The Prince Who Fell To Earth
Once upon a time in a kingdom by the sea there lived a king in a shining castle. The king's wife had died some years ago, and the king lived alone with his son, the prince, and, of course, a large retinue of servants and courtiers.
At length, having grieved respectably, the king decided that it was his duty to marry again, both to provide a mother for his son, and to beget younger sons in case they might be needed as heirs. As it happened there lived a beautiful lady in a nearby castle, a beautiful lady all dressed in green, a beautiful lady that lived alone, a beautiful lady that was greatly possessed of lands, a beautiful lady that would be a suitable wife for a lonely king who sought to wed.
The king laid court to her; his courtship was welcome, and in due course they were wed in a royal wedding. Alas the new queen had a secret that she did not share with the king. She was a witch. She had been a witch for ever so long. Far from being young, beautiful, and shapely, she was old, ugly, and deformed. By her arts, however, she had so transformed her appearance that all thought her beautiful.
If she was not as beautiful as she seemed, neither had she the pleasant and kind disposition that she presented to the world. Indeed her soul was cankered with spite and malice, and her smiles, like her beauty, were a product of craft and deceit.
Quickly the king was in her thrall; the same, however, could not be said of the prince. The king was old and soft of will; he bent easily to the demands of the new queen. The prince was young and vigorous; he was stiff in his resolve, and cared not for the new queen and her demands.
The new queen hated the young prince and desired to make an end of him. She employed her arts and cast a wicked spell that changed the young prince into an eagle. She thought that as an eagle it would be easy to have her huntsman kill him. The young prince divined her plan and foiled her. When she cast her spell he flew high into the sky and far away.
For many days he flew about the forest, hunting as eagles hunt, and eating as eagles eat, while he pondered as to what to do. Perhaps, he thought, it would be best if he were to become an eagle for good. It would be easy; given time he would forget that he had once been a man and a prince, and would only remember being an eagle. The temptation was great - he thought it grand being an eagle - but he knew that he must not. His father the king was in thrall to the witch, and must be rescued. And his honor demanded that he take revenge on the witch.
At length he bethought himself of the Wise Man of the North who lived in a grotto not far from the walls of ice. High he flew, and far he flew, into the cold winds of the North, until at last he came to the grotto of the Wise Man of the North. Down he flew, down from the clouds, and landed he at the feet of the Wise Man of the North.
The Wise Man, who was truly wise, looked at the eagle perched before him, and said, "Greetings. I would say, 'Greetings, Sir Eagle,' but I see that you are no true eagle at all, but rather a man in the guise of an eagle. Indeed, if my vision is true, you are no ordinary man, but rather an enchanted prince. Do I see truly?"
The eagle nodded its head.
The Wise Man continued, "Then it may chance that you wish to dispel this spell, and resume your form as mortal man. Would that be so?"
Again the eagle nodded its head.
Then the Wise Man said, "This is what you must do. You must fly east into the dawn to the Mountains of the Morning Sun. There on the highest peak you will find a quiver with golden arrows in it. You must take an arrow to one who loves you and have them pierce you to the heart. Only then you will resume your own true form."
The eagle nodded its head gravely in thanks and took to the air. High he flew, and far, for the Mountains of the Morning Sun lay far to the East, beyond the great forest that stretched for countless leagues, beyond the great desert where sand dunes moved restlessly, covering and uncovering the bones of hapless travellers, and even beyond the perilous pools in the enchanted glades of the foot-hills.
Far he flew, and high, by day and by night. Over the great forest he flew, hunting as he went, taking rabbits as his prey, and, once, a farmer's sheep. The prince in him regretted the harm to the farmer, but the eagle in him cared not. To be an eagle, he said, is to be an eagle.
High he flew over the great desert, by day and by night. With each dawn the Mountains of the Morning Sun grew higher in the distance until they seemed to fill the sky.
