ONCE upon a time there was a king whose wife had died, but he had a daughter who was so good and so beautiful that no one could have been kinder or lovelier than she. The king mourned a long time for the queen, because he had loved her greatly; but in the course of time he grew weary of his lonely life, and married again with the widow of another king, who also had a daughter; but one who was just as ugly and evil as the other was handsome and kind. The step-mother and daughter were jealous of the king's daughter, because she was so handsome; yet so long as the king was at home, they did not dare harm her, for he was very fond of her. But after a time, the king began to war against another king, and went out to battle. Then the queen thought she now could do as she wished, and she let the king's daughter starve, and beat and pushed her about everywhere. At last everything else was too good for her, and she had to herd the cows. So she went out with the cows, and pastured them in the forest or on the hill. Food she had little or none, and she grew pale and thin, and was sad most of the time, and wept. In the herd there was also a great blue bull, who always kept himself neat and clean, and often came to the queen's daughter and let her scratch him. Once, as she sat there and cried and was sad, he came to her again, and asked why she was so unhappy. She did not answer him but kept on weeping. "Well, I know what your trouble is," said the bull, "even though you will not tell me. You are weeping because the queen is so unkind to you, and would gladly starve you to death. But you need not worry about food, for in my left ear is a cloth and, if you will take it out and spread it, you can have as much as you want to eat." She did so, took out the cloth, laid it on the grass, and it was at once covered with the finest dishes one might desire: bread and mead and honey-cake. Then she soon regained her strength, and grew so plump, and so rose and white complexioned that the queen and her daughter, who was as thin as a rail, turned green and yellow with envy. The queen could not understand how it was that her step-daughter came to look so well in spite of such poor fare. So she told a maid to follow her to the forest, and watch and see how it came about; for she thought some of the servants secretly gave her food. The maid followed her into the forest, and watched carefully, and saw how the step-daughter drew the cloth out of the blue bull's left ear, and spread it out, and how it covered itself with the finest dishes, and also how the king's daughter ate heartily. And the maid told the queen at home about it.
Now the king came home, and he had defeated the other king, against whom he had warred; and the whole castle was overjoyed, and none was more joyful than the king's daughter. But the queen pretended to be ill, and gave the physician a great deal of money so that he should say that she could not recover unless she had some of the blue bull's flesh to eat. The king's daughter and others as well asked the physician whether nothing else would do, and pleaded for the bull; for all liked him, and said that there was not such another in the whole kingdom. But no, he must be slaughtered, and he should be slaughtered, and there was no help for it. When the king's daughter heard this, she felt sad, and went into the stable to the bull. He stood and hung his head, and looked so mournful that she could not keep from weeping. "Why do you weep?" asked the bull. Then she told him that the king had come home, and that the queen had pretended to be ill, and had forced the physician to say that she could not recover unless she had some of the blue bull's flesh to eat, and that now he was to be slaughtered. "Once she has done away with me, it will not be long before she does away with you," said the bull. "But if it suits you, we will run away from here to-night." The king's daughter did say that it would be bad enough to leave her father, but that at the same time it would be worse to remain under the same roof with the queen, and so she promised the bull to go with him.
In the evening, while the rest were asleep, the king's daughter crept down to the bull in the stable. He took her on his back, and ran off as quickly as ever he could. And when the people rose the following morning, and wanted to slaughter the bull, he was gone; and when the king rose and asked for his daughter, she was gone as well. The king sent out messengers on all sides, and had the church-bells rung for her, but no one had seen anything of her.
In the meantime the bull trotted through many lands with the king's daughter, and they came to a great copper forest, whose trees, leaves and flowers were all of copper. But before they entered it, the bull said to the king's daughter: "Now when we get into the forest you must be very careful not to touch so much as a single leaf, or else it is all up with you and with me; for a troll with three heads lives here, and the forest belongs to him." Yes, indeed, she would be careful, and not touch anything. And she was very careful, and leaned to one side, and thrust aside the branches; but the forest was so thick that it was almost impossible to win through, and for all that she was so careful, she did tear off a leaf, and it remained in her hand.
