LONG ago when the Tuatha De Danaan lived in Ireland there was a great King called Lir. He had four children--Fionnuala, Aodh, Fiacra, and Conn. Fionnuala was the eldest and she was as beautiful as sunshine in blossomed branches; Aodh was like a young eagle in the blue of the sky; and his two brothers, Fiacra and Conn, were as beautiful as running water.
In those days sorrow was not known in Ireland: the mountains were crowned with light, and the lakes and rivers had strange starlike flowers that shook a rain of jewelled dust on the white horses of the De Danaans when they came down to drink. The horses were swifter than any horses that are living now and they could go over the waves of the sea and under deep lake-water without hurt to themselves. Lir's four children had each one a white horse and two hounds that were whiter than snow.
Every one in Lir's kingdom loved Fionnuala, and Aodh, and Fiacra, and Conn, except their step-mother, Aoifa. She hated them, and her hatred pursued them as a wolf pursues a wounded fawn. She sought to harm them by spells and witchcraft. She took them in her chariot to the Lake of Darvra in Westmeath. She made them bathe in the lake and when they were coming out of the water she struck them with a rod of enchantment and turned them into four white swans.
Swim as wild swans on this lake," she said, "for three hundred years, and when that time is ended swim three hundred years on the narrow sea of the Moyle, and when that time is ended swim three hundred years on the Western Sea that has no bounds but the sky."
Then Fionnuala, that was a swan, said:
"O Wicked Woman, a doom will come upon you heavier than the doom you have put on us and you will be more sorrowful than we are to-day. And if you would win any pity in the hour of your calamity tell us now how we may know when the doom will end for us."
"The doom will end when a king from the North weds a queen from the South; when a druid with a shaven crown comes over the seas; when you hear the sound of a little bell that rings for prayers."
The swans spread their wings and flew away over the lake. They made a very sorrowful singing as they went, lamenting for themselves.
When the Great King, their father, knew the sorrow that had come to him, he hastened down to the shore of the lake and called his children.
They came flying to him, four white swans, and he said:
"Come to me, Fionnuala; come Aodh; come Conn; come Fiacra." He put his hands on them and caressed them and said: " I cannot give you back your shapes till the doom that is laid on you is ended, but come back now to the house that is mine and yours, White Children of my Heart."
Then Fionnuala answered him:
"The shadow of the woman who ensnared us lies on the threshold of your door: we cannot cross it."
And Lir said:
"The woman who ensnared you is far from any home this night. She is herself ensnared, and fierce winds drive her into all the restless places of the earth. She has lost her beauty and become terrible; she is a Demon of the Air, and must wander desolate to the end of time--but for you there is the firelight of home. Come back with me."
Then Conn said:
"May good fortune be on the threshold of your door from this time and for ever, but we cannot cross it, for we have the hearts of wild swans and we must fly in the dusk and feel the water moving under our bodies; we must hear the lonesome cries of the night. We have the voices only of the children you knew; we have the songs you taught us--that is all. Gold crowns are red in the firelight, but redder and fairer is dawn."
Lir stretched out his hands and blessed his children. He said:
"May all beautiful things grow henceforth more beautiful to you, and may the song you have be melody in the heart of whoever hears it. May your wings winnow joy for you out of the air, and your feet be glad in the water-ways. My blessing be on you till the sea loses its saltness and the trees forget to bud in springtime. And farewell, Fionnuala, my white blossom; and farewell Aodh, that was the red flame of my heart; and farewell, Conn, that brought me gladness; and farewell, Fiacra, my treasure. Lonesome it is for you, flying far off in places strange to you; lonesome it is for me without you. Bitter it is to say farewell, and farewell, and nothing else but farewell."
Lir covered his face with his mantle and sorrow was heavy on him, but the swans rose into the air and flew away calling to each other. They called with the voices of children, but in their heart was the gladness of swans when they feel the air beneath them and stretch their necks to the freedom of the sky.
Three hundred years they flew over Lake Darvra and swam on its waters. Often their father came to the lake and called them to him and caressed them; often their kinsfolk came to talk with them; often harpers and musicians came to listen to the wonder of their singing. When three hundred years were ended the swans rose suddenly and flew far and far away. Their father sought them, and their kinsfolk sought them, but the swans never touched earth or rested once till they came to the narrow Sea of the Moyle that flows between Ireland and Scotland. A cold stormy sea it was, and lonely. The swans had no one to listen to their singing, and little heart for singing amid the green curling bitter waves. The storm-wind beat roughly on them, and often they were separated and calling to one another without hope of an answer. Then Fionnuala, for she was the wisest, said:
"Let us choose a place of meeting, so that when we are separated and lost and wandering each one will know where to wait for the others.
The swans, her brothers, said it was a good thought; they agreed to meet together in one place, and the place they chose was Carraig-na-Ron, the Rock of the Seals. And it was well they made that choice, for a great storm came on them one night and scattered them far out over the sea. Their voices were drowned in the tempest and they were driven hither and thither in the darkness.
In the pale morning Fionnuala came to the Rock of the Seals. Her feathers were broken with the wind and draggled with the saitness of the sea and she was lamenting and calling on Aodh and Fiacra and Conn.
"O Conn, that I sheltered under my feathers, come to me! O Fiacra, come to me! O Aodh, Aodh, Aodh, come to me!"
And when she did not see them, and no voice answered, she made a sore lamentation and said:
"O bitter night that was blacker than the doom of Aoifa at the first to us! O three that I loved! O three that I loved! The waves are over your heads and I am desolate!"
She saw the red sun rising, and when the redness touched the waters, Conn came flying to her. His feathers were broken with the wind and draggled with the saltness of the sea. Fionnuala gathered him under her wings and comforted him, and she said:
"The day would not seem bitter to me now if only Aodh and Fiacra were come."
In a little while Fiacra came to her over the rough sea. She sheltered and comforted him with her wings, and she cried over the waters:
"O Aodh, Aodh, Aodh, come to me!"
The sun was high in the heavens when Aodh came, and he came with his feathers bright and shining and no trace of the bitter storm on him.
"O where have you been, Aodh?" said Fionnuala and Fiacra and Conn to him.
"I have been flying where I got sight of our kinsfolk. I have seen the white steeds that are swifter than the winds of March, and the riders that were comrades to us when we had Our own shapes. I have seen Aodh and Fergus, the two sons of Bove Dearg."
"O tell us, Aodh, where we may get sight of them!" said the swans.
"They are at the river mouth of the Ban," said Aodh, "Let us go there, and we may see them though we cannot leave the Moyle."
So much gladness came on all the swans that they forgot their weariness and the grievous buffeting of the storm and they rose and flew to the river mouth of the Bann. They saw their kinsfolk, the beautiful company of the Faery Host, shining with every colour under heaven and joyous as the wind in Springtime.
"O tell us, dear kinsfolk," said the swans, " how it is with our father?"
"The Great King has wrapped his robes of beauty about him, and feasts with those from whom age cannot take youth and light-hearted-ness," said Fergus.
"Ah," said Fionnuala, " he feasts and it is well with him! The joy-flame on his hearth cannot quench itself in ashes. He cannot hear us calling through the night--the wild swans, the wanderers, the lost children."
The Faery Host was troubled, seeing the piteous plight of the swans, but Aodh, that was a swan said to Fergus, his kinsman and comrade:
"Do not cloud your face for us, Fergus; the horse you ride is white, but I ride a whiter--the cold curling white wave of the sea."
Then Fiacra said:
"O Fergus, does my own white horse forget me, now that I am here in the cold Moyle?"
And Conn said:
"O Fergus, tell my two hounds that I will come back to them some day."
The memory of all beautiful things came on the swans, and they were sorrowful, and Fionnuala said:
"O beautiful comrades, I never thought that beauty could bring sorrow: now the sight of it breaks my heart," and she said to her brothers:
"Let us go before our hearts are melted utterly." The swans went over the Moyle then, and they were lamenting, and Fionnuala said:
"There is joy and feasting in the house of Lir to-night, but his four children are without a roof to cover them."
"It is a poor garment our feathers make when the wind blows through them: often we had the purple of kings' children on us.
"We are cold to-night, and it is a cold bed the sea makes: often we had beds of down with broidered coverings.
"Often we drank mead from gold cups in the house of our father; now we have the bitterness of the sea and the harshness of sand in our mouths.
"It is weariness--O a great weariness--to be flying over the Moyle; without rest, without cornpanions, without comfort.
"I am thinking of Angus to-night: he has the laughter of joy about him for ever.
"I am thinking to-night of Mananaun, and of white blossoms on silver branches.
"O swans, my brothers, I am thinking of beauty, and we are flying away from it for ever."
The swans did not see the company of the Faery Host again. They swam on the cold stormy sea of the Moyle, and they were there till three hundred years were ended.
"It is time for us to go," said Fionnuala, "we must seek the Western Sea."
The swans shook the water of the Moyle from their feathers and stretched out their wings to fly.
When they were come to the Western Sea there was sorrow on them, for the sea was wilder and colder and more terrible than the Moyle. The swans were on that sea and flying over it for three hundred years, and all that time they had no comfort, and never once did they hear the foot-fall of hound or horse or see their faery kinsfolk.
When the time was ended, the swans rose out of the water and cried joyfully to each other:
"Let us go home now, the time is ended!"
They flew swiftly, and yet they were all day flying before they came to the place where Lir had his dwelling; when they looked down they saw no light in the house, they heard no music, no sound of voices. The many-coloured house was desolate and all the beauty was gone from it; the white hounds and the brightmaned horses were gone, and all the beautiful glad-hearted folk of the Sidhe.
"Every place is dark to us!" said Conn. "Look at the hills!"
The swans looked at the hills they had known, and every hill and mountain they could see was dark and sorrowful: not one had a star-heart of light, not one had a flame-crown, not one had music pulsing through it like a great breath.
"O Aodh, and Conn, and Fiacra," said Fionnuala, "beauty is gone from the earth: we have no home now!"
The swans hid themselves in the long dank grass, till morning. They did not speak to each other; they did not make a lamentation; they were silent with heaviness of grief. When they felt the light of morning they rose in the air and flew in wide circles seeking their kinsfolk. They saw the dwellings of strangers, and a strange people tending flocks and sowing corn on plains where the Tuatha De Danaan had hunted white stags with horns of silver.
"The grief of all griefs has come upon us!" said Fionnuala. "It is no matter now whether we have the green earth under us or bitter sea-waves: it is little to us now that we are in swans' bodies."
Her brothers had no words to answer her; they were dumb with grief till Aodh said:
"Let us fly far from the desolate house and the dead hills. Let us go where we can hear the thunder of the Western Sea."
The swans spread their wings and flew westward till they came to a little reedy lake, and they alit there and sheltered themselves, for they had no heart to go farther.
They took no notice of the days and often they did not know whether it was the moon or the sun that was in the sky, but they sang to each other, and that was all the comfort they had.
One day, while Fionnuala was singing, a man of the stranger-race drew near to listen. He had the aspect of one who had endured much hardship. His garments were poor and ragged. His hair was bleached by sun and rain. As he listened to the song a light came into his eyes and his whole face grew beautiful. When the song ended he bowed himself before the swans and said:
"White Swans of the Wilderness, ye have flown over many lands. Tell me, have ye seen aught of Tir-nan-Oge, where no one loses youth; or Tir-na-Moe, where all that is beautiful lives for ever; or Moy-Mell, that is so honey-sweet with blossom?"
"Have we seen Tir-nan-Oge? It is our own country! We are the children of Lir the King of it."
"Where is that country? How may one reach it? Tell me! "
"Ochone! It is not anywhere on the ridge of the world. Our father's house is desolate! "
"Ye are lying, to make sport for yourselves! Tir-nan-Oge cannot perish--rather would the whole world fall to ruin!
"O would we had anything but the bitterness of truth on our tongues!" said Aodh. "Would we could see even one leaf from those trees with shining branches where the many-coloured birds used to sing! Ochone! Ochone! for all the beauty that has perished with Tir-nan-Oge!"
The stranger cried out a loud sorrowful cry and threw himself on the ground. His fingers tore at the roots of the grass. His body writhed and trembled with grief.
The children of Lir wondered at him, and Aodh said:
"Put away this fierceness of grief and take consolation to yourself. We, with so much heavier sorrow, have not lamented after this fashion."
The stranger raised himself: his eyes blazed like the eyes of a hunted animal when it turns on the hunters.
"How could your sorrow be equal to mine? Ye have dwelt in Tir-nan-Oge; ye have ridden horses whiter than the snow of one night and swifter than the storm-wind; ye have gathered flowers in the Plain of Honey. But I have never seen it--never once! Look at me! I was born a king! I have become an outcast, the laughing stock of slaves! I am Aibric the wanderer!--I have given all--all, for the hope of finding that country. It is gone now--it is not anywhere on the round of the world!"
"Stay with us," said Fiacra, "and we will sing for you, and tell you stories of Tir-nan-Oge."
"I cannot stay with you! I cannot listen to your songs! I must go on seeking; seeking;
seeking while I live. When I am dead my dreams will not torment me. I shall have my fill of quietness then."
"Can you not believe us when we tell you that Tir-nan-Oge is gone like the white mists of morning? It is nowhere."
"It is in my heart, and in my mind, and in my soul! It burns like fire! It drives me like a tireless wind! I am going. Farewell!
"Stay!" cried Aodh, "we will go with you. There is nothing anywhere for us now but brown earth and drifting clouds and wan waters. Why should we not go from place to place as the wind goes, and see each day new fields of reeds, new forest trees, new mountains? O, we shall never see the star-heart in any mountain again! "
"The mountains are dead," said Conn.
"The mountains are not dead," said Aibric. "They are dark and silent, but they are not dead. I know. I have cried to them in the night and laid my forehead against theirs and felt the beating of their mighty hearts. They are wiser than the wisest druid, more tender than the tenderest mother. It is they who keep the world alive."
"O," said Fionnuala, " if the mountains are indeed alive let us go to them; let us tell them our sorrowful story. They will pity us and we shall not be utterly desolate."
Aibric and the swans journeyed together, and at dusk they came to a tall beautiful mountain--the mountain that is called Nephin, in the West.
It looked dark and sombre against the fading sky, and. the sight of it, discrowned and silent, struck chill to the hearts of our wild swans: they turned away their heads to hide the tears in their eyes. But Aibric stretched his hands to the mountain and cried out:
"O beautiful glorious Comrade, pity us! Tir-nan-Oge is no more, and Moy-Mell is lost for ever! Welcome the children of Lir, for we have nothing left but you and the earth of Ireland!"
Then a wonder happened.
The star-heart of Nephin shone out--magnificent--tremulous--coloured like a pale amethyst.
The swans cried out to each other:
"The mountain is alive! Beauty has come again to the earth! Aibric, you have given us back the Land of Youth!"
A delicate faery music trembled and died away and was born again in the still evening air, and more and more the radiance deepened in the heart of Nephin. The swans began to sing most sweetly and joyously, and at the sound of that singing the star-heart showed in mountain after mountain till every mountain in Ireland pulsed and shone.
"Crown yourselves, mountains!" said Aodh, "that we may know the De Danaans are still alive and Lir's house is builded now where old age cannot wither it! "
The mountains sent up great jewelled rays of light so that each one was crowned with a rainbow; and when the Children of Lir saw that splendour they had no more thought of the years they had spent over dark troublous waters, and they said to each other:
"Would we could hear the sound of the little bell that rings for prayers, and feel our swan-bodies fall from us!"
"I know the sound of a bell that rings for prayers," said Aibric, " and I will bring you where you can hear it. I will bring you to Saint Kemoc and you will hear the sound of his bell."
"Let us go," said the swans, and Aibric brought them to the Saint. The Saint held up his hands and blessed God when he saw them, and he besought them to remain a while and to tell him the story of their wanderings. He brought them into his little church and they were there with him in peace and happiness relating to him the wonders of the Land of Youth. It came to pass then that word reached the wife of King Largnen concerning the swans: she asked the king to get them for her, and because she demanded them with vehemence, the king journeyed to the Church of Saint Kemoc to get the swans.
When he was come, Saint Kemoc refused to give him the swans and Largnen forced his way into the church to take them. Now, he was a king of the North, and his wife was a queen of the South, and it was ordained that such a king should put an end to the power of Aoifa's spell.
He came to the altar, and the swans were close to it. He put his hands on the swans to take them by force. When he touched them the swan-feathers dwindled and shrivelled and became as fine dust, and the bodies of Lir's children became as a handful of dust, but their spirits attained to freedom and joined their kinsfolk in the Land-of-the-Ever-Living.
It was Aibric who remembered the story of the children of Lir, because he loved them. He told the story to the people of Ireland, and they were so fond of the story and had such pity for Lir's children that they made a law that no one was to hurt a wild swan, and when they saw a swan flying they would say:
"My blessing with you, white swan, for the sake of Lir's children!"
Source: Young, Ella. Celtic Wonder Tales. Dublin: Maunsel & Company, 1910.
THERE was once a king and a queen who had six children, all sons. The queen was about to give birth to another child, and the king said that if it was not a daughter all seven children would be cursed. Now it happened that the king had to go away to war; and before departing he said to the queen, "Listen. If you have a son, hang a lance out of the window; if a daughter, a distaff; so that I can see as soon as I arrive which it is." After the king had been gone a month, the queen gave birth to the most beautiful girl that was ever seen. Imagine how pleased the queen was at having a girl. She could scarcely contain herself for joy, and immediately gave orders to hang the distaff out of the window; but in the midst of the joyful confusion, a mistake was made, and they put out a lance. Shortly after, the king returned and saw the sign at the window, and cursed all his seven sons; but when he entered the house and the servants crowded around him to congratulate him and tell him about his beautiful daughter, then the king was amazed and became very melancholy. He entered the queen's room and looked at the child, who seemed exactly like one of those wax dolls to be kept in a box; then he looked about him and saw nothing of his sons, and his eyes filled with tears, for those poor youths had wandered out into the world.
