The Prince Who Would Seek Immortality

: The Crimson Fairy Book

Once upon a time, in the very middle of the middle of a large kingdom,

there was a town, and in the town a palace, and in the palace a king.

This king had one son whom his father thought was wiser and cleverer

than any son ever was before, and indeed his father had spared no pains

to make him so. He had been very careful in choosing his tutors and

governors when he was a boy, and when he became a youth he sent him to

avel, so that he might see the ways of other people, and find that

they were often as good as his own.

It was now a year since the prince had returned home, for his father

felt that it was time that his son should learn how to rule the kingdom

which would one day be his. But during his long absence the prince

seemed to have changed his character altogether. From being a merry and

light-hearted boy, he had grown into a gloomy and thoughtful man. The

king knew of nothing that could have produced such an alteration.

He vexed himself about it from morning till night, till at length an

explanation occurred to him--the young man was in love!

Now the prince never talked about his feelings--for the matter of that

he scarcely talked at all; and the father knew that if he was to come to

the bottom of the prince's dismal face, he would have to begin. So one

day, after dinner, he took his son by the arm and led him into another

room, hung entirely with the pictures of beautiful maidens, each one

more lovely than the other.

'My dear boy,' he said, 'you are very sad; perhaps after all your

wanderings it is dull for you here all alone with me. It would be much

better if you would marry, and I have collected here the portraits

of the most beautiful women in the world of a rank equal to your own.

Choose which among them you would like for a wife, and I will send an

embassy to her father to ask for her hand.'

'Alas! your Majesty,' answered the prince, 'it is not love or marriage

that makes me so gloomy; but the thought, which haunts me day and night,

that all men, even kings, must die. Never shall I be happy again till

I have found a kingdom where death is unknown. And I have determined to

give myself no rest till I have discovered the Land of Immortality.

The old king heard him with dismay; things were worse than he thought.

He tried to reason with his son, and told him that during all these

years he had been looking forward to his return, in order to resign his

throne and its cares, which pressed so heavily upon him. But it was

in vain that he talked; the prince would listen to nothing, and the

following morning buckled on his sword and set forth on his journey.

He had been travelling for many days, and had left his fatherland behind

him, when close to the road he came upon a huge tree, and on its topmost

bough an eagle was sitting shaking the branches with all his might. This

seemed so strange and so unlike an eagle, that the prince stood still

with surprise, and the bird saw him and flew to the ground. The moment

its feet touched the ground he changed into a king.

'Why do you look so astonished?' he asked.

'I was wondering why you shook the boughs so fiercely,' answered the


'I am condemned to do this, for neither I nor any of my kindred can die

till I have rooted up this great tree,' replied the king of the eagles.

'But it is now evening, and I need work no more to-day. Come to my house

with me, and be my guest for the night.'

The prince accepted gratefully the eagle's invitation, for he was tired

and hungry. They were received at the palace by the king's beautiful

daughter, who gave orders that dinner should be laid for them at

once. While they were eating, the eagle questioned his guest about

his travels, and if he was wandering for pleasure's sake, or with any

special aim. Then the prince told him everything, and how he could never

turn back till he had discovered the Land of Immortality.

'Dear brother,' said the eagle, 'you have discovered it already, and it

rejoices my heart to think that you will stay with us. Have you not just

heard me say that death has no power either over myself or any of my

kindred till that great tree is rooted up? It will take me six hundred

years' hard work to do that; so marry my daughter and let us all live

happily together here. After all, six hundred years is an eternity!'

'Ah, dear king,' replied the young man, 'your offer is very tempting!

But at the end of six hundred years we should have to die, so we should

be no better off! No, I must go on till I find the country where there

is no death at all.'

Then the princess spoke, and tried to persuade the guest to change his

mind, but he sorrowfully shook his head. At length, seeing that his

resolution was firmly fixed, she took from a cabinet a little box which

contained her picture, and gave it to him saying:

'As you will not stay with us, prince, accept this box, which will

sometimes recall us to your memory. If you are tired of travelling

before you come to the Land of Immortality, open this box and look at

my picture, and you will be borne along either on earth or in the air,

quick as thought, or swift as the whirlwind.'

