Reading time for children: 23 min
There was once on a time a King who had a little boy of whom it had been foretold that he should be killed by a stag when he was sixteen years of age, and when he had reached that age the huntsmen once went hunting with him. In the forest, the King’s son was separated from the others, and all at once he saw a great stag which he wanted to shoot, but could not hit. At length he chased the stag so far that they were quite out of the forest, and then suddenly a great tall man was standing there instead of the stag, and said, „It is well that I have thee. I have already ruined six pairs of glass skates with running after thee, and have not been able to get thee.“ Then he took the King’s son with him, and dragged him through a great lake to a great palace, and then he had to sit down to table with him and eat something. When they had eaten something together the King said, „I have three daughters, thou must keep watch over the eldest for one night, from nine in the evening till six in the morning, and every time the clock strikes, I will come myself and call, and if thou then givest me no answer, to-morrow morning thou shall be put to death, but if thou always givest me an answer, thou shalt have her to wife.“
When the young folks went to the bed-room there stood a stone image of St. Christopher, and the King’s daughter said to it, „My father will come at nine o’clock, and every hour till it strikes three; when he calls, give him an answer instead of the King’s son.“ Then the stone image of St. Christopher nodded its head quite quickly, and then more and more slowly till at last it stood still. The next morning the King said to him, „Thou hast done the business well, but I cannot give my daughter away. Thou must now watch a night by my second daughter, and then I will consider with myself, whether thou canst have my eldest daughter to wife, but I shall come every hour myself, and when I call thee, answer me, and if I call thee and thou dost not reply, thy blood shall flow.“ Then they both went into the sleeping-room, and there stood a still larger stone image of St. Christopher, and the King’s daughter said to it, „If my father calls, do you answer him.“ Then the great stone image of St. Christopher again nodded its head quite quickly and then more and more slowly, until at last it stood still again. And the King’s son lay down on the threshold, put his hand under his head and slept. The next morning the King said to him, „Thou hast done the business really well, but I cannot give my daughter away; thou must now watch a night by the youngest princess, and then I will consider with myself whether thou canst have my second daughter to wife, but I shall come every hour myself, and when I call thee answer me, and if I call thee and thou answerest not, thy blood shall flow for me.“
Then they once more went to the sleeping-room together, and there was a much greater and much taller image of St. Christopher than the two first had been. The King’s daughter said to it, „When my father calls, do thou answer.“ Then the great tall stone image of St. Christopher nodded quite half an hour with its head, until at length the head stood still again. And the King’s son laid himself down on the threshold of the door and slept. The next morning the King said, „Thou hast indeed watched well, but I cannot give thee my daughter now; I have a great forest, if thou cuttest it down for me between six o’clock this morning and six at night, I will think about it.“ Then he gave him a glass axe, a glass wedge, and a glass mallet. When he got into the wood, he began at once to cut, but the axe broke in two, then he took the wedge, and struck it once with the mallet, and it became as short and as small as sand. Then he was much troubled and believed he would have to die, and sat down and wept.
Now when it was noon the King said, „One of you girls must take him something to eat.“ – „No,“ said the two eldest, „We will not take it to him; the one by whom he last watched, can take him something.“ Then the youngest was forced to go and take him something to eat. When she got into the forest, she asked him how he was getting on? „Oh,“ said he, „I am getting on very badly.“ Then she said he was to come and just eat a little. „Nay,“ said he, „I cannot do that, I shall still have to die, so I will eat no more.“ Then she spoke so kindly to him and begged him just to try, that he came and ate something. When he had eaten something she said, „I will comb thy hair a while, and then thou wilt feel happier.“
So she combed his hair, and he became weary and fell asleep, and then she took her handkerchief and made a knot in it, and struck it three times on the earth, and said, „Earth-workers, come forth.“ In a moment, numbers of little earth-men came forth, and asked what the King’s daughter commanded? Then said she, „In three hours‘ time the great forest must be cut down, and the whole of the wood laid in heaps.“ So the little earth-men went about and got together the whole of their kindred to help them with the work. They began at once, and when the three hours were over, all was done, and they came back to the King’s daughter and told her so. Then she took her white handkerchief again and said, „Earth-workers, go home.“ On this they all disappeared. When the King’s son awoke, he was delighted, and she said, „Come home when it has struck six o’clock.“ He did as she told him, and then the King asked, „Hast thou made away with the forest?“ – „Yes,“ said the King’s son. When they were sitting at table, the King said, „I cannot yet give thee my daughter to wife, thou must still do something more for her sake.