The Lame Dog,
translated by Frederick H. Martens
Once upon a time there lived a king, like many
others. He had three daughters, who were
young and beautiful to such a degree that it would
have been difficult to have found handsomer maidens.
Yet there was a great difference among them; for
the two older sisters were haughty in their thoughts
and manners; while the youngest was sweet and
friendly, and everyone liked her. Besides, she was
fair as the day and delicate as the snow, and far more
beautiful than either of her sisters.
One day the king's daughters were sitting together
in their room, and their talk happened to turn on
their husbands-to-be. The oldest said: "If I ever
marry, my husband must have golden hair and a
a golden beard!" And the second exclaimed: "And
mine must have silver hair and a silver beard!" But
the youngest princess held her tongue and said nothing.
Then her sisters asked her whether she did
not want to wish for a husband. "No," she answered,
"but if fate should give me a husband, I
will be content to take him as he is, and were he no
more than a lame dog." Then the two other princesses
laughed and joked about it, and told her the
day might easily come when she would change her
But many speak truth and do not know it! Thus it
chanced with the king's daughters; since before the
year had come to an end, each had the suitor for
whom she had wished. A man with golden hair and
golden beard sued for the oldest princess and won
her consent to his suit. And a man with silver hair
and a silver beard sued for the second and she became
his bride; but the youngest princess had no
other suitor than a lame dog. Then she recalled
her talk with her sisters in their room, and thought
to herself: "May God aid me in the marriage into
which I must enter!" Yet she would not break the
word she had once passed; but followed her sisters'
example and accepted the dog. The wedding lasted
a number of days and was celebrated with great
pomp and splendor. But while the guests danced
and amused themselves, the youngest princess sat
apart and wept, and when the others were laughing,
her tears flowed till it made one sad to see them.
After the wedding the newly married pairs were
each to drive off to their castle. And the two older
princesses each drove off in a splendidly decorated
coach, with a large retinue, and all sorts of honors.
But the youngest had to go afoot, since her husband,
the dog, had neither coach nor driver. When they
had wandered long and far, they came to a great
forest, so great that it seemed endless; but the dog
limped along in advance, and the king's daughter
followed after, weeping. And as they went along
she suddenly saw a magnificent castle lying before
them, and round about it were beautiful meadows
and green woods, all of them most enjoyable to see.
The princess stopped and asked to whom the great
mansion might belong. "That," said the dog, "is
our home. We will live here, and you shall rule it
as you see fit." Then the maiden laughed amid her
tears, and could not overcome her surprise at all she
saw. The dog added: "I have but a single request
to make to you, and that you must not refuse to
grant." "What is your request?" asked the princess.
"You must promise me," said the dog, "that
you will never look at me while I am asleep: otherwise
you are free to do whatever you wish." The
princess gladly promised to grant his request, and
so they went to the great castle. And if the castle
was magnificent from without, it was still more
magnificent within. It was so full of gold and silver
that the precious metals gleamed from every corner;
and there was such abundance of supplies of every
kind, and of so many other things, that everything
in the world one might have wished to have was
already there. The princess spent the live-long day
running from one room to another, and each was
handsomer than the one she had just entered. But
when evening came and she went to bed, the dog
crept into his own, and then she noticed that he was
not a dog; but a human being. Yet she said not a
word, because she remembered her promise, and did
not wish to cross her husband's will.
Thus some time passed. The princess dwelt in
the beautiful castle, and had everything her heart
might desire. But every day the dog ran off, and
did not reappear until it was evening and the sun had
set. Then he returned home, and was always so
kind and friendly that it would have been a fine thing
had other men done half as well. The princess now
began to feel a great affection for him, and quite
forgot he was only a lame dog; for the proverb says:
"Love is blind." Yet time passed slowly because
she was so much alone, and she often thought of visiting
her sisters and seeing how they were. She spoke
of it to her husband, and begged his permission to
make the journey. No sooner had the dog heard her
wish than he at once granted it, and even accompanied
her some distance, in order to show her the way
out of the wood.
When the king's daughters were once reunited,
they were naturally very happy, and there were a
great many questions asked about matters old and
new. And marriage was also discussed. The oldest
princess said: "It was silly of me to wish for a
husband with golden hair and golden beard; for
mine is worse than the veriest troll, and I have not
known a happy day since we married." And the
second went on: "Yes, and I am no better off;
for although I have a husband with silver hair and a
silver beard, he dislikes me so heartily that he begrudges
me a single hour of happiness." Then
her sisters turned to the youngest princess and
asked how she fared. "Well," was her answer, "I
really cannot complain; for though I only got a lame
dog, he is such a dear good fellow and so kind to me
that it would be hard to find a better husband."
