THE HANDLESS MAIDEN
European
Retold by Sydney Solis

There was once a poor miller who worked hard day in and day out using his body’s labor to grind the town’s wheat.

One day a man appeared next to the miller and said, “Miller! Why do you work so hard? You know, for a price, I can make your mill more efficient. I have knowledge of great technology. You won’t have to work so hard. You will be rich!”

The miller was intrigued. He wiped the sweat from his brow and, panting, asked, “What is your price for such technology?”

“Ah,” the stranger said, “I only want that which is behind your mill.”

The miller thought for a moment. “There is nothing but an old apple tree behind my mill. Ha! A small price!”

“Agreed!” the miller said and shook hands with the stranger.

The stranger then took his great knowledge and skill and created a water wheel, hooked it up to the stream that nearby flowed and soon this machine was grinding the miller’s wheat ten times faster than he ever could have done it by hand. The miller was excited, thinking about all the things he would do with his free time, thinking about all the things he would buy with his new wealth.

“I will be back for my payment in three days,” the stranger said, and then disappeared into the woods.

Suddenly the miller’s wife came running up from the house.

“Husband! Husband!” she cried. “Something incredible has happened! Why strange things have appeared in our house! Washing machines, ovens clocks and gadgets,! How can this be?”

“Oh! Dear wife!” the miller said. “Look we are rich and we no longer have to work so hard. A stranger came and for only the price of that which is behind our mill, gave us this incredible technology!”

The wife’s face turned pale with horror.

“Husband!” she cried, “Don’t you know who that man was? He was the devil! And don’t you know what is behind the mill?”

“Only an old apple tree! We can grow a new one!” the miller said.

“No!” the wife cried. “Our daughter is behind the mill right now and she is sweeping out the yard! You have sold our daughter to the devil!”

Indeed, when the couple went behind the mill, there was their young, sweet daughter. The couple cried and didn’t know what to do. But they also really liked that they didn’t have to work so hard and liked all the amazing gadgets in their house. So they broke the news to their daughter that the devil would come for her in three days.

The young maiden was heartbroken, but agreed to do as her father said. The night before the devil was to come she bathed herself in lovely herbs, dressed herself in white and then drew a white circle around herself.

In the morning the devil slipped in from the woods and tried to grab the girl. But a strange and powerful force thrust him onto the floor.

“Ah!” the devil cried “I cannot take her, she is too pure! Do not let her bathe or I will take away the mill! I will be back tomorrow.”

The parents ordered the maiden not to bathe that evening. Yet in her misery the young girl cried and cried and the tears washed her body clean. Again she stood in the white circle, and again when the devil came for her, he was thrust away by an unknown force.

“Ah, I cannot take this girl. But I insist that my payment be made. If I cannot have her, I want her hands. I order you miller, chop off her hands!”

The miller was horrified. Chop of his daughter’s hands?

“Do it! Or I will destroy the mill!” the devil cried.

The miller sharpened his ax and begged his daughter’s forgiveness. Then with a quick blow, sliced both his daughter’s hands off.

The devil shrieked with laughter and then disappeared into the woods.

The lovely maiden cried and cried again, and her tears dripped over the stumps where her hands once were and healed the wounds.

The miller and his wife felt terrible about their daughter, however, they told her not to worry.

“We now have servants, all the finest conveniences. You don’t have to do a thing! It can all be done for you!” and they took their daughter home.

Things went well, for a while. However the handless maiden was now miserable. She hated sitting and doing nothing all day long. And her tears and sadness for the loss of her hands grew day by day.

Finally she could stand it no longer. One moonlit night, she left her parents house and wandered into the forest alone. Although the forest was dark and strange noises were everywhere, she wasn’t afraid. Brambles scratched her, but the moist earth beneath her feet comforted her. There in the middle of the forest she found a stump, and there she sat. She stayed there for many, many long hours in perfect solitude and listened to the earth around her.

Finally, hunger overcame her and she had to search for food. She wandered a while until she came to a fantastic castle with a huge garden. There was, however, a large moat around it. The handless maiden began crying again, lamenting to herself, “How will I ever cross such a moat?”

