Once upon a time there was a king who had been at war for a long time with his neighbours. After many battles had been fought his capital was besieged by the enemy. Fearing for the safety of the queen, the king implored her to take refuge in a stronghold to which he himself had never been but once. The queen besought him with tears to let her remain at his side, and share his fate, and lamented loudly when the king placed her in the carriage which was to take her away under escort.
The king promised to slip away whenever possible and pay her a visit, seeking thus to comfort her, although he knew that there was small chance of the hope being fulfilled. For the castle was a long way off, in the midst of a dense forest, and only those with a thorough knowledge of the roads could possibly reach it.
The queen was broken-hearted at having to leave her husband exposed to the perils of war, and though she made her journey by easy stages, lest the fatigue of so much travelling should make her ill, she was downcast and miserable when at length she reached the castle. She made excursions into the country round about, when sufficiently recovered, but found nothing to amuse or distract her. On all sides wide barren spaces met her eye, melancholy rather than pleasant to look upon.
‘How different from my old home!’ she exclaimed, as she gloomily surveyed the scene; ‘if I stay here long I shall die. To whom can I talk in this solitude? To whom can I unburden my grief? What have I done that the king should exile me? He must wish me, I suppose, to feel the bitterness of separation to the utmost, since he banishes me to this hateful castle.’
She grieved long and deeply, and though the king wrote every day to her with good news of the way the siege was going, she became more and more unhappy. At last she determined that she would go back to him, but knowing that her attendants had been forbidden to let her return, except under special orders from the king, she kept her intention to herself. On the pretext of wishing sometimes to join the hunt, she ordered a small chariot, capable of accommodating one person only, to be built for her. This she drove herself, and used to keep up with the hounds so closely that she would leave the rest of the hunt behind. The chariot being in her sole control, this gave her the opportunity to escape whenever she liked, and the only obstacle was her lack of familiarity with the roads through the forest. She trusted, however, to the favour of Providence to bring her safely through it.
She now gave orders for a great hunt to be held, and intimated her wish that every one should attend. She herself was to be present in her chariot, and she proposed that every follower of the chase should choose a different line, and so close every avenue of escape to the quarry. The arrangements were carried out according to the queen’s plan. Confident that she would soon see her husband again, she donned her most becoming attire. Her hat was trimmed with feathers of different colours, the front of her dress with a number of precious stones. Thus adorned, she looked in her beauty (which was of no ordinary stamp) like a second Diana.
When the excitement of the chase was at its height she gave rein to her horses, urging them on with voice and whip, until their pace quickened to a gallop. But then, getting their bits between their teeth, the team sped onwards so fast that presently the chariot seemed to be borne upon the wind, and to be travelling faster than the eye could follow. Too late the poor queen repented of her rashness. ‘What possessed me,’ she cried, ‘to think that I could manage such wild and fiery steeds? Alack! What will become of me! What would the king do if he knew of my great peril? He only sent me away because he loves me dearly, and wished me to be in greater safety—and this is the way I repay his tender care!’
Her piteous cries rang out upon the air, but though she called on Heaven and invoked the fairies to her aid, it seemed that all the unseen powers had forsaken her.
Over went the chariot. She lacked the strength to jump clear quickly enough, and her foot was caught between the wheel and the axle-tree. It was only by a miracle that she was not killed, and she lay stretched on the ground at the foot of a tree, with her heart scarcely beating and her face covered with blood, unable to speak.
For a long time she lay thus. At last she opened her eyes and saw, standing beside her, a woman of gigantic stature. The latter wore nought but a lion’s skin; her arms and legs were bare, and her hair was tied up with a dried snake’s skin, the head of which dangled over her shoulder. In her hand she carried, for walking-stick, a stone club, and a quiver full of arrows hung at her side.
This extraordinary apparition convinced the queen that she was dead, and indeed it seemed impossible that she could have survived so terrible a disaster. ‘No wonder death needs resolution,’ she murmured, ‘since sights so terrible await one in the other world.’
The giantess overheard these words, and laughed to find the queen thought herself dead.
‘Courage,’ she said; ‘you are still in the land of the living, though your lot is not improved. I am the Lion-Witch. My dwelling is near by; you must come and live with me.’
‘If you will have the kindness, good Lion-Witch, to take me back to my castle, the king, who loves me dearly, will not refuse you any ransom you demand, though it were the half of his kingdom.’
‘I will not do that,’ replied the giantess, ‘for I have wealth enough already. Moreover, I am tired of living alone, and as you have your wits about you it is possible you may be able to amuse me.’
With these words she assumed the shape of a lioness, and taking the queen on her back, bore her off into the depths of a cavern. There she anointed the queen’s wounds with an essence which quickly healed them.
