The Stolen Heart

A Patchwork Fairy Tale: the one with the brave guard, the fearless parent, and the greedy sorceress.

When their husband does not come home as promised, a brave parent-to-be crosses a dangerous wasteland in search of him.

Special thanks to Lark, for being my sensitivity reader.

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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 brave guard, the fearless parent, and the greedy sorceress.

[Music fades]

The Stolen Heart

In a far-off land that you’d never find the way to even when told exactly where to go, there once lived a young couple expecting their first child. A better matched couple there had never been seen, because they were each as golden-skinned, bright-eyed and quick-tonged as the other.

No wonder then that they had an abundance of love between them and since they had also built a fine roof for over their heads, neither of them had any cause for anxiety over the arrival of the baby. Well, excepting a single solitary worry.

Because it was so that one of our two lovers was a swordsman and a fighter by trade, used to hire himself out to the fine folk that needed a guard to keep them safe on their journeys. Now this was all very well for the days of courting. But when his lover fell for the handsome young guard, they did not consider that the long absences of his profession that made their love glow all the brighter during their courtship, would become a sadness and a burden after they were married.

Now with a child on the way this burden seemed all the greater and the young father-to-be horrored at the thought that he might be so long and so often from home that his child might not even know him on his return. So one night the young man, thinking of the love of his life that would soon become two, decided that he had to make sure such a thing did not happen.

“I will find myself one last assignment before the baby comes,” he told his lover. “One that pays well enough so that we can hold out for a long time. And I will find something else to do with my skills by the end of it and never leave you for so long a time ever again.”

His spouse readily agreed to this plan and though they were very sorry to miss him just now, they agreed that this was the best solution by far. Besides, it was all done for love of their future family and soon they would have their love at home to stay.

So one crisp morning the young father-to-be hung his sword by his side and saddled his horse and told his beloved he would go to town to find a commission.

“I will take the very best job I can find,” he promised. “And when I come back it will be to never leave you again.”

“Mind you take on no journey longer than six months altogether,” his love warned him. “For this child will come in seven and if it is anything like you, it will not wait for anyone.”

“Six months is far too long already,” their husband shook his head. “Longer than four I could not stand. I will return at the end of the fourth month.”

“If you say it will be four, then make sure it is four,” they told him solemnly. “Because I will be calling the sky down with worry if you are even three days late.”

This he promised very faithfully, swearing on his very heart that he would return in time, and then he kissed his lover once on each cheek and then once more for luck and set off for town, with their eyes in his back. But they watched him go with pride and love and he rode all the faster for it.

When the young man arrived at his destination, he went straight to the biggest inn in town. At such a place there were always fine gentlemen and ladies in need of an escort to somewhere or other.

There was no guard as strong or as skilful as he, but whoever offered to hire him was either travelling to far or offered to pay too little. Nearing the end of a third day in the town, he had still not found a commission and the young man began to think he might have to return home to his love empty-handed. This was so unacceptable to him that he was still scowling like the thunder when a very fine carriage rode up to the inn drawn by no less than six horses, so glossily curried that their coats shone red in the evening sun.

There was no coachman or page, but the door opened all on its own and from the carriage emerged as fine a lady as the young man had ever seen.

Her face was sweet like summer and she moved like the wind itself handed her out of her carriage. But in her eyes there was something bitter that made the young man shudder and think yearningly of his beloved back home, with the locks that tumbled from their hairdo as they worked and the smears of soot on their fingers when they had been snuffing the candles.

Nevertheless, he bowed, and the lady looked him up and down, seeing the strength and stance of a fighter in him and asked:

“Are you standing her with your sword at your side to hire yourself out? For I have travelled from one city to another in search of a guard to see me home, but none will take the job.”

The young man straightened his back and looked again at the shining carriage. “Is the journey very long, that others should shy away from it?” he asked.

“I would not call it long,” the lady smiled. “Two months there by carriage and less than that to return on horseback.”

“And what do you propose to pay for it?” he demanded to know.

“A sack of gold for every week in my employ,” the lady spoke readily.

“Then,” the young man laughed. “Whoever refused your offer did a foolish thing. I will guard your way home, your ladyship, and I will see it done well.”

The lady’s eyes gleamed and she was all smiles as she said:

“Then will you bring me across the wild wastelands to the house that rests at the foot of the mountains? For that is my destination.”

The young man’s face fell. The wasteland was wide and riddled with beasts and bandits alike.

“By what way must you go there?” he asked her soberly and she told him of a way so dangerous and untravelled by that no one of any sense would choose to go it willingly.

