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Myths Bohemian

The Glass Hatchet

The Glass Hatchet

Category: Bohemian

Source: Fairy Tales From All Nations

In a remote land there dwelt, in former days, a wealthy count. He and
his consort most ardently wished for a child, to whom they might
bequeath their riches; but a long time passed ere their wish was
gratified. At length, after twelve weary years, the countess bore a
son; but short was the time granted her to rejoice at the
accomplishment of her desire, for she died the day after the child's
birth. Before she expired, she warned her husband never to allow the
child to touch the earth with his feet, for, from the moment he should
do so he would fall into the power of a bad fairy who was on the watch
for him. The countess then breathed her last.

The boy throve well, and when he had outgrown the age for being in the
nurse's arms, a peculiarly-formed chair was constructed for him, in
which he could, unassisted, convey himself about the garden of his
father's castle. At other times he was carried in a litter, and most
carefully attended to and watched, in order that he might never touch
the earth with his feet.

As, however, the physicians, in order to supply the absence of other
exercise, prescribed riding on horseback, he was instructed in that
art as soon as he was ten years of age, and soon became proficient
enough in it to be allowed to ride out daily, without any apprehension
of danger to him being felt by his father. On these occasions he was
always attended by a numerous suite.

He rode almost every day in the forest and on the plain, and returned
safely home. In this manner many years glided away; and the warning
given by the late countess almost ceased to be dwelt upon, and the
enjoined precautions were observed rather from old habit than from any
immediate sense of their importance.

One day the youth, with his attendants, rode across the fields to a
wood, where his father frequently took the diversion of hunting. The
path led to a rivulet, the borders of which were overgrown with
bushes. The riders crossed it; when suddenly a hare, startled by the
tramp of the horses, sprang from the bush and fled through the wood.
The young count pursued, and had almost overtaken it, when the
saddle-girth of his horse broke; saddle and rider rolled together on
the ground, and at the same moment he vanished from the sight of his
terrified attendants, leaving no trace behind.

All search or enquiry was vain; and they recognised in the misfortune
the power of the evil fairy, against whom the countess had uttered her
dying warning. The old count was deeply afflicted; but as he could do
nothing to effect the deliverance of his son, he resigned himself to
fate, and lived patiently and solitary, in the hope that a more
favourable destiny might yet one day rescue the youth from the hands
of his enemy.

The young count had scarcely touched the earth before he was seized by
the invisible fairy, and carried off by her. He seemed now transported
to quite a new world, and without a hope of ever being released from
it. A strangely-built castle, surrounded by a spacious lake, was the
fairy's residence. A floating bridge, which rested only on clouds,
afforded a passage across it. On the other side were only forests and
mountains, which were constantly wrapped in a dense fog, and in which
no human voice, nor even that of any other living creature was ever
heard. All around him was awful, mysterious, and gloomy; and only on
the eastern side of the castle, where a little promontory stretched
out into the lake, a narrow path wound through a valley in the rocks,
behind which a river glistened.

As soon as the fairy with her captive arrived on her territory, she
commanded him fiercely to execute all her behests with the extremest
precision, at the risk of being punished severely for disobedience and

She then gave him a glass hatchet, bidding him cross the bridge of
clouds and go into the forest, where she expected him to cut down all
the timber before sun-set. At the same time she warned him, on pain of
her severest displeasure, not to speak to the dark maiden whom in all
probability he would meet in the forest.

The young count listened respectfully to her orders, and betook
himself with his glass hatchet to the appointed place. The bridge of
clouds seemed at each step he took to sink beneath him; but fear would
not admit of his delaying; and so he soon arrived, although much
fatigued by his mode of passage, at the wood, where he immediately
began his work.

But he had no sooner made his first stroke at a tree, than the glass
hatchet flew into a thousand splinters. The youth was so distressed he
knew not what to do, so much did he fear the chastisement that the
cruel fairy would inflict on him. He wandered hither and thither, and
at length, quite exhausted by anxiety and fatigue, he sank on the
ground and slept.

After a time something roused him; when upon opening his eyes, he
beheld the black maiden standing before him. Remembering the
prohibition he did not venture to address her. But she greeted him
kindly, and inquired if he did not belong to the owner of the domain.
The young count made a sign in the affirmative. The maiden then
related that she was in like manner bound to obey the fairy who had by
magic transformed her and forced her to wander in that ugly form,
until some youth should take pity on her and conduct her over that
river beyond which the domain of the fairy and her power did not
extend. On the further side of the river she was powerless to harm any
one who, by swimming through the waves, should reach the other shore.

