The Fair With Golden Hair
A handsome courtier begs a princess marry a king, but the princess falls in love with him instead.
This is a vintage fairy tale, and contains violence. We would encourage parents to read beforehand if your child is sensitive to such themes.
Once upon a time there was a king’s daughter, who was so handsome, there was nothing in the world to be compared with her for beauty, and she was called the Fair with Golden Hair: because her locks were like the finest gold, marvellously bright, and falling all in ringlets to her feet. She always appeared with her hair flowing in curls about her, crowned with flowers, and her dresses embroidered with diamonds and pearls. However it might be, it was impossible to see her without loving her.
There was a young king amongst her neighbours, who was unmarried, very handsome, and very rich. When he heard all that was said about the Fair with Golden Hair, although he had never seen her, he felt so deeply in love with her, that he could neither eat nor drink, and therefore resolved to send an ambassador to ask her hand in marriage.
He had a magnificent coach made for this ambassador, gave him upwards of a hundred horses and as many servants, and charged him particularly not to return without the princess. From the moment that the envoy had taken leave of the king, the whole court talked of nothing else; and the king, who never doubted that the Fair with Golden Hair would consent to his proposal, ordered immediately fine dresses and splendid furniture to be prepared for her.
While the workmen were hard at work, the ambassador arrived at the Fair one’s court and delivered his little message; but whether she was that day out of temper, or that the compliment was not agreeable to her, she answered the ambassador, that she thanked the king, but had no inclination to marry. The ambassador quitted the court of the princess very low-spirited at not being able to bring her with him. He carried back all the presents he had been the bearer of from the king, for the princess was very prudent, and was perfectly aware that young ladies should never receive gifts from bachelors; so she declined accepting the beautiful diamonds and the other valuable articles, and only retained, in order not to affront the king, a quarter of a pound of English pins.
When the ambassador reached the capital city of the king, where he was so impatiently awaited, everybody was afflicted that he did not bring back with him the Fair with Golden Hair, and the king began to cry like a child. They endeavoured to console him, but without the least success.
There was a youth at court who was as beautiful as the sun, and had the finest figure in the kingdom. On account of his graceful manners and his intelligence he was called Avenant. Everybody loved him, except the envious, who were vexed that the king conferred favours upon him and daily confided to him his affairs.
Avenant was in company with some persons who were talking of the return of the ambassador, and saying he had done no good. “If the king had sent me to the Fair with Golden Hair,” said he to them carelessly, “I am certain she would have returned with me.” These mischief-makers went immediately to the king, and said, “Sire, you know not what Avenant asserts,—That if you had sent him to the Fair with Golden Hair he would have brought her back with him. Observe his malice! He pretends that he is handsomer than you, and that she would have been so fond of him that she would have followed him anywhere.”
At this the king flew into a rage—a rage so terrible, that he was quite beside himself. “Ha, ha!” he cried, “this pretty minion laughs at my misfortune, and values himself above me! Go!—fling him into the great tower, and let him starve to death!”
The royal guards hastened in search of Avenant, who had quite forgotten what he had said. They dragged him to prison, inflicting a thousand injuries upon him. The poor youth had only a little straw to lie upon, and would soon have perished but for a tiny spring that trickled through the foundations of the tower, and of which he drank a few drops to refresh himself, his mouth being parched with thirst.
One day, when he was quite exhausted, he exclaimed, with a heavy sigh, “What does the king complain of? He has not a subject more loyal than I am,—I have never done anything to offend him!”
The king by chance passed close by the tower, and hearing the voice of one he had loved so dearly, he stopped to listen, notwithstanding those who were with him, who hated Avenant, and said to the king, “What interests you, Sire?—Do you not know he is a rogue?”
The king replied, “Leave me alone; I would hear what he has to say.”
Having listened to his complaints, the tears stood in his eyes: he opened the door of the tower and called to the prisoner. Avenant came, and knelt before him in deep sorrow, and kissed his feet.
“What have I done, Sire, that I am thus severely treated?”
“You have made game of me, and of my ambassador,” answered the king. “You have boasted, that if I had sent you to the Fair with Golden Hair, you would certainly have brought her back with you.”
