THERE was once a king who for a long time had been engaged in a war with his neighbours. After many battles, the enemy laid siege to his capital. The queen was at that time in delicate health, and, fearing for her safety, the king begged her to retire to a castle he had had fortified. With prayers and tears the queen tried to persuade him to let her stay with him and share his fate, but in vain, and he put her into the chariot prepared for her departure, amid loud expressions of grief. The king ordered his guards to accompany her, and told her he would try and get away unnoticed, and come and pay her a visit. He indulged her with the hope merely to soothe her, for the castle was a very long way off, and surrounded by a thick forest; only those well acquainted with the road could possibly reach it.
The queen departed much distressed at leaving her husband exposed to the dangers of war. She travelled by short stages lest the fatigue of so long a journey should cause illness; at length, very miserable and wretched, she reached the castle. When she had somewhat recovered, she explored the surrounding country, and found it most unpleasing, Wherever she looked she saw vast desert tracts, whose ugliness caused her much grief. She gazed at them sadly, and sometimes said "What a contrast this place is to that in which I have lived all my life! If I stay here much longer I shall die. I've no one to speak to in this Solitary spot; how can I relieve my anxiety? What have I done to the king that he should banish me? He certainly wishes to make me feel the bitterness of his absence when he sends me to so unpleasant a place."
Thus she complained, and although he wrote to her every day, and gave her very favourable news of the siege, she became more and more miserable, and at length resolved to return to the king. But the officers who accompanied her bad orders not to take her back until the king should send a special messenger. For that reason she kept her determination to herself, and ordered a small chariot to be built to hold one person only, saying she should sometimes like to accompany the hunt. She drove it herself, and followed the hounds so closely that she went along quicker than the huntsmen themselves. By this means she had absolute command of the chariot, and could get away whenever she liked. The only difficulty was her ignorance of the forest roads, but she indulged the hope that the gods would be good to her, and guide her aright. After performing sacrifice to them, she commanded a great hunt to be held; everybody was to take part in it, she in her chariot as usual, and each was to take a different route, in order to leave no possibility of retreat to the wild beasts. The young queen, full of the joy of soon seeing her husband, had dressed herself very prettily; her broad-brimmed hat was adorned with feathers of many colours, her jacket was trimmed with precious stones, and this, added to her beauty, which was quite out of the common, made her seem a second Diana.
When her people were entirely absorbed in the pleasures of the chase, she gave rein to her horses, whipped them up, and shouted to them; off they went at full gallop, and then running away at the top of their speed, the chariot flew along faster than the wind, and the eye could scarcely follow it, Too late the queen repented of her rash action. "Whatever was I thinking of?" she said; "as if I could manage these spirited, untractable horses all by myself; alas! what will become of me? If the king, who loves me so dearly and sent me away from him in order to assure my safety, knew of my danger, what would he do? This is how I repay his loving care of me, and the child of whom I am to he the mother will be with myself the victim of my imprudence." The air resounded with her sorrowful wailing; she implored aid of the gods, of the fairies, hut both had forsaken her. The chariot was upset, she had not strength to jump out quickly enough, and her foot was caught between the wheel and the axle-tree nothing short of a miracle could save her.
She remained wholly unconscious, stretched on the ground at the foot of a tree; her face was covered with blood. When she came to herself, she saw near her a woman of gigantic stature, clothed in the skin of a lion. Her arms and legs were bare, her hair tied up with the dried skin of a snake, whose head hung over her shoulders; a thorn club in her hand served for a stick to lean on, and a quiver full of arrows was fastened at her side. The sight of such an extraordinary creature convinced the queen she must be dead, for it never occurred to her that after so terrible an accident she could still be living, and speaking, she said "I am not surprised that it should be so difficult to resolve to die, since what is to be seen in the other world is so frightful." The giantess heard her, and could not help laughing at the queen for thinking herself dead. "Take courage," she said, "you are still in the land of the living, but your fate is none the less sad. I am the Fairy Lioness, and I dwell close here; you must come and live with me."
The queen looked at her sadly and said: "Madam Lioness, be good enough to take me back to my castle, and then demand of the king any ransom you please. He loves me so dearly that he would not refuse even half his kingdom." "No," she replied, "I am rich enough, but for some time now I have been growing weary of my loneliness; and you are intelligent and will perhaps amuse me." She then assumed the shape of a lioness, and taking the queen on her back, carried her to the depths of her grotto, and cured her wounds by rubbing her with a cordial.
