Once upon a time there was a widow who had one only child. She had a flock of sheep and a magic dog. The widow died, and the girl was left quite alone. So she took the flock of sheep and went to feed them in the mountain, accompanied only by her faithful little dog. After some time, there came also to the same pastures a young shepherd leading his flock. Before leaving, the girl had put on manâ€™s clothes, and so when the other shepherd, who was the son of a she-demon, came, they got very friendly, and the girl often went with her flock to spend the night in the house of the demon.
She did not know who the other shepherd was, nor who was his mother. After a time, the young man began to feel suspicious about his comrade, and he said to his mother, â€œMethinks my friend is a girl, despite his manâ€™s clothes; his gait and his speech are just like that of a maiden.â€ The mother would not listen; but after a time, when the son went on saying that he believed his mate to be a maiden, she said to him, â€œVery well, then, we will put him to the test, and we can easily find out what he is. I will take a special flower and put it under his pillow, and if it is faded in the morning he is for sure a maiden.â€ The dog, who knew what the old woman was up to, called the girl aside and told her: â€œListen to me, my mistress. Follow my advice, it will go well with thee. The old dragon is going to put a flower under thy pillow as soon as thou hast gone to bed; now keep awake, take it out from under the pillow and put it on the pillow. Early in the morning, before any one else is awake, put it back under the pillow, and nothing will happen to thee.â€
The girl did as the dog had told her. She took the flower from under her pillow, and kept it on her pillow all through the night, and put it back again early in the morning. The old woman afterwards took the flower out; she found it was even fresher than it had been the night before. So she told her son that he must be mistaken. His companion could not be a maiden. He persisted in his belief despite of it, and so the woman said to him, â€œGo and ask your companion to bathe, and if he is eager to do so, be sure it is not a girl; but if he makes any difficulties, you will know that you are right.â€
The dog, who knew of the plotting of the old woman, told the girl to put on a pleasant face, and not to hesitate to go to the river with her companion, â€œfor,â€ he said, â€œno sooner will you be near the water than I will get among the flock, and so you will have to jump up and run after the sheep, and there will be no more question of bathing.â€ As the dog said, so he did, and again the young man did not know what to make of his companion. The mother then told him to go with his companion to the forest, and to find a big tree, and to ask his companion what it would be good for. If he replied for distaff and spindle, then it is a girl; but if he answered it was good to make carts out of, then it was a boy.â€ So he took her into the forest, and, finding a big tree, he asked her what could be best made out of the wood. The girl replied â€œcarts.â€ When the girl saw that the boy troubled her too much, she went to the sea-shore, and, smiting the waves with her shepherdâ€™s staff, she rent the waters in twain, and passed dryshod with her flock and dog to the other shore of the sea. The other shepherd, the demon, came to the sea-shore just when she had already passed over to the other side. She removed her fur cap, and her long golden hair fell down to her knees. Then she moved her wand, and the waters again closed up. When he saw that she had escaped him, he was very angry, and he went to his mother and told her all that had happened. She said to him, â€œDo not mind; I will help you to get her into your hands.â€ So the old woman went to the sea and built there a huge ship. This she filled with all kinds of merchandise, and told the young man to sail in it across the sea, and try and find his beloved; and she told him how to get hold of her when he had found her.
So sailing along in the boat he got across, and anchored near a great town. The people came out to look at the wares which he had brought. The last to come, led by curiosity, was the girl. As soon as he saw that she had entered the boat, he set sail, and off he went. When the girl saw what had happened, she recognised him, and, finding herself in his power, she offered no resistance. But when they were in the middle of the sea, she took off the ring which she had on her finger, and, casting it into the sea, she said to him, â€œFrom this day onward I shall remain dumb. I shall not speak to thee until this ring is brought back to meâ€; and she kept her word faithfully. For many a year she lived with him, but never spoke a word. One day her mother-in-law thought that it would be better to get rid of her. As she herself dared not kill her, she sent the girl with a message to her elder sister to bring her the sword and the threads, knowing full well that her sister would kill her. When her husband heard the errand on which she was sent, he came out quietly, and, meeting her outside the house, he whispered:
â€œWhen you go to my motherâ€™s sister, she is sure to offer you some food; take the first bite, and keep it under your tongue. Then you may eat; otherwise you will be lost.â€ The girl never replied, but listened attentively to what he had said. So she came to the old crone, who was ever so much worse than her own mother-in-law, and she certainly was bad enough. As soon as she entered the house, the young woman greeted her. Great was the surprise of the old woman, who said, â€œNow who is to believe my sister; she made that girl out to be dumb, and now she speaks so sweetly. Come in, my child.â€
Then she went out, killed a cock, grilled it, and gave it to her to eat.
