There once was an old cobbler who worked hard at his trade from morning till night and scarcely gave himself a moment to eat. But, industrious as he was, he could hardly buy bread and cheese for himself and his wife, and they grew thinner and thinner daily.
For a long while whey pretended to each other that they did not have much appetite. A few blackberries from the hedges were easier to get than a good strong bowl of soup, they said. But at last the cobbler could bear it no longer. He threw away his last, borrowed a rod from a neighbour and went out to fish.
From dawn to dark he stood on the banks of a little stream, without hooking anything better than an eel, or a few old shoes he saw were not worth mending. At last, as he undressed one night he said to himself: "Well, I will give it one more chance."
The next morning he caught a fine fish only after ten minutes, and nearly fell into the water from surprise when the fish said to him in a small, squeaky voice:
"Take me back to your hut and cook me; then cut me up, and sprinkle me over with pepper and salt. Give two of the pieces to your wife, and bury two more in the garden."
The cobbler did not understand why he was to to this, but did it all the same.
His children wanted to eat all the fish themselves, but the cobbler put aside two pieces, When his wife and children were safe in bed he stole out and buried the two pieces in the garden.
By and by two babies, exactly alike, lay in a cradle, and in the garden were two tall plants, with two brilliant shields on the top.
Years passed away, and the babies had nearly become full-grown men. They were tired of being mistaken for each other by everybody they saw, and determined to set off in different directions to seek adventures.
So, one fine morning, the two brothers left the hut, and walked together to the place where the great road divided. There they embraced and parted, promising that if anything remarkable had happened to either, he would hopefully return to the crossroads and wait till his brother came.
The youth who took the path that ran eastwards soon came to a large city. There he found everybody standing at the doors, wringing their hands and weeping bitterly.
"What is the matter?" he asked, pausing and looking round.
A man replied, in a faltering voice:
"Each year a lovely girl is chosen by lot to be offered up to a dreadful, fiery dragon, and this year the lot has fallen on the princess."
"But where is the princess?" said the young man.
The man answered:
"She is standing under a tree, a mile away, waiting for the dragon."
The youth ran off as fast as he could, and found the princess in tears, trembling from head to foot.
She turned to him when she heard him coming.
"Fly," she cried; "fly while you have yet time."
She said it, and she mean it, and the youth sped off. Yet a few minutes later he returned with a large mirror..
"I am in time," he cried, and placed the mirror against a tree trunk.
"Give me your veil," he said hastily to the princess, and covered the mirror with it.
"The moment the dragon comes near you, you must tear off the veil," he cried; "and be sure you hide behind the mirror. Have no fear; I shall be at hand."
He had scarcely found shelter among some rocks, when they heard the flap of the dragon's wings. The dragon tossed his head with delight at the sight of the girl, and came slowly to the place where she stood, a little in front of the mirror. Then, still looking the monster steadily in the face, she passed one hand behind her back and snatched off the veil while she stepped swiftly behind the tree as she did so.
The dragon stopped short with surprise and rage when he saw a monster before him as big and strong as himself. He opened his mouth to its very widest and gave an awful roar, but the mirror dragon only roared back. With another roar the dragon he flung himself upon his foe. The mirror broke into a lot of pieces, and the dragon was bewildered for a moment.
Before the dragon could find out of what had happened, the young man's lance was down his throat, and the dragon was rolling around until he lay still and was dead on the grass.
When the youth came back with the princess, and dragging the dragon by a cord, everybody cried out that the king must marry the princess to him, and so the king did. It was a lovely wedding. When the festivity was over, the young couple went to a palace prepared for them.
The first day after their marriage the bridegroom and bride looked at the rooms in their palace, and stepped to the roof to see the view.
"What castle is that out there in the distance?" asked the knight; "Is it black?"
"It is called the castle of Albatroz," answered the princess. "It is enchanted, and no one that has tried to enter it has ever come back."
Her husband said nothing, and began to talk of something else; but the next morning he ordered his horse, took his spear, called his bloodhound, and set off for the castle. When he got near it, he drew out his horn, and blew a blast. But nobody stirred for all that.
"Is there anyone inside?" cried the young man in his loudest voice. An old woman peeped through a tiny opening.
"What do you want?" she said.
"Can I rest here this night? Yes or No?"
The old woman he began fumbling with the lock of the gate.
"Come in, come in," she said, adding: "You must call me the Lady. This is my castle. You are to live here with me and be my husband."
In surprise the knight let his spear fall.
"I marry you? why you must be a hundred at least! I meant to take a look at the castle and then go."
The old woman took no notice, and bade the knight follow her through the rooms in her palace. They were full of curious things.
At length they came to a stone staircase. It was not lighted, not in the least.
"Let me go first, for the stairs are steep, and you might easily break your leg," said the old woman.
