This is a chapter of Once Upon A Time: Children’s Stories From The Classics by Blanche Winder.
In one of the countries which Perseus had passed as he flew to the land of the Gorgons lived a king and queen who had a most beautiful daughter, called Andromeda. They loved her better than anything in the world, and the queen was so proud of her that she said she was fairer than all the fairies of the mountains and the nymphs of the sea put together. This boast was overheard by the sea nymphs, and they were very angry indeed. So they persuaded Poseidon, who was king of the sea, just as Zeus was king of Olympus, to send a great monster, like a scaly water dragon, out of the caves at the bottom of the ocean, to eat up everybody it could catch and hold in its terrible claws.
One night, therefore, a sad outcry was heard among the fishermen on the beach. They said that, as they were setting their nets, they had seen the king of the sea serpents come swirling out of the waves in the moonlight, and return to the sea, carrying a fair maiden in its wicked mouth. This happened again the next night, and the next, and the next.
After several weeks of the terror, the people of the country said that there must be some reason for Poseidon sending them so terrible a curse. So they consulted a wise woman who lived in a temple specially built for her, and who could answer nearly any question that anybody liked to ask. She told them that all the trouble had come about through the queen’s foolish boast and that the sea monster would go on stealing and eating the people of the country until the beautiful princess Andromeda was given up to him.
What a dreadful thing for the king and queen to be told! They declared that nothing would make them give up Andromeda. But the people, who were losing their pretty daughters and their sons night after night, said that it was a case of sacrificing one maiden in order to save hundreds of others. So they went to the palace in a big procession, tied poor Andromeda’s hands behind her, singing songs to Poseidon, but at the same time crying almost as bitterly over their sweet princess as did the king and queen, and marched down to the sea in the evening. There they chained her to a big rock at the edge of the water, put wreaths of flowers around her white neck and upon her fair hair, and left her.
At that very moment, Perseus, in his bright armor, with the plumed helmet on his head and the golden wings on his heels, came flying along the rosy clouds of the sunset, carrying Medusa’s head.
He heard the sorrowful chanting of the procession and saw the poor, beautiful figure chained to the rock, with the waves of the incoming tide already washing around her arms and shoulders, and swaying her long, wet hair, with the flowers in it, up and down in the curling foam. Down he flew, like a seabird, and half-stood, half-floated, on the water. Then he saw a wild swirling and billowing a little way off in the ocean, and the scaly back and great jaws of the monster, which came swimming through the sea towards Andromeda.
It rose up from the water, and on to it swept Perseus, like an eagle upon a hare, and struck the scaly neck with his sword. The monster turned upon him with a roar, and they fought until the sea was churned into froth and the wings on the prince’s feet were as heavy with foam as the petals of a flower are heavy with dew. He sprang, then, upon a little rock to drive the finishing blow right through the monster’s heart. The great beast gave a shudder that shook the whole bay like an earthquake, and slowly stiffened, and stiffened, and stiffened in the water. Before long it had sunk, dead, below the surface, and nothing could be seen of it but what looked like a long low ridge of rock just showing above the ripples, as if the creature had been turned into stone by Medusa’s face and hair.
Perseus laid the Gorgon’s head aside for a moment, among the seaweeds, that he might cleanse his hands and sword. The seaweed turned into coral on the spot, to the great surprise of the sea nymphs, when they found the pretty pink sprays of this new stuff. Springing again to Andromeda’s side, he cut her chains, and carried her to land, while she clung to him as if she would never let him go. The people had seen all that happened from the shore, and, when Perseus restored the princess to the delighted king and queen, they said, in their joy and thankfulness, that he, and he alone, was worthy to become Andromeda’s husband.
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The princess was only too pleased to marry the brave and handsome prince who had saved her, and everything was arranged for an immediate wedding. The banquets were spread, the palace was decked with flowers, and the minstrels brought out their golden harps for the songs and dances. But just as everybody was sitting down to the feast, a noise of armed steps and clashing swords was heard outside the palace, and in strode another lover of Andromeda, called Phineus. He declared that Andromeda was engaged to him and that he had come with his soldiers to kill Perseus and to carry away his bride.
Armed followers surrounded him, and it looked as if there were going to be a great battle. But Perseus made the king and queen, the princess, and everybody else, stand behind him. Then he went alone towards Phineus, and, drawing his sword with one hand, drew Medusa’s head out of his bag with the other. Holding it high in the air, he mockingly told Phineus to step forward and win the princess in single fight. Everybody expected Phineus to spring upon the laughing prince, but the boasting lover who had come to claim Andromeda neither moved nor spoke. He had been instantly turned into stone, and all his soldiers with him!
Then the wedding feast was begun afresh and finished with great shouting and songs of joy. Princess Andromeda bade a happy goodbye to her father and mother and went away with her golden-haired bridegroom to be introduced to his mother, Danae, who was still in the country where Perseus had grown up. How happy Danae was to see her son again; how proud when he told her that, in his bag, he had the Gorgon’s head; and, above all, how overjoyed to welcome such a beautiful princess as her daughter-in-law!
But the king of the country had never given Danae a happy moment since her son had left her on his dangerous task. When Perseus heard how unhappy his mother had been made all the time, he was very angry. He went to the king and rebuked him severely. But the king only laughed at him and once more said he would not let Perseus dictate to him unless he brought him Medusa’s head.
He had no idea, you see, that Perseus had already killed the Gorgon. But, when the king spoke in this way, Perseus instantly pulled the head out of the bag. The king, looking at it, turned straightway into a rock, where he sat on his throne, and a rock he remains to this very day.
Then Perseus took his mother and his wife home to his grandfather’s country, and, making friends with the father of Danae, who was by now a very old man, lived happily with him for many years.
But, strange to say, as had been foretold, the bright-haired prince did really kill his grandfather, quite accidentally, for a quoit with which the prince was playing one day hit the poor old man on the head. Perseus was very much grieved about it, and he and his mother mourned the king faithfully. However, Perseus was ruler of the country now, so he mounted the throne and reigned long and happily over his own land. As for Medusa’s head, he gave it to Athena, who set it in the middle of the shield which she had lent to him; and there it was always to be seen when Athena flew to earth to help the heroes whom she loved.
And of course, he returned the wings to Hermes, and sent the helmet back to Hades, with many thanks to the dark king of the Underworld.
There were many brave, bright princes in those days, but the Immortals loved none of them better than the one who had been born a little golden-haired baby in the tower built of brass.