The Water-lily The Gold-spinners
: The Blue Fairy Book
Once upon a time, in a large forest, there lived an old
woman and three maidens. They were all three beautiful,
but the youngest was the fairest. Their hut was quite
hidden by trees, and none saw their beauty but the sun
by day, and the moon by night, and the eyes of the stars.
The old woman kept the girls hard at work, from morning
till night, spinning gold flax into yarn, and when one
distaff was empty a
other was given them, so they had
no rest. The thread had to be fine and even, and when
done was locked up in a secret chamber by the old woman,
who twice or thrice every summer went a journey.
Before she went she gave out work for each day of her
absence, and always returned in the night, so that the
girls never saw what she brought back with her, neither
would she tell them whence the gold flax came, nor what
it was to be used for.
Now, when the time came round for the old woman to
set out on one of these journeys, she gave each maiden
work for six days, with the usual warning: "Children,
don't let your eyes wander, and on no account speak to a
man, for, if you do, your thread will lose its brightness,
and misfortunes of all kinds will follow." They laughed
at this oft-repeated caution, saying to each other: "How
can our gold thread lose its brightness, and have we any
chance of speaking to a man?"
On the third day after the old woman's departure a
young prince, hunting in the forest, got separated from
his companions, and completely lost. Weary of seeking
his way, he flung himself down under a tree, leaving his
horse to browse at will, and fell asleep.
The sun had set when he awoke and began once more
to try and find his way out of the forest. At last he
perceived a narrow foot-path, which he eagerly followed and
found that it led him to a small hut. The maidens, who
were sitting at the door of their hut for coolness, saw him
approaching, and the two elder were much alarmed, for
they remembered the old woman's warning; but the
youngest said: "Never before have I seen anyone like
him; let me have one look." They entreated her to come
in, but, seeing that she would not, left her, and the Prince,
coming up, courteously greeted the maiden, and told her
he had lost his way in the forest and was both hungry and
weary. She set food before him, and was so delighted
with his conversation that she forgot the old woman's
caution, and lingered for hours. In the meantime the
Prince's companions sought him far and wide, but to no
purpose, so they sent two messengers to tell the sad news
to the King, who immediately ordered a regiment of
cavalry and one of infantry to go and look for him.
After three days' search, they found the hut. The
Prince was still sitting by the door and had been so happy
in the maiden's company that the time had seemed like
a single hour. Before leaving he promised to return and
fetch her to his father's court, where he would make her
his bride. When he had gone, she sat down to her wheel
to make up for lost time, but was dismayed to find that
her thread had lost all its brightness. Her heart beat fast
and she wept bitterly, for she remembered the old
woman's warning and knew not what misfortune might now
The old woman returned in the night and knew by the
tarnished thread what had happened in her absence. She
was furiously angry and told the maiden that she had
brought down misery both on herself and on the Prince.
The maiden could not rest for thinking of this. At last
she could bear it no longer, and resolved to seek help from
As a child she had learned to understand the speech of
birds, and this was now of great use to her, for, seeing a
raven pluming itself on a pine bough, she cried softly to
it: "Dear bird, cleverest of all birds, as well as swiftest
on wing, wilt thou help me?" "How can I help thee?"
asked the raven. She answered: "Fly away, until thou
comest to a splendid town, where stands a king's palace;
seek out the king's son and tell him that a great misfortune
has befallen me." Then she told the raven how her
thread had lost its brightness, how terribly angry the old
woman was, and how she feared some great disaster. The
raven promised faithfully to do her bidding, and, spreading
its wings, flew away. The maiden now went home and
worked hard all day at winding up the yarn her elder
sisters had spun, for the old woman would let her spin no
longer. Toward evening she heard the raven's "craa,
craa," from the pine tree and eagerly hastened thither to
hear the answer.
By great good fortune the raven had found a wind
wizard's son in the palace garden, who understood the
speech of birds, and to him he had entrusted the message.
When the Prince heard it, he was very sorrowful, and took
counsel with his friends how to free the maiden. Then he
said to the wind wizard's son: "Beg the raven to fly
quickly back to the maiden and tell her to be ready on the
ninth night, for then will I come and fetch her away."
The wind wizard's son did this, and the raven flew so
swiftly that it reached the hut that same evening. The
maiden thanked the bird heartily and went home, telling
no one what she had heard.
