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The Princess and the Golden Shoes

There was once a King in the Western Highlands whose Queen died, leaving with him a baby daughter.

The Queen had been good and kind and beautiful and the King grieved long and sorely for her; and, indeed, all his subjects in the west country shared his sorrow. But as time went on everyone was agreed that it would be much better for the King as well as for the little Princess that he should take to himself a new Queen. And in due time the King saw that for himself, and he married again.

The new Queen was quite kind to the daughter of the first Queen, even when she had a little daughter of her own. But when the two Princesses were growing up and the Queen saw how much more beautiful the elder girl was than her own daughter, her feelings began to change. And jealousy - the monster with the green eye - came and dwelt in her breast, and caused her to be very cruel to her stepdaughter. She used to beat her very often, and she gave her very little to eat - and by and by she sent her out into the far-away field to herd the sheep. The poor young Princess had no one to help her. She could not appeal to the King, because he was away making war on another King in the Western Isles - and in his absence the Queen had complete authority over his kingdom.

The poor girl used to sit in the far-away field among the sheep, weeping quietly, and thinking how much better off they were than herself. But one member of the flock was sad when he saw her grief, for he loved his gentle shepherdess.

This was an old grey-horned sheep, but for whom she would certainly have starved, for he used to bring her food every day. And it greatly puzzled the cruel Queen to see that, although she gave her stepdaughter no food, she was not wasting away. So the Queen asked the henwife of the Palace - and a wicked creature she was! - to try and find out whether someone was bringing food to the Princess; and the henwife sent her daughter into the far-away field to spy on her. This girl, who was very sly and ugly, had - over and above the usual two eyes of other people - an invisible eye in the back of her head.

All day long she stayed out in the far-away field watching the Princess, who was growing hungrier and hungrier! But she dared not ask the grey-horned sheep for food, in case the henwife's daughter should see.

At last the latter began to yawn widely, and the Princess said to her: "Oh, poor girl, how tired you are! Do lie down and put your head on my knee and I will stroke your hair. And you will have a lovely sleep!"

The henwife's daughter, who was not a bit sleepy but only very bored, said she would do as the Princess proposed. And she laid her head on the Princess's knee and let her stroke her ugly hair. And presently her eyes closed and she pretended to be sleeping.

But her invisible eye was watching, and it saw the Princess beckon gently to the grey-horned sheep; and when the sheep came trotting up with food for her the eye saw that also. So the henwife's daughter went home and told it to the henwife, who told it to the Queen, that the grey-horned sheep was giving food to the Princess.

The Queen was very angry, and she sent the henwife for the Palace butcher, and gave him this order: "Go at once and kill the grey-horned sheep that is in the far-away field. Bring his flesh to be used in the Palace, but leave his skin and his bones in the field as a warning to the rest of the flock."

When the Princess saw the butcher coming she was very much distressed for her friend's sake, but the grey-horned sheep said: "You need not weep because I am going to be killed. Only wait until the butcher has gone away, then gather up my bones and roll them in my skin. You will see that I will come alive again and continue to help you."

And the Princess did what he told her, except that she forgot to put the sheep's trotters into his skin, so when he came alive again he was lame! But in spite of that he hobbled to meet her every day with food. And the Princess grew prettier and prettier, and the Queen grew more and more jealous for her own daughter.

One day a handsome young Prince from the southwest of Scotland came to hunt in the Western Highlands, and he saw a beautiful young girl herding sheep in a field. He stopped, enchanted, and he said to the nobles who were with him: "Find out who that beautiful girl is. I have never seen anyone so lovely!"

When the nobles asked the country people about her they were told that the lovely shepherdess was a Princess whose stepmother was very unkind to her; and that while everyone was sorry for her, no one had the right to interfere with her stepmother's treatment of her.

By this time the young Prince had fallen deeply in love with the Princess, and he came again and again to the far-away field where she was herding, in order to look at her and talk to her. He told his nobles that - stepmother or no stepmother - he had made up his mind to marry her!

When it came to the knowledge of the henwife that a rich and handsome Prince was courting the Princess, she ran and told the Queen, who, furious at the idea of her stepdaughter making a good match, dcclared that the affair must be stoppedforthwith. So the Princess was ordered to leave the far-away field, and the Queen sent her own daughter there in place of her. She hoped that the Prince might prefer her to her stepsister - which, of course, was absurd!

She sent her stepdaughter to work as a servant in the Palace kitchen, and she gave her clothes of the servants to wear. The Princess missed the fresh air of the fields very badly, and perhaps she missed the Prince also ! Anyhow, she took every chance of stealing out for a little while into the fresh evening air, and she generally found the Prince waiting on the chance of seeing her.

One day he brought her a present - a pair of beautiful golden shoes, which fitted her dainty feet to perfection. She was so pleased with them - and with their giver -   that she stayed longer than usual with him; and when she realized how time had passed she took fright and started to run back to the Palace as quickly as possible. In her haste she dropped one of her golden shoes, and she was afraid to wait to pick it up. So the Prince picked up the little golden shoe and he ran after her; butwhen he reached the Palace the greatgate was closed. On the following day he took the golden shoe with him and went boldly to the Palace. He was just about to knock on the gate when it opened to let the Queen come out.

"Well?" she said graciously to the handsome young man. "Well, who are you, and what do you want?"

Showing her the little olden shoe in his hand he said to her: "Do you see this shoe? Its fellow is already within your gates, and I will marry the one whose foot it fits."

The Queen did a bit of quick thinking, and then -  taking the shoe from his hand - she said to the Prince: "Come along into the Palace then, and I shall help you to find the one whose foot this shoe will fit."

She led him indoors, and after inviting him to wait in one of the reception rooms she ran to the kitchen. There her stepdaughter was cooking the dinner, and the Queen hustled her into a curious sort of niche at the back of the fire-place and told her that on no account was she to come out until she was given permission to do so.

Then she sent for her own daughter, and when she came the Queen told her to try on the little golden shoe.

"Oh mother!" the girl said, "I could never wear this shoe. It is far too small! No one except my sister has such tiny feet!"

"Stuff and nonsense!" the Queen said angrily. "Are you going to allow a little discomfort to stand in your own light ? You must put on this shoe!"

And she called the henwife to come in, saying to her: "My daughter is to get that shoe on as quickly as possible. If the shoe will not fit the foot, make the foot fit the shoe!"

So the henwife seized the younger Princess's foot, and, regardless of her cries, she cut off the points of her toes and succeeded in thrusting her foot into the golden shoe.

"There you are!" she said. "It is a perfect fit!"

And the Queen went and fetched the Prince, saying to him: "Here is your bride ! See how perfectly the shoe fits her!"

The poor Prince was naturally much taken aback at this turn of affairs ! He had not imagined that there could be another foot in the whole world small enough to wear the little golden shoe! He did not know what to do, for he had definitely told the Queen that he would marry the one whose foot the shoe would fit - and there was no sign anywhere of his shepherdess.

The Queen insisted on sending out invitations to the Prince's wedding with her daughter, which she decided was to take place on the following day. The Prince could not sleep all night for perplexity, and when morning came the wedding guests began to arrive, and there seemed to be no escape for him! Soon a large and brilliant company was assembled; and the priest was just about to begin the marriage service when a bird came and alighted on the window sill, and said: "The blood's in the shoe, and the pretty foot's in the niche at the back of the fire!"

"What is that bird saying?" the young bridegroom asked.

"Never mind the bird - a horrid, beaky, lying creature!" replied the Queen. "Let the wedding go on!"

But, though she tried to chase it away, the bird returned again and yet again to the window sill; and the third time the Prince said: "I must hear what this bird is trying to tell us." And he went to the window, where he heard the bird say plainly, " The blood's in the shoe, and the pretty foot's in the niche at the back of the fire."

Then he turned to the Queen and said: "I am going to find out what he means by the niche at the back of the fire." And he left the room, to the chagrin of the Queen and the amazement of all the guests.

Room after room of the Palace he searched without success, but when he came to the kitchen he found the niche at the back of the fire, and standing in it, with a little golden shoe on one foot, was his beautiful shepherdess!

The Queen stamped and raged at the failure of her scheming, and she was still more angry when her own daughter - who had suffered agony when her toes were cut - kicked off the golden shoe that she wore, and said: "There you are! Take it away! I cannot bear it any longer."

And indeed it was little wonder that she wanted to get rid of the shoe, for it was full of blood!

The Prince's servants took and cleaned all the blood off it, and it slipped sweetly over the elder Princess's foot alongside of its fellow.

Never had such beautiful little feet been seen, and the Prince knelt down and kissed first one little golden shoe and then the other. Then, rising, he took the Princess by the hand and said:

"Thanks to the bird, I have found in the niche at the back of the fire my beautiful Princess with the dainty feet; there is now no blood in the shoes of gold!"

He took her away to his kingdom in the south-west, and there they were married and lived happily ever after. And the Princess always wore golden shoes.


The Lure of the Kelpie: Fairy and Folk Fales of the Highlands. Edinburgh 1937. (AT 510A, Schottland)




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