A Story From: Iceland
Read Time: 16 to 20 mins.
For Ages: 8 to 10yrs.
Long, long ago, a king and queen reigned over a large and powerful country. Their two beloved children, Prince Sigurd and Princess Sophia, were famous throughout the kingdom for their wisdom, beauty, and many accomplishments.
There was only a year between them, and they loved each other so much that they could do nothing by themselves.
For many years they all lived happily together. Then one day, their mother, the queen, fell ill and died.
For quite a long time, the king was so bowed down with sorrow that he would not even take care of running the kingdom. At last his Prime Minister had to tell him that the people were complaining and wanted him to return to ruling over the land as he should.
“Taking care of the kingdom again will not be easy without my dear wife beside me,” said the king. “And yes, I know what men are also saying. They are saying I should remarry for the good of my kingdom.” He sighed. “It is time now to instruct you, my Prime Minister, to find a lady fit to share my throne.”
A group of court attendants were quickly gathered, with the Prime Minister as the leader, to visit the greatest courts in the world, and to choose a new queen. But the ship which carried them had not been gone many days when a thick fog came on. The persons on board could not see at all to the right or to the left. For a whole month the ship drifted about in darkness, till at last the fog lifted and they saw a cliff jutting out just in front of them. The crew did not know where they were, but at any rate they were grateful to see land, and hoped to find fresh fruit and water there.
Taking a small rowboat, the Prime Minister rowed to land, in order to explore and find out if the island was safe.
He had not gone far when he heard music. Turning toward the sound, he saw a woman of marvelous beauty playing on a harp, while a girl beside her sang along. The minister stopped and greeted the lady politely, and she replied in a friendly way, asking him why he had come to such an out-of-the-way place. In answer he told her about the king and how he had lost his wife.
“Indeed, I have the same situation as your master,” replied the lady. “I was once married to a mighty king who ruled over this land, until pirates came and killed him and put all the people to death. But I managed to escape, and hid myself here with my daughter.”
The daughter whispered, “Mother, are you speaking the truth?”
“Remember your promise,” the mother angrily whispered to her, giving her a pinch which the Prime Minister did not see.
“What is your name, then, madam?” asked he.
“Blauvor,” she replied, “and my daughter’s name is Lineik.” After this they talked of many things. The Prime Minister was so impressed by her beauty, charm and worldliness that he soon persuaded her to return with him on his ship and to marry the king.
As they looked back at the island from the ship, they could see that the island was completely barren and deserted and not fit for people to live in, but about that nobody cared. They had a speedy voyage home, and in six days they reached land. At once the Prime Minister sent a messenger on ahead to the capital, to inform the king of what he had found.
When his Majesty’s eyes fell on the two beautiful women, clad in dresses of gold and silver, he forgot his sorrows and ordered preparations for the wedding to be made at once.
After the marriage, the king could no longer make any decision by himself. His wife had to be consulted on all matters. She attended all his council meetings, and her opinion was asked before making peace or war. Yet the king could not help noticing something strange. Whenever anyone disagreed with the new queen, for example, that person soon disappeared without a trace. He also noticed that many people at court were keeping a distance from his new wife. Especially his two children.
One day, the queen insisted that his two children must move out of the castle altogether. The king felt he had to go along with her wishes, though he saw to it they had a comfortable and luxurious castle, with servants and carriages and anything they could possibly want.
Soon afterwards, his wife said to him that it was time for him to make a tour of his kingdom and see that his governors were not cheating him of the money that was his due.
“And you need not worry about going,” she added, “for I will rule the country while you are away as carefully as you would yourself.”
The king had no great desire to go so far away, and for so long, but he was too lazy to fight with his wife over it. So he said nothing and set about his preparations. Still he felt uneasy, and the night before he was to leave he went to the children’s palace to say good-bye to his son and daughter.
He had not seen them for some time and they rushed into his arms, for they loved him dearly. After a good deal of merry talk, he said, “There is something important I must tell you. If I should never come back from this journey I fear that it may not be safe for you to stay here anymore. I will tell you a safe place where you can go. If you learn that I have died, then you must leave immediately. Take the road going eastward till you reach a high mountain. Once you cross over the mountain, keep along by the side of a little bay and look carefully for two unusual trees. One is entirely blue and the other is entirely red. These are two magical trees. Each of you can hide inside the trunks of these trees. Only then will you both be safe from your enemies.”
