In a big town far away, there lived a liar. He was particularly fond of deceiving and earned a lot of money by practising that. He always lied very convincingly, and there hadn’t been a living soul who wouldn’t have believed him.
Once he learned that not far off his house now was living a woman which had recently lost her forearm. The liar came to her and said:
“I’m a magician, and I have had a vision that it is within my power to heal you. Would you allow me to visit you daily and perform the healing ritual? I promise to grow you a new hand in the course of a month.”
The woman could believe anything – her being so desperate and mourning over her unexpected disfigurement so! Besides, the liar looked like an actual magician, as he was wearing a garment of brocade adorned with strange-looking symbols and holding a herb braid in his hand. The woman was ready to pay any sum to return the former appearance. For there had been a time she was reputed to be a peerless beauty…
She was the most enviable marriageable girl in her home town – but happiness wasn’t hurrying up to come and then she had to leave. All the women in the area considered her an untruthful flirt who stole husbands; however, that wasn’t true. Men offered the woman secret relations time and again and every time she refused them because of her honesty. As a result, the men was slandering her, telling their wives she flirted with them. And so one day the wives gathered together, conspired against the imaginary rival, seized her and cut off her hand as that of a thief. They told her that now she wouldn’t be so pretty anymore and would stop stealing others’ husbands. There wasn’t anybody to protect her and she had no relatives – so the woman had no choice but to leave the town, for living among enemies had become for her too unbearable a burden.
She consented to the liar’s terms and they agreed upon the first meeting. The liar began visiting her daily, just as he promised. He did some magical passes, gave her herbal tea to drink – the tea containing peculiar magic herbs that he supposedly brought somewhere from mountains. As a matter of fact, he brewed the tea using dandelion and nettle leaves, as well as other herbs growing near his house, while the woman paid him ten coins in gold a day for that service.
Their every meeting she confided the liar the story of her life, and he was obliged to attentively listen. The woman told him that she liked embroidering and sewing, showed him her works, shared with him her dream to travel around the world and, especially, see the mountains of which the liar had spoken. She wanted to thank the mountains for sending her the magician able to heal her. The woman wouldn’t tolerate a thought that he could fail.
A week had passed, and the liar noticed that he started looking forward to meeting the patient. He became confused and now was thinking himself an actual magician with the ability to heal. Waking up in the morning, he was remembering everything she had been narrating during treatment hours in the bedroom painted pale-blue. The liar grew impatient for each new meeting and new stories to draw near because he was blissfully captivated by the woman’s voice. For the liar, it resembled a hand-bell which tinkle stopped abruptly now and then, as if it hit walls. The liar imagined that the woman’s voice was cramped.
“Do you like to sing?” Asked the liar once.
The woman looked sorrowful.
“I do, however I’ve had to forget this liking of mine. Men used to be pleased to hear me singing, but it’s always been married men. After all, I’m glad they took my hand and not my tongue.”
“Sing for me!” Blurted out the liar, unexpectedly even for himself.
He was sitting at the bedside of the woman and doing the usual passes.
And the woman began singing softly, her quiet eyes turned ceilingward, and at that very moment the liar saw that she was enveloped in a glow. It was as if a drape had been lifted before his eyes – on the bed, he saw an angel before him. The celestial voice was flowing about the room and her body emanated the sweet scent of lavender. Then, the liar understood that he was far gone in love with the woman and had little option but to heal her. For he couldn’t tell her that he had been tricking her from the very beginning. He channelled all the power of his thought on the maimed hand, he fastened his eyes on it to make new flesh grow, he prayed with whatever prayers he knew – but the desired wouldn’t happen.
The woman finished her song and dismissed the liar, having paid him ten coins in gold.
The liar came home in a terrible state of mind. His conscience was eating him alive, he didn’t know what to do and where to shelter from the oppressive thoughts – after all, he had committed a truly disgusting act. He had deceived a woman who had been suffering all her life – and he had the nerve to sneer at her mutilation by impudently promising her healing.
Late at night, his endurance expired, he walked to the woman’s house and knocked. She appeared on the doorstep, wearing nightdress and with her hairs flowing. At some instant, her face was illuminated by the street lamps pouring light from above. Oh, how beautiful she looked at that moment!
The liar threw himself at the woman’s feet.
“Forgive me! Oh, I beg you, will you forgive me! I’m an utter fool! I’ve offended you and I’m unworthy of your single glance. For all my life I’ve been cheating everyone I meet. I began lying when I was a child and I earned my first coins when I said to the mother I had been robbed of the money she had given me to buy bread. For all my life I’ve been earning my living by being dishonest and have never been ashamed of that, instead laughing at simpleminded people. I’ve always thought myself smarter than others. When you had arrived to the town and I had learned about your misfortune, I decided that this would be my biggest and most clever deceit. Being a woman of limitless kindness, you’ve not doubted my abilities even once, whereas I’m no magician whatever. What I am is a fallen, dishonest scoundrel who was taking advantage of human grief in order to buy new trinkets for the house. Heaven knows how badly I regret that I cannot grow you a new hand: I would give anything to have the ability to heal! Do with me what you please, I will accept your anger and won’t say a word.”
The woman heard him out without interrupting and then she knelt down too. Her face changed not in the least, it shone with kindness and tenderness, as before. The liar took her healthy hand and held it.
“I’m glad you’ve confessed, but that has a sad part to it, too. Now, when you’ve told the truth you won’t visit me anymore. And it’s sad because you’re the only man I’ve met in my lifetime who didn’t want to take me.”
“How could it be that I won’t visit the woman I love?”
The woman invited him to the house and shut the door.
On the next morning she woke up in the arms of the beloved man. She embraced him with two beautiful elegant hands and she knew that nobody was ever able to weaken the power of love.
(Translate by Pavel Zamachowski)