The prince thanked her for her gift, which he placed in his tunic, and

sorrowfully bade the eagle and his daughter farewell.

Never was any present in the world as useful as that little box, and

many times did he bless the kind thought of the princess. One evening it

had carried him to the top of a high mountain, where he saw a man with a

bald head, busily engaged in digging up spadefuls of earth and throwing

them in a basket. When the basket was full he took it away and returned

with an empty one, which he likewise filled. The prince stood and

watched him for a little, till the bald-headed man looked up and said to

him: 'Dear brother, what surprises you so much?'

'I was wondering why you were filling the basket,' replied the prince.

'Oh!' replied the man, 'I am condemned to do this, for neither I nor any

of my family can die till I have dug away the whole of this mountain and

made it level with the plain. But, come, it is almost dark, and I shall

work no longer.' And he plucked a leaf from a tree close by, and from a

rough digger he was changed into a stately bald-headed king. 'Come home

with me,' he added; 'you must be tired and hungry, and my daughter will

have supper ready for us.' The prince accepted gladly, and they went

back to the palace, where the bald-headed king's daughter, who was still

more beautiful than the other princess, welcomed them at the door and

led the way into a large hall and to a table covered with silver dishes.

While they were eating, the bald-headed king asked the prince how he had

happened to wander so far, and the young man told him all about it, and

how he was seeking the Land of Immortality. 'You have found it already,'

answered the king, 'for, as I said, neither I nor my family can die

till I have levelled this great mountain; and that will take full eight

hundred years longer. Stay here with us and marry my daughter. Eight

hundred years is surely long enough to live.'

'Oh, certainly,' answered the prince; 'but, all the same, I would rather

go and seek the land where there is no death at all.'

So next morning he bade them farewell, though the princess begged him to

stay with all her might; and when she found that she could not persuade

him she gave him as a remembrance a gold ring. This ring was still more

useful than the box, because when one wished oneself at any place one

was there directly, without even the trouble of flying to it through the

air. The prince put it on his finger, and thanking her heartily, went

his way.

He walked on for some distance, and then he recollected the ring and

thought he would try if the princess had spoken truly as to its powers.

'I wish I was at the end of the world,' he said, shutting his eyes, and

when he opened them he was standing in a street full of marble palaces.

The men who passed him were tall and strong, and their clothes were

magnificent. He stopped some of them and asked in all the twenty-seven

languages he knew what was the name of the city, but no one answered

him. Then his heart sank within him; what should he do in this strange

place if nobody could understand anything? he said. Suddenly his eyes

fell upon a man dressed after the fashion of his native country, and he

ran up to him and spoke to him in his own tongue. 'What city is this, my

friend?' he inquired.

'It is the capital city of the Blue Kingdom,' replied the man, 'but the

king himself is dead, and his daughter is now the ruler.'

With this news the prince was satisfied, and begged his countryman to

show him the way to the young queen's palace. The man led him through

several streets into a large square, one side of which was occupied by a

splendid building that seemed borne up on slender pillars of soft green

marble. In front was a flight of steps, and on these the queen was

sitting wrapped in a veil of shining silver mist, listening to the

complaints of her people and dealing out justice. When the prince

came up she saw directly that he was no ordinary man, and telling her

chamberlain to dismiss the rest of her petitioners for that day, she

signed to the prince to follow her into the palace. Luckily she had been

taught his language as a child, so they had no difficulty in talking


The prince told all his story and how he was journeying in search of

the Land of Immortality. When he had finished, the princess, who had

listened attentively, rose, and taking his arm, led him to the door of

another room, the floor of which was made entirely of needles, stuck so

close together that there was not room for a single needle more.

'Prince,' she said, turning to him, 'you see these needles? Well, know

that neither I nor any of my family can die till I have worn out these

needles in sewing. It will take at least a thousand years for that. Stay

here, and share my throne; a thousand years is long enough to live!'

