Once there was a great ferret queen who lived in a beautiful castle in the middle of a deep forest and ruled over lands which spread as far as the eye could see. She had many strong soldiers and many loyal servants, but she was unhappy because she had no kits of her own. She had thirteen husbands, one by one, and all were strong and handsome, but still she had no kits, and so every one of her husbands was slain for their failure.

One fine spring day, her sadness became too much, and the old fox Seer came upon the ferret queen crying in her room.

"What ails you, my queen?" asked the wily old vixen.

"I wish for kits of my own," said the queen.

"Well, that's easily done," said the old vixen, and took two fat red onions from beneath her cloak. "Simply peel these and eat them, and you shall bear two fine sons." And with a smile, the old vixen went on her way.

The queen was so happy she forgot the Seer's instructions and devoured the first onion straight off, skin and all. Of course it tasted terrible, so she laughed at her foolishness and carefully peeled the other.

Forty-two days went by - oh, such long days they were for the queen! As the Seer had said, she did indeed swell with what she thought must be two fine fat cubs. And on the forty-second day, as is the way of things with ferrets, the birth began. Oh, the queen felt such pain, but she was so happy she did not care, for now her wish was fulfilled! But as she lay upon her bed and her firstborn slipped from her, the pawmaiden who attended the birthing screamed and fled from the room. The queen looked down to see that she had birthed not a cub at all, but a hideous serpent!

Now this was quite a fright, as you may imagine, but a queen does not become so by cowardice. So even as the pains of the second birth seized her belly, the queen took up the serpent in her paws and flung it straight from the tower window, into the forest! The queen watched in fear as her second child was born, but much to her relief, this one was a fine ferret lad, perfectly normal in every way, though perhaps fitter and fairer than most. So the queen brought the little prince out and showed him to her soldiers and servants, and put out the tale that her firstborn had died.

Seasons passed, and the little prince grew into a fine handsome ferret, brave and bold. One day, he went out to hunt for little birds, and came upon a trail in the forest. Being bold but not too bright, he followed it alone, and before he knew it he found himself face to face with a hideous serpent, as tall as a tree and with fangs as long and sharp as swords! The prince drew his own sword, but the serpent spoke to him.

"I know who you are, little prince," it said, "and I would ask your help. Bring me a bride."

The prince nearly dropped his sword, but said to the serpent "Why should I do such a thing for a monster like you?"

"Because, little prince, you are cursed, and you will never find a bride of your own until I wed."

The prince, greatly surprised, brought the serpent with him to the castle, much to his mother's fright, for she recognised her firstborn right away. But she hid her fright when the serpent swore he meant no harm, and neither he nor she told anybeast who he was. The serpent took over the tower room in which he and the prince had been born, and demanded a bride be brought to him.

The queen and prince considered the matter, and decided to send up a slave, to see what the serpent might do. So a mousemaid was selected from the slave pens and sent up to the tower room that very night. But the very next morning, the guards found that the serpent had torn the mousemaid limb from limb. So a squirrelmaid was selected instead, and sent up the next night, but once again the serpent slew her. The next night, an ottermaid was taken, and she was slain in turn. The serpent became angrier, and the queen and prince more fearful.

Now of course the servants and soldiers gossiped about the happenings - there's none like soldiers for gossip, they're worse than old ratwives. And one particular young soldier, a female ferret, heard about it. This ferretmaid was the prettiest of all the young females in the castle, but she had no close friends and was well known for having a terrible temper. So when the lads and lasses in the mess hall talked about the serpent and his desire for a bride, they soon turned to mocking her. They teased and tormented her, saying a beast so pretty would be sure to please the monster, and she'd never find a better mate for her temper scared off every other male. Of course this made her very angry, and before she knew it she screamed out to the whole hall that she'd wed the monster, aye, and battle him to the death if she displeased him. And the queen heard this, and told the ferretmaid that she'd be able to prove her boast that very night.

The maid sorely regretted her rash words, and ran out into the forest, hoping to escape her fate. But soon enough she came upon the little hut where dwelt the old vixen Seer who had given the queen the onions. And a great stroke of luck this was, my dears! For the old vixen took her in and gave her nettle wine, and listened to her story. And when the maid was done, the old vixen told her, "Fear not, my pretty; you'll be happily wed, if you but do as I say." And the old vixen told the maid what must be done.

That night, the ferretmaid returned to the castle. She was bathed and brushed and dressed up like a doll, in the hopes she'd please the serpent. She walked up the tower stairs, fearful but hopeful, with two guards and seven slaves carrying buckets of water and a big wooden tub. Into the room they went; a fine room it was, with a great curtained bed and a roaring fire. The first bucket of water went into the big black pot on the fire, and the guards and slaves left the ferretmaid alone in the room. As she stood there, shaking in the pretty silk slippers of her bridal outfit, she saw the great coils around the room; the serpent was so huge his coils wound around the room seven times! And the curtains on the bed were pushed aside, and the soldier maid came face to face with the monstrous serpent. And the serpent said "Madam, take off your veil."

Now the Seer had told the soldier maid what to do, so she took her veil off. Next, she poured the pot of hot water into the great wooden tub, and filled up the pot with the next bucket of water. Then she stood up straight and looked the monster in the eye, and said "Serpent, take off your skin!"

The serpent looked at her with great surprise, and said "None of the other brides asked me such a thing."

"But I ask it of you now," said the soldier maid.

"Very well," said the serpent, and rubbed himself on the wall until his skin split and peeled away, as is the way of snakes. The skin was green as emeralds, and very thick and stiff, but it came off soon enough, leaving the great serpent rather smaller as the skin had been so very thick. In fact, he was now so much smaller, he only wound around the room six times now! He looked the maid in the eye and said "Madam, take off your shoes."

The bold young maid kicked off her slippers, poured the next pot of water into the tub, and said "Serpent, take off your skin!"

And so this went on, with the maid slowly filling up the tub and removing one by one her stockings, her skirt, her tunic, her petticoat, and her shift, until she stood before the serpent in only her fur, and his great coils were so shrunk that when he coiled around the walls his nose barely touched his tail. And for the seventh and final time, the maid said "Serpent, take off your skin!" And so, for the seventh and final time, the serpent rubbed away his skin, and all that was left when it came away was his bare red flesh. And the maid took him in her paws and threw him right into the tub!

Well, there was a ferocious boiling and bubbling and the serpent screamed as if he were dying, and the maid was quite afeared, but soon enough the screaming stopped and the water stilled. And then a shadow rose up out of the tub. And as the steam cleared away, the maid saw to her delight that the Seer had spoken true, and the serpent had been turned back to his true form of the most handsome ferret in all the land.

Of course the two were wed properly the very next morning, and the lost prince - for that is who the serpent was, of course - was welcomed back, and when his mother passed he took the throne, as was his right as the firstborn. And his brother was so happy to have his twin back that they lived happily together for the rest of their days and never ever even tried to kill each other. Imagine that!

This one's a bit obscure - the original's called "King Lindorm", and it's an old Swedish fairytale. I was always rather fond of it.