High he flew over the enchanted glades and their perilous pools, tarrying not to drink. High he flew over the Mountains of the Morning Sun, where the air was so rich with nourishing dew that to breath the air was to drink and eat, all in one.
High he flew until he came to the highest peak of all. There, at the very peak, there lay a golden quiver with four golden arrows in it. He took one arrow in his beak, took wing, and flew away to the West to return to his father's castle in the Kingdom by the Sea.
By day and by night he flew, never resting, until he arrived at his father's castle. Over the walls he flew, over the great courtyard, and through a high window, to land in the throne room at the feet of his father, the king. There he lay, prostrate and exhausted. He opened his beak and presented the golden arrow to the king.
The eagle looked at the king with sad eyes, eyes that said, "Take this arrow and pierce me to the heart. I am your son, and I will be restored to you if you but do this for me." Alas the eagle could not speak, and the king could not read eyes.
Perplexed by this strange event the king turned to his queen, the witch, who sat beside him and asked of her, "What matter of strange bird might this eagle be? Why does it come before me bearing a golden arrow? What does it expect of me?"
And the witch, his queen, replied to him, speaking soft lies. "The eagle," she said, "is no ordinary eagle. It comes from the Mountains of the Morning Sun, where it has drunk deep from the pools of the enchanted glades. High on the peak of the highest mountain there is an enchanted quiver filled with golden arrows. It is the geas of the eagle that it must bring an arrow to the finest king of all the kingdoms in the land."
The king demurred, saying, "Surely I am not worthy."
"Nay my liege," she replied, "you under rate yourself. You are far more worthy, than you know or admit."
The king denied this not, for like all men, he suspected that he was more worthy than he was willing to believe. The king bethought himself and said, "I shall have this arrow mounted in a place of honor upon the wall, and shall give this eagle the freedom of the castle."
The queen heard these words and liked them not. She knew that the eagle was the true prince, and that the spell would be broken if it chanced that the king were to pierce the eagle to the heart with the golden arrow. She foresaw that if all were done as the king commanded, the day would come when the eagle would attack the king who would defend himself with the golden arrow and pierce the eagle to the heart.
This happening she did not want, so she spoke to the king, saying, "Nay my love, that would be a fine thing to do, but finer still would be to melt the arrow and cast it in the form of a bracelet for the eagle. The great accept honors; the greatest of all give honors in return, and you, my love are the greatest of all."
The king was much struck with the wisdom of her words, and he ordered that it be so. The arrow was given to the goldsmith, who melted it down, and cast it in the form of a bracelet. The king himself clasped it about the leg of the eagle, who watched him with sad eyes as he did so. The prince who was an eagle was sad; he was with his father who knew him not, and the arrow that was to have been his freedom had been transformed into a useless gaud.
When all was done the eagle took to the air once more and flew away, for there was nothing more to be done here, and no hope, only the promise of evil triumphant. As the eagle flew away, the witch who was a queen watched him from the battlements, and said to herself, "Fly away little prince, fly away. You will come back again, you know, and when you do I will be waiting. The day will come, my fine little prince, when I will eat your gizzard."
The eagle who was a prince returned to the forest where he hunted and regained his strength. "Perhaps," he thought, "I am a fool. Perhaps it is my doom to be an eagle, and I am a fool to try to evade my destiny." Such were his thoughts as he waited to regain his strength. When he once again was himself, however, he resolved once more to do what he must to end the spell.
He knew not what to do; clearly he had done something wrong. Resolved to get the right of it, he once more flew north to the grotto of the Wise Man of the North. This were to no avail. He abased himself before the Wise Man of the North, who said only, "I have said what I have said. Do what you must do. Now get thee hence."
The eagle who was a prince saw nothing else to do but to return to the Mountains of the Morning Sun and fetch another arrow. High he flew over forest and desert, albeit not as high as before, for his golden bracelet weighed him down. Once again he flew into the dawn, once again he flew to the highest peak where there lay a golden quiver holding three golden arrows. He fetched one of them in his beak, and took to the air to return to the castle of his father.