"Alas, alas!" cried the bull. "What have you done! Now I must fight for my very life. But see that you keep the leaf carefully!" Straightway they reached the end of the forest, and at once a troll with three heads came rushing up. "Who has touched my forest?" cried he. "The forest is as much mine as yours!" was the bull's reply. "We'll see if it is!" shouted the troll. "That suits me!" cried the bull. Then they rushed at each other, and the bull gored and butted with might and main. But the troll was just as strong, and it took all day before the bull gained the upper hand. And then he had so many wounds, and was so weak that he could scarcely walk. So they had to halt for a whole day; but the bull told the queen's daughter to take the horn of ointment that hung at the troll's girdle, and anoint him with the salve. Thereupon he grew strong and well again, and they went on the next day. Now they wandered for many, many days, and at last came to a silver forest, whose trees, branches, leaves, buds and all were of silver.
Before the bull entered the forest he said to the king's daughter: "Now when we get into this forest, in heaven's name be careful! You must touch nothing, and not even tear off so much as a single leaf, or else it is all up with you and me. A troll with six heads lives here, and the forest belongs to him, and I will hardly be able to hold my own against him!"
"Yes," said the king's daughter, "indeed I will be careful, and not touch the least thing, just as you have told me." But when they entered the forest, it was so thick that it was almost impossible to win through. She was as careful as she could be, and avoided the branches, and thrust them aside with her hands; but the branches struck her in the face each moment, and in spite of all her care a leaf did remain in her hand.
"Alas, alas!" cried the bull. "What have you done! Now I must fight for my very life, for the troll with six heads is twice as strong as the first one; but see that you take care of the leaf and keep it carefully!"
At once the troll came rushing up. "Who has touched my forest?" cried he. "The forest is as much mine as yours!" cried the bull. "Oho, we'll see if it is!" cried the troll. "That suits me!" said the bull, and rushed on the troll, gored him, and thrust his horns right through him. But the troll was just as strong, and it took three whole days before the bull got the better of him. After that he was so weak and feeble that he could scarcely move, and so full of wounds that his blood ran in streams. Then he told the king's daughter to take the horn of ointment that hung at the troll's girdle, and anoint him with the salve. She did so, and he recovered again: yet they had to remain a time on the spot, until he was once more able to go on.
At last they set out again; but the bull was still weak, and at first they went slowly. The king's daughter wanted to spare him, and said she was young and quick on her feet, and could walk very well; but this he would not allow, and she had to sit on his back. Thus they wandered for a long time, and through many lands, and the king's daughter had no idea where they might be going; but at length they came to a golden forest. It was very beautiful, and the gold dripped down from it, for the trees, and branches and leaves and buds were all of purest gold. And here all went as it had in the copper and silver forests. The bull told the king's daughter that in no case was she to touch anything, since a troll with nine heads lived here, to whom the forest belonged. And he was much larger and stronger than the two others together, and he did not believe he could hold his own against him. Yes, said she, she would be sure to pay attention and positively would not touch a thing. But when they entered the forest, it was even thicker than the silver forest, and the further they went the worse it became. The forest grew thicker and denser, and at last it seemed as though it would be impossible to push on at all. She was much afraid of tearing off anything, and wound and twisted and bent herself in every direction, in order to avoid the branches, and thrust them aside with her hands. But each moment they struck her in the face, so that she could not see where she was reaching, and before she had a chance to think, she held a golden apple in her hand. Then she was terribly frightened, and began to cry, and wanted to throw it away. But the bull told her to keep it, and hide it carefully, and consoled her as best he could. Yet he thought that the battle would be a hard one, and was in doubt as to whether it would end well.
But now the troll with the nine heads came rushing up, and he was so frightful that the king's daughter could scarcely bear to look at him. "Who has touched my forest?" he shouted. "The forest is as much mine as yours!" cried the bull. "We'll see if it is!" cried the troll. "That suits me!" said the bull, and with this they rushed on each other, so that it was a fearsome sight, and the king's daughter nearly fainted. The bull gored the troll through and through with his horns; but the troll was as strong as he, and as soon as the bull killed one of his heads, the others breathed fresh life into it, and it took a full week before the bull got the better of him. But then he was so wretched and so weak that he could not move a bit. His whole body was covered with wounds; and he could not even tell the king's daughter to take the horn of ointment from the troll's girdle and anoint him with the salve. But she did so of her own accord, and then he recovered again. Yet they had to stay where they were for three whole weeks, until he was able to go on again.
