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  1. King Dragon
  2. The Deer Prince

King Dragon

Once on a time there was a king who had a most beautiful queen. But they had no children, and this made the king feel very sad, and the queen even sadder. So one day as she was walking, lost in thought, she came to an out-of-the-way place. There she met an old woman who asked whether the queen would not tell her why she was so sad. The queen looked up and said, "Ah, what good would it do if I told you? There is nothing you could do to help me!"

"Perhaps I could," said the old woman, and once more begged the queen to confide in her. And so the queen told her she had no children, and that was the reason she was so sad. Why, that could be remedied, said the old woman; she might have children if she wished. In the evening, at sundown, she need only take a dish and lay it on the ground, bottom up, in the northwest corner of the garden. In the morning, at sunrise, when she lifted it up, she would find two roses beneath it, a red rose and a white one. "And if you eat the red rose, you will have a boy; but if you eat the white rose, it will be a girl. But you must not eat both roses."

The queen went home, and did as the old woman had told her. In the morning at sunrise, she went to the garden and raised the dish from the ground, and there were the two roses, the red rose and the white one. But she could not decide which to eat. If she chose the red rose, it would be a boy, and he might have to go to war and be slain; and then she would be without a child again. So she thought she had best take the white rose; then it would be a girl, who would stay at home with her, and marry and become the queen of some other land. So she took the white rose and ate it. But it tasted so good that she took the red one and ate it as well. For she thought to herself, "If they are twins, why, they will count as one."

Now it chanced that the king was at war when the queen wrote him that they were to be blessed with a child. But when the child came it turned out to be a little dragon, who slipped under the bed in her room, and made that his nesting-place. After a time came a letter from the king, saying that he would soon be home. And when the king did come home, and drove up to the castle in his coach, and the queen came out to meet him, the little dragon came out to greet him at the same time. He leaped up in the air beside the coach and cried: "Welcome home, father!"

"What!" said the king, "Am I your father?"

"Yes, and if you do not want to be my father, I'll tear you to pieces, and smash the whole castle to bits!" So the king had to agree to be his father. Then they went into the castle, and the queen had to confess all that had passed between her and the old woman.

A few days later the whole council and all the nobles assembled to welcome the king back to his own country, and to congratulate him on his victory over the enemy. And the dragon came, too, and said, "Father, now I want to marry!"

"That's all very well," said the king, "but who do you think will marry you?"

"Well, if you do not find a bride for me, young or old, large or small, rich or poor, I'll tear you to pieces, and smash the whole castle to bits.'!

The king wrote to every kingdom to ask whether anyone would marry his son. And a beautiful princess came, though she thought it strange that she was not allowed to see her intended until they stood in the room in which they were to be married. Only then did the dragon make his appearance and stand beside her. The wedding-day came to an end, but no sooner were they alone, than the dragon devoured her.

Time went on, and the king's birthday came. Then, when they were all sitting around the table, the dragon came and said, "Father, I want to marry!"

The king replied, "Where is the woman who would be willing to marry you?"

"Well, if you don't find a bride for me, some kind of a bride, I will devour you and swallow the castle as well!"

Once more the king sent letters to all the other kingdoms, to ask whether any one wished to marry his son. And again a beautiful princess appeared, from a far country. She did not lay eyes on her intended until they stood in the room where they were to be married. Then the dragon appeared, and stood beside her. But when the wedding was over, and they were alone, the dragon did away with her.

Not long after came the queen's birthday. The dragon came in when all were sitting around the table and said, "Father, I want to marry!"

"Well, I cannot find you another bride," said the king. "The two powerful kings whose daughters I gave you, want to make war on me, so what am I to do?"

"Oh, just let them come! So long as you are on good terms with me, their coming need not worry you, though there were ten instead of two of them. But if you do not find me a bride, young or old, large or small, rich or poor, I will tear you to pieces and smash the whole castle to bits!" On this the king had to yield; but he felt very unhappy.

Now there was an old man who was the king's shepherd. He had a little hut in the woods, and a daughter. The king went to him and said, "Listen, my dear fellow, won't you give your daughter to my son for a bride?":

"No, I could not do that; first of all, I have only this one child to take care of me in my old age and, besides, the prince, if he has no pity on such beautiful princesses, will surely have none to spare my daughter, which would be a sin!"