With these words the king kissed them goodbye and boarded his ship. In the first few days of his journey, the wind was fair and everything seemed to go smoothly. Then suddenly a gale sprang up and a fearful storm of thunder and lightning such as had never happened before. In spite of the efforts of the frightened sailors, the ship was driven onto the rocks. Not a man on board was saved.
That very night the young prince, Prince Sigurd, had a dream in which he thought his father appeared to him in clothes dripping wet. Taking the crown from his head, his father had laid it at his son’s feet, and then he had left the room.
Hastily the prince awoke his sister Sophia. They agreed the dream meant that their father must be dead and that they must lose no time in obeying his orders and fleeing to safety. So they collected their jewels and a few clothes and left the house.
They hurried on till they arrived at the mountain without once looking back. Then Prince Sigurd glanced round and saw that their stepmother was following them, with an expression on her face which made her uglier than the ugliest old witch could be. He and his sister hurried on more quickly than before till they reached the grove with the red and blue trees, which they recognized instantly. Quickly they jumped into the tree trunks, and felt that at last there they would be safe.
Now at that time there reigned in the faraway country of Greece a king who was very rich and powerful. He had one son, a young prince who was the pride of his father’s heart.
The young prince of Greece had heard reports of the Princess Sophia’s beauty and many accomplishments, and he determined to seek her out and to ask for her hand in marriage. Of all this the queen, Blauvor, found out by means of her black arts. So when the prince of Greece came near the capital, she put a splendid dress on her own daughter, Lineik, and then went to meet her guest.
She welcomed the Prince of Greece to her palace, and when he asked to see the famous Princess Sophia, admired for her beautify and skills, the queen brought forward her daughter Lineik.
The prince looked at her and was rather disappointed. There seemed to be something missing in the expression on her face.
“Oh, you must not wonder at her pale face and heavy eyes,” said the queen hastily, for she saw what was passing in his mind. “She has never gotten over the loss of two fathers – her first father and now, apparently, my husband.”
“That shows a good heart,” thought the prince, “and when she is happy her beauty will come back, no doubt.” So without any further delay he begged the queen to agree to their engagement, for the marriage must take place in his own country of Greece.
The queen was delighted. She had hardly expected to succeed so soon. At once, she set about her preparations.
So the young prince of Greece and Lineik set sail in a splendid ship headed back to Greece. In a short time, however, a dense fog came on. In the dark, the captain somehow steered to land. It was not long before the prince noticed the two beautiful trees, one red and the other blue, and they were quite different as you can imagine from any trees that grew back home in Greece.
Eager to bring back such rare treasures, the prince bade his sailors to cut down the two trees and carry them on board the ship. And so Sigurd and Sophia, hidden inside the two tree trunks, were carried onto the ship. The ship sailed to Greece.
The king and queen met their son and his intended bride on the steps of their palace, and led the girl to the women’s house, where she would have to stay until her wedding day. The prince then ordered that the two unusual blue and red trees should be brought in to his own room.
The next morning the prince bade his attendants bring his future bride to his room. When she came, he said, “All the world knows of your exceptional skill at weaving, Princess Sophia,” – for as you’ll remember he thought Lineik was the Princess Sophia – “Here’s silk in which to weave two dresses, one blue and one red, and a robe in green. They must all be ready before the wedding. The blue dress should be done first and the green robe last, because this is to be the most splendid of all, for I will wear it at our marriage,” said he.
Left alone, Liniek, who did not know the first thing about weaving, sat and stared at the heap of shining silk before her. She burst into tears as she thought that everything would be discovered, for Princess Sophia’s skill in weaving was as famous as her beauty. As she sat with her face hidden and her body shaking by sobs, Sigurd, hidden inside his tree trunk, heard her crying.
“Sophie, my sister,” he called out softly, “Lineik is weeping, help her.”
“What?” answered Sophia from inside her tree trunk. “Have you forgotten the wrongs her mother did to us and that owing to her and her mother, we were banished first from the castle, and then from our home?”
But she was not really so unforgiving, and very soon Sophia slid quietly out of the tree trunk. Taking the silk from Lineik’s hands, Sophia began to weave it. So quick and clever was she that the blue dress was not only woven but embroidered, too, and Sophia was safe back inside her tree trunk before the prince returned.
