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Hollenmadchen

from The Yellow Fairy Book





'But where is he to find the Witch-maiden?' said the first bird.
'She has no settled dwelling, but is here to-day and gone
to-morrow. He might as well try to catch the wind.'

The other replied, 'I do not know, certainly, where she is at
present, but in three nights from now she will come to the spring
to wash her face, as she does every month when the moon is full,
in order that she may never grow old nor wrinkled, but may always
keep the bloom of youth.'

'Well,' said the first bird, 'the spring is not far from here.
Shall we go and see how it is she does it?'

'Willingly, if you like,' said the other.

The youth immediately resolved to follow the birds to the spring,
only two things made him uneasy: first, lest he might be asleep
when the birds went, and secondly, lest he might lose sight of
them, since he had not wings to carry him along so swiftly. He
was too tired to keep awake all night, yet his anxiety prevented
him from sleeping soundly, and when with the earliest dawn he
looked up to the tree-top, he was glad to see his feathered
companions still asleep with their heads under their wings. He
ate his breakfast, and waited until the birds should start, but
they did not leave the place all day. They hopped about from one
tree to another looking for food, all day long until the evening,
when they went back to their old perch to sleep. The next day
the same thing happened, but on the third morning one bird said
to the other, 'To-day we must go to the spring to see the
Witch-maiden wash her face.' They remained on the tree till
noon; then they flew away and went towards the south. The young
man's heart beat with anxiety lest he should lose sight of his
guides, but he managed to keep the birds in view until they again
perched upon a tree. The young man ran after them until he was
quite exhausted and out of breath, and after three short rests
the birds at length reached a small open space in the forest, on
the edge of which they placed themselves on the top of a high
tree. When the youth had overtaken them, he saw that there was a
clear spring in the middle of the space. He sat down at the foot
of the tree upon which the birds were perched, and listened
attentively to what they were saying to each other.

'The sun is not down yet,' said the first bird; 'we must wait yet
awhile till the moon rises and the maiden comes to the spring.
Do you think she will see that young man sitting under the tree?'

'Nothing is likely to escape her eyes, certainly not a young man,
said the other bird. 'Will the youth have the sense not to let
himself be caught in her toils?'

'We will wait,' said the first bird, 'and see how they get on
together.'

The evening light had quite faded, and the full moon was already
shining down upon the forest, when the young man heard a slight
rustling sound. After a few moments there came out of the forest
a maiden, gliding over the grass so lightly that her feet seemed
scarcely to touch the ground, and stood beside the spring. The
youth could not turn away his eyes from the maiden, for he had
never in his life seen a woman so beautiful. Without seeming to
notice anything, she went to the spring, looked up to the full
moon, then knelt down and bathed her face nine times, then looked
up to the moon again and walked nine times round the well, and as
she walked she sang this song:

'Full-faced moon with light unshaded,
Let my beauty ne'er be faded.
Never let my cheek grow pale!
While the moon is waning nightly,
May the maiden bloom more brightly,
May her freshness never fail!'

Then she dried her face with her long hair, and was about to go
away, when her eye suddenly fell upon the spot where the young
man was sitting, and she turned towards the tree. The youth rose
and stood waiting. Then the maiden said, 'You ought to have a
heavy punishment because you have presumed to watch my secret
doings in the moonlight. But I will forgive you this time,
because you are a stranger and knew no better. But you must tell
me truly who you are and how you came to this place, where no
mortal has ever set foot before.'

The youth answered humbly: 'Forgive me, beautiful maiden, if I
have unintentionally offended you. I chanced to come here after
long wandering, and found a good place to sleep under this tree.
At your coming I did not know what to do, but stayed where I was,
because I thought my silent watching could not offend you.'

The maiden answered kindly, 'Come and spend this night with us.
You will sleep better on a pillow than on damp moss.'

The youth hesitated for a little, but presently he heard the
birds saying from the top of the tree, 'Go where she calls you,
but take care to give no blood, or you will sell your soul.' So
the youth went with her, and soon they reached a beautiful
garden, where stood a splendid house, which glittered in the
moonlight as if it was all built out of gold and silver. When
the youth entered he found many splendid chambers, each one finer
than the last. Hundreds of tapers burnt upon golden
candlesticks, and shed a light like the brightest day. At length
they reached a chamber where a table was spread with the most
costly dishes. At the table were placed two chairs, one of
silver, the other of gold. The maiden seated herself upon the
golden chair, and offered the silver one to her companion. They
were served by maidens dressed in white, whose feet made no sound
as they moved about, and not a word was spoken during the meal.
Afterwards the youth and the Witch-maiden conversed pleasantly
together, until a woman, dressed in red, came in to remind them
that it was bedtime. The youth was now shown into another room,
containing a silken bed with down cushions, where he slept
delightfully, yet he seemed to hear a voice near his bed which
repeated to him, 'Remember to give no blood!'

