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Fairy Tales of Ludwig Bechstein
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  1. The Herd of Golden Sheep
  2. The Tailor and the Talking Animals
  3. Good Salt

The Herd of Golden Sheep

There was once a beautiful girl called Ilsa. She was the only daughter of a rough knight. She loved the woods with their bird songs, flower scents and trickling streams. Happily she used to stroll there, either with her old nurse, who had taken care of Ilsa after her mother's early death, or Ilsa strolled around on her own. She was not afraid, for the woods around her father's castle were quite safe, and she had not been in danger there at all.

One day Ilsa walked alone in the green groves that surrounded her father's castle. There were old trees and rocks covered with ferns, rare plants and flowers, and among the rocks on a hilltop she came across a cave she did not remember was there earlier. From inside the cave sounded a melodic hum, as from a wind harp. The sound lured Ilsa to go deeper and deeper within. Soon the cave became narrower and darker. But just where the passage was at its narrowest and darkest, she saw a stream of soft light and many sparkling lights around it. She did not resist pushing toward the light, squeezed through the cleft in the rock and to her amazement she was in a quite a very different world.

The sounds of the wind harp swelled louder, the light became brighter, and she saw flowers made of precious, sparkling stones with emerald leaves. A great many small creatures were playing in a meadow there. They were no more than two feet tall. Ilsa was soon surrounded by a crowd of them. They welcomed her in a friendly way.

"Who are you?" asked Ilsa amazed. "I have never seen you or heard of you before!"

"We are the mountain people; the little people!" answered one the with fine shrill little voice that sounded quite like cricket chirping. "It is not surprising that you do not know us, for our cave is not open every day. And on the days it is open it is only for a little time that humans may see us."

"I have never heard of the mountain people or the little people," said Ilsa, standing as if in a dream.

"Learn to know us, and you will love us!" replied the little man. "And if you do you will become one of us, perhaps even our queen!"

Queen! The word thrilled the girl's heart. She had heard of queens in her father's castle; she had heard they were rich and beautiful too, and that everyone served and obeyed them. Her nurse had told her many stories about queens. Why not become a queen?

She looked around. All the splendour and wealth blinded her with delight. She let her new friends show her around. The light in their world was mellow, and not as bright as sunlight. The music was wonderful and blended with the murmur of brooks and waterfalls in the distance. Ilso throught the friendly little people would make good playmates; she could play wonderful games with them. She wanted to stay in this realm. There was little to draw her back to the upper world. Her father was a rough, fierce knight who had never taken much notice of her, and her nurse no longer had any hold on the young girl's heart. Besides, the nurse was very old, and could not live much longer. When she died, Ilsa would be alone in her father's castle, for it was avoided by most people.

The little people went on whispering enticing and luring words, "Stay with us, and you will never grow old. Then your life becomes like a sunny spring. Each day will be a celebration day. You will have what you wish for, and the best of everything!"

Ilsa now saw a flock of sheep that were not bigger than lambs, but each of them had a golden fleece, and the lively little dog who jumped round the flock had golden hair. Ilsa did not see any shepherd, but there was a golden shepherd's staff lying on the ground.

Ilsa longed to keep this flock of sheep. Thinking that this was a chance to test the little people's good faith, she said to test them, "If I were to stay with you and ask for this golden flock to be mine to herd and care for, would you give it to me?"

"Yes, yes!" said a chorus of delicate little voices, and the only condition was that Ilsa should not enter the world of humans again, and that she lost none of the dwarf sheep. Then they handed her the golden staff, decorated it with silver ribbons and welcomed her into their kingdom with loud cheers.

Ilsa now stayed in the other world without noticing days and years that passed by. There was neither winter nor spring there; all the seasons were similar.

At home in the castle they missed her and searched for her, but when they did not find her, they thought she was dead and mourned her. Then her nurse died and her father was killed in a fewd, his enemies ravaged and destroyed his castle till it only its lonely ruin was left on the mountain peak it had been built on. The old trees were cut down and new ones planted in their stead. A new forest was greening, and the tree stems were already fairly strong.