Picture the surprise and grief of the queen, when she found herself in that horrible place! It was reached by ten thousand steps that led to the centre of the earth; the only light came from some big lamps that were reflected in a quicksilver lake, full of monsters who would have terrified a less timid queen; owls, screech-owls, ravens, and other birds of evil omen abounded; in the distance was a mountain whence flowed a sluggish stream composed of all the tears shed by unhappy lovers; the sad Loves had gathered them into a reservoir. The trees were bare of leaves and fruit, the ground was covered with marigolds, briers and nettles. The food was suitable to the climate of such a detestable country: a few dried roots, horse-chestnuts and bedeguars was all it could offer to appease the hunger of the unfortunate creatures who fell into Lioness's hands.
Directly the queen was sufficiently recovered to be able to work, the fairy told her that, as she would have to live with her all her life, she had better build herself a little house. The princess could not refrain from weeping: "Alas!" she exclaimed, "what have I done to you, that you would keep me here? If my death, which is, I feel sure, not far off, would give you any pleasure, kill me at once. It is the only kindness I dare hope for from you; do not condemn me to live a long and miserable life away from my husband." Lioness mocked at her grief, and advised her to dry her tears and try and please her; indeed if she did not do so, she would be the unhappiest woman in the world. "Is there no way of touching your heart?" replied the queen. "I am extremely fond," she said, "of fly pasties, and should be very glad if you could catch enough to make me a pie of large size and excellent quality." "But," said the queen, "there are none here, and if there were, I could not see to catch them by this dim light, and even if I got possession of them, I don't know how to make pastry, so that I cannot possibly execute your orders." "That does not matter," said hard hearted Lioness, "I shall give you what commands I please."
The queen did not reply. She thought that, in spite of the fairy's cruelty, she had only one life to lose, and, in her condition, what was there to regret? Instead of looking for flies, she sat down under a yew and began her sad complainings. "What grief will be yours, my beloved husband," she said, "when you come to seek me and find me gone! You will think I am dead or untrue; I would rather you should weep for my death than for the loss of my affection. Perhaps the broken chariot and the ornaments I had put on to make myself pleasing in your eyes will be found in the forest. You will then be certain of my death, and will very likely bestow on another the affection you had for me. But since I am not to return to the world, I shall never know it."
She would have continued in this strain for ever so long, if she had not heard above her head the miserable croaking of a raven. She looked up, and by the faint glimmer that lighted the shore saw a big raven holding a frog with the intention of devouring it. "Although nothing here is likely to have pity on me," she said, "I will attempt to rescue the poor frog, for she is as unfortunate in her degree as I am in mine." Using the first stick that came to hand, she forced the raven to relax its hold. The frog fell down, was stunned for a moment or two, and, on recovering her froggish wits, said: "You are the only kind hearted person I have met since curiosity brought me to this place." "By what miracle are you able to speak, little frog?" replied the queen, "and who are the people you have met here? as yet I have seen no one." "All the monsters who dwell in the lake," was the reply, "were once in the world; some on the throne, some the trusted counsellors of their sovereigns, others were the mistresses of kings and cost the state much blood: these last have become leeches. Fate sends them here for a time, but they return no better than when they came." "So many wicked people together," said the queen, "are not likely to improve each other; but, with regard to yourself, my talkative frog, what are you doing here?" "Curiosity led me here," she replied: "I am a demi-fairy; my power is limited in some directions, and very far-reaching in others; if Lioness found me in her kingdom, she would surely kill me."
"But," said the queen, "if you are a fairy or a demi-fairy, how comes it that a raven was going to devour you?" "That I can explain in two words," replied the frog; "my power resides in a little hood of roses. When it is on my head I fear nothing, but unfortunately I left it in the marsh, and so the wretched raven came swooping down upon me; I confess, madam, that failing your aid, I should now be dead. Since I owe my life to you, if I can do anything to lessen your sufferings, command me as you please." "Alas! my dear frog," said the queen, "the wicked fairy whose prisoner I am has commanded me to make her a fly pasty. Now, there are no flies here, and if there were I could not see to catch them by this dim light, and thus I am in great danger of dying from her beatings." "Leave it to me," said the frog; "in a very short time I will provide you with the flies." She then rubbed herself all over with sugar, and more than six thousand frogs of her acquaintance did the same. They went to a place that abounded in flies, for the wicked fairy kept a store of them for the express purpose of tormenting certain unfortunate persons. As soon as the flies smelt the sugar, they stuck to it, and the helpful frogs returned with great speed to the queen. Never had there been such a large take of flies, or a more excellent pasty than that the queen made for Lioness. She was extremely surprised to receive it, failing to understand how the queen had been able to catch the flies.
