The Sorcerer’s Offer | Ep. 184

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Have you ever taken a risk?

And we don't mean a wild risk, like parachuting out of a plane or riding a motorbike through a flaming hoop! Taking a risk can be as simple as crossing the street all by yourself or trying a new food.

Taking risks can help us grow by challenging us and giving us more confidence. And in today’s story, a kind shepherdess considers taking a risk that could transform her life!

Our story is called “The Sorcerer’s Offer.” It’s inspired by tales from Armenia, in western Asia. Voices in this episode include Alonda Delgado, Amber Nash, and Bill Ratner.

Alondra Delgado stars in the CW series, All American. Her new book of poetry, Is Mejor to Say Adios, is out now.

Amber Nash stars in the animated grown-up series Archer on FX, and in the upcoming film, How to Ruin the Holidays.

Bill Ratner has voiced countless movie trailers, documentaries, and cartoons – including G.I. Joe, Robot Chicken, and Family Guy. He’s also the author of the upcoming memoir, Announcing the Apocalypse.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Nora Saks. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes, click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

By sharing an act of kindness, Penelope received kindness in return. What’s one act of kindness you can do this week?

Maybe you can help a grown-up with a chore or share a favorite toy with a friend. Perhaps you can draw a picture for a relative you haven’t seen in a while, or donate books to your local library.

Once you’ve decided on an act of kindness, go out and make it happen. We think you’ll find that a little kindness can go a very long way!

Musical Spotlight: The Santur

The santur is a type of hammered dulcimer with Persian origins. (Courtesy of Allauddin)
The santur is a type of hammered dulcimer with Persian origins. (Courtesy of Allauddin)

The santur (a.k.a. santūr, santour, santoor) is a type of hammered dulcimer: the family of stringed instruments you’ll find in various forms across southeastern Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. The santur has roots in Persia, and has a flat, wooden, trapezoid-shaped body with 72 metallic strings strung across. To play the santur, you place the instrument on your lap and strike the strings with wooden mallets.

The santur has been used in different ways in different places. In Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Arabia, it’s been used in classical music. In Greece, you’ll hear it in folk music. In South Asia it has strong associations with the Sufi music of the Kashmir region of India. And in the Ottoman Empire and the Caucasus – where modern-day Armenia is – it’s been played in popular music, primarily in urban areas.


NARRATOR: Once upon a time, in a village at the foot of a rugged, sloping hill, there lived a shepherdess named Penelope.

Penelope spent her days herding her wooly white sheep up and down the hillside. She found them tasty grass and plants to graze on…

PENELOPE: (Calling out to sheep) Dewdrop! Magnolia! Buttercup! Follow me to the ridge! You’re going to love this patch of clover I’ve found!

NARRATOR: She cared for them when they were sick or injured…

PENELOPE: Cottonball! How did this pebble get stuck in your hoof? No matter. I’ll take it out in a jiffy!

NARRATOR: And most importantly, she protected them from danger.

PENELOPE: Stay with the flock, Annabel! You too, Rosemary! The last thing I want is for you to tumble off a cliff, or get gobbled up by a big scary animal like a wolf!

NARRATOR: One evening, after a long day of work, Penelope was herding her flock back down the hill when she heard a sound that sent a chill up her spine.

[SOT: wolf howl]

PENELOPE: Oh no! That was a wolf howl! A fierce, ferocious wolf must be nearby! Come, my darlings! Let’s get out of here!

NARRATOR: Penelope motioned for her flock to follow her to safety. But instead, the sheep let out a frightened bleat…

[SOT: sheep bleating]

NARRATOR: …and began scattering this way and that!

[SOT: sheep bleating]

PENELOPE: Dewdrop! Stop running toward that cliff! Buttercup! Magnolia! Come this way! This way!

NARRATOR: Penelope chased after the flock as they scurried up, down, and around the hillside. But each sheep seemed to be running in a completely different direction! And before long, Penelope had lost track of them all. The wolf was nowhere to be seen, either.

PENELOPE: I can’t believe this! My flock is gone! Scared off by a fierce, ferocious wolf! Or, worse, eaten by it! My sheep are my life – and my livelihood! What am I going to do now? (Bursts into tears.)

WOLF: I am so sorry, good shepherdess!

NARRATOR: Penelope froze.

PENELOPE: (Suddenly stops crying.) What?!? Who’s there?!?? Who said that?!?

WOLF: I did! And seriously! I am so very sorry!

NARRATOR: Penelope glanced around.

PENELOPE: But – but who are you? And where are you? I don’t see anyone else on this hillside!

