T HERE was once a little prince, and he had for a playmate a little peasant boy named Lars. One morning the prince and Lars were shooting with their bows and arrows, and wherever Lars aimed there did his arrow go, straight—but the prince's arrow fell short of the mark every time. This made the little prince very cross.
"I can hit the sun," he said, at last.
"Very well, then; so can I," said Lars. So the two boys pointed their arrows and, whiz, off they went. One arrow fell directly, and that was the prince's, but the other went on and on. It must have hit the sun, for it went out of sight and came back at last with a bright gold hen's feather stuck to the end and a tiny red drop in the grass where it fell. "It is mine," cried the prince.
"No, it is mine," cried Lars; and it really was his, you know; but they went on quarreling, until the king came out to see what was the matter.
Now, the king did not like to think that a little peasant boy could shoot an arrow farther than his own little prince, so he said very sternly to Lars:
"Go at once and find the hen from whom this feather came. You are not to come back until you bring her to me."
Poor little Lars! He went sorrowfully to the king's kitchen, where the cook gave him a bag with a dozen loaves of bread and a leg of mutton for his journey; and then he started off to find the golden hen.
For many days he traveled, looking in all the poultry yards, but there were red hens, and speckled hens, and white hens—no golden hens. He grew so tired that one day he lay down under a tree and fell fast asleep, and when he awoke there sat an old fox looking down at him.
"Where are you going?" asked the fox.
"I am not going anywhere just now," said Lars.
"Well," said the fox; "when you get up, where are you bound for then?"
"Oh, dear," said Lars, "to find the golden hen who lost this feather, and I don't know which way to go."
The fox smelled of the feather, and then said in a whisper: "I know every poultry yard in the world. The golden hen belongs to the Sun's Sisters. Come, I'll show you the way."
So Lars and the fox went on and on for days, and then up a steep mountain, until they came to the palace of the Sun. It glittered and shone from top to bottom, and Lars and the fox crept softly up to the palace gate.
"You must go straight in, looking neither to the right nor the left," said the fox to Lars, "until you come to the poultry yard. Snatch the golden hen, and run back again as fast as you can. I will wait outside."
Lars went in through the gate very softly, looking straight ahead, past the beautiful gardens, and nearly to the poultry yard, when he happened to spy a window which was open. He forgot all that the fox had told him, and he went over and peeped in the window. It was the prettiest room inside that Lars had ever seen—all pink and gold, like the sky in the early morning. And on a gold bed lay a little girl fast asleep. She was such a pretty little girl that Lars couldn't help climbing over the window-sill and tip-toeing across to look at her. Her golden hair quite covered the pillow, and her cheeks were rosy. It was the Princess Sunrise, and Lars kissed her softly.
She never awoke, so Lars climbed out of the window again, and went on to the poultry yard. There was a crowd of ducks, and geese, and turkeys, and cocks, and one little golden hen, but the minute they saw Lars they all set up such a cackling, and crowing, and quacking that it awoke the Princess Sunrise, and she came to the window.
"What do you want, boy?" she called out to Lars.
"I was just trying to catch your golden hen," said Lars.
"Oh, you mustn't do that; that would be stealing," said the Princess; but when she saw how sorrowful Lars looked, she said: "If you can bring me my sister, Sunset, whom the trolds took away, I will give you my golden hen."
So Lars went back to the fox and told him what had happened.
"You've made a fine mess of it," said the fox; "but, come, we must find the trolds."
So Lars and the fox went on and on, and up another steep mountain, until they came to the great, black castle where the trolds lived.
"You stay outside this time," said the fox. "I will go in and fetch the princess."
The fox went up and rapped loudly at the trolds' front door. The trolds were all at tea, and they had their candles lighted. They called out: "Who's there?"
"It is I," said the fox, "come to dance with you."
The trolds loved to dance more than anything else, so they called out at once: "Come in!" And the fox went inside.
There was the Princess Sunset, as pretty as her sister; only her hair was dark, and her eyes shone like two stars, and her cheeks were red instead of pink.
"You may dance with her, first, if you like," said the trolds, who were really very good-natured little men.
So the fox put his paws around the princess' waist, and they began dancing. Round and round they whirled, and whenever they came near a candle the fox blew it out, until it was so dark the trolds could not see. Out of the door they danced, and on to Lars.
"Take the princess home quick!" said the fox to Lars. Then he called to the trolds: "This way, this way." He led them a long chase over hill and dale, until he left them sticking fast in a muddy marsh, and then he went home.
But Lars took the Princess Sunset home to the palace of the Sun. the Princess Sunrise gave him her golden hen, and Lars carried the hen to the king. But he decided that he would not play any more with the cross little prince, so he went back, after a while, to stay with the Princess Sunrise always, and help her to make the new days.
— Adapted from a Lapland myth|
by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey