The Soldier, The Princess and the Tinderbox

A Fix-it Fairy Tale: more kindness, more consent and more inclusivity for ‘The Tinderbox’.

A kind, clever soldier finds herself in possession of something magical and happens upon a princess locked away in a castle.

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  • Read the full transcript below:


[Gentle theme music]

Laura: Hi, you can call me Laura, I’m here to tell you a story if you like. This is Patchwork Fairy Tales and you found one of my Fix-it Fairy Tales: more kindness, more consent and more inclusivity. If you want to read as well as listen, check out the transcript linked in the description. Today we’re fixing The Tinderbox.

[Music fades]

The Soldier, the Princess and the Tinderbox

A soldier came marching down a winding road one evening, with her knapsack bound on her back and her sword at her side. She was on her way to find a home, for she had been drafted into the war before she had managed to make one for herself and now that peace had come she had very little to call her own. Having nothing pleasant to occupy her mind, she sang as she walked, and so it was that she came upon a man standing by the side of the road.

“Good evening, soldier!” he grinned. “What a fine sword you have and what a heavy load you carry, the very model of a brave soldier.”

“Those that are called to fight another’s battles have no choice but to be brave,” the soldier replied.

The strange man chuckled. “Truer words were never spoken. And, were you paid for your troubles, lass?”

“I was bought, sir, not paid for honest labour,” the soldier said wryly. “And I have very little to show for it now but my life and limbs.”

“Well!” the man said. “Now your life shall take a turn for the better. Now you have found me, you shall have as much money as you like!”

“Thank you kindly,” she said and made ready to proceed down the road. “But I am in no mood for further buying or selling.”

“There is no need for that!” the man said hastily. “It will be an honest trade. Do you see that big tree?” And he pointed to a large, weathered tree just a few paces away. “It is hollow inside. If you climb up to the top, you will see a hole that you, young and strong as you are, might easily climb down. That way you can climb all the way down to deep under the tree. You may not be able to come out again, but I shall tie a rope round your waist so that I can haul you up again as soon as you call!”

“And what am I to do in the depths under that tree?”

“To fetch money, of course!” the man grinned with pearly teeth. “When you reach the bottom of that tree you will find yourself in a wide passage. It is quite light there, lamps are always lit. You will see three doors in that passage, with the keys already in their locks. If you go into the first room, you will see a big chest in the middle of the floor. A wolf is guarding it, and he has teeth like copper knives, but you must not pay any mind to him. I will give you my cloak, if you wrap that around you, he will not harm you. You can open the chest and take as much money as you like. It will be all copper coins, so if you like silver better, lock the door behind you and go into the next room. There you will find a wolf with teeth like silver daggers, but pay him no mind, just wrap yourself in my cloak and take as many coins as you like. If you prefer gold, you can have that too, as much as you can possibly carry. Simply lock the door behind you and go into the third room, where you will find a wolf with teeth like golden scythes. But you need not pay her any mind either, just wrap yourself in my cloak and take as much gold from the chest as you want!”

“That all sounds easy enough,” the soldier replied, but she was very wary indeed. These were the words of either a liar or a witch, if ever she heard any, and she was not at all inclined to trust the stranger. “But what am I to give you in return? Surely you do not offer me all this money for nothing.”

“But I do!” the man protested. “And I do not want a single coin for myself, I only ask that if you should find an old tinderbox lying on the ground in the passage, to bring it back to me. It must have fallen from my pocket the last time I climbed from the tree, when I was still strong enough to do it.”

The soldier was suspicious, but she was also curious. “Very well then,”’ she said at last. “Give me your cloak and your rope. You need not tie it to my waist, I shall fix it to the tree itself and climb up and down it on my own strength.”

“As you wish, as you wish,” the man simpered and he handed over his thick cloak and a long, braided rope. “Just remember to wear my cloak and lock every door behind you as you go.”

The soldier draped the cloak round her shoulders and tied the rope to the tree and then up she went and down she climbed. She went all the way down the hollow trunk, and found herself, just as the man had said, in the wide passage lit with burning lamps. Soon enough she came to the first door and she unlocked it with the key that was already in the lock.

There was the room with the first chest and there was a large, brown wolf with teeth like copper knives. He bared his teeth at her when she entered, but as soon as she stepped forward with the heavy cloak billowing around her, the wolf cowered and slunk off into a corner.

