The White Birds Short Fairy tale By Hans Christian Andersen
Once there was a king with ten sons and one daughter. Their mother died when the daughter, Elisa, was born. They were very good, happy children.
Then the king fell in love with another woman and he married her. He loved his new queen and in his eyes she was always right. But she was a bad, jealous woman. She hated the king’s ten sons, and she wanted to send them away. Love made the king stupid. It can make everybody stupid.
The poor old king sadly said goodbye to his sons. Then the queen took them outside the city walls. She said some magic words and changed the ten boys into ten white birds.
‘Fly away to another country,’ she said. ‘Make your homes in treetops. Find your food on the ground.’
And the ten brothers flew high into the sky and away over mountains and rivers. They came to a great sea and they made their home in some trees next to it.
When Elisa learned about her brothers, she ran away from the king’s house. She cried for hours. She walked for days. She did not use her eyes – she followed her love for her brothers. ‘One day I will find them,’ she thought. And her love took her near their home by the great sea.
Night came and Elisa fell asleep under a tree. All night the fairies watched her and no dangerous animal came near her. The next morning she walked again. She met an old woman.
‘What are you doing here? Can’t a brother or friend help you?’ asked the old woman. She gave Elisa some good food.
Elisa told her the story of her brothers. ‘I am looking for ten fine princes on ten white horses,’ she said. ‘Do you know of them?’
‘Ten princes?’ said the woman. ‘No, but I saw ten white birds this morning. They had gold feet and jewels for eyes. Perhaps they were princes. They were by the river.’
She took Elisa to the river. Elisa followed the river to the great sea. She saw ten fine white birds. Their gold feet and jewel-eyes shone in the sun. All round her Elisa saw pretty flowers and beautiful trees.
Elisa built a small house from sticks. She found flowers and put them round the walls. When she came back, she found bread, eggs and fish near the door.
That night her brothers came to her. She cried. ‘Don’t be sad,’ they said. ‘We’ll tell you some stories.’ Their stories were funny and after a time she smiled. Then she laughed.
When it was late, the brothers flew up into a tree. ‘Sleep well, Elisa,’ they said. ‘We are watching you.’
In her sleep, Elisa saw the old woman again. Now she was a beautiful fairy.
‘Do you want to help your brothers?’ she asked.
‘Yes!’ cried Elisa. ‘Of course!’
‘Are you strong?’
‘Yes! I am strong.’
‘Then listen to my words and follow them. There are gold flowers near your little house. Take some home and put them in water from the river. Wash them many times and then make them into coats. Ten coats of gold flowers, one for each brother.
‘But remember these things: First, only you can make the coats. Second, you can only speak after you finish them. Don’t speak before that, or your brothers will die. Can you do these things?’
‘Yes,’ answered the princess in her sleep, and she woke up. She looked outside her door and saw the gold flowers. She followed the fairy’s words and she worked all day. When the sun went down, her fingers hurt. Her brothers came that night, but she did not speak to them.
‘Why are you not speaking?’ they asked. ‘Is this the work of a bad fairy?’ She showed them her work. She made a picture of ten coats on the ground with her finger. Then they understood – her work was for them. She worked and worked. Her brothers watched her.
After two or three weeks, six coats were ready. Then one day, when she was by the river, a dog suddenly appeared. It jumped at her. Then other dogs came. They made a great noise and ran round her. A man came through the trees on a fine white horse, with many men behind him. Elisa looked at this man and she loved him.
‘Who are you?’ he asked her. ‘Nobody lives here. Where are you from?’ Elisa could not answer him. ‘I am the king of a great country behind those mountains,’ he told her. ‘I often come here with my dogs and horses.’
He came every day and spoke to Elisa. They walked by the river and he told her about his life. He loved her and he wanted her to be his queen. But why did she not speak? She only spoke to him with her eyes.
In the end, he asked her, ‘Will you be my queen?’ Poor Elisa started to cry. She ran to the gold flowers.
‘We will take the gold flowers and your work to my house. You can work there. Will you come?’ She could not say no, because she loved him.
