Signore Naso d’ Argento
(Silver Nose)

A poor, widowed washerwoman had two daughters: Teresa and Margarita. The three of them worked long and hard each day, yet they remained as poor as they ever were.

One day during carnival time, the three were scrubbing away at clothes. Outside their window, many finely dressed masquers passed on their way to balls. The eldest daughter, Teresa, let out a great sigh. The youngest, Margarita, said, “Yes, everyone celebrates carnival except us.”

Then Teresa said, “Mamma, I am so tired of working my fingers to the bone and having nothing beautiful to wear. I would leave with the first rich man who asked me--even if he was a devil.”

Santo cielo!” exclaimed her mother. “Teresa, you ought not to say such things!”

Teresa just shrugged.

The conversation turned to other talk and the girl spoke no more of it.

On Martedi Grasso, a gentleman dressed in black and silver rode by wearing a silver Venetian carnival mask with a long nose.

Teresa saw him first from the upstairs window. She laughed and impulsively called out, “Buon giorno, Signore Naso d’Argento!” (meaning “Good day, Signore Silver Nose”).

Buon giorno!” he called back to the women. He dismounted his horse, approached the washerwoman’s door and knocked. When the girl’s mother answered the door, he said, “I see you have two fine young daughters. Perhaps one would like to come to work for me? I have need of someone to do some housekeeping.”

“Indeed,” replied the widow, “I do not give my daughters away to a masked stranger.”

“Fair enough,” answered the gentleman. He slipped off the mask to reveal a nose that was almost as long as the one on the silver mask. It almost looked like a bird’s beak. “I am Ohime. Truly, do either of your daughters want work in exchange for good wages?”

Teresa’s face brightened at the mention of “good wages.”

“A moment, Signore,” replied the washerwoman and took her eldest daughter aside. “Think carefully, Teresa. I know that you want to leave home. Yet, his appearance is very odd. Those who do not think first might well sigh with regret in the end.”

But Teresa didn’t think twice. “Oh, Mamma, don’t you know? If I can get a good wage, I can send a little money home.”

As she prepared to leave, Margarita spoke to her quietly. “I think our Mamma is right. I would not eagerly go off to work for a strange man with a strange nose. Yet, if ever you need me, send me some message and I will come.” Then Margarita hugged her sister.

Teresa left that morning, following on foot behind the Signore’s horse.

They traveled for miles, crossing woods and mountains until they came at last to a large villa with lovely gardens.

Inside, the villa was magnificent. The Signore, carrying a ring of keys, took her through the villa, showing Teresa each of the rooms as he opened the doors. Teresa nodded silently in turn to each of his instructions.

When they entered the kitchen, he said, “I keep the food stores well stocked and you may eat whatever you wish.”

They passed a vast storeroom full of all sorts of wearing apparel in all different sizes, including aprons, skirts, blouses, leather shoes, as well as silk dresses, velvet gowns, embroidered shawls, gloves, and silk slippers. He said, “I’m sure you will find whatever you need in here. Take whatever you wish. I have no use for these.”

The rooms were very beautiful, but had many curious items. In one room, it looked like there was a large stuffed crocodile with wings. In another room, a great many drawings of charts of stars were all over the walls. Another room was full of shelves of books. Another room had a huge bird egg displayed in a glass box with a gilt, silver trim. Still, another was filled with glass jars, bowls, and cups in all sizes, colors, and shapes. One room had sparkling stones and jewels. Many items were dusty with time.

Other rooms were less curious. There was a large table and a writing desk in one. The Signore explained, “I am often in here during the day. You will have to clean it when I take a walk.”

The Signore continued explaining, as they passed from room to room. “Take care when you clean not to damage my possessions, or great misfortune will arise.”

He unlocked a spacious bedroom and pointed, “This is where you will sleep. Mind that you are in your bed and asleep before the 11th hour of night, with the door shut. Any housework that ought to be done by the next day ought to be done long before that hour. I won’t have servants roaming the halls at midnight.”

He continued talking as they passed by other rooms, unlocking the doors and showing Teresa the contents. “Remember, it is up to me when you leave my service. It is difficult to acquire satisfactory housekeepers. However, I plan to have you with me a good, long time.”

The Signore unlocked and showed her the money room, where coins were shut tight in little chests.

The girl hardly listened as he talked, as she was thinking of all the wonderful clothes in the storeroom.

Finally, they reached the door of the last room. The Signore pointed to it and said, “You’re in charge of all the other rooms, except this one. You must never open this door for any reason, or you’ll wish that you had not.”

Teresa nodded dutifully, as she had with all his other instructions.

