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Island of the nine whirlpools.

From The Book of Stories for the Storyteller by Fanny E. Coe.

Start of Story

The Queen knew at once by the King's tone that he was going to be disagreeable. "Ah," she said, "don't punish the child because she loves her mother." "I'm not going to punish her for that," said he. "I'm only going to teach her to respect her father." And without another word he went off to his laboratory and worked all night, boiling different-colored things in crucibles, and copying charms in curious twisted letters from old brown books with mold stains on their yellowy pages. The next day his plan was all arranged. He took the poor Princess to the Lone Tower, which stands on an island in the sea, a thousand miles from everywhere. He gave her a dowry, and settled a handsome income on her. He engaged a competent dragon to look after her, and also a respectable griffin whose birth and upbringing he knew all about. And he said: "Here you shall stay, my dear, respectful daughter, till the clever man comes to marry you. He'll have to be clever enough to sail a ship through the Nine Whirlpools that spin around the island, and to kill the dragon and the griffin. Till he comes you'll never get any older or any wiser. No doubt he will soon come. You can employ yourself in embroidering your wedding gown. I wish you joy, my dutiful child." And his carriage, drawn by live thunderbolts (thunder travels very fast), rose in the air and disappeared, and the poor Princess was left, with the dragon and the griffin, on the Island of the Nine Whirlpools.

The Queen, left at home, cried for a day and a night, and then she remembered the witch and called to her. And the witch came, and the Queen told her all. "For the sake of the twice twenty-five kisses you gave me," said the witch, "I will help you. But it is the last thing I can do, and it is not much. Your daughter is under a spell, and I can take you to her. But, if I do, you will have to be turned to stone, and to stay so till the spell is taken off the child." "I would be a stone for a thousand years," said the poor Queen, "if at the end of them I could see my dear again." So the witch took the Queen in a carriage drawn by live sunbeams (which travel more quickly than anything else in the world, and much quicker than thunder), and so away and away to the Lone Tower on the Island of the Nine Whirlpools. And there was the Princess sitting on the floor in the best room of the Lone Tower, crying as if her heart would break, and the dragon and the griffin were sitting primly on each side of her. "Oh, Mother, Mother, Mother," she cried, and hung around the Queen's neck as if she would never let go.

"Now," said the witch, when they had all cried as much as was good for them, "I can do one or two other little things for you. Time shall not make the Princess sad. All days will be like one day till her deliverer comes. And you and I, dear Queen, will sit in stone at the gate of the tower. In doing this for you I lose all my witch's powers, and when I say the spell that changes you to stone, I shall change with you, and if ever we come out of the stone, I shall be a witch no more, but only a happy old woman." Then the three kissed one another again and again, and the witch said the spell, and on each side of the door there was now a stone lady. One of them had a stone crown on its head and a stone scepter in its hand; but the other held a stone tablet with words on it, which the griffin and the dragon could not read, though they had both had a very good education. And now all days seemed like one day to the Princess, and the next day always seemed the day when her mother would come out of the stone and kiss her again. And the years went slowly by. The wicked King died, and some one else took his kingdom, and many things were changed in the world; but the island did not change, nor the Nine Whirlpools, nor the griffin, nor the dragon, nor the two stone ladies.

And all the time, from the very first, the day of the Princess's deliverance was coming, creeping nearer, and nearer, and nearer. But no one saw it coming except the Princess, and she only in dreams. And the years went by in tens and in hundreds, and still the Nine Whirlpools spun around, roaring in triumph the story of many a good ship that had gone down in their swirl, bearing with it some Prince who had tried to win the Princess and her dowry. And the great sea knew all the other stories of the Princes who had come from very far, and had seen the whirlpools, and had shaken their wise young heads and said: "'Bout ship!" and gone discreetly home to their nice, safe, comfortable kingdoms. But no one told the story of the deliverer who was to come. And the years went by. Now, after more scores of years than you would like to add up on your slate, a certain sailor-boy sailed on the high seas with his uncle, who was a skilled skipper. And the boy could reef a sail and coil a rope and keep the ship's nose steady before the wind. And he was as good a boy as you would find in a month of Sundays, and worthy to be a Prince. Now there is Something which is wiser than all the world--and it knows when people are worthy to be Princes. And this Something came from the farther side of the seventh world, and whispered in the boy's ear.

And the boy heard, though he did not know he heard, and he looked out over the black sea with the white foam-horses galloping over it, and far away he saw a light. And he said to the skipper, his uncle: "What light is that?" Then the skipper said: "All good things defend you, Nigel, from sailing near that light. It is not mentioned in all charts; but it is marked in the old chart I steer by, which was my father's father's before me, and his father's father's before him. It is the light that shines from the Lone Tower that stands above the Nine Whirlpools. And when my father's father was young he heard from the very old man, his great-great-grandfather, that in that tower an enchanted Princess, fairer than the day, waits to be delivered. But there is no deliverance, so never steer that way; and think no more of the Princess, for that is only an idle tale. But the whirlpools are quite real." So, of course, from that day Nigel thought of nothing else. And as he sailed hither and thither upon the high seas he saw from time to time the light that shone out to sea across the wild swirl of the Nine Whirlpools. And one night, when the ship was at anchor and the skipper asleep in his bunk, Nigel launched the ship's boat and steered alone over the dark sea towards the light. He dared not go very near till daylight should show him what, indeed, were the whirlpools he had to dread.


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