Once again he flew over enchanted glade, and rolling dune, and great forest, albeit not as fast or as high as before, for he was weighted down with two great weights, one being his golden bracelet, and the other being the fear that his trip might be for naught.
Once again he came to the Kingdom by the Sea; once again he flew over moat and wall and courtyard; once again he flew through the great high window to land at the feet of his father. Exhausted, he let the arrow fall.
The king looked at the eagle with amazement, turned to his wife, the witch queen, and said, "Truly love, this is amazing. This bird has come to us once again, bearing an arrow. What shall I do?"
The witch, his queen, replied to him, speaking soft lies. "You see, my liege, you have earned new honors by virtue of your noble deed. You must do as before. Cast the arrow into the form of a bracelet and honor the eagle with it."
The king agreed and bade it to be so. The arrow was given to the goldsmith who cast it into the form of a bracelet. The eagle watched with sad eyes as the king clasped the second bracelet about his other leg. Once again the eagle who was a prince flew away. Once again the witch who was a queen watched him from the battlements, and said to herself, "Fly away little eagle, fly away. You will come back again, you know, and when you do I will be waiting. The day will come, my fine little eagle, when I will eat your gizzard."
The eagle who was a prince returned to the forest to regather his strength. When all was as well as it could be, but not as well as before, he resolved to return to the Mountains of the Morning Sun and fetch yet another arrow. He had scant hope; twice he had fetched an arrow, and twice it was for naught. The witch who was a queen was before him and twisted all his efforts to his despite.
This time he did not fly north. He knew now that there was nothing there for him. Once again he flew across forest and desert and enchanted glade, this time lower than before. Once again he flew to the highest peak where there lay a golden quiver holding two golden arrows. Once again he plucked an arrow from the quiver. And once again he flew over enchanted glade, rolling dunes, and verdant forest to the castle of his father. Once again he flew over moat and wall. This time, however, he did not fly through the high window. This time he flew through the low window.
Once again he lay an arrow at the feet of his father. The king turned to his wife, the witch queen, and asked, "Whatever shall we do. He has a bracelet on his left leg. He has a bracelet on his right leg. He has no more legs. Perhaps this time we should place the arrow on the wall."
The witch, his queen, replied to him, speaking soft lies. "Your thought is good my lord, but there is a better way. You have honored him with bracelets. This time you must honor him with a necklace. A golden necklace is the highest mark of esteem."
The king said, "It shall be as you wish, dear. Still it seems odd that the eagle keeps returning with golden arrows."
The third arrow was given to the goldsmith who created from it a beautiful golden necklace. The king, struck by its beauty, offered it to the queen. She, however, said that she was not worthy of it and insisted that it be given to the eagle. The king draped the necklace about the neck of the eagle.
Once again the eagle who was a prince flew away. Once again the witch who was a queen watched him from the battlements, and said to herself, "Fly away little eagle, fly away. You will come back again, you know, and when you do I will be waiting. The day will come, my fine little eagle, when I will eat your heart."
The eagle who had been a prince flew back to the forest, flying low under four heavy weights. On each leg he bore a golden bracelet. Around his neck he bore a golden necklace. And within his breast he bore the heaviest of all weights, a heavy heart.
He decided to return once more to the Mountains of the Morning Sun. He did not expect anything to come of it; he had no hope left. But he had nowhere else to go; he could not live as eagles live whilst encumbered by gold. Men may laden themselves down with gold and yet live, but not eagles.
Over the forest he flew, not high but low, hunting as he went, not very well, but well enough to keep him fed. Over the desert he flew, not high but low. He would have died of thirst, but as the rain that comes but once in a hundred years fell as he passed, and he drank the wind. When he came to the enchanted glades he sought to end his woes by drinking from the perilous pools. However the pools were all dry. Wearily the eagle made his way into the dawn and up the mountain slopes, where the air was so rich with nourishing dew that to breath the air was to drink and eat, all in one.
