The Crimson Fairy Book - online children's book

A Classic fairy tale collection for children by Andrew Lang

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The gold-bearded man had been in captivity about a month, when the king was forced to make war upon a neighbouring country, and left the palace, to take command of his army. But before he went he called his stepson to him and said:
'Listen, boy, to what I tell you. While I am away I trust the care of my prisoner to you. See that he has plenty to eat and drink, but he careful that he does not escape, or even walk about the room. If I return and find him gone, you will pay for it by a terrible death.'
The young prince was thankful that his stepfather was going to the war, and secretly hoped he might never come back. Directly he had ridden off the boy went to the room where the cage was kept, and never left it night and day. He even played his games beside it.
One day he was shooting at a mark with a silver bow; one of his arrows fell into the golden cage.
'Please give me my arrow,' said the prince, running up to him; but the gold-bearded man answered:
'No, I shall not give it to you unless you let me out of my cage.'
'I may not let you out,' replied the boy, 'for if I do my stepfather says that I shall have to die a horrible death when he returns from the war. My arrow can be of no use to you, so give it to me.'
The man handed the arrow through the bars, but when he had done so he begged harder than ever that the prince would open the door and set him free. Indeed, he prayed so earnestly that the prince's heart was touched, for he was a tender-hearted boy who pitied the sorrows of other people. So he shot back the bolt, and the gold-bearded man stepped out into the world.
'I will repay you a thousand fold for that good deed.' said the man, and then he vanished. The prince began to think what he should say to the king when he came back; then he wondered whether it would be wise to wait for his stepfather's return and run the risk of the dreadful death which had been promised him. 'No,' he said to himself, 'I am afraid to stay. Perhaps the world will be kinder to me than he has been.'
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