The Water-lily The Gold-spinners





Once upon a time, in a large forest, there lived an old

woman and three maidens. They were all three beautiful,

but the youngest was the fairest. Their hut was quite

hidden by trees, and none saw their beauty but the sun

by day, and the moon by night, and the eyes of the stars.

The old woman kept the girls hard at work, from morning

till night, spinning gold flax into yarn, and when one

distaff was empty another was given them, so they had

no rest. The thread had to be fine and even, and when

done was locked up in a secret chamber by the old woman,

who twice or thrice every summer went a journey.

Before she went she gave out work for each day of her

absence, and always returned in the night, so that the

girls never saw what she brought back with her, neither

would she tell them whence the gold flax came, nor what

it was to be used for.



Now, when the time came round for the old woman to

set out on one of these journeys, she gave each maiden

work for six days, with the usual warning: "Children,

don't let your eyes wander, and on no account speak to a

man, for, if you do, your thread will lose its brightness,

and misfortunes of all kinds will follow." They laughed

at this oft-repeated caution, saying to each other: "How

can our gold thread lose its brightness, and have we any

chance of speaking to a man?"



On the third day after the old woman's departure a

young prince, hunting in the forest, got separated from

his companions, and completely lost. Weary of seeking

his way, he flung himself down under a tree, leaving his

horse to browse at will, and fell asleep.



The sun had set when he awoke and began once more

to try and find his way out of the forest. At last he

perceived a narrow foot-path, which he eagerly followed and

found that it led him to a small hut. The maidens, who

were sitting at the door of their hut for coolness, saw him

approaching, and the two elder were much alarmed, for

they remembered the old woman's warning; but the

youngest said: "Never before have I seen anyone like

him; let me have one look." They entreated her to come

in, but, seeing that she would not, left her, and the Prince,

coming up, courteously greeted the maiden, and told her

he had lost his way in the forest and was both hungry and

weary. She set food before him, and was so delighted

with his conversation that she forgot the old woman's

caution, and lingered for hours. In the meantime the

Prince's companions sought him far and wide, but to no

purpose, so they sent two messengers to tell the sad news

to the King, who immediately ordered a regiment of

cavalry and one of infantry to go and look for him.



After three days' search, they found the hut. The

Prince was still sitting by the door and had been so happy

in the maiden's company that the time had seemed like

a single hour. Before leaving he promised to return and

fetch her to his father's court, where he would make her

his bride. When he had gone, she sat down to her wheel

to make up for lost time, but was dismayed to find that

her thread had lost all its brightness. Her heart beat fast

and she wept bitterly, for she remembered the old

woman's warning and knew not what misfortune might now

befall her.



The old woman returned in the night and knew by the

tarnished thread what had happened in her absence. She

was furiously angry and told the maiden that she had

brought down misery both on herself and on the Prince.

The maiden could not rest for thinking of this. At last

she could bear it no longer, and resolved to seek help from

the Prince.



As a child she had learned to understand the speech of

birds, and this was now of great use to her, for, seeing a

raven pluming itself on a pine bough, she cried softly to

it: "Dear bird, cleverest of all birds, as well as swiftest

on wing, wilt thou help me?" "How can I help thee?"

asked the raven. She answered: "Fly away, until thou

comest to a splendid town, where stands a king's palace;

seek out the king's son and tell him that a great misfortune

has befallen me." Then she told the raven how her

thread had lost its brightness, how terribly angry the old

woman was, and how she feared some great disaster. The

raven promised faithfully to do her bidding, and, spreading

its wings, flew away. The maiden now went home and

worked hard all day at winding up the yarn her elder

sisters had spun, for the old woman would let her spin no

longer. Toward evening she heard the raven's "craa,

craa," from the pine tree and eagerly hastened thither to

hear the answer.



By great good fortune the raven had found a wind

wizard's son in the palace garden, who understood the

speech of birds, and to him he had entrusted the message.

When the Prince heard it, he was very sorrowful, and took

counsel with his friends how to free the maiden. Then he

said to the wind wizard's son: "Beg the raven to fly

quickly back to the maiden and tell her to be ready on the

ninth night, for then will I come and fetch her away."

The wind wizard's son did this, and the raven flew so

swiftly that it reached the hut that same evening. The

maiden thanked the bird heartily and went home, telling

no one what she had heard.



