There once was a wealthy man, a lord of vast lands, who had a beautiful daughter whom he loved dearly. As his daughter grew, so too did her beauty. She had long dark hair which shimmered in the light, piercing brown eyes, and soft pale skin.
Tales of her loveliness spread throughout her father’s large estate and beyond, but she was not nearly as beautiful in her heart. With each passing day her father worried more and more that her intentions were wicked.
He mistook her cruelty to the servants as loneliness and hired a lady-in-waiting to tend to his daughter. The daughter brutally thrashed the poor lady on a regular basis, but the homely companion had a kind and pure heart and did not accuse her mistress of being cruel. Instead, she told herself, “I must have wronged her in some way.”
The rich man came to find his daughter as a burden so he sent word throughout the land that she was eligible to be wed. When this news reached his daughter’s ear she devised an evil plan.
“Father,” she said, “I will only marry the man who chooses this golden ring from underneath one of three cups.”
“Fine,” agreed her father, knowing that someone would eventually choose the ring. “What is beneath the other two cups?” he asked.
She smiled and replied, “You needn’t concern yourself with such things, father.”
Her father ceased his questioning knowing he’d get no answers from her. There would be an extensive dowry, and countless suitors were likely to come. He soon forgot of her mischievous plan.
Before long, letters from near and distant lands began pouring in from suitors intending to marry the daughter. The lady-in-waiting collected these letters and recorded them on a long scroll in the order which they would arrive. The scroll was quickly filled with hundreds of names—enough to court the daughter for years.
One night, before the first man was expected to arrive, the daughter gathered the servants and her waiting lady around and said, “I have a challenge for all the suitors who wish to wed me. They must choose this golden ring from beneath one of three cups. The other two will contain slips of parchment with punishments on them. I will tell the unsuspecting suitors to read their note aloud. Whatever is read must be carried out by all of you!” She had a wild look on her face as she spoke, “And if word reaches my father of my plan, all of you will suffer!”
The frightened servants crept back to their quarters, bewildered.
“What could the punishments be?” They whispered amongst themselves.
That night, the daughter’s lady-in-waiting begged her to reconsider.
“Ma’ lady,” said the woman, “this is surely no way to find a suitor. Perhaps a challenge of skill or strength or etiquette would serve this purpose better, no?”
“This challenge shall serve the purpose I intend it to.” The daughter busily scribbled notes on slips of parchment.
“What purpose might that be, ma’ lady?” The homely lady stood on tip-toe to try and see what her mistress was writing.
“You will know soon enough.” The daughter smiled. “Now fetch me the carpenter.”
“The carpenter, ma’ lady? What shall I say to him?”
The daughter hurled her ink bottle at the woman’s head, hitting her in the ear. “Bring him to me now, dog!”
And so the lady curtsied and fetched the carpenter for the daughter.
When the day came for the first suitor to arrive there was a dead silence over the whole house. A knock at the door was heard, followed by a handsome young man, a winemaker from the West, who strolled in. His skin was tanned from the sun and his hair light. He brought with him a bottle of his finest wine as a gift.
He was seated at a table and then challenged to play the game. The man was concerned, as he’d heard nothing of any challenge for courting the stunning woman.
The daughter had food brought, and the man’s wine served, for her and the suitor, to set him as ease. They ate and drank and then the table was cleared and the cups and ring brought out.
He watched carefully as the beautiful daughter placed the golden ring under a cup then shuffled them about the table. He chuckled and snatched up the cup on the left. A folded pieced of parchment was underneath and his smile faded as the servants winced.
“Well, read it,” ordered the daughter.
He unfolded it and read aloud, “I chose poorly, my eyes deceived me. Rid me of my useless sight.”
Three servants reluctantly walked towards the man. One servant unsheathed a knife and the other two held the man down.
“Nooo!” he screamed as his eyes were gouged out.
Suddenly, the father burst in on the horrendous act. “I heard screams, what’s happening?” He frantically looked about the room for someone to answer him.
“This vile creature,” began his daughter, waving a hand in the suitor’s direction, “attempted to kill me with a knife. But my loyal servants turned the knife on him!”
The man only cried in agony, unable to defend himself from her treachery.
Her father shook his head and simply said, “Show him to the door.” At this he left the room.
The man, now much less handsome, was led to the door and sent away.
That night the daughter gathered her servants to tell them that new punishments would be placed under the cups each day. Her plan, she told them, was to leave enough suitors maimed and disfigured that none would try to court her. She intended to inherit her father’s wealthy kingdom and rule over the land.
