Three men of means and reputation, Reginald, Charles and Tom, decided it was time to marry for they were single and in their 40’s. The tradition in the town was that a man should build a house for his wife to be and offer it as a wedding present. But if the wife found the house unsuitable, she should refuse to marry; or if there was more than one suitor, she should marry whoever built the house that was more to her fancy. And it happened that, although there were plenty of women in town to court, the three bachelors fell for the maiden who had just moved in from a neighbouring village. Her name was Lucinda. She was of fair complexion and rather shy. But there was a strange spark in her eyes: if one looked deep enough, one could see a fiery heart through them.
Before building commenced, Reginald, Charles and Tom were allowed to meet Lucinda. Reginald said to her, “I’m going to build you the biggest, most magnificent fortification with the highest tower ever raised on this land.” Saying that, he measured her hips by eye to make the stairs spacious enough for her to walk up and down with ease. Charles’ attention was drawn to Lucinda’s features, her light step and air of elegance, “I’m going to build you the most sumptuous palace, with chandelier-laden ceilings, high windows and fountains.” Tom was led in to see her last. He looked into her eyes and said, “What’s your favourite colour?” Lucinda held his gaze before answering, “red.”
“And what’s your favourite scent?”
“It is jasmine,” she replied. Tom smiled, thanked her and said nothing else. If Lucinda favoured anyone at this point, she did not say for the rules were to be followed strictly, under threat of punishment if ever broken. Thus to ensure no special sympathy developed at the meeting that could cloud Lucinda’s better judgement, Dr. Jerome, the town’s mayor, was summoned to chaperone the visit, for the tradition of marriage in this village was considered a matter of government.
So the three men began building. Reginald hired an army of cheap labourers and made them carry huge slabs of limestone, and tons of iron and bronze from miles around with which they built a castle of colossal proportions and the tower on top. The fortification sat on a cliff by the sea. The waves rose and crashed below it with an endless, furious roar. On the inauguration day, the townsmen rejoiced at the sight, for they were skilful warriors and knew the castle was not only the safest of homes for Lucinda, but also a stronghold for the village in the event of war. But the women in town didn’t like it since it was grey, coarse and man-like. As the men admired Reginald’s masterpiece, he cleared his throat and started his speech: “Lucinda,” he said, “I have built this fortress for you so that you are always protected; over this far-off cliff so no one can reach you, behind this solid iron gate so no one can touch you, at the top of this high tower so no one can see you or talk to you, but me!” Reginald concluded with a thump to his chest. The townsmen cheered and the townswomen tilted their heads doubtfully.
Charles, on his part, spared no expense: he chose the best team of constructors in town, bought marbles and precious woods, and built her a palace by a lake. It was so beautiful, this palace, that the women in town could not stop sighing on the opening day. They sighed and marvelled and envied Lucinda’s good luck, for to them this was the obvious choice. But the townsmen hated it; they found it extravagant, overdone, impractical. “My gorgeous Lucinda,” said Charles in his speech, “I give you this palace and all its gold, silver and valuables for you to live like the princess you are, surrounded by servants so you don’t need to lift a finger, pampered and spoilt by them so I can admire and enjoy your beauty every day hereafter.” Charles knelt down and kissed Lucinda’s hand. As the townswomen fainted, their husbands picked them up with disdain.
As for Tom, who also had riches but lived a simpler life, he built a wooden cottage himself, by a stream on the edge of the forest, with a red door and a bed of jasmine on the porch. It was basic but pretty this cottage; yet neither the townsmen nor the women favoured it. “What a plain wedding present,” they said. “Clearly Tom does not care for Lucinda as Reginald or Charles do!” Then it was Tom’s turn to give a speech: “Dearest Lucinda, I offer you this house I built myself. It’s modest but cosy. It has everything we need. I hope you like the flowers and the colours as they were your choice, and I hope it is your wish to share it with me, as it is mine to share it with you.” Tom looked into Lucinda’s eyes and bowed his head forward gently. So the townsmen frowned and their wives sulked, all a little annoyed by Tom’s simplicity.
It was time for Lucinda to make a decision, like all women in the town, based on which of the three residences she liked best. In truth, she had already chosen; the moment she met the three bachelors she knew her heart was with Tom for she was not the type of woman to be easily impressed by manifestations of grandeur. In fact, she felt deeply insulted by Reginald’s idea of locking her up in a tower like Rapunzel, and Charles’ notion of cosseting her to be admired like a porcelain doll. She decided to teach them a lesson.
