A chief lived in a magnificent castle overlooking Bedruthan Bay. One day, the chief walked down to the sea, he loved to look out and watch passing ships. As he watched the water, something in the shallows caught his eye, it was floating on a large egg shell, waving its arms and shouting to the chief for help.
‘Save me, save me and I will give you my silver spoon.’
‘I don’t want the silver spoon. I have plenty in my castle.’
‘Ah, but my spoon is special, It has the power to give a man the most beautiful woman in the world for his wife.’
The chief thought about this as he scooped the little man and his egg shell out of the water and held them in his palm. ‘I don’t have a wife,’ he says. ‘Perhaps I could use your piskey spoon.’
‘Thank you Chief. I will go and get it right away,’ said the wet piskey and he disappeared.
The chief sighed, he would never have the most beautiful wife after all. As the chief was walking back up to his castle, the piskey and his wife appeared before him. The little man was carrying a silver spoon.
‘Here it is, as promised, the silver spoon. Wish for the most beautiful woman and she will come to you.’
‘Be careful with your wish,’ said the piskey’s wife. ‘Wish for her to be good as well as beautiful and you will be a happy man. Wish only for beauty and she may be cruel.’
‘Thank you, I will be off to make my wish,’ said the chief.
‘Be sure to keep the spoon pinned to your jacket. If you lose the spoon, you will have terrible bad luck until it is found again,’ said the piskey.
When he got back to the castle, the chief told his men about the piskey spoon and the wishes. His men all patted him on the back and shouted for him to wish for a beautiful wife. In the clamour the chief forgot the advice of the piskey’s wife.
‘I wish for the most beautiful woman in the world to be my wife,’ he said.
Soon afterward, when the chief was on the beach looking out to sea, a strange ship came sailing into Harlyn Bay. On board was the most beautiful woman the chief had ever seen. They were soon married and the woman cast a spell over the chief so he would do everything she asked. After two years, the spell began to lift and the chief saw the woman as bad and selfish as well as beautiful. The couple had no children and the chief longed for a child to lift his misery. Then he remembered the piskey spoon and he wished for a daughter both good and kind and beautiful. When the child was born, the nurse said to the queen, ‘Your baby will grow up to be the most beautiful woman in the world.’
‘I reject my baby daughter,’ said the queen. ‘If she is to grow up more beautiful than me, I shall slay her before she can do so. I am the most beautiful and always will be.’
Hearing this, the chief took his young daughter down to Harlyn and to the house of his chief arrow-maker. The arrow-maker, who had a young son, agreed to bring up the princess as his own and shield her from the queen. The queen searched far and wide for her daughter but didn’t think of looking so close as Harlyn. Soon the queen gave up her search and turned back to enchanting her husband who had been horrified by his wife’s dreadful plans for their daughter.
The arrow-maker and his wife loved the chief’s child as their own. Their son Fletcher also loved her and he named her Mevean meaning Little Flower.
It took fifteen years for the queen’s enchantment over her husband to lift. The chief at once remembered he had a daughter he had hardly seen. He raced down to Harlyn to find her. The chief was very happy to meet his beautiful daughter and asked her name.
‘What a pretty name, Mevean, but I would like something even prettier. I name her Mis-Me, The Month of Flowers. The chief came often to visit Mis-Me and was very affectionate toward her, often bringing gifts which the arrow-maker’s wife hid away so the queen did not suspect them. One day, when the chief was visiting, young Fletcher told the chief, he felt it inappropriate his giving Mis-me so much attention, after all the chief was a married man. The arrow- maker told Fletcher the truth. Mis-Me was not his true sister but the daughter of the chief. Fletcher thought about this for a long time. He was relieved he could now love her but he also knew there was no hope of marriage as she was a chief’s daughter, a princess and he was a serf.
A year after Fletcher learned his sister was really a princess, the queen’s beauty began to wane. ‘I hate you and your country,’ she told her husband, ‘I must return to my own lands.’ The queen gathered her treasures and her ladies and set out for Harlyn, where a ship was waiting. On the quay, the queen saw a maid who, her ladies told her, was the most beautiful maiden in the world. The queen didn’t waste a moment, she took her knife and lunged at Mis-Me. Fletcher threw himself in front of her and dislodged the knife from the queen’s grasp. Giving up, the queen sailed away, angry and cold as she had always been.
The chief joined Mis-Me and Fletcher on the quay. ‘I am your true father,’ he told her. ‘And the dreadful woman you see sailing away, is your mother. Come with me to live in the castle and you will be a princess loved by all.’
‘I don’t want to live in the castle. I am happy with Fletcher,’ said Mis-Me.
‘You must Mis-Me,’ said Fletcher and the arrow-maker and his wife sadly agreed. The chief took Mis-Me to his castle to be a princess and there was much feasting and talk about the princess’s beauty and the goodness of her heart. ‘It will be a lucky man marries our princess.’ they said. One night, as they sat at the head of the feasting table, the chief felt his jacket for the spoon and found it to be gone. The next day, all the local chiefs declared war on him and an illness swept through the chief’s people. Mis-Me was amongst those who fell ill.
‘The piskey told me I would suffer bad luck if I lost the piskey spoon. I must find it right away,’ said the chief. He gathered his people for an announcement. ‘The man who finds my piskey spoon, will marry my daughter be he rich or poor.’
‘He who truly loves me, will search for the longest,’ said the princess, thinking of Fletcher.
A great many men searched for the piskey spoon and each one longed to marry the princess. Slowly they all gave up until only the arrow-maker’s son continued. ‘I will never give up,’ he said. Exhausted and searching on the cliffs he came across the piskey who promised to help him find the spoon. And sure enough, as he followed the piskey across the beach in the moonlight, the piskey vanished and Fletcher saw the spoon glinting in the sand.
Before him stood the piskey and the piskey wife.
‘We are here to collect our spoon.’
‘Although I wished for no more, I would like to keep the spoon,’ said the chief.
‘It is lucky to return the spoon,’ said the piskey wife.
‘I need as much luck as I can get for me and my new grandson,’ said the chief. And he never once regretted giving back the spoon.
By Enys Tregarthen ‘The House of The Sleeping Winds’
Retold by Anna Chorlton
- North Cornwall Coast