The Golden Bird
In olden times there was a king, who had behind his palace a
beautiful pleasure-garden in which there was a tree that bore golden apples. When the
apples were getting ripe they were counted, but on the very next morning one was missing.
This was told to the king, and he ordered that a watch should be kept every night beneath
The king had three sons, the eldest of whom he sent, as soon as
night came on, into the garden, but when midnight came he could not keep himself from
sleeping, and next morning again an apple was gone.
The following night the second son had to keep watch, but it fared
no better with him, as soon as twelve o'clock had struck he fell asleep, and in the
morning an apple was gone.
Now it came to the turn of the third son to watch, and he was quite
ready, but the king had not much trust in him, and thought that he would be of less use
even than his brothers, but at last he let him go. The youth lay down beneath the tree,
but kept awake, and did not let sleep master him. When it struck twelve, something rustled
through the air, and in the moonlight he saw a bird coming whose feathers were all shining
The bird alighted on the tree, and had just plucked off an apple,
when the youth shot an arrow at him. The bird flew off, but the arrow had struck his
plumage, and one of his golden feathers fell down. The youth picked it up, and the next
morning took it to the king and told him what he had seen in the night. The king called
his council together, and everyone declared that a feather like this was worth more than
the whole kingdom. If the feather is so precious, declared the king, one alone will not do
for me, I must and will have the whole bird.
The eldest son set out, and trusting to his cleverness thought that
he would easily find the golden bird. When he had gone some distance he saw a fox sitting
at the edge of a wood so he cocked his gun and took aim at him. The fox cried, do not
shoot me, and in return I will give you some good counsel. You are on the way to the
golden bird, and this evening you will come to a village in which stand two inns opposite
to one another.
One of them is lighted up brightly, and all goes on merrily within,
but do not go into it, go rather into the other, even though it looks like a bad one. How
can such a silly beast give wise advice, thought the king's son, and he pulled the
trigger. But he missed the fox, who stretched out his tail and ran quickly into the wood.
So he pursued his way, and by evening came to the village where the
two inns were, in one they were singing and dancing, the other had a poor, miserable look.
I should be a fool, indeed, he thought, if I were to go into the shabby tavern, and pass
by the good one. So he went into the cheerful one, lived there in riot and revel, and
forgot the bird and his father, and all good counsels.
When many months had passed, and the eldest son did not come back
home, the second set out, wishing to find the golden bird. The fox met him as he had met
the eldest, and gave him the good advice of which he took no heed. He came to the two
inns, and his brother was standing at the window of the one from which came the music, and
called out to him. He could not resist, but went inside and lived only for pleasure.
Again some time passed, and then the king's youngest son wanted to
set off and try his luck, but his father would not allow it. It is of no use, said he, he
will find the golden bird still less than his brothers, and if a mishap were to befall him
he knows not how to help himself, he's not too bright at the best. But at last, as he had
no peace, he let him go.
Again the fox was sitting outside the wood, and begged for his life,
and offered his good advice. The youth was good-natured, and said, be easy, little fox, I
will do you no harm. You shall not repent it, answered the fox, and that you may get on
more quickly, get up behind on my tail. And scarcely had he seated himself when the fox
began to run, and away he went over stock and stone till his hair whistled in the wind.
When they came to the village the youth got off, he followed the good advice, and without
looking round turned into the little inn, where he spent the night quietly.
The next morning, as soon as he got into the open country, there sat
the fox already, and said, I will tell you further what you have to do. Go on quite
straight, and at last you will come to a castle, in front of which a whole regiment of
soldiers is lying, but do not trouble yourself about them, for they will all be asleep and
snoring. Go through the midst of them staight into the castle, and go through all the
rooms, till at last you will come to a chamber where a golden bird is hanging in a wooden
cage. Close by, there stands an empty gold cage for show, but beware of taking the bird
out of the common cage and putting it into the fine one, or it may go badly with you.
With these words the fox again stretched out his tail, and the
king's son seated himself upon it, and away he went over stock and stone till his hair
whistled in the wind.
When he came to the castle he found everything as the fox had said.
