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The Blue-bearded Knight

About Kathakali Mukherjee

Kathakali Mukherjee, born 1971, was a student of Sanskrit – Epigraphy and ancient Indian history. But her interest in language and literary studies led her learning another couple of European languages as well.
She worked for media libraries in Kolkata; also spent several years as technical translator, process and team manager with German and Indian software companies in Bangalore. Currently staying in Gurugram or Kolkata, she is engaged with reading and writing.
Apart from experimenting with short stories, she works on literary translation of fable and fairy tales as well as historical fictions. She is exploring the treasure trove left by esteemed Bengali and German authors between 18th-19th centuries these days.
She writes poems during her busy days when time does not permit her to sit at the writing desk.
Her blog: https://medium.com/@KathakaliM and https://www.indiblogger.in/kathakalim
Her self-published works:
"You and me" is a collection of poems https://www.amazon.in/dp/B01NCSMHK9/
And her effort of translating a selection of articles from Lokrahasya “Secrets of the Humankind – Satiric Articles by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay,”: https://pothi.com/pothi/book/ebook-kathakali-mukherjee-secrets-humankind

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Prologue :

A powerful and wealthy knight was living a luxurious life in his fabulous castle. Being an owner of enormous property he was enjoying all material pleasures of life. His beard was blue and that gave him a unique look. People named him Blue-bearded Knight though his real name was something else. Anyway his real name was long forgotten and we too, have to call him Blue-bearded Knight.

 

Part 1

He had married several times. What we have heard is that, all his wives died within a short while after the wedding, one after another – before anyone could learn about their disease. Mr. Bluebeard started looking for a bride again after the last one died. He was a worthy suitor after all! This time he introduced himself to another aristocrat lady in the neighbourhood. The widow had two beautiful daughters and chivalrous sons. The siblings took care of each other affectionately and hence, were happily staying together in their mansion. The Blue-bearded Knight became a frequent visitor there; but when he sent a proposal to marry one of her daughters, none of them agreed. Both the sisters were scared of the blue beard of the knight. On the one hand they had the fear of unknown; on the other, they could not imagine living separately from each other. Needless to say, the knight had to make a special plan to attract them.

He invited the mother, the sisters and all their brothers together to his well-decorated enormous castle. He planned a pleasant vacation with hunting, dining, dance, games and all kinds of festive fun for them. The guests were treated cordially so that they could have a delightful experience in his estate. Amusement and luxury finally made the youngest of the sisters fall for him.

The wedding was celebrated soon with a lot of grandeur.

Great happiness prevailed in the new bride’s life in the spectacular castle. She considered herself fortunate and thanked God for awarding her such a beautiful life. After a few days, the knight told his young bride, “I have to travel now. You will be the custodian of the castle in my absence.” He gave her a key chain with dozens of keys, and continued, “Now listen to me carefully. Here are the keys for all the rooms and chambers. You may take a look at all the rooms if you want. Only one thing you have to remember is this tiny golden key. This is for the cabinet placed at the end of the last row of the rooms. That is the one I forbid you to open. I love you and your life is also precious to me. But if you open the cabinet, the most dreadful punishment for the curiosity will await you. In that case, I will have to skin you alive with my own hands.”

His wife was no longer interested to keep that tiny golden key. But all the keys were tied together in the same key-chain. Her commanding husband was not ready to separate it from the chain. He had the strong opinion that the mistress of the castle should be responsible enough to keep it safe. She promised she would never open the cabinet and enter it. The husband kissed him goodbye.

 

Part 2

After the knight left home, the brothers and sisters of the young bride visited her. All of them wanted to go hunting; they remembered their amazing hunting session last time. As the boys went to hunt in the forest nearby, the ladies decided to spend their time exploring the castle. Every day they were discovering the grandeur of the many rooms of the castle. At the end, the sisters reached where the cabinet was placed.

The mistress was extremely curious, yet she did not want to open it at all. Her sister laughed at her, seeing her hesitating. She insisted that Knight Bluebeard must have hidden the most precious and worthy of his possessions there, out of stubbornness.

“What a fool you are! You husband is a rich man – and you are not even ready to know how rich he is!”

