An old man and his wife once lived in a cottage beside the sea, far away from any other habitations. They had three daughters; the eldest was called Fredegond, the second Olga, and the youngest Helga.
Now, although the parents were not rich, owning only a few acres of land they tilled themselves, Fredegond and Olga were treated as if they were princesses. They never did any work, but sat all day amusing themselves and decking themselves in any finery their father brought them home from the neighbouring town, while Helga, who was far more beautiful and clever than either of her sisters, was always kept in the background. She never shared in any pleasures that her elder sisters often enjoyed; no presents were ever brought home for her; but all day long, from early morning till late at night, poor Helga had to work and toil for the whole family, receiving nothing but sour looks, often accompanied by blows, from the elder sisters.
Now, it happened one day that the fire on their hearth had been allowed to go out. Helga was busy working in the fields, and as they had to send a long way to fetch fresh fire, the old man told Fredegond she must go for it.
At first Fredegond grumbled, for she was trying to dress her hair in a new way; but then she thought a walk through the woods might be pleasant, so she started.
After she had gone some little distance, she came to a hillock, and heard a deep voice saying, "Would you rather have me with you or against you?"
Fredegond, thinking it was some labourer or woodcutter, said she did not care in the least, and that it was very impertinent of him to address her, and went on to the cave they fetched their fire from.
When she got there, to her great surprise she saw a big cauldron, filled with meat, boiling on the fire, and beside it stood a pan, filled with dough, waiting to be made into cakes, but not a creature in sight.
Fredegond was very hungry after her long walk. She stirred up the fire beneath the cauldron to make the meat boil quickly, and then began baking some cakes. She made one specially nice for herself, but let all the others burn, so that they were quite uneatable. Then, as soon as the meat was cooked she took a bowl from a shelf, filled it with all the best bits, and sat down and made a good meal, finishing up with the cake.
Just as she had finished, a big black dog ran up to her, and began wagging his tail and begging for some food. But Fredegond angrily gave him a slap, and chased him away. Then the dog grew angry, and, jumping on her, bit one of her hands.
Screaming with fright and pain, Fredegond jumped up, and, in her hurry to get away, forgot all about the fire she was to bring, and ran home to tell her parents what had happened.
They were very sorry, both for her sore hand, which they bathed and bandaged, and the lack of fire. It was really very unfortunate, for that cave was the nearest place where they could get some fire, as it was generally used by charcoal-burners. So, though very unwilling to send Olga, who was their pet and favourite, she had to go, for they all feared that if Helga wassent, she might run away and never come back again. And then there would be no one to vent their bad tempers on, or to do the work of the whole household. For did she not wait on father and mother and both her sisters? So it was decided that Olga should go.
But, alas! Olga fared even worse than her sister did. She was so spoilt that she thought she ought always to have the best of everything. So, when she reached the cave, she too helped herself to all the best bits of meat, and, making a nice cake for herself, threw the rest of the dough on the fire.
Then when the dog came up to her and wagged his tail and sat up and begged for some food, Olga took up some of the boiling broth and threw it on him. This made the dog so angry that he jumped up and bit off the point of her nose; and Olga ran home crying and screaming, with only half a nose and no fire.
This time the parents were quite beside themselves with anger, and decided that Helga must go and fetch the fire. If she succeeded, well and good; and if not, why, the dog might eat her, for all they cared.
So, taking up the big fire-shovel, Helga went on her way to the cave. As she passed the hillock, she too heard a voice, saying, "Would you rather I was with you than against you?"
To this question she answered, "A well-known proverb says, 'There is nothing so bad that it is not better to have it on your side than against you;' so, as I do not know who you are who ask me this question, I would rather that you were with me than against me."
And hearing nothing further and seeing no one, Helga continued her way till she reached the cave. Here she found everything the same as her sisters had done. The cauldron was on the fire, and the dough was ready for baking, but, instead of thinking only of herself, Helga looked after the meat, and saw that it was nicely cooked; then, with great care, she made up the dough into cakes, and never thought of taking anything for herself, although she was very hungry, for she had had nothing for her breakfast but some hard, dry crusts and a glass of cold water. Neither would she now help herself to any of the fire without asking leave from the owner of the cave.