As the ninth night drew near she became very unhappy,

for she feared lest some terrible mischance should arise

and ruin all. On this night she crept quietly out of the

house and waited trembling at some little distance from

the hut. Presently she heard the muffled tramp of horses,

and soon the armed troop appeared, led by the Prince,

who had prudently marked all the trees beforehand, in

order to know the way. When he saw the maiden he

sprang from his horse, lifted her into the saddle, and then,

mounting behind, rode homeward. The moon shone so

brightly that they had no difficulty in seeing the marked

trees.



By and by the coming of dawn loosened the tongues of

all the birds, and, had the Prince only known what they

were saying, or the maiden been listening, they might

have been spared much sorrow, but they were thinking

only of each other, and when they came out of the forest

the sun was high in the heavens.



Next morning, when the youngest girl did not come to

her work, the old woman asked where she was. The

sisters pretended not to know, but the old woman easily

guessed what had happened, and, as she was in reality a

wicked witch, determined to punish the fugitives.

Accordingly, she collected nine different kinds of enchanters'

nightshade, added some salt, which she first bewitched,

and, doing all up in a cloth into the shape of a fluffy ball,

sent it after them on the wings of the wind, saying:



"Whirlwind!--mother of the wind!

Lend thy aid 'gainst her who sinned!

Carry with thee this magic ball.

Cast her from his arms for ever,

Bury her in the rippling river."





At midday the Prince and his men came to a deep

river, spanned by so narrow a bridge that only one rider

could cross at a time. The horse on which the Prince and

the maiden were riding had just reached the middle when

the magic ball flew by. The horse in its fright suddenly

reared, and before anyone could stop it flung the maiden

into the swift current below. The Prince tried to jump

in after her, but his men held him back, and in spite of his

struggles led him home, where for six weeks he shut himself

up in a secret chamber, and would neither eat nor

drink, so great was his grief. At last he became so ill his

life was despaired of, and in great alarm the King caused

all the wizards of his country to be summoned. But none

could cure him. At last the wind wizard's son said to the

King: "Send for the old wizard from Finland he knows

more than all the wizards of your kingdom put together."

A messenger was at once sent to Finland, and a week later

the old wizard himself arrived on the wings of the wind.

"Honored King," said the wizard, "the wind has blown

this illness upon your son, and a magic ball has snatched

away his beloved. This it is which makes him grieve so

constantly. Let the wind blow upon him that it may blow

away his sorrow." Then the King made his son go out

into the wind, and he gradually recovered and told his

father all. "Forget the maiden," said the King, "and take

another bride"; but the Prince said he could never love

another.



A year afterward he came suddenly upon the bridge

where his beloved met her death. As he recalled the

misfortune he wept bitterly, and would have given all he

possessed to have her once more alive. In the midst of his

grief he thought he heard a voice singing, and looked

round, but could see no one. Then he heard the voice

again, and it said:



"Alas! bewitched and all forsaken,

'Tis I must lie for ever here!

My beloved no thought has taken

To free his bride, that was so dear."



He was greatly astonished, sprang from his horse, and

looked everywhere to see if no one were hidden under the

bridge; but no one was there. Then he noticed a yellow

water-lily floating on the surface of the water, half hidden

by its broad leaves; but flowers do not sing, and in great

surprise he waited, hoping to hear more. Then again the

voice sang:



"Alas! bewitched and all forsaken,

'Tis I must lie for ever here!

My beloved no thought has taken

To free his bride, that was so dear."



The Prince suddenly remembered the gold-spinners, and

said to himself: "If I ride thither, who knows but that

they could explain this to me?" He at once rode to the

hut, and found the two maidens at the fountain. He told

them what had befallen their sister the year before, and

how he had twice heard a strange song, but yet could see

no singer. They said that the yellow water-lily could be

none other than their sister, who was not dead, but

transformed by the magic ball. Before he went to bed, the

eldest made a cake of magic herbs, which she gave him to

eat. In the night he dreamed that he was living in the

forest and could understand all that the birds said to each

other. Next morning he told this to the maidens, and

they said that the charmed cake had caused it, and

advised him to listen well to the birds, and see what they

could tell him, and when he had recovered his bride they

begged him to return and deliver them from their

wretched bondage.



Having promised this, he joyfully returned home, and

as he was riding through the forest he could perfectly

understand all that the birds said. He heard a thrush say

to a magpie: "How stupid men are! they cannot understand

the simplest thing. It is now quite a year since the

maiden was transformed into a water-lily, and, though

she sings so sadly that anyone going over the bridge must

hear her, yet no one comes to her aid. Her former bridegroom

rode over it a few days ago and heard her singing,

but was no wiser than the rest."



