There once lived a widowed Queen, who had one daughter. There had been several other children, you must know, but one by one they had died, until the beautiful Princess All-fair was the only child left.
Time passed on, and every day the maiden grew more and more lovely, and, to tell the truth, she not only grew lovelier, but she also became very vain indeed.
Well, by the time she reached the age of eighteen, All-fair was so charming that she had won the hearts of twenty noble kings, and they were all courting her at the same time.
But never a smile did they get from the fair Princess. There was not a man living, be he king or peasant, who was good enough to become her husband, she said.
So when the twenty kings heard this, nineteen of them took their hats at once, and set off in a body to search for brides who were a little less charming and a little easier to please.
But the twentieth man, the King of the Golden Mines, was so much in love with All-fair, that he stayed behind in the hope that she would change her mind.
"This will never do," said the Queen one day. "Here am I getting quite old, and I want to see All-fair safely married and settled down before I die. I must go and visit the Desert Fairy, and see if she will give me some advice as to how I can manage my stubborn daughter."
Now you must know that it was a very hard task indeed to reach the Desert Fairy, for she was guarded by two fierce and terrible lions. The only way to get past the animals was to throw them a huge cake made from crocodiles' eggs, millet, and sugar candy.
So the Queen set to work, and with her own royal hands she prepared one of these cakes; then she placed it in a basket and set out for the home of the Desert Fairy.
Well, the day was hot, and the cake was heavy, and before long the Queen was lying fast asleep under a big tree.
Suddenly a terrible roar awakened her, and she looked round for her cake to throw to the angry lions, but to her horror it was gone.
"What is to become of me?" cried the poor Queen in terror, and she burst into tears.
"Hem! hem!" cried a small voice, and the Queen looked all around her to see who could be speaking.
At last she looked upward, and there, in the branches of the big orange tree overhead, sat a little yellow man. He was just half a yard high, and he was eating oranges as quickly as ever he could; in fact, he didn't even stop eating while he spoke to the Queen, which, of course, was very rude.
"Ah, Queen!" he went on, "there is only one way by which you can escape the lions, and that is by letting me marry your daughter."
The Queen was so surprised that she even stopped crying. The idea of that hideous little creature marrying her beautiful daughter was quite absurd, and she was just about to tell him so when again she heard the dreadful roaring of the lions. "Be quick and make up your mind!" cried the Yellow Dwarf. (He was called the Yellow Dwarf, you know, because he lived in the orange tree, and he had eaten so much of the fruit that his skin had become the same color.) "Just remember you have no cake to throw to the lions."
So, to save her life, the Queen was forced to give her consent to a marriage between the Yellow Dwarf and her beautiful daughter.
No sooner did she agree to the match than she began to feel very drowsy, and the next minute the Queen found herself safely back in her own palace.
She was so filled with sadness at the thought of her promise to the dwarf that a fit of deep gloom settled upon her, and for weeks she never smiled.
The Princess was quite at a loss to know what had come over her mother; so in the end she, too, made up her mind to visit the Desert Fairy in the hope that she would be able to tell her what ailed the Queen.
Then All-fair set to work and made a cake from the crocodiles' eggs, millet, and sugar candy, and when it was ready she started off for the Desert Fairy's grotto.
She soon reached the fatal orange tree, and the fruit looked so very tempting that All-fair laid her cake upon the ground and began to pick and eat the ripe oranges.
Just then one of the lions gave a terrible roar, and All-fair looked for her cake to throw to them. Alas, it was gone! and the maiden began to weep bitterly.
"Dry your eyes, lovely Princess!" cried a voice, and, looking up, All-fair spied the Yellow Dwarf.
"You need not trouble to go to the Desert Fairy," went on the dwarf, "for I can tell you what ails your mother."
"I shall be obliged if you will tell me at once, then," replied All-fair.
"Oh, it is all your fault," said the Yellow Dwarf.
"How dare you say such things!" cried the Princess. "It is nothing of the sort."
"Oh, yes, it is," answered the dwarf, with a grin. "Your mother is sorry now that she promised you to me in marriage."
"I am sure my mother did not promise me to a fright like you," cried the angry Princess, "and I will not marry you!"
"Oh, please yourself," answered the Yellow Dwarf; "but if you don't marry me you will make a fine meal for the lions, that is all."
