Yes, that is a black pudding attached to my nose. You may laugh now.

Really, I mean that. Laugh now, and laugh long and well, and be sure to make the most of it, because this is the only chance you will get.  Everyone gets the opportunity to laugh at my nose precisely once. Laugh at me again, and the penalty will be death. Which would be a pity; you seem like a pleasant young man.

Ah, I see you have stopped. Good. I do like a man with a moderate sense of humour. Moderation is important.

I have heard you are a very clever man, so I shall give you another warning: no sausage jokes. Believe me, I have heard them all before. They are all offal. Though the German ones are the wurst.

Just a little joke to set you at ease. You will not be punished for smiling. A Queen may make jokes that are forbidden to others.

I learned that joke from the last man who tried to write my biography. A very charming man, and an excellent writer. I was most distressed when he had to be executed. But the dignity of the Crown must be maintained.

You think me harsh, I see. I am harsh – I have no choice in the matter. A Queen ruling alone will always be seen as weaker than a King; she cannot allow anyone or anything to undermine her authority. And a Queen ruling alone with a sausage attached to her nose is at an even greater disadvantage.

I am very good at ruling this country, though. Ask the peasants, if you don’t believe me. Don’t bother asking the court – they will only tell you what they think I want to hear. But the peasants are far enough away and sufficiently preoccupied with their own survival that they won’t trouble themselves to lie.

Sometimes I miss being a peasant. But not very often.

Another warning: being likeable will not save you, if you undermine my authority here. I do not like executing people, but I will do what I must. So don’t laugh.

I was born in a tiny cottage in the forest in the farthest corner of this kingdom. My father was a woodcutter; my mother picked rushes from the banks of the stream near our cottage and wove them into baskets and hats to sell at the market.

My parents had married late in life, and I was their only child. When I was very young I was sad not to have brothers and sisters, as the children of the village did, to share in my chores, and to play with. But as I grew older, I realised that my parents had been fortunate to have only me; even with my father’s hard work and my mother’s diligence, we barely had enough to eat. Had my parents had more children, our lives would have been difficult indeed.

My father died when I was thirteen, and my mother and I were left alone in the world. Since we could not live on my mother’s rush baskets alone, I resolved to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a woodcutter. When I made my petition to the lord of our forest, he laughed – there I stood, a scrawny thirteen-year-old girl in a ragged dress with no muscles to speak of, offering to be his forester and woodcutter.

I think the only reason he did not dismiss me entirely was that he thought it would make a better story to see me try and fail.

He gave me three months – a single season – to chop as much wood as my father would have done in a similar time.

It was not enough.

I will not bore you with the tale of those three months. To tell the truth, I hardly remember them myself, except as a haze of exhaustion, of despair that grew even as my muscles burned and my hands blistered and became callused, and I grew yet further from my goal. Every night, I lay awake, exhausted, yet too fearful to sleep.  I was too young to wed, and my mother was too old.  How would we live if we lost our cottage? For the cottage was part of the woodcutter’s gift; if I was not the woodcutter, we would be left homeless.

About a week before the end of my three months, I reached the end of the road. The day had been long, and unsuccessful. I had fallen into a blackberry patch so that my face and arms were covered in scratches; the blade from my ax had flown off and required re-attaching, losing me yet more hours; and it was apparent – painfully apparent – that I had not chopped nearly enough wood to satisfy the lord of the forest and keep my job. I slumped down to the ground, my back against a tree, and began to lament my fate.

“Some people,” I said to myself, “have only to make known their desires, and straightway these are granted, and their every wish fulfilled; but it has availed me little to wish for ought, for the gods are deaf to the prayers of such as I.”

As I spoke these words there was a great noise of thunder, and Jupiter appeared before me wielding his mighty thunderbolts. I might have fallen to the ground in fear, but I was far too exhausted to do so. Still, I had some sense of self-preservation.

“My lord,” I said, “forget my foolish speech; heed not my wishes, but cease thy thundering!”

