First Born First Wed

: The Swedish Fairy Book

Once upon a time there was a king who had a three-year old son, and

was obliged to go to war against another king. Then, when his ships

sailed home again after he had gained a splendid victory, a storm

broke out and his whole fleet was near sinking. But the king vowed he

would sacrifice to the sea-queen the first male creature that came to

meet him when he reached land and entered his capital. Thereby the

whole fleet r
ached the harbor in safety. But the five-year old

prince, who had not seen his father for the past two years, and who

was delighted with the thunder of the cannon as the ships came in,

secretly slipped away from his attendants, and ran to the landing; and

when the king came ashore he was the first to cast himself into his

arms, weeping with joy. The king was frightened when he thought of the

sea-queen; but he thought that, after all, the prince was only a

child, and at any rate he could sacrifice the next person to step up

to him after the prince. But from that time on no one could make a

successful sea-trip, and the people began to murmur because the king

had not kept the promise he had made the sea-queen. But the king and

queen never allowed the prince out without a great escort, and he was

never permitted to enter a ship, for all his desire to do so. After a

few years they gradually forgot the sea-queen, and when the prince was

ten years old, a little brother came to join him. Not long after the

older of the princes was out walking with his tutor and several other

gentlemen. And when they reached the end of the royal gardens by the

sea-shore--it was a summer's day, unusually clear--they were suddenly

enveloped by a thick cloud, which disappeared as swiftly as it had

come. And when it vanished, the prince was no longer there; nor did he

return, to the great sorrow of the king, the queen and the whole

country. In the meantime the young prince who was now the sole heir to

the crown and kingdom grew up; and when he was sixteen, they began to

think of finding a wife for him. For the old king and queen wished to

see him marry the daughter of some powerful monarch to whom they were

allied, before they died. With this in view, letters were written and

embassies sent out to the most distant countries.

While these negotiations were being conducted, it began to be said

that the sea-shore was haunted; various people had heard cries, and

several who had walked by the sea-shore late in the evening had fallen

ill. At length no one ventured to go there after eleven at night,

because a voice kept crying from out at sea: "First born, first wed!"

And when some one did venture nearer he did so at the risk of his

life. At last these complaints came to the king's ear; he called

together his council, and it was decided to question a wise woman, who

had already foretold many mysterious happenings, which had all taken

place exactly as she had said they would. When the wise woman was

brought before the king she said it was the prince who had been taken

into the sea who was calling, and that they would have to find him a

bride, young, beautiful, and belonging to one of the noblest families

of the land, and she must be no less than fifteen and no more than

seventeen years old. That seemed a serious difficulty; for no one

wished to give their daughter to a sea-king.

Yet, when there was no end to the cries and the commotion, the wise

woman said, that first it might be well to build a little house by the

sea, perhaps then the turmoil might die away. At any rate, she said,

no phantoms would haunt the place while the building was in progress.

Hence no more than four workmen need be employed, and they might first

prepare a site, then lay the stone foundation, and finally erect the

small house, comprising no more than two pleasant, handsome rooms, one

behind the other, and a good floor. The house was carefully erected,

and the royal architect himself had to superintend the work, so that

everything might be done as well as possible. And while the building

was going on, there were no mysterious noises, and every one could

travel peacefully along the sea-shore. For that reason the four

workmen did not hurry with their work; yet not one of them could stay

away for a day, because when they did the tumult along the shore would

begin again, and one could hear the cries: "First born, first wed!"

When the little house was finally completed, the best carpenters came

and worked in it, then painters and other craftsmen, and at last it

was furnished, because when the work stopped for no more than a single

day the cries were heard again by night. The rooms were fitted out as

sumptuously as possible, and a great mirror was hung in the

drawing-room. According to the instructions of the wise woman, it was

hung in such wise that from the bed in the bed-room, even though one's

face were turned to the wall, one could still see who stepped over the

threshold into the drawing-room; for the door between each room was

always to stand open.

