The Gate of the Giant Scissors by Annie Fellows Johnston
Chapter II. A New Fairy Tale.
Once upon a time, on a far island of the sea, there lived a King with seven sons. The three eldest were tall and dark, with eyes like eagles, and hair like a crow's wing for blackness, and no princes in all the land were so strong and fearless as they. The three youngest sons were tall and fair, with eyes as blue as cornflowers, and locks like the summer sun for brightness, and no princes in all the land were so brave and beautiful as they.
But the middle son was little and lorn; he was neither dark nor fair; he was neither handsome nor strong. So when the King saw that he never won in the tournaments nor led in the boar hunts, nor sang to his lute among the ladies of the court, he drew his royal robes around him, and henceforth frowned on Ethelried.
To each of his other sons he gave a portion of his kingdom, armor and plumes, a prancing charger, and a trusty sword; but to Ethelried he gave nothing. When the poor Prince saw his brothers riding out into the world to win their fortunes, he fain would have followed. Throwing himself on his knees before the King, he cried, "Oh, royal Sire, bestow upon me also a sword and a steed, that I may up and away to follow my brethren."
But the King laughed him to scorn. "Thou a sword!" he quoth. "Thou who hast never done a deed of valor in all thy life! In sooth thou shalt have one, but it shall be one befitting thy maiden size and courage, if so small a weapon can be found in all my kingdom!"
Now just at that moment it happened that the Court Tailor came into the room to measure the King for a new mantle of ermine. Forthwith the grinning Jester began shrieking with laughter, so that the bells upon his motley cap were all set a-jangling.
"What now, Fool?" demanded the King.
"I did but laugh to think the sword of Ethelried had been so quickly found," responded the Jester, and he pointed to the scissors hanging from the Tailor's girdle.
"By my troth," exclaimed the King, "it shall be even as thou sayest!" and he commanded that the scissors be taken from the Tailor, and buckled to the belt of Ethelried.
"Not until thou hast proved thyself a prince with these, shalt thou come into thy kingdom," he swore with a mighty oath. "Until that far day, now get thee gone!"
So Ethelried left the palace, and wandered away over mountain and moor with a heavy heart. No one knew that he was a prince; no fireside offered him welcome; no lips gave him a friendly greeting. The scissors hung useless and rusting by his side.
One night as he lay in a deep forest, too unhappy to sleep, he heard a noise near at hand in the bushes. By the light of the moon he saw that a ferocious wild beast had been caught in a hunter's snare, and was struggling to free itself from the heavy net. His first thought was to slay the animal, for he had had no meat for many days. Then he bethought himself that he had no weapon large enough.
While he stood gazing at the struggling beast, it turned to him with such a beseeching look in its wild eyes, that he was moved to pity.
"Thou shalt have thy liberty," he cried, "even though thou shouldst rend me in pieces the moment thou art free. Better dead than this craven life to which my father hath doomed me!"
So he set to work with the little scissors to cut the great ropes of the net in twain. At first each strand seemed as hard as steel, and the blades of the scissors were so rusty and dull that he could scarcely move them. Great beads of sweat stood out on his brow as he bent himself to the task.
Presently, as he worked, the blades began to grow sharper and sharper, and brighter and brighter, and longer and longer. By the time that the last rope was cut the scissors were as sharp as a broadsword, and half as long as his body.
At last he raised the net to let the beast go free. Then he sank on his knees in astonishment. It had suddenly disappeared, and in its place stood a beautiful Fairy with filmy wings, which shone like rainbows in the moonlight.
"Prince Ethelried," she said in a voice that was like a crystal bell's for sweetness, "dost thou not know that thou art in the domain of a frightful Ogre? It was he who changed me into the form of a wild beast, and set the snare to capture me. But for thy fearlessness and faithful perseverance in the task which thou didst in pity undertake, I must have perished at dawn."
At this moment there was a distant rumbling as of thunder. "'Tis the Ogre!" cried the Fairy. "We must hasten." Seizing the scissors that lay on the ground where Ethelried had dropped them, she opened and shut them several times, exclaiming:
"Scissors, grow a giant's height And save us from the Ogre's might!"
