The Greekie and the Mutie Magician - a Barrayaran Folktale

by Susan Profit

This was originally posted to the lois-bujold mailing list in April 2002.

One winter's afternoon, Alexandra Stephanopolous put on her winter cloak and headed into town for basil. Her mother was in labor and basil was the only thing that would ease her pain. As she walked along the cliffside, there appeared before her, floating in the air a Mutie magician. His hair was long and stringy, his nails were long as claws and where he should have had legs instead he had arms.

"Dear Girl, where do you go?" he asked her.
"To the market for some basil to easy my mother's pain" replied the Greekie.
"If you will come with me and take care of my three wives, I will ease you mother's pain with no harm to the baby."
"How long will I work for you?"
"Oh, only until they have delivered me my sons" he casually replied.
"Done!" replied the girl.

At that, the man took one of the arms that should have been a leg out from under his gown. In it was a small stone bowl with some shimmering salt water. He held it out to her and said "To seal our bargain." She gathered it into her hands to take a sip, and saw within her mother holding her newborn babe, smiling widely down him. Gladly, Alex took a single sip, then the magician lifted that mutant arm to his mouth and took a sip.

Alex looked up into his eyes and the next thing she knew, they were standing in a dark cave. The magician took her to the first room, where a table and two chairs sat. On the table was a dinner for two. The Mutie told her to sit and eat, she would start her duties in the morning. Then he was gone as if he had never been.

While she sat eating the good rich stew, an older woman came in and sat down at the other place. Her eyes were kind, her hair was grey, her dress was a faded red and blue, her apron was very stained, her kerchief was faded brown and her shoes were wooden.

"Ah" she said looking at Alex, "I see he has found a new Greekie to join us." Alex nodded politely. "So, what terms did he offer you?"

"If I would take care of his wives until they delivered his sons, he would ease my mother's labor pains with no harm to the baby brother."

At that, the old woman gave a laugh and shook her head so hard her scarf fell off. "You will die here just like all the rest of us. He never sleeps with his wives, so they never get pregnant. If they never get pregnant, they cannot deliver him sons and you are trapped."

"Is there no way out?"
"Not while he lives. And he is a very clever Mutie. You cannot kill him unless you have stabbed and burned his heart."
"A Greekie with courage could do this" Alex stated firmly.

But the old woman shook her head and replied "It isn't as easy as sneaking up on him while he sleeps. He never sleeps. But most importantly, he has his heart hidden in a strong box, wrapped with chains and locked with three locks. No one knows where he hides the box, but the keys to the locks are around the necks of his three wives."

"How will we ever find the box?" Alex wailed. "That, I cannot tell you, I have been looking for it for fifteen years myself. I was once young and beautiful, but now although I only have thirty summers, I look as if I have sixty."

At that, she rose from the table, motioned Alex to follow her and showed Alex her room. There was a small bed with warm quilts, a small writing table with a mirror hung above it and a small chest to put her clothing in while she slept was at the foot of the bed. Alex undressed, slid into her bed and saw in the mirror the inside of her mother's house. She watched the images of her happy family until her eyes could stay open no longer and she slept.

In the morning, the old woman returned, and said "Today you are to care for the youngest wife." She rose and followed the old woman to the room just down the hall. She went in and saw a beautiful Vor maiden, sleeping in a bed with quilts thicker and softer than her own, black hair tumbling across her pillow.

Alex gently touched the foot of the lovely young thing to wake her, then took up the brush on the desk and began to brush the long silky hair. When she was done, she opened the chest at the end of the bed, took out a beautiful green skirt, blouse and embroidered vest and helped the woman into them. Barefooted, the woman got up from the bed, walked two steps to the desk and sat down before the mirror. There, she stared into her father's castle and saw and heard all that went on with her family. Alex sat down on the chest and waited for any orders the woman might give.

But all morning long, the Vor wife only watched the mirror. At lunch the old woman came to the door with the Mutie Magician floating behind her. He looked at his wife and said in a pleasant voice "My dear, it is time to consummate our marriage. Will you come and sample the wedding feast with me?"

The Vor wife didn't even look away from the mirror, but replied coldly "I will not allow myself to be bred by a Mutie animal. Do Not Ask Me Again." At that, the Mutie's cheeks flamed red, and he floated away. The old woman handed the tray to Alex and left.

