NCE upon a time there was a king who had three daughters, the two elder were handsome enough, but the youngest, whose name was Golden-Hair, was the prettiest maiden to be found within the four ends of the earth.
One day the king went out hunting with all his people. Towards evening he found himself in the forest at a place where he had never been before, and where he was not able to tell the north from the south, nor the east from the west, for he was lost. He wandered up and down and here and there, but the farther he went the less able he was to find the road home again. As he wandered thus he came to a place where a great raven, as black as the soot in the chimney, and with eyes that glowed like two coals of fire, sat in the middle of the path in front of him.
"Whither away, king?" said the Great Black Raven.
"That I cannot tell," said the king, "for I am lost."
"See now," said the Raven, "I will show you the way out of the forest, if you will give me your youngest daughter to be my wife."
"Oh, no," said the king, "I can never do such a thing as that, for my daughter is as dear to me as the apple of my eye."
"Very well, then," said the Raven, "off I go, and then there will be no getting out of the forest for you, but here you will have to stay as long as you live."
Now one will do much before one will stay in a dark forest forever, and though it was a bad piece of business to be sure, the king promised at last that if the Raven would show him the way home again, it should have the Princess Golden-Hair for its wife, though it was a pity for the girl, and that was the truth. So the Raven flapped on ahead of the king, and showed him the way out of the forest.
Sure enough, when the next morning came, there was the Great Black Raven sitting outside of the castle gateway waiting for the Princess Golden-Hair to be sent to him.
But it was not the princess whom he got after all; for the king had bade them dress the swineherd's daughter in the princess's dress, and it was she who went to the Great Black Raven. "A Great Black Raven," said the king to himself, "will never be able to tell a swineherd's daughter from a real princess."
Well, the Raven took the swineherd's daughter on its back and away it flew over woods and meadows, hills and valleys, until by and by it came to a rude little hut that stood on the tip top of a great bleak hill. And not a living soul was there, only a great number of birds of different kinds.
In the hut was a table, and on the table stood a golden goblet of red wine, a silver cup of white wine, and an earthenware jug full of bitter beer.
"This is our home," said the Raven; "and now will my dear one drink refreshment after her long journey?"
Yes, indeed; the swineherd's daughter would do that, for she was weary after her ride through the air. So she went to the table and took a good drink of the beer, "for," said she to herself, "the golden goblet and the silver cup are too fine for the likes of me."
Then the Raven knew that she was no true princess to be contented with bitter beer out of an earthenware jug when she could have good red wine from a golden goblet. "Come," said he, "home we go again, for you are not the bride I seek!" Therewith he took her upon his back once more, and away they flew over hill and valley till they had come back to the king's castle again.
"See," said the Raven, "this is not the one I want. Let me have my true bride or you will suffer for it."
At this the king was frightened. "Very well," said he, "come
Well, when the next morning came, there was the Raven waiting outside of the castle gateway. But, after all, it was not the princess that he got, for the king had ordered that the steward's daughter should be dressed in the princess's dress, "for surely," said he to himself, "she is a good enough bride for a Great Black Raven."
So the Raven took her on his back and away he flew till he had come to the little hut on top of the bleak hill. There stood the golden goblet, the silver cup, and the earthenware jug just as they had done before. And now would not the dear maiden drink a drop after her long journey?
Yes, indeed, that she would; so she took a good, hearty drink of the white wine in the silver cup, "for," said she to herself, "silver is none too good for a steward's daughter."
But the Raven saw very well that she was no true princess, or she
would never have been contented with the silver cup. "Come," said
he, "home we go again, for you are not the bride I seek." So he took
her on his back once more and away he flew to the king's castle. "See
how you treat me," said he to the king, "you promise me one bride and
give me another.
And now the king was terribly frightened, and saw that there must be no trickery this time. So the next morning when the Raven came it was the Princess Golden-Hair herself whom he got and none other. Up he took her on his back and away he flew with her. As for the princess, she did nothing but weep and weep, so that when they came to the little hut on top of the bleak hill, she was glad enough to drink a drop for refreshment's sake. She never looked at the earthen jug or the silver cup, but going straight to the golden goblet she wet her lips with the good red wine.