Curiosity became the winner. With lot of unease, the young bride pushed the key in the lock. The door flew open with a faint sound. It was a room sparingly lit behind the doors – it showed a terrible sight! The blood drenched skins of all the former wives of Knight Bluebeard, who could not resist the urge of curiosity like the new bride and who the man had skinned using own hands, were all stored there; the room was still filled with odour of blood.

Scared of death, the wife and her sister retreated. But the key had slipped from the trembling hand of the horrified mistress of the house. She picked it up; bloodstains on it could not be rubbed off. Even closing the door again was not possible. Only now the ladies realised that the castle was charmed. Keeping the key at one corner, they started running through the corridors as they were trying to be away from that terrible cupboard, and at the same time, the beagles at the castle-gate announced some visitor’s arrival.

The lady took a deep breath of relief anticipating that they were her brothers. They should have returned from the hunt by then. Her sister was left behind while she hurried towards the gate and almost bumped into – no, not her brothers. It was Knight Bluebeard himself, who had nothing more urgent than to ask his wife where the keys were. His sight had already made her pale. The trembling dismayed lady told him that she would go to fetch the keys.

“Well, let me accompany you.” replied the smiling husband. He followed her, not letting her disappear anywhere in the dark corridors of the castle. When she understood there was no other way left to hide, she headed to the corner where the keys were kept. She handed him the keys. Immediately he noticed the blood stains on the key. All his affectionate gestures transformed into a cruel one it an instant.

He screamed, “Woman! You must now die in my hands! I had given you all the power! Everything was yours! How rich and beautiful was your life! And how small was your love for me, you shameless maid, that you didn’t bother paying attention to my one small request, the earnest one of your husband? Prepare yourself for death! Time is over for you!”

Afraid of death so close to her, the horrified lady somehow started running again. She reached her sister who was hiding in a room that leads straight to the castle tower. She requested her sister to climb the top of the tower quickly so that her brothers could see her from the forest. As soon as she would see them, she would have to give them an emergency signal. The lady threw herself on the floor as if she was trying to hide there; she started praying to God to grant her life. While begging for God’s kindness, she called, “Sister! Don’t you see anyone?”
“Not yet!” The answer from the sister sounded bleak.
“Hey Woman! Come down!” yelled the Knight Bluebeard in a shrill voice, “Your time is over!”
“Sister, don’t you still see anyone?” cried the lady, shivering.
“A cloud of dust – but no, that is a flock of sheep!” Answered the sister.
“Woman! Come down or I’ll fetch you.” cried Knight Bluebeard.
“Mercy! I’ll be back soon! Sister! Don’t you see anybody at all?” the lady was almost broken.
“I see two Knights on two stallions riding as fast as the wind. Now they saw my signal.” Said the sister from the top of the tower.

“Woman! Now I’ll get you!” Bluebeard’s voice thundered; he started climbing the stairs like a whirlwind. Anyway, the lady somehow gained more courage, escaped the room, locked him inside as he entered the room where she was sobbing alone. Coming upstairs, she joined her sister. Both of them started screaming for help as loud as they could. In the meantime, seeing them at the top of the tower, the brothers hurried up, crossed the forest, stormed up the stairs, and opened the door of the room where Knight Bluebeard was locked. They entered the room with their swords open. After a small fight, the Knight Bluebeard was seen lying dead on the ground.

 

REFERENCE:

Did we finally unearth a horror story with a serial killer in the name of a folktale? Not really. Do read the story carefully once again.
We find similar story in 16th century English folktales as well as in 19th century Grimm’s collection of Märchen. A 17th century French story written by Charles Perrault has almost same content to this one from Ludwig Bechstein’s collection. In fact, middle age European folktales include many stories of murderous knights. There is also a speculation that the blue-bearded knight’s story is loosely based on characters like Cunmar the Accursed, who killed his pregnant wife or Gilles de Rais who killed hundreds of children. Probably feudal Europe had seen many of them, in many locations. These affluent feudal rulers spared no violent method to establish power over people. The unnatural blue beard is associated to indicate unnaturally gruesome behaviour. On the other hand, getting married to wealthy castle owners brought rare opportunity to women to live a pleasurable life.
Hence the story does not remain only an account of a mad medieval knight. It has different layers, which makes this one the most interesting story of the series. Researchers through the ages tried to decipher meaning of the story. The orthodox came with the opinion that the wife pays the price for her showing curiosity. Medieval Europe under the strict ruling of churches considered curiosity to be a sin. Her breaching the promise (or infidelity suggested by symbolic presence of lock and key form where blood stains could not be removed) could be reason for her losing a loving husband. On the other hand feminists decipher this as a story of the triumph of an intelligent woman, who finally becomes the winner killing her torturous husband.
I am not going to present an analytical thesis here, would love to hear the readers communicating its possible implications from social, psychological or even feminist point of view instead.

