The King of the East had a beautiful garden, and in the garden stood a tree that bore golden apples. Lest any of these apples should be stolen, they were always counted; but about the time when they began to grow ripe, it was found that every night one of them was gone. The king became very angry at this and told the gardener to keep a watch under the tree all night.
The gardener set his eldest son to watch, but about twelve o’clock he fell asleep, and in the morning another of the apples was missing.
Then the second son was set to watch, and at midnight he too fell asleep, and in the morning another apple was gone.
Then the third son offered to keep watch: but the gardener at first would not let him, for fear some harm should come to him. However, at last, he yielded, and the young man laid himself under the tree to watch. As the clock struck twelve he heard a rustling noise in the air, and a bird came flying and sat upon the tree. This bird’s feathers were all of pure gold; and as it was snapping at one of the apples with its beak, the gardener’s son jumped up and shot an arrow at it. The arrow, however, did the bird no harm; it only dropped a golden feather from its tail and flew away. The golden feather was then brought to the king in the morning, and all his court were called together. Everyone agreed that it was the most beautiful thing that had ever been seen and that it was worth more than all the wealth of the kingdom: but the king said, “One feather is of no use to me, I must and will have the whole bird.”
Then the gardener’s eldest son set out to find this golden bird, and thought to find it very easily; and when he had gone but a little way, he came to a wood, and by the side of the wood, he saw a fox sitting. The lad was fond of a little sporting, so he took his bow and made ready to shoot at it. Then Mr. Reynard, who saw what he, was about, and did not like the thought of being shot at, cried out, “Softly, and softly! Do not shoot me; I can give you good counsel. I know what your business is, and that you want to find the golden bird. You will reach a village in the evening, and when you get there you will see two inns, built one on each side of the street. The right-hand one is very pleasant and beautiful to look at but go not in there. Rest for the night in the other, though it may seem to you very poor and mean.” “What can such a beast as this know about the matter?” thought the silly lad to himself. So he shot his arrow at the fox, but he missed it, and it only laughed at him, set up its tail above its back, and ran into the wood.
The young man went his way, and in the evening came to the village where the two inns were. In the right-hand one were people singing, and dancing, and feasting; but the other looked very dirty and poor, “I should be very silly,” said he, “if I went to that shabby house, and left this charming place,” so he went into the smart house, and ate and drank at his ease; and there he stayed, and forgot the bird and his country too.
Time passed on, and as the eldest son did not come back, and no tidings were heard of him, the second son set out, and the same thing happened to him. He met with the fox sitting by the roadside, who gave him the same good advice as he had given his brother: but when he came to the two inns, his eldest brother was standing at the window where the merry-making was and called to him to come in; and he could not withstand the temptation, but went in, joined the merry-making, and there forgot the golden bird and his country in the same manner.
Time passed on again, and the youngest son too wished to set out into the wide world, to seek for the golden bird; but his father would not listen to him for a long while, for he was very fond of his son, and was afraid that some ill-luck might happen to him also, and hinder his coming back.
However, at last, it was agreed he should go; for, to tell the truth, he would not rest at home. As he came to the wood he met the fox, who gave him the same good counsel that he had given the other brothers. But he was thankful for the fox and did not shoot at him, as his brothers had done. Then the fox said, “Sit upon my tail, and you will travel faster.” So he sat down: and the fox began to run, and away they went over stock and stone, so quickly that their hair whistled in the wind.
When they came to the village, the young man was wise enough to follow the fox’s counsel, and, without looking about him, went straight to the shabby inn, and rested there all night at his ease.
In the morning came the fox again, and met him as he was beginning his journey, and said, “Go straight forward till you come to a castle, before which lie a whole troop of soldiers fast asleep and snoring; take no notice of them, but go into the castle, and pass on and on till you come to a room where the golden bird sits in a wooden cage: close by it stands a beautiful golden cage; but do not try to take the bird out of the shabby cage and put it into the handsome one, otherwise you will be sorry for it.” Then the fox stretched out his brush again, and the young man sat himself down, and away they went over stock and stone, till their hair whistled in the wind.
Before the castle gate, all was as the fox had said: so the lad went in and found the chamber, where the golden bird hung in a wooden cage. Below stood the golden cage; and the three golden apples, that had been lost, were lying close by its side. Then he thought to himself, “It will be a very droll thing to bring away such a fine bird in this shabby cage;” so he opened the door and took hold of the bird, and put it into the golden cage. But it set up at once such a loud scream, that all the soldiers awoke; and they took him prisoner, and carried him before the king.
The next morning the court sat to judge him; and when all was heard, it doomed him to die, unless he should bring the king the golden horse, that could run as swiftly as the wind. If he did this he was to have the golden bird given him for his own.
So he set out once more on his journey, sighing, and in great despair; when, on a sudden, he met his good friend the fox taking his morning’s walk. “Heyday, young gentleman!” said Reynard; “you see now what has happened from you not listening to my advice. I will still, however, tell you how you may find the golden horse if you will but do as I bid you. You must go straight on till you come to the castle, where the horse stands in his stall. By his side will lie the groom fast asleep and snoring; take away the horse softly, but be sure to let the old leathern saddle be upon him, and do not put on the golden one that is close by.” Then the young man sat down on the fox’s tail; and away they went over stock and stone, till their hair whistled in the wind.
All went right, and the groom lay snoring, with his hand upon the golden saddle. But when the lad looked at the horse, he thought it a great pity to keep the leathern saddle upon it. “I will give him the good one,” said he: “I am sure he is worth it.” As he took up the golden saddle, the groom awoke, and cried out so loud, that all the guards ran in and took him prisoner; and in the morning he was brought before the king’s court to be judged, and was once more doomed to die. But it was agreed that if he could bring thither the beautiful princess, he should live and have the horse given him for his own.
