The Castle of the Sun French folktale

There once lived a peasant who had seven children, six of them boys and the seventh a girl. They were very poor and all had to work hard for a living, but the drudges of the family were the youngest son, Yvon, and his sister, Yvonne. Because they were gentler and more delicate than the others, they were looked on as poor, witless creatures, and all the hardest work was given them to do. But the children comforted each other, and became but the better favoured as they grew up.

One day when Yvonne was taking the cattle to pasture she encountered a handsome youth, so splendidly garbed that her simple heart was filled with awe and admiration. To her astonishment he addressed her and courteously begged her hand in marriage. "Tomorrow," he said, "I shall meet you here at this hour, and you shall give me an answer."

Troubled, yet secretly happy, Yvonne made her way home, and told her parents all that had happened. At first they laughed her to scorn, and refused to believe her story of the handsome prince, but when at length they were convinced, they told her she was free to marry whoever she would.

On the following day Yvonne got to the trysting-place where her lover awaited her, even more gloriously resplendent than on the occasion of his first coming. The very trappings of his horse were of gleaming gold. At Yvonne's request he accompanied her to her home, and made arrangements with her kindred for the marriage. To all inquiries regarding his name and place of abode he returned that these should be made known on the wedding morning.

Time passed, and on the appointed day the glittering stranger came to claim his wife. The ceremony over, he swept her into a carriage and was about to drive away, when her brothers reminded him of his promise to reveal his identity.

"Where must we go to visit our sister?" they asked.

"Eastward," he replied, "to a palace built of crystal, beyond the Sea of Darkness."

And with that the pair were gone.

A year elapsed, and the brothers neither saw nor heard anything of their sister, so that at length they decided to go in search of her. Yvon would have accompanied them, but they bade him stay at home.

"You are so boorish," they said, "you would be of no use to us."

Eastward they rode, and ever eastward, till at length they found themselves in the heart of a great forest. Then night came on and they lost the path. Twice a great noise, like the riot of a tempest, swept over their heads, leaving them trembling and stricken with panic.

By and by they came on an old woman tending a great fire, and of her they inquired how they might reach the abode of their brother-in-law.

"I cannot tell," said the old woman, "but my son may be able to direct you."

For the third time they heard the noise as of a great wind racing over the treetops.

"Hush!" said the old woman, "it is my son approaching."

He was a huge giant, this son of hers, and when he drew near the fire he said loudly:

"Oh ho! I smell sailors!"

"What!" cried his mother sharply. "No, these are not sailors; they only smell after a long journey. Besides they are our cousins. Would you eat such pretty cousins of ours, when they have come so far to visit us?"

At that the giant became quite friendly, and when he learned of their mission even offered to lead them part of the way.

Despite his amiability, however, the brothers spent an anxious night, and were up betimes on the following morning.

The giant made ready to leave. First of all he bade the old woman pile fresh fuel on the fire. Then he spread a great black cloth and made the brothers stand on it. Finally he strode into the fire, and when his clothes were consumed the black cloth rose into the air, bearing the brothers with it. Its going was marked by the sound of rushing wind that had terrified them the day before.

At length they landed on a vast plain. Half of it was rich and fertile, while the other half was bleak and arid as a desert. The plain was dotted with horses, and, curiously enough, those on the arid side were in splendid condition, whereas those on the fertile part were thin and miserable.

The brothers had not the faintest idea of which direction they ought to take, and after a vain attempt to mount the horses on the plain, they decided to return home. After many wanderings they arrived at their native place once more.

When Yvon learned of his brothers had fared, he decided to go himself in search of his sister, and though his brothers laughed at him they gave him an old horse and bade him go.

Eastward and eastward he rode, till at length he reached the forest where the old woman still tended the fire. Seeing that he was strong and fearless, she directed him by a difficult and dangerous road that he was to take if he wished to see his sister. It turned out to be ugly. Poisonous serpents lay across his track; thorns and briers sprang underfoot, and at one point a lake barred his way.

Finally a subterranean passage led him into his sister's country. There everything was of crystal, shining with the splendour of the sun itself. At the end of a gleaming pathway rose a castle built entirely of crystal, its innumerable domes and turrets reflecting the light in a thousand prismatic hues.

Having gained access to the castle through a cave, Yvon wandered through its many beautiful chambers, till in one of these he came on his sister asleep on a silken couch.

He did not dare to wake her, but slipped behind a curtain and watched her in silence. However, as time went on he marvelled that she did not wake.

At evening a handsome youth - Yvon's brother-in-law - entered the chamber, struck Yvonne sharply three times, then flung himself down by her side and went to sleep. All night Yvon waited in his place of concealment. In the morning the young man rose from his couch, gave his wife three resounding blows, and went away. Only then did Yvon emerge and wake his sister.

Brother and sister exchanged a tender greeting, and found much to talk of after their long separation. Yvon learned that the country that he had come to, was a peculiar place, where meat and drink could be entirely dispensed with, while even sleep was not a necessity.

"Tell me, Yvonne," he said, remembering what he had seen of his brother-in-law, "does your husband treat you well?"

Yvonne assured him that her husband was all she could wish-that she was perfectly happy.

"Is he always absent during the day?" he asked anxiously.


"Do you know where he goes?"

"I do not, my brother."

"I have a mind," said Yvon, "to ask him to let me accompany him on his journey. What do you say, sister?"

"It sounds like a good plan to me," said Yvonne.

At sundown her husband returned home. He and Yvon became very good friends, and the latter begged to be allowed to accompany him on his journey the following day.

"You may do so," was the response, "but only on one condition: if you touch or address anyone save me you must return home."

Yvon readily agreed to accept the condition, and early next morning the two set off. Before long they came to a wide plain, one half of which was green and fruitful, while the other half was barren and dry. On this plain cattle were feeding, and those on the arid part were fat and well-conditioned, while the others were mean and shrivelled to a degree. Yvon learned from his companion that the fat cattle represented those who were contented with their meagre lot, while the lean animals were those who, with a plentiful supply of worldly goods, were yet miserable and discontented.

Many other strange things they saw as they went, but that which seemed strangest of all to Yvon was the sight of two trees lashing each other angrily with their branches, as though each would beat the other to the ground.

Laying his hands on them, he forbade them to fight, and lo! in a moment they became two human beings, a man and wife, who thanked Yvon for releasing them from an enchantment under which they had been laid as a punishment for their perpetual bickering.

Soon they reached a great cavern. Weird noises came from it, and Yvon would fain have advanced farther; but his companion forbade him, reminding him that in disenchanting the trees he had failed to observe the one essential condition, and must return to the palace where his sister dwelt.

There Yvon remained for a few days longer, after which his brother-in-law directed him by a speedy route to his home.

"Go," said the prince, "but before long you will return, and then it will be to remain with us forever."

On reaching his native village Yvon found all trace of his dwelling gone. Greatly bewildered, he inquired for his father by name. An old greybeard replied.

"I have heard of him," he said. "He lived in the days when my grandfather's grandfather was but a boy, and now he sleeps in the churchyard over there."

Only then did Yvon understand that his visit to his sister had been one, not of days, but of generations!