Just at that moment the lions began to roar louder than ever.
"Well, to save my life," cried poor All-fair, "I will agree to marry you."
"I wouldn't have you now," said the dwarf, with an air of disdain.
"Oh, please do," begged All-fair, "or I shall be torn to pieces by the lions!"
"I'll marry you out of charity then," said the Yellow Dwarf. "But don't suppose that I really want a vain creature like you."
At that instant the Princess found herself growing very drowsy, and the next minute she was back again at the palace, and on her finger was a ring made of a single red hair, which she could not take off.
After that All-fair grew sad, for she feared that the Yellow Dwarf might claim her.
Of course nobody knew the cause of her sadness, and they all wondered what it could be.
So the Queen's ministers held a cabinet meeting, and they agreed to ask the Princess once more if she would marry, for they thought the excitement of choosing her wedding gown would rouse her from her gloom.
To the great surprise of them all, All-fair said she was quite willing to do as they wished. So the King of the Golden Mines had his reward for waiting so long, for the Princess chose him as her husband. He was very rich and powerful, and so gallant, that All-fair thought when once she was his wife she need fear the Yellow Dwarf no more.
The wedding day arrived at last, and as the guests were on their way to the church they saw a big box moving toward them, and on the top sat a very ugly old woman.
"Stop!" she cried, with a dreadful frown. "Do you remember the promise you made to my friend, the Yellow Dwarf? I am the Desert Fairy, and if All-fair does not marry the dwarf she will taste my wrath, you will find."
This speech made the brave King of the Golden Mines so angry that he drew his sword, and shouted loudly:
"Begone, or I will take your evil life!"
As soon as he uttered these words, off flew the top of the box, and out came the Yellow Dwarf seated upon a big, black Spanish cat.
"Not so fast!" cried the Yellow Dwarf. "I am your rival, so do not vent your wrath upon the Desert Fairy. I claim the Princess for my bride, and in token of her promise to me, on her finger you will find a ring made of a single red hair."
"It is false!" cried the King of the Golden Mines, and he made a dash, sword in hand, for the Yellow Dwarf.
But quick as thought the dwarf drew his sword also, and he rode forward on his Spanish cat.
Well, they fought long and fiercely, but the King was not able to overcome the dwarf because he was protected by two enormous giants, who stood one on each side of him.
Suddenly the Desert Fairy stepped forward, and on her head was a wreath of big, curling snakes. Raising her lance, she struck the Princess such a blow that All-fair sank fainting into her mother's arms.
"Revenge!" shouted the King of the Golden Mines, and he rushed to the aid of his love, as a brave man would, of course.
But, alas! he was too late, for the dwarf had torn her from her mother's arms, lifted her on to his Spanish cat, and the next minute they were flying through the air beyond his reach.
The poor King was so surprised that all he could do was to gaze up toward the clouds and wonder what would happen next. Suddenly a mist gathered before his eyes, and he felt himself being carried up into the air also.
Now you must know that the ugly old Desert Fairy had fallen madly in love with the King of the Golden Mines, and she had made up her mind that he should never marry All-fair; so she carried him off to secure him for herself.
Up into the air they went until they reached a gloomy cave. Then the fairy set him down, and restored his sight by means of her magic arts.
"He is sure to fall in love with me," she cried to herself, "now that All-fair is safely out of the way!"
But it was not a bit of use, for she was so ugly that the King only looked the other way the whole time, and this made her very angry indeed.
So the fairy tried another plan. She took the form of a beautiful maiden, and placed the King in a splendid chariot, drawn by two snow-white swans.
Then she, too, stepped in, and together they sailed away through the air.
"He'll never resist my charms this time," she said to herself. But she found out her mistake very soon, I can tell you. You see, although the fairy could change her form at will, her feet always remained the same, and the King caught sight of two ugly webbed feet, that looked as if they belonged to a griffin; so he was not deceived at all, and knew her to be the Desert Fairy, in spite of the disguise.
On and on they went, and once the King chanced to look downward. There he saw a castle built of bright polished steel, and on the balcony stood All-fair weeping very bitterly.
All-fair chanced to look upward, and she spied the chariot drawn by the snow-white swans. Although it passed along very quickly, she could see the King seated inside with a lovely maiden, and as she did not know it was the Desert Fairy, she felt very jealous indeed.