And Ilsa was forgotten. She still guarded her golden herd, playing with the childlike litte people, and learned many of nature's and the other world's secrets from them. Greadually the memories of the world she had lived in earlier, faded till they were like dreams, but they did not fade away entirely. They even grew stronger, and she started to long for being in the world of humans again.

She often noticed one or another of the little people setting off for the human world, while she herself was strictly forbidden to return. It made her see she was not really free. The insight damaged her innocent gladness. "What good does my flock do me, after all?" Ilsa thought. "I herd and care for it, but I cannot do with it what I will, since it is not really mine. I would be a queen, and was promised I could be theirs, but I am just the opposite: I have become a poor shepherdess. Oh, to get up into the sunlight, seeing the blue sky, smelling the air of spring, flowers, large trees! I want to see the sky again - I will, I will!"

Ilsa told the little people that she wanted to go to the human world again.

"But you promised us always to stay with us!"

"You promised to fulfill all my wishes,"protested Ilsa.

"That was on condition that you do not go back to the world of men," said the little people.

"I do not want to return for ever," said Ilsa, "but to see the sky and feel the wind of spring."

"Then you will not be not one of us any more," the little people told her. "If you feel the breeze of that world, you become human again, wither, get old and die, for that is the ordinary human lot."

Ilsa said no more, but she mourned, and her longing grew stronger and stronger. She neglected her flock of golden sheep, nothing pleased her and she did not talk with the little people any longer.

"She is lost to us one way or the other," they said sadly to each other, "we might as well grant her wish."

Ilsa returned to the sunlight through the same hilltop cave. She paused at the mouth of the cave and gazed at woods and hills. It was a beautiful, sunny day, but there was something strange about the scenery. She recognised the hills and mountains, but the old forests were gone. The path from the cave to her father's castle was too overgrown. Ilsa looked for her father's castle on its ridge, but all she could see was a part of its enclosing wall, and the watchtower had become a ruin. Over the tower a couple of falcons were soaring, and owls had settled in the broken spire. "Well, well," Ilsa thought. "I thought I stayed with the good people for only for a very short time, and obviously many years have passed! How old am I?"

Ilsa looked some more and saw newly built places, new castles in the distance, and could not see some other castles that she remembered on some of the hills. They were no more.

Ilsa did not go further, but stayed in the cave for many days, serious and thoughtful. She had promised the little people not to go further than the cave, in the same. She had been allowed to let her sheep graze in the fields of the human world on special days and hourse, such as Midsummer Day at noon, when the sun was at its highest, or in the midnight hours. Around Midsummer Day some of the humans who lived in the area, walked in the mountain heights in search of medicinal herbs and potent roots. At times they happened to see Ilsa in the mouth of the cave. She had become a stranger to the people, a pale, quiet and sombre lady in snow-white, ever-new dress. Some people also saw her herd of golden, tiny sheep, but were never able to catch any of them, for the golden-haired dog was always vigilant, and if he made the slightest sound, Ilsa lifter her golden shepherd's staff, and at once the dog and the sheep disappeared from sight.

If good and pure people saw Ilsa and ventured near her, she answered their sincere questions. At times her answers had double meanings, at times she foretold what would come to pass later. And all the time Ilsa hoped to be saved from the spell of the dwarves.

One day as Ilsa was sitting as usual in the mouth of the cave and let her sheep graze in front of it, a pretty woman came to the grassy field below the entrance of the cave and called, "Why are you always by yourself in this cave? Why not mingle and share with local people? Why not love and be loved?" Ilsa said mournfully, "I am bound by a promise I gave. Otherwise I would like to go down into the valley with my herd."

"You can do it!" cried the woman. "Strike with your shepherd's staff against the little hole deep in your cave, and it will collapse. Then the dwarves cannot come out, and you will be free."

Ilsa hesitated, "Is this advice the answer to my prayer?" As she sought to discern what would be the proper thing to do, a handsome youth showed up and said to her: "Trust me, and I will rebuild your father's castle. You and I will reign over this beautiful countryside together. The woman you have been speaking with is my mother, and we are mighty." Ilsa did not understand the woman and her son were witches, and struck with the golden shepherd's staff against the rocks around the hole at the back of the cave, as the woman had told her to. The gentle music from deep within stopped: Only the weeping and wailing of the little people could be heard. They were cheated, and had lost their flock of tiny, golden sheep! The witch yelled triumphantly, and her son suddently came forward and tried to take Ilsa into his arms. Ilsa was not used to that sort of behaviour. Scared and bewildered she held out her staff and traced a cross on the young man. At that instant the magic of the witch and her son was broken. The young man suddenly turned ugly and repulsive, and the woman fell to the ground in a fit, and was changed into an ugly, old witch.

