The Silent Princess
- Year Published: 1907
- Language: English
- Country of Origin: England
- Source: Lang, A. (Ed.). (1907). The Olive Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green & Co.
- Flesch–Kincaid Level: 4.0
- Word Count: 11,110
Traditional, . (1907). The Silent Princess. The Olive Fairy Book (Lit2Go Edition). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from
Traditional, . "The Silent Princess." The Olive Fairy Book. Lit2Go Edition. 1907. Web. <>. October 17, 2017.
Traditional, "The Silent Princess," The Olive Fairy Book, Lit2Go Edition, (1907), accessed October 17, 2017,.
There were, once upon a time, a king and queen of Denmark who had an only son, a handsome and clever lad. When he was eighteen, his father, the old king, fell very ill, and there was no hope that he would ever get well again. The queen and the prince were very unhappy, for they loved him dearly; but though they did all they could, he only grew worse and worse, and, one day, when the summer had come and the birds were singing, he raised his head and, taking a long look out of the window, fell back dead.
During many weeks the queen could hardly eat or sleep, so sorely did she grieve for him, and the prince feared that she would die also if she went on weeping; so he begged her to go with him to a beautiful place that he knew of on the other side of the forest, and after some time she consented. The prince was overjoyed, and arranged that they should set off early next morning.
They travelled all day, only stopping now and then to rest, and already the queen began to be better and to take a little interest in the things she saw. Just as the evening was coming on they entered the forest. Here it was quite dark, for the trees grew so close together that the sun could not shine through them, and very soon they lost the path, and wandered helplessly about wondering what they should do.
'If we sleep in this dreadful place,' said the queen, who was tired and frightened, 'the wild beasts will eat us.' And she began to cry.
'Cheer up, mother,' answered her son, 'I have a feeling that luck is coming to us.' And at the next turning they came to a little house, in the window of which a light was burning.
'Didn't I tell you so?' cried the prince. 'Stay here a moment and I will go and see if I can get food and shelter for the night.' And away he ran as fast as he could go, for by this time they were very hungry, as they had brought very little food with them and had eaten up every scrap ! When one takes a long journey on foot one does not like to have too much to carry.
The prince entered the house and looked about him, going from one room to the other, but seeing nobody and finding nothing to eat. At last, as he was going sorrowfully away, he caught sight of a sword and shirt of mail hanging on the wall in an inner room, with a piece of paper fastened under them. On the paper was some writing, which said that whoever wore the coat and carried the sword would be safe from all danger.
The prince was so delighted at the sight that he forgot how hungry he was, and instantly slipped on the coat of chain armour under his tunic, and hid the sword under his cloak, for he did not mean to say anything about what he had found. Then he went back to his mother, who was waiting impatiently for him.
'What have you been doing all this time?' she asked angrily. 'I thought you had been killed by robbers !'
'Oh, just looking round,' he answered; 'but though I searched everywhere I could find nothing to eat.'
'I am very much afraid that it is a robbers' den,' said the queen. 'We had better go on, hungry though we are.'
'No, it isn't; but still, we had better not stay here,' replied the prince, 'especially as there is nothing to eat. Perhaps we shall find another house.'
They went on for some time, until, sure enough, they came to another house, which also had a light in the window.
'We'll go in here,' said the prince.
No, no; I am afraid !' cried the queen. 'We shall be attacked and killed ! It is a robbers' den: I am sure it is !'
'Yes, it looks like it; but we can't help that,' said her son. 'We have had nothing to eat for hours, and I'm nearly as tired as you.'
The poor queen was, indeed, quite worn out; she could hardly stand for fatigue, and in spite of her terror was half anxious to be persuaded.
'And there's going to be a storm,' added the prince; who feared nothing now that he had the sword.
So they went into the house, where they found nobody. In the first room stood a table laid for a meal, with all sorts of good things to eat and drink, though some of the dishes were empty.
'Well, this looks nice,' said the prince, sitting down and helping himself to some delicious strawberries piled on a golden dish, and some iced lemonade. Never had anything tasted so nice; but, all the same, it was a robbers' den they had come to, and the robbers, who had only just dined, had gone out into the forest to see whom they could rob.
When the queen and the prince could eat no more they remembered that they were very tired, and the prince looked about till he discovered a comfortable bed, with silken sheets, standing in the next room.
'You get into bed, mother,' he said, 'and I'll lie down by the side. Don't be alarmed; you can sleep quite safely till the morning.' And he lay down with his sword in his hand, and kept watch until the day began to break; then the queen woke up and said she was quite rested and ready to start again.
'First I'll go out into the forest and see if I can find our road,' said the prince. 'And while I'm gone you light the fire and make some coffee. We must eat a good breakfast before we start.'
And he ran off into the wood.
After he had gone the queen lit the fire, and then thought she would like to see what was in the other rooms; so she went from one to another, and presently came to one that was very prettily furnished, with lovely pictures on the walls, and pale blue curtains and soft yellow cushions and comfortable easy chairs. As she was looking at all these things, suddenly a trap–door opened in the floor, and the robber–chief came out of the hole and seized her ankles. The queen almost died of fright, and shrieked loudly, then fell on her knees and begged him to spare her life.
'Yes, if you will promise me two things,' he replied; 'first that you will take me home to your country and let me be crowned king instead of your son; and secondly, that you will kill him in case he should try to take the throne from me—if you will not agree to this I shall kill you.'
'Kill my own son !' gasped the queen, staring at him in horror.
'You need not do that exactly,' said the robber. 'When he returns, just lie on the bed and say that you have been taken ill, and add that you have dreamed that in a forest, a mile away, there are some beautiful apples. If you could only get some of these you would be well again, but if not you will die.'
