Bedtime Stories For Kids - Horse Headed Bridegroom

 Horse Headed Bridegroom

Once upon a time in the land of Portugal, there was a small kingdom. The royal couple and their subjects were in all things very happy, except that the king and the queen were childless. One day, as the queen was taking a stroll in the palace gardens, there appeared before her an old woman who said in a quavering voice, "I know your sorrow, O Queen. Do not lose heart. For soon you shall give birth to a son, a good-natured boy, but with only one defect." "Let there be ten defects, but let me have a son!" exclaimed the queen. In due course of time, the queen gave birth to a boy, but with the head of a horse. He of course had a human voice, soft and sweet. At first, his parents were much grieved by his appearance. But as years passed, they became accustomed to the prince with the unusual appearance. Life went on smoothly, till the day arrived when it was thought proper for the prince to have a wife.

But who will marry a horse-headed man? The king made a proclamation that if any maiden, high or low, rich or poor, would accept the hand of his son, he would bestow upon her gifts fitting for the world's most excellent bride. Alas! His offer fell on deaf ears. Thus a year passed. One day as the king was returning from his hunt one evening, he felt very tired and thirsty. Sighting a humble dwelling at the foot of a hill he rode towards it, asking his bodyguards to leave him alone. His knock was answered by a young girl who was both surprised and happy to see their beloved king standing before her. She refreshed him with honey, fruit, and cool water from the stream. After resting a while, when the king was about to depart, the beautiful maiden said, "O King, your eyes speak of deep anguish. What ails thee, your Majesty?" Then the king told Anna, for that was the poor girl's name, about the state of affairs in the royal household. Anna was not only beautiful but also compassionate. She volunteered to marry the prince. When the king reminded her of the strange appearance of his son, she replied with a smile, "I've already seen our prince, O king! I will marry him in order to comfort you and him in his despair." Great festivities were held. Gifts in abundance were showered by the grateful king and queen on the brave bride-to-be. Moreover, the prince too came to meet his future wife. Anna had three cousins, girls of her age, who were never tired of teasing her for her decision to marry a horse-headed young man.

But in their hearts, they envied her too. After all, she was going to be the queen of the land! Then a day before the wedding ceremony, the king's minister came to inform Anna that the prince would come in a procession, on the morrow, to lead her ceremoniously to the palace. When the procession came, Anna searched in vain for her horse headed prince. But instead of the familiar figure at the rear of the bodyguards, rode an exceedingly handsome young man. Scorned by her three envious sisters who thought that the prince had changed his mind, Anna fixed her gaze more intently on the splendid youth. Tracing some resemblance to her prince in the outline of his figure, she exclaimed, "O my prince!" But the procession passed by her. Her sisters laughed with contempt. "If that was your prince, then why did he ride by in silence?" they asked. Anna went to the garden and as she sat puzzled under a tree, a crow swooped lightly to a branch above her head cawing incessantly. Suddenly the harsh sound faded away and changed into a familiar human voice. Anna sat up startled. "Do not be alarmed, my bride," said the crow, "I'm indeed your prince. Be calm and listen. Since my birth, my life is ruled by a strange fate. But I had been assured that I would gain a normal human appearance the day my wedding would become a certainty, with my bride herself choosing me. This morning I ceased to be a horse-headed man. I heard distinctly a voice speaking these words, "If you pass by your bride's doors and she recognizes you but keeps quiet, the spell will be broken. But if she utters a word, the worst will befall." 

The crow hopped down to a branch nearer to Anna and resumed, "You know what happened then. How your sisters provoked you to speak. As soon as I passed by you, I was changed into a crow. Anna, do you have the courage and determination to do everything necessary to bring me back to my human form?" "My Prince," replied Anna, "I love you and I shall do whatever is necessary for that, even if it means my death!" "Then, listen attentively," said the prince. "You must journey to the Crows' Tower and tread the long way with iron shoes. When you arrive at the tower you will see a thousand crows. But if you can identify me immediately and seize me tightly by the wings, the spell will be broken. But if you fail, you will see your prince no more." The crow then descended from his perch and, with a gentle touch of its beak on the girl's forehead rose into the sky and disappeared over the hills. Anna carefully watched the flight of the crow, for it gave her the clue to the way she must go. She then went to the blacksmith's forge. "Iron shoes?" exclaimed the surprised man, "Iron shoes for a pretty lass like you?" Nevertheless, won over by her sad smile, he made for her a pair of dainty little shoes. Anna set out immediately on her mission. For many a day and night, she traveled through different lands. One day when the sun was just dipping over the western horizon, she came to a hut. Feeling the need for some rest and refreshment, she knocked on the door. An old lady with a wrinkled face opened the door and said, "Come in, bold damsel, come in and learn your task." Anna entered the hut, rather surprised.

Her aged hostess fed her and said, "Dear child, your lover is in the hands of evil powers. Only the winds of Heaven can lead you to your destination." She waved a wand and chanting some abracadabra, summoned the Winds. "Enter, O Lord of the Four Directions!" she said. At these words the doors flung open and a gust of wind swept all around. The weather-beaten hut swayed and the embers in the hearth leaped into flames. Anna felt lifted up in the air. "O noble Sons of Heaven, take this fair lady gently in your arms and lead her to her bridegroom. Farewell, O sweet damsel!" One after another the four Winds took charge of her. Anna saw nothing, but felt strong aery arms about her, carrying her forward with kindly support. Her iron-shod feet seemed to lose all weight and scarcely touched the ground, so swiftly, so lightly she sailed forward! At dawn one day, the West wind placed Anna at the foot of a hill. On its top stood a tall, dark tower. "My task ends here," the Wind whispered in her ear. "Yonder is the Crows' Tower. You must now follow your heart. I wish you well, brave lass."

Anna crossed the huge gates of the tower. She saw an open space with tiers of walls, rising higher and higher. She also saw before her, seated on the tiers of walls thousands of crows. Bewildered, she stood still for a moment, unable to decide her next move. All look-alike. Which one is her handsome prince? she wondered. Then, suddenly dashing towards the walls, Anna shouted, "O my Prince!" The crows flew helter-skelter. Only one sat unmoved. Before the bird could ruffle a feather, Anna seized it and stretched its wings. Lo and behold! She found herself in the palace gardens. Before her stood a bright young man, all smiles. The prince, for it was he, stopped and kissed her hand. The wedding was performed with great pomp and show. Suddenly, like a huge dark cloud thousands of crows descended to the palace roof. "Let them be fed sumptuously," said the prince. "They had been kind to me when I was with them. If they flew off so readily at Anna's approach, it is to give her the chance to recognize me!" said the happy prince.

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