A Lithuanian fairy tale, this version was published in ‘Fairy Tales from the Soviet Union’ in 1986.
Long, long ago, beyond the nine mountains and the nine forests, there lived a king and a queen. A son was born to them, and they loved him to distraction. When he grew up, the prince had plenty of puffs and cream to eat, and he wore clothing spun out of silver and gold. At his bidding, as if out of thin air, servants in braided coats and grooms in bright caftans appeared, and snow-white wolfhounds followed him about and never took their eyes off him. And as for his father and mother, they would have caught the sun itself in a sieve and brought it to him if only they could. But the young prince was always gloomy. He would send away his servants and chase away his dogs, walk sadly about in the palace garden and complain of his lot.
“I have no sister and no brother, no one to play with, no one to talk to. “Why is that, Mother?” he asked. “Tell me.”
To this the queen would make no reply but only drop her eyes, and clapping her hands, order the court ladies to play their golden cymbals and amuse the prince. But the prince’s heart was heavy, and nothing could cheer him.
Now, near the palace was a courtyard surrounded by a high stone wall. The wall was gilded and had razor-sharp diamond spikes on it, and if anyone tried to climb it he was in danger of being pierced through. The prince was warned never so much as to come near the wall, but this only made him all the more eager to learn what there was behind it. But though he kept asking the queen and the courtiers about it, they would tell him nothing.
One day a raven perched on the top of the wall. Seeing him the prince took his bow and was about to shoot his arrow when the raven said in a human voice:
“Spare me, Prince, and I will tell you a secret. Behind this wall is a garden where grow many roses and lilies, and in the garden is a palace where your three sisters are kept under lock and key. If you want to see them, look for a little golden key which lies under a flowerpot in the queen’s chamber. And remember this: once you are in the garden, open the window of your sisters’ chamber and let them breathe some fresh air.”
The raven flapped his wings and flew away, and the prince stood there as if frozen to the spot, not knowing whether or not it had all been a dream.
That night, when everyone was asleep, he rose quietly, fondled his dogs to keep them from barking, and stealing into the queen’s chamber, found the flowerpot and, under it, the golden key.
He felt along the wall in the darkness, discovered a secret door, unlocked it, went into the garden and opened the window of his sisters’ chamber. And his three sisters kissed him and thanked him again and again for letting them breathe the fresh air, smell the flowers and admire the beauty of the stars.
All of a sudden the earth quaked and trembled, and a black column of dust rose up into the air like smoke from a chimney. The three sisters were caught up by a whirlwind and swept out of the window. The prince, who feared that he was to blame for this, began to weep, to call his dear sisters and to curse himself for his foolish curiosity. But his tears did not help. The sisters were gone, their chamber was empty, and only the stars twinkled overhead as before.
Morning came, and the queen rose and prepared to take some food to her daughters. She looked for the key, but it was gone. She ran to the palace where her daughters were kept, but there was no one there!
“My poor daughters! I will never see them again!” the queen cried, wringing her hands. “The dragon must have eaten them!”
Learning of his daughters’ disappearance, the king flew into a temper. He raged and stormed, his voice rang like thunder in the palace and his courtiers shook with fear. Some of them hid themselves in their rooms, others brought out their crystal balls and gazed into them to see what the future held, but none could say who had let out the princesses or where to seek them.
Learning that innocent people were being herded to the palace, the prince went to see the king.
“It is I who am to blame for what happened to my sisters, Father, so you must punish me for it,” he said.
At this the king’s face grew darker than a storm cloud.
“Before you were born the wise men who read the stars warned me that your sisters would be carried off by a dragon,” said he. “That was why I built that wall and kept them under lock and key. But you disobeyed me and defied my orders. So, worthless youth that you are, leave my kingdom and do not return until you have brought back your sisters.”
And the king opened the gate of the palace with his own hands and told the prince to go where he would. The queen burst into tears, but she only managed to embrace her son and to thrust some pies in his hands before the gate shut behind him.