The queen shuddered as she listened. She was fond of her son, but she was a terrible coward; and so in the end she agreed, hoping that something would occur to save the prince. She had hardly given her promise when a step was heard, and the robber hastily hid himself.
'Well, mother,' cried the prince as he entered, 'I have been through the forest and found the road, so we will start directly we have had some breakfast.'
'Oh, I feel so ill !' said the queen. 'I could not walk a single step; and there is only one thing that will cure me.'
'What is that?' asked the prince.
'I dreamed,' answered the queen, in a faint voice, 'that, a mile away, there is a forest where the most beautiful apples grow, and if I could have some of them I should soon be well again.'
'Oh ! but dreams don't mean anything,' said the prince. 'There is a magician who lives near here. I'll go to him and ask for a spell to cure you.'
'My dreams always mean something,' said the queen, shaking her head. 'If I don't get any apples I shall die.' She did not know why the robber wanted to send the prince to this particular forest, but as a matter of fact it was full of wild animals who would tear to pieces any traveller who entered it.
'Well, I'll go,' answered the prince. 'But I really must have some breakfast first; I shall walk all the faster.'
'If you do not hurry you will find me dead when you come back,' murmured the queen fretfully. She thought her son was not nearly anxious enough about her, and by this time she had begun to believe that she really was as ill as she had said.
When the prince had eaten and drunk, he set off, and soon came to the forest, and sure enough it was full of lions and tigers, and bears and wolves, who came rushing towards him; but instead of springing on him and tearing him to pieces, they lay down on the ground and licked his hands. He speedily found the tree with the apples which his mother wanted, but the branches were so high he could not reach them, and there was no way of climbing up the smooth trunk.
'It is no use after all, I can't get up there,' he said to himself. 'What am I to do now?'
But, as he turned away his sword chanced to touch the tree, and immediately two apples fell down. He picked them up joyfully, and was going away when a little dog came out of a hill close by, and running up to him, began tugging at his clothes and whining.
'What do you want, little dog?' asked the prince, stooping down to pat his soft black head.
The dog ran to a hole that was in the hill and sat there looking out, as much as to say: 'Come along in with me.'
'I may as well go and see what is in there,' thought the prince, and he went over to the hill. But the hole was so small that he could not get through it, so he thrust his sword into it, and immediately it became larger.
'Ha, ha !' he chuckled; 'it's worth something to have a sword like that.' And he bent down and crept through the hole.
The first thing he beheld, when he entered a room at the very end of a dark passage, was a beautiful princess, who was bound by an iron chain to an iron pillar.
'What evil fate brought you here?' he asked in surprise; and the lady answered:
'It isn't much use for me to tell you lest my lot becomes yours.'
'I am not afraid of that. Tell me who you are and what has brought you here,' begged the prince.
'My story is not long,' she said, smiling sadly. 'I am a princess from Arabia, and twelve robbers who dwell in this place are fighting among themselves as to which shall have me to wife.'
'Shall I save you?' asked the prince. And she answered:
'Yes; but you can't do it. To begin with, how could you break the chain I am bound with?'
'Oh, that's easy enough,' said he, taking out his sword; and directly it touched the chain the links fell apart and the princess was free.
'Come! ' said the prince, taking her hand. But she drew back.
'No, I dare not ! 'she cried. 'If we should meet the robbers in the passage they would kill us both.'
'Not they !' said the prince, brandishing his sword. 'But how long have you been here?' he added quickly.
'About twenty years, I think,' said the princess, reckoning with her fingers.
'Twenty years !' exclaimed the prince. 'Then you had better shut your eyes, for when you have been sitting there so long it might hurt you to go too suddenly into the daylight. So you are the Princess of Arabia, whose beauty is famous throughout all the world! I, too, am a prince.'
'Will you not come back to Arabia and marry me, now you have saved my life?' asked the princess. 'Even if my father is living still, he must be old, and after his death you can be king.'
'No,' replied the prince, 'I cannot do that—I must live and die in my own country. But at the end of a year I will follow you and marry you.' And that was all he would say.
Then the princess took a heavy ring from her finger and put it on his. Her father's and her mother's names were engraved in it, as well as her own, and she asked him to keep it as a reminder of his promise.
'I will die before I part from it,' said the prince. 'And if at the end of a year I am still living, I will come. I believe I have heard that at the other side of this forest there is a port from which ships sail to Arabia. Let us hasten there at once.'
Hand in hand they set off through the forest, and when they came to the port they found a ship lust ready to sail. The princess said good–bye to the prince, and went on board the vessel, and when she reached her own country there were great rejoicings, for her parents had never expected to see her again. She told them how a prince had saved her from the robbers, and was coming in a year's time to marry her, and they were greatly pleased.
'All the same,' said the king, 'I wish he were here now. A year is a long time.'
When the princess was no longer before his eyes, the prince recollected why he had entered the forest, and made all the haste he could back to the robbers' home.
The robber–chief could smell the apples from afar, for he had a nose like an ogre, and he said to the queen:
'That is a strange fellow ! If he had gone into the forest the wild beasts must have eaten him unless he has a powerful charm to protect him. If that is so we must get it away from him.'
'No, he has nothing,' answered the queen, who was quite fascinated by the robber.
But the robber did not believe her.
'We must think of a way to get it,' he said. 'When he comes in say you are well again, and have some food ready for him. Then, whilst he is eating, tell him you dreamed that he was attacked by wild beasts, and ask him how he managed to escape from them. After he has told you I can easily find a way to take his charm from him.'
Shortly after the prince came in.
'How are you, mother !' he said gaily. 'Here are your apples. Now you will soon be well again, and ready to come away with me.'
'Oh, I am better already,' she said. 'And see, your dinner is all hot for you; eat it up, and then we will start.'
Whilst he was eating she said to him: 'I had a horrible dream while you were away. I saw you in a forest full of wild animals, and they were running round you and growling fiercely. How did you manage to escape from them?'
