All love at first, like generous wine,
Ferments and frets until ‘tis fine;
But when ‘tis settled on the lee,
And from th’ impurer matter free,
Becomes the richer still the older,
And proves the pleasanter the colder.
–– Samuel Butler
Why are my daughters not beautiful, lamented ancient Ireland’s King Lugid. Their mother is not homely, nor I, but they have the look of Highland banshees. Lugid’s witches, I know the peasants say. Why are they cursed with ugliness? Why am I damned to have unsightly children? No man would want any one of them as a wife. That is, no man immune to the magic moniker, and what man is? None . . . none in my kingdom, and I thank the Gods for that, for I love my daughters with all of my heart.
The King’s eldest daughter, Feithid, was the first to be married. Next to reach the altar was Mathium. The King’s youngest daughter, Bho, was the last to be wed. In each case, Lugid had to invoke the hidden sacred word to make the less than blessed events a reality. Its power rest in its ability to blind suitors to the actual appearance of their brides-to-be.
All that was needed was for the King to utter the magic term into his potential son-in-law’s ear and then call for his daughter to appear. What the suitor saw was an idealization of female beauty. But once the suitor was married to the King’s daughter, he would slowly see his new wife as she actually was. This resulted in unhappy husbands, all of whom were obliged to remain with the King’s daughters or suffer the consequence––beheading.
Finally, the aggrieved husbands decided to murder their unsightly spouses and constructed a plan that would make it appear that they had perished in a tragic accident. This, they believed, would spare them losing their heads and avoid years of living with wives whose appearance they could not bear.
“We will take them to sea, and when we are beyond the sight of the King, heave his loathsome daughters overboard and scuttle the ship. As strong swimmers, we will come to shore and tell Lugid of the terrible tragedy, feigning sorrow over our great loss,” suggested the husband of Mathium.
“Yes, and we will be free of our wives’ hoary grins and hairy chins,” added the spouse of Feithid.
* * *
There was a gala celebration when the three would-be widowers gathered their wives for the fateful trip. The King himself saw them off, waving heartily as the three couples climbed the plank to the waiting ship.
“We bid you safe voyage and will await your return with longing hearts,” pronounced the King.
There will be little joy in your heart but great joy in ours when we return without your offspring, thought the husbands.
Once the vessel was beyond view of the shore, the King’s sons-in-law prepared to set their devious plan in motion.
“Ladies, please join us up on deck,” called Mathium’s husband.
When the King’s daughters joined their husbands, the three men grabbed them, readying to toss them into the churning sea.
“Wait!” shouted one of the King’s armored knights emerging from the ship’s hold. Two equally stout men with large gleaming swords accompanied him. “Hands off the princesses. You are under arrest for plotting the deaths of the King’s daughters.”
The King’s men seized the stunned husbands and placed them in shackles.
“We were not intending to do our wives any harm, good sirs,” protested Feithid’s mate.
“Never would we harm our dearest brides,” proclaimed Bho’s distraught partner.
“What is happening to our husbands?” wailed the King’s daughters.
“My Ladies, your husbands were intending to see you drown in order to be rid of you. Your father knew of their plan and put us below to prevent it.”
“Surely that cannot be so! My husband loves me,” said Mathium, whose words were matched by her hysterical siblings.
The King’s guardsmen returned the boat to shore where it was met by the monarch and several other soldiers. His wailing daughters were quickly ushered away as their aspiring assassins were knelt before their liege.
“A blade awaited your necks, my deceitful son-in-laws. That was my intent, but now I see how much my daughters love you, so I will seal you to the fate you abhorred. You are to remain with my daughters for the rest of your lives. You will be closely observed by my soldiers at all times, and should you again conspire to do ill to my beloved children, you will come to your ends.”
* * *
It was with mixed feelings that the husbands accepted their punishment. But as the years passed, something unexpected happened. Each began to see his respective spouse as she had briefly appeared when the King had invoked the secret word. The sustained beauty they now experienced had grown from the true love their wives felt for them.
While the King could see that the affection of his sons-in-law for his daughters had grown, he required that the executioner’s blade always be kept sharp and the secret word near at hand should his daughters need replacement partners.
“Come, dearest husbands,” beckoned the princesses, smiling at one another with joyful complicity. “Let us again attempt to voyage the sea.”
Category: Fiction, Short Story