The Golden Bird
In the olden time 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 tree.
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, 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 with gold. 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; he trusted to his cleverness, and 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 seems 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
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 some time had passed, and the eldest son for month after month
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 is a little wanting 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 straight 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 hard 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, “It will be a shame to
such a beautiful beast, 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 into prison. 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 the Fox went, 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
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
The King's son began, and dug and shovelled without leaving off, 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 any 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 his daughter.
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 is going to buy gallows'-flesh? and the desire to sit at the edge
of a well it has never yet seized 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, as it was
cool and pleasant within it, 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 it up so,” 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
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 how did it fare with 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 nothing more was wanting to their happiness as long as they