The Prince – The Wonderful Birch Part 2

Included in Andrew Lang’s The Red Fairy Book which was published in 1890 is a variant of the Cinderella story. The Wonderful Birch tells the tale of a girl that is abused by her witch stepmother after her real mother was turned into a sheep and slaughtered. The mother reincarnates into a birch tree and helps her daughter with her troubles.

In part one was supposed to have been denied to attend the feast at the king’s palace, but with the help of her mother, now a birch, she attends. Of course the prince falls for her.

In Part 2 of this Finnish/Russian fairy tale, the Prince has to track down his “princess to be” using the three items she left behind, but the witch stepmother has other plans.

The Wonderful Birch - PrinceNow the Prince had kept all the things the girl had lost, and he soon set about finding the owner of them. For this purpose a great banquet was given on the fourth day, and all the people were invited to the palace. The witch got ready to go too. She tied a wooden beetle on where her child’s foot should have been, a log of wood instead of an arm, and stuck a bit of dirt in the empty socket for an eye, and took the child with her to the castle. When all the people were gathered together, the King’s son stepped in among the crowd and cried:

‘The maiden whose finger this ring slips over, whose head this golden hoop encircles, and whose foot this shoe fits, shall be my bride.’

What a great trying on there was now among them all! The things would fit no one, however.

‘The cinder wench is not here,’ said the Prince at last; ‘go and fetch her, and let her try on the things.’

So the girl was fetched, and the Prince was just going to hand the ornaments to her, when the witch held him back, saying:

‘Don’t give them to her; she soils everything with cinders; give them to my daughter rather.’

Well, then the Prince gave the witch’s daughter the ring, and the woman filed and pared away at her daughter’s finger till the ring fitted. It was the same with the circlet and the shoes of gold. The witch would not allow them to be handed to the cinder wench; she worked at her own daughter’s head and feet till she got the things forced on. What was to be done now? The Prince had to take the witch’s daughter for his bride whether he would or no; he sneaked away to her father’s house with her, however, for he was ashamed to hold the wedding festivities at the palace with so strange a bride. Some days passed, and at last he had to take his bride home to the palace, and he got ready to do so. Just as they were taking leave, the kitchen wench sprang down from her place by the stove, on the pretext of fetching something from the cowhouse, and in going by she whispered in the Prince’s ear as he stood in the yard:

‘Alas! dear Prince, do not rob me of my silver and my gold.’

Thereupon the King’s son recognised the cinder wench; so he took both the girls with him, and set out. After they had gone some little way they came to the bank of a river, and the Prince threw the witch’s daughter across to serve as a bridge, and so got over with the cinder wench. There lay the witch’s daughter then, like a bridge over the river, and could not stir, though her heart was consumed with grief. No help was near, so she cried at last in her anguish:

The Wonderful Birch - Prince‘May there grow a golden hemlock out of my body! perhaps my mother will know me by that token.’

Scarcely had she spoken when a golden hemlock sprang up from her, and stood upon the bridge.

Now, as soon as the Prince had got rid of the witch’s daughter he greeted the cinder wench as his bride, and they wandered together to the birch tree which grew upon the mother’s grave. There they received all sorts of treasures and riches, three sacks full of gold, and as much silver, and a splendid steed, which bore them home to the palace. There they lived a long time together, and the young wife bore a son to the Prince. Immediately word was brought to the witch that her daughter had borne a son—for they all believed the young King’s wife to be the witch’s daughter.

‘So, so,’ said the witch to herself; ‘I had better away with my gift for the infant, then.’

And so saying she set out. Thus it happened that she came to the bank of the river, and there she saw the beautiful golden hemlock growing in the middle of the bridge, and when she began to cut it down to take to her grandchild, she heard a voice moaning:

‘Alas! dear mother, do not cut me so!’

‘Are you here?’ demanded the witch.

‘Indeed I am, dear little mother,’ answered the daughter ‘They threw me across the river to make a bridge of me.’

In a moment the witch had the bridge shivered to atoms, and then she hastened away to the palace. Stepping up to the young Queen’s bed, she began to try her magic arts upon her, saying:

‘Spit, you wretch, on the blade of my knife; bewitch my knife’s blade for me, and I shall change you into a reindeer of the forest.’