Refreshed,he flew up until he reached the highest peak. There he found the golden quiver. There he found the last golden arrow. He grasped it in his beak and took himself once more to the air.
Laden as he was with five heavy weights, two golden bracelets, a golden necklace, a golden arrow, and a heavy heart, he could barely fly. Low above the ground he flew down the mountain slopes. Low above the trees he flew over the enchanted glades. Low above the dunes he flew above the desert. There he would have surely died, save that he caught a tail wind that swept him across the desert. And then he came to the great forest.
Within the great forest there dwelt a huntress. She dwelt alone, her parents having died some few years before. She was a mighty huntress, the match of the most skilled of huntsmen. Some said, indeed many said that she had an enchanted bow, that no mortal could have her skill, save by the aid of enchantment. Of this the truth shall never be known, for she burned the bow when she was old, and no one other than herself laid hands upon it.
Long had she remarked a strange bird flying overhead, a glittering bird that looked almost like an eagle, a bird that flew too high for the reach of her arrows. Long had she wondered what manner of bird it might be.
As she ranged the woods one day, she espied the strange bird in the air once. This time it flew low and not high, and it glittered even more than before, as though it were both flesh and gold. She seized an arrow, placed in her bow, drew the bow, and shot the arrow, all to bring the bird down. She had no doubt that it would bring the bird down, for, enchanted bow or no, she never missed.
And so it was. The arrow sped through the air and pierced the bird to the heart. The eagle who had been a prince fell like a rock.
As the eagle fell it changed into a man who landed at her feet. He was a comely young man, nude, save for two golden bracelets around his ankles, a golden necklace about his neck, a golden arrow clenched in his teeth, and her arrow in his chest. He lay there on his back, stunned, not speaking. As he lay there the arrow in his chest fell over, and behold, there was no mark or wound upon his chest.
She was sore perplexed. She had shot at a bird and had brought it down, but this was no bird. She decided that no matter how the young man had arrived at her feet, it was her duty to care for him until he could be returned to where he belonged.
She felt him about carefully and decided that he had no broken bones and that it would be alright to move him. Still, he was heavy, and her hut was far, so she resolved to make a bower for him where he lay. She made for him a bed of twigs and leaves, and lashed branches together to make for him a roof and a shelter. When she saw that he was comfortable she went back to her hut and fetched a blanket and a robe for him, and some broth that he might be fed if he should chance to wake.
He lay there, not moving, as still as could be, save the motion of his chest as he breathed. The huntress looked at him with worried eyes. Bird or man, whatever he might be, he had taken a great fall. Such a fall should have broken bones, but none were broken as far as she could tell. And yet he lay so still. Perhaps his ailment was no ordinary ill; after all he was whatever it was that he was.
At length, as the afternoon waned, the young man stirred and opened his eyes. For the longest time he looked at her, saying nothing, and then he spoke, "Who are you? Where am I? Where is this place?" And then, with a very puzzled note in his voice, he asked, "And who am I?"
She saw that he was calm, and as best she could, she answered him a calm voice, saying, "I am Diana whom men call The Huntress of the Woods. You are in the Wild Woods in the middle of the great forest. You are not far from the hut where I dwell and call home. As to who you are, I cannot say. I had hoped that you would tell me."
The two conversed at length. She asked him many things of which he knew not. He knew not his name, nor anything of eagles, or of where he had been endowed with gold ornaments, or any place he had been, or anything else as to whom he might have been or where he might have been. It was as though he had been born that day, born as a man and not as a babe. He knew little that a babe would not know, save that he had the gift of speech.
Then, as the sun slid below the horizon, a remarkable thing happened. The form of the young man blurred; she stared in wonder as he changed into an eagle, an eagle wearing two bracelets, one on each leg, and on its neck a golden necklace.
The eagle looked at her; she looked at him. She said, "Who are you? What are you?" The eagle shrugged its wings in a gesture that was almost human.
