For old Spinstress Ebba,
Spinneth thy woole.
Don’t e’er stoppe,
Or she’ll taketh thy soule!
Taketh heed, ye peasants of the realm! For the story that follows tells of two young spinsters, one who choseth a path of sloth, and another who choseth a path of honourable toil for The King. Their differing Fates doth show how indolence, especially when in service to The Crowne, wilt ne’er turn out well for thee. Whilst there be no End for thee or I but that which hath already been decided by Fate, His Majesty determines what happens between now and then, so thou wouldst be well-advised to follow the example of the latter peasantess.
‘Tis in the springtime that the story I now tell thee begins, in the village of Wortshoby Spyre, well known in its place for the hardiness of its shep herders and the softness of the woolen garments spun thereabouts by their wives. It so happened that I was a’travelling through said village just ‘round mid-Spring, whence the shep had already been shorn and the spinstresses had begun selling their fine woolen wares, best in the land. At the time I previously mentioned I was employed as a merchant with Lorde Fauxtables Fyne and Noble Vestments, and, having heard of the superior quality of Wortshoby Woole, I went thither to see whither there were items worthy of my noble clientele which I could so acquire.
There lived in this village at the time of my arrival, and for all I know still does, a spinstress by the name of Dodylva, whomst it was rumoured spun the finest woolen wares in all of the Spyre. Hearing of her skill with the spool, I inquired ‘round the village as to where she couldst be found.
One fellow upon whom I did inquire at the local inn was an olde-timer who went by the name of Runkf. ‘Twas he who told me that, no matter how hard I looked, I would ne’er be able to earn an audience with Dodylva, for whilst she still lived in the village, she was so busy at the spindle both day and night that she nary spoke to a soul lest it distract her from her work. Though, he said, I could readily acquire some of her goods from any of the other peddlers in towne.
As one could imagine, this piqued my interest quite some bit, and I pursued my line of inquiry further, whereupon Runkf, after first parleying with me the condition that I pay for his drinks throughout the eve, told to me the story that follows.
Many a year tofore in Wortshoby Spyre, Dodylva had two daughters, one by the name of Abatha, and the other by the name of Margerix. Abatha was a sprightly lass, full of mirth and a true master at the spinning wheel for a girl her age. She quite took to her trade from the moment she could shear a shep, and her mother had hopes that she would one day become the greatest spinstress in all the village. Margerix, on the other hand, was a loathsome wretch. She looked down upon her lot in life and questioned the divine and righteous Destiny which had put her there. She was always grumbling unbecoming grumbles, such as, “We art just pawns for the nobility, fore’er spinning their fyne woolen wares but ne’er rising above our lowly condition no matter how hard we work,” and, “I don’t even like spinning, I want to beeth a musician.”
‘Twas because of Margerix’s disconsolate nature that her mother rested all her hopes with Abatha, and hoped Margerix would either cometh to her senses and learn to love her trade, or otherwise become impregnated by a wealthy young lad who would be forced to marry her or at least pay the family a hefty sum to keep silent.
One crisp spring morn, Abatha and Margerix were wandering through the wood outside the village gathering herbs, Abatha conversing on the wonders of wool-making, and Margerix complaining about some trifle or other like how they have no rights and are forced to spin wool for eighteen hours a day yet aren’t even allowed to own property. Margerix had just begun blathering about one or another of her gripes whence they heard from behind the thicket the sweet whirl of a spinning wheel. Abatha was eager to see just who was so dedicated to the craft that they couldn’t resist spinning even whilst wandering through the wood. For her part, Margerix would have much preferred to indulge in a few spores of magick toadstools and calleth it a day. But Abatha determined to clamber through the thicket, and Margerix reluctantly followed.
Deeper and deeper they wandered into the brush, but the further they got the thicker and thornier it seemed to get, until Margerix was sure the boughs were reaching out of their own accord to grab at her face and ankles. Heaving and scratching they ploughed forward, with every step the brambles tightening around Margerix’s throat. The dark thicket closed in ‘round her closer and closer ‘til she felt she was drawing her last breath, when, alas! they stumbled into a clearing.