At last they once more went slowly on their way; for the bull said they still had a little further to go, and they went over many great hills and through thick forests. After a time they came to a rock. "Do you see anything?" asked the bull. "No, I see only the sky and the rock," said the king's daughter. But when they went on up the hills were more level, so that they had a broader outlook. "Do you see something now?" asked the bull. "Yes, I see a small castle, far, far in the distance," said the princess. "And yet it is not so small," said the bull. At length they came to a great mountain with a steep, rocky face. "Do you see something now?" asked the bull. "Yes, now I see the castle close by, and it is much, much larger," said the king's daughter. "That is where you must go!" said the bull. "Just below the castle is a pig-sty, and if you go into it you will find a wooden coat. You must put it on, and go with it into the castle, and say your name is Kari Woodencoat, and ask for a place. But now take your little knife and cut off my head; then draw off my skin, roll it up and lay it at the foot of the rock. But in it you must place the copper leaf, and the silver leaf, and the golden apple. Outside, against the hill, is a stick, and if you want anything of me, all you need do is to knock at the mountain-side." At first the princess could not at all make up her mind to do this; but when the bull told her that this was the only reward he wanted for all the good he had done her, she could not refuse. It made her heart ache, yet in spite of it, she took her knife and cut until she had cut off the head of the great beast, and had drawn off his skin, and then she laid the latter at the foot of the rock, and in it she placed the copper leaf, and the silver leaf, and the golden apple.
When she had done this she went to the pig-sty, but she wept a great deal and felt sad. Then she put on the wooden coat, and went to the king's castle in it. She asked for a place in the kitchen, and said her name was Kari Woodencoat. Yes, said the cook, she might have a place if she cared to wash up, for the girl who had formerly attended to it had run away. "And after you have been here a while, no doubt you will have enough of it, and run away from us, too," said he. No, indeed, she would not do so.
She was most industrious at her washing up. On Sunday they expected company at the king's castle; and Kari asked permission to take up water to wash in to the prince. But the others laughed at her and cried; "What do you want to do there? Do you think the prince will have anything to do with you, homely as you are?" But she kept on asking, and at length received permission.
And then, as she ran up the stairs, her wooden coat clattered so loudly that the prince came out and asked: "And who are you?" "I came to bring you water to wash in," said Kari. "Do you think I want the water you are bringing me?" cried the prince, and poured the water out over her head. So she had to go off; but she asked permission to go to church. And she received permission, for the church was close by. But first she went to the rock and knocked at it with a stick, as the bull had told her. And a man came out at once and asked what she wanted. The king's daughter said that she had permission to go to church and hear the sermon, but that she had no dress to wear. Then the man gave her a dress that shone like the copper forest, and a horse and a saddle as well. When she came to church she looked so beautiful that all the people wondered who she might be, and none of them listened to the sermon, because they were all looking at her. She even pleased the prince so much that he could not keep from looking at her.
When she left the church, the prince came after her, and closed the church door behind her, and kept one of the gloves she wore in his hand. And then when she wanted to mount her horse, the prince came again, and asked her where she came from. "From Washwaterland!" said Kari, and while the prince pulled out the glove and wanted to give it to her, she said:
"Be there light before me, and darkness behind,
That the place I ride to the prince may not find!"
The prince had never yet seen such a handsome glove, and he traveled far, looking for the native land of the noble lady who had abandoned her glove, but no one could tell him where it might be.
The following Sunday some one had to go up to the prince, and bring him a towel. "Cannot I go up?" begged Kari. "Is that all you want?" said the rest in the kitchen. "You saw yourself what happened to you the last time!" But Kari kept on asking, and finally she received permission, after all, and ran up the stairs so that her wooden coat fairly clattered. The prince at once thrust his head out of the door, and when he saw that it was Kari, he tore the towel out of her hand and flung it at her head. "Off with you, you horrid creature!" cried he. "Do you think I want a towel that you have touched with your dirty fingers?"
After that the prince went to church, and Kari also begged permission to go. The people asked her why she wanted to go to church, since she had nothing to wear but her ugly, black wooden coat. But Kari said the pastor preached so beautifully that she loved to listen to him, and finally they allowed her to go. She went to the wall of rock and knocked, and the man came out and gave her a dress that was far handsomer than the first; it was embroidered all over with silver, and gleamed like the silver forest; and she also received a splendid horse, with housings embroidered with silver, and a silver bridle. When the king's daughter came to the church, the people were still standing before the church door. In their astonishment they all asked each other who she might be, and the prince came running up at once, and wanted to hold her horse while she dismounted. But she jumped right down, and said it would not be necessary, since the horse was so tame that it would stand still when she commanded, and come to her if she wished. Then every one went into the church. But hardly any one paid any attention to the sermon; for they were all looking at Kari, and the prince fell deeper in love with her than he had the first time. When the sermon was over, and she left the church and was about to mount her horse, the prince again came, and asked where she came from. "From Towelland!" said she, and let fall her riding-whip. And when the prince stooped to pick it up, she said:
"Be there light before me, and darkness behind,
That the place I ride to the prince may not find!"