“Have no fear,” answered Jupiter; “I have heard thy plaint, and have come hither to show thee how greatly thou dost wrong me. Hark! I, who am sovereign lord of this world, promise to grant in full the first three wishes which it will please thee to utter, whatever these may be. Consider well what things can bring thee joy and prosperity, and as thy happiness is at stake, be not over-hasty, but revolve the matter in thy mind.”

I thought quickly. I had not expected such an opportunity, but in truth, there were only two things I truly needed.

“I thank you, Lord Jupiter,” I said. “If I may have three wishes, then my first wish is that I may be strong enough to chop wood and keep my job now and for as long as I need it; and my second wish is that neither I nor my mother will ever go hungry or be without shelter.”

“These are modest wishes indeed,” said Lord Jupiter, “and easily granted. But will you not wish your third wish? For I warn you that many a foolish wish has been made in a moment of anger or of desire, and heartily regretted thereafter.”

I considered this. I knew myself to be no fool, but I also knew myself to be impulsive and quick to anger. Lord Jupiter’s advice seemed well worth heeding. Yet I did not know what else to wish for.

Jupiter smiled. “Would you not wish for a husband, perhaps? A kind man, who will treat you well and keep you from all need?”

I shook my head. “I would rather a husband who chose me for my own self, and not because of a wish. And you have already promised to keep me from need. No – my third wish will be for the wisdom to choose my future well, whatever that may be.”

Jupiter nodded. “So be it,” he said, and disappeared.

Immediately, I felt stronger – my shirt was tighter around my shoulders, and my trousers around my thighs.

Goodness, I don’t think I’ve made anyone blush like that since I got this nose. Yes, I wore trousers to cut wood – of course I did! Can you imagine trying to do heavy manual labour in a long skirt?

Anyway, I realised that I now had the strength and energy to chop wood for hours if need be. I strode back to the cottage and discovered to my delight that wood was piled up three times as high as I had left it – well and truly enough to keep my bargain with the lord of our forest.

Are you still stammering?  You’d better stop it, or I’ll get cranky.  And you wouldn’t like me when I’m kransky…

Oh, go away and write.  I’ve given you enough for one day, anyway. We will speak again tomorrow.

There’s no need to stare at me like that. It will grow back within the day; it always does. If you are going to live in my court, you will need to learn to pretend that you don’t see it. Otherwise, I’ll never get any sense out of you.

Listen: have you ever been hungry? I don’t just mean hungry because your dinner is late, or because you have missed a meal or fasted for a day. I mean the kind of hunger that sits, gnawing in your stomach, until your only thought is of food. You drink water as much as you can, to trick your stomach into fullness, and you move as little as you can, to conserve your energy, but the emptiness only really goes away when you sleep. And so you sleep a lot, and when you do, you dream of food, and of eating – of bread, of hard-boiled eggs, of cheese. Perhaps even of sausage…

No, I didn’t think so. You’re a younger son, of course, or your parents would not have risked you by sending you here. But you went to school, and you always had breakfast in the morning and dinner at night. You couldn’t really understand.

I envy you.

Do you know what I found most infuriating when this blood pudding first attached itself to my nose?

Well yes. Apart from my husband, God rest his soul. But it was the sheer waste of it that galled.

You have never eaten blood pudding, I imagine. It’s peasant food – coarse and black, and with the sort of name that causes more refined people to curl their lips in disgust.

But it’s also rich in iron, full of vitamins and minerals, and the fat which makes these digestible. A good blood pudding can sustain you for days.

It’s quite delicious, actually.

And in one moment of stupid anger, I had one attached to my nose.

I can’t eat it – the spell will not allow it. And to tell the truth, I lost the taste for blood pudding many years ago.

But I’m hardly going to let the poor of the city starve when I have such a fine, renewable source of food for them, now am I?

No, certainly not. It never grows past my waist, but if I cut it off daily, there is sufficient for a family. It’s part of the palace’s policy of charitable giving.

But enough of that. I was telling you of my bargain with Jupiter and how it had worked out for me, and truth be told, it served me well for some years. I still had to work hard to meet my quota of wood, but I could do it, and still have energy to spare at the end of the day. My mother’s baskets and hats began to bring in greater income, as people came from neighbouring towns to stare at the only female woodcutter in France, and stayed to buy my mother’s wares.