Feeling very tired after her long walk, Helga sat down on a bench to rest. But she had hardly done so, when she heard a loud rumbling noise; the ground began to tremble; and Helga, fearful that the cave might fall in, rose hastily from her seat. But as she turned to run out, she saw a big, three-headed giant standing at the entrance of the cave, followed by a large black dog.
Helga was terribly frightened; but being fond of animals, she held out her hand and patted the dog, and she quite regained courage when the giant, in a kind voice, said, "You have done it well, the work you found waiting here. It is only right therefore that you should get your share. Sit down on that bench and share my dinner; afterwards you can take home some of the fire you have come for."
The giant then got a bowl from the shelf and helped Helga to some broth out of the big cauldron, carefully giving her the tenderest bits of meat. As he did so, the ground again began to shake and tremble, and fearful noises, like claps of thunder, frightened Helga greatly.
But the giant in a gentle voice bade her sit down beside him, and she finished her broth.
Then the giant got up and gave her one of the cakes she had baked; but no sooner had she finished it, than the ground again began to shake and tremble, the thunder pealed, and flash after flash of lightning lit up the inside of the cave. Helga got so terrified that she ran up to the giant for protection, and as she clung to his arm the noises ceased, and as the darkness passed away Helga saw that the giant had disappeared, and that she was holding on to the arm of a handsome young prince.
"Do not be frightened," he said; "I can never thank you enough, dear Helga, for you have rescued me from the horrible enchantment the wicked fairy Gondomar pronounced on me at my birth. I am Torquil, the son of King Osbert, who reigns on the neighbouring island; but because my father refused to marry Gondomar and chose my mother instead, the wicked fairy condemned me to go through life a three-headed monster till some young girl should, , place trust and confidence in me despite my frightful appearance."
As Prince Torquil said these words, he seated himself beside Helga on a stone, thickly covered with soft green moss. Then Helga told him her history, and why she came to the cave, and also the fate of her sisters who had gone to the cave on the same errand, adding that she must hasten back with the fire, else her father and mother would scold and beat her.
"You shall not be ill-treated any more," replied Torquil; and he went to the back of the cave, and returned with a casket and a small bundle in his hands.
"See, this casket contains gold, and pearls, and precious stones," he said. "You can give some of these to your sisters; but this," and he placed the bundle on a stool, "you must wear under your own dress, when you get home, and be very careful that no one sees it."
So saying, he undid the bundle, and unfolded a beautiful dress of cloth of gold, all worked with silver and precious stones.
Helga thanked the prince for all his beautiful gifts.
Torquil then filled her fire-shovel with burning coals, and carried it for her some part of the way home; but before they came in sight of the cottage he stopped, and, taking her hand, placed a heavy gold ring on her finger.
"Keep this ring, dear Helga," he said, "and let no one take it from you. It will not be long before I come to claim my bride, but I must first return to my parents and tell them the joyful news that the wicked charm is broken at last."
With these words he took a loving farewell of Helga, and started her on her homeward journey.
When she reached the cottage, and her parents saw that she had succeeded in bringing back the fire, Helga for once in her life received a kind word of welcome. But when she showed them the casket and was about to give her sisters some of the jewels, they seized on it, and dividing the contents among themselves, returned Helga the empty casket. They might also have taken away her beautiful dress, but after Torquil left her, she had taken the precaution to slip it on under her old gown, so no one knew anything about it.
And thus some days passed on. Matters relapsed into their former way. Fredegond and Olga did nothing all day but deck themselves with the jewels out of the casket, quarrelling and fighting over them. And Helga had to do the work for the whole family as before.
Then one day the mother, who had been to the higher meadow for some herbs she wanted, came back and said that she had seen a beautiful big ship lying at anchor on the shore below their cottage.
The old man hastened down to the strand to find out who the owner of the fine vessel might be, and seeing a boat pulling off from it, he waited till the stranger, who was a handsome young man, had landed, and then entered into conversation with him. But though he plied him with many questions, he could not find out his name.
Then the young man in his turn began to question him, and asked him how many children he had.
