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First Born First Wed

from The Swedish Fairy Book

Once upon a time there was a king who had a three-year old son, and
was obliged to go to war against another king. Then, when his ships
sailed home again after he had gained a splendid victory, a storm
broke out and his whole fleet was near sinking. But the king vowed he
would sacrifice to the sea-queen the first male creature that came to
meet him when he reached land and entered his capital. Thereby the
whole fleet reached the harbor in safety. But the five-year old
prince, who had not seen his father for the past two years, and who
was delighted with the thunder of the cannon as the ships came in,
secretly slipped away from his attendants, and ran to the landing; and
when the king came ashore he was the first to cast himself into his
arms, weeping with joy. The king was frightened when he thought of the
sea-queen; but he thought that, after all, the prince was only a
child, and at any rate he could sacrifice the next person to step up
to him after the prince. But from that time on no one could make a
successful sea-trip, and the people began to murmur because the king
had not kept the promise he had made the sea-queen. But the king and
queen never allowed the prince out without a great escort, and he was
never permitted to enter a ship, for all his desire to do so. After a
few years they gradually forgot the sea-queen, and when the prince was
ten years old, a little brother came to join him. Not long after the
older of the princes was out walking with his tutor and several other
gentlemen. And when they reached the end of the royal gardens by the
sea-shore--it was a summer's day, unusually clear--they were suddenly
enveloped by a thick cloud, which disappeared as swiftly as it had
come. And when it vanished, the prince was no longer there; nor did he
return, to the great sorrow of the king, the queen and the whole
country. In the meantime the young prince who was now the sole heir to
the crown and kingdom grew up; and when he was sixteen, they began to
think of finding a wife for him. For the old king and queen wished to
see him marry the daughter of some powerful monarch to whom they were
allied, before they died. With this in view, letters were written and
embassies sent out to the most distant countries.

While these negotiations were being conducted, it began to be said
that the sea-shore was haunted; various people had heard cries, and
several who had walked by the sea-shore late in the evening had fallen
ill. At length no one ventured to go there after eleven at night,
because a voice kept crying from out at sea: "First born, first wed!"
And when some one did venture nearer he did so at the risk of his
life. At last these complaints came to the king's ear; he called
together his council, and it was decided to question a wise woman, who
had already foretold many mysterious happenings, which had all taken
place exactly as she had said they would. When the wise woman was
brought before the king she said it was the prince who had been taken
into the sea who was calling, and that they would have to find him a
bride, young, beautiful, and belonging to one of the noblest families
of the land, and she must be no less than fifteen and no more than
seventeen years old. That seemed a serious difficulty; for no one
wished to give their daughter to a sea-king.

Yet, when there was no end to the cries and the commotion, the wise
woman said, that first it might be well to build a little house by the
sea, perhaps then the turmoil might die away. At any rate, she said,
no phantoms would haunt the place while the building was in progress.
Hence no more than four workmen need be employed, and they might first
prepare a site, then lay the stone foundation, and finally erect the
small house, comprising no more than two pleasant, handsome rooms, one
behind the other, and a good floor. The house was carefully erected,
and the royal architect himself had to superintend the work, so that
everything might be done as well as possible. And while the building
was going on, there were no mysterious noises, and every one could
travel peacefully along the sea-shore. For that reason the four
workmen did not hurry with their work; yet not one of them could stay
away for a day, because when they did the tumult along the shore would
begin again, and one could hear the cries: "First born, first wed!"
When the little house was finally completed, the best carpenters came
and worked in it, then painters and other craftsmen, and at last it
was furnished, because when the work stopped for no more than a single
day the cries were heard again by night. The rooms were fitted out as
sumptuously as possible, and a great mirror was hung in the
drawing-room. According to the instructions of the wise woman, it was
hung in such wise that from the bed in the bed-room, even though one's
face were turned to the wall, one could still see who stepped over the
threshold into the drawing-room; for the door between each room was
always to stand open.

