There was once a Man who had to take a long journey, and when he was saying good-bye to his daughters he asked what he should bring back to them.
The eldest wanted pearls, the second diamonds, but the third said, ‘Dear father, I should like a singing, soaring lark.’
The father said, ‘Very well, if I can manage it, you shall have it’; and he kissed all three and set off. He bought pearls and diamonds for the two eldest, but he had searched everywhere in vain for the singing, soaring lark, and this worried him, for his youngest daughter was his favourite child.
Once his way led through a wood, in the midst of which was a splendid castle; near it stood a tree, and right up at the top he saw a lark singing and soaring. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘I have come across you in the nick of time’; and he called to his Servant to dismount and catch the little creature. But as he approached the tree a Lion sprang out from underneath, and shook himself, and roared so that the leaves on the tree trembled.
‘Who dares to steal my lark?’ said he. ‘I will eat up the thief!’
Then the Man said, ‘I didn’t know that the bird was yours. I will make up for my fault by paying a heavy ransom. Only spare my life.’
But the Lion said, ‘Nothing can save you, unless you promise to give me whatever first meets you when you get home. If you consent, I will give you your life and the bird into the bargain.’
But the Man hesitated, and said, ‘Suppose my youngest and favourite daughter were to come running to meet me when I go home!’
But the Servant was afraid, and said, ‘Your daughter will not necessarily be the first to come to meet you; it might just as well be a cat or a dog.’
So the Man let himself be persuaded, took the lark, and promised to the Lion for his own whatever first met him on his return home. When he reached home, and entered his house, the first person who met him was none other than his youngest daughter; she came running up and kissed and caressed him, and when she saw that he had brought the singing, soaring lark, she was beside herself with joy. But her father could not rejoice; he began to cry, and said, ‘My dear child, it has cost me dear, for I have had to promise you to a Lion who will tear you in pieces when he has you in his power.’ And he told her all that had happened, and begged her not to go, come what might.
But she consoled him, saying, ‘Dear father, what you have promised must be performed. I will go and will soon soften the Lion’s heart, so that I shall come back safe and sound.’ The next morning the way was shown to her, and she said good-bye and went confidently into the forest.
Now the Lion was an enchanted Prince, who was a Lion by day, and all his followers were Lions too; but by night they reassumed their human form. On her arrival she was kindly received, and conducted to the castle. When night fell, the Lion turned into a handsome man, and their wedding was celebrated with due magnificence. And they lived happily together, sitting up at night and sleeping by day. One day he came to her and said, ‘To-morrow there is a festival at your father’s house to celebrate your eldest sister’s wedding; if you would like to go my Lions shall escort you.’
She answered that she was very eager to see her father again, so she went away accompanied by the Lions.
There was great rejoicing on her coming, for they all thought that she had been torn to pieces and had long been dead.
But she told them what a handsome husband she had and how well she fared; and she stayed with them as long as the wedding festivities lasted. Then she went back again into the wood.
When the second daughter married, and the youngest was again invited to the wedding, she said to the Lion, ‘This time I will not go alone, you must come too.’
But the Lion said it would be too dangerous, for if a gleam of light touched him he would be changed into a Dove and would have to fly about for seven years.
‘Ah,’ said she, ‘only go with me, and I will protect you and keep off every ray of light.’
So they went away together, and took their little child with them too. They had a hall built with such thick walls that no ray could penetrate, and thither the Lion was to retire when the wedding torches were kindled. But the door was made of fresh wood which split and caused a little crack which no one noticed.
Now the wedding was celebrated with great splendour. But when the procession came back from church with a large number of torches and lights, a ray of light no broader than a hair fell upon the Prince, and the minute this ray touched him he was changed; and when his wife came in and looked for him, she saw nothing but a White Dove sitting there. The Dove said to her, ‘For seven years I must fly about the world; every seventh step I will let fall a drop of blood and a white feather which will show you the way, and if you will follow the track you can free me.’
Thereupon the Dove flew out of the door, and she followed it, and every seventh step it let fall a drop of blood and a little white feather to show her the way. So she wandered about the world, and never rested till the seven years were nearly passed. Then she rejoiced, thinking that she would soon be free of her troubles; but she was still far from release. One day as they were journeying on in the accustomed way, the feather and the drop of blood ceased falling, and when she looked up the Dove had vanished.
‘Man cannot help me,’ she thought. So she climbed up to the Sun and said to it, ‘You shine upon all the valleys and mountain peaks, have you not seen a White Dove flying by?’
‘No,’ said the Sun, ‘I have not seen one; but I will give you a little casket. Open it when you are in dire need.’