'Oh, it was only a dream!' laughed the prince.
'But my dreams are always true,' said his mother. Tell me how it was.'
The prince wondered for some time whether he should tell her or not, but at last he decided to let her into the secret.
'One should tell one's mother everything,' he thought. And he told her.
'See, mother, here are a sword and a mail shirt which I found in the first house we entered in the forest, and as long as I carry them nothing can hurt me. That is what saved me from the wild beasts.'
'How can I be thankful enough !' exclaimed the queen. And directly the prince's back was turned, she hurried to tell the robber.
The robber, as soon as he heard the news, made a sleeping–draught, and bade the queen give it to her son before he went to bed that night.
Accordingly, as soon as the prince began to get sleepy, the queen handed him the cup containing the draught.
'Drink this, to please me,' she said. 'It will do you good after all you've gone through, and make you sleep well.'
'What an odd taste it has ! ' murmured the prince as he drank it.
Immediately he fell asleep; and the robber came in and took away his sword and shirt of mail.
'These things belong to my brother,' he said. After he had got them both in his hand the robber woke him.
I am the master now,' said he. 'Choose one of two things—either you must die, or your eyes will be put out, and you will be sent back to the forest.'
The prince's blood grew cold at these words. Then a thought struck him, and he turned to his mother: 'Is this your doing?' he asked sternly. And though she burst into tears and denied it, the prince knew she was not telling the truth.
'Well,' said he, '"whilst there is life there is hope." I will go back to the forest.'
Then the robber put out his eyes, gave him a stick, and some food and drink, and drove him into the forest, hoping that the 'wild beasts would kill him, as he no longer had the sword and shirt to protect him.
'Now,' he said to the queen, 'we will return to your country.'
The next day they set sail, and as soon as they reached home, they were married, and the robber became king.
Meanwhile the poor prince was wandering about in the forest, hoping to find someone who would help him, and perhaps take him into service, for now he had no money and no home. It so happened that there had been a great hunt in the forest, and the wild beasts had all fled before the hunters and were hiding, so nothing did him any harm. At last, one day, just when his food was all gone and he had made up his mind that he must surely die of hunger, he came to the port whence the ships sailed for Arabia. One vessel was just ready to start, and the captain was going on board when he saw the prince.
'Why, here is a poor blind fellow !' he said. 'No doubt that is the work of the robbers. Let us take him to Arabia with us. Would you like to come, my good man?' he asked the prince.
Oh, how glad he was to hear someone speak kindly to him again ! And he answered that he would, and the sailors helped him to climb up the side of the ship. When they got to Arabia the captain took him to the public baths, and ordered one of the slaves to wash him. Whilst he was being washed the princess's ring slipped off his finger and was afterwards found by the slave who cleaned out the bath. The man showed it to a friend of his who lived at the palace.
'Why, it is the princess's ring ! 'he said. 'Where did it come from?'
'It fell off a blind man's finger,' said the slave. 'He must have stolen it; but I dare say you will be able to return it to the princess.'
So that evening the man took the ring to the palace and gave it to his daughter, who was the princess's favourite slave, and the girl gave it to her mistress. When the princess saw it she uttered a cry of joy.
'It is the ring I gave my betrothed !' she said. 'Take me to him at once.'
The bath–keeper thought it strange that the princess should be betrothed to a blind beggar, but he did as she bade him, and when she saw the prince she cried:
'At last you have come ! The year is over, and I thought you were dead. Now we will be married immediately.' And she went home and told the king that he was to send an escort to bring her betrothed to the palace. Naturally the king was rather surprised at the sudden arrival of the prince; but when he heard that he was blind he was very much annoyed.
'I cannot have a blind person to succeed me,' he said. 'It is perfectly absurd !
But the princess had had her own way all her life, and in the end the king gave way as he had always done. The prince was taken to the palace with much ceremony and splendour; but in spite of this the king was not contented. Still, it could not be helped, and really it was time the princess was married, though she looked as young as ever. There had been hundreds of knights and princes who had begged her to bestow her hand upon them, but she would have nothing to do with anyone; and now she had taken it into her head to marry this blind prince, and nobody else would she have.
One evening, as it was fine, the prince and princess went into the garden, and sat down under a tree.
Two ravens were perched on a bush near by, and the prince, who could understand bird language, heard one of them say: 'Do you know that it is Midsummer–eve to–night?'
'Yes,' said the other.
'And do you know that part of the garden which is known as the Queen's Bed?'
'Well, perhaps you don't know this, that whoever has bad eyes, or no eyes at all, should bathe his eye–sockets in the dew that falls there to–night, because then he will get his sight back. Only he must do it between twelve and one o'clock.'
That was good news for the prince and princess to hear, and the young man begged the princess to lead him to the place called the Queen's Bed, which was the little plot of grass where the queen used often to lie down. and take her midday nap. Then, between twelve and one o'clock, he bathed his eyes with the dew that was falling there, and found he could see again as well as ever.
'I can see you !' he said to the princess, gazing at her as if he had never seen anything before.
'I don't believe it,' she answered.
'Well, go and hang your handkerchief on a bush, and if I find it at once you must believe me,' he said.
And so she did, and he went straight up to the handkerchief.
'Yes, indeed, you can see,' cried the princess. 'To think that my mother's bed has really given back your sight !' and she went to the bank and sat down again; and by–and–by, as the day was hot, the princess fell asleep. As the prince watched her he suddenly saw something shining on her neck. It was a little golden lamp that gave out a bright light, and it hung from a golden chain. The prince thought he would like to examine it more closely, so he unfastened the chain, but as he did so the lamp fell to the ground. Before he could pick it up a hawk flew in, snatched up the little lamp and flew away again with it. The prince set off in pursuit, and ran on and on without being able to catch the bird, until at length he had lost his way. Trying to find it, he wandered on, up and down, until he came to the forest where he had found the princess.
