Cor Hendriks – The Macaws (26): The Herculean Tasks and the Magic Flight [cf ATU 313B] (1)

In the RUssian tale of ‘Vassilissa the Wise’ Ivan, the son of the merchant, goes on his way to the Tsar of the Unbaptized Forehead through deep valleys, wide pastures and wild heath, till he at last comes in a dark wood at a very small cabin that stands with its front to the wood and its back to Ivan. ‘Little cabin, turn and show me your door.’ The cabin turns and inside is Baba Jaga, the witch Knuckle bone. She says to Ivan: ‘I smell RUssian blood, that is new! How did you get here?’ He asks the ‘old witch steak’ if she doesn’t have something to eat instead of questions. She gives him food and prepares a bed. In the morning he tells her his goal. She warns him for the Tsar and points the way to a water, where he must hide behind a tree. Three pigeons will come, the three daughters of the Tsar, who will put off their feather cloths to take a bath. He has to steal the spotted wings and not give them back before the Princess has agreed to become his wife. He does this and after the bath two girls find their dress and fly off, leaving the third behind, who searches everywhere and finally promises to take the old man as her father, the middle aged man as her uncle, the young man as her husband, and Ivan gives her dress back. She asks who he is, and introduces herself as Vassilissa the Wise, the favorite daughter of the Tsar. She tells him how to get to the Tsar and flies after her sisters. The Tsar puts Ivan to work in the kitchen: chopping wood and getting water. This is not to the liking of the cook Tshumitshka [‘Sloven’; cf. AT 531], who tells the Tsar that Ivan has vaunted to be able to fell the whole wood in one night, to pile up the trees, take out the roots, plow the ground, sow the wheat, harvest the wheat, thresh it, mill it and bake pirogs and put it before his Majesty as breakfast. Ivan gets this assignment, comes depressed to Vassilissa, but doesn’t think she can help him. She says: ‘Who knows,’ and he tells what he has to do. She tells him to go to sleep: the morning is wiser than the evening. At midnight she goes outside, calls out loud and servants come from everywhere, and in the morning there is a plate full of pirogs that Ivan brings to the Tsar, who has him give a reward from his treasure. The cook is even more jealous and says to the Tsar that Ivan has vaunted to be able to build in one night a ship that sails through the clouds. Even more depressed Ivan comes to Vassilissa, who comforts him and at midnight calls her carpenters. The Tsar is thrilled and takes Ivan for a test flight. Also the cook is on board. When flying over the wild animal park of the Tsar the cook bends over the railing to have a better view and Ivan pushes him overboard, so that he falls to pieces and is eaten by the wild animals. ‘Dear heavens, the cook has fallen overboard,’ he says, but the Tsar says it is nothing, the dog deserved it. Back at the castle the Tsar gives a third assignment, taming a wild horse, and if he can do that he may marry the daughter of the Tsar. This seems easy to Ivan and Vassilissa asks why he is in such a good mood, and then informs him that the stallion is the Tsar himself. He will take him up to the clouds and scatter his bones over all the fields. He must go to the smith and have a hammer made of at least three pud, and bang the stallion on his head during the ride. Ivan does this and finally the horse has to go down and Ivan gives the tamed horse to the servants, and is presently met by the Tsar with his head in bandages, who tells him to come back tomorrow to pick out his bride, because now he has a terrible headache. Vassilissa tells Ivan that her father will change her and her sisters in mares, but he can recognize her by a little silver sign printed in her bridle. Then he will make pigeons out of them and she is the one that waves with her wing to him. Then he will turn them into identical girls, and she is the one that will wave with her handkerchief. That way Ivan selects every time Vassilissa and the Tsar has to prepare the marriage. After a long or short while Ivan wants to go back to his land with his bride and they take off in the middle of the night. When the Tsar discovers their disappearance he sends his henchmen after them. Ivan has to put his ear to the ground and he hears horses neighing. Then Vassilissa changed him into a vegetable garden and herself in a cabbage and the henchmen returned empty handed to the Tsar, who sends them out again to bring him the cabbage. Meanwhile Ivan and Vassilissa have fled on and when he hears again horses neighing she changes him into a well and she becomes a falcon who drinks from the water. The henchmen return and now the Tsar himself pursues the two. This time Ivan hears a very heavy trampling, which must be her father. So Vassilissa waves her bristle and an impenetrable wood arises, but the Tsar gnaws a path through it and is soon again close behind them. Now she waves her comb and a steep and high mountain arises, but he drills a tunnel through the mountain and continues his pursuit. This time Vassilissa waves her towel and a very large sea spreads out, that blocks the Tsar’s progress, and he returns home. Ivan and Vassilissa have now the episode of the ‘forgotten fiancée’.[Angarowa, 1957, p. 144 154; cf. Gruel-apert, 1990, p. 170 180, nº 99: ‘Le Tsar mécréant et Vassilissa la magique’ (Afan., p. 224/125f)].