“Why, this is the most beautiful work I have ever seen,” said he. “And I’m sure that the red one will be still better, because the fabric is richer.” With a low bow he left the room.
Lineik had secretly hoped that when the prince had seen the blue dress finished he would have released her from having to weave the other two; but when she found she was expected to weave yet another dress, her heart sank and she began to cry loudly. Again Sigurd heard her cries and begged Sophia to come to her help. Sophia, feeling sorry for her distress, wove and embroidered the second dress as she had done the first, mixing gold thread and precious stones till you could hardly see the red of the dress anymore. When it was done she glided into her tree just moments before the prince stepped into the room.
“You are as quick as you are clever,” said he, admiring the lovely dress. “This dress looks as if it had been embroidered by the fairies! But as the green robe must outshine the other two, I will give you three days in which to finish it. After it is ready, the two of us will be married at once.”
Lineik groaned. She remembered all the unkind things that she and her mother had done, and she had done nothing when her mother had forced Sophia and her brother to move out the castle. Could she hope that Sophia would come to her rescue for a third time? After all, she was marrying the Prince of Greece only because he believed that she was Princess Sophia. And perhaps Sophia, who had not forgotten the past either, might have left Lineik to get on as best she could by herself if Sigurd, her brother, had not begged her to help just one more time. So Sophia again slid out of her tree trunk. To Lineik’s great relief, she set herself to work. She wove that shining green silk into a pattern such as no one had ever seen before. But it took a long time and on the third morning, just as she was putting the last stitches into the last flower the prince walked in.
Sophia jumped up quickly, and tried to get past him back inside her tree trunk, but the folds of the silk were wrapped round her, and she would have fallen if the prince of Greece had not caught her in his arms.
“I have thought for some time that all was not quite as it seems around here,” said he. “Who are you? And where do you come from?”
Sophia then told him her name and her story. When she had ended, the prince of Greece turned angrily to Lineik. He declared that as punishment for her wicked lies, she deserved to die a shameful death.
But Lineik fell at his feet and begged for mercy. It was her mother’s fault, she said. “It was she and not I, who passed me off as Princess Sophia. The only lie I have ever told you was about the dresses and the robe, and do I deserve death for that?”
She was still on her knees when Prince Sigurd stepped out of his tree trunk. He appealed to the Prince of Greece to forgive Lineik, which he did, on the condition that the true Princess Sophie would agree to marry him.
But Princess Sophia shook her head. “Not til my stepmother is stripped of her powers and banished from our land,” said she, “for otherwise she will not stop bringing misery upon us all.”
Then Lineik told them that her stepmother Blauvor was not her real mother at all but was in fact an ogress who had stolen her from a neighboring palace. Besides being an ogress she was also a witch, and Laufer had been terrified of all the terrible things she might do if she did not go along with what her false mother wanted. Blauvor was the one, Lineik said, who had pulled the Prime Minister’s ship to their land from the fog. It was she who with her black arts had sunk the ship in which Sigurd and Sophia’s father had set sail. And it was she who had caused the strange disappearances of the palace attendants, for which no one could account, by eating them during the night. She hoped to get rid of all the people in the country and then to fill the land with ogres and ogresses like herself. Only through the black arts, Lineik told them, could she be defeated.
So the Prince of Greece summoned a wizard skilled in artful magic to come with them. Then he swiftly collected an army and he, alongside Prince Sigurd, marched upon the town where Blauvor had her palace. They came so suddenly that no one knew of it. Even if they had known, Blauvor had already eaten most of the strong men and the others, fearful of something they could not tell what, had secretly escaped from the palace. Therefore Blauvor was easily captured and the wizard saw to it that her powers and her strength were stripped away. She was then set sail to a distant island and no one ever heard from her again. Afterwards, the two princes returned to Greece.
Princess Sophia had no longer any reason for putting off her wedding to the Prince of Greece. So the two of them married and, at the same time, her brother Sigurd married Lineik, who was fully forgiven. Prince Sigurd and his new bride, Lineik, returned to his homeland to rule while Princess Sophia remained in Greece to rule with her new husband. Yet the brother and sister stayed close in the years that followed, visited each another as frequently as they could, and they all lived happily ever after.
Adapted by Elaine Lindy from "The Three Robes" from The Crimson Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang (Longmans Green & Company, 1903), pp, 221-232.
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