The young woman, remembering her husbandâ€™s advice, took the first bite and put it under her tongue; then she sat down and made a hearty meal of the cock. When she had finished, the old woman said, â€œI do not have the sword or the threads; they are with my younger sister. She lives not very far from here; you just go to her.â€
Taking leave, she went a little way further, and she came to the second sister, who was worse than the other. She saluted her when she came in, and this sister also said:
â€œHow is one to believe your mother-in-law? She made you out to be dumb, and now you speak so sweetly and so nicely. What have you come for?â€
She said, â€œI have come for the sword and the threads.â€
â€œSit down and eat, my child,â€ she said, and, going out, she took a young lamb and killed it and prepared it for her. Remembering the advice given to her, she put the first bite under her tongue, and then she went on eating until she had satisfied her hunger.
When she had finished eating, the old woman said, â€œI do not have that sword; it is with my younger sister. You must go further; she lives quite close by, and she will give it to you.â€
So she went to the third sister, and greeting this third one, who was the worst of all and the ugliest of all, said to her, â€œSit down and eat.â€ Then she took out the hand of a dead man and gave it to her to eat. But this the wife could not do.
Meanwhile the old woman had gone up into the loft of the house, saying she was going to fetch the spade, but in reality to watch the young woman to see what she was doing.
When she was left alone, she took the hand and threw it under the hearth. Then came a voice from the loft crying. â€œHand, hand, where art thou?â€ and from under the hearth the hand replied, â€œHere I am under the hearth.â€ So she turned on the young woman and said, â€œYou eat this or something worse will happen to you; I am going to eat you.â€ She was very frightened; so she took it and put it in her bosom under her girdle. And again the old woman cried, â€œHand, hand, where art thou?â€ and the hand replied, â€œI am under her heart.â€ The old witch thought that she had eaten it, and coming down, she brought the sword and gave it to her together with the threads. Before she left, the old witch asked her to give her back the hand; so she put her hand in her bosom, and drew out the dead hand and gave it back to her. And so she had to let her go in peace, as she had retained nothing.
Then, coming to the other sister, this one said to her, â€œGive me back my lamb.â€ The young woman heaved, and out came the little lamb quite alive and started frolicking through the house. It was because she had kept the first bite under her tongue. She therefore had to let her go unharmed. Then she came to the eldest one. And she said to her, â€œGive me back my cock,â€ and then the young woman spat, and out came the cock, running and crowing through the house. And so she came back to her own house with the sword and the threads.
Shortly before she had come, some fishermen had caught a large number of fish, among them a huge fish which her husband had bought. When he opened that fish, he found the ring which his wife had cast into the sea. So, full of joy, he ran out to meet her and to give her the ring. He embraced her with one hand, and with the other, which was full of the blood of the fish, he stroked her chin gently, saying to her, â€œO my dear little girl, here is thy ring.â€ No sooner had he spoken these words, when the woman was changed into a bird with a red breast, the mark of the blood stains on her chin; then, breaking a pane of the window (lit. an eye of the window), she flew away. Her husband tried to catch hold of her, but he only got hold of the middle feathers of the tail, which remained in his hand. The bird flew away. The young woman had become a swallow. For that reason the tail looks like two prongs of a fork, for the middle part was plucked out by the husband in his attempt to catch her.
In this legend we have a combination of many tales. The central incident of the magical ring recovered from the depth of the sea inside the fish, upon which the whole future depended, is somewhat obscure in this tale. It is part of the Polykrates tale, but still more so of the Solomonic legend, where the recovery of the ring means the recovery of power by King Solomon. It is a curious romance, in which Solomon is married as a poor man, i.e. in disguise, to a princess, for his ring by which he was able to rule all the spirits and demons had been cast into the sea by a demon and swallowed by a fish. From that fish Solomon recovered it later on, and with it his kingdom and power. The incident of the sword and the threads is an obscure episode. No doubt it is a magical sword, by which the power of the ogre is to be broken, and the threads are magical threads, by which he is to be tied and made powerless.