And then what do you think happened? Why, the hut grew and grew until it changed into a splendid castle all built of pure silver and gold, and all of the many birds outside changed into men and women servants. As for the Great Black Raven, it was a Raven no longer, but the handsomest prince in all the world, and the only thing black about him was the long curling locks of his hair. He kissed the Princess Golden-Hair and said: "Now, indeed, have I found my true bride and none other. You have freed me and my castle and all of my people from enchantment, which no one but a real princess could do. For my wicked stepmother laid spells upon us which could only be broken when a real princess drank out of the golden goblet."
Then they were married, and a fine wedding they had of it, I can tell you.
Well, a year passed by, and the princess was as happy as the days were long; but at the end of the twelve months she began to long to see her father and her sisters again. So she spoke of her longing to the Raven prince, but he only shook his head. No; he would not hear of her going, for he felt that nothing but misfortune would come of it.
But the princess begged and begged so prettily that at last the prince said she might go if she would be contented to stay only three days. Then he gave her a napkin of the finest linen, and told her that whenever she wanted anything, she had only to spread the napkin and wish and it would be there. But there was one thing she must not wish for, and that was for him himself, for of that misfortune would come for sure and certain.
So off the princess went to her father's house, and a fine sight she made of it, I can tell you; for she rode in a golden coach drawn by four milk-white horses, so that every one she passed stopped and looked after her, and the little boys cried "Hi!" and ran along beside.
Her father and her sisters wondered what fine lady it was that was coming to the castle, and when the coach stopped they came out to look. Dear, dear, but the king was glad to see her; as for her two sisters, they grew as green as grass with envy, for when they heard where she dwelt, and what a fine castle it was, all built of pure gold and silver, and what a handsome prince it was that she had for a husband, they were ready to burst with spite, for each felt that she might have had all this for herself if the Raven prince had only chosen her instead of Golden-Hair. So when the princess had told them all about what had happened, they only nodded and winked at one another as though they did not believe a word of it.
"Yes, yes," said they, "it is all very well to talk about your handsome prince; but why did he not come along with you, we should like to know?"
The princess could not tell them that; but she could bring him quickly enough whenever she chose, for all that she had to do was to spread her napkin and wish and he would be there. She would show them that what she had said was true, had her prince not forbidden her.
But the envious sisters only jeered and laughed as though all that the princess said was the best jest in the world.
Now one can bear anything better than laughter. So the end of the matter was that the princess spread the linen napkin on the floor and wished that the Raven prince might be with them.
No sooner had she wished it than there he stood; but he looked at no one but her. "Did I not tell you that misfortune would come of it if you wished for me?" said he. "Now, I must leave you and go where you are not likely ever to see me again."
Then the princess would have spoken, but he gave her no time for that. He snatched up the napkin, and, becoming a Raven once more, he flew through the open window and across the tree-tops and was gone. At the same time her golden coach vanished, and the coachman and footmen became so many birds and flew away, so that not one of her fine things was left.
The poor princess wept and cried for a whole day and a whole night. But at the end of that time she dried her eyes, and, tucking up her skirts, started off into the wide world to find her dear prince again.
Well, she travelled on and on and on for more days than she could count, and till she had been over nearly all the world, but in all that time she could learn no news of the prince nor of whither he had gone. At last one day, about nightfall, she came to a little hut in a deep forest, and in the hut sat an old woman with hair as white as snow.
"What do you want, child?" said the old woman; "do you not know that this is Death's house, and that if he returns and finds you here he will kill you? I tell you that he spares neither the young nor the old, the plain nor the handsome. As for me, I am his grandmother."
But all this was one to the princess, and went in at one ear and out of the other; she could no longer drag one foot after the other, so there she must stay even if Death should find her when he came home.
Then she told Death's grandmother all that had happened to her, and Death's grandmother took pity on her because she was so pretty and so tired. She gave the princess something to eat and then hid her in the tall clock that stood in the corner, so that Death might not find her when he came home.
By and by in came Death and hung up his great scythe behind the door. "Hu-u-u-u!" cried he, "I smell Christian blood in the house for sure."
"Christian blood, indeed!" said his grandmother, "as though a Christian
would come to this house if he had anywhere else to go! But now I think
of it, a crow flew overhead
So Death said nothing more, but sat down to supper and ate heartily, for he had had a long journey that day.
"See," said his grandmother, "I had a dream
"That is easy enough to tell," said Death; "he lives in a great castle that stands at the end of the earth on a high hill of smooth glass."
