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Once upon a time . . . . .  from our fabulous collection of Fairy Tales for children . . .  they lived happily ever after . . .

The Marsh King's Daughter - Part 1

THE storks relate to their little ones a great many
stories, and they are all about moors and reed banks, and
suited to their age and capacity. The youngest of them are
quite satisfied with 'kribble, krabble,' or such nonsense, and
think it very grand; but the elder ones want something with a
deeper meaning, or at least something about their own family.

We are only acquainted with one of the two longest and
oldest stories which the storks relate- it is about Moses, who
was exposed by his mother on the banks of the Nile, and was
found by the king's daughter, who gave him a good education,
and he afterwards became a great man; but where he was buried
is still unknown.

Every one knows this story, but not the second; very
likely because it is quite an inland story. It has been
repeated from mouth to mouth, from one stork-mamma to another,
for thousands of years; and each has told it better than the
last; and now we mean to tell it better than all.

The first stork pair who related it lived at the time it
happened, and had their summer residence on the rafters of the
Viking's house, which stood near the wild moorlands of
Wendsyssell; that is, to speak more correctly, the great
moorheath, high up in the north of Jutland, by the Skjagen
peak. This wilderness is still an immense wild heath of marshy
ground, about which we can read in the 'Official Directory.'
It is said that in olden times the place was a lake, the
ground of which had heaved up from beneath, and now the
moorland extends for miles in every direction, and is
surrounded by damp meadows, trembling, undulating swamps, and
marshy ground covered with turf, on which grow bilberry bushes
and stunted trees. Mists are almost always hovering over this
region, which, seventy years ago, was overrun with wolves. It
may well be called the Wild Moor; and one can easily imagine,
with such a wild expanse of marsh and lake, how lonely and
dreary it must have been a thousand years ago. Many things may
be noticed now that existed then. The reeds grow to the same
height, and bear the same kind of long, purple-brown leaves,
with their feathery tips. There still stands the birch, with
its white bark and its delicate, loosely hanging leaves; and
with regard to the living beings who frequented this spot, the
fly still wears a gauzy dress of the same cut, and the
favorite colors of the stork are white, with black and red for
stockings. The people, certainly, in those days, wore very
different dresses to those they now wear, but if any of them,
be he huntsman or squire, master or servant, ventured on the
wavering, undulating, marshy ground of the moor, they met with
the same fate a thousand years ago as they would now. The
wanderer sank, and went down to the Marsh King, as he is
named, who rules in the great moorland empire beneath. They
also called him 'Gunkel King,' but we like the name of 'Marsh
King' better, and we will give him that name as the storks do.
Very little is known of the Marsh King's rule, but that,
perhaps, is a good thing.

In the neighborhood of the moorlands, and not far from the
great arm of the North Sea and the Cattegat which is called
the Lumfjorden, lay the castle of the Viking, with its
water-tight stone cellars, its tower, and its three projecting
storeys. On the ridge of the roof the stork had built his
nest, and there the stork-mamma sat on her eggs and felt sure
her hatching would come to something.

One evening, stork-papa stayed out rather late, and when
he came home he seemed quite busy, bustling, and important. 'I
have something very dreadful to tell you,' said he to the

'Keep it to yourself then,' she replied. 'Remember that I
am hatching eggs; it may agitate me, and will affect them.'

'You must know it at once,' said he. 'The daughter of our
host in Egypt has arrived here. She has ventured to take this
journey, and now she is lost.'

'She who sprung from the race of the fairies, is it?'
cried the mother stork. 'Oh, tell me all about it; you know I
cannot bear to be kept waiting at a time when I am hatching

'Well, you see, mother,' he replied, 'she believed what
the doctors said, and what I have heard you state also, that
the moor-flowers which grow about here would heal her sick
father; and she has flown to the north in swan's plumage, in
company with some other swan-princesses, who come to these
parts every year to renew their youth. She came, and where is
she now!'

'You enter into particulars too much,' said the mamma
stork, 'and the eggs may take cold; I cannot bear such
suspense as this.'

