Now more downcast than ever, the Princess returned to the henwife once more, and the henwife said “this time, ask yer faither fur a coat o rashes.”

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Words by Rosie Young
Illustration by Linley Barba

Once upon a time in an old kingdom lived a Princess. Her father wished her to be married to the King of a neighbouring kingdom, but the Princess thought her suitor old and ugly. Dreading the thought of the impending wedding, the Princess went to the henwife for help. 

When she told the henwife of her troubles, the henwife said, “Oh aye, A ken the man, and he’s nae as ugly as he is affu. Tell yer faither ye’ll nae mairry wioot a coat o beaten gowd.”

And so the Princess went to her father and told him just that, but this wasn’t a problem for the King. He called upon the finest goldsmiths in the land and had them work the gold until it was so fine and delicate it flowed like fabric. In no time, the Princess had a coat of beaten gold that shone like sunlight.

And so she went back to the henwife and told her, “A hae ma coat o gowd, an A’m still tae mairry the auld king.”

So the henwife told her to go to her father again and ask for a coat made from the feathers of all the birds of the air. And so the Princess did, and once again this wasn’t a problem. The king sent out his servants across the land with baskets of grain. “Ae grain fer ain feather!” shouted the servants, and the birds obliged. The servants returned to the castle with sacks full of feathers, and soon a coat was made, shimmering with all the colours of the rainbow.

Now more downcast than ever, the Princess returned to the henwife once more, and the henwife said “this time, ask yer faither fur a coat o rashes.”

Off the Princess went, thinking that surely this time the task was impossible. But no sooner had she asked for it, than she was presented with a coat finer than gossamer and greener than summer, with all the memories of its flowers and smells and sounds. Alongside the coat of rushes she was presented with a pair of matching slippers and the promise that she would marry the old king on the morrow.

Distraught, she returned to the henwife, but the henwife said, “A can help ye nae mair, ye’ve had yer three things. If ye ken whit’s guid fer ye, ye’ll leave this place and find a new life.”

The more she thought, the more the Princess knew she couldn’t stay. So she packed a bag, and in it put the three coats of gold, feather, and rush. That night she left her home kingdom, and began to walk. She walked and walked until days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, until finally she reached another kingdom, and went to the castle. By now her fine clothes were so worn and dirty she looked like an ordinary country girl.

She knocked on the back door of the castle kitchens and begged for a job. “Come awa in,” they said, “we’re needin somebody tae help in the kitchen. Whits yer name?”

“Rashiecoat,” said the Princess, thinking of the beautiful rush coat hidden in her bag. 

In she went and was set to work. She scrubbed the pots, lifted the ashes, and made sure the spits kept turning. She did all these to the best of her ability.

When Sunday came, all in the castle were going to the church, but they said “Ye mist bide here Rashiecoat and watch the denner.”

So, heart heavy, Rashiecoat took up her place by the pot.

Just then, there was a great flash of light and one of the fairy folk appeared before her in the kitchen. “Rashiecoat!” she said, “Why are ye no at the kirk? Awa and pit on yer coat o gowd.”

“A mist watch the denner,” said Rashiecoat.

“A’ll tak care o that.” Said the fairy, “bit mind an be back afore the ithers.”

So Rashiecoat donned her golden coat and the fairy chanted to the fire, “Ae peat maks anither peat burn, Ae spit maks anither spit turn, Ae pat maks anither pat play, Let Rashiecoat gang to the kirk the day!”

When Rashiecoat reached the church, all eyes were on her, and in particular, those of the handsome Prince. He made up his mind then and there that he must speak with her at the end of the service. But Rashiecoat, keen not to be caught away from her post, left before the end of the ceremony, and the Prince could find no trace of her.

When she returned to the kitchen the lunch was prepared, the table laid, and the fairy nowhere to be found. The other kitchen staff followed soon after, and once they had eaten their lunch, they said “O, Rashiecoat! There wis a richt bonny lassie wi a gowden coat! If only ye could’ve seen!”

Rashiecoat stayed quiet and kept her secrets. The next sabbath day she thought she might get to come to the church, but yet again she was told to stay home and watch the lunch. And the very same thing happened again: The fairy appeared in a flash of light and said “Rashiecoat! Why are ye no at the kirk? Awa and pit on yer coat o feathers.” 

That day at the church the prince couldn’t take his eyes from the girl in the coat of feathers. But before the sermon ended, Rashiecoat hurried back to the kitchen to serve the lunch. And once again the other kitchen staff were singing the praises of the beautiful girl and the coat made from feathers of all the birds in the world.

The week passed and Sunday came, and once again Rashiecoat was tasked with making the lunch. No sooner had she sat down than the fairy appeared and said, “Rashiecoat! Gang tae the kirk the day wearing yer coat o rushes and yer wee shoon.”

This time the Prince could think of nothing but the girl in the coat greener the summer, and decided he would ask her to be his wife. He tried to catch her before she left, but Rashiecoat was faster, and in her hurry she dropped one of her slippers.

The prince picked up the shoe and turned it over in his hands, thinking “A ken whit A’ll dae.” And so it was announced to the whole kingdom that he would marry the woman whose foot the slipper fit.

People came from far and wide to try on the shoe, but none fit. However that kingdom had its own henwife who was a cunning woman and wanted her own daughter to marry the prince. So she took a knife to her daughter’s foot and cut and chopped it down to size.

When the prince visited it was dark in the cottage and so he saw nothing amiss when the shoe slid easily onto the foot of the henwife’s daughter. And so he agreed that they would be married, and pulled her up behind him on his horse. They road together up to the castle, but as they passed through the woods, a little bird perched on a branch sang: “Nippit fit and clippit fit, ahint the king’s son rides. But bonny fit and true fit, ahint the cauldron hides.”

So the Prince turned to the henwife’s daughter and said “Awa back tae yer mither then, see if she can fix that fit, but first gee me back that shoe.” That she did, and he now saw the slipper was full of blood.

He road fast as he could back to the castle and washed and dried the shoe before hurrying down to the kitchen where he found Rashiecoat. “Please Miss,” he said, “will ye try on this shoe?”

So Rashiecoat did and it fit perfectly, then from her bag she produced its twin, and the green rush coat. They were married the very next day, and lived in plenty for the rest of their lives.  

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