“I cannot follow you there,” the young man shook his head ruefully. “Were it up to me alone we could set off in an hour, but I am a husband and soon to be a father, my life is not mine to risk.”

The lady smiled, warm as sunlight and said:

“If you are to see to my safety, I should see to yours. Let me give you a weapon stronger than your sword.”

“If I doubted my steel, I would not have hung this sword at my side,” the young man shook his head. “I have chosen it myself and my beloved sharpened it until it might cut the morning air, I will take no other.”

The lady smiled again, sweet as honey and said:

“Let me give you a steed faster than your horse.”

Once again the young man shook his head. “If I doubted my horse, I would not have ridden out on him. I raised him from a colt and my beloved fixed his saddle and bridle so that I might ride him without rest, I will have no other.”

“And I will have none other than you to guard me,” the lady praised. “But if neither coin nor equipment can persuade you to my side, I will grant you another protection. With a touch of my hand I shall take your heart out of your chest and store it away where no harm may come to it. Whatever claw or blade may pierce your skin, it will not mean your death. You shall be safe from harm while in my employ and when making your way back you shall be swift and go unnoticed by those who would rob a carriage such as mine.”

Now the young man knew that he had no lady before him, but a sorceress. “You can do such a thing?” he cried. “To guard a man from dying for as long as his heart is kept safe elsewhere?”

“It is easily done,” the sorceress said.

“Then call me your guard,” the young man decided. “And hold my heart in safekeeping until I am to return.”

“Until you are to return,” the sorceress smiled and with that she reached out and took the young man’s heart from his body as lightly as a child picks an apple from a tree.

The young man hardly felt her take it, but foolish man, as soon as he lost possession of his heart, he was lost himself. The colour drained from his face, the light dimmed in his eyes and worst of all, he forgot everything he had ever loved. He forgot his dear beloved, the child they were expecting, the home he had helped to build. It was all lost to him and the sorceress smiled in satisfaction. She had spoken the truth, if only partially, because the young man was now quite safe from any threat man or beast could pose to him. She wrapped his heart in silk woven by her own hand and stored it away among the treasures hidden in her carriage.

For her own heart the sorceress did not fear, for she had two in her body, steadfastly beating as one and guarding her every living breath. But now she had gained a loyal servant and a brave attendant for the long road ahead.

“There,” she said triumphantly. “You shall be the first of many. Now on your horse and off we go. I long to be at home again.”

And the guard followed her command with unwavering loyalty. Off he rode, escorting the gleaming carriage on its way to the wild wastelands, with not a thought in his head than that of his mistress’s orders.

If they had known what had befallen their husband, his poor beloved would not have slept so soundly that night. But how were they to know? The weeks went by and they worked hard every day. On the house and the garden and the now empty stables, waiting for the arrival of both baby and beloved. But four moons came and went and their love did not return.

“Three days,” they said sensibly. “Three days of grace. I shall not worry down the heavens just yet.”

The three days crept past and as the sun went down on the third the patient lover began wringing their hands. Their dear husband would not willingly break a promise. Something or someone was preventing him from returning to their side. For a moment they were too fearful to do much of anything, because they had no family or friends near enough to help them and though they had always been strong, it took a lot of strength to carry their baby and every day they felt it more.

Still, if their husband was not coming home, the only thing that could be done was for them to go and fetch him.

So they packed up all their worries in a bundle, stuffing it amongst the food and tools and clothes they thought to bring, lifted it all on their shoulders and set off for town.

Once arrived in the town they went straight to the inn, to ask the innkeeper if their beloved had found work those four months ago.

“He most certainly did,” the kind woman said, but her eyes were wide and fearful. “Your love rode off to attend a fine lady, all the way across the wild wastelands. I do not wonder that he has not come back again, because he has surely died there.”

This was a cruel thing to say, but the brave lover did not let it frighten them.

“If my husband has crossed the wastelands, but has not come back again, I must cross them myself,” they said decidedly and though everyone begged them not to go, off the young lover went and went straight for the wild wastelands. Fearing neither man nor beast nor creature that might block their path, because they were going to fetch the love of their life and the father of their child.

On and on the brave lover walked, not bothering to even count the days. But even though they did not, they feared that their child did count, and they hoped that it would be patient.

There was only one path to choose, so that was the one they took. But then, with the sun just rising in the east, they came to a crossroads, and blocking the way was a fearsome woman with all the looks of a bandit about her.

The brave lover did not shrink back, however. They were too worried and weary for fear and as soon as they were close enough to be heard without raising their voice, they asked the woman:

“Good day to you. I see you guard the crossroads well. Did you ever see a carriage passing by attended by a young man as golden-skinned as I?”

