ONCE there was a count and he had three daughters. All of them were young and as pretty as peacocks, but the youngest was the loveliest of them all. The count had little money to spend, for he had lost it all by gambling. And so--since he had to spend the time in some way or other--he used to go hunting., One day when he was out hunting he lost his way in a forest, and he could not find his way out of it. Suddenly a big bear rushed out at him, shouting at the top of his voice. He said he would show him the way out of the forest and, besides, he would give him as much gold and silver as he wanted on one condition, and that condition was that the count should give him one of his daughters in marriage. The count was terrified. But after thinking it over for a time, he consented at last. The bear showed him the way out
of the forest and gave him everything he had promised, and so the count was pleased.
He spent his time eating and drinking and gambling, till all the money melted away. He never so much as gave a thought to the bear, until one day, when the eldest daughter was marriageable, a carriage came rolling up. The carriage was drawn by a pair of raven-black horses, and in it sat a prince with cheeks of white and red, whose robes blazed with gold. He came and took the eldest daughter and drove off. The countess wept, but the count did not mind a bit, but being short of money, he began hunting again.
One day he lost his way again, and this time an eagle flew down to him and promised to show him the way out of the forest, and to give him heaps of money into the bargain, if he would only give him his second daughter in return. The bargain was made and the eagle fetched away the second daughter, and only the youngest was left at home. Yet even her the count sold, and it was a fish that got her.
So the count and the countess were left alone. They were very sad, but after a time a boy was born to them, and they watched
over him like the apple of their eye. When the boy was grown up, he saw that the countess looked sad sometimes, and he gave her no rest till she had told him everything. When he had heard the story, he put his best clothes on, took his sword, mounted his horse, and said good-bye to his parents, telling them that he was going to search for his lost sisters.
So he rode on till he came to the eldest sister. Her he found playing with three little bear cubs, for these were her babies. He met his brother-in-law, who gave him three hairs and told him to rub those hairs with his fingers if he found himself in any difficulty. Then he went to the second sister, and found her with two eaglets and the old eagle, his brother-in-law, as well. The eagle gave him three feathers, saying they would be of help to him in time of need. He thanked the eagle for that and went on his way, and at last he came to his youngest sister. It was not so easy to get to her, for she dwelt under the water, and he had to drop into her house through the chimney. He would have missed the chimney if it hadn't been for the smoke from it: it was bluish smoke, hardly visible.
[paragraph continues] His sister welcomed him heartily and showed him her baby, a pretty little fish, and her husband, a giant fish. The lad got three fish-scales from the husband to use in time of trouble.
He learned that the bear and the eagle were the brothers of the fish. They were sons of a powerful king, but they had been enchanted by an envious magician and turned into these shapes. The sorcerer could take different forms. But the brother must not let that dismay him. He must get hold of a golden egg which was hidden in the sorcerer and throw it on the ground. If he began to grow faint and did not know what to do, he must call one of his brothers-in-law, and he would advise him what to do.
And so it was. The young count attacked the magician, who turned into a bull. But the young count was not afraid: he rubbed the bear's hair; the bear came running up and tore the bull in pieces. But out of the bull flew a wild duck and tried to escape. Then the count thought of the eagle feathers, and immediately the eagle flew up, and he tore the duck to pieces. But a golden egg fell from the duck and it rolled into the pond. But that
too was of no avail, for the count rubbed the fish scales, and after a while the fish threw the egg upon the bank. The count caught it and flung it to the ground so that it was smashed into many pieces.
At once all around was changed. The pond turned into a meadow upon which a beautiful castle was shining. The castle was full of servants and the three princes, with their wives and children, were just walking out of it. All were overjoyed to be so happily delivered, and, when they had enough of rejoicing, they started off to find their parents.
Their first journey was to the old count and countess, so that they might enjoy the sight of their children and grandchildren. Afterwards they hastened to the old king. He ordered many cannon to be fired, and prepared a splendid banquet. And he gave the kingdom to his eldest son. The second son went to the land of the count, and it was divided between him and his brother-in-law. And the youngest went to the disenchanted castle. All of them reigned prosperously and wisely in their several realms and, if they haven't died since, they are reigning still.