So, on she went, now and then calling back to the young man in the darkness. But he did not know that she had slipped aside into a recess, till suddenly he put his foot on a trap door which gave way under him, and he fell down, down, as many knights had done before him.
"So you would not marry me!" chuckled the old witch. "Ha! ha!"
Meanwhile his brother had wandered far and wide, and at last had come back to the same great city where his twin brother had met with so many adventures. As he walked through the streets, the guards drew themselves up in line and saluted him, and the drummers played the royal march. Servants in livery ran up to him and told him that the princess was sure something terrible had befallen him, and had become ill with weeping.
"I have been taken for my brother again," he thought. "I had better say nothing. Perhaps I shall be able to help him after all."
In the palace, the princess threw herself into his arms and asked him about the black castle.
"I have to go there once more," he answered.
"Must you really go back to that dreadful place?" she asked.
"I must," was all he answered.
Early next day the young man started for the castle, feeling sure that some terrible thing must have happened to his brother.
At the blast of his horn the nose of the old woman appeared at an opening again. The moment she caught sight of his face, she nearly fainted from fright, for she feared it was the ghost of the youth she had tricked into the dungeon of the castle.
"Hello," cried the newcomer, "Did not you welcome a young knight but a short time ago?"
"A short time ago!" said the echoes.
"How have you ill-treated him?" he went on.
"Ill-treated him!" answered the echoes.
The woman did not stop to hear more; she turned to fly; but the youth struck her down with his sword.
"Where is my brother?" he asked sternly.
"I will tell you," she gasped, "if you bring me to life again. Go into the garden and gather the flowers of the everlasting plant and some of dragon's blood. Crush them together and boil them in a large tub of water, and then put me into it."
The knight did as the old witch bade him, and, sure enough, she came out quite whole, but uglier than ever. She then told the young man what had become of his brother, and he went down into the dungeon, and brought up his body and the bodies of the other victims who lay there. When they were all washed in the magic water their strength was restored to them.
And, besides these, he found in another cavern the bodies of the girls who had been sacrificed to the dragon, and brought them back to life also.
As to the old witch, in the end she died of rage at seeing her prey escape her; and at the moment she drew her last breath the castle of Albatroz fell into ruins with a great noise.
A poor fisher had built a hut on the banks of a stream that flowed quietly past trees and under bushes. There he lived with his wife and eight children, and listened to the songs of the birds overhead.
One day the fisherman went to the river as usual to cast his nets. Then he saw a cradle floating towards him on the current. He slipped his net quickly beneath and drew it out of the river. In the cradle were two babies, a boy and a girl. They opened their eyes and smiled at him. The man took the cradle and the babies home to his wife.
The good woman despaired when she was shown what was in the cradle.
"Are not eight children enough," she cried, "without bringing us two more? How do you think we can feed them?"
"You would not have had me leave them to die of hunger," he answered, "or be swallowed up by the waves further down the river? What is enough for eight is also enough for ten, I hope."
The wife said no more; for her heart yearned over the little babies. Somehow or other food was never lacking in the hut, and the children grew up and were so good and gentle that in time their foster-parents loved them as well or better than their own, who were quarrelsome and envious. It did not take the orphans long to notice that the boys did not like them, and were always playing tricks on them, so they used to go away by themselves and spend whole hours by the banks of the river. Here they would take out the bits of bread they had saved from their breakfasts and crumble them for the birds. In return, the birds taught them many things: how to get up early in the morning, how to sing, and how to talk their language, which very few people know.
But though the little orphans did their best to avoid quarrelling with their foster-brothers, it was very difficult always to keep the peace. Matters got worse and worse till one morning, the eldest boy said to the twins:
"It is all very well for you to pretend that you have such good manners, and are so much better than we, but we have at least a father and mother, while you have only got the river, toads and frogs."
The two gentle children did not answer the insult, but it made them very unhappy. And they told each other in whispers that they could not stay there any longer, but must go into the world and seek their fortunes.
So next day they arose as early as the birds and stole downstairs without anybody hearing them. One window was open, and they crept softly out and ran to the side of the river. Then, feeling as if they had found a friend, they walked along its banks, hoping that by-and-by they should meet someone to take care of them.
The whole day they went steadily on without seeing a living creature till weary and footsore, in the evening they saw before them a small hut. But the door was shut, and the hut seemed empty. After the first disappointment, the boy said cheerfully:
"Here is a bench where we can sit down. When we are rested we will think what is best to do next."
Then they sat down, and for some time they were too tired even to notice anything; but by-and-by they saw that under the tiles of the roof a number of swallows were sitting, chattering merrily to each other. The swallows had no idea that the children understood their language.
"Good evening, madam," said one swallow to another who looked well groomed. "We hear you have lived for years in a city palace!"