Meanwhile the girl grew, and when she was large she saw that her parents caressed her, but always with tears in their eyes. One day she said to her mother: "What is the matter with you, mother that I always see you crying?" Then the queen told her the story, and said that she was afraid that some day she would see her disappear too. When the girl heard how it was, what did she do? One night she rose softly and left the palace, with the intention of going to find her brothers. She walked and walked, and at last met a little old man, who said to her: "Where are you going at this time of the night?" She answered: "I am in search of my brothers." The old man said: "It will be difficult to find them, for you must not speak for seven years, seven months, seven weeks, seven days, seven hours, and seven minutes." She said: "I will try" Then she took a bit of paper which she found on the ground, wrote on it the day and the hour with a piece of choral, and left the old man and hastened on her way. After she had run a long time, she saw a light and went towards it, and when she was near it, she saw that it was over the door of a palace where a king lived. She entered and sat down on the stairway, and fell asleep. The servants came later to put out the light, and saw the pretty girl asleep on the stone steps; they awakened her, asking her what she was doing there. She began to make signs, asking them to give her a lodging. They understood her, and said they would ask the king. They returned shortly to tell her to enter, for the king wished to see her before she was shown to her room. When the king saw the beautiful girl, with hair like gold, flesh like milk and wine, teeth white as pearls, and little hands that an artist could not paint as beautiful as they were, he suddenly imagined that she must be the daughter of some lord, and gave orders that she should be treated with all possible respect. They showed her to a beautiful room; then a maid came and undressed her and put her to bed. Next morning, Diana, for so she was called, arose, saw a frame with a piece of embroidery in it, and began to work at it. The king visited her, and asked if she needed anything, and she made signs that she did not. The king was so pleased with the young girl that he ended by falling in love with her, and after a year had passed he thought of marrying her. The queen-mother, who was an envious person, was not content with the match, because, said she, no one knows where she came from, and, besides, she is dumb, something that would make people wonder if a king should marry her. But the king was so obstinate that he married her; and when his mother saw that there was no help, she pretended to be satisfied. Shortly after, the queen-mother put into the king's hands a letter which informed him of an imminent war, in which, if he did not take part, he would run the risk of losing his realm. The king went to the war, in fact, with great grief at leaving his wife; and before departing, he commended her earnestly to his mother, who said: "Do not be anxious, my son, I shall do all that I can to make her happy." The king embraced his wife and mother, and departed.
Scarcely had the king gone when the queen-mother sent for a mason, and made him build a wall near the kitchen-sink, so that it formed a sort of box. Now you must know that Diana expected soon to become a mother, and this afforded the queen-mother a pretext to write to her son that his wife had died in giving birth to a child. She took her and put her in the wall she had had built, where there was neither light nor air, and where the wicked woman hoped that she would die. But it was not so. The scullion went every day to wash the dishes at the sink near where poor Diana was buried alive. While attending to his business, he heard a lamentation, and listened to see where it could come from. He listened and listened, until at last he perceived that the voice came from the wall that had been newly built. What did he do then? He made a hole in the wall, and saw that the queen was there. The scullion asked how she came there; but she only made signs that she was about to give birth to a child. The poor scullion had his wife make a fine cushion, on which Diana reposed as well as she could, and gave birth to the most beautiful boy that could be seen. The scullion's wife went to see her every moment, and carried her broth, and cared for the child; in short, this poor woman, as well as her husband, did everything she could to alleviate the poor queen, who tried to make them understand by signs what she needed. One day it came into Diana's head to look into her memorandum book and see how long she still had to keep silent, and she saw that only two minutes yet remained. As soon as they had passed, she told the scullion all that had happened. At that moment the king arrived, and the scullion drew the queen from out the hole, and showed her to the king. You can imagine how delighted he was to see again his Diana, whom he believed to be dead. He embraced her, and kissed her and the child; in short, such was his joy that it seemed as if he would go mad. Diana related everything to him: why she had left her home, and why she had played dumb so long, and finally how she had been treated by the queen-mother, and what she had suffered, and how kind those poor people had been to her. When he had heard all this, he said: "Leave the matter to me; I will arrange it."
The next day the king invited all the nobles and princes of his realm to a great banquet. Now it happened that in setting the tables the servants laid six plates besides the others; and when the guests sat down, six hand some youths entered, who advanced and asked what should be given to a sister who had done so and so for her brothers. Then the king sprang up and said: "And I ask what shall be done to a mother who did so and so to her son's wife?" and he explained everything. One said: "Burn her alive." Another: "Put her in the pillory." Another: "Fry her in oil in the public square." This was agreed to. The youths had been informed by that same old man whom Diana had met, and who was a magician, where their sister was and what she had done for them. Then they made themselves known, and embraced Diana and their brother-in-law the king, and after the greatest joy, they all started off to see their parents. Imagine the satisfaction of the king and queen at seeing again all their seven children. They gave the warmest reception to the king, Diana's husband, and after they had spent some days together, Diana returned with her husband to their city. And all lived there after-ward in peace and contentment.
Soucre: Crane, Thomas Frederick. Italian Popular Tales. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1885.
HE who gives pleasure meets with it: kindness is the bond of friendship and the hook of love: he who sows not reaps not; of which truth Ciulla has given you the foretaste of example, and I will give you the dessert, if you will bear in mind what Cato says, "Speak little at table." Therefore have the kindness to lend me your ears awhile; and may Heaven cause them to stretch continually, to listen to pleasant and amusing things.
THERE was once in the county of Arzano a good woman who every year gave birth to a son, until at length there were seven of them, who looked like a syrinx of the god Pan, with seven reeds, one larger than another. And when they had changed their first teeth, they said to Jannetella their mother, who was again in the family way, Hark-ye, mother, if, sifter so many sons, you do not this time have a daughter, we are resolved to leave home, and go wandering through the world like the sons of the blackbirds."
When their mother heard this sad announcement, she prayed Heaven to remove such an intention from her sons, and prevent her losing seven such jewels as they were. And when the hour of the birth was at hand, the sons said to Jannetella, "We will retire to the top of yonder hill or rock opposite; if you give birth to a son, put an inkstand and a pen up at the window; but if you have a little girl, put up a spoon and a distaff. For if we see the signal of a daughter, we shall return home and spend the rest of our lives under your wings; but if we see the signal of a son, then forget us, for you may know that we have taken ourselves off."
Soon after the sons had departed it pleased Heaven that Jannetella should bring forth a pretty little daughter; then she told the nurse to make the signal to the brothers, but the woman was so stupid and confused that she put up the inkstand and the pen. As soon as the seven brothers saw this signal, they set off and walked on and on, until at the end of three years they came to a wood, where the trees were performing the sword-dance to the sound of a river which made counterpoint upon the stones. In this wood was the house of an ogre, whose eyes having been blinded whilst asleep by a woman, he was such an enemy to the sex that he devoured all whom he could catch.
When the youths arrived at the ogre's house, tired out with walking and exhausted with hunger, they begged him for pity's sake to give them a morsel of bread. And the ogre replied, that if they would serve him, he would give them food, and they would have nothing else to do but to watch over him, like a dog, each in turn for a day. The youths, upon hearing this, thought they had found mother and father; so they consented, and remained in the service of the ogre, who having gotten their names by heart, called one while Giangrazio, at an other Cecchitiello, now Pascale, now Nuccio, now Pone, now Pezzillo, and now Carcavecchia, for so the brothers were named; and giving them a room in the lower part of his house, he allowed them enough to live upon.
Meanwhile their sister had grown up; and hearing that her seven brothers, owing to the stupidity of the nurse, had set out to walk through the world, and that no tidings of them had ever been received, she took it into her head to go in search of them. And she begged and prayed her mother so long, that at last, overcome by her entreaties, she gave her leave to go, and dressed her like a pilgrim. Then the maiden walked and walked, asking at every place she came to whether any one had seen seven brothers. And thus she journeyed on, until at length she got news of them at an inn, where having inquired the way to the wood, one morning, at the hour when the Sun with the penknife of his rays scratches out the inkspots made by Night upon the sheet of Heaven, she arrived at the ogre's house, where she was recognized by her brothers with great joy, who cursed the inkstand and pen for writing falsely such misfortune for them. Then giving her a thousand caresses, they told her to remain quiet in their chamber, that the ogre might not see her; bidding her at the same time give a portion of whatever she had to eat to a cat which was in the room, or otherwise she would do her some harm. Cianna (for so the sister was named) wrote down this advice in the pocket-book of her heart, anti shared everything with the cat, like a good companion, always cutting justly, and saying, "This for me-this for thee,-this for the daughter of the king!" giving the cat a share to the last morsel.
Now it happened one day that the brothers, going to hunt, for the ogre, left Cianna a little basket of chick peas to cook; and as she was picking them, by ill-luck she found among them a hazel-nut, which was the stone of disturbance to her quiet; for having swallowed it without giving half to the cat, the latter out of spite ran up to the hearth and put out the fire. Cianna seeing this, and not knowing what to do, left the room, contrary to the command of her brothers, and going into the ogre's chamber begged him for a little fire. Then the ogre, hearing a woman's voice, said, "Welcome, madam! wait awhile,-you have found what you are seeking." And so saying he took a Genoa stone, and daubing it with oil he fell to whetting his tusks. But Cianna, who saw the cart on a wrong track, seizing a lighted stick ran to her chamber; and bolting the door inside, she placed against it bars, stools, bedsteads, tables, stones, and everything there was in the room.
As soon as the ogre had put an edge on his teeth, he ran to the chamber of the brothers, and finding the door fastened, he fell to kicking it to break it open. At this noise and disturbance the seven brothers came borne, and hearing themselves accused by the ogre of treachery for making their chamber the Benevento of his women enemies, Giangrazio, who was the eldest and had more sense than the others, and saw matters going badly, said to the ogre, "We know nothing of this affair, and it may be that this wicked woman has perchance come into the room whilst we were at the chase; but as she has fortified herself inside, come with me, and I will take you to a place where we can seize her without her being able to defend herself."
Then they took the ogre by the hand, and led him to a deep deep pit, where giving him a push they sent him headlong to the bottom; and taking a shovel, which they found on the ground, they covered him with earth. Then they bade their sister unfasten the door, and they rated her soundly for the fault she had committed, and the danger in which she had placed herself; telling her to be more careful in future, and to beware of plucking grass upon the spot where the ogre was buried, or they would be turned into seven doves.
"Heaven keep me from bringing such a misfortune upon you!" replied Cianna. So taking possession of all the ogre's goods and chattels, and making them selves masters of the whole house, they lived there merrily enough, waiting until winter should pass away, and the Sun, on taking possession of the house of the Bull, give a present to the Earth of a green gown embroidered with flowers, when they might set out on their journey home.
Now it happened one day, when the brothers were gone to the mountains to get firewood, to defend them selves against the cold, which increased from day to day, that a poor pilgrim came to the ogre's wood, and made faces at an ape that was perched up in a pine-tree; whereupon the ape threw down one of the fir-apples from the tree upon the man's pate, which made such a terrible bump that the poor fellow set up a loud cry. Cianna hearing the noise went out, and taking pity on his disaster, she quickly plucked a sprig of rosemary from a tuft which grew upon the ogre's grave; then she made him a plaster of it with chewed bread and salt, and after giving the man some breakfast she sent him away.
Whilst Cianna was laying the cloth, and expecting her brothers, lo! she saw seven doves come flying, who said to her, "Ah! better that your band had been cut off, you cause of all our misfortune, ere it plucked that accursed rosemary and brought such a calamity upon s! Have you eaten the brains of a cat, O sister, that you have driven our advice from your mind? Behold us turned to birds, a prey to the talons of kites, hawks and falcons! behold us made companions of water- hens, snipes, goldfinches, woodpeckers, jays, owls, magpies, jackdaws, rooks, starlings, woodcocks, cocks, hens and chickens, turkey-cocks, blackbirds, thrushes, chaffinches, tomtits, jenny-wrens, lapwings, linnets, green finches, crossbills, flycatchers, larks, plovers, kingfishers, wagtails, redbreasts, redfinches, sparrows, ducks, field fares, woodpigeons and bullfinches! A rare thing you have done! and now we may return to our country to find nets laid and twigs limed for us! To heal the head of a pilgrim, you have broken the heads of seven brothers; nor is there any kelp for our misfortune, unless you find the Mother of Tune, who will tell you the way to get us out of trouble."
Cianna, looking like a plucked quail at the fault she had committed, begged pardon of her brothers, and offered to go round the world until she should find the dwelling of the old woman. Then praying them not to stir from the house until she returned, lest any ill should betide them, she set out, and journeyed on a on without ever tiring; and though she went on foot, her desire to aid her brothers served her as a sumpter-mule, with which she made three miles an hour. At last she came to the seashore, where with the blows of the waves the sea was banging the rocks which would not repeat the Latin it gave them to do. Here she saw a huge whale, who said to her, "My pretty maiden, what go you seeking?" And she replied, "I am seeking the dwelling of the Mother of Time."-" Hear then what you must do," replied the whale; "go straight along this shore, and on coming to the first river, follow it up to its source, and you will meet with some one who will show you the way: but do me one kindness,-when you find the good old woman, beg of her the favour to tell me some means by which I may swim about safely, without so often knocking upon the rocks and being thrown on the sands."
"Trust to me," said Cianna: then thanking the whale for pointing out the way, she set off walking along the shore; and after a long journey she came to the river, which like a clerk of the treasury was disbursing silver money into the bank of the sea. Then taking the way up to its source, she arrived at a beautiful open country, where the meadow vied with the heaven, displaying her green mantle starred over with flowers; and there she met a mouse, who said to her, "Whither are you going thus alone, my pretty girl?" And Cianna replied, "I am seeking the Mother of Time."
"You have a long way to go," said the mouse; "but do not lose heart,--everything has an end: walk on therefore toward you mountains, which like the free lords of these fields assume the title of Highness, and you will soon have more news of what you are seeking. But do me one favour,-when you arrive at the house you wish to find, get the good old woman to tell you what we can do to rid us of the tyranny of the cats; then command me, and I am your slave."
Cianna, after promising to do the mouse this kind ness, set off toward the mountains, which, although they appeared to be close at hand, seemed never to he reached. But having come to them at length, she sat down tired out upon a stone; and there she saw an army of ants, carrying a large store of grain, one of whom turning to Cianna said, "Who art thou, and whither art thou going ?" And Cianna, who was courteous to every one, said to her, "I am an unhappy girl, who for a matter that concerns me am seeking the dwelling of the Mother of Time."
"Go on further," replied the ant, "and where these mountains open into a large plain you will obtain more news. But do me a great favour,-get the secret from the old woman, what we ants can do to live a little longer; for it seems to me a folly in worldly affairs to be heaping lip such a large store of food for so short a life, which, like an auctioneer's candle, goes out just at the best bidding of years."
"Be at ease," said Cianna; "I will return the kind ness you have shown me."
Then she passed the mountains and arrived at a wide plain; and proceeding a little way over it, she came to a large oak-tree,-a memorial of antiquity, whose fruit (a mouthful which Time gives to this bitter age of its lost sweetness f) tasted like sweetmeats to the maiden, who was satisfied with little. Then the oak, making lips of its bark and a tongue of its pith, said to Cianna, "Whither are you going so sad, my little daughter? come and rest under my shade." Cianna thanked him much, but excused herself, saying that she was going in haste to find the Mother of Time. And when the oak heard this he replied, "You are not far from her dwelling; for before you have gone another day's journey you will see upon a mountain a house, in which you will find her whom you seek. But if you have as much kindness as beauty, I prithee learn for me what I can do to regain my lost honour; for instead of being food for great men, I am now only made the food of hogs."
"Leave that to me," replied Cianna; "I will take care to serve you." So saying she departed, and walking on and on without ever resting, she came at length to the foot of an impertinent mountain, which was poking its head into the face of the clouds. There she found an old man, who wearied and wayworn had lain down upon some hay: and as soon as he saw Cianna, he knew her at once, and that it was she who had cured his bump.
When the old man heard what she was seeking, he told her that he was carrying to Time the rent for the piece of earth which he had cultivated, and that Time was a tyrant who usurped everything in the world, claiming tribute from all, and especially from people of his age; and he added, that having received kind ness from Cianna, he would now return it a hundredfold, by giving her some good information about her arrival at the mountain; and that he was sorry he could not accompany her thither, since his old-age, which was condemned rather to go down than up, obliged him to remain at the foot of those mountains, to cast up ac counts with the clerks of Time, which are the labours, the sufferings and the infirmities of life, and to pay the debt of Nature. So the old man said to her, "Now, my pretty innocent child, listen to me: you must know that on the top of this mountain you will find a ruined house, which was built long ago time out of mind: the walls are cracked, the foundations crumbling away, the doors worm-eaten, the furniture all worn out, and in short everything is gone to wrack and ruin. On one side are seen shattered columns, on another broken statues, and nothing is left in a good state except a coat-of- arms over the door, quartered, on which you will see a serpent biting its tail, a stag, a raven, and a phoenix. When you enter, you will see on the ground files, saws, scythes, sickles, pruning-hooks, and hundreds and hundreds of vessels full of ashes, with the names written on them, like gallipots in an apothecary's shop; and there may be read Corinth, Saguntum, Carthage, Troy, and a thousand other cities, the ashes of which Time pre serves as trophies of his conquests.
