From "The Goldenrod Fairy Book" selected and translated by Esther Singleton; Dodd, Mead & Company; New York; pp. 282-297.
The King had three sons, and he sent the eldest to watch for the first night in the garden, but when midnight came he could not keep himself awake, and he next morning another apple was missing. On the following night the second son tried to watch, but he succeeded no better. After struggling to keep awake, when it struck twelve he fell asleep, and in the morning, as usual, an apple was missed.
Now came the turn of the third son to watch, but at first the King did not trust him — he thought he would be as unsuccessful as his brothers. At length he gave him permission. 283 The youth laid himself down under the tree and watched, but he did not allow sleep to gain the mastery over him, and as the clock struck twelve he heard the sound of rushing wings through the air, and presently a bird flew by with plumage that glittered like gold. The bird alighted on the tree, and was plucking an apple when the young man raised his gun and fired. The bird escaped, but the shot had touched its plumage and one of its golden feathers fell to the earth.
The youth picked it up, and the next morning carried it to the King, and related to him what he had seen during the night. The King assembled his counsellors, and laid the whole case before them, and they all declared that such a feather as the bird had dropped was of more value than the whole kingdom. “If one feather is so costly,” cried the King, “whether I have help or not, I must and will have the whole bird.”
Then the eldest son, relying on his own cleverness, set out on a journey to find the bird, and felt sure he should do so very quickly. He had not gone far, when he came to the borders of a wood, where he saw a fox, and immediately presented his gun at him. “Do not shoot me,” cried 284 the fox; “I can give you good advice. I know you are searching for the golden bird, and if you keep straight on you will arrive towards evening at a little village in which there are two inns, on exactly opposite sides of the road. You will find one lighted up brightly, and will all sorts of amusement and gaiety going on, but do not enter there; go to the other inn, however dark and dismal it may appear to you.”
“How can an ignorant animal give advice?” thought the young man, and fired; yet he missed the fox, who stretched out his bushy tail and darted off quickly through the wood.
After walking for some time, he came towards evening to a village, and there stood both the inns as the fox had said. In one, which was brilliantly lighted up, he heard music and dancing, but the other had a dark, gloomy, sorrowful appearance.
“I should be a fool indeed,” said the young man, “if I went to such a dismal old lumber-place as that, instead of to this, which looks so bright and cheerful.”
So he walked into the attractive house, and lived there in such sumptuous luxury and dissipation 285 that he soon forgot, not only the golden bird, but his father, and all good advice.
As time went on, and the eldest son did not return home, the second son offered to do what he could. So he set out on his way to find the golden bird. As the eldest had done, he also met a fox, who gave him the same advice, to which he paid no attention.
When he arrived at the two hotels, his brother, who was standing at one of the windows, from which sounds of merriment issued, saw him pass, and called to him to come in.
He could not withstand this invitation, so he entered, and was very soon, like his brother, living only a life of pleasure and luxury. Again the time passed on, and the youngest brother, finding the others did not return, offered to go and seek for them. But his father would not give him permission.
“You are less likely to find the golden bird than your brothers,” he said, “for if any misfortune should happen to them, they know how to take care of themselves, and will not fail to act for the best.”
But at last, as the brothers did not return, and 286 the King became anxious, he allowed the youngest to go. At the entrance to the wood the fox again appeared, begged to have his life spared, and offered the third brother the same advice. The youth had plenty of courage, and he said, “Make yourself quite easy, dear fox; I will do you no harm.”
“Neither shall you repent of your kindness,” answered the fox; “and to enable you to go very fast on your journey, just climb up behind on my tail.”
No sooner was the youth seated than the fox began to run, and they went so fast over sticks and stones that the wind whistled through his hair. As soon as they arrived near the village, the young man slipped from the fox’s back, and, following his good advice, turned, without being seen, into the humble-looking inn, and remained there all night.
The next morning he rose, and went out into the fields, and there was the fox waiting for him. “I will tell you what to do next,” he said, when the youth appeared. “You must go straight on from here till you come to a castle, before which you will find a whole band of soldiers lying down; 287 but do not trouble yourself about that, for they will all be asleep and snoring. So pass in between them and enter the castle, and go through all the rooms. At last you will reach a chamber in which hangs a golden bird in a wooden cage. Near it stands an empty cage made of gold for show. But be careful while you are taking the golden bird out of his common cage not to put him in the handsome one, or he may do you some harm.”
At these words the fox again stretched out his tail, the King’s son seated himself on it, and away they went like the wind.