"Yes, but I inherited this nest from my parents," said the other. But," she added, "I hope that you and your family are well?"
"Yes, yes, I am glad to say. But my poor daughter had a short time ago, a bad inflammation in her eyes. I think see would have gone blind had I not been able to find a great herb. It cured her at once."
The city swallow: "I too have seen a great deal--if you only knew!"
"Oh! tell us! do tell us!" they all cried. And when they had settled themselves comfortably, the city swallow began:
"Our king fell in love with the youngest daughter of a tailor. She was as good and gentle as she was beautiful. His nobles had hoped that he would have chosen one of their daughters for his queen and tried to prevent the marriage, but the king would not listen to them, and it took place. Not many months later a war broke out, and the king rode away at the head of his army while the queen remained behind. When peace was made, and the king returned, he was told that his wife had had two babies in his absence, but that both were dead; that she herself had gone out of her mind and had to be shut up in a tower in the mountains, where, in time, the fresh air might cure her.
"This was of course not true," added the city swallow. "The children were alive at that very moment in the gardener's cottage; but at night the chamberlain came down and put them in a cradle and carried it to the river.
"For a whole day they floated safely, for though the stream was deep it was very still, and the children took no harm. In the morning-- by my friend the kingfisher told me --they were rescued by a fisherman who lived near the river bank."
The children had been lying on the bench, listening lazily to the chatter up to this point; but when they heard the story of the cradle that their foster-mother had always been fond of telling them, they sat upright and looked at each other.
"Oh, how glad I am I learnt the birds' language!" said the eyes of one to the eyes of the other.
The other swallows said, "And when the children are grown up they can return to their father and set their mother free."
"It will not be so easy as you think," answered the city swallow; "for they will have to prove that they are the king's children and that their mother never went mad. There is only one way of proving it to the king."
"And what is that?" cried all the swallows at once. "And how do you know it?"
"I know it," answered the city swallow, "because, one day, when I was passing through the palace garden, I met a cuckoo, who, as I need not tell you, always pretends to be able to see into the future. We began to talk about certain things which were happening in the palace, and of the events of past years. "Ah," said he, "the only person who can expose the wickedness of the ministers and show the king how wrong he has been, is the Bird of Truth, who can speak the language of men."
""And where can this bird be found?" I asked.
""It is shut up in a castle guarded by a fierce giant, who only sleeps one quarter of an hour out of the whole twenty-four," replied the cuckoo.
"And where is this castle?" inquired the country swallow, who, like all the rest, and the children most of all, had been listening with deep attention.
"That is just what I don't know," answered her friend. "All I can tell you is that not far from here is a tower, and it the tower lives an old witch. It is she who knows the way. She might only tell it to somebody who promises to bring her water from the fountain of many colours, for she uses that water for her enchantments. But I fear she will never tell where the Bird of Truth is hidden, for she hates him, and would kill him if she could.
But she knows well, that this bird cannot die. She keeps him closely shut up and guarded night and day by the Birds of Bad Faith, who seek to gag him so that his voice should not be heard."
"Is there none else who can tell the poor boy where to find the bird, if he should ever manage to reach the tower?" asked the country swallow.
"None," answered the city swallow, "except an owl, who lives a hermit's life in that desert, and he knows only one word of man's speech, and that is "cross." So that even if the prince did succeed in getting there, he could never understand what the owl said.
"But, look, the sun is sinking. I have to be off to my city nest. Good-night!"
The swallow flew away. The children had forgotten hunger and weariness; they got up and walked in the same direction as the swallow.
After two hours, they arrived at a large city. They felt sure it was the capital of their father's kingdom. Seeing a good-natured looking woman standing at the door of a house, they asked her if she would give them a night's lodging, and she liked them so well that she welcomed them warmly.
It was scarcely light the next morning before the girl was sweeping out the rooms, and the boy watering the garden, so that by the time the good woman came downstairs there was nothing left for her to do. This so delighted her that she begged the children to stay with her altogether, and the boy answered that he would leave his sister with her gladly, but that he himself had something serious to do, and could not wait with it. So he bade them farewell and set out.
For three days he wandered by the most out-of-the-way paths, but he could see no signs of a tower anywhere. On the fourth morning, he flung himself on the ground under a tree and felt too tired to walk on. In a little while he heard a rustling over his head. It was a turtle dove. Shw watched him with her bright eyes.
"Dove!" cried the boy to the bird in her own language, "Dove, please tell where is the castle of Come-and-never-go?"
"Poor you," said the dove, "who has sent you on such a useless quest? To get there you must follow the wind, for today it is blowing towards the castle."
The boy thanked her and started to follow the wind. He kept hoping the wind would not change. The wind blew steadily on.