A small light appeared. A spirit dressed in white came to her and said, “I will help you.” The spirit silently went to the moat and closed a lock. The moat drained. The handless maiden was overjoyed and she was able to cross into the king’s verdant garden.

Before her was an amazing pear tree. She reached forward with her stumps, but was unable to reach the pears. There she noticed that every single pear was numbered. “How very strange,” she thought, and just then the branches of the pear tree leaned down, and with her stumps she was able to feed herself with one pear.

Each day she would go to the pear tree and nourish herself with one pear.

The king’s gardener who every day catalogued all the pears, noticed that some were missing. He hid behind a bush to see who was taking the pears. And that night, he saw the ghostly image of the handless maiden in white with the spirit next to her eating a pear. Horrified, he ran back to the king and told him what he saw.

The king was intrigued and that night watched with the gardener. When he saw the handless maiden eating the pear, he felt such pity and love for the young woman, struggling to eat the pear. He ran up to her and said, “Are you of this world or of another?”

“I have been forsaken in this world,” she said.

“I will not forsake you,” the king said. Deep in love with her, he asked her to become his queen.

“How can I become your queen?” she cried. “ I have no hands.”

“Don’t worry, you won’t have to do anything,” the king said. “All my servants will take care of you and your every need.”

“But I would be the queen. I have to have hands.”

“Very well,” he said, and called upon his magician who fashioned her the most lovely and elegant pair of hands made of silver.

The king married the handless maiden and everybody talked about the lovely new queen and her exquisite silver hands.

“How lovely! How dainty. How high fashion!” they all cried.

In time the queen bore a son, and she was very happy. However, servants did all the care for her son. She could do nothing with her silver hands; they were just as useless as none. She cried every time they took him away to be fed or dressed. The queen grew miserable over time.

Once again, the queen was so miserable in her inability to do anything that one night, she scooped up her son, and wandered away from the castle. Again she wandered into the forest and sat alone with her son. But once again, hunger moved her to search for food. She wandered a long time, until she came upon an old woman by a small pond who was washing clothes.

“Old woman,” the queen said. “Please take pity on me and squeeze a bit of water into my mouth. I am so thirsty.”

The old woman merely looked at her and said, “If you want any water, you will have to reach down into the pond and get it yourself.”

The queen was distressed, but the old woman looked away.

Awkwardly the queen with her son in her arms kneeled down by the water’s edge to try and take a sip.

Suddenly, her son slipped out of her arms and fell into the water. Horrified the queen jumped up and cried out, “Help! Help! My son has fallen in the water! Please help or he will drown!”
She looked to the old woman who merely said, “If you want to save your son, you must fish him out yourself.”

“But I can’t!” the queen cried. “I have no hands!”

“Do it,” the old woman said, “Just plunge your stumps in.”

The queen was desperate as she saw her son thrashing in the water. In an instant, she dove her arms and hands into the water to grab her son. And as her hands entered the water, she felt something strange. She felt her hands grow back in the cool flowing of the water. Extending all the flesh of the fingers she grabbed a hold of her son and pulled him from the water.

The queen, exhausted but overjoyed at the re-growth of her hands and the life of her son, looked to the old woman to thank her. But the old woman was gone.

The queen journeyed inward again to the forest, until she came upon a small inn with the words, “Lodging for Everyone” across the front, with the white spirit waiting outside for her.

Inside the inn there was a baby cradle, plenty of food and a stove for the queen to cook on. And the queen did, cook and care for her baby. She was so happy.

When the king discovered that the queen and his son were missing, he was terribly distraught. He set out to find them, vowing never to return until he did. He searched for seven years, until finally he came to an inn that said, “Lodging for Everyone.”

Finally he was reunited with his wife and son. They returned to the castle and had a splendid second wedding. And everyone lived in peace and joy.

Copyright 2005 Mythic Yoga, Sydney Solis
All rights reserved

Sources

Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino

The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden by Robert Johnson

Women who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

The Great Fairy Tale Tradition by Jack Zipes

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