Swifter than an eagle, Perseus flew up towards the sky. Then he turned, and the Magic Slippers bore him over the sea straight towards the north. On and on he went, and soon the sea was passed; and he came to a famous land, where there were cities and towns and many people. And then he flew over a range of snowy mountains, beyond which were mighty forests and a vast plain where many rivers wandered, seeking for the sea. And farther on was another range of mountains; and then there were frozen marshes and a wilderness of snow, and after all the sea again,-but a sea of ice. On and on he winged his way, among toppling icebergs and over frozen billows and through air which the sun never warmed, and at last he came to the cavern where the three Gray Sisters dwelt.
These three creatures were so old that they had forgotten their own age, and nobody could count the years which they had lived. The long hair which covered their heads had been gray since they were born; and they had among them only a single eye and a single tooth which they passed back and forth from one to another. Perseus heard them mumbling and crooning in their dreary home, and he stood very still and listened.
“We know a secret which even the Great Folk who live on the mountain top can never learn; don’t we, sisters?” said one.
“Ha! ha! That we do, that we do!” chattered the others.
“Give me the tooth, sister, that I may feel young and handsome again,” said the one nearest to Perseus.
“And give me the eye that I may look out and see what is going on in the busy world,” said the sister who sat next to her.
“Ah, yes, yes, yes, yes!” mumbled the third, as she took the tooth and the eye and reached them blindly towards the others.
Then, quick as thought, Perseus leaped forward and snatched both of the precious things from her hand.
“Where is the tooth? Where is the eye?” screamed the two, reaching out their long arms and groping here and there. “Have you dropped them, sister? Have you lost them?”
Perseus laughed as he stood in the door of their cavern and saw their distress and terror.
“I have your tooth and your eye,” he said, “and you shall never touch them again until you tell me your secret. Where are the Maidens who keep the golden apples of the Western Land? Which way shall I go to find them?”
“You are young, and we are old,” said the Gray Sisters; “pray, do not deal so cruelly with us. Pity us, and give us our eye.”
Then they wept and pleaded and coaxed and threatened. But Perseus stood a little way off and taunted them; and they moaned and mumbled and shrieked, as they found that their words did not move him.
“Sisters, we must tell him,” at last said one.
“Ah, yes, we must tell him,” said the others. “We must part with the secret to save our eye.”
And then they told him how he should go to reach the Western Land, and what road he should follow to find the Maidens who kept the golden apples. When they had made everything plain to him Perseus gave them back their eye and their tooth.
“Ha! ha!” they laughed; “now the golden days of youth have come again!” And, from that day to this, no man has ever seen the three Gray Sisters, nor does any one know what became of them. But the winds still whistle through their cheerless cave, and the cold waves murmur on the shore of the wintry sea, and the ice mountains topple and crash, and no sound of living creature is heard in all that desolate land.