She asked, "Can you understand me?" The eagle nodded its head. She started asking questions which the eagle answered as best it could. The results were mixed. She established that the eagle was really an enchanted man, the young man that she had seen, who was under a curse. The golden bracelets, the golden necklace, and the golden arrow had something to do with lifting the curse, or perhaps were part of the curse; she wasn't quite sure. Likewise her shot with an arrow was the right thing to do but not really. It was all very confusing. It seemed that the curse was half broken but something had gone very wrong.
During the next few days the young man regained his strength by day and the eagle its strength by night. She quickly found herself having feelings for the young man that had previously been a stranger to her. Many young men had come courting her. All had sought to impress her; this young man did not. All had wooed her with promising words and erotic praise; this young man did not. All had wanted her; this young man needed her.
When some days had passed both man and eagle were able to manage on their own. She told each in their own way that she must leave them for a few days. This riddle was beyond her; she was going to consult with the Wise Woman of the South. They, or he, could not come with her, because the Wise Woman of the South would see no male. The man must tend house and the eagle must forage whilst she sought counsel.
By day and by night she travelled south, snatching sleep as she must, until she arrived at the cottage of the Wise Woman of the South. It was a pleasant little cottage, well tended, and surrounded by virtuous gardens. She knocked with some trepidation, for the Wise Woman of the South suffered fools with great vigor, and she feared that she was on a fool's errand.
The door was answered by a little old lady, a friendly little old lady, who smiled at her and said, "Yes dear, come in. I've been expecting you." The Wise Woman of the South led her into a cozy kitchen, bade her to sit, fetched her a cup of tea, fussed over her, and made her comfortable. When the huntress was refreshed and at ease, her hostess bade her tell her story.
The huntress explained about the golden eagle that she had shot, the eagle that turned out to be a man, and the half-broken curse. The Wise Woman of the South listened intently to her story and asked many shrewd questions. When all was said, the Wise Woman of the South spoke:
"You have done a good thing dear. Your young man is under a curse that could be broken if, as an eagle, he was pierced to the heart by a golden arrow wielded by one who loved him. You have done a good thing. Three times he tried to break the curse by bringing a golden arrow to one who loved him. Three times he was cheated; the golden arrows were cast into golden gauds. This was his fourth and final try. If this try failed, and it would have, he would have been cursed to be an eagle for the rest of his days."
The huntress asked, "What must I do?"
"Your young man is bound to you. You must set him free. The eagle will know where to go. Tell him he must arrive at dawn; when he does, the young man will know what to do."
The huntress wailed, "But I can't set him free. If he leaves he may never come back." Then she looked appalled as she realized what she said.
The Wise Woman of the South smiled, "Yes, dear, you love him. But you must free him. If he loves you he will return. If not, then he was never yours to hold. Now go, child, and send him on his way to do what he must do."
The huntress returned the way she came, travelling by day and by night, snatching sleep as she must. When she arrived at her hut she told the young man what the Wise Woman of the South had said, save only that she said nothing of love or of being bound or of asking for love in return. Fear she felt, and no courage.
The young man listened and said that he understood. He did not know where to go or what to do, but the eagle would know. They waited until the sun failed and the young man changed once more into an eagle.
The huntress held back tears and bade the eagle to fly, but the eagle flew not. She looked at him and he looked at her until she understood. She had not told all, and the eagle knew it.
"Do you want it all?" she asked. The eagle nodded yes. So she told it all; she confessed her love, and what the Wise Woman of the South had said setting him free, not knowing whether he would return.
Then she asked, "Is that it? Is that all you needed to know?" The eagle nodded its head yes. "You will leave then?" she asked. The eagle shook its head no. She was puzzled for a bit and then she understood, and asked, "I must tell him. Is that it?" The eagle nodded its head yes.
She said to herself, half aloud, "This is very hard. I do not have the courage to do this, and could never do it, save that I must."
