The Golden Mermaid

: The Green Fairy Book

A powerful king had, among many other treasures, a wonderful tree

in his garden, which bore every year beautiful golden apples. But

the King was never able to enjoy his treasure, for he might watch

and guard them as he liked, as soon as they began to get ripe they

were always stolen. At last, in despair, he sent for his three

sons, and said to the two eldest, 'Get yourselves ready for a

journey. Take gold and silver wi
h you, and a large retinue of

servants, as beseems two noble princes, and go through the world

till you find out who it is that steals my golden apples, and, if

possible, bring the thief to me that I may punish him as he

deserves.' His sons were delighted at this proposal, for they had

long wished to see something of the world, so they got ready for

their journey with all haste, bade their father farewell, and left

the town.

The youngest Prince was much disappointed that he too was not sent

out on his travels; but his father wouldn't hear of his going, for

he had always been looked upon as the stupid one of the family,

and the King was afraid of something happening to him. But the

Prince begged and implored so long, that at last his father

consented to let him go, and furnished him with gold and silver as

he had done his brothers. But he gave him the most wretched horse

in his stable, because the foolish youth hadn't asked for a

better. So he too set out on his journey to secure the thief, amid

the jeers and laughter of the whole court and town.

His path led him first through a wood, and he hadn't gone very far

when he met a lean-looking wolf who stood still as he approached.

The Prince asked him if he were hungry, and when the wolf said he

was, he got down from his horse and said, 'If you are really as

you say and look, you may take my horse and eat it.'

The wolf didn't wait to have the offer repeated, but set to work,

and soon made an end of the poor beast. When the Prince saw how

different the wolf looked when he had finished his meal, he said

to him, 'Now, my friend, since you have eaten up my horse, and I

have such a long way to go, that, with the best will in the world,

I couldn't manage it on foot, the least you can do for me is to

act as my horse and to take me on your back.'

'Most certainly,' said the wolf, and, letting the Prince mount

him, he trotted gaily through the wood. After they had gone a

little way he turned round and asked his rider where he wanted to

go to, and the Prince proceeded to tell him the whole story of the

golden apples that had been stolen out of the King's garden, and

how his other two brothers had set forth with many followers to

find the thief. When he had finished his story, the wolf, who was

in reality no wolf but a mighty magician, said he thought he could

tell him who the thief was, and could help him to secure him.

'There lives,' he said, 'in a neighbouring country, a mighty

emperor who has a beautiful golden bird in a cage, and this is the

creature who steals the golden apples, but it flies so fast that

it is impossible to catch it at its theft. You must slip into the

Emperor's palace by night and steal the bird with the cage; but be

very careful not to touch the walls as you go out.'

The following night the Prince stole into the Emperor's palace,

and found the bird in its cage as the wolf had told him he would.

He took hold of it carefully, but in spite of all his caution he

touched the wall in trying to pass by some sleeping watchmen. They

awoke at once, and, seizing him, beat him and put him into chains.

Next day he was led before the Emperor, who at once condemned him

to death and to be thrown into a dark dungeon till the day of his

execution arrived.

The wolf, who, of course, knew by his magic arts all that had

happened to the Prince, turned himself at once into a mighty

monarch with a large train of followers, and proceeded to the

Court of the Emperor, where he was received with every show of

honour. The Emperor and he conversed on many subjects, and, among

other things, the stranger asked his host if he had many slaves.

The Emperor told him he had more than he knew what to do with, and

that a new one had been captured that very night for trying to

steal his magic bird, but that as he had already more than enough

to feed and support, he was going to have this last captive hanged

next morning.

'He must have been a most daring thief,' said the King, 'to try

and steal the magic bird, for depend upon it the creature must

have been well guarded. I would really like to see this bold

rascal.' 'By all means,' said the Emperor; and he himself led his

guest down to the dungeon where the unfortunate Prince was kept

prisoner. When the Emperor stepped out of the cell with the King,

the latter turned to him and said, 'Most mighty Emperor, I have

been much disappointed. I had thought to find a powerful robber,

and instead of that I have seen the most miserable creature I can

imagine. Hanging is far too good for him. If I had to sentence him

I should make him perform some very difficult task, under pain of

death. If he did it so much the better for you, and if he didn't,

matters would just be as they are now and he could still be

hanged.' 'Your counsel,' said the Emperor, 'is excellent, and, as

it happens, I've got the very thing for him to do. My nearest

neighbour, who is also a mighty Emperor, possesses a golden horse

which he guards most carefully. The prisoner shall be told to

steal this horse and bring it to me.'

The Prince was then let out of his dungeon, and told his life

would be spared if he succeeded in bringing the golden horse to

the Emperor. He did not feel very elated at this announcement, for

he did not know how in the world he was to set about the task, and

he started on his way weeping bitterly, and wondering what had

made him leave his father's house and kingdom. But before he had

gone far his friend the wolf stood before him and said, 'Dear

Prince, why are you so cast down? It is true you didn't succeed in

catching the bird; but don't let that discourage you, for this

time you will be all the more careful, and will doubtless catch

the horse.' With these and like words the wolf comforted the

Prince, and warned him specially not to touch the wall or let the

horse touch it as he led it out, or he would fail in the same way

as he had done with the bird.