“Hey now,” the soldier said. “There is no need for that!”

But the animal kept whimpering and cowering, so eventually the soldier took off the cloak and let it slide to the ground. The wolf stared at her with large eyes, but he no longer cowered.

“There you are,” she said. “You must be hungry, you big beast.” And she dug a piece of bread out of the pack on her back and tossed it at him.

The wolf gobbled it up in three big bites and he did not try to stop her when she opened the chest. It was indeed full of copper coins.

“So,” the soldier said, taking a handful of the money. “Not a liar, but a witch, then. I shall see if it is all exactly as he said.”

She left the room, dragging the mantle behind her, but when she went to lock the door the brown wolf whined so pitifully that she gave him a warning glance and said: “Very well, my friend, I shall not lock you in. But you must stay put and hold your peace.”

The wolf sat down and so the soldier left the door unlocked and moved on to the other room. There she found a huge, grey wolf with teeth like silver daggers guarding the promised chest. Even though she was no longer wearing the mantle, the wolf still cowered and shivered, so the soldier dropped the heavy thing by the door and offered this wolf a piece of bread as well. The grey wolf gobbled it up in two big bites and stood aside to let her open the chest. It was filled to the brim with shining silver.

“Quite the hoard!” she exclaimed, slipping a stack of the coins into her pocket. “Then surely the third room will also hold the promised gold.”

As she returned to the door, she looked back at the wolf and said: “If I keep the door unlocked, will you be still, my friend?”

The wolf laid down immediately so the soldier did not lock the door behind her, but went straight on to the third door.

This time she left the witch’s cloak outside and went in with a third piece of bread in her hand. Inside the room she found a truly enormous, tan wolf with teeth like golden scythes. But she did not threaten her and when the soldier threw her the bread she gobbled it up with one big bite and let her open the third chest. This chest was indeed filled with glittering gold and the soldier loaded her knapsack with as much of it as she could possibly carry. Never had she been in the possession of so much wealth and she was wild with the thought that she would never be cold or hungry ever again.

“I shall leave your door unlocked as well,” she told the tan wolf as she left. “But stay where you are, will you, my friend?”

The wolf did as she asked and the soldier hurried back into the brightly lit passage with her heart beating like a fanfare. Once she had had a moment to calm down, however, she thought very soberly of the witch still waiting for her on the surface. He had told her the truth, but that did not mean he could be trusted. And why, she thought, would the wolves cower at the mere sight and smell of his cloak if he posed no threat to her? Suddenly she remembered she had completely forgotten to search for the lost tinderbox. She spied around in the underground passage and soon enough she had found it. A simple thing made of brass, nothing conspicuous about it. But if that witch wanted it badly enough to spill his secrets for it, it must be something extraordinary, the soldier thought. She twisted the cap off the brass cylinder and at a first glance there was nothing unusual about the contents. When she looked a little closer, however, she noticed that the forged firesteel bore the image of a wolf and that instead of wood or cloth for tinder, there seemed to be a wad of fur.

“Surely that smells of magic,” the soldier muttered and she put the tinderbox in her pocket.

By now the soldier was so heavily laden that it was quite a challenge to climb back up through the hollow tree. But the knots in the braided rope held fast and the strong young woman made her way up and down the tree without a single slip or stumble.

“Have you got the tinderbox?” the witch cried, as soon as she emerged.

“To be sure,” said the soldier. “But what do you want it for.”

“That’s no business of yours!” the witch snapped. “You got your money, now give me my tinderbox.”

“Not until you tell me what it does,” the soldier insisted, and she put her hand on the hilt of her sword. “And why those poor beasts down there were so afraid of you.”

“How dare you!” the witch spat, his eyes blazing fire. “I make you rich beyond belief and this is how you repay me, you wretch!”

“You need not take that tone with me,” the soldier said. “It was an honest question, witch.”

Now the witch screamed and cursed so that his voice echoed a mile all round them and the soldier deftly drew her sword. Before she could use it, however, there was a terrible, rumbling growl from the hollow tree. It seemed to her that the ground beneath its roots shook and the witch, suddenly pale with fright, screamed at the soldier:

“You! You did not lock the doors!”

