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1. The Plain Gold Ring

Once on a time in a certain valley of northern Tyrol lived a goose-girl with her aged mother in a beautiful spot. When Kriselda stepped from her cottage door in the spring, the sight of many, many bright spring flowers filled her eyes. Later in the year, other flowers clustered and blossomed in gorgeous masses, while lemon-pale poppies, and great patches of saxifrage made bright contrasts among the hues of naked rock.

Beyond the valley mountains loomed, great peaks, rich rosy-red, and again, dark purple in the dusk of evening. Truly, it looked like a world of splendour.

Kriselda loved her home in the valley in the middle of nature's beauties, but it was a very poor place. To meet the needs of herself and her mother, the girl had to work as a goose-girl from early morning till dewy evening.

Kriselda never had the slightest desire to complain at her lot. She led her cackling subjects to and fro their pastures, happy and contented. For her needs were simple and her heart was pure enough. She used clear mountain pools for mirrors - her eyes were blue, her skin was delicate, and her was hair dark. Only Kriselda's old mother saw this girl's budding beauty, but instead of appreciating it, she sought opportunities to find fault with her lovely daughter's conduct and blame her unjustly.

One day Kriselda had herded all her geese together in a pleasant Alp where they could cackle and gobble as much as they wanted. While she was resting on a rock, she used the time to knit. Every now and again her eyes would stray from her work and range over the glorious landscapes before her. Once she was sitting resting and knitting, she noticed a toad who came limping in pain over the smooth, green grass. One of its legs was wounded and trailed behind its quivering body.

"Poor toad!" cried Kriselda, "I cannot leave you to wander like this. Come! I will put you in the shade under this rock, and tonight, when I go home, I will carry you with me and nurse you till your limb is strong enough to walk on again. I will not hurt you. Rest there in calm and shelter."

She lifted the wounded toad to a shaded place; and, during her remaining vigil, kept a kindly eye on his bruised body. When she was free to drive the geese home, she lifted the toad gently into her upturned skirt, and carried him in it to her cottage home.

"What is that you are holding?" her mother wanted to know.

"A toad that has been hurt," answered Kriselda.

"Get it out! Into the yard with it," her mothers told her.

For the first time in her life and without knowing why, Kriselda refused to do as her mother told.

"No," she said, "He has such a good look in his eyes. Anyhow, tonight I'll let him sleep in a box by my bed. No harm can come of that. Good night, mother. Sleep well."

Kristelda too up her little companion and went to her bed at once.

Each day afterwards Kriselda took the toad with her to her task of watching the geese. By night she brought the toad back to the cottage. This silent toad had an almost human look in his eyes, so Kriselda would not abandon him. He, on his side, did not seem to wish to leave her either.

That is to say, he did not want to leave her by night, but every morning after Kriselda had placed him on the ground near the rock where she had first place him, the toad would crawl off, and was not to be seen again until near sunset.

The first day she thought he had gone for good; but in the evening he came crawling over her feet to make her aware that he had returned. This happened for weeks afterwards. Kriselda got curious to know where the toad spent his days, and decided one morning to follow him.

As they went to the Alp where the geese fed, she whispered: "Toad, today I shall follow you to find out where you go when I've placed you on the ground."

The toad croaked, and soon started to crawl along. As he did, he often turned his head, and Kristelda followed and took care not to step on him.

They came to the foot of a rocky height and entered a pine wood where the sunshine lay dappled on the grass. After going some little distance in the wood, Kriselda saw before them a little well with a shallow stone margin. The water was clear. Just below the surface there was a plain gold ring hanging to a little ledge on the side of the well.

As she looked at the gold ring, the toad jumped with a delightful, fat splash into the water, reached the ring, and swam towards her with it in his mouth. Holding the ring like that, he climbed up the side of the well and crawled to the feet of Kriselda.

"He wants me to take the ring," she thought. She put it on her finger while the toad croaked with delight. from the toad! The ring fitted her exactly, and she suddenly felt a great desire to plunge into the well.

The toad looked into her eyes. The pool water was calling, and Kriselda jumped into the pool and was happy.

From the bottom of the pool the toad led her through a very short tunnel. When they came up from the water on the other side of it, they were in a vast vault. It opened up to a large, blossoming valley she had never seen or heard of before. Tall and stately flowers grew in beds scattered over the floor, and a sweet and dreamy fragrance filled the air; while ravishing and almost caressing music swept in gentle cadences all about. Somebody had been practising a lot!

"How strange," Kriselda said. She thought at first she was alone in this unexpected valley, till, suddenly, she remembered the toad. Had he come with her? She turned to look for the toad when she found a tall, golden-haired and blue-eyed youth beside her. He had a deeply content smile on his face, He was also well dressed. But how had he managed come to her side all unnoticed bt her?

He spoke: "Kriselda, your toad thanks you for your care."

