Catherine was a lovely, intelligent, kind, gentle young woman, with wealthy parents and an adoring fiancé, living in a beautiful mansion surrounded by gardens, one of which she regarded as her special place. When she saw the strange woman she asked, “Who are you? What are you doing in my garden?” The woman did not move or speak. Catherine said, “Please, go. Now!”
There was a fraught silence before the strange woman said, “I am your Fate. It is your time of choosing—whether to be happy when young and unhappy when old, or unhappy when young and happy when old. Do not say you will not choose, for if you do not, I will choose for you. Decide now!”
Catherine wished she were dreaming, knowing she was not. “Wrinkles and age make poor companions. I choose to be unhappy when I am young and happy when I am old.”
With that, there was a fierce wind. The strange woman disappeared. Catherine was alone. All she’d known was gone. She decided to walk until she came to a town where she might find work that would give her a place to stay and food to eat.
When she passed a house and saw a woman looking out the window, Catherine told her she was looking for work. The woman replied, “I have need of a servant. I think you will do well. Come in.”
Catherine learned quickly and the woman became fond of her, each day trusting her more. One day, she told Catherine she had to leave for a few hours, to take good care of the house. Once the woman left Fate appeared. “So, Catherine, did you think you could escape me?” With that, Fate began to wreck the house. Catherine was horrified and begged Fate to stop.
“My mistress will be furious. Please, go.” When Fate refused to stop, Catherine gathered her few belongings and fled. Unbeknownst to her, as soon as Catherine had gone, Fate restored order and left. So it was for seven years. Every time Catherine found a place to live and work, Fate followed her, destroying the interior, forcing her to leave.
In time, Catherine traveled to a city far from where she’d ever been. Tired, hungry, and discouraged, she walked by a house where a woman was watering flowers. “Please, Ma’am, might you be so kind as to give me something to eat and a place to rest. I am willing to work.”
“You have come at the right time. I will feed and give you lodgings, but every morning you must climb the mountain with bread and cheese and leave it in front of the cave at the top.”
After a few days, surprised that Fate had not appeared, Catherine worked up her courage to ask about the strange task. The woman said, “I must feed my Fate to keep her content. I cannot bear to think what she might do were I to stop.” When Catherine heard this she began to weep. She told the woman how she had spent the last seven years, how she had lost everything. The woman said, “Do not despair. When you go up to the mountain in the morning with my Fate’s bread and cheese, ask her to have a word with your Fate. Perhaps she can help.”
The next morning, after giving the woman’s Fate the food, Catherine asked if she might help her make peace with her Fate. “Your Fate is sleeping. I will not wake her. Tomorrow, when you come with my bread and cheese, bring her a gift. If she is pleased, she will give you something. Thank her graciously and leave.”
Before climbing the mountain at dawn, Catherine made a bouquet of flowers to give to her Fate. After her mistress’s Fate received the bread and cheese, she took Catherine to her Fate and asked her to stop tormenting Catherine. An arm appeared, took the bouquet, gave Catherine a skein of purple thread, then disappeared.
Puzzled, Catherine showed her mistress the curious gift. She told Catherine, “Keep it safe. There might come a time when it will be of use.” Sometime later, the king of the country discovered his royal robe had ripped. None of the country’s tailors had the right color thread. “Issue a proclamation,” he ordered. “Whoever has silk of this color must bring it to the court.”
That afternoon, Catherine went to the palace. She showed the skein of purple silk to the guards who immediately took her to the king. He thanked her for the silk and put it on one side of a scale. On the other side, his advisor placed gold, but no matter how much gold he put on the scale, the skein weighed more. Exasperated, the king placed his crown on the scale and the scales balanced. ‘Who are you?” he asked.
Catherine told the king about her meeting with Fate and what had happened since. “It is clear,” he said, “Fate has brought us together.” As was the custom, they married. For the rest of her life, Catherine continued to bring gifts to her Fate.
Wit and wisdom from around the world and through the ages. Tales by Nancy King.