Adapted From: 'Catskin', an English fairy tale which appeared in Joseph Jacobs's 'The Grey Fairy Book'. LGBTQ+ content in this chapter!
Once upon a time in Britannia, lived a miserable lord. He had many fine properties and much wealth, but he had no heir to carry on his name nor a wife to have more children. He had only a daughter, Amelia, whose hair was as fair as the sun. The lord often flew into fits of rage, crying out, "Why, Lord! Why could I not have had a son!"
Years passed, and the lord continued to only have his Amelia. When she came of age, he had grown so agitated that he announced to the realm he was willing to marry Amelia off to the first man who made an offer.
That offer came very quickly in the form of Lord Gerald, a man as wide as he was tall and with a terrible attitude. When the lord agreed to the match, Amelia fled the castle. She did not want this… man. If a walking mound of fat could be called as such!
Amelia hid herself with the old hag who cared for the hens. After telling the henwife her story, she conceded, "I cannot love him. I have never met any man that I could imagine falling in love with."
The henwife smiled. "I've done this sort of thing before for women of your ilk. Demand a coat of silver cloth before you agree to be wed."
Amelia considered this, and asked for the coat of silver. Lord Gerald provided it all too quickly, and he asked if she wanted anything else.
When Amelia returned to the henwife for help, the henwife replied, "Try a coat of gold cloth next."
So Amelia asked for the coat of gold cloth. Lord Gerald gave her that as well.
Desperate but continuing to listen to the henwife's advice, she asked for a coat made from feathers of the most beautiful birds. Lord Gerald saw that she received that as well.
As a last ditch effort, the henwife directed Amelia to demand a little coat of catskin. This too, was given to Amelia. The henwife appeared ready to admit defeat, but she had one final trick to try. "Flee to the north, my child. Hide away in your catskin coat. You may find freedom as a servant in another castle."
"Catskin! I want to see my face in those dishes!"
"Yes, chef!" Amelia cringed at her nickname as she scrubbed at a dirty dish with a cloth. She had managed to escape her father's estates with the catskin coat, being hired to do the most tedious tasks in another lord's kitchen. But she was at least free of Lord Gerald's proposal.
"I mean it this time," demanded the castle's cook. "The lord is hosting another ball tonight for his eldest. The weird one that's still single. We have to be at our best for our guests!"
Amelia was interested. The lord of the castle had three children, but she had only ever seen the younger two, men who were happily married. "Do you think I can serve some of the food at the ball?"
The chef snorted with laughter. "Oh, you're serious Catskin?" He threw a basin of water in her face. "Get back to work."
She dried her face with her dish towel, pondering where she'd stashed Lord Gerald's gifts. Perhaps it would be best not to attend as the hired help.
Amelia had never attended a ball in her life, so she was amazed at the dancing and the food and the manner in which everyone carried themselves. She was not uneducated; she knew how to conduct herself. But this was the first time she had ever had to do so.
Clutching at her silver coat, she made her way through the crowd. What was a lady in disguise to do at a ball? For that matter, what did a lady do at a ball at all?
So lost in thought was Amelia that she bumped into someone. "I'm sorry."
"No, the fault is mine." The someone turned around, and Amelia was stunned. The woman was easily a head taller than her, chocolate hair tied in a pony tail. But it was her attire that truly caught Amelia off guard. The woman was not in a gown, but in a man's attire.
The woman blushed. "I-I don't believe we've been introduced. I am Abigail. I'm the one my father keeps holding all these balls for."
"C-Catskin." Amelia was ashamed that she said her nickname first. "I, uh, I've never seen a woman in such masculine clothing."
"And I've never met a woman who blushes like that without falling faint from the shock," Abigail grinned. "Where are you from, Catskin?"
Fearing that her father was still looking for her, she said the first thing that popped into her head. "The Sign of the Basin of Water."
Abigail laughed. "Well, Catskin from the Sign of the Basin of Water, would you do me the honor of a dance?"
"I-I would love to," breathed Amelia.
Amelia had a spring in her step for the rest of the week.
"Catskin," the cook called out. "Stop wasting time! The lord of the castle is demanding another ball for Lady Abigail! She met someone during the last one and is trying to get them to reappear!"
Amelia stopped where she stood. It could not be her, 'Catskin', that the Lady wished to see, could it? "M-May I go to this ball to see?"
The cook laughed again, before breaking his ladle across her back. "No. Get back to work!"
"Lady Catskin, you have only grown more beautiful since I last met you. May I say, you look ravishing in your golden coat."
The second ball had been easier for Amelia to handle, now knowing what to expect. But she had not expected this. She had not expected to be the apple of Lady Abigail's eye.
Not that she minded the eye of her Lady. "Thank you, Lady Abigail."
