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Fabulous Fairy Tales for children and adults. From our vast collection of old traditional fairy tales and fables.

The Marsh King's Daughter - Part 2

'Love is a life-giver. The highest love produces the
highest life. Only through love can the sick man be cured.'
This had been said by many, and even the learned men
acknowledged that it was a wise saying.

'What a beautiful thought!' exclaimed the papa stork
immediately.

'I don't quite understand it,' said the mamma stork, when
her husband repeated it; 'however, it is not my fault, but the
fault of the thought; whatever it may be, I have something
else to think of.'

Now the learned men had spoken also of love between this
one and that one; of the difference of the love which we have
for our neighbor, to the love that exists between parents and
children; of the love of the plant for the light, and how the
germ springs forth when the sunbeam kisses the ground. All
these things were so elaborately and learnedly explained, that
it was impossible for stork-papa to follow it, much less to
talk about it. His thoughts on the subject quite weighed him
down; he stood the whole of the following day on one leg, with
half-shut eyes, thinking deeply. So much learning was quite a
heavy weight for him to carry. One thing, however, the papa
stork could understand. Every one, high and low, had from
their inmost hearts expressed their opinion that it was a
great misfortune for so many thousands of people- the whole
country indeed- to have this man so sick, with no hopes of his
recovery. And what joy and blessing it would spread around if
he could by any means be cured! But where bloomed the flower
that could bring him health? They had searched for it
everywhere; in learned writings, in the shining stars, in the
weather and wind. Inquiries had been made in every by-way that
could be thought of, until at last the wise and learned men
has asserted, as we have been already told, that 'love, the
life-giver, could alone give new life to a father;' and in
saying this, they had overdone it, and said more than they
understood themselves. They repeated it, and wrote it down as
a recipe, 'Love is a life-giver.' But how could such a recipe
be prepared- that was a difficulty they could not overcome. At
last it was decided that help could only come from the
princess herself, whose whole soul was wrapped up in her
father, especially as a plan had been adopted by her to enable
her to obtain a remedy.

More than a year had passed since the princess had set out
at night, when the light of the young moon was soon lost
beneath the horizon. She had gone to the marble sphinx in the
desert, shaking the sand from her sandals, and then passed
through the long passage, which leads to the centre of one of
the great pyramids, where the mighty kings of antiquity,
surrounded with pomp and splendor, lie veiled in the form of
mummies. She had been told by the wise men, that if she laid
her head on the breast of one of them, from the head she would
learn where to find life and recovery for her father. She had
performed all this, and in a dream had learnt that she must
bring home to her father the lotus flower, which grows in the
deep sea, near the moors and heath in the Danish land. The
very place and situation had been pointed out to her, and she
was told that the flower would restore her father to health
and strength. And, therefore, she had gone forth from the land
of Egypt, flying over to the open marsh and the wild moor in
the plumage of a swan.

The papa and mamma storks knew all this, and we also know
it now. We know, too, that the Marsh King has drawn her down
to himself, and that to the loved ones at home she is forever
dead. One of the wisest of them said, as the stork-mamma also
said, 'That in some way she would, after all, manage to
succeed;' and so at last they comforted themselves with this
hope, and would wait patiently; in fact, they could do nothing
better.

'I should like to get away the swan's feathers from those
two treacherous princesses,' said the papa stork; 'then, at
least, they would not be able to fly over again to the wild
moor, and do more wickedness. I can hide the two suits of
feathers over yonder, till we find some use for them.'

'But where will you put them?' asked the mamma stork.

'In our nest on the moor. I and the young ones will carry
them by turns during our flight across; and as we return,
should they prove too heavy for us, we shall be sure to find
plenty of places on the way in which we can conceal them till
our next journey. Certainly one suit of swan's feathers would
be enough for the princess, but two are always better. In
those northern countries no one can have too many travelling
wrappers.'

'No one will thank you for it,' said stork-mamma; 'but you
are master; and, excepting at breeding time, I have nothing to
say.'

In the Viking's castle on the wild moor, to which the
storks directed their flight in the following spring, the
little maiden still remained. They had named her Helga, which
was rather too soft a name for a child with a temper like
hers, although her form was still beautiful. Every month this
temper showed itself in sharper outlines; and in the course of
years, while the storks still made the same journeys in autumn
to the hill, and in spring to the moors, the child grew to be
almost a woman, and before any one seemed aware of it, she was
a wonderfully beautiful maiden of sixteen. The casket was
splendid, but the contents were worthless. She was, indeed,
wild and savage even in those hard, uncultivated times. It was
a pleasure to her to splash about with her white hands in the
warm blood of the horse which had been slain for sacrifice. In
one of her wild moods she bit off the head of the black cock,
which the priest was about to slay for the sacrifice. To her
foster-father she said one day, 'If thine enemy were to pull
down thine house about thy ears, and thou shouldest be
sleeping in unconscious security, I would not wake thee; even
if I had the power I would never do it, for my ears still
tingle with the blow that thou gavest me years ago. I have
never forgotten it.' But the Viking treated her words as a
joke; he was, like every one else, bewitched with her beauty,
and knew nothing of the change in the form and temper of Helga
at night. Without a saddle, she would sit on a horse as if she
were a part of it, while it rushed along at full speed; nor
would she spring from its back, even when it quarrelled with
other horses and bit them. She would often leap from the high
shore into the sea with all her clothes on, and swim to meet
the Viking, when his boat was steering home towards the shore.
She once cut off a long lock of her beautiful hair, and
twisted it into a string for her bow. 'If a thing is to be
done well,' said she, 'I must do it myself.