Meantime, the princess woke up, and finding herself alone she set out to look for him. In the end she also lost her way, and as she was walking about, not knowing what to do, the robbers captured her and took her back to the cave from which the prince had rescued her. So there they were after all their trouble—no better off than before !
The prince wandered on, trying to find his way back to Arabia, until he chanced one day to meet twelve youths, walking gaily through the forest, singing and laughing. 'Where are you going?' he asked. And they told him they were looking for work.
'I'll join you, if I may,' said the prince. And they answered: 'The more the merrier.'
Then the prince went with them, and they all journeyed on until they met an old troll.
'Where are you going, my masters?' asked the troll.
'To seek service,' they told him.
'Then come and serve me,' he said; 'there will be plenty to eat and drink, and not much work to do, and if, at the end of a year, you can answer three questions, I'll give you each a sack of gold. Otherwise you must be turned into beasts.'
The youths thought this sounded easy enough, so they went home with the troll to his castle.
'You will find all that you want here,' he said; 'and all you need do is to take care of the house, for I am going away, and shall only return when the year is over.'
Then he went away, and the young men, left to themselves, had a fine time of it; for they did no work, and only amused themselves with singing and drinking. Every day they found the table laid with good things to eat and drink, and when they had finished, the plates and dishes were cleared away by invisible hands. Only the prince, who was sad for his lost princess, ate and drank sparingly, and worked hard keeping the house in order.
One day, as he sat in his own room, he heard the voice of the old troll beneath his window talking to another troll.
'To–morrow,' said he, 'the year is up.'
'And what questions will you ask?' inquired the other.
'First I shall ask how long they have been here—they don't know, the young fools ! Secondly I shall ask what shines on the roof of the castle.'
'And what is that?'
'The lamp that was stolen by me from the princess as she slept in the garden.'
'And what is the third question?'
'I shall ask where the food and drink they consume every day come from. I steal it from the king's table; but they don't know that.'
The day after, the troll entered.
'Now I shall ask my questions,' said he. 'To begin with: How long have you been here?'
The young men had been so busy drinking and making merry that they had forgotten all about the agreement, so they remained silent.
'One week,' said one, at last.
'Two months,' guessed another. But the prince answered, 'One year.'
'Right,' replied the troll. But the second question was more difficult.
'What is it that shines on the roof?'
The young men guessed and guessed. 'The sun—the moon.' But none of them really knew.
'May I answer?' asked the prince.
'Yes, certainly,' replied the troll; and the prince spoke.
'The lamp that you stole from the princess whilst she was asleep in the garden.' And again the troll nodded.
The third question was harder still.
'Where does the meat and drink you have had here come from?'
None of the young men could guess.
'May I say?' asked the prince.
'Yes, if you can,' replied the troll.
'It comes from the king's table,' said the prince.
And that was all. Now they might take the sacks of gold and go, and the young men went off in such a hurry that the prince was left behind. Presently, they met an old man who asked for money.
'No, we haven't any,' they answered.
So they hurried on, and by–and–by up came the prince.
'Has your lordship a piece of money for a poor man?' asked the old fellow.
'Yes,' said the prince, and gave him his whole sackful.
'I don't want it,' said the old man, who was really the troll they had just left in disguise. 'But since you're so generous, here is the princess's lamp, and the princess herself is in the cave where you found her; but how you're going to save her again without the magic sword I don't know.'
When he heard that, the prince knew where she was; and that was the beginning of her rescue. So he disguised himself to look like a pedlar and travelled on until he reached his own city, where his mother, the queen, and the robber–chief were living. Then he went in to a goldsmith's shop and ordered a great number of kitchen pots to be made out of pure gold. That was not an order the goldsmith had every day, but the things were ready at last, saucepans and kettles and gridirons all of pure gold. Then the prince put them in his basket and went up to the palace, and asked to see the queen.
Directly she heard about the wonderful gold pots and pans she came out at once, and began unpacking the basket and admiring the things. She was so absorbed in them that the prince soon found an opportunity to steal into the bedroom and take the sword and shirt which were hung there, and go back again without his mother having noticed his absence.
'The things are all beautiful !' she said. 'How much would you take for them?'
'Name your own price, your majesty,' answered the prince.
'I really don't know what to say,' said the queen. 'Wait till my husband comes back—men understand such things better; and then, as you are a stranger, he would like to chat with you a little.' The prince bowed, and waited silently in a corner.
Soon after the robber returned.
'Come and see all these lovely gold saucepans !' cried the queen.
But, as the robber entered the room, the prince touched him with the magic sword, and he fell to the ground.
'Perhaps, now you know me, mother,' the prince said, taking off his disguise, 'you had better repent for all the 'wrong you h
Once upon a time there lived in Turkey a pasha who had only one son, and so dearly did he love this boy that he let him spend the whole day amusing himself, instead of learning how to be useful like his friends.
Now the boy's favourite toy was a golden ball, and with this he would play from morning till night, without troubling anybody. One day, as he was sitting in the summer–house in the garden, making his ball run all along the walls and catching it again, he noticed an old woman with an earthen pitcher coming to draw water from a well which stood in a corner of the garden. In a moment he had caught his ball and flung it straight at the pitcher, which fell to the ground in a thousand pieces. The old woman started with surprise, but said nothing; only turned round to fetch another pitcher, and as soon as she had disappeared, the boy hurried out to pick up his ball. Scarcely was he back in the summer–house when he beheld the old woman a second time, approaching the well with the pitcher on her shoulder. She had just taken hold of the handle to lower it into the water, when—crash ! And the pitcher lay in fragments at her feet. Of course she felt very angry, but for fear of the pasha she still held her peace, and spent her last pence in buying a fresh pitcher. But when this also was broken by a blow from the ball, her wrath burst forth, and shaking her fist towards the summer–house where the boy was hiding, she cried:
'I wish you may be punished by falling in love with the silent princess.' And having said this she vanished.