“Good,” he said, and handed her the keys.

That night, while Teresa slept soundly, the Signore slipped into her room just before midnight and placed a white rose in her hair.

The girl busied herself for several days with cooking food, cleaning rooms, and happily trying on clothes from the storeroom.

Unknown to her, her employer nightly checked the rose while she slept and replaced it.

Many days, the Signore stayed in the room with the writing desk or wandered about the villa and its gardens. She hardly paid any notice of him. Yet, one morning before breakfast he announced, “I am leaving for a short journey. I will be back in time for a late supper, so have it ready to serve.”

Teresa nodded.

After he was gone, Teresa swept the stone floors in the halls of the villa. When she passed the forbidden door, she paused. It suddenly occurred to her that with all the wonders and treasures in the house, whatever the master had locked up in there must be a marvel. On a sudden impulse, she fitted the key into the lock and opened the door.

The door swung wide, and Teresa saw horrible things inside.

A chicken’s foot tied with string and black feathers hung near the door. A coffin speckled with loose dirt sat in a far corner. A dead man’s hand sat on a large table, clutching a big, tallow candle. In the center of the room was a large cauldron, around which four skulls were placed with black candles set upon them. Inside the cauldron, a flame-red liquid gurgled. In it, she could see the faces of countless maidens wailing and moaning silently.

From under the cauldron, a fiery salamander rushed at Teresa, snarling, and a tongue of flame leapt out of its mouth at her. It scorched the white rose she wore in her hair so the tips of the petals were blackened. Quickly, she slammed the door shut and took to her heals. Terrified, she didn’t know what to think as she ran all the way to the kitchen.

Teresa wanted to keep running towards home, but it was already late afternoon and she feared she would not make it before dark. Would not Signore Naso d’Argento search for her if she were missing when he returned? What would he say if he caught her after dark? She then realized she must still cook his supper. If it was not ready when he returned, surely he would suspect she had disobeyed him.

Teresa was very frightened, but she could think of no other plan than to prepare the Signore’s meal as usual. Her hands shook as she stirred and cooked.

When Signore Naso d’Argento returned home, he snarled, “The rose is singed! Stupida girl! Now you will be leaving my service sooner than I planned.” Thereupon he seized Teresa, adding, “Yet, Bella, I will keep you here still.” With amazing strength and ease, he dragged her away to the room and flung her into the cauldron.

After he locked the door, he said sullenly, “Now, I’ll have to get another.”

The next day, he went back to the washerwoman and handed her some money, saying, “These are the portion of your daughter’s wages she wants sent home.”

“Is my sister well?” asked Margarita.

“She is doing very well, but she says the work is too heavy for one person.”

Turning to the washerwoman, he continued, “She suggested I hire her sister. Could I have your second daughter as well?”

Upon hearing those words, Margarita agreed to go with the Signore. She left, following behind the Signore’s horse on foot.

When they finally arrived outside the large villa, with its lovely gardens, Margarita broke the silence. “I shall be glad to see my sister tonight, Signore.”

The Signore paused briefly, and then answered. “She is not in service at this house. She is at another place on my estate.” He peered at Margarita closely. “You may be seeing her very soon.”

He showed Margarita around the villa just as he had done with her sister, explaining everything. Margarita listened very carefully, and studied everything she was shown.

When he showed her the kitchen and told her she could eat whatever she liked, Margarita responded, “You are most generous, Signore.”

When he showed her the storeroom of women’s apparel and told her she could take whatever she wished, she asked, “Where is Signore’s family? I am eager to make the acquaintance of my Signora.”

He looked at Margarita thoughtfully, and then responded, “I have not been married for some time, nor do I plan to marry again.”

When he explained that she would have to wait to clean the room with the writing desk until he was taking a walk, she replied, “A daily walk is excellent for one’s health.”

When he told her to take care not to damage anything while going about her duties, Margarita said, “Signore has many delicate treasures in his magnificent villa. No doubt, cleaning two houses would be too heavy a task for any housekeeper. Is the house where my sister is working like this one?”

He paused and then replied, “Indeed, it is exactly like this villa.”

When he remarked that it was difficult to acquire satisfactory housekeepers, she replied, “I am sure Signore is very discerning in his judgment.”

When he showed her the money room, she said, “Signore prospers in all his affairs because he is wise.”

When he told her to be in her room before the 11th hour, Margarita answered, “Who would be up at such a late hour? All honest souls need rest from the day’s labors.”

When they finally reached the door to the last room, he pointed to it and said, “You’re in charge of all the other rooms, except this one. You must never open this door for any reason, or you’ll wish that you had not.”

