FAIR, BROWN, AND TREMBLING
I was sitting in my easy chair (not a terribly unusual sight) reading the story of Cinderella to one of my grandchildren. As I was reading this children’s story, I began to wonder about its origin. I knew that nursery tales, sometimes, served dual purposes, depending on the era of its creation. Since I was in the middle of Cinderella, I decided to start checking it out when I finished reading it. I wanted to find out if this story that had entertained youngsters for generations also meant something to its first listeners,
History has recorded evidence of a story about the young girl who was rescued from a slave-like existence by a handsome knight first appearing around the mid-ninth century A.D. in China.
Europe first saw the story in the sixteenth century in Italy. There was never an author’s name attached to the story. Some said that the Italian explorers of the thirteenth century, like Marco Polo and others through the fifteenth century, like Columbus, spread the story as they settled in the lands that they reached. Polo was the first of the Europeans to extensively trade in the East and therefore had the opportunity to hear this tale. The Irish varieties of the story in all likelihood reached the “Emerald Isle” in the late sixteenth century. Survivors from the Spanish Armada’s destruction conveyed them
In most every variation of the tale, there were overbearing relatives of a chaste and beautiful maiden who kept the maiden out of the path of a handsome rich noble.
My Uncle Thomas related the tale as he remembered it being told when he was a youngster in County Sligo, Ireland.
It seemed that Moireach Barra (MOEruch BARra) had three daughters whose names were Fair, Brown, and Trembling. Fair was the oldest while Trembling was the youngest. All three of the young women were blessed with the good looks that their late mother had passed on to them. Everyone said that the girls were lucky not to have inherited their father’s looks because his face was rumored to have been able to break mirrors. The two older girls were jealous of the youngest girl’s beauty. When they walked on the road, watchers would be drawn to the beauty of the three but seemed to notice Trembling the most. This fact was not lost on the other two. The oldest, Fair seemed to tell Brown how she should feel about everything. So, when it came time to attend church on Sunday, Fair told Trembling that she had to stay home and attend to their father who was ill with the chills. Fair ended her orders by saying, “You agree with me, don’t you Brown.” Naturally, Brown always agreed with her older sister. Fair, also, told Trembling that she had to have dinner ready for them when they returned from Mass. She had instructions to wash the dishes, clean the house, and tend to the farm animals. Fair thought that if she gave Trembling enough chores to do that she would have no time to allow her beauty to be seen at Church. The two other sisters, Fair and Brown, dressed themselves in their finest dresses and left for church by carriage. They dressed this way because they were told that Naoghas (NOOus), the son of King Neachdainn (NECHtin) was going to be attending Church that day. They wanted to impress him so that he would call on Fair and possibly marry her.
As soon as her older sisters left the house, Trembling began her chores by washing the kitchen floor. She had hardly begun when a faerie princess mother, called Beathag (BEHak) appeared and asked Trembling the reason why she didn’t attend Mass with her sisters. Trembling told Mother Beathag that she had so much to do and had no clothes to wear that were fine enough for church.
Beathag told her that she shouldn’t think about the chores because they would be completed when she returned from church, if she wanted to go. She also told Trembling that she should return to her chambers and put on the clothes that were laid out for her so she would be able to go o the church service as she wished. The only condition that Beathag would require was that Trembling should leave the church without any delay as soon as the congregation stood for the ending of the Mass. Trembling couldn’t believe her good fortune and wanted to know how Beathag was able to provide her exactly with what she had wished .
Beathag said that Trembling’s silent wishes had been heard and that she was there to make sure that those wishes were satisfied.
The dazzled young girl returned to her quarters as she was instructed and on her bed, laid out in a beautiful array was a white velvet-like long cloak that had a hood. There was also a very beautiful dress that was made of the finest silk and satin and there was matching shoes to be worn on her feet. After she put on all the clothes and shoes, she looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the image that was looking back. Then Trembling went into the kitchen and was told by Beathag that there was a horse in the courtyard that she could use as transportation. Trembling climbed on the large white mare and sat on the sidesaddle that was adorned with silver and gold. She rode the horse to the church and entered just as the service was beginning. As she walked down the center aisle to a seat. The eyes of all the entire congregation were on her and stayed on her during the whole Mass. Just as everyone stood at the end of the ceremony, Trembling slipped out of the church, remounted her horse, and rode home before anyone else could see where she was headed.
All of the parishioners who were present at the Mass saw the beautiful woman who was dressed in a white hooded cloak, go out of the side church and they all rushed outside after the priest left after the Mass. All they saw was the large white horse with the woman on its back rounding the curve of the road.
