THE GREEN FAIRY BOOK.
of the palace, they were surprised and delighted to find everything festively illuminated and decorated for their reception. When the prince and the golden mermaid, with the wolf behind them, mounted the steps of the palace, the emperor came forward to meet them and led them to the throne-room. At the same moment a servant appeared with the golden bird in its golden cage, and the emperor begged the prince to accept it with his love, and to forgive him the indignity he had suffered at his hands. Then the emperor bent low before the beautiful mermaid, and offering her his arm he led her in to dinner, closely followed by the prince and her friend the wolf; the latter seating himself at table, not the least embarrassed that no one had invited him to do so.
As soon as the sumptuous meal was over the prince and his mermaid took leave of the emperor, and seating themselves on the golden horse continued their homeward journey. On the way the wolf turned to the prince and said: "Dear friends, I must now bid you farewell, but I leave you under such happy circumstances that I cannot feel our parting to be a sad one." The prince was very unhappy when he heard these words and begged the wolf to stay with them always; but this the good creature refused to do, though he thanked the prince kindly for his invitation, and called out as he disappeared into the thicket: "Should any evil befall you, dear prince, at any time, you may rely on my friendship and gratitude." These were the wolf's parting words, and the prince could not restrain his tears when he saw his friend vanishing in the distance; but one glance at his beloved mermaid soon cheered him up again, and they continued on their journey merrily.
The news of his son's adventures had already reached his father's court, and every one was more than astonished at the success of the once-despised prince. His elder brothers, who had in vain gone in pursuit of the thief of the golden apples, were furious over their younger brother's good fortune, and plotted and planned how they were to kill him. They hid themselves in the wood through which the prince had to pass on his way to the palace and there fell on him, and having beaten him to death they carried off the golden horse and the golden bird. But nothing they could do would persuade the golden mermaid to go