NARRATOR: Suddenly, Penelope heard a rustling sound. She turned her head, and what should she spy slinking out from beneath a bush… but a wolf!

It was a she-wolf, but there was nothing “fierce” or “ferocious” about her! The creature was small – no larger than a pup. And though her green eyes were bright, her gray fur was patchy and matted, and her body was so thin you could count her ribs!

PENELOPE: Little wolf! Are you the one who spoke to me just now?

NARRATOR: The wolf tucked her shaggy tail between her scrawny legs.

WOLF: Yup. It was me. I wanted to apologize for scaring away your flock! You see, not so long ago, I lost my parents, and I’ve been living on my own ever since. Food’s been hard to come by, so when I caught sight of your plump, hearty sheep I couldn’t help myself!

PENELOPE: But did you actually catch any of my sheep? And did you actually… (unable to bring herself to say “eat them”)... you know…

WOLF: No. I'm so tired and weak, I'm not much of a hunter these days. But I’m sorry for scaring your flock away, Penelope. I truly am. Can you forgive me?

NARRATOR: Penelope thought about her lost flock… and lost livelihood. But as she gazed at the haggard, hungry wolf pup, she couldn’t help but feel pity.

PENELOPE: Okay, little wolf. I can forgive you. And you know what? I can do you one better! Here!

NARRATOR: Penelope reached into her satchel and tossed the wolf some leftover bread and cheese from lunch. The ravenous creature devoured the food and licked her chops.

WOLF: Mmmm! Delicious! Thank you, good shepherdess! I’ll never forget your kindness!

NARRATOR: The wolf lifted the corners of her mouth, as if she were smiling. Then she leaped to her feet, blinked her green eyes, and disappeared up the hillside.

PENELOPE: Well that was unexpected! A talking wolf! And a missing flock. This hill is so rocky and rugged, my sheep could be anywhere! Trapped behind a boulder, stranded on a cliff… or worse! But the sun’s going down, so I’d better get home. Maybe I’ll try looking for them tomorrow.

NARRATOR: With her heart feeling heavy and her head hanging low, Penelope trudged down the hill. But just as she reached the village…

MAN: Good evening, ma’am! Though, judging by the look on your face, your evening has been anything but good!

NARRATOR: Penelope looked up. Standing before her was a tall man leading a brown cow. The man was dressed all in black. Penelope thought he looked oddly familiar.

PENELOPE: Oh! Hello, sir! Do I know you?

NARRATOR: A mysterious smile crossed the man’s lips.

MAN: Let’s just say I spend my share of time around these parts… But tell me, ma’am. Why the long face? What troubles you?

NARRATOR: Penelope felt a sudden urge to tell the tall man everything.

PENELOPE: Well, I’m a shepherdess by trade. And today a wolf scared off my entire flock! Turns out it was just a hungry little pup, but regardless, now I’ve lost my sheep… and my job! I don’t know what I’m going to do!

NARRATOR: The man gave Penelope a long, thoughtful look.

MAN: Listen, ma’am. I'll tell you what. You see this brown cow here?

PENELOPE: I do! She’s beautiful!

MAN: She also gives the best milk in the country! White as the clouds, pure as the snow, and sweet as the honey from a hive! People pay top dollar for milk from this cow. And I’d like you to have her!

NARRATOR: Penelope’s jaw dropped.

PENELOPE: You’re giving me your cow?!?

MAN: Not “giving.” Loaning. I’ll let you borrow this beautiful brown cow for three years. She will give you good milk to sell, and you will never go hungry.

PENELOPE: That would be amazing! (beat) And when the three years are up, I must give her back…?

MAN: Well, not necessarily…. When the three years are up, I will come to your house at the stroke of midnight and ask you four questions. If you can answer my questions correctly, you may keep the cow. She will be yours forever.

NARRATOR: Penelope suddenly felt uneasy. This conversation was taking a very strange turn.

PENELOPE: Okay… But what if I can’t answer your questions?

MAN: If you can’t answer my questions…

NARRATOR: The man’s face darkened.

MAN: If you can’t answer my questions, then I will take the cow back… and place a curse upon your house!!!

NARRATOR: All at once, Penelope felt her blood run cold. Because in that instant she realized who this man was; he was a sorcerer! She’d heard the villagers tell sinister tales about a tall man dressed in black who worked all sorts of dark magic.

MAN: So, ma’am…? What do you say? Do we have a deal?

NARRATOR: Penelope hesitated. If she said no, and didn’t take the cow, she would be forced to scrape by until she found a new job. If she found a new job!

But if she said yes, she’d be guaranteed three years of comfort. And who knows? When the three years were up, she might get lucky and find the right answers to the sorcerer’s questions! And her good fortune would continue!

