The Three Crowns
: The Lilac Fairy Book
There was once a king who had three daughters. The two eldest
were very proud and quarrelsome, but the youngest was as good as
they were bad. Well, three princes came to court them, and two of
them were exactly like the eldest ladies, and one was just as
lovable as the youngest. One day they were all walking down to a
lake that lay at the bottom of the lawn when they met a poor
beggar. The king wouldn't give him anythi
g, and the eldest
princesses wouldn't give him anything, nor their sweethearts; but
the youngest daughter and her true love did give him something,
and kind words along with it, and that was better than all.
When they got to the edge of the lake what did they find but the
beautifullest boat you ever saw in your life; and says the
eldest, 'I'll take a sail in this fine boat'; and says the second
eldest, 'I'll take a sail in this fine boat'; and says the
youngest, 'I won't take a sail in that fine boat, for I am afraid
it's an enchanted one.' But the others persuaded her to go in,
and her father was just going in after her, when up sprung on the
deck a little man only seven inches high, and ordered him to
stand back. Well, all the men put their hands to their swords;
and if the same swords were only playthings, they weren't able to
draw them, for all strength that was left their arms. Seven
Inches loosened the silver chain that fastened the boat, and
pushed away, and after grinning at the four men, says he to them.
'Bid your daughters and your brides farewell for awhile. You,'
says he to the youngest, 'needn't fear, you'll recover your
princess all in good time, and you and she will be as happy as
the day is long. Bad people, if they were rolling stark naked in
gold, would not be rich. Good-bye.' Away they sailed, and the
ladies stretched out their hands, but weren't able to say a word.
Well, they weren't crossing the lake while a cat 'ud be lickin'
her ear, and the poor men couldn't stir hand or foot to follow
them. They saw Seven Inches handing the three princesses out of
the boat, and letting them down by a basket into a draw-well, but
king nor princes ever saw an opening before in the same place.
When the last lady was out of sight, the men found the strength
in their arms and legs again. Round the lake they ran, and never
drew rein till they came to the well and windlass; and there was
the silk rope rolled on the axle, and the nice white basket
hanging to it. 'Let me down,' says the youngest prince. 'I'll die
or recover them again.' 'No,' says the second daughter's
sweetheart, 'it is my turn first.' And says the other, 'I am the
eldest.' So they gave way to him, and in he got into the basket,
and down they let him. First they lost sight of him, and then,
after winding off a hundred perches of the silk rope, it
slackened, and they stopped turning. They waited two hours, and
then they went to dinner, because there was no pull made at the
Guards were set till next morning, and then down went the second
prince, and sure enough, the youngest of all got himself let down
on the third day. He went down perches and perches, while it was
as dark about him as if he was in a big pot with a cover on. At
last he saw a glimmer far down, and in a short time he felt the
ground. Out he came from the big lime-kiln, and, lo! and behold
you, there was a wood, and green fields, and a castle in a lawn,
and a bright sky over all. 'It's in Tir-na-n-Oge I am,' says he.
'Let's see what sort of people are in the castle.' On he walked,
across fields and lawn, and no one was there to keep him out or
let him into the castle; but the big hall-door was wide open. He
went from one fine room to another that was finer, and at last he
reached the handsomest of all, with a table in the middle. And
such a dinner as was laid upon it! The prince was hungry enough,
but he was too mannerly to eat without being invited. So he sat
by the fire, and he did not wait long till he heard steps, and in
came Seven Inches with the youngest sister by the hand. Well,
prince and princess flew into one another's arms, and says the
little man, says he, 'Why aren't you eating?' 'I think, sir,'
says the prince, 'it was only good manner to wait to be asked.'
