The Water of Life
Grimm’s Fairy Tales
*Audio file at the end
There was once a King who was so ill that it was thought impossible his life could be saved. He had three sons, and they were all in great distress on his account, and they went into the castle gardens and wept at the thought that he must die. An old man came up to them and asked the cause of their grief. They told him that their father was dying, and nothing could save him.
The old man said, “There is only one remedy which I know; it is the Water of Life. If he drinks of it, he will recover, but it is very difficult to find.”
The eldest son said, “I will soon find it”; and he went to the sick man to ask permission to go in search of the Water of Life, as that was the only thing to cure him.
“No,” said the King. “The danger is too great. I would rather die.”
But he persisted so long that at last the King gave his permission.
The Prince thought, “If I bring this water I shall be the favourite,
and I shall inherit the kingdom.”
So he set off, and when he had ridden some distance he came upon a
Dwarf standing in the road, who cried, ‘Whither away so fast?’
“Stupid little fellow,” said the Prince, proudly; “what business is it
of yours?” and rode on.
The little man was very angry, and made an evil vow.
Soon after, the Prince came to a gorge in the mountains, and the further he rode the narrower it became, till he could go no further. His horse could neither go forward nor turn round for him to dismount; so there he sat, jammed in.
The sick King waited a long time for him, but he never came back. Then the second son said, “Father, let me go and find the Water of Life, “thinking, “if my brother is dead I shall have the kingdom.”
The King at first refused to let him go, but at last he gave his consent. So the Prince started on the same road as his brother, and met the same Dwarf, who stopped him and asked where he was going in such a hurry.
“Little Snippet, what does it matter to you?” he said, and rode away without looking back.
But the Dwarf cast a spell over him, and he, too, got into a narrow gorge like his brother, where he could neither go backwards nor forwards.
This is what happens to the haughty.
As the second son also stayed away, the youngest one offered to go and
fetch the Water of Life, and at last the King was obliged to let him go.
When he met the Dwarf, and he asked him where he was hurrying to, he
stopped and said, “I am searching for the Water of Life, because my
father is dying.”
“Do you know where it is to be found?”
“No,” said the Prince.
“As you have spoken pleasantly to me, and not been haughty like your false brothers, I will help you and tell you how to find the Water of Life. It flows from a fountain in the courtyard of an enchanted castle; but you will never get in unless I give you an iron rod and two loaves of bread. With the rod strike three times on the iron gate of the castle, and it will spring open. Inside you will find two Lions with wide-open jaws, but if you throw a loaf to each they will be quiet. Then you must make haste to fetch the Water of Life before it strikes twelve, or the gates of the castle will close and you will be shut in.”
The Prince thanked him, took the rod and the loaves, and set off. When he reached the castle all was just as the Dwarf had said. At the third knock the gate flew open, and when he had pacified the Lions with the loaves, he walked into the castle. In the great hall he found several enchanted Princes, and he took the rings from their fingers. He also took a sword and a loaf, which were lying by them. On passing into the next room he found a beautiful Maiden, who rejoiced at his coming. She embraced him, and said that he had saved her, and should have the whole of her kingdom; and if he would come back in a year she would marry him. She also told him where to find the fountain with the enchanted water; but, she said, he must make haste to get out of the castle before the clock struck twelve.
Then he went on, and came to a room where there was a beautiful bed freshly made, and as he was very tired he thought he would take a little rest; so he lay down and fell asleep. When he woke it was striking a quarter to twelve. He sprang up in a fright, and ran to the fountain, and took some of the water in a cup which was lying near, and then hurried away. The clock struck just as he reached the iron gate, and it banged so quickly that it took off a bit of his heel.
He was rejoiced at having got some of the Water of Life, and hastened on his homeward journey. He again passed the Dwarf, who said, when he saw the sword and the loaf, “Those things will be of much service to you. You will be able to strike down whole armies with the sword, and the loaf will never come to an end.”
The Prince did not want to go home without his brothers, and he said,
“Good Dwarf, can you not tell me where my brothers are? They went in
search of the Water of Life before I did, but they never came back.”
“They are both stuck fast in a narrow mountain gorge. I cast a spell
over them because of their pride.”
Then the Prince begged so hard that they might be released that at last the Dwarf yielded; but he warned him against them, and said, “Beware of them; they have bad hearts.”
He was delighted to see his brothers when they came back, and told them all that had happened to him; how he had found the Water of Life, and brought a goblet full with him. How he had released a beautiful Princess, who would wait a year for him and then marry him, and he would become a great Prince.