What no one in town knew was that Lucinda was a very astute and powerful witch, and she came up with a plan. She would manufacture two brides: one fragile and servile for Reginald, the other, stunning and frivolous for Charles. A little before dawn, when everyone was asleep, Lucinda poured a bucket of black ink onto a huge cauldron to make the brides’ blood; a glass of sour milk for their bones and teeth, a set of strings for ligaments, a large sack of corn flour for their muscles and limbs and the shed skin of a snake to make theirs. She pulled out some eyelashes and threw them in the mix for the brides to have long, black hair and a shard of tinted glass to give them bright, blue eyes. A bunch of newt tails served to make their tongues, and the bloodied wattle of an old turkey to give them full, red lips. As the mix began to boil over a large flame, vapour filled the air accompanied by the foulest of smells. And so Lucinda mumbled and muttered and hummed over the thickening mix. She poured and measured and stirred, and mumbled and muttered and hummed a bit more. When the mix was finally a solid and supple mass, Lucinda took it out, cut it in two and started moulding the brides with her hands.
The next morning, the townspeople met outside Dr. Jerome’s office. Reginald, Charles and Tom stood at the front of the multitude. Lucinda arrived looking very pretty in a white dress. “I have decided whom I will marry,” she announced. The wives were ready to sigh thinking of Charles’ palace when Lucinda said, “I will marry Tom.”
“What?” the crowd roared. “This girl is mad!”
“I haven’t finished please,” she said, and everyone felt silent. “To show my appreciation for the efforts the two other gentlemen made,” Lucinda continued, “I have brought my sisters to meet them.” As she said this, two maids also in white approached them. Ofelia was so beautiful that she had Charles at her feet in no time. “Mademoiselle! You are to be my bride, no doubt!” The other sister, Angelica, looked adorable and as delicate as a fallen bird. Angelica approached a mistrusting Reginald and knelt down in front of him to kiss his feet. “My master,” she called him. Reginald frowned and froze for a minute that seemed to last forever, and during which all held their breath. But then he picked up Angelica in one swift move and raised her up like a trophy. And so the crowd cheered, the townsmen threw their hats in the air and the women waved their handkerchiefs with uncontrollable excitement at the prospect of celebrating not one, but three weddings in the days to come.
The three couples wed on the same day. It turned out to be the biggest event of the year to which every outstanding resident of the neighbouring communities was invited and Dr. Jerome gave a formal speech on the glory of the town’s long-kept marriage tradition. After exchanging vows, the three couples joined the crowds in the square, where a hundred long tables were lined up and loaded with beverages and tasty foods of all sorts. Tom and Lucinda approached the main table and saw Reginald at its head with Angelica on his lap. He’d obviously had too much to drink for he was laughing raucously and shaking up Angelica like one would a marionette. Suddenly, he shouted, “let’s dance!” and pulled her all the way to the dance floor by the neck. But the fragile Angelica did not utter a word of complaint; she seemed so eager to please him. “Aren’t they made for each other!” agreed the townsmen and women, whilst Lucinda looked and smiled to herself.
A few tables away, Charles sipped wine and praised Ofelia deliriously as she leant on a sofa by his side. He admired her round blue eyes, the locks of her hair, her little cute nose and the soft line of her neck, over and over again. And Ofelia just leaned further back and smiled. “She’s certainly a beauty! Just what he wanted!” the townsmen and women consented, whilst Lucinda grinned and muttered to herself, “So I thought too!”
“What did you say, my darling?” Tom turned to ask. “What’s that odd smile about?”
“Oh, it’s nothing," answered Lucinda, kissing Tom passionately on the mouth for she did love him, but did not plan to tell him anything. But Tom knew better. He knew that there was one side of his Lucinda that wasn’t quite as transparent as the rest, and he worried so much that, later that evening when they were left alone, he asked again, “there is something you are not telling me,” he said softly. “What is it, Lucinda? I am your husband now. I love you dearly. You can tell me.”
“It’s really nothing, Tom! I just talk to myself sometimes, and thank the heavens for being your wife,” she excused herself. Although she lied well, for she was not only a witch of immense power but also a woman used to stocking her heart with secrets, Tom knew Lucinda had just lied to him and this made him incredibly sad. But he said nothing else just then.
