There was once a King who for many years had been engaged in a war with his neighbours; a great number of battles had been fought, and at last the enemy laid siege to his capital. The King, fearing for the safety of the Queen, begged her to retire to a fortified castle, which he himself had never visited but once. The Queen endeavoured, with many prayers and tears, to persuade him to allow her to remain beside him and to share his fate, and it was with loud cries of grief that she was put into her chariot by the King to be driven away. He ordered his guards, however, to accompany her, and promised to steal away when possible to visit her. He tried to comfort her with this hope, although he knew that there was little chance of fulfilling it, for the castle stood a long distance off, surrounded by a thick forest, and only those who were well acquainted with the roads could possibly find their way to it.
The Queen parted from her husband, broken-hearted at leaving him exposed to the dangers of war; she travelled by easy stages, in case the fatigue of so long a journey should make her ill; at last she reached the castle, feeling low-spirited and distressed. When sufficiently rested, she walked about the surrounding country, but found nothing to interest her or divert her thoughts. She saw only far-spreading desert tracts on either side, which gave her more pain than pleasure to look upon; sadly she gazed around her, exclaiming at intervals, "What a contrast between this place and that in which I have lived all my life! If I stay here long I shall die! To whom have I to talk in these solitudes? With whom can I share my troubles? What have I done to the King that he should banish me? He wishes me, it seems, to feel the full bitterness of our separation, by exiling me to this miserable castle."
Thus she lamented; and although the King wrote daily to her, and sent her good news of the progress of the siege, she grew more and more unhappy, and at last determined that she would return to him. Knowing, however, that the officers who were in attendance upon her had received orders not to take her back, unless the King sent a special messenger, she kept her design secret, but ordered a small chariot to be built for her, in which there was only room for one, saying that she should like sometimes to accompany the hunt. She drove herself, and followed so closely on the hounds, that the huntsmen were left behind; by this means she had sole command of her chariot, and could get away whenever she liked. Her only difficulty was her ignorance of the roads that traversed the forest; but she trusted to the kindness of Providence to bring her safely through it. She gave word that there was to be a great hunt, and that she wished everybody to be there; she herself would go in her chariot, and each was to follow a different route, that there might be no possibility of escape for the wild beasts. Everything was done according to her orders. The young Queen, feeling sure that she should soon see her husband again, dressed herself as becomingly as possible; her hat was covered with feathers of different colours, the front of her dress lavishly trimmed with precious stones, and her beauty, which was of no ordinary kind, made her seem, when so adorned, a second Diana.
While everybody was occupied with the pleasures of the hunt, she gave rein to her horses, encouraged them with voice and whip, and soon their quickened pace became a gallop; then, taking the bit between their teeth, they flew along at such a speed, that the chariot seemed borne by the winds, and the eye could scarcely follow it. Too late the poor Queen repented of her rashness: "What could I have been thinking of?" she said. "How could I have imagined that I should be able to control such wild and fiery horses? Alas! what will become of me? What would the King do if he knew the great danger I am in, he who loves me so dearly, and who only sent me away that I might be in greater safety! This is my gratitude for his tender care!" The air resounded with her piteous lamentations; she invoked Heaven, she called the fairies to her assistance, but it seemed that all the powers had abandoned her. The chariot was overthrown; she had not sufficient strength to jump quickly enough to the ground, and her foot was caught between the wheel and the axle-tree; it was only by a miracle she was saved.
She remained stretched on the ground at the foot of a tree; her heart scarcely beat, she could not speak, and her face was covered with blood. She lay thus for a long time; when at last she opened her eyes, she saw, standing near her, a woman of gigantic stature, clothed only in a lion's skin, with bare arms and legs, her hair tied up with the dried skin of a snake, the head of which dangled over her shoulders; in her hand was a club made of stone, which served her as a walking-stick, and a quiver full of arrows was fastened to her side. When the Queen caught sight of this extraordinary figure, she felt sure that she was dead, for she did not think it was possible that she could be alive after such a terrible accident, and she said in a low voice to herself, "I am not surprised that it is so difficult to resolve to die, since what is to be seen in the other world is so frightful." The giantess, who overheard her words, could not help laughing at the Queen's idea that she was dead. "Take courage," she said to her, "for know that you are still among the living; but your fate is none the less sad. I am the Fairy Lioness, whose dwelling is near here; you must come and live with me." The Queen looked sorrowfully at her, and said, "If you will be good enough, Madam Lioness, to take me back to my castle, and tell the King what ransom you demand, he loves me so dearly, that he will not refuse you even the half of his kingdom." "No," replied the giantess, "I am rich enough, but for some time past my lonely life has seemed dull to me; you are intelligent, and will be able perhaps to amuse me." As she finished speaking, she took the form of a lioness, and placing the Queen on her back, she carried her to the depths of her cave, and there rubbed her with a spirit which quickly healed the Queen's wounds. But what surprise and misery for the Queen to find herself in this dreadful abode! It was only reached by ten thousand steps, which led down to the centre of the earth; there was no light but that shed by a number of tall lamps, which were reflected in a lake of quicksilver. This lake was covered with monsters, each hideous enough to have frightened a less timid queen; there were owls, screech-owls, ravens, and other birds of ill omen, filling the air with discordant sounds; in the distance could be seen rising a mountain whence flowed the sluggish waters of a stream composed of all the tears shed by unhappy lovers, from the reservoirs of their sad loves. The trees were bare of leaves and fruit, the ground covered with marigolds, briars, and nettles.