When you come near the house, hide yourself until Time goes out; and as soon as be has gone forth, enter, and you will find an old, old woman, with a beard that touches the ground and a hump reaching to the sky: her hair, like the tail of a dapple-grey horse, covers her heels; her face looks like a plaited collar, with the folds stiffened by the starch of years. The old woman is seated upon a clock, which is fastened to a wall; and her eyebrows are so large that they overshadow her eyes, so that she will not be able to see you. As soon as you enter, quickly take the weights off the clock; then call to the old woman, and beg her to answer your questions; whereupon she will instantly call her son, to come and eat you up; but the clock upon which the old woman sits having lost its weights, her son cannot move, and she will therefore be obliged to tell you what you wish. But do not trust any oath she may make, unless she swear by the wings of her son: then give faith to her, and do what she tells you, and you will be content."
So saying, the poor old man fell down and' crumbled away, like a dead body brought from a catacomb to the light of day. Then Cianna took the ashes, and mixing them with a pint of tears, she made a grave and buried them, praying Heaven to grant them quiet and repose. And ascending the mountain, till she was quite out of breath, she waited until Time came out, who was an old man with a long long beard, and who wore a very old cloak covered with slips of paper, on which were worked the names of various people: he had large wings, and ran so fast that he was out of sight in an instant.
When Cianna entered the house of his mother, she started with affright at the sight of that black old chip; and instantly seizing the weights of the clock, she told what she wanted to the old woman, who setting up a loud cry called to her son. But Cianna said to her, "You may butt your head against the wall as long as you like, for you will not see your son whilst I hold these clock- weights.
Thereupon the old woman, seeing herself foiled, began to coax Cianna, saying, "Let go of them, my dear, and do not stop my son's course; for no man living has ever done that. Let go of them, and may Heaven pre serve you! for I promise you by the aquafortis of my son, with which he corrodes everything, that I will do you no harm."
"That's time lost," answered Cianna; "you must say something better if you would have me quit my hold."
"I swear to you by those teeth which gnaw all mortal things, that I will tell you all you desire."
"That is all nothing," answered Cianna; "for I know you are deceiving me."
"Well then," said the old woman, "I swear to you by those wings which fly over all, that I will give you more pleasure than you imagine."
Thereupon Cianna, letting go the weights, kissed the old woman's hand, which had a mouldy feel and a musty smell. And the old woman, seeing the courtesy of the damsel, said to her, "Hide yourself behind this door, and when Time comes home I will make him tell me all you wish to know. And as soon as he goes out again-for he never stays quiet in one place-you can depart. But do not let yourself be heard or seen, for he is such a glutton, that he does not spare even his own children; and when all fails, be devours himself, and then springs up anew."
Cianna did as the old woman told her, and lo! soon after Time ca flying quick, quick, high and light, and having gnawed whatever came to hand, down to the very mouldiness upon the walls, he was about to depart, when his mother told him all she had beard from Cianna, beseeching him by the milk she had given him to answer exactly all her questions. After a thousand entreaties her son replied, "To the tree may be answered, that it can never be prized by men so long as it keeps treasures buried under its roots:-to the mice, that they will never be safe from the cat, unless they tie a bell to her leg, to tell them when she is coming:-to the ants, that they will live a hundred years, if they can dispense with flying; for when the ant is going to die she puts on wings:-to the whale, that it should be of good cheer, and make friends with the seamouse, who will serve him as a guide, so that he will never go wrong:-and to the doves, that when they alight on the column of wealth, they will return to their former state."
So saying, Time set out to run his accustomed post; and Cianna, taking leave of the old woman, descended to the foot of the mountain, just at the very time that the seven doves, who had followed their sister's foot steps, arrived there. Wearied with flying so far, they stopped to rest upon the horn of a dead ox; and no sooner had they alighted, than they were changed into handsome youths, as they were at first. But while they were marvelling at this, they heard the reply which Time had given, and saw at once that the horn, as the symbol of plenty, was the column of wealth of which Time had spoken. Then embracing their sister with great joy, they all set out on the same road by which Cianna had come. And when they came to the oaktree, and told it what Cianna had heard from Time, the tree begged them to take away the treasure from its roots, since it was the cause why its acorns had lost their reputation. Thereupon the seven brothers, taking a spade which they found in a garden, dug and dug, until they came to a great heap of gold money, which they divided into eight parts, and shared among them selves and their sister, so that they might carry it away conveniently. But being wearied with the journey and the load, they laid themselves down to sleep under a hedge. Presently a band of robbers coming by, and seeing the poor fellows asleep, with their heads upon the cloths-full of dollars, bound them hand and foot to some trees, and took away the money, leaving them to bewail not only their wealth, which had slipped through their fingers as soon as found, but their life; for being without hope of succour, they were in peril of either soon dying of hunger or allaying the hunger of some wild beast.
As they were lamenting their unhappy lot, up came the mouse, who as soon as she heard the reply which Time had given, in return for the good service nibbled the cords with which they were bound and set them free. And having gone a little way further they met on the road the ant, who, when she heard the ad vice of Time, asked Cianna what was the matter, that she was so pale-faced and cast down. And when Cianna told her their misfortune, and the trick which the robbers had played them, the ant replied, "Be quiet, I can now requite the kindness you have done me. You must know, that whilst I was carrying a load of grain underground, I saw a place where these dogs of assassins hide their plunder; they have made some holes under an old building, in which they shut up all the things they have stolen; they are just now gone out for some new robbery, and I will go with you and show you the place, so that you may recover your money."
So saying she took the way toward some tumbled- down houses, and showed the seven brothers the mouth of a pit; whereupon Giangrazio, who was bolder than the rest, entering it, found there all the money of which they had been robbed. Then taking it with them, they set out, and walked towards the seashore, where they found the whale, and told him the good advice which Time-who is the father of counsel-had given them. And whilst they stood talking of their journey, and all that had befallen them, they saw the robbers suddenly appear, armed to the teeth, who had followed in their footsteps. At this sight they exclaimed, "Alas, alas! we are now wholly lost, for here come the robbers armed, and they will not leave the skin on our bodies!"
"Fear not," replied the whale; "for I can save you out of the fire, and will thus requite the love you have shown me: so get upon my back, and I will quickly carry you to a place of safety."
Cianna and her brothers, seeing the foe at their heels and the water up to their throat, climbed upon the whale, who, keeping far off from the rocks, carried them to within sight of Naples; but being afraid to land them on account of the shoals cud shallows, he said, "Where would you like me to land you? on the shore of Amalfi? And Giangrazio answered, "See whether that cannot be avoided, my dear fish; I do not wish to land at any place hereabouts; for at Massa they say barely good-day, at Sorriente thieves are plenty, at Vico they say you may go your way, at Castel-a-mare no one says how are-ye?"
Then the whale, to please them, turned about and went toward the Salt-rock, where he left them; and they got put on shore by the first fishing-boat that passed. Thereupon they returned to their own country, safe and sound and rich, to the great joy and consolation of their mother and father; and, thanks to the goodness of Cianna, they enjoyed a happy life, verifying the old saying,
"Do good whenever you can, and forget it."
Source: Basile, Giambattista. The Pentamerone, or The Story of Stories. John Edward Taylor, translator. London: David Bogue, 1850.
THERE was once a man who had seven sons, and still he had no daughter, however much he wished for one. At length his wife again gave him hope of a child, and when it came into the world it was a girl. The joy was great, but the child was sickly and small, and had to be privately baptized on account of its weakness. The father sent one of the boys in haste to the spring to fetch water for the baptism. The other six went with him, and as each of them wanted to be first to fill it, the jug fell into the well. There they stood and did not know what to do, and none of them dared to go home. As they still did not return, the father grew impatient, and said, "They have certainly forgotten it for some game, the wicked boys!" He became afraid that the girl would have to die without being baptized, and in his anger cried, "I wish the boys were all turned into ravens."
Hardly was the word spoken before he heard a whirring of wings over his head in the air, looked up and saw seven coal-black ravens flying away. The parents could not recall the curse, and however sad they were at the loss of their seven sons, they still to some extent comforted themselves with their dear little daughter, who soon grew strong and every day became more beautiful. For a long time she did not know that she had had brothers, for her parents were careful not to mention them before her, but one day she accidentally heard some people saying of herself, "that the girl was certainly beautiful, but that in reality she was to blame for the misfortune which had befallen her seven brothers."
Then she was much troubled, and went to her father and mother and asked if it was true that she had had brothers, and what had become of them? The parents now dared keep the secret no longer, but said that what had befallen her brothers was the will of Heaven, and that her birth had only been the innocent cause. But the maiden took it to heart daily, and thought she must deliver her brothers. She had no rest or peace until she set out secretly, and went forth into the wide world to trace out her brothers and set them free, let it cost what it might. She took nothing with her but a little ring belonging to her parents as a keepsake, a loaf of bread against hunger, a little pitcher of water against thirst, and a little chair as a provision against weariness.
And now she went continually onwards, far, far to the very end of the world. Then she came to the sun, but it was too hot and terrible, and devoured little children. Hastily she ran away, and ran to the moon, but it was far too cold, and also awful and malicious, and when it saw the child, it said, "I smell, I smell the flesh of men." On this she ran swiftly away, and came to the stars, which were kind and good to her, and each of them sat on its own particular little chair. But the morning star arose, and gave her the drumstick of a chicken, and said, "If you thou hast not that drumstick thou canst not open the Glass mountain, and in the Glass mountain are thy brothers."
The maiden took the drumstick, wrapped it carefully in a cloth, and went onwards again until she came to the Glass mountain. The door was shut, and she thought she would take out the drumstick; but when she undid the cloth, it was empty, and she had lost the good star's present. What was she now to do? She wished to rescue her brothers, and had no key to the Glass mountain. The good sister took a knife, cut off one of her little fingers, put it in the door, and succeeded in opening it. When she had gone inside, a little dwarf came to meet her, who said, "My child, what are you looking for?" "I am looking for my brothers, the seven ravens," she replied. The dwarf said, "The lord ravens are not at home, but if you will wait here until they come, step in." Thereupon the little dwarf carried the ravens' dinner in, on seven little plates, and in seven little glasses, and the little sister ate a morsel from each plate, and from each little glass she took a sip, but in the last little glass she dropped the ring which she had brought away with her.
Suddenly she heard a whirring of wings and a rushing through the air, and then the little dwarf said, "Now the lord ravens are flying home." Then they came, and wanted to eat and drink, and looked for their little plates and glasses. Then said one after the other, "Who has eaten something from my plate? Who has drunk out of my little glass? It was a human mouth." And when the seventh came to the bottom of the glass, the ring rolled against his mouth. Then he looked at it, and saw that it was a ring belonging to his father and mother, and said, "God grant that our sister may be here, and then we shall be free." When the maiden, who was standing behind the door watching, heard that wish, she came forth, and on this all the ravens were restored to their human form again. And they embraced and kissed each other, and went joyfully home.
Source: Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884.
THERE was a man and a woman very poor, and overburdened with children. They had seven boys. When they had grown up a little, they said to their mother that it would be better that they should go on their own way--that they would get on better like that. The mother let them go with great regret. After their departure she gave birth to a little girl, and when this little girl was grown up a little she went one day to a neighbour's to amuse herself, and having played some childish trick the neighbour said to her:
"You will be a good one, you too, as your brothers have been."
The child goes home and says to her mother, "Mother, have I some brothers?"1
The mother says, "Yes."
"Where are they?"
"Oh, gone off somewhere."
The daughter said to her, "I must go too, then. Give me a piece of linen enough to make seven shirts."
And she would go off at once. The mother was very sorry for it, having already seven children away from home, and the only one she had wished to go away. She let her go then.
This young girl went off, far, far, far away. She asks in a town if they know seven brothers who work together. The tell her "No." She goes off to a mountain and asks there too, and they tell her in what house they live. She goes to this house, and sees that all the household work is to be done, and that there is nobody at home. She makes the beds, and cleans the whole house, and puts it in order. She prepares the dinner, and then hides herself in the dust-hole. Her brothers come home, and are astonished to see all the household work done and the dinner ready. They begin to look if there is anyone in the house, but they never think of looking in the dust-hole, and they go off again to their work. Before night this young girl does all the rest of the work, and had the supper ready against the return of her brothers, and hides herself again in the dust-hole. Her brothers are astonished, and again search the house, but find nothing.
They go to bed, and this young girl takes to sewing and sews a whole shirt. She gives it to her eldest brother, and in the same way she made a shirt every night, and took it to one of her brothers. They could not understand how that all happened. They always said that they would not go to sleep, but they fell asleep as soon as they were in bed. When the turn of the youngest came to have the shirt, he said to them, "Certainly I will not fall asleep." After he is in bed the young girl goes and says to him, thinking that he is asleep:
"Your turn has come now at last, my dearly loved brother."
And she begins to put the shirt on him on the bed, when her brother says to her:
"You are then my sister, you?
And he kisses her. She tells him then how she had heard that she had brothers, and how she had wished to go to them to help them. The other brothers get up and rejoice, learning that it was their sister who had done all the household work.
The brothers forbad her ever to go to such a neighbour's, whatever might happen. But one day, without thinking about it, when she was behindhand with her work, she went running to the house to ask for some fire,2 in order to make the supper ready quicker. She was very well received; the woman offered to give her everything she wanted, but she said she was satisfied with a little fire. This woman was a witch, and gives her a parcel of herbs, telling her to put them as they were into the footbath--that they relieved the fatigue very much.3 Every evening the seven brothers washed their feet at the same time in a large copper. She therefore put these herbs into the copper, and as soon as they had dipped their feet in they became six cows, and the seventh a Breton cow.4 This poor girl was in such trouble as cannot be told. The poor cows all used to kiss their sister, but the young girl always loved much best the Breton one. Every day she took them to the field, and stopped with them to guard them.
One day when she was there the son of a king passes by, and is quite astonished to see so beautiful a girl there. He speaks to her, and tells her that he wishes to marry her. The young girl says to him that she is very poor, and that that cannot be. The king says, "Yes, yes, yes, that makes no difference."
The young girl makes as conditions that, if she marries him, he must never kill these cows, and especially this little Breton one.5 The king promises it her, and they are married.
The princess takes these cows home with her; they were always well treated. The princess became pregnant, and was confined while the king was absent. The witch comes, and takes her out of her bed, and throws her down a precipice that there was in the king's grounds, and the witch puts herself into the princess' bed. When the king comes home, he finds her very much changed, and tells her that he would not have recognised her. The princess tells him that it was her sufferings that had made her thus, and, in order to cure her more quickly, he must have the Breton cow killed.
The king says to her--
"What! Did you not make me promise that she should never be killed? How is it you ask me that?"
The witch considered that one her greatest enemy; and, as she left him no peace, he sent a servant to fetch the cows. He finds them all seven by the precipice; they were lowing, and he tried to drive them to the house, but he could not do it in any way; and he hears a voice, which says,
"It is not for myself that I grieve so much, but for my child, and for my husband, and for my dearly-loved cows. Who will take care of them?"
The lad could not succeed (in driving them), and goes and tells to the king what is taking place. The king himself goes to the precipice, and hears this voice. He quickly throws a long cord down, and, when he thinks that she has had time to take hold of it, he pulls it up, and sees that they have got the princess there. Judge of the joy of the king! She relates to her husband all that the witch had done to her, both formerly and now. The king goes to the witch's bed, and says to her,
"I know your villanies now; and, if you do not immediately change these cows, as they were before, into fine boys, I will put you into a red-hot oven."
The witch makes them fine men, and, notwithstanding that, the king had her burnt in a red-hot oven, and threw her ashes into the air. The king lived happily with his wife, and her seven brothers married ladies of the court, and sent for their mother, and they all lived happily together.
Source: Webster, Wentworth. Basque Legends. London: Griffith and Farran, 1877.
ONCE upon a time, a certain King was hunting in a great forest, and he chased a wild beast so eagerly that none of his attendants could follow him. When evening drew near he stopped and looked around him, and then he saw that he had lost his way. He sought a way out, but could find none. Then he perceived an aged woman with a head which nodded perpetually, who came towards him, but she was a witch. "Good woman," said he to her, "Can you not show me the way through the forest?" "Oh, yes, Lord King," she answered, "that I certainly can, but on one condition, and if you do not fulfil that, you will never get out of the forest, and will die of hunger in it."
"What kind of condition is it?" asked the King.
"I have a daughter," said the old woman, "who is as beautiful as any one in the world, and well deserves to be your consort, and if you will make her your Queen, I will show you the way out of the forest." In the anguish of his heart the King consented, and the old woman led him to her little hut, where her daughter was sitting by the fire. She received the King as if she had been expecting him, and he saw that she was very beautiful, but still she did not please him, and he could not look at her without secret horror. After he had taken the maiden up on his horse, the old woman showed him the way, and the King reached his royal palace again, where the wedding was celebrated.
The King had already been married once, and had by his first wife, seven children, six boys and a girl, whom he loved better than anything else in the world. As he now feared that the step-mother might not treat them well, and even do them some injury, he took them to a lonely castle which stood in the midst of a forest. It lay so concealed, and the way was so difficult to find that he himself would not have found it, if a wise woman had not given him a ball of yarn with wonderful properties. When he threw it down before him, it unrolled itself and showed him his path. The King, however, went so frequently away to his dear children that the Queen observed his absence; she was curious and wanted to know what he did when he was quite alone in the forest. She gave a great deal of money to his servants, and they betrayed the secret to her, and told her likewise of the ball which alone could point out the way. And now she knew no rest until she had learnt where the King kept the ball of yarn, and then she made little shirts of white silk, and as she had learnt the art of witchcraft from her mother, she sewed a charm inside them. And once when the King had ridden forth to hunt, she took the little shirts and went into the forest, and the ball showed her the way. The children, who saw from a distance that some one was approaching, thought that their dear father was coming to them, and full of joy, ran to meet him. Then she threw one of the little shirts over each of them, and no sooner had the shirts touched their bodies than they were changed into swans, and flew away over the forest. The Queen went home quite delighted, and thought she had got rid of her step-children, but the girl had not run out with her brothers, and the Queen knew nothing about her. Next day the King went to visit his children, but he found no one but the little girl. "Where are thy brothers?' asked the King. "Alas, dear father," she answered, "they have gone away and left me alone!" and she told him that she had seen from her little window how her brothers had flown away over the forest in the shape of swans, and she showed him the feathers, which they had let fall in the courtyard, and which she had picked up. The King mourned, but he did not think that the Queen had done this wicked deed, and as he feared that the girl would also be stolen away from him, he wanted to take her away with him. But she was afraid of her step-mother, and entreated the King to let her stay just this one night more in the forest castle.
