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Ringfalla Bridge

from The Diamond Fairy Book





By K. E. Sutter.


ONCE upon a time there lived a King who had two kingdoms to govern--his
own always the perfection of law and order, while the other was given
over to confusion and rebellion, which, strive as he would, got ever
worse instead of better.

It had been the worry of his life ever since he began to reign--and as
he had no son to help him, he was obliged to find a ruler for it among
his Ministers, but not one of them, however clever, could manage to
control its unruly inhabitants.

Sometimes, at long intervals, he even went to live there himself, on
which occasions his troubles in regard to it multiplied so exceedingly
that he swore they were half demons, as the name of their kingdom,
Nokkeland, proved, and for his part he wished they could find an evil
spirit like themselves to govern them in his stead, as no mere mortal
could. And then, as he could think of nothing else, he called a council
of his most trusted chiefs, and conferred with them; but as they had all
given their best consideration to the subject many times before, none of
them could come to any more brilliant conclusion than formerly.

Therefore King Kaftan said he would hunt on the morrow to distract his
mind, so a great party set forth at daybreak, and scoured the woods far
and near, but no sport could they get; no fourfooted beast could they
find excepting rabbits, and they were everywhere.

Unwilling to return empty-handed, and hoping for better luck on the
morrow, the King gave the order to camp in the wood. Some of the men
were catching rabbits for supper, whilst others were making fires to
cook them, when just as the last rim of the sinking sun disappeared
below the horizon, a beautiful hart as white as snow with antlers and
hoofs of gold, suddenly appeared, and walked leisurely down the glade
towards the sunset.

Instantly, with one accord, King, courtiers, huntsmen, and servants
rushed off in hot pursuit, helter-skelter over each other, on foot, on
horseback, armed or unarmed, just as they found themselves when it first
appeared. The King, who had not dismounted, was ahead of the others, and
urged his steed with whip and spur; but poor Rolf was very weary, and do
as he would, his master could get no nearer to his quarry.

Night was rapidly closing in when the King found himself far ahead of
his attendants, and alone with a spent horse in a part of the forest
where he had never been before, and miles from any human habitation.

More and more faltering grew Rolf's jaded pace, and in proportion as it
slackened, slower went the hart. The King's pulses quivered with
excitement. He leapt from the saddle, drew his dagger, and prepared to
follow on foot; but, to his astonishment, the beast had turned and was
coming slowly towards him, the moonlight turning his antlers to silver,
and gleaming on his milk-white coat.

Half instinctively, the King had raised his dagger, when the hart
stopped and spoke in courteous, but authoritative tones.

"Stay thy hand and know that I also am a King in my own country. I have
much to say to thee, therefore follow me and fear nothing."

So King Kaftan followed, wondering, until the hart stopped before a
great rock, overhung with a tangle of eglantine and honeysuckle--and
pushing aside the fragrant curtain dexterously with his horns, disclosed
what appeared to be the mouth of a cave. Entering this, closely followed
by the King, they proceeded for some way in almost total darkness.
Gradually it grew lighter and the path wider, when the King perceived,
to his amazement, that the illumination proceeded from countless numbers
of bats, ridden by small imps carrying lighted glow-worms.

Presently they came to a spacious garden, where all the trees were
lighted by coloured lamps hanging among the branches, and the air was
filled with music and perfume.

Within the garden was a great pavilion of purple silk, most gorgeously
emblazoned with scarlet and gold, and having a Royal banner floating
from the roof.

Within was a table, covered with every variety of food and wine,
lavishly decorated with flowers and gold plate, and laid for two. Here
the hart entertained his Royal guest to supper, and after he was
completely refreshed and rested, handed him an enamelled box, which, on
being opened, disclosed a clay pipe, blackened with much use, a tinder,
and a flint.

"Smoke, O King!" said the host; "unfortunately I cannot join you; and
now to explain why I have lured you from your own people to my enchanted
land.

"I know your difficulties in Nokkeland, because for one reason we are
very near neighbours, though probably you are unaware of it. The people
who inhabit that kingdom are descended from a water fiend, and the
turbulent instincts inherited from him can never be quelled until the
power of the Neck, who rules the river between your kingdom and theirs,
is broken. Now, the Neck is my enemy as well as yours, and if you will
ally yourself with me and follow my counsels, you will have peace,
honour, and happiness for the rest of your life in all probability."

"I am ready," said the King, "only tell me what to do; the Klavs are the
plague of my life, but from what you say success even then is by no
means a certainty."