Neither of them got the chance to speak another word, because amidst a fearsome, horrible snarling the three wolves leapt from the tree and gave chase to the witch. They hunted him into the darkness of the woods where the soldier heard his screams echo until they abruptly stopped and nothing but silence followed.

The soldier did not wait to find out what would happen next. She sheathed her sword, threw the witch’s mantle away, left the braided rope where it was, and hurried on along the road which she had intended to take.

Young as she was, she had seen too many horrible things in her life to dwell on what she had witnessed longer than her mind compelled her to, and while she was carrying a much heavier load now, she was in much higher spirits. Before she had barely had enough money to spend a single night at the inn, but laden with gold as she was, this was no longer her concern.

As soon as she arrived in the nearest town, she went straight to the very best inn she could find and ordered the grandest room and the finest food they had to offer. She was a rich woman now and she as she had never been rich before, she meant to start off well.

The innkeepers, however, were very suspicious of this young soldier, with her tattered clothes and travel-weary face. They did not think she would be able to pay for what she had asked them to provide, and after a long squabble where the one urged the other and the other urged the one, they both went to demand that she pay them upfront.

The soldier, far from being offended, laughed heartily at their concerns, and promptly supplied them both with a handful of gold.

The innkeepers’ eyes grew round like saucers. They took the money, of course, and brought the soldier her dinner, but they also sent their kitchen maid straight to the city guard. Barely had the weary soldier quenched her thirst and eaten until the aching hollow in her stomach was filled, or the captain of the guard confronted her right where she sat and arrested her for theft.

No matter how the soldier pleaded, they would not hear her out. It did her no good to argue that there had been no such theft reported either near or far, because the captain stated that there was no way for a poor, scruffy soldier such as herself to get her hands on such a sum of money apart from criminal means. And as she could not tell them how she had gotten the money she was promptly dragged off and thrown in jail.

There the soldier sat in the dark, cold cell with bitter fury in her heart. To be punished for being rich was surely something that only happened to the poor. If she had not been so angry, she might have cried, and with the way tears work that might have warmed her, but as it was she was shivering with the chill that crept from the dark stones that enclosed her. When she tried to warm her frigid hands in her pockets though, she was amazed to still find the tinderbox in there.

“Here is a stroke of luck,” she sighed. “Now I shall at least have some light and some warmth.” And she fumbled with her numb fingers until she had both flint and firesteel at the ready.

She struck once, she struck twice, she struck thrice and there a spark flew.

All at once, before the first spark had even dimmed, the soldier was no more. In her place now stood a massive wolf. The magic of the tinderbox had transformed hear head to toe, clothes and all.

The soldier had retained her keen mind, however, and without hesitation she leapt high into the air and scrambled up to the broad slit of a window at the very top of her cell that let in the cold night air. Her powerful jaws made short work of the worn iron bars hammered into the stone and soon enough she squeezed through and ran into the night.

Now she understood why the witch had wanted the tinderbox most of all. The wolf-soldier sped through the dark city streets, faster than even the wind. She kept running, on and on, until the stones under her paws gave way to dirt, until the dirt gave way to grass, until she came to the lone dead tree by the lonely road and she leapt, with one big leap, down it’s hollow trunk and collapsed on the floor below.

There she woke a few hours later with the light of the burning lamps shining in her eyes, human once more and, to her great astonishment, with the tinderbox still in her coat pocket. All around her was still and quiet and when, with staggering steps, she went to check behind each of the three doors, she found no wolves there.

“I hope you enjoy your freedom, my friends,” the soldier said and then, after a moment’s quiet consideration she continued: “Now here is a fresh start where few would have gotten one. I shall not make the same mistake twice.”

This time she filled her pockets with as much copper money as they could hold and bound only a moderate amount of silver and gold into her handkerchief. Then she walked back through the lit passage, finding the braided rope still hanging down the hollow tree. And a good thing too, or she might never have gotten out of there.

The soldier climbed back out of the tree, this time not nearly as heavily laden, and once again she went down the winding road. She did not even think of going back to the town, however, instead she travelled on, to a large city that she had never heard of before. There she wasted no time in buying the finest clothes her copper money could buy, which was a great deal finer than her tattered old uniform. She brought her purchases to a modest little inn, where the soldier bathed and dressed and bound up her hair, so that she seemed a new woman.