La Boissière, they called me. The wood-girl. I suppose I should have been Madame Bûcheronne, properly speaking, but the villagers said that I was as strong as a tree, and as impervious as wood, and so I was, until I met my husband. And when I met him, I burned as wood does in a furnace.

It was not a bad name.

You are too young to remember the King, of course. You could not have been more than an infant when he died. But you will have seen his portrait, and I can assure you, it is a true one. You know that I do not exaggerate when I tell you that he had the face of an angel.

He had the body of a woodcutter, too – beautiful, strong shoulders and arms and thighs, a lean waist and – are you blushing again?

Very well. I shall not comment further on his body. Or the size of his hands. Or his feet. Or his blood pudding…

You are much more amusing than the last biographer. I do hope you can keep your head.

I shall spare your blushes, and say simply that he was a beautiful man. I desired him from the moment he strode into my woods, and never mind that he was the man sent to replace me. He desired me, too, and we were wed within the fortnight.

We were happy at first. I was glad to take a break from the hard work of woodcutting, and my husband thrived on it.

But Jupiter is very literal in his blessings. He had promised me that I would be able to cut enough wood – but he had not promised the same to my husband. He had promised that there would always be enough food for my mother and me – but he never promised that this would suffice my husband, too, nor yet the child that was soon on its way. And I could hardly eat my share and let my husband go hungry.

Life grew harder, and then harder still, until one day, my husband had an idea.

You will have noticed that in all my talk of his physical attributes, I never mentioned my husband’s intellect. That is because he had very little intellect to speak of. He was a handsome man, yes, and a kind one, when he remembered to be. But he was not, oh, most certainly not, a wise man.

I had told him, of course, of my bargain with Jupiter. I kept nothing from him, because I loved him. And his slowness did not trouble me, since I was happy to make the decisions for both of us, and he had no quarrel with my rule of the household.

Well, my husband decided that the solution to our problems would be to make his own bargain with Jupiter. To do him justice, it wasn’t a terrible plan.  He intended to make the bargain, and then consult with me over the wishes, which was wisdom, even if it was but borrowed.  But Jupiter must have told him something different to what he told me, because when he arrived home, he was babbling about endless wealth and magical feasts and a kingdom of his own, and I realised that he was far more ambitious than I had credited him for – and even less wise.

I counselled patience.

“’Twere a pity,” I said, “to spoil our chances through impatience. We had best take counsel of the night, and wish no wishes until to-morrow.”

“That is well spoken,” answered my husband. “Meanwhile fetch a bottle of our best, and we shall drink to our good fortune.”

Our best was not much, but I was glad to fetch wine for us both. I hoped that it would make him sleepy and amorous, and disinclined to hasty decisions. I would then have the night to come up with a plan, and a way to convince him of it.

Alas, it was not to be. He sat back in front of the fire, and sighed with contentment.

“What fine glowing embers!” he said, “and what a fine toasting fire! I wish we had a black pudding at hand.”

And then, of course, we did.

It came writhing and wriggling into the room like a great black snake, and we both stared at it, hardly able to believe our eyes.

I was the first to recover, and I will not make excuses for myself: I lost my temper. I couldn’t believe that he would do so well on the one hand, only to throw it away with a careless word on the other.

I told him so, and I told him more than that, and more again, and it was not long before my husband had passed through shame and embarrassment to anger – the kind of immoderate fury that only strikes when one knows oneself to be completely in the wrong.

I would have done better to cook the blood sausage and serve it up with kind words and a reminder of our remaining two wishes. I should have had the wisdom to do so – I do not know what became of Jupiter’s final gift to me in that moment.

But the damage was done, and before long, my husband was shouting at me as wildly as I was berating him, and at last he thundered: “A plague on the shrew and on her pudding! Would to heaven it hung at the end of her nose.”

And so it did.

We stopped shouting then.

My husband opened his mouth – I think to apologise – but I ran forward and covered his mouth with my hand. “Be very careful what you say,” I warned him. “I think we have both spoken enough thoughtless words this evening.”

