Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree
With a story from Joseph Jacobs
Episode 5 - Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Madainn mhath! Which is good morning in Gaelic. On this edition of Deep in the Dark Forest, I have a rather nice little Scottish tale.
Snow White is not the only story that features jealousy over how beautiful someone is. There are several, and Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree is a particularly good one with a very nice twist at the end.
The original tale collected by Joseph Jacobs was a bit on the short side, so I have given it a substantial rewrite while sticking to the plot. Basically, I have given the characters a bit more depth and had fun with the dialogue.
Talking of which, forgive me for my terrible Scottish accents!
And following the story, I have another poem for you. This is a rewrite of a poem I wrote a couple of years ago and tells the story of when a girl meets a hungry bear. Did she suffer the same fate as Algy?
Madainn mhath from the Highlands of Scotland, as I sit here looking out over a beautiful wee glen.
No, I’m lying. I am in my studio and that was an awful Scottish accent. You will hear a few more rubbish attempts later in the story . Welcome to the Deep in the Dark Forest podcast with me, CC Hogan.
So, the Scottish reference and the Gaelic for good morning (and I wish I was looking out over a glen) is because today’s tale comes from Scotland.
First of all, a thanks to those who said nice things about Thumbelina. She really is a sweet lady and her tale about fighting against forced marriages should be told to all girls, I think. Yes, you should get to make choices in this world, whatever others may say.
Now, this next tale is a very old folk tale collected by the famous Joseph Jacobs. You can read more about him on the website by clicking on the authors button or the link on the episode page. This particular tale is about a rather envious mother and has more than just a passing similarity to Sleeping Beauty. The Story of Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree adapted from Celtic Folk and Fairy Tales, selected and edited by Joseph Jacobs.
The Story of Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree
From the collections of Joseph Jacobs.
Once upon a time there was a king who had a wife, whose name was Silver-Tree. Fair indeed was Silver-Tree, and so in love with her was the king, that he would have done anything she asked – anything at all.
Silver-Tree and the King had a daughter who they named Gold-Tree. And she too had beauty beyond compare. They lived in the highlands of Scotland, did this king and his fair wife and daughter, atop a hill overlooking a sweeping glen of trees and boulders and frolicking water. On a certain day, when the weather was fine and a warm breeze had blown the clouds far south, Gold-tree and Silver-tree went to the glen where there was an ancient well, kept fresh by the spring that bubbled up from deep between the stones. And in this well lived a trout.
The queen made herself comfortable on the granite wall that ringed the well, arranging her fine dresses around her. And she leant over the sparkling water and called to the wise old fish.
“Troutie, bonny little fellow,” said she, her smile lighting the water. “Am I not the most beautiful queen in all the world?”
The trout wriggled his tail, as a trout will do when he is addressed rather than fished. “Oh, my queen,” said he, bowing in the water. “Indeed you are not!”
The queen flashed her pretty eyelashes in surprise, and brought together her fine brows in a wrinkly frown. “Who then?” demanded she.
The trout backed away to the other side of the well where he was hidden a little by the shadows. “Why, Gold-Tree, your daughter,” said he, grinning sheepishly, then scampered deep down between the stones, lest a hook should come his way.
The sun cowered behind a passing cloud as Silver-Tree stormed home, blind with rage, and stomping her feet so hard, she beat holes in the fine grass down of the glen with her shoes. She lay on her feathered bed, folded her arms, and let her anger wrap around her like a blanket. “I shall fall to sickness,” she declared, “and I will never be well again unless I am served the heart and liver of Gold-Tree for my supper!”
At nightfall the king returned to the dun (the ancient Gaelic word for a castle), and a manservant rushed to him, skidding on the flagstones, polished smooth by the ancestors. “Sire” said he, bowing rapidly. “The queen has taken sick, your Majesty. She is reclining in her chamber, a fever on her brow.”
The king was most distressed, and he clattered up the granite stairs, his riding boots leaving a trail for the manservant to clean.
“My dearest queen,” said the besotted husband, falling to his knees beside the oaken bed and taking his wife’s pale hand. “What ails thee? Prey, tell me so I may make thee well again.” The king was apt to regress into the flowery language of his ancestors when his heart beat hard.
“Oh, my husband, my king!” said his wife with a fair serving of dramatic art. “I fear I am waning and will leave this world unless and only if you wish to have me healed.”
