pony to his mother’s old peddler’s cart, which had not been used in years, and told his sister not to cry but to help him climb onto the seat. And with his wheelchair loaded onto the cart, the ring on his finger, and an apology to his absent mother on his lips, the merchant’s son set off on his anxious journey.
The fox youth had told him a great deal about his home, but never how to get there, so the merchant’s son was forced to wander. He went past the deep dark woods, down unknown lanes and through unfamiliar towns. But a peddler’s cart may go where it pleases without ever raising a single eyebrow, and the merchant’s son was too polite and too sad for anyone to want to give him trouble.
Still, the further he went without success the more hopeless he became. Until one night, when he lay awake on his bed in the cart, the merchant’s son heard a most peculiar sound. It was the sharp barking of two foxes, but instead of mere animal noises he very clearly heard the words in them. That was, after all, what the fox youth had taught him. Breathlessly the merchant’s son listened as the animals came nearer and he clearly heard them say:
“It’s worse and worse with the poor squire’s son! He’s been ill for so long they’re afraid he will die from it.”
“It’s a sad business. They’re good folk, our squires, even if they’re mostly human.”
“I heard they have sent for doctors from all the corners of the earth, but no one has been able to cure him.”
“And no wonder! The poor whelp is heartsick, no medicine can cure that. What fox could ever recover, being chased from his sweetheart’s house with gunfire.”
With that the chattering foxes trotted off into the night, but the merchant’s son lay trembling under his blanket. His beloved had survived! And he had very nearly found him. But of course there was no guarantee that he would be allowed to see him. Certainly not after what had happened. So as soon as the sun rose, the merchant’s son drove to the nearest town and set to work.
He filled the peddler’s cart with bottles and boxes, pots and pouches, vats and vials. And he filled them with herbs, flowers, seeds and powders, and all manner of liquids in all manner of colours. When he arrived in the next town over, he had become a true miracle doctor. Only he sold no cures and made no speeches, all he did was ask the townspeople if it was true that the local squire’s son was lying on his deathbed.
“Aye, true enough!” was the rueful reply. “The poor boy is wasting away over a broken heart, and his poor parents are desperate to find someone who might cure him.”
“Then tell me where I can find them, and I will see what I can do.”
And so it was that the merchant’s son arrived at the fox squire’s house disguised as a travelling doctor. He was immediately allowed to speak to the squire and his wife, but they had little hope that he would be able to help them.
“No one has been able to help our son,” the worried father wept. “It’s his heart that is broken.”
“And he will see no more doctors,” the sorrowful mother sighed. “He will not even rise from his bed.”
“Then please allow me to go to him,” the affected doctor begged. “I am certain I can cure your son, if he is willing to see me.”
The poor parents wanted so badly to believe him, that they could not find it in themselves to doubt this sober young man that sat so seriously before them. So they brought him to the room where their son lay in bed with the curtains drawn and the lamps extinguished, so that the whole chamber seemed to fill with his illness.
“My son,” his parents begged. “A foreign doctor has come from far, far away to cure you. Will you not see him?”
But their son replied dolefully: “I will see no one. I do not care how far he has come.”
The merchant’s son had hung back doubtfully, but it was all he could do to keep his own heart from breaking when he heard his beloved speak like that. He rolled his chair towards the bed and slowly said:
“But I have come from beyond the deep dark woods, from behind the window, all this way to give you this.”
And he held out a flask to the fox squire’s son. The flask he had taken from his satchel at random and was only filled with sugar water, but on his hand still glinted the fox youth’s ring.
The squire did not see, his wife did not see, but the fox youth’s eyes grew round with shock. He looked into the young doctor’s face and when he recognised his lover he eagerly grasped the flask for the sole purpose of holding his hand. He hastily put the flask to his lips and by the time that he had drunk it dry, the colour had returned to his face and he had sat up in bed with tears in his eyes.
His parents were beside themselves to see such a miraculous recovery. They begged the doctor to stay and promised him whatever it was he would wish as a reward, if only he would make their son some more of that wondrous medicine.
“I will gladly do all that you ask of me,” the merchant’s son replied. “If I can ask for my reward that you will forgive the man who broke your son’s heart by letting him get wounded.”
The squire and his wife were very surprised, but granted his wish immediately. “He is forgiven,” they said. “He and all who belong to him. Is it for their sake that you are here?”
“No,” he spoke. “It is for your son’s sake that I am here, it is for his sake that I became a doctor.” And now he confessed how very recently that change had taken place and who he really was.
The bewildered parents barely had time to express their astonishment, because their son had already leaped out of bed. All red hair and glittering eyes he threw himself onto his lover’s lap, kneeling at his feet.
The merchant’s son did not have breath enough to at once make his sister’s excuses and his own and declare his love and declare it again, but that did not stop him from trying. And the fox youth replied to it all by taking him by the hand and presenting him to his parents as the man he wanted to marry.
Whatever objections they might have had, it was all forgotten in the joy of seeing their son so well again. And since they had already promised the young man their forgiveness, they quickly gave him their consent as well.
So all that remained to be done was to travel back through the unfamiliar towns, up the unknown lanes and past the deep dark woods. Back to the country house with the large windows, where they were welcomed with tears of joy by the merchant’s son’s mother and sister. All was explained and all was forgiven, and it was only a few months later that the two young men were seated side by side at their wedding feast.
Then the fox youth moved his golden ring from his husband’s right hand to his left and that, so they say, was the last time that the merchant’s son ever parted with it.
Laura: And with that last word stitching up the very last sentence, this story has its proper end.
Thank you for listening. Good recording time is very hard to find nowadays, but I’m still so happy with this podcast and so glad all of you are listening. I hope this new original fairy tale was worth the wait. If you want to know how to contact me, or where to find my other projects, you can find all that on my website laurasimons.com. And if you want, you can find me on Tumblr under the name laurasimonsdaughter, where I am definitely most active.
There’s another tale to tell some other day, but until then…
Check your windows, keep an ear out, and be safe~
Copyright Laura Simons, please do not copy my stories without my permission, lest you insult the fae.