She thanked the Sun, and went on till night, when the Moon shone out. ‘You shine all night,’ she said, ‘over field and forest, have you seen a White Dove flying by?’
‘No,’ answered the Moon, ‘I have seen none; but here is an egg. Break it when you are in great need.’
She thanked the Moon, and went on till the Night Wind blew upon her. ‘You blow among all the trees and leaves, have not you seen a White Dove?’ she asked.
‘No,’ said the Night Wind, ‘I have not seen one; but I will ask the other three Winds, who may, perhaps, have seen it.’
The East Wind and the West Wind came, but they had seen no Dove. Only the South Wind said, ‘I have seen the White Dove. It has flown away to the Red Sea, where it has again become a Lion, since the seven years are over; and the Lion is ever fighting with a Dragon who is an enchanted Princess.’
Then the Night Wind said, ‘I will advise you. Go to the Red Sea, you will find tall reeds growing on the right bank; count them, and cut down the eleventh, strike the Dragon with it and then the Lion will be able to master it, and both will regain human shape. Next, look round, and you will see the winged Griffin, who dwells by the Red Sea, leap upon its back with your beloved, and it will carry you across the sea. Here is a nut. Drop it when you come to mid-ocean; it will open immediately and a tall nut-tree will grow up out of the water, on which the Griffin will settle. Could it not rest, it would not be strong enough to carry you across, and if you forget to drop the nut, it will let you fall into the sea.’
Then she journeyed on, and found everything as the Night Wind had said. She counted the reeds by the sea and cut off the eleventh, struck the Dragon with it, and the Lion mastered it; immediately both regained human form. But when the Princess who had been a Dragon was free from enchantment, she took the Prince in her arms, seated herself on the Griffin’s back, and carried him off. And the poor wanderer, again forsaken, sat down and cried. At last she took courage and said to herself: ‘Wherever the winds blow, I will go, and as long as cocks crow, I will search till I find him.’
So she went on a long, long way, till she came to the castle where the Prince and Princess were living. There she heard that there was to be a festival to celebrate their wedding. Then she said to herself, ‘Heaven help me,’ and she opened the casket which the Sun had given her; inside it was a dress, as brilliant as the Sun itself. She took it out, put it on, and went into the castle, where every one, including the Bride, looked at her with amazement. The dress pleased the Bride so much that she asked if it was to be bought.
‘Not with gold or goods,’ she answered; ‘but with flesh and blood.’
The Bride asked what she meant, and she answered, ‘Let me speak with the Bridegroom in his chamber to-night.’
The Bride refused. However, she wanted the dress so much that at last she consented; but the Chamberlain was ordered to give the Prince a sleeping draught.
At night, when the Prince was asleep, she was taken to his room. She sat down and said: ‘For seven years I have followed you. I have been to the Sun, and the Moon, and the Four Winds to look for you. I have helped you against the Dragon, and will you now quite forget me?’
But the Prince slept so soundly that he thought it was only the rustling of the wind among the pine-trees. When morning came she was taken away, and had to give up the dress; and as it had not helped her she was very sad, and went out into a meadow and cried. As she was sitting there, she remembered the egg which the Moon had given her; she broke it open, and out came a hen and twelve chickens, all of gold, who ran about chirping, and then crept back under their mother’s wings. A prettier sight could not be seen. She got up and drove them about the meadow, till the Bride saw them from the window. The chickens pleased her so much that she asked if they were for sale. ‘Not for gold and goods, but for flesh and blood. Let me speak with the Bridegroom in his chamber once more.’
The Bride said ‘Yes,’ intending to deceive her as before; but when the Prince went to his room he asked the Chamberlain what all the murmuring and rustling in the night meant. Then the Chamberlain told him how he had been ordered to give him a sleeping draught because a poor girl had been concealed in his room, and that night he was to do the same again. ‘Pour out the drink, and put it near my bed,’ said the Prince. At night she was brought in again, and when she began to relate her sad fortunes he recognised the voice of his dear wife, sprang up, and said, ‘Now I am really free for the first time. All has been as a dream, for the foreign Princess cast a spell over me so that I was forced to forget you; but heaven in a happy hour has taken away my blindness.’
Then they both stole out of the castle, for they feared the Princess’s father, because he was a sorcerer. They mounted the Griffin, who bore them over the Red Sea, and when they got to mid-ocean, she dropped the nut. On the spot a fine nut-tree sprang up, on which the bird rested; then it took them home, where they found their child grown tall and beautiful, and they lived happily till the end.