When she rose, she ran past to Ilsa to the bottom of her cave and placed a herb there. The herb grew extremely fast, became bigger and bigger and opened the hole again by pushing the gravel into the other side. When the gap was big enough the witch shouted, "Dwarves, come out and take back your flock of sheep and punish the girl for closing the entrance!"

The little people came swarming out and surrounded Ilsa. They cut her off from the woman and her son.

"That was a bad thing you did," said the eldest of the ever-young little people. "It is perhaps best that you remain ours until this hag and her son are dead."

And then they tied Ilsa with magic chains. She was still free to go out into the cave, but there the chains stopped her from going further. So it was for some time, until one day the chains suddenly fell off her. The old witch and her son must be dead, said Ilsa hopefully to herself. Now she was free to walk in the sun and sing happy songs as she liked, but she could not bring with her the golden sheep and dog.

[The original tales has Mot. F 99.2, F 110, F 167.2, F 376, F 377.2, G 269.4: Jungfrau muß für immer in der Unterwelt bleiben. Retold.]


The Tailor and the Talking Animals

A shoemaker and a tailor were wandering together. The shoemaker had some money; the tailor had none. Both were in love with the same girl, Lizzie, and both had in mind to marry her after he had made enough money for it and had become masters of their crafts. The shoemaker was wicked, while the tailor was good-natured and frivolous.

The tailor had not really want to wander with the shoemaker, since he himself was moneyless, but the shoemaker had said, "Come along with me. I have some money, so we may eat and drink every day, also when we do not get any work."

What the tailor did not know, was that the shoemaker had invited him to wander with him to do something evil against him, for by the way Lizzie looked at the tailor the shoemaker had found out she liked the tailor best. So the tailor had accepted the offer, and both had packed up their knapsacks and set off together.

They wandered for nine days. The tailor was offered work to do several times, but Peter was not. He persuaded the tailor not to accept the work but instead walk on with him. However, after these nine days the shoemaker said to the tailor, "Hans, my money is dwindling. It will still last a while, but from now on we may eat and drink only two times daily."

"Ah, a shortage of food and drink this early!" sighed the tailor. "I should not have come with you. I could have starved at home instead."

The shoemaker had money enough and had his fill of food every day, for when he bought their food, he ate then too, secretly. When he came back to Hans he had two more meals with him, and listened to his companion's complaints of being hungry, and his growling stomack.

Nine more days passed, and they did not find any work during this time. The shoemaker said, ""Hans, from now on there will be food only once a day."

"Oh, oh, Peter," said Hans to the shoemaker, "I am already so thin that I almost barely cast a shadow."

"Buckle your belt a little more!" the shoemaker said laughingly. "See, there is food where we go: berries and roots abound in this season."

Hans ate berries that he knew, but he did not get any stouter. He did not get any work offers any longer either, for master tailors thought that such a bony and thin fellow might not be good enough for their work, and said so in inconsiderate ways too."

The tailor wept when he did not get any work, while the shoemaker secretly took malicious pleasure in it. After nine more days he said, "Hans, There is no more food money for the two of us."

The tailor cried, "Woe that I went out in the world with you! If only you had never persuaded me to come with you, time after time."

The shoemaker said with a grim laugh, "But there is much to drink around us - Water, water!" Water can be healthy when you are thirsty, and I drink water too."

"But water is not food!" the tailor complained.

"Well, I will go to the bakery and for the last money I have got I will buy soemthing for us," said the shoemaker. He left Hans sitting on a stone and went to a bakery, bought four sandwiches, ate three and drank gin along with it. Then he went back to Hans.

"Peter, you smell of booze!" said the tailor to the shoemaker.

"So? Well, here is your half bread."

The starving tailor ate his half with water and then walked on with his secrely plotting companion. They said almost nothing to each other.