“It is true, Sire,” rejoined Avenant, “that I should have so impressed her with the sense of your majesty’s high qualities, that I feel persuaded she could not have refused you; and in saying that, Sire, I uttered nothing that could be disagreeable to you.”
The king saw clearly that Avenant was innocent. He cast an angry look upon the people who had undermined his favourite, and brought him away with him, sincerely repenting the wrong he had done to him.
After giving him an excellent supper he called him into his cabinet and said to him: “Avenant, I still love the Fair with Golden Hair; her refusal has not discouraged me: but I know not what course to take to induce her to marry me. I am tempted to send you to her to see if you could succeed.”
Avenant replied that he was ready to obey him in everything, and that he would set out the next day.
“Hold,” said the king; “I would give you a splendid team.”
“It is unnecessary,” answered Avenant; “I need only a good horse, and letters of credence from your majesty.”
The king embraced him, for he was delighted to find him prepared to start so quickly.
It was on a Monday morning that he took leave of the king and of his friends to proceed on his embassy, quite alone and without pomp or noise. His mind was occupied solely with schemes to induce the Fair with Golden Hair to marry the king. He had a writing-case in his pocket, and when a happy idea occurred to him for his introductory address, he alighted from his steed and seated himself under the trees to commit it to paper, so that he might not forget anything.
The next morning that he had set out at the first peep of day, in passing through a large meadow, a charming idea came into his head: he dismounted, and seated himself beside some willows and poplars which were planted along the bank of a little river that ran by the edge of the meadow. After he had made his note, he looked about him, delighted to find himself in so beautiful a spot.
He perceived on the grass a large gilded carp gasping and nearly exhausted, for in trying to catch some little flies it had leaped so far out of the water that it had fallen on the grass, and was all but dead. Avenant took pity upon it, and, although it was a fast-day, and he might have carried it off for his dinner, he picked it up and put it gently back into the river. As soon as my friend the carp felt the freshness of the water, she began to recover herself, and glided down to the very bottom, then rising again joyously to the bank of the stream,
“Avenant,” said she, “I thank you for the kindness you have done me; but for you I should have died. You have saved me; I will do as much for you.” After this little compliment she darted down again into the water, leaving Avenant much surprised at her intelligence and great civility.
Another day, as he continued his journey, he saw a crow in great distress. The poor bird was pursued by a large eagle (a great devourer of crows), which had nearly caught it, and would have swallowed it like a lentil if Avenant had not felt compassion for its misfortune. “Thus,” he cried, “do the strong oppress the weak. What right has the eagle to eat the crow?”
He seized his bow and arrow, which he always carried with him, and taking a good aim at the eagle, whizz! he sent the shaft right through its body; it fell dead, and the crow, enraptured, came and perched on a tree.
“Avenant,” it cried to him, “it was very generous of you thus to succour me, I who am only a poor crow; but I will not be ungrateful, I will do as much for you.”
Avenant admired the good sense of the crow, and resumed his journey.
Entering a great wood so early in the morning that there was scarcely light enough for him to see his road, he heard an owl screeching, like an owl in despair.
“Hey-day!” said he, “here’s an owl in great affliction. It has been caught, perhaps, in some net.” He searched on all sides, and at last discovered some large nets, which had been spread by fowlers during the night to catch small birds. “What a pity,” said he, “that men are only made to torment each other, or to persecute poor animals which do them no wrong or mischief.” He drew his knife and cut the cords.
The owl took flight: but returning swiftly on the wing,—”Avenant,” it cried, “it is needless for me to make a long speech to enable you to comprehend the obligation I am under to you: it speaks plainly enough for itself. The hunters would soon have been here. I had been taken, I had been dead, but for your assistance. I have a grateful heart; I will do as much for you.”
