The Bat Children of Villars
nce upon a time, an old woman wandered into the village of Villars. She wore a tattered brown cloak and walked hunched over, clutching a cane for support. It was evening, and cold rain turned the streets into mud. With a gnarled hand, she banged on the door of a large house. The door opened, releasing the scent of cooking food and the smoke from a warm fire. The master of the house wrinkled his nose at the sight of the wizened crone on his doorstep. "Good evening, kind sir," the old woman said. "Could you spare some bread and wine? My children are at home, and they are cold and hungry." The master of the house shook his head. "Begone, hag. I have no gifts for beggars." And he slammed the door in her face. The woman hobbled to the next house and again knocked on the door. "Please, ma'am," she said over the pounding of the rain, "Could you spare some bread and wine? My children are at home, and they are cold and hungry." The woman shook her head and shut the door. The old woman walked on, banging on one door and then the next. At each house, she explained the plight of her suffering children and at each house she was turned away. At last she came to the house of the mayor. "Please, my lord mayor," the woman said. "You are good to the people of your village. Can you not also be good to me? My children are cold and hungry. Do you not have bread to spare?" But the mayor turned her away and told her to leave the village, for Villars had no refuge for vagabonds. As he shut the door, though, the woman caught it in her wizened hand. The mayor struggled to close it, but as he watched, the wrinkled and bony fingers changed into a hand that was young and strong. The old woman straightened her back and threw off her cloak to reveal a face of stunning beauty and silken black hair. "Your village has enough to spare and more." Her voice boomed over the rain. "You deserve all that you are willing to give, and for you that is nothing." Her cane struck the ground and shock flowed through the village. At once, a chorus of shrieks rose over the rooftops. The wailing of mothers was overtaken by the shrieking of bats, which flutter out of windows, up the chimneys, and through open doors. "Wait!" the mayor cried as the sorceress turned away. "We can give all that you desire and more!" But the sorceress ignored the man, for the worth of generosity depends only on what is offered to those who can give nothing in return. With the anguished cries emanating from each house she passed, the sorceress strode out of town accompanied by the cloud of bats that was all that was left of Villars' children.
The Bat Children of Villars is a lengthy tale, which can be thought of as more of a genre of tales than a single fairy tale. The original story of the sorceress' visit to Villars is itself rarely told, as the most popular stories are about the bats' adventures later on. In fact, many people have never even heard the original story and just take it for granted that intelligent bats are a staple of fairy tales. Subsequent stories feature the eponymous bat children involved in various adventures, from finding lost children in the woods to stealing gold from ogres. Although they are called bat "children" many of the characters in the stories are adults. Most don't think about the exact title, or assume it refers to them being the children of bats. Those familiar with the original tale of the sorceress understand the title as referring to them being the children that were turned into bats, who have subsequently grown up and perhaps had children of their own (who are also bats).There are several recurring characters, such as:
- Aufaniae, the matron of the clan who frequently gives counsel to younger characters
- Bruxen, the brute, strongest of the bats
- Ombre, the smallest bat, who is swift and clever
- Sirona, who was wise and crafty and could build marvellous inventions
- Lero, the cunning, who frequently gets the other characters into trouble with his pranks and schemes
The stories of the bat children are thought to be based upon, and offer an explanation for, the Elevated Bats that make their home in Villars Cave. Elevated bats are well-known for their intelligence and command of human languages. Current alzamatric theory is that the bats gained their intelligence as a result of living so close to the gateway to the afterlife found in Villars cave, and that the constant supply of vesanmer from ghosts moving through the cavern affected their minds.
Stories of the bat children are well-known throughout France, and reasonably familiar in neighbouring countries. The exact origin story is mostly told within the village of Villars and the surrounding Périgord region.
Date of First Recording
The earliest written version of the stories appeared in the 16th century
Date of Setting
The original story of the sorceress in Villars is thought to take place sometime in the 10th century. Subsequent stories of the bats are spread over the centuries.