Prologue: The Tale of Curdie
Once there was a very ordinary boy named Curdie. He was not strange or magical or peculiar, and if you saw him you probably would not notice him. He was an orphan, and wandered the streets of the royal city with the dogs and rats.
No one knew who he was, but still he was good and true at heart, and kept after himself and the other street urchins, but never by way of stealing or harm. They all looked up to Curdie, even the ones who were older than him.
One day there was a loud clamor in the square, and Curdie hurried to look. All were gathering around and watching a man in fine clothes, accompanied by servants blowing great trumpets.
The great blasts carried all the way into the peasant’s fields. Curdie watched from the edge of the crowd eagerly, and climbed on a miller’s wagon to see.
The servant took out a long, embellished scroll. Holding it high, he read in a very loud voice:
“Hear ye, hear ye, all ye citizens of this fair city of King Amondras, be it known that in this 32nd year of Amondras, there is hereby proclaimed a great reward to anyone who can rid the caves of Bardur from the ogre which has come and dwelt therein, wreaking great harm on travelers who would pass by and seizing their lawful goods. The reward shall be as such:”
He paused and looked at the scroll.
“Ten thousand sacks of gold, a mirror of pure silver, and one wish to be granted of the king himself, be it great or small. And the king’s own daughter shall marry them.”
At this the man rolled up the scroll and mounted quickly on his horse, and in a swift moment was off, the two trumpeters following. Now Curdie was always brave and clever. He borrowed a candle from the good miller who was always kind to him. He went down to the stream and gathered a sackful of shiny stones, and kept these around his belt even though it was no more than a rope.
On his way through the square at night, he happened on some soldiers from the castle sitting and laughing. When they saw him, they left from their drinking and asked him, “Where does such a tattered lad as thee go on a night such as this?”
Curdie pulled himself up bravely, though he was not much higher than their sword hilts, and told them of his plan to drive out the ogre. At this the men laughed heartily and threw him a gold coin.
Now the entrance to the cave was past the place where the reedy rushes blow in the wind, and through the swamp where the bubbles burble, and into the place where the rocks drip. Curdie lit his candle with a flint, and then proceeded into the cave, dropping a shiny stone every fifth step. When he had explored a bit this way, he retreated, following the shine of the stones in the candlelight. And so he continued the next night, and the next, each time bringing more stones.
Now it happened that the soldiers who had laughed at him were sitting guard outside the princess’s room, where she was combing her hair. And by chance she heard them laugh about the boy who had gone to fight the ogre. Hearing them laugh more and more, she became more and more curious about who it could be.
At last she opened the door and asked to be taken to him, but they would not that she should. At last they gave in to her entreaty, and told her of how he passed by the square at a certain hour every night.
But on the way out the king detained them, wondering how it was that she should go. She replied, “If I am to be given in marriage to whoever should accomplish this your task, is it not right that I should at least accompany them on their journey to give them help and strength?”
And the king, being wise at heart, finally relented.
So the princess and the two guardsmen met Curdie along the square and asked if they might accompany him on his journey, and he agreed. Now firstly, they passed by the place where the reedy rushes blow in the wind, and the princess said, it is the ogre! He is breathing. But Curdie said, no, it is the rushes, they do bend every night these past nights.
And then they went through the swamp, where the bubbles come up, and the first guardsmen said, hark, the ogre’s stomach, he is hungry. But Curdie said, no, it is the bubbles burbling, as they do every night these past nights. And then they entered the cave where the rocks drip, and the second guardsman said, it is the ogre’s feet, he is walking after us. But Curdie said no, it is the rocks dripping, as they do every night these past nights.
And Curdie led them along the long path, twisting and bending through the dark caves, until he came to the end of his stones. And then there was a sound of laughing. And the princess said, is it the laughing that is every night these past nights? And Curdie said, no, it is the ogre, he is laughing at us. Look!
And the guards shone their torches ahead, and there was the ogre, chuckling with his great belly.
And he said to them, “Are you not lost travelers? I will not that you should pass unless you have given me a hundred pieces of gold, else I will eat you. “
And his hideous face did roil with laughter. At this the two men did cower back, but Curdie bravely stepped ahead, and the princess followed right behind him.
Now the ogre was so used to having people be terrified of him and run away, that when Curdie came stepping towards him with no sign of fear, he began to wonder if this common boy had some great strength that made him invincible. And since all wickedness is cowardly, the ogre began to fear in his heart and trembled. But Curdie just shook his finger at the ogre and spoke plainly to him –
“You big, mean beast! Don’t you know you shouldn’t frighten the travelers and take their goods.”
The ogre was ashamed, because he was not very smart and no one had ever bothered to tell him that he should not frighten people. And he began to cry, his great sobs spilling big ogre tears onto the ground.
“Stop your blubbing!” Curdie said, “now, you must give back everything you took. And you must stop scaring the travelers.”
And so in the end, the ogre became a help to the people of the city, and the princess married Curdie willingly, for she had seen that he was brave and true. And as they passed through the streets of the city in a celebrating procession, the air was filled with the people’s cheering and brightly colored things.