The Crimson Fairy Book
Part 3 out of 6
'As the apparition left off speaking my dog pricked up his ears and
began to bark. I heard the crack of a carter's whip and the noise of
wheels in the distance, and when I looked again the spectre had
So ended the shepherd's tale; and the landlord who was listening
with the rest, said shrewdly:
'Tell us now, Father Martin, did you go to the mountain and find
what the spirit promised you; or is it a fable?'
'Nay, nay,' answered the graybeard. 'I cannot tell if the spectre lied,
for never a step did I go towards finding the hollow, for two
reasons:--one was that my neck was too precious for me to risk it in
such a snare as that; the other, that no one could ever tell me where
the spring-root was to be found.'
Then Blaize, another aged shepherd, lifted up his voice.
"Tis a pity, Father Martin, that your secret has grown old with you.
If you had told it forty years ago truly you would not long have
been lacking the spring-root. Even though you will never climb the
mountain now, I will tell you, for a joke, how it is to be found. The
easiest way to get it is by the help of a black woodpecker. Look, in
the spring, where she builds her nest in a hole in a tree, and when
the time comes for her brood to fly off block up the entrance to the
nest with a hard sod, and lurk in ambush behind the tree till the bird
returns to feed her nestlings. When she perceives that she cannot
get into her nest she will fly round the tree uttering cries of distress,
and then dart off towards the sun-setting. When you see her do
this, take a scarlet cloak, or if that be lacking to you, buy a few
yards of scarlet cloth, and hurry back to the tree before the
woodpecker returns with the spring-root in her beak. So soon as
she touches with the root the sod that blocks the nest, it will fly
violently out of the hole. Then spread the red cloth quickly under
the tree, so that the woodpecker may think it is a fire, and in her
terror drop the root. Some people really light a fire and strew
spikenard blossoms in it; but that is a clumsy method, for if the
flames do not shoot up at the right moment away will fly the
woodpecker, carrying the root with her.'
The party had listened with interest to this speech, but by the time it
was ended the hour was late, and they went their ways homeward,
leaving only one man who had sat unheeded in a corner the whole
Master Peter Bloch had once been a prosperous innkeeper, and a
master-cook; but he had gone steadily down in the world for some
time, and was now quite poor.
Formerly he had been a merry fellow, fond of a joke, and in the art
of cooking had no equal in the town. He could make fish-jelly, and
quince fritters, and even wafer-cakes; and he gilded the ears of all
his boars' heads. Peter had looked about him for a wife early in life,
but unluckily his choice fell upon a woman whose evil tongue was
well known in the town. Ilse was hated by everybody, and the
young folks would go miles out of their way rather than meet her,
for she had some ill-word for everyone. Therefore, when Master
Peter came along, and let himself be taken in by her boasted skill as
a housewife, she jumped at his offer, and they were married the
next day. But they had not got home before they began to quarrel.
In the joy of his heart Peter had tasted freely of his own good wine,
and as the bride hung upon his arm he stumbled and fell, dragging
her down with him; whereupon she beat him soundly, and the
neighbours said truly that things did not promise well for Master
Peter's comfort. Even when the ill-matched couple were presently
blessed with children, his happiness was but short lived, the savage
temper of his quarrelsome wife seemed to blight them from the
first, and they died like little kids in a cold winter.
Though Master Peter had no great wealth to leave behind him, still
it was sad to him to be childless; and he would bemoan himself to
his friends, when he laid one baby after another in the grave, saying:
'The lightning has been among the cherry-blossoms again, so there
will be no fruit to grow ripe.'
But, by-and-by, he had a little daughter so strong and healthy that
neither her mother's temper nor her father's spoiling could keep her
from growing up tall and beautiful. Meanwhile the fortunes of the
family had changed. From his youth up, Master Peter had hated
trouble; when he had money he spent it freely, and fed all the
hungry folk who asked him for bread. If his pockets were empty he
borrowed of his neighbours, but he always took good care to
prevent his scolding wife from finding out that he had done so. His
motto was: 'It will all come right in the end'; but what it did come to
was ruin for Master Peter. He was at his wits' end to know how to
earn an honest living, for try as he might ill-luck seemed to pursue
him, and he lost one post after another, till at last all he could do
was to carry sacks of corn to the mill for his wife, who scolded him
well if he was slow about it, and grudged him his portion of food.
This grieved the tender heart of his pretty daughter, who loved him
dearly, and was the comfort of his life.
Peter was thinking of her as he sat in the inn kitchen and heard the
shepherds talking about the buried treasure, and for her sake he
resolved to go and seek for it. Before he rose from the landlord's
arm-chair his plan was made, and Master Peter went home more
joyful and full of hope than he had been for many a long day; but on
the way he suddenly remembered that he was not yet possessed of
the magic spring-root, and he stole into the house with a heavy
heart, and threw himself down upon his hard straw bed. He could
neither sleep nor rest; but as soon as it was light he got up and
wrote down exactly all that was to be done to find the treasure, that
he might not forget anything, and when it lay clear and plain before
his eyes he comforted himself with the thought that, though he must
do the rough work for his wife during one more winter at least, he
would not have to tread the path to the mill for the rest of his life.
Soon he heard his wife's harsh voice singing its morning song as she
went about her household affairs, scolding her daughter the while.
She burst open his door while he was still dressing: 'Well, Toper!'
was her greeting, 'have you been drinking all night, wasting money
that you steal from my housekeeping? For shame, drunkard!'
Master Peter, who was well used to this sort of talk, did not disturb
himself, but waited till the storm blew over, then he said calmly:
'Do not be annoyed, dear wife. I have a good piece of business in
hand which may turn out well for us.'
'You with a good business?' cried she, 'you are good for nothing
'I am making my will,' said he, 'that when my hour comes my house
may be in order.'
These unexpected words cut his daughter to the heart; she
remembered that all night long she had dreamed of a newly dug
grave, and at this thought she broke out into loud lamentations.
But her mother only cried: 'Wretch! have you not wasted goods and
possessions, and now do you talk of making a will?'
And she seized him like a fury, and tried to scratch out his eyes.
But by-and-by the quarrel was patched up, and everything went on
as before. From that day Peter saved up every penny that his
daughter Lucia gave him on the sly, and bribed the boys of his
acquaintance to spy out a black woodpecker's nest for him. He sent
them into the woods and fields, but instead of looking for a nest
they only played pranks on him. They led him miles over hill and
vale, stock and stone, to find a raven's brood, or a nest of squirrels
in a hollow tree, and when he was angry with them they laughed in
his face and ran away. This went on for some time, but at last one
of the boys spied out a woodpecker in the meadow-lands among
the wood-pigeons, and when he had found her nest in a half-dead
alder tree, came running to Peter with the news of his discovery.
Peter could hardly believe his good fortune, and went quickly to see
for himself if it was really true; and when he reached the tree there
certainly was a bird flying in and out as if she had a nest in it. Peter
was overjoyed at this fortunate discovery, and instantly set himself
to obtain a red cloak. Now in the whole town there was only one
red cloak, and that belonged to a man of whom nobody ever
willingly asked a favour--Master Hammerling the hangman. It cost
Master Peter many struggles before he could bring himself to visit
such a person, but there was no help for it, and, little as he liked it,
he ended by making his request to the hangman, who was flattered
that so respectable a man as Peter should borrow his robe of office,
and willingly lent it to him.
Peter now had all that was necessary to secure the magic root; he
stopped up the entrance to the nest, and everything fell out exactly
as Blaize had foretold. As soon as the woodpecker came back with
the root in her beak out rushed Master Peter from behind the tree
and displayed the fiery red cloak so adroitly that the terrified bird
dropped the root just where it could be easily seen. All Peter's
plans had succeeded, and he actually held in his hand the magic
root--that master-key which would unlock all doors, and bring its
possessor unheard-of luck. His thoughts now turned to the
mountain, and he secretly made preparations for his journey. He
took with him only a staff, a strong sack, and a little box which his
daughter Lucia had given him.
It happened that on the very day Peter had chosen for setting out,
Lucia and her mother went off early to the town, leaving him to
guard the house; but in spite of that he was on the point of taking
his departure when it occurred to him that it might be as well first
to test the much-vaunted powers of the magic root for himself.
Dame Ilse had a strong cupboard with seven locks built into the
wall of her room, in which she kept all the money she had saved,
and she wore the key of it always hung about her neck. Master
Peter had no control at all of the money affairs of the household, so
the contents of this secret hoard were quite unknown to him, and
this seemed to be a good opportunity for finding out what they
were. He held the magic root to the keyhole, and to his
astonishment heard all the seven locks creaking and turning, the
door flew suddenly wide open, and his greedy wife's store of gold
pieces lay before his eyes. He stood still in sheer amazement, not
knowing which to rejoice over most--this unexpected find, or the
proof of the magic root's real power; but at last he remembered that
it was quite time to be starting on his journey. So, filling his
pockets with the gold, he carefully locked the empty cupboard
again and left the house without further delay. When Dame Ilse
and her daughter returned they wondered to find the house door
shut, and Master Peter nowhere to be seen. They knocked and
called, but nothing stirred within but the house cat, and at last the
blacksmith had to be fetched to open the door. Then the house was
searched from garret to cellar, but no Master Peter was to be
'Who knows?' cried Dame Ilse at last, 'the wretch may have been
idling in some tavern since early morning.'
Then a sudden thought startled her, and she felt for her keys.
Suppose they had fallen into her good-for-nothing husband's hands
and he had helped himself to her treasure! But no, the keys were
safe in their usual place, and the cupboard looked quite untouched.
Mid-day came, then evening, then midnight, and still no Master
Peter appeared, and the matter became really serious. Dame Ilse
knew right well what a torment she had been to her husband, and
remorse caused her the gloomiest forebodings.
'Ah! Lucia,' she cried, 'I greatly fear that your father has done
himself a mischief.' And they sat till morning weeping over their
As soon as it was light they searched every corner of the house
again, and examined every nail in the wall and every beam; but,
luckily, Master Peter was not hanging from any of them. After that
the neighbours went out with long poles to fish in every ditch and
pond, but they found nothing, and then Dame Ilse gave up the idea
of ever seeing her husband again and very soon consoled herself,
only wondering how the sacks of corn were to be carried to the mill
in future. She decided to buy a strong ass to do the work, and
having chosen one, and after some bargaining with the owner as to
its price, she went to the cupboard in the wall to fetch the money.
