Swan Maidens

Folktales of Type 400

edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1998-2008

The myth of the Swan Maiden is one of the most widely distributed and at the same time one of the most beautiful stories ever evolved from the mind of man. -- Edwin Sidney Hartland


  1. The Swan Maidens (reconstructed from various European sources by Joseph Jacobs).

  2. The Swan Maiden (Sweden, Herman Hofberg).

  3. The Three Swans (Germany, Ernst Meier).

  4. The Story of the Swan Maiden and the King (Romania, M. Gaster).

  5. The Golden Apple Tree and the Nine Peahens (Serbia, Csedomille Mijatovies).

  6. The Feathery Robe (Japan, David Brauns).

  7. Prince Bairâm and the Fairy Bride (Pakistan, Charles Swynnerton).

  8. Links to related sites.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Swan Maidens

Joseph Jacobs

There was once a hunter who used often to spend the whole night stalking the deer or setting traps for game. Now it happened one night that he was watching in a clump of bushes near the lake for some wild ducks that he wished to trap. Suddenly he heard, high up in the air, a whirring of wings and thought the ducks were coming; and he strung his bow and got ready his arrows.

But instead of ducks there appeared seven maidens all clad in robes made of feathers, and they alighted on the banks of the lake, and taking off their robes plunged into the waters and bathed and sported in the lake. They were all beautiful, but of them all the youngest and smallest pleased most the hunter's eye, and he crept forward from the bushes and seized her dress of plumage and took it back with him into the bushes.

After the swan maidens had bathed and sported to their heart's delight, they came back to the bank wishing to put on their feather robes again; and the six eldest found theirs, but the youngest could not find hers. They searched and they searched until at last the dawn began to appear, and the six sisters called out to her, "We must away; 'tis the dawn; you meet your fate whatever it be." And with that they donned their robes and flew away, and away, and away.

When the hunter saw them fly away he came forward with the feather robe in his hand; and the swan maiden begged and begged that he would give her back her robe. He gave her his cloak but would not give her her robe, feeling that she would fly away. And he made her promise to marry him, and took her home, and hid her feather robe where she could not find it. So they were married and lived happily together and had two fine children, a boy and a girl, who grew up strong and beautiful; and their mother loved them with all her heart.

One day her little daughter was playing at hide-and-seek with her brother, and she went behind the wainscoting to hide herself, and found there a robe all made of feathers, and took it to her mother. As soon as she saw it she put it on and said to her daughter, "Tell father that if he wishes to see me again he must find me in the Land East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon;" and with that she flew away.

When the hunter came home next morning his little daughter told him what had happened and what her mother said. So he set out to find his wife in the Land East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon. And he wandered for many days until he came across an old man who had fallen on the ground, and he lifted him up and helped him to a seat and tended him until he felt better.

Then the old man asked him what he was doing and where he was going. And he told him all about the swan maidens and his wife, and he asked the old man if he had heard of the Land East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon.

And the old man said, "No, but I can ask."

Then he uttered a shrill whistle and soon all the plain in front of them was filled with all of the beasts of the world, for the old man was no less than the King of the Beasts.

And he called out to them, "Who is there here that knows where the Land is East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon?" But none of the beasts knew.

Then the old man said to the hunter, "You must go seek my brother who is the King of the Birds," and told him how to find his brother.

And after a time he found the King of the Birds, and told him what he wanted. So the King of the Birds whistled loud and shrill, and soon the sky was darkened with all the birds of the air, who came around him. Then he asked, "Which of you knows where is the Land East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon?"

And none answered, and the King of the Birds said, "Then you must consult my brother the King of the Fishes," and he told him how to find him.

And the hunter went on, and he went on, and he went on, until he came to the King of the Fishes, and he told him what he wanted. And the King of the Fishes went to the shore of the sea and summoned all the fishes of the sea. And when they came around him he called out, "Which of you knows where is the Land East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon?"

And none of them answered, until at last a dolphin that had come late called out, "I have heard that at the top of the Crystal Mountain lies the Land East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon; but how to get there I know not save that it is near the Wild Forest."

So the hunter thanked the King of the Fishes and went to the Wild Forest. And as he got near there he found two men quarrelling, and as he came near they came towards him and asked him to settle their dispute.

"Now what is it?" said the hunter.

"Our father has just died and he has left but two things, this cap which, whenever you wear it, nobody can see you, and these shoes, which will carry you through the air to whatever place you will. Now I being the elder claim the right of choice, which of these two I shall have; and he declares that, as the younger, he has the right to the shoes. Which do you think is right?"

So the hunter thought and thought, and at last he said, "It is difficult to decide, but the best thing I can think of is for you to race from here to that tree yonder, and whoever gets back to me first I will hand him either the shoes or the cap, whichever he wishes."

So he took the shoes in one hand and the cap in the other, and waited until they had started off running towards the tree. And as soon as they had started running towards the tree he put on the shoes of swiftness and placed the invisible cap on his head and wished himself in the Land East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon. And he flew, and he flew, and he flew, over seven Bends, and seven Glens, and seven Mountain Moors, until at last he came to the Crystal Mountain. And on the top of that, as the dolphin had said, there was the Land East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon.

Now when he got there he took off his invisible cap and shoes of swiftness and asked who ruled over the Land; and he was told that there was a king who had seven daughters who dressed in swans' feathers and flew wherever they wished.

Then the hunter knew that he had come to the Land of his wife. And he went boldly to the king and said, "Hail, oh king, I have come to seek my wife."

And the king said, "Who is she?"

And the hunter said, "Your youngest daughter." Then he told him how he had won her.

Then the king said, "If you can tell her from her sisters then I know that what you say is true." And he summoned his seven daughters to him, and there they all were, dressed in their robes of feathers and looking each like all the rest.

So the hunter said, "If I may take each of them by the hand I will surely know my wife"; for when she had dwelt with him she had sewn the little shifts and dresses of her children, and the forefinger of her right hand had the marks of the needle.

And when he had taken the hand of each of the swan maidens he soon found which was his wife and claimed her for his own. Then the king gave them great gifts and sent them by a sure way down the Crystal Mountain.

And after a while they reached home, and lived happily together ever afterwards.

