Freddie Firefly is most anxious to lighten the cares of his friends in Pleasant Valley for he is a most unselfish fellow and enjoys nothing more than seeing other people as happy as he. He has one grave fault, however, that prevents him from be... Read more of THE TALE OF FREDDIE FIREFLY at Children Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational
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Udea And Her Seven Brothers

from The Grey Fairy Book





Once upon a time there was a man and his wife who had seven boys.
The children lived in the open air and grew big and strong, and
the six eldest spent part of every day hunting wild beasts. The
youngest did not care so much about sport, and he often stayed
with his mother.

One morning, however, as the whole seven were going out for a
long expedition, they said to their aunt, 'Dear aunt, if a baby
sister comes into the world to-day, wave a white handkerchief,
and we will return immediately; but if it is only a boy, just
brandish a sickle, and we will go on with what we are doing.'

Now the baby when it arrived really proved to be a girl, but as
the aunt could not bear the boys, she thought it was a good
opportunity to get rid of them. So she waved the sickle. And when
the seven brothers saw the sign they said, 'Now we have nothing
to go back for,' and plunged deeper into the desert.

The little girl soon grew to be a big girl, and she was called by
all her friends (though she did not know it) 'Udea, who had
driven her seven brothers into strange lands.'

One day, when she had been quarrelling with her playmates, the
oldest among them said to her, 'It is a pity you were born, as
ever since, your brothers have been obliged to roam about the
world.'

Udea did not answer, but went home to her mother and asked her,
'Have I really got brothers?'

'Yes,' replied her mother, 'seven of them. But they went away the
day you were born, and I have never heard of them since.'

Then the girl said, 'I will go and look for them till I find
them.'

'My dear child,' answered her mother, 'it is fifteen years since
they left, and no man has seen them. How will you know which way
to go?'

'Oh, I will follow them, north and south, east and west, and
though I may travel far, yet some day I will find them.'

Then her mother said no more, but gave her a camel and some food,
and a negro and his wife to take care of her, and she fastened a
cowrie shell round the camel's neck for a charm, and bade her
daughter go in peace.

During the first day the party journeyed on without any
adventures, but the second morning the negro said to the girl,
'Get down, and let the negress ride instead of you.'

'Mother,' cried Udea.

'What is it?' asked her mother.

'Barka wants me to dismount from my camel.'

'Leave her alone, Barka,' commanded the mother, and Barka did not
dare to persist.

But on the following day he said again to Udea, 'Get down, and
let the negress ride instead of you,' and though Udea called to
her mother she was too far away, and the mother never heard her.
Then the negro seized her roughly and threw her on the ground,
and said to his wife, 'Climb up,' and the negress climbed up,
while the girl walked by the side. She had meant to ride all the
way on her camel as her feet were bare and the stones cut them
till the blood came. But she had to walk on till night, when they
halted, and the next morning it was the same thing again. Weary
and bleeding the poor girl began to cry, and implored the negro
to let her ride, if only for a little. But he took no notice,
except to bid her walk a little faster.

By-and-by they passed a caravan, and the negro stopped and asked
the leader if they had come across seven young men, who were
thought to be hunting somewhere about. And the man answered, 'Go
straight on, and by midday you will reach the castle where they
live.'

When he heard this, the black melted some pitch in the sun, and
smeared the girl with it, till she looked as much a negro as he
did. Next he bade his wife get down from the camel, and told Udea
to mount, which she was thankful to do. So they arrived at her
brothers' castle.

Leaving the camel kneeling at the entrance for Udea to dismount,
the negro knocked loudly at the door, which was opened by the
youngest brother, all the others being away hunting. He did not
of course recognise Udea, but he knew the negro and his wife, and
welcomed them gladly, adding, 'But who does the other negress
belong to?'

'Oh, that is your sister!' said they.

'My sister! but she is coal black!'

'That may be, but she is your sister for all that.'

The young man asked no more questions, but took them into the
castle, and he himself waited outside till his brothers came
home.

As soon as they were alone, the negro whispered to Udea, 'If you
dare to tell your brothers that I made you walk, or that I
smeared you with pitch, I will kill you.'

'Oh, I will be sure to say nothing,' replied the girl, trembling,
and at that moment the six elder brothers appeared in sight.