Immediately they grew to an enormous size, and, with blades extended, shot through the tangled thicket ahead of them, cutting down everything that stood in their way,--bushes, stumps, trees, vines; nothing could stand before the fierce onslaught of those mighty blades.
The Fairy darted down the path thus opened up, and Ethelried followed as fast as he could, for the horrible roaring was rapidly coming nearer. At last they reached a wide chasm that bounded the Ogre's domain. Once across that, they would be out of his power, but it seemed impossible to cross. Again the Fairy touched the scissors, saying:
"Giant scissors, bridge the path, And save us from the Ogre's wrath."
Again the scissors grew longer and longer, until they lay across the chasm like a shining bridge. Ethelried hurried across after the Fairy, trembling and dizzy, for the Ogre was now almost upon them. As soon as they were safe on the other side, the Fairy blew upon the scissors, and, presto, they became shorter and shorter until they were only the length of an ordinary sword.
"Here," she said, giving them into his hands; "because thou wast persevering and fearless in setting me free, these shall win for thee thy heart's desire. But remember that thou canst not keep them sharp and shining, unless they are used at least once each day in some unselfish service."
Before he could thank her she had vanished, and he was left in the forest alone. He could see the Ogre standing powerless to hurt him, on the other side of the chasm, and gnashing his teeth, each one of which was as big as a millston.
The sight was so terrible, that he turned on his heel, and fled away as fast as his feet could carry him. By the time he reached the edge of the forest he was very tired, and ready to faint from hunger. His heart's greatest desire being for food, he wondered if the scissors could obtain it for him as the Fairy had promised. He had spent his last coin and knew not where to go for another.
Just then he spied a tree, hanging full of great, yellow apples. By standing on tiptoe he could barely reach the lowest one with his scissors. He cut off an apple, and was about to take a bite, when an old Witch sprang out of a hollow tree across the road.
"So you are the thief who has been stealing my gold apples all this last fortnight!" she exclaimed. "Well, you shall never steal again, that I promise you. Ho, Frog-eye Fearsome, seize on him and drag him into your darkest dungeon!"
At that, a hideous-looking fellow, with eyes like a frog's, green hair, and horrid clammy webbed fingers, clutched him before he could turn to defend himself. He was thrust into the dungeon and left there all day.
At sunset, Frog-eye Fearsome opened the door to slide in a crust and a cup of water, saying in a croaking voice, "You shall be hanged in the morning, hanged by the neck until you are quite dead." Then he stopped to run his webbed fingers through his damp green hair, and grin at the poor captive Prince, as if he enjoyed his suffering. But the next morning no one came to take him to the gallows, and he sat all day in total darkness. At sunset Frog-eye Fearsome opened the door again to thrust in another crust and some water and say, "In the morning you shall be drowned; drowned in the Witch's mill-pond with a great stone tied to your heels."
Again the croaking creature stood and gloated over his victim, then left him to the silence of another long day in the dungeon. The third day he opened the door and hopped in, rubbing his webbed hands together with fiendish pleasure, saying, "You are to have no food and drink to-night, for the Witch has thought of a far more horrible punishment for you. In the morning I shall surely come again, and then--beware!"
Now as he stopped to grin once more at the poor Prince, a Fly darted in, and, blinded by the darkness of the dungeon, flew straight into a spider's web, above the head of Ethelried.
"Poor creature!" thought Ethelried. "Thou shalt not be left a prisoner in this dismal spot while I have the power to help thee." He lifted the scissors and with one stroke destroyed the web, and gave the Fly its freedom.
As soon as the dungeon had ceased to echo with the noise that Frog-eye Fearsome made in banging shut the heavy door, Ethelried heard a low buzzing near his ear. It was the Fly, which had alighted on his shoulder.