Then he went his way again very sorrowful; but the old fox once more met him on the road, and said, “Why did you not listen to me? If you had, you would have carried away both the bird and the horse. Yet I will once more give you counsel. Go straight on, and in the evening you will come to a castle. At twelve o’clock every night the princess goes to the bath: go up to her as she passes, and give her a kiss, and she will let you lead her away, but take care you do not let her go and take leave of her father and mother.” Then the fox stretched out his tail, and away they went over stock and stone till their hair whistled again.
As they came to the castle all was as the fox had said, and at twelve o’clock the young man met the princess going to the bath and gave her the kiss, and she agreed to run away with him but begged with many tears that he would let her take leave of her father. At first, he said, “No!” but she wept still more and more, and fell at his feet, till at last, he yielded; but the moment she came to her father’s door the guards awoke, and he was taken prisoner again.
So he was brought at once before the king, who lived in that castle. And the king said, “You shall never have my daughter unless in eight days you dig away the hill that stops the view from my window.” Now this hill was so big that all the men in the whole world could not have taken it away: and when he had worked for seven days and had done very little, the fox came and said, “Lie down and go to sleep! I will work for you.” In the morning he awoke, and the hill was gone; so he went merrily to the king, and told him that now it was gone he must give him the princess.
Then the king was obliged to keep his word, and away went the young man and the princess. But the fox came and said to him, “That will not do; we will have all three, the princess, the horse, and the bird.” “Ah!” said the young man, “that would be a great thing; but how can it be?”
“If you will only listen,” said the fox, “it can soon be done. When you come to the king of the castle where the golden horse is, and he asks for the beautiful princess, you must say, ‘Here she is!’ Then he will be very glad to see her, and will run to welcome her; and you will mount the golden horse that they are to give you, and put out your hand to take leave of them; but shake hands with the princess last. Then lift her quickly on to the horse, behind you; clap your spurs to his side, and gallop away as fast as you can.”
All went right: then the fox said, “When you come to the castle where the bird is, I will stay with the princess at the door, and you will ride in and speak to the king; and when he sees that it is the right horse, he will bring out the bird: but you must sit still, and say that you want to look at it, to see whether it is the true golden bird or not; and when you get it into your hand, ride away as fast as you can.”
This, too, happened as the fox said: they carried off the bird; the princess mounted again, and off they rode till they came to a great wood. On their way through it, they met their old friend Reynard again, and he said, “Pray to kill me, and cut off my head and my brush!” The young man would not do any such thing to so good a friend: so the fox said, “I will, at any rate, give you good counsel: beware of two things! Ransom no one from the gallows, and sit down by the side of no brook!” Then away he went. “Well,” thought the young man, “it is no hard matter, at any rate, to follow that advice.”
So he rode on with the princess, till at last, they came to the village where he had left his two brothers. And there he heard a great noise and uproar: and when he asked what the matter was, the people said, “Two rogues are going to be hanged.” As he came nearer, he saw that the two men were his brothers, who had turned robbers. At the sight of them in this sad plight his heart was very heavy, and he cried out, “Can nothing save them from such a death?” but the people said “No!” unless he would bestow all his money upon the rascals, and buy their freedom, by repaying all they had stolen. Then he did not stay to think about it but paid whatever was asked, and his brothers were given up and went on with him towards their father’s home.
Now the weather was very hot; and as they came to the wood where the fox first met them, they found it so cool and shady under the trees, by the side of a brook that ran close by, that the two brothers said, “Let us sit down by the side of this brook and rest awhile, to eat and drink.” “Very well!” said he, and forgot what the fox had said, and sat down on the side of the brook: and while he thought of no harm coming to him they crept behind him, and threw him down the bank, and took the princess, the horse, and the bird, and went home to the king their master, and said, “All these we have won by our own skill and strength.” Then there was great merriment made, and the king held a feast and the two brothers were welcomed home; but the horse would not eat, the bird would not sing, and the princess sat by herself in her chamber, and wept bitterly.
The youngest son fell to the bottom of the bed of the stream. Luckily, it was nearly dry, but his bones were almost broken, and the bank was so steep that he could find no way to get out. As he stood bewailing his fate, and thinking what he should do, to his great joy he spied his old and faithful friend the fox, looking down from the bank upon him. Then Reynard scolded him for not following his advice, which would have saved him from all the troubles that had befallen him. “Yet,” said he, “silly as you have been, I cannot bear to leave you here; so lay hold of my brush, and hold fast!” Then he pulled him out of the river, and said to him, as he got up on the bank, “Your brothers have set a watch to kill you if they find you making your way back.”
So he dressed as a poor piper and came playing on his pipe to the king’s court. But he was scarcely within the gate when the horse began to eat, and the bird to sing and the princess left off weeping. And when he got to the great hall, where all the court sat feasting, he went straight up to the king and told him all his brothers’ roguery. Then it made the king very angry to hear what they had done, and they were seized and punished, and the youngest son had the princess given to him again; and he married her, and after the king’s death, he was chosen king in his stead.
After his marriage, he went one day to walk in the wood, and there the old fox met him once more, and besought him, with tears in his eyes, to be so kind as to cut off his head and his brush. At last he did so, though sorely against his will, and in the same moment the fox was changed into a prince, and the princess knew him to be her own brother, who had been lost a great many years; for a spiteful fairy had enchanted him, with a spell that could only be broken by someone getting the golden bird, and by cutting off his head and his brush.