Abigail took Amelia's hand and kissed it, nearly making Amelia swoon. Goosebumps ran up her arm from just a single kiss to the back of her hand! Would that it was elsewhere!
"Lady Catskin, I must confess that you have me at a disadvantage," said Abigail. "No one in my castle knows of any 'Sign of the Basin of Water'. Is there another name for where you come from?"
So worked up from the kiss was Abigail that she could not help but lie again. "The Sign of the Broken Ladle."
"No, no, no!" The cook broke a skimmer across Amelia's back this time. "I don't care how many balls we have to hold for Lady Abigail, I am not letting you attend!
But Amelia was going to. She knew that Abigail desired her.
Amelia desired her right back.
In the third ball, Amelia found herself immediately attended to by Lady Abigail. "My dear Catskin, a coat of feathers this time! Truly, you spoil my sight with such wonders."
Amelia blushed harder than the crimson feathers in her coat. "My lady Abigail, you must be exaggerating."
"I don't," said Abigail. "Catskin, you have confused me yet again." She took Abigail's hand and twirled the woman around, embracing her in a dance. "The Sign of the Broken Ladle? I don't know of any place named after kitchen tools. Where are you from?"
Where Abigail's hand had landed on her back made Amelia confused once more, and her to lie once again. "T-The Sign of the Broken Skimmer!"
When the ball finally ended, Lady Abigail secretly followed the Catskin out of the ballroom. She hoped that a servant of Catskin's could tell her the truth, or at least tell her why she had lied.
It was with no small amount of confusion Abigail found herself in the servant's quarters. And from a nearby window she could see Catskin change out of her feathered coat!
Abigail knew the gentlemanly thing to do was to look away, to preserve the woman's modesty. But her curiosity got the better of her. And then she saw Catskin change into her catskin coat.
"My lord," Abigail breathed. "I have fallen in love with a peasant." She took a deep breath and smiled. "I have fallen in love!"
When Abigail told her mother the news the next day, her mother was furious.
"It is strange enough that you wish to marry a woman," the mother told Abigail. "But now you tell me that she is one of our servants?! Think of the scandal, my dear!"
"I don't care," begged Abigail. "Please. Please, I love her! I would die without her!" Tears streamed down her face as she went to her hands and knees. "I'll never find anyone else! How many balls have we held? How many men have I found wanting?"
Abigail's mother took a deep breath and sent for this 'Catskin'. She would at least see for herself who her daughter was going to marry.
The woman that came to see Abigail's mother was not a woman in a catskin coat. Amelia came dressed in her coat of golden cloth.
Abigail's mother slowly turned to her daughter, who looked up at her as she lied on the floor still crying.
"…I am happy that you have chosen such a beautiful woman to marry."
On the day Abigail and Amelia were to be wed, Amelia was approached by the henwife before she was to be married.
"I see you followed my advice," she told Amelia. "I apologize for not telling you sooner, but I am no mere henwife. I am a witch. It warms the cackles of my heart to see you in such spirits. Allow me to give you a gift as a wedding present."
Amelia was handed a small bottle. "What is it?"
"Have your beloved drink it tonight," the witch smiled, "From the ladle the cook offered you as his present. You'll have a baby in nine months."
Amelia's eyes went wide. "That's – that's not possible. I know it takes a man to have a child!"
"Magic, my dear, magic," said the henwife. "I have one final piece of advice for you, if you wish to take it."
Having not been led astray before, Amelia chose to listen.
Months passed. When the time was right, Amelia finally told her beloved Abigail what the henwife had told her.
After a long journey to the south, Abigail got off her horse and was invited into the chambers of the local lord.
There, sitting on his throne and attended by his servants, was a miserable lord.
"Pardon me," Abigail greeted the lord. "I have been told by your men that you have suffered greatly."
"Yes," the miserable lord admitted. "My wife is dead. And I have lost everything."
Abigail pursed her lips, curious. "Did you ever have a son, my lord?"
"No, but I had a daughter." The miserable lord broke into tears. "I treated her poorly. So poorly. I was ready to marry her off to the worst sort of man! I should have been a more dutiful father. I would give all my treasures and land just to see her again."
Abigail coughed politely. "My lord, I have married your daughter. I am sorry I did not ask you for Amelia's hand, I did not know. She asked me to send for you. Amelia wants you to come live with us."
The lord rose from his throne, gazing upon the Lady in man's clothing. After a long silence, he smiled. "I did say I would give anything. I suppose learning my daughter married a woman is price enough. I will come with you."
"Thank goodness," Abigail smiled. "Your daughter begged me to come see you as soon as our son was born."
"…You have a son? I am a grandfather? How?"
Abigail smiled. "I'll tell you on the ride over. For now my lord… let me be the first to thank you for accepting Lady Catskin's invitation."
The lord came to stay with his daughter Amelia and her beloved Abigail, and they all lived happily ever after.