But imagine the wonder and despair of the queen to find herself in this dismal lair! The approach to it was by ten thousand steps, which led downward to the centre of the earth, and the only light was that which came from a number of lofty lamps, reflected in a lake of quicksilver. This lake teemed with monsters, each of which was hideous enough to have terrified one far less timid than the queen. Ravens, screech-owls, and many another bird of evil omen filled the air with harsh cries. Far off could be espied a mountain, from the slopes of which there flowed the tears of all hapless lovers. Its sluggish stream was fed by every ill-starred love. The trees had neither leaves nor fruit, and the ground was cumbered with briars, nettles, and rank weeds. The food, too, was such as might be expected in such a horrid clime. A few dried roots, horse-chestnuts, and thorn-apples—this was all the fare with which the Lion-Witch appeased the hunger of those who fell into her clutches.
When the queen was well enough to be set to work, the Witch told her she might build herself a hut, since she was fated to remain in her company for the rest of her life. On hearing this the queen burst into tears. ‘Alas!’ she cried, ‘what have I done that you should keep me here? If my death, which I feel to be nigh, will cause you any pleasure, then I implore you to kill me: I dare not hope for any other kindness from you. But do not condemn me to the sadness of a life-long separation from my husband.’
But the Lion-Witch merely laughed at her, bidding her dry her tears, if she would be wise, and do her part to please her. Otherwise, she declared, her lot would be the most miserable in the world.
‘And what must I do to soften your heart?’ replied the queen.
‘I have a liking for fly-pasties,’ said the Lion-Witch; ‘and you must contrive to catch flies enough to make me a large and tasty one.’
‘But there are no flies here,’ rejoined the queen; ‘and even if there were there is not enough light to catch them by. Moreover, supposing I caught some, I have never in my life made pastry. You are therefore giving me orders which I cannot possibly carry out.’
‘No matter,’ said the pitiless Lion-Witch; ‘what I want I will have!’
The queen made no reply, but reflected that, no matter how cruel the Witch might be, she had only one life to lose, and in her present plight what terror could death hold for her? She did not attempt to look for flies, therefore, but sat down beneath a yew tree, and gave way to tears and lamentations. ‘Alas, dear husband,’ she cried, ‘how grieved you will be when you go to fetch me from the castle, and find me gone! You will suppose me to be dead or faithless; how I hope that you will mourn the loss of my life, not the loss of my love! Perhaps the remains of my chariot will be found in the wood, with all the ornaments I had put on to please you: at sight of these you will not doubt any more that I am dead. But then, how do I know that you will not bestow on some one else the heartfelt love which once belonged to me? At all events I shall be spared the sorrow of that knowledge, since I am never to return to the world.’
These thoughts would have filled her mind for a long time, but she was interrupted by the dismal croaking of a raven overhead. Lifting her eyes, she saw in the dim light a large raven on the point of swallowing a frog which it held in its beak. ‘Though I have no hope of help for myself,’ she said, ‘I will not let this unfortunate frog die, if I can save it; though our lots are so different, its sufferings are quite as great as mine.’ She picked up the first stick which came to hand, and made the raven let go its prey. The frog fell to the ground and lay for a time half stunned; but as soon as it could think, in its froggish way, it began to speak. ‘Beautiful queen,’ it said, ‘you are the first friendly soul that I have seen since my curiosity brought me here.’
‘By what magic are you endowed with speech, little Frog?’ replied the queen; ‘and what people are they whom you see here? I have seen none at all as yet.’
‘All the monsters with which the lake is teeming,’ replied the little Frog, ‘were once upon a time in the world. Some sat on thrones, some held high positions at Court; there are even some royal ladies here who were the cause of strife and bloodshed. It is these latter whom you see in the shape of leeches, and they are condemned to remain here for a certain time. But of those who come here none ever returns to the world better or wiser.’
‘I can quite understand,’ said the queen, ‘that wicked people are not improved by merely being thrown together. But how is it that you are here, my friendly little Frog?’
‘I came here out of curiosity,’ she replied. ‘I am part fairy, and though, in certain directions, my powers are limited, in others they are far-reaching. The Lion-Witch would kill me if she knew that I was in her domain.’
‘Whatever your fairy powers,’ said the queen, ‘I cannot understand how you could have fallen into the raven’s clutches and come so near to being devoured.’
‘That is easily explained,’ said the Frog. ‘I have nought to fear when my little cap of roses is on my head, for that is the source of my power. Unluckily I had left it in the marsh when that ugly raven pounced upon me, and but for you, Madam, I should not now be here. Since you have saved my life, you have only to command me and I will do everything in my power to lessen the misfortunes of your lot.’
‘Alas, dear Frog,’ said the queen, ‘the wicked fairy who holds me captive desires that I should make her a fly-pasty. But there are no flies here, and if there were I could not see to catch them in the dim light. I am like, therefore, to get a beating which will kill me.’
‘Leave that to me,’ said the Frog, ‘I will quickly get you some.’
Thereupon the Frog smeared sugar all over herself, and the same was done by more than six thousand of her froggy friends. They then made for a place where the fairy had a large store of flies, which she used to torment some of her luckless victims. No sooner did the flies smell the sugar than they flew to it, and found themselves sticking to the frogs. Away, then, went the latter at a gallop, to bring their friendly aid to the queen. Never was there such a catching of flies before, nor a better pasty than the one the queen made for the fairy. The surprise of the Witch was great when the queen handed it to her, for she was baffled to think how the flies could have been so cleverly caught.
