The Story Finder

Voices in Fairy Tales

by Michelle Tocher

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Father of an Exiled Princess

At first, it was my wife who was bound and determined to find my daughter. I had sent her away with a sack of salt on her back. She had humiliated me with her words. “I love you as much as salt.” After all I had given her, she loved me like salt? She could take all the salt and leave!

My wife would not be appeased. For three years, she wept, until the day she had a visitor. A traveling count had been given a pearl in an emerald box, and the moment the queen saw it, she recognized it as the tear of her own daughter.

After that, she would give me no peace. We had to go up the mountain to find the old goose woman who had given the box to the count. It was hard going, and on the way up, I thought, ‘If my daughter has climbed this mountain with all that salt on her back, then I gave her a terrible burden.’

At last we came to a little house. The geese were sitting all round it and sleeping with their heads thrust under their wings. We looked in through the window, and the old woman was sitting there, quietly spinning, nodding her head. The room was perfectly clean, as if the little mist men, who carry no dust on their feet, lived there. But we did not see our daughter.

We knocked softly on the window and the old woman looked up as if she’d expected us. She rose, and called out quite kindly, “Come in, I know you already.”

When we came into the room, she said, “You might have spared yourself the long walk, if you had not three years ago unjustly driven away your child, who is so good and loveable. No harm has come to her. For three years she has had to tend the geese; with them she has learnt no evil, but has preserved her purity of heart. You, however, have been sufficiently punished by the misery in which you have lived.”

Then she went to the chamber and called, “Come out, my little daughter.” The door opened, and our daughter stepped out in her silken garments. With her golden hair and her shining eyes, it was as if an angel from heaven had entered the room.

She came to us and fell on our necks and kissed us. We all wept for joy. Then I said, “My dear child, I have given away my kingdom, what shall I give thee?”

“She needs nothing,” said the old woman. “I give her the tears that she has wept on your account; they are precious pearls, finer than those that are found in the sea, and worth more than your whole kingdom. And I give her my little house as payment for her services.”

When the old woman had said that, she disappeared from our sight. The walls rattled, and when we looked round, the little house had changed into a splendid palace. A royal table had been spread, and servants were running to and fro.

I was not worthy of any of it.

Father of an Exiled Princess in The Goose Girl at the Well, Grimms. Illustration by Eddie Andrews.