The food corresponded to the climate of this miserable country; for a few dried roots, some horse-chestnuts, and thorn-apples, were all that was provided by the Fairy Lioness to appease the hunger of those who fell into her hands.
As soon as the Queen was well enough to begin work, the fairy told her she could build herself a hut, as she was going to remain with her for the rest of her life. On hearing this, the Queen could no longer restrain her tears: "Alas, what have I done to you," she cried, "that you should keep me here? If my death, which I feel is near, would give you pleasure, I pray you, kill me, it is all the kindness I dare hope from you; but do not condemn me to pass a long and melancholy life apart from my husband."
The Lioness only scoffed at her, and told her that the best thing she could do was to dry her tears, and try to please her; that if she acted otherwise, she would be the most miserable person in the world.
"What must I do then," replied the Queen, "to soften your heart?" "I am fond of fly-pasties," said the Lioness. "You must find means of procuring a sufficient number of flies to make me a large and sweet-tasting one." "But," said the Queen, "I see no flies here, and even were there any, it is not light enough to catch them; and if I were to catch some, I have never in my life made pastry, so that you are giving me orders which it is impossible for me to execute." "No matter," said the pitiless Lioness; "that which I wish to have, I will have."
The Queen made no reply: she thought to herself, in spite of the cruel fairy, that she had but one life to lose, and in the condition in which she then was, what was there to fear in death? Instead, therefore, of going in search of flies, she sat herself down under a yew tree, and began to weep and complain: "Ah, my dear husband, what grief will be yours, when you go to the castle to fetch me, and find I am not there; you will think that I am dead, or faithless, and I would rather that you should mourn the loss of my life, than that of my love; perhaps someone will find the remains of my chariot in the forest, and all the ornaments which I took with me to please you; and when you see these, you will no longer doubt that death has taken me; and how can I tell that you will not give to another the heart's love which you have shared with me? But, at least, I shall not have the pain of knowing this, since I am not to return to the world." She would have continued communing thus with herself for a long time, if she had not been interrupted by the dismal croaking of a raven above her head. She lifted her eyes, and by the feeble light saw a large raven with a frog in its bill, and about to swallow it. "Although I see no help at hand for myself," she said, "I will not let this poor frog perish if I can save it; it suffers as much in its way, as I do in mine, although our conditions are so different," and picking up the first stick she could find, she made the raven drop its prey. The frog fell to the ground, where it lay for a time half-stunned, but finally recovering its froggish senses, it began to speak, and said: "Beautiful Queen, you are the first benevolent person that I have seen since my curiosity first brought me here." "By what wonderful power are you enabled to speak, little Frog?" responded the Queen, "and what kind of people do you see here? for as yet I have seen none." "All the monsters that cover the lake," replied the little Frog, "were once in the world: some on thrones, some in high positions at court; there are even here some royal ladies, who caused much strife and blood*-shed; it is they whom you see changed into leeches; their fate condemns them to be here for a time, but none of those who come return to the world better or wiser." "I can well understand," said the Queen, "that many wicked people together do not help to make each other better; but you, my little Frog friend, what are you doing here?" "It was curiosity which led me here," she replied. "I am half a fairy, my powers are restricted with regard to certain things, but far-reaching in others; if the Fairy Lioness knew that I was in her dominions, she would kill me."
"Whether fairy or half-fairy," said the Queen, "I cannot understand how you could have fallen into the raven's clutches and been nearly eaten." "I can explain it in a few words," replied the Frog. "When I have my little cap of roses on my head, I fear nothing, as in that resides most of my power; unfortunately, I had left it in the marsh, when that ugly raven pounced upon me; if it had not been for you, madam, I should be no more; and as you have saved my life, you have only to command, and I will do all in my power to alleviate the sorrows of your own." "Alas! dear Frog," said the Queen, "the wicked fairy who holds me captive wishes me to make her a fly-pasty; but there are no flies here; if there were any, I could not see in the dim light to catch them; I run a chance, therefore, of being killed by her blows."
"Leave it to me," said the Frog. "I will soon get you some." Whereupon the Frog rubbed herself over with sugar, and more than six thousand of her frog friends did likewise; then they repaired to a place where the fairy kept a large store of flies, for the purpose of tormenting some of her unhappy victims. As soon as they smelt the sugar, they flew to it, and stuck to the frogs, and these kind helpers returned at a gallop to the Queen. There had never been such a fly-catching before, nor a better pasty, than that the Queen made for the fairy. The latter was greatly surprised when the Queen handed it to her, and could not imagine how she had been clever enough to catch the flies.