The queen suffered so much from want of protection against the poisonous air that she cut down some cypress branches and began to build herself a hut. The Frog kindly offered her services. She summoned round her all those who had helped in the fly hunt, and they assisted the queen to build as pretty a little place to live in as you could find anywhere in the world.
But no sooner had she lain down to rest than the monsters of the lake, envious of her repose, gathered round the hut. They set up the most hideous noise that had ever been heard, and drove her so nearly mad that she got up and fled in fear and trembling from the house. This was just what the monsters were after, and a dragon, who had once upon a time ruled tyrannously over one of the greatest countries of the world, immediately took possession of it.
The poor queen tried to protest against this ill-treatment. But no one would listen to her: the monsters laughed and jeered at her, and the Lion-Witch said that if she came and dinned lamentations into her ears again she would give her a sound thrashing.
The queen was therefore obliged to hold her tongue. She sought out the Frog, who was the most sympathetic creature in the world, and they wept together; for the moment she put on her cap of roses the Frog became able to laugh or weep like anybody else.
‘I am so fond of you,’ said the Frog to the queen, ‘that I will build your house again, though every monster in the lake should be filled with envy.’
Forthwith she cut some wood, and a little country mansion for the queen sprang up so quickly that she was able to sleep in it that very night. Nothing that could make for the queen’s comfort was forgotten by the Frog, and there was even a bed of wild thyme.
When the wicked fairy learnt that the queen was not sleeping on the ground, she sent for her and asked:
‘What power is it, human or divine, that protects you? This land drinks only a rain of burning sulphur, and has never produced so much as a sage-leaf: yet they tell me fragrant herbs spring up beneath your feet.’
‘I cannot explain it, madam,’ said the queen, ‘unless it is due to the child I am expecting. Perhaps for her a less unhappy fate than mine is in store.’
‘I have a craving just now,’ said the Witch, ‘for a posy of rare flowers. See if this happiness which you expect will enable you to get them. If you do not succeed, such a thrashing as I know well how to give is surely in store for you.’
The queen began to weep, for threats like these distressed her, and she despaired as she thought of the impossibility of finding flowers. But when she returned to her little house, the friendly Frog met her.
‘How unhappy you look!’ she said.
‘Alas, dear friend,’ said the queen, ‘who would not be so? The Witch has demanded a posy of the most beautiful flowers. Where am I to find them? You see what sort of flowers grow here! Yet my life is forfeit if I do not procure them.’
‘Dear queen,’ said the Frog tenderly, ‘we must do our best to extricate you from this dilemma. Hereabouts there lives a bat of my acquaintance—a kindly soul. She moves about more quickly than I do, so I will give her my cap of roses, and with the aid of this she will be able to find you flowers.’
The queen curtseyed low, it being quite impossible to embrace the Frog, and the latter went off at once to speak to the bat. In a few hours the bat came back with some exquisite flowers tucked under her wings. Off went the queen with them to the Witch, who was more astonished than ever, being quite unable to understand in what marvellous way the queen had been assisted.
The queen never ceased to plot some means of escape, and told the Frog of her longings. ‘Madam,’ said the latter, ‘allow me first to take counsel with my little cap, and we will make plans according to what it advises.’ Having placed her cap upon some straw, she burnt in front of it a few juniper twigs, some capers, and a couple of green peas. She then croaked five times. This completed the rites, and having donned her cap again, she began to speak like an oracle.
‘Fate, the all-powerful, decrees that you must not leave this place. You will have a little princess more beautiful than Venus herself. Let nothing fret you; time alone can heal.’
The queen bowed her head and shed tears, but she determined to have faith in the friend she had found. ‘Whatever happens,’ she said, ‘do not leave me here alone, and befriend me when my little one is born.’ The Frog promised to remain with her, and did her best to comfort her.
It is now time to return to the king. So long as the enemy kept him confined within his capital he could not regularly send messengers to the queen. But at length, after many sorties, he forced the enemy to raise the siege. This success gave him pleasure not so much on his own account, as for the sake of the queen, who could now be brought home in safety. He knew nothing of the disaster which had befallen her, for none of his retinue had dared to tell him of it. They had found in the forest the remains of the chariot, the runaway horses, and the apparel in which she had driven forth to find her husband, and being convinced that she was killed or devoured by wild beasts, their one idea was to make the king believe that she had died suddenly.
It seemed as if the king could not survive this mournful news. He tore his hair, wept bitterly, and lamented his loss with all manner of sorrowful cries and sobs and sighs. For several days he would see nobody, and hid himself from view. Later, he returned to his capital and entered upon a long period of mourning, to the sincerity of which his heartfelt sorrow bore even plainer testimony than his sombre garb of woe. His royal neighbours all sent ambassadors with messages of condolence, and when the ceremonies proper to these occasions were at length over, he proclaimed a period of peace. He released his subjects from military service, and devoted himself to giving them every assistance in the development of commerce.
