On one of the great moors over in Jutland, where trees won't grow because the soil is so sandy and the wind so strong, there once lived a man and his wife, who had a little house and some sheep, and two sons who helped them to herd them. The elder of the two was called Rasmus, and the younger Niels. Rasmus was quite content to look after sheep, as his father had done before him, but Niels had a fancy to be a hunter, and was not happy till he got hold of a gun and learned to shoot. It was only an old muzzle-loading flint-lock after all, but Niels thought it a great prize, and went about shooting at everything he could see. So much did he practice that in the long run he became a wonderful shot, and was heard of even where he had never been seen. Some people said there was very little in him beyond this, but that was an idea they found reason to change in the course of time.
The parents of Rasmus and Niels were good Catholics, and when they were getting old the mother took it into her head that she would like to go to Rome and see the Pope. The others didn't see much use in this, but she had her way in the end: they sold all the sheep, shut up the house, and set out for Rome on foot. Niels took his gun with him.
"What do you want with that?" said Rasmus; "we have plenty to carry without it." But Niels could not be happy without his gun, and took it all the same.
It was in the hottest part of summer that they began their journey, so hot that they could not travel at all in the middle of the day, and they were afraid to do it by night lest they might lose their way or fall into the hands of robbers. One day, a little before sunset, they came to an inn which lay at the edge of a forest.
"We had better stay here for the night," said Rasmus.
"What an idea!" said Niels, who was growing impatient at the slow progress they were making. "We can't travel by day for the heat, and we remain where we are all night. It will be long enough before we get to Rome if we go on at this rate."
Rasmus was unwilling to go on, but the two old people sided with Niels, who said, "The nights aren't dark, and the moon will soon be up. We can ask at the inn here, and find out which way we ought to take."
So they held on for some time, but at last they came to a small opening in the forest, and here they found that the road split in two. There was no sign-post to direct them, and the people in the inn had not told them which of the two roads to take.
"What's to be done now?" said Rasmus. "I think we had better have stayed at the inn."
"There's no harm done," said Niels. "The night is warm, and we can wait here till morning. One of us will keep watch till midnight, and then waken the other."
Rasmus chose to take the first watch, and the others lay down to sleep. It was very quiet in the forest, and Rasmus could hear the deer and foxes and other animals moving about among the rustling leaves. After the moon rose he could see them occasionally, and when a big stag came quite close to him he got hold of Niels' gun and shot it.
Niels was wakened by the report. "What's that?" he said.
"I've just shot a stag," said Rasmus, highly pleased with himself.
"That's nothing," said Niels. "I've often shot a sparrow, which is a much more difficult thing to do."
It was now close on midnight, so Niels began his watch, and Rasmus went to sleep. It began to get colder, and Niels began to walk about a little to keep himself warm. He soon found that they were not far from the edge of the forest, and when he climbed up one of the trees there he could see out over the open country beyond. At a little distance he saw a fire, and beside it there sat three giants, busy with broth and beef. They were so huge that the spoons they used were as large as spades, and their forks as big as hay-forks: with these they lifted whole bucketfuls of broth and great joints of meat out of an enormous pot which was set on the ground between them. Niels was startled and rather scared at first, but he comforted himself with the thought that the giants were a good way off, and that if they came nearer he could easily hide among the bushes. After watching them for a little, however, he began to get over his alarm, and finally slid down the tree again, resolved to get his gun and play some tricks with them.
When he had climbed back to his former position, he took good aim, and waited till one of the giants was just in the act of putting a large piece of meat into his mouth. Bang! went Niels' gun, and the bullet struck the handle of the fork so hard that the point went into the giant's chin, instead of his mouth.
"None of your tricks," growled the giant to the one who sat next him. "What do you mean by hitting my fork like that, and making me prick myself?"
"I never touched your fork," said the other. "Don't try to get up a quarrel with me."
"Look at it, then," said the first. "Do you suppose I stuck it into my own chin for fun?"
The two got so angry over the matter that each offered to fight the other there and then, but the third giant acted as peace-maker, and they again fell to their eating.
While the quarrel was going on, Niels had loaded the gun again, and just as the second giant was about to put a nice tit-bit into his mouth, bang! went the gun again, and the fork flew into a dozen pieces.
This giant was even more furious than the first had been, and words were just coming to blows, when the third giant again interposed.
"Don't be fools," he said to them; "what's the good of beginning to fight among ourselves, when it is so necessary for the three of us to work together and get the upper hand over the king of this country. It will be a hard enough task as it is, but it will be altogether hopeless if we don't stick together. Sit down again, and let us finish our meal; I shall sit between you, and then neither of you can blame the other."
Niels was too far away to hear their talk, but from their gestures he could guess what was happening, and thought it good fun.
"Thrice is lucky," said he to himself; "I'll have another shot yet."
This time it was the third giant's fork that caught the bullet, and snapped in two.
"Well," said he, "if I were as foolish as you two, I would also fly into a rage, but I begin to see what time of day it is, and I'm going off this minute to see who it is that's playing these tricks with us."