The Swan Maiden


A young peasant in the parish of Mellby [in Blekinge], who often amused himself with hunting, saw one day three swans flying toward him, which settled down upon the strand of a sound nearby. Approaching the place, he was astonished at seeing the three swans divest themselves of their feathery attire, which they threw into the grass, and three maidens of dazzling beauty step forth and spring into the water. After sporting in the waves awhile they returned to the land, where they resumed their former garb and shape and flew away in the same direction from which they came.

One of them, the youngest and fairest, had, in the meantime, so smitten the young hunter that neither night nor day could he tear his thoughts from the bright image. His mother, noticing that something was wrong with her son, and that the chase, which had formerly been his favorite pleasure, had lost its attractions, asked him finally the cause of his melancholy, whereupon he related to her what he had seen, and declared that there was no longer any happiness in this life for him if he could not possess the fair swan maiden.

"Nothing is easier," said the mother. "Go at sunset next Thursday evening to the place where you last saw her. When the three swans come, give attention to where your chosen one lays her feathery garb, take it, and hasten away."

The young man listened to his mother's instructions, and, betaking himself, the following Thursday evening, to a convenient hiding place near the sound, he waited, with impatience, the coming of the swans. The sun was just sinking behind the trees when the young man's ears were greeted by a whizzing in the air, and the three swans settled down upon the beach, as on their former visit.

As soon as they had laid off their swan attire they were again transformed into the most beautiful maidens, and, springing out upon the white sand, they were soon enjoying themselves in the water. From his hiding place the young hunter had taken careful note of where his enchantress had laid her swan feathers. Stealing softly forth, he took them and returned to his place of concealment in the surrounding foliage.

Soon thereafter two of the swans were heard to fly away, but the third, in search of her clothes, discovered the young man, before whom, believing him responsible for their disappearance, she fell upon her knees and prayed that her swan attire might be returned to her. The hunter was, however, unwilling to yield the beautiful prize, and, casting a cloak around her shoulders, carried her home.

Preparations were soon made for a magnificent wedding, which took place in due form, and the young couple dwelt lovingly and contentedly together.

One Thursday evening, seven years later, the hunter related to her how he had sought and won his wife. He brought forth and showed her, also, the white swan feathers of her former days. No sooner were they placed in her hands than she was transformed once more into a swan, and instantly took flight through the open window. In breathless astonishment, the man stared wildly after his rapidly vanishing wife, and before a year and a day had passed, he was laid, with his longings and sorrows, in his allotted place in the village churchyard.

The Three Swans


Once upon a time there was a hunter. He was very despondent because his wife had died. He often wandered about in the forest entirely alone, thinking about whether or not he would ever find a second wife whom he could love as much as he had the first one.

One day he wandered ever deeper into the woods, with his gun at his side and not knowing where he wanted to go. At last he came to a straw hut. Stepping inside, he found there an old man with a crucifix lying before him. He greeted the man, who received him in a friendly manner and asked him what had led him to this forest hut.

The hunter told him of his sorrows: that he had lost his wife, that he now lived by himself, and that he did not know if he would ever be happy again.

The old man said to him, "There is help. Three swans will come here soon. Look at them carefully! After they have flown to the pond, you must secretly go there without letting them see you. Take one of their dresses and immediately return here with it."

As soon as the old man had spoken, three snow-white swans flew toward the hut. After the hunter saw them, they flew further to a nearby pond.

The hunter crept up and secretly took a dress that one of the swans had taken off and laid on the bank. Then he returned with it to the old man's hut.

When the swans wanted to get dressed again, one of them had only a shift. As a beautiful maiden she came to the hunter, who had her dress, and moved into his house, and became his dear wife.

Before the hunter left the old man, the latter said to him, "You must carefully hide the swan-dress from your wife so that she cannot find it again."

The hunter did this, and he lived with his second wife for fifteen years. She bore him several children, and the married couple were very happy together.

Then it happened that one morning the man left, saying to his wife, "I shall be back at noon to eat."

After he had left, the woman watched him until he disappeared into the woods. Then she went to the attic, which the man had not locked this time, opened the chest containing the swan-dress, put it on, and as a swan flew far, far away.

When the man came home to eat, his wife had disappeared. Not even the children could say where she was, for they had not seen her.

Then the hunter returned to the old man in the woods and told him of his misfortune: that once again he had lost his wife, and that he did not know where she had gone.

The old man said, "You did not put the dress away carefully. She found it and has flown away with it."

"Oh," said the hunter sadly, "is it not possible for me to find her again?"

"It is possible," said the old man, "but now it is dangerous, and it could cost you your life."

The hunter wanted to do everything for his wife, and so the old man said to him, "First you must attempt to get into the castle where your wife now lives. That will best happen as follows: She has donkeys that carry flour from a miller every day. Go to the miller and ask him to hide you in a flour sack. The rest you will learn from your wife."

With that the hunter found his way to the miller and talked him into hiding him in a sack. A donkey carried him a great distance to a splendid castle.

After arriving there he immediately found his wife, and no one could have been happier than was she, and she thanked her husband from the bottom of her heart for coming to redeem her.

But then she said to him, "Before we can be happy and live together, you must fight with three dragons who are here. They will come to you on three days and in different forms. They will torment and plague you for one hour each day, and if you withstand this without uttering a sound then they cannot further harm you, and I will be free. But if you speak a single word, they will kill you."

Then the hunter promised that he would surely redeem her.

On the first day three great snakes came and wrapped themselves around the hunter's feet until he could not move, and they tormented him for an entire hour. Because he endured this in silence they went away without harming him.

The next day the dragons appeared as turtles and shot balls of fire at the hunter, until he could no longer withstand it, but he withstood it nonetheless, and he uttered not a sound, so after one hour they left him.

On the third day they came again as gigantic snakes and took the hunter whole into their jaws. He was deathly afraid and thought that he would have to cry out, and that he would no longer be able to withstand it, but out of love for his wife, he withstood it nonetheless.

When the three hours had passed, there suddenly stood before him -- instead of the three snakes -- three noblewomen. These were the three enchanted swans, whom he had now redeemed. And they remained with him and with his wife in the castle, and they all lived together in peace and happiness, and if they have not died, then they must be still alive.