Margarita answered, “Do you think I would have reason to open it? I am not interested in Signore’s personal affairs.”

“You may work out better than I hoped,” he said, and he handed her the keys.

In truth, Margarita resolved to look behind the forbidden door as soon as the opportunity presented itself. She thought, “Who knows? Perhaps he has locked poor Teresa in that room.”

Margarita did not trust her employer at all. He had not mentioned there being two villas, nor that Teresa was working at the other one prior to Margarita questioning him. Furthermore, it was perfectly clear where Teresa had been cleaning in this villa, and where she had been trying on clothes in the storeroom. Indeed, that storeroom itself looked as if it had entirely too much female apparel, in too many shapes, sizes, and types.

While Margarita lay in her bed just before midnight, the Signore tiptoed into her room and placed a white jasmine blossom in her hair. Then he left, quietly closing the door behind him.

When Margarita heard the door softly click shut, she opened her eyes. She glanced around the room and then looked in the mirror.

She thought, “Ah, so! Signore Naso d’Argento has pinned a jasmine on me. I wonder what that is about?”

The next morning, the Signore knocked on Margarita’s door before breakfast. “I am leaving on business today. I will be back in time for a late supper. So have it ready to serve.”

Margarita answered, “I am sure Signore will have an excellent trip.”

Margarita dressed, combed her hair, and put the jasmine blossom in a glass of water by her bed to keep it fresh.

When she was certain that the Signore was gone, Margarita hurried to unlock the forbidden door.

When Margarita opened the door, she gasped at the sight of the coffin, the hanging chicken foot, the hand of glory, the four black candles on the skulls, and the cauldron of bubbling, red liquid. She glimpsed the faces of countless maidens weeping in the red liquid, including her own sister, Teresa.

The salamander ran out from under the cauldron and shot out a tongue of fire at her.

At once, Margarita shut the door tightly. She was sure now that the Signore was an evil mago negromante, a magician of the dark arts. “I must figure out how to get Teresa out of there.”

Quickly, she hurried to the fireplace and grabbed a large, iron poker. She returned to the room with the forbidden door.

Iron poker in hand, she opened the door and waited for the salamander to run at her. When the fire elemental ran up to her with its long tongue of flame, she whacked it soundly on the nose with the cold iron.

The fire creature yelped and jumped back under the gurgling pot, rubbing its nose.

Margarita swiftly strode over and grabbed her sister by the hair and pulled her out of the red, bubbling liquid without touching the cauldron or disturbing anything else in the room.

Quickly shutting and locking the door behind her, she took her sobbing sister to the storeroom of clothes saying, “Peace … peace…”

When Teresa finally calmed down, Margarita asked her sister to tell her everything. When she concluded her story, she said, “How can we ever get away? We can never escape or hide from the Devil.”

“Peace…peace, my sister. He is but a magician with a wicked heart,” Margarita assured her. “You must be brave and quiet and stay in this room. We will fool this old wizard. Do you promise?”

“I do,” said Teresa, drying her eyes.

By the time the Signore got home, Margarita had carefully put the jasmine blossom back in her hair. She had his late supper ready as ordered.

She acted as though all was as it should be and nothing unusual had happened that day.

The Signore, upon seeing the flower, exclaimed, “Oh, it is still fresh!”

She purposely gave the magician a puzzled look and said, “Of course. Why shouldn’t it be? Who would wear a withered flower?”

“Oh,” replied the Signore, “I was just talking to be talking.” He paused. “You are an obedient and prudent girl. Keep it up and you will remain in my service a good, long while.”

“Prudence is the greatest of virtues,” Margarita answered, and busided herslef serving his dinner.

While enjoying his food and wine, he asked, “You are content here, then?”

“I would be more content if I did not worry so much about my mother.”

“Why would you worry?”

Margarita sighed. “I don’t think my mother was feeling too well when I left. If only I could send her some fresh camomile, she could make tea. She’s all alone at her home now. I’m sure that she misses me. If only there was a way to send a message to her.”

“If that is all that concerns you, I could go tomorrow. I have camomile growing in the garden.”

Margarita smiled, “Oh, Signore, that would be the answer. If you could visit her tomorrow, you could take her some camomile and even take her a bag of laundry, which my mother could wash. You won’t mind carrying a bag, will you?”

“Not at all,” he replied.

“Wonderful. I shall have the bag ready in the morning.”

She quickly went upstairs to the storeroom of clothes, where her sister was hidden.

“Teresa, climb into this laundry bag and I shall stuff some clothes around you. I have a plan that will make that long-nosed wizard carry you directly home, but you must be still-unless he stops moving or starts to fiddle with opening the bag. Then you must shout, ‘I see you, I see you!’”

