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The Bird Maiden

Source: Hero Tales And Legends Of The Serbians

There was once a king who had an only son, whom, when he had grown
up, he sent abroad to seek a suitable wife. The prince set out on
his journey, but, although he travelled over the whole world, he did
not succeed in finding a bride. Finally, after having exhausted his
patience and his purse, he decided to die, and, that there should
not remain any trace of him, he climbed a high mountain, intending
to throw himself from the summit. He was on the point of jumping
from the pinnacle, when a voice uttered these mysterious words:
"Stop! Stop! O man! Do not kill yourself, for the sake of three
hundred and sixty-five which are in the year!"

The prince endeavoured in vain to discover whence the voice came,
and, seeing no one, he asked: "Who are you that speak to me? Show
yourself! If you knew of my troubles, you would surely not hinder
me!" Thereupon an old man appeared, with hair as white as snow,
and said to the unfortunate prince: "I am well aware of all you
suffer; but listen to me. Do you see yonder high hill?" The king's
son answered: "Yes, indeed." "Very well," continued the old man,
"seated day and night in the same spot on the summit of that hill
there is an old woman with golden hair, and she holds a bird in her
lap. He who succeeds in securing that bird will be the happiest man
in the world. But if you wish to try your luck you must be cautious;
you must approach the old woman quietly, and, before she sees you, you
must take her by the hair. Should she see you before you seize her, you
will be turned to stone then and there, just as it has happened to many
young men whom you will see there in the form of blocks of marble."

The Old Witch

When the prince heard these words, he reflected: "It is all one to
me; I shall go, and, if I succeed in seizing her, so much the better
for me; but if she should see me before I catch her, I can but die,
as I had already resolved to do." So he thanked the old man, and went
cheerfully to try his luck. He soon climbed the other hill and saw the
old woman, whom he approached very warily from behind. Fortunately
the old woman was absorbed in playing with the bird, and so the
prince was able to get quite near without being perceived. Then he
sprang suddenly forward and seized the old woman by her golden hair;
whereupon she screamed so loudly that the whole hill shook as with an
earthquake. But the courageous prince held her fast. Then the old woman
exclaimed: "Release me, and ask whatever you wish!" And the prince
answered: "I will do so if you let me have that bird, and if you at
once recall to life all these young men whom you have bewitched." The
old woman was forced to consent, and she gave up the bird. Then from
her lips she breathed a blue wind toward the petrified figures, so
that instantly they became living men once more. The noble prince
expressed the joy in his heart by kissing the bird in his hands,
whereupon it was transformed into a most beautiful girl, whom, it
appeared, the enchantress had bewitched in order to lure young men to
a horrid fate. The king's son was so pleased with his companion that
he promptly fell in love with her. On their way from that place the
maiden gave him a stick, and told him that it would do everything he
might wish. Presently the prince wished that he had the wherewithal
to travel as befitted a prince and his bride; he struck a rock with
the stick, and out poured a torrent of golden coins, from which they
took all they needed for their journey. When they came to a river,
the prince touched the water with his stick, and a dry path appeared,
upon which they crossed dryshod. A little farther on they were attacked
by a pack of wolves, but the prince protected his bride with his stick,
and one by one the wolves were turned into ants.

And many other adventures they had, but in the end they arrived
safely at the prince's home. Then they married and they lived happily
ever after.

Next: Lying For A Wager

Previous: The Golden Apple-tree And The Nine Peahens

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