The Story of the Swan Maiden and the King


Once upon a time a king went out hunting, and after he had been hunting in the forest for a long time without finding anything, he found himself suddenly in an open plain, in which there was a huge lake, and in the midst of the lake he saw there a bird swimming about, the like of which he had never seen before. It was a swan.

Drawing his bow, he wanted to shoot it. To his surprise it spoke to him in a human voice, and said, "Do not kill me."

So he tried his best to catch it, and succeeded. Pleased with the capture of the bird, he carried it home alive, and gave it to the cook to kill it to make a meal of it for him. The cook was a Gypsy. She whetted her knife and went to the bird to cut its throat, when, to her astonishment, the bird turned three somersaults, and there stood before her a most beautiful maiden, more beautiful than she had ever seen before. So she ran to the king and told him what had happened.

The king, who first thought that the cook was trying to play some trickery with him, did not listen to her, but when she persisted in her tale, the king, driven by curiosity, went into the kitchen, and there he saw a girl more beautiful than any that he had ever yet set his eyes upon.

He asked her who she was, and she said she was the swan who was swimming on the lake, that she had willfully gone away from her mother, who lived in the land of fairies, and that she had left two sisters behind. So the king took her into the palace and married her. The Gypsy, who was a pretty wench, had thought that the king would marry her, and when she saw what had happened, she was very angry. But she managed to conceal her anger, and tried to be kind to the new queen, biding her time all the while.

The king and queen lived on for a while in complete happiness, and after a time a child was born unto her.

It so happened that the king had to go on a long journey, leaving the wife and child in the care of the Gypsy. One day the Gypsy came to the queen, and said to her, "Why do you always sit in the palace? Come, let us walk a little in the garden, to hear the birds singing, and to see the beautiful flowers."

The queen, who had no suspicion, took the advice of the Gypsy, and went with her for a walk into the garden. In the middle of the garden there was a deep well, and the Gypsy said artfully to the young queen, "Just bend over the well, and look into the water below, and see whether your face has remained so beautiful as it was on the first day when you turned into a maiden from being a swan."

The queen bent over the well to look down into the depths, and that was what the Gypsy was waiting for, for no sooner did the queen bend over the well, than, getting hold of her by her legs, she threw her down head foremost into the well and drowned her.

When the king came home and did not find the queen, he asked what had happened, and where she was. The Gypsy, who had meanwhile taken charge of the child, and looked after it very carefully, said to the king that the young queen, pining for her old home, had turned again into a swan and flown away.

The king was deeply grieved when he heard this, but believing what the Gypsy had told him, he thought that nothing could be done, and resigned himself to the loss of his wife.

They Gypsy woman looked after the child with great care, hoping thereby that she might win the king's love, and that he would marry her. A month, a year passed, and nothing was heard of the wife. And the king, seeing the apparent affection of the Gypsy for the child, decided at last to marry her, and fixed the day of the wedding.

Out of the fountain into which the queen had been thrown, there grew a willow tree with three branches, one stem in the middle and two branching out right and left. Not far from the garden there lived a man who had a large flock of sheep. One day he sent his boy to lead the sheep to the field. On his way the boy passed the king's garden with the well in the middle of it.

As the boy had left his flute at home, when he saw the willow he thought he would cut one of the branches and make a flute. Going into the garden, he cut the middle stem, and made a flute of it. When he put it to his lips, the flute by itself began to play as follows, "O boy, do not blow too hard, for my heart is aching for my little babe which I left behind in the cradle, and to suckle at the black breast of a Gypsy."

When the boy heard what the flute was playing, not understanding what it meant, he was greatly astonished, and ran home to tell his father what had happened with the flute. The father, angry that he had left the sheep alone, scolded him, and took away the flute. Then he tried to see whether the boy had told the truth. As soon as he put it to his mouth the flute started playing the same tune as when the boy had tried to play it. The father said nothing, and wondering at the meaning of the words he hid the flute away in a cupboard.

When the king's wedding day drew near, all the musicians of the kingdom were invited to come and play at the banquet. Some of them passed the old man's house, and hearing from them that they were going to play at the king's banquet, he remembered the marvelous flute, and asked whether he could not go also, as he could play the flute so wonderfully well.

His son -- the young boy -- had meanwhile gone into the garden in the hope of getting another flute, as the willow had three branches. So he cut one of the branches and made a flute of it. Now this flute did not play at all.

When the old man came to the palace, there was much rejoicing and singing. At last his turn came to play. As soon as he put the flute to his lips, the flute sang, "O man, do not blow so hard, for my heart aches for my little babe left in the cradle to be suckled by a black Gypsy."

The Gypsy, who was the king's bride and sat at the head of the table, at once understood the saying of the flute, although she did not know what the flute had to do with the queen whom she had killed.

The king, who marveled greatly at the flute and at the tune which it was singing, took a gold piece and gave it to the man for the flute, and when he started blowing it, the flute began to sing, "O my dear husband, do not blow so hard, for my heart aches for our little babe whom I left in the cradle to be sucked by the black Gypsy. Quickly, quickly, do away with this cruel Gypsy, as otherwise you will lose your wife."

The guests who were present marveled at the song, and no one understood its meaning. The Gypsy, however, who understood full well what it meant, turning to the king, said, "Illustrious king, do not blow this flute and make yourself ridiculous before your guests. Throw it into the fire."

But the king, who felt offended by the words of the Gypsy, made her take up the flute and blow. With great difficulty she submitted to the order of the king, and she was quite justified in refusing to play it, for no sooner had she put the flute to her lips when it sang, "You enemy of mine, do not blow hard, for my heart aches for my little babe left in the cradle to be suckled by you, you evil-minded Gypsy. You have thrown me into the well, and there put an end to my life, but God had pity on me, and he has preserved me to be again the true wife of this illustrious king."

Furious at these words, the Gypsy threw the flute away with so much force that she thought it would break into thousands of splinters. But it was not to be as she thought, for by this very throw the flute was changed into a beautiful woman, more beautiful, indeed, than any had ever seen before. She was the very queen whom the Gypsy had thrown into the well.