When all was finished, and the little house had been arranged with
regal splendor, the cries of "First born, first wed!" again began to
sound from the shore. And it was found necessary, though all were
unwilling, to follow the wise woman's counsel, and choose three of
the loveliest maidens between the ages of fifteen and seventeen,
belonging to the first families of the land. They were to be taken to
the castle, said the wise woman, and to be treated like ladies of the
blood royal, and one after another they were to be sent to the little
house by the sea-shore; for should one of them find favor in the eyes
of the sea-prince, then the commotion and turmoil would surely cease.
In the meantime the negotiations for the marriage of the younger
prince were continued, and the bride selected for him was soon
expected to arrive. So the girls were also chosen for the sea-prince.
The three chosen, as well as their parents, were quite inconsolable
over their fate; even the fact that they were to be treated like
princesses did not console them; yet had they not yielded it would
have been all the worse for them and for the whole land. The first
girl destined to sleep in the sea-palace was the oldest, and when she
sought out the wise woman, and asked her advice, the latter said she
should lie down in the handsome bed; but should turn her face to the
wall, and under no circumstances turn around curiously, and try and
see what was going on. She had only the right to behold what she saw
reflected in the mirror in the drawing-room as she lay with her face
to the wall. At ten o'clock that night the royal sea-bride was led
with great pomp to the little house.

Her relatives and the court said farewell to her with many tears, left
her before eleven, locked the door on the outside, and took the keys
with them to the castle. The wise woman was also there, consoled the
people, and assured them that if the maiden only forbore to speak, and
did not turn around, she would come out in the morning fresh and
blooming. The poor girl prayed and wept until she grew sleepy; but
toward twelve o'clock the outer door suddenly opened, and then the
door of the drawing-room. She was startled and filled with fear when,
her face turned toward the wall, she saw in the great mirror, how a
tall, well-built youth entered, from whose garments the water ran in
streams to the floor. He shook himself as though freezing, and said
"Uh hu!" Then he went to the window, and there laid down an unusually
large and handsome apple, and hung a bottle in the casement. Next he
stepped to the bed, bent over the sleeping girl and looked at her,
strode up and down a few times, shaking the water from his clothes and
saying "Uh hu!" Then he went back to the bed, undressed hurriedly, lay
down and fell asleep. The poor girl, had not been sleeping; but had
only closed her eyes when the prince bent over her. Now she was glad
to think he was fast asleep, and forgot the wise woman's warning not
to turn around. Her curiosity got the better of her, and she wanted
to find out if this were a real human being. She turned around
softly, lest she wake him; but just as she sat up quietly in bed, in
order to take a good look at her neighbor, he swiftly seized her right
hand, hewed it off, and flung it under the bed. Then he at once lay
down and fell asleep again. As soon as it was day, he rose, dressed
without casting even a glance at the bed, took the bottle and the
apple from the window, went hastily out and locked the door after him.
One can imagine how the poor girl suffered in the meantime, and when
her friends and relatives came to fetch her they found her weeping and
robbed of her hand. She was brought to the castle and the wise woman
sent for, and overwhelmed with bitter reproaches. But she said that if
the maiden had not turned around, and had overcome her curiosity, she
would not have lost her hand. They were to treat her as though she
were really and truly a princess; but that it would be as much as her
life were worth to allow her to return to the neighborhood of the
little house.

The two girls were all the more discouraged by this mishap, and
thought themselves condemned to death, though the wise woman consoled
them as well as she knew how. The second promised her faithfully not
to turn around; yet it happened with her as it had with the first. The
prince came in at twelve o'clock dripping, shook himself so that the
water flew about, said "Uh hu!" went to the window, laid down the
beautiful apple, hung up the bottle, came into the bed-room, bent over
the bed, strode up and down a few times, said "Uh hu!" hastily
undressed, and at once fell asleep. Her curiosity gained the upper
hand, and when she made sure that he was sleeping soundly, she
carefully turned around in order to look at him. But he seized her
right hand, hewed it off and cast it under the bed, and then laid down
again and slept on. At dawn he rose, dressed without casting a glance
at the bed, took the apple and the bottle, went out and locked the
door after him. When her friends and relatives came to fetch the girl
in the morning, they found her weeping and without a right hand. She
was taken to the castle, where she found herself just as little
welcome as her predecessor, and the wise woman insisted that the girl
must have turned around, though at first she denied it absolutely.