Teresa asked, “What about you?”

Margarita answered, “I have a plan for that also. But you must tell our Mamma everything that has happened to you, and about my plan. And you must promise to remember to shout, ‘I see you, I see you!’ or we are both lost.”

Teresa promised and Margarita tied her tightly in the bag with knots.

During the night, the magician slipped into Margarita’s room and replaced the jasmine blossom with a new one as she feigned sleep.

In the morning, Margarita showed Signore Naso d’Argento the bag and the bunch of camomile.

She said, “Now promise me, Signore, that you will not set down this bag once, but take it straight to my mother along with the camomile.”

“Do you not trust me?”

Margarita answered, “I trust Signore is a man of his word. But it is a simple thing to ask. The clothes are dirty enough without dust from the road or mud. Besides, I will be watching in this stone.”

Margarita pulled a small, smooth, shiny stone from her apron pocket and held it up so that it caught the light. “I am able to see things from a great distance if I try.”

The magician’s eyes widened a bit, but he said nothing.

He then hoisted the bag up on his horse. “Oh, that is a heavy load of laundry.”

“How many years has it been since Signore has had anything washed from the storeroom?” she responded.

Thus, the magician mounted on his horse and rode off to the washerwoman’s house.

When he was about halfway there, he paused and thought, “I do wonder what she has in this bag.”

As he paused, he began to fiddle with the knots on the bag.

Inside the bag, Teresa, imitating her sister’s voice, yelled, “I see you! I see you!”

Startled, the magician thought, “Ah, so, she does have the sight!”

He rode directly to the washerwoman’s home.

When he arrived, he hoisted the bag off his horse and carried it to the washerwoman’s door-without setting it down in the dust-and knocked.

When the widow opened the door, he set the bag inside and said, “Your daughter, Margarita, wishes you to know that she is well and for you to be happy. She also sends you some camomile and this bag of clothes to wash.” He pointed to the bag and handed her the herbs.

He turned, remounted his horse and rode off.

After he left, the washerwoman began to fiddle with the knots. You can imagine her surprise that her oldest daughter, Teresa, was inside with a bunch of clothes.

Teresa told her mother all and hugged her tightly. Though now the widow was worried about her other daughter, for Margarita was there all alone.

Teresa assured her, “We must be patient and wait. Margarita tells me she has a plan.”

As the magician entered his villa, Margarita exclaimed, “Ah, Signore has returned home, and oh, the look on my mother’s face!”

“Then you know she was both pleased and surprised!” replied the magician. He glanced at the jasmine blossom and saw it was still fresh.

Margarita had a wonderful dinner ready for him.

The next several days were uneventful. Margarita methodically cleaned and cooked food. Each night, the magician replaced her jasmine blossom just before midnight.

Yet, in secret, Margarita sewed a large doll, the same size as herself from clothes in the storeroom.

The magician now trusted that she would be obedient to him in all commands. He speculated he might actually keep Margarita in service for a very long time. He had never kept any housekeepers for more than a year before tossing them into the cauldron. Some he had kept for only a day. He no longer remembered them all. They were all in the pot. Margarita, however, was the most satisfactory housekeeper he had ever had, and an excellent cook! She hadn’t broken any of his possessions, either.

He would be sorry when he finally put Margarita in the cauldron.

In the meantime, Margarita methodically cleaned the house and cooked the meals for the magician while she bided her time.

Then one morning, Margarita put on a sad demeanor once more.

Eventually, the magician asked her what was wrong.

“Ah, Signore, I am wondering about my old mother’s feet. I am sure they are bothering her again. I wish I could send some bunches of fresh rosemary, lavender, and peppermint to her, along with a message that all is well and I am thinking of her.”

The magician replied, “Oh, if that is all that concerns you, I could go tomorrow.”

“Oh, Signore, that would be a perfect solution. I’ll gather the plants now. In fact, you could take her my wages and another bag of laundry. Those herbs will make a good soak for my mother’s feet!”

She made a great show of gathering fresh rosemary, lavender and peppermint and tying them into bunches.

When she served the magician his dinner that night, Margarita said, “If Signore does not mind, I will get the bag of laundry ready and set it out. I am very tired and have a headache. If I don’t feel like getting up in the morning, you can take the bag and the herbs and be on your way.”

Margarita took the life-sized doll and placed it in the bed. She cut off her hair and put it on the doll head with a white cloth tied around as though for a headache. The doll’s face was snuggled into the covers, but the jasmine blossom was still visible.

