THE BATTLE OF THE BIRDS,
OR, THE GRATEFUL RAVEN AND THE PRINCE

A Scotch Tale

Once upon a time a great contest took place between every wild creature. The son of the King of Tethertown went to see the battle; but he arrived late, and saw only one fight. This was between a huge Raven and a Snake. The King’s son ran to aid the Raven, and with one blow took the head off the Snake. The Raven was very grateful, and said: “Now, I will give thee a sight; come upon my wings.”

They flew over seven mountains, seven glens, and seven moors. That night, at the Raven’s request, the King’s son slept in the house of one of the Raven’s sisters. He was to meet the Raven next morning for another trip; and for three days they journeyed. On the third morning a handsome boy, who was carrying a bundle, came to meet the King’s son.

This boy told how he had been under a spell; and he was at once released from it by the power of the King’s son. In return, he gave him the bundle which he carried, and cautioned him not to open it until he found the place where he desired to dwell.

On the homeward trip the bundle became very heavy, and the King’s son stopped in a grove to open it. Immediately a beautiful castle sprang up before him. He was very sorry, for he wanted to live in the glen opposite his father’s palace. Just then a Giant appeared and offered to put the castle back in the bundle on condition that the Prince give him his first son when he was seven years old. The Prince promised, and soon he had his castle in the right place. At the palace door there was a beautiful maiden, who asked him to marry her. The wedding took place at once, and all were happy.

Before many years they had a son; and then the Prince, who was now King, remembered his promise to the Giant. When the boy was seven years old the Giant came to claim him. The Queen said she would save her child. She dressed the cook’s son in fine clothes, and gave him to the Giant. But the Giant feared some treachery, and said to the boy: “If thy father had a rod what would he do with it?”

“He would beat the dogs if they went near the King’s meat,” answered the boy.

Then the Giant knew he had been deceived, and he went again to the palace. Again the Queen tried to trick him by giving him the butler’s son. When the Giant found he had been fooled a second time, he stalked back to the castle, and made a terrible scene. The castle shook under the soles of his feet as he cried: “Out here with thy son, or the stone that is highest in thy dwelling shall be the lowest.” So, in great fear, the Queen gave her son to the Giant.

The lad lived many years in the Giant’s home. On a certain holiday, when the Giant was away, the boy heard sweet music. Looking up the stairs he saw a beautiful little maiden. She beckoned to him to come to her, then said: “To-morrow you may choose between my two sisters for your bride; but, I pray you, say you will take only me. My father is forcing me to marry a Prince whom I hate.”

On the morrow the Giant said: “Now, Prince, you may go home to-morrow, and take with you either of my two eldest daughters as your wife.”

The Giant was very angry when the Prince said: “I want only the pretty little one.”

The Giant in a great rage imposed three tasks upon the King’s son. He had to clean a byre, or cow-shed, which had not been cleaned for seven years. Secondly, he was to thatch the byre with bird’s down; and lastly, he must climb a tall fir-tree and bring five eggs, unbroken, from the magpie’s nest for the Giant’s breakfast. These tasks were too great for any mortal to accomplish, but the youth was willing to try.

He worked all morning on the dirty byre, and  accomplished practically nothing. At noon, while he was resting under a tree, the Giant’s daughter came and talked to him. In utter dejection he showed her the impossibility of completing the task by nightfall. With words of sympathy and encouragement, she left him and went on her way. After she had gone, the Prince in great weariness fell asleep under the tree.

It was evening before he awoke. His first thought was of the unfinished task, and he jumped to his feet, though only half awake. He looked at the byre, and then he rubbed his eyes; and then he looked at the byre again, for, lo! it was clean. Some one had come to his aid while he slept. When the Giant came home, he knew the King’s son had not cleaned the byre, but he could not prove it, so he had to keep his word.

The second and third tasks were done in much the same way. The Prince would try very hard to do the work alone, and when he was just about to fail the Giant’s daughter would come and encourage the youth.

In getting the eggs from the magpie’s nest, the Giant’s daughter was in a great hurry, because she felt her father’s breath on the back of her neck. In her haste she left her little finger in the magpie’s nest, but there was no time to go back and get it.

When the third task was finished, the Giant ordered them to get ready for the wedding.

The Giant tried to deceive the King’s son at the very last. The three daughters were dressed alike, and brought before him, and he was to choose which one was his promised bride. But the Prince knew her by the hand on which the little finger was missing; so all was well.

After the wedding the bride and bridegroom went to their chamber. The Giant’s daughter said: “Quick! quick! We must fly. My father plans to kill you.”

Then she took an apple and cut it into four parts, two of which she put on the bed; one piece was placed by the door, and the other outside. After that was done, they hurried out to the stables, mounted the blue-gray filly, and were off.

In the meantime the Giant was waiting for them to go to sleep. At last he could wait no longer, so he called out: “Are you asleep yet?” And the apple at the head of the bed answered: “No, we are not asleep.” He called out the same thing three more times, and the three other pieces of apple answered him the same way. When the piece outside the door replied, the Giant knew he had been fooled, and that the couple had fled. He started after them in hot pursuit.

Just at dawn the Giant’s daughter said: “My father is close behind us, because his breath is burning my neck. Put thy hand in the filly’s ear and throw behind thee whatever thou findest.”

The Prince did so, and at once a thick forest of blackthorn sprang up behind them.

At noon the Giant’s daughter again said: “I feel my father’s breath on my neck.” So the Prince reached into the filly’s ear and took a piece of stone, which he threw behind him. At once a huge rock was between them and the Giant.

By evening the Giant was close upon them for the third time. Out of the filly’s ear the King’s son took a bladder of water, and threw it behind him. A fresh-water lake then stretched twenty miles behind them. By this time the Giant was coming so fast that he could not stop, but plunged headlong into the lake and was drowned.

When they approached the Prince’s home, the maiden said she would wait for him by the well. “Go thou and greet thy father, then come back for me. But let neither man nor creature kiss thee, or thou wilt forget me.”

The youth was welcomed by all his family, but he kissed none of them. As misfortune would have it, however, an old grayhound jumped upon him and licked his face, and then he did not remember the Giant’s daughter.

She waited a long time for his return. After a while she wandered to an old Shoemaker’s cottage and asked him to take her to the palace, that she might see the newly returned Prince. The Shoemaker, greatly awed by her unusual beauty, said: “Come with me. I am well acquainted with the servants at the castle, and will arrange for you to see the company.”

The pretty woman attracted much attention at the feast. The gentlefolk took her to the banquet hall and gave her a glass of cordial. Just as she was going to drink, a flame appeared in the glass, and a golden pigeon and a silver pigeon sprang out of the flame. At the same time, three grains of barley fell upon the floor.

The two pigeons flew down and ate the barley grains. As they ate, the golden pigeon said: “Do you remember how I cleaned the byre?” Three more grains of barley fell to the ground, and the golden pigeon again spoke: “Do you remember how I thatched the byre?” Still three more grains fell to the ground, and the golden pigeon once more spoke: “Do you remember how I robbed the magpie’s nest? I lost my little finger, and I lack it still.”

Then the King’s son remembered, and he sprang and claimed the Giant’s little daughter as his bride.