But the king insisted on having the girl, and the old man had to yield. The old shepherd went home and told his daughter, and she felt very unhappy; and went off with her sad thoughts to the woods. As she was walking, she met an old woman, in a red coat and a blue jacket, who was also going to the woods, to pick berries and crab-apples.

"Why are you so sad?" the woman asked her.

"I have good reason to be sad," said the girl, "but there is little use in my telling you, since there is nothing you can do to help me!"

"Perhaps there is," said the old woman, "so tell me what it is!"

"Well, I am to marry the king's son, but he is a dragon who has already done away with two princesses, and I am sure he will make way with me as well."

"If you listen to me, there is a way to help you," said the old woman. And the girl was glad to listen to her advice. "When you have been married, and are alone with the prince, you must wear ten shifts. If you do not own that many, you must borrow them. Then you must ask for a bucket of lye, and one of fresh milk, and a bundle of switches. These things must be brought to the room. When he comes in he will say: "Lovely maiden, take off your shift!" Then you must say: "King Dragon, take off your skin!" And so he will say to you, and you to him, until you have taken off nine shifts, and he has slipped out of nine skins. Then he will no longer have any skin left; but you will still have a shift. Then you must take him, for he will be no more than a skinless lump of flesh, dip the switches into the lye, and beat him until he well-nigh falls apart. Thereupon you must bathe him in the fresh milk, wrap him in the nine shifts, and put him to bed. And then you will fall asleep yourself, though but for a short time." The girl thanked the old woman for her good advice; but in spite of it she was afraid, for after all, it was a daring game to play with such a sinister beast.

The wedding-day came, and two court ladies drove up in a large and magnificent coach, to adorn the maiden with her bridal finery. She was brought to the castle and to the room; the dragon came and stood beside her, and they were married.

Evening came, and they were left alone. Then the bride called for a bucket of lye, and one of sweet milk, and the switches. The courtiers made fun of her, and spoke of peasant superstitions; but the king said that she was to have what she wanted. And it was given her. Before she was left alone with her husband she put on the nine shifts she had obtained over the one she wore. Then the dragon said, "Lovely maiden, take off your shift!" And she replied, "King Dragon, take off your skin!" And thus it went, until she had taken off nine shifts and he nine skins. Then she regained her courage, for the dragon lay on the floor and could scarcely move. So she took the switches, dipped them in the lye, and beat him as long and as hard as she could, until the switches were worn out. Then she dipped him in the fresh milk, wrapped him in the nine shifts, and put him to bed. Then she at once fell asleep herself, for it was late. When she awoke she saw a handsome prince standing before her.

When morning came, none dared look through the door of the room, for all thought she had met with the fate of her two predecessors. But the king determined to have a peep, and as soon as he opened the door he cried out, "Come on in! Everything is as it should be!" And he went himself, full of joy, and brought in the queen and the whole court. There stood the newly-wedded pair, and received the congratulations showered on them. Now the wedding was celebrated all over again with the utmost splendour and happiness, and the king and queen grew very fond of their daughter-in-law, and could not do enough to show her how much they thought of her, who had delivered their dragon.

Now war broke out again, and the old king and King Dragon were both with the army when the young queen was blessed with two handsome boys. At that time there was a knight at court called the Bed Knight. He was sent to King Dragon with a letter, to tell him that he was the father of two fine boys. The Red Knight rode a little way, then opened the letter, took it out, and wrote instead that there were two young pups at the castle. This letter the king received, and it made him very sad, since he found it strange that his children should be pups; he would rather have expected a dragon or something of that sort. He wrote back that they were to allow the creatures to live until his return, if they showed any signs of life at all. This letter the Red Knight was to take back with him. But when he had ridden a while, he opened this letter as he had done the first, and wrote another one, saying that they were to burn up the queen, together with the children.

Now this letter saddened the old queen greatly, for she was very fond of her young daughter-in-law. Shortly after there came a letter from the king announcing his return home. Then they were frightened, and did not know what to do; for the old queen could not make up her mind to have them burned at the stake. She had the children handed over to a nurse, bidding her take care of them, since she thought that, after all, when the king reached home he might change his mind for the better. And she gave the young queen food and some money, and told her to hide away in the woods.

