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The Witch In The Stone Boat

from The Yellow Fairy Book





From the Icelandic.

There were once a King and a Queen, and they had a son called
Sigurd, who was very strong and active, and good-looking. When
the King came to be bowed down with the weight of years he spoke
to his son, and said that now it was time for him to look out for
a fitting match for himself, for he did not know how long he
might last now, and he would like to see him married before he
died.

Sigurd was not averse to this, and asked his father where he
thought it best to look for a wife. The King answered that in a
certain country there was a King who had a beautiful daughter,
and he thought it would be most desirable if Sigurd could get
her. So the two parted, and Sigurd prepared for the journey, and
went to where his father had directed him.

He came to the King and asked his daughter's hand, which he
readily granted him, but only on the condition that he should
remain there as long as he could, for the King himself was not
strong and not very able to govern his kingdom. Sigurd accepted
this condition, but added that he would have to get leave to go
home again to his own country when he heard news of his father's
death. After that Sigurd married the Princess, and helped his
father-in- law to govern the kingdom. He and the Princess loved
each other dearly, and after a year a son came to them, who was
two years old when word came to Sigurd that his father was dead.
Sigurd now prepared to return home with his wife and child, and
went on board ship to go by sea.

They had sailed for several days, when the breeze suddenly fell,
and there came a dead calm, at a time when they needed only one
day's voyage to reach home. Sigurd and his Queen were one day on
deck, when most of the others on the ship had fallen asleep.
There they sat and talked for a while, and had their little son
along with them. After a time Sigurd became so heavy with sleep
that he could no longer keep awake, so he went below and lay
down, leaving the Queen alone on the deck, playing with her son.

A good while after Sigurd had gone below the Queen saw something
black on the sea, which seemed to be coming nearer. As it
approached she could make out that it was a boat, and could see
the figure of some one sitting in it and rowing it. At last the
boat came alongside the ship, and now the Queen saw that it was a
stone boat, out of which there came up on board the ship a
fearfully ugly Witch. The Queen was more frightened than words
can describe, and could neither speak a word nor move from the
place so as to awaken the King or the sailors. The Witch came
right up to the Queen, took the child from her and laid it on the
deck; then she took the Queen, and stripped her of all her fine
clothes, which she proceeded to put on herself, and looked then
like a human being. Last of all she took the Queen, put her into
the boat, and said--

'This spell I lay upon you, that you slacken not your course
until you come to my brother in the Underworld.'

The Queen sat stunned and motionless, but the boat at once shot
away from the ship with her, and before long she was out of
sight.

When the boat could no longer be seen the child began to cry, and
though the Witch tried to quiet it she could not manage it; so
she went below to where the King was sleeping with the child on
her arm, and awakened him, scolding him for leaving them alone on
deck, while he and all the crew were asleep. It was great
carelessness of him, she said, to leave no one to watch the ship
with her.

Sigurd was greatly surprised to hear his Queen scold him so much,
for she had never said an angry word to him before; but he
thought it was quite excusable in this case, and tried to quiet
the child along with her, but it was no use. Then he went and
wakened the sailors, and bade them hoist the sails, for a breeze
had sprung up and was blowing straight towards the harbour.

They soon reached the land which Sigurd was to rule over, and
found all the people sorrowful for the old King's death, but they
became glad when they got Sigurd back to the Court, and made him
King over them.

The King's son, however, hardly ever stopped crying from the time
he had been taken from his mother on the deck of the ship,
although he had always been such a good child before, so that at
last the King had to get a nurse for him--one of the maids of the
Court. As soon as the child got into her charge he stopped
crying, and behaved well as before.

After the sea-voyage it seemed to the King that the Queen had
altered very much in many ways, and not for the better. He
thought her much more haughty and stubborn and difficult to deal
with than she used to be. Before long others began to notice
this as well as the King. In the Court there were two young
fellows, one of eighteen years old, the other of nineteen, who
were very fond of playing chess, and often sat long inside
playing at it. Their room was next the Queen's, and often during
the day they heard the Queen talking.