The poor girl thought, "I can no longer stay here. I will go and seek my brothers." And when night came, she ran away, and went straight into the forest. She walked the whole night long, and next day also without stopping, until she could go no farther for weariness. Then she saw a forest-hut, and went into it, and found a room with six little beds, but she did not venture to get into one of them, but crept under one, and lay down on the hard ground, intending to pass the night there. Just before sunset, however, she heard a rustling, and saw six swans come flying in at the window. They alighted on the ground and blew at each other, and blew all the feathers off, and their swan's skins stripped off like a shirt. Then the maiden looked at them and recognized her brothers, was glad and crept forth from beneath the bed. The brothers were not less delighted to see their little sister, but their joy was of short duration. "Here canst thou not abide," they said to her. "This is a shelter for robbers, if they come home and find thee, they will kill thee." "But can you not protect me?" asked the little sister. "No," they replied, "only for one quarter of an hour each evening can we lay aside our swan's skins and have during that time our human form; after that, we are once more turned into swans." The little sister wept and said, "Can you not be set free?" "Alas, no," they answered, "the conditions are too hard! For six years thou mayst neither speak nor laugh, and in that time thou must sew together six little shirts of starwort for us. And if one single word falls from thy lips, all thy work will be lost." And when the brothers had said this, the quarter of an hour was over, and they flew out of the window again as swans.
The maiden, however, firmly resolved to deliver her brothers, even if it should cost her her life. She left the hut, went into the midst of the forest, seated herself on a tree, and there passed the night. Next morning she went out and gathered starwort and began to sew. She could not speak to any one, and she had no inclination to laugh; she sat there and looked at nothing but her work. When she had already spent a long time there it came to pass that the King of the country was hunting in the forest, and his huntsmen came to the tree on which the maiden was sitting. They called to her and said, "Who art thou?" But she made no answer. "Come down to us," said they. "We will not do thee any harm." She only shook her head. As they pressed her further with questions she threw her golden necklace down to them, and thought to content them thus. They, however, did not cease, and then she threw her girdle down to them, and as this also was to no purpose, her garters, and by degrees everything that she had on that she could do without until she had nothing left but her shift. The huntsmen, however, did not let themselves be turned aside by that, but climbed the tree and fetched the maiden down and led her before the King. The King asked, "Who art thou? What art thou doing on the tree?" But she did not answer. He put the question in every language that he knew, but she remained as mute as a fish. As she was so beautiful, the King's heart was touched, and he was smitten with a great love for her. He put his mantle on her, took her before him on his horse, and carried her to his castle. Then he caused her to be dressed in rich garments, and she shone in her beauty like bright daylight, but no word could be drawn from her. He placed her by his side at table, and her modest bearing and courtesy pleased him so much that he said, "She is the one whom I wish to marry, and no other woman in the world." And after some days he united himself to her.
The King, however, had a wicked mother who was dissatisfied with this marriage and spoke ill of the young Queen. "Who knows," said she, "from whence the creature who can't speak, comes? She is not worthy of a king!" After a year had passed, when the Queen brought her first child into the world, the old woman took it away from her, and smeared her mouth with blood as she slept. Then she went to the King and accused the Queen of being a man-eater. The King would not believe it, and would not suffer any one to do her any injury. She, however, sat continually sewing at the shirts, and cared for nothing else. The next time, when she again bore a beautiful boy, the false step-mother used the same treachery, but the King could not bring himself to give credit to her words. He said, "She is too pious and good to do anything of that kind; if she were not dumb, and could defend herself, her innocence would come to light." But when the old woman stole away the newly-born child for the third time, and accused the Queen, who did not utter one word of defence, the King could do no otherwise than deliver her over to justice, and she was sentenced to suffer death by fire.
When the day came for the sentence to be executed, it was the last day of the six years during which she was not to speak or laugh, and she had delivered her dear brothers from the power of the enchantment. The six shirts were ready, only the left sleeve of the sixth was wanting. When, therefore, she was led to the stake, she laid the shirts on her arm, and when she stood on high and the fire was just going to be lighted, she looked around and six swans came flying through the air towards her. Then she saw that her deliverance was near, and her heart leapt with joy. The swans swept towards her and sank down so that she could throw the shirts over them, and as they were touched by them, their swan's skins fell off, and her brothers stood in their own bodily form before her, and were vigorous and handsome. The youngest only lacked his left arm, and had in the place of it a swan's wing on his shoulder. They embraced and kissed each other, and the Queen went to the King, who was greatly moved, and she began to speak and said, "Dearest husband, now I may speak and declare to thee that I am innocent, and falsely accused." And she told him of the treachery of the old woman who had taken away her three children and hidden them. Then to the great joy of the King they were brought thither, and as a punishment, the wicked step-mother was bound to the stake, and burnt to ashes. But the King and the Queen with their six brothers lived many years in happiness and peace.
Source: Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884.
SEVERAL hundred years ago there was a certain Rajah who had twelve wives, but no children, and though he caused many prayers to be said, and presents made in temples far and near, never a son nor a daughter had he. Now this Rajah had a Wuzeer who was a very, very wise old man--and it came to pass that one day when he was travelling in a distant part of his kingdom, accompanied by this Wuzeer and the rest of his court, he came upon a large garden, and in walking round it he was particularly struck by a little tree which grew there. It was a bringal tree, not above two feet in height. It had no leaves, but on it grew a hundred and one bringals. The Rajah stopped to count them, and then turning to the Wuzeer in great astonishment said, 'It is to me a most unaccountable thing--that this little tree should have no leaves, but a hundred and one bringals growing on it. You are a wise man; can you guess what this means?' The Wuzeer replied, 'I can interpret this marvel to you, but if I do, you will most likely not believe me--promise therefore that if I tell you, you will not cause me to be killed for having told (as you imagine) a lie.' The Rajah promised, and the Wuzeer continued: 'The meaning of this little bringal tree, with the hundred and one bringals growing on it, is this: Whoever marries the daughter of the Malee in charge of this garden will have a hundred and one children--a hundred sons and one daughter.' The Rajah said, 'Where is the maiden to be seen?' The Wuzeer answered, 'When a number of great people like you and all your court come into a little village like this, the poor people, and especially the children, are frightened, and run away and hide themselves; therefore, as long as you stay here as Rajah you cannot hope to see her. Your only means will be to send away your suite, and cause it to be announced that you have left the place. Then, if you walk daily in this garden you may some morning meet the pretty Guzra Bai, of whom I speak.'
Upon this advice the Rajah acted; and one day, whilst walking in the garden, he saw the Malee's young daughter, a girl of twelve years old, busy gathering flowers. He went forward to accost her, but she, seeing that he was not one of the villagers, but a stranger, was shy, and ran home to her father's house.
The Rajah followed--for he was very much struck with her grace and beauty--in fact he fell in love with her as soon as he saw her, and thought he had never seen a king's daughter half so charming.
When he got to the Malee's house the door was shut; so he called out, 'Let me in, good Malee; I am the Rajah, and I wish to marry your daughter.' The Malee only laughed, and answered, 'A pretty tale to tell a simple man, indeed! You a Rajah! why, the Rajah is miles away. You had better go home, my good fellow, for there's no welcome for you here!' But the Rajah continued calling till the Malee opened the door--who then was indeed surprised, seeing it was truly no other than the Rajah--and he asked what he could do for him.
The Rajah said, 'I wish to marry your beautiful daughter Guzra Bai.' 'No, no,' said the Malee, 'this joke won't do. None of your Princes in disguise for me. You may think you are a great Rajah and I only a poor Malee, but I tell you that makes no difference at all. Though you were king of all the earth I would not permit you to come here and amuse yourself chattering to my girl, only to fill her head with nonsense, and to break her heart.'
'In truth, good man, you do me wrong,' answered the Rajah humbly; 'I mean what I say; I wish to marry your daughter.'
'Do not think,' retorted the Malee, 'that I'll make a fool of myself because I'm only a Malee, and believe what you've got to say because you're a great Rajah! Rajah or no Rajah is all one to me. If you mean what you say, if you care for my daughter and wish to be married to her, come and be married; but I'll have none of your new-fangled forms, and court ceremonies hard to be understood; let the girl be married here by her father's hearth, and under her father's roof, and let us invite to the wedding our old friends and acquaintance whom we 'ye known all our lives, and before we ever thought of you.'
The Rajah was not angry, but amused, and rather pleased than otherwise at the old man's frankness, and he consented to all that was desired.
The village beauty, Guzra Bai, was therefore married with as much pomp as they could muster, but in village fashion, to the great Rajah, who took her home with him, followed by the tears and blessings of her parents and playmates.
The twelve kings' daughters were by no means pleased at this addition to the number of the Ranees; and they agreed amongst themselves that it would be highly derogatory to their dignity to permit Guzra Bai to associate with them, and that the Rajah, their husband, had offered them an unpardonable insult in marrying a Malee's daughter, which was to be revenged upon her the very first opportunity.
Having made this league, they tormented poor Guzra Bai so much, that, to save her from their persecutions, the Rajah built her a little house of her own, where she lived very, very happily for a short time.
At last one day he had occasion to go and visit a distant part of his dominions, but fearing his high-born wives might ill use Guzra Bai in his absence, at parting he gave her a little golden bell,' saying, 'If while I am away you are in any trouble, or any one should be unkind to you, ring this little bell, and wherever I am I shall instantly hear it, and will return to your aid.'
No sooner had the Rajah gone, than Guzra Bai thought she would try the power of the bell. So she rang it. The Rajah instantly appeared. 'What do you want?' he said. 'Oh, nothing,' she replied. 'I was foolish. I hardly believed what you told me could be true, and thought I would try.' 'Now you will believe, I hope,' he said, and went away. A second time she rang the bell. Again the Rajah returned. 'Oh, pardon me, husband,' she said; 'it was wrong of me not to trust you, but I scarcely thought you could return again from so far.' 'Never mind,' he said, 'only do not try the experiment again.' And again he went away. A third time she rang the golden bell. 'Why do you ring again, Guzra Bai?' asked the Rajah sternly,! It must have been a kind of telegraph, to go so quick,' my narrator said. as for a third time he returned. 'I don't know, indeed; indeed I beg your pardon,' she said; 'but I know not why, I felt so frightened.' 'Have any of the Ranees been unkind to you?' he asked. 'No. none,' she answered; 'in fact, I have seen none of them.' 'You are a silly child,' said he, stroking her hair. 'Affairs of the state call me away. You must try and keep a good heart till my return.' And for the fourth time he disappeared.
A little while after, Guzra Bai had a hundred and one children! a hundred boys and one girl. When the twelve Ranees heard this, they said to each other, 'Guzra Bai, the Malee's daughter, will rank higher than us; she will have great power and influence as mother to the heir to the Raj; let us kill these children, and tell our husband that she is a sorceress; then will he love her no longer, and his old affection for us will return.' So the twelve Ranees all went over to Guzra Bai's house. When Guzra Bai saw them coming, she feared they meant to do her some harm, so she seized her little golden bell, and rang, and rang, and rang--but no Rajah came. She had called him back so often, that he did not believe she really needed his help. And thus the poor woman was left at the mercy of her implacable enemies.
Now the nurse who had charge of the hundred and one babies was an old servant of the twelve Ranees, and moreover a very wicked woman, able and willing to do whatever her twelve wicked old mistresses ordered. So when they said to her, 'Can you kill these children?' she answered, 'Nothing is easier; I will throw them out upon the dust-heap behind the palace, where the rats and hawks and vultures will have left none of them remaining by tomorrow morning.' 'So be it,' said the Ranees. Then the nurse took the hundred and one little innocent children--the hundred little boys and the one little girl--and threw them behind the palace on the dust-heap, close to some large rat-holes; and after that, she and the twelve Ranees placed a very large stone in each of the babies' cradles, and said to Guzra Bai, 'Oh, you evil witch in disguise, do not hope any longer to impose by your arts on the Rajah's credulity. See, your children have all turned into stones. See these, your pretty babies! '--and with that they tumbled the hundred and one stones down in a great heap on the floor. Then Guzra Bai began to cry, for she knew it was not true; but what could one poor woman do against thirteen? At the Rajah's return the twelve Ranees accused Guzra Bai of being a witch, and the nurse testified that the hundred and one children she had charge of had turned into stones, and the RaJah believed them rather than Guzra Bai, and he ordered her to be imprisoned for life.
Meanwhile a Bandicote had heard the pitiful cries of the children, and taking pity on them, dragged them all one by one into her hole, out of the way of kites and vultures. She next assembled all the Bandicotes from far and near, and told them what she had done, begging them to assist in finding food for the children. Then every day a hundred and one Bandicotes would come, each bringing a little bit of food in his mouth, and give it to one of the children; and so day by day they grew stronger and stronger, until they were able to run about, and then they used to play of a morning at the mouth of the Bandicote's hole, running in there to sleep every night. But one fine day, who should come by but the wicked old nurse! Fortunately, all the boys were in the hole, and the little girl, who was playing outside, on seeing her, ran in there too, but not before the nurse had seen her. She immediately went to the twelve Ranees and related this, saying, 'I cannot help thinking some of the children may still be living in those rat-holes. You had better send and have them dug out and killed.' 'We dare not do that,' answered they, 'for fear of causing suspicion; but we will order some labourers to dig up that ground and make it into a field, and that will effectually smother any of the children who may still be alive.' This plan was approved, and forthwith carried into execution; but the good Bandicote, who happened that day to be out on a foraging expedition in the palace, heard all about it there, and immediately running home, took all the children from her hole to a large well some distance off, where she hid them in the hollows behind the steps leading down to the water, laying one child under each step.
Here they would have been quite safe, had not the Dhobee happened to go down to the well that day to wash some clothes, taking with him his little girl While her father was drawing up water, the child amused herself running up and down the steps of the well. Now each time her weight pressed down a step it gave the child hidden underneath a little squeeze. All the hundred boys bore this without uttering a sound; but when the Dhobee's child trod on the step under which the little girl was hidden, she cried out, 'How can you be so cruel to me, trampling on me in this way? Have pity on me, for I am a little girl as well as you.'
When the child heard these words proceeding from the stone, she ran in great alarm to her father, saying, 'Father, I don't know what's the matter, but something alive is certainly under those stones. I heard it speak; but whether it is a Rakshas or an angel, or a human being, I cannot tell. Then the Dhobee went to the twelve Ranees to tell them the wonderful news about the voice in the well; and they said to each other, 'May be it's some of Guzra Bai's children; let us send and have this inquired into.' So they sent some people to pull down the well, and see if some evil spirit were not there.
Then labourers went to pull down the well. Now close to the well was a little temple dedicated to Gunputti, containing a small shrine, and a little clay image of the god. When the children felt the well being pulled down they called out for help and protection to Gunputti, who took pity on them and changed them into trees growing by his temple--a hundred little mango trees all round in a circle (which were the hundred little boys), and a little rose-bush in the middle, covered with red and white roses, which was the little girl.
The labourers pulled down the well, but they found nothing there but a poor old Bandicote, which they killed. Then, by order of the twelve wicked Ranees, they sacrilegiously destroyed the little temple. But they found no children there either. However, the Dhobee's mischievous little daughter had gone with her father to witness the work of destruction, and as they were looking on, she said, 'Father, do look at all those funny little trees; I never remember noticing them here before.' And being very inquisitive, she started off to have a nearer look at them. There in a circle grew the hundred little mango trees, and in the centre of all the little rose-bush, bearing the red and white roses.
The girl brushed by the mango trees, who uttered no words, and running up to the rose-bush began gathering some of the flowers. At this the rose-bush trembled very much, and sighed and said, 'I am a little girl as well as you; how can you be so cruel? You are breaking all my ribs.' Then the child ran back to her father and said, 'Come and listen to what the rose-bush says.' And the father repeated the news to the twelve Ranees, who ordered that a great fire should be made, and the hundred and one little trees burnt in it root and branch, till not a stick remained.
The fire was made, and the hundred and one little trees were dug up, and just going to be thrown into it, when Gunputti, taking pity on them, caused a tremendous storm to come on, which put out the fire, and flooded the country and swept the hundred and one trees into the river, where they were carried down a long, long way by the torrent, until at last the children were landed, restored to their own shapes, on the river-bank, in the midst of a wild jungle, very far from any human habitation.
Here these children lived for ten years, happy in their mutual love and affection. Generally every day fifty of the boys would go out to collect roots and berries for their food, leaving fifty at home to take care of their little sister: but sometimes they put her in some safe place, and all would go out together for the day; nor were they ever molested in their excursions by bear, panther, snake, scorpion, or other noxious creature. One day all the brothers put their little sister safely up in a fine shady tree, and went out together to hunt. After rambling on for some time, they came to the hut of a savage Rakshas, who in the disguise of an old woman had lived for many years in the jungle. The Rakshas, angry at this invasion of her domain, no sooner saw them than she changed them all into crows. Night came on, and their little sister was anxiously awaiting her brothers' return, when on a sudden she heard a loud whirring sound in the air, and round the tree flocked a hundred black crows, cawing and offering her berries, and roots which they had dug up with their sharp bills. Then the little sister guessed too truly what must have happened,--that some malignant spirit had metamorphosed her brothers into this hideous shape; and at the sad sight she began to cry.