Since she was exposed to the inclemency of the poisonous atmosphere, the queen determined to commence building her hut, and cut clown cypress trees for the purpose. The frog generously offered her services, and putting herself at the head of those of her friends who had assisted to procure the flies, they helped the queen to erect the prettiest little building imaginable. But she was scarcely installed in it when the monsters of the lake, envying her rest and comfort, tormented her with the most horrible uproar ever heard. Dreadfully frightened, she got up and fled, exactly what the monsters desired. A dragon, formerly the tyrant of one of the finest kingdoms of the universe, took possession of it.
The poor queen attempted to complain, but the monsters jeered and hooted at her, and Fairy Lioness told her that if in the future she deafened her with her lamentations, she would give her a sound thrashing. She was obliged to be silent, and had recourse to the frog, who had proved herself so kind. They wept in company, for when the frog wore her hood of roses she laughed and cried like a human being. "I am so fond of you," she said, "that I will rebuild your house and drive all the monsters of the lake to despair.' She prepared the wood, and the rustic palace was so quickly finished that the queen retired to it for the night.
The frog, anxious to do all she could for the queen's comfort, made her a bed of wild thyme. When the wicked fairy discovered that the queen did not lie on the hare ground, she sent for her and asked: "What men or gods are protecting you? The land here, watered by a rain of burning sulphur, never produces so much as a sprig of sage, and I hear that notwithstanding sweet-smelling plants grow under your feet!" "I do not know the reason, madam," said the queen; "if I attribute it to anything, it is perhaps to the child shortly to be born to me, who is, I trust, to be less unfortunate than I am."
"I am most desirous," said the fairy, "of having a bouquet of rare flowers; try to procure them for me. If you are unsuccessful blows will be your reward; I give them very often, and with sure effect." The queen began to weep; such threats were scarcely reassuring, and the impossibility of finding the flowers threw her into despair.
She returned to her dwelling; her friend the frog came to see her. "How sad you seem," she said. "Alas! my dear friend, who would not be sad?" said the queen. "The fairy wants a bouquet of beautiful flowers; where am I to find them? You see those that grow here, but if I do not satisfy her it is all over with me." "Sweet princess," said the frog, graciously, "I must try to pull you out of the difficulty: there is a bat living here, the only one with whom I am acquainted. She's a good creature, and moves about faster than I do; I'll give her my hood of roses, and with its assistance she'll find you the flowers." The queen made a low curtesy, for to embrace the frog was an impossibility.
She gave her orders to the bat, who returned a few hours later, hiding the most lovely flowers under her wings. The queen took them directly to the wicked fairy, who was more surprised than ever, unable to understand by what miracle the queen had procured them.
The princess was always thinking of ways of escape. She told the frog of her desire, and she said: "Madam, let me consult my little hood, and we 'ill act according to its advice”. She took it, placing it on some straw, burned in front of it a few sprigs of juniper, some capers, and two green peas; she croaked five times, and the ceremony over, put on her hood of roses again and began to speak like an oracle.
"Fate, ruler of all things," she said, "forbids you to leave this place; you will here become the mother of a princess more beautiful than Venus herself; do not trouble yourself about anything, time alone will relieve you."
The queen looked down, a few tears fell from her eyes; but she decided to trust her friend. "At least," she said, "do not forsake me, and since my child is to be born here, be with me at the time." The kind-hearted frog promised, and comforted the queen as best one could.
But it is time to return to the king. While his enemies kept him besieged in his capital, he was not able to send messengers continually to the queen; but after some sallies against the enemy he compelled them to raise the siege. He was far less joyful about this great event than that he could now without fear seek the queen. He had not heard of the accident, none of his officers had dared to inform him of it. They had found the broken chariot, the runaway horses, and the amazon ornaments she had put on when she set out to find the king, and never doubted her death for a moment. They supposed she had been devoured by wild beasts, and therefore thought it best to assure the king that she had died suddenly. He thought he should die of grief at such sad news. Dishevelled hair, the shedding of many tears, pitiable cries, sobs, sighs, and other of the usual accompaniments of bereavement were not wanting to the occasion.
After spending several days without seeing or desiring to see any one, he returned to the capital and entered on a long mourning, felt more deeply at heart than could be testified by any outward trappings. The neighbouring kings sent ambassadors with messages of condolence, and after the ceremonies consequent on such misfortunes, he granted his subjects a period of peace, exempted them from service in war, and obtained for them excellent opportunities of profitable commerce.
The queen was unaware of those events. In course of time she became the mother of a little princess, as beautiful as the frog had predicted; they called her Moufette, and with great difficulty the queen obtained Lioness's permission to rear her; she was so cruel and savage that she would have much preferred to eat her.