“I saw a carriage,” the bandit replied. “And a young man attended it. But where your skin is golden, his was grey.”

This did not sound like their beloved, but surely it had to be. So the brave lover asked the bandit about the horse the guard was ridden on and the sword he carried by his side and when she answered them truthfully, their heart leapt with conviction.

“Then that was my husband after all!” they cried. “Which way did he go?”

“It would do you no good if I told you,” the bandit said. “You have nothing of value to give me, but you will not pass by me with your life. Just because I stood aside for a heartless man, does not mean I will suffer any youth to slip past my blade.”

Upon hearing this the lover’s golden skin flushed with anger and without ever raising their voice they spoke, with words as slow and heavy as they were hot and fierce:

“I carry my worry for him on my shoulders, his first child under my heart and my love for him inside it, you will not prevent me from following him. Move for the parent or move for the lover, but you will move.”

And the bandit, who saw that those with a heart might be as formidable as those without it, moved aside and let them pass down the road their husband had taken.

On they went, their feet weary and their steps heavy, but never stopping for a moment. They travelled until, with the sun high and hot above in the sky, the one path once more split in two. Right at the crossroads stood a giant as tall as three stout men and looking twice as fierce, but the brave lover barely lifted up their eyes and as soon as they were close enough to be heard without raising their voice, they asked the giant:

“Good day to you. I see you guard the crossroads well. Did you ever see a carriage passing by attended by a young man with eyes as bright as mine?”

“I saw a carriage,” the giant replied. “And a young man attended it. But where your eyes are bright, his were dim.”

Once again the brave lover wondered how this could be their beloved, but after they asked about the young guard’s sword and steed, they were sure that it had to be him.

“Then that was my husband after all!” they said. “Which way did he go?”

“It would do you no good if I told you,” the giant said. “You will make but a mouthful of a meal, but you will not pass by me with your life. Just because I stood aside for a heartless man, does not mean I will suffer any youth to slip through my fingers.”

This time the lover’s bright eyes sparked with anger and their voice wavered, each word spoken a little deeper than the last:

“I carry my worry for him on my shoulders, his first child under my heart and my love for him inside it, you will not prevent me from following him. Move for the parent or move for the lover, but you will move.”

And the giant, who saw that those with a heart might be as fearsome as those without it, moved aside.

So on they went again, worry pressing heavily on their back, but their footsteps never slowing down. They walked and walked, until, with the sun setting slowly in the west, they came at great crossroads. In its very midst, a creature with clawed paws and a vicious beak lay with its paws crossed and its terrible head resting upon them. When the brave lover came nearer, it raised its head and looked at them with eyes like fire, but they did not shrink back. They were too worried and weary for fear, but their labours had worn them down and this time they raised their voice as they still walked:

“Good day to you. I see you guard the crossroads well. Did you ever see a carriage passing by attended by a young man with a tongue as quick as mine?”

“I saw a carriage,” the creature replied. “And a young man attended it. But where your tongue is quick, he did not speak a single word.”

Once more the worried lover had to ask after the horse and the sword to be sure the creature had truly seen their beloved and once again they were sure that they had.

“That was my husband after all,” they murmured. “Which way did he go?”

“It would do you no good if I told you,” the creature said. “Your slow self will not make for very good sport, but you will not pass by me with your life. Just because I stood aside for a heartless man, does not mean I will suffer any youth to slip through my claws.”

Now the brave lover grew very angry indeed and with venom rolling off their quick tongue they bit at the creature:

“I carry my worry for him on my shoulders, his first child under my heart and my love for him inside it, you will not prevent me from following him. Move for the parent or move for the lover, but you will move.”

And the creature, who saw that those with a heart might be as terrible as those without it, moved aside.

This time the fire of their words made the lover’s steps quicken. They walked through the night, through the day and when the sun was setting again, they saw before them a large house resting at the foot of a towering mountain. That was where the road led and the young parent could think of no other place that might be the destination of a fine lady that had money enough to hire their husband.

They did not dare to go straight up to the house however. There was no telling what had happened to their husband and though very brave, the young lover wasn’t foolish. So in the dark they walked around the house, finding it completely deserted. There were no servants, no animals, no raised voices, only the smoke rising up from the chimney. They also saw that the fences all around the barren yard were badly in need of mending.

So when the sun rose that morning, the brave lover took their tools out of their bundle and began to mend the fence.

The merry sounds of hard work rattled the morning stillness and woke the sorceress from her bed. Out she went with her hair all tumbled down her back, and what a surprise to her when she found a bright-eyed, golden-skinned youth hard at work mending her fences.

