Long ago in Norroway there lived a woman who had three daughters. Off they went one day to learn their fortunes from an old woman who lived in the forest. The oldest daughter was told she would marry an earl, the second daughter that she would marry a lord, and the youngest—a black bull.
The two older sisters were very pleased with their fortunes, but the youngest sister laughed and said, “No matter, I’ll be content with the Black Bull of Norroway!”
Her sisters warned her not to jest of such a monster, lest it become true.
"I’m not so eager to marry," she declared. "I’ll stay at home until the Black Bull comes to court me."
—an excerpt of The Black Bull of Norroway, from Tatterhood and Other Tales, edited by Ethel Johnston Phelps.
The above is the version we will be pulling our adaptation of The Black Bull of Norroway from, albeit loosely. We also drew heavily from Andrew Lang’s version, found within the pages of The Blue Fairy Book.
In case you don’t know the tale in its entirety, here’s a rough summary of how it continues…
The bull arrives to fetch his bride, and she goes with him. He is kind and gentle with her, but they travel a very long ways and soon she becomes hungry. He offers her food from one ear, and drink from the other, and she is revived. As they continue to travel, the nameless girl grows more and more fond of her bull.
The two visit the three palaces of his brothers, and at each palace, she receives the gift of either a golden fruit or a golden nut, depending on which version of the tale you read. She is told not to use this item until she is in her hour of greatest need.
Eventually, they come to a glen where the bull sits her down, and instructs her that he must do battle (with the devil, with “the Old One,” with “The Keeper of the Glen…”) and she must not move or else the enchantment will not be broken, and he won’t be able to find her.
He wins the battle, and she sees him transform into a man. In her joy at his victory, and presumably over the fact that she doesn’t literally have to marry a bull, she moves her foot just slightly and that is enough to break the spell. He cannot find her and she, once she realizes in the first place that the enchantment’s been broken, cannot find him.
In some versions, the girl is in a glass valley that she cannot escape from. In others, the girl searches hopelessly until she finds a glass mountain which she knows she must climb. Regardless, the girl meets a smithy and, in exchange for iron shoes, she works for him for a period of time. In some versions it is seven years, in others, seven months and seven days.
When she climbs the hill at last, she meets either a washwoman or an old troll. She hears tell of a knight who will marry none until the blood is cleaned from his garments, and she, of course, is the one who succeeds in the task. The washwoman (or troll princess) takes the girl’s hard work and declares it as her own, and sets off to marry the prince.
But, the girl remembers the three gifts she was given, and uses them now. She breaks one open, and discovers it is full up with resplendent gems. These, she gives to the greedy troll princess in exchange with a night with her beloved.
Now, the troll princess is greedy but she isn’t dumb. She has the knight drugged, and so when the nameless girl goes to see him, he does not wake to her. This goes on for two nights, with the girl lamenting in each:
Seven long years I served for thee,
The glassy hill I climbed for thee,
Thy bloody clothes I wrung for thee,
Will thou not waken and turn to me?
The third evening, the young man had been clued in by a servant that someone was weeping in his room the past two evenings. He assumes he’s been drugged (my guess is that he felt pretty terrible when he woke up in the morning those two days), and my guess is that he cheeks the pill, or whatever they’ve been drugging him with, like a dog that’s more clever than its owner.
The girl, now having used her final gift, enters into his room the third night and he recognizes her instantly. At this point, they either sneak off into the night with one another… or he has the washwoman and her daughter killed. One of the two. And the two live happily ever after.
Our adaptation changes a lot, but the skeleton of the story remains the same. It is the journey of a young girl and a bull.
We cannot wait for you to read our version of this Scottish fairy tale. We like to think of our version as a sort of Bildungsroman, and we think you’ll all enjoy growing up with Sibylla. :)
Just a reminder, our Patreon is now open to subscribers, where pages will begin posting on October 1st!
Aaaand…. our webcomic will go live for the public on October 31st, and the entirety of the first chapter will be posted!