The next morning the maiden asked him whether he would not like
to stay with her always in this beautiful place, and as he did
not answer immediately, she continued: 'You see how I always
remain young and beautiful, and I am under no one's orders, but
can do just what I like, so that I have never thought of marrying
before. But from the moment I saw you I took a fancy to you, so
if you agree, we might be married and might live together like
princes, because I have great riches.'

The youth could not but be tempted with the beautiful maiden's
offer, but he remembered how the birds had called her the witch,
and their warning always sounded in his ears. Therefore he
answered cautiously, 'Do not be angry, dear maiden, if I do not
decide immediately on this important matter. Give me a few days
to consider before we come to an understanding.'

'Why not?' answered the maiden. 'Take some weeks to consider if
you like, and take counsel with your own heart.' And to make the
time pass pleasantly, she took the youth over every part of her
beautiful dwelling, and showed him all her splendid treasures.
But these treasures were all produced by enchantment, for the
maiden could make anything she wished appear by the help of King
Solomon's signet ring; only none of these things remained fixed;
they passed away like the wind without leaving a trace behind.
But the youth did not know this; he thought they were all real.

One day the maiden took him into a secret chamber, where a little
gold box was standing on a silver table. Pointing to the box,
she said, 'Here is my greatest treasure, whose like is not to be
found in the whole world. It is a precious gold ring. When you
marry me, I will give you this ring as a marriage gift, and it
will make you the happiest of mortal men. But in order that our
love may last for ever, you must give me for the ring three drops
of blood from the little finger of your left hand.'

When the youth heard these words a cold shudder ran over him, for
he remembered that his soul was at stake. He was cunning enough,
however, to conceal his feelings and to make no direct answer,
but he only asked the maiden, as if carelessly, what was
remarkable about the ring?

She answered, 'No mortal is able entirely to understand the power
of this ring, because no one thoroughly understands the secret
signs engraved upon it. But even with my half-knowledge I can
work great wonders. If I put the ring upon the little finger of
my left hand, then I can fly like a bird through the air wherever
I wish to go. If I put it on the third finger of my left hand I
am invisible, and I can see everything that passes around me,
though no one can see me. If I put the ring upon the middle
finger of my left hand, then neither fire nor water nor any sharp
weapon can hurt me. If I put it on the forefinger of my left
hand, then I can with its help produce whatever I wish. I can in
a single moment build houses or anything I desire. Finally, as
long as I wear the ring on the thumb of my left hand, that hand
is so strong that it can break down rocks and walls. Besides
these, the ring has other secret signs which, as I said, no one
can understand. No doubt it contains secrets of great
importance. The ring formerly belonged to King Solomon, the
wisest of kings, during whose reign the wisest men lived. But it
is not known whether this ring was ever made by mortal hands: it
is supposed that an angel gave it to the wise King.'

When the youth heard all this he determined to try and get
possession of the ring, though he did not quite believe in all
its wonderful gifts. He wished the maiden would let him have it
in his hand, but he did not quite like to ask her to do so, and
after a while she put it back into the box. A few days after
they were again speaking of the magic ring, and the youth said,
'I do not think it possible that the ring can have all the power
you say it has.'

Then the maiden opened the box and took the ring out, and it
glittered as she held it like the clearest sunbeam. She put it
on the middle finger of her left hand, and told the youth to take
a knife and try as hard as he could to cut her with it, for he
would not be able to hurt her. He was unwilling at first, but
the maiden insisted. Then he tried, at first only in play, and
then seriously, to strike her with the knife, but an invisible
wall of iron seemed to be between them, and the maiden stood
before him laughing and unhurt. Then she put the ring on her
third finger, and in an instant she had vanished from his eyes.
Presently she was beside him again laughing, and holding the ring
between her fingers.

'Do let me try,' said the youth, 'whether I can do these
wonderful things.'

The maiden, suspecting no treachery, gave him the magic ring.

The youth pretended to have forgotten what to do, and asked what
finger he must put the ring on so that no sharp weapon could hurt
him?'

'Oh, the middle finger of your left hand,' the maiden answered,
laughing.