For some time the boy paid no heed to her words—indeed he forgot them altogether; but as years went by, and he began to think more about things, the remembrance of the old woman's wish came back to his mind.
'Who is the silent princess? And why should it be a punishment to fall in love with her?' he asked himself, and received no answer. However, that did not prevent him from putting the question again and again, till at length he grew so weak and ill that he could eat nothing, and in the end was forced to lie in bed altogether. His father the pasha became so frightened by this strange disease, that he sent for every physician in the kingdom to cure him, but no one was able to find a remedy.
'How did your illness first begin, my son?' asked the pasha one day. 'Perhaps, if we knew that, we should also know better what to do for you.'
Then the youth told him what had happened all those years before, when he was a little boy, and what the old woman had said to him.
'Give me, I pray you,' he cried, when his tale was finished, 'give me, I pray you, leave to go into the world in search of the princess, and perhaps this evil state may cease.' And, sore though his heart was to part from his only son, the pasha felt that the young man would certainly die if he remained at home any longer.
'Go, and peace be with you,' he answered; and went out to call his trusted steward, whom he ordered to accompany his young master.
Their preparations were soon made, and early one morning the two set out. But neither old man nor young had the slightest idea of where they were going, or what they were undertaking. First they lost their way in a dense forest, and from that they at length emerged in a wilderness where they wandered for six months, not seeing a living creature and finding scarcely anything to eat or drink, till they became nothing but skin and bone, while their garments hung in tatters about them. They had forgotten all about the princess, and their only wish was to find themselves back in the palace again, when, one day, they discovered that they were standing on the shoulder of a mountain. The stones beneath them shone as brightly as diamonds, and both their hearts beat with joy at beholding a tiny old man approaching them. The sight awoke all manner of recollections; the numb feeling that had taken possession of them fell away as if by magic, and it was with glad voices that they greeted the new–corner. 'Where are we, my friend?' asked they; and the old man told them that this was the mountain where the sultan's daughter sat, covered by seven veils, and the shining of the stones was only the reflection of her own brilliance.
On hearing this news all the dangers and difficulties of their past wandering vanished from their minds.
'How can I reach her soonest?' asked the youth eagerly. But the old man only answered:
'Have patience, my son, yet awhile. Another six months must go by before you arrive at the palace where she dwells with the rest of the women. And, even so, think well, when you can, as should you fail to make her speak, you will have to pay forfeit with your life, as others have done. So beware !'
But the prince only laughed at this counsel—as others had also done.
After three months they found themselves on the top of another mountain, and the prince saw with surprise that its sides were coloured a beautiful red. Perched on some cliffs, not far off, was a small village, and the prince proposed to his friend that they should go and rest there. The villagers, on their part, welcomed them gladly, and gave them food to eat and beds to sleep on, and thankful indeed were the two travellers to repose their weary limbs.
The next morning they asked their host if he could tell them whether they were still many days' journey from the princess, and whether he knew why the mountain was so much redder than other mountains.
'For three and a half more months you must still pursue your way,' answered he, 'and by that time you will find yourselves at the gate of the princess's palace. As for the colour of the mountain, that comes from the soft hue of her cheeks and mouth, which shines through the seven veils which cover her. But none have ever beheld her face, for she sits there, uttering no word, though one hears whispers of many having lost their lives for her sake.'
The prince, however, would listen no further; and thanking the man for his kindness, he jumped up and, with the steward, set out to climb the mountain.
On and on and on they went, sleeping under the trees or in caves, and living upon berries and any fish they could catch in the rivers. But at length, when their clothes were nearly in rags and their legs so tired that they could hardly walk any further, they saw on the top of the next mountain a palace of yellow marble.
'There it is, at last,' cried the prince; and fresh blood seemed to spring in his veins. But as he and his companion began to climb towards the top they paused in horror, for the ground was white with dead men's skulls. It was the prince who first recovered his voice, and he said to his friend, as carelessly as he could:
'These must be the skulls of the men who tried to make the princess speak and failed. Well, if we fail too, our bones will strew the ground likewise.'
'Oh ! turn back now, my prince, while there is yet time,' entreated his companion. 'Your father gave you into my charge; but when we set out I did not know that certain death lay before us.'
'Take heart, O Lala, take heart!' answered the prince. 'A man can but die once. And, besides, the princess will have to speak some day, you know.'
So they went on again, past skulls and dead men's bones in all degrees of whiteness. And by—and – by they reached another village, where they determined to rest for a little while, so that their wits might be fresh and bright for the task that lay before them. But this time, though the people were kind and friendly, their faces were gloomy, and every now and then woeful cries would rend the air.
'Oh ! my brother, have I lost you?' 'Oh ! my son, shall I see you no more ?' And then, as the prince and his companion asked the meaning of these laments —which, indeed, was plain enough—the answer was given:
'Ah, you also have come hither to die ! This town belongs to the father of the princess, and when any rash man seeks to move the princess to speech he must first obtain leave of the sultan. If that is granted him he is then led into the presence of the princess. What happens afterwards, perhaps the sight of these bones may help you to guess.'
The young man bowed his head in token of thanks, and stood thoughtful for a short time. Then, turning to the Lala, he said:
'Well, our destiny will soon be decided ! Meanwhile we will find out all we can, and do nothing rashly.'
For two or three days they wandered about the bazaars, keeping their eyes and ears open, when, one morning, they met a man carrying a nightingale in a cage. The bird was singing so joyously that the prince stopped to listen, and at once offered to buy him from his owner.