These were the three most important adventures which befell Avenant on his journey. He was so eager to reach the end of it, that he lost no time in repairing to the palace of the Fair with Golden Hair. Everything about it was admirable. There were diamonds to be seen in heaps, as though they were pebbles. Fine clothes, sweetmeats, money,—the most wonderful sight that ever was seen; and Avenant thought in his heart, if he could persuade the princess to leave all this to go to the king his master, he should be very lucky indeed. He dressed himself in a suit of brocade, with a plume of carnation and white feathers; combed and powdered himself, washed his face, put a richly embroidered scarf round his neck, with a little basket, and in it a beautiful little dog which he had bought as he came through Bologna. Avenant was so handsome, so amiable, and did everything with so much grace, that when he presented himself at the palace gate, the guards saluted him most respectfully, and they ran to inform the Fair with Golden Hair, that Avenant, ambassador from the king, her nearest neighbour, requested to be presented to her.
At the name of Avenant, the princess said, “That betokens something agreeable to me. I would wager he is a pretty fellow, and pleases everybody.” “Yes, in sooth, Madam,” exclaimed all her maids of honour, “We saw him from the loft in which we were dressing your flax, and as long as he remained under the windows we could do no work.”
“Very pretty,” replied the Fair with Golden Hair, “Amusing yourselves with looking at young men!—Here, give me my grand gown of blue embroidered satin, and arrange my fair hair very tastefully; get me some garlands of fresh flowers, my high-heeled shoes, and my fan. Let them sweep my presence-chamber, and dust my throne; for I would have him declare everywhere that I am truly the Fair with Golden Hair.”
All her women hastened to attire her like a queen. They were in such a hurry that they ran against each other, and made scarcely any progress. At length, however, the princess passed into the great gallery of mirrors, to see if anything was wanting, and then ascended her throne of gold, ivory, and ebony, which emitted a perfume like balsam, and commanded her maids of honour to take their instruments, and sing very softly so as not to confuse anyone.
Avenant was ushered into the hall of audience. He was so struck with admiration, that he has since declared frequently that he could scarcely speak; nevertheless, he took courage, and delivered his oration to perfection. He beseeched the princess that he might not have the mortification of returning without her.
“Gentle Avenant,” she replied, “the arguments you have adduced are all of them exceedingly good, and I assure you I should be very happy to favour you more than another, but you must know that about a month ago I was walking by the river side, with all my ladies in waiting, and in pulling off my glove in order to take some refreshment that was served me I drew from my finger a ring, which unfortunately fell into the stream. I valued it more than my kingdom. I leave you to imagine the grief its loss occasioned me. I have made a vow never to listen to any offers of marriage, if the ambassador, who proposes the husband, does not restore to me my ring. You now see therefore what you have to do in this matter, for though you should talk to me for a fortnight, night and day, you would never persuade me to change my mind.”
Avenant was much surprised at this answer: he made the princess a low bow, and begged her to accept the little dog, the basket, and the scarf; but she replied that she would receive no presents, and bade him go and reflect on what she had said to him. When he returned to his lodgings, he went to bed without eating any supper, and his little dog, whose name was Cabriolle, would take none himself, and went and laid down beside his master.
All night long Avenant never ceased sighing. “Where can I hope to find a ring that fell a month ago into a great river?” said he; “it would be folly to attempt looking for it. The princess only named this condition to me because she knew it was impossible for me to fulfil it.” And then he sighed again and was very sorrowful.
Cabriolle, who heard him, said, “My dear master, I entreat you not to despair of your good fortune: you are too amiable not to be happy. Let us go to the river side as soon as it is daylight.” Avenant gave him two little pats, without saying a word, and, worn out with grieving, fell asleep.
Cabriolle, as soon as he saw daybreak, frisked about so that he woke Avenant, and said to him, “Dress yourself, master, and let us go out.” Avenant was quite willing; he arose, dressed, and descended into the garden, and from the garden strayed mechanically towards the river, on the banks of which he strolled with his hat pulled over his eyes, and his arms folded, thinking only of taking his departure, when suddenly he heard himself called by his name—”Avenant! Avenant!”
He looked all around him, and could see nobody: he thought he was dreaming. He resumed his walk, when again the voice called, “Avenant! Avenant!”
“Who calls me?” he asked. Cabriolle, who was very little and was looking close down into the water, replied, “Never trust me if it be not a golden carp that I see here.”
Immediately the carp appeared on the surface, and said to Avenant, “You saved my life in the nettle-tree meadow, where I must have perished but for your assistance. I promised to do as much for you. Here, dear Avenant, is the ring of the Fair with Golden Hair.”