The Queen, finding herself exposed to the inclemencies of the poisonous atmosphere, cut down some cypress branches, wherewith to build herself a hut. The Frog generously offered her services, and putting herself at the head of all those who had gone to collect the flies, they helped the Queen to build as pretty a little tenement as the world could show. Scarcely, however, had she laid herself down to rest, than the monsters of the lake, jealous of her repose, came round her hut, and nearly drove her distracted, by setting up a noise, more hideous than any ever heard before.
She rose in fear and trembling and fled from the house: this was exactly what the monsters desired. A dragon, who had formerly been a tyrant of one of the finest states of the Universe, immediately took possession of it.
The poor Queen tried to complain of the ill-treatment, but no one would listen to her; the monsters laughed and hooted at her, and the Fairy Lioness told her that if she came again to deafen her with lamentations, she would give her a sound thrashing. She was forced, therefore, to hold her tongue, and to have recourse to the Frog, who was the kindest body in the world. They wept together; for as soon as she put on her cap of roses, the Frog was able to laugh or weep like anyone else. "I feel such an affection for you," she said to the Queen, "that I will re-build your house, even though I drive all the monsters of the lake to despair." She immediately cut some wood, and the little rustic palace of the Queen was so quickly reared, that she was able to sleep in it that night. The Frog, who thought of everything that was necessary for the Queen's comfort, made her a bed of wild thyme. When the wicked fairy found out that the Queen did not sleep on the ground, she sent for her: "What gods or men are they who protect you?" she asked. "This land, watered only by showers of burning sulphur, has never produced even a leaf of sage; I am told, nevertheless, that sweet-smelling herbs spring up beneath your feet!"
"I cannot explain it, madam," said the Queen, "unless the cause is due to the child I hope one day to have, who will perhaps be less unhappy than I am."
"What I now wish for," said the fairy, "is a bunch of the rarest flowers; see if this coming happiness you speak of will obtain these for you. If you fail to get them, blows will not fail to follow, for these I often give, and know well how to administer." The Queen began to cry; such threats as these were anything but pleasant to her and she was in despair at the thought of the impossibility of finding flowers.
She went back to her little house; her friend the Frog came to her: "How unhappy you are!" she said to the Queen. "Alas! who would not be so, dear friend? The fairy has ordered a bunch of the most beautiful flowers, and where am I to find them? You see what sort of flowers grow here; my life, nevertheless, is at stake, if I do not procure them for her." "Dear Queen," said the Frog in tender tones, "we must try our best to get you out of this difficulty. There lives a bat in this neighbourhood, the only one with whom I have made acquaintance; she is a good creature, and moves more quickly than I can; I will give her my cap of roses, and aided by this, she will be able to find you the flowers." The Queen made a low curtsey; for there was no possible way of embracing the Frog. The latter went off without delay to speak to the bat; a few hours later she returned, bearing under her wings the most exquisite flowers. The Queen hurried off with them to the fairy, who was more overcome by surprise than before, unable to understand in what miraculous way the Queen received help.
Meanwhile the Queen was continually thinking by what means she could escape. She confided her longing to the Frog, who said to her, "Madam, allow me first to consult my little cap, and we will then arrange matters according to its advice." She took her cap, placed it on some straw, and then burned in front of it a few sprigs of juniper, some capers, and two green peas; she then croaked five times, and the ceremony being then completed, she put on her cap again, and began speaking like an oracle. "Fate, the ruler of all things, forbids you to leave this place. You will have a little Princess, more beautiful than Venus herself; do not trouble yourself about anything else, time alone can comfort you." The Queen's head drooped, a few tears fell from her eyes, but she resolved to trust her friend: "At least," she said to her, "do not leave me here alone; and befriend me when my little one is born." The Frog promised to remain with her, and comforted her as best she could.
But it is now time to return to the King. While the enemy kept him shut up in his capital, he could not continually send messengers to the Queen. At last, however, after several sorties, he obliged the besiegers to retire, and he rejoiced at his success less on his own account, than on that of the Queen, whom he could now bring back in safety. He was in total ignorance of the disaster which had befallen her, for none of his officers had dared to tell him of it. They had been into the forest and found the remains of the chariot, the runaway horses, and the driving apparel which she had put on when going to find her husband. As they were fully persuaded that she was dead, and had been eaten by wild beasts, their only care was to make the King believe that she had died suddenly. On receiving this mournful intelligence, he thought he should die himself of grief; he tore his hair, he wept many tears, and gave vent to his bereavement in every imaginable expression of sorrow, cries, sobs, and sighs. For some days he would see no one, nor allow himself to be seen; he then returned to his capital, and entered on a long period of mourning, to which the sorrow of his heart testified more sincerely than even his sombre garments of grief. All the surrounding kings sent their ambassadors charged with messages of condolence; and when the ceremonies, indispensable to these occasions, were over, he granted his subjects a period of peace, exempting them from military service, and helping them, in every possible way, to improve their commerce.