“Oh and woe!” cried the king, upstaging the beautiful Silver-Tree. “My beloved, there is nothing at all which I could do for you that I would not do to keep you well and by my side.” Which was a complicated way of saying, just ask and I will do it at once, for he was that enamoured of her.
Silver-Tree turned her pale, beautiful face towards him, only very slightly marred by the tear trails on her powdered cheeks. “If you should bring me the heart and the liver of Gold-Tree, my daughter, served on a silver platter for my supper, I shall be well again.”
The king at first agreed, his only concern being the welfare of his queen, but it was not many counts of his heart before he realised exactly what it was she was asking. The heart and liver of his daughter? And on silver platter too! It would stretch both the love and the purse of this noble Scottish lord! He bowed his head, promised the queen a servant would bring a good broth to sustain her, and quietly left the sombre chamber.
Now, it happened that very morn, the son of a great king had arrived from a far distant land to ask for the hand of Gold-Tree. They had been passing secret messages by dove for quite some time. The king, who would normally be angry at such underhandedness, shook the prince warmly by the hand and kept shaking for many minutes.
“So, you are interested in my daughter, yes?” asked the king, nodding profusely.
The interested prince was taken aback by such enthusiasm, for Gold-Tree had warned him he might first face her father’s ire. “Yes, your majesty,” stammered the young man from foreign shores.
“Good, good, good,” said the king, grinning manically, his eyebrows fair dancing across his balding crown and under the one that sat precariously on his head. “And when would you be leaving?”
“Well,” said the young man, thinking this through.
“Now, would be perfect,” said the king, dragging the prince to the door and calling for his daughter.
“Now?” enquired the prince, who was suspecting that the customs of far Scotland were very different to the customs of his own land.
“Right now,” said the king, and duly pushed the couple out of the door, onto their horses, and near chased them away to the distant south.
“Huntsman,” called the king, his face now serious. “Fetch your lads, huntsman, and go to the hills. Find me a young he-goat. Slaughter it and bring me the heart and the liver. Quickly now, man.”
When they returned, the king took the prized pieces to the cook. “These are very special indeed,” he said, having sworn the huntsman and his lads to secrecy on pain of their own livers. “Serve it with your finest sauce, and here are coins to purchase a silver platter. Take it to the queen as a gift from her king.”
The queen was delighted with the offering, and she complimented the cook on the sauce. And within days, she reported she felt somewhat better and once more sat at the king’s side at his council.
A year passed and the dun was a happy place, at least for the queen. She danced merrily along the stone halls and through the chambers, lighting the ancient place with her beautiful smile. One day, she was riding in the glen when she chanced upon the well. Silver-Tree sat on the wall and smiled at the rather nervous trout who was hoping she was only fishing for knowledge.
“Troutie, bonny little fellow,” said she, smiling wondrously. “Am not I the most beautiful queen in the world?”
The trout closed his eyes and cursed quietly, for he was fated always to tell the truth. “Och, my queen!” he declared, “Indeed you are not.”
“Why, Gold-Tree, your daughter.” He grinned a toothy grin.
“You are mistaken, my bonny fellow,” said Silver-Tree, smiling politely. “It is a long year since she breathed the airs of the Highlands, for I ate her heart and liver from a silver platter, dressed with the finest sauce.”
The trout gulped, which is a fine trick for a small beasty in a well of water. “Indeed, my queen,” said he, “she is not dead. Your daughter is married to a great prince and lives in happiness in a far land.”
The dun fair thundered with the sound of Silver-Tree’s stomping feet. She marched up to her husband the king, and she forced a pretty smile upon her face.
“Dear husband, it is so long since I have seen my dear Gold-Tree. I hear she lives now in a far land. Put the long-boat in order so we might sail to the south and take her greetings.” She curtsied for extra effect.
The king, unsure how his queen had discovered the truth, was nevertheless relieved that she hadn’t made the fair lands of Scotland poorer to the tune of one royal head. So he ordered his carpenters to put the long-boat in good order and crew it ready for sail.
Silver-tree herself took the helm, her hand steady on the steering oar as the crew laboured at the oars. And so well did she navigate the craft that it was not long at all before they arrived.
The prince was out hunting on the hills when Gold-Tree espied her father’s long-boat coming to shore.
“Oh, dear!” said she to the servants. “I believe my mother is aboard the long-boat, and she will kill me for sure.”
“She shall not kill you. Not at all,” vowed the loyal servants, who had grown fond of this sweet girl. “We will lock you in a room where she cannot get near you.”