Avenant stooped and took the ring out of his friend the carp’s mouth, whom he thanked a thousand times. Instead of returning to his lodgings he went directly to the palace, followed by little Cabriolle, who was very glad he had induced his master to take a walk by the river side.
The princess was informed that Avenant requested to see her.
“Alas! poor youth,” said she, “he is come to take leave of me. He is convinced that I required an impossibility, and he is about to return with these tidings to his master.”
Avenant was introduced, and presented her with the ring, saying, “Madam, I have obeyed your commands. Will it please you to accept the king my master for your husband?”
When she saw her ring quite perfect she was so astonished—so astonished—that she thought she was dreaming!
“Really,” said she, “Courteous Avenant, you must be favoured by a fairy, for by natural means this is impossible.”
“Madam,” he answered, “I am not acquainted with any fairy, but I was very anxious to obey you.”
“As you are so obliging,” continued she, “You must do me another service, without which I never will be married. There is a prince not far from here, named Galifron, who has taken it into his head he will make me his wife. He declared to me his determination, accompanying it by the most terrible threats, that if I refused him he would lay waste my kingdom; but judge if I could accept him. He is a giant taller than a high tower; he eats a man as a monkey eats a chestnut; when he goes into the country he carries in his pockets small cannons which he uses for pistols, and when he speaks very loud those who are near him become deaf. I sent word to him that I did not wish to marry, and that he must excuse me, but he has never ceased to persecute me. He kills all my subjects, and before anything can be done you must fight him and bring me his head.”
Avenant was a little astounded at this proposition; he mused for a few minutes upon it, and then answered, “Well, Madam, I will fight Galifron; I believe I shall be conquered, but I will die as becomes a brave man.”
The princess was much surprised at his determination; she said a thousand things to prevent his undertaking the adventure. It was of no use. He withdrew to seek for weapons and everything else he might require. When he had made his preparations, he replaced little Cabriolle in his basket, mounted a fine horse, and rode into the dominions of Galifron.
He inquired about him of all he met, and everyone told him he was a very demon whom nobody dared approach. The more he heard of him the more his alarm increased.
Cabriolle encouraged him, and said, “My dear Master, while you fight him I will bite his legs; he will stoop to rid himself of me, and then you can kill him easily.”
Avenant admired the wit of the little dog, but he knew well enough that his help could be of little avail. At length he arrived in the neighbourhood of Galifron’s castle. All the roads to it were strewed with the bones and bodies of men whom he had eaten or torn to pieces. He did not wait long before he saw the monster coming through a wood; his head was visible above the highest trees, and he sang in a terrible voice—
“Ho! bring me some babies, fat or lean,
That I may crunch ’em my teeth between!
I could eat so many! so many! so many!
That in the wide world there would not be left any!
Upon which Avenant immediately sang to the same tune—
“Ho! Here is Avenant to be seen,
Who comes to draw your teeth so keen;
He’s not the greatest man to view,
But he’s big enough to conquer you.”
The rhymes were not quite adapted to the music, but he made them in a great hurry; and it is really a miracle they were not much worse, for he was in a desperate fright.
When Galifron heard these words, he looked about him in every direction, and caught sight of Avenant, who, sword in hand, uttered several taunts to provoke him. They were needless, however. He was in a dreadful rage, and snatching up an iron mace, he would have crushed the gentle Avenant at one blow, had not a crow lighted at that instant on his head, and with its beak most accurately picked out both his eyes. The blood ran down his face, and he laid about him on all sides like a madman. Avenant avoided his blows, and gave him such thrusts with his sword, running it up to the hilt in his body, that at last he fell bleeding from a thousand wounds.
Avenant quickly cut off his head, quite transported with joy at his good fortune; and the crow, who had perched itself on the nearest tree, said to him: “I have not forgotten the service you rendered me in killing the eagle which pursued me. I promised you I would return the obligation. I trust I have done so to-day.”