The Queen knew nothing of all this. Meanwhile a little Princess had been born to her, as beautiful as the Frog had predicted, to whom they gave the name of Moufette. The Queen had great difficulty in persuading the fairy to allow her to bring up the child, for so ferocious was she, that she would have liked to eat it. Moufette, a wonder of beauty, was now six months old; the Queen, as she looked upon her with a tenderness mingled with pity, continually said: "Ah! if your father could see you, my poor little one, how delighted he would be! how dear you would be to him! But even, already, maybe, he has begun to forget me; he believes, no doubt, that we are lost to him in death; and perhaps another fills the place in his heart, that once was mine."
These sorrowful reflections caused her many tears; the Frog, who truly loved her, seeing her cry like this, said to her one day: "If you would like me to do so, madam, I will go and find the King, your husband; the journey is long, and I travel but slowly; but, sooner or later, I shall hope to arrive." This proposal could not have been more warmly received than it was; the Queen clasped her hands, and made Moufette clasp hers too, in sign of the gratitude she felt towards Madam Frog, for offering to undertake the journey. She assured her that the King also would not be ungrateful; "but," she continued, "of what use will it be to him to know that I am in this melancholy abode; it will be impossible for him to deliver me from it?" "Madam," replied the Frog, "we must leave that to Heaven; we can only do that which depends on ourselves."
They said good-bye to one another; the Queen sent a message to the King, written with her blood on a piece of rag; for she neither ink nor paper. She begged him to give attention to everything the good Frog told him, and to believe all she said, as she was bringing him news of herself.
The Frog was a year and four days climbing up the ten thousand steps which lead from the dark country, in which she had left the Queen, up into the world; it took her another year to prepare her equipage, for she had too much pride to allow herself to appear at the Court like a poor, common frog from the marshes. She had a little sedan-chair made, large enough to hold two eggs comfortably; it was covered on the outside with tortoise-shell, and lined with lizard-skin; then she chose fifty maids of honour, these were the little green frogs which hop about the meadows; each was mounted on a snail, furnished with a light saddle, and rode in style with the leg thrown over the saddle-bow; several water-rats, dressed as pages, ran before the snails, as her body-guard; in short, nothing so pretty had ever been seen before, and to crown it all, her cap of crimson roses, always fresh and in full bloom, suited her in the most admirable manner. She was a bit of a coquette in her way, so she felt obliged to add a little rouge and a few patches; some said that she was painted as were many ladies of that country, but inquiries into the matter proved that this report had only been spread by her enemies.
The journey lasted seven years, during which time the poor Queen went through unspeakable pains and suffering, and if it had not been for the beautiful Moufette, who was a great comfort to her, she would have died a hundred times over. This wonderful little creature could not open her mouth or say a word, without filling her mother with delight; indeed, everybody, with the exception of the Fairy Lioness, was enchanted with her; at last, when the Queen had lived six years in this horrible place, the fairy said that, provided everything she killed was given to her, she might go hunting with her.
The joy of the Queen at once more seeing the sun may be imagined. So unaccustomed had she grown to its light, that at first she thought it would blind her. As for Moufette, she was so quick and intelligent, that even at five or six years of age, she never failed to hit her mark, and so, in this way, the mother and daughter succeeded in somewhat lessening the ferocity of the fairy.
The Frog travelled over mountains and valleys, never stopping day or night; at last she drew near the capital, where the King was in residence. She was surprised to see dancing and festivity in every direction; there was laughter and singing, and the nearer she got to the town, the more joyous and jubilant the people seemed. Her rural equipage caused great astonishment, everyone went after it, and so large had the crowd become by the time she had reached the town, that she had great difficulty in making her way to the palace. Here everything was as magnificent as possible, for the King, who had been a widower for nine years, had at last yielded to the prayers of his subjects, and was on the eve of marriage with a Princess, less beautiful, it is true, than his wife, but not the less agreeable for that.
The kind Frog, having descended from her sedan-chair, entered the royal presence, followed by her attendants. She had no need to ask for audience, for the King, his affianced bride, and all the princes, were all much too curious to know the reason of her coming, to think of interrupting her. "Sire," said she, "I hardly know if the news I bring you will give you joy or sorrow; the marriage which you are about to celebrate, convinces me of your infidelity to the Queen."
"Her memory is dear to me as ever," said the King, unable to prevent the falling of a tear or two; "but you must know, kind frog, that kings are not always able to do what they wish; for the last nine years, my subjects have been urging me to marry; I owe them an heir to the throne, and I have therefore chosen this young Princess, who appears to me all that is charming." "I advise you not to marry her, for the Queen is not dead; I bring you a letter from her, written with her own blood. A little daughter, Moufette, has been born to you, more beautiful than the heavens themselves." The King took the rag, on which the Queen had scrawled a few words; he kissed it, he bathed it in his tears, he showed it to the whole assembly, saying that he recognised his wife's handwriting; he asked the Frog a thousand questions, which she answered with vivacity and intelligence.