But what were her feelings when she perceived that every shelf lay
empty and bare before her! For a moment she stood bewildered,
then broke into such frightful ravings that Lucia ran to her in alarm;
but as soon as she heard of the disappearance of the money she was
heartily glad, and no longer feared that her father had come to any
harm, but understood that he must have gone out into the world to
seek his fortune in some new way.
About a month after this, someone knocked at Dame Ilse's door
one day, and she went to see if it was a customer for meal; but in
stepped a handsome young man, dressed like a duke's son, who
greeted her respectfully, and asked after her pretty daughter as if he
were an old friend, though she could not remember having ever set
eyes upon him before.
However, she invited him to step into the house and be seated while
he unfolded his business. With a great air of mystery he begged
permission to speak to the fair Lucia, of whose skill in needlework
he had heard so much, as he had a commission to give her. Dame
Ilse had her own opinion as to what kind of commission it was
likely to be--brought by a young stranger to a pretty maiden;
however, as the meeting would be under her own eye, she made no
objection, but called to her industrious daughter, who left off
working and came obediently; but when she saw the stranger she
stopped short, blushing, and casting down her eyes. He looked at
her fondly, and took her hand, which she tried to draw away,
'Ah! Friedlin, why are you here? I thought you were a hundred
miles away. Are you come to grieve me again?'
'No, dearest girl,' answered he; 'I am come to complete your
happiness and my own. Since we last met my fortune has utterly
changed; I am no longer the poor vagabond that I was then. My
rich uncle has died, leaving me money and goods in plenty, so that I
dare to present myself to your mother as a suitor for your hand.
That I love you I know well; if you can love me I am indeed a
Lucia's pretty blue eyes had looked up shyly as he spoke, and now a
smile parted her rosy lips; and she stole a glance at her mother to
see what she thought about it all; but the dame stood lost in
amazement to find that her daughter, whom she could have
declared had never been out of her sight, was already well
acquainted with the handsome stranger, and quite willing to be his
bride. Before she had done staring, this hasty wooer had smoothed
his way by covering the shining table with gold pieces as a wedding
gift to the bride's mother, and had filled Lucia's apron into the
bargain; after which the dame made no difficulties, and the matter
was speedily settled.
While Ilse gathered up the gold and hid it away safely, the lovers
whispered together, and what Friedlin told her seemed to make
Lucia every moment more happy and contented.
Now a great hurry-burly began in the house, and preparations for
the wedding went on apace. A few days later a heavily laden
waggon drove up, and out of it came so many boxes and bales that
Dame Ilse was lost in wonder at the wealth of her future
son-in-law. The day for the wedding was chosen, and all their
friends and neighbours were bidden to the feast. As Lucia was
trying on her bridal wreath she said to her mother: 'This
wedding-garland would please me indeed if father Peter could lead
me to the church. If only he could come back again! Here we are
rolling in riches while he may be nibbling at hunger's table.' And the
very idea of such a thing made her weep, while even Dame Ilse
'I should not be sorry myself to see him come back--there is always
something lacking in a house when the good man is away.'
But the fact was that she was growing quite tired of having no one
to scold. And what do you think happened?
On the very eve of the wedding a man pushing a wheelbarrow
arrived at the city gate, and paid toll upon a barrel of nails which it
contained, and then made the best of his way to the bride's dwelling
and knocked at the door.
The bride herself peeped out of the window to see who it could be,
and there stood father Peter! Then there was great rejoicing in the
house; Lucia ran to embrace him, and even Dame Ilse held out her
hand in welcome, and only said: 'Rogue, mend your ways,' when
she remembered the empty treasure cupboard. Father Peter greeted
the bridegroom, looking at him shrewdly, while the mother and
daughter hastened to say all they knew in his favour, and appeared
to be satisfied with him as a son-in-law. When Dame Ilse had set
something to eat before her husband, she was curious to hear his
adventures, and questioned him eagerly as to why he had gone
'God bless my native place,' said he. 'I have been marching through
the country, and have tried every kind of work, but now I have
found a job in the iron trade; only, so far, I have put more into it
than I have earned by it. This barrel of nails is my whole fortune,
which I wish to give as my contribution towards the bride's house
This speech roused Dame Ilse to anger, and she broke out into such
shrill reproaches that the bystanders were fairly deafened, and
Friedlin hastily offered Master Peter a home with Lucia and himself,
promising that he should live in comfort, and be always welcome.
So Lucia had her heart's desire, and father Peter led her to the
church next day, and the marriage took place very happily. Soon
afterwards the young people settled in a fine house which Friedlin
had bought, and had a garden and meadows, a fishpond, and a hill
covered with vines, and were as happy as the day was long. Father
Peter also stayed quietly with them, living, as everybody believed,
upon the generosity of his rich son-in law. No one suspected that
his barrel of nails was the real 'Horn of Plenty,' from which all this
Peter had made the journey to the treasure mountain successfully,
without being found out by anybody. He had enjoyed himself by
the way, and taken his own time, until he actually reached the little
brook in the valley which it had cost him some trouble to find.
Then he pressed on eagerly, and soon came to the little hollow in
the wood; down he went, burrowing like a mole into the earth; the
magic root did its work, and at last the treasure lay before his eyes.
You may imagine how gaily Peter filled his sack with as much gold
as he could carry, and how he staggered up the seventy-seven steps
with a heart full of hope and delight. He did not quite trust the
gnome's promises of safety, and was in such haste to find himself
once more in the light of day that he looked neither to the right nor
the left, and could not afterwards remember whether the walls and
pillars had sparkled with jewels or not.
However, all went well--he neither saw nor heard anything
alarming; the only thing that happened was that the great
iron-barred door shut with a crash as soon as he was fairly outside
it, and then he remembered that he had left the magic root behind
him, so he could not go back for another load of treasure. But even
that did not trouble Peter much; he was quite satisfied with what he
had already. After he had faithfully done everything according to
Father Martin's instructions, and pressed the earth well back into
the hollow, he sat down to consider how he could bring his treasure
back to his native place, and enjoy it there, without being forced to
share it with his scolding wife, who would give him no peace if she
once found out about it. At last, after much thinking, he hit upon a
plan. He carried his sack to the nearest village, and there bought a
wheelbarrow, a strong barrel, and a quantity of nails. Then he
packed his gold into the barrel, covered it well with a layer of nails,
hoisted it on to the wheelbarrow with some difficulty, and set off
with it upon his homeward way. At one place upon the road he met
a handsome young man who seemed by his downcast air to be in
some great trouble. Father Peter, who wished everybody to be as
happy as he was himself, greeted him cheerfully, and asked where
he was going, to which he answered sadly:
'Into the wide world, good father, or out of it, where ever my feet
may chance to carry me.'
'Why out of it?' said Peter. 'What has the world been doing to you?'
'It has done nothing to me, nor I to it,' he replied. 'Nevertheless
there is not anything left in it for me.'
Father Peter did his best to cheer the young man up, and invited
him to sup with him at the first inn they came to, thinking that
perhaps hunger and poverty were causing the stranger's trouble.
But when good food was set before him he seemed to forget to eat.
So Peter perceived that what ailed his guest was sorrow of heart,
and asked him kindly to tell him his story.
'Where is the good, father?' said he. 'You can give me neither help
'Who knows?' answered Master Peter. 'I might be able to do
something for you. Often enough in life help comes to us from the
most unexpected quarter.'
The young man, thus encouraged, began his tale.
'I am,' said he, 'a crossbow-man in the service of a noble count, in
whose castle I was brought up. Not long ago my master went on a
journey, and brought back with him, amongst other treasures, the
portrait of a fair maiden so sweet and lovely that I lost my heart at
first sight of it, and could think of nothing but how I might seek her
out and marry her. The count had told me her name, and where she
lived, but laughed at my love, and absolutely refused to give me
leave to go in search of her, so I was forced to run away from the
castle by night. I soon reached the little town where the maiden
dwelt; but there fresh difficulties awaited me. She lived under the
care of her mother, who was so severe that she was never allowed
to look out of the window, or set her foot outside the door alone,
and how to make friends with her I did not know. But at last I
dressed myself as an old woman, and knocked boldly at her door.
The lovely maiden herself opened it, and so charmed me that I came
near forgetting my disguise; but I soon recovered my wits, and
begged her to work a fine table-cloth for me, for she is reported to
be the best needlewoman in all the country round. Now I was free
to go and see her often under the presence of seeing how the work
was going oil, and one day, when her mother had gone to the town,
I ventured to throw off my disguise, and tell her of my love. She
was startled at first; but I persuaded her to listen to me, and I soon
saw that I was not displeasing to her, though she scolded me gently
for my disobedience to my master, and my deceit in disguising
myself. But when I begged her to marry me, she told me sadly that
her mother would scorn a penniless wooer, and implored me to go
away at once, lest trouble should fall upon her.
'Bitter as it was to me, I was forced to go when she bade me, and I
have wandered about ever since, with grief gnawing at my heart;
for how can a masterless man, without money or goods, ever hope
to win the lovely Lucia?'
Master Peter, who had been listening attentively, pricked up his
ears at the sound of his daughter's name, and very soon found out
that it was indeed with her that this young man was so deeply in
'Your story is strange indeed,' said he. 'But where is the father of
this maiden--why do you not ask him for her hand? He might well
take your part, and be glad to have you for his son-in-law.'
'Alas!' said the young man, 'her father is a wandering
good-for-naught, who has forsaken wife and child, and gone off--
who knows where? The wife complains of him bitterly enough, and
scolds my dear maiden when she takes her father's part.'
Father Peter was somewhat amused by this speech; but he liked the
young man well, and saw that he was the very person he needed to
enable him to enjoy his wealth in peace, without being separated
from his dear daughter.
'If you will take my advice,' said he, 'I promise you that you shall
marry this maiden whom you love so much, and that before you are
many days older.'