‘So Elisa and the king took the flowers and the coats – there were eight now – to his country. Her brothers were sad, but each day they flew high above the king’s house.
The king had a jealous younger brother. He wanted to be king and he wanted his brother to die. When the king married, he was angry. ‘Now the king will have a son,’ he thought, ‘and I will never be king.’ The king could not see inside his jealous brother’s head. Because he was good and kind, everybody was good and kind.
One day the king had to leave the city for many days. He had to visit an important king in another country. The queen stayed at home and worked on her coats. Now she had nine. But she had no more flowers. She looked everywhere for the gold flowers. Then she found some flowers in a bad place. The people of the city threw their dead animals there.
‘I cannot go there in daylight,’ thought the queen. ‘People will see me. They will not understand and I cannot tell them.’ So she waited for night. Then she went out and got some flowers.
The king’s younger brother saw the queen that night. He followed her and watched her. He waited the next night and followed her again. ‘Now I have a plan,’ he thought. He followed her for five nights. The next night he called the great men and women of the city to a place outside the city walls.
‘Why are we meeting in the dark?’ they asked.
‘You will see,’ he answered. ‘You will learn something about your queen. Now, everybody, be quiet. Wait here with me and watch. What does our lovely queen do every night when the king is away? What do you think?’
A little time later, the queen appeared and got the flowers. She started to walk home, but the king’s brother ran after her. He caught her arm. ‘See!’ he cried to the people. ‘She is a bad woman. Only a bad woman looks for flowers in this place at night. She uses them for bad magic. She plans to kill our dear king, my brother. Why do you think she never speaks? Because she can only say magic words!’ People shouted, ‘Kill her!’, ‘Put her on a fire!’ And the king’s brother said, ‘Let’s kill her before the king comes back. Or she will kill him!’ He took the queen back to her room.
‘Tomorrow,’ he said to her before he closed the door, ‘you will die!’
The king and his servants were one day’s journey away from the city. They found a place for the night and got off their horses. The king looked up and saw a white bird in the sky. The bird flew down to the king and the king’s horse was afraid. The king shouted at the bird, but it did not go away.
Then he looked again and saw its gold feet and jewel-eyes. ‘It is one of the fairy birds,’ he thought. ‘One of the queen’s birds. She can understand their cries but I cannot. I think it wants me to go back quickly to the city.’
The king called his men. ‘We are not staying here tonight,’ he told them. ‘We are going to the city now. We have to go back to the queen. Get ready quickly. I am leaving now. Follow me!’
The king and his men followed the white bird all night. The bird called to them, ‘Quickly. Quickly.’ In the city, Elisa worked all night with her gold flowers.
The next morning the people of the city met in the big square in front of the king’s house. They looked up at the sky. ‘What are those white birds up there? Why are they making this noise?’
Men brought sticks and built a large fire. The birds flew down and round the men’s heads. They took some sticks and flew away. But they could not take every stick.
The king’s brother went to the queen’s room. He brought her outside and into the square. She carried the gold coats in her arms, and the birds flew with her.
At the same time the king arrived at the opposite end of the square. His white bird flew over the people’s heads.
‘It is the queen,’ cried the king. He fought his way through the people to the middle of the square.
‘A fire?’ cried the king. ‘Why are you building a fire?’ He looked at his younger brother and he knew! He was very angry, and the people were sorry. The younger brother turned to the people and shouted, ‘Do we want her to die?’ But the people did not answer ‘yes’. They looked at their feet. Then a little boy at the front shouted, ‘No.’ And everybody shouted, ‘No!’
The queen called to the white birds, ‘Come here, my brothers.’ The birds flew down to her feet. She threw her wonderful gold coats over them and they changed into ten fine young princes. The princes took the king’s brother on top of the city walls and threw him to the ground. Boys ran after them and threw stones at him. Nobody saw him again.
The king put his arms round his queen. Speak to me now, my beautiful wife.’
When you see white birds above you, listen. You will hear them cry, ‘Quickly. Quickly’. Now you understand.