One day they paid more attention than usual when they heard her
talk, and put their ears close to a crack in the wall between the
rooms, and heard the Queen say quite plainly, 'When I yawn a
little, then I am a nice little maiden; when I yawn half-way,
then I am half a troll; and when I yawn fully, then I am a troll
altogether.'

As she said this she yawned tremendously, and in a moment had put
on the appearance of a fearfully ugly troll. Then there came up
through the floor of the room a three-headed Giant with a trough
full of meat, who saluted her as his sister and set down the
trough before her. She began to eat out of it, and never stopped
till she had finished it. The young fellows saw all this going
on, but did not hear the two of them say anything to each other.
They were astonished though at how greedily the Queen devoured
the meat, and how much she ate of it, and were no longer
surprised that she took so little when she sat at table with the
King. As soon as she had finished it the Giant disappeared with
the trough by the same way as he had come, and the Queen returned
to her human shape.

Now we must go back to the King's son after he had been put in
charge of the nurse. One evening, after she had lit a candle and
was holding the child, several planks sprang up in the floor of
the room, and out at the opening came a beautiful woman dressed
in white, with an iron belt round her waist, to which was
fastened an iron chain that went down into the ground. The woman
came up to the nurse, took the child from her, and pressed it to
her breast; then she gave it back to the nurse and returned by
the same way as she had come, and the floor closed over her
again. Although the woman had not spoken a single word to her,
the nurse was very much frightened, but told no one about it.

Next evening the same thing happened again, just as before, but
as the woman was going away she said in a sad tone, 'Two are
gone, and one only is left,' and then disappeared as before. The
nurse was still more frightened when she heard the woman say
this, and thought that perhaps some danger was hanging over the
child, though she had no ill-opinion of the unknown woman, who,
indeed, had behaved towards the child as if it were her own. The
most mysterious thing was the woman saying 'and only one is
left;' but the nurse guessed that this must mean that only one
day was left, since she had come for two days already.

At last the nurse made up her mind to go to the King, and told
him the whole story, and asked him to be present in person next
day about the time when the woman usually came. The King
promised to do so, and came to the nurse's room a little before
the time, and sat down on a chair with his drawn sword in his
hand. Soon after the planks in the floor sprang up as before,
and the woman came up, dressed in white, with the iron belt and
chain. The King saw at once that it was his own Queen, and
immediately hewed asunder the iron chain that was fastened to the
belt. This was followed by such noises and crashings down in the
earth that all the King's Palace shook, so that no one expected
anything else than to see every bit of it shaken to pieces. At
last, however, the noises and shaking stopped, and they began to
come to themselves again.

The King and Queen embraced each other, and she told him the
whole story--how the Witch came to the ship when they were all
asleep and sent her off in the boat. After she had gone so far
that she could not see the ship, she sailed on through darkness
until she landed beside a three-headed Giant. The Giant wished
her to marry him, but she refused; whereupon he shut her up by
herself, and told her she would never get free until she
consented. After a time she began to plan how to get her
freedom, and at last told him that she would consent if he would
allow her to visit her son on earth three days on end. This he
agreed to, but put on her this iron belt and chain, the other end
of which he fastened round his own waist, and the great noises
that were heard when the King cut the chain must have been caused
by the Giant's falling down the underground passage when the
chain gave way so suddenly. The Giant's dwelling, indeed, was
right under the Palace, and the terrible shakings must have been
caused by him in his death-throes.

The King now understood how the Queen he had had for some time
past had been so ill-tempered. He at once had a sack drawn over
her head and made her be stoned to death, and after that torn in
pieces by untamed horses. The two young fellows also told now
what they had heard and seen in the Queen's room, for before this
they had been afraid to say anything about it, on account of the
Queen's power.

The real Queen was now restored to all her dignity, and was
beloved by all. The nurse was married to a nobleman, and the
King and Queen gave her splendid presents.





Next: Thumbelina

Previous: The Tinder-box



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