In the tale of ‘The Sea King and Vasilisa the Wise’ the King is one day walking by a river. The same man as before comes out of the water, says that he forgets quickly and reminds him of his debt. The King tells at home everything, all weep and it is decided that it is best to hand over the Prince and he is brought by his parents to the river and left behind. Looking around the Prince sees a path, follows it and arrives in a thick forest at the little hut, wherein he is greeted by a baba yaga, asking if he is tempting fate or running away from it. ‘Eh, granny, give me food and drink, and question me later!She gives him food and drink, and he tells her everything and she says: ‘Go to the seashore, my child; twelve spoonbills will come flying there, throw themselves on the ground, turn into lovely maidens, and bathe; do you quietly steal up to them and take the shift of the oldest maiden (Vasilisa). When you have settled accounts with her (promises to help him with her father, the Sea King, when he gives the shift back), go to the Sea King; take on the road Eat all, Drink all, and Sharp Frost with you; you will need them.’ The Prince thanks the yaga and acts as recommended. When he comes to the Sea King, he is, because of his late arrival, immediately put to work. Before the next morning he has to make a bridge of crystal, otherwise his head will go off. Weeping the Prince goes away and Vasilisa calls to him from her window to go to sleep: the morning is wiser than the evening! While he sleeps, she goes out on the porch, calls and whistles and from all sides masons come and quickly build a beautiful crystal bridge (painted with cunning designs). In the morning she awakens the Prince, sends him there, and he takes a broom and is sweeping when the King arrives and compliments him with the bridge. Then he wants before the next day a green garden with fruit trees full of fruit and songbirds. Again the Prince departs weeping and Vasilisa tells him to go sleeping. In the morning the garden is there and the prince may pick out one of his 12 daughters to marry with; he has to pick out the same one three times, while they are completely identical; if not, head off. Vasilisa tells him how he can recognize her (handkerchief, shortened dress, a fly above her head) and the marriage is celebrated with a great banquet. The King of the Sea has enormous amounts of food and the Prince has to finish them. ‘Father, an old man has come with me, let him eat too.’ ‘Let him come.’ Eat all comes and eats all, then Drink all drinks everything. Then the Prince is offered a bath in a cast iron bath with red hot walls, and is allowed to let the old man go first. Sharp Frost blows twice and icicles hang on the walls. The newly wed couple bathes and returns. Vasilisa the Wise warns that her father is very angry with the Prince; they leave on horses and ride over endless plains. Then the Prince has to put his ear to the ground, but hears nothing. Vasilisa listens and hears pursuers, and changes her horse into a well, herself into a bucket and the Prince into an old man. The pursuers ask if he saw a valiant youth with a lovely maiden. Certainly, but that was when he was still a young man. They go back to the King, who understands that it was them and sends another party after them. Now Vasilisa changes the Prince into an old pope, she herself becomes a fallen down moss overgrown church. Then the King goes himself and Vasilisa changes her horse in a river of mead with banks of pudding, the Prince into a drake and herself into a grey duck. The Sea King throws himself upon the pudding and the mead, and eats and drinks till he bursts (after which the episode of the Forgotten Bride) [Bozoki, 1978, p. 291 298, nº 74: ‘Le Roi de la mer et Vassilissa la sage’ (Afan., p. 219/125a) = Heemskerk, 1964, p. 109 117 = Ralston, 1874, p. 122ff, nº 19 = Guterman, 1975, p. 427437 (also Allan, 1999b, p. 5053)].

