The Girl-Fish

The Girl Fish

The Girl-Fish

Illustrated By: Tristan Liu

Once upon a time there lived on the bank of a stream a man and a woman who had a daughter. They never could make up their minds to punish her for her faults or to teach her nice manners. As for work -- she laughed in her mother's face if the mother asked her to help cook the dinner or to wash the plates.

All the girl would do was spend her days dancing and playing with her friends. She was no use to her parents, and sometimes they thought they might as well have had no child at all.

The Girl Fish

One morning, her mother looked so tired that even the selfish girl could not help seeing it.  She asked if there was anything she could do so that her mother might rest a little.

The good woman looked so surprised and grateful for this offer that the girl felt rather ashamed, and at that moment would have scrubbed down the house if she had been requested.  But her mother only begged her to take the fishing-net out to the bank of the river and mend some holes in it, as her father intended to go fishing that night.

The Girl Fish

The girl took the net and worked so hard that soon there was not a hole to be found. She felt quite pleased with herself.  All this time she had plenty of company to amuse her, as everybody who passed by had stopped to have a chat with her.

But the time when the sun was starting to set, she was just folding her mended net to carry home when she heard a splash behind her.  Looking around she saw a big fish jump into the air. At once she seized the net, flung it into the water, and drew out the fish.

"Well, you are quite a fine-looking fish!" she said, thinking how pleased her parents would be if she came home with this beautiful specimen for dinner.  But to her surprise the fish looked up to her and said, "You had better not kill me, for if you do, I will turn you into a fish yourself!"

"You had better not kill me!"

But the girl paid no heed to this and ran straight to her mother.

"Look what I caught!" she said gaily. She left the fish with her mother, and off she went to gather some flowers to stick in her hair.

About an hour later the blowing of a horn told her that dinner was ready.

"Didn't I say that fish would be delicious?" she cried. Plunging her spoon into the dish, the girl helped herself to a large piece. But the instant it touched her mouth a cold shiver ran through her. Her head seemed to flatten and her eyes to look oddly round the corners. Her legs and arms were stuck to her sides, and she gasped wildly for breath. With a mighty bound she sprang through the window and fell into the river, where she soon felt better and was able to swim down the river to the sea, which was close by.

With a mighty bound she sprang through the window and fell into the river.

No sooner had she arrived under the sea than the sight of her sad face attracted the notice of some of the other fishes.  They pressed around her, begging her to tell them her story.

"I am not a fish at all," said the newcomer, swallowing a great deal of salt water as she spoke, for you cannot learn how to be a proper fish, all in a moment.  "I am not a fish but a girl, at least I was a girl only a few minutes ago--" And she ducked her head under the waves so that they would not see her crying.

"Only you did not believe that the fish you caught had the power to carry out its threat," said an old tuna. "Well, never mind, that has happened to many of us, and it really is not such a bad life under the sea. Cheer up and come with us and see our Queen, who lives in a palace."

"That has happened to many of us, and it really is not such a bad life under the sea."

The new fish felt a little afraid of going on a journey that would take her far from the shore that was her home, but as she was still more afraid of being left alone and since these fish seemed friendly, at least, she waved her tail in a token of consent. Off they all set, hundreds of them swimming together.

At first the Girl-Fish felt as if she were blind in the dark waters, but by-and-by she began to make out one object after another in the green dimness.  By the time she had swum for a few hours, the waters were all but clear.

By and by she began to make out one object after another in the green dimness.

"Here we are at last!" cried a big fish, dipping down into a deep valley. For you must know that the sea has its own mountains and valleys, much like the land. "There! That is the palace of the Queen of the Fishes, and I think you must admit that the Emperor himself on land has nothing so fine as this!"

"It is beautiful indeed," panted the Girl-Fish, who was very tired with trying to swim as fast as the rest. The palace walls were made of pale pink coral, worn smooth by the waters, and surrounding all the windows were rows of pearls.