Not knowing what to do or where to go, the prince set of along the road. On and on he walked over hills and dales, across fields and meadows, and when night ccame he climbed a tree and tied himself to it so as not to fall of it in his sleep and be eaten up by some wild animal.
He journeyed thus for many days, following many roads and trails, till he came to a strange land. Footsore and weary, he stopped by a hut, knocked at the door adn asked to be let in for the night. An old woman came out, and standing on the threshold, asked him where he was going. The prince tld her about his sisters, adn the old woman said:
“You won’t find them soon, my lad. The way that ies before you is far and dangerous, and you are timid of heart and unused to work. Stay with me for three years, learn to earn your own living, and then I may be able to help you.”
The prince stayed with the old woman. He uprooted trees, ploughed fields, ground grain and made shoes of bast. It was hard work, all of it, but so strong was his wish to save his sisters that he would not give up.
Three years flew by, and the old woman called the prince to her side.
“Tomorrow you can set out to seek your sisters,” said she. “Here is a ball of yarn for you. Wherever it rolls, there yo must go. And here is a piece of bread. Whenever you are hungry, eat of it, it will last you a long time.”
The prince took leave of the old woman and set off on his journey again. The ball of yarn rolled ahead of him and showed him the way, the piece of bread in his bag grew no smaller no matter how much of it he ate, the streams and brooks gave him water to drink, and the birds cheered him with their songs.
By and by he came to a copper mountain on which grew a copper forest. He climbed a tree and began trying to break off a branch to make a staff for himself when all of a sudden, as if out of thin air, a four-eyed witch came flying up to him, making a great racket as she flew.
“Who is breaking off branches in my forest?” she cried.
The prince threw his ball of yarn at her, and she rushed to catch it and knocked her head against a tree. And as she stood there swaying on her feet and trying to get back her breath, the prince climbed the copper mountain. On its top was a copper palace, and sitting at a spinning wheel by one of the palace windows, was his elder sister. She recognized her brother at once, welcomed him lovingly and gave him many nice things to eat. But when evening came she began to fret and to worry and she hid the prince in a beautifully ornamented chest behind a curtain.
The trees in the forest hummed and droned, the copper leaves rang and jangled, and a falcon came flying up. He cast off his feathers at the door and turned into a tall and handsome young man. Seeing the branch the prince had lopped off, he asked his wife, the prince’s sister, who had dared to touch his tree. She would tell him nothing at first, but then said:
“What would you do, Falcon, if my brother came to pay me a visit?”
“Would be glad to see him and would thank him for delivering you from captivity.”
The sister called the prince, who came out from his hiding place, and Falcon welcomed him warmly and told him that he had been put under a spell by an evil sorceress and was fated to be a falcon for six more years, that only the Sun Princess could break the spell and that he had not been able to find her though he flew round the earth three times every day.
“I will find her for you,” the prince said.
“You’ll only be killed, my brother,” said his sister. “Many brave men tried to get into the palace of the Sun Princess, but none of them ever came back.”
But the prince would not listen to her, and Falcon gave him a kerchief as a parting gift and said:
“If ever you are in trouble, take out this kerchief and you shall see what you shall see.”
The prince thanked Falcon, but though he felt very much at home in his sister’s house, he longed to be off and on his way to see his other sisters. So he bade Falcon and his wife goodbye, and hiding the kerchief in his bosom, set off again after the old woman’s ball of yarn.
By and by he came to a silver mountain on which grew a silver forest. He began breaking off a silver branch to make a staff for himself when all of a sudden, as if out of thin air, two witches who were guarding the forest came flying up to him, whistling as they flew. The prince threw his ball of yarn at them, and they rushed to catch it, bumped against each other and fell to the ground. The prince at once climbed the silver mountain and came to a silver palace, and there, sitting at one of the palace windows and working on a piece of embroidery, was his middle sister. The prince stepped inside and found himself in a silver chamber with windows of crystal and floors of marble. He told his sister who he was, but she would not believe him at first and only did when she heard of his journey and of their elder sister’s copper palace. She then set food and drink before him and chattered away happily, but after a while she became sad and woebegone.