And so this was done. When Silver-Tree came ashore, she cried out in a warm voice.
“Come meet your own true mother, for she is here for you.”
“I cannot, mother!” cried Gold-Tree from on high. “I am locked in this room, and I cannot come out.”
But Silver-Tree was a clever queen. “Just wriggle your little finger through the keyhole, beloved child,” said she, “so that your own mother may give it a kiss.”
Gold-Tree was heartened by this, and she wriggled her little finger through the hole. Whereupon, Silver-tree stuck it with a poisoned stab, and Gold-tree fell dead.
When later the prince came home, and found his treasured Gold-Tree dead, he was near torn in two with grief. And when he saw how beautiful she was lying there upon the floor, he could not bring himself to bury her in the ground where the worms and the spiders and the mice, would feast upon her flesh, turning it to ugliness. So he laid her upon the bed as if only asleep, and he locked the door so no one would disturb her.
In the course of time, the prince married again. His new wife was a beautiful, charming, and kindly woman, who graced the house with her smile and brought joy to all. And she took care of every room but one, which was always locked, and the prince himself kept the key about his neck. But on one fine day he forgot to take the key with him as he went about his princely business. His wife saw it upon the counter. She sat and contemplated the small iron key. Should she open the room? Her prince had never said no, but by keeping the key about his person, it was clear he felt it was a place only he should enter. But though she was a charming and kindly lady, she was also curious. So she picked up the key, trotted swiftly up the stairs, and, checking about for servants, let herself into the room.
For a locked room it was clean, for the prince himself kept it so. She drew open the curtains, and spied on the bed, seemingly asleep, the most beautiful woman she ever saw.
The wife thought to wake this sleeping beauty. She shook her gently, uttered words of soft encouragement, but the girl stirred not an inch. But then, she noticed the poisoned stab in her little finger. Being perhaps a little wiser than the prince, she pinched out the stab, and Gold-Tree awoke, as alive and beautiful as ever she was.
As the moon rose in the darkening sky, the prince came home from the hunting-hill, looking very downcast. It had been a sour day and when no beast could be found, his head and his heart had turned to Gold-Tree, and his grief had arisen once more in his chest.
“What gift,” asked his wife, “would you have me give so I could make you laugh?”
“Indeed, nothing could make me laugh, dear wife, except should Gold-Tree come back to life.”
The kindly woman smiled softly, for she saw the pain in her husband’s eyes. “Come with me.” And she took him by the hand and led him to the locked room.
The prince pulled back at the door, and he clutched at his neck, realising he had forgotten the key. He looked at his wife, and fear was in his face.
“Fear not, husband.” The wife pushed open the door, and there sat Gold-Tree upon the bed, sipping a healthy broth.
When the prince saw Gold-Tree alive he danced across the room, rejoicing, and he kissed her, and he kissed her, and he kissed her thrice more.
Then said the second wife with a heavy but kindly heart: “Since she is your first love, it is good that you have her back, and I will leave.”
“No, dear wife!” declared the prince, grabbing her gently by the hand. “You and Gold-Tree shall live here, for I love you both equally.”
Back in Scotland, the purple highlands turned grey as winter took hold. Silver-Tree went once more to the glen. She found the well, sat upon the wall, and cracked the ice with a pebble.
“Troutie, bonny little fellow,” said she. “Am I not the most beautiful queen in the world?”
The trout, who had been rather hoping that the queen had forgotten all about the glen, the well, and he, sighed. “Indeed, my queen,” said the trout, hesitating a little. “You are not.”
The queen glowered and grabbed the unfortunate fishy by the nose before he could hide beneath the rocks. “Who then?” asked she, and her voice rumbled like a bear’s.
“Why, Gold-Tree, your daughter.”
“She is not alive, you stupid minnow! It is a year since I put the poisoned stab into her finger.”
“But my queen,” insisted the trout, “your daughter is not dead, not dead at all!”
Silver-Tree flicked the trout on the nose and stomped off home, and she begged the king to call for the long-boat, for she wished to see her dear Gold-Tree, as she missed her so much. And she smiled prettily as she said so.
Once again, Silver-Tree took the helm of the long boat, and a fine navigator she was too. And very soon, they arrived in the far land of the prince.
As chance would have it, the prince was once more in the hills trying his luck with the local beasties. Gold-Tree recognised her father’s long-boat at once.
“Oh, my!” said she. “It is my mother Silver-Tree. Twice already she has tried to kill me and I fear she will try again.”