“ So he asked what it was to be, then? „I have a great fish-pond,“ said the King. „Thou must go to it to-morrow morning and clear it of all mud until it is as bright as a mirror, and fill it with every kind of fish.“ The next morning the King gave him a glass shovel and said, „The fish-pond must be done by six o’clock.“ So he went away, and when he came to the fish-pond he stuck his shovel in the mud and it broke in two, then he stuck his hoe in the mud, and broke it also. Then he was much troubled. At noon the youngest daughter brought him something to eat, and asked him how he was getting on? So the King’s son said everything was going very ill with him, and he would certainly have to lose his head. „My tools have broken to pieces again.“ – „Oh,“ said she, „thou must just come and eat something, and then thou wilt be in another frame of mind.“ – „No,“ said he, „I cannot eat, I am far too unhappy for that!“ Then she gave him many good words until at last he came and ate something. Then she combed his hair again, and he fell asleep, so once more she took her handkerchief, tied a knot in it, and struck the ground thrice with the knot, and said, „Earth-workers, come forth.“ In a moment a great many little earth-men came and asked what she desired, and she told them that in three hours‘ time, they must have the fish-pond entirely cleaned out, and it must be so clear that people could see themselves reflected in it, and every kind of fish must be in it. The little earth-men went away and summoned all their kindred to help them, and in two hours it was done. Then they returned to her and said, „We have done as thou hast commanded.“ The King’s daughter took the handkerchief and once more struck thrice on the ground with it, and said, „Earth-workers, go home again.“ Then they all went away.
When the King’s son awoke the fish-pond was done. Then the King’s daughter went away also, and told him that when it was six he was to come to the house. When he arrived at the house the King asked, „Hast thou got the fish-pond done?“ – „Yes,“ said the King’s son. That was very good.
When they were again sitting at table the King said, „Thou hast certainly done the fish-pond, but I cannot give thee my daughter yet; thou must just do one thing more.“ – „What is that, then?“ asked the King’s son. The King said he had a great mountain on which there was nothing but briars which must all be cut down, and at the top of it the youth must build up a great castle, which must be as strong as could be conceived, and all the furniture and fittings belonging to a castle must be inside it. And when he arose next morning the King gave him a glass axe and a glass gimlet with him, and he was to have all done by six o’clock. As he was cutting down the first briar with the axe, it broke off short, and so small that the pieces flew all round about, and he could not use the gimlet either. Then he was quite miserable, and waited for his dearest to see if she would not come and help him in his need. When it was mid-day she came and brought him something to eat. He went to meet her and told her all, and ate something, and let her comb his hair and fell asleep. Then she once more took the knot and struck the earth with it, and said, „Earth-workers, come forth!“ Then came once again numbers of earth-men, and asked what her desire was. Then said she, „In the space of three hours they must cut down the whole of the briars, and a castle must be built on the top of the mountain that must be as strong as any one could conceive, and all the furniture that pertains to a castle must be inside it.“ They went away, and summoned their kindred to help them and when the time was come, all was ready. Then they came to the King’s daughter and told her so, and the King’s daughter took her handkerchief and struck thrice on the earth with it, and said, „Earth-workers, go home,“ on which they all disappeared. When therefore the King’s son awoke and saw everything done, he was as happy as a bird in air.
When it had struck six, they went home together. Then said the King, „Is the castle ready?“ – „Yes,“ said the King’s son. When they sat down to table, the King said, „I cannot give away my youngest daughter until the two eldest are married.“ Then the King’s son and the King’s daughter were quite troubled, and the King’s son had no idea what to do. But he went by night to the King’s daughter and ran away with her. When they had got a little distance away, the King’s daughter peeped round and saw her father behind her. „Oh,“ said she, „what are we to do? My father is behind us, and will take us back with him. I will at once change thee into a briar, and myself into a rose, and I will shelter myself in the midst of the bush.“ When the father reached the place, there stood a briar with one rose on it, then he was about to gather the rose, when the thorn came and pricked his finger so that he was forced to go home again. His wife asked why he had not brought their daughter back with him? So he said he had nearly got up to her, but that all at once he had lost sight of her, and a briar with one rose was growing on the spot.
Then said the Queen, „If thou hadst but gathered the rose, the briar would have been forced to come too.“ So he went back again to fetch the rose, but in the meantime the two were already far over the plain, and the King ran after them. Then the daughter once more looked round and saw her father coming, and said, „Oh, what shall we do now? I will instantly change thee into a church and myself into a priest, and I will stand up in the pulpit, and preach.“ When the King got to the place, there stood a church, and in the pulpit was a priest preaching. So he listened to the sermon, and then went home again.
