Now, once on a time there was, as there well might be, a king. He had two daughters who were ugly and bad, but the third was as fair and soft as the bright day, and the king and everyone was glad of her. So one day she dreamt of a golden wreath that was so lovely she couldn't live until she had it. But as she could not get it, she grew sullen and wouldn't so much as talk for grief, and when the king knew it was the wreath she sorrowed for, he sent out a pattern cut just like the one that the princess had dreamt of, and sent word to goldsmiths in every land to see if they could get the like of it. So the goldsmiths worked night and day; but some of the wreaths she tossed away from her, and the rest she would not so much as look at.
But once when she was in the wood, she set her eyes upon a white bear, who had the very wreath she had dreamt of between his paws, and played with it. Then she wanted to buy it. No! it was not for sale for money, but she might have it, if he might have her. Yes! she said it was never worth living without it. It was all the same to her whither she went, and whom she got if she could only have that wreath; and so it was settled between them that he should fetch her when three days were up, and that day was a Thursday.
So when she went home with the wreath every one was glad because she was glad again, and the king said, he thought it could never be so hard to stop a white bear. So the third day he turned out his whole army round the castle to withstand him. But when the white bear came there was no one who could stand before him, for no weapon would bite on his hide, and he hurled them down right and left, so that they lay in heaps on either side. All this the king thought right down scathe; so he sent out his eldest daughter, and the white bear took her upon his back and went off with her. And when they had gone far, and farther than far, the white bear asked,--
'Have you ever sat softer, and have you ever seen clearer?'
'Yes! on my mother's lap I sat softer, and in my father's hall I saw clearer,' she said.
'Oh!' said the white bear, 'then you're not the right one;' and with that he hunted her home again.
The next Thursday he came again, and it all went just the same. The army went out to withstand the white bear; but neither iron nor steel bit on his hide, and so he dashed them down like grass till the king begged him to hold hard, and then he sent out to him his next oldest daughter, and the white bear took her on his back and went off with her. So when they had travelled far and farther than far, the white bear asked,--
'Have you ever seen clearer, and have you ever sat softer?'
'Yes!' she said, 'in my father's hall I saw clearer, and on my mother's lap I sat softer.'
Oh! then you are not the right one,' said the white bear, and with that he hunted her home again.
The third Thursday he came again, and then he smote the army harder than he had done before; so the king thought he couldn't let him slay his whole army like that, and he gave him his third daughter in God's name. So he took her up on his back and went away far, and farther than far, and when they had gone deep, deep, into the wood, he asked her as he had asked the others, whether she had ever sat softer or seen clearer?
'No! never!' she said.
'Ah!' he said, 'you are the right one.'
So they came to a castle which was so grand, that the one her father had was like the poorest place when set against it. There she was to be and live happily, and she was to have nothing else to do but to see that the fire never went out. The bear was away by day, but at night he was with her, and then he was a man. So all went well for three years; but each year she had a baby, and he took it and carried it off as soon as ever it came into the world. Then she got more and more dull, and begged she might have leave to go home and see her parents. Well! there was nothing to stop that; but first, she had to give her word that she would listen to what her father said, but not do what her mother wished. So she went home, and when they were alone with her, and she had told how she was treated, her mother wanted to give her a light to take back that she might see what kind of man he was.
But her father said, 'No! she mustn't do that, for it will lead to harm and not to gain.'
But however it happened, so it happened; she got a bit of a candle-end to take with her when she started.
So the first thing she did when he was sound asleep, was to light the candle-end and throw a light on him; and he was so lovely she never thought she could gaze enough at him; but as she held the candle over him, a hot drop of tallow dropped on his forehead, and he woke up.
'What is this you have done?' he said. 'Now you have made us both unlucky; there was no more than a month left, and had you lasted it out, I should have been saved; for a hag of the trolls has bewitched me, and I am a white bear by day. But now it is all over between us, for now I must go to her and take her to wife.'
