Once upon a time there lived a king who was always at war with his neighbours, which was very strange, as he was a good and kind man, quite content with his own country, and not wanting to seize land belonging to other people. Perhaps he may have tried too much to please everybody, and that often ends in pleasing nobody; but, at any rate, he found himself, at the end of a hard struggle, defeated in battle, and obliged to fall back behind the walls of his capital city. Once there, he began to make preparations for a long siege, and the first thing he did was to plan how best to send his wife to a place of security.
The queen, who loved her husband dearly, would gladly have remained with him to share his dangers, but he would not allow it. So they parted, with many tears, and the queen set out with a strong guard to a fortified castle on the outskirts of a great forest, some two hundred miles distant. She cried nearly all the way, and when she arrived she cried still more, for everything in the castle was dusty and old, and outside there was only a gravelled courtyard, and the king had forbidden her to go beyond the walls without at least two soldiers to take care of her.
Now the queen had only been married a few months, and in her own home she had been used to walk and ride all over the hills without any attendants at all; so she felt very dull at her being shut up in this way. However, she bore it for a long while because it was the king’s wish, but when time passed and there were no signs of the war drifting in the direction of the castle, she grew bolder, and sometimes strayed outside the walls, in the direction of the forest.
Then came a dreadful period, when news from the king ceased entirely.
‘He must surely be ill or dead,’ thought the poor girl, who even now was only sixteen. ‘I can bear it no longer, and if I do not get a letter from him soon I shall leave this horrible place and go back to see what is the matter. Oh! I do wish I had never come away!’
So, without telling anyone what she intended to do, she ordered a little low carriage to be built, something like a sledge, only it was on two wheels — just big enough to hold one person.
‘I am tired of being always in the castle,’ she said to her attendants; ‘and I mean to hunt a little. Quite close by, of course,’ she added, seeing the anxious look on their faces. ‘And there is no reason that you should not hunt too.’
All the faces brightened at that, for, to tell the truth, they were nearly as dull as their mistress; so the queen had her way, and two beautiful horses were brought from the stable to draw the little chariot. At first the queen took care to keep near the rest of the hunt, but gradually she stayed away longer and longer, and at last, one morning, she took advantage of the appearance of a wild boar, after which her whole court instantly galloped, to turn into a path in the opposite direction.
Unluckily, it did not happen to lead towards the king’s palace, where she intended to go, but she was so afraid her flight would be noticed that she whipped up her horses till they ran away.
When she understood what was happening the poor young queen was terribly frightened, and, dropping the reins, clung to the side of the chariot. The horses, thus left without any control, dashed blindly against a tree, and the queen was flung out on the ground, where she lay for some minutes unconscious.
A rustling sound near her at length caused her to open her eyes; before her stood a huge woman, almost a giantess, without any clothes save a lion’s skin, which was thrown over her shoulders, while a dried snake’s skin was plaited into her hair. In one hand she held a club on which she leaned, and in the other a quiver full of arrows.
At the sight of this strange figure the queen thought she must be dead, and gazing on an inhabitant of another world. So she murmured softly to herself:
‘I am not surprised that people are so loth to die when they know that they will see such horrible creatures.’ But, low as she spoke, the giantess caught the words, and began to laugh.
‘Oh, don’t be afraid; you are still alive, and perhaps, after all, you may be sorry for it. I am the Lion Fairy, and you are going to spend the rest of your days with me in my palace, which is quite near this. So come along.’ But the queen shrank back in horror.
‘Oh, Madam Lion, take me back, I pray you, to my castle; and fix what ransom you like, for my husband will pay it, whatever it is. But the giantess shook her head.
‘I am rich enough already,’ she answered, ‘but I am often dull, and I think you may amuse me a little.’ And, so saying, she changed her shape into that of a lion, and throwing the queen across her back, she went down the ten thousand steps that led to her palace. The lion had reached the centre of the earth before she stopped in front of a house, lighted with lamps, and built on the edge of a lake of quicksilver. In this lake various huge monsters might be seen playing or fighting — the queen did not know which — and around flew rooks and ravens, uttering dismal croaks. In the distance was a mountain down whose sides waters slowly coursed — these were the tears of unhappy lovers — and nearer the gate were trees without either fruit of flowers, while nettles and brambles covered the ground. If the castle had been gloomy, what did the queen feel about this?