Off she was, and the prince did not know what had become of her. He wandered about in the world, far and wide, looking for her native land. But no one could tell him where it might be, and with that the prince finally had to content himself.
The following Sunday some one was to go up to the prince, and bring him a comb. Kari begged that they would let her go, but the others reminded her of what had happened the last time, and scolded her for showing herself to the prince, ugly and black as she was, and in her wooden coat. But she kept on asking, and finally they let her go with the comb. When she once more came clattering up the stairs, the prince thrust his head out of the door, tore the comb from her hand, and shouted at her to be off. Then the prince went to church, and Kari wanted to go as well. The rest again asked her why she wanted to go to church, black and ugly as she was, since she did not even have clothes fit to appear in before other people. The prince, or some one else might happen to see her, and that would mean unhappiness for herself and others. But Kari said that the people would have other things to look at besides herself, and finally they let her go.
Then everything happened exactly as on the other two occasions. She went to the wall of rock, and knocked with the stick, and then the man came out, and gave her a dress that was far more beautiful than both of the others. It was all pure gold and diamonds, and she also received a beautiful horse, with housings embroidered with gold, and a golden bridle.
When the king's daughter came to the church, the pastor and all the congregation were still standing before the church door, waiting for her. The prince came running up at once, and wanted to hold her horse, but she jumped down and said: "No, thanks, it is not necessary, for my horse is so tame that he will remain standing when I tell him to do so." So they all went into the church, and the pastor mounted the pulpit. But not a soul listened to the sermon, because all the people were looking at the princess, and wondering where she came from, and the prince fell still more deeply in love than he had on the two other occasions. He paid no attention to anything, and looked only at her.
When the sermon was over, and the king's daughter left the church, the prince had poured tar on the floor of the vestibule, so that he might have a chance to help the king's daughter across. But she paid no attention to it, stepped right into the middle of the tar, and leaped over. But one of her golden shoes stuck fast, and when she had mounted her horse, the prince came running out of the church and asked her whence she came. "From Combland!" she answered. But when the prince wanted to hand her the golden shoe, she said:
"Be there light before me, and darkness behind,
That the place I ride to the prince may not find!"
And again the prince did not know where she had gone, and he wandered about the world a long time, looking for Combland; but since no one could tell him where it might be, he let it be known that he would marry the girl whose foot the golden shoe fitted. Then the handsome and the homely came scurrying up from the ends of the earth; but none of them had a foot so small that they could put on the golden shoe. At last Kari's evil stepmother and her daughter also came, and the shoe fitted the latter. But she was very homely, and looked so unsatisfactory that the prince kept his promise most unwillingly. Notwithstanding, preparations were made for the wedding, and she was adorned with her bridal finery, but when they rode to church, a little bird sat in a tree and sang:
"A bit of the heel,
And a bit of the toe,
Kari Woodencoat's shoe
Is filled with blood, I know!"
And when they looked, the bird had told the truth, for blood was dripping from the shoe. Then all the maids and all the women who were at the castle had to try on the shoe, but it would fit none of them. "But where is Kari Woodencoat?" asked the prince, for he had understood the song of the bird, and remembered it well. "O she!" said the others. "It is not worth while having her come, for she has feet like a horse." "Be that as it may," said the prince. "But all the rest have tried it on, so she shall try it on as well. Kari!" he called out through the door, and Kari came clattering up the stairs so that everything shook, just as though a whole regiment of dragoons had arrived. "Now you shall try on the golden shoe, and be a princess!" said the others, and made fun of her. But Kari took the shoe, put her foot into it without a bit of trouble, cast off her wooden coat, and stood there in her golden dress, so that she was all a-sparkle, and on her other foot she had the golden shoe's mate. The prince recognized her at once, put his arm around her, and kissed her. And she told him that she was a king's daughter, which made him still more happy, and then they celebrated their wedding.
"Spin, span, spun,
Now our tale is done!"