These words inspired the young count with so much courage, that he
revealed to the black maiden the whole of his destiny, and asked her
counsel how he might escape punishment, since the wood was not cut
down, and the hatchet was broken.

"I know," resumed the maiden, "that the fairy, in whose power we both
are, is my own mother; but thou must not betray that I have told thee
this, for it would cost me my life. If thou wilt promise to deliver
me, I will assist thee, and will perform for thee all that my mother
commands thee to do."

The youth promised joyfully; she again warned him several times not to
say a word to the fairy that should betray her, and then gave him a
beverage, which he had no sooner drunk than he fell into a soft

How great was his astonishment on waking to find the glass hatchet
unbroken at his feet, all the trees of the forest cut down and lying
round him!

He instantly hastened back across the cloud bridge, and informed the
fairy that her behest was obeyed. She heard with much surprise that
the forest was cut down, and that the glass hatchet was still
uninjured, and being unable to believe that he had performed all that
unassisted, she closely questioned him whether he had seen and spoken
to the black maiden. But the count strongly denied that he had, and
affirmed that he had not once looked up from his work. When she found
that she could learn nothing further from him, she gave him some bread
and water, and showed him a little dark closet where she bade him pass
the night.

Almost before day-break the fairy again wakened him, assigned him for
that day's task to cleave, with the same glass hatchet, all the wood
he had felled into billets, and then to arrange them in heaps; at the
same time she again warned him, with redoubled threats, not to go near
the black maiden, or dare converse with her.

Although his present work was in no respect easier than that of the
preceding day, the youth set off in much better spirits, for he hoped
for the assistance of the black maiden. He crossed the bridge quicker
and more lightly than the day before, and had scarcely passed it when
he beheld her. She received him with a friendly salutation; and when
she heard what the fairy had now required of him, she said, smiling,
"Do not be uneasy," and handed to him a similar beverage to that of
yesterday. The count again fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke his
work was done; for all the trees of the forest were cut up into blocks
and arranged in heaps.

He returned home quickly. When the fairy heard that he had performed
this task also, she was still more surprised than before. She again
inquired if he had seen or spoken to the black maiden; but the count
had the prudence to preserve his secret, and she was again obliged to
content herself with his denial.

On the third day she set him a new task, and this was the most
difficult of all. She commanded him to build, on the further side of
the lake, a magnificent castle, which should consist of nothing but
gold, silver, and precious stones; and if he did not build the said
castle in less than one hour's time, he might expect the most dreadful

The count listened to her commands without alarm, such was the
confidence he reposed in the black maiden. Cheerily he hastened across
the bridge, and immediately recognised the spot where the palace was
to be erected. Pickaxes, hammers, spades, and all manner of tools
requisite for building, lay scattered around; but neither gold, nor
silver, nor jewels could he spy. He had, however, scarcely begun to
feel uneasy at this circumstance, when the black maiden beckoned to
him from a rock at some distance, behind which she had concealed
herself from her mother's searching looks. The youth hastened to her
well pleased, and besought her to assist him in the execution of her
mother's orders.

This time, however, the fairy had watched the count from a window of
her castle, and descried him and her daughter just as they were about
to conceal themselves behind the rock. She set up such a frightful
scream, that the mountains and the lake re-echoed with it, and the
terrified pair scarcely dared to look out from their hiding-place,
whilst the infuriated fairy, with violent gestures and hasty strides,
her hair and garments streaming in the wind, hastened across the
bridge of clouds. The youth gave himself up for lost; each step of the
fairy seemed to bring him nearer to destruction. The maiden, however,
took courage, and bade him follow her as quickly as possible. Before
they hastened from the spot she broke a stone from the rock, uttered a
spell over it, and threw it towards the place from which her mother
was advancing. At once a glittering palace arose before the eyes of
the fairy, which dazzled her with its lustre, and delayed her by the
numerous windings of its avenue, through which she was obliged to
thread her way.

Meanwhile the black maiden hurried the count along, in order to reach
the river, the opposite bank of which alone could protect her for ever
from the persecutions of the raging fairy. But before they had got
half way, she was again so near them that her imprecations, and even
the rustling of her garments reached their ears.

The terror of the youth was extreme; he dared not to look behind him,
and had scarcely power left to advance. At every breath he fancied
that he felt the hand of the terrible fairy on his neck. Then the
maiden stopped, again uttered a spell, and was at once transformed
into a pond, whilst the count swam upon its waters under the figure of
a drake.

