The Magician's Daughter





Just on the Finland frontiers there is situated a high mountain, which,

on the Swedish side, is covered with beautiful copsewood, and on the

other with dark pine-trees, so closely ranked together, and so luxuriant

in shade, that one might almost say the smallest bird could not find its

way through the thickets. Below the copsewood there stands a chapel with

the image of St. George, as guardian of the land and as a defence

against dragons, if there be such, and other monsters of paganism,

while, on the other side, on the borders of the dark firwood, are

certain cottages inhabited by wicked sorcerers, who have, moreover, a

cave cut so deep into the mountain that it joins with the bottomless

abyss, whence come all the demons that assist them. The Swedish

Christians who dwelt in the neighbourhood of this mountain thought it

would be necessary, besides the chapel and statue of St. George, to

choose some living protector, and therefore selected an ancient warrior,

highly renowned for his prowess in the battle-field, who had, in his old

age, become a monk. When this man went to take up his abode upon the

mountains, his only son (for he had formerly lived as a married man in

the world) would on no account leave him, but lived there also,

assisting his father in his duties as watcher, and in the exercises of

prayer and penitence, fully equalling the example that was now afforded

him as he had formerly done his example as a soldier.



The life led by those two valiant champions is said to have been most

admirable and pious.



Once on a time it happened that the young hero went out to cut wood in

the forest. He bore a sharp axe on his shoulders, and was besides girded

with a great sword; for as the woods were not only full of wild beasts,

but also haunted by wicked men, the pious hermits took the precaution of

always going armed. While the good youth was forcing his way through the

thickest of the copsewood, and already beheld over it the pointed tops

of the fir-trees (for he was close on the Finland frontier), there

rushed out against him a great white wolf, so that he had only just time

enough to leap to one side, and not being able immediately to draw his

sword, he flung his axe at his assailant. The blow was so well aimed

that it struck one of the wolf's fore-legs, and the animal, being sorely

wounded, limped back, with a yell of anguish, into the wood. The young

hermit warrior, however, thought to himself--



"It is not enough that I am rescued, but I must take such measures that

no one else may in future be injured, or even terrified by this wild

beast."



So he rushed in as fast as possible among the fir-trees, and inflicted

such a vehement blow with his sword on the wolf's head, that the animal,

groaning piteously, fell to the ground. Hereupon there came over the

young man all at once a strange mood of regret and compassion for his

poor victim. Instead of putting it immediately to death, he bound up the

wounds as well as he could with moss and twigs of trees, placed it on a

sort of canvas sling on which he was in the habit of carrying great

fagots, and with much labour brought it home, in hopes that he might be

able at last to cure and tame his fallen adversary. He did not find his

father in the cottage, and it was not without some fear and anxiety that

he laid the wolf on his own bed, which was made of moss and rushes, and

over which he had nailed St. George and the Dragon. He then turned to

the fire-place of the small hut, in order to prepare a healing salve for

the wounds. While he was thus occupied, how much was he astonished to

hear the moanings and lamentations of a human voice from the bed on

which he had just before deposited the wolf. On returning thither his

wonder was inexpressible on perceiving, instead of the frightful wild

beast, a most beautiful damsel, on whose head the wound which he had

inflicted was bleeding through her fine golden hair, and whose right

arm, in all its grace and snow-white luxuriance, was stretched out

motionless, for it had been broken by the blow from his axe.



"Pray," said she, "have pity, and do not kill me outright. The little

life that I have still left is, indeed, painful enough, and may not

last long; yet, sad as my condition is, it is yet tenfold better than

death."



The young man then sat down weeping beside her, and she explained to him

that she was the daughter of a magician, on the other side of the

mountain, who had sent her out in the shape of a wolf to collect plants

from places which, in her own proper form, she could not have reached.

It was but in terror she had made that violent spring which the youth

had mistaken for an attack on him, when her only wish had been to pass

by him.



"But you directly broke my right arm," said she, "though I had no evil

design against you."



How she had now regained her proper shape she could not imagine, but to

the youth it was quite clear that the picture of St. George and the

Dragon had broken the spell by which the poor girl had been transformed.



While the son was thus occupied, the old man returned home, and soon

heard all that had occurred, perceiving, at the same time, that if the

young pagan wanderer had been released from the spells by which she had

been bound, the youth was, in his turn, enchanted and spellbound by her

beauty and amiable behaviour.



