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Prince Harweda and the magic prison.

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

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At last he heard, or thought he heard, a faint sound. He listened eagerly. It seemed to be some tiny creature not far away, trying to move about. For the first time for nearly a month, he remembered the bird in the gilded cage. "Poor little thing," he cried as he sprang up, "you too are shut within this terrible prison. This thick darkness must be as hard for you to bear as it is for me." He went toward the cage, and, as he drew near, the bird gave a glad little chirp. "That's better than nothing," said the boy. "You must need some water to drink. Poor thing," continued he, as he filled the drinking-cup, "this is all I have to give you." Just then he heard a harsh, grating sound as of rusty bolts sliding with difficulty out of their sockets, and then faint rays of light, not wider than a hair, began to shine between the heavy plate mirrors. Prince Harweda was filled with joy. "Perhaps, perhaps," said he softly, "I may yet see the light again. Ah, how beautiful the outside world would look to me now!"

The next day he was so hungry that he began to bite one of the old withered apples, and as he bit it, he thought of the bird, his fellow-prisoner. "You must be hungry too, poor little thing," said he, as he put part of the apple into the bird's cage. Again came the harsh, grating sound, and the boy noticed that the cracks of light were growing larger. Still they were only cracks, as nothing of the outside world could be seen. However, it was a comfort not to have to grope about in total darkness. Prince Harweda felt quite sure that the cracks of light were wider, and on going up to one and putting his eye close to it, as he would to a pinhole in a paper, he was glad to find that he could tell the greenness of the grass from the blue of the sky. "Ah, my pretty bird, my pretty bird!" he cried joyfully, "I have had a glimpse of the great beautiful outside world, and you shall have it too." With these words, he climbed up into a chair and, loosening the cage from the golden chain by which it hung, he carried it carefully to the nearest crack of light and placed it close to the narrow opening. Again was heard the harsh, grating sound, and the walls moved a bit, and the windows were now at least an inch wide. At this, the poor prince clasped his hands with delight. He sat down near the bird-cage and gazed out of the narrow opening. Never before had the trees looked so tall and stately, or the white clouds floating through the sky so lovely.

The next day, as he was carefully cleaning the bird's cage so that his little friend might be more comfortable, the walls again creaked and groaned and the mirrors grew narrower by just so many inches as the windows widened. But Prince Harweda saw only the flood of sunshine that poured in, and the beauty of the large landscape. He cared nothing now for the stupid mirrors which could only reflect what was placed before them. Each day he found something new and beautiful in the view from the narrow windows. Now it was a squirrel frisking about and running up some tall tree trunk so rapidly that Prince Harweda could not follow it with his eyes; again it was a mother bird feeding her young. By this time, the windows were a foot wide or more. One day, as two white doves suddenly soared aloft in the blue sky, the poor little bird, who had become the tenderly cared for comrade of the young prince, gave a pitiful little trill. "Dear little fellow," cried Harweda, "do you also long for your freedom? You shall at least be as free as I am." So saying, he opened the cage door and the bird flew out. The prince laughed as he watched it flutter about from chair to table and back to chair again. He was so occupied with the bird that he did not notice that the walls had again shaken and that the windows were now their full size, until the added light caused him to look around. He turned and saw the room looking almost exactly as it had done on the day he had entered it with so much pride because it was all his own. Now it seemed close and stuffy, and he would gladly have given it all for the humblest home in his father's kingdom where he could meet people and hear them talk, and see them smile at each other, even if they should take no notice of him.

One day soon after this, the little bird fluttered up against the window-pane and beat his wings against it in a vain effort to get out. A new idea seized the young prince, and taking up one of the golden jars he went to the window and struck on one of its chequered panes of glass with all his force. "You shall be free, even if I cannot," said he to the bird. Two or three strong blows shivered the small pane and the bird swept out into the free open air beyond. "Ah, my pretty one, how glad I am that you are free at last," cried the prince, as he stood watching the flight of his fellow-prisoner. His face was bright with glad, unselfish joy over the bird's liberty. The small, pink marble palace shook from top to bottom, the iron door flew open, and the fresh wind from the sea rushed in and seemed to catch the boy in its invisible arms. Prince Harweda could hardly believe his eyes as he sprang to the door. There stood his fairy godmother, smiling, and with her hand reached out toward him. "Come, my god-child," said she gently, "we shall now go back to your father and mother, the king and the queen, and they will rejoice with us that you have been cured of your terrible selfishness." Great indeed was the rejoicing in the palace when Prince Harweda was returned to them a sweet, loving boy, kind and thoughtful to all about him. Many a struggle he had with the old habit of selfishness, but as time passed by he grew to be a great, wise king, loving and tenderly caring for all his people and loved by them in return.


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