In the morning the young man was sore puzzled as to why he was still there. He asked the huntress if she knew why and if something had gone wrong. At first she blushed and was silent. Then she gathered her resolution like a shepherdess gathering stray sheep, and told him all.
He listened gravely, and replied that, being as a babe, he did not know what love was. He knew, however, that he wanted to be with her, and that he didn't want to leave her. Perhaps, he suggested, it would be best if he were to remain with her and not leave.
She replied that that could not be, that it would not do. He accepted this, but asked in return that she explain to him the nature of this thing called love. She did her best though she scarcely knew herself. They spent the day pleasantly enough discussing what this thing called love might. If they weren't quite clear on all of the particulars, still they settled things to their own satisfaction.
Evening came and the young man once more became an eagle. The eagle, having long ago shed bracelets and necklace, seized the golden arrow in its beak, took to the air and flew west, never looking back and never saying goodbye. The eagle, after all, was an eagle.
The eagle flew all night. Dawn came and it remained an eagle. It flew all day and all of another night. Just before dawn it came to the shining castle in the kingdom by the sea. The light of false dawn shone as it swooped over moat and wall and courtyard, as it flew through the high window, and as it landed by the high table where the king and queen were taking breakfast. As it landed it turned into a young man.
The prince knew what he must do. He seized the golden arrow and wielded as a whip. Three strokes he gave to the witch. With the first he cried, "This is for what you have done to my father." With the second he cried, "This is for what you have done to me." With the third he cried, "This is for what you done to yourself."
With these words, all of the seemings and semblances of the witch fell away, and she was revealed for what she was, shrivelled and old, and cankered with hate. She croaked at the prince, "I will eat your heart. I will." And with these words she died.
The king was horrified and shouted for the guards to seize the assassin. The prince, however, was not caught and did not stay to explain. He turned back into an eagle and flew away, back to the hut in the forest where lay his own true love. Arrows were loosed after him, but none touched him.
When the eagle was gone, one of the king's counselors said to him, "Sire, I cannot be sure, but wasn't that young man the prince, your son." By now the spells of the witch queen had fallen away from the king, and he saw truly again, and he was thrice horrified, once for what she had done to him, once for what she had done to his son, and once for what he had almost done to his son. He commanded that riders be sent out in all directions to search for his son that he might ask his son's pardon and ask to be reunited with him.
Whilst all these great alarums were proceeding the eagle returned to the huntress and forthwith turned into a man. They resumed their conversation upon the nature of love and settled matters greatly to their satisfaction. When all of the right things had been said the huntress asked the prince what had happened and, if he now knew, who he was. The prince told her about his father, the king, and the witch queen, and the curse, and the death of the witch queen.
He said that it was likely that the king was even now seeking them out, and that he would likely have to be reunited with his father, and return to his rightful place. And he said that if they were wed she would have to be a princess and even a queen in time. He recognized that would be a burden on her, but he asked her to marry him anyway, for he truly loved her and would not be happy without her.
And she replied that she was loath to take a high place, for she happy in her hut in the woods that were her home. She continued that leaving would be a great burden upon her, but she truly loved him, and could not be happy without him, so she would marry him.
They would have continued on in this vein for some time, but his father's riders came upon them and bore them away to the shining castle in the kingdom. There the king was reunited with his son, and was delighted to meet his new daughter. The prince and the huntress were wed in a royal wedding.
In time the old king passed away and the prince became the new king and his huntress bride became the new queen. They were not perfectly happy, for each had been a wild thing, and the royal life chafed at them. From time to time, though, the huntress queen would go hunting in the company of a great eagle, so they dealt well enough.
Some years later when the royal nursery had been filled, the Wise Man of the North send a messenger bird to the Wise Woman of the South bearing a message, "We seem to have made a match." She replied with a messenger bird of her own, "They have made a match. We never shall." The Wise Man of the North made no reply because none was needed.
So it was, and so it shall ever be.
This page was last updated November 22, 2003.