Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Maiden and the Frog

Many years ago there lived on the brow of a mountain, in the north of England, an old woman and her daughter. They were very poor, and obliged to work very hard for their living, and the old woman's temper was not very good, so that the maiden, who was very beautiful, led but an ill life with her.

The girl, indeed, was compelled to do the hardest work, for her mother got their principal means of subsistence by traveling to places in the neighborhood with small articles for sale, and when she came home in the afternoon she was not able to do much more work. Nearly the whole domestic labor of the cottage devolved therefore on the daughter, the most wearisome part of which consisted in the necessity of fetching all the water they required from a well on the other side of the hill, there being no river or spring near their own cottage.

It happened one morning that the daughter had the misfortune, in going to the well, to break the only pitcher they possessed, and having no other utensil she could use for the purpose, she was obliged to go home without bringing any water. When her mother returned, she was unfortunately troubled with excessive thirst, and the girl, though trembling for the consequences of her misfortune, told her exactly the circumstance that had occurred.

The old woman was furiously angry, and so far from making any allowances for her daughter, pointed to a sieve which happened to be on the table, and told her to go at once to the well and bring her some water in that, or never venture to appear again in her sight.

The young maiden, frightened almost out of her wits by her mother's fury, speedily took the sieve, and though she considered the task a hopeless one to accomplish, almost unconsciously hastened to the well. When she arrived there, beginning to reflect on the painful situation in which she was placed, and the utter impossibility of her obtaining a living by herself, she threw herself down on the brink of the well in an agony of despair.

Whilst she was in this condition, a large from came up to the top of the water, and asked her for what she was crying so bitterly. She was somewhat surprised at this, but not being the least frightened, told him the whole story, and that she was crying because she could not carry away water in the sieve.

"Is that all?" said the frog; "cheer up, my hinny! for if you will only let me sleep with you for two nights, and then chop off my head, I will tell you how to do it."

The maiden thought the frog could not be in earnest, but she was too impatient to consider much about it, and at once made the required promise. The frog then instructed her in the following words:

Stop with fog (moss),
And daub with clay;
And that will carry
The water away.

Having said this, he dived immediately under the water, and the girl, having followed his advice, got the sieve full of water, and returned home with it, not thinking much of her promise to the frog. By the time she reached home the old woman's wrath was appeased, but as they were eating their frugal supper very quietly, what should they hear but the splashing and croaking of a frog near the door, and shortly afterwards the daughter recognized the voice of the frog of the well saying:

Open the door, my hinny, my heart,
Open the door, my own darling;
Remember the word you spoke to me
In the meadow by the well-spring.

She was now dreadfully frightened, and hurriedly explained the matter to her mother, who was also so much alarmed at the circumstance, that she dared not refuse admittance to the frog, who, when the door was opened, leapt into the room, exclaiming:

Go wi' me to bed, my hinny, my heart,
Go wi' me to bed, my own darling;
Remember the words you spoke to me,
In the meadow by the well-spring.

This command was also obeyed, although as may be readily supposed, she did not much relish such a bedfellow. The next day, the frog was very quiet, and evidently enjoyed the fare they placed before him, the purest milk and the finest bread they could procure. In fact, neither the old woman nor her daughter spared any pains to render the frog comfortable. That night, immediately supper was finished, the frog again exclaimed:

Go wi' me to bed, my hinny, my heart,
Go wi' me to bed, my own darling;
Remember the words you spoke to me,
In the meadow by the well-spring.

She again allowed the frog to share her couch, and in the morning, as soon as she was dressed, he jumped towards her, saying:

Chop off my head, my hinny, my heart,
Chop off my head, my own darling;
Remember the words you spoke to me,
In the meadow by the well-spring.

The maiden had no sooner accomplished this last request, than in the stead of the frog there stood by her side the handsomest prince in the world, who had long been transformed by a magician, and who could never have recovered his natural shape until a beautiful virgin had consented, of her own accord, to make him her bedfellow for two nights. the joy of all parties was complete; the girl and the prince were shortly afterwards married, and lived for many years in the enjoyment of every happiness.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Aged Bride

At a marriage at Nörre-Broby near Odense, the bride during a dance left the apartment and walked without reflection towards a mount in the adjacent field, where at the same time there were dancing and merriment among the elf-folk. On reaching the mount, she saw that it was standing on red pillars, and at the same moment an elf came and presented to her a cup of wine. She took the cup, and having emptied it, suffered herself to join in a dance.