For some days the queen was so much shaken by all she had gone through that she lay with her eyes closed, unable either to move or speak. When she got better, the Lion Fairy told her that if she liked she could build herself a cabin, as she would have to spend her life in that place. At these words the queen burst into tears, and implored her gaoler to put her to death rather than condemn her to such a life; but the Lion Fairy only laughed, and counselled her to try to make herself pleasant, as many worse things might befall her.
‘Is there no way in which I can touch your heart?’ asked the poor girl in despair.
‘Well, if you really wish to please me you will make me a pasty out of the stings of bees, and be sure it is good.’
‘But I don’t see any bees,’ answered the queen, looking round.
‘Oh, no, there aren’t any,’ replied her tormentor; ‘but you will have to find them all the same.’ And, so saying, she went away.
‘After all, what does it matter?’ thought the queen to herself, ‘I have only one life, and I can but lose it.’ And not caring what she did, she left the palace and seating herself under a yew tree, poured out all her grief.
‘Oh, my dear husband,’ wept she, ‘what will you think when you come to the castle to fetch me and find me gone? Rather a thousand times that you should fancy me dead than imagine that I had forgotten you! Ah, how fortunate that the broken chariot should be lying in the wood, for then you may grieve for me as one devoured by wild beasts. And if another should take my place in your heart — Well, at least I shall never know it.’
She might have continued for long in this fashion had not the voice of a crow directly overhead attracted her attention. Looking up to see what was the matter she beheld, in the dim light, a crow holding a fat frog in his claws, which he evidently intended for his supper. The queen rose hastily from the seat, and striking the bird sharply on the claws with the fan which hung from her side, she forced him to drop the frog, which fell to the round more dead than alive. The crow, furious at his disappointment, flew angrily away.
As soon as the frog had recovered her senses she hopped up to the queen, who was still sitting under the yew. Standing on her hind legs, and bowing low before her, she said gently:
‘Beautiful lady, by what mischance do you come here? You are the only creature that I have seen do a kind deed since a fatal curiosity lured me to this place.’
‘What sort of a frog can you be that knows the language of mortals?’ asked the queen in her turn. ‘But if you do, tell me, I pray, if I alone am a captive, for hitherto I have beheld no one but the monsters of the lake.’
‘Once upon a time they were men and women like yourself,’ answered the frog, ‘but having power in their hands, they used it for their own pleasure. Therefore fate has sent them here for a while to bear the punishment of their misdoings.’
‘But you, friend frog, you are not one of these wicked people, I am sure?’ asked the queen.
‘I am half a fairy,’ replied the frog; ‘but, although I have certain magic gifts, I am not able to do all I wish. And if the Lion Fairy were to know of my presence in her kingdom she would hasten to kill me.’
‘But if you are a fairy, how was it that you were so nearly slain by the crow?’ said the queen, wrinkling her forehead.
‘Because the secret of my power lies in my little cap that is made of rose leaves; but I had laid it aside for the moment, when that horrible crow pounced upon me. Once it is on my head I fear nothing. But let me repeat; had it not been for you I could not have escaped death, and if I can do anything to help you, or soften your hard fate, you have only to tell me.’
‘Alas,’ sighed the queen, ‘I have been commanded by the Lion Fairy to make her a pasty out of the stings of bees, and, as far as I can discover, there are none here; as how should there be, seeing there are no flowers for them to feed on? And, even if there were, how could I catch them?’
‘Leave it to me,’ said the frog, ‘I will manage it for you.’ And, uttering a strange noise, she struck the ground thrice with her foot. In an instant six thousand frogs appeared before her, one of them bearing a little cap.
‘Cover yourselves with honey, and hop round by the beehives,’ commanded the frog, putting on the cap which her friend was holding in her mouth. And turning to the queen, he added:
‘The Lion Fairy keeps a store of bees in a secret place near to the bottom of the ten thousand steps leading into the upper world. Not that she wants them for herself, but they are sometimes useful to her in punishing her victims. However, this time we will get the better of her.’