In the Mokshan version ‘The Lame Winged Eagle and the Hunter’, as soon as the son hears that his father has hired him out to the Iron Beak Khan, sets out to find him. He goes a very long way and then comes to a little hut with an old woman, whom he greets. She replies that if he had not greeted her she would have devoured him in two bites, and asks what brings him there. He tells it and she says he is going to a bad place, where they will take his head: ‘He has 30 fence poles, and on each pole is a human head, only one pole is empty; on that he will put your head.’ The lad is determined to go, so she tells him: ‘The Iron Beak Khan has a milk and an oil lake, in which his three daughter bathe, who come there as doves. You, hide yourself at the milk shore. They take off their dove skins; you must hide the skin of the youngest daughter en don’t give it back no matter how much she offers. Only when she says: “May he be my husband,” you give it to her.’ He takes leave of the old woman, comes to the lakes, hides himself and in the middle of the day the doves come, take off their dove skins and turn into girl beautiful as transparent pearls. The most beautiful is the youngest, and when they are bathing in the milk, he steals the dove skin of the youngest. After oiling the girls come out and the eldest take their skins and become doves; the youngest searches everywhere and promises to take whoever took her skin as her father, mother, then as her sibling, finally as her husband, whereupon the lad comes out of hiding. She pities him: ‘You’re going to a place where they take your head. You cannot perform the tasks of my father. He has near his gate a fierce bear,’ and she gives him a cloth to wave in two directions and the bear will move no more, and a hammer to stab out the bear’s eyes. He goes to the house of the Iron Beak Khan, who is sitting on a copper chair. The lad asks for work. He must ride the bear. He jumps on the bear’s back, waves the cloth and the bear becomes tame, then he hits its eyes with the hammer and stabs out both eyes. In the morning the Khan sees that his bear has died, and he gives a real job: build in one night a church with pope, deacon, crowd and all, wherein a service takes place. If it is not ready he will lose his head. The lad goes weeping to the girl, but she again give him a cloth to wave and the church will appear, and a hammer to hit the last nail in the morning dusk, when her father will come to inspect his work. Then follows the third job: build an iron bridge around the earth, bordered with trees full of birds singing heavenly songs. Again he comes weeping to the girl and together they flee, but the Iron Beak Khan notices it and sends his Army after them. The lad has to look behind him, sees a very big rain cloud coming. ‘Ah, it is the Army of my father,’ and she changes herself into a shepherd, the lad into a sheep, the second time the lad into a church, herself into a pope, and the third time, when the Iron Beak Khan comes himself, the lad into water, herself into a fish. The father turns himself into a pike, pursuing his daughter, but he cannot catch her. He gives up and curses her to swim seven years as fish and then to fly seven years as cuckoo. After 14 years the man decides to marry someone else, but at the church the cuckoo comes, asking how he could forget her. He looks up, she flies down, becomes a girl and they marry [Paasonen, 1947, p. 874 887, nº 12: ‘Der flügellahme Adler und der Jäger’].

