There was once a young man who had journeyed a long way from home in search of adventure. One day he came to a strange village on the border of a great wood, but while yet some distance from the lodges, he happened to glance upward. In the boughs of a tree just above his head he saw a light scaffold, and on the scaffold a maiden sitting at her needlework.
Instead of boldly entering the village, as he had intended, the youth walked on a little way, then turned and again passed under the tree. He did this several times, and each time he looked up, for the girl was the prettiest that he had ever seen.
He did not show himself to the people, but for several days he lingered on the borders of the wood, and at last he ventured to speak with the maiden and to ask her to be his wife. She did not seem to be at all unwilling; however, she said to him: "You must be very careful, for my grandmother does not wish me to marry. She is a very wicked old woman, and has thus far succeeded in killing every one of my suitors."
"In that case, we must run away," the young man replied. "Tonight, when your grandmother is asleep, pull up some of the tent-pins and come out. I shall be waiting for you!"
The girl did as he had said, and that same night they fled together and by morning were far from the village.
However, the maiden kept looking over her shoulder as if fearing pursuit, and at last her lover said to her: "Why do you continue to look behind you? They will not have missed you until daylight, and it is quite certain now that no one can overtake us!"
"Ah," she replied, "my grandmother has powerful magic! She can cover a whole day's journey at one step, and I am convinced that she is on our trail."
"In that case, you shall see that I too know something of magic," returned the young man. Forthwith he threw down one of his mittens, and lo! their trail was changed to the trail of a Buffalo. He threw down the other mitten, and it became the carcass of a Buffalo lying at the end of the trail.
"She will follow this far and no farther," he declared; but the maiden shook her head, and ceased not from time to time to glance over her shoulder as they hastened onward.
In truth it was not long till she saw the old woman in the distance, coming on with great strides and shaking her cane and her gray head at the runaways.
"Now it is my turn!" the girl exclaimed, and threw down her comb, which became a thick forest behind the fleeing ones, so that the angry old woman was held back by the dense underbrush.
When she had come out of the forest at last and was again gaining upon them, the girl threw her awl over her shoulder and it became a chain of mountains with high peaks and sharp precipices, so that the grandmother was kept back longer than before. Nevertheless, her magic was strong, and she still struggled on after the lovers.
In the meantime, they had come to the bank of a river both wide and deep, and here they stood for a while doubting how they should cross, for there was neither boat nor ford. However, there were two Cranes near by, and to these the young man addressed himself.
"My friends," said he, "I beg of you to stand on the opposite banks of this river and stretch your necks across, so that we may cross in safety! Only do this, and I will give to each of you a fine ornament for your breast, and long fringes on your leggings, so that you will hereafter be called the handsomest of birds!"
The Cranes were willing to oblige, and they stood thus with their beaks touching over the stream, so that the lovers crossed on their long necks in safety.
"Now," exclaimed the young man," I must ask of you one more favor! If an old woman should come down to the river and seek your help, place your heads together once more as if to allow her to cross, but when she is half way over you must draw back and let her fall in mid-stream. Do this, and I promise you that you shall never be in want!"
In a little while the old woman came down to the river, quite out of breath, and more angry than before. As soon as she noticed the two Cranes, she began to scold and order them about.
"Come here, you long-necks, you ungainly creatures, come and help me over this river!" she cried.
The two Cranes again stood beak to beak, but when the wicked grandmother had crossed half way they pulled in their necks and into the water she went, screaming out threats and abuse as she whirled through the air. The current swept her quickly away and she was drowned, for there is no magic so strong that it will prevail against true love.
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