A Tall Ship Tale #86: Now Hair This

More from Paul DeAnguera.

The combined crews of the H.M.S. Legume and the U.S.S. Groundpea thought their dueling champions had done each other about equal damage so far. But now the First Mate stepped up on the main hatch cover to unleash one of his deadliest rounds:


Once upon a time there lived a girl whose powers of speech were legendary. She could win any argument, any debate, and any election with a speech that was masterful and compelling, leaving her opponents foolishly nodding. In fact, some said that hers was a magical gift. And they whispered that if the girl made the merest play upon words, by the magic of her speaking, whatever strange juxtaposition she uttered became real.

Once, so the story goes, when she was cooking she picked up an unfamiliar spice and exclaimed “How much of this should I use, for cayenne out loud?” And the spice bottle answered “Not very much, unless you want to eat alone!”

Again, if you would believe it, when she had gone to the cellar to refill her mug, she dropped it. Before it could hit the flagstones she shouted “A niche in time saves stein!” The mug disappeared; she got down on her knees and held her hands out where it might have landed; and then it reappeared, and she caught it very nicely.

Because the gods are not unjust, such a gift came at a heavy price. The girl was completely bald.

Now, while a wig is all very well for a brief and distant appearance, it would not do for a suitor to discover it. So she commanded Nauwan the Witch to make her smooth pink scalp grow real hair. the witch could no more resist her command than could anybody else; so she replaced the golden-tongued girl’s defective scalp cells with genetically corrected clones at considerable trouble and expense. But witches do not like to be commanded. So in revenge she locked the girl in a high tower, after taking the precaution of plugging her own ears.

The girl called out to the passers-by below to subdue the witch and rescue her. But for once she knew defeat, for the witch was not without her own power. “Who has imprisoned you up there?” a handsome young apprentice called up to her. “Tell me, and I shall fight him and win your freedom!”

“Nauwan keeps me here!” she cried. “And please, I want you to fight Nauwan — if only you would!” But it was no use talking like this. So she sat sadly by the window, and each day her genetically-engineered hair grew more lustrous and long.

By now the young apprentice had fallen in love with her. And he was also rather puzzled by her. So he inquired about her situation and learned of her power, and her malady, and of the cure which Nauwan now begrudged her. After he had found the answers to his questions, he approached the foot of the tower and called up “I’ve thought of a way for you to get down! You must make a mighty and magical play upon words — one that will materialize into some manner of escape for you! One long enough so that its very letters will become a ladder for you to climb down upon!”

“Words that turn solid, and that are strong enough to hold me up? I don’t know if even I could do that,” she said uncertainly. But with confidence he implored,

“Re-haircell! Re-haircell! Let down your long pun!”

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