When all was finished, and the little house had been arranged with

regal splendor, the cries of "First born, first wed!" again began to

sound from the shore. And it was found necessary, though all were

unwilling, to follow the wise woman's counsel, and choose three of

the loveliest maidens between the ages of fifteen and seventeen,

belonging to the first families of the land. They were to be taken to

the castle, said the wise woman, and to be treated like ladies of the

blood royal, and one after another they were to be sent to the little

house by the sea-shore; for should one of them find favor in the eyes

of the sea-prince, then the commotion and turmoil would surely cease.

In the meantime the negotiations for the marriage of the younger

prince were continued, and the bride selected for him was soon

expected to arrive. So the girls were also chosen for the sea-prince.

The three chosen, as well as their parents, were quite inconsolable

over their fate; even the fact that they were to be treated like

princesses did not console them; yet had they not yielded it would

have been all the worse for them and for the whole land. The first

girl destined to sleep in the sea-palace was the oldest, and when she

sought out the wise woman, and asked her advice, the latter said she

should lie down in the handsome bed; but should turn her face to the

wall, and under no circumstances turn around curiously, and try and

see what was going on. She had only the right to behold what she saw

reflected in the mirror in the drawing-room as she lay with her face

to the wall. At ten o'clock that night the royal sea-bride was led

with great pomp to the little house.

Her relatives and the court said farewell to her with many tears, left

her before eleven, locked the door on the outside, and took the keys

with them to the castle. The wise woman was also there, consoled the

people, and assured them that if the maiden only forbore to speak, and

did not turn around, she would come out in the morning fresh and

blooming. The poor girl prayed and wept until she grew sleepy; but

toward twelve o'clock the outer door suddenly opened, and then the

door of the drawing-room. She was startled and filled with fear when,

her face turned toward the wall, she saw in the great mirror, how a

tall, well-built youth entered, from whose garments the water ran in

streams to the floor. He shook himself as though freezing, and said

"Uh hu!" Then he went to the window, and there laid down an unusually

large and handsome apple, and hung a bottle in the casement. Next he

stepped to the bed, bent over the sleeping girl and looked at her,

strode up and down a few times, shaking the water from his clothes and

saying "Uh hu!" Then he went back to the bed, undressed hurriedly, lay

down and fell asleep. The poor girl, had not been sleeping; but had

only closed her eyes when the prince bent over her. Now she was glad

to think he was fast asleep, and forgot the wise woman's warning not

to turn around. Her curiosity got the better of her, and she wanted

to find out if this were a real human being. She turned around

softly, lest she wake him; but just as she sat up quietly in bed, in

order to take a good look at her neighbor, he swiftly seized her right

hand, hewed it off, and flung it under the bed. Then he at once lay

down and fell asleep again. As soon as it was day, he rose, dressed

without casting even a glance at the bed, took the bottle and the

apple from the window, went hastily out and locked the door after him.

One can imagine how the poor girl suffered in the meantime, and when

her friends and relatives came to fetch her they found her weeping and

robbed of her hand. She was brought to the castle and the wise woman

sent for, and overwhelmed with bitter reproaches. But she said that if

the maiden had not turned around, and had overcome her curiosity, she

would not have lost her hand. They were to treat her as though she

were really and truly a princess; but that it would be as much as her

life were worth to allow her to return to the neighborhood of the

little house.

The two girls were all the more discouraged by this mishap, and

thought themselves condemned to death, though the wise woman consoled

them as well as she knew how. The second promised her faithfully not

to turn around; yet it happened with her as it had with the first. The

prince came in at twelve o'clock dripping, shook himself so that the

water flew about, said "Uh hu!" went to the window, laid down the

beautiful apple, hung up the bottle, came into the bed-room, bent over

the bed, strode up and down a few times, said "Uh hu!" hastily

undressed, and at once fell asleep. Her curiosity gained the upper

hand, and when she made sure that he was sleeping soundly, she

carefully turned around in order to look at him. But he seized her

right hand, hewed it off and cast it under the bed, and then laid down

again and slept on. At dawn he rose, dressed without casting a glance

at the bed, took the apple and the bottle, went out and locked the

door after him. When her friends and relatives came to fetch the girl

in the morning, they found her weeping and without a right hand. She

was taken to the castle, where she found herself just as little

welcome as her predecessor, and the wise woman insisted that the girl

must have turned around, though at first she denied it absolutely.