“Hey now,” she cried out, coming towards them with her honey smile. “What is going on here so early in the morning?”

The brave lover bowed low for the fine lady now before them and said very politely:

“I’ve been walking far and further still in search of work and as these fenced needed mending I thought I might stop and find it here.”

To their relief the sorceress laughed in delight and exclaimed:

“Oh what a clever thing you are! So skilful and quick. Yes, I could use someone like you very well. Come into my service and I will see to it you will want for nothing.”

Of course the lover readily accepted. They breathed not a word of their lost husband, or of the child they carried under their heart, whose presence they hid under their many layers of clothes. They allowed the sorceress to take them by the hand and lead them into her house, where everything was cold and still inside.

All the while the sorceress was looking at her new servant slyly and suddenly she said:

“You have come very far. You look so weary and weighed down with grief. But I do right by those that do right by me. I will tell you what I can do for you. Let me take your heart from you. It will not weigh you down any longer and you shall have it back when you leave my service.”

There the sorceress showed her hand. Now the brave lover knew what had happened to their husband. Heartless, the three that had blocked their path had called him, what horror they felt to know those words had been spoken in earnest. But they hid their fear and sorrow and cleverly replied:

“Oh thank you, milady, but if you please. I had much rather you take my heart after it has been mended with rest and comfort. Or I am sure it would be too much for me to take its burden up again if ever I were dismissed from your service.”

The sorceress smiled thinly at this. “Very well,” she agreed. “It shall go as you say. Take seven days to mend your heart and then you must give it to me for safekeeping.”

And she showed the young lover to a room they might call their own and instructed them to leave the fences be and start on fixing up the house instead.

No order would have been more welcome to the new servant and as soon as the sorceress left them alone, they hurried through the house, looking in every corridor and every room. They dared not call out their husband’s name, but they opened door after door after door, until they came upon a room with nothing but a bed and a chair in it, and a window that looked out on nothing.

There they saw their dearest again, sat at the window as still as a statue, and how their heart wrenched in their chest when they looked at him. All the colour was drained from his face, all the light was gone from his eyes. He was nothing but a shadow of what he had once been. But he was here and alive and right before them, so through all the sorrow the young lover let out a laugh of such blessed relief that it rang throughout the cold stone corridors.

The young man looked up at them in surprise and for a moment the young parent’s heart danced within them with joy, but then their husband spoke, with a voice they barely recognized:

“What is that sound you make?”

Oh the sorrow of not being recognized by the one you love most of all in the world. The young lover’s voice trembled as they answered him:

“I was laughing, with the gladness of seeing you again.”

But laughter comes from the heart and their husband had forgotten it. This was too much for his lover’s heart and tears spilled from their bright eyes. Once again the young man looked at them in surprise and asked:

“What is this water washing down your face?”

“I am crying,” his beloved said sorrowfully. “With the sadness of seeing you like this.”

But sorrow likewise comes from the heart and he did not know it anymore.

Now finally, all love and all sadness, his beloved leaned down to where he sat and pressed a kiss on his cheek. It was as sweet and as soft as they were always used to kissing him, but their husband merely looked at them and asked:

“And what was that?”

“That was a kiss,” they answered him sadly. “From the heart.”

They understood now that even though they had found their husband, they could not get him back again until they had found his heart also. So they sat down and asked their husband who no longer knew them what their new mistress was like and he told them that the sorceress was as good and fair a mistress as anybody could wish for. His one sorrow in serving her was that he could not protect her after she went down to sleep, because he could not follow her into her private chambers as the door would only open for her.

The brave lover was sure that if their beloved’s heart was hidden away anywhere, it would be in the sorceresses’ own chambers. In seven days the sorceress would want to take their heart, so within seven days they must find a way to steal back their husband’s heart.

Dutifully the brave lover worked in the sorceress’s house. Mending and cleaning and doing whatever they were asked, but every night when the sorceress retired to her own chambers they followed her on silent feet, spying and listening as she went through the towering doors that had neither handle, lock nor key. But the sorceress spoke not a word to make it open, neither lifted a hand nor batted an eye. All the young lover heard was the creaking of the wood as it swung open to let its mistress pass.

Often they had to see how their dear husband passed by the door with furrowed brow, tapping at the unmoving wood, but the door would never move for him. There seemed no way to open it, it moved only for its mistress.

The days had dragged their feet when they waited for their love to return, but now they hastened by. Six days passed away in the blink of an eye and the poor young parent’s heart was seized with fear. Their child must be born soon and they were about to lose their heart and their mind with it for the rest of their days. They would become as dull and grey-faced as their husband and they would forget all that was ever dear to them.

