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
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