The Tale of the Three Sisters
A Folk Tale Translated from the Portuguese
Once upon a time, there lived three sisters. They grew up in a small town that sat on the edge of the wild and windy pampas, under the shade of tall trees. Never had any sisters been closer and more in confidence with one another, though over time, the each girl's disposition grew quite distinct from her sisters'.
Luz was the oldest. Mute from birth, her gestures, expressions, and eyes spoke what her tongue could not. Few could meet her searching eyes without flinching, for they were and bright and searing, like two summer suns in a cloudless sky. Her mind and heart were constantly seeking for truth-- not so much for facts, but for the deeper kind of truth which, when struck, resonates in the soul. Luz felt most at home in the woods, where time passed more slowly and hidden voices sang in the trees and light whistled on the river.
The second sister, Dora, was kindest and warmest of the three. Loving gave her joy, and so she spent much of her time serving others-- fetching water from the well, tending children, and bunching flowers to hang from the windows of the sick. Animals were naturally drawn to Dora, for her touch was gentle and she was attentive to them. Dora was beloved by her family. She wanted nothing more than for everyone to be happy, and went to great lengths to ensure it was so-- even if it was at a cost to her own needs. She often felt responsible for shouldering the grief and loss of others, even if they had brought it upon themselves. Her heart was great, but it was not invincible, and so it was Dora who felt the most joy and pain out of her sisters.
The youngest sister, Rute, was very intelligent, articulate, and clever. Charismatic and energetic, she was the most social of her sisters and often spoke on behalf of the three of them-- especially Luz, whom she interpreted for. Always up for a challenge, Rute was driven most of her sisters to make and to do. She was not contemplative like Luz, nor easily delighted, like Dora -- but she very much liked to have her own way and make ideas into reality. She loved to summit high hills and mountains, though she was not long satisfied with these achievements, as there was always a steeper trail to be conquer. Luz believed she could climb them all with enough time. However, all of these great desires and ambitions sometimes made her impatient with obstacles in her path, which could cause her to become manipulative, false, and quick-tempered.
But the three sisters kept each other in check, for the strengths of each had the effect of balancing the weaknesses of the other two. In this way, they grew up to be beautiful and good young women. Their first responsibility was to each other– like three separate strands of one braid, and their joy was never complete if one of the three were missing. Together, they were whole and happy.
When they were old enough to lead their own lives and put away childish things, the sisters felt it would be right to leave the lands they knew and make their own way in the world. Rute especially longed to explore beyond the borders of their little town.
"Let us go out," she said with fervor, "and see what we can see, for there are many people to meet and many paths to walk. So many deeds are waiting to be performed and there is much we might bring into being."
So the sisters prepared, and one day in early summer, with their belongings packed and tied to their backs and their feet pointed north towards the great rivers, they ventured away from all they had known.
Many tales could be told about what the sisters encountered during their travels. They visited large cities, sat in great halls, camped with nomads in deserts, and traversed mountain valleys. They learned from great teachers, read from the best books, and found new friends everywhere.
And in the places they visited that were barren and non-peopled, deserts or deep woods, they took comfort from one another and were company enough for themselves. While Rute mapped out the routes they were to travel, Dora prepared meals and pitched the tents. And on nights when they were all exhausted, Luz would put out the fire and rub all of their sore muscles until their bodies had relaxed and they could sleep in peace.
As the years passed, the sisters grew, bit by bit, into wiser, stronger, and more compassionate women.
But seasons passed, and the sisters grew older. And as they grew, they each began to sense deep within them a strange ache, combined of emptiness and pain, laced with loss. The "angst," as they started to call it, made their hearts heavy, their spirits restless, and their minds anxious. They could not discover its source, for the angst did not seem to have anything to do with the food they ate, how much they slept, month of the year, or even week of the month! Though its symptoms were varied, when one sister began to sense it coming, the others knew they would soon feel it as well. Over the course of time, it came more frequently until it could not be ignored and troubled them consciously.
