This retelling of The Mastermaid from "If all the seas were ink we'd call them fish tales"

THE MASTERMAID

A retelling by J. Kearns

A girl, who is a master-maid to an ogre does all the work in helping a prince to outwit him. Thereafter, the prince loses any memory of her, just as she had said would happen. Fun if for no other reason than the way a sheriff, lawyer and bailiff get some hard knocks.


There was once a king and a queen who had many children. All of them were content to stay at home in their father's kingdom and be princes and princesses--except for the youngest of the children who happened to be a boy. He said, "It's easy enough to do well in the world when you're the son of a king and everyone knows you're a prince. But what if no one knew I was a prince, how would they treat me then? I'd like to see how life would go for me if I went out into the world and no one knew who I was."

The king and queen saw no harm in the boy going out into the world to test his luck, and so it passed that one fine day, waving him good-bye and calling out many good wishes, they watched as their young son set out on the road. They waved good-bye for a long time, for as long as they could see him walking down the road, until he was a little speck on the horizon, and then when they could see him no more they shed some tears at parting, which they had withheld until then because they didn't want their son to be upset over their sadness at not having him home anymore.

The prince had spent several days walking, enjoying the countryside, when he came upon a giant's house at the foot of a mountain. As he was hungry and had no more food in his knapsack, and no money with which to purchase any, the prince thought now was as good a time as any to begin to work for his living. He went up to the giant's house, asked if any extra help was needed, and was hired then and there as a servant.

In the morning, the giant called to the prince (who he didn't know was a prince), and told him, "It is my custom, every morning, to go out to the pasture with my goats. What I want you to do while I'm gone is clean out the stable. After you have done that, you need not do any more work today, for you shall see what a kind master you have come to. But the work you do must be done both well and thoroughly, and you must on no account go into any of the rooms which lead out of the room in which you slept last night, for if you do, I will take your life."

The giant left and the prince went back up to his room to get his jacket and hat, for it was cool out, and if he was going to be working in the stable he wanted to keep warm. The prince was humming and singing as he walked along, thinking, "Well, it sounds like my work here will be pretty easy. The giant just may be an easy master like he says. And if he tells me not to go into any of the rooms which lead out of my room, then that's his own business and his right. It is his house after all."

Still, when the prince entered the room in which he'd slept, as he picked up his hat and jacket, the door which led to the forbidden rooms caught his eye, and he thought, "I know the giant told me not to peek into those forbidden rooms, and it's his right, but if he's out in the pasture with his goats how would he even know if I did take a look around? For that matter, what's he hiding there that he doesn't want me to see? Maybe he's got something in there that he shouldn't even have. I think I'll take a peek after all."

The prince opened the door to the first forbidden room. Going inside and looking about, all he could see that was in there was a cauldron hanging from the wall. Though there was no fire under the cauldron, whatever was in it was boiling. Wondering to himself "What is boiling in there?" the prince leaned over the cauldron to try to see what was in it, and as he did so a lock of his hair accidentally dipped in the liquid. The prince saw that the lock of hair became just as if it was made all of copper, shining red as copper, and metallic. "That's a nice kind of soup," he said. "If anyone was to taste that his throat would be gilded."

There was a door in the first forbidden room, and it led to a second forbidden room. The prince went in the second room and saw that in there, too, a cauldron was hanging from the wall, bubbling and boiling, but there was no fire under this either. "What's in this cauldron, I wonder," the prince thought. Bending over it to take a look, another lock of his hair accidentally dipped in and came out coated with silver. The prince thought, "My father's a king, and I've never seen such costly soup even at his castle."

In the second forbidden room, there was a door which led to a third forbidden room. The prince went in the third room and saw that there, too, a cauldron was hanging from the wall. Though there was no fire beneath it, the cauldron was boiling, just like in the other two rooms. The prince leaned over this third cauldron to see what was in it, and when he did a third lock of his hair accidentally dipped inside the cauldron and came out shining bright as gold. The prince said, "Some talk about going from bad to worse, but here, as I go from room to room, it gets better and better. If the giant boils gold in here, what can he be boiling in the fourth room?"

There was, yes, in the third room, a door which led to a fourth forbidden room. The prince went in through it and was taken aback for a moment, for he had fully expected to see a cauldron and there wasn't one. Instead there was a bench, and on the bench was seated a woman who looked as beautiful as woman the prince had ever seen. In fact, she looked even better. The prince thought he had never seen anyone nearly her equal.