So the sun went down, the party died out after a long day of feasting, drinking and dancing, and the newly weds went into the privacy of their chambers to spend their first night together as husband and wife. Reginald zigzagged his way up to the top of the castle tower, with Angelica in his arms. He laid her on the marital bed and told her to ready herself for the night as he went to splash some water on his face. “Sure, my master,” Angelica said and began to undress. On his return to the chamber, Reginald found her under the silky bed covers. “Now you’ll be mine!” he bellowed. “Sure, my beloved, but first blow out the candles,” she pleaded, “just this once.” Reginald felt light-headed and benevolent so he did as she asked and got himself into bed by her side. But as he leaned over her, Angelica’s torso gave way and began to flatten and enlarge. “What’s wrong with you, woman?” Reginald snapped. “Let me hold you, my master,” Angelica whispered in his ear. Reginald tried to detach himself from what felt like huge arms holding him tight and lifting him up in the air. “You’re a monster!” He screamed in horror when he managed a good look at her; for a monster Angelica had become, with long tentacles instead of limbs, the face of a bat and the feet of a bird. “Fancy a walk in the moonlight, darling? Or a dance?” asked a mellow Angelica. “Let go of me!” He shouted and kicked. “Oh, no! It’s time to dance!” Angelica commanded, lacing him by the neck and around the waist and tugging his body sideways throughout the chambers at a waltz-like pace. “Stop, please!” Reginald begged, but the more he implored, the harder she tugged. And as Reginald wept, Angelica crept out of the tower window and crawled down its stony walls dragging him along.
Charles was so drunk that a servant had to carry him to the couple’s bed at their newly built palace. Ofelia sent the servant away and closed all windows before sitting by Charles’ side to remove his clothes. “Don’t touch me! Get a servant to do it!” he grumbled. But Ofelia smiled and continued to undress him until he was fully naked. “What are you doing? Hands off!” protested Charles again. This time, Ofelia pulled herself away from him and looked away. Charles sat up on the bed, “Don’t be upset, princess! Look at me. Show me your beautiful face.” But Ofelia did not turn to face him. “Ofelia, look at me!” Charles insisted. “Please!” and again a third time. Then he stretched his hand and reached for her face. As he grabbed her by the chin and gently turned her face towards his, Ofelia’s head snapped and came off. Something that seemed like blood went rushing down his arm; within seconds his whole naked body was soaked with it. Charles noticed it smelled like ink, but that did give him any comfort. “What a horrid sight!” He shouted disgusted. As he tried to get out of bed, all drunkenness gone, the bed sheets wrapped themselves around his thighs and wrists holding him down, and Ofelia’s headless body straightened up on the side of the bed, crossing one leg over the other and clasping her hands. “Argh!” That was all Charles could manage. Just as he seemed to catch his breath, Ofelia’s head reappeared, floating above him under a strange light. “Charles, my love,” the head said, “I never got to thank you for your kind words.” With that, the head dived down and began to lick his bare torso. “Look at me, Charles,” she said, “Am I not beautiful enough to touch you?”
“Yes!” howled he trying not to look as Ofelia’s tongue fell off and became a bunch of newts' chopped tails that jerked spasmodically on his chest. Charles let out a cry so sharp that Ofelia’s head threw itself back in a fit of laughter. As it came back on, her eyes turned glassy and began to crack, only to explode into tiny shards seconds later on Charles’ face. And although he felt sick and about to lose consciousness a number of times, Ofelia’s hands kept slapping him back so he could see how every bit of her once beautiful face slowly came off and mutated. As for Tom and Lucinda, needless to say that they went to bed in their little cottage and slept soundly next to each other all night long.
The next morning a bruised and sore Reginald woke up on the riverbank surrounded by people. “What happened last night, Reginald? Where is Angelica?” they asked. “She is a monster!” he yelled, recalling the horror of the previous night. “Really?” the townsmen eyed him suspiciously. “She’s nowhere to be found! What have you done to her?”
“She dragged me here and tried to strangle me with her tentacles!” Reginald could say no more for there and then the townswomen cursed and spat on him and the townsmen punched him and he had to get up and run for his life. He locked himself up in the castle tower and only came out years later, when Dr. Jerome declared the castle government property. Reginald fled the town during the night, never to be seen again. As for Charles, he was so incoherent when they found him, that they could not bring themselves to beat him. Instead, Dr. Jerome sent him straight away to an asylum and turned the palace into the town’s museum and art gallery.
A week after that fateful day, the town dressed in black and gathered at the square to mourn the disappearance of Angelica and Ofelia. Dr. Jerome gave no speech for everyone seemed rather shocked at the turn of events. Lucinda and Tom stood hand in hand. The townspeople thought Lucinda was the saddest sight, but Tom knew better, as always, and that evening, he made Lucinda tell him everything that had happened. When he heard it all, Tom looked at Lucinda with tears in his eyes. He couldn’t bear to see she had no remorse for what she had done. “You know this is the end.”
“Don’t!” she implored. “I loved you Lucinda,” said he with a broken heart, “just leave, please.” Lucinda gathered her things and left sobbing. She went back to her village to cry for days on end. But according to the townspeople, who believe to this day that the couple split over another woman, Tom eventually left the cottage by the edge of the forest and moved to the neighbouring village with Lucinda. And they lived happily ever after, for the townspeople got that right: Tom still loved her and so much that he forgave her. Lucinda in turn repented and gave up black magic for good.