He nodded, and I removed my hand, and rubbed my nose.

We sat in silence, looking into the fire. I was trying very hard to be calm, but in truth, my nose ached with the weight of the sausage. I was afraid to look in the mirror and see what had been done to me.

“What should I do?” my husband asked at last. “Should I use the last wish to undo what I have done?”

I swallowed. “That would be rather wasteful,” I said. “I think we should try to slice the pudding off, first.”

My husband drew out his knife, then hesitated. “What if it is part of you now? I should not wish to hurt you.”

“You already have hurt me,” I said, before I could help myself. My husband looked stricken. I sighed, and took the knife from him. “We need to know whether it is permanently attached. At worst, I will bleed a little.”

And I sliced off the blood pudding.

Yes, certainly it hurt. Have you ever sliced just the tip off your finger while cooking? No, I suppose not. But it hurt like that. No more, and no less. And it did bleed, though not for long.

And then it grew back.

Yes, it still hurts when I slice it off in the mornings. Why would it not?

I abhor waste, that’s why.  And I will not have one of my subjects go hungry when I can prevent it with so little effort on my part.

In any case, we knew that it would not come off so easily.

My husband sighed. “I wish–” he began and I leapt up again to stop him. It was becoming clear to me that my husband was the last person in the world to whom one should be granting wishes.

“Do not say anything,” I told him, my hand over his mouth, “but think carefully, and then tell me – without using the words ‘wish’ or ‘would’ or anything else that might indicate immediate desire – what it was you had planned to wish for.”

I removed my hand from his mouth, and he bit his lip. “I had thought,” he said carefully, “that it might be pleasant to have our own kingdom. I thought… you would be a fine Queen. But you cannot be a Queen with a pudding attached to your nose. It would not be dignified.” My husband sighed. “I am sorry,” he said, sadly. “This is all my fault. I have wasted the first two wishes, and made you monstrous. I think it is only right that the last wish should be yours to choose. I had rather live with you poor and happy in a cottage, than sit the throne with you unhappy and ashamed beside me.”

I had not, in fact, been feeling ashamed. I was angry, certainly, and sore, and a little humiliated – and upset, too. You would not know it now, but I was a comely woman. I liked my looks, and I liked the way my husband looked at me. And now he thought me monstrous, though it was his words that had made me so.

And – we had not been poor and happy. We had been poor and in love, and we had also been hungry.  Starvation was not impossible. I had one child on the way already, and barely the means to support him – what if there were more?

“Why, what have I to be ashamed of?” I said, as bravely as I could. “If I am the Queen, nobody will dare to shame me, no matter how many puddings are attached to my nose. Wish us a kingdom, husband. Anything less would be a waste.”

Ah, that’s not the story you had heard? You’ve been talking to that hack Perrault, I suppose. Let’s see, how did he put it? Ah yes:

“Fanny’s mind was soon made up: although she had dreamt of a crown and sceptre, yet a woman’s first wish is always to please. To this great desire all else must yield, and Fanny would rather be fair in drugget than be a Queen with an ugly face.”

Oh yes, I memorised it. Right before I banished him from the kingdom for writing such ridiculous rubbish.

Think, man – if his story were true, I would hardly be here, and looking like this, now would I? I would be poor, and pretty, and you would never have heard of me.

And really, ‘a woman’s first wish is always to please’? That’s not even logically consistent with the rest of his story. How pleasing did he think I was being when I called my husband an idiot?

I have no patience with the man. It’s a good thing for him that he has never dared approach me.

Enough. I meet with my ministers in an hour, and I must prepare. We will speak again soon.

You know the next part, of course. How the old king of this kingdom died without an heir, and the throne went to his brother, who died of a plague along with his whole family. And how the next heir was a second cousin to the old king – but the cousin himself had been turned into a frog some years previously, without ever fathering a child. And his brother had only had daughters, who had married princes from distant kingdoms and could not inherit, leaving no heir but the nephew of another, even more distant cousin, who had become lost in the woods as a child and fostered by a woodcutter and his wife.