Then she climbed into the laundry bag with a bunch of clothes and two little chests of gold coins. Then, from the inside, she knotted the bag’s cord.

A few minutes before midnight, the magician walked silently into Margarita’s room and replaced the jasmine blossom with a fresh one on the doll.

In the morning, he checked Margarita’s room again and saw the form still snuggled into the covers.

“Still sick this morning,” he thought to himself.

He gathered up the three bunches of herbs, which Margarita had set out with the bag and hoisted them onto his horse.

He muttered, “This bag of laundry is even heavier than the last one.”

After he had been riding awhile, he thought, “If she’s in bed asleep because she’s sick, she won’t be looking and I can satisfy my curiosity.”

He stopped the horse and started to fiddle with the knots. Inside the bag, Margarita yelled, “I see you! I see you!”

“Ah,” he thought. “She’s awake now. She must be up and feeling better. Well at least she’ll be well enough to cook my supper so it’s ready when I get back.”

The washerwoman answered her door when he knocked. “Signore, I did not expect you today.”

“Your daughter bids me to bring you her wages. How have you been?”

“I am well, Signore, except for my feet that are sore,” she said, for Teresa had warned her mother to answer that her feet were sore if asked about her health.

“Sore feet is why your daughter sent you rosemary, lavender, and peppermint. I also have another bag of laundry.” He carefully set the bag inside the door. He then handed her the herbs and wages.

“Oh,” said the mother, “Signore, if you wait, I will give you the clean laundry from before. I did not have it ready.”

“Never mind,” he answered, “I wish to ride home without the burden. I will collect the clean laundry later.”

He remounted his horse and set out for the villa, for he was eager to return to his late supper.

When he had gone, the washerwoman anxiously opened the bag. Out climbed Margarita with the two boxes of gold coins.

Teresa, who had been hiding in the back room, came out and they all three hugged tightly, happy to be reunited.

But Margarita said, “There is yet more to do. Mamma, quick go buy a silver cross for the door and take it to the priest. Teresa and I will wait upstairs.”

In the meantime, the magician had hurried home. When he arrived, there were no cooking smells, and the villa was far more quiet than he expected it to be.

“Margarita, where are you?” he called. He went up to her room and shook the doll in the bed. “Margarita, are you still asleep?”

The hair fell off the doll and the jasmine dropped to the floor. The magician saw that the form was nothing but a bundle of rags sewn together into a life-sized doll.

He ran around the house, searching everywhere in vain.

On an impulse, he decided to ride at once to the washerwoman’s house to ask if she had any idea where her daughter might have wandered off to.

When he angrily strode up to the house, he found on the door a large, silver cross, blessed by the priest to seal the house against any negromante di magia nera, that is the house would be protected against any necromancer and his black magic.

Margarita had been hiding in the shadow of the upstairs window, watching.

When she saw him arrive at the door, Margarita stepped from the shadows, holding up the shiny stone. “Ah, Signore Naso d’Argento!” she said, laughing, with Teresa peeping from behind her. “I have been watching you ride here from a long way off.”

The magician looked up and his mouth fell open in unfeigned surprise to see both sisters standing in the window together. Margarita had a white cloth wrapped around her head with a jasmine peeking out from underneath.

“Don’t look so shocked, Signore. You had yours yesterday, we had ours today. You must have known that someone else knew a trick or two besides yourself.”

Their mother joined them and the three women laughed at him.

The sight of the women laughing at him unnerved the magician so much, he immediately mounted upon his horse and rode away with all possible speed.

No one ever saw any sign of him around that town again.

Since Margarita had taken away two boxes of the magician’s gold, one for herself and one for her sister, the family was now able to live very comfortably after that.

Story written; story told; tell yours, for mine is told.

“Oh, Mamma! That’s not the end of the story.”

“It’s not?”

“Didn’t Margarita go back and finish him off?”

“Well, I don’t think so, he was a pretty dangerous wizard. He probably had some spells protecting him. I think Margarita was just happy she had rescued her sister, don’t you?”

“But, Mamma! Someone has to go back. What about all those other girls in the pot?”

“Ah, well. Now that you mention it, I think you are right. There is more to tell.”

Copyright 2009 Myth Woodling

Maruzza and the Evil Magician

The rest of the story is that the magician Ohime, old Signore Naso d’Argento, not only was he never seen around that town again, he was never seen around any town again.

Margarita eventually got married to a fine young man. They were quite well off and they had a daughter whom they named Maruzza. It was said Maruzza resembled her father in appearance more than her mother, but she was an intelligent girl as much as her mother ever was. Actually, she was a lot like you, with lovely black curls and just about your height.