'Certainly,' answered he; 'still, at the end of the thousand years I

should have to die! No, I must find the land where there is no death.'

The queen did all she could to persuade him to stay, but as her words

proved useless, at length she gave it up. Then she said to him: 'As you

will not stay, take this little golden rod as a remembrance of me. It

has the power to become anything you wish it to be, when you are in


So the prince thanked her, and putting the rod in his pocket, went his


Scarcely had he left the town behind him when he came to a broad river

which no man might pass, for he was standing at the end of the world,

and this was the river which flowed round it. Not knowing what to do

next, he walked a little distance up the bank, and there, over his head,

a beautiful city was floating in the air. He longed to get to it, but

how? neither road nor bridge was anywhere to be seen, yet the city drew

him upwards, and he felt that here at last was the country which he

sought. Suddenly he remembered the golden rod which the mist-veiled

queen had given him. With a beating heart he flung it to the ground,

wishing with all his might that it should turn into a bridge, and

fearing that, after all, this might prove beyond its power. But no,

instead of the rod, there stood a golden ladder, leading straight up to

the city of the air. He was about to enter the golden gates, when there

sprang at him a wondrous beast, whose like he had never seen. 'Out sword

from the sheath,' cried the prince, springing back with a cry. And the

sword leapt from the scabbard and cut off some of the monster's heads,

but others grew again directly, so that the prince, pale with terror,

stood where he was, calling for help, and put his sword back in the

sheath again.

The queen of the city heard the noise and looked from her window to see

what was happening. Summoning one of her servants, she bade him go and

rescue the stranger, and bring him to her. The prince thankfully obeyed

her orders, and entered her presence.

The moment she looked at him, the queen also felt that he was no

ordinary man, and she welcomed him graciously, and asked him what had

brought him to the city. In answer the prince told all his story, and

how he had travelled long and far in search of the Land of Immortality.

'You have found it,' said she, 'for I am queen over life and over death.

Here you can dwell among the immortals.'

A thousand years had passed since the prince first entered the city,

but they had flown so fast that the time seemed no more than six months.

There had not been one instant of the thousand years that the prince was

not happy till one night when he dreamed of his father and mother. Then

the longing for his home came upon him with a rush, and in the morning

he told the Queen of the Immortals that he must go and see his father

and mother once more. The queen stared at him with amazement, and cried:

'Why, prince, are you out of your senses? It is more than eight hundred

years since your father and mother died! There will not even be their

dust remaining.'

'I must go all the same,' said he.

'Well, do not be in a hurry,' continued the queen, understanding that

he would not be prevented. 'Wait till I make some preparations for your

journey.' So she unlocked her great treasure chest, and took out two

beautiful flasks, one of gold and one of silver, which she hung round

his neck. Then she showed him a little trap-door in one corner of the

room, and said: 'Fill the silver flask with this water, which is below

the trap-door. It is enchanted, and whoever you sprinkle with the water

will become a dead man at once, even if he had lived a thousand years.

The golden flask you must fill with the water here,' she added, pointing

to a well in another corner. 'It springs from the rock of eternity; you

have only to sprinkle a few drops on a body and it will come to life

again, if it had been a thousand years dead.'

The prince thanked the queen for her gifts, and, bidding her farewell,

went on his journey.

He soon arrived in the town where the mist-veiled queen reigned in her

palace, but the whole city had changed, and he could scarcely find his

way through the streets. In the palace itself all was still, and he

wandered through the rooms without meeting anyone to stop him. At

last he entered the queen's own chamber, and there she lay, with her

embroidery still in her hands, fast asleep. He pulled at her dress, but

she did not waken. Then a dreadful idea came over him, and he ran to

the chamber where the needles had been kept, but it was quite empty. The

queen had broken the last over the work she held in her hand, and with

it the spell was broken too, and she lay dead.

Quick as thought the prince pulled out the golden flask, and sprinkled

some drops of the water over the queen. In a moment she moved gently,

and raising her head, opened her eyes.

'Oh, my dear friend, I am so glad you wakened me; I must have slept a

long while!'