Fair and Brown returned home after church and found Trembling putting the mid-day Sunday dinner on the table. Fair was grumbling that Naoghas hadn’t paid more attention to her than he did. They had been seeing each other for a while and had talked about marrying within the year. The girls hadn’t noticed their sister until she asked them if there was anything new in Church. The two sisters told Trembling that a woman that no one knew was at Mass that morning. They told Trembling that she was the most beautiful woman that anyone ever saw. She wore the most exquisite clothes in the whole country and that had mysteriously disappeared before anyone was able to talk with her. They said that this woman was the talk of the entire congregation not only because she was so beautiful but also because she was so mysterious and everyone could not wait for the following week to see if she would make a return appearance. The following Sunday found the entire assembly standing in wait outside of the church. The assembly included members of neighboring royal families from Spain, Greece, and Turkey. They had heard the stories about the beauty and wanted to see if what they heard was true. They, like Naoghas, were looking for a beautiful woman with whom to spend the rest of their lives as rulers of their nation as well as be husband and wife.
Naoghas thought that he found his ideal potential mate in Fair and was surprised when he felt himself being drawn to this mystery woman. Fair, also, noticed how his attention had wandered and she told Neoghas that she felt put off by his less than ardent concern for her. Neoghas understood Fair’s feelings but couldn’t help the way he felt.
After everyone entered the church just before the service began, Neoghas and his friends remained outside of the church in hope of intercepting the young woman and finding out who she was. As they waited, the four each made pledges to stop at nothing in order to win her hand. Along with these four, several young men from the village were also waiting outside for the same reason. Neoghas, who had been the most vocal of all the young men, presented himself before the group in full battle armor to emphasize that he would fight to protect his position.
All of the young men were talking so intently among themselves that they almost missed seeing the beautiful young woman who on that day was dressed in a red riding cloak that covered a long dark colored dress which was adorned by lace ribbons and jewels. The dress reached the tops of her red shoes that were, also, covered with jewels. The woman rode into the church courtyard on a large black mare that was outfitted with a silver and gold saddle constructed for a lady to ride sidesaddle. There was a colorful small bird riding on the horse’s head that kept in full song until the rider dismounted. She entered the church through a side door that allowed easy access to the main seating area. This door would, also, allow Trembling to leave the church quickly as soon as the congregation stood for the end of Mass as Beathag had instructed her.
Trembling was upset by all of the commotion that her presence had caused at the church the previous week but Beathag explained to her that it wasn’t her fault but was the fault of the others.
This week when Trembling slipped out of the door, she saw that the young men were waiting for her. She hurriedly mounted the horse and began to leave the courtyard as quickly as possible. As she urged the horse into a gallop, Naoghhas tried to keep pace with the horse by holding the saddle. He started falling behind after about a dozen paces and grabbed onto Trembling’s foot. As the horse continued forward her shoe came off in Naoghas’ hand. She reached her home and rushed to her room to change into her everyday clothes. She didn’t want to face Beathag because she felt that she failed to safeguard all that was given to her but she knew in her heart that she had to just that. So she walked slowly into the kitchen where Beathag was waiting for her. Beathag turned and saw Trembling walk in looking as though the weight of the world was on her shoulders. She said,
“Dear girl, why do you look so sad? I thought that you wanted to be able to go to the church dressed in fine clothes and be transported to and from the church by great horses.”
It was then that all that was troubling the girl bubbled out of her in the form of tears, sobs, and mournful cries. She replied to Beathag,
“Dear Mother Beathag, I’ve let you down. I’m afraid that I’ve lost one of the fine shoes that you let me wear. I went to church this morning and made sure that I slipped away as everyone stood for the end of the ceremony. Naoghas ran along side the horse as I was trying to leave quickly just as you instructed. He reached out and took the shoe from my foot just as I broke free. Oh Mother Beathag, I’ve betrayed your generosity.”
Beathag was sympathetic and understanding. She put Trembling at ease by saying to her,
“Don’t fret. This was the best thing that could have occurred for you.”
When Naoghas showed the shoe to the other young men, they all were in agreement that they should mount a search for the woman throughout the entire land. The men began visiting every house in the kingdom and tried to find the owner of the foot that wore the shoe. Some women tried to squeeze an obviously too large foot into the shoe while others put a stocking in the toe of the shoe so a too small foot would not shift positions within the shoe. The search visited every house in the kingdom until they were about to enter the house of Fair, Brown, and Trembling. When Fair looked out of the window and saw the group approaching the house, she ordered Trembling to go into the closet and stay there until the visitors left. After Naoghas and the group entered, they tried the shoe on the feet of Fair and Brown. When the shoe did not fit either sister, Naoghas asked them if there was anyone else lived in the house. Trembling heard this from inside the closet and answered that there was and it was she inside the closet. Naoghas asked here to come out and when she did he tried the shoe on her foot and it fit perfectly.