“Not at all,” said the second wife. “Dearest Gold-Tree, let us go down to the quay and greet her together.”
When the mother Silver-Tree came ashore and saw the women approaching, she called out in a loud but joyful voice. “Come down to greet me, Gold-Tree, my love,” said she. “For I have brought you the gift of a most precious drink.” And she held aloft a little vial, that glinted purple in the warm sun that kissed that fair land.
“It is customary in this country,” said the second wife, thinking quickly, “that the person who offers a drink takes a draught of it first.”
Silver-Tree smiled the smile of a snake. And she put her mouth to the vial, pretending to sip. But the second wife of the prince was a clever lady, and quick as anything, she tapped the bottom of the vial with her hand. It tipped back, and a drop slid down the queenly throat. Silver-Tree gasped, her eyes wide with surprise, and she took a last look at the two kindly women, so bonnier than she, before she fell down stone dead. The king returned to Scotland with the stiffening corpse of Silver-Tree, and he ordered her buried in the far corner of the family graveyard where the brambles grew thickest.
And the prince and his two wives lived a merry, and somewhat naughty life, for many years. But no one was happier than a certain wee bonnie trout, who swam joyful circles in his well, wriggling his tale as a trout will when he knows he is not to be fished!
Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree was one of many folk tales collected by Joseph Jacobs in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and I must admit, it certainly has its naughty side. Two wives? Well I never! Jacobs was known for popularizing other tales like Jack and the Beanstalk and Goldilocks and the Three Bears, so we’ll be hearing from him again.
This adaptation went a lot further than usual. The original from Jacobs was half the length, so although I stuck rigidly to the plot, I have had lots of fun with the wording and the characters to get it up to length – for that is what a bard does. And sorry about the dodgy Scottish accents!
Now, for all those who stand up and say, “why have you set it in Scotland?” I reply, well isn’t it? I have heard others say it is Irish, and it might be, but my copy said Scottish so that is where I went.
As I am doing more of this, I am digging around to see what others are up to. There are several other podcasts about folk tales, which is not surprising as they are so much fun and a joy to read. I encourage you to dig around to see what is what. I think I might make up a list at some point and add it to the website. And I hope you are enjoying my adaptations – do let me know.
If you know of any folk tales from anywhere around the world that you think I might be able to do something with, I would love to hear about them. Contact me via twitter or Instagram or Facebook. Right, let’s have a poem. This is just a fun little ditty wot I wrote, which I hope will leave you smiling.
The Girl and the Bear
By CC Hogan
A girl in a coat
Met a bear wearing fur.
She looked at him sideways,
And asked, “Do you purr?”
The bear, who’d missed breakfast,
Was rather surprised,
For the girl looked like dinner
To his hungry eyes.
“Small person,” said bear,
“I am not an old cat!
I don’t purr, rub your legs
Or sit on your lap.”
“That’s mad,” said the girl,
Looking him up and down.
“You are ten times my size;
I’d be squished on the ground!”
The bear’s stomach rumbled,
Cos he wanted a slice
Of finest smoked salmon,
But girl might suffice.
“Why are you in a coat?
Said the bear, just like that.
“Because it is raining,
But I’ve forgotten my hat.”
“That changes things,”
Said the bear, now that dinner
Was getting all soggy;
Looks like he would get thinner.
He scratched at a flea,
Then away did he scarper
To get her a present
And himself a cheeseburger.
The girl looked confused,
And twisted her nose.
“Where has he gone
With his smelly old toes?”
She waited for ages,
Standing there in the trees,
For the bear to return
With his fur and his fleas.
When he did, he smiled brightly.
"Sorry to fly,
But I’ve got you a brolly
So you stay nice and dry.”
The girl was quite thankful,
And opened it wide,
And standing beneath,
From the rain she did hide.
“Now you are dry,”
Said the bear with wiggle,
“I’ll pretend you ain’t dinner
And instead play my fiddle.”
So together they sang,
And they danced round a tree,
Two friends in a forest,
Happy and free.
And that’s it for this week. Don’t forget, I also narrate audiobooks. So, if you are an author or publisher, and you want my dulcet tones, rush over to cc Hogan dot com and click on Voice. And please tell everyone about me – family, friends, followers, acquaintances, or even people at bus stops. Tell them to rush over to deep in the dark forest dot com at once. More info including my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook links in the show notes and on my website.
This was Deep in the dark forest. I am CC Hogan and wish you good fortune as you travel on your way.