Just as she had finished speaking the six thousand frogs returned, looking so strange with bees sticking to every part of them that, sad as she felt, the poor queen could not help laughing. The bees were all so stupefied with what they had eaten that it was possible to draw their stings without hunting them. So, with the help of her friend, the queen soon made ready her pasty and carried it to the Lion Fairy.
‘Not enough pepper,’ said the giantess, gulping down large morsels, in order the hide the surprise she felt. ‘Well, you have escaped this time, and I am glad to find I have got a companion a little more intelligent than the others I have tried. Now, you had better go and build yourself a house.’
So the queen wandered away, and picking up a small axe which lay near the door she began with the help of her friend the frog to cut down some cypress trees for the purpose. And not content with that the six thousand froggy servants were told to help also, and it was not long before they had built the prettiest little cabin in the world, and made a bed in one corner of dried ferns which they fetched from the top of the ten thousand steps. It looked soft and comfortable, and the queen was very glad to lie down upon it, so tired was she with all that had happened since the morning. Scarcely, however, had she fallen asleep when the lake monsters began to make the most horrible noises just outside, while a small dragon crept in and terrified her so that she ran away, which was just what the dragon wanted!
The poor queen crouched under a rock for the rest of the night, and the next morning, when she woke from her troubled dreams, she was cheered at seeing the frog watching by her.
‘I hear we shall have to build you another palace,’ said she. ‘Well, this time we won’t go so near the lake.’ And she smiled with her funny wide mouth, till the queen took heart, and they went together to find wood for the new cabin.
The tiny palace was soon ready, and a fresh bed made of wild thyme, which smelt delicious. Neither the queen nor the frog said anything about it, but somehow, as always happens, the story came to the ears of the Lion Fairy, and she sent a raven to fetch the culprit.
‘What gods or men are protecting you?’ she asked, with a frown. ‘This earth, dried up by a constant rain of sulphur and fire, produces nothing, yet I hear that YOUR bed is made of sweet smelling herbs. However, as you can get flowers for yourself, of course you can get them for me, and in an hour’s time I must have in my room a nosegay of the rarest flowers. If not —! Now you can go.’
The poor queen returned to her house looking so sad that the frog, who was waiting for her, noticed it directly.
‘What is the matter?’ said she, smiling.
‘Oh, how can you laugh!’ replied the queen. ‘This time I have to bring her in an hour a posy of the rarest flowers, and where am I to find them? If I fail I know she will kill me.’
‘Well, I must see if I can’t help you,’ answered the frog. ‘The only person I have made friends with here is a bat. She is a good creature, and always does what I tell her, so I will just lend her my cap, and if she puts it on, and flies into the world, she will bring back all we want. I would go myself, only she will be quicker.’
Then the queen dried her eyes, and waited patiently, and long before the hour had gone by the bat flew in with all the most beautiful and sweetest flowers that grew on the earth. The girl sprang up overjoyed at the sight, and hurried with them to the Lion Fairy, who was so astonished that for once she had nothing to say.
Now the smell and touch of the flowers had made the queen sick with longing for her home, and she told the frog that she would certainly die if she did not manage to escape somehow.
‘Let me consult my cap,’ said the frog; and taking it off she laid it in a box, and threw in after it a few sprigs of juniper, some capers, and two peas, which she carried under her right leg; she then shut down the lid of the box, and murmured some words which the queen did not catch.
In a few moments a voice was heard speaking from the box.
‘Fate, who rules us all,’ said the voice, ‘forbids your leaving this place till the time shall come when certain things are fulfilled. But, instead, a gift shall be given you, which will comfort you in all your troubles.’
And the voice spoke truly, for, a few days after, when the frog peeped in at the door she found the most beautiful baby in the world lying by the side of the queen.
‘So the cap has kept its word,’ cried the frog with delight. ‘How soft its cheeks are, and what tiny feet it has got! What shall we call it?’
This was a very important point, and needed much discussion. A thousand names were proposed and rejected for a thousand silly reasons. One was too long, and one was too short. One was too harsh, and another reminded the queen of somebody she did not like; but at length an idea flashed into the queen’s head, and she called out:
‘I know! We will call her Muffette.’