"Let an insect in its gratitude teach you this," buzzed the Fly. "To-morrow, if you remain here, you must certainly meet your doom, for the Witch never keeps a prisoner past the third night. But escape is possible. Your prison door is of iron, but the shutter which bars the window is only of wood. Cut your way out at midnight, and I will have a friend in waiting to guide you to a place of safety. A faint glimmer of light on the opposite wall shows me the keyhole. I shall make my escape thereat and go to repay thy unselfish service to me. But know that the scissors move only when bidden in rhyme. Farewell."
The Prince spent all the following time until midnight, trying to think of a suitable verse to say to the scissors. The art of rhyming had been neglected in his early education, and it was not until the first cock-crowing began that he succeeded in making this one:
"Giant scissors, serve me well, And save me from the Witch's spell!"
As he uttered the words the scissors leaped out of his hand, and began to cut through the wooden shutters as easily as through a cheese. In a very short time the Prince had crawled through the opening. There he stood, outside the dungeon, but it was a dark night and he knew not which way to turn.
He could hear Frog-eye Fearsome snoring like a tempest up in the watch-tower, and the old Witch was talking in her sleep in seven languages. While he stood looking around him in bewilderment, a Firefly alighted on his arm. Flashing its little lantern in the Prince's face, it cried, "This way! My friend, the Fly, sent me to guide you to a place of safety. Follow me and trust entirely to my guidance."
The Prince flung his mantle over his shoulder, and followed on with all possible speed. They stopped first in the Witch's orchard, and the Firefly held its lantern up while the Prince filled his pockets with the fruit. The apples were gold with emerald leaves, and the cherries were rubies, and the grapes were great bunches of amethyst. When the Prince had filled his pockets he had enough wealth to provide for all his wants for at least a twelvemonth.
The Firefly led him on until they came to a town where was a fine inn. There he left him, and flew off to report the Prince's safety to the Fly and receive the promised reward.
Here Ethelried stayed for many weeks, living like a king on the money that the fruit jewels brought him. All this time the scissors were becoming little and rusty, because he never once used them, as the Fairy bade him, in unselfish service for others. But one day he bethought himself of her command, and started out to seek some opportunity to help somebody.
Soon he came to a tiny hut where a sick man lay moaning, while his wife and children wept beside him. "What is to become of me?" cried the poor peasant. "My grain must fall and rot in the field from overripeness because I have not the strength to rise and harvest it; then indeed must we all starve."
Ethelried heard him, and that night, when the moon rose, he stole into the field to cut it down with the giant scissors. They were so rusty from long idleness that he could scarcely move them. He tried to think of some rhyme with which to command them; but it had been so long since he had done any thinking, except for his own selfish pleasure, that his brain refused to work.
However, he toiled on all night, slowly cutting down the grain stalk by stalk. Towards morning the scissors became brighter and sharper, until they finally began to open and shut of their own accord. The whole field was cut by sunrise. Now the peasant's wife had risen very early to go down to the spring and dip up some cool water for her husband to drink. She came upon Ethelried as he was cutting the last row of the grain, and fell on her knees to thank him. From that day the peasant and all his family were firm friends of Ethelried's, and would have gone through fire and water to serve him.
After that he had many adventures, and he was very busy, for he never again forgot what the Fairy had said, that only unselfish service each day could keep the scissors sharp and shining. When the shepherd lost a little lamb one day on the mountain, it was Ethelried who found it caught by the fleece in a tangle of cruel thorns. When he had cut it loose and carried it home, the shepherd also became his firm friend, and would have gone through fire and water to serve him.
The grandame whom he supplied with fagots, the merchant whom he rescued from robbers, the King's councillor to whom he gave aid, all became his friends. Up and down the land, to beggar or lord, homeless wanderer or high-born dame, he gladly gave unselfish service all unsought, and such as he helped straightway became his friends.
Day by day the scissors grew sharper and sharper and ever more quick to spring forward at his bidding.
One day a herald dashed down the highway, shouting through his silver trumpet that a beautiful Princess had been carried away by the Ogre. She was the only child of the King of this country, and the knights and nobles of all other realms and all the royal potentates were prayed to come to her rescue. To him who could bring her back to her father's castle should be given the throne and kingdom, as well as the Princess herself.