So well had the giant made his observations, that though Niels climbed down the tree as fast as he could, so as to hide among the bushes, he had just got to the ground when the enemy was on him.
"Stay where you are," said the giant, "or I'll put my foot on you, and there won't be much of you left after that."
Niels gave in, and the giant carried him back to his comrades.
"You don't deserve any mercy at our hands," said his captor "but as you are such a good shot you may be of great use to us, so we shall spare your life, if you will do us a service. Not far from here there stands a castle, in which the king's daughter lives; we are at war with the king, and want to get the upper hand of him by carrying off the princess, but the castle is so well guarded that there is no getting into it. By our skill in magic we have cast sleep on every living thing in the castle, except a little black dog, and, as long as he is awake, we are no better off than before; for, as soon as we begin to climb over the wall, the little dog will hear us, and its barking will waken all the others again. Having got you, we can place you where you will be able to shoot the dog before it begins to bark, and then no one can hinder us from getting the princess into our hands. If you do that, we shall not only let you off, but reward you handsomely."
Niels had to consent, and the giants set out for the castle at once. It was surrounded by a very high rampart, so high that even the giants could not touch the top of it. "How am I to get over that?" said Niels.
"Quite easily," said the third giant; "I'll throw you up on it."
"No, thanks," said Niels. "I might fall down on the other side, or break my leg or neck, and then the little dog wouldn't get shot after all."
"No fear of that," said the giant; 'the rampart is quite wide on the top, and covered with long grass, so that you will come down as softly as though you fell on a feather-bed."
Niels had to believe him, and allowed the giant to throw him up. He came down on his feet quite unhurt, but the little black dog heard the dump, and rushed out of its kennel at once. It was just opening its mouth to bark, when Niels fired, and it fell dead on the spot.
"Go down on the inside now," said the giant, "and see if you can open the gate to us."
Niels made his way down into the courtyard, but on his way to the outer gate he found himself at the entrance to the large hall of the castle. The door was open, and the hall was brilliantly lighted, though there was no one to be seen. Niels went in here and looked round him: on the wall there hung a huge sword without a sheath, and beneath it was a large drinking-horn, mounted with silver. Niels went closer to look at these, and saw that the horn had letters engraved on the silver rim: when he took it down and turned it round, he found that the inscription was:
Whoever drinks the wine I hold
Niels took out the silver stopper of the horn, and drank some of the wine, but when he tried to take down the sword he found himself unable to move it. So he hung up the horn again, and went further in to the castle. "The giants can wait a little," he said.
Before long he came to an apartment in which a beautiful princess lay asleep in a bed, and on a table by her side there lay a gold-hemmed handkerchief. Niels tore this in two, and put one half in his pocket, leaving the other half on the table. On the floor he saw a pair of gold-embroidered slippers, and one of these he also put in his pocket. After that he went back to the hall, and took down the horn again. "Perhaps I have to drink all that is in it before I can move the sword," he thought; so he put it to his lips again and drank till it was quite empty. When he had done this, he could wield the sword with the greatest of ease, and felt himself strong enough to do anything, even to fight the giants he had left outside, who were no doubt wondering why he had not opened the gate to them before this time. To kill the giants, he thought, would be using the sword for the right; but as to winning the love of the princess, that was a thing which the son of a poor sheep-farmer need not hope for.
When Niels came to the gate of the castle, he found that there was a large door and a small one, so he opened the latter.
"Can't you open the big door?" said the giants; "we shall hardly be able to get in at this one."
"The bars are too heavy for me to draw," said Niels; "if you stoop a little you can quite well come in here." The first giant accordingly bent down and entered in a stooping posture, but before he had time to straighten his back again Niels made a sweep with the sword, and oft went the giant's head. To push the body aside as it fell was quite easy for Niels, so strong had the wine made him, and the second giant as he entered met the same reception. The third was slower in coming, so Niels called out to him: "Be quick," he said, "you are surely the oldest of the three, since you are so slow in your movements, but I can't wait here long; I must get back to my own people as soon as possible." So the third also came in, and was served in the same way. It appears from the story that giants were not given fair play!
By this time day was beginning to break, and Niels thought that his folks might already be searching for him, so, instead of waiting to see what took place at the castle, he ran off to the forest as fast as he could, taking the sword with him. He found the others still asleep, so he woke them up, and they again set out on their journey. Of the night's adventures he said not a word, and when they asked where he got the sword, he only pointed in the direction of the castle, and said, "Over that way." They thought he had found it, and asked no more questions.
When Niels left the castle, he shut the door behind him, and it closed with such a bang that the porter woke up. He could scarcely believe his eyes when he saw the three headless giants lying in a heap in the courtyard, and could not imagine what had taken place. The whole castle was soon aroused, and then everybody wondered at the affair: it was soon seen that the bodies were those of the king's great enemies, but how they came to be there and in that condition was a perfect mystery. Then it was noticed that the drinking-horn was empty and the sword gone, while the princess reported that half of her handkerchief and one of her slippers had been taken away. How the giants had been killed seemed a little clearer now, but who had done it was as great a puzzle as before. The old knight who had charge of the castle said that in his opinion it must have been some young knight, who had immediately set off to the king to claim the hand of the princess. This sounded likely, but the messenger who was sent to the Court returned with the news that no one there knew anything about the matter.