"Only two daughters," replied the old man, "and such good and beautiful girls they are too," he added.
"I should much like to see them," said the stranger.
The old man, greatly delighted, led the way back to his cottage, where his two eldest daughters had hurried on their best frocks and decked themselves with all the jewels out of Helga's casket.
The stranger expressed himself as being very pleased with the girls.
"But," he asked, "why has one of your daughters got her hand tied up with a cloth, and the other one a handkerchief fastened across her nose?"
At first the father said they had met with an accident, and slipped down the cliffs; but when the stranger pressed for further particulars, the story of the dogs and the cave had to be told.
"But surely you have another daughter?" said the stranger; "one who is always kind to all animals."
At first the old man and his wife both declared they only had those two daughters; but when the stranger kept on urging him, he at last admitted that he had another girl. "But she is so ugly, lazy, and wicked," he added, "that she is more like some wild animal than a human being."
But the stranger said he did not mind that at all, and that he must see her. So the old man at last had to call Helga.
The poor girl came out from the kitchen dressed just as she was, in her shabby old dress, when the young man went up to her. But as he took her hand the ragged old gown slipped from her shoulders, and there, to the astonishment and rage of her sisters, Helga stood clothed in the nice garment the prince had given her.
Prince Torquil rated the old man and the two wicked sisters soundly for all their unkindness to Helga. He also made the sisters give up all the jewels they had taken from her. But Helga begged that they might be allowed to keep a few. The prince agreed, and she gave each of them two chains, two brooches, two bracelets, and two pairs of ear-rings.
Then Torquil led Helga down to the shore and took her on board his beautiful ship, where his sister gave her a kindly welcome; and when they reached his own country, King Osbert and his queen prepared a great wedding-feast, and Torquil and Helga were married, and lived long and happily together.
In olden days there once lived a king and a queen; they were wise and good, and their kingdom was known far and near as the happiest and best-governed country in the world. They had three sons Osric, Edric, and Frithiof, all handsome and brave and greatly beloved by their parents. But, having no daughter, the king had adopted his little orphan niece Isolde. She grew up with his sons, and was their best-loved playfellow, both the king and queen making no distinction between her and their own children.
As the princess grew older, she also grew fairer, until when she was sixteen years old there was no maiden in the land as beautiful and sweet as Isolde. All three brothers fell in love with her and wanted to marry her, each in turn asking his father for her hand in marriage.
Now the king was greatly puzzled what to do, for he loved his sons all equally well, so at length he decided that the princess should choose for herself, and select the one she liked best. He therefore sent for her, and told her that she was herself to choose as a husband whichever of his sons she liked best.
"It is my duty as well as my pleasure to obey you, dear father," said Isolde; "but when you tell me to choose one of the princes as my husband, you give me a very difficult task, for they are all equally dear to me."
When the king heard these words, he saw that his troubles were by no means at an end, so he thought for a long time how he could best find a way that would satisfy all parties, and at last decided to send all three sons away for a year. At the end of that time they were to return, and whoever had succeeded in bringing back the most precious and valuable thing from his travels should receive the hand of Isolde as his reward.
The three princes were quite willing to accept these terms, and arranged among themselves that at the end of the year they would all meet at their hunting lodge and thence go together to the king's palace with their gifts; so, bidding farewell to their parents and Isolde, they started off on their different journeys.
Osric, the eldest son, travelled from city to city, and explored various foreign countries, without finding anything precious enough to take home. At last, when he had almost given up all hope, he heard that, not very far from where he then was, there lived a princess who possessed a wonderful telescope, which was so powerful that one could see all over the world with it. No country was too distant, and not only could one see every town, but also every house and tree, and even people and animals inside the houses.
"Surely," thought Osric, "no one could find a more precious or valuable thing than this glass, for nothing is hidden from it." So, having arrived at the castle where the princess dwelt, he told her the object of his journey, and asked whether she would sell him her telescope.
At first the princess said she would not part with it, but when Osric told her how much depended on his taking back so valuable a gift, she consented to let him have it for a very large sum of money.
The prince did not mind this; he only thought the gold well spent, and hastened homewards, full of hope that he would secure the hand of Isolde.