'The other princes didn't think so,' says he. 'Each o' them fell
to without leave, and only gave me the rough words when I told
them they were making more free than welcome. Well, I don't think
they feel much hunger now. There they are, good marble instead of
flesh and blood,' says he, pointing to two statues, one in one
corner, and the other in the other corner of the room. The prince
was frightened, but he was afraid to say anything, and Seven
Inches made him sit down to dinner between himself and his bride;
and he'd be as happy as the day is long, only for the sight of
the stone men in the corner. Well, that day went by, and when the
next came, says Seven Inches to him, 'Now, you'll have to set out
that way,' pointing to the sun, 'and you'll find the second
princess in a giant's castle this evening, when you'll be tired
and hungry, and the eldest princess to-morrow evening; and you
may as well bring them here with you. You need not ask leave of
their masters; and perhaps if they ever get home, they'll look on
poor people as if they were flesh and blood like themselves.'
Away went the prince, and bedad! it's tired and hungry he was
when he reached the first castle, at sunset. Oh, wasn't the
second princess glad to see him! And what a good supper she gave
him. But she heard the giant at the gate, and she hid the prince
in a closet. Well, when he came in, he snuffed, an' he snuffed,
and says he, 'By the life, I smell fresh meat.' 'Oh,' says the
princess, 'it's only the calf I got killed to-day.' 'Ay, ay,'
says he, 'is supper ready?' 'It is,' says she; and before he rose
from the table he ate three-quarters of a calf, and a flask of
wine. 'I think,' says he, when all was done, 'I smell fresh meat
still.' 'It's sleepy you are,' says she; 'go to bed.' 'When will
you marry me?' says the giant. 'You're putting me off too long.'
'St. Tibb's Eve,' says she. 'I wish I knew how far off that is,'
says he; and he fell asleep, with his head in the dish.
Next day, he went out after breakfast, and she sent the prince to
the castle where the eldest sister was. The same thing happened
there; but when the giant was snoring, the princess wakened up
the prince, and they saddled two steeds in the stables and rode
into the field on them. But the horses' heels struck the stones
outside the gate, and up got the giant and strode after them. He
roared and he shouted, and the more he shouted, the faster ran
the horses, and just as the day was breaking he was only twenty
perches behind. But the prince didn't leave the castle of Seven
Inches without being provided with something good. He reined in
his steed, and flung a short, sharp knife over his shoulder, and
up sprung a thick wood between the giant and themselves. They
caught the wind that blew before them, and the wind that blew
behind them did not catch them. At last they were near the castle
where the other sister lived; and there she was, waiting for them
under a high hedge, and a fine steed under her.
But the giant was now in sight, roaring like a hundred lions, and
the other giant was out in a moment, and the chase kept on. For
every two springs the horses gave, the giants gave three, and at
last they were only seventy perches off. Then the prince stopped
again, and flung the second knife behind him. Down went all the
flat field, till there was a quarry between them a quarter of a
mile deep, and the bottom filled with black water; and before the
giants could get round it, the prince and princesses were inside
the kingdom of the great magician, where the high thorny hedge
opened of itself to everyone that he chose to let in. There was
joy enough between the three sisters, till the two eldest saw
their lovers turned into stone. But while they were shedding
tears for them, Seven Inches came in, and touched them with his
rod. So they were flesh, and blood, and life once more, and there
was great hugging and kissing, and all sat down to breakfast, and
Seven Inches sat at the head of the table.
When breakfast was over, he took them into another room, where
there was nothing but heaps of gold, and silver, and diamonds,
and silks, and satins; and on a table there was lying three sets
of crowns: a gold crown was in a silver crown, and that was lying
in a copper crown. He took up one set of crowns, and gave it to
the eldest princess; and another set, and gave it to the second
youngest princess; and another, and gave it to the youngest of
all; and says he, 'Now you may all go to the bottom of the pit,
and you have nothing to do but stir the basket, and the people
that are watching above will draw you up. But remember, ladies,
you are to keep your crows safe, and be married in them, all the
same day. If you be married separately, or if you be married
without your crowns, a curse will follow--mind what I say.'
So they took leave of him with great respect, and walked arm-in-
arm to the bottom of the draw-well. There was a sky and a sun
over them, and a great high wall, covered with ivy, rose before
them, and was so high they could not see to the top of it; and
there was an arch in this wall, and the bottom of the draw-well
was inside the arch. The youngest pair went last; and says the
princess to the prince, 'I'm sure the two princes don't mean any
good to you. Keep these crowns under your cloak, and if you are
obliged to stay last, don't get into the basket, but put a big
stone, or any heavy thing inside, and see what will happen.'