"Much depends on luck," said the hart, "and to neither your Majesty nor
myself is it given to do much. You have three daughters, Solveig, Ulva,
and little Kirsten; one of them must go over Ringfalla Bridge without
stumbling and without speaking one word. This done, your troubles and my
own are at an end."



Now, Ringfalla Bridge it was that spanned the river between King
Kaftan's own territory and that of the Klavs, and what between the Klavs
themselves and the Neck who inhabited the river, it had a very evil
reputation indeed.

The King looked grave, and then he laughed rather grimly. "There won't
be much difficulty about that," he said. "To cross it has been the
desire of their hearts ever since they were babies; it is only my strict
orders that keep them from it."

"She who undertakes it must go of her own free will, and if she
accomplishes it without stumbling and without speaking, the kingdom is
saved." Those were the last words of the hart ere bidding the King
good-night, and they were ringing in his ears when he awoke in the
morning. But he was no longer lying on the silken cushions on which he
had rested the night before. Pavilion, garden, and hart had vanished,
the sun was high in the heavens, he was lying on a heap of moss and
ferns in the wood, with Rolf standing over him and thrusting his soft
nozzle into his face.

The King was greatly perplexed as to whether all the events of the
preceding night had actually happened, or if he had only dreamt them,
and was rather inclined to the latter belief. Mounting Rolf, and leaving
that good steed to find his own way back to the camp, he pondered deeply
over all the hart had told him, and resolved at least to try what he had
suggested.

When at last he came to the camp it was nearly deserted, as most of the
party had gone to hunt for the King, but after much blowing of horns the
company was collected, and, abandoning all further idea of sport, rode
back to the capital.

There they found everything silent, except that the bells were
mournfully tolling, and the flag over the palace hanging half-mast high.
"What is this? Who is dead?" asked the King, but no one seemed inclined
to explain.

At last the captain of the guard, who could not run away, was forced to
salute and answer the King.

"Sire," he said, "your Majesty's daughter, the Princess Solveig, was
drowned yesterday in trying to cross Ringfalla Bridge."

Greatly to the captain's surprise, however, the King inquired no further
on the subject, but went straight up to the tower where the apartments
of the three Princesses were situated.

There he found the two youngest overwhelmed with grief for their
sister's loss, but overjoyed to see him and give an account of the
catastrophe.

On the previous day, after seeing the King start at the head of a great
cavalcade on his hunting expedition, the three Princesses cast about in
their minds how they might amuse themselves, and finally agreed to go
down and picnic by the river. Now, although the river itself was not
absolutely forbidden, they were quite aware that the King disapproved of
their going there, but they pacified their consciences by taking a
strong escort, their old nurse, and a very large variety of hampers
containing lunch.

Poor old Nurse Gerda was as much averse to the expedition as King Kaftan
himself could have been, and told gruesome tales of the evil water
spirit and his doings; but the Princesses only laughed, and enjoyed
preparing their own lunch, and eating it afterwards, extremely. Then
they wandered along the banks, gathering primroses and long grasses, all
the while drawing near to the forbidden bridge; but it looked so
inviting with its stone parapet and curious wooden pavement, and the
water flowed so peacefully beneath the arches, that they there and then
made up their minds to cross it, and drew lots to decide which should
venture first. The lot fell to Solveig, the eldest, and she set out
boldly with six archers to guard her--three before and three behind,
walking abreast--a last precaution insisted upon by Gerda, the nurse,
who watched the proceeding in terror.

All went well till they had almost reached the middle, then she tripped,
and in falling touched the parapet, which instantly gave way, and the
Princess fell into the river. As she touched the water a great pair of
hairy arms caught and drew her under, so that she was seen no more.
"And," continued Ulva, who up till now had done most of the talking,
"the wall closed up again, with no sign of a break, directly she
disappeared, and though two of the guard jumped in after her, the Neck
took no notice of them, and they swam ashore in the end quite safely."

"The bridge is enchanted," said the King gloomily; and then he told them
his adventure with the white hart.

"Then," said Ulva, with great decision, "I will go: it is very simple.
Solveig talked to Ulf, the archer, all the time, and was looking at the
river when she stumbled. Now, I know what is required of me: I will look
at my feet and say nothing, not a word. Do, father, let me go." And she
gave the King no peace till he consented; but she fared no better than
her sister.


(p. 106).]

Boldly and silently she marched in the very centre of the fatal bridge,
till suddenly she saw in front of her an enormous serpent with fiery
eyes and forked tongue, with head up ready to spring. Poor Ulva's chief
fear in life was a snake. She recoiled in terror, calling to warn the
archers, who had seen nothing. And then the flooring gave way beneath
her, and she too sank into the flood, a great pair of hairy hands
clutching her as she fell.