The Girl Fish

The great doors to the palace were standing open and the whole troop floated into the chamber of audience, where before them was the Queen on a coral throne. She was mermaid-like, having a human form from the head to the waist and a tail from the waist down.

"Who are you, and where do you come from?" said the Queen to the little fish, whom the others had pushed in front. And in a low, trembling voice, the visitor told her story.

When the fish ended her tale of woe, the Queen answered, "I share at least one part of your story. I was also once a young woman on the land, a princess in fact, and my father was the King of a great country. A husband was found for me and on my wedding day my mother placed her crown on my head and told me that as long as I wore the crown I would be Queen."

"I was also once a young woman on the land, a princess in fact, and my father was the King of a great country."

The Queen continued.  "For a few years I was as happy as a young Queen could be," she said, "especially when I had a little son to play with. But one morning when I was out walking in my royal gardens, along came a Giant who snatched the crown from my head! Holding me fast, he told me that he intended to give my crown to his own daughter, and to put her on my throne.  He would enchant my husband the Prince so he would not know the difference between us. Ever since, the imposter has filled my place and has been Queen in my stead.

"As for me, I was so miserable that I threw myself into the sea, and my ladies, who loved me, declared that they would die too. But instead of dying, some wizard who pitied my fate turned us all into fishes, though he allowed me to keep the face and upper body of a woman. And fishes we must remain until my crown is restored."

"I will bring back your crown if you tell me what to do!" cried the Girl-Fish, who was much moved by the story and besides, sensed if she could somehow manage to bring back the crown, perhaps the Queen would carry her back up to earth, too.

"I will bring back your crown if you tell me what to do!" cried the Girl-Fish.

The Queen answered, "Well then yes, I will tell you what to do."  She sat silent for a moment and then said, "Remember this.  There is no danger as long as you are careful to follow my counsel." 

"I will," promised the Girl-Fish.

"First," said the Queen, "you must return to earth and go up to the top of a high mountain, where the Giant has built his castle. You will find him sitting on the steps weeping for his daughter, who has just died while my husband, who had been a Prince but is now King of the land, was away hunting. I warn you to be careful, for if he sees you, the Giant may kill you.

"Therefore I will give you the power to change yourself into any animal creature that may help you best. You have only to strike your forehead and call out the name of the animal you wish to be. Mind you, you may not become a human or any magical creature, but you may choose to become any animal of the forest, field or stream."

"I will give you the power to change yourself into any animal creature that may help you best."

This time the journey to land seemed much shorter than before.  When the little fish reached the shore, she struck her forehead sharply with her fishtail and cried, "A deer, that's what I'd like to be!"

In a moment the small slimy body disappeared, and in its place she stood as a beautiful beast with soft fur and slender legs, quivering with a longing to be off. Throwing back her head and snuffling the air, she broke into a run, leaping easily over the creeks and rivers that stood in her way.

The Girl Fish

It so happened that the King's son, who had now grown up, had been hunting since daybreak but had killed nothing.  When the deer crossed his path as he was resting under a tree, he determined to have her. He flung himself on his horse, which flew like the wind.  As the Prince had often hunted in the forest before and knew all the shortcuts, he at last came up with the panting beast.

"By your favor let me go, and do not kill me," said the Deer, turning to the Prince with tears in her eyes, "for I have far to run and much to do." The Prince, struck dumb with surprise, only looked at her, and the deer cleared the next wall and was soon out of sight.

"I have far to run and much to do."

"That can't really be a deer," thought the Prince, reining in his horse and not attempting to follow her. "No deer ever had eyes like that. It must be an enchanted maiden.  I must somehow find her and help her throw off her enchantment." Turning his horse's head, he rode back to his palace.

The deer reached the Giant's castle quite out of breath.  Her heart sank as she gazed at the tall, smooth walls which surrounded it. Then she plucked up courage and cried, "An ant, that's what I'd like to be!" And in a moment the soft fur and beautiful shape had vanished, and a tiny brown ant, invisible to all who did not look closely, was climbing up the walls.