As soon as they arrived at the castle, the young Prince found all as the fox had told him. He passed the sleeping soldiers safely, entered the castle, and walked from room to room till he reached the chamber in which hung the golden bird in its wicker-cage. The gilded cage also hung close by, and on the floor lay the three golden apples.
The young man thought it absurd that the beautiful bird should be in the mean-looking wicker-cage, so he opened the door, took hold of it, and put it in the gilded cage; but it uttered 288 such a heart-rending scream that the soldiers awoke. Rushing into the room, they took the King’s son off to prison.
The next morning a council was held, and, as he confessed everything, he was condemned to death. The King, however, said that he would spare the young man’s life on condition that he brought him the golden horse, which could run faster than the wind, and then he should, in addition, have the golden bird as a reward. The King’ son started on his way, but felt very sorrowful, and sighed deeply, for where should he find this golden horse? At this moment, who should he see sitting by the roadside but his old friend, the fox.
“Look you,” he said, “this has happened because you have not obeyed me. Keep up your courage; I will tell you how you may find the golden horse, and lead you to it. You must go straight on till you come to a castle, in one of the stables of which the horse stands. Near the stable many grooms and stable-boys will be lying about; but they will be asleep and snoring, and you can quietly lead the golden horse out. But you must be careful to place on the horse the 289 common saddle, made of wood and leather — not the gilded one which hangs near it, or some harm will happen to you.” Then the fox stretched out its tail, and the King’s son seated himself upon it, and away they went again like the wind.
Everything occurred as the fox had said, and he soon reached the stable where the golden horse stood; but as he was going to put on the common leather saddle, he thought to himself, “Such a beautiful horse as this ought not to have a common saddle on his back; it is not suitable for him.” But no sooner had he touched the golden saddle than the horse began to neigh as loud as he could.
The grooms and stable-boys awoke, seized the young man, and carried him off to prison. The next morning he was again brought before the council, and condemned to die; but the King promised to grant him his life, and to give him the golden horse, if he could bring the beautiful princess from the golden castle.
With a heavy heart the young man started on what appeared to him a hopeless journey, when, to his good fortune, he again met the faithful fox.290
“I ought to leave you to your fate,” said he; “but I feel compassion for you, and once more I will help you out of your trouble. To find the golden castle, you must keep straight on, and you will arrive there about sunset. The Princess, when all is still, will go alone to the bath; as she passes, spring out upon her, and give her a kiss; then she will follow you, and you can easily carry her away; but on no account allow her to say farewell to her parents; if you do so, evil will befall you.” Then the fox stretched out his tail, the King’s son seated himself upon it, and away they went like the wind.
When he came to the castle, he found everything as the fox had described. He waited till midnight, when everyone slept, and then, as he heard the footsteps of the beautiful young Princess coming towards the bath, he sprang out and gave her a kiss. She promised to go away with him if he would only allow her to take leave of her parents. He refused at first, but she prayed and wept so piteously, and fell at his feet, that at last he could not withstand her tears, and gave her consent.
No sooner, however, had the young maiden 291 entered her parents’ chamber than every inhabitant of the golden castle awoke, and the young man was taken prisoner.
The next morning the King sent for him, and said: “Your life is forfeited, and you can only obtain pardon by removing that mountain which lies before my window, and over which I cannot see the distant country; and this task must be finished in eight days. If you succeed, then you shall have my daughter as a reward.”
The King’s son went out directly, and began digging and shovelling with all his might. Night and day he worked without any success; all he did seemed lost, and when the seventh day arrived he gave up hope, and was overcome with sorrow.
On the evening of the seventh day the fox presented himself to the mourner: “You do not deserve that I should take any notice of you,” he said; “but go away, now, and get a little sleep; I will finish your task for you.”
The next morning, when he awoke and looked out of the window, the mountain had vanished.
The young man hastened, full of joy, to the King, and informed him that he had completed 292 the conditions imposed upon him. The King, therefore, whether he would or not, was obliged to keep his word, and give him his daughter.
Then the two went out together, and they did not wait long before the faithful fox came to them.
“Now you have the best,” said the fox; “but the golden horse belongs also to the young lady of the golden castle.”
“How am I to get it?” asked the Prince.
“I will tell you,” he replied. “First take the beautiful Princess to the King who sent you to the golden castle; he will be so overjoyed that he will at once give you the golden horse as he promised. When the horse is brought to the door, hold out your hand to everyone present to say farewell, and leave the Princess till the last. Then, as soon as you take her hand, with a spring lift her on your horse, and ride away with her. None will overtake you, for the golden horse runs swifter than the wind.