Then the youngest, sweetest and loveliest of the three maidens had to
go to the sea-castle amid the mourning of the entire court. The wise
woman accompanied her, and implored her not to turn around; since
there was no other means of protection against the spell.

The maiden promised to heed her warning, and said that she would pray
God to help her if she were plagued with curiosity. All happened as
before: the prince came on the stroke of twelve, dripping wet, said
"Uh hu!" shook himself, laid the apple on the window, hung up the
bottle, went into the bed-room, bent over the bed, strode up and down
for a few times, said "Uh hu!" undressed, and at once fell asleep. The
poor girl was half-dead with fear and terror, and prayed and struggled
against her curiosity till at length she fell asleep, and did not
awake until the prince rose and dressed. He stepped up to the bed,
bent over it for a moment, went out, turned at the door and took the
bottle and the apple, and then locked the door after him. In the
morning the entire court, the girl's parents and the wise woman came
to fetch her. She came to meet them weeping with joy, and was
conducted to the castle in triumph and with joy indescribable. The
king and queen embraced her, and she was paid the same honors destined
for the princess who was to arrive in the course of the next few days
to marry the heir to the throne. Now the maiden had to sleep every
night in the little house by the strand, and every evening the prince
came in with his apple and his bottle, and every morning went away at
dawn. But it seemed to her that each succeeding evening and morning he
looked at her a little longer; though she, always silent, timid, and
turned toward the wall, did not dare see more than her mirror showed
her of his coming and going. But the two other girls, who had lost
their hands, and who now no longer lived in the castle, were jealous
of the honor shown the youngest, and threatened to have her done away
with if she did not restore their hands. The maiden went weeping to
the wise woman; and the latter said that when the prince had lain down
as usual she should say--keeping her face turned toward the wall:

"The maidens twain will see me slain,
Or else have back their hands again!"

But she was to offer no further information nor say another word. With
a beating heart the poor girl waited until the prince came, and when
he had bent over the bed longer than usual, sighed, then hastily
undressed and lain down, the maiden said, quivering and trembling:

"The maidens twain will see me slain,
Or else have back their hands again!"

The prince at once replied: "Take the hands--they are lying under the
bed--and the bottle hanging in the window, and pour some of the
contents of the bottle on their arms and hands, join them together,
bind them up, take away the bandages in three days' time and the hands
will have been healed!" The maiden made no reply and fell asleep. In
the morning the prince rose as usual, stepped over to the bed several
times and looked at her from its foot; but she did not dare look up,
and closed her eyes. He sighed, took his apple; but left the bottle,
and went. When the maiden rose she did as he had told her, and in
three days' time removed the bandages, and the girls' hands were well
and whole.

Now the foreign princess arrived and the wedding was to be celebrated
as soon as possible. Yet she was not fitted out with any more
magnificence than the bride of the sea-prince, and both were equally
honored by the king and court. This annoyed the two other girls, and
they again threatened to have the youngest done away with if she did
not let them taste the apple which the prince always brought with him.
Again the maiden sought the advice of the wise woman, in whom she had
confidence. And that night, when the prince had lain down, she said:

"The maidens twain will see me slain,
Or else your apple they would gain!"

Then the prince said: "Take the apple lying in the window, and when
you go out, lay it on the ground and follow wherever it may roll. And
when it stops, pick as many apples as you wish, and return the same
way you came." The maiden made no reply, and fell asleep. On the
following morning it seemed harder than ever for the prince to resolve
to go away. He appeared excited and restless, sighed often, bent over
the maiden several times, went into the living room, then turned
around and looked at her once more. Finally, when the sun rose, he
hurried out and locked the door after him. When the maiden rose, she
could not help weeping, for she had really begun to love the prince.