In the Russian version ‘Kolja and the Beautiful Natassia’, Kolja takes leave of his parents, jumps on his horse and rides away, who knows where. Finally he comes to an ancient woman who asks where he is going, but he delivers some snappy reply, but then regrets his rudeness, asks for forgiveness, and tells her about his worries. She knows more: the old man with the with beard and iron nose is the Sea King, the Tsar of the waters, who lives past three times nine countries, past three times nine Tsar empires, past 17 deep, dark woods, past 17 high, steep mountains and past 16 broad, turbulent rivers on a place where the 17th river joins the Blue Sea. His palace is on the shore, where he has to be at exactly 11 o’clock in the morning, when 11 swans will come flying, toss off their feather clothes, turn into beautiful girls, take a bath, put on the feathers again and fly away. Then comes the 12th swan that will turn into the most beautiful girl of all. When she takes her bath he has to hide her clothes. Kolja travels the described way, hides on the right time at the shore, sees the 11 swans coming, bathe and leave, and then the 12th comes, accompanied by wonderful music (as of silver bells), and when she bathes, he takes her clothes and hides them. When she misses her clothes, she asks who took them, but Kolja remains hidden and quiet. She says: ‘When he is old, may he be my grandfather or grandmother,’ etc. But no response, so she says: ‘Nikolaj Iwanowits! Give me my swan-feathers back. I swear that I will be your loving wife unto the grave.’ Kolja comes out and gives her the feathers. She is Natassia, the daughter of the Sea King. She lives in the silver palace to the right of her father’s golden palace, while her 11 sisters live in the copper palace to the left. ‘My father is already expecting you. He looks out of the window and shakes his head in anger. It looks bad for you. But don’t be afraid. I have sworn to be loyal to you and will help you. Come this afternoon at five to the silver palace: I will wait on the threshold.’ Then she kisses him on the mouth, puts on her dress and flies away. To Kolja it is like a dream, but he takes care to be there at five o’clock. They eat and drink and then go to bed. The next morning she sends him to her father’s palace, saying that he can call on her when in need. In the golden palace he is immediately admitted in the presence of the Tsar who is in a terribly bad mood. Kolja says that the journey took a long time, whereupon the Sea King has food brought, for he must be hungry after such a long journey. Although he had already eaten he eats again, then takes on the command of the Sea King a little nap, and after that they take a stroll through the garden that is not beautiful: the trees are withered and on each hangs a skeleton. Around the garden is a fence, and on each pole is a skull, except one. Then they come to a forest that Kolja has to fell, saw into pieces, take out the roots, burn them, plough the ground, sow rye, harvest it, meal it, and bake a rye bread before breakfast, otherwise his head goes on the empty pole. Kolja is desperate and goes to the silver palace, where Natassia tells him not to worry. While he is sleeping, she blows on her whistle and the Uncountable Number comes, who must perform the task, a trifle. In the morning Natassia is standing by the bed with a rye bread that Kolja must throw to the head of the Tsar, when he asks who has helped him. Without the word the Tsar picks up the bread pieces and gulps them down like a wolf. Then he gives a new assignment: dig around the palace a moat of 17 verst long and broad, deep enough for sea ships, fill it with water, build a crystal bridge with golden railings, with on the three steps an apple tree with golden apples and under each tree a fountain with ice cold water. Of course Natassia fixes this and tells the next morning Kolja to go to the crystal bridge and hammer in the last nail with the seven pud stick and when her father asks who has helped him to hit him on the iron nose with the stick. The new assignment is riding a black stallion with golden manes and tail. Kolja laughs, because he can ride any horse [why this confidence?], but Natassia says that it is a terribly heavy task. She blows her whistle, the Uncountable Number comes, she pulls three pins out of her hair, a golden, silver, copper one, that he must take to the smith to make a 100 pud copper whip, a 200 pud silver bridle, and a 300 pud golden saddle. In the morning she tells Kolja what he must do. The horse is locked up behind 12 iron doors with 12 iron chains, but when he opens the [first] door, the horse will break free, thrash the iron doors, and storm past Kolja, who must hit him three times on the head with the whip, then put on the bridle and saddle, jump in the saddle and hit it till it bleeds and pieces of flesh hang down. Before the palace he has to let the horse go and the King will pursue it, but they will have to flee straightaway. Kolja follows the instructions and is able to master the horse, and while the Sea King runs after his heavily wounded horse, Kolja runs to Natassia, who stands at the silver palace waiting on a horse. He jumps in the saddle and they fly away. After a long ride they stop at a certain meadow where Natassia takes leave for three years, followed by the episode of the Forgotten Bride [Verroen, 1973, p. 119 135].