“Now we shall see,” she said to her reflection. “Who will choose to suspect me still.”

With cunning and cleverness the soldier went from inn to inn, telling all that she met she was looking around to settle in the city, and as she went she spent all her copper money until she thought she might start on the silver. With that she bought still finer clothes and once this was done she found herself some very fine rooms to live in.

Only after all that was settled, did the soldier begin to spend her gold, and this time not a soul spoke ill of her. Instead they congratulated her on her good fortune and said it could not have happened to a more deserving person. The soldier was now established as a very rich and generous lady, for she went out driving nearly every day and gave away a great deal of money to everyone she thought might have need of it.

Such a woman was sure to have many friends and the soldier led a merry life. Her new friends showed her all around the city and told her about all the grand things it had to offer and how the king and queen had even chosen to build a palace for their daughter only a mile or two outside the city walls.

The soldier, or former soldier as she supposed she must call herself now, had no warm feelings towards either the king or queen who had sent her off to fight their wretched war, but she knew no harm of the princess and so she replied:

“Is that so? How curious then, that we should never see anything of her.”

“Why, do you not know!” her friends replied. “The princess was placed in that castle never to leave it! The walls are all lined with polished copper, impossible to climb, and there is a great wall all around it. And nobody is allowed in or out without the express permission of the king and queen! For it has been prophesied that the princess will run off with a common soldier and they are none too pleased about that!”

“Then they are as cruel to their daughter as they are to their subjects,” the soldier spoke resentfully and while she readily continued making merry after that, the thought of the poor princess locked in the copper palace never quite left her.

Poor as she may had been, the soldier had always treasured her freedom. She had not liked having to give it up to the army and now she did not like the idea of it being taken from the princess.

So one quiet night, when she had no company, the soldier took out her tinderbox. “I think I should like to see that copper castle for myself sometime,” she said to herself and with that she struck the flint and fire steel once, twice, thrice, and promptly turned into a wolf.

Under cover of night she ran to the castle, reaching the great wall in no time at all. She paced left and she paced right and with one great leap she was across and over. The palace gardens were very fine, but the soldier paid them no mind. She trotted all around the copper palace, that shone red even in the pale moonlight, until she spied the princess sitting on her balcony, singing to the rising moon.

Now she knew she was a fearsome-looking wolf, but the soldier sat down just like a dog would do. Then she lifted her snout and howled a low, gentle note, singing along with the princess’ song.

The princess jumped to her feet at once, looking down in startled amazement. “Oh my, however have you gotten here!” she exclaimed when she saw the great beast sitting in her garden. “You must go, and quickly too! Or the guards will kill you!”

But the soldier was not a bit afraid of the guards and jumped, with an enormous bound, all the way up to the balcony.

The princess gasped and started back, but she soon grew bold again when she saw that the wolf was as gentle as she was large, immediately laying down and cocking her head at the princess and looking at her with such shining eyes that she could not be afraid of her. The princess tiptoed back out onto the balcony and softly stroked the wolf’s thick fur.

“How incredible you are,” she cooed. “You can get in and out in barely a moment. Oh if only I could jump as well as you, then I would go and see the wide world stretched out around me and be back before my father and mother would even notice I was gone.”

At this the great wolf whined and panted and nuzzled the princess’ hand and stretched her back in such a way that the princess at last understood her and gasped:

“Do you mean to take me with you? Truly!”

The wolf nearly jumped up in her excitement, but immediately laid down again, moving beside the princess so she could get upon her back as easily as taking a seat. So the princess sat down, her hands leaning cautiously on the beast’s great shoulders, but her silken nightgown was so smooth she slid off immediately. So the princess looked left and then right and then she hitched up her skirts and climbed astride on top of the wolf’s back, hugging her firmly round the neck and holding on tight.

No sooner was she safe and secure or the wolf rose joyfully up and bounded straight off the balcony and into the night. The princess almost screamed, so wildly her heart danced and so fast the night air rushed past her, but she buried her face into the wolf’s fur and kept as still as a mouse. Leap! There they went over the garden wall. And woosh! There they bounded off the road and into the fields. And then how the wolf ran. She ran and ran and the princess’ long hair went flying in a great whirl behind them until she could keep quiet no longer and screamed for joy.