The betrothed Princess, the ambassadors who had come to be present at the marriage, began to pull long faces. One of the most important of the guests turned to the King, and said, "Sire, can you think of breaking so solemn an engagement, on the word of a toad like that? This scum of the marshes has the insolence to come and tell lies before the whole Court, for the pleasure of being heard!" "Know, your Excellency," replied the Frog, "that I am no scum of the marshes, and since I am forced to exhibit my powers: Come forth, fairies all!" And thereupon all the frogs, rats, snails, lizards, with the frog at their head, suddenly appeared; not, however, in the usual form of these reptiles, but with tall, majestic figures, pleasing countenances, and eyes more brilliant than stars; each wore a jewelled crown on his head, and over his shoulders a regal mantle of velvet, lined with ermine, with a long train which was borne by dwarfs. At the same time was heard the sound of trumpets, kettle-drums, hautboys, and drums, filling the air with melodious and warlike music, and all the fairies began to dance a ballet, their every step so light, that the slightest spring lifted them to the vaulted ceiling of the room. King and his future Queen, surprised as they were at this, were no less astonished, when they saw all these fairy ballet dancers suddenly change into flowers, jasmine, jonquils, violets, pinks, and tube roses, which still continued to dance as if they had legs and feet. It was like a living flower-bed, of which every movement delighted both the eye and the sense of smell. Another moment, and the flowers had disappeared; in their place several fountains threw their waters into the air and fell into an artificial lake at the foot of the castle walls; this was covered with little painted and gilded boats, so pretty and dainty that the Princess invited the ambassadors to go for a trip on the water. They were all pleased to do so, thinking it was all a merry pastime, which would end happily in the marriage festivities. But they had no sooner embarked, than the boats, water, and fountains disappeared, and the frogs were frogs again. The King asked what had become of the Princess; the Frog replied, "Sire, no queen is yours, but your wife; were I less attached to her than I am, I should not interfere; but she is so deserving, and your daughter Moufette is so charming that you ought not to delay a moment in going to their deliverance." "I assure you, Madam Frog," said the King, "that if I did not believe my wife to be dead, there is nothing in the world I would not do to see her again." "After the wonders I have shown you," she replied, "it seems to me that you ought to be more convinced of the truth of what I have told you. Leave your kingdom in charge of trustworthy men, and start without delay. Here is a ring which will furnish you with the means of seeing the Queen, and of speaking with the Fairy Lioness, although she is the most terrible creature in the world."
The King departed, refusing to have anyone to accompany him, after making handsome presents to the Frog: "Do not be discouraged," she said to him; "you will meet with terrible difficulties, but I hope that you will succeed according to your wishes." Somewhat comforted by her words, the King started in search of his dear wife, with no other guide than his ring.
As Moufette grew older, her beauty became more perfect, and all the monsters of the quicksilver lake fell in love with her; and the dragons, with their hideous and terrifying forms, came and lay at her feet. Although Moufette had seen them ever since she was born, her beautiful eyes could not accustom themselves to the sight of these creatures, and she would run away and hide in her mother's arms. "Shall we remain here long?" she asked her; "is there to be no end to our misery?" The Queen spoke hopefully in order to cheer her child, but in her heart she had no hope; the absence of the Frog, her unbroken silence, the long time that had elapsed since she had news of the King, all these things filled her with sorrow and despair.
The Fairy Lioness had gradually made it a practice to take them with her hunting. She was fond of good things, and liked the game they killed for her, and although all they got in return was the gift of the head or the feet, it was something to be allowed to see again the light of day. The fairy took the form of a lioness, the Queen and her daughter seated themselves on her back, and thus they went hunting through the forests.
The King happened to be resting in a forest one day, whither his ring had guided him, and saw them pass like an arrow shot from the bow; he was unseen of them, and when he tried to follow them, they vanished completely from his sight. Notwithstanding the constant trouble she had been in, the Queen still preserved her former beauty; she appeared to her husband more charming than ever. He longed for her to return to him, and feeling sure that the young Princess who was with her was his dear little Moufette, he determined to face a thousand deaths, rather than abandon his design of rescuing her.
By the help of his ring, he found his way into the obscure region where the Queen had been so many years; he was not a little surprised when he found himself descending to the centre of the earth, but every fresh thing he saw astonished him more and more. The Fairy Lioness, who knew everything, was aware of the day and the hour when he would arrive; she would have given a great deal if the powers in league with her had ordained otherwise; but she determined at least to oppose his strength with the full might of her own.
She built a palace of crystal, which floated in the centre of the lake of quicksilver, and rose and fell with its waves. In it she imprisoned the Queen and her daughter, and then harangued all the monsters who were in love with Moufette. "You will lose this beautiful Princess," she said to them, "if you do not help me to protect her from a knight who has come to carry her away." The monsters promised to leave nothing in their power undone; they surrounded the palace of crystal; the lightest in weight took their stations on the roof and walls; the others kept guard at the doors, and the remainder in the lake.