“It’s a pity you can’t stay with me longer, brother,” she said, “but Bear, my husband, might come and claw you to death.”
“Don’t be afraid, sister, I’ll hide from him,” said the prince.
Evening arrived, the earth began to quake and to tremble, the silver trees to creak and to moan, and there was a bear at the door. He came inside, cast off his skin and turned into a tall and handsome young man. Seeing the silver staff, he asked his wife, whose it was.
“My brother’s,” the wife said. “He paid me a visit and left his staff here.”
“Why didn’t he wait for me to come back?”
“I was afraid you would claw him to death, so I told him to go away. But never you mind, for I think I can catch him up.”
She went out onto the porch and called the prince, who at once came out of his hiding place. He and Bear greeted each other, and Bear said that an evil magician had put a spell on him, that every day on the stroke of midnight he turned into a bear and that he would remain under the spell for four more years unless the Sun Princess came to his aid.
“I will go to the Sun Princess and ask her to help you,” said the prince.
“It won’t be easy, but there’s no harm in trying,” said Bear. “And I, for my part, will do what I can for you. Here is a pot of porridge. You have only to put some of it wherever you like and anyone who touches it will be stuck fast to it.”
The prince bade his middle sister and Bear, her husband, goodbye, and set off on his way again to seek his youngest sister.
The ball of yarn rolled over hills and dales, it rolled across fields and forests, and it reached the seashore. There was an island in the middle of the sea, and on the island was a golden palace. Sea monsters thrust their heads up out of the water and gnashed their teeth, but this did not daunt the prince who jumped into the waves after the ball of yarn and swam to the island. He reached it soon enough and found himself in a golden forest. But the ground under the trees was boggy, and hiding there were hideous-looking witches. The prince climbed one of the trees and smeared some of his magic porridge over its trunk, and smelling the porridge, the witches rushed to the tree. They sniffed at it, trying to find out who was sitting on its top, and at once got their noses stuck to the trunk. Now there was no one to stop the prince from making his way to the golden palace or going inside it.
The first chamber he came to was empty and so was the second chamber, and it was only in the third chamber that he found his youngest sister. She sat there rolling a golden apple about on a plate, and oh, how pleased she and the prince were to see each other again! They began talking, and the hours passed very quickly, but after a while the sister’s face clouded.
“Pike, my husband, will be back soon,” she said, “and he might eat you up.”
Seeing how worried she was, the prince promised his sister not to show himself to his brother-in-law and hid in one of the chambers.
All of a sudden the palace quaked and trembled, great waves struck the windows, and a huge pike leapt up out of the water. He cast off his scales at the door, turned into a tall and handsome young man and asked his wife who it was that had been to see them. Learning that it was the prince, her brother, he began to scold her for having let him leave so soon.
The wife then called to the prince, who at once came out of his hiding place. They sat down at the table, and, oh, what nice things they had to eat!
But their good spirits did not last long. Pike grew sad and crestfallen, and he said to the prince:
“I’m sorry, my brother, but you and I must now part. It is almost midnight, and I will lose my proper shape on the stroke of it and turn into a pike again. An evil witch cast this spell on me, and it will not be broken for three more years unless the Sun Princess comes to my aid.”
“I will go to see the Sun Princess and beg her to help you and my other brothers-in-law!” the prince said.
“No one who went to see the Sun Princess ever came back again,” said Pike. “But I won’t try to stop you. Here is a golden casket for you. Open it if ever you are in trouble.”
The prince took the casket and set off again after the ball of yarn to seek the kingdom of the Sun Princess.