She took the knife and tried to strike the youth, and he even
tried to cut himself with it, but found it impossible. Then he
asked the maiden to show him how to split stones and rocks with
the help of the ring. So she led him into a courtyard where
stood a great boulder-stone. 'Now,' she said, 'put the ring upon
the thumb of your left hand, and you will see how strong that
hand has become. The youth did so, and found to his astonishment
that with a single blow of his fist the stone flew into a
thousand pieces. Then the youth bethought him that he who does
not use his luck when he has it is a fool, and that this was a
chance which once lost might never return. So while they stood
laughing at the shattered stone he placed the ring, as if in
play, upon the third finger of his left hand.

'Now,' said the maiden, 'you are invisible to me until you take
the ring off again.'

But the youth had no mind to do that; on the contrary, he went
farther off, then put the ring on the little finger of his left
hand, and soared into the air like a bird.

When the maiden saw him flying away she thought at first that he
was still in play, and cried, 'Come back, friend, for now you see
I have told you the truth.' But the young man never came back.

Then the maiden saw she was deceived, and bitterly repented that
she had ever trusted him with the ring.

The young man never halted in his flight until he reached the
dwelling of the wise magician who had taught him the speech of
birds. The magician was delighted to find that his search had
been successful, and at once set to work to interpret the secret
signs engraved upon the ring, but it took him seven weeks to make
them out clearly. Then he gave the youth the following
instructions how to overcome the Dragon of the North: 'You must
have an iron horse cast, which must have little wheels under each
foot. You must also be armed with a spear two fathoms long,
which you will be able to wield by means of the magic ring upon
your left thumb. The spear must be as thick in the middle as a
large tree, and both its ends must be sharp. In the middle of
the spear you must have two strong chains ten fathoms in length.
As soon as the Dragon has made himself fast to the spear, which
you must thrust through his jaws, you must spring quickly from
the iron horse and fasten the ends of the chains firmly to the
ground with iron stakes, so that he cannot get away from them.
After two or three days the monster's strength will be so far
exhausted that you will be able to come near him. Then you can
put Solomon's ring upon your left thumb and give him the
finishing stroke, but keep the ring on your third finger until
you have come close to him, so that the monster cannot see you,
else he might strike you dead with his long tail. But when all
is done, take care you do not lose the ring, and that no one
takes it from you by cunning.'

The young man thanked the magician for his directions, and
promised, should they succeed, to reward him. But the magician
answered, 'I have profited so much by the wisdom the ring has
taught me that I desire no other reward.' Then they parted, and
the youth quickly flew home through the air. After remaining in
his own home for some weeks, he heard people say that the
terrible Dragon of the North was not far off, and might shortly
be expected in the country. The King announced publicly that he
would give his daughter in marriage, as well as a large part of
his kingdom, to whosoever should free the country from the
monster. The youth then went to the King and told him that he
had good hopes of subduing the Dragon, if the King would grant
him all he desired for the purpose. The King willingly agreed,
and the iron horse, the great spear, and the chains were all
prepared as the youth requested. When all was ready, it was
found that the iron horse was so heavy that a hundred men could
not move it from the spot, so the youth found there was nothing
for it but to move it with his own strength by means of the
magic ring. The Dragon was now so near that in a couple of
springs he would be over the frontier. The youth now began to
consider how he should act, for if he had to push the iron horse
from behind he could not ride upon it as the sorcerer had said he
must. But a raven unexpectedly gave him this advice: 'Ride upon
the horse, and push the spear against the ground, as if you were
pushing off a boat from the land.' The youth did so, and found
that in this way he could easily move forwards. The Dragon had
his monstrous jaws wide open, all ready for his expected prey. A
few paces nearer, and man and horse would have been swallowed up
by them! The youth trembled with horror, and his blood ran cold,
yet he did not lose his courage; but, holding the iron spear
upright in his hand, he brought it down with all his might right
through the monster's lower jaw. Then quick as lightning he
sprang from his horse before the Dragon had time to shut his
mouth. A fearful clap like thunder, which could be heard for
miles around, now warned him that the Dragon's jaws had closed
upon the spear. When the youth turned round he saw the point of
the spear sticking up high above the Dragon's upper jaw, and knew
that the other end must be fastened firmly to the ground; but the
Dragon had got his teeth fixed in the iron horse, which was now
useless. The youth now hastened to fasten down the chains to the
ground by means of the enormous iron pegs which he had provided.
The death struggle of the monster lasted three days and three
nights; in his writhing he beat his tail so violently against the
ground, that at ten miles' distance the earth trembled as if with
an earthquake. When he at length lost power to move his tail,
the youth with the help of the ring took up a stone which twenty
ordinary men could not have moved, and beat the Dragon so hard
about the head with it that very soon the monster lay lifeless
before him.