From that moment he exerted himself to the utmost for the welfare of her

soul, endeavouring to convert her to Christianity, while his son

attended to the cure of her wounds; and, as their endeavours were on

both sides successful, it was resolved that the lovers should be united

in marriage, for the youth had not restricted himself by any monastic

vows.



The magician's daughter was now restored to perfect health. A day had

been appointed for her baptism and marriage. It happened that one

evening the bride and bridegroom went to take a pleasure walk through

the woods. The sun was yet high in the west, and shone so fervently

through the beech-trees on the green turf that they could never resolve

on turning home, but went still deeper and deeper into the forest. Then

the bride told him stories of her early life, and sang old songs which

she had learned when a child, and which sounded beautifully amid the

woodland solitude. Though the words were such that they could not be

agreeable to the youth's ears (for she had learned them among her pagan

and wicked relations), yet he could not interrupt her, first, because he

loved her so dearly, and, secondly, because she sang in a voice so clear

and sweet that the whole forest seemed to rejoice in her music. At last,

however, the pointed heads of the pine-trees again became visible, and

the youth wished to turn back, in order that he might not come again too

near the hated Finnish frontier. His bride, however, said to him--



"Dearest Conrad, why should we not walk on a little further? I would

gladly see the very place where you so cruelly wounded me on the head

and arm, and made me prisoner, all which has, in the end contributed to

my happiness. Methinks we are now very near the spot."



Accordingly they sought about here and there until at last the twilight

fell dim and heavy on the dense woods. The sun had long since set. The

moon, however, had risen, and, as a light broke forth, the lovers stood

on the Finland frontier, or rather they must have gone already some

distance beyond it, for the bridegroom was exceedingly terrified when he

found his cap lifted from his head, as if by human hand, though he saw

only the branch of a fir-tree. Immediately thereafter the whole air

around them was filled with strange and supernatural beings--witches,

devils, dwarfs, horned-owls, fire-eyed cats, and a thousand other

wretches that could not be named and described, whirled around them as

if dancing to rapid music. When the bride had looked on for a while, she

broke out into loud laughter, and at last began to dance furiously along

with them. The poor bridegroom might shout and pray as much and as

earnestly as he would, for she never attended to him, but at last

transformed herself in a manner so extraordinary that he could not

distinguish her from the other dancers. He thought, however, that he had

kept his eyes upon her, and seized on one of the dancers; but alas! it

was only a horrible spectre which held him fast, and threw its wide

waving shroud around him, so that he could not make his escape, while,

at the same time, some of the subterraneous black demons pulled at his

legs, and wanted to bear him down along with them into their bottomless

caves.



Fortunately he happened at that moment to cross himself and call on the

name of the Saviour, upon which the whole of this vile assembly fell

into confusion. They howled aloud and ran off in all directions, while

Conrad in the meantime saved himself by recrossing the frontier, and

getting under the protection of the Swedish copsewood. His beautiful

bride, however, was completely lost; and by no endeavours could he ever

obtain her again, though he often came to the Finland border, called out

her name aloud, wept and prayed, but all in vain. Many times, it is

true, he saw her floating about through the pine-trees, as if in chase,

but she was always accompanied by a train of frightful creatures, and

she herself also looked wild and disfigured. For the most part she never

noticed Conrad, but if she could not help fixing her eyes upon him, she

laughed so immoderately, and in a mood of merriment so strange and

unnatural, that he was terrified and made the sign of the cross,

whereupon she always fled away, howling, into one of the thickets.



Conrad fell more and more into melancholy abstraction, hardly ever

spoke, and though he had given over his vain walks into the forest, yet

if one asked him a question, the only answer he returned was--



"Ay, she is gone away beyond the mountains," so little did he know or

remember of any other object in the world but the lost beauty.



At last he died of grief; and according to a request which he had once

made, his father prepared a grave for him on the place where the bride

was found and lost, though during the fulfilment of this duty he had

enough to do--one while in contending with his crucifix against evil

spirits, and at another, with his sword against wild beasts, which were

no doubt sent thither by the magicians to attack and annoy him. At

length, however, he brought his task to an end, and thereafter it seemed

as if the bride mourned for the youth's untimely death, for there was

heard often a sound of howling and lamentation at the grave. For the

most part, indeed, this voice is like the voices of wolves, yet, at the

same time, human accents are to be distinguished, and I myself have

often listened thereto on dark winter nights.



Alas! that the poor maiden should have ventured again so near the

accursed paths she had once renounced. A few steps in the backward

course, and all is lost!





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