By Hans Christian Andersen
The storks relate to their little ones a great many
stories, and they are all about moors and reed banks, and
suited to their age and capacity. The youngest of them are
quite satisfied with "kribble, krabble," or such nonsense, and
think it very grand; but the elder ones want something with a
deeper meaning, or at least something about their own family.
We are only acquainted with one of the two longest and
oldest stories which the storks relate - it is about Moses, who
was exposed by his mother on the banks of the Nile, and was
found by the king's daughter, who gave him a good education,
and he afterwards became a great man; but where he was buried
is still unknown.
Every one knows this story, but not the second; very
likely because it is quite an inland story. It has been
repeated from mouth to mouth, from one stork-mamma to another,
for thousands of years; and each has told it better than the
last; and now we mean to tell it better than all.
The first stork pair who related it lived at the time it
happened, and had their summer residence on the rafters of the
Viking's house, which stood near the wild moorlands of
Wendsyssell; that is, to speak more correctly, the great
moorheath, high up in the north of Jutland, by the Skjagen
peak. This wilderness is still an immense wild heath of marshy
ground, about which we can read in the "Official Directory."
It is said that in olden times the place was a lake, the
ground of which had heaved up from beneath, and now the
moorland extends for miles in every direction, and is
surrounded by damp meadows, trembling, undulating swamps, and
marshy ground covered with turf, on which grow bilberry bushes
and stunted trees. Mists are almost always hovering over this
region, which, seventy years ago, was overrun with wolves. It
may well be called the Wild Moor; and one can easily imagine,
with such a wild expanse of marsh and lake, how lonely and
dreary it must have been a thousand years ago. Many things may
be noticed now that existed then. The reeds grow to the same
height, and bear the same kind of long, purple-brown leaves,
with their feathery tips. There still stands the birch, with
its white bark and its delicate, loosely hanging leaves; and
with regard to the living beings who frequented this spot, the
fly still wears a gauzy dress of the same cut, and the
favorite colors of the stork are white, with black and red for
stockings. The people, certainly, in those days, wore very
different dresses to those they now wear, but if any of them,
be he huntsman or squire, master or servant, ventured on the
wavering, undulating, marshy ground of the moor, they met with
the same fate a thousand years ago as they would now. The
wanderer sank, and went down to the Marsh King, as he is
named, who rules in the great moorland empire beneath. They
also called him "Gunkel King," but we like the name of "Marsh
King" better, and we will give him that name as the storks do.
Very little is known of the Marsh King's rule, but that,
perhaps, is a good thing.
In the neighborhood of the moorlands, and not far from the
great arm of the North Sea and the Cattegat which is called
the Lumfjorden, lay the castle of the Viking, with its
water-tight stone cellars, its tower, and its three projecting
storeys. On the ridge of the roof the stork had built his
nest, and there the stork-mamma sat on her eggs and felt sure
her hatching would come to something.
One evening, stork-papa stayed out rather late, and when
he came home he seemed quite busy, bustling, and important. "I
have something very dreadful to tell you," said he to the
"Keep it to yourself then," she replied. "Remember that I
am hatching eggs; it may agitate me, and will affect them."
"You must know it at once," said he. "The daughter of our
host in Egypt has arrived here. She has ventured to take this
journey, and now she is lost."
"She who sprung from the race of the fairies, is it?"
cried the mother stork. "Oh, tell me all about it; you know I
cannot bear to be kept waiting at a time when I am hatching
"Well, you see, mother," he replied, "she believed what
the doctors said, and what I have heard you state also, that
the moor-flowers which grow about here would heal her sick
father; and she has flown to the north in swan's plumage, in
company with some other swan-princesses, who come to these
parts every year to renew their youth. She came, and where is
"You enter into particulars too much," said the mamma
stork, "and the eggs may take cold; I cannot bear such
suspense as this."
"Well," said he, "I have kept watch; and this evening I
went among the rushes where I thought the marshy ground would
bear me, and while I was there three swans came. Something in
their manner of flying seemed to say to me, 'Look carefully
now; there is one not all swan, only swan's feathers.' You
know, mother, you have the same intuitive feeling that I have;
you know whether a thing is right or not immediately."
"Yes, of course," said she; "but tell me about the
princess; I am tired of hearing about the swan's feathers."
"Well, you know that in the middle of the moor there is
something like a lake," said the stork-papa. "You can see the
edge of it if you raise yourself a little. Just there, by the
reeds and the green banks, lay the trunk of an elder-tree;
upon this the three swans stood flapping their wings, and
looking about them; one of them threw off her plumage, and I
immediately recognized her as one of the princesses of our
home in Egypt. There she sat, without any covering but her
long, black hair. I heard her tell the two others to take
great care of the swan's plumage, while she dipped down into
the water to pluck the flowers which she fancied she saw
there. The others nodded, and picked up the feather dress, and
took possession of it. I wonder what will become of it?
thought I, and she most likely asked herself the same
question. If so, she received an answer, a very practical one;
for the two swans rose up and flew away with her swan's
plumage. 'Dive down now!' they cried; 'thou shalt never more
fly in the swan's plumage, thou shalt never again see Egypt;
here, on the moor, thou wilt remain.' So saying, they tore the
swan's plumage into a thousand pieces, the feathers drifted
about like a snow-shower, and then the two deceitful
princesses flew away."