The wolf did not make a sound but she ran all the faster and the princess felt as if she were flying. The silver moon lit their way and together they jumped over streams and slipped between trees and ran under the stars until the princess was so full up with life and happiness that she thought she might cry.

Right at that moment, however, she saw a shimmering in the east and her heart jumped in her throat. “You must bring me back, dear wolf!” she panted. “Or there will be hell to pay!”

So the wolf quickly turned around and raced the very sunrise as she sped back to the copper palace. Woosh! They bounded back up the road. And leap! They went over the garden wall. And then with one last great jump the wolf brought the princess safely back to her balcony, before the first beams of the sun had even reached the copper roof of the highest tower.

“Oh sweet wolf, oh lovely creature,” the princess whispered, sliding off the wolf’s back with her legs still trembling. “I thank you, I thank you so much. But, will you come for me again?” 

Now the soldier, even though she was a wolf, was by this time so besotted with the princess that she would not have refused her anything. So she bowed her wolfish head low and growled a warm growl far back in her throat.

The princess glowed with happiness and scratched the wolf first behind one ear, then behind the other, and then in between, right above the wolf’s shining eyes.

“I will wait for you then!” she whispered and then she quickly slipped inside, to be in bed far before her ladies in waiting would come to wake her.

The soldier barely knew how she made her way down the balcony, over the wall and back to her town house. She was so dizzy with love and admiration that she did it all without thinking. Such a woman! So spirited and sweet and beautiful. She had her head so thoroughly turned that she could barely eat a bite all the following day.

But when the sun began to sink towards the horizon her appetite came back. She hastily scarfed down her dinner and once it was good and dark she once again struck the flint and firesteel once, twice, thrice and turned herself into a wolf. On swift feet she went to meet the princess, who was waiting for her eagerly this time, and shone with happiness to see her.

She climbed on the wolf’s back and off they went. This night was even more beautiful than the first and the princess sang wildly into the rushing wind until she was hoarse with it. The wolf brought her back at the first sight of dawn and once again she scratched her behind the ears and begged her to come for her again.

So it went night after night, the princess and the soldier both eagerly waiting for nightfall all day and sleeping through the morning whenever they could. The princess had never been happier, but she also had never wished more eagerly that she would not have to go back into the copper palace at the end of every night. If only she could stay with her darling wolf she felt she would never know lonesomeness again. And the soldier ached with the weight of a love she could not speak, for she was so afraid the princess would be afraid of her if she revealed her secret that she could not bring herself to do it.

But as long as the night lasted and they ran across the fields together they were both as happy as could be. And this happiness might have lasted for a year and a day, if the king and queen had not come to visit their daughter.

They arrived with much pomp and circumstance and the princess greeted them most demurely, but as they sat and drank their tea the queen said to her daughter:

“You look like you have not had a night of sleep in a fortnight!”

And the king exclaimed:

“Whatever is the matter, have you made yourself ill?”

The princess turned as pink as a posy and stammered: “Oh no, mother, oh no, father. I just dream so sweetly that I seem to get no rest at all.”

Now the king and queen were cold people and cruel parents, but they were not foolish. They did not trust those stammered words and blushing cheeks one bit. So that evening, instead of taking their leave, the king hid himself in the palace garden and the queen outside her daughter’s bedroom door and they spied on her.

The poor princess knew nothing of this and when her dear wolf arrived she went with her in higher spirits than ever, eager to shake off the gloom that her parents’ visit had laid upon her.

The queen didn’t see a thing, and heard only the rustle of silk and the murmur of her daughter’s hushed voice behind the closed door, but the king saw everything. By the time he reached his wife he was white as a sheet and shaking with anger. He could barely speak, but at last he managed to make his wife understand what had happened.

The queen went grey with horror. “We must find out where they go!” she exclaimed. “We must follow them and find out who owns that beast!”

“We have no hope of following them,” the king said. “Not even the fastest horse could keep up with that monster.”

Now the queen was a very shrewd person, she was not easily stumped. She thought for a while and then she said:

“It would not do us much good to follow our daughter. For she comes back here either way. We must find out where that beast comes from.”

So they ordered their servants to coat the very edge of the balcony floor with treacle and that morning early when the soldier returned the princess to her captive home, she landed in the sticky sweetness with three of her four paws without even noticing it. The princess did not see anything either and she hurried back inside without the least bit suspicion.