Of all this the queen knew nothing. A little princess had been born to her in the meantime, and her beauty did not belie the Frog’s prediction. They gave her the name of Moufette, but the queen had great difficulty in persuading the Witch to let her bring up the child, for her ferocity was such that she would have liked to eat it.
At the age of six months Moufette was a marvel of beauty, and often, as she gazed upon her with mingled tenderness and pity, the queen would say:
‘Could your father but see you, my poor child, how delighted he would be, and how dear you would be to him! But perhaps even now he has begun to forget me: doubtless he believes that death has robbed him of us, and it may be that another now fills the place I had in his affections.’
Many were the tears she shed over these sad thoughts, and the Frog, whose love for her was sincere, was moved one day by the sight of her grief to say to her:
‘If you like, Madam, I will go and seek your royal husband. It is a long journey, and I am but a tardy traveller, but sooner or later I have no doubt I shall get there.’
No suggestion could have been more warmly approved, the queen clasping her hands, and bidding little Moufette do the same, in token of the gratitude she felt towards the good Frog for offering to make the expedition. Nor would the king, she declared, be less grateful. ‘Of what advantage, however,’ she went on, ‘will it be to him to learn that I am in this dire abode, since it will be impossible for him to rescue me from it?’
‘That we must leave to Providence, Madam,’ said the Frog; ‘we can but make those efforts of which we are capable.’
They took farewell of each other, and the queen sent a message to the king. This was written with her blood on a piece of rag, for she had neither ink nor paper. The good Frog was bringing him news of herself, she wrote, and she implored him to give heed to all that she might tell him, and to believe everything she had to say.
It took the Frog a year and four days to climb the ten thousand steps which led from the gloomy realm in which she had left the queen, up into the world. Another year was spent in preparing her equipage, for she was too proud to consent to appear at Court like a poor and humble frog from the marshes. A little sedan-chair was made for her, large enough to hold a couple of eggs comfortably, and this was covered outside with tortoise-shell and lined with lizard-skin. From the little green frogs that hop about the meadows she selected fifty to act as maids of honour, and each of these was mounted on a snail. They had dainty saddles, and rode in dashing style with the leg thrown over the saddle-bow. A numerous bodyguard of rats, dressed like pages, ran before the snails—in short, nothing so captivating had ever been seen before. To crown all, the cap of roses, which never faded but was always in full bloom, most admirably became her. Being something of a coquette, too, she could not refrain from a touch of rouge and a patch or two; indeed, some said she was painted like a great many other ladies of the land, but it has been proved by inquiry that this report had its origin with her enemies.
The journey lasted seven years, and during all that time the poor queen endured unutterable pain and suffering. Had it not been for the solace of the beautiful Moufette she must have died a hundred times. Every word that the dear little creature uttered filled her with delight; indeed, with the exception of the Lion-Witch, there was nobody who was not charmed by her.
There came at length a day, after the queen had lived for six years in this dismal region, when the Witch told her that she could go hunting with her, on condition that she yielded up everything which she killed. The queen’s joy when she once more saw the sun may be imagined; though at first she thought she would be blinded, so unaccustomed to its light had she become. So quick and lively was Moufette, even at five or six years of age, that she never failed in her aim, and mother and daughter together were thus able to appease somewhat the fierce instincts of the Witch.
Meanwhile the Frog was travelling over hills and valleys. Day or night, she never stopped, and at last she came nigh to the capital, where the king was now in residence. To her astonishment signs of festivity met her eye at every turn; on all sides there was merriment, song and dancing, and the nearer she came to the city the more festive seemed the mood of the people. All flocked with amazement to see her rustic retinue, and by the time she reached the city the crowd had become so large that it was with difficulty she made her way to the palace
At the palace all was splendour, for the king, who had been deprived of his wife’s society for nine years, had at last yielded to the petitions of his subjects, and was about to wed a princess who possessed many amiable qualities, though she lacked, admittedly, the beauty of his wife.
The good Frog descended from her sedan-chair, and with her attendants in her train entered the royal presence. To request an audience was unnecessary, for the king and his intended bride and all the princes were much too curious to learn why she had come to think of interrupting her.
‘Sire,’ said the Frog, ‘I am in doubt whether the news I bring will cause you joy or sorrow. I can only conclude, from the marriage which you are proposing to celebrate, that you are no longer faithful to your queen.’
Tears fell from the king’s eyes. ‘Her memory is as dear to me as ever,’ he declared; ‘but you must know, good Frog, that monarchs cannot always follow their own wishes. For nine years now my subjects have been urging me to take a wife, and indeed it is due to them that there should be an heir to the throne. Hence my choice of this young princess, whose charms are apparent.’
‘I warn you not to marry her,’ rejoined the Frog; ‘the queen is not dead, and I am the bearer of a letter from her, writ in her own blood. There has been born to you a little daughter, Moufette, who is more beautiful than the very heavens.’
The king took the rag on which the short message from the queen was written. He kissed it and moistened it with his tears; and declared, holding it up for all to see, that he recognised the handwriting of his wife. Then he plied the Frog with endless questions, to all of which she replied with lively intelligence.