The fairy, incensed to the utmost at this new transformation, called
down thunder and hail on the two fugitives; but the water refused to
be disturbed, and whilst it remained calm no thunder-cloud would
approach it. She now employed her power to cause the pond to vanish
from the spot: she pronounced a magic spell, and called up a hill of
sand at her feet, which she intended should choke up the pond. But the
sand-hill drove the water still further on, and seemed rather to
augment than diminish it. When the fairy found this would not answer,
and that her art failed so entirely, she had recourse to cunning. She
threw a heap of golden nuts into the pond, hoping thereby to entice
the drake, and catch him; but he snapped at the nuts with his bill,
pushed them all back to the margin, dived here and there, and made
game of the fairy in various ways.

Finding herself again cheated, and unwilling to see the reflection of
her face in the pond, glowing, as it was, with rage and mortification,
she turned back full of fury to devise some other stratagem by which
to catch the fugitives.

She concealed herself behind the very same rock which had served them
for a place of refuge, and watched for the moment when they should
both resume their natural form in order to pursue their way.

It was not long before the maiden disenchanted herself, as well as the
count, and as they could nowhere perceive their persecutor, they both
hastened in good spirits to the river.

But scarcely had they proceeded a hundred paces, when the fairy burst
out again after them with redoubled speed, shaking at them the dagger
with which she meant to pierce them both. But she was doomed to see
her intentions again frustrated and derided; for just as she thought
she had reached the flying pair, a marble chapel rose before her, in
the narrow portal of which stood a colossal monk, to prevent her

Foaming with passion she struck at the monk's face with her dagger,
but behold, it fell into shivers at her feet. She was beside herself
with desperation, and raved at the chapel till the columns and dome
resounded. Then she determined to annihilate the whole building and
the fugitives with it at once. She stamped thrice, and the earth began
to quake. A hollow murmur like that of a rising tempest was heard from
below, and the monk and chapel began to totter.

As soon as she perceived this, she retired to some distance behind the
edifice, that she might not be buried under its ruins. But she was
again deceived in her expectation; for she had no sooner retired from
the steps, than the monk and chapel disappeared, and an awful forest
surrounded her with its black shade, whence issued a terrible sound of
the mingled bellowing, roaring, howling and baying of wild bulls,
bears, and wolves.

Her rage gave way to terror at this new apparition, for she dreaded
every moment to be destroyed by these creatures, who all seemed to
set her power at defiance. She therefore deemed it most prudent to
work her way back through bush and briar towards the lighter side of
the forest, in order from thence again to try her might and cunning
against the hated pair.

Meantime, both had pursued their way to the river with their utmost
speed. As this river resisted all kind of enchantment, consequently it
was hostile to the black maiden whose hour of deliverance had not yet
struck, and it might have proved fatal to her; she therefore did not
let the moment for her complete disenchantment escape, but reminded
the youth of his promise. She gave him a bow and arrows and a dagger,
and instructed him in the use he was to make of these weapons.

She then vanished from his sight, and at the moment of her
disappearance, a raging boar rushed upon him, menacing to rip him up.
But the youth took courage and shot an arrow at him with such good
aim, that it pierced the animal's skull. It fell to the ground, and
from its jaws sprang a hare, which fled as on the wings of the wind
along the bank of the river. The youth again bent his bow, and
stretched the hare on the earth, when a snow-white dove rose into the
air, and circled round him with friendly cooings. As by the
directions he had received from the black maiden he was equally
forbidden to spare the dove, he sent another arrow from his bow, and
brought it down. Approaching to examine it more closely, he found in
its place an egg, which spontaneously rolled to his feet.

The final transformation now drew near. A powerful vulture sailed down
upon him with wide stretched beak threatening him with destruction.
But the youth seized the egg, waited till the bird approached him, and
cast it into its throat. The monster at once disappeared, and the
loveliest maiden the count had ever beheld stood before his delighted

Whilst these events were occurring, the fairy had worked her way out
of the forest, and now adopted her last means of reaching the
fugitives in case they should not already have passed the river. As
soon as she emerged from the forest, she called up her dragon-drawn
car and mounted high in the air. She soon descried the lovers, with
interlaced arms, swimming easily as a couple of fish towards the
opposite bank.

Swift as lightning she bore down with her dragon-car, and regardless
of all peril, she endeavoured to reach them, even though they were in
the river. But the hostile stream drew down the car into its
depths, and dashed her about with its waves until she hung upon the
bushes a prey to its finny inhabitants. Thus the lovers were finally
rescued. They hastened to the paternal castle, where the count
received them with transport. The following day their nuptials were
celebrated with great magnificence, and all the inhabitants far and
near rejoiced at the happy event.

Next: The Golden Duck

Previous: The Courageous Flute-player

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