WILL TELL you a story about the wren. There was once a farmer who was seeking a servant, and the wren met him and said: "What are you seeking?"
"I am seeking a servant," said the farmer to the wren.
"Will you take me?" said the wren.
"You, you poor creature, what good would you do?"
"Try me," said the wren.
So he engaged him, and the first work he set him to do was threshing in the barn. The wren threshed (what did he thresh with? Why a flail to be sure), and he knocked off one grain. A mouse came out and she eats that.
"I'll trouble you not to do that again," said the wren.
He struck again, and he struck off two grains. Out came the mouse and she eats them. So they arranged a contest to see who was strongest, and the wren brings his twelve birds, and the mouse her tribe.
"You have your tribe with you," said the wren.
"As well as yourself," said the mouse, and she struck out her leg proudly. But the wren broke it with his flail, and there was a pitched battle on a set day.
When every creature and bird was gathering to battle, the son of the king of Tethertown said that he would go to see the battle, and that he would bring sure word home to his father the king, who would be king of the creatures this year. The battle was over before he arrived all but one fight, between a great black raven and a snake. The snake was twined about the raven's neck, and the raven held the snake's throat in his beak, and it seemed as if the snake would get the victory over the raven. When the king's son saw this he helped the raven, and with one blow takes the head off the snake. When the raven had taken breath, and saw that the snake was dead, he said, "For thy kindness to me this day, I will give thee a sight. Come up now on the root of my two wings." The king's son put his hands about the raven before his wings, and, before he stopped, he took him over nine Bens, and nine Glens, and nine Mountain Moors.
"Now," said the raven, "see you that house yonder? Go now to it. It is a sister of mine that makes her dwelling in it; and I will go bail that you are welcome. And if she asks you, Were you at the battle of the birds? say you were. And if she asks, 'Did you see any one like me,' say you did, but be sure that you meet me to-morrow morning here, in this place." The king's son got good and right good treatment that night. Meat of each meat, drink of each drink, warm water to his feet, and a soft bed for his limbs.
On the next day the raven gave him the same sight over six Bens, and six Glens, and six Mountain Moors. They saw a bothy far off, but, though far off, they were soon there. He got good treatment this night, as before--plenty of meat and drink, and warm water to his feet, and a soft bed to his limbs--and on the next day it was the same thing, over three Bens and three Glens, and three Mountain Moors.
On the third morning, instead of seeing the raven as at the other times, who should meet him but the handsomest lad he ever saw, with gold rings in his hair, with a bundle in his hand. The king's son asked this lad if he had seen a big black raven.
Said the lad to him, "You will never see the raven again, for I am that raven. I was put under spells by a bad druid; it was meeting you that loosed me, and for that you shall get this bundle. Now," said the lad, "you must turn back on the self-same steps, and lie a night in each house as before; but you must not loose the bundle which I gave ye, till in the place where you would most wish to dwell."
The king's son turned his back to the lad, and his face to his father's house; and he got lodging from the raven's sisters, just as he got it when going forward. When he was nearing his father's house he was going through a close wood. It seemed to him that the bundle was growing heavy, and he thought he would look what was in it.
When he loosed the bundle he was astonished. In a twinkling he sees the very grandest place he ever saw. A great castle, and an orchard about the castle, in which was every kind of fruit and herb. He stood full of wonder and regret for having loosed the bundle--for it was not in his power to put it back again--and he would have wished this pretty place to be in the pretty little green hollow that was opposite his father's house; but he looked up and saw a great giant coming towards him.
"Bad's the place where you have built the house, king's son," says the giant.
"Yes, but it is not here I would wish it to be, though it happens to be here by mishap," says the king's son.
"What's the reward for putting it back in the bundle as it was before?"
"What's the reward you would ask?" says the king's son.
"That you will give me the first son you have when he is seven years of age," says the giant.
"If I have a son you shall have him," said the king's son.
In a twinkling the giant put each garden, and orchard, and castle in the bundle as they were before.
"Now," says the giant, "take your own road, and I will take mine; but mind your promise, and if you forget I will remember."
The king's son took to the road, and at the end of a few days he reached the place he was fondest of. He loosed the bundle, and the castle was just as it was before. And when he opened the castle door he sees the handsomest maiden he ever cast eye upon.
"Advance, king's son," said the pretty maid; "everything is in order for you, if you will marry me this very day."
"It's I that am willing," said the king's son. And on the same day they married.
But at the end of a day and seven years, who should be seen coming to the castle but the giant. The king's son was reminded of his promise to the giant, and till now he had not told his promise to the queen.
"Leave the matter between me and the giant," says the queen.
"Turn out your son," says the giant; "mind your promise."
"You shall have him," says the king, "when his mother puts him in order for his journey."
The queen dressed up the cook's son, and she gave him to the giant by the hand. The giant went away with him; but he had not gone far when he put a rod in the hand of the little laddie. The giant asked him--
"If thy father had that rod what would he do with it?"
"If my father had that rod he would beat the dogs and the cats, so that they shouldn't be going near the king's meat," said the little laddie.
"Thou'rt the cook's son," said the giant. He catches him by the two small ankles and knocks him against the stone that was beside him. The giant turned back to the castle in rage and madness, and he said that if they did not send out the king's son to him, the highest stone of the castle would be the lowest.