The young woman on the bench exclaimed to the prince, "Oh! In heaven's name, what are you doing here?"

The prince said, "The giant hired me on yesterday as a servant."

The girl rolled her eyes and replied, "May you soon find a better place, if you have come to serve here!"

"Why do you say that?" asked the prince. "My master seems reasonable enough, from what I've heard about masters. At least the work he gave me to do today sounds easy enough. I'm to clean out the stable and when I am done I'm to have the rest of the day for myself."

"How do you propose to clean out the stable?" the woman replied. "If you clean it as other people have tried, for every pitchfork of soiled hay and dung you throw out, ten will appear in its place."

"That's no good," the prince said. "Is there no way to clean it out then?"

"If you're willing to listen, I'll teach you how," the girl said. "You must turn your pitchfork around, so you're holding the prongs and use the handle end for the shoveling. If you do that, all the soiled hay and dung will fly out of its own accord and you'll be finished in no time."

The prince replied, "Oh, now. That seems a silly way to clean a stable."

"Have it your way then," the Master-maid replied.

The prince said he would think about doing what she said, then sat down and talked to the girl about this and that. Time passed so quickly that the next thing he knew it was almost evening.

"You better go now," the woman told the prince.

"Must I?" he answered.

"It's up to you," the woman said.

The prince then said he would go, but the Master-maid stopped him, advising, "Your hair; we must do something about your hair first, for if the giant sees how it is copper and silver and gold now he'll know for certain you went into the forbidden rooms." The woman then trimmed the prince's hair and put the copper, silver and gold locks into a small bag.

It was now very late and the prince rushed to the stable. At first he completely forgot the girl's instruction, and working in the same way that he'd seen the stable-boys working in his father's stables, he found that for every pitchfork-full of soiled hay and animal dung he threw out, ten more instantly appeared. Then, he remembered what the girl had told him, and trying out what the girl had recommended he do, he held his pitchfork by the prongs and pointed the handle down at the ground. Almost as soon as he did this, the stable was as clean as if he had gotten down on his hands and knees and scoured it with soap and water.

Humming and singing, the prince went back to his room. Soon the giant returned with his goats, and went to the prince and said to him, "I see you're taking it nice and easy. Have you cleaned the stable?"

The prince answered, "I have cleaned it so clean it smells as sweet as a king's court."

"I'll see about that," said the giant. Then he went to look at the stable and saw it was just as the prince had said. So the giant went back to the prince and said, "You have certainly been talking to my Master-maid, for you never got the wisdom of how to clean my stable out of your own head."

The prince said, "What Master-maid?

"You'll see her soon enough," the giant said and went off.

The second morning, the giant called the prince to him and told him, "Now I am taking my goats out to the pasture again. The task you must fill today is this. You are to go fetch my horse, which is out on the mountain-side. When you have done that you can have the remainder of the day for yourself, for you shall see what a kind master you have come to. But mind that you don't go into those forbidden rooms I told you about yesterday, for if you do I'll wring your head off." The giant then went away with his goats.

The prince said to himself, "Yes, indeed, you are a kind master. But, despite what you say, I think I will go in and talk to the Master-maid again. Perhaps before long she may like better to go away with me rather than stay here with you."

The prince went to find the Master-maid again. "What is your task today?" she asked him when she saw him.

The prince replied, "Oh, not very dangerous work, I imagine. I am to go up the mountain-side after the giant's horse and bring it back."

The Master-maid said, "How do you mean to set about it? It's not so easy a thing as you think it will be to ride that horse home, but I will teach you what to do. When you go near the horse, fire will burst out of its nostrils like flames from a pine torch, almost like a dragon. If you take the bridle that is hanging by the door there, and carefully fling the bit straight into the horse's jaws, it will become so tame that you'll be able to do what you like with it."

The prince argued, "You think up the most absurd things."

"Do as you wish," the Master-maid told him. "I won't be there to argue with you, will I?"

The prince said he would do exactly what she had told him to do. He then sat down and talked the day away with the woman just as he had before.