Prince Edric fared much the same as his elder brother. He also travelled about in distant countries, seeking in vain for something rare and precious to bring home. At last, when the year was nearly at an end, he reached a large and populous town. In the inn where he lodged he met a man who told him that in a cave outside the town there lived a curious little dwarf called Volund Smith, who was famed for his rare skill in all kinds of metal-work.
"Perhaps," thought the prince, "he might be able to make me some rare and costly article worthy to take back." So he went to the dwarf, but when he told him what he wanted, the dwarf said he was very sorry, but he had quite given up working in metals.
"The last thing I made was a shield," he continued, "but that is many years ago now. I made it for myself, and am unwilling to part with it, for not only is it almost the finest bit of work I ever did, but it has also some very special properties."
"And what are these special properties?" asked the prince.
"Well," replied the dwarf, "it is a perfect safeguard in battle: No ordinary sword or arrow can pierce it. And also, if you sit on it, it will carry you all over the world, through the air as well as across the water. But there are some old runes, or ancient letters, carved on the shield, which he who guides it must be able to read. I will show you."
So saying, he went to the back of the cave and brought forth a beautiful shield, worked in gold, silver, and copper, the runic letters being all formed of precious stones.
When Edric saw the shield and heard of its wonderful properties, he thought it would not be possible to find anything more rare or valuable. He therefore told the dwarf how much depended on his bringing back so precious a gift, and entreated him to let him purchase it. He was so importunate and urged him so strongly that, although reluctant to part with it, when the dwarf heard how much was at stake for Edric, he said he would sell it him for a large sum of money. He also taught him how to read the runes, and Edric, thanking him for consenting to part with his shield, started on his homeward journey, filled with hope and confidence that he must win the princess's hand.
Frithiof, the youngest son, was the last to start. He determined to travel through his own country first, so he wandered about from place to place, stopping in this town and that village, and wherever he met a merchant, or hoped to find anything rare or beautiful, he made most searching inquiries. All his efforts, however, proved fruitless. The greater part of the year had already passed, and he was still as far as ever from his goal, and he almost began to fear that no success would crown his efforts.
At length he came to a large and populous town, where a big market was being held, and numbers of people from all parts of the world came thronging in, some to buy and some to sell. He followed the crowd, and then went on from stall to stall, and from one merchant to another, inspecting their wares and chatting and asking for news. But though there were many beautiful and many curious things, nothing specially struck his fancy.
At last, tired and thirsty, he sat down beside a large fruit stall. The merchant, seeing, as he thought, a likely customer, came forward asking if he would not buy something offering him grapes, peaches, pineapples, and melons in turn.
But Frithiof shook his head; none of these tempted him, for on the very top shelf he saw a magnificent crimson apple, streaked with green and gold, lying on a bed of soft moss.
"I should like that apple," said the prince, "and do not mind what I pay for it. It is the only thing that I fancy, though all your fruit is splendid."
The merchant smiled, but shook his head.
"You have a quick eye," he said to the prince, "for that apple is indeed the rarest and most valuable thing I have. But it is not for sale. It was given to one of my ancestors, who was a great doctor, by a geni. It has the peculiar power that if it is placed in the right hand of anyone who is sick, no matter how dangerous the illness, they recover at once, even if they are at the point of death. Many a life it has saved."
When the prince heard this, he wished more than ever to own the apple. He felt he could not possibly find anything that the princess, who was so kind-hearted, would value more than the possession of this apple, which would enable her to do good to others. He therefore entreated the merchant to let him buy the apple, and when the man had heard his tale, and all that depended on his bringing back such a rare and precious gift, he sold the apple to the prince, who, filled with hope, now wended his way homewards.
And so it happened that, as they had arranged, the three brothers arrived at the hunting- lodge, outside the capital, and after they had related their adventures, Osric, the eldest, said, "Now let us hasten to the palace, but before starting I should like to see what the princess is doing."
He then drew forth his telescope and looked in the direction of the palace, but no sooner had he done so, than an exclamation of terror escaped his lips, for there on her couch lay the princess, white and still as the driven snow, while beside her stood the king and queen and the chief of the courtiers in a sorrowful group, sadly awaiting the last breath of the fair Isolde.