The other princesses were much surprised to hear
this, and did not stop prying and questioning, and
their sister answered all their questions faithfully.
When they heard how splendidly she lived in the
great castle, they grew jealous because she was so
much better off than they were. And they insisted
on knowing whether there was not some one little
thing of which she could complain. "No," said the
king's daughter, "I can only praise my husband for
his kindness and amiability, and there is but one
thing lacking to make me perfectly happy."
"What is it?" "What is it?" cried both sisters
with a single voice. "Every night, when he comes
home," said the princess, "he turns into a human
being, and I am sorry that I can never see what he
really looks like." Then both sisters again with
one voice, began to scold the dog loudly; because he
had a secret which he kept from his wife. And
since her sisters now continually spoke about it, her
own curiosity awoke once more, she forgot her husband's
command, and asked how she might manage
to see him without his knowing it. "O," said the
oldest princess, "nothing easier! Here is a little
lamp, which you must hide carefully. Then you
need only get up at night when he is asleep, and light
the lamp in order to see him in his true shape."
This advice seemed good to the king's daughter; she
took the lamp, hid it in her breast, and promised to
do all that her sisters had counseled.
When the time came for them to part, the youngest
princess went back to her beautiful castle. The day
passed like every other day. When evening came
at last and the dog had gone to bed, the princess
was so driven by curiosity that she could hardly
wait until he had fallen asleep. Then she rose,
softly, lit her lamp, and drew near the bed to look
at him while he slept. But no one can describe her
astonishment when throwing the light on the bed,
she saw no lame dog lying there; but the handsomest
youth her eyes had ever beheld. She could not
stop looking at him; but sat up all night bending
over his pillow, and the more she looked at him the
handsomer he seemed to grow, until she forgot
everything else in the world. At last the morning
came. And as the first star began to pale in the
dawn, the youth began to grow restless and awaken.
The princess much frightened, blew out her lamp
and lay down in her bed. The youth thought she
was sleeping and did not wish to wake her, so he
rose quietly, assumed his other shape, went away
and did not appear again all day long.
And when evening came and it grew late, everything
happened as before. The dog came home
from the forest and was very tired. But no sooner
had he fallen asleep than the princess rose carefully,
lit her lamp and came over to look at him. And
when she cast the light on his bed it seemed to her
as though the youth had grown even handsomer
than the day before, and the longer she looked the
more handsome he became; until she had to laugh
and weep from sheer love and longing. She could
not take her eyes from him, and sat all night long
bent over his pillow, forgetful of her promise and
all else, only to be able to look at him. With the
first ray of dawn the youth began to stir and awake.
Then the princess was again frightened, quickly
blew out her lamp and lay down in her bed. The
youth thought she was sleeping, and not wishing to
waken her, rose softly, assumed his other shape,
went away and was gone for the entire day.
At length it grew late again, evening came and the
dog returned home from the forest as usual. But
again the princess could not control her curiosity;
no sooner was her husband sleeping than she rose
quietly, lit her lamp, and drew near carefully in order
to look at him while he slept. And when the
light fell on the youth, he appeared to be handsomer
than ever before, and the longer she looked the more
handsome he grew, until her heart burned in her
breast, and she forgot all else in the world looking
at him. She could not take her eyes from him, and
sat up all night bending over his pillow. And when
morning came and the sun rose, the youth began
to move and awaken. Then the princess was much
frightened, because she had paid no heed to the passing
of time, and she tried to put out her lamp quickly.
But her hand trembled, and a warm drop of oil
fell on the youth and he awoke. When he saw what
she had done, he leaped up, terrified, instantly turned
into a lame dog, and limped out into the forest.
But the princess felt so remorseful that she nearly
lost her senses, and she ran after him, wringing her
hands and weeping bitterly, and begging him to
return. But he did not come back.
The king's daughter now wandered over hill and
dale, along many a road new to her, in order to find
her husband, and her tears flowed the while till it
would have moved a stone. But the dog was gone
and stayed gone, though she looked for him North
and South. When she saw that she could not find
him, she thought she would return to her handsome
castle. But there she was just as unfortunate.
The castle was nowhere to be seen, and wherever she
went she was surrounded by a forest black as coal.
