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The Prince and the Maiden


Thick darkness surrounded them, yet it seemed to the prince as if their path led into still darker depths. The old graybeard uttered no word. When they had climbed a hill which lay before them the prince saw in the distance the house of his master. Now the master said with a frown, "Watch carefully our ways in the house, and beware of making any mistake, or it will go ill with you. Keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth shut, obey without questions. If you care to keep your head, never speak unless you are spoken to."

When the prince stepped over the threshold of the master's house he caught sight of a maiden of wonderful beauty, with brown eyes and fair curly hair. "What a treasure so deep under the earth!" the young man said to himself. And he watched her lay the table, bring in the food, and take her seat by the fire as if she never noticed that a strange man was present.

After supper that night, the old man said to the prince, "Tomorrow you may rest from the journey. But the day after that you start work. The maid will show you your quarters."

The prince thought that he had permission to speak, but his master turned on him with a face of thunder and shrieked, "You dog of a servant! If you disobey the laws of the house you will soon find yourself a head shorter! Hold your tongue, and don't forget it."

The girl made a sign for him to follow her, and throwing open a door, nodded for him to go in.

"It is impossible that she is his daughter!" he said to himself, "for she has a kind heart. I am quite sure she must be the very girl who was brought here instead of me, so I am bound to try to bring her back." He got into bed, but it was long before he fell asleep, and even then his dreams gave him no rest.

When he woke his first thoughts were for the girl, whom he found hard at work. To lighten her load, he drew water from the well, carried it to the house, kindled the fire under the iron pot, and in general, did everything that came to his head that could be of any use to her.

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