'Comrade,' cried Friedlin indignantly, for he thought Peter did but
jest with him, 'it is ill done to mock at an unhappy man; you had
better find someone else who will let himself be taken in with your
fine promises.' And up he sprang, and was going off hastily, when
Master Peter caught him by the arm.
'Stay, hothead!' he cried; 'it is no jest, and I am prepared to make
good my words.'
Thereupon he showed him the treasure hidden under the nails, and
unfolded to him his plan, which was that Friedlin should play the
part of the rich son-in-law, and keep a still tongue, that they might
enjoy their wealth together in peace.
The young man was overjoyed at this sudden change in his
fortunes, and did not know how to thank father Peter for his
generosity. They took the road again at dawn the next morning,
and soon reached a town, where Friedlin equipped himself as a
gallant wooer should. Father Peter filled his pockets with gold for
the wedding dowry, and agreed with him that when all was settled
he should secretly send him word that Peter might send off the
waggon load of house plenishings with which the rich bridegroom
was to make such a stir in the little town where the bride lived. As
they parted, father Peter's last commands to Friedlin were to guard
well their secret, and not even to tell it to Lucia till she was his
Master Peter long enjoyed the profits of his journey to the
mountain, and no rumour of it ever got abroad. In his old age his
prosperity was so great that he himself did not know how rich he
was; but it was always supposed that the money was Friedlin's. He
and his beloved wife lived in the greatest happiness and peace, and
rose to great honour in the town. And to this day, when the
citizens wish to describe a wealthy man, they say: 'As rich as Peter
The Cottager And His Cat
Once upon a time there lived an old man and his wife in a dirty,
tumble-down cottage, not very far from the splendid palace where
the king and queen dwelt. In spite of the wretched state of the hut,
which many people declared was too bad even for a pig to live in,
the old man was very rich, for he was a great miser, and lucky
besides, and would often go without food all day sooner than
change one of his beloved gold pieces.
But after a while he found that he had starved himself once too
often. He fell ill, and had no strength to get well again, and in a few
days he died, leaving his wife and one son behind him.
The night following his death, the son dreamed that an unknown
man appeared to him and said: 'Listen to me; your father is dead
and your mother will soon die, and all their riches will belong to
you. Half of his wealth is ill-gotten, and this you must give back to
the poor from whom he squeezed it. The other half you must
throw into the sea. Watch, however, as the money sinks into the
water, and if anything should swim, catch it and keep it, even if it is
nothing more than a bit of paper.'
Then the man vanished, and the youth awoke.
The remembrance of his dream troubled him greatly. He did not
want to part with the riches that his father had left him, for he had
known all his life what it was to be cold and hungry, and now he
had hoped for a little comfort and pleasure. Still, he was honest
and good-hearted, and if his father had come wrongfully by his
wealth he felt he could never enjoy it, and at last he made up his
mind to do as he had been bidden. He found out who were the
people who were poorest in the village, and spent half of his money
in helping them, and the other half he put in his pocket. From a
rock that jutted right out into the sea he flung it in. In a moment it
was out of sight, and no man could have told the spot where it had
sunk, except for a tiny scrap of paper floating on the water. He
stretched down carefully and managed to reach it, and on opening it
found six shillings wrapped inside. This was now all the money he
had in the world.
The young man stood and looked at it thoughtfully. 'Well, I can't
do much with this,' he said to himself; but, after all, six shillings
were better than nothing, and he wrapped them up again and
slipped them into his coat.
He worked in his garden for the next few weeks, and he and his
mother contrived to live on the fruit and vegetables he got out of it,
and then she too died suddenly. The poor fellow felt very sad when
he had laid her in her grave, and with a heavy heart he wandered
into the forest, not knowing where he was going. By-and-by he
began to get hungry, and seeing a small hut in front of him, he
knocked at the door and asked if they could give him some milk.
The old woman who opened it begged him to come in, adding
kindly, that if he wanted a night's lodging he might have it without
its costing him anything.
Two women and three men were at supper when he entered, and
silently made room for him to sit down by them. When he had
eaten he began to look about him, and was surprised to see an
animal sitting by the fire different from anything he had ever noticed
before. It was grey in colour, and not very big; but its eyes were
large and very bright, and it seemed to be singing in an odd way,
quite unlike any animal in the forest. 'What is the name of that
strange little creature?' asked he. And they answered, 'We call it a
'I should like to buy it--if it is not too dear,' said the young man; 'it
would be company for me.' And they told him that he might have it
for six shillings, if he cared to give so much. The young man took
out his precious bit of paper, handed them the six shillings, and the
next morning bade them farewell, with the cat lying snugly in his
For the whole day they wandered through meadows and forests, till
in the evening they reached a house. The young fellow knocked at
the door and asked the old man who opened it if he could rest there
that night, adding that he had no money to pay for it. 'Then I must
give it to you,' answered the man, and led him into a room where
two women and two men were sitting at supper. One of the
women was the old man's wife, the other his daughter. He placed
the cat on the mantel shelf, and they all crowded round to examine
this strange beast, and the cat rubbed itself against them, and held
out its paw, and sang to them; and the women were delighted, and
gave it everything that a cat could eat, and a great deal more
After hearing the youth's story, and how he had nothing in the
world left him except his cat, the old man advised him to go to the
palace, which was only a few miles distant, and take counsel of the
king, who was kind to everyone, and would certainly be his friend.
The young man thanked him, and said he would gladly take his
advice; and early next morning he set out for the royal palace.
He sent a message to the king to beg for an audience, and received
a reply that he was to go into the great hall, where he would find
The king was at dinner with his court when the young man entered,
and he signed to him to come near. The youth bowed low, and
then gazed in surprise at the crowd of little black creatures who
were running about the floor, and even on the table itself. Indeed,
they were so bold that they snatched pieces of food from the King's
own plate, and if he drove them away, tried to bite his hands, so
that he could not eat his food, and his courtiers fared no better.
'What sort of animals are these?' asked the youth of one of the
ladies sitting near him.
'They are called rats,' answered the king, who had overheard the
question, 'and for years we have tried some way of putting an end
to them, but it is impossible. They come into our very beds.'
At this moment something was seen flying through the air. The cat
was on the table, and with two or three shakes a number of rats
were lying dead round him. Then a great scuffling of feet was
heard, and in a few minutes the hall was clear.
For some minutes the King and his courtiers only looked at each
other in astonishment. 'What kind of animal is that which can work
magic of this sort?' asked he. And the young man told him that it
was called a cat, and that he had bought it for six shillings.
And the King answered: 'Because of the luck you have brought me,
in freeing my palace from the plague which has tormented me for
many years, I will give you the choice of two things. Either you
shall be my Prime Minister, or else you shall marry my daughter and
reign after me. Say, which shall it be?'
'The princess and the kingdom,' said the young man.
And so it was.
[From Islandische Marchen.]
The Prince Who Would Seek Immortality
Once upon a time, in the very middle of the middle of a large
kingdom, there was a town, and in the town a palace, and in the
palace a king. This king had one son whom his father thought was
wiser and cleverer than any son ever was before, and indeed his
father had spared no pains to make him so. He had been very
careful in choosing his tutors and governors when he was a boy,
and when he became a youth he sent him to travel, so that he might
see the ways of other people, and find that they were often as good
as his own.
It was now a year since the prince had returned home, for his father
felt that it was time that his son should learn how to rule the
kingdom which would one day be his. But during his long absence
the prince seemed to have changed his character altogether. From
being a merry and light-hearted boy, he had grown into a gloomy
and thoughtful man. The king knew of nothing that could have
produced such an alteration. He vexed himself about it from
morning till night, till at length an explanation occurred to him--the
young man was in love!
Now the prince never talked about his feelings--for the matter of
that he scarcely talked at all; and the father knew that if he was to
come to the bottom of the prince's dismal face, he would have to
begin. So one day, after dinner, he took his son by the arm and led
him into another room, hung entirely with the pictures of beautiful
maidens, each one more lovely than the other.
'My dear boy,' he said, 'you are very sad; perhaps after all your
wanderings it is dull for you here all alone with me. It would be
much better if you would marry, and I have collected here the
portraits of the most beautiful women in the world of a rank equal
to your own. Choose which among them you would like for a wife,
and I will send an embassy to her father to ask for her hand.'
'Alas! your Majesty,' answered the prince, 'it is not love or marriage
that makes me so gloomy; but the thought, which haunts me day
and night, that all men, even kings, must die. Never shall I be
happy again till I have found a kingdom where death is unknown.
And I have determined to give myself no rest till I have discovered
the Land of Immortality.
The old king heard him with dismay; things were worse than he
thought. He tried to reason with his son, and told him that during
all these years he had been looking forward to his return, in order to
resign his throne and its cares, which pressed so heavily upon him.
But it was in vain that he talked; the prince would listen to nothing,
and the following morning buckled on his sword and set forth on
He had been travelling for many days, and had left his fatherland
behind him, when close to the road he came upon a huge tree, and
on its topmost bough an eagle was sitting shaking the branches with
all his might. This seemed so strange and so unlike an eagle, that
the prince stood still with surprise, and the bird saw him and flew to
the ground. The moment its feet touched the ground he changed
into a king.
'Why do you look so astonished?' he asked.
'I was wondering why you shook the boughs so fiercely,' answered
'I am condemned to do this, for neither I nor any of my kindred can
die till I have rooted up this great tree,' replied the king of the
eagles. 'But it is now evening, and I need work no more to-day.
Come to my house with me, and be my guest for the night.'
The prince accepted gratefully the eagle's invitation, for he was
tired and hungry. They were received at the palace by the king's
beautiful daughter, who gave orders that dinner should be laid for
them at once. While they were eating, the eagle questioned his
guest about his travels, and if he was wandering for pleasure's sake,
or with any special aim. Then the prince told him everything, and
how he could never turn back till he had discovered the Land of
'Dear brother,' said the eagle, 'you have discovered it already, and it
rejoices my heart to think that you will stay with us. Have you not
just heard me say that death has no power either over myself or any
of my kindred till that great tree is rooted up? It will take me six
hundred years' hard work to do that; so marry my daughter and let
us all live happily together here. After all, six hundred years is an
'Ah, dear king,' replied the young man, 'your offer is very tempting!
