Geirlaug The King's Daughter

: The Olive Fairy Book

One day a powerful king and his beautiful wife were sitting in the

gardens of their capital city, talking earnestly about the future life

of their little son, who was sleeping by their side in his beautiful

golden cradle. They had been married for many years without children,

so when this baby came they thought themselves the happiest couple in

the whole world. He was a fine sturdy little boy, who loved to kick

and to
trike out with his fists; but even if he had been weak and

small they would still have thought him the most wonderful creature

upon earth, and so absorbed were they in making plans for him, that

they never noticed a huge dark shadow creeping up, till a horrible

head with gleaming teeth stretched over them, and in an instant their

beloved baby was snatched away.

For a while the king and queen remained where they were, speechless

with horror. Then the king rose slowly, and holding out his hand to

his wife, led her weeping into the palace, and for many days their

subjects saw no more of them.

Meanwhile the dragon soared high into the air, holding the cradle

between his teeth, and the baby still slept on. He flew so fast that

he soon crossed the borders of another kingdom, and again he beheld

the king and queen of the country seated in the garden with a little

girl lying in a wonderful cradle of white satin and lace. Swooping

down from behind as he had done before, he was just about to seize the

cradle, when the king jumped up and dealt him such a blow with his

golden staff that the dragon not only started back, but in his pain

let fall the boy, as he spread his wings and soared into the air away

from all danger.

'That was a narrow escape,' said the king, turning to his wife, who

sat pale with fright, and clasping her baby tightly in her arms.

'Frightful,' murmured the queen; 'but look, what is that glittering

object that is lying out there?' The king walked in the direction of

her finger, and to his astonishment beheld another cradle and another


'Ah! the monster must have stolen this as he sought to steal

Geirlaug,' cried he. And stooping lower, he read some words that were

written on the fine linen that was wound round the boy. 'This is

Grethari, son of Grethari the king!' Unfortunately it happened that

the two neighbouring monarchs had had a serious quarrel, and for some

years had ceased holding communication with each other. So, instead of

sending a messenger at once to Grethari to tell him of the safety of

his son, the king contented himself with adopting the baby, which was

brought up with Geirlaug the princess.

For a while things went well with the children, who were as happy as

the day was long, but at last there came a time when the queen could

no more run races or play at hide-and-seek with them in the garden as

she was so fond of doing, but lay and watched them from a pile of soft

cushions. By-and-by she gave up doing even that, and people in the

palace spoke with low voices, and even Geirlaug and Grethari trod

gently and moved quietly when they drew near her room. At length, one

morning, they were sent for by the king himself, who, his eyes red

with weeping, told them that the queen was dead.

Great was the sorrow of the two children, for they had loved the

queen very dearly, and life seemed dull without her. But the

lady-in-waiting who took care of them in the tower which had been

built for them while they were still babies, was kind and good, and

when the king was busy or away in other parts of his kingdom she made

them quite happy, and saw that they were taught everything that a

prince and princess ought to know. Thus two or three years passed,

when, one day, as the children were anxiously awaiting their father's

return from a distant city, there rode post haste into the courtyard

of the palace a herald whom the king had sent before him, to say that

he was bringing back a new wife.

Now, in itself, there was nothing very strange or dreadful in the fact

that the king should marry again, but, as the old lady-in-waiting soon

guessed, the queen, in spite of her beauty, was a witch, and as it was

easy to see that she was jealous of everyone who might gain power over

her husband, it boded ill for Geirlaug and Grethari. The faithful

woman could not sleep for thinking about her charges, and her soul

sank when, a few months after the marriage, war broke out with a

country across the seas, and the king rode away at the head of his

troops. Then there happened what she had so long expected. One night,

when, unlike her usual habit, she was sleeping soundly--afterwards she

felt sure that a drug had been put into her food--the witch came to

the tower. Exactly what she did there no one knew, but, when the sun

rose, the beds of Grethari and Geirlaug were empty. At dawn the queen

summoned some of her guards, and told them that she had been warned in

a dream that some evil fate would befall her through a wild beast, and

bade them go out and kill every animal within two miles of the palace.

But the only beasts they found were two black foals of wondrous

beauty, fitted for the king's riding; it seemed a pity to kill them,

for what harm could two little foals do anyone? So they let them run

away, frisking over the plain, and returned to the palace.