Moufette, the marvel of her time, had reached the age of six, and the queen, looking at her with an air of mingled love and affection, said continually: "Ah! if only the king could see you, my sweetest, how delighted he would be and how he would love you! but perhaps at this very moment he is beginning to forget me; he imagines us buried for ever in the horrors of death, and most likely the place in his heart that once was mine is now occupied by another."
These melancholy reflections were accompanied with many tears. Frog, who loved her faithfully, seeing her weep, said one day: "If you like, madam, I will go and find your husband; the journey is long and my rate of progress slow, but sooner or later I should doubtless reach him”. The proposal was accepted with joy; the queen clasped her hands and made Moufette clasp hers also in sign of the obligation she was under to Madam Frog for undertaking such a task. The queen assured her the king would not be ungrateful. "But," she continued, "what is the use of telling him I am living in this miserable place? He cannot possibly deliver me." "Madam," rejoined the frog, "you must leave that to the gods; let us do all that depends on us."
They said their farewells. The queen wrote to the king with her own blood on a piece of linen, for she had neither ink nor paper. She advised him to trust implicitly in the kind-hearted frog, who would tell him all about her adventures.
The frog took a year and four days to ascend the ten thousand steps that led from the dark plain where the queen lived to the world, and she took another year to make her preparations for she was too proud to appear at a great court like an obscure little frog from the marshes. She had a litter made large enough to hold two eggs comfortably; it was of tortoise-shell lined with lizard skin. Fifty of the little green grasshoppers that skip about the meadows were her dies each was mounted on a snail, with a side-saddle, the leg over the saddle-bow in the most approved fashion. Several water-rats dressed as pages walked in front of the snails whom she constituted her body-guard. There never was a prettier sight; her hood of roses ever fresh and full of bloom suited her admirably. She was in her way something of a coquette, and had put on rouge and patches; it was said that she painted like most of the ladies of that country; but on examination, it was discovered that only her enemies said such things.
She was seven years on the journey; during that time the queen suffered more grief and trouble than can possibly be described, and without Moufette to console her, would never have lived through it. Every time the marvellous little creature opened her mouth or said a word, her mother was enchanted; indeed it was only the Fairy Lioness who did not yield to her charms. When the queen had lived six years in that horrible place, the fairy decided, on condition that all she killed should be hers, to take her hunting.
How delighted the queen was to see the sun once again so unaccustomed to the light had she become, that she was almost blinded. Moufette was so clever, that although she was only five or six years old, her shots never missed the mark, and by this means the mother and daughter somewhat lessened the fairy's cruelty.
Frog pursued her way by day and night over mountains and valleys, till at last she found herself near the capital city where the king dwelt. She was surprised to see nothing but dancing and feasting everywhere; the people laughed and sang, and the nearer she approached the town, the greater was the joy and jubilation. The procession from the marshes surprised everybody; they all followed it, and by the time they entered the town, the crowd became so large that she had much difficulty in reaching the palace. There everything was in great splendour. The king, nine years a widower, had at last yielded to his subjects' entreaties, and was on the point of marrying a princess less beautiful, it is true, than his wife, but very charming all the same.
The good frog got out of the litter and entered the king's palace, followed by the whole cortege. There was no need to ask an audience; the monarch the fiancée, and all the princes were too anxious to learn the reason of her coming to make any difficulty. "Sire," she said, "I do not know if the one I bring will give you joy or pain; the marriage you are about to celebrate convinces me that you are untrue to the queen." "Her memory is always dear to me," said the king, with tears he was unable to keep back; "but you must know, charming frog, that kings cannot always do as they like; for nine years my subjects have been urging me to marry again; I owe them heirs, and my choice has fallen on this young and charming princess." "I advise you not to marry her," said the frog; "polygamy is a capital crime, and the queen is not dead. Here is a letter she entrusted to me, written with her blood: you have a little daughter called Moufette, who is more beautiful than the heavens them selves."