You will know of the proclamation that went out, commanding all the men in the kingdom aged between twenty-five and thirty to present themselves, shirtless, in the capital city square on the first day of spring, so that the lost heir might be identified by his royal birthmark.

(That was a good day for the young ladies of the capital, and I hear that many marriages were made that afternoon. It was quite the sausage-fest, in fact.)

(Really, you need to learn to control your blushes.)

And you will know that the lost heir was my husband.

The people were delighted at my husband’s good looks and kind nature; they were less enamoured of my pudding nose and quick wit. Nonetheless, we were crowned King and Queen, and vowed to rule wisely and for the benefit of all the people.

It is not easy to become Royal when one has lived one’s life as a peasant. I will not share with you the travails we suffered in our first months, the endless training we endured, the mistakes we made, or the petty cruelties of the court. They could only afford petty cruelties, of course; I was the beloved wife of the beloved King, and carried his heir in my womb.

Still, I took note of those who helped, and those who did not, and considered how I would deal with them.

My husband’s first care, in those first months on the throne, was to remove the black pudding from my nose. Alas, Jupiter’s powers are great indeed, and no court wizard or herbwife, no fairy godmother or royal alchemist could be found that knew how to lift my curse. I bore this patiently, as I must, and soon gained a name for my kind and gentle nature, as well as for my charitable works among the poor of the kingdom.

You don’t need to look so terrified. I forbade you to laugh at my nose, not at the court. Should I forbid you to laugh at the follies of the court, your life would be short indeed.  A veritable chipolata of a life…

The ladies of the court did not admire me at first. They were all beautiful and graceful, and of high birth, raised to manage their husbands’ lands and estates. Some had even had hopes of marrying the new King, before it became clear that he was already wed. A pudding-nosed peasant was not their idea of a Queen, and it galled them to curtsey to me as their superior. Still, time, and the birth of a healthy, puddingless heir, soothed much of their chagrin. Those who were kind, I made sure to reward with gifts of both wealth and influence; and for all of our sakes, I convinced my husband to change the laws of inheritance, so that daughters might inherit their fathers’ lands, where there was no son. This pleased brotherless daughters and their fathers greatly, though their male cousins were rather less delighted.

The common people I courted well, and I became known for my down-to-earth nature and my willingness to listen to the concerns of those who lacked the noble blood that would grant them access to the King. I was determined that no child should grow up experiencing the fear and hunger that I had endured, and in addition to my many charitable works, I encouraged my husband to oppose laws that would enclose common lands where flocks were grazed, as well as those that made the forests into private property. I encouraged trade with other lands, and invited the court alchemists to turn their attention to making crops more nutritious and hardy, the better to grow in our poor soil.

The lords of the court liked me not at all. They saw their influence and prerogatives being undermined, and feared the increasing health and confidence of the peasantry.

The wiser among them saw which way the wind was blowing, and chose to invest in local artisans and merchants, bringing prosperity to both.

The less wise among them plotted to get rid of me.

I regret to say that this was made easier for them by my husband. He had never quite become used to the sight of me with a black pudding hanging from my nose, and had not returned to my bed after the birth of our son. And while he was respectful and affectionate towards me in public, in private, he wanted little to do with me.

His courtiers were so very sympathetic, so very helpful – they whispered poisonously to him about my low birth, my unfortunate nasal condition, and my lack of respect for the prerogatives of the nobility. They spoke of marriage alliances and beautiful princesses. They reminded my husband, ever so gently, that he had a duty to the realm – that a single heir was an excellent start, but one never knew when something might happen to a child. Especially a child who carried such regrettable bloodlines. He needed a spare.

And he couldn’t bear to look at me, let alone share my bed in order to get one.

My husband was not a subtle man. I knew he was working up to asking me for an annulment, and I could not allow him to do so. It was not my livelihood alone that I feared, but that of my son; an annulment would unmake the marriage and remove him from the succession, but I feared that once my husband married again and sired another heir, my son would be considered too great a threat to leave alive.