"And he is to blame for all her misfortunes," added the

magpie. "If he heeds only the words of men she will remain

a flower for ever. She were soon delivered were the

matter only laid before the old wizard of Finland."



After hearing this, the Prince wondered how he could

get a message conveyed to Finland. He heard one swallow

say to another: "Come, let us fly to Finland; we can build

better nests there."



"Stop, kind friends!" cried the Prince. "Will you do

something for me?" The birds consented, and he said:

"Take a thousand greetings from me to the wizard of

Finland, and ask him how I may restore a maiden transformed

into a flower to her own form."



The swallows flew away, and the Prince rode on to the

bridge. There he waited, hoping to hear the song. But

he heard nothing but the rushing of the water and the

moaning of the wind, and, disappointed, rode home.



Shortly after, he was sitting in the garden, thinking

that the swallows must have forgotten his message, when

he saw an eagle flying above him. The bird gradually

descended until it perched on a tree close to the Prince

and said: "The wizard of Finland greets thee and bids me

say that thou mayest free the maiden thus: Go to the river

and smear thyself all over with mud; then say: 'From a

man into a crab,' and thou wilt become a crab. Plunge

boldly into the water, swim as close as thou canst to the

water-lily's roots, and loosen them from the mud and

reeds. This done, fasten thy claws into the roots and

rise with them to the surface. Let the water flow all over

the flower, and drift with the current until thou comest to

a mountain ash tree on the left bank. There is near it a

large stone. Stop there and say: 'From a crab into a man,

from a water-lily into a maiden,' and ye both will be

restored to your own forms."



Full of doubt and fear, the Prince let some time pass

before he was bold enough to attempt to rescue the

maiden. Then a crow said to him: "Why dost thou hesitate?

The old wizard has not told thee wrong, neither

have the birds deceived thee; hasten and dry the maiden's

tears."



"Nothing worse than death can befall me," thought the

Prince, "and death is better than endless sorrow." So he

mounted his horse and went to the bridge. Again he

heard the water-lily's lament, and, hesitating no longer,

smeared himself all over with mud, and, saying: "From a

man into a crab," plunged into the river. For one moment

the water hissed in his ears, and then all was silent. He

swam up to the plant and began to loosen its roots, but so

firmly were they fixed in the mud and reeds that this took

him a long time. He then grasped them and rose to the

surface, letting the water flow over the flower. The current

carried them down the stream, but nowhere could he

see the mountain ash. At last he saw it, and close by the

large stone. Here he stopped and said: "From a crab into

a man, from a water-lily into a maiden," and to his

delight found himself once more a prince, and the maiden

was by his side. She was ten times more beautiful than

before, and wore a magnificent pale yellow robe, sparkling

with jewels. She thanked him for having freed her

from the cruel witch's power, and willingly consented to

marry him.



But when they came to the bridge where he had left his

horse it was nowhere to be seen, for, though the Prince

thought he had been a crab only a few hours, he had in

reality been under the water for more than ten days.

While they were wondering how they should reach his

father's court, they saw a splendid coach driven by six

gaily caparisoned horses coming along the bank. In this

they drove to the palace. The King and Queen were at

church, weeping for their son, whom they had long

mourned for dead. Great was their delight and astonishment

when the Prince entered, leading the beautiful

maiden by the hand. The wedding was at once celebrated

and there was feasting and merry-making throughout the

kingdom for six weeks.



Some time afterward the Prince and his bride were

sitting in the garden, when a crow said to them:

"Ungrateful creatures! Have you forgotten the two poor

maidens who helped you in your distress? Must they

spin gold flax for ever? Have no pity on the old witch.

The three maidens are princesses, whom she stole away

when they were children together, with all the silver

utensils, which she turned into gold flax. Poison were her

fittest punishment."



The Prince was ashamed of having forgotten his promise

and set out at once, and by great good fortune reached

the hut when the old woman was away. The maidens had

dreamed that he was coming, and were ready to go with

him, but first they made a cake in which they put poison,

and left it on a table where the old woman was likely to

see it when she returned. She did see it, and thought it

looked so tempting that she greedily ate it up and at once

died.



In the secret chamber were found fifty wagon-loads of

gold flax, and as much more was discovered buried. The

hut was razed to the ground, and the Prince and his bride

and her two sisters lived happily ever after.





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