"We must find him, however," said the princess; "for if he is willing to marry me I cannot in honour refuse him, after what my father put on the horn." She took council with her father's wisest men as to what ought to be done, and among other things they advised her to build a house beside the highway, and put over the door this inscription:–"Whoever will tell the story of his life, may stay here three nights for nothing." This was done, and many strange tales were told to the princess, but none of the travellers said a word about the three giants.
In the meantime Niels and the others tramped on towards Rome. Autumn passed, and winter was just beginning when they came to the foot of a great range of mountains, towering up to the sky. "Must we go over these?" said they. "We shall be frozen to death or buried in the snow."
"Here comes a man," said Niels; "let us ask him the way to Rome." They did so, and were told that there was no other way.
"And is it far yet?" said the old people, who were beginning to be worn out by the long journey. The man held up his foot so that they could see the sole of his shoe; it was worn as thin as paper, and there was a hole in the middle of it.
"These shoes were quite new when I left Rome," he said, "and look at them now; that will tell you whether you are far from it or not."
This discouraged the old people so much that they gave up all thought of finishing the journey, and only wished to get back to Denmark as quickly as they could. What with the winter and bad roads they took longer to return than they had taken to go, but in the end they found themselves in sight of the forest where they had slept before.
"What's this?" said Rasmus. "Here's a big house built since we passed this way before."
"So it is," said Peter; "let's stay all night in it."
"No, we can't afford that," said the old people; "it will be too dear for the like of us."
However, when they saw what was written above the door, they were all well pleased to get a night's lodging for nothing. They were well received, and had so much attention given to them, that the old people were quite put out by it. After they had got time to rest themselves, the princess's steward came to hear their story.
"You saw what was written above the door," he said to the father. "Tell me who you are and what your history has been."
"Dear me, I have nothing of any importance to tell you," said the old man, "and I am sure we should never have made so bold as to trouble you at all if it hadn't been for the youngest of our two sons here."
"Never mind that," said the steward; "you are very welcome if you will only tell me the story of your life."
"Well, well, I will," said he, "but there is nothing to tell about it. I and my wife have lived all our days on a moor in North Jutland, till this last year, when she took a fancy to go to Rome. We set out with our two sons but turned back long before we got there, and are now on our way home again. That's all my own story, and our two sons have lived with us all their days, so there is nothing more to be told about them either."
"Yes there is," said Rasmus; "when we were on our way south, we slept in the wood near here one night, and I shot a stag."
The steward was so much accustomed to hearing stories of no importance that he thought there was no use going further with this, but reported to the princess that the newcomers had nothing to tell.
"Did you question them all?" she said.
"Well, no; not directly," said he; "but the father said that none of them could tell me any more than he had done."
"You are getting careless," said the princess; "I shall go and talk to them myself."
Niels knew the princess again as soon as she entered the room, and was greatly alarmed, for he immediately supposed that all this was a device to discover the person who had run away with the sword, the slipper and the half of the handkerchief, and that it would fare badly with him if he were discovered. So he told his story much the same as the others did (Niels was not very particular), and thought he had escaped all further trouble, when Rasmus put in his word. "You've forgotten something, Niels," he said; "you remember you found a sword near here that night I shot the stag."
"Where is the sword?" said the princess.
"I know," said the steward, "I saw where he laid it down when they came in;" and off he went to fetch it, while Niels wondered whether he could make his escape in the meantime. Before he had made up his mind, however, the steward was back with the sword, which the princess recognised at once.
"Where did you get this?" she said to Niels.
Niels was silent, and wondered what the usual penalty was for a poor sheep-farmer's son who was so unfortunate as to deliver a princess and carry off things from her bed-room.
"See what else he has about him," said the princess to the steward, and Niels had to submit to be searched: out of one pocket came a gold-embroidered slipper, and out of another the half of a gold-hemmed handkerchief.
"That is enough," said the princess; "now we needn't ask any more questions. Send for my father the king at once."
"Please let me go," said Niels; "I did you as much good as harm, at any rate."
"Why, who said anything about doing harm?" said the princess. "You must stay here till my father comes."
The way in which the princess smiled when she said this gave Niels some hope that things might not be bad for him after all, and he was yet more encouraged when he thought of the words engraver on the horn, though the last line still seemed too good to be true. However, the arrival of the king soon settled the matter: the princess was willing and so was Niels, and in a few days the wedding bells were ringing. Niels was made an earl by that time, and looked as handsome as any of them when dressed in all his robes. Before long the old king died, and Niels reigned after him; but whether his father and mother stayed with him, or went back to the moor in Jutland, or were sent to Rome in a carriage and four, is something that all the historians of his reign have forgotten to mention.
Many years ago an old soldier was discharged from the army. For his excellent and faithful service he got a small loaf of rye bread and three pennies, and was then free to go where he pleased.