When the king saw her, he embraced her and kissed her, and asked her where she had been such a long time. She told him that she had slept at the bottom of the well, into which she had been thrown by the Gypsy, who had hoped to become the queen, and this would have come to pass had it not been for the boy cutting a flute out of the stem of the willow tree. "And now, punish the Gypsy as she deserves, otherwise your wife must leave you."

When the king heard these words, he called the boy and asked him whether he had cut himself a flute from the stem of the willow tree which had grown out of the well in the garden.

"It is so, O illustrious king," said the boy, "and may I be forgiven for the audacity of going into the king's garden. I went and cut for myself a flute from the stem of the willow tree, and when I began to blow it, it played, 'Do not blow so hard, O boy, for my heart is aching within me,' etc." Then he told him he had gone back to his father, who instead of praising him for the marvelous flute, gave him a good shaking. He had then gone a second time into the garden, and had cut off one of the branches to make a flute, but this did not play like the first one. The king gave the boy a very rich gift, and he ordered the Gypsy to be killed.

Some time afterwards, the queen came to the king and asked leave to go to her mother to tell her all that had happened to her, and to say good-bye for ever now, as she henceforth would live among human beings. The king reluctantly gave way. She then made three somersaults, and again became a swan, as she had been when the king found her for the first time on the waters of the lake.

Spreading her wings she flew far away until she reached the house of her mother, who was quite alone. Her two sisters were not there. They had left her some time ago and no one knew whither they had gone. The young queen did not go into the house. She was probably afraid lest her mother would not let her go back again, so she settled on the roof, and there she sang, "Remain in health, good mother mine, as the joy is no longer granted you to have me with you in your house, for you will only see me again when I lose my kingdom, dear mother mine, not before, and not till then."

And without waiting for the answer of her mother she returned back again to her husband. Sitting on the window sill, she sang again, "Rise up, O husband, open the doors, wake up the servants and let them be a witness of my faithfulness to you, for since I have married you I have left my mother, and my sisters have gone away from me, and from a swan I have become a true wife to live in happiness with you. Henceforth I shall no longer be a swan, but you must take care of me that I do not go hence from you. I do not know whether my fate will be a better one by being a queen in this world. O sweet water, how I long to bathe in you! And my white feathers, they will belong to my sisters. Since I am to leave them forever, and my mother with them, O Lord, what have I done? Shall I be able to live upon the earth, and shall I keep the kingdom? Thou, O Lord, O merciful, hearken unto me and grant that this kingdom may not be in vain." And turning again head over heals, she became a woman as before, and entering the palace she lived there with her husband -- the king -- and if they have not died since, they are still alive.

The Golden Apple Tree and the Nine Peahens


Once upon a time there lived a king who had three sons. Now, before the king's palace grew a golden apple tree, which in one and the same night blossomed, bore fruit, and lost all its fruit, though no one could tell who took the apples. One day the king, speaking to his eldest son, said, "I should like to know who takes the fruit from our apple tree!"

And the son said, "I will keep guard tonight, and will see who gathers the apples."

So when the evening came he went and laid himself down, under the apple tree, upon the ground to watch. Just, however, as the apples ripened, he fell asleep, and when he awoke in the morning, there was not a single one left on the tree. Whereupon he went and told his father what had happened.

Then the second son offered to keep watch by the tree, but he had no better success than his eldest brother.

So the turn came to the king's youngest son to keep guard. He made his preparations, brought his bed under the tree, and immediately went to sleep. Before midnight he awoke and looked up at the tree, and saw how the apples ripened, and how the whole palace was lit up by their shining.

At that minute nine peahens flew towards the tree, and eight of them settled on its branches, but the ninth alighted near him and turned instantly into a beautiful girl -- so beautiful, indeed, that the whole kingdom could not produce one who could in any way compare with her.

She stayed, conversing kindly with him, till after midnight, then thanking him for the golden apples, she prepared to depart. But, as he begged she would leave him one, she gave him two, one for himself and one for the king his father. Then the girl turned again into a peahen, and flew away with the other eight. Next morning, the king's son took the two apples to his father, and the king was much pleased, and praised his son.

When the evening came, the king's youngest son took his place again under the apple tree to keep guard over it. He again conversed as he had done the night before with the beautiful girl, and brought to his father, the next morning, two apples as before.

But, after he had succeeded so well several nights, his two elder brothers grew envious because he had been able to do what they could not. At length they found an old woman, who promised to discover how the youngest brother had succeeded in saving the two apples. So, as the evening came, the old woman stole softly under the bed which stood under the apple tree, and hid herself. And after a while, came also the king's son, and laid himself down as usual to sleep. When it was near midnight the nine peahens flew up as before, and eight of them settled on the branches, and the ninth stood by his bed, and turned into a most beautiful girl.

Then the old woman slowly took hold of one of the girl's curls, and cut it off, and the girl immediately rose up, changed again into a peahen and flew away, and the other peahens followed her, and so they all disappeared.

Then the king's son jumped up, and cried out, "What is that?" and, looking under the bed, he saw the old woman, and drew her out. Next morning he order her to be tied to a horse's tail, and so torn to pieces. But the peahens never came back, so the king's son was very sad for a long time, and wept at his loss.

At length he resolved to go and look after his peahen; resolving never to come back again unless he should find her. When he told the king his father of his intention, the king begged him not do go away, and told him that he would find him another beautiful girl, and that he might choose out of the whole kingdom.

But all the king's persuasions were useless, so his son went into the world -- taking only one servant to serve him -- to search everywhere for his peahen.

After many travels he came one day to a lake. Now by the lake stood a large and beautiful palace. In the palace lived an old woman as queen, and with the queen lived a girl, her daughter. He said to the old woman, "For heaven's sake, grandmother, do you know anything about nine golden peahens?"

And the old woman answered, "Oh, my son, I know all about them. They come every midday to bathe in the lake. But what do you want with them? Let them be. Think nothing about them. Here is my daughter. Such a beautiful girl! And such an heiress! All my wealth will remain to you if you marry her."

But he, burning with desire to see the peahens, would not listen to what the old woman spoke about her daughter.