When evening was near, the Master-maid reminded the prince to go out and fetch the horse. The prince argued against going, that he wanted to stay and talk, but the Master-maid persisted and he finally took the bridle that was hanging on a crook by the door, and went out to accomplish that day's task. He found the horse on the mountain-side, but when he went near it fire and flames burst forth out of his nostrils just like the woman had said would happen. The prince carefully watched for his opportunity, and just as the horse was rushing at him with open jaws, he threw the bit of the bridle straight into its mouth. Immediately, the horse stood as quiet as a lamb. The prince had no difficulty at all bringing the horse back to the stable. Humming and singing, the prince went to his room and hid the bridle. Soon, the giant entered and asked him, "Have you fetched the horse back from the mountain-side?"

The prince answered, "I have, and it was an amusing horse to ride too. If you go look, you'll find him in the stable."

"I'll see about that," said the giant, and he went out to the stable to find the horse was standing there just as the prince had said. The giant went back to the prince and told him, "I know you have certainly been talking with my Master-maid, for you never got the wisdom of how to handle my horse out of your own head."

Again, pretending ignorance, the prince replied, "Yesterday, master, you talked about this Master-maid, and now again today. But I don't have any idea who this person might be."

"Oh you will see her quite soon enough," the giant said, leaving the room.

On the morning of the third day the giant called the prince to him and told him, "While I am gone, today you are to go underground and fetch my taxes. When you have done this, you may rest the remainder of the day, for you shall see what an easy master you have come to." Then he went away.

The prince thought, "Well, however easy a master you may be, you set me very hard work to do. I think I'll go see your Master-maid again to see what advice she has for me."

The prince went to find the Master-maid. When she asked him what task the giant had given him for that day, he told her he was to go underground and get the giant's taxes.

The Master-maid replied, "And how will you set about that?"

"Please instruct me how," the prince said, "after all, you always seem to be telling me what I should and shouldn't do."

The Master-maid told him, "Under the mountain-ridge there is a great rock. Take the club that rests by it and knock on the rocky wall with it. Someone will come out who will sparkle with fire. Tell him your errand, and when he asks you how much you want you are to say, 'As much as I can carry.'"

The prince said, "Am I supposed to believe that someone who sparkles with fire will step out of a rock wall? You say the silliest things."

"Whatever," the Master-maid replied. "If you always want to argue with me, I don't see why you come here to ask me to advise you."

"With all the absurd things you tell me," the prince answered, "you force me to be skeptical."

The prince then sat and talked with the Master-maid the rest of the day.

Toward evening, the Master-maid reminded the prince of his task, and he went out to find the great rock under the mountain-ridge, just as she had told him to do. Beside it was a club. Following her advice, he picked up the club and knocked it on the rocky wall. Then came out one so full of sparks that they flew both out of his eyes and nose. "What do you want?" he asked the prince.

The prince replied, "I have come here for the giant, to demand the tax for him."

"How much are you to have then?" said the other.

The prince replied, "I ask for no more than I am able to carry with me."

He who had come out the rock answered, "It is well for you that you have not asked for a horse-load. Now, come in with me." The prince went in the rock, and what a quantity of gold and silver he saw there! It was lying inside the mountain like heaps of stones in a quarry. The prince filled a bag with as much as he was able to carry, and with that he went on his way.

When the giant came home he went up to see the prince who was in his room humming and singing. The giant asked, "Have you been for the tax?"

The prince answered, "Yes, I have, master. A bag filled with gold and silver is over there on that bench."

The giant said, "I'll see about that," and went over and picked up the bag. When he untied its string, gold and silver began to pour out, that's how full it was. The giant yelled, "You have certainly been talking with my Master-maid. And if you have I will wring your neck!"

The prince feigned stupidity, and said, "Master-maid? Yesterday my master talked about this Master-maid, and the day before that too. Today he is talking about it again. But I have never seen this person."

"Wait till tomorrow," the giant answered, "and then I'll take you to her myself."

The next morning, the giant didn't take his goats out. Instead he went and got the prince and led him through the forbidden rooms to where the Master-maid was. He told her, "You see this youth? You are to kill him and boil him in the great cauldron--you know of which one I speak--and when you have got the broth ready give me a call so I may have the pleasure of supping on it." The giant then lay down on the bench. Almost immediately he fell asleep, and snored so loud it sounded like thunder among the hills.

The Master-maid brought the prince to the cauldron in which she was to boil him. Then, she took a knife and giving it to him she told him to cut his little finger and squeeze three drops of his blood upon a wooden stool that was set by the cauldron. The prince argued that he didn't like this idea at all, but he finally consented to do as she told him. In the meanwhile, the maid threw into the cauldron a lot of rubbish, old shoes and the soles of old shoes, and old rags.