As the ninth night drew near she became very unhappy,
for she feared lest some terrible mischance should arise
and ruin all. On this night she crept quietly out of the
house and waited trembling at some little distance from
the hut. Presently she heard the muffled tramp of horses,
and soon the armed troop appeared, led by the Prince,
who had prudently marked all the trees beforehand, in
order to know the way. When he saw the maiden he
sprang from his horse, lifted her into the saddle, and then,
mounting behind, rode homeward. The moon shone so
brightly that they had no difficulty in seeing the marked
By and by the coming of dawn loosened the tongues of
all the birds, and, had the Prince only known what they
were saying, or the maiden been listening, they might
have been spared much sorrow, but they were thinking
only of each other, and when they came out of the forest
the sun was high in the heavens.
Next morning, when the youngest girl did not come to
her work, the old woman asked where she was. The
sisters pretended not to know, but the old woman easily
guessed what had happened, and, as she was in reality a
wicked witch, determined to punish the fugitives.
Accordingly, she collected nine different kinds of enchanters'
nightshade, added some salt, which she first bewitched,
and, doing all up in a cloth into the shape of a fluffy ball,
sent it after them on the wings of the wind, saying:
"Whirlwind!--mother of the wind!
Lend thy aid 'gainst her who sinned!
Carry with thee this magic ball.
Cast her from his arms for ever,
Bury her in the rippling river."
At midday the Prince and his men came to a deep
river, spanned by so narrow a bridge that only one rider
could cross at a time. The horse on which the Prince and
the maiden were riding had just reached the middle when
the magic ball flew by. The horse in its fright suddenly
reared, and before anyone could stop it flung the maiden
into the swift current below. The Prince tried to jump
in after her, but his men held him back, and in spite of his
struggles led him home, where for six weeks he shut himself
up in a secret chamber, and would neither eat nor
drink, so great was his grief. At last he became so ill his
life was despaired of, and in great alarm the King caused
all the wizards of his country to be summoned. But none
could cure him. At last the wind wizard's son said to the
King: "Send for the old wizard from Finland he knows
more than all the wizards of your kingdom put together."
A messenger was at once sent to Finland, and a week later
the old wizard himself arrived on the wings of the wind.
"Honored King," said the wizard, "the wind has blown
this illness upon your son, and a magic ball has snatched
away his beloved. This it is which makes him grieve so
constantly. Let the wind blow upon him that it may blow
away his sorrow." Then the King made his son go out
into the wind, and he gradually recovered and told his
father all. "Forget the maiden," said the King, "and take
another bride"; but the Prince said he could never love
A year afterward he came suddenly upon the bridge
where his beloved met her death. As he recalled the
misfortune he wept bitterly, and would have given all he
possessed to have her once more alive. In the midst of his
grief he thought he heard a voice singing, and looked
round, but could see no one. Then he heard the voice
again, and it said:
"Alas! bewitched and all forsaken,
'Tis I must lie for ever here!
My beloved no thought has taken
To free his bride, that was so dear."
He was greatly astonished, sprang from his horse, and
looked everywhere to see if no one were hidden under the
bridge; but no one was there. Then he noticed a yellow
water-lily floating on the surface of the water, half hidden
by its broad leaves; but flowers do not sing, and in great
surprise he waited, hoping to hear more. Then again the
"Alas! bewitched and all forsaken,
'Tis I must lie for ever here!
My beloved no thought has taken
To free his bride, that was so dear."
The Prince suddenly remembered the gold-spinners, and
said to himself: "If I ride thither, who knows but that
they could explain this to me?" He at once rode to the
hut, and found the two maidens at the fountain. He told
them what had befallen their sister the year before, and
how he had twice heard a strange song, but yet could see
no singer. They said that the yellow water-lily could be
none other than their sister, who was not dead, but
transformed by the magic ball. Before he went to bed, the
eldest made a cake of magic herbs, which she gave him to
eat. In the night he dreamed that he was living in the
forest and could understand all that the birds said to each
other. Next morning he told this to the maidens, and
they said that the charmed cake had caused it, and
advised him to listen well to the birds, and see what they
could tell him, and when he had recovered his bride they
begged him to return and deliver them from their
Having promised this, he joyfully returned home, and
as he was riding through the forest he could perfectly
understand all that the birds said. He heard a thrush say
to a magpie: "How stupid men are! they cannot understand
the simplest thing. It is now quite a year since the
maiden was transformed into a water-lily, and, though
she sings so sadly that anyone going over the bridge must
hear her, yet no one comes to her aid. Her former bridegroom
rode over it a few days ago and heard her singing,
but was no wiser than the rest."