'Oh, why cumber yourself with such a useless thing,' cried the Lala in disgust; 'have you not enough to occupy your hands and mind, without taking an extra burden?' But the prince, who liked having his own way, paid no heed to him, and paying the high price asked by the man, he carried the bird back to the inn, and hung him up in his chamber. That evening, as he was sitting alone, trying to think of something that would make the princess talk, and failing altogether, the nightingale pecked open his cage door, which was lightly fastened by a stick, and, perching on his shoulder, murmured softly in his ear:
'What makes you so sad, my prince?' The young man started. In his native country birds did not talk, and, like many people, he was always rather afraid of what he did not understand. But in a moment he felt ashamed of his folly, and explained that he had travelled for more than a year, and over thousands of miles, to win the hand of the sultan's daughter. And now that he had reached his goal he could think of no plan to force her to speak.
'Oh ! do not trouble your head about that,' replied the bird, 'it is quite easy ! Go this evening to the women's apartments, and take me with you, and when you enter the princess's private chamber hide me under the pedestal which supports the great golden candlestick. The princess herself will be wrapped so thickly in her seven veils that she can see nothing, neither can her face be seen by anyone. Then inquire after her health, but she will remain quite silent; and next say that you are sorry to have disturbed her, and that you will have a little talk with the pedestal of the candlestick. When you speak I will answer.'
The prince threw his mantle over the bird, and started for the palace, where he begged an audience of the sultan. This was soon granted him, and leaving the nightingale hidden by the mantle, in a dark corner outside the door, he walked up to the throne on which his highness was sitting, and bowed low before him.
'What is your request?' asked the sultan, looking closely at the young man, who was tall and handsome; but when he heard the tale he shook his head pityingly.
'If you can make her speak she shall be your wife,' answered he; 'but if not —did you mark the skulls that strewed the mountain side?'
'Some day a man is bound to break the spell, O sultan,' replied the youth boldly; 'and why should not I be he as well as another? At any rate, my word is pledged, and I cannot draw back now.'
'Well, go if you must,' said the sultan. And he bade his attendants lead the way to the chamber of the princess, but to allow the young man to enter alone.
Catching up, unseen, his mantle and the cage as they passed into the dark corridor —for by this time night was coming on—the youth found himself standing in a room bare except for a pile of silken cushions, and one tall golden candlestick. His heart beat high as he looked at the cushions, and knew that, shrouded within the shining veils that covered them, lay the much longed–for princess. Then, fearful that after all other eyes might be watching him, he hastily placed the nightingale under the open pedestal on which the candlestick was resting, and turning again he steadied his voice, and besought the princess to tell him of her well–being.
Not by even a movement of her hand did the princess show that she had heard, and the young man, who of course expected this, went on to speak of his travels and of the strange countries he had passed through; but not a sound broke the silence.
'I see clearly that you are interested in none of these things,' said he at last, 'and as I have been forced to hold my peace for so many months, I feel that now I really must talk to somebody, so I shall go and address my conversation to the candlestick.' And with that he crossed the room behind the princess, and cried: ' O fairest of candlesticks, how are you?'
'Very well indeed, my lord,' answered the nightingale; 'but I wonder how many years have gone by since any one has spoken with me? And, now that you have come, rest, I pray you, awhile, and listen to my story.'
'Willingly,' replied the youth, curling himself up on the floor, for there was no cushion for him to sit on.
'Once upon a time,' began the nightingale, 'there lived a pasha whose daughter was the most beautiful maiden in the whole kingdom. Suitors she had in plenty, but she was not easy to please, and at length there were only three whom she felt she could even think of marrying. Not knowing which of the three she liked best, she took counsel with her father, who summoned the young men into his presence, and then told them that they must each of them learn some trade, and whichever of them proved the cleverest at the end of six months should become the husband of the princess.
'Though the three suitors may have been secretly disappointed, they could not help feeling that this test was quite fair, and left the palace together, talking as they went of what handicrafts they might set themselves to follow. The day was hot, and when they reached a spring that gushed out of the side of the mountain, they stopped to drink and rest, and then one of them said:
' " It will be best that we should each seek our fortunes alone; so let us put our rings under this stone, and go our separate ways. And the first one who returns hither will take his ring, and the others will take theirs. Thus we shall know whether we have all fulfilled the commands of the pasha, or if some accident has befallen any of us."
' " Good," replied the other two. And the three rings were placed in a little hole, and carefully covered again by the stone.
'Then they parted, and for six months they knew naught of each other, till, on the day appointed, they met at the spring. Right glad they all were, and eagerly they talked of what they had done, and how the time had been spent.
' " I think I shall win the princess," said the eldest, with a laugh, "for it is not everybody that is able to accomplish a whole year's journey in an hour !"
' " That is very clever, certainly," answered his friend; "but if you are to govern a kingdom it may be still more useful to have the power of seeing what is happening at a distance; and that is what I have leant," replied the second.
' " No, no, my dear comrades," cried the third, "your trades are all very well; but when the pasha hears that I can bring back the dead to life he will know which of us three is to be his son–in–law. But come, there only remain a few hours of the six months he granted us. It is time that we hastened back to the palace."
' " Stop a moment," said the second, "it would be well to know what is going on in the palace." And plucking some small leaves from a tree near by, he muttered some words and made some signs, and laid them on his eyes. In an instant he turned pale, and uttered a cry.
' " What is it? What is it?" exclaimed the others; and, with a shaking voice, he gasped:
"The princess is lying on her bed, and has barely a few minutes to live. Oh ! can no one save her?"
I can," answered the third, taking a small box from his turban; "this ointment will cure any illness. But how to reach her in time?"
'"Give it to me," said the first. And he wished himself by the bedside of the princess, which was surrounded by the sultan and his weeping courtiers. Clearly there was not a second to lose, for the princess had grown unconscious, and her face cold. Plunging his finger into the ointment he touched her eyes, mouth and ears with the paste, and with beating heart awaited the result.