The soldier was in such high spirits at having eluded the king and queen in person she was completely unaware that with every jump and bound off the balcony, over the garden wall and down the town road, she left three sticky paw prints behind. She made her way back to her town house without seeing a thing. But neither did she hear the snuffling and huffing following her through the streets and the careful lapping of three tongues.

As soon as it was light enough the king and queen set out to find the giant wolf. They found treacle paw prints in the garden, treacle paw prints on the road, but not a single one within the borders of the town.

“The monster has outsmarted us this time!” the queen snapped. “It must have licked the treacle from its claws. But that shall not happen a second time.”

This time she ordered the servants to spread a coat of soot on the edge of the balcony floor so it was all powdery black. In the darkness the princess did not see a thing and the wolf did not feel the soot as she put her paws in it when she returned. She ran home with her head full of the princess’ kind words and soft caresses, never hearing the tread of three pairs of paws behind her own.

At the first sunlight the king and queen hurried out to track the wolf and they could follow the sooty paw prints all the way into the town. But there they were met with a nasty surprise. There were sooty paw prints in every direction. They went down every street, through every alley and even up the roofs, to every single blackened unswept chimney.

This time the king and queen were so angry they had to sit down to recover. When the queen had regained her composure enough to speak, she said:

This time we will make sure there are no tricks.”

And she ordered the servants to paint the balcony floor with tar.

Once again the soldier did not notice when she jumped onto the balcony, and once again the princess didn’t suspect a thing when she slid off her back and scratched behind the wolf’s ears and quickly hurried off to bed. But when the soldier jumped back down she felt the tar pulling on her paws and knew she must have stepped in something. She felt it while she ran through the garden, she felt it while she jumped over the wall, and she felt it still as she ran back to town, but she did not see anything and she knew she must hurry to get home before there would be too many people awake in the streets to sneak back unnoticed.

So she hurried and she did not look back, running all the way home and collapsing into her bed. Because no matter how many times she had used the tinderbox, she must always sleep, and only once she woke did she find herself restored to her human form.

While she slept, however, the sun rose, and the king and queen set out to follow the tar-stained tracks that the mysterious wolf had left behind. Because this time there were paw prints all through the garden, all up the road to town, and all through the town streets. The further they went the more faded they looked, and some of them seemed to be smudged as if they had been scratched at, but they were all there clear as day, and they led the king and queen exactly where they wished to be.

The poor soldier awoke with a start as the royal guard burst into her rooms. She was dragged from her bed and the whole house was searched, but while no one could find the wolf, the king and queen soon no longer cared to search for it. Because what was discovered were the soldier’s blackened soles and palms and the tattered uniform among her fine new clothes.

“A soldier!” the queen gasped.

“A witch!” the king spat.

And before she could draw another breath the soldier was seized and taken away and she was once again locked in a cold, dark cell. Only this time she had no hope of escaping, because when she searched her pockets, the tinderbox was not there. Whether it still lay in her bed or had fallen out as they dragged her through the streets she did not know, but it was nowhere to be found to save her.

The king and queen meanwhile went to their daughter in a great uproar and told her that they had discovered that the wolf she played with every night was not a wolf at all, but nothing but a common soldier who used horrid witchcraft to change her shape, and that she had been caught for her insolence and treachery.

The princess was struck with horror, but before the king and queen could even imagine themselves triumphant she burst forth:

“Oh father, mother, let her go! I have never loved anyone so well as I love my dear wolf! And now I am to know she was never an animal! I must see her at once, oh pray do not punish her. For I love her more than anything in the world!”

The king grew as white as a sheet and the queen went as red as a beet and they decided at once that the soldier must be put to death the following morning.

When the princess heard this, she screamed and begged and cried until her parents had her shut up in her room.

So the princess wept in her room, and the soldier sighed in her cell. For no matter how she thought and thought, the soldier knew no way to save herself. Even now her dearest wish was to speak to the princess, for more painful even than the threat of execution was the thought that the princess might resent her for her deception. The more she thought about this the more desperate she grew, until the soldier leaned back her head against the cold stone of her cell and let out a long, sorrowful sound that was so much like a wolf’s cry that it carried all the way out the window and echoed down the dark streets like a summons.