She wept and bemoaned herself; but he must set off, and he would set off. Then she asked if she might not go with him. 'No!' he said, 'there was no way of doing that.' But for all that, when he set off in his bear-shape, she took hold of his shaggy hide and threw herself upon his back, and held on fast.
So away they went over crags and hills, and through brakes and briars, till her clothes were torn off her back, and she was so dead tired, that she let go her hold and lost her wits. When she came to herself she was in a great wood, and then she set off again, but she could not tell whither she was going. So after a long, long, time she came to a hut, and there she saw two women, an old woman and a pretty little girl. Then the princess asked, had they seen anything of King Valemon, the white bear.
'Yes!' they said. 'He passed by here this morning early, but he went so fast you'll never be able to catch him up.'
As for the girl, she ran about clipping in the air and playing with a pair of golden scissors, which were of that kind, that silk and satin stuffs flew all about her if she only clipped the air with them. Where they were, there was never any want of clothes.
'But this woman,' said the little lass, 'who is to go so far and on such bad ways, she will suffer much; she may well have more need of these scissors than I to cut out her clothes with.'
And as she said this she begged her mother so hard, that at last she got leave to give her the scissors.
So away travelled the princess through the wood, which seemed never to come to an end, both day and night, and next morning she came to another hut. In it there were also two women, an old wife and a young girl.
'Good-day!" said the princess. 'Have you seen anything of King Valemon, the white bear?' That was what she asked them.
'Was it you, maybe, who was to have him?' said the old wife.
'Yes! it was.'
'Well, he passed by yesterday, but he went so fast you'll never be able to catch him up.'
This little girl played about on the floor with a flask, which was of that kind it poured out every drink any one wished to have.
'But this poor wife,' said the girl, 'who has to go so far on such bad ways, I think she may well be thirsty and suffer much other ill. No doubt she needs this flask more than I;' and so she asked if she might have leave to give her the flask. Yes! that leave she might have.
So the princess got the flask, and thanked them, and set off again away through the same wood, both that day and the next night too. The third morning she came to a hut, where there was also an old wife and a little girl.
'Good-day!' said the princess.
'Good-day to you,' said the old wife.
'Have you seen anything of King Valemon, the white bear?' she asked.
'Maybe it was you who was to have him?' said the old wife.
'Yes! it was.'
'Well he passed by here the day before yesterday; but he went so fast you'll never be able to catch him up,' she said.
This little girl played about on the floor with a napkin, which was of that kind that when one said on it, 'Napkin, spread yourself out and be covered with all dainty dishes,' it did so, and where it was there was never any want of a good dinner.
'But this poor wife,' said the little girl, 'who has to go so far over such bad ways, she may well be starving and suffering much other ill. I dare say she has far more need of this napkin than I;' and so she asked if she might have leave to give her the napkin, and she got it.
So the princess took the napkin and thanked them, and set off again far and farther than far, away through the same murk wood all that day and night, and in the morning she came to a crossfell which was as steep as a wall, and so high and broad, she could see no end to it. There was a hut there too, and as soon as she set her foot inside it, she said,--
'Good-day! Have you seen if King Valemon, the white bear, has passed this way?'
'Good-day to you,' said the old wife. 'It was you, maybe, who was to have him?'
'Yes! it was.'
'Well! he passed by and went up over the hill three days ago; but up that nothing can get that is wingless.'
That hut, you must know, was all so full of small bairns, and they all hung round their mother's skirts and bawled for food. Then the goody put a pot on the fire full of small round pebbles. When the princess asked what that was for, the goody said they were so poor they had neither food nor clothing, and it went to her heart to hear the children screaming for a morsel of food; but when she put the pot on the fire, and said--
'The potatoes will soon be ready,' the words dulled their hunger, and they were patient awhile.
It was not long before the princess brought out the napkin and the flask, that you may be sure, and when the children were all full and glad, she cut them out clothes with her golden scissors.