The king took the piece of rag on which the queen had scrawled her few words, kissed it, moistened it with his tears, held it up for the whole assembly to see, saying that he recognised the queen's handwriting, and asked the frog a thousand questions, to which she replied with vivacity and intelligence The future bride, and the ambassadors bidden to the wedding, pulled long faces. The most distinguished of them said: "Sire, how, on the mere word of a toad, can you break so solemn an engagement? This scum of the marsh is insolent enough to come and tell lies at your court, and you actually give heed to what she says." "Let me inform you, your excellency," replied the frog, "that I am no scum of the marsh, and, since I must display my power, come, fays and fairies, appear." The frogs, rats, snails, lizards, with herself at their head, were seen no longer under the form of those ugly little animals, but as persons of tall and majestic stature, with faces pleasant to look on, and eyes brighter than stars; each wore a crown of precious stones on his head, and on his shoulders a royal cloak of velvet lined with ermine, and a long train borne' by dwarfs. At the same time trumpets, small drums, big drums and hautboys pierced the clouds with their melodies and warlike sounds; the frogs and fairies began to dance a ballet, and they were so light that the least spring from the ground sent them up to the ceiling of the room. The king and the future queen had scarcely recovered from their surprise when they suddenly saw the dancers change into cowers, jasmine, jonquils, violets, pinks, and tuberoses, but they went on dancing all the same just as if they had legs and feet. It was a living flower-bed, and its graceful motion was as pleasing to the eye as to the smell.
The next instant the flowers disappeared, and were replaced by fountains; they rose rapidly, and fell into the ornamental water that flowed at the foot of the castle walls; it was covered with gilded and painted boats, and they were so pretty that the princess invited her ambassadors to go with her for a sail. They were quite willing, thinking all this a fête that would end in a happy marriage.
But directly they had embarked, the boat, the river, and the fountains disappeared, and the frogs became frogs again. The king asked where the princess was. The frog replied: "Sire, you ought to have no other wife than the queen; if I were not so great a friend of hers I should not trouble myself about your affairs, but she is a woman of such lofty character, and your daughter Moufette is so charming, that you should not lose a moment in going to their assistance." "I confess, Madam Frog," said the king, "if I did not believe my wife dead there is nothing in the world I would not do to see her again." "After all the marvels I've shown you,' she replied, "it seems to rue you ought to be fully convinced of the truth of what I tell you. Leave your kingdom in the hands of a trusty counsellor, and do not defer setting out. Here is a ring that will enable you to find the queen and to speak to the Fairy Lioness, although she is the most terrible creature in the world."
The king no longer gave a thought to the princess he had been on the point of marrying, and as his passion for her diminished, his former love for the queen acquired new strength.
After making the frog very handsome presents, he set out alone. "Do not despair," she said at parting: "you will have to overcome great difficulties, but I do not doubt you will succeed in your purpose." The king, somewhat consoled, gave himself up to the guidance of the ring.
As Moufette grew older, her beauty became so perfect that all the monsters of the quicksilver lake fell in love with her; dragons of horrible appearance fawned at her feet. Although they had been there from her birth, she could never get accustomed to the sight of them, and hid her face on her mother's breast, saying: "Shall we stay here long? Will our misfortunes never end?" The queen indulged her in comforting hopes, but at heart she despaired; the absence of the frog, her silence, and the long period since an news had been heard of the king distressed her greatly.
The Fairy Lioness gradually made it a rule to take them hunting. She was dainty, and liked the game they killed for her, and as a reward gave them the head or the feet, but it was something to permit them to see daylight once more. The fairy took the form of a lioness, carried the queen and her daughter on her back, and thus they traversed the forests.
The king, led by the ring, stopping once to rest in a forest, saw them go by swift as an arrow from the bow: they did not see him, and when he tried to follow them, they vanished from his sight.
The queen's troubles had not impaired her beauty, and she seemed to him more lovely than ever. His passion was re-kindled, and never doubting that the young princess with her was Moufette, he resolved to die a thousand deaths rather than give up the attempt to recover them.
The good little ring led him to the gloomy region where the queen had lived for so many years, and he was not a little surprised to descend so far into the interior of the earth; however, what he saw there still more astonished him. The Fairy Lioness, who knew all things, had learned the day and hour of his arrival; she would have given much if her presiding genius had ordered things differently. But she determined to offer all resistance in her power.
In the middle of the quicksilver lake she built a palace of crystal that floated on the wave, in it she imprisoned the queen and her daughter, and then harangued the monsters who were in love with Moufette. "You will lose this beautiful princess," she said, "if you do not assist me in defending her against a knight who is coming to carry her off." The monsters promised to do all in their power; they surrounded the palace; the least heavy took up position on the roof and walls, others at the gates, and the rest in the lake.
The king, advised by his faithful ring, went first to the fairy's grotto; she awaited him in the shape of a lioness. Directly she saw him, she threw herself upon him; he drew his sword with a valour she had not expected, and as she stretched out her paw to strike him to the earth, lie cut it at the joint, that is, exactly at the elbow. She uttered a loud cry and fell down; he approached her, placed his foot on her breast, and swore he would kill her, and although she was invulnerable, she felt a little afraid. "What do you want of me?" she said, "what do you demand?" "I want to punish you," he replied, boldly, "for carrying off my wife, and unless you restore her, I shall strangle you without delay." "Look at the lake," she said, "and see if she is in my power." The king looked in the direction pointed out, and saw the queen and his daughter in the crystal castle, that without rudder or oar floated on the quicksilver lake like a ship.