Time wore on; every morning the crows flew away to collect food for her and for themselves, and every evening they returned to roost in the branches of the high tree where she sat the live-long day, crying as if her heart would break.
At last so many bitter tears had she shed, that they made a little stream which flowed from the foot of the tree right down through the jungle.
Some months after this, one fine day a young Rajah from a neighbouring country happened to be hunting in this very jungle; but he had not been very successful. Towards the close of the day he found himself faint and weary, having missed his way and lost his comrades, without companions save his dogs, who, being thirsty, ran hurriedly hither and thither in search of water. After some time, they saw in the distance what looked like a clear stream; the dogs rushed there, and the tired Prince, following them, flung himself down on the grass by the water's brink, thinking to sleep there for the night; and with his hands under his head, stared up into the leafy branches of the tree above him. Great was his astonishment to see high up among the boughs an immense number of crows, and above them all a most lovely young girl, who was feeding them with berries and wild fruits. Quick as thought he climbed the tree, and bringing her carefully and gently down, seated her on the grass beside him, saying, 'Tell me, pretty lady, who you are, and how you come to be living in this dreary place.' In reply she told him all her adventures, except that she did not say the hundred crows were her hundred brothers. Then the Rajah said, 'Do not cry any more, fair Princess; you shall come home with me and be my Ranee, and my father and mother shall be yours.' At this she smiled and dried her eyes, but quickly added, 'You will let me take these crows with me, will you not? for I love them dearly, and I cannot go away unless they may come too.' 'To be sure,' he answered. 'You may bring all the animals in the jungle with you, if you like, so you will only come.'
So he took her home to his father's house, and the old Rajah and Ranee wondered much at this jungle Lady, when they saw her rare beauty, her modest gentle ways, and her queenly grace. Then the young Rajah told them how she was a persecuted Princess, and asked their leave to marry her; and because her loving goodness had won all hearts, they gave their consent as joyfully as if she had been daughter of the greatest of Rajahs, and brought with her a splendid dower; and they called her Draupadi Bai.
Draupadi had some beautiful trees planted in front of her palace, in which the crows, her brothers, used to live, and she daily with her own hands boiled a quantity of rice, which she would scatter for them to eat as they flew down to her call Now some time after this, Draupadi Bai had a son, who was called Ramchundra. He was a very good boy, and his mother Draupadi Bai used to take him to school every morning, and go and fetch him home in the evening. But one day, when Ramchundra was about fourteen years old, it happened that Draupadi Bai did not go to fetch him home from school as she was wont; and on his return, he found her sitting under the trees in front of her palace, stroking the glossy black crows that flocked around her, and weeping.
Then Ramchundra threw down his bundle of books, and said to his mother, putting his elbows on her knees, and looking up in her face, 'Mammy, dear, tell me why you are now crying, and what it is that makes you so often sad.' 'Oh, nothing, nothing,' she answered. 'Yes, dear mother,' said he, 'do tell me. Can I help you? If I can, I will.' DraupadI Bai shook her head: 'Alas! no, my son,' she said, 'you are too young to help me; and as for my grief; I have never told it to any one. I cannot tell it to you now.' But Ramchundra continued begging and praying her to tell him, until at last she did; relating to him all her own and his uncles' sad history; and, lastly, how they had been changed by a Rakshas into the black crows he saw around him. Then the boy sprang up and said, 'Which way did your brothers take when they met the Rakshas?' 'How can I tell?' she asked. 'Why,' he answered, 'I thought, perhaps, you might remember on which side they returned that first night to you, after being bewitched?' 'Oh,' she said, 'they came towards the tree from that part of the jungle which lies in a straight line behind the palace.' 'Very well,' cried Ramchundra joyfully; 'I also will go there, and find out this wicked old Rakshas, and learn by what means they may be disenchanted.' 'No, no, my son,' she answered, 'I cannot let you go: see, I have lost father and mother, and these my hundred brothers; and now, if you fall into the Rakskas' clutches as well as they, and are lost to me, what will life have worth living for?' To this he replied, 'Do not fear for me, mother; I will be wary and discreet.' And, going to his father, he said, 'Father, it is time I should see something of the world. I beg you to permit me to travel and see other lands.' The Rajah answered, 'You shall go. Tell me what attendants you would like to accompany you.' 'Give me,' said Ramchundra, 'a horse to ride, and a groom to take care of it.' The Rajab consented, and Ramchundra set off riding towards the jungle; but as soon as he got there, he sent his horse back by the groom with a message to his parents, and proceeded alone, on foot.
After wandering about for some time, he came upon a small hut, in which lay an ugly old woman fast asleep. She had long claws instead of hands, and her hair hung down all around her in a thick black tangle. Ramchundra knew, by the whole appearance of the place, that he must have reached the Rakshas' abode of which he was in search, so, stealing softly in, he sat down, and began shampooing her head. At last the Rakshas woke up. 'You dear little boy,' she said, 'do not be afraid; I am only a poor old woman, and will not hurt you. Stay with me, and you shall be my servant.' This she said not from any feeling of kindness or pity for Ramchundra, but merely because she thought he might be helpful to her. So the young Rajab remained in her service, determining to stay there till he should have learnt from her all that he wished to know.
Thus one day he said to her, 'Good mother, what is the use of all those little jars of water you have arranged round your house?' She answered, 'That water possesses certain magical attributes; if any of it is sprinkled on people enchanted by me, they instantly resume their former shape.' 'And what,' he continued, 'is the use of this wand?' 'That,' she replied, 'has many supernatural powers: for instance, by simply uttering your wish, and waving it in the air, you can conjure up a mountain, a river, or a forest, in a moment of time.'
Another day Ramchundra said to her, 'Your hair, good mother, is dreadfully tangled; pray let me comb it.' 'No,' she said, 'you must not touch my hair: it would be dangerous; for every hair has power to set the jungle on fire.' 'How is that?' he asked. She replied, 'The least fragment of my hair thrown in the direction of the jungle would instantly set it in a blaze.' Having learnt all this, one day when it was very hot, and the old Rakshas was drowsy, Ramchundra begged leave to shampoo her head, which speedily sent her to sleep: then, gently pulling out two or three of her hairs, he got up, and taking in one hand her wand, and in the other two jars of the magic water, he stealthily left the hut; but he had not gone far before she woke up, and, instantly divining what he had done, pursued him with great rapidity. Ramchundra looked back, and, perceiving that she was gaining upon him, waved the enchanted wand, and created a great river, which suddenly rolled its tumultuous waves between them; but, quick as thought, the Rakshas swam the river.
Then he turned, and waving the wand again, caused a high mountain to rise between them; but the Rakshas climbed the mountain. Nearer she came, and yet nearer; each time he turned to use the wand and put obstacles in her way, the delay gave her a few minutes' advantage, so that he lost almost as much as he gained. Then, as a last resource, he scattered the hairs he had stolen to the winds, and, immediately, the jungle on the hillside, through which the Rakshas was coming, was set in a blaze; the fire rose higher and higher, the wicked old Rakshas was consumed by the flames, and Ramchundra pursued his journey in safety until he reached his father's palace. DraupadI Bai was overjoyed to see her son again, and he led her out into the garden, and scattered the magic water on the hundred black crows, which instantly recovered their human forms, and stood up one hundred fine handsome young men.
Then were there rejoicings throughout the country, because the Ranee's brothers had been disenchanted; and the Rajah sent out into all neighbouring lands to invite their Rajahs and Ranees to a great feast in honour of his brothers-in-law.
Among others who came to the feast was the Rajah Draupadf Bai's father, and the twelve wicked Ranees his wives.
When they were all assembled, Draupadf arose, and said to him, 'Noble Sir, we had looked to see your wife Guzra Bai with you. Pray you tell us why she has not accompanied you?' The Rajah was much surprised to learn that Draupadi Bai knew anything about Guzra Bai, and he said, 'Do not speak of her, she is a wicked woman; it is fit that she should end her days in prison.' But Draupadi Bai and her husband, and her hundred brothers, rejoined, 'Send home instantly, O Rajah, and fetch hither that much injured lady, which, if you refuse to do, your wives shall be imprisoned, and you yourself ignominiously expelled this kingdom.'
The Rajah could not guess the meaning of this, and thought they merely wished to pick a quarrel with him; but not much caring whether Guzra Bai came or not, he sent for her as was desired. When she arrived, her daughter Draupadf Bai, and her hundred sons, with Draupadi Bai's husband and the young Ramchundra, went out to the gate to meet her, and conducted her into the palace with all honour. Then, standing around her, they turned to the Rajah her husband, and related to him the story of their lives; how that they were his children, and Guzra Bai their mother; how she had been cruelly calumniated by the twelve wicked Ranees, and they in constant peril of their lives; but having miraculously escaped many terrible dangers, still lived to pay him duteous service, and to cheer and support his old age.
At this news the whole company was very much astonished. The Rajah, overjoyed, embraced his wife Guzra Bai, and it was agreed that she and their hundred sons should return with him to his own land, which accordingly was done. Ramchundra lived very happily with his father and mother to the day of their death, when he ascended the throne, and became a very popular Rajah; and the twelve wicked old Ranees, who had conspired against Guzra Bai and her children, were, by order of the Rajah, burnt to death. Thus truth triumphed in the end; but so unequally is human justice meted out, that the old nurse, who worked their evil will, and was in fact the most guilty wretch of all, is said to have lived unpunished, to have died in the bosom of her family, and to have had as big a funeral pile as any virtuous Hindu.
Frere, Mary. Old Deccan Days; or, Hindoo Fairy Legends Current in Southern India. London: J. Murray, 1868.
THERE were once on a time a king and a queen who lived happily together and had twelve children, but they were all boys. Then said the King to his wife, "If the thirteenth child which thou art about to bring into the world, is a girl, the twelve boys shall die, in order that her possessions may be great, and that the kingdom may fall to her alone." He caused likewise twelve coffins to be made, which were already filled with shavings, and in each lay the little pillow for the dead, and he had them taken into a locked-up room, and then he gave the Queen the key of it, and bade her not to speak of this to any one.
The mother, however, now sat and lamented all day long, until the youngest son, who was always with her, and whom she had named Benjamin, from the Bible, said to her, "Dear mother, why art thou so sad?"
"Dearest child," she answered, "I may not tell thee." But he let her have no rest until she went and unlocked the room, and showed him the twelve coffins ready filled with shavings. Then she said, my dearest Benjamin, thy father has had these coffins made for thee and for thy eleven brothers, for if I bring a little girl into the world, you are all to be killed and buried in them." And as she wept while she was saying this, the son comforted her and said, "Weep not, dear mother, we will save ourselves, and go hence." But she said, "Go forth into the forest with thy eleven brothers, and let one sit constantly on the highest tree which can be found, and keep watch, looking towards the tower here in the castle. If I give birth to a little son, I will put up a white flag, and then you may venture to come back, but if I bear a daughter, I will hoist a red flag, and then fly hence as quickly as you are able, and may the good God protect you. And every night I will rise up and pray for you -- in winter that you may be able to warm yourself at a fire, and in summer that you may not faint away in the heat."
After she had blessed her sons therefore, they went forth into the forest. They each kept watch in turn, and sat on the highest oak and looked towards the tower. When eleven days had passed and the turn came to Benjamin, he saw that a flag was being raised. It was, however, not the white, but the blood-red flag which announced that they were all to die. When the brothers heard that, they were very angry and said, "Are we all to suffer death for the sake of a girl? We swear that we will avenge ourselves !-- wheresoever we find a girl, her red blood shall flow."
Thereupon they went deeper into the forest, and in the midst of it, where it was the darkest, they found a little bewitched hut, which was standing empty. Then said they, "Here we will dwell, and thou Benjamin, who art the youngest and weakest, thou shalt stay at home and keep house, we others will go out and get food." Then they went into the forest and shot hares, wild deer, birds and pigeons, and whatsoever there was to eat; this they took to Benjamin, who had to dress it for them in order that they might appease their hunger. They lived together ten years in the little hut, and the time did not appear long to them.
The little daughter which their mother the Queen had given birth to, was now grown up; she was good of heart, and fair of face, and had a golden star on her forehead. Once, when it was the great washing, she saw twelve men's shirts among the things, and asked her mother, "To whom do these twelve shirts belong, for they are far too small for father?" Then the Queen answered with a heavy heart, "Dear child, these belong to thy twelve brothers." Said the maiden, "Where are my twelve brothers, I have never yet heard of them?" She replied, "God knows where they are, they are wandering about the world." Then she took the maiden and opened the chamber for her, and showed her the twelve coffins with the shavings, and pillows for the head. "These coffins," said she, "were destined for thy brothers, but they went away secretly before thou wert born," and she related to her how everything had happened; then said the maiden, "Dear mother, weep not, I will go and seek my brothers."
So she took the twelve shirts and went forth, and straight into the great forest. She walked the whole day, and in the evening she came to the bewitched hut. Then she entered it and found a young boy, who asked, "From whence comest thou, and whither art thou bound?" and was astonished that she was so beautiful, and wore royal garments, and had a star on her forehead. And she answered, "I am a king's daughter, and am seeking my twelve brothers, and I will walk as far as the sky is blue until I find them." She likewise showed him the twelve shirts which belonged to them. Then Benjamin saw that she was his sister, and said, "I am Benjamin, thy youngest brother." And she began to weep for joy, and Benjamin wept also, and they kissed and embraced each other with the greatest love. But after this he said, "Dear sister, there is still one difficulty. We have agreed that every maiden whom we meet shall die, because we have been obliged to leave our kingdom on account of a girl." Then said she, "I will willingly die, if by so doing I can deliver my twelve brothers."
"No," answered he, "thou shalt not die, seat thyself beneath this tub until our eleven brothers come, and then I will soon come to an agreement with them."
She did so, and when it was night the others came from hunting, and their dinner was ready. And as they were sitting at table, and eating, they asked, "What news is there?" Said Benjamin, "Don't you know anything?" "No," they answered. He continued, "You have been in the forest and I have stayed at home, and yet I know more than you do." "Tell us then," they cried. He answered, "But promise me that the first maiden who meets us shall not be killed." "Yes," they all cried, "she shall have mercy, only do tell us."
Then said he, "Our sister is here," and he lifted up the tub, and the King's daughter came forth in her royal garments with the golden star on her forehead, and she was beautiful, delicate and fair. Then they were all rejoiced, and fell on her neck, and kissed and loved her with all their hearts.
Now she stayed at home with Benjamin and helped him with the work. The eleven went into the forest and caught game, and deer, and birds, and wood-pigeons that they might have food, and the little sister and Benjamin took care to make it ready for them. She sought for the wood for cooking and herbs for vegetables, and put the pans on the fire so that the dinner was always ready when the eleven came. She likewise kept order in the little house, and put beautifully white clean coverings on the little beds, and the brothers were always contented and lived in great harmony with her.
Once on a time the two at home had prepared a beautiful entertainment, and when they were all together, they sat down and ate and drank and were full of gladness. There was, however, a little garden belonging to the bewitched house wherein stood twelve lily flowers, which are likewise called students. She wished to give her brothers pleasure, and plucked the twelve flowers, and thought she would present each brother with one while at dinner. But at the self-same moment that she plucked the flowers the twelve brothers were changed into twelve ravens, and flew away over the forest, and the house and garden vanished likewise. And now the poor maiden was alone in the wild forest, and when she looked around, an old woman was standing near her who said, "My child, what hast thou done? Why didst thou not leave the twelve white flowers growing? They were thy brothers, who are now for evermore changed into ravens." The maiden said, weeping, "Is there no way of delivering them?"
"No," said the woman, "there is but one in the whole world, and that is so hard that thou wilt not deliver them by it, for thou must be dumb for seven years, and mayst not speak or laugh, and if thou speakest one single word, and only an hour of the seven years is wanting, all is in vain, and thy brothers will be killed by the one word."
Then said the maiden in her heart, "I know with certainty that I shall set my brothers free," and went and sought a high tree and seated herself in it and span, and neither spoke nor laughed. Now it so happened that a king was hunting in the forest, who had a great greyhound which ran to the tree on which the maiden was sitting, and sprang about it, whining, and barking at her. Then the King came by and saw the beautiful King's daughter with the golden star on her brow, and was so charmed with her beauty that he called to ask her if she would be his wife. She made no answer, but nodded a little with her head. So he climbed up the tree himself, carried her down, placed her on his horse, and bore her home. Then the wedding was solemnized with great magnificence and rejoicing, but the bride neither spoke nor smiled. When they had lived happily together for a few years, the King's mother, who was a wicked woman, began to slander the young Queen, and said to the King, "This is a common beggar girl whom thou hast brought back with thee. Who knows what impious tricks she practises secretly! Even if she be dumb, and not able to speak, she still might laugh for once; but those who do not laugh have bad consciences." At first the King would not believe it, but the old woman urged this so long, and accused her of so many evil things, that at last the King let himself be persuaded and sentenced her to death.
And now a great fire was lighted in the courtyard in which she was to be burnt, and the King stood above at the window and looked on with tearful eyes, because he still loved her so much. And when she was bound fast to the stake, and the fire was licking at her clothes with its red tongue, the last instant of the seven years expired. Then a whirring sound was heard in the air, and twelve ravens came flying towards the place, and sank downwards, and when they touched the earth they were her twelve brothers, whom she had delivered. They tore the fire asunder, extinguished the flames, set their dear sister free, and kissed and embraced her. And now as she dared to open her mouth and speak, she told the King why she had been dumb, and had never laughed. The King rejoiced when he heard that she was innocent, and they all lived in great unity until their death. The wicked step-mother was taken before the judge, and put into a barrel filled with boiling oil and venomous snakes, and died an evil death.