Penelope was torn. She took a breath, opened her mouth, and then –

[Theme music in]

NARRATOR: Oh! You know what that music means! Time for a quick break!
But what do you think? Will Penelope take the risk… and the cow?
We'll find out… when Circle Round continues.

[Theme music out]


NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “The Sorcerer’s Offer.”

[Theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, a hungry wolf-pup with bright green eyes scared off Penelope’s flock.

The shepherdess was out of luck, and out of a job, until a sorcerer made her an intriguing offer.

He would loan her his cow, so she could sell the cow’s milk. But after three years, he would return at midnight and ask Penelope four questions. If she could answer them correctly, the cow was hers. But if she couldn’t, the sorcerer would take back the cow… and place a curse on Penelope’s house!

Penelope carefully considered her options. Then she stood up straight and tall and looked the sorcerer right in the eye.

PENELOPE: I’ll take the cow, sir. And I’ll take the risk. It’s better than going hungry.

MAN: Very well!

NARRATOR: The sorcerer handed Penelope the cow’s rope.

MAN: Good luck to you, Penelope. You may very well need it!

NARRATOR: As it turns out, the sorcerer was right about the beautiful brown cow: she did indeed give the best milk in the country! And customers paid top dollar for it at the market.

So it wasn’t long before Penelope could afford plenty of good food to eat and nice clothing to wear. She even bought a whole new flock of wooly white sheep.

At last, she was living comfortably. Yet in the back of her mind, she was anything but comfortable, as she silently counted the days until the sorcerer’s dreaded return.

One year passed… then two… and finally, it was the night the sorcerer was set to come back. Penelope sat by the fireside, wringing her hands as the clock in the village square struck nine [SOT: clock]… then ten [SOT: clock]… then eleven [SOT: clock]… At five minutes before midnight, Penelope jumped up from her chair and began pacing around the living room.

PENELOPE: Just five minutes until the sorcerer comes back and asks his four questions! These past three years I’ve been so happy, and living so well. But if I can’t answer the sorcerer’s questions correctly, everything will go up in smoke! And what’s worse, he’ll put a curse on my house! (beat) Ugh. Perhaps I shouldn’t have taken the cow! Perhaps I should have just let well enough alone and figured out a way to –

[SOT: knock]

PENELOPE: (Gasps.) Could that be the sorcerer already? He’s early!

NARRATOR: Penelope tiptoed to the front door and squinted through the peephole. To her relief, she did not see the sorcerer. Instead, she saw a woman, wearing a hooded cloak made from gray fur. Her bright green eyes somehow twinkled in the dark.

[SOT: door opens]

PENELOPE: Hello, miss! May I help you?

WOMAN: I hope you can! I’ve been wandering about the hillside all night and I’m so very hungry! Might I come in for a bite to eat?

NARRATOR: Penelope hesitated. The sorcerer would be here any minute! But she was too kindhearted to turn the woman away.

PENELOPE: Of course you can come in! Please! Have a seat.

NARRATOR: Penelope led the woman to the fireplace. Then she went into the kitchen and brought out a big plate of food.

PENELOPE: Here you go, miss! Eat all you want, and if you’d like seconds, I’m happy to get you anything your heart desires!

[SOT: clock strikes midnight]

NARRATOR: Penelope felt her heart drop. It was midnight! She turned to the woman with a nervous smile.

PENELOPE: Miss, I have to tell you something. You may not believe it, but a sorcerer is on his way to my house! You see, three years ago he let me borrow a cow, on the condition that once the three years had passed he’d come back at midnight and ask me four questions. If I could answer those four questions correctly, the cow would be mine. But if I couldn’t, he would take back the cow and put a curse on my house! Forever!

NARRATOR: As Penelope recounted her tale, she expected the woman to grow frightened. But instead, the woman grinned, her green eyes shining bright.

WOMAN: That’s quite a tale! But don’t you worry about that sorcerer. You’ve been so kind to me, I promise I’ll protect you.

PENELOPE: ‘Protect me’?!? How could you possibly protect me from a sorcerer with magic powers that –

[SOT: harsh, aggressive rapping at door]

PENELOPE: Oh no! The sorcerer is here! I’d better let him in!

NARRATOR: Penelope was about to open the door when all of a sudden the woman in the cloak jumped up from her chair and pushed Penelope into the kitchen!

PENELOPE: What do you think you’re doing? Are you out of your mind?!? [SOT: gets interrupted]

WOMAN: No time for questions! Just stay hidden behind the kitchen door! I told you: I will protect you!

NARRATOR: The woman pulled her fur hood all the way over her head, so that it covered her face. Then she threw the front door open wide and the sorcerer came striding in.