Whether a long time passed or a short, nobody knows, but he came to the Sun Princess’s kingdom and found her palace. On either side of the gate was a pillar of fire, and when anyone came near them, the pillars would draw together and burn him to death.
The prince threw down his ball of yarn and sent it rolling ahead of him, the pillars drew together, and lo!-only a thin wisp of smoke rose where the ball of yarn had been. Then the pillars moved apart again, and the prince slipped past them.
“Who are you looking for, my lad?” a voice asked.
“The Sun Princess.”
“What is it you want of her?”
“I will tell her that when I see her.”
“Are you here to woo the Princess?”
“What if I am!”
At this there came a tinkling laugh, but who it was that laughed the prince could not tell.
“Show the young man to the guest chamber,” the voice said.
At once a whirlwind arose, and the prince was hurled on to the doorstep of a hut. The hut’s thrice-nine doors of iron opened, and the prince found himself in a dungeon with a single tiny, heart-shaped window, close to the ceiling. There was no light other than came through this, and it was only when his eyes had got used to the darkness that the prince saw that he was not alone in the dungeon and that twenty-eight old men were there with him. Some of them were sitting on the floor, others were stretched out beside them with their heads resting on stones. Their long beards were matted, and their bodies frail and bent with age.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” the prince asked.
“You can see for yourself what we look like now, but we used to be as young and as strong as you,” one of them said. “We came here to woo the Sun Princess, and this is what has become of us. I have been here for a hundred and twenty-five years, and that man there, who is the oldest among us, for almost six hundred years. Our sufferings are without end, and there is nothing left us but to await death.”
“Do not grieve,” said the prince. “Surely we can free ourselves! There are twenty-nine of us, and we are brave men all.”
But the old men only shook their heads and didn’t utter a word.
All of a sudden there came a rap at the window, and someone threw some of oats into the dungeon. The old men jumped up and rushed to pick up the oats from the floor.
“Why don’t you eat!” said they to the prince. “We won’t get anything more.”
“I am not a goose to peck at oats,” said the prince.
“You won’t say that when you go hungry long enough,” the old men said, stuffing the oats into their mouths.
Someone now thrust a jug of water into the dungeon, but the prince snatched up the jug and poured the water out of the window.
“What have you done!” the old men moaned. “Now we won’t get any water to drink till tomorrow, and if the Sun Princess is angered, why, she’ll not give us any, and we’ll die of thirst.”
“Don’t be afraid! And throw the oats out too so that she stops treating you so.”
And the prince snatched up a handful of oats and flung them out of the window.
The old men groaned, and falling to their knees, crawled about the floor and picked up the scattered oats grain by grain. Then the prince got out the silken kerchief Falcon had given him, and as if out of thin air, the most dainty dishes and the rarest of drinks appeared before him. The old men fell to and ate as if they could never have their fill. They drank the mead happily, thanked the prince again and again and called him their saviour.
Just then the Sun Princess’s lady·in-waiting, Bright Dawn, peeked in at the window, and seeing Falcon’s magic kerchief, went off in haste to tell the Sun Princess about it.
“I must have that kerchief! Tell him who brought it that he can have whatever he asks for it,” said the Sun Princess.
Bright Dawn came back to the dungeon and asked the prince for the kerchief.
“Don’t give it to her,” the old men said. “If you do, it’ll be the end of us, and of you, too, for you ‘II not have anything to eat but oats to your dying day.”
But the prince would not listen to them.
“Come inside and take the kerchief,” said he to Bright Dawn.
Bright Dawn did as the prince bade. She came into the dungeon, and so dazzling was her beauty that the old men were blinded by it and rushed to hide in dark corners.
Only the prince faced Bright Dawn unafraid.
“Tell the Sun Princess that the kerchief is hers and that I wish her health and happiness,” said he.