All this happily came to pass, and the young Prince galloped off with the beautiful maiden far away from all pursuers.
But the fox was far behind. He came up, 293 and said: “Now I will help you to get the golden bird. When you approach the castle where it is, you must leave the young lady under my protection, and ride into the castle court with your golden horse. They will all be so delighted that they will bring out the golden bird to you; and as soon as you have the cage in your hand then ride back to us.”
Everything happened as they expected, and the King’s son was quite ready to ride home with his lady.
“Now,” said the fox, “what reward am I to have for my assistance to you?”
“What do you wish for?” asked the young man.
“I wish,” he replied, “that when you reach the wood where you first saw me you will shoot me dead, and cut off my head and feet.”
“That would be fine gratitude,” said the King’s son; “but it is impossible for me to do it.”
“Then,” replied the fox, “if you will not do it I must leave you here; but before I go I will give you once more good advice. Be very careful of two things. On no account sit on the edge 294 of a well, and do not buy gallows meat.” After saying these words the fox ran away into the wood.
“What a wonderful animal that is!” said the young man to himself, “and what curious whims he has! Whoever would think of buying gallows flesh? And the wish to sit on the edge of a well would never occur to me.”
So he rode away with the beautiful Princess. The road led him through the village in which his two brothers were staying, and on arriving there they heard a great noise, and saw the people running about. Upon inquiring what was the matter, they were told that two people were going to be hung; and as they drew nearer he saw that they were his two brothers, who had committed all sorts of wicked actions, and wasted all their property.
Eagerly he asked if he could not set them free and save them.
“If you will pay a ransom for them, you can,” answered the crowd; “but why should you give your gold for two wicked men who deserve to be hung?”
But the younger brother did not listen to this; 295 he paid the ransom for them, set them free, and told them to travel home with him.
When they reached the wood where each of them had first met the fox, it was so cool and pleasant, and so sheltered from the burning sun, that the elder brother said: “Let us stay here and rest for a time, while we take something to eat and drink.” The younger brother consented, but whilst they were talking he forgot the warning, and sat down upon the edge of the well. He had scarcely seated himself, when his two brothers pushed him backwards into it, took possession of the young Princess, the golden horse, and the golden bird, and travelled quickly home to their father.
“We have brought home not only the golden bird,” they said, “but the golden horse and the young Princess from the golden castle as booty.”
There was great rejoicing on their arrival at first; but it caused much anxiety when it was found that the horse would not eat, the bird would not sing, and the young maiden only sat and wept.
The younger brother, however, was not dead. Fortunately the well was dry, and he fell on soft 296 moss, without receiving the least injury. He could not, however, get out without help, and help was at hand, for in his trouble the faithful fox did not forsake him. He came to the well, and scolded him for having forgotten his advice.
“I cannot, however, leave you here,” he said; “I will help you again into the daylight.”
So he told the young man to lay hold tightly by his tail, and then the fox climbed up, and dragged the young man after him. “You are still in danger,” he said, “for your brothers, not being sure of your death, have placed watchers about the wood to kill you if they see you.”
But a poor man was sitting under a tree, with whom the youth changed clothes, and then went to his father’s castle. No one recognized him, but the bird began to sing, the horse ate his corn, and the beautiful young maiden ceased to weep.
“What is the meaning of this?” asked the King in wonder.
Then said the maiden, “I cannot tell why, but I have been so sad, and now I feel quite happy. It is as if my real bridegroom had returned.” She told the King all that had occurred, 297 although the other brothers had threatened to kill her if she betrayed them.
The King, upon this, ordered everyone in the castle to appear before him, and among them came the poor man in ragged clothes. The Princess recognised him immediately, and fell on his neck and wept for joy. Then the brothers were brought to justice and punished, while the youngest married the beautiful Princess, and was named as the King’s successor.
What became of the poor fox? Not long after the King’s son met him, and the fox said: “You have everything that you can wish for in the world, but to my misfortunes there appears no end, although you have the power of setting me free;” and once more he begged so earnestly to be shot dead, and to have his head and feet cut off, that the King’s son at last, with sorrow, consented. As soon as he had finished the painful task, the fox became a man, and was no other than the brother of the beautiful Princess, at last set free from the enchantment that lay upon him.
After this nothing ever happened to interfere with their happiness and good fortune for the rest of their lives.