Once upon a time, far away from prying eyes, a woman sat. Covered in rages and with knotted hair, her fingers weaved across the loom before her. Slowly a picture began to form; a golden castle gleaming with woven threads. And then the castle was done, the thread was cut, and before the woman's stood the golden castle. The woman then began to weave again; and she wove animals and servants and a king and queen to rule over it all. And the last thing she wove was a beautiful princess, with golden hair made with that of the castle. Just before the woman left, she wove one last thing; an enchantment of three tasks, that ensured only the kindest would find the woven graces.
For many years the castle and its inhabitants remained at peace, whilst word spread of the beautiful princess. Princes crossed the land to reach her glory, and though some got further than others, no one ever reached the prize.
One day, a poor man decided to try his luck in the world, hoping to find work elsewhere. So he set out with his few belongings, following the wind. Now this poor man had heard tales of the beautiful princess and the treacheries that hid it, but never once had thought of her as more than that. He cared not for riches, only for that which he could live by.
Soon the poor man came to a town, and, after looking around for work and finding none, decided to lodge himself at the inn, and set out again the next day. As the poor man sat down to eat his nightly meal, he noticed a ragged man, sitting by the fire.
"Good friend," he called. "Have you not something to eat?"
"I have not a penny," the ragged man croaked.
"The come, eat with me." And the poor man spent the last of his money on food for the ragged man.
The meal was done, and the ragged man got up. "Thank you," he croaked, and he handed the poor man a golden key.
The poor man knew not what the key was for, but the man had disappeared before he could ask, and since he found the key pretty, he pocketed it in his bag.
The poor man slept soundly that night, and set out the next morning,
Before long he came across three animals tied to a tree; a cow, a pig and a chicken. Looking around and finding no one around, he started to continue on his way again. Barely has he taken a step when two brothers appeared, who had spied the animals.
"Let us take them, and make our wealth," said one brother.
"Yes," said the other, "that is a fine idea.
But the poor man had heard this and thought that the animals must belong to someone.
But the poor man had heard this and thought that the animals must belong to someone.
"Good friends," he said, "leave the animals, they are not yours."
"There is no one looking after them, they are ours to take." But to keep the poor man quit, they offered him the chicken. When he declined they presented the pig to him, and, when he shook his head, they angrily offered the cow.
But the poor man continued to decline the offers and soon the two brothers walked away.
Once gone, a farmer appeared.
"Thank you for looking after my animals." And the farmer handed him the chicken.
Not knowing what to do with the chicken, and finding the farmer had gone before he could ask, he decided the chicken might be useful and continue don his way, leading the chicken along.
He had not gone far before he heard a voice calling out to him.
"Poor man, poor man." It called.
He found no one around and so dismissed the thought. He had barely paced a foot when it came again.
"Poor man, poor man."
The poor man looked down, as seemingly the voice came from there. He found only the chicken by his side, and again dismissed the thought.
"Poor man, poor man."
The poor man bent his head again and looked down at the chicken. "Did you say something chicken?" And though he felt silly, he waited for a reply.
"Poor man, poor man, release me from my chain."
And seeing as he was sure it was the chicken talking, he untied the rope from around its neck. As he did, he was sure he heard the chicken sigh.
"Thank you poor man."
"You are free now chicken." For by now the poor man was certain the chic ken could speak and did not feel so silly.
"I am in your favour poor man, carry me, and I will repay you."
So the poor man hoisted him onto his shoulder and went on his way.
For many days the man travelled with his friend the chicken as his only companion. He encountered no town and no person.
After many weary days the poor man spied a town in the distance.
"Here chicken, we have finally reached others," he said.
Soon they reached the town, and, since it was almost night, the poor man went to the inn, the chicken still only his shoulder. Although he had no money, he knew the golden key was still in his bag.
The poor man settled down at the inn with a meal, with the chicken sitting on the table, plucking at his food.
A man entered the inn, dressed in travelling clothes but holding an odd extravagance about him. He went straight to the innkeeper and, after sparing a few words with him, set himself by the fire.
Now the poor man thought the traveller looked lonely, and so called out to him, "Good friend, come sit with me if you are lonely."
And the traveller came and sat himself down.
"Over the hills, away in the dales, amongst fair maidens, stories and tales, lies what you seek, waiting for thee, over the hills, away in the dales." The noise came from the chicken, sitting quite placidly.
The poor man was not at all surprised by this, the chicken had many a time spoken in rhymes to him, and he had gotten used to it.
But the traveller seemed quite irked. "Did that chicken speak?" He inquired.
"Yes, my friend always speaks,' the poor man replied.
"May I buy her from you?" The traveller asked.
Now the poor man had barely spared a thought before he spoke. "I am sorry, she is not my chicken, she is my friend."
And the traveller left off the matter.