'Did you see nothing, really nothing?' asked the queen, when they

again appeared before her.

'Nothing, your majesty,' they replied. But the queen did not believe

them, and when they were gone, she gave orders to her steward that at

supper the guards should be well plied with strong drink so that their

tongues should be loosened, and, further, that he was to give heed to

their babble, and report to her, whatever they might let fall.

'Your majesty's commands have been obeyed,' said the steward when,

late in the evening, he begged admittance to the royal apartments;

'but, after all, the men have told you the truth. I listened to their

talk from beginning to end, and nothing did they see save two black

foals.' He might have added more, but the look in the queen's blazing

eyes terrified him, and, bowing hastily, he backed quickly out of her


In a week's time the king came home, and right glad were all the

courtiers to see him.

'Now, perhaps, she will find some one else to scream at,' whispered

they amongst themselves. 'She' was the queen, who had vented her rage

on her attendants during these days, though what had happened to make

her so angry nobody knew. But whatever might be the meaning of it,

things would be sure to improve with the king to rule in the palace

instead of his wife. Unfortunately, their joy only lasted a short

while; for the very first night after the king's arrival the queen

related the evil dream she had dreamt in his absence, and begged him

to go out the next morning and kill every living creature he saw

within two miles of the city. The king, who always believed everything

the queen said, promised to do as she wished. But before he had ridden

through the lovely gardens that surrounded the palace, he was

attracted by the singing of two little blue birds perched on a

scarlet-berried holly, which made him think of everything beautiful

that he had ever heard of or imagined. Hour after hour passed by, and

still the birds sang, and still the king listened, though of course he

never guessed that it was Geirlaug and Grethari whose notes filled him

with enchantment. At length darkness fell; the birds' voices were

hushed, and the king awoke with a start to find that for that day his

promise to the queen could not be kept.

'Well! did you see anything?' she asked eagerly, when the king entered

her apartments.

'Ah, my dear, I am almost ashamed to confess to you. But the fact is

that before I rode as far as the western gate the singing of two

strange little blue birds made me forget all else in the world. And

you will hardly believe it--but not until it grew dark did I remember

where I was and what I should have been doing. However, to-morrow

nothing shall hinder me from fulfilling your desires.'

'There will be no to-morrow,' muttered the queen, as she turned away

with a curious glitter in her eyes. But the king did not hear her.

That night the king gave a great supper in the palace in honour of the

victory he had gained over the enemy. The three men whom the queen had

sent forth to slay the wild beasts held positions of trust in the

household, for to them was committed the custody of the queen's

person. And on the occasion of a feast their places were always next

that of the king, so it was easy for the queen to scatter a slow but

fatal poison in their cups without anyone being the wiser. Before dawn

the palace was roused by the news that the king was dead, and that the

three officers of the guards were dying also. Of course nobody's cries

and laments were as loud as those of the queen. But when once the

splendid funeral was over, she gave out that she was going to shut

herself up in a distant castle till the year of her mourning was over,

and after appointing a regent of the kingdom, she set out attended

only by a maid who knew all her secrets. Once she had left the palace

she quickly began to work her spells, to discover under what form

Geirlaug and Grethari lay hidden. Happily, the princess had studied

magic under a former governess, so was able to fathom her

step-mother's wicked plot, and hastily changed herself into a whale,

and her foster-brother into its fin. Then the queen took the shape of

a shark and gave chase.

For several hours a fierce battle raged between the whale and the

shark, and the sea around was red with blood; first one of the

combatants got the better, and then the other, but at length it became

plain to the crowd of little fishes gathered round to watch, that the

victory would be to the whale. And so it was. But when, after a mighty

struggle, the shark floated dead and harmless on the surface of the

water, the whale was so exhausted that she had only strength enough to

drag her wounded body into a quiet little bay, and for three days she

remained there as still and motionless as if she had been dead

herself. At the end of the three days her wounds were healed, and she

began to think what it was best to do.

'Let us go back to your father's kingdom,' she said to Grethari, when

they had both resumed their proper shapes, and were sitting on a high

cliff above the sea.

'How clever you are! I never should have thought of that!' answered

Grethari, who, in truth, was not clever at all. But Geirlaug took a

small box of white powder from her dress, and sprinkled some over him

and some over herself, and, quicker than lightning, they found

themselves in the palace grounds from which Grethari had been carried

off by the dragon so many years before.

