L ONG ago in Norroway there lived a lady who had three daughters. Now they were all pretty, and one night they fell a-talking of whom they meant to marry.
And the eldest said, "I will have no one lower than an Earl."
And the second said, "I will have none lower than a Lord."
But the third, the prettiest and the merriest, tossed her head and said with a twinkle in her eye, "Why so proud? As for me I would be content with the Black Bull of Norroway."
At that the other sisters bade her be silent and not talk lightly of such a monster. For, see you, is it not written:
"To wilder measure now they turn
The black black Bull of Norroway,
Sudden the tapers cease to burn
The minstrels cease to play."
So, no doubt, the Black Bull of Norroway was held to be a horrid monster.
But the youngest daughter would have her laugh, so she said three times that she would be content with the Black Bull of Norroway.
Well! It so happened that the very next morning a coach-and-six came swinging along the road, and in it sat an Earl who had come to ask the hand of the eldest daughter in marriage. So there were great rejoicings over the wedding, and the bride and bridegroom drove away in the coach-and-six.
Then the next thing that happened was that a coach-and-four with a Lord in it came swinging along the road; and he wanted to marry the second daughter. So they were wed, and there were great rejoicings, and the bride and bridegroom drove away in the coach-and-four.
Now after this there was only the youngest, the prettiest and the merriest of the sisters left, and she became the apple of her mother's eye. So you may imagine how the mother felt when one morning a terrible bellowing was heard at the door, and there was a great big Black Bull waiting for his bride.
She wept and she wailed, and at first the girl ran away and hid herself in the cellar for fear, but there the Bull stood waiting, and at last the girl came up and said:
"I promised I would be content with the Black Bull of Norroway, and I must keep my word. Farewell, mother, you will not see me again."
Then she mounted on the Black Bull's back, and it walked away with her quite quietly. And ever it chose the smoothest paths and the easiest roads, so that at last the girl grew less afraid. But she became very hungry and was nigh to faint when the Black Bull said to her, in quite a soft voice that wasn't a bellow at all:
"Eat out of my left ear,
Drink out of my right,
And set by what you leave
To serve the morrow's night."
So she did as she was bid, and lo and behold, the left ear was full of delicious things to eat, and the right was full of the most delicious drinks, and there was plenty left over for several days.
Thus they journeyed on and they journeyed on through many dreadful forests and many lonely wastes, and the Black Bull never paused for bite or sup, but ever the girl he carried ate out of his left ear, and drank out of his right, and set by what she left to serve the morrow's night. And she slept soft and warm on his broad back.
Now at last they reached a noble castle where a large company of lords and ladies were assembled, and greatly the company wondered at the sight of these strange companions. And they invited the girl to supper, but the Black Bull they turned into the field, and left to spend the night after his kind.
But when the next morning came there he was ready for his burden again. Now, though the girl was loth to leave her pleasant companions, she remembered her promise, and mounted on his back, so they journeyed on and journeyed on, and journeyed on through many tangled woods and over many high mountains. And ever the Black Bull chose the smoothest paths for her and set aside the briars and brambles, while she ate out of his left ear and drank out of his right.
So at last they came to a magnificent mansion where Dukes and Duchesses and Earls and Countesses were enjoying themselves. Now the company, though much surprised at the strange companions, asked the girl in to supper; and the Black Bull they would have turned into the park for the night, but that the girl, remembering how well he had cared for her, asked them to put him into the stable and give him a good feed.
So this was done, and the next morning he was waiting before the hall-door for his burden; and she, though somewhat loth at leaving the fine company, mounted him cheerfully enough, and they rode away, and they rode away, and they rode away, through thick briar brakes and up fearsome cliffs. But ever the Black Bull trod the brambles underfoot and chose the easiest paths, while she ate out of his left ear, and drank out of his right, and wanted for nothing, though he had neither bite nor sup. So it came to pass that he grew tired and was limping with one foot when just as the sun was setting they came to a beautiful palace where Princes and Princesses were disporting themselves with ball on the green grass. Now, though the company greatly wondered at the strange companions, they asked the girl to join them, and ordered the grooms to lead away the Black Bull to a field.
But she, remembering all he had done for her said, "Not so! He will stay with me!" Then seeing a large thorn in the foot with which he had been limping, she stooped down and pulled it out.
And lo and behold! In an instant, to every one's surprise, there appeared, not a frightful monstrous bull, but one of the most beautiful Princes ever beheld, who fell at his deliverer's feet, thanking her for having broken his cruel enchantment.
A wicked witch woman who wanted to marry him had, he said, spelled him until a beautiful maiden of her own free will should do him a favor.
"But," he said, "the danger is not all over. You have broken the enchantment by night; that by day has yet to be overcome."
So the next morning the Prince had to resume the form of a bull, and they set out together; and they rode, and they rode, and they rode, till they came to a dark and ugsome glen. And here he bade her dismount, and sit on a great rock.
"Here you must stay," he said, "while I go yonder and fight the Old One. And mind! Move neither hand nor foot whilst I am away, else I shall never find you again. If everything around you turns blue, I shall have beaten the Old One; but if everything turns red he will have conquered me."