"It's not going to go away, is it?" Dora asked aloud one day, sighing. Rute put an arm around her shoulder, and together, they watched rain fall beyond the overhang where they had set up their camp. "No," she said, "But we must try to learn about it as much as we can. I think it will only get worse if we let it go on, and we have been doing everything in our power to dispel it. This is beyond us now... I think we seek out a cure." Then Luz came to stand beside them, leaning her head on Dora's shoulder. They agreed to solely search for answers to their pain.
In the weeks that followed, the sisters sought out many shamans, and wise cuanderismos – those who understood and treated ailments of the body and the mind. The old and wise ones asked the sisters many questions, lit incense, felt their heartbeats and foreheads, and peered into their eyes. But even after all this examining, no one could solve the sisters' dilemma. It was unlike any disease of the land or seas that had yet come upon that part of the land.
They journeyed on without any real success, until one night when they became caught in a mountain pass during a sudden storm. Rain and hail and darkness battered them from above, and wind whipped their bodies and threw dirt into their eyes. The trail became muddied and their clothing soaked– and the old angst throbbed harder than ever just under their skin. They pressed on, step by step, only because they knew that to stop and succumb would mean death.
But rounding a bend, they happened upon a small and isolated mountain hut – only a stone's throw away from their path. An orange candle flickered in the window, so they approached the hut and knocked on the door.
A woman answered, and seeing the sisters wet and shivering, immediately ushered them in to sit around a stone fireplace. She took many of their clothes and then wrapped them in thick blankets, muttering as she bustled about. She set a kettle on the fire, and felt the sisters' skin to make sure they weren't in danger of frostbite. Teeth chattering, they all watched as the woman moved around the space inside of the hut– which was dry, quiet, and warm. The woman was neither young nor old and she moved through space with a grace that seemed to challenge gravity. When the kettle whistled, the lady poured each of them, and herself, a cup of maté. Then she sat down across from the sisters and was silent.
"Thank you," said Rute humbly after she took a sip.
"Of course," the lady said, smiling, "Now, tell me what it is that has brought you– three young and unprotected women– to the mountains in such a season as this."
The sisters all had a vague sense that somehow, the woman already knew what it was they sought, though they could not explain how. Still Rute, eager to say something now that she was not shivering, spoke up.
"Lady," she said, "We are seeking a cure for a malady that has been gnawing at our bones and souls for months now. We do not know its origin or how to cast it off. Our need is not urgent, for the pain, if you can call it pain, is not sharp but dull. Still, it feels strange to us. And what is more is this: when this angst comes, it erodes our souls; saps us of our strength, our joy, and our hope. We seek delight and satisfaction from life, but when it comes, all our efforts seem futile, and colors become dull and the air lifeless. And it comes more and more frequently. We clench our teeth and fists, sigh, and hang our heads without realizing we are doing so. It seems the only thing that we can do to ease it is to keep going...when we're moving, we notice the pain less. Yet as soon as we are settled, it returns, and all we can do to try and staunch it is pack up our things and run. Still, it follows us -- we cannot outrun it and are weary of trying. In vain we have sought to find a remedy to return us to living a life of untroubled joy and peace. Can you help us?"
The woman took a deep breath and shut your eyes. "I know the angst that you speak of and I know that you have been seeking a cure for it. But I do not think that you will ever regain the bliss you enjoyed before it settled upon you. There is no cure. You can distract yourselves from it but you cannot outrun it. Nothing malicious threatens your lives or your health, for as you know your bodies are strong. This is an inward bleeding of the soul, caused by an age-old curse that I do not have the power to cure."
"A curse?!" exclaimed Dora, now leaning forward. "What do you mean? We have done nothing to deserve cursings."
The woman spoke, "Perhaps curse is not the right word to use. If mortality, the passage of time, and a sense of that coming death can be called a curse, then you are indeed cursed. Living long enough on this earth, we all lose our innocence. Part of your ache and restlessness is a longing for that which this world cannot provide... a true home for your souls, a place of wholeness and endless light. The sting of this pain may, as you said, be assuaged by movement and travel, by learning, and by seeking the worlds which exist outside of yourselves. And that is one reason why your spirits have been brought to this earth. Have faith that there are powers beyond what you can sense that are working to guide you toward happiness and joy," she paused and smiled, then continued, "Do not worry yourselves with what has passed or with what may yet come. The angst is part of being alive and becoming."
