(a Scottish tale)
Once upon a time, long ago, two brothers worked as apprentices to a blacksmith. Iain and Graham were hardworking lads and fast learners. For some time all was well. Iain, the younger brother, was always ready with a joke and a smile, and Graham was strong and devoted to his craft. The blacksmith was pleased with their work.
But the blacksmith’s wife feared the boys might steal her husband’s trade, and so she decided she must do something.
As time passed, Iain began to grow thin and pale. His beautiful smile faded, and he lost his ability to concentrate. His hands grew wobbly and unsure. Graham noticed this, and he noticed the usually cheerful Iain was always cranky. One autumn night, in the loft above the barn, Graham sat down at his brother’s bedside. “Iain,” he whispered, “what’s wrong with you? Maybe I can help fix whatever is wrong if you confide in me.”
Iain’s face grew paler and he began to tremble as he said, “No one can help me, I’m afraid, not even you, brother.”
“Just tell me what’s wrong,” Graham replied. “Surely you can tell me anything.”
Iain looked around to make sure no one was near, and then, still afraid, he leaned close to his brother and whispered, “It’s the blacksmith’s wife. Every night she comes to my bedside and slips a bridle over my head. The minute she does, I turn into a horse. She’s not what she seems, Graham.”
Naturally, this surprised Graham, but he had no reason to doubt his brother’s honesty. So he simply said, “Go on.”
“She’s a witch, Graham, and she rides me over the moor, whipping me and kicking me. After we’ve traveled for miles, she locks me in a stable, and then I watch through a window as she walks into a great hall at the top of the moor. There she dances with the other witches. When they are finished, she rides me back home at full gallop. I’ve just enough time to close my eyes before it’s time to awaken for work.”
Graham’s heart broke for his brother and he quickly suggested an idea: “Let’s change beds tonight, and that way I shall share your burden, brother.”
Iain agreed, and the moment he was in Graham’s bed, he fell fast asleep. An hour later, when all was quiet, the blacksmith’s wife slipped into the loft and placed a bridle over Graham’s head. As she did, he felt himself transforming from a strapping lad into a mighty stallion. He followed the witch out of the barn.
Soon she was kicking him and whipping him as he galloped across the moor. He felt the wind in his face and the sweat on his brow as they raced under the moonlight. When they reached the top, true to the Iain’s tale, she locked the horse into a stable and ran off to the hall to dance with the other witches.
As Graham waited and watched from the stable, he felt an itch on his face. He rubbed his head against the wooden post. As he did, he noticed a nail sticking out of the post. Using the nail, he lifted the bridle and managed to slip it over his head, and as soon as it was off, he was transformed again into the strong lad he was.
He hid in the shadows until the witch returned from her revels. When she walked in the door, he leaped out and tossed the bridle over her head. Sure enough, this time it was she who was transformed from the blacksmith’s pretty wife into a beautiful mare.
Graham leaped on her back and now it was he who whipped and kicked and had that mare galloping. He pushed her to run faster and faster until she was so out of breath that she nearly fainted. Soon they came to a forge run by a different blacksmith.
Graham stopped and called out to the smith, “I need this mare shoed!”
Naturally, the blacksmith obliged.
Afterward, Graham rode the mare back home, and when they returned to the barn, he lifted off the bridle and released her from the spell.
Once more, she looked like the blacksmith’s pretty wife, but she hurried to bed and there she stayed, refusing to come out from beneath the covers.
For days she lay there — faint and pale, refusing to budge. Her husband, the blacksmith, was sick with worry. He called the doctor, and when the doctor came, he reached to feel her pulse. “Give me your hand,” he said, but she refused and slipped deeper under the blankets.
“Dear wife,” the blacksmith begged, “please do as the doctor says.” He begged and he wheedled and he offered bribes, but she refused.
At last, the doctor pulled back the blankets, and there were the horseshoes attached to her hands. When the blacksmith saw this, he screamed in horror, but the brothers came and told their story. With the blacksmith’s wife’s hands in horseshoes as the brothers’ proof, everyone knew. And so that very night, the blacksmith sent the witch away to cast her spells elsewhere.