When Osric beheld this grievous sight he was overwhelmed with grief, and when his brothers heard what he had seen, they too were overcome with sorrow. Gladly would each have given all they possessed to be back in time, at least to bid her farewell.
Then Prince Edric remembered his magic shield, which would at once carry them to the king's palace, and brought it forth. The three brothers seated themselves on it, and the shield rose up in the air. In a few seconds they had reached the palace and hastened up to the princess's chamber, where they found all the court assembled, sadly awaiting the end.
Then Frithiof remembered his apple. Now was the time to test its power. Stepping softly up to the couch, he bent over the still white form of the princess and gently placed the apple in her right hand. At once a change was visible, it seemed as if a fresh stream of life passed through her body. The colour returned to her lips and cheeks, she opened her eyes, and after a few minutes she was able to sit up and speak.
Everyone at the court rejoiced over the marvel, and that the sons had come back.
But as soon as she was quite well, the king, mindful of his promise, called together a great "Thing," or national assembly, where the brothers were to exhibit the treasures they had brought back, when judgment would be pronounced.
First came the eldest brother Osric with the telescope. This was handed round for the people to see, while he explained its strange and marvellous properties, stating how by means of this glass he had saved the princess, for he had been able to see how ill she was. He therefore considered that he had earned the right to claim the princess's hand.
Then Edric, the second brother, stepped forward and showed the beautiful shield he had got from the dwarf, and explained the marvels it could do. "Of what use would have been my brother's glass,'' he asked, "without this shield, which carried us here in time to save her life? I claim therefore that it was really due to the power of my shield that the princess is not dead, and that I ought therefore to own her hand in marriage."
Now it was Frithiofs turn to come forward with the apple. He said, "I fear that neither the telescope which first showed us that the princess was ill, nor the shield which so quickly brought us here, would have been enough to restore Princess Isolde to life and health, had it not been for the magic power of my apple. For what good could our mere presence have done her? Our seeing her thus and unable to help her, would only have added to our grief and pain. It is due to my apple that the princess has been restored to us, and I therefore think my claim to her hand is the greatest."
Then the judges declared that all three articles were of equal value, for they had all equally contributed to restore the princess to life and health. If one had been missing, they said, the other two would have been valueless. So judgment was pronounced that, all three gifts being equally valuable, neither of the brothers could claim the princess's hand.
Then the king happily hit on the idea of allowing his sons to shoot for the prize, and whoever was judged to be the best shot should wed the princess.
So a target was set up, and Osric, armed with bow and arrow, stepped forth first.
Taking careful aim, he drew his bow, and the arrow sped forth, but it fell some distance short of the mark.
Then Edric stepped forth. He too took careful aim, and his arrow fell nearer the mark.
And now it was Frithiof's turn. He too took a very careful aim, and all the people said his arrow went beyond the mark, and that he was the best shot, but when they came to look for it, behold, it could not be found anywhere. In vain people searched in all directions, no sign of the arrow could be found. The king therefore decided that Edric had won the princess's hand. The wedding then took place amid great splendour and rejoicing, and the princess and her husband then went to her own country, where they reigned long and happily.
The eldest brother, Osric, greatly vexed that he had not been successful, started off on a long journey, and nothing more was heard of him.
Only the youngest brother was left at home. But he was not at all satisfied with the way matters had turned out, for he had always been considered by far the best shot. He therefore searched every day in the field where the trial had taken place, looking for his arrow. At length, after many days, he found it lodged in an oak tree, far beyond the mark. He brought witnesses to attest the truth of this, and though there could be no question that his arrow had gone the furthest, the king said it was now too late to go into the matter, for the princess was married and gone away.
Then Frithiof grew very restless. He thought he had been unfairly treated, and at length decided to go away, so he packed up his belongings, and, bidding his parents farewell, started off in search of adventures.