He thought he should die of joy and grief; he called them as loudly as he could, and they heard him. But how to get at them? While he was seeking a way, Fairy Lioness vanished.
He ran along the shores of the lake, and as soon as the palace came near enough for him to reach it, it started off again with terrible swiftness, and his hopes were ever disappointed in the same way. The queen, who feared he would end by growing weary, shouted to him not to lose courage, that the Fairy Lioness wanted to tire him out, but that true love could not be repulsed by the greatest difficulties She and Moufette stretched forth their hands to him in supplication. At that sight the king was filled with new courage; he raised his voice and swore by Styx and by Acheron to pass the rest of his life in that gloomy place rather than leave it without them.
Great perseverance was necessary: he spent his time as disagreeably as possible; the ground covered with thorny briars served him for a bed; for food he had only wild fruits, more bitter than gall, and had also to sustain frequent combats with the monsters of the lake. A husband who endures such miseries in order to recover his wife certainly belongs to the fairy age, and his actions help to fix the date of my story.
Three years passed, and the king had not gained the least advantage. He was almost disheartened, and determined a hundred times to throw himself into the lake; he would have done so if he had been able to see that such an act would be of the slightest use to the queen and princess. He was as usual wandering from one side of the lake to the other, when a hideous dragon called him, and said: "If you will swear by your crown and sceptre, by your royal cloak, by your wife and daughter, to give me a certain toothsome morsel I am most desirous of eating, whenever I think good to demand it, I will take you on my wings, and in spite of all the monsters of the lake who guard the crystal castle, I will rescue the queen and Princess Moufette."
"Ah my dearest dragon," exclaimed the king, "I swear to you and all your kin that you shall eat your fill, and I shall ever remain your humble servant." "Do not pledge yourself unless you mean to keep your word," replied the dragon, "for if you break your promise, misfortunes so terrible that you would remember them for the rest of your life will arise."
The king renewed his protestations; he was dying with impatience to set his beloved queen free; he mounted the dragon as if it had been the finest horse possible. The monsters opposed their advance; they fought, and nothing was heard hut the sharp hissing of serpents, nothing was seen but fire, sulphur and saltpetre falling everywhere pell-mell. At length the king reached the castle, and there they renewed their efforts. Bats, ravens, owls, defended the entrance, but the dragon, with his claws, teeth, and tail, cut to pieces the boldest of them. The queen, on her part, seeing the great fight, shattered the walls with a kick, and out of the fragments made weapons to help her husband They were at last victorious the long husband and wife fell into each other's arms, and the miracle ended with a clap of thunder that dried up the lake.
The useful dragon vanished with the rest, and not knowing how he had come there, the king found himself with his wife and Moufette in his capital city, seated in a magnificent apartment at a well table. Never was there astonishment or joy like theirs. All the people came to see their queen and the young princess, who, to add to the wonder of it all, was so beautifully dressed that the brilliance of her jewels was almost too dazzling.
It is easy to imagine that every sort of amusement went on at the court; the masquerade running at the ring, and tournaments attracted the greatest princes in the world, and they were all struck by Moufette's beauty. Among those who seemed the handsomest and the most skilful, Prince Moufy had certainly the advantage; all he did was warmly applauded, he was vastly admired, and not least by Moufette, who had hitherto only associated with the serpents and dragons of the lake. Every day he tried new ways of pleasing her, for he loved her passionately; he offered himself as a suitor, and informed the king and queen that his principality was of a beauty and extent that deserved special attention.
The king told him that Moufette was free to make her own choice of a husband; he did not intend to force her inclination in any way, and was only anxious to please her and make her happy. The prince was delighted; in their various meetings he had learned that he was indifferent to her. When at length they came to an explanation she told him that if he was not her husband no other man should be. Moufy, overcome with joy, threw himself at her feet, and implored her in the most affectionate terms to remember the promise she had given him.