After a somewhat lengthy journey the Prince and the wolf came to

the kingdom ruled over by the Emperor who possessed the golden

horse. One evening late they reached the capital, and the wolf

advised the Prince to set to work at once, before their presence

in the city had aroused the watchfulness of the guards. They

slipped unnoticed into the Emperor's stables and into the very

place where there were the most guards, for there the wolf rightly

surmised they would find the horse. When they came to a certain

inner door the wolf told the Prince to remain outside, while he

went in. In a short time he returned and said, 'My dear Prince,

the horse is most securely watched, but I have bewitched all the

guards, and if you will only be careful not to touch the wall

yourself, or let the horse touch it as you go out, there is no

danger and the game is yours. The Prince, who had made up his mind

to be more than cautious this time, went cheerfully to work. He

found all the guards fast asleep, and, slipping into the horse's

stall, he seized it by the bridle and led it out; but,

unfortunately, before they had got quite clear of the stables a

gadfly stung the horse and caused it to switch its tail, whereby

it touched the wall. In a moment all the guards awoke, seized the

Prince and beat him mercilessly with their horse-whips, after

which they bound him with chains, and flung him into a dungeon.

Next morning they brought him before the Emperor, who treated him

exactly as the King with the golden bird had done, and commanded

him to be beheaded on the following day.

When the wolf-magician saw that the Prince had failed this time

too, he transformed himself again into a mighty king, and

proceeded with an even more gorgeous retinue than the first time

to the Court of the Emperor. He was courteously received and

entertained, and once more after dinner he led the conversation on

to the subject of slaves, and in the course of it again requested

to be allowed to see the bold robber who had dared to break into

the Emperor's stable to steal his most valuable possession. The

Emperor consented, and all happened exactly as it had done at the

court of the Emperor with the golden bird; the prisoner's life was

to be spared only on condition that within three days he should

obtain possession of the golden mermaid, whom hitherto no mortal

had ever approached.

Very depressed by his dangerous and difficult task, the Prince

left his gloomy prison; but, to his great joy, he met his friend

the wolf before he had gone many miles on his journey. The cunning

creature pretended he knew nothing of what had happened to the

Prince, and asked him how he had fared with the horse. The Prince

told him all about his misadventure, and the condition on which

the Emperor had promised to spare his life. Then the wolf reminded

him that he had twice got him out of prison, and that if he would

only trust in him, and do exactly as he told him, he would

certainly succeed in this last undertaking. Thereupon they bent

their steps towards the sea, which stretched out before them, as

far as their eyes could see, all the waves dancing and glittering

in the bright sunshine. 'Now,' continued the wolf, 'I am going to

turn myself into a boat full of the most beautiful silken

merchandise, and you must jump boldly into the boat, and steer

with my tail in your hand right out into the open sea. You will

soon come upon the golden mermaid. Whatever you do, don't follow

her if she calls you, but on the contrary say to her, "The buyer

comes to the seller, not the seller to the buyer." After which you

must steer towards the land, and she will follow you, for she

won't be able to resist the beautiful wares you have on board your


The Prince promised faithfully to do all he had been told,

whereupon the wolf changed himself into a ship full of most

exquisite silks, of every shade and colour imaginable. The

astonished Prince stepped into the boat, and, holding the wolf's

tail in his hand, he steered boldly out into the open sea, where

the sun was gilding the blue waves with its golden rays. Soon he

saw the golden mermaid swimming near the ship, beckoning and

calling to him to follow her; but, mindful of the wolf's warning,

he told her in a loud voice that if she wished to buy anything she

must come to him. With these words he turned his magic ship round

and steered back towards the land. The mermaid called out to him

to stand still, but he refused to listen to her and never paused

till he reached the sand of the shore. Here he stopped and waited

for the mermaid, who had swum after him. When she drew near the

boat he saw that she was far more beautiful than any mortal he had

ever beheld. She swam round the ship for some time, and then swung

herself gracefully on board, in order to examine the beautiful

silken stuffs more closely. Then the Prince seized her in his

arms, and kissing her tenderly on the cheeks and lips, he told her

she was his for ever; at the same moment the boat turned into a

wolf again, which so terrified the mermaid that she clung to the

Prince for protection.

