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Water Lillies and Goldspinners.
From The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang.
Start of Story
Age Rating 6 to 8.
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 another 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 befall her.
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 the Prince.
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.