THERE was once a Princess so lovely that no one could see her without loving her. Her hair fell about her shoulders in waving masses, and because it was the color of gold, she was called Pretty Goldilocks. She always wore a crown of flowers, and her dresses were embroidered with pearls and diamonds.
The fame of her beauty reached a young King, who determined to marry her, although he had never seen her. He sent an ambassador to ask her hand in marriage; and so confident was he that the Princess would return with him, that he made every preparation to receive her. The ambassador arrived at the palace of the Princess with a hundred horses and as many servants. With great ceremony, he presented the King’s gifts of pearls and diamonds, together with his message. The Princess, however, did not favor the King’s suit, and sent back his gifts with a polite refusal. When the ambassador returned without the Princess, every one blamed him for his failure; and the King’s disappointment was so great that no one could console him.
Now at the King’s court was a young man so handsome and clever that he was called Charming. Every one loved him, except some who were envious because he was the King’s favorite. One day Charming rashly remarked that if the King had sent him for the Princess, she would have come back with him. His enemies at once went to the King and used the remark to influence him against Charming.
“He thinks himself so handsome that the Princess could not have resisted him, although she refused his King,” they told his Majesty.
The boastful words so offended the King that he ordered Charming to be shut up in the tower, where he had only straw to lie on and bread and water to eat. In this miserable state he languished for some time, not knowing why he had been imprisoned. One day the King happened to be passing the tower and heard him exclaim:
“I am the King’s most faithful subject; what have I done to displease him?” Then, in spite of the protests of Charming’s enemies, the King ordered the tower-door opened and Charming brought forth. His old favorite sadly knelt and kissed his hand, saying:
“Sire, how have I offended?”
The King told him of the boast his enemies had repeated.
“True, Sire, I did say that had I been sent to persuade her, I would not have failed with my words. Could the Princess see you as my tongue would picture you, I would not return without her.”
The King at once saw that he had been deceived, and restored Charming to favour. While at supper that night, he confided to him that he was as much in love with Goldilocks as ever, and could not be satisfied to accept her answer.
“Do you think,” asked the King, “that she could be persuaded to change her mind?”
Charming replied that he was at the King’s service and willing to undertake the task of winning the Princess for him. The King was delighted and offered him a splendid escort, but he asked only for a good horse.
Early the next day he set forth, with a resolute heart and the King’s letter to the Princess. One day when he had ridden a great distance, he dismounted and sat down under a tree that grew beside a river. He took from his pocket a little book, in which he jotted down some happy thoughts that he meant to use in his plea to the Princess. Not far from where he sat, a golden carp was springing from the water to catch flies, and a bound too high landed it on the grass at Charming’s feet. It panted helplessly, and would have died had he not taken pity on it and thrown it back into the river. It sank out of sight, but presently returned to the surface long enough to say:
“Thank you, Charming, for saving my life. Some day I may repay you.” Naturally, he was greatly surprised at so much politeness from a fish.
A few days later, while riding along his way, he saw a raven pursued by an eagle. In a moment more the eagle would have overtaken the raven, had not Charming aimed his arrow in time and killed the pursuer. The raven perched on a tree near by and croaked its gratitude:
“You have rescued me from a dreadful fate,” it said. “Some day I will repay you.”
A day or two afterward, in the dusk of early morning, he heard the distressful cries of an owl. Hunting about, he found the unfortunate bird caught in a net which some bird catchers had spread. “Why will men persecute and torment harmless creatures!” exclaimed Charming, as he set the bird free. The owl fluttered above his head, saying:
“You have saved me from the fowlers, who would have killed me. I am not ungrateful, and some day I will repay you!” After that it flew swiftly away.
Charming at last reached the palace of the Princess, and asked an audience. His name so pleased her that she at once received him. He was ushered into the presence of the Princess, who sat on a throne of gold and ivory. Her satin dress was embroidered with jewels, and her golden hair was confined by a crown of flowers. Soft music and perfume filled the air, and Charming was so awed by all this splendor that at first he could not speak. Recovering himself in a moment, he told of his mission, and set forth the good qualities of the King in such glowing terms that the Princess listened.
“You have argued so eloquently,” replied she, “that I regret to deny you; but I have made a vow not to marry, until the ambassador can return to me a ring which I lost in the river a month ago. I valued it more than all my other jewels, and nothing but its recovery can persuade me to your request.”