And with that, and a tremendous roaring bellow, he set off to find his foe.
Well! she sate as still as a mouse, moving neither hand nor foot, nor even her eyes, and waited, and waited, and waited. Then at last everything turned blue. But she was so overcome with joy to think that her lover was victorious that she forgot to keep still, and lifting one of her feet, crossed it over the other!
So she waited, and waited, and waited. Long she sate and aye she wearied; and all the time he was seeking for her, but he never found her.
At last she rose and went she knew not whither, determined to seek for her lover through the whole wide world. So she journeyed on, and she journeyed on, and she journeyed on, until one day in a dark wood she came to a little hut where lived an old, old woman who gave her food and shelter, and bid her God-speed on her errand, giving her three nuts, a walnut, a filbert, and a hazel nut, with these words:
"When your heart is like to break,
And once again is like to break,
Crack a nut and in its shell
That will be that suits you well."
After this she felt heartened up, and wandered on till her road was blocked by a great hill of glass; and though she tried all she could to climb it, she could not; for aye she slipped back, and slipped back, and slipped back; for it was like ice.
Then she sought a passage elsewhere, and round and about the foot of the hill she went sobbing and wailing, but ne'er a foothold could she find. At last she came to a smithy; and the smith promised if she would serve him faithfully for seven years and seven days, that he would make her iron shoon wherewith to climb the hill of glass. So for seven long years and seven short days she toiled, and span, and swept, and washed in the smith's house. And for wage he gave her a pair of iron shoon, and with them she clomb the glassy hill and went on her way.
Now she had not gone far before a company of fine lords and ladies rode past her talking of all the grand doings that were to be done at the young Duke of Norroway's wedding. Then she passed a number of people carrying all sorts of good things which they told her were for the Duke's wedding. And at last she came to a palace castle where the courtyards were full of cooks and bakers, some running this way, some running that, and all so busy that they did not know what to do first.
Then she heard the horns of hunters and cries of "Room! Room for the Duke of Norroway and his bride!"
And who should ride past but the beautiful Prince she had but half unspelled, and by his side was the witch woman who was determined to marry him that very day.
Well! At the sight she felt that her heart was indeed like to break, and over again was like to break, so that the time had come for her to crack one of the nuts. So she broke the walnut, as it was the biggest, and out of it came a wonderful, wee woman carding wool as fast as ever she could card.
Now when the witch woman saw this wonderful thing she offered the girl her choice of anything in the castle for it.
"If you will put off your wedding with the Duke for a day, and let me watch in his room tonight," said the girl, "you shall have it."
Now, like all witch-women, the bride wanted everything her own way, and she was so sure she had her groom safe, that she consented; but before the Duke went to rest she gave him, with her own hands, a posset so made that any one who drank it would sleep till morning.
Thus though the girl was allowed alone into the Duke's chamber, and though she spent the livelong night sighing and singing:
"Far have I sought for thee,
Long have I wrought for thee,
Near am I brought to thee,
Dear Duke o' Norroway,
Wilt thou say naught to me—"
the Duke never wakened, but slept on. So when day came the girl had to leave him without his ever knowing she had been there.
Then once again her heart was like to break, and over and over again like to break, and she cracked the filbert nut because it was the next biggest. And out of it came a wonderful, wee, wee woman spinning away as fast as ever she could spin. Now when the witch bride saw this wonderful thing she once again put off her wedding so that she might possess it. And once again the girl spent the livelong night in the Duke's chamber sighing and singing:
"Far have I sought for thee,
Long have I wrought for thee,
Near am I brought to thee,
Dear Duke o'Norroway,
Wilt thou say naught to me—"
But the Duke, who had drunk the sleeping draught from the hands of his witch bride, never stirred, and when dawn came the girl had to leave him without his ever knowing she had been there.
Then, indeed, the girl's heart was like to break, and over and over and over again, like to break, so she cracked the last nut—the hazel nut—and out of it came the most wonderful wee, wee, wee-est woman reeling away at yarn as fast as she could reel.
And this marvel so delighted the witch bride that once again she consented to put off her wedding for a day, and allow the girl to watch in the Duke's chamber the night through, in order to possess it.
Now it so happened that when the Duke was dressing that morning he heard his pages talking amongst themselves of the strange sighing and singing they had heard in the night; and he said to his faithful old valet, "What do the pages mean?"
And the old valet, who hated the witch bride, said:
"If the master will take no sleeping draught tonight, mayhap he may also hear what for two nights has kept me awake."
At this the Duke marvelled greatly, and when the witch-bride brought him his evening posset, he made excuse it was not sweet enough, and while she went away to get honey to sweeten it withal, he poured away the posset and made believe he had swallowed it.
So that night when dark had come, and the girl stole in to his chamber with a heavy heart, thinking it would be the very last time she would ever see him, the Duke was really broad awake. And when she sat down by his bedside and began to sing.
"Far have I sought for thee—"
he knew her voice at once, and clasped her in his arms.
Then he told her how he had been in the power of the witch woman and had forgotten everything, but that now he remembered all and that the spell was broken for ever and aye.
So the wedding feast served for their marriage, since the witch bride, seeing her power was gone, quickly fled the country and was never heard of again.