The Viking's wife was, for the time in which she lived, a
woman of strong character and will; but, compared to her
daughter, she was a gentle, timid woman, and she knew that a
wicked sorcerer had the terrible child in his power. It was
sometimes as if Helga acted from sheer wickedness; for often
when her mother stood on the threshold of the door, or stepped
into the yard, she would seat herself on the brink of the
well, wave her arms and legs in the air, and suddenly fall
right in. Here she was able, from her frog nature, to dip and
dive about in the water of the deep well, until at last she
would climb forth like a cat, and come back into the hall
dripping with water, so that the green leaves that were
strewed on the floor were whirled round, and carried away by
the streams that flowed from her.

But there was one time of the day which placed a check
upon Helga. It was the evening twilight; when this hour
arrived she became quiet and thoughtful, and allowed herself
to be advised and led; then also a secret feeling seemed to
draw her towards her mother. And as usual, when the sun set,
and the transformation took place, both in body and mind,
inwards and outwards, she would remain quiet and mournful,
with her form shrunk together in the shape of a frog. Her body
was much larger than those animals ever are, and on this
account it was much more hideous in appearance; for she looked
like a wretched dwarf, with a frog's head, and webbed fingers.
Her eyes had a most piteous expression; she was without a
voice, excepting a hollow, croaking sound, like the smothered
sobs of a dreaming child.

Then the Viking's wife took her on her lap, and forgot the
ugly form, as she looked into the mournful eyes, and often
said, 'I could wish that thou wouldst always remain my dumb
frog child, for thou art too terrible when thou art clothed in
a form of beauty.' And the Viking woman wrote Runic characters
against sorcery and spells of sickness, and threw them over
the wretched child; but they did no good.

'One can scarcely believe that she was ever small enough
to lie in the cup of the water-lily,' said the papa stork;
'and now she is grown up, and the image of her Egyptian
mother, especially about the eyes. Ah, we shall never see her
again; perhaps she has not discovered how to help herself, as
you and the wise men said she would. Year after year have I
flown across and across the moor, but there was no sign of her
being still alive. Yes, and I may as well tell you that you
that each year, when I arrived a few days before you to repair
the nest, and put everything in its place, I have spent a
whole night flying here and there over the marshy lake, as if
I had been an owl or a bat, but all to no purpose. The two
suit of swan's plumage, which I and the young ones dragged
over here from the land of the Nile, are of no use; trouble
enough it was to us to bring them here in three journeys, and
now they are lying at the bottom of the nest; and if a fire
should happen to break out, and the wooden house be burnt
down, they would be destroyed.'

'And our good nest would be destroyed, too,' said the
mamma stork; 'but you think less of that than of your plumage
stuff and your moor-princess. Go and stay with her in the
marsh if you like. You are a bad father to your own children,
as I have told you already, when I hatched my first brood. I
only hope neither we nor our children may have an arrow sent
through our wings, owing to that wild girl. Helga does not
know in the least what she is about. We have lived in this
house longer than she has, she should think of that, and we
have never forgotten our duty. We have paid every year our
toll of a feather, an egg, and a young one, as it is only
right we should do. You don't suppose I can wander about the
court-yard, or go everywhere as I used to do in old times. I
can do it in Egypt, where I can be a companion of the people,
without forgetting myself. But here I cannot go and peep into
the pots and kettles as I do there. No, I can only sit up here
and feel angry with that girl, the little wretch; and I am
angry with you, too; you should have left her lying in the
water lily, then no one would have known anything about her.'

'You are far better than your conversation,' said the papa
stork; 'I know you better than you know yourself.' And with
that he gave a hop, and flapped his wings twice, proudly; then
he stretched his neck and flew, or rather soared away, without
moving his outspread wings. He went on for some distance, and
then he gave a great flap with his wings and flew on his
course at a rapid rate, his head and neck bending proudly
before him, while the sun's rays fell on his glossy plumage.

'He is the handsomest of them all,' said the mamma stork,
as she watched him; 'but I won't tell him so.'