Next morning, when day dawned, the prince prepared to go down to the lake to wait for the peahens. Then the old queen bribed the servant and gave him a little pair of bellows, and said, "Do you see these bellows? When you come to the lake you must blow secretly with them behind his neck, and then he will fall asleep, and not be able to speak to the peahens."

The mischievous servant did as the old woman told him. When he went with his master down to the lake, he took occasion to blow with the bellows behind his neck, and the poor prince fell asleep just as though he were dead.

Shortly after, the nine peahens came flying, and eight of them alighted by the lake, but the ninth flew towards him as he sat on horseback, and caressed him, and tried to awaken him. "Awake my darling! Awake, my heart! Awake, my soul!"

But for all that he knew nothing, just as if he were dead.

After they had bathed, all the peahens flew away together, and after they were gone the prince woke up, and said to his servant, "What has happened? Did they not come?"

The servant told him they had been there, and that eight of them had bathed, but the ninth had sat by him on his horse, and caressed and tried to awaken him. Then the king's son was so angry that he almost killed himself in his rage.

Next morning he went down again to the shore to wait for the peahens, and rode about a long time till the servant again found an opportunity of blowing with the bellows behind his neck, so that he again fell asleep as though dead. Hardly had he fallen asleep before the nine peahens came flying, and eight of them alighted by the water, but the ninth settled down by the side of his horse and caressed him, and cried out to awaken him, "Arise, my darling! Arise, my heart! Arise my soul!"

But it was of no use. The prince slept on as if he were dead. Then she said to the servant, "Tell your master, tomorrow he can see us here again, but nevermore."

With these words the peahens flew away. Immediately after, the king's son woke up and asked his servant, "Have they not been here?"

And the man answered, "Yes, they have been, and say that you can see them again tomorrow, at this place, but after that they will not return again."

When the unhappy prince heard that, he knew not what to do with himself, and in his great trouble and misery tore the hair from his head.

The third day he went down again to the shore, but, fearing to fall asleep, instead of riding slowly, galloped along the shore. His servant, however, found an opportunity of blowing with the bellows behind his neck, and again the prince fell asleep.

A moment after came the nine peahens, and the eight alighted on the lake and the ninth by him on his horse, and sought to awaken him, caressing him. "Arise, my darling! Arise, my heart! Arise, my soul!"

But it was of no use. He slept on as if dead. Then the peahen said to the servant, "When your master awakens tell him he ought to strike off the head of the nail from the lower part, and then he will find me."

Thereupon all the peahens fled away. Immediately the king's son awoke and said to his servant, "Have they been here?"

And the servant answered, "They have been, and the one which alighted on your horse, ordered me to tell you to strike off the head of the nail from the lower part, and then you will find her."

When the prince heard that, he drew his sword and cut off his servant's head.

After that he traveled alone about the world, and, after long traveling, came to a mountain and remained all night there with a hermit, whom he asked if he knew anything about nine golden peahens.

The hermit said, "Eh! My son, you are lucky. God has led you in the right path. From this place it is only a half a day's walk. But you must go straight on, then you will come to a large gate, which you must pass through. And, after that, you must keep always to the right hand, and so you will come to the peahens' city, and there find their palace."

So next morning the king's son arose, and prepared to go. He thanked the hermit, and went as he had told him. After a while he came to the great gate, and, having passed it, turned to the right, so that at midday he saw the city, and beholding how white it shone, rejoiced very much.

When he came into the city he found the palace where lived the nine golden peahens. But at the gate he was stopped by the guard, who demanded who he was, and whence he came. After he had answered these questions, the guards went to announce him to the queen.

When the queen heard who he was, she came running out to the gate and took him by the hand to lead him into the palace. She was a young and beautiful maiden, and so there was a great rejoicing when, after a few days, he married her and remained there with her.

One day, some time after their marriage, the queen went out to walk, and the king's son remained in the palace. Before going out, however, the queen gave him the keys of twelve cellars, telling him, "You may go down into all the cellars except the twelfth -- that must on no account open, or it will cost you your head."

She then went away. The king's son whilst remaining in the palace began to wonder what there could be in the twelfth cellar, and soon commenced opening one cellar after the other.

When he came to the twelfth he would not at first open it, but again began to wonder very much why he was forbidden to go into it. "What can be in this cellar?" he exclaimed to himself.

At last he opened it. In the middle of the cellar lay a big barrel with an open bung-hole, but bound fast round with three iron hoops. Out of the barrel came a voice, saying, "For God's sake, my brother, I am dying with thirst. Please give me a cup of water!"

Then the king's son took a cup and filled it with water, and emptied it into the barrel. Immediately he had done so, one of the hoops burst asunder.

Again came the voice from the barrel, "For God's sake, my brother, I am dying of thirst. Please give me a cup of water!"

The king's son again filled the cup, and took it, and emptied it into the barrel, and instantly another hoop burst asunder.

The third time the voice came out of the barrel, "For God's sake, my brother, I am dying of thirst. Please give me a cup of water!"

The king's son again took the cup and filled it, and poured the water into the barrel, and the third hoop burst. Then the barrel fell to pieces, and a dragon flew out of the cellar, and caught the queen on the road and carried her away.

Then the servant, who went out with the queen, came back quickly, and told the king's son what had happened, and the poor prince knew not what to do with himself, so desperate was he, and full of self reproaches. At length, however, he resolved to set out and travel through the world in search of her.

After long journeying, one day he came to a lake, and near it, in a little hole, he saw a little fish jumping about. When the fish saw the king's son, she began to beg pitifully, "For God's sake, be my brother, and throw me into the water. Some day I may be of use to you, so take now a little scale from me, and when you need me, rub it gently."

Then the king's son lifted the little fish from the hole and threw her into the water, after he had taken one small scale, which he wrapped up carefully in a handkerchief.

Some time afterwards, as he traveled about the world, he came upon a fox, caught in an iron trap. When the fox saw the prince, he spoke, "In God's name, be a brother to me, and help me to get out of this trap. One day you will need me, so take just one hair from my tail, and when you want me, rub it gently."

Then the king's son took a hair from the tail of the fox, and let him free.