When Alex put the tray in front of the Vor wife, she began to eat as if she hadn't eaten in days. So Alex plucked up her courage and asked "Does he come to you every day?"

"No", replied the Vor wife, "He only comes every third day, and I only get to eat every third day. He is an evil man, his heart is as twisted as his body and his cruelty will destroy you too."

"Do you know where he keeps his heart?" asked Alex.
"Oh, yes, it is in the kitchen."

And then the woman turned back to the mirror and stared at it until the old woman came in with a steaming wash basin and soap. Alex helped the woman out of her clothing, washed her hair and body, dried her off and helped her into the soft bed. Then she and the old woman left the room and went to their table for their simple supper of stew and bread.

The next day, Alex was led to the room of the second Vor wife, and all was the same except that she was dressed in blue, her hair was red and when asked where the strong box with the heart in it was, she replied that it was in the garden.

And the third day was just like the first except the oldest Vor wife was dressed in red had rich brown hair and told her the chest was under the Mutie's bed.

For three weeks, Alex tried to figure out what the puzzle could mean. How could the box be in the kitchen, the garden and under the bed? She racked her brains, but she could not find a way for all three to be true.

One evening, after her own super, she offered to carry the dishes into the kitchen with the old woman. This was her first time in the kitchen, and lo and behold, she saw a window. It was a deep window, with a very wide stone sill. On the stone sill was a box that covered the whole sill and in it were planted herbs of all kinds used in a kitchen. She realized that here was the kitchen garden bed, the only place the strong box could be hidden under.

The next day, when she washed the hair of the green Vor wife, she carefully snipped the cord that held the key around her neck and slipped it into her own pocket. She did the same with the blue Vor wife, but when she undressed the red Vor wife, she also stole her Vorfemme knife.

That night, the Greekie girl stole out of her room, and carefully, so carefully slid the kitchen garden off the sill. It was very heavy, but she managed to move it without knocking anything over. There, just as she thought, was a hole, and in that hole was a strong box, wrapped in seven chains and locked with three locks. And she could hear the slow beating of the Mutie's heart. She pried the chest out of the hole, carried it over to the cook's table and quietly set it down.

Then she took the green Vor wife's key and tried it in a lock. The first one did not fit, but the second one did. She took the blue Vor wife's key and inserted it in the lock and it fit. the final lock she put the red Vor wife's key in and it too unlocked, all the chains slid off the chest with a clank and the box sprang open. She took the red Vor wife's Vorfemme knife and plunged it deeply into the slowly beating heart. She heard the Mutie Magician scream "I am dying, save me my brothers" from deep withing the cave.

She picked up the chest, and carried it to the bedroom of the green Vor wife, woke the girl and told her to stab the heart in the chest with her Vorfemme knife. The girl did so, with great savagery and anger. Again, the Mutie Magician called out for help. The Greekie Girl carried it next door to the Blue Vor Wife and she too stabbed the heart. The Mutie no longer could scream out words. She carried it in to the red Vor wife and handed her her knife back. The Vor wife stabbed it with especial vigor and screamed French curses at it Alex could not understand. The Mutie howled in new pain at her words.

Alex and the wives between them carried the chest into the kitchen, and threw it on the embers. They heaped firewood atop it and poured wine all over it. Then the Greekie girl fanned it with her apron and it caught in a roaring blaze.

They all heard the Mutie Magician from somewhere scream louder than before. They ran to the hallway, where they saw a door that had not been there before. The door opened at their touch and there was a long flight of stairs. Up it they ran, sure the magician would follow them, but he was dying and they were safe. As the Red Vor wife reached the top of the stairs she disappeared. They heard her cry "Mother!" and an older voice cry "Daughter!" so the blue Vor wife ran to the top of the stairs.

There they heard her cry "Father!" and the baritone reply of "Daughter!" so the third green Vor wife ran up the stairs. When she went through the Greekie girl heard "Sasha!" followed by "Sonya!" She and the old woman held hands and walked to the top of the stairs.

They walked through together, to find themselves on the cliffside outside of Alexandra's house. Alex said "My mother's house" at the very same instant the old woman said "My sister's house." They gasped in delight to realize they were family, and walked toward the Stephanopolous home where they lived happily until the stars should fall from the sky.

© 2002 by Susan Profit (

Current version by Michael Bernardi,

left arrow up arrow right arrow

All comments or queries about this Web page to:

Last updated: June 20th 2002