Then she took the apple, and when she was outside the door, laid it on
the ground, and it rolled and rolled, and she followed it, a long,
long way, to a region unknown to her. There she came to a high garden
wall, over which hung the branches of trees, loaded with beautiful
fruit. Finally she reached a great portal, adorned with gold and
splendid ornaments, which opened of its own accord as the apple rolled
up to it. And the apple rolled through the portal and the maiden
followed it into the garden, which was the most beautiful she ever had
seen. The apple rolled over to a low-growing tree weighed with the
most magnificent apples, and there it stopped. The maiden picked all
that her silken apron would hold, and turned to see from which
direction she had come, and where the portal stood through which she
would have to pass on her way back. But the garden was so lovely that
she felt like enjoying its charms a while longer, and without
thinking of the prince's words, she touched the apple with her foot,
and it began to roll again. Suddenly the portal closed with a great
crash. Then the maiden was much frightened, and regretted having done
what had been forbidden her; yet now she could not get out, and was
compelled to follow the apple once more. It rolled far into the
beautiful garden and stopped at a little fire-place, where stood two
kettles of water, one small, the other large. There was a great fire
burning under the large kettle; but only a weak fire beneath the
smaller one. Now when the apple stopped there the maiden did not know
what to do. Then it occurred to her to scrape away the fire beneath
the large kettle and thrust it under the little one; and soon the
kettle over the small fire began to boil and the kettle over the large
one simmered down. But she could not stay there. And since she had
already disobeyed the order given her, she expected to die, nothing
less, and was quite resigned to do so, because she had lost all hope
of winning the prince.

So she gave the apple another push, and it rolled into a meadow in the
middle of the garden, and there lay two little children, asleep, with
the hot sun beating straight down upon them. The maiden felt sorry for
the children, and she took her apron and laid it over them to protect
them from the sun, and only kept the apples she could put in her
little basket. But she could not stay here either, so again she
touched the apple, and it rolled on and before she knew it the girl
found herself by the sea-shore. There, under a shady tree lay the
prince asleep; while beside him sat the sea-queen. Both rose when the
maiden drew near, and the prince looked at her with alarm and
tenderness in his flashing eyes. Then he leaped into the sea, and the
white foam closed over him. But the sea-queen was enraged and seized
the girl, who thought that her last moment had struck, and begged for
a merciful death. The sea-queen looked at her, and asked her who had
given her permission to pass beyond the apple-tree. The maiden
confessed her disobedience, and said that she had done so without
meaning any harm, whereupon the sea-queen said she would see how she
had conducted herself and punish her accordingly. Thereupon the
sea-queen gave the apple a push, and it rolled back through the portal
to the apple-tree. The sea-queen saw that the apple-tree was
uninjured, again pushed the apple and it rolled on to the little
fire-place. But when the sea-queen saw the small kettle boiling
furiously, while the large one was growing cold, she became very
angry, seized the girl's arm savagely and rising to her full height,
asked: "What have you dared do here? How dared you take the fire from
under my kettle and put it under your own?" The maiden did not know
that she had done anything wrong, and said that she did not know why.
Then the sea-queen replied: "The large kettle signified the love
between the prince and myself; the small one the love between the
prince and you. Since you have taken the fire from under my kettle and
laid it under your own, the prince is now violently in love with you,
while his love for me is well-nigh extinguished. Look," she cried,
angrily, "now my kettle has stopped boiling altogether, and yours is
boiling over! But I will see what other harm you have done and punish
you accordingly." And the sea-queen again pushed the apple with her
foot, and it rolled to the sleeping children, who had been covered
with the apron. Then the sea-queen said: "Did you do that?" "Yes,"
replied the maiden, weeping, "but I meant no harm. I covered the
little ones with my apron so that the sun might not burn down on them
so fiercely, and I left with them the apples I could not put in my
basket." The sea-queen said: "This deed and your truthfulness are your
salvation. I see that you have a kind heart. These children belong to
me and to the prince; but since he now loves you more than he does me,
I will resign him to you. Go back to the castle and there say what I
tell you: that your wedding with my prince is to be celebrated at the
same time as that of his younger brother. And all your jewels, your
ornaments, your wedding-dress and your bridal chair, are to be exactly
like those of the other princess. From the moment on that the priest
blesses the prince and yourself I have no further power over him. But
since I have seen to it that he has all the qualities which adorn a
ruler, I demand that he be made the heir to his father's kingdom; for
he is the oldest son. The younger prince may rule over the kingdom
which his bride brings him. All this you must tell them, for only
under these conditions will I release the prince. And when you are
arrayed in your bridal finery, come to me here, without anyone's
knowledge, so that I may see how they have adorned you. Here is the
apple which will show you the way without any one being able to tell
where you go." With that the sea-queen parted from her, and gave the
apple a push. It rolled out of the garden and to the castle, where the
maiden, with mingled joy and terror, delivered the sea-queen's message
to the king, and told him what she demanded for the prince. The king
gladly promised all that was desired, and great preparations were at
once made for the double wedding. Two bridal chairs were set up side
by side, two wedding gowns, and two sets of jewels exactly similar
were made ready. When the maiden had been dressed in her bridal
finery she pretended to have forgotten something, which she had to
fetch from a lower floor, went downstairs with her apple, and laid it
on the ground. It at once rolled to the spot by the sea-shore where
she had found the sea-queen and the prince, and where the sea-queen
was now awaiting her. "It is well that you have come," said the
sea-queen, "for the slightest disobedience would have meant misfortune
for you! But how do you look? Are you dressed just as the princess is?
And has the princess no better clothes or jewels?" The maiden answered
timidly, that they were dressed exactly alike. Then the sea-queen tore
her gown from her body, unclasped the jewels from her hair and
flinging them on the ground cried: "Is that the way the bride of my
prince should look! Since I have given him to you I will give you my
bridal outfit as well." And with that she raised up a sod beneath the
great tree, and a shrine adorned with gold and precious stones
appeared, from which she drew out her bridal outfit, which fitted the
maiden as though made for her. And it was so costly and so covered
with gems that the maiden was almost blinded by its radiance. The
crown, too, glowed with light, and was set with the most wonderful
emeralds, and all was magnificent beyond what any princess had ever
worn. "Now," said the sea-queen, when she had finished adorning the
maiden, "now go back to the castle, and show them how I was dressed
when I wedded the prince. All this I give as a free gift to you and
your descendants; but you must always conduct yourself so that the
prince will be content with you, and you must make his happiness your
first thought all your life long."