Then the Queen asked why he had not brought their daughter with him, and he said, „Nay, I ran a long time after her, and just as I thought I should soon overtake her, a church was standing there and a priest was in the pulpit preaching.“ – „Thou shouldst just have brought the priest,“ said his wife, „and then the church would soon have come. It is no use to send thee, I must go there myself.“ When she had walked for some time, and could see the two in the distance, the King’s daughter peeped round and saw her mother coming, and said, „Now we are undone, for my mother is coming herself: I will immediately change thee into a fish-pond and myself into a fish.
When the mother came to the place, there was a large fish-pond, and in the midst of it a fish was leaping about and peeping out of the water, and it was quite merry. She wanted to catch the fish, but she could not. Then she was very angry, and drank up the whole pond in order to catch the fish, but it made her so ill that she was forced to vomit, and vomited the whole pond out again. Then she cried, „I see very well that nothing can be done now,“ and said that now they might come back to her. Then the King’s daughter went back again, and the Queen gave her daughter three walnuts, and said, „With these thou canst help thyself when thou art in thy greatest need.“ So the young folks went once more away together. And when they had walked quite ten miles, they arrived at the castle from whence the King’s son came, and close by it was a village. When they reached it, the King’s son said, „Stay here, my dearest, I will just go to the castle, and then will I come with a carriage and with attendants to fetch thee.“
When he got to the castle they all rejoiced greatly at having the King’s son back again, and he told them he had a bride who was now in the village, and they must go with the carriage to fetch her. Then they harnessed the horses at once, and many attendants seated themselves outside the carriage. When the King’s son was about to get in, his mother gave him a kiss, and he forgot everything which had happened, and also what he was about to do. On this his mother ordered the horses to be taken out of the carriage again, and everyone went back into the house. But the maiden sat in the village and watched and watched, and thought he would come and fetch her, but no one came. Then the King’s daughter took service in the mill which belonged to the castle, and was obliged to sit by the pond every afternoon and clean the tubs.
And the Queen came one day on foot from the castle, and went walking by the pond, and saw the well-grown maiden sitting there, and said, „What a fine strong girl that is! She pleases me well!“ Then she and all with her looked at the maid, but no one knew her. So a long time passed by during which the maiden served the miller honorably and faithfully. In the meantime, the Queen had sought a wife for her son, who came from quite a distant part of the world. When the bride came, they were at once to be married. And many people hurried together, all of whom wanted to see everything. Then the girl said to the miller that he might be so good as to give her leave to go also. So the miller said, „Yes, do go there.“ When she was about to go, she opened one of the three walnuts, and a beautiful dress lay inside it. She put it on, and went into the church and stood by the altar. Suddenly came the bride and bridegroom, and seated themselves before the altar, and when the priest was just going to bless them, the bride peeped half round and saw the maiden standing there. Then she stood up again, and said she would not be given away until she also had as beautiful a dress as that lady there. So they went back to the house again, and sent to ask the lady if she would sell that dress. No, she would not sell it, but the bride might perhaps earn it. Then the bride asked her how she was to do this? Then the maiden said if she might sleep one night outside the King’s son’s door, the bride might have what she wanted. So the bride said, „Yes, she was willing to do that.“ But the servants were ordered to give the King’s son a sleeping-drink, and then the maiden laid herself down on the threshold and lamented all night long. She had had the forest cut down for him, she had had the fish-pond cleaned out for him, she had had the castle built for him, she had changed him into a briar, and then into a church, and at last into a fish-pond, and yet he had forgotten her so quickly. The King’s son did not hear one word of it, but the servants had been awakened, and had listened to it, and had not known what it could mean. The next morning when they were all up, the bride put on the dress, and went away to the church with the bridegroom. In the meantime the maiden opened the second walnut, and a still more beautiful dress was inside it. She put it on, and went and stood by the altar in the church, and everything happened as it had happened the time before. And the maiden again lay all night on the threshold which led to the chamber of the King’s son, and the servant was once more to give him a sleeping-drink. The servant, however, went to him and gave him something to keep him awake, and then the King’s son went to bed, and the miller’s maiden bemoaned herself as before on the threshold of the door, and told of all that she had done. All this the King’s son heard, and was sore troubled, and what was past came back to him. Then he wanted to go to her, but his mother had locked the door. The next morning, however, he went at once to his beloved, and told her everything which had happened to him, and prayed her not to be angry with him for having forgotten her. Then the King’s daughter opened the third walnut, and within it was a still more magnificent dress, which she put on, and went with her bridegroom to church, and numbers of children came who gave them flowers, and offered them gay ribbons to bind about their feet, and they were blessed by the priest, and had a merry wedding. But the false mother and the bride had to depart. And the mouth of the person who last told all this is still warm.
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