But at the end of six hundred years we should have to die, so we
should be no better off! No, I must go on till I find the country
where there is no death at all.'
Then the princess spoke, and tried to persuade the guest to change
his mind, but he sorrowfully shook his head. At length, seeing that
his resolution was firmly fixed, she took from a cabinet a little box
which contained her picture, and gave it to him saying:
'As you will not stay with us, prince, accept this box, which will
sometimes recall us to your memory. If you are tired of travelling
before you come to the Land of Immortality, open this box and
look at my picture, and you will be borne along either on earth or in
the air, quick as thought, or swift as the whirlwind.'
The prince thanked her for her gift, which he placed in his tunic,
and sorrowfully bade the eagle and his daughter farewell.
Never was any present in the world as useful as that little box, and
many times did he bless the kind thought of the princess. One
evening it had carried him to the top of a high mountain, where he
saw a man with a bald head, busily engaged in digging up spadefuls
of earth and throwing them in a basket. When the basket was full
he took it away and returned with an empty one, which he likewise
filled. The prince stood and watched him for a little, till the
bald-headed man looked up and said to him: 'Dear brother, what
surprises you so much?'
'I was wondering why you were filling the basket,' replied the
'Oh!' replied the man, 'I am condemned to do this, for neither I nor
any of my family can die till I have dug away the whole of this
mountain and made it level with the plain. But, come, it is almost
dark, and I shall work no longer.' And he plucked a leaf from a tree
close by, and from a rough digger he was changed into a stately
bald-headed king. 'Come home with me,' he added; 'you must be
tired and hungry, and my daughter will have supper ready for us.'
The prince accepted gladly, and they went back to the palace,
where the bald-headed king's daughter, who was still more beautiful
than the other princess, welcomed them at the door and led the way
into a large hall and to a table covered with silver dishes. While
they were eating, the bald-headed king asked the prince how he had
happened to wander so far, and the young man told him all about it,
and how he was seeking the Land of Immortality. 'You have found
it already,' answered the king, 'for, as I said, neither I nor my family
can die till I have levelled this great mountain; and that will take full
eight hundred years longer. Stay here with us and marry my
daughter. Eight hundred years is surely long enough to live.'
'Oh, certainly,' answered the prince; 'but, all the same, I would
rather go and seek the land where there is no death at all.'
So next morning he bade them farewell, though the princess begged
him to stay with all her might; and when she found that she could
not persuade him she gave him as a remembrance a gold ring. This
ring was still more useful than the box, because when one wished
oneself at any place one was there directly, without even the trouble
of flying to it through the air. The prince put it on his finger, and
thanking her heartily, went his way.
He walked on for some distance, and then he recollected the ring
and thought he would try if the princess had spoken truly as to its
powers. 'I wish I was at the end of the world,' he said, shutting his
eyes, and when he opened them he was standing in a street full of
marble palaces. The men who passed him were tall and strong, and
their clothes were magnificent. He stopped some of them and
asked in all the twenty-seven languages he knew what was the
name of the city, but no one answered him. Then his heart sank
within him; what should he do in this strange place if nobody could
understand anything? he said. Suddenly his eyes fell upon a man
dressed after the fashion of his native country, and he ran up to him
and spoke to him in his own tongue. 'What city is this, my friend?'
'It is the capital city of the Blue Kingdom,' replied the man, 'but the
king himself is dead, and his daughter is now the ruler.'
With this news the prince was satisfied, and begged his countryman
to show him the way to the young queen's palace. The man led him
through several streets into a large square, one side of which was
occupied by a splendid building that seemed borne up on slender
pillars of soft green marble. In front was a flight of steps, and on
these the queen was sitting wrapped in a veil of shining silver mist,
listening to the complaints of her people and dealing out justice.
When the prince came up she saw directly that he was no ordinary
man, and telling her chamberlain to dismiss the rest of her
petitioners for that day, she signed to the prince to follow her into
the palace. Luckily she had been taught his language as a child, so
they had no difficulty in talking together.
The prince told all his story and how he was journeying in search of
the Land of Immortality. When he had finished, the princess, who
had listened attentively, rose, and taking his arm, led him to the
door of another room, the floor of which was made entirely of
needles, stuck so close together that there was not room for a
single needle more.
'Prince,' she said, turning to him, 'you see these needles? Well,
know that neither I nor any of my family can die till I have worn out
these needles in sewing. It will take at least a thousand years for
that. Stay here, and share my throne; a thousand years is long
enough to live!'
'Certainly,' answered he; 'still, at the end of the thousand years I
should have to die! No, I must find the land where there is no
The queen did all she could to persuade him to stay, but as her
words proved useless, at length she gave it up. Then she said to
him: 'As you will not stay, take this little golden rod as a
remembrance of me. It has the power to become anything you wish
it to be, when you are in need.'
So the prince thanked her, and putting the rod in his pocket, went
Scarcely had he left the town behind him when he came to a broad
river which no man might pass, for he was standing at the end of
the world, and this was the river which flowed round it. Not
knowing what to do next, he walked a little distance up the bank,
and there, over his head, a beautiful city was floating in the air. He
longed to get to it, but how? neither road nor bridge was anywhere
to be seen, yet the city drew him upwards, and he felt that here at
last was the country which he sought. Suddenly he remembered the
golden rod which the mist-veiled queen had given him. With a
beating heart he flung it to the ground, wishing with all his might
that it should turn into a bridge, and fearing that, after all, this
might prove beyond its power. But no, instead of the rod, there
stood a golden ladder, leading straight up to the city of the air. He
was about to enter the golden gates, when there sprang at him a
wondrous beast, whose like he had never seen. 'Out sword from
the sheath,' cried the prince, springing back with a cry. And the
sword leapt from the scabbard and cut off some of the monster's
heads, but others grew again directly, so that the prince, pale with
terror, stood where he was, calling for help, and put his sword back
in the sheath again.
The queen of the city heard the noise and looked from her window
to see what was happening. Summoning one of her servants, she
bade him go and rescue the stranger, and bring him to her. The
prince thankfully obeyed her orders, and entered her presence.
The moment she looked at him, the queen also felt that he was no
ordinary man, and she welcomed him graciously, and asked him
what had brought him to the city. In answer the prince told all his
story, and how he had travelled long and far in search of the Land
'You have found it,' said she, 'for I am queen over life and over
death. Here you can dwell among the immortals.'
A thousand years had passed since the prince first entered the city,
but they had flown so fast that the time seemed no more than six
months. There had not been one instant of the thousand years that
the prince was not happy till one night when he dreamed of his
father and mother. Then the longing for his home came upon him
with a rush, and in the morning he told the Queen of the Immortals
that he must go and see his father and mother once more. The
queen stared at him with amazement, and cried: 'Why, prince, are
you out of your senses? It is more than eight hundred years since
your father and mother died! There will not even be their dust
'I must go all the same,' said he.
'Well, do not be in a hurry,' continued the queen, understanding that
he would not be prevented. 'Wait till I make some preparations for
your journey.' So she unlocked her great treasure chest, and took
out two beautiful flasks, one of gold and one of silver, which she
hung round his neck. Then she showed him a little trap-door in one
corner of the room, and said: 'Fill the silver flask with this water,
which is below the trap-door. It is enchanted, and whoever you
sprinkle with the water will become a dead man at once, even if he
had lived a thousand years. The golden flask you must fill with the
water here,' she added, pointing to a well in another corner. 'It
springs from the rock of eternity; you have only to sprinkle a few
drops on a body and it will come to life again, if it had been a
thousand years dead.'
The prince thanked the queen for her gifts, and, bidding her
farewell, went on his journey.
He soon arrived in the town where the mist-veiled queen reigned in
her palace, but the whole city had changed, and he could scarcely
find his way through the streets. In the palace itself all was still,
and he wandered through the rooms without meeting anyone to
stop him. At last he entered the queen's own chamber, and there
she lay, with her embroidery still in her hands, fast asleep. He
pulled at her dress, but she did not waken. Then a dreadful idea
came over him, and he ran to the chamber where the needles had
been kept, but it was quite empty. The queen had broken the last
over the work she held in her hand, and with it the spell was broken
too, and she lay dead.
Quick as thought the prince pulled out the golden flask, and
sprinkled some drops of the water over the queen. In a moment she
moved gently, and raising her head, opened her eyes.
'Oh, my dear friend, I am so glad you wakened me; I must have
slept a long while!'
'You would have slept till eternity,' answered the prince, 'if I had
not been here to waken you.'
At these words the queen remembered about the needles. She
knew now that she had been dead, and that the prince had restored
her to life. She gave him thanks from her heart for what he had
done, and vowed she would repay him if she ever got a chance.
The prince took his leave, and set out for the country of the
bald-headed king. As he drew near the place he saw that the whole
mountain had been dug away, and that the king was lying dead on
the ground, his spade and bucket beside him. But as soon as the
water from the golden flask touched him he yawned and stretched
himself, and slowly rose to his feet. 'Oh, my dear friend, I am so
glad to see you,' cried he, 'I must have slept a long while!'
'You would have slept till eternity if I had not been here to waken
you,' answered the prince. And the king remembered the mountain,
and the spell, and vowed to repay the service if he ever had a
Further along the road which led to his old home the prince found
the great tree torn up by its roots, and the king of the eagles sitting
dead on the ground, with his wings outspread as if for flight. A
flutter ran through the feathers as the drops of water fell on them,
and the eagle lifted his beak from the ground and said: 'Oh, how
long I must have slept! How can I thank you for having awakened
me, my dear, good friend!'
'You would have slept till eternity if I had not been here to waken
you'; answered the prince. Then the king remembered about the
tree, and knew that he had been dead, and promised, if ever he had
the chance, to repay what the prince had done for him.
At last he reached the capital of his father's kingdom, but on
reaching the place where the royal palace had stood, instead of the
marble galleries where he used to play, there lay a great sulphur
lake, its blue flames darting into the air. How was he to find his
father and mother, and bring them back to life, if they were lying at
the bottom of that horrible water? He turned away sadly and
wandered back into the streets, hardly knowing where he was
going; when a voice behind him cried: 'Stop, prince, I have caught
you at last! It is a thousand years since I first began to seek you.'