Well, all her life, Maruzza had heard the story of how her mother rescued her Aunt Teresa. Her Aunt often told her about how awful it had been to be in that pot and about the other poor girls who had been there too!

So, Maruzza took it into her head that she would rescue those other girls.

One day, Maruzza went riding on her pony. Off she went, through the woods and mountains, until at last she came upon an old, dilapidated building, almost hidden by an overgrown garden.

Maruzza went inside and the place was a mess. Furniture sagged or sat broken. Much of the place had spider webs all over it.

Maruzza picked up an iron poker from an old, cobweb-covered fireplace. Iron poker in hand, she looked in each room, for all the doors were sitting wide open and unlocked.

Finally, she reached the last door of the last room. It too was sitting open and there was a dull, red glow from a large pot, which had a fire underneath. Four old coffins sat in a corner.

Cautiously, she peeped inside the room. Then suddenly, an old man with a long nose stepped out from behind the door, grabbed her arm, and pulled her in, locking the door behind them.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded.

Maruzza swung at him with the iron poker and hit him hard, but it just bounced off. He laughed, “Ah, it’s not so easy as that, bella! Who are you?”

“My name is Maruzza,” she said boldly, “…and I came because I heard stories of a palace and a great and powerful wizard or a dragon or some marvel living here. But I see neither a mago nor a drago, but only an old, ruined villa and an old man.”

“Did the strega send you?”

“What strega?” Maruzza asked. A strega is a witch and Maruzza had no idea who he was talking about.

“My last housekeeper. She was a strega. A powerful one too. She cooked like magic.” He frowned. “I’ve not had a housekeeper since.” Then he looked at Maruzza with a gleam in his eye. “I’ll keep you.”

That mago negromante pulled out a dead man’s arm from one of the coffins. “Here,” he said, “We’ll eat.” He cut off the hand and handed it to Maruzza. Then he took the arm.

He snarled, “Eat it all, or I’ll cut off your head!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” retorted Maruzza. “How can I eat a dead man’s hand like that? It’s not been properly cooked!”

“Cooked? How would you cook it?”

“Bake it in an oven, or just roast it in a pan over the fire. It won’t take long,” Maruzza explained.

The old magician peered down his long nose, thinking. Then he said, “That sounds good. I’ll get a pan and we can roast both the arm and hand in this room. It’s been some time since I’ve had a satisfactorily cooked meal.”

Maruzza added, “Bring wine too, plenty of it. A good meal needs lots of wine.”

The magician left, locking the door behind him. He came back with lots of wine bottles and a big pan, a cooking trivet, a cooking fork, and two cups.

He handed her the pan, the arm, and the hand, saying, “Cook.”

“I’ll need to move the big, red, glowing pot to get to the fire,” Maruzza explained.

“No one can move, spill, touch, or break that cauldron as long as I’m alive. But we can move the fire.”

He whistled and a salamander, the color of a burning coal, crawled out from underneath the cauldron. The magician pointed at the ground. The salamander curled up on that spot, on the stone floor, making another small fire.

He set the pan atop the fire with the cooking trivet, saying, “Go ahead. Cook.”

Maruzza positioned herself with her back to the magician. She sat with the fork and poked at the hand and the arm in the pan.

“The pan and fire are not yet hot enough,” she said. “It will take longer than I thought. Pour yourself a cup of wine.”

The magician poured himself a cup of wine. Maruzza poked at the hand and arm in the pan.

The magician said, “Fire be hotter,” and the fire got hotter.

He drained his cup. Maruzza poked the hand and arm in the pan.

“It is almost done,” she said. “Pour yourself a cup of wine.”

The magician poured himself some more wine and drank. Maruzza poked at the hand and the arm with the fork.

“Pour yourself a cup of wine. The arm, at least is done--Most don’t like meat too crisp.” She handed the cooked arm to him.

The magician drank his wine and asked, “Why are you not sitting down?”

“I like mine more crisp,” answered Maruzza. “Start without me while it is still hot.”

That old negromante shouted, “Where are you, hand?”

A voice from the pan answered, “I am in the pan.”

“I told you it was still cooking,” Maruzza answered. “Pour yourself another glass of wine.”

The magician drank and ate.

After a bit of time, she said, “Mine is not done, because the fire is still not hot enough.”

The slightly drunken magician said, “Fire, get hotter.” The pan turned red hot and burned the hand to bits of black, hard lumps and gray ash, which Maruzza quietly ground into powder with the fork.

She carefully scraped out all the ashes and put them in a small, white handkerchief. After some thought, she folded up the handkerchief of ashes and hid it under her clothes on her stomach.