'Well!' said the goody in the hut, 'since you have been so kind and good towards me and my bairns, it were a shame if I didn't do all in my power to try to help you over the hill. My husband is one of the best smiths in the world, and now you must lie down and rest till he comes home, and then I'll get him to forge you claws for your hands and feet, and then you can see if you can crawl and scramble up.'
So when the smith came home, he set to work at once at the claws, and next morning they were ready. She had no time to stay, but said, 'Thank you,' and then clung close to the rock and crept and crawled with the steel claws all that day and the next night, and just as she felt so very very tired that she thought she could scarce lift hand or foot, but must slip down--there she was all right at the top. There she found a plain, with tilled fields and meads, so big and broad, she never thought there could be any land so wide and so flat, and close by was a castle full of workmen of all kinds, who swarmed like ants on an ant-hill.
'What is going on here?' asked the princess.
Well! if she must know, there lived the old hag who had bewitched King Valemon, the white bear, and in three days she was to hold her wedding feast with him. Then she asked if she mightn't have a word with her. 'No! was it likely? It was quite impossible.' So she sat down under the window and began to clip in the air with her golden scissors, till the silks and satins flew about as thick as a snow-drift.
But when the old hag saw that, she was all for buying the golden scissors, for she said, 'All our tailors can do is no good at all, we have too many to find clothes for.'
So the princess said, 'It was not for sale for money, but she should have it, if she got leave to sleep with her sweetheart that night.'
'Yes!' the old hag said, 'she might have that leave and, welcome, but she herself must lull him off to sleep and wake him in the morning.'
And, so when he went to bed she gave him a sleeping draught, so that he could not keep an eye open, for all that the princess cried and wept.
Next day the princess went under the window again, and began to pour out drink from her flask. It frothed like a brook with ale and wine, and it was never empty. So when the old hag saw that, she was all for buying it, for she said,--
'For all our brewing and stilling, it's no good, we have too many to find drink for.'
But the princess said, 'It was not for sale for money, but if she might have leave to sleep with her sweetheart that night, she might have it.'
'Well!' the old hag said, 'she might have that leave and welcome, but she must herself lull him off to sleep and wake him in the morning.'
So when he went to bed she gave him another sleeping draught, so that it went no better that night than the first. He was not able to keep his eyes open, for all that the princess bawled and wept.
But that night, there was one of the workmen who worked in a room next to theirs. He heard the weeping and knew how things stood, and next day he told the prince that she must be come, that princess who was to set him free.
That day it was just the same story with the napkin as with the scissors and the flask. When it was about dinner-time the princess went outside the castle, took out the napkin and said, 'Napkin, spread yourself out and be covered with all dainty dishes,' and there was meat enough, and to spare, for hundreds of men; but the princess sat down to table by herself.
So when the old hag set her eyes on the napkin, she wanted to buy it, 'For all their roasting and boiling is worth nothing, we have too many mouths to feed.'
But the princess said, 'It was not for sale for money, but if she might have leave to sleep with her sweetheart that night, she might have it.
'Well! she might do so and welcome,' said the old hag; 'but she must first lull him off to sleep and wake him up in the morning.'
So when he was going to bed, she came with the sleeping draught, but this time he was aware of her and made as though he slept. But the old hag did not trust him for all that, for she took a pin and stuck it into his arm to try if he were sound asleep, but for all the pain it gave him he did not stir a bit, and so the princess got leave to come into him.
Then everything was soon set right between them, and if they could only get rid of the old hag, he would be free. So he got the carpenters to make him a trap-door on the bridge over which the bridal train had to pass, for it was the custom there that the bride rode at the head of the train with her friends.
So when they got well on the bridge, the trap-door tipped up with the bride and all the other old hags who were her bridesmaids. But King Valemon and the princess, and all the rest of the train, turned back to the castle and took all they could carry away of the gold and goods of the old hag, and so they set off for his own land, and were to hold their real wedding.
And on the way King Valemon picked up those three little girls in the three huts and took them with them, and now she saw why it was he had taken her babes away and put them out at nurse; it was, that they might help her to find him out. And so they drank their bridal ale both stiff and strong.