Long, long ago, I was enchanted by a wicked fairy, and condemned to keep the shape of a ball until I should meet with two maidens who would take me to their home. But how would I meet anyone human?
For hundreds of years I lived in a deep forest, where nothing but wild beasts ever came. I was blindingly beautiful but also deadly. The animal who possessed me needed only to touch me and make a death-wish, and I was bound to fulfill it. The animals used me as a weapon for protection, and I killed many creatures. And saved lives, too. Then one day when I had been hidden in a snake skin bag and lost in the boughs of a tree, I saw two girls cooking by the river. I shouted to them at the top of my voice, but they were too far off to hear me. Then, to my horror, I fell out of the snakeskin bag right into the river.
I thought that I would sink or get carried away. Instead, I rolled straight across to the other side of the river. One of the girls saw me when she stooped to dip some water into her pail.
“Oh! what a lovely ball!” she cried, and tried to catch it in her pail. I bobbed out of reach.
“Come and help me!” she called to her sister, and together they caught me in the pail. They were delighted with their new toy, and one or the other held me until bedtime came. It took them a long time to decide where I would be safest for the night. Finally, they locked me in a cupboard in one corner of their room, and went to sleep.
In the morning they ran to the cupboard and unlocked it, but they opened the door they got a start, for I stood in the shape of myself. And I am very handsome.
“Ladies,” I said, “how can I thank you for what you have done for me?” I told them my story, and then I said, “If ever I can do anything to help you, go to the top of that high mountain and knock three times at the iron door on the north side, and I will come to you.”
I bowed and vanished. They were very unhappy. But I am home now, and I can rest.
The Golden Ball Returned in The Lion and the Cat, Brown Fairy Book. (Lines by Rainer Maria Rilke, from Selected Poems, trans. Robert Bly.)