Charming could urge no more, but offered an embroidered scarf and his little dog Frisk as tokens of devotion. These were declined, so bowing low, he reluctantly took leave of the Princess. He believed that she had but used this means to put him off, and his disappointment was so great that he could not sleep.
In the morning he and Frisk were walking by the riverside when the dog ran to the water’s edge, barking furiously. Joining the little animal, he saw that his excitement was caused by a golden carp which came swimming swiftly toward them. In its mouth was a beautiful ring which it laid in Charming’s hand.
“You saved my life by the willow-tree,” said the carp, “and I now repay you by giving to you the Princess’s ring.”
Charming lost no time in presenting it to the Princess and claiming his reward.
“What fairy aids you?” asked the Princess.
“Only my wish to serve you,” Charming replied.
“Alas!” said the Princess, “I cannot marry until Galifron, the giant, is dead. Because I would not take him for my husband, he persecutes my subjects and lays waste my land.”
“Princess, I will bring back the giant’s head to you or die in your defense,” bravely declared Charming.
The Princess and all the people tried to dissuade him, but he mounted his horse and rode off, accompanied only by his little dog, Frisk. He traveled straight to the giant’s castle. All about it were lying the bones of Galifron’s victims. Inside the castle the giant was singing in a terrible voice:
Charming called out loudly in reply:
The giant appeared at the door, club in hand. When he saw Charming fearlessly awaiting him, he came toward him in a terrible rage. But before he could wield his club, a raven lit on his head and pecked at his eyes, so that he dropped his weapon and was at Charming’s mercy. When the valiant knight had killed the giant, the raven croaked from a tree near by:
“You saved me from the eagle, and I in turn have saved you from the giant.”
Charming cut off some hair of the giant, and carried it back with him to the Princess. Then the people shouted until they were hoarse, and welcomed him as a great hero.
“Your enemy is dead,” Charming told the Princess. “Will you now make my master the happiest of kings?”
“There is,” replied the reluctant Princess, “some water which gives eternal health and beauty to those who drink it. I would regret to leave my kingdom without possessing some of it; but no one has dared to brave the two dragons that guard the cavern where the fountain is to be found.”
“You do not need the water, Princess; but my life is yours to command,” gallantly replied Charming; and he set out at once on the dangerous mission.
When he came to the mouth of the cavern, black smoke issued forth; and presently he saw the terrible form of a dragon, from whose mouth and eyes fire was darting. Bidding good-by to faithful Frisk, he grasped his sword in one hand and the crystal flask which the Princess had given him in the other. Just then he heard his name called twice, and, looking back, he saw an owl flying toward him.
“I can enter the gloomy cavern without danger,” the owl said. “Give the flask to me, and I will repay the debt I owe you for having saved me from the net.”
Charming gladly surrendered the flask to the owl, who in a short time returned it to him filled with the precious water.
The Princess this time consented to marry the King, and after many preparations she and Charming started for his kingdom. The journey was made so entertaining for the Princess that she one day said to Charming:
“Why did I not make you King, and remain in my own country?” Charming replied that he must have considered his duty to his King, even before a happiness so great.
The King, with presents of rich jewels and a splendid escort, met them on the way to the palace. The marriage was celebrated with great pomp, and Charming stood first in the King’s favor. His good fortune, however, did not continue long, for envious enemies pointed out to the King that the Princess was never happy unless Charming was near. The unhappy knight was again put into prison, where he was cruelly chained and fed on bread and water.
When Goldilocks learned this, she wept and implored the King to set him free. “But for him I never would have been here,” she said. “Did he not perform every task I required, even that of getting for me the water whereby I shall never grow old?”
The Princess’s grief only made the King more jealous, but he determined to make use of this wonderful water of which she had told. It so happened that one of the Princess’s ladies had broken the crystal flask and spilled all of the water. Not daring to confess, she put another in its place that exactly resembled it in appearance. This, however, contained a deadly poison. When the King bathed his face with it, he fell into a sleep from which he never awoke.
There was great confusion in the palace when the King was found dead. Frisk ran immediately to Charming and told him the news. In a short time Goldilocks also appeared, unlocked his chains, and set him free.
“You shall be my husband,” said she, “and I will make you King.”
Charming fell at her feet and expressed his gratitude and joy. They were married soon afterward, and they reigned together for many happy years.