Thomas walked home slowly, nodding to everyone he saw, holding the small cage in front of him like a jewel. He had tricked the grey witch had bought the enchanted bird to be his wife. Once at this father’s house he went straight to his room, closed the door and all the windows and pulled the drapes. He opened the cage door and stood back with his arms wide, ready to receive the embrace of the grateful woman in blue. Instead the thrush flew out of the cage to the top of a sconce, and sang a lovely tune. Thomas was certain that being away from the grey witch would be all the help his near-wife needed to revert to her perfect form, and left the bird closed in his room as he went about his day.
Thomas spent a sleepless night in a room made too hot by unopened windows and started his day with the knowledge that he needed another plan. In the stories a kiss often released the enchanted. After breakfast he set about trying to catch the bird, to give it a kiss. His heart beat faster at the thought of kissing the woman in blue.
Catching the thrush turned out to be horribly difficult, and Thomas wished he had thought of this before letting the bird go the day before. After several hours of stalking the bird around his large bedroom, Thomas had only an armful of scratches to show for his effort. He collapsed into a chair and sat tiredly. Then the bird landed on the table next to him. “Of course” he thought, “She doesn’t want to be a bird either, but is well-bred and doesn’t like being grabbed.” He crept his hand over to the bird and caught it. “Ah my love”, he murmured and leaned in to kiss the bird. It pecked him on the lips, drawing blood, and he let go.
After another sleepless night in a hot room with a bird dive-bombing him awake regularly, he decided that he needed help. Time away from the grey witch hadn’t restored his love to her proper state, nor had a kiss. What else could it be?
Thomas lounged in the kitchen eating the apples that were for the night’s pie. The baker’s daughter came in with a delivery of bread and tarts.
“Cindy, the blue woman, my love is still a bird, whatever will I do?"
“Build a nest?”
Thomas looked at her witheringly. “How do I break the spell?”
“How do you know it’s ‘your love’ be-spelled? How do you know it’s not just a bird?”
“The bird has the same gold cuff around its right leg. It’s a perfect match to the one my love was wearing.”
“Your love never did tell you her name, did she?”
Thomas was regretting this conversation. “She will once she is able. Or maybe the old witch took her name and I will give her a new one. Blu – no Azure.”
Cindy hid her smile, knowing from experience that Thomas only had a sense of humor when it suited him. “Perhaps you need to remove the cuff.”
Thomas paused with a half-eaten tart in his hand. “Of course, remove the cuff. I will work on that immediately.” He took two more tarts and ran out of the room.
Cindy shook her head.
Thomas walked slowly into the town. To remove the cuff would be delicate work, and he hadn’t looked very closely at it, whatever he had told Cindy. He decided to speak to the town craftsmen, to discover if they had any ideas.
At the blacksmith’s Mr. Jason listened to the problem with interest. “I might be able remove it with the file I have for leveling horse’s hooves before they’re shod, but I don’t know if I have a file small enough. And the bird would have to stay very still or I could damage the leg.” Thomas was hoping for a solution that would release his lady and let him keep all the gold of the cuff, so he kept looking.
At the carpenter’s Mr. Henry listened to the problem, but continued working on a chair as they talked. “If we clamp the cuff, then I could use a hammer and nail to break it off. Of course, we risk breaking the leg if it’s struck too sharply, but the gold will be fine.” Thomas didn’t want to next meet his near-wife with her leg broken, so he kept looking.
At the surgeon’s Mr. Francis seemed to already know why he was there. Before Thomas even began his story the doctor said “Amputate the bird’s foot. The cuff will come right off.” Thomas left.
Thomas continued to speak to all the craftsmen of the town. They had various solutions to remove the cuff, all using the tools of their individual trades. But they all agreed the bird would need to be kept very still, or the bird (or the cuff) would be in danger of a break or worse.
Thomas sat down to lunch in the pub trying to sort out everything he had heard. He thought this would be easy, just get the bird and then he would have the woman. Daniel poured him another beer and listened to him complain.
“Hell, the only time my wife stays still is when she’s drunk and passed out.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“Get the bird drunk. It’ll be still and then you can line up everyone in town to try and take the cuff off.”
Thomas bought a bottle of rye. At home he mixed the rye with some seeds and left it for the bird in his room. Satisfied that he’d have this problem solved in an hour or so he went to the kitchen to have a second lunch.
Mid-afternoon he carefully opened the door to his room and sidled in. The bird dive-bombed him immediately and was singing a loud and dissonant song. The bird flew at the small bit of sunlight that showed through the drapes, pulling up at the last moment, though feathers on the ground showed that had been a hard lesson learned. The bird had relieved itself all over the bed and continued to fly at Thomas’ face and sing, horribly. Thomas grabbed the plate of rye and seeds and slammed the door behind him, coming face to face with his father.
“Son, birds can be lovely pets but they should be kept in a cage.”
“It’s not a pet, it’s the woman in blue who is bewitched, and I’m going to marry her as soon as it’s a woman again. I am, Father.”
The Mayor stared at his hot-headed son. Nearly everyone who came to him had told him stories of the two strangers, and his son’s actions. The stories were changing from admirable to amused and he knew that it was only a matter of time before ridicule.
“Have you talked to Old Maggie?”
Thomas stared down at his feet. He knew his father set great store by the seer, but didn’t see how a woman would be of any use.
“If anyone in town can tell you how to turn your bird back into a woman it’s her. I’ll send her a message and have her come to the house at dusk. And son, you will need to clean up your room yourself, I’m not asking the maids to look after a drunk bird.”
Dusk arrived, and so did Old Maggie. Thomas had cleaned up his room as best he could and thrown the bedding down the servant’s stairs. He met Old Maggie at the door to his room.
“I don’t sense any witchery behind this door.”
“But you heard about the blue and grey women at the marketplace, yes? And how I heroically saved…“
“I did. Likely I heard more than you. Let’s see your bird.”
Old Maggie stepped into the room and whistled soft and low. The bird flew down and landed on her hand.
“I think we have to remove the cuff, it must be the source of the enchantment.” Thomas said. “Nothing else I’ve tried has worked.”
Old Maggie stroked the bird’s leg and the cuff fell off. She held it out to Thomas who tucked it into his pocket automatically.
“When will it be a woman again?” He asked eagerly.
“She won’t, she never was a woman, only a lovely bird.”
“No.” Thomas stumbled to the corner of the room, and leaned there to keep himself upright. “The gray witch had captured her, the woman I’m going to marry, the one in blue, and turned her into a bird, but I bought her and now…”
“Now you have a lovely bird, who you’ve kept in a room with no air and little light. You can’t treat living things like this, keeping them in a dark box.” Old Maggie walked to the window and opened the shades and windows. The bird hopped to her shoulder and sang a lovely melody, then flew out.
“Treat other living things better than this young man. Or I will turn you into a frog.”
Thomas laughed hysterically. “Except witches don’t turn people into animals. Or I’d have a wife.”
Old Maggie shook her head, and left. The lessons Thomas had to learn were more than she could teach.