"You're not going to fool the giant with that mess," the prince told the Master-maid. "He'll know right off a fine young lad such as myself should taste better than that."

"Then you're welcome to climb in there and baste yourself, and argue with me any more and I might help you," the Master-maid answered.

The Master-maid then went to the room in which the cauldron was that held the liquid gold, and swept up off the floor the gold which had fallen there and turned into dust. In her room she brought out a chest and put into it a lump of salt, a water-flask that was hanging by the door, and the gold dust she had swept up off the floor. Into her apron she put a golden apple, and under her arms she tucked two gold chickens. "Take that chest and follow me," she said, and she and the prince went away from the giant's house with all the speed they could.

When the Master-maid and prince had gone a little way, they came to the sea. There was a boat there which they climbed into and it carried them away.

When the giant had slept a good long time, he woke up just a little, stretched himself on the bench, and asked, "How's that broth coming?"

"It is just beginning to boil," said the first drop of blood on the wooden stool.

The giant again nodded off and slept for a long, long time. Then he began to move about a little again, and without opening his eyes, half-asleep, he said, "Will the broth soon be ready now?"

"Half done!" said the second drop of blood.

The giant, believing it was the Master-maid who spoke, turned himself on the bench and fell into a deep sleep again. After he had slept for a very long time, he again began to move and stretch himself, and said, "Is it not done yet?"

"Oh, it's quite ready!" said the third drop of blood.

The giant sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Master-maid," he said, "bring me the broth," but she didn't answer. So, he called for her, and when she still didn't answer he thought that she had gone out for a little while. The giant got a spoon and went to the cauldron to have a little of the broth. Well, if it didn't taste just like, yes, rubbish, old shoes, the soles of old shoes, and old rags! The giant dipped in his spoon again and saw that, indeed, the broth was nothing but rubbish, old shoes, the soles of old shoes, and old rags all boiled together.

Then the giant realized the trick that had been played on him, and, furious, he ran out of the house to go look for the prince and his Master-maid. He went so fast that the wind whistled behind him, so it wasn't long before he came to the water, but there was no ship there and he couldn't get over it. "Well, I'll soon find a remedy for that," the giant said, and he called his river-sucker.

The river-sucker appeared and lay down and drank one, two, three draughts of the sea, and with that the water of the sea fell so low that the giant was able to see the Master-maid and the prince in the ship, for the place where the sea was was like a bowl, and the water was now so shallow the giant was able to look out over it as if he was on a high cliff, and the higher you are the further you can see. The Master-maid saw what the giant was doing and that he would soon be after them and told the prince, "Quickly, throw out the lump of salt."

"Why should I throw out a good lump of salt?" the prince argued.

"Do it!" the Master-maid ordered him.

The prince did as he was told, and the lump of salt grew into a great high mountain right in the middle of the sea. It was so high the giant couldn't cross over it.

"Well I'll soon find a remedy for that," the giant said, and he called to his hill-borer. The hill-borer came and bored a hole through the mountain.

Then the river-sucker went through the hole in the mountain and was about to drink up the rest of the water when the Master-maid said to the prince, "Quick, throw out one or two drops of water from the water-flask."

The prince argued, "I fail to see what good that will do. Anyway, which is it you want, one drop or two?"

"Do it!" the Master-maid ordered him.

The prince threw out two drops of water from the water-flask. Instantly, the sea was full of water again, and this time because of the salt mountain the water was salty so that when the river-sucker began to drink the water it became sick and couldn't drink anymore.

The ship in which the Master-maid and prince rode touched land and they got out. The prince told the Master-maid that he was the son of a king and wanted to take her home to see his father and get married. But the prince didn't want his prospective wife to come trudging into the king's court all dirty and weary from traveling. He said he wanted her to wait while he went to the castle and that he would return for her with a coach and seven horses. That way his prospective wife could go to his father's court in the highest style.

The Master-maid pleaded, "No, you mustn't go, for if you go home to the King's palace you'll forget me, I foresee that."

"Impossible," said the prince. "How could I forget you after all we've been through together?"

"You mean after we have argued so much," the Master-maid said.

The prince replied, "I mean, considering how much I love you."

At last the Master-maid had to yield. She agreed to wait for the prince by the sea-shore while he went home to get the coach and horses. She said, "But when you get to the palace, you must not even give yourself time to greet anyone, but go straight into the stable, and take the horses, and the coach, and drive back as quickly as you can. For all your family and friends will gather around you and be excited to see you, but you must behave just as if you did not see them, and on no account must you taste anything they serve you, for if you do it will cause great misery both to you and to me."