'Now take up the band with the golden letters and bind it about your

forehead,' said Geirlaug, 'and go boldly up to the castle. And,

remember, however great may be your thirst, you must drink nothing

till you have first spoken to your father. If you do, ill will befall

us both.'

'Why should I be thirsty?' replied Grethari, staring at her in

astonishment. 'It will not take me five minutes to reach the castle

gate.' Geirlaug held her peace, but her eyes had in them a sad look.

'Good-bye,' she said at last, and she turned and kissed him.

Grethari had spoken truly when he declared that he could easily get to

the castle in five minutes. At least, no one would have dreamed that

it could possibly take any longer. Yet, to his surprise, the door

which stood so widely open that he could see the colour of the

hangings within never appeared to grow any nearer, while each moment

the sun burned more hotly, and his tongue was parched with thirst.

'I don't understand! What can be the matter with me--and why haven't

I reached the castle long ago?' he murmured to himself, as his knees

began to knock under him with fatigue, and his head to swim. For a few

more paces he staggered on blindly, when, suddenly, the sound of

rushing water smote upon his ears; and in a little wood that bordered

the path he beheld a stream falling over a rock. At this sight his

promise to Geirlaug was forgotten. Fighting his way through the

brambles that tore his clothes, he cast himself down beside the

fountain, and seizing the golden cup that hung from a tree, he drank a

deep draught.

When he rose up the remembrance of Geirlaug and of his past life had

vanished, and, instead, something stirred dimly within him at the

vision of the white-haired man and woman who stood in the open door

with outstretched hands.

'Grethari! Grethari! So you have come home at last,' cried they.

* * * * *

For three hours Geirlaug waited in the spot where Grethari had left

her, and then she began to understand what had happened. Her heart was

heavy, but she soon made up her mind what to do, and pushing her way

out of the wood, she skirted the high wall that enclosed the royal

park and gardens, till she reached a small house where the forester

lived with his two daughters.

'Do you want a girl to sweep, and to milk the cows?' asked she, when

one of the sisters answered her knock.

'Yes, we do, very badly; and as you look strong and clean, we will

take you for a servant if you like to come,' replied the young woman.

'But, first, what is your name?'

'Lauphertha,' said Geirlaug quickly, for she did not wish anyone to

know who she was; and following her new mistress into the house, she

begged to be taught her work without delay. And so clever was she,

that, by-and-by, it began to be noised abroad that the strange girl

who had come to live in the forester's house had not her equal in the

whole kingdom for skill as well as beauty. Thus the years slipped

away, during which Geirlaug grew to be a woman. Now and then she

caught glimpses of Grethari as he rode out to hunt in the forest, but

when she saw him coming she hid herself behind the great trees, for

her heart was still sore at his forgetfulness. One day, however, when

she was gathering herbs, he came upon her suddenly, before she had

time to escape, though as she had stained her face and hands brown,

and covered her beautiful hair with a scarlet cap, he did not guess

her to be his foster-sister.

'What is your name, pretty maiden?' asked he.

'Lauphertha,' answered the girl with a low curtesy.

'Ah! it is you, then, of whom I have heard so much,' said he; 'you are

too beautiful to spend your life serving the forester's daughters.

Come with me to the palace, and my mother the queen will make you one

of her ladies in waiting.'

'Truly, that would be a great fortune,' replied the maiden. 'And, if

you really mean it, I will go with you. But how shall I know that you

are not jesting?'

'Give me something to do for you, and I will do it, whatever it is,'

cried the young man eagerly. And she cast down her eyes, and answered:

'Go to the stable, and bind the calf that is there so that it shall

not break loose in the night and wander away, for the forester and his

daughters have treated me well, and I would not leave them with aught

of my work still undone.'

So Grethari set out for the stable where the calf stood, and wound the

rope about its horns. But when he had made it fast to the wall, he

found that a coil of the rope had twisted itself round his wrist, and,

pull as he might, he could not get free. All night he wriggled and

struggled till he was half dead with fatigue. But when the sun rose

the rope suddenly fell away from him, and, very angry with the maiden

he dragged himself back to the palace. 'She is a witch,' he muttered

crossly to himself, 'and I will have no more to do with her.' And he

flung himself on his bed and slept all day.