The king's son went into the chamber where the golden bird was shut up in a wooden cage,
whilst a golden one stood by, and the three golden apples lay about the room. But, thought
he, it would be absurd if I were to leave the beautiful bird in the common and ugly cage,
so he opened the door, laid hold of it, and put it into the golden cage. But at the same
moment the bird uttered a shrill cry. The soldiers awoke, rushed in, and took him off to
prison. The next morning he was taken before a court of justice, and as he confessed
everything, was sentenced to death.
The king, however, said that he would grant him his life on one
condition - namely, if he brought him the golden horse which ran faster than the wind, and
in that case he should receive, over and above, as a reward, the golden bird.
The king's son set off, but he sighed and was sorrowful, for how was
he to find the golden horse. But all at once he saw his old friend the fox sitting on the
road. Look you, said the fox, this has happened because you did not give heed to me.
However, be of good courage. I will give you my help, and tell you how to get to the
golden horse. You must go straight on, and you will come to a castle, where in the stable
stands the horse. The grooms will be lying in front of the stable, but they will be asleep
and snoring, and you can quietly lead out the golden horse. But of one thing you must take
heed, put on him the common saddle of wood and leather, and not the golden one, which
hangs close by, else it will go ill with you. Then the fox stretched out his tail, the
king's son seated himself upon it, and away he went over stock and stone until his hair
whistled in the wind.
Everything happened just as the fox had said, the prince came to the
stable in which the golden horse was standing, but just as he was going to put the common
saddle upon him, he thought, such a beautiful beast will be shamed if I do not give him
the good saddle which belongs to him by right. But scarcely had the golden saddle touched
the horse than he began to neigh loudly. The grooms awoke, seized the youth, and threw him
The next morning he was sentenced by the court to death, but the
king promised to grant him his life, and the golden horse as well, if he could bring back
the beautiful princess from the golden castle.
With a heavy heart the youth set out, yet luckily for him he soon
found the trusty fox. I ought only to leave you to your ill-luck, said the fox, but I pity
you, and will help you once more out of your trouble. This road takes you straight to the
golden castle, you will reach it by eventide, and at night when everything is quiet the
beautiful princess goes to the bathing-house to bathe. When she enters it, run up to her
and give her a kiss, then she will follow you, and you can take her away with you, only do
not allow her to take leave of her parents first, or it will go ill with you.
Then the fox stretched out his tail, the king's son seated himself
upon it, and away went the fox, over stock and stone, till his hair whistled in the wind.
When he reached the golden castle it was just as the fox had said.
He waited until midnight, when everything lay in deep sleep, and the beautiful princess
was going to the bathing-house. Then he sprang out and gave her a kiss. She said that she
would like to go with him, but she asked him pitifully, and with tears, to allow her first
to take leave of her parents. At first he withstood her prayer, but when she wept more and
more, and fell at his feet, he at last gave in. But no sooner had the maiden reached the
bedside of her father than he and all the rest in the castle awoke, and the youth was laid
hold of and put into prison.
The next morning the king said to him, your life is forfeited, and
you can only find mercy if you take away the hill which stands in front of my windows, and
prevents my seeing beyond it, and you must finish it all within eight days. If you do that
you shall have my daughter as your reward.
The king's son began, and dug and shoveled without stopping, but
when after seven days he saw how little he had done, and how all his work was as good as
nothing, he fell into great sorrow and gave up all hope. But on the evening of the seventh
day the fox appeared and said, you do not deserve that I should take my trouble about you,
but just go away and lie down to sleep, and I will do the work for you.
The next morning when he awoke and looked out of the window the hill
had gone. The youth ran, full of joy, to the king, and told him that the task was
fulfilled, and whether he liked it or not, the king had to hold to his word and give him
So the two set forth together, and it was not long before the trusty
fox came up with them. You have certainly got what is best, said he, but the golden horse
also belongs to the maiden of the golden castle. How shall I get it, asked the youth. That
I will tell you, answered the fox, first take the beautiful maiden to the king who sent
you to the golden castle. There will be unheard-of rejoicing, they will gladly give you
the golden horse, and will bring it out to you. Mount it as soon as possible, and offer
your hand to all in farewell, last of all to the beautiful maiden. And as soon as you have
taken her hand swing her up on to the horse, and gallop away, and no one will be able to
bring you back, for the horse runs faster than the wind.