After passing along the wide plains that surrounded the capital, he climbed a high range of mountains, and from there descended into a great forest. Here he wandered about for several days, but whichever way he turned, he could see nothing but trees all around him. The small store of food he had taken with him when he started was exhausted, and tired, hungry, and footsore, he sat down to rest on a large flat grey stone, unable to proceed any further. He thought the end of his days had surely come, when suddenly he heard the noise of horses' feet. Looking up he saw ten men mounted on horseback coming rapidly towards him. They were all richly dressed and well armed, the last one leading a finely caparisoned palfrey.
When they came to the prince, the leader dismounted, and, bowing low before him, begged him to honour them by mounting the steed they had brought with them.
Frithiof gratefully accepted this offer, and, mounting the horse, the party turned back the way they had come, riding rapidly on until they arrived at a large town. Before entering the gates they dismounted, the prince alone remaining on horseback, and then led the prince in state to the palace.
Now, it happened that a most beautiful young queen reigned over this province. She had been left an orphan at an early age, her father entrusting his chief ministers with the care and responsibility of looking after her and finding her a worthy husband. Queen Hildegard received the prince with much friendliness. She told him that her fairy godmother had bestowed on her the gift of seeing, whenever she wished, what happened in other countries.
"A wandering minstrel came here and told us of the wonderful journeys you and your brothers had made, and also of your sorrow at your failure in the shooting competition for the Princess Isolde's hand, though you were the best shot of the three. Then a great wish seized me to try and make you happy. So I followed your wanderings after you left your father's palace, and when I saw you, sad and tired, resting on the great stone in my forest, I sent forth some of my knights to meet you and bring you back. And now, with the consent of my ministers, I invite you to remain here as my husband. You shall rule over my kingdom, and I will try as far as lies in my power to make you forget all the trouble and anxiety you have gone through."
Frithiof was charmed with the beauty of the maiden, and happy days followed for both of them. After some time they married and ruled well together.
Meanwhile Frithiof's father became a widower. He soon asked another woman, named Brunhilde, to marry him. No sooner than it happened, the king merely ruled in name. She always sat beside him, even when he was on his throne, and he would do nothing without consulting her, and no matter how wrong or unfair it might be, he always did whatever she wished.
One day she said to him, "It seems very strange to me that you have never made any attempt to recall your son who went away. Why, only the other day we heard that he had become king of a neighbouring country. You may depend on it that as soon as he has got a sufficiently large army, he will come back and attack you here, in order to revenge himself for the wrong he imagines was done him in the trial of skill for the princess's hand. Now, take my advice, call out your army, attack him first, and so ward off the danger that threatens your country."
At first the king would not listen to what the queen said, and declared she was only frightening herself for nothing. But Brunhilde brought forward fresh arguments each day, till at length the king thought she must be right, and asked her what he had better do, so that the prince should not suspect anything.
"You must first send messengers to him with presents," said the queen, "and invite him to come and see you, so that you may arrange with him about his succession to the throne after your death, and also to strengthen the friendship and neighbourly relations between your two countries. After that we will consult further."
The king thought her advice very good, and at once sent messengers laden with presents to his son.
When they arrived at Prince Frithiof's court, they told the young king how anxious his father was to see him, and hoped he would make no long tarrying in coming to visit him.
Frithiof, greatly pleased with the handsome gifts his father had sent him, at once agreed to go, and hastened to make all preparations for his journey. But when Queen Hildegard heard of it she became very anxious, and entreated her husband not to leave her.
"I feel that some danger threatens you, and that you may even lose your life," she said.
But Frithiof laughed at her fears. "Surely you do not think my father would entreat me to come to him if he meant to deal wrongly with me? No, no, dear wife; set your heart at rest, and have no fears. I will make but a short stay;" and so saying he bade her a fond farewell and started off with the messengers, arriving after a short journey at his father's court.
Instead of the warm greeting promised him, the king received him but coldly and began to reproach him for being so undutiful as to go away.
"It was most unfilial behaviour," broke in the queen, "and caused such grief to your father that he was nearly at death's door; and had anything happened to him, your life would have been lost, according to the laws of the land. As, however, you have given yourself up willingly, and have come here when he sent for you, he will not condemn you to death, but he gives you three tasks to perform, which you must accomplish within the year."