 

Photo credit : Wikimedia commons

A powerful and wealthy knight was living a luxurious life in his fabulous castle. Being an owner of enormous property he was enjoying all material pleasures of life. His beard was blue and that gave him a unique look. People named him Blue-bearded Knight though his real name was something else. Anyway his real name was long forgotten and we too, have to call him Blue-bearded Knight.

He had married several times. What we have heard is that, all his wives died within a short while after the wedding, one after another – before anyone could learn about their disease. Mr. Bluebeard started looking for a bride again after the last one died. He was a worthy suitor after all! This time he introduced himself to another aristocrat lady in the neighbourhood. The widow had two beautiful daughters and chivalrous sons. The siblings took care of each other affectionately and hence, were happily staying together in their mansion. The Blue-bearded Knight became a frequent visitor there; but when he sent a proposal to marry one of her daughters, none of them agreed. Both the sisters were scared of the blue beard of the knight. On the one hand they had the fear of unknown; on the other, they could not imagine living separately from each other. Needless to say, the knight had to make a special plan to attract them.

He invited the mother, the sisters and all their brothers together to his well-decorated enormous castle. He planned a pleasant vacation with hunting, dining, dance, games and all kinds of festive fun for them. The guests were treated cordially so that they could have a delightful experience in his estate. Amusement and luxury finally made the youngest of the sisters fall for him.

The wedding was celebrated soon with a lot of grandeur.

Great happiness prevailed in the new bride’s life in the spectacular castle. She considered herself fortunate and thanked God for awarding her such a beautiful life. After a few days, the knight told his young bride, “I have to travel now. You will be the custodian of the castle in my absence.” He gave her a key chain with dozens of keys, and continued, “Now listen to me carefully. Here are the keys for all the rooms and chambers. You may take a look at all the rooms if you want. Only one thing you have to remember is this tiny golden key. This is for the cabinet placed at the end of the last row of the rooms. That is the one I forbid you to open. I love you and your life is also precious to me. But if you open the cabinet, the most dreadful punishment for the curiosity will await you. In that case, I will have to skin you alive with my own hands.”

His wife was no longer interested to keep that tiny golden key. But all the keys were tied together in the same key-chain. Her commanding husband was not ready to separate it from the chain. He had the strong opinion that the mistress of the castle should be responsible enough to keep it safe. She promised she would never open the cabinet and enter it. The husband kissed him goodbye.

After the knight left home, the brothers and sisters of the young bride visited her. All of them wanted to go hunting; they remembered their amazing hunting session last time. As the boys went to hunt in the forest nearby, the ladies decided to spend their time exploring the castle. Every day they were discovering the grandeur of the many rooms of the castle. At the end, the sisters reached where the cabinet was placed.

The mistress was extremely curious, yet she did not want to open it at all. Her sister laughed at her, seeing her hesitating. She insisted that Knight Bluebeard must have hidden the most precious and worthy of his possessions there, out of stubbornness.

“What a fool you are! You husband is a rich man – and you are not even ready to know how rich he is!”

Curiosity became the winner. With lot of unease, the young bride pushed the key in the lock. The door flew open with a faint sound. It was a room sparingly lit behind the doors – it showed a terrible sight! The blood drenched skins of all the former wives of Knight Bluebeard, who could not resist the urge of curiosity like the new bride and who the man had skinned using own hands, were all stored there; the room was still filled with odour of blood.

Scared of death, the wife and her sister retreated. But the key had slipped from the trembling hand of the horrified mistress of the house. She picked it up; bloodstains on it could not be rubbed off. Even closing the door again was not possible. Only now the ladies realised that the castle was charmed. Keeping the key at one corner, they started running through the corridors as they were trying to be away from that terrible cupboard, and at the same time, the beagles at the castle-gate announced some visitor’s arrival.