As he was walking along the highroad, he met three men. One of them carried a shovel, the other a pickaxe, and the third a spade. The soldier stopped, looked at them, and said, "Where are you going?"
"I will tell you," answered one of them. "Today a man was buried. He owed each of us one penny, and now we will dig him up, for we are determined on getting our dues."
"What an idea!" returned the soldier; "you had better leave the dead man alone. At any rate, he is at present unable to pay you even one penny, so don't disturb his peace!"
"It is all very fine for you to talk," answered the man, "but we must have the money, and up he must come."
When the soldier felt that his fair words could not settle the matter, he said, "Here, I have three pennies; will you take them and promise to leave the dead man undisturbed?"
"Yes, that will do." All three were well satisfied, so they went their way with the three pennies in their pockets.
When the soldier had come a distance further, a stranger came walking along. He looked rather pale, but saluted the soldier in a very civil manner, and followed him along the road without saying a single word until they reached a church. There the stranger turned to his companion and said, "Let us wgo in!"
The soldier looked at him and asked, "What business have we in the church at midnight?"
"Listen," answered the stranger, "we must walk in!" On this they entered the church and walked straight up to the altar. An old woman was sitting on it with a burning light in her hand.
"Take a hair from her head and smell at it!" commanded the stranger. The soldier did as he was commanded, but nothing remarkable happened. The stranger asked him to do it again. He did, but there was no effect. The third time, however, the soldier tore a little wisp of hair from the woman's head. At that the woman became so furious that she darted off, out above the church, carrying the whole leaden roof of the church with her.
The two men went out of the church and down to the beach, where they found the whole leaden ceiling. Turning to the soldier, the stranger said, "Sit up; we will put to sea!"
"Is that so?" remarked the soldier, who understood nothing of all this. "But I see no ship."
"Let me manage it all," said the stranger; "just seat yourself by me on the vault! Beyond the sea there is a princess. It was predicted that she would be married only to a man who should come across the sea in a leaden ship. Here you will be able to make your fortune."
The leaden vault now floated out on the open sea, and landed them safely on the other side. Great was the joy and happiness throughout the country, and the marriage between the soldier and the princess was celebrated with pomp and splendour.
When the ceremony was over, and the carriage was standing in front of the church door, bride and groom entered with the stranger who had followed the soldier all along. The coachman asked to what place he might drive them.
"Drive away from here, as fast as you can," said the stranger. Again he bid the coachman drive as fast as possible. He did, and in a little while they rushed up to Ravensburg Castle. It was owned by a wizard, but the stranger got into the castle when the wizard tended his sheep in the fields. When the conjurer came back to get inside, the stranger warned him, saying, "You may come in if you can stand the fate of the rye."
"The fate of the rye!" repeated the conjurer; "what do you mean by that?"
"I mean," answered the stranger, "you will be mowed and dried, and kept in the barn, before you get threshed."
"How is that!" cried the conjurer; "threshed?"
"Oh yes," answered the stranger. "First threshed, and then taken to the mill and ground."
"Ground, too?" shouted the conjurer.
"Yes, both ground and sifted," answered the stranger.
On hearing such tidings, the wizard burst into flint-stones.
The stranger now bid goodbye to the princess and the soldier, shook hands with them, and said, "Now I have seen to it that you got married to the princess; the troll of Ravensburg is dead and gone, and his castle and all its treasures are yours. I was as good to you as you were to me when you gave away your three pennies for my sake!"
"What?" said the soldier; "I never thought of those three pennies again!"
"I know," answered the stranger. "Otherwise I would not have been able to help you. But now I bid farewell to you and your wife, for I must return to where I came from."
There were once on a time, a king and queen of Denmark who had an only son, a handsome and clever lad. When he was eighteen, his father, the old king, fell very ill, and there was no hope that he would ever get well again. The queen and the prince were very unhappy, for they loved him dearly; but though they did all they could, he only grew worse and worse, and, one day, when the summer had come and the birds were singing, he raised his head and, taking a long look out of the window, fell back dead.
During many weeks the queen could hardly eat or sleep, so sorely did she grieve for him, and the prince feared that she would die also if she went on weeping; so he begged her to go with him to a beautiful place that he knew of on the other side of the forest, and after some time she consented. The prince was overjoyed, and arranged that they should set off early next morning.
They travelled all day, only stopping now and then to rest, and already the queen began to be better and to take a little interest in the things she saw. Just as the evening was coming on they entered the forest. Here it was quite dark, for the trees grew so close together that the sun could not shine through them, and very soon they lost the path, and wandered helplessly about wondering what they should do.
"If we sleep in this dreadful place," said the queen, who was tired and frightened, 'the wild beasts will eat us." And she began to cry.
"Cheer up, mother," answered her son, "I have a feeling that luck is coming to us." And at the next turning they came to a little house, in the window of which a light was burning.
"Didn't I tell you so?" cried the prince. "Stay here a moment and I will go and see if I can get food and shelter for the night." And away he ran as fast as he could go, for by this time they were very hungry, as they had brought very little food with them and had eaten up every scrap! When one takes a long journey on foot one does not like to have too much to carry.