Frithiof said in vain that he never meant to vex his father. The queen would not let the old king speak, and said the only way Frithiof could save his life was to carry out the tasks his father had set him, which were:
"First, bring back a tent large enough to seat a hundred knights, and yet so fine and thin that you can cover it with one hand. Secondly, bring me some of the famous water which cures all sicknesses. And third, show me a man who is utterly unlike any other man in the whole world."
"And in what direction must I go to find these rarities?" asked Frithiof.
"Nay, that is your affair," said the king; when Brunhilde, taking his arm, led him away into his own chamber; and Frithiof, without other farewell, sorrowfully returned to his own kingdom.
On his arrival, Queen Hildegard hastened down to meet him, and seeing him looking sad and silent, asked him anxiously how he had fared at his father's court.
At first Frithiof, not liking to frighten her, tried to put her off, and made light of the scant courtesy shown him; but Hildegard, kneeling down beside him, and taking his hand in hers, entreated him to hide nothing from her.
"I know you have had some difficult tasks given you, which will not be easy to perform. But do not lose heart, dear husband. Tell me all, and then we will see if some way can be found to carry them out. It is not at all impossible that with my kind godmother's help I may be able to aid you. Tell me therefore what makes you so anxious."
Then Frithiof, taking heart, told Hildegard of the difficult tasks that the queen had given him to do. "And if I fail to accomplish them within the year I must lose my life," he concluded.
"This is surely your stepmother's doing," said Hildegard. "She is a jealous and wicked woman. Let us hope she is not planning any further mischief against you. She evidently thought these tasks she gave you would be more than you could do; but, fortunately, I can help you in some of them. The tent your father wants I happen to have. My godmother gave it to me, so that difficulty is disposed of. Then the magic water that you are to bring is not far from here. Nevertheless, it is not easy to get, for it is in a deep well, inside a dark cave, which is guarded by seven lions and three huge snakes. Several persons have tried to get in and fetch some of the water, but no one has ever yet come back alive. I might give you some poison to kill these monsters, but, unfortunately, the water loses all its healing power if it is taken after the animals are dead. But I think I may nevertheless be able to help you to get it."
Queen Hildegard then sent for her cowherd, and he and his two assistants drove seven oxen and three great boars to the mouth of the cave. Here the animals were killed, and the carcases thrown down before the lions and snakes. Then, while the monsters were gorging themselves with the carcases of the dead animals, the queen told Frithiof to lower her quickly down the well. She had provided herself with a large crystal jar; this she at once filled with the water, and when Frithiof drew her up again, so exactly had she timed it, that they both reached the mouth of the cave just as the lions and snakes were finishing the last morsels of their meal. Thus the second task was safely accomplished, and Frithiof and Hildegard hastened back to the palace.
"The two first tasks are happily ended," said Hildegard; "but the third and most difficult one still remains to be done, and this you must carry out by yourself. All I can do is to tell you how best to set to work about it. You must know that I have a half-brother, called Randur. He lives on an island not very far from here. He is nine feet high, has one big eye in the middle of his forehead, and a black beard thirty yards long, and as hard and stiff as pigs' bristles. He also has a dog's snout instead of a mouth and nose, and a pair of green cat's eyes. In truth, it would be impossible to find another creature like him. When he wants to go from one place to another, he swings himself along by means of a great pole fifty yards long, and in this way he almost seems to fly through the air like a bird. The island that he lives on forms about one-third of my father's kingdom, and my brother thought he ought to have had a larger share. Then, also, my father had a wonderful ring that my brother wished to keep, but this also fell to my share, and since then my brother has shut himself up in his island. Now, however, I will write to him, enclosing the ring he always coveted. Perhaps that may dispose him to be friendlier to us, and we may get him to go to the king's court; for I know no one else who could so well fulfil the third task given you. Now therefore you must go to him, accompanied by a large following of knights and squires, for that will please him. When you come near his castle, take off your crown, and approach his throne bareheaded. He will then stretch forth his hand, and you must bend your knee and kiss it, and then hand him my letter and the ring. If after reading it he tells you to rise and seat yourself beside him, we may hope that he will aid us. And now, may good luck attend you! "
Frithiof followed the queen's instructions exactly. When he arrived at the three-eyed king's palace, both he and his attendants were greatly startled at the frightful ugliness of the three-eyed monarch; but quickly recovering himself, Frithiof handed him Hildegard's letter and the ring. When the giant saw the ring he seemed greatly pleased, and said
"I suppose my sister wants my help in some important matter, since she sends me so valuable a present?"
