Once upon a time, in a land beyond the mountains, a girl-child
was born into a family which had already been blessed with six
beautiful daughters before her. This bairn inherited the rather
grand name of Catoptricia, a name which had come down to her from
her Grandmother, a Wise Woman who had herself been a seventh
daughter, and who was well versed in the ways of the Old
It was said that Granny Catoptricia had had the Sight, among
other kenning skills, but none in the current family had it, not
even an inkling, and so they were all struck an unforeseen blow
when the tiny babe's mother died suddenly amidst the travails of
birth, drawing her last breath before the wee-un had even drawn
Denied her mother, the babe was also to be denied her name.
Baptised half-heartedly with her grandmother's name in the
village millpond by a distracted Priest at one year of age,
having survived the perils of childhood long enough to deserve
the honour of a baptism, she was by then known indelibly by the
family and townsfolk as Wide-awake, because of her near-constant
wakefulness and her startlingly wide-open eyes.
She is looking for her mother, ran the common wisdom, and she
will nary sleep without her.
The difficult baby grew into a tiresome infant, and by the time
she was a free-moving child her sisters had well and truly ceased
to respond to her mewling and griping, and so she gave up on
looking for their attention altogether. She grew resignedly more
and more quiet under their lack of interest, and disappeared as
best she could into the hubbub of the family. Being the youngest,
and being given to hiding, she did not learn any chores to make
herself useful, and her most frequent contribution to the
household was to unintentionally startle a sister when her huge,
white eyes loomed out of the back of a cupboard or from beneath a
table at them.
'Wide-awake! How come thee be sceering up at me like that! Get
thee out, changeling!' her afrighted sister would cry, or words
to that effect, and the poor child would slink away, upset at
having caused such a turn.
For all she wanted, of course, was, like any of us, to love and
to be loved in return.
Her father, her lone surviving parent, had been, so it was said,
a good, and a kind, and a loving man. The night of Wide-awake's
birth, though, changed him irreparably. At first he hid the pain
of his loss as best he could, but, in his nightmind, he at first
resented, and then came to hate his last-born daughter.
With the help of ale and melancholy, his nightmind came more and
more into the full light of day, until finally he hid his hatred
and resentment for Wide-awake no more.
On the morn she first woke up to blood on her sheets, he called
all his daughters into the kitchen, gave Wide-awake a crust of
bread and a nugget of cheese, and told her to kiss her sisters
farewell. He marched her up the hill to the big house without
even allowing her leave to wash her face, and he strode up the
big stone stairs and knocked on the big oak door of the big house
like a man who has captured a thief.
The big door opened upon a big man in a big coat with a big nose
and a big forehead. He looked down his big nose at them both and,
after a few words from Wide-awake's father, he went back inside,
leaving the big door ajar just a crack, like he had lost interest
in closing it halfway through.
Wide-awake's father tapped his foot, but didn't look down at her,
either for reassurance or to check that she was still there. She
thought that maybe they should leave.
Moments later, the big door swung open again as the big man
returned with a few small coins. He handed the pale clatter of
metal to Wide-awake's father, who took them and, for the first
time in over fifteen years, smiled. He turned and walked away,
without even saying farewell to Wide-awake, who was wondering
with a catch in her throat what had just befallen her.
The big man in the big coat watched Wide-awake's father as he
made his way down the hill. Then he looked down his big nose
again at Wide-awake.
'Come inside, prithee, child. And let us see what thou canst
Still unsure of what was happening, Wide-awake stepped past the
big door and into the gloom of the lobby. It was a dank,
subterranean place, and she feared how long it might be before
she once again walked in the outside world of light and
As the big man in the big coat turned to shut the big door on all
the free world, he caught one last glimpse of the child's father.
We can see him, too, just rounding the bend, about to disappear
behind the corner of that building with the pale green thatch,
newly cut. He is on his way to the tavern, where he will spend
the brideprice of his daughter, having successfully married her
to mop and pail and scullery brush, on enough tankards of
indifferent ale to render him satisfyingly unconscious.
If you wish to wave him farewell, you should do so now, for we
shall not hear of him again in this tale.