"And he is to blame for all her misfortunes," added the
magpie. "If he heeds only the words of men she will remain
a flower for ever. She were soon delivered were the
matter only laid before the old wizard of Finland."
After hearing this, the Prince wondered how he could
get a message conveyed to Finland. He heard one swallow
say to another: "Come, let us fly to Finland; we can build
better nests there."
"Stop, kind friends!" cried the Prince. "Will you do
something for me?" The birds consented, and he said:
"Take a thousand greetings from me to the wizard of
Finland, and ask him how I may restore a maiden transformed
into a flower to her own form."
The swallows flew away, and the Prince rode on to the
bridge. There he waited, hoping to hear the song. But
he heard nothing but the rushing of the water and the
moaning of the wind, and, disappointed, rode home.
Shortly after, he was sitting in the garden, thinking
that the swallows must have forgotten his message, when
he saw an eagle flying above him. The bird gradually
descended until it perched on a tree close to the Prince
and said: "The wizard of Finland greets thee and bids me
say that thou mayest free the maiden thus: Go to the river
and smear thyself all over with mud; then say: 'From a
man into a crab,' and thou wilt become a crab. Plunge
boldly into the water, swim as close as thou canst to the
water-lily's roots, and loosen them from the mud and
reeds. This done, fasten thy claws into the roots and
rise with them to the surface. Let the water flow all over
the flower, and drift with the current until thou comest to
a mountain ash tree on the left bank. There is near it a
large stone. Stop there and say: 'From a crab into a man,
from a water-lily into a maiden,' and ye both will be
restored to your own forms."
Full of doubt and fear, the Prince let some time pass
before he was bold enough to attempt to rescue the
maiden. Then a crow said to him: "Why dost thou hesitate?
The old wizard has not told thee wrong, neither
have the birds deceived thee; hasten and dry the maiden's
"Nothing worse than death can befall me," thought the
Prince, "and death is better than endless sorrow." So he
mounted his horse and went to the bridge. Again he
heard the water-lily's lament, and, hesitating no longer,
smeared himself all over with mud, and, saying: "From a
man into a crab," plunged into the river. For one moment
the water hissed in his ears, and then all was silent. He
swam up to the plant and began to loosen its roots, but so
firmly were they fixed in the mud and reeds that this took
him a long time. He then grasped them and rose to the
surface, letting the water flow over the flower. The current
carried them down the stream, but nowhere could he
see the mountain ash. At last he saw it, and close by the
large stone. Here he stopped and said: "From a crab into
a man, from a water-lily into a maiden," and to his
delight found himself once more a prince, and the maiden
was by his side. She was ten times more beautiful than
before, and wore a magnificent pale yellow robe, sparkling
with jewels. She thanked him for having freed her
from the cruel witch's power, and willingly consented to
But when they came to the bridge where he had left his
horse it was nowhere to be seen, for, though the Prince
thought he had been a crab only a few hours, he had in
reality been under the water for more than ten days.
While they were wondering how they should reach his
father's court, they saw a splendid coach driven by six
gaily caparisoned horses coming along the bank. In this
they drove to the palace. The King and Queen were at
church, weeping for their son, whom they had long
mourned for dead. Great was their delight and astonishment
when the Prince entered, leading the beautiful
maiden by the hand. The wedding was at once celebrated
and there was feasting and merry-making throughout the
kingdom for six weeks.
Some time afterward the Prince and his bride were
sitting in the garden, when a crow said to them:
"Ungrateful creatures! Have you forgotten the two poor
maidens who helped you in your distress? Must they
spin gold flax for ever? Have no pity on the old witch.
The three maidens are princesses, whom she stole away
when they were children together, with all the silver
utensils, which she turned into gold flax. Poison were her
The Prince was ashamed of having forgotten his promise
and set out at once, and by great good fortune reached
the hut when the old woman was away. The maidens had
dreamed that he was coming, and were ready to go with
him, but first they made a cake in which they put poison,
and left it on a table where the old woman was likely to
see it when she returned. She did see it, and thought it
looked so tempting that she greedily ate it up and at once
In the secret chamber were found fifty wagon-loads of
gold flax, and as much more was discovered buried. The
hut was razed to the ground, and the Prince and his bride
and her two sisters lived happily ever after.