The Golden Bird by Unknown

THERE was once upon a time a king who had a garden; in that garden there was an apple tree, and on that apple tree there grew a golden apple every year; but when the time came to pluck the apple it was gone, and no one knew who took it or what became of it; but gone it was.

The King had three sons, and one day he told them that he who could bring him the apple or get hold of the thief, should have the kingdom after him, no matter whether he was the eldest, the second, or the youngest son.

The eldest set out first and sat down under the tree to keep watch for the thief. Soon after dark a golden bird came flying, and the light from it was so strong and dazzling that it could be seen a long way off. When the Prince saw the bird and the dazzling light he became so frightened that he dared not stay any longer, but rushed indoors as fast as he could.

Next morning the apple was gone; the Prince had then, however, recovered his courage and began to get ready for his journey and wanted to set off to find the bird. The King fitted him out in grand style and spared neither money nor fine raiment. When the Prince had gone a bit on the way he became hungry, opened his scrip and sat down to his breakfast by the roadside. A fox then came out of the wood and sat down and looked at him.

"Do give me a little to eat," said the fox.

"I'll give you some powder and shot," said the Prince; "my food I shall want myself; nobody can tell how far and how long I may have to travel," said he.

"Just so," said the fox, and so he went back into the wood again.

When the Prince had finished his meal and rested awhile he set out on his way again. After a long time he came to a big city, and in that city there was an inn, where there was always joy and never any sorrow; he thought that would be a nice place to stop at, and so he remained. And there was such dancing and drinking and joy and merrymaking that he forgot the bird and his father and his journey and the whole kingdom.

Away he was and away he stopped.

The next year the second prince was to watch for the thief in the garden; he also sat down under the tree when the apple began to ripen. But one night, all of a sudden, the golden bird came flying, shining like the sun, and the Prince became so afraid that he took to his heels and ran indoors as fast as he could.

In the morning the apple was gone, but the Prince had then recovered his courage and wanted to set out and find the bird. He began to get ready and the King fitted him out in grand style and spared neither money nor fine raiment. But the same thing happened to him as to his brother; when he had got a bit on the way he became hungry, opened his scrip and sat down to his breakfast by the roadside. A fox then came out from the pine wood and sat down and looked at him.

"Do give me a little to eat," said the fox.

"I'll give you some powder and shot," said the Prince; "my food I shall want myself; nobody can tell how far and how long I may have to travel," said he.

"Just so," said the fox, and so he went back into the wood again.

When the Prince had finished his meal and rested awhile, he set out on his way again. After a long time he came to the same city and the same inn, where there was always joy and never any sorrow; and there he also thought it would be nice to stop, and the first he met was his brother, and so he remained. The brother had been leading a gay and reckless life and had scarcely any clothes left on his back; but now he began afresh, and there was such dancing and drinking and joy and merriment that the second prince also forgot the bird and his father and his journey and the whole kingdom. Away he was and away he stopped.

When the time came for the apple to ripen again the youngest prince was to go into the garden and watch for the thief. He took a companion with him who was to help him up into the tree, and to pass away the time so that he should not fall asleep. All of a sudden they saw a bright light, as if from the sun; every feather of the bird could be seen long before it came to the tree. The Prince climbed up into the tree and at the same time the golden bird swooped down and took the apple; the Prince tried to seize the bird, but he only caught a feather out of its tail.

So he went to the King's bedroom, and as he came in with the feather, it became as light as day.

He also wanted to try if he could find his brothers and catch the bird, for he had been so near to it that he had got a feather from its tail and would know it again anywhere, he said.

Well, the King went and pondered long whether he should let him go, for he thought the youngest would not fare any better than the two eldest, who ought to have more knowledge of the world, and he was afraid he should lose him also. But the Prince begged so earnestly that at last he got permission to go.

He then began to get ready and the King fitted him out in grand style, both with clothes and money, and so he set off.

When he had traveled for some time he became hungry and took his scrip and sat down to have his breakfast, but just as he was in the midst of it a fox came out of the wood and sat down close by his side and looked at him.

"Do give me a little to eat," said the fox.

"I shall want the food myself," said the Prince, "for I cannot tell how far I shall have to travel, but I have enough to give you a little."

When the fox had got the piece of meat he asked the Prince where he was going.

Yes, that he would tell him.

"If you will listen to me, I will help you, and you will have good luck," said the fox.

The Prince promised he would, and so they set off together. They traveled a while till they came to the same city and the same inn, where there was always joy, but no sorrow.

"I must keep outside here; the dogs are rather a nuisance," said the fox, and so he told the Prince where his brothers were to be found and what they were doing; "and if you go in there you will not get any further either," said he.

The Prince promised he would not go in there, and gave him his hand on it, and so each went his way. But when the Prince came to the inn and heard the noise and merriment going on he felt he must go in; there was no help for it, and when he met his brothers there was such rejoicing that he forgot both the fox and the journey and the bird and his father. But when he had been there awhile the fox came—he had ventured into the city after all—and opened the door a little and made a sign to the Prince, saying that now they must be off. So the Prince bethought himself, and they went their way.

When they had traveled awhile they saw a big mountain far away. The fox said:

"Three hundred miles at the back of that mountain there is a gilded linden tree with golden leaves, and in that tree sits the golden bird from which you took the feather."

Thither they traveled together. When the Prince was going to catch the bird the fox gave him some bright feathers which he was to wave in his hands, and so attract the bird, which would then fly down and sit on his hand.

But the fox said he must not touch the linden tree, for inside it was a big troll who owned it, and if the Prince touched only the smallest twig the troll would come out and kill him on the spot.

No, he would not touch it, said the Prince; but when he had got the bird on his hand he thought he must have a twig of the tree; there was no help for it, it was so bright and beautiful. So he took a tiny little sprig, but the same moment the troll came out.