'I have some good news for you,' said the youngest, hastening to
meet them; 'our sister is here!'

'Nonsense,' they answered. 'We have no sister; you know the child
that was born was a boy.'

'But that was not true,' replied he, 'and here she is with the
negro and his wife. Only--she too is black,' he added softly, but
his brothers did not hear him, and pushed past joyfully.

'How are you, good old Barka?' they said to the negro; 'and how
comes it that we never knew that we had a sister till now?' and
they greeted Udea warmly, while she shed tears of relief and
gladness.

The next morning they all agreed that they would not go out
hunting. And the eldest brother took Udea on his knee, and she
combed his hair and talked to him of their home till the tears
ran down his cheeks and dropped on her bare arm. And where the
tears fell a white mark was made. Then the brother took a cloth
and rubbed the place, and he saw that she was not black at all.

'Tell me, who painted you over like this?' cried he.

'I am afraid to tell you,' sobbed the girl, 'the negro will kill
me.'

'Afraid! and with seven brothers!'

'Well, I will tell you then,' she answered. 'The negro forced me
to dismount from the camel and let his wife ride instead. And the
stones cut my feet till they bled and I had to bind them. And
after that, when we heard your castle was near by, he took pitch
and smeared my body with it.'

Then the brother rushed in wrath from the room, and seizing his
sword, cut off first the negro's head and then his wife's. He
next brought in some warm water, and washed his sister all over,
till her skin was white and shining again.

'Ah, now we see that you are our sister!' they all said. 'What
fools the negro must have thought us, to believe for an instant
that we could have a sister who was black!' And all that day and
the next they remained in the castle.

But on the third morning they said to their sister: 'Dear sister,
you must lock yourself into this castle, with only the cat for
company. And be very careful never to eat anything which she does
not eat too. You must be sure to give her a bit of everything. In
seven days we shall be back again.'

'All right,' she answered, and locked herself into the castle
with the cat.

On the eighth day the brothers came home. 'How are you?' they
asked. 'You have not been anxious?'

'No, why should I be anxious? The gates were fast locked, and in
the castle are seven doors, and the seventh is of iron. What is
there to frighten me?'

'No one will try to hurt us,' said the brothers, 'for they fear
us greatly. But for yourself, we implore you to do nothing
without consulting the cat, who has grown up in the house, and
take care never to neglect her advice.'

'All right,' replied Udea, 'and whatever I eat she shall have
half.'

'Capital! and if ever you are in danger the cat will come and
tell us--only elves and pigeons, which fly round your window,
know where to find us.'

'This is the first I have heard of the pigeons,' said Udea. 'Why
did you not speak of them before?'

We always leave them food and water for seven days,' replied the
brothers.

'Ah,' sighed the girl, 'if I had only known, I would have given
them fresh food and fresh water; for after seven days anything
becomes bad. Would it not be better if I fed them every day?'

'Much better,' said they, 'and we shall feel any kindnesses you
do towards the cat or the pigeons exactly as if they were shown
to ourselves.'

'Set your minds at ease,' answered the girl, 'I will treat them
as if they were my brothers.'

That night the brothers slept in the castle, but after breakfast
next morning they buckled on their weapons and mounted their
horses, and rode off to their hunting grounds, calling out to
their sister, 'Mind you let nobody in till we come back.'

'Very well,' cried she, and kept the doors carefully locked for
seven days and on the eighth the brothers returned as before.
Then, after spending one evening with her, they departed as soon
as they had done breakfast.

Directly they were out of sight Udea began to clean the house,
and among the dust she found a bean which she ate.

'What are you eating?' asked the cat.

'Nothing,' said she.

'Open your mouth, and let me see.' The girl did as she was told,
and then the cat said 'Why did you not give me half?'

'I forgot,' answered she, 'but there are plenty of beans about,
you can have as many as you like.'

'No, that won't do. I want half of that particular bean.'

'But how can I give it you? I tell you I have eaten it. I can
roast you a hundred others.'

'No, I want half of that one.'

'Oh! do as you like, only go away!' cried she.

So the cat ran straight to the kitchen fire, and spit on it and
put it out, and when Udea came to cook the supper she had nothing
to light it with. 'Why did you put the fire out?' asked she.

