The Poor Boy

A Romanian Fairy Tale (adapted)

The Bodiless Maiden

We read last week that the Poor Boy earned the horse by successfully keeping the witch’s drove for three nights with the help of the creatures he had saved. He then was not sure which horse to choose, but picked a tired-looking one that his kind heart took pity on. The witch tried to get him to  pick another but he stuck with it so soon after he left she began to chase after him as it was the right horse. The horse helped him to put obstacles in her path and they escaped. Once off the witch’s land the horse changed into a steed with wings and they flew to the other world where the giants lived. When they arrived there the horse changed into a prince and thanked the Poor Boy for saving him. He revealed that he was an emperor’s son in search of his sister who had been taken by the giants, but he had been turned into a horse by the Wood Witch. The Poor Boy shared his bran-loaf with the prince and they agreed to be brothers and continue their mission together. The story continues…

Finally, far off, just at the end of the coastline, rose shining buildings, which must be the giants’ palaces. The country here was so beautiful, that one would have gladly travelled through it forever, it was so radiant with light, so green, so rich in flowers, birds of beautiful plumage, and tame, sportive animals. And in this country men never grew old, but remained exactly the same age as when they entered it, for here there were no days, the sun neither rose nor set, but the light came of itself, as if from a clear sky. The giants, however, were nowhere to be seen, and the two brothers for life continued their way. After they had walked as far as a three-days’ march, they reached the beautiful palaces and paused before them, because they were so marvelously lovely, with high towers, and walls built of stones as soft as velvet, covered with plates of snow that had been dried in the sun. But they seemed empty and deserted.

The Poor Boy and the prince entered, went through all the rooms filled with costly ornaments, and, seeing no one, thought that the giant must surely have gone hunting and determined to wait for him. But they were surprised that they did not find their sisters here. Each stretched himself on one of the beautiful divans and was going to rest, when suddenly both started up, amazed by what they heard.

It was a song, so touching that it would have softened the very stones, and the notes were in a woman’s voice. The two companions did not listen long, but hurried off in the direction from which the sound came.

In one part of the palace was a glass tower, and in this tower sat a girl spinning, singing, and weeping, but her tears, in falling, were instantly changed to pearls. This maiden was so beautiful that, if she had been in the world, two men would have killed each other for her sake. When the heroes beheld her, they stood motionless and gazed longingly at her; the girl stopped spinning, and neither sang nor wept, but looked at them in amazement.

She was not the sister of either youth, but as usually happens in such cases, the Poor Boy supposed she was the prince’s sister, and the prince thought she was the sister of the Poor Boy.

“I’ll stay here,” said the Poor Boy, “and you can go on, deliver my sister, and marry her.”

“No, I’ll stay here,” replied the prince, “you can go on and release my sister, for this maiden shall be my wife.”

When they understood that the lovely girl was the sister of neither, the handsome heroes seized their swords and were on the point of fighting as men do fight when they are obliged to divide any thing.

“Stop,” said the fair girl, “don’t attack each other. It is better first to discover whether I am really what I seem to you, or, after all, only a shadow! I am the Bodiless Maiden, who will not obtain form in this world until the giant has stolen me from the other shore. I shall then be as you see me now, shall spin, sing, and weep, because I shall think of my mother who is spinning, singing, and weeping; and your sisters, who were stolen by the two older brothers of the giant who rules this palace spin, sing, and weep, too.”

On hearing this, the two heroes wanted to set off at once, in order to lose no more time on the way.

“Stop, don’t be over hasty,” said the Bodiless Maiden. “You probably think that you will conquer the giants by mere will? Great deeds await you. The old she-giant put me here, that I might constantly spur on her youngest son, because it is written that all three brothers are to be married at the same time. The two older brothers keep your sisters prisoners, but can not wed them till the youngest son has stolen me. Whenever he comes home from hunting, he stops there where you are standing, gazes longingly at me, then arranges his weapons and feeds his horse with red-hot coals, but can’t set out yet because my hour has not come. So stay and conquer him here, that he may not steal me while you are on your way, for you would then be too late in reaching your sisters. Yet mind one thing; you cannot conquer him outside of his courtyard, because he is invisible. So, when he comes home, he throws his club at the gate with so much force that the earth quakes, the walls fall down, and any mortals who might be inside are buried alive. If you feel that you have strength enough to hold the gates on their hinges, so that they cannot give way when he hurls the club against them, stay, otherwise go, for it would be a pity to lose your young lives.”

The Poor Boy and the prince looked at each other, understood that the deed must be done, and resolved to stay. While the Poor Boy went to the gates to hold them, the prince drew his sword and awaited the giant in the middle of the courtyard.

To be continued…

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