Soon the chariot alighted at a lonely palace, shut in by a wall of emeralds on one side and the sea on the other.
Well, the King just cast his eyes around the place, and made up his mind not to stay there long.
"I'll escape somehow," he said to himself; and he did, too, before very long.
He pretended to be in love with the Desert Fairy, and this pleased and flattered her so much that she began to treat him very kindly indeed. She even allowed him to walk alone on the seashore for half an hour each day.
One morning as the King stood upon the beach he was surprised to see a charming mermaid rise up from the water.
"King of the Golden Mines," she said, "I know your story, and have the power to set you free. I can also restore your Princess All-fair to you once more. Now, as I am an enemy of the Desert Fairy, I will do this for you."
The King thanked her, of course, and the mermaid bade him set himself upon her tail, and away they sailed at full speed across the blue ocean until they had gone many miles.
"The Princess, you must know," said the mermaid, "is being kept a prisoner by the Yellow Dwarf. She is in a bright steel castle, and in another hour we shall reach the place."
On they went still farther, and at length the mermaid set the King down upon the seashore.
"The rest of the journey," she said, "you must take alone, and you will have many enemies to fight before you reach the Princess. But," she added, "I will present you with this magic sword, which will overcome everything, so long as you never let it out of your hand."
The King took the sword, and thanked the mermaid again and again, and then he set out to seek the steel castle.
But before he had gone a hundred yards, four terrible griffins attacked him, and the King stood a good chance of being torn to pieces by their long claws. Just in time, however, he remembered his magic sword, and no sooner did the four griffins behold it than they sank to the ground, blinded by its brightness.
After that it was an easy matter to cut off their heads, and the King went on his way again.
Soon after he met six big dragons, and each one was covered with scales like cast iron. But by means of his magic sword the King was able to kill them also, and then he hoped his troubles were nearly over.
Alas! before he had gone many yards, twenty-four nymphs, all lovely as the sun, set themselves right in his path.
"Our business," they said, "is to keep you from reaching the steel castle. If we let you pass, all our lives will be sacrificed. We have done you no harm, so do go back again that our innocent lives may be spared."
Well, the King scarcely knew how to act; it seemed a pity to destroy such lovely creatures, and yet get to the steel castle he must.
"Strike! Strike!" cried a voice loudly, "or you will lose your Princess forever!"
So his Majesty destroyed the whole twenty-four of them, and at that moment the steel castle appeared in sight.
On the balcony stood All-fair, just as she had been when he passed through the air in the chariot drawn by swans.
"Princess," he cried, "your faithful lover has returned at last!"
"Faithful indeed!" replied All-fair angrily. "You were not faithful when I saw you being carried through the air in company with a beautiful maiden."
"Indeed I was," replied the King of the Golden Mines. "The maiden you saw was the wicked Desert Fairy. She carried me off to an island, and there I should be now, if a kind mermaid had not set me free."
Then the King cast himself at her feet; but, unfortunately, he managed to drop the magic sword over the balcony.
Out popped the ugly Yellow Dwarf from behind a big cabbage, where he was hiding, and he snapped up the sword in a trice.
The Princess gave a loud shriek when she set eyes on the dwarf, but the little man, who knew well what a treasure the sword was, just uttered two magic words, with the weapon in his hand, and there appeared two terrible giants, who at once bound the King in chains in spite of his struggles.
"Now," chuckled the Yellow Dwarf, "your lover is in my power. If he will consent to your becoming my bride, I will set him free at once."
"Never!" cried the King of the Golden Mines.
"Then take that," replied the Yellow Dwarf, and he buried the magic sword in the heart of the King.
The poor Princess was filled with sorrow at the loss of her lover, and she cried loudly:
"Hideous dwarf, you have gained nothing by slaying my lover, for I will never marry you. Since he is dead, I will die too."
Then she seized the sword and plunged it into her own heart.
The good mermaid was very unhappy when she heard what had taken place, but as her only power lay in the magic sword, she could help them no further.
So she changed them into two palm trees, growing side by side, and every time the soft breezes blew, their branches caressed and kissed each other, so they were happy together, after all, in spite of the ugly Yellow Dwarf.