The sisters were silent-- they had all very much hoped for a cure, and the revelation, while it brought knowledge, did not bring relief .
The woman sipped her tea and continued. "Love will soothe and sanctify some of the pain. You know how to give love to those you meet in your wanderings, and many would call you 'friends,' but a more binding love will allow you to give and receive more even than this. For if you are anything, you are creators. That is why you are here, together. One of the most profound gifts that you can give back to the earth is the most precious gift that was given to you– your lives.
"You understand what I mean, don't you? Each of you must find a soul to complement and suit your own, a soul that will help you most approach becoming as whole and true and good as you can be though the world and your souls are broken. Find a companion who will help you nurture and raise children in this world, as you were raised by your own mother and father. Doing so may not resolve your discontent completely, but it has the power to transform it, and give it meaning."
The sisters did not understand everything that the woman was saying, but they hid their confusion and focused on what they had gathered from her words – that they were to seek companions beyond their little group of three.
"That is a difficult path, lady," said Rute, who thought this advice most unwelcome. "I don't know if we are ready." Rute couldn't help but think of everything that might be lost in this pursuit. She had heard many tales of women who sought love, lost love, and tried again, seeking, loving, losing, over and over again. That cycle could turn out to be endless, thought Rute, and I cannot very well map out a voyage that has no definite destination.
Dora's smile blossomed, for her heart began to dream of what might be shared-- she began to dream of joy. "I believe we are ready," she said to Rute triumphantly. It was not a surprise, for out of her sisters, Dora was always the most ready to give, and to hope, and love.
But Luz did not know what to think, for silence stilled her mind. In that void, she sensed that this part of their lives would be of great importance– and that its ultimate purpose would reach far beyond any soothing balm they sought. She understood that she and her sisters had been bidden to seek for love and companionship, but she sensed that the reality of this kind of love, when found, would transcend any idea of it she could presently imagine, and thus, prepare for.
"Well then," Rute said, resigned but disgruntled, "If this is to be our path, we should not wait to begin it. After we pass beyond the mountains, I will go north, and the other two will go West and South. We will find companions faster that way and finish the search."
"Oh no," said the woman, " You must not separate, for it will cost you too greatly in the end --beyond what you now suffer, in fact. I will tell you this: If, in the end, you are not each in accordance with the suitors your sisters choose, and are not each present during that courtship, then your spirits will each diminish, and your angst will grow into strife and alienation. It will be much more difficult for you to bear than it is even now. No, you must each fully accept with all that you are the suitor that your sister chooses, or he must not be chosen."
The woman rose and let the her words distill. "Rest in peace tonight," she said, "in the morning, you shall be ready to continue your search."
The sun rose brightly and woke the sisters from their slumber. They rubbed their eyes open in a beautiful meadow full of flowers-- though the ground was still damp, birds were chirping. But there was no sign of the woman or the hut anywhere.
"Was it all a dream?" they wondered, searching the surrounding forest to try and find the small hut they were sure had been there the night before. There was no sign of anything. But the sisters soon found that their packs had been filled with food and water (that had not been there before), and discovered a small scroll tied with string lying in the middle of the path they had been walking. Rute picked it up and read it:
Take care of each other. Do not neglect or despise your sisters. If you forget to love each other, you will never learn to love the companions you deserve enough to fill your souls. You are meant to bless each other and stay together– you are each other's first source of strength and joy.
It was not was not the food nor the note that ultimately made the sisters realize they had been sheltered by a miracle the night before-- it was a golden peace that rested in their hearts and warmed their souls like the sun warmed their skin. Before they had happened upon the hut, their angst and despondency had been thick and unyielding; they had been without hope. But all that had been cast away– their hope was bright and outshone any darkness or doubt within them. And though they did not know what the future held, they believed the words of the woman to be true.
So the three sisters again began to search, now for love. They traveled through many lands, opening their eyes and their hearts to all they encountered. In times of loneliness, they would return to each other, and sit down together to learn, weep, create, and play. They faced the angst as they had not known how to do before-- they explored it, stretched with it, and learned in some ways to curb it.