'It was swifter than he supposed. As he looked the colour came back into her cheeks, and she smiled up at her father. The sultan, almost speechless with joy at this sudden change, embraced his daughter tenderly, and then turned to the young man to whom he owed her life:
' " Are you not one of those three whom I sent forth to learn a trade six months ago?" asked he. And the young man answered yes, and that the other two were even now on their way to the palace, so that the sultan might judge between them.'
At this point in his story the nightingale stopped, and. asked the prince which of the three he thought had the best right to the princess.
'The one who had learned how to prepare the ointment,' replied he.
'But if it had not been for the man who could see what was happening at a distance they would never have known that the princess was ill,' said the nightingale. 'I would give it to him.' And the strife between them waxed hot, till, suddenly, the listening princess started up from her cushions and cried:
'Oh, you fools ! cannot you understand that if it had not been for him who had power to reach the palace in time the ointment itself would have been useless, for death would have claimed her? It is he and no other who ought to have the princess !'
At the first sound of the princess's voice, a slave, who was standing at the door, ran at full speed to tell the sultan of the miracle which bad taken place, and the delighted father hastened to the spot. But by this time the princess perceived that she had fallen into a trap which had been cunningly laid for her, and would not utter another word. All she could be prevailed on to do was to make signs to her father that the man who wished to be her husband must induce her to speak three times. And she smiled to herself beneath her seven veils as she thought of the impossibility of that !
When the sultan told the prince that though he had succeeded once, he would have twice to pass through the same test, the young man's face clouded over. It did not seem to him fair play, but he dared not object, so he only bowed low, and contrived to step back close to the spot where the nightingale was hidden. As it was now quite dark he tucked unseen the little cage under his cloak, and left the palace.
'Why are you so gloomy?' asked the nightingale, as soon as they were safely outside. 'Everything has gone exactly right ! Of course the princess was very angry with herself for having spoken. And did you see that, at her first words, the veils that covered her began to rend? Take me back to–morrow evening, and place me on the pillar by the lattice. Fear nothing, you have only to trust to me !'
The next evening, towards sunset, the prince left the cage behind him, and with the bird in the folds of his garment slipped into the palace and made his way straight to the princess's apartments. He was at once admitted by the slaves who guarded the door, and took care to pass near the window so that the nightingale hopped unseen to the top of a pillar. Then he turned and bowed low to the princess, and asked her several questions; but, as before, she answered nothing, and, indeed, gave no sign that she heard. After a few minutes the young man bowed again, and crossing over to the window, he said:
'Oh, pillar ! it is no use speaking to the princess, she will not utter one word; and as I must talk to somebody, I have come to you. Tell me how you have been all this long while?'
' I thank you,' replied a voice from the pillar, 'I am feeling very well. And it is lucky for me that the princess is silent, or else you would not have wanted to speak to me. To reward you, I will relate to you an interesting tale that I lately overheard, and about which I should like to have your opinion.'
'That will be charming,' answered the prince, 'so pray begin at once.'
'Once upon a time,' said the nightingale, 'there lived a woman who was so beautiful that every man who saw her fell in love with her. But she was very hard to please, and refused to wed any of them, though she managed to keep friends with all. Years passed away in this manner, almost without her noticing them, and one by one the young men grew tired of waiting, and sought wives who may have been less handsome, but were also less proud, and at length only three of her former wooers remained—Baldschi, Jagdschi, and Firedschi. Still she held herself apart, thought herself better and lovelier than other women, when, on a certain evening, her eyes were opened at last to the truth. She was sitting before her mirror, combing her curls, when amongst her raven locks she found a long white hair !
'At this dreadful sight her heart gave a jump, and then stood still. I am growing old," she said to herself, "and if I do not choose a husband soon, I shall never get one ! I know that either of those men would gladly marry me to–morrow, but I cannot decide between them. I must invent some way to find out which of them is the best, and lose no time about it."
'So instead of going to sleep, she thought all night long of different plans, and in the morning she arose and dressed herself.
' " That will have to do," she muttered as she pulled out the white hair which had cost her so much trouble. "It is not very good, but I can think of nothing better; and—well, they are none of them clever, and I dare say they will easily fall into the trap." Then she called her slave and bade her let Jagdschi know that she would be ready to receive him in an hour's time. After that she went into the garden and dug a grave under a tree, by which she laid a white shroud.
'Jagdschi was delighted to get the gracious message; and, putting on his newest garments, he hastened to the lady's house, but great was his dismay at finding her stretched on her cushions, weeping bitterly.
' " What is the matter, O Fair One?" he asked, bowing low before her.
' " A terrible thing has happened," said she, her voice choked with sobs. "My father died two nights ago, and I buried him in my garden. But now I find that he was a wizard, and was not dead at all, for his grave is empty and he is wandering about somewhere in the world."
' " That is evil news, indeed," answered Jagdschi; "but can I do nothing to comfort you?"
There is one thing you can do," replied she, "and that is to wrap yourself in the shroud and lay yourself in the grave. If he should not return till after three hours have elapsed he will have lost his power over me, and be forced to go and wander elsewhere."
'Now Jagdschi was proud of the trust reposed in him, and wrapping himself in the shroud, he stretched himself at full length in the grave. After some time Baldschi arrived in his turn, and found the lady groaning and lamenting. She told him that her father had been a wizard, and that in case, as was very likely, he should wish to leave his grave and come to work her evil, Baldschi was to take a stone and be ready to crush in his head, if he showed signs of moving.
'Baldschi, enchanted at being able to do his lady a service, picked up a stone, and seated himself by the side of the grave wherein lay Jagdschi.