A nightfall the boy could see behind the dark and bare rocks something darker still. This was the tower of the witch. Seizing the knocker he gave three loud knocks.
The door opened slowly, and an old woman appeared on the threshold. She was holding up a candle to her face, which was so hideous that the boy stepped backwards at the sight of it. Next he was almost as frightened by all the lizards, beetles and other such creatures that surrounded her
She cried, "Tell me what you want, and be quick, or it will be the worse for you."
He asked her where he could find the castle of Come-and-never-go."
"Today it is late. Tomorrow you may go," said the witch. "Come in. You may sleep with my lizards."
"I should not wait until the day dawns," he said.
"If I tell you, promise you will bring me this jar full of many-coloured water from the spring in the courtyard of the castle, or I will change you into a lizard," she said.
"I promise," said the boy.
Then the old woman called to a very thin dog, and said to him:
"Lead this boy to the castle of Come-and-never-go, and take care that you warn my friend of his coming."
The dog got up, shook itself, and set out.
At the end of two hours they stopped in front of a large castle, big and black and gloomy. The doors stood wide open. The dog howled wildly and went on; but the boy paused for a moment under a wild olive that grew nearby. It was the only tree he had seen since he had parted from the dove. "Oh, heaven, help me!" cried he.
"Cross! cross!" answered a voice.
The boy looked up and saw the owl that the swallow had spoken of, and said softly in the bird's language:
"Owl, please protect and guide me. I have come to find the Bird of Truth. But first I must fill this jar with many-coloured water from the spring in the courtyard of the castle."
"Don't do that," answered the owl, "but fill the jar from the spring which bubbles close by the fountain with the many-coloured water. Afterwards, go into the large room where birds are kept. The room is opposite the great door. Be careful not to touch any of the bright-plumaged birds there. Each one will cry to you that he is the Bird of Truth, but choose a small white bird hidden in a corner. The other birds try over and over to kill it, as they do not know that it cannot die. And -- be quick, for at this very moment the giant has fallen asleep, and you have only a quarter of an hour to do everything."
The boy ran as fast as he could and entered the courtyard. There he saw the two springs close together. He passed by the many-coloured water without casting a glance at it and filled the jar from the fountain with clear and pure water. He next hastened to the large room where the birds were kept. He walked by them all to the corner where the small white bird was sitting. Putting her safely in his breast, he walked out to the screams of the other birds he left behind him.
Once outside, he ran without stopping to the witch's tower, and handed to the old woman the jar she had given him.
"Become a parrot!" cried she, flinging the water over him. But he did not lose his shape, but grew ten times handsomer. The clear water was enchanted for good and not ill. Then the creeping creatures around the witch hastened to roll themselves in the water, and stood up, human beings again.
When the witch saw what was happening, she took a broomstick and flew away.
The sister greeted her brother with delight, and he showed her the Bird of Truth he was carrying. Now something very difficult remained, and that was to carry the Bird of Truth to the king without her being seized by the wicked and plotting courtiers.
No one knew how the news spread that the Bird of Truth had been seen in town. The courtiers made all sorts of preparations to hinder her reaching the king. They got ready both sharpened and poisoned weapons, and they sent for eagles and falcons to hunt her down, and they made cages and boxes to shut her up in if they were not able to kill her.
The courtiers did and talked so much about it all that at last the king heard of it and said he wanted to see that bird. Soon he proclaimed that whoever found the Bird of Truth should bring her to him without delay.
As soon as he saw the king's proclamation the boy called his sister, and they hastened to the palace. The bird was buttoned inside his tunic, but, as might have been expected, the courtiers barred the way and told the child that he could not enter. The boy said in vain that they were only obeying the king's commands.
Then suddenly the bird flew upwards through an open window into the king's room. Alighting close to the king's head, she said:
"Sir, I am the Bird of Truth whom you wished to see, and I have had to approach you like this because the boy who brought me is kept out of the palace by your courtiers."
"They shall pay for that," said the king. At once he ordered one of his attendants to lead the boy to his apartments. In a moment more the prince entered, holding his sister by the hand.
"Who are you?" asked the king; "and what has the Bird of Truth to do with you?"
"If it please your majesty, the Bird of Truth will explain that herself," answered the boy.
The bird explained, and the king heard for the first time of the wicked plot that had been successful for so many years. He took his children in his arms, with tears in his eyes, and hurried off with them to the tower in the mountains where the queen was shut up. The poor woman was as white as marble, for she had been living almost in darkness; but when she saw her husband and children, the colour came back to her face, and she was as beautiful as ever.
They all returned to the city, and people rejoiced. One reason was that the wicked courtiers were taken to a prison far away, and all their property was taken from them. As for the good old couple, they were given riches and honour, and were loved and cherished to the end of their lives.