When their eyes were open, they saw miracles.
In seeking love, they attended gatherings and congregations. Dora and Rute easily adapted to the conventions of social life, but Luz had to step back from large groups and conversations. Unlike her sisters, Luz did not speak, and furthermore, the oldest sister could not comprehend the "necessary" patterns of pleasantries, pretense, and courteous laughter.
Many times, her sisters had tried to explain to her that she was too intense and serious, and that her piercing and unyielding gaze was too much for others to be comfortable with. Maybe she could practice smiling and nodding, at least?
But Luz did not understand or feel the need to change herself, or rather, to change the truth about herself. She watched her sisters from afar.
For a while, the sisters settled in a small town on the edge of the sea. It did not take very long for Rute and Dora to find men that suited their fancies. After all, there were many attractive, driven, intelligent, and honorable men who found the sisters to be handsome and kind and interesting.
Rute found an impressive gentlemen who was respected in town for his intelligence. As a merchant, he was well-read, well-spoken, and well-to-do: the picture of success and achievement. He was polite and courteous to everyone, even-tempered, and a prudent decision maker. Rute was pleased to be seen walking arm in arm with him through the town. No question, he would be able to provide and care for her and a future family, and was a match for her drive and determination. The match made sense to Rute, and she thought well of herself for having made it. He told her that he thought the same. And she was very satisfied.
Dora found a kind man who was sensitive and steady. He was a blacksmith, beloved by all who knew him. In the blacksmith, Dora found a companion who was kind, soft-spoken, and genuine. She took joy in making him food, tending to his burns, and being held in his strong arms. He crafted her jewelry and showered her with compliments. They did not have much to talk about in particular, but in caring for him, and having him care for her, Dora was greatly pleased. And both found ease and comfort in their attachment.
When Rute and Dora were confident enough in the merits of these men, they took the suitors home to introduce to Luz. Both were ecstatic and anticipated only good things-- for surely, these were the men that they had been intended to find. The could not fathom her denial.
But it was not meant to be. No sooner were the suitors through the door of the sisters' home, Luz approached them, her eyes sharp, her face inscrutable. She tilted her head to one side, and stared each of them down, as though sizing up his soul.
Now, the merchant and the blacksmith were both friendly to Luz when they met her. They spoke to her kindly, and asked her polite questions...even though she could not speak back. But neither suitor could meet Luz’s gaze for more than a few seconds at a time without looking away, shaken. Her untamed wildness and intensity was disconcerting-- it was like staring into the eyes of a lioness on the prowl.
In those first few moments, Luz discerned that though they were good men, the merchant and the blacksmith were not the men best suited to help her sisters grow, and during each of their subsequent visits, she became more certain of this truth.
Rute and Dora would ask, after their suitors left, what Luz had thought about the men. Though she knew it would dishearten them, Luz felt impelled to tell her sisters the whole truth of her feelings and intuition.
Rute, she signed, Your man is impressive, and he is like you, but my dear sister, he is not for you.
Rute honored her older sister's thoughts with an even temper, but she was disappointed with the verdict. "Explain to me what it is about him that displeases you so I can tell him how to change. Give him more time to make a good impression on you– I know he will."
Luz sighed. You may have as much time as you want, but I do not know if it will change the sense I have about the matter. He has impressed me, but my soul does not care about how impressive he is.
She then turned to Dora. Your man is steady, and he is kind like you, dear sister, but he is not for you.
Dora honored her older sisters thoughts, but was also disappointed. She said, "Will you show me what you mean so I can teach him to know you as I do? Give him more time to come around and understand the way of your spirit. I promise you will grow attached to him, as I have."
Luz sighed. I certainly will grow attached to him as you have, because you love him, but my dearest sister, this choice has nothing to do with attachment.
The younger sisters were disgruntled after the first meeting, but were determined to make their suitors appear more winsome to Luz. They decided to spend more time with them, and bring them to the house more often.
But months passed, and no amount of time could change Luz's mind. She was patient with the men and tolerated their presence. She even began to hope that they would prove her wrong, though her deep knowing knew it would not be so.