You can fancy how great was the rejoicing when the news was
spread abroad that the terrible monster was dead. His conqueror
was received into the city with as much pomp as if he had been
the mightiest of kings. The old King did not need to urge his
daughter to marry the slayer of the Dragon; he found her already
willing to bestow her hand upon this hero, who had done all alone
what whole armies had tried in vain to do. In a few days a
magnificent wedding was celebrated, at which the rejoicings
lasted four whole weeks, for all the neighbouring kings had met
together to thank the man who had freed the world from their
common enemy. But everyone forgot amid the general joy that they
ought to have buried the Dragon's monstrous body, for it began
now to have such a bad smell that no one could live in the
neighbourhood, and before long the whole air was poisoned, and a
pestilence broke out which destroyed many hundreds of people. In
this distress, the King's son-in-law resolved to seek help once
more from the Eastern magician, to whom he at once travelled
through the air like a bird by the help of the ring. But there
is a proverb which says that ill-gotten gains never prosper, and
the Prince found that the stolen ring brought him ill-luck after
all. The Witch-maiden had never rested night nor day until she
had found out where the ring was. As soon as she had discovered
by means of magical arts that the Prince in the form of a bird
was on his way to the Eastern magician, she changed herself into
an eagle and watched in the air until the bird she was waiting
for came in sight, for she knew him at once by the ring which was
hung round his neck by a ribbon. Then the eagle pounced upon the
bird, and the moment she seized him in her talons she tore the
ring from his neck before the man in bird's shape had time to
prevent her. Then the eagle flew down to the earth with her
prey, and the two stood face to face once more in human form.

'Now, villain, you are in my power!' cried the Witch-maiden. 'I
favoured you with my love, and you repaid me with treachery and
theft. You stole my most precious jewel from me, and do you
expect to live happily as the King's son-in-law? Now the tables
are turned; you are in my power, and I will be revenged on you
for your crimes.'

'Forgive me! forgive me!' cried the Prince; 'I know too well how
deeply I have wronged you, and most heartily do I repent it.'

The maiden answered, 'Your prayers and your repentance come too
late, and if I were to spare you everyone would think me a fool.
You have doubly wronged me; first you scorned my love, and then
you stole my ring, and you must bear the punishment.'

With these words she put the ring upon her left thumb, lifted the
young man with one hand, and walked away with him under her arm.
This time she did not take him to a splendid palace, but to a
deep cave in a rock, where there were chains hanging from the
wall. The maiden now chained the young man's hands and feet so
that he could not escape; then she said in an angry voice, 'Here
you shall remain chained up until you die. I will bring you
every day enough food to prevent you dying of hunger, but you
need never hope for freedom any more.' With these words she left
him.

The old King and his daughter waited anxiously for many weeks for
the Prince's return, but no news of him arrived. The King's
daughter often dreamed that her husband was going through some
great suffering: she therefore begged her father to summon all
the enchanters and magicians, that they might try to find out
where the Prince was and how he could be set free. But the
magicians, with all their arts, could find out nothing, except
that he was still living and undergoing great suffering; but none
could tell where he was to be found. At last a celebrated
magician from Finland was brought before the King, who had found
out that the King's son-in-law was imprisoned in the East, not by
men, but by some more powerful being. The King now sent
messengers to the East to look for his son-in-law, and they by
good luck met with the old magician who had interpreted the signs
on King Solomon's ring, and thus was possessed of more wisdom
than anyone else in the world. The magician soon found out what
he wished to know, and pointed out the place where the Prince was
imprisoned, but said: 'He is kept there by enchantment, and
cannot be set free without my help. I will therefore go with you
myself.'

So they all set out, guided by birds, and after some days came to
the cave where the unfortunate Prince had been chained up for
nearly seven years. He recognised the magician immediately, but
the old man did not know him, he had grown so thin. However, he
undid the chains by the help of magic, and took care of the
Prince until he recovered and became strong enough to travel.
When he reached home he found that the old King had died that
morning, so that he was now raised to the throne. And now after
his long suffering came prosperity, which lasted to the end of
his life; but he never got back the magic ring, nor has it ever
again been seen by mortal eyes.

Now, if YOU had been the Prince, would you not rather have stayed
with the pretty witch-maiden?





Next: Story Of The Emperor's New Clothes

Previous: The Dragon Of The North



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