So the young queen went into the woods, and wandered about for two whole days, and was in great straits. Then she saw a lofty mountain, and climbed to the top without stopping by the way. On the top of the mountain were three benches, and she seated herself on the one in the middle, and longed for her children, whom she missed at her breast. Then, as she sat there, came two great birds, a swan and a crane, who placed themselves beside her, and begged that she would nourish them, in place of her children, who had been taken away. And when, out of the kindness of her heart, she had done so, they were suddenly changed to two of the handsomest princes one could imagine, and the mountain turned into the most splendid royal castle one might hope to see, with courtiers and well-filled stables, and gold and silver, and everything such a castle should have. The two princes had been enchanted, and could never have been released from their enchantment, had they not met a bereaved queen, who in her pity had nourished them as she would her own lost little ones. So the queen stayed at the castle with King Stork and King Crane who, now that they had been delivered, wanted to marry her.

Meanwhile King Dragon came home, and asked for his queen.

"Well," said the old queen, "that is about all there is lacking that you should ask for her! You are a fine fellow! You never even remembered that she rescued you from the profoundest wretchedness! You could even write us to burn her and the children at the stake! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!"

"No," said King Dragon, "you wrote me that instead of two fine sons she had given me two young pups; and I wrote back to let the creatures live until I reached home!"

Then there was a great deal of talk, and at last they found out that the Red Knight had been the traitor. So they seized him, and he had to confess. And when he had confessed he was put in a barrel spiked with nails, to which four horses were harnessed, and they galloped off with him over hill and dale.

The king was filled with sorrow because of his wife and children, especially when he found out that they had been two fine boys. But the old queen said to him: "Do not worry! The children are well taken care of, for I have handed them over to a nurse; but as to your wife, I do not know what has become of her. I gave her some food and some money, and told her to hide in the woods, and since then I have had no news of her."

Then the king commanded that the children be brought back to the castle, and he took food and some money, and went into the woods to look for his wife. He wandered about looking for her three days; but could find no trace of her. When he met people in the woods, he asked them if they had seen a strange maiden go into the forest; but no one had seen her. At length he came to the castle in the woods, and decided to enter and see the royalties who lived in it. So in he went. And the moment he went in, he saw his young queen, and she saw him; but she was afraid that he had come to burn her up, and ran away. Then the two princes came along, and all began to talk, and became good friends. They invited King Dragon to stay to dinner. He said that they had a beautiful maiden in their castle, and where did she come from? They replied she was very kind indeed, and that she had released them both from their enchantment. Then King Dragon wanted to know from what sort of enchantment she had released them, and they told him the whole story. He said that he liked her, too, and asked whether they could not come to some agreement as to which of them was to marry her. How would it be to put too much salt in the dinner; then, whichever one of them she should ask to drink with her, should have her. The two princes were well content with this proposal, as in this way they could decide at once which of them was to get her hand; for they did not believe that she would ask the stranger to drink with her.

So they went to dinner, and before long she said, "It seems to me that the dinner is very salty.

"King Swan sits close to me,

King Crane is kind to me,

King Dragon, drink with me!"

King Dragon at once took up the silver tankard and drank to her health, and the others drank to their own health; and then they had to drink her health and his as well, though they were not content. But King Dragon told them how she had released him from enchantment before releasing them, so that he really had the first claim to her. The two princes said that he ought to have told them so straight off, as then they would have surrendered the queen to him. But King Dragon replied that he could not have been altogether sure of that.

Then King Dragon returned home with his queen, and the children also had been brought home in the meantime. King Swan kept the palace in the woods, and married a princess from another kingdom. And King Crane went into another land, and married there. So each of them got something. King Dragon and his queen were held in high esteem all their life long. They were very happy and had many children, and the last time I visited them they gave me a tin sandwich in a sieve.



The Deer Prince

THERE was once a widower and a widow, who married each other. Now each of them had a daughter; but the daughter of the widower was lovely to look on, while the daughter of the widow was very homely. And the wife was jealous of her husband's daughter because she was so much fairer than her own. Early and late her thoughts turned on how she might harm her, and she treated her very harshly.

Now her husband was away from home nearly every day, from morning till evening, and since he was never at home he did not notice how his daughter was treated.

