The Cuelebre

IIn a hut in an Austrian village lived a very beautiful maiden, who was vain and forever daydreaming. She spent hours and hours combing her long flowing hair by a spring, and there was nothing she loved more than to admire her beautiful reflection in the limpid water of the pool. In vain her mother and grandmother warned her, "It is dangerous to comb your hair by the spring. Be careful, because if a hair falls and ruffles the surface of the water, the spirit of the spring will bewitch you."

"Old wives tales," cried the girl, "there are no spirits in the fountain." But the girl was very wrong. In the pool lived a very powerful spirit, one of those nymphs of the streams and mountains which abound in the Asturian mythology. The spirit watched angrily as the girl spent the whole day combing her hair, never helping to spin the wool or knead the dough. She had not been able to do a thing about it, as the girl did not ruffle the water of the pool, but patiently the nymph waited for her chance.

Then one day, one of the girl's golden hairs fell into the water and the nymph, dressed in a cloak of green water, rose angrily out of the pool.

"Didn't your mother warn you not to ruffle the water?" she asked, in a very quiet voice.

"A hair as beautiful as this does not ruffle the water," replied the proud maiden.

"I am going to bewitch you to punish you for your pride," the spirit said icily. Barefoot, her long golden hair adorned with pearls and a crown made from the reflection of the moon, she alighted on the grass next to the pool. Frowning, she declared, "I am turning you into a cuelebre. You will only turn back into a maiden if you meet a knight who is so brave that he is not afraid of you and has a heart so pure that he finds you beautiful.

At once the girl's body grew to an enormous size and became covered with coloured scales. her golden hair turned into crests and two wings sprouted from her shoulders. With a howl of despair, the cuelebre slunk off weeping, and hid in a cave by the sea.

As all the youths who set eyes on the cuelebre are afraid, the proud girl who was bewitched by the spirit still lives in her little cave on the sea shore, waiting for the knight who will find her beautiful, so that she can become a maiden once more.