The princess who was to have been queen, and the envoys who were attending the marriage ceremony, were somewhat out of countenance. ‘Sire,’ said one of the most distinguished guests, turning to the king, ‘can you contemplate the breaking of your solemn pledge upon the word of a toad like that? This scum of the marshes has the audacity to come and lie to the entire Court, just for the gratification of being listened to!’
‘I would have you know, your Excellency,’ replied the Frog, ‘that I am no scum of the marshes. Since you force me to display my powers—hither, fairies all!’
At these words the frogs, the rats, the snails, and the lizards all suddenly ranged themselves behind the Frog. But in place of their familiar natural forms, they appeared now as tall, majestic figures, handsome of mien, and with eyes that outshone the stars. Each wore a crown of jewels on his head, while over his shoulders hung a royal mantle of velvet, lined with ermine, the train of which was borne by dwarfs. Simultaneously the sound of trumpets, drums, and hautboys filled the air with martial melody, and all the fairies began to dance a ballet, with step so light that the least spring lifted them to the vaulted ceiling of the chamber.
The astonishment of the king and his future bride was in no way diminished when the fairy dancers suddenly changed before their eyes into flowers—jasmine, jonquils, violets, roses, and carnations—which carried on the dance just as though they were possessed of legs and feet. It was as though a flower-bed had come to life, every movement of which gave pleasure alike to eye and nostril. A moment later the flowers vanished, and in their place were fountains of leaping water that fell in a cascade and formed a lake beneath the castle walls. On the surface of the lake were little boats, painted and gilt, so pretty and dainty that the princess challenged the ambassadors to a voyage. None hesitated to do so, for they thought it was all a gay pastime, and a merry prelude to the marriage festivities. But no sooner had they embarked than boats, fountains, and lake vanished, and the frogs were frogs once more.
‘Sire,’ said the Frog, when the king asked what had become of the princess, ‘your wife alone is your queen. Were my affection for her less than it is, I should not interfere; but she deserves so well, and your daughter Moufette is so charming, that you ought not to lose one moment in setting out to their rescue.’
‘I do assure you, Madam Frog,’ replied the king, ‘that if I could believe my wife to be alive, I would shrink from nothing in the world for sight of her again.’
‘Surely,’ said the Frog, ‘after the marvels I have shown you, there ought not to be doubt in your mind of the truth of what I say. Leave your realm in the hands of those whom you can trust, and set forth without delay. Take this ring—it will provide you with the means of seeing the queen, and of speaking with the Lion-Witch, notwithstanding that she is the most formidable creature in the world.’
The king refused to let any one accompany him, and after bestowing handsome gifts upon the Frog, he set forth. ‘Do not lose heart,’ she said to him; ‘you will encounter terrible difficulties, but I am convinced that your desires will meet with success.’ He plucked up courage at these words, and started upon the quest of his dear wife, though he had only the ring to guide him.
Now Moufette’s beauty became more and more perfect as she grew older, and all the monsters of the lake of quicksilver were enamoured of her. Hideous and terrifying to behold, they came and lay at her feet. Although Moufette had seen them ever since she was born, her lovely eyes could never grow accustomed to them, and she would run away and hide in her mother’s arms. ‘Shall we remain here long?’ she would ask; ‘are we never to escape from misery?’
The queen would answer hopefully, so as to keep up the spirits of the child, but in her heart hope had died. The absence of the Frog and the lack of any news from her, together with the long time that had passed since she had heard anything of the king, filled her with grief and despair.
By now it had become a regular thing for them to go hunting with the Lion-Witch. The latter liked good things, and enjoyed the game which they killed for her. The head or the feet of the quarry was all the share they got, but there was compensation in being allowed to look again upon the daylight. The Witch would take the shape of a lioness, and the queen and her daughter would seat themselves on her back. In this fashion they ranged the forests a-hunting.
One day, when the king was resting in a forest to which his ring had guided him, he saw them shoot by like an arrow from the bow. They did not perceive him, and when he tried to follow them he lost sight of them completely. The queen was still as beautiful as of old, despite all that she had suffered, and she seemed to her husband more attractive than ever, so that he longed to have her with him again. He felt certain that the young princess with her was his dear little Moufette, and he resolved to face death a thousand times rather than abandon his intention of rescuing her.
With the assistance of his ring he penetrated to the gloomy region in which the queen had been for so many years. His astonishment was great to find himself descending to the centre of the earth, but with every new thing that met his eyes his amazement grew greater.
The Lion-Witch, from whom nothing was hid, knew well the day and hour of his destined arrival. Much did she wish that the powers in league with her could have ordered things otherwise, but she resolved to pit her strength against his to the full.
She built a palace of crystal which floated in the midst of the lake of quicksilver, rising and falling on its waves. Therein she imprisoned the queen and her daughter, and assembling the monsters, who were all admirers of Moufette, she gave them this warning:
‘You will lose this beautiful princess if you do not help me to keep her from a gallant who has come to bear her away.’
The monsters vowed that they would do everything in their power, and forthwith they surrounded the palace of crystal. The less heavy stationed themselves upon the roofs and walls, others mounted guard at the doors, while the remainder filled the lake.