The Girl Fish

It was wonderful how fast she went, as that little creature! The wall must have appeared miles high in comparison with her own body, yet in less time than would have seemed possible, she was over the top and down in the courtyard on the other side. Here she paused to consider what had best be done next.  Looking about her, she saw that one of the walls had a tall tree growing by it, and in a high corner of the wall was a window very nearly on a level with the highest branches of the tree.

"A monkey, that's what I'd like to be!" cried the ant.  Before you could turn around, a monkey was swinging herself to the the topmost branches and into the room where the Giant lay snoring.

"The Giant could be so startled at the sight of a swinging monkey, that he may never give me the crown," worried the monkey. "I had better become something else."

"The Giant could be so startled at the sight of a swinging monkey, that he may never give me the crown," worried the monkey.

Then she was a pink and gray parrot who hopped up to the Giant, who by this time was stretching himself and giving yawns that shook the castle. The parrot waited a little, until the Giant was really awake.  Then she said boldly that she had been sent to take away the crown, which was never rightfully his and certainly not any longer, now that his daughter the queen was dead.

On hearing these words the Giant leapt out of bed with an angry roar.  He sprang at the parrot in order to wring her neck with his great hands. But the bird was too quick for him.  Flying behind his back, she begged the Giant to have patience, as her death would be of no use to him.

"That may be true," answered the Giant, "but I am not so foolish as to give you that crown for nothing! Let me think what I will have in exchange." And he scratched his huge head for several minutes.

"I am not so foolish as to give you that crown for nothing!"

"Ah, yes!" he exclaimed at last, his face brightening. "You shall have the crown if you bring me a collar of blue gemstones from the Great Arch."

Now when the parrot had been a little girl she had often heard of the wonderful Great Arch and its precious stones and marbles. It sounded as if it would be a very hard thing to get them out of the stone structure of which they formed a part.  Still, all had gone well with her so far and at any rate she might as well try. So she bowed to the giant, and made her way back to the window where the giant could not see her. Then she called quickly, "An eagle, that's what I'd like to be!"

Before she had even reached the tree she felt herself borne up on strong wings ready to carry her to the clouds if she wished to go there.  Seeming a mere speck in the sky, she was swept along until she beheld the Great Arch far below, with the rays of the sun shining on it. She swooped down and, hiding herself behind a buttress so that she could not be detected from below, set herself to dig out the nearest blue stones with her beak.

Seeming a mere speck in the sky, she was swept along until she beheld the Great Arch far below.

It was even harder work than she expected but at last the stones were loose and then the gems were free!  Hope arose in her heart. She next drew out a piece of vine that she had found hanging from a tree.  Sitting down to rest, she tied the vine tightly around each gem, and strung the stones together. When the necklace was finished she hung it around her neck and called, "A parrot, that's what I'd like to be!" Thus she quickly flew back with the necklace around her neck, and a little later the pink and gray parrot stood before the Giant.

"Here is the necklace you asked for," said the parrot. The eyes of the giant glistened as he took the necklace of blue stones in his hand. But for all that he was still not of a mind to give up the crown.

"Here is the necklace you asked for," said the parrot.

"They are hardly as blue as I expected," he grumbled, though the parrot knew well that as he did that he was not speaking the truth, for the stones beamed with a deep blue color that was astonishing.  "To make up for it, you must bring me a bag of stars from the sky. If you fail, it will cost you not only the crown but your life!"

The parrot was stunned.  But what could she do?  She turned away and as soon as she was outside she murmured, "A toad, that's what I want to be!" Sure enough a toad she was, and off she set in search of the bucket of stars.

She had not gone far before she came to a clear pool, in which the stars were reflected so brightly that they looked quite real to touch and handle. Stooping down, she filled a bag she was carrying with the shining water and returned to the castle. Then she cried as before, "A parrot, that's what I'd like to be!" And in the shape of a parrot she entered the presence of the Giant.

The Girl Fish

"Come outside to see it," she said.  And when the Giant stood under the stars, she opened the bag and said, "Here is the bag of stars you asked for."  This time, the Giant could not help crying out with admiration.  He knew he was beaten and he turned to the girl.