This the maiden promised, with honest tears, and the sea-queen bade
her go. When she was again in the castle, all were astonished at the
beauty and costliness of her dress and jewels, in comparison to which
those of the other princess were as nothing. The treasures of the
whole kingdom would not have sufficed to pay for such a bridal outfit.
And none any longer dared envy the lovely maiden, for never had a
princess brought a richer bridal dower into the country. Now all went
in solemn procession to the church, and the priests stood before the
bridal chairs with their books open, and waited for the prince who,
according to the sea-queen's word, would not come until the blessing
was to be spoken. They waited impatiently, and the king finally told
one of the greatest nobles to seat himself in the bridal chair in the
prince's place, which he did. But the very moment the priest began to
pray, the two wings of the church portal quickly flew open, and a
tall, strong, handsome man with flashing eyes, royally clad, came in,
stepped up to the bridal chair, thrust his proxy out so hastily that
he nearly fell, and cried: "This is my place! Now, priest, speak the
blessing!" While the blessing was spoken the prince became quiet
again, and then greeted his parents and the whole court with joy, and
before all embraced his wife, who now for the first time ventured to
take a good look at him. Thenceforward the prince was like any other
human being, and in the end he inherited his father's kingdom, and
became a great and world-renowned ruler, beloved by his subjects, and
adored by his wife. They lived long and happily, and their descendants
are still the rulers of the land over which he reigned.


"First Born, First Wed" is a purely Swedish, and decidedly
characteristic treatment of a similar motive of redemption.
(From the mss. collection of Hylten-Cavallius and Stephens,
communicated by Dr. v. Sydow-Lund).

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