[SOT: door opens]

WOMAN: Greetings, good sir!

MAN: Greetings… Penelope!

NARRATOR: The real Penelope could hardly believe her ears as she hid behind the kitchen door. The green-eyed woman in the gray fur cloak was pretending to be her! And the sorcerer was buying it!

WOMAN: Well, now that you’ve come back after three long years… I suppose you’re going to ask me your four questions?

MAN: Of course I am! I’ve long been awaiting this moment. Are you ready?

WOMAN: Does a wolf howl at the moon? Of course I’m ready!

MAN: Very well, then. I’ll start with an easy one. In summer I am dressed. In winter I am naked. What am I???

NARRATOR: The real Penelope held her breath. The four questions were actually riddles! She’d always had trouble solving riddles. Hopefully that wasn’t the case with her new friend in the cloak!

WOMAN: (Carefully repeating) Let’s see… “In summer I am dressed. In winter I am naked.” That’s simple! You’re a tree! In summer you’re covered with leaves and in winter you’re bare!

NARRATOR: The sorcerer broke into a grin.

MAN: That is correct, Penelope! The answer is a tree! Boy, you’re a quick one, aren’t you?! But to prove how quick you truly are, let’s see if you can answer my second question. When I’m empty, I stand. When I’m full, I walk. What am I?

NARRATOR: Trembling in the kitchen, Penelope felt her palms sweat. But the woman in the cloak seemed cool as a cucumber.

WOMAN: (Carefully repeating) “When I’m empty, I stand… When I’m full, I walk.” Isn’t it obvious? You’re a shoe! You only walk when you’re full of somebody’s feet!

NARRATOR: The sorcerer grinned again.

MAN: Very good! The answer to my second riddle is a shoe! But this next one is harder. So listen up. I speak every language, yet I only speak when I am spoken to. What am I?

NARRATOR: Penelope’s heart was beating so fast, she was certain they could hear it on the other side of the door. But the woman in the cloak remained calm and collected.

WOMAN: (Carefully repeating) “I speak every language, yet I only speak when I am spoken to.” Duh! You’re an echo! We only hear an echo after we say something, no matter what language we’re speaking!

NARRATOR: Penelope found herself beaming from ear to ear. The sorcerer was, beaming, too – though his jaw was clenched, and beads of sweat were popping up on his forehead.

MAN: (Growing a bit annoyed at her success) My, my, my! You’ve correctly answered three of my riddles, Penelope! But if you can’t answer my fourth, I’ll take back the cow… and leave you with a curse! So here goes. (beat) I am born in an instant, yet I can last a lifetime. I can bring you to laughter, I can bring you to tears; I can even bring back the dead. What am I?

NARRATOR: Inside the kitchen, Penelope’s heart was racing. Could the woman actually guess the answer to this puzzle?

WOMAN: (Carefully repeating) “I am born in an instant… yet I can last a lifetime. I can bring you to laughter…I can bring you to tears… I can even bring back the dead.” Hmmmm…

NARRATOR: Penelope’s heart was beating so fast, she thought it would burst from her chest. But then…

WOMAN: I’ve got it! The answer to your fourth question is… a memory! A memory is born quickly and can stay in your mind forever. It can make you happy, or sad; it can even make you remember those who are no longer with us.

NARRATOR: This time, the sorcerer did not smile. Instead, his eyes grew dark and his face grew pale.

MAN: Well. What do you know? You’ve answered all four of my questions correctly, Penelope. As such, you may keep the cow… and your good fortune. (beat) My work here is done!

NARRATOR: And with that…

[SOT: magical sound]

NARRATOR: … the sorcerer vanished.

Penelope was so excited that she burst through the kitchen door into the living room.

PENELOPE: Oh, miss! That was amazing! How can I ever begin to thank -– [stops short]

NARRATOR: Penelope stopped short. To her surprise, she was talking to herself! Because the living room was empty. And the front door was open wide.

PENELOPE: What?!??

NARRATOR: Penelope hurried out into the night, hoping to find the green-eyed woman in the gray fur cloak.

PENELOPE: Why did my new friend leave so soon? I didn’t get to thank her for her kindness! I’ll never forget how she –

[SOT: wolf howl]

NARRATOR: Penelope stood stock-still. Then she turned her head. And what should she spy sitting at the end of the lane… but a gray wolf.

A gray she-wolf with twinkling green eyes.

The wolf stared at Penelope. Penelope stared back. And just before the wolf leaped to her feet and disappeared into the dark… Penelope could have sworn that maybe, just maybe, she saw the furry creature smile.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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