"Who is that stealing my tree and my bird?" roared the troll, and he was so angry that he spurted sparks of fire.

"Thieves believe that all men steal," said the Prince; "but only those get hanged who do not steal properly," said he.

The troll said that made no difference, and was going to kill him, but the Prince begged him to spare his life.

"Well," said the troll, "if you can bring me back the horse which my nearest neighbor has taken from me you will get off with your life."

"Where shall I find it, then?" said the Prince.

"Oh, he lives three hundred miles at the back of that big blue mountain against the horizon yonder," said the troll.

The Prince promised he would do his best. But when he came back to the fox he found him in rather a bad temper.

"Now you have got yourself into trouble," said the fox; "if you had listened to me we could have been on our way home by this time," said he.

So they had to make a fresh start, for the Prince had pledged his word, and his life depended on his finding the horse.

At last they got there, but as the Prince was going to take the horse the fox said:

"When you come into the stable you will find all sorts of bridles hanging on the wall, both of gold and silver; you must not touch them, for then the troll will come and kill you; you must take the ugliest and shabbiest you see."

Yes, the Prince promised he would; but when he came into the stable he thought it was quite unreasonable not to take a fine bridle, for there were plenty of them, and so he took the brightest he could find. It was as bright as gold, but just then the troll came and was so angry that sparks flew from him.

"Who is that stealing my horse and my bridle?" he shrieked.

"Thieves believe that all men steal," said the Prince; "but only those get hanged who do not steal properly," said he.

"Well, that makes no difference. I'll kill you on the spot," shouted the troll.

But the Prince begged him to spare his life.

"Well," said the troll, "if you can bring me back the fair damsel which my nearest neighbor has taken from me I will spare you."

"Whereabouts does he live, then?" asked the Prince.

"Oh, he lives three hundred miles at the back of that big blue mountain against the horizon yonder," said the troll.

The Prince promised he would fetch the damsel, and was allowed to go, and so he escaped with his life.

But when he came out you may imagine how angry the fox was.

"Now you've got yourself into trouble again," said he; "if you had listened to me we could have been on our way home long ago. I almost think I will not go with you any further."

But the Prince begged and prayed and promised he would never do anything else but what the fox told him, if he would only remain with him. At last the fox gave in, and they became firm friends again; so they set off once more and came at last to where the fair damsel was.

"Well," said the fox, "I have your promise, but I dare not let you in to the troll, after all; this time I must go myself." So he went in, and after a while he came out with the damsel, and so they went back the same way they had come.

When they got to the troll who had the horse they took both the horse and the brightest bridle; and when they got to the troll who had the linden tree and the bird, they took both the tree and the bird and started off with them.

When they had got a bit on the way they came to a field of rye, and the fox then said:

"I hear a thundering noise; you had better go on ahead; I will remain here awhile," he said. He then plaited himself a gown of rye straw, in which he looked like a preacher. All at once the three trolls came rushing along, hoping to overtake the Prince.

"Have you seen anyone passing here with a fair damsel, a horse with a golden bridle, a golden bird, and a gilded linden tree?" they shouted to the fox as he stood there preaching.

"Well, I've heard from my grandmother's grandmother that something of the kind passed this way, but that was in the good old times, when my grandmother's grandmother baked halfpenny cakes and gave back the halfpenny."

Then all the trolls burst out laughing: "Ha, ha, ha!" they laughed and held on to one another.

"If we have slept so long we may as well turn our noses homeward, and go to sleep again," they said, and so they went back the way they came.

The fox then set off after the Prince, but when they came to the city where the inn and his brothers were, he said:

"I dare not go through the town on account of the dogs; I must go my own way just above here, but you must take good care your brothers do not get hold of you."

But when the Prince came into the city he thought it would be too bad if he did not look in upon his brothers and have a word with them, and so he tarried there for a while.

When the brothers saw him they came out and took the damsel, and the horse, and the bird, and the linden tree, and everything from him, and they put him in a barrel, and threw him into the sea; and so they set off home to the King's palace, with the damsel, and the horse, and the bird, and the linden tree, and everything. But the damsel would not speak, and she became pale and wretched to look upon; the horse got so thin and miserable that it could hardly hang together; the bird became silent and shone no more, and the linden tree withered.

In the meantime the fox was sneaking about outside the city where the inn and the merriment were, and was waiting for the Prince and the damsel, and wondering why they did not return.

He went hither and thither, waiting and watching for them, and at last he came down to the shore, and when he saw the barrel, which was lying out at sea drifting, he shouted: "Why are you drifting about there, you empty barrel?"

"Oh, it is I," said the Prince in the barrel.

The fox then swam out to sea as fast as he could, got hold of the barrel, and towed it to land; then he began to gnaw the hoops, and when he had got some off the barrel, he said to the Prince: "Stamp and kick."

The Prince stamped and kicked till all the staves flew about, and out he jumped from the barrel.

So they went together to the King's palace, and when they got there the damsel regained her beauty and began to talk, the horse became so fat and sleek that every hair glistened; the light shone from the bird and it began to sing; the linden tree began to blossom and its leaves to sparkle, and the damsel said, "He is the one who has saved us."

They planted the linden tree in the garden, and the youngest prince was to marry the princess, for such the damsel really was; but the two eldest brothers were put each in a barrel and rolled down a high mountain.

Then they began to prepare for the wedding, but the fox first asked the Prince to put him on the block and cut his head off, and although the Prince both prayed and cried, there was no help for it; he would have to do it. But as he cut the head off, the fox turned into a handsome prince, and he was the brother of the princess, whom they had rescued from the troll.

So the wedding came off and everything was so grand and splendid, that the news of the festivities reached all the way here.