Towards evening they walked into a village. The shoemaker went to a bakery, ate his fill and came back to the tailor with a bread in his hand. The tailor thought he would share the bread with him, but the shoemaker shoved it in his pocket.

After a while, when they had left the village and gone into a forest, the tailor asked for his half bread.

"I am not hungry yet," said the shoemaker.

"Not hungry?" cried the tailor and stopped, with legs shaking. "What kind of monster are you?"

"Glutton!" the shoemaker sneered back to him. "You have cost me my very last money!"

"But it was you who persuaded me to go with you, and made me pass by all opportunities for work!" said the tailor with difficulty, for he was very weak and his tongue stuck to the palate.

"You will not get your half for free," said the shoemaker. "That bread in my pocket is as dear to me as two eyes. I will give you half the bread for one of your eyes."

"Goodness graceous!" the tailor could not believe it, and stretched out his hand for half the bread, ate it, and the shoemaker stabbed him in the eye.

The next day the same thing happened. The shoemaker bought a bread and gave the tailor nothing of it until he had promised him his other eye.

"But then I will be blind!" whined the tailor. "Then I can work no more, and cannot even thread a needle."

The wicked Peter said, ""Who is blind sees no evil, nothing false and faithless, and he no longer needs to work, for he is excused. As a rich beggar you can still be rich." The tailor was unable to think clearly because he was near death of starvation, so he got a half bread while the shoemaker made him blind. When that was done, the tailor hoped that at least the shoemaker would guide him. But the other said, "Goodbye, Hans! This is what I wanted to do all along. I can now go back home and marry Lizzie. Take care of yourself."

The shoemaker walked away, while the blinded tailor fainted from weakness, pain and grief. He fell to the ground and lay there unconscious. While he was lying like that three four-footed wayfarers came along the road, a bear, a wolf, and a fox. They sniffed at the unconscious man, and the bear growled, "This man seems dead! I don't care to eat him myself. Do you want him?"

"I ate from a sheep only an hour ago; I'm not hungry just now," said the wolf. "In any case, this fellow is so bony and skinny that he would be as hard on my teeth as a wooden leg!"

"He must have been a tailor, a very lean tailor, poor man!" laughed the fox. "I'd rather eat a fat goose! He can lie there for all I care."

The poor tailor came to himself again and sensed the animals around him and held his breath as best he could. Meanwhile while the three animals lay down in the grass to rest, not far away.

"I see he has been blinded. That is a great misfortune," said the fox, "both for us noble animals and for those who walk about on two legs. If they knew what I know, they would not be blind any longer."

"Oho!" cried the wolf. "I know something too! If the people in the nearby king's city knew it, they would not suffer from drought and thirst , and would not have to pay a gold piece for a small glass of water."

"Hm, hm!" growled the bear. "I know something remarkable too! If you will tell what you two know, I will tell what I know. But we must promise never to give away each others' secrets."

"No, we will not do that!" promised the fox and the wolf, and the fox began to tell, "I know that today is a special night where heavenly dew falls on grass and flowers. Who is blind and bathes his eyes in this dew, will see again."

"That is a wonderful secret," said the wolf, "and here is mine: The wells in the king's city dried up long ago, and the people in it must either die of thirst or leave unless something happens soon. If they only knew they have plenty of water right under their feet! For in the middle of the paving in the market place lies a gray stone; if anyone lifts it up, a spring of water would shoot out of the ground. How glad the people would be to have water again!"

The bear said, "Now hear my secret. The king's only daughter has been sick for seven years and no doctor can help her, for none of them knows what the matter is, wise as they think they are. The king's daughter is so ill that the king has promised to marry her to the man who can heal her. But none can help her, because none else knows what I know!"

"Now you have made us curious!" said the wolf.

The bear growled and said, "Wait a little," and snorted and cleared his throat before he went on, "When the princess was a young girl, she was to throw a piece of gold into the poor box in the church as an offering. But she was young and shy in front of all the people in the church, so she threw the gold piece awkwardly, so that she missed the box and the coin fell into a crack on the floor beneath it. That was when she got her illness, and she will not be well again until the piece of gold is pulled out of the crack and put into the poor box. The cure is simply to go and find the gold piece and let the king's daughter put it into the box."