The prince answered, "I'll do just as you say."

"Just see that you do," the Master-maid said, "but I suspect that you won't because you are always disagreeing with me."

The prince answered, "I only disagree with you because if I don't then you will think you know everything."

"I do know everything," the Master-maid said. "Which is why you always eventually take my advice, except in this instance, and I know that you won't do as I say which just shows again how much I know."

Then the prince kissed the Master-maid and left for the palace.

But when he got home to the King's palace he found one of his brothers was just going to be married, and the bride and all her family and friends and servants had come to the palace. When it was seen the young prince was home, everyone came out and thronged round the prince, and questioned him about this and that, and wanted him to go in with them; but following the Master-maid's advice, he behaved as if they were invisible, and went straight to the stable. He got out the horses and began to harness them to the coach. Then, since the prince wouldn't go into the palace, and since he was acting very peculiar, just like he didn't know or even see any of his family and friends, looking through them just like they were invisible, everyone decided not to let him go yet because he might be sick or under some enchantment. They brought out to him meat and drink, and the best of everything that they had prepared for the wedding; but the prince refused to touch anything. At last, however, the bride's sister rolled an apple across the yard to him, and said, "As you won't eat anything else, you may like to take a bite of that, for you must be both hungry and thirsty after your long journey."

Without thinking, the prince picked up the apple and bit a piece out of it. Alas, no sooner had he got the piece of apple in his mouth than he forgot the Master-maid and that he was to go back in the coach to fetch her. He hadn't a clue what he had wanted with the coach and horses and laughed, "I think I must be mad! What do I want with this coach and horses? I can't even remember." He put the horses back in the stable and went into his father's palace.

What do you know but before long the prince and the bride's sister, the one who rolled the apple to him, were engaged to be married.

In the meanwhile, the Master-maid sat by the seashore waiting for the prince. She sat there for a long, long time, waiting for the prince, watching the waves go in and out, but no prince came. So, she went away. When she had walked a little while she came to a small hut which stood all alone in a small wood by the king's palace. She knocked on the door of the hut and asked if she might be allowed to stay there.

The hut belonged to an old crone. This old crone happened also to be an ill-tempered and malicious troll. At first she told the Master-maid to go away. The Master-maid persisted, saying all kinds of nice things about the hut, and how it looked like a wonderful place to live, and told the crone she could tell she was certainly a wonderful person. But what finally decided the crone on letting the Master-maid in was the Master-maid's promise to pay her good money for being allowed to stay there. Of course, the hut was not very nice at all. It was as dirty and black inside as a pigsty. So, the Master-maid said that she would smarten it up a little, that it was almost perfect as it was but she was very good at cleaning and the hut needed a bit of it. The old crone did not like this. She scowled, but the Master-maid ignored her. The Master-maid opened up her chest and took out of it a handful of the gold dust and threw it into the crone's cauldron. The gold promptly boiled up and the old hag was so terrified by this magic that she fled as if the heart of evil itself was pursuing her, and at the door she didn't remember to stoop down (for the door was tiny), and she struck her head and split it and died. The gold continued to pour out of the cauldron over the whole of the hut until every part of it, both inside and out, was gilded with gold.

Next morning the sheriff came traveling by and don't you know he was astonished to see the hut shining and glittering with gold, and that lying in front of it there was the corpse of the old crone. When he went in the hut to see what was going on, he saw the beautiful Master-maid sitting there and instantly fell in love with her. After talking with her a short bit he asked her if she would marry him.

"Well, but have you got a lot of money?" the Master-maid asked him.

The sheriff told her, "Oh, yes! So far as that is concerned, I'm not bad off." To prove this to the Master-maid, the sheriff went home to get his money. In the evening he came back and had with him a two-bushel sack of money which he set on a bench in the hut. Well, as he had such a fine lot of money, the Master-maid said she would marry him, which made the sheriff very happy. The sheriff sat down with her to plan their wedding, but scarcely had he sat down when the Master-maid jumped up and said she needed to see to the fire. The sheriff told her to sit back down, that he would see to the fire, and he went over to the fireplace. "Where's your shovel so that I can shovel your coals," he asked the Master-maid. She pointed it out to him and he picked it up to shovel the coals.