And there beside him stood the old, white-bearded, figure of Death.
Swiftly he drew the ring from his finger, and the king of the eagles,
the bald-headed king, and the mist-veiled queen, hastened to his
rescue. In an instant they had seized upon Death and held him
tight, till the prince should have time to reach the Land of
Immortality. But they did not know how quickly Death could fly,
and the prince had only one foot across the border, when he felt the
other grasped from behind, and the voice of Death calling: 'Halt!
now you are mine.'
The Queen of the Immortals was watching from her window, and
cried to Death that he had no power in her kingdom, and that he
must seek his prey elsewhere.
'Quite true,' answered Death; 'but his foot is in my kingdom, and
that belongs to me!'
'At any rate half of him is mine,' replied the Queen, 'and what good
can the other half do you? Half a man is no use, either to you or to
me! But this once I will allow you to cross into my kingdom, and
we will decide by a wager whose he is.'
And so it was settled. Death stepped across the narrow line that
surrounds the Land of Immortality, and the queen proposed the
wager which was to decide the prince's fate. 'I will throw him up
into the sky,' she said, 'right to the back of the morning star, and if
he falls down into this city, then he is mine. But if he should fall
outside the walls, he shall belong to you.'
In the middle of the city was a great open square, and here the
queen wished the wager to take place. When all was ready, she put
her foot under the foot of the prince and swung him into the air.
Up, up, he went, high amongst the stars, and no man's eyes could
follow him. Had she thrown him up straight? the queen wondered
anxiously, for, if not, he would fall outside the walls, and she would
lose him for ever. The moments seemed long while she and Death
stood gazing up into the air, waiting to know whose prize the
prince would be. Suddenly they both caught sight of a tiny speck
no bigger than a wasp, right up in the blue. Was he coming
straight? No! Yes! But as he was nearing the city, a light wind
sprang up, and swayed him in the direction of the wall. Another
second and he would have fallen half over it, when the queen
sprang forward, seized him in her arms, and flung him into the
castle. Then she commanded her servants to cast Death out of the
city, which they did, with such hard blows that he never dared to
show his face again in the Land of Immortality.
[From Ungarischen Volksmurchen.]
Once upon a time there lived a stone-cutter, who went every day to
a great rock in the side of a big mountain and cut out slabs for
gravestones or for houses. He understood very well the kinds of
stones wanted for the different purposes, and as he was a careful
workman he had plenty of customers. For a long time he was quite
happy and contented, and asked for nothing better than what he
Now in the mountain dwelt a spirit which now and then appeared to
men, and helped them in many ways to become rich and
prosperous. The stone-cutter, however, had never seen this spirit,
and only shook his head, with an unbelieving air, when anyone
spoke of it. But a time was coming when he learned to change his
One day the stone-cutter carried a gravestone to the house of a rich
man, and saw there all sorts of beautiful things, of which he had
never even dreamed. Suddenly his daily work seemed to grow
harder and heavier, and he said to himself: 'Oh, if only I were a rich
man, and could sleep in a bed with silken curtains and golden
tassels, how happy I should be!'
And a voice answered him: 'Your wish is heard; a rich man you
At the sound of the voice the stone-cutter looked round, but could
see nobody. He thought it was all his fancy, and picked up his tools
and went home, for he did not feel inclined to do any more work
that day. But when he reached the little house where he lived, he
stood still with amazement, for instead of his wooden hut was a
stately palace filled with splendid furniture, and most splendid of all
was the bed, in every respect like the one he had envied. He was
nearly beside himself with joy, and in his new life the old one was
It was now the beginning of summer, and each day the sun blazed
more fiercely. One morning the heat was so great that the
stone-cutter could scarcely breathe, and he determined he would
stay at home till the evening. He was rather dull, for he had never
learned how to amuse himself, and was peeping through the closed
blinds to see what was going on in the street, when a little carriage
passed by, drawn by servants dressed in blue and silver. In the
carriage sat a prince, and over his head a golden umbrella was held,
to protect him from the sun's rays.
'Oh, if I were only a prince!' said the stone-cutter to himself, as the
carriage vanished round the corner. 'Oh, if I were only a prince,
and could go in such a carriage and have a golden umbrella held
over me, how happy I should be!'
And the voice of the mountain spirit answered: 'Your wish is heard;
a prince you shall be.'
And a prince he was. Before his carriage rode one company of men
and another behind it; servants dressed in scarlet and gold bore him
along, the coveted umbrella was held over his head, everything
heart could desire was his. But yet it was not enough. He looked
round still for something to wish for, and when he saw that in spite
of the water he poured on his grass the rays of the sun scorched it,
and that in spite of the umbrella held over his head each day his face
grew browner and browner, he cried in his anger: 'The sun is
mightier than I; oh, if I were only the sun!'
And the mountain spirit answered: 'Your wish is heard; the sun you
And the sun he was, and felt himself proud in his power. He shot
his beams above and below, on earth and in heaven; he burnt up the
grass in the fields and scorched the faces of princes as well as of
poorer folk. But in a short time he began to grow tired of his
might, for there seemed nothing left for him to do. Discontent once
more filled his soul, and when a cloud covered his face, and hid the
earth from him, he cried in his anger: 'Does the cloud hold captive
my rays, and is it mightier than I? Oh, that I were a cloud, and
mightier than any!'
And the mountain spirit answered: 'Your wish is heard; a cloud you
And a cloud he was, and lay between the sun and the earth. He
caught the sun's beams and held them, and to his joy the earth grew
green again and flowers blossomed. But that was not enough for
him, and for days and weeks he poured forth rain till the rivers
overflowed their banks, and the crops of rice stood in water.
Towns and villages were destroyed by the power of the rain, only
the great rock on the mountain side remained unmoved. The cloud
was amazed at the sight, and cried in wonder: 'Is the rock, then,
mightier than I? Oh, if I were only the rock!'
And the mountain spirit answered: 'Your wish is heard; the rock
you shall be!
And the rock he was, and gloried in his power. Proudly he stood,
and neither the heat of the sun nor the force of the rain could move
him. 'This is better than all!' he said to himself. But one day he
heard a strange noise at his feet, and when he looked down to see
what it could be, he saw a stone-cutter driving tools into his
surface. Even while he looked a trembling feeling ran all through
him, and a great block broke off and fell upon the ground. Then he
cried in his wrath: 'Is a mere child of earth mightier than a rock?
Oh, if I were only a man!'
And the mountain spirit answered: 'Your wish is heard. A man
once more you shall be!'
And a man he was, and in the sweat of his brow he toiled again at
his trade of stone-cutting. His bed was hard and his food scanty,
but he had learned to be satisfied with it, and did not long to be
something or somebody else. And as he never asked for things he
had not got, or desired to be greater and mightier than other
people, he was happy at last, and heard the voice of the mountain
spirit no longer.
[From Japanische Mahrchen.]
The Gold-Bearded Man
Once upon a time there lived a great king who had a wife and one
son whom he loved very much. The boy was still young when, one
day, the king said to his wife: 'I feel that the hour of my death
draws near, and I want you to promise that you will never take
another husband but will give up your life to the care of our son.'
The queen burst into tears at these words, and sobbed out that she
would never, never marry again, and that her son's welfare should
be her first thought as long as she lived. Her promise comforted
the troubled heart of the king, and a few days after he died, at peace
with himself and with the world.
But no sooner was the breath out of his body, than the queen said
to herself, 'To promise is one thing, and to keep is quite another.'
And hardly was the last spadeful of earth flung over the coffin than
she married a noble from a neighbouring country, and got him made
king instead of the young prince. Her new husband was a cruel,
wicked man, who treated his stepson very badly, and gave him
scarcely anything to eat, and only rags to wear; and he would
certainly have killed the boy but for fear of the people.
Now by the palace grounds there ran a brook, but instead of being a
water-brook it was a milk-brook, and both rich and poor flocked to
it daily and drew as much milk as they chose. The first thing the
new king did when he was seated on the throne, was to forbid
anyone to go near the brook, on pain of being seized by the
watchmen. And this was purely spite, for there was plenty of milk
For some days no one dared venture near the banks of the stream,
but at length some of the watchmen noticed that early in the
mornings, just at dawn, a man with a gold beard came down to the
brook with a pail, which he filled up to the brim with milk, and then
vanished like smoke before they could get near enough to see who
he was. So they went and told the king what they had seen.
At first the king would not believe their story, but as they persisted
it was quite true, he said that he would go and watch the stream
that night himself. With the earliest streaks of dawn the
gold-bearded man appeared, and filled his pail as before. Then in
an instant he had vanished, as if the earth had swallowed him up.
The king stood staring with eyes and mouth open at the place
where the man had disappeared. He had never seen him before,
that was certain; but what mattered much more was how to catch
him, and what should be done with him when he was caught? He
would have a cage built as a prison for him, and everyone would
talk of it, for in other countries thieves were put in prison, and it
was long indeed since any king had used a cage. It was all very
well to plan, and even to station a watchman behind every bush, but
it was of no use, for the man was never caught. They would creep
up to him softly on the grass, as he was stooping to fill his pail, and
just as they stretched out their hands to seize him, he vanished
before their eyes. Time after time this happened, till the king grew
mad with rage, and offered a large reward to anyone who could tell
him how to capture his enemy.
The first person that came with a scheme was an old soldier who
promised the king that if he would only put some bread and bacon
and a flask of wine on the bank of the stream, the gold-bearded man
would be sure to eat and drink, and they could shake some powder
into the wine, which would send him to sleep at once. After that
there was nothing to do but to shut him in the cage.
This idea pleased the king, and he ordered bread and bacon and a
flask of drugged wine to be placed on the bank of the stream, and
the watchers to be redoubled. Then, full of hope, he awaited the
Everything turned out just as the soldier had said. Early next
morning the gold-bearded man came down to the brook, ate, drank,
and fell sound asleep, so that the watchers easily bound him, and
carried him off to the palace. In a moment the king had him fast in
the golden cage, and showed him, with ferocious joy, to the
strangers who were visiting his court. The poor captive, when he
awoke from his drunken sleep, tried to talk to them, but no one
would listen to him, so he shut himself up altogether, and the
people who came to stare took him for a dumb man of the woods.