When the animals had shared these secrets with each other, they got up and went away - the bear went to look for wild honey, and the others went near poulty yards to steal a breakfast if they could.

But the tailor bathed his eyes with the dew that had started to fall, and soon his eyes were as good as new. He felt strangely refreshed, and when night had passed he soon walked further down the road. In some villages he passed through, he got so much food and drink that he felt satisfied, and at last he came to the city where people for the lack of water drank wine and gin instead, even though it was not good for them.

The tailor had no money to by gin for, so he walked into an inn and asked for a large glass of water. The landlady looked at him and said, "If you do not have money enough to gin and wine, you do not have money for water either, for it costs much more around here; it would cost a fortune, really. There is so little water in the city that I do not have anything of it to sell or give away."

"Is it really that dry around here?" asked the tailor. "But I know how to let fresh water well up. Call me a fountain doctor."

Some young nobles in the inn heard him say that. In their extreme need they were drinking champagne and brandy, and hoped to get better things to drink instead. They flocked around the tailor and asked quickly if he could give the city a fountain.

"Yes, I could if I would," said he, "but not for nothing. What I ask for in return is a salary of five or six thousand gold pieces a year, for example."

The town council hastened to consider the tailor's offer, and all the members voted for paying the tailor what he asked for. The head of the counsil was then sent to the king, asking him to make a decree that made the tailor the city's "fountain doctor", his salary paid by the city. The king agreed, but with the reservation that there had to be plenty of water coming if the well doctor was to get a salary.

The tailor now walked to the market and pointed to a grey, square stone in the pavement in the middle of the market. To the officials around him he said, "Gentlemen, let people tdig up that stone!"

As soon as they did, a jet of water sprang high into the air while the onlookers shouted and cried for joy. The same day the king called for the tailor and was very friendly, made him one of his royal advisers. During the reception someone mentioned the disease of the king's daughter, and the king asked his new adviser, "Do you think this sort of welling water have any effect on her disease?"

"Oh no, sire!" answered the 'fountain doctor'. "It is not water than will cure her. But if you will allow me to see her, I may perhaps find out why she is ill."

The king took his new adviser with him to the princess. She was very beautiful. The advisor felt her pulse, and then said, "Sire, if you will permit us to carry her to church, I think she can be healed."

The king welcomed the idea. "It is worth a try," he said.

In the church Sir Hans - the former tailor - was shown the offering box and then looked for and found a crack with a gold piece in it. He gave the gold piece to the princess and asked her to put in the poor box. She did, and at once got well again. Then they went back to the castle and made her father very happy.

The king's new adviser soon became chief minister, and then a count, a prince, and the princess's beloved husband.

After the wedding, the newly married couple went on a journey through the country. They came to the village that Hans once set out from when he was a moneyless tailor. A grinder stood beside the village inn. He was sharpening knives while his wife turned the grindstone for him. It was Peter and Lisa. At first she had not wanted to marry Peter when he returned, but she accepted him in the end, as he swore she would never see Hans again.

Hans recognized them at once, and called out to the coachman to stop. "Peter!" he said.

Peter started and hurried forward, asking what the prince wanted.

"I just want you to recognise what has become of me after you felled me in the woods. I lay under a tree when we parted, all alone and blind. But as I lay there, good fortune came my way, and now I can see again, I have got rich, and now I leave you! Have this purse of money in return for feeding me. Drive on, coachman!"

Peter stood as if he had become lame and stared after the fine-looking coach for some time. Then he gave the money to his wife saying, "That was Hans! I will go and seek my own fortune where he found his."

Off he went as fast as he could go to the place where he had blinded and left the starving Hans. A fox was running ahead of him and stopped at just that spot. Then a wolf came bounding too. Peter turned quickly and saw a bear who was trotting toward him. Peter hastily climbed a tree.

"Traitors! Traitors! Traitors!" barked the fox, and howled the wolf, and growled the bear. They accused each other of telling the secrets they had promised to keep. They grew very angry. In the end the bear and fox sided together against the wolf. They said he was the traitor, so he must be hanged. The fox twisted a rope out of fir twigs and tied a noose in it. The bear held the wolf fast and the fox put the noose around the wolf's neck. But as the wolf was pulled up in the air, he looked up and saw Peter sitting on a branch of the tree. "There is a man in the tree! He could have told our secrets!" he howled.

