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The Glass Axe

from The Yellow Fairy Book





From the Hungarian. Kletke.

There was once upon a time a King and Queen who had everything
they could possibly wish for in this world except a child. At
last, after twelve years, the Queen gave birth to a son; but she
did not live long to enjoy her happiness, for on the following
day she died. But before her death she called her husband to her
and said, 'Never let the child put his feet on the ground, for as
soon as he does so he will fall into the power of a wicked Fairy,
who will do him much harm.' And these were the last words the
poor Queen spoke.

The boy throve and grew big, and when he was too heavy for his
nurse to carry, a chair was made for him on little wheels, in
which he could wander through the palace gardens without help; at
other times he was carried about on a litter, and he was always
carefully watched and guarded for fear he should at any time put
his feet to the ground.

But as this sort of life was bad for his health, the doctors
ordered him horse exercise, and he soon became a first-rate
rider, and used to go out for long excursions on horseback,
accompanied always by his father's stud-groom and a numerous
retinue.

Every day he rode through the neighbouring fields and woods, and
always returned home in the evening safe and well. In this way
many years passed, and the Prince grew to manhood, and hardly
anyone remembered the Queen's warning, though precautions were
still taken, more from use and wont than for any other reason.

One day the Prince and his suite went out for a ride in a wood
where his father sometimes held a hunt. Their way led through a
stream whose banks were overgrown with thick brushwood. Just as
the horsemen were about to ford the river, a hare, startled by
the sound of the horses' hoofs, started up from the grass and ran
towards the thicket. The young Prince pursued the little
creature, and had almost overtaken it, when the girth of his
saddle suddenly broke in two and he fell heavily to the ground.
No sooner had his foot touched the earth than he disappeared
before the eyes of the horrified courtiers.

They sought for him far and near, but all in vain, and they were
forced to recognise the power of the evil Fairy, against which
the Queen had warned them on her death-bed. The old King was
much grieved when they brought him the news of his son's
disappearance, but as he could do nothing to free him from his
fate, he gave himself up to an old age of grief and loneliness,
cherishing at the same time the hope that some lucky chance might
one day deliver the youth out of the hands of his enemy.

Hardly had the Prince touched the ground than he felt himself
violently seized by an unseen power, and hurried away he knew not
whither. A whole new world stretched out before him, quite
unlike the one he had left. A splendid castle surrounded by a
huge lake was the abode of the Fairy, and the only approach to it
was over a bridge of clouds. On the other side of the lake high
mountains rose up, and dark woods stretched along the banks; over
all hung a thick mist, and deep silence reigned everywhere.

No sooner had the Fairy reached her own domain than she made
herself visible, and turning to the Prince she told him that
unless he obeyed all her commands down to the minutest detail he
would be severely punished. Then she gave him an axe made of
glass, and bade him cross the bridge of clouds and go into the
wood beyond and cut down all the trees there before sunset. At
the same time she cautioned him with many angry words against
speaking to a black girl he would most likely meet in the wood.

The Prince listened to her words meekly, and when she had
finished took up the glass axe and set out for the forest. At
every step he seemed to sink into the clouds, but fear gave wings
to his feet, and he crossed the lake in safety and set to work at
once.

But no sooner had he struck the first blow with his axe than it
broke into a thousand pieces against the tree. The poor youth
was so terrified he did not know what to do, for he was in mortal
dread of the punishment the wicked old Fairy would inflict on
him. He wandered to and fro in the wood, not knowing where he
was going, and at last, worn out by fatigue and misery, he sank
on the ground and fell fast asleep.

He did not know how long he had slept when a sudden sound awoke
him, and opening his eyes he saw a black girl standing beside
him. Mindful of the Fairy's warning he did not dare to address
her, but she on her part greeted him in the most friendly manner,
and asked him at once if he were under the power of the wicked
Fairy. The Prince nodded his head silently in answer.

Then the black girl told him that she too was in the power of the
Fairy, who had doomed her to wander about in her present guise
until some youth should take pity on her and bear her in safety
to the other side of the river which they saw in the distance,
and on the other side of which the Fairy's domain and power
ended.

The girl's words so inspired the Prince with confidence that he
told her all his tale of woe, and ended up by asking her advice
as to how he was to escape the punishment the Fairy would be sure
to inflict on him when she discovered that he had not cut down
the trees in the wood and that he had broken her axe.