Following the dictates of his faithful ring, the king went first to the Witch’s cavern. She was waiting for him in the form of a lioness, and the moment he appeared she sprang upon him. But she was not prepared for his valiant swordsmanship, and as she put forth a paw to fell him to the ground, he cut it off at the elbow-joint. She yelped loudly and fell over, whereupon he went up to her and set his foot upon her throat, swearing that he would kill her. Notwithstanding her uncontrollable rage, and the fact that she had nothing to fear from wounds, she felt cowed by him.
‘What do you seek to do to me?’ she asked; ‘what do you want of me?’
‘I intend to punish you,’ replied the king with dignity, ‘for having carried away my wife. Deliver her up to me, or I will strangle you on the spot.’
‘Turn your eyes to the lake,’ she answered, ‘and see if it lies in my power to do so.’
The king followed the direction she indicated, and saw the queen and her daughter in the palace of crystal, where it floated like a boat without oars or rudder on the lake of quicksilver. He was like to die of mingled joy and sorrow. He shouted to them at the top of his voice, and they heard him. But how was he to reach them?
While he pondered a plan for the accomplishment of this, the Lion-Witch vanished. He ran round and round the lake, but no sooner did the palace draw near enough, at one point or another, to let him make a spring for it, than it suddenly receded with menacing speed. As often as his hopes were raised they were dashed to the ground.
Fearing that he would presently tire, the queen cried to him that he must not lose courage, for the Lion-Witch sought to wear him down, but that true love could brave all obstacles. She stretched out imploring hands, and so did Moufette. At sight of this the king felt his courage renewed within him. Lifting his voice, he declared that he would rather live the rest of his life in this dismal region than go away without them.
Patience he certainly needed, for no monarch in the world ever spent such a miserable time. There was only the ground, cumbered with briars and thorns, for bed, and for food he had only wild fruit more bitter than gall. In addition, he was under the perpetual necessity of defending himself from the monsters of the lake.
Three years went by in this fashion, and the king could not pretend that he had gained the least advantage. He was almost in despair, and many a time was tempted to cast himself into the lake. He would have done so without hesitation had there been any hope that thereby the sufferings of the queen and the princess could be alleviated.
One day as he was running, after his custom, from one side of the lake to the other, he was hailed by one of the ugliest of the dragons. ‘Swear by your crown and sceptre, by your kingly robe, by your wife and child,’ said the monster, ‘to give me a certain tit-bit to eat for which I have a fancy, whenever I shall ask for it, and I will take you on my back: none of the monsters in this lake which are guarding the palace will prevent us from carrying away the queen and Princess Moufette.’
‘Best of dragons!’ cried the king; ‘I swear to you, and to all of dragon blood, that you shall have your fill of whatsoever you desire, and I will be for ever your devoted servant.’
‘Promise nothing which you do not mean to fulfil,’ replied the dragon; ‘for otherwise life-long misfortunes may overwhelm you.’
The king repeated his assurances, for he was dying of impatience to regain his beloved queen, and mounted the dragon just as though he were the most dashing of steeds. But now the other monsters rushed to bar the way. The combat was joined, and nought was audible save the hissing of the serpents, nought visible save the brimstone, fire and sulphur, which were belched forth in every direction.
The king reached the palace at last, but there fresh efforts were required of him, for the entrances were defended by bats and owls and ravens. But even the boldest of these was torn to pieces by the dragon, who attacked them tooth and nail. The queen, too, who was a spectator of this savage fight, kicked down chunks of the wall, and armed with these helped her dear husband in the fray. Victory at length rested with them, and as they flew to one another’s arms, the enchantment was brought to an end by a thunderbolt which plunged into the lake and dried it up.
The friendly dragon vanished, along with all the other monsters, and the king found himself (by what means he had not the least idea) home again in his own city, and seated, with his queen and Moufette beside him, in a splendid dining-hall before a table laid with the richest fare. Never before was there such amazement and delight as theirs. The populace came running for a sight of the queen and princess, and to add to the wonder of it all, the latter was seen to be attired in apparel of such magnificence that the gaze was almost dazzled by her jewels.
You can easily imagine what festivities now took place at the palace. There were masquerades, and tournaments with tilting at the ring which attracted the highest princes from all over the world; even more were these drawn by the bright eyes of Moufette.
Amongst the handsomest and most accomplished in skill-at-arms, there was none anywhere who could outshine Prince Moufy. He won the applause and admiration of all, and Moufette, who had hitherto known only dragons and serpents, was not backward in according him her share of praise. Prince Moufy was deeply in love with her, and not a day passed but he showed her some fresh attention in the hope of gaining her favour. In due course he offered himself as a suitor, informing the king and queen that his realm was of a richness and extent that might well claim their favourable consideration.
The king replied that Moufette should make her own choice of husband, for his only wish was to please her and make her happy. With this answer the prince was well satisfied, for he was already aware that the princess was not indifferent to him. He offered her his hand, and she declared that if he were not to be her husband, then no other man should be. Prince Moufy threw himself in rapture at her feet, and exacted, lover-like, a promise that she would keep her word with him.