Not long after this adventure the king and queen sent their beloved

son on an embassy to a neighbouring country to seek a bride from

amongst the seven princesses. The most beautiful of all was, of

course, the one chosen, and the young pair took ship without delay for

the kingdom of the prince's parents. The wind was fair and the vessel

so swift that, in less time than could have been expected, the harbour

nearest the castle was reached. A splendid carriage had been left in

readiness close to the beach, but no horses were to be found, for

every one had been carried off to take part in a great review which

the king was to hold that day in honour of his son's marriage.

'I can't stay here all day,' said the princess, crossly, when Grethari

told her of the plight they were in. 'I am perfectly worn out as it

is, and you will have to find something to draw the carriage, if it is

only a donkey. If you don't, I will sail back straight to my father.'

Poor Grethari was much troubled by the words of the princess. Not that

he felt so very much in love with her, for during the voyage she had

shown him several times how vain and bad tempered she was; but as a

prince and a bridegroom, he could not, of course, bear to think that

any slight had been put upon her. So he hastily bade his attendants to

go in search of some animal, and bring it at once to the place at

which they were waiting.

During the long pause the princess sat in the beautiful golden coach,

her blue velvet mantle powdered with silver bees drawn closely round

her, so that not even the tip of her nose could be seen. At length a

girl appeared driving a young ox in front of her, followed by one of

the prince's messengers, who was talking eagerly.

'Will you lend me your ox, fair maiden?' asked Grethari, jumping up

and going to meet them. 'You shall fix your own price, and it shall be

paid ungrudgingly, for never before was king's son in such a plight.'

'My price is seats for me and my two friends behind you and your bride

at the wedding feast,' answered she. And to this Grethari joyfully


Six horses would not have drawn the coach at the speed of this one ox.

Trees and fields flew by so fast that the bride became quite giddy,

and expected, besides, that they would be upset every moment. But, in

spite of her fears, nothing happened, and they drew up in safety at

the door of the palace, to the great surprise of the king and queen.

The marriage preparations were hurried on, and by the end of the week

everything was ready. It was, perhaps, fortunate that the princess was

too busy with her clothes and her jewels during this period to pay

much heed to Grethari, so that by the time the wedding day came round

he had almost forgotten how cross and rude she had been on the


The oldest men and women in the town agreed that nothing so splendid

had ever been seen as the bridal procession to the great hall, where

the banquet was to be held, before the ceremony was celebrated in the

palace. The princess was in high good humour, feeling that all eyes

were upon her, and bowed and smiled right and left. Taking the

prince's hand, she sailed proudly down the room, where the guests were

already assembled, to her place at the head of the table by the side

of the bridegroom. As she did so, three strange ladies in shining

dresses of blue, green, and red, glided in and seated themselves on a

vacant bench immediately behind the young couple. The red lady was

Geirlaug, who had brought with her the forester's daughters, and in

one hand she held a wand of birch bark, and in the other a closed


Silently they sat as the feast proceeded; hardly anyone noticed their

presence, or, if they did, supposed them to be attendants of their

future queen. Suddenly, when the merriment was at its height, Geirlaug

opened the basket, and out flew a cock and hen. To the astonishment of

everyone, the birds circled about in front of the royal pair, the cock

plucking the feathers out of the tail of the hen, who tried in vain to

escape from him.

'Will you treat me as badly as Grethari treated Geirlaug?' cried the

hen at last. And Grethari heard, and started up wildly. In an instant

all the past rushed back to him; the princess by his side was

forgotten, and he only saw the face of the child with whom he had

played long years ago.

'Where is Geirlaug?' he exclaimed, looking round the hall; and his

eyes fell upon the strange lady. With a smile she held out a ring

which he had given her on her twelfth birthday, when they were still

children, without a thought of the future. 'You and none other shall

be my wife,' he said, taking her hand, and leading her into the middle

of the company.

It is not easy to describe the scene that followed. Of course, nobody

understood what had occurred, and the king and queen imagined that

their son had suddenly gone mad. As for the princess her rage and fury

were beyond belief. The guests left the hall as quickly as they could,

so that the royal family might arrange their own affairs, and in the

end it was settled that half the kingdom must be given to the despised

princess, instead of a husband. She sailed back at once to her

country, where she was soon betrothed to a young noble, whom, in

reality, she liked much better than Grethari. That evening Grethari

was married to Geirlaug, and they lived happily till they died, and

made all their people happy also.

(From Neuislaendischen Volksmaerchen.)