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The Dark King1
Continued from page 2
It was in vain she protested she could not be so ungrateful and cruel; they over-persuaded her with their arguments, and frightened her so with their reproaches that she went back resolved to do their bidding.
The next morning she called up all her courage and pushed open the closed door. Inside were a number of beautiful maidens weaving glittering raiment.
'What are you doing?' asked the chicory-gatherer.
'Making raiment for the bride of the Dark King against her espousals,' replied the maidens.
A little further on was a goldsmith and all his men working at all sorts of splendid ornaments filled with pearls and diamonds and rubies.
'What are you doing?' asked the girl.
'Making ornaments for the bride of the Dark King against her espousals,' replied the goldsmiths.
A little further on was a little old hunchback sitting crosslegged, and patching an old torn coat with a heap of other worn-out clothes lying about him.
'What are you doing?' asked the maiden.
'Mending the rags for the girl to go away in who was to have been the bride of the Dark King,' replied the little old hunchback.
Beyond the room where this was going on was a passage, and at the end of this a door, which she also pushed open. It gave entrance to a room where, on a bed, the Dark King lay asleep.
'This is the time to apply the stiletto my sisters gave me,' thought the maiden. 'I shall never have so good a chance again. They said he was a horrid old enchanter; let me see if he looks like one.'
So saying she took one of the tapers from a golden bracket and held it near his face. It was true enough; his skin was black, his hair was grizly and rough, his features crabbed and forbidding.
'They're right, there's no doubt. It were better the earth were rid of him, as they say,' she said within herself; and, steeling herself with this reflection, she plunged the knife into his breast.
But as she wielded the weapon with the right hand, the left, in which she held the lighted taper, wavered, and some of the scalding wax fell on the forehead of the Dark King. The dropping of the wax3 woke him; and when he saw the blood flowing from his breast, and perceived what she had done, he said sadly,
'Why have you done this? I meant well by you and really loved you, and thought if I fulfilled all you desire, you would in time have loved me. But it is over now. You must leave this place, and go back to be again what you were before.'
Then he called servants, and bade them dress her again in her poor chicory-gatherer's dress, and send her up to earth again; and it was done. But as they were about to lead her away, he said again,
'Yet one thing I will do. Take these three hairs; and if ever you are in dire distress and peril of life with none to help, burn them, and I will come to deliver you.'
1 'Il Rè Moro.'
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