From Zwehrn, but there the incident of the maiden noticing the twelve children's shirts and inquiring about her brothers, is wanting. We find it in another, otherwise meagre story, likewise from Hesse. There is a similar incident in The Six Swans (No. 49), from German Bohemia. In Wigalois a red standard denotes a combat for life and death (6153). Compare in the Pentamerone, The Seven Doves (iv. 8). In Norwegian, Asbjornsen, p. 209. Also the Lithuanian story in the report of the meetings of the Viennese Academie der Wissenschaften, xi. 209-212.
Souce: Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884.
ONCE on a time there was a Queen who was out driving, when there had been a new fall of snow in the winter; but when she had gone a little way, she began to bleed at the nose, and had to get out of her sledge. And so, as she stood there, leaning against the fence, and saw the red blood on the white snow, she fell a-thinking how she had twelve Sons and no daughter, and she said to herself-
"If I only had a daughter as white as snow and as red as blood, I shouldn't care what became of all my sons."
But the words were scarce out of her mouth before an old witch of the Trolls came up to her.
"A daughter you shall have," she said, "and she shall be as white as snow, and as red as blood; and your sons shall be mine, but you may keep them till the babe is christened."
So when the time came the Queen had a daughter, and she was as white as snow, and as red as blood, just as the Troll had promised, and so they called her "Snow-white and Rosy-red." Well, there was great joy at the King's court, and the Queen was as glad as glad could be; but when what she had promised to the old witch came into her mind, she sent for a silversmith, and bade him make twelve silver spoons, one for each prince, and after that she bade him make one more, and that she gave to Snow-white and Rosy-red. But as soon as ever the Princess was christened, the Princes were turned into twelve wild ducks, and flew away. They never saw them again, -away they went, and away they stayed.
So the Princess grew up, and she was both tall and fair, but she was often so strange and sorrowful, and no one could understand what it was that failed her. But one evening the Queen was also sorrowful, for she had many strange thoughts when she thought of her sons. She said to Snow-white and Rosy-red-
"Why are you so sorrowful, my daughter? Is there anything you want? if so, only say the word, and you shall have it."
"Oh, it seems so dull and lonely here," said Snow-white and Rosy-red; "every one else has brothers and sisters, but I am all alone; I have none; and that's why I'm so sorrowful."
"But you had brothers, my daughter," said the Queen "I had twelve sons who were your brothers, but I gave them all away to get you;" and so she told her the whole story.
So when the Princess heard that, she had no rest; for, in spite of all the Queen could say or do, and all she wept and prayed, the lassie would set off to seek her brothers, for she thought it was all her fault; and at last she got leave to go away from the palace. On and on she walked into the wide world, so far, you would never have thought a young lady could have strength to walk so far.
So, once, when she was walking through a great, great wood, one day she felt tired, and sat down on a mossy tuft and fell asleep. Then she dreamt that she went deeper and deeper into the wood, till she came to a little wooden hut, and there she found her brothers just then she woke, and straight before her she saw a worn path in the green moss, and this path went deeper into the wood; so she followed it, and after a long time she came to just such a little wooden house as that she had seen in her dream.
Now, when she went into the room there was no one at home, but there stood twelve beds, and twelve chairs, and twelve spoons-a dozen of everything, in short. So when she saw that she was so glad, she hadn't been so glad for many a long year, for she could guess at once that her brothers lived here, and that they owned the beds, and chairs, and spoons. So she began to make up the fire, and sweep the room, and make the beds, and cook the dinner, and to make the house as tidy as she could and when she had done all the cooking and work, she ate her own dinner, and crept under her youngest brother's bed, and lay down there, but she forgot her spoon upon the table.
So she had scarcely laid herself down before she heard something flapping and whirring in the air and so all the twelve wild ducks came sweeping in; but as soon as ever they crossed the threshold they became Princes.
"Oh, how nice and warm it is in here," they said. "Heaven bless him who made up the fire, and cooked such a good dinner for us."
And so each took up his silver spoon and was going to eat. But when each had taken his own, there was one still left lying on the table, and it was so like the rest that they couldn't tell it from them.
"This is our sister's spoon," they said; "and if her spoon be here, she can't be very far off herself."
"If this be our sister's spoon, and she be here," said the eldest, "she shall be killed, for she is to blame for all the ill we suffer."
And this she lay under the bed and listened to.
"No," said the youngest, "'twere a shame to kill her for that. She has nothing to do with our suffering ill for if any one's to blame, it's our own mother."
So they set to work hunting for her both high and low, and at last they looked under all the beds, and so when they came to the youngest Prince's bed, they found her, and dragged her out. Then the eldest Prince wished again to have her killed, but she begged and prayed so prettily for herself.
"Oh gracious goodness! don't kill me, for I've gone about seeking you these three years, and if I could only set you free, I'd willingly lose my life."
"Well!" said they, "if you will set us free, you may keep your life; for you can if you choose."
"Yes; only tell me," said the Princess, "how it can be done, and I'll do it, whatever it be."
"You must pick thistle-down," said the Princes, "and you must card it, and spin it, and weave it; and after you have done that, you must cut out and make twelve coats, and twelve shirts, and twelve neckerchiefs, one for each of us, and while you do that, you must neither talk, nor laugh, nor weep. If you can do that, we are free."
"But where shall I ever get thistle-down enough for so many neckerchiefs, and shirts, and coats?" asked Snow-white and Rosy-red.
"We'll soon show you," said the Princes; and so they took her with them to a great wide moor, where there stood such a crop of thistles, all nodding and nodding in the breeze, and time down all floating and glistening like gossamers through the air in the sunbeams. The Princess had never seen such a quantity of thistle-down in her life, and she began to pluck and gather it as fast and as well as she could; and when she got home at night she set to work carding and spinning yarn from the down. So she went on a long long time, picking, and carding, and spinning, and all the while keeping the Princes' house, cooking, and making their beds. At evening home they came, flapping and whirring like wild ducks, and all night they were Princes, but in the morning oft' they flew again, and were wild ducks the whole day.
But now it happened once, when she was out on the moor to pick thistle if I don't mistake, it was the very last time she was to go thither,-it happened that the young King who ruled that land was out hunting, and came riding across the moor, and saw her. So he stopped there and wondered who the lovely lady could be that walked along the moor picking thistle-down, and he asked her her name, and when be could get no answer, he was still more astonished; and at last he liked her so much, that nothing would do but he must take her home to his castle and marry her. So he ordered his servants to take her and put her up on his horse. Snow-white and Rosy-red she wrung her hands, and made signs to them, and pointed to the bags in which her work was, and when the King saw she wished to have them with her, he told his men to take up the bags behind them. When they had done that the Princess came to herself, little by little, for the King was both a wise man and a handsome man too, and he was as soft and kind to her as a doctor. But when they got home to the palace, and the old Queen, who was his step mother, set eyes on Snow-white and Rosy-red, she got so cross and jealous of her because she was so lovely, that she said to the king-
"Can't you see now, that this thing whom you have picked up, and whom you are going to marry, is a witch? Why, she can't either talk, or laugh, or weep!"
But the King didn't care a pin for what she said, but held on with the wedding, and married Snow-white and Rosy-red, and they lived in great joy and glory; but she didn't forget to go on sewing at her shirts.
So when the year was almost out, Snow-white and Rosy-red brought a Prince into the world; and then the old Queen was more spiteful and jealous than ever, and at dead of night she stole in to Snow-white and Rosy-red, while she slept, and took away her babe, and threw it into a pit full of snakes. After that she cut Snow-white and Rosy-red in her finger, and smeared the blood over her mouth, and went straight to the King.
"Now come and see," she said, "what sort of a thing you have taken for your Queen; here she has eaten up her own babe.
Then the king was so downcast, he almost burst into tears, and said-
"Yes, it must be true, since I see it with my own eyes; but she'll not do it again, I'm sure, and so this time I'll spare her life."
So before the next year was out she had another son, and the same thing happened. The King stepmother got more and more jealous and spiteful She stole into the young Queen at night while she slept, took away the babe, and threw it into a pit full of snakes, cut the young Queen's finger, and smeared the blood over her mouth, and then went and told the King she had eaten up her own 0 Then the King was so sorrowful, you can't think bow sorry he was, and he said-
"Yes, it must be true, since I see it with my own eyes, but she'll not do it again, I'm sure, and so this time too I'll spare her life."
Well, before the next year was out, Snow-white and Rosy-red brought a daughter into the world, and her, too, the old Queen took and threw into the pit full of snakes, while the young Queen slept. Then she cut her finger, smeared the blood over her mouth, and went again to the King and said-
"Now you may come and see if it isn't as I say; she's a wicked, wicked witch, for here she has gone and eaten up her third babe too."
Then the King was so sad, there was no end to it, for now he couldn't spare her any longer, but had to order her to be burnt alive on a pile of wood. But just when the pile was all ablaze, and they were going to put her on it, she made signs to them to take twelve boards and lay them round the pile, and on these she laid the neckerchiefs, and the shirts, and the coats for her brothers, but the Youngest brother's shirt wanted its left arm, for she hadn't had time to finish it. And as soon as ever she had done that, they heard such a flapping and whirring in the air, and down came twelve wild ducks flying over the forest, and each of them snapped up his clothes in his bill and flew off with them.
See now!" said the old Queen to the King, "wasn't I right when I told you she was a witch ; but make haste and burn her before the pile burns low."
"Oh!" said the King, "we've wood enough and to spare, and so I'll wait a bit, for I have a mind to see what, the end of all this will be."
As he spoke, up came the twelve princes riding along as handsome well-grown lads as you'd wish to see; but the youngest prince had a wild duck's wing instead of his left arm.
"What's all this about?" asked the Princes.
"My Queen is to be burnt," said the King, "because she's a witch, and because she has eaten up her own babes."
"She hasn't eaten them at all," said the Princes. "Speak now, sister; you have set us free and saved ii now save yourself."
Then Snow-white and Rosy-red spoke, and told the whole story; how every time she was brought to bed, the old Queen, the King's stepmother, had stolen into her at night, had taken her babes away, and cut her little finger, and smeared the blood over her mouth; and then the Princes took the King, and showed him the snake-pit where three babes lay playing with adders and toads, and lovelier children you never saw.
So the King had them taken out at once, and went to his stepmother, and asked her what punishment she thought that woman deserved who could find it in her heart to betray a guiltless Queen and three such blessed little babes.
"She deserves to be fast bound between twelve unbroken steeds, so that each may take his share of her," said the old Queen.
You have spoken your own doom," said the King, "and you shall suffer it at once."
So the wicked old Queen was fast bound between twelve unbroken steeds, and each got his share of her. But the King took Snow-white and Rosy-red, and their three children, and the twelve Princes; and so they all went home to their father and mother, and told all that had befallen them, and there was joy and gladness over the whole kingdom, because the Princess was saved and set free, and because she had set free her twelve brothers.
Source: Asbjornsen, Peter Christen and Moe, Jorgen. East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon. George Webbe Dasent, translator. Popular Tales from the Norse. Edinburgh: David Douglass, 1888.
ONCE upon a time there was a man and his wife who had seven boys. The children lived in the open air and grew big and strong, and the six eldest spent part of every day hunting wild beasts. The youngest did not care so much about sport, and he often stayed with his mother.
One morning, however, as the whole seven were going out for a long expedition, they said to their aunt, ‘Dear aunt, if a baby sister comes into the world to-day, wave a white handkerchief, and we will return immediately; but if it is only a boy, just brandish a sickle, and we will go on with what we are doing.’
Now the baby when it arrived really proved to be a girl, but as the aunt could not bear the boys, she thought it was a good opportunity to get rid of them. So she waved the sickle. And when the seven brothers saw the sign they said, ‘Now we have nothing to go back for,’ and plunged deeper into the desert.
The little girl soon grew to be a big girl, and she was called by all her friends (though she did not know it) ‘Udea, who had driven her seven brothers into strange lands.’
One day, when she had been quarrelling with her playmates, the oldest among them said to her, ‘It is a pity you were born, as ever since, your brothers have been obliged to roam about the world.’
Udea did not answer, but went home to her mother and asked her, ‘Have I really got brothers?’
‘Yes,’ replied her mother, ‘seven of them. But they went away the day you were born, and I have never heard of them since.’
Then the girl said, ‘I will go and look for them till I find them.’
‘My dear child,’ answered her mother, ‘it is fifteen years since they left, and no man has seen them. How will you know which way to go ?’
‘Oh, I will follow them, north and south, east and west, and though I may travel far, yet some day I will find them.’
Then her mother said no more, but gave her a camel and some food, and a negro and his wife to take care of her, and she fastened a cowrie shell round the camel’s neck for a charm, and bade her daughter go in peace.
During the first day the party journeyed on without any adventures, but the second morning the negro said to the girl, ‘Get down, and let the negress ride instead of you.’
‘Mother,’ cried Udea.
‘What is it ?’ asked her mother.
‘Barka wants me to dismount from my camel.’
‘Leave her alone, Barka,’ commanded the mother, and Barka did not dare to persist.
But on the following day he said again to Udea, ‘Get down, and let the negress ride instead of you,’ and though Tjdea called to her mother she was too far away, and the mother never heard her. Then the negro seized her roughly and threw her on the ground, and said to his wife, ‘Climb up,’ and the negress climbed up, while the girl walked by the side. She had meant to ride all the way on her camel as her feet were bare and the stones cut them till the blood came. But she had to walk on till night, when they halted, and the next morning it was the same thing again. Weary and bleeding the poor girl began to cry, and implored the negro to let her ride, if only for a little. But he took no notice, except to bid her walk a little faster.
By-and-by they passed a caravan, and the negro stopped and asked the leader if they had come across seven young men, who were thought to be hunting somewhere about. And the man answered, ‘Go straight on, and by midday you will reach the castle where they live.’
When he heard this, the black melted some pitch in the sun, and smeared the girl with it, till she looked as much a negro as he did. Next he bade his wife get down from the camel, and told Udea to mount, which she was thankful to do. So they arrived at her brothers’ castle.
Leaving the camel kneeling at the entrance for Udea to dismount, the negro knocked loudly at the door, which was opened by the youngest brother, all the others being away hunting. He did not of course recognise Udea, but he knew the negro and his wife, and welcomed them gladly, adding, ‘But who does the other negress belong to ?’
‘Oh, that is your sister!’ said they.
‘My sister ! but she is coal black !’
‘That may be. but she is your sister for all that.’
The young man asked no more questions, but took them into the castle, and he himself waited outside till his brothers came home.
As soon as they were alone, the negro whispered to Udea, ‘If you dare to tell your brothers that I made you walk, or that I smeared you with pitch, I will kill you.’
‘Oh, I will be sure to say nothing,’ replied the girl, trembling, and at that moment the six elder brothers appeared in sight.
‘I have some good news for you,’ said the youngest, hastening to meet them; ‘our sister is here !’
‘Nonsense,’ they answered. ‘We have no sister; you know the child that was born was a boy.’
‘But that was not true,’ replied he, ‘and here she is with the negro and his wife. Only — she too is black,’ he added softly, but his brothers did not hear him, and pushed past joyfully.
‘How are you, good old Barka ?’ they said to the negro; ‘and how comes it that we never knew that we had a sister till now ?’ and they greeted Udea warmly, while she shed tears of relief and gladness.
The next morning they all agreed that they would not go out hunting. And the eldest brother took Udea on his knee, and she combed his hair and talked to him of their home till the tears ran down his cheeks and dropped on her bare arm. And where the tears fell a white mark was made. Then the brother took a cloth and rubbed the place, and he saw that she was not black at all.
‘Tell me, who painted you over like this ?’ cried he.
‘I am afraid to tell you,’ sobbed the girl, ‘the negro will kill me.’
‘Afraid ! and with seven brothers !’
‘Well, I will tell you then,’ she answered. ‘The negro forced me to dismount from the camel and let his wife ride instead. And the stones cut my feet till they bled and I had to bind them. And after that, when we heard your castle was near by, he took pitch and smeared my body with it.’
Then the brother rushed in wrath from the room, and seizing his sword, cut off first the negro’s head and then his wife’s. He next brought in some warm water, and washed his sister all over, till her skin was white and shining again.
‘Ah, now we see that you are our sister !’ they all said. ‘What fools the negro must have thought us, to believe for an instant that we could have a sister who was black !’ And all that day and the next they remained in the castle.
But on the third morning they said to their sister:
‘Dear sister, you must lock yourself into this castle, with only the cat for company. And be very careful never to eat anything which she does not eat too. You must be sure to give her a bit of everything. In seven days we shall be back again.’
‘All right,’ she answered, and locked herself into the castle with the cat.
On the eighth day the brothers came home. ‘How are you ?’ they asked. ‘You have not been anxious ?’
‘No, why should I be anxious ? The gates were fast locked, and in the castle are seven doors, and the seventh is of iron. What is there to frighten me ?’
‘No one will try to hurt us,’ said the brothers, ‘for they fear us greatly. But for yourself, we implore you to do nothing without consulting the cat, who has grown up in the house, and take care never to neglect her advice.’
‘All right,’ replied Udea, ‘and whatever I eat she shall have half.’
‘Capital ! and if ever you are in danger the cat will come and tell us — only elves and pigeons, which fly round your window, know where to find us.’
‘This is the first I have heard of the pigeons,’ said Udea. ‘Why did you not speak of them before ?’
We always leave them food and water for seven days,’ replied the brothers.
‘Ah,’ sighed the girl, ‘if I had only known, I would have given them fresh food and fresh water; for after seven days anything becomes bad. Would it not be better if I fed them every day ?’
‘Much better,’ said they, ‘and we shall feel any kindnesses you do towards the cat or the pigeons exactly as if they were shown to ourselves.’
‘Set your minds at ease,’ answered the girl, ‘I will treat them as if they were my brothers.’
That night the brothers slept in the castle, but after breakfast next morning they buckled on their weapons and mounted their horses, and rode off to their hunting grounds, calling out to their sister, ‘Mind you let nobody in till we come back.’