'Well,' said he, 'I have kept watch; and this evening I
went among the rushes where I thought the marshy ground would
bear me, and while I was there three swans came. Something in
their manner of flying seemed to say to me, 'Look carefully
now; there is one not all swan, only swan's feathers.' You
know, mother, you have the same intuitive feeling that I have;
you know whether a thing is right or not immediately.'

'Yes, of course,' said she; 'but tell me about the
princess; I am tired of hearing about the swan's feathers.'

'Well, you know that in the middle of the moor there is
something like a lake,' said the stork-papa. 'You can see the
edge of it if you raise yourself a little. Just there, by the
reeds and the green banks, lay the trunk of an elder-tree;
upon this the three swans stood flapping their wings, and
looking about them; one of them threw off her plumage, and I
immediately recognized her as one of the princesses of our
home in Egypt. There she sat, without any covering but her
long, black hair. I heard her tell the two others to take
great care of the swan's plumage, while she dipped down into
the water to pluck the flowers which she fancied she saw
there. The others nodded, and picked up the feather dress, and
took possession of it. I wonder what will become of it?
thought I, and she most likely asked herself the same
question. If so, she received an answer, a very practical one;
for the two swans rose up and flew away with her swan's
plumage. 'Dive down now!' they cried; 'thou shalt never more
fly in the swan's plumage, thou shalt never again see Egypt;
here, on the moor, thou wilt remain.' So saying, they tore the
swan's plumage into a thousand pieces, the feathers drifted
about like a snow-shower, and then the two deceitful
princesses flew away.'

'Why, that is terrible,' said the stork-mamma; 'I feel as
if I could hardly bear to hear any more, but you must tell me
what happened next.'

'The princess wept and lamented aloud; her tears moistened
the elder stump, which was really not an elder stump but the
Marsh King himself, he who in marshy ground lives and rules. I
saw myself how the stump of the tree turned round, and was a
tree no more, while long, clammy branches like arms, were
extended from it. Then the poor child was terribly frightened,
and started up to run away. She hastened to cross the green,
slimy ground; but it will not bear any weight, much less hers.
She quickly sank, and the elder stump dived immediately after
her; in fact, it was he who drew her down. Great black bubbles
rose up out of the moor-slime, and with these every trace of
the two vanished. And now the princess is buried in the wild
marsh, she will never now carry flowers to Egypt to cure her
father. It would have broken your heart, mother, had you seen

'You ought not to have told me,' said she, 'at such a time
as this; the eggs might suffer. But I think the princess will
soon find help; some one will rise up to help her. Ah! if it
had been you or I, or one of our people, it would have been
all over with us.'

I mean to go every day,' said he, 'to see if anything
comes to pass;' and so he did.

A long time went by, but at last he saw a green stalk
shooting up out of the deep, marshy ground. As it reached the
surface of the marsh, a leaf spread out, and unfolded itself
broader and broader, and close to it came forth a bud.

One morning, when the stork-papa was flying over the stem,
he saw that the power of the sun's rays had caused the bud to
open, and in the cup of the flower lay a charming child- a
little maiden, looking as if she had just come out of a bath.
The little one was so like the Egyptian princess, that the
stork, at the first moment, thought it must be the princess
herself, but after a little reflection he decided that it was
much more likely to be the daughter of the princess and the
Marsh King; and this explained also her being placed in the
cup of a water-lily. 'But she cannot be left to lie here,'
thought the stork, 'and in my nest there are already so many.
But stay, I have thought of something: the wife of the Viking
has no children, and how often she has wished for a little
one. People always say the stork brings the little ones; I
will do so in earnest this time. I shall fly with the child to
the Viking's wife; what rejoicing there will be!'

And then the stork lifted the little girl out of the
flower-cup, flew to the castle, picked a hole with his beak in
the bladder-covered, window, and laid the beautiful child in
the bosom of the Viking's wife. Then he flew back quickly to
the stork-mamma and told her what he had seen and done; and
the little storks listened to it all, for they were then quite
old enough to do so. 'So you see,' he continued, 'that the
princess is not dead, for she must have sent her little one up
here; and now I have found a home for her.'