She then turned around, made a great smacking noise and pretended to be licking her fingers.

The magician asked, “Where is the hand?”

Maruzza said, “Already gone. I was hungry.”

The magician suspiciously peered at her, “Now we’ll just see.” He shouted, “Hand, where are you?”

“I’m on Maruzza’s stomach!” answered the hand.

The drunken magician now laughed heartily, “Ah, very good, my dear! Very good indeed!”

“We should have more wine,” said Maruzza cheerfully.

Maruzza poured two cups of wine, one for her and one for the magician. While the magician drank all of his cup, she poured her own onto the floor near the salamander, which lapped it up.

Maruzza said, “The bottle is almost empty. I will get some more.”

The magician did not protest when she took the keys and left. She hurried back with several more bottles of wine. She poured the magician another cup of wine.

“We should sing,” said Maruzza.

They took turns singing songs. The magician emptied one bottle after another. Maruzza drank nothing, but pretended to sip. Every so often, she poured the wine out on the floor next to the salamander, who lapped it up.

Finally, the magician was good and drunk, and the salamander waddled back and curled up under the big pot.

Maruzza asked the magician, “Why can’t the pot be moved, touched, spilled, or broken?”

The magician said, “It’s got the dead souls in there. It’s spelled.” He burped. “The strega knew that…that’s why she didn’t touch it. She knew…” His voice trailed off.

“What did she know?”

“That I’d have known if she touched it. If she tried to take more than one, I’d have known. I’d have caught her then. Oh, she was tricky. She knew a trick or two. Had the sight, she did.” He let out another belch. “I still don’t know…”

Maruzza persisted, “But the souls can’t even get out, can they?” She poured him another glass of wine. “They make your magic strong. There’s no way to get them all out.”

With a funny gleam in his eye, he said, “No-no, they can’t come out while I’m alive. I’d have to die, and I still have them!” He swallowed another gulp of wine.

“Ah,” said Maruzza, “but you can’t die. You are very powerful. You can’t die at all?”

“Me? No, not unless…” his voice slurred.

Maruzza prompted, “Unless--?”

“The egg,” he answered. He was so drunk his eyes crossed. “The big egg in the box. If someone breaks that, I could die.” He mumbled and raved on incoherently and passed out, completely drunk.

Quickly, Maruzza hurried back through the dusty, dirty rooms with the fire poker in hand. Finally, she found the room with a huge bird egg displayed in a glass box with gilt, silver trim.

“This must be it,” Maruzza thought. She lifted the iron poker and swung it down with all her might. The glass box shattered and the egg cracked open. All the pieces fell to the floor.

Maruzza heard a strangled squawk. She hurried back to the room with the cauldron. The wicked, old magician lay dead on the floor.

Maruzza finally had a chance to look in the pot of red, glowing liquid. It no longer bubbled and gurgled, but the faces of numerous maidens looked out sadly at her. Underneath the cauldron, the salamander slept in his own drunken stupor.

Maruzza took the iron fire poker and hooked it onto the rim of the cauldron. She pulled and pulled until, at last, it tipped over. All the red liquid came spilling out and all the countless maidens tumbled onto the floor, very surprised to at last be released from their prison.

Some cried, some laughed, and some hugged each other.

At last, Maruzza shouted, “Everyone! You are all free! I have rescued you all!”

They all cheered for Maruzza, who was brave enough to come to save them all.

“Now, dear one, is that better for all those poor maidens?”

“Oh, yes, Mamma, it is. Then, they all went down to the money room and each girl took a box of gold coins and they went home very happy.”

“Ah, yes, my dear, I am sure that is exactly what happened.”

Copyright 2009 Myth Woodling

Myth’s Notes

I have freely mixed up elements of Crane #16 How the Devil Married Three Sisters, Calvino #9 Silver Nose, Gonzenbach #23 The Story of Ohime, Calvino #142 The Three Chiory Gatherers, and Grimm #46 Fitcher’s Bird.

All these stories are Italian variants of the classification of the Bluebeard tale-with the exception of Fitcher’s Bird, which is from the German tales of the Grimm Brothers.

In order to properly retell this Italian story, I felt compelled to have two heroines, Margarita and Maruzza, and tell it in two parts.

Neither of these heroines had any magic about them. No buona fata shows up to advise either of them, nor do they have any enchanted item assisting them. Just their own wits.