A deep blush spread upwards to her brow and downwards to her heart as the man spoke. "Your toad?"

The young man went on:

"It is me. You found me as a bewitched toad in pain and sorrow. My father owns the whole valley we are in now. Come, let me show you around."

He held out his hand. Hand in hand they walked into a a little castle where servants came and went, bowing low. In one room dinner was served It tasted delicious. Then they went into the gardens of the castle. There were tall trees among pinnacles and towers. Fountains bubbled and sported, flashing with gleams of rainbow colours. Birds darted overhead. Every now and then as Kriselda glanced upwards, she caught the blue eyes of the youth gazing fondly on her. Then she lowered her own gaze, with her heart fluttering. She was pleased to be there.

Soon the young man said: "It is time to go back to your place again, you to be a goose-girl and I to be a toad again. The spell is not yet broken, but now you have seen what I really am. I will tell you more right now: Away in one of the mountains over there, lives a mighty spirit. It is a strong, clever and bitter spirit. He guards hidden treasures in the mountains.

My parents happened to offend him before I was born, so he sent a message to my father, saying that if a son was born to them, after he was seven the child would have to live as a toad during daytime, on and on, until a human woman would love him tenderly.

"After the messenger of the spirit had delivered the message to my parents, he laughed loud and long, saying that men disliked toads so much that good, gentle love might not come his way."

The blue-eyed youth went on: "Then, one day a branch of a tree fell over me and wounded my foot. I crawled in pain towards the well, and then you found me and helped me to recover. Now the cruel spell is nearly broken. For, if during three days we can live completely by ourselves, you and I, the spell is broken and I will be a toad no longer. Will you take care of me for three more days, Kriselda? If you agree, please bear in mind there may be great danger ahead of us."

Kriselda looked into his eyes.

"I would do a lot for you," she said warmly, "Tomorrow and the day after, we can go to the well and find a little place in this wonderful, hidden valley where all is so calm and peaceful."

The young man thanked her, and then they went to the short underwater tunnel and got to the other side without much ado.

Kriselda stooped and picked up the toad that squatted beside her at the pond, and walked to the geeses. The were all feeding, and not one was missing. She led them home, and placed the toad in a closed box, and crept shyly to bed.

At dawn Kriselda rose and dressed. Then she took the toad out of the box and fed him carefully. Soon the girl led the geese to a pasture near the wood. As soon as this was done she ran to the well and placed the toad by the water. There, sure enough, was the plain gold ring.

Everything happened just as before, and in a few moments, Kriselda and the young man got out of the underwater tunnel and found themselves in the lovely, hidden valley.

They found a place to be by themselves, and talked a lot together. The youth said he wanted to tell her even more, but it was perhaps best to wait until the spell was broken. "Yet I desire to tell you so much," he said.

In the evening, before they left through the tunnel again, he said, with her hand in his:

"My father's enemy, who bewitched me, is cunning and up to tricks. It is well to be prepared. Sleep tonight with your hand on the box that you put me in. Don't relax your grasp for a moment, and take this feather. Also, when we get up from the pond at the other side of the waterway, keep the ring on your finger all the time.

"Then, if you find we are threatened or something strange is taking place while we walk together toward the pond tomorrow, put the feather in your hair. And then, should we be pursued, it will make you invisible. Then you must rush with me to the pond and plunge in, holding me tightly. Thus we may escape."

Kriselda did just as he told, and did not even want to sleep that night. She sat in bed holding the box in her hands, and, in the faint light, watched the ring on her finger. Before dawn broke, she stirred and crept softly from the cottage towards the wood. Suddenly she heard a mocking laugh over the mountainside. In the grey light before sunrise, something that reminded her of a dull glow came fast towards them over the tree-tops.. In a flash she thrust the feather in her hair and ran towards the pond clasping the box to her bosom.

A crash like a thunderclap burst over the forest. She had become invisible, and the spirit had lost sight of her. Now he was furious.

On she sped while the sounds around her grew stronger. She clutched the toad tight to he breasts and plunged quickly into the still, clear water.

It was not a moment too early. Even as Kriselda and the toad came out of the tunnel on the other side, there was a flash that lit up the landscape that she had run through with the toad, and a huge rock fell down on the pond.

But the mighty spirit was too late. Kriselda was by then ashore in the lovely valley, clutching a blue-eyed young man to her bosom. Kriselda kissed him on his lips. The tunnel could be fixed again and the pond could be drained, so wedding guests would not be all wet when they came to the lovely valley. To protect the valley idyl further, the wedding guests could be blindfolded when they were led through the tunnel area to it, if his parents so wanted, now that their son was safe at last.

"That would do it," she thought, and sighed happily.

[Retold]

⚶⚶⚶

I'll marry between Christmas and Gais! [Gais, municipality in Ahrntal]. (Proverb from Tyrol)

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