Early in the autumn, the Viking again returned home laden
with spoil, and bringing prisoners with him. Among them was a
young Christian priest, one of those who contemned the gods of
the north. Often lately there had been, both in hall and
chamber, a talk of the new faith which was spreading far and
wide in the south, and which, through the means of the holy
Ansgarius, had already reached as far as Hedeby on the Schlei.
Even Helga had heard of this belief in the teachings of One
who was named Christ, and who for the love of mankind, and for
their redemption, had given up His life. But to her all this
had, as it were, gone in one ear and out the other. It seemed
that she only understood the meaning of the word 'love,' when
in the form of a miserable frog she crouched together in the
corner of the sleeping chamber; but the Viking's wife had
listened to the wonderful story, and had felt herself
strangely moved by it.

On their return, after this voyage, the men spoke of the
beautiful temples built of polished stone, which had been
raised for the public worship of this holy love. Some vessels,
curiously formed of massive gold, had been brought home among
the booty. There was a peculiar fragrance about them all, for
they were incense vessels, which had been swung before the
altars in the temples by the Christian priests. In the deep
stony cellars of the castle, the young Christian priest was
immured, and his hands and feet tied together with strips of
bark. The Viking's wife considered him as beautiful as Baldur,
and his distress raised her pity; but Helga said he ought to
have ropes fastened to his heels, and be tied to the tails of
wild animals.

'I would let the dogs loose after him' she said; 'over the
moor and across the heath. Hurrah! that would be a spectacle
for the gods, and better still to follow in its course.'

But the Viking would not allow him to die such a death as
that, especially as he was the disowned and despiser of the
high gods. In a few days, he had decided to have him offered
as a sacrifice on the blood-stone in the grove. For the first
time, a man was to be sacrificed here. Helga begged to be
allowed to sprinkle the assembled people with the blood of the
priest. She sharpened her glittering knife; and when one of
the great, savage dogs, who were running about the Viking's
castle in great numbers, sprang towards her, she thrust the
knife into his side, merely, as she said, to prove its
sharpness.

The Viking's wife looked at the wild, badly disposed girl,
with great sorrow; and when night came on, and her daughter's
beautiful form and disposition were changed, she spoke in
eloquent words to Helga of the sorrow and deep grief that was
in her heart. The ugly frog, in its monstrous shape, stood
before her, and raised its brown mournful eyes to her face,
listening to her words, and seeming to understand them with
the intelligence of a human being.

'Never once to my lord and husband has a word passed my
lips of what I have to suffer through you; my heart is full of
grief about you,' said the Viking's wife. 'The love of a
mother is greater and more powerful than I ever imagined. But
love never entered thy heart; it is cold and clammy, like the
plants on the moor.'

Then the miserable form trembled; it was as if these words
had touched an invisible bond between body and soul, for great
tears stood in the eyes.

'A bitter time will come for thee at last,' continued the
Viking's wife; 'and it will be terrible for me too. It had
been better for thee if thou hadst been left on the high-road,
with the cold night wind to lull thee to sleep.' And the
Viking's wife shed bitter tears, and went away in anger and
sorrow, passing under the partition of furs, which hung loose
over the beam and divided the hall.

The shrivelled frog still sat in the corner alone. Deep
silence reigned around. At intervals, a half-stifled sigh was
heard from its inmost soul; it was the soul of Helga. It
seemed in pain, as if a new life were arising in her heart.
Then she took a step forward and listened; then stepped again
forward, and seized with her clumsy hands the heavy bar which
was laid across the door. Gently, and with much trouble, she
pushed back the bar, as silently lifted the latch, and then
took up the glimmering lamp which stood in the ante-chamber of
the hall. It seemed as if a stronger will than her own gave
her strength. She removed the iron bolt from the closed
cellar-door, and slipped in to the prisoner. He was
slumbering. She touched him with her cold, moist hand, and as
he awoke and caught sight of the hideous form, he shuddered as
if he beheld a wicked apparition. She drew her knife, cut
through the bonds which confined his hands and feet, and
beckoned to him to follow her. He uttered some holy names and
made the sign of the cross, while the form remained motionless
by his side.

'Who art thou?' he asked, 'whose outward appearance is
that of an animal, while thou willingly performest acts of
mercy?'

The frog-figure beckoned to him to follow her, and led him
through a long gallery concealed by hanging drapery to the
stables, and then pointed to a horse. He mounted upon it, and
she sprang up also before him, and held tightly by the
animal's mane. The prisoner understood her, and they rode on
at a rapid trot, by a road which he would never have found by
himself, across the open heath. He forgot her ugly form, and
only thought how the mercy and loving-kindness of the Almighty
was acting through this hideous apparition. As he offered
pious prayers and sang holy songs of praise, she trembled. Was
it the effect of prayer and praise that caused this? or, was
she shuddering in the cold morning air at the thought of
approaching twilight? What were her feelings? She raised
herself up, and wanted to stop the horse and spring off, but
the Christian priest held her back with all his might, and
then sang a pious song, as if this could loosen the wicked
charm that had changed her into the semblance of a frog.