The prince entered the house and looked about him, going from one room to the other, but seeing nobody and finding nothing to eat. At last, as he was going sorrowfully away, he caught sight of a sword and shirt of mail hanging on the wall in an inner room, with a piece of paper fastened under them. On the paper was some writing, which said that whoever wore the coat and carried the sword would be safe from all danger.
The prince was so delighted at the sight that he forgot how hungry he was, and instantly slipped on the coat of chain armour under his tunic, and hid the sword under his cloak, for he did not mean to say anything about what he had found. Then he went back to his mother, who was waiting impatiently for him.
"What have you been doing all this time?" she asked angrily. "I thought you had been killed by robbers!"
"Oh, just looking round," he answered; "but though I searched everywhere I could find nothing to eat."
"I am very much afraid that it is a robbers' den," said the queen. "We had better go on, hungry though we are."
"No, it isn't; but still, we had better not stay here," replied the prince, "especially as there is nothing to eat. Perhaps we shall find another house."
They went on for some time, till, sure enough, they came to another house, which also had a light in the window.
"We'll go in here," said the prince.
No, no; I am afraid!" cried the queen. "We shall be attacked and killed! It is a robbers' den: I am sure it is!"
"Yes, it looks like it; but we can't help that," said her son. "We have had nothing to eat for hours, and I'm nearly as tired as you."
The poor queen was, indeed, quite worn out; she could hardly stand for fatigue, and in spite of her terror was half anxious to be persuaded.
"And there's going to be a storm," added the prince; who feared nothing now that he had the sword.
So they went into the house, where they found nobody. In the first room stood a table laid for a meal, with all sorts of good things to eat and drink, though some of the dishes were empty.
"Well, this looks nice," said the prince, sitting down and helping himself to some delicious strawberries piled on a golden dish, and some iced lemonade. Never had anything tasted so nice; but, all the same, it was a robbers' den they had come to, and the robbers, who had only just dined, had gone out into the forest to see whom they could rob.
When the queen and the prince could eat no more they remembered that they were very tired, and the prince looked about till he discovered a comfortable bed, with silken sheets, standing in the next room.
"You get into bed, mother," he said, "and I'll lie down by the side. Don't be alarmed; you can sleep quite safely till the morning." And he lay down with his sword in his hand, and kept watch till the day began to break; then the queen woke up and said she was quite rested and ready to start again.
"First I'll go out into the forest and see if I can find our road," said the prince. "And while I'm gone you light the fire and make some coffee. We must eat a good breakfast before we start."
And he ran off into the wood.
After he had gone the queen lit the fire, and then thought she would like to see what was in the other rooms; so she went from one to another, and presently came to one that was very prettily furnished, with lovely pictures on the walls, and pale blue curtains and soft yellow cushions and comfortable easy chairs. As she was looking at all these things, suddenly a trap-door opened in the floor, and the robber-chief came out of the hole and seized her ankles. The queen almost died of fright, and shrieked loudly, then fell on her knees and begged him to spare her life.
"Yes, if you will promise me two things," he replied; "first that you will take me home to your country and let me be crowned king instead of your son; and secondly, that you will kill him in case he should try to take the throne from me – if you will not agree to this I shall kill you."
"Kill my own son!" gasped the queen, staring at him in horror.
"You need not do that exactly," said the robber. "When he returns, just lie on the bed and say that you have been taken ill, and add that you have dreamed that in a forest, a mile away, there are some beautiful apples. If you could only get some of these you would be well again, but if not you will die."
The queen shuddered as she listened. She was fond of her son, but she was a terrible coward; and so in the end she agreed, hoping that something would occur to save the prince. She had hardly given her promise when a step was heard, and the robber hastily hid himself.
"Well, mother," cried the prince as he entered, "I have been through the forest and found the road, so we will start directly we have had some breakfast."
"Oh, I feel so ill!" said the queen. "I could not walk a single step; and there is only one thing that will cure me."
"What is that?" asked the prince.
"I dreamed," answered the queen, in a faint voice, 'that, a mile away, there is a forest where the most beautiful apples grow, and if I could have some of them I should soon be well again."
"Oh! but dreams don't mean anything," said the prince. "There is a magician who lives near here. I'll go to him and ask for a spell to cure you."
"My dreams always mean something," said the queen, shaking her head. "If I don't get any apples I shall die." She did not know why the robber wanted to send the prince to this particular forest, but as a matter of fact it was full of wild animals who would tear to pieces any traveller who entered it.
"Well, I'll go," answered the prince. "But I really must have some breakfast first; I shall walk all the faster."
"If you do not hurry you will find me dead when you come back," murmured the queen fretfully. She thought her son was not nearly anxious enough about her, and by this time she had begun to believe that she really was as ill as she had said.
When the prince had eaten and drunk, he set off, and soon came to the forest, and sure enough it was full of lions and tigers, and bears and wolves, who came rushing towards him; but instead of springing on him and tearing him to pieces, they lay down on the ground and licked his hands. He speedily found the tree with the apples which his mother wanted, but the branches were so high he could not reach them, and there was no way of climbing up the smooth trunk.