The King, advised by his faithful ring, went first to the Fairy's Cave; she was awaiting him in her form of lioness. As soon as he appeared she threw herself upon him; but he handled his sword with a valour for which she was not prepared, and as she was putting out one of her paws to fell him to the earth, he cut it off at the joint just where the elbow comes. She uttered a loud cry and fell over; he went up to her, put his foot on her throat and swore that he would kill her, and in spite of her ungovernable fury and invulnerability, she felt a little afraid. "What do you wish to do with me?" she asked. "What do you want of me?" "I wish to punish you," he replied proudly, "for having carried away my wife, and you shall give her up to me or I will strangle you on the spot." "Look towards the lake," she said, "and see if I have the power to do so." The King turned in the direction towards which she pointed, and saw the Queen and her daughter in the palace of crystal, which was floating like a vessel, without oars or rudder, on the lake of quicksilver. He was ready to die with mingled joy and sorrow; he called to them with all his might, and they heard him, but how was he to reach them? While thinking over the means by which he might accomplish this, the Fairy Lioness disappeared. He ran round and round the lake, but whenever the palace came close enough to him, on one side or the other, for him to spring upon it, it suddenly floated away again with terrible swiftness, and so his hopes were continually disappointed. The Queen, fearing he would at length grow weary, called to him not to lose courage, that the Fairy Lioness wanted to tire him out, but that true love knew how to face all difficulties. She and Moufette then stretched out their hands towards him with imploring gestures. Seeing this, the King was filled with renewed courage, and raising his voice, he said that he would rather pass the remainder of his life in this melancholy region than go away without them. He needed great patience, for no king on earth ever spent such a wretched time before. He had only the ground, covered with briars and thorns, for his bed; his food consisted of wild fruits, more bitter than gall, and he was incessantly engaged in defending himself from the monsters of the lake.
Three years passed in this manner, and the King could not flatter himself that he had gained the least advantage; he was almost in despair, and over and over again was tempted to throw himself in the lake, and he would certainly have done so if he could have thought that by such a deed he might alleviate the sufferings of the Queen and the Princess. He was running one day as usual, first to one side of the lake then to the other, when one of the most hideous of the dragons called him, and said to him: "If you will swear to me by your crown and sceptre, by your royal mantle, by your wife and child, to give me, whenever I shall ask for it, a certain delicate morsel to eat, for which I have a taste, I will take you on my back, and I promise you that none of the monsters of this lake, who guard the palace, shall prevent us from carrying off the Queen and Princess Moufette."
"Ah! my beloved Dragon!" cried the King, "I swear to you, and to all the family of dragons, that I will give you your fill to eat of what you like, and will for ever remain your humble servant." "Do not make any promises," replied the Dragon, "if you have any thought of not fulfilling them; for, in that case, misfortunes will fall upon you that you will not forget as long as you live." The King renewed his protestations; he was dying of impatience to get possession of his dear Queen. He mounted on the Dragon's back, as if it was the finest horse in the world, but the other monsters now advanced to bar his passage. They fought together, nothing was to be heard but the sharp hissings of the serpents, nothing to be seen but fire, and sulphur, and saltpetre, falling in every direction. At last the King reached the palace, but here his efforts had to be renewed, for the entrances were defended by bats, owls, and ravens; however, the Dragon, with his claws, his teeth and tail, cut to pieces even the boldest of these. The Queen, on her side, who was looking on at this fierce encounter, kicked away pieces of the wall, and armed herself with these to help her dear husband. They were at last victorious; they ran into one another's arms, and the work of disenchantment was completed by a thunderbolt, which fell into the lake and dried it up.
The friendly Dragon had disappeared with all the other monsters, and the King, by what means he could not guess, found himself again in his own capital, seated, with his Queen and Moufette, in a magnificent dining-hall, with a table spread with exquisite meats in front of them. Such joy and astonishment as theirs were unknown before. All their subjects ran in to see the Queen and the young Princess, who, to add to the wonder of it all, was so superbly dressed, that the eye could hardly bear to look upon her dazzling jewels.
It is easy to imagine the festivities that now went on at the castle; masquerades, running at the ring, and tournaments attracted the greatest princes in the world; but even more were they attracted by the bright eyes of Moufette. Among those who were the handsomest and most accomplished in feats of arms, Prince Moufy everywhere was the most conspicuous. He was universally admired and applauded, and Moufette, who hitherto had been only in the company of dragons and serpents, did not withhold her share of praise. No day passed but Prince Moufy showed her some fresh attention, in the hope of pleasing her, for he loved her deeply; and having offered himself as a suitor, he made known to the King and Queen, that his principality was of a beauty and extent that deserved their special attention.