'Meanwhile the hour arrived in which Firedsehi was accustomed to pay his respects, and, as in the case of the other two, he discovered the lady overcome with grief. To him she said that a wizard who was an enemy of her father's had thrown the dead man out of his grave, and had taken his place. "But," she added, "if you can bring the wizard into my presence, all his power will go from him; if not, then I am lost."
' " Ah, lady, what is there that I would not do for you !" cried Firedschi; and running down to the grave, he seized the astonished Jagdschi by the waist, and flinging the body over his shoulder, he hastened with him into the house. At the first moment Baidsohi was so surprised at this turn of affairs, for which the lady had not prepared him, that he sat still and did nothing. But by–and–by he sprang up and hurled the stone after the two flying figures, hoping that it might kill them both. Fortunately it touched neither, and soon all three were in the presence of the lady. Then Jagdschi, thinking that he had delivered her from the power of the wizard, slid off the back of Firedschi, and threw the shroud from him.'
'Tell me, my prince,' said the nightingale, when he had finished his story, 'which of the three men deserved to win the lady? I myself should choose Firedschi.'
'No, no,' answered the prince, who understood the wink the bird had given him; 'it was Baldschi who took the most trouble, and it was certainly he who deserved the lady.'
But the nightingale would not agree; and they began to quarrel, till a third voice broke in:
'How can you talk such nonsense?' cried the princess—and as she spoke a sound of tearing was heard. 'Why, you have never even thought of Jagdschi, who lay for three hours in the grave, with a stone held over his head ! Of course it was he whom the lady chose for her husband !'
It was not many minutes before the news reached the sultan; but even now he would not consent to the marriage till his daughter had spoken a third time. On hearing this, the young man took counsel with the nightingale how best to accomplish this, and the bird told him that as the princess, in her fury at having fallen into the snare laid for her, had ordered the pillar to be broken in pieces, he must be hidden in the folds of a curtain that hung by the door.
The following evening the prince entered the palace, and walked boldly up to the princess's apartments. As he entered the nightingale flew from under his arm and perched himself on top of the door, where he was entirely concealed by the folds of the dark curtain. The young man talked as usual to the princess without obtaining a single word in reply, and at length he left her lying under the heap of shining veils—now rent in many places—and crossed the room towards the door, from which came a voice that gladly answered him.
For a while the two talked together; then the nightingale asked if the prince was fond of stories, as he had lately heard one which interested and perplexed him greatly. In reply, the prince begged that he might hear it at once, and without further delay the nightingale began:
'Once upon a time, a carpenter, a tailor, and a student set out together to see the world. After wandering about for some months they grew tired of travelling, and resolved to stay and rest in a small town that took their fancy. So they hired a little house, and looked about for work to do, returning at sunset to smoke their pipes and talk over the events of the day.
'One night in the middle of summer it was hotter than usual, and the carpenter found himself unable to sleep. Instead of tossing about on his cushions, making himself more uncomfortable than he was already, the man wisely got up and drank some coffee and lit his long pipe. Suddenly his eye fell on some pieces of wood in a corner and, being very clever with his fingers, he had soon set up a perfect statue of a girl about fourteen years old. This so pleased and quieted him that he grew quite drowsy, and going back to bed fell fast asleep.
'But the carpenter was not the only person who lay awake that night. Thunder was in the air, and the tailor became so restless that he thought he would go downstairs and cool his feet in the little fountain outside the garden door. To reach the door he had to pass through the room where the carpenter had sat and smoked, and against the wall he beheld standing a beautiful girl. He stood speechless for an instant before he ventured to touch her hand, when, to his amazement, he found that she was fashioned out of wood.
' " Ah! I can make you more beautiful still," said he. And fetching from a shelf a roll of yellow silk which he had bought that day from a merchant, he cut and draped and stitched, till at length a lovely robe clothed the slender figure. When this was finished, the restlessness had departed from him, and he went back to bed.
'As dawn approached the student arose and prepared to go to the mosque with the first ray of sunlight. But, when he saw the maiden standing there, he fell on his knees and lifted his hands in ecstasy.
' " Oh, thou art fairer than the evening air, clad in the beauty of ten thousand stars," he murmured to himself. "Surely a form so rare was never meant to live without a soul." And forthwith he prayed with all his might that life should be breathed into it.
'And his prayer was heard, and the beautiful statue became a living girl, and the three men all fell in love with her, and each desired to have her to wife.
'Now,' said the nightingale, 'to which of them did the maiden really belong ? It seems to me that the carpenter had the best right to her.'
'Oh, but the student would never have thought of praying that she might be given a soul had not the tailor drawn attention to her loveliness by the robe which he put upon her,' answered the prince, who guessed what he was expected to say; and they soon set up quite a pretty quarrel. Suddenly the princess, furious that neither of them alluded to the part played by the student, quite forgot her vow of silence and cried loudly:
'Idiots that you are ! how could she belong to any one but the student? If it had not been for him, all that the others did would have gone for nothing ! Of course it was he who married the maiden !' And as she spoke the seven veils fell from her, and she stood up, the fairest princess that the world has ever seen.
'You have won me,' she said smiling, holding out her hand to the prince.
And so they were married; and after the wedding–feast was over they sent for the old woman whose pitcher the prince had broken so long ago, and she dwelt in the palace, and became nurse to their children, and. lived happily till she died.
ave done me, or your life will be short.'
'Oh, have mercy !' she cried, 'I could not help it. I was so frightened.'
The prince had mercy. He ordered the wicked king to be stripped of his fine clothes, and to be driven into the forest, where the wild beasts tore him to pieces. The queen he sent to her own country. Then he set off for the cave where the princess was sitting chained as before, and with the help of the magic sword he rescued her again without any difficulty. They soon reached the port and set sail for Arabia, where they were married; and till they died, a long while after, they reigned happily over both countries.