"It is no use after all, I can't get up there," he said to himself. "What am I to do now?"
But, as he turned away his sword chanced to touch the tree, and immediately two apples fell down. He picked them up joyfully, and was going away when a little dog came out of a hill close by, and running up to him, began tugging at his clothes and whining.
"What do you want, little dog?" asked the prince, stooping down to pat his soft black head.
The dog ran to a hole that was in the hill and sat there looking out, as much as to say: "Come along in with me."
"I may as well go and see what is in there," thought the prince, and he went over to the hill. But the hole was so small that he could not get through it, so he thrust his sword into it, and immediately it became larger.
"Ha, ha!" he chuckled; "it's worth something to have a sword like that." And he bent down and crept through the hole.
The first thing he beheld, when he entered a room at the very end of a dark passage, was a beautiful princess, who was bound by an iron chain to an iron pillar.
"What evil fate brought you here?" he asked in surprise; and the lady answered:
"It isn't much use for me to tell you lest my lot becomes yours."
"I am not afraid of that. Tell me who you are and what has brought you here," begged the prince.
"My story is not long," she said, smiling sadly. "I am a princess from Arabia, and twelve robbers who dwell in this place are fighting among themselves as to which shall have me to wife."
"Shall I save you?" asked the prince. And she answered:
"Yes; but you can't do it. To begin with, how could you break the chain I am bound with?"
"Oh, that's easy enough," said he, taking out his sword; and directly it touched the chain the links fell apart and the princess was free.
"Come!" said the prince, taking her hand. But she drew back.
"No, I dare not! 'she cried. "If we should meet the robbers in the passage they would kill us both."
"Not they!" said the prince, brandishing his sword. "But how long have you been here?" he added quickly.
"About twenty years, I think," said the princess, reckoning with her fingers.
"Twenty years!" exclaimed the prince. "Then you had better shut your eyes, for when you have been sitting there so long it might hurt you to go too suddenly into the daylight. So you are the princess of Arabia, whose beauty is famous throughout all the world! I, too, am a prince."
"Will you not come back to Arabia and marry me, now you have saved my life?" asked the princess. "Even if my father is living still, he must be old, and after his death you can be king."
"No," replied the prince, "I cannot do that – I must live and die in my own country. But at the end of a year I will follow you and marry you." And that was all he would say.
Then the princess took a heavy ring from her finger and put it on his. Her father's and her mother's names were engraved in it, as well as her own, and she asked him to keep it as a reminder of his promise.
"I will die before I part from it," said the prince. "And if at the end of a year I am still living, I will come. I believe I have heard that at the other side of this forest there is a port from which ships sail to Arabia. Let us hasten there at once."
Hand in hand they set off through the forest, and when they came to the port they found a ship lust ready to sail. The princess said good-bye to the prince, and went on board the vessel, and when she reached her own country there were great rejoicings, for her parents had never expected to see her again. She told them how a prince had saved her from the robbers, and was coming in a year's time to marry her, and they were greatly pleased.
"All the same," said the king, "I wish he were here now. A year is a long time."
When the princess was no longer before his eyes, the prince recollected why he had entered the forest, and made all the haste he could back to the robbers' home.
The robber-chief could smell the apples from afar, for he had a nose like an ogre, and he said to the queen:
"That is a strange fellow! If he had gone into the forest the wild beasts must have eaten him unless he has a powerful charm to protect him. If that is so we must get it away from him."
"No, he has nothing," answered the queen, who was quite fascinated by the robber.
But the robber did not believe her.
"We must think of a way to get it," he said. "When he comes in say you are well again, and have some food ready for him. Then, while he is eating, tell him you dreamed that he was attacked by wild beasts, and ask him how he managed to escape from them. After he has told you I can easily find a way to take his charm from him."
Shortly after the prince came in.
"How are you, mother!" he said gaily. "Here are your apples. Now you will soon be well again, and ready to come away with me."
"Oh, I am better already," she said. "And see, your dinner is all hot for you; eat it up, and then we will start."
While he was eating she said to him: "I had a horrible dream while you were away. I saw you in a forest full of wild animals, and they were running round you and growling fiercely. How did you manage to escape from them?"
"Oh, it was only a dream!" laughed the prince.
"But my dreams are always true," said his mother. Tell me how it was."
The prince wondered for some time whether he should tell her or not, but at last he decided to let her into the secret.
"One should tell one's mother everything," he thought. And he told her.
"See, mother, here are a sword and a mail shirt which I found in the first house we entered in the forest, and as long as I carry them nothing can hurt me. That is what saved me from the wild beasts."
"How can I be thankful enough!" exclaimed the queen. And directly the prince's back was turned, she hurried to tell the robber.
The robber, as soon as he heard the news, made a sleeping-draught, and bade the queen give it to her son before he went to bed that night.
Accordingly, as soon as the prince began to get sleepy, the queen handed him the cup containing the draught.
"Drink this, to please me," she said. "It will do you good after all you've gone through, and make you sleep well."