"Why, that is terrible," said the stork-mamma; "I feel as
if I could hardly bear to hear any more, but you must tell me
what happened next."
"The princess wept and lamented aloud; her tears moistened
the elder stump, which was really not an elder stump but the
Marsh King himself, he who in marshy ground lives and rules. I
saw myself how the stump of the tree turned round, and was a
tree no more, while long, clammy branches like arms, were
extended from it. Then the poor child was terribly frightened,
and started up to run away. She hastened to cross the green,
slimy ground; but it will not bear any weight, much less hers.
She quickly sank, and the elder stump dived immediately after
her; in fact, it was he who drew her down. Great black bubbles
rose up out of the moor-slime, and with these every trace of
the two vanished. And now the princess is buried in the wild
marsh, she will never now carry flowers to Egypt to cure her
father. It would have broken your heart, mother, had you seen
"You ought not to have told me," said she, "at such a time
as this; the eggs might suffer. But I think the princess will
soon find help; some one will rise up to help her. Ah! if it
had been you or I, or one of our people, it would have been
all over with us."
"I mean to go every day," said he, "to see if anything
comes to pass;" and so he did.
A long time went by, but at last he saw a green stalk
shooting up out of the deep, marshy ground. As it reached the
surface of the marsh, a leaf spread out, and unfolded itself
broader and broader, and close to it came forth a bud.
One morning, when the stork-papa was flying over the stem,
he saw that the power of the sun's rays had caused the bud to
open, and in the cup of the flower lay a charming child - a
little maiden, looking as if she had just come out of a bath.
The little one was so like the Egyptian princess, that the
stork, at the first moment, thought it must be the princess
herself, but after a little reflection he decided that it was
much more likely to be the daughter of the princess and the
Marsh King; and this explained also her being placed in the
cup of a water-lily. "But she cannot be left to lie here,"
thought the stork, "and in my nest there are already so many.
But stay, I have thought of something: the wife of the Viking
has no children, and how often she has wished for a little
one. People always say the stork brings the little ones; I
will do so in earnest this time. I shall fly with the child to
the Viking's wife; what rejoicing there will be!"
And then the stork lifted the little girl out of the
flower-cup, flew to the castle, picked a hole with his beak in
the bladder-covered window, and laid the beautiful child in
the bosom of the Viking's wife. Then he flew back quickly to
the stork-mamma and told her what he had seen and done; and
the little storks listened to it all, for they were then quite
old enough to do so. "So you see," he continued, "that the
princess is not dead, for she must have sent her little one up
here; and now I have found a home for her."
"Ah, I said it would be so from the first," replied the
stork-mamma; "but now think a little of your own family. Our
travelling time draws near, and I sometimes feel a little
irritation already under the wings. The cuckoos and the
nightingale are already gone, and I heard the quails say they
should go too as soon as the wind was favorable. Our
youngsters will go through all the manoeuvres at the review
very well, or I am much mistaken in them."
The Viking's wife was above measure delighted when she
awoke the next morning and found the beautiful little child
lying in her bosom. She kissed it and caressed it; but it
cried terribly, and struck out with its arms and legs, and did
not seem to be pleased at all. At last it cried itself to
sleep; and as it lay there so still and quiet, it was a most
beautiful sight to see. The Viking's wife was so delighted,
that body and soul were full of joy. Her heart felt so light
within her, that it seemed as if her husband and his soldiers,
who were absent, must come home as suddenly and unexpectedly
as the little child had done. She and her whole household
therefore busied themselves in preparing everything for the
reception of her lord. The long, colored tapestry, on which
she and her maidens had worked pictures of their idols, Odin,
Thor, and Friga, was hung up. The slaves polished the old
shields that served as ornaments; cushions were placed on the
seats, and dry wood laid on the fireplaces in the centre of
the hall, so that the flames might be fanned up at a moment's
notice. The Viking's wife herself assisted in the work, so
that at night she felt very tired, and quickly fell into a
sound sleep. When she awoke, just before morning, she was
terribly alarmed to find that the infant had vanished. She
sprang from her couch, lighted a pine-chip, and searched all
round the room, when, at last, in that part of the bed where
her feet had been, lay, not the child, but a great, ugly frog.
She was quite disgusted at this sight, and seized a heavy
stick to kill the frog; but the creature looked at her with
such strange, mournful eyes, that she was unable to strike the
blow. Once more she searched round the room; then she started
at hearing the frog utter a low, painful croak. She sprang
from the couch and opened the window hastily; at the same
moment the sun rose, and threw its beams through the window,
till it rested on the couch where the great frog lay. Suddenly
it appeared as if the frog's broad mouth contracted, and
became small and red. The limbs moved and stretched out and
extended themselves till they took a beautiful shape; and
behold there was the pretty child lying before her, and the
ugly frog was gone. "How is this?" she cried, "have I had a
wicked dream? Is it not my own lovely cherub that lies there."
Then she kissed it and fondled it; but the child struggled and
fought, and bit as if she had been a little wild cat.
The Viking did not return on that day, nor the next; he
was, however, on the way home; but the wind, so favorable to
the storks, was against him; for it blew towards the south. A
wind in favor of one is often against another.
The Marsh King's Daughter: Part II
The Marsh King's Daughter: Part III