An unspoken discord began to arise between the sisters. The younger two began to think of Luz as heartless and cold, and begrudged her for obstructing their happiness. Sensing this, Luz began to retreat from her sisters' presence, disappearing from their little home to let her sisters and their companions be without distraction.
But the angst and strife only grew worse for the younger sisters, especially when their men were not nearby. The nights were the worst, for it was then they felt most amiss about the choices they had made. The relationships that they hoped would grow deeper with time somehow seemed to grow more hollow, and the hollow space echoed with angst.
After much turmoil and agony, Rute and Dora let their men go. With tears of sadness and humility in their eyes, they turned again to Luz and asked her for forgiveness, her presence, and her love. In time, they realized, deep down, that the merchant and the blacksmith were not for them, though they were fine men who deserved happiness and love.
They left the seaside town.
The sisters traveled on in their search. They were wooed by fishermen, dukes, miners, woodcutters, nomads, and even thieves. Always though, upon meeting these candidates, Luz would express, kindly, but without any doubt, "he is not for you, sister. You know in your heart that he is not for us, and not for you."
"But why, sister?" they asked, pleading harder each time for Luz to be more open-minded, patient, and accepting. "You are so foolish," Rute would say to Luz. "I have found a gem and now I will lose him because you refuse to open your eyes and see his value." And at times, Dora would cry through the night in the arms of her older sister, despondent yet accusatory. "You are cruel," Dora would cry, "I am loved and taken care of, and I love in return, is this not enough? If you doubt that, give him more time, you will see."
Luz listened to these pleadings and heard every last word of both of her sisters each time they came to her begging her to reconsider. For your sake sister, I wish I could. But I cannot, and I will not, yield. To do so would be to go against everything that I am and that we are.
Eventually her sisters grew exhausted and apathetic regarding Luz’s "stubbornness". In dark nights, when all was still, and when there was silence enough for the sisters to listen to each other and know each other all again, they could not deny that her answer was correct, that she was only telling them what they all knew deep down inside. But knowing the truth of the Luz’s choice did not assuage their longings or make their goodbyes hurt any less. Luz shared the pain of her sisters, and was constantly tormented by her own self doubt and keen loneliness, being so often at odds with her sisters.
Time passed, and Luz watched her sisters grow desperate, perceiving how much they longed for the companionship even as they tried to force matches that held no long-term promise. She realized that for her sisters, each new courtship became less about the suitor, and more about ending the search and discovering a remedy to their angst. Seeking for so long had made their souls grow tired and weary. They had, in a sense, grown accustomed to the pain, but familiarity did not make it easier to bear.
Only Luz, who had never been courted by a suitor, did not allow the angst to affect her judgement. She bore it all, and held tightly to the vision that the woman on the mountain had imparted to the sisters long ago, praying with all the strength in her spirit that her sisters would remember to believe in it, too. The path would reveal itself in the end, even if they did not understand the present steps.
The sisters began to grow tired of traveling, and despite the angst they knew would come like the tides, they decided to settle down in a real home. They longed to be part of a community, and decided that they would build wonderful and great to give back to the world as they could. They would not let their pain stop them from doing good things and from pursuing happiness.
And so, at the feet of lush green mountains, they began to build their new home. It had small beginnings, but the sisters worked long and hard on their abode, and it began to grow. They constructed it with the skills they had learned from their work and travels, and filled it with treasures they had gathered from around the world. They collaborated to create the greatest and grandest of these rooms, but also built their own quarters– Rute growing gardens, creating libraries, and reinforcing the outer walls and watchtowers; Dora building large and beautiful rooms for dining and dancing and throwing grand parties; and Luz erecting a tall open tower which she ascended nightly to watch the stars dance in the heavens. Its white walls and tall tower could be seen from afar off, and it quickly became known throughout the land as "The Castle of Three."