Incidentally, Martedi Grasso is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Carnival, the Italian pre-Lent celebration, begins on January 17 and continues until Ash Wednesday. The masquerade and other festivities involving the last three days of Carnival are the most intensely celebrated, climaxing on Martedi Grasso, known in the USA as Shrove Tuesday. Throughout Italy, this occasion is celebrated with colorful pageants, masquerades, dancing, music and all kinds of frivolity. As Carnival falls just before the day of repentence, Ash Wednesday, folklore sometimes held these dates were ideal for magic, benificent and otherwise.

It is an interesting fact that in certain areas of Italy, witches are locally known as the "masche," (people of the mask).

In Depth Discussion

The first part of this story is a retelling of two variants, Crane #16 How the Devil Married Three Sisters, and Calvino #9 Silver Nose.” Crane’s tale is collected from Venice. Calvino’s tale is collected from Piedmonte. Versions of this story with the locked, forbidden door, the flowers upon the girls, and the cunning ruses to escape, are found all over Northern Italy.

In both Crane #16 and Calvino #9, the villain is the Devil, himself, and the forbidden door is the gateway to hell.

According to Calvino, the roots of these stories are “theological moral legends.”

In Crane #16, the Devil’s victims are his wives. In Calvino #9, the victims are serving girls.

It is a common folktale motif that the Devil is actually quite gullible. He can be as easily duped as any other supernatural creatures--dragons, ogres, etc.

It is also a motif in folklore that the Devil will also have some unusual feature--a cloven hoof, a bovine tail, red hair, or in the case of the Piedmonte tale, a silver nose, which reveals his unnatural nature.

I kept the silver nose, but put it on a Venetian carnival mask, which hid an exceptionally long nose. My villain’s unusual feature is his long, bird-beak nose, which fitted with some bird imagery, which cropped up in the tale.

However, I decided to have the villain in this story to be a powerful magician of the dark arts--rather than the Devil--as the villain of Grimm #46 Fitcher’s Bird, is a magician.

According to Crane, there is likewise a villainous magician in the Sicilian story Gonzenbach #23 The Story of Ohime. According to Crane’s summary, the magician ordered each of his wives to eat a human bone. The girls pretended to do so, but the first two wives were caught in their disobedience and ruse and were murdered by Ohime. The third wife successfully duped Ohime and avoided cannibalism.

Gonzenbach #23 also contained the motif of a forbidden door, which the magician’s wife was shown. The magician also showed his wife his sundry treasures, including a salve that restores the dead to life. When Ohime’s wife later opened the door, she discovered the corpse of a king’s son, who she revived with the salve.

The Calabrian tale, Calvino #142 The Three Chiory Gatherers, is a variant of the tale of the mago (magician), Ohime, except that the villain was a drago (dragon). (The heroine of one tale was named Mariuzza and the heroine of the other is named Maruzza.)

All these stories are classified as Bluebeard tales. Bluebeard is the legendary serial killer who specialized in murdering his wives.

Interestingly, in Perrault’s Bluebeard, the “traditional” moral attached to the tale is:

Curiosity, in spite of its appeal, often leads to deep regret. To the displeasure of many a maiden, its enjoyment is short-lived. Once satisfied, it ceases to exist, and always costs dearly.
Apparently, curiosity not only killed the cat, but all of Bluebeard’s wives. Yet this moral does not even fit the tale as recounted by Perrault. Because she opens the forbidden door, the heroine discovers the horrible truth in time to summon help from her family. Perrault’s account also stated that she remarried and lived happily afterwards. Curiosity has benefits.

Refreshingly, although the motif involving female curiosity is present in the Italian variants, there is not the insistence that curious maidens deserve to be victimized.

In retelling this tale, I decided to reflect upon the Italian proverb, Chi primo non pensa, in ultimo sospira. “He who does not think first, in the end sighs.”

Teresa is far more impulsive than curious. Her sister, Margarita, actually displays a calculated curiosity and, therefore, successfully dupes the mago negromante. Margarita's daughter, Maruzza, must later use her own mental skills to outwit the wizard of the dark arts, who has taken up the practice of canibalism in his old age.

A mago negromante is a necromancer. In many stories, a necromancer is a magician specifically practicing the dark arts, using the spirits of the dead and parts of corpses for his own nefarious ends. I do not wish to indicate to any reader that such activities were historically practiced in Italy. I have no idea if anyone ever really did such deeds. However, such figures do pop up in legends and folklore worldwide-possibly because such an individual makes a thoroughly hateful villain. I also admit that the description of what was inside the room of the forbidden door is drawn entirely from my own imagination.

However, as the old Tuscan proverb stated, “The tale is not beautiful if nothing is added to it.”

For examples of non-Italian Bluebeard type folktales, see Bluebeard folktales

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