487. The joyous (IX)
Behind the waterfall is a maiden and before the waterfall there is a large flat rock with three red spots on it, three blood drops from long ago. If you walk up to the waterfall, the first red drop will call out to you, “Come, jump in the plunge-pool—jump into the green, green water below.” Traveller, ignore this call. The plunge-pool contains a vortex that has pulled many men to their death. If you walk on, the second red drop will call out to you, “Come, lie on the smooth rock for a while and enjoy the sun—rest your tired limbs.” Traveller, ignore this call. The men who lie down on the stone fall into a deep sleep from which they never awake—and the crows come and peck out their eyes and tongues, and the foxes carry away their bones. If you walk on, the third blood drop will call out to you, “Come, walk along the rope bridge that leads behind the waterfall—let the cool waters revive you and let the maiden embrace you.” Traveller, ignore this call. The men who pass beneath the waters on the rope bridge are all swept away by its force, and dashed to jelly on the rocks below—so that their brains slide about on the slimy green rocks.
“How do I pass the waterfall, uncle?” That is a fine question, a wise question. You must be canny, cannier than every other man in the seven kingdoms. Can you truly be so? Can you be like the crafty raven and the sly fox? “I think so.” Indeed. Let me tell you that the maiden is herself imprisoned; she was the daughter of a king, but her stepmother’s envy towards her grew greatly; yet she relented at the thought of murder—so she had her daughter give away the king’s son to gypsies, and then she left a few bones and scraps of clothes dappled with blood in the son’s bed.
Then the stepmother said that the king’s daughter consumed human flesh—her brother’s flesh; and the king, horrified but still with tender feelings towards his daughter, sent her to live beneath the waterfall—and charged a man to lower down a basket of food every week.
Is she a great beauty, you ask? Yes, of course—of course she is so, there is no fairer beauty in the world. There is a way to reach her, but first you must find the miller in the village near the waterfall. The miller knows all about the waterfall and the stream that runs from it—he uses that water to turn his great wheel and mill his flour; he is the keeper of the falls.
Indeed, he knows it so well that it is he who is trusted to bring the maiden her food each week; and, be quite sure, if you find the miller and work for three days in his great mill then you will find—at last—that he will grant you a favour; he will shake the dust from his hands and say, “By my honour, I will grant you one request.”
And that, my boy, is when you must take the opportunity. Ask the miller to let you down on the rope to the king’s daughter, and then, when you are quite secure, have him draw you both up—remember that his great arms are more than powerful enough to do it. Then you must ride, ride with the daughter to the palace—and I will meet you there, for, as you know, I am the Prince of the Gypsies, and the king’s son was bundled away to me all those years ago and now he has grown full strong. So go now, go to the miller and find the waterfall—bring the maiden back and I shall chop the stepmother into seven equal pieces with this here axe, and we shall all live in happiness to the end of our days.