"What an odd taste it has!" murmured the prince as he drank it.
Immediately he fell asleep; and the robber came in and took away his sword and shirt of mail.
"These things belong to my brother," he said. After he had got them both in his hand the robber woke him.
I am the master now," said he. "Choose one of two things – either you must die, or your eyes will be put out, and you will be sent back to the forest."
The prince's blood grew cold at these words. Then a thought struck him, and he turned to his mother: "Is this your doing?" he asked sternly. And though she burst into tears and denied it, the prince knew she was not telling the truth.
"Well," said he, ""while there is life there is hope." I will go back to the forest."
Then the robber put out his eyes, gave him a stick, and some food and drink, and drove him into the forest, hoping that the "wild beasts would kill him, as he no longer had the sword and shirt to protect him.
"Now," he said to the queen, "we will return to your country."
The next day they set sail, and as soon as they reached home, they were married, and the robber became king.
Meanwhile the poor prince was wandering about in the forest, hoping to find someone who would help him, and perhaps take him into service, for now he had no money and no home. It so happened that there had been a great hunt in the forest, and the wild beasts had all fled before the hunters and were hiding, so nothing did him any harm. At last, one day, just when his food was all gone and he had made up his mind that he must surely die of hunger, he came to the port whence the ships sailed for Arabia. One vessel was just ready to start, and the captain was going on board when he saw the prince.
"Why, here is a poor blind fellow!" he said. "No doubt that is the work of the robbers. Let us take him to Arabia with us. Would you like to come, my good man?" he asked the prince.
Oh, how glad he was to hear someone speak kindly to him again! And he answered that he would, and the sailors helped him to climb up the side of the ship. When they got to Arabia the captain took him to the public baths, and ordered one of the slaves to wash him. While he was being washed the princess's ring slipped off his finger and was afterwards found by the slave who cleaned out the bath. The man showed it to a friend of his who lived at the palace.
"Why, it is the princess's ring! "he said. "Where did it come from?"
"It fell off a blind man's finger," said the slave. "He must have stolen it; but I dare say you will be able to return it to the princess."
So that evening the man took the ring to the palace and gave it to his daughter, who was the princess's favourite slave, and the girl gave it to her mistress. When the princess saw it she uttered a cry of joy.
"It is the ring I gave my betrothed!" she said. "Take me to him at once."
The bath-keeper thought it strange that the princess should be betrothed to a blind beggar, but he did as she bade him, and when she saw the prince she cried:
"At last you have come! The year is over, and I thought you were dead. Now we will be married immediately." And she went home and told the king that he was to send an escort to bring her betrothed to the palace. Naturally the king was rather surprised at the sudden arrival of the prince; but when he heard that he was blind he was very much annoyed.
"I cannot have a blind person to succeed me," he said. "It is perfectly absurd!
But the princess had had her own way all her life, and in the end the king gave way as he had always done. The prince was taken to the palace with much ceremony and splendour; but in spite of this the king was not contented. Still, it could not be helped, and really it was time the princess was married, though she looked as young as ever. There had been hundreds of knights and princes who had begged her to bestow her hand on them, but she would have nothing to do with anyone; and now she had taken it into her head to marry this blind prince, and nobody else would she have.
One evening, as it was fine, the prince and princess went into the garden, and sat down under a tree.
Two ravens were perched on a bush near by, and the prince, who could understand bird language, heard one of them say: "Do you know that it is Midsummer-eve to-night?"
"Yes," said the other.
"And do you know that part of the garden which is known as the queen's Bed?"
"Well, perhaps you don't know this, that whoever has bad eyes, or no eyes at all, should bathe his eye-sockets in the dew that falls there to-night, because then he will get his sight back. Only he must do it between twelve and one o"clock."
That was good news for the prince and princess to hear, and the young man begged the princess to lead him to the place called the queen's Bed, which was the little plot of grass where the queen used often to lie down. and take her midday nap. Then, between twelve and one o"clock, he bathed his eyes with the dew that was falling there, and found he could see again as well as ever.
"I can see you!" he said to the princess, gazing at her as if he had never seen anything before.
"I don't believe it," she answered.
"Well, go and hang your handkerchief on a bush, and if I find it at once you must believe me," he said.
And so she did, and he went straight up to the handkerchief.
"Yes, indeed, you can see," cried the princess. "To think that my mother's bed has really given back your sight!" and she went to the bank and sat down again; and by-and-by, as the day was hot, the princess fell asleep. As the prince watched her he suddenly saw something shining on her neck. It was a little golden lamp that gave out a bright light, and it hung from a golden chain. The prince thought he would like to examine it more closely, so he unfastened the chain, but as he did so the lamp fell to the ground. Before he could pick it up a hawk flew in, snatched up the little lamp and flew away again with it. The prince set off in pursuit, and ran on and on without being able to catch the bird, till at length he had lost his way. Trying to find it, he wandered on, up and down, till he came to the forest where he had found the princess.
Meantime, the princess woke up, and finding herself alone she set out to look for him. In the end she also lost her way, and as she was walking about, not knowing what to do, the robbers captured her and took her back to the cave from which the prince had rescued her. So there they were after all their trouble – no better off than before!