‘That is the very thing,’ shouted the frog, jumping high into the air; and so it was settled.
The princess Muffette was about six months old when the frog noticed that the queen had begun to grow sad again.
‘Why do you have that look in your eyes?’ she asked one day, when she had come in to play with the baby, who could now crawl.
The way they played their game was to let Muffette creep close to the frog, and then for the frog to bound high into the air and alight on the child’s head, or back, or legs, when she always sent up a shout of pleasure. There is no play fellow like a frog; but then it must be a fairy frog, or else you might hurt it, and if you did something dreadful might happen to you. Well, as I have said, our frog was struck with the queen’s sad face, and lost no time in asking her what was the reason.
‘I don’t see what you have to complain of now; Muffette is quite well and quite happy, and even the Lion Fairy is kind to her when she sees her. What is it?’
‘Oh! if her father could only see her!’ broke forth the queen, clasping her hands. ‘Or if I could only tell him all that has happened since we parted. But they will have brought him tidings of the broken carriage, and he will have thought me dead, or devoured by wild beasts. And though he will mourn for me long — I know that well — yet in time they will persuade him to take a wife, and she will be young and fair, and he will forget me.’
And in all this the queen guessed truly, save that nine long years were to pass before he would consent to put another in her place.
The frog answered nothing at the time, but stopped her game and hopped away among the cypress trees. Here she sat and thought and thought, and the next morning she went back to the queen and said:
‘I have come, madam, to make you an offer. Shall I go to the king instead of you, and tell him of your sufferings, and that he has the most charming baby in the world for his daughter? The way is long, and I travel slowly; but, sooner or later, I shall be sure to arrive. Only, are you not afraid to be left without my protection? Ponder the matter carefully; it is for you to decide.’
‘Oh, it needs no pondering,’ cried the queen joyfully, holding up her clasped hands, and making Muffette do likewise, in token of gratitude. But in order that he may know that you have come from me I will send him a letter.’ And pricking her arm, she wrote a few words with her blood on the corner of her handkerchief. Then tearing it off, she gave it to the frog, and they bade each other farewell.
It took the frog a year and four days to mount the ten thousand steps that led to the upper world, but that was because she was still under the spell of a wicked fairy. By the time she reached the top, she was so tired that she had to remain for another year on the banks of a stream to rest, and also to arrange the procession with which she was to present herself before the king. For she knew far too well what was due to herself and her relations, to appear at Court as if she was a mere nobody. At length, after many consultations with her cap, the affair was settled, and at the end of the second year after her parting with the queen they all set out.
First walked her bodyguard of grasshoppers, followed by her maids of honour, who were those tiny green frogs you see in the fields, each one mounted on a snail, and seated on a velvet saddle. Next came the water-rats, dressed as pages, and lastly the frog herself, in a litter borne by eight toads, and made of tortoiseshell. Here she could lie at her ease, with her cap on her head, for it was quite large and roomy, and could easily have held two eggs when the frog was not in it.
The journey lasted seven years, and all this time the queen suffered tortures of hope, though Muffette did her best to comfort her. Indeed, she would most likely have died had not the Lion Fairy taken a fancy that the child and her mother should go hunting with her in the upper world, and, in spite of her sorrows, it was always a joy to the queen to see the sun again. As for little Muffette, by the time she was seven her arrows seldom missed their mark. So, after all, the years of waiting passed more quickly than the queen had dared to hope.
The frog was always careful to maintain her dignity, and nothing would have persuaded her to show her face in public places, or even along the high road, where there was a chance of meeting anyone. But sometimes, when the procession had to cross a little stream, or go over a piece of marshy ground, orders would be given for a halt; fine clothes were thrown off, bridles were flung aside, and grasshoppers, water-rats, even the frog herself, spent a delightful hour or two playing in the mud.
But at length the end was in sight, and the hardships were forgotten in the vision of the towers of the king’s palace; and, one bright morning, the cavalcade entered the gates with all the pomp and circumstance of a royal embassy. And surely no ambassador had ever created such a sensation! Door and windows, even the roofs of houses, were filled with people, whose cheers reached the ears of the king. However, he had no time to attend to such matters just then, as, after nine years, he had at last consented to the entreaties of his courtiers, and was on the eve of celebrating his second marriage.