Then the youngest, sweetest and loveliest of the three maidens had to

go to the sea-castle amid the mourning of the entire court. The wise

woman accompanied her, and implored her not to turn around; since

there was no other means of protection against the spell.

The maiden promised to heed her warning, and said that she would pray

God to help her if she were plagued with curiosity. All happened as

before: the prince came on the stroke of twelve, dripping wet, said

"Uh hu!" shook himself, laid the apple on the window, hung up the

bottle, went into the bed-room, bent over the bed, strode up and down

for a few times, said "Uh hu!" undressed, and at once fell asleep. The

poor girl was half-dead with fear and terror, and prayed and struggled

against her curiosity till at length she fell asleep, and did not

awake until the prince rose and dressed. He stepped up to the bed,

bent over it for a moment, went out, turned at the door and took the

bottle and the apple, and then locked the door after him. In the

morning the entire court, the girl's parents and the wise woman came

to fetch her. She came to meet them weeping with joy, and was

conducted to the castle in triumph and with joy indescribable. The

king and queen embraced her, and she was paid the same honors destined

for the princess who was to arrive in the course of the next few days

to marry the heir to the throne. Now the maiden had to sleep every

night in the little house by the strand, and every evening the prince

came in with his apple and his bottle, and every morning went away at

dawn. But it seemed to her that each succeeding evening and morning he

looked at her a little longer; though she, always silent, timid, and

turned toward the wall, did not dare see more than her mirror showed

her of his coming and going. But the two other girls, who had lost

their hands, and who now no longer lived in the castle, were jealous

of the honor shown the youngest, and threatened to have her done away

with if she did not restore their hands. The maiden went weeping to

the wise woman; and the latter said that when the prince had lain down

as usual she should say--keeping her face turned toward the wall:

"The maidens twain will see me slain,

Or else have back their hands again!"

But she was to offer no further information nor say another word. With

a beating heart the poor girl waited until the prince came, and when

he had bent over the bed longer than usual, sighed, then hastily

undressed and lain down, the maiden said, quivering and trembling:

"The maidens twain will see me slain,

Or else have back their hands again!"

The prince at once replied: "Take the hands--they are lying under the

bed--and the bottle hanging in the window, and pour some of the

contents of the bottle on their arms and hands, join them together,

bind them up, take away the bandages in three days' time and the hands

will have been healed!" The maiden made no reply and fell asleep. In

the morning the prince rose as usual, stepped over to the bed several

times and looked at her from its foot; but she did not dare look up,

and closed her eyes. He sighed, took his apple; but left the bottle,

and went. When the maiden rose she did as he had told her, and in

three days' time removed the bandages, and the girls' hands were well

and whole.

Now the foreign princess arrived and the wedding was to be celebrated

as soon as possible. Yet she was not fitted out with any more

magnificence than the bride of the sea-prince, and both were equally

honored by the king and court. This annoyed the two other girls, and

they again threatened to have the youngest done away with if she did

not let them taste the apple which the prince always brought with him.

Again the maiden sought the advice of the wise woman, in whom she had

confidence. And that night, when the prince had lain down, she said:

"The maidens twain will see me slain,

Or else your apple they would gain!"

Then the prince said: "Take the apple lying in the window, and when

you go out, lay it on the ground and follow wherever it may roll. And

when it stops, pick as many apples as you wish, and return the same

way you came." The maiden made no reply, and fell asleep. On the

following morning it seemed harder than ever for the prince to resolve

to go away. He appeared excited and restless, sighed often, bent over

the maiden several times, went into the living room, then turned

around and looked at her once more. Finally, when the sun rose, he

hurried out and locked the door after him. When the maiden rose, she

could not help weeping, for she had really begun to love the prince.