All was carried out successfully, and the king's son carried off the
beautiful princess on the golden horse.
The fox did not remain behind, and he said to the youth, now I will
help you to get the golden bird. When you come near to the castle where the golden bird is
to be found, let the maiden get down, and I will take her into my care. Then ride with the
golden horse into the castle-yard, there will be great rejoicing at the sight, and they
will bring out the golden bird for you. As soon as you have the cage in your hand gallop
back to us, and take the maiden away again.
When the plan had succeeded, and the king's son was about to ride
home with his treasures, the fox said, now you shall reward me for my help. What do you
require for it, asked the youth. When you get into the wood yonder, shoot me dead, and
chop off my head and feet.
That would be fine gratitude, said the king's son. I cannot possibly
do that for you.
The fox said, if you will not do it I must leave you, but before I
go away I will give you a piece of good advice. Be careful about two things. Buy no
gallows'-flesh, and do not sit at the edge of any well. And then he ran into the wood.
The youth thought, that is a wonderful beast, he has strange whims,
who on earth would want to buy gallows'-flesh. As for the desire to sit at the edge of a
well it has never yet occurred to me.
He rode on with the beautiful maiden, and his road took him again
through the village in which his two brothers had remained. There was a great stir and
noise, and, when he asked what was going on, he was told that two men were going to be
hanged. As he came nearer to the place he saw that they were his brothers, who had been
playing all kinds of wicked pranks, and had squandered all their wealth. He inquired
whether they could not be set free. If you will pay for them, answered the people, but why
should you waste your money on wicked men, and buy them free. He did not think twice about
it, but paid for them, and when they were set free they all went on their way together.
They came to the wood where the fox had first met them, and as it
was a hot day, but cool and pleasant within the wood, the two brothers said, let us rest a
little by the well, and eat and drink. He agreed, and whilst they were talking he forgot
himself, and sat down upon the edge of the well without thinking of any evil. But the two
brothers threw him backwards into the well, took the maiden, the horse, and the bird, and
went home to their father. Here we bring you not only the golden bird, said they, we have
won the golden horse also, and the maiden from the golden castle. Then was there great
joy, but the horse would not eat, the bird would not sing, and the maiden sat and wept.
But the youngest brother was not dead. By good fortune the well was
dry, and he fell upon soft moss without being hurt, but he could not get out again. Even
in this strait the faithful fox did not leave him, it came and leapt down to him, and
upbraided him for having forgotten its advice. But yet I cannot give up, he said, I will
help you up again into daylight. He bade him grasp his tail and keep tight hold of it, and
then he pulled him up. You are not out of all danger yet, said the fox. Your brothers were
not sure of your death, and have surrounded the wood with watchers, who are to kill you if
you let yourself be seen. But a poor man was sitting upon the road, with whom the youth
changed clothes, and in this way he got to the king's palace.
No one knew him, but the bird began to sing, the horse began to eat,
and the beautiful maiden left off weeping. The king, astonished, asked, what does this
mean. Then the maiden said, I do not know, but I have been so sorrowful and now I am so
happy. I feel as if my true bridegroom had come. She told him all that had happened,
although the other brothers had threatened her with death if she were to betray anything.
The king commanded that all people who were in his castle should be
brought before him, and amongst them came the youth in his ragged clothes, but the maiden
knew him at once and fell upon his neck. The wicked brothers were seized and put to death,
but he was married to the beautiful maiden and declared heir to the king.
But what happened to the poor fox. Long afterwards the king's son
was once again walking in the wood, when the fox met him and said, you have everything now
that you can wish for, but there is never an end to my misery, and yet it is in your power
to free me, and again he asked him with tears to shoot him dead and chop off his head and
feet. So he did it, and scarcely was it done when the fox was changed into a man, and was
no other than the brother of the beautiful princess, who at last was freed from the magic
charm which had been laid upon him. And now they had all the happiness they wanted as long
as they lived.