He wept and moaned to himself all day, and would hardly touch
food, though, in dread that he should die and escape his tormentors,
the king ordered his head cook to send him dishes from the royal
The gold-bearded man had been in captivity about a month, when
the king was forced to make war upon a neighbouring country, and
left the palace, to take command of his army. But before he went
he called his stepson to him and said:
'Listen, boy, to what I tell you. While I am away I trust the care of
my prisoner to you. See that he has plenty to eat and drink, but he
careful that he does not escape, or even walk about the room. If I
return and find him gone, you will pay for it by a terrible death.'
The young prince was thankful that his stepfather was going to the
war, and secretly hoped he might never come back. Directly he had
ridden off the boy went to the room where the cage was kept, and
never left it night and day. He even played his games beside it.
One day he was shooting at a mark with a silver bow; one of his
arrows fell into the golden cage.
'Please give me my arrow,' said the prince, running up to him; but
the gold-bearded man answered:
'No, I shall not give it to you unless you let me out of my cage.'
'I may not let you out,' replied the boy, 'for if I do my stepfather
says that I shall have to die a horrible death when he returns from
the war. My arrow can be of no use to you, so give it to me.'
The man handed the arrow through the bars, but when he had done
so he begged harder than ever that the prince would open the door
and set him free. Indeed, he prayed so earnestly that the prince's
heart was touched, for he was a tender-hearted boy who pitied the
sorrows of other people. So he shot back the bolt, and the
gold-bearded man stepped out into the world.
'I will repay you a thousand fold for that good deed.' said the man,
and then he vanished. The prince began to think what he should
say to the king when he came back; then he wondered whether it
would be wise to wait for his stepfather's return and run the risk of
the dreadful death which had been promised him. 'No,' he said to
himself, 'I am afraid to stay. Perhaps the world will be kinder to me
than he has been.'
Unseen he stole out when twilight fell, and for many days he
wandered over mountains and through forests and valleys without
knowing where he was going or what he should do. He had only
the berries for food, when, one morning, he saw a wood-pigeon
sitting on a bough. In an instant he had fitted an arrow to his bow,
and was taking aim at the bird, thinking what a good meal he would
make off him, when his weapon fell to the ground at the sound of
the pigeon's voice:
'Do not shoot, I implore you, noble prince! I have two little sons at
home, and they will die of hunger if I am not there to bring them
And the young prince had pity, and unstrung his bow.
'Oh, prince, I will repay your deed of mercy, said the grateful
'Poor thing! how can you repay me?' asked the prince.
'You have forgotten,' answered the wood-pigeon, 'the proverb that
runs, "mountain and mountain can never meet, but one living
creature can always come across another."' The boy laughed at this
speech and went his way.
By-and-by he reached the edge of a lake, and flying towards some
rushes which grew near the shore he beheld a wild duck. Now, in
the days that the king, his father, was alive, and he had everything
to eat he could possibly wish for, the prince always had wild duck
for his birthday dinner, so he quickly fitted an arrow to his bow and
took a careful aim.
'Do not shoot, I pray you, noble prince!' cried the wild duck; 'I have
two little sons at home; they will die of hunger if I am not there to
bring them food.'
And the prince had pity, and let fall his arrow and unstrung his bow.
'Oh, prince! I will repay your deed of mercy,' exclaimed the grateful
'You poor thing! how can you repay me?' asked the prince.
'You have forgotten,' answered the wild duck, 'the proverb that
runs, "mountain and mountain can never meet, but one living
creature can always come across another."' The boy laughed at this
speech and went his way.
He had not wandered far from the shores of the lake, when he
noticed a stork standing on one leg, and again he raised his bow and
prepared to take aim.
'Do not shoot, I pray you, noble prince,' cried the stork; 'I have two
little sons at home; they will die of hunger if I am not there to bring
Again the prince was filled with pity, and this time also he did not
'Oh, prince, I will repay your deed of mercy,' cried the stork.
'You poor stork! how can you repay me?' asked the prince.
'You have forgotten,' answered the stork, 'the proverb that runs,
"mountain and mountain can never meet, but one living creature
can always come across another."'
The boy laughed at hearing these words again, and walked slowly
on. He had not gone far, when he fell in with two discharged
'Where are you going, little brother?' asked one.
'I am seeking work,' answered the prince.
'So are we,' replied the soldier. 'We can all go together.'
The boy was glad of company and they went on, and on, and on,
through seven kingdoms, without finding anything they were able
to do. At length they reached a palace, and there was the king
standing on the steps.
'You seem to be looking for something,' said he.
'It is work we want,' they all answered.
So the king told the soldiers that they might become his coachmen;
but he made the boy his companion, and gave him rooms near his
own. The soldiers were dreadfully angry when they heard this, for
of course they did not know that the boy was really a prince; and
they soon began to lay their heads together to plot his ruin.
Then they went to the king.
'Your Majesty,' they said, 'we think it our duty to tell you that your
new companion has boasted to us that if he were only your steward
he would not lose a single grain of corn out of the storehouses.
Now, if your Majesty would give orders that a sack of wheat
should be mixed with one of barley, and would send for the youth,
and command him to separate the grains one from another, in two
hours' time, you would soon see what his talk was worth.'
The king, who was weak, listened to what these wicked men had
told him, and desired the prince to have the contents of the sack
piled into two heaps by the time that he returned from his council.
'If you succeed,' he added, 'you shall be my steward, but if you fail,
I will put you to death on the spot.'
The unfortunate prince declared that he had never made any such
boast as was reported; but it was all in vain. The king did not
believe him, and turning him into an empty room, bade his servants
carry in the huge sack filled with wheat and barley, and scatter them
in a heap on the floor.
The prince hardly knew where to begin, and indeed if he had had a
thousand people to help him, and a week to do it in, he could never
have finished his task. So he flung himself on the ground in despair,
and covered his face with his hands.
While he lay thus, a wood-pigeon flew in through the window.
'Why are you weeping, noble prince?' asked the wood-pigeon.
'How can I help weeping at the task set me by the king. For he
says, if I fail to do it, I shall die a horrible death.'
'Oh, there is really nothing to cry about,' answered the wood-pigeon
soothingly. 'I am the king of the wood-pigeons, whose life you
spared when you were hungry. And now I will repay my debt, as I
promised.' So saying he flew out of the window, leaving the prince
with some hope in his heart.
In a few minutes he returned, followed by a cloud of wood-pigeons,
so dense that it seemed to fill the room. Their king showed them
what they had to do, and they set to work so hard that the grain
was sorted into two heaps long before the council was over. When
the king came back he could not believe his eyes; but search as he
might through the two heaps, he could not find any barley among
the wheat, or any wheat amongst the barley. So he praised the
prince for his industry and cleverness, and made him his steward at
This made the two soldiers more envious still, and they began to
hatch another plot.
'Your Majesty,' they said to the king, one day, as he was standing
on the steps of the palace, 'that fellow has been boasting again, that
if he had the care of your treasures not so much as a gold pin
should ever be lost. Put this vain fellow to the proof, we pray you,
and throw the ring from the princess's finger into the brook, and bid
him find it. We shall soon see what his talk is worth.'
And the foolish king listened to them, and ordered the prince to be
brought before him.
'My son,' he said, 'I have heard that you have declared that if I
made you keeper of my treasures you would never lose so much as
a gold pin. Now, in order to prove the truth of your words, I am
going to throw the ring from the princess's finger into the brook,
and if you do not find it before I come back from council, you will
have to die a horrible death.'
It was no use denying that he had said anything of the kind. The
king did not believe him; in fact he paid no attention at all, and
hurried off, leaving the poor boy speechless with despair in the
corner. However, he soon remembered that though it was very
unlikely that he should find the ring in the brook, it was impossible
that he should find it by staying in the palace.
For some time the prince wandered up and down peering into the
bottom of the stream, but though the water was very clear, nothing
could he see of the ring. At length he gave it up in despair, and
throwing himself down at the foot of the tree, he wept bitterly.
'What is the matter, dear prince?' said a voice just above him, and
raising his head, he saw the wild duck.
'The king of this country declares I must die a horrible death if I
cannot find the princess's ring which he has thrown into the brook,'
answered the prince.
'Oh, you must not vex yourself about that, for I can help you,'
replied the bird. 'I am the king of the wild ducks, whose life you
spared, and now it is my turn to save yours.' Then he flew away,
and in a few minutes a great flock of wild ducks were swimming all
up and down the stream looking with all their might, and long
before the king came back from his council there it was, safe on the
grass beside the prince.
At this sight the king was yet more astonished at the cleverness of
his steward, and at once promoted him to be the keeper of his
Now you would have thought that by this time the king would have
been satisfied with the prince, and would have left him alone; but
people's natures are very hard to change, and when the two envious
soldiers came to him with a new falsehood, he was as ready to
listen to them as before.
'Gracious Majesty,' said they, 'the youth whom you have made
keeper of your jewels has declared to us that a child shall be born in
the palace this night, which will be able to speak every language in
the world and to play every instrument of music. Is he then become
a prophet, or a magician, that he should know things which have
not yet come to pass?'
At these words the king became more angry than ever. He had
tried to learn magic himself, but somehow or other his spells would
never work, and he was furious to hear that the prince claimed a
power that he did not possess. Stammering with rage, he ordered
the youth to be brought before him, and vowed that unless this
miracle was accomplished he would have the prince dragged at a
horse's tail until he was dead.
In spite of what the soldiers had said, the boy knew no more magic
than the king did, and his task seemed more hopeless than before.
He lay weeping in the chamber which he was forbidden to leave,
when suddenly he heard a sharp tapping at the window, and,
looking up, he beheld a stork.
'What makes you so sad, prince?' asked he.
'Someone has told the king that I have prophesied that a child shall
be born this night in the palace, who can speak all the languages in
the world and play every musical instrument. I am no magician to
bring these things to pass, but he says that if it does not happen he
will have me dragged through the city at a horse's tail till I die.'