Again, as he crossed a mountain, he found a wolf fast in a trap; and when the wolf saw him, it spoke, "Be a brother to me. In God's name, set me free, and one day I will help you. Only take a hair from me, and when you need me, rub it gently."

So he took a hair, and let the wolf free.

After that, the king's son traveled about a very long time, till one day he met a man, to whom he said, "For God's sake, brother, have you ever heard anyone say where is the palace of the dragon king?"

The man gave him very particular directions which way to take, and in what length of time he could get there. Then the king's son thanked him and continued his journey until he came to the city where the dragon lived.

When there, he went into the palace and found therein his wife, and both of them were exceedingly pleased to meet each other, and began to take counsel how they could escape. They resolved to run away, and prepared hastily for the journey. When all was ready they mounted on horseback and galloped away.

As soon as they were gone, the dragon came home, also on horseback, and, entering his palace, found that the queen had gone away. Then he said to his horse, "What shall we do now? Shall we eat and drink, or go at once after them?"

The horse answered, "Let us eat and drink first. We shall anyway catch them. Do not be anxious."

After the dragon had dined, he mounted his horse, and in a few moments came up with the runaways. Then he took the queen from the king's son and said to him, "Go now, in God's name! This time I forgive you, because you gave me water in the cellar. But if your life is dear to you, do not come back here any more!"

The unhappy young prince went on his way a little, but could not long resist, so he came back next day to the dragon's palace, and found the queen sitting alone and weeping.

Then they began again to consult how they could get away. And the prince said, "When the dragon comes, ask him where he got that horse, and then you will tell me so that I can look for such another one; perhaps in this way we can escape."

He then went away, lest the dragon should come and find him with the queen.

By and by the dragon came home, and the queen began to pet him, and speak lovingly to him about many things, till at last she said, "Ah! what a fine horse you have! Where did you get such a splendid horse?"

And he answered, "Eh! Where I got it everyone cannot get one! In such and such a mountain lives an old woman who has twelve horses in her stable, and no one can say which is the finest, they are all so beautiful. But in one corner of the stable stands a horse which looks as if he were leprous, but, in truth, he is the very best horse in the whole world. He is the brother of my horse, and whoever gets him may ride to the sky. But whoever wishes to get a horse from that old woman, must serve her three days and three nights. She has a mare with a foal, and whoever during three nights guards and keeps for her this mare and this foal, has a right to claim the best horse from the old woman's stable. But whoever engages to keep watch over the mare and does not, must lose his head!"

Next day, when the dragon went out, the king's son came, and the queen told him all she had learned from the dragon. Then the king's son went away to the mountain and found the old woman, and entered her house, greeting, "God help you too, my son! What do you wish?"

"I should like to serve you," said the king's son. Then the old woman said, "Well, my son, if you keep my mare safe for three days and three nights, I will give you the best horse, and you can choose him yourself. But if you do not keep the mare safe, you shall lose your head."

Then she led him into the courtyard, where all around stakes were ranged. Each of them had on it a man's head, except one stake, which had no head on it, and shouted incessantly, "Oh, grandmother, give me a head!"

The old woman showed all this to the prince, and said, "Look here! All these were heads of those who tried to keep my mare, and they have lost their heads for their pains!"

But the prince was not a bit afraid, so he stayed to serve the old woman. When the evening came he mounted the mare and rode her into the field, and the foal followed. He sat still on her back, having made up his mind not to dismount, that he might be sure of her. But before midnight he slumbered a little, and when he awoke he found himself sitting on a rail and holding the bridle in his hand.

Then he was greatly alarmed, and went instantly to look about to find the mare, and whilst looking for her, he came to a piece of water. When he saw the water he remembered the little fish, and took the scale from the handkerchief and rubbed it a little. Then immediately the little fish appeared and said, "What is the matter, my half-brother?"

And he replied, "The mare of the old woman ran away whilst under my charge, and now I do not know where she is!"

And the fish answered, "Here she is, turned to a fish, and the foal to a smaller one. But strike once upon the water with the bridle and cry out, 'Hey! mare of the old woman!'"

The prince did as he was told, and immediately the mare came, with the foal, out of the water to the shore. Then he put on her the bridle and mounted and rode away to the old woman's house, and the foal followed. When he got there the old woman gave him his breakfast. She, however, took the mare into the stable and beat her with a poker, saying, "Why did you not go down among the fishes, you cursed mare?"

And the mare answered, "I have been down to the fishes, but the fish are his friends, and they told him about me."

Then the old woman said, "Then go among the foxes!"

When evening came the king's son mounted the mare and rode to the field, and the foal followed the mare. Again he sat on the mare's back until near midnight, when he fell asleep as before. When he awoke, he found himself riding on the rail and holding the bridle in his hand.

So he was much frightened, and went to look after the mare. As he went, he remembered the words the old woman had said to the mare, and he took from the handkerchief the fox's hair and rubbed it a little between his fingers. All at once the fox stood before him, and asked, "What is the matter, half-brother?"

And he said, "The old woman's mare has run away, and I do not know where she can be."

Then the fox answered, "Here she is with us. She has turned into a fox, and the foal into a cub. But strike once with the bridle on the earth and cry out, 'Hey! you old woman's mare!'"

So the king's son struck with the bridle on the earth and cried, "Hey! old woman's mare!" and the mare came and stood, with her foal, near him.

He put on the bridle, and mounted and rode off home, and the foal followed the mare. When he arrived the old woman gave him his breakfast, but took the mare into the stable and beat her with the poker, crying, "To the foxes, cursed one! To the foxes!"

And the mare answered, "I have been with the foxes, but they are his friends, and told him I was there!"

Then the old woman cried, "If that is so, you must go among the wolves!"

When it grew dark again, the king's son mounted the mare and rode out to the field, and the foal galloped by the side of the mare. Again he sat still on the mare's back till about midnight, when he grew very sleepy and fell into a slumber, as on the former evenings, and when he awoke he found himself riding on the rail, holding the bridle in his hand, just as before.

Then, as before, he went in a hurry to look after the mare. As he went, he remembered the words the old woman had said to the mare, and took the wolf's hair from the handkerchief and rubbed it a little. Then the wolf came up to him and asked, "What is the matter, half-brother?"

