Once there was a pretty little squirrelmaiden, who lived with her mother on the edge of a great wood. Now this little maiden was as slim as a willow withe and fast as an arrow, and her eyes were wide and as green as the leaves of the trees. However, her crowning glory was her bushy tail, with fur as soft as swansdown and the colour of blood in the sunset. And because of this fine fur they called her Little Redtail.
Well, one day her mother heard the news from a little bird of her acquaintance that Little Redtail's grandmother, who lived in the middle of the great wood, was deathly ill. Little Redtail loved her grandmother very much, and offered to carry medicine and food to her. So Redtail's mother packed a basket with healing herbs and the sweet apples that grew upon the tree in which they lived, and gave it to Little Redtail to carry, and made her daughter swear to stay on the path and speak to nobeast, and gave her a sturdy dagger to defend herself if the need arose. And so Little Redtail skipped merrily off down the path, into the deep dark wood.
She had been walking for but half the day, when she ran across a rat. Little Redtail drew her dagger, but the rat knelt before her, showed he was unarmed, and spoke so sweetly to her that she forgot her mother's words.
"Why, such a fair young maid, and yet so fierce! Ah, 'tis understandable, who knows what manner of beast may come crawling from the forest's depths? Fear me not, little maid, I carry no weapon. I am merely a wanderer, alone and starving in the woods these past three moons."
Little Redtail's heart was softened, and she sheathed her blade.
"In that case, sir, you must partake of my
food. I have some bread and cheese and cordial for myself, you may take some of
that. I am sorry I cannot share the apples. Those are a gift for my poor sick
"Ah, how good of you, little maid, to come into the dark woods to visit your grandmother! Where does she live?"
"In the deepest part of the woods, in a little cabin under the great old aspen tree beside the spring."
"Why, that's a long way for a little maid to walk!" cried the rat. "And have you not already been walking all the morn? Remember to stop and rest sometimes, my dear, or you'll collapse with exhaustion before you ever reach your grandmother's home."
"I do feel tired," agreed Little Redtail.
"Then sit down here and rest, little maid," said the rat. "And by the by, there is a fine patch of daisies but a little way west off the path. Mayhap your dear grandmother would like some?"
"Why, yes, sir! What a wonderful idea!" said Redtail, sitting down at the edge of the path. "I shall pick some as soon as I take my rest. I am sure Grandmother will think 'tis worth the wait. Many thanks, kind sir. What is your name, so I may tell my mother and grandmother of your kindness to me?"
"My name is Wolfgrey, and I must be on my way, little maid," said the rat, with a bow. "Good fortune be with you."
And so Wolfgrey the rat went on his way up the path, and Little Redtail sat down beside the path and thought how fortunate she was to have met such a kind fellow.
As soon as he was out of sight, though, Wolfgrey ran as fast as he could into the deep woods, taking every shortcut he knew, towards the great old aspen tree beside the spring. When he found it, he knocked upon the door of the little cabin.
"Who is it?" croaked Grandmother.
"Grandmother, it is I," called out Wolfgrey in his sweetest voice. "I have brought you food."
"Then come in, Little Redtail, come in!" cried Grandmother happily.
"Where is the key, dear Grandmother?"
"Press the knothole in the doorframe, my dear."
So Wolfgrey pressed the knothole, and a tiny door swung open beside the doorframe, and in the little hollow behind it was the key.
So Wolfgrey took the key, and opened the door, and slew Grandmother before she could cry out. He closed the curtains, threw sweet herbs on the fire, drained her blood into an empty flagon, hid her body in the cupboard, changed the bloodstained blanket, and replaced the key. Then he found and put on Grandmother's clean nightgown and cap, and lay in the bed to wait.
Some time after noon Little Redtail, having searched for and plucked the freshest daisies from the little patch, arrived at the door and knocked upon it.
"Is that you, my dear grandchild?" he called in a quavering voice.
"Yes, Grandmother, 'tis Little Redtail," called the maiden. "I bring medicine and sweet apples and a bunch of daisies for you."
"Come in, my darling."
"Where is the key?"
"Press the knothole in the doorframe, my dear."
So Redtail did, took the key, and came into the house with her basket.
"Leave your cloak and shoes by the door and put the basket in the pantry, and bring me the flagon of red wine," called Wolfgrey. Redtail left her basket in the pantry and picked up the flagon, and came into her grandmother's bedroom.
"Come and sit by the bed, my dear," said Wolfgrey, and so Redtail did. "Oh my dear, take off your belt and dagger. Do you not trust your old grandmother?" So Little Redtail took off her belt with the daggersheath and put her weapon down.
"Oh Grandmother, why is it so dark and smoky in here?"
"The darkness is to ease my poor head, my dear, and the smoke is healing herbs to clear my lungs. Here, we shall share the wine."
And so, together, they sipped from the flagon. Little Redtail could smell and taste nothing over the thick herbal smoke from the fire, but she thought she detected a hint of iron in the thick sticky liquid.
"Oh Grandmother, this wine tastes strange."
"Oh, I fear the smoke affects one's sense of smell and taste," said Wolfgrey. Of course it did, but he had burned the herbs to cover up the smell of blood. "And besides, it is a brew made specially to ease my ailments, naturally you will never have had it before."
"Oh Grandmother, this smoke makes me sleepy."
"Then come and lie beside me, dear."
"My, 'tis hot in here, Grandmother."
"Then take off your dress, my dear."
So Little Redtail took off her dress, and lay beside the rat.
"Oh Grandmother, why has the fur gone from your tail?"
"I am old, my dear, and very sick, so my fur began to fall out. Worry not, I know it will never happen to your beautiful tail." The nightcap slipped from his head, showing his ears.
"Oh Grandmother, why are your ears so big and round?"
"I am old, my dear, and going deaf, so my ears grew larger that I may still hear. Worry not, I know it will never happen to your pretty ears." He kissed her cheek, and his teeth scratched her. Redtail held her "grandmother's" paw and felt the sharp claws.
"Oh Grandmother, why are your teeth and claws so sharp?"
"To kill little maidens like you, my dear!" cried Wolfgrey, throwing off his disguise and clutching her to him. "And so you see, my dear, never speak to strangers in the woods!"
And so Wolfgrey the rat slew Little Redtail slowly, drank her blood and ate her heart. And he lived in her grandmother's house forever after.
What, you expected a happy ending in a
vermin fairytale? Ah, Little Redtail was a raving Sue anyway, she got what was
coming to her. This is actually much closer to the original version than the
commonly-known one is, at least according to Neil Gaiman's "Sandman". The
earlier versions are even more horrible.
I hope I got the fairy-tale speaking style right. It's harder than it looks.
If anyone can suggest any more favourite fairytales and link me to the old and really gruesome versions, it'd be much appreciated.
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