In the Scottish tale of ‘The Battle of the Birds’ the giant comes after seven years to the Prince, who has become King and is given by the Queen the dressed up son of the cook. But the giant notices the deception, kills the boy, goes back and gets the butler’s son. This boy also fails the test (what would his father do with a rod?) and is killed. This time the giant gets the real son, brings him to his house and raises him like his son. When one day the giant goes away, the boy hears music coming from the attic, and meets there the youngest daughter of the giant, who has to marry against her wishes with the son of the King of the Green City. She advises him when the giant offers him a choice between her two sisters to take neither of them, but her. When the next day the giant gives him the choice, the Prince says that he wants the pretty little one. The angry giant says that if he wants her he has to perform three tasks: to clean out an Augias stable, to thatch a byre with bird’s down, and to get the eggs out of a magpie’s nest in a very high fir. For this last feat the girl makes from her fingers a ladder for the King’s son and forgets her little finger, but that way he can recognize her when he has to pick her out of three identical girls. So there is a wedding. In the night the bride says they must fly otherwise her father will kill him. She cuts an apple in nine shares, put two shares at the head of the bed, two at the foot of the bed, two at the door of the kitchen, two at the big door, and one outside the house. When the giant calls: ‘Are you asleep,’ the apple at the head of the bed says: ‘Not yet! Later on the apple at the foot of the bed answers, then the apple by the kitchen door, then the apple near the big door, and finally the apple outside. But now the giant realizes they are flying and goes to their room. Soon the daughter feels his breath burning her back and tells the Prince to put his hand in the ear of the grey filly, they are riding on, and to throw what he finds there behind them. It is a twig of a sloe tree, that turns into twenty miles of blackthorn wood, so thick that scarce a weasel [Vass: squirrel; three years to encircle] could go through it. The giant went home to get his axe and wood knife. Soon he has made a path and wants to hide his tools there, but a hoodie says: ‘We will steal them,’ so he brings them home. At midday the daughter feels again her father’s burning breath and this time the Prince throws a splinter of grey stone, and in a twinkling there are twenty miles, by breath and height, of great grey rock behind them. The giant went home for his lever and mighty mattock, that he has to bring back home after making a road through the rock. The third time the King’s son throws a bladder of water from the ear of the filly, and there was a freshwater loch, twenty miles in length and breath behind them, wherein the giant drowns. Also here follows the episode with the ‘Forgotten Fiancée’ [Rackham, 1916, p. 17 28].

In the Estonian tale of ‘The Son of the Knight’ the old man comes after seven years (so the boy is 14!), and fearless the boy follows him. After a long journey they come through a dark shaft at a broad river, where the magician with a spell makes a bridge appear, after which they come to a great palace, where the boy meets a wonderfully beautiful girl, who tells him that he is seven years away from home and in the Fields of Hell with the Horned One. Here also the impossible tasks: sowing barley, mowing, threshing, make malt and bring the devil the next morning a pint of fresh beer at breakfast; then build in one night a bridge aligned with apple trees. Then the devil declares he will in the morning marry the knight’s son with his daughter, and the boy is thrilled, but the girl is scared and says they have to fly. She puts two thistle flowers on a magic saucer and they talk, so the devil will think that they are still there. But when he asks questions and gets no answers he notices the deception and pursues the fugitives. When the evening falls [so two obstacles have been left out of the story], they are far away. The girl feels the devil approaching and suggests climbing in a high birch there. Her sparkling broche is reflected in the brook at the foot of the tree and the devil thinks they are hiding in the water and drinks till he bursts [Prager, 1971, p. 135 139 (coll. Juhan Kunder)].