Now the two other animals looked up and let the wolf fall to the ground. "Let us interrrogate him!" they howled and grunted.

The bear climbed the tree, and with a blow from his forepaw he knocked Peter from the branch. He fell badly and died on the spot.

[AT 613. Retold]


Good Salt

Long ago a king had three good and beautiful daughters that he loved dearly, and they loved him. He had no son, but in that kingdom a queen might rule too. The king's wife was dead, so he could choose a daughter to succeed him, and not necessarily the oldest of them.

The time came to pick the coming queen among the three, but since he loved them all alike, he decided to test them in order to find out more of which of them seemed best fit to rule the country after him. He then told his daughters of what he had determined, and that they would be tested on his next birthday. "The one who brings me what cannot be dispensed with, will inherit the throne," he said.

Each of the princesses tried to find out what one cannot be without. And when the birthday came, the oldest daughter came dressed in a fine, purple robe, saying, "After the gates of paradise were closed, some clothing seems been needed."

The second daughter brought fresh bread that she had baked herself, and a gold cup filled with wine. She said, "The most indispensable is food and drink. We can hardly live without fruits and berries, grapes and bread and wine, I should say."

The youngest daughter brought a little pile of salt on a wooden platter, saying, "Salt and wood - we cannot be without it!"

The king was rather surprised at first, then thoughtful, and at last he said: "I may be partial, but the robe of royal purple is what is most necessary in the world, at least for a king. Without it, he looks like other men. Therefore, dear daughter," he said, turning to the eldest one and kissing her, "you have won!"

The king said to the second oldest: "Food and drink is not always necessary, dear. Besides, it is suited for common people too! However, you meant well." He did not kiss her.

Then he turned to the third princess who suspected that her choices were not fully appreciated.

"You have probably got salt on your wooden plate, daughter," said the king, but salt is not necessary! Daughter, your soul is like that of a peasant, not a king's offspring. Get away as far as your feet can carry you - go to the rough folks who think salt is all that needed!"

The youngest daughter turned weeping from her harsh father and went away from the court and from the royal city, far, far away, as far as her feet carried her.

She came to an inn and offered to serve the woman who kept it. The woman was touched by her meekness, innocence, youth and beauty, and hired her as a maid in the house. The princess proved to be very skilful about work in the house. Her hostess said, "It would be too bad if that girl should learn nothing more. I will teach her to cook." So the king's daughter learned to cook and soon she cooked many dishes better than her mistress. The excellent food made the inn well known. A young, beautiful cook was behind the delicious meals there. The reputation of the inn spread through the entire land. Whenever a rich banquet was to be held, the famous cook was called in.

One day the eldest princess was getting married. It was to be a royal wedding. They wanted the renowned cook to take care of the dishes and thereby put a finishing touch to the feast, for not every gentleman at court agreed with the king who had said that to eat and drink was not necessary. What would good feasts be without it? they said, and some added the old proverb that food and drink keep body and soul together.

All kinds of rich dishes were prepared for the wedding feast, and also the dish that the king liked best, and which was ordered specially for the occasion. Everyone praised the food a lot. Lastly, the king's special dish was brought in and offered to him first. But when he tasted it he found it unpleasant to taste and hard to accept. His face darkened, and he said to the first servants that were waiting on him: "This dish is spoiled! Get the cook in here!"

The cook very soon came into the great banquet hall, and the king said angrily to her, "You have spoiled the dish I like best!"

Then the cook said humbly, "Pardon me, but how could I put salt in the food of a king who once said 'Salt is unnecessary; no one needs salt! Salt shows that you have the soul of a peasant.'"

The king remembered that these were his own words, and got ashamed. He also recognised the daughter he had once shooed. He stood up and embraced her. Then he told the tale to all the wedding guests and led his youngest daughter to a seat by his side. The king was happy again, which he had not been since he harshly drove her away. Now the wedding was better than ever.

The king admitted, "Salt can be useful to other than laymen at times, all right," and salted his favourite dish until he got it just the way he liked it.

[AT 923. Retold]



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