The frog’s heart beat high when her litter drew up before the steps of the palace, and leaning forward she beckoned to her side one of the guards who were standing in his doorway.
‘I wish to see his Majesty,’ said he.
‘His Majesty is engaged, and can see no one,’ answered the soldier.
‘His Majesty will see ME,’ returned the frog, fixing her eye upon him; and somehow the man found himself leading the procession along the gallery into the Hall of Audience, where the king sat surrounded by his nobles arranging the dresses which everyone was to wear at his marriage ceremony.
All stared in surprise as the procession advanced, and still more when the frog gave one bound from the litter on to the floor, and with another landed on the arm of the chair of state.
‘I am only just in time, sire,’ began the frog; ‘had I been a day later you would have broken your faith which you swore to the queen nine years ago.’
‘Her remembrance will always be dear to me,’ answered the king gently, though all present expected him to rebuke the frog severely for her impertinence. But know, Lady Frog, that a king can seldom do as he wishes, but must be bound by the desires of his subjects. For nine years I have resisted them; now I can do so no longer, and have made choice of the fair young maiden playing at ball yonder.’
‘You cannot wed her, however fair she may be, for the queen your wife is still alive, and sends you this letter written in her own blood,’ said the frog, holding out the square of handkerchief as she spoke. ‘And, what is more, you have a daughter who is nearly nine years old, and more beautiful than all the other children in the world put together.’
The king turned pale when he heard these words, and his hand trembled so that he could hardly read what the queen had written. Then he kissed the handkerchief twice or thrice, and burst into tears, and it was some minutes before he could speak. When at length he found his voice he told his councillors that the writing was indeed that of the queen, and now that he had the joy of knowing she was alive he could, of course, proceed no further with his second marriage. This naturally displeased the ambassadors who had conducted the bride to court, and one of them inquired indignantly if he meant to put such an insult on the princess on the word of a mere frog.
‘I am not a “mere frog,” and I will give you proof of it,’ retorted the angry little creature. And putting on her cap, she cried: Fairies that are my friends, come hither!’ And in a moment a crowd of beautiful creatures, each one with a crown on her head, stood before her. Certainly none could have guessed that they were the snails, water-rats, and grasshoppers from which she had chosen her retinue.
At a sign from the frog the fairies danced a ballet, with which everyone was so delighted that they begged to have to repeated; but now it was not youths and maidens who were dancing, but flowers. Then these again melted into fountains, whose waters interlaced and, rushing down the sides of the hall, poured out in a cascade down the steps, and formed a river found the castle, with the most beautiful little boats upon it, all painted and gilded.
‘Oh, let us go in them for a sail!’ cried the princess, who had long ago left her game of ball for a sight of these marvels, and, as she was bent upon it, the ambassadors, who had been charged never to lose sight of her, were obliged to go also, though they never entered a boat if they could help it.
But the moment they and the princess had seated themselves on the soft cushions, river and boats vanished, and the princess and the ambassadors vanished too. Instead the snails and grasshoppers and water-rats stood round the frog in their natural shapes.
‘Perhaps,’ said she, ‘your Majesty may now be convinced that I am a fairy and speak the truth. Therefore lose no time in setting in order the affairs of your kingdom and go in search of your wife. Here is a ring that will admit you into the presence of the queen, and will likewise allow you to address unharmed the Lion Fairy, though she is the most terrible creature that ever existed.’
By this time the king had forgotten all about the princess, whom he had only chosen to please his people, and was as eager to depart on his journey as the frog was for him to go. He made one of his ministers regent of the kingdom, and gave the frog everything her heart could desire; and with her ring on his finger he rode away to the outskirts of the forest. Here he dismounted, and bidding his horse go home, he pushed forward on foot.
Having nothing to guide him as to where he was likely to find the entrance of the under-world, the king wandered hither and thither for a long while, till, one day, while he was resting under a tree, a voice spoke to him.
