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Family Unfriendly Death / Ballads

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  • In the Scottish ballad "The Twa Sisters" (#10 of the Child Ballads), two constantly bickering princesses who have fallen in love with the same man go for a walk on the banks of a swollen river. One comes back and says the other one fell in and drowned. No one can find the body - but a few months later a wandering bard shows up with a harp made from the dead princess's bones and strung with her hair. The harp plays itself and sings that her sister pushed her into the river. In Patricia C. Wrede's retelling of the story, there is a third princess, who knows her sister was a liar and suspects the harp might, too — especially since there are lies in what it said.
    • Loreena Mckennitt performs an excellent version of this ballad called The Bonny Swans (which is easily findable on Youtube).
    • In yet another version (one with a particularly upbeat and sunny tempo), the elder sister's punishment for drowning her sibling is being boiled in lead. So much fun to sing with one's actual sisters!
  • Ballads in general are full of this sort of thing. Perhaps the most horrifying of the lot is "Long Lankin" (Child #93), in which an itinerant serial killer murders a lord's baby and then his wife:
    "We will pinch him, we will prick him,
    we will stab him with a pin,
    And the nurse shall hold the basin
    for the blood all to run in."
    So they pinched him and they pricked him,
    then they stabbed him with a pin,
    And the false nurse held the basin
    for the blood all to run in.
    • Followed by Long Lankin being hanged and the nurse being burned on a pyre at the end of the song.
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  • In the Child Ballad The Lord of Lorn and the False Steward, the false steward is executed, gruesomely, for his treachery.
  • The ballad "Child Owlet" ends with the title character being torn apart by horses after being falsely accused of attempted rape:
    There was no stone on Elkin Moor
    No broom nor bonny whin
    But's dripping with Child Owlet's blood
    And pieces of his skin.
    There was no grass on Elkin Moor
    No broom nor bonny rush
    But's dripping with Child Owlet's blood
    And pieces of his flesh.
  • The French song "La blanche biche" ("The White Doe") tells the story of a young woman turning into said animal every night because of a spell. She ends up killed by her own hunting brother, dismembered and cooked; then her severed head on the table speaks to the guests...