Bright Dawn went back to the Sun Princess and gave her the kerchief, and the Sun Princess took it eagerly, but when she heard what the prince had said she only laughed. She spread out the kerchief, tried some of the dainty dishes, had a sip of the mead, and said:
“Now the man who gave me the kerchief will have nothing but oats to eat, like the rest.”
But on the following day the prince again threw the oats that were brought to the dungeon out of the window, and the Sun Princess sent another of her ladies-in-waiting, Evening Star, to find out what this could mean. Evening Star peeked into the dungeon and saw that the old men were drinking wine and eating all kinds of dainty foods. Sounds of music came from the golden casket, and when the old men had eaten they began to dance.
Said Evening Star, and her voice came to them through the heart-shaped window in the wall:
“The Sun Princess commands you to sell her your casket, stranger!”
“Come in, and you shall have it,” the prince said.
The thrice-nine doors opened, and Evening Star stepped inside. She was as lovely as her name betokened. The old men fell at the prince’s feet and implored him not to give up the magic casket, for, said they, they had tasted of wine again and of meat and could not bear the thought of going hungry.
But the prince would not listen to them. He asked Evening Star to sit down and he treated her to some mead and to the daintiest of the many dishes he set before her. Evening Star ate and drank, but when the time came for her to go back to the Sun Princess, she found that she could not get up! For the prince had smeared some of his magic porridge over the stone she was sitting on, and she was stuck fast to it! And though she threshed about wildly in an effort to get free, though she pleaded with the prince and wept bitter tears, he would not let her go. And as for the old men, they were as pleased as pleased could be that she who had given them nothing but oats to eat for so many years was at last getting her due.
Now, the Sun Princess heard the singing and the music, but she could not understand why there was such merriment in the dungeon or why Evening Star had not returned. She decided to see for herself what had happened to her and came into the dungeon, and so dazzling was her beauty that the old men covered their eyes with their hands for fear of being blinded, and the Prince’sheart missed a beat.
“Leave this place at once!” said the Sun Princess to Evening Star.
“Why should I, I’m happy where I am!” Evening Star returned. She had had more mead than was good for her.
“I’ll not have such goings-on!” the Sun Princess cried and she turned to the prince. “Sell me your casket, stranger,” said she.
“0 loveliest of queens, you have stolen my heart from me!” the prince said. “Take whatever you wish-my casket, Evening Star here, or me, your obedient servant.”
“I’ll have all three,” the Sun Princess said, and she held out her hand to the prince. She led him to her palace, seated him on the throne and said:
“I am the Sun Princess, and you shall be my husband. Here are the keys to all the forty rooms in my palace. You are free to go everywhere and to unlock thirty-nine of the doors, but if you want to have me always beside you, do not open the fortieth door.”
The prince married the Sun Princess, made his home in her palace and was so happy that he forgot all about his brothers in-law. But he freed the Sun Princess’s twenty-eight captives, who crawled out of the dungeon and began kissing the ground under his feet. This the prince did not much like, he turned away and left them, and taking the keys his wife had given him, decided to see what there was to see in her palace.
He opened the first chamber and found the strangest of fishes there; he opened the second chamber, and there were birds there that sang in nine different voices; he opened the third chamber, and fearful beasts leapt out at him; he opened the fourth chamber and found winter there with her hoary breath and her fingers of ice; he opened the fifth chamber, and it was full of bright-winged butterflies and of grasshoppers dressed up in their green jackets. The palace sparkled and played, hummed and droned, for in it were all the colours, sounds and smells in which the earth abounds.
The prince marvelled at all this, but he could not make himself forget about the fortieth chamber. Surely the Sun Princess had been jesting when she forbade him to unlock it, he told himself, for nothing on earth could come between them and their love!
So one day the prince came up to the fortieth chamber and turned the key in the lock. the iron door opened with a creak.
The prince came inside and looked about him, but there was no one there and only a moss-grown pillar, with chains stretching form it to the room’s four corners, rose in the centre of the floor. The prince touched the pillar and turned to go when he heard it sigh.