'Ah, I said it would be so from the first,' replied the
stork-mamma; 'but now think a little of your own family. Our
travelling time draws near, and I sometimes feel a little
irritation already under the wings. The cuckoos and the
nightingale are already gone, and I heard the quails say they
should go too as soon as the wind was favorable. Our
youngsters will go through all the manoeuvres at the review
very well, or I am much mistaken in them.'

The Viking's wife was above measure delighted when she
awoke the next morning and found the beautiful little child
lying in her bosom. She kissed it and caressed it; but it
cried terribly, and struck out with its arms and legs, and did
not seem to be pleased at all. At last it cried itself to
sleep; and as it lay there so still and quiet, it was a most
beautiful sight to see. The Viking's wife was so delighted,
that body and soul were full of joy. Her heart felt so light
within her, that it seemed as if her husband and his soldiers,
who were absent, must come home as suddenly and unexpectedly
as the little child had done. She and her whole household
therefore busied themselves in preparing everything for the
reception of her lord. The long, colored tapestry, on which
she and her maidens had worked pictures of their idols, Odin,
Thor, and Friga, was hung up. The slaves polished the old
shields that served as ornaments; cushions were placed on the
seats, and dry wood laid on the fireplaces in the centre of
the hall, so that the flames might be fanned up at a moment's
notice. The Viking's wife herself assisted in the work, so
that at night she felt very tired, and quickly fell into a
sound sleep. When she awoke, just before morning, she was
terribly alarmed to find that the infant had vanished. She
sprang from her couch, lighted a pine-chip, and searched all
round the room, when, at last, in that part of the bed where
her feet had been, lay, not the child, but a great, ugly frog.
She was quite disgusted at this sight, and seized a heavy
stick to kill the frog; but the creature looked at her with
such strange, mournful eyes, that she was unable to strike the
blow. Once more she searched round the room; then she started
at hearing the frog utter a low, painful croak. She sprang
from the couch and opened the window hastily; at the same
moment the sun rose, and threw its beams through the window,
till it rested on the couch where the great frog lay. Suddenly
it appeared as if the frog's broad mouth contracted, and
became small and red. The limbs moved and stretched out and
extended themselves till they took a beautiful shape; and
behold there was the pretty child lying before her, and the
ugly frog was gone. 'How is this?' she cried, 'have I had a
wicked dream? Is it not my own lovely cherub that lies there.'
Then she kissed it and fondled it; but the child struggled and
fought, and bit as if she had been a little wild cat.

The Viking did not return on that day, nor the next; he
was, however, on the way home; but the wind, so favorable to
the storks, was against him; for it blew towards the south. A
wind in favor of one is often against another.

After two or three days had passed, it became clear to the
Viking's wife how matters stood with the child; it was under
the influence of a powerful sorcerer. By day it was charming
in appearance as an angel of light, but with a temper wicked
and wild; while at night, in the form of an ugly frog, it was
quiet and mournful, with eyes full of sorrow. Here were two
natures, changing inwardly and outwardly with the absence and
return of sunlight. And so it happened that by day the child,
with the actual form of its mother, possessed the fierce
disposition of its father; at night, on the contrary, its
outward appearance plainly showed its descent on the father's
side, while inwardly it had the heart and mind of its mother.
Who would be able to loosen this wicked charm which the
sorcerer had worked upon it? The wife of the Viking lived in
constant pain and sorrow about it. Her heart clung to the
little creature, but she could not explain to her husband the
circumstances in which it was placed. He was expected to
return shortly; and were she to tell him, he would very
likely, as was the custom at that time, expose the poor child
in the public highway, and let any one take it away who would.
The good wife of the Viking could not let that happen, and she
therefore resolved that the Viking should never see the child
excepting by daylight.

One morning there sounded a rushing of storks' wings over
the roof. More than a hundred pair of storks had rested there
during the night, to recover themselves after their excursion;
and now they soared aloft, and prepared for the journey

'All the husbands are here, and ready!' they cried; 'wives
and children also!'

'How light we are!' screamed the young storks in chorus.
'Something pleasant seems creeping over us, even down to our
toes, as if we were full of live frogs. Ah, how delightful it
is to travel into foreign lands!'

'Hold yourselves properly in the line with us,' cried papa
and mamma. 'Do not use your beaks so much; it tries the
lungs.' And then the storks flew away.