The lady took a deep breath of relief anticipating that they were her brothers. They should have returned from the hunt by then. Her sister was left behind while she hurried towards the gate and almost bumped into – no, not her brothers. It was Knight Bluebeard himself, who had nothing more urgent than to ask his wife where the keys were. His sight had already made her pale. The trembling dismayed lady told him that she would go to fetch the keys.

“Well, let me accompany you.” replied the smiling husband. He followed her, not letting her disappear anywhere in the dark corridors of the castle. When she understood there was no other way left to hide, she headed to the corner where the keys were kept. She handed him the keys. Immediately he noticed the blood stains on the key. All his affectionate gestures transformed into a cruel one it an instant.

He screamed, “Woman! You must now die in my hands! I had given you all the power! Everything was yours! How rich and beautiful was your life! And how small was your love for me, you shameless maid, that you didn’t bother paying attention to my one small request, the earnest one of your husband? Prepare yourself for death! Time is over for you!”

Afraid of death so close to her, the horrified lady somehow started running again. She reached her sister who was hiding in a room that leads straight to the castle tower. She requested her sister to climb the top of the tower quickly so that her brothers could see her from the forest. As soon as she would see them, she would have to give them an emergency signal. The lady threw herself on the floor as if she was trying to hide there; she started praying to God to grant her life. While begging for God’s kindness, she called, “Sister! Don’t you see anyone?”
“Not yet!” The answer from the sister sounded bleak.
“Hey Woman! Come down!” yelled the Knight Bluebeard in a shrill voice, “Your time is over!”
“Sister, don’t you still see anyone?” cried the lady, shivering.
“A cloud of dust – but no, that is a flock of sheep!” Answered the sister.
“Woman! Come down or I’ll fetch you.” cried Knight Bluebeard.
“Mercy! I’ll be back soon! Sister! Don’t you see anybody at all?” the lady was almost broken.
“I see two Knights on two stallions riding as fast as the wind. Now they saw my signal.” Said the sister from the top of the tower.

“Woman! Now I’ll get you!” Bluebeard’s voice thundered; he started climbing the stairs like a whirlwind. Anyway, the lady somehow gained more courage, escaped the room, locked him inside as he entered the room where she was sobbing alone. Coming upstairs, she joined her sister. Both of them started screaming for help as loud as they could. In the meantime, seeing them at the top of the tower, the brothers hurried up, crossed the forest, stormed up the stairs, and opened the door of the room where Knight Bluebeard was locked. They entered the room with their swords open. After a small fight, the Knight Bluebeard was seen lying dead on the ground.

Did we finally unearth a horror story with a serial killer in the name of a folktale? Not really. Do read the story carefully once again.
We find similar story in 16th century English folktales as well as in 19th century Grimm’s collection of Märchen. A 17th century French story written by Charles Perrault has almost same content to this one from Ludwig Bechstein’s collection. In fact, middle age European folktales include many stories of murderous knights. There is also a speculation that the blue-bearded knight’s story is loosely based on characters like Cunmar the Accursed, who killed his pregnant wife or Gilles de Rais who killed hundreds of children. Probably feudal Europe had seen many of them, in many locations. These affluent feudal rulers spared no violent method to establish power over people. The unnatural blue beard is associated to indicate unnaturally gruesome behaviour. On the other hand, getting married to wealthy castle owners brought rare opportunity to women to live a pleasurable life.
Hence the story does not remain only an account of a mad medieval knight. It has different layers, which makes this one the most interesting story of the series. Researchers through the ages tried to decipher meaning of the story. The orthodox came with the opinion that the wife pays the price for her showing curiosity. Medieval Europe under the strict ruling of churches considered curiosity to be a sin. Her breaching the promise (or infidelity suggested by symbolic presence of lock and key form where blood stains could not be removed) could be reason for her losing a loving husband. On the other hand feminists decipher this as a story of the triumph of an intelligent woman, who finally becomes the winner killing her torturous husband.
I am not going to present an analytical thesis here, would love to hear the readers communicating its possible implications from social, psychological or even feminist point of view instead.

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