One evening, after the door was locked and all had gone to bed, there was a knock at the door. The woman told her daughter to go and open the door, and see who was outside. This the daughter had no mind to do, but the woman insisted, and then the husband's daughter offered to go to the door; but this did not suit the woman at all, and she insisted that her daughter go. So the girl went and drew the bolt, and there at the door stood a great antlered deer, or something of the sort. She picked up a broomstick and was about to beat the animal, but it at once disappeared. Then she went in again and told her mother what it had been. At night of the following day, after the door had been bolted, there was another knock, and this time the woman's daughter did not dare to go down and draw the bolt, so the husband's daughter had to do it. When she had unbolted the door she saw the deer standing outside, and she said to him: "Where do you come from, you poor fellow?"

"Little girl, mount on my back!"

No, that she would not do, said the girl, for it would be a shame, since the poor fellow had enough to do to carry himself. Well, she could not go along with him in any other way, replied the deer. So she climbed on his back, since she did not want to stay at home, and he ran off with her. They came to a meadow, and the deer said to her: "How would it be for us to enjoy this pretty spot together some time?" But the girl could not imagine how that could possibly come to pass or what it would be like. Then they reached a wood, and here, too, the deer said, "How would it be for us to take a pleasant walk together in this beautiful wood some time?" But she could not imagine such a thing.

At last they came to an enormous castle. The deer led her into it, and told her that she was to live there all alone; but that her every wish would be granted, and she could make her own plans for passing the time in whatever way she preferred. He would return to visit her before long. Yet there was one place in the castle which she must avoid: a place where there were three doors, one of wood, one of copper and one of iron. Under no consideration was she to unlock them but he thought to himself, that at the very first chance she would be quite certain to do what he had forbidden.

So she killed time all that day, quite alone as she was, until nightfall, and the following morning she began to look around. And she felt a great desire to open the iron door, and could not resist it and opened it. There stood two men who were stirring a kettle of tar with bare hands and arms. She asked them why they were stirring with bare hands and arms, and they replied that they had no choice, but must do so until a Christian soul gave them something else with which to stir their tar. So the girl took a hatchet, chopped out a couple of flat wooden paddles, and gave them to the men to stir with.

The day passed, and night came, and the following morning she heard a great noise in the courtyard of the castle. Men were running about everywhere, grooms feeding the horses, and servants polishing the silver, all of them very busy, and they filled the entire courtyard And now she felt a desire to open the second door, and so she opened it. There stood two girls who were raking a glowing fire with their bare hands. She asked them why they raked the fire with their bare hands. The girls replied that they had no choice, until some Christian soul gave them something with which they could rake. Then the maiden gave them a pole, and the girls thanked her most gratefully.

On the following morning the castle was full of girls, sweeping and washing and polishing everything. So that day passed; but she could not help herself, she had to open the remaining door, the wooden one. And there lay the deer on a pile of straw, and she asked him why he lay there. He said he had to lie there until some Christian soul took pity on him, and wiped the mud from his back. She took a handful of straw and wiped off the mud. And as she was doing it, he was changed into as handsome a prince as one would wish to see. He explained to her that he and the whole castle had been enchanted; but that now all was well and they would celebrate their wedding. And a fine wedding it was, lasting several days.

Now when some time had passed, the prince asked his wife whether she would not like to invite her stepmother and stepsister to visit her. She said she would like to do so very much. So the prince told her, that when they came, he himself would not be with them at first, but that when she offered them wine, she was to spill a drop on her shoe. Then he would appear and dry it for her. And she must take care not to give her stepmother any one thing or three different things, but only a quantity of something, such as corn.

So when the stepmother and stepsister arrived, the princess for of course she was a princess now was very kind to them. And when she poured the wine for them, she let fall a drop on her golden shoe, and that very moment the prince appeared and dried the spot with his handkerchief; and if the others had not already had eyes and mouth wide open, you may be sure they had when they saw the prince come in.

Then they went out into the garden, and the stepmother insisted on having an apple, though the princess would give her none. The stepmother, however, kept on insisting that she must have some apples, even though she had no more than three. But no, the princess merely said that when the apples were ripe her stepmother could have any number of them. Thereupon the stepmother grew furiously angry, and as she went off with her daughter, she was filled with envy to think that such good fortune had not come the latter's way. And she could not resist telling her it was her own fault.

The daughter gave a saucy answer, and as usually happens, one word leading to another, they were soon quarrelling violently, and in the end both of them burst into pebbles. And that is the reason that there are so many pebbles underfoot.

Notes to Danish fairy tales



 The Danish Fairy Book, ed Clara Stroebe, tr. Frederick Herman Martens, Danish folktales, fairy tales of Denmark, To top    Section     Set    Next

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