The servants hurried back to their quarters shaking with fear, imagining what evil deed they would be forced to carry out the next day. Surely word would spread of the terror she inflicted and she would never be wed and left to a terrible reign over her father’s estate.
The next day another handsome man arrived, an alchemist from the North, and was challenged to the game. He was garbed in silk clothes, and carried with him a satchel filled with frog legs, flower petals, and tree bark. He presented to the daughter a sweet smelling perfume as a gift.
They ate and drank and then the cups and ring were brought out. He watched carefully and chose poorly. He unfolded the parchment and read aloud, “My hand failed to reveal the golden ring; it is useless to me now.”
No sooner had he read his fate, than the servants came and restrained him and his hand was swiftly chopped off. The poor alchemist’s blood squirted freely from the wound, spraying the daughter’s lovely dress.
At the sound of his screams the father rushed in, demanding an explanation.
The daughter sat placidly, rubbing her new fragrance along her wrists and neck, smearing the man’s blood over her pale skin. “He moved to touch me, father. Luckily my servants are too quick for his lechery.”
“Daughter, I fear that you imagine these trespasses. I pray that you stop this carnage!”Her father motioned for the man to be led out.
That night the lady-in-waiting, while combing the daughter’s long dark hair, mustered the courage to speak.
“Ma’ lady, if it please you, perhaps your father’s right. There’s no need to brutalize these handsome men who wish nothing but your hand in marriage. Could you not simply dismiss them? I’m quite sure that they would soon understand you wish not to be wed. Then you could remain alone, as you desire.” The woman paused for a moment, admiring the daughter’s hair as it shimmered in the candlelight.
“Swine! How dare you question my tactics? I shall deal with my suitors as I please!” The daughter snatched the comb from the lady’s hand, and struck her face with it. “Go to your room!”
The waiting lady curtsied and hurried to her adjoining bedchamber, holding her tender bruised face.
On the next morn, another handsome and unprepared suitor arrived, a traveling poet. He recited to the daughter a verse, praising her loveliness and youth. The daughter clapped poignantly for the well-crafted ode and then signaled her servants. The formalities were given with food and drink and then the game was set.
After watching the daughter scramble the upturned cups about, he said, “It’s on the right, my fair lady!”
The daughter grinned and lifted the cup.
The suitor read the parchment, “My tongue has spoken incorrectly. I must not use it again.”
The servants, with heads held low, followed the treacherous daughter’s command.
That night, the daughter’s lady-in-waiting wept for how truly evil her mistress had become and she feared for the next suitor.
“Ma’ lady,” the woman said, “someone may eventually guess the right cup. Then all of this violence will have been for naught. Please, please reconsider your game and punishments!”
“Do you think I have not thought of this, fool?” The daughter pummeled the woman’s head and shoulders, beating her to the ground. “No man will outsmart me! I have a slip of parchment in each cup, and as I move them about the table, whichever cup I place the ring beneath turns up only a punishment.”
The lady pulled herself up, trembling in fear of her mistress’s unprovoked wrath. She thought better of speaking again but could not contain her curiosity. “How is it that the ring disappears, ma’ lady?”
“Because, you wretched cur, I have had a small hole carved into the tabletop by the carpenter and the ring falls through the hole into my lap. No suitor stands a chance at winning.”
“You truly are crafty, ma’ lady.” The lady-in-waiting was sickened by the daughter’s deceitful tricks.
“I am both wise and beautiful—burdens you have never had to bear.” The daughter grabbed the poor lady by the hair and dragged her across the room to the scroll of suitors.
“Who comes tomorrow? Hurry and read it to me before I lose my temper.”
“A prince from a land in the East is expected,” the lady-in-waiting read. “His letter said that he has heard of your beauty and hopes to wed you to compliment his harem.”
The daughter scoffed. “What a pig of a man! I will be no concubine or harem girl.”
“Of course not, ma’ lady.” The woman curtsied to the daughter, standing nervously as the daughter paced.
“Get out.” The daughter threw the woman to the floor and kicked her in the gut. “Leave me!”
The woman scampered away in tears. The daughter had beaten her since she first became her lady-in-waiting, but she’d always assumed it was some fault of her own. Now she was quite sure that there was no good in the daughter’s heart. Only an evil charlatan would intend to maim and disfigure all who might marry her, and only to gain her father’s power and wealth. And so the lady-in-waiting determined that she needed to stop her mistress, but had no mind as to what could be done.