"That is good," said Death's grandmother, "but I dreamed that after she found where he lived, she was too weary to journey thither."
"That is easy enough, too," said Death; "out in the forest yonder stands my pale horse tied to an oak-tree. If she could only find the horse and loose the bridle and mount his back he would take her there quickly enough, for he can travel more rapidly than the north wind."
"Yes, yes, that is all very well," said Death's grandmother, "but I had a third dream; I thought that when she came to the smooth hill of glass she did not know how to climb to the top; what is the answer to that?"
"Prut!" said Death, "that is easy to tell. Over by the glass hill are seven birds fighting in the tree-top for an old hat. If she will throw a stone in the midst of them they will drop the hat and fly away. It is Wish's own hat, and if she will put it on her head and wish herself at the top of the hill, she will be there quickly enough, I can tell you."
After that Death put on his cloak and took up his scythe and was off like a whirlwind, for he has little time to spare for talking, folks say. Then Death's grandmother opened the clock, and the princess came out and thanked her and went her way.
She hunted here and there through the forest until, sure enough, she found Death's great pale horse tied to an oak-tree. She loosened the bridle and mounted upon his back, and away they went till the chips and the stones flew behind them. So they soon came to the high hill of smooth glass that stood at the end of the earth, and there, on top of it, was the castle of the prince.
The princess dismounted from the pale horse, and away he galloped home again.
Then the princess hunted for the birds that Death said fought for Wish's hat, and presently she heard them making a great hubbub, and looking up, saw them in the tree-top above her, fighting for the old hat, just as Death said they would be doing. She picked up a stone and threw it in the midst of them, and they dropped the hat and flew away screaming.
Then she put on the hat and wished herself at the top of the hill, and there she was as quick as a wink.
Now, her shoes were worn into holes by long journeying, and her clothes were torn to threads and tatters by the brambles through which she had passed, and hung fluttering all about her, and she looked for all the world like nothing else than a common beggar-maid, except for her golden hair. So it was that when she knocked at the door of the prince's castle, and the porter came and opened it and heard that she wanted to see the prince, he snapped his fingers and laughed. All the same he told her that the cook wanted a serving wench in the kitchen, and that she might have the place if she liked; if that did not suit her she might be jogging the way that she had come.
Well, there was nothing for it but for the princess to serve in the kitchen or to go away again. So she bound up her hair in a tattered kerchief so that the beautiful golden tresses might not be seen, and down she went to serve the cook.
The prince's dinner was cooking at the fire, and the princess was to watch it so that it might not be burned. So she watched it, and as she watched it she wept.
"Why do you weep, hussy?" said the cook.
"Ah me!" said the princess, "once I ate with my love and drank with my love and lived by his side. If he did but know to what I have come how his heart would ache!"
After that the dinner was served, but, while nobody was looking, the princess plucked a strand of her gold hair and laid it upon a white napkin and the napkin upon an empty plate. Over all she placed a silver cover and when the Raven prince lifted it there lay the strand of golden hair. "Where did this come from?" said he. But nobody could tell him that.
The next day the same thing happened; the princess watched the dinner, and as she watched she wept.
"Why do you weep, hussy?" said the cook. And thereto the princess answered as she had done before: "Ah me! once I ate with my love and drank with my love and lived by his side. If he did but know to what I have come, how his heart would ache!"
Then, while nobody was looking, she plucked another strand of golden hair and the prince found it as he had done the other, and no one could tell him whence it came.
The third day the same thing happened as had happened twice before: the princess watched and wept, and when nobody was looking plucked a third strand of golden hair and sent it to the prince as she had the others.
Then the prince sent for the cook. "Who has been serving this and that with my dinner?" said he.
The cook shook his head, for he knew nothing, but perhaps the new serving wench could tell, for she wept and said things that none of them understood. When the prince heard this he sent for her, and the princess came and stood before him. He looked at her and knew her, for her golden hair shone through a hole in the ugly head-dress that she wore. Then he reached out his hand and snatched it off of her head, and her golden hair fell down all about her shoulders until it reached the floor. Then he took her in his arms and kissed her, and that was the end of all of her troubles.
After that they had a grand time at the castle; every one who came had all that he could eat, and wine and beer flowed like water. I, too, was there, but I brought nothing away with me in my pockets.