‘Very well,’ cried she, and kept the doors carefully locked for seven days and on the eighth the brothers returned as before. Then, after spending one evening with her, they departed as soon as they had done breakfast.
Directly they were out of sight Udea began to clean the house, and among the dust she found a bean which she ate.
‘What are you eating ?’ asked the cat.
‘Nothing,’ said she.
‘Open your mouth, and let me see.’ The girl did as she was told, and then the cat said ‘Why did you not give me half ?’
‘I forgot,’ answered she, ‘but there are plenty of beans about, you can have as many as you like.’
‘No, that won’t do. I want half of that particular bean.’
‘But how can I give it you ? I tell you I have eaten it. I can roast you a hundred others.’
‘No, I want half of that one.’
‘Oh ! do as you like, only go away ! ‘ cried she.
So the cat ran straight to the kitchen fire, and spit on it and put it out, and when Udea came to cook the supper she had nothing to light it with. ‘Why did you put the fire out ?’ asked she.
‘Just to show you how nicely you would be able to cook the supper. Didn’t you tell me to do what I liked ?’
The girl left the kitchen and climbed up on the roof of the castle and looked out. Far, far away, so far that she could hardly see it, was the glow of a fire. ‘I will go and fetch a burning coal from there and light my fire,’ thought she, and opened the door of the castle. When she reached the place where the fire was kindled, a hideous man-eater was crouching over it.
‘Peace be with you, grandfather,’ said she.
‘The same to you,’ replied the man-eater. ‘What brings you here, Udea ?’
‘I came to ask for a lump of burning coal, to light my fire with.’
‘Do you want a big lump or a little lump ?’
‘Why, what difference does it make ?’ said she.
‘If you have a big lump you must give me a strip of your skin from your ear to your thumb, and if you have a little lump, you must give me a strip from your ear to your little finger.’
Udea, who thought that one sounded as bad as the other, said she would take the big lump, and when the man-eater had cut the skin, she went home again.
And as she hastened on a raven beheld the blood on the ground, and plastered it with earth, and stayed by her till she reached the castle. And as she entered the door he flew past, and she shrieked from fright, for up to that moment she had not seen him. In her terror she called after him. ‘May you get the same start as you have given me !’
‘Why should you wish me harm,’ asked the raven pausing in his flight, ‘when I have done you a service ?’
‘What service have you done me ?’ said she.
‘Oh, you shall soon see,’ replied the raven, and with his bill he scraped away all the earth he had smeared over the blood and then flew away.
In the night the man-eater got up, and followed the blood till he came to Udea’s castle. He entered through the gate which she had left open, and went on till he reached the inside of the house. But here he was stopped by the seven doors, six of wood and one of iron, and all fast locked. And he called through them ‘Oh Udea, what did you see your grandfather doing ?’
‘I saw him spread silk under him, and silk over him, and lay himself down in a four-post bed.’
When he heard that, the man-eater broke in one door, and laughed and went away.
And the second night he came back, and asked her again what she had seen her grandfather doing, and she answered him as before, and he broke in another door, and laughed and went away, and so each night till he reached the seventh door. Then the maiden wrote a letter to her brothers, and bound it round the neck of a pigeon, and said to it, ‘Oh, thou pigeon that served my father and my grandfather, carry this letter to my brothers, and come back at once.’ And the pigeon flew away.
It flew and it flew and it flew till it found the brothers. The eldest unfastened the letter from the pigeon’s neck, and read what his sister had written: ‘I am in a great strait, my brothers. If you do not rescue me to-night, to-morrow I shall be no longer living, for the man-eater has broken open six doors, and only the iron door is left. So haste, haste, post haste.’
‘Quick, quick ! my brothers,’ cried he.
‘What is the matter ?’ asked they.
‘If we cannot reach our sister to-night, to-morrow she will be the prey of the man-eater.’
And without more words they sprang on their horses, and rode like the wind.
The gate of the castle was thrown down, and they entered the court and called loudly to their sister. But the poor girl was so ill with fear and anxiety that she could not even speak. Then the brothers dismounted and passed through the six open doors, till they stood before the iron one, which was still shut. ‘Udea, open !’ they cried, ‘it is only your brothers !’ And she arose and unlocked the door, and throwing herself on the neck of the eldest burst into tears.
‘Tell us what has happened,’ he said, ‘and how the man-eater traced you here.’
‘It is all the cat’s fault,’ replied Udea. ‘She put out my fire so that I could not cook. All about a bean ! I ate one and forgot to give her any of it.’
‘But we told you so particularly,’ said the eldest brother, ‘never to eat anything without sharing it with the cat.’
‘Yes, but I tell you I forgot,’ answered Udea.
‘Does the man-eater come here every night ?’ asked the brothers.
‘Every night,’ said Udea, ‘and he breaks one door in and then goes away.’
Then all the brothers cried together, ‘We will dig a great hole, and fill it with burning wood, and spread a covering over the top; and when the man-eater arrives we will push him into it.’ So they all set to work and prepared the great hole, and set fire to the wood, till it was reduced to a mass of glowing charcoal. And when the man-eater came, and called as usual, ‘Udea, what did you see your grandfather doing ?’ she answered, ‘I saw him pull off the ass’ skin and devour the ass, and he fell in the fire, and the fire burned him up.’
Then the man-eater was filled with rage, and he flung himself upon the iron door and burst it in. On the other side stood Udea’s seven brothers, who said, ‘Come, rest yourself a little on this mat.’ And the man-eater sat down, and he fell right into the burning pit which was under the mat, and they heaped on more wood, till nothing was left of him, not even a bone. Only one of his finger-nails was blown away, and fell into an upper chamber where Udea was standing, and stuck under one of the nails of her own fingers. And she sank lifeless to the earth.
Meanwhile her brothers sat below waiting for her and wondering why she did not come. ‘What can have happened to her! ‘exclaimed the eldest brother. ‘Perhaps she has fallen into the fire, too.’ So one of the others ran upstairs and found his sister stretched on the floor. ‘Udea ! Udea !’ he cried, but she did not move or reply. Then he saw that she was dead, and rushed down to his brothers in the courtyard and called out, ‘Come quickly, our sister is dead! ‘ In a moment they were all beside her and knew that it was true, and they made a bier and laid her on it, and placed her across a camel, and said to the camel, ‘Take her to her mother, but be careful not to halt by the way, and let no man capture you, and see you kneel down before no man, save him who shall say "string" to you. But to him who says "string," then kneel.’
So the camel started, and when it had accomplished half its journey it met three men, who ran after it in order to catch it; but they could not. Then they cried ‘ Stop !’ but the camel only went the faster. The three men panted behind till one said to the others, ‘Wait a minute ! The string of my sandal is broken !’ The camel caught the word ‘string’ and knelt down at once, and the men came up and found a dead girl lying on a bier, with a ring on her finger. And as one of the young men took hold of her hand to pull off the ring, he knocked out the man-eater’s finger-nail, which had stuck there, and the maiden sat up and said, ‘Let him live who gave me life, and slay him who slew me !’ And when the camel heard the maiden speak, it turned and carried her back to her brothers.
Now the brothers were still seated in the court bewailing their sister, and their eyes were dim with weeping so that they could hardly see. And when the camel stood before them they said, ‘Perhaps it has brought back our sister ! ‘ and rose to give it a beating. But the camel knelt down and the girl dismounted, and they flung themselves on her neck and wept more than ever for gladness.
‘Tell me,’ said the eldest, as soon as he could speak, ‘how it all came about, and what killed you.’
‘I was waiting in the upper chamber,’ said she, ‘and a nail of the man-eater’s stuck under my nail, and I fell dead upon the ground. That is all I know.’
‘But who pulled out the nail ?’ asked he.
‘A man took hold of my hand and tried to pull off my ring, and the nail jumped out and I was alive again. And when the camel heard me say "Let him live who gave me life, slay him who slew me !" it turned and brought me back to the castle. That is my story.’
She was silent and the eldest brother spoke. ‘Will you listen to what I have to say, my brothers ?’
And they replied, ‘How should we not hear you ? Are you not our father as well as our brother ?’
‘Then this is my advice. Let us take our sister back to our father and mother, that we may see them once more before they die.’
And the young men agreed, and they mounted their horses and placed their sister in a litter on the camel. So they set out.
At the end of five days’ journey they reached the old home where their father and mother dwelt alone. And the heart of their father rejoiced, and he said to them, ‘Dear sons, why did you go away and leave your mother and me to weep for you night and day ?’
‘Dear father,’ answered the son, ‘let us rest a little now, and then I will tell you everything from the beginning.’
‘All right,’ replied the father, and waited patiently for three days.
And on the morning of the fourth day the eldest brother said, ‘Dear father, would you like to hear our adventures ?’
‘Certainly I should !’
‘Well, it was our aunt who was the cause of our leaving home, for we agreed that if the baby was a sister she should wave a white handkerchief, and if it was a brother, she should brandish a sickle, for then there would he nothing to come back for, and we might wander far away. Now our aunt could not bear us, and hated us to live in the same house with her, so she brandished the sickle, and we went away. That is all our story.’
And that is all this story.’
Source: Lang, Andrew, ed. The Grey Fairy Book. New York: Dover, 1967. (Original published 1900.)
by Hans Christian Andersen
FAR away in the land to which the swallows fly when it is winter, dwelt a king who had eleven sons, and one daughter, named Eliza. The eleven brothers were princes, and each went to school with a star on his breast, and a sword by his side. They wrote with diamond pencils on gold slates, and learnt their lessons so quickly and read so easily that every one might know they were princes. Their sister Eliza sat on a little stool of plate-glass, and had a book full of pictures, which had cost as much as half a kingdom. Oh, these children were indeed happy, but it was not to remain so always. Their father, who was king of the country, married a very wicked queen, who did not love the poor children at all. They knew this from the very first day after the wedding. In the palace there were great festivities, and the children played at receiving company; but instead of having, as usual, all the cakes and apples that were left, she gave them some sand in a tea-cup, and told them to pretend it was cake. The week after, she sent little Eliza into the country to a peasant and his wife, and then she told the king so many untrue things about the young princes, that he gave himself no more trouble respecting them.
“Go out into the world and get your own living,” said the queen. “Fly like great birds, who have no voice.” But she could not make them ugly as she wished, for they were turned into eleven beautiful wild swans. Then, with a strange cry, they flew through the windows of the palace, over the park, to the forest beyond. It was early morning when they passed the peasant's cottage, where their sister Eliza lay asleep in her room. They hovered over the roof, twisted their long necks and flapped their wings, but no one heard them or saw them, so they were at last obliged to fly away, high up in the clouds; and over the wide world they flew till they came to a thick, dark wood, which stretched far away to the seashore. Poor little Eliza was alone in her room playing with a green leaf, for she had no other playthings, and she pierced a hole through the leaf, and looked through it at the sun, and it was as if she saw her brothers' clear eyes, and when the warm sun shone on her cheeks, she thought of all the kisses they had given her. One day passed just like another; sometimes the winds rustled through the leaves of the rose-bush, and would whisper to the roses, “Who can be more beautiful than you!” But the roses would shake their heads, and say, “Eliza is.” And when the old woman sat at the cottage door on Sunday, and read her hymn-book, the wind would flutter the leaves, and say to the book, “Who can be more pious than you?” and then the hymn-book would answer “Eliza.” And the roses and the hymn-book told the real truth. At fifteen she returned home, but when the queen saw how beautiful she was, she became full of spite and hatred towards her. Willingly would she have turned her into a swan, like her brothers, but she did not dare to do so yet, because the king wished to see his daughter. Early one morning the queen went into the bath-room; it was built of marble, and had soft cushions, trimmed with the most beautiful tapestry. She took three toads with her, and kissed them, and said to one, “When Eliza comes to the bath, seat yourself upon her head, that she may become as stupid as you are.” Then she said to another, “Place yourself on her forehead, that she may become as ugly as you are, and that her father may not know her.” “Rest on her heart,” she whispered to the third, “then she will have evil inclinations, and suffer in consequence.” So she put the toads into the clear water, and they turned green immediately. She next called Eliza, and helped her to undress and get into the bath. As Eliza dipped her head under the water, one of the toads sat on her hair, a second on her forehead, and a third on her breast, but she did not seem to notice them, and when she rose out of the water, there were three red poppies floating upon it. Had not the creatures been venomous or been kissed by the witch, they would have been changed into red roses. At all events they became flowers, because they had rested on Eliza's head, and on her heart. She was too good and too innocent for witchcraft to have any power over her. When the wicked queen saw this, she rubbed her face with walnut-juice, so that she was quite brown; then she tangled her beautiful hair and smeared it with disgusting ointment, till it was quite impossible to recognize the beautiful Eliza.
When her father saw her, he was much shocked, and declared she was not his daughter. No one but the watch-dog and the swallows knew her; and they were only poor animals, and could say nothing. Then poor Eliza wept, and thought of her eleven brothers, who were all away. Sorrowfully, she stole away from the palace, and walked, the whole day, over fields and moors, till she came to the great forest. She knew not in what direction to go; but she was so unhappy, and longed so for her brothers, who had been, like herself, driven out into the world, that she was determined to seek them. She had been but a short time in the wood when night came on, and she quite lost the path; so she laid herself down on the soft moss, offered up her evening prayer, and leaned her head against the stump of a tree. All nature was still, and the soft, mild air fanned her forehead. The light of hundreds of glow-worms shone amidst the grass and the moss, like green fire; and if she touched a twig with her hand, ever so lightly, the brilliant insects fell down around her, like shooting-stars.
All night long she dreamt of her brothers. She and they were children again, playing together. She saw them writing with their diamond pencils on golden slates, while she looked at the beautiful picture-book which had cost half a kingdom. They were not writing lines and letters, as they used to do; but descriptions of the noble deeds they had performed, and of all they had discovered and seen. In the picture-book, too, everything was living. The birds sang, and the people came out of the book, and spoke to Eliza and her brothers; but, as the leaves turned over, they darted back again to their places, that all might be in order.
When she awoke, the sun was high in the heavens; yet she could not see him, for the lofty trees spread their branches thickly over her head; but his beams were glancing through the leaves here and there, like a golden mist. There was a sweet fragrance from the fresh green verdure, and the birds almost perched upon her shoulders. She heard water rippling from a number of springs, all flowing in a lake with golden sands. Bushes grew thickly round the lake, and at one spot an opening had been made by a deer, through which Eliza went down to the water. The lake was so clear that, had not the wind rustled the branches of the trees and the bushes, so that they moved, they would have appeared as if painted in the depths of the lake; for every leaf was reflected in the water, whether it stood in the shade or the sunshine. As soon as Eliza saw her own face, she was quite terrified at finding it so brown and ugly; but when she wetted her little hand, and rubbed her eyes and forehead, the white skin gleamed forth once more; and, after she had undressed, and dipped herself in the fresh water, a more beautiful king's daughter could not be found in the wide world. As soon as she had dressed herself again, and braided her long hair, she went to the bubbling spring, and drank some water out of the hollow of her hand. Then she wandered far into the forest, not knowing whither she went. She thought of her brothers, and felt sure that God would not forsake her. It is God who makes the wild apples grow in the wood, to satisfy the hungry, and He now led her to one of these trees, which was so loaded with fruit, that the boughs bent beneath the weight. Here she held her noonday repast, placed props under the boughs, and then went into the gloomiest depths of the forest. It was so still that she could hear the sound of her own footsteps, as well as the rustling of every withered leaf which she crushed under her feet. Not a bird was to be seen, not a sunbeam could penetrate through the large, dark boughs of the trees. Their lofty trunks stood so close together, that, when she looked before her, it seemed as if she were enclosed within trellis-work. Such solitude she had never known before. The night was very dark. Not a single glow-worm glittered in the moss.
Sorrowfully she laid herself down to sleep; and, after a while, it seemed to her as if the branches of the trees parted over her head, and that the mild eyes of angels looked down upon her from heaven. When she awoke in the morning, she knew not whether she had dreamt this, or if it had really been so. Then she continued her wandering; but she had not gone many steps forward, when she met an old woman with berries in her basket, and she gave her a few to eat. Then Eliza asked her if she had not seen eleven princes riding through the forest.