The prince wandered on, trying to find his way back to Arabia, till he chanced one day to meet twelve youths, walking gaily through the forest, singing and laughing. "Where are you going?" he asked. And they told him they were looking for work.
"I'll join you, if I may," said the prince. And they answered: "The more the merrier."
Then the prince went with them, and they all journeyed on till they met an old troll.
"Where are you going, my masters?" asked the troll.
"To seek service," they told him.
"Then come and serve me," he said; 'there will be plenty to eat and drink, and not much work to do, and if, at the end of a year, you can answer three questions, I'll give you each a sack of gold. Otherwise you must be turned into beasts."
The youths thought this sounded easy enough, so they went home with the troll to his castle.
"You will find all that you want here," he said; "and all you need do is to take care of the house, for I am going away, and shall only return when the year is over."
Then he went away, and the young men, left to themselves, had a fine time of it; for they did no work, and only amused themselves with singing and drinking. Every day they found the table laid with good things to eat and drink, and when they had finished, the plates and dishes were cleared away by invisible hands. Only the prince, who was sad for his lost princess, ate and drank sparingly, and worked hard keeping the house in order.
One day, as he sat in his own room, he heard the voice of the old troll beneath his window talking to another troll.
"To-morrow," said he, 'the year is up."
"And what questions will you ask?" inquired the other.
"First I shall ask how long they have been here – they don't know, the young fools! Secondly I shall ask what shines on the roof of the castle."
"And what is that?"
"The lamp that was stolen by me from the princess as she slept in the garden."
"And what is the third question?"
"I shall ask where the food and drink they consume every day come from. I steal it from the king's table; but they don't know that."
The day after, the troll entered.
"Now I shall ask my questions," said he. "To begin with: How long have you been here?"
The young men had been so busy drinking and making merry that they had forgotten all about the agreement, so they remained silent.
"One week," said one, at last.
"Two months," guessed another. But the prince answered, "One year."
"Right," replied the troll. But the second question was more difficult.
"What is it that shines on the roof?"
The young men guessed and guessed. "The sun – the moon." But none of them really knew.
"May I answer?" asked the prince.
"Yes, certainly," replied the troll; and the prince spoke.
"The lamp that you stole from the princess while she was asleep in the garden." And again the troll nodded.
The third question was harder still.
"Where does the meat and drink you have had here come from?"
None of the young men could guess.
"May I say?" asked the prince.
"Yes, if you can," replied the troll.
"It comes from the king's table," said the prince.
And that was all. Now they might take the sacks of gold and go, and the young men went off in such a hurry that the prince was left behind. Presently, they met an old man who asked for money.
"No, we haven't any," they answered.
So they hurried on, and by-and-by up came the prince.
"Has your lordship a piece of money for a poor man?" asked the old fellow.
"Yes," said the prince, and gave him his whole sackful.
"I don't want it," said the old man, who was really the troll they had just left in disguise. "But since you're so generous, here is the princess's lamp, and the princess herself is in the cave where you found her; but how you're going to save her again without the magic sword I don't know."
When he heard that, the prince knew where she was; and that was the beginning of her rescue. So he disguised himself to look like a pedlar and travelled on till he reached his own city, where his mother, the queen, and the robber-chief were living. Then he went in to a goldsmith's shop and ordered a great number of kitchen pots to be made out of pure gold. That was not an order the goldsmith had every day, but the things were ready at last, saucepans and kettles and gridirons all of pure gold. Then the prince put them in his basket and went up to the palace, and asked to see the queen.
Directly she heard about the wonderful gold pots and pans she came out at once, and began unpacking the basket and admiring the things. She was so absorbed in them that the prince soon found an opportunity to steal into the bedroom and take the sword and shirt which were hung there, and go back again without his mother having noticed his absence.
"The things are all beautiful!" she said. "How much would you take for them?"
"Name your own price, your majesty," answered the prince.
"I really don't know what to say," said the queen. "Wait till my husband comes back – men understand such things better; and then, as you are a stranger, he would like to chat with you a little." The prince bowed, and waited silently in a corner.
Soon after the robber returned.
"Come and see all these lovely gold saucepans!" cried the queen.
But, as the robber entered the room, the prince touched him with the magic sword, and he fell to the ground.
"Perhaps, now you know me, mother," the prince said, taking off his disguise, "you had better repent for all the wrong you have done me, or your life will be short."
"Oh, have mercy!" she cried, "I could not help it. I was so frightened."
The prince had mercy. He ordered the wicked king to be stripped of his fine clothes, and to be driven into the forest, where the wild beasts tore him to pieces. The queen he sent to her own country. Then he set off for the cave where the princess was sitting chained as before, and with the help of the magic sword he rescued her again without any difficulty. They soon reached the port and set sail for Arabia, where they were married. And till they died, a long while after, they reigned happily over both countries.
[Fra Eventyr fra Jylland, samlede og optegnede of Evald Tang Kristensen. Translated from the Danish by Mrs. Skovgaard Pedersen.]