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The Water of life (1)

2006-02-28 00:00

  Once upon a time there was a king who was ill, and no one thought his life could be saved. But he had three sons, and they were sad about this and went down into the palace garden and wept. Here they met an old man who asked the cause of their grief. They told him that their father was so ill that he would probably die, for nothing did him any good. The old man said:“ I know of another remedy: it's the Water of Life. If e drinks some of that he'll recover. But it's difficult to find.” The eldest brother said:“ I'll find it all right.” And he went to the sick king and asked his permission to set out and look for the Water of Life, for only that could heal him. “No,” said the king, “that quest is too dangerous; I would rather die.” But he kept on pleading till the king gave his consent. In his heart the prince was thinking: If I bring him the Water, I shall be my father' favorite son and inherit the kingdom.

  So he set off, and when he had ridden for a while he met a dwarf standing in his path who called out to him:“ Where are you riding so fast?” “You stupid midget,” said the prince very haughtily, “that's no business of yours.” And he rode on. But this had angered the little man, and he had wished evil on him. Very soon the prince found himself in a mountain gorge, and the further he rode along it the nearer the mountains closed in, until as last the path was so narrow that he couldn't ride a step further; it was impossible to turn his horse or even dismount, and there he sat imprisoned.

  The sick king waited for him a long time, but he didn't come. Then the second son said:“ Father, let me go out and look for the Water,” thinking to himself: If my brother is dead, the kingdom will fall to me. At first the king wouldn't let him go, but in the end he gave away. So the prince set off along the same road as his brother had taken, and he too met the dwarf, who stopped him and asked him where he was off to in such a hurry. “You little midget,” said the prince, “that's no business of yours.” And he rode on without so much as looking round. But the dwarf put a curse on him, and he got stuck in a mountain gorge like his brother and could move neither forward nor back. That's what comes of being high and mighty.

  When the second son didn't return either, the youngest offered to set out in search of the Water of Life, and in the end the king had to let him go. When he met the dwarf and the dwarf asked him where he was off to in such a hurry, he stopped to give him an answer and said, “I'm looking for the Water of Life, because my father's mortally ill.” And do you know where it is to be found?“ ”No,“ said the prince. ”Since you have behaved in a proper manner and not been arrogant like your two false-hearted brothers, I will give you information and tell you how to get the Water of Life. It springs up from a fountain in the courtyard of a bewitched castle; but you will not be able to make your way in unless I give you an iron wand and two loaves of bread. Strike on the iron gate of the castle three times with the wand and it will spring open; inside there are two lions with gaping jaws, but if you throw each of them a loaf they'll become tame. Then you must hurry and fetch some of the Water of Life before the clock strikes twelve, otherwise the gate will slam shut again and you'll be locked in.“

  The prince thanked him, took the wand and the bread and went on his way. And when he got there everything was just as the dwarf had said. The gate sprang open at the third stroke of the wand, and when he had tamed the lions with the bread he entered the castle and found himself in a beautiful great hall. In it were sitting princes bound by a spell, and he took the rings from their fingers; and then he found a sword and a loaf of bread lying there, and took them with him. Next he came to a room in which a beautiful maiden was standing; she was glad when she saw him, and kissed him and told him that he had freed her from the spell and she would give him the whole of her kingdom, and that if he returned in a year's time they would celebrate their wedding.

  And then she told him where the fountain was from which the Water of Life sprang, but reminded him that he must hurry and draw from it before the clock struck twelve. So he went on until he finally came to a room that had a beautiful freshly made bed in it, and as he was tired he thought he would rest a little first. So he lay down and fell asleep, and when he woke up the clock was striking a quarter to twelve. He jumped up in great alarm, ran to the fountain, drew some water from it in a cup that stood beside it, and hurried to escape. Just as he was passing through the iron gate twelve o'clock struck, and the gate slammed shut with such a crash that it sliced off a piece of his heel.

  But he was glad that he had got the Water of Life, and set out back home and passed the dwarf again. When the dwarf saw the sword and the loaf of bread he said:“ You have got possession of very valuable things there, for with that sword you can defeat whole armies, and you can go on eating that bread and never finish it.” The prince didn't want to go home to his father without his brothers, and he said:“ Dear dwarf, can you not tell me where my two brothers are? They left in search of the Water of Life before I did, and they never came back.” “They are stuck in a gorge between two mountains and can't get out,” said the dwarf. “I wished this on them because they were so haughty.” Then the prince pleaded with the dwarf till he released them again; but he warned him and said:“ Be on your guard against them, they have wicked hearts.”

  When his brothers came he was glad to see them and told them what had happened to him, how he had found the Water of Life and brought a cupful of it with him and had released a beautiful princess from a spell, who was going to wait a year for him and then they would be married and he would get a great kingdom. After this they rode off together and found themselves in a country where there was famine and war and the king already thought he was on the verge of ruin, the trouble was so great. But the prince went to him and gave him the loaf of bread, and with if he fed his whole kingdom and everyone ate their fill. Then the prince gave him the sword too, and with it he defeated the enemy armies, and after that he was able to live in peace. Then the prince took back the loaf and the sword, and the three brothers rode on. But they came to two more countries that were ravaged by famine and war, and each time the prince gave his loaf and his sword to the king; so now he had saved three kingdoms.

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