And he answered, "The old woman's mare has run away, and I cannot tell where she is."

The wolf said, "Here she is with us. She has turned herself into a wolf, and the foal into a wolf's cub. Strike once with the bridle on the earth and cry out, 'Hey! old woman's mare!'"

And the king's son did so, and instantly the mare came again and stood with the foal beside him. So he bridled her, and galloped home, and the foal followed. When he arrived the old woman gave him his breakfast, but she led the mare into the stable and beat her with the poker, crying, "To the wolves, I said, miserable one!"

And the mare answered, "I have been to the wolves, but they are his friends, and told him all about me!"

Then the old woman came out of the stable, and the king's son said to her, "Eh! grandmother, I have served you honestly. Now give me what you promised me."

And the old woman answered, "My son, what is promised must be fulfilled. So look here. Here are the twelve horses. Choose which you like!"

And the prince said, "Why should I be too particular? Give me only that leprous horse in the corner! Fine horses are not fitting for me!"

But the old woman tried to persuade him to choose another horse, saying, "How can you be so foolish as to choose that leprous thing whilst there are such very fine horses here?"

But he remained firm by his first choice, and said to the old woman, "You ought to give me which I choose, for so you promised."

So, when the old woman found she could not make him change his mind, she gave him the scabby horse, and he took leave of her, and went away, leading the horse by the halter.

When he came to a forest he curried and rubbed down the horse, when it shone as bright as gold. He then mounted, and the horse flew as quickly as a bird, and in a few seconds brought him to the dragon's palace.

The king's son went in and said to the queen, "Get ready as soon as possible!" She was soon ready, when they both mounted the horse, and began their journey home. Soon after, the dragon came home, and when he saw the queen had disappeared, said to his horse, "What shall we do? Shall we eat and drink first, or shall we pursue them at once?"

The horse answered, "Whether we eat and drink or not, it is all one. We shall never reach them."

When the dragon heard that, he got quickly on his horse and galloped after them. When they saw the dragon following them, they pushed on quicker, but their horse said, "Do not be afraid! There is no need to run away."

In a very few moments the dragon came very near to them, and his horse said to their horse, "For God's sake, my brother, wait a moment! I shall kill myself running after you!"

Their horse answered, "Why are you so stupid as to carry that monster? Fling your heels up and throw him off, and come along with me!"

When the dragon's horse heard that, he shook his head angrily and flung his feet high in the air, so that the dragon fell off and brake in pieces, and his horse came up to them.

Then the queen mounted him and returned with the king's son happily to her kingdom, where they reigned together in great prosperity until the day of their death.

The Feathery Robe


On the coast of Suruga, at Miwo, there once lived a fisherman by the name of Hakurioo. One day when he was resting from his work on the bank in the sunshine he saw a brightly glistening white robe lying before him, delicate and translucent and entirely woven from feathers. At the place where the shoulders would fit on the wonderful robe there hung two wings.

He eagerly picked it up, wanting to take it home and carefully put it away, when a beautiful girl appeared before him. She sobbed aloud and demanded the return of her robe.

Hakurioo was at first not at all willing to give up his find. But then the girl said, amidst endless sobs and tears, that she was a heavenly goddess, and that she would have to remain miserably on earth as long as she did not have her feathery robe, that she had taken off while bathing, and which had thus wrongly come into his hands.

Moved by compassion, the fisherman said, "Very well, I will give your robe back to you, if in return you will dance the heavenly dance for me with which you daughters of heaven soar through the clouds."

The maiden replied, "Yes, give me my robe, and you shall behold the most beautiful dance that I am able to dance."

The fisherman considered for a moment and said, "No, dance first, and then I will give you your robe."

With this the heavenly maiden grew angry and said, "Shame on you, that you doubt the words of a goddess! Quickly, give me my robe, for without it I am not able to dance. You will not regret it. That I promise you!"

Thereupon Hakurioo handed her the feathery robe. She immediately put it on and rose into the air. True to her words, before the fisherman's amazed eyes she performed the most magnificent dance that one can imagine, at the same time singing the most beautiful, sensuous melodies, until Hakurioo did not know what was happening to him. In more and more beautiful loops she rose higher and higher, but it was a long time before she disappeared from the enchanted fisherman's view, soaring into a light cloud that was drifting toward Fujiyama's summit, with the last sounds of her godly song sounding in his ears.

Prince Bairâm and the Fairy Bride


Once upon a time the king of the giants from the mountains of Kôh Kâf came to visit the kingdoms of men. His name was Safeyd. As he was wandering over the earth he entered a forest, and there he saw a merry company of huntsmen chasing the deer. Their leader was a young prince named Bairâm, and the beauty of this youth was so striking and so unusual that the giant Safeyd felt that he loved him, and that he would never again know happiness or contentment unless he became possessed of him. So he turned himself into a fine horse, with a skin like snow and a neigh like thunder, and in that form repeatedly crossed the path of the prince to attract his attention.

The prince was enchanted when he saw so noble a steed, and gave orders that he should be caught. Safeyd was only too glad to permit himself to be saddled and bridled, and to suffer the prince of whom he was enamoured to vault onto his back. No sooner did he feel him safely seated, however, than he galloped away, and never stopped until he had arrived at his own palace in the mountains which girdle the earth. There he heaped on him every favor, loaded him with gold and precious stones, gave him splendid steeds and hundreds of attendants, clothed him in the richest apparel, and lodged him in a magnificent palace.

After eight days the giant Safeyd came to Bairâm and said, "I shall now leave you for eight days. I must go to my brother's wedding. You, however, will remain here. But take this key, which will admit you into an inner garden, which hitherto no one has entered but myself. When you go, go alone, and remember to lock the door again when you return."

So the giant gave the prince the key, and at once set off for the kingdom of his brother.

That very evening Bairâm went to the garden, which surpassed all he had ever imagined. There stood within it a wonderful pavilion of jasper, set with precious stones. Fountains played on all sides, and the trees, instead of fruit, were laden with rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. Sitting down, he watched the fountains throwing up golden spray and the reflections mirrored in the beautiful pools.

Just then four milk-white doves flew onto a tree, and then settled in the shape of four fairies by the edge of a tank of clear crystal water. Their beauty seemed to dazzle his eyes.