So the golden mermaid was successfully caught, and she soon felt

quite happy in her new life when she saw she had nothing to fear

either from the Prince or the wolf--she rode on the back of the

latter, and the Prince rode behind her. When they reached the

country ruled over by the Emperor with the golden horse, the

Prince jumped down, and, helping the mermaid to alight, he led her

before the Emperor. At the sight of the beautiful mermaid and of

the grim wolf, who stuck close to the Prince this time, the guards

all made respectful obeisance, and soon the three stood before his

Imperial Majesty. When the Emperor heard from the Prince how he

had gained possession of his fair prize, he at once recognized

that he had been helped by some magic art, and on the spot gave up

all claim to the beautiful mermaid. 'Dear youth,' he said,

'forgive me for my shameful conduct to you, and, as a sign that

you pardon me, accept the golden horse as a present. I acknowledge

your power to be greater even than I can understand, for you have

succeeded in gaining possession of the golden mermaid, whom

hitherto no mortal has ever been able to approach.' Then they all

sat down to a huge feast, and the Prince had to relate his

adventures all over again, to the wonder and astonishment of the

whole company.

But the Prince was wearying now to return to his own kingdom, so

as soon as the feast was over he took farewell of the Emperor, and

set out on his homeward way. He lifted the mermaid on to the

golden horse, and swung himself up behind her--and so they rode on

merrily, with the wolf trotting behind, till they came to the

country of the Emperor with the golden bird. The renown of the

Prince and his adventure had gone before him, and the Emperor sat

on his throne awaiting the arrival of the Prince and his

companions. When the three rode into the courtyard of the palace,

they were surprised and delighted to find everything festively

illuminated and decorated for their reception. When the Prince and

the golden mermaid, with the wolf behind them, mounted the steps

of the palace, the Emperor came forward to meet them, and led them

to the throne room. At the same moment a servant appeared with the

golden bird in its golden cage, and the Emperor begged the Prince

to accept it with his love, and to forgive him the indignity he

had suffered at his hands. Then the Emperor bent low before the

beautiful mermaid, and, offering her his arm, he led her into

dinner, closely followed by the Prince and her friend the wolf;

the latter seating himself at table, not the least embarrassed

that no one had invited him to do so.

As soon as the sumptuous meal was over, the Prince and his mermaid

took leave of the Emperor, and, seating themselves on the golden

horse, continued their homeward journey. On the way the wolf

turned to the Prince and said, 'Dear friends, I must now bid you

farewell, but I leave you under such happy circumstances that I

cannot feel our parting to be a sad one.' The Prince was very

unhappy when he heard these words, and begged the wolf to stay

with them always; but this the good creature refused to do, though

he thanked the Prince kindly for his invitation, and called out as

he disappeared into the thicket, 'Should any evil befall you, dear

Prince, at any time, you may rely on my friendship and gratitude.'

These were the wolf's parting words, and the Prince could not

restrain his tears when he saw his friend vanishing in the

distance; but one glance at his beloved mermaid soon cheered him

up again, and they continued on their journey merrily.

The news of his son's adventures had already reached his father's

Court, and everyone was more than astonished at the success of the

once despised Prince. His elder brothers, who had in vain gone in

pursuit of the thief of the golden apples, were furious over their

younger brother's good fortune, and plotted and planned how they

were to kill him. They hid themselves in the wood through which

the Prince had to pass on his way to the palace, and there fell on

him, and, having beaten him to death, they carried off the golden

horse and the golden bird. But nothing they could do would

persuade the golden mermaid to go with them or move from the spot,

for ever since she had left the sea, she had so attached herself

to her Prince that she asked nothing else than to live or die with


For many weeks the poor mermaid sat and watched over the dead body

of her lover, weeping salt tears over his loss, when suddenly one

day their old friend the wolf appeared and said, 'Cover the

Prince's body with all the leaves and flowers you can find in the

wood.' The maiden did as he told her, and then the wolf breathed

over the flowery grave, and, lo and behold! the Prince lay there

sleeping as peacefully as a child. 'Now you may wake him if you

like,' said the wolf, and the mermaid bent over him and gently

kissed the wounds his brothers had made on his forehead, and the

Prince awoke, and you may imagine how delighted he was to find his

beautiful mermaid beside him, though he felt a little depressed

when he thought of the loss of the golden bird and the golden

horse. After a time the wolf, who had likewise fallen on the

Prince's neck, advised them to continue their journey, and once

more the Prince and his lovely bride mounted on the faithful

beast's back.

The King's joy was great when he embraced his youngest son, for he

had long since despaired of his return. He received the wolf and

the beautiful golden mermaid most cordially too, and the Prince

was made to tell his adventures all over from the beginning. The

poor old father grew very sad when he heard of the shameful

conduct of his elder sons, and had them called before him. They

turned as white as death when they saw their brother, whom they

thought they had murdered, standing beside them alive and well,

and so startled were they that when the King asked them why they

had behaved so wickedly to their brother they could think of no

lie, but confessed at once that they had slain the young Prince in

order to obtain possession of the golden horse and the golden

bird. Their father's wrath knew no bounds, and he ordered them

both to be banished, but he could not do enough to honour his

youngest son, and his marriage with the beautiful mermaid was

celebrated with much pomp and magnificence. When the festivities

were over, the wolf bade them all farewell, and returned once more

to his life in the woods, much to the regret of the old King and

the young Prince and his bride.

And so ended the adventures of the Prince with his friend the