Then they rode away together, and came to a land where famine and war
were raging. The King thought he would be utterly ruined, so great was
The Prince went to him and gave him the loaf, and with it he fed and satisfied his whole kingdom. The Prince also gave him his sword, and he smote the whole army of his enemies with it, and then he was able to live in peace and quiet. Then the Prince took back his sword and his loaf, and the three brothers rode on. But they had to pass through two more countries where war and famine were raging, and each time the Prince gave his sword and his loaf to the King, and in this way he saved three kingdoms.
After that they took a ship and crossed the sea. During the passage the two elder brothers said to each other, “Our youngest brother found the Water of Life, and we did not, so our father will give him the kingdom which we ought to have, and he will take away our fortune from us.”
This thought made them very vindictive, and they made up their minds to get rid of him. They waited till he was asleep, and then they emptied the Water of Life from his goblet and took it themselves, and filled up his cup with salt sea water.
As soon as they got home the youngest Prince took his goblet to the King, so that he might drink of the water which was to make him well; but after drinking only a few drops of the sea water he became more ill than ever. As he was bewailing himself, his two elder sons came to him and accused the youngest of trying to poison him, and said that they had the real Water of Life, and gave him some. No sooner had he drunk it than he felt better, and he soon became as strong and well as he had been in his youth.
Then the two went to their youngest brother, and mocked him, saying, “It was you who found the Water of Life; you had all the trouble, while we have the reward. You should have been wiser, and kept your eyes open; we stole it from you while you were asleep on the ship. When the end of the year comes, one of us will go and bring away the beautiful Princess. But don’t dare to betray us. Our father will certainly not believe you, and if you say a single word you will lose your life; your only chance is to keep silence.”
The old King was very angry with his youngest son, thinking that he had tried to take his life. So he had the Court assembled to give judgment upon him, and it was decided that he must be secretly got out of the way.
One day when the Prince was going out hunting, thinking no evil, the King’s Huntsman was ordered to go with him. Seeing the Huntsman look sad, the Prince said to him, “My good Huntsman, what is the matter with you?”
The Huntsman answered, “I can’t bear to tell you, and yet I must.”
The Prince said, “Say it out; whatever it is I will forgive you.”
“Alas!” said the Huntsman, “I am to shoot you dead; it is the King’s command.”
The Prince was horror-stricken, and said, “Dear Huntsman, do not kill me, give me my life. Let me have your dress, and you shall have my royal robes.”
The Huntsman said, “I will gladly do so; I could never have shot you.” So they changed clothes, and the Huntsman went home, but the Prince wandered away into the forest.
After a time three wagon loads of gold and precious stones came to the King for his youngest son. They were sent by the Kings who had been saved by the Prince’s sword and his miraculous loaf, and who now wished to show their gratitude.
Then the old King thought, “What if my son really was innocent?” and
said to his people, “If only he were still alive! How sorry I am that I ordered him to be killed.”
“He is still alive,” said the Huntsman. “I could not find it in my heart to carry out your commands,” and he told the King what had taken place.
A load fell from the King’s heart on hearing the good news, and he sent out a proclamation to all parts of his kingdom that his son was to come home, where he would be received with great favour.
In the meantime, the Princess had caused a road to be made of pure shining gold leading to her castle, and told her people that whoever came riding straight along it would be the true bridegroom, and they were to admit him. But any one who came either on one side of the road or the other would not be the right one, and he was not to be let in.
When the year had almost passed, the eldest Prince thought that he would hurry to the Princess, and by giving himself out as her deliverer would gain a wife and a kingdom as well. So he rode away, and when he saw the beautiful golden road he thought it would be a thousand pities to ride upon it; so he turned aside, and rode to the right of it. But when he reached the gate the people told him that he was not the true bridegroom, and he had to go away.
Soon after the second Prince came, and when he saw the golden road he thought it would be a thousand pities for his horse to tread upon it; so he turned aside, and rode up on the left of it. But when he reached the gate he was also told that he was not the true bridegroom, and, like his brother, was turned away.
When the year had quite come to an end, the third Prince came out of the wood to ride to his beloved, and through her to forget all his past sorrows. So on he went, thinking only of her, and wishing to be with her; and he never even saw the golden road. His horse cantered right along the middle of it, and when he reached the gate it was flung open and the Princess received him joyfully, and called him her Deliverer, and the Lord of her Kingdom. Their marriage was celebrated without delay, and with much rejoicing. When it was over, she told him that his father had called him back and forgiven him. So he went to him and told him everything; how his brothers had deceived him, and how they had forced him to keep silence. The old King wanted to punish them, but they had taken a ship and sailed away over the sea, and they never came back as long as they lived.
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