About the same time sounded the clang of the warriors'
trumpets across the heath. The Viking had landed with his men.
They were returning home, richly laden with spoil from the
Gallic coast, where the people, as did also the inhabitants of
Britain, often cried in alarm, 'Deliver us from the wild

Life and noisy pleasure came with them into the castle of
the Viking on the moorland. A great cask of mead was drawn
into the hall, piles of wood blazed, cattle were slain and
served up, that they might feast in reality, The priest who
offered the sacrifice sprinkled the devoted parishioners with
the warm blood; the fire crackled, and the smoke rolled along
beneath the roof; the soot fell upon them from the beams; but
they were used to all these things. Guests were invited, and
received handsome presents. All wrongs and unfaithfulness were
forgotten. They drank deeply, and threw in each other's faces
the bones that were left, which was looked upon as a sign of
good feeling amongst them. A bard, who was a kind of musician
as well as warrior, and who had been with the Viking in his
expedition, and knew what to sing about, gave them one of his
best songs, in which they heard all their warlike deeds
praised, and every wonderful action brought forward with
honor. Every verse ended with this refrain,-

'Gold and possessions will flee away,
Friends and foes must die one day;
Every man on earth must die,
But a famous name will never die.'

And with that they beat upon their shields, and hammered upon
the table with knives and bones, in a most outrageous manner.

The Viking's wife sat upon a raised cross seat in the open
hall. She wore a silk dress, golden bracelets, and large amber
beads. She was in costly attire, and the bard named her in his
song, and spoke of the rich treasure of gold which she had
brought to her husband. Her husband had already seen the
wonderfully beautiful child in the daytime, and was delighted
with her beauty; even her wild ways pleased him. He said the
little maiden would grow up to be a heroine, with the strong
will and determination of a man. She would never wink her
eyes, even if, in joke, an expert hand should attempt to cut
off her eye-brows with a sharp sword.

The full cask of mead soon became empty, and a fresh one
was brought in; for these were people who liked plenty to eat
and drink. The old proverb, which every one knows, says that
'the cattle know when to leave their pasture, but a foolish
man knows not the measure of his own appetite.' Yes, they all
knew this; but men may know what is right, and yet often do
wrong. They also knew 'that even the welcome guest becomes
wearisome when he sits too long in the house.' But there they
remained; for pork and mead are good things. And so at the
Viking's house they stayed, and enjoyed themselves; and at
night the bondmen slept in the ashes, and dipped their fingers
in the fat, and licked them. Oh, it was a delightful time!

Once more in the same year the Viking went forth, though
the storms of autumn had already commenced to roar. He went
with his warriors to the coast of Britain; he said that it was
but an excursion of pleasure across the water, so his wife
remained at home with the little girl. After a while, it is
quite certain the foster-mother began to love the poor frog,
with its gentle eyes and its deep sighs, even better than the
little beauty who bit and fought with all around her.

The heavy, damp mists of autumn, which destroy the leaves
of the wood, had already fallen upon forest and heath.
Feathers of plucked birds, as they call the snow, flew about
in thick showers, and winter was coming. The sparrows took
possession of the stork's nest, and conversed about the absent
owners in their own fashion; and they, the stork pair and all
their young ones, where were they staying now? The storks
might have been found in the land of Egypt, where the sun's
rays shone forth bright and warm, as it does here at
midsummer. Tamarinds and acacias were in full bloom all over
the country, the crescent of Mahomet glittered brightly from
the cupolas of the mosques, and on the slender pinnacles sat
many of the storks, resting after their long journey. Swarms
of them took divided possession of the nests- nests which lay
close to each other between the venerable columns, and crowded
the arches of temples in forgotten cities. The date and the
palm lifted themselves as a screen or as a sun-shade over
them. The gray pyramids looked like broken shadows in the
clear air and the far-off desert, where the ostrich wheels his
rapid flight, and the lion, with his subtle eyes, gazes at the
marble sphinx which lies half buried in sand. The waters of
the Nile had retreated, and the whole bed of the river was
covered with frogs, which was a most acceptable prospect for
the stork families. The young storks thought their eyes
deceived them, everything around appeared so beautiful.