Even her chest felt empty after that sound had left it, and the soldier sat in silent sorrow, until suddenly there was a sound. Up at the high window, just level with the street, there was a scuffling and a panting and then, with a clang and a thud, something fell through the little window into the cell.

It was the tinderbox.

The soldier leapt to her feet and as she snatched the precious thing off the cold stones. She could just hear three sets of paws run off into the night.

The following morning the soldier was in her cell, exactly where the guards had left her. They bound her hands and took her away, but not one of them would look her in the eyes, because by now everyone knew of the soldier, who was so generous with her mysterious wealth and such a kind friend to so many struggling people of the town. And now she was to die.

Outside the town a high scaffold had been raised, with all the townspeople crowded nervously around it. The king and queen were seated on beautiful thrones, with the princess between them. Her face was grey and tears streamed down her cheeks in continual mourning, as she sat there as silent and unmoving as stone.

The soldier’s heart almost broke in two when she saw her in such a state, but she walked steadily on. When they saw her walk so bravely to her death, the townsfolk gritted their teeth and balled their fists. The soldier saw it and revelled in it, but she kept silent until she had been placed on the scaffold and could turn to address the king and queen.

“Your majesties,” she called out. “If I am to die, I would beg to be allowed to light a candle for the dear princess before I do, so that her heart may be light instead of heavy for all her days yet to come.”

At this the princess began to weep so uncontrollably and there was such a rustle of discomfort going through the crowd that the king and queen did not know what to do but accept.

The soldier’s hands were untied, a candle was brought, and she took her tinderbox from her pocket. She lifted her eyes to the princess’ face as she struck the flint once, she bowed her head as she struck the flint twice, and she disappeared from sight as she struck the flint thrice.

Cries erupted all around and people scattered in fear when the enormous wolf threw aside the guards attending her. Only the princess let out a cry for joy and ran past the fleeing guards, through the running crowd and straight onto the scaffold.

Now the king and queen set to screaming, but their daughter did not pay them any mind. She scrambled up on the great wolf’s back and buried her face in her fur, hugging her tight around her neck and sobbing out all her fear and grief.

“Stop them! Seize her!” the king and queen screamed, but the townspeople roared and the guards would not go near them.

Never in their lives had the king and queen met with any such disobedience. But as they screamed, the princess whispered, and before any of the onlookers knew what came to pass the wolf was a streak of fur, carrying the princess off the scaffold like a soldier astride a steed.

The wolf turned and sprang and rushed at the royal thrones, sending the king and queen running and screaming and fleeing for their lives. There was such growling and howling and snapping of jaws that the wolf would surely have torn them straight to pieces, if the princess had not called her off.

The king and queen fled into the deep dark woods, and the princess rode her darling wolf back to the town, where all the townspeople screamed with joy to see her come and cheered her all the way.

She did not go back to her copper palace, she went to the home of the brave soldier, and when she came outside again there was no more wolf, but she had that very same soldier on her arm.

“Long live the princess! Long live the princess!” all the people cheered. “Now our princess shall be our queen!”

“And so I shall,” the princess declared. “And I will marry this good, kind soldier who has lived in this town all this while and has been as good to all of you as she has been to me. If she will have me.”

But the soldier blushed so rosy red there was not a single doubt of that, and so the young queen had her wedding as soon as could possibly be.

It was a rather strange affair, it was reported, for the bride did not kiss her groom but scratched her behind her ear instead. But it was a very joyous wedding and a joyous kingdom too, for there were no more wars and no more poverty.

And, so said all the townspeople wisely, if the queen was sometimes seen riding about the countryside on the back of a great wolf with her hair flying in the moonlit night, then that was nobody’s business but her own.

[Theme music]

Laura: And with that last word, stitching up the very last sentence, this story has its proper end.

Thank you very much for listening, I hope you enjoyed my take on one of Andersen’s first fairy tales. If you know any other fairy tales that could do with some fixing, please let me know! You can do that on any of my social media, which you can find on my website Just like transcripts and easy streaming for all the episodes, and all the information about this podcast and all my other creations, like my ebooks and my webcomic.

There’s another tale to tell some other day, but until then…

Be kind to strays, guard your name, and be safe~

[Music fades]

Image of the Patchwork Fairy Tale dragon from the podcast logo.

Copyright Laura Simons, please do not copy my stories without my permission, lest you insult the fae.

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