“I owe all to you, Monsieur Crow,” replied Avenant, “And remain your obliged servant;” and forthwith mounted his horse, laden with the horrible head of Galifron. When he reached the city, all the people followed him, crying, “Behold the brave Avenant, who has slain the monster!” So that the princess, who heard a great uproar, and who trembled lest they should come and announce to her the death of Avenant, dared not inquire what had happened. But the next moment she saw Avenant enter, bearing the giant’s head, which still impressed her with terror, although there was no longer any occasion for alarm.
“Madam,” said Avenant to the princess, “Your enemy is dead: I trust you will no longer refuse the king my master.”
“Ah! pardon me,” said the Fair with Golden Hair; “But, indeed, I must refuse him, unless you can find means, before my departure, to bring me some water from the Gloomy Grotto. Hard by there is a deep cavern, full six leagues in extent. At the mouth of it are two dragons, who prevent any one from entering: flames issue from their jaws and eyes. Inside the cavern is a deep pit, into which you must descend: it is full of toads, adders, and serpents. At the bottom of this pit there is a small cavity, through which flows the fountain of Health and Beauty. Some of that water I must absolutely obtain. Whatever is washed with it becomes something marvellous. If persons are handsome, they remain so for ever; if ugly, they become beautiful: if young, they remain always young; if old, they become young again. You may well imagine, Avenant, that I would not quit my kingdom without some of this wonderful water.”
“Madam,” he replied, “You are so beautiful already, that this water will be quite useless to you; but I am an unfortunate ambassador, whose death you desire. I go in search of that which you covet, with the certainty that I shall never return.”
The Fair with Golden Hair was immovable, and Avenant set out with the little dog Cabriolle to seek in the Gloomy Grotto the water of beauty. Everybody who met him on the road exclaimed, “‘Tis a pity to see so amiable a youth wantonly court destruction. He goes alone to the grotto, when even if he had a hundred men to back him he could not accomplish his object. Why will the princess only demand impossibilities?” Avenant passed on without saying a word, but he was in very low spirits.
Having nearly got to the top of a mountain, he sat down to rest a little, allowing his horse to graze and Cabriolle to run after the flies. He knew that the Gloomy Grotto was not far from that spot, and looked about to see if he could discover it. He perceived a horrible rock, as black as ink, out of which issued a thick smoke; and the next minute one of the dragons, casting out fire from his mouth and eyes. It had a green and yellow body, great claws, and a long tail, coiled round in more than a hundred folds.
Cabriolle saw all this, and was so frightened he did not know where to hide himself. Avenant, perfectly prepared to die, drew his sword, and descended towards the cavern, with a phial which the Fair with Golden Hair had given him to fill with the water of beauty. He said to his little dog Cabriolle, “It is all over with me; I shall never be able to obtain the water which is guarded by those dragons. When I am dead, fill the phial with my blood, and carry it to the princess, that she may see what she has cost me. Then go to the king my master, and tell him my sad story.”
As he uttered these words, he heard a voice calling, “Avenant! Avenant!”
“Who calls me?” he asked; and he saw an owl in the hollow of an old tree, who said to him:
“You let me out of the fowler’s net in which I was caught, and saved my life. I promised I would do you as good a turn, and now is the time. Give me your phial. I am familiar with all the windings in the Gloomy Grotto. I will fetch you some of the water of beauty.”
Oh, I leave you to imagine who was delighted! Avenant quickly handed the phial to the owl, and saw it enter the grotto without the least difficulty. In less than a quarter of an hour the bird returned with the phial full of water, and tightly stopped. Avenant was in ecstasies! He thanked the owl heartily, and, re-ascending the mountain, joyfully took his way back to the city.
He went straight to the palace and presented the phial to the Fair with Golden Hair, who had no longer an excuse to make. She thanked Avenant, gave orders for everything to be got ready for her departure, and finally set out with him on their journey. She found him an exceedingly agreeable companion, and said to him more than once, “If you had wished it, I would have made you king, and there would have been no occasion for us to quit my dominions.” But his answer was always, “I would not be guilty of such treachery to my master for all the kingdoms on the face of the earth, although you are to me more beautiful than the sun!”
