PENTA WITH THE CHOPPED-OFF HANDS
Day 3, Tale 2
retold in rhyme by Laura J. Bobrow
The King of Dry Rock was alone. His wife took sick and died.
He had a sister, Penta. Penta, you shall be my bride!
I know you. We were born alike. Why let a stranger in?
She first turned pale and then turned red. You’d marry your own kin?
I’m sorry that you have the tongue to speak that shameful way,
and sorry that I have the ears to hear the words you say!
She rushed into her room and slammed the door for good and all.
But when a month had passed once more she heard her brother call.
She went to him because there was a thing she had to know.
What feature of me makes you long to have my body so?
He said, You’re beautiful, but it’s your hands that make me swoon.
Then wait right here, she said, and you will have my answer soon.
I’d rather lose my hands, she thought, than be my brother’s wife.
She called a slave and told him, Here are coins. And here’s a knife.
Chop off my hands. He did so. Now, you put them on a plate
and take them to my brother with these words which I dictate:
Here’s what you most desire. I hope that they will give you joy.
And may you live in health and may you have a baby boy.
Her brother was beside himself. He placed her in a trunk
which he threw into the sea and which he thought would soon be sunk,
but a lowly sailor found her and conveyed her to his home.
See what a lovely creature I found floating on the foam.
Be kind, he told his jealous wife, one Nuccia by name.
Oh, no. He’ll not deceive me. I’ll not play my husband’s game.
As soon as he was gone she threw the trunk back out to sea.
And there poor Penta sobbed as currents swept it aimlessly
until the King of Green Earth saw it from his passing ship.
He had it drawn on board. And then he said, with trembling lip,
Poor lovely maid who has no hands, what future can there be?
But never mind. You will survive if you come home with me.
My wife can use a lady’s maid. It might as well be you.
Poor Penta of the chopped-off hands, we’ll see what you can do.
What she accomplished with her feet was way beyond compare.
She threaded needles, used a comb to dress the queen’s long hair.
The queen adored her but, alas, the queen was sickly too.
Before she died she told her husband, This I ask of you.
Take Penta for your wife and hold her dear as we have been.
He promised. They were married. And their love was genuine.
Too soon the king went on another journey in his boat.
When Penta bore a son, the news was sent to him by note.
A storm arose. The second ship was tossed up on the shore,
the very place where Penta’s trunk had landed once before.
There Nuccia stole the captain’s note, and when its news was read
she wrote another in its place and told the king instead
that Penta bore a wolf-dog! They awaited his command
to tell them what her fate should be, since he was not at hand.
The king’s reply was, Keep her in good spirits. No one knows
why such things happen. She has suffered plenty, heaven knows.
As luck would have it, once again the captain ran aground
and jealous Nuccia sabotaged the letter that she found.
She wrote of Penta and her child, Be quick and burn them both.
When this note was delivered home, the councilors were loath.
Why harm his wife? or harm their son, who truly was a jewel?
They thought perhaps the king was mad. This judgment was too cruel.
They all agreed that banishment was what they’d better do.
So off went Penta, babe in arms. It seemed her life was through.
Poor Penta in her roaming found her way to Torbid Lake.
The king, a sorcerer, was sure his heart was going to break
when he heard her tale of woe. He did his best to comfort her.
Cheer up, my child, he said. Sometimes the darkness must occur
but when the sun at last breaks through its aura is more bright.
You stay here in my palace as my daughter. It’s alright.
Next day he sent a notice out: To all men far and near.
If you have suffered tragedy, please bring your story here.
And to the man who swims in such misfortune he might drown,
I will award the present of a scepter and a crown.
The word was spread and many came to Torbid Lake to tell
of treachery, injustice and ingratitude as well.
Meanwhile, his journey done, the King of Good Earth had returned.
His wrath was fierce. He roared just like a lion when he learned
of Penta’s fate and would have had the councilors promptly skinned
until he saw the note they held. The captain was chagrined.
He admitted to his dalliance with Nuccia. I see
that she alone must be the one who made this forgery.
The king at once sailed to that shore, his brain inflamed with ire,
found Nuccia, had her wrapped in wax and had her set on fire.
Then, out at sea, he met a vessel sailing with intent
of reaching Torpid Lake. Before my time on earth is spent
I’ll tell my tale of woe, the grieving king of Dry Rock said,
of how I lost my sister and I wish that I was dead.
My tale is worse than yours, the king of Green Earth said.Take me.
If I should win the prize I’ll share it with you, happily.
The sorcerer received them in the royal banquet hall.
It was to lure them in that he had first announced the call.
Your misery? he asked. I loved my sister, and when she
rejected me, I put her in a trunk to drown at sea.
My conscience screams, Illicit Love! Her honor was intact.
She had her hands chopped off to keep from losing it, in fact.
And I, the King of Good Earth said, was married to that gem.
We had a child. Through treachery I lost the two of them.
The sorcerer was sure now. One was brother. One was spouse.
He called forth Penta’s son, and said, Your papa’s in the house.
Go kiss his feet. The boy was glad to do as he was told.
And now go kiss your uncle’s hand. This tale will soon unfold.
Whose son is this? they asked. You’ll see, the sorcerer replied.
And out came Penta. Here she is. Your sister and your bride.
They kissed and then embraced. Their jubilation was immense.
But wait, the sorcerer said, for I have prizes to dispense.
The scepter and the crown belong to Penta’s husband here.
His heart came truly close to bursting. Tragedy was near.
Another extra boon I grant him, that is, if he will.
I have no children of my own. If he will linger still,
I give to him my kingdom and adopt him as my son.
And, Penta, for your happiness one thing must yet be done.
No one could better handle stumps. But they, I do believe,
no longer need impede your life. You’ve earned a full reprieve.
Just place them underneath your frock and draw them out once more.
You’ll find your hands restored and just as pretty as before.
Days were spent in feasting. Penta’s husband walked on air.
He gave his Green Earth kingdom to his younger brother there,
and stayed to rule with Penta in the sorcerer’s domain.
And, if I’m not mistaken, it is there that they remain.
Copyright © 2019 Laura J. Bobrow. All rights reserved.