Then there was great mourning throughout the land. The people clothed
themselves in black, and the King reviled the hart and his own folly in
acting on his advice, and refused to be comforted.

Then little Kirsten, the youngest sister, and the fairest maiden in the
land, put her white arms about his neck and told him to be of good
cheer; "for I will ride across," she said, "and if Freyja my mare
stumble, it will be her fault, not mine, and I will neither speak nor
scream, for they will tie a scarf over my lips so that I cannot. So,
father, let me go, for it is I who will save the kingdom."

But the King swore a great oath, and vowed she should not, and for three
days nothing could move him. Then, the Princess prevailed, and the whole
city came out to see her ride over Ringfalla Bridge.

This time neither guards nor soldiers attempted to cross--a dozen
courtiers, richly apparelled and mounted, accompanied the youngest
Princess, who, dressed in white and all her pet jewels, with diamond
fireflies glistening in the golden hair that floated to her little
shoes, and her small, red mouth bound fast with a silken scarf, rode
gaily upon Freyja till she had crossed the middle of the bridge, when,
once again, appeared a wonder on the verge of the forest--a great white
hart, with horns and hoofs of burnished gold. And straightway all the
courtiers were tearing after it helter-skelter in hot haste, entirely
forgetful of the poor little Princess and everything else.


108).]

And Freyja that morning was very frisky; she minced along sideways on
her golden shoes, coquetting with her own shadow, and making little
playful snaps at her bridle. So she, too, stumbled at last on the
treacherous planks, throwing her mistress over the parapet into the
swiftly running stream; but this time no demon hands were stretched out
to receive their prey--only a flash of white and gold ere the water
closed over her head, and then all was still.

Meantime the white hart was giving the truant courtiers a lively time of
it; he bounded, trotted, and doubled, keeping all the time close to the
bridge, but eluding all their efforts to come near him. When, however,
the maiden fell, a marvellous thing chanced--the beautiful beast
vanished, and in his place stood the handsomest knight that had ever
been seen in that or any other land. His armour was of gold, curiously
inlaid with silver; on his helmet was a crown of emeralds, and his long
purple mantle was lined with ermine, so there could be no doubt about
his being a King.

Then all the courtiers doffed their plumed caps, and did obeisance to
him; but the stranger, after acknowledging their homage, called aloud
for "Asaph," and out of the wood, running as fast as he could, came a
beautiful little page, clothed in green, and carrying a golden harp.

Then the strange knight crossed the bridge and saluted King Kaftan, who
was standing on the bank looking at the river like one dazed.

"Be of good cheer, Sir King," he cried; "the Princess Kirsten has broken
the charm, and I am no longer the white hart, but the rightful King of
your troublesome Klavs--me they obey and no other; and now, thanks for
your courtesy." So saying, he took the harp from his little foot-page,
and, seating himself on the bank, began to play.


page 111]

Very softly at first, but so wondrous were the magic notes that all the
assembled people listened silent and motionless, for never before had
they heard the like. First the sound was like the distant echo of silver
trumpets when they welcomed the host back from battle; and then coming,
as it were, nearer, like the ripple of waves on a pebbly beach, and all
the fishes swam up to listen, while out of the wood flocked bird and
beast also. So wondrous was the strain.

And then little Kirsten came smiling out of the water and sat upon the
harper's knee, and one arm he put about her to hold her fast, but still
he kept on playing. And now the music waxed fierce and terrible, like
the roll of thunder among the mountains, or the crash of armies when
they meet in battle. And the waves grew black and angry and lashed
themselves into foam, for the Neck, the evil water spirit, was furious,
but he could not fight against his master, and so at the last he also
came forth, black and hideous, but subdued, leading the two Princesses
Solveig and Ulva, who looked more beautiful than ever, and none the
worse for their sojourn below the river.

So there were great rejoicings in both kingdoms, for the youngest
Princess had broken the spell laid on Sir Sigurd by the Neck, who caught
him in the forest alone without his harp, and condemned him to wander as
a white hart until a Royal Princess should of her own free will cross
Ringfalla Bridge without stumbling and without talking.

This little Kirsten did, and she had her reward, for she married Sigurd
and reigned over the Klavs, who were turbulent no more, because their
King and Queen had been born for the special purpose of ruling over
them.





Next: The Children's Fairy

Previous: The Spring-tide Of Love



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