'Do not trouble yourself,' answered the stork. 'I will manage to find
such a child, for I am the king of the storks whose life you spared,
and now I can repay you for it.'
The stork flew away and soon returned carrying in his beak a baby
wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid it down near a lute. In an
instant the baby stretched out its little hands and began to play a
tune so beautiful that even the prince forgot his sorrows as he
listened. Then he was given a flute and a zither, but he was just as
well able to draw music from them; and the prince, whose courage
was gradually rising, spoke to him in all the languages he knew.
The baby answered him in all, and no one could have told which
was his native tongue!
The next morning the king went straight to the prince's room, and
saw with his own eyes the wonders that baby could do. 'If your
magic can produce such a baby,' he said, 'you must be greater than
any wizard that ever lived, and shall have my daughter in marriage.'
And, being a king, and therefore accustomed to have everything the
moment he wanted it, he commanded the ceremony to be
performed without delay, and a splendid feast to be made for the
bride and bridegroom. When it was over, he said to the prince:
'Now that you are really my son, tell me by what arts you were able
to fulfil the tasks I set you?'
'My noble father-in-law,' answered the prince, 'I am ignorant of all
spells and arts. But somehow I have always managed to escape the
death which has threatened me.' And he told the king how he had
been forced to run away from his stepfather, and how he had spared
the three birds, and had joined the two soldiers, who had from envy
done their utmost to ruin him.
The king was rejoiced in his heart that his daughter had married a
prince, and not a common man, and he chased the two soldiers
away with whips, and told them that if they ever dared to show
their faces across the borders of his kingdom, they should die the
same death he had prepared for the prince.
[From Ungarische Mahrchen]
Tritill, Litill, And The Birds
Once upon a time there lived a princess who was so beautiful and
so good that everybody loved her. Her father could hardly bear her
out of his sight, and he almost died of grief when, one day, she
disappeared, and though the whole kingdom was searched through
and through, she could not be found in any corner of it. In despair,
the king ordered a proclamation to be made that whoever could
bring her back to the palace should have her for his wife. This
made the young men start afresh on the search, but they were no
more successful than before, and returned sorrowfully to their
Now there dwelt, not far from the palace, an old man who had
three sons. The two eldest were allowed by their parents to do just
as they liked, but the youngest was always obliged to give way to
his brothers. When they were all grown up, the eldest told his
father that he was tired of leading such a quiet life, and that he
meant to go away and see the world.
The old people were very unhappy at the thought that they must
part with him, but they said nothing, and began to collect all that he
would want for his travels, and were careful to add a pair of new
boots. When everything was ready, he bade them farewell, and
started merrily on his way.
For some miles his road lay through a wood, and when he left it he
suddenly came out on a bare hillside. Here he sat down to rest, and
pulling out his wallet prepared to eat his dinner.
He had only eaten a few mouthfuls when an old man badly dressed
passed by, and seeing the food, asked if the young man could not
spare him a little.
'Not I, indeed!' answered he; 'why I have scarcely enough for
myself. If you want food you must earn it.' And the beggar went
After the young man had finished his dinner he rose and walked on
for several hours, till he reached a second hill, where he threw
himself down on the grass, and took some bread and milk from his
wallet. While he was eating and drinking, there came by an old
man, yet more wretched than the first, and begged for a few
mouthfuls. But instead of food he only got hard words, and limped
Towards evening the young man reached an open space in the
wood, and by this time he thought he would like some supper. The
birds saw the food, and flew round his head in numbers hoping for
some crumbs, but he threw stones at them, and frightened them off.
Then he began to wonder where he should sleep. Not in the open
space he was in, for that was bare and cold, and though he had
walked a long way that day, and was tired, he dragged himself up,
and went on seeking for a shelter.
At length he saw a deep sort of hole or cave under a great rock,
and as it seemed quite empty, he went in, and lay down in a corner.
About midnight he was awakened by a noise, and peeping out he
beheld a terrible ogress approaching. He implored her not to hurt
him, but to let him stay there for the rest of the night, to which she
consented, on condition that he should spend the next day in doing
any task which she might choose to set him. To this the young man
willingly agreed, and turned over and went to sleep again. In the
morning, the ogress bade him sweep the dust out of the cave, and
to have it clean before her return in the evening, otherwise it would
be the worse for him. Then she left the cave.
The young man took the spade, and began to clean the floor of the
cave, but try as he would to move it the dirt still stuck to its place.
He soon gave up the task, and sat sulkily in the corner, wondering
what punishment the ogress would find for him, and why she had
set him to do such an impossible thing.
He had not long to wait, after the ogress came home, before he
knew what his punishment was to be! She just gave one look at the
floor of the cave, then dealt him a blow on the head which cracked
his skull, and there was an end of him.
Meanwhile his next brother grew tired of staying at home, and let
his parents have no rest till they had consented that he also should
be given some food and some new boots, and go out to see the
world. On his road, he also met the two old beggars, who prayed
for a little of his bread and milk, but this young man had never been
taught to help other people, and had made it a rule through his life
to keep all he had to himself. So he turned a deaf ear and finished
By-and-by he, too, came to the cave, and was bidden by the ogress
to clean the floor, but he was no more successful than his brother,
and his fate was the same.
Anyone would have thought that when the old people had only one
son left that at least they would have been kind to him, even if they
did not love him. But for some reason they could hardly bear the
sight of him, though he tried much harder to make them
comfortable than his brothers had ever done. So when he asked
their leave to go out into the world they gave it at once, and
seemed quite glad to be rid of him. They felt it was quite generous
of them to provide him with a pair of new boots and some bread
and milk for his journey.
Besides the pleasure of seeing the world, the youth was very
anxious to discover what had become of his brothers, and he
determined to trace, as far as he could, the way that they must have
gone. He followed the road that led from his father's cottage to the
hill, where he sat down to rest, saying to himself: 'I am sure my
brothers must have stopped here, and I will do the same.'
He was hungry as well as tired, and took out some of the food his
parents had given him. He was just going to begin to eat when the
old man appeared, and asked if he could not spare him a little. The
young man at once broke off some of the bread, begging the old
man to sit down beside him, and treating him as if he was an old
friend. At last the stranger rose, and said to him: 'If ever you are in
trouble call me, and I will help you. My name is Tritill.' Then he
vanished, and the young man could not tell where he had gone.
However, he felt he had now rested long enough, and that he had
better be going his way. At the next hill he met with the second old
man, and to him also he gave food and drink. And when this old
man had finished he said, like the first: 'If you ever want help in the
smallest thing call to me. My name is Litill.'
The young man walked on till he reached the open space in the
wood, where he stopped for dinner. In a moment all the birds in
the world seemed flying round his head, and he crumbled some of
his bread for them and watched them as they darted down to pick it
up. When they had cleared off every crumb the largest bird with
the gayest plumage said to him: 'If you are in trouble and need help
say, "My birds, come to me!" and we will come.' Then they flew
Towards evening the young man reached the cave where his
brothers had met their deaths, and, like them, he thought it would
be a good place to sleep in. Looking round, he saw some pieces of
the dead men's clothes and of their bones. The sight made him
shiver, but he would not move away, and resolved to await the
return of the ogress, for such he knew she must be.
Very soon she came striding in, and he asked politely if she would
give him a night's lodging. She answered as before, that he might
stay on condition that he should do any work that she might set him
to next morning. So the bargain being concluded, the young man
curled himself up in his corner and went to sleep.
The dirt lay thicker than ever on the floor of the cave when the
young man took the spade and began his work. He could not clear
it any more than his brothers had done, and at last the spade itself
stuck in the earth so that he could not pull it out. The youth stared
at it in despair, then the old beggar's words flashed into his mind,
and he cried: 'Tritill, Tritill, come and help me!'
And Tritill stood beside him and asked what he wanted. The youth
told him all his story, and when he had finished, the old man said:
'Spade and shovel do your duty,' and they danced about the cave
till, in a short time, there was not a speck of dust left on the floor.
As soon as it was quite clean Tritill went his way.
With a light heart the young man awaited the return of the ogress.
When she came in she looked carefully round, and then said to him:
'You did not do that quite alone. However, as the floor is clean I
will leave your head on.'
The following morning the ogress told the young man that he must
take all the feathers out of her pillows and spread them to dry in the
sun. But if one feather was missing when she came back at night
his head should pay for it.'
The young man fetched the pillows, and shook out all the feathers,
and oh! what quantities of them there were! He was thinking to
himself, as he spread them out carefully, how lucky it was that the
sun was so bright and that there was no wind, when suddenly a
breeze sprang up, and in a moment the feathers were dancing high
in the air. At first the youth tried to collect them again, but he soon
found that it was no use, and he cried in despair: 'Tritill, Litill, and
all my birds, come and help me!'
He had hardly said the words when there they all were; and when
the birds had brought all the feathers back again, Tritill, and Litill,
and he, put them away in the pillows, as the ogress had bidden him.
But one little feather they kept out, and told the young man that if
the ogress missed it he was to thrust it up her nose. Then they all
vanished, Tritill, Litill, and the birds.
Directly the ogress returned home she flung herself with all her
weight on the bed, and the whole cave quivered under her. The
pillows were soft and full instead of being empty, which surprised
her, but that did not content her. She got up, shook out the
pillow-cases one by one, and began to count the feathers that were
in each. 'If one is missing I will have your head,' said she, and at
that the young man drew the feather from his pocket and thrust it
up her nose, crying 'If you want your feather, here it is.'
'You did not sort those feathers alone,' answered the ogress calmly;
'however, this time I will let that pass.'
That night the young man slept soundly in his corner, and in the
morning the ogress told him that his work that day would be to slay
one of her great oxen, to cook its heart, and to make drinking cups
of its horns, before she returned home 'There are fifty oxen,' added
she, 'and you must guess which of the herd I want killed. If you
guess right, to-morrow you shall be free to go where you will, and
you shall choose besides three things as a reward for your service.
But if you slay the wrong ox your head shall pay for it.'
Left alone, the young man stood thinking for a little. Then he
called: 'Tritill, Litill, come to my help!'