The King replied that Moufette was at liberty to choose a husband, and that he only wished to please her and make her happy. The Prince was delighted with this answer, and having already become aware that he was not indifferent to the Princess, offered her his hand. She assured him that if he was not her husband, no other man should be, and Moufy, overcome with joy, threw himself at her feet, and in affectionate terms begged her to remember the promise she had given him. The Prince and Princess were betrothed, and Prince Moufy then returned to his principality to make preparations for the marriage. Moufette shed many tears at his departure, for she was troubled with a presentiment of evil which she could not explain. The Queen, seeing that the Prince was also overcome with sorrow, gave him the portrait of her daughter, and begged him rather to lessen the magnificence of the preparations than to delay his return. The Prince, only too ready to obey such a command, promised to comply with what would be for his own happiness.
The Princess occupied herself during his absence with her music, for she had, in a few months, learnt to play well. One day, when she was in the Queen's room, the King rushed in, his face bathed in tears, and taking his daughter in his arms: "Alas, my child," he cried. "Alas! wretched father, unhappy King!" He could say no more, for his voice was stifled with sobs. The Queen and Princess, in great alarm, asked him what was the matter, and at last he was able to tell them that a giant of an enormous height, who gave himself out to be an ambassador from the Dragon of the lake, had just arrived; that in accordance with the promise, made by the King in return for the help he had received in fighting the monsters, the Dragon demanded him to give up the Princess, as he wished to make her into a pie for his dinner; the King added that he had bound himself by solemn oaths to give him what he asked, and in those days no one ever broke his word.
When the Queen heard this dreadful news, she uttered piercing cries, and clasped her child to her breast. "My life shall be taken," she said, "before my daughter shall be delivered up to that monster; let him rather take our kingdom and all that we possess. Unnatural father! can you possibly consent to such a cruel thing? What! my child made into a pie! The thought of it is intolerable! Send me this terrible ambassador, maybe the sight of my anguish may touch his heart."
The King made no reply, but went in search of the giant and brought him to the Queen, who threw herself at his feet. She and her daughter implored him to have mercy upon them, and to persuade the Dragon to take everything they possessed, and to spare Moufette's life; but the giant replied that the matter did not rest with him, and that the Dragon was so obstinate and so fond of good things, that all the powers combined would not prevent him eating whatever he had taken into his head he would like for a meal. He further advised them, as a friend, to consent with a good grace, as otherwise greater evils might arise. At these words the Queen fainted, and the Princess, had she not been obliged to go to her mother's assistance, would have done the same.
No sooner was the sad news spread through the palace, than the whole town knew it. Nothing was heard but weeping and wailing, for Moufette was greatly beloved. The King could not make up his mind to give her to the giant, and the giant, who had already waited some days, began to grow impatient, and to utter terrible threats. The King and Queen, however, said to each other, "What worse thing could happen to us? If the Dragon of the lake were to come and devour us all we could not be more distressed; if Moufette is put into a pie, we are lost."
The giant now told them that he had received a message from his master, and that if the Princess would agree to marry a nephew of his, the Dragon would let her live; that the nephew was young and handsome; that, moreover, he was a Prince, and that she would be able to live with him very happily. This proposal somewhat lessened their grief; the Queen spoke to the Princess, but found her still more averse to this marriage than to the thought of death. "I cannot save my life by being unfaithful," said Moufette. "You promised me to Prince Moufy, and I will marry no one else; let me die; my death will ensure the peace of your lives." The King then came and endeavoured with all the tenderest of expressions to persuade her; but nothing moved her, and finally it was decided that she should be conducted to the summit of a mountain, and there await the Dragon.
Everything was prepared for this great sacrifice; nothing so mournful had before been seen; nothing to be met anywhere but black garments, and pale and horrified faces. Four hundred maidens of the highest rank, dressed in long white robes, and crowned with cypress, accompanied the Princess, who was carried in an open litter of black velvet, that all might look on this masterpiece of beauty. Her hair, tied with crape, hung over her shoulders, and she wore a crown of jasmine, mingled with a few marigolds. The grief of the King and Queen, who followed, overcome by their deep sorrow, appeared the only thing that moved her. The giant, armed from head to foot, marched beside the litter, and looked with hungry eye at the Princess, as if anticipating his share of her when she came to be eaten; the air resounded with sighs and sobs, and the road was flooded with the tears of the onlookers.
"Ah! Frog, Frog," cried the Queen, "you have indeed forsaken me! Alas! why did you give me help in that unhappy region, and now withhold it from me! Would that I had then died, I should not now be lamenting the loss of all my hopes, I should not now have the anguish of seeing my dear Moufette on the point of being devoured!" The procession meanwhile was slowly advancing, and at last reached the summit of the fatal mountain. Here the cries and lamentations were redoubled, nothing more piteous had before been heard. The giant ordered everyone to say farewell and to retire, and they all obeyed him, for in those days, people were very simple and submissive, and never sought for a remedy in their misfortunes.