He then bade Frithiof sit down beside him, and, having read his sister's letter, he said he was quite ready to help and carry out her wishes.
He then stretched out his hand, grasped the long pole that always rested near him, and in an instant he had swung himself out of sight.
The king feared at first that Randur had gone away altogether and left them, but a loud shout told them he had only gone in advance. Thus they went on, the giant waiting for them every now and then, and when they reached him scolding them well for being so slow and dilatory; in this way they at last arrived at the queen's palace, and Randur at once asked Hildegard what it was she wanted him to do.
The queen then fold him what Frithiof's father had required of her husband, and begged her brother to accompany Frithiof back to his father's court. Randur, greatly pleased at having at last got the ring he so much coveted, declared himself quite ready to do as she desired. So they started off at once for the old king's palace, which they reached without any further adventures.
Frithiof announced his arrival to his father; but though he informed him that he had obtained the three things required of him a year ago, he carefully kept Randur in safe hiding till his presence should be required, and asked that a "Thing" might be called together, in order that he might show the people how he had succeeded in carrying out the tasks assigned him.
So the old king issued a proclamation all through the land, and on the appointed day so great was the interest and curiosity of everyone, from the king and his courtiers down to the very poorest labourer and herd boy, that there was hardly standing-room in all the great "Thing" valley.
Queen Brunhilde was furious at the thought that Frithiof should have been successful, but she still hoped that, when the things were brought to light, it would be found that he had failed in something.
The tent was produced first. When it was fairly set up, it was so large and roomy that a hundred knights and squires easily found room inside, yet it was so finely wrought, that when closed anyone could cover it with their hand. So all the people declared Prince Frithiof had fully finished his first task.
Then the prince brought the crystal jar with the healing water, and handed it to his father. Oueen Brunhilde, who was getting quite yellow with anger, insisted on tasting it to see whether it was the right water and taken at the right time, so as not to lose its healing qualities. But as she was quite well, no sooner had she tasted the healing water, than she felt very ill, and had to take a second taste before she was well again. So the second task was also successfully accomplished.
"Now," said the king, "there only remains the third and last task, and that was the most difficult one. See that you have not failed in that."
Then Frithiof sent for the three-eyed giant, whom he had kept in safe hiding till now.
When Randur appeared before the "Thing," springing into their midst by means of his long pole, everyone, but especially the old king, started back in fear; they could not imagine how he had got there, and thought he must have flown down from the skies. Never before had they seen so hideous a creature. But, not taking any notice of the crowd, Randur walked up to the queen, and placing the point of his long pole against her chest, he raised her up in the air, and then hurled her to the ground. She fell down dead, and was at once transformed into the hideous old giantess she really was. Having accomplished this, Randur made his way out of the "Thing," and returned to his island.
Frithiof devoted all his efforts to restore and nurse the old king, who, through anxiety and fright, had nearly been at death's door. But a few drops of the healing water sprinkled over him quickly restored him, and being freed by the queen's death from all her wicked enchantments, he speedily recovered his former good sense, and found that all the faults he had thought his son guilty of, were only the inventions of wicked Queen Brunhilde.
He therefore called Frithiof to his bedside, and begged him to forgive him all the injury he had tried to do him.
"I am only anxious now to make up to you, my dear son, for all you have suffered, and beg you never to leave me again. I will gladly hand over the kingdom to you, and live beside you in peace and quiet for the rest of my days."
So Frithiof was reconciled to his father, and at once sent messengers to Hildegard, telling her what had happened, and begging her to hasten to him. Queen Hildegard, when she received her husband's message, decided to give up her small kingdom to her brother as a reward for all he had done for them. Then, accompanied by some of her husband's ablest courtiers and friends, she rejoined Frithiof. And the old king, happy at having his son again, lived to a good old age, surrounded by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.