“Do take pity on me, my good youth!” it said in a human voice. “There is a tub of water in the corner. Scoop up some and let me have a drink, and I will reward you for your kindness.”
The prince turned and saw a tub with a large ladle beside it. Picking up the ladle, he scooped up some water and gave it to the pillar. The pillar drank it and asked for more, and when the prince gave it more water, it swallowed it at a gulp. Then it shook itself, jangled its chains and asked for still more water. This it drank very, very quickly, and lo!-down fell the chains to the floor and off dropped the moss, the pillar straightened up, and the prince saw that it was not a pillar at all but a giant.
“Many thanks to you, my good youth!” he roared. “Now the Sun Princess will be mine!”
And soaring to the ceiling, as swiftly as a whirlwind, he rushed out of the chamber, caught up the Sun Princess and made off with her across the sky! For a moment or two the Sun Princess’s fiery tresses flamed over the dark forest and then they, too, vanished and only a fading glow showed where the giant had gone.
The skies darkened, and it grew suddenly very cold. The crows hid under the burdocks, the flowers drooped and withered, and fear settled in the forests, in the seas and in people’s homes.
But no one’s heart was darker than the prince’s, for had he not brought it all about himself! What was he to do? How was he to save the Sun Princess?
He thought and thought, and choosing the best horse in the royal stables, he rode off at a gallop after the giant who had stolen his wife and, with her, all his happiness.
On and on rode the prince for two whole days, and it was on the third day that he came to the giant’s castle. He found the giant asleep and snoring loudly and three-eyed goat keeping watch over the Sun Princess.
The prince decided to try and put the goat to sleep, so down he sat and began singing a lullaby.
Close your eye, goat,
Close your other eye!
But he forgot all about the third eye. The goat closed two of his eyes, but he saw everything with the third one, and no sooner had the prince carried the Sun Princess over the wall and put her on his horse than he began bleating loudly.
“Wake up, giant, the prince has carried off the Sun Princess!” he cried.
And this he had to repeat three times before the giat opened his eyes.
“We’ve plenty of time,” he said in his gruff voice. “We’ll dig some potatoes first and then go after them.”
The prince and the Sun Princess were far away when the giant, having dug a whole sackful of potatoes, got on the back of his three-eyed goat. Up to the clouds he soared and then dropped to the ground and seized the runaways.
“I will not kill you, for you gave me water to drink and brought me back to life,” said he to the prince. “But never let me set eyes on you again or you’ll fare badly.”
And whistling loudly, he caught up the Sun Princess and rushed off with her on his goat before she had had time to do anything but throw a ball of yarn to the prince.
One disaster after another now descended upon the earth. A terrible rainstorm broke out and winds so fierce began to blow that they tore the roofs off houses, bent trees to the
ground and swept baby birds out of their nests.
The prince again tried to carry off the Sun Princess, but this time, too, he forgot about the goat’s third eye. He had put the Sun Princess on his horse and was riding away with her when the goat began bleating loudly.
“The prince has carried off the Sun Princess again. Wake up, giant!” he cried.
The giant opened his eyes.
“Never you mind. We’ll bake the potatoes we have dug and still have time to overtake them,” he said.
The prince and his wife had just reached her palace when suddenly an icy wind began to blow, and their way was barred by the giant. The giant struck the prince on the head with his cudgel, and seizing the Sun Princess, who was more dead than alive, carried her off to his kingdom before she had had time to do anything but throw the prince her magic kerchief.
Once again evil times arrived, and confusion reigned throughout. Houses were buried in snow to the roofs, fires went out, and cold and hunger brought sickness in their wake.
The prince lay dead where the giant had left him, and the ravens dropped down from the sky and were about to peck out his eyes when lo!-there was Falcon flying up to him. He drove away the ravens, and bringing some living water from the Sun Princess’s palace, sprinkled it over the prince.