Then she took the apple, and when she was outside the door, laid it on

the ground, and it rolled and rolled, and she followed it, a long,

long way, to a region unknown to her. There she came to a high garden

wall, over which hung the branches of trees, loaded with beautiful

fruit. Finally she reached a great portal, adorned with gold and

splendid ornaments, which opened of its own accord as the apple rolled

up to it. And the apple rolled through the portal and the maiden

followed it into the garden, which was the most beautiful she ever had

seen. The apple rolled over to a low-growing tree weighed with the

most magnificent apples, and there it stopped. The maiden picked all

that her silken apron would hold, and turned to see from which

direction she had come, and where the portal stood through which she

would have to pass on her way back. But the garden was so lovely that

she felt like enjoying its charms a while longer, and without

thinking of the prince's words, she touched the apple with her foot,

and it began to roll again. Suddenly the portal closed with a great

crash. Then the maiden was much frightened, and regretted having done

what had been forbidden her; yet now she could not get out, and was

compelled to follow the apple once more. It rolled far into the

beautiful garden and stopped at a little fire-place, where stood two

kettles of water, one small, the other large. There was a great fire

burning under the large kettle; but only a weak fire beneath the

smaller one. Now when the apple stopped there the maiden did not know

what to do. Then it occurred to her to scrape away the fire beneath

the large kettle and thrust it under the little one; and soon the

kettle over the small fire began to boil and the kettle over the large

one simmered down. But she could not stay there. And since she had

already disobeyed the order given her, she expected to die, nothing

less, and was quite resigned to do so, because she had lost all hope

of winning the prince.

So she gave the apple another push, and it rolled into a meadow in the

middle of the garden, and there lay two little children, asleep, with

the hot sun beating straight down upon them. The maiden felt sorry for

the children, and she took her apron and laid it over them to protect

them from the sun, and only kept the apples she could put in her

little basket. But she could not stay here either, so again she

touched the apple, and it rolled on and before she knew it the girl

found herself by the sea-shore. There, under a shady tree lay the

prince asleep; while beside him sat the sea-queen. Both rose when the

maiden drew near, and the prince looked at her with alarm and

tenderness in his flashing eyes. Then he leaped into the sea, and the

white foam closed over him. But the sea-queen was enraged and seized

the girl, who thought that her last moment had struck, and begged for

a merciful death. The sea-queen looked at her, and asked her who had

given her permission to pass beyond the apple-tree. The maiden

confessed her disobedience, and said that she had done so without

meaning any harm, whereupon the sea-queen said she would see how she

had conducted herself and punish her accordingly. Thereupon the

sea-queen gave the apple a push, and it rolled back through the portal

to the apple-tree. The sea-queen saw that the apple-tree was

uninjured, again pushed the apple and it rolled on to the little

fire-place. But when the sea-queen saw the small kettle boiling

furiously, while the large one was growing cold, she became very

angry, seized the girl's arm savagely and rising to her full height,

asked: "What have you dared do here? How dared you take the fire from

under my kettle and put it under your own?" The maiden did not know

that she had done anything wrong, and said that she did not know why.

Then the sea-queen replied: "The large kettle signified the love

between the prince and myself; the small one the love between the

prince and you. Since you have taken the fire from under my kettle and

laid it under your own, the prince is now violently in love with you,

while his love for me is well-nigh extinguished. Look," she cried,

angrily, "now my kettle has stopped boiling altogether, and yours is

boiling over! But I will see what other harm you have done and punish

you accordingly." And the sea-queen again pushed the apple with her

foot, and it rolled to the sleeping children, who had been covered

with the apron. Then the sea-queen said: "Did you do that?" "Yes,"