"Your power is greater than mine. So be it -- take this old crown, anyway. Who needs it?"

The parrot did not need to be told twice. Seizing the crown, she sprang onto the window, crying, "A monkey, that's what I'd like to be!" As a monkey, the climb down the tree into the courtyard did not take half a minute. Clutching the crown, when she reached the ground she said, "An ant, that's what I'd like to be!" And a little ant began to crawl over the high wall. How glad the ant was to be out of the giant's castle, holding fast the crown which had shrunk into almost nothing, as she herself had done, but grew quite big again when the ant exclaimed, "A deer, that's what I'd like to be!"

"A deer, that's what I'd like to be!"

Surely no deer ever ran so swiftly as that one! On and on she went, bounding over rivers and crashing through tangles until she reached the sea. Here she cried, "A fish, that's what I'd like to be!" And plunging in, she swam along the bottom as far as the palace, the crown held fast in her fins.  There the Queen and all the fishes were gathered together, awaiting her.

The hours since she had left had passed very slowly -- as they always do to those who are waiting -- and many of them had quite given up hope.

"The young flies will be coming out about now," grumbled one of the fish, "and they will all be eaten up by the river fish. It would really be too bad to miss them." When suddenly, a voice was heard from behind: "Look! Look! What is that bright thing moving so swiftly towards us?" The Queen started up and stood on her tail, so excited was she.

"Look!  Look!  What is that bright thing moving so swiftly towards us?"

A silence fell on all the crowd, and even the grumblers held their peace and gazed like the rest. On and on came the Girl-Fish, holding the crown tightly in her fins, and the others moved back to let her pass. On she went right up to the Queen, who bent and, taking the crown, placed it on her own head. Then a wonderful thing happened. Her tail dropped away or, rather, it divided and grew into two legs while her maidens, grouped around her, shed their scales and became young women again. They all turned and looked at each other first, and next at the little fish who had regained her own shape also.

"It is you who have given us back our life - you, you!" they cried, and fell to weeping from very joy.

The Girl Fish

So they all quickly swam to the surface and went back to the Queen's palace on land. But they had been away so long that they found many changes. 

The Queen's husband, now King, recognized her at once since the spell had been broken the moment the Queen had placed her rightful crown upon her head. The little boy she had left behind was now all grown up! Even at his joy at seeing his mother again, an air of sadness clung to him.  At last the Queen could bear it no longer and she begged him to walk with her in the garden. Seated together in a bower of jasmine -- where she had passed long hours as a bride -- she took her son's hand and entreated him to tell her the cause of his sorrow. "For," said she, "if I can give you happiness you shall have it."

"It is no use," answered the Prince, "nobody can help me. I must bear it alone."

"At least let me share your grief," urged the Queen.

There was a silence between them for a moment.  Then turning away his head, the Prince answered gently, "I have fallen in love with a beautiful deer!"

"Ah, if that is all," exclaimed the Queen joyfully. And she told him in broken words that, as he had guessed, it had been no deer but was in fact an enchanted maiden, the very one, in fact, who had won back the crown for her and had brought her home to her own people.

"She is here, in my palace!" added the Queen. "I will take you to her."

When the Prince stood before the girl, he was amazed, as he saw in her eyes the very same eyes as the deer that day in the forest.

The Girl Fish

The maiden whispered softly, "I have far to run and much to do."

The Prince remembered these words, and his heart was filled with happiness. "If I could only go there together, with you."  The Queen, his mother, watched them both and smiled.  In the days and weeks that followed, the Prince and the girl spent more time together and found that they seemed to be as comfortable as time went by as they had been the very first time they had met in the woods.

The girl invited her parents to the royal wedding, a three-day feast. And of course, the girl, now a Princess, saw to it that the missing blue gemstones in the Great Arch were restored.




  • Why did the girl go to such trouble to recover the queen's crown?
  • How did helping the queen change the girl's feelings?
Posted in Europe, Spain, STORIES FOR KIDS, World Tales and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .


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