He then informed the king and queen of the progress he had made with Moufette, and entreated them not to delay his happiness any longer. They gladly consented. Prince Moufy possessed such noble qualities that he seemed the only man worthy of Possessing Moufette. The king was quite willing for their betrothal to take place before the prince returned to Moufy, where he was obliged to go in order to make arrangements for the marriage; but rather than go away without the certainty of being made happy on his return, he would never have departed at all. Princess Moufette could not bid him farewell without many tears; she was troubled by some indescribable presentiment. The queen, seeing the prince overwhelmed with grief gave him her daughter's portrait, begging him for the love he bore them not to spend a long time in arranging a very magnificent entry, but to return very soon. He said: "Madam, I have never had greater pleasure in obeying you than on this occasion; my heart is too deeply engaged for me to neglect anything that conduces to my happiness".
He travelled post, and Princess Moufette occupied herself in his absence with the musical instruments she had been learning for some months, and on which she played remarkably well. One day when she was in the queen's room the king entered all in tears, and taking his daughter in his arms exclaimed: "O my child! O unhappy father! unfortunate king!" He could say no more for sighing; the queen and princess, much terrified, asked him what was the matter, and he told them that there had just arrived a giant of immeasurable height, who gave himself out to be the ambassador of the dragon of the lake; he, in accordance with the promise exacted from the king when he helped him to fight and conquer the monsters, demanded the Princess Moufette to make her into a pie for his dinner. The king was pledged by the most solemn oaths to give him whatever he wanted, and in those days no one ever broke his word.
When the queen heard the sad news she uttered heartrending cries, and clasped her daughter tightly in her arms. "He shall take my life," she said, "before he shall deliver my daughter to that monster; let him take our kingdom and all our possessions. Unnatural father! can you be guilty of such cruelty? What! my child made into a pie! I cannot endure the thought: send the barbarous ambassador to rue; perhaps he will be moved by my distress."
The king did not reply; he spoke to the giant, and brought him to the queen, who, throwing herself at his feet, with her daughter besought him to have pity on them, to persuade the dragon to take all they possessed and spare Moufette's life. But he told them the matter had nothing to do with him, and that the dragon was extremely obstinate and extremely greedy; when he saw his way to enjoying some toothsome delicacy not all the gods themselves could pre vent him. He advised them as a friend, since it was quite possible that even greater misfortunes might happen, to consent with a good grace. At these words the queen fainted, and her daughter, had she not been obliged to come to her mothers assistance, would have done the same.
The sad news was scarcely spread through the palace before the 'hole town knew it. Then, as all the people adored Moufette, nothing was heard but the Sound of weeping and wailing. The king could not make up his mind to give her to the giant, and the giant, who had already been waiting several days, began to get tired and to utter terrible threats. Meanwhile the king and queen said: "worse can happen to us? If the dragon came and devoured us we could not be more distressed; if he makes our Moufette into a pie we are lost." Then the giant informed them that he had received letters from hi master, who agreed to spare the princess's life if she would marry a nephew of his; this nephew was exceedingly handsome, and there was no reason why she should not he very happy with him.
The proposal somewhat lessened their grief; the queen spoke to the princess, but she infinitely preferred death to such a marriage. "I could not," she said, "save my life by being untrue. You promised me to Prince Moufy; I will never be another's. Let me die; my death will ensure the peace of your lives." The king came in and spoke to his daughter as his affection for her prompted. She was firm, however, and in the end he resolved to take her to the top of a mountain whence the dragon was to fetch her.
Everything was prepared for the great sacrifice; those of Iphigenia and Psyche were not so mournful; only black garments, pale and terrified countenances, were to be seen. Four hundred maidens of the highest rank, clad in long white robes, and crowned with cypress, accompanied her; she was carried in an open litter of black velvet so that all the people might look on that master piece of the gods. Her hair, tied with crape, hung down over her shoulders, and the crown on her head was of jasmine and marigolds. The grief of her parents who followed, sunk in the most profound melancholy, seemed to be the only thing that touched her. The giant, fully armed, walked by the side of the litter, and looking greedily at her, seemed desirous of eating her himself. The air resounded with sighs and sobs, the road was flooded with tears.
"Ah, frog, frog, you have indeed forsaken me!" said the queen; "alas why did you give me your help in the gloomy plain, since you refuse it me now? It would have been better to have died then; in that case I should not see all my hopes disappointed now! I should not see my beloved Moufette on the point of being devoured!"
While she was lamenting thus, they slowly advanced, and at length reached the summit of the fatal mountain. The cries and lamentations increased with such strength that never was there a more distressing scene; the giant bade everybody say their last farewells and withdraw. All obeyed, for in those days men were very ignorant and never tried to find remedies for their misfortunes.
The king and queen with all the court ascended another mountain whence they would be able to witness what happened to the princess. They had not to wait long before they perceived in the air a dragon half-a-league long; although his wings were large, his body was so heavy that he could scarcely fly; it was covered with thick blue scales and long burning stings; his tail formed fifty and a half twists and turns; each of his claws was as big as a windmill, and his open mouth exposed to view three rows of teeth as long as those of an elephant.