In the Spanish version (of ATU 313) ‘The Prince and the Magician Palermo’ the hero is the frivolous son of a widow Queen, who has gambled away half the Kingdom and one night loses his Crown. He fears the confrontation with his mother and would rather sell himself to the devil. Immediately there stands a gentleman all dressed in black before him, who presents himself as the Magician Palermo and offers him a whishing purse so he will never lose, if he comes to his castle over a year and serves him for three days. The Prince agrees, receives the purse and wins everything back he lost and much more. Then it is time to visit the castle of the Magician, but nobody knows where it is, and he rides over mountains and through valleys till one day he arrives at a big house on a mountain, where an old woman is very surprised to see him where no one ever came. He asks her for the castle, that she doesn’t know, but will ask the small bird when they come home. They come at dusk, but have never heard of it and refer to their big brothers. The next morning he follows the directions of the old woman and comes near the evening to a big house on a mountain where another old woman is very surprised to see him there. She also has not heard of the castle, but will ask the big birds, who come at dusk. They also don’t know the castle, but maybe the old eagle who still has to come. This eagle, big as a bull, knows the way he has been there a few times but it is very far behind a large sea. The Prince has to slaughter his horse and feed the eagle during the flight. When they are near the golden castle, the meat is finished and the eagle goes down. Quickly the Prince cuts a piece of his calf and feeds it the eagle, who with renewed forces lands near the castle. He asks the Prince where that nice last piece of meat came from, vomits it back and glues it on the Prince’s leg. The palace shines with gold and jewels and the Princes knocks at the gate. A wonderfully beautiful girl asks if he realizes where he is, but he says that he has come to work three days for the Magician, as promised. She says that her father’s work is hard, but when in need he must think of her. He enters the palace, crosses one after another more and more beautiful rooms till he comes to the Magician, who gives him right away his first task: plowing, sowing wheat, harvesting and baking bread for the evening meal. The Prince cannot sleep, thinking about the task, but then he thinks about the Magician’s daughter, and immediately she is there and tells him not to worry. That evening, just when the Magician wants to go to eat, the Prince enters with his freshly baked bread. His task for the next day is taming a wild horse, and if he succeeds he can marry one the Magician’s daughters. Again the Prince cannot sleep and remembers at last the girl, who tells him that the bridle of the horse is her father, the stirrups her sisters and she will be the saddle. Before he mounts the fire breathing horse, he has to beat it and especially the bridle and stirrups with his whip. After that it has become tame, and he has no trouble driving around the court all day. When he goes to the Magician, he is lying in bed and can hardly move, but gives the third assignment: dive up in the lake a ring, his grandmother lost 33 years ago, and if he succeeds he may marry one of his daughters. The Magician’s daughter advises him to bring his sword, chop her to pieces and throw them in the lake. Reluctantly the Prince does this and she comes whole again out of the water with the ring. She misses only her left little finger because in his carelessness he had dropped it in the sand. The Prince brings the ring, while the Magician is taking his meal, and he can have his reward: one of the three daughters, but he must choose blindfolded. The missing little finger comes in handy. But now the Magician knows which one of his daughters had helped him, and she knows they have to flee. She sends him to the stable to fetch the thin horse that goes 40 miles an hour, but he takes the strong looking horse, that only goes 30 miles an hour. Meanwhile the Magician’s daughter puts a saucer with a bit of spittle on the threshold of her room, and commands the spittle to speak for her. She is disappointed that the Prince has taken the wrong horse, but jumps in front of him. While they speed away, the spittle answers until midnight when it is dried up. Palermo, thinking they are asleep, goes with his sword to their room, discovers their disappearance, and runs to the stable. He sees to his joy that they have taken the slow horse, so he speeds after them. The girl hears him coming, tells the Prince to stop and changes the horse into a vegetable garden, the Prince into an old gardener and herself in a beet. The gardener pretends to be hard of hearing and the Magician goes furiously back home, where his daughters point out that the gardener and beets were the fugitives, so he hurries back and this time the Magician’s daughter changes the horse into a monastery, the Prince into an old monk, and herself into a saint’s statue. Also the monk seems a bit deaf, and has first to finish his prayer, and the Magician curses him and goes back to his daughters, who again point out that it was them. The fugitives have almost reached the border of the realm of the Magician, when they hear him coming. She throws her ring behind her and it changes into a great lake. The Magician cannot follow them and shouts from the other side a ‘forget curse’ (follows the episode of the Forgotten Fiancée) [Eggink, 1975, p. 176 186 = Meier, Spanische und Portugiesische Märchen, 1940, nº 11: ‘Der Zauberer Palermo’ (cf. Beit I, p. 569f)].