The prince came back to life.
“I must free my wife!” he cried.
“You ‘II never free her, not while you ride an ordinary horse,” Falcon said. “Go to Laume the Witch and get her to take you on as her herdsman. And do all her cat tells you to. The giant keeps his strength in the egg of a wild duck that lives by the side of the sea. You must ride the witch’s horse there, catch the duck and take away the egg. And you have only to crack it for the giant to breathe his last. And now it is time for you to set out-the ball of yarn will guide you to Laume’s land-and may good fortune attend you. Fear nothing. If ever you are in trouble, take out your kerchief, and I and your other brothers-in-law will come to your aid.”
The prince threw down the ball of yarn and let it roll wherever it would. The ball of yarn rolled down the road, on and on it rolled for a day and another day, and on the third day it stopped by a hut. The hut was very old and covered with cobweb and only rats scuttled and dogs prowled about near it.
Laume the Witch met the prince at the door.
“Where are you going, my lad?” she asked.
“To seek someone who will give me some work to do.”
“Stay with me and herd my twelve mares for three days. If you bring them safely home each evening you can have anything you ask for, but if even one is missing it’ll be the end of you. And now come and have something to eat.”
The prince sat down at the table and began to eat, and a cat jumped on his knee, and snuggling up against him, said:
“Give me a bit of the meat you are eating, prince, and I will help you.”
The prince threw one of the choicest bits under the bench, and the cat ate it and said:
“The mares are all Laume’s own daughters, prince. I’ll go now and try to learn what trick they mean to play on you.”
He went away but was soon back again, and he told the prince that the witch had ordered her daughters to turn into fishes and hide amid the weeds in the river.
Morning came, and Laume woke the prince, ordered him to drive the mares to pasture, and gave him a slice of cheese to take with him.
The prince pastured the mares in the forests, he pastured them in the meadows and on the banks of rivers, and they nibbled the grass and did not try to run away. But after a time the prince became very hungry, he ate the cheese Laume had given him and fell asleep. And the mares waded into the river and turned into fishes. The prince woke, he looked about him, but the mares were gone, and though he called to them not a sound did he hear in reply.
It was time to drive the mares home, and the prince began to fear that the witch would kill him for having lost them. Not knowing what to do, he took out his kerchief, and lo!-Pike appeared.
“What has Laume turned her daughters into, prince?” he asked.
“Fishes,” said the prince.
Pike turned into a crayfish and went after the witch’s daughters. He caught a fish, then another, and then a third, and he tore them to bits with his claws. After that what were the witch’s daughters to do but turn back into mares again! The prince drove them home, and they stumbled wearily along, with hanging heads.
Laume met them at the gate and set to thrashing and beating them.
“Take that for not having listened to me!” she cried, seething with rage. “All you did was prance and run about!” And she added half under her breath:
“Never did any of my herdsmen get away from me alive, and this one won’t, either!”
She scolded and beat her daughters all evening and then ordered them to turn into woodpeckers on the morrow and to hide in the hollows of trees. The cat heard her and told the prince about it, and the prince became sad and woebegone, for he did not know how he was to catch them.
On the following day he ate the cheese Laume had given him again and fell asleep, and the mares turned into woodpeckers and hid in tree hollows. He woke and began calling them, but they did not show themselves, so he waved his kerchief, and lo!-Falcon came flying up to him. He turned into a hawk, and catching the woodpeckers, began tearing them to shreds. After that there was nothing the witch’s daughters could do but turn back into mares, and the prince drove them home. Laume met them at the gate, she snatched the whip out of the prince’s hands and set to beating the mares over their heads with it. And she shook with rage at their not having been able to hide themselves better.
“Who knows what the herdsman, rogue that he is, might ask me to give him!” she cried. “You worthless so-and-so’s, you’ve disgraced our whole witches’ family! Tomorrow you’ll
turn into grubs and hide under the bark of trees, and if you let him find you you’ll pay with your lives for it!”