When the dance was ended she bethought herself of her husband and hastened home. Here it appeared to her that everything in and about the place was changed, and on entering the village, she recognized neither house nor farm, and heard nothing of the noisy mirth of the wedding. At length she found herself standing before her husband's dwelling, but on entering saw no one whom she knew, and no one who knew her.

One old woman only, on hearing the bride's lamentation, exclaimed, "Is it then you, who a hundred years ago disappeared at my grandfather's brother's wedding?"

At these words the aged bride fell down and instantly expired.

* Source: Benjamin Thorpe, Northern Mythology, Comprising the Principal Popular Traditions and Supterstitions of Scandinavia, North Germany, and the Netherlands, vol. 2 (London: Edward Lumley, 1851), p. 138.

* Return to the table of contents.

A Smith Rescues a Captured Woman from a Troll

As a smith was at work in his forge late one evening, he heard great wailing out on the road, and by the light of the red-hot iron that he was hammering, he saw a woman whom a troll was driving along, bawling at her "A little more! A little more!" He ran out, put the red-hot iron between them, and thus delivered her from the power of the troll.

He led her into his house and that night she was delivered of twins.

In the morning he waited on [went to] her husband, who he supposed must be in great affliction at the loss of his wife. But to his surprise he saw there, in bed, a woman the very image of her he had saved from the troll. Knowing at once what she must be, he raised an axe he had in his hand, and cleft her skull.

The matter was soon explained to the satisfaction of the husband, who gladly received his real wife and her twins.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Golden Reed Pipe

Once upon a time there lived in the mountains a woman and her daughter. The daughter liked to dress in red. Hence her name, Little Red.

One day they were plowing and sowing in the fields. All of a sudden, a gale blew up and in the sky there appeared an evil dragon who stretched down his claws, caught Little Red in a tight grip and flew off with her towards the west. Her mother vaguely heard daughter's words carried on the wind:

Oh mother, oh mother, as dear as can be!
My brother, my brother will rescue me!

Wiping away her tears, her mother gazed into the sky and said, "But I only have a daughter. Who can this brother be?"

She staggered home and had got halfway there when her white hair was caught up in the branches of a bayberry tree growing by the roadside. While she was disentangling her hair, she spotted a red, red berry dangling from a twig. She picked it and swallowed it without thinking.

When she arrived home, the woman gave birth to a boy with a round head and red cheeks. She named the boy Little Bayberry.

Bayberry grew up very quickly and in a few days he was a young lad of fourteen or fifteen.

His mother wanted to ask Bayberry to rescue his sister but couldn't bring herself to inflict such a dangerous task on him. All she could do was weep to herself in secret.

One day a crow alighted on the eaves of her house and cried:

Your sister's suffering out there, out there!
She's weeping in the evil dragon's lair!
Bloodstains on her back,
She's digging rocks with hands so bare!

Upon hearing this, Bayberry asked his mother, "Do I have a sister?"

Tears streaming down her cheeks, his mother replied, "Yes, my boy, you do. Because she loved to dress in red, she was called Little Red. That evil dragon who has killed so many people came and took her away."

Bayberry picked up a big stick and said, "I'm going to rescue Little Red and kill that evil dragon. Then he can't do any more harm!"

His mother leaned against the doorframe and through misty eyes watched her son march away.

Bayberry walked for miles and miles. On a mountain road he saw ahead of him, blocking the way, a large rock. It was pointed and rubbed smooth by all the travelers who had had to climb it. One wrong step would mean a nasty fall.

Bayberry said, "This is my first obstacle! If I don't remove it now, it will be the undoing of many more people." He thrust his stick under the rock and heaved with all his might. There was a great "crack!" and the stick broke in two. Then he put both his hands under the rock and tried to shift it with all the strength. The rock rolled down into the valley.

Just at that moment, a shining golden reed pipe appeared in the pit where the rock had been. Bayberry picked it up and blew on it. It gave out a resonant sound.

Suddenly, all the earthworms, frogs and lizards by the roadside began to dance. The quicker the tune the faster the creatures danced. As soon as the music stopped, they ceased dancing. Bayberry had an idea: "Ah! Now I can deal with the evil dragon."

He strode away, the golden reed pipe in hand. He climbed a huge rocky mountain and saw a ferocious-looking dragon coiled at the entrance to a cave. Piles of human bones lay all around him. He also saw a girl in red chiseling away at the cave. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. The evil dragon whipped the girl on the back with his tail and shouted vilely at her:

Most ungrateful loathsome Mistress Red!
Since with me you would not wed,
Day by day,
Rock by rock,
Hew me out a handsome cave,
Or I'll send you to your grave!