The same story has also been collected in Ireland, entitled ‘The Story of Grey Norris from Warland’, told by the 12 year old John Hannen, who heard it from his father John from Kildorrery, County Cork. The King’s son John loves to bowl and one day playing in the alley he is challenged by an old man with a long grey beard. Two times the King’s son wins (and his father’s palace is filled with gold, his stables with cattle), but the third time he loses and has to come at the end of a year to Grey Norris of Warland [= where land]. John drowns his sorrow in the bottle and pines away not knowing where to go, which is noticed by the very old cook of the King, who has him tell her the whole story and sends him with a bannock and a clew on his way to her brother, a giant, who when he eats a piece of the bannock of his sister will help him. The giant searches in all his books, but cannot find Warland and sends him to his 100 years older brother. Again John follows the clew, gives a piece of the bannock, but the old wizard also has no answer, sends him to his 100 years older brother, who calls with his trumpet (after three blows) a gigantic eagle. He was at the first blast busy freeing himself from the chains wherewith Grey Norris had chained him, at the second he was piercing the burning mountains (shows his burned feathers), and came with the third flying to him. The giant commands the bird to bring the Prince to the realm of Grey Norris, and he kills an ox and puts it on the back of the eagle together with John, who has a great knife to cut off pieces to feed the eagle. When they reach the land of Grey Norris, the meat is finished, and fearing that the eagle might eat him, the prince cuts a piece from his own side, and feeds it to the eagle. The eagle wants to reward him for this deed and tells him about the three swans, the daughters of Grey Norris, that will come to bath. He has to take the feather dress of the youngest and give it back only when she promises to help him. John does this and comes in the palace of Grey Norris, who puts him up for the night and gives him in the morning his first of three tasks: finding a needle in a haystack (in this case an Augias stable). The Princess advices him not to take the beautiful forks but a rusty old one. But even so the Prince doesn’t manage to get the job done; only more manure piles up in the stable, but fortunately the Princess comes to his rescue and has the stable cleared in a jiffy, leaving only the needle behind, that John brings to Grey Norris. The next day he has to make a bridge of birds’ feathers, and then turn a wood into cups and plates, all jobs the Princess has to do. Then he has to bring a wild bull. Finally he has to tell a story and puts on advice of the Princess a piece of cow dung on Grey Norris, that tells the story, while John and the Princess flee on the fastest horses from the stable. But Grey Norris realizes at the end of the story (told by the dung) that they have fled and sends his black bitch after them. But the Princess has taken three puppies of the bitch [cf. Medea!] and throws them one by one behind them and the dog brings them one by one back. Finally Grey Norris and his wife go after them. John has to look back, sees two spots coming, and has to throw a few drops from a bottle behind them. A great sea appears and Grey Norris sends his wife back home to get a cup. She is back in a jiffy and Grey Norris empties the sea in a jiffy. This time John has to throw a needle and an iron wood arises and the wife has to go get an axe and soon the wood is chopped down. But John and the Princess are in the meantime arrived at John’s home [followed by ‘The Forgotten Bride’] [James Britten, ‘Irish Folktales’, in: Folk Lore Journal I, 1883, p. 316 324, nº 5].

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