The cat heard her and passed it on to the prince, and the prince was so troubled that he could not sleep, for how was he to find the grubs.
But Falcon came to his aid again, he turned into a woodpecker, pecked at the bark and gouged out the grubs. For the third and last time the prince drove the mares, who kept whinnying piteously, home to their mother. Laume met them and she was in such a rage that she foamed at the mouth. She set to lashing and whipping her daughters and she called curses down upon their heads. Then she turned to the prince and said to him in a voice that dripped honey:
“Go and take a nap, and tomorrow you can choose whatever it is you set your heart on of all I have in my house.”
“I want neither your rats nor your dogs,” said the prince. “Give me the smallest of your fillies and I’ll ask for nothing more.”
“The smallest of my fillies? Why, she’s on her last legs. Just look at her!”
The prince looked where she was pointing, and there, in a corner of the yard, he saw a filly no much bigger than a cat. She lay without stirring and seemed half-dead.
“What good is a jade like that to you!” Laume said. “She’s sure to die before ever you get home, and all of your labours will have been wasted.”
But the prince would not listen to her and lifted the filly in his arms. At this Laume began to shake as in a fever, for though the prince did not know it, the filly was her favourite grandchild and as strong as twelve mares.
The prince walked away with the filly in his arms, and she grew and became heavier at every step. After he had walked a mile the prince was able to get on her back, and when he had ridden her for eight miles, she spoke up in a human voice.
“Tell me where it is you want to go,” she said.
“I must get to the seashore, catch a duck there and take her egg away from her,” said the prince.
“So be it!” the filly cried, and soaring up to the sky so fast that her hoofs struck sparks from the clouds, away she flew!
Some time passed, and she dropped down, and now the sea lay at the prince’s feet, and the waves flung pink shells and pieces of amber on to the beach.
Far out at sea, playing about in the water, was a speckled duck. The prince had neither bow nor crossbow with him, and he could not catch the duck with his bare hands, so down he sat on the white sand and burst into tears. But Pike thrust his head up out of the water and said:
“Do not weep, prince, I will catch the duck for you.”
And though the duck screeched and threshed the water, it could not get away from Pike who dragged it to the prince. The prince tore it in two, took out the egg in which the giant’s strength was kept, and thrusting the egg in his bosom, jumped on the filly’s back. He rode to where he could see a fire burning and where he knew the giant’s castle to be and was soon pounding away at the palace gate.
“I have come to free the Sun Princess!” he cried.
A cold wind began to blow, and the giant, his hair matted and uncombed, strode out of the gate, waving his cudgel.
“Out of my sight, worthless youth!” he roared. “If you don’t go away at once I’ll kill you, burn your body and cast the ashes into the wind!”
“That you will never do!” the prince said. “For I hold your strength and your very life in the palm of my hand.”
He dashed the egg to the ground, the egg broke, and the giant dropped dead.
The Sun Princess came running out of the castle, she threw her arms round the prince, and lo!-the whole of the earth was flooded with light.
Then the Sun Princess flung her marriage belt, a rainbow, to the sky, and the prince held a feast in her honour. At this feast her laughter rang out and cheered all hearts as did the tales she recounted about true and faithful love. But the prince spoke of his parents, who, he said, were wasting away in
their grief at there being no news of him for so long, and the Sun Princess felt sorry for them. She gave back their proper shape to Falcon, Bear and Pike, and telling her servants to have five chariots waiting at the gate, hurried out of the palace together with the prince and his sisters and brothers-in-law. They climbed into four of the chariots and rode off to pay the prince’s mother and father a visit, and the fifth chariot rolled after them.
Now, if you are wondering who it was that rode in it, I’ll tell you who. It was none other than New Moon, son of the Sun Princess and the prince, who was born soon after their happy reunion.