Having unrobed, they entered the water and began to bathe. And as they were bathing, one of the said to the others, "I have had a dream, and by my dream I can tell that one of us shall be parted from the rest."

They then stepped one by one out of the water and began to dress. But the most beautiful fairy of all could not find her clothes. Meanwhile, the others, having finished dressing, turned once more into milk-white doves and flew away, the fourth fairy, whose name was Ghulâb Bâno, exclaiming as she bade them farewell, "It is my kismet. Some different destiny awaits me here, and we shall never meet again."

She then looked towards the steps and saw the prince. At once her heart escaped from her body, and she fell in love with him.

Now, it was the prince himself who had stolen the fairy's clothes and hidden them, and, as he knew that if she recovered them she would change into a milk-white dove again, he now brought out another suit, and she clothed herself, and the two lovers remained in the garden.

When eight days had passed, the giant Safeyd returned once more to his house. And when Bairâm saw the huge chains which encircled his waist he began to tremble with fear, but the giant reassured him saying, "Fear not. Are you not master of all I possess?" And he ordered music to play and dancing girls to assemble in numbers to beguile and cheer his spirits, but they were all invisible.

"To you see them?" asked the giant.

"No," answered the prince. "I see nothing, but I hear the music and the tinkling of anklets."

"I will give you some of King Solomon's antimony," said the giant. "Touch your eyes with it."

And when Prince Bairâm had touch his eyes with King Solomon's antimony he saw the whole place filled with troops of exquisite damsels, dancing to the music of viol and drum.

Now, the beautiful fairy whom the prince had captured in the garden was one of the wives of the giant, and the giant knew all that had passed. But his love for Bairâm was so great that he said to him, "Take not only Ghulâb Bâno, but all I possess you can take as well."

One day the fairy grew sad and said, "Give me leave to visit my father and mother and to return."

So the prince brought out her fairy clothes, and she changed into a milk-white dove, and away she flew. But her parents, when they heard the news, were angry that she had married a mortal, and they imprisoned her in a gloomy subterranean city. Therefore she did not return. And as time went on, and still she came not, Prince Bairâm began to pine and droop from sorrow, and for his sake, too, the giant grew sad and melancholy.

At last the prince cried, "I must follow her, and never come back till I find her."

"Are you quite resolved to go?" asked the giant.

"I can no longer live," said he, "without her."

Then the giant gave him three things: his invisible cap, some of King Solomon's antimony, and one of his own hairs. So the prince set out, and after many days he came to the subterranean city. But because it was all in darkness, and he could not see his way, he rubbed his eyes with the antimony, which made everything plain and clear before him.

Then he inquired, and found that the fairy Ghulâb Bâno was imprisoned in a lofty tower of one hundred iron doors. And when he found himself before the tower he put on his magic cap, which rendered him invisible, and which also compelled all the doors to fly wide open. He then entered, and when he saw the fairy princess he took off his cap and rushed into her arms, and with her he remained for many days.

A woman can never keep a secret. It was not long before Ghulâb Bâno began to whisper to some of her favorite maids, and to tell her intimate friends the good fortune which had smiled on her in the midst of her banishment. Then the news spread until it reached the ears of her father. He collected his giants together, and, going to the tower, they found the prince with the princess.

They were horrified, and cried, "Come, let us kill him!"

Immediately the prince awoke, and, seeing his peril, he put on his magic cap, which made him invisible. Then he took the giant Safeyd's hair, and held it in the flame of the lamp. And as the smoke rose a thousand squadrons of giants at once assembled. There was a great battle. The enemy were routed, and the enraged father compelled to surrender his daughter to Prince Bairâm. After this Safeyd and the prince and the fairy returned in triumph to their beautiful home.

By and by, when some years had now elapsed, the prince began to long for his own kingdom; and his longing grew so great that at last he determined to go. The giant became very sad, but on account of his love for him he allowed him leave.

Then Ghulâb Bâno changed herself into an enormous bird, and the prince mounted between her wings, and in a moment they alighted close to the capital. There the prince disguised himself as a poor fakir, while his wife became a milk-white dove. Then he entered the city and called on his old nurse, who at once recognized him, and told him that his vizier had seized the kingdom and was reigning in his stead.

"And where are my wives?" asked Bairâm.

"Three of your wives," answered she, "he took to be his wives; but the fourth defied him, and because of her fidelity he imprisoned her in a pit. There a son was born, and there the mother and the babe still remain, and he feeds them with the leavings of his hounds."

For a time the prince lodged with his nurse, the fairy having resumed her own shape, but one day when he was out, news was taken to the false king that a woman surpassing in beauty all the women of the earth had been seen at the house of the old woman.

So the false king rushed to the spot, seized Ghulâb Bâno by the arm, and cried, "Come along with me!"

"O king," answered she, "let me first go in and change my clothes."

So she left him waiting at the door, but having entered her chamber, she put on her fairy suit, and, at once changing into a milk-white dove, flew out of the window, and sped far away, but the false king went back to the palace vexed and defeated.

When Bairâm returned, the first thing he said was, "Where is my wife?"

"She has gone to the vizier's," said the old woman. "He came and carried her off."

So the prince took out the giant's hair and held it again in the flame, when instantly there rushed to his help thousands of giants with clubs and swords, and the city was taken, the vizier and the three false wives were slaughtered, while the faithful wife was delivered from the pit and restored to the palace as queen once more.

With her Prince Bairâm lived for some time, being always kind and good to her; but he sighed for the fairy princess, who had flown back to her father's house and had never returned. By degrees his melancholy increased more and more, until, becoming mad he wandered about the city and the palace and the forest, seeking in vain for his lost love.

Meanwhile the giant Safeyd grew melancholy also, and at last he could bear his grief no longer. So he set out for the kingdom of his friend Bairâm, and, having found him, he carried him away and restored him again to his fairy queen.

With her he recovered his health, and his whole after-life was spent in happiness and delight, sometimes with Ghulâb Bâno among the mountains of Kôh Kâf, and sometimes with his faithful wife in the capital of his own kingdom. But at last he left his wife for good and never returned again.

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Revised March 22, 2013.