This was too desperate a thought for them to bear. So that night, after the sorceress had gone to bed on the seventh day, the brave lover snuck to the forbidding door, because they intended to do everything in their power to break through it. But before they had even reached out to touch it, the wood groaned and creaked, just as it did for the sorceress, but now the brave lover could hear there were words in the wooden sounds. Breathless they heard how the door droned dutifully:

“Two as one beat my mistress’s hearts,
The latch will move and the door will part.”

Because in the young parent’s body, the heart of their child beat in time with theirs, as steady as the sorceresses’ two hearts did in her own chest.

Open swung the door and in crept the brave lover, nearly sick with fear and relief. They could hear the sorceress breathing in the shadows, but they did not look right to where the velvet curtains hung heavy around her bed. They could hear the wind sighing in the night, but they did not look left to where the window was ajar. Instead they walked straight ahead, both their hands cradling the roundness of their stomach, to where a row of glass cases glinted in the faintest moonlight.

Row upon row of them were there, waiting to be filled, but only in one lay a heart. The young lover’s own heart beat fast when they lifted the lid and their breath twisted in their throat when their fingers closed around the silk-wrapped shape of their husband’s heart.

But no bell tolled, no thunder cracked, not a sound split the silence and on quick, quiet feet the lover hurried out of the room. They clutched the stolen heart close, carrying it between their own and their child’s, and the further they went from the sorceress’ room, the faster they ran.

By the time that they reached their husband’s room, their feet were fairly flying and they burst through the door with a cry of joy:

“Oh now you shall laugh, and cry, and kiss me again when you know me!”

And before the startled young man could get up from his bed they leaned over him and placed his heart back in his chest, where it belonged.

No sooner was this done or a blush chases the greyness from his face and light filled his eyes once more and as soon as he lifted them up and saw his beloved in front of him his head and heart filled with everything he had forgotten. He remembered his home, the child he was expecting and he remembered the hands that were now reaching out for him so tenderly.

What kisses, what tears, what laughter there followed now and the young man cried in a broken voice:

“Fool that I was, to leave you never to have to leave you again and then to make you fetch me, with our child due to be born any moment.”

“Never mind that now,” his beloved whispered, their face wet with tears but shining with joy. “But we must be gone from this place before sunrise. I found you, but now you must bring me home and do it quick, because I am worn out and our child is fed up with waiting on you.”

Their husband did not need to be told this twice. As quick and silent as his spouse had stolen into the sorceresses’ chambers he snuck into the stables. There he took not only his own faithful horse, but also the six stately reds belonging to the sorceress. He hitched them in front of the shining carriage and handed his beloved safely inside.

“Now my love,” he said. “I shall see to it you are carried back home with never a bump or a jolt!”

And as the sun rose pink and gold at the horizon, off they drove with such a clattering of hooves that the sorceress was pulled from her sleep with a frightful start. She hurried to the window to see what had disturbed her sleep and she was just quick enough to see her own carriage speed away, with her guard at the front and her servant behind the window.

When the sorceress saw all this, she was thrown into such a fit of rage that her two hearts no longer beat as one. Sped up with spite and hatred they raced wildly to their own beat until they tore her wicked body straight in two and she fell down dead where she stood.

The horses started at the deathly cries echoing out across the wasteland, but the fearless young husband and his brave beloved did not even turn their heads towards the sound. The horses were swift, running as if they ran towards their own escape as well as the two young parents’ and the road seemed much shorter than it had been. No creature, giant or bandit dared to block their way and the two lovers did not stop until they were safely back at home, where they arrived with no gold in exchange for their labour but with six of the finest horses that ever were seen and a carriage full of finery.

Not that either of them paid this any mind for a good while, because first, in their very own bed under their very own roof, they their long-expected child was born. As healthy a baby as ever was seen it was too and whenever their child was disposed to be impatient, the parents laughingly told each other that it had surely used up all its patience waiting to be born.

The young man did not go away from home again, giving his beloved no cause for further worries. And for the rest of his live-long days, whenever he kissed their cheek or took their hand or lifted their child into their lap, the young man proudly told his love that he was bound to love them twice as much, for they had truly stolen his heart twice and such a feat must be paid back in kind.

[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. You can follow this podcast on Spotify, iTunes or Stitcher, where new episodes will be available for 90 days, but you can always find all of them on the website You can also find me at which is full of folklore and urban fantasy. Or you can follow or @patchworktale on Twitter.

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

Gather blueberries, never wash your face in the morning dew, 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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