A Portuguese Folk Tale – The Maiden’s Pearls



It’s time for another retelling of a Portuguese folk tale!

The original translated title is something to brag about when it comes to length : “The Maiden from whose Head Pearls fell on combing herself” and this one is an open proof that sometimes the oral narration of stories ends up getting some parts either jumbled up or rushed, as a key element on this story appears out of nowhere despite being essential to the plot.
Despite that, this story immediately placed irresistible imagery in our heads and there was also the universal tell-tale of envy: Careful to who you trust your good news and beware of ill intentions towards others.
And now, story time!

There was once a woman with a son who was a sailor and a daughter that helped and kept her company.
Alas one day, the woman felt Death’s grasp coming to take her away but before this happened, she called for her daughter.

She gave her a towel and a comb and instructed her to always use these to wipe her body and comb her hair with. After entrusting her with these, the mother passed away.
The maiden obeyed her mother’s wish and whenever she used either the comb or the towel, many pearls would fall from her hair.

She decided to tell her brother and he advised her to keep all the pearls in bunches so he could take them in his next voyage and try to sell them. The girl did as he advised and soon enough the brother left, reaching another country. There he managed to go to a palace with the pearls and unmoving, he didn’t allow anyone but the King to see the pearls. He was truly impressed, not only for their size but also for their quality and the King demanded to know their origin to which the brother confessed and was told to bring his sister to the court. If this tale was true, the King would marry the maiden but if it was not, he would kill the sailor.

The brother, overjoyed, sailed back home and both siblings rejoiced and prepared to go, taking with them the towel and comb. Before they left, the maiden confided to a neighbour how she was to become Queen and the woman begged for a favour: to be taken with her own daughter on the trip as well, so they could become the maiden’s servants. The day of her departure arrived, and they all went aboard the sailor’s boat. The maiden and brother, the neighbour and her daughter.
However, while at sea, the neighbour began giving small dosages of poison to the maiden, making her fall ill, much to her brother’s despair who checked on her everyday, anxious in hope to see her recover. But one day, the dosage of poison was too much and the maiden remained in a death-like state. Stricken with grief, her brother threw her body into the sea, as that was the custom, crying how wretched and unfortunate he was, specially as he too would soon be dead.
The wily neighbour advised him to pass off her own daughter as his sister, and despite expressing his fear that the comb and towel wouldn’t work on someone else, he was reassured by the woman that it would work in the King’s presence.

Despite this confidence, after using the comb and towel, the only thing that fell from the girl’s head was scurf. Angry, the King shouted for the young sailor to be taken to prison and afterwards put to death.
As the events were unfolding, one of the King’s servants had gone fishing to the shore and was astonished to find a beached whale, dead and yet moving and inside, a voice begging to be let out. Cutting it open, the servant pulled out the maiden and took her inside the castle, taking her to a room where he told her to stay hidden. The maiden confided in him about her tragic fate at sea and how the whale had saved her and in return, the servant told her all the things the neighbour had been up to, presenting her daughter under false pretences to the King and how her actions had condemned her brother. And like this, the maiden was kept safe inside the room.

She looked out of her window everyday towards the prison where her brother was and on one occasion, she saw a small female dog who had belonged to herself and her brother called Cylindra. The maiden asked how her brother was and the dog replied: “Today the crier publishes his sentence for the first time!”. On the next day, after being asked again, the dog announced: “Today it’s the second time!”.
The servant heard this and decided to tell the King, who wanted to observe this for himself, so he hid beneath her window, to hear her question the dog about her brother’s destiny.
Cylindra soon came and replied to the same question: “Today is when the execution will be published for the last time!” Which meant that the brother would soon be killed.
As he heard this, the King was convinced that this was the real sailor’s sister and ordered both to be brought before him, with the towel and the comb.
On seeing the maiden, he ordered her to wipe her face with the towel and right away a torrent of pearls fell onto the floor. Then the King asked the maiden to use the comb and immediately large and rare pearls started falling too.
The King then commanded the wily neighbour and daughter to be put to death and he married the maiden, and that way the brother had the great honour to be brother in law to the King.

Oh Cylindra, such an important factor and you were almost brushed aside. So many questions though… How did you get to that country? Did you all sail together? Did you get seasick? Did you have an accent?
Hopefully, from now on you will be included and celebrated as the outstanding  talking dog and only character with a name in this story. Cylindra deserved her own story, that’s for sure.

★Stay inspired!★

19 thoughts on “A Portuguese Folk Tale – The Maiden’s Pearls

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