Gasping for air, Margerix looked about her and saw her sister facing a small house, quite well kept, upon which the sun shone bright. ‘Twas eerily silent in the clearing, and Margerix couldn’t hear nary a bird nor bee nor any of the other forest creatures which were normally out and about this time of day. This worried her greatly, and she thought for a moment of calling to her sister to turn back. But Abatha beat her to it.
“Come, sister!” Abatha called. “Thou mustn’t dally. We’ve work to do for His Majesty!”
Slowly rising to her feet and picking out the many thorns which had stuck in her skin, she followed her sister to the door, whereupon before they could even knock, it swung wildly open to a broad-shouldered, bosomy old wench standing with her hands astride her hips.
“‘Allo lassies,” scratched the beast from deep in her chest. “M’name be Spinstress Ebba. I’d treat thee to a cup o’ tea, but we’ve no tyme for dilly-dallyin’ when there’s woole to be spun. For I be makin’ a mighty cloak for The King Hisself, and there’s a-spinnin’ to be done yet. Come along then, and let’s get thee to work.
There’s work to be done!
There’s spindles to spinnie,
And woole to be spun!”
At that, Spinstress Ebba brought the sisters to a back room of the house and immediately put them to work, each at their own wheel. For days they toiled, with nary a bite to eat nor a drip to drink. As they spun the wool, Spinstress Ebba knitted it into a great cloak for The King, a cloak ten times the size of the average cloak and a hundred times finer. They weren’t allowed to speak to one another, and the only time they ever did hear a word from Spinstress Ebba was when Margerix would doze off to sleep, and Olde Ebba would smack her aback the head with her spindle and shout, “Getteth thee back to work thou lousy louse!”
The girls worked so hard those few days that their fingers near bled right off, their backsides ached like a heathen on a Spanish donkey, and their eyes wert shot to blood. Abatha, being a loyal and laborious lass, bore her duty with pride, for she knew that her lot in life was to work. Margerix, on the other hand, quickly fell to pieces, ‘til she flat out refused to spin any more.
On seeing Margerix’s sloth, Spinstress Ebba cameth upon her and said thusly:
That thou won’t spin
For His Majesty?”
“Dothn’t thou know that thy lot in lyfe is to spin and to serve? Taketh up thy spinning wheel and getteth thee back to work, or seeth thy soul cast to the darkest depths of Hell!”
Margerix tried as she might, but she couldn’t hardly lift a hand to the wheel, for her fingers had been ground to the bone and her body was starved. Realizing Margerix was no longer of use to her enterprise, Spinstress Ebba, taking in her hands a great spindle of sable fibres blacker than the blackest night, chanted a fiendish incantation, summoned Margerix’s soul from her body, and cast it to the fiery pits of the Underworld, where Satan hisself has doomed her to toil behind the wheel for all eternity. From now ‘til the end of time, just as she thinks the last fibre is about to be spun on her wheel, so a new batch appears in her hands and she starts over again. Such is her punishment for refusing to spin for The King.
Abatha, for her part, saw the job to its conclusion and spun all the wool needed for Spinstress Ebba to make His Majesty’s Royal Cloak. However, before the cloak could be presented to Him, she died of overwork and starvation. Whilst The King hath surely never heard the lowly name Spinstress Abatha of Wortshoby Spyre, she at least died a worthy death in service to the Royal Vestitures.
Of course, neither of the girls was seen again after they wandered into the wood, so the story of Spinstress Ebba couldn’t be confirmed. But many of the villagers still say that when wandering in the wood alone on a quiet spring morn, one can sometimes hear the spinning wheels of the Old Spinstress of the Wood still turning, e’er turning.
Runkf, for his part, sayeth ‘tis more likely the girls got lost and were eaten by wolves.
So then, the fate of the daughters doth explain the relentless toil of the mother. Whether she beeth toiling to remember her lost loves, or to compensate for the lack of productivity brought about by their disappearance lest she be punished for indolence, who’s to say? But the lesson is clear, dear friends, that if thou art fated to toil behind the spinning wheel for The King, then toil thou must. For if thou don’t, then Spinstress Ebba wilt surely find thee and doom thy soul!