So from far and near, indeed from almost every country under the sun, came knights and princes to fight the Ogre. One by one their brave heads were cut off and stuck on poles along the moat that surrounded the castle.
Still the beautiful Princess languished in her prison. Every night at sunset she was taken up to the roof for a glimpse of the sky, and told to bid good-by to the sun, for the next morning would surely be her last. Then she would wring her lily-white hands and wave a sad farewell to her home, lying far to the westward. When the knights saw this they would rush down to the chasm and sound a challenge to the Ogre.
They were brave men, and they would not have feared to meet the fiercest wild beasts, but many shrunk back when the Ogre came rushing out. They dared not meet in single combat, this monster with the gnashing teeth, each one of which was as big as a millston.
Among those who drew back were Ethelried's brothers (the three that were dark and the three that were fair). They would not acknowledge their fear. They said, "We are only waiting to lay some wily plan to capture the Ogre."
After several days Ethelried reached the place on foot. "See him," laughed one of the brothers that was dark to one that was fair. "He comes afoot; no prancing steed, no waving plumes, no trusty sword; little and lorn, he is not fit to be called a brother to princes."
But Ethelried heeded not their taunts. He dashed across the drawbridge, and, opening his scissors, cried:
"Giant scissors, rise in power! Grant me my heart's desire this hour!"
The crowds on the other side held their breath as the Ogre rushed out, brandishing a club as big as a church steeple. Then Whack! Bang! The blows of the scissors, warding off the blows of the mighty club, could be heard for miles around.
At last Ethelried became so exhausted that he could scarcely raise his hand, and it was plain to be seen that the scissors could not do battle much longer. By this time a great many people, attracted by the terrific noise, had come running up to the moat. The news had spread far and wide that Ethelried was in danger; so every one whom he had ever served dropped whatever he was doing, and ran to the scene of the battle. The peasant was there, and the shepherd, and the lords and beggars and high-born dames, all those whom Ethelried had ever befriended.
As they saw that the poor Prince was about to be vanquished, they all began a great lamentation, and cried out bitterly.
"He saved my harvest," cried one. "He found my lamb," cried another. "He showed me a greater kindness still," shouted a third. And so they went on, each telling of some unselfish service that the Prince had rendered him. Their voices all joined at last into such a roar of gratitude that the scissors were given fresh strength on account of it. They grew longer and longer, and stronger and stronger, until with one great swoop they sprang forward and cut the ugly old Ogre's head from his shoulders.
Every cap was thrown up, and such cheering rent the air as has never been heard since. They did not know his name, they did not know that he was Prince Ethelried, but they knew by his valor that there was royal blood in his veins. So they all cried out long and loud: "Long live the Prince! Prince Ciseaux!"
Then the King stepped down from his throne and took off his crown to give to the conqueror, but Ethelried put it aside.
"Nay," he said. "The only kingdom that I crave is the kingdom of a loving heart and a happy fireside. Keep all but the Princess."
So the Ogre was killed, and the Prince came into his kingdom that was his heart's desire. He married the Princess, and there was feasting and merrymaking for seventy days and seventy nights, and they all lived happily ever after.
When the feasting was over, and the guests had all gone to their homes, the Prince pulled down the house of the Ogre and built a new one. On every gable he fastened a pair of shining scissors to remind himself that only through unselfish service to others comes the happiness that is highest and best.
Over the great entrance gate he hung the ones that had served him so valiantly, saying, "Only those who belong to the kingdom of loving hearts and happy homes can ever enter here."
One day the old King, with the brothers of Ethelried (the three that were dark and the three that were fair), came riding up to the portal. They thought to share in Ethelried's fame and splendor. But the scissors leaped from their place and snapped so angrily in their faces that they turned their horses and fled.
Then the scissors sprang back to their place again to guard the portal of Ethelried, and, to this day, only those who belong to the kingdom of loving hearts may enter the Gate of the Giant Scissors.