'You must know,' answered the black girl, 'that the Fairy in
whose power we both are is my own mother, but you must not betray
this secret, for it would cost me my life. If you will only
promise to try and free me I will stand by you, and will
accomplish for you all the tasks which my mother sets you.'

The Prince promised joyfully all she asked; then having once more
warned him not to betray her confidence, she handed him a draught
to drink which very soon sunk his senses in a deep slumber.

His astonishment was great when he awoke to find the glass axe
whole and unbroken at his side, and all the trees of the wood
lying felled around him!

He made all haste across the bridge of clouds, and told the Fairy
that her commands were obeyed. She was much amazed when she
heard that all the wood was cut down, and saw the axe unbroken in
his hand, and since she could not believe that he had done all
this by himself, she questioned him narrowly if he had seen or
spoken to the black girl. But the Prince lied manfully, and
swore he had never looked up from his work for a moment. Seeing
she could get nothing more out of him, she gave him a little
bread and water, and showing him to a small dark cupboard she
told him he might sleep there.

Morning had hardly dawned when the Fairy awoke the Prince, and
giving him the glass axe again she told him to cut up all the
wood he had felled the day before, and to put it in bundles ready
for firewood; at the same time she warned him once more against
approaching or speaking a word to the black girl if he met her in
the wood.

Although his task was no easier than that of the day before, the
youth set out much more cheerfully, because he knew he could
count an the help of the black girl. With quicker and lighter
step he crossed the bridge of clouds, and hardly had he reached
the other side than his friend stood before him and greeted him
cheerfully. When she heard what the Fairy demanded this time,
she answered smilingly, 'Never fear,' and handed him another
draught, which very soon caused the Prince to sink into a deep
sleep.

When he awoke everything, was done. All the trees of the wood
were cut up into firewood and arranged in bundles ready for use.

He returned to the castle as quickly as he could, and told the
Fairy that her commands were obeyed. She was even more amazed
than she had been before, and asked him again if he had either
seen or spoken to the black girl; but the Prince knew better than
to betray his word, and once more lied freely.

On the following day the Fairy set him a third task to do, even
harder than the other two. She told him he must build a castle
on the other side of the lake, made of nothing but gold, silver,
and precious stones, and unless he could accomplish this within
an hour, the most frightful doom awaited him.

The Prince heard her words without anxiety, so entirely did he
rely on the help of his black friend. Full of hope he hurried
across the bridge, and recognised at once the spot where the
castle was to stand, for spades, hammers, axes, and every other
building implement lay scattered on the ground ready for the
workman's hand, but of gold, silver, and precious stones there
was not a sign. But before the Prince had time to feel
despondent the black girl beckoned to him in the distance from
behind a rock, where she had hidden herself for fear her mother
should catch sight of her. Full of joy the youth hurried towards
her, and begged her aid and counsel in the new piece of work he
had been given to do.

But this time the Fairy had watched the Prince's movements from
her window, and she saw him hiding himself behind the rock with
her daughter. She uttered a piercing shriek so that the
mountains re-echoed with the sound of it, and the terrified pair
had hardly dared to look out from their hiding-place when the
enraged woman, with her dress and hair flying in the wind,
hurried over the bridge of clouds. The Prince at once gave
himself up for lost, but the girl told him to be of good courage
and to follow her as quickly as he could. But before they left
their shelter she broke off a little bit of the rock, spoke some
magic words over it, and threw it in the direction her mother was
coming from. In a moment a glittering palace arose before the
eyes of the Fairy which blinded her with its dazzling splendour,
and with its many doors and passages prevented her for some time
from finding her way out of it.

In the meantime the black girl hurried on with the Prince,
hastening to reach the river, where once on the other side they
would for ever be out of the wicked Fairy's power. But before
they had accomplished half the way they heard again the rustle of
her garments and her muttered curses pursuing them closely.

The Prince was terrified; he dared not look back, and he felt his
strength giving way. But before he had time to despair the girl
uttered some more magic words, and immediately she herself was
changed into a pond, and the Prince into a duck swimming on its
surface.