The Master-maid said, "As you have got hold of the shovel, may the shovel have also got hold of you, and pour red-hot coals over you until the day dawns."

The sheriff found then that he couldn't get his hands loose from the shovel. And on top of that the shovel had begun to work on its own, shoveling up red-hot coals from the fireplace and pouring them over the sheriff, but it looked as if he was pouring them over himself since his hands were on the shovel. He begged and cried and shouted for the shovel to let go of him, for it to stop pouring hot coals over him, but the shovel went on. The sheriff thought that surely he must have died and gone to hell, and would have wished that he was dead except that if he was in hell he would already be dead. It went on like this until dawn. Then, as the sun began to rise, the sheriff found he had now the power to throw the shovel down. This he did and ran away from there as fast as he possibly could, and everyone who saw him stared and looked after him, for he was flying as if he was a crazy man, and he couldn't have looked worse if his skin had been flayed from him. Nor did he even think once about going back to the hut to have it out with the woman for what she had done, for he was too frightened.

The next day a lawyer came riding by the gold hut. He saw how brightly the hut shone and gleamed in the wood, and went into it to see who lived there. When he saw the Master-maid he instantly fell in love with her and began to woo her at once. He said that he must have her for his wife.

"Well, but have you got a lot of money," the Master-maid asked him.

The lawyer said that he certainly did--and everyone knows that lawyers make lots of money--and he went home and brought back with him a four-bushel sack filled with money. He set this on the bench by the Master-maid and she promised to marry him. Then the lawyer sat down to plan the wedding with her. The Master-maid made as if to stand up and when the lawyer asked where she was going she said she had forgotten to lock the door to the porch. "Don't you worry about that, " the lawyer said. "Sit still, I'll do it."

The lawyer sprang to his feet and went over to the door to latch it. The moment he laid his hands on the latch, the Master-maid said, "Just as you have hold of the door, may the door have hold of you, and may you go between wall and wall until day dawns."

What a dance the lawyer had that night! He had never had such a waltz before, and wished never to have such a one again. Sometimes he was in front of the door, and sometimes the door was in front of him. The door swung him from one side of the porch to the other all night long so that the lawyer was almost beaten to death. At first he cursed the Master-maid, then he begged and prayed for the door to let go of him, but the door didn't care for anything but keeping fast hold on him until the break of day. As soon as it was dawn, the door let go of the lawyer, and having forgotten all about wooing the Master-maid, and even having forgotten about his money, the lawyer ran off as fast as his battered legs could carry him, afraid the door might come dancing after him and grab him again. Everyone who saw the lawyer stared and looked after him, for he was flying like a madman, and he couldn't have looked worse if a herd of rams had been butting at him with their horns all night long. On the third day, the bailiff came by. He too saw the gold house in the little wood and went inside to see who lived there. When he saw the Master-maid he fell instantly in love with her and asked her right then and there to marry him.

"Well, but have you got a lot of money?" the Master-maid answered.

The bailiff said that he as far as that was concerned he wasn't ill off, and went right home and got his money and returned with a sack that must have held at least six bushels of gold. The Master-maid said then she would marry him, and he sat down with her to plan the wedding.

"Oh my," the Master-maid said, "I've forgotten to bring in the calf. I must go out to put it in the byre." The bailiff answered, "Don't trouble yourself. I'll do that." And though he was big and fat he went out trotting as briskly as a boy.

"Have you got the calf's tail?" the Master-maid called out.

When the bailiff had caught hold of the calf's tail he yelled back, "I have hold of it now."

The Master-maid said, "Then just as you have hold of the calf's tail, may the calf's tail also have hold of you, and may you go round the world together until day dawns."

Immediately, the calf ran off with the bailiff still holding his tail, and the bailiff couldn't let go of that tail at all. The calf ran over rough ground and smooth, over hill and dale, and the more the bailiff cried and screamed, the faster the calf went. By the time the sun began to rise, the bailiff was half dead. He was so glad to be let loose from the calf's tail that he forgot all about his sack of money. Scarcely able to walk, he limped away, and could only go very slowly, which gave everyone who saw him a good deal of time to stare and look after him. No one had ever looked more tired and ragged than the bailiff did after his dance with the calf.