My ladies felt likewise – even those who disliked me were uneasy at the notion of a Queen being so easily set aside, and they, too had children to protect. If I was not safe, then nor were they.

We struck first.

I did not actually intend the King’s death. You look skeptical, but it is true. His abdication would have served my purposes – I had planned to be Regent, to raise our son and rule the kingdom until he was old enough to make wise choices.

Alas, my husband never grew old enough to be wise. When the peasants marched on the palace, demanding his abdication, he made some foolish choices. Some very foolish choices.

As did his counsellors, though that was less disappointing to me.

What happened? I couldn’t tell you. My ladies and I were out hunting in the forest, and when we returned – well. There the King lay, with an arrow through his throat. His advisors had fared no better. Every one of them was dead.

It was a miracle that my ladies and I escaped unharmed, really.

Apparently, the peasants had worn masks. It was impossible to know who had killed the king – and equally impossible to punish an entire village.

I beg your pardon?

That is entirely barbaric. Also, impractical. You do realise that it’s the peasants who grow all our crops, don’t you? Or do you have an urge to learn how to farm?

No, I required the leaders of each village to take an oath of loyalty to the crown, and for twelve promising children from each village to be sent to the palace to act as servants and hostages for their villages’ good behaviour. So far, it’s going quite well. One of them has even become a member of my Council.

What of my son?

Oh, I think you know what happened to him.

Come now, I am no fool, and nor are my servants. My bodyguards saw your birthmark when they searched you. And you have the look of your grandmother, God rest her soul.

I will say, you do seem to have turned out quite well. You certainly have more wit than your father.  I did not recognise you until yesterday.

I trust your foster parents treated you well. I chose them quite carefully, you know. I wanted you to grow up outside the court, and with an understanding of how the common people live – but I wanted you safe, as well. I hope I achieved that. They did not know who you were, of course. It was better that way.

For me, too.

Tell me, have you been to see Jupiter yet?

Ah, I see you have. And what did you ask of him? Wealth? A beautiful wife?

A kingdom?

I do hope that you chose better than your father.


Boissière is situated in the west of Paris in the 16th arondissement, between l’Étoile and the Jardins de Trocadéro.  It opened in 1900 as part of Line 1, and has served lines 2 and 5 over the years as lines were reorganised.  It now serves Line 6.

Boissière gets its name from Rue Boissière, an extension of Rue de la Croix-Boissière, which was where boxwood crosses used to be hung on Palm Sunday.  It has absolutely nothing to do with woodcutters (the French word for woodcutter is Bûcheron), but the name Boissière does clearly derive from the same word root as bois, which means wood.  Also, there are many, many stations in the Paris Métro with names that require a story with religious themes, and there are only so many religious stories I have in me, I think.  Fairytales gone feminist (and in this case, ever so slightly socialist), on the other hand, I can write all day.

The heroine in this story comes from another of Charles Perrault’s fairytales, Les Souhaits Ridicules (The Ridiculous Wishes), and this entire story was inspired by my utter outrage at Perrault’s line about a woman’s first wish is always to please, which was not only deeply chauvinistic but also manifestly untrue in the context of this story.  I liked the idea of the heroine saying, no, you know what? I may have a blood pudding hanging from my nose, but I still want to be Queen.

There are several direct quotes from the 1729 translation of Perrault by a Mr Robert Samber of New Inn. I have not marked all of them, because this would have disrupted the flow of the story, but the more archaic language will point you to them pretty quickly, I think.  The first part of the heroine’s conversation with Lord Jupiter contains a large chunk of the translation, and there are several short quotes sprinkled through the section when the husband comes home to consult with her over his wishes, when he accidentally wishes for a sausage, and when he wishes it attached it to her nose.

The main illustration for this story is by Harry Clarke, from a collection of Charles Perrault’s fairytales translated into English in 1922, so it just squeaks into the public domain.  Which is excellent, because I adore the woman’s exasperated glare in the picture – it absolutely makes the character.  The blood sausages are a photograph by Mariuszjbie from Wikipedia Commons, which I edited into a string to make a nice section break.


fleur67bleft Boissière fleur67bright Trocadéro

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