Bayberry realized that the girl was none other than his sister. He shouted:

Wicked monster! Evil fiend!
To torment my sister so!
Till your wretched life shall end
On this pipe I'll blow and blow!

Bayberry began to blow on his golden reed pipe. The music set the evil dragon dancing despite himself. Little Red downed her chisel and emerged from the cave to watch.

Bayberry blew on the pipe. The evil dragon continued to dance, squirming and writhing. The quicker the tune, the faster the evil dragon moved.

Little Red came over and wanted to speak to her brother. With a gesture of his hand, Bayberry showed her that he could not stop playing the pipe. If he did, the evil dragon would eat them both up.

Bayberry kept blowing for all he was worth, and the evil dragon stretched his long waist and kept writhing around in time to the music.

Fire came from his eyes, steam from his nostrils, and panting breath from his mouth. The evil dragon pleaded:

Ho-ho-ho! Brother you're the stronger!
Blow no more! Torture me no longer!
I'll send her home,
If you leave me alone!

Bayberry had no intention of stopping. As he blew, he walked towards a big pond. The evil dragon followed him to the bank of the pond, squirming and dancing all the way. With a great splash the evil dragon fell into the pond and the water rose several feet. The evil dragon was utterly exhausted. Fire came from his eyes, steam from his nostrils and panting breath from his mouth. He entreated again in a hoarse voice:

Ho-ho-ho! Brother you're the stronger!
Let me alone and I'll stay in this pond
And torture folk no longer!

Bayberry replied:

Wicked fiend!
This is my bargain:
Stay at the bottom of this pond,
And never do harm again.

The evil dragon kept nodding his head. As soon as the golden reed pipe stopped blowing, he sank to the bottom of the pond.

Bayberry took hold of his sister's hand and walked happily away.

Not long after they set off, they heard the sound of water splashing in the pond. They looked over their shoulders and saw the evil dragon emerge from the water pond. He raised his head and flew in their direction, baring his fangs and clawing the air.

Little Red cried:

Go deep when digging a well;
Pull up the roots when hoeing a field.
While that dragon is still alive
To kindly ways he'll never yield.

Bayberry rushed back to the pond and began to blow on his pipe once more. The evil dragon fell back into the pond and began to dance again, squirming and writhing in the water.

Bayberry stood on the bank for seven days and nights, a fast tune blowing on his pipe. Finally, the evil dragon could move no longer and floated on the surface of the water. His days had come to an end.

Sister and brother joyfully returned home, dragging the body of the evil dragon along behind them. When their mother saw her two children coming home, her face lit up with happiness.

They peeled the dragon's skin to make a house, took out the dragon's bones to serve as pillars and beams and cut off the dragon's horn to make plowshares. With the dragon's horn they plowed the fields quickly and had no need of oxen. In this way they plowed many fields, sowed much grain and enjoyed a life of plenty.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Recovered Bride

There was a marriage in the townland of Curragraigue. After the usual festivities, and when the guests were left to themselves, and were drinking to the prosperity of the bride and bridegroom, they were startled by the appearance of the man himself rushing into the room with anguish in his looks.

"Oh!" cried he, "Margaret is carried away by the fairies, I'm sure. The girls were not left the room for half a minute when I went in, and there is no more sign of her there than if she never was born."

Great consternation prevailed, great search was made, but no Margaret was to be found. After a night and day spent in misery, the poor bridegroom laid down to take some rest. In a while he seemed to himself to awake from a troubled dream, and look out into the room. The moon was shining in through the window, and in the middle of the slanting rays stood Margaret in her white bridal clothes. He thought to speak and leap out of the bed, but his tongue was without utterance, and his limbs unable to move.

"Do not be disturbed, dear husband," said the appearance; "I am now in the power of the fairies, but if you only have courage and prudence we may be soon happy with each other again. Next Friday will be May-eve, and the whole court will ride out of the old fort after midnight. I must be there along with the rest. Sprinkle a circle with holy water, and have a black-hafted knife with you. If you have courage to pull me off the horse, and draw me into the ring, all they can do will be useless. You must have some food for me every night on the dresser, for if I taste one mouthful with them, I will be lost to you forever. The fairies got power over me because I was only thinking of you, and did not prepare myself as I ought for the sacrament. I made a bad confession, and now I am suffering for it. Don't forget what I have said."

"Oh, no, my darling," cried he, recovering his speech, but by the time he had slipped out of bed, there was no living soul in the room but himself.