On the following day, the wedding between the prince and his intended was to take place at the church. The prince was to ride to the church with his bride in a coach with six horses. But when they had seated themselves in the coach and were about to drive off to the church, one of the trace-pins broke. A new trace-pin was made and put in its place and it broke. This happened two more times. Then the sheriff came walking by and when he found out what the problem was he said, "In the thicket over there dwells a maiden. She has a shovel for shoveling coals, and I bet its handle would make a fine trace-pin which will hold well, for when you lay hold of the shovel's handle that handle won't let go of you. I've seen it happen."

The sheriff didn't want to say how he had seen this happen.

A messenger was sent to the little hut. He asked the maiden if she would loan the shovel handle to the palace and she said, "Why not? It's yours." The messenger returned with it. The carpenters carved it into a trace-pin, and sure enough it didn't snap in two but held just fine. For his trouble, the sheriff was invited to the wedding reception, which was just what he had hoped would happen.

The prince and his bride-to-be started out to the church in the coach. They had ridden only a few feet when the bottom of the coach fell to pieces and you could see right through to the ground beneath your feet. A new bottom was made as fast as could be done, and installed, but then it also fell to pieces. After this had happened three times the lawyer came walking by and asked what was wrong. When he was told, he said, "In a hut in the wood dwells a maiden, and if you could get her to lend you even one-half of her porch-door to use as the bottom of your coach, I'm certain it would hold together and not fall apart. I've heard tales of that door's strength and how it'll hold fast to whatever it touches." The lawyer did not give away that the door had held fast to him.

A messenger was sent to the little hut to ask about the gilded porch-door, and the Master-maid said yes, certainly the palace could have it if they wanted it.

The porch door was placed in the bottom of the coach, and it held. For his trouble, the lawyer was invited to the wedding reception, which was just what he had hoped would happen.

Once again, the prince and his bride-to-be started out to the church, but the horses weren't able to draw the coach. Two more horses were added to the six, and they couldn't draw the coach. Two more were added and then two more, and they couldn't draw the coach. Two more were added and not even twelve could draw the coach. The coach simply wouldn't stir from its spot. Then the bailiff came up and asked what was wrong, and when he was told he said, "In a hut in the wood there is a girl, and if you could get her to lend you her calf, I know it would draw the coach, even if it was as heavy as a mountain." The bailiff didn't let on how he knew this.

Ridiculous as it seemed to go to the church with a calf drawing the coach, a messenger was sent to the hut to ask about borrowing the calf, and the Master-maid said certainly they could borrow the calf.

The calf was harnessed to the coach, and away it ran with the coach behind it, over rough and smooth ground, so fast they could hardly breathe, and sometimes the coach was on the ground and sometimes up in the air, and when they got to the church and the calf stopped the coach spun round and round like a spinning-wheel.

The prince sent word that the bailiff should be invited to the wedding reception. Then it occurred to him that the maiden who made it possible for the coach to get to the church ought to also be sent for so that she could attend the wedding. The king thought this was just and proper, so he sent five men down to the gilded hut, to invite her to come to the church for the wedding.

The Master-maid said, "Greet the king for me, but tell him that if he is too good to come to me to invite me himself, I am too good to come to him."

The king might have refused but he thought to himself that there was something strange about this maiden, and he wanted to see what kind of person she was, so he didn't argue but went to the gilded hut and got her himself. When they got to the church, the Master-maid was taken to the prince to be introduced. She took out the cock, the hen and the golden apple which she had brought away with her from the giant's house, and set them down, and instantly the cock and the hen began to fight with each other for the golden apple.

"Is that your wedding gift to us?" the prince asked. "Look how the cock and hen are fighting for the golden apple."

"Yes, and so did we two fight to get away from that mountain to where exactly we stand today at this moment," said the Master-maid.

Instantly, the prince knew her again, and you may imagine how delighted he was. They went into the church and were married right then, and afterwards they went back to the palace where there was held a very grand wedding reception.

The prince said to the Master-maid, as they sat enjoying the feast, "You predicted that if I ate any food offered me when I went to get the coach, while you remained at the sea-side, that great misery would come to us both. I fail to see, for myself, what great misery I experienced, for I simply went for a little while without remembering you, and would have been none the wiser if you hadn't appeared at the church."

The Master-maid replied, "Your misery will be that I shall never let you forget your mistake."

The prince said to the king, "So, now, do you see how a prince is treated when no one knows he's a prince?"

"Posh," the Master-maid argued, curling up her nose. "I always knew you were a prince among men."

Retelling by j. m. Kearns based on the tale in Andrew Lang's "The Blue Fairy Book".

Copyright 1999 j m Kearns

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