'Just to show you how nicely you would be able to cook the
supper. Didn't you tell me to do what I liked?'

The girl left the kitchen and climbed up on the roof of the
castle and looked out. Far, far away, so far that she could
hardly see it, was the glow of a fire. 'I will go and fetch a
burning coal from there and light my fire,' thought she, and
opened the door of the castle. When she reached the place where
the fire was kindled, a hideous man-eater was crouching over it.

'Peace be with you, grandfather,' said she.

'The same to you,' replied the man-eater. 'What brings you here,
Udea?'

'I came to ask for a lump of burning coal, to light my fire
with.'

'Do you want a big lump or a little lump?'

'Why, what difference does it make?' said she.

'If you have a big lump you must give me a strip of your skin
from your ear to your thumb, and if you have a little lump, you
must give me a strip from your ear to your little finger.'

Udea, who thought that one sounded as bad as the other, said she
would take the big lump, and when the man-eater had cut the skin,
she went home again. And as she hastened on a raven beheld the
blood on the ground, and plastered it with earth, and stayed by
her till she reached the castle. And as she entered the door he
flew past, and she shrieked from fright, for up to that moment
she had not seen him. In her terror she called after him. 'May
you get the same start as you have given me!'

'Why should you wish me harm,' asked the raven pausing in his
flight, 'when I have done you a service?'

'What service have you done me?' said she.

'Oh, you shall soon see,' replied the raven, and with his bill he
scraped away all the earth he had smeared over the blood and then
flew away.

In the night the man-eater got up, and followed the blood till he
came to Udea's castle. He entered through the gate which she had
left open, and went on till he reached the inside of the house.
But here he was stopped by the seven doors, six of wood and one
of iron, and all fast locked. And he called through them 'Oh
Udea, what did you see your grandfather doing?'

'I saw him spread silk under him, and silk over him, and lay
himself down in a four-post bed.'

When he heard that, the man-eater broke in one door, and laughed
and went away.

And the second night he came back, and asked her again what she
had seen her grandfather doing, and she answered him as before,
and he broke in another door, and laughed and went away, and so
each night till he reached the seventh door. Then the maiden
wrote a letter to her brothers, and bound it round the neck of a
pigeon, and said to it, 'Oh, thou pigeon that served my father
and my grandfather, carry this letter to my brothers, and come
back at once.' And the pigeon flew away.

It flew and it flew and it flew till it found the brothers. The
eldest unfastened the letter from the pigeon's neck, and read
what his sister had written: 'I am in a great strait, my
brothers. If you do not rescue me to-night, to-morrow I shall be
no longer living, for the man-eater has broken open six doors,
and only the iron door is left. So haste, haste, post haste.'

'Quick, quick! my brothers,' cried he.

'What is the matter?' asked they.

'If we cannot reach our sister to-night, to-morrow she will be
the prey of the man-eater.'

And without more words they sprang on their horses, and rode like
the wind.

The gate of the castle was thrown down, and they entered the
court and called loudly to their sister. But the poor girl was so
ill with fear and anxiety that she could not even speak. Then the
brothers dismounted and passed through the six open doors, till
they stood before the iron one, which was still shut. 'Udea,
open!' they cried, 'it is only your brothers!' And she arose and
unlocked the door, and throwing herself on the neck of the eldest
burst into tears.

'Tell us what has happened,' he said, 'and how the man- eater
traced you here.' 'It is all the cat's fault,' replied Udea.
'She put out my fire so that I could not cook. All about a bean!
I ate one and forgot to give her any of it.'

'But we told you so particularly,' said the eldest brother,
'never to eat anything without sharing it with the cat.'

'Yes, but I tell you I forgot,' answered Udea.

'Does the man-eater come here every night?' asked the brothers.

'Every night,' said Udea, 'and he breaks one door in and then
goes away.'

Then all the brothers cried together, 'We will dig a great hole,
and fill it with burning wood, and spread a covering over the
top; and when the man-eater arrives we will push him into it.' So
they all set to work and prepared the great hole, and set fire to
the wood, till it was reduced to a mass of glowing charcoal. And
when the man-eater came, and called as usual, 'Udea, what did you
see your grandfather doing?' she answered, 'I saw him pull off
the ass' skin and devour the ass, and he fell in the fire, and
the fire burned him up.'

