Ratskin


[excerpt from Myths of Old, collected by David Hooper]

Long ago when glass was still new, there lived a lazy Dobra who would always sleep until the sun set. Tired of his shiftless ways, his tribe packed up during the day and set off without him. Awakening with the dusk, the lazy Dobra found no one there to cook his meals or give him wine. And soon his belly rumbled and he called out for aid.

To his surprise, an old woman stepped from the woods, her face covered in mud and wearing a tattered cloak made from the skins of a hundred rats. Fearing a glassman or perhaps Waer herself, the Dobra made the sign of Sol. But the old woman just laughed, and he knew he was safe. She asked his worry, and upon hearing his lament, she plucked a gold piece from her cloak’s pocket and held it high.

Though the Dobra desired it, she refused to give it to him unless he accepted her ratskin cloak as well. The Dobra remained unsure until she reached into her pockets again and drew out handfuls of gold, telling him the cloak was magic and always full of coins.

So the Dobra accepted the cloak. But as soon as he fastened it around his neck he felt it cinch tight and the old woman laughed again, telling him the cloak was made by Waer herself and would not release for seven years unless he found another to agree to wear it.

With that she disappeared back into the woods, and the Dobra tried to remove the cloak with all his might to no avail. But when he put his hands into the cloak’s pockets, he was surprised to find both hands filled with gold coins, each bearing the mark of Waer.

Hungry, he wandered until he found a nearby town, where he sought out food and lodging. Seeing his shabby attire, the tavern keeper demanded twice the price, a cost the Dobra was willing to pay. But when the tavern keeper saw the mark of Waer on the gold pieces, he would not take them and threw the Dobra out.

And to his horror, the Dobra was forced to beg, everyone soon calling him Ratskin for the cursed cloak he bore. So Ratskin wandered the countryside begging for six years, destitute despite the wealth in his pockets. None would accept his gold or cloak, for they could see the curse of Waer plainly upon him.

As his seventh year began and Ratskin wandered in the night, he heard weeping and came across a blind man. And when Ratskin asked what troubled him, the blind man answered that he was a blacksmith who had gone blind. With three daughters incapable of taking over his forge, the blind blacksmith was ruined and feared he would have to sell one of his daughters.

Unable to see Ratskin’s shabby state, the blacksmith would have proved the perfect victim, but Ratskin did not offer him the cursed cloak. Instead, Ratskin offered the blacksmith endless gold for a year in exchange for food, shelter, and one of his daughters in marriage. And to prove his worth, Ratskin handed the blind blacksmith a coin. Unable to see the mark of Waer, the blacksmith tested the metal with his teeth and declared the deal done.

Then the blacksmith brought Ratskin to his home, where his two older daughters were horrified by the cloak he wore. To this, he told them “clothes and fates are fickle things, quick to change,” but they demanded that Ratskin remain only in the forge, which he was happy to do so long as they fed him. And there he smelted down all of Waer’s gold each day, making the blacksmith very rich. With their newfound wealth, the elder daughters bought beautiful gowns and became the toast of the town. Each had many suitors, eager to share in the family’s newfound wealth, but the sisters spurned them all in favor of their lavish lifestyle.

Decked out in all their finery, they still refused to acknowledge Ratskin or their father’s promise, leaving it to their youngest sister to feed him each day. And Ratskin found her quite fair despite her lack of fine trappings. For he knew both clothes and fates are fickle things, quick to change. Unlike her faithless sisters, she swore she would honor her father’s bargain and take Ratskin as her husband. So Ratskin removed one of the gold coins and cut it in half, giving one to her.

Finally his years came to a close, and Waer herself arrived to unbind his cursed cloak. And as she did, she asked why he had not taken advantage of the blind blacksmith and passed the ratskin to him. “Because,” the Dobra formerly known as Ratskin replied, “clothes and fates are fickle things, quick to change.”

Waer made to depart with her cursed cloak, but Ratskin demanded she leave it and remove her mark since he had earned it with his seven years. And when she asked why she should, rather than tearing him to pieces, the Dobra replied, “if you do not honor this deal, word will spread. And then who will deal with you ever again?” Seeing the truth to his words, Waer left him the cloak, the pockets still brimming with endless gold.

With that, the Dobra disappeared, taking with him the cloak, its gold no longer bearing the mark of Waer. Setting himself up at a hotel, he had a barber groom him and tailor fashion for him the finest of clothes. Then he threw a ball, an event so extravagant even the king attended and grew envious. And with the name of Ratskin shed, none recognized him, and soon all the women of the town sought out this rich and handsome bachelor, none more so than the faithless sisters.

But the Dobra would not even grace them with his gaze, instead kneeling before the youngest daughter and presenting to her the other half of the gold coin. Upon seeing it, she recognized him as her betrothed and fell into his arms.

Realizing then who he was and what they had given up, the faithless sisters then truly learned Ratskin’s lesson that clothes and fates are fickle things, quick to change.

Riddle:

Look into my face an I'm everybody.

Scratch my back and I'm nobody.

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MD Presley is a screenwriter, blogger and occasional novelist… which basically means he’s a layabout. But if you’ve ever got a hankering for some grimdark gunpowder fantasy with a female anti-hero, I have a suggestion...

 

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