And the horse galloped on more wildly than before. The sky
painted itself red, the first sunbeam pierced through the
clouds, and in the clear flood of sunlight the frog became
changed. It was Helga again, young and beautiful, but with a
wicked demoniac spirit. He held now a beautiful young woman in
his arms, and he was horrified at the sight. He stopped the
horse, and sprang from its back. He imagined that some new
sorcery was at work. But Helga also leaped from the horse and
stood on the ground. The child's short garment reached only to
her knee. She snatched the sharp knife from her girdle, and
rushed like lightning at the astonished priest. 'Let me get at
thee!' she cried; 'let me get at thee, that I may plunge this
knife into thy body. Thou art pale as ashes, thou beardless
slave.' She pressed in upon him. They struggled with each
other in heavy combat, but it was as if an invisible power had
been given to the Christian in the struggle. He held her fast,
and the old oak under which they stood seemed to help him, for
the loosened roots on the ground became entangled in the
maiden's feet, and held them fast. Close by rose a bubbling
spring, and he sprinkled Helga's face and neck with the water,
commanded the unclean spirit to come forth, and pronounced
upon her a Christian blessing. But the water of faith has no
power unless the well-spring of faith flows within. And yet
even here its power was shown; something more than the mere
strength of a man opposed itself, through his means, against
the evil which struggled within her. His holy action seemed to
overpower her. She dropped her arms, glanced at him with pale
cheeks and looks of amazement. He appeared to her a mighty
magician skilled in secret arts; his language was the darkest
magic to her, and the movements of his hands in the air were
as the secret signs of a magician's wand. She would not have
blinked had he waved over her head a sharp knife or a
glittering axe; but she shrunk from him as he signed her with
the sign of the cross on her forehead and breast, and sat
before him like a tame bird, with her head bowed down. Then he
spoke to her, in gentle words, of the deed of love she had
performed for him during the night, when she had come to him
in the form of an ugly frog, to loosen his bonds, and to lead
him forth to life and light; and he told her that she was
bound in closer fetters than he had been, and that she could
recover also life and light by his means. He would take her to
Hedeby to St. Ansgarius, and there, in that Christian town,
the spell of the sorcerer would be removed. But he would not
let her sit before him on the horse, though of her own free
will she wished to do so. 'Thou must sit behind me, not before
me,' said he. 'Thy magic beauty has a magic power which comes
from an evil origin, and I fear it; still I am sure to
overcome through my faith in Christ.' Then he knelt down, and
prayed with pious fervor. It was as if the quiet woodland were
a holy church consecrated by his worship. The birds sang as if
they were also of this new congregation; and the fragrance of
the wild flowers was as the ambrosial perfume of incense;
while, above all, sounded the words of Scripture, 'A light to
them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide
their feet into the way of peace.' And he spoke these words
with the deep longing of his whole nature.

Meanwhile, the horse that had carried them in wild career
stood quietly by, plucking at the tall bramble-bushes, till
the ripe young berries fell down upon Helga's hands, as if
inviting her to eat. Patiently she allowed herself to be
lifted on the horse, and sat there like a somnambulist- as one
who walked in his sleep. The Christian bound two branches
together with bark, in the form of a cross, and held it on
high as they rode through the forest. The way gradually grew
thicker of brushwood, as they rode along, till at last it
became a trackless wilderness. Bushes of the wild sloe here
and there blocked up the path, so that they had to ride over
them. The bubbling spring formed not a stream, but a marsh,
round which also they were obliged to guide the horse; still
there were strength and refreshment in the cool forest breeze,
and no trifling power in the gentle words spoken in faith and
Christian love by the young priest, whose inmost heart yearned
to lead this poor lost one into the way of light and life. It
is said that rain-drops can make a hollow in the hardest
stone, and the waves of the sea can smooth and round the rough
edges of the rocks; so did the dew of mercy fall upon Helga,
softening what was hard, and smoothing what was rough in her
character. These effects did not yet appear; she was not
herself aware of them; neither does the seed in the lap of
earth know, when the refreshing dew and the warm sunbeams fall
upon it, that it contains within itself power by which it will
flourish and bloom. The song of the mother sinks into the
heart of the child, and the little one prattles the words
after her, without understanding their meaning; but after a
time the thoughts expand, and what has been heard in childhood
seems to the mind clear and bright. So now the 'Word,' which
is all-powerful to create, was working in the heart of Helga.

They rode forth from the thick forest, crossed the heath,
and again entered a pathless wood. Here, towards evening, they
met with robbers.



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