That night she snuck from the daughter’s adjoining bedchamber into town. At the inn she found three men drinking. One was blind, another without one hand, and the third with no tongue.
“Good sirs,” she said. “You were tricked and maimed by a cruel woman. She intends to continue this practice until no suitors are left who might court her. There are hundreds more who might fall prey to this dangerous farce. I need your help in stopping this treachery.”
The men heard her wavering voice and saw her bruised and battered face and arms and knew she had risked much to come there. They nodded in agreement and listened as the woman explained her mistress’s cruel plan of endless punishments and the hole in the table by which the ring is dropped.
“We will help you,” said the man with one hand. “Stay here and we will return in one hour’s time.”
And so the lady waited at the inn, shuddering with nervousness. After an hour had passed the tongueless poet returned and gave her two slips of parchment. Next, the blind winemaker returned with a piece of cork and small stone. Finally, the one-handed alchemist brought her a slim vial filled with a clear liquid.
They discussed what the woman was to do with the items and wished her luck.
The next day the prince from a land in the East arrived, wrapped in colorful garb with a tightly wound headpiece. His skin was dark and his accent thick. The daughter sneered at the foreigner and sent the servants for food and drink and to ready the game.
The lady-in-waiting moved quickly, seating the prince at the table and plugging the hole with the cork. Then she hurried to the kitchen where the servants were pouring two goblets of wine.
“I shall bring these to our guest and my mistress,” she told them. When the servants had turned to busy themselves with the food, she emptied the vial into one goblet and served the drinks, handing the laced wine to the daughter.
Before too long the food and drink were cleared and the cups and ring were gathered onto a tray to be brought to the table.
“I shall bring these to the table for my mistress,” she told the servants. Once the servants had given her the tray, she emptied the slips of parchment from the three cups and placed her own in the two without the ring. Then she set the tray onto the table to allow the daughter to carry out her game.
The daughter clumsily knocked down the cups and moved slowly in trying to pick them up. “Look here, mongrel,” said the beautiful daughter. “The wine today seems to have affected me unusually severely. Set the cups before me so I can challenge our guest.”
And so the lady-in-waiting placed the cups before her mistress.
The foreign prince watched intently, but was surprised at how slow the daughter moved the cups around. He had no trouble in following the one which contained the ring.
The daughter continued moving the cups about the table, sliding over and over again where the hole was. She began to grow red in the face with frustration as the ring did not fall into her lap, but she did not want to look down so as to lose sight of which cup contained the ring.
The lady-in-waiting stood patiently behind her mistress’s chair. When the moment was right she dropped the small rock onto the daughter’s lap without anyone noticing.
“Ah-hah!” said the daughter, ceasing her sliding of the cups. “You may choose now.”
The prince smiled reaching for the middle cup. The servants moved towards the table in a glum procession, waiting to hear what they were to do.
“I’ve won!” exclaimed the prince, holding the golden ring up for all to see. “You are to be my ninth bride.”
The servants gasped as the daughter sat wide eyed and fuming.
“That’s impossible!” shouted the daughter. “You cheated!” She frantically tipped over the other two cups and snatched the parchments. Each carried the same message. “What is this nonsense?” She held the slips up and read aloud, “I have mistreated and marred my previous suitors. I am no more than a beast within. Set upon me…and make my true figure known. What? Who is responsible for this?!”
But it was too late. The servants closed in and held her down, carving at her face mercilessly.
The prince sat aghast at what occurred before him, some strange Western ritual of marriage. When the servants were done what had been a beautiful woman was a monstrous and bloodied creature.
The daughter was without eyes, ears, nose, lips, tongue, and fingers. She poured blood from her head and moaned in wretched sobs. At the sound of this carnage the father burst into the room and clutched his chest at the sight.
“My god, what has happened here?” He rushed to his daughter’s side but she could not speak.
“We have only done what she ordered us to, sire,” the servants explained, showing him the notes.
“She has brought this on herself,” he said. “Good prince, I pray that you take my daughter from here and go with my blessing and a large dowry. You have accepted her ring of marriage and must abide by the rules she had set forth.”
The prince, though disgusted at her present form, held to his honor and accepted the dowry for wedding the daughter.
So it was that the disfigured daughter lived the rest of her days locked in a tower away from the prince’s harem. He had no need for such a creature amongst his beautiful wives.