The Ale Wife
by Christopher Owen
“So you are an ale wife?” Tom Bobbin asked the pretty young girl behind the bar.
“I am,” she said. “I brewed the ale in your tankard, sir.”
“And fine ale it is. What is your name, love?”
“And a fine name that is. And what be your husband’s name?”
“I have no husband,” said Lorena. She had a dishrag in her hand and had set about wiping down the bar at which Tom Bobbin was the sole patron.
“But you are called ‘ale wife.’ How can you be a ‘wife,’ if you’ve no husband?”
“In the old tongue, ‘wife’ just means ‘woman.’ As in ‘midwife,’ you know, the woman that delivers babies.”
“That is interesting, Lorena ale wife. I would court you.”
“I do not wish to be courted, sir.” said Lorena.
Tom Bobbin took a sip of his ale and wiped his mouth. “Nonsense. You are young and comely, and I am a man of fortitude and virtue. Why would you not wish to be courted?”
“That is my business, sir.”
“Have you a beau?”
“That is my business as well, sir.”
“Then I will assume you do not, since you do not offer to tell me such. But come, I am handsome enough, and have a pension from service in the king’s army. And spring is at hand, the season of love. Will you not go a-maying with me?”
“I have no wish to sneak off into the fields with you, sir.”
“I could recite you poesy, my sweet.”
“I’m not a fan.”
“I could buy you jewels for your hair and neck. My purse rings full these days, my sweet.”
“I want no jewels.”
“My but you’re the difficult sort. Just what is it you want, Lorena?”
“Nothing,” said Lorena.
Tom Bobbin frowned and let fly a ‘humph.’ At length he said “In that case, bring me another ale. If I can’t have you, at least I’ll have something into which you’ve put your love and essence.”
Lorena took his tankard and ladled more ale into it from the open barrel that sat behind the bar. She then sat it back in front of Tom Bobbin.
“I drink this in your honor, fair Lorena. I imagine it sweet dew from the grass that’s been kissed by the touch of your toes.”
Lorena laughed at this. “She smiles,” said Tom, “and my heart bursts into butterflies in flight. A thousand pieces of gold I would pay for another such curving of your lips.”
“I’ll settle for two pence for the ales, sir.” said Lorena.
“And you shall have it,” said Tom, fishing into his purse and producing two copper coins. He spun them on the bar, and they flashed in the afternoon light streaming through the windows of the pub. “Tuppence for my love.” said Tom.
“I’m not your love, sir,” said Lorena.
“Oh, you wound me, Lorena. Why not take that dagger on your thigh and plunge it into my heart.”
“The thought’s crossed my mind,” She said.
“Lorena my sweet. Perhaps we are going about this all wrong. I must prove my worthiness to you. Offer me a challenge. I will do anything for you, anything. I can climb high mountains and swim broad lakes and rivers. I’ll fight any man. I’ll fight a bear. A brace of bears!”
“A challenge, eh?”
“Yes, my sweet. Anything at all. You just name it.”
Lorena thought for a moment, and a wicked grin formed on her lips. “All right, sir.”
“Tom. Tom Bobbin.”
“All right sir Tom Bobbin. The fact is my heart does yearn for a lover. If you can find one that moves my heart, you will have won the challenge!”
“Bravo! I’ve a quest. A quest for my love, Lorena. I shan’t fail you, my sweet.”
“We’ll see about that,” said Lorena.
Tom finished his ale, and bid Lorena goodbye, and walked out of the pub into the warm spring afternoon. His mind was awash with the thought of winning Lorena’s hand, and he looked around to and fro, wondering just where he might start.
Then it hit him. He’d been tricked. “Wait a minute. If I find her the perfect lover, that will be someone else. I will have given her her heart’s desire, but my love will still be unrequited. By the gods, that was a foolish thing upon which to agree.”
For the next few days, Tom sulked around town, frequenting several pubs–-but not Lorena’s–-and drinking his fill. He couldn’t help stare at other men as he sat, wondering which of them might fill the bill to Lorena’s heart. But it didn’t matter; none of them would be him.
Then he had a thought. There was a wizard who lived not too far out of town. Some of his mates in the king’s army had visited this wizard, and paid for his magical services. Tom shook his purse. It was still full of plundered gold from his last military campaign. Perhaps...perhaps this was the answer.
The next day, Tom hired a horse and rode out to the small cottage in which the wizard lived. He dismounted, walked to the door, and knocked.
“Hello, Tom Bobbin,” said the old, grey-haired wizard when he opened his door.
Tom was startled. “How did you know who I was?” he asked.
“I’m a wizard. I make it my business to know who is at my door before I open it. Now, you want something from me, and you’ve brought gold, which is a good thing. Come in and tell me what you will.”
Tom hurried into the cottage, which he found very strange inside. The walls were all covered in mirrors, such that a hundred Tom Bobbins stared back at him.
“What’s with all the mirrors?” Tom asked.
“That’s my business. Now tell me yours. I don’t wish to have my time wasted.”
“I am in love,” said Tom. “With the ale wife at the Barbary pub.”
“I know the place,” said the wizard.
“I would have you change me into the perfect lover for her, so that I may win my challenge, and her heart.”
“Humm,” said the wizard. “Is this truly what you wish?”
“With all my heart.”
“I can do this...for all the gold in your purse, or course. I can link my mind to hers; serve as a conduit of sorts, channeling her deepest desire from her heart into your form. But be warned. It will be irreversible.”
“I’m a good man, but I’m not afraid of being a better one. For how could she love less than the best? Here, wizard. Here is my gold. Work your magic.”
The wizard took the gold from Tom Bobbin’s purse and slipped it into a pocket of his robe. He then had Tom remove his clothes, close his eyes, and stand perfectly still. Tom heard the wizard mumble strange words and incantations, and felt a growing tingle throughout his body. At length, a violent tremor shook through Tom’s body. He opened his eyes.
“It is done,” said the wizard.
Tom stared at himself in one of the wizard’s mirrors. He was in shock. Gone was his well-muscled body, gone were his beard and mustache, and gone was his manhood. He how had a smooth hourglass figure, supple breasts, and long, flowing brown hair.
“What have you done?” Tom asked.
“Made you into what you asked for. You are now exactly what the ale wife would love.”
“But I’m a woman!”
A few days later, Tom Bobbin wandered into the Barbary pub. Lorena was idly dusting the bar, her eyes unfocused, as if she were day dreaming. Tom fidgeted with the dress he now wore, a cotton extravagance which he had purchased with his last few silver coins. He now had only copper coins left, and he used one to order an ale.
“Sure, love,” said Lorena, taking his order. Her face seemed to light up when she first noticed Tom. When she brought him his ale, she asked, “So what’s your name, love?”
“Er, Tom Bobbin.” Her eyes widened. “That’s right, Lorena. It is I. And yet, as you can see, I’ve been...changed.”
“Well, indeed you have.”
“So...would you like to go a-maying?” asked Tom. Lorena smiled at him. She didn’t say no.
Christopher Owen lives in Texas with his wife and two cats. His work has appeared at Daily Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, Mystic Signals and other places. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop.
Where do you get the ideas for your stories?
The short answer is I believe ideas are everywhere, constantly assaulting us in a stream of consciousness sort of way. The long answer is that I have a few techniques I use when I need to generate ideas for my writing day. One involves randomly picking five words from a novel or non-fiction book and letting those words form some sort of relationship in my mind from which I build a story. Random images from books or the internet can also spark a story idea, or sometimes I’ll just set my iPod on shuffle and try to come up with a story inspired by the first song that plays.