As soon as they were inside the dark cave, they put in the eldest
princess first, and stirred the basket, and up she went. Then the
basket was let down again, and up went the second princess, and
then up went the youngest; but first she put her arms round her
prince's neck, and kissed him, and cried a little. At last it
came to the turn of the youngest prince, and instead of going
into the basket he put in a big stone. He drew on one side and
listened, and after the basket was drawn up about twenty perches,
down came it and the stone like thunder, and the stone was broken
into little bits.
Well, the poor prince had nothing for it but to walk back to the
castle; and through it and round it he walked, and the finest of
eating and drinking he got, and a bed of bog-down to sleep on,
and long walks he took through gardens and lawns, but not a sight
could he get, high or low, of Seven Inches. He, before a week,
got tired of it, he was so lonesome for his true love; and at the
end of a month he didn't know what to do with himself.
One morning he went into the treasure room, and took notice of a
beautiful snuff-box on the table that he didn't remember seeing
there before. He took it in his hands and opened it, and out
Seven Inches walked on the table. 'I think, prince,' says he,
'you're getting a little tired of my castle?' 'Ah!' says the
other, 'if I had my princess here, and could see you now and
then, I'd never know a dismal day.' 'Well, you're long enough
here now, and you're wanted there above. Keep your bride's crowns
safe, and whenever you want my help, open this snuff-box. Now
take a walk down the garden, and come back when you're tired.'
The prince was going down a gravel walk with a quickset hedge on
each side, and his eyes on the ground, and he was thinking of one
thing and another. At last he lifted his eyes, and there he was
outside of a smith's gate that he often passed before, about a
mile away from the palace of his betrothed princess. The clothes
he had on him were as ragged as you please, but he had his crowns
safe under his old cloak.
Then the smith came out, and says he, 'It's a shame for a strong,
big fellow like you to be lazy, and so much work to be done. Are
you any good with hammer and tongs? Come in and bear a hand, an
I'll give you diet and lodging, and a few pence when you earn
them.' 'Never say't twice,' says the prince. 'I want nothing but
to be busy.' So he took the hammer, and pounded away at the red-
hot bar that the smith was turning on the anvil to make into a
set of horse-shoes.
They hadn't been long at work when a tailor came in, and he sat
down and began to talk. 'You all heard how the two princess were
loth to be married till the youngest would be ready with her
crowns and her sweetheart. But after the windlass loosened
accidentally when they were pulling up her bridegroom that was to
be, there was no more sign of a well, or a rope, or a windlass,
than there is on the palm of your hand. So the princes that were
courting the eldest ladies wouldn't give peace or ease to their
lovers nor the king till they got consent to the marriage, and it
was to take place this morning. Myself went down out o'
curiousity, and to be sure I was delighted with the grand dresses
of the two brides, and the three crowns on their heads--gold,
silver, and copper, one inside the other. The youngest was
standing by mournful enough, and all was ready. The two
bridegrooms came in as proud and grand as you please, and up they
were walking to the altar rails, when the boards opened two yards
wide under their feet, and down they went among the dead men and
the coffins in the vaults. Oh, such shrieks as the ladies gave!
and such running and racing and peeping down as there was! but
the clerk soon opened the door of the vault, and up came the two
princes, their fine clothes covered an inch thick with cobwebs
So the king said they should put off the marriage. 'For,' says
he, 'I see there is no use in thinking of it till the youngest
gets her three crowns, and is married with the others. I'll give
my youngest daughter for a wife to whoever brings three crowns to
me like the others; and if he doesn't care to be married, some
other one will, and I'll make his fortune.'
'I wish,' says the smith, 'I could do it; but I was looking at
the crowns after the princesses got home, and I don't think
there's a black or a white smith on the face of the earth that
could imitate them.' 'Faint heart never won fair lady,' says the
prince. 'Go to the palace and ask for a quarter of a pound of
gold, a quarter of a pound of silver, and a quarter of a pound of
copper. Get one crown for a pattern, and my head for a pledge,
I'll give you out the very things that are wanted in the
morning.' 'Are you in earnest?' says the smith. 'Faith, I am so,'
says he. 'Go! you can't do worse than lose.'