The King and Queen, and all the Court, now ascended another mountain, whence they could see all that happened to the Princess: and they had not to wait long, before they saw a Dragon, half a league long, coming through the air. His body was so heavy that, notwithstanding his six large wings, he was hardly able to fly; he was covered with immense blue scales, and poisonous tongues of flame; his tail was twisted into as many as fifty and a half coils; each of his claws was the size of a , and three rows of teeth, as long as those of an elephant, could be seen inside his wide-open jaw. As the Dragon slowly made his way towards the mountain, the good, faithful Frog, mounted on the back of a hawk, flew rapidly to Prince Moufy. She wore her cap of roses, and although he was locked into his private room, she entered without a key, and said, "What are you doing here, unhappy lover? You sit dreaming of Moufette's beauty, and at this very moment she is exposed to the most frightful danger; here is a rose-leaf, by blowing upon it, I can change it into a superb horse, as you will see."
There immediately appeared a horse, green in colour, and with twelve hoofs and three heads, of which one emitted fire, another bomb-shells, and the third cannon-balls. She gave the Prince a sword, eight yards long, and lighter than a feather. She clothed him with a single diamond, which he put on like a coat, and which, although as hard as a rock, was so pliable that he could move in it at his ease. "Go," she said, "run, fly to the rescue of her whom you love; the green horse I have given you, will take you to her, and when you have delivered her, let her know the share I have had in the matter."
"Generous fairy," cried the Prince, "I cannot at this moment show you all my gratitude; but from henceforth, I am your faithful servitor."
He mounted the horse with the three heads, which instantly galloped off on its twelve hoofs, and went at a greater rate than three of the best ordinary horses, so that in a very little time the Prince reached the mountain, when he found his dear Princess all alone, and saw the Dragon slowly drawing near. The green horse immediately began to send forth fire, bomb-shells, and cannon-balls, which not a little astonished the monster; he received twenty balls in his throat, and his scales were somewhat damaged, and the bomb-shells put out one of his eyes. He grew furious, and made as if to throw himself on the Prince; but his long sword was so finely-tempered, that he could use it as he liked, thrusting it in at times up to the hilt, and at others using it like a whip. The Prince, on his side, would have suffered from the Dragon's claws, had it not been for his diamond coat, which was impenetrable.
Moufette had recognised her lover a long way off, for the diamond that covered him was transparent and bright, and she was seized with mortal terror at the danger he was in. The King and Queen, however, were filled with renewed hope, for it was such an unexpected thing to see a horse with three heads and twelve hoofs, sending forth fire and flame, and a Prince in a diamond suit and armed with a formidable sword, arrive at such an opportune moment, and fight with so much valour. The King put his hat on the top of his stick, and the Queen tied her handkerchief to the end of another, as signals of encouragement to the Prince; and all their Court followed suit. As a fact, this was not necessary, for his own heart and the peril in which he saw Moufette, were sufficient to animate his courage. And what efforts did he not make! the ground was covered with stings, claws, horns, wings, and scales of the Dragon; the earth was coloured blue and green with the mingled blood of the Dragon and the horse. Five times the Prince fell to the ground, but each time he rose again and leisurely mounted his horse, and then there were cannonades, and rushing of flames, and explosions, such as were never heard or seen before. The Dragon's strength at last gave way, and he fell; the Prince gave him a final blow, and nobody could believe their eyes, when from this last great wound, there stepped forth a handsome and charming prince, in a coat of blue and gold velvet, embroidered with pearls, while on his head he wore a little Grecian helmet, shaded with white feathers. He rushed, his arms outspread, towards Prince Moufy, and embraced him. "What do I not owe you, valiant liberator?" he cried. "You have delivered me from a worse prison than ever before enclosed a king; I have languished there since, sixteen years ago, the Fairy Lioness condemned me to it; and, such was her power, that she would have forced me, against my will, to devour that adorable Princess; lead me to her feet, that I may explain to her my misfortune."
Prince Moufy, surprised and delighted at this extraordinary termination to his adventure, showered civilities on the newly-found Prince. They hastened to rejoin Moufette, who thanked Heaven a thousand times for her unhoped-for happiness. The King, the Queen, and all the Court, were already with her; everybody spoke at once, nobody listened to anybody else, and they all shed nearly as many tears of joy as they had before of grief. Finally, that nothing might be wanting to complete their rejoicing, the good Frog appeared, flying through the air on her hawk, which had little bells of gold on its feet. When the tinkle, tinkle, of these was heard, everyone looked up, and saw the cap of roses shining like the sun, and the Frog as beautiful as the dawn.
The Queen ran towards her, and took her by one of her little paws, and in the same moment, the wise Frog became a great Queen, with a charming countenance. "I come," she cried, "to crown the faithful Moufette, who preferred to risk her life, rather than be untrue to Prince Moufy." She thereupon took two myrtle wreaths, and placed them on the heads of the lovers, and giving three taps with her wand, all the Dragon's bones formed themselves into a triumphal arch, in commemoration of the great event which had just taken place.
They all wended their way back to the town, singing wedding songs, as gaily as they had before mournfully bewailed the sacrifice of the Princess. The marriage took place the following day, and the joy with which it was celebrated may be imagined.
Merci pour la lecture!
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