Till Friday night the poor young husband spent a desolate time. The food was left on the dresser over night, and it rejoiced all hearts to find it vanished by morning. A little before midnight he was at the entrance of the old rath. He formed the circle, took his station within it, and kept the black-hafted knife ready for service. At times he was nervously afraid of losing his dear wife, and at others burning with impatience for the struggle.

At last the old fort with its dark high bushy fences cutting against the sky, was in a moment replaced by a palace and its court. A thousand lights flashed from the windows and lofty hall entrance; numerous torches were brandished by attendants stationed round the courtyard; and a numerous cavalcade of richly attired ladies and gentlemen was moving in the direction of the gate where he found himself standing.

As they rode by him laughing and jesting, he could not tell whether they were aware of his presence or not. He looked intent at each countenance as it approached, but it was some time before he caught sight of the dear face and figure borne along on a milk-white steed. She recognized him well enough, and her features now broke into a smile -- now expressed deep anxiety.

She was unable for the throng to guide the animal close to the ring of power; so he suddenly rushed out of his bounds, seized her in his arms, and lifted her off. Cries of rage and fury arose on every side; they were hemmed in, and weapons were directed at his head and breast to terrify him. He seemed to be inspired with superhuman courage and force, and wielding the powerful knife he soon cleared a space round him, all seeming dismayed by the sight of the weapon. He lost no time, but drew his wife within the ring, within which none of the myriads round dared to enter. Shouts of derision and defiance continued to fill the air for some time, but the expedition could not be delayed.

As the end of the procession filed past the gate and the circle within which the mortal pair held each other determinedly clasped, darkness and silence fell on the old rath and the fields round it, and the rescued bride and her lover breathed freely. We will not detain the sensitive reader on the happy walk home, on the joy that hailed their arrival, and on all the eager gossip that occupied the townland and the five that surround it for a month after the happy rescue.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Frog Who Became an Emperor

Once upon a time there lived a very poor couple. A baby was on the way when the husband was forced to leave his home to find a living somewhere far away. Before he left, he embraced his wife fondly and gave her the last few silver pieces he had, saying, "When the child is born, be it a boy or a girl, you must do all you can to bring it up. You and I are so poor that there is no hope for us now. But our child may be able to help us find a living."

Three months after her husband's departure, the wife gave birth. The baby was neither a boy nor a little girl, but a frog!

The poor mother was heart-broken, and wept bitterly. "Ah, an animal, not a child!" she cried. "Our hopes for someone to care for us in our old age are gone! How can I ever face people again!" She thought at first she would do away with him, but she did not have the heart to do so. She wanted to bring him up, but was afraid of what the neighbors would say.

As she brooded over the matter, she remembered her husband's words before he went away, and she decided not to kill the child but always keep him hidden under the bed. In this way, no one knew she had given birth to a frog-child. But within two months, the frog-child had grown so big that he could no longer be kept under the bed. And one day, he suddenly spoke in a human voice.

"Mother," he said, "my father is coming back tonight. I am going to wait for him beside the road." And sure enough, the husband did come home that very night.

"Have you seen your son?" the wife asked anxiously.

"Where? Where is my son?"

"He was waiting for you by the side of the road. Didn't you see him?"

"No! I saw no sign of anyone," her husband answered, surprised. "All I saw was an awful frog which gave me such a fright."

"That frog was your son," said the wife unhappily.

When the husband heard that his wife had given birth to a frog, he was grieved. "Why did you tell him to meet me?" he said.

"What do you mean, tell him to meet you? He went without any telling from me. He suddenly said you were coming tonight and went out to meet you."

"This is really extraordinary," thought the husband, brightening up. "No one knew I was coming. How could he have known?"

"Call him home, quickly," he said aloud. "He might catch cold outside."

Just as the mother opened the door to do so, the frog came in. He hopped over to his father, who asked him, "Was it you I met on the road?"

"Yes," said the frog. "I was waiting for you, Father."

"How did you know I was coming back tonight?"

"I know everything under heaven."

The father and mother were amazed by his words and more amazed when he went on.

"Our country is in great peril," he said solemnly. "We are unable to resist the invaders. I want Father to take me to the emperor, for I must save our country."

"How can that be?" said the father. "Firstly, you have no horse. Secondly, you have no weapons, and thirdly, you have never been on a battlefield. How, then, do you propose to fight?"

The frog was very much in earnest. "Only take me there," he pleaded. "I'll defeat the enemy, never fear."