'You would have slept till eternity,' answered the prince, 'if I had not

been here to waken you.'

At these words the queen remembered about the needles. She knew now that

she had been dead, and that the prince had restored her to life. She

gave him thanks from her heart for what he had done, and vowed she would

repay him if she ever got a chance.

The prince took his leave, and set out for the country of the

bald-headed king. As he drew near the place he saw that the whole

mountain had been dug away, and that the king was lying dead on the

ground, his spade and bucket beside him. But as soon as the water from

the golden flask touched him he yawned and stretched himself, and slowly

rose to his feet. 'Oh, my dear friend, I am so glad to see you,' cried

he, 'I must have slept a long while!'

'You would have slept till eternity if I had not been here to waken

you,' answered the prince. And the king remembered the mountain, and the

spell, and vowed to repay the service if he ever had a chance.

Further along the road which led to his old home the prince found the

great tree torn up by its roots, and the king of the eagles sitting dead

on the ground, with his wings outspread as if for flight. A flutter ran

through the feathers as the drops of water fell on them, and the eagle

lifted his beak from the ground and said: 'Oh, how long I must have

slept! How can I thank you for having awakened me, my dear, good


'You would have slept till eternity if I had not been here to waken

you'; answered the prince. Then the king remembered about the tree, and

knew that he had been dead, and promised, if ever he had the chance, to

repay what the prince had done for him.

At last he reached the capital of his father's kingdom, but on reaching

the place where the royal palace had stood, instead of the marble

galleries where he used to play, there lay a great sulphur lake, its

blue flames darting into the air. How was he to find his father and

mother, and bring them back to life, if they were lying at the bottom

of that horrible water? He turned away sadly and wandered back into

the streets, hardly knowing where he was going; when a voice behind him

cried: 'Stop, prince, I have caught you at last! It is a thousand years

since I first began to seek you.' And there beside him stood the old,

white-bearded, figure of Death. Swiftly he drew the ring from his

finger, and the king of the eagles, the bald-headed king, and the

mist-veiled queen, hastened to his rescue. In an instant they had seized

upon Death and held him tight, till the prince should have time to reach

the Land of Immortality. But they did not know how quickly Death could

fly, and the prince had only one foot across the border, when he felt

the other grasped from behind, and the voice of Death calling: 'Halt!

now you are mine.'

The Queen of the Immortals was watching from her window, and cried to

Death that he had no power in her kingdom, and that he must seek his

prey elsewhere.

'Quite true,' answered Death; 'but his foot is in my kingdom, and that

belongs to me!'

'At any rate half of him is mine,' replied the Queen, 'and what good can

the other half do you? Half a man is no use, either to you or to me! But

this once I will allow you to cross into my kingdom, and we will decide

by a wager whose he is.'

And so it was settled. Death stepped across the narrow line that

surrounds the Land of Immortality, and the queen proposed the wager

which was to decide the prince's fate. 'I will throw him up into the

sky,' she said, 'right to the back of the morning star, and if he falls

down into this city, then he is mine. But if he should fall outside the

walls, he shall belong to you.'

In the middle of the city was a great open square, and here the queen

wished the wager to take place. When all was ready, she put her foot

under the foot of the prince and swung him into the air. Up, up, he

went, high amongst the stars, and no man's eyes could follow him. Had

she thrown him up straight? the queen wondered anxiously, for, if not,

he would fall outside the walls, and she would lose him for ever. The

moments seemed long while she and Death stood gazing up into the air,

waiting to know whose prize the prince would be. Suddenly they both

caught sight of a tiny speck no bigger than a wasp, right up in the

blue. Was he coming straight? No! Yes! But as he was nearing the city,

a light wind sprang up, and swayed him in the direction of the wall.

Another second and he would have fallen half over it, when the queen

sprang forward, seized him in her arms, and flung him into the castle.

Then she commanded her servants to cast Death out of the city, which

they did, with such hard blows that he never dared to show his face

again in the Land of Immortality.

[From Ungarischen Volksmurchen.]