Then the man-eater was filled with rage, and he flung himself
upon the iron door and burst it in. On the other side stood
Udea's seven brothers, who said, 'Come, rest yourself a little on
this mat.' And the man-eater sat down, and he fell right into the
burning pit which was under the mat, and they heaped on more
wood, till nothing was left of him, not even a bone. Only one of
his finger-nails was blown away, and fell into an upper chamber
where Udea was standing, and stuck under one of the nails of her
own fingers. And she sank lifeless to the earth.

Meanwhile her brothers sat below waiting for her and wondering
why she did not come. 'What can have happened to her!' exclaimed
the eldest brother. 'Perhaps she has fallen into the fire, too.'
So one of the others ran upstairs and found his sister stretched
on the floor. 'Udea! Udea!' he cried, but she did not move or
reply. Then he saw that she was dead, and rushed down to his
brothers in the courtyard and called out, 'Come quickly, our
sister is dead!' In a moment they were all beside her and knew
that it was true, and they made a bier and laid her on it, and
placed her across a camel, and said to the camel, 'Take her to
her mother, but be careful not to halt by the way, and let no man
capture you, and see you kneel down before no man, save him who
shall say "string" [Footnote: 'Riemen.'] to you. But to him who
says "string," then kneel.'

So the camel started, and when it had accomplished half its
journey it met three men, who ran after it in order to catch it;
but they could not. Then they cried 'Stop!' but the camel only
went the faster. The three men panted behind till one said to the
others, 'Wait a minute! The string of my sandal is broken!' The
camel caught the word 'string' and knelt down at once, and the
men came up and found a dead girl lying on a bier, with a ring on
her finger. And as one of the young men took hold of her hand to
pull off the ring, he knocked out the man-eater's finger-nail,
which had stuck there, and the maiden sat up and said, 'Let him
live who gave me life, and slay him who slew me!' And when the
camel heard the maiden speak, it turned and carried her back to
her brothers.

Now the brothers were still seated in the court bewailing their
sister, and their eyes were dim with weeping so that they could
hardly see. And when the camel stood before them they said,
'Perhaps it has brought back our sister!' and rose to give it a
beating. But the camel knelt down and the girl dismounted, and
they flung themselves on her neck and wept more than ever for
gladness.

'Tell me,' said the eldest, as soon as he could speak, 'how it
all came about, and what killed you.'

'I was waiting in the upper chamber,' said she, 'and a nail of
the man-eater's stuck under my nail, and I fell dead upon the
ground. That is all I know.'

'But who pulled out the nail?' asked he.

'A man took hold of my hand and tried to pull off my ring, and
the nail jumped out and I was alive again. And when the camel
heard me say "Let him live who gave me life, slay him who slew
me!" it turned and brought me back to the castle. That is my
story.'

She was silent and the eldest brother spoke. 'Will you listen to
what I have to say, my brothers?'

And they replied, 'How should we not hear you? Are you not our
father as well as our brother?'

'Then this is my advice. Let us take our sister back to our
father and mother, that we may see them once more before they
die.'

And the young men agreed, and they mounted their horses and
placed their sister in a litter on the camel. So they set out.

At the end of five days' journey they reached the old home where
their father and mother dwelt alone. And the heart of their
father rejoiced, and he said to them, 'Dear sons, why did you go
away and leave your mother and me to weep for you night and day?'

'Dear father,' answered the son, 'let us rest a little now, and
then I will tell you everything from the beginning.'

'All right,' replied the father, and waited patiently for three
days.

And on the morning of the fourth day the eldest brother said,
'Dear father, would you like to hear our adventures?'

'Certainly I should!'

'Well, it was our aunt who was the cause of our leaving home, for
we agreed that if the baby was a sister she should wave a white
handkerchief, and if it was a brother, she should brandish a
sickle, for then there would be nothing to come back for, and we
might wander far away. Now our aunt could not bear us, and hated
us to live in the same house with her, so she brandished the
sickle, and we went away. That is all our story.'

And that is all this story.





Next: The White Wolf

Previous: The Story Of The Queen Of The Flowery Isles



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