But while he gradually came nearer, the faithful frog, mounted on a sparrow-hawk, flew swiftly to Prince Moufy. She wore her hood of roses, and although he was shut up in his closet, entered without a key and said: "What are you doing here, unfortunate lover? You are dreaming of Moufette's charms, who at this moment is exposed to the most terrible misfortunes. Here is a rose leaf; by breathing on it I turn it into a very rare horse." Immediately a green horse appeared with twelve feet and three heads; one emitted fire, another bomb-shells, and the third cannon-balls. She gave him a sword, eighteen ells long and lighter than a feather; she clothed him in a single diamond which he put on like a coat, and although it was harder than a rock, it was so pliable that it was not at all uncomfortable. "Go," she said, "rush, fly to the defence of the woman you love; this green horse will take you to her, and when you have rescued her tell her the share I have had in the matter."
"Generous fairy," exclaimed the prince, "I cannot now show you my gratitude, but I declare myself for ever your faithful slave." He mounted the three-headed horse, which immediately began to gallop with its twelve feet; its speed was greater than that of three of the best horses, so that in a very short time the prince reached the mountain-top, where he saw his princess alone, and the horrible dragon slowly approaching her. The green horse begin to send forth fire, bomb-shells, and cannon-balls, a proceeding that in no slight degree surprised the monster; he received twenty balls in his breast; his scales were consequently somewhat injured, and the bombs put out one eye. He became furious, and made as if to throw himself on the prince; but the eighteen-ell sword was so excellent that he wielded it with ease, sometimes plunging it up to the hilt into the monster's side, or using it like a whip. Without the diamond coat, which was impenetrable, the prince must have felt the effect of the creature's claws.
Moufette recognised him from a distance, because the diamond that covered him was very clear and bright; she was seized with the most mortal terror. But the king and queen began to feel some rays of hope, for it was such an extraordinary thing for a horse with three heads and a dozen feet, emitting fire and flame, and a prince in a diamond casing, armed with a formidable sword, to come just at the right moment and fight so valiantly. The king hoisted his hat on his cane, and the queen tied her handkerchief to the end of a stick, to make signs to the prince and encourage him. The whole suite did the same. The prince had, however, no need of encouragement; his passion and his mistress's danger were enough to stimulate him.
What efforts did he not make? The ground was covered with stings, claws, horns, wings, and dragon scales; the monster's blood flowed from a thousand wounds; it was blue, and that of the horse was green, a fact that made the ground of a strange colour. The prince fell five times, but he always got up again, and leisurely mounted his horse, and then there were cannonades and Greek fires such as had never been seen before. At length the dragon's strength gave way: he fell, and the prince struck him a blow in the belly that made a ghastly wound. But what will hardly be believed, and is yet as true as the rest of the tale, is that out of the wound came the handsomest and most charming prince ever seen. His coat was of blue velvet on a gold ground, embroidered with pearls, and on his head he wore a Grecian helmet trimmed with white feathers. He ran with open arms to embrace Prince Moufy. "What do I not owe you, my generous deliverer!" he said. "You have set me free from the most horrible prison in which a monarch was ever shut up. I was put there by the Fairy Lioness, and have languished there sixteen years, and her power was so great that against my will she would have forced me to devour the beautiful princess; lead me to her, that I may explain my misfortune."
Prince Moufy, surprised and delighted at so extraordinary an adventure, was equally polite, and hastened to join Moufette, who was thanking the gods a thousand times for such unhoped for happiness. The king and queen and the court were already with her; everybody spoke at once, nobody listened, and they all wept for joy as much as they had before shed tears for grief. At length, so that nothing might be wanting to their joy, the good frog appeared in the air, mounted on a sparrow-hawk with golden bells on its feet. When their tinkle-tinkle was heard, all raised their eyes and saw the hood of roses shining like the sun, and the frog as lovely as the dawn. The queen approached her, and took hold of one of her little paws. The wise frog at once became a great queen with a charming face. "I come," she said, "to do honour to Princess Moufette, who preferred to risk her life rather than be untrue to her lover; such an act is rare in our day, but it will be even rarer in the ages to come." She then put myrtle wreaths on the lovers' heads, and striking three blows with her wand, the dragon's bones formed themselves into a triumphal arch to commemorate the great event that had just taken place.
They all wended their way to the town, singing wedding songs as joyfully as they had before chanted funeral hymns. The marriage was solemnised the next day, and the joy amid which it was celebrated may be easily imagined.