The prince and princess were betrothed, and Prince Moufy then returned to his own realm, in order to make preparations for the marriage. Moufette wept much at his going, for she was oppressed by an inexplicable presentiment of evil. The prince likewise was much downcast, and the queen, noticing this, gave him a portrait of her daughter with an injunction to curtail the splendour of his preparations rather than allow his return to be delayed. The prince was nothing loth to obey her behest, and promised to adopt a course which so well consulted his own happiness.
The princess amused herself with music during his absence, for in a few months she had learned to play exceedingly well.
One day, when she was in the queen’s apartment, the king rushed in. Tears were streaming down his face as he took his daughter in his arms and cried aloud: ‘Alas, my child! O wretched father! O miserable king!’ Sobs choked his utterance, and he could say no more.
Greatly alarmed, the queen and princess asked him what had happened, and at last he got out that there had just arrived an enormously tall giant, who professed to be an envoy of the dragon of the lake; and that in pursuance of the promise which the king had given in exchange for assistance in fighting the monsters, the dragon demanded that he should give up the princess, as he desired to make her into a pie for dinner. The king added that he had bound himself by solemn oaths to give the dragon what he asked—and in the days of which we are telling no one ever broke his word.
The queen received this dire news with piercing shrieks, and clasped her child to her bosom. ‘My life shall be forfeit,’ she cried, ‘ere my daughter is delivered up to this monster. Let him rather take our kingdom and all that we have. Unnatural father! Is it possible you can consent to such cruelty? What! My child to be made into a pie! The bare notion is intolerable! Send this grim envoy to me; it may be the spectacle of my anguish will soften his heart.’
The king said nothing, but went in quest of the giant. He brought him to the queen, who flung herself at his feet with her daughter. She begged him to have mercy, and to persuade the dragon to take all that they possessed, but to spare Moufette’s life. The giant replied, however, that the matter did not rest with him. The dragon, he said, was so obstinate, and so addicted to the pleasures of the table, that no power on earth would restrain him from eating what he had a mind to make a meal of. Furthermore, he counselled them, as a friend, to yield with a good grace lest greater ills should be in store. At these words the queen fainted, and the princess would have been in similar case, if she had not been obliged to go to the assistance of her mother.
No sooner was the dreadful news known throughout the palace than it spread all over the city. On all sides there was weeping and wailing, for Moufette was greatly beloved.
The king could not bring himself to give her up to the giant, and the latter, after waiting several days, grew restive and began to utter terrible threats. But the king and queen, taking counsel together, were agreed. ‘What is there worse that could happen to us?’ they said; ‘if the dragon of the lake were to come and eat us all up, we could not suffer more, for if Moufette is put into a pie that will be the end of us.’
Presently the giant informed them that he had received a message from the dragon, to the effect that if the princess would agree to marry one of his nephews, he would spare her life. This nephew was not only young and handsome, but a prince to boot; and there was no doubt of her being able to live very happily with him.
This proposal somewhat assuaged their grief, but when the queen mentioned it to the princess, she found her more ready to face death than entertain this marriage. ‘I cannot break faith just to save my life,’ said Moufette; ‘you promised me to Prince Moufy, and I will marry none else. Let me perish, for my death will enable you to live in peace.’ The king in his turn tried, with many endearments, to persuade her, but she could not be moved. Finally, therefore, it was arranged that she should be conducted to a mountain-top, there to await the dragon.
Everything was made ready for the great sacrificial rite, and nothing so mournful had ever been seen before. Black garments and pale, distraught faces were encountered at every turn. Four hundred maidens of the noblest birth, clad in long white robes and wearing crowns of cypress, accompanied the princess. The latter was borne in an open litter of black velvet, that all men might behold the wondrous miracle of her beauty. Her tresses, tied with crape, hung over her shoulders, and she wore a crown of jasmine and marigolds. The only thing that seemed to affect her was the grief of the king and queen, who walked behind her, overwhelmed with the burden of their sorrow. Beside the litter strode the giant, armed from top to toe, and looking hungrily at the princess, as though already he savoured his share of the dish she was to make. The air was filled with sighs and sobs, and the tears of the spectators made rivulets along the road.
‘O Frog, dear Frog,’ cried the queen; ‘you have indeed forsaken me! Why give me help in that dismal place and refuse it to me here? Had I but died then, I should not now be mourning the end of all my hopes, and I should have been spared the agony of waiting to see my darling Moufette devoured.’
Slowly the procession made its way to the summit of the fatal mountain. On arrival there the cries and lamentations broke out with renewed force, and a more pitiful noise was never heard before. The giant then directed that all farewells must be said, and a general withdrawal made, and his order was obeyed. Folks in those days were docile and obedient, and never thought of combating ill-fortune.
The king and queen, with all the Court, now climbed another hill-top, from which they could obtain a view of all that happened to the princess. They had not long to wait, for they quickly espied a dragon, half a league long, sailing through the sky. He flew laboriously, for his bulk was so great that even six large wings could hardly support it. His body was covered all over with immense blue scales and tongues of poison flame, his twisted tail had fifty coils and another half coil beyond that, while his claws were each as big as a windmill. His jaws were agape, and inside could be seen three rows of teeth as long as an elephant’s tusks.