‘Are you there again to bring trouble upon me?’ said the young woman.

She neither spat nor did anything else, but still the witch changed her into a reindeer, and smuggled her own daughter into her place as the Prince’s wife. But now the child grew restless and cried, because it missed its mother’s care. They took it to the court, and tried to pacify it in every conceivable way, but its crying never ceased.

‘What makes the child so restless?’ asked the Prince, and he went to a wise widow woman to ask her advice.

‘Ay, ay, your own wife is not at home,’ said the widow woman; ‘she is living like a reindeer in the wood; you have the witch’s daughter for a wife now, and the witch herself for a mother-in-law.’

‘Is there any way of getting my own wife back from the wood again?’ asked the Prince.

‘Give me the child,’ answered the widow woman. ‘I’ll take it with me to-morrow when I go to drive the cows to the wood. I’ll make a rustling among the birch leaves and a trembling among the aspens—perhaps the boy will grow quiet when he hears it.’

‘Yes, take the child away, take it to the wood with you to quiet it,’ said the Prince, and led the widow woman into the castle.

‘How now? you are going to send the child away to the wood?’ said the witch in a suspicious tone, and tried to interfere.

But the King’s son stood firm by what he had commanded, and said:

‘Carry the child about the wood; perhaps that will pacify it.’

So the widow woman took the child to the wood. She came to the edge of a marsh, and seeing a herd of reindeer there, she began all at once to sing—

‘Little Bright-eyes, little Redskin,
Come nurse the child you bore!
That bloodthirsty monster,
That man-eater grim,
Shall nurse him, shall tend him no more.
They may threaten and force as they will,He turns from her, shrinks from her still,’

and immediately the reindeer drew near, and nursed and tended the child the whole day long; but at nightfall it had to follow the herd, and said to the widow woman:

‘Bring me the child to-morrow, and again the following day; after that I must wander with the herd far away to other lands.’

The following morning the widow woman went back to the castle to fetch the child. The witch interfered, of course, but the Prince said:

‘Take it, and carry it about in the open air; the boy is quieter at night, to be sure, when he has been in the wood all day.’

So the widow took the child in her arms, and carried it to the marsh in the forest. There she sang as on the preceding day—

‘Little Bright-eyes, little Redskin,
Come nurse the child you bore!
That bloodthirsty monster,
That man-eater grim,
Shall nurse him, shall tend him no more.
They may threaten and force as they will,
He turns from her, shrinks from her still,’

and immediately the reindeer left the herd and came to the child, and tended it as on the day before. And so it was that the child throve, till not a finer boy was to be seen anywhere. But the King’s son had been pondering over all these things, and he said to the widow woman:

‘Is there no way of changing the reindeer into a human being again?’

‘I don’t rightly know,’ was her answer. ‘Come to the wood with me, however; when the woman puts off her reindeer skin I shall comb her head for her; whilst I am doing so you must burn the skin.’

Thereupon they both went to the wood with the child; scarcely were they there when the reindeer appeared and nursed the child as before. Then the widow woman said to the reindeer:

‘Since you are going far away to-morrow, and I shall not see you again, let me comb your head for the last time, as a remembrance of you.’

Good; the young woman stript off the reindeer skin, and let the widow woman do as she wished. In the meantime the King’s son threw the reindeer skin into the fire unobserved.

‘What smells of singeing here?’ asked the young woman, and looking round she saw her own husband. ‘Woe is me! you have burnt my skin. Why did you do that?’

‘To give you back your human form again.’

‘Alack-a-day! I have nothing to cover me now, poor creature that I am!’ cried the young woman, and transformed herself first into a distaff, then into a wooden beetle, then into a spindle, and into all imaginable shapes. But all these shapes the King’s son went on destroying till she stood before him in human form again.

Alas! wherefore take me home with you again,’ cried the young woman, ‘since the witch is sure to eat me up?’

‘She will not eat you up,’ answered her husband; and they started for home with the child.

But when the witch wife saw them she ran away with her daughter, and if she has not stopped she is running still, though at a great age. And the Prince, and his wife, and the baby lived happy ever afterwards.


It’s hard to explain puns to kleptomaniacs because they always take things literally.”