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IN former ages, a great and famous king named Karkus ruled over Esthonia. In his days, fierce bears and bison lurked in the thick forests, and elk and wild horses careered swiftly through the bushes. No merchants had yet arrived in ships from foreign parts, nor invading hosts with sharp swords, to set up the cross of the Christian God, and the people still lived in perfect freedom.
The palace of King Karkus was built of costly sparkling stones, and shone far off in the sun like gold. The palace lay near the holy forest, where dwelt three good white gods and three black evil ones. There dwelt the king and his court. His enemies feared him greatly, but his people loved him as a father.
Although the king had gold and honour in abundance, yet one thing was wanting to complete his happiness, for his wife had brought him no child. He promised immense gifts to the white gods if p. 137 they would only listen to his prayer and grant his wish. And behold, after seven years his prayer was answered, for the queen gave birth to twins. One was a boy, as bold and impetuous as his father, and one was a girl, with golden hair and eyes like blue harebells, which already smiled from the cradle on her mother. The king was full of joy, and made great offerings to the white gods, as he had vowed. But the black gods, who deemed themselves worthy of equal honour, were greatly offended at being despised by the king. So they went to the God of Death, and urged him to gaze on the king’s son with his evil countenance and to destroy him.
Meantime the boy grew rapidly, and became the delight of his parents. But when he came to lisp the first word, he was struck by the evil glance of Death. From this hour he pined away, and at length died. But his sister, who was named Rannapuura, lived and flourished like a rose, as the only joy of her parents.
But the hatred of the evil powers was not appeased by the partial revenge which they had taken. So they contrived that when the king’s daughter was seven years old, she fell into the power of the wicked witch Peipa. The witch carried Rannapuura p. 138 away to her horrible abode, which was in a rock beneath a lofty mountain ridge in Ingermanland. Here the poor child was compelled to pass ten years of her life. But notwithstanding her hard servitude to the witch, she grew up to maidenhood, and no maiden in the whole world was so fair as she. As the dawn shines ruddy on the borders of the horizon at daybreak and promises fine weather, so shone her gentle face in quiet restfulness, and her eyes proclaimed the angel heart in her bosom.
The king knew where his daughter was imprisoned, for a good spirit had informed him, but, mighty as he was, he could accomplish nothing against the craft and malice of the witch. So he abandoned all hope of rescuing his daughter from this place of suffering. At length the white gods took pity on the king’s daughter and her parents; for the king sought their aid continually, and made them rich offerings. But even the gods did not venture to contend openly with the mighty Peipa; so they sought to effect their purpose by stratagem. They secretly sent a dove to Rannapuura with a silver comb, a carder, a golden apple, and a snow-white linen robe, and sent her this message: “Take the gifts of the white gods, and flee from your p. 139 prison as soon as you can. If Peipa pursues you, call on the white gods, and first cast the comb behind you; but if this is of no effect, drop the carder; but if this does not detain her, and she still follows on your heels, then throw the apple, and lastly the robe behind you. But be very careful not to make a mistake, and throw down the gifts in the right order.”
Rannapuura prornised the dove to obey her instructions exactly, thanked the white gods for their favours, and sent the dove home.
On the first Tuesday after the new moon, Peipa jumped upon an old broom at midnight, as the witches are accustorned to do, both here and in Ingermanland, every year, on the third, sixth, ninth, and twelfth new moon, and thus flew away from the house. The maiden stole softly from her room long before dawn, and took the four gifts of the gods with her on her way. She ran straight towards her father’s castle, as swiftly as she could. At mid-day, when she had already gone a good part of the way, she chanced to look round, and saw to her horror that the witch Peipa was pursuing her. In her right hand she swung a formidable bar of iron, and she was p. 140 mounted on a huge cock, who was close behind the princess. Then she cried aloud on the white gods, and cast the silver comb behind her. Instantly the comb became a rushing river, deep and broad and many miles long. Peipa gazed furiously after the fugitive, who was running swiftly on the opposite bank of the stream, and soon left her far behind. But after a time, the witch found a ford through the water, hurried across, and was soon close behind the maiden again. Now Rannapuura dropped the carder, and behold, a forest sprang up from it so thick and lofty that the witch and her hellish steed could not penetrate it, and she was forced to ride round it for a whole day.
The unfortunate princess had now been wandering for two nights and a day, without tasting a morsel of bread or daring to sleep an instant. Then her strength failed her, and on the second day the witch was again close on her heels, when she threw down the apple in her need; and this became a lofty mountain of granite. A narrow path, as if traced by a snake, wound up to the summit, and showed the witch her way. Before she could overcome this obstacle, another day had passed; but the princess had only gone a short distance farther, for sleep had p. 141 closed her weary eyes, and when she awoke, and could see her father’s castle in the distance at last, the witch was so close upon her that she never hoped to escape. In great terror she flung the linen robe on the ground behind her. It fell broadside, and soon rushed forth into a vast lake, whose foaming waves raged wildly round the witch. A howling storm flung water and spray into the witch’s face; her wickedness could not save her, nor could her steed, the hellish cock, escape. He raised his neck above the water, thrust up his beak, and beat the water with his wings, but it was all to no purpose, and he was miserably drowned. Peipa called on all the spirits of hell to aid her, with curses, but none of them appeared, and she sank into the depths howling. There she lies to this day in pain and torment. The pikes and other horrible creatures of the depths gnaw upon her and torture her incessantly. She strikes about her with her hands and feet, and twists and stretches her limbs in her great distress. Thence comes it that the lake, which is named Peipus after her, always rises in billows and stormy waves.
Rannapuura reached her father’s castle in safety, and soon became the bride of a prince. But the king’s name is still perpetuated in that of the church p. 142 at Karkus, and the estate of Rannapungern, which lies north of Peipus, on the boundary between Livonia and Esthonia, is named after Rannapuura. The river which rose from the silver comb is the river Pliha, with its shining waters. He who knows it now may understand its origin. It cannot run straight, but twists right and left like the teeth of a double comb, unites with the Narova, and falls with that river into the sea. The forest, too, remained until two hundred years ago, when the Swedes and Poles brought war into the land. The Poles concealed themselves in the forest, but the Swedes set fire to it and burned it down. The mountain formed by the apple of the princess is likewise standing, but its granite has become changed to sandstone.