In a moment he saw them, far away, driving the biggest ox the
youth had ever seen. When they drew near, Tritill killed it, Litill
took out its heart for the young man to cook, and both began
quickly to turn the horns into drinking cups. The work went
merrily on, and they talked gaily, and the young man told his friends
of the payment promised him by the ogress if he had done her
bidding. The old men warned him that he must ask her for the
chest which stood at the foot of her bed, for whatever lay on the
top of the bed, and for what lay under the side of the cave. The
young man thanked them for their counsel, and Tritill and Litill then
took leave of him, saying that for the present he would need them
Scarcely had they disappeared when the ogress came back, and
found everything ready just as she had ordered. Before she sat
down to eat the bullock's heart she turned to the young man, and
said: 'You did not do that all alone, my friend; but, nevertheless, I
will keep my word, and to-morrow you shall go your way.' So they
went to bed and slept till dawn.
When the sun rose the ogress awoke the young man, and called to
him to choose any three things out of her house.
'I choose,' answered he, 'the chest which stands at the foot of your
bed; whatever lies on the top of the bed, and whatever is under the
side of the cave.'
'You did not choose those things by yourself, my friend,' said the
ogress; 'but what I have promised, that will I do.'
And then she gave him his reward.
'The thing which lay on the top of the bed' turned out to be the lost
princess. 'The chest which stood at the foot of the bed' proved full
of gold and precious stones; and 'what was under the side of the
cave' he found to be a great ship, with oars and sails that went of
itself as well on land as in the water. 'You are the luckiest man that
ever was born,' said the ogress as she went out of the cave as usual.
With much difficulty the youth put the heavy chest on his shoulders
and carried it on board the ship, the princess walking by his side.
Then he took the helm and steered the vessel back to her father's
kingdom. The king's joy at receiving back his lost daughter was so
great that he almost fainted, but when he recovered himself he
made the young man tell him how everything had really happened.
'You have found her, and you shall marry her,' said the king; and so
it was done. And this is the end of the story.
[From Ungarische Mahrchen.]
The Three Robes
Long, long ago, a king and queen reigned over a large and powerful
country. What their names were nobody knows, but their son was
called Sigurd, and their daughter Lineik, and these young people
were famed throughout the whole kingdom for their wisdom and
There was only a year between them, and they loved each other so
much that they could do nothing apart. When they began to grow
up the king gave them a house of their own to live in, with servants
and carriages, and everything they could possibly want.
For many years they all lived happily together, and then the queen
fell ill, and knew that she would never get better.
'Promise me two things,' she said one day to the king; 'one, that if
you marry again, as indeed you must, you will not choose as your
wife a woman from some small state or distant island, who knows
nothing of the world, and will be taken up with thoughts of her
grandeur. But rather seek out a princess of some great kingdom,
who has been used to courts all her life, and holds them at their true
worth. The other thing I have to ask is, that you will never cease to
watch over our children, who will soon become your greatest joy.'
These were the queen's last words, and a few hours later she was
dead. The king was so bowed down with sorrow that he would not
attend even to the business of the kingdom, and at last his Prime
Minister had to tell him that the people were complaining that they
had nobody to right their wrongs. 'You must rouse yourself, sir,'
went on the minister, 'and put aside your own sorrows for the sake
of your country.'
'You do not spare me,' answered the king; 'but what you say is just,
and your counsel is good. I have heard that men say, likewise, that
it will be for the good of my kingdom for me to marry again,
though my heart will never cease to be with my lost wife. But it
was her wish also; therefore, to you I entrust the duty of finding a
lady fitted to share my throne; only, see that she comes neither from
a small town nor a remote island.'
So an embassy was prepared, with the minister at its head, to visit
the greatest courts in the world, and to choose out a suitable
princess. But the vessel which carried them had not been gone
many days when a thick fog came on, and the captain could see
neither to the right nor to the left. For a whole month the ship
drifted about in darkness, till at length the fog lifted and they beheld
a cliff jutting out just in front. On one side of the cliff lay a
sheltered bay, in which the vessel was soon anchored, and though
they did not know where they were, at any rate they felt sure of
fresh fruit and water.
The minister left the rest of his followers on board the ship, and
taking a small boat rowed himself to land, in order to look about
him and to find out if the island was really as deserted as it seemed.
He had not gone far, when he heard the sound of music, and,
turning in its direction, he saw a woman of marvellous beauty
sitting on a low stool playing on a harp, while a girl beside her sang.
The minister stopped and greeted the lady politely, and she replied
with friendliness, asking him why he had come to such an
out-of-the way place. In answer he told her of the object of his
'I am in the same state as your master,' replied the lady; 'I was
married to a mighty king who ruled over this land, till Vikings
[sea-robbers] came and slew him and put all the people to death.
But I managed to escape, and hid myself here with my daughter.'
And the daughter listened, and said softly to her mother: 'Are you
speaking the truth now?'
'Remember your promise,' answered the mother angrily, giving her
a pinch which was unseen by the minister.
'What is your name, madam?' asked he, much touched by this sad
'Blauvor,' she replied 'and my daughter is called Laufer'; and then
she inquired the name of the minister, and of the king his master.
After this they talked of many things, and the lady showed herself
learned in all that a woman should know, and even in much that
men only were commonly taught. 'What a wife she would make for
the king,' thought the minister to himself, and before long he had
begged the honour of her hand for his master. She declared at first
that she was too unworthy to accept the position offered her, and
that the minister would soon repent his choice; but this only made
him the more eager, and in the end he gained her consent, and
prevailed on her to return with him at once to his own country.
The minister then conducted the mother and daughter back to the
ship; the anchor was raised, the sails spread, and a fair wind was
Now that the fog had lifted they could see as they looked back that,
except just along the shore, the island was bare and deserted and
not fit for men to live in; but about that nobody cared. They had a
quick voyage, and in six days they reached the land, and at once set
out for the capital, a messenger being sent on first by the minister to
inform the king of what had happened.
When his Majesty's eyes fell on the two beautiful women, clad in
dresses of gold and silver, he forgot his sorrows and ordered
preparations for the wedding to be made without delay. In his joy
he never remembered to inquire in what kind of country the future
queen had been found. In fact his head was so turned by the beauty
of the two ladies that when the invitations were sent by his orders
to all the great people in the kingdom, he did not even recollect his
two children, who remained shut up in their own house!
After the marriage the king ceased to have any will of his own and
did nothing without consulting his wife. She was present at all his
councils, and her opinion was asked before making peace or war.
But when a few months had passed the king began to have doubts
as to whether the minister's choice had really been a wise one, and
he noticed that his children lived more and more in their palace and
never came near their stepmother.
It always happens that if a person's eyes are once opened they see a
great deal more than they ever expected; and soon it struck the king
that the members of his court had a way of disappearing one after
the other without any reason. At first he had not paid much
attention to the fact, but merely appointed some fresh person to the
vacant place. As, however, man after man vanished without leaving
any trace, he began to grow uncomfortable and to wonder if the
queen could have anything to do with it.
Things were in this state when, one day, his wife said to him that it
was time for him to make a progress through his kingdom and see
that his governors were not cheating him of the money that was his
due. 'And you need not be anxious about going,' she added, 'for I
will rule the country while you are away as carefully as you could
The king had no great desire to undertake this journey, but the
queen's will was stronger than his, and he was too lazy to make a
fight for it. So he said nothing and set about his preparations,
ordering his finest ship to be ready to carry him round the coast.
Still his heart was heavy, and he felt uneasy, though he could not
have told why; and the night before he was to start he went to the
children's palace to take leave of his son and daughter.
He had not seen them for some time, and they gave him a warm
welcome, for they loved him dearly and he had always been kind to
them. They had much to tell him, but after a while he checked their
merry talk and said:
'If I should never come back from this journey I fear that it may not
be safe for you to stay here; so directly there are no more hopes of
my return go instantly and take the road eastwards till you reach a
high mountain, which you must cross. Once over the mountain
keep along by the side of a little bay till you come to two trees, one
green and the other red, standing in a thicket, and so far back from
the road that without looking for them you would never see them.
Hide each in the trunk of one of the trees and there you will be safe
from all your enemies.'
With these words the king bade them farewell and entered sadly
into his ship. For a few days the wind was fair, and everything
seemed going smoothly; then, suddenly, a gale sprang up, and a
fearful storm of thunder and lightning, such as had never happened
within the memory of man. In spite of the efforts of the frightened
sailors the vessel was driven on the rocks, and not a man on board
That very night Prince Sigurd had a dream, in which he thought his
father appeared to him in dripping clothes, and, taking the crown
from his head, laid it at his son's feet, leaving the room as silently as
he had entered it.
Hastily the prince awoke his sister Lineik, and they agreed that their
father must be dead, and that they must lose no time in obeying his
orders and putting themselves in safety. So they collected their
jewels and a few clothes and left the house without being observed
They hurried on till they arrived at the mountain without once
looking back. Then Sigurd glanced round and saw that their
stepmother was following them, with an expression on her face
which made her uglier than the ugliest old witch. Between her and
them lay a thick wood, and Sigurd stopped for a moment to set it
on fire; then he and his sister hastened on more swiftly than before,
till they reached the grove with the red and green trees, into which
they jumped, and felt that at last they were safe.
Now, at that time there reigned over Greece a king who was very
rich and powerful, although his name has somehow been forgotten.
He had two children, a son and a daughter, who were more
beautiful and accomplished than any Greeks had been before, and
they were the pride of their father's heart.
The prince had no sooner grown out of boyhood than he prevailed
on his father to make war during the summer months on a
neighbouring nation, so as to give him a chance of making himself
famous. In winter, however, when it was difficult to get food and
horses in that wild country, the army was dispersed, and the prince
During one of these wars he had heard reports of the Princess
Lineik's beauty, and he resolved to seek her out, and to ask for her
hand in marriage. All this Blauvor, the queen, found out by means
of her black arts, and when the prince drew near the capital she put
a splendid dress on her own daughter and then went to meet her
She bade him welcome to her palace, and when they had finished
supper she told him of the loss of her husband, and how there was
no one left to govern the kingdom but herself.
Back to Full Books