176 THE WATER-LILY. THE GOLD-SPINNERS
herself and on the Prince. The maiden could not rest for thinking of this. At last she could bear it no longer, and resolved to seek help from the Prince.
As a child she had learnt to understand the speech of birds, and this was now of great use to her, for, seeing a raven pluming itself on a pine bough, she cried softly to it : ' Dear bird, cleverest of all birds, as well as swiftest of wing, wilt thou help me ?' ' How can I help thee ? ' asked the raven. She answered: ' Fly away, until thou comest to a splendid town, where stands a king's palace; seek out the king's son and tell him that a great misfortune has befallen me.' Then she told the raven how her thread had lost its brightness, how terribly angry the old woman was, and how she feared some great disaster. The raven promised faithfully to do her bidding* and, spreading its wings, flew away. The maiden now went home and worked hard all day at winding up the yarn her elder sisters had spun, for the old woman would let her spin no longer. Towards evening she heard the raven's ' craa, craa ' from the pine tree and eagerly hastened thither to hear the answer.
By great good fortune the raven had found a wind wizard's son in the palace garden, who understood the speech of birds, and to him he had entrusted the message. When the Prince heard it, he was very sorrowful, and took counsel with his friends how to free the maiden. Then he said to the wind wizard's son: ' Beg the raven to fly quickly back to the maiden and tell her to be ready on the ninth night, for then will I come and fetch her away.' The wind wizard's son did this, and the raven flew so swiftly that it reached the hut that same evening. The maiden thanked the bird heartily and went home, telling no one what she had heard.
As the ninth night drew near she became very unhappy, for she feared lest some terrible mischance should arise and ruin all. On the night she crept quietly out of the house and waited trembling at some little distance from the hut. Presently she heard the muffled tramp of horses, and soon the armed troop appeared, led by the Prince, who had prudently marked all the trees beforehand, in order to know the way. "When he saw the maiden he sprang from his horse, lifted her into the saddle, and then, mounting behind, rode homewards. The moon shone so brightly that they had no difficulty in seeing the marked trees.
By-and-by the coming dawn loosened the tongues of all the birds, and, had the Prince only known what they were saying, or the maiden been listening, they might have been spared much sorrow,