Now, the seemingly-never-ending search for companions was still not over, even though the sisters had stopped actively seeking for them. The two younger sisters began to wonder what would happen if they were to change their strategy. "What if we sought a companion for Luz first?" they wondered. Perhaps knowing companionship herself, they reasoned, she would be more apt to approve of theirs. It did not hurt to try. So when they had settled in their home, they sent word of their sister's eligibility to the surrounding lands and kingdoms, inviting anyone to their little castle who considered himself worthy to come and win the hand of their beautiful sister.
Luz let her younger sisters do as they pleased, though she did not expect that anything fruitful would come from their efforts. For the sisters did not (and indeed, could not) very well advertise their older sister's characteristics in a manner depicting her as desirable to most men. She was mute as water, yet sharp like a blade, she was as deep as a forest, and most of all, she was uncompromisingly herself. A common gentleman would not suit the eldest sister, and she would not suit him, and all of them knew it.
Still, when news spread that the eldest of the three sisters was seeking a suitor, men began to come from great distances to try and win her heart– for many thought that the man who could capture her heart would also have claim on the rest of the estate. The younger sisters were pleasantly surprised by the flood of new arrivals, and tried desperately to draw out some enthusiasm from Luz at the possibilities within her reach. At first, Luz personally met many of the suitors who came, but soon discovered (as they all did) that most of them were woefully unprepared for the meeting, being told nothing about her before they met her. Just as the earliest suitors had failed to do, these men could not meet Luz's silence or her deep eyes, even if they initially found her beautiful or interesting.
It happened again and again. So many men went in and out of the castle, and the insipid charade soon became too much for Luz to bear. But Rute was doggedly determined to find the "needle hiding in the haystack," and believed that with enough time and a wide enough net, eventually a favorable prospect would emerge. Dora encouraged her, and together they tirelessly combed through the swathes of men that came to their valley.
Winter soon arrived, and as the days grew shorter, Luz spent more and more time high in her tower, staring up at the numerous, numinous stars, sending out wordless questions into the deep darkness. Had she grown too stiff? Could she still trust her intuition? Were her sisters bound to live a life of loneliness because of her?
She asked about the suitors, and about the angst, but she contemplated much more– about the earth, about life, about death, about pain and sorrow, about evil and goodness, about souls, and about truth. Many nights she wept out of confusion, longing, and loneliness, and then the stars all became a blur in her eyes. But she remembered the words of the oracle, and prayed.
One evening in the early spring, a rider from a distant land made his way across the valley of the sisters' castle. He had been forced to take a detour to his destination because a heavy snowpack blocked his original path. Riding into the valley as the sun was setting, the rider at once noticed the castle at the other end, with its tall tower sparkling in the rays of the setting sun. He wondered who had created such a beautiful place, for he knew had never heard of the three sisters.
As he drew nearer, the sun went down and the stars appeared brilliantly in the cold night sky. It must have been that this traveler loved the stars, for he stopped when he noticed one star sitting much lower than the rest, in the same space where he had seen the castle's silhouette at dusk. Of course, this was no star, but a light at the top of the castle, in the tallest tower.
The rider spurred his horse onward, and the moon slowly revealed to him a woman in a white dress standing by a gentle light beaming from the tower. She was staring up at the night sky though the hour was late and the night air was chill. The sight mesmerized him.
What exactly it was that impelled him to leave his horse, leave his route, and walk toward the castle is not known. If the thought ever came to him to wait until morning, he did not heed it, but pressed ever on towards the castle.
In the darkest part of the night, the rider climbed quietly over the ramparts, which had been so carefully designed by Rute, and began to scale the wall of the tallest tower. Stone after stone, he climbed, up and up, dauntless-- perhaps crazed?-- his hands becoming raw on the cold and biting granite. Finally, he reached his fingers over the uppermost parapet.
Luz --dressed in white, and cold but not shivering-- stood in deep thought, her neck craned skyward. She heard the scraping and shuffling of the rider from on the wall behind her, and turning, saw an arm reaching for something to grasp. Startled from her requiem, she stared for a moment, realizing at once that she was not alone. She flew to where the rider hung and shone her torchlight down over the tower's edge. His head arched upwards, and his eyes met hers with a mixture of both wonder and supplication, for he could not overcome this last hurtle without help.