'It is always like this here, and this is how we live in
our warm country,' said the stork-mamma; and the thought made
the young ones almost beside themselves with pleasure.

'Is there anything more to see?' they asked; 'are we going
farther into the country?'

'There is nothing further for us to see,' answered the
stork-mamma. 'Beyond this delightful region there are immense
forests, where the branches of the trees entwine round each
other, while prickly, creeping plants cover the paths, and
only an elephant could force a passage for himself with his
great feet. The snakes are too large, and the lizards too
lively for us to catch. Then there is the desert; if you went
there, your eyes would soon be full of sand with the lightest
breeze, and if it should blow great guns, you would most
likely find yourself in a sand-drift. Here is the best place
for you, where there are frogs and locusts; here I shall
remain, and so must you.' And so they stayed.

The parents sat in the nest on the slender minaret, and
rested, yet still were busily employed in cleaning and
smoothing their feathers, and in sharpening their beaks
against their red stockings; then they would stretch out their
necks, salute each other, and gravely raise their heads with
the high-polished forehead, and soft, smooth feathers, while
their brown eyes shone with intelligence. The female young
ones strutted about amid the moist rushes, glancing at the
other young storks and making acquaintances, and swallowing a
frog at every third step, or tossing a little snake about with
their beaks, in a way they considered very becoming, and
besides it tasted very good. The young male storks soon began
to quarrel; they struck at each other with their wings, and
pecked with their beaks till the blood came. And in this
manner many of the young ladies and gentlemen were betrothed
to each other: it was, of course, what they wanted, and indeed
what they lived for. Then they returned to a nest, and there
the quarrelling began afresh; for in hot countries people are
almost all violent and passionate. But for all that it was
pleasant, especially for the old people, who watched them with
great joy: all that their young ones did suited them. Every
day here there was sunshine, plenty to eat, and nothing to
think of but pleasure. But in the rich castle of their
Egyptian host, as they called him, pleasure was not to be
found. The rich and mighty lord of the castle lay on his
couch, in the midst of the great hall, with its many colored
walls looking like the centre of a great tulip; but he was
stiff and powerless in all his limbs, and lay stretched out
like a mummy. His family and servants stood round him; he was
not dead, although he could scarcely be said to live. The
healing moor-flower from the north, which was to have been
found and brought to him by her who loved him so well, had not
arrived. His young and beautiful daughter who, in swan's
plumage, had flown over land and seas to the distant north,
had never returned. She is dead, so the two swan-maidens had
said when they came home; and they made up quite a story about
her, and this is what they told,-

'We three flew away together through the air,' said they:
'a hunter caught sight of us, and shot at us with an arrow.
The arrow struck our young friend and sister, and slowly
singing her farewell song she sank down, a dying swan, into
the forest lake. On the shores of the lake, under a spreading
birch-tree, we laid her in the cold earth. We had our revenge;
we bound fire under the wings of a swallow, who had a nest on
the thatched roof of the huntsman. The house took fire, and
burst into flames; the hunter was burnt with the house, and
the light was reflected over the sea as far as the spreading
birch, beneath which we laid her sleeping dust. She will never
return to the land of Egypt.' And then they both wept. And
stork-papa, who heard the story, snapped with his beak so that
it might be heard a long way off.

'Deceit and lies!' cried he; 'I should like to run my beak
deep into their chests.'

'And perhaps break it off,' said the mamma stork, 'then
what a sight you would be. Think first of yourself, and then
of your family; all others are nothing to us.'

'Yes, I know,' said the stork-papa; 'but to-morrow I can
easily place myself on the edge of the open cupola, when the
learned and wise men assemble to consult on the state of the
sick man; perhaps they may come a little nearer to the truth.'
And the learned and wise men assembled together, and talked a
great deal on every point; but the stork could make no sense
out of anything they said; neither were there any good results
from their consultations, either for the sick man, or for his
daughter in the marshy heath. When we listen to what people
say in this world, we shall hear a great deal; but it is an
advantage to know what has been said and done before, when we
listen to a conversation. The stork did, and we know at least
as much as he, the stork.

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