THE NIGHTINGALE OF THE SASSLONG
Once upon a time there was a princess who dwelt in a splendid castle in the centre of a lawn, full of beautiful flowers, at the foot of the Sasslong. On a smiling, spring morning the princess stood at her window looking out on the dew-covered garden. There she saw a hawk, eager for prey, flying round and round a bush; there was obviously a nest in the bush which the hawk wanted to, attack. Then the princess went into the garden and frightened away the hawk. On doing so she looked into the bush; a little nightingale sat there, hunched up in terror. The princess was going away when the little bird began to talk with a human voice, saying:
"Because you have saved my life I will give you the power to transform yourself, when you so desire, into a nightingale; and you will never lose this power until a death occurs."
As soon as the nightingale had said this she spread her wings and fluttered away, without, awaiting any answer from the astonished princess.
The latter looked perplexedly after the lightwinged song-bird, and she wished to ask her whose death was meant by these curious words, but the nightingale had already vanished. Full of astonishment the princess returned to the castle, without saying a word to anyone about the strange thing that had happened to her. At nightfall she hastened down again to the garden, to find out if the bird had spoken the truth. She stopped beneath a tree which was thickly covered with leaves, and wished to become a nightingale. Immediately she was changed, indeed, into a nightingale, and flew up to a branch. Then she began to sing in such a wonderful way that she was astonished at herself, for it seemed to her as if she had never heard a nightingale sing so beautifully. For a long time the princess delighted herself by singing and flying from tree to tree. Finally it was time to return again to the castle, she wished to be changed back into her former state, and so it happened.
Henceforth the princess often flew around the garden as a nightingale, and after a while she even ventured to fly out to have a look at the large forests and the neighbouring mountains. What gave her the greatest joy was the fact that she was now able to understand the language of all the birds, and it pleased her especially to listen to foreign birds. In this way she sometimes heard the strangest secrets of wise birds that had travelled a great deal.
One day the nightingale lost her way in a vast, dark fir-forest. Finally, after flying here and there for a long time, she reached the edge of the forest, but, as she did so, a large flock of ravens approached in noisy Right, and the little nightingale was obliged to hide herself in a bush. With loud croakings the ravens fluttered on to the branches - they had obviously made a long flight, and wanted to rest there. For some time they were talking of this and that, and at last they spoke about a young knight who lived in a ruined castle far away behind the Gardena-valley in the deserted Vallenosa. This man, they said, was an excellent hunter, but he knew nothing else about the world; and he had never seen a woman, because he had never left his mountain wilderness.
The nightingale sitting concealed, and listening to the ravens was once more delighted at hearing some thing strange, and she decided to go to see this knight's castle. As soon as the ravens had gone the princess hastened home, intending to fly over the Gardena-valley on the next morning. In fact she passed the Sasslong at a very early hour, flying farther on towards the green pastures in the north. Having passed the mountains of the Gardena-valley, she asked another bird that she met if there was a ruined castle anywhere, inhabited only by a knight. The strange bird answered in the affirmative, and showed her the direction to go in. Soon the princess reached a wide valley, covered by a forest, and there, upon steep rocks, stood a lonely castle with an old, gray tower. The nightingale flew quickly up to a mountain-slope which was overhanging the castle, and there she sat on a tree and looked down upon the castle yard. As there was nothing at all to be seen, however, she passed the time by singing. After some time an armed man came down the hill, carrying on his back a chamois which he had killed, and he was followed by two shaggy dogs. He went into the courtyard and there began to sharpen his spear. At first the princess looked silently at him, but then she began to sing again. As soon as she did so, the knight went up into the tower, and remained there listening to the beautiful song, quite lost in his dreams. At times he would call out, and this and the rest of his behaviour, seemed very strange to the princess.
On the following morning the knight paid a visit to an old Salwan, who was said to be eminently wise, and told him that he was feeling unwell. The Salwan would not believe this, and asked what illness could attack such a hardy man of the forests. The knight, however, persisted, saying that he had been feeling very sad and lonely in his castle for some days past, and even hunting could not please him any longer.
Nothing gave him any pleasure except the song of a nightingale that lived above him in the mountain forests, but as soon as this song ceased he became miserable. The Salwan became thoughtful, and went to fetch a mountain crystal. The knight had to look in this, and then the Salwan did so, after which he said:
"Now I know what is wrong with you - you are in love. Some woman has you in her power."
But the knight shook his head: "No," he said, "that is not possible, for I have never seen a woman."
"And yet it is so," the Salwan continued, "a woman has charmed you, and in that case I am unable to do anything for you."
Very sad at heart, the knight turned homewards. One day, however, while the nightingale was singing her song in front of the castle, he suddenly pointed with his hand and cried:
"The Salwan is right, you are a woman."
The princess was very frightened and became silent, then she rose and flew away.
"Oh, stay, stay" implored the knight, but she had already vanished. Then he waited vainly, day after day, to see her again, but the little nightingale did not return. The knight remained sitting in the gray, old tower, musing and often gazing for hours at a time out into the silent forests. Down in the courtyard the dogs were baying to call their master to the hunt, but he took no heed.
In the meantime, the princess was flying around in another region, and one day it happened that a falcon swooped down and tried to catch her. She, however, flew quickly under a bush and so escaped the bird of prey. Under the bush there sat a lamb, and the nightingale complained about the cruel falcon.
"Oh," said the lamb, "why do you complain? You yourself have killed someone."
"What!", cried the nightingale, "I have killed someone!"
"Certainly," answered the lamb. "And if you don't believe me, fly once more to the castle in the forest which you have often visited before."
On hearing these words an anxious fear took possession of the princess, and to make certain she immediately sought the lonely castle beyond the Gardena-valley. On reaching the castle, and looking down upon the courtyard she shrank back in fear: the knight lay dead at the foot of the tower, with the sun shining full on his face, and his dogs whimpering around him. Full of horror the princess turned away, and flew home as fast as she could, without stopping anywhere. She arrived in her garden completely exhausted, and there she sat down as usual upon a branch to rest for a moment. Then she wished to resume her human shape, but - oh - it was no longer possible to do so; and tremblingly she
remembered the prediction: she would lose the power to transform herself through a death. Henceforth, the princess was obliged to live as a nightingale in the forests, and could never more return to her family.
In the Ladin mountains, from the light Pitia to the dark Colbricon, one can sometimes hear a nightingale which cannot be compared with any other, for none other sings so beautifully or in such a heart-stirring manner: it is the enchanted princess of the Sasslong.