(a Polish folktale)
Once upon a time there was a poor blacksmith who had only seven coins to his name. He bought a rope to hang himself. As he was tying the knot, a lady dressed all in black appeared and cried, “Stop!”
The blacksmith began to weep. “I’ll die of hunger if I go home,” he sobbed. “My life is too hard, and I cannot take care of my family.”
The Lady in Black stared at him. “I’ll give you a fortune in gold if you give me the treasure you do not know you have at home.”
The blacksmith laughed bitterly. “I have no treasure. You are welcome to it!” he muttered, and so she handed him a sack of gold and vanished.
The blacksmith hurried home where his wife greeted him with their new baby — a little girl with golden curls and a golden star upon her forehead, born that very morning.
So this was the treasure at home! The blacksmith was ill with worry over his promise to the lady. But after a year passed, and then another, he relaxed and forgot all about his promise.
The day Golden Curls turned 7, a black coach appeared outside the cottage and the Lady in Black stepped out. “I have come for what you promised,” she said, and before anyone could stop her, she grasped the girl by the hand and drove off with her.
The black carriage drove across barren deserts and lush forests until it came to a black castle. “This is yours,” the Lady in Black said to Golden Curls. “You may enter every one of the rooms except the 100th. If you do, terrible things will befall you. I shall return in seven years.” And with that she vanished.
Golden Curls lived in the castle with the servants and never entered the 100th room.
Seven years passed and the Lady in Black returned. “Have you entered the 100th room?” she asked. Golden Curls shook her head.
“Good girl! I’ll be gone another seven years. You must not enter the 100th room.”
Seven more years passed, and the same thing happened. Then, on her 21st birthday, on the day the Lady in Black had promised to return, Golden Curls suddenly heard beautiful music coming from the 100th room. She could not resist, and when she opened the door she saw 12 men in black cowls sitting around a marble table, chanting.
A 13th man appeared before her and cried with ghostly thunder, “You must leave and never tell a soul what you have seen. Promise to keep this secret!”
“I promise,” she said, running downstairs just as the Lady in Black appeared. “What did you see?” she shrieked. Golden Curls said nothing.
“Silence, is it? Very well. You will never speak to anyone but me. You shall now leave this castle!”
Golden Curls walked through a dark forest until at long last she reached a clearing where the prince of the land happened to be riding his fine mare. When he saw the beautiful girl he stopped and stared. “Who are you?” he asked.
Golden Curls smiled but could not speak.
He waited. They smiled. She was so enchanting that he fell in love with her.
“I must marry you,” he said, “and one day you will speak to me.” He carried her on his horse to his castle, where they married.
Golden Curls smiled so brightly at the prince that he felt as if the world was alight with love. After one year, Golden Curls gave birth to a boy as golden as his mother; he had a star upon his forehead too. That night, as Golden Curls rocked her baby, the Lady in Black appeared. “Tell me what you saw or I shall take him!” she hissed. Golden Curls held her child close and said nothing.
The Lady in Black snatched the boy and touched Golden Curls’ lips. “His blood is upon you,” she sneered as she took the boy.
When the prince found his wife weeping with blood upon her lips, he trembled with despair. Everyone who heard about it began to whisper, “Golden Curls killed her own child,” yet the prince blamed intruders.
Another year passed and Golden Curls gave birth to a girl with golden curls and a star upon her forehead. This time the prince sent guards to stand outside the nursery while Golden Curls rocked the baby inside.
The Lady in Black appeared in the room and snarled, “Tell me what you saw,” but Golden Curls clutched her daughter and kept her promise. Once again the woman took the baby, left a spot of blood on Golden Curls’ lips and vanished.
The prince saw the blood upon his wife’s lips, and he knew no one else had come into the room to steal his child. He called the guards to take her away and burn her at the stake. “She’s a witch!” he groaned, heartbroken.
The guards led Golden Curls through the streets and the crowds cried, “Monster!” But Golden Curls remained silent. The guards tied her to the stake, and the executioner lit the fire. Flames licked at her feet, crackling and snapping, and suddenly the Lady in Black appeared.
“Tell me what you saw!” she cried, but Golden Curls kept her promise as the flames leapt higher.
Suddenly the Lady in Black vanished. In her place stood a lady in glowing white, bright as the moon. “Put out the fire,” she cried, “and untie the young woman!” No one could resist her command. They poured water on the fire until it died. The Lady in White opened the door of a white carriage and lifted out a little boy and a little girl. On each of their foreheads was a golden star.
Golden Curls ran to embrace them.
The Lady in White smiled. “By keeping your promise, Golden Curls, you broke the enchantment I was under that made me evil. Now I am free, and the spell is done!” Again, she vanished.
Now Golden Curls could speak again. She told everyone the story of how she fell under the Lady in Black’s spell.
The prince helped her find her family. And everyone lived happily ever after.