The Fairy Brides

High in the mountains of Hungary, there is a place where 10 springs rush to the valley below, and the peasants know that these springs are those of 10 fairy brides.

In this quiet place, amidst craggy hilltops and quiet valleys, there seems to be nothing but rushing water and whitecaps, hot springs and springs icy cold. It is here, the people say, that the fairies once danced.

Long ago, a hunting party visited this place. Ten brothers came to this spot. They had come, with all their noise and bravado, their horns, their laughter, their strength, and courage, to find the wild boar that people said hid in these quiet, craggy places, and as they prepared to camp, they laughed and joked.

They had heard tales of fairies, but they never for a moment believed there could be such creatures. They didn’t believe this, that is, until that evening.

As the sun dipped toward the horizon, one of the brothers looked up and saw a beautiful rainbow high above them. He stopped his work to admire it, and that is when he noticed that just there, below the arch of the rainbow, was a group of beautiful women. “Look,” he said to his brothers. “These must be fairies.”

All the others looked up, too. They could tell these women must be fairies, for they were more nimble than any human being. They leaped from one hilltop to another, never missing a step, and as they leaped, they tossed balls back and forth to each other. And these were special balls, made of shimmering diamonds.

“We must meet them,” one of the hunters said, and with that, he took his bow, strung an arrow from the quiver, and aimed it at one of the diamond balls. He hit his mark, and a second later the diamond ball, pierced through its center with an arrow, fell at his feet. The next hunter tried, and the next and the next, until all 10 men held his own diamond ball.

Then they looked up to show the fairies what they had caught, but to their dismay, the women had disappeared.

The young men were downcast, but as they walked slowly from this spot, lamenting their loss, they heard the sound of joyous laughter, and when they looked again, they saw in the spot where they had intended to camp a splendid castle. It had not been there earlier, of this they were sure. A moment later, the fairies, too, stood before them.

The hunters ran to the girls, and the fairies greeted them warmly and led them inside the castle. There they were met by attendants who waited upon them, bringing them robes spun with gold and silver, laced with rubies and pearls, and soft slippers of the finest fur for their feet.

“We will marry you now,” the fairies announced, and the hunters could not have been more joyful, for these were the most beautiful and lovely women in the world.

And so the 10 hunters married the 10 fairies.

After the ceremony, the fairies and the hunters sat down to feast at a table such as nothing the hunters had ever dared imagine. Their plates were never empty, for as soon as the hunters ate, the plates filled up again on their own. Their wine goblets overflowed, and these too never grew empty.

But suddenly a moonbeam shot through the window, and the girls gasped. They knew this meant their mother, Queen of the Stars, was on her way to visit them. And within seconds the queen appeared, sliding regally down the moonbeam.

“What is this foolishness, daughters?” she cried. “Fairies must never marry mortal men. They die, and you will be alone — and you will, by this act, be banished forever from fairyland.”

The girls wept, for they loved their hunters, and they had forgotten that mortal men die. They begged their mother to do her best to save the men. “Do not drop their stars from the sky,” the girls pleaded with their mother.

The Queen of the Stars gazed sorrowfully at her daughters. She could see that they loved these men, but she knew that every man and woman of the Earth had his or her own star, and when that star fell from the sky, that person would die. She was powerless to stop such things.

“The Queen of the Stars can do no such thing, I fear,” she answered her girls, “but I will leave you for a while to be with your husbands.” With sadness, she returned to the sky.

That night as the hunters slept, they all dreamed of the War Eagle. And when they woke, they told their wives they must go, for no one was permitted to ignore the call of the War Eagle. He had come to them in their dreams to summon them to war.

With heavy hearts, the men kissed their brides farewell. They promised they would return soon.

The fairies watched for seven days and seven nights, but on the seventh night, they looked up and saw 10 stars falling from the sky. “Our husbands have died,” cried the youngest fairy.

Now the fairies wept so long and hard, even the stars began to weep for them.

The Queen of the Stars could not bear her daughters’ grief, and so again she flew to Earth on a moonbeam. She came to her daughters in the forest where they lay asleep, worn out from grief, and she bent over them and kissed them, touching them with her magic wand. At her touch, the seven daughters who wept more for their exile from fairyland turned into springs, ice-cold springs. The other three, the youngest daughters, cared nothing for their exile. Their tears were for their husbands only. These three turned into hot springs, bubbling and boiling with passion.

So it is there, in that place in the forest where the fairies married the hunters that 10 springs rush from the hilltop to the valley. The peasants know the story, and so they call them the Streams of the 10 Sisters.