Now while the dragon was slowly wending his way to the mountain-top, the good and faithful Frog, mounted on a hawk’s back, was flying at full speed to Prince Moufy. She was wearing her cap of roses, and though he was locked in his privy chamber she needed no key to enter.
‘Hapless lover!’ she cried; ‘what are you doing here? This very moment, while you sit dreaming about her beauty, Moufette is in direst peril! See, here is a rose-leaf; I have but to blow upon it and it will become a mettlesome steed.’
As she spoke there suddenly appeared a green horse. It had twelve hoofs and three heads, and from the latter it could spit forth fire, bomb-shells, and cannon-balls respectively. The Frog then gave the prince a sword, eight yards long and no heavier than a feather, and a garment fashioned out of a single diamond. This he slipped on like a coat, and though it was hard as rock it was so pliant that his movements were in no way impeded.
‘Now fly to the rescue of your love,’ said the Frog; ‘the green horse will carry you to her. Do not omit to let her know, when you have delivered her, of what my part has been.’
‘Great-hearted fairy!’ cried the prince, ‘this is no moment to return you thanks, but from henceforth I am your faithful servant.’
Off went the horse with the three heads, galloping on its twelve hoofs three times as fast, and more, than the best of ordinary steeds; and in a very short time the prince had reached the mountain, where he found his dear princess all alone.
As the dragon slowly drew near, the green horse began to throw out fire, bomb-shells, and cannon-balls, which greatly disconcerted the monster. Twenty balls lodged in his throat, his scaly armour was dinted, and the bomb-shells put out one of his eyes. This enraged him, and he tried to hurl himself upon the prince. But the latter’s long sword was so finely tempered that he could do what he liked with it, and now he plunged it in up to the hilt, now cut with it as though it had been a whip. The prince would have suffered, however, from the dragon’s claws had it not been for his diamond coat, which was impenetrable.
Moufette had recognised her lover from afar, for the gleaming diamond which covered him was transparent; and she was like to die of terror at the risk he ran. The king and queen, however, felt hope revive within them. They had little thought to see arriving so opportunely a horse with three heads and twelve hoofs that breathed forth fire and flame, nor yet a prince, in diamond mail, and armed with so redoubtable a sword, who performed such prodigies of valour. The king put his hat on the end of his stick, the queen tied a handkerchief to hers, and with all the Court following suit, there was no lack of signals of encouragement to the prince. Not that such were necessary, for his own stout heart and the peril in which he saw Moufette were enough to keep his courage up.
Heavens, how he fought! Barbs, talons, horns, wings, and scales fell from the dragon till the ground was covered with them, and the soil was dyed blue and green with the mingled blood of dragon and horse. Five times the prince was unhorsed, but each time he picked himself up and composedly mounted his steed again. Then would follow such cannonades, bombardments, and flame-throwing as had never been seen or heard of before.
At length, its strength exhausted, the dragon fell, and the prince delivered a finishing stroke. None could believe their eyes when from the gaping wound so made there stepped forth a handsome and elegant prince, clad in a coat of blue and gold velvet, embroidered with pearls, and wearing on his head a little Grecian helmet with a crest of white feathers. With outstretched hands this new-comer ran to Prince Moufy and embraced him.
‘How can I ever repay you, my gallant deliverer?’ he cried. ‘Never was monarch confined in a more dreadful prison than the one from which you have freed me. It is sixteen years since the Lion-Witch condemned me to it, and I have languished there ever since. Moreover, such is her power that she would have obliged me, against my will, to devour that sweet princess. I beg you to let me pay my respects to her, and explain my hapless plight!’
Astonished and delighted by the remarkable way in which his adventure had ended, Prince Moufy lavished courtesies upon the newly-discovered prince. Together they went to Moufette, who rendered thanks a thousand times to Providence for her unexpected happiness. Already the king and queen and all the Court had joined her, and everybody spoke at once, and nobody listened to anybody, while nearly as many tears were shed for joy as a little time ago had been shed for grief. And finally, to set the crown on their rejoicing, the good Frog was espied flying through the air on her hawk. The latter had little golden bells upon its feet, and when the faint tinkling of these caused every one to look up, there was the Frog, beautiful as the dawn, with her cap of roses shining like the sun.
The queen ran to her and took her by one of her little paws. At that instant the wise Frog was transformed into a majestic royal lady of gracious mien. ‘I come,’ she cried, ‘to crown the faithful Moufette, who preferred to face death rather than break her word to Prince Moufy.’ With these words she placed two myrtle wreaths upon the lovers’ heads; and at a signal of three taps from her wand the dragon’s bones rose up and formed a triumphal arch to commemorate the auspicious occasion.
Back to the city went all the company, singing wedding songs as gladly as they had previously with sorrow bewailed the sacrifice of the princess. On the morrow the marriage took place, and with what festivities it was solemnised may be left to the imagination.