The father could not dissuade the frog, so he took his frog-son to the city to seek an audience with the emperor. After two days' journey, they arrived at the capital, where they saw the imperial decree displayed!

"The imperial capital is in danger. My country has been invaded. We are willing to marry our daughter to the man who can drive away the enemy."

The frog tore down the decree and with one gulp swallowed it. The soldier guarding the imperial decree was greatly alarmed. He could hardly imagine a frog accepting such a responsible duty. However, since the frog had swallowed the decree, he must be taken into the palace.

The emperor asked the frog if he had the means and ability to defeat the enemy. The frog replied, "Yes, Lord." Then the emperor asked him how many men and horses he would need.

"Not a single horse or a single man," answered the frog. "All I need is a heap of hot, glowing embers."

The emperor immediately commanded that a heap of hot, glowing embers be brought, and it was done. The heat was intense. The frog sat before the fire devouring the flames by the mouthful for three days and three nights. He ate till his belly was as big and round as a bladder full of fat. By now the city was in great danger, for the enemy was already at the walls. The emperor was terribly apprehensive, but the frog behaved as if nothing unusual was happening, and calmly went on swallowing fire and flame. Only after the third day had passed did he go to the top of the city wall and look at the situation. There, ringing the city, were thousands of soldiers and horses, as far as the eye could see.

"How, frog, are you going to drive back the enemy?" asked the emperor.

"Order your troops to stop plying their bows," replied the frog, "and open the city gate."

The emperor turned pale with alarm when he heard these words.

"What! With the enemy at our very door! You tell me to open the gate! How dare you trifle with me?"

"Your Imperial Highness has bidden me to drive the enemy away," said the frog. "And that being so, you must heed my words."

The emperor was helpless. He ordered the soldiers to stop bending their bows and lay down their arrows and throw open the gate.

As soon as the gate was open, the invaders poured in. The frog was above them in the gate tower and, as they passed underneath, he coolly and calmly spat fire down on them, searing countless men and horses. They fled back in disorder.

The emperor was overjoyed when he saw that the enemy was defeated. He made the frog a general and ordered that the victory should be celebrated for several days. But of the princess he said nothing, for he had not the slightest intention of letting his daughter marry a frog.

"Of course I cannot do such a thing!" he said to himself. Instead, he let it be known that it was the princess who refused. She must marry someone else, but whom? He did not know what to do. Anyone but a frog! Finally he ordained that her marriage should be decided by casting the Embroidered Ball.

Casting the Embroidered Ball! The news spread immediately throughout the whole country and within a few days the city was in a turmoil. Men from far and wide came to try their luck, and all manner of people flocked to the capital. The day came. The frog was present. He did not push his way into the mob but stood at the very edge of the crowded square.

A gaily festooned pavilion of a great height had been built. The emperor led the princess and her train of maids to their seats high up on the stand.

The moment arrived. The princess tossed the Embroidered Ball into the air, and down it gently floated. The masses in the square surged and roared like a raging sea. As one and all stretched eager hands to clutch the ball, the frog drew in a mighty breath and, like a whirling tornado, sucked the ball straight to him.

Now, surely, the princess will have to marry the frog! But the emperor was still unwilling to let this happen.

"An Embroidered Ball cast by a princess," he declared, "can only be seized by a human hand. No beast may do so."

He told the princess to throw down a second ball.

This time a young, stalwart fellow caught the ball.

"This is the man!" cried the happy emperor. "Here is the person fit to be my imperial son-in-law."

A sumptuous feast was set to celebrate the occasion.

Can you guess who that young, stalwart fellow was? Of course it was the frog, now in the guise of a man.

Not till he was married to the princess did he change back again. By day he was a frog but at night he stripped off his green skin and was transformed into a fine, upstanding youth.

The princess could not keep it a secret and one day revealed it to her father, the emperor. He was startled but happy.

"At night," he said to his son-in-law, "you discard your outer garment, I hear, and become a handsome young man. Why do you wear that horrid frog-skin in the day?"

"Ah, Sire," replied the frog, "this outer garment is priceless. When I wear it in winter, I am warm and cozy; and in summer, cool and fresh. It is proof against wind and rain. Not even the fiercest flame can set it alight. And as long as I wear it, I can live for thousands of years."

"Let me try it on!" demanded the emperor.

"Yes, Sire," replied the frog and made haste to discard his skin.

The emperor smiled gleefully. He took off his dragon-embroidered robe and put on the frog-skin. But then he could not take it off again!

The frog put on the imperial robe and became the emperor. His father-in-law remained a frog forever.