replied the maiden, weeping, "but I meant no harm. I covered the

little ones with my apron so that the sun might not burn down on them

so fiercely, and I left with them the apples I could not put in my

basket." The sea-queen said: "This deed and your truthfulness are your

salvation. I see that you have a kind heart. These children belong to

me and to the prince; but since he now loves you more than he does me,

I will resign him to you. Go back to the castle and there say what I

tell you: that your wedding with my prince is to be celebrated at the

same time as that of his younger brother. And all your jewels, your

ornaments, your wedding-dress and your bridal chair, are to be exactly

like those of the other princess. From the moment on that the priest

blesses the prince and yourself I have no further power over him. But

since I have seen to it that he has all the qualities which adorn a

ruler, I demand that he be made the heir to his father's kingdom; for

he is the oldest son. The younger prince may rule over the kingdom

which his bride brings him. All this you must tell them, for only

under these conditions will I release the prince. And when you are

arrayed in your bridal finery, come to me here, without anyone's

knowledge, so that I may see how they have adorned you. Here is the

apple which will show you the way without any one being able to tell

where you go." With that the sea-queen parted from her, and gave the

apple a push. It rolled out of the garden and to the castle, where the

maiden, with mingled joy and terror, delivered the sea-queen's message

to the king, and told him what she demanded for the prince. The king

gladly promised all that was desired, and great preparations were at

once made for the double wedding. Two bridal chairs were set up side

by side, two wedding gowns, and two sets of jewels exactly similar

were made ready. When the maiden had been dressed in her bridal

finery she pretended to have forgotten something, which she had to

fetch from a lower floor, went downstairs with her apple, and laid it

on the ground. It at once rolled to the spot by the sea-shore where

she had found the sea-queen and the prince, and where the sea-queen

was now awaiting her. "It is well that you have come," said the

sea-queen, "for the slightest disobedience would have meant misfortune

for you! But how do you look? Are you dressed just as the princess is?

And has the princess no better clothes or jewels?" The maiden answered

timidly, that they were dressed exactly alike. Then the sea-queen tore

her gown from her body, unclasped the jewels from her hair and

flinging them on the ground cried: "Is that the way the bride of my

prince should look! Since I have given him to you I will give you my

bridal outfit as well." And with that she raised up a sod beneath the

great tree, and a shrine adorned with gold and precious stones

appeared, from which she drew out her bridal outfit, which fitted the

maiden as though made for her. And it was so costly and so covered

with gems that the maiden was almost blinded by its radiance. The

crown, too, glowed with light, and was set with the most wonderful

emeralds, and all was magnificent beyond what any princess had ever

worn. "Now," said the sea-queen, when she had finished adorning the

maiden, "now go back to the castle, and show them how I was dressed

when I wedded the prince. All this I give as a free gift to you and

your descendants; but you must always conduct yourself so that the

prince will be content with you, and you must make his happiness your

first thought all your life long."


This the maiden promised, with honest tears, and the sea-queen bade

her go. When she was again in the castle, all were astonished at the

beauty and costliness of her dress and jewels, in comparison to which

those of the other princess were as nothing. The treasures of the

whole kingdom would not have sufficed to pay for such a bridal outfit.

And none any longer dared envy the lovely maiden, for never had a

princess brought a richer bridal dower into the country. Now all went

in solemn procession to the church, and the priests stood before the

bridal chairs with their books open, and waited for the prince who,

according to the sea-queen's word, would not come until the blessing

was to be spoken. They waited impatiently, and the king finally told

one of the greatest nobles to seat himself in the bridal chair in the

prince's place, which he did. But the very moment the priest began to

pray, the two wings of the church portal quickly flew open, and a

tall, strong, handsome man with flashing eyes, royally clad, came in,

stepped up to the bridal chair, thrust his proxy out so hastily that

he nearly fell, and cried: "This is my place! Now, priest, speak the

blessing!" While the blessing was spoken the prince became quiet

again, and then greeted his parents and the whole court with joy, and

before all embraced his wife, who now for the first time ventured to

take a good look at him. Thenceforward the prince was like any other

human being, and in the end he inherited his father's kingdom, and

became a great and world-renowned ruler, beloved by his subjects, and

adored by his wife. They lived long and happily, and their descendants

are still the rulers of the land over which he reigned.


"First Born, First Wed" is a purely Swedish, and decidedly

characteristic treatment of a similar motive of redemption.

(From the mss. collection of Hylten-Cavallius and Stephens,

communicated by Dr. v. Sydow-Lund).