“No,” replied the old woman, “But I saw yesterday eleven swans, with gold crowns on their heads, swimming on the river close by.” Then she led Eliza a little distance farther to a sloping bank, and at the foot of it wound a little river. The trees on its banks stretched their long leafy branches across the water towards each other, and where the growth prevented them from meeting naturally, the roots had torn themselves away from the ground, so that the branches might mingle their foliage as they hung over the water. Eliza bade the old woman farewell, and walked by the flowing river, till she reached the shore of the open sea. And there, before the young maiden's eyes, lay the glorious ocean, but not a sail appeared on its surface, not even a boat could be seen. How was she to go farther? She noticed how the countless pebbles on the sea-shore had been smoothed and rounded by the action of the water. Glass, iron, stones, everything that lay there mingled together, had taken its shape from the same power, and felt as smooth, or even smoother than her own delicate hand. “The water rolls on without weariness,” she said, “till all that is hard becomes smooth; so will I be unwearied in my task. Thanks for your lessons, bright rolling waves; my heart tells me you will lead me to my dear brothers.” On the foam-covered sea-weeds, lay eleven white swan feathers, which she gathered up and placed together. Drops of water lay upon them; whether they were dew-drops or tears no one could say. Lonely as it was on the sea-shore, she did not observe it, for the ever-moving sea showed more changes in a few hours than the most varying lake could produce during a whole year. If a black heavy cloud arose, it was as if the sea said, “I can look dark and angry too;” and then the wind blew, and the waves turned to white foam as they rolled. When the wind slept, and the clouds glowed with the red sunlight, then the sea looked like a rose leaf. But however quietly its white glassy surface rested, there was still a motion on the shore, as its waves rose and fell like the breast of a sleeping child. When the sun was about to set, Eliza saw eleven white swans with golden crowns on their heads, flying towards the land, one behind the other, like a long white ribbon. Then Eliza went down the slope from the shore, and hid herself behind the bushes. The swans alighted quite close to her and flapped their great white wings. As soon as the sun had disappeared under the water, the feathers of the swans fell off, and eleven beautiful princes, Eliza's brothers, stood near her. She uttered a loud cry, for, although they were very much changed, she knew them immediately. She sprang into their arms, and called them each by name. Then, how happy the princes were at meeting their little sister again, for they recognized her, although she had grown so tall and beautiful. They laughed, and they wept, and very soon understood how wickedly their mother had acted to them all. “We brothers,” said the eldest, “fly about as wild swans, so long as the sun is in the sky; but as soon as it sinks behind the hills, we recover our human shape. Therefore must we always be near a resting place for our feet before sunset; for if we should be flying towards the clouds at the time we recovered our natural shape as men, we should sink deep into the sea. We do not dwell here, but in a land just as fair, that lies beyond the ocean, which we have to cross for a long distance; there is no island in our passage upon which we could pass, the night; nothing but a little rock rising out of the sea, upon which we can scarcely stand with safety, even closely crowded together. If the sea is rough, the foam dashes over us, yet we thank God even for this rock; we have passed whole nights upon it, or we should never have reached our beloved fatherland, for our flight across the sea occupies two of the longest days in the year. We have permission to visit out home once in every year, and to remain eleven days, during which we fly across the forest to look once more at the palace where our father dwells, and where we were born, and at the church, where our mother lies buried. Here it seems as if the very trees and bushes were related to us. The wild horses leap over the plains as we have seen them in our childhood. The charcoal burners sing the old songs, to which we have danced as children. This is our fatherland, to which we are drawn by loving ties; and here we have found you, our dear little sister., Two days longer we can remain here, and then must we fly away to a beautiful land which is not our home; and how can we take you with us? We have neither ship nor boat.”
“How can I break this spell?” said their sister. And then she talked about it nearly the whole night, only slumbering for a few hours. Eliza was awakened by the rustling of the swans' wings as they soared above. Her brothers were again changed to swans, and they flew in circles wider and wider, till they were far away; but one of them, the youngest swan, remained behind, and laid his head in his sister's lap, while she stroked his wings; and they remained together the whole day. Towards evening, the rest came back, and as the sun went down they resumed their natural forms. “To-morrow,” said one, “we shall fly away, not to return again till a whole year has passed. But we cannot leave you here. Have you courage to go with us? My arm is strong enough to carry you through the wood; and will not all our wings be strong enough to fly with you over the sea?”
“Yes, take me with you,” said Eliza. Then they spent the whole night in weaving a net with the pliant willow and rushes. It was very large and strong. Eliza laid herself down on the net, and when the sun rose, and her brothers again became wild swans, they took up the net with their beaks, and flew up to the clouds with their dear sister, who still slept. The sunbeams fell on her face, therefore one of the swans soared over her head, so that his broad wings might shade her. They were far from the land when Eliza woke. She thought she must still be dreaming, it seemed so strange to her to feel herself being carried so high in the air over the sea. By her side lay a branch full of beautiful ripe berries, and a bundle of sweet roots; the youngest of her brothers had gathered them for her, and placed them by her side. She smiled her thanks to him; she knew it was the same who had hovered over her to shade her with his wings. They were now so high, that a large ship beneath them looked like a white sea-gull skimming the waves. A great cloud floating behind them appeared like a vast mountain, and upon it Eliza saw her own shadow and those of the eleven swans, looking gigantic in size. Altogether it formed a more beautiful picture than she had ever seen; but as the sun rose higher, and the clouds were left behind, the shadowy picture vanished away. Onward the whole day they flew through the air like a winged arrow, yet more slowly than usual, for they had their sister to carry. The weather seemed inclined to be stormy, and Eliza watched the sinking sun with great anxiety, for the little rock in the ocean was not yet in sight. It appeared to her as if the swans were making great efforts with their wings. Alas! she was the cause of their not advancing more quickly. When the sun set, they would change to men, fall into the sea and be drowned. Then she offered a prayer from her inmost heart, but still no appearance of the rock. Dark clouds came nearer, the gusts of wind told of a coming storm, while from a thick, heavy mass of clouds the lightning burst forth flash after flash. The sun had reached the edge of the sea, when the swans darted down so swiftly, that Eliza's head trembled; she believed they were falling, but they again soared onward. Presently she caught sight of the rock just below them, and by this time the sun was half hidden by the waves. The rock did not appear larger than a seal's head thrust out of the water. They sunk so rapidly, that at the moment their feet touched the rock, it shone only like a star, and at last disappeared like the last spark in a piece of burnt paper. Then she saw her brothers standing closely round her with their arms linked together. There was but just room enough for them, and not the smallest space to spare. The sea dashed against the rock, and covered them with spray. The heavens were lighted up with continual flashes, and peal after peal of thunder rolled. But the sister and brothers sat holding each other's hands, and singing hymns, from which they gained hope and courage. In the early dawn the air became calm and still, and at sunrise the swans flew away from the rock with Eliza. The sea was still rough, and from their high position in the air, the white foam on the dark green waves looked like millions of swans swimming on the water. As the sun rose higher, Eliza saw before her, floating on the air, a range of mountains, with shining masses of ice on their summits. In the centre, rose a castle apparently a mile long, with rows of columns, rising one above another, while, around it, palm-trees waved and flowers bloomed as large as mill wheels. She asked if this was the land to which they were hastening. The swans shook their heads, for what she beheld were the beautiful ever-changing cloud palaces of the “Fata Morgana,” into which no mortal can enter. Eliza was still gazing at the scene, when mountains, forests, and castles melted away, and twenty stately churches rose in their stead, with high towers and pointed gothic windows. Eliza even fancied she could hear the tones of the organ, but it was the music of the murmuring sea which she heard. As they drew nearer to the churches, they also changed into a fleet of ships, which seemed to be sailing beneath her; but as she looked again, she found it was only a sea mist gliding over the ocean. So there continued to pass before her eyes a constant change of scene, till at last she saw the real land to which they were bound, with its blue mountains, its cedar forests, and its cities and palaces. Long before the sun went down, she sat on a rock, in front of a large cave, on the floor of which the over-grown yet delicate green creeping plants looked like an embroidered carpet. “Now we shall expect to hear what you dream of to-night,” said the youngest brother, as he showed his sister her bedroom.
“Heaven grant that I may dream how to save you,” she replied. And this thought took such hold upon her mind that she prayed earnestly to God for help, and even in her sleep she continued to pray. Then it appeared to her as if she were flying high in the air, towards the cloudy palace of the “Fata Morgana,” and a fairy came out to meet her, radiant and beautiful in appearance, and yet very much like the old woman who had given her berries in the wood, and who had told her of the swans with golden crowns on their heads. “Your brothers can be released,” said she, “if you have only courage and perseverance. True, water is softer than your own delicate hands, and yet it polishes stones into shapes; it feels no pain as your fingers would feel, it has no soul, and cannot suffer such agony and torment as you will have to endure. Do you see the stinging nettle which I hold in my hand? Quantities of the same sort grow round the cave in which you sleep, but none will be of any use to you unless they grow upon the graves in a churchyard. These you must gather even while they burn blisters on your hands. Break them to pieces with your hands and feet, and they will become flax, from which you must spin and weave eleven coats with long sleeves; if these are then thrown over the eleven swans, the spell will be broken. But remember, that from the moment you commence your task until it is finished, even should it occupy years of your life, you must not speak. The first word you utter will pierce through the hearts of your brothers like a deadly dagger. Their lives hang upon your tongue. Remember all I have told you.” And as she finished speaking, she touched her hand lightly with the nettle, and a pain, as of burning fire, awoke Eliza.
It was broad daylight, and close by where she had been sleeping lay a nettle like the one she had seen in her dream. She fell on her knees and offered her thanks to God. Then she went forth from the cave to begin her work with her delicate hands. She groped in amongst the ugly nettles, which burnt great blisters on her hands and arms, but she determined to bear it gladly if she could only release her dear brothers. So she bruised the nettles with her bare feet and spun the flax. At sunset her brothers returned and were very much frightened when they found her dumb. They believed it to be some new sorcery of their wicked step-mother. But when they saw her hands they understood what she was doing on their behalf, and the youngest brother wept, and where his tears fell the pain ceased, and the burning blisters vanished. She kept to her work all night, for she could not rest till she had released her dear brothers. During the whole of the following day, while her brothers were absent, she sat in solitude, but never before had the time flown so quickly. One coat was already finished and she had begun the second, when she heard the huntsman's horn, and was struck with fear. The sound came nearer and nearer, she heard the dogs barking, and fled with terror into the cave. She hastily bound together the nettles she had gathered into a bundle and sat upon them. Immediately a great dog came bounding towards her out of the ravine, and then another and another; they barked loudly, ran back, and then came again. In a very few minutes all the huntsmen stood before the cave, and the handsomest of them was the king of the country. He advanced towards her, for he had never seen a more beautiful maiden.
“How did you come here, my sweet child?” he asked. But Eliza shook her head. She dared not speak, at the cost of her brothers' lives. And she hid her hands under her apron, so that the king might not see how she must be suffering.
“Come with me,” he said; “here you cannot remain. If you are as good as you are beautiful, I will dress you in silk and velvet, I will place a golden crown upon your head, and you shall dwell, and rule, and make your home in my richest castle.” And then he lifted her on his horse. She wept and wrung her hands, but the king said, “I wish only for your happiness. A time will come when you will thank me for this.” And then he galloped away over the mountains, holding her before him on this horse, and the hunters followed behind them. As the sun went down, they approached a fair royal city, with churches, and cupolas. On arriving at the castle the king led her into marble halls, where large fountains played, and where the walls and the ceilings were covered with rich paintings. But she had no eyes for all these glorious sights, she could only mourn and weep. Patiently she allowed the women to array her in royal robes, to weave pearls in her hair, and draw soft gloves over her blistered fingers. As she stood before them in all her rich dress, she looked so dazzingly beautiful that the court bowed low in her presence. Then the king declared his intention of making her his bride, but the archbishop shook his head, and whispered that the fair young maiden was only a witch who had blinded the king's eyes and bewitched his heart. But the king would not listen to this; he ordered the music to sound, the daintiest dishes to be served, and the loveliest maidens to dance. After-wards he led her through fragrant gardens and lofty halls, but not a smile appeared on her lips or sparkled in her eyes. She looked the very picture of grief. Then the king opened the door of a little chamber in which she. was to sleep; it was adorned with rich green tapestry, and resembled the cave in which he had found her. On the floor lay the bundle of flax which she had spun from the nettles, and under the ceiling hung the coat she had made. These things had been brought away from the cave as curiosities by one of the huntsmen.
“Here you can dream yourself back again in the old home in the cave,” said the king; “here is the work with which you employed yourself. It will amuse you now in the midst of all this splendor to think of that time.”
When Eliza saw all these things which lay so near her heart, a smile played around her mouth, and the crimson blood rushed to her cheeks. She thought of her brothers, and their release made her so joyful that she kissed the king's hand. Then he pressed her to his heart. Very soon the joyous church bells announced the marriage feast, and that the beautiful dumb girl out of the wood was to be made the queen of the country. Then the archbishop whispered wicked words in the king's ear, but they did not sink into his heart. The marriage was still to take place, and the archbishop himself had to place the crown on the bride's head; in his wicked spite, he pressed the narrow circlet so tightly on her forehead that it caused her pain. But a heavier weight encircled her heart– sorrow for her brothers. She felt not bodily pain. Her mouth was closed; a single word would cost the lives of her brothers. But she loved the kind, handsome king, who did everything to make her happy more and more each day; she loved him with all her heart, and her eyes beamed with the love she dared not speak. Oh! if she had only been able to confide in him and tell him of her grief. But dumb she must remain till her task was finished. Therefore at night she crept away into her little chamber, which had been decked out to look like the cave, and quickly wove one coat after another. But when she began the seventh she found she had no more flax. She knew that the nettles she wanted to use grew in the churchyard, and that she must pluck them herself. How should she get out there? “Oh, what is the pain in my fingers to the torment which my heart endures?” said she. “I must venture, I shall not be denied help from heaven.” Then with a trembling heart, as if she were about to perform a wicked deed, she crept into the garden in the broad moonlight, and passed through the narrow walks and the deserted streets, till she reached the churchyard. Then she saw on one of the broad tombstones a group of ghouls. These hideous creatures took off their rags, as if they intended to bathe, and then clawing open the fresh graves with their long, skinny fingers, pulled out the dead bodies and ate the flesh! Eliza had to pass close by them, and they fixed their wicked glances upon her, but she prayed silently, gathered the burning nettles, and carried them home with her to the castle. One person only had seen her, and that was the archbishop– he was awake while everybody was asleep. Now he thought his opinion was evidently correct. All was not right with the queen. She was a witch, and had bewitched the king and all the people. Secretly he told the king what he had seen and what he feared, and as the hard words came from his tongue, the carved images of the saints shook their heads as if they would say. “It is not so. Eliza is innocent.”
But the archbishop interpreted it in another way; he believed that they witnessed against her, and were shaking their heads at her wickedness. Two large tears rolled down the king's cheeks, and he went home with doubt in his heart, and at night he pretended to sleep, but there came no real sleep to his eyes, for he saw Eliza get up every night and disappear in her own chamber. From day to day his brow became darker, and Eliza saw it and did not understand the reason, but it alarmed her and made her heart tremble for her brothers. Her hot tears glittered like pearls on the regal velvet and diamonds, while all who saw her were wishing they could be queens. In the mean time she had almost finished her task; only one coat of mail was wanting, but she had no flax left, and not a single nettle. Once more only, and for the last time, must she venture to the churchyard and pluck a few handfuls. She thought with terror of the solitary walk, and of the horrible ghouls, but her will was firm, as well as her trust in Providence. Eliza went, and the king and the archbishop followed her. They saw her vanish through the wicket gate into the churchyard, and when they came nearer they saw the ghouls sitting on the tombstone, as Eliza had seen them, and the king turned away his head, for he thought she was with them– she whose head had rested on his breast that very evening. “The people must condemn her,” said he, and she was very quickly condemned by every one to suffer death by fire. Away from the gorgeous regal halls was she led to a dark, dreary cell, where the wind whistled through the iron bars. Instead of the velvet and silk dresses, they gave her the coats of mail which she had woven to cover her, and the bundle of nettles for a pillow; but nothing they could give her would have pleased her more. She continued her task with joy, and prayed for help, while the street-boys sang jeering songs about her, and not a soul comforted her with a kind word. Towards evening, she heard at the grating the flutter of a swan's wing, it was her youngest brother– he had found his sister, and she sobbed for joy, although she knew that very likely this would be the last night she would have to live. But still she could hope, for her task was almost finished, and her brothers were come. Then the archbishop arrived, to be with her during her last hours, as he had promised the king. But she shook her head, and begged him, by looks and gestures, not to stay; for in this night she knew she must finish her task, otherwise all her pain and tears and sleepless nights would have been suffered in vain. The archbishop withdrew, uttering bitter words against her; but poor Eliza knew that she was innocent, and diligently continued her work.
The little mice ran about the floor, they dragged the nettles to her feet, to help as well as they could; and the thrush sat outside the grating of the window, and sang to her the whole night long, as sweetly as possible, to keep up her spirits.
It was still twilight, and at least an hour before sunrise, when the eleven brothers stood at the castle gate, and demanded to be brought before the king. They were told it could not be, it was yet almost night, and as the king slept they dared not disturb him. They threatened, they entreated. Then the guard appeared, and even the king himself, inquiring what all the noise meant. At this moment the sun rose. The eleven brothers were seen no more, but eleven wild swans flew away over the castle.
And now all the people came streaming forth from the gates of the city, to see the witch burnt. An old horse drew the cart on which she sat. They had dressed her in a garment of coarse sackcloth. Her lovely hair hung loose on her shoulders, her cheeks were deadly pale, her lips moved silently, while her fingers still worked at the green flax. Even on the way to death, she would not give up her task. The ten coats of mail lay at her feet, she was working hard at the eleventh, while the mob jeered her and said, “See the witch, how she mutters! She has no hymn-book in her hand. She sits there with her ugly sorcery. Let us tear it in a thousand pieces.”
And then they pressed towards her, and would have destroyed the coats of mail, but at the same moment eleven wild swans flew over her, and alighted on the cart. Then they flapped their large wings, and the crowd drew on one side in alarm.
“It is a sign from heaven that she is innocent,” whispered many of them; but they ventured not to say it aloud.
As the executioner seized her by the hand, to lift her out of the cart, she hastily threw the eleven coats of mail over the swans, and they immediately became eleven handsome princes; but the youngest had a swan's wing, instead of an arm; for she had not been able to finish the last sleeve of the coat.
“Now I may speak,” she exclaimed. “I am innocent.”
Then the people, who saw what happened, bowed to her, as before a saint; but she sank lifeless in her brothers' arms, overcome with suspense, anguish, and pain.
“Yes, she is innocent,” said the eldest brother; and then he related all that had taken place; and while he spoke there rose in the air a fragrance as from millions of roses. Every piece of faggot in the pile had taken root, and threw out branches, and appeared a thick hedge, large and high, covered with roses; while above all bloomed a white and shining flower, that glittered like a star. This flower the king plucked, and placed in Eliza's bosom, when she awoke from her swoon, with peace and happiness in her heart. And all the church bells rang of themselves, and the birds came in great troops. And a marriage procession returned to the castle, such as no king had ever before seen.
Source:. Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales. Mrs. Henry H. B. Paull, translator. London: Warne & Co., 1875.