At this point the oldest sister, Fair, expressed her disbelief that the subject of the countrywide search could possibly have been her sister. Beathag came into the room where everyone had been and told them all that if they were still unsure that she would be able to give them undeniable proof that this was the woman that they all had seen at the church. Beathag took Trembling into her room and told her dress herself in the same outfit that she wore on her first visit to the church. She told Trembling that the great black mare that she first rode was outside of the house and the she should ride the horse into the yard. When Trembling rode into the yard all of the young men, including Naoghas and his Royal friends, said as one that this was the woman from the church. Fair as still not convinced so Beathag took Trembling back to her room where she had the white outfit arranged on the bed for Trembling to become the mystery woman of the second week who would ride into the yard on the great white mare.
When Trembling rode into the yard, even Fair had to say that she, indeed, was the mystery woman. All the young men crowded around her each saying that they were the ones that should be chosen to be her spouse. After they each said their piece to be chosen, they all said to Naoghas that he shouldn’t assume that just because he had the shoe and was the resident Royal that he would win the heart of the mystery woman. They added that Naoghas expressed his feelings by wearing his full battle garb.
Naoghas fought with the Spanish prince for nine days. He fought with the Grecian prince for eight days. He fought with the Turkish prince for seven days. When these combats were completed, Naoghas turned to the local young men who each said that they wouldn’t fight with a countryman and that they could understand how much Naoghas cared for Trembling so they were standing back.
Naoghas and Trembling were married and their wedding celebration lasted for a year and a day. After a time a son was born and Trembling needed assistance with the baby. So, Trembling’s oldest sister arrived to help her. She was going to help with the baby’s care and help Trembling to care for herself. When Naoghas saw the two sisters standing side by side, he remarked that it was next to impossible to tell one sister from the other by their appearance alone. Naoghas remarked to the sisters about his observance but they laughed and said that they had no trouble telling each other apart.
The oldest sister, Fair, remembered that it was she who was going to marry Naoghas before he saw Trembling dressed in the finery that was provided by Beathag. She, also, formed a plan in her mind to take her sister’s place as Naoghas’ spouse and future ruler of the kingdom. One day when the sisters were walking near the seashore, Fair decided to put her plan into action.
Fair pushed her sister into the water where she was swallowed up by a whale. She returned to the manor where Naoghas asked her where her sister was. Fair told him,
“My sister, Fair, returned to the home of our father, because I am well enough to care for myself and the baby without any assistance.”
From that moment, Naoghas felt that it was his wife who was gone and he asked his Druid priest for advice about finding the truth. The priest told Naoghas to take his sword into bed with him that evening and place it between the woman and him. When he awoke the next morning if the sword was warm then the woman was his true love and if it were cold she wasn’t. Naoghas followed the instructions and when he awoke the next morning, the sword was cold.
While this was happening, the morning tide came in and the whale expelled Trembling from its stomach onto the shore where a young boy was tending cattle. Trembling explained to the startled boy that she was under a spell that wouldn’t let her communicate with her love. The only way that she could be freed from the spell was if her love, who was the boy’s master, fired a silver bullet into the red spot that was under its fin at the junction of its body. She stressed that it was most important that this be done as soon as possible because if the moon passed into its next phase, the spell could never be broken. She made the boy promise to give his master the message as soon as he returned home. However, as the boy neared the manor Fair saw that he looked like he had a message to pass. When she questioned the boy about that possibility, he related the entire story. Fair suggested that the boy sit for a moment to collect his thoughts so he would be able to give a proper report. She, also, suggested that he have s sip of water so his throat wouldn’t be too parched to talk. After he agreed to sit and have a sip of water and before he did so, Fair slipped a potion into the drink that made the boy lose his memory and fall into a deep sleep. When the boy awoke it was time to tend to his morning cattle chores and had no memory of the previous day’s events. As he was tending to the cattle, the young boy returned to the shore
While he was there, the whale returned to the shore and expelled the woman onto the shore once again. The woman asked the boy if he had given the message to his master. The boy said that he had not and when he was asked why he hadn’t he said that he had been given something that made him forget what he had to do. He woman told the boy that he had to deliver the message to his master with out fail. She told the boy that he had to do it before he had anything to drink because time was running out before the arrival of the moon’s next phase.
The boy understood the urgency of the message and left to deliver it at once. When Naoghas heard the message he exiled the woman who had been posing as Trembling and made preparations to be at the shore the next morning. The next morning the whale once again expelled the woman onto the shore but she was unable to speak with Naoghas because the spell prevented it. Naoghas approached the shoreline when the whale rolled over onto its back and raised its fin showing the spot. Naoghas took careful aim, fired the silver bullet, and hit the whale exactly where it was aimed. The whale let out a ferocious roar, rolled over and over several times before it died.
Trembling was able to speak as soon as the whale died. After she greeted Naoghas she thanked the boy for his diligence and asked Naoghas to see to it that the boy was taken into their household and is raised as a member of their family. Trembling added that if they were to be blessed with a daughter, the boy who was now known as Moireach in honor of her father could formally become a family member by marrying that daughter.
It came to pass that Naoghas and Trembling had fourteen children including a daughter who married the boy. Naoghas and Trembling lived in happiness for many years with their children, their many grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren.