Every Ninth Step
was once upon a time a fur-merchant named Skinner who was about to set
out on a long trading journey, and on parting he asked his three
daughters what gifts he should bring back.
eldest daughter, Gullbandja, wished for golden arm-bands; the second
daughter, Almeta, wished for a pearl, but the third, sweet little
"Dear father, I should like a singing, soaring lark."
Her father said, "Yes, my dear Simija, if I can get it, you shall have it."
He kissed all three of his daughters, and set out, accompanied by his faithful family retainer, the persuasive Snúa.
enough the time turned for Mr Skinner to be on his way home again. He
bought golden arm-bands and pearls for Almeta and Gullbandja, the two
eldest daughters, but he had sought everywhere in vain for a singing,
soaring lark for Simija, the youngest. Mr Skinner was very unhappy
about it, for Simija was his favourite child.
time came for him to set out. His road lay through a forest, the dark
Járnwood, and in the midst of it was a splendid castle. Near the castle
stood a tree, and there, on the top of the tree, he saw a singing,
you come just at the right moment," he said, delighted, and called to
his retainer, Snúa, to climb up and catch the little creature.
As Snúa approached the tree, a bear stood up from beneath it, shook himself, and roared till the leaves on the trees trembled.
"He who tries to steal my singing, soaring lark," he cried, in a growly bearish voice, "I will devour."
Skinner said, "I did not know that the bird belonged to you. I will
make amends for the wrong I have done and ransom myself with a large
sum of money, only spare my life."
bear said, "Nothing can save you, unless you will promise to give me
for my own what first meets you on your return home. If you will do
that, I will grant you your life. You shall have the bird for your
daughter, into the bargain."
Skinner hesitated and said, "That might be my youngest daughter,
Simija, she loves me best, and always runs to meet me on my return
however, was terrified and said, "Why should your daughter be the very
first one to meet you? It might as easily be a cat, or a dog."
Skinner allowed himself to be persuaded by Snúa. He took the singing,
soaring lark, and promised to give the bear whatever should first meet
him on his return home.
he reached home and entered his house, the first who met him was none
other than his youngest and dearest daughter, Simija, who came running
up. She kissed and embraced him.
When Simija saw that he had brought with him a singing, soaring lark, she was beside herself with joy.
father, however, could not rejoice. Instead he began to weep, and said,
"My dearest child, I have bought the little bird - but at what a cost!
In return, I have promised you to a savage bear, and when he has you he
will tear you in pieces and devour you!"
And he told her all, just as it had happened, and begged her not to go there, come what may.
consoled him and said, "Dearest father, indeed your promise must be
fulfilled. I will go there and talk the bear round, so that I may
return to you safely."
Next morning Simija took her leave, and went fearlessly out into the forest.
bear, however, was an enchanted prince, by the name of Prince Vaskr. By
day he suffered under the shape and nature of a bear, and all his
people were bears with him, but by night they resumed their natural
her arrival Simija was kindly received and led into the castle. When
night came, the bear turned into handsome Prince Vaskr, and their
wedding was celebrated with great magnificence. They lived happily
together, remaining awake at night, and sleeping in the daytime. Within
a year Simija produced a son and heir, and their happiness was complete.
day Prince Vaskr came and said, "Tomorrow there is a feast in your
father's house, Simija, because your eldest sister, Gullbandja, is to
be married, and if you are inclined to go there, my bears shall conduct
Simija said, "Yes, I should very much like to see my father again."
So off she went, accompanied by the bears.
was great joy when she arrived, for they had all believed that she had
been torn to pieces by the bear. She told them what a handsome and
gallant husband the Bear-Prince made, and how well off she was. She
remained with them while the wedding-feast lasted, and then went back
again to the forest.
the second daughter, Almeta, was about to be married, and invitations
went out for the wedding, Simija said to Prince Vaskr, "This time I
will not go alone, you must come with me."
Vaskr, however, said that it was too dangerous for him. "If a ray from
a burning candle should happen to fall on me, I will be changed into a
dove, and for seven long years I will have to fly about with the doves."
Simija said, "Ah, but do come with me. I will take great care of you, and guard you from all light."
Vaskr looked into her eyes and saw there the earnestness of her love
for him. "For you," he said gallantly, "I cannot refuse anything."
So they went away together, and took with them their little child as well.
had a room built. This chamber was made of walls so strong and thick
that no ray could pierce through; in this Prince Vaskr was to shut
himself up when the candles were lit for the wedding-feast. The door -
alas! - was made of warped, green wood, which left a little crack,
which no one noticed.
wedding was celebrated with magnificence, but when the procession with
all its candles and torches came back from the sacred grove, and passed
by this apartment, a ray touched the Prince Vaskr. He was transformed
in an instant, and when Simija came in and looked for him, she could
not see him. Instead a white dove sat there.
dove said to her, "For seven years I am cursed to fly about the world.
At every ninth step that you, my dearest Simija, take - a drop of red
blood and a white feather will descend from my breast. By means of this
trace you will know of my whereabouts. If you follow the trace and
manage to keep up, then at the end of those seven years you may release
this the dove flew out of the doorway, and Simija followed him. His
words proved to be true. At every ninth step she took, a red drop of
blood, and a little white feather, fell down and showed her the way.
on she went, further and further in the wide world, never looking about
her or resting, and as time turned, so the seven years were almost
past. At this time she rejoiced and thought that they would soon be
saved. Once when they were thus moving onwards, no little feather and
no drop of red blood fell, and when she raised her eyes the dove had
counselled herself, "No man can help me in this. So, who could possibly
know of the whereabouts of my husband? Who is it that can see into
every crevice and over every peak?"
looked about for a source of wisdom, shading her eyes. Then it came to
her. She climbed up to the Sun, and said to him, "You shine into every
crevice, and over every peak, have you seen a white dove with a wounded
said the Sun, "I have seen no white dove with a wounded breast.
However, since it is such a feat to reach me and petition me in this
manner, allow me to present you with a casket. Open it when you are in
she thanked the Sun, and went back on with her journey. All day she
racked her brains, trying to think of whom else to ask. As evening drew
on the Moon appeared. Simija then addressed her:
"You shine the whole night through, and on every field and forest - have you seen a white dove with a wounded breast?"
said the Moon. "I have seen no white dove with a wounded breast. Since
you have taken the trouble to seek me out - no mean feat in itself! -
permit me to give you an egg. Break it when you are in great need."
She thanked the Moon, and went on until the Night Wind came up and blew on her. Then she said to the Night Wind:
"You blow over every tree and under every leaf. Have you seen a white dove with a wounded breast?"
said the Night Wind, "I have seen no white dove with a wounded breast.
I will ask the three other winds, perhaps they have seen it."
The East Wind and the West Wind came, and had seen nothing, but the South Wind said:
have seen the white dove with a wounded breast. It has flown to the ice
sea, where it transformed into a bear, for the seven years are over.
The bear is there, fighting with a dragon. The dragon, however, is an
The Night Wind then related this news to Simija and added:
"Permit me to give you some advice."
"You've been very helpful," admitted Simija. "I will listen to your advice."
have many difficulties still to overcome. But do not be cast down. If
you heed my wisdom, then you will win through to your husband and child
"I will heed your wisdom," replied Simija.
"Go to the ice-sea," continued the Night Wind. "On the cliff shore there are some long icicles. This is what you must do."
The Night Wind then told her about the icicle, the dragon, and the grebe.
"Are you sure you can remember those instructions?"
Simija thought hard and then nodded, smiling a grim determined smile. "I think so."
that case," added the Night Wind, "there is nothing left for me to do
other than to gift you with this nut. This is the gift you receive when
you seek me out for my wisdom. There will come a time when you will
know when to use it."
thanked the Night Wind and went on with her journey to the ice sea.
There she found a great cliff of ice towering out of the sea. At the
base of this cliff, on a shore of bloodied sand, the bear and the
dragon were fighting.
is just what the Night Wind said," murmured Simija. She looked around
and saw a row of icicles. She counted the icicles under the cliff, and
cut off the ninth.
the icicle as a javelin, Simija cast it into the midst of the melee.
The icicle struck the dragon, splitting open its hide of brassy scales.
Wounded, the dragon was easy prey. The bear reared up on its hind-legs
and struck a might blow with its forepaw.
from the dragon gushed out and lo! - it was a magical fountain. The
blood washed away the enchantment from both of them and immediately
they both regained their human shapes.
now looked about for the next instruction from the Night Wind. In order
for them to escape from this desolation of ice, she had to find a
grebe, with black, red, grey and white plumage.
princess, who had been the dragon, now that she was released from her
enchantment, took Prince Vaskr by the arm, seated herself on the grebe,
and carried him off with her.
stood poor Simija who had wandered so far and was again forsaken. She
sat down and cried, but at last she took courage. Rising, she said:
"Still I will go as far as the wind blows
And as long as the cock crows,
until I find him!"
went forth by long, long roads, until at last she came to a castle with
tall white walls. The local people informed her that Prince Vaskr was
living here with Princess Ellar. There she heard that soon a feast was
to be held, in which they would celebrate their wedding, but Simija
"May the gods still help me!"
opened the casket that the sun had given her. A dress lay therein as
brilliant as the sun itself. So she took it out and put it on, and went
up into the castle, and everyone, even Princess Ellar herself, looked
at her in astonishment.
dress pleased Princess Ellar so much that she thought it might do for
her wedding-dress, and asked Simija if it might be for sale.
"Not for money or land," Simija answered in a firm voice, with a tilt of her chin and level gaze, "but for flesh and blood."
Princess Ellar asked: "What do you mean by that?"
Simija said, "Let me sleep a night in the chamber where your bridegroom-to-be sleeps."
Princess Ellar immediately exploded. "What you ask is impossible!"
After a moment's consideration, however, she added:
"On the other hand, that is a most beautiful gown. Perhaps," she tapped her finger on her chin, "perhaps you may be able to sleep in the room after all."
Ellar wanted that dress, and so at last she consented to Simija's
demand. In order to safeguard her own marital interests, Princess Ellar
instructed a servant-boy by the name of Drekka to give Prince Vaskr a
night drew round, Drekka obeyed his mistress and gave to Vaskr a
sleeping-draught. When Simija was led into the chamber, Vaskr was
already deeply asleep.
seated herself on the bed and said, "I have followed after you for
seven years. I have been to the sun and the moon, and the four winds,
and have enquired for you, and have helped you against the dragon. Will
you, now, forget me?"
The prince slept so soundly that it only seemed to him as if the wind whistled through the fir-trees.
day broke, Simija was led out again, and had to give up the golden
dress. With that attempt being of no avail, she grew sad. She went out
into a meadow, and sat down and wept.
she was sitting there, she thought of the egg that the moon had given
her. She opened it, and there came out a clucking hen with twelve
chicks all of gold. They ran about chirping, and crept again under the
old hen's wings - nothing more beautiful was ever seen in the world.
Then Simija arose, and drove them through the meadow before her, until Princess Ellar happened to look out of a window.
The little chickens pleased Princess Ellar so much that she immediately came down and asked: "Are they for sale?"
"Not for money or land, but for flesh and blood. Let me sleep another night in the chamber where your bridegroom-to-be sleeps."
Princess Ellar smiled and said "Yes" intending to cheat Simija as on the first evening.
Prince Vaskr went to bed he spoke to Drekka, the servant-boy. "Last
night my dreams were restless and my sleep was filled with the noise of
wind through the fir-trees.
opened his mouth to tell a lie, then looked at the prince. He recalled
the words he had heard Simija speak. His heart was moved, and although
he knew his mistress would be angry with him, she had not expressly
forbidden him to tell the truth to Prince Vaskr.
told all - that he had been forced to give the prince a
sleeping-draught, because a poor girl had slept secretly in the
chamber, and that he was to give him another that night.
Prince Vaskr nodded, his face growing thoughtful. "Pour out the draught by the bedside."
As Drekka turned to go, the prince added: "And say nothing of this turn of events to your mistress."
night, Simija was again led in, and when she began to relate how ill
all had fared with her, Prince Vaskr immediately recognized his beloved
wife by her voice. He sprang up, crying:
I really am released! I have been as it were in a dream, for Princess
Ellar has bewitched me and compelled me to forget you! But the gods
have delivered me from the spell at the right time!"
They wept and embraced each other. When they had ceased their fond caresses, they realised that they were in a tricky situation.
have to get far away from here!" said Prince Vaskr. "And quickly, too!
My future father-in-law is a potent wizard and will take it ill if I am
to jilt his daughter!"
"The quickest way would be to fly away on the grebe" said Simija. "I have seen it in the royal lake close by the hunting lodge."
"That's what we'll do," said Prince Vaskr.
slipped out of the castle secretly in the middle of that night. They
made their way to the royal lake and found the grebe there with the
multi-coloured plumage. They seated themselves on the huge bird and it
spread its vast wings and bore them up into the air.
Soon they came to the ice sea.
great bird flew on and on, but eventually it became tired. Prince Vaskr
said, in a worried voice, "We had this trouble the last time. The sea
is too broad for the grebe to make it in one flight."
Ellar had magic which caused a tree to grow from the sea, and the grebe
landed there and rested until it was ready to fly on."
remembered the nut that the Night Wind had given to her. "I don't know
if this will be any good, but trees grow from nuts, so let's hope that
this nut will be no different."
She brought out the nut, kissed it and let it fall.
a tall nut-tree grew up, whereon the grebe rested, and preened its
colourful plumage. When it had rested, it flew on once more until it
had carried them home to their castle in Járnwood. There they found
their son, who had grown tall and handsome, and they all lived happily