When the Fairy saw this her rage knew no bounds, and she used all
her magic wits to make the pond disappear; she caused a hill of
sand to arise at her feet, meaning it to dry up the water at
once. But the sand hill only drove the pond a little farther
away, and its waters seemed to increase instead of diminishing.
When the old woman saw that the powers of her magic were of so
little avail, she had recourse to cunning. She threw a lot of
gold nuts into the pond, hoping in this way to catch the duck,
but all her efforts were fruitless, for the little creature
refused to let itself be caught.

Then a new idea struck the wicked old woman, and hiding herself
behind the rock which had sheltered the fugitives, she waited
behind it, watching carefully for the moment when the Prince and
her daughter should resume their natural forms and continue their
journey.

She had not to wait long, for as soon as the girl thought her
mother was safely out of the way, she changed herself and the
Prince once more into their human shape, and set out cheerfully
for the river.

But they had not gone many steps when the wicked Fairy hurried
after them, a drawn dagger in her hand, and was close upon them,
when suddenly, instead of the Prince and her daughter, she found
herself in front of a great stone church, whose entrance was
carefully guarded by a huge monk.

Breathless with rage and passion, she tried to plunge her dagger
into the monk's heart, but it fell shattered in pieces at her
feet. In her desperation she determined to pull down the church,
and thus to destroy her two victims for ever. She stamped three
times on the ground, and the earth trembled, and both the church
and the monk began to shake. As soon as the Fairy saw this she
retreated to some distance from the building, so as not to be
hurt herself by its fall. But once more her scheme was doomed to
failure, for hardly had she gone a yard from the church than both
it and the monk disappeared, and she found herself in a wood
black as night, and full of wolves and bears and wild animals of
all sorts and descriptions.

Then her wrath gave place to terror, for she feared every moment
to be torn in pieces by the beasts who one and all seemed to defy
her power. She thought it wisest to make her way as best she
could out of the forest, and then to pursue the fugitives once
more and accomplish their destruction either by force or cunning.

In the meantime the Prince and the black girl had again assumed
their natural forms, and were hurrying on as fast as they could
to reach the river. But when they got there they found that
there was no way in which they could cross it, and the girl's
magic art seemed no longer to have any power. Then turning to
the Prince she said, 'The hour for my deliverance has not yet
come, but as you promised to do all you could to free me, you
must do exactly as I bid you now. Take this bow and arrow and
kill every beast you see with them, and be sure you spare no
living creature.'

With these words she disappeared, and hardly had she done so than
a huge wild boar started out of the thicket near and made
straight for the Prince. But the youth did not lose his presence
of mind, and drawing his bow he pierced the beast with his arrow
right through the skull. The creature fell heavily on the
ground, and out of its side sprang a little hare, which ran like
the wind along the river bank. The Prince drew his bow once
more, and the hare lay dead at his feet; but at the same moment a
dove rose up in the air, and circled round the Prince's head in
the most confiding manner. But mindful of the black girl's
commands, he dared not spare the little creature's life, and
taking another arrow from his quiver he laid it as dead as the
boar and the hare. But when he went to look at the body of the
bird he found instead of the dove a round white egg lying on the
ground.

While he was gazing on it and wondering what it could mean, he
heard the sweeping of wings above him, and looking up he saw a
huge vulture with open claws swooping down upon him. In a moment
he seized the egg and flung it at the bird with all his might,
and lo and behold! instead of the ugly monster the most
beautiful girl he had ever seen stood before the astonished eyes
of the Prince.

But while all this was going on the wicked old Fairy had managed
to make her way out of the wood, and was now using the last
resource in her power to overtake her daughter and the Prince.
As soon as she was in the open again she mounted her chariot,
which was drawn by a fiery dragon, and flew through the air in
it. But just as she got to the river she saw the two lovers in
each other's arms swimming through the water as easily as two
fishes.

Quick as lightning, and forgetful of every danger, she flew down
upon them. But the waters seized her chariot and sunk it in the
lowest depths, and the waves bore the wicked old woman down the
stream till she was caught in some thorn bushes, where she made a
good meal for all the little fishes that were swimming about.

And so at last the Prince and his lovely Bride were free. They
hurried as quickly as they could to the old King, who received
them with joy and gladness. On the following day a most gorgeous
wedding feast was held, and as far as we know the Prince and his
bride lived happily for ever afterwards.





Next: The Dead Wife

Previous: The Boy And The Wolves Or The Broken Promise



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