She was bewildered, but not afraid. Unable to speak, she could do nothing more than put her arm out to cover the man's arm and offer him stability. Who is he? Where has he come from?
But before she could learn any of this, she realized that the man was not looking away from her eyes. He held her gaze steadily, the power of his concentration unwavering. Wide open and unabashed, a teary sheen covered his eyes– perhaps caused by his exertion or the cold– and reflected back to Luz not only her own face, but all the stars and the darkness of the night sky behind her. They searched each other in a moment that seemed to last for hours, each realizing wordlessly as they did that the soul before them was vast and deep and infinite.
"I have also gazed up at the stars on cold dark wintry nights," he said, "and I have also asked them questions and listened hard for a voice to answer me from the void. And I do not know much about this world or what lies beyond it, but I know our spirits will outlast the fragments of earth and time. I know what it is to feel that part of you will never stop seeking, never be fully at rest. There is great darkness, but there is also light that does not falter-- and that gives me much hope for all that is to come. May I stand beside you for a while?"
The eldest sister bowed her head. She looked down into his eyes again and, circling both of her hands around his arm, began to help him up over the walls of the tower, as the first strokes of dawn swept across the eastern sky.
The Tale of the Three Sisters (translated from the Portuguese in the style of Elizabeth Barrett Browning :) ) concludes abruptly in the moment the eldest sister begins to pull rider into the tower.
There is no traditional ending that this tale has to speak of – it is a cliffhanger/towerhanger in a very literal sense. It may be that this ending was intentional, or that the ending was lost after being verbally transmitted through so many generations of telling. However, many believe that the original teller wished the tale to be finished anew upon each retelling, in the fashion that seemed most fitting for the needs of the audience.
The most popular endings which are often appended to this folk tale include the following (endings have been categorized by the translator):
- Epically Tragic: In this appendage, the rider loses his grip immediately after the eldest sister goes to reach for him, and falling from the tower, dies. She was not strong enough to hold him. The eldest sister is left alone in the tower, to bitterly grieve and forever wonder what might have been.
- Realistic: In this appendage, the rider climbs the tower, watches the sun rise with the eldest sister, then leaves the tower again, impelled by duty towards his own destination and calling. He tells her he may come back again, leaving her to wait and wonder. The eldest sister is left somewhat jarred by this anticlimax, and by both by the appearance of the rider and by his words to her – which she construes later as being insincere. She recommends that the youngest sister (Rute) build higher and stronger walls to prevent other strange intruders... and false alarms.
- Ironic: In this appendage, a budding romantic interest grows between the eldest sister and the rider. Abandoning his duty for a bit, he stays in the castle as a guest, but eventually returns to the road because the two younger sisters don't approve of him (even though they deeply wanted to find someone for the older sister to marry – but on their terms). After this "role reversal" the eldest sister wonders if perhaps they are all too harsh on each other and wonders if any man exists on earth who each would approve of.
- Extended: In this appendage, the rider finishes his errand and returns to tell his liege (who is the king of a distant land) that he has possibly found the king a wife. The king, intrigued by the report of this messenger, goes with an entourage to the castle of the three sisters, woos the eldest, and marries off the younger two sisters to his younger brothers. The eldest sister is dismayed, at first, to realize that her romance is not to be with the rider, but later realizes that the king is a better match for her in every sense. They have many children and courtly duties, but everyone lives happily ever after, supposedly, which is a relief in itself.
- Symbolic: In this appendage, which is the strangest of all (but most consistent with the genre of magical realism), the eldest sister pulls the rider above the wall to stand with her on the tower. In this moment, the sisters – who had believed they were three separate beings, and raised as such – at last become one in body and mind as the most soulful part of this divided psyche (represented by Luz) is at last recognized and understood by another soul. The two other sisters, symbolizing the heart (Dora) and the mind (Rute) of the being are satisfied and contented, and integrated into one single and undivided character. This ending, of course, gives a very different flavor to the entire story, and makes this ending most appropriate for a symbolic/Jungian reading (the translator does not believe that this ending condones the erasure or extinction of separate individuals, but rather serves to reconcile what could be read as various facets of a single being).