To make a long story short, the smith got the quarter of a pound
of gold, and the quarter of a pound of silver, and the quarter of
a pound of copper, and gave them and the pattern crown to the
prince. He shut the forge door at nightfall, and the neighbours
all gathered in the yard, and they heard him hammering,
hammering, hammering, from that to daybreak; and every now and
then he'd throw out through the window bits of gold, silver, and
copper; and the idlers scrambled for them, and cursed one
another, and prayed for the good luck of the workman.
Well, just as the sun was thinking to rise, he opened the door,
and brought out the three crowns he got from his true love, and
such shouting and huzzaing as there was! The smith asked him to
go along with him to the palace, but he refused; so off set the
smith, and the whole townland with him; and wasn't the king
rejoiced when he saw the crowns! 'Well,' says he to the smith,
'you're a married man. What's to be done?' 'Faith, your majesty,
I didn't make them crowns at all. It was a big fellow that took
service with me yesterday.' 'Well, daughter, will you marry the
fellow that made these crowns?' 'Let me see them first, father,'
said she; but when she examined them she knew them right well,
and guessed it was her true love that sent them. 'I will marry
the man that these crowns came from,' says she.
'Well,' says the king to the elder of the two princes, 'go up to
the smith's forge, take my best coaches, and bring home the
bridegroom.' He did not like doing this, he was so proud, but he
could not refuse. When he came to the forge he saw the prince
standing at the door, and beckoned him over to the coach. 'Are
you the fellow,' says he, 'that made these crowns?' 'Yes,' says
the other. 'Then,' says he, 'maybe you'd give yourself a
brushing, and get into that coach; the king wants to see you. I
pity the princess.' The young prince got into the carriage, and
while they were on the way he opened the snuff-box, and out
walked Seven Inches, and stood on his thigh. 'Well,' says he,
'what trouble is on you now?' 'Master,' says the other, 'please
let me go back to my forge, and let this carriage be filled with
paving stones.' No sooner said than done. The prince was sitting
in his forge, and the horses wondered what was after happening to
When they came into the palace yard, the king himself opened the
carriage door, for respect to his new son-in-law. As soon as he
turned the handle, a shower of small stones fell on his powdered
wig and his silk coat, and down he fell under them. There was
great fright and some laughter, and the king, after he wiped the
blood from his forehead, looked very cross at the eldest prince.
'My lord,' says he, 'I'm very sorry for this accident, but I'm
not to blame. I saw the young smith get into the carriage, and we
never stopped a minute since.' 'It's uncivil you were to him.
Go,' says he to the other prince, 'and bring the young smith
here, and be polite.' 'Never fear,' says he.
But there's some people that couldn't be good-natured if they
tried, and not a bit civiller was the new messenger than the old,
and when the king opened the carriage door a second time, it's
shower of mud that came down on him. 'There's no use,' says he,
'going on this way. The fox never got a better messenger than
So he changed his clothes, and washed himself, and out he set to
the prince's forge and asked him to sit along with himself. The
prince begged to be allowed to sit in the other carriage, and
when they were half-way he opened his snuff-box. 'Master,' says
he, 'I'd wish to be dressed now according to my rank.' 'You shall
be that,' says Seven Inches. 'And now I'll bid you farewell.
Continue as good and kind as you always were; love your wife; and
that's all the advice I'll give you.' So Seven Inches vanished;
and when the carriage door was opened in the yard, out walks the
prince as fine as hands could make him, and the first thing he
did was to run over to his bride and embrace her.
Every one was full of joy but the two other princes. There was
not much delay about the marriages, and they were all celebrated
on the one day. Soon after, the two elder couples went to their
own courts, but the youngest pair stayed with the old king, and
they were as happy as the happiest married couple you ever heard
of in a story.
From 'West Highland Tales.'