At length they arrived at the king’s capital city, and his majesty, hearing the Fair with Golden Hair was approaching, went to meet her, and made her the most superb presents in the world! The marriage was celebrated with such great rejoicings, that folks could talk of nothing else. But the Fair with Golden Hair, who secretly loved Avenant, was never happy when he was out of her sight, and was always praising him. “But for Avenant,” she would say to the king, “I should never have been here. For my sake he has done impossibilities. You should feel deeply indebted to him. He obtained for me the water of beauty. I shall never grow old, and I shall always remain handsome.”
The envious courtiers who heard the queen express herself thus, said to the king, “You are not jealous, and yet you have good cause to be so. The queen is so deeply in love with Avenant, that she can neither eat nor drink. She can talk of nothing but him, and of the obligations you are under to him. As if any one else it had pleased you to send to her would not have done as much!”
“That’s quite true,” said the king, “Now I think of it. Let him be put in the tower, with irons on his hands and feet.”
Avenant was accordingly seized, and in return for his faithful service to the king, fettered hand and foot in a dungeon. He was allowed to see no one but the gaoler, who threw him a morsel of black bread through a hole, and gave him some water in an earthen pan. His little dog Cabriolle, however, did not desert him; but came daily to console him and tell him all the news.
When the Fair with Golden Hair heard of Avenant’s disgrace, she flung herself at the king’s feet, and, bathed in tears, implored him to release Avenant from prison. But the more she entreated, the more angry the king became, for he thought to himself, “It is because she loves him,” so he refused to stir in the matter. The queen ceased to urge him, and fell into a deep melancholy.
The king took it into his head, that perhaps she did not think him handsome enough. He longed to wash his face with the water of beauty, in hopes that the queen would then feel more affection for him. The phial full of this water stood on the chimney-piece in the queen’s chamber: she had placed it there for the pleasure of looking at it more frequently: but one of her chamber-maids, trying to kill a spider with a broom, unfortunately threw down the phial, which broke in the fall, and all the water was lost. She swept the fragments of glass away quickly; and not knowing what to do, it suddenly occurred to her, that she had seen in the king’s cabinet a phial precisely similar, full of water, as clear as the water of beauty; so, without a word to any one, she adroitly managed to get possession of it, and placed it on the queen’s chimney-piece.
The water which was in the king’s cabinet was used for the execution of princes and great noblemen who were condemned to die for any crime. Instead of beheading or hanging them, their faces were rubbed with this water, which had the fatal property of throwing them into a deep sleep, from which they never awakened. So it happened one evening that the king took down the phial which he fancied contained the water of beauty, and rubbing the contents well over his face, he fell into a profound slumber and expired. The little dog, Cabriolle, was the first to hear the news of the king’s death, and ran with it to Avenant, who begged him to go and find the Fair with Golden Hair, and remind her of the poor prisoner.
Cabriolle slipped quietly through the crowd, for there was great confusion at court, in consequence of the king’s death, and said to the queen, “Madam, do not forget poor Avenant.” She immediately recalled to her mind all that he had suffered on her account, and his extreme fidelity.
She left the palace without speaking to any one, and went directly to the tower, where with her own hands she took the irons off the hands and feet of Avenant, and putting a crown of gold upon his head, and a royal mantle over his shoulders, she said, “Come, charming Avenant, I make you king, and take you for my husband.” He threw himself at her feet in joy and gratitude. Everybody was delighted to have him for their master. His nuptials were the most splendid that ever were seen in the world, and the Fair with Golden Hair reigned long and happily with the handsome Avenant.
A kindly action never fail to do.
The smallest brings a blessing back to you.
When Avenant preserved the carp and crow,
And even had compassion on the woe
Of an ill-omen’d and ill-favour’d owl,
Who would have dream’d a feeble fish or fowl
Would place him on the pinnacle of fame?
When of his king he urged the tender flame,
And won the fair he for another woo’d,
Unshaken in his loyalty he stood.
Innocent victim of a rival’s hate,
When all seem’d lost—when darkest frown’d his fate,
Just Providence reversed the ruthless doom,—
To Virtue gave the throne, to Tyranny a tomb.
Illustration by Pixabay, with thanks.
1. Avenant loves The Fair with the Golden Hair, but will not marry her. Why? Do you think people always marry those they love?
2. The King punishes Avenant when he believes The Fair with the Golden Hair is in love with him. Do you think he was right to do this? Why or why not?