Then she came to the conclusion that the whole world
had abandoned her, sat down on a stone, wept bitterly,
and thought how much rather she would die
than live without her husband. At that a little toad
hopped out from under the stone, and said:
"Lovely maiden, why do you sit here and weep?"
And the princess answered: "It is my hard fate
to weep and never be happy again. First of all I
have lost the love of my heart, and now I can no
longer find my way back to the castle. So I must
perish of hunger here, or else be devoured by wild
beasts." "O," said the toad, "if that is all that
troubles you, I can help you! If you will promise
to be my dearest friend, I will show you the way."
But that the princess did not want to do. She replied:
"Ask of me what you will, save that alone.
I have never loved any one more than my lame dog,
and so long as I live will never love any one else better."
With that she rose, wept bitterly, and continued
her way. But the toad looked after her in a
friendly manner, laughed to himself, and once more
crept under his stone.
After the king's daughter had wandered on for a
long, long way, and still saw nothing but forest
and wilderness, she grew very tired. She once
more sat down on a stone, rested her chin on her
hand, and prayed for death, since it was no longer
possible for her to live with her husband. Suddenly
there was a rustling in the bushes, and she saw
a big gray wolf coming directly toward her. She
was much frightened, since her one thought was
that the wolf intended to devour her. But the wolf
stopped, wagged his tail, and said: "Proud maiden,
why do you sit here and weep so bitterly?" The
princess answered: "It is my hard fate to weep and
never be happy again. First of all I have lost my
heart's dearest, and now I cannot find my way back
to the castle and must perish of hunger, or be devoured
by wild beasts." "O," said the wolf, "if
that is all that troubles you, I can help you! Let me
be your best friend and I will show you the way."
But that did not suit the princess, and she replied:
"Ask of me what you will, save that alone. I have
never loved any one more than my lame dog, and so
long as I live I will never love any one else better."
With that she rose, weeping bitterly, and continued
on her way. But the wolf looked after her in a
friendly manner, laughed to himself and ran off
After the princess had once more wandered for
a long time in the wilderness, she was again so wearied
and exhausted that she could not go on. She
sat down on a stone, wrung her hands, and wished
for death, since she could no longer live with her husband.
At that moment she heard a hollow roaring
that made the earth tremble, and a monstrous big
lion appeared and came directly toward her. Now
she was much frightened; for what else could she
think but that the lion would tear her to pieces? But
the beast was so weighed down with heavy iron
chains that he could scarcely drag himself along,
and the chains clashed at either side when he moved.
When the lion finally reached the princess he
stopped, wagged his tail, and asked: "Beautiful
maiden, why do you sit here and weep so bitterly?"
The princess answered: "It is my hard fate to weep
and never be happy again. First of all I have lost
my heart's dearest, and now I cannot find my way to
the castle, and must perish of hunger, or be devoured
by wild beasts." "O," said the lion, "if that is all
that troubles you, I can help you! If you will loose
my chains and make me your best friend, I will show
you the way." But the princess was so terrified
that she could not answer the lion, far less venture
to draw near him. Then she heard a clear voice
sounding from the forest: it was a little nightingale,
who sat among the branches and sang:
"Maiden, maiden, loose his chains!"
Then she felt sorry for the lion, grew braver, went
up to him, unloosed his chains and said: "Your
chains I can loose for you; but I can never be your
best friend. For I have never loved any one more
than my lame dog and will never love any one else
better." And then a wondrous thing took place:
at the very moment the last chain fell from him, the
lion turned into a handsome young prince, and when
the princess looked at him more closely, it was none
other than her heart's dearest, who before had been
a dog. She sank to the ground, clasped his knees,
and begged him not to leave her again. But the
prince raised her with deep affection, took her in
his arms and said: "No, now we shall never more be
parted, for I am released from my enchantment,
and have proved your faith toward me in every
"THE LION TURNED INTO A HANDSOME YOUNG PRINCE."
Then there was joy indescribable. And the prince
took his young wife home to the beautiful castle,
and there he became king and she was his queen.
And if they have not died they are living there to
this very day.
The story of "The Lame Dog," the bride of the dog, has long
been popular in Scandinavia (Hyltén-Cavallius and Stephens, p. 381.
From South Smaland). Saxo, to whom it was familiar, calls its
heroes Otherus and Syritha, and even in the Edda there is an echo
of it in the tale of Freya and Odr. In Denmark the same story
is told under the title of "The Dearest Friend."