By morning the traveller had asked the poor man to accompany him, as travelling was a sad task by oneself, and the poor man agreed willingly.
On producing the key to pay the innkeeper, the traveller widened his eyes, and insisted that he would pay the fare.
So the poor man and the traveller set off together, the chicken perched on the man's shoulder once again.
After many days without encountering any body the poor man and the traveller and the poor man sat themselves down for their midday meal. The poor man, after following the directions of the traveller for all those days, was curious to know where they were going, and decide that he must ask.
"Friend," he said, "we have travelled many days together, always going deeper and further, but where does our destination lie?"
"Over the hills, away in the dales, amongst fair maidens, stories and tales, lies what you seek, waiting for thee, over the hills, away in the dales."
By now the traveller had become quite used to this, for the liens had become the chickens song.
"I am a prince, looking for the golden castle and the beautiful princess that lies within," the traveller admitted.
The poor man was surprised to hear this, but would not let it vex him.
"There are many treacheries before you reach her and you may leave if you wish, but if you continue with you will be rewarded," the prince offered.
"I will continue with you," the poor man said, "but I ask for nothing in return."
So the prince and the poor man set out again, both wondering what would await them.
Their first task came the next day, as they came to a roped bridge, with crashing waves billowing below.
"There must be something more to this," the prince stated. "If the bridge breaks, it will take three days to walk around."
"You should cross first, for if the bridge breaks you will be on the other side," the poor man offered.
And the prince agreed with the idea and began to step across the bridge. Each step took him closer to the edge until he was on the other side, feeling the ground beneath his feet.
But barely had he stepped off when the bridge snapped and it fell crashing into the water below.
"Good friend are you okay?" The poor man called across.
"Yes I am fine, but you will not be able to cross. I shall dearly miss your service," the prince called back.
"If you will wait I will walk around," the poor man said.
So the poor man began to walk briskly around the cliff, with the chicken on his shoulder, not stopping when darkness fell, and by the next day he had reached the prince.
The prince greeted the poor man heartily and they continued again on their way.
The second task came the next day.
The prince stopped them, as a charred scent came to their nose.
"A dragon awaits us," stated the prince.
"I will go and ward it off, whilst you go round," the poor man offered.
"No," the chicken squawked. "I will go and peck the dragon's eyes out."
So the prince and the poor man waited while the chicken flew off. She soon came back, weary, but her voice rose triumphant.
"The dragon will not bother us," the chicken said.
"Friend, you have now repaid me," the poor man said. "You are free now."
"No, not yet," was all the chicken said.
So the prince, the poor man and the chicken set off together, knowing that only one task remained.
It was not long after before they began to spy gold through the trees. Slowly the gold began to increase, until the magnificence of the golden castle stood before them.
It looked as if woven from threads, but shone as if made from the sun.
Two golden doors stood baring their way into the castle. The prince, the poor man and the chicken went up to it, and pushing it hard, found it locked.
"How shall we enter?" The prince queried.
But the poor man was examining was lock, and then searched around in his bag. Pulling out the golden key he handed it to the prince.
"It is for you to open," the poor man said.
So the prince slotted the key into the lock and the door gave way to them, presenting a golden room inside.
"I will fly around and look for the princess," the chicken said, and flapped away.
She came soon back and pointed with a wing at the golden staircase. "Up those stairs, her room lies at the top."
So they set out, trailing up the stairs, each one becoming more laborious than the last. Finally they reached the top, a golden door putting itself before them.
"Over the hills, away in the dales, amongst fair maidens, stories and tales, lies what you seek, waiting for thee, over the hills, away in the dales," the chicken squawked.
"I must part with you here good friend, the princess waits for you, you have passed her three tasks," the poor man said.
"You have done more than I to deserve," said the prince.
"I have done nothing to deserve it, only helped you on your way."
So the poor man waited by the door, whilst the prince went within. The chicken followed the man through the door, leaving the poor man alone.
But he had barely waited before the door had opened and before him stood the beautiful princess, with golden hair and a face made with wonder.
The poor man was shocked by her grace, and knew not what to say.
"Come in," the princess spoke with a voice made of air.
The poor man followed her inside, into a room of surprising simplicity. The prince and the chicken were nowhere to be seen.
"Where is the prince?" The poor man asked. As he said it he eyed a tapestry hanging on the wall; in which was woven a key, a chicken and a prince.
"They were your tasks," the princess said. "And you have completed them all."
"I have done nothing," the poor man insisted, "only helped a prince who never was."
"You helped a ragged man, a farmer and a prince, with nothing for yourself to gain."
And the poor man thought back to the deeds that he had done, and knew that he had done them not for himself, but for those who needed helping.
"You are the kindest," the princess said.
And the poor man and the princess were married the next day, and the poor man became a prince and the heir to a golden castle and was rewarded for his kindness.