‘Why do you give yourself so much trouble for nought, when you might know what you want to know for the asking? Alone you will never discover the path that leads to your wife.’
Much startled, the king looked about him. He could see nothing, and somehow, when he thought about it, the voice seemed as if it were part of himself. Suddenly his eyes fell on the ring, and he understood.
‘Fool that I was!’ cried he; ‘and how much precious time have I wasted? Dear ring, I beseech you, grant me a vision of my wife and my daughter!’ And even as he spoke there flashed past him a huge lioness, followed by a lady and a beautiful young maid mounted on fairy horses.
Almost fainting with joy he gazed after them, and then sank back trembling on the ground.
‘Oh, lead me to them, lead me to them!’ he exclaimed. And the ring, bidding him take courage, conducted him safely to the dismal place where his wife had lived for ten years.
Now the Lion Fairy knew beforehand of his expected presence in her dominions, and she ordered a palace of crystal to be built in the middle of the lake of quicksilver; and in order to make it more difficult of approach she let it float whither it would. Immediately after their return from the chase, where the king had seen them, she conveyed the queen and Muffette into the palace, and put them under the guard of the monsters of the lake, who one and all had fallen in love with the princess. They were horribly jealous, and ready to eat each other up for her sake, so they readily accepted the charge. Some stationed themselves round the floating palace, some sat by the door, while the smallest and lightest perched themselves on the roof.
Of course the king was quite ignorant of these arrangements, and boldly entered the palace of the Lion Fairy, who was waiting for him, with her tail lashing furiously, for she still kept her lion’s shape. With a roar that shook the walls she flung herself upon him; but he was on the watch, and a blow from his sword cut off the paw she had put forth to strike him dead. She fell back, and with his helmet still on and his shield up, he set his foot on her throat.
‘Give me back the wife and the child you have stolen from me,’ he said, ‘or you shall not live another second!’
But the fairy answered:
‘Look through the window at that lake and see if it is in my power to give them to you.’ And the king looked, and through the crystal walls he beheld his wife and daughter floating on the quicksilver. At that sight the Lion Fairy and all her wickedness was forgotten. Flinging off his helmet, he shouted to them with all his might. The queen knew his voice, and she and Muffette ran to the window and held out their hands. Then the king swore a solemn oath that he would never leave the spot without taking them if it should cost him his life; and he meant it, though at the moment he did not know what he was undertaking.
Three years passed by, and the king was no nearer to obtaining his heart’s desire. He had suffered every hardship that could be imagined — nettles had been his bed, wild fruits more bitter than gall his food, while his days had been spent in fighting the hideous monsters which kept him from the palace. He had not advanced one single step, nor gained one solitary advantage. Now he was almost in despair, and ready to defy everything and throw himself into the lake.
It was at this moment of his blackest misery that, one night, a dragon who had long watched him from the roof crept to his side.
‘You thought that love would conquer all obstacles,’ said he; ‘well, you have found it hasn’t! But if you will swear to me by your crown and sceptre that you will give me a dinner of the food that I never grow tired of, whenever I choose to ask for it, I will enable you to reach your wife and daughter.’
Ah, how glad the king was to hear that! What oath would he not have taken so as to clasp his wife and child in is arms? Joyfully he swore whatever the dragon asked of him; then he jumped on his back, and in another instant would have been carried by the strong wings into the castle if the nearest monsters had not happened to awake and hear the noise of talking and swum to the shore to give battle. The fight was long and hard, and when the king at last beat back his foes another struggle awaited him. At the entrance gigantic bats, owls, and crows set upon him from all sides; but the dragon had teeth and claws, while the queen broke off sharp bits of glass and stabbed and cut in her anxiety to help her husband. At length the horrible creatures flew away; a sound like thunder was heard, the palace and the monsters vanished, while, at the same moment — no one knew how — the king found himself standing with his wife and daughter in the hall of his own home.
The dragon had disappeared with all the rest, and for some years no more was heard or thought of him. Muffette grew every day more beautiful, and when she was fourteen the kings and emperors of the neighbouring countries sent to ask her in marriage for themselves or their sons. For a long time the girl turned a deaf ear to all their prayers; but at length a young prince of rare gifts touched her heart, and though the king had left her free to choose what husband she would, he had secretly hoped that out of all the wooers this one might be his son-in-law. So they were betrothed that some day with great pomp, and then with many tears, the prince set out for his father’s court, bearing with him a portrait of Muffette.
The days passed slowly to Muffette, in spite of her brave efforts to occupy herself and not to sadden other people by her complaints. One morning she was playing on her harp in the queen’s chamber when the king burst into the room and clasped his daughter in his arms with an energy that almost frightened her.
‘Oh, my child! my dear child! why were you ever born?’ cried he, as soon as he could speak.
‘Is the prince dead?’ faltered Muffette, growing white and cold.
‘No, no; but — oh, how can I tell you!’ And he sank down on a pile of cushions while his wife and daughter knelt beside him.
At length he was able to tell his tale, and a terrible one it was! There had just arrived at court a huge giant, as ambassador from the dragon by whose help the king had rescued the queen and Muffette from the crystal palace. The dragon had been very busy for many years past, and had quite forgotten the princess till the news of her betrothal reached his ears. Then he remembered the bargain he had made with her father; and the more he heard of Muffette the more he felt sure she would make a delicious dish. So he had ordered the giant who was his servant to fetch her at once.
No words would paint the horror of both the queen and the princess as they listened to this dreadful doom. They rushed instantly to the hall, where the giant was awaiting them, and flinging themselves at his feet implored him to take the kingdom if he would, but to have pity on the princess. The giant looked at them kindly, for he was not at all hard-hearted, but said that he had no power to do anything, and that if the princess did not go with him quietly the dragon would come himself.
Several days went by, and the king and queen hardly ceased from entreating the aid of the giant, who by this time was getting weary of waiting.
‘There is only one way of helping you,’ he said at last, ‘and that is to marry the princess to my nephew, who, besides being young and handsome, has been trained in magic, and will know how to keep her safe from the dragon.’
‘Oh, thank you, thank you!’ cried the parents, clasping his great hands to their breasts. ‘You have indeed lifted a load from us. She shall have half the kingdom for her dowry.’ But Muffette stood up and thrust them aside.
‘I will not buy my life with faithlessness,’ she said proudly; ‘and I will go with you this moment to the dragon’s abode.’ And all her father’s and mother’s tears and prayers availed nothing to move her.
The next morning Muffette was put into a litter, and, guarded by the giant and followed by the king and queen and the weeping maids of honour, they started for the foot of the mountain where the dragon had his castle. The way, though rough and stony, seemed all too short, and when they reached the spot appointed by the dragon the giant ordered the men who bore the litter to stand still.
‘It is time for you to bid farewell to your daughter,’ said he; ‘for I see the dragon coming to us.’
It was true; a cloud appeared to pass over the sun, for between them and it they could all discern dimly a huge body half a mile long approaching nearer and nearer. At first the king could not believe that this was the small beast who had seemed so friendly on the shore of the lake of quicksilver but then he knew very little of necromancy, and had never studied the art of expanding and contracting his body. But it was the dragon and nothing else, whose six wings were carrying him forward as fast as might be, considering his great weight and the length of his tail, which had fifty twists and a half.
He came quickly, yes; but the frog, mounted on a greyhound, and wearing her cap on her head, went quicker still. Entering a room where the prince was sitting gazing at the portrait of his betrothed, she cried to him:
‘What are you doing lingering here, when the life of the princess is nearing its last moment? In the courtyard you will find a green horse with three heads and twelve feet, and by its side a sword eighteen yards long. Hasten, lest you should be too late!’
The fight lasted all day, and the prince’s strength was well-nigh spent, when the dragon, thinking that the victory was won, opened his jaws to give a roar of triumph. The prince saw his chance, and before his foe could shut his mouth again had plunged his sword far down his adversary’s throat. There was a desperate clutching of the claws to the earth, a slow flagging of the great wings, then the monster